It was an especial misfortune that he who had so wisely and safely conducted the Nation through the conflict of arms and had foreshadowed his beneficent measures of peace and the restoration of the shattered Republic, was taken away as he and the Nation stood at last at the open door of successful rehabilitation on a broader and grander basis than had ever been reached in all previous efforts of man at Nation building. From day to day he had watched, with his hand on the key-board, the development and trend of events. They had resulted as he had planned, and he had become the most conspicuous, the best loved, and the most masterful of living man in the control of the future. In his death the Union lost its most sagacious and best trusted leader, and, the South its ablest, truest, and wisest friend.
It was under these circumstances that Mr. Johnson came to the Presidency as Mr. Lincoln's successor--without a moment of warning or an hour of preparation for the discharge of the crushing responsibilities that had so suddenly fallen to his direction.
Actuated, doubtless, and not unnaturally, by feelings of resentment over the manner and circumstances of Mr. Lincoln's death, Mr. Johnson at first gave expression to a spirit of hostility toward the leaders of the rebellion, and foreshadowed a somewhat rigorous policy in his methods of Reconstruction in accordance with the views of the leaders of the Republican party in Congress who had differed with Mr. Lincoln on that subject; but later on, under the advice of his Cabinet--notably, it is understood, of Mr. Seward--and under the responsibility of action--his views became modified, till in time, it is not impossible, but by no means certain, that he went even beyond the humane, natural and logical views and purposes of Mr. Lincoln in that regard.
This did not comport with the purposes of the Congressional faction that had opposed Mr. Lincoln's plans, which faction, under the pressure of the general indignation over his murder, quickly rose to the absolute control of Congress. Mr. Lincoln no longer stood in their way, and Mr. Johnson was then comparatively unknown to the great mass of the dominant party, and therefore at a corresponding disadvantage in the controversy. He had risen step by step to his new position from the humblest walks of Southern life, and each succeeding step to advancement had been made through personal conflicts such as few men in public life in this or any other country had ever borne. It was not unnatural, therefore, that he should have faith in himself, and in the superiority of his judgment, or little in that of others--and more especially when he was approached by those who had opposed Mr. Lincoln's plans in an attitude of dictation, and with suggestions and unsought advice as to the course he should pursue in the then absorbing question of the restoration of the States lately in rebellion--himself a citizen of one of those States, and for the preservation of which, as a State in the Union, he had staked his life.
As with Mr. Lincoln, so with Mr. Johnson--the first thing to be done, or sought, was the restoration of the Union by the return of the States in rebellion to their allegiance to the Constitution and laws of the country. Mr. Lincoln, to use one of his characteristic Western phrases, had "blazed the way," and Mr. Johnson took up that trail. A few weeks after his inauguration he issued a Proclamation outlining a plan for the reorganization of the State of North Carolina. That paper was confessedly designed as a general plan and basis for Executive action in the restoration of all the seceded States. Mr. Lincoln had, of course, foreseen that that subject would come up very shortly, in the then condition of affairs in the South, and it had therefore been considered in his later Cabinet meetings, as stated, more especially at the meeting immediately preceding his death, and a plan very similar to that afterwards determined upon by Mr. Johnson, if not identically so, was at that meeting finally adopted. That plan was set out in the North Carolina Proclamation, the essential features and general character of which became so conspicuous a factor in the subsequent controversies between the President and Congress. It was as follows:
Whereas: The Fourth Section of the Fourth Article of the Constitution of the United States declares that the United States shall guarantee to every State in the Union a Republican form of Government, and shall protect each of them against invasion and domestic violence; and whereas, the President of the United States is, by the Constitution, made Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, as well as chief civil executive officer of the United States, and is bound by solemn oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States, and to take care that the laws be faithfully executed; and whereas, the rebellion which has been waged by a portion of the people of the United States against the properly constituted authority of the Government thereof in the most violent and revolting form, but whose organized and armed forces have now been almost entirely overcome has, in its revolutionary progress, deprived the people of the State of North Carolina of all civil government: and whereas, it becomes necessary and proper to carry out and enforce the obligations of the United States to the people of North Carolina in securing them it, the enjoyment of a republican form of Government:
Now, therefore, in obedience to the high and solemn duties imposed upon me by the Constitution of the United States, and for the purpose of enabling the loyal people of said State to organize a State Government; whereby justice may be established, domestic tranquility insured, I, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, do hereby appoint William W. Holden Provisional Governor of the State of North Carolina, whose duty it shall be, at the earliest practicable period, to prescribe such rules and regulations as may be necessary and proper for convening it Convention, composed of delegates to be chosen by that portion of the people of the said State who are loyal all to the United States and no others, for the purpose of altering or amending the Constitution thereof; and with authority to exercise, within the limits of said State, all the powers necessary and proper to enable such loyal people of the State of North Carolina to restore said State to its constitutional relations to the Federal Government, and to present such a republican form of State Government as will entitle the said State to the guarantee of the United States therefor, and its people to protection by the United States against invasion, insurrection and domestic violence: PROVIDED, that in any election that may be hereafter held for choosing delegates to any State Convention as aforesaid, no person shall be qualified as an elector, or shall be eligible as a member of such Convention, unless he shall have previously taken and subscribed to the oath of amnesty, as set forth in the President's Proclamation of May 29th, A. D. 1865, and is a voter qualified as prescribed by the Constitution and laws of the State of North Carolina in force immediately before the 20th of May, A. D. 1861, the date of the so-called ordinance of secession; and the said Convention, when convened, or the legislature that may be thereafter assembled, will prescribe the qualifications of electors, and the eligibility of persons to hold office under the Constitution and laws of the State--a power the people of the several States comprising the Federal Union have rightfully exercised from the origin of the Government to the present time. And I do hereby direct:
First--That the Military Commander of the Department, and all officers in the Military and Naval service, aid and assist the said Provisional Governor in carrying into effect this Proclamation, and they are enjoined to abstain from, in any way, hindering, impeding, or discouraging the loyal people from the organization of a State Government as herein authorized.