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RECONSTRUCTION: THE FINAL PLAN
The Congress which met in December, 1866, was the same body as in the previous winter; but the prolonged contest, the President's misbehavior, the South's rejection of the offered terms, and the popular verdict at the November election, had strengthened the hands of the Republicans and intensified their temper. Thaddeus Stevens brought in, February 6, 1867, a bill which was trenchant indeed. It superseded the governments of the ten unreconstructed States, divided their territory into five military districts, placed their commanders under the orders, not of the President, but of the general of the army, and suspended the habeas corpus. It was military rule in its barest form, and for an indefinite period. Blaine moved an amendment, specifying the terms on which the States might be released from this military control and restored to their normal status. But Stevens's despotic sway shut out the amendment and carried the bill through the House. In the Senate, Sherman successfully carried a substitute, much the same as the Blaine amendment. This went back to the House, where a majority of Republicans favored the change, but Stevens still opposed it, and had enough followers to make together with the Democrats a majority that threw out the whole measure. But success by such allies was undesired by the radicals and alarming to the moderate Republicans. There was reconsideration, minor concessions to Stevens, and the bill finally passed February 20, not at all as he had designed it, but in a form due either to Blaine or Sherman.
It is singular that so important a measure should be of doubtful paternity. It seems more like a production of Sherman, who in constructive ability was far ahead of Blaine and of most of his congressional colleagues. In its substance it represents apparently the judgment and purpose of the great majority of the Republicans in Congress.
It is remarkable that so vital and momentous a law should have been enacted with so little discussion. It was hurried through, in order that its passage twelve days before the close of the session might prevent the President from“ pocketing" it-letting it fail for want of his signature, without risking a veto. The debate, as Blaine reports it in his Twenty Years of Congress, seems to have been mainly for the scheme, and against the far more drastic proposal of Stevens and Boutwell, -in opposing which Blaine himself seems to have done service certainly as creditable as any in his checkered career. But the radical character of the bill as passed, its great advance on all earlier proposals, seems to have called forth hardly any challenge among the Republicans.
In a word, the law put the whole unreconstructed South, -all of the old Confederacy except Tennessee,—under temporary military government, subject to the President; and the commanders were at once to initiate measures for new State organizations. They were to enroll all adult males, white and black, as voters, except only such as the Fourteenth Amendment would shut out from office; these voters were then to elect delegates in each State to a convention; this body was to frame a constitution incorporating permanently the same conditions of suffrage; this constitution was then to be submitted to popular vote; and if a majority ratified it,-if Congress approved it,-if the Legislature elected under it ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, and if and when that amendment received enough ratifications to enact
it,—then, at last, each State was to be fully restored to the Union.
On this plan the States were rapidly and finally reconstructed. Its central feature was the enforcement of suffrage for the negroes throughout the South. Of this tremendous measure, but small discussion appears in the debate over the bill. But it seems to have had behind it the prevailing sentiment of the North. A good witness on this point is the Springfield Republican. That paper had strongly advocated the adoption of the Massachusetts plan, a reading and writing qualification for suffrage—the State's only good legacy from the Know-nothing period. Of such a provision it said January 9: “It would be a most potent stimulus to education, and once made the national rule there would be such a studying of spelling books as never was seen before.
There can be no sure reliance on the votes of blacks any more than of whites who cannot read their ballots." But this plan found little popular favor. The objection to it which we now recognize,—that the Southern States might probably have forborne to educate the freedmen, and so left them disfranchised,—was not then prominent. But there had not come to be a general recognition at the North of the danger of ignorant suffrage. Of the actual drift of opinion the Republican said, March 3, that equal suffrage is "the sole condition about which there is any approach to unanimity among our people.”
To understand this opinion we must look back a little. The belief in universal male suffrage was part of the Democratic movement that swept almost unchallenged from Jefferson's time till Lincoln's. The mass of ignorant immigrants gave some alarm, but they seemed to be successfully digested by the body politic. Beecher, we have seen, thought suffrage a natural right,” and that was a common doctrine. Besides, it was assumed at the North that the negroes
were naturally the friends of the national government and of the party that had given them freedom. There were politicians in plenty who looked to the negro vote to keep the Republicans in control of the national government. Many of these doubtless valued the party organization mainly as a means of self-advancement; while others like Sumner devoutly believed that in the Republican party lay the sole hope of justice and freedom. To the North generally, the convincing argument for negro suffrage was that the ballot would give the black man the necessary weapon for self-protection. On this ground Mr. Schurz favored it in his report of 1865, and in reviewing the situation in 1904 he holds the same opinion. The assumption in this view was that the freedmen and the former master class were, and were to remain, natural enemies. Looking back to slavery, which really combined an element of oppression with an element of protection, the North saw only the oppression. Viewing the present, it was not merely the State laws, but the frequent personal abuse of the negroes which confirmed the idea that they must have the ballot for selfprotection.
On broader grounds, the question was reasoned thus: The logical, the necessary ultimate step in the negro's elevation to full manhood is his possession of the vote. By far the most desirable road to this consummation would be a gradual and educational introduction of the body of freedmen to the franchise. But toward such a course the South shows no inclination. The alternative remains-in the brief period during which the national authority can be applied to organic reconstruction-of establishing universal manhood suffrage; with the drawback of a present admixture of a large ignorant and unfit element; with the great disadvantage, too, of further alienating the two races for the present; but with the possibility and hope that
the exercise of the ballot will in itself prove educational, and that the Southern white man and Southern negro will ultimately fare better than if the one is allowed to permanently disfranchise the other.” Something like this, apparently, whether wise or unwise, was the predominant judgment of the better class at the North.
With others the argument was simpler. Blaine in his Twenty Years gives a common sentiment, himself in 1884 still concurring in it: “The North believed, and believed wisely, that a poor man, an ignorant man, and a black man, who was thoroughly loyal, was a safer and better voter than a rich man, an educated man, and a white man, who in his heart was disloyal to the Union." The Republican, on the contrary, expressed the opinion: “It is better to be governed by ex-rebels than by fools."
The Fourteenth Amendment had been put forward virtually as an invitation. It was rejected by the South, and the new plan—military government, to give place to new constitutions with universal suffrage—was issued as a mandate. It was promptly carried out. In little more than a twelvemonth, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas had been reconstructed; their State organizations were provisionally accepted by Congress in June, 1868; and as their Legislatures at once ratified the Fourteenth Amendment and secured its adoption, they were fully restored and their senators and representatives admitted in July. Virginia and Mississippi managed to stave off final action, hoping to escape the excluding clauses, until after Grant's election to the Presidency in 1868; and their hopes were justified when Grant gave his influence successfully with Congress against the excluding clauses; so that these two States, with belated Texas, were reorganized in the following year and admitted early in 1870. Georgia had troubles of her own, and a suspension