The Political History of Virginia during the Reconstruction/3

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CHAPTER III.


THE BEGINNING OF THE RECONSTRUCTION.


When Congress on December 4, 1865, refused to receive the Southern representatives, it was evident that harder terms would be required of the late seceding States. The period of the President's supremacy, from May to December, 1865, had passed. Afterwards came a year of inquiry and of discussion on the part of the Congressional majority, and then the reconstruction. In Virginia the reconstruction proper was comparatively brief, lasting from March 2, 1867, to January 28, 1870, a period much shorter than was experienced in South Carolina, Louisiana and Florida, where it continued for quite a decade.

For some time after the downfall of the Confederacy, the policy of the Republican party towards the Southern States remained uncertain. As the year 1865 wore on, the party lost confidence in Johnson and then became rapidly hostile to his policy. The President's hasty attempt to renew the Federal relations of the Confederate States was partially responsible for this hostility, and to this was added the conduct of these States themselves. The emancipation had suddenly thrust forth upon the South an immense, homeless, laboring population, which, in its new-found liberty, was not inclined to settle down immediately to industry. Such a condition of affairs was alarming and possibly dangerous. The Southern legislatures attempted to correct it by passing codes that were, in some cases, restrictive to the point of rigidness. 1 The North had been narrowly watching the course of the Southerners in regard to the negroes and the new codes at once stirred up an exceedingly


[1] Wilson's "Division and Reunion," p. 260.


The Beginning of the Reconstruction. p.41

active and bitter criticism. It is true that Virginia had had no share in these legislative proceedings when Congress met on December 4, 1865, but her legislature speedily adopted vagrant laws which placed her in the same class, in the Northern opinion, with the other Confederate States.

The new assembly, which passed the vagrant acts, met on December 4, 1865. It was a representative body and accordingly conservative. Some members, indeed, had served under the Confederate government. John B. Baldwin, of Augusta, one of the ablest politicians in the State and a former member of the Confederate Congress, was elected speaker of the house of delegates. But none of the prominent leaders in the secession movement, such as Robert M. T. Hunter and William Smith, were present. The National Intelligencer said of this body : "It is a curious fact that in the house of delegates, ninety-six, or with one exception, every member is an old time Whig, while in the senate it is pretty much the same." 2

The assembly at once showed its representative sentiment. The restrictions imposed on Confederates as to suffrage were removed on December 8, 1865, when, in accordance with the result of the recent election, the disfranchising article of the Alexandria constitution was repealed. 3 The legislature substituted no other conditions for voting and made no further reference to disfranchisement. It next attempted to bring about a reconciliation with West Virginia. The war had shaken and well-nigh wrecked the State, but this, the first legislative body of the new era, went immediately to work to regain for Virginia all that was yet possible. On February 15, 1866, the assembly passed an act appealing to West Virginia to reunite with Virginia and directing the appointment of a committee to negotiate with West Virginia concerning the payment of her share of the State debt. 4

The all-important problem that confronted the assembly


[2] Fredericksburg News, December 7, 1865.
[3] Acts, 1865-6, p. 197.
[4] Acts, 1865-6.


p.42 The Political Reconstruction of Virginia.

was the proper method of legislation in regard to the manumitted blacks. The freedmen had not yet become satisfactory workers under the new conditions. They showed a tendency to break contracts at will, and many of them roamed the country without restraint. In order to regulate this idle population and to obtain labor, which was sorely needed, the legislature passed a vagrant act. 5

Vagrants were to be hired out for terms not exceeding three months ; the wages they earned should be applied for their benefit with some restrictions. If a vagrant ran away without sufficient cause, the person hiring him might have his services free for one month in addition to the stipulated term of labor, and might work him with ball and chain. If the employer refused to take him back, the vagrant could be used in the public service or hired out for his keep. In the case of his not being needed for any of these purposes, he might be confined in jail on bread and water.

This law was probably justified by the economic necessities of the time, since there was an urgent demand for labor in many sections and a large part of the freedmen refused to work for the small wages possible. Besides a great many negroes had become nomads. But the passage of such an act was most impolitic in view of the temper of the Northern people at that period. Although the Virginia vagrant law was milder than those of other Southern States, at the same time it gave great offense. It seemed to savor of slavery. In the heat of the moment many thought that Virginia sought to nullify the emancipation. This was the view of the military commander. On January 25, 1866, General Terry issued an order stating that "The ultimate effect of the statute will be to reduce the freedmen to a condition of


[5] Acts, 1865-6, p. 91. Vagrants were: (1) All persons who unlawfully returned to counties or towns whence they had been legally removed. (2) Persons without means who refused to work for common wages. (3) Persons refusing to perform the work allotted to them by the overseers of the poor. (4) Beggars, unless disabled or incapable of labor. (5) Persons from without the State who did not work and had no visible means of support.

The Beginning of the Reconstruction. p.43

servitude worse than that from which they have been emancipated--a condition which will be slavery in all but its name. It is therefore ordered that no magistrate, civil officer or other person shall in any way or manner, apply or attempt to apply the provisions of said statute to any colored person in this department.6General Terry further charged that the law was passed in the interest of the landholders, who had combined to put down wages; and when the negroes refused to take what was offered, wished to compel them to work.

It is true that there had been attempts in some sections to arrange a scale of wages, but this seems to have been due rather to the impoverishment of the farmers than from a desire to oppress the negroes. It has been urged that this combined arrangement of wages tended to protect the freedmen, as no farmer might offer them less than the prescribed rate 7 and then force them to work. The legislators seem to have wished to act fairly and Terry's order was exaggerated. But unquestionably in many cases the law would have worked harshly. The chief error, however, lay, not in any great wrongfulness of the statute, but in the very effort to enforce a restrictive measure in the face of Northern feeling, for the members of the legislature could not have been ignorant of that sentiment. Immediately upon the publication of General Terry's somewhat rhetorical order, the anti-Southern press was filled with attacks upon the law, which did great injury to Virginia. Probably nothing that was done by the Southern people in the reconstruction so irritated the North as the passage of various laws for the regulation of freedmen.8


[6] Fredericksburg News, January 26, 1866. New York Tribune, January 29, 1866. Lalors' Cyclopaedia of Political Science, III, 547.
[7] It was apparently five dollars a month and board.
[8] New York Evening Post, May 30, 1866: " In South Carolina and Florida the freedmen are forbidden to wear or keep arms. In South Carolina they are forbidden to work at trades, or to engage in business, unless specially licensed. In Florida it is made a penal offense to teach the freedmen or their children, except a license has first been obtained. In Mississippi all freedmen who are not engaged in labor by the year are compelled to take out a license. ... In South Carolina it is enacted that the laborer shall be called 'servant ' and the employer 'master.' North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee appear to be liberal and in the main just.


p. 44 The Political Reconstruction of Virginia.

On the other hand, acts were passed for the benefit of the blacks. The legislature, on February 26, 1866, legalized the marital relations of negroes in cases of cohabitation, and made legitimate the children of such connections.9 The Freedmen's Bureau report in 1866 mentioned the great benefits effected by this enactment. 10

Further, in order to protect the freedmen in their ignorant condition, the law declared that no contract should be binding for longer than two months unless signed and acknowledged before a justice of the peace, notary public, or other officer of the law, or before two credible witnesses. It was also required that the meaning of the contracts should be explained to the negroes. Most of the distinctions in law between the races were abolished. All provisions in respect to crimes and punishments were applied equally to both. Legal phraseology was changed so as to do away with discriminations. Georgia and South Carolina had adopted elaborate codes for the regulation of freedmen, but the Virginia legislators decided against such a course.11 The acts relating to slaves and slavery were repealed on February 27, 1866. The right of testifying in courts in cases which concerned them was granted the freedmen, and the right of bearing testimony in all cases might have been extended but for the strong prejudice of the white people on that point, especially of the lower classes. 12 Unfortunately the vagrant act neutralized the effect of this wise legislation in the eyes of the North. Furthermore, the


[9] Acts, 1865-6, p. 85.
[10] Senate Docs., 39th Congress, 2nd session, Vol. 1, p. 157.
[11] Testimony of W. T. Joynes before the reconstruction committee. Reports of Committees, 39th Congress, 1st session, Part 2, p. 160.
[12] Testimony of W. T. Joynes before the reconstruction committee. Reports of Committees, 39th Congress, 1st session, Part 2, p. 16, and Report of Secretary of War, 39th Congress, 2nd session, p. 717.

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assembly irritated the Virginia Republicans by electing new State officers in place of those who had come from Alexandria with Governor Pierpont.13

The vagrant acts and negro codes passed by the Southern States unquestionably added greatly to the already bitter hostility of the Congressional majority. They were one of the causes of the reconstruction. The inquiry of the reconstruction committee, which began early in 1866, supplied another incentive to rigorous measures against the South. This inquiry gave the Southern radicals an opportunity to bring forward their grievances and opinions at a very critical time. The Republican witnesses testified almost unanimously to the unfitness of the late Confederate States for re-admission to their constitutional rights; and they made a deep impression upon Congress. The Unionists in the South expected the war to bring about an impossible reversal of conditions and opinions; they naturally resented the prevailing prejudice against them, and they wished to rule the country.

In the case of Virginia the investigation began on January 23, 1866. Forty-nine witnesses were examined.14 The majority were prominent Republicans. They spoke as men entirely discontented with the community in which they lived, and their testimony agreed in being adverse to the loyalty of Virginia, although it differed somewhat in details. Some witnesses were much more moderate in their estimates of the faults of the Virginia people than others. But they mainly agreed that the Virginians were still hostile to the Federal government and actually disloyal; that Union men were hated and that their lives would be endangered if the United States troops should be withdrawn; also that the freedmen were frequently ill-treated and that they and white Unionists could not hope for justice in the State courts. A few witnesses even asserted their belief that in


[13] Alexandria Gazette, January 12, 1866.
[14] Reports of Committees, 39th Congress, 1st session, Part 2, Virginia. Reports of Secretary of War, 39th Congress, 2nd session.


p.46 The Political Reconstruction of Virginia.

case of a foreign war the former Confederates would join the enemy against the Union. The chief adverse witnesses were General John W. Turner, in command at Richmond; Judge John C. Underwood; Lewis McKenzie, lawyer; Dr. G. F. Watson, direct tax commissioner; John Hawxhurst; George Tucker, lawyer; Josiah Millard, assessor of internal revenue; Jonathan Roberts, sheriff of Fairfax county; Dr. J. J. Henshaw; John F. Lewis, farmer; Colonel Orlando Brown, commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau; Major-General A. H. Terry, and Charles H. Lewis, secretary of the commonwealth. Nearly all of these men, and most of the other Republican witnesses as well, had come originally from Northern States. The leading witnesses who attested to the good intentions of the Virginia people were W. T. Joynes and General Robert E. Lee. General Lee's evidence was particularly important. He expressed his belief in the entire loyalty of the people to the United States government and in their desire to do justice to the freedmen. Joynes testified to the loyalty and well-meaning of the Virginia legislature. However, the favorable impression of the few conservative witnesses was overborne by the far greater number of Republicans, 15 and the majority report of the committee affirmed the unfitness of the Southern States for self-government and re-admission to their Federal relations.

The testimony of the radicals played, therefore, an important part in occasioning the reconstruction in Virginia. They had, indeed, opposed the new State government from the first, when it became evident that Pierpont had decided upon a conciliatory policy. The refusal of Congress to receive the Southern members greatly encouraged them. A meeting of Republicans was held at Alexandria on


[15] Reports of Committees. Some testimony was absurd. For instance, George S. Smith was asked, "If left to themselves what would they (Virginia people) do with the negro?" Answer. "They would entirely extirpate him from the face of the earth. They would first commence with the Union men and then they would take the negroes." p.14.

The Beginning of the Reconstruction. p.47

February 5, 1866, with Judge Underwood presiding. 16 The resolutions called upon Congress to establish a territorial government, for the protection of "loyal" men, as the existing State government was unsafe." The inquiry of the reconstruction committee followed by its report strongly adverse to the South; and the passage of the Freedmen's Bureau bill and civil rights bill increased the radical activities. An attempt was made at party organization at the "Unconditional Union Convention" meeting at Alexandria on May 17, 1866." It elected John Minor Botts president. Botts was born in Dumfries, Virginia, in 1802. He became a prominent Whig politician and served several terms in Congress. Later he refused to acquiesce in the secession, took no part in the war and suffered imprisoment for a time by the Confederate authorities. 19 The Republican party in Virginia was particularly fortunate in having such an able and influential man for a leader, but it did not avail itself of the advantage, as the negroes considered Botts too conservative.

Sixty delegates were present in this convention, representing seventeen counties. Credentials, however, were reported from only nine, and many delegates came without authorization. On May 18, the convention formed an organization under the title of the "Union Republican Party of Virginia." It defined the policy of the party concerning the negro for the first time. 20 The resolutions urged disfranchisement of Confederates and a qualified suffrage applying to both races. This declaration in favor of negro suffrage was not reached without considerable debate, for some delegates considered the resolution to be inexpedient. 21 This convention marks the first regular organization of the Republican party in Virginia. Hitherto organization had been


[16] Alexandria Gazette, February 6, 1866.
[17] Ibid., February 17, 1866.
[18] Alexandria Gazette, May 18, 1866, and Enquirer of same date.
[19] Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography.
[20] Alexandria Gazette, May 19. 1866, and New York Tribune of same date.
[21] New York Tribune, May 19, 1866.


p.48 The Political Reconstruction of Virginia.

confined to localities; it now included the State. The platform adopted called for negro suffrage, but with restrictions to be determined by law. Indeed Botts and his followers continued to oppose "manhood suffrage," until it became evident that the national Republican party had adopted it as its policy.

While the Republicans were thus building up a party, the conservatives did not remain entirely idle. The chief political event of the summer of 1866 was the attempted union of Northern and Southern men in a new party, to uphold President Johnson in his policy of restoration. No parties existed in Virginia at the time, except the Republican party. Accordingly it was necessary to revert to old machinery, to elect delegates from Virginia to the conservative convention at Philadelphia. A called meeting of the executive committees of the Breckinridge, Bell and Douglas parties of 1860 was held in Richmond on July 16, in order to consider the propriety of appointing delegates to this convention.22 Some few members of the ante-bellum committees met and resolved to recommend the election of delegates and in accordance with the recommendation these were appointed from the Congressional districts. The convention assembled in Philadelphia on August 14, 1866. 23 The meeting was largely attended and enthusiastic. Men from the North and from the South fraternized and adopted conciliatory resolutions. The conference was not without result; it tended somewhat towards bringing about a better feeling between the sections and in favor of Johnson. But the advantage proved to be entirely temporary and failed to arrest the movement towards radicalism.

The conservative convention gave rise to a similar demonstration from the radicals. They therefore met in Philadelphia on September 2, 1866. for the purpose, as it was announced, of bringing Southern Unionists into touch with


[22] Richmond Enquirer, July 17, 1866.
[23] New York Tribune and Richmond Enquirer, August 15; also Lalors' Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Vol. 3.


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Northern Republicans. 24 Many prominent leaders from both sections attended. The delegates, of whom there were a great number, divided into two conventions, Northern and Southern, and considered the burning question of the hour--negro suffrage. The members from the far Southern States favored universal suffrage, while the views of the border States remained uncertain, many of their delegates being adverse to it. The Northerners opposed an unlimited extension of the franchise, as they feared the effect of a radical declaration on the fall elections. John Minor Botts, the leader of the Virginia delegation, contended strongly against the grant of unlimited suffrage, but his fellow-delegates from Virginia refused to support his attitude. 25 James W. Hunnicutt offered a resolution declaring that the enfranchisement of all men with the exception of "rebels" was the only safeguard of Virginia and the nation, and George Tucker brought forward a similar motion. The convention lingered on for some days, debating the all-engrossing subject. Finally the committee on suffrage went over to the extreme radical position and brought in a report in favor of "manhood" suffrage, which was adopted by the very small vote of 66 to 8. 26 Many delegates had left Philadelphia. After this convention the Republican party adopted as its policy the extension of the privilege of voting to all men without regard to limitations.

The year 1866 was one of growing excitement and bitterness. The Southern people had hoped for speedy restoration to the Union upon the Presidential plan. When, however, Congress thwarted Johnson's purpose and passed the Freedmen's Bureau bill and the [1] civil rights bill, hope gave way to indignation and dismay. The press no longer


[24] New York Tribune, September 3, 1866. The Virginia delegation was the largest from the Southern States, numbering 61. Texas sent 15 delegates; Louisiana, 18; West Virginia, 51; Alabama, 4; Kentucky, 13; Mississippi, 30; Arkansas, 2; North Carolina, 7; Maryland, 60; Delaware, 6; Florida, 7; District of Columbia, 27.
[25] New York Tribune, September 6, 1866.
[26] Ibid., September 10, 1866.


p.50 The Political Reconstruction of Virginia.

urged conciliation of the North, 27 but passive resistance.28 Racial antagonism began to be felt, for the negroes inclined to assert themselves in their joy over the Congressional measures. In Norfolk, on April 16, 1866, the freedmen held a procession in celebration of the passage of the civil rights bill. Many of them bore arms. The parade turned into a riot, in which two whites and two negroes were killed. The city was put under martial law and an investigation ordered. It seemed that both sides were at fault. 29 Except for a few such disturbances, however, the conduct of the blacks was still generally orderly. But there was a feeling of unrest, uncertainty and bitterness in Virginia and throughout the South at the hostile attitude of Congress; while in the North, criticism of the South was unsparing. Two incidents in Virginia in 1866 increased the hostility of the Northerners towards her. The first was a decision of Judge Thomas at Alexandria adverse to the civil rights bill. 30 One of the parties to a case in court brought forward colored witnesses, but Judge Thomas decided that the laws of Virginia forbade negro testimony in cases where only white men were parties, and that Congressional law could not impair the rights of the State to decide the competency of witnesses. The other incident was more serious. Doctor J. L. Watson killed a negro in Rockbridge county on November 13, 866.31 He was tried by a State court and acquitted. On December 4, Watson was arrested by command of General Schofield and ordered to be tried before a military commission acting under the authority of the act of Congress of July 16, 1866. When the commissioners assembled


[27] Enquirer, May 1, 1866: "We can advise no more humiliations. It is idle for us to pay price after price for what they have never had a right to withhold, but which they have the power and will to deny, after the price is paid, the same as before."
[28] Enquirer, June 26, 1866.
[29] Executive Docs., 39th Congress, 2nd session, No. 72, and Enquirer, April 17, 1866.
[30] Alexandria Gazette, May 25, 1866. Fredericksburg News, May 29, 1866. Appleton's Annual Cyclopaedia, 1866, p. 765.
[31] Senate Docs., 39th Congress, 2nd session, Vol. 2, No. 29, p. 17.

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on December 19, a write of habeas corpus, issued by the circuit court of Richmond, was served them, but General Schofield refused to surrender the prisoner. However, by the advice of the United States Attorney-General, President Johnson discharged the commissioners and released Watson. 32 This case produced an unfortunate impression upon the North.

It was in these gloomy times, on December 2, 1866, that the legislature met for its second session. The governor's message advised measures of conciliation and submission, 33 and the advice was wise. It urged a modification of the vagrant act, a revision of the road laws and the laws regulating county taxes, and, most important of all, the ratification of the fourteenth amendment. But the legislature and the people of Virginia could not bring themselves to accept it. The press flared up in opposition. The assembly decisively rejected the amendment on January 9, 1867, by a vote of 27 to 0 in the senate and of 74 to 1 in the house of delegates. 34 This action was a mistake, as later events proved. Virginia found herself compelled to accept the fourteenth amendment in the end. At the same time it was natural that the legislature should reject it while there was yet any hope of escape.

The regular session of the Virginia assembly closed on March 3, 1867. Very important measures, however, were pending in Congress, and the legislature on March, I adopted a joint resolution requesting Governor Pierpont to call an extra session immediately, in order to take steps to meet the emergency. Pierpont complied, and on March 4 sent in his message, 35 which communicated the terms of the reconstruction act passed by Congress on March 2, 1867.


[32] Appleton's Annual Cyclopaedia, 1866, p. 765. Richmond Enquirer, December 18-9, 1866.
[33] Journal House of Delegates, 1866-67. Enquirer, December 4, 1866. Enquirer, January 10, 1867.
[34] Enquirer, January 10, 1867.
[35] Journal House of Delegates, 1866-67. Richmond Enquirer and Whig, March 5, 1867.


p.52 The Political Reconstruction of Virginia.

The message was sadly reminiscent, regretted that the governor's former advice to ratify the fourteenth amendment had been rejected, and advised the legislature to accept the new law and make provision for calling a constitutional convention.

The advisability of holding such a convention to frame a new constitution in accordance with the requirements of Congress was then brought up in the assembly. The temper of the members had altered since their former sweeping rejection of the fourteenth amendment, and they were in the mood to accept the governor's advice, which events had proven wise. A bill, providing for the holding of a constitutional convention at Richmond in the same month, was presented in the senate and passed by a vote of 25 to 4. No vote was taken on it in the house of delegates. Probably the house would also have accepted the measure, but the supplementary reconstruction bill of March 23, 1867, rendered the further action of the legislature in the matter useless. That body continued in session for some time, and on April 20, 1867, passed an act which gave the freedmen the right to testify in the State courts in all cases. This conciliatory measure, however, came too late for any benefit.

The reconstruction act of March 2, 1867, changed the State of Virginia into Military District Number One. General John M. Schofield, who had hitherto been military commander of the State, was now made commander of the district. He assumed control on March 13, 1867. On that day he issued an order informing the people of the act of Congress, and declaring that he would supersede the civil authorities only so far as it was necessary in the discharge of his duties. "The undersigned," he said, "appeals to the people of Virginia and especially to magistrates and officers, to render the necessity for the exercise of this power as slight as possible by strict obedience to the laws and by impartial administration of justice to all classes." 36


[36] Richmond Enquirer, March 14, 1867.

The Beginning of the Reconstruction. p.53

In this fashion the reconstruction began in Virginia. It was brought about by many causes, but the chief cause lay in the democratic theories which had been so long agitated in the North. For the reconstruction, as the term is known in American history, was the attempt of the majority in Congress to compel the Southern States to recognize the civil and political equality of the colored race. Such a program, in States where the two races were nearly equal in numbers, would necessarily produce the most novel and perplexing social and political phenomena.