The Worlds Famous Orations. America: III. (18611905). 1906.
A Plea for General Amnesty
Carl Schurz (18291906)
Born in 1829, died in 1906; took part in an uprising in the Palatinate in 1849 and was arrested, but escaped to Switzerland; came to the United States in 1852; made Minister to Spain in 1861, but resigned to enter the Union army, where he became a Major-General; elected Senator from Missouri in 1869; a leader in the Liberal Republican movement of 1872; Secretary of the Interior in 1877; prominent in the Mugwump movement of 1884.
IN1 the course of this debate we have listened to some senators, as they conjured up before our eyes once more all the horrors of the Rebellion, the wickedness of its conception, how terrible its incidents were, and how harrowing its consequences. Sir, I admit it all; I will not combat the correctness of the picture; and yet if I differ from the gentlemen who drew it, it is because, had the conception of the Rebellion been still more wicked, had its incidents been still more terrible, its consequences still more harrowing, I could not permit myself to forget that in dealing with the question now before us we have to deal not alone with the past, but with the present and future interests of this republic.
What do we want to accomplish as good citizens and patriots? Do we mean only to inflict upon the late rebels pain, degredation, mortification, annoyance, for its own sake; to torture their feelings without any ulterior purpose? Certainly such a purpose could not by any possibility animate high-minded men. I presume, therefore, that those who still favor the continuance of some of the disabilities imposed by the Fourteenth Amendment do so because they have some higher object of public usefulness in view, an object of public usefulness sufficient to justify, in their minds at least, the denial of rights to others which we ourselves enjoy.
What can those objects of public usefulness be? Let me assume that, if we differ as to the means to be employed, we are agreed as to the supreme end and aim to be reached. That end and aim of our endeavors can be no other than to secure to all the States the blessings of good and free government and the highest degree of prosperity and well-being they can attain, and to revive in all citizens of this republic that love for the Union and its institutions, and that inspiring consciousness of a common nationality, which, after all, must bind all Americans together.
What are the best means for the attainment of that end? This, sir, as I conceive it, is the only legitimate question we have to decide. Certainly all will agree that this end is far from having been attained so far. Look at the Southern States as they stand before us to-day. Some are in a condition bordering upon anarchy, not only on account of the social disorders which are occurring there, or the inefficiency of their local governments in securing the enforcement of the laws; but you will find in many of them fearful corruption pervading the whole political organization; a combination of rascality and ignorance wielding official power; their finances deranged by profligate practises; their credit ruined; bankruptcy staring them in the face; their industries staggering under a fearful load of taxation; their property-holders and capitalists paralyzed by a feeling of insecurity and distrust almost amounting to despair. Sir, let us not try to disguise these facts, for the world knows them to be so, and knows it but too well.
What are the causes that have contributed to bring about this distressing condition? I admit that great civil wars, resulting in such vast social transformations as the sudden abolition of slavery, are calculated to produce similar results; but it might be presumed that a recuperative power such as this country possesses might, during the time which has elapsed since the close of the war, at least have very materially alleviated many of the consequences of that revulsion, had a wise policy been followed.
Was the policy we followed wise? Was it calculated to promote the great purposes we are endeavoring to serve? Let us see. At the close of the war we had to establish and secure free labor and the rights of the emancipated class. To that end we had to disarm those who could have prevented this, and we had to give the power of self-protection to those who needed it. For this reason temporary restrictions were imposed upon the late rebels, and we gave the right of suffrage to the colored people. Until the latter were enabled to protect themselves, political disabilities even more extensive than those which now exist rested upon the plea of eminent political necessity. I would be the last man to conceal that I thought so then, and I think there was very good reason for it.
But, sir, when the enfranchisement of the colored people was secured; when they had obtained the political means to protect themselves, then another problem began to loom up. It was not only to find new guarantees for the rights of the colored people, but it was to secure good and honest government to all. Let us not underestimate the importance of that problem, for in a great measure it includes the solution of the other. Certainly nothing could have been more calculated to remove the prevailing discontent concerning the changes that had taken place, and to reconcile mens minds to the new order of things, than the tangible proof that that new order of things was practically working well; that it could produce a wise and economical administration of public affairs, and that it would promote general prosperity, thus healing the wounds of the past and opening to all the prospect of a future of material well-being and contentment.
And, on the other hand, nothing could have been more calculated to impede a general, hearty, and honest acceptance of the new order of things by the late rebel population than just those failures of public administration which involve the people in material embarrassments and so seriously disturb their comfort. In fact, good, honest, and successful government in the Southern States would in its moral effects, in the long run, have exerted a far more beneficial influence than all your penal legislation, while your penal legislation will fail in its desired effects if we fail in establishing in the Southern States an honest and successful administration of the public business.
Now, what happened in the South? It is a well-known fact that the more intelligent classes of Southern society almost uniformly identified themselves with the Rebellion; and by our system of political disabilities just those classes were excluded from the management of political affairs. That they could not be trusted with the business of introducing into living practise the results of the war, to establish true free labor, and to protect the rights of the emancipated slaves, is true; I willingly admit it. But when those results and rights were constitutionally secured there were other things to be done. Just at that period when the Southern States lay prostrated and exhausted at our feet, when the destructive besom of war had swept over them and left nothing but desolation and ruin in its track, when their material interests were to be built up again with care and foresightjust then the public business demanded, more than ordinarily, the cooperation of all the intelligence and all the political experience that could be mustered in the Southern States. But just then a large portion of that intelligence and experience was excluded from the management of public affairs by political disabilities, and the controlling power in those States rested in a great measure in the hands of those who had but recently been slaves and just emerged from that condition, and in the hands of others who had sometimes honestly, sometimes by crooked means and for sinister purposes, found a way to their confidence.
But while the colored people of the South earned our admiration and gratitude, I ask you in all candor could they be reasonably expected, when, just after having emerged from a condition of slavery, they were invested with political rights and privileges, to step into the political arena as men armed with the intelligence and experience necessary for the management of public affairs and for the solution of problems made doubly intricate by the disasters which had desolated the Southern country? Could they reasonably be expected to manage the business of public administration, involving to so great an extent the financial interests and the material well-being of the people, and surrounded by difficulties of such fearful perplexity, with the wisdom and skill required by the exigencies of the situation?
That as a class they were ignorant and inexperienced and lacked a just conception of public interests, was certainly not their fault; for those who have studied the history of the world know but too well that slavery and oppression are very bad political schools. But the stubborn fact remains that they were ignorant and inexperienced; that the public business was an unknown world to them; and that in spite of the best intentions they were easily misled, not infrequently by the most reckless rascality which had found a way to their confidence. Thus their political rights and privileges were undoubtedly well calculated, and even necessary to protect their rights as free laborers and citizens; but, they were not well calculated to secure a successful administration of other public interests.
But what did we do? To the uneducated and inexperienced classesuneducated and inexperienced, I repeat, entirely without their faultwe opened the road to power; and, at the same time, we condemned a large proportion of the intelligence of those States, of the property-holding, the industrial, the professional, the tax-paying interest, to a worse than passive attitude. We made it, as it were, easy for rascals who had gone South in quest of profitable adventure to gain the control of masses so easily misled, by permitting them to appear as the exponents and representatives of the national power and of our policy; and at the same time we branded a large number of men of intelligence, and many of them of personal integrity, whose material interests were so largely involved in honest government, and many of whom would have cooperated in managing the public business with care and foresightwe branded them, I say, as outcasts; telling them that they ought not to be suffered to exercise any influence upon the management of the public business, and it would be unwarrantable presumption in them to attempt it.
The introduction of the colored people, the late slaves, into the body-politic as voters, pointedly affronted the traditional prejudices prevailing among the Southern whites. What should we care about those prejudices? In war, nothing. After the close of the war, in the settlement of peace, not enough to deter us from doing what was right and necessary, and yet, still enough to take them into account when considering the manner in which right and necessity were to be served. Statesmen will care about popular prejudices as physicians will care about the diseased condition of their patients, which they want to ameliorate. Would it not have been wise for us, looking at those prejudices as a morbid condition of the Southern mind, to mitigate, to assuage, to disarm them by prudent measures, and thus to weaken their evil influence?
We desired the Southern whites to accept in good faith universal suffrage, to recognize the political rights of the colored man, and to protect him in their exercise. Was not that our sincere desire? But if it was, would it not have been wise to remove as much as possible the obstacles that stood in the way of that consummation? But what did we do? When we raised the colored people to the rights of active citizenship and opened to them all the privileges of eligibility, we excluded from those privileges a large and influential class of whites; in other words, we lifted the late slave, uneducated and inexperienced as he wasI repeat, without his faultnot merely to the level of the late master class, but even above it. We asked certain white men to recognize the colored man in a political status not only as high but even higher than their own. We might say that under the circumstances we had a perfect right to do that, and I will not dispute it; but I ask you most earnestly, sir, was it wise to do it? If you desired the white man to accept and recognize the political equality of the black, was it wise to imbitter and exasperate his spirit with the stinging stigma of his own inferiority?
You tell me that the late rebels had deserved all this in the way of punishment. Granting that, I beg leave to suggest that this is not the question. The question is: What were the means best calculated to overcome the difficulties standing in the way of a willing and universal recognition of the new rights and privileges of the emancipated class? What were the means to overcome the hostile influences impending the development of the harmony of society in its new order? I am far from asserting that, had no disabilities existed, universal suffrage would have been received by the Southern whites with universal favor. No, sir, most probably it would not; but I do assert that the existence of disabilities, which put so large and influential a class of whites in point of political privileges below the colored people, could not fail to inflame those prejudices which stood in the way of a general and honest acceptance of the new order of things; they increased instead of diminishing the dangers and difficulties surrounding the emancipated class; and nobody felt that more keenly than the colored people of the South themselves. To their honor be it said, following a just instinct, they were among the very first, not only in the South but all over the country, in entreating Congress to remove those odious discriminations which put in jeopardy their own rights by making them greater than those of others. From the colored people themselves, it seems, we have in this respect received a lesson in statesmanship.
Well, then, what policy does common sense suggest to us now? If we sincerely desire to give to the Southern States good and honest government, material prosperity, and measurable contentment, as far at least as we can contribute to that end; if we really desire to weaken and disarm those prejudices and resentments which still disturb the harmony of society, will it not be wise, will it not be necessary, will it not be our duty to show that we are in no sense the allies and abettors of those who use their political power to plunder their fellow citizens, and that we do not mean to keep one class of people in unnecessary degredation by withholding from them rights and privileges which all others enjoy? Seeing the mischief which the system of disabilities is accomplishing, is it not time that there should be at least an end of it; or is there any good it can possibly do to make up for the harm it has already wrought and is still working?
Look at it. Do these disabilities serve in any way to protect anybody in his rights or in his liberty or in his property or in his life? Does the fact that some men are excluded from office, in any sense or measure, make others more secure in their lives or in their property or in their rights? Can anybody tell me how? Or do they, perhaps, prevent even those who are excluded from official position from doing mischief if they are mischievously inclined? Does the exclusion from office, does any feature of your system of political disabilities, take the revolver or the bowie-knife or the scourge from the hands of anyone who wishes to use it? Does it destroy the influence of the more intelligent upon society, if they mean to use that influence for mischievous purposes?
We accuse the Southern whites of having missed their chance of gaining the confidence of the emancipated class when, by a fairly demonstrated purpose of recognizing and protecting them in their rights, they might have acquired upon them a salutary influence. That accusation is by no means unjust; but must we not admit, also, that by excluding them from their political rights and privileges we put the damper of most serious discouragement upon the good intentions which might have grown up among them? Let us place ourselves in their situation, and then I ask you how many of us would, under the same circumstances have risen above the ordinary impulses of human nature to exert a salutary influence in defiance of our own prejudices, being so pointedly told every day that it was not the business of those laboring under political disabilities to meddle with public affairs at all? And thus, in whatever direction you may turn your eyes, you look in vain for any practical good your political disabilities might possibly accomplish. You find nothing, absolutely nothing, in their practical effects but the aggravation of evils already existing, and the prevention of a salutary development.
Is it not the part of wise men, sir, to acknowledge the failure of a policy like this in order to remedy it, especially since every candid mind must recognize that, by continuing the mistake, absolutely no practical good can be subserved?
You tell me that many of the late rebels do not deserve a full restoration of their rights. That may be soI do not deny it; but yet, sir, if many of them do not deserve it, is it not a far more important consideration how much the welfare of the country will be promoted by it?
I am told that many of the late rebels, if we volunteer a pardon to them, would not appreciate it. I do not deny thisit may be so, for the race of fools, unfortunately, is not all dead yet; but if they do not appreciate it, shall we have no reason to appreciate the great good which by this measure of generosity will be conferred upon the whole land?
Look at the nations around us. In the Parliament of Germany how many men are there sitting who were once what you would call fugitives from justice, exiles on account of their revolutionary acts, now admitted to the great council of the nation in the fulness of their rights and privileges?and mark you, without having been asked to abjure the opinions they formerly held, for at the present moment most of them still belong to the Liberal Opposition. Look at Austria, where Count Andrassy, a man who, in 1849, was condemned to the gallows as a rebel, at this moment stands at the head of the imperial ministry; and those who know the history of that country are fully aware that the policy of which that amnesty was a part, which opened to Count Andrassy the road to power, has attached Hungary more closely than ever to the Austrian Crown, from which a narrow-minded policy of severity would have driven her.
Now, sir, ought not we to profit by the wisdom of such examples? It may be said that other governments were far more rigorous in their first repressive measures, and that they put off the grant of a general amnesty much longer after suppressing an insurrection than we are required to do. So they did; but is not this the great republic of the New World which marches in the very vanguard of modern civilization, and which, when an example of wisdom is set by other nations, should not only rise to its level, but far above it?
It seems now to be generally admitted that the time has come for a more comprehensive removal of political disabilities than has so far been granted. If that sentiment be sincere, if you really do desire to accomplish the greatest possible good by this measure that can be done, I would ask you what practical advantage do you expect to derive from the exclusions for which this bill provides? Look at them, one after another.
First, all those are excluded who, when the Rebellion broke out, were members of Congress, and left their seats in these halls to join it. Why are these men to be excluded as a class? Because this class contains a number of prominent individuals, who, in the Rebellion, became practically conspicuous and obnoxious, and among them we find those whom we might designate as the original conspirators. But these are few, and they might have been mentioned by name. Most of those, however, who left their seats in Congress to make common cause with the rebels were in no way more responsible for the Rebellion than other prominent men in the South who do not fall under this exception. If we accept at all the argument that it will be well for the cause of good government and the material welfare of the South to readmit to the management of public affairs all the intelligence and political experience in those States, why, then, exclude as a class men who, having been members of Congress, may be presumed to possess a higher degree of that intelligence and experience than the rest? If you want that article at all for good purposes, I ask you, do you not want as large a supply of that article as you can obtain?
Leaving aside the original conspirators, is there any reason in the world why those members of Congress should be singled out from the numerous class of intelligent and prominent men who were or had been in office and had taken the same oath which is administered in these halls? Look at it! You do not propose to continue the disqualification of men who served this country as foreign ministers, who left their important posts, betrayed the interests of this country in foreign lands to come back and join the Rebellion; you do not propose to exclude from the benefit of this act those who sat upon the bench and doffed the judicial ermine to take part in the Rebellion; and if such men are not to be disfranchised, why disfranchise the common run of the congressmen, whose guilt is certainly not greater, if it be as great? Can you tell me? Is it wise even to incur the suspicion of making an exception merely for the sake of excluding somebody, when no possible good can be accomplished by it, and when you can thus only increase the number of men incited to discontent and mischief by small and unnecessary degradations?
And now as to the original conspirators, what has become of them? Some of them are dead; and as to those who are still living, I ask you, sir, are they not dead also? Look at Jefferson Davis himself. What if you exclude even himand certainly our feelings would naturally impel us to do so; but let our reason speakwhat if you exclude even him? Would you not give him an importance which otherwise he never would possess, by making people believe that you are even occupying your minds enough with him to make him an exception to an act of generous wisdom? Truly to refrain from making an act of amnesty general on account of the original conspirators, candidly speaking, I would not consider worth while. I would not leave them the pitiable distinction of not being pardoned. Your very generosity will be to them the source of the bitterest disappointment. As long as they are excluded, they may still find some satisfaction in the delusion of being considered men of dangerous importance. Their very disabilities they look upon to-day as a recognition of their power. They may still make themselves and others believe that, were the Southern people only left free in their choice, they would eagerly raise them again to the highest honors.
So much for the first exception. Now to the second. It excludes from the benefit of this act all those who were officers of the army or of the navy and then joined the Rebellion. Why exclude that class of persons? I have heard the reason very frequently stated upon the floor of the Senate; it is because those men had been educated at the public expense, and their turning against the government was therefore an act of peculiar faithlessness and black ingratitude. That might appear a very argument at first sight. But I ask you was it not one of the very first acts of this administration to appoint one of the most prominent and conspicuous of that class to a very lucrative and respectable public office? I mean General Longstreet. He had obtained his military education at the expense of the American people. He was one of the wards, one of the pets of the American Republic, and then he turned against it as a rebel. Whatever of faithlessness, whatever of black ingratitude there is in such conduct, it was in his; and yet, in spite of all this, the president nominated him for an office, and your consent, senators, made him a public dignitary.
Why did you break the rule in his case? I will not say that you did it because he had become a Republican, for I am far from attributing any mere partizan motive to your action. No; you did it because his conduct after the close of hostilities had been that of a well-disposed and law-abiding citizen. Thus, then, the rule which you, senators, have established for your own conduct is simply this: you will, in the case of officers of the army or the navy, waive the charge of peculiar faithlessness and ingratitude if the persons in question after the war had become law-abiding and well-disposed citizens. Well, is it not a fact universally recognized, and I believe entirely uncontradicted, that of all classes of men connected with the Rebellion there is not one whose conduct since the close of the war has been so unexceptionable, and in a great many instances so beneficial in its influence upon Southern society, as the officers of the army and the navy, especially those who before the war had been members of our regular establishments? Why, then, except them from this act of amnesty? If you take subsequent good conduct into account at all, these men are the very last who as a class ought to be excluded. And would it not be well to encourage them in well-doing by a sign on your part that they are not to be looked upon as outcasts whose influence is not desired, even when they are inclined to use it for the promotion of the common welfare?
The third class excluded consists of those who were members of State conventions, and in those State conventions voted for ordinances of secession. If we may judge from the words which fell from the lips of the senator from Indiana, they were the objects of his particular displeasure. Why this? Here we have a large number of men of local standing who in some cases may have been leaders on a small scale, but most of whom were drawn into the whirl of the revolutionary movement just like the rest of the Southern population. If you accept the proposition that it will be well and wise to permit the intelligence of the country to participate in the management of the public business, the exclusion of just these people will appear especially inappropriate, because their local influence might be made peculiarly beneficial; and if you exclude these persons, whose number is considerable, you tell just that class of people whose cooperation might be made most valuable that their cooperation is not wanted, for the reason that, according to the meaning and intent of your system of disabilities, public affairs are no business of theirs.
You object that they are more guilty than the rest. Suppose they areand in many cases I am sure they are only apparently sobut if they were not guilty of any wrong, they would need no amnesty. Amnesty is made for those who bear a certain degree of guilt. Or would you indulge here in the solemn farce of giving pardon only to those who are presumably innocent? You grant your amnesty that it may bear good fruit; and if you do it for that purpose, then do not diminish the good fruit it may bear by leaving unplanted the most promising soil upon which it may grow.
Let me tell you it is the experience of all civilized nations the world over, when an amnesty is to be granted at all, the completest amnesty is always the best. Any limitation you may impose, however plausible it may seem at first sight, will be calculated to take away much of the virtue of that which is granted. I entreat you, then, in the name of the accumulated experience of history, let there be an end of these bitter and useless and disturbing questions; let the books be finally closed, and when the subject is for ever dismissed from our discussions and our minds, we shall feel as much relieved as those who are relieved of their political disabilities.
Sir, I have to say a few words about an accusation which has been brought against those who speak in favor of universal amnesty. It is the accusation resorted to, in default of more solid argument, that those who advise amnesty, especially universal amnesty, do so because they have fallen in love with the rebels. No, sir, it is not merely for the rebels I plead. We are asked, Shall the Rebellion go entirely unpunished? No, sir, it shall not. Neither do I think that the Rebellion has gone entirely unpunished. I ask you, had the rebels nothing to lose but their lives and their offices? Look at it. There was a proud and arrogant aristocracy, planting their feet on the necks of the laboring people, and pretending to be the born rulers of this great Republic. They looked down, not only upon their slaves, but also upon the people of the North, with the haughty contempt of self-asserting superiority. When their pretensions to rule us all were first successfully disputed, they resolved to destroy this Republic, and to build up on the corner-stone of slavery an empire of their own in which they could hold absolute sway. They made the attempt with the most overweeningly confident expectation of certain victory.
Then came the Civil War, and after four years of struggle their whole power and pride lay shivered to atoms at our feet, their sons dead by tens of thousands on the battle-fields of this country, their fields and their homes devastated, their fortunes destroyed; and more than that, the whole social system in which they had their being, with all their hopes and pride, utterly wiped out; slavery for ever abolished, and the slaves themselves created a political power before which they had to bow their heads, and they, broken, ruined, helpless, and hopeless in the dust before those upon whom they had so haughtily looked down as their vassals and inferiors. Sir, can it be said that the Rebellion has gone entirely unpunished?
You may object that the loyal people, too, were subjected to terrible sufferings; that their sons, too, were slaughtered by tens of thousands; that the mourning of countless widows and orphans is still darkening our land; that we are groaning under terrible burdens which the Rebellion has loaded upon us, and that therefore part of the punishment has fallen upon the innocent. And it is certainly true.
But look at the difference. We issued from this great conflict as conquerors; upon the graves of our slain we could lay the wreath of victory; our widows and orphans, while mourning the loss of their dearest, still remember with proud exultation that the blood of their husbands and fathers was not spilled in vain; that it flowed for the greatest and holiest and at the same time the most victorious of causes; and when our people labor in the sweat of their brow to pay the debt which the Rebellion has loaded upon us, they do it with the proud consciousness that the heavy price they have paid is infinitely overbalanced by the value of the results they have gained: slavery abolished; the great American Republic purified of her foulest stain; the American people no longer a people of masters and slaves, but a people of equal citizens; the most dangerous element of disturbance and disintegration wiped out from among us; this country put upon the course of harmonious development, greater, more beautiful, mightier than ever in its self-conscious power. And thus, whatever losses, whatever sacrifices, whatever sufferings we may have endured, they appear before us in a blaze of glory.
But how do the Southern people stand there? All they have sacrificed, all they have lost, all the blood they have spilled, all the desolation of their homes, all the distress that stares them in the face, all the wreck and ruin they see around themall for nothing; all for a wicked folly; all for a disastrous infatuation; the very graves of their slain nothing but monuments of a shadowy delusion; all their former hopes vanished for ever; and the very magniloquence which some of their leaders are still indulging in, nothing but a mocking illustration of their utter discomfiture! Ah, sir, if ever human efforts broke down in irretrievable disaster, if ever human pride was humiliated to the dust, if ever human hopes were turned into despair, there you behold them.
You may say that they deserved it all. Yes, but surely, sir, you can not say that the Rebellion has gone entirely unpunished. Nor will the senator from Indiana, with all his declamation (and I am sorry not now to see him before me), make any sane man believe that had no political disabilities ever been imposed, the history of the Rebellion, as long as the memory of men retains the recollection of the great story, will ever encourage a future generation to rebel again, or that if even this great example of disaster should fail to extinguish the spirit of rebellion, his little scarecrow of exclusion from office will be more than a thing to be laughed at by little boys.
Sir, such appeals as these, which we have heard so frequently, may be well apt to tickle the ear of an unthinking multitude. But unless I am grievously in error, the people of the United States are a multitude not unthinking. The American people are fast becoming aware that, great as the crime of rebellion is, there are other villainies beside it; that, much as it may deserve punishment, there are other evils flagrant enough to demand energetic correction; that the remedy for such evils does, after all, not consist in the maintenance of political disabilities, and that it would be well to look behind those vociferous demonstrations of exclusive and austere patriotism to see what abuses and faults of policy they are to cover, and what rotten sores they are to disguise. The American people are fast beginning to perceive that good and honest government in the South, as well as throughout the whole country, restoring a measurable degree of confidence and contentment, will do infinitely more to revive true loyalty and a healthy national spirit, than keeping alive the resentments of the past by a useless degradation of certain classes of persons; and that we shall fail to do our duty unless we use every means to contribute our share to that end. And those, I apprehend, expose themselves to grievous disappointment who still think that, by dinning again and again in the ears of the people the old battle-cries of the Civil War, they can befog the popular mind as to the true requirements of the times, and overawe and terrorize the public sentiment of the country.
But, sir, as the people of the North and of the South must live together as one people, and as they must be bound together by the bonds of a common national feeling, I ask you, will it not be well for us so to act that the history of our great civil conflict, which can not be forgotten, can never be remembered by Southern men without finding in its closing chapter this irresistible assurance: that we, their conquerors, meant to be, and were after all, not their enemies, but their friends? When the Southern people con over the distressing catalog of the misfortunes they have brought upon themselves, will it not be well, will it not be devoutly to be wished for our common future, if at the end of that catalog they find an act which will force every fair-minded man in the South to say of the Northern people, When we were at war they inflicted upon us the severities of war; but when the contest had closed and they found us prostrate before them, grievously suffering, surrounded by the most perplexing difficulties and on the brink of new disasters, they promptly swept all the resentments of the past out of their way and stretched out their hands to us with the very fullest measure of generosityanxious, eager to lift us up from our prostration?
Sir, will not this do something to dispel those mists of error and prejudice which are still clouding the Southern mind? I ask again, will it not be well to add to the sad memories of the past which for ever will live in their minds, this cheering experience, so apt to prepare them for the harmony of a better and common future?
No, sir, I would not have the past forgotten, but I would have its history completed and crowned by an act most worthy of a great, noble, and wise people. By all the means which we have in our hands, I would make even those who have sinned against this republic see in its flag, not the symbol of their lasting degradation, but of rights equal to all; I would make them feel in their hearts that in its good and evil fortunes their rights and interest are bound up just as ours are, and that therefore its peace, its welfare, its honor, and its greatness may and ought to be as dear to them as they are to us.
I do not, indeed, indulge in the delusion that this act alone will remedy all the evils which we now deplore. No, it will not; but it will be a powerful appeal to the very best instincts and impulses of human nature; it will, like a warm ray of sunshine in springtime, quicken and call to light the germs of good intention wherever they exist; it will give new courage, confidence, and inspiration to the well-disposed; it will weaken the power of the mischievous, by stripping off their pretexts and exposing in their nakedness the wicked designs they still may cherish; it will light anew the beneficent glow of fraternal feeling and of national spirit; for, sir, your good sense as well as your heart must tell you that, when this is truly a people of citizens equal in their political rights, it will then be easier to make it also a people of brothers.
Note 1. From a speech delivered in the United States Senate, January 30, 1872, as reported in The Congressional Globe. The subject of debate was a bill which provided that no person should be a senator, representative, or presidential elector, or hold any civil or military office under the United States, or in any State, provided that he, as a federal or State officer, had sworn to support the Constitution and had afterward engaged in the Secession cause. But provision was made that by a two-thirds vote of each House this disability could be removed. General amnesty was not aimed at in the Bill, three classes of persons being excepted from relief. The Bill failed to become a law. These passages are given here by kind permission of the executors of General Schurzs estate. [back]