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The Sequel of Appomattox : a chronicle of the reun

According to the state suicide theory of Charles Sumner


There

were, however, other theories in the field, notably those of the radical Republican leaders. According to the state-suicide theory of Charles Sumner, "any vote of secession or other act by which any State may undertake to put an end to the supremacy of the Constitution within its territory is inoperative and void against the Constitution, and when sustained by force it becomes a practical ABDICATION by the State of all rights under the Constitution, while the treason it involves still further works an instant FORFEITURE of all those functions and powers essential to the continued existence of the State as a body politic, so that from that time forward the territory falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress as other territory, and the State, being according to the language of the law felo de se, ceases to exist." Congress should punish the "rebels" by abolishing slavery, by giving civil and political rights to Negroes, and by educating them with the whites.

Not essentially different, but harsher, was Thaddeus Stevens's plans for treating the South as a conquered foreign province. Let the victors treat the seceded States "as conquered provinces and settle them with new men and exterminate or drive out the present rebels as exiles." Congress in dealing with these provinces was not bound even by the Constitution, "a bit of worthless parchment," but might legislate as it pleased in regard to slavery, the ballot, and confiscation. With regard

to the white population, he said: "I have never desired bloody punishments to any great extent. But there are punishments quite as appalling, and longer remembered, than death. They are more advisable, because they would reach a greater number. Strip a proud nobility of their bloated estates; reduce them to a level with plain republicans; send them forth to labor, and teach their children to enter the workshops or handle a plow, and you will thus humble the proud traitors." Stevens and Sumner agreed in reducing the Southern States to a territorial status. Sumner would then take the principles of the Declaration of Independence as a guide for Congress, while Stevens would leave Congress absolute. Neither considered the Constitution as of any validity in this crisis.

As a rule the former abolitionists were in 1865 advocates of votes and lands for the Negro, in whose capacity for self-rule they had complete confidence. The view of Gerrit Smith may be regarded as typical of the abolitionist position:

"Let the first condition of peace with them be that no people in the rebel States shall ever lose or gain civil or political rights by reason of their race or origin. The next condition of peace be that our black allies in the South--those saviours of our nation--shall share with their poor white neighbors in the subdivisions of the large landed estates of the South. Let the only other condition be that the rebel masses shall not, for say, a dozen years, be allowed access to the ballot-box, or be eligible to office; and that the like restrictions be for life on their political and military leaders.. .. The mass of the Southern blacks fall, in point of intelligence, but little, if any, behind the mass of the Southern whites.... In reference to the qualifications of the voter, men make too much account of the head and too little of the heart. The ballot-box, like God, says: 'Give me your heart.' The best-hearted men are the best qualified to vote; and, in this light, the blacks, with their characteristic gentleness, patience, and affectionateness, are peculiarly entitled to vote. We cannot wonder at Swedenborg's belief that the celestial people will be found in the interior of Africa; nor hardly can we wonder at the legend that the gods came down every year to sup with their favorite Africans."


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