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Interior, James Harlan, tendered his resignation, and O. H. Browning, of Illinois, was appointed to fill the vacancy.
It is altogether probable that these resignations would have been made earlier than they were, had it not been feared that the control of these important administrative departments would fall into the hands of those who would use their powers in opposition to Congress. But the time had come when the incumbents considered that by the retention of the offices they were being forced to share the odium attached to the President, and deemed total separation from him as the best method of justification.
The laws discriminating against the colored man, and the numerous instances of cruelty which had been reported to the North, were an important factor in creating and sustaining the common feeling of hostility to the administration. But the New Orleans riots, occurring on July 30, did more to rouse the people of the North, and convince them that stern measures were necessary, than all that had preceded. The massacre stood out vividly against the background of “black laws,” and furnished an argument of the most effective kind to be used in the campaign.
2. The riots were of a peculiarly exasperating character. The constitutional convention of 1864, summoned by the proclamation of Major General Banks, had passed resolutions giving the president of the con
dent of the convention power “to reconvoke the convention for any cause." A majority of the members came to the conclusion, in the spring of 1866, that the State constitution should be amended, to place it in harmony with the congressional policy.' They determined to have the convention reconvoked for this purpose. The president,
1 The Congre
committee of investiga appointed at the beginning of the 2d session, in December, submitted a detailed report of the riots. See House Reports, No. 16, 2d Session, 39th Congress. See also Blaine, Twenty Years of Congress, ii, 233-237.
Judge E. H. Durell, declined to take advantage of his prerogative, but the delegates, not to be thwarted in this way, proceeded to elect a president pro tem, who was willing to issue the desired proclamation. The governor of the State, J. M. Wells, concurred in this rather questionable procedure, and issued a proclamation for an election to fill existing vacancies,
It being well understood that negro suffrage was one of the ultimate objects desired by the supporters of the proposed constitutional convention, active hostility to the movement rapidly developed. The proclamation of the president pro tem, called for the assembling of the delegates on July 30; and though the only object of this meeting was to determine officially the existing vacancies to be filled in the fall elections, the enemies to the enfranchisement of the freedmen determined to crush the movement in its incipient stage. It is an easy matter to stir up the passions and prejudices of the people, and the indiscreet speeches of certain of the delegates only added to the popular excitement. A negro procession organized in honor of the convention was attacked by a mob in front of Mechanics' Hall, where the convention was in session. The attack was soon extended to the hall itself, the police of the city joining hands with the assailants. When the riot was over nearly two hundred persons were found to have been killed or wounded, the greatest sufferers being the negroes, who were shot down in front of the hall without mercy.
The flagrancy of the act, the connivance of the city authorities, and the fact that, while legal steps were taken against the delegates and innocent spectators, the actual murderers were in no way molested, furnished to the people of the incensed North ample proof of the inability of the South to maintain local government, and of the advisability of refusing to restore these States to their former position in the Union.
New Orleans was taken as a fair example of what might happen at any place in the South. There was no satisfactory justification for these acts of violence, and there was little inclination in the North to consider the legal technicalities involved in the attempt to amend the constitution of Louisiana. They simply took cognizance of the fact that about fifty loyal citizens had been murdered in cold blood, with the city authorities silently acquiescing. In the face of such a fact, the solicitude of the President to preserve the “inherent rights of the States" did not appeal to the masses, and Johnson was forced to begin his campaign badly handicapped.
But, in addition to the blow given to the theory of the administration, Johnson was forced to labor against a certain amount of personal censure, brought about by his supposed attitude before the riots and his known attitude after them. It was freely charged that he was in full sympathy with the determination of the Mayor of New Orleans, and the Lieutenant-Governor and Attorney-General of Louisiana, to prevent the convention from accomplishing its plans. In support of the charge, his answer to the inquiry as to whether the military power would interfere with the attempt to arrest the members of the convention upon criminal process was cited. His reply was as follows:' "The military will be expected to sustain, and not to obstruct or interfere with the proceedings of the court.” While this may have indicated too great confidence in the civil authorities of Louisiana, it certainly did not imply any connivance in or sympathy with the summary proceeding of July 30. Possibly the well-known opposition of Johnson to negro suffrage may have stimulated the rioters to bolder defiance of Northern sentiment, but censure of him can extend
1 House Reports, No. 16, 39th Congress, 2d Session, p. 26.
no farther. But, in his political canvass in the fall," while endeavoring in every way to discredit the 39th Congress in the eyes of the people, he committed a grave error by an indirect defense of the rioters, attacking the members of the convention as traitors who incited the negro population to rioting, and throwing the responsibility of the whole affair back upon Congress as having originated and fostered the plan to force negro suffrage upon Louisiana.' ?
3. The fall campaign was formally opened by the supporters of the presidential policy, who had immediately accepted the report of the Committee on Reconstruction as the platform of the Republican anti-administration faction, and had determined to appeal on that issue to the people. Their hope was that the conservative element of the population, thoroughly worn out by the struggle, would uphold the speedy restoration of the Southern States, and that thereby a coalition might be made between the Democrats and the administration Republicans strong enough to unseat many of the radical members, reverse the majority, and so give the administration control in the 40th Congress.
The first steps were promptly taken. The executive committee of the National Union Club, a political organization established in Washington by supporters of the administration, issued on June 25, just one week after the submission of the report of the Committee on Reconstruction, a call for a national convention to be held in Philadelphia on August 14.3 Delegates to this convention were to be chosen by those supporting the administration and agreeing to certain “ fundamental propositions " which formed the plat
See below for an account of this canvass.
* House Reports, No. 16, 39th Congress, 2d Session, pp. 24-27; McPherson, History of the Reconstruction, 137.
* McPherson, History of the Reconstruction, 118, 119; Blaine, Twenty Years of Congress, ii, 220–223.
form of the conservatives. These propositions maintained the absolute indissolubility of the Union, the universal supremacy of the Constitution and acts of Congress in pursuance thereof, the constitutional guarantee to maintain the rights, dignity and equality of the States, and the right of each State to prescribe the qualifications of electors, without any federal interference. They declared that the usurpation and centralization of powers infringing upon the rights of the States “would be a revolution, dangerous to republican government, and destructive of liberty;" that the exclusion of loyal senators and representatives, properly chosen and qualified under the Constitution and laws, was unjust and revolutionary; that as the war was at an end,“war measures should also cease, and should be followed by measures of peaceful administration;" and that the restoration of the rights and privileges of the States was necessary for the prosperity of the Union. This formal call was approved, and its principles endorsed by the Democratic congressmen, who issued an address to the “People of the United States" on July 4, urging them to act promptly in the selection of delegates to the convention.
In accordance with the call, every State and Territory was represented in the convention. A glance at the list of delegates shows that they included many of the prominent Democrats of the country, re-enforced by a number of the prominent Republicans' who were in sympathy with the administration. The enthusiastic manner in which the summons was answered seemed to the friends of the administration to indicate an unquestionable overthrow of the radicals. They thought that harmony was soon to reign over all portions of the Union, which was once more being drawn closely together by the watchword "National Union."
Among these Republicans were Thurlow Weed, Edgar Cowan, James R. Doolittle, A. W. Randall, O. H. Browning, James Dixon, Henry J. Raymond, R. S. Hale, J. A. Dix, Marshall O. Roberts and Montgomery Blair.