Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

pay his tax. This statute meant legal servitude for any negro not finding employment, and the same penalty for a white man who merely consorted with negroes on equal terms.

The law of civil rights provided that all negroes are to have the same rights with whites as to personal property, as to suing and being sued, but they must not rent or lease lands or tenements except in incorporated towns and cities, and under the control of the corporate authorities. Provision is made for the intermarriage of negroes, and the legalization of previous connections; but intermarriage between whites and negroes is to be punished with imprisonment for life. Negroes may be witnesses in all civil cases in which negroes are parties, and in criminal cases where the alleged crime is by a white person against a negro. Every negro shall have a lawful home and employment, and hold either a public license to do job-work or a written contract for labor. If a laborer quits his employment before the time specified in the contract, he is to forfeit his wages for the year up to the time of quitting. Any one enticing a laborer to desert his work, or selling or giving food or raiment or any other thing knowingly to a deserter from contract labor, may be punished by fine or imprisonment. No negro is to carry arms without a public license. Any negro guilty of riot, affray, trespass, seditious speeches, insulting gestures, language or acts, or committing any other misdemeanor, to be fined and imprisoned, or if the fine is not paid in five days to be hired out to whoever will pay fine and costs. All penal and criminal laws against offenses by slaves or free negroes to continue in force except as specially repealed.

Many of these clauses speak eloquently for themselves, and as to the law in general Professor Burgess, who certainly has no anti-Southern bias, comments: "Almost every

act, word or gesture of the negro, not consonant with good taste and good manners as well as good morals, was made a crime or misdemeanor, for which he could first be fined by the magistrates and then be consigned to a condition of almost slavery for an indefinite time, if he could not pay the bill.” And Professor Burgess adds, “ This is a fair sample of the legislation subsequently passed by all the States reconstructed under President Johnson's plan.”

The case against this class of laws may be left-in the necessary limits of space-with this careful and moderate statement, though the temptation is strong to quote from Mr. Schurz and other authorities further specimens of the great body of harassing legislation, both state and local;the establishment of pillory and whipping-post; the imposition of unjust taxes, with heavy license fees for the practice of mechanic arts; requirements of certified employment under some white man; prohibition of preaching or religious meetings without a special license; sale into indefinite servitude for slight occasion; and so on-a long, grim chapter. Whatever excuses may be pleaded for these laws, under the circumstances of the South, all have this implication,—that the negro was unfit for freedom. He was to be kept as near to slavery as possible; to be made,“ if no longer the slave of an individual master, the slave of society.” And further, as to the broad conditions of the time, two things are to be noted. The physical violence was almost wholly practiced by the whites against the negroes. Bands of armed white men, says Mr. Schurz, patrolled the highways (as in the days of slavery) to drive back wanderers; murder and mutilation of colored men and women were common,-"a number of such cases I had occasion to examine myself.” In some districts there was a reign of terror among the freedmen. And finally, the anticipation of failure of voluntary labor speedily proved groundless. A law was at work more

efficient than any on the statute-books, Nature's primal law, “Work or starve!” Many, probably a majority of the freedmen, worked on for their old masters, for wages. The others, after some brief experience of idleness and starvation, found work as best they could. No tropical paradise of laziness was open to the Southern negro. The first Christmas holidays, looked forward to with vague hope by the freedmen and vague fear by the whites, passed without any visitation of angels or insurrection of fiends. In a word, the most apparent justifications for the reactionary legislation,-danger of rapine and outrage from emancipated barbarians, and a failure of the essential supply of labor -proved alike groundless.

As the facts of the situation became known, not only by Mr. Schurz's report, but by news from the Southern capitals and by various evidence—it was very clear that Congress could not and would not set the seal of national authority on any such settlement as this. Granted, and freely, that no millennium was to be expected, that a long and painful adjustment was necessary,—yet it was out of the question that any political theory or any optimistic hopes should induce acquiescence in the legal establishment of semi-slavery throughout the South. It was not Stevens's rancor, nor Sumner's unpracticability, but the serious conviction of the North, educated and tempered by long debate and bitter sacrifice, which ordained that the work of freedom must not be thrown into ruins.

CHAPTER XXXI

RECONSTRUCTION: THE SECOND PLAN

CONGRESS addressed itself, in the first instance, to extending and prolonging that provision for the freedmen which it had already made through the Freedmen's Bureau. A bill was reported, having the weighty sanction of Senator Trumbull and the judiciary committee, greatly increasing the force of officials under the Bureau; putting it under the military administration of the President and so with the direct support of the army; and broadening its functions to include the building of school-houses and asylums for the freedmen, and a wide jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases in which local laws made an unjust discrimination between the races. The bill passed the Senate and House, by the full party majority. It was sent to the President, February 10, 1866, and nine days later he returned it with a veto message, calmly and ably argued. He objected to the bill as a war measure after peace had been proclaimed. He took exception to the intrusion of military authority upon the sphere of the civil courts, and to the extension of Federal authority in behalf of black men beyond what had ever been exercised in behalf of white men. The message was strong enough to win a few of the orthodox Republicans, including ex-Governor Morgan of New York, and the two-thirds vote necessary to carry the bill over the veto could not be gained.

Up to this time there seems reason to believe that while the Republicans in Congress were firm in claiming for that

body a decisive voice in reconstruction, yet a majority of them were more favorable to the policy of President Johnson than to that of Sumner and Stevens. But now, upon the necessity of safeguarding the freedmen by exceptional measures in a wholly exceptional time, the preponderance of conviction turned against him in Congress and in the country. His own acts quickly converted that first opposition into hostility and alarm.

Until now President Johnson, whatever dissent he might provoke, had appeared as a dignified statesman. But three days after his veto, on February 22—Washington's birthday—a cheering crowd called the President to the balcony of the White House. They heard a speech,—how different from what Lincoln had spoken in the same place in the previous April. Johnson was exhilarated by his success, forgetful that he still faced a hostile majority in Congress, exasperated by opposition, and roused by the shouts of the crowd,—and his native passion and coarseness came out. Sumner had been severe in his language; he had likened President Johnson to President Pierce in the Kansas days, and hinted a family resemblance to Pharaoh of Egypt. Wendell Phillips was in his native element of denunciation. Now the President declared to his applauding hearers that he had against him men as much opposed to the fundamental principles of the government, and he believed as much laboring to pervert or destroy them, as had been the leaders of the rebellion,-Davis, Toombs, and their associates. To the responsive cheers, and the cry for names, he answered by naming Stevens, Sumner and Phillips. He rehearsed his rise from tailor to President, and declared that a ground swell, an earthquake of popular support, was coming to him. His speech brought surprise and dismay to the country. It fanned into hot flame the opposition between President and Congress. In yain did John Sherman,

« AnteriorContinuar »