RECONSTRUCTION BY ANDREW JOHNSON
President Andrew Johnson was of a different temperament from his predecessor–most combative, aggressive, and abusive to those who differed with him, and not a safe man for such a great emergency. While he was a great Union man, his ideas were generally Democratic rather than Republican, in that he was more conservative in his construction of the Constitution.
President Johnson was sworn into office April 14, 1865, immediately after the death of Mr. Lincoln. Congress had adjourned early in March, and the field was open to him to act independently and without congressional interference. His first act was to retain the entire cabinet of Mr. Lincoln, and he proceeded at once to adopt and follow out the plan which had been decided upon by his predecessor. The States of Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee had already had their new governments approved and accepted by Mr. Lincoln, and under the conditions of his proclamation of 1863. Virginia had been dismembered in 1862, and forty counties out of the one hundred and forty in the State had been erected into a new State known as West Virginia. Before this was done, these counties had a State government which had been recognized as the true loyal government of Virginia. When this government became the separate State of West Virginia, Francis H. Pierpont, who had been governor, had an election in a few counties so he could hold on as a governor. He was elected, and moved out of the west of the old State and set up as governor in the city of Alexandria, near Washington, where, at pleasure, he had a convention or legislature composed of not over sixteen members, and claimed to be the loyal governor of Virginia. The proclamation for the restoration of civil government in North Carolina had already been matured by Mr. Lincoln and his cabinet. This paper was presented by Mr. Stanton in Mr. Johnson’s cabinet meeting, was approved and accepted by him, and promulgated on May 29, 1865. In this instrument, he appointed W. H. Holden.provisional governor, with authority to call a convention to frame a constitution for the State. The voters were designated as those who were entitled to vote under the constitution of the State at the time it seceded. Amnesty was offered to all who had taken part in the war with certain exceptions, viz., all military officers above the rank of colonel, naval officers above the rank of lieutenant, governors, judges of courts, West Point officers, all civil officers of the Confederate government, and all citizens worth over $20,000. A fair estimate is that this exclusion fell upon at least 120,000 men in the South. The excluded persons were required to make application for pardon. Each voter had to take an oath as follows:
I, ——, do solemnly swear or affirm in presence of Almighty God that I will hereafter faithfully support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Union thereunder, and that I will in like manner abide by faithfully and support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves. So help me God.
Similar proclamations were issued for the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Texas. In all the proclamations, the feature mainly noted was that voters were qualified by the laws of the State in force at the time they seceded, and these voters were to restore the State to the Union.
Without any reservation, every citizen and former soldier determined to make the reconstruction plan of President Johnson a success; even those who were excluded from amnesty by proclamation, gave their moral support and advice for every one who could take part to do so, and as soon as possible, restore civil law and get from under military rule. Every one was anxious to see order come from the confusion then existing, so that a beginning could be made in restoring prosperity, building up waste places, and with brave hearts, removing the scars of war evident in every spot in the South. There was great unanimity in all the States in expediting the process. The provisional governors quickly issued their proclamations, generally restoring civil and local law as far as possible by continuing in office all persons who had been holding State and county offices, till others could be regularly appointed or elected. In the confusion and chaos of the times, there were local frictions occasionally. The military officers interfered frequently, but the governors considered this as incident to the surroundings and took no exceptions. The people showed great evenness of temper and displayed most remarkable forbearance. The Freedmen’s bureau was in operation, and its administration tended to inflame both races and produce collisions.
During this trying period, the people of the South did as best they could amid the great trials and perplexities which surrounded them, and the civil and military pressure brought to bear on them. Provost guards were set up over municipal government. Military courts were established, and many of the best citizens were arrested on frivolous complaints of irresponsible negro men and women, and under military guard, forced to appear at county seats before these courts and undergo trial. Bayonet rule was the order of the day; civil officers were disregarded and humiliated.
Repudiation of State war debts was pressed as a necessity for success in restoring States. The pressure was brought to bear by the president and Secretary Seward. This repudiation was done under protest upon the behest of Federal power. The reign of the provisional governors and military officers was very odious, and the humiliating conditions, not necessary to mention now, developed a spirit of forbearance, sacrifice, and discretion remarkable in a people high-strung and liberty-loving although crushed.
By the fall of 1865, the States were reorganized, and the program of the president carried out to the letter, so much so that when Congress met in December he was able to report in his message that civil government had been restored in the States of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee. These States had adopted new constitutions, elected governors, senators and representatives in congress, and State and county officers. Great prudence and good taste were displayed in the elections. Generally those who had opposed secession and were considered as Union in sentiment were elected to the new offices. Those who had been in any way prominent in urging resistance took back seats and did not aspire to official positions. It is true, however, that nearly all who had originally opposed separate State action went with their States in the war and determined to share the common fate.
The people, however, did not stultify themselves by electing Republicans to office; in fact, there was none to be elected then. Welded together by common misfortunes, there was but one party in the South, the white man’s party. While all were ready to accept the results in a dignified and manly way, they were not ready to humiliate themselves by any voluntary act reflecting on the motives which impelled them to go into the war.
The States had repealed their ordinances of secession which had taken them out of the Union. Five of the States had ratified the Thirteenth amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery, making in all eleven of the former slave-holding States and sixteen free States, and their votes were accepted and counted to make up the necessary two-thirds needed to ratify it and make it law. Civil law was in force. State and county officers were in the exercise of the functions of their offices. The president, by a proclamation issued April 2, 1866, finally announced the full restoration of every one of the seceded States, stating that "no organized armed resistance" existed anywhere; that the laws "can be sustained and enforced therein by proper civil authority, State and Federal; that the people of said States are well and loyally disposed, and have conformed or will conform in their legislation to the condition of affairs growing out of the amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery within the borders and jurisdictions of the United States." He named Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Florida as included. He pronounced the insurrection "at an end and henceforth to be so regarded." This proclamation may be regarded as the end of the presidential plan.
The States, excepting Texas, had perfected what they had been required to do, and but for the friction caused by the armed forces of the Union everywhere, the tendency to race collisions in the administration of the Freed. man’s bureau, and grave apprehension as to the future action of Congress, matters were beginning to assume normal conditions in the re-establishment of civil government, which had been destroyed immediately after the close of armed resistance throughout the South.
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