Andrew Johnson, Speech to visiting delegation of the Virginia Legislature, the White House, Washington, D.C., February 10, 1866

    Source citation
    Edward McPherson (ed.), A Handbook of Politics for 1868 (Washington, DC: Philp and Solomons, 1868), 56-58.
    Recipient (to)
    Delegation the Virginia Legislature
    Date Certainty
    John Osborne, Dickinson College
    Transcription date
    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.
    In reply, gentlemen, to the resolutions you have just presented to me, and the clear and forcible and concise remarks which you have made in explanation of the position of Virginia, I shall not attempt to make a formal speech , but simp ly to enter into a plain conversation in regard to the condition of things in which we stand.
    As a premise to what I may say, permit me first to tender you my thanks for this visit, and next to express the gratification I feel in meeting so many intelligent, responsible, and respectable men of Virginia, bearing to me the sentiments which have been expressed in the resolutions of your Legislature and the remarks accompanying them.
    They are, so far as they refer to the Constitution of the country, the sentiments and the principles embraced in the charter of the Government. The preservation of the Union has been, from my entrance into public life, one of my cardinal tenets. At the very incipiency of this rebellion I set my face against the dissolution of the Union of the States. I do not make this allusion for the purpose of bringing anything which has transpired which may be regarded as of an unkind or unpleasant character,but I believed then, as I believe now, and as you have most unmistakably indicated, that the security and the protection of the rights of all the people were to be found in the Union; that we were certainly safer in the Union than we were out of it.
    Upon this conviction I based my opposition to the efforts which were made to destroy the Union. I have continued those efforts, notwithstanding the perils through which I have passed, and you are not unaware that the trial has been a severe one. When opposition to the Government came from one section of the country, and that the section in which my life had been passed, and with which my interests were identified, I stood, as I stand now, contending for the Union, and asseverating that the best and surest way to obtain our rights and to protect our interests was to remain in the Union, under the protection of the Constitution.
    The ordeal through which we have passed during the last four or five years demonstrates most conclusively that that opposition was right; and to-day, after the experiment has been made and has failed; after the demonstration has been most conclusively afforded that this Union cannot be dissolved, that it was not designed to be dissolved, it is extremely gratifying to me to meet gentlemen as intelligent and as responsible as yourselves, who are willing and anxious to accept and do accept the terms laid down in the Constitution and in obedience to the laws made in pursuance thereof.
    We were at one period separated; the separation was to me painful in the extreme; but now, after having one through a struggle in which the powers of the Government have been tried, when we have swung around to a point at which we meet to agree and are willing to unite our efforts for the preservation of the Government, which I believe is the best in the world, it is exceedingly gratifying to me to meet you to-day, standing upon common ground, rallying around the Constitution and the Union of these States, the preservation of which, as I conscientiously and honestly believe. will result in the promotion and the advancement of this people.
    I repeat, I am gratified to meet you to-day, expressing the principles and announcing the sentiments to which you have given utterance, and I trust that the occasion will long be remembered. I have no doubt that your intention is to carry out and comply with every single principle laid down in the resolutions you have submitted. I know that some are distrustful; but I am of those who have confidence in the judgment, in the integrity, in the intelligence, in the virtue of the great mass of the American people; and having such confidence, I am willing to trust them, and I thank God that we have not yet reached that point where we have lost all confidence in each other.
    The spirit of the Government can only be preserved, we can only become prosperous and great as a people, by mutual forbearance and confidence. Upon that faith and confidence alone can the Government be successfully carried on.
    On the cardinal principle of representation to which you refer I will make a single remark. That principle is inherent; it constitutes one of the fundamental elements of this Government. The representatives of the States and of the people should have the qualifications prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, and those qualifications most unquestionably imply loyalty. He who comes as a representative, having the qualifications prescribe by the Constitution to fit him to take a seat in either of the deliberative bodies which constitute the national legislature, must necessarily, according to the intendment of the Constitution, be a loyal man, willing to abide by and devoted to the Union and the Constitution of the States. He cannot be for the Constitution, he cannot be for the Union, he cannot acknowledge obedience to all the laws, unless he is loyal. When the people send such men in good faith, they are entited to representation through them.
    In going into the recent rebellion or insurrection against the Government of the United States we erred; and in returning and resuming our relations with the Federal Government, I am free to say that all the responsible positions and laces ought to be confined distinctly and clearly to men who are loyal. If there were only five thousand loyal men in a State, or a less number, but sufficient to take charge of the political machinery of the State, those five thousand men, or the lesser number, are entitled to it, if all the rest should be otherwise inclined. I look upon it as being fundamental that the exercise of political power should be confined to loyal men; and I regard that as implied in the doctrines laid down in these resolutions and in the eloquent address by which they have been accompanied. I may say, furthermore, that after having passed through the great struggle in which we have been engaged, we should be placed upon much more acceptable ground in resuming all our relations to the General Government if we presented men unmistakably and unquestionably loyal to fill the places of power. This being done, I feel that the day is not far distant - I speak confidingly in reference to the great mass of the American people - when they will determine that this Union shall be made whole, and the great right of representation in the councils of the nation be acknowledged.
    Gentlemen, that is a fundamental principle. “No taxation without representation' was one of the principles which carried us through the Revolution. This great principle will hold good yet; and if we but perform our duty, if we but comply with the spirit of the resolutions presented to me to-day, the American people will maintain and sustain the great doctrines upon which the Government was inaugurated. It can be done, and it will be done ; and I think that if the effort be fairly and fully made, with forbearance and with prudence, and with discretion and wisdom, the end is not very far distant.
    It seems to me apparent that from every consideration the best policy which could be adopted at present would be a restoration of these States and of the Government upon correct principles. We have some foreign difficulties, but the moment it can be announce that the Union of the States is again complete, that we have resumed our career of prosperity and greatness, at that very instant, almost, all our foreign difficulties will be settled; for there is no power upon the earth which will care to have a controversy or a rupture with the Government of the United States under such circumstances.
    If these States be fully restored, the area for the circulation of the national currency, which is thought by some to be inflated to a very great extent, will be enlarged, the number of persons through whose hands it is to pass will be increased, the quantity of commerce in which it is to be employed as a medium of exchange will be enlarged; and then it will begin to approximate what we all desire, a specie standard. If all the States were restored - if peace and order reigned throughout the land, and all the industrial pursuits - all the avocations of peace - were again resumed, the day would not be very far distant when we could put into the commerce of the world $250,000,000 or $300,000,000 worth of cotton and tobacco, and the various products of the Southern States, which would constitute, in part, a basis of this currency.
    Then, instead of the cone being inverted, we should reverse the position, and put the base at the bottom, as it ought to be; and the currency of the country will rest on a sound and enduring basis; and surely that is a result which is calculated to promote the interests not only of one section, but of the whole country, from one extremity to the other. Indeed, I look upon the restoration of these States as being indispensable to all our greatness.
    Gentlemen, I know nothing further that I could say in the expression of my feelings on this occasion - and they are not affected - more than to add, that I shall continue in the same line of policy which I have pursued from the commencement of the rebellion to the present period. My efforts have been to preserve the Union of the States. I never, for a single moment, entertained the opinion that a State could withdraw from the Union of its own will. That attempt was made. It has failed. I continue to pursue the same line of policy which has been my constant guide. I was against dissolution. Dissolution was attempted; it has failed; and now I cannot take the position that a State which attempted to secede is out of the Union, when I contended all the time that it could not go out, and that it never has been out. I cannot be forced into that position. Hence, when the States and their people shall have complied with the requirements of the Government, shall be in favor of their resuming their former relations to this Government in all respects.
    I do not intend to say anything personal, but you know as well as I do that at the beginning, and indeed before the beginning, of the recent gigantic struggle between the different sections of the country, there were extreme men South and there were extreme men North. I might make use of a homely figure - which is sometimes as good as any other, even in the illustrations of great and important questions - and say that it has been hammer at one end of the line and anvil at the other; and this great Government, the best the world ever saw, was kept upon the anvil and hammered before the rebellion, and it has been hammered since the rebellion; and there seems to be a disposition to continue the hammering until the Government shall be destroyed. I have opposed that system always, and I oppose it now.
    The Government, in the assertion of its powers and in the maintenance of the principles of the constitution, has taken hold of one extreme, and with the strong arm of physical power has put down the rebellion. Now, as we swing around the circle of the Union, with a fixed and unalterable determination to stand by it, if we find the counterpart or the duplicate of the same spirit that played to this feeling and these persons in the South, this other extreme, which stands in the way must get out of it, and the Government must stand unshaken and unmoved on its basis. The Government must be preserved.
    I will only say, in conclusion, that I hope all the people of this country, in good faith and in the fullness of their hearts, will, upon the principles which you have enunciated here to-day, of the maintenance of the Constitution and the preservation of the Union, lay aside every other feeling for the good of our common country, and with uplifted faces to heaven swear that our gods and our altars and all shall sink in the dust together rather than that this glorious Union shall not be preserved.
    I am gratified to find the loyal sentiment of the country developing and manifesting itself in these expressions; and now that the attempt to destroy the government has failed at one end of the line, I trust we shall go on determined to preserve the Union in its original purity against all opposers.
    I thank you, gentlemen, for the compliment you have paid me, and I respond most cordially to what has been said in your resolutions and address, and I trust in God that the time will soon come when we can meet under more favorable auspices than we do now. 
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