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Speech on the Military Government of the South
February 18, 1867, in Congress

 

    Mr. STEVENS. Mr. Speaker, I will occupy but a short time.  This House a few days ago sent to the Senate a bill to protect loyal men in the southern States. That bill proposed but a single object, the protection of the loyal men of the South from the anarchy and oppression that exist and the murders which are every day perpetrated upon loyal men, without distinction of color. It did not attempt the difficult question of reconstructing these States by establishing civil governments over them. The House thought it wise to leave that question until a Congress which is to come in could have a long time to consider the whole question. The bill which we passed had not in it a single phrase or word which looked to anything but a police regulation for the benefit of these States.

    Now, what has the Senate done? It has sent back to us an amendment which contains everything else but protection. It has sent us back a bill which raises the whole question in dispute as to the best mode of reconstructing these States, by distant and future pledges which this Congress has no authority to make and no power to execute. What power has this Congress to say to a future Congress, when the southern States have done certain things, you shall admit them and receive their members into this House?

    Sir, it is idle to suppose that we are not assuming what is impudent in us, and what must be fruitless. What are we attempting to do? The first grand amendment that strikes the eye in this bill is that we take the management of these States from the General of the Army and put it into the hands of the President of the United States. No man doubts the constitutional authority of Congress to detail for particular service, or to authorize others to detail for particular service particular officers of the Army. But our friends who love this bill love it now because the President is to execute it, as he has executed every law for the last two years, by the murder of Union men, and by despising Congress and flinging into our teeth all that we seek to have done. That seems to be the sweetening ingredient in this bill for many of our friends around us. I do not of course believe anything about these nightly meetings. I think the report on that subject is all fabrication. But, sir, if there were such things, this substitute that has come from the Senate would be the natural offspring of such an incubation.

    What is the fifth section of this substitute? Why is it incorporated here? It is that we may pledge this Government in the future to all the traitors in rebeldom, so that hereafter there shall be no escape from it, whatever may happen. While they are not before us, while this Congress has nothing to do with them, we are promising them, we are holding out to them a pledge that if they will do certain things therein mentioned they shall come into this House and act with us as loyal men.  I know there is an impatience to bring in these chivalric gentlemen lest they should not be here in time to vote for the next President of the United States, and therefore gentlemen postpone the regular mode of bringing up that question, and put it upon a police bill in order that it  may be carried through so as to give them opportunity to be here at the time they desire. Sir, while I am in favor of allowing them to come in as soon as they are fairly entitled, I do not profess to be very impatient to embrace them. I am not very anxious to see their votes cast along with others to control the next election of President and Vice-President; therefore it is that my impatience is not so great as that of others.

    Mr. Speaker, there was a time when some people, and among them that good man who is now no more, carried, as I thought, the idea of reconstruction by loyal men rather to the extreme.
 



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