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The Life and Public Services of Henry Wilson
Chapter XVII.


IN February, 1865, Mr. Wilson was re-elected United States senator for the term of six years. There was some delay in the election on the part of the conservative branch of the General Court, instigated, said "The Journal," "by a few eminently respectable parties who cannot forget that Mr. Wilson was once a shoemaker. We should like to see them," it continued, "go before the people on that issue. They would hear such a response as would convince them that Massachusetts esteems the sterling qualities of a self-made man, an astute statesman, and an active patriot, over the finest strain of blood or the most eminent respectability."

In March of this year, Mr. Wilson, from the Committee of Conference, reported a new bill for the establishment of a freedman's bureau, whose object was the supervision and relief of the freedmen and refugees. This important bill was carried through both Houses against strenuous opposition, and received, immediately on its passage, the president's approval.

As, by the Constitution, the appointment of officers by the president must receive the confirmation of the Senate, it was called to act upon ten thousand eight hundred and ninety-one military nominations, ranging from second lieutenants up to Lieut.-Gen. Grant, during the four years of the Rebellion; and this vast amount of labor fell upon that small Military Committee of which Mr. Wilson was and still is chairman.

In the crowning of the Union arms with success by the surrender of Gen. Lee in April, Mr. Wilson saw with inexpressible gratitude the realization of his hopes and labors carried on twenty years for the overthrow of the gigantic slave power in America; and he left Washington to be present at the raising of the Union flag once more float above Fort Sumter. While on the boat off Hilton Head, he heard the startling news that the president of the nation, Abraham Lincoln, had been stricken down by the ruthless hand of J. Wilkes Booth; and he immediately hastened back to Washington to assist in the emergency, and to share in the sorrows of the afflicted people. With Mr. Lincoln his relations had been intimate, and for his honesty and ability he entertained profound respect. in an address (May 3) before the New England Historic-Genealogical Society, of which he became a member in 1859, he said of Mr. Lincoln, that "he would pass into history as the foremost man of his age. He was a genuine product of our democratic institutions, and had a living faith in their permanency. His sympathy for the poor and the oppressed was hearty and genuine. Of his mind, one characteristic was the power of stating an argument clearly, and of quickly detecting a fallacy. He had also a felicity of expression. There were many phrases of power and beauty in his letters." The speech at Gettysburg was instanced as containing some of the noblest utterances of any age.

He also said of him in his address in Chicago, September, 1866, "Abraham Lincoln was always patriotic, always true to liberty, justice, humanity, and Christian civilization. He was true to his friends, and always considerate. If he moved slowly, he always moved. His face was always in the right direction."

Mr. Wilson attended the colored people's celebration in the presidential grounds at Washington, July 4, 1865, and said in his address to them, -

"I am not here to find fault with the government, however; though I fear that the golden moment to secure justice, and base our peace on the eternal principle of right, was not taken. I have faith in the motives and purposes of the administration, and shall keep my faith, unless it shall be broken by future deeds. I have faith in the motives and purposes of Pres. Johnson, who told the colored men in the capital of his own Tennessee that he would be their Moses. Andrew Johnson will, I am sure, be to you what Abraham Lincoln would have been had he been spared to complete the great work of emancipation and enfranchisement.

"Pardoned rebels, and rebels yet unpardoned, flippantly tell us that they hold in their hands, yet red with loyal blood, the rights of loyal colored men, of the heroes scarred and maimed beneath the dear old flag. I tell these repentant and unrepentant but conquered and subdued rebels, that, while they hold the suffrage of the loyal black men in their hands, we, the loyal men of America, hold in our hands their lost privilege to hold office in the civil service, army, or navy. The Congress of the United States has placed upon the statute-book a law forever prohibiting any one who has borne arms against the country, or given aid, comfort, and countenance to the Rebellion, from holding any office of honor, profit, or emolument, in the civil, military, or naval service of the United States.

"You, sir, invited Mayor Wallach to be here to-day; but I don't see him. I have a sort of dim idea, that, if you held the right of suffrage, Mayor Wallach, and perhaps the whole city government, would be here. (Cheers.) To insure the attendance of the Mayor of Washington next year, I would suggest that you early send your petitions to Congress asking for the ballot. ('We will.') I am a Yankee, and have the right to guess; and I guess you will get it." (Great applause.)

But from the appointments of the president for the South, from his sympathy for the men so recently engaged in the Rebellion, and from his treasonable declarations, the senator saw that the question of slavery was by no means settled, and that the great impediment in the way of settlement was in the executive chair.

His fears were openly expressed in an eloquent speech at the Academy of Music, Brooklyn, N.Y., Oct. 25, wherein he describes the recent rapid growth of insurrectionary sentiment in the Confederate States under the fostering patronage of the president.

"Let the late slave-masters, from the Potomac to the Mexican line, fully understand that you are amenable to the same laws as themselves; that you are to be tried for their violation in the same manner, and punished in the same degree. (Cheers.) Let them know that henceforth you will utter your own thoughts, make your own bargains, enjoy the fruits of your own labor, go where you please throughout the bounds of the republic, and none have the right to molest or make you afraid. (Applause.) If my voice to-day could penetrate the ear of the colored men of my country, I would say to them, that the intelligence, character, and wealth of the nation imperatively demand their freedom, protection, and the recognition of their rights. I would say to them, 'Prove yourselves, by patience, endurance, industry, conduct, and character, worthy of all that the millions of Christian men and women have done and are doing to make for you that Declaration of Independence, read here to-day - the living truth of United America.'" (Loud and prolonged cheering.)

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of their marriage, Oct. 27, 1865, the friends and neighbors of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson assembled at their house in Natick for the celebration of their "silver wedding." Although the night was stormy, a large number of ladies and gentlemen from their own and from the neighboring towns were present; and with mutual congratulations, speeches, poetical recitations, instrumental music, and the singing of songs, a bountiful collation, and the outflow of good will, the festival was full of life and pleasure. Among those present were Messrs. Hannibal Hamlin, Charles Sumner, Anson Burlingame, Oakes Ames, William Claflin, Ginery Twitchell, Charles W. Slack, and Mrs. Julia Ward Howe. Mrs. Wilson received her guests with her usual unaffected grace and courtesy, and received a purse of four thousand dollars, presented by the hand of William Claflin. An address was made by the Rev. C. M. Tyler, Mr. Wilson's pastor at that time; and a poem by Mrs. Julia Ward Howe was sung, from which we cite the following stanza:-

"But Wilson from the lowlier base,
The silver vantage gaining,
Climbs ever towards the golden grace,
With labor uncomplaining."

Another poet, referring to Mrs. Wilson, wrote:-

"Thus every wish his heart could frame
In her reality became:
Affection, undiminished still
By clouded brow or wayward will;
And that still lovelier, holier grace
That beams upon a mother's face, -
These round his path have shed a light
Mild as the moon of summer's night."

Many elegant articles of silver were presented to Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, among which was a very beautiful silver tea-service from the citizens of Natick. On subscribing for this, one of them characteristically said, "That is for the MAN, not for his principles." As a man, Mr. Wilson's townsmen, even those bitterly opposing his political opinions, have always held him high in their regard and honor. His son, Lieut.-Col. Henry Hamilton Wilson, was at this time in command of the Hundred-and-fourth Regiment of United-States colored troops at Beaufort. S.C. One of his friends on the occasion truly said or sung, -

'A silver wedding claims a silvery verse;
And WILSON well deserves a poet's lay:
But I in humbler measure must rehearse
How fairly earned the honors of this day.
For friendship here puts on more public guise:
The man we love has been the people's friend:
Not wedded faith more sacred in his eyes
Than Truth to champion, and the poor defend."

Mr. Wilson gave the world this year a work of great and permanent value, bearing the title of "History of the Antislavery Measures of the Thirty-seventh and Thirty—eighth United-States Congresses, 1861-65. By Henry Wilson." It contains four hundred and twenty-four pages octavo, and most lucidly exhibits the course of national legislation on the slave question, from the opening of the Rebellion until the overthrow of the system by the adoption of the antislavery amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The work is written with great candor by one who, as we have seen, took part in the legislation, framing several of the most important measures, and carrying them, against persistent opposition, through Congress. The style is dignified and manly; the speakers present their views in their own language; and the .grounds on which the bills are framed are very ably and distinctly stated. The abstract of the work accomplished by the fearless advocates of freedom in the closing pages gives with clearness the results accomplished, and a just idea of the burden taken by this legislation from the bondinan and the Union.

"This volume," says "The Atlantic Monthly," "is a labor-saving machine of great power to all who desire or need a clear view of the course of Congressional legislation on measures of emancipation;" and Mrs. Stowe characterizes it as "exhibiting the magnificent morality, the dauntless courage, the unwearied faith, hope, and charity, that are the crown jewels of the republic."-

The closing summary of the achievements of the friends of freedom given in this work is so well made, and is such a valuable historical record, that we think it worthy of transcription.

"The annals of the nation," says the author, "bear the amplest evidence that the patriots and statesmen who carried the country through the Revolution from colonial dependence to national independence, framed the Constitution, and inaugurated the Federal Government, hoped and believed that slavery would pass away at no distant period under the influences of the institutions they had founded. But those illustrious men tasted death without witnessing the realization of their hopes and anticipations. The rapid development of the resources of the country under the protection of a stable government, the opening up of new and rich lands, the expansion of territory, and perhaps, more than all, the wonderful growth and importance of the cotton culture, enhanced the value of labor, and increased many-fold the price of slaves. Under the stimulating influences of an ever-increasing pecuniary interest, a political power was speedily developed, which early manifested itself in the National Government. For nearly two generations, the slaveholding class, into whose power the government early passed, dictated the policy of the nation. But the presidential election of 1860 resulted in the defeat of the slaveholding class, and in the success of men who religiously believe slavery to be a grievous wrong to the slave, a blight upon the prosperity, and a stain upon the name, of the country. Defeated in its aims, broken in its power, humiliated in its pride, the slave- holding class raised at once the banners of treason. Retiring from the chambers of Congress, abandoning the seats Of power to men who had persistently opposed their aggressive policy, they brought to an abrupt close the record of half a century of SLAVERY MEASURES IN CONGRESS. Then, when slavery legislation ended, antislavery legislation began....

"When the Rebellion culminated in active hostilities, it was seen that thousands of slaves were used for military purposes by the rebel forces. To weaken the forces of the Rebellion, the Thirty-seventh Congress decreed that such slaves should be forever free.

"As the Union armies advanced into the rebel States, slaves, inspired by the hope of personal freedom, flocked to their encampments, claiming protection against rebel masters, and offering to work and fight for the flag whose stars for the first time gleamed upon their vision with the radiance of liberty. Rebel masters and rebel-sympathizing masters sought the encampments of the loyal forces, demanding the surrender of the escaped fugitives; and they were often delivered up by officers of the armies. To weaken the power of the insurgents, to strengthen the loyal forces, and assert the claims of humanity, the Thirty- seventh Congress enacted an article of war, dismissing from the service officers guilty of surrendering these fugitives.

"Three thousand persons were held as slaves in the District of Columbia, over which the nation exercised exclusive jurisdiction: the Thirty-seventh Congress made these three thousand bondmen freemen, and made slave- holding in the capital of the nation forevermore impossible.

"Laws and ordinances existed in the national capital that pressed with merciless rigor upon the colored people: the Thirty-seventh Congress enacted that colored persons should be tried for the same offences in the same manner, and be subject to the same punishments, as white persons thus abrogating the 'black code.'

"Colored persons in the capital of this Christian nation were denied the right to testify in the judicial tribunals; thus placing their property, their liberties, and their lives, in the power of unjust and wicked men: the Thirty-seventh Congress enacted that persons should not be excluded as witnesses in the courts of the District on account of color.

"In the capital of the nation, colored persons were taxed to support schools from which their own children were excluded; and no public schools were provided for the instruction of more than four thousand youth: the Thirty-eighth Congress provided by law that public schools should be established for colored children, and that the same rate of appropriations for colored schools should be made as are made for schools for the education of white children.

"The railways chartered by Congress excluded from their cars colored persons, without the authority of law: Congress enacted that there should be no exclusion from any car on account of color.

"Into the Territories of the United States - one-third of the surface of the country - the slaveholding class claimed the right to take and hold their slaves under the protection of law: the Thirty-seventh Congress prohibited slavery forever in all the existing territory, and in all territory which may hereafter be acquired; thus stamping freedom for all, forever, upon the public domain.

"As the war progressed, it became more clearly apparent that the rebels hoped to win the border slave States that rebel sympathizers in those States hoped to join the rebel States; and that emancipation in loyal States would bring repose to them, and weaken the power of the Rebellion: the Thirty-seventh Congress, on the recommendation of the president, by the passage of a joint resolution, pledged the faith of the nation to aid loyal States to emancipate the slaves therein.

"The hoe and spade of the rebel slave were hardly less potent for the Rebellion than the rifle and bayonet of the rebel soldier. Slaves sowed and reaped for the rebels, enabling the rebel leaders to fill the wasting ranks of their armies, and feed them. To weaken the military forces and the power of the Rebellion, the Thirty-seventh Congress decreed that all slaves of persons giving aid and comfort to the Rebellion, escaping from such persons, and taking refuge within the lines of the army; all slaves captured from such persons, or deserted by them; all slaves of such persons, being within any place occupied by rebel forces, and afterwards occupied by the forces of the United States, - shall be captives of war, and shall be forever free of their servitude, and not again held as slaves.

"The provisions of the Fugitive-slave Act permitted disloyal masters to claim, and they did claim, the return of their fugitive bondmen: the Thirty-seventh Congress enacted that no fugitive should be surrendered until the claimant made oath that he had not given aid and comfort to the Rebellion.

"The progress of the Rebellion demonstrated its power, and the needs of the imperilled nation. To strengthen the physical forces of the United States, the Thirty-seventh Congress authorized the president to receive into the military service persons of African descent; and every such person mustered into the service, his mother, his wife and children, owing service or labor to any person who should give aid and comfort to the Rebellion, was made forever free.

"The African slave-trade had been carried on by slave pirates under the protection of the flag of the United States. To extirpate from the seas that inhuman traffic, and to vindicate the sullied honor of the nation, the administration early entered into treaty stipulations with the British Government for the mutual right of search within certain limits; and the Thirty-seventh Congress hastened to enact the appropriate legislation to carry the treaty into effect.

"The slaveholding class, in the pride of power, persistently refused to recognize the independence of Hayti and Liberia; thus dealing unjustly towards those nations, to the detriment of the commercial interests of the country: the Thirty-seventh Congress recognized the independence of those republics by authorizing the president to establish diplomatic relations with them.

"By the provisions of law, white male citizens alone were enrolled in the militia. In the amendment to the acts for calling out the militia, the Thirty-seventh Congress provided for the enrolment and drafting of citizens, without regard to color; and, by the Enrolment Act, colored persons, free or slave, are enrolled and drafted the same as white men : the Thirty-eighth Congress enacted that colored soldiers shall have the same pay, clothing, and rations, and be placed in all respects upon the same footing, as white soldiers. To encourage enlistments, and to aid emancipation, the Thirty-eighth Congress decreed that every slave mustered into the military service shall be free forever; thus enabling every slave fit for military service to secure personal freedom.

"By the provisions of the fugitive-slave acts, slave masters could hunt their absconding bondmen, require the people to aid in their recapture, and have them returned at the expense of the nation : the Thirty-eighth Congress raised all fugitive-slave acts from the statutes of the republic.

"The law of 1807 legalized the coastwise slave-trade: the Thirty-eighth Congress repealed that act, and made the trade illegal.

"The courts of the United States receive such testimony as is permitted in the States where the courts are holden; several of the States exclude the testimony of colored persons: the Thirty-eighth Congress made it legal for colored persons to testify in all the courts of the United States.

"Different views are entertained by public men relative to the reconstruction of the governments of the seceded States and the validity of the president's proclamation of emancipation: the Thirty-eighth Congress passed a bill providing for the reconstruction of the governments of the rebel States, and for the emancipation of the slaves in those States ; but it did not receive the approval of the president.

"Colored persons were not permitted to carry the United- States mails: the Thirty-eighth Congress repealed the pro- hibitory legislation, and made It lawful for-persons of color to carry the mails.

"Wives and children of colored persons in the military and naval service of the United States were often lied as slaves; and, while husbands and fathers were absent fighting the battles of the country, these wives and children were sometimes removed and sold, and often treated with cruelty the Thirty-eighth Congress made free the wives and children of all persons engaged in the military or naval service of the country.

"The disorganization of the slave system, and the exigencies of civil war, have thrown thousands of freedmen upon the charity of the nation: to relieve their immediate needs, and to aid them through the transition period, the Thirty-eighth Congress established a bureau of freedmen.

"The prohibition of slavery in the Territories, its abolition in the District of Columbia, the freedom of colored soldiers and their wives and children, emancipation in Maryland, West Virginia, and Missouri, and, by the reorganized State authorities, of Virginia, Tennessee, and Louisiana, and the president's Emancipation Proclamation, disorganized the slave system, and practically left few persons in bondage; but slavery still continued in Dela- ware and Kentucky, and the slave codes remained unrepealed in the rebel States. To annihilate the slave system, its codes and usages; to make slavery impossible, and freedom universal, - the Thirty-eighth Congress submitted to the people an antislavery amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The adoption of that crowning measure assures freedom to all.

"Such are the 'ANTISLAVERY MEASURES' of the Thirty- seventh and Thirty-eighth Congresses during the past four crowded years. Seldom in the history of nations is it given to any body of legislators or lawgivers to enact or institute a series of measures so vast in their scope, so comprehensive in their character, so patriotic, just, and humane.

"But, while the Thirty-seventh and Thirty-eighth Congresses were enacting this antislavery legislation, other agencies were working to the consummation of the same end, - the complete and final abolition of slavery. The president proclaims three and a half millions of bondmen in the rebel States henceforward and forever free. Maryland, Virginia, and Missouri adopt immediate and unconditional emancipation. The partially re-organized rebel States of Virginia and Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana, accept and adopt the unrestricted abolition of slavery. Illinois and other States hasten to blot from their statute- books their dishonoring 'black codes.' The attorney- general officially pronounces the negro a citizen of the United States. The negro, who had no status in the Supreme Court, is admitted by the chief justice to practise as an attorney before that august tribunal. Christian men and women follow the loyal armies with the agencies of mental and moral instruction to fit and prepare the enfranchised freedmen for the duties of the higher condition of life now opening before them."

In these labors Mr. Wilson bore a prominent and honorable part; and to no man living are the colored people of this country under higher obligation for their liberty.

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