Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage

By Lloyd Paul Stryker | Go to book overview

L
STEVENS' FIRST RECONSTRUCTION ACT

WHILE his fellow conspirators pressed forward to provide the way for Johnson's ruin, Stevens was exerting all his power to bring about the degradation of the South. It would be a beautiful thing, he thought, to watch the white men, especially the white women of the South, writhing under negro domination. And then what a happy harvest for the carpet-baggers!

At the beginning of 1867, in dead earnest, he took up his Reconstruction measures. The plot could never have been carried through but for what Rhodes well calls his "able and despotic parliamentary leadership. The old man's energy was astonishing. Vindictiveness seemed to animate his frame."1 He denounced the work of Lincoln and of Johnson as a "bastard reconstruction."2

With his tongue of vitriol he sought to influence the bewildered minds of his dupes through the venomous propaganda of sheer lying. Southern outrages again! "For two years," he shouted, ten states have endured all the horrors of the worst anarchy of any country. Persecution, exile and murder have been the order of the day. . . ."3 Through this and long harangues of similar import, he sought to extort from Congress the sharp weapons of vengeance.4 He was sponsoring his Reconstruction Bill as a war measure!5 It was twenty months since Lee had made his honorable surrender, it was thirteen since, through the vote of Southern states, the Thirteenth Amendment had been adopted. And yet unblushingly Stevens now declared that the South was in rebellion still!6"If this is not so," said Shellabarger, one of Stevens' followers, "then we must abandon the bill."7

Stevens called his Reconstruction measure a "police bill." It provided for a military government of the South, authorized the

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