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The United States of America: A History
Book 4: Chapter XI - After the War


IN all civil strifes, until now, the woe which waits upon the vanquished has been mercilessly inflicted. After resistance has ceased, the grim scaffold is set up, and brave men who have escaped the sword stoop to the fatal axe. It was assumed by many that the Americans would avenge themselves according to the ancient usage. Here, again, it was the privilege of America to present a noble example to other nations. Nearly every Northern man had lost relative or friend. But there was no cry for vengeance. There was no feeling of bitterness. Excepting in battle, no drop of blood was shed by the Northern people. The Great Republic had been not merely strong, resolute, enduring —it was also singularly and nobly humane.

Jefferson Davis fled southward on that memorable Sunday when the sexton of St. Paul's Church handed to him General Lee's message. lie had need to be diligent, for a party of American cavalry were quickly upon his track. They followed him through gaunt pine wildernesses, across rivers and dreary swamps, past the huts of wondering settlers, until at length they came upon him near a little town in Georgia. They quietly surrounded his party.

Davis assumed the garments of his wife. The soldiers saw at first nothing more formidable than an elderly and not very well-dressed female. But the unfeminine boots which he wore led to closer inspection, and quickly the fallen President stood disclosed to his deriding enemies.

There was at first suspicion that Davis encouraged the assassination of the President. Could that have been proved, he would have died, as reason was, by the hand of the hangman. But it became evident, on due examination being made, that he was not guilty of this crime. For a time the American people regarded Davis with just indignation, as the chief cause of all the bloodshed which had taken place. Gradually their anger relaxed into a kind of grim, contemptuous playfulness. He was to be put upon his trial for treason. Frequently a time was named when the trial would begin. But the time never came. Ultimately Davis was set at liberty.

What were the Americans to do with the million of armed men now in their employment? It was believed in Europe that these men would never return to peaceful labour. Government could not venture to turn them loose upon the country. Military employment must be found for them, and would probably be found in foreign wars.

While yet public writers in Europe occupied themselves with these dark anticipations, the American Government, all unaware of difficulty, ordered its armies to march on Washington. During two days the bronzed veterans who had followed Grant and Sherman in so many bloody fights passed through the city. Vast multitudes from all parts of the Union looked on with a proud but chastened joy. And then, just as quickly as the men could be paid the sums which were due to them, they gave back the arms they had used so bravely, and returned to their homes. It was only six weeks since Richmond fell, and already the work of disbanding was well advanced. The men who had fought this war were, for the most part, citizens who had freely taken up arms to defend the national life. They did not love war, and when their work was done they thankfully resumed their ordinary employments. Very speedily the American army numbered only 40,000 men. Europe, when she grows a little wiser, will follow the American example. The wasteful folly of maintaining huge standing armies in time of peace is not destined to disgrace us for ever.

What was the position of the rebel States when the war closed? Were they provinces conquered by the Union armies, to be dealt with as the conquerors might deem necessary; or were they, in spite of all they had done, still members of the Union, as of old? The rebels themselves had no doubt on the subject. They had tried their utmost to leave the Union. It was impossible to conceal that. But they had not been permitted to leave it. They had never left it. As they were not out of the Union, it was obvious they were in it. And so they claimed to resume their old rights, and re-occupy their places in Congress, as if no rebellion had occurred.

Mr. Lincoln's successor was Andrew Johnson, a man whose rough vigour had raised him from the lowly position of tailor to the highest office in the country. He was imperfectly educated, of defective judgment, blindly and violently obstinate, lie supported the rebels in their extravagant pretensions. He clung to the strictly logical view that there could be no such thing as secession; that the rebel States had never been out of the Union; that now there was nothing required but that the rebels, having accepted their defeat, should resume their old positions, as if the late "unpleasantness" had not occurred.

The American people were too wise to give heed to the logic of the President and the baffled slave-owners. They had preserved the life of their nation through sacrifices which filled their homes with sorrow and privation. They would not be tricked out of the advantages which they had bought with so great a price. The slave-owners had imposed upon them a great national peril, which it cost them infinite toil to avert. They would take what securities it was possible to obtain that no such invasion of the national tranquillity should occur again.

It was out of the position so wrongfully assigned to the negro race that this huge disorder had arisen. The North, looking at tli is with eyes which long and sad experience had enlightened, resolved that the negro should never again divide the sisterhood of States. No root of bitterness should be left in the soil. Citizenship was no longer to be dependent upon colour. The long dishonour offered to the Fathers of Independence was to be cancelled. Henceforth American law would present no contradiction to the doctrine that "all men are born equal." All men now, born or naturalized in America, were to be citizens of the Union and of the State in which they resided. No State might henceforth pass any law which should abridge the privileges of any class of American citizens.

An Amendment of the Constitution was proposed by Congress to give effect to these principles. It was agreed to by the States—not without reluctance on the part of some. The Revolution—so vast and so benign—was now complete. The negro, who so lately had no rights at all which a white man was bound to respect, was now in full possession of every right which the white man himself enjoyed. The successor of Jefferson Davis in the Senate of the United States was a negro!

The task of the North was now to "bind up the nation's wounds"—the task to which Mr. Lincoln looked forward so joyfully, and which lie would have performed so well. Not a moment was lost in entering upon it. No feeling of resentment survived in the Northern mind. The South was utterly exhausted and helpless—without food, without clothing, without resources of any description. The. land alone remained. Government provided food—without which provision there would have been in many parts of the country a great mortality from utter want. The proud Southerners, tamed by hunger, were fain to come as suppliants for their daily bread to the Government they had so long striven to overthrow.

With little delay the rebels received the pardon of the Government, and applied themselves to the work of restoring their broken fortunes. Happily for them the means lay close at hand. Cotton bore still an extravagantly high price. The negroes remained, although no longer as slaves. They had now to be dealt with as free labourers, whose services could not be obtained otherwise than by the inducement of adequate wages. In a revolution so vast, difficulties were inevitable. But, upon the whole, the black men played their part well. It had been said they would not consent to labour when they were free to choose. That prediction was not fulfilled. When kindly treated and justly paid, they showed themselves anxious to work. Very soon it began to dawn upon the planters that slavery had been a mistake. They found themselves growing rich with a rapidity unknown before. Under the old and wasteful system, the growing crop of cotton was generally sold to the Northern merchant and paid for to the planter before it was gathered. Now it had become possible to carry on the business of the plantation without being in debt at all. Five years from the close of the war, it is perhaps not too much to say that the men of the South would undergo the miseries of another war rather than permit the re-imposition of that system which they, erringly, endured so much to preserve.

At first the proud Southerners were slow to accept the terms offered them. They had frankly accepted emancipation. They had learned to look upon their slaves as free men. But it was hard to look upon them as their equals in political privilege. It was hard to see negroes sitting in the State legislatures, regulating with supreme authority the concerns of those who so lately owned them. Some of the States were unable to acquiesce in a change so hateful, and continued for five years under military rule. But the Northern will was inflexible. The last rebellious State accepted the condition which the North imposed, and the restoration of the Union was at length complete.


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