Harper's Weekly 03/03/1866


The Senate did wisely in adjourning after
the Veto Message was read. Legislation un-
der such excitement is not likely to be dignified
or sagacious. That the Message was a sore dis-
appointment to the truest friends of the Presi-
dent can not be denied. Their regret may be
measured by the rejoicing of those who would
fain use him for their own purposes. Whether
those friends are to be found among those who
most earnestly advocated his election, or those
who most strenuously opposed it, whether those
who were in bloody rebellion at the South, and
those who heartily supported them at the North
are really the wisest advisers upon the great
problem of reorganization, are questions which
time will adequately answer.

Of the President's sincerity there is no doubt.
That he honestly wishes, as he says, to secure
to the Freedmen the full enjoyment of their
liberty we fully believe. But he seems to us
not entirely master of his own positions. Thus
he acknowledges the usefulness of the Freed-
men's Bureau as established by the act of last
March. But he regards it as a war measure,
and war having ceased, he is of opinion that the
matter should be left to the States. Yet, if
war has ceased, why does he support General
Terry's military order reversing the action of
the Virginia Legislature? So the President
says that in his judgment the late rebel States
“have been fully restored, and are to be deemed
to be entitled to enjoy their constitutional rights
as members of the Union.” Yet if this be so,
why in his late proclamation restoring the priv-
ilege of the writ of habeas corpus did he ex-
cept the late rebel States? The Constitution
defines the conditions under which the right
of suspending the privilege may be exercised.
It is only when in case of rebellion or invasion
the public safety may require it. Yet he ex-
pressly exhorts us in the Message not to sup-
pose that the United States are in a condition
of civil war.

The Freedmen's Bureau is exceptional, but
it is so only because the condition of the coun-
try is exceptional. All the President's acts in
initiating the reorganization of the late rebel
States were exceptional. But the question of
the hour is very simple in itself, however diffi-
cult it may be to answer. How can the United
States most surely and judiciously and temper-
ately secure the fruit of the victory they have
won? Having given liberty to millions of
slaves, how can the authority that conferred it
maintain its perpetuity? To suppose that a
coerced adoption of the Emancipation Amend-
ment, without any specific method of enforcing
it, will produce this result is as idle as to imag-
ine that a declaratory resolution would effect it.
The Constitution itself contains a guarantee of
free speech for every citizen, but it did not se-
cure it in half the country. Why should we
expect of an amendment a virtue which does
not inhere in the original instrument? The
President says that a system for the support of
indigent persons was never contemplated by
the authors of the Constitution. Certainly not,
and this bill is no more such a system than an
appropriation for military hospitals would be.
It is a simple necessity of the situation. Shall
these homeless, landless, forlorn persons be left
to the mercies of those who despise and hate
them, or shall the United States say, “We cut
the bonds that bound you to the ground, and
we will protect you while you are struggling to
get upon your feet?”

If the President believes that the word of the
nation sacredly pledged to the freedmen will be
kept by the black codes of South Carolina and
Mississippi, his faith would remove mountains.
And if he proposes to abandon the freedmen to
civil authorities created exclusively by those
who think that the colored race should be eter-
nally enslaved, who deny the constitutionality
of emancipation, and who have now a peculiar-
ly envenomed hostility to the whole class, we
can only pray God that the result may be what
we have no doubt he honestly wishes it to be.
We believe that he is faithful to what he con-
ceives to be the best interests of the whole
country. And while upon this question we
wholly differ from him, we differ with no asper-
sion or suspicion.

Website design © 2000-2004 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2004 HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to webmaster@harpweek.com