The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz (book)/Volume Three/Chapter 06

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THE accession of Andrew Johnson to the presidency at first made no change in the character and tone of his utterances concerning the treatment to be meted out to the rebels. The burden of his speech was at Washington, as it had been, during the war, at Nashville, that “arson was a crime, that robbery was a crime, that murder was a crime, and that treason was a crime worse than all; that this crime of treason must be made odious and properly punished; that the principal traitors should be hanged and the rest at least impoverished,” by which he meant, as on some occasion he said himself, that their large plantations must be taken from them and sold in small parcels to farmers. In fact, there seemed to be reason to apprehend, and it was actually apprehended by many, that under the Andrew Johnson regime the country would have to pass through a disgraceful period of “bloody assizes” before proceeding with the task of rebuilding the political and social structure of the South. In the conversations I had with him, and still more in the conferences he had with some public men of importance, he threw out, indeed, certain hints as to his willingness that the colored people should have some part in the reconstruction of their States, but those hints were too vague to give a clear indication of his purposes. They betrayed rather an unsettled state of mind.

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From a Brady negative in the possession of F. H. Meserve

There was much surprise, therefore, when on the 29th of May, 1865, two executive proclamations appeared, one of which, a proclamation of pardon and amnesty, put an end to the anticipation of a policy of hanging and impoverishing, while the other appointed a provisional governor for North Carolina, whose duty it would be “at the earliest practicable period, to prescribe such rules and regulations as may be necessary and proper for convening a convention composed of delegates, to be chosen by that portion of the people of said State who are loyal to the United States, and no others, for the purpose of altering or amending the constitution thereof, and with authority to exercise within the limits of said State all the powers necessary and proper to enable the loyal people of the State of North Carolina to restore said State to its constitutional relations to the Federal Government,” etc. The proclamation provided, also, that in “choosing delegates to any State convention, as aforesaid, no person shall be qualified as an elector or shall be eligible as a member of such convention unless he shall have previously taken and subscribed the oath of amnesty as set forth in the President's proclamation of May 29, A. D. 1865, and as a voter qualified as prescribed by the constitution and laws of the State of North Carolina in force immediately before the 20th day of May, 1861, the date of the so-called ordinance of secession.” The convention that might be elected by such voters, or the Legislature that might be subsequently elected by virtue of the State Constitution as amended by the convention, was to have the power to prescribe the permanent qualifications of voters and their eligibility to office.

And who were the loyal persons that were to be entrusted with such far-reaching powers? Not only the men who during the war had abstained from giving aid and comfort to the rebellion and that maintained their loyalty to the United States, but also those who, having given aid and comfort to the rebellion, had subsequently cleared themselves by taking the oath of allegiance prescribed by the Amnesty Proclamation, and by thus promising to be thenceforth loyal to the United States. The proclamation of amnesty, indeed, excluded from its benefits several classes of persons enumerated under thirteen heads—mostly persons who prior to joining the rebellion had held certain official positions of trust under the government of the United States, or who had filled similar positions under the Confederate government, and “all participants in the rebellion, the estimated value of whose taxable property was over twenty thousand dollars.” The classes thus excepted no doubt comprised the most intelligent and influential part of the population. But the proclamation provided also that “special application may be made to the President for pardon by any person belonging to the excepted classes,” and the assurance was added that such applications would be liberally considered and complied with. Such applications promptly came in by the thousands and were granted with the liberality promised. However, it was not at all probable that the excluded classes, the men of traditional standing and influence in their communities, would now at once cease to exercise that influence over the multitude that had been accustomed to follow their leadership.

The Amnesty Proclamation, giving the country and the world the assurance that the victory of the Union would not be tarnished by any acts of bloody vengeance, was received with general satisfaction at the North, excepting by a few extremists. But the proclamation ordering the reconstruction of the State of North Carolina caused much misgiving, as it was taken, not as a mere experiment, but as an intended rule for the reconstruction of all the rest. It confined the right of suffrage to the white men. Among the white men of the South there were only a small number who had not, after the secession ordinances had been passed, thrown in their lot with the rebellion. These comparatively few consistent loyalists did not, as a rule, belong to the influential class. And among these few there were still fewer convinced anti-slavery men. It was therefore certain that a large majority of the voting body in the Southern States so to be reconstructed would consist of men who had taken part in the rebellion and then qualified themselves as voters by taking the oath of allegiance, and that this large majority would stand under the immediate influence of the class of men who had instigated the attempt to break up the Union for the purpose of founding “an empire on the corner-stone of slavery.” Nor was it unreasonable to expect that this class of men, if directly or indirectly entrusted with power, would indeed accept the abolition of slavery in point of form, but would spare no effort to preserve as much as possible of its substance.

Availing myself again of the privilege President Johnson had granted to me, I wrote to him about the anxieties among many of his friends caused by the position he had taken in his North Carolina proclamation, and in reply I received from him a telegraphic message asking me to call upon him at the White House at my earliest convenience. I obeyed his summons without delay.

On the way to Washington something strange happened to me which may be of interest to the speculative psychologist. I went from Bethlehem to Philadelphia in the afternoon with the intention of taking there the midnight train to Washington. At Philadelphia I took supper at the house of my intimate friend, Dr. Tiedemann, the son of the eminent professor of medicine at the University of Heidelberg, and brother of the Colonel Tiedemann, one of whose aides-de-camp I had been during the siege of the Fortress of Rastatt in 1849. Mrs. Tiedemann was a sister of Friedrich Hecker, the famous revolutionary leader in Germany, who in this country did distinguished service as a Union officer. The Tiedemanns had lost two sons in our army, one in Kansas, and the other, a darling boy, in the Shenandoah valley. The mother, a lady of bright mind and a lively imagination, happened to become acquainted with a circle of spiritualists and received “messages” from her two sons, which were of the ordinary sort, but moved her so much that she became a believer. The doctor, too, although belonging to a school of philosophy which looked down upon such things with a certain disdain, could not restrain a sentimental interest in the pretended communications from his lost boys, and permitted spiritualistic experiments to be made in his family. This was done with much zest. On the evening I speak of, it was resolved to have a séance. One of the daughters, an uncommonly beautiful, intelligent and high-spirited girl of about fifteen, had shown remarkable qualities as a “writing medium.” When the circle was formed around the table, hands touching, a shiver seemed to pass over her, her fingers began to twitch, she grasped a pencil held out to her, and as if obeying an irresistible impulse, she wrote in a jerky way upon a piece of paper placed before her the “messages” given her by the “spirits” that happened to be present. So it happened that evening. The names of various deceased persons known to the family were announced, but they had nothing to say except that they “lived in a higher sphere,” and were “happy,” and “were often with us,” and “wished us all to be happy,” etc.

Finally I was asked by one of the family would I not take part in the proceeding by calling for some spirit in whom I took an interest? I consented and called for the spirit of Schiller. For a minute or two the hand of the girl remained quiet. Then she wrote that the spirit of Schiller had come and asked what I wished of him. I answered that I wished him by way of identification to quote a verse or two from one of his works. Then the girl wrote in German the following:

Ich höre rauschende Musik. Das Schloss ist
Von Lichtern hell. Wer sind die Fröhlichen?”
Gay music strikes my ear. The castle is
Aglow with lights. Who are the revelers?”

We were all struck with astonishment. The sound of the language was much like Schiller's. But none of us remembered for a moment in which of Schiller's works the lines might be found. At last it occurred to me that they might be in the last act of “Wallensteins Tod.” The volume was brought out, and true enough there they were. I asked myself “can it be that this girl, who, although very bright, has never been given to much reading, should have read so serious a work as ‘Wallenstein's Death,’ and if she has, that those verses, which have meaning only in connection with what precedes and follows them, should have stuck in her memory?” I asked her when the séance was over, what she knew about the Wallenstein tragedy, and she, an entirely truthful child, answered that she had never read a line of it.

But something still stranger was in store for me. Schiller's spirit would say no more, and I called for the spirit of Abraham Lincoln. Several minutes had elapsed when the girl wrote that Abraham Lincoln's spirit was present. I asked whether he knew for what purpose President Johnson had summoned me to Washington. The answer came: “He wants you to make an important journey for him.” I asked where that journey would take me. Answer: “He will tell you tomorrow.” I asked further whether I should undertake that journey. Answer: “Yes, do not fail.” (I may add, by the way, that at the time I had myself not the slightest anticipation as to what President Johnson's intention with regard to me was. The most plausible supposition I entertained was, that he wished to discuss with me the points urged in my letters.)

Having disposed of this matter I asked whether the spirit of Lincoln had anything more to say to me. The answer came: “Yes, you will be a Senator of the United States.” This struck me as so fanciful that I could hardly suppress a laugh. But I asked further: “From what State?” Answer: “From Missouri.” This was more provokingly mysterious still; but there the conversation ended. Hardly anything could have been more improbable at that time than that I should be a Senator of the United States from the State of Missouri. My domicile was in Wisconsin, and I was then thinking of returning there. I had never thought of removing from Wisconsin to Missouri, and there was not the slightest prospect of my ever doing so. But—to forestall my narrative—two years later I was surprised by an entirely unsought and unexpected business proposition which took me to St. Louis, and in January, 1869, the Legislature of Missouri elected me a Senator of the United States. I then remembered the prophecy made to me at the spirit-séance in the house of my friend Tiedemann in Philadelphia, which during the intervening years had never been thought of. I should hardly have trusted my memory with regard to it, had it not been verified by friends who witnessed the occurrence.

I have given here my own experience, but do not offer any theory or hypothesis upon which to explain it. The believer in spiritualism may see in it a striking proof of the truthfulness of his belief. It is indeed as striking in this respect as anything that has ever come to my knowledge. But the story I told in the first volume of these Reminiscences of my clairvoyance experiences in Paris, touching a closely kindred subject, was an equally striking one, while it was not pretended that the “spirits” were the active power in the case. Yet the phenomena produced were very similar. Assuming that there was no fraudulent jugglery in the production of these phenomena, which in the cases I have narrated I think there was not, we must conclude that there are forces active in and upon the human mind the nature of which we do not know. Scientific research, such as “experimental psychology,” has given names to these forces—“telepathy,” “suggestion,” “spiritual communication,” etc., which indicate interesting problems, but as to the nature of the forces, leave us in the dark. We may be able to see such forces in motion and observe their effects. But what they really are we do not know, and it is questionable whether we ever shall. It is so with a force which some centuries ago might have been called witchcraft, but has now become our familiar servant—electricity. We can make it active. We can control its activity and put it to all sorts of practical uses, but what electricity essentially is, we do not know.

President Johnson received me with the assurance that he had read my letters with great interest and appreciation, and that he was earnestly considering the views I had presented in them. But in one respect, he said, I had entirely mistaken his intentions. His North Carolina proclamation was not to be understood as laying down a general rule for the reconstruction of all “the States lately in rebellion.” It was to be regarded as merely experimental, and he thought that the condition of things in North Carolina was especially favorable for the making of such an experiment. As to the Gulf States, he was very doubtful and even anxious. He wished to see those States restored to their constitutional relations with the General Government as quickly as possible, but he did not know whether it could be done with safety to the Union men and to the emancipated slaves. He therefore requested me to visit those States for the purpose of reporting to him whatever information I could gather as to the existing condition of things, and of suggesting to him such measures as my observations might lead me to believe advisable. He accompanied this request with many flattering assurances of his confidence in my character and judgment, and added the most urgent expression of his hope that I would not decline the task. He appeared to me like a man who had taken some important step under pressure, against his own inclination, and who was troubled about himself.

The President's request came as a great surprise to me. I could not at once understand why he should have selected just me for this delicate mission. I must also confess that the prospect of spending two or three months of the hottest season of the year in the Gulf States was by no means alluring. But I should not have minded that had not the whole affair struck me as somewhat strange. I asked the President to give me one or two days to consider the matter, and he kindly assented. I went to Mr. Stanton, then still Secretary of War, to learn whether the proposition made to me by the President had been suggested by him. He assured me that it had not. In fact, he was as much surprised as I was, but he advised me most urgently to accept at once. He told me that President Johnson was set upon by all sorts of influences, and that what he needed most, was to learn the truth. He also consulted Chief Justice Chase, who told me that in his opinion I had an opportunity for rendering a valuable service to the country, and that I must not think of declining. What impressed me strongly was that neither of them made the slightest suggestion as to what they expected me to report. The next day I informed President Johnson that I was willing to undertake the journey. In order that everything should be clear between us, I repeated to him what I had stated in former conversations and correspondence, that, so far as I was then informed, I considered the reconstruction policy ill-advised and fraught with great danger, but that if my observations should show this view to be erroneous, no pride of opinion would prevent me from saying so. I would consider it my only duty to tell the truth. President Johnson cordially declared himself satisfied and repeated his expressions of entire confidence. The Secretary of War ordered an officer of one of the New York Volunteer regiments still in the service, Captain Orlemann, a gentleman of ability and pleasing manners, to accompany me as my secretary, and all military officers in the Gulf States to give me all the aid and assistance I might require. Thus equipped I set out and arrived at Hilton Head in South Carolina on the 15th of July.

On board of the steamer which carried me there, I had a conversation with a Southern gentleman which might have served as an epitome of the most important of my subsequent observations touching the same subjects. He was a handsome young man, something over thirty; had served as an officer in the Confederate army since 1861; had been captured in battle, fallen ill, spent some time in a Northern hospital, and was now on his way home, not having heard from his family for several months. He did not seem to be a highly educated man, but there was an air of natural refinement about him which invited sympathy. He had not seen much of the North, but enough to feel its immense superiority over the South in all the elements of power. He therefore frankly “accepted” the defeat of the South. He was, or, as he said, had been at the beginning of the war, a prosperous planter, owning about 90 slaves and 4000 acres of land, not far from Savannah. But what was he now? He supposed his plantation, having been in Sherman's track, was all devastated, his buildings ruined, and his slaves gone. Some of them, he hoped, would come back to him after his return, because he had always treated his slaves well, never having lost any except one, and him by “congestive fever.” But what could he do after all this ruination? There was a tone of resigned helplessness in his speech.

I suggested that if many of his former slaves were found still within reach, he might, as other planters did, make fair contracts with them and set them to work as free laborers.

This remark stirred him. He became animated. There was even a slight flurry of excitement in his voice. What? Contracts with those niggers? It would never work. Yes, he had heard of that emancipation business. He knew that was the intention. But—and here he approached me with an air of confidentiality as if to coax my secret, true opinion out of me—now, really, did I think that this was a settled thing? Now, he could tell me that niggers would not work unless compelled to. A free nigger was never good for anything. He knew the thing would not work. No Southern man would expect it to work. No use trying. I sought to convince him that the emancipation of the slaves was indeed a settled thing, and that the Southern people would have to try the introduction of free labor. He sighed and in a polite way gave me to understand that he could not believe it. He knew the nigger. He knew how unfit the nigger was for freedom. Why, was not President Johnson a Southern man, and did he not know equally well that the nigger would not work without compulsion? Contract! No nigger knew what a contract was and would never keep one unless forced to.

I remarked in vain that I had seen reports of the successful working of the contract system in some instances. He replied that it might work to some extent so long as the Federal soldiers were at hand. But would not the troops soon be withdrawn? And would not the people of the Southern States right soon be left to manage their own affairs? Was not that the policy of the Administration? He had concluded so from what he had heard people say and from what he had seen in the papers. I must see, therefore, that the emancipation business would never work. He pronounced this like a conclusive judgment.

I greatly startled him, as it seemed, with the suggestion, that, deeming the successful employment of negroes as free laborers impossible, he might sell the larger part of his plantation and himself cultivate a small part of it as a farmer. The idea that he should work with his hands, as a farmer, seemed to strike him as ludicrously absurd. He told me with a smile that he had never done a day's work of that kind in his life. He had learned to manage a plantation with slaves on it. But to do a farmer's work—that evidently could not be thought of. Neither did it seem to him possible to sell the plantation and to use the money in some other business pursuit. He could not make any guess as to what his land might sell for. There had not been an acre of land sold in his neighborhood as far back as he could remember. And who would think of buying land there under present circumstances?—He mused for a while in sad silence, and said at last, “No, I can't sell my plantation. We must make the nigger work somehow.”

I give this initial conversation so elaborately because I heard it substantially repeated in an endless variety of expressions, scores, aye, hundreds of times during my three months' journey through the Gulf States. I sought conversation with everybody that I could reach—planters large and small, merchants, lawyers, physicians, clergymen, guests I met at city hotels or country taverns, fellow travelers on railroads or steamboats, men who had served as officers or private soldiers in the war, men who had stayed at home and whatever different opinions or feelings as to other subjects they might cherish, or with whatever degree of heat or moderation they might express them—on one point they were substantially unanimous with very, very few individual exceptions: “The negro will not work without physical compulsion. He is lazy. He is improvident. He is inconstant. He may sometimes work a little spell to earn some money, and then stop working to spend his money in a frolic. We want steady, continuous work, work that can be depended upon. To get that out of him a negro needs physical compulsion of some sort.”

The first of my own personal observations led me to surmise that the success of negro free labor would depend not only on the aptitudes of the laborer, but also on those of the employer. Shortly after my arrival at Hilton Head, General Gillmore, the commander of that district, an officer of high character and great intelligence, took me over the bay to Beaufort, a town on one of the sea-islands celebrated for the quality of the cotton raised there. The plantations had been deserted by their owners at the approach of our forces, had been taken possession of by our government, and then leased to various parties. I was to visit a plantation near by which was managed by such a lessee, a Massachusetts man. We first had to pass through fields cultivated on their own account by freedmen, mostly refugees from other parts of the State, who had arrived there but a short time before. These first attempts of recently emancipated slaves to set up for themselves would have looked rather discouraging had we not known the unfavorable circumstances of haste and disorder under which they had been made. But when we reached the plantation we were to visit, the spectacle suddenly changed; fields free from weeds, the cotton-plants healthy, the cornfields promised a rich yield, everything breathing thrift, order and prosperity. We passed by a large log house in which a colored preacher was exhorting his congregation, for it was Sunday. At last we found the lessee in his dwelling, a modest frame house in a grove of magnificent live oaks. We found in him a middle-aged man of plain manners, but keen intelligence. He did not seem to regard his enterprise at all as one of extraordinary difficulty. His system, as he explained it, was very simple. Most of the negroes he employed, he had found on the place. In addition he had selected some outside applicants, with reasonable care. His laborers were paid by the task. Certain kinds of work requiring skill, such as plowing, were better remunerated than others. Every family had a patch of ground assigned to it upon which vegetables or some cotton might be raised. The only incentive to faithful labor was self-interest, which he considered sufficient. No physical coercion, he thought, was necessary. He had met with only one instance of refractory conduct. He threatened the evil-doer with arrest by the provost-marshal of the nearest military post, whereupon the delinquent ran away, never to show his face again. Aside from this case everything had gone on smoothly. All he had to do was to ride over his plantation once in a day or two and to spend with each gang of laborers a few minutes—long enough to inspect the work and to give directions. The negroes were living well, seemed to be saving something, had their school and their meeting house, and their frolics, and the employer looked for a prosperous business. Such was the report of the lessee.

It struck me that—unless this man lied, which I had no reason for supposing—here was proof, not that the general solution of the problem of negro free labor would be easy, but that it could be accomplished, or at least that a shrewd Yankee, blessed with a good stock of common sense and energy and experience in the ways of free labor, and unhampered by any prejudice as to what the negro could or could not do with or without physical compulsion, might be just the person to point out the way in which that problem could best be solved.

I am far from saying that all Northern men who undertook the management of Southern plantations were equally successful; nor is it probable that all were as capable as our lessee at Beaufort. I met, indeed, in the course of my tour of investigation, an Iowa farmer who managed a large cotton plantation in another State on the same principles and had a similar story of success to tell. Another Northern man who had a timber-cutting contract to fill, told me that the negroes he employed were equal to the best laborers he had ever had to do with, while a contractor for railroad work near a town complained to me that many of the negroes he had engaged were so much attracted by the delights of town-life that they could not be depended upon for steady work. That Southern white men should quite generally have been rather querulous as to the new order of things did not at all surprise me. Their situation was indeed trying in the extreme. It could not have been more unpropitious for a calm contemplation of the requirements of the time.

I shall never forget my first impressions of Charleston. We ran into Charleston Harbor early in the morning. As we passed Fort Sumter—then a shapeless mass of brick and rubbish into which the bombardment had battered the old masonry—the city of Charleston lay open to our view; on the left a row of more or less elegant dwellings, on the right such buildings as are usually seen in the neighborhood of wharves. There was no shipping in the harbor except a few quartermaster's vessels and two or three small steamers. We made fast to a decaying pier constructed of palmetto-logs. There was not a human being visible on the wharf. The warehouses seemed to be completely deserted. There was no wall and no roof that did not bear eloquent marks of having been under the fire of siege guns. I was informed that when our troops first entered the city, the wharf region was overgrown with a luxuriant weed, giving it the appearance of a large swamp. Since then it had been cleared up, but in many places the weed insisted upon growing up again with irresistible vigor. Nothing could be more desolate and melancholy than the appearance of the lower part of the city immediately adjoining the harbor. Although the military authorities had caused,the streets to be “policed” as well as possible, abundant grass had still grown up between the paving stones. The first living object that struck my view when making my way to the hotel was a dilapidated United States cavalry horse bearing the mark I. C.—inspected and condemned—now peaceably browsing on the grass in a Charleston street. A few cows were feeding in a vacant lot near by, surrounded by buildings gashed and shattered by shell and solid shot. The crests of the roofs and the chimneys were covered with turkey-buzzards, who evidently felt at home, and who from time to time lazily flapped their wings and stretched forth their hideous necks.

Proceeding higher up into the city, we passed through a part of the “burned district,” looking like a vast graveyard with broken walls and tall blackened chimneys for monuments, overtopped by the picturesque ruins of the cathedral. At last we arrived at the Charleston Hotel, a large building with a lofty colonnade in front. From that portico the first speeches had been addressed to a jubilant assemblage of Charleston citizens immediately after the passage of the secession ordinance, hurling defiance at the government of the United States and proclaiming the success of the movement for Southern independence, as a foregone conclusion. The Charleston Hotel had been the resort of the wealthy, of the cream of South Carolina society. At the time of my arrival there, it was managed by a newcomer from the North, one of the New York Stetsons, of Astor House memory. He had put the building in tolerably good order, but the wars and the ceiling of the dining hall showed several spots recently plastered over which, as interpreted by the negro waiters, told interesting tales of scenes of great excitement caused by the Yankee artillery. On the whole the hotel made the impression of a dreary solitude.

As I learned, business in the city was slowly reviving. In the main business streets many buildings had been, or were being, made fit for use, and some stores had been opened by Northern men of recent immigration. A larger influx of Northern enterprise and Northern capital was looked for, but such a prospect did not by any means please all South Carolinians. The idea that Charleston might possibly become a “Yankee City” seemed revolting to the old South Carolina pride. I was introduced to a gentleman of venerable age and high standing in the State who assured me in the course of a long conversation, that he was one of those who fully recognized the exigencies of their present situation and were willing to accommodate themselves to them. He admitted that outside aid was wanted to restore the fallen fortunes of the Southern people. But, he added, South Carolina could not appeal to the North for financial aid without humiliating herself. He did not even know whether financial aid, if offered by the North, could consistently be accepted by South Carolina. He rather thought not. Nor did he believe that a true South Carolinian would like to sell any of his property to Northern men. State pride forbade it. But South Carolina would go to Europe, raise money there upon the security afforded by her real estate, and thus work out her own destinies. The old gentleman, who evidently felt himself as South Carolina personified, uttered these sentiments with unaffected gravity and in a tone of conscious dignity unimpaired by adverse fortune—a tone, indeed, which had something of condescension in it. Nothing could have been more pathetic. At the time when the grizzled patrician thus gave voice to his pride in the name of his State he himself was reported to be in pinching want, while some of his fellow citizens in various parts of the State, struggling painfully with the necessities of the day, were actually obliged to accept daily rations from the hands of the Federal garrison to sustain life.

My travels in the interior took me to the track of Sherman's march, which, in South Carolina, at least, looked for many miles like a broad black streak of ruin and desolation—the fences all gone; lonesome smoke stacks, surrounded by dark heaps of ashes and cinders, marking the spots where human habitations had stood; the fields along the road wildly overgrown by weeds, with here and there a sickly looking patch of cotton or corn cultivated by negro squatters. In the city of Columbia, the political capital of the State, I found a thin fringe of houses encircling a confused mass of charred ruins of dwellings and business buildings, which had been destroyed by a sweeping conflagration.

No part of the South I then visited had indeed suffered as much from the ravages of the war as South Carolina—the State which was looked upon by the Northern soldier as the principal instigator of the whole mischief and therefore deserving of special punishment. But even those regions which had but little, or not at all, been touched by military operations, were laboring under dire distress. The “Confederate money” in the hands of the Southern people, paper money issued by the Confederate government without any security behind it, had, by the collapse of the Confederacy, become entirely worthless. Only a few individuals of more or less wealth had been fortunate enough to save, and to keep, throughout the war, small hoards of gold and silver, which, in the aggregate, amounted to little. The people may, therefore, be said to have been substantially without a “circulating medium” to serve in the transaction of ordinary business immediately after the close of the war. United States money came in to fill the vacuum, but it could not be had for nothing. It could be obtained only by selling something for it in the shape of goods or of labor. The Southern people, having during four years of war, devoted their productive activity, aside from the satisfaction of their current home wants, almost entirely to the sustenance of their army and of the machinery of their government, and having suffered great losses by the destruction of property, had of course very little to sell. In fact, they were dreadfully impoverished and needed all their laboring capacity to provide for the wants of the next day. And as agriculture was their main resource upon which everything else depended, the next crop was to them of supreme importance.

But now the men come home from the war found their whole agricultural labor system turned upside down. Slave labor had been their absolute reliance. They had been accustomed to it; they had believed in it; they had religiously regarded it as a necessity in the order of the universe. During the war a large majority of the negroes had stayed upon the plantations and attended to the crops in the wonted way in those regions which were not touched by the Union armies. They had heard of Mas'r Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in a more or less vague way, but did not know exactly what it meant and preferred to remain quietly at work and wait for further developments. But when the war was over, general emancipation became a well understood reality. The negro knew that he was a free man and the Southern white man found himself face to face with the problem of dealing with the negro as a free laborer. To most of the Southern whites this problem was utterly bewildering. Many of them, honest and well-meaning people, admitted to me with a sort of helpless stupefaction that their imagination was wholly incapable of grasping the fact that their former slaves were now free. And yet they had to deal with this perplexing fact, and practically to accommodate themselves to it, at once, without delay, if they were to have any crops that year.

Many of them would frankly recognize this necessity and begin in good faith to consider how they might meet it. But then they stumbled forthwith over a set of old prejudices which in their minds had acquired the stubborn force of convictions. They were sure the negro would not work without physical compulsion. They were sure the negro did not, and never would, understand the nature of a contract, and so on. Yes, they “accepted the situation.” Yes, they recognized that the negro was henceforth to be a free man. But could not some method of force he discovered and introduced, to compel the negro to work? It goes without saying that persons of such a way of thinking labored under a heavy handicap in going at a difficult task with a settled conviction that it was really “useless to try.” But even if they did try and found that the negro might after all be induced to work without physical compulsion, they were apt to be seriously troubled by things which would not trouble at all an employer accustomed to free labor. Many worries of that sort came to my notice, the narration of one of which may do to characterize them all. I wrote it down at the time as a specimen occurrence.

One of our generals commanding the garrisons of a district, was visited by a doctor who owned a plantation in the neighborhood of headquarters. The doctor seemed very much disturbed.

“General,” said he, “the negroes in my county are in a terrible state of insubordination, and we may look for an outbreak at any moment. I come to implore your aid.” The General, having heard such stories before, and remaining cool, insisted upon the doctor's telling him in detail the facts and circumstances which so violently agitated him. The doctor repeated with growing emphasis that it was impossible to put up with the demonstrations of insubordination on the part of the negroes; that he would have to seek refuge for his family in the city, for their lives were not safe on the plantation, unless military protection be furnished them. The General still remaining obdurate in asking for particulars, the whole story came out at last. Formerly, the doctor said, the slaves had to retire to their cabins by nine o'clock in the evening. After that nobody was permitted outside. The slaves knew this and quietly obeyed the rule. “But now,” the doctor continued, “when their work is done, they roam about just as they please, and when I tell them to go to their quarters, they do not obey me. Negroes from other plantations will sometimes come to visit them, and then they have a sort of meeting and they cut up sometimes until ten or eleven. You see, General, this is alarming, and you must admit that we are not safe.”

The General, still undisturbed, wished to know what the negroes were doing when they had that sort of a meeting. All the doctor could say was that they were talking together, sometimes in whispers, sometimes aloud, having their conspiracies, as he supposed. And then they would even sing and dance and make a noise. The General mildly suggested that this was for the negroes a year of jubilee and that they must be expected to celebrate their freedom in some way. What harm could there be in their singing and dancing? At the North, laboring people sang and danced whenever they pleased, and instead of seeing any harm in it, we rather enjoyed it with them. But the doctor would not be comforted. He repeated again and again that, while this was well enough at the North, his laborers were negroes, who ought to be subordinate, and that, when he told them to retire to their quarters, and they did not do it, he could not possibly tolerate such insolence.

“By the way, doctor,” said the General, “have you made contracts with the negroes on your plantation?”


“Do they work well?”

“Pretty well so far. My crops are in pretty good condition.”

“Do they steal much?”

“They steal some, but not much.”

“Well, then, doctor, what have you to complain about?”

“Oh, General,” replied the doctor dolefully, “you do not appreciate the dangers of our situation.”

“Now, doctor,” said the General with some impatience, “to cut the matter short, has a single act of violence been perpetrated in your neighborhood by a negro against a white man?”

“Yes, sir!” exclaimed the doctor, apparently confident of making an impression. “And I will tell you of one that happened right in my family. I have a negro girl, eighteen years old, whom I raised. For ten years she has been waiting upon my old mother-in-law, who lives with me. A few days ago the old lady was dissatisfied with something and told the girl that she felt like giving her a whipping. Now, what do you think? The negro girl actually informed my old mother-in-law that she would not submit to a whipping, but would resist. My old father-in-law then got mad and threatened her, and she told him the same thing. Now, this is an intolerable state of things.”

The General could not repress a smile and delivered a little homily to the doctor, to which that gentleman listened with a puzzled expression of countenance. “My dear sir, that girl is a free girl, and you have just as little right to whip her, as you have to whip your neighbor's daughter. She ought to resist when you offer her a whipping, and I hope she will. And I will tell you another thing. Among your former slaves there are probably men who have seen their wives, and young men who have seen their mothers whipped by your order. I think the negroes deserve a great deal of praise for their moderation. Another race, if suddenly freed from slavery after such experiences, would probably have proceeded to cut the throats of those who were in the habit of whipping their wives and mothers. Now go home, treat your people well, and pay them fair wages, and do not come to me again to clamor about danger and insurrection when the freedmen on your plantation dance and sing, and when the girls refuse to accept a whipping.”

The doctor left, sorely puzzled about the mysteries of free labor, and when he and the General met again, which frequently happened, the General invariably bantered him with the question: “Well, Doctor, how does the insurrection in your county come on?”

I have here retold this story as I heard it from the lips of the General, who was a man of veracity, good sense, and sincere sympathy with the Southern people. I myself once had an argument with a Georgia planter who vociferously insisted that one of his negro laborers who objected to a whipping had thereby furnished the most conclusive proof of his unfitness for freedom. And such statements were constantly reinforced by further assertion, that they, the Southern whites, understood the negro and knew how to treat him, and that we of the North did not and never would. This might have been true in one sense, but not true in another. The Southerner knew better than the Northerner how to treat the negro as a slave. But it did not follow that he knew best how to treat the negro as a freedman. And just there was the rub. It was, perhaps, too much to expect of the Southern slave-holders or of Southern society generally, that a clear judgment of the new order of things should have come to them at once. The total overturn of the whole labor system of a country accomplished suddenly, without preparation or general transition, is a tremendous revolution, a terrible wrench, well apt to confuse men's minds. It should not have surprised any fair-minded person that many Southern people should, for a time, have clung to the accustomed idea that the landowner must also own the black man tilling his land, and that any assertion of freedom of action on the part of that black man was insubordination equivalent to criminal revolt, and any dissent by the black man from the employer's opinion or taste, intolerable insolence. Nor should it be forgotten that the urgent necessity of negro labor for that summer's crop could hardly fail to sharpen the nervous tension then disquieting Southern society.

It is equally natural that the negro population of the South should at that period have been unusually restless. I have already mentioned that during the Civil War the bulk of the slave population remained quietly at work on the plantations except in districts touched by the operations of the armies. Had the negro slaves not done so, the rebellion would not have survived its first year. They presented the remarkable spectacle of an enslaved race doing slaves' work to sustain a government and an army fighting for the perpetuation of its enslavement. Stories were told of house-slaves accompanying their masters to the field, or taking care of their unprotected families left behind, with a sentimental attachment truly touching. Some colored people would indeed escape from the plantations and run into the Union lines where our troops were within reach, and some of their young men would enlist in the Union army as soldiers. But there was nowhere any commotion among them that had in the slightest degree the character of an uprising, in force, of slaves against their masters. Nor was there, when after the downfall of the Confederacy, general emancipation had become an established fact, a single instance of an act of vengeance committed by a negro upon a white man for inhumanity suffered by him or his, while in the condition of bondage. No race or class of men ever passed from slavery to freedom with a record equally pure of revenge. But many of them, especially in the neighborhood of towns or of Federal encampments, very naturally yielded to the temptation of testing and enjoying their freedom by walking away from the plantations to have a frolic. Many others left their work because their employers ill-treated them or in other ways incurred their distrust. Thus it happened that in various parts of the South the highroads and by-ways were alive with foot-loose colored people.

I did not find, so far as I was informed by personal observation or report, that their conduct could on the whole be called lawless. There was some stealing of pigs and chickens and other petty pilfering, but rather less than might have been expected. More serious excesses hardly, if ever, occurred. The vagrants were throughout very good natured. They would crowd around the military posts to learn from the Yankee officers and soldiers something more about their “freedom” and also to get something to eat when they were hungry. Then they had their carousels with singing and dancing and their camp-meetings with their peculiar religious paroxysms. But while these things might in themselves have been harmless enough under different circumstances, they produced deplorable effects in the situation then existing. Those negroes strayed away from the plantations just at the time when their labor was most needed to secure the crops of the season, and those crops were more than ordinarily needed to save the population from continued want and misery. Violent efforts were made by white people to drive the straggling negroes back to the plantations by force, and reports of bloody outrages inflicted upon colored people came from all quarters. I had occasion to examine personally into several of those cases, and I saw in various hospitals negroes, women as well as men, whose ears had been cut off or whose bodies were slashed with knives or bruised with whips, or bludgeons, or punctured with shot wounds. Dead negroes were found in considerable number in the country roads or on the fields, shot to death, or strung upon the limbs of trees. In many districts the colored people were in a panic of fright, and the whites in a state of almost insane irritation against them. Indeed, these conditions in their worst form were only local, but they were liable to spread, for there was plenty of inflammable spirit of the same kind all over the South. It looked sometimes as if wholesale massacres were prevented only by the presence of the Federal garrisons which were dispersed all over the country. It is painful to imagine what might have happened, had the restraining force of the Federal authority, ready for instant action, not been on the ground.

Indeed, nothing could have been more necessary at that period than the active interposition of the Federal power between the whites and the blacks of the South, not only to prevent or repress violent collisions, but to start the former masters and the former slaves on the path of peaceful and profitable co-operation as employers and free laborers. This was a difficult task. Northern men who had come to the South to purchase or lease plantations enjoyed the great advantage of having money so that they could pay the wages of their laborers in cash, which the negroes preferred. The Southern men, having been stripped almost naked by the war, had, aside from current sustenance, only prospective payment after harvest to offer, consisting mostly of a part of the crop. While many planters were just and even liberal in the making of cash contracts, others would take advantage of the ignorance of the negroes and try to tie them down to stipulations which left to the laborer almost nothing, or even oblige him to run in debt to the employers, and thus drop into the condition of a mere peon—a debt-slave. It is a very curious fact that some of the forms of contract drawn up by former slave-holders contained provisions looking to the possibility of a future restoration of slavery. There was, not unnaturally, much distrust of the planters among the negroes, who, in concluding contracts, feared to compromise their rights as freedmen, or to be otherwise overreached. To allay that distrust and, in many cases, to secure their just dues, they stood much in need of an adviser in whom they had confidence and to whom they could look for protection while, on the other hand, the employers of negro labor stood in equal need of some helpful authority to give the colored people sound instruction as to their duties as free men and to lead them back to the path of industry and good order, when, with their loose notions of the binding force of agreements, they broke their contracts or indulged themselves otherwise in unruly pranks.

To this end the “Freedmen's Bureau” was instituted, an organization of civil officials who were, with the necessary staffs, dispersed all over the South to see to it that the freedmen had their rights, and to act as intermediaries between them and the whites. The conception was a good one, and the institution, at the head of which General O. O. Howard was put, did useful service in many instances. It would have done more, and avoided some sad and conspicuous failures, had there been greater care in the selection of agents. The duties to be performed required above all things strict integrity, sound sense, discretion and tact. Many of the men appointed possessed those qualities, but others treated the people they had to deal with, to gushes of unctuous cant which spread false notions among the blacks, irritated the whites, and not seldom caused their own honesty to be suspected. I found that in various places military officers were appealed to for advice and help by whites as well as blacks with greater confidence than the officers of the Freedmen's Bureau.

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Thus the strain of the situation was somewhat relieved by the interposition of the Federal authority between clashing elements, but by no means as much as was required to produce a feeling of security. The labor puzzle, aggravated by the race antagonism, was indeed the main disturbing influence, but not the only one. By the differences in the character of the civilization of free society on the one side, and of master-and-slave society on the other, by their long and bitter disputes over the slavery question, and, finally, by the four years of a civil war, in which the two contending parties were divided, not only by diverging sentiments and interests but by a geographical line, the estrangement between the peoples of the North and of the South had become so deep, that the attack upon Southern territory by the Northern armies had been resented by a large part of the Southern whites, almost as a foreign invasion, and the occupation of the South by Northern forces almost like a foreign conquest. Many of the older men, with whom the Union-sentiment which prevailed throughout the country before the slavery dispute became acute and critical, and was in a large sense traditional, found something congenial and sympathetic in the thought of a restored union, and therefore submitted to the result of the war in this aspect with comparatively good grace. But to the younger Southerners, who had grown up in the heated atmosphere of the political feud about slavery, to whom the threat of disunion as a means of saving slavery had been like a household word, and who had always regarded the bond of Union as a shackle to be cast off, the thought of being “reunited” to “the enemy,” the hated Yankee, was distasteful in the extreme. I speak here not of the “poor whites,” who, aside from their animosity against the negro, had no distinct feelings or aspirations of any kind, but suffered developments to pass by them with stolid indifference; but I speak of young Southerners of the educated or semi-educated class whose talk one heard on the streets, in the hotels, and on public conveyances.

They smarted keenly under the sense of defeat. But they would let it be understood that their spirit was unbroken. It was a current phrase among them that the South was indeed “overpowered” but “not conquered”; that the war had only proved the fighting superiority of the Southerner over the Northerner, man against man, and that the cause of Southern independence was lost only for the time being, to rise again at some future day with increased strength. To them the Southern Union man who had stood by the Federal Government during the Civil War was a black-hearted traitor who ought not to be permitted to live in the South—and, indeed, in many places Southern Unionists had to suffer cruel persecutions and saw reason to fear for their lives, except under the immediate protection of Federal garrisons. On the first Fourth of July after the close of the war, celebrations of the national birthday were attempted in Savannah and in Mobile, but they were participated in substantially only by colored people who were furiously set upon by white mobs. Public demonstrations in honor of the national flag or the Federal Government were generally denounced as wanton outrages to the Southern people.

Such sentiments of the “unconquered” found excited and exciting expression in the Southern press and were largely entertained by many Southern clergymen of different denominations and still more ardently by Southern women. General Thomas Kilby Smith, commanding the Southern district of Alabama, reported to me that when he suggested to Bishop Wilmer of the diocese of Alabama, Episcopal, the propriety of restoring to the liturgy that prayer which includes the President of the United States, the whole of which he had ordered his rectors to expunge, the bishop refused, first upon the ground that he could not pray for a continuance of martial law, and, secondly, that he would, by ordering the restoration of the prayer, stultify himself in the event of Alabama, and the Southern Confederacy regaining independence.

The influence exercised by the feelings of the women of the South upon the condition of mind and the conduct of the men was, of course, very great. Of those feelings I witnessed a significant manifestation in a hotel at Savannah. At the public dinner table I sat opposite a lady in black, probably mourning. She was middle-aged, but still handsome, and of an agreeable expression of countenance. She seemed to be a lady of the higher order of society. A young lieutenant in Federal uniform took a seat by my side, a youth of fine features and gentlemanly appearance. The lady, as I happened to notice, darted a glance at him which, as it impressed me, indicated that the presence of the person in Federal uniform was highly obnoxious to her. She seemed to grow restless as if struggling with an excitement hard to restrain. To judge from the tone of her orders to the waiter she was evidently impatient to finish her dinner. When she reached for a dish of pickles standing on the table at a little distance from her, the lieutenant got up and with a polite bow took it and offered it to her. She withdrew her hand as if it had touched something loathsome, her eyes flashed fire and with a tone of wrathful scorn and indignation she said: “So you think a Southern woman will take a dish of pickles from a hand that is dripping with the blood of her countrymen?” Then she abruptly left the table while the poor lieutenant, apparently stunned by the unexpected rebuff, and blushing deeply, stammered some words of apology, assuring the lady that he had meant no offense.

The mixing of a dish of pickles with so hot an outburst of Southern patriotism could hardly fail to evoke a smile. But the whole scene struck me as gravely pathetic, and as auguring ill for the speedy revival of a common national spirit. If this was the general temper of the women of the South—which, as I found on my travels it substantially was, then we encountered here a hostile moral force of incalculable potency, which could not be reasoned with. I do not mean to say that there were no women of social standing in the South capable of appreciating the true interest of the South, which was promptly to accept the legitimate results of the war in good faith and to make the best of the new order of things. But I mean to say that the general tendency of feminine nature to let the emotional impulse interfere with the cool and sober consideration of circumstances and interests, manifested itself at that time in the South with startling vigor. This might indeed have been expected in a country where the warmer sun enhances the vivacity of temperament, making that temperament apt to become peculiarly charming in friendly intercourse, but also peculiarly vehement in a conflict.

Southern women had suffered much by the Civil War, on the whole far more than their Northern sisters. There was but little exaggeration in the phrase which was current at the time, that the Confederacy, in order to fill its armies, had to “draw upon the cradle and the grave.” Almost every white man capable of bearing arms enlisted or was pressed into the service. The loss of men—not in proportion to the number on the rolls, but in proportion to the whole white population, was far heavier in the South than in the North. There were not many families unbereft, not many women who had not the loss of a father, or a husband, or a brother, or of a friend to deplore. In the regions in which military operations had taken place, the destruction of property had been great, and while most of that destruction seemed necessary in the opinion of military men,—in the eyes of the sufferers it appeared wanton, cruel, malignant, devilish. The interruption of the industries of the country, the exclusion, by the blockade of the ports, of all importations from abroad, and the necessity of providing for the sustenance of the armies in the field, subjected all classes to various distressing privations and self-denials. There were bread riots in Richmond. Salt became so scarce that the earthen floors of the smoke-houses were scraped to secure the remnants of the brine drippings of former periods. Flour was at all times painfully scarce. Coffee and tea were almost unattainable. Of the various little comforts and luxuries which by long common use had almost become necessaries, many were no longer to be had. Mothers had to ransack old ragbags to find material for clothing their children. Ladies accustomed to a life of abundance and fashion had not only to work their old gowns over and to wear their bonnets of long ago, but also to flit with their children from one plantation to another in order to find something palatable to eat in the houses of more fortunate friends, who had in time provided themselves. And when at last the war was over, the blockade was raised and the necessaries and comforts so long and so painfully missed came within sight again, the South was made only more sensible of her poverty, for only a few persons in exceptionally favorable circumstances could obtain them, as the South generally was almost absolutely stripped of current money and stood face to face with the wreck of her fortunes, which, to save herself from greater misery, she had to rebuild quickly, with her male population decimated by the war, her resources in a great measure wasted or unavailable, and her traditional labor system utterly disorganized. It was, indeed, an appalling situation, looking in many respects almost hopeless. And for all this, her heart full of the mournful memories of the near past and heavy with the anxieties of the present, the Southern woman held the “cruel Yankee” responsible as the wanton originator of all her woes.

It was not to be wondered at that her emotional nature, while the wounds were still fresh, refused to listen to any plea in justification of the war on our part, and that she should give abundant expression to her sense of injury and outrage. Nor is it strange that her feelings dominated to a great extent the intercourse between Southern and Northern men. A Northerner could hardly hope to be admitted to any Southern social circles on terms of welcome. The men might treat him with a certain businesslike consideration, but he was in danger of snubs of such exquisite frigidity from the ladies, that he would feel, at best, like an unwillingly tolerated, but really intolerable intruder. This state of feeling was much to be deplored, for it obstructed friendly approach between Northerners and Southerners, and thus in a general sense between the South and the North, at a time when such approach would have been most apt to prevent great mischief. In fact, it required the passing of many years to restore a satisfactory degree of cordiality in the social intercourse between the North and the South; and even now, more than forty years after the close of the Civil War, the visitor to the South, if he wishes to keep quite unruffled the temper of his lady friends,—a temper usually so animated, sympathetic, and captivating—will have circumspectly to steer clear of topics touching certain phases of the war period.

From time to time, traveling from State to State, I reported to President Johnson my observations and the conclusions I drew from them. I not only was most careful to tell him the exact truth as I saw it, but I elicited from our military officers and from agents of the Freedmen's Bureau stationed in the South, as well as from prominent Southern men statements of their views and experiences, which formed a weighty body of authoritative testimony coming from men of high character and partly of important public position, some of whom were Republicans, some Democrats, some old anti-slavery men, some old pro-slavery men. All these papers, too, I submitted to the President. In them the enthusiast, the cool man of affairs, as well as the pessimist and the cynic had their say. The historian of that time will hardly find more trustworthy material. They all substantially agreed upon certain points of fact. They all found that the South was at peace so far as there was no open armed conflict between the Government troops and organized bodies of insurgents. The South was not at peace inasmuch as the different social forces did not peaceably co-operate, and violent collisions on a great scale were prevented or repressed only by the presence of the Federal authority supported by the government troops on the ground ready for immediate action. The “results of the war” were recognized in the South by virtue of necessity in so far as the restoration of Union and the Federal government were submitted to, and the emancipation of the slaves and the introduction of free labor were accepted in name; but the Union was still hateful to a large majority of the white population of the South, the Southern Unionists were still social outcasts, the officers of the Union were still regarded as foreign tyrants ruling by force; and as to the abolition of slavery, emancipation, although “accepted” in name, was still denounced by a large majority of the former master class as an “unconstitutional” stretch of power to be reversed if possible, and that class, the ruling class among the whites, was still desiring, hoping, and striving to reduce the free negro laborer as much as possible to the condition of a slave. And this tendency was seriously aggravated by the fact that the South, exhausted and impoverished, stood in the most pressing need of productive agricultural labor, while the landowners generally did not yet know how to manage the former slave as a free laborer, and the emancipated negro was still unused to the rights and duties of a free man. In short, Southern society was still in that most confused, perplexing and perilous of conditions—the condition of a defeated insurrection leaving irritated feelings behind it, and of a great social revolution only half accomplished, leaving antagonistic forces face to face. The necessity of the presence of a restraining and guiding higher authority could hardly have been more obvious. This was the general purport of the opinions of military and civil officers, as well as other persons of consequence which I had collected and submitted to the President, and with which my own observations and reflections entirely agreed.

During the first six weeks of my travels in the South I did not receive a single word from the President or any member of the Administration. But through the newspapers and the talk going on around me, I learned that the President had taken active measures to put the “States lately in rebellion” into a self-governing condition—that is to say, that he appointed “provisional governors,” that he directed those provisional governors to call conventions for the purpose of reviving the State constitutions in harmony with the new order of things, the conventions to be elected, according to the plan laid down in the North Carolina proclamation, by the “loyal” white citizens, an overwhelming majority of whom were persons who had adhered to the rebellion and had then taken the prescribed oath of allegiance. On the same basis the provisional governors were to set in motion again the whole machinery of civil government as rapidly as possible. When, early in July, I took leave of the President to set out on my tour of investigation, he, as already mentioned, assured me that the North Carolina proclamation was not to be regarded as a plan definitely resolved upon; that it was merely tentative and experimental; that before proceeding further he would “wait and see”; and that to aid him by furnishing him information and advice while he was “waiting and seeing” was the object of my mission. Had not this been the understanding, I should not have undertaken the wearisome and ungrateful journey. But now he did not “wait and see.” On the contrary, he rushed forward the political reconstruction of the Southern States in hot haste—apparently without regard to consequences.

Every good citizen most cordially desired the earliest practicable re-establishment of the constitutional relations of the late “rebel States” to the National Government. But before restoring those States to all the functions of self-government within the Union, the National Government was in conscience bound to keep in mind certain debts of honor. One was due to the Union men of the South who had stood true to the Republic in the days of trial and danger. They might well claim that they should not be delivered up to the tender mercies of the overwhelming majority of their countrymen without any protection—at least not so long as the vindictive passions left behind it by the Civil War were still hot. And the other was due to the colored people, who had furnished 200,000 soldiers to our army at the time when enlistments were running slack and to whom we had given the solemn promise of freedom at a time when that promise gave a distinct moral character to our war for the Union, fatally discouraging the inclination of foreign governments to interfere in our civil conflict against us. Not only imperative reasons of statesmanship, but the very honor of the Republic seemed to forbid that the fate of the emancipated slaves be turned over to State governments ruled by the former master class without the amplest possible guaranty insuring the genuineness of their freedom. But, as every fair-minded observer would admit, nothing could have been more certain than that the political restoration of the “late rebel States” as self-governing bodies on the North Carolina plan would, at that time, have put the whole legislative and executive power of those States into the hands of men ignorant of the ways of free labor society, who sincerely believed that the negro would not work without physical compulsion and was generally unfit for freedom, and who were then pressed by the dire necessities of their impoverished condition to force out of the negroes all the agricultural labor they could with the least possible regard to their new rights. The consequences of all this were witnessed in the actual experiences of every day.

Had the National Government, immediately after the close of the war, given the former slave-holders clearly to understand that, however great the difficulties of the introduction of free labor in the South might be, those difficulties must—absolutely must—be overcome, and that the “late rebel States” would under no circumstances be restored to their constitutional position as self-governing States in the Union until those difficulties had been overcome and the free labor system was in peaceable and reasonably successful operation in the South, most of the perplexities would soon have yielded to honest and hopeful effort and appeared far less serious than the Southern men had originally thought them to be. Much trouble might thus have been avoided. But as soon as President Johnson permitted it to be understood that he purposed to restore those States to their self-governing functions without such preparation, the still existing pro-slavery spirit was naturally flushed with new hope. Word went round at once that soon the States would have full power again to control their own affairs, and that then, the emancipation edicts notwithstanding, the negro would be “put in his place.” No secret was made of this expectation. The provisional governor of South Carolina openly admitted that the people of his State still indulged in a lingering trust that after all slavery might be preserved. When the elections for the constitutional conventions in the different States approached, candidates for seats, in most cases claiming the confidence of the people on the ground of their having been faithful Confederate soldiers during the war, declared frankly that they were at heart opposed to the freedom of the negro, but accepted it, and advised others to accept it, for the simple reason that this was the only way to obtain at once more full control of their own affairs, when the people, meaning the whites of those States, would be able to dispose of the matter as they pleased. Support of the President in his reconstruction policy was, therefore, warmly advocated.

From various quarters I received reports that planters were making extraordinary efforts to hold their former slaves together on their plantations, so that when the hoped-for restoration of slavery came, they might have less difficulty in identifying and reclaiming the slaves belonging to them. The cases of murder or mutilation of straggling freedmen increased in number. Various parish or county governments, organized under the authority of the provisional governors, anticipating the restoration of slavery or so much of it as might be found practicable, adopted ordinances or regulations putting the negroes under the strictest police control, stripping them almost completely of the right of free movement enjoyed by everyone else, and of the right to dispose of their persons and property, and re-establishing to the end of enforcing such regulations, which in many respects were identical with the old slave laws, the old county patrol and other devices designed to keep the negro in absolute subjection. The difference between the conditions contemplated by these regulations and the condition of slavery as it had been was very small. That under these circumstances efforts made by Northerners to establish schools for the education of colored people should have met with fierce opposition, was natural. Unless under the immediate protection of Federal troops the negro schoolhouses were set on fire and the teachers driven away. The situation was pungently described in a report addressed to me by Colonel Samuel Thomas, Assistant Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau for Mississippi, in these words: “The whites esteem the blacks their property by natural right, and, however much they may admit that the relations of masters and slaves have been destroyed by the war and by the President's emancipation proclamation, they still have an ingrained feeling that the blacks at large belong to the whites at large, and whenever opportunity serves, they treat the colored people just as their profit, caprice or passion may dictate.” I found evidence of this at every step; and the worst of it was, that, as I had to confess to myself, it was under existing circumstances as natural as it was terrible and distressing.

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At last I came again into contact with the President. Late in August I arrived in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and visited the headquarters of Major General Slocum, who commanded the Department of the Mississippi. I found the General in a puzzled state of mind about a proclamation recently issued by Mr. W. L. Sharkey, the provisional governor of that State appointed by President Johnson, calling “upon the people, and especially upon such as are liable to perform military duty and are familiar with military discipline,” and more especially “the young men of the State who have so distinguished themselves for gallantry,” to organize as speedily as possible volunteer companies in every county of the State, at least one company of cavalry and one of infantry, for the protection of life, property and good order in the State. This meant no more nor less an the organization, under the authority of one of the “States lately in rebellion,” of a large armed military force consisting of men who had but recently surrendered their arms as Confederate soldiers. Two days before my arrival at Vicksburg, General Slocum had issued a “General Order” in which he directed the district commanders under him not to permit within their districts the organization of such military forces as were contemplated by Governor Sharkey's proclamation. The reasons for such action given by General Slocum in the order itself, were conclusive. While the military forces of the United States sent to the State of Mississippi for the purpose of maintaining order, of executing the laws of Congress and the orders of the War Department, had performed their duties in a spirit of conciliation and forbearance and with remarkable success, the provisional governor, on the alleged ground that this had not been done to his satisfaction, and without consulting the Department Commander, had called upon the late Confederate soldiers, fresh from the war against the National Government, to organize a military force intended to be “independent of the military authority now present, and superior in strength to the United States powers on duty in the State.” The execution of this scheme would bring on collisions at once, especially where the United States forces consisted of colored troops. The crimes and disorder, the occurrence of which the provisional governor adduced as his reason for organizing his State volunteers, had been committed or connived at as the record showed, by people of the same class to which the Governor's volunteers would belong. The commanding general as well as every good citizen earnestly desired to hasten the day when the troops of the United States could with safety be withdrawn, but that day would “not be hastened by arming at this time the young men of the State.”

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General Slocum—by the way be it said, not at all an old anti-slavery man, but a Democrat in politics—was manifest right. He showed me reports from his district commanders which substantially anticipated his order. But the General was anxious to know whether the President had authorized or approved Governor Sharkey's action. This he asked me to ascertain, and I telegraphed to President Johnson the following dispatch: “General Slocum has issued an order prohibiting the organization of the militia in this State. The organization of the militia would have been a false step. All I can see and learn in the State convinces me that the course followed by General Slocum is the only one by which public order and security can be maintained. To-day I shall forward by mail General Slocum's order with a full statement of the case.”

Indeed, the policy of organizing the militia in such a State as Mississippi, that is, of re-organizing and re-arming a part of the Confederate army, for the purpose, among other things, of protecting the Union men of the South and the emancipated slaves in their rights, at a time when the Union men were still heartily hated and the reversal of emancipation ardently desired by the very class of men thus to be armed and organized, was so glaringly absurd, that I could not suppose the President possibly to be in favor of it, whatever Governor Sharkey might have told him. Passing through Jackson, the capital of the State, I had long conversations with him in which he had impressed me as a pleasant old gentleman who sincerely cherished Union sentiments and wished all things to come out right, but who was intellectually too feeble to cope with the astute persons who wanted to preserve as much as possible of the system of slave labor and to this end the earliest possible removal of the Federal forces from the South. And persons of that class had entire possession of the amiable Governor. He admitted to me that all the “outrages” he complained of were really committed against negroes and Union men, and that if the Union troops were withdrawn, the life of no Northern man would be safe in Mississippi. At the same time he was anxious to see the Union forces withdrawn and thus to make room for his militia. It seemed to me impossible that a man of so doltish a brain should have exercised a determining influence upon the President's mind.

It is hard to imagine my amazement when, at two o'clock A. M., of the 1st of September, I was called up from my berth on a Mississippi steamboat carrying me from Vicksburg to New Orleans, off Baton Rouge, to receive a telegraphic dispatch from President Johnson, to which I cannot do justice without quoting the whole of it:

Washington, D. C., August 30, 1865. 

To Major General Carl Schurz,
Vicksburg, Mississippi.
I presume General Slocum will issue no order interfering with Governor Sharkey in restoring functions of the State Government without first consulting the Government, giving the reasons for such proposed interference. It is believed there can be organized in each county a force of citizens or militia to suppress crime, preserve order, and enforce the civil authority of the State and of the United States which would enable the Federal Government to reduce the Army and withdraw to a great extent the forces from the State, thereby reducing the enormous expense of the Government. If there was any danger from an organization of the citizens for the purpose indicated, the military are there to detect and suppress on the first appearance any move insurrectionary in its character. The great object is to induce the people to come forward in the defense of the State and Federal Government. General Washington declared that the people or the militia was the Army of the Constitution or the Army of the United States and as soon as it is practicable the original design of the Government must be resumed and the Government administered upon the principles of the great chart of freedom handed down to the people by the founders of the Republic. The people must be trusted with their Government and if trusted, my opinion is they will act in good faith and restore their former Constitutional relations with all the States composing the Union. The main object of Major General Carl Schurz's mission to the South was to aid as far as practicable in carrying out the policy adopted by the Government for restoring the States to their former relations with the Federal Government. It is hoped such aid has been given. The proclamation authorizing restoration of State Governments requires the military to aid the Provisional Governor in the performance of his duties as prescribed in the proclamation, and in no manner to interfere or throw impediments in the way of consummating the object of his appointment, at least without advising the Government of the intended interference.

Andrew Johnson, Prest. U. S.

As soon as I reached New Orleans I telegraphed my reply. The President having apparently supposed that I had induced General Slocum to issue his order, I thought it due to myself to inform the President that the order had been out before I saw the General, but that I decidedly approved it. In some localities county patrols had already been organized, but had to be suppressed on account of their open hostility to Union men and freed people. A number of Union men at Vicksburg had declared that unless General Slocum's policy be upheld, they would at once prepare for leaving the State. One of the reasons given by Governor Sharkey for organizing the militia was that the inhabitants refused to aid our military in the suppression of crime, and the call was especially addressed to the class of people who so refused their aid. This was an insulting proceeding which no general having the dignity of his government at heart, could submit to. The existence of armed bodies not under the control of the military command would inevitably lead to collisions. I was heartily in favor of cutting down expenses, but circumstances did not yet permit the saving by reducing the Southern garrisons. I was profoundly convinced the President would see this himself, were he on the ground. The Union people and freedmen absolutely needed as yet a protecting force. Their safety required that Slocum be openly sustained and that Governor Sharkey be censured for his proclamation. According to the President's own words I had understood the President's policy to be merely experimental, and my mission to be merely one of observation and report. I had governed myself strictly by this understanding, seeking to aid the President by reliable information, believing that it could not be the President's intention to withdraw his protecting hand from the Union people and freedmen before their rights and safety were secured. I entreated him not to disapprove General Slocum's conduct and to give me an indication of his purposes concerning the Mississippi Militia case.

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The next day, September 2nd, after having seen Major General Canby, the commander of the Department of Louisiana, an uncommonly cool-headed and cautious man, I telegraphed again:—

To the President: General Canby authorizes me to state that the organization of local militia companies was tried in his Department, but that he found himself obliged to disband them again because they indulged in the gratification of private vengeance and worked generally against the policy of the Government. Sheridan has issued an order in Texas embracing the identical points contained in General Slocum's order.”

Thereupon I received on the 6th of September a telegram simply announcing the receipt of my “dispatch of the 30th ultimo,” probably meaning my letter from Vicksburg. And then nothing more; not a word indicating the President's policy, or his wishes or his approval or disapproval of my conduct. But meanwhile I had found a short paragraph in a New Orleans paper telegraphed from Washington, only a few lines, stating that the President was dissatisfied with me, and that I was especially blamed for having written to the newspapers instead of informing him. I believed I saw in this news paragraph an inspiration from the White House. Acting upon that supposition I at once wrote to the President reminding him that I had not sought this mission to the South, but had accepted it thinking that I might do the country some service; that the charge that I had reported to the newspapers instead of to the President, was simply absurd; that I had written to the President a series of elaborate reports; that I had, indeed, written a few letters to a newspaper, but that this was well understood by the Secretary of War when he made the arrangements for my journey; that the compensation set out for me—a mere War-Department-clerk's salary—was utterly insufficient to cover the expenses incidental to my travels, aside from transportation and subsistence, among which incidentals was a considerable extra premium on my life insurance on account of my travels so far South during the summer; that, as the Secretary of War understood and appreciated, I had to earn something in some way to make my journey financially possible, that my newspaper letters contained nothing that should have been treated as official secrets, but incidents of travel, anecdotes, picturesque views of Southern conditions with some reflections thereon, mostly things which would not find proper elaboration in official reports,—and all this quite anonymous so as not to have the slightest official character; and finally that I had a right to feel myself entitled to protection against such imputations as the newspaper paragraph in question contained.

My first impulse was to resign my mission at once and return home. But then I considered that the duty to the public which I had assumed, obliged me to finish my work as well as I could, unless expressly recalled by the President. I would, therefore, at any rate, go on with my inquiries in expectation of an answer from him to my letter. I was outraged at the treatment I was receiving. I had undertaken the journey in obedience to an urgent request of the President, and at serious sacrifice, for I was on the point of returning to my Western home when the President called me off. My journey in the South during the hottest part of the year was in the highest degree laborious and fatiguing. I had to travel many hundred miles in dilapidated railroad cars over tracks which, originally poor, had for years experienced no repairs, at the rate of ten, at best, fifteen miles an hour, and at a temperature not seldom up in the nineties. Where railroad facilities were wanting, I moved from place to place—usually by night to avoid the blistering heat of the day—in carriages, mostly old aristocratic family coaches that had seen better days, now degraded to mean hack service, the upholstery worn out or ripped open, the lanterns gone, the harness pieced together with ropes and trying one's patience by breaking every moment. I remember especially a night ride in Alabama through a long stretch of woods over a horrible road. Our vehicle had been a gorgeous family coach once, with satin-covered cushions, from which now the horse-hair protruded in hideous abundance; the springs in so enfeebled a condition, that every unevenness of the road caused a bump lifting us out of our seats, and the harness,—the “old rig” as our driver called it—snapping so frequently and in so vicious a manner as to defy to the utmost not only our endurance, but also our skill in making temporary repairs. Fortunately noticing before starting that the lanterns of the carriage were lacking, we had provided ourselves at the last station with a supply of tallow candles, and now, making our way slowly through the dense darkness of the woods, one of us, either myself or my companion, Captain Orlemann, alternately, would stumble, a burning tallow candle in hand, ahead of the horses to discover stumps, or boulders, or holes in the road and thus to prevent a total shipwreck. Meantime, our driver, a white boy of sixteen or seventeen, with difficulty maintaining himself on the box, would in the intervals between violent fits of swearing, persistently describe to us what a magnificent affair he had known this carriage to be, and how rich and elegant the people had been who had owned it, but who were now so poor that they had to hire it out as a livery hack, and had not enough money to keep it in repair.

Such journeys were fatiguing indeed, but they were hardly worse than the sweltering nights in the wretched country taverns of those days—nights spent in desperate fights with ravenous swarms of mosquitoes, if not, in addition, with insects still more offensive. Indeed, the comforts of many a military camp during the war had been genuine luxury compared with the accommodations offered by most of those hostelries. The upshot of it was that when I arrived at New Orleans, the limits of my endurance were well-nigh reached, and a few days later I had a severe attack of the “break-bone fever,” an illness which by the sensations it causes does full justice to its ill-boding name. I thought I might fight the distemper by leaving New Orleans and visiting other parts in pursuit of my inquiries. I went to Mobile for the purpose of looking into the conditions of Southern Alabama, returned to New Orleans, and then ran up Bayou Teche in a government tug-boat as far as New Iberia, where I was literally driven back by clouds of mosquitoes of unusual ferocity. At New Orleans I dispatched an additional report to the President, and then, relentlessly harassed by the break-bone fever, which, as a physician advised me, I would not get rid of as long as I remained in that climate, I set my face northward, stopping at Natchez and Vicksburg to gather up some important information.

At Natchez I witnessed a significant spectacle. I was shown some large dwelling houses which, before the Civil War, had at certain seasons been occupied by families of the planting aristocracy of that region. Most of those houses now looked deserted and uncared for—shutters unhinged, windowpanes broken, yards and gardens covered with a rank growth of grass and weeds. In the front yard of one of the houses I observed some fresh stumps and stacks of cord-wood and an old man busy cutting down with an axe a magnificent shade tree. There was something distinguished in his appearance that arrested my attention—fine features topped with long, white locks; slender, delicate hands; clothes shabby, but of a cut denoting that they had originally been made for a person above the ordinary wood-chopper. My companion, a Federal captain, did not know him. I accosted him with the question to whom that house belonged. “It belongs to me,” he said. I begged his pardon for asking the further question why he was cutting down that splendid shade tree. “I must live,” he replied with a sad smile. “My sons fell in the war. All my servants have left me. I sell firewood to the steamboats passing by.” He swung his axe again to end the conversation. A warm word of sympathy was on my tongue, but I repressed it, a look at his dignified mien making me apprehend that he might resent being pitied―especially by one of the victorious enemy.

At Vicksburg I learned from General Slocum that Governor Sharkey himself had, upon more mature reflection, given up the organization of his State militia as too dangerous an experiment.

I left the South troubled by great anxiety. No fair-minded man could have had my experiences in the Southern country without conceiving and cherishing a profound and warm sympathetic feeling for the Southern people, white as well as black. From what I had seen and heard, the resources of the South in men and means had all through the Civil War, been so enormously inferior to those of the North, that it was fairly amazing how the South could have sustained the desperate struggle four long years—a struggle full of heroic self-sacrifice, the prowess of which extorted admiration. And that gallant devotion had been wasted upon a hopeless cause—the cause of slavery—which, while held sacred by the white people of the South, was abhorred by the moral sense and the enlightened opinion of the century. Now the South found precipitated upon it a problem of tremendous moment and perplexing difficulty—the problem of abruptly transforming a social organism based upon slave labor into a free labor society. Four millions of negroes, of a race held in servitude for two centuries, had suddenly been made free men. That an overwhelming majority of them, grown up in the traditional darkness of slavery, should at first not have been able to grasp the duties of their new condition together with its rights, was but natural. While on the whole their conduct was better than might have been expected, yet it was equally natural and equally deplorable—that the Southern whites, who had known the negro laborer only as a slave, and who had been trained only in the habits and ways of thinking of the master class, should have stubbornly clung to their traditional prejudice that the negro would not work without physical compulsion. From the fact that a large number of negroes actually did work without physical compulsion, they might have concluded that their prejudice was unreasonable; but—such is human nature—a prejudice is often the more tenaciously clung to, the more unreasonable it is. There was, therefore, a strong tendency among the whites to continue the old practices of the slavery system, to force the negro freedmen to labor for them. Thus the two races, whose well-being depended upon their peaceable and harmonious co-operation, confronted one another in a state of fretful irritation, aggravated by the pressing necessity of producing a crop that season, and embittered by race antagonism. That irritation would have been liable to break out in bloody conflicts on a large scale had not a superior restraining authority interposed. In fact it did so break out on a small scale in places where that authority was not present to make itself instantly felt. The Southern whites wished and hoped to be speedily restored to the control of their States by the reestablishment of their State Governments. To this end they were willing to recognize “the results of the war,” among them the abolition of slavery, in point of form. The true purpose was to use the power of the State Governments, legislative and executive, to reduce the freedom of the negroes to a minimum and to revive so much of the old slave code as was thought necessary to make the blacks work for the whites. This tendency was not unnatural under the perplexing conditions then existing and the morbid state of mind they produced among the whites. Neither was it artfully concealed. It frankly avowed itself in a hundred ways by word and act. Here was the great opportunity of the Federal Government. Had it sternly discountenanced that hope by making the South clearly understand that the “States lately in rebellion” would certainly not be restored to full self-government until the introduction of free labor should have been in good faith and successfully accomplished and the rights of the freedmen reasonably secured, the Southern whites would, instead of striving to reverse the new order of things, have endeavored to study and improve their chances and opportunities, thus avoiding the worst troubles. But now President Johnson stepped in, and, directly encouraging the expectation that the States would without delay be restored to full self-control, even under present circumstances, distinctly stimulated the most dangerous reactionary tendencies to more reckless and baneful activity. The poor Southern people thus became the victims of reckless seduction and headed straightway for a sea of disastrous trouble and confusion.

This was my view of Southern conditions when I returned from my mission of inquiry. Arrived at Washington, I reported myself at once at the White House. The President's private secretary, who seemed surprised to see me, announced me to the President, who sent out word that he was busy. When would it please the President to receive me? The private secretary could not tell, as the President's time was much occupied by urgent business. I left the ante-room, but called again the next morning. The President was still busy. I asked the private secretary to submit to the President that I had returned from a three months' journey made at the President's personal request, that I thought it my duty respectfully to report myself back, and that I should be obliged to the President if he would let me know whether, and, if so, when he would receive me to that end. The private secretary went in again and brought out the answer that the President would see me in an hour or so. At the appointed time I was admitted. The President received me without a smile of welcome. His mien was sullen. I said that I had returned from the journey which I had made in obedience to his demand and was ready to give him, in addition to the communications I had already sent him, such further information as was in my possession. A moment's silence followed. Then he inquired about my health. I thanked him for the inquiry and hoped the President's health was good. He said it was. Another pause, which I brought to an end by saying that I wished to supplement the letters I had written to him from the South with an elaborate report giving my experiences and conclusions in a connected shape. The President looked up and said that I need not go to the trouble of writing out such a general report on his account. I replied that it would be no trouble at all, but that I considered it a duty. The President did not answer. The silence became awkward and I bowed myself out.

President Johnson evidently wished to suppress my testimony as to the condition of things in the South. I resolved not to let him do so. I had conscientiously endeavored to see Southern conditions as they were. I had not permitted any political considerations or any preconceived opinions on my part, to obscure my perception and discernment in the slightest degree. I had told the truth as I learned it and understood it with the severest accuracy, and I thought it due to the country that the truth should be known.

Among my friends in Washington there were different opinions as to how the striking change in President Johnson's attitude had been brought about. Some told me that during the summer the White House had been fairly besieged by Southern men and women of high social standing who had told the President that the only element of trouble in the South consisted in a lot of fanatical abolitionists who excited the negroes with all sorts of dangerous notions, and that all would be well if he would only restore the Southern State governments as quickly as possible, according to his own plan as laid down in his North Carolina proclamation, and that he was a great man to whom they looked up as their savior. Now it was thought that Mr. Johnson, the plebeian, who, before the war had been treated with undisguised contempt by the slave-holding aristocracy, could not withstand the subtle flattery of the same aristocracy when they flocked around him as humble suppliants cajoling his vanity.

Another opinion was that Mr. Seward, who had remained Secretary of State after Lincoln's death, had used all the powers of his persuasive eloquence to satisfy President Johnson that all now to be done was simply to restore the Union by at once re-admitting the “States lately in rebellion” to their full constitutional functions as regular States of the Union, and that then, being encouraged by this mark of confidence, the late master class in the South could be trusted with the recognition and protection of the emancipated slaves. That Mr. Seward urged such advice upon the President, there is good reason for believing. Not only was it common report, but it accorded also strikingly with Mr. Seward's singular turn of mind concerning the slavery question. As after the outbreak of the secession movement he peremptorily relegated the slavery question to the background in spite of its evident importance in the Civil War and of the influence it would inevitably exercise upon the opinion and attitude of foreign nations, so he may have been forgetful of the national duty of honor to secure the rights of the freedmen and the safety of the Southern Union men in his impatient desire to “restore the Union” in point of form. It is not at all improbable that both the influences named combined in determining the course of Mr. Johnson.

I went to work at my general report with the utmost care. My statements of fact were regularly escorted by my witnesses whose testimony was produced in their own language. I scrupulously avoided exaggeration and cultivated sober and moderate forms of expression. It gives me some satisfaction now to say that none of those statements of fact has ever been effectually controverted. I cannot speak with the same assurance of my conclusions and recommendations; for they were matters, not of knowledge, but of judgment. And we stood at that time face to face with a situation bristling with problems so complicated and puzzling that every proposed solution, based upon assumptions apparently ever so just and supported by reasoning apparently ever so logical, was liable to turn out in practice apparently more mischievous than any other. In a great measure this has actually come to pass. There was an almost universal argument among the loyal people that the “States lately in rebellion” should as soon as possible be restored to their constitutional functions. But as to the conditions of that possibility opinions gravely differed. Would it not have been foolish as well as dishonorable to emancipate the negro slaves and even to use them as soldiers of the Republic to-day and then, to-morrow, to turn them over without protection to those who had held them enslaved and who wished to hold them to enforced labor? But how to protect them and to make that protection permanent? It was seriously proposed by some well-meaning men, in view of the antagonism between the white and the black races, to deport and settle them in some convenient and safe place and thus to take them out of harm's way. But this plan had for various cogent reasons to be abandoned as a practical impossibility. To protect them temporarily by a military force appeared admissible and proper, but to prolong that military protection indefinitely would have not only been practically difficult but also obnoxious to our principles of government, and prolific of dangerous abuses. The alternative was to enable the emancipated slaves to protect themselves by giving them the suffrage as a means to exercise a certain power in the government as citizens. This had the advantage of being in harmony with our institutions. A grave objection to this plan consisted in the general ignorance of the colored masses. But as it was expected that in the course of time they would divide their votes between the different political parties, it was thought that the ignorance of the blacks would not be essentially worse in its effects than the ignorance already prevailing among the great mass of the Southern white voters, and that the resulting evil could be mitigated by the introduction of an educational or other qualification applicable to blacks and whites alike, and that, at any rate, the evil consequences likely to follow the enfranchisement of the blacks, would ultimately prove less dangerous than those apt to be brought about by any other available method of protecting the rights of the emancipated slaves.

In the concluding paragraph of my report I respectfully suggested to the President that he advise Congress to send one or more investigating committees into the Southern States to inquire for themselves into the actual condition of things before taking final and irreversible action. I sent the completed document to the President on the 22nd of November, asking him at the same time to permit me to publish it, on my sole responsibility and in such a manner as would preclude the imputation that the President approved the whole or any part of it. To this request I never received a reply. I should not have made it, had I not suspected that in some way my report might be suppressed. But subsequently it turned out that another expedient had been devised. Congress met early in the following December. At once the Republican majority in both Houses rose in opposition to President Johnson's plan of reconstruction. Even before the President's message was read, the House of Representatives, upon the motion of Thaddeus Stevens, of Pennsylvania, passed a resolution providing for a joint committee of both Houses to inquire into the condition of the “States lately in rebellion,” which committee should thereupon report “by bill or otherwise,” whether in its judgment those States, or any of them, were entitled to be represented in either House of Congress. To this resolution the Senate subsequently assented. Thus Congress took the matter of the reconstruction of the late rebel States as to its final consummation into its own hands, which, under the Constitution, it had a perfect right to do.

On the 12th of December, upon the motion of Mr. Sumner, the Senate resolved that the President be directed to furnish to the Senate, among other things, a copy of my report. A week later the President did so, but he coupled it with a report from General Grant on the same subject. The two reports were transmitted with a short message from the President in which he affirmed that the rebellion had been suppressed; that peace reigned throughout the land; that “so far as could be done” the courts of the United States had been restored, post-offices re-established and revenues collected; that several of those States had re-organized their State governments; that good progress had been made in doing so; that the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery had been ratified by nearly all of them; that legislation to protect the rights of the freedmen was in course of preparation in most of them; that indeed here and there the “demoralizing effects of the war” were still to be seen in “occasional disorders” which, however, were local, infrequent, and rapidly diminishing; and that, on the whole, the condition of things was promising and far better than might have been expected. He transmitted my report without a word of comment, but invited special attention to that of General Grant.

The appearance of General Grant's report was a surprise, which, however, easily explained itself. On November 22nd, the President had received my report. On the 27th General Grant, with the approval of the President, started on a “tour of inspection through some of the Southern States,” to look after the “disposition of the troops,” and also “to learn, as far as possible, the feelings and intentions of the citizens of those States towards the General Government.” On the 12th of December the Senate asked for the transmission of my report. General Grant's report was dated on the 18th and on the 19th it was sent to the Senate together with mine. The supposition lay near, and it was generally believed that this arrangement was devised by President Johnson to the end of neutralizing the possible effect of my account of Southern conditions. If so, it was cleverly planned. General Grant was at that time at the height of his popularity. He was, since Lincoln's death, by far the most imposing figure in the popular eye. Having forced the surrender of the formidable Lee, he was by countless tongues called “the savior of the Union.” He enjoyed in an extraordinary degree the privilege of military heroes, to be endowed by the popular imagination with all conceivable virtues and capabilities. His word would, therefore, go very far toward carrying conviction. But in this case the discredit which President Johnson had already incurred proved too heavy for even the military hero to carry.

It is more than probable that General Grant, who had no political experience whatever, had permitted himself to be used for the President's purpose without knowing it. His report was, no doubt, perfectly candid. In it he frankly stated that he had hurried through Virginia without conversing with anybody, and that he had stayed only one day in Raleigh, North Carolina, only two days in Charleston, South Carolina, and only one day each in Savannah and Augusta, Georgia. One of his conclusions was “that the mass of thinking men of the South accept the present situation of affairs in good faith.” That the mass of the thinking men who called upon him during his hurried visits at Raleigh, Charleston, Savannah and Augusta, told him so, and that they did their best to put things in the most favorable light in order to secure the earliest possible restoration of the Southern States to their self-governing functions, and that General Grant generously accepted that view, cannot fairly be questioned. But he frankly stated that he “did not meet anyone, either those holding places under the Government, or citizens of the Southern States, who thought it practicable to withdraw the military from the South at present, the white and the black mutually requiring the protection of the General Government.” He went even so far as to say that “in some form the Freedmen's Bureau is an absolute necessity until civil law is established and enforced, securing to the freedmen their rights and full protection” and “it cannot be expected that the opinions held by men at the South for years can be changed in a day, and therefore the freedmen require, for a few years, not only laws to protect them, but the fostering care of those who will give them good counsel, and on whom they can rely.” As to the practical things to be done, General Grant's views were not so very far apart from mine; but President Johnson's friends insisted upon representing him as favoring the immediate restoration of all “the States lately in rebellion” to all their self-governing functions, and this became the general impression—probably much against his wish. My report, after its publication as an “Executive Document,” became widely known in the country. A flood of letters of approval and congratulation poured in upon me from all parts of the United States. I may be pardoned for expressing here my own opinion of the merits of my work after having critically and retrospectively re-examined it in the course of writing these reminiscences. I am far from saying that somebody else might not have performed the task much better than I did. But I do think that this report is the best paper I have ever written on a public matter. The weakest part of it is that referring to negro-suffrage,—not as if the argument as far as it goes were wrong, but as it leaves out of consideration several aspects of the matter, the great importance of which has since become apparent. Of this more hereafter. On the whole, I venture to say the student of the history of that period will find my description of Southern conditions immediately after the war well worth reading.