Friday, March 30, 2018

Confederate Soldiers After the War

Pat Foster asked an interesting question a few days ago (January 2012):

Rick, do you have access to the - for lack of a better word - conditons that were set out for the Confederate soldiers after the Civil War ended. I have been told they didn't have any voting rights in elections and wonder what other "conditions" were set forth toward them. If they were considered 2nd class citizens in their home state, it appears the reason many moved westward after the war was over?

I responded by reference to a couple of online sites that had somewhat addressed the issue, but wanted to bring the subject home to North Carolina. What was it like for those returning defeated Confederate soldiers? Here is a bit more:

Immediately after the final Confederate surrender and the effective end of the Civil War (April/May 1865), North Carolina was placed under military rule for the remainder of 1865. General John M. Schofield was the first military commander. Most Confederate soldiers returned to their homes in North Carolina, which remained primarily a land of small farmers.

On May 29, 1865, President Andrew Johnson, a native North Carolinian who had been Lincoln's Vice President, issued a proclamation pardoning those who had rebelled against the national government, except the most outstanding leaders and the men of considerale wealth; the proclamation specified an oath to be taken by those who wanted to be pardoned, and it provided that these southerners could keep all their property except their slaves.

President Johnson's second proclamation appointed William W. Holden to serve as provisional governor until a normal state government could be restored. With the fall of the Confederacy there essentially was no state or local government. Governor Zebulon Vance had been arrested 14 May 1865 and taken to a federal prison in Washington, D.C. Thus, for a while voting rights was not an issue because there were no elections.

Slaves in North Carolina nominally had been freed by President Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, but there had been no way to enforce it. However, by a proclamation that had teeth, General John M. Schofield, federal military ruler in North Carolina, freed North Carolina slaves in May 1865. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted 18 December 1865, abolished slavery throughout the country. In Caswell County in 1860 there were 9,637 blacks and only 6,578 whites. Of the blacks, 9,355 were slaves and 282 were free.

President Johnson instructed provisional Governor Holden to call a convention to reorganize the state government and to take steps necessary for North Carolina to rejoin the union. Anyone who had been a voter before the war and had been pardoned for his part in the war could vote for delegates to the convention. The federal military authorities in the state were to assist Holden with this project.  However, former slaves did not yet have the right to vote.

Unfortunately, Caswell County records from January 1863 until July 1866 have not been found in the North Carolina State Archives, and apparently are lost. These primarily are the records of the Caswell County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, which acted as an inferior court, but more importantly as the executive branch of the county government (a job that would be taken over by county commissioners in 1868). Thus, we do not know how Caswell County organized the election to select delegates to the 1865 convention, nor do we know the identity of these delegates (at least not by reference to official Caswell County records).

The 1865 North Carolina convention, held in October 1865, repealed the Ordinance of Secession, abolished slavery, repudiated the state's Civil War debt, and called for elections to be held in November 1865 to choose members of Congress, a governor, legislators, and some local officers. Repudiation of the state's Civil War debt was a contentious issue, but had been made by President Johnson a condition of readmission to the union. Jonathan Worth was elected governor for a two-year term. North Carolina's Congressional delegation was denied seats in the Senate and House of Representatives. The refusal by the Republican-controlled Congress to admit representatives and senators from North Carolina meant that the state would not be back in the national government officially until two and one-half years later. Those elected to the October 1865 North Carolina convention and later selected as representatives to the federal government were of the same conservative party that had ruled the state before the war was lost.

It appears that many elected to local office in 1865 were the same as had run Caswell County before (and during) the Civil War. Thus, while the economy was in shambles and the banking system about to fail, early post-war politics were not significantly different than before the war was lost. However, this would change as Republicans in Congress imposed more severe reconstruction policies and extended voting rights to former slaves. This dispute between President Johnson and the radicals in Congress led to his impeachment. He was not, however, removed from office.

Then came the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment stated that blacks were citizens and that states could not deprive their rights, including the right to vote. States who denied blacks (including former slaves) the right to vote would have the number of Congressional representatives reduced. The amendment also denied the right to hold public office to anyone who had sworn to support the Constitution of the United States and then supported the Confederacy. Ratification of this amendment became a requirement for readmission to the union.

The debate over the Fourteenth Amendment in North Carolina forced its politicians to take a stand. Former provisional governor William W. Holden supported adoption. However, the old guard remained in control of state government, including almost complete control of the state legislature. By substantial margins, the Fourteenth Amendment was rejected (45 to one in the Senate; and 93 to 10 in the House of Commons). The refusal of North Carolina and other southern states to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment led to much harsher federal reconstruction laws, including the first of the Reconstruction Acts, passed 2 Marcy 1867, that abolished all southern state governments (except Tennessee, which had ratified the Thirteenth Amendment), and placed these states under federal military control. Five military districts were creaed, with a major general in control of each. States were required to hold conventions to draw up new state constitutions. These new constitutions must give the right to vote to all makes over twenty-one years old who had lived in their voting district one year and had not had their voting rights taken away from them for taking part on the Confederate side during the Civil War. This meant that blacks would be allowed to vote, but that those white men who had held public office before the war and then aided the Confederacy could not serve in the constitutional convention or vote for members of the convention.

Thus, for North Carolina to be readmitted to the union, it had to draft a new constitution and have it approved by Congress, and it had to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment. In the meanwhile the state was under federal military rule (from March 1867 until July 1868). State government continued to operate, but under the watchful eye of the military. The North Carolina legislature did not even meet in the fall of 1867. Military courts and military law were controlling.

No comments:

Post a Comment