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Damages to Loyal Men
March 19, 1867 in Congress
 

 Page One

 

   Mr. STEVENS, of Pennsylvania. Mr. SPEAKER,  I am about to discuss the question of the punishment of belligerent traitors by enforcing the confiscation of their property to a certain extent, both as punishment for their crimes and to pay the loyal men who have been robbed by the rebels, and to increase the pensions of our wounded soldiers. The punishment of traitors has been wholly ignored by a treacherous Executive and by a sluggish Congress. I wish to make an issue before the American people, and see whether they will sanction the perfect impunity of a murderous belligerent, and consent that the loyal men of this nation, who have been despoiled of their property, shall remain without remuneration, either by rebel property or the property of the nation.

    To this issue I desire to devote the small remnant of my life.  I desire to make the issue before the people of my own State, and should be glad if the issue were to extend to other States. I desire the verdict of the people upon this great question.

    This bill is important to several classes of people.

    It is important to our wounded and maimed soldiers, who are unable to work for their living, and whose present pensions are wholly inadequate to their support. It is important to those bereaved wives and parents whose habiliments of woe are to be seen in every house, and proclaim the cruel losses which have been inflicted on them by the murderous hands of traitors.

    It is important to loyal men, North and South, who have been plundered and impoverished by rebel raiders and rebel Legislatures.

    It is important to four millions of injured, oppressed, and helpless men, whose ancestors for two centuries have been held in bondage and compelled to earn the very property a small portion of which we propose to restore to them, and who are now destitute, helpless, and exposed to want and starvation under the deliberate cruelty of their former masters.

    It is also important to the delinquents whose property it takes as a fine -- a punishment for the great crime of making war to destroy the Republic, and for prosecuting the war in violation of all the rules of civilized warfare. It is certainly too small a punishment for so deep a crime, and too slight a warning to future ages.

    No committee or party is responsible for this bill. It is chargeable to the President and myself. Whatever merit it possesses is due to Andrew Johnson. In the summer of 1864 he said in a public speech:

    "Let me say now is the time to secure these fundamental principles, while the land is rent with anarchy and upheaves with the throes of a mighty revolution. While society is in this disordered state and we are seeking security, let us fix the foundations of the Government on the principles of eternal justice, which will endure for all time.

    "Shall he who brought this misery upon the State be permitted to control its destinies? If this be so, then all this precious blood of our brave soldiers and officers, so freely poured out, will have been wantonly spilled. All the glorious victories won by our noble armies will go for naught, and all the battle-fields which have been sown with dead heroes during the rebellion will have been made memorable in vain.

    "Why all this carnage and devastation? It was that treason might be put down and traitors punished. I say the traitor has ceased to be a citizen, and in joining the rebellion has become a public enemy.

    "Treason must be made odious, and traitors must be punished and impoverished; their great plantations must be seized and divided into small portions, and sold to honest, industrious men. The day for protecting the lands and Negroes of these authors of rebellion is past.  It is high time it was. I have been most deeply pained at some things which have come under my observation. We get men in command, who, under the influence of flattery, fawning and caressing, grant protection to the traitor, while the poor Union man stands out in the cold."

    This is all the eloquent language of Andrew Johnson, as "he was." This was the text which I took up and elaborated in a speech to my constituents at Lancaster in September, 1865, and which has been criticized by humane sympathizers with rebels. Andrew Johnson was the apostle whose preaching's I followed. His doctrine pervades and animates this whole bill. Whatever of justice is in it is due to him. I call upon his friends to stand by him in this, his favorite policy. If you now desert him, who can you expect to defend the "much-enduring man" at the other end of the avenue? Having thus rendered unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, I will proceed to defend the course recommended by him, who above all others knows what is due to traitors.

    This bill, it seems to me, can be condemned only by the criminals and their immediate friends, and by that unmanly kind of men whose intellectual and moral vigor has melted into a fluid weakness which they mistake for mercy, and which is untempered with a single grain of justice, and to those religionists who mistake meanness for Christianity, and who forget that the essence of religion is to "do unto others what others have a right to expect from you." It is offensive to certain pretentious doctors of divinity who are mawkishly prating about the "fatted calf, the prodigal son, and the forgiving father." They forget that there is no analogy between the cases. The thoughtless youth having received a part of his father's estate, and probably taking a load of corn to market, fell into bad company and contracted the loathsome vice of drunkenness, and spent the money in rioting and debauchery, and, like all drunkards, made his bed with swine and fed on husks; nit, like one case only in a thousand, he reformed, joined the total abstinence society, washed himself clean, brushed his clothes, and with repentant steps returned to his father's house. Well might his aged parent rejoice; well might he kill the fatted calf at such a rescue. But how venial was such offense compared with this murderous rebellion?

    When the great ancestor of this bloody race had slain his brother, and tremblingly met his Judge and sought for pardon, what was the answer? "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand. When thou tillest the ground it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth." When Cain cried out that his "punishment was more than he could bear," the Judge who administered justice in mercy drove him forth into stern, inexorable exile. He taught no forgiveness for such sins. He prated of no "fatted calves."

    I proceed to consider the bill.  By the act of July, 1862, treason is made punishable by death or some smaller punishment, at the discretion of the court. Before punishment can be inflicted for treason or misprision of treason the party must be duly convicted in a court of the United States. Not so with the balance of the bill. All the rest of that law (after the first four sections) refers to persons engaged in the belligerent army, or officially connected with the government known as the "Confederate States of America," or those who voluntarily aided that power. While that law supposed that most of the people composing the army and government were traitors, yet they are dealt with in all the provisions which refer to confiscation merely as belligerents making an unjust war. The forfeitures which follow from a conviction for treason are left to the operations of the common law.

   
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