(The Reconstruction Period.)
The war was over and, with all its horrors, blessings had come to the Republic. Supreme among these was the assurance that all the States were to remain united, and that slavery was overthrown. Out of the war came seven years later an international event, which was to become a milestone on the highway of progress toward the peaceful settlement of disputes among nationsthe Treaty of Washington and the Geneva Arbitration, by which what are known as the Alabama claims, were settled in court rather than on battle-fields.
Immediately after the war was laid successfully the Atlantic cable, by which the old world and the new, now at last, tho divided by 3,000, miles of water, had almost instantaneous communication one with the other. The same period saw accomplished the purchase of Alaska; for $7,200,000, a territory of 590,000 square miles, or more than the area of the original thirteen States, had been added to the Republic. Equally important was the completion of an enterprise, almost national in its promotion, which had been begun in the Civil War, and the need for which the war had accentuatedthe first railway linking the Atlantic with the Pacific.
Peace had no sooner returned, than the new union of States suffered a calamity with which no single event of the war itself is comparablethe death of Lincoln. He lived just long enough to make known in a public address, delivered two days after Lee's surrender, and at a Cabinet meeting, held on the day of his death, the views he entertained as to the reconstruction of the "States lately in rebellion." In a private conversation he had been known to say, "I'd just let 'em off easy."
Lincoln's wisdom as derived from experience, joined to that native wisdom which in him was supreme, unhappily was not the possession of Lincoln's successor. Andrew Johnson held views toward the South very similar to those of Lincoln; what he lacked in woful degree was Lincoln's tact and vision, and his experience of public life. The melancholy history of his four years of attempted administration illustrates conspicuously the importance not only of being right, but of doing things in the right way. The men against whom Johnson contended might have offered obstructions to Lincoln, had Lincoln lived, but Lincoln would have possest a great advantage which Johnson never gainedthe irresistible force of an enlightened public opinion supporting him in the North, and, to a considerable extent, an enlightened public opinion in the South, to which he would have listened.
When excuses are sought for the "Radicals," the best available are no doubt Johnson's stubborn resistance to most things they undertook to do, and especially his vetoes of bills affecting the South which they felt compelled again and again to pass over his head. Measures were put forward with much heat, as in the interest of humanity and good government, when they were often inspired by base motivesan ambition to establish the prestige of "Radicals" in the Government. To the "Radicals" the war had been little more than a conflict waged for the freedom of slaves. Its outcome, to their minds, had imposed upon Congress the obligation of adding to freedom universal negro suffrage.
Most writers on the subject are clear enough now that Congress exceeded its functions in much of the legislation of that period, and not alone writers of the past ten years, but men who lived through the whole epoch and whose affiliations were with the Republican party, among them Salmon P. Chase and John Sherman. No doubt "Radicals" who joined to their radicalism a spirit little short of revolutionary are in a measure to be excused because Congress in their time had inherited from the war a habit of exercising power arbitrarily. Lincoln had been compelled to act arbitrarily, if not actually to strain the Constitution, because of the necessities of the time. The War Department was under the same necessity; this department in practically all the great activities of the Government, became for a time the Government itself.
Of the desolation, the political and social misery, inflicted on the South by the reconstruction act of March 2, 1867, no adequate story has been written. Most Northern men have been only too glad to forget it, while to Southern writers its horrors were so terrible and the blessings which ensued on the final withdrawal of troops in 1877 so unspeakably beneficent, that they too have been glad to relegate it to the limbo of things unfit for remembrance.1 The practical effects of the reconstruction act were revolutionary. It excluded from voting the most influential whites in the country, the men whose counsel and example were most needed in reconstruction. These men were ruthlessly put aside and the ballot thrust upon all colored men of adult age. Meanwhile, a horde of unscrupulous adventurers from the North, bent mainly on plunder, were permitted to take control of the State governments, aided by black men having majorities in the legislatures.
Under these conditions there set in an extraordinary reign of crime to which modern times afford no parallel. Negro legislatures and plundering "carpet-baggers," with Federal troops helping them to maintain supremacy, debauched and made miserable the whole social, industrial and political life of the South. When their reign was over, there had been added to State debts a total sum of $300,000,000. Some of these "carpet-baggers" were honorable and capable men, among them Chamberlain of South Carolina, but they were mostly bad, the extreme of badness being probably reached in Moses. It was estimated in 1874 that in South Carolina at least 200 black men who could not read or write a word were trial justices, while others equally illiterate were superintendents of schools.
After the withdrawal of troops in 1877, normal conditions returned to the South, and something like reconstruction had an opportunity to make a beginning. Intelligent whites, such as Wade Hampton, the new Governor of South Carolina, came into their own once more, and the South, weary and prostrate after sixteen years of war and plunder, entered upon a new career which, in the present decade, has brought her greater proportional advances in social and material things than has taken place anywhere else within our borders.
F. W. H.
1 Occasionally a writer has ventured to give luminous glimpses of those horrorsfor example, Harry Thurston Peck, in his "Twenty Years of the Republic": "There was seen the spectacle of Governors of States carrying with them to low orgies bundles of State bonds, of which they filled in the amounts according as they needed the money for debauchery. Legislative halls which had been honored by the, presence of learned jurists and distinguished law-givers were filled with a rabble of plantation-hands who yelled and jabbered like so many apes, while drunken wenches sprawled upon the dais before the speaker's rostrum."