Pliable Electioneering Material
Faced with an American South brought forcibly back into the Union in 1865, Radical Republicans were confronted with the dilemma of how to control postwar politics and maintain the hegemony enjoyed since 1861.  The answer was to enfranchise the freedmen, and use this new source of election strength to ensure Republican ascendancy – without which Grant would not have won the presidency in 1868. 

Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute  

Pliable Electioneering Material:
“In 1865, the President’s military chiefs in the South were almost a unit against the imposition of Negro suffrage.  [General W.T.] Sherman informed [Secretary Salmon P.] Chase that “to give all loyal Negroes the same political status as white voters will revive the war,” and wrote his wife: “Secretary] Stanton wants to kill me because I do not favor the scheme of declaring the Negroes of the South, now free, to be loyal voters, whereby politicians may manufacture just so much more pliable electioneering material. The Negroes don’t want to vote. They want to work and enjoy property.”
Senator [Thomas] Sherman was frank with his soldier brother. “I admit,” he wrote on May 16, “the Negroes are not intelligent enough to vote, but someone must vote their political representation in the States where they live…Who shall exercise this political power?”
During his visit to Raleigh in April, [General U.S.] Grant had been impressed with the sad prospect of the South, and wrote his wife that “the suffering that must exist in the South the next year…will be beyond conception. People who talk of further retaliation and punishment, except of the military leaders, either do not conceive of the suffering endured already, or they are heartless and unfeeling…” A little later [General John M.] Schofield wrote Grant “of the absolute unfitness of the Negroes as a class to vote. They can neither read nor write; they have no knowledge whatever of law or government; they do not even know the meaning of the freedom that has been given them, and are much astonished when they are informed that it does not mean they are to live in idleness and be fed by the Government.”
These views substantially represented the attitude of the loyal North. By July, [Secretary William] Seward had recovered his strength [and said] “We have got all we had claimed by the war…the abandonment of the State right doctrine of Secession, the acknowledgment of the supremacy of the Government, and the abolition of slavery.” As to forcing the Negro suffrage upon the South, “this cannot be done, but we have to go slowly,…probably to wait another election.”
[But] the Radicals had been carried away with the crazy that the fertile brain of Wendell Phillips has engendered upon the brains of [Charles] Sumner and [Horace] Greeley, viz that the States are out of the Union – no longer States under the Constitution, but mere conquered territory, and that therefore the government has the right to impose Negro suffrage or any other terms upon them.”
(The Age of Hate, Andrew Johnson and the Radicals, George Fort Milton, Coward-McCann, Inc., 1930, pp. 220-224)