Andrew Johnson impeachment and the Nation Magazine

Jon Flanders jonathan.flanders at
Wed Aug 6 20:09:52 MDT 2003

> I have come to one conclusion already that I doubt any additional reading
> will budge me from. And that is the dubious character of the "second
> American revolution", at least from the standpoint of the Northern ruling
> class being the agency of such an event.

What was dubious about it? Chattel slavery was destroyed by force of
arms. Granted, it took another hundred years for the black population of
the south to finally gain formal democratic rights, after the overthrow
of the Reconstruction Governments. But would we say that the
revolutionary character of the French Revolution was made null and void
by the Bonapartist reaction that followed?

As to the agency of the Northern ruling class, they were led to triumph
not by people like Godkin, but by leaders of the Radical Republicans
like Thaddeus Stevens, whose 1867 speech on Reconstruction policy I
append. It breathes even today with the fire that inspired hundreds of
thousands to march into the cannon's mouth. Don't let your antipathy to
the current Nation Magazine color your historical analysis Lou.

Jon Flanders

Speech of the Hon. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, Delivered in the
House of Representatives, March 19, 1867, on the Bill (H.R. No. 20)
Relative to Damages to Loyal Men, and for Other Purposes.

Mr. STEVENS said--

Mr. SPEAKER: I am about to discuss the question of the punishment of
belligerent traitors by enforcing the confiscation of their property to
a certain extent, both as a punishment for their crimes and to pay the
loyal men who have been robbed by the rebels, and to increase the
pensions of our wounded soldiers. The punishment of traitors has been
wholly ignored by a treacherous Executive and by a sluggish Congress. I
wish to make an issue before the American people, and see whether they
will sanction the perfect impunity of a murderous belligerent, and
consent that the loyal men of this nation, who have been despoiled of
their property, shall remain without remuneration, either by the rebel
property or the property of the nation.

This bill is important to several classes of people.

It is important to our wounded and maimed soldiers, who are unable to
work for their living, and whose present pensions are wholly inadequate
to their support. It is important to those bereaved wives and parents
whose habiliments of woe are to be seen in every house, and proclaim the
cruel losses which have been inflicted on them by the murderous hands of

It is important to the loyal men, North and South [5], who have been
plundered and impoverished by rebel raiders and rebel Legislatures.

It is important to four millions of injured, oppressed, and helpless
men, whose ancestors for two centuries have been held in bondage and
compelled to earn the very property, a small portion of which we propose
to restore to them, and who are now destitute, helpless, and exposed to
want and starvation, under the deliberate cruelty of their former

It is also important to the delinquents whose property it takes as a
fine--punishment for the great crime of making war to destroy the
Republic, and for prosecuting the war in violations of all the rules of
civilized warfare. It is certainly too small a punishment for so deep a
crime, and too slight a warning to future ages[.]

Apply these principles to the case in hand. The cause of the war was
slavery. We have liberated the slaves. It is our duty to protect them,
and provide for them while they are unable to provide for themselves.
Have we not a right, in the language of Vattel, "to do ourselves justice
respecting the object which has caused the war," by taking lands for
homesteads [sic: for] these "objects" of the war?

Have we not a right, if we chose to go to that extent, to indemnify
ourselves for the expenses and damages caused by the war? We might make
the property of the enemy pay the $4,000,000,000 which we have expended,
as well as the damages inflicted on loyal men by confiscation and
invasion, which might reach $1,000,000,000 more. This bill is merciful,
asking less than one tenth of our just claims.

I suppose none will deny the right to confiscate the [sic: preperty] of
the several belligerent States, as they all made war as States; or of
the Confederate States of America; for no one ever denied the right of
the conqueror to the crown property of the vanquished sovereign, even
where the seizure of private property would not be justified by the

The laws of war authorize us to take this property by our sovereign
power--by a law now to be passed. We have a subdued enemy in our power;
we have all their property and lives at our disposal....we have a right
to seize the property named in this bill, and ten times more. You behold
at your feet a conquered foe, an atrocious enemy. Tell him on what terms
he may arise and depart or remain loyal. But do not embrace him too
hastily. Be sure first that there is no dagger in his girdle.

Having, as I conceive, justified the bill which I seek to have enforced,
let us now look to the provisions of the bill under consideration. [9]

The first section orders the confiscation of all the property belonging
to the State governments, and the national government which made war
upon us, and which we have conquered. I presume no one is prepared to
object to this, unless it be those who condemned the conquest. To them I
have nothing to say, except to hope that they will continue consistent
in their love of the rebels; to show an exuberant humanity into which is
merged and submerged all the exalted feelings of patriotism.

The fourth section provides, first, that out of the lands thus
confiscated each liberated slave who is a male adult, or the head of a
family, shall have assigned to him a homestead of forty acres of land,
(with $100 to build a dwelling) which shall be held for them by trustees
during their pupilage.

Let us consider whether this is a just and [sic: politic] provision.

Whatever may be the fate of the rest of the bill, I must earnestly pray
that this may not be defeated. On its success, in my judgment, depends
not only the happiness and respectability of the colored race, but their
very existence. Homesteads to them are far more valuable than the
immediate right of suffrage, though both are their due.

Four million of persons have just been freed from a condition of
dependence, wholly unacquainted with business transactions, kept
systematically in ignorance of all their rights and of the common
elements of education, without which none of any race are competent to
earn an honest living, to guard against the frauds which will always be
practiced on the ignorant, or to judge of the most judicious manner of
applying their labor. But few of them are mechanics, and none of them
skilled manufacturers. They must necessarily, therefore, be the servants
and victims of others, unless they are made in some measure independent
of their wiser neighbors. The guardianship of the Freedmen's Bureau,
that benevolent institution, cannot be expected long to protect them. It
encounters the hostility of the old slaveholders, whether in official or
private station, because it deprives these dethroned tyrants of the
luxury of despotism. In its nature it is not calculated for a permanent
institution. Withdraw that protection and leave them a prey to the
legislation and treatment of their former masters, and the evidence
already furnished shows that they will soon become extinct, or driven to
defend themselves by civil war. Withhold from them all their rights, and
leave them destitute of the means of earning a livelihood, the victims
of the hatred or cupidity of the rebels whom they helped to conquer, and
it seems probable that the war of races might ensue which the President
feared would arise from kind treatment and restoration of their rights.
I doubt not that hundreds of thousands would annually be deposited in
secret, unknown graves. Such is already the course of their rebel
murderers; and it is done with impunity. ...Make them independent of
their old masters, so that they may not be compelled to work for them
upon unfair terms, which can only be done by giving them a small tract
of land to cultivate for themselves, and you remove all this danger. You
also elevate the character of the freedman. Nothing is so likely to make
a man a good citizen as to make him a freeholder. Nothing will so
multiply the productions of the South as to divide it into small farms.
Nothing will make men so industrious and moral as to let them feel that
they are above want and are the owners of the soil which they till. It
will also be of service to the white inhabitants. They will have
constantly among them industrious laborers, anxious to work for fair
wages. How is it possible for them to cultivate their lands if these
people were expelled? If Moses should lead or drive them into exile, or
carry out the absurd idea of colonizing them, the South would become a
barren waste.

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