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troubles in parts of the Southern States, and the tone and spirit of the
Democratic orators and papers in the Northern States in speaking of them,
unpleasantly suggest the days before the war, when slavery did what it
would, and the same orators and papers obsequiously cried Amen. The recent
meeting in Baltimore over which Mr. Reverdy Johnson presided, and at which
he and Mr. William Pinckney White, since elected Governor of Maryland,
were the chief speakers, was a remarkable illustration of the tone and
spirit of which we speak. The facts of the Southern situation are
familiar. It is merely idle to suppose that a few disturbances and
occasional disorders have been exaggerated into the story of the
organization and operations of Ku-Klux. There are murders and abuses of
every kind in the Northern States; and they have no peculiar significance,
because it is known that they are not the result of a general, secret,
organized conspiracy. If that were suspected, the situation here would be
very different. Now the fact of such a conspiracy is not only suspected,
but it is known in the Southern States. It may be magnified by mystery.
But its crimes, all showing an intelligible method, are verified in
detail. Indeed, it is unnecessary to insist upon this truth; for Mr.
William Pinckney White himself asks, in his Baltimore speech, "Was it
to be expected that peace and order were to reign every where through
States where all the intelligent and educated were excluded from the
ballot-box?" etc. The statement is incorrect, because Mr. White knows
that the existing disabilities do not affect voting, but it is a
sufficient confession of the fact of disorder.
Yet Mr. Reverdy Johnson begins his remarks upon the subject by depicting the Southern situation as entirely peaceful. He cites what may be called technical illustrations: the forts are in the quiet possession of the government; each State is represented in Congress; each has its Governor, Legislature, and Judiciary; our ships are safe in Southern ports—in other words, no State has seceded into an attitude of open rebellion, as in 1861. But when Mr. Johnson says that there is "a general acknowledgment of the authority of the United States and of the duty of allegiance," he says what is, at the most, formally true. There are those in the Southern States who sincerely believed that secession was a right, who fought for it bravely, and who have honorably acquiesced in the result. If we had to deal with them only, there would be no trouble. But the characteristic feeling, as we gather it from the best authorities, is one of passive submission to the inevitable. The government is regarded as a despotism and tyranny to which general armed resistance is impracticable. But this is the very sentiment out of which a midnight organization of the more reckless spirits would be developed, which the others, knowing that they were not themselves threatened, would not trouble themselves to repress. It is not candid, therefore, for Mr. Johnson to describe the situation as he does. He represents the President'’ proclamation as directed against a wholly peaceful and loyal section of the country; and although he says that the courts sit tranquilly for judgment, he remembers to forget that the juries, if not drawn from the Ku-Klux, are largely composed of the passive class of which we have spoken, and that no Ku-Klux outrage is remedied by the local law.
We are not now considering the causes of this situation, nor the character of the remedies which Congress has authorized. We are merely stating the facts which Mr. Johnson suppressed, just as the Democratic orators ante bellum used to conceal the truth in regard to slavery. The question of the Ku-Klux legislation was this: Is there no constitutional remedy for citizens of the United States who in any State are deprived, by negligence to enforce the law, of the most sacred rights? Suppose the Ku-Klux in any State to be the majority, and Ku-Klux courts refuse to convict the authors of crimes against a certain class of the community, is there no remedy but the voluntary withdrawal of that class to some other State? But if that class is persecuted not by its own fault, but by the action of the United States, and is a class which has not the means of emigration, but which is poor and uneducated, and inexperienced in every way, must the United States, which have exposed it to this suffering, merely inform this class that it must suffer as patiently as it can? Is this not substantially acquiescing in the black codes that followed the war—the Ku-Klux harrying the black race because of its color and loyalty, and the courts sanctioning the persecution by refusing to convict? Is this the protection which the United States is authorized and bound to give directly to all its citizens?
Mr. Johnson, indeed, was not addressing the Supreme Court, nor the Senate of the United States: he was speaking to a mass-meeting; but he was morally bound to state the case fairly, whatever his constitutional argument might have been, and this he failed to do. Mr. White, who followed him, is a rhetorician. He too said that the war was long past; and with the instinct of a sincere secessionist the present Democratic Governor of Maryland spoke of the army of the rebellion as standing "as heroically and firmly against overwhelming numbers as did the brave Spartans at the pass of Thermopylæ." He then proceeded, not to deny the existence of the Ku-Klux, but, as we have already quoted, virtually to justify it as the natural result of the situation. He denounced the military despotism which superseded law in the disturbed districts; but he failed to state that it was Ku-Klux law which was superseded. He sneered at the President’s peaceful Indian policy, declaring that while he is "soft as a mother’s smile" to the red savages, he "knows no law of kindness for his white brethren at the South." And what, in the name of humanity and justice, is the law of kindness of Mr. White and his political white brethren toward the loyal Union black and white men at the South? We used to have this cant of Christian love from the apologists of slavery before the war; and now it falls from the same lips to screen the Ku-Klux midnight assassins. Mr. White concluded his speech by bewailing the apathy of good citizens over "the infractions of the Constitution," having just compared to the brave heroes of Thermopylæ the men who tried not to "infract," but to smother that Constitution in the blood of its defenders.
The significance of all this is unmistakable. The tendency of such speeches as those of Mr. Reverdy Johnson and Mr. White is to prolong the disorder and exasperate the bitterness of feeling which prevail in many parts of the Southern States. The pretense is regard for the Constitution and for the safeguards of liberty, and the necessary consequence is the encouragement of crime and of those who would gladly trample upon the Constitution, and who wish no liberty except that of oppression. The Baltimore meeting is a fair illustration of the kind of canvass which will be conducted next year against the Republicans. The only "people" recognized in the Southern States will be the active Ku-Klux and their passive supporters. There will, however, be one advantage for the country, and that is, that in the discussion the constitutional principles of the Ku-Klux legislation will be fairly presented to public consideration, as they have not yet been, and will be fully understood by the people, as they are not now. Even those Republicans who were disposed, with us, to question the propriety of that legislation will, perhaps, agree that they had not fairly perceived the constitutional authority of that legislation.
|Harper's Weekly, November 25, 1871, page 1098 (Editorial)|
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