The now ex-slaves had been liberated, not with the consent of their former owners, but by the power of the conqueror as a war measure, who not unnaturally insisted upon the right to declare absolutely the future status of these persons without consultation with or in any way by the intervention of their late owners. The majority of the gentlemen in Congress representing the Northern States demanded the instant and complete enfranchisement of these persons, as the natural and logical sequence of their enfreedment. The people of the late slave States, as was to have been foreseen, and not without reason, objected--especially where, as was the case in many localities, the late slaves largely out-numbered the people of the white race: and it is apparent from subsequent developments that they had the sympathy of President Lincoln, at least so far as to refuse his sanction to the earlier action of Congress relative to restoration.
To add to the gravity of the situation and of the problem of reconstruction, the people of the States lately in rebellion were disfranchised in a mass, regardless of the fact that many of them refused to sanction the rebellion only so far as was necessary to their personal safety.
It was insisted by the dominant element of the party in control of Congress, that these States were dead as political entities, having committed political suicide, and their people without rights or the protection of law, as malcontents.
It is of record that Mr. Lincoln objected to this doctrine, and to all propositions that contemplated the treatment of the late rebellious States simply as conquered provinces and their people as having forfeited all rights under a common government, and under the laws of Nations entitled to no concessions, or even to consideration, in any proposed measures of restoration. That he had no sympathy with that theory is evidenced by the plan of restoration he attempted to establish in Louisiana.
It was at this point that differences arose between Mr. Lincoln and his party in Congress, which became more or less acute prior to his death and continued between Congress and Mr. Johnson on his attempt to carry out Mr. Lincoln's plans for restoration.
The cessation of hostilities in the field thus developed a politico-economic problem which had never before confronted any nation in such magnitude and gravity. The situation was at once novel, unprecedented, and in more senses than one, alarming. Without its due and timely solution there was danger of still farther disturbance of a far different and more alarming character than that of arms but lately ceased; and of a vastly more insidious and dangerous complexion. The war had been fought in the open. The record of the more than two thousand field and naval engagements that had marked its progress and the march of the Union armies to success, were heralded day by day to every household, and all could forecast its trend and its results. But the controversy now developed was insidious--its influences, its weapons, its designs, and its possible end, were in a measure hidden from the public--public opinion was divided, and its results, for good or ill, problematical. The wisest political sagacity and the broadest statesmanship possible were needed, and in their application no time was to be lost.
In his annual message to Congress, December 8th, 1863, Mr. Lincoln had to a considerable extent outlined his plan of Reconstruction; principally by a recital of what he had already done in that direction. That part of his message pertinent to this connection is reproduced here to illustrate the broad, humane, national and patriotic purpose that actuated him, quite as well as his lack of sympathy with the extreme partisan aims and methods that characterized the measures afterward adopted by Congress in opposition to his well-known wishes and views, and, also, as an important incident to the history of that controversy and of the time, and its bearing upon the frictions that followed between Congress and Mr. Lincoln's successor on that subject. Mr. Lincoln said:
When Congress assembled a year ago the war had already lasted twenty months, and there had been many conflicts on both land and sea, with varying results. The rebellion had been pressed back into reduced limits; yet the tone of public feeling and opinion, at home and abroad, was not satisfactory. With other signs, the popular elections, then just past, indicated uneasiness among ourselves, while, amid much that was cold and menacing, the kindest words coming from Europe were uttered in accents of pity that we were too blind to surrender a hopeless cause. Our commerce was suffering greatly by a few armed vessels built upon and furnished from foreign shores; and we were threatened with such additions from the same quarter as would sweep our trade from the sea and raise our blockade. We had failed to elicit from European Governments anything hopeful upon this subject. The preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, issued in September, was running its assigned period to the beginning of the new year. A month later that final proclamation came, including the announcement that colored men of suitable condition would be received into the army service. The policy of emancipation, and of employing black soldiers, gave to the future a new aspect, about which hope and fear and doubt contended in uncertain conflict. According to our political system, as a matter of civil administration, the General Government had no lawful power to effect emancipation in any State; and for a long time it had been hoped that the rebellion could be suppressed without resorting to it as a military measure. It was all the while deemed possible that the necessity for it might come, and that, if it should, the crisis of the contest would then be presented. It came, and, as was anticipated, was followed by dark and doubtful days. Eleven months have now passed, and we are permitted to take another review. The rebel borders are pressed still further back, and by the complete opening of the Mississippi the country dominated by the rebellion is divided into distinct parts, with no practical communication between them. Tennessee and Arkansas have been substantially cleared of insurgent control, and influential citizens in each, owners of slaves and advocates of slavery at the beginning of the rebellion, now declare openly for emancipation in their respective States. Of those States not included in the Emancipation Proclamation, Maryland and Missouri, neither of which three years ago would tolerate any restraint upon the extension of slavery into the new Territories, only dispute now as to the best mode of removing it within their own limits.