Military Rule a Hallmark of Despotisms
Reconstruction proconsul General Phil Sheridan was as despised in Louisiana as “Beast” Butler, and his goal was to prevent as many Americans who fought for self-government as possible from voting for their political representatives. This way the radical Republican party could take root and grow in the South, and control future elections. The author below should be aware that free republics do not require an army to bind them together, military rule is a hallmark of despotisms.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Military Rule a Hallmark of Despotisms:
“The Republicans passed the first of these [Reconstruction] acts on March 2, 1867, over President [Andrew] Johnson’s veto. The law declared that the Southern governments fostered by the president were provisional and held no legal authority. Congress divided the South into five military districts, whose commanders had to be either brigadier or major generals. These generals, once selected by the president, would hold all power over civilian governments and courts. The law also required Southern States within these districts to draft new constitutions in constitutional conventions.
The right to vote for delegates to these conventions was granted to all adult males, except those disenfranchised for service to the [American] Confederacy. Furthermore, each of these new constitutions must contain a provision that, in effect, would enfranchise black men. When the voters in each State accepted the new constitution, they were to elect a new governor and legislators. After the legislature ratified the proposed Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the State’s congressmen would be considered for readmission to Congress.
Upon readmission, military control would end, and the duly elected civil authorities would resume their proper roles. The passage of this law was a watershed in Reconstruction, for by it the congressional Republicans seized the initiative from the executive, and the army became the agent of social and political change. The traumatic circumstances of the post-Civil War era appeared to demand such a radical departure from the usual American process of debate and compromise. What other part of the government but the army could compel a large percentage of the population to abide by laws many considered repugnant?
The Civil War had been fought to keep the Union from breaking apart. Now the army was called upon to help bind the nation together. Thereafter, an assignment to the South made some soldiers long for the trans-Mississippi plains where Indian fighting at least had some glory, some professional reward or recognition. Service in the South held the prospect of neither glory nor honor, only duty of the most confusing and frustrating kind – military government.”
(Army Generals and Reconstruction, Joseph G. Dawson III, LSU Press, 1982, pp. 43-44)