Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 14.djvu/495
Address of Hon. B. H. Hill. 489
statesmen, constitutional lawyers, skilled debaters, who were perfectly- familiar with every fact, and learned in every principle involved. And, the very ablest and best of these, there was no reason to doubt every Southern State would at once, and with unanimity, return to Congress. If this had been done, not only would the South have been vindicated, but the present horrible sectional acrimony, with all the black record of reconstruction, would have been avoided. The reunion would have been made cordial, with secession abandoned and slavery abolished. The Southern States would already have been far advanced in the work of material recovery, of social order and political contentment, and all the States — co-equals in a com- mon Union — would be rejoicing in a manifest new lease of constitu- tional government and Republican liberty.
But the very reasons which made the return of our ablest men to Congress a glorious opportunity for us, made it a dreaded one for our adversaries. Victors as they were in a physical contest, they were not willing to meet the vanquished in intellectual gladiatorship. To protect themselves from this collision of mind they determined to add yet further crimes to their cowardice. And now we approach the analysis of the most stupendous series of crimes ever perpetrated in human history by individuals or States, civilized or savage. Un- willing to risk their own judges and juries, to pass legally upon the treason charged, our adversaries determined to punish without con- viction — unwilling to hazard the power of equal debate upon the minds and consciences of their own people, they determined to con- demn without a hearing. And why not ? Their victims were un- armed and helpless, and the luxury of vengeance could have easy, safe, and unrestrained gratification.
The first act was for Congress, composed chiefly of men who had been borne into their seats on the bloody tide of sectional hate and strife, to seize all legislative powers into their own hands, and exclude the Southern States not only from actual representation, but from the right of representatives.
To justify this enormous usurpation, they declared the Southern States needed reconstruction. As this idea was wholly unknown to the Constitution, they boldly put themselves outside of the Constitu- tion they had sworn to observe. To make the work of reconstruc- tion effective, they resolved that it belonged exclusively to Con- gress — the legislative department — and that the Executive depart- ment could not, and should not, participate, except to furnish the military to aid in holding the victims siill while the punishment was