COMMITTEE OF FIFTEEN
The committee of fifteen was carefully selected to carry out its purpose, viz., to perpetuate the power and continued existence of the Republican party. It was the duty of this committee to visit the lately seceded States and take testimony for the guidance of Congress in coming to a correct conclusion. It was divided into sub-committees. There being but three Democrats on the committee, most of the sub-committees visiting more than one-half of the States had no Democrat on them to cross-question witnesses or call for witnesses to present the side of the people to be investigated. It may be stated generally here that the Democrats in Congress and in the North were opposed to the extreme and radical measures of reconstruction, and joined with the president to hinder and alleviate all harsh legislation against the South. They were the only ones in those days who said a kind word for the South, or tried to befriend her, although they had been good Union men and had done their full duty to the North in the war against the South.
The people to be investigated and inquired into were of the whole South. They had not a single representative in Congress to speak for them, and the Democrats who did speak were classed as copperheads, sympathizing with the South in her war against the Union. A more one-sided, partisan, unfair, ungenerous investigation was never set on foot against a helpless people. A fair sample of the work of this committee is given when they investigated Alabama. "As to the condition of Alabama, only five persons who claimed to be citizens were examined. They were all Republican politicians. The testimony of each was bitterly partisan. Under the government of the State as it then existed, no one of these witnesses could hope for official preferment. In his testimony each was striving for the overthrow of his State government and the setting up of some such institutions as followed under congressional reconstruction. When this reconstruction finally had taken place, the first of these five became governor of his State; the second became a senator, and the third secured a life position in one of the departments in Washington. The fourth became a judge of the supreme court of the District of Columbia, all as Republicans."
Of all the people of Alabama who had gone into the war (a number over her arms-bearing population[white] by the census of 1860), the people who were to be investigated in that State, not a single witness was called. Every witness was a selfish, prejudiced one, anticipating a reward for the kind of testimony he had given, and which reward he duly received. This one-sided testimony is a sample of the testimony taken in all the States by this committee, having the lives and fortunes of a brave people in its power. The people on trial before this partisan court were allowed no witnesses, had no voice or testimony in the matter. The committees summoned only such witnesses as they desired, and who would be likely to give the testimony needed to carry out the purposes for which they were selected. They were pitiless in their work, for they saw and knew how prostrated and helpless the South was. But, seeing as they did, the poverty and destruction of the property of the South, it is strange that even a committee of politicians working for party supremacy could deliberately recommend so terrible an ordeal as was congressional reconstruction.
The committee made its report June 18, 1866, near the close of the first session of Congress, a report "admirably adapted to serve as a manifesto and campaign document, for a new House of Representatives was to be elected before Congress should again convene. It declared that the governments of the States recently in secession were practically suspended by reason both of the irregular character of the governments which had been set up, and of the reluctant acquiescence of the Southern people in the results of the war; and that it was essential to the preservation of the Union that they should not be reinstated in their former privileges by Congress until they should have given substantial pledges of loyalty and submission." (Wilson.) This is certainly a very different conclusion from that arrived at by General Grant.
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