Speeches of Carl Schurz
On Saturday evening a brilliant audience assembled at National Hall, to listen to an address on the political issues of the day, by Major-General Carl Schurz. About half-past 8 o'clock General Schurz was introduced to the assembly by Wm. H. Korn, Esq. He was received with repeated rounds of applause and spoke as follows:—
Mr. President and Fellow Citizens: — No discerning man can survey the present situation of affairs in this Republic without perceiving that, although the war is over, the country is not yet at peace. There is a fierce contest going on between the executive and legislative branches of the National Government, in which the masses of the people are called upon to take sides. In the South, we see symptoms of dangerous fermentation sporadically breaking out in bloody deeds. In the North, the war of opinions is carried on with passionate violence. A gathering of men, euphoniously styling itself "The National Union Convention," has already called upon the people of the South not to submit, if the policy adopted by the Congress of the United States should prevail. Everywhere the air is heavy with threats and apprehensions.
This state of things, surprising and alarming as it may appear, is by no means without precedent. Look over the history of the world, and you will find that every great reformatory movement in society, every revolution in favor of popular rights, every sudden onward stride in the progress of civilization, has had to pass through two distinct periods — first, the struggle for its achievement, and then the struggle for the preservation of its results; the first, the period of action; the second, the period of reaction.
When the struggles of the first period are over, and the victory seems decided, the discomfited forces of society gradually wake up from the torpor of their defeat; the energies and vigilance of the victors are relaxed by a sanguine delusion of security and the generous emotions engendered by success. The defeated party presently rallies for an attempt to recover what it has lost, the victors are off their guard, and the results of the victory are again put in question. These results will be safe only if the victors have been wise enough to have them firmly imbedded in political forms or institutions so well fixed and fortified that the tide of the reaction, however furious, cannot shake or move them. But these results may again be lost or grievously impaired, if the victors in foolish confidence have neglected to surround them with impregnable safeguards. Now, protracted and dangerous struggles will inevitably be the consequence. History teaches us this lesson on thousands of its most instructive pages, and no true statesman will close his eyes against it.
That period of reaction after our glorious victory for national Union and human liberty has now come upon us, and it is the more formidable and dangerous as one of the great powers of the State has made himself its agent and champion. I shall attempt to analyze its nature and the situation in which it has placed us, with fairness, but without reserve; and I invite you to follow my reasoning with that intellectual honesty which shrinks from no conclusions of logic.
When the civil war had come to a close the problem presented itself, of what is commonly called reconstruction. The principal difficulty of that problem consisted then, and consists now, in this: The political system of this Republic rests upon the right of the people to control their local concerns in their several States by the operations of self-government, subject to certain restrictions imposed by the National Constitution, and in the right to co-operate with one another in the government of the whole.
This system was not to be changed in the work of reconstruction; but it was evident also that if reconstruction was to accomplish only the mere setting in motion again of the machinery of Government as it had been previous to the war, and nothing else, it would have forthwith invested the very people who had been in rebellion against the Government with the power in a great measure to control the very results which had been won, and against which they had struggled; and this would have been a surrender of the consequences of our victory to the discretion of the defeated.
Here was a difficulty which struck the mind of every candid man at first sight. The immediate and unconditional restoration of the Rebel States to the absolute control of their home affairs and to power in the General Government was so obviously incompatible with the best interests and sacred obligations of the Republic, so manifestly against all common sense, that when one of the greatest heroes of the war, led astray by a too generous error of judgment, admitted it as one of the stipulations of an armistice, the people, startled out of their equanimity by the mistake, raised a general outcry against him all over the loyal States. The hero I speak of undoubtedly soon saw his error, and the country remembers nothing but the gratitude it owes him. (Applause.)
In fact, all those who had been faithful to the national cause during the war substantially agreed, at its close, on two points with almost unbroken unanimity. First. That as speedily as possible all the attributes of our Democratic system of government should be restored; but, second, that the Rebel States could not be reinstated in the full control of their local affairs, in their full participation in the Government of the Republic, until, by the imposition of irreversible stipulations, it should have been rendered impossible for them to subvert or impair any of the results of the war, or to violate any of the obligations the Republic had taken upon herself.
Least of all did Andrew Johnson object to it. No man insisted more strenuously that the participants in the Rebellion must be punished and stripped of all political power and social influence, and that the Government of the States, as well as of the nation, must be confided exclusively to the tried and ever-faithful friends of the Republic. Nay, he was so fierce and radical in those days that many of us began to be seriously alarmed lest, by shedding the blood of too many victims by too severe exactions, by too merciless and sweeping a proscription he offend the humane spirit of the age, and cast a shadow upon the fair escutcheon of this Republic. We have learned to know him better by this time. Nobody fears that he will hang too many traitors now. He tells us that he is going the round of the circle, and he is just now at the other end; and we have every reason to believe it. (Cheers.) But let that pass.
Cast a look back upon the days immediately following
the close of the war — those days of promise
How easy was it then to accomplish all that would
have saved the nation from the throes of the struggle
we are to-day engaged in ? Then the people of the
Rebel States had not yet rallied from the torpor of
defeat. Far from thinking of another fight, they
thought of nothing but the necessity of submission.
In tremulous anxiety they awaited the verdict of the
conqueror. They expected nothing better than that
we should dictate the terms of peace. If anybody had
told them that we would not, they would not have
believed him. They dreamed of nothing but punishment,
of wholesale hanging and confiscation; and the
imposition of any sort of government that would
permit them to live and to retain what they had saved
from the disasters of the war would have been
welcomed by them as an act of grace and favor.
Let it not be said that, in thus describing the condition of the Southern people at that time, I am gloating over the prostration of a defeated enemy, or that it would have been ungenerous to take advantage of their helplessness. Whatever the President's friends may think, I am one of those who still consider the rebellion one of the great crimes in history. Yes, how easy would it have been then, at that moment to accomplish all that was needful. While the South was thus passive, in the North also all that insidious opposition which had dogged the Government during the war vanished before the glory of our victory.
In the life of nations, as in the life of individuals, we see here and there standing out in bold relief, moments of great opportunity — moments when by simply following the manifest logic of events mighty consummations may be reached, which, if the auspicious hour be suffered to pass, it will sometimes require ages of bitter and dangerous struggles to accomplish. Such a moment of great opportunity had arrived for the American Republic immediately after the close of the civil war. Truly it did not require a bold and daring genius or profound statesman at the head of affairs to seize it. It required simply a man of sincere sympathy with the best ideas of this great age: not a great man, but merely an honest man. (Great applause.) Alas, that our good President was dead! That at such a moment Abraham Lincoln's great heart — [Great cheering] — his true and tender sympathies with the lowly children of humanity, his pure and unerring instincts of right and liberty, his unselfish purpose to be equally just to all, should have been lost to us! Alas, that the good President is dead! We have learned to measure the greatness of our loss by what he left behind him. (Long continued cheering.)
President Johnson took the work of reconstruction into his own hands, and began to develop a scheme of policy. He issued proclamations appointing Provisional Governors for the Rebel States, and ordered them to call State Conventions. Was not the work of reconstruction to be placed exclusively into the hands of loyal Union men? Of course it was; Andrew Johnson had said so! He had solemnly declared that if there were but five thousand men of tried loyalty in a State, theirs must be the Government.
But political power in the States naturally belongs to those who have the right to vote and to be voted for. Andrew Johnson began by prescribing the qualifications of voters. The loyal blacks were at once excluded from the suffrage; the right of voting was to be confined to the loyal whites. But who were the loyal whites? The President issued a proclamation of amnesty, and decreed that all participants in the Rebellion should be regarded as loyal men if they would take the oath of allegiance, fourteen specially enumerated classes excepted.
A child might have foreseen the consequences. The true Union element was everywhere helplessly overwhelmed by Rebel majorities.
Thus the reaction was fairly started. It commenced when the President first opened to the late Rebels the road to power, and gained in strength as that power was obtained. It is true, Andrew Johnson deemed it necessary to impose upon them conditions precedent to their full restoration. He demanded that their State conventions should declare the Secession ordinances null and void, which, however, not all of them did. But that was a mere matter of form — good as far as it went. Such declarations in words, however, would never prevent another Rebellion.
I was myself in the South shortly after the close of the war, and when the President's policy was bearing its first fruits. President Johnson had honored me with a confidential mission to investigate the condition of things in the late Rebel States, and I endeavored to show myself worthy of that confidence by honestly reporting what I had seen and heard, and what I conscientiously understood to be true. Subsequently it appeared to me as if I had misunderstood the nature of my mission. But I dare to assert that every truthful man who knows what has occurred in the South, will testify that if the official statements I have made convey erroneous impressions at all, they do so only by their studied mildness. My report has not had the good fortune of winning the applause or of exercising an influence upon the mind of him who sent me; but I console myself with the confident belief that in this country no individual, however powerful, can seal the eyes of the people by merely closing his own. (Tremendous cheers.)
In my official report, I predicted that if the reactionary movement in the South be left unchecked, it would result in the introduction, by legislation, or, in the absence of laws, by practical appliances, of some system of labor intermediate between free labor and slavery, but having more of the attributes of the latter than of the former. Has not my prediction been verified by fact? To be sure, the President affects not to believe it, for it is a truth hardly recommendatory of his policy. But I do not ask the President to believe me. He himself testifies to the truth of what I have said, by his own acts. All over the South his military officers, his agents, acting under his orders and by his authority, have been busy for some time setting aside and overruling State laws and judicial proceedings, because they were to glaringly incompatible with the decree of emancipation. It appears the President must, after all, have had an inkling of what was going on. I bring to the President the President's own testimony. Will he condescend to believe himself? or does he, perhaps, know himself so well as to have no faith in his own character for truth and veracity? (Tremendous cheers.)
And what does all this prove? It proves that the people lately in Rebellion, as soon as they saw their State Governments once more in their hands, saw also a chance to turn their power to account in a reactionary movement against emancipation. It shows that they were determined not to permit the emancipated slave to become a true freeman, nor a system of true free labor to supplant that of slavery. It shows that they used their power in that direction as far as the General Government suffered them to go, and Heaven knows President Johnson, although anxious to keep up appearances, suffered them to go far enough.
But the reactionary movement did not confine itself to the blacks; the whites, too, came in for their share. No sooner did the people lately in Rebellion see the road to political power reopened to them by the President's reconstruction policy, than they malignantly turned upon those Southern men who had refused to espouse the cause of the Rebellion, and those Northerners who, during and after the war, imported into the South their capital, intelligence, enterprise and civilization.
Nor does the reaction stop there. Hardly had the President's policy had time to be understood when a malignant spirit of hostility began to follow the Northern emigrant in all the relations of life. Every man was spotted who refused to sell his loyal principles along with his calico; and the Southern Union men in the same measure, as they had been faithful to the Government, were sneered at, howled at, spit upon as traitors to the Southern cause, and soon found themselves the outcasts of Southern society.
Can it be that in the great struggle for the Union, the tried and self-sacrificing Unionists of the South are the worst defeated party? Shameful, incredible as it may seem, yet so it is. Under the heels of the Rebellion when the Rebellion broke out, they are still more under the heels of the Rebels since the Rebellion is vanquished; for then they looked up with hope, and now they look down almost with despair. Here they are, taking refuge under the shield of the loyal North, to enjoy the poor privilege of giving expression to their grief.
And there is the South; those who but recently fought against us again wielding the powers of Government in their States; flaunting before our eyes the declaration that, in rising to destroy the Union, they did no wrong; boasting of the Rebellion as the pride and glory of their history; insolently defying and sneering at those who conquered them; making complicity in treason a test for political distinction; spitting upon tried loyalty to the National cause as a mark of disgrace; seeking to legislate and whip into servitude and misery those whom we have emanipated. Such are the fruits of the reaction sprung from the President's policy. Do you recognize them? It is slavery; slavery dead only in name, but its spirit revived by the treacherous policy of one who had sworn that it should never rise again.
I know the President's friends will say that I exaggerate. I wish I had exaggerated. But let them read the testimony of our military commanders whom a protracted residence in the South has enabled to form a judgment; let them scan the list of Southern State officers and inquire into their past career and their present doings; let them look over their records of Southern Legislatures and study the character of their enactments; let them search the Southern press as an exponent of Southern sentiment; let them run their eyes over the lists of killed and wounded Union men, white as well as black, whom the reaction has already laid low; and within themselves they will hear a voice giving the lie to the white-washing talk with which they strive to deceive the people.
Thus the reaction in the Southern States is almost complete. Almost, I say; not quite. Whatever encouragement the President may have given them, and however far they may have been urged on by it, still they labored under one restraint. There was something which operated as a check, and prevented still wilder abuses of power. When they had gained supreme control in their States, there was still another thing to be gained, and that was their old controlling power in the Government of the nation. They had their Governors; they had their Legislatures, their judges, their municipal officers — but their seats in Congress were still to be won. They had conquered all the ground except one position; but that position was the key to the battle-field. While all other points were surrendered to them by treacherous complicity, that one position was garrisoned by a host of faithful men; for, thank Heaven, the spirit of the loyal people which gave victory to the national arms, gave also to the country a Congress true to the cause of freedom.
And now, after all this, the loyal people are summoned to surrender what Congress has so firmly maintained. Suppose for a moment this were done, can the consequences be doubtful?
Mark my words: You admit the late rebel States to representation and power in the National Government such as they are, unconditionally, you remove the breaks from the reactionary movement without first having secured and fortified the results of the war by amendments to our Federal Constitution; and I predict the reaction will go so far as to call in question all legislation that was had during the absence from Congress of the eleven Rebel States.
Look the matter square in the face. Here is a Congress of which the Southern men and Northern Johnson men form a majority; for such is the design of our opponents. The Southern delegations are there, unshackled by any of the constitutional amendments now before the people. As a matter of course, the test oath will at once be repealed. The South loudly demands the repeal; the President is in favor of it; and such being the case, where would the Johnson men find spirit enough to refuse it? The test oath repealed, the representative men of the South, that is, those who represented and led the South during the Rebellion, will at once find their way to Congressional seats; and as by the emancipation of the slaves the representation of the Southern States will be largely increased, there will be more representative men of the South in Congress, and their power will be greater than ever before. Will the increase of their power be calculated to render them more modest in their pretensions?
Next in order comes the breaking down of all Congressional legislation for the protection of the emancipated slaves. All the obstacles which stand in the way of their reducing the freedmen to some sort of servile subjection again will be overturned without delay.
Next in order will come the demand of compensation for the emancipated slaves and the damage done by our armies while operating against the Rebels to the Southern States. Does anybody doubt that such extravagant claims will be preferred? Why, of the men elected in Congress in the Southern States last year, a vast majority were elected upon the distinct pledge that this demand for compensation would be preferred and insisted upon. Every Southern man will tell you that the Southern members, with the exception of a few from Tennessee and perhaps Arkansas, will be a solid unit upon that very question; and, in fact, if the Rebel States be readmitted unconditionally, such as they are, will it not be natural? How many thousand millions they will demand, who knows?
Next in order come the pensions paid to disabled soldiers and sailors, and to the widows and orphans of those who lost their in the struggle against the rebellion. Will the late Rebels consent to help paying pensions to those, or to the widows and orphans of those who subjugated them, while nothing is given to the Rebel soldiers who defended them? Look into the Southern press; listen to the speeches of the candidates for office, and you will find an answer. No sooner will the Rebel States by admitted, unconditionally such as they are, than the alternative will be either to stop paying pensions to Northern invalids, widows and orphans, or to pay them likewise to those whose claims are based upon services rendered to the Rebel cause. Can such a thing be thought of? The tender hearted Johnsonites, who wept together with their Southern friends at the Philadelphia Convention, will hardly be capable of refusing to Southern heroes the pittance of fifty or sixty millions of year, whatever Northern taxpayers may think of it.
Finally we arrive at the National debt. That the Southern people should be loath to pay the cost of the whipping they have received is natural enough. They cannot reasonably be expected to do so willingly. Such is human nature, and such is certainly Southern human nature. Let that Southern human nature be restored to power and influence in the National Government, and what reasonable man will doubt that every possible impediment will be thrown in the way of all legislation necessary to provide for the satisfaction of the just claims of our national creditors, unless we consent to assume the Rebel debt also? I do not pretend to say that the masses of the South would be in favor of paying the Rebel debt. What they would be most in favor of would be just to pay no debt at all. But the creditors of the late Confederate Government would indeed be very much in favor of giving some value to their Confederate bonds, and being the most influential men of the South, they will not find it difficult to persuade the Southern masses that if any debt is to be paid at all the Confederate debt is entitled to payment as well as any other, if not even more. Who doubts that the people lately in rebellion will be very well convinced of this? Then operations will commence for the assumption of the Rebel debt. The Southern members of Congress will be an almost solid unit for it.
It will be necessary to buy up Northerners enough to make a majority. Do you think this impossible? The Confederate debt is estimated at about for thousand millions of dollars. Suppose the Confederate creditors combine, and set one hundred, two hundred, or five hundred millions of their Confederate bonds apart as a general corruption fund; suppose an agent of the Confederate bondholders approaches a Northern doughface in this wise: — "Sir, I offer you a million of dollars in Confederate bonds at one cent on the dollar, the payment to be made to you ten days after the assumption of the Confederate debt by the United States. Now, sir, I offer you this as a fair business transaction, and not as a bribe." Suppose this offer be made, is it not probable that a good many of those who are willing to sell their souls for a post office, will take it and vote for the assumption of the Confederate debt? To refuse anything to a Southern man is already a task of tremendous difficulty to a Northern doughface; but to refuse that something with a million attached to it, would not appear to most of our Johnson men an unjustifiable act of vindictiveness, calculated to alienate the hardly reconciled feelings of our erring, but now so sweetly repentant brethren.
But I am told that in a Congress organized upon the Johnson plan, the representatives of the Rebel States will at all events constitute only a minority, and that if they carry the reactionary movement too far, the Northern Johnson men will resist them. Ah, their virtue has already shown most wonderful powers of resistance! Look at their representative men. Here is Mr. Doolittle. When the Civil Rights bill was passed in the Senate, Mr. Doolittle happened to be absent. The next day he took the floor, declaring that he would have voted aye had he been present, and asked the privilege of recording his vote in favor of that excellent measure. At that time it was understood that the President approved of it. A few days afterwards the President vetoed the bill. Mr. Doolittle made haste to record his vote in favor of sustaining the veto, and has ever since been denouncing that excellent measure as one of the abominations of the age. There is his independence of conviction! Here is Mr. Raymond. He voted for the Constitutional amendment now before the people. He expressed his hope that the President would accept it, and recommend it to the Southern States for adoption.
The President not long afterwards declared himself
against the Constitutional amendment; and we see
Mr. Raymond, in his address laid before the Philadelphia
Convention, inform the Southern people that
they would be cowards and unworthy of freedom if
they submitted to so cruel an outrage. Ah, there is
re in the Johnson men! They resist the South?
How many of the renegade Republicans are there
who have not time and again given the lie to their
professions of the day before, and who do not now
every hour eat up their own words along with their
"bread and butter?" And they are to be relied upon
as the men to stem a reactionary current which they
themselves have helped to set and keep in motion?
If you want to know how far they are capable of
sinking, look and see how deeply they have sunk
already. When the news of the New Orleans riots and
the connection of the President with that revolting
butchery flashed over the country, the heart of every
honest man was palpitating with indignation. Was
it not then time for these fast friends of Andrew Johnson
to tell him, "We have followed you so far, but we
cannot go with you into deeds of blood?" But what
did they do? Not one of them had spirit enough to
condemn openly what must have sickened their
inmost hearts. With indecent haste they rushed forward
to approve the President's acts and to white-wash ed
the assassins of Louisiana. Nay, for men who
are capable of so monstrous a self-debasement, there
is no depth of infamy into which they will not be ready to descend.
And thus the reactionary movement rushes on.
The atrocities it has already achieved, after having
won the machinery of the State governments, I have
described to you. I have endeavored to unfold before
you its prospective programme, to be carried when
the late Rebel States are unconditionally restored to
power in the National Government. And now we
behold the President of the United States prostituting
the whole power of his office, by using it as a
machinery of intimidation and bribery, putting up at
auction the patronage of the Government, the price
to be paid in consciences, and leaving, as he himself
says, his Presidential dignity behind him — indeed, he
leaves it so far behind that the two will never again
come together — promenading his bad grammar and
his clownish egotism across the country, to bully a
brave and noble people into acquiescence; behind
him the encouraging shouts of the Rebel States;
around him all the disloyal elements of the North,
which during the war conspired for the overthrow of
the Republic, together with a bevy of political
hirelings, who carry their principles in their
pockets, and are ready to sell out, along with their
better convictions, the whole great future of their
country; and the whole of this disgusting company,
President, Rebels, Copperheads and renegades, v
with each other in threats of another civil war if their
nefarious designs are successfully resisted. (Long
Such is the situation of affairs at this moment; such the difficulties which surround us; such the dangers which threaten us. Can these difficulties be overcome? Can these dangers be averted? We have no time to stop and discuss whether, and how they can be, for every patriotic heart in the country will respond, "they must be." (Tremendous cheers and raising of hats.)
It is true the first golden opportunity after the victory of our arms, when we might have accomplished with ease what now may cost us the fiercest struggles, that first great opportunity has been treacherously frittered away, never to return; but it is not too late yet. A faithful Congress is still guarding the key position of the battle-field, and nobody need despair as long as behind a faithful Congress there stands a faithful people. (Cheers for Congress.)
I will confess that as a general plan of reconstruction, as a foundation for the future development of this great Republic, this constitutional amendment never appeared to me broad enough. I believe not only in the ability, but also in the right of man to govern himself. I believe that the only safe basis for democratic institutions to rest upon, consists in the integrity of self-government, and that the integrity of self-government consists in no man's being excluded from participation in it by disabilities which he cannot overcome. I believe that to place the government of the late Rebel States upon a reliable loyal foundation, you must enfranchise all the loyal men, black as well as white, thus effecting a safe reconstruction of the whole Republic by enlarging the democratic basis of our political system. I believe that the Republic owes it to the emancipated slaves whom she promised to make truly and forever free, either to protect them by the arm of the Federal Government, or to enable them to protect themselves, and that the development of free labor and the cause of democratic government requires the enfranchisement of the negro just as much as the negro needs it for his own protection. I believe that this Republic will have achieved true glory and secured lasting peace only when she metes out impartial justice to all her children. This would have been, in my opinion, not only the safest basis of reconstruction, but the most glorious achievement of this age, and the best warrant for the future development of our national strength, prosperity and greatness. If for this I am vilified as an advocate of negro suffrage, I am willing to take the abuse and to stand by my convictions. (Long continued applause.)
That the Constitutional amendment falls short of this, I heartily deplore. Still, I fondly hope that we shall yet reach the great consummation, and the very obstreperousness of the Rebel States may hasten it on. But such as the Constitutional amendment is, as far as it goes, is it not in itself good? Is it not necessary? What objection can there be made to it? Is it wrong that the civil rights of American citizens should be placed directly under the shield of the National Constitution? Is it not perfectly proper and just that if a people of a State exclude the negroes from the right of suffrage, they should not have the advantage of counting them in the basis of representation — an advantage which would give one Rebel soldier in South Carolina three times as much political power as is wielded by a Union soldier in Massachusetts.
Is it not proper that if Massachusetts and South Carolina are to walk arm-in-arm, they should at least be equals at the ballot-box? Who but those who want to see the national debt repudiated will object to its being secured by a constitutional provision? Is not this absolutely necessary in the face of the dangers which threaten us? Or is it, perhaps, wrong and unwise that by excluding the instigators of the Rebellion from political office, we should make it impossible for those who but yesterday strove to destroy the Republic, to govern it again to-morrow? To be sure, Mr. Johnson's friends say that to keep such gentlemen out of office is a great outrage. Is it not significant that Mr. Johnson's friends never call it an outrage when the Rebels keep Union men out of office because they are Union men?
Show me in the history of the world a single example of a great rebellion, the suppression of which was attended with such mildness and magnanimity. If there were any proof wanted to demonstrate the greatness of that magnanimity, it would be found in the fact that the same men whose lives were forfeited by the law and who but yesterday escaped the halter, are vociferously complaining of our cruelty because we do not just yet want them to rule us to-morrow. Nay, the provisions of the constitutional amendment are so evidently just and proper that it has neither been attacked on its own merits by the President, who certainly is not disinclined to attack everything that comes from that body which "hangs upon the verge of the Government," not even by the distinguished gentlemen who did all the speaking for the Philadelphia Convention.
But here we encounter the great staple argument of the Johnson party. It is that, however proper, just and necessary the provisions of the constitutional amendment may be, the Government has no right to make its ratification a condition precedent to the readmission of the Rebel States; they always have been States; they have never ceased to be States; they are States now, and as such they are entitled to all the rights and privileges of other States. I will not follow our opponents into a metaphysical disquisition on the nature of a State, for it is not necessary for the purpose of proving the utter absurdity of their position.
Who does not know that a great civil war is subject to the same rules of public law as a foreign war? Is it not a principle of common sense, as well as a principle approved by every publicist of note since the world has had a literature, that the victor in a civil war, as well as in an international conflict, has a right to protect himself against immediate and prospective danger? Is it not the very height of insanity to say that the Government of the United States has no right to provide for the future security of the Republic, because the defeated Rebels regain all their rights at the moment of their failure, and by the very fact of their defeat? Here is Vattel, book 3, section 201, 44, 45: —
"When the conqueror has subdued a hostile nation, he may, if prudence so require, render her incapable of doing mischief with the same ease in the future. * * * If the safety of the State lies at stake, our precaution and foresight cannot be extended too far. Must we delay to avert our union until it becomes inevitable? * * * An injury gives a right to provide for our future safety by depriving the unjust aggressor of the means of injuring us."
Would it not be an act of folly unprecedented in the history of nations to neglect so absolutely necessary a precaution in our case? Is it possible that men with any pretensions to sanity should attempt to deny the justice of a principle so self-evident; a principle equally approved by common sense and public law? That President Johnson should ever have taken so absurd a position I can explain only upon one theory. He frequently tells us in his unfortunately not unfrequent speeches that he commenced his political career as a village alderman, at Greenville, Tennessee, and that he then rose, step by step, until he reached the Presidency of the United States. It seems, when the President finds himself in a tangle, he is still in the habit of applying to the "Dogberry" of Greenville for a constitutional argument. (Tremendous laughter and cheers.)
But the President's own acts give the lie to his theories. Has he not himself imposed upon the Rebel States conditions precedent to readmission? Did he not order them to ratify the Constitutional amendment prohibiting slavery, and to repudiate the Rebel debt, expressly telling them that they would not be readmitted until they should have done so? And if he can do that, why not Congress? Has the alderman of Greenville grown so big as to absorb in himself all the powers of the Government, leaving nothing to the representatives of the people? (Loud applause.)
But he did not stop even there. He appointed Governors and ordered them to call State conventions. He kept the Governors of his appointment still in office after the people of the Rebel States had elected their own. Nay, when their elected Governors were already in office, and the Legislatures working, he set aside laws passed by those Legislatures, and approved by those Governors, on his own authority, by mere Executive order; and, after all this, he still dares to speak of those States as being entitled to just the same rights as New York or Massachusetts. Would he have dared to attempt similar things in Pennsylvania?
I apprehend the sturdy yeomanry of the Keystone State would have shown him the difference between their State and conquered Mississippi, in the twinkling of an eye. Nay, if his theory were correct, if the conquered communities of the South were really entitled to the same rights and privileges as the loyal States of the Union, he would, by his very acts of flagrant interference with the legitimate rights of States, have committed a high crime against the Constitution of the United States, and Jack Rogers, of New Jersey, ought to have moved his impeachment long ago, to give Senator Cowan, of Pennsylvania, an opportunity to pronounce him guilty. (Laughter and applause.)
Here I will leave Mr. Johnson and his friends to their self-imposed task of proving that the great men who made the Constitution were such consummate fools as to render the Government of the United States constitutionally unable, after having conquered a great Rebellion, to provide for the security of the Republic by imposing conditions upon the defeated enemy. They are profound constitutional lawyers, I presume, and I wish them joy! (Laughter and cheers.)
In the meantime, I trust no honest and patriotic man will find it difficult to understand this aspect of the question. In the course of the war the Government wanted money, and called upon the people for loans under the distinct and solemn promise that the lender should have his interest and principal, as provided by law. This constituted our obligation to the National creditor. The Government wanted aid and co-operation inside of the Rebellious States, and called upon the Union men of the South to come forward, under the distinct understanding that they should not be abandoned to the tender mercies of the Rebels. This constituted our national obligation to the Union men of the South. The Government wanted to weaken the enemy and to increase its force in the field, and it called upon the negro to take part in the conflict, under the distinct and solemn promise that his race should be forever and truly free. This constituted our national obligation to the negro.
You remember the scorn and contempt with which the Rebels spoke about the "mean-spirited Yankee." Do this: betray those who stood by you in the hour of need, and at that moment you will deserve it all. Do this, and your bitterest enemy in the South will have a right to ask the negro, "Did we not tell you the Yankees would cheat you?" And the negro will have to reply, "You did; and you were right." Not because they hated you, but because they despised you, the people of the South ventured upon the Rebellion. Do this; betray your friends into the hands of their enemies, and they will despise you more than ever before, and you will have to say to yourselves that you deserve it.
And yet a policy like this I have heard designated as the "Lincoln and Johnson policy." In the name of common decency, in the name of the respect we owe to the memory of our martyred President, I solemnly protest against this insidious coupling of names. The Lincoln policy! I knew Abraham Lincoln well; and at times when many earnest and true men were dissatisfied with his ways, and when I myself could not resist an impulse of impatience, yet I never lost my faith in him, because I knew him well. The workings of his mind were slow, but the pure and noble sympathies of his heart, true as the magnet-needle, always guided them to the polar star of universal justice. He was not one of those bold reformers who will go far ahead of the particular requirements of the hour; he laboriously endeavored to comprehend what the situation demanded, and when he once clearly understood it at once he planted his foot, and no living man ever saw Abraham Lincoln make a step backward. His march was ahead, and each dawning day found him a warmer advocate of the progressive ideas of our great age.
I have heard it said, and it is one of the staple arguments of Mr. Johnson's friends, that Abraham Lincoln would never have imposed upon the Rebel States a condition precedent to restoration, because it was not in the Baltimore platform. If Mr. Lincoln had been assassinated in the year 1862, they might, with equal justice, have said because emancipation was not in the Chicago platform of 1860, he would never have been in favor of emancipation. I undertake to say he would have been as firm an advocate of impartial suffrage to-day as he was of emancipation had he lived to see how necessary the one is to secure and complete the other. True, he never ranted about the hanging and impoverishing of traitors, but in his sould slept the sublime ideal of merciful justice and of just mercy. He would not have thought of taking bloody revenge on the Union's enemies, but he would never have ceased to think of being just so the Union's friends. Abraham Lincoln and this "policy!"
He would rather have suffered himself to be burnt at the stake than to break or endanger the pledge he had given to the Southern Union man, when he called upon him for assistance, and to the negro soldier, when he summoned him to the field of battle; and if he could rise from the dead and walk among us to-day, we would see him imploring mercy upon the accursed souls of his assassins But even his large heart, with its inexhaustible mine of human kindness, would have no prayer for those who strive to undo, or culpably suffer to be undone the great work which was the crowning glory of his life.
Let Andrew Johnson's friends look for argument wherever they choose, but let the grave of the great martyr of liberty be safe against their defiling touch. In the name of the national heart I protest against the infamous trick of associating Abraham Lincoln with policy which drove into exile the truest men of the South, and culminated in the butchery at New Orleans. If Andrew Johnson has chosen his pillory, let him stand there alone, enveloped in the incense of bought flattery, adored by every villain in the land, and loaded down with the maledictions of the downtrodden and degraded.
Americans, the lines are drawn, and the issues of the contest clearly made up.
You want the Union fully restored. We offer it to you — a Union based upon universal liberty, impartial justice and equal rights, upon sacred pledges faithfully fulfilled, upon the faith of the nation nobly vindicated; a Union without a slave and without a tyrant; a Union of truly Democratic States; a Union capable of ripening to full maturity all that is great and hopeful in the mind and heart of the American people; a Union on every square foot of which free thought may shine out in free utterance; a Union between the most promising elements of progress, between the most loyal impulses in every section of this vast Republic; in one word, a Union between the true men of the North and the true men of the South.
The reactionists, with their champion, Andrew Johnson, also offer you a Union; a Union based upon deception unscrupulously practiced, upon great promises treacherously violated, upon the National faith scandalously broken; a Union whose entrails are once more to be lacerated by the irrepressible struggle between slavery and liberty; a Union in a part of which the rules of speech will be proscribed by the terrorism of the mob, and free thought silenced by the policeman's club and the knife of the assassin; a Union tainted with the blood of its truest friends and covered with the curses of its butchered children; a Union between the fighting traitors of the South and the scheming traitors of the North; a Union between the New York rioters of 1863 and the Memphis and New Orleans rioters of 1866.
You want magnanimity to a beaten foe. We offer it to you. We demand, no blood, no persecution, no revenge. We only insist that when the Republic distributes the charitable gift of pardon and grace, the safety and rights of her faithful children are entitled to the first consideration. We are ready to grasp the hand of the South. We only want first to ascertain whether the blood of our slaughtered friends is already dried on it. Peace and good will to all men is the fondest wish of our hearts, and we are anxious to give and secure it even to the bitterest of our enemies, as soon as they show an honest willingness to grant it to all of our friends.
We have passed through gloomy days of late; days of grievous disappointment, of deep humiliation, of sorrowful anxiety. But when, the other night, I stood upon the balcony of the Union League House and saw the countless multitude surging below, a multitude greater in number than the hosts which marched with Sherman to the sea, or the Army of the Potomac when it swept over the ramparts of Richmond, and that multitude, as once our battalions were summoned to the battle-field by the paternal voice of Abraham Lincoln, now following the solemn call of the same voice issuing from the grave, and when I saw from that ocean of human faces radiating forth the electric light of intelligence and love of liberty; and when I thought that the volcanic bursts of enthusiasm there were but one throb of the patriotic emotions which are to-day again swelling the great heart of the loyal North, then my soul felt itself lifted out of the gloom of dark apprehensions, and I ceased to fear for the future of the Republic.
Then it became certain again, to my mind, that the great people of the New World, who fought a four years battle of conscience, have not forgotten their exalted mission on earth, and that the very gates of hell cannot shake their mighty determination to wield, with a firm hand, the national power, until justice is done to all, and until, with safety to all, the Republic can be set afloat upon the broadest channel of self-government.
We have heard already the triumphant morning gun of Vermont booming with increased volume; far off San Francisco has merrily responded; old Maine, in the North, stands ready to send us a cheering echo, and all over the land our hosts are mustering with the inspiring confidence that to march on is to conquer.
Our time has come. Forward into line, Republicans! This is to be the final battle of the war. Let it be the greatest victory of right and justice. (Tremendous applause and three cheers for the speaker.)This speech was printed in The Philadelphia Inquirer of Monday, September 10, 1866, p. 2. The Inquirer version is quite a bit shorter than the version of this speech recorded by Frederic Bancroft in Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers of Carl Schurz, Volume I, pp. 377-416. There are many differences between the two versions of the speech.
Speeches of Carl Schurz