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article number 687
article date 10-19-2017
copyright 2017 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Post Civil War: Developing Hatred Between the North and South Part 2, Brutal Reconstruction Policies, 1867
by James Truslow Adams

From the 1932 book, The March of Democracy.

* * *


The 1866 campaign was one of the most indecent in our annals. The President himself took the stump, and touring the West talked in the wrong way about the wrong things, while the vilification and misrepresentation indulged in against him by the leaders of his own party were almost without parallel.

Untrue charges that he was frequently drunk on his tour were spread everywhere, as they have often been against our public men, and were all too eagerly accepted.

By some queer trick in our psychology we seem always willing, without proof, to believe the worst of any one who has risen to high position.

The hidden desires of the radical leaders did not make good campaign material. It was therefore determined to appeal to the crudest emotions.

The doctrine was preached that if the Southern States were re-admitted to the Union too quickly, there would be danger of a repudiation of the Federal debt. So far did Sumner go with this absurd campaign lie that the Secretary of the Treasury had to appeal to him to stop making his untrue statements because they were greatly damaging the credit of the nation.

Neither the credit of the nation, nor of its President, however, meant anything to Sumner and the others if anything could be gained politically by assailing either of them.

The President was denounced as a “traitor,” who had been in the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln, and who was now planning to use the army against Congress. During the summer, there had been riots in Memphis and New Orleans, natural enough under the disturbed conditions, but radical orators magnified these into dangerous plots, and Sumner charged the President with being the abettor of the mobs.

“Charles IX of France,” Sumner thundered, “was not more completely the author of the massacre of St. Bartholomew than Andrew Johnson is the author of those recent massacres which now cry for judgment . . . and a guilty President may suffer the same retribution which followed a guilty King.”

The distinguished senator must have known he was lying.

Our new citizen and very hot Republican patriot, Carl Schurz, pronounced that Johnson ought to be hanged, and that he was “worse than Judas Iscariot or Benedict Arnold.”

Considering the charges which these men brought against the President for his coarseness of speech, it is interesting to note their own.

Schurz, claiming that Johnson was the victim of flattery, added “you might even tell him he was a gentleman and he would believe you.”

Stevens had had inserted in ’The Congressional Record’ a statement from ’The World,’ which both he and Sumner repeated, that the President was an “insolent clownish drunkard,” a “drunken brute, in comparison with which Caligula’s horse was respectable.”

If this was the sort of talk in which the leaders allowed themselves to indulge, when criticising the President himself for lack of taste and breeding, it is easy to imagine the sort of thing that was hurled at him by stump speakers and the cheap press.

All emotions were played upon. Southerners were called “rebel devils” and “red-handed traitors.”

General Sherman received in the U. S. House of Representatives, January 29 1866. Sketched by Andrew McCallum. Harper’s Weekly, February 17, 1866.

On the field of Gettysburg, immortalized by the dead of both sides in the war and by Lincoln’s address, Edward Everett, of Massachusetts, now proclaimed that the North would never admit again to a share in the government “the hard-hearted men whose cruel lust of power has brought this desolating war upon the land.”

The “bloody shirt,” that was to keep the Republican Party long in power, began to be waved with frantic frenzy. Congressman Logan said the only way to treat the Southerners was to “take the torch in one hand and the sword in the other . . . and sweep over their territory.”

To win the election the President, who was not the man for the place and hour but was honest, was painted as a traitor; the Southerners as still dangerous rebels who must not be admitted to a share of government (until, sotto voce, the negroes could be given the vote for the Republican Party); and the one issue of the campaign was made to appear as the saving of the nation from the dangers of reconstruction according to the ideas of Lincoln and Johnson.

It was all good campaigning according to ordinary low political standards to which Sumner, Everett, Schurz, and other reformers and “scholars in politics” stooped, and it won.

The radical Republicans secured more than two thirds of both houses of Congress, and the doom of the South was sealed.

In spite of the vicious slanders which the party leaders had spread about him, the President acted with dignity after the election, and prepared a markedly conciliatory message for the opening of Congress in December.

Unhappily, the leaders made it clear a week before Congress was to meet that they would consent to no truce and that they were determined to crush both the President and the South.

The wild rantings of Stevens left no doubt on that score, and lesser men made the same threats. In a speech at Cooper Institute, for example, Wendell Phillips called for impeachment of “the Rebel in the White House” and added, “let us pray to God that the President may continue to make mistakes.”

Sumner was more radical and defiant than ever, and it was evident that Congress would be guided by passion only. The places of such great statesmen and compromisers as Clay and Webster had been taken by vindictive and narrow-minded politicians such as Sumner and the dying Stevens.

The President put aside his conciliatory and wise message, and sent another, breathing defiance of Congress.

The last phase of the fight between the White House and the Capitol had now begun.

"The places of such great statesmen and compromisers as Clay and Webster had been taken by vindictive and narrow-minded politicians such as Sumner and the dying Stevens." Charles Sumner, photographed by Black & Case, Boston, Massachusetts.

Before continuing the story of that to the end, we may turn to two international affairs of importance which were concluded under Johnson in 1867. The President left foreign affairs largely in the hands of Seward, as Secretary of State, and Seward, who was an expansionist, had tried in 1865 to buy the island of St. Thomas from Denmark.

It is interesting to note, in view of what we have said about the change in our political theory with regard to the “consent of the governed,” that it was Denmark which insisted upon, while Seward resisted, the taking of a vote of the inhabitants on the transfer. Although this proved favorable and a treaty was drawn up to cede the island and a smaller one, for $7,500,000, the Senate declined to ratify, and the plan fell through.

In 1867, however, Seward was more successful in another direction. Russia suddenly offered to sell us all her possessions in North America for $10,000,000. Seward jumped at the chance, but bargained shrewdly, and finally a treaty was drawn up by which we were to receive Alaska for $7,200,000.

Sumner was strongly in favor of making the purchase, and the Senate was also favorably inclined, although the real value of the acquisition was then almost unknown. It is possible that the senators were more inclined to add to our territory in the North than in the South, but the chief determinant in the Alaska purchase was the belief that we were under some obligation to Russia for having offered us her fleet during the Civil War should England or France intervene.

The story had some foundation, though not of such a nature as to warrant any such feeling of friendly obligation on our part as oddly developed. When the Senate ratified the treaty, however, it was more with the thought that it was paying an obligation toward Russia than that we were getting an amazing bargain.

The same year saw the clearing up of the French situation in Mexico. As we have seen, Louis Napoleon had taken advantage of our being occupied with war to seize that country, in spite of our protests. When the war was over, Johnson had sent General Sheridan with an army to the border, and renewed our protests to France with vigor.

The French people had not been in favor of the adventure, Napoleon had wrongly counted on the success of the Confederacy, and now found himself in an untenable position.

Without any qualms of conscience, he broke faith completely with Maximilian, whom he had set up as Emperor at Mexico City, withdrew the French troops, and coldly left Maximilian to his fate. Maximilian was executed by the Mexicans, the empress went insane, and an inglorious and dastardly chapter in Napoleonic imperial policy was closed.

Were it not that his fight with Congress over reconstruction has overshadowed all else in Johnson’s unhappy term, his success in clearing the New World in one year from all claims of the two great Old World empires of Russia and France would have received more attention than it has. He secured peaceably the withdrawal of the menace on our south and added nearly 600,000 square miles in the north to the national domain, a country nearly three times as large as France and whose rich possibilities are even today not sufficiently realized.

Election Returns — Scene in Front of the New York ’Tribune’ Office at Midnight, November 6-7,1866. From Harper’s Weekly, November 24, 1866. Sketched by C. G. Bush.


We must now return to the drama that was unrolling in Washington. Congress at once took in hand the reconstruction of the South, ignoring completely the plans of Lincoln and Johnson. In March, 1867, it passed, over Johnson’s veto, “the most brutal proposition ever introduced by a responsible committee,” the Reconstruction Act.

By this and several supplementary Acts, all the former Confederate States were swept away, and the South was divided into five military districts, each under command of a general who was insultingly made subordinate to Grant and not to Johnson, in spite of the fact that under the Constitution the President is Commander-in-Chief.

Although the Fourteenth Amendment had left the question of negro suffrage optional with the States of the Union, and not a single State allowed it south or west of New York, and not even Connecticut in New England, the Act forced it on the ten Southern States, without any constitutional authority.

Under the military governments, conventions were to be called in the ten States, after all the male negroes over twenty-one had been registered as voters, and these “black and tan” conventions then were to frame new constitutions in which negro suffrage must be provided for.

After this had been done, the new constitutions approved, and the Fourteenth Amendment ratified by only three fourths of all the States, but by every Southern State, then and then only could the seceded States be reinstated by representation in Congress.

THE RECONSTRUCTION DOSE. JOHNSON OBJECTS TO THE PHYSIC GIVEN TO THE SOUTH. The differences of the President and Congress over the Reconstruction Act. A cartoon from “Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper,” July 13, 1867.

The Supreme Court had decided three months earlier, in the Milligan case, already cited, that military courts were unconstitutional except under such war conditions as might make the operation of civil courts impossible, but the President pointed out in vain that practically the whole of the new legislation was unconstitutional.

So mad had become the course of the radicals that there was even talk in Congress of impeaching the Supreme Court for its decision! The legislature had run amok and was threatening both the Executive and the Judiciary.

On the same day on which Congress passed the first Reconstruction Act it passed another, also over the veto of the President and which was aimed directly at him. From the days of Washington down, the Executive had held the power of dismissal of a Federal employee from office without consulting the legislature.

On March 2, 1867, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act which not only took away from the President all power of removal, even of the members of his own Cabinet, without the consent of the Senate, but made any infraction of the new Act a “high misdemeanor.”


Not merely was a broad and important power thus stolen from the Executive by the Senate, but in making infringements of it “high misdemeanors” Congress made the Act a weapon with which it might impeach the President and remove him himself from office if he did not submit to having even his personal advisers forced on him by the Senate.

The Cabinet was included in the Act partly to prevent Johnson from getting rid of Stanton, who was working with the radicals and whose secret information was of importance to them.

Although Johnson put the Reconstruction Acts into force, he defied Congress on the Tenure of Office Act, for the purpose of bringing it before the courts for judicial review. As early as January, 1867, Representatives Ashley of Ohio and Ben Butler of Massachusetts were already at work trying to force a bill through for the President’s impeachment, and it was clear what would happen if he demanded the resignation of Stanton.

In August, nevertheless, Johnson asked Stanton to resign, the situation having become intolerable. Stanton refused in an insulting note.

Johnson then suspended him temporarily and appointed General Grant in his place, who, however, as soon as Congress reassembled in December, at once resigned when the Senate refused to accept Stanton’s

Johnson then dismissed Stanton and appointed General Lorenzo Thomas. Stanton declined to get out, indulged in an undignified battle of words with Thomas and placed him under arrest. Released on bail, the general had a drink with Stanton, who, however, held his private office by force and would not surrender to the new appointee.

Congress then proceeded immediately to the impeachment of the President, the trial before the Senate beginning on March 4, 1868.

This impeachment of President Johnson was not only the most disgraceful episode in the entire history of Congress but one of the most dangerous.

The Tenure of Office Act had been merely a trap laid into which the Executive would have to walk, or abdicate to the legislature all power for himself and his successors.

The Civil War had threatened the existence of the nation; now the action of Congress threatened the existence of its form of government, for if a political party or faction could depose a properly elected President without constitutional cause, there was little left of the Constitution and the balance of powers.

Although Stevens, almost at the end of his embittered days, was the most virulent against the President, Ben Butler, John A. Bingham, George S. Boutwell, Benjamin Wade, Thomas Williams, and John A. Logan have to share some of the heaviest of the deserved obloquy of the proceedings.

Of the eleven charges made by the House, there was not one which could stand. The President was defended by five counsel, ex-Justice B. R. Curtis of the Supreme Court, William M. Evarts, Attorney-General Stanbery, Judge Groesbeck of Illinois, and T. R. R. Nelson of Tennessee, the first four being men of the highest attainments and standing.

There was no legal basis whatever for impeachment, but the prosecution pleaded as politicians and not as lawyers.

Impeachment Trial — Members of the House of Representatives Proceeding to the Senate Chamber. Sketched by Theodore R. Davis. From Harper’s Weekly, April 4, 1868.

Fortunately, the Senate, acting as jury, was presided over for the proceedings by Chief Justice Chase, who kept them strictly within legal bounds.

Even so, the President, and the nation, escaped by only a single vote, seven Republicans ruining their futures with the party by voting in his favor, Fessenden, Fowler, Grimes, Ross, Van Winkle, Henderson, and Fowler.

It is little to the credit of three others, though it seems to be usually considered so, that they were ready to vote for acquittal if their votes were needed. Johnson was either guilty or he was not, and these three who preferred their careers to their honor were Sprague, Morgan, and Willey.

Johnson’s term, however, was within a few months of its end when the final vote acquitted him on May 26, 1868, and the Republicans were looking forward to the fall election.

The South had submitted again to force, and under conditions which we shall note later, new constitutions had been adopted in all the Southern States except Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia, embodying negro suffrage, though Minnesota, Ohio, Kansas, and Michigan in the North had rejected it.

In order to gain the benefit of the new negro vote, Congress quickly readmitted the seven reconstructed States into the Union during the summer in time for the election.

A CONTEMPORARY VIEW OF THE NEGRO’S PLIGHT AT THE HANDS OF THE POLITICIANS. The “change of face” (and views) after election may be seen by turning the picture sidewise. From the Rare Book Room in the library of Congress.


The Republicans nominated General Grant for President and Schuyler Colfax, the Speaker of the House, for Vice-President, while the Democrats put up a ticket of Governor Seymour and General Francis P. Blair, Jr.

Owing to the great popularity of Grant, there was considered to be no doubt of the result of the campaign, which, however, had several points of interest:
• Grant had voted but once in his life, and then for a Democrat.
• The two party platforms were also peculiar in that the Republican one rancorously condemned the Republican President, Johnson, whereas the Democratic one applauded him.
• Both offered the bribe of pensions to the soldier vote, and both twisted the tail of the British lion.

The Republicans claimed that suffrage in the South must be a matter for Congressional legislation, but not in the North, whereas the Democrats properly insisted that the suffrage question always had been and should be one for the individual States everywhere in the Union to determine for themselves. They also insisted upon the unconstitutionality of almost the whole of the Acts of the Republican Congress.

Vice-President Wade Administers "The Oath" to Schuyler Colfax, the New Vice President. From Harper’s Weekly, March 20, 1869.

Unfortunately, economic questions had also come to the front, and the Democrats took the side of those who wished to tax the tax-free government bonds, which was equivalent to a lowering of interest and partial repudiation, and the party also supported those who wished to pay the bondholders in greenbacks.

On these points the Republicans adopted sound principles, and the future position of the parties for some decades was foreshadowed.

The Republican Party, with its tariff and favors for business, and its sounder ideas on currency, naturally attracted the conservative business interests, while it swept along a large part of the mob, and tried to keep its hold on the negro vote of the South by waving the bloody shirt and denouncing the loyalty of Southern whites.

On the other hand, the Democratic Party, with much to offer in wholesome and progressive doctrines, and in its genuine democracy, was to suffer under the handicap of economic heresies.

For Grant himself, the apparent victory was in reality a profound tragedy. Rarely is the great soldier combined in one person with the great statesman. They were assuredly not in Grant, and the reputation which was so high at Appomattox was to become bedraggled and smirched in eight years of the White House.

In the scandals which welled up in his administration, like the back-flow from a sewer, he himself profited nothing and was personally honest, but he had such a singular incapacity for choosing the right men for office, and then was so obstinate in his loyalty to the wrong ones, that the situation created was almost worse than if he had been a less honest but an abler man.

The first blow to confidence in the new President came with the announcement of his Cabinet appointments, which caused a gasp of astonishment throughout the nation. They were most of them, except Judge E. R. Hoar of Massachusetts and ex-Governor Cox of Ohio, practically unknown and small men, three of whom immediately resigned.

The appointment of Hamilton Fish as Secretary of State, in place of one of the three, was good, and the only satisfactory portion of Grant’s administration was to be in the field of foreign policy.

Less than a week before Grant took the oath of office in March, 1869, Congress put the finish on its Acts for Reconstruction by the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution (adopted by sufficient States in the following year), declaring that the right of citizens to vote should not be denied by the United States or any State “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” thus giving the negroes the franchise throughout the Union.

THE NEW VOTER. Registering of Negros. From the original sketch made by Dr. Bracket at Negrofoot Precinct, Hanover County, Virginia, July 11, 1867. Now in the Confederate Museum, Richmond.

The amendment pleased those who, without regard to practical conditions, had fanatically demanded immediate equality in all respects between the two races; those who hated the Southern whites and wished to crush them as much as possible; and those who wished to control the Southern vote in the interests of the Republican Party by manipulation of the negro voters.

Had it not been for the negroes in the States under Congressional control, 650,000 of whom took part in the election of 1868, Grant, in spite of his personal popularity, could not have won, a majority of the white vote of the nation having repudiated the Republican policies.

Conditions in the South were intolerably bad. Not only in many of the States, as we have pointed out, did the negro population approximate or even exceed the white, but for various reasons large numbers of the latter, including many prominent men, were still disfranchised.

Naturally all the better class were solidly Democratic, and in view of the treatment being meted out to the South by the Republicans, could be nothing else, at least for the time being.

The negro vote, mostly illiterate, was the determining political factor, and although the white Democrats tried to win it, the Republicans had little difficulty in controlling it. They could properly claim that it had been the Republican Party which had given the former slaves their freedom, and all over the South through agents of the Freedmen’s Bureau and the newly formed “Union Leagues” they swept the negroes into the party fold.

The Republican Party in the South was thus made up almost exclusively of the illiterate ex-slaves and local white leaders of the lowest and most scandalous political type. These were known as “carpet-baggers” and “scalawags,” the former being politicians who had swarmed down from the North with their carpet-bags, to get what pickings they could, and the latter being low-grade Southern whites who helped to organize their negro machines locally for the same reason.


The pickings were, indeed, on a colossal scale. We shall note later such scandals in the North as the Tweed Ring in New York, but there has been nothing in our history to compare with the vast plunder secured under the “carpet-bag regime,” in the South of reconstruction days.

In South Carolina, of the 144 radical Republican members out of a total of 155 legislative members, 98 were negroes, of whom only 22 could read and write, as were also the State Treasurer and Secretary.

This travesty of an American government, with a Northern carpetbag governor at the head, which voted themselves champagne, gold watches, horses and carriages, and other incredible things out of the public money, raised the State debt in a brief time from $7,000,000 to $29,000,000.

In New Orleans, $17,000,000 of city bonds were issued at thirty-five cents on the dollar, and the State debt was increased so recklessly that it has been estimated all the way from $24,000,000 to $50,000,000, and the tax rate rose 400 per cent in four years.

The political trash, white and black, grew rich selling franchises, public property, and political favors for any price they could to get money quickly for themselves. One carpet-bag governor cleaned up a half million dollars in his term. Such regimes could only result in many cases in later repudiation of debts so corruptly incurred, and unfortunately many of these bond issues were sold in England.

A CARTOON BY RYLAND RANDOLPH SHOWING THE FATE IN STORE FOR LOCAL CARPETBAGGERS AND SCALAWAGS. The figures represented two men connected with the university and educational work in Tuscaloosa who were driven out by the Klan.

It was natural that the Southern whites, to prevent this complete ruin, should wish to regain control of their own States. This was impossible if carpet-baggers and scalawags could marshal the blacks to the polls.

Organizations, therefore, were formed to intimidate the negroes. Among these “White Leagues,” “Knights of the White Camelia,” and other secret societies, the most noted and effective was the Ku Klux Klan, started in Tennessee in 1866, and later an important weapon throughout the whole South. Riders, robed in white, would appear suddenly in the night and frighten negroes out of their wits in one way and another.

At first little violence was used, but when the methods began to prove effective, as was shown by the big drop in Republican votes in 1870, Congress passed the Enforcement Act, imposing severe penalties for infractions of the new Constitutional Amendments, and the South then met force with force.

Whatever Abolitionists and theorists like Charles Sumner might say, living in white Northern communities, whites will not consent to be ruled by blacks, and the South was fighting for white supremacy. The only way to combat Congressional legislation had to be violence when other methods failed, and there is no doubt violence was used, and racial bitterness much increased.

In 1871 Congress passed an even more rigid Enforcement Act, and in it gave the President power to suspend habeas corpus and to use the army to suppress the activities of the members of the Klan.

WARNING SENT BY THE KLAN. From Ku Klux Report, Alabama Testimony.

The Congressional policy had been criminally stupid. No matter what its political faith, the white South could not be expected to submit supinely to be ruled and plundered by its former slaves. The negro fanaticism of a Sumner could result only in arousing passions and delaying a solution of an extremely delicate and difficult problem.

Gradually, however, the whites regained control, and by 1877 throughout most of the South the carpet-bag-negro regimes had ended, and the section had become solidly Democratic, the combined dishonesty and ignorance of the local Republicans making any two-party system impossible.

The blacks were frankly intimidated, and negro suffrage was nullified in one way and another. Federal troops were withdrawn and the South was left to manage its own affairs by its own civil governments.

Gradually a new order was evolved, though economic recovery was necessarily slow. The former slave learned to work for wages, and almost a revolution in the agricultural conditions of the section can be inferred from the reduction by almost a half, in little more than a dozen years, of the average size of Southern farms.

The Old South of the “plantation” days with its romantic dreams had passed into history.

THE TEACHINGS OF THE KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE WERE HELD RESPON SIBL BY A CONTEMPORARY CARTOONIST FOR LINCOLN’S DEATH. Subtitle under Bickley is "Head of the Knights of the Golden Circle." Subtitle under Booth is "The Assassin." From the Library of Congress.
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