London: Saturday, October 28, 1865The Illustrated London News, vol. 47, no. 1340, p. 402-403.
October 28, 1865
Except that President Johnson is an honest and earnest man, the readers of old English fiction might be reminded by him of the Justice before whom Roderick Random and his friends were taken, and who opened upon them with a tremendous volley of indignation, recognising them as old and hardened offenders, and menacing them with the most dreadful punishment. But, after being "spoken to" in the next room, the magistrate returned with a smiling and benevolent face, announced that they were free, and explained that he had not been really angry, but that it was always his way to terrify young people when brought before him, in order to produce an enduring fear of offending the law. When Mr. Johnson became President, he was described to us as a stern and gloomy dictator, who had arisen to execute vengeance upon the murderers of his predecessor and upon the rebels who approved the deed; besides that, he was about to make his iron hand felt to the remotest corner of the territory that had been subdued by the North. We can know only what we are told, and we waited in anxiety and with sorrow to hear that the hangmen were stalking over the land, and that the after-harvest of death was being reaped. Mail after mail brought us no such intelligence. A small group of notoriously guilty persons perished; but since that time we have heard of nothing but conciliation and pardon. Not a political execution has taken place; and, the very chiefs of the insurrection having been forgiven, the President is last seen receiving a deputation that begs the life of the ex-President, and Mr. Johnson, in a tone of grave good-nature, intimates that there is no desire to be revengeful, but that really Mrs. Varina Davis does not write the sort of letter that might be expected from a lady who wished to deliver her husband from danger. It is the case of Smollett's magistrate again, with the slight difference that the London justice was a corrupt old fellow, and the American President is an upright and right-hearted gentleman.
Mr. Johnson's difficulties, which are greater now than they have ever been, seem likely to be aggravated by his clemency. Neither friends nor foes appear to be behaving with fitting consideration for his situation. Of the foes we need say nothing. The rankling sensation of defeat, and, more excusably, the painful change of social position, have made the name of the President odious to thousands of Confederates. Large numbers have been wise, and are making the best of things, but many are indulging in the smallest revenges; negroes are persecuted, Northern officials snubbed, and, in certain cases, driven away, and the suffrages which have been restored to the insurgents are avowedly used in making demonstrations of detestation of the Union. All this is unfortunate, but could not be unexpected. If the President tightens the reins, and even uses the whip, it is not he who has made such measures necessary. But his friends, or rather those who represent feelings which he was erroneously supposed to represent, are causing much anxiety to him and his Government. They are still for extremes. They are not satisfied that slavery no longer exists in the Union, but they insist on elevating the negro to the dignity of the law-maker, and they declare that his freedom has not been accomplished while Sambo cannot come dancing up to the hustings, to record with facetious pomposity his vote for Massa Negrophile.
The absurdity of such a demand cannot escape the American mind. An American seldom laughs, but he has a keen sense of humour; and the idea of delegating sovereignty to Quashee and Gumbo is too good to be thrown aside. But it would be too strong a measure for the wildest Abolitionist to recommend the extension of the franchise to the black individual on the ground of his intelligence and fitness for it. That would be fatally ludicrous. But the advocates of the black franchise, after premising, and with truth, that most of the negroes are as fit to vote as most of the Irish who have obtained the privileges of citizenship, base the claim on another and more plausible plea. Mr. Mill has helped them to this, and we much regret that he has done so, because he has supplied arguments to those who cannot see the whole case, but are rejoiced to use his distinguished name as that of a supporter of their fanaticism. It is contended that it is necessary to give the negro his vote, in order to counterbalance the assured enmity of the South towards the Union, freedom, and Northern principles.
This seems to us to be a very clumsy method of meeting a difficulty. If there were no other objection to it, there would be the great one that it diminishes the chance, or the hope, that one day the condition of the suffrage in America may be modified. We do not speak from an English platform. There is not an educated American who, when at liberty to speak his mind, does not declare universal suffrage to be the cause why the best class of men eschew politics. Those who should lead and advise their fellows abstain from that duty, because with political power equally bestowed upon all, it is the noisy demagogue who gets to the front instead of the thoughtful statesman. Could the verdict of the educated class in America be taken at this moment, it would be for abolishing suffrage, while admitting to the poll a larger class than is enfranchised in England. Without denying the abstract right of equality, the American points to the fact that, with few exceptions, the politicians of his country are unworthy of her; and the press, which must be a gauge of general intellect and principle, is utterly unworthy, not only of a noble Republic, but of the lowest form of civilisation. With such conviction in the minds of thoughtful Americans, it is sought to increase the mass of ignorant and irresponsible power by adding to the loafer, the rowdy, the exiled German, and the emigrant Irishman, the irrepressible negro as a constituent of the Government.
But an appeal on these considerations would be hopeless. It could be made only though the American press, and, as it would be in the highest degree unpopular, it is not to be supposed that the lowest press in the world would dare to run counter to the feeling of a public, which, if ignorant, is large, and has money. The only thing which the Americans ought to bear in mind is, that whereas they have have been unkindly and unjustly laughed at for many things, some of which were natural in a new country, and some of which were not ludicrous
Page 403at all, they will be the legitimate laughing-stock of the world the moment that Quashee becomes a political power. If the banjo is to be introduced into the Constitution of the United States, there is an end of gravity. If we are to have State papers dictated by gentlemen who talk the language of Aunt Dinah, diplomacy will lose its owl-like character, whatever it may gain in exchange. The subject is full of tempting suggestions; but we treat it in no spirit of ill-nature, but because there is really danger lest fanaticism and party hate should impel a Congress, elected amid excitement, to do that which will bring the "Anglo-Saxon" name into contempt for all time. We hope for better things. "No, M'm, we won't marry into Bartholomew Fair," says Major Pendennis, when his nephew is in love with the actress. Surely Columbia will have sense to say that she will not marry Gumbo at the altar of the Constitution.