1866 Editorial Supports Citizenship for Freed Slaves
Following the Civil War, even with the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing slavery in December of 1865, most emancipated slaves—“freedmen”—in the former Confederacy were denied civil and political rights and kept in virtual slavery. To combat this, Congress on June 13, 1866, proposed a “Reconstruction” amendment to the Constitution that, two years later, became law with ratification of the 14th Amendment on July 9, 1868. Among other changes, the 14th Amendment: granted citizenship to all persons born in the U.S., including freed slaves; and guaranteed equal protection under the law.
The introduction of the Reconstruction amendment caused a furor, with bitter debate on both sides of the issue. This Northern editorial strongly favors the proposed amendment, quoting a member of England’s Parliament to support its point of view. It was published by the Oregon State Journal (Eugene, Oregon) on Sept. 15, 1866:
The Constitutional Amendment
The Amendment to the Constitution, proposed by Congress, is not only just in its provisions, and extremely lenient towards the traitors, but the future security and peace of the Nation imperatively demand its adoption at the earliest possible moment. No true patriot who desires to promote the best interests of his country, after laying aside partisan prejudices and viewing the subject in a national point of view, can oppose a measure so just and so essentially necessary. This great measure is required to bind up and heal the national structure, torn and lacerated by civil war, and to shield the Government from the assaults of the traitors who attempted its destruction, and are only waiting to finish by a political combination with Northern dough-faces, what they commenced single-handed with the sword. A member of the English Parliament, in an address to his constituents, thus refers to this subject:
“The European traveler, imbued with the ideas of the present and the past of his own country, feels bewildered, on his arrival in the United States, by the anomalies and apparent contradictions which meet him at every turn. For instance, he knows that the Southern States have maintained a sanguinary struggle for four years in order to secede from the Union, and that the Northern States have incurred a debt of five hundred millions (pounds) to prevent their leaving the Union; but he actually finds when he goes there now that the political struggle which the Southern States are making is to get back into the Union. Another and very significant anomaly is, the extraordinary leniency of the North towards its conquered enemies. Having now seen every political convulsion of any note which has taken place in Europe since 1848, I was the better able to judge of the conduct of the North in this respect, and it is the most remarkable feature of the whole episode. I thought of St. Petersburg and Vienna after a Polish or Hungarian insurrection, and the contrast between a civil war in a free country and the revolt of an oppressed nationality against a despotism struck me forcibly. In the one case the instinct of the vanquished at the end of the war is to leave the country altogether or shrink into seclusion and offer a passive resistance to every measure of the oppressing administration; in the other, it is for the leaders boldly and instantly to repair to the seat of the victorious Government, make honorable terms, and do what they can to recover their lost political position.”
It is not singular that foreigners are surprised to see bloody-handed traitors “boldly and instantly repair to the seat of the victorious Government and make honorable terms,” which [President] Johnson’s method of making treason odious, has encouraged and enabled them to do. The insolent ravings of the traitors and their Northern friends against the Constitutional Amendment and the “disunion Radicals,” as they style the men who prevented the success of their Confederacy, is well calculated to astonish all right-minded people. There never was more leniency shown by any nation towards a rebellious people, than is embodied in the Constitutional Amendment.
Click here for more articles about Slavery: Precursor to the Civil War.
Click here for more articles about African American History.