CHAPTER I. RECONSTRUCTION AND ITS AFTERMATH
Unhappily for themselves, the southern states played unwittingly into the hands of Stevens and his radical colleagues. The outcome of the war had placed upon the freedmen responsibilities which they could not be expected to carry. To many of them emancipation meant merely cessation from work. Vagabondage was common. Rumor was widespread that the government was going to give each negro forty acres of land and a mule, and the blacks loafed about, awaiting the division. The strict regulations which had surrounded the former slave were discarded and it was necessary to accustom him to a new regime. "The race was free, but without status, without leaders, without property, and without education." Fully alive to the dangers of giving unrestricted freedom to so large a body of ignorant negroes, the southern whites passed the "black codes," which placed numerous limitations on the civil liberty of "persons of color." In some cases they were forbidden to carry arms, to act as witnesses in court except in cases involving their own race, and to serve on juries or in the militia. Vagrancy laws enabled the magistrates to set unemployed blacks at work under arrangements that amounted almost to peonage. It is now evident that the South was actuated by what it considered the necessities of its situation and not merely by a spirit of defiance. Yet the fear on the part of the North that slavery was being restored under a disguise was not unnatural. Radical northern newspapers and leading extremists in Congress exaggerated the importance of the codes until they seemed like a systematic attempt to evade the results of the war. As Republican leaders in Congress saw the satisfaction created in the South by the President's policy, and discovered that northern Democrats were rallying to his support, the jealousies of partisanship caused them still further to increase their grip on the processes of reconstruction. A disquieting by-product of the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery, also began to appear. Hitherto only three-fifths of the negroes had been counted in apportioning representation in the House of Representatives. As soon as the slaves became free, however, they were counted as if they were whites, and thereby the strength of the South in Congress would be increased. It was hardly to be expected that the North would view such a development with satisfaction.
The first action of the leaders in Congress was the introduction of a bill to continue and extend the powers of the Freedmen's Bureau, a federal organization which supervised charitable relief given the negroes, protected them in making contracts for labor and assumed a sort of guardianship over the race in making its transition out of slavery. The new measure was intended to continue this federal tutelage of the blacks. The President's veto of the bill, February 19, 1866, served to widen the breach between him and Congress and thereby postponed still further the admission of the representatives of the southern state governments. Three days later Johnson addressed a crowd which collected before the White House. In the course of his speech he lost control of himself to such an extent as to indulge in undignified remarks and personalities, and even to charge leaders in Congress with seeking to destroy the fundamental principles of American government. Thoughtful men everywhere were dismayed. In the meantime a Civil Rights bill was pending in Congress, the purpose of which was to declare negroes to be citizens of the United States and to give them rights equal to those accorded other citizens, notwithstanding local or state laws and codes. The President objected to the bill as an unconstitutional invasion of the rights of the states, but it was promptly passed over the veto. Scarcely any members of Congress now supported him except the Democrats. The conservative or conciliatory Republicans were lost to him for good. Throughout the North it was felt that protection must be accorded the freedmen against the black codes, and when the President opposed it he lost ground outside of Congress as well as in it. "From that time Johnson was beaten."
Stevens in the House and Sumner and others in the Senate were now in a position to press successfully a stern, congressional reconstruction policy to replace that of the executive. The first item in the radical program was the Fourteenth Amendment, which passed Congress in June, 1866, although it did not become of force until 1868. It contained four sections: (1) making citizens of all persons born or naturalized in the United States and forbidding states to abridge their rights; (2) providing for the reduction of the representation in Congress of any state that denied the vote to any citizens except those guilty of crimes; (3) disabling confederate leaders from holding political office except with the permission of Congress; and (4) prohibiting the payment of confederate debts. The first section was, of course, designed to put the civil rights of the negro into the Constitution where they would be safe from hostile legislation. The second sought to get negro suffrage into the South by indirection at a time when a positive suffrage amendment could not be passed. The third was to take the pardoning power out of executive hands.