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The Great Republic by the Master Historians
Reconstruction and Progress
by Bancroft, Hubert H.

[The close of the Civil War added many new and complex problems to the sufficiently difficult questions under national consideration. Some of these problems have found a lasting solution, others remain for judicious treatment by a generation better able by lapse of time to view with dispassionate judgment events that racked the hearts of all who shared the trials of that great convulsion. Reserving certain of those events for fuller notice, we give now the following summary of general affairs during the first years of peace from the pen of Charles Morris.]

Terrible as was the war into which the United States had been plunged, and immense as was the loss of life and treasure it involved, it did not end without some compensation for its cost and its horrors. The two disturbing questions which gave rise to the conflict were definitely settled by the triumph of the government. Slavery was abolished; that most fruitful source of sectional dispute no longer existed to vex the minds of legislators and people. The doctrine of State rights, also, had been laid at rest. The country had entered the war as a not very strongly united or clearly defined confederation of States. It emerged as a powerful and much more homogeneous nation. The theory of the right of secession was not likely to be advanced again for many years to come. Other benefits had resulted from the conflict. The national banking system may be named as one of these. The finances of the country were placed on such a solid and secure basis as they had never before occupied.

During the four years of the war the United States had performed an extraordinary labor. Beginning with the merest nucleus of an army had a navy, and with its arsenals bare of war-material, it had in that time created an army of more than a million disciplined men, as thorough soldiers as ever trod the surface of this planet, and completely supplied it with war-material of the most approved kind. It had revolutionized naval warfare, with its fleet of powerful ironclads, and had brought into action guns of much greater calibre and longer range than had ever before been employed. Its feats of transportation, of rail- road-building and destruction, of bridge-building, etc., were unprecedented in magnitude. "The Etowah bridge, six hundred and twenty-five feet long and seventy-five feet high, was built in six days; the Chattahoochee bridge, seven hundred and forty feet long and ninety feet high, was built in four and a half days."

The task of the government had been no light one. It had an immense country to reduce to obedience. From the beginning to the end of the war its armies were constantly on the enemy's soil, and opposed to men as brave as themselves, fighting for their homes and what they deemed their rights, with all the advantages of a posture of defence, and of the natural breastworks of rivers, mountain-chains, forests, and other checks to an invading army. It was not an open country, traversed by practicable roads, like the battle-grounds of Europe, but in great part a wild and difficult region, of vast extent, and so strongly defended by nature as greatly to reduce the necessity of defence by art. History presents no parallel instance of a country of such dimensions and such character, defended by a brave and patriotic population, conquered within an equally brief period of time.

There is one important incident of American history which demands attention at this point. The outbreak of the Civil War was taken advantage of by France, England, and Spain, to send an allied expedition to Vera Cruz, with the ostensible purpose of enforcing the payment of the Mexican debt to those countries. But, as it soon appeared that France had other aims, her allies withdrew. In July, 1863, the French entered the city of Mexico, and at once threw off the mask they had worn, proposing Maximilian, an Austrian prince, as a candidate for an imperial throne. The Mexican leaders who had aided the enterprise with the expectation of gaining power for themselves, found that they had been tricked by their astute ally, and that an empire with a foreign ruler was established in their country.

This empire was destined to be of short duration. The American war ended in the triumph of the North, to the dismay and confusion of the French invaders, and at once the voice of the United States was heard, bidding, in no uncertain phrase, the French to withdraw from the land. Napoleon III. prevaricated and delayed, but he dared not resist. It was the alternative of war or withdrawal, and war with the United States just then was no desirable undertaking. The French troops were withdrawn, but Maximilian madly remained. The necessary consequence followed. The Mexicans rose, besieged him, and captured him on May 15, 1867. He was tried by court-martial, was condemned to execution, and was shot on June 19. Thus disastrously ended the only attempt of European powers to control and to establish monarchy in a republican country of America. The Monroe doctrine had been proved to be more than an empty phrase.

Within three hours after Abraham Lincoln expired, Andrew Johnson took the oath of office as the seventeenth President of the United States. the Presidential life of Lincoln had been one long period of civil war. That of his successor was destined to be one of political difficulty and struggle, in which the war seemed transferred from the nation to the government, and a bitter strife arose between Congress and the president. The task of reconstruction of the conquered territory was no light one, and could hardly, in any case, have been achieved without some degree of controversy, but Johnson, who at first expressed himself in favor of severely punishing the rebellious States, soon placed himself squarely in opposition to Congress.

He declared that a State could not secede, and that none of the Southern States had actually been out of the Union, and took measures to reconstruction of which Congress decidedly disapproved. Johnson's doctrine was ignored by a Congressional declaration that the seceding States actually were out of the Union, and could be readmitted only under terms prescribed by Congress. The Civil Rights Bill, which made negroes citizens of the United States, was enacted April 19, 1866. Shortly afterwards a fourteenth amendment to the Constitution was proposed, guaranteeing equal civil rights to all persons, basing representation on the number of actual voters, declaring that no compensation should be given for emancipated slaves, etc. This was adopted by the requisite number of States, and became a part of the Constitution on July 28, 1868.

As the work of reconstruction proceeded, the breach between the President and Congress grew more decided. Bill after bill was passed over his veto, and finally, February 24, 1868, the House passed a resolution, by a large majority, to impeach the President for "high crimes and misdemeanors" in the conduct of his office. of the acts of President Johnson, on which this resolution was based, that of the removal of Secretary Stanton from his cabinet office was the most essential. It was in direct contravention of the Tenure of Office Act, which declared that no removal from office could be made without the consent of the Senate. Stanton protested against this removal, and was sustained in his protest by the Senate, yet was soon afterwards removed again by the President. This brought the quarrel to a climax, and the impeachment proceedings immediately began.

The impeachment trial continued until May, on the 16th of which month the final vote was taken. It resulted in a verdict of "not guilty." The excitement into which the country had been aroused gradually died away, and "the sober second thought" of the community sustained the action of the Senate, though for a time very bitter feeling prevailed.

In pursuance of the "Military act," the South, on March 2, 1867, was divided into five districts and placed under military governors. These were made amenable only to the General of the army. This form of government, and the exclusion of the better class of Southern citizens from civil duties, placed all power in the hands of an inferior body of the population, and of Northern men (contemptuously designated "carpet-baggers") who had gone South after the war in search of position and power. The actions of many of these men were little calculated to restore harmony between the two sections of the country. The difficulty was added to by the behavior of bands of Southern reprobates and extremists, who, designating themselves the "Ku Klux Klan," rode about the country in disguise, and sought by acts of violence and outrage to intimidate the negroes and punish all who sympathized with them.

It was highly desirable that this transition state of affairs should come to an end, and the States be reconstructed with governments of their own. This was gradually accomplished by their acceptance of the terms proposed by Congress. By June, 1868, all but three of the seceded States had accepted the fourteenth amendment, and been readmitted to the Union. On the Fourth of July of that year a proclamation of general amnesty was made, conveying pardon to all who had been engaged in the war, except those actually under indictment for ciminal offences. (Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, had been released from a military prison on bail, without trial for treason.) On February 27, 1869, a fifteenth amendment to the Constitution was proposed in Congress, which forbade the United States, or any State, the deny the right of suffrage to any person on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. This was passed and submitted to the States, and was declared ratified by the requisite majority on March 30, 0870. Early in the same year the representatives of the three States still outstanding -- Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas -- were admitted to Congress, these States having accepted the Constitutional amendments. With this admission the problem of reconstruction was completed, and the country resumed its normal condition, though with radical changes in its fundamental laws and the make-up of its voting population.

During the interval covered by the political evolution here outlined, other events of great importance had taken place. These included the admission of two new States -- Nevada, which was accepted as a State in 1864, while the war was still pending; and Nebraska, which was admitted in 1867. The history of Nevada presents features of particular interest. At the date of its admission it was, though much below the requisite population for Congressional representation, growing so rapidly in consequence of its rich silver output, that no doubt was entertained of its soon reaching the standard of representation. This expectation has not been fulfilled. The production of silver has decreased, the State is almost destitute of agricultural and pastoral possibilities, and the population, which reached 62,266 in 1880, decreased to 45,761 in 1890, and 42,334 in 1900, or about 133,000 below the present ratio of representation. In the year of the admission of Nebraska (1867) an addition of considerable importance was made to the territory of the United States in the acquisition of Alaska, which was purchased from Russia for $7,200,000. While much of the 577,000 square miles of this territory is likely to continue useless, the value of its fisheries, furs, timbers, and minerals very greatly exceeds its cost to the United States, and every new exploration yields and higher conception of its natural wealth. (The gold output of the Alaska region is dealt with in a later page.)

The period in which these political events were taking place was made notable by two industrial triumphs of the greatest importance. The first of these was the laying of an ocean telegraph cable. The earliest effort to connect the United States with Europe by telegraph was made in 1856. this cable parted. One was laid successfully in 1858, but it ceased to work after a few messages had been transmitted. Cyrus W. Field, the projector of the enterprise, continued his efforts, and after another failure, in 1865, succeeded in his difficult task in 1866. Afterwards the broken cable of 1865 was raised and spliced, and both wires were found to work admirably. Since that date several other cables have been laid across the Atlantic, and ocean cables have been extended between various other countries.

The other event alluded to is the building of the Central Pacific Railroad. This, the greatest feat in railroad-building up to that time, was completed in 1869, the last spike being driven in May of that year, at Ogden, Utah. By it continuous railroad connection was made between New York and San Francisco, a distance of 3,300 miles. More recently the Northern, the Southern, the Canadian, and other Pacific Railroads were completed and communication between all parts of the eastern and western sea-boards of this country has been made easy and rapid.

In the Presidential campaign of 1868 the Republican party nominated General Grant and Schuyler Colfax for President and Vice-President, while the Democratic nominees were Horatio Seymour and General Frank P. Blair. The Republican ticket was elected by a large majority. Of the events that occurred during this administration two were of the highest importance; the Chicago fire, and the settlement of the Alabama claims. These claims arose from the ravages on American commerce committed during the Civil War by the Alabama and other Confederate cruisers, which had been fitted out in English ports, and permitted to sail in disregard to the earnest protests of the United States minister to England. This default in international obligations produced such bitter feeling in this country that war might have resulted had not a peaceful means of settlement been found. The dispute was finally adjusted by arbitration, and board composed of commissioners from several nations meeting at Geneva, Switzerland, in 1872. The result of their delibrations was in favor of the United States, and it was awarded pound3,229,-166 (about $15,700,000), which sum Great Britain promptly paid. This event is of the highest interest, as being among the first settlements of a great international difficulty by the peaceful and economical method of arbitration instead of the costly and destructive one of war, Another question between the United States and England, that concerning the northwest boundary, was similarly adjusted, being submitted to the Emperor of Germany, who decided it in favor of the United States.

During the night of October 8, 1871, there broke out in Chicago what became, perhaps, the most destructive conflagration, in actual loss of wealth, that ever visited any city. High winds spread the flames, which found abundant fuel in the many wooden structures of the city, and they raged for three days, destroying property valued at two hundred millions of dollars. The ground burned over was four and a half miles long by one mile wide, one hundred thousand people were left homeless, and two hundred lost their lives by this terrible disaster.

[A later account gives the following summary: Three and a third square miles burned over; 17,450 buildings destroyed; 98,500 persons rendered homeless, and over 250 killed. The total direct loss of property was estimated at $190,000,000, swelled by indirect losses of $290,000,000. Fifty-six insurance companies were rendered insolvent by the fire. In less than a month over $3,500,000 had been subscribed, independent of aid voted by the State Legislature.]

About the same time the forest regions of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota were devastated by fires of extra-ordinary extent, many villages being burned, while fifteen hundred persons perished in Wisconsin alone. To complete this carnival of fire a disastrous conflagration broke out in the business district of Boston on November 9, 1872. The loss amounted to seventy-five million dollars, nearly eight hundred buildings, many of them large and costly, being consumed. These conflagrations gave occasion for one of the most striking examples of American enterprise that has ever been shown. Almost without delay the process of rebuilding the burned districts began, and in a few years scarcely a trace of the disasters remained. The ruined cities rose again from their ashes more grand, massive, and imposing than before.

Of the Congressional questions that arose during Grant's first term, one of the most important was that concerning the acquisition of San Domingo. This republic, comprising a large part of the island of Hayti, applied for admission to the United States, an application which was warmly favored by the President. It met, however, with strong opposition in Congress, particularly from Senator Sumner, and the bill for its acceptance was defeated. Another important event of the same term was the exposure of the "Credit Mobilier" scheme, which occurred in 1872. This consisted in an effort to bribe Congress in favor of legislation to the advantage of the Central Pacific Railroad Company. Stock of the railroad was secretly transferred at a nominal price to various members of Congress, for the purpose of influencing their votes, and the exposure of the illegal scheme seriously injured the reputations of many members.

In 1872, General Grant was again elected to the Presidency, with Henry Wilson for Vice-President. Horace Greeley, the nominee of the "Liberal Republican" party, was supported by the Democratic vote, but was defeated by a majority of two hundred and twenty-three electoral votes. This second administration of President Grant was marked by exhibitions of public dishonesty not less discreditable than that of the "Credit Mobilier." In 1875 Secretary Belknap was impeached by Congress on a charge of fraud and peculation in the disposal of Indian posttraderships. He was acquitted by the Senate. About the same time great revenue frauds were discovered, in which persons connected with the government were implicated. This were perpetrated by the "Whiskey Ring" in several western cities. The trials of the accused parties were conducted with so manifest an effort on the part of the Government authorities to shield certain persons as to cause great public distrust and dissatisfaction. The "Star-Route" frauds in the transportation of the mails, and the exposure of the gigantic robberies of the "Tweed Ring" in New York, and of instances of pubic dishonesty in Philadelphia, Chicago, and other cities, were other evidences of political corruption that did not indicate a high standard of political corruption that did not indicate a high standard of political honesty in the United States at the conclusion of its first century of national existence.

Of the events of this Presidential term, however, the most important was the severe financial depression by which it was marked. The era of high prices and business activity which had followed the war yielded its legitimate effect in an abnormal growth of the spirit of speculation. The inevitable consequence followed. In 1873 came a financial crash that carried ruin far and wide throughout the country. It began on October 1, in the disastrous failure of the banking firm of Jay Cooke & Co., of Philadelphia, the financiers of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Failure after failure succeeded, panic spread through the whole community, and the country was thrown into a condition resembling that of 1837, but more disastrous from the fact that much greater wealth was affected. Years passed before business regained its normal proportions. A process of contraction set in, the natural change fron high war-prices to low peace-prices, and it was not till 1878 that the timidity of capital was fully overcome and business once more began to thrive.

[Industry and trade had flourished beyond precedent during the first years after the war. The high protective tariff contributed its share to the general rush of enterprise. In 1873 railroad mileage had doubled itself since 1860, and this was a prolific cause of rash speculation. While business was expanding the currency was contracting. Paper money had depreciated, and the conditions foreboded a crash. The Jay Cooke firm stood at the head of the great banking concerns. This house had handled most of the government loans during the war, and as already stated, were financing the doubtful Northern Pacific scheme. When this firm broke, strong institutions tottered and thousands of people in every rank of life were stricken with absolute ruin or sufferings that were none the less poignant for being outside the category of direct financial failures. The blow was felt for years in impaired credit, pressure for payment of dues, the lowering of securities and general dread of even safe enterprises. United States bonds fell from five to ten per cent. Savings were exhausted and many banks went under. Labor felt the cruel stroke for long after in the shutting down of factories and the half-time employment. The country was in a state of alarm and disgust at the bitter consequences of questionable acts in Congress, by the Administration, and in the realm of finance, and its indignant resolve to change things for the better was expressed in the heated contest which replaced the Grant administration with that of President Hayes, in 1876.]

Charles Morris


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