But on the 31st of August a new war policy was inaugurated by the proclamation of General Fremont, giving freedom to the slaves of rebels in his department. It was greeted by the people of the Northern States with inexpressible gladness and thanksgiving. The Republican press everywhere applauded it, and even such Democratic and conservative papers as the "Boston Post," the "Detroit Free Press," the "Chicago Times," and the "New York Herald" approved it. During the ten days of its life all party lines seemed to be obliterated in the fires of popular enthusiasm which it kindled, and which was wholly unprecedented in my experience. I was then on the stump in my own State, and I found the masses everywhere so wild with joy, that I could scarcely be heard for their shouts. As often as I mentioned the name of "Fremont," the prolonged hurrahs of the multitude followed, and the feeling seemed to be universal that the policy of "a war on peace principles" was abandoned, and that slavery, the real cause of the war, was no longer to be the chief obstacle to its prosecution.
But in the midst of this great exultation and joy the President annulled the proclamation because it went beyond the Confiscation Act of the 6th of August, and was offensive to the Border States. It was a terrible disappointment to the Republican masses, who could not understand why loyal slaveholders in Kentucky should be offended because the slaves of rebels in Missouri were declared free. From this revocation of the new war policy, dated the pro- slavery reaction which at once followed. It balked the popular enthusiasm which was drawing along with it multitudes of conservative men. It caused timid and halting men to become cowards outright. It gave new life to slavery, and encouraged fiercer assaults upon "abolitionism." It revived and stimulated Democratic sympathy for treason wherever it had existed, and necessarily prolonged the conflict and aggravated its sorrows; while it repeated the ineffable folly of still relying upon a policy of moderation and conciliation in dealing with men who had defiantly taken their stand outside of the Constitution and laws, and could only be reached by the power of war.
When Congress met in December, the policy of deference to slavery still continued. The message of the President was singularly dispassionate, deprecating "radical and extreme measures," and recommending some plan of colonization for the slaves made free by the Confiscation Act. Secretary Cameron, however, surprised the country by the avowal of a decidedly anti-slavery war policy in his report; but in a discussion in the House early in December, on General Halleck's "Order No. Three," I took occasion to expose his insincerity by referring to his action a little while before in restoring to her master a slave girl who had fled to the camp of Colonel Brown, of the Twentieth Indiana regiment, who had refused to give her up. On the nineteenth of December, a joint select Committee on the Conduct of the War was appointed, composed of three members of the Senate and four members of the House. The Senators were B. F. Wade, of Ohio; Z. Chandler, of Michigan, and Andrew Johnson, of Tennessee; and the House members were John Covode, of Pennsylvania; M. F. Odell, of New York; D. W. Gooch, of Massachusetts, and myself. The committee had its birth in the popular demand for a more vigorous prosecution of the war, and less tenderness toward slavery; and I was gratified with my position on it because it afforded a very desirable opportunity to learn something of the movements of our armies and the secrets of our policy.
On the sixth of January, by special request of the President, the committee met him and his Cabinet at the Executive Mansion, to confer about the military situation. The most striking fact revealed by the discussion which took place was that neither the President nor his advisers seemed to have any definite information respecting the management of the war, or the failure of our forces to make any forward movement. Not a man of them pretended to know anything of General McClellan's plans. We were greatly surprised to learn that Mr. Lincoln himself did not think he had any right to know, but that, as he was not a military man, it was his duty to defer to General McClellan. Our grand armies were ready and eager to march, and the whole country was anxiously waiting some decisive movement; but during the delightful months of October, November and December, they had been kept idle for some reason which no man could explain, but which the President thought could be perfectly accounted for by the General-in-Chief. Secretary Cameron said he knew nothing of any plan for a forward movement. Secretary Seward had entire confidence in General McClellan, and thought the demand of the committee for a more vigorous policy uncalled for. The Postmaster-General made no definite avowals, while the other members of the Cabinet said nothing, except Secretary Chase, who very decidedly sympathized with the committee in its desire for some early and decisive movement of our forces. The spectacle seemed to us very disheartening. The testimony of all the commanding generals we had examined showed that our armies had been ready to march for months; that the weather and roads had been most favorable since October; and that the Army of the Potomac was in a fine state of discipline, and nearly two hundred thousand strong, while only about forty thousand men were needed to make Washington perfectly safe. Not a general examined could tell why this vast force had so long been kept idle, or what General McClellan intended to do. The fate of the nation seemed committed to one man called a "General- in-Chief," who communicated his secrets to no human being, and who had neither age nor military experience to justify the extraordinary deference of the President to his wishes. He had repeatedly appeared before the committee, though not yet as a witness, and we could see no evidence of his pre-eminence over other prominent commanders; and it seemed like a betrayal of the country itself to allow him to hold our grand armies for weeks and months in unexplained idleness, on the naked assumption of his superior wisdom. Mr. Wade, as Chairman of the committee, echoed its views in a remarkably bold and vigorous speech, in which he gave a summary of the principal facts which had come to the knowledge of the committee, arraigned General McClellan for the unaccountable tardiness of his movements, and urged upon the Administration, in the most undiplomatic plainness of speech, an immediate and radical change in the policy of the war. But the President and his advisers could not yet be disenchanted, and the conference ended without results.
When General McClellan was placed at the head of our armies the country accepted him as its idol and hero. The people longed for a great captain, and on very inadequate grounds they assumed that they had found him, and that the business of war was to be carried on in earnest. But they were doomed to disappointment, and the popular feeling was at length completely reversed. The pendulum vibrated to the other extreme, and it is not easy to realize the wide-spread popular discontent which finally revealed itself respecting the dilatory movements of our forces. The people became inexpressibly weary of the reiterated bulletins that "all is quiet on the Potomac"; and the fact that General McClellan was in full sympathy with the Border State policy of the President aggravated their unfriendly mood. A majority of the members of the committee became morbidly sensitive, and were practically incapable of doing General McClellan justice. They were thoroughly discouraged and disgusted; but when Secretary Cameron left the Cabinet and Stanton took his place, their despondency gave place to hope. He had faith in the usefulness of the committee, and co-operated with it to the utmost. He agreed with us fully in our estimate of General McClellan, and as to the necessity of an early forward movement. We were delighted with him, and had perfect confidence in his integrity, sagacity and strong will. We worked from five to six hours per day, including the holiday season, and not excepting the Sabbath, going pretty thoroughly into the Bull Run disaster, the battle of Ball's Bluff, and the management of the Western Department.
During the months of January and February, the committee made repeated visits to the President for the purpose of urging the division of the Army of the Potomac and its organization into army corps. We insisted upon this on the strength of the earnest recommendations of our chief commanders, and with a view to greater military efficiency; but the President said General McClellan was opposed to it, and would, he believed, resign his command in the alternative of being required to do it. Mr. Lincoln said he dreaded "the moral effect of this"; but in the latter part of February, he began to lose his faith in the General, and finally, after nearly two months of perseverance by the committee, he gave his order early in March, which General McClellan obeyed with evident hesitation and very great reluctance. A few days later the long-tried patience of the President became perfectly exhausted. He surprised and delighted the committee by completely losing his temper, and on the 11th relieved General McClellan from the command of all our forces except the Army of the Potomac. The rebels, in the meantime, had evacuated their works at Centreville and Manassas, and retreated with their munitions in safety. A majority of the committee at this time strongly suspected that General McClellan was a traitor, and they felt strengthened in this suspicion by what they afterward saw for themselves at Centreville and Manassas, which they visited on the thirteenth of March. They were certain, at all events, that his heart was not in the work. He had disregarded the President's general order of the nineteenth of January, for a movement of all our armies, which resulted in the series of victories of Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, etc., which so electrified the country. He had protested against the President's order of the thirty-first of January, directing an expedition for the purpose of seizing a point upon the railroad southwest of Manassas Junction. He had opposed all forward movements of the Army of the Potomac, and resolutely set his face against the division of our forces into army corps, as urged by all our chief commanders. And he had again and again refused to co-operate with the navy in breaking up the blockade of the Potomac, while his order to move in the direction of the enemy at Centreville and Manassas was given after the evacuation of these points.
Our journey to Manassas was full of interest and excitement. About ten miles from Washington we came in sight of a large division of the Grand Army of the Potomac, which had started toward the enemy in obedience to the order of General McClellan. The forest on either side of the road was alive with soldiers, and their white tents were to be seen in all directions through the pine forests, while in the adjacent fields vast bodies of soldiers in their uniforms were marching and counter-marching, their bayonets glittering in the sunlight. Large bodies of cavalry were also in motion, and the air was filled with the sound of martial music and the blasts of the bugle. Soldiers not on drill were running races, playing ball, and enjoying themselves generally in every sort of sport. The spectacle was delightfully exhilarating, and especially so to men just released from the dreary confinement and drudgery of their committee rooms.
CHAPTER X. THE NEW ADMINISTRATION AND THE WAR (CONTINUED). The wooden guns—Conference with Secretary Stanton—His relations to Lincoln—Strife between Radicalism and Conservatism—Passage of the Homestead Law—Visit to the President—The Confiscation Act and rebel landowners—Greeley's "prayer of twenty millions," and Lincoln's reply—Effort to disband the Republican party—The battle of Fredericksburg and General Burnside—The Proclamation of Emancipation—Visit to Mr. Lincoln—General Fremont—Report of the War Committee—Visit to Philadelphia and New York—Gerrit Smith— The Morgan Raid.
On approaching Centreville the first object that attracted our attention was one of the huge earthworks of the enemy, with large logs placed in the embrasures, the ends pointing toward us, and painted black in imitation of cannon. The earthworks seemed very imperfectly constructed, and from this fact, and the counterfeit guns which surmounted them, it was evident that no fight had been seriously counted on by the absconding forces. The substantial character of their barracks, bake-ovens, stables, and other improvements, confirmed this view; and on reaching Manassas we found the same cheap defenses and the same evidences of security, while the rebel forces were much less than half as great as ours, and within a day's march from us. What was the explanation of all this? Why had we not long before, driven in the rebel pickets, and given battle to the enemy, or at least ascertained the facts as to the weakness of his position? Could the commander be loyal who had opposed all the previous forward movements of our forces, and only made this advance after the enemy had evacuated? These were the questions canvassed by the members of the committee in their passionate impatience for decisive measures, and which they afterward earnestly pressed upon the President as a reason for relieving General McClellan of his command. They were also greatly moved by the fact already referred to, that General McClellan had neglected and repeatedly refused to co-operate with the navy in breaking up the blockade of the Potomac, which could have been done long before according to the testimony of our commanders, while he had disobeyed the positive order of the President respecting the defenses of Washington by reserving only nineteen thousand imperfectly disciplined men for that service, through which the capital had been placed at the mercy of the enemy. Meanwhile the flame of popular discontent had found further fuel in the threats of McClellan to put down slave insurrections "with an iron hand," and his order expelling the Hutchinsons from the Army of the Potomac for singing Whittier's songs of liberty. Of course I am not dealing with the character and capacity of General McClellan as a commander, but simply depicting the feeling which extensively prevailed at this time, and which justified itself by hastily accepting merely apparent facts as conclusive evidence against him.
On the 24th day of March, Secretary Stanton sent for the committee for the purpose of having a confidential conference as to military affairs. He was thoroughly discouraged. He told us the President had gone back to his first love as to General McClellan, and that it was needless for him or for us to labor with him, although he had finally been prevailed on to restrict McClellan's command to the Army of the Potomac. The Secretary arraigned the General's conduct in the severest terms, particularizing his blunders, and branding them. He told us the President was so completely in the power of McClellan that he had recently gone to Alexandria in person to ask him for some troops from the Army of the Potomac for General Fremont, which were refused. He said he believed there were traitors among the commanders surrounding General McClellan, and if he had had the power he would have dismissed eight commanders when the wooden-gun discovery was made; and he fully agreed with us as to the disgraceful fact that our generals had not long before discovered, as they could have done, the real facts as to the rebel forces and their defences.
It was quite evident from these facts that Stanton, with all his force of will, did not rule the President, as the public has generally supposed. He would frequently overawe and sometimes browbeat others, but he was never imperious in dealing with Mr. Lincoln. This I have from Mr. Watson, for some time Assistant Secretary of War, and Mr. Whiting, while Solicitor of the War Department. Lincoln, however, had the highest opinion of Stanton, and their relations were always most kindly, as the following anecdote bears witness: A committee of Western men, headed by Lovejoy, procured from the President an important order looking to the exchange and transfer of Eastern and Western soldiers with a view to more effective work. Repairing to the office of the Secretary, Mr. Lovejoy explained the scheme, as he had before done to the President, but was met with a flat refusal.
"But we have the President's order, sir," said Lovejoy.
"Did Lincoln give you an order of that kind?" said Stanton.
"He did, sir."
"The he is a d——d fool," said the irate secretary.
"Do you mean to say the President is a d——d fool?" asked Lovejoy, in amazement.
"Yes, sir, if he gave you such an order as that."
The bewildered Illinoisan betook himself at once to the President, and related the result of his conference.
"Did Stanton say I was a d——d fool?" asked Lincoln at the close of the recital.
"He did, sir, and repeated it."
After a moment's pause, and looking up, the President said, "If Stanton said I was a d——d fool, then I must be one, for he is nearly always right, and generally says what he means. I will step over and see him."
Whether this anecdote is literally true or not, it illustrates the character of the two men.
On Sunday, the thirteenth of April, we were again summoned to meet Secretary Stanton, and he had also invited Thaddeus Stevens, of the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Fessenden, of the Senate Finance Committee, and Mr. Wilson and Colonel Blair, of the Senate and House Military Committees. The business of this conference was to consider the necessity of immediate measures for raising thirty million dollars to pay the troops unwisely accepted by the President in excess of the number called for by Congress, and the proper action to be taken relative to the sale of Austrian guns by a house in New York for shipment to the enemy. The Secretary was this time in fine spirits, and I was much interested in the free talk which occurred. Mr. Stevens indulged in his customary bluntness of speech, including a little spice of profanity by way of emphasis and embellishment. He declared that not a man in the Cabinet, the present company excepted, was fit for his business. Mr. Fessenden said he fully endorsed this, while sly glances were made to Colonel Blair, whose brother was thus palpably hit. Mr. Stevens said he was tired of hearing d——d Republican cowards talk about the Constitution; that there was no Constitution any longer so far as the prosecution of the war was concerned; and that we should strip the rebels of all their rights, and given them a reconstruction on such terms as would end treason forever. Secretary Stanton agreed to every word of this, and said it had been his policy from the beginning. Fessenden denounced slave-catching in our army, and referred to a recent case in which fugitives came to our lines with most valuable information as to rebel movements, and were ordered out of camp into the clutches of their hunters. Stanton said that ten days before McClellan marched toward Manassas, contrabands had come to him with the information that the rebels were preparing to retreat, but that McClellan said he could not trust them. Wade was now roused, and declared that he had heard McClellan say he had uniformly found the statements of these people reliable, and had got valuable information from them. But McClellan was still king, and the country was a long way yet from that vigorous war policy which alone could save it.
In the meantime the strife between the radical and conservative elements in the Republican party found expression in other directions. Secretary Seward, in his letter to Mr. Dayton, of the 22d of April, declared that "the rights of the States and the condition of every human being in them will remain subject to exactly the same laws and forms of administration, whether the revolution shall succeed of whether it shall fail." Secretary Smith had previously declared, in a public speech, that "this is not a war upon the institution of slavery, but a war for the restoration of the Union," and that "there could not be found in South Carolina a man more anxious, religiously and scrupulously, to observe all the features of the Constitution, than Abraham Lincoln." He also opposed the arming of the negroes, declaring that "it would be a disgrace to the people of the free States to call upon four millions of blacks to aid in putting down eight millions of whites." Similar avowals were made by other members of the Cabinet. This persistent purpose of the Administration to save the Union and save slavery with it, naturally provoked criticism, and angered the anti-slavery feeling of the loyal States. The business of slave-catching in the army continued the order of the day, till the pressure of public opinion finally compelled Congress to prohibit it by a new article of war, which was approved by the President on the 13th of March. The repressive power of the Administration, however, was very formidable, and although the House of Representatives, as early as the 20th of December, 1861, had adopted a resolution offered by myself, instructing the Judiciary Committee to report a bill so amending the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 as to forbid the return of fugitives without proof first made of the loyalty of the claimant, yet on the 26th of May, 1862, the House, then overwhelmingly Republican, voted down a bill declaring free the slaves of armed rebels, and making proof of loyalty by the claimant of a fugitive necessary to his recovery. This vote sorely disappointed the anti-slavery sentiment of the country. On this measure I addressed the House in a brief speech, the spirit of which was heartily responded to by my constituents and the people of the loyal States generally. They believed in a vigorous prosecution of the war, and were sick of "the never-ending gabble about the sacredness of the Constitution." "It will not be forgotten," I said, "that the red-handed murderers and thieves who set this rebellion on foot went out of the Union yelping for the Constitution which they had conspired to overthrow by the blackest perjury and treason that ever confronted the Almighty." This speech was the key-note of my approaching Congressional canvass, and I was one of the very few men of decided anti-slavery convictions who were able to stem the conservative tide which swept over the Northern States during this dark and dismal year. I had against me the general drift of events; the intense hostility of Governor Morton and his friends throughout the State; nearly all the politicians in the District, and nine of its twelve Republican newspapers, and the desperate energy and cunning of trained leaders in both political parties, who had pursued me like vultures for a dozen years. My triumph had no taint of compromise in it, and nothing saved me but perfect courage and absolute defiance of my foes.
One of the great compensations of the war was the passage of the Homestead Act of the 20th of May. It finally passed the House and Senate by overwhelming majorities. Among the last acts of Mr. Buchanan's administration was the veto of a similar measure, at the bidding of his Southern masters; and the friends of the policy had learned in the struggle of a dozen years that its success was not possible while slavery ruled the government. The beneficent operation of this great and far-reaching measure, however, was seriously crippled by some unfortunate facts. In the first place, it provided no safeguards against speculation in the public domain, which had so long scourged the Western States and Territories, and was still extending its ravages. Our pioneer settlers were offered homes of one hundred and sixty acres each on condition of occupancy and improvement, but the speculator could throw himself across their track by buying up large bodies of choice land to be held back from settlement and tillage for a rise in price, and thus force them further into the frontier, and on to less desirable lands.
In the next place, under the new and unguarded land-grant policy, which was simultaneously inaugurated, millions of acres fell into the clutches of monopolists, and are held by them to-day, which would have gone to actual settlers under the Homestead law, and the moderate land grant policy originated by Senator Douglas in 1850. This was not foreseen or intended. The nation was then engaged in a struggle for its existence, and thus exposed to the evils of hasty legislation. The value of the lands given away was not then understood as it has been since, while the belief was universal that the lands granted would be restored to the public domain on failure to comply with the conditions of the grants. The need of great highways to the Pacific was then regarded as imperative, and unattainable without large grants of the public lands. These are extenuating facts; but the mischiefs of this ill- starred legislation are none the less to be deplored.
In the third place, under our new Indian treaty policy, invented about the same time, large bodies of land, when released by our Indian tribes, were sold at low rates to individual speculators and monopolists, or to railway corporations, instead of being conveyed, as before, to the United States, and thus subjected to general disposition, as other public land. These evils are now remedied, but for nearly ten years they were unchecked. The title to Indian lands was secured through treaties concocted by a ring of speculators and monopolists outside of the Senate, and frequently ratified by that body near the close of a long session, when less than half a dozen members were in their seats, and the entire business was supervised by a single Western senator acting as the agent of his employers and the sharer in their plunder. These fatal mistakes in our legislation have made the Homestead law a half-way measure, instead of that complete reform in our land policy which was demanded, and they furnish a remarkable commentary upon the boasted friendship of the Republican party for the landless poor.
The conservative war-policy of the Administration continued to assert itself. The action of the President in promptly revoking the order of General Hunter, of the ninth of May, declaring free the slaves of the States of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, aggravated the growing impatience of the people. On the ninth day of June I submitted a resolution instructing the judiciary committee to report a bill repealing the Fugitive Slave Act, which was laid on the table by a vote of sixty-six to fifty-one, sixteen Republicans voting in the affirmative. On the second of July I called to see the President, and had a familiar talk about the war. He looked thin and haggard, but seemed cheerful. Although our forces were then engaged in a terrific conflict with the enemy near Richmond, and everybody was anxious as to the result, he was quite as placid as usual, and could not resist his "ruling passion" for anecdotes. If I had judged him by appearances I should have pronounced him incapable of any deep earnestness of feeling; but his manner was so kindly, and so free from the ordinary crookedness of the politician and the vanity and self-importance of official position, that nothing but good-will was inspired by his presence. He was still holding fast his faith in General McClellan, and this was steadily widening the breach between him and Congress, and periling the success of the war. The general gloom in Washington increased till the adjournment, but Mr. Sumner still had faith in the President, and prophesied good things as to his final action.
The Confiscation Act of this session, which was approved by the President on the seventeenth day of July, providing that slaves of rebels coming into our lines should be made free, and that the property of their owners, both real and personal, should be confiscated, would have given great and wide-spread satisfaction; but the President refused to sign the bill without a modification first made exempting the fee of rebel land-owners from its operation, thus powerfully aiding them in their deadly struggle against us. This action was inexpressibly provoking; but Congress was obliged to make the modification required, as the only means of securing the important advantages of other features of the measure. This anti-republican discrimination between real and personal property when the nation was struggling for its life against a rebellious aristocracy founded on the monopoly of land and the ownership of negroes, roused a popular opposition which thus far was altogether unprecedented. The feeling in Congress, however, was far more intense than throughout the country. No one at a distance could have formed any adequate conception of the hostility of Republican members toward Mr. Lincoln at the final adjournment, while it was the belief of many that our last session of Congress had been held in Washington. Mr. Wade said the country was going to hell, and that the scenes witnessed in the French Revolution were nothing in comparison with what we should see here.
Just before leaving Washington I called on the President again, and told him I was going to take the stump, and to tell the people that he would co-operate with Congress in vigorously carrying out the measures we had inaugurated for the purpose of crushing the rebellion, and that now the quickest and hardest blows were to be dealt. He told me I was authorized to say so, but said that more than half the popular clamor against the management of the war was unwarranted; and when I referred to the movements of General McClellan he made no committal in any way.
On the nineteenth of August Horace Greeley wrote his famous anti- slavery letter to the President, entitled "The Prayer of Twenty Millions." It was one of the most powerful appeals ever made in behalf of justice and the rights of man. In his reply Mr. Lincoln said: "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would do that." These words served as fresh fuel to the fires of popular discontent, and they were responded to by Mr. Greeley with admirable vigor and earnestness. The anti-slavery critics of the President insisted that in thus dealing with slavery as a matter of total indifference he likened himself to Douglas, who had declared that he didn't care whether slavery was voted up or voted down in the Territories. They argued that as slavery was the cause of the war and the obstacle to peace, it was the duty of the Government to lay hold of the conscience of the quarrel, and strike at slavery as the grand rebel. Not to do so, they contended, now that the opportunity was offered, was to make the contest a mere struggle for power, and thus to degrade it to the level of the wars of the Old World, which bring with them nothing for freedom or the race. They insisted that the failure of the Government to give freedom to our millions in bondage would be a crime only to be measured by that of putting them in chains if they were free. They reminded the President of his declaration that a house divided against itself can not stand, and that the Republic can not permanently exist half slave and half free; and they urged that this baptism of fire and blood would be impious if the cause which produced it should be spared to canker the heart of the nation anew, and repeat its diabolical deeds. A Union with slavery spared and reinstated would not be worth the cost of saving it. To argue that we were fighting for a political abstraction called the Union, and not for the destruction of slavery, was to affront common sense, since nothing but slavery had brought the Union into peril, and nothing could make sure the fruits of the war but the removal of its cause. It was to delude ourselves with mere phrases, and conduct the war on false pretenses. It was to rival the folly of the rebels, who always asservated that they were not fighting for slavery, but only for the right of local self government, when the whole world knew the contrary. These ideas, variously presented and illustrated, found manifold expression in innumerable Congressional speeches and in the newspapers of the Northern States, and a month later brought forth the President's proclamation of the twenty- second of September, giving the insurgents notice that on the first day of January following he would issue his proclamation of general emancipation, if they did not in the meantime lay down their arms. The course of events and the pressure of opinion were at last forcing him to see that the nation was wrestling with slavery in arms; that its destruction was not a debatable and distant alternative, but a pressing and absolute necessity; and that his Border State policy, through which he had so long tried to pet and please the power that held the nation by the throat, was a cruel and fatal mistake. This power, however, had so completely woven itself into the whole fabric of American society and institutions, and had so long fed upon the virtue of our public men, that the Administration was not yet prepared to divorce itself entirely from the madness that still enthralled the conservative element of the Republican party.
It was during this year that a formidable effort was made by the old Whig element in the Republican party to disband the organization and form a new one, called the "Union party." They were disposed to blame the Abolitionists for the halting march of events, and to run away from the real issues of the conflict. They were believers in the Border State policy, and favored the colonization of the negroes, while deprecating "radical and extreme measures." They forgot that the Republican principle was as true in the midst of war as in seasons of peace, and that instead of putting it in abeyance when the storm came, we should cling to it with redoubled energy and purpose. They forgot that the contest of 1860 was not only a struggle between slavery and freedom, but a struggle of life and death, inasmuch as the exclusion of slavery from all federal territory would not only put the nation's brand upon it in the States of the South, and condemn it as a public enemy, but virtually sentence it to death. They forgot that the charge of "abolitionism," which was incessantly hurled at the Republican party, was thus by no means wanting in essential truth, and that when the slaveholders were vanquished in the election of Mr. Lincoln, their appeal from the ballot to the bullet was the logical result of their insane devotion to slavery, and their conviction that nothing could save it but the dismemberment of the Republic. They forgot that the Rebellion was simply an advanced stage of slaveholding rapacity, and that instead of tempting us to cower before it and surrender our principles, it furnished an overwhelming argument for standing by them to the death. This movement was fruitful of great mischief throughout the loyal States, and on my return to Washington in the fall of this year I was glad to find this fact generally admitted, and my earnest opposition to it fully justified by the judgment of Republican members of Congress.
Immediately after the battle of Fredericksburg, on the 13th of December, the Committee on the Conduct of the War visited that place for the purpose of inquiring into the facts respecting that fearful disaster. The country was greatly shocked and excited, and eager to know who was to blame. We examined Burnside, Hooker, Sumner, and Woodbury; but prior to this, in a personal interview with General Burnside, he frankly told me that he was responsible for the attack. He seemed to be loaded down with a mountain of trouble and anxiety, and I could see that he felt just as a patriotic man naturally would, after sacrificing thousands of men by a mistaken movement. He said he had no military ambition, and frankly confessed his incapacity to command a large army, as he had done to the President and Secretary of War, when they urged him to assume this great responsibility; and that he was very sorry he had ever consented to accept it. His conversation disarmed all criticism, while his evident honesty decidedly pleased me. It was a sad thought, while standing on the banks of the Rappahannock, that here were more than a hundred thousand men on either side of a narrow river, brethren and kindred, and naturally owing each other nothing but good will, who were driven by negro slavery into the wholesale slaughter of each other. But General Burnside told me our men did not feel toward the rebels as they felt toward us, and he assured me that this was the grand obstacle to our success. Our soldiers, he said, were not sufficiently fired by resentment, and he exhorted me, if I could, to breathe into our people at home the same spirit toward our enemies which inspired them toward us. As I approached one of the principal hospitals here, I was startled by a pile of arms and legs of wounded soldiers, and on entering the building I found scores of men in the last stages of life, stretched on the floor with nothing under them but a thin covering of hay, and nothing over them but a coarse blanket or quilt, and without a spark of fire to warm them, though the weather was extremely cold and they were literally freezing to death. Some of them were too far gone to speak, and looked at me so pleadingly that I can never forget the impression it made. Arrangements were made for their comfort as soon as it was possible.
On New Year's day I joined the immense throng of callers at the White House, but did not enjoy the delay of the President in issuing his Proclamation of Emancipation. It came late in the day, and brought relief to multitudes of anxious people. Perhaps no subject has ever been more widely misunderstood than the legal effect of this famous document, and the circumstances under which it was issued. Mr. Lincoln was himself opposed to the measure, and when he very reluctantly issued his preliminary proclamation in September, he wished it distinctly understood that the deportation of the slaves was, in his mind, inseparably connected with the policy. Like Mr. Clay and other prominent leaders of the old Whig party, he believed in colonization, and that the separation of the two races was necessary to the welfare of both. He was at that time pressing upon the attention of Congress a scheme of colonization in Chiriqui in Central America, which Senator Pomeroy espoused with great zeal, and in which he had the favor of a majority of the Cabinet, including Secretary Smith, who warmly endorsed the project. Subsequent development, however, proved that it was simply an organization for land-stealing and plunder, and it was abandoned; but it is by no means certain that if the President had foreseen this fact, his preliminary notice to the rebels would have been given. There are strong reasons for saying that he doubted his right to emancipate under the war power, and that he meant what he said when he compared an executive order to that effect to the "Pope's Bull against the Comet."
But he saw no way of escape. The demand for such an edict was wide- spread and rapidly extending in the Republican party. The power to issue it was taken for granted. All doubts on the subject were consumed in the burning desire of the people, or forgotten in the travail of war. The anti-slavery element was becoming more and more impatient and impetuous. Opposition to that element now involved more serious consequences than offending the Border States. Mr. Lincoln feared that enlistments would cease, and that Congress would even refuse the necessary supplies to carry on the war, if he declined any longer to place it on a clearly defined anti-slavery basis. It was in yielding to this pressure that he finally became the liberator of the slaves through the triumph of our arms which it ensured.
The authority to emancipate under the war power is well settled, but it could only be asserted over territory occupied by our armies. Each Commanding General, as fast as our flag advanced, could have offered freedom to the slaves, as could the President himself. This was the view of Secretary Chase. A paper proclamation of freedom, as to States in the power of the enemy, could have no more validity than a paper blockade of their coast. Mr. Lincoln's proclamation did not apply to the Border States, which were loyal, and in which slavery was of course untouched. It did not pretend to operate upon the slaves in other large districts, in which it would have been effective at once, but studiously excluded them, while it applied mainly to States and parts of States within the military occupation of the enemy, where it was necessarily void. But even if the proclamation could have given freedom to the slaves according to its scope, their permanent enfranchisement would not have been secured, because the status of slavery, as it existed under the local laws of the States prior to the war, would have remained after the re-establishment of peace. All emancipated slaves found in those States, or returning to them, would have been subject to slavery as before, for the simple reason that no military proclamation could operate to abolish their municipal laws. Nothing short of a Constitutional amendment could at once give freedom to our black millions and make their re-enslavement impossible; and "this," as Mr. Lincoln declared in earnestly urging its adoption, "is a king's cure for all evils. It winds the whole thing up." All this is now attested by high authorities on International and Constitutional law, and while it takes nothing from the honor so universally accorded to Mr. Lincoln as the great Emancipator, it shows how wisely he employed a grand popular delusion in the salvation of his country. His proclamation had no present legal effect within territory not under the control of our arms; but as an expression of the spirit of the people and the policy of the Administration, it had become both a moral and a military necessity.
During this month I called with the Indiana delegation to see the President respecting the appointment of Judge Otto, of Indiana, as Assistant Secretary of the Interior. He was afterward appointed, but Mr. Lincoln then only responded to our application by treating us to four anecdotes. Senator Lane told me that when the President heard a story that pleased him he took a memorandum of it and filed it away among his papers. This was probably true. At any rate, by some method or other, his supply seemed inexhaustible, and always aptly available. Early in February General Burnside came before the War Committee, and gave the most startling testimony as to the demoralization of the Army of the Potomac, the bickerings and jealousies of the commanding generals, and the vexations of the President in dealing with the situation. On the 18th of March I called on Mr. Lincoln respecting the appointments I had recommended under the conscription law, and took occasion to refer to the failure of General Fremont to obtain a command. He said he did not know where to place him, and that it reminded him of the old man who advised his son to take a wife, to which the young man responded, "Whose wife should I take?" The President proceeded to point out the practical difficulties in the way by referring to a number of important commands which might suit Fremont, but which could only be reached by removals he did not wish to make. I remarked that I was very sorry if this was true, and that it was unfortunate for our cause, as I believed his restoration to duty would stir the country as no other appointment could. He said, "it would stir the country on one side, and stir it the other way on the other. It would please Fremont's friends, and displease the conservatives; and that is all I can see in the stirring argument." "My proclamation," he added, "was to stir the country; but it has done about as much harm as good." These observations were characteristic, and showed how reluctant he was to turn away from the conservative counsels he had so long heeded.
On the 3d day of April the final report of the Committee on the Conduct of the War was completed, and the portion of it relating to the Army of the Potomac was in the hands of the Associated Press, and awaited by the public with a curiosity which it is not easy now to realize. The formation of the committee, as already stated, grew out of the popular demand for a more vigorous war policy, and its action was thus exposed to the danger of hasty conclusions; but the press and public opinion of the loyal States, with remarkable unanimity, credited it with great usefulness to the country, through its labors to rescue the control of the war from incompetent and unworthy hands.
I returned home by way of Philadelphia and New York, and had a delightful visit in the former place with James and Lucretia Mott, whom I had not seen since 1850. In New York I attended the great "Sumter meeting" of the 13th, and spoke at one of the stands with General Fremont and Roscoe Conkling. While in the city I met Mr. Bryant, Phebe Carey, Mr. Beecher and other notables, and on my way home tarried two days with Gerrit Smith, at his hospitable home in Peterboro. According to his custom he invited a number of his neighbors and friends to breakfast, and by special invitation I addressed the people in the evening, at the "free church" of the town, on topics connected with the war. I could see that Mr. Smith did not approve the severity of my language, and that this was a source of amusement to some of his neighbors, but the course of events afterward radically changed his views, and he admitted that in his public addresses he was greatly aided by the imprecatory psalms. I had several delightful rambles with him, our conversation turning chiefly upon reformatory and theological topics, and I found myself more than ever in love with this venerable philanthropist whom I had only met once before, on his visit to Washington the previous year.
On the night of the 8th of July the fire-bells of the town of Centreville, in which I resided, roused the people, who rushed into the streets to learn that General John Morgan, with six thousand cavalry and four pieces of artillery, had crossed the Ohio, and was moving upon the town of Corydon. The Governor had issued a call for minute men for the defense of the State, and within forty- eight hours sixty five thousand men tendered their services. Messengers were at once dispatched to all parts of Wayne County conveying the news of the invasion, and the next morning the people came pouring in from all directions, while the greatest excitement prevailed. The town had eighty muskets, belonging to its Home Guard, and I took one of them, which I afterward exchanged for a good French rifle; and having put on the military equipments, and supplied myself with a blanket and canteen, I was ready for marching orders. The volunteers who rallied at Centreville were shipped to Indianapolis, and were about seven hours on the way. I was a member of Company C, and the regiment to which I belonged was the One Hundred and Sixth, and was commanded by Colonel Isaac P. Gray. Of the force which responded to the call of the Governor, thirteen regiments and one battalion were organized specially for the emergency, and sent into the field in different directions, except the One Hundred and Tenth and the One Hundred and Eleventh, which remained at Indianapolis. The One Hundred and Sixth was shipped by rail to Cincinnati, and but for a detention of several hours at Indianapolis, caused by the drunkenness of an officer high in command, it might possibly have encountered Morgan near Hamilton, the next morning, on the way South. Our reception in Cincinnati was not very flattering. The people there seemed to feel that Ohio was able to take care of herself; and, in fact, nothing could have been more unreasonable than sending a body of infantry one hundred miles in pursuit of a cavalry force in that vicinity, where an ample body of cavalry was in readiness, and the river well guarded by gun-boats.
We were re-shipped to Indianapolis by rail, where we were mustered out of service and returned to our homes after a campaign of eight days. This was the sum of my military experience, but it afforded me some glimpses of the life of a soldier, and supplied me with some startling facts respecting the curse of intemperance in our armies.
CHAPTER XI. INCIDENTS AND END OF THE WAR. Campaigning in Ohio—Attempted repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law— Organized movement in favor of Chase for the Presidency—Confiscation of rebel lands—Fort Pillow and the treatment of Union soldiers at Richmond—Mr. Lincoln's letter to Hodges—Southern Homestead Bill and controversy with Mr. Mallory—Nomination of Andrew Johnson— Enforcement of party discipline—Mr. Lincoln's change of opinion as to confiscation of rebel lands—Opposition to him in Congress— General Fremont and Montgomery Blair—Visit to City Point—Adoption of the XIII Constitutional Amendment—Trip to Richmond and incidents —Assassination of the President—Inauguration of Johnson and announcement of his policy—Feeling toward Mr. Lincoln—Capitulation with Gen. Johnston.
In the latter part of July of this year I addressed several meetings in Ohio, in company with Gov. Brough, beginning at Toledo. His speeches were too conservative for the times, as he soon discovered by their effect upon the people; but I found him singularly genial and companionable, and full of reminiscences of his early intimacy with Jackson, Van Buren and Silas Wright. Early in September I returned to Ohio to join Hon. John A. Bingham in canvassing Mr. Ashley's district under the employment of the State Republican Committee. Mr. Vallandigham, then temporarily colonized in Canada, was the Democratic candidate for Governor, and the canvass was "red- hot." At no time during the war did the spirit of war more completely sway the loyal masses. It was no time to mince the truth, or "nullify damnation with a phrase," and I fully entered into the spirit of General Burnside's advice already referred to, to breathe into the hearts of the people a feeling of animosity against the rebels akin to that which inspired their warfare against us. I remember that at one of the mass-meetings I attended, where Col. Gibson was one of the speakers, a Cincinnati reporter who had prepared himself for his work dropped his pencil soon after the oratorical fireworks began, and listened with open mouth and the most rapt attention till the close of the speech; and he afterward wrote to his employer an account of the meeting, in which he said that reporting was simply impossible, and he could only say the speaking was "beautifully terrible." As a stump-speaker Col. Gibson was then without a rival in the West. His oratory was an irresistible fascination, and no audience could ever grow tired of him. The speeches of Mr. Bingham were always admirable. His rhetoric was singularly charming. He was an artist in his work, but seldom repeated himself, while gathering fresh inspiration, and following some new line of thought at every meeting. After our work was done in the Toledo district I accompanied Mr. Ashley to Jefferson, where he and others were to address a mass-meeting, which we found assembled in front of the court house. The day was rainy and dismal, and the meeting had already been in session for hours; but after additional speeches by Ashley and Hutchins I was so loudly called for a little while before sunset, that I responded for about three-quarters of an hour, when I proposed to conclude, the people having been detained already over four hours while standing in a cold drizzling rain; but the cry of "go on" was very emphatic, and seemed to be unanimous. "Go ahead," said a farmer, "we'll hear you; it's past milking time anyhow!" It seemed to me I had never met such listeners. I was afterward informed that the test of effective speaking on the Reserve is the ability to hold an audience from their milking when the time for it comes, and I thought I passed this test splendidly. After my return from Ohio I made a brief canvass in Iowa, along with Senator Harlan and Governor Stone, and spent the remainder of the fall on the stump in my own State.
In the 38th Congress, Speaker Colfax made me Chairman of the Committee on Public Lands, which gratified me much. It opened a coveted field of labor on which I entered with zeal. On the 14th of December I introduced a bill for the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law, and in order to test the sense of the House on the question, I offered a resolution instructing the Judiciary Committee to report such a bill. Greatly to my astonishment it was laid on the table by a vote of yeas eighty-two, nays seventy-four. Many Republicans declined to vote, and we were evidently still under the lingering spell of slavery. Early in January an organized movement was set on foot in the interest of Mr. Chase for the Presidency, and I was made a member of a Central Committee which was appointed for the purpose of aiding the enterprise. I was a decided friend of Mr. Chase, and as decidedly displeased with the hesitating military policy of the Administration; but on reflection I determined to withdraw from the committee and let the presidential matter drift. I had no time to devote to the business, and I found the committee inharmonious, and composed, in part, of men utterly unfit and unworthy to lead in such a movement. It was fearfully mismanaged. A confidential document known as the "Pomeroy circular," assailing Mr. Lincoln and urging the claims of Mr. Chase, was sent to numerous parties, and of course fell into the hands of Mr. Lincoln's friends. They became greatly excited, and by vigorous counter measures created a strong reaction. A serious estrangement between the President and his Secretary was the result, which lasted for several months. The Chase movement collapsed, and when the Republican members of the Ohio Legislature indorsed the re-nomination of Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Chase withdrew from the contest. The opposition to Mr. Lincoln, however, continued, and was secretly cherished by many of the ablest and most patriotic men in the party. The extent of their opposition in Congress can never be known, and it was greatly aggravated by successive military failures; but it lacked both courage and leadership, and culminated in the nomination of General Fremont in the latter part of May.
In this Congress a new joint select committee on the "conduct of the war" was organized, armed with new powers, and authorized to sit in vacation; and in common with most of the members of the former committee I was re-appointed. During the latter part of January I reported from the Committee on Public Lands a proposition to extend the Homestead Law of 1862 to the forfeited and confiscated lands of Rebels. It was a very radical proposition, proposing to deal with these lands as public lands, and parcel them out into small homesteads among the poor of the South, black and white. The subject was a large one, involving many important questions, and I devoted much time and thought to the preparation of a speech in support of the measure. In the month of April a portion of the Committee on the Conduct of the War visited Fort Pillow, for the purpose of taking testimony respecting the rebel atrocities at that place; and this testimony and that taken at Annapolis, early in May, respecting the treatment of our soldiers in the prisons at Richmond was published, as a special instalment of our proceedings, for popular use, accompanied by photographs of a number of prisoners in their wasted and disfigured condition. The report produced a powerful effect on the public mind, and caused unspeakable trouble and vexation to the enemy. I assisted in the examination of our prisoners at Annapolis, and never before had been so touched by any spectacle of human suffering. They were in the last stages of life, and could only answer our questions in a whisper. They were living skeletons, and it seemed utterly incredible that life could be supported in such wasted and attenuated shadows of themselves. They looked at us, in attempting to tell their story, with an expression of beseeching tenderness and submission which no words could describe. Not one of them expressed any regret that he had entered into the service of the country, and each declared that he would do so again, if his life should be spared and the opportunity should be offered. In examining one of these men I was perfectly unmanned by my tears; and on retiring from the tent to give them vent I encountered Senator Wade, who had fled from the work, and was sobbing like a child. It was an altogether unprecedented experience, and the impression it produced followed me night and day for weeks.
The conservative policy of the Administration found a new and careful expression in Mr. Lincoln's letter to A. G. Hodges, of the 4th of April. It showed great progress as compared with previous utterances, but his declaration that "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me," was displeasing to the more anti-slavery Republicans. They insisted that the Administration had no right to become the foot-ball of events. It had no right, they said, at such a time, to make itself a negative expression or an unknown quantity in the Algebra which was to work out the great problem. It had no right, they insisted, to take shelter beneath a debauched and sickly public sentiment, and plead it in bar of the great duty imposed upon it by the crisis. It had no right, certainly, to lag behind that sentiment, to magnify its extent and potency, and then to become its virtual ally, instead of endeavoring to control it, and to indoctrinate the country with ideas suited to the emergency. It was the duty of the President, like John Bright and the English Liberals, to lead, not follow public opinion. These criticisms found every variety of utterance through Congressional speeches and the press, and met with a cordial response from the people; and they undoubtedly played their part in preparing the country and the Administration for the more vigorous policy which was to follow.
On the 12th of May the House passed my Southern Homestead Bill by the strictly party vote of seventy-five to sixty-four. In my closing speech on the subject I was frequently interrupted by Wood of New York, and Mallory of Kentucky, and the debate ran into very sharp personalities, but the opposition of these members only tended to strengthen the measure. On the 19th I was drawn into an exceedingly angry altercation with Mr. Mallory, who charged me with forging some very personal remarks about himself, and interpolating them into the "Congressional Globe" as a part of my speech of the 12th. He was exceedingly insolent and overbearing in his manner, growing more and more so as he proceeded, and strikingly recalling the old days of slavery. He summoned a number of friends as witnesses, who testified that they did not hear me use the language in question, and several of them, like Kernan of New York, declared that they had occupied positions very near me, had given particular attention to my words, and would certainly have remembered them if they had been uttered. I kept cool, but asserted very positively that I did use the exact words reported, and in proof of my statement I appealed to a number of my friends, who sustained me by their distinct and positive recollections. Here was a conflict of testimony in which every witness recollected the facts according to his politics; but pending the proceedings I was fortunate enough to find the notes of the "Globe" reporter, which perfectly vindicated me from Mr. Mallory's charges, and suddenly put his bluster and billingsgate to flight. He unconditionally retracted his charges, while his swift witnesses were sufficiently rebuked and humiliated by this unexpected catastrophe. I was heartily complimented on my triumph, and my dialogue with Mr. Mallory was put in pamphlet as a campaign document by his opponents and liberally scattered over his district, where it did much service in defeating his re-election to the House.
The passage of the Southern Homestead Bill, however, could only prove a very partial measure without an enactment reaching the fee of rebel land owners, and I confidently anticipated the endorsement of such a measure by the Republican National Convention, which was to meet in Baltimore, on the seventh of June. I was much gratified when the National Union League approved it, in its Convention in that city the day before; and a resolution embodying it was also reported favorably by the sub-committee on resolutions of the National Republican Convention the next day. But the General Committee, on the motion of McKee Dunn of Indiana, always an incorrigible conservative, struck it out, much to the disappointment of the Republican masses. To me it was particularly vexatious, as the measure was a pet one of mine, having labored for it with much zeal, and in the confidence that the National Convention would approve it. Mr. Dunn was a Kentuckian of the Border State School, and although a friend of mine, and an upright and very gentlemanly man, he had a genius for being on the wrong side of vital questions during the war. Speaker Colfax used to say, laughingly, that in determining his own course he first made it a point to find out where McKee Dunn stood; and then, having ascertained Julian's position, he always took a middle ground, feeling perfectly sure he was right.
But to me the nomination of Andrew Johnson for Vice President was a still greater disappointment. I knew he did not believe in the principles embodied in the platform. I had become intimately acquainted with him while we were fellow-members of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, and he always scouted the idea that slavery was the cause of our trouble, or that emancipation could ever be tolerated without immediate colonization. In my early acquaintance with him I had formed a different opinion; but he was, at heart, as decided a hater of the negro and of everything savoring of abolitionism, as the rebels from whom he had separated. His nomination, however, like that of Mr. Lincoln, seemed to have been preordained by the people, while the intelligent, sober men, in Congress and out of Congress, who lamented the fact, were not prepared to oppose the popular will. Mr. Lincoln's nomination was nearly unanimous, only the State of Missouri opposing him; but of the more earnest and through-going Republicans in both Houses of Congress, probably not one in ten really favored it. It was not only very distasteful to a large majority of Congress but to many of the most prominent men of the party throughout the country. During the month of June the feeling against Mr. Lincoln became more and more bitter and intense, but its expression never found its way to the people.
Notwithstanding the divisions which existed in the Republican ranks, party discipline was vigorous and absolute. "Civil Service Reform" was in the distant future, and the attempt to inaugurate it would have been counted next to treasonable. Loyalty to Republicanism was not only accepted as the best evidence of loyalty to the country, but of fitness for civil position. After my nomination for re- election this year, Mr. Holloway, who was still holding the position of Commissioner of Patents, and one of the editors of a Republican newspaper in my district, refused to recognize me as the party candidate, and kept the name of my defeated competitor standing in his paper. It threatened discord and mischief, and I went to the President with these facts, and on the strength of them demanded his removal from office. He replied, "If I remove Mr. Holloway I shall have a quarrel with Senator Lane on my hands." I replied that Senator Lane would certainly not quarrel with him for turning a man out of office who was fighting the Republican party and the friends of the Administration. "Your nomination," said he, "is as binding on Republicans as mine, and you can rest assured that Mr. Holloway shall support you, openly and unconditionally, or lose his head." This was entirely satisfactory, but after waiting a week or two for the announcement of my name I returned to Mr. Lincoln with the information that Mr. Holloway was still keeping up his fight, and that I had come to ask of him decisive measures. I saw in an instant that the President now meant business. He dispatched a messenger at once, asking Mr. Holloway to report to him forthwith, in person, and in a few days my name was announced in his paper as the Republican candidate, and that of my competitor withdrawn.
Having understood that Mr. Lincoln had changed his position respecting the power of Congress to confiscate the landed estates of rebels, I called to see him on the subject on the 2d of July, and asked him if I might say to the people that what I had learned on this subject was true, assuring him that I could make a far better fight for our cause if he would permit me to do so. He replied that when he prepared his veto of our law on the subject two years before, he had not examined the matter fully, but that on further reflection, and on reading Solicitor Whiting's law argument, he had changed his opinion, and thought he would now sign a bill striking at the fee, if we would send it to him. I was much gratified by this statement, which was of service to the cause in the canvass; but, unfortunately, constitutional scruples respecting such legislation gained ground, and although both Houses of Congress at different times endorsed the principle, it never became a law, owing to unavoidable differences between the President and Congress on the question of reconstruction. The action of the President in dealing with the rebel land owners was of the most serious character. It paralyzed one of the most potent means of putting down the Rebellion, prolonging the conflict and aggravating its cost, and at the same time left the owners of large estates in full possession of their lands at the end of the struggle, who naturally excluded from the ownership of the soil the freedmen and poor whites who had been friendly to the Union; while the confiscation of life estates as a war measure was of no practical advantage to the Government or disadvantage to the enemy.
The refusal of the President to sign the Reconstruction Act which passed near the close of the session, and his proclamation and message giving his reasons therefor, still further exasperated a formidable body of earnest and impatient Republicans. A scathing criticism of the President's position by Henry Winter Davis, which was signed by himself and Senator Wade, fitly echoed their feelings. Mr. Davis was a man of genius. Among the famous men in the Thirty- eighth Congress he had no superior as a writer, debater and orator. He was a brilliant man, whose devotion to his country in this crisis was a passion, while his hostility to the President's policy was as sincere as it was intense; but the passage of the somewhat incongruous bill vetoed by the President, would probably have proved a stumbling-block in the way of the more radical measures which afterward prevailed. This could not then be foreseen, and as the measure was an advanced one, the feeling against Mr. Lincoln waxed stronger and stronger among his opposers. They had so completely lost their faith in him that when Congress adjourned they seriously feared his veto of the bill just enacted, repealing the Fugitive Slave law; while the independent movement in favor of General Fremont threatened a serious division in the Republican ranks, and the triumph of General McClellan. "These," as Mr. Lincoln said on another occasion, "were dark and dismal days," and they were made still more so by the course of military events. The capture of Richmond, which General Grant had promised, had not been accomplished, although he had been furnished with all the troops he wanted. Our Grand Army of the Potomac made advances in that direction, but with great slaughter and no actual results; while the Administration was blamed for his failures. General Grant finally reached the position occupied by McClellan in 1862, but with terrific losses, and Richmond still in possession of the rebels. His delay and inaction at this point created great popular discontent in the North; but while Lincoln supplied him with ample reinforcements, and he now had an army twice as large as that of General Lee, which was costing the nation over a million dollars per day, he continued idle during the summer. It was evident that nothing could save us but military success; and most fortunately for the Republican cause it came in due season, rallied and reunited its supporters, and thus secured their triumph at the polls.
Near the close of the canvass, while on a visit to Washington, I learned how it happened that Montgomery Blair had finally been got out of the Cabinet, and General Fremont induced to leave the track as the candidate of the Cleveland Convention. The radical pressure upon Mr. Lincoln for the removal of Blair was very formidable, and the emergency seemed so critical that it finally resulted in a compromise, by which Fremont agreed to retire from the race, if Blair should be required to leave the Cabinet. This was carried out, and thus, at last, the President was obliged to make terms with the "Pathfinder," who achieved a long-coveted victory over an old foe. The election of Mr. Lincoln was followed by a remarkable measure of party union and harmony, and the tone of his message in December was encouraging. The appointment and confirmation of Mr. Chase as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court met the most cordial approval of Republicans everywhere. As a healing measure, following his retirement from the treasury for valid reasons, it was most timely.
During the month of December, the Committee on the Conduct of the War visited City Point, for the purpose of taking testimony respecting the explosion of the mine at Petersburg. General Grant spent several hours with the Committee, speaking very freely and familiarly of the faults and virtues of our various commanders, and impressing every one by his strong common sense. While at dinner with us on our steamer, he drank freely, and its effect became quite manifest. It was a painful surprise to the Committee, and was spoken of with bated breath; for he was the Lieutenant-General of all our forces, and the great movements which finally strangled the Rebellion were then in progress, and, for aught we knew, might possibly be deflected from their purpose by his condition.
In January, 1865, the Committee on the Conduct of the War investigated the famous Fort Fisher expedition, in which three hundred tuns of powder were to be exploded in the vicinity of the Fort as a means of demolishing it, or paralyzing the enemy. The testimony of General Butler in explanation and defense of the enterprise was interesting and spicy, and he was subsequently contradicted by General Grant on material points. On the last day of this month one of the grandest events of the century was witnessed in the House of Representatives in the final passage of the Constitutional Amendment forever prohibiting slavery. Numerous propositions on the subject had been submitted, but the honor of drafting the one adopted belongs to Lyman Trumbull, who had introduced it early in the first session of this Congress. It passed the Senate on the 8th of April, 1864, only six members voting against it, namely, Davis, Hendricks, McDougall, Powell, Riddle and Saulsbury, but failed in the House on the 15th of June following. It now came up on the motion of Mr. Ashley to reconsider this vote. Congress had abolished slavery in the District of Columbia, and prohibited it in all the Territories. It had repealed the Fugitive Slave law, and declared free all negro soldiers in the Union armies and their families; and the President had played his grand part in the Proclamation of Emancipation. But the question now to be decided completely overshadowed all others. The debate on the subject had been protracted and very spirited, the opposition being led by Pendleton, Fernando Wood, Voorhees, Mallory and Eldridge, who all denied that the power to amend the Constitution conferred the right to abolish slavery, as Garrett Davis and Saulsbury had done in the Senate. The time for the momentous vote had now come, and no language could describe the solemnity and impressiveness of the spectacle pending the roll-call. The success of the measure had been considered very doubtful, and depended upon certain negotiations, the result of which was not fully assured, and the particulars of which never reached the public. The anxiety and suspense during the balloting produced a deathly stillness, but when it became certainly known that the measure had prevailed the cheering in the densely-packed hall and galleries surpassed all precedent and beggared all description. Members joined in the general shouting, which was kept up for several minutes, many embracing each other, and others completely surrendering themselves to their tears of joy. It seemed to me I had been born into a new life, and that the world was overflowing with beauty and joy, while I was inexpressibly thankful for the privilege of recording my name on so glorious a page of the nation's history, and in testimony of an event so long only dreamed of as possible in the distant future. The champions of negro emancipation had merely hoped to speed their grand cause a little by their faithful labors, and hand over to coming generations the glory of crowning it with success; but they now saw it triumphant, and they had abundant and unbounded cause to rejoice. It has been aptly said that the greatest advantage of a long life is the opportunity it gives of seeing moral experiments worked out, of being present at the fructification of social causes, and of thus gaining a kind of wisdom which in ordinary cases seems reserved for a future life; but that an equivalent for this advantage is possessed by such as live in those critical periods of society when retribution is hastened, or displayed in clear connection with the origin of events. It strengthens faith to observe the sure operation of moral causes in ripening into great and beneficent results. To be permitted to witness the final success of the grandest movement of ancient or modern times was a blessed opportunity. To have labored for it in the goodly fellowship of its confessors and martyrs was cause for devout thanksgiving and joy. To be accredited to share in the great historic act of its formal consummation was a priceless privilege. A few days after the ratification of this Amendment, on the motion of Mr. Sumner, Dr. Rock, a colored lawyer of Boston, was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of the United States, which had pronounced the Dred Scott decision only a few years before; and this was followed a few days later by a sermon in the hall of the House by Rev. Mr. Garnett, being the first ever preached in the Capitol by a colored man. Evidently, the negro was coming to the front.
In the latter part of March I visited New York, where I witnessed the immense throngs of shouting people on Wall Street, called together by the news of the fall of Richmond. Broadway, robed in its innumerable banners, was one of the finest sights I had ever beheld. On the tenth of April the Committee on the Conduct of the War left Washington for South Carolina, for the purpose of taking further testimony, and intending to be present at the great anniversary of the thirteenth at Charleston. We reached Fortress Monroe the next evening, where we learned that the "Alabama," which the Navy Department had furnished us, would be detained twenty-four hours to coal, by reason of which we proceeded directly to Richmond on the "Baltimore." At City Point, Admiral Porter furnished us with a pilot, as there was some danger of torpedoes up the James River. Our steamer reached the city about bedtime, but we remained on board till morning, lulled into a sweep sleep by the music of the guitar and the singing of the negroes below. At eight o'clock in the morning our party went out sight-seeing, some in carriages, but most of us on horseback, with an orderly for each to show him the way. The first notable place we visited was General Weitzel's headquarters, just vacated by Jefferson Davis. The building was a spacious three-story residence, with a large double parlor, a ladies' parlor, and a small secluded library attached, in which all sorts of treason were said to have been hatched. We next visited the capitol, an ancient-looking edifice, which would bear no comparison with our modern State Capitols in size or style of architecture. The library made a respectable appearance, but I think it contained few modern publications, especially of our own authors. I noticed, however, a liberal supply of theological works of the most approved orthodoxy. The view of the city from the top of the building was admirable. We could see Libby Prison, Castle Thunder and Belle Isle, the former of which we afterward visited. After seeing the rebel fortifications we were glad to get back to our steamer. Before starting the next morning we saw the "Richmond Whig," containing an order signed by General Weitzel, inviting Hunter, McMullen and other noted rebel leaders, including members of the rebel legislature, to meet in Richmond on the twenty-fifth to confer with our authorities on the restoration of peace, transportation and safe conduct being ordered for the purpose. We were all thunderstruck, and fully sympathized with the hot indignation and wrathful words of the chairman of our committee. We soon afterwards learned that the order had been directed by the President, and while we were thoroughly disgusted by this display of misguided magnanimity we saw rebel officers strutting around the streets in full uniform, looking as independent as if they had been masters of the city. We left on the afternoon of the twelfth, and were interested in seeing Drury's Landing, Dutch-Gap Canal, Malvern Hill and other points of historic interest. Before reaching Fortress Monroe the next day, Senators Wade and Chandler changed their minds respecting our journey to Charleston, which was abandoned, and after spending a few hours very pleasantly at that place and Point Lookout, we reached Washington on the evening of the fourteenth.
Soon after retiring I was roused from a deep sleep by loud raps at my door. W. L. Woods, clerk of my committee, entered in the greatest excitement, and told me that Lincoln had just been assassinated, and Seward and son probably, and that rebel assassins were about to take the town. Supposing all this to be true I grew suddenly cold, heart-sick and almost helpless. It was a repetition of my experience when the exaggerated stories about the Bull Run disaster first reached me in the summer of 1861. I soon rallied, however, and joined the throng on the street. The city was at once in a tempest of excitement, consternation and rage. About seven and a half o'clock in the morning the church bells tolled the President's death. The weather was as gloomy as the mood of the people, while all sorts of rumors filled the air as to the particulars of the assassination and the fate of Booth. Johnson was inaugurated at eleven o'clock on the morning of the 15th, and was at once surrounded by radical and conservative politicians, who were alike anxious about the situation. I spent most of the afternoon in a political caucus, held for the purpose of considering the necessity of a new Cabinet and a line of policy less conciliatory than that of Mr. Lincoln; and while everybody was shocked at his murder, the feeling was nearly universal that the accession of Johnson to the Presidency would prove a god-send to the country. Aside from Mr. Lincoln's known policy of tenderness to the Rebels, which now so jarred upon the feelings of the hour, his well-known views on the subject of reconstruction were as distasteful as possible to radical Republicans. In his last public utterance, only three days before his death, he had declared his adherence to the plan of reconstruction announced by him in December, 1863, which in the following year so stirred the ire of Wade and Winter Davis as an attempt of the Executive to usurp the powers of Congress. According to this plan the work of reconstruction in the rebel States was to be inaugurated and carried on by those only who were qualified to vote under the Constitution and laws of these States as they existed prior to the Rebellion. Of course the negroes of the South could have no voice in framing the institutions under which they were to live, and the question of negro suffrage would thus have been settled by the President, if he had lived and been able to maintain this policy, while no doubt was felt that this calamity had now been averted and the way opened for the radical policy which afterward involved the impeachment of Johnson, but finally prevailed. It was forgotten in the fever and turbulence of the moment, that Mr. Lincoln, who was never an obstinate man, and who in the matter of his Proclamation of Emancipation had surrendered his own judgment under the pressure of public opinion, would not have been likely to wrestle with Congress and the country in a mad struggle for his own way.
On the following day, in pursuance of a previous engagement, the Committee on the Conduct of the War met the President at his quarters in the Treasury Department. He received us with decided cordiality, and Mr. Wade said to him: "Johnson, we have faith in you. By the gods, there will be no trouble now in running the government!" The President thanked him, and went on to define his well-remembered policy at that time. "I hold," said he, "that robbery is a crime; rape is a crime; murder is a crime; treason is a crime, and crime must be punished. Treason must be made infamous, and traitors must be impoverished." We were all cheered and encouraged by this brave talk, and while we were rejoiced that the leading conservatives of the country were not at Washington, we felt that the presence and influence of the committee, of which Johnson had been a member, would aid the Administration in getting on the right track. We met him again the next day and found the symptoms of a vigorous policy still favorable, and although I had some misgivings, the general feeling was one of unbounded confidence in his sincerity and firmness, and that he would act upon the advice of General Butler by inaugurating a policy of his own, instead of administering on the political estate of his predecessor.
In the meantime the prevailing excitement was greatly aggravated by the news of the capitulation between General Sherman and General Johnston on the 16th of April. Its practical surrender of all the fruits of the national triumph so soon after the murder of the President, produced an effect on the public mind which can not be described. General Sherman had heard of the assassination when the capitulation was made, and could not have been ignorant of the feeling it had aroused. On the face of the proceeding his action seemed a wanton betrayal of the country to its enemies; but when this betrayal followed so swiftly the frightful tragedy which was then believed to have been instigated by the Confederate authorities, the patience of the people became perfectly exhausted. For the time being, all the glory of his great achievements in the war seemed to be forgotten in the anathemas which were showered upon him from every quarter of the land; but the prompt repudiation of his stipulations by the Administration soon assuaged the popular discontent, while it provoked an estrangement between Secretary Stanton and himself which was never healed.
The outpouring of the people at Mr. Lincoln's funeral was wholly unprecedented, and every possible arrangement was made by which they could manifest their grief for their murdered President; but their solicitude for the state of the country was too profound to be intermitted. What policy was now to be pursued? Mr. Lincoln's last utterances had been far from assuring or satisfactory. The question of reconstruction had found no logical solution, and all was confusion respecting it. The question of negro suffrage was slowly coming to the front, and could not be much longer evaded. The adequate punishment of the rebel leaders was the demand of the hour. What would the new President do? He had suddenly become the central figure of American politics, and both radicals and conservatives were as curious to know what line of policy he would follow as they were anxious to point his way. His demeanor, at first, seemed modest and commendable, but his egotism soon began to assert itself, while his passion for stump-speaking was pampered by the delegations which began to pour into the city from various States and flatter him by formal addresses, to which he replied at length. This business was kept up till the people became weary of the din and clatter of words, and impatient for action.
CHAPTER XII. RECONSTRUCTION AND SUFFRAGE—THE LAND QUESTION. Visit of Indianans to the President—Gov. Morton and reconstruction —Report of Committee on the Conduct of the War—Discussion of negro suffrage and incidents—Personal matters—Suffrage in the District of Columbia—The Fourteenth Constitutional Amendment— Breach between the President and Congress—Blaine and Conkling— Land bounties and the Homestead Law.
On the twenty-first of April I joined a large crowd of Indianans in one of the calls on the President referred to at the close of the last chapter. Gov. Morton headed the movement, which I now found had a decidedly political significance. He read a lengthy and labored address on "The Whole Duty of Man" respecting the question of Reconstruction. He told the President that a State could "neither secede nor by any possible means be taken out of the Union"; and he supported and illustrated this proposition by some very remarkable statements. He elaborated the proposition that the loyal people of a State have the right to govern it; but he did not explain what would become of the State if the people were all disloyal, or the loyal so few as to be utterly helpless. The lawful governments of the South were overthrown by treason; and the Governor declared there was "no power in the Federal Government to punish the people of a State collectively, by reducing it to a territorial condition, since the crime of treason is individual, and can only be treated individually." According to this doctrine a rebellious State become independent. If the people could rightfully be overpowered by the national authority, that very fact would at once re-clothe them in all their rights, just as if they had never rebelled. In framing their new governments Congress would have no right to prescribe any conditions, or to govern them in any way pending the work of State reconstruction, since this would be to recognize the States as Territories, and violate the principle of State rights. The Governor's theory of reconstruction, in fact, made our war for the Union flagrantly unconstitutional. The crime of treason being "individual," and only to "be treated individually," we had no right to hold prisoners of war, seize property, and capture and confiscate vessels, without a regular indictment and trial; and this being so, every Rebel in arms was in the full legal possession of his political rights, and no power could prevent him from exercising them except through judicial conviction of treason in the district in which the overt act was committed. Singularly enough, he seemed entirely unaware of the well-settled principle which made our war for the Union a territorial conflict, like that of a war with Mexico or England; that the Rebels, while still liable to be hung or otherwise dealt with for treason, had taken upon themselves the further character of public enemies; and that being now conquered they were conquered enemies, having simply the rights of a conquered people. The Governor further informed the President that if the revolted districts should be dealt with as mere Territories, or conquered provinces, the nation would be obliged to pay the debts contracted by them prior to the war. These remarkable utterances, which he repudiated in less than a year afterward, were emphatically endorsed by the President, who entered upon the same theme at a dismal length, freely indulging in his habit of bad English and incoherence of thought. I was disgusted, and sorry that the confidence of so many of my radical friends had been entirely misplaced.
During the latter part of April and early part of May the Committee on the Conduct of the War completed its final report, making eight considerable volumes, and containing valuable material for any trustworthy history of the great conflict. Its opinions were sometimes colored by the passions of the hour, and this was especially true in the case of General McClellan; but subsequent events have justified its conclusions generally as to nearly every officer and occurrence investigated, while its usefulness in exposing military blunders and incompetence, and in finally inaugurating the vigorous war policy which saved the country, will scarcely be questioned by any man sufficiently well-informed and fair-minded to give an opinion.
On the 12th of May, a caucus of Republicans was held at the National Hotel to consider the necessity of taking decisive measures for saving the new Administration from the conservative control which then threatened it. Senators Wade and Sumner both insisted that the President was in no danger, and declared, furthermore, that he was in favor of negro suffrage; and no action was taken because of the general confidence in him which I was surprised to find still prevailed. In the meantime, pending the general drift of events, the suffrage question was constantly gaining in significance, and demanding a settlement. It was neither morally nor logically possible to escape it; and on my return to my constituents I prepared for a thorough canvass of my district. The Republicans were everywhere divided on the question, while the current of opinion was strongly against the introduction of the issue as premature. The politicians all opposed it on the plea that it would divide the Republicans and restore the Democrats to power, and that we must wait for the growth of a public opinion that would justify its agitation. Governor Morton opposed the policy with inexpressible bitterness, declaring, with an oath, that "negro suffrage must be put down," while every possible effort was made to array the soldiers against it. His hostility to the suffrage wing of his party seemed to be quite as relentless as to the Rebels, while the great body of the Republicans of the district deferred strongly to his views. In the beginning of the canvass I even found a considerable portion of my old anti-slavery friends unprepared to follow me; but feeling perfectly sure I was right, and that I could revolutionize the general opinion, I entered upon the work, and prosecuted it with all my might for nearly four months. My task was an arduous one, but I found the people steadily yielding up their prejudices, and ready to lay hold of the truth when fairly and dispassionately presented, while the soldiers were among the first to accept my teachings. The tide was at length so evidently turning in my favor that on the 28th of September Governor Morton was induced to make his elaborate speech at Richmond, denouncing the whole theory of Republican reconstruction as subsequently carried out, and opposing the policy of negro suffrage by arguments which he seemed to regard as overwhelming. He made a dismal picture of the ignorance and degradation of the plantation negroes of the South, and scouted the policy of arming them with political power. But their fitness for the ballot was a subordinate question. A great national emergency pleaded for their right to it on other and far more imperative grounds. The question involved the welfare of both races, and the issues of the war. It involved not merely the fate of the negro, but the safety of society. It was, moreover, a question of national honor and gratitude, from which no escape was morally possible. To leave the ballot in the hands of the ex- rebels, and withhold it from these helpless millions, would be to turn them over to the unhindered tyranny and misrule of their enemies, who were then smarting under the humiliation of their failure, and making the condition of the freedmen more intolerable than slavery itself, through local laws and police regulations.
The Governor referred to the Constitution and laws of Indiana, denying the ballot to her intelligent negroes, and subjecting colored men to prosecution and fine for coming into the State; and asked with what face her people could insist upon conferring the suffrage upon the negroes of the Southern States? But this was an evasion of the question. The people of Indiana had no right to take advantage of their own wrong, or to sacrifice the welfare of four million blacks on the altar of Northern consistency. He should have preached the duty of practical repentance in Indiana, instead of making the sins of her people an excuse for a far greater inhumanity to the negroes of the South.
He urged that the policy of negro suffrage would give the lie to all the arguments that had ever been employed against slavery as degrading and brutalizing to its victims. He said it was "to pay the highest compliment to the institution of slavery," and "stultify ourselves." But this was belittling a great national question, by the side of which all considerations of party consistency were utterly trivial and contemptible. The ballot for the negro was a logical necessity, and it was a matter of the least possible consequence whether the granting of it would "stultify ourselves" or not.
He insisted that the true policy was to give the Southern negroes a probation of fifteen or twenty years to prepare for the ballot. He would give them "time to acquire a little property; time to get a little education; time to learn something about the simplest forms of business, and to prepare themselves for the exercise of political power." But he did not explain how all this was to be done, under the circumstances of their condition. He declared that not one of them in five hundred could read, or was worth five dollars in property of any kind, owning nothing but their bodies, and living on the plantations of white men upon whom they were dependent for employment and subsistence. How could such men acquire "education," and "property," under the absolute sway of a people who regarded them with loathing and contempt? Who would grant them this "probation," and help them turn it to good account? Was some miracle to be wrought through which the slave-masters were to be transfigured into negro apostles and devotees? Besides, under Governor Morton's theory of reconstruction and State rights, neither Congress nor the people of the loyal States had anything to do with the question. It was no more their concern in South Carolina than in Massachusetts. His suggestion of a probation for Southern negroes was therefore an impertinence. If not, why did he not recommend a "probation" for the hordes of "white trash" that were as unfit for political power as the negroes?
He was very earnest and eloquent in his condemnation of Mr. Sumner for proposing to give the ballot to the negroes and disfranchise the white Rebels, but his moral vision failed to discern anything amiss in his own ghastly policy of arming the white Rebels with the ballot and denying it to the loyal negroes.
He argued that the right to vote carried with it the right to hold office, and that negro suffrage would lead to the election of negro Governors, negro judges, negro members of Congress, a negro balance of power in our politics, and a war of races. He seemed to have no faith at all in the beneficent measures designed to guard the black race from outrage and wrong, while full of apprehension that the heavens would fall if such measures were adopted.
This speech was published in a large pamphlet edition and extensively scattered throughout the country; but it proved a help rather than a hindrance to my enterprise. I replied to it in several incisive newspaper articles, and made its arguments a text for a still more thorough discussion of the issue on the stump, and at the close of my canvass the Republicans of the district were as nearly a unit in my favor as a party can be made respecting any controverted doctrine.
I now extended my labors briefly outside of my district, and by special invitation from citizens of Indianapolis and members of the Legislature, then in session, I spoke in that city on the 17th of November. Every possible effort was made by the Johnsonized Republicans to prevent me from having an audience, but they failed utterly; and I analyzed the positions of Governor Morton in a speech of two hours, which was reported for the "Cincinnati Gazette" and subsequently published in a large pamphlet edition. The political rage and exasperation which now prevailed in the ranks of the Anti- Suffrage faction can be more readily imagined than described. Their organ, the "Indianapolis Journal," poured out upon me an incredible deliverance of vituperation and venom for scattering my heresies outside of my Congressional district, declaring that I had "the temper of a hedgehog, the adhesiveness of a barnacle, the vanity of a peacock, the vindictiveness of a Corsican, the hypocrisy of Aminadab Sleek and the duplicity of the devil." I rather enjoyed these paroxysms of malignity, which broke out all over the State among the Governor's conservative satellites, since my only offense was fidelity to my political opinions, the soundness of which I was finding fully justified by events; for the friends of the Governor, in a few short months, gathered together and cremated all the copies of his famous speech which could be found. But the disowned document was printed as a campaign tract by the Democrats for a dozen successive years afterward, and circulated largely in several of the Northern States, while the Governor himself, by a sudden and splendid somersault, became the champion and exemplar of the very heresies which had so furiously kindled his ire against me. These performances are sufficiently remarkable to deserve notice. They did much to make Indiana politics spicy and picturesque, and showed how earnestly the radical and conservative wings of the Republican party could wage war against the common enemy without in the least impairing their ability or disposition to fight each other.