Facts of Reconstruction, The



Shortly after I reached Washington in the latter part of November, 1875, I called on the President to pay my respects, and to see him on business relating to a Civil Service order that he had recently issued, and that some of the Federal office-holders had evidently misunderstood. Postmaster Pursell, of Summit, an important town in my district, was one of that number. He was supposed to be a Republican, having been appointed as such. But he not only refused to take any part in the campaign of 1875, but he also declined to contribute a dollar to meet the legitimate expenses of that campaign. The President's Civil Service order was his excuse. According to Pursell's construction of that order, Federal office-holders must not only take no part in political or party campaigns, but they must make no contributions for political purposes. He not only said nothing and did nothing in the interest of his party in that campaign, but it was believed by some that he did not even vote the Republican ticket.

After paying my respects to the President I brought this case to his attention. I informed him that I very much desired to have Postmaster Pursell removed, and a good Republican appointed in his stead.

"What is the matter with him?" the President asked. "Is he not a good postmaster?"

"Yes," I replied, "there is nothing to be said against him, so far as I know, with reference to his administration of the office. I only object to him on account of politics. He may be,—and no doubt is,—a good, capable, and efficient postmaster; but politically he is worthless. From a party point of view he is no good. In my opinion, there ought to be a man in that office who will not only discharge his duties in a creditable manner, but who will also be of some service to the party and to the administration under which he serves. In the present postmaster of the town of Summit we have not such a man, but we can and will have one if you will appoint the one whose name I now present and for whom I ask your favorable consideration. We had, as you know, a bitter and desperate struggle. It was the very time that we stood sadly in need of every man and of every vote. We lost the county that Summit is in by a small majority. If an active and aggressive man, such as the one whose name I now place before you, had been postmaster at Summit, the result in that County might have been different. I therefore earnestly recommend that Pursell be removed, and that Mr. Garland be appointed to succeed him."

The President replied: "You have given good and sufficient reasons for a change. Leave with me the name of the man you desire to have appointed, and his name will be sent to the Senate as soon as Congress meets." I cordially thanked the President, and assured him that he would have no occasion to regret making the change. In explanation of his Civil Service order the President remarked that quite a number of office-holders had seemed to misunderstand it, although it was plainly worded, and, as he thought, not difficult to understand. There had never been any serious complaints growing out of active participation in political campaigns on the part of office-holders, and that it was not, and never had been, the purpose of the administration, by executive order or otherwise, to limit or restrict any American citizen in the discharge of his duties as a citizen, simply because he happened to be an office-holder, provided that in so doing he did not neglect his official duties. There had, however, been serious complaints from many parts of the country about the use and abuse of Federal patronage in efforts to manipulate party conventions, and to dictate and control party nominations. To destroy this evil was the primary purpose of the civil service order referred to.

I told the President that his explanation of the order was in harmony with my own construction and interpretation of it. That is why I made the recommendation for a change in the postmastership at Summit. The change was promptly made. I then informed the President that there was another matter about which I desired to have a short talk with him, that was the recent election in Mississippi. After calling his attention to the sanguinary struggle through which we had passed, and the great disadvantages under which we labored, I reminded him of the fact that the Governor, when he saw that he could not put down without the assistance of the National Administration what was practically an insurrection against the State Government, made application for assistance in the manner and form prescribed by the Constitution, with the confident belief that it would be forthcoming. But in this we were, for some reason, seriously disappointed and sadly surprised. The reason for this action, or rather non-action, was still an unexplained mystery to us. For my own satisfaction and information I should be pleased to have the President enlighten me on the subject.

The President said that he was glad I had asked him the question, and that he would take pleasure in giving me a frank reply. He said he had sent Governor Ames' requisition to the War Department with his approval and with instructions to have the necessary assistance furnished without delay. He had also given instructions to the Attorney-General to use the marshals and the machinery of the Federal judiciary as far as possible in coöperation with the War Department in an effort to maintain order and to bring about a condition which would insure a peaceable and fair election. But before the orders were put into execution a committee of prominent Republicans from Ohio had called on him. (Ohio was then an October State,—that is, her elections took place in October instead of November.) An important election was then pending in that State. This committee, the President stated, protested against having the requisition of Governor Ames honored. The committee, the President said, informed him in a most emphatic way that if the requisition of Governor Ames were honored, the Democrats would not only carry Mississippi,—a State which would be lost to the Republicans in any event,—but that Democratic success in Ohio would be an assured fact. If the requisition were not honored it would make no change in the result in Mississippi, but that Ohio would be saved to the Republicans. The President assured me that it was with great reluctance that he yielded,—against his own judgment and sense of official duty,—to the arguments of this committee, and directed the withdrawal of the orders which had been given the Secretary of War and the Attorney-General in that matter.

This statement, I confess, surprised me very much.

"Can it be possible," I asked, "that there is such a prevailing sentiment in any State in the North, East or West as renders it necessary for a Republican President to virtually give his sanction to what is equivalent to a suspension of the Constitution and laws of the land to insure Republican success in such a State? I cannot believe this to be true, the opinion of the Republican committee from Ohio to the contrary notwithstanding. What surprises me more, Mr. President, is that you yielded and granted this remarkable request. That is not like you. It is the first time I have ever known you to show the white feather. Instead of granting the request of that committee, you should have rebuked the men,—told them that it is your duty as chief magistrate of the country to enforce the Constitution and laws of the land, and to protect American citizens in the exercise and enjoyment of their rights, let the consequences be what they may; and that if by doing this Ohio should be lost to the Republicans it ought to be lost. In other words, no victory is worth having if it is to be brought about upon such conditions as those,—if it is to be purchased at such a fearful cost as was paid in this case."

"Yes," said the President, "I admit that you are right. I should not have yielded. I believed at the time that I was making a grave mistake. But as presented, it was duty on one side, and party obligation on the other. Between the two I hesitated, but finally yielded to what was believed to be party obligation. If a mistake was made, it was one of the head and not of the heart. That my heart was right and my intentions good, no one who knows me will question. If I had believed that any effort on my part would have saved Mississippi I would have made it, even if I had been convinced that it would have resulted in the loss of Ohio to the Republicans. But I was satisfied then, as I am now, that Mississippi could not have been saved to the party in any event and I wanted to avoid the responsibility of the loss of Ohio, in addition. This was the turning-point in the case.

"And while on this subject," the President went on, "let us look more closely into the significance of this situation. I am very much concerned about the future of our country. When the War came to an end it was thought that four things had been brought about and effectually accomplished as a result thereof. They were: first, that slavery had been forever abolished; second, that the indissolubility of the Federal Union had been permanently established and universally recognized; third, that the absolute and independent sovereignty of the several States was a thing of the past; fourth, that a national sovereignty had been at last created and established, resulting in sufficient power being vested in the general government not only to guarantee to every State in the Union a Republican form of government, but to protect, when necessary, the individual citizen of the United States in the exercise and enjoyment of the rights and privileges to which he is entitled under the Constitution and laws of his country. In other words, that there had been created a National citizenship as distinguished from State citizenship, resulting in a paramount allegiance to the United States,—the general Government,—having ample power to protect its own citizens against domestic and personal violence whenever the State in which he may live should fail, refuse, or neglect to do so. In other words, so far as citizens of the United States are concerned, the States in the future would only act as agents of the general Government in protecting the citizens of the United States in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property. This has been my conception of the duties of the President, and until recently I have pursued that course. But there seems to be a number of leading and influential men in the Republican party who take a different view of these matters. These men have used and are still using their power and influence, not to strengthen but to cripple the President and thus prevent him from enforcing the Constitution and laws along these lines. They have not only used their power and influence to prevent and defeat wise and necessary legislation for these purposes, but they have contributed, through the medium of public meetings and newspaper and magazine articles, to the creation of a public sentiment hostile to the policy of the administration. Whatever their motives may be, future mischief of a very serious nature is bound to be the result. It requires no prophet to foresee that the national government will soon be at a great disadvantage and that the results of the war of the rebellion will have been in a large measure lost. In other words, that the first two of the four propositions above stated will represent all that will have been accomplished as a result of the war, and even they, for the lack of power of enforcement in the general government, will be largely of a negative character. What you have just passed through in the State of Mississippi is only the beginning of what is sure to follow. I do not wish to create unnecessary alarm, nor to be looked upon as a prophet of evil, but it is impossible for me to close my eyes in the face of things that are as plain to me as the noonday sun."

It is needless to say that I was deeply interested in the President's eloquent and prophetic talk which subsequent events have more than fully verified.

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