The author of this book is one of the few remaining links in the chain by which the present generation is connected with the reconstruction period,—the most important and eventful period in our country's history.
What is herein recorded is based upon the author's own knowledge, contact and experience. Very much, of course, has been written and published about reconstruction, but most of it is superficial and unreliable; and, besides, nearly all of it has been written in such a style and tone as to make the alleged facts related harmonize with what was believed to be demanded by public sentiment. The author of this work has endeavored to present facts as they were and are, rather than as he would like to have them, and to set them down without the slightest regard to their effect upon the public mind, except so far as that mind may be influenced by the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In his efforts along these lines he has endeavored to give expression to his ideas, opinions and convictions in language that is moderate and devoid of bitterness, and entirely free from race prejudice, sectional animosity, or partisan bias. Whether or not he has succeeded in doing so he is willing to leave to the considerate judgment and impartial decision of those who may take the time to read what is here recorded. In writing what is to be found in these pages, the author has made no effort to draw upon the imagination, nor to gratify the wishes of those whose chief ambition is to magnify the faults and deficiencies in some and to extol the good and commendable traits and qualities in others. In other words, his chief purpose has been to furnish the readers and students of the present generation with a true, candid and impartial statement of material and important facts based upon his own personal knowledge and experience, with such comments as in his judgment the occasion and circumstances warranted.
Was the enfranchisement of the black men at the South by act of Congress a grave mistake?
Were the reconstructed State Governments that were organized as a result thereof a disappointment and a failure?
Was the Fifteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution premature and unwise?
An affirmative answer to the above questions will be found in nearly everything that has been written about Reconstruction during the last quarter of a century. The main purpose of this work is to present the other side; but, in doing so, the author indulges the hope that those who may read these chapters will find that no extravagant and exaggerated statements have been made, and that there has been no effort to conceal, excuse, or justify any act that was questionable or wrong. It will be seen that the primary object the author has sought to accomplish, is to bring to public notice those things that were commendable and meritorious, to prevent the publication of which seems to have been the primary purpose of nearly all who have thus far written upon that important subject.
But again, the question may be asked, if the reconstructed State Governments that were organized and brought into existence under the Congressional Plan of Reconstruction were not a disappointment and a failure, why is it that they could not and did not stand the test of time? The author hopes and believes that the reader will find in one of the chapters of this book a complete and satisfactory answer to that question.
It will be seen that the State of Mississippi is made the pivotal one in the presentation of the facts and historical points touched upon in this work; but that is because Mississippi was the field of the author's political activities. That State, however, was largely typical, hence what was true of that one was, in the main, true of all the other reconstructed States.
The author was a member of Congress during the settlement of the controversy between Hayes and Tilden for the Presidency of the United States, resulting from the close and doubtful election of 1876,—a controversy that was finally decided through the medium of the Electoral Commission. The reader will find in the chapter on that subject many important facts and incidents not heretofore published.
Why was it that the able and brilliant statesman from Maine, James G. Blaine, died, as did Henry Clay, without having reached the acme of his ambition,—the Presidency of the United States? Why was he defeated for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1876,—the only time when it was possible for him to be elected, and defeated for the election in 1884,—the only time when it was possible for him to be nominated? The answer to these questions will be found in this book.
Then the interviews between the author and Presidents Grant and Cleveland, and Secretaries Blaine, Lamar, and Gresham will no doubt be interesting, if not instructive.
If, in writing this book, the author shall have succeeded in placing before the public accurate and trustworthy information relative to Reconstruction, his highest ambition will have been fully gratified, his sense of justice entirely satisfied.
JOHN R. LYNCH.