On April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Courthouse, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant; the Civil War was over and Lincoln and his Republicans had won-but at what cost? The South lay in ruins and well over half a million were dead, with many more being crippled for life. In less than a week after the surrender at Appomattox, Lincoln himself would be dead; felled by an assassin’s bullet at Ford’s Theater.
Prior to the Civil War, apparently in an effort to stave off the secession of the Southern States, both houses of Congress had passed a proposed amendment which was to be sent to the States for their consideration. However, this amendment never became part of the Constitution; yet its consideration is important if we are to also take into consideration what happened afterwards.
The Corwin Amendment, named after the Congressman who introduced it, Thomas Corwin, was an amendment that would have made slavery permanent in the United States; but ONLY in the States where it already existed.
With the history of infighting in Congress over whether to allow new States to enter the Union as either slave or slave free States, (beginning with the Missouri Compromise in 1820), you would think that those in the North would realize that slavery in the Southern States was not the only reason slavery was an issue; many in the South wanted a State to be able to decide for itself whether to allow slavery within its borders; not have that decision made for them by Congress as part of the requirements for attaining statehood.
Both President James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln endorsed ratification of the Corwin Amendment; believing that it would end the secessionist movement and prevent a war. Lincoln even addressed this amendment in his Inaugural Address, stating, “I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service … holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”
Now if Lincoln was truly the great humanitarian people seem to think he was, why would he endorse a constitutional amendment that would make slavery permanent in the South? Then, towards the end of the Civil War Lincoln saw that some in the South might be amiable to re-entry into the Union, so he issued an Executive Order known as the Ten Percent Plan.
Seeing that the South was most likely going to lose the war, Lincoln switched positions on slavery again. His Ten Percent Plan required of States seeking re-entry into the Union that 10% of the people living within them take an oath of allegiance to the Union, and that they abide by emancipation. This infuriated those on the extreme right of the Republican Party, for they feared that the South could conceivably re-enter the Union with the wealthy Southern aristocracy intact, and in power; and the extremists in the Republican Party wanted to completely dominated the South.
With the status of slavery still in question; as it was uncertain what would happen when the war ended; would Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation hold if it were tested in court, or would it be rescinded; leaving slavery intact in the South. So Congress began debating a proposed amendment to permanently abolish slavery throughout the Union.
I won’t go into why I despise the 14th Amendment as it relates to what it says and does, but I will go in to the fact that it was shoved down the throats of the conquered Southern States as part of Reconstruction. The proposed amendment ending slavery passed Congress less than 3 months before Lincoln was assassinated, but he never lived to see whether it would be adopted or not.
People are taught that Reconstruction was the efforts made by the North to bring the seceded Southern States back into the Union and to heal the wounds of war. Well at least they got one part right, it was about bringing the South back into the Union, but as for healing the wounds of war…it was anything but that.
If you want my definition of Reconstruction is would be the complete subjugation of a conquered people, along with the demolishment of their political institutions and ideologies. As the North had sought to deny popular sovereignty in territories wanting to become States prior to the Civil War, they sought to impose a complete denial of State Sovereignty in those States re-entering the war after their defeat.
If you will recall, one of the requisites for a territory becoming a State was that it right a constitution which would be reviewed by Congress before it was allowed to become a part of the Union. Well this was not necessary in the South as they had once been a part of the Union, with constitutions already having been written. Under Reconstruction the States not only had to rewrite their constitutions, they would be re-written by delegates that had not participated in the rebellion against federal authority during the Civil War…of which not very many native born Southerners could make that claim.
I could go in to great detail of how the North sought to punish and subjugate the South during Reconstruction, but it is enough to say that Reconstruction was basically this, Radical Republicans telling the South, “Listen, you guys left the Union, started a war, and lost that war. Now we’re gonna make you pay. You are unfit to exercise the right to self government; we will govern over you until we determine you are ready to govern yourselves again. Since you are unfit, we will fill your offices with those sympathetic to our views and beliefs. You will hand over your land so that we can divide it and give it to those you formerly held as slaves, and you will have no say in these things.”
Were there moderates who sought a more lenient attitude towards the South? Yes, and Lincoln may have been one of them. In fact, there is speculation that some within the Republican Party were responsible for Lincoln’s assassination because he would have resisted the efforts of men like Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner from punishing and subjugating the South. But that is the realm of speculation and conspiracy theories, and has no place here.
A couple more things and I’ll finally move on; leaving the subjects of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction behind. After the war ended and Reconstruction began, the Union was divided into military districts, overseen by Union Generals. Each general was responsible for ensuring that their district adhered to the Reconstruction policies coming out of Congress; one of which was the election of new State officers.
In Mississippi black men constituted 99% of the Republican vote, yet even those who were well educated and established as free men were being denied office by Republicans. Case in point is Reverend Mr. Futzbugh, a well educated black man who had lived free in the North and had participated in Mississippi’s constitutional convention under Reconstruction. Mr. Futzbugh was upset over the inability of black men to obtain office under Republican run Reconstruction and he wrote a letter to the Woodville Republican stating, “…garbed in the disguise of friends to us, [they] are imposters, and will cause more blood to be spilt than the [Federal acceptance of a Mississippi Government] is worth.”
It would seem that Mr. Futzbugh had seen through the veneer of friendship and caring that the Republicans put on in public, and gazed at the truth; that truth being that the plight of the former slaves had been a political talking point used by the Republicans to further consolidate their strength without really caring about elevating the black man from its state of bondage to true equality with the whites.
The next thing I need to discuss is the Freedman’s Bureau; which established by Lincoln before his death. The purpose of the Freedman’s Bureau was to purportedly give aid and assistance to those former slaves who had been made free after the 13th Amendment was ratified.
Robert Lewis Dabney was a Southern theologian and the Chaplain of the Confederate Army. Sometime after the establishment of the Freedman’s Bureau he wrote a lengthy letter to them, and I’d like to share with you.
First Dabney reminds Chief Howard of the sacred obligation placed upon his shoulders, “Your high official trust makes you, in a certain sense, the representative man of the North, as concerns their dealing with the African race in these United States. It is such that I venture to address you, and through you all your fellow citizens on behalf of this recently liberated people. My purpose is humbly to remind you of your weighty charge, and to encourage you to go forward with an enlarged philanthropy and zeal in that career of benevolence toward the African which Providence has opened before you. Rarely has it fallen to the lot of one of the sons of men to receive a larger trust, or to enjoy a wider opportunity for doing good. At the beginning of the late war there were in the South nearly four millions of Africans. All these, a nation in numbers, now taken from their former guardians, are laid upon the hands of that government of which you are the special agent for their protection and guidance.”
Before I continue with Mr. Dabney’s letter, let me remind you that Thomas Jefferson felt that before the blacks be freed from bondage they be taught the skills needed to survive on their own without becoming burdens upon society. It would seem that Mr. Dabney is reminding the Chief of the Freedman’s Bureau of that fact; that it was his sacred duty to ensure that the former slaves be given the skills needed to make it on their own in the world they had just been freed into.
Dabney continues his letter by saying, “At your back stands the great, the powerful, the rich, the prosperous, the philanthropic, the Christian North, friend and liberator of the black man. It must be assumed that the zeal which waged a gigantic war for four years, which expended three thousand million of dollars, and one million of lives, in large part to free the African, will be willing to lavish anything else which may be needed for his welfare.”
Now I can’t tell if Dabney was being serious or somewhat sarcastic in his comments, but nevertheless he speaks the truth; if the war was fought to free the black man from bondage, then it falls upon those who waged that war to ensure that the black man, once freed, be provided with the means of survival and success.
Yet that is not what happened, the former members of the Confederacy, already beaten down and defeated, their land and homes in ruin, were further humiliated by having their lands taken from them by their conquerors to be given to the former slaves. In a speech delivered in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on September 6, 1865, Thaddeus Stevens laid out his plans for confiscating the land of the former rebels, and giving it to freed slaves, “There are about six millions of freedmen in the South. The number of acres of land is 465,000,000. Of this, those who own above two hundred acres each number about 70,000 persons, holding, in the aggregate, (together with the States, ) about 394,000,000 acres, leaving all others below 200 each about 71,000,000 of acres. By thus forfeiting the estates of the leading rebels, the government would have 394,000,000 of acres, besides their town property, and yet nine-tenths of the people would remain untouched. Divide this land into convenient farms. Give if you please, forty acres to each adult male freedman.”
All I can say about Stevens, and his fellow radical Republicans, is that they were adding insult to injury; rubbing salt into the wounds of a defeated and conquered people. Sure, they wanted to free the black man, they wanted them to have a home of their own, but they didn’t want to have to pay for these things themselves; so they plundered a people even more; a people who had felt that one of the reasons they fought the war was because their wealth was being plundered by the tariffs imposed upon imported goods by the government that had just freed their slaves.
My final comment on this period of the development and evolution of the two political parties in America regards a letter written to President Andrew Johnson in which he states, “The [conquered States section] unequivocally ‘accepts the situation’ in which she is placed. Everything that she has done, has been done in perfect good faith, and in the true and highest sense of the word, she is loyal. By this I mean, that she intends to abide by the laws of the land honestly; to fulfill her obligations faithfully and to keep her word sacredly. And I assert that the [northern States region] has no right to demand more of her. You have no right to ask, or expect that she will at once profess unbounded love to the [Federal Government], from which for four years she tried to escape, at the cost of her best blood and all her treasure. Nor can you believe her to be so unutterably hypocritical, so as to declare that the ‘Flag of the [United States]’ has already usurped in her heart the place which has so long been sacred to the ‘Southern Cross.’ The men [of our section] who make such professions are renegades, or traitors and they will surely betray you if you trust them. But the brave men who fought to the last in a cause which they believed and still believe to have been a just one, who clung to their colors as long as they waved and who, when their cause was lost, acknowledged their defeat and accepted the terms offered to them ―as they were true to their convictions in the one case, they will prove their obligations in the other. Many sacrifices have been demanded of the [conquered States], as the price of [being accepted back into the Union.] These she has made; but she will abase herself for no earthly consideration. She will accept no left-handed alliance. She regards herself as fully the peer in honor, in reputation, in character, and in glory of any other portion of the Republic, and she will never consent to tarnish her name, by inscribing on her escutcheon with her own hand, that she has been guilty.”
I include that because I feel it is pertinent to what is currently happening in America today with the tearing down or defacing of monuments dedicated to the Confederacy. America, particularly Southern America, has forgotten, or never been told the truth, regarding what the Civil War was fought for, and that ignorance has led to these outrages against brave men who fought for a just cause; while the monument dedicated to the two faced initiator of violence against a people who just wanted to be free from the tyrannical power of a sectional political party remains standing. While Lincoln is praised as one of the, if not THE, greatest president ever, monuments dedicated to men who fought under the shield of protection given them by the Declaration of Independence are vandalized and torn down.
It makes me physically ill to watch what is happening in America today when a people, ignorant of their country’s history, allow propaganda and emotions to guide their actions, and to call for the destruction or removal of historical monuments. History isn’t always pretty, but it remains a crucial part of how we understand the present; and to see it being torn down is an offense against all that was once good in this country.