Harper's Weekly 12/02/1865


IT is pleasant, although not surprising, to
know that Mr. M`Pherson, the Clerk of
the last House of Representatives, will not en-
ter upon the roll of members of the new House
the names of those who claim to be representa-
tives from States lately in rebellion, and which
are still in a purely exceptional condition. Had
he adopted any other course Mr.M`Pherson
would have assumed singly to decide that those
States have resumed their original relations
with the Union, and that persons who were
yesterday leagued to destroy the Government
may to-day administer it upon equal terms
with its friends and supporters. The utter
absurdity of such an assumption we have here-
tofore considered.

But this position, gravely defended by those
whose sympathies were practically with the ef-
fort to overthrow the Government, should serve
to warn us what is to be expected. The spirit
which was baffled in the rebellion will seek to
achieve its ends by political alliances and in-
trigues. The party in the Southern States
which asserts “State sovereignty” will try to
unite with that at the North which asserts
“State rights” in a tone which is not unfavor-
able to the Southern claim. Under the plea
of conformity to the executive conditions the
Southern wing will claim to be allowed to re-
sume their relations and settle their interior
question, meaning the condition of the freed-
men; and the Northern wing will insist that
we must assent to this demand.

If we do, two results will follow. In the
first place, the Union men at the South will be
dishonored. As the dominant party in the
Southern Conventions and Legislatures were
noted rebels—as the elected Governors were
such—as the distinctively “Union” candidates
have been generally defeated, it is plain
that to have been known during the war as a friend
of the Union will ruin a man's political pros-
pects; while to have been a conspicuous friend
of “the South” will commend him to popular
support. In the second place, under the form
of vagrant laws and codes for freedmen, the
men who have been freed by the United States
will be unfairly treated by the separate States.

We trust, therefore, that Congress will pro-
ceed with the utmost deliberation. It is im-
possible, indeed, to destroy the dogma of State
sovereignty. Men who have been bred in that
doctrine are not cured of it by compulsion.
Civil war does not immediately remove the-
ories, although it affects action. But in every
conceivable way the spirit of State sovereignty
should be prevented from controlling the local
governments. For instance, the mere repeal
of an act of secession is an insult to the United
States, which has spent the time and money
and blood of this war to annihilate the as-
sumption that such an act can have any valid-
ity whatever. Congress should require upon
this point the most explicit declaration that
such an act is absolutely unconstitutional and
intolerable, and that the only right which any
citizen of the United States can have to resist
the Government is the right of revolution. The
war has indeed settled this point, but the plain-
est confession of that settlement should be an
essential step toward the restoration of a disaf-
fected State.

Then it is equally plain that the freedmen
can not be honorably left by us to the local
State legislation. Universal testimony shows
that the morbid feeling both among the white
and the colored population will long render nec-
essary a hand which is powerful enough to en-
force justice. We have little doubt that this
view also will be entertained by Congress.

The forgive and forget policy, which is so per-
sistently preached in some quarters, is mere po-
litical insanity and suicide. The people at the
South are profoundly mistaken if they suppose
that there is any vindictive feeling among Union
men; but they are still more fatally deceived
if they imagine that therefore the victorious
friends of the Union are blind to the plain ne-
cessities of the situation. They mean to se-
cure what they have won. They would not—
at least the better and firmer part of them—
hang a single man for a political offense after a
bloody war; but those are the very men who
would insist upon every guarantee against pos-
sible war hereafter. The Union men of the
North truly commiserate those whose wicked
folly has ruined their own fortunes, but they
are neither weakened by their pity nor deceived
by it into criminal carelessness. They would
willingly give bread to the late rebels who are
starving, but they will be infinitely wary of giv-
ing them the ballot.

To call this “cruelty,” or promoting “bad
feeling between the sections,” is simply folly.
The war was not a pretty episode in which each
side showed its heroism. It was a contest of
principles, in which Liberty and Union won,
and in the settlement of which Liberty and
Union are to be secured, as the only founda-
tion of permanent national peace.

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