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article number 683
article date 09-21-2017
copyright 2017 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Post Civil War: Developing Hatred Between the North and South Part 1, Radical Republicans are Harsh on the South
by James Truslow Adams

From the 1932 book, The March of Democracy.

* * *

THROUGHOUT the war, the problems of reconstruction of the Union had been occupying the mind of Lincoln. These problems were of great complexity and were at once economic and political.

Of the first magnitude was that of the negro. In the seceded States there were approximately 3,500,000 former slaves to less than 5,500,000 whites, and in some of those States the negroes were practically as numerous as the whites, or even more so. For example, in Alabama in 1860, the numbers had been respectively 438,000 negroes to 526,000 whites, in Georgia 466,000 to 592,000, in Louisiana 350,000 to 357,000, and in South Carolina the 412,000 negroes heavily outnumbered the 291,000 whites.

In many cases free American negroes had done well, and there had been a few conspicuous ones, such as Frederick Douglass, the Abolition orator, Ira Aldridge, the tragedian, and Elizabeth Greenfield, the singer, who had gained even European reputations, Aldridge having received decorations from the King of Prussia and the Emperors of Austria and Russia.

"Blind Tom" Wiggins, Negro pianist, 1866. Photo by the Bendann Bros., Baltimore, Maryland.

Nevertheless, whatever capacities the negro might show for development, the fact remained that the vast mass of suddenly freed slaves were illiterate, unused to thinking for themselves, and ignorant of the world outside the plantations on which they worked, except in so far as they might have been sold from one locality to another.

Thrown unexpectedly on their own resources, how would they take their freedom, and how quickly would they adjust themselves to the responsibilities of free life and of the modern wage system?

In innumerable cases the ex-slaves simply remained working for their former masters on a sort of wage basis, but in many others they had strange dreams of what freedom meant, and toward the end of 1865 the idea was spread that every negro was to receive “forty acres and a mule” on New Year’s Day.

The Freedmen’s Bureau, created by Congress on March 3 of that year to aid the negroes, did good work with Major-General O. O. Howard at its head, in spite of incompetent and grafting agents.

The shift from the economic system of slavery to that of wages might have been made with less friction and difficulty than had been anticipated by the South had it not been that political questions were to hamper the transition.

As we have seen, Lincoln’s theory had been always that the seceded States had never been out of the Union at all, and he hoped to effect reconstruction with a minimum of restrictions upon the Southerners who had returned to their allegiance.

By 1863 three of the Confederate States had come under Federal control again—Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas—and the problem of administration had then arisen.

Although on the first of January of that year, Lincoln had issued his Emancipation Proclamation, he was not personally in favor of granting the emancipated slaves the suffrage, except in certain cases, and any such sudden alteration in status would have been, when avoidable, wholly contrary to his cautious approach to all problems of such magnitude.

Having appointed military governors for the three States, Lincoln offered in the Proclamation of Amnesty on December 3, 1863, pardon to all their citizens, with broad exclusions, who would take the oath of loyalty to the United States. He also offered them the opportunity of re-establishing their State governments and of re-admission to the Union as soon as one tenth of the voters had taken the prescribed oath.

Congress would have to decide upon the question of seating such senators and representatives as might be sent from the newly established States, but Lincoln himself wished to have the transition from secession to re-establishment made as simple as he had suggested in the Proclamation.

THE LAST PAGE OF LINCOLN’S SECOND INAUGURAL ADDRESS. "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations." From the Division of Manuscripts, Library of Congress.

The States named, or the ten per cent loyal electorate in them, accepted the offer, and in 1864 organized new governments. Congress, however, long restive over the war-time encroachment of the Executive, and hostile to the South, declined to seat members from the reorganized States, and in the so-called Wade-Davis Bill insisted that Congress, and not the President, had the responsibility for reconstruction.

Congress then outlined another plan, including, among other, changes, an increase to fifty per cent of those who must take the oath of allegiance. This bill Lincoln vetoed by the method of not signing it within ten days, whereupon its chief sponsors, Senator Benjamin Wade and Representative Henry Winter Davis, issued an outrageous public manifesto July 4, 1864, accusing the President of base motives in not having approved of it.

Forces, of which we shall presently take note, were aligning themselves in the North against any conciliatory attitude toward the beaten South. Whether even Lincoln could have made headway against them and saved the South the bitterness, and the North the disgrace, of the next few years is at least open to question.

Lincoln was, however, to have no opportunity. In March, 1865, in his second Inaugural, he had urged his countrymen not only to continue the struggle to the end but to think also of the future reunion:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

In conversation he had answered the suggestion that President Davis of the Confederacy should be hanged, with the quotation “judge not, that ye be not judged.” At a Cabinet meeting he warned that there was too much desire in the North for “bloody work.”


Lee had surrendered to Grant at Appomattox on April 9, and the war was known to be over, though peace was not actually proclaimed until August 20, 1866. Lincoln had gone to confer with Grant and had remained with him until the day before the surrender, then returning to Washington.

The long vigil was over, and Abraham Lincoln had lived to see the Union restored.

On the evening of the 14th, he was seated, with his wife and some friends, in a box at Ford’s Theatre, and all eyes were on the stage when suddenly a shot rang out. One of a small group of conspirators, John Wilkes Booth, a half-insane actor, brother of the great Edwin Booth, had gained access to Lincoln’s box, and shot the President in the back of the head. Leaping from the box to the stage, the assassin shouted to the audience the motto of Virginia, “sic semper tyrannis,” and in spite of a broken leg, escaped to a waiting horse by the stage door.

The unconscious President, carried to a house across the street, lingered until early morning when he peacefully died.

FUNERAL OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN, APRIL 25, 1865. The magnificent funeral car was drawn by sixteen gray horses richly caparisoned with ostrich plumes and cloth of black trimmed with silver bullion. A Currier and Ives lithograph in the Library of Congress.

Born of a shiftless and in general a run-out stock, Abraham Lincoln had slowly and patiently trod his spiritual as well as political way from a squalid frontiersman’s log cabin to the war-besieged White House in Washington. Mostly self-taught, feeding on the Bible, Shakespeare, and Blackstone, he had been slow to mature.

As different from George Washington as any backwoodsman could be from a tide-water magnate, nevertheless the great founder of the nation is the only character in our history with whom Lincoln himself can be compared.

Mistakes he made in plenty—mistakes in politics, in taste, in trying to run military affairs in the early days of the war—but in the four years and more of the nation’s agony which he spent as its head, he steadily grew. Of all the statesmen around him, in Cabinet or Congress, there was not one who could have led the nation as did this raw and uncouth man whom they had looked down upon and thought to control and guide.

Inferior to Washington in some respects, he surpassed him in others, and no other President in the long line has equalled him in that love of the nation which included the humble with the great, the common man and the rebel with the distinguished and the loyal.

In the sad and patient eyes of Lincoln, we were indeed one nation, indissoluble, united, beloved.


The assassination of the President was the murder of the moral leader of the nation, the removal of the one individual who might perhaps have been able to overcome the forces of party, greed, and revenge which were gathering from all quarters, like foul birds that feed on carrion, to wreak their lusts on the prostrate South and the entire country.

Vice-President Johnson, who by Booth’s insane act now became President, was in many respects a strong and able man, but some of his qualities and his lack of others made him futile as the interpreter to the nation of its own best self, and instead of ruling the whirlwind he became its victim, both in his own day and for long after.

It is only in very recent years, since war-time passions and misrepresentations have been lulled, let us hope forever, that Andrew Johnson, after a generation of malignant aspersion even by historians, has come to be appraised at his true worth.

Born one of the Southern “poor whites” in a log hut in Raleigh, North Carolina, he inherited with his extreme poverty a deep resentment against the rich and patrician classes of his section. Left fatherless at three years of age, apprenticed to a tailor, he learned without schooling to read but could not write until later taught by his young wife.

Having moved to Tennessee, Johnson rose from one political position to another until, when the war came, he had become not only United States senator, but the only member of the Senate from a seceded State who remained loyal to the Union.

Lincoln made him military, as he had already been twice civil, governor of his State, and in 1864, by Lincoln’s own wish, Johnson had been put on the ticket as Vice-President.

Although Johnson had been a Democrat, he had become a Republican from desire to save the Union. It was thought his presence on the ticket would emphasize the Republican claim to be the party of Union men of all political faiths; would reward Johnson for his loyalty; and perhaps would do something for Union sentiment throughout the nation by giving high office to a loyal Southerner.

Johnson’s nomination, however, had been resented by the radical Republicans, largely because he had been a Southern Democrat. When, as a result of Lincoln’s assassination, he was suddenly raised to the Presidency, it was certain that he would be bitterly attacked.

Unfortunately, although honest, courageous, and intellectually capable, Johnson could not manage men or guide and create public opinion, while his lack of tact, his proneness to descend to the level of stump speeches in his political utterances, and one or two unhappy occasions when he appeared to be the worse for liquor in public, gave his opponents weapons which they were not slow to wield against him.

Probably no other President has ever been so persistently and unfairly attacked by the press and his own party as was Johnson, who, nevertheless, was not himself altogether blameless.

For a very brief time it appeared as though the new President might, as result of his long dislike of the Southern aristocratic class, be precisely the man whom the radicals wanted for their attack on the South. But, whether sobered by responsibility of office or for other reasons, Johnson quickly made up his mind to fight the radicals and to attempt to carry out Lincoln’s wise and large-hearted plan for reconstruction.

Retaining all the members of his predecessor’s Cabinet, Johnson was unanimously supported by them in his belief that there was no need for a special session of Congress—not due to meet until December 4—and that he should begin the work of reconstruction by executive action alone.

This he did on May 29 by issuing a Proclamation granting amnesty to all rebels on condition of their taking an oath of fealty to the United States, and although certain classes were not included, notably ex-officers of the Confederate army and navy and all having taxable property in excess of $20,000, even these were assured of liberal treatment if they would petition for pardon.

By midsummer, Johnson had also appointed provisional governors for seven of the Confederate States, and in practically all of these, in accordance with his suggestion, conventions had been held which had repealed the secession ordinances, adopted new constitutions, and elected members of Congress for the coming session.

As was to be expected after four years of war and the overturn of the social and economic system, there was more or less unrest and disturbance in the South, which was much exaggerated by the hostile Northern press and politicians.

In the autumn, Johnson sent Carl Schurz on a tour through the section to investigate conditions, and Schurz made a report which more than suggested that the South was not loyal and that it intended to keep the negroes in some sort of serfdom, thus providing the radicals with precisely the sort of ammunition they wished for their campaign.

General Grant, however, making a similar report at the same time, took exactly the opposite view on these points.

Schurz later on in his career was to do some good work for civil service and other reforms, but at this stage it is rather difficult not to lose patience with this young German of thirty-six who had been in America only thirteen years and whose chief claim to importance was his influence with the German vote and his services to the Republicans in the campaign of 1860.

The campaign services in the Middle West must have been considerable for, in 1861, when he was only thirty-two and could not have been a naturalized citizen for more than three or four years, Lincoln had appointed him Minister to Spain.


During the summer of 1865, public opinion was not unfavorable to Johnson’s policy of reconstruction and conciliation, and we must examine some of the forces and causes that were to wreck both it and him. One section of Northern opinion had been outraged during the war by what it considered the usurpation of legislative power by the Executive, and by its genuine fears for constitutional liberty aroused by Lincoln’s suppression of freedom of speech and of the press, as well as the suspension of habeas corpus.

Naturally Congress was particularly jealous of its own prerogatives, and now that the war was over, and a Johnson instead of a Lincoln was in the White House, the members of this group would strive strenuously to regain control of policies and action.

"During the summer of 1865, public opinion was not unfavorable to Johnson’s policy of reconstruction and conciliation . . . " President Johnson’s Reception in New York — Review of Troops at Delmonico’s — Photographed by Herron, New York. From Harper’s Weekly September 15, 1866.
"The Halt," by Thomas Nast. Scene in the Civil War Georgia Campaign.

There were also the extremists who had preached hatred of the South and who exalted the welfare of the negro above that of his former master. The leaders of this group were Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, and Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts.

Stevens, who at seventy-three had become almost the dictator of the House of Representatives, and was rumored to be the keeper of a mulatto mistress, was an able, narrow, intense, harsh, and vindictive old man, unlovely in almost every aspect of his character. The North, he claimed, had the right to take “the lives, liberty, and property” of all Southerners, whose States should be considered as conquered provinces, from which their inhabitants should be driven out to be replaced by Northerners.

Sumner was of different type, but in his way as narrow and fanatical as old Stevens himself. Nothing would satisfy the Massachusetts senator but immediate and complete equality of the former slave with the whites. The difficulties of practical statesmanship meant nothing to this doctrinaire who had come to hate the Southern white as much as he claimed to love the Southern black.

There were also other considerations, though less openly discussed. If the Southern States were allowed to send members to Congress there was the question of the ascendancy of the Republican Party.

The old compromise had provided that representation in the House should be based on the number of whites plus three fifths of the slaves, but slavery having been abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution (adopted in 1865), the entire black population of the Southern States would have to be included in the basis for representation, which would largely increase the number of Southern members in the lower House.

As the Southern whites were almost unanimous against the Republican Party, this new situation evidently called for shrewd political manipulation and consideration.

As one constituent wrote to the negrophile Sumner, the Southern whites would certainly unite with the Northern Democrats, but if the negroes were given the vote, they might be used to offset the whites, maintain Republican supremacy, and thus ensure a continuance of the high tariff.

How terrible to think that the free trade South, beaten in war, its slaves confiscated by the North, might ruin Northern manufacturers, who had just been tasting the joys of high protection, by out-voting them in Congress!

As one Northern governor expressed it, the readmission of the Southern States to the Union would be unwise until “their ideas of business, industry, money-making, spindles, and looms were in accord with those of Massachusetts,” or until, as the Massachusetts reformer, Wendell Phillips, suggested, the North had been able to make over the “South in its own likeness.”

If Johnson had his way in reconstructing the South on Lincoln’s plan, what might not become of the Republican Party, of Republican congressmen, of the Republican tariff, and of Northern Republican manufacturers?

Unfortunately, whereas on the one hand, Johnson was not fitted to guide the public opinion of the North on questions of economic and constitutional policy, on the other, the Southerners played into the hands of the radical groups in the North who did know how to inflame, if not to guide, popular prejudices. After all the passion of civil war, it was unquestionably a delicate matter to seat “rebels” and “traitors” in Congress again to help govern the country just as though nothing had happened.

Surrender and Anger. "The Handkerchief and the Fist." From Harper’s Weekly, June 2, 1866.

Had the war been merely a putting down of insurrection in one or two States, whose members of Congress would be in negligible minority when returned, the problem would not have been serious, but, as it was, a good many people in the North were genuinely uneasy when contemplating the danger of a large bloc of Southern congressmen once more in power.

In a situation calling for great self-control, confidence, and magnanimity on the part of the North, and of tactfulness on that of the South, both sides acted with a minimum of these qualities. Naturally the ablest men in the South had occupied high military or civil positions during the war, and so had been prominent actors in the drama of rebellion. The few who, like General Thomas, had taken the Union side, could hardly be expected to command the immediate suffrages of their Southern fellow-citizens.

So, unfortunately, it came about to a great extent that the South elected to Congress the very men whom the suspicious North regarded as the leaders in the fomenting of rebellion, and the feeling of fear and resentment reached a high pitch when even Alexander H. Stephens, the Vice-President of the Confederacy, was chosen unwisely by the Georgia legislature to represent that State in the United States Senate.

Moreover, the laws passed by Southern legislatures with regard to the emancipated slaves, which legislation was known collectively in the North as the “black codes,” aroused feeling in that section to an extent which was wholly unwarranted.

Owing to the overwhelming proportion of whites to negroes in the North there was no Northern negro problem.

Even so, however, in only six Northern States was a negro permitted to vote.

After peace came, there was economic chaos for a while in the South. The negro, with false ideas of what freedom meant, was not inclined to work but much inclined to wander. For his own good, until he had learned to adjust himself to the new condition of being his own master, with the responsibility of looking after, himself and his family, he had to be controlled to some extent.

The codes recognized his freedom, and gave him almost all the rights of any ordinary citizen, although he was not allowed to vote or sit on juries; was required to have some means of support; and subjected to penalties for breaking labor contracts.

In a few States, the codes went too far with respect to the labor clauses, but on the whole they were framed justly in accord with the real conditions which confronted the Southerners.

But the North preferred theory to reality, and shutting its eyes both to its own refusal to give the Northern negro the vote and to the dangers in the South, raised a hue and cry about the oppression of the negro by the Southern whites, who, it was claimed, were trying to nullify emancipation.

Such was the situation when Congress met in December, 1865. There were some fair-minded conservatives in it, but the leaders of the two houses, Representative Stevens and Senator Sumner, were bitterly opposed to Johnson’s plans, Stevens dominated by his hatred of the Southern white, and Sumner by his doctrinaire love for the negro, which, regardless of conditions, led him to be satisfied with nothing less than the immediate enfranchising of the slave of yesterday.

Nor were the President’s foes all in the Capitol. Like John Adams, sixty-five years previous, he had retained the whole of his predecessor’s Cabinet, to be repaid with treachery, Stanton, the War Secretary, remaining with him as adviser only to reveal all the Cabinet secrets to his foes.

In February, 1866, Congress passed a bill prolonging the life of the Freedmen’s Bureau, the organization already mentioned which had been created in the preceding March with rather broad powers for relief and supervision of the freed slaves.

The powers now conferred were much wider, and the Bureau was given the right to invoke military authority when civil rights were denied to the negro.

This bill Johnson at once vetoed as unwise and unconstitutional, and unfortunately made some speeches in which he bitterly attacked Stevens and Sumner in particular and Congress in general.

Freedman’s Bureau VETO, Suffrage VETO. Andy. "Here, Bill, hand us up that poster!. We may hide some of these old ones. They’re played out!" From Harpers Weekly, November 3, 1866.

It was now open war between the Executive and the legislature, a war which could not have been averted but which might not have been so disastrous for Johnson and the nation had the President shown himself more adroit in the management of men.

In April, Congress passed a Civil Rights Bill over the President’s veto, and also, with a more than two-thirds vote, an amendment to the Constitution to be presented to the States for ratification. This amendment, in five sections, provided:
• that no State could pass any laws depriving the negro of any of his rights as a citizen;
• that if he were not given the suffrage in any State its population basis for representation in Congress would be proportionally reduced;
• that all the Confederate and State debts in the South incurred for the war were void;
• that no claim could ever be made for compensation for the emancipation of the slaves; and
• that no person could hold Federal office who had ever held such office and then engaged in rebellion.

The amendment, which it was understood would have to be adopted by any Southern State before it could be fully reinstated in the Union, was approved by Tennessee in the summer, and its senators and representatives were seated in Congress.

The other Southern States all refused to accept it, although it was ratified by a sufficient number of the total in the Union to become part of the Constitution in 1868.

The radicals were far from satisfied with it, and it is at least open to question whether, even had the South accepted it, such acceptance would have altered the course on which the radicals had determined.

In the autumn of 1866 came the mid-term elections. There was a good deal of conservative sentiment in the North, and in the West there was little enthusiasm to be worked up for Sumner’s enfranchisement fanaticism.

Johnson, who had tried to save the Homestead Act from rape at the hands of large speculative interests, and who had the democrat’s dislike of banks and the machinery of “big business,” could have developed a considerable following had he brought into prominence a number of the economic questions, such as high taxation, which were troubling the people.

There was really no great unity in the Republican Party, but by not daring to split it, Johnson handed it over complete to the radicals.

Extract of Constitutional Amendment. "Now, Andy, take it right down. More you Look at it, worse you’ll like it." From Harper’s Weekly, November 3, 1866.
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