CHAPTER I. RECONSTRUCTION AND ITS AFTERMATH
At this point there came a halt in the controversy until the country could be heard from in the congressional elections of 1866. Both sides made unusual efforts to organize political sentiment. Both attempted to demonstrate their thoroughly national character by holding conventions attended by southern as well as northern delegates. Each angled for the soldier vote by encouraging conferences of veterans. Late in July occurred an incident which the radicals were able to use to advantage. A crowd of negroes attending a convention in New Orleans in behalf of suffrage for their race became engaged in a fight with white anti-suffragists and many of the blacks were killed. The riot was commonly referred to in the North as a "massacre," the moral of which was that the negroes must be protected against the unrepentant rebels. But it was Johnson himself who furnished greatest aid to his adversaries. Having been invited to speak in Chicago, he determined upon an electioneering trip, "swinging around the circle," he called it. Again he was guilty of gross indiscretions. He made personal allusions, held angry colloquies with the crowd and at one place met such opposition that he had to retire unheard. It mattered little that the greater part of his speeches were sound and substantial. His lapses were held up to public scorn and he returned to Washington amid the hoots of his enemies. It was commonly believed that he had been intoxicated. Probably no orator, The Nation sarcastically remarked, ever accomplished so much by a fortnight's speaking. There could be little doubt as to the outcome of the elections. The Republicans carried almost every northern state and obtained a two-thirds majority in each house of Congress, with which to override vetoes.
As if impelled by some perverse fate the southern whites during the fall and winter of 1866-67 did the thing for which the bitterest enemy of the South might have wished. Except in Tennessee, the legislature of every confederate state refused with almost complete unanimity to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment. Natural as the act was, it gave the North apparently overwhelming proof that the former "rebels" were still defiant. Encouraged by the results of the election and aroused by the attitude of the South toward the Amendment, Congress proceeded to encroach upon prerogatives that had hitherto been considered purely executive, and also to pass a most extreme plan of reconstruction.
The first of these measures, the Tenure of Office Act, was passed over a veto on March 2, 1867. By it the President was forbidden to remove civil officers except with the consent of the Senate. Even the members of the Cabinet could not be dismissed without the permission of the upper house, a provision inserted for the protection of Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War. Stanton was in sympathy with the radical leaders in Congress and it was essential to them that he be kept in this post of advantage. General Grant, who had charge of the military establishment, was made almost independent of the President by a law drafted secretly by Stanton. On the same day, and over a veto also, was passed the Reconstruction Act, the most important piece of legislation during the decade after the war. It represented the desires of Thaddeus Stevens and was passed mainly because of his masterful leadership. At the outset the new Act declared the existing southern state governments to be illegal and inadequate, and divided the South into five military districts. Over each was to be a commanding general who should preserve order, and continue civil officers and civil courts, or replace them with military tribunals as he wished. Under his direction each state was to frame and adopt a new constitution which must provide for negro suffrage. When Congress should approve the constitution and when a legislature elected under its provisions should adopt the Fourteenth Amendment, the state might be readmitted to the Union.
The Reconstruction Act was remarkable in several features. The provision imposing negro suffrage was carried through the Senate with difficulty and only as the result of the tireless activity of Charles Sumner. Sumner and other radicals were determined that the blacks should be enfranchised in order that they might protect themselves from hostile local legislation and also in order that they might form part of a southern Republican party. Even more noteworthy was the military character of the Act. The President had already exercised his prerogative of declaring the country at peace on August 20, 1866, more than six months before the Act was passed. In the decision in the Milligan case, which preceded the Act by nearly three months, the Supreme Court had decided that military tribunals were illegal except where war made the operation of civil courts impossible. Military reconstruction was illogical, not to say unlawful, therefore, but Congress was more interested in a method that promised the speedy accomplishment of its purposes than it was in the opinions of the executive and judicial departments.