"The President on Reconstruction," Chicago Tribune, Apr 14, 1865, p. 1.
John Osborne, Dickinson College
The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.
The President on Reconstruction.
The President's speech, published yesterday, seems to set forth Louisiana as a practical exemplification of his views and policy for the present on the growing question of reconstruction. True, this is subject to any modifications which the the circumstances of a particular State or the changes in the condition of the entire South may render necessary; but subject to these qualifications, it is plain that the President regards the Louisiana policy as the best yet proposed as a means of restoring the rebel States to their proper practical relation to the Union. And here the President shrewdly ignores, or rather rules "out of order," the question whether a State is out of the Union or in it, which is one incapable of solution, because the terms themselves have no definable meaning. The States, or the people thereof, are out of their "proper practical relation to the Union," and whether this is to be styled being out of the Union or in it is a mere question of taste in the use of words. The President does not propose to be entangled in any such mere verbal contest.
The questions arise what is the Louisiana policy, how had it succeeded or interfered with by the dissolution of the rebellion and by the condition in which it will leave the people of the rebellious States. When Farragut's guns commanded New Orleans, Mr. Lincoln had three possibilities before him.
1. To govern Louisiana by pure martial law.
2. To let Louisiana govern herself.
3. To blend the three modes of Government.
The first would have been tyrannical, and in a short time insufferable. To govern Louisiana by a military Governor and Provost Marshals alone would have converted it into a mere satrapy, a conquered province, an asylum for political leeches to suck out the life blood of the people. It would have alienated the people of Louisiana who like ourselves regarda State Government as the very bulwark of their liberties.
On the other hand, the second - to let Louisiana govern herself - would be to nullify the Federal authority in the State, to give up all the fruits of the victories of our armies and navy by which the State was regained, to allow the Federal authority to sink into an empty name, while the old rebel State and city officials would exercise their wonted sway, and the spirit of rebellion still would rule the people. This was impossible. The only alternative remaining was to combine and blend what was good in the two policies if possible, i.e.: To allow the people as much State government as they could bear, tempered by as much military superintendence as was necessary to insure the protection of the loyal people and the supremacy of the Federal authority. This he did by inviting the people of Louisiana to form a new State government, providing one-tenth of her people would co-operate in it, sustained so long and in as much degree as needed, by martial law and military force, but affording an opportunity to the loyal people to gradually resume their State Government as soon and as fast as they should desire. Within our lines a majority of the loyal people, substantially all of them, would naturally participate in the opportunity thus extended. Beyond our lines the Government so formed would have no practical authority. As fast as our lines extend over the State the authority of the State Government would probably be welcome to all Union men. There could be no actual rule by a minority over a majority unless the majority were rebels, in which case the supremacy of the Federal flag requires that loyal men shall rule rebels whether they are in the minority or in the majority. Much has been said of the fact that but twelve thousand out of the sixty thousand voters of Louisiana participated in the formation of the State Government. But within our lines all participated who desired and beyond our lines the State Government had no practical authority. The population of the State, therefore, consisted of three classes: 1. Those who participated in it; 2. Those who had the opportunity to do so, but refused from disloyalty; 3. Those who had no opportunity to do so because beyond our lines. The first class was benefitted by it. The second and third were not injured. To all classes it was better than the other alternatives - absolute martial law with no right of election, representation, or co-operation on the one hand, and the abandonment of the State to its own misgovernment on the other.
It is to be remembered that the experiment has thus far been tried in Louisiana under the most unfavorable auspices - Louisiana was in the heart of the rebellion - surrounded on all sides by slave States - her only influential citizens were slave holders. Most of the States was at all times occupied by rebel troops, confronting our lines on every side. Most of her young men were in the rebel army. All of her people except the twelve thousand who took part in the State government hoped for the return of the rebel power in Louisiana. All knew that their geographical situation between Mississippi and Texas the independence of the Confederacy would involve the surrender of Louisiana to the "Confederacy." No rebel State was more disadvantageously situated than Louisiana for the success of such an experiment. It is vain to say that it was self-sustaining, or that it could have stood up with military support against the rebel influences from within and without. But it had in a great degree satisfied the loyal people of Louisiana; it has exhibited on the part of the Federal Government an earnest desire to satisfy them; and as soon as rebel forces are removed from the State and the rebellion crushed, the entire population of the State will flow to its support as naturally as to their former State Government. We have always contended that such an embryo government should be content with its authority within the State, and not claim admission for its Senators and Representatives in Congress until it
received the votes of the majority of the voters within the State limits.
The advantages of this mode of reconstruction are:
1. It gives the loyal people of a State, however few, if they exceed a tenth of the entire population, all the internal advantages of a State Government, without embarrassing the Federal Government by their votes in Congress, as it leaves the question of the admission of their Representatives to the subsequent action of Congress.
2. It furnishes a starting point for the loyal men in rebel States to begin and work outwards.
3. After the destruction of the military power of the rebellion, it will be adopted quite as fast as safety to the Federal Government will permit.
4. It leaves the questions of rebel suffrage and negro suffrage to be adjusted by the people taking part in these State Governments. This accords with the Constitution.
5. It relieves Congress of all questions except on the admission or rejection of Senators and Representatives, a feature condusive to the peace of the country.
6. It enables us to re-admit the States one at a time, each on its own merits, and prevents them from being either excluded or admitted en masse, either of which would be dangerous to the stability of the Federal authority.
As the President has remarked, we believe, he "will have more influence over the Administration during the next four years than he has had during the past," and we doubt not that apart from the just personal influence which his sanction gives to this plan, the more it is weighed and the better it and the entire question with all its practical difficulties are understood, the more it will command the co-operation of the people and of their representatives.