CHAPTER I. RECONSTRUCTION AND ITS AFTERMATH
Despite his dissent from its provisions, the President at once set military reconstruction in operation. When he mitigated its harshness, however, where latitude was allowed him, Congress passed additional acts, over the veto, of course, extending and defining the powers of the commanding generals. Armed with complete authority, the generals proceeded to remove many of the ordinary civil officers and to replace them with their own appointees, to compel order by means of the soldiery, to set aside court decrees and even to close the courts and to enact legislation. In the meanwhile a total of 703,000 black and 627,000 white voters were registered, delegates to constitutional conventions were elected, constitutions were drawn up and adopted which permitted negro suffrage, and state officers and legislators elected. In conformity with the provisions of the Act, the newly chosen legislatures ratified the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, sent representatives and senators to Washington, where they were admitted to Congress, and by 1871 the last confederate state was reconstructed.
The commanding generals were honest and efficient, in the main, even if their stern rule was distasteful to the South, but the regime of the newly elected state officers and legislators was a period of dishonesty and incapacity. Most of the experienced and influential whites had been excluded from participation in politics through the operation of the presidential proclamations and the reconstruction acts. In all the legislatures there were large numbers of blacks - sometimes, indeed, they were in the majority. Two parties appeared. The radical or Republican group included the negroes, a few southern whites, commonly called "scalawags," and various northerners known as "carpet-baggers." These last were in some cases mere adventurers and in others men of ability who were attracted to the South for one reason or another, and took a prominent part in political affairs. The old-time whites held both kinds in equal detestation. The other party was called conservative or Democratic, and was composed of the great mass of the whites. Many of them had been Whigs before the war, but in the face of negro-Republican domination, nearly all threw in their lot with the conservatives.
Not all the activities of the legislatures were bad. Provisions were made for education, for example, that were in line with the needs of the states. Nevertheless, their conduct in the main was such as to drive the South almost into revolt. In the South Carolina legislature only twenty-two members out of 155 could read and write. The negroes were in the majority and although they paid only $143 in taxes altogether, they helped add $20,000,000 to the state debt in four years. In Arkansas the running expenses of the state increased 1500 per cent.; in Louisiana the public debt mounted from $14,000,000 to $48,000,000 between 1868 and 1871. Only ignorance and dishonesty could explain such extravagance and waste. Submission, however, was not merely advisable; it presented the only prospect of peace. Open resentment was largely suppressed, but it was inevitable that the whites should become hostile to the blacks, and that they should dislike the Republican party for its ruthless imposition of a system which governed them without their consent and which placed them at the mercy of the incompetent and unscrupulous. A system which made a negro the successor of Jefferson Davis in the United States Senate could scarcely fail to throw the majority of southern whites into the ranks of the enemies of the Republican organization.
One step remained to ensure the continuance of negro suffrage - the adoption of a constitutional provision. In 1869 Congress referred to the states the Fifteenth Amendment, which was declared in force a year later. By its terms the United States and the states are forbidden to abridge the right of citizens to vote on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.
While radical reconstruction was being forced to its bitter conclusion, the opponents of the President were maturing plans for his impeachment and exclusion from office. By the terms of the Constitution, the chief executive may be impeached for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." Early in the struggle between President Johnson and Congress a few members of the House of Representatives urged an attempt to impeach him. Such extremists as James M. Ashley of Ohio, and Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts, believed that he had even been implicated in the plot to assassinate Lincoln. A thorough-going search through his private as well as his public career failed to produce any evidence that could be interpreted as sufficient to meet constitutional demands, and a motion to impeach was voted down in the House by a large majority. So indiscreet a man as the President, however, was likely at some time to furnish a reason for further effort. The occasion came in the removal of the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton.