Saturday, January 24, 2015

Congress Lays the Groundwork for the Reconstruction Acts

This post is number fourteen in a historical review of Mississippi’s J. L. Alcorn, Union Whig/Republican governor and senator during Reconstruction. For earlier posts on Alcorn, best read in sequence from oldest to most recent, see 17 February, 24 March, 16 April, 17 July, 24 July, 18 September, 9 October, 18 October, 5 November, 22 November, 15 December, 29 December 2014 and  13 January 2015 below.

This post continues to detail the measures the Republican Congress took, starting in 1866, to mold the recalcitrant Southern states into ones supportive of an agenda that was upside down and backwards to everything their taxpayers believed in—state rights and free market. The course was in violation of the Constitution, for the transformation of our Founders’ Federal Republic into that of a democratic republic was absolutely imperative for the triumph of The American System. Not only were the changes proposed to the Constitution unconstitutional, so ultimately was the legislative process by which the egregious Fourteenth Amendment was “declared” part of the Constitution. Being a life-long Whig, Alcorn accepted this perversion of the Founders Republic as the result of military defeat not that of treason enacted by a military supported congressional coup. The result of said defeat would be more palatable to this Southerner if the victors had acknowledged it for what it was, but even today—or even more so today—one has to listen to the glorification of the poetic lines of the Gettysburg address  

...that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth. 

as gospel, knowing full well that they did die in vain, at least when it came to that part about government of the people, by the people, for the people. Indeed, the glorified dead Lincoln honored played the most significant role in enabling its demise. Lincoln’s words were more appropriate for the other side. 

Let me now jump off my soapbox and return to the fall of 1866 following the South’s rejection of the Fourteenth Amendment and look at some of the measures Congress took to “correct” Southern obstinacy. 

Before approving the civil governments set up by the rebellious states, President Johnson asked for the input of three individuals who crisscrossed the entire South to ascertain conditions within the occupied states and recommend to him whether the war-torn states were ready to govern themselves. 

General U. S. Grant advised that the people were ready to return to loyalty within the Union and get on with restructuring their daily lives. He advised that white troops needed to be moved into the area since the black troops there encouraged vagrancy by advising the freedman not to go back to the plantation to find work. He further stated that if the North truly desired reconciliation, the Southerner should not be humiliated. 

German-born Brigadier General Carl Schurz reported that the Southern people had reorganized their governments and were yielding to the laws and the Constitution. [The South never...oh, never mind.] They were repairing the devastation from the war, and they were trying to move on with their lives. There was some disorder, but this disappeared with the spread of civil law. 

Mr. Charles Truman, a civilian, presented the most positive picture stating he believed the disbanded Confederate regiments would prove the South’s primary base for recovery and reconstruction. I’m not sure if I should read between the lines here and assume Mr. Truman is implying the South should just write the freedman off, or what. He did say that the freedman was well treated—and I’d maintain that on the whole he not only was, but always had been. Mr. Truman also stated that, contrary to reports, Northerners were not being abused. 

So there was not much ground in President Johnson’s committee report for overturning those civil governments that had been operating effectively for a year or more. But from that point on, Congress no longer needed grounds to interfere in the workings of a state, but it did feel compelled to legitimize its destruction of federalism in the United States. Legitimization lay in the Fourteenth Amendment.  

The South had already provided the likes of Massachusetts representative George S. Boutwell with the Black Code—a vagrancy law intended to gain some kind of control over a vagrant population in excess of 100,000 men, women, and children (see my 29 December post). The Black Code looked too much like the old slave code to satisfy the abolitionists. Actually, I think Mississippi probably copied that Black Code from Illinois, or another of several Northern state codes. [Okay, perhaps I’m being unfair. Those Northern states had probably based their Black Codes on the old slave codes, too, so the source is all the same, and in defense of those Northern states they did repeal theirs when forced to by ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. Still again, the South had a legitimate vagrancy problem, the North’s double standard resulted from a determination it never would.]  

But back to Congress. To get the Fourteenth Amendment passed, it didn’t need Illinois, Indiana, or Michigan per se. It had all it needed right there in the South. All it had to do was replace the recalcitrant legislatures with more amenable ones—much easier there than in the victorious North. That would be accomplished by the Reconstruction Acts spearheaded by the Honorable Mr. Boutwell. Actually, he spearheaded more that that, but that’s for later posts. 

Criticizing the reports provided by President Johnson’s commissioners [He found particular fault with the findings of General Grant—the same man who would shortly make Boutwell his Secretary of the Treasury.], Boutwell set up a national inquest under authority of investigating violations of the Thirteenth Amendment. Boutwell did not give any reasons for rejecting the President’s report, except that he didn’t like it. 

The Congressional committee was composed of five men, only one of whom was a democrat. Boutwell summoned the witnesses he wanted to Washington. No member of the committee visited Mississippi and no member of the Southern party (that would be Democratic, I assume—but not necessarily a Southern democrat) was allowed to cross examine the chosen witnesses. Additionally, no democrats were questioned, and only two citizens of Mississippi were interviewed, ex-provisional governor Sharkey and Judge R. A. Hill from Tishomingo County, a respected jurist and pre-war Whig much on the order of governor Sharkey. Other witnesses included three major generals of the United States army, one brigadier, one captain of colored troops, one Treasury agent, one revenue agent, and one representative of a New England cotton manufacturing company, a Mr. Warren Kelsey. 

The committee stated to the “interviewees” that it was looking for signs of returning loyalty on the part of the people of Mississippi—after all, their rejection of the unconstitutional Fourteenth Amendment certainly was not indicative of what the Radicals, waiting to welcome the South back with open arms, had been expecting. [And please tell me what loyalty had to do with violations of the Thirteenth Amendment?] General Edward Hatch told the committee that except for the northeast part of the state [For all y’all who do not know, that’s where Tishomingo County is.], there was little loyalty to be found and few manifestations of good feeling toward the government. General B.H. Grierson, famous for his raid through Mississippi during the Vicksburg campaign, thought there was an organization in the South planning to renew the rebellion. He based this on the formation of historical societies designed to consolidate everything that could be found documenting the rise and fall of the Confederacy and the service of its soldiers. Grierson's and the committee’s real fault with such societies was that the recording (and remembering) of Yankee depredations in the state was not conducive to “loyalty.” Another of these individuals expressed the belief that “Mississippi was the least loyal of any state in the South.” [Are we to assume he’d visited all the states and was, therefore, qualified to discuss them all?]  

J. H. Matthews and Warren Kelsey stated the freedman was worse off than in the days of slavery. No kidding, Sherlock, and who, given that the South was occupied by the United States army, the vast majority of whom were black, and the freedman refused to find work despite the effort being supervised by the “benevolent” Federal Freedman’s Bureau, was to blame for that? This group also said that Northern men were not well received in the South and surmised if not for the presence of Federal troops they could possibly meet with violence. Well, I could surmise that might be deservedly true, but there’s not much a legislature can do to force a ravaged people to like self-righteous, plunder-seeking interlopers who should have kept their butts at home, nor is that reasonable dislike a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. 

General Fisk expressed “shock” that the only regrets he’d heard the defeated Confederates confess was that they had, indeed, been defeated, and A. P. Dillingham reported speaking to a rebel general who preferred Jeff Davis to Lincoln. Now that’s  pretty strong dislike of Lincoln, because Davis wasn’t popular at the time—yes, I’m poking fun, but Davis really wasn’t popular at the time, but he hadn’t made a mockery of our Founders’ Constitution to destroy anyone—remember, he just wanted to be left alone.  

The people of the state of Mississippi, who these individuals maligned, had taken the oath to uphold the Constitution which they had, in truth, never violated. That was the real problem—by their rejection of the Fourteenth Amendment, they continued to uphold the Constitution, which the Radicals wished put asunder. But that wasn’t enough. On top of that, they were expected to spit on their flag and the graves of their sons, fathers, and their innocents, dead as a direct result of unwarranted aggression. This was shown in the disdain that Boutwell’s committee displayed for Mississippi’s voters electing Confederate General Humphreys to the governorship. A man who had fought a hateful enemy as opposed to one who had turned his head as the enemy ravaged the state. 

Boutwell’s committee reported that the states lately in secession were in a state of anarchy without government or constitution. In fact, they had both. Even when the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered more than a year earlier, they had a civil government. On top of that, both the new civil governments and their validating constitutions had been blessed by President Johnson just that past December.  

The committee further reported that Congress could not recognize as valid the elections which took place under those conditions. Funny they were recognized well enough when that hot bed of tyranny forwarded the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to them for ratification. [In both cases, passage by the Senate was in clear violation of Article V of the Constitution.] Bet there wouldn’t have been a peep made had the states done what Congress “directed.” 

And lastly, Congress couldn’t recognize the representatives of communities without said communities providing constitutional guarantees of the civil rights of all citizens of the Republic. Really? There was no legislation then in existence defining what a citizen was. The black man was free, but he wasn’t a citizen in the South and most other places. And, in my opinion that is not a determination Congress should ever constitutionally be allowed to make. That right belongs with the states, but even though today Congress has been allowed to get away with that usurpation via the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment had not been ratified in the summer of 1866, nor could Mississippi and the rest of the South be held punitively liable for it had they passed it that summer in conflict with the new constitutions they’d passed in the fall of 1865—it would have been an ex post facto law—another unconstitutional fact shadowing Boutwell’s “kangaroo” proceedings. 

There was, according to the committee, no protection from claims founded in the rebellion (the Confederate debts had been repudiated) nor had those who’d participated in the rebellion been excluded from positions of public trust—another article in the Fourteenth Amendment, which the Southern legislatures had not ratified and would have been an ex post facto requirement even if they had. 

I will break this post here before delving into the Southern states’ attempts to force a judicial review of what Boutwell’s committee would shortly thereafter instigate as the Reconstruction Acts. This post is getting too long, and I don’t want to lose you. Suffice it to say that Boutwell’s report was accepted by Congress as “an absolutely truthful picture of the Southern states” at the time and proved the basis for Congressional Reconstruction.  

Thanks once again for reading,


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