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continued, were to be continued subject in all respects to the military commanders of the respective districts, and to the paramount authority of Congress.” It therefore provided that the district commanders should have the power to suspend or remove all incumbents of offices of “
any so-called State or the government thereof," and to fill all vacancies in such offices, however caused. The same powers were granted to the General of the Army, who was also empowered to disapprove the appointments or removals made by the district commanders. The previous appointments by the district commanders were confirmed and made subject to the provisions of the act, and it was declared to be the duty of these commanders to remove from office all who were disloyal to the United States, or who opposed in any way the administration of the reconstruction acts. The registration boards were empowered and required "before allowing the registration of any person to ascertain, upon such facts or information as they can obtain, whether such person is entitled to be registered.”: No person was to be disqualified as a member of any board of registration by reason of race or color. The true intent and meaning of the oath prescribed in the supplementary act was fully explained, the most important portion of the explanation being that the words "executive or judicial office in any State' should be construed to " include all civil offices created by law for the administration of any general law of a State, or for the administration of justice.” The time of registration under the supplementary act was extended to October 1, 1867, in the discretion of the commander; and it was provided that
Stanbery had ruled that the willingness of an applicant to take the oath must be regarded as final evidence of his qualification to register. Thus those notoriously incapacitated from taking the oath honestly, could not be prevented from registering. This additional power virtually enabled the boards of registration to exercise their own discretion as to whom they should enroll.
“the boards of registration shall have power, and it shall be their duty, commencing fourteen days prior to any election under said act, and upon reasonable notice of the time and place thereof, to revise, for a period of five days, the registration lists,” by striking out the names of those found to be disqualified, and adding the names of those qualified for registration. Executive pardon or amnesty should not qualify any one for registration who without it would be disqualified. District commanders were empowered "to remove any member of a board of registration, and to appoint another in his stead, and to fill any vacancy in such board.” The iron-clad oath was, to be required of all registration boards, and of all persons elected or appointed to office in the military districts. Further possibility of unfavorable construction by the Attorney-General was prevented by the provision that “no district commander or member of the board of registration, or any of the officers or appointees acting under them, shall be bound in his action by any opinion of any civil officer of the United States." The closing section, taken in connection with this, was fully as significant: “All the provisions of this act and of the acts to which this is supplementary shall be construed liberally, to the end that all the intents thereof may be fully and perfectly carried out.”
5. Reconstruction under the provisions of these three acts was rapidly accomplished in most of the States.' In some of the districts the commanders probably were too severe upon the whites, but in the main the intent of the acts was carried out with as little harshness as could well be expected. Those qualified were registered, conventions were held, and constitutions were framed and submitted to the people for their ratification according to the provisions of the acts. Alabama was the first State to vote upon a new consti
Scott, Reconstruction during the Civil War, 317 ff.
tution, and the Democrats, or Conservatives, as they styled themselves, took advantage of the fifth section of the act of March 23, which required at least one-half of the registered voters to vote on the question of ratification, as a condition of the validity of the election. Non-action seemed to be the easiest method of defeating the constitution, and they accordingly absented themselves from the polls, only 70,812, out of 165,812 registered voters, casting their ballots."
6. There had been a strong minority in Congress opposed to the insertion of this section, who had foreseen this very outcome; and the action of Alabama converted the minority into a majority. A third supplementary bill was accordingly passed. Johnson neither signed nor vetoed it; and it became a law without his signature on March 11, 1868. It provided that in future all elections authorized by the act of March 23, 1867, “should be decided by a majority of the votes actually cast,” thus preventing any repetition of the Alabama experiment."
7. The constitution submitted in Mississippi was rejected. Constitutions were not submitted in Texas and Virginia until a later date. The other States ratified their constitutions by large majorities, and on June 22 the act “to admit the State of Arkansas to representation in Congress " became a law.
8. Three days later the act admitting North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama and Florida to representation, became a law. Both bills were passed over the President's vetoes, Johnson to the last refusing to recognize even in the most indirect way the constitutionality of the congressional plan.
Eight of the eleven States were now nominally reconstructed, but in fact they were only entering upon that most trying period of their history—the era of “carpet-bag
Cox, Three Decades of Federal Legislation, 512–14. * McPherson, History of the Reconstruction, 336–7.
government.” The whole period
The whole period of reconstruction is marked by blindness and prejudice on both sides. The spirit of compromise could find no place in either's plans. “What might have been” is always a fruitless subject of discussion; but any student of the three tumultuous years following the war cannot but see that the attitude of both the North and the South prevented the adoption of the plan of reconstruction which would with the least trouble and delay, have remoulded the unwieldy mass of liberated blacks into an orderly, progressive class of citizens. At the same time he can see that the divergence of views was inevitable and that it is impossible to say to one side “You were right,” and to the other “You were wrong."
THE IMPEACHMENT OF THE PRESIDENT.
1. In the preceding chapters we have traced step by step the development of the theory of reconstruction and the formulation of the reconstruction acts of the 39th and 40th Congresses. We have noticed the wide divergence between the ideas of Johnson and those of the Republican party, and have seen that the whole program was carried over the vetoes of the President by the overwhelming Republican majority. But the contest between the President and Congress, which had been embittered by so many personalities on both sides, did not come to an end with the passage of legislation which fully embodied the congressional theory, but continued until it culminated in a desperate effort of the Republican party to remove Johnson from the presidential chair.
The very conditions under which he assumed the presidential office rendered his position difficult, and made estrangement of the executive and legislative departments an easy matter. On the particular issue of reconstruction Lincoln and Congress were at variance; but the tragic nature of Lincoln's death caused this matter to be forgotten in the overwhelming sense of the loss of the man who had safely guided the government through the most trying years of its history. But, for a Congress so extremely Northern and Republican, with antagonisms and prejudices which only fratricidal wars can create, to be compelled to work with a man not only a Southerner, but practically a Democrat, must of necessity bring about a crisis. 127)