The collection includes exceptional studies of the Reconstruction era beginning with reconstruction plans during the war and including later accounts written by such prominent American figures as Frederick Douglass and Woodrow Wilson. President Lincoln's message to Congress on peace negotiations, February 10, 1865, included the philosophical basis of Lincoln's plan for Reconstruction:
. . . Dependent provinces, sullenly submitting to a destiny which they loathe, would be a burden to us, rather than an increase of strength or an element of prosperity. War would have won us a peace stripped of all the advantages that make peace a blessing. We should have so much more territory, and so much less substantial greatness. We did not enter upon war to open a new market, or fresh fields for speculators, or an outlet for redundant population, but to save the experiment of democracy from destruction, and put it in a fairer way of success by removing the single disturbing element. Our business now is not to allow ourselves to be turned aside from a purpose which our experience thus far has demonstrated to have been as wise as it was necessary, and to see to it that, whatever be the other conditions of reconstruction, democracy, which is our real strength, receive no detriment.
"Reconstruction Days" in The North American Review, September 1886, provides insights into the conflicts among political and military leaders over Reconstruction polices through a series of official letters. Among the correspondence included in the article are letters from Salmon P. Chase to General William T. Sherman. In one of the printed letters, Chase wrote:
. . . For myself, indeed, I freely say that I see no reason why all citizens may not vote, subject only to such restrictions as are applicable to all, irrespective of color. I feel sure that the justice and good sense of the people will, at least, demand the right of suffrage for all who are educated, and all who have borne arms in the service of the Union. Without this, at least, I see no security against attempted re-enslavement, against the most inhuman and cruel discrimination and treatment of the colored people as a class, or indeed, against the ascendancy of the disloyal element in the insurgent States, as soon as the military pressure shall be removed.
In The Atlantic Monthly, December 1866, Frederick Douglass warns of the reestablishment of slavery in the South and suggests that it could only be deterred by extending suffrage.
Slavery, like all other great systems of wrong, founded in the depths of human selfishness, and existing for ages, has not neglected its conservation. . . . And to-day it is so strong that it could exist, not only without law, but even against law. Customs, manners, morals, religion, are all on its side everywhere in the South; and when you add the ignorance and servility of the ex-slave to the intelligence and accustomed authority of the master, you have the conditions, not only of which slavery will again grow, but under which it is impossible for the Federal government to wholly destroy it, unless the Federal government be armed with despotic power, to blot out State authority, and to station a Federal officer at every cross-road. This, of course, cannot be done, and ought not even if it could. The true way and the easiest way is to make our government entirely consistent with itself, and give to every loyal citizen the elective franchise,—a right and power which will be ever present, and will form a wall of fire for his protection.
- According to both Chase and Douglass, how important was extending the franchise? How did the two appear to differ on who should have the right to vote?
- How consistent were their views with those of the Johnson administration regarding the extension of the franchise?
- What evidence, if any, indicates that Lincoln would have extended the franchise if he had not been assassinated?
- To what extent does the history of the Reconstruction Era support the views expressed by both Chase and Douglass?
The January 1901 issue of The Atlantic Monthly carried an article by Woodrow Wilson, professor of jurisprudence and political economics at Princeton University, reviewing Reconstruction policies. On the suffrage issue, Wilson wrote that President Johnson had made no requirements regarding the extension of the right to vote as a factor for the readmission of states because establishing voting rights had been a traditional matter for the states to decide. Wilson considered Reconstruction as a political revolution. The close of this lengthy article expresses his views about the enactment of the Reconstruction Amendments, directing attention especially to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments
. . . For several years, therefore, Congress was permitted to do by statute what, under the long-practiced conceptions of our federal law, could properly be done only by constitutional amendment. The necessity for that gone by, it was suffered to embody what it had already enacted and put into force as law into the Constitution, not by the free will of the country at large, but by the compulsions of mere force exercised upon a minority whose assent was necessary to the formal completion of its policy.
- Contrast Wilson's view of Reconstruction to that of Chase and Douglass. How do they differ?
- How do contemporary historians and political scientists evaluate Wilson's argument regarding the ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments?
- After reading the entire article, how would you evaluate Wilson's objectivity in his appraisal of Reconstruction?