Alexander Stephens on Reconstruction April 11 1866


The Joint Committee on Reconstruction heard a great deal of testimony on conditions and attitudes in the South. On April 11, the former Vice-President of the Confederacy appeared to testify. Stephens made these comments in answer to the question posed by the ardent Radical George S. Boutwell, whether Georgia would accept restoration to the Union either on the basis of granting suffrage to Negroes or accepting a diminution in her representation in Congress proportionate to the number of those to whom suffrage was denied. These were, of course, the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment which had recently passed Congress and stood before the states for ratification. Stephens did not feel that such terms should be put to the Southern states as conditions precedent of restoration to the Union.

Alexander StephensI think the people of the State would be unwilling do more than they have done for restoration. Restricted to limited suffrage would not be so objectionable as general or universal. But it is a matter that belongs to the State to regulate. The question of suffrage, whether universal or restricted, is one of State policy exclusively, as they believe. Individually I should not be opposed to a propose system of restricted or limited suffrage to this class our population. . . . The only view in their opinion that could possibly justify the war that was carried on by the federal government against them was the idea of the indisolubleness of the Union; that those who held the administration for the time were bound to enforce the execution of the laws and the maintenance of the integrity of the country under the Constitution. . . . They expected as soon as the confederate cause was abandoned that immediately the States would be brought back into their practical relations with the government as previously constituted. That is what they looked to. They expected that the States would immediately have their representatives in the Senate and in the House; and they expected in good faith, as loyal men, as the term is frequently used- loyal to law, order, and the Constitution-to support the government under the Constitution. . . . Towards the Constitution of the United States the great mass of our people were always as much devoted in their feelings as any people ever were towards any laws or people . they resorted to secession with a view of more securely maintaining these principles. And when they found they were not successful in their object in perfect good faith, as far as I can judge from meeting with them and conversing with them, looking to the future development of their country . . . their earnest desire and expectation was to allow the past struggle . . . to pass by and to co-operate with . . . those of all sections who earnestly desire the preservation of constitutional liberty and the perpetuation of the government in its purity. They have been . . . disappointed in this, and are . . . patiently waiting, however, and believing that when the passions of the hour have passed away this delay in representation will cease. .

My own opinion is, that these terms ought not to be offered as conditions precedent. . . . It would be best for the peace, harmony, and prosperity of the whole country that there should be an immediate restoration, an immediate bringing back of the States into their original practical relations; and let all these questions then be discussed in common council. Then the representatives from the south could be heard, and you and all could judge much better of the tone and temper of the people than you could from the opinions given by any individuals. . . .

My judgment, therefore, is very decided, that it would have been better as soon as the lamentable conflict was over, when the people of the south abandoned their cause and agreed to accept the issue, desiring as they do to resume their places for the future in the Union, and to look to the arena of reason and justice for the protection of their rights in the Union-it would have been better to have allowed that result to take place, to follow under the policy adopted by the administration, than to delay or hinder it by propositions to amend the Constitution in respect to suffrage. . . . I think the people of all the southern States would in the halls of Congress discuss these questions calmly and deliberately. and if they did not show that the views they entertained were just and proper, such as to control the judgment of the people of the other sections and States, they would quietly . yield to whatever should be constitutionally determined in common council. But I think they feel very sensitively the offer to them of propositions to accept while they are denied all voice . . . in the discussion of these propositions. I think they feel very sensitively that they are denied the right to be heard.