"The Southern View of the Reconstruction Bill," Harper's Weekly Magazine, March 23, 1867, p. 178.
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 SOUTHERN VIEW OF THE RECONSTRUCTION BILL.
The language is exhausted by the Southern papers in denouncing the Reconstruction bill. In their estimation it is cruel, abominable, infamous, incredible, degrading, black, devilish. Yet they are quite unanimous in the declaration that forcible resistance is useless, and they therefore advise the hopelessly oppressed and utterly subjugated “South” to remember in this hour of fearful agony that all is lost but honor, to be dignified in misfortune, patient under insult, calm amidst ruthless injustice, and to leave the issue to Him who maketh the wrath of man to praise him. The papers exhort the people of “the South” to take the attitude of a magnanimous nation which has heroically but unsuccessfully fought for the noblest cause against a fierce and remorseless tyranny; not to forget that the renown, honor, greatness, and glory of the “South” rest upon a foundation which is indestructible and immortal, and to confide themselves to the sure justice of mankind and of the ages.
All this belongs to that absurd melodrama to which "the South" is so fanatically devoted. This cheap tinsel seems to be its natural wear, and this melancholy rhodomontade its easiest expression. Does it really impose upon any sensible man in the rebel States? If any such, as is very probable, should chance to see these lines, let us remind him of the actual state of the case.
Nobody denies the desperation and heroism with which the rebels fought, nor is there any doubt of the sincerity of their declaration of faith in their cause. But in no point of view was it a noble cause. They rose against a Government which they had always controlled, and which they confessed had never oppressed them. They tried to destroy it because they thought it might oppress them hereafter. Do they suppose that mankind, with its experience of war, will justify them for such a theory of forcible revolution? And what was the oppression they feared? Simply the lawful limitation of the area of human slavery. Do they appeal to the judgment of mankind upon that possible and prospective oppression?
But, waiving this, they claim, perhaps, to have wished merely to exercise a reserved constitutional right to secede peaceably from the Union. Such a secession, of course, would have resulted in the fall of the Government and the disappearance of the United States as a national power. Do they ask mankind to consider the dissolution of a great nation, against which no accusation of oppression is urged, and toward which the eyes and hearts of the oppressed every where were turned in hope, as a glorious event? Was the substitution of thirty-seven feeble and jarring States for one commanding power so imposing an advantage to human welfare as to be sure of enlisting the gratitude and admiration of the world? Or do they rely for that final justification upon the object for which this national dissolution was sought? That object was the foundation of an empire upon ignorance and crime; upon political principles which civilization repudiates, and upon a social system which the conscience of the enlightened world abhors. Was this an object for which to summon piously the contemplation and applause of the ages?
No rhetoric about liberty can hide the fact that the rebel States sought merely the liberty to oppress; no indignant assertion of the right of State sovereignty can conceal the unimaginable crime for the unchallenged perpetration of which that sovereignty was invoked. Whether “the South” presents the “lost cause” to history and the conscience of mankind as that of slavery or of State rights, it is equally indefensible. The sole decent and tolerable point in it is the bravery with which it was maintained. It is not necessary to question the honesty of tens of thousands who fought for it, but neither can we, in the same sense, deny the sincerity of the priests who burned other men of equal sincerity for their opinions. Shall the Inquisition therefore hope for the admiration of mankind? When the Richmond Times talks to a world which fully understands the terrible and damning truths of the rebellion, of “Finis Poloniae,” and traditions “bright and shining with classic glory,” of “garnered fame,” and of “the ark of our honor floating safe and spotless,” it merely compels the contempt of every generous mind. There is no spotless honor in claiming the right, constitutional or unconstitutional, to trample upon other men. There was no fame garnered at Salisbury: nor is Andersonville very bright and shining with classic glory.
And what is this wicked and unprecedented tyranny to which the States in question must now submit? Having for the purpose which we have described, and which nobody will deny, waged a war for the destruction of the nation, which, at a cost of four years fearful struggle, of three thousand millions of dollars, and of countless precious lives, has succeeded in saving its life, what is the proposed doom of the offending States? Is it the kind of justice which they would have meted had the case been reversed? Is it the policy of England toward Ireland, and of every historic power after a subdued rebellion? Is it confiscation, exile, and death? It is simply that the anarchy which the war has produced in those States, and the evidence of which is incontestible, shall be controlled by the military force of the nation until all of the people excepting — as the Richmond Times itself grants, in the case of Virginia — about three per cent. of the worst rebels, have adopted a Constitution which recognizes the equal rights of all citizens; while the disfranchisement of the three per cent. is not perpetual but at the pleasure of Congress. This is the “disgrace,” “humiliation,” “degradation,” “destruction,” “injustice,” “persecution,” “proscription,” “wrong,” “ruin,” “outlawry,” “monstrous iniquity,” “calamity,” “fanatical tyranny,” “infamous madness,” “the bitterest cup ever concocted by ingenuity and vindictiveness,” to which the rebel States are doomed. The people in the Southern States are greatly mistaken who suppose that there is any vindictiveness among loyal citizens. Revenge would take a very different form from that of the Reconstruction bill. In common with the civilized world the loyal people of this country have a very hearty contempt for the theory and the purpose of the “lost cause;” but they sincerely hope that its adherents will presently see that the cause is lost—that the theory of State sovereignty is overthrown - that slavery is abolished; and that the Union must be reorganized upon the original American principle of equal rights and fair play for all men. If that be the “Finis Poloniae,” the end of Poland, who will not thank God that Poland is ended?