Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

creditable to the President.' It restated in a powerful way the constitutional position of the administration, and defended its actions in a dignified yet spirited manner.

The fearlessness of his attitude was characteristic; the argumentative brilliancy of its presentation was unsurpassed. Unmindful of the fact that Congress had assembled to complete the overthrow of his policy of reconstruction, he reminded Congress that “the Constitution of the United States makes it the duty of the President to recommend to the consideration of Congress” such measures as he shall judge necessary or expedient. * I know,” he said, “of no measure more imperatively demanded by every consideration of national interest, sound policy, and equal justice, than the admission of loyal members from the now unrepresented States. The interests of the nation are best to be promoted by the revival of fraternal relations, the complete obliteration of our past differences, and the re-inauguration of all pursuits of peace.”? The message closed with the request: “Let us endeavor to preserve harmony between the co-ordinate departments of the Government, that each in its proper sphere may cordially co-operate with the other in securing the maintenance of the Constitution, the preservation of the Union, and the perpetuity of our free institutions."

Unfortunately for the country, there could be no harmony “between the co ordinate departments of the Government," where there was such fundamental disagreement. Neither side proposed to retreat an inch from the stand taken, and the message served no other purpose than to leave a very excellent state paper as a memento of the session.

1

House Journal, 2d Session, 39th Congress, 12-23; McPherson, History of the Reconstruction, 143-147.

2 Hlouse Journal, 2d Session, 39th Congress, 15.

The Joint Committee on Reconstruction' was immediately re-appointed by a concurrent resolution. Only one change was necessary—Mr. Grider, of Kentucky, one of the minority members, had died during the recess of Congress, and in his place Mr. Hise, of the same State, was appointed. The committee immediately resumed its labors, and proceeded to frame a bill“ for the more efficient government of the rebel States.” The developments of the last three months had created a sentiment favorable to more stringent conditions of re-admission, and the action of the various Southern legislatures, who were rejecting the 14th amendment during this period, served as a further stimulus to vigorous action.

2. Several weeks elapsed before the committee was willing to adopt any definite plan. Finally, on February 4, 1867, Mr. Williams reported from the committee, a bill to the Senate;' it was referred back to the committee, and was formally reported to the House by Mr. Stevens on the 6th.3

The preamble to the bill declared that in the absence of legal State governments there was no adequate protection for person and property, and that therefore it was necessary to enforce peace and good order until loyal State governments could be established. To this end “the so-called States shall be divided into military districts,” five in number, Virginia to constitute the first, North Carolina and South Carolina the second, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida the third, Mississippi and Arkansas the fourth, and Louisiana and Texas the fifth. The General of the Army was to assign to the command of each of said districts an officer of the regular army not below the rank of brigadier-general, and to detail a suffi

* The resolution passed the House on December 4, and the Senate on December 5. House Journal, 2d Session, 39th Congress, 30; Senate Journal, 2d Ses. sion, 39th Congress, 22.

* Senate Journal, 2d Session, 39th Congress, 202. * House Journal, 2d Session, 39th Congress, 345.

cient force to enable such officer to enforce his authority.” The officer in command of a district was to have complete authority to protect the civil rights of all, suppress insurrection and preserve order. To assist him he could employ civil or military tribunals at his discretion, but no capital punishment, imposed by a military tribunal, should be executed without the approval of the officer in charge of the district. Writs of habeas corpus should not be issued by federal courts or judicial officers except on endorsement of some commissioned officer in the district.

The discussion of the bill began on the day following its introduction. Mr. Stevens, with his usual impetuosity, wished for an immediate vote. The bill seemed more moderate to him than the South deserved, and with the large Republican majority intent upon some such legislation, he could see no reason for delay. The bill was clearly worded and all could understand it perfectly. But there was an influential element that preferred to make haste slowly, and many hours were given up to debate before the final passage of the bill by the House, on February 20.

The measure certainly was exceedingly radical as it was reported from the committee. As Mr. Le Blond, of Ohio, said: “It strikes at the civil governments in those States. It ignores State lines. It destroys their civil governments. It breaks down the judicial system in those States.”; The distrust of the President was evidenced by empowering General Grant to appoint the commanders of the military districts, ignoring the President as commander-in-chief of the army. Most important of all, the bill as it stood was the action of a conquering power over conquered territory. It provided for an indefinite military control over the territory, and specified no mode in which a State might free herself

1 ܙܙ

Congressional Globe, 2d Session, 39th Congress, 1074.

from the onerous conditions. It was not a measure of reconstruction; it was a measure of subjugation.

Of course none of its supporters had the slightest idea of its being more than a temporary measure, but even temporary measures must be considered in all their aspects. Their idea was that expressed by Mr. Brandegee of Connecticut when he said: “It holds those revolted communities in the grasp of war until the rebellion shall have laid down its spirit, as two years ago it formally laid down its arıns."

Mr. Bingham took an active part in the opposition to the adoption of the bill as it stood. Representing the more conservative branch of the anti-administration party, he suggested on the opening day of the discussion amendments which would make the bill more desirable. On February 12 he submitted an amendment, the essential features of which were finally adopted, but which encountered the fiercest opposition and was only carried when compromise between the House and the Senate was found to be impossible. His amendment provided as conditions for re-admitting a State to representation in Congress: Ratification of the 14th amendment; such modification of State constitution and laws as would make them conform to that amendment; a constitutional provision for negro suffrage; and the approval of the constitution by Congress as republican in form and consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States.

Mr. Blaine proposed an amendment similar in its aim to that of Mr. Bingham, who accepted it as a substitute. But the House was opposed to providing any loop-holes by which the States could escape the provisions of the act. The feeling that the South had been weighed in the balance and found wanting, that its whole attitude was that of defiance, and that it would endeavor to undo all that had

Congressional Globe, 2d Session, 39th Congress, 1076.

1

been done as soon as it could obtain an opportunity, was sufficiently strong to defeat an attempt to refer the bill to the Judiciary Committee with instructions to incorporate the amendment. Instead, a substitute measure, introduced by Mr. Stevens, which differed but little from the original bill, passed the House on February 13.'

The great struggle now began in the Senate, where the Blaine amendment was moved by Mr. Johnson of Maryland, on February 15. There was an influential element which feared that its adoption would utterly nullify the object of the bill—to govern the States until they could be re-admitted with safety. Their objections were based on

the same principles that had proved fatal to the amendment in the House. “I see,” said Senator Howard, “in this amendment a fatal snare by which we shall be deceived in the end, by which we are to be deluded into a premature re-admission of the rebel States in such a manner as to make us ultimately repent of our folly and rashness.

It is a snare by which increased representation from the rebel States may come into Congress, * * while we have no security at all that the extended elective franchise will be continued in the rebel States to the black population. They can disfranchise them whenever they see fit after having secured increased representation.”?

The Senate, more conservative than the House, could not muster such a strong opposition to the amendment. It was rejected, but rejected in order to open the way for another amendment in the form of a substitute bill, which was moved by Senator Sherman. The substitute had been agreed upon in a Republican caucus, and was accordingly carried. Its first four sections contained nearly all the feat

1

Congressional Globe, 2d Session, 39th Congress, 1360. ? Ibid., 1381-2.

3 Ibid., 1360.

« AnteriorContinuar »