I have received your letter of the 23d ult. [August, 1865], and in reply will state the course I have pursued under circumstances similar to your own, and will leave you to judge of its propriety. Like yourself, I have, since the cessation of hostilities, advised all with whom I have conversed on the subject, who come within the terms of the President's proclamations, to take the oath of allegiance, and accept in good faith the amnesty offered.
But I have gone further, and have recommended to those who were excluded from their benefits, to make application under the proviso of the proclamation of the 29th of May, to be embraced in its provisions. Both classes, in order to be restored to their former rights and privileges, were required to perform a certain act, and I do not see that an acknowledgment of fault is exprest in one more than the other. The war being at an end, the Southern States have laid down their arms, and the question at issue between them and the Northern States having been decided, I believe it to be the duty of every one to unite in the restoration of the country, and the reestablishment of peace and harmony.
These considerations governed me in the counsels I gave to others, and induced me on the 13th of June to make application to be included in the terms of the amnesty proclamation. I have not received an answer, and can not inform you what has been the decision of the President. But, whatever that may be, I do not see how the course I have recommended and practised can prove detrimental to the former President of the Confederate States.
It appears to me that the allayment of passion, the dissipation of prejudice, and the restoration of reason, will alone enable the people of the country to acquire a true knowledge and form a correct judgment of the events of the past four years. It will, I think, be admitted that Mr. Davis has done nothing more than all the citizens of the Southern States, and should not be held accountable for acts performed by them in the exercise of what had been considered by them unquestionable right. I have too exalted an opinion of the American people to believe that they will consent to injustice; and it is only necessary, in my opinion, that truth should be known, for the rights of every one to be secured. I know of no surer way of eliciting the truth than by burying contention with the war.
1 From a letter addrest by General Lee to a personal friend in September, 1865. Printed in Rev. J. W. Jones's "Personal Recollections of Lee," published in 1875. This letter has been accepted as an important document pertaining to the attitude of Lee himself assumed after the war. the spirit of which he sought to inculcate in others.
With your approval, and also that of the honorable Secretary of War, I left Washington City on the 27th of last month (November) for the purpose of making a tour of inspection through some of the Southern States, or States lately in rebellion, and to see what changes were necessary to be made in the disposition of the military forces of the country; how these forces could be reduced and expenses curtailed, etc.; and to learn, as far as possible, the feelings and intentions of the citizens of those States toward the general Government. The following are the conclusions come to by me:
I am satisfied that the mass of thinking men of the South accept the present situation of affairs in good faith. The questions which have heretofore divided the sentiment of the people of the two sectionsslavery and State rights, or the right of a State to secede from the Unionthey regard as having been settled forever by the highest tribunalarmsthat man can resort to. I was pleased to learn from the leading men whom I met that they not only accepted the decision arrived at as final, but, now that the smoke of battle has cleared away, and time has been given for reflection, that this decision has been a fortunate one for the whole country, they receiving like benefits from it with those who opposed them in the field and in council.
Four years of war, during which law was executed only at the point of the bayonet throughout the States in rebellion, have left the people possibly in a condition not to yield that ready obedience to civil authority the American people have generally been in the habit of yielding. This would render the presence of small garrisons throughout those States necessary until such time as labor returns to its proper channel, and civil authority is fully established. I did not meet any one, either those holding places under the Government or citizens of the Southern States, who think it practicable to withdraw the military from the South at present. The white and the black mutually require the protection of the general government.
There is such universal acquiescence in the authority of the general government throughout the portions of country visited by me, that the mere presence of a military force, without regard to numbers, is sufficient to maintain order. The good of the country, and economy, require that the force is kept in the interior, where there are many freedmen (elsewhere in the Southern States than at forts upon the sea coast no force is necessary), should all be white troops. The reasons for this are obvious without mentioning many of them. The presence of black troops, lately slaves, demoralizes labor, both by their advice and by furnishing in their camps a resort for the freedmen for long distances around. White troops generally excite no opposition, and therefore a small number of them can maintain order in a given district. Colored troops must be kept in bodies sufficient to defend themselves. It is not the thinking men who would use violence toward any class of troops sent among them by the general government, but the ignorant in some places might; and the late slave seems to be imbued with the idea that the property of his late master should, by right, belong to him, or, at least, should have no protection from the colored soldier. There is danger of collisions being brought on by such causes.
My observations lead me to the conclusion that the citizens of the Southern States are anxious to return to self-government, within the Union, as soon as possible; that while reconstructing they want and require protection from the government; that they are in earnest in wishing to do what they think is required by the Government, not humiliating to them as citizens, and that if such a course were pointed out they would pursue it in good faith. It is to be regretted that there can not be a greater commingling, at this time, between the citizens of the two sections, and particularly of those intrusted with the law-making power.
1 From a report made by General Grant to President Andrew Johnson after a tour of the South, undertaken at the President's request.
There is, at present, no danger of another insurrection against the authority of the United States on a large scale, and the people are willing to reconstruct their State governments, and to send their Senators and Representatives to Congress.
But as to the moral value of these results, we must not indulge in any delusions. There are two principal points to which I beg to call your attention. In the first place, the rapid return to power and influence of so many of those who but recently were engaged in a bitter war against the Union, has had one effect which was certainly not originally contemplated by the Government. Treason does, under existing circumstances, not appear odious in the South. The people are not imprest with any sense of its criminality. And, secondly, there is, as yet, among the Southern people an utter absence of national feeling. . . .
The principal cause of that want of national spirit which has existed in the South so long, and at last gave birth to the rebellion, was, that the Southern people cherished, cultivated, idolized their peculiar interests and institutions in preference to those which they had in common with the rest of the American people. Hence the importance of the negro question as an integral part of the question of union in general, and the question of reconstruction in particular. . . .
Aside from the assumption that the negro will not work without physical compulsion, there appears to be another popular notion prevalent in the South, which stands as no less serious an obstacle in the way of a successful solution of the problem. It is that the negro exists for the special object of raising cotton, rice and sugar for the whites, and that it is illegitimate for him to indulge, like other people, in the pursuit of his own happiness in his own way. Altho it is admited that he has ceased to be the property of a master, it is not admitted that he has a right to become his own master. . . . An ingrained feeling like this is apt to bring forth that sort of class legislation which produces laws to govern one class with no other view than to benefit another. This tendency can be distinctly traced in the various schemes for regulating labor which here and there see the light. . . .
As to what is commonly termed "reconstruction," it is not only the political machinery of the States and their constitutional relations to the general government, but the whole organism of Southern society that must be reconstructed, or rather constructed anew, so as to bring it in harmony with the rest of American society. The difficulties of this task are not to be considered overcome when the people of the South take the oath of allegiance and elect governors and legislatures and members of Congress, and militia captains. . . .
The true nature of the difficulties of the situation is this: The general government of the republic has, by proclaiming the emancipation of the slaves, commenced a great social revolution in the South, but has, as yet, not completed it. Only the negative part of it is accomplished. The slaves are emancipated in point of form, but free labor has not yet been put in the place of slavery in point of fact. . . .
The planters, who represented the wealth of the Southern country, are partly laboring under the severest embarrassments, partly reduced to absolute poverty. Many who are stript of all available means, and have nothing but their land, cross their arms in gloomy despondency, incapable of rising to a manly resolution. Others, who still possess means, are at a loss how to use them, as their old way of doing things is, by the abolition of slavery, rendered impracticable, at least where the military arm of the Government has enforced emancipation. Others are still trying to go on in the old way, and that old way is in fact the only one they understand, and in which they have any confidence. Only a minority is trying to adopt the new order of things. A large number of the plantations, probably a considerable majority of the more valuable estates, is under heavy mortgages, and the owners know that, unless they retrieve their fortunes in a comparatively short space of time, their property will pass out of their hands. Almost all are, to some extent, embarrassed. The nervous anxiety which such a state of things produces extends also to those classes of society which, altho not composed of planters, were always in close business connection with the planting interest, and there was hardly a branch of commerce or industry in the South which was not directly or indirectly so connected. Besides, the Southern soldiers, when returning from the war, did not, like the Northern soldiers, find a prosperous community which merely waited for their arrival to give them remunerative employment. They found, many of them, their homesteads destroyed, their farms devastated, their families in distress; and those that were less unfortunate found, at all events, an impoverished and exhausted community which had but little to offer them. Thus a great many have been thrown upon the world to shift as best they can.
1 General Schurz, as well as General Grant, made a tour of the South at the request of President Johnson. In the accompanying passages from his report, will be found the main conclusions at which he arrived.
E. BENJAMIN ANDREWS ON THE EVILS OF RECONSTRUCTION
In a majority of the Southern cities owners of real estate found it for years after hostilities closed a source of poverty instead of profit. In the heart of Charleston charred ruins of huge blocks or stately churches long lingered as reminders of the horrid past. Many mansions were vacant, vainly flaunting each its placard "for rent." Most of the smaller towns, like Beaufort, threatened permanent decay, their streets silent and empty save for negro policemen here and there in shiny blue uniforms. The cotton plantations were at first largely abandoned owing to the severe foreign competition in cotton-growing occasioned by the war. It was difficult to get help on the plantation, so immersed in politics and so lazy had the field-hands become.
Causes were at work which soon lessened Sambos respect for "Old Massa," and "Old Massa's" for Sambo. Republicans from the North flocked to the South, whom the blacks, viewing them as representing the emancipation party, naturally welcomed and followed. These "carpet baggers," as they were called, were made up, in the main, of military officers still or formerly in service, Freedmen's Bureau agents, old Union soldiers who had bought Southern farms, and people who had settled at the South for purposes of trade.
There were, no doubt, many perfectly honest carpet-baggers, and the fullest justice should be done to such. They considered themselves as true missionaries in partibus, commissioned by the great Republican party to complete the régime of righteousness which the war and the emancipation proclamation had begun. A prominent Democratic politician, describing a reconstruction governor of his State, whom he had done his best to overthrow, said: "I regard him as a thoroughly honest man and opposed to corruption and extravagance in office. I think his desire was to make a good Executive and to administer the affairs of the State in the interest of the people, but the want of sympathy between him and the white people of the State, and his failure to appreciate the relations and prejudices of the two races, made it next to impossible for him to succeed.". . .
The good carpet-baggers and the bad alike somehow exerted an influence which had the effect of morbidly inflaming the negro's sense of independence and of engaging him in politics. His former wrongs were dwelt upon and the ballot held up as a providential means of righting them. The negro was too apt a pupil, not in the higher politics of principle, but in the politics of office and "swag." In 1872 the National Colored Republican Convention adopted a resolution "earnestly praying that the colored Republicans of States where no Federal positions were given to colored men might no longer be ignored, but be stimulated by some recognition of Federal patronage." The average negro exprest his views on public affairs by the South Carolina catch: " De bottom rail am on de top, and we's gwineter keep it dar." "The reformers complain of taxes being too high," said Beverly Nash in 1874, after he had become State Senator; "I tell you that they are not high enough. I want them taxed until they put those lands back where they belong, into the hands of those who worked for them. You worked for them; you labored for them and were sold to pay for them, and you ought to have them."
The tendency of such exhortation was most vicious. In their days of serfdom the negroes' besetting sin had been thievery. Now that the opportunities for this were multiplied, the fear of punishment gone, and many a carpet-bagger at hand to encourage it, the prevalence of public and private stealing was not strange. Larceny was nearly universal, burglary painfully common. At night watch had to be kept over property with dogs and guns. It was part, or at least an effect, of the carpet-bag policy to aggravate race jealousies and sectional misunderstandings. The duello, still good form all over the South, induced disregard of law and of human life. . . .
Colored men were quite too unintelligent to make laws or even to elect those who were to do so. At one time dozens of engrossed bills were passed back and forth between the two Houses of the Alabama Legislature that errors in them might be corrected. . . .
The colored legislators of South Carolina furnished the State House with gorgeous clocks at $480 each, mirrors at $750, and chandeliers at $650. Their own apartments were a barbaric display of gewgaws, carpets and upholstery. The minority of a congressional committee recited that "these ebony statesmen" purchased a lot of imported china cuspidors at $8 apiece, while Senators and Representatives "at the glorious capital of the nation" had to be "content with a plain earthenware article of domestic manufacture." . . .
There were said to be in South Carolina alone, in November, 1874, two hundred negro trial justices who could neither read nor write, also negro school commissioners equally ignorant, receiving a thousand a year each, while negro juries, deciding delicate points of legal evidence, settled questions involving lives and property. Property, which had to bear the burden of taxation, had no voice, for the colored man had no property. Taxes were levied ruinously, and money was appropriated with a lavish hand.
1 From Andrews's "History of the Last Quarter-Century of the United States." By permission of the publishers, Charles Scribner's Sons. Copyright, 1896.