The Political History of Virginia during the Reconstruction/2

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CHAPTER II.


THE PRESIDENT'S ATTEMPT AT RESTORATION.


When Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, and ended the war, the resources of Virginia had probably been more thoroughly drained than those of any other of the Confederate States. The country between the Potomac and Appomattox had been subjected to the repeated raids and continued occupation of the opposing armies, and farms were in a ruined condition, without farming implements and stock. In many cases crops had not been raised for years or had been repeatedly destroyed. But while industry lay in this prostrate condition, Virginia was more fortunate in a social and political sense than many of her neighbors. The private warfare which embittered Kentucky and Tennessee hardly existed at all in old Virginia, for her people were practically united in support of the Confederate cause. Furthermore the body of slaves freed from restraint by the emancipation did not outnumber the whites as in South Carolina or Mississippi.

But, of course, the future of the State depended very largely upon such a policy as the Federal government might adopt towards the conquered South. It seems clear that it was Lincoln's desire to re-admit the Southern States to participation in the Federal government as soon as they had abandoned all resistance to the United States. In the proclamation of December 8, 1863, (1) he offered amnesty to all but specified classes of leading men; (2) declared that a State government might be reconstructed as soon as one-tenth of the voters of 1860, qualified by State laws, "excluding all others," should take the prescribed oath; (3) declared that if such a government was republican in form, it should be benefited by the guarantee clause; (4) excepted


The President's Attempt at Restoration. p.27

States where loyal governments had always been maintained; but (5) added that the admission of Congressmen rested entirely with the two houses, and not with the executive. 1

In pursuance of this plan, State governments were established under Federal control in Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas before the war had ended. But Lincoln went further. One of the witnesses before the reconstruction committee testified that he offered the following terms to Judge Campbell, the Confederate commissioner at the Fortress Monroe conference:

(1) The disbandment of the Confederate armies.
(2) The full submission of the Southern people.
(3) The emancipation of the slaves. 2 This negotiation, however, with the Confederate government fell through.

Later the President went to Richmond, after the evacuation, and, it seems, offered to treat with separate States and to recognize the right of the Virginia legislature to recall its troops from the field. Judge Campbell replied that if the President would permit the legislature to meet, it would doubtless order the recall of the State troops. On April 6, 1865, Lincoln wrote to General Weitzel, in command at Richmond, directing him to permit the Virginia legislature to meet and withdraw the Virginia regiments from the Confederate army.

A few days later Lee surrendered; nevertheless the conciliatory proceedings continued. The Richmond Whig of April 12, 1865, issued an address which requested the governor, lieutenant-governor, members of the legislature and other prominent citizens to assemble in Richmond on April 25. "The matters to be submitted to the legislature," it said, " are the restoration of peace to the State of Virginia, and the adjustment of questions involving life, liberty and


[1] Lalors' Cyclopaedia of Political Science, etc., Vol. 3, p. 544. Messages and Papers of the Presidents, VI, 179.
[2] Appleton's Annual Cyclopaedia 1865, p. 787. House Docs., Reports of Committees, 30th Congress, 1st session.


p.28 The Political Reconstruction of Virginia.

property." Safe conducts were issued for Robert M.[Mercer] T.[Taliferro] Hunter, John B. Baldwin, John Letcher and other members of the former State government. The address was signed by a large number of prominent citizens and received the approval of General Weitzel. An informal meeting was held in Richmond on April 14, at which Judge Campbell recited the terms that the President offered. The assembly, thereupon, appointed a committee to inform Governor Smith and the legislature of the propositions. It seems, however, that Campbell exceeded his instructions, as President Lincoln, in a letter to Weitzel of April 12, 1865, declared that the former had misconstrued his order, and requested that his letter to the general and his paper to Campbell should be withdrawn.3

At all events, the assassination of Lincoln ended any such plan of re-adjustment. General Halleck took command in Richmond and refused to recognize the authority of the State officers. For some weeks government in Virginia remained in abeyance. In this interregnum, popular meetings were held at various places with a view to the re-establishment of civil government,4 the most important of which was the one held at Staunton on May 8, 1865.5 This meeting adopted resolutions declaring that the people of Augusta county were prepared to conform to the laws of the United States, and advised the assembling of a convention for the purpose of re-organizing the State government.

Virginia did not, however, remain long without civil administration. On May 9, 1865, President Johnson issued his proclamation, "to re-establish the authority of the United States and to execute the laws within the geographical limits known as the State of Virginia." This order declared the Confederate State and national governments null and void, and directed the appointment of revenue collectors, the re-establishment of postal routes, the holding


[3] Appleton's Annual Cyclopaedia, 1865. 798.
[4] A. H. H. Stuart's " Restoration of Virginia to the Union," p. 12.
[5] "Restoration of Virginia," p. 12.

The President's Attempt at Restoration. 29

of the district court and provided for confiscation. The ninth article was the most important. It said, "That to carry into effect the guaranty by the Federal Constitution of a republican form of State government and offer the advantage and security of domestic laws as well as to complete the re-establishment of the authority and laws of the United States and the full and complete restoration of peace within the limits aforesaid, Francis H. Pierpont, Governor of the State of Virginia, will be aided by the Federal government, so far as may be necessary in the lawful measures which he may take for the extension and administration of the State government." 6

The action of Johnson in recognizing the validity of the Alexandria government placed Virginia upon a different footing from that of the other States which had fallen with the Confederacy. Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas had come, before the end of the war, more or less under Federal control, and in these States governments had been already established by the Unionists. In the other Confederate States—North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas—the President appointed provisional governors. Constitutional conventions were held and governments re-formed.

But now that Johnson fully recognized the Alexandria administration, Virginia possessed a regular State government of her own. Two weeks later Pierpont went from Alexandria to Richmond, arriving there on May 26, 1865.7 Soon after his inauguration, he issued a call for an extra session of the assembly. It met in Richmond on June 19, 1865. Three senators and nine members of the house of delegates were present. This was the last meeting of the Alexandria legislature.

The next day Pierpont sent in his message to the assembly. He treated the economic and political condition of the


[6] Messages and Papers of the Presidents, VI, 338.
[7] The Richmond Enquirer of April 2, 1868.


30 The Political Reconstruction of Virginia.

State with great fullness. He urged the necessity of the organization of county governments and the election of officers, and desired the legislature to pass acts legalizing the marital relations of negroes, increasing the assessment of taxes and increasing the legal rate of interest to 7 ¾ per cent. Furthermore Pierpont asked a most important concession of his legislature the repeal of the disfranchising article of the Alexandria constitution of 1864.8> In conformity with the governor's recommendation, the legislature passed acts staying the collection of debts and increasing the rate of taxation from ten to twenty cents on the hundred dollars' worth of property, and finally, on June 21, an act submitting to the popular vote at the next election the question of giving the assembly the power to alter and amend the third article of the Alexandria constitution, that which related to disfranchisement.

The brief session ended on June 23, 1865. Before adjournment, a resolution was passed declaring "That the general policy of the present Federal administration and especially its policy in regard to the reconstruction in Virginia, is eminently wise, just and proper and merits the warm approbation of the loyal people of Virginia." 9

Speaker Downey finally congratulated the members that their action in the legislature had kept the State government out of the hands of the abolitionists. "Virginia," he said, "is now safe. Whatever they may do to other States, they cannot force a provisional governor upon her. Whatever they may do to other States, thank God, they cannot now saddle negro suffrage upon us."

This was a rather startling declaration, coming as it did from a member of the Alexandria government. But it must be remembered, besides the natural gratification of the little legislature in being recognized, that in June, 1865,


[8] "It is folly," he said, " to suppose that a State can be governed under a republican form of government when in a large portion of the State, nineteen-twentieths of the people are disfranchised and cannot hold office."
[9] Fredericksburg New Era, June 27, 1865.


The President's Attempt at Restoration. 31

no general sentiment in favor of negro suffrage existed. At this time some of the members of the Alexandria government seem to have been in sympathy with Governor Pierpont in his support of Johnson's policy of speedy reconciliation and restoration.

There was much work for Pierpont to do, in effecting the re-establishment of local government, which had well-nigh disappeared from the State in the ruin of war. For this purpose he appointed commissioners and conductors of county elections; in some cases the governor appointed these officers, in others he authorized any persons to act whom the military authority appointed.10 Under these directions, and with the aid of the military, local government was speedily restored in most parts of the State.11 There were some exceptions. In the municipal election in Richmond on July 25, 1865, ex-Confederate officers were elected mayor, commonwealth's attorney and superintendent of the almshouse.12

Shortly after the election, when the members of the board of aldermen met to organize the city government, an order was sent by General Turner declaring the election null and void. Accordingly there was no civil administration in Richmond until the following autumn. In October, General Terry allowed a quorum of the council to meet, in order to prepare for the coming election. The obnoxious officers finally resigned and the military authorities then permitted the organization of the government.

After this incident, Pierpont issued an order to the justices of the county courts, which forbade any persons to hold office who had participated in the Confederate government. 13 In this case Pierpont bowed to an obvious necessity; his own feelings were mild and conservative, but he


[10] Appleton's Annual Cyclopaedia, 1865, p. 816. Fredericksburg New Era, June 27, 1865.
[11] Alexandria Gazette, August 29, 1865.
[12] Richmond Enquirer, October 30, 1865. Richmond Times, July 26, 1865. Richmond Republic, July 26, 1865.
[13] Fredericksburg New Era, August 4, 1865.


32 The Political Reconstruction of Virginia.

was forced to consider as paramount the authority of the general commanding in Virginia. It was, indeed, Pierpont's desire to carry out the mild Presidential policy and to reconcile Virginia to the North. This is evident not only in his message to the assembly and in his speeches, but in his whole course of action in the summer and fall of 1865. His appointments of judges were much commended by the conservative press. "He has secured for himself," said the Richmond Whig, "a hold on the good-will of the people of Virginia that neither the defamation of malice nor the intrigues of knavery can dislodge." 14 Pierpont constantly urged the necessity of such sacrifices as might placate the dominant section, and the avoidance of any possible occasion of irritation. Thus, in the important matter of the election of a president of the Richmond and Danville Railroad, he interfered, in order to prevent the chance of a misunderstanding. General Joseph E. Johnston was a nominee for the position, but Pierpont persuaded a majority of the stockholders that this election of the great Confederate field marshal would be untimely.15 General Johnston was, therefore, defeated, receiving 1,728 votes to 2,288 cast for A. S. Buford. 16

But Pierpont's policy, wise and conciliatory as it was, soon brought him into opposition to his former associates at Alexandria. For the majority of Union men in Virginia, who had supported the Alexandria government, were Republicans of radical tendencies. The strength of the radical party in comparison with the whole number of voters in the State was very insignificant. It consisted chiefly of farmers living in the counties along the Potomac, and of the tradesmen who had followed the Union army to Norfolk. Yet this faction, inconsiderable as it was, had hoped to control Virginia through the disfranchising article of the


[14] Alexandria Gazette, September 9 and 13, 1865.
[15] Fredericksburg New Era, October 3, 1865.
[16] Richmond Whig, September 14, 1865. Alexandria Gazette, September 15, 1865.

The President's Attempt at Restoration. p.33

Alexandria constitution, which, if continued in force, would have disqualified for voting almost the entire population of the State. Accordingly, the action of the legislature, upon the governor's recommendation, in providing for the repeal of this section, surprised and angered the radicals. Lewis McKenzie said in his testimony before the reconstruction committee : "When that legislature went to Richmond (June 19, 1865) they altered the constitutional provisions in such a manner that I found that the loyal men of the State were to be totally sacrificed and turned over to the power of the secessionists."

The opposition to Pierpont's policy took form even before the June meeting of the legislature. On June 12, 1865, the Republicans of Alexandria formed a political association with S. Ferguson Beach as president. The following resolutions were adopted : (1) "That it was essential to prevent Virginia from coming into the control of the secessionists; 17 (2) that it seemed as if this control might be gained; (3) that the constitution of Virginia should be amended so as to confer the right of suffrage upon, and restrict it to, loyal male citizens without regard to color." 18 This "Union Association of Alexandria" further issued an address to the people of the North requesting Congress to regard the administration of Governor Pierpont as merely provisional, and to order an election of members to a State convention, in which "loyal people" without distinction of color should vote. Congress was also requested to organize a territorial or provisional government until the meeting of the convention.19

This was the first announcement of the advocacy of negro suffrage by the Republican party in Virginia. But unqualified negro suffrage was not proposed at this time. It will be further noted that Governor Pierpont's former associates in the Alexandria administration now desired the overthrow of the very government which they had


[17] Reports of Committee, 39th Congress, 1st session, part 2, p.11
[18] Alexandria Gazette, June 13, 1865.
[19] Ibid., July 5, 1867.


p.34 The Political Reconstruction of Virginia.

supported and maintained to be legal during the Civil War, and upon whose legality rested West Virginia's claims to Statehood. The Alexandria Republicans took this remarkable position because they feared that the administration was passing beyond their control. They thought that Pierpont had abandoned them. And indeed he had ceased to be the governor of a single town and had become, in a large sense, the governor of Virginia.

The Alexandria address was a fair sample of radical sentiment. A meeting of the "Unconditional Union men of Frederick county" was held at Winchester on June 28, 1865, "for the purpose of giving expression to their opinions upon the recent action of the Virginia legislature in extending the right of suffrage to rebels and their aiders and abettors."20 The radical farmers adopted resolutions expressive of astonishment and dissatisfaction at the course of Governor Pierpont, the legislature and Speaker Downey. A memorial was also addressed to President Johnson condemning the removal of restrictions upon disloyal voters and asking such legislation as would prevent "rebel office-holders" and "aiders and abettors of rebellion" from holding office. It is evident from these and similar expressions that the radicals in Virginia strongly opposed the plan of speedy reconciliation. They opposed not only the re-enfranchising of Confederates, although this was a prime grievance which threatened their political fortunes, but chiefly the restoration of government with the entire exclusion from suffrage of the colored race.

In the same measure that the President's policy toward the conquered States surprised and alarmed the radicals, it surprised and cheered the conservative population of Virginia. At first Johnson's intentions were not entirely clear. The thirteenth clause of the amnesty proclamation, which excluded from pardon all ex-Confederates possessed of more than $20,000 worth of property, was felt to be an


[20] Alexandria Gazette, July 8, 1865. Richmond Republic, July, 1865. Fredericksburg New Era, July 18, 1865.


The President's Attempt at Restoration. p.35

anomaly and a hardship. A meeting in Richmond sent a memorial to the President declaring that this exception had acted in a ruinous manner upon the interests of all classes. Judge John C. Underwood made the most of the clause, and, under his directions, John Underwood, United States marshal of Eastern Virginia, libeled much property for confiscation. 21 Little came of this action, however, as Johnson opposed a confiscation policy, and, after a time, abandoned the thought of it entirely.

It soon became evident that he wished to restore the Confederate States to their old place in the Union as speedily as possible, and with this assurance the hopes of the Southern people began to rise. The President sanctioned the election of members of the legislature, and also of Congress, in anticipation of a return of representatives from the South to Congress. Accordingly, numerous candidates appeared in every district. For the most part they were self-nominated and stood solely on their own merits. No organized parties existed in Virginia, except the Republican, which had a partial organization in a few localities but on the whole was small and uninfluential. The great body of voters, former Democrats and Whigs, had now no very settled political principles. But to some extent the future development of politics was apparent. Distinctions between the old parties had largely passed away, and where they lingered, lingered chiefly as memories. There were indeed few party divisions, except in the border counties, which had been invaded by Northern settlers. The latter brought radical ideas with them and stood for a new order of things founded on the victory of the Union arms. But the great majority of the people were conservatives and held to the ancient political beliefs, especially to that of the essential difference between the races.

Political interests had begun to revive in the State as people recovered from the first shock of the overthrow of


[21 Alexandria Gazette, June 11 and 17, 1865. Richmond Bulletin, June, 1865. Alexandria Gazette, July 17-18, 1865.

p.36 The Political Reconstruction of Virginia.

the Confederacy. The tone of the press soon became independent, sometimes imprudent and even bitter. Accordingly several newspapers were suppressed by the military authorities. The Richmond Whig received notice to suspend publication on July n, 1865, by order of General Turner, for an attack on President Johnson. 22 The Whig was again issued on July 26, and thereafter stood as a champion of conciliation. The Petersburg News was suppressed in June, 1865, the Richmond Bulletin in October, 23 the Richmond Examiner, the Richmond Times and other papers at various times. But in spite of occasional outbreaks, a part of the press favored adaptation to the new circumstances, and there seemed in 1865 a general desire on the part of the Virginia people for reconciliation with the North. The war was now a little past and the bitterness of reconstruction had not come. In August, 1865, the Richmond Whig urged Virginia. and all the Southern States to adopt the thirteenth amendment at once;24and the Richmond Times joined with the Whig in calling for an extra session of the legislature, in order that the North might appreciate the fact that the State was loyal. Meetings of citizens were held in various towns to testify to the loyalty of the Virginia people to the Federal government 25 The one in Richmond on August 29, 1865, passed resolutions denouncing " the persistent and wicked efforts of a portion of the press and people of the Northern States to brand the people of the South with perfidy and insincerity ... by questioning their fidelity and truth in the oaths of allegiance which they have taken." 26 Furthermore the course of President Johnson and Governor Pierpont was approved. 27

As the time for the election approached, numerous candidates for the legislature and for Congress appeared. It


[22] Alexandria Gazette, July 16, 1865.
[23] Ibid., October 9, 1865.
[24] Richmond Whig, August, 1865. Alexandria Gazette, August 18, 1865.
[25] Alexandria Gazette, August 28, 1865; also August 26, 1865.
[26] Richmond Whig, August 30, 1865. Alexandria Gazette, August 31, 1865.
[27] Alexandria Gazette, September 13, 1865.

The President's Attempt at Restoration. p.37

was a time of personal politics, for there was no great difference between most of the candidates. The newspapers were full of cards announcing the qualifications of various aspirants, who chiefly differed in their ability or inability to take the Congressional test-oath. The fortunate candidate who possessed this advantage published it as a prime reason for receiving support. Real party contests took place in only a few counties which contained a radical element.

The Congressional and State elections were held on October 12, 1865. The vote was exceedingly small, amounting to only 40,000 in the eight Congressional districts. No Republican was elected to Congress. In the Alexandria district, where the largest radical vote was cast, Lewis McKenzie received 1,722 votes, and his conservative opponent 4,853 28 The poll in this district was 8,670 less than in 1860. Several of the Congressmen elected could not take the test-oath, among them the distinguished Alexander H. H. Stuart.

Power was granted to the legislature to enact the proposed amendment to the Alexandria constitution by an almost unanimous voice. In 59 counties only 772 adverse votes were cast. Many counties voted unanimously for it, and in several no vote at all was taken on the question. The election was thoroughly representative of the desires of the people. By the terms of the act of legislature, little restriction was put upon the voters beyond taking the amnesty oath. Consequently the Congressmen and nearly all of the members of the legislature were conservatives.

It was a question now in what manner the Congressmen-elect would be received by Congress. Would they be required to take the test-oath? Many denounced such a procedure as unconstitutional, but the Richmond Whig, while


[28] Alexandria Gazette, November 17, 1865. Reports of Committees, 39th Congress, 1st session, Vol. 2, p. 159. One hundred and fifty

other votes were scattered.

38 The Political Reconstruction of Virginia.

it denied the constitutionality of the oath, argued that it would be impossible to gain representation without it. 29

According to President Johnson's plan, the restoration should now have ended. Armed resistance had long ceased in the Southern States ; they were apparently reconciled to their enforced return to the Union ; they were apparently loyal to the Federal government. Representatives had been elected to Congress. All that remained to be done was the acceptance of the new Congressmen by that body, and peace would return again to the stricken States.

But great struggles cannot be so easily composed. The victors do not so readily relinquish their advantages. Be- sides, the chief issue of the great war remained unsettled. The North was absorbingly interested in the new status of the manumitted race. Slaves they were no longer; but should they still remain under the control of the white race, without political rights? President Johnson, who was a Southerner and had supported the Northern side rather from loyalty to the Union than from any desire to liberate the blacks, was content that they should remain in their present condition. Not so with the Congressional majority. The act of emancipation remained incomplete in its eyes, for the freedmen had not been raised to citizenship; the reconstruction, therefore, was yet to begin. And when the two powers of government came to oppose each other, it was found that the Northern people would lend support to the legislature against the executive.

Upon the meeting of Congress in December, 1865, the representatives elected by Virginia and the other Southern States went to Washington with hopes of being admitted to their seats. But they were disappointed. The clerk of


[29] "It is no use," it said, "for us to be guilty of the folly of butting our heads against immovable walls. We must take things as we find them and we must accept facts as they are and devote all our thoughts and energies to the single end of getting back under the protection of the Constitution and laws of the United States." Whig, October, 1865.

The President's Attempt at Restoration. p.39

the House, McPherson, omitted the names of the Southern members from the roll-call, and they were not permitted to plead in their behalf. 30 All that was left for them was to return home. In such manner Johnson's attempt at restoration failed.


[30] A. H. H. Stuart's "Restoration of Virginia to the Union," p.16.