Thumbnail Image
Not Available


Harper's Weekly 08/11/1866


Every good citizen must be glad that Ten-
nessee has again resumed her full relations in
the Union, and that it has been done deliber-
ately and to the satisfaction of Congress, who
are the immediate representatives of the loyal
people of the country. It would have been
better done, we think, by a simple concurrent
resolution than by a joint resolution, for the
latter requires the signature of the President,
which it was evident could be given, only under
protest, as the event proved; and as the pre-
amble recited that a State could only be re-
stored by the consent of the Legislative branch
it was superfluous to ask that of the Executive.
Moreover, the formal declaration of abstract
right in the matter was unnecessary, and there-
fore unwise. Congress, supported by the loyal
Union people, have definitely concluded that
the late rebel States may resume their old re-
lations under certain conditions. That decision
being reached, as fast as those conditions are
satisfied the States in question should be re-
stored with as few words as possible. Mr.
Bingham's preamble in the House seems to us,
therefore, to have been wiser than Mr. Trum-
in the Senate.

But these are points of mere detail and taste.
The President's conduct in the matter is open
to graver objection. Had he replied in a dig-
nified tone to Congress, that while he signed the
resolution he could not agree with the pream-
ble, his course would have been precisely what
was to be expected. But he undertakes to
argue the point, and fails ignominiously. He
says that if a State can only be restored to its
national relations by the consent of the Gov-
ernment, it is not very consistent to assume that
before that consent is given the State is com-
petent to pass upon a Constitutional Amend-
ment. If this be true, the President must first
settle the account with himself. Either the
Government may impose condition or it can
not. If it can, the conditions must seem such
as are necessary, whatever form they may take.
If it can not, if the late rebel States by the mere
act of surrender resumed every relation in the
Union, no part of the Government had any
authority to require any condition whatever.
This was as true last October as it is to-day.
Yet on the 28th of that month the Secretary
of State telegraphed to Provisional Governor
Johnson of Georgia, “The President of the
United States can not recognize the people of
any State as having resumed the relations of
loyalty to the Union that admits as legal obli-
gations contracted or debts created in their
name to promote the war of the rebellion.”
Whence did the President derive authority to
make such a condition?

The truth is, that this question is a point of
mere political casuistry. It is unbecoming
practical statesmen. It is what Mr. Lincoln,
with true insight, called “a pernicious abstrac-
tion.” The President can not taunt Congress
with inconsistency, for he is himself utterly il-
logical. He should certainly have learned that
there are vital epochs in the life of nations that
transcend technicalities, and that the readjust-
ment of relations after so fierce a civil war, under
a Constitution susceptible of such various inter-
pretation as ours, is a matter to be approached
in the calm spirit of fundamental principles,
and not in the temper of hair-splitters. In the
problem of reconstruction the Constitution is
to be interpreted by the necessary intention of
all government, and by the declared purposes
of this Union. When the rebellion began,
both rebels and Copperheads insisted that it
could not be constitutionally resisted. Now
that it is over, the same alliance contends
that necessary and reasonable conditions of
peace can not be constitutionally required.
The loyal people of the country differed with
them. Constitutionally they fought rebels,
constitutionally they conquered them, and con-
stitutionally they will do what is necessary to
maintain their victory.

Website design © 2000-2004 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2004 HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to