SOUTHERN AFFAIRS.; State of the South and Negro Suffrage. LETTER FROM H.S. FOOTE.
Published: August 2, 1865
The Montreal papers publish a long letter from H.S. FOOTE. It is addressed to Hon. A.O.P. NICHOLSON. He says:
Slavery in North America is clearly now at an end, and its future revival is just as impossible as it would be to call up the moldering dead from the graves where they sleep and to endue them anew with their former vitality and vigor. The sooner we of the South fully realize this fact, the better it will be for ourselves and for our whole country. True it is, that, even as late as last December, it was possible, had proper efforts been made for peace with those at that time in power in Washington City, to bring the war then raging at an end, upon the basis of reconstruction, gradual emancipation, universal amnesty, and a reasonable compensation to the owners of slaves in the South.
But the golden moment was allowed to pass away unembraced; the same mysterious judicial blindness which had enveloped the faculties of our Southern political leaders for fifteen years before, still hung like a gloomy pall about their organs of intellectual vision, and now we have at last disastrously fallen from our high estate, and find ourselves firmly enlocked in the grasp of those who have become our veritable conquerors. We have been compelled to surrender at discretion. We have lost all control over our fate. We are utterly powerless. Our armies are in a state of dispersion. Our ships no longer navigate the deep. Our fiscal sources are exhausted. Our rights of person and property are destroyed, or in a state of abeyance. Our most precious franchises are in the hands of those whom Jehovah and the civilized nations of the earth have allowed to achieve our ruin.
Nor have we now the least ground for hope of being raised to a better condition hereafter, except we promptly and energetically pursue the course which the progress of events has so plainly marked out for us. We must, in order to be free ourselves, agree never hereafter to interfere with the freedom of others. We must amend our State Constitutions as soon as possible, and embody therein our consent that the four millions of bondmen and bond-women heretofore existing upon Southern soil shall be henceforth as free in all respects as those of the white race who lately dominated over them; in other words, we must formally recognize the state of things already existing, and bind ourselves to do nothing to disturb it in all future time.
We must, in order to assure our own return to liberty and happiness, not only recognize the colored denizens of the South as now free, but we must allow them the same means of preserving their freedom that we ourselves desire to possess. They must be freedmen in fact as well as in name. We must consent to their being invested with the elective franchise; and this must be done, too, no matter what cherished notions we may entertain in regard to the mental inferiority of those whom some of us have heretofore regarded as the doomed posterity of Ham.
Nor can we now safely talk about carrying them through a course of special tutelage and probation such as I understand you to recommend, ere we make them our own equals, before the law of the land. These are not at all matters for our regulation, but are to be attended to by those who hold in their hands exclusively the sword and the purse of the nation.
I tell you, my dear Sir, and, through yon, I wish to urge upon the whole mass of my fellow-countrymen of the South that those things must be done by us, else our States will not be allowed to have Representatives and Senators in Congress, or even be permitted, without molestation, to administer their own municipal concerns. This, I say to you emphatically, is a settled matter; it is res judicata, and there is no appeal for us in the case. We may regret this state of things as much as it is possible for us to do; we may bewail it as eloquently as we choose; we may reason against irrevocable destiny with all the logical power of an Aristotle, a Bacon, or a Locke; and still the irremovable fact will stare us in the face; we must consent to the carrying into effect the compact existing between those who now wield all the governing power of the country and those whom, before God and man they have solemnly taken under their protection and patronage. Indeed, I do not at all overstate the case. I have sought information on this subject in all quarters where I thought it was possible to obtain it, and the result of my inquiries is before you.
Let me now bring to your notice one or two additional views of this matter, which, I am sure, cannot fail of their effect upon a mind as healthfully constituted as I know yours to be. The people of the North are not willing to trust us of the South with the exclusive control of this affair, because they believe, and we cannot possibly convince them to the contrary, that, should they permit us to become represented again in the two Houses of the Federal Congress, before we shall have carried into operation fully the arrangements which they have heretofore stipulated in behalf of the colored race, we should afterward either openly resist the execution of the compact or at least attempt to evade its provisions; and some imprudent movements which have recently occurred in the South have greatly tended, I fear, to aggravate this unfortunate feeling of distrust.
Moreover, the people of the North are almost the exclusive holders of the bonds which represent the vast debt which has grown out of the prosecution of the war, and they are apprehensive that if the exercise of the elective franchise is limited to the white population of the South, the whole voting power of our section may be hereafter wielded in favor of repudiating that debt. We shall never be able to satisfy them that this debt will be sale without the counterpoise of negro suffrage. The feelings of the whole bond-holding class are deeply excited on this subject, and nothing can give them satisfaction but the formal adoption of the constitutional amendment propounded.
Upon the whole, then, I must confess that I entirely agree with the enlightened and conscientious editor of the New-York Tribune in holding that the true policy, for the South as well as for the North, is embraced in these words, which are evidently fast becoming stereotyped upon the whole liberal mind of the country, — universal suffrage, and universal amnesty.
The exercise of a noble magnanimity toward the unfortunate South, such as a Julius Caeasar, a Marcus Aurelius, or a William III. of England would not have been ashamed to own, is now being advocated by many of the first intellects in the North, and more sound and manly reasoning, and touching and elevated rhetoric are being expended in our behalf by our new friends there than any occasion has called forth for many years past. Let us, I beseech you, meet this general and unexpected display in a kind and becoming manner. Let us cast aside as unworthy of us and of the great interests which it is our business to serve, all silly and affected fastidiousness; all false pride; all scheming and selfish dilatoriness, and embrace the present opportunity of reinstating ourselves in the dearly-prized rights of American citizenship, and in building up anew the strength, and unity, and true honor of our beloved America.
Our true friends and our future allies in the North are those who are now pleading in our behalf for justice and for a kindly and politic forbearance as to the past. If we fail not to be equal to the demands of the present critical exigency, we shall in a few short years at most find ourselves once more happy, and safe, and prosperous. For I am not among those who at all doubt the complete success of the new system of labor now being introduced in the South; nor do I agree with those who apprehend any great injury of any kind as likely to arise from the proposed extension of the elective franchise to both classes of our Southern population alike. I doubt not at all that with proper judgment, diligence and thrift, Southern plantations will be as prosperous, under the new system of agricultural labor, as they ever were under the old one; and I am decidedly of opinion that there will be as little of fraud and unfairness in our elections hereafter in the Southern States, and upon the whole as judicious and beneficial an exercise of the right of suffrage, as there has ever heretofore been. Demagogueism and corruption will not be more likely to obtain a dangerous ascendancy among us than in former days; and since it is a fixed fact that persons of African descent are hereafter to be free, it will be far better to make friends, and neighbors, and brethren of them, than to retain them in our midst as Pariahs or Helots.
Our true interest lies in assimilating our whole Southern population in political rights, in sentiment, in mental culture, in a just and affectionate neighborship, and in a true and loyal brotherhood. We have to deal with a race whom we know to be mildly affectioned, docile, and readily subject to all high and commanding influences, and it will be greatly our own fault if we do not get along with them in the relation now in process of institution far better than we ever did before. At any rate, this experiment is proposed to us under circumstances which do not permit us safely to decline its trial; and we shall be worse than madmen if we reject the opportunity tendered to us of at once escaping from the fearful domination of military power, and returning once more to the venerated right of trial by jury, the regular administration of justice by civil tribunals, and all the accustomed arrangements known to a state of republican freedom.
Before I conclude, permit me to say that here in this beautiful city I daily and hourly witness the friendly association, personal and official, of gentlemen who less than twenty years ago were arrayed against each other in a political contest, aggravated into actual war. This happy effect has been produced by the patriotic submission of the defeated Canadian insurgents, and the liberal and Christian policy of the government, which not only granted a general amnesty, but generously remunerated even “denounced rebels” for losses incurred in the conflict. What a glorious example for the emulation of our country!
Hoping that you will find, in this crude and hasty effusion, some ideas which you will not altogether disapprove, and that many years of health and happiness and public usefulness are yet in reserve for you,
I remain, your friend and follow-citizen,