The Writings of Carl Schurz/Military Interference in Louisiana

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Mr. President:—I beg the Senate to believe me when I say that I approach this subject in no partisan spirit. About to retire to private station, the success of no party can benefit and the defeat of no party can injure me, except in those interests which I have in common with all American citizens, whose own and whose children's fortunes are bound up in the fortunes of the Republic. I have formed my opinions with deliberation and impartiality, and I shall endeavor to express them in the calmest and most temperate language at my command. The subject is so great that passion or prejudice should certainly have no share in our judgment.

I must confess that the news that came from Louisiana a few days ago has profoundly alarmed me. A thing has happened which never happened in this country before, and which nobody, I trust, ever thought possible.

In the debates of last week it was frequently said that no expression of opinion upon that occurrence would be quite legitimate until an official report setting forth all the details of fact should be before us. I do not quite think so. All the important circumstances of the case have come to our knowledge through a multitude of concurrent statements, among them an elaborate dispatch of General Sheridan, statements from Mr. Kellogg and Mr. Wiltz, and numerous reports in the newspapers of the country, all agreeing upon the essential points. I believe the additional details which still can be furnished will not change the aspect of the case as to its real significance. The facts as they appear are the following:

On the 4th of January the legislature of Louisiana was to assemble and organize in the statehouse of that State. It did so assemble at the time and in the place fixed by law. The statehouse was surrounded by armed forces, among them troops of the United States. The legislature assembled “without any disturbance of the public peace,” in the language of General Sheridan. The clerk of the late house of representatives called it to order, he called the roll of its members according to the list furnished by the returning board fixed by law. A legal quorum answered to their names. While the result was being announced, a motion was made by a member, Mr. Bellew, to appoint L. A. Wiltz temporary speaker. That motion was put and declared carried; not, however, by the clerk of the late house. Mr. Wiltz took possession of the chair; the oath of office was administered to him by Justice Houston, and he then administered the oath to the members returned. A motion was made to appoint a certain gentleman clerk and another sergeant-at-arms of the assembly. The motion was put and declared carried. A resolution was then offered to admit the following persons to seats in the legislature: Charles Schuyler and John Scales, of De Soto Parish; James Brice, Jr., of Bienville Parish; C. C. Dunn, of Grant Parish, and George A. Kelly, of the parish of Winn.

The status of these persons was the following: The returning board of Louisiana had declined to pass judgment upon the elections in the parishes named and expressly referred the claims of the five persons whose names I have mentioned to the legislature itself for adjudication, thus distinctly recognizing the possibility of their being legally elected members of that legislature. The question on the resolution to seat them was put and declared carried, thus admitting them to seats subject to further contest. They were sworn in.

A motion was made to proceed to the election of permanent officers. L. A. Wiltz was nominated for the speakership by the conservatives, and M. Hahn and C. W. Lowell by the Republicans. Mr. Lowell declined. The motion was declared carried. The roll was called, and 55 votes were cast for Mr. Wiltz as speaker, 2 votes for Mr. Hahn, a legal quorum voting, and 14 members, as is reported, not voting at all. Mr. Wiltz was sworn in, and the roll being called the members were sworn in by him at the speaker's stand, among them 5 Republican members, Hahn, Baker, Drury, Murrell and Thomas, who participated in the proceedings. A permanent clerk and sergeant-at-arms were likewise declared elected upon motion. Mr. Wiltz as speaker then announced the house permanently organized and ready for business. Upon the motion of Mr. Dupre, a committee of seven on elections and returns was appointed.

In the meantime considerable disturbance and confusion had arisen in the lobby which the sergeant-at-arms seemed unable to suppress. Mr. Wiltz, the speaker, then sent for General De Trobriand, of the United States Army, who some time previous had occupied the statehouse with his soldiers, and requested him to speak to the disorderly persons in the lobby that a conflict might be prevented. The General did so, and order was restored. The house proceeded then with its business. The committee on elections and returns reported, and upon their report the following persons were seated as members and sworn in: John A. Quinn, of the parish of Avoyelles; J. J. Horan, A. D. Land and James R. Vaughan, of the parish of Caddo; J. Jeffries, R. L. Luckett and G. W. Stafford, of the parish of Rapides; and William H. Schwing, of the parish of Iberia. Then, at three o clock in the afternoon, General De Trobriand, of the United States Army, entered the legislative hall of Louisiana in full uniform, with his sword by his side, and accompanied by two members of his staff and Mr. Vigers, clerk of the late house of representatives; and he exhibited to the gentleman presiding over the house the following documents:

State of Louisiana, Executive Department,  

New Orleans, Jan. 4. 

General De Trobriand, Commanding:

An illegal assembly of men having taken possession of the hall of the house of representatives, and the police not being able to dislodge them, I respectfully request that you will immediately clear the hall and statehouse of all persons not returned as legal members of the house of representatives by the returning board of the State.

Wm. P. Kellogg,
Governor of the State of Louisiana.

Executive Department,  

New Orleans, Jan. 4. 

General De Trobriand:

The clerk of the house, who has in his possession the roll issued by the secretary of state of legal members of the house of representatives, will point out to you those persons now in the hall of the house of representatives returned by the legal returning board of the State.

Wm. P. Kellogg,

Governor of the State.

When these documents were exhibited to him, the chair refused to allow Mr. Vigers to read them to the house and to call the roll of members, so that those designated in Governor Kellogg's letter might be discovered; whereupon General De Trobriand, of the United States Army, had pointed out to him by one Hugh J. Campbell and one T. C. Anderson the persons holding seats to be ejected; and those persons refusing to go out, a file of United States soldiers was brought into action, who with fixed bayonets stood in that legislative hall, seized the persons pointed out to them and against their protest ejected them by force from their seats in the legislature of that State. And who were those persons?

When the legislature convened—and, I repeat, it convened according to law, at the time and in the place fixed by law, called to order by the very officer designated by law—those persons were claimants for seats on the ground of the votes they had received; some of them presenting claims so strong, on the ground of majorities so large, that even such a returning board as Louisiana had, did not dare to decide against them; and when they had been seated in the legislature, organized as I have described, United States soldiers with fixed bayonets decided the case against them and took them out of the legislative hall by force. When that had been done the conservative members left that hall in a body with a solemn protest. The United States soldiery kept possession of it; and then, under their protection, the Republicans organized the legislature to suit themselves.

This is what happened in the statehouse of Louisiana on the 4th day of January.

Sir, there is one thing which every free people living under a constitutional government watches with peculiar jealousy as the most essential safeguard of representative institutions. It is the absolute freedom of legislative bodies from interference on the part of executive power, especially by force. Therefore, in a truly constitutional government, may the proceedings of the legislature be good or ever so bad, is such interference, especially as concerns the admission of its own members, most emphatically condemned and most carefully guarded against, whether it proceed from a governor or from a president or from a king, under whatever circumstances, on whatever pretexts. And whenever such interference is successfully carried out, it is always, and justly, looked upon as a sure sign of the decline of free institutions.

There is another thing which especially the American people hold sacred as the life element of their republican freedom: It is the right to govern and administer their local affairs independently through the exercise of that self-government which lives and has its being in the organism of the States; and therefore we find in the Constitution of the Republic the power of the National Government to interfere in State affairs most scrupulously limited to certain well-defined cases and the observance of certain strictly-prescribed forms; and if these limitations be arbitrarily disregarded by the National authority, and if such violation be permitted by the Congress of the United States, we shall surely have reason to say that our system of republican government is in danger.

We are by the recent events in Louisiana forced to inquire how the cause of local self-government and of legislative privilege stands in the United States to-day. Before laying their hands upon things so important, so sacred, the authorities should certainly have well assured themselves that they have the clearest, the most obvious, the most unequivocal, the most unquestionable warrant of law. Where, I ask, is that warrant? In the Constitution of the United States we find but one sentence referring to the subject. It says in the fourth section of the fourth article:

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and on application of the legislature, or of the executive (when the legislature cannot be convened) against domestic violence.

So far the Constitution. There are two statutes prescribing the mode in which this is to be done, one passed in 1795 and the other in 1807. The former provides that “in case of insurrection in any State against the government thereof, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, on application of the legislature of such State or of the executive (when the legislature cannot be convened) to call upon the militia of other States to suppress the insurrection.” The statute of 1807 authorizes the President to employ the regular Army and Navy for the same purpose, provided, however, that he “has first observed all the prerequisites of the law.”

Had in this case the circumstances so described occurred, and were “all the prerequisites of the law” observed? There had been an insurrection in Louisiana on the 14th of September, 1874, an insurrection against the State government recognized by the President of the United States. That State government had been overthrown by the insurgents. The President, having been called upon by Acting Governor Kellogg, issued his proclamation commanding the insurgents to desist. They did so desist at once, and the Kellogg government was restored without a struggle, and has not been attacked since. The insurrection, as such, was totally ended. On the 4th of January nobody pretends that there was any insurrection. The State of Louisiana was quiet. The statehouse was surrounded by the armed forces of Governor Kellogg. Those forces were not resisted; their services were not even called into requisition. There was certainly no demand upon the President for military interference by the legislature; neither was there by the Governor “in case the legislature could not be convened,” for the legislature did convene without any obstruction at the time and in the place fixed by law, and was called to order by the officer designated by law. And yet, there being neither insurrection nor domestic violence, there being neither a call for military interference upon the President by the legislature nor by the governor “in case the legislature could not be convened,” there being, therefore, not the faintest shadow of an observance of “all the prerequisites of the law” as defined in the statute, the troops of the United States proceeded, not against an insurrection, not against a body of men committing domestic violence, but against a legislative body sitting in the statehouse; and the soldiers of the United States were used to execute an order from the governor determining what persons should sit in that legislature as its members and what persons should be ejected. I solemnly ask what provision is there in the Constitution, what law is there on the statute-book furnishing a warrant for such a proceeding?

It is said in extenuation of the interference of the military power of the United States in Louisiana that the persons ejected from that legislature by the Federal soldiers were not legally-elected members of that body. Suppose that had been so; but that is not the question. The question is, where is the Constitutional principle, where is the law authorizing United States soldiers, with muskets in their hands, to determine who is a legally-elected member of a State legislature and who is not?

It is said that the mode of organizing that legislature was not in accordance with the statutes of the State. Suppose that had been so; but that is not the question. The question is, where is the Constitutional or legal warrant for the bayonets of the Federal soldiery to interpret the statutes of a State as against the legislature of that State, and to decide in and for the legislature a point of parliamentary law?

It is said that the governor requested the aid of United States soldiers to purge the legislature of members he styled illegal. That may be so; but that is not the question. The question is, where is the law authorizing United States soldiers to do the bidding of a State governor who presumes to decide what members sitting in a legislature regularly convened at the time and place fixed by law are legally elected members?

It is said the trouble was threatening between contending parties in Louisiana. Suppose that had been so; but that is not the question. The question is, where is the law from which the National Government, in case of threatening trouble in a State, derives its power to invade the legislative body of the State by armed force, and to drag out persons seated there as members, that others may take their places? Where is that law, I ask? You will search the Constitution, you will search the statutes in vain.

I cannot, therefore, escape from the deliberate conviction, a conviction conscientiously formed, that the deed done on the 4th January in the statehouse of the State of Louisiana by the military forces of the United States constitutes a gross and manifest violation of the Constitution and the laws of this Republic. We have an act before us indicating a spirit in our Government which either ignores the Constitution and the laws or so interprets them that they cease to be the safeguard of the independence of legislation and of the rights and liberties of our people. And that spirit shows itself in a shape more alarming still in the instrument the Executive has chosen to execute his behests.

Sir, no American citizen can have read without profound regret and equally profound apprehension the recent despatch of General Sheridan to the Secretary of War, in which he suggests that a numerous class of citizens should by the wholesale be outlawed as banditti by a mere proclamation of the President, to be turned over to him as a military chief, to meet at his hands swift justice by the verdict of a military commission. Nobody respects General Sheridan more than I do for the brilliancy of his deeds on the field of battle; the nation has delighted to honor his name. But the same nation would sincerely deplore to see the hero of the ride to Winchester and of the charge at the Five Forks stain that name by an attempt to ride over the laws and the Constitution of the country, and to charge upon the liberties of his fellow-citizens. The policy he has proposed is so appalling, that every American citizen who loves his liberty stands aghast at the mere possibility of such a suggestion being addressed to the President of the United States by a high official of the Government. It is another illustration how great a man may be as a soldier, and how conspicuously unable to understand what civil law and what a constitution mean; how glorious in fighting for you, and how little fit to govern you! And yet General Sheridan is not only kept in Louisiana as the instrument of the Executive will, but after all that has happened, encouraged by the emphatic approval of the Executive branch of this Government.

I repeat, sir, all these things have alarmed me, and it seems not me alone. In all parts of the country the press is giving voice to the same feeling, and what I learn by private information convinces me that the press is by no means exaggerating the alarm of the people. On all sides you can hear the question asked, “If this can be done in Louisiana, and if such things be sustained by Congress, how long will it be before it can be done in Massachusetts and in Ohio? How long before the Constitutional rights of all the States and the self-government of all the people may be trampled under foot? How long before a general of the Army may sit in the chair you occupy, sir, to decide contested-election cases for the purpose of manufacturing a majority in the Senate? How long before a soldier may stalk into the National House of Representatives, and, pointing to the Speaker's mace, say, 'Take away that bauble'?”

Mr. President, these fears may appear wild and exaggerated, and perhaps they are; and yet these are the feelings you will hear expressed when the voice of the people penetrates to you. But I ask you, my associates in this body, in all soberness, can you tell me what will be impossible to-morrow if this was possible yesterday? Who is there among us who but three years ago would have expected to be called upon to justify the most gross and unjustifiable usurpation of Judge Durell and the President's enforcement of it as the legitimate and lawful origin of a State government? And who of you, when permitting that to be done, would have expected to see the United States soldiery marched into the hall of a State legislature to decide its organization? Permit that to-day, and who of you can tell me what we shall be called upon, nay, what we may be forced to permit to-morrow?

You cannot but feel that we have arrived at a crisis in our affairs, and I will not conceal from you that I cannot contemplate that crisis without grave apprehension; for what has happened already makes me look forward with anxiety to what may be still in store for us. We are evidently—and I say it with calmness and deliberation—on the downward slope, and the question is, where shall we land. It is not, indeed, the success of any Napoleonic ambitions in this country that I fear, for if such ambitions existed they would still have an American and not a French people to encounter. But what I do see reason to fear if we continue on our course is this: that our time-honored Constitutional principles will be gradually obliterated by repeated abuses of power establishing themselves as precedents; that the machinery of administration may become more and more a mere instrument of “ring” rule, a tool to manufacture majorities and to organize plunder; and that finally, in the hollow shell of republican forms, this Government will become the mere foot-ball of rapacious and despotic factions. That, sir, is what I do fear.

Let us see how the drift of things has carried us on in that direction. I must confess I have long considered our policy concerning the South as one fraught with great danger, not only danger to the South but danger to the whole Republic. I have therefore opposed it step by step and warned you of its inevitable consequences. I know full well that Southern society has been, and in a measure is, disturbed by violent tendencies and by deplorable, sometimes bloody disorders. I have never denied it, and nobody has more earnestly condemned and denounced those disorders than I. Time and again have I appealed to all patriotic men in the South to use their utmost efforts to secure peace, order and public safety among their people. Those disorders I would be the last man to palliate or excuse; but I also believe that they were in a great measure the offspring of circumstances and to be expected.

When the war closed a great revolution had suddenly transformed, among general distress and confusion, the whole organism of Southern society. Not only was that system of labor uprooted with which the Southern people had for centuries considered their whole productive wealth and prosperity identified, but by the enfranchisement of the colored people, that class of society which had just emerged from slavery, with all its ignorance, (and let me say for that ignorance they were by no means themselves responsible,) was suddenly clothed with political power, and in some States with overruling political power. That power was called into play at a time when, after the sweeping destruction and desolation of the war, the South was most in need of a wise coöperation of all its social forces to heal its wounds and to lift it up from its terrible prostration.

Surely, sir, the justice of the Constitutional amendments, designed to secure to the slave his freedom and to enable the colored people to maintain their rights through active participation in the functions of self-government, I shall be the last man to question, for I aided in passing them. Neither is that the legitimate subject of this debate. But as all these tremendous transformations came at a time when the turbulence of armed conflicts had scarcely subsided, when ancient prejudices had not yet cooled, when the bitterness of the war was still fresh and when the hope of other solutions was still lingering among the Southern people, it was most deplorable indeed, but not at all surprising, that great disorders should have occurred. No such changes have ever been made in any free country without such disorders; and it was the business of statesmanship to deal with them. It was a great problem and perhaps the most critical in the history of this country, for it was to overcome resistance and disturbance by means sufficiently effectual without at the same time developing an arbitrary spirit of power dangerous to our free institutions.

When the Constitutional amendments fixing the results of the war and the status of the different classes of society had become assured, there were two methods presenting themselves to you to accomplish that end. One was suggested by the very nature of republican institutions. It was to trust the discovery and the development of the remedies for existing evils, as soon as the nature of circumstances would permit, to that agency upon which, after all, our republican Government must depend for its vitality, namely, the self-government of the people in the States. It was to inspire that local self-government with healthy tendencies by doing all within your power to make the Southern people, not only those who had profited by the great revolution in acquiring their freedom, but also those who had suffered from it, reasonably contented in their new situation. Such a policy required an early and complete removal of all those political disabilities which restrained a large and influential number of white people from a direct participation in the government of their local affairs, while the colored people were exercising it. That policy did, indeed, not preclude the vigorous execution of Constitutional and just laws; and you will not understand me as thus designating all the laws that were made; but it did preclude the employment of the powers conferred by such laws for purposes of a partisan color calculated to impeach the impartiality of the National Government and thus to injure its moral authority. It did preclude, above all things, every unconstitutional stretch of interference, which by its insidious example is always calculated to encourage and excite a lawless and revolutionary spirit among all classes of society. That policy required that the National Government in all its branches should have sternly discountenanced the adventurers and bloodsuckers who preyed upon the Southern people, so as not to appear as their ally and protector. It required a conscientious employment of all those moral influences which the National Government had at its command. It was natural, in the distress and confusion which followed the war, that the Southern people, white as well as black, should have turned their eyes to the National Government for aid and guidance; and that aid and guidance might have been given, not in impeding and baffling, but in encouraging self-government to fulfil its highest aims and duties. Every Federal office in the South should have been carefully filled with the very wisest and the very best man that could be discovered for it. Nowhere in the vast boundaries of this Republic was the personal character of the Federal officer of higher importance, for being clothed by his very connection with the National Government with extraordinary moral authority, every one of them could without undue interference with local concerns, by the very power of his advice and example, make that moral influence most beneficially felt among all his surroundings.

Sir, I am not sanguine enough to believe that if such a policy had been followed local self-government would at once have made every Southern State a perfect model of peace and order. I know it would not; but it is my solemn conviction that it would have been infinitely more productive of good, it would have been infinitely more effective in gradually developing a satisfactory state of things than all your force laws, all the efforts of Government officers to maintain their party ascendancy, all the usurpations and military interferences in the same direction. And above all things, such a policy would have left those principles intact which are the life of Constitutional government. It would have spared us such a painful spectacle as that which we are to-day beholding in Louisiana. It would have relieved the American people of the anxious inquiry you hear on all sides to day, “What is now to become of the character of our republican Government.” It was the policy naturally suggested by the teachings of our institutions; it was the true republican, American policy.

But there presented itself to you also another method of dealing with the violent and disorderly tendencies in the South. It was, whenever and wherever a disturbance occurred, to use at once brute force in sufficient strength to repress it; to employ every means to keep in every State your partisans in place, and to trample down all opposition, no matter what stretch of power it might require, no matter what Constitutional restriction of authority might have to be broken through. Such a method, if supported by a military force sufficiently strong, may also be made quite effective, for a time at least. Thus you might have brought every malefactor in the South to swift justice. Wherever three of your opponents met, you might have styled them an unlawful combination of banditti, and had the offenders promptly punished. You might have maintained in governmental power in the South whomsoever of your party you liked. You might have made every colored man perfectly safe, not only in the exercise of his franchise but in everything else. You might have struck with terror not only the evil-doers but honest persons also, all over the land. You might have made the National Government so strong that, right or wrong, nobody could resist it.

This is also an effective method to keep peace and order, and it works admirably well as long as it lasts. It is employed with singular success in Russia, and may be in other countries. But, sir, if you by such means had secured the safety of those who were disturbed or considered in danger, would you not, after all, have asked yourselves what has in the meantime become of the liberties and rights of all of us? That method would have been effective for its purpose, but it would have been a cruel stroke of irony after all this to call this still a republic.

I do not mean to insinuate to you, Republican Senators, that you wanted to do that. I know you did not. You did not intend to employ such means, and you would have recoiled from such a result. You tried a middle course. You respected the self-government of the States in point of form; but while you and the Executive omitted to use all those moral influences which would have inspired that self-government with the healthy tendencies I spoke of, you did make laws conferring upon the National Government dangerous powers and of very doubtful Constitutionality; at least that was my conviction, and I opposed them. The effect was very deplorable in several ways. Look around you and contemplate what followed. Your partisans in the Southern States and among them the greediest and corruptest of the kind, began to look up to Congress and the National Executive as their natural allies and sworn protectors, bound to sustain them in power under whatever circumstances. Every vagabond in the South calling himself a Republican thought himself entitled to aid from you when rushing up to Congress with an outrage story. The colored people began to think that you were bound to aid them in whatever they might do, instead of depending upon a prudent and honest use of their own political rights to establish their own position. The Federal officeholders in the South became more than ever the center of partisan intrigue and trickery. The Caseys and Packards carried off State senators in United States revenue-cutters, and held Republican conventions in United States customhouses, guarded by United States soldiers to prevent other Republican factions from interfering. Nay, more than that, the same Packard, during the last election campaign in Louisiana, being at the same time United States marshal and chairman of Kellogg's campaign committee, managed not only the political campaign but also the movements of the United States dragoons to enforce the laws and to keep his political opponents from “intimidating” his political friends. More than that, in one State after another in the South we saw enterprising politicians start rival legislatures and rival governments, much in the way of Mexican pronunciamientos, calculating on the aid to be obtained from the National Government; the Attorney-General of the United States called upon to make or unmake governors of States by the mere wave of his hand, and the Department of Justice almost appearing like the central bureau for the regulation of State elections. And still more than that, we saw a Federal judge in Louisiana, by a midnight order, universally recognized as a gross and most unjustifiable usurpation, virtually making a State government and legislature, and the National Executive with the Army sustaining that usurpation and Congress permitting it to be done.

And now the culminating glory to-day—I do not know whether it will be the culminating glory to-morrow: Federal soldiers with fixed bayonets marching into the legislative hall of a State and invading the legislature assembled in the place and at the time fixed by law, dragging out of the body by force men universally recognized as claimants for membership, and having been seated; soldiers deciding contested-election cases and organizing a legislative body; the Lieutenant-General suggesting to the President to outlaw by proclamation a numerous class of people by the wholesale that he may try them by drum-head court-martial, and then the Secretary of War in forming the Lieutenant-General by telegraph that “all of us,” the whole Government, have full confidence in his judgment and wisdom. And after all this the whites of the South gradually driven to look upon the National Government as their implacable and unscrupulous enemy, and the people of the whole country full of alarm and anxiety about the safety of republican institutions and the rights of every man in the land.

Ah, Senators, you did not mean this, I trust; but there it is. Not a single one of these things has happened without exciting in your hearts an emotion of regret and anxiety, and the wish that nothing similar should come again; but you followed step by step, reluctantly, very reluctantly, perhaps, but you followed, and you know not where you may have to go unless now at last you make a stand. You did not mean this. You meant only to protect colored men in their rights and to this end to keep your friends in power. You did not mean to do it by the Russian method, but from small beginnings something has grown up, something that is of near kin to it. A few steps further and you may have the whole. Senators, if you do not mean to go on, then I say to you it is the highest time to turn back. It will not do to permit such things to be done as we now behold, without rebuke and resistance, for to permit them is to urge them on.

I have heard it said here that he who justifies murders in the South is the accomplice of the murderer. Be it so; but consider also that he who in a place like ours fails to stop, or even justifies a blow at the fundamental laws of the land, makes himself the accomplice of those who strike at the life of the Republic and at the liberties of the people.

Above all things, gentlemen, indulge in no delusions as to the consequences of your doings. Be bold enough to look this great question for one moment squarely in the face. If you really think that the peace and order of society in this country can no longer be maintained through the self-government of the people under the Constitution and the impartial enforcement of Constitutional laws; if you really think that this old machinery of free government can no longer be trusted with its most important functions, and that such transgressions on the part of those in power as now pass before us are right and necessary for the public welfare, then, gentlemen, admit that this Government of the people, for the people and by the people is a miscarriage. Admit that the hundredth anniversary of this Republic must be the confession of its failure, and make up your minds to change the form as well as the nature of our institutions; for to play at republic longer would then be a cruel mockery. But I entreat you, do not delude yourselves and others with the thought that by following the fatal road upon which we now are marching you can still preserve those institutions; for I tell you, and the history of struggling mankind bears me out, where the forms of constitutional government can be violated with impunity, there the spirit of constitutional government will soon be dead. Who does not know that republics will be sometimes the theater of confusion, disturbance and violent transgressions; more frequently, perhaps, than monarchies governed by strong despotic rule. The citizens of a republic have to pay some price for the great boon of their common liberty. But do we not know, also, or have we despaired of it, that in a republic remedies for such evils can be found in entire consonance with the spirit and form of republican institutions and of constitutional government? Let nobody suspect me of favoring or excusing disorder or violent transgressions; nothing could be farther from me. But I have not despaired of the efficiency of our republican institutions. I insist that they do furnish effective remedies for existing evils.

But, sir, pusillanimous indeed and dangerous to republican institutions is that statesmanship which, to repress transgressions and secure the safety of some, can devise only such means as by violating constitutional principles will endanger the liberty of all. You say that it is one of the first duties of the Government to protect the lives, the property and the rights of the citizen, and so it is; but it is also the first duty of a constitutional government carefully to abstain from employing for that protection such means as will in the end place the lives and property and rights of the citizens at the mercy of arbitrary power. Let a policy forgetting this great obligation be adopted and followed, and free institutions will soon be on the downward road in this country, as they have been before to-day in so many others. Have we read the history of the downfall of republics in vain? It teaches us a most intelligible and a fearful lesson. It is this: usurpers or blunderers in power pretend that the safety and order of society cannot be maintained by measures within the form of constitution and law, and lawyers employ their wits to justify usurpation by quibbling on technicalities or by pleading the necessities of the case. What first appears as an isolated and comparatively harmless fact is by repetition developed into a system, and there is the end of constitutional government.

Let us not close our ears to the teachings of centuries, for if we do a repentance of centuries may be in vain.

I repeat, republican institutions and self-government have remedies to right the wrongs occurring, and if left to their legitimate action, they will prove far more efficient to that end than the arbitrary measures we are now witnessing. What is it, I ask Republican Senators, that you desire to accomplish in the South? Being honest patriots, having only the welfare of the people and not selfish partisan advantage at heart, you will desire this: that in the South peace and order should prevail and that every citizen may be protected and his life and property and rights, and that to this end a patriotic and enlightened public sentiment should develop itself strong enough to prevent or repress violence and crime through the ordinary ways of legal self-government; and if this be accomplished, no matter under what partisan auspices it be, then every good citizen, every patriot, will have reason to rejoice.

Look at the condition of the Southern States. I well remember the time, not a great many years ago, when the State of Virginia was said to be in so alarming a condition—and I remember prominent Republicans of the State hanging around this body to convince us of it—that in case the conservatives should obtain control of the State government the streets and fields of Virginia would run with blood. So it was predicted of North Carolina, and so of Georgia; and, indeed, I deny it not, there were very lamentable disorders in many of those States during the first years after the war. Now, sir, what was the remedy? You remember what policy was urged with regard to Georgia. It was to prolong the existence of Governor Bullock's legislature for two years beyond its constitutional term, to strengthen the power of that Governor Bullock, that champion plunderer of Georgia, who not long afterward had to run from the clutches of justice; and unless that were done it was loudly predicted upon this floor there would be a carnival of crime and a sea of blood!

Well, sir, it was not done. The people of those States gradually recovered the free exercise of their self-government, and what has been the result? Virginia is to-day as quiet and orderly a State as she ever was, I think fully as quiet and orderly as most other States, and every citizen is securely enjoying his rights. And who will deny that in North Carolina and Georgia an improvement has taken place, standing in most glaring contrast with the fearful predictions made by the advocates of Federal interference? And that most healthy improvement is sustained in those States under and by the self-government of the people thereof. This is a matter of history, unquestioned and unquestionable. And that improvement will proceed further under the same self-government of the people as society becomes more firmly settled in its new conditions and as it is by necessity led to recognize more clearly the dependence of its dearest interests on the maintenance of public order and safety. That is the natural development of things.

It will help the Senator from Indiana [Mr. Morton] little to say that, with all this, the Republican vote has greatly fallen off in Georgia, and that this fact is conclusive proof of a general system of intimidation practiced upon the negroes there. It is scarcely worth while that I should repeat here the unquestionably truthful statement which has been made, that the falling off of the negro vote is in a great measure accounted for by the non-payment of the colored people of the school tax upon which their right to vote depended. I might add that perhaps the same causes which brought forth a considerable falling off in the Republican vote in a great many other States, such as Indiana and Massachusetts and New York, produced the same result in Georgia also, and that the same motives which produced a change in the political attitude of whites may have acted also upon the blacks. Is not this possible? Why not? But I ask you, sir, what kind of logic, what statesmanship is it we witness so frequently on this floor, which takes the statistics of population of a State in hand and then proceeds to reason thus: So many colored people, so many white, therefore so many colored votes and so many white votes; and therefore so many Republican votes and so many Democratic votes; and if an election does not show this exact proposition, it must be necessarily the result of fraud and intimidation and the National Government must interfere. When we have established the rule that election returns must be made or corrected according to the statistics of population, then we may decide elections beforehand by the United States Census and last year's Tribune Almanac, and save ourselves the trouble of voting.

Intimidation of voters! I doubt not, sir, there has been much of it, very much. There has been much of it by terrorism, physical and moral, much by the discharge of employés from employment for political cause, but, I apprehend, not all on one side. I shall be the last man on earth to say a word of excuse for the Southern ruffian who threatens a negro voter with violence to make him vote the conservative ticket. I know no language too severe to condemn his act. But I cannot forget, and it stands vividly in my recollection, that the only act of terrorism and intimidation I ever happened to witness with my own eyes was the cruel clubbing and stoning of a colored man in North Carolina in 1872 by men of his own race, because he had declared himself in favor of the conservatives; and if the whole story of the South were told it would be discovered that such a practice has by no means been infrequent.

But there was intimidation of another kind.

I cannot forget the spectacle of Marshal Packard, with the dragoons of the United States at the disposition of the chairman of the Kellogg campaign committee at the late election in Louisiana, riding through the State with a full assortment of warrants in his hands arresting whomsoever he listed. I cannot forget that as to the discharge of laborers from employment for political cause a most seductive and demoralizing example is set by the very highest authority in the land. While we have a law on our statute-book declaring the intimidation of voters by threatened or actual discharge from employment a punishable offense, it is the notorious practice of the Government of the United States to discharge every one of its employés who dares to vote against the Administration party; and that is done North and South, East and West, as far as the arm of that Government reaches. I have always condemned the intimidation of voters in every shape, and therefore I have been in favor of a genuine civil service reform. But while your National Government is the chief intimidator in the land, you must not be surprised if partisans on both sides profit a little from its example.

Nor do I think that the intimidation which deters a colored man from voting with the opposition against the Republican party is less detestable or less harmful to the colored men themselves than that which threatens him as a Republican. I declare I shall hail the day as a most auspicious one for the colored race in the South, when they cease to stand as a solid mass under the control and discipline of one political organization, thus being arrayed as a race against another race; when they throw off the scandalous leadership of those adventurers who, taking advantage of their ignorance, make them the tools of their rapacity, and thus throw upon them the odium for their misdeeds; when they begin to see the identity of their own true interests with the interests of the white people among whom they have to live; when they begin to understand that they greatly injure those common interests by using the political power they possess for the elevation to office of men, black or white, whose ignorance or unscrupulousness unfits them for responsible trust; when freely, according to the best individual judgment of each man, they divide their votes between the different political parties and when thus giving to each party a chance to obtain their votes, they make it the interest and the natural policy of each party to protect their safety and respect their rights in order to win their votes. I repeat what I once said in another place: not in Union is there safety, but in division. Whenever the colored voters shall have become an important element, not only in one, but in both political parties, then both parties under an impulse of self-interest will rival in according them the fullest protection. I may speak here of my own peculiar experience, for they may learn a lesson from the history of the adopted citizens of this country. I remember the time when they stood in solid mass on the side of one party, and schemes dangerous to their rights were hatched upon the side of the other. When both parties obtained an important share of their votes, both hoping for more, both became equally their friends. This will be the development in the South, and a most fortunate one for the colored people. It has commenced in the States I have already mentioned, where self-government goes its way unimpeded, and I fervently hope the frantic partisan efforts to prevent it in others will not much longer prevail. I hope this as a sincere and devoted friend of the colored race.

But the Senator from Indiana may say that will bring about a still greater falling-off in the Republican vote. Ah, sir, it may; but do you not profess to be sincerely solicitous for the safety and rights of the colored man? Are not some of you even willing to see the most essential principles of constitutional government invaded, to see State governments set up by judicial usurpation and State legislatures organized by Federal bayonets only that the colored man may be safe? Gentlemen, you can have that much cheaper if you let the colored man protect himself by the method I advise. The colored people will then be far safer than under a broken Constitution; the peace and order of society will be far more naturally and securely established than under the fitful interference of military force. And that can be accomplished by permitting the self-government of the people to have its course. But the Republican vote may thus fall off. That is true. The party may suffer. Indeed it may. But, Senators, I for my part, know of no party, whatever its name or fame, so sacred that its selfish advantage should be considered superior to the peace and order of society and good understanding among the people. I do not hesitate to say that I prefer the conservative government of Virginia to the Republican government of Louisiana; and, if I mistake not, an overwhelming majority of the American people are of the same opinion.

I ask you what would you have made of Georgia had you forced upon its neck, as seemed to be desired by some, the yoke of the Bullocks and the Foster Blodgetts? What would have become of Virginia and North Carolina if a Federal judge, by an act of usurpation like Durell's, had set up Republican State governments for them, and the President had enforced the usurpation with the bayonets of the Army? Where now you observe the steady growth of peace and order and a fruitful coöperation of the social elements there would be bloody conflicts of infuriated factions, a society torn to pieces by deadly feuds, a prosperity utterly prostrate. That would have been the result but then you might have had Republican government in those States!

I ask you in all candor, Republican Senators, is that what you want? If you do, I am sure the patriotism of the American people is not with you.

O, it is indeed time we should understand that in this Republic we cannot serve the cause of law and order if we in our representative place do not respect the law and if we permit the Government to violate it without hindrance. Every lawless act of those in power, professedly intended to preserve peace and order, will most surely produce to the cause of peace and order its greatest danger. You want all the people of the South, and especially of Louisiana, to become law-abiding citizens; and yet, to make them so, the National authority has imposed upon them a government which is the offspring confessedly of gross judicial usurpation and revolutionary proceedings. How can you expect them to refrain from revolutionary acts after the Government itself has set them this revolutionary example? How can you fill them with reverence for the sanctity of the laws, if you show them that the laws have no sanctity for you?

The people of the South are not a people of murderers and banditti. Only the most morbid fanaticism of partisanship will call them so. There are, I know, bad elements among them, and you blame the better classes of society for not putting down these bad elements by their own efforts. But is not the National Government itself, by resorting to usurpation and unconstitutional proceedings, giving to those bad elements in Southern society a strength which otherwise they never would possess, enabling even the ruffian to throw himself into the attitude of a defender of Constitutional government against revolutionary usurpation?

You speak of protecting the negro. Woe to the negroes of the South if, after their unscrupulous leaders have done so much already to identify them with organized corruption and rapacity, you now, by employing or sanctioning unconstitutional means for their protection, identify them also with the overthrow of Constitutional principles and contempt for the laws of the land! Such measures to protect them will by their very effects put them in the greatest jeopardy. Their most cruel enemies could not inflict on them an injury more cruel than this.

Let me warn you, Senators, that you stand upon dangerous ground; for if such things as have been done in Louisiana are sustained by the Republican majority in Congress, and as one evil deed always gives birth to another, if so high-handed a course be continued, you are taking upon yourselves a responsibility the extent of which it is difficult to measure. Do not treat with contempt, I beseech you, what is now going on in the public mind. I hold here in my hand an extract which I clipped from one of the Republican papers of the North, and I will read to you its language:

Unless the Republican party is content to be swept out of existence by the storm of indignant protest arising against the wrongs of Louisiana from all portions of the country, it will see that this most shameful outrage is redressed wholly and at once; for if it is right for the Federal soldiery to pack the legislature of one State in the manner the Attorney-General declares it shall be packed, or if it can be done, it is right and can be done in any other State. It is a matter that concerns Massachusetts, California and Pennsylvania equally with Louisiana; for it is an act of Federal usurpation which, if not revoked and condemned by Congress, will lead inevitably to the destruction of the whole fabric of our government.

What adds to the common indignation against the perpetrators of the wrong is the moral heroism exhibited by the disfranchised people of Louisiana, who have borne with sublime patience and peace that which was excuse sufficient for revolution; for the doctrine is as old as wrong itself that usurpation of the people's rights makes revolution not only a privilege, but makes it a duty.

Mr. Sargent. What paper does the Senator read from?

Mr. Schurz. The Philadelphia Inquirer of the 6th of this month.

Mr. Sargent. A Republican paper?

Mr. Schurz. It is about as Republican as most Republican papers are nowadays all over the country. When such sentiments, appealing directly to the right of revolution, are expressed by loyal Republican journals in the North, they are not unlikely to be put forth in stronger language by opposition journals in the South. The growth of such feelings I cannot look upon without grave apprehension, not as to the spirit of justice and freedom which they demonstrate, but as to the dreadful consequences which they might produce if rashly acted upon. And if my voice could reach so far as to be heard by the people of Louisiana, I would say to them, “Take good care not a single moment to permit any impulse of passion to run away with your judgment. Whatever injustice you may have to suffer, let not a hand of yours be lifted, let no provocation of insolent power nor any tempting opportunity seduce you into the least demonstration of violence; for if you do, no human foresight can tell what advantage may be taken of your rashness and in what dangers and disasters it may involve, not only you, but the whole Republic. As your cause is just, trust to its justice, for surely the time cannot be far when every American who truly loves his liberty will recognize the cause of his own rights and liberties in the cause of Constitutional government in Louisiana, and that rising spirit, by a peaceful victory, will bury the usurpers under a crushing load of universal condemnation.” That I would say to them.

Indeed, Senators, that prediction cannot fail to become true. Do not indulge in vain delusions; do not lay the flattering unction to your souls that the cry of blood and murder or new budgets of atrocities in official reports, such as General Sheridan promises, will divert the public mind from the true question at issue. That cry and such reports begin to fall stale upon the ear of the people; not as if the people had become indifferent as to the wrongs perpetrated in any part of the country upon any class of citizens, but because the people have lost their former confidence in the sincerity and truthfulness of those who parade the bloody stories with the greatest ostentation. And why has that confidence declined? Because too many exaggerations have been discovered in the statements so frequently made, and because in many instances it became somewhat too glaringly apparent that the blood and murder cry was used as convenient partisan stage-thunder merely to catch votes. The people have begun shrewdly to suspect that when some men pretend they must remain in power to protect the lives of the negroes, the cry about murdered negroes must be raised simply to keep them in power.

But there is another and more important reason why this cry will be distrusted now. The people are asking themselves—and well they may—whether the very policy which is followed professedly to prevent such outrages is not in itself well calculated to serve as the cause for more. They look at Virginia, at North Carolina, at Georgia, and they find that the self-government of the people, unobstructed, is gradually but steadily advancing those States in peace, order, good feeling and prosperity. They look at Louisiana and find the self-government of the people obstructed and hear of turmoil and conflict. They do not fail to conclude that the forcing of Bullock and Foster Blodgett upon Georgia would have reduced that State to the same unhappy condition which in Louisiana the usurpation of Kellogg had brought forth. Looking, then, at that picture and at this, they begin wisely to make up their minds to the fact that after all the Southern States can now give to themselves better government than Federal interference can impose upon them.

But, still more, the people have begun to understand, and it is indeed high time they should understand, that the means professedly used to prevent and suppress outrages are producing far worse fruit than the outrages themselves; that—and hear what I say—the lawlessness of power is becoming far more dangerous to all than the lawlessness of the mob. Therefore, I think Senators most seriously deceive themselves if they think the blood and murder cry can deceive the people about the nature of the usurpations of power we have now to deal with.

Neither do I think that you can convince an intelligent public opinion that the Kellogg party did carry the State of Louisiana by a bona fide vote at the last election, and that the unconstitutional employment of the Federal bayonets was merely to vindicate the true will of the people of Louisiana lawfully expressed at the polls. No intelligent man can have escaped the impression that those who executed the barefaced usurpation of 1872 would not shrink from any device, ever so foul, to preserve the fruits of that usurpation by repeating the game in 1874. It was noticed with general astonishment (and I have to refer to that case once more, for it stands out as one of the most repulsive things in the history of our politics) that a Federal officer, United States Marshal Packard, was permitted to manage the political campaign as the chairman of the Kellogg State central committee and at the same time the operations of United States soldiers in arresting his opponents, a combination of functions so strikingly suspicious, so glaringly unfair, that when I publicly called attention to it even a large number of Republican journals protested against it as an outrage upon public decency. It has not been overlooked that when, after the insurrection of the 14th of September, arrangements were attempted in Louisiana to divest the returning board of its suspicious partisan character, the leading members of the Kellogg party most strenuously objected to the admission of an equal number of conservatives and Republicans, with one man of unimpeachable character to be chosen by them jointly to act as umpire in the return of the votes, thus insisting for themselves upon the privilege to count the votes as they might choose. It has been well observed that the returning board, having purposely preserved its partisan character when the election showed a considerable conservative majority, manipulated the returns for weeks and weeks, until, by hook or crook, that conservative majority was transformed into a Republican one. It has not escaped public attention that the Attorney-General of the United States, with ostentatious publicity, declared his purpose to stand by that returning board whatever it might do, thus encouraging it boldly to go on; and when the thing was done, declared himself for a “heroic policy” to enforce its edicts, and thereupon followed the military interference.

In view of all these things and of other information that has come within my reach, I declare it here as my solemn conviction, that the conservatives of Louisiana did fairly carry the late election by a considerable majority of votes; that they were defrauded by the returning board of the result of that election; and that the soldiers of the United States, when they invaded the legislature of Louisiana, did not vindicate but trampled under the heel of lawless force the true will of the people, lawfully expressed at the polls. That is my honest conviction, and if common report speaks truly—and I may mention that common report without transgressing parliamentary rules—the members of the Congressional committee who were sent down to Louisiana to make investigation, as they are honorable and truthful men—a majority of them Republicans but no abject tools of party dictation—will tell Congress and the country, perhaps this very day, as the result of their conscientious investigation, that the conservatives of Louisiana did fairly carry that election; that the returning board did defraud them of its result; and that the will of the people of Louisiana lawfully expressed has been crushed out under the heel of a lawless military invasion. That, gentlemen, the country will hear, and that the American people will believe as the honest truth told by honest men.

No, Senators, do not deceive yourselves; no man will be permitted to obscure the great Constitutional question before us with flimsy side issues; for from whatever point of view you may contemplate it, every consideration of law, of moral right, of justice, of public policy, of the common welfare, puts the deed done in Louisiana only into a stronger light as a lawless transgression of arbitrary power pregnant with wrong and disaster. We must face that question, and as we are men with the responsibility of guardians of the Constitution and laws upon us, we must face it boldly. This, it seems to me, if ever, is the time when the patriot should rise above the partisan.

I have heard it whispered that some of the eminent lawyers of this body will still endeavor to find some technical plea by which to show that the intrusion of the soldier in organizing the legislative body of Louisiana was in some way justifiable under the Constitution and laws of this Republic. If it be so, then I appeal to them to consider well what they are attempting to do. Surely I desire no injustice to be done to any man, high or low. If there be a clear justification of such an act, which I have not seen—and I solemnly declare I am not able to see one—let it be brought forward. If there be one, then I shall deplore that the Constitution and laws of this Republic are so defective in their most essential aims as to sanction an exercise of arbitrary power which in no free country on the face of the globe would be admitted a single moment. If there be such a justification, then I shall think it high time to urge such a change of the laws that they may effectually protect the independence of legislatures and the liberty of the citizen, for otherwise neither will be safe. But, sir, if there be no such justification, clear as sunlight, and palpably springing from the sacred spirit of the law interpreted in the strictest accordance with the time-honored principles of constitutional government, then, gentlemen, let us not have one artfully made by the lawyers ingenuity of technical construction. What glory will it be to the American jurist to show the highest keenness of wit in defending such an act and in establishing it as a precedent which, through its disastrous consequences, may oblige the American people to shed as much blood and as many tears to restore their free institutions as it had cost to build them up.

I heard the Senator from Wisconsin [Mr. Howe] exclaim the other day, that he was glad not to find in the history of this country any such case as this, and he hoped to see none in the future. Truly, I felt with him; but he will see another one, and more than one, if as a lawyer he tries and succeeds in making this generation believe that this can be rightfully done under the Constitution and the laws of the Republic. Ah, gentlemen, the lawyer's technical ingenuity has not seldom done more harm to free government than even the arbitrary spirit of the soldier, for the latter would frequently have been impotent but for the aid of the former. It may be the lawyer's ambition successfully to defend even the most obvious guilt of his client, but it is the lawyer's highest glory to stand fearlessly before the frowns of power, defending the sanctity of the law and the rights and liberties of his countrymen; and of such are the names that are handed down with imperishable honor from generation to generation. I trust, therefore, we shall have in this debate only the purest and loftiest spirit of that jurisprudence which is nursed among a people proud of their liberties.

Let us above all things be spared such miserable subterfuges as these: That because the speaker of the legislature invited an officer of the Army to persuade a disorderly crowd in the lobby to remain quiet, he had thereby given him the right or recognized his right to drag from their seats men seated as members in that legislature; or that, as the insurgents of September had not surrendered all the guns belonging to the State, the insurrection continued, and with it the right of the Federal Army to organize the legislature of Louisiana! Let not so pitiable a plea be heard when the fundamental principles of constitutional government are in jeopardy. If there be an argument in its defense, let it at least be one on a level with the dignity of the cause.

I have moved that the Judiciary Committee be instructed to report a bill to secure to the people of Louisiana their right of self-government under the Constitution. I hope that motion will prevail. I hope also it will not result in the production of a bill providing for a new election there with General Sheridan, who, with all the brilliancy of his military valor, is so conspicuously unsuited for the delicate task of a conciliatory mission, as supreme ruler of that State; with a Packard as manager at the same time of the political campaign and of the United States dragoons to arrest opponents, and with that returning board to canvass the votes which has given already so much evidence of its unscrupulous skill. Let it not be another mockery to lead to another disgrace. I trust the Committee will discover a method to undo the usurpations that have been perpetrated, in full, and to restore their rights and powers to those whom the people of Louisiana by their votes have lawfully designated to wield them. No measure will avail, either to the cause of peace and order or to the safety of our institutions or to the character of the Government, which does not boldly vindicate the constitutional principles of the land, the privileges of legislative bodies and that self-government of the people without which our republican institutions cannot live.

I have spoken earnestly, sir, for my feelings and convictions on this great subject are strong and sincere. I cannot forget that this Republic, which it has cost so much strife and so much blood to establish and to preserve, stands in the world to prove to struggling mankind that the self-government of the people under wise laws is able to evolve all necessary remedies for existing evils without violating popular liberty or constitutional rights. I cannot forget that, if we fail in solving this vital problem, this Republic will become not a guiding star of liberty, but only another warning example. I cannot close my eyes to the fact that the generation which has grown up to political activity during and since the war, a generation constituting more than one-third of the voting body in the land, soon to constitute the whole, has but too much been accustomed to witness the bold display of arbitrary assumptions of authority, and that habits have grown up threatening to become destructive to all that the patriot holds dear. Knowing this, I have for years stood upon this floor raising my voice for the imperilled principles of constitutional government, and endeavoring to warn you and the country of the insidious advance of irresponsible power; and with all the anxiety of an honest heart—and it may be my last opportunity upon this great forum—I cry out to you once more: Turn back, turn back in your dangerous course while it is yet time. In the name of that inheritance of peace and freedom which you desire to leave to your children, in the name of the pride with which the American lifts up his head among the nations of the world, do not trifle with the Constitution of your country, do not put in jeopardy that which is the dearest glory of the American name. Let not the representatives of the people falter and fail in the supreme hour when the liberties of the people are at stake.

  1. Speech in the U. S. Senate, Jan. 11, 1875. The Senate had just agreed to take up the following resolution which Schurz had offered a few days before: “Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary be instructed to inquire what legislation by Congress is necessary to secure to the people of the State of Louisiana their rights of self-government under the Constitution, and to report with the least possible delay by bill or otherwise.”