The Need of Reform and a New Party
Fellow-Citizens: — When the kind invitation which called me here was published in the papers, some over-zealous partisans, who had long been doubting my orthodoxy, threw up their hands in holy horror, exclaiming: “You see now how far he is gone: some of the most prominent rebels in Tennessee are among those who invite him, and yet he accepts their invitation.” I plead guilty to the charge, and more than that. While I am happy to meet the steadfast Union men, who, in the hour of peril, faithfully supported the National cause, I am equally happy to stretch out my hand to all men who, having stood against us during the civil war, are now ready to work for the “restoration of universal peace, harmony, friendship and true brotherhood.” And had I lost a brother in the great conflict, and were to meet here the man who took his life, my hand and heart would be open to him, did he show himself ready to work with me for that great end. And thus I thank you, Unionists and Confederates, Republicans and Democrats, native and adopted citizens, white and black, fellow-citizens, all, I thank you, from my whole heart, for the friendly welcome you have given me. And my gratitude for this high honor I can show in no better form than by laying before you, in what I am going to say, the sincerest feelings of my heart and the maturest convictions of my mind, without fear and partiality.
I have been called here by no selfish aspiration. You can give me nothing that would promote my fortunes. I can not be a candidate for the Presidency, owing to a benignant provision of the Constitution, which declares foreign-born citizens ineligible — a high Constitutional privilege I might call it, for it exempts us from that most malignant of all moral diseases — a disease almost sure to kill whomsoever it attacks — the Presidential fever. Neither do I come here as a partisan to coin a little capital for this or that political organization; for the welfare of the American people stands to me above all party interest. I have, then, nothing to ask of you but that you hear me, not for my cause, but for your own — for that of our common country.
You have invited me to discuss before you the present condition of public affairs and the problems they impose upon us. I will state them as they appear to my mind in brief review.
The civil war left behind it an alienation of feeling between those lately arrayed against each other, which is dangerous to the internal peace of the country, and stands in the way of a fruitful coöperation of the social elements. It ought to be disarmed and gradually extinguished by a just, generous and conciliatory policy. In the first line, a general amnesty, the removal of political disabilities, which ought to have been granted long ago, should no longer be delayed.
The new order of things established by the war, whose essence consists in the equality of rights, is still being disturbed by adverse aspirations. It ought to be wisely developed and firmly maintained and secured by the coöperation of all good citizens.
Times of great peril and trouble have fostered the habit of unconstitutional assumptions of power, and alarming acts of usurpation have taken place. We ought to return without delay to the sound practices of Constitutional government, and local self-government ought to be restored to that freedom which belongs to it under our Constitutional system, and which it needs to develop all its blessings.
Great abuses have grown up in our civil service. The system of government patronage has scandalously demoralized our political life, and most injurious examples are given by selfish partisans in high places. The civil service ought to be reformed, the abuses of the patronage abolished, and all good citizens should coöperate to restore our public life to the purity and high tone of the first years of the Republic. Shameless corruption, open and covert, has developed itself in many places. There ought to be a general house-cleaning, to knock off the dust and to extinguish the vermin.
Our system of duties on imports is such as to favor some material interests enormously at the expense of others, and to enrich the few by oppressing the many. It ought to be so adjusted as to benefit the National treasury only, instead of privileged individuals and corporations.
The people are onerously taxed to promote the payment of the National debt with unnecessary rapidity; the taxes ought to be reduced as much as will be consistent with a conscientious discharge of our liabilities, so as to give the business interests of the country time to recuperate and to overcome the exhaustion and losses caused by the war.
The business interests of the country are suffering under the uncertain and fitful fluctuations of values caused by an irredeemable currency. We ought to return as speedily as possible to specie payments, in order to obtain a fixed measure of values and to gain a secure basis for our National credit.
Corporations of tremendous power have grown up, which already exercise an almost uncontrollable influence in our public concerns. That influence ought to be guarded against with all the means within the power of the people, and in the first line the donation of public lands to such monopolies, to the disadvantage of the laboring people, ought to be stopped.
These views of the condition of public affairs, and the problems to be solved, are shared by millions of people at the North, especially the political school to which I belong, called the “Liberal Republican,” and, if I mistake not, by this assembly. I shall endeavor to show, in the course of my remarks, that some of the measures proposed are of special interest to the people of the South.
And now I desire to impress upon your minds, a truth of which you of the South should never lose sight. The North possesses in this country the preponderance of population, and of political power, and yet it is equally certain that the chances of a liberal, progressive, reformatory policy among the Northern people depend in a great measure, if not altogether, upon the attitude of the South, especially that part of the Southern population which was, in the war, arrayed on the Confederate side; and their intentions, their aspirations, their movements, are the object of anxious observation. As long as disorders prevail in the Southern States, or as long as dangers seem to threaten from that quarter, the Northern mind, however much inclined to yield to its liberal and progressive impulses, will always be disturbed and clogged by the apprehension that every bold reformatory venture might, in some way, jeopardize that which was accomplished by the civil war.
You will permit me, therefore, as a sincere and faithful advocate of a liberal and progressive policy, to speak to you, men of the South, on the very important part you do and might play in the great political evolution of our days, and in doing so I shall express myself with that unreserved frankness which you certainly expected of me when you called me here. I believe we have met for a candid consultation, and not a mere exchange of compliments.
It is necessary in the first place, that we should understand the exact truth as to our present situation. Illusions may be more pleasant, but only the truth is useful. Look around you, then, with an unclouded eye.
The people of the South have succumbed in a great contest. It was the contest between two antagonistic organizations of society, the one represented by slavery, the other by free labor. I will not go into a disquisition on the origin of the struggle; neither will I take pains to disprove that mere political intrigue or a mere difference of economic interests or of political doctrines concerning the rights of States were at the bottom of the quarrel. They were merely incidental. It is certain that without the antagonism between free labor and slavery the civil war would not have happened, and it was just that antagonism which determined the final result of the struggle. You were not defeated by accident. Your soldiers fought most bravely. Your military leaders were most able and heroic. Your material resources were most ample to carry on a defensive war of indefinite duration in so vast a country as yours. Your armies, your material means, your intelligence, your bravery and the advantages offered by your country were greater than those of Spain when she held the great Napoleon in check — far greater than those of the poor Mexicans when they forced the army of Napoleon the Little away from their shores, and rid themselves of foreign dominion. In fact, neither of those nations could be compared with you in any respect. Nor was there a prospect wanting to induce some great foreign power to vent its jealousy against the American Republic in helping you to accomplish its disruption. Why, then, did you fail? It was not owing to this or that blunder of your Government, nor to this or that mishap in your military operations. The great developments of history do not turn upon trifles. No, the very thing that brought on the struggle brought on your defeat — slavery. The Governments of England and France would in all probability have availed themselves of any pretext to help you in crushing their dangerous rival, but in the face of the public opinion of the world they did not dare openly to espouse your cause, for the simple reason that it appeared as the cause of slavery. And why did not your disasters in the field, inspire your people to still greater efforts, to sublimer sacrifices and to the determination never to give up the contest, as the people of Spain and Mexico were inspired by misfortunes which made their further struggles appear utterly hopeless? You have heard the reason frequently, many perhaps without appreciating it, — it expressed itself in the significant popular saying that the contest for slavery “was the rich man's war and the poor man's fight.” And the poor men would fight as long as the shout of victory flattered and excited them; but under the chilling wind of misfortune the inspiration vanished and the sobered spirit of the masses manifested itself in those fearful desertions from your armies just at the moment of greatest need. And then that bravery which would have graced the best of causes, was all in vain. No, do not disguise from your minds this great historic fact: it was slavery that isolated you in the world; it was slavery that broke the perseverance of your people; it was slavery that defeated you.
Well, the struggle is over and wise men will profit by its teachings. Let us look at them as sober and candid men. If it is true what I have said, that the very cause which produced the struggle also defeated your efforts, must it not be equally true that that cause is hopelessly lost and can never be revived? Is it not absolutely certain that every attempt to revive it must inevitably result in new disasters, disasters more terrible still, perhaps, than those which have already passed over you? You say you do not think of reviving it. Very well. But I go further, and affirm that as the cause of slavery is irretrievably lost, so you can not attempt to restore or maintain anything that has any affinity to slavery, without great injury to yourselves. Let me explain my meaning.
That slavery could not have survived the war must be clear to every thinking mind. The emancipation of the slaves brought on a new order of things in the South. Your social and political organization had to be adapted to free labor. What could that organization be? It could be only an organization based upon the principle which is the very life element of free labor society — the principle of equal rights. And here I have to express my opinion upon a matter which has been the source of great dissatisfaction and acrimonious feeling in the South. I mean the so-called reconstruction measures. It seems to have been the prevailing impression in the South that the reconstruction measures were the offspring of a spirit of hatred and vindictiveness animating the Northern people. I assure you, and I know whereof I speak, that nothing could be farther from the truth. An overwhelming majority of the people of the North and of Northern Republicans never hated the people of the South, not even during the war. And when the war was over, they followed a course which presented itself to their minds as a stern necessity. They followed it with hesitation and diffidence. I invite you to examine it. The time has arrived when the two great sections of the country should become just to each other, in dispassionate feeling and calm judgment. And they will as soon as they honestly try to understand each other. Let us endeavor to do it now.
To appreciate the merits of the reconstruction question, you must for a moment place yourselves in the situation of the victorious party immediately after the close of the war. You would, as they did, at once have recognized the duty of solving two great problems: First, to protect those in the South who during the war had been, and then were, friends of the Union, black as well as white; and secondly, to fix and secure the logical and legitimate results of the war, so that they should not be upset by reactionary movements and become the subjects of new and dangerous struggles again. The people of the North felt that duty. I felt it, and I ask any candid man among you, had he been in our places, would he not have felt it?
Consider now in the face of what circumstances those duties were to be performed. You certainly remember them well. The Unionists living in the South were to be protected. The disasters of the war, the terrible disappointments, the dreadful losses and sufferings you had endured, the bewildering perplexities which were surrounding you, had still more embittered the feelings of many of your people against the conqueror. The new order of things, free labor with all its new relations of rights and duties, was to be established and developed in the South, while all the traditions of her people, all their accepted notions as to what could be done with the colored race, all their ways of thinking and working, were still those of the slavery system, and while the distressing necessity of providing for the pressing wants of to-day and to-morrow seemed to drive you, to force into your service as much as possible of the labor which had just been liberated. Was it not so? I speak of the things which I then saw in the South — for I traversed these States for several months — not with any desire to harrow up old sores; nothing could be farther from my mind. But I desire, in justice, to say that the attitude of the Southern people at that time was the natural result of their situation. After the terrible disasters and the bewildering changes, which had taken place with such stunning rapidity, we had no right to expect anything else. But were we not obliged to face the truth, and to act accordingly? I ask again, what would you have done under such circumstances? Would you have left the Unionists living in the South and the freedmen, after having emancipated them and promised to protect them in their freedom, would you have then left them unprotected, at the mercy of resentments and passions, inflamed by past disasters, and present sufferings and perplexities? Think of it. I appeal to you as Southern gentlemen, who pride yourselves upon your honor: if you had been victorious and conquered the North, would you a single moment have forgotten your obligations of honor to those who had aided you in the struggle, and were then living among your late enemies, unable to protect themselves? You would have gone further, perhaps, than we. Let your own feelings as gentlemen sit in judgment.
And further, what would you have done towards establishing and securing free labor in the South? Would you have left the business with confidence to the late master-class, who, although slavery had been struck down in the war, were quite naturally still acting upon the traditional conviction that only the old system was rational and tenable, and that the new system could not and would not work? Would you have expected that, if all political lights and privileges were left in the exclusive and untrammeled possession of the master-class, they would be used for anything else than the restoration of, as much as possible, the old system of slavery? Would you have closed your eyes to the fact that they actually were so used when legislative and municipal bodies were for a time left free to act upon their own instincts? Would you not have apprehended that new causes of dissension and conflict would thus speedily arise? I appeal to you as sensible men. Think of it, and you will find far less of the motive of vindictiveness in what took place.
You have greeted me here as a friend of the Southern people, and so I am; and I affirm that I was just as sincere and warm a friend of the Southern people when, after the close of the war, I followed this course of reasoning. The actual state of the Southern mind, with the passions of the war still alive and aggravated by stinging misfortune, and with its sincere belief in the utter impossibility of the success of free labor with their laboring population, will necessarily lead the Southern people to attempt all possible experiments, except that of free labor in its true form; and yet free labor must be maintained, secured and developed, or we shall at some future day have to fight the old battle over again, which would be a most disastrous misfortune to the country in general, and to the South in particular. What is to be done? There is this alternative: either we must go on protecting free labor and the rights of free laborers through the power of the National Government, which would result in continual interference of the National authority in State concerns, and the gradual undermining of local self-government, or we must enable free labor to protect and regulate itself by giving the free laborer the political means with which to maintain his rights; and then the development of free labor may soon be left to the operations of local self-government. And this can be done only by guaranteeing, through the Constitution of the Republic, to all citizens, the emancipated class included, those political privileges with which a free man maintains his rights. And hence I advocated the Constitutional amendments guaranteeing equal rights before the law, and impartial suffrage. And as delay threatened increased difficulties, I favored their speedy enactment and adoption.
I know that when I reasoned thus the motive of hatred and vindictiveness, so foreign to my nature, had no share in my conclusions. I was, on the contrary, most sincerely convinced that the speedy and irreversible settlement of the question on this basis would be the greatest attainable blessing to the country, and especially to the South. This may appear a bold and startling assertion to some of you, in view of the practical difficulties which, in the South, have sprung from this very settlement. Those difficulties I know well, and I do not under-estimate them. They arose naturally from the revolution of a labor system, and from the introduction into the body-politic of a large number of voters, a considerable portion of whom are uneducated and inexperienced, and who, in many instances, permit themselves to be led by unscrupulous politicians, much to the detriment of public interest. I recognize the full significance of this fact, and shall, in another part of my remarks, discuss the means by which its evil consequences may, in a great measure, be modified. But I invite you now to contemplate the difficulties which certainly would have arisen had this mode of settlement not been adopted. No thinking man can doubt what would have happened. A large portion of the Southern people would have persistently refused to recognize the exact truth as to their situation. They would have continued to waste their energies in useless efforts to preserve as much as possible of the old system of labor, and to keep up that confusion in the working of the social machinery, which is now gradually subsiding. Those acrimonious political struggles, which we witnessed three and four years ago, would have been indefinitely extended.
The doubt and agony of the Southern mind as to what was to be, would have been cruelly prolonged; the whole country would have been kept in a state of feverish agitation; and, finally, what would have been the result? Not the gradual, steady and peaceful advancement of the emancipated class toward the position they now occupy, for their education would have been strenuously resisted, and only fitful and jerking experiments would have been made in the heated atmosphere of political struggles; not the establishment of a system intermediate between slavery and free labor, for about one thing nobody should indulge in any delusion — the people of the North would have uncompromisingly resisted any attempt to subvert or adulterate free labor in any form, and the tendency to strengthen the powers of the General Government for that purpose would have been irresistible. No, the final result would have been just this: The South would have remained the scene of persistent, violent, fruitless, disastrous efforts to baffle the logic of things; the energies of her people would have been wasted in useless and self-tormenting attempts to escape the inevitable and to accomplish the impossible; the confusion and agony of an uncertain state of things would have been indefinitely prolonged; the whole country would have been kept in anxiety and alarm by the reagitation of the old questions; the power of the National Government would have been increased beyond all measure at the expense of local self-government; and finally, after all this, we should, by the very necessity of all things, have been forced to fall back upon just that settlement which has actually been adopted. And why? Because in a republic a social and political organization, based upon equal rights, is the one which most naturally suggests itself; it is the only possible, the only tenable one, for it is the only one in harmony with truly republican institutions and genuine self-government. There is a logic ruling human affairs from which there is no escape. The civil war extinguishing slavery furnished a terrible proof of this truth.
And now, if finally you would have had to come back to the same settlement virtually which has been effected, I ask you, in all candor, is it not, after all, much better for you and for all of us that we should have arrived at that fixed state of things by a short road, than by those tortuous, dark and dangerous paths? Is it not better that, without unnecessary loss of precious time, we should clearly know: this is the order of things we have to deal with; these are the necessities surrounding us; these are the problems we have to solve; these are the difficulties we have to contend with; these are the advantages we can achieve; this is the direction in which our social system must develop itself? I ask, is it not better that we should now clearly know all of this, instead of continuing painfully to grope in the dark? and that we should now be able frankly to join hands in a common effort to turn circumstances, such as they are and must be, to our common good and advantage? I have discussed reconstruction from this point of view, in order to show you that the motives which dictated it were, after all, not those of hatred and vindictiveness; that the object pursued was not the humiliation of the Southern people; that those objects were recognized as necessary by men whose hearts were full of sincere and fraternal sympathy, and that what was done should not stand in the way of a complete restoration of friendly feeling. I know it is human nature, when we are defeated in a great struggle, to feel and resent every exertion of power on the part of the victorious as a wilful, arrogant, malignant outburst of an offensive spirit. Had the people of the North been in your place, their feelings would probably have been the same. But had you been in the place of the people of the North, would your feelings and views of duty have been very different from theirs?
Is it not well, then, that in clearing away the wreck of past struggles, we should, with them, clear away those resentments which were born of the passions of those struggles, and which should not survive them? Is it not well that we should endeavor to become just to one another in our hearts? Is it not time that, upon the basis of the new order of things, evolved by a great conflict, we should join hands again for the achievement of a common National future?
But I am told that the National Government had no Constitutional power to do what it did in the way of reconstruction; that it resorted to revolutionary proceedings, and so on. Yes, that is, in a certain sense, my view of the case also. But were those proceedings not the offspring of a revolutionary situation, into which, in spite of ourselves, the civil war had thrown us? And has it not always, in history, been characteristic of revolutionary situations that the accomplishment of necessary ends was considered of far greater importance than the absolute regularity of the means employed? I would certainly not admit all that was done during and immediately after the war as valid precedents, to be followed in times of peace. But suppose you do call all that has been achieved a great revolution, is it the part of wise men to deny that revolutions also have their rightful place in history, and to reject the results evolved by a great revolution as such? Would it, in our case, be wise in the face of the fact that those very results, although rejected on account of their doubtful origin, would then finally still have to be restored by a painful and dangerous operation? Will it not be infinitely more prudent and patriotic to accept those results as accomplished facts, and to make the best of them, instead of venturing into the confusion, agony and distress of their inevitable reproduction? Let everybody consult his common-sense. The answer can not be doubtful.
But you tell us that the revolutionary period has fostered the habit of using arbitrary power, and that thereby the rights of all of us are threatened. Yes, it has produced that dangerous tendency; yes, by that tendency not your rights alone, but the rights of us all, the principles of Constitutional government, are threatened. It is unquestionably true that things are done with impunity, and almost without censure, well calculated to alarm every true friend of free institutions; and it is time that thinking men should seriously consider how, by concerted and determined action, they can prevent that tendency from undermining our whole Constitutional system. Now that the exigencies of great public peril are over, and the results of the war are firmly imbedded in the fundamental law — now, indeed, is the time to arrest it, lest the people drift into a laxity of Constitutional notions, from which they can not recover. And in order to arrest it, we must not recoil from vigorous means. When I, the other day, in a public speech in Chicago, declared that I would not support President Grant for reëlection, on account of the flagrant violations of the Constitution he has committed in the San Domingo case, a great many of my Republican brethren were shocked beyond measure, and raised the cry of high treason against the party, while some of the feeble in mind exclaimed that my making such a declaration was a sure sign that I must have been disappointed in the matter of patronage. I may assure them that I spoke with cool and mature deliberation; for it will not do to trifle with such cases.
I will not here argue the San Domingo matter over again, but I will say simply this: when the President orders the Navy of the United States to a foreign country, and, without condescending to ask Congress for authority, instructs our naval officers to protect and defend the chief of a foreign government against any foreign enemy, and even against his own subjects and countrymen, and when he does this, not only while negotiations are going on with that foreign government, which negotiations, however, would not confer upon the President the autocratic power to resort to measures of war at his own pleasure, but even after the results of such negotiations, in the shape of a treaty, have been formally and solemnly rejected by the Senate, and we have no relations with that foreign government and people but the ordinary relations of peace — when a President does that, then he arrogates to himself one of the most important powers belonging to the representatives of the people. He violates the Constitution in one of its most vital points, and he constitutes himself the arbiter of peace and war for this great Republic. And when I am asked to endorse such an act by supporting that President for reëlection, and thus to aid in sanctioning, by a popular vote, such an act as a precedent, a precedent which, if taken as a rule of Constitutional construction, would authorize the President alone to initiate a war under almost any circumstances, and make this Republic virtually a monarchy as to the question of peace or war, then I, as a faithful citizen of this Republic, who have sworn to support its Constitution, say, “I will not do it.” I will not help to reëlect an officer whose reëlection, sanctioning his previous acts with popular approval, will be a justification and encouragement to all future Presidents in committing acts of usurpation reaching still farther. I will not help in paving the way for the advent of irresponsible personal government in this Republic. And when I am told that by such opposition other grave interests may be jeopardized, I answer that I am very doubtful whether the wanton levity with which our Presidents are to be permitted to play with the peace and honor of the people, and the general decay of Constitutional notions, do not constitute, in their inevitable consequences, as great a danger, and perhaps even greater, than any now within sight. And when I am tauntingly reminded by pliable partisans that the people do not care much about these Constitutional questions, I answer that, if there are many who do not care about the integrity of their republican institutions, this constitutes only a stronger reason why those who do care should make themselves heard, and act with determination. I am frequently told that declarations like those I have made are apt to prove ruinous to a public man. Be it so, I take the risk, for I am in earnest, and I am sure the day will come when many of those who now shrug their shoulders at my protests and predictions will, to their sorrow, admit that I was right, unless this tendency be speedily arrested.
But this is not all. You will tell me that the usurpations of the Executive do not constitute the only danger in this direction; that local self-government is exposed to grievous encroachments, and that you want your rights. And I tell you there are many millions of men at the North who respond that you shall have your rights all the rights which they possess, and are determined to claim and maintain. Their rights shall be yours, as yours shall be theirs. Let us understand one another.
It is certainly true that local self-government has been invaded by measures adopted by the General Government, but I do not admit, what has frequently been asserted on the Democratic side, that a fatal blow at local self-government was struck by the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the Constitution. On the contrary, I assert that, under the Constitution as amended, local self-government can be maintained, and can develop all its blessings more successfully even than ever before. I have all my life been a strenuous advocate of local self-government, and of State rights, as far as they are the true embodiment of local self-government, but I have always insisted upon the true article. I do not only believe that the people have the right and the ability to govern themselves; neither do I see in local self-government only a mere method of the administration of local affairs; but I cherish it as one of the great educational agencies of our political system. In the matter of administration, local self-government is by no means always successful. We have occasionally great and costly failures to deplore, but however costly and troublesome they may be, they are nothing compared with the blessings local self-government confers. It is the great fountain from which the popular mind draws its healthiest and most invigorating inspirations. There is nothing better calculated to make a man understand and protect his interests, nothing more inspiring and instructive to the mind and the heart of the citizen, than the independent management of his own affairs upon his own responsibility; and there is nothing more inspiring and invigorating to a community of men than free coöperation for common ends, on a common responsibility, in which the interest of each individual is involved. That is what puts men upon their own feet. When they have accustomed themselves to depend on their own wisdom and energy for success, and to blame themselves, and not others, for failure and mishap in private and common concerns, then they will become truly independent beings, such as the citizen of a democratic republic ought to be. It is, therefore, of the highest importance that as many responsibilities as possible should be laid at the door of every citizen by local self-government. From this point of view, I see in the new amendments to the Constitution, justly construed, nothing hostile to the cause of true local self-government. What does true local self-government consist in? It consists in a political organization of society, which secures to the generality of its members — that is to say, as nearly as possible to the whole people — the right and the means to coöperate in the management of their common affairs, either directly or, where direct action is impossible, by a voluntary delegation of powers. It ceases to be true self-government in the same measure as the means of taking part in the management of common affairs are confined as an exclusive privilege to one portion of the people, and are withheld from the rest. And how is self-government exercised? By means of the suffrage. To make self-government genuine, general and secure, therefore, the right of suffrage must be made secure to the generality of the citizens. You limit the right of suffrage by arbitrary exclusion, and just in that measure you impair the integrity of self-government. You protect every citizen in the free exercise of suffrage, and you do the best thing calculated to make self-government a general and living reality.
And now what is, in this respect, the object of the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments? Simply to secure to every citizen those civil rights which make him a freeman and the suffrage which enables him to participate in the functions of self-government. But you say the amendments have limited the rights of the States. So they have, but in what point? Not, strictly speaking, in the administration of their local affairs, but only in this direction: they have prohibited the States from depriving one class of citizens of rights which another class of citizens enjoy; from conferring all governmental powers upon one class and excluding another from all participation in self-government; in other words, from transforming self-government into the privilege of one set of people to govern another. You are thus irresistibly driven to the conclusion that the amendments, instead of encroaching upon self-government by imposing certain prohibitions upon the States, rather put self-government upon a broader basis. I openly confess, I never called that one of the requirements of true self-government that the States should have the power to transform it into an exclusive privilege. True State-rights should, in my opinion, consist in the power of a State to assert and protect the right of local self-government against unconstitutional encroachments on the part of the central authority, but by no means in the power of arbitrarily stripping a portion of its citizens of the rights, which, under the regime of true self-government, they should enjoy. With greater plausibility might it be said that the Constitutional amendments not only limit the rights of the States, but confer greater powers upon the Central Government, the exercise of which might tend to dangerous centralization. That by the clause giving Congress power to enforce the amendments by appropriate legislation the powers of the General Government have been enlarged, I will not question. How far I will not now discuss, nor do I consider it necessary; for it is my conviction that not in the rightful exercise of those powers, but in their abuse, lies the danger which threatens our free institutions, and where the abuse begins it will in each case not be difficult to determine if we construe the new amendments, in conjunction with the rest of the Constitution, in the light of the spirit which pervades the whole. In this respect the new amendments are by no means peculiar. There are many more powers enumerated in the Constitution whose rightful exercise is harmless and beneficent, but whose abuse is dangerous. We may oppose and neutralize the spirit which brings forth those arbitrary abuses of power, and succeeding in that we need not trouble ourselves about the authority conferred by any provision of the Constitution as it stands. Where you see personal government, or arbitrary, irresponsible power established on the ruins of free institutions, the fault lies hardly ever in the fundamental law, but in the unscrupulousness of those in power, in the cowardice and venality of politicians, and in the careless levity of the masses who are too indifferent to the value of what they possess to exercise that vigilance which is the price of liberty. No, the Constitution as it is to-day contains more guarantees and safeguards of human freedom and rights than any constitution ever devised by human wisdom. If under it the American people lose a particle of their liberties they will have themselves to blame.
Many of you will point to the Ku-Klux law as a dangerous stretch of the powers of the Central Government, and the offspring of the new Constitutional amendments. I myself call that law a dangerous stretch of the central power. I most earnestly spoke against it as such; and having spoken and voted against it in the Senate, I am now free to say that I do not consider it the offspring of the new Constitutional amendments; for I believe a similar law would have been passed under the same circumstances, and a sufficient pretext of power would have been screwed out of the Constitution, even without these amendments. This being a matter of special interest to the South, I will explain myself more fully. Let me tell you, and I wish you to consider it well, that the mere cry for Constitutional government is not sufficient to arrest the tendency you see embodied in the Ku-Klux act. That law was enacted to stop the acts of violence and persecution inflicted by a certain class of the Southern population upon Republicans and colored people, and in order to bring the perpetrators of those acts to the punishment they deserve. That in many localities such acts have been perpetrated, not, perhaps, to so fearful an extent as is asserted by interested parties, but still in considerable number, no well-informed person will deny, and I may say that I have Southern and Democratic testimony to prove it. That those acts almost uniformly passed without adequate punishment is equally certain; that they deserve punishment no just man can doubt. The circumstances adduced in extenuation of those crimes I will hereafter discuss. They do not affect the facts nor their criminal character.
Now, that the Ku-Klux law with its characteristic features so obnoxious to our Constitutional system was not justified by those acts, I have already stated as my deliberate opinion on the floor of the Senate as well as here, and on every appropriate occasion. I opposed it, not because I did not recognize the evil, but because I considered the remedy in its consequences more dangerous than the evil. But I express also my deliberate conviction when I predict that all the efforts in the way of argument which the defenders of Constitutional government may put forth will not suffice to prevent the reënactment of the Ku-Klux law, or even eventually the passage of measures still farther reaching if those acts of lawlessness and bloody violence continue.
Do not understand this as anything like a threat on my part; for I shall go on opposing such measures as long as my faith in the inherent virtues of local self-government holds out. I merely express a most sincere and anxious apprehension; an apprehension which every well-informed man will share with me, that by certain circumstances the difficulties which the defenders of sound Constitutional principles have to encounter, will become almost insupportable.
Look the matter squarely in the face. A large majority of the Republicans at the North have long ceased to cherish any feelings of unkindness to the Southern people. They sincerely desire concord and fraternal harmony. They would gladly abstain from anything that looks like harsh intermeddling with your local concerns; they would even have forced their representatives in Congress to act according to those sentiments but for one thing, and that one thing consists in the occurrence of the very acts of violence and persecution which the Ku-Klux law is intended to check and punish. And if there are demagogues and advocates of centralized government among the leaders of the Republican party, who would devise such legislation for the mere purpose of serving party interests, or of unduly strengthening the Central Government, they would have been rendered powerless by their own constituents long ago, had not the feelings and sympathies of those constituents been affected by the harassing tales which came from some of the Southern States, and which could not be denied. In other words, violations of sound Constitutional principles and encroachments upon local self-government in this direction would have been easily prevented, had not, by a number of most reprehensible occurrences, grave doubts been raised in the popular mind as to whether local self-government affords sufficient guarantees for that security of life and property and individual rights which every American citizen claims as his due. The impression was produced that it did not, and as long as this impression is suffered to exist, the tendency to accomplish by the arm of the Central Government what local self-government appears to be unable to accomplish, will grow stronger every day; it may grow so strong as to render all efforts to stem it by argument utterly useless, for that tendency will be fed and supported by human sympathies and emotions of which nobody will deny that they spring from the generous impulse to aid the persecuted and helpless, an impulse which would be as strong in you as in them under corresponding circumstances. This is the truth and cannot be too clearly understood.
What then, are the means to stem this current? A change of the party in power, some will say. Well, let me tell you that the very acts of violence and outrage complained of will do more than anything else to prevent a change of party, aye, to render it impossible. No, there is but one means to neutralize the centralizing tendency, and that means is in the hands of the Southern people themselves. Yes, let the Southern people demonstrate that local self-government can be relied upon to afford that security of life and property and individual right which every American citizen, however humble, may claim, and the public mind will no longer countenance the interference of the Central Government in local affairs by the appliances of the monarchical police state. The honest men who insist upon the equal protection of all in every part of the Republic will no longer be dragged into the support of such unconstitutional stretches of power, and we can easily take care of the demagogues who would perpetuate such things merely for partisan advantage. That is the way, and the only certain way, to check the centralizing tendency in this direction. In one word, the Constitutional rights of States and the local self-government of the people will be best secured if the people everywhere see to it that the rights of every individual be secured in every community through local self-government. And how can this be accomplished? You have asked me, in your letter of invitation, to make you such admonitory suggestions as I might deem judicious and seasonable. I shall avail myself of this privilege with sincerity and frankness. In order to attain the great object I spoke of, one thing, in my opinion, is necessary. Let the good and honest men of the South, who are willing, sincerely, to accept and develop for the common good the new order of things, throw off the old animosities of party; let them combine to suppress lawless excesses and to extinguish the spirit which produces them; to secure everybody in the enjoyments of his rights; to make law and justice prevail; to put down corruption, and to give their States economical, honest, good government. This requires political organization. Well, let them organize upon such a platform and they will soon command strong working majorities. More efficiently than it can be done by Congressional legislation, they can establish that good government and give their States peace and good order by an honest and determined common effort. As soon as that effort is made they will see millions of honest people at the North, who now look upon them with apprehension, ready, glad, eager to strike hands with them, recognizing the glorious fact that the civil war is indeed over, and the rights of all will be respected by all in the common brotherhood of the American people. But such an effort, demonstrating an honest resolution, will accomplish more. You want immigration, and complain that it does not come. You want capital, and complain that it stays away. Why is this so? I ask you, Are not your fields fertile and lands cheap enough to invite the immigrant? Are not your resources and industrial opportunities tempting to the capitalists? Yes, you say, but there is no confidence. And why is there no confidence? Because the world believes there is still a lurking disposition in the South to upset or materially change the new order of things. This may be so or not. If it is, you should yourselves render that disposition powerless for mischief. If it is not, you should by the very strongest means at your disposal demonstrate the fact that you have risen above the seductions of partisan spirit. That is the way to conquer the distrust of the world and to gain the confidence which the South stands so much in need of, and that is the only way. And why should such a union and organization for that purpose not be formed? What are the difficulties in the way? Let us see.
I am asked how can you expect those who took part in the rebellion, but who are now willing to fulfil all the duties of good citizenship — how can you expect them to step voluntarily forward in such a work while as a class they are still by the system of political disabilities stigmatized as outcasts? I deeply appreciate the feeling manifested in this objection, and I have been one of those who, since the logical and legitimate results of the war were embodied in the Constitution, never lost an opportunity to denounce that system of disabilities as odious and worse than useless, and strenuously urged its abolition. I was one of those who in the State of Missouri broke through all the traditional rules of party discipline, jeopardizing all their political fortune to secure to all citizens of that State, irrespective of their attitude during the war, rights equal to those of all other citizens.
But what if, in spite of our honest efforts, we have not succeeded yet to remove all the disabilities imposed by the fourteenth amendment? Should you therefore not combine to suppress all lawless violence and to give good government to your State? Should you punish yourselves because others have so far proved unable to rise up to the level of a generous and sound statesmanship? Besides, the only objection to general amnesty still finding some response in public opinion at the North, rests upon nothing but just the occurrence of those lawless disorders and the inefficiency of local self-government at the South in suppressing them. Do you not see that if the good men of the South, overleaping party barriers, do put down those disorders, the last plausible argument against amnesty will vanish into nothingness? If there still are vindictive demagogues at the North, do you not see how you can most efficiently cross their purposes by depriving them of their last stock in trade by doing that which is best for yourselves? There is no surer way for you to secure your rights, to strengthen your friends and disappoint your enemies, than in gaining the confidence of all honest men by well-doing.
But now I encounter the objection that in many of the Southern States the colored people, forming a large portion of the voting body, are blindly following the lead of unscrupulous and rapacious demagogues, and that this circumstance would render such a combination as I advocate in many respects powerless. I appreciate the greatness of that difficulty, but am equally certain that it can be overcome. I shall state my opinion without reserve. It is certainly true that so-called carpet-bag government has in many instances been most scandalous. That the colored people should to a great extent have fallen into the hands of unscrupulous demagogues is very sad, but not at all wonderful to me. Something more than their inexperience in public affairs was the cause. After their emancipation and enfranchisement the colored people very naturally felt great anxiety about their new rights. Before them they saw the old master-class disgusted with the new state of things, and maintaining an attitude of seeming or real hostility to those new rights. On the other hand they saw before them men loudly and ostentatiously promising to protect them. Was it astonishing that the colored people should have thrown themselves into the arms of those in whose keeping they believed their new rights secure? Would it not have been different had the Southern whites at once frankly and without reserve recognized and protected the new rights of the enfranchised class, thus gaining their confidence?
You will tell me that this could hardly have been expected, under the circumstances, and I admit that. But what was not done then, may it not be done now? If much misgovernment was caused by the delay, may not now much evil be prevented by wise, although tardy action? Are the colored people so inseparably bound to the unscrupulous demagogues among their leaders that they cannot be cut loose? I do not believe it. There are too many intelligent and honest men among them, and they are rapidly learning something. Look around you. Are not a great many of the colored people becoming aware of the mischievous use that has been made of their confidence? Are not the thieves everywhere falling out among themselves, and fiercely fighting each other? Is not so-called carpet-bag government everywhere on the point of breaking down? And the only strong bond which still binds many of the colored people to the unscrupulous among their leaders, consists in those very acts of lawless violence which make them afraid, and which, by a united effort, you can suppress. Can such a united effort fail to relieve the colored people of their fears, and to command the support of a great many of them? Such complications are not peculiar to the South, or to political communities in which the colored people constitute a strong element. Look at what is going on in New York. The Tammany robbers are no carpet-baggers, and their constituents are no negroes. But the bags of the Tammany men are ten times bigger with plunder than any bags in the South, and their Democratic followers have supported them through thick and thin, with more stubborn obedience than you observe in the colored voters. What happens? Finally the honest men take courage and unite, the citizen begins to rise above the partisan, and they are in a fair way to overcome difficulties of more intricate a nature than would stand in the way of the united law and order men of the South. That a large number of voters in the South are uneducated, ignorant and inexperienced, I readily admit, and you certainly will also admit that they are not to blame for it. The evils springing from that circumstance I appreciate. How can they be remedied? Certainly not by killing and whipping negroes in the Ku-Klux style, using misgovernment as a plea of justification, just as little as similar evils in New York could be cured by killing or whipping poor Irishmen on account of the rapacious misrule of Tammany. By such doings things are made only worse. No; the best way to neutralize the evils growing from popular ignorance in States like yours is to establish and enforce an efficient system of public education, and I am sure whatever preconceived opinions may still stand in the way of this idea, the Southern people will, in the long run, not fail to recognize that, although it may have appeared good for a slave to be ignorant, it is certainly good for a freeman to be intelligent and well informed. It is educated, intelligent labor that free-labor society demands. I have frequently been told that colored people can not be educated up to as high a standard as white men. Without going into an argument on that point, I will merely observe that some people, of whatever race, can not be educated up to as high a standard as others; but it is the evident and imperative interest of free-labor society, and of a republican community, that every human being should be educated up to as high a level as he can reach. And in promoting popular education, I see another great blessing which the movement I am advocating might confer upon these States.
What other obstacle can there be standing in the way of a combination promising to bear such beneficent fruit? There is one which ought to be easiest to overcome, but is, perhaps, the most formidable. It is party spirit. How will such a movement affect the chances of the Republican or the Democratic party? I am sure, as soon as the subject is suggested, this question will be uppermost in the minds of thousands of men. I have a simple answer to it. If a combination of the good, honest, law-abiding and progressive men of both parties can give peace, order, security and good government to these States; if it can close our useless and distracting struggles about the results of the war; if it can overcome the spirit which sows distrust and mischief; if it can allay old animosities and revive fraternal feeling in the whole country; if it can serve the great cause of local self-government and sound Constitutional principles — then I solemnly declare, I do not care how it will affect the chances and interests of any of the existing parties; it will be utterly indifferent to me whose political fortunes it may advance. And I am sure it can do all these things; and it is furthermore my deliberate conviction, that in no other way these great objects can be so efficiently promoted. I have frequently expressed the opinion that neither the Democratic nor the Republican party, as they now stand in most of the Southern States, can give them peace and good order, and restore that confidence, inside of these States and outside, which your interests so imperatively demand. The Democratic party can not, because it is, in too great a measure, influenced by the reactionary and violent element of society; and the Republican party can not, because, having been in too many of the Southern States, under the lead of unscrupulous and rapacious men, it has too many sins to answer for and too many resentments to encounter, and can not command sufficient moral power; but a combination of the good and well-intentioned men can, and the time has at last arrived when selfish party spirit should no longer be permitted to stand in the way of the great interests of the people. Never were circumstances more urgent than after a great civil war and social revolution, when the sudden transition from one order of things to another has unsettled so many traditional notions, and produced problems so vast and far-reaching as to call for the unbiased consideration and the most unselfish and devoted efforts of every citizen; and never were circumstances more propitious, for the people of the two sections are at last approaching a state of mind permitting them to become just to one another in their hearts, forgetting the differences which divided them, over the great interests they have in common.
And thus I appeal most earnestly to the public-spirited, wise and generous men of the South, whatever their party standing may be, to unite without delay for a common effort, that local self-government demonstrate its ability to maintain public peace and order everywhere, and to afford security to every human being for his life, his property and his rights; that lawless violence be repressed and punished; that the fear which makes the weak and simple-minded mere instruments in the hands of the designing and unscrupulous, be dispelled; that the distrust which stands in the way of your comfort and prosperity be transformed into confidence; that the wounds of the past be healed by wise administration, and that Southern society which has been so fearfully racked by tremendous convulsions, be firmly put upon the road of progressive improvement. I make this appeal with the whole sincerity of a patriotic heart, deeply convinced that Southern men who unite in such a movement will most surely do that which is best for the Southern people themselves, and that the effect of their action will reach even much farther. I said at the beginning of my remarks that the chances of a liberal, reformatory, progressive policy at the North depend in a great measure upon the attitude of the South; and by the movement I have discussed you will relieve those misgivings and apprehensions which still are clogging the best impulses of the Northern mind, and infuse a new, freer and healthier spirit into our whole political life. But still more: you will render a signal service to the cause of self-government and free institutions throughout the world, for in thus wisely providing for their own needs, the Southern people will prove in the eyes of mankind that there are no disasters ever so crushing; that there is no social confusion ever so perplexing, that there are no evils ever so grave, for which self-government, exercised by a brave and intelligent people, does not evolve natural and efficient remedies. Is not this object worthy of the noblest ambition? The Southern people are proud of the bravery of their soldiers, which shone brightly in many a contest. They will have reason to be prouder still of that moral bravery which breaks through cherished traditions; throws aside old prejudices, with bold resolution rises manfully above the disappointments and heart-burnings of the past, and unites friend and foe for the achievement of a great common future.
This is the simple advice which, in response to your kind invitation, I venture to give as to the manner in which I think a fruitful social and political development can be secured in the Southern States. It applies with equal force to their participation in our National politics. About that I shall express my opinion with equal freedom. We stand at the threshold of a Presidential election, the result of which will determine the character of our National Government for four years, perhaps for a much longer period. Some Southern papers counsel you to keep aloof from the great political movements of the country, to lie in wait and support that party which makes the highest bid for your favor. What does this mean? Does it mean that maintaining an attitude of sullen dissatisfaction with the new order of things, you should quietly watch for an opportunity to form a coalition for the purpose of overthrowing that new order of things in whole or in part? Is it an effort to keep alive false hopes by pleasant delusions? Then it would be most insidious advice, which cannot be followed without bringing on new confusion and disaster.
No, it would neither be wise nor manly in you to fold your arms waiting for something to turn up. The Southern people are able to exercise a powerful influence in the political movements of the country, and to do it now. It is their glorious privilege, nay, their duty to do so. Let it be done in the right direction. They can, indeed, not do it by continuing to worship the defunct gods of the past, who are still like mischievous goblins haunting the land and disturbing the imagination of men. A reactionary policy would condemn the South to irretrievable impotency as long as it is pursued. But the Southern people can regain a great and most salutary influence by boldly stepping into the front rank of those who by progressive reforms strive to perfect the commonwealth upon the basis of the new order of things. I have already shown that by establishing peace, order, law, good government and the full security of the rights of all, you can relieve the reformatory impulses of the people of the clog of sinister misgivings and apprehensions. But you can do far more. You can inspire, quicken and help in directing those impulses by active participation. Can wise men fail to see and appreciate the intimate correspondence between the great general interests in controversy and those most nearly concerning the South? I do not speak of Constitutional questions alone. I need not show you more elaborately that upon their decision you can exercise a vast influence if, and only if, you put yourselves upon the ground of the Constitution as it is; for those who waste their strength in contesting the validity of the Constitution as it is, will not be apt to produce an impression in interpreting it.
But why should you sit still and sullenly silent while a fight is going on against the oppressive policy of high protective duties on imports, which has burdened you as well as us enormously, increasing the cost of so many of the necessaries of life and of the requisites of labor, and is thus continually taking money from the pockets of the many to put it, not into the public treasury of the people, but into the pockets of the privileged individuals and corporations, whom it benefits? Do you not feel its exhausting weight in every shirt and coat that covers your backs; in the shoes that protect your feet; in every pound of iron and steel in your agricultural implements; in every lock and bolt that fastens your doors; in every shingle-nail in the roof of your houses that shields you from rain and sunshine, and in every grain of salt you eat? You must have discovered by this time, by practical experience, the fallacy of the favorite argument addressed by protectionists to an agricultural people, that the artificial fostering of certain branches of industry will benefit the great agricultural interest by providing a home market for agricultural products. The farmer need only put his hand into his own pocket, or look at the price-lists of agricultural products, to ascertain that while the protective policy enormously enhances the price of almost everything the farmer is obliged to buy, the price of that he has to sell is no higher, nay, in many instances rather lower, than before, and it requires but little experience in the art of ciphering to discover that this is a losing business. More than this, the man who looks beyond the horizon of the farm must by this time have been struck by the fact, that under this same system of protection our ship-building has been annihilated, our commercial flag is disappearing from the seas, and our export trade is crippled and enormously overbalanced by our imports, while our coasts and frontier lines swarm with smugglers, and our customhouses with unfaithful officers.
And now, if you appreciate and care for your own interests, should you not, with spirit and alacrity, lend a helping hand in bringing on the downfall of this oppressive and mischievous policy, and in introducing a system of revenue which gives at least the public treasury, and through it the people at large, the benefits of what burdens we have to bear?
Why should you sit still and inactive, while questions concerning the National debt are agitated — questions which, by way of taxation, come home to you just as directly as to everybody else? I know efforts have been, and are being made, to enlist the interest of the Southern people in this matter, by persuading them that the repudiation, complete or partial, of the war debt of the United States, would be to their advantage. I entreat you, do not permit yourselves to be led astray by so fatal a delusion. The people of the United States will never disgrace themselves by repudiating any of their just obligations, and no political party will ever advocate such a measure without reducing itself at once to utter impotency. Believe me, when I say that the man who asks the Southern people to support this or that party, on a platform that has a grain of repudiation in it, simply invites you to join a funeral procession, and to resign your political influence for an indefinite period. And by repudiation, I do not mean only a downright refusal to pay what we owe, but any and all of those subterfuges by which the original understanding between the borrower and the lender is to be violated — that insane and dishonest proposition, for instance, which saw the light again in Ohio, to pay off the bonds with a new issue of greenbacks — to pay off an interest-bearing certificate of debt with other certificates of debt which bear no interest, the values of the latter, at the same time, being destroyed by an excessive augmentation of their number. But while the honest and wise men of the South will reject such schemes, as dishonoring the good name of the American people, as destroying our credit and throwing the whole financial system of the country, and all our business interests into disastrous confusion, would it not also be a prudent thing for them to aid in the establishment of a policy which, instead of hurrying on the payment of the National debt with uncalled-for haste, and for that purpose burdening the people with taxes unnecessarily onerous, would lighten the burden of taxation to a point still amply sufficient for the discharge of our obligations as they come due, and permit the exhaustion caused by the war to be overcome, and the business interests of the country to recuperate, before we indulge in the fancy to do a big thing by paying off the debt at the rate of over a hundred millions a year? Do not you need the alleviation of the burden of taxation as much, and more, than the North? Why not step forward, then, and help in a movement to bring it about?
Why should you sit still and fold your arms, while a movement is set on foot to reform the civil service of the Government? Has not the South suffered as much and even more, under existing abuses, than the rest of the country? And are not your interests, therefore, in intimate connection with the interests of all? Nay, you especially should insist upon the demanded reform. Look at it. The patronage, that system of selfish and arbitrary favoritism, has made the public offices the mere spoils of the victorious party. The officers of the Government have become a political army, commanded by one man and his satellites. It rests with the President to use his power to appoint and to remove as a machinery of corruption and intimidation. Our great political contests have descended from the high level of contests of great principles and policies, and become, to a vast extent mere scrambles for spoils and plunder, appealing to the meanest instincts of human nature, instead of the noblest. And these mean instincts have gained a terrible influence in our political life. They are feeding and developing that reckless party spirit, which is so ready to place the selfish considerations of personal or party advantage above the best interests of the people. The standard of political morality stands distressingly low; the feelings of official honor and responsibility have become fearfully blunted; the performance of lick-spittling sycophancy before the dispensers of favor are growing more unrepublican and disgusting every day; the levity with which dishonorable practices are judged by public opinion is alarming to behold; and the far-reaching evils wrought by this demoralization will only increase as the Government grows more powerful, and the interests expand with which it has to deal. No thinking man can witness this spectacle without feeling that a thorough reform is demanded, not only by the interests of the service itself, but by the dignity of republican government and the safety of republican institutions. But to you of the South it seems to me particularly important. You complain that you have in these States a large number of uneducated and inexperienced voters, easily led by designing men for mean, selfish purposes. How necessary is it, then, especially here, that that class of mercenary motives, which is fed by the patronage and the demoralization connected with it, should be as much as possible removed from your political life! You say that the affairs of your States have to be painfully extricated from the slough of disaster and confusion, and that problems of extraordinary difficulty confront you. How desirable it is then, especially for you, that political life should be raised to a higher moral standard; that a loftier feeling of honor should be made to prevail; that the unprincipled mercenary be discouraged in his designs, and the purest and best elements of the people be again attracted to the political field. Think of this, and why should you not actively and vigorously help in pushing the movement of reform beyond the point which it has officially reached now — the point where high-sounding professions are made in high places to tickle the popular ear, while the old abuses are, without a blush, carried on in practice! Have you not every reason to be the most devoted advocates of a reform calculated to save you from the fangs of official rapacity, and restore to our political life once more the purity and high tone of the earlier and better days of this Republic!
And thus turn your eyes wherever you will, your own true interests, as well as those of the whole country — for they are but one and the same — call loudly on you to turn your backs upon the past; to face boldly and with manly resolution the problems and duties of the present and future, and to join hands with those who pursue the same ends of public good.
And who are they? About the relative position of the political parties now in existence, as well as the formation of a new party, I have frequently expressed my opinion, and recent events have rather confirmed than changed it. Viewing situations like ours in the light of history and philosophy, the following conclusion inevitably presents itself: When a republic, whose political institutions are based upon the self-government of the people, has passed through a civil conflict resulting in a great transformation of the social and political order, there are two things to be done. First, the results of that conflict are to be so fixed and fortified in the political institutions of the country as to be protected against reactionary attempts; and, secondly, republican government being essentially a government of public opinion, carried on through the instrumentality of parties, in its general and also its local operations, the opinion even of those who succumbed in the civil conflict is as much as possible to be reconciled to those results, so as to permit their peaceable and successful working. The first of these two tasks can, of course, only be performed by the party which was victorious in the conflict, for it is the only one whose views and purposes are sufficiently identified with its results. This must be evident to every fair-minded man. But the second task, which is essentially one of reconciliation, and whose main object is gradually to put in the place of reactionary desires a disposition to accept without reserve, and to develop in good faith the new order of things, requires the employment of moral influences, which possibly both the existing parties, as they issue from the struggle, may not have at their command. The defeated party, which, in the great conflict, struggled against the changes which ensued, can not perform that task, as long as it has not made the people forget its past career and purposes by so completely and unequivocally identifying itself with the new order of things that its success and advent to power would not in the least excite or encourage any reactionary tendency; or, in other words, unless the task were already virtually accomplished. The victorious party will be fitted better for it in so far as the maintenance of the new order of things already forms part of its policy; but it will not succeed unless, by a policy that is just, generous and unselfish as well as firm, it contrives to disarm the prejudices and gain the confidence of its defeated opponent; to divert their minds from the memory of that which they have lost by demonstrating and developing the advantages of what has been gained; to engage their attention in the promotion of common interests, and thus to overcome that repugnance natural to the defeated, to accept without reserve that which comes from the hand of a victorious opponent.
But if those requirements be not filled by either, then the creation of a third, a new party, would be needed — a party composed of those elements of both the old which, according to their tendencies and aims, belong together; of men who, in good faith and without reserve, pledge themselves to maintain the existing order of things, and to develop it by a progressive and reformatory policy for the common good. Such a new organization would have this great advantage: Not having, as such, been a party to past conflicts on either side, it would, as an organization, have no record to explain or defend; it would be embarrassed by no traditions, and address itself at once to living questions; it would stand solely upon the merits of its present purposes; in furtherance of these purposes, old opponents would meet upon a neutral ground, and its success would neither furnish the least encouragement to reactionary desires on one side, nor would it, on the other, in working upon public opinion, have to overcome the traditional animosities prevailing between the old parties.
Now, apply this to our present situation. The Democratic party in some of the Northern States, appreciating the utter impossibility of success with a profession of faith like its last National platform, has resolved to take a new departure, by recognizing the Constitutional amendments embodying the results of the war. In a speech recently delivered in Chicago I greeted this movement as a favorable sign of the times; but I expressed also the opinion that inherent difficulties would stand in the way of its success as a party movement. But, instead of repeating my own words, I will quote those of a writer who recently addressed a communication to the New Orleans Bee, signing himself “An Old Line Democrat.” It is a paper of rare ability and force, giving evidence of a clear and vigorous mind. After having shown that any reactionary attempt would be fruitless and disastrous, he goes on to say:
Appreciating this view of the situation, the Democratic party in some of the Northern States are resolving to take a new departure. Now, the leaders in this new departure movement are either sincere or they are not. If they are sincere, they accept the cardinal principles of the Republican party as a part of their own faith, and differ only in some questions of administrative policy. A Democrat, therefore, may as consistently vote for a Republican who agrees with him in questions of public policy as for one of his own number. If they are not sincere, then their purpose is to obtain power through deception, and proceed to carry out the views proclaimed by the straight Democracy. That is, they will inaugurate such reactionary legislation as will arouse the suspicions and indignation of the whole North, and bring down upon the South the evils of renewed agitation of the old questions, invite more remorseless interference in her local affairs, and perhaps lead to her reduction as permanent military territories, if it does not precipitate us again in the horrors of another war. The Northern leaders may enjoy the spoils of success, but the South will be left to hold the hot end of the poker; for it may be set down as a fixed fact that the North understands the situation as well as the South and at the first appearance of reaction and counter revolution in respect to the results of the war, she will spring forth to resist it in whatever shape it comes. But the effect of the new departure will not be to increase the chances of the Democratic party for power, but rather to reduce them. It will dishearten the old ranks of Democracy, while the moral effect will confirm doubtful Republicans, and add to their ranks fresh recruits.
This is the language of “An Old Line Democrat,” and it seems to me, although rather strong in expression, he is, in all essential points, not far from the truth. If you want proof of the fact that the new departure has not strengthened the Democratic party, look at the results of the recent elections, and I have no doubt the elections which are to come this fall will only add to the number of Democratic defeats. These things are not the result of accidental circumstances, as some party papers try to make out. The defeats come not because the Republican party has grown morally stronger, but because the Democratic party has grown morally weaker. It is felt to be essentially a party of the past. Many Republicans are dissatisfied with their organization; but they do not go over to the Democrats because they feel it would be like jumping into yesterday, and a yesterday, too, which they did not like. Thus, these defeats are not accidents, but symptoms of decomposition. The new departure, how ever wise in principle, could not secure the sincere assent of the whole party, because it could not at once unteach what had been taught for so many years. And however honestly intended by those who started it, it could not command any confidence outside of the party, because, in order to secure support inside, it had to represent the movement itself as a mere maneuver for obtaining power. Feeling that it had lost its footing in the actual state of things, the Democratic party has tried the new departure as a sort of flying machine; but its traditions and former professions and performances cling to it as a dead weight, and the tail is too heavy for the kite. Neither will the fairest promises in the Democratic platform, whatever their value may be in other respects, avail much to secure success. Party platforms are like promises to pay, like notes of hand. It requires credit to have them discounted. The Democratic party has lost that kind of credit which would make its mere promises in words a current paper in the market. And however good the names of those who may indorse it, they will only endanger their own credit, as the indorsers of a distrusted firm. I say these things without any prejudice, sine ira et studio, simply because they are true. The proof of their truth you can read in current events.
But more than that. Whatever that party may do will appear, however justly or unjustly, as an open or covert attempt to bring on the possibility of a reaction. Most people outside of it would regard it so, and what is worse, a large number of its members, especially in the South, would look at it decidedly in that light. It is so with the new departure, and it would be still worse without it. Its success would, therefore, in spite of its professions, be an encouragement to reactionary desires. For this reason I should consider a Democratic victory a great misfortune, especially for the South. To the North it would be far less threatening in its consequences than to you. I do certainly not think that the overthrow of the results of the war would be accomplished, for a serious attempt would at once call powers into action which would speedily overwhelm it. It would be utterly hopeless and in vain. But the disturbance and confusion caused by the new attempt would be misfortune enough, and the weight of that misfortune would fall directly and almost entirely upon the South; for what the South needs most is the repose of a settled state of things. Everything that has the element of disturbance in it must be hurtful and disastrous to you. For these reasons the Democratic party appears to me unfit for the performance of the task which is now to be accomplished.
And now the Republican party. About it also I expressed my opinion at Chicago. I said that it had the advantage of already being identified with the new order of things; that indeed corrupt practices and insidious influences had invaded it; that a false party spirit had seriously blunted its capacity for good; but that a majority of the elements composing the party are sound; that their impulses are generous, liberal, progressive and healthy in every sense, and that these impulses had only to become the controlling ones to enable that party to achieve by a generous, broad and enlightened policy those conquests of conciliation and persuasion which are necessary for our future peace and successful development. I still entertain that hope. But if such hope should be disappointed, if the policy should prevail of securing party success by keeping fresh the old issues and by pushing the differences of the past into the foreground, if it should fail to appreciate its conciliatory mission, if it should place itself under the dominion of selfish and tyrannical interests — in one word, if it should not succeed in making the third party superfluous, then it seems to me the time would have come for a new organization to step forward — the truly National party of the future, of a composition and with a policy such as I have described. Can it be formed? It will not be difficult as soon as the attitude of the old parties will have demonstrated its necessity. I apprehend it appears already desirable to a very large number of thinking men all over this country. It may be there all of a sudden, and, unless I am greatly mistaken, the tendency is breaking through the skin of the body-politic in all directions. As to myself, I have only in view the accomplishment of certain ends of public policy. I want this to be a country of true freemen. I want to see the equal rights of all efficiently protected in every part of this Republic. I want to see the Constitution of the country as it is, conscientiously enforced and observed by the government as well as the citizens. I want peace to prevail and fraternal feeling to unite again the hearts of all Americans. I want the morality of our political life raised to a higher standard. I want a just distribution of our public burdens and an honest and economical administration of our affairs. By the instrumentality of what party these ends be secured is to me utterly indifferent, provided they are accomplished. Did I consider it most likely that the Democratic party would do it, I should join that party at once, and the cry of “renegade” would have no terrors for me; but I do not think so. If the Republican party meets the case, I shall be very glad, for it would be turning a strong organization, already existing, to good account. But if a new party does it better, my views of public interest and duty will not permit me to be long in choosing. These interests and duties are so great that the prejudices and speculations of party spirit should kick the beam when put in the other scale, and I am confident there are millions of patriotic citizens in both sections of the country who cherish the same sentiments, and will be ready to act accordingly as soon as action is called for.
Shall I tell you what my ideal would have been of the development which our affairs should have taken in a period like this? A wiping out of all past differences and animosities so complete, a fusion of all political elements as formerly divided so general, a desire for National harmony and good feeling so commanding and so unalloyed by selfish aspirations, as to render possible the unanimous election to the Presidency of a man whose broad and generous National spirit would appeal to the hearts of all patriots, whose respect for the Constitution and laws would command the confidence of all well meaning men, and the purity of whose character and whose high principles as a gentleman would insure the infusion of a new moral spirit into our political life. The influence, which on this side and the other have contributed to keep us far from the realization of this ideal, I will not again discuss. They should in any event not prevent us from using the means we possess to move forward in the direction of the same end.
But you, men of the South, I entreat again to make a beginning without delay. You can not overestimate the importance of the things which depend on your action. If you, by a hearty and well directed coöperation of all the good and patriotic elements of your population, succeed in demonstrating the tendency and ability of local self-government, as exercised by you, to secure the supremacy of law, to protect the equal rights of all, even the lowliest among you, to restore general confidence and to put society upon the road of progressive improvement, the greatest difficulties will be removed which stand in the way of an harmonious and happy future. Upon the basis of the new order of things you will build up your States to new greatness and prosperity. The hearts of all good men in the North will fly to you with the warmth of renewed affection, and the voice of the South will be heard in the councils of the Nation with greater respect and confidence than ever before.
And now I desire to say a word to the young men of the South, who will shape her destinies in years to come. Your lives are still before you, full of promise and opportunity. Look at the circumstances which surround you. The field of action upon which you are to move is so glorious, indeed, as to excite the loftiest ambition. What nobler task could there be assigned to any generation of men than, after a period of disaster and distress, the inauguration of a new era in the life of a people; to rise above all the animosities of the past; to throw off the traditional and now obsolete notions peculiar to an absolved period; to ascertain with a clear eye the great opportunities offered by a new order of things, the result of a great revolution; to enlist all the social forces, from the highest to the humblest, in the great work of common advancement and prosperity; to raise the social body to a higher level of civilization and efficiency, by educating the ignorant and encouraging the feeble in their efforts; to invite into your midst by a hearty welcome all who may be willing to contribute their energies to your common fortunes, and thus to make these States again a tower of strength and an ornament to the American Republic, which, in spite of all its enemies, is destined to be the great republic of the future? Can there be a nobler mission than this? How is it possible, then, that to the hearts and minds of the young generation there should be any charm in the idea to sit there in sour idleness, moping and grumbling and growling with childish obstinacy at everything that is, because an enterprise that could not succeed has failed, or to squander their years of usefulness in a hopeless chase after the shadows of the past, which can never regain their substance?
There are two pictures of the future of the South which should be always before your eyes, for either of them you may make a reality. Here is one: Sullen dissatisfaction with the new order of things, kept alive by the false hope of a reaction; the energies of the people wasted by vain efforts to accomplish the impossible, and lurking distrust as to what may come to-morrow, keeping the immigrant away from your field, and foreign capital from your industries; the development of your prosperity impeded, and the social organism disturbed by the changing contests of restless factions — uncertainty, discomfort, decay, everywhere, and perhaps self-government failing to accomplish its great ends, the heavy hand of the military power thrust into your local concerns to maintain peace and order. Does not your imagination recoil? And here is the other: The South, relieved of the incubus of slavery and everything akin to it, lifted out of her distress and confusion by the enlightened public spirit of her own citizens, working in harmony with the spirit of the age; her resources drawn to light, her prosperity developed beyond any degree formerly known by an harmonious coöperation of all the social forces; the rights and liberties of her citizens protected under the beneficent rule of self-government; her society, in all its ranks and spheres, raised to a higher order of civilization by an efficient system of public instruction for all classes; a free spirit of inquiry, quickening and invigorating popular intelligence; her enemies silenced and put to shame by the well-doing of her people; her power in the councils of the Nation restored, and more than ever a power for good; a South marching abreast with the progress of the world to the achievement of the great American destiny!
Young men of the South, how can you hesitate in choosing between lives squandered in vain attempts or sullen contumacy, and lives ennobled by generous efforts for your own welfare, and that of your country and mankind? Open, then, your doors and windows wide, open wide your hearts and minds, to the bracing air and the light and sunshine of the new era. Do not fail to appreciate the noblest and most inestimable privilege that is given to a freeman, the privilege to be useful to his country.
Republicans of the South, a word to you. What have we been struggling for? For the restoration of the Union; for a true and lasting peace; for the revival of fraternal feeling throughout the Nation. That was and is my aim as a Republican. Is it not yours? The accomplishment of that great end stood to me higher than all mere partisan advantage; does it not to you? But if it does, how can you hesitate to grasp, for rigorous coöperation, the hands of those who may be willing to work with you for the same great ends? Must it not be clear to you that these great ends will be best promoted by enlisting all the forces that will serve the common interest? Or is there any interest that, to you, as Republicans, can stand higher than this? Can there be any interest higher than this to a patriot? Let us take care, Republicans of the South, lest the charge that partisan selfishness influenced the motives of Republicans, be not strengthened by your attitude when the highest interests of the country point out so clearly the true course to be followed.
A word to the Democrats of the South. Not to those will I appeal who still are dreaming the dark dream of revenge, nor to those who have so lost themselves in the mazes of obsolete theories that they have become unable to find the points of the compass in the world of to-day. But to you I speak, who honestly desire the welfare of all, and in the confusion of our political contests search for the means to accomplish it. Many of you have honored me with high praise for the independence of spirit with which I have disregarded my party standing, risen up against party discipline to secure to all my fellow-citizens their rights, and to promote the brotherhood of the people. I appreciate that praise most sincerely, and it will be a happy day to me when, to all of you, I shall be able to return the compliment. A happy day, indeed, not for me alone, but for the whole country, when on one side and the other that partisan bigotry is broken which strives to make freemen slaves to the opinions of others, to cover corruption and tyranny with artful defense and to stifle in our hearts the courage to act upon our impulses. Party! What more should it be than a mere engine to accomplish objects of public good? What is the divinity of that idol that, even when it stands in the way of the public good, we should sacrifice upon its altar our best convictions of right and wrong, and thus our usefulness and self-respect? What high-born and mysterious power is it, that it should force us to present the pitiable spectacle of men who, in the face of great duties and opportunities, are controlled by small, paltry considerations? Truly, if ever, the time is now when the narrow-minded partisan should make room for the independent man and the patriot.
My friends, I shall now take leave of you. Some opinions I have expressed may have run against those which many of you entertain, but they come from a mind earnestly seeking for the truth, and from a heart full of the anxious desire to see healed the wounds struck by past conflicts, and the whole American people once more united in the proud consciousness of a common nationality. I entreat you give what I have said a candid consideration. The whole measure of my ambition will be filled if I succeed in doing something to remove the questions so deeply involving the peace and happiness of the American people from the feverish atmosphere of partisan passion and selfishness, and to bring on that condition of things which will dissolve stubborn prejudices, melt away old resentments and open our minds and hearts wide to a just understanding of our duties — a new era of good feeling.