ANOTHER STEP IN RECONSTRUCTION
The Republicans, at the close of the first session of the Thirty-ninth Congress, with the report of the committee of fifteen as a campaign document, inaugurated a most bitter partisan campaign at the North in the election of the new House of Representatives in the fall of 1866. Although the war had been over since April, 1865, the Southern people were represented as still in insurrection and not reconciled to the results of the war, notwithstanding the fact that they had reorganized their State governments, repealed their ordinances of secession, and ratified the Thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery. All the bitterness and hatred of the war were revived by the Republicans in this campaign, and every possible unfair accusation was launched against the sincerity and motives of the people of the lately seceded States. They affirmed that they still intended hostility toward the Union, and had a fixed purpose to defeat the legitimate results of the war. So wrought up were the people of the North that they returned the Republican party to power with an increased majority.
The last session of the Thirty-ninth Congress met in December, 1865, feeling safe in pushing the bitter legislation against the South and in their ability to override any veto of President Johnson’s. A caucus committee of the Republican party was appointed to take special charge of this legislation and push it forward with the radical rules of a bitter caucus program. Hostile legislation was at once started in the shape of a tenure of office law to tie the hands of the President and prevent his removal of persons in office who were in sympathy with the policy of Congress. This and other legislation was intended to open the way for more radical legislation toward the South to follow in the near future. It was also provided that the first session of the new Congress (Fortieth) should meet immediately upon the close of the Thirty-ninth Congress, on March 4th, instead of December, 1867. This was to give a continuous session of Congress till the congressional reconstruction plan was fairly put in operation, and so that the President could not cause delay. General Grant’s power as commander-in-chief of the army was increased, and he was made in a measure independent of the President.
On March 2d, just before the close of the Thirty-ninth Congress, the "reconstruction" law was passed over the President’s veto, to the effect that the reconstruction already completed by the President was null and void, and the work was to be done under the direction of Congress. The ten States were divided into five military districts, under the absolute command and control of generals of the army, backed by a sufficient military force to carry out any program. They were to ignore State organizations and officers, to treat the State governments as illegal and not affording protection to life and property. These generals were to give this protection, and use their pleasure in trying offenders by military commissions, or by suspended local civil tribunals, if they so desired, but such cases were to be reviewed by them. The generals were to proceed to register as voters all male citizens, whites and blacks, over twenty-one years of age, of whatever race or previous condition, who had been in the State for one year, except such as were disfranchised under the proposed Fourteenth amendment for participation in the war. A convention was to be called under stringent regulations to form a constitution, which should provide that such persons as Congress had designated should have suffrage, and contain such other conditions as had also been named. The constitution passed by this convention was to be submitted to the same voters who called the convention, and, when adopted, to be passed on by Congress. The legislature called by the State constitution was to ratify the Fourteenth amendment. The States were to remain as provisional till this amendment was ratified and became a part of the Constitution of the United States. No disfranchised person was eligible to any office.
The Fourteenth amendment was to be ratified under compulsion. "The amendment reduced representation in Congress and based it upon voting population; provided that no person should hold office under United States authority, who, having taken an oath as a Federal or State officer to support the Constitution, had subsequently engaged in the war against the Union." The insuperable objection to the Fourteenth amendment was to be found in the clause which required the Southern people to disfranchise their own leaders, to brand with dishonor those who had led them in peace and in war. The North now intended to force this amendment under the terrible compulsion of the congressional reconstruction law. It is recalled here, too, that five of the restored States had already ratified the Thirteenth amendment, and their votes had been accepted and counted as valid in the ratification promulgated by the secretary of state of the United States (Mr. Seward). Without these votes the amendment would have lacked the necessary three-fourths of the States needed. The question arises, Was the ratification legal or illegal under the Constitution. This made little difference then with Congress.
A supplementary act was passed by the new Congress in March, specifying details for the government of the generals commanding the five military districts, carrying out the same bitter spirit in the enforcement of the law.
The Southern people regarded this new legislation as harsh in the extreme, and ungenerous to them in their prostrate and helpless condition. Just as they thought they were being restored to civil government and could begin to rebuild their homes and repair their losses caused by the war, they were again thrown into confusion worse than ever, and under military law in its most severe administration. It was plain to them that the disfranchising scheme would eliminate all citizens who had had any experience in law making, and in sufficient numbers to turn the whites over bodily to the negroes led by Northern men and the inexperienced and worse element of Southern whites, those who had generally shirked in taking part with either government in the war. It amounted to placing the bayonet at the breast of every white citizen of the South and saying: You must keep your hands off and let this reconstruction plan go through, or we will take your life and property, or send you to prison.
It will be impossible in this short chapter to go into detail in each State, and only the salient features of those terrible and dark days will be given. Details must be found in the accounts given of each State by others. The people of the South could not willingly stultify themselves by acceding to what they considered the dishonorable conditions of the Fourteenth amendment, and the legislatures under presidential organization generally declined to ratify the amendment. It was deemed even better to endure patiently military government until "passions generated by the war subside and better counsels prevail at the Federal capital, maintaining meanwhile law and order and addressing ourselves to industrial pursuits." (Governor Jenkins of Georgia.) Leading citizens protested against the harsh measures. Governor Sharkey, of Mississippi, filed a bill in the supreme court to test its constitutionality. His bill was dismissed. Governor Jenkins, of Georgia, also filed a bill for the same purpose, and employed Jeremiah S. Black, Robert J. Brent, Edgar Cowan, and Charles O’Connor from the North as counsel. The bill was ably argued by Mr. O’Connor and Mr. Walker, of Mississippi, but it was dismissed by the court. The McCardle case from Mississippi was at last presented on its merits. "The argument was concluded on the 9th of March, 1868, and the court took the case under advisement. While it was being so held, to prevent a decision of the question, a bill was rushed through both houses and finally passed, March 27, 1868, over the president’s veto depriving the court of jurisdiction over such appeals." This was the course in all similar cases involving a constitutional decision, which certainly was revolutionary, and showed a fear that the court would pronounce the law unconstitutional.
The Fourteenth amendment was now presented to the Southern people again. Its behests and the reconstruction acts were carried out in legislation by the bayonet. The States were negroized in succession. "Its practical operation was of course revolutionary in its effects upon the Southern State governments. The most influential white men were excluded from voting for the delegates who were to compose the constitutional conventions, while the negroes were all admitted to enrollment. Unscrupulous adventurers appeared to act as the leaders of the inexperienced blacks in taking possession first of conventions, and afterward of State governments; and in States where the negroes were most numerous or their leaders most shrewd and unprincipled, an extraordinary carnival of public crime set in under the form of law. Negro majorities gained complete control of State governments, or rather negroes constituted the legislative majorities and submitted to the unrestrained authority of small but masterful groups of white men, whom the instinct for plunder had drawn from the North. "Taxes were multiplied, the proceeds mostly going into the pockets of the white rascals and their confederates among the negroes. Immense debts piled up by processes both legal and fraudulent, and most of the money borrowed reached the same destination. In several of the States, it is true that after the conventions had acted, the white vote was strong enough to control when united, and in these, reconstruction, when completed, reinstated the whites in power almost at once, but it was in these States, in several cases, that the process of reconstruction was longest delayed, just because the white voters could resist the more obnoxious measures of the conventions, and in the meantime, there was military rule. By the end of June, 1868, provision had been made for the re-admission of Arkansas, the two Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana to representation in Congress, Reconstruction was delayed in Virginia, Mississippi and Texas because of the impossibility of securing popular majorities for the constitution framed by the reconstruction conventions, and Georgia was again held off from representation because her laws had declared negroes ineligible to hold office. It was not until January, 1871, therefore, that all of the States were once more represented in Congress." The above is the account given by a fair writer (Wilson), but being represented then, was not the desired panacea which was to end the hostile legislation or woes of the helpless Southern people.
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