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Belief 3 - Reading 9 of 31
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THE SEA-ISLAND ORDER
Harper's Weekly, March 4, 1865, page 130 (Editorial)
The order of General Sherman, setting apart the sea-islands and a strip of coast for the freedmen, was sharply criticized until the minutes of the interview between Secretary Stanton, General Sherman, and the leaders of the colored men were published when it was found that the General’s order was the result of the best possible counsel.
General Butler, in criticizing Sherman’s order, repeats the well-known remark of Frederick Douglass, that the colored men wish merely to be let alone. Mr. Douglass means, of course, that they shall be suffered to take their chances with other people. But certainly one of the best ways of letting them alone, or suffering them to mind their own affairs, is to ascertain what, under certain circumstances, they wish to do—and following their suggestions. The proposition of Mr. Douglass is that white citizens shall not impose their whims upon black; and if any of the latter honestly wish to do as the leaders at Savannah said, it is surely no offense in General Sherman that he promised them what they wished.
Supreme good sense is always the doing the best thing under the circumstances. Thus the Metropolitan police in the city of New York is not theoretically according to the popular system, which allows every community to take care of its own ordinary police. But no man in his senses would wish to return to t he old system. It is an exceptional departure from the general law justified by circumstances. Nor is it very difficult to find a similar solution for General Sherman’s order.
A man who has shown the remarkable sagacity of Sherman may be safely trusted to deal with new questions. It is clear that he will treat them all practically and not theoretically. His education as an old army officer, and his long residence in the South had undoubtedly made him skeptical of the heroism of the colored race, and possibly contemptuous of their capacity. But the moment he was brought in contact with them in the war, he looked at them and their condition exactly as they were. The slaves who followed his army in the march through Georgia were evidently no enemies of his, and his conference with the Savannah leaders, and his subsequent action, show how utterly free he is from any self-seeking or inhuman prejudice. The contrast of Sherman’s conduct in theis matter with the dull opacity of M’Clellan and Halleck is as striking as that of the military genius of the three men.
The order is temporary, of course. General Sherman has no power, nor would he wish to assume it, of finally separating one part of our population from another. For the present he is the virtual dictator, under the Government, of the section in which he is operating. His means are brute force. War, as he says, is cruel. It is arbitrary. But fortunately it is temporary. It is a very unnecessary labor to fall upon his order and rend it as inhuman and antiquated and aiming at an impossible separation. It is a wise expedient, like many of General Butler’s acts in New Orleans.
Should Congress finally agree upon a Freedman’s bill, the whole subject will be at once removed from the operation of any military order. And the object of such a bill will be to secure the letting alone of the emancipated slaves by considering the peculiarity of their position and saving them from the interference of white sharpers.
Harper's Weekly, March 4, 1865, page 130 (Editorial)

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