There was at first suspicion that Davis encouraged the assassination of the President. Could that have been proved, he would have died, as reason was, by the hand of the hangman. But it became evident, on due examination being made, that he was not guilty of that crime. For a time the American people regarded Davis with just indignation, as the chief cause of all the bloodshed which had taken place. Gradually their anger relaxed into a kind of grim, contemptuous playfulness. He was to be put upon his trial for treason. Frequently a time was named when the trial would begin; but the time never came. Ultimately Davis was set at liberty.
What were the Americans to do with the million of armed men now in their employment? It was believed in Europe that these men would never return to peaceful labour. Government could not venture to turn them loose upon the country. Military employment must be found for them, and would probably be found in foreign wars.
While yet public writers in Europe occupied themselves with these dark anticipations, the American Government, all unaware of difficulty, ordered its armies to march on Washington. May 23, 24, 1865 A.D. During two days the bronzed veterans who had followed Grant and Sherman in so many bloody fights passed through the city. Vast multitudes from all parts of the Union looked on with a proud but chastened joy. And then, just as quickly as the men could be paid the sums which were due to them, they gave back the arms they had used so bravely, and returned to their homes. It was only six weeks since Richmond fell, and already the work of disbanding was well advanced. The men who had fought this war were, for the most part, citizens who had freely taken up arms to defend the national life. They did not love war, and when their work was done they thankfully resumed their ordinary employments. Very speedily the American army numbered only forty thousand men. Europe, when she grows a little wiser, will follow the American example. The wasteful folly of maintaining huge standing armies in time of peace is not destined to disgrace us for ever.
What was the position of the rebel States when the war closed? Were they provinces conquered by the Union armies, to be dealt with as the conquerors might deem necessary; or were they, in spite of all they had done, still members of the Union, as of old? The rebels themselves had no doubt on the subject. They had tried their utmost to leave the Union. It was impossible to conceal that. But they had not been permitted to leave it, and they had never left it. As they were not out of the Union, it was obvious they were in it. And so they claimed to resume their old rights, and re-occupy their places in Congress, as if no rebellion had occurred.
Mr. Lincoln’s successor was Andrew Johnson, a man whose rough vigour had raised him from the lowly position of tailor to the highest office in the country. He was imperfectly educated, of defective judgment, blindly and violently obstinate.
The American people were too wise to give heed to the logic of the President and the baffled slave-owners. They had preserved the life of their nation through sacrifices which filled their homes with sorrow and privation, and they would not be tricked out of the advantages which they had bought with so great a price. The slave-owners had imposed upon them a great national peril, which it cost them infinite toil to avert. They would take what securities it was possible to obtain that no such invasion of the national tranquillity should occur again.
It was out of the position so wrongfully assigned to the negro race that this huge disorder had arisen. The North, looking at this with eyes which long and sad experience had enlightened, resolved that the negro should never again divide the sisterhood of States. No root of bitterness should be left in the soil. Citizenship was no longer to be dependent upon colour. The long dishonour offered to the Fathers of Independence was to be cancelled; henceforth American law would present no contradiction to the doctrine that “all men are born equal.” All men now, born or naturalized in America, were to be citizens of the Union and of the State in which they resided. No State might henceforth pass any law which should abridge the privileges of any class of American citizens.
An Amendment of the Constitution was proposed by Congress to give effect to these principles. March 30, 1870 A.D. It was agreed to by the States – not without reluctance on the part of some. The Revolution – so vast and so benign – was now complete. The negro, who so lately had no rights at all which a white man was bound to respect, was now in full possession of every right which the white man himself enjoyed. The successor of Jefferson Davis in the Senate of the United States was a negro!
The task of the North was now to “bind up the nation’s wounds” – the task to which Mr. Lincoln looked forward so joyfully, and which he would have performed so well. Not a moment was lost in entering upon it. No feeling of resentment survived in the Northern mind. The South was utterly exhausted and helpless – without food, without clothing, without resources of any description. The land alone remained. Government provided food – without which provision there would have been in many parts of the country a great mortality from utter want. The proud Southerners, tamed by hunger, were fain to come as suppliants for their daily bread to the Government they had so long striven to overthrow.
With little delay nearly all the rebels received the pardon of the Government, and applied themselves to the work of restoring their broken fortunes. Happily for them the means lay close at hand. Cotton bore still an extravagantly high price. The negroes remained, although no longer as slaves. They had now to be dealt with as free labourers, whose services could not be obtained otherwise than by the inducement of adequate wages. In a revolution so vast, difficulties were inevitable; but, upon the whole, the black men played their part well. It had been said they would not consent to labour when they were free to choose. That prediction was not fulfilled. When kindly treated and justly paid, they showed themselves anxious to work. Very soon it began to dawn upon the planters that slavery had been a mistake. Those of their number who were able to command the use of capital found themselves growing rich with a rapidity unknown before. Under the old and wasteful system, the growing crop of cotton was generally sold to the Northern merchant and paid for to the planter before it was gathered. Now it had become possible to carry on the business of the plantation without being in debt at all. Five years after the close of the war, it is perhaps not too much to say that the men of the South would have undergone the miseries of another war rather than permit the re-imposition of that system which they, erringly, endured so much to preserve.
Wars have been, in general, made by Kings to serve the purposes of their own ambition or revenge. This war was made by the American people, and willingly fought out by their own hands. The men who fought were nearly all Americans, and mainly volunteers. They were regarded with the deepest interest by those who remained at home. Ordinarily, the number of soldiers who die of diseases caused by the hardships they endure is greater than the number of those who die of wounds. The Americans were eager to save their soldiers from the privations which waste so many brave lives. They erected two great societies, called the Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission. Into the coffers of these societies they poured money and other contributions to the amount of four million sterling. The Sanitary Commission sent medical officers of experience into the armies to guide them in the choice of healthy situations for camps; to see that drainage was not neglected; to watch over the food of the soldiers, and also their clothing; to direct the attention of the Government to every circumstance which threatened evil to the health of the army. Its agents followed the armies with a line of waggons containing all manner of stores. Everything the soldier could desire issued in profusion from those inexhaustible waggons. There were blankets and great-coats and every variety of underclothing. There were crutches for the lame, fans to soothe the wounded in the burning heat of summer, bandages, and sponges, and ice, and even mosquito-netting for the protection of the poor sufferers in hospital. Huge wheeled-caldrons rolled along in the rear, and ever, at the close of battle or toilsome march, dispensed welcome refreshment to the wearied soldiers.
The Christian Commission undertook to watch over the spiritual wants of the soldiers. Its president was George H. Stuart, a merchant of Philadelphia, whose name is held in enduring honour as a symbol of all that is wise and energetic in Christian beneficence. Under the auspices of this society thousands of clergymen left their congregations and went to minister to the soldiers. A copious supply of Bibles, tracts, hymn-books, and similar reading matter was furnished. The agents of the Commission preached to the soldiers, conversed with them, supplied them with books, aided them in communicating with friends at home. But they had sterner duties than these to discharge. They had to seek the wounded on the field and in the hospital; to bind up their wounds; to prepare for them such food or drink as they could use; – in every way possible to soothe the agony of the brave men who were giving their lives that the nation might be saved. Hundreds of ladies were thus engaged tending the wounded and sick, speaking to them about their spiritual interests, cooking for them such dishes as might tempt the languid appetite. The dying soldier was tenderly cared for. The last loving message was conveyed to the friends in the far-off home. Nothing was left undone which could express to the men who gave this costly evidence of their patriotism the gratitude with which the country regarded them.
It resulted from the watchful care of the American Government and people, that the loss of life by disease was singularly small in the Northern army. There never was a war in which the health of the army was so good, and the waste of life by disease so small.
When the war was over, the Americans addressed themselves, sadly and reverently, to the work of gathering into national cemeteries the bones of those who had fallen. The search was long and toilsome, for the battle-ground had been a continent, and men were buried where they died. Every battle-field was searched. Every line by which an army had advanced, or by which the wounded had been removed, was searched. Sometimes a long train of ambulances had carried the wounded to hospitals many miles away. At short intervals, during that sad journey, it was told that a man had died. The train was stopped; the dead man was lifted from beside his dying companions; a shallow grave was dug, and the body, still warm, was laid in it. A soldier cut a branch from a tree, flattened its end with his knife, and wrote upon it the dead man’s name. This was all that marked his lowly resting-place. The honoured dead, scattered thus over the continent, were now piously gathered up. For many miles around Petersburg the ground was full of graves. During several years men were employed in the melancholy search among the ruins of the wide-stretching lines. In some cemeteries lie ten thousand, in others twenty thousand of the men who died for the nation. An iron tablet records the name of the soldier and the battle in which he died. Often, alas! the record is merely that of “Unknown Soldier.” Over the graves floats the flag which those who sleep below loved so well. Nothing in America is more touching than her national cemeteries. So much brave young life given freely, that the nation might be saved! So much grateful remembrance of those who gave this supreme evidence of their devotion!
Long ago thoughtful men had foreseen that a permanent union between slave communities and free communities was impossible. Wise Americans knew that their country could not continue “half slave and half free.” Slavery was a fountain out of which strife flowed perpetual. There was an incessant conflict of interests. There was a still more formidable conflict of feeling. The North was humiliated by the censure which she had to share with her erring sisters. The South was imbittered by the knowledge that the Christian world abhorred her most cherished institution. The Southern character became ever more fierce, domineering, unreasoning. Some vast change was known to be near. Slavery must cease in the South, or extend itself into the North. There was no resting-place for the country between that universal liberty which was established in the North, and the favourite doctrine of the South that the capitalist should own the labourer.
The South appealed to the sword, and the decision was against her. She frankly and wisely accepted it. She acknowledged that the labouring-man was now finally proved to be no article of merchandise, but a free and responsible citizen. That acknowledgment closed the era of strife between North and South. There was no longer anything to strive about. There was no longer North or South, in the old hostile sense, but a united nation, with interests and sympathies rapidly becoming identical. It has been foretold that America will yet break up into several nations. What developments may await America in future ages we do not know. But we do know that the only circumstance which threatened disruption among the sisterhood of States has been removed, and that the national existence of America rests upon foundations at least as assured as those which support any nation in the world.
The South had laid aside all thought of armed resistance, and in perfect good faith had acquiesced in the overthrow of slavery. Her leaders did not, however, consent readily to those guarantees of future tranquillity which the North demanded. At the close of the war eleven States were without legal State government; and the North would not permit the restoration of the forfeited privilege until those constitutional changes were accepted by which the political equality of the negro was secured. It had become an easy thing to consent that the negro should be free; it was very hard to consent that he should sit in the State Legislatures, and exercise an influential voice in framing laws for those who had lately owned him. Several States withheld their concurrence from arrangements which humiliated them so deeply, desperately choosing rather to deny themselves for the time the privilege of self-government and to live under a government in whose creation they had no part. Very grave evils resulted from their pertinacious adherence to this unwise choice. Their affairs were necessarily taken charge of by the Federal executive, and President Grant sent them rulers from Washington. Unworthy persons were able by dexterous intrigue to gain positions of control, and hastened southwards, with no purpose to heal the wounds of the war; intent merely to plunder for their own advantage the impoverished and suffering States. The finances of the South were in extreme disorder. Public debt had increased enormously during the war; but the North averted the difficulty which this increase might have caused by insisting that no debt incurred for the purposes of the rebellion should be recognized as a public obligation. The temporary rulers of the South gave prompt attention to the possibility of obtaining loans, ostensibly for the restoration of railroads and other necessary works. It was not yet realized how fatally wasted the South had been, and men hastily concluded that her advantages of soil and climate must secure for her a rapid financial recovery. Cherishing such expectations, capitalists on both sides of the Atlantic were found willing to make loans on the credit of various Southern States. These moneys were applied only in very small measure to the uses of the States in whose name they were obtained; the larger portion was feloniously appropriated by the unscrupulous persons whose position gave them the opportunity of doing so. Afterwards, when the fraud was fully exposed, the defrauded States repudiated the obligation to repay moneys which they had not received, and which, as they averred, had been borrowed by persons who were in no sense their servants. The good name of the South suffered deeply and her recovery was seriously hindered by these unhappy transactions.
The inevitable difficulties of reconstruction were seriously aggravated by the violent conflict of opinion which raged between President Johnson and Congress. The President would not sanction the conditions which Congress considered it necessary to make with the South, and he steadily vetoed all measures which were at variance with his theory that the rebels were entitled to be received without stipulation. His resistance was not practically important, for the country was united, and Congress was able to pass all its measures over the veto of the President. The irritation caused by his opposition to the public wish grew, however, so intense, that it led to his impeachment and trial before the Senate, with a view to his forcible removal from office. His enemies failed to secure a conviction, although they came so near that one additional hostile vote would have brought Mr. Johnson’s presidency to an abrupt close. So smoothly does the constitutional machinery of America now move, that the trial and expected deposition of the head of the government were not felt either by the commercial interests of the country or in the carrying on of public business.
For five years after the end of the war some of the Southern States continued to refuse the terms insisted upon by the inflexible North, and continued to endure the evils of military rule. Gradually, however, as time soothed the bitterness of defeat, they withdrew their refusal and consented to resume their position in the Union on the conditions which were offered to them. In 1870 President Grant was able to announce the completed restoration of the Union which his own leadership had done so much to save.
The industrial recovery of the South was unexpectedly slow. The industrial arrangements of the country were utterly overthrown. Population had diminished; capital had disappeared; cultivation, excepting of articles necessary for food, had ceased; many of the coloured labourers had fled northwards, and the labour of those who remained had to be arranged for on conditions altogether new and unknown. The reconstruction of the shattered fragments of an industrial system was inevitably a tedious and difficult work. But the wholesome pressure of necessity, – laid equally on white men and on black, – obliged both to adapt themselves to the circumstances in which they were placed. The planters drew together as many labourers as they could obtain and were able to pay for, and cultivated such portions of their lands as they could thus overtake. The negroes were always ready to serve any man who paid regular wages; but it very often happened, at the outset, that there was no man with money enough to do that. In such cases the negroes cultivated for their own behoof. The progress made in reconquering the neglected soil was very slow. But in that fertile land no effort of man is suffered to go without a bountiful reward. Every succeeding crop left the cultivator a little richer than he had been before. Every seed-time witnessed a larger area under cultivation, until at length the quantity of cotton produced is as large as it had ever been before the war, and promises steadily to increase. A new and better industrial system gradually arose – less picturesque than that which had been destroyed, but no longer founded in wrong, and therefore more enduring and more beneficial to master as well as to servant.
The rebellion had drawn forth into energetic exercise among the Northern people a patriotic sentiment which nerved them for every measure of self-devotion. But war cherishes also into exceptional strength the evil that is in humanity, and this patriot war exerted an influence not less unhallowed than other wars have done. The fluctuating value of the currency and consequently of all commodities, the unprecedented opportunities of acquiring sudden wealth, fostered widespread corruption in the cities. Reckless personal extravagance, a frantic haste to become rich by whatever means, and a general decay of commercial morality, characterized the years which followed the restoration of peace. Political society, at no time distinguished by its elevation of moral tone, was deeply tainted. Even among the men whom President Grant had chosen as worthy of his fullest confidence there were some who yielded to the prevailing influence, and the President had the mortification of finding that several members of his Cabinet had incurred the shame of corrupt transactions. Habitual embezzlement was practised in the management of the finances of large cities. The municipal government of New York had fallen into hands exceptionally rapacious and base, and the career of the plunderers was not arrested till the city had been robbed of many million dollars.