Abraham Lincoln and Louisiana

Abraham Lincoln and Louisiana

Louisiana
Mount Vernon Larchmont
121 Larchmont Avenue, Sable Arm, 973.74C

Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr., Editor
The Civil War in Louisiana (Lafayette, La. : Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2002) IKF (Louisiana) 03-946 pt. A

Capers, Gerald M.
Occupied City: New Orleans under the Federals, 1862-1865 (1964)
 
Benjamin Butler’s Regime
 
Nathaniel Banks’ Regime
 
Work Labor
 
Politics in Louisiana
 
Problems with Shepley
 
Pressure for Elections
 
Reconstruction in 1864
 
Gubernatorial Campaign & Constitutional Convention
 
Constitutional Convention
 
Black Suffrage
 
Reconstruction
 
Frustration in 1865
 
 
Abraham Lincoln visited Louisiana twice as a young man. The first time was in 1828 when Lincoln was 19 and living in Indiana. The second was in 1831 when Lincoln was 22 and living in Illinois. On both occasions, young Lincoln piloted a raft down the Mississippi to sell its contents at the Louisiana port. These visits helped shape the future president’s attitudes towards transportation, commerce, and slavery. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote of the 1831 trip: “When they reached New Orleans in May, Lincoln was appalled, as he had been two years earlier, at the sight of slavery. John Hanks alleged that he and Lincoln ‘Saw Negroes chained — maltreated — whipt and scourged.’ Lincoln’s ‘heart bled,’ though he ‘said nothing much’ and ‘was silent from feeling — was sad — looked bad — felt bad — was thoughtful and abstracted.’ Hanks maintained that ‘it was on this trip that he formed his opinions of Slavery; it ran its iron in him then and there — May, 1831. I have heard him say — often and often.'” 1

Three decades later, during the Civil War, Louisiana became both a testing ground for implementing reconstruction of the South and a battleground for different theories about how reconstruction should be conducted. Louisiana was critical because it controlled access to the Mississippi River. Union strategy required a blockade of southern ports and control of the Mississippi River in order progressively to strangle the military might of the Confederacy. Early in his presidency, Lincoln was visited by future General William T. Sherman, a former army officer and the brother of an Ohio senator. Sherman’s most recent job had been as superintendent of a military academy in Louisiana. Lincoln asked him “how are you getting along down there?” Sherman replied “they are preparing for war!” “Oh, well,” responded Lincoln, “I guess we’ll manage to keep house.” 2 It would take four years to restore the house in Louisiana — a process which continued to absorb Lincoln until the day of his murder in April 1865.

The president understood the vital importance of Louisiana in restoring the Union and adjusted Union military strategy accordingly. Admiral David Farragut led an expedition that captured New Orleans on April 25, 1862. General Benjamin F. Butler, a Democratic politician from Massachusetts, set up a military government to handle the portion of Louisiana controlled by Union forces. One of the difficulties in setting up a civilian government was that much of the state outside the southeast was controlled by the Confederates. Nevertheless, President Lincoln was anxious to use Louisiana as a test case for his reconstruction policies. He was also anxious to open the entire length of the Mississippi River to navigation and trade. When discussing in November 1861 the possibility of the navy attacking and taking New Orleans, Mr. Lincoln supposedly said: “After New Orleans is taken, and while we are about it, we can push on to Vicksburg and open the [Mississippi] river all the way along.” 3 Before General Butler left Washington to join the Union fleet attacking Louisiana, President Lincoln supposedly said: “Good-bye, General; get into New Orleans if you can, and the backbone of the rebellion will be broken. It is of more importance than anything else that can now be done; but don’t interfere with the slavery question as [John C.]Frémont has done at St. Louis.” 4
 

Benjamin Butler’s Regime

The naturally belligerent Butler found New Orleans residents uncooperative. “Coarse by nature, and lacking totally the tact which distinguished his successor,” wrote historian John Rose Ficklen, “he proceeded to exercise a petty tyranny in the suppression of all disloyalty of word or act. Although he permitted the municipal authorities of New Orleans to continue their functions for a while under strict surveillance, the city was practically under martial law.” 5 The strategy didn’t work; New Orleans residents were not easily coerced into cooperation by Butler’s authoritarian rule. As Union General John C. Frémont had done in Missouri in August 1861, Butler began a series of controversial actions to control the populace whose impact was felt across the nation as well as in Louisiana. Butler’s military successors would continue that pattern. Historian Thomas J. Goss wrote: “Butler…initiated many of the political debates on issues involving emancipation and reconstruction when he took over the Department of the Gulf after capturing New Orleans in April 1862.” 6 In fairness, Butler had some good intentions, noted historian Anthony Santoro, who wrote that Butler “was instrumental in arranging food and trade to feed the starving city. Believing that festering garbage contributed to rampant disease, he directed work crews to keeping the city clean.” 7 Other orders got Butler into hot water. Butler’s most controversial act was Order No. 28 on May 15, 1862: “As officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from women, calling themselves ladies, of New Orleans, in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered hereafter, when any female shall by mere gesture or movement, insult, or show contempt for any officers or soldiers of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman about town plying her avocation.” 8 The inference of prostitution by the women of the city outraged southerners. 9

When anyone challenged Butler’s authority, the general moved against his adversaries and critics– whether domestic or foreign. Historian Peyton McCray wrote: “Butler…ordered his troops to force entry to the Dutch consulate, where they found several hundred thousand dollars worth of Confederate gold. Despite protests from all the foreign consuls in the city, the general refused to allow diplomatic immunity to protect Confederate property from legitimate seizure.” 10 The aggressive tactics Butler had used in Maryland in the spring of 1861 came to haunt him in Louisiana in 1862 — especially when they extended from Confederate sympathizers who were Americans to Confederate sympathizers who were foreigners. Former Maryland Senator Reverdy Johnson, noted Butler biographer Richard S. West, Jr. “had been one of the Maryland legislators whom Butler” had crossed “and was one of those hostile persons who had spread the canard that Butler had been drunk in Baltimore in the spring of 1861.” 11 Unfortunately for Butler, Johnson was chosen by Secretary of State Seward to adjudicate disputes between Butler and foreign consuls in New Orleans resulting from conflicts like the invasion of the Dutch consulate. Johnson produced a report that damned Butler’s administration of the city. Johnson concluded: “Unless the almost universal belief of gentlemen of intelligence and integrity in the city, having every means of knowledge, be wholly unfounded, and the reports of officers of the highest character in the service of the government, who have officially visited the city since it has been in the possession of the military, be also wholly unfounded, a state of fraud and corruption exists there that is without parallel in the history of the country.” Detailed charges of corruption were lodged against Butler’s brother Andrew and the commercial transactions in which Andrew had engaged. 12 Some observers thought that General Butler himself benefitted from corrupt dealings. Some of Butler’s actions, however, had a legitimate legal basis. Historian John Rose Ficklen noted that General Butler made extensive use of the Confiscation Act of 1861 to seize rebel estates and dun rebel merchants to support charitable funds. 13

Butler’s critics, however, grew numerous and diverse. They included his own subordinates, some of whom took an even tougher line against Louisiana residents than did Butler. General John W. Phelps took a more aggressive attitude toward freedom for former Louisiana slaves, wrote historian Louis Gerteis: “Butler insisted that planters in the occupied portions of Louisiana were loyal men whose property in slaves should be recognized and protected by the Union army. Phelps consistently disobeyed Butler’s orders to exclude blacks from his lines and the commander thought him ‘as mad as a March Hare….’ Butler himself had grown to fear a general slave insurrection.” 14 The conflict between the political general who commanded the state and his West Point-trained subordinate escalated to a point that Phelps demanded that the documents concerning their dispute be sent to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Butler frankly wrote Stanton: “General Phelps, I believe, intends making this a test case for the Policy of the Government. I wish it might be so, for the difference of our action upon this subject is a source of trouble.” Butler asked Stanton to resolve the dispute. 15 Butler’s statement of the case was clear, but the Lincoln Administration’s response to this correspondence was ambiguous. Phelps continued to press his own policies — including organizing former slaves into military units. Butler sought to use these recruits as manual laborers, and Phelps protested this policy by resigning in August 1862: “While I am willing to prepare African Regiments for the defence of the Government against its assailants, I am not willing to become the mere slave driver which you propose.” 16 Butler rejected the resignation. Phelps persisted by returning his military commission to President Lincoln. The Confederate government meanwhile declared Phelps an outlaw because he “organized and armed negro slaves for military service against their masters, citizens of the Confederacy.” 17

In the summer of 1862, the question of abolishing slavery continued to percolate at the national level while complaints about the policies of Butler and Phelps in Louisiana boiled over. “By late July 1862, Lincoln had grown exasperated with the slow pace of Reconstruction efforts in Louisiana,” wrote historian Michael Burlingame. 18 At the end of July, Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning visited President Lincoln: “I read him a letter I had received from [Cuthbert] Bullitt of New Orleans complaining of Genl Phelps Administration of affairs and saying that all the union sentiment there was crushed out,” wrote Browning in his diary. “He told me he had one from Reverdy Johnson to the same effect, and read me his reply to it. He said the people there were making false pretences — that there was but little union sentiment — that they wanted the government to protect them, their property, and institutions whilst they sympathized with and aided treason and rebellion — that it should not be done. If they were tired of Genl Phelps administration they knew how to get rid of it by returning to their allegiance and submitting to the authority of the government, and if they did not do so, and he could send any heavier scourge upon them than Genl Phelps they had better be looking out for it.” 19

Historian Hans L. Trefousse wrote that President “Lincoln began his campaign for the education of conservatives with [his] reply to Reverdy Johnson’s protest against the policies of General Phelps. The people of Louisiana, he wrote, knew full well the remedy for the general’s presence: it was simply to take their place within the Union upon the old terms.” 20 Indirectly, Lincoln “expressed his support for General Phelps,” noted Peyton McCrary. 21 Indirectly, Lincoln also supported the use of former slaves as soldiers — although that spring he had ruled against such a policy when General David Hunter unilaterally acted to recruit black contrabands in South Carolina in May 1862. In his reply to Reverdy Johnson, Lincoln expressed his skepticism about moderating military rule and gave his realistic appraisal of the civil situation in Louisiana. He also referenced a letter from Thomas J. Durant, a Unionist who would play an important and problematic role in Louisiana politics during Lincoln’s administration:

“The copy of a letter addressed to yourself by Mr. Thomas J. Durant, has been shown to me. The writer appears to be an able, a dispassionate, and an entirely sincerely man. The first part of the letter is devoted to an effort to show that the Secession Ordinance in Louisiana was adopted against the will of a majority of the people. This is probably true; and in that fact may be found some instruction. Why did they allow the Ordinance to go into effect? Why did they not assert themselves? Why stand passive and allow themselves to be trodden down by a minority? Why did they not hold popular meetings, and have a convention of their own, to express and enforce the true sentiment of the state? The paralysis — the dead palsy — of the government in this whole struggle is, that this class of men will do nothing for themselves, except demanding that the government shall not strike its open enemies, lest they be struck by accident!”
Mr Durant complains that in various ways the relation of master and slave is disturbed by the presence of our Army; and he considers it particularly vexatious that this, in part, is done under cover of an act of Congress, while constitutional guaranties are suspended on the plea of military necessity. The truth is, that what is done, and omitted, about slaves, is done and omitted on the same military necessity. It is a military necessity to have men and money; and we can get neither, in sufficient numbers, or amounts, if we keep from, or drive from, our lines, slaves coming to them. Mr. Durant cannot be ignorant of the pressure in this direction; nor of my efforts to hold it within bounds till he, and such as he shall have time to help themselves.
I am not posted to speak understandingly on all the police regulations of which Mr. Durant complains. If experience shows any one of them to be wrong, let them to be set right. I think I can perceive, in the freedom of trade, which Mr. Durant urges, that he would relieve both friends and enemies from the pressure of the blockade. By this he would serve the enemy more effectively than the enemy is able to serve himself. I do not say or believe that to serve the enemy is the purpose of Mr. Durant; or that he is conscious of any purpose of Mr. Durant; or that he is conscious of any purpose, other than national and patriotic ones. Still, if there were a class of men who, having no choice of sides in the contest, were anxious only to have quiet and comfort for themselves while it rages, and to fall in with the victorious side at the end of it, without loss to themselves, their advice as to the mode of conducting the contest would be precisely such as his is. He speaks of no duty — apparently thinks of none — resting upon Union men. He even thinks it injurious to the Union cause that they should be restrained in trade and passage without taking sides. They are to touch neither a sail nor a pump, but to be merely passengers, — dead-heads at that — to be carried snug and dry, throughout the storm, and safely landed right side up. Nay, more; even a mutineer is to go untouched lest these sacred passengers receive an accidental wound.
Of course the rebellion will never be suppressed in Louisiana, if the professed Union men there will neither help to do it, nor permit the government to do it without their help.
Now, I think the true remedy is very different from what is suggested by Mr. Durant. It does not lie in rounding the rough angles of the war, but in removing the necessity for the war. The people of Louisiana who wish protection to person and property, have but to reach forth their hands and take it. Let them, in good faith, reinaugurate the national authority, and set up a State Government conforming thereto under the constitution. They know how to do it, and can have the protection of the Army while doing it. The Army will be withdrawn so soon as such State government can dispense with its presence, and the people of the State can then upon the old Constitutional terms, govern themselves to their own liking. This is very simple and easy.
If they will not do this, if they prefer to hazard all for the sake of destroying the government, it is for them to consider whether it is probable I will surrender the government save them from losing all. If they decline what I suggest, you scarcely need to ask what I will do. What would you do in my position? Would you drop the war where it is? Or, would you prosecute it in future, with elder-stalk squirts, charged with rose water? Would you deal lighter blows rather than heavier ones? Would you give up the contest, leaving any available means unapplied.
I am in boastful mood. I shall not do more than I can, and I shall do all I can to save the government, which is my sworn duty as well as my personal inclination. I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing.22

As early as mid-1862, President Lincoln was beginning to contemplate the reconstruction of Louisiana as a Union state. At the same time he was contemplating the emancipation of slaves in rebel-held areas. Historian Peyton McCrary wrote: “It is… significant that the President entrusted his responses to Johnson and Durant to the hands of Secretary [of the Treasury Salmon P.] Chase — who had encouraged a policy of quietly authorizing commanders in the field to enlist black regiments — with instructions to forward the letters through General Butler.” Chase wrote Butler: “I have heard intimations from the President that it may possibly become necessary, in order to keep the river open below Memphis to convert the heavy black population of its banks into defenders.” Under subtle pressure from the administration in Washington and the clear realities of his military situation in Louisiana, Butler began to see the necessity to arm black soldiers to fight. One local observer suggested that Butler merely wanted “the credit for doing it himself, and in his own way.” 23 In early September 1863, Butler reported to Stanton on his recruiting efforts in Louisiana: “I shall also have within ten days a Regiment 1000 strong of Native Guards (Colored), the darkest of whom will be about the complexion of the late Mr. Webster.” On September 27, the 1st Regiment Louisiana Native Guards were officially mustered in.” 24 By early October, a New York Times reporter observed that the Native Guards bore “their bayoneted muskets proudly, marching down Camp Street, in charge of some half-dozen prisoners of their own color. As trifling as these things appear to the superficial observer, they really mark momentous eras in the history of this revolution.”25

Lincoln himself would gradually scramble the opposition in Louisiana and shift his position on arming freed blacks — especially after he issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase wrote in his diary at the end of August 1863: “In the afternoon the President came in with letters from Generals Grant and Banks in relation to the arming of negro troops, and read them to me. Gen. Banks stated that he had already about 12,000 in about 25 regiments of 500 each, which number he regarded as most likely to secure good discipline and drill, and the greatest efficiency of the regiments when filled to their maximum, which he expected to accomplish by degrees. He tho’t he had now organized about all the blacks who could be obtained till a larger extent of country should be occupied. Gen. Grant’s was much to the same effect, except that he did not contemplate any other original organization as to numbers than that of the white regiments, nor did he specify the numbers actually enlisted. Both Generals express confidence in the efficiency of these troops and clear opinions in favor of using them. These letters gave much satisfaction to the President, and I suggested to him that not only was the public sentiment of the loyal people of Louisiana in favor of negro troops, but also in favor of the revocation of the exception in his Proclamation of the two Districts, including New Orleans, from its operation, and told him that some weeks ago, after talking with him on this subject, tho’ more particularly in reference to excepted Virginia Districts, I had prepared the draft of a Proclamation revoking the exceptions, which, with his permission, I would hand it to him. He received it kindly, and said he would consider it further.” 26
 

Nathaniel Banks’ Regime

Lincoln had written Reverdy Johnson: “Broken eggs cannot be mended.” In the fall of 1862, General Butler seemed to break too many eggs on too many issues although he had begun the process of mobilizing Union sentiment in New Orleans and its environs. 27 “Lincoln believed that Butler’s no-nonsense approach and blunt manner had impeded the emergence of Unionist sentiment among the citizens of New Orleans,” wrote historian James G. Hollandsworth, Jr. 28 Butler was, as usual, a lightning rod for controversy and President Lincoln wanted someone less controversial to run the Union beachhead on the Mississippi River. Lincoln decided to replace Butler with General Nathaniel Banks, another ambitious political general from Massachusetts who seemed to have less penchant for controversy than Butler. Hollandsworth wrote: “Banks’ assignment to New Orleans was a reflection of Lincoln’s appreciation of his loyalty to the administration as well as his ability to avoid the political intrigues that had sidetracked such of his fellow officers as Frémont and McClellan….Lincoln had plans for Louisiana, for it was there that he would experiment with a strategy to coax seceded states back into the Union. Thus the assignment was a vote of confidence in Banks’s political expertise.” 29

President Lincoln employed a kindly, paternal but firm approach to his generals — as evidenced by this letter prodding a slow-moving Banks in late November 1862 before he departed for Louisiana:

“Early last week you left me in high hope with your assurance that you would off with your expedition at the end of that week, or early in this. It is now the end of this, and I have just been overwhelmed and confounded with the sight of a requisition made by you, which, I am assured, can not be filled, and got off within an hour short of two months! I inclose you a copy of the requisition, in some hope that it is not genuine — that you have never seen it.”
“My dear General, this expanding, and piling up of impedimenta, have been, so far, almost our ruin, and will be our final ruin if it is not abandoned. If you had the articles of this requisition upon the wharf, with the necessary animals to make them of any use, and forage for the animals, you could not get vessels together in two weeks to carry the whole, to say nothing of your twenty thousand men; and, having, the vessels, you could not put the cargoes aboard in two weeks more. And, after all, where you are going, you have no use for them. When you parted with me, you had no such idea in your mind. I know you had not, or you could not have expected to be off so soon as you said. You must get back to something like the plan you had then, or expedition is a failure before you start. You must be off before Congress meets. You would be better off any where, and especially where you are going, for not having a thousand wagons, doing nothing but hauling forage to feed the animals that draw them, and taking at least two thousand men to care for the wagons and animals, who otherwise might be two thousand good soldiers.”
“Now dear General, do not think this is an ill-natured letter — it is the very reverse. The simple publication of this requisition would ruin you.” 30

Upon arrival in New Orleans in December 1862, General Banks grandly declared to the residents of Louisiana: “People of the South-west! Why not accept the conditions imposed by the imperious necessity of geographical configuration, and re-establish your ancient prosperity and renown? Why not become the founders of a state which as the entrepots and depots of your own central, and upper valley, may stand in the affluence of their resources without superior and in the privileges of the people, without a peer among the nations of the earth?”31 Historian Stephen B. Oates observed: “Though Louisiana was still rife with political dissension, Banks set about restoring the state as Lincoln directed.” 32 But like Butler, Banks encountered more problems in Louisiana than he expected. Banks was caught between competing interests and conflicting opinions. Historian John Rose Ficklen wrote that “his clemency seems at first to have encouraged some disorder in New Orleans, thereby justifying in the eyes of many the severity of Butler. In any case, he suspended until further orders all confiscation of property; and after consulting with Butler he released a number of political prisoners whom Butler had incarcerated in the forts of Louisiana.” 33 Historian David Work noted that Banks had to perform a wide variety of non-military duties: “These included the assessment of taxes and fines, regulation of charities and churches, conduct of trade, and working of plantations. The political general whined to Halleck that ‘the precise nature of the duties devolving upon me…were not explained to me in detail.'”34

Banks liked being a general, but he was never effective in leading troops in the field; he had performed poorly in the Shenandoah Valley campaign in the spring of 1862 in Virginia. “Bank’s main contribution during the war was to use his prominence to gather support for the war effort and the administration’s policies,” wrote historian Thomas J.Goss.35 In Louisiana, Banks proved less controversial but not much more effective than Butler. Banks had troubles with General George F. Shepley, a former Democratic politician from Maine who had been appointed military governor of Louisiana in the summer of 1862 when Shepley was still a colonel and Butler was still the Union commander. “The timid Shepley proved a disappointment,” wrote historian Michael Burlingame, “for he regarded himself as Butler’s agent rather than a policymaker in his own wright.” 36 Lincoln wanted action but neither civil nor military authorities were prepared to act in the way that he expected until 1864.37

General Banks, however, had more incentive to act than did Shepley. The former Massachusetts governor and speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives had political ambitions. John Rose Ficklen noted that Banks “was a born politician, and delighted in the holding of elections and the issuing of wordy proclamations marked by a certain eloquence.” 38 Historian Joseph G. Dawson wrote that Banks knew that if he “were successful both militarily and politically, the resulting fame would enhance his chances for high national office, perhaps even the presidency. Banks’s desire to control reconstruction placed him directly at loggerheads with… Shepley, who believed that everything of a political nature was his responsibility.” 39 Historian William C. Harris maintained that Banks employed all of his considerable persuasive skills and prewar political connections on behalf of the Louisiana government, its representatives in Washington, and, generally, Lincoln’s Southern policy.” 40 But Banks’ skills felt short of managing the internecine politics of Louisiana, relationships with his subordinates, and the suspicious politics of Washington.
 

Work-Labor

Even before General Banks assumed command in Louisiana, President Lincoln was concerned with the status and employment of former slaves in the state which might form a model for his policy elsewhere. In November 1862, President Lincoln wrote General Butler: “I was much interested by the information…that some of the planters were making arrangements with their negroes to pay them wages. Please write me to what extent, so far as you know this is being done.” 41 Some action to help the former slaves (dubbed “contrabands” by Butler in 1861) was desperately needed. “When he arrived in New Orleans in December 1862, Banks had found the contrabands in a pitiable condition, crowded into filthy camps and huts, living on half-rations handed out by the army,” wrote historian James M. McPherson. “Banks’ officers encouraged the Negroes to go to work for their old masters. The order regulated the wage scale by ability up to $10 a month, and stipulated that payment of half the wages would be reserved until the end of the year. Workers were promised ‘just treatment, healthy rations, comfortable clothing, quarters, fuel, medical attendance, and instruction for children.'” Their freedom of movement, however, was heavily restricted.42

Banks worked quickly on this plan for employment of former slaves. It was released on January 30, 1863. Historian David Work wrote: “Banks’s plan…was far more detailed than Butler’s and set the basic guidelines followed for the rest of the war and immediate post-war period. Blacks, unless they had a job in town, must work on a plantation. They could choose their own employers but were required to sign a contract and work for one year with whomever they signed….Other benefits included rations, medical treatment, schooling for their children, quarters, fuel, and a garden plot of at least one acre. Furthermore, the regulations outlawed physical abuse of any kind and established the work period as dawn to dusk.” 43 The humane aspects of the Banks’ plan were lost in criticism of its rigidity and employment of former slaves by former slavemasters. Historian William C. Harris wrote that “the general’s opponents in New Orleans bombarded their abolition friends in the North with charges that Banks had sold out to the ‘slavocrats.’ Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, as well as other Radical newspapers, gave prominence to these charges.”44

General Banks’ labor policies were controversial both in Louisiana and the North. Banks himself understood the system and its overseers were flawed. Banks biographer Fred H. Harrington noted that “plantation overseers [were] uncooperative. Colonel George H. Hanks, chosen to supervise the system, proved incompetent or worse. His successor, Chaplain Thomas W. Conway, showed more zeal than tact. The…provost marshals, who administered the rules, were even less satisfactory. Some were venal and cruel, and many favored the plantation against the laborers.” Virtually no one liked the labor system — especially black Louisianans. Historian Harrington wrote that Banks hoped for a positive northern reaction for his efforts: “He hoped to have it said that he had ably managed the transition from a slave to a free economy.” 45 Instead, noted historian Brooks D. Simpson, “Louisiana radicals argued that under the current regime black rights enjoyed insufficient protection, and Banks’s labor policy lent credibility to these complaints. In attempting to frame measures that served short-term wartime interests, including the revival of the local economy, the wooing of white planters, and a prevailing desire for order, the general also was defining a rather limited notion of freedom.” 46 Foner wrote that many Republicans “doubted that the freedpeople, having been reduced to a state of ‘infantile weakness and inexperience’ by slavery, could be expected to compete immediately as free laborers.” 47

Lincoln himself made no public comment on Banks’ plan. Historian James M. McPherson wrote: “Lincoln supported the general’s policy, and it was not substantially changed until after the end of the war.” 48 Historian Richard Striner argued that Lincoln tried to stay out of the contract labor controversy. Striner noted: “Lincoln wished to make his role in Louisiana politics appear to be minimal in order that the free-state movement should appear to be a massive insurgency, which it was not.” 49 Historian William C. Harris wrote: “The president’s main interest lay with the reorganization of Louisiana’s government and the acceptance of the state’s representatives in Congress.”50

Banks was in fact an opponent of slavery, telling Louisiana residents: “The first gun at Fort Sumter proclaimed emancipation.” Historian Caskey added that “the state courts under Banks had definitely fixed the status of the negroes in October, 1863, by handing down decisions to the effect that their masters could no longer keep them in a state of bondage.”51 Despite criticism, wrote historian Herman Belz, Bank’s “labor system…was Banks’s main achievement with regard to the freedmen, and with Negro rights and protection becoming an issue and with a large number of Louisiana Negroes demanding the right to vote, it was not likely that he would sympathize with the radical answer to such questions.” 52 Historian Eric Foner observed: “At its peak, Banks’s system involved some 50,000 laborers on nearly 1,500 estates, working either directly for the government or for individual planters under contracts supervised by the army.”53

Unhappiness about Union policies regarding free blacks persisted throughout Banks’ tenure in Louisiana. Eric Foner noted that the problem “complicated discussions of Reconstruction.”54 Historian Philip Shaw Paludan wrote that in early 1864, “the most outspoken blacks in New Orleans were listing curfews and restrictions on travel as signs that ‘all the important prohibition imposed upon the slave, are also enforced against the freedmen.’ Some were beginning to reach out for the hands of former slaves. ‘We regard all black and colored men as fellow sufferers,’ one of the gens de couleur announced at a December 1864 mass meeting. They asked Gen. Stephen Hurlbut, commanding in Banks’s absence, to change the restrictions, but Hurlbut renewed them in March 1865.” Paludan noted that Hurlbut “and his superior, General [Edward R.] Canby, had minimal interest in black liberty and saw the civilian government as an obstacle to their basic business of maintaining order.55 Canby was named military commander of the Division of West Mississippi in May 1864 and thus was Hurlbut’s nominal superior when Banks left Louisiaian for consultations in Washington. Hurlbut was even more reluctant than his predecessors to liberate black Louisianans economically. Historian Jeffrey N. Lash wrote that “Hurlbut’s General Orders No. 23 succeeded in integrating elements of the previous contract labor systems of Butler and Banks and in establishing comprehensive and coherent regulations for a closely coordinated and systematic labor program… It deprived black plantation workers of their freedom of work, freedom of contract and freedom to negotiate wages of regular payments.” In place of the equitable wage system that Butler and Banks set, Hurlbut instituted a tiered wage system and tried to restrict former slaves to their previous plantations.”56

While far from ideal, the Butler-Banks plan had some underappreciated benefits that improved the economic lives of freed blacks. Banks biographer Fred H. Harrington wrote that “Banks saved lives by removing contrabands from pest-hole camps. While slavery survived in law, he gave Negroes some privileges of freedom….Many had a choice of employer; all had government-guaranteed contracts. Working hours seldom exceeded the maxima set down in the regulations, cruel punishments became less common.”57 Historian Edna Green Medford wrote: “By August 1863 in some areas of Union-occupied Louisiana…unsupervised blacks gained possession of horses and mules and purportedly terrorized surrounding plantations.” 58 Foner noted:”By 1864…Lincoln was moving toward the idea (anticipated in the Emancipation Proclamation) that former slaves should immediately go to work to free laborers under equitable conditions.”59 He cited a letter than President Lincoln sent to an attorney in Arkansas to advocate a free labor system there:

“You have enquired how the government would regard and treat cases wherein the owners of plantations, in Arkansas, for instance, might fully recognize the freedom of those formerly slaves, and by fair contracts of hire with them, re-commence the cultivation of their plantations. I answer I should regard such cases with great favor, and should, as the principle, treat them precisely as I would treat the same number of free white people in the same relation and condition. Whether white or black, reasonable effort should be made to give government protection. In neither case should the giving of aid and comfort to the rebellion, or other practices injurious to the government, be allowed on such plantations; and in either, the government would claim the right to take if necessary those of proper ages and conditions into the military service. Such plan must not be used to break up existing leases or arrangements of abandoned plantations which the government may have made to give employment and sustenance to the idle and destitute people. With the foregoing qualifications and explanations, and in view of it’s tendency to advance freedom, and restore peace and prosperity, such hireing and employment of the freed people, would be regarded by me with rather especial favor.”

In a postscript, President Lincoln added: “To be more specific I add that all the Military, and others acting by authority of the United States, are to favor and facilitate the introduction and carrying forward, in good faith, the free-labor system as above indicated, by allowing the necessary supplies therefor to be procured and taken to the proper points, and by doing and forbearing whatever will advance it; provided that existing military and trade regulations be not transcended thereby. I shall be glad to learn that planters adopting this system shall have employed one so zealous and active as yourself to act as an agent in relation thereto.” 60
 

Politics in Louisiana

While questions about the status of freed black slaves in Louisiana continued throughout his presidency, Lincoln in 1862 began pressing for political reconstruction of the state even as Banks was replacing Butler. In October, Lincoln sent a letter to Generals Butler and Shepley through former Louisiana Congressman John E. Bouligny, who had stayed in Washington when his state had seceded. Lincoln wanted to test the impact of his draft Emancipation Proclamation. He wrote that Bouligny “goes to that State seeking to have such of the people thereof as desire to avoid the unsatisfactory prospect before them, and to have peace again upon the old terms under the constitution of the United States, to manifest such desire by elections of members to the Congress of the United States particularly, and perhaps a legislature, State officers, and United States Senators friendly to their object. I shall be glad for you and each of you, to aid him and all others acting for this object, as much as possible. In all available ways give the people a chance to express their wishes at these elections. Follow forms of law as far as convenient, but at all events get the expression of the largest number of the people possible — All see how such action will connect with, and affect the proclamation of September 22nd. Of course the men elected should be gentlemen of character, willing to swear support to the constitution, as of old, and known to be above reasonable suspicion of duplicity.”61

In November 1862, President Lincoln wrote Military Governor Shepley that he was annoyed that “nothing had been done about congressional elections.” He wrote that if necessary Shepley should “fix these things for them by proclamation. And do not waste a day about it; but, fix the election day early enough that we can hear about the result here by the first of January.”62 Accordingly, Shepley set December 3 for an election for congressional seats — prior to Banks’ arrival in the state. Military historian Joseph G. Dawson III wrote that outgoing General “Butler encouraged loyal voters to support to proadministration candidates.” One was Michael Hahn, a German-born lawyer, “who first gained public prominence in the 1850s as a vigorous opponent of secession,” wrote his biographers. 63 The other was an ally of Secretary Chase, Benjamin F. Flanders, a New Hampshire native and New Orleans politician and railroad executive. 64 John Rose Ficklen noted that the election turnout “was certainly an evidence that the Union party was growing.”65 Shortly after their election, Hahn and Flanders left for Washington. Historian Willie Malvin Caskey wrote: “Both were, according to the Unionist organ, expected to ‘sustain Lincoln in every measure, which proposes, which has for its end the salvation of the Union. This organ also reflected their attitude towards emancipation and the disposition of the negro, when it continued: ‘They will do this [support Lincoln] at any cost — not excepting the freedom of every slave in America.'” 66 After an extended debate on the House floor on the legitimacy of their election, Hahn and Flanders were duly seated by a 92-44 vote in the House. Historian John Hope Franklin noted: “With representatives in Congress even for a few months during the war, Louisiana’s position was unique. In general, Confederate states had no congressmen in Washington.”67 Future president and current Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee was the rare exception.

The new congressmen were not secure in their positions, however. Phillip Shaw Paludan wrote: “Congressmen were troubled when Hahn and Flanders arrived, chiefly over the legality and hence the legitimate authority for forming governments in the South.”68 Congress and President Lincoln were engaged in a tug of war about how tough to make the reintegration of former Confederate states and who would control the process. “The admission of Louisiana representatives was a signal victory for the Lincoln administration,” wrote historian Herman Belz.”69 Congressman James G. Blaine wrote that “the admission of Messrs. Flanders and Hahn to seats in the House of Representatives had to a certain degree misled him as to the temper and tendency of Congress on the whole subject of re-establishing civil government in the insurrectionary States. During the year 1862 when the original movements were made in Louisiana, the military situation grew so critical and so discouraging that the Administration had no time for the consideration of any other subject than the raising of men and money.” Blaine wrote: “The Union men in Louisiana had been so encouraged by the admission of Flanders and Hahn to seats in Congress, that they were active during the year 1863 in maturing schemes for re-establishing a loyal State government.” 70 But as Union men in Louisiana debated and dawdled, opposition in Congress strengthened against presidential reconstruction plans.

As he was wrestling with problems in Louisiana, Lincoln was also preparing the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation which he issued on January 1, 1863. Interior Secretary John Palmer Usher recalled one part of the cabinet discussion concerning what areas of the South were to be exempted from emancipation because they were already under Union control:

“When the parts of the proclamation containing the exception from its operation of States and parts of States were considered, Mr. Montgomery Blair spoke of the importance of the proclamation as a state paper, and said that persons in after times, in seeking correct information of the occurrences of those times, would read and wonder why the thirteen parishes and the City of New Orleans in Louisiana, and the counties in Virginia about Norfolk were excepted from the proclamation; they were in the ‘very heart and back of slavery,’ and unless there was some good reason which was then unknown to him, he hoped they would not be excepted.”
“Mr. Seward said: ‘I think so, too; I think they should not be excepted.'”
“Mr. Lincoln replied: ‘Well, upon first view your objections are clearly good; but after I issued the proclamation of September 22, Mr. [John Edward] Bouligny, of Louisiana, then here, came to see me. He was a great invalid, and had scarcely the strength to walk up stairs. He wanted to know of me if these parishes in Louisiana and New Orleans should hold an election, and elect Members of Congress, whether I would not except them from this proclamation. I told him I would.'”
“Continuing, he said: ‘No, I did not do that in so many words; if he was here now he could not repeat any words I said which would amount to an absolute promise. But I know he understood me that way, and that is just the same to me. They have elected members, and they are here now, Union men, ready to take their seats, and they have elected a Union man from the Norfolk district.'”
“Mr. Blair said: ‘If you have a promise out, I will not ask you to break it.'”
“Seward said: ‘No, no. We would not have you do that.'”
“Mr. Chase then said: ‘Very true, they have elected Hahn and Flanders, but they have not yet got their seats, and it is not certain that they will.'”
“Mr. Lincoln rose from his seat, apparently irritated, and walked rapidly back and forth, across the room. Looking over his shoulder at Mr. Chase, he said: ‘There it is sir. I am to be bullied by Congress, am I? If I do I’ll be durned.”71

Lincoln wanted reconstruction in Louisiana to move forward expeditiously. Historian Don E. Fehrenbacher, wrote that “Lincoln’s reconstruction policies…reflected not only his perception of what was desirable but also his estimate of what was possible. His personal values and beliefs were almost always immersed in political strategy. It is therefore difficult to separate Lincoln the leader from Lincoln the acquiescer and confirmer — difficult to determine, for instance, whether he or Banks was the chief architect of presidential reconstruction in Louisiana.”72 In early August 1863, President Lincoln wrote General Banks a letter which historian Ficklen suggested “showed the president was on [the] side” of the Free State Party. He also understood that he could not dictate policy and implementation from Washington. “As an anti-slavery man I have a motive to desire emancipation, which pro-slavery men do not have,” Lincoln began.

“Being a poor correspondent is the only apology I offer for not having sooner tendered my thanks for your very successful, and very valuable military operations this year. The final stroke in opening the Mississippi never should, and I think never will, be forgotten…”
“[Former Massachusetts] Governor [George S.] Boutwell read me to-day that part of your letter to him, which relates to Louisiana affairs. While I very well know what I would be glad for Louisiana to do, it is quite a different thing for me to assume direction of the matter. I would be glad for her to make a new Constitution recognizing the emancipation proclamation, and adopting emancipation in those parts of the state to which the proclamation does not apply. And while she is at it, I think it would not be objectionable for her to adopt some practical system by which the two races could gradually live themselves out of their old relation to each other, and both come out better prepared for the new. Education for young blacks should be included in the plan. After all, the power, or element, of ‘contract’ may be sufficient for this probationary period; and, by it’s simplicity, and flexibility, may be the better.”
“As an anti-slavery man I have a motive to desire emancipation, which pro-slavery men do not have; but even they have strong enough reason to thus place themselves again under the shield of the Union; and to thus perpetually hedge against the recurrence of the scenes through which we are now passing.”
“Gov. Shepley has informed me that Mr. Durant is now taking a registry, with a view to the election of a Constitutional convention in Louisiana. This, to me, appears proper. If such convention were to ask my views, I could present little else than what I now say to you. I think the thing should be pushed forward, so that if possible, it’s mature work may reach here by the meeting of Congress.”
“For my own part I think I shall not, in any event, retract the emancipation proclamation; nor, as executive, ever return to slavery any person who is free by the terms of that proclamation, or by any of the acts of Congress.”
“If Louisiana shall send members to Congress, their admission to seats will depend, as you know, upon the respective Houses, and not upon the President.”
“If these views can be of any advantage in giving shape, and impetus, to action there, I shall be glad for you to use them prudently for that object. Of course you will confer with intelligent and trusty citizens of the State, among whom I would suggest Messrs. Flanders, Hahn, and Durant; and to each of whom I now think I may send copies of this letter. Still it is perhaps better to not make the letter generally public.”73

Reconstruction in Louisiana continued to be beset by conflicts among Louisiana Unionists and conflicts among Union officials. Reorganization efforts were especially hampered by conflicts between General Banks and the Free State General Committee headed by Thomas J. Durant, the radical attorney whose letter had prompted Lincoln’s comments in the summer of 1862. “Throughout 1862 and 1863,” wrote historian Herman Belz, “Lincoln relied on the Free State General Committee to reorganize a loyal government and supported its plan for a new state constitution prohibiting slavery.” 74 Someone needed to take charge of reconstruction efforts but it was unclear who had the responsibility during 1863. A large part of the problem was the conduct of the military governor, General George Shepley, and the division of authority between Banks and Shepley, who had been appointed to his post in mid-1862 when Butler was his boss and friend. Banks left civilian issues in Shepley’s hands while he concentrated on military affairs. Historian David Work wrote: “The military governor had power over the provost marshals, parish police, juries, schools, court system, and basic state government functions. Butler and Shepley cooperated, but Banks’s arrival ended the harmony that existed between the military governor and the commander of the Department of the Gulf.” 75 On the other hand, noted historian Michael Burlingame, Banks had his hands full: “With Banks distracted by military concerns, Shepley was left to carry out these presidential directives. Upon learning that the governor had not done so, Lincoln scolded Banks.” 76 But Banks had his problems. Historian Fred H. Harrington wrote that Shepley was “inefficient and indisposed to cooperate with Banks. So, for that matter, were other radicals, those in the Treasury, in the courts, and on the Free State General Committee. What was more, these radicals desired to start reconstruction with a constitutional convention, thus putting off election of state officials.”77

Shepley and the Free State Committee showed no sense of urgency in reconstructing the state. Historian Frederick W. Moore wrote: “During the spring, summer and fall of 1863, Military Governor Shepley and his attorney-general, Mr. T. J. Durant, were working, though with great dilatoriness, on a scheme to call a convention to revise the Constitution and organize a state government, taking the ground that the reorganization of the state government must precede the election of congressmen. The opposition elements desired to hold an election; but Governor Shepley would not call it, nor would General Banks interfere. In the opposition, however, were two very different factions: the pro-slavery party, which looked upon the Constitution of 1852, including the slavery clauses, as active in New Orleans and the other parts of the state excepted in the Emancipation Proclamation; and an abolition, universal-suffrage party.”78

During 1863, some Louisiana political factions took their cases directly to the White House. On June 19, for example, three conservative Louisiana planters including Thomas Cottman, whom historian LaWanda Cox wrote “had worked closely with Lincoln in his 1862 effort to reorganize Louisiana,” came to the White House with a petition to hold an election in November. 79 “The undersigned, a committee appointed by the Planters of the State of Louisiana, respectfully represent, that they have been delegated to seek of the General Government a full recognition of all the rights of the State as they existed previous to the passage of an act of secession, upon the principle of the existence of the State Constitution unimpaired, and no legal act having transpired that could in any way deprive them of the advantages conferred by that Constitution. Under this Constitution the State wishes to return to its full allegiance, in the enjoyment of all rights and privileges exercised by the other States under the Federal Constitution. With the view of accomplishing the desired object, we farther request that your Excellency will as Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the United States direct the Military Governor of Louisiana to order an election in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the State, on the first Monday of November next, for all State and Federal officers.”80

“Cottman judged that the President’s position on the persisting de jure authority of the federal constitution within the rebel states, and his exclusion of Louisiana parishes from the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation, meant that Lincoln would be in sympathy with the planters’ wish to see the state ‘return to its full allegiance’ under the existing constitution,” wrote historian Richard Carwardine. “Lincoln, however, was in no mind to fall in line. He made the delegation wait until only Cottman remained in Washington.” 81 In his response to the planters, President Lincoln showed that he understood that they represented a small portion of Union sentiment in Louisiana and that he would not be locked in their scheme based on the old state constitution: “Since receiving the letter, reliable information has reached me that a respectable portion of the Louisiana people desire to amend their State Constitution, and contemplate holding a Convention for that object. This fact alone, as it seems to me, is a sufficient reason why the general government should not give the committal you seek, to the existing State Constitution. I may add that while I do not perceive how such committal could facilitate our military operations in Louisiana, I really apprehend it might be so used as to embarrass them.” He added: “As to an election to be held next November, there is abundant time, without any order, or proclamation from me just now. The people of Louisiana shall not lack an opportunity of a fair election for both Federal and State officers, by want of anything within my power to give them.”82
 

Problems with Shepley

Meanwhile, however, action to reconstitute a civil government in Louisiana was stalled. Shepley wanted direct guidance while Lincoln wanted the military governor to exercise his own judgement and initiative. On June 6, 1863, Michael Hahn wrote President Lincoln: “The Union people of this State (except, of course, office-holders) are all in favor of a re-organization of a loyal state government. The only question on which they are divided is as to whether a new Constitution should be made, or the old Constitution of 1852 adhered to. Those in favor of a Convention and a new Constitution are the more radical or free-soil Union men, and expect to succeed in making a free-soil Constitution. Others, whose interests are in the institution of slavery and who desire to preserve that institution are strongly opposed to a new Constitution and are satisfied with the Constitution of 1852, which unjustly gives the country parishes a very large preponderance over the city in the number of members of the legislature. I do not know which side will obtain the favor of Gov. Shepley. I suppose he will wait for instructions from you. I think he has already written to you for them.”83

On June 12, General Shepley issued orders for voter registration in the state — along with a mandatory loyalty oath for voters. Still, Shepley looked for guidance from Secretary of War Stanton and went to Washington in search of it. Historian William C. Harris wrote: “On August 24 [1863] Secretary of War Stanton sent instructions to Shepley, who had returned to New Orleans, regarding the work to be done. Stanton informed the general that the instructions came from the president, but in their transmittal he ignored Lincoln’s repeated promise not to dictate regarding Louisiana reconstruction. The war secretary directed — not advised — Shepley to hold an election for delegates to a constitutional convention.” 84 Stanton wrote General Shepley:

“Information has reached this Department that the loyal citizens of Louisiana desire to form a new State constitution and to re-establish civil government in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States. To aid them in that purpose the President directs the following instructions to be given you.”
“First. You will cause a registration to be made in each parish in the State of Louisiana of all the loyal citizens of the United States in the parish as soon as it can conveniently be done after the people are relieved from the presence of the rebel troops and included within the lines occupied by the armies of the United States. This registration to include only such as shall have taken or shall take an oath of allegiance to the United States, accompanied by a declaration that the oath was taken freely and voluntarily for the purpose of reorganizing a State government in Louisiana loyal to the United States.”
“Second. When this registration is made, as far as practicable, you will order an election to be held, on a day fixed, not less than thirty days from the date of the proclamation of such election, for delegates to a convention of the loyal people of the State for the purpose of forming a constitution and re-establishing a civil government in the State loyal to the United States and in conformity with the Federal Constitution and laws, and for the passage of all needful ordinances and laws.”
“Third. This convention will be called on a basis of representation which shall allow one delegate for every 2,500 of the loyal citizens aforesaid in each parish, as shown by the census of 1860, giving at least one delegate to each parish and one delegate for each fraction of people in any parish over 1,250.”
“Fourth. You are authorized to appoint the officers necessary to complete such registry, to preside at the elections, to receive, sort, count, and make returns to you of the votes and of the persons elected. The returns will be opened by yon and you will make proclamation of the persons elected, notifying them to appear at the time and place of holding the convention.”85

About a constitution and elections, however, Lincoln continued to be impatient. Lincoln recognized that Louisiana was a political and constitutional mine field. Historian Richard Striner wrote: “Lincoln’s reasons for exercising caution in Louisiana were complex, but the gist of his reasoning was simple: Lincoln had reason to believe in the summer and early fall of 1863 that Louisiana Unionists stood a good chance of redrafting the state’s constitution to make it a free state. The new state of West Virginia was admitted to the Union as a free state on June 20, 1863. In terms of constitutional politics, the growth of the free-state bloc was of paramount importance to Lincoln.”86 The Union Association gave birth to the “Free State Party” which pushed for a constitutional convention. Historian Willie Malvin Caskey wrote that the Free State Party “contended that slavery was dead, and that a convention should frame a constitution that would meet the needs of the new conditions, and would at the same time provide for a “Free State,’ according to the stricter interpretation of the term.” Political movement towards a constitution bogged down in the summer of 1863 as factionalism stifled progress. Caskey wrote: “General Banks evidently preferred not to act with undue haste. He proceeded on the assumption that the factions must fight out the issues among themselves, so that the stronger would emerge. And this is precisely what happened, for they adopted the policy, not of trying to reconcile differences, but of inaugurating a campaign to discredit each other, if possible, in the esteem of the administration.”87

Another problem for President Lincoln was provisional Attorney General Thomas J. Durant, who took an erratic approach to legal changes in Louisiana and failed to coordinate his activities with Banks and Shepley. Historian Michael Burlingame blamed the disruption of Union forces on Durant, whom he described as “the tall, emaciated, dyspeptic head of Louisiana’s Free State Committee.” Durant was a former Douglas Democrat and slaveholder turned abolitionist who worked against “the president’s Reconstruction policy,” according to Burlingame. Like Shepley, Durant did not work well with Banks. Unlike Shepley, he wanted an extensive change in Louisiana’s constitution. Burlingame wrote: “In an excess of injured self-esteem, Durant became an implacable and highly effective foe of Lincoln’s plan. If Banks had handled Durant with more tact, Lincoln’s Reconstruction policy might have worked.”88 Banks biographer James G. Hollandsworth, Jr., blamed Banks. He wrote that “Durant was eager to follow through on Lincoln’s directive, but Banks was not. In part, Banks was distracted during the fall of 1863 with his grand design to wrest control of Texas from the Confederates by lodging a series of armed enclaves along the coast. But there was more to his hesitancy than the distractions of a military campaign. Nathaniel P. Banks had become disenchanted with Thomas Jefferson Durant.” Hollandsworth wrote that “Durant’s view [of the future of Louisiana] was much more radical than what Banks had in mind. Rather than favoring a state government composed of Unionists drawn from the ranks of the old planter elite, Durant was committed to a complete restructuring of the southern way of life.”89 Once again, political difference in Louisiana stymied reconstruction.

One issue which Durant championed was black suffrage. Durant wrote Treasury Secretary Chase in early December 1863 to say that extending the franchise to free-born blacks would be “an act well founded in justice.” Chase, contemplating a challenge to President Lincoln at the 1864 Republican national convention, encouraged Durant’s endorsement of black suffrage. The differences between Chase and Lincoln can be overdrawn, however. Burlingame wrote that “in later 1863 and early 1864, Chase and Lincoln saw virtually eye to eye on black suffrage….The president hesitated to endorse black suffrage as long as Louisiana officially remained a Slave State, but he made it clear that he would not object if white Louisianans enfranchised their black neighbors.” 90 Historian LaWanda Cox wrote: “Indeed, the views of Chase and Lincoln in respect to the freedmen were not far apart.” 91 Chase biographer Frederick Blue noted: “Lincoln was not as adamant in his opposition to black suffrage as Chase believed him to be any more than he was insistent that his reconstruction policy was the only possible approach.”92
 

Pressure for Elections

Preparation for elections did not proceed, however. Historian Herman Belz wrote: “The Free State Committee, finding little popular support for a constitutional convention, had decided to postpone its registration of loyal citizens, a development which disturbed Lincoln so much that it led him to take a more active role in supervising the reorganization process. Returning from a visit to Washington in October 1863, Benjamin F. Flanders, a leader of the Free State party, reported that the President wanted results and would recognize and sustain a state government organized by any part of the population that was under federal control.” 93 Setting up an electoral roll of eligible, loyal voters was the first imperative but work did not proceed. In early October 1863, Durant complained that the state was not ready for elections. Responding to the letter Lincoln had written Banks in August, Durant wrote President Lincoln that “you appear to think that a Registration of voters is going on under my superintendence, with the view of bringing on the election of delegates to a constitutional convention; but such is not the case. The means of communicating with a large portion of the state, are not in our power, and before the commencement of a Registration we ought to have undisturbed control of a considerable territory, at least the two congressional districts proclaimed as not being in rebellion.”94

As the planters had requested in June, there was indeed an election of sorts held in Louisiana in early November 1863. However, just a few conservatives participated. Three men — Colonel Alexander P. Field, Joshua Baker and Thomas Cottman of the Constitutional Union Party — were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Field and Baker went to Washington where they were only provisionally admitted. Cottman, who had met with Lincoln in June, apparently saw the political forces were aligned against them and returned back to Louisiana; indeed Cottman had signed the state’s Ordinance of Secession so he was unlikely to be admitted to Congress. 95 Field, who had known Lincoln when Field was Illinois secretary of state from 1829 to 1840, unsuccessfully struggled to gain recognition of the legitimacy of his election. (In the late 1850s, Lincoln and his law partner helped raise money to pay for the freedom of free Negro in Louisiana; the agent for the release was “Col. A.P. Field, a friend of ours in New Orleans, who applied it as directed, and it restored the prisoner to his overjoyed mother.'”96

Field, who had moved to Louisiana in 1849, failed to see that he and his colleagues were out of political alignment with Radical Republicans in Washington. (Field, an attorney who was the cousin of General John Pope and the nephew of Judge Nathaniel Pope, was known for his drinking and his love of controversy which culminated in 1840 when he was ousted from state office and replaced by an aspiring young Democrat, Stephen A. Douglas. By then a Whig, Field became secretary of the territory of Wisconsin in 1841. Later, he moved to St. Louis, where for several years beginning in 1848, he handled the lawsuit of slave Dred Scott to obtain his freedom. 97) Historian Frank E. Stevens explained that Congressional Republicans objected to the small number of votes that been cast in the election: “Field explained the objection. Very few votes were cast. At the time of the election, November 2, 1863, a man named George F. Shepley and styled Brig. General, was military governor of New Orleans. When the loyal men of that city demanded a voice in the government of Washington, this man forbade the election. He suppressed it so far as the city was concerned. But it seems that a small territory outside the city was in Field’s district and in that small territory a vote was polled and Field was duly elected by that vote. In vain he explained the facts; they were admitted, but after a long and heated debate the resolution refusing him the right to take his seat was passed by a vote of 85 to 48.” 98 Historian Willie Malvin Caskey noted “that the membership in the House of this first session of the new Thirty-eighth Congress had largely changed, and that the members as a whole were more radical than their predecessors.” 99 Pennsylvania’s Thaddeus Stevens led the opposition to the seating of the Louisiana representatives. Ficklen wrote: “The failure of the conservatives to secure recognition in Congress for their representatives seemed to open the way for the success of the Free State Party.”100

The feeble congressional election had not been the kind of Louisiana election that the president wanted. By November 1863, Lincoln had grown so impatient with Durant and Shepley that he decided to focus on Banks to provide action on reconstruction. Banks himself had not been focusing on the process — being diverted by military actions against Port Hudson early in the summer and against Texas in September. Michael Burlingame wrote that Lincoln shifted from his initial reliance on local residents to an emphasis on using the military authorities to jump start the process. 101 Lincoln’s frustration came through in a letter to General Banks on November 5, 1863:

“Three months ago to-day I wrote you about Louisiana affairs, stating on the word of Gov. Shepley, as I understood him, that Mr. Durant was taking a registry of citizens, preparatory to the election of a constitutional convention for that State. I sent a copy of the letter to Mr. Durant; and I now have his letter, written two months after, acknowledging receipt, and saying he is not taking such registry; and he does not let me know that he personally is expecting to do so. Mr. Flanders, to whom I also sent a copy, is now here, and he says nothing has yet been done. This disappoints me bitterly; yet I do not throw blame on you or on them. I do however, urge both you and them, to lose no more time. Gov. Shepley has special instructions from the War Department. I wish him — these gentlemen and others co-operating — without waiting for more territory, to go to work and give me a tangible nucleus which the remainder of the State may rally around as fast as it can, and which I can at once recognize and sustain as the true State government. And in that work I wish you, and all under your command, to give them a hearty sympathy and support. The instruction to Gov. Shepley bases the movement (and rightfully too) upon the loyal element. Time is important. There is danger, even now, that the adverse element seeks insidiously to pre-occupy the ground. If a few professedly loyal men shall draw the disloyal about them, and colorably set up a State government, repudiating the emancipation proclamation, and re-establishing slavery, I can not recognize or sustain their work. I should fall powerless in the attempt. This government, in such an attitude, would be a house divided against itself. I have said, and say again, that if a new State government, acting in harmony with this government, and consistently with general freedom, shall think best to adopt a reasonable temporary arrangement, in relation to the landless and homeless freed people, I do not object; but my word is out to be for and not against them on the question of their permanent freedom. I do not insist upon such temporary arrangement, but only say such would not be objectionable to me.”102

Historian William Harris noted that “Lincoln in his November 5 letter made his strongest statement yet on freedom as a requirement for reconstruction. Nevertheless, he still did not insist on the election of a state convention, which the radicals desired, as the mechanism for effecting emancipation.”103 In his annual message to Congress in December 1863 Lincoln had announced a new reconstruction and amnesty policy which was initially well received in Congress. After Cottman visited the President Lincoln on December 15, President Lincoln outlined his goals for unified action in a letter to Cottman:

“You were so kind as to say this morning that you desire to return to Louisiana, and to be guided by my wishes, to some extent, in the part you may take in bringing that state to resume here rightful relation to the general government.”
“My wishes are in a general way expressed as well as I can express them, in the Proclamation issued on the 8th of the present month, and in that part of the annual message which relates to that proclamation. It there appears that I deem the sustaining of the emancipation proclamation, where it applies, as indispensable; and I add here that I would esteem it fortunate, if the people of Louisiana should themselves place the remainder of the state upon the same footing, and then, if in their discretion it should appear best, make some temporary provision for the whole of the freed people, substantially as suggested in the last proclamation. I have not put forth the plan in that proclamation, as a Procrustean bed, to which exact conformity is to be indispensable; and in Louisiana particularly, I wish that labor already done, which varies from that plan in no important particular, may not be thrown away.”
“The strongest wish I have, not already publicly expressed, is that in Louisiana and elsewhere, all sincere Union men would stoutly eschew cliqueism, and, each yielding something in minor matters, all work together. Nothing is likely to be so baleful in the great work before us, as stepping aside of the main object to consider who will get the offices if a small matter shall go thus, and who else will get them, if it shall go otherwise. It is a time now for real patriots to rise above all this. As to the particulars of what I may think best to be done in any state, I have publicly stated certain points, which I have thought indispensable to the reestablishment and maintenance of the national authority; and I go further than this because I wish to avoid both the substance and the appearance of dictation.” 104

 

Reconstruction in 1864

Acting in response to the president’s reconstruction message, General Shepley on December 24 issued a new order for voter registration — based on the president’s “prescribed oath.” Cliquism, however, continued to beset Union supporters in Louisiana. Historian Herman Belz wrote: “After the reconstruction proclamation, Lincoln placed the moderate faction in control of Louisiana affairs by giving General Banks, a moderate allied with local moderate Unionists, a free hand in forming a new state government before holding a constitutional convention. Thus, in January 1864 Banks revived the 1852 Louisiana constitution, without its slavery provisions, and ordered an election for state officers.” 105 A new constitution would have to come after election of a new government. In December 1863 and January 1864, Lincoln and Banks exchanged a series of letters in which they tried to unravel the conflicting government authorities operating in Louisiana. Banks wrote President Lincoln on December 6, 1863:

“From the first I have regarded reorganization of government here as of the highest importance, and I have never failed to advocate every where the earliest development of this interest by congressional elections and by initiatory measures for state, organization…In the initial reconstruction, the basis should be that of a free state beyond the possibility of failure. Having secured this other states, will easily follow…So strong has been my conviction on this subject that I requested Governor [George] Boutwell to press upon your attention my views — when I returned from the Teche Country in October…I addressed to you a lengthy letter, and also wrote to Governor Shepley, and to Mr. Durant, Attorney General and other gentlemen, urging the completion of this duty by the quickest methods: but I found most of these gentlemen so interested in topics, that seemed to me disconnected with the general subject, and so slightly disposed to encourage my participation in the affair that I retained the letter I had written, and turned my attention, not unwillingly, to matters more likely to be accomplished, though not more important. The restoration of our Flag in Texas from Ringold Barracks on the Rio Grande to the Brasos on the coast, rewarded my change of purpose.”
“…Had the organization of a free state in Louisiana been committed to me under general instructions only, it would have been complete before this day. It can be effected now in sixty days — let me say, even in thirty days, if necessary…But it should be undertaken only by those who have authority to act: who know what to do, who have no personal interests in addition or superior to the creation of a FREE STATE, and who can harmonize the action of individuals without the sacrifice of public interest. I do not suppose I have the qualifications for this duty; certain I am that I have not the authority. How then can I be held responsible for the failure to satisfy your expectations?”106

Historian Michael Burlingame noted that Banks had a plan that strongly appealed to Lincoln. It led to Lincoln giving Banks increased power in late December saying that he “all the while intended you to be master.” On December 16, Banks had sent a letter to former Massachusetts Governor Boutwell providing details of his reconstruction plans. On December 21, Boutwell shared the letter with Lincoln. According to Burlingame, Lincoln was “[d]elighted at the prospect of swift action.” 107 In his lengthy missive Banks had written the President:

It is apparent that you do not view public affairs in this department precisely as they are presented to me and other officers representing your administration.”
“I am only in partial command here. There are not less than four distinct govements [sic] here claiming and exercising original and independent powers based upon instructions received directly from Washington, and recognizing no other authority than their own. They claim and exercise civil and military powers, sometimes to the very serious injury of the Public service — It cannot be neccessary that such conflicting authority should exist and it certainly cannot be exercised consistently with the interests of your administration. If it be necessary I have nothing to say: but in that event, the separate powers should be distinctly defined: if not, the power of your govement should be concentrated, somewhere, so that somebody should be responsible for the results. I have never asked increase of authority: but as your letter implies a responsibility in some matters, which I did not understand were committed to me, I think it my duty to you, personally, and to your govement officially, to represent my position and the difficulties I encounter in other relations than those referred to in my letter of the 6″ instant which relates to the re-construction of the state govememt in Louisiana only.”

General Banks then began an extended defense of his actions and the disordered state of the local government. He was particularly critical of the judicial system:

“The Judge of the Court — Mr. Durell — ran for Congress against Mr: Hahn, with very slender evidence of popular favor: he is by appointment the Chairman of the Finance Committee of the City Goverment — and manages all the schemes, connected with the city Treasury– He was Mayor also, at the time of the decision of which I complain. The Mayor of the City has applied to me to give my official approval to measures, for the disposal of financial interests of great magnitude — in one instance the sale of an important public franchise, belonging either to the govement or the people — and worth millions — for a quarter of a Century. My request is that he should be limited to one or the other of these classes of official duties: and that if he fail in his financial measures, for the want of approval, by the military authority he should not at the same time have the power to interfere with or defeat military operations — This certainly seems just.”
“Of the District Attorney, I have only to say, that previous to his appointment he was regarded by the profession to which he belonged, as a man of disordered mind.”
“The district court for one of the city Districts of which there are six — none big enough to swing a jury — decided recently that the military authorities had no power here against judicial decree: That the Courts were established by the Military Govenor in pursuance of powers received from Washington, and that no military order could stand against the judgment of these local courts — This is published as law — It occurred during my absence in Texas.”
“The Mayor of the City recently ordered the Chief of Police to bring all officers or soldiers of the army who shd. violate any city ordinance before one of his own judges for trial. It was defeated by the summary abolition of his court: but the action on both sides produced much bad feeling.”
“Well disposed, soldiers or citizens dislike to enter into conflict with the courts — There are many who, think a Judge a man of the highest elevation and authority — and where the courts indulge in such feeling as this I have described, neccessarily the just military influence is impaired, even in a department like this where military or martial law, is the foundation of all proceedings civil or judicial — it is greatly injurious to the public service – “

After detailing conflicts among local and federal courts, local authorities and military officers, Banks wrote: “In a city like new Orleans, a thousand men from the army, guilty of desertion, or unauthorized absence may be concealed in disreputable haunts, without power of detection, except by the Police — The influence of the Police of this city is equal, in its effect upon the army and the people, for good or ill, to a force of two or even three thousand men. Nothing can be more certain than that it should be at least friendly to the interests of the army if it be not under military direction. But it is not so here. — As at present organized it is useless. It is composed of semi secessionists — men who are honestly enough with us, but are not interested for us, on the success of our arms.”

“We have no power to detect secret meetings, to expose, and punish the purchase of soldiers [or] clothing or arms, or other-govement property — or of breaking up the haunts, and combinations of Rebel pirates who within and without the Department, lie in wait for weeks: to steal or destroy public and private vessels. The only remedy I have, is to establish a military Police, but this would draw from my too small comm[a]nd 500 men that I can illy spare from other duties, and lead to recriminations and conflicts as senseless as they would be crim[i]nal– The Police of the City is not only indifferent and dead, but is hostile to the welfare and success of the army, and is supported and governed upon the theory that it is entirely independent of military authority.”

After complaining about the burdens of the military government, Banks then delineated his impression of his authority with repeated misspellings:

“Upon a representation of some of these facts before the receipt of your letter upon a k[i]ndred topic, the Commding General of the army instructed me that my authority was supreme, that Martial law was the basis of all proceedings, and that any person who resisted my orders might be removed. This is doubtless correct: but it is an unpleasant alternative. I came here to fight Rebels, and not to enter into conflict with the officers of your gove[rn]ment. I do not covet their positions, and desire to avoid conflict with them. Any such contest results, in the injury of the country and the dishonor of the Contestant — I desire to avoid it. It exhausts my mental and physical energy — My duties in this city are more appalling than the most perilous service in the field, on sea or land. Besides, the gove[rn]ment has a right to divide its powers if necessary. It is my duty, however, to represent the facts, and to ask, that the line of demarcation may be more plainly & positively indicated, or that the immense power which exists here be concentrated — in just hands for just purposes.– It is not left to me to decline the performance of any duty you assign me, at this time. The great Captain and Ruler said that a soldier did not resign. If he was disatesfied he made his complaints, but did not abandon his post.”
“If others can perform my duties better, I shall accept the change with pleasure, but if I am to remain, I earnestly ask that the powers of the different officers may be more closely defined, or that they be concentrated in single hands with direct responsibulities, and especially that what is called the “State Govement” may be lifted out of the deep ruts in which it is moving — into which it has fallen. It is a year to day, since I assumed com[ma]nd here. I am unable to recall any important duty assigned to me, which has not been executed. I have sustained your adminstration to the utmost of my power. I have not troubled the admi[in]stration or country with explanations apologies or complaints. Neither have I sought in any way to forestall the judgment of the future upon my policy or my acts: The charged aspect of the city and department — its condition to day compared; with that, of December 1862, gives me sufficient consolation for suffering and labor not slight.”
“I have not often tresspassed upon your time, but your letter, seemed to demand the explanations I have made. I regret its neccessity, at this time when I know you are oppressed, by excessive labor, and heavy cares. But I hope, the near approach of peace, and the restoration of the country from its greatest peril will serve as an anodyne for all suffering and sorrow” 108

President Lincoln responded to Banks on December 24 with instructions that Sheley was to be guided by Banks’s directives: “Yours of the 6th. Inst. has been received, and fully considered. I deeply regret to have said or done anything which could give you pain or uneasiness. I have all the while intended you to be master, as well in regard to re-organizing a State government for Louisiana, as in regard to the military matters of the Department; and hence my letters on reconstruction have nearly if not quite all been addressed to you. My error has been that it did not occur to me that Gov. Shepley or any one else would set up a claim to act independently of you; and hence I said nothing expressly upon the point. Language has not been guarded at a point where no danger was thought of. I now tell you that in every dispute, with whomsoever, you are master. Gov. Shepley was appointed to assist Commander of the Department, and not to thwart him, or act independently of him. Instructions have been given directly to him, merely to spare you detail labor, and not to supersede your authority. This, in it’s liability to be misconstrued, it now seems was an error in us. But it is past. I now distinctly tell you that you are master of all, and that I wish you to take the case as you find it, and give us a free-state re-organization of Louisiana, in the shortest possible time. What I say here is to have a reasonable construction. I do not mean that you are to withdraw from Texas, or abandon any other military measure which you may deem important. Nor do I mean that you are to throw away available work already done for reconstruction; or that war is to be made upon Gov. Shepley, or upon anyone else, unless it be found that they will not co-operate with you, in which case, and in all cases, you are master while you remain in command of the Department. 109

The future of Louisiana’s black residents was at issue in this exchange of letters between Banks and Lincoln. On December 30, Banks wrote the president: “I am opposed to any settlement, and have been from the beginning, except upon the basis of immediate emancipation, but it is better to secure it by consent, than by force, better still by consent and force…” He wrote: “I need not repeat what I have already said, that I shall cordially and ernestly sustain any plan you may adopt for the restoration of government here. It is my duty, and my desire. With very great reluctance, and sense of public duty, I have made the suggestion herein contained, upon the same principle that I would impart important military information…The plan of restoration contemplated here by the officers charged with that duty, does not seem to promise results so speedy or certain. It proceeds upon the theory of constitutional convention to frame an organic law…The election of delegates cannot be called before March…The convention could not sit before April. It could scarcely occupy less than two months.” 110

With Lincoln’s insistent encouragement, Banks started setting deadlines. An election for state officers, including governor, was set for February 22, followed by installation on March 4. On January 13, Lincoln urged Banks to act aggressively: “Your confidence in the practicability of constructing a free state-government, speedily, for Louisiana, and your zeal to accomplish it, are very gratifying. It is a connection, than in which, the words ‘can’ and ‘will’ were never more precious. I am much in hope that, on the authority of my letter, of December 24th. you have already begun the work. Whether you shall have done so or not, please, on receiving this, proceed with all possible despatch, using your own absolute discretion in all matters which may not carry you away from the conditions stated in your letters to me, nor from those of the Message and Proclamation of December 8th. Frame orders, and fix times and places, for this, and that, according to your own judgments.

I am much gratified to know that Mr. [George Denison], the Collector at New-Orleans, and who bears you this, understands your views, and will give you his full, and zealous co-operations. It is my wish, and purpose, that all others, holding authority from me, shall do the like; and, to spare me writing, I will thank you to make this known to them.111

In the meantime, Banks had released his own reconstruction plan on January 8. He claimed that his correspondence with Lincoln had empowered him to act: “I received a letter from him authorizing me to take such measures as I thought necessary to organize a loyal free State government by the people of the State.” He used the loyalty oath devised by President Lincoln in December as a requirement for voter registration, but blocked those actively engaged in rebellion from registering. Blacks were also excluded because Banks claimed to be using the state constitution of 1852 as a basic guide. Historian John Rose Ficklen wrote: “Banks now adopted from the president’s proclamation the oath of allegiance prescribed as a qualification of voters, and instead of upholding the contention of the radicals or Free State party that nothing should be done toward establishing self-government until a new constitution was framed, he declared that an election should be held on February 22, 1864 (in honor of Washington).” 112 He also set the date for a constitutional convention for early April. In a rhetorical flourish, Banks proclaimed to state residents: “Let her people now announce to the world the coming restoration of the Union, in which the ages that follow us have a deeper interest than our own, by the organization of a free Government, and her fame will be immortal!” 113 Historian William Malvin Caskey wrote: “The important proclamation ordering the election had, in fact, been cleverly drawn up, and was calculated to appease all factions, which it doubtless did in a large measure.” According to Caskey, “The presumption was that there would be two sets of candidates, one representative of the Free State [Committee], and the other representative of the conservative party. It also seems to have been generally conceded that the former party would have the endorsement of the military authorities. The conservatives were, however, dissatisfied with what they considered an arbitrary abolition of slavery by Banks and the Free States were equally dissatisfied with his bold recognition of the detested document of 1852.”114
 

Gubernatorial Campaign & Constitutional Convention

Reconstruction politics were inevitably mixed with presidential politics. General Banks still thought he had a chance at the Republican presidential nomination. Banks was trying to preserve his political future, according to biographer James G. Hollandsworth, Jr.115 Presidential aide John G. Nicolay wrote: “Probably no other man than Lincoln would have had…the degree of magnanimity to thus forgive and exalt a rival who had so deeply and so unjustifiably intrigued against him. It is…only another most marked illustration of the greatness of the President, in this age of little men.” 116 Still, Banks was needed to shepherd a difficult election situation through to completion. The Free State Party nominating convention on February 1 broke up in discord. Part of the group nominated Hahn while another group nominated the more radical Benjamin Flanders for governor. Black suffrage was a key issue. Willie Malvin Caskey wrote: “The proceedings of the nominating convention of the Free State party…reveal not only the clash of personal ambitions, but also the real issue — the future status of the negro — that was bitterly fought out within the inner counsels of the party.” 117 Once comrades in Congress, Flanders and Hahn were now political opponents — especially on the critical issue of black suffrage. Historians Amos E. Simpson and Vaughan Baker wote: “The Flanders faction criticized both Lincoln and his program as insufficiently harsh and advocated full civil and social equality for the Negro, an extreme position unlikely to appeal widely to an electorate still reluctant to accept abolition. Hahn’s program called for the extinction of slavery, but did not support immediate Negro suffrage. He opposed immediate political equality and suffrage for the blacks, preferring gradual extension of the franchise to an educated class of freedmen. His moderate stand on the issue of Negro suffrage won those conservatives who recognized the inevitability of emancipation, but who hoped to moderate the accompanying social upheaval.” 118

The German-born Hahn’s position appealed to the bigger political base in the truncated state. Historian Jeffrey N. Lash wrote: “A lawyer, school-board president, and Douglas Democrat before the war, in 1861 Hahn had sharply criticized slavery and strongly opposed the secession of Louisiana, courageously refusing to support the Confederacy.”119 Willie Malvin Caskey noted: “Upon the arrival of the Federals, he displayed his love for the Union, which was said to be proverbial, by organizing the first Union Association.”120 Biographers Amos E. Simpson and Vaughan Banker wrote: “Convinced that Lincoln was influenced only by a sincere and honest determination to reunify the nation as quickly as possible, Hahn publicly defended the necessity of ‘strictly adhering to the views of the national executive.’ He believed that Lincoln’s policies offered the best and quickest way of ‘rehealing old sores’ and ending an insane war which had destroyed prosperity. He strenuously opposed a ‘vindictive or brutal policy…of spoliation and injustice.’ He clearly foresaw the problems of reconstruction and recognized Lincoln’s policy as the only way to abate the passions generated by the war.”121 John Rose Ficklen wrote that Hahn “enjoyed the unbounded confidence of Banks, and received from him constant expressions of admiration.”122

Historian John D. Winters wrote: “Politically, Banks had a finger in the local pie. An election for governor was to be held near the end of February. Interest in the coming event was stimulated by rallies, speeches and grand torchlight parades.” 123 Michael Burlingame wrote: “During the brief campaign, Hahn’s supporters engaged in race-baiting, which Banks failed to stop. Such tactics lent credence to the Radicals’ claim that they were the only true-blue antislavery faction.” 124 Hollandsworth wrote: “Banks, threw his support behind Hahn, although he was not supposed to endorse any candidate publicly. For his part, Hahn went after workingmen and the foreign vote. He was helped further by Flanders, a slow-thinking politician who fumbled the chances he had. Hahn took advantage of every opportunity attack Flanders’s problack views. He accused Flanders of wanting black suffrage, which was anathema to most white Unionists in Louisiana.” 125 Black suffrage was a key issue in the February campaign. Historian Caskey wrote that “the subject was referred to or debated in practically every speech in this brief campaign.”126

Banks boosted Hahn while Flanders hurt his own campaign. At the last minute, the Flanders group tried to unite with Hahn, but they were rebuffed. Banks himself insisted on the obligation of all eligible voters to participate in the election, proclaiming: “Men who refused to defend their country with the ballot box or cartridge box have no just claim to the benefits of liberty regulated by law.” Ficklen wrote: “More than one tenth of the voting population of 1860 had voted, and this was all that Banks wished. His enemies kept asking where was his legislature, and whether the few officers he had elected constituted a state government. But the commanding general believed that he had made a good beginning, and that as yet it was premature to elect a legislature which could represent only a small portion of the state.”127 Hollandsworth noted: “Banks was not particularly satisfied with the results. The conservatives had made a good showing, particularly in the plantation districts, while Hahn’s strength had been primarily in New Orleans. This reality raised the question of what would happen when the Union army increased its occupation of the rural parishes. Not only that, but if southern sympathizers in the city decided to take the oath and vote in the next election, the conservatives could become dominant.”128

In early 1864, Secretary Chase’s presidential plans were heating up in Washington while in Louisiana his Treasury Department subordinates were leading a charge against the Lincoln Administration. Historian William C. Harris wrote that Chase supporters “held most of the positions in the New Orleans Custom House and served as special treasury agents (tax collectors) in the occupied area. They intrigued to send a Chase delegation from Louisiana to the national Republican convention in June.”129 Louisiana had became a test case for Chase’s policies and ambitions. Historian Frederick Blue wrote that Chase’s “supporters there, led by [George S.] Denison and gubernatorial candidate Benjamin Flanders, another Treasury official, promoted his position on emancipation and suffrage. General Banks’ candidate, Michael Hahn, represented a more cautious view, which was closer to that of the president. It was clear to all that more was at stake than the choice of a governor; a Flanders victory would enhance Chase’s chances for the presidential nomination in 1864.” 130 The Flanders defeat would come at a time in February when Chase’s presidential ambitions were falling apart in the nation’s capital.

The Flanders defeat diminished the clout held by Chase’s quarrelsome Treasury lieutenant, Thomas J. Durant, who complained to President Lincoln on February 28, 1864: “What sort of a State is this, which we have reestablished,’ he asked the President, ‘where one man, not a citizen of the State, and having none but military power, is entire master of its civil destiny, callings its convention at his will to modify or abolish its government?”131 Louisiana had still a confusing and conflictive set of leaders who often frustrated President Lincoln who sought to guide but not dictate to them. Nevertheless, Hahn had President Lincoln’s support: “I congratulate you on having fixed your name in history as the first Free-State governor of Louisiana,” he wrote Hahn. With Hahn’s election, President Lincoln transferred to him the civil authority formerly held by General Shepley.

Hahn took office at an elaborate inauguration on March 4. Rather than uniting with Radicals, however, Hahn alienated them. The conservative Unionists did well in the election. Banks biographer Fred H. Harrington wrote that “the Gulf Department moderates should have tried to bring the radicals into a united Union front. Instead, the moderates ran their new Free State Executive Committee as a competitor. The radicals were stripped of much state patronage when Abraham Lincoln transferred to Michael Hahn all of Shepley’s powers as military governor. And Banks, meantime, was irritating Treasury radicals by refusing to permit them to accompany him on his spring campaign up the Red River.”132

Meanwhile, Radicals attacked the Hahn government. Historian Willie Malvin Caskey wrote that “the state government and its chief executive were soon beset with difficulties from within and from without. The first was the questioning of the legality of the whole proceedings by a number of Louisiana’s Unionists who contended that Banks had totally disregarded the constitutional provisions of the state in his several orders, under which the ‘alleged election’ was held.” Among the critics was close ally Thomas J. Durant. A further public relations problem was relevations that Hahn had collaborated with the Confederate government in 1861 and early 1862. Furthermore, defeated candidate J. Q. A. Fellows alleged that money supposedly spent on the inauguration and election was really used for campaign expenses.

Despite these problems, argued historian William B. Hesseltine, reconstruction seemed to be proceeding relatively smoothly at the beginning of 1864. An election for the constitutional convention was scheduled for early spring. “Louisiana would be as completely loyal as New York, and in three months it would be free of slavery.”133 Union forces under the auspices of the Union Association began meeting weekly and preparing to initiate work on a new constitution. At one meeting, a letter from Congressman Hahn was read declaring that President Lincoln wished that Louisiana be reorganized with a civilian government.134 With that assurance, the group voted to ask military authorities for a constitutional convention, which convened at Liberty Hall in New Orleans in late April.
 

Constitutional Convention

Despite, the criticism, Banks and Hahn went to work preparing for a constitutional convention. Historian William B. Hesseltine wrote: “In Louisiana, General Banks and newly-installed Governor Michael Hahn were proceeding with the work of reorganizing the state.” Administration critics noted that much of the state outside of the New Orleans area was still under confederate control. Nevertheless, work proceeded on a new constitution. Convention delegates split on issues concerning slavery, but a motion to include emancipation as part of the constitution passed overwhelmingly on May 11, 1864. Historian Eric Foner wrote: “The constitutional convention ratified the overthrow of Louisiana’s old order…delegates included reform-minded professionals, small businessmen, artisans, civil servants, and a sprinkling of farmers and laborers. The planter class, which, as one delegate put it, had governed the state ‘for the sole and exclusive benefit of slaveholders,’ was conspicuous by its absence. Reflecting the urban orientation of the Unionist coalition, the constitution made New Orleans the state capital and sharply increased the city’s power in the legislature by basing representation upon voting population rather than total of inhabitants (thus reducing the power of the plantation parishes).”135

Maine Congressman James G. Blaine wrote: “The scheme of reconstruction in Louisiana was completed by the assembling of a convention to form a constitution for the State. The convention was organized early in April, and its most important act was the prompt incorporation of an anti-slavery clause in the organic law. As the total vote of Louisiana at the Presidential election of 1860 was 50,510, the new State government had obviously fulfilled the requirement of the President’s proclamation in demonstrating that it was sustained by more than one-tenth of that number. The President’s scheme had therefore so far succeeded that Louisiana was at least in form under a loyal government. It was, however, a government that could not sustain itself for a day if the military support of the Nation should be withdrawn, and therein lay the weakness of the President’s plan.”136 Historian William B. Hesseltine wrote: “Throughout September the Union Leagues, Federal troops, civilian appointees of the President, and state officers staged mass meetings for the constitution, and at the same time passed resolutions endorsing the ticket of Lincoln and Johnson. On the eve of the election the military turned out all government and quartermaster employees for a torchlight procession in New Orleans.”137 Banks “was intent on producing as high a level of participation as possible, which mean that even opponents of ratification should be encouraged to vote,” wrote historian Peyton McCrary.138 The constitution was approved by a 6,836-1,566 margin.

While the constitutional convention was underway, Banks was being stymied on the military front in Louisiana. Historian Craig L. Symonds noted that in addition to northern political pressures, there were foreign policy pressures on Lincoln to reestablish Union control of Texas and to launch the Red River expedition that was much criticized then and since. As James McPherson also noted, it would have been better to capture the port at Mobile, Alabama. Symonds wrote: “Grant…believed that Mobile was a far more important military objective than Shreveport, but Grant was a good subordinate, and if the president and Halleck favored a move to Shreveport, he would not complain.” The Red River campaign in May 1864 was an ill-advised and ill-led effort that required close cooperation between naval and army forces. Greed was also a factor in its unfortunate conclusion. Symonds noted that “the awkward command structure would be exacerbated by bickering over the spoils of war, and in particular all that stockpiled cotton waiting along the banks of the river… Even before the campaign was under way, concern over French imperialism, the size and character of the new Louisiana government, and even the war itself often gave way before the furious competition over the South’s ‘white gold,’ and inevitably Lincoln himself was drawn into the squabbling.”139 The failure of the campaign would undermine Banks’ political and military image in Washington. “The sudden reversal of Bank’s opinion concerning the Red River campaign was due not only to Halleck’s pressing demands and to the promise of aid from Sherman but to other factors — politics and cotton,” wrote historian John D. Winters. Banks was under considerable pressure. “If he failed to bring Louisiana back into the Union, Lincoln might remove him from command, which would probably weaken his political chances.”140 Banks’ reputation for military incompetence was defined by the Red River campaign which was an ” unalloyed disaster,” according Kenneth P. Czech. “Little of the captured cotton found its way northward, and Federal plans for Texas were abandoned. Banks was accused of being inept and was politically ruined. The goal of Shreveport was never reached, and the botched effort used enough troops so as to delay the important attack on Mobile for 10 months.”141 Historian Henry H. Simms wrote of Banks: “Instead of becoming a hero who had opened up vast economic resources for the business interests of the north and new channels of revenue for the Federal government, he became a subject for investigation by the Committee on the Conduct of the War.”142

Banks was doing no better on the civilian front. McCrary noted: “Aside from its military significance, the defeat had two major political consequences. First of all, the hope that most of the state would come under federal occupation was dashed beyond repair… Second, Banks’ military failure precipitated his removal from the departmental command.”143 Commanding General Ulysses S. Grant already had a negative impression of Banks, but Banks had done more than his peers in other reconstruction states so he was politically protected. “Although there were many valid complaints about Banks as both a military leader and a reconstruction politician, it is hard to imagine that a professional military officer, without Banks’s experience in legislation and as the governor of Massachusetts, could have made similar gains toward the return of a loyal civilian government to Louisiana,” wrote historian Thomas J. Goss.144

Grant was anxious to dismiss or demote several generals — Banks among them. In May 1864, General Henry W.Halleck responded to a critical letter about Banks by writing Grant: “General Banks is a personal friend of the President, and has strong political supporters in and out of Congress. There will undoubtedly be a very strong opposition to his being removed or superseded, and I think the President will hesitate to act unless he has a definite request from you to do so, as a military necessity, you designating his superior or superior in command. On receiving such a formal request (not a mere suggestion) I believe, as I wrote you some days ago, he would act immediately.

I have no authority for saying this, but give it simply as my own opinion, formed from the last two years’ experience, and the reason, I think is very obvious. To do an act which will give offense to a large number of his political friends the President will require some evidence in a positive form to show the military necessity of that act. In other words, he must have something in a definite shape to fall back upon as his justification.145

In the wake of the Red River disaster, Banks was effectively removed from command and that autumn was recalled to Washington. General Edward R. S. Canby took over his military responsibilities as commander of the Military Division of West Mississippi. Banks had been commander of the Department of the Gulf. In September, General Stephen A. Hurlbut was named commander of the Department of the Gulf and assumed Banks’ reconstruction responsibilities. “[T]he president ordered Banks to Washington to lobby in Congress for the acceptance of Louisiana’s congressmen and the recognition of the new state constitution. He remained there for six months,” noted historian Joseph G. Dawson III.146
 

Black Suffrage

Another issue was roiling Louisiana in 1864. Beginning in late 1863, New Orleans blacks had begun pressing the case for black suffrage. They had petitioned General Shepley in November to allow them to vote — asserting they “never ceased to be peaceable citizens, paying their taxes on assessments of more than nine millions of dollars.”147 John Hope Franklin wrote that “the question of black suffrage, already raised by blacks themselves, was indeed not just rhetorical. The more than 18,000 free blacks who were living in New Orleans when the war came owned property valued at fifteen million dollars.” 148 In January 1864, black leaders petitioned General Shepley in person to press their case. Shepley shifted responsibility for an answer to Banks, who was effectively mute on the subject. “To his credit, Banks did take some steps to hasten the process.” wrote Banks biographer James G. Hollandsworth, Jr. “He started by assigning a white teacher with the rank of lieutenant to each black regiment. The goal was to reduce the high rate of illiteracy among black volunteers, which ranged as high as 90 percent. Although there was a shortage of trained teachers, by June 1864 at least nine military schools in New Orleans were serving on average twenty-four hundred soldier-students a day.”149 But Banks efforts — segregating white and black students in schools — met the approbation of neither whites nor blacks.

Lincoln did not give much thought to the suffrage issue in Louisiana until early 1864. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote that at a meeting at the White House in January 1864, Lincoln spoke to Philadelphia Congressman William D. Kelly about Louisiana. Lincoln said of black suffrage: “That must come soon. It must come pretty soon, and will.” 150 Burlingame wrote: “Congressman Thomas D. Eliot of Massachusetts was also assured by ‘the highest sources’ (presumably Lincoln) that the Hahn government would soon enfranchise blacks. While the president and Banks lobbied Congress, their allies and agents on the ground in Louisiana…were championing the cause of black suffrage.”151 Banks biographer Fred H. Harrington wrote: “Banks did weigh the possibility of letting a few Negroes participate in the first election, February 22, 1864. He and Judge Burrell talked about having the latter’s United States District Court redefine ‘white man’ to include the several thousand colored persons who had more white than Negro blood. In this connection, Banks asked a committee of colored men how many quadroons and octoroons there were in Louisiana.”152

Other factors favored black suffrage. Historian Brooks D. Simpson noted that “free blacks had been an integral part of prewar New Orleans, suggesting that some form of biracial society could actually prosper there. Lincoln himself recognized that the opportunity offered in Louisiana was unique, for he did not urge that other states…follow the blueprint drafted there. Nor should one mischaracterize the division between Louisiana moderates and radicals. Both sides accepted limited black suffrage in principle, although they disagreed over how extensive it should be; both desired abolition. The question was how best to go about achieving these aims. The moderates had the vote. Lincoln made sure that everyone in Louisiana knew that he backed ratification and would remember those who opposed it.” 153 Historians generally believe that a meeting on March 3, 1864 between the President and two black leaders from New Orleans was pivotal in shifting his attitude toward black suffrage. African-American leaders who arrived in Washington in early March were Jean Baptise Roudanez, an engineer, and Arnold Bertonneau, who was a wine merchant. Historian Michael Vorenberg wrote that visit “probably did more than anything else to convince him that at least some Southern blacks should be granted the ballot.” 154 Historian William C. Harris wrote: “The two men made a favorable impression upon Lincoln, and perhaps for the first time the president considered the desirability of suffrage as an element of black freedom and an instrument of loyal control.”155 Historian Michael Vorenberg noted that they gave President Lincoln “a petition demanding black suffrage signed by more than a thousand literate African Americans, some of whom had fought under Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Impressed by Roudanez, Bertonneau, and the people they represented, he sat down the next day to write his now-famous though then-private letter to Governor Michael Hahn.”156

Roudanez wrote that “President Lincoln listened attentively to our address, sympathized with our object, — but said he could not aid us on moral grounds, only as a military necessity.” Historian Larry Nelson wrote: “Instead of ordering a change in the election laws of Louisiana, Lincoln promised to refer the matter to the state constitutional convention. The President’s response was disappointing to many black in New Orleans, and his refusal to intervene decisively in their favor had negative repercussions among Negroes later in the presidential campaign.”157 It was natural that Louisiana became the test case for black suffrage, noted historian David M. Potter: “Louisiana was a state where the merit of Negro suffrage seemed especially strong, for the state’s Negro population had a remarkably high proportion of educated and civically competent members. Morever, by this time [1864] Negroes had enrolled very heavily in the armed services of the Union and, though they were used disproportionately as labor battalions and were denied the opportunity to earn commissions as officers, many units had been engaged in combat where they fought bravely.”158 Lincoln told the black delegation that “an impression had gone abroad that he was acting irresponsibly in the elections in the rebel states; but it was wrong. He must finish the big job on his hands of crushing the rebellion, and in doing that, if it became necessary to prevent rebels from voting, he should do so. If the recognition of black men as having a right to vote was necessary to close the war, he would not hesitate. He saw no reason why intelligent black men should not vote, but this was not a military question, and he would refer to it to the constitutional convention in Louisiana.” 159 According to a report in the New York Times on March 5, Lincoln told the visitors “that having the restoration of the Union paramount to all other questions, he would do nothing that would hinder that consummation or omit anything that would accomplish it; that therefore he did nothing in matters of this kind upon moral grounds, but solely upon political necessities. Their petition asking to become citizens and voters being placed solely on moral grounds did not furnish him with any inducement to accede to their wishes, but that he would do so whenever they could show that such accession would be necessary to the readmission of Louisiana as a state in the Union.”160

Black suffrage was a pivotal issue. Burlingame wrote: “Lincoln’s support of black suffrage was more comprehensive than that of Radicals like Durant, who endorsed voting rights only for free-born blacks. The president’s recommendation that some former slaves be allowed to vote if they had served in the army or were ‘very intelligent’ closely resembled Chase’s stand on the issue.”161 Historian Steven Hay wrote: “Prospects for the extension of civil and political rights to at least some blacks seem more propitious in Louisiana, owing to the substantial number of free people of color in New Orleans and its rural environs who were wealthy, cosmopolitan, savvy, and like their forebears in St. Domingue, initially eager to use a revolutionary moment to press their own agenda. And in contrast to the other slave states that experienced wartime Reconstruction, in Louisiana the issue became a subject of public recognition and debate.” Delegates for a constitutional convention were chosen on March 28. On March 13, ten days after meeting with the two New Orleans leaders, Lincoln wrote Governor Hahn: “Now you are about to have a Convention which, among other things, will probably define the elective franchise. I barely suggest for your private consideration, whether some of the colored people may not be let in — as, for instance, the very intelligent, and especially those who have fought gallantly in our ranks. They would probably help, in some trying time to come, to keep the jewel of liberty within the family of freedom. But this only a suggestion, not to the public, but to you alone.”162

Lincoln’s letter was historic. Historian LaWanda Cox wrote: “The most surprising aspect of what Lincoln asked of Hahn was that the president’s formulation for suffrage extension went beyond that publicly supported by Durant before the elections and compares favorably with the broader proposals being made at the time by Chase. Durant, it will be recalled, was supporting the vote for freeborn blacks; Lincoln made no distinction between the freeborn and the freed. Chase wished a suffrage requirement which made no distinction as to race, one he termed ‘universal suffrage.’ The specifics of his suggestion, however, would neither bring universal suffrage as the term is now generally understood nor equate the requirements for white voters with those for black voters.”163

Historian Robert Cook argued that “unlike the radicals, the president was not prepared to insist on partial suffrage — still less on impartial or universal suffrage — as a fundamental condition of Reconstruction. Initially, his views had minimal impact on events in Louisiana. The Banks-Hahn administration did attempt to enrol mulattoes for the constitutional convention elections but legal restrictions, the extent of white supremacist feeling and the tentative wording of Lincoln’s letter curtailed the effort. When the lilywhite convention met during the spring and summer of 1864 the delegates took care to meet Lincoln’s non-negotiable demand for emancipation. However, the furthest they were prepared to move on suffrage (and Lincoln’s wishes were made known to key members of the convention) was to make provision for the state legislature to enfranchise blacks at some point in the future.”164 The bulk of the sentiment at the Louisiana convention ran against black suffrage “and went so far as to prohibit the legislature from ever granting blacks the right to vote. Banks and Hahn worked hard to reverse that decision.”165 Historian Eric Foner wrote: “Only determined pressure from Governor Hahn and General Banks produced clauses allowing the legislature to extend the suffrage and affording blacks access to state-supported education. One Radical delegate expressed scorn for ‘these half-way men who are afraid to…meet the exigencies of the times and lag behind in this hour of revolution,’ but the convention, like the February elections, revealed the weakness of the Radical faction. The result was to widen the breach in Unionist ranks, turn the Radicals ever more sharply against the Banks government, and propel them, within a few months, down the road to universal manhood suffrage.”166

The state constitutional convention completed its work over the next four months. The delegates included many who sought to limit closely black rights to suffrage and education. Historian Steven Hay wrote: “The delegates, elected in March by white male voters who took Lincoln’s loyalty oath in nineteen of forty-eight parishes, reflected the social and political fault lines running through the state’s unionism: they were representatives of conservative sugar planters who hoped to gain compensation for their slaves and salvage what they could of the old order, and of white workingmen, immigrants, retailers, professionals, and northern officials residing primarily in New Orleans and anxious to construct a new state in their varied interests. Although a minority of radicals controlled many of the convention’s committees and may have favored some form of black suffrage, they made little headway.”167 Michael Burlingame noted that the final convention document “did not satisfy Lincoln’s desire for limited black suffrage, but it did pave the way for its eventual adoption.” 168 Banks did not completely oppose the franchise for blacks but favored limiting it to those with mostly Caucasian heritage or other special criteria. Historian Stephen B. Oates wrote that “the Louisiana constitution did not enfranchise Negroes, it did empower the legislature to do so. At the same time, the constitution not only outlawed slavery (as Lincoln insisted it must), but opened the courts to all persons regardless of color and established free public education for both races. For his part, Lincoln accepted this as the best that could be done in the Louisiana of 1864 and 1865, and he commented — with a touch of irony — that Louisiana’s new constitution was ‘better for the poor black man than we have in Illinois.’ Maybe Louisiana’s all-white government was imperfect, but Lincoln thought it better than no government at all.”169

Banks biographer Fred H. Harrington wrote that the delegates to the constitutional convention “had no objection to outlawing slavery — by doing so they weakened the hated planter class. Accepting Negro suffrage was another matter; white workers feared that black men might seize the reins of power. Some also objected to having colored children educated by the government. That point was finally conceded; but after delegates resolved against giving votes to Negroes. Only when great pressure was applied by Banks and Hahn did the convention yield a little.” 170 Historian Harris wrote: “Although the delegates did not enact black suffrage, as Lincoln had suggested, the president’s March 13 letter, according to Hahn, ‘had great effect on the action of the Louisiana Convention in all matters appertaining to the colored man.'”171

Voter ratification of the Louisiana constitution came on September 5 with very light turnout. The New Louisiana constitution did not enfranchise blacks but it did give the legislature that power. Historian Richard J. Carwardine wrote: “Lincoln held back from what the radicals wanted, namely the federal imposition of black suffrage on the South as a non-negotiable condition of reconstruction.”172 Banks biographer Fred H. Harrington wrote: “They therefore showed increasing interest in getting votes for Negroes.’ At the same time, they denounced the moderates as anti-Negro, assailed Banks and the whole Free State government set up under his guidance. Their attacks, sent on to Washington, helped persuade Congress not to recognize Bank’s Louisiana Free State in the winter of 1864-65.”173Treasury official George S. Denison wrote Chase that “constitutions and laws are without good effect, unless sustained by an enlightened public opinion — and any law giving suffrage to negroes, could not be sustained at present, in any State county or town throughout the whole South. I do not think you appreciate or understand the intense antipathy with which Southerners regard negroes. It is the natural antipathy of races, developed and Intensified by the servile, brutal condition of one — the insolent, despotic position of the other.”174

Although black suffrage had some support among Radical Republicans in Washington, Lincoln’s support for it ran counter to public opinion in the North. Historian Stephen B. Oates wrote that “Negro suffrage…was an extremely unpopular measure in 1864, and Lincoln knew it was political dynamite. Since blacks couldn’t vote in most of the North, nearly all Republicans shied away from the issue of Negro suffrage like the plague itself.”175 Nevertheless, the issue was raised by congressional Republicans as they considered reconstruction legislation in the spring and summer of 1864. Lincoln was pressured on the one hand by Radical Republicans trying to usurp his authority over reconstruction through the Wade-Davis bill and on the other hand by general public opinion which characterized his leadership as too sympathetic to emancipated black Americans.

The congressional fight over black suffrage in the new territory of Montana set the stage for the battle in Louisiana and Reconstruction in the late spring and summer of 1864. Historian Michael Les Benedict wrote: “If Congress would not impose Negro suffrage in Montana, where its constitutional right to do so was unquestioned, there was no hope of imposing it on the South, where its constitutional power was in doubt.” Benedict wrote that “congressional Republicans had altered the bill in precisely the ways Lincoln would not accept. First, the Wade-Davis bill was a peace bill; its effect was to delay Reconstruction until hostilities ceased. Lincoln’s suggested mode of restoration was a war plan.” Benedict wrote: “Lincoln’s veto was also motivated by other considerations. True, Lincoln wanted to allay possible Democratic criticism that Republicans were pursuing a war of conquest without a plan for Reconstruction and to create that ‘rallying point’ for rebels willing to return to their allegiances, but in encouraging Banks’ activities in Louisiana, he was also building a political alliance.”176 Herman Belz wrote: “Lincoln vetoed the Wade-Davis Bill in part because it seemed to be unconstitutional, but mainly because it contradicted his reconstruction policy in Louisiana and Arkansas. The anti-slavery sections of the bill he questioned on constitutional grounds.”177

Historian Eric Foner wrote: “The tangled threads of dissatisfaction with events in Louisiana, concern for the fate of the freedmen, and rival definitions of loyalty to the Union — with a dash of Republican Presidential politics thrown in — came together in July 1864 to produce the Wade-Davis bill.”178 That veto had important repercussions in Washington and New Orleans. Thomas Durant now earned his reputation as a troublemaker and ingrate. LaWanda Cox wrote: “According to Durant, Lincoln’s pocket veto of the Wade-Davis bill had prompted ‘the gravest accusations of insincerity on the part of the Executive in regard to the question of slavery’ without affording defenders of the nation ‘a plausible reply.’ Durant ridiculed Lincoln as a jokester and added that those who laughed with him, ‘in secret…deplore the calamity of a choice they dare not repudiate, from the unfounded fear that opposition would secure the success of an anti-national candidate. No nation will vote its own destruction, though the catastrophe may be accomplished by voting for incompetent men.’ Unlike Wade and Davis, Durant had knowledge of the support Lincoln had given throughout 1863 to the Free State movement then under Durant’s leadership. He knew that under Stanton’s order, directed by the president, freeborn blacks might have been enrolled as voters, and he had evidence that Lincoln confirmed through Secretary Chase his approval for such action.”179

Lincoln’s veto of the Wade-Davis reconstruction bill n July 1864 came as the Louisiana convention was still at work. Historian Peyton McCrary wrote that the Wade-Davis “bill set three conditions to be met by the convention in revising the state constitution: Slavery was to be abolished, the Confederate debt repudiated, and all Confederate officeholders and military officers above the rank of major disfranchised. The revised constitution was to be submitted to the voters for ratification. If the ironclad electorate approved the document, the provisional governor was to notify the President, who was, in turn, to ask the consent of Congress to recognize the regime. Should the new constitution not meet the conditions set by the bill, Congress reserved the right to reject it, and a procedure for electing a new convention was spelled out. Only after congressional approval were elections to be held for a state legislature and for members to the U.S. House of Representatives.” McCrary emphasized “how thoroughly Banks managed to obfuscate the issues” surrounding reconstruction in Louisiana.180
 

Reconstruction

There were many reasons for Radical Republicans to criticize Louisiana reconstruction. Historian George T. McJimsey wrote: “Many Republican congressmen thought Lincoln was making the wrong decision in Louisiana. Some disliked Banks’s use of military force to organize the elections (one of his proclamations read ‘indifference will be treated as a crime, and…men who refuse to defend their country with the ballot-box or cartridge-box have no just claim to the benefits of liberty’). Others feared that the planters would simply take the loyalty oath and then dominate the reconstruction government. Radicals especially distrusted the planters and wanted to cancel their influence by giving the former slaves the right to vote and hold office.” 181 Historian Stephen B. Oates argued: “Lincoln defended the white loyalists in Louisiana and stood by the all-white government they established there. Maybe it was imperfect, but he thought it a lot better than no civilian government at all. And in time, when prejudice and passion had subsided, its more glaring defects could be repaired.”182

Moreover, President Lincoln had been to be unfortunate in his choice of subordinates in New Orleans. The cantankerous Butler was replaced by the unimaginative Banks. When Banks left in late 1864, he was effectively replaced by an Illinois Republican, General Stephen A. Hurlbut, who was unsympathetic to the rights of black Americans as well as to the abilities of local officials. Historian Jeffrey N. Lash wrote that “while Hurlbut recognized emancipation, he scarcely entertained genuine interest, as a practical matter, in promoting the welfare, or protecting the recently gained freedom, of the former slaves.” Lash wrote: “Hurlbut had advocated a policy of forcibly returning slaves, or ‘contrabands,’ to Unionist planters and farmers in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi, if only to relieve himself of the responsibility for their welfare.”183 Lash concluded that General Hurlbut “opposed Lincoln’s free state government in Louisiana because he considered it excessively liberal; he consistently denounced its allegedly reckless fiscal and monetary policy and its too-generous provision.”184

Hurlbut’s attitudes contributed to black discontent with the Lincoln administration. Historian Larry E. Nelson wrote that “the New Orleans Tribune refused to endorse Lincoln and the Republican party. In addition to the matter of enfranchisement, the journal had another public grievance against the national administration. The newspaper labeled the federal land policy in Louisiana a travesty on justice and little better than slavery. As an alternative, the editors advocated ‘universal confiscation of rebel property.'” 185 Jeffrey N. Lash wrote that General “Hurlbut adopted an extremely conservative attitude, particularly on the questions of the sovereignty, even the legitimacy of the free state legislature. Concurrently, he criticized Hahn’s and Hoyt’s fiscal irresponsibility, suggesting a sinister association with radicals like Denison who advocated considerably greater expenditures….Simultaneously, Hurlbut had assumed with Canby a regressive policy with respect to the freedmen at a time when Lincoln and Hahn had sought to extend the franchise to a few blacks, for which he had publicly professed support in the summer of 1863.”186 In November 1864, President Lincoln told former Senator Orville H. Browning: “General Canby and General Hurlbut in Louisiana were doing all they could to break down the state government, organized under the new constitution, and to deprive the Negroes of all benefit they had expected to derive from it.”187

In a letter to General Hurlbut on November 14, President Lincoln took Hurlbut, a longtime acquaintance, to task for his intransigence: “Few things, since I have been here, have impressed me more painfully than what, for four or five months past, has appeared as bitter military opposition to the new State Government of Louisiana. I still indulged some hope that I was mistaken in the fact; but copies of a correspondence on the subject, between Gen. Canby and yourself, and shown me to-day, dispel that hope. A very fair proportion of the people of Louisiana have inaugerated a new State Government, making an excellent new constitution — better for the poor black man than we have in Illinois. This was done under military protection, directed by me, in the belief, still sincerely entertained, that with such a nucleous around which to build, we could get the State into position again sooner than otherwise. In this belief a general promise of protection and support, applicable alike to Louisiana and other states, was given in the last annual message. During the formation of the new government and constitution, they were supported by nearly every loyal person and opposed by every secessionist. And this support, and this opposition, from the respective stand points of the parties, was perfectly consistent and logical. Every Unionist ought to wish the new government to succeed; and every disunionist must desire it to fail….Every advocate of slavery naturally desires to see blasted, and crushed, the liberty promised the black man by the new constitution. But why Gen. Canby and Gen. Hurlbut should join on the same side is to me incomprehensible.” He continued:

“Of course, in the condition of things at New-Orleans, the military must not be thwarted by the civil authority; but when the constitutional convention, for what it deems a breach of previlege, arrests an editor, in no way connected with the military, the military necessity, for insulting the Convention, and forcibly discharging the editor, is difficult to perceive. Neither is the military necessity for protecting the people against paying large salaries, fixed by a Legislature of their own choosing, very apparant. Equally difficult to perceive is the military necessity for forcibly interposing to prevent a bank from loaning it’s own money to the State. These things, if they have occurred, are, at the best, no better than gratuitous hostility. I wish I could hope that they may be shown to not have occurred. To make assurance against misunderstanding, I repeat that in the existing condition of things in Louisiana, the military must not be thwarted by the civil authority; and I add that on points of difference the commanding general must be judge and master. But I also add that in the exercise of this judgment and control, a purpose, obvious and scarcely unavowed, to transcend all military necessity, in order to crush out the civil government, will not be overlooked.”

Lincoln wrote: “I confess myself much surprised at the tenor and spirit of its contents and am well assured that correct information has not be furnished you of the position either of Genl Canby or myself,” a defensive Hurlbut responded at the end of November. “I recognize as thoroughly as any man the advance toward the right made by the adoption of the Free Constitution of Louisiana, and have done and shall do all in my power to vindicate its declaration of freedom, and to protect and prepare the emancipated Bondsmen for their new status & condition. The fact has been withheld from you, Mr. President, but it still exists that nothing has been done for this purpose since the adoption of the Constitution — except by military authority…”188

In December 1864, President Lincoln appointed a military investigating commission to look into the corruption which Hurlbut had permitted in New Orleans. According to historian Jeffrey N. Lash, “Lincoln doubtlessly created the commission as a means of terminating Hurlbut’s military career. Although he could have summarily removed him from his Gulf command, Lincoln, probably to appease Hurlbut’s few remaining but still influential supporters in Illinois, sought a legal foundation on which to court-martial him for misconduct and force him from the army. Lincoln undoubtedly recognized an opportunity to remove a strong opponent of presidential reconstruction in Louisiana and a central figure in the army’s cotton ring at New Orleans.” 189 Meanwhile, President Lincoln wrote Hurlbut’s superior, General Edward R. S. Canby on December 12, 1864: “I think it is probable that you are laboring under some misapprehension as to the purpose, or rather the motive of the government on two points — Cotton, and the new Louisiana State Government. It is conceded that the military operations are the first in importance; and as to what is indispensable to these operations, the Department Commander must be judge and master. But the other matters mentioned, I suppose to be of public importance also; and what I have attempted in regard to them, is not merely a concession to private interest and pecuniary greed.”

“As to cotton. By the external blockade, the price is made certainly six times as great as it was. And yet the enemy gets through at least one sixth part as much in a given period, say a year, as if there were no blockade, and receives as much for it, as he would for a full crop in time of peace. The effect in substance is, that we give him six ordinary crops, without the trouble of producing any but the first; and at the same time leave his fields and his laborers free to produce provisions. You know how this keeps up his armies at home, and procures supplies from abroad. For other reasons we cannot give up the blockade, and hence it becomes immensely important to us to get the cotton away from him. Better give him guns for it, than let him, as now, get both guns and ammunition for it. But even this only presents part of the public interest to get out cotton. Our finances are greatly involved in the matter. The way cotton goes now carries so much gold out of the country as to leave us paper currency only, and that so far depreciated, as that for every hard dollar’s worth of supplies we obtain, we contract to pay two and a half hard dollars hereafter. This is much to be regretted; and while I believe we can live through it at all events, it demands an earnest effort on the part of all to correct it. And if pecuniary greed can be made to aid us in such effort, let us be thankful that so much good can be got out of pecuniary greed.”
“As to the new State Government of Louisiana. Most certainly there is no worthy object in getting up a piece of machinery merely to pay salaries, give political consideration to certain men. But it is a worthy object to again get Louisiana into proper practical relations with the nation; and we can never finish this, if we never begin it. Much good work is already done, and surely nothing can be gained by throwing it away.”
“I do not wish either cotton or new State Government to take precedence of the military, while the necessity for the military remains; but there is a strong public reason for treating each with so much favor as may not be substantially detrimental to the military.”190

 

Frustration in 1865

In early 1865, the conflict over recognition of Louisiana’s reconstruction came to a head in Congress. Historian Frederick W. Moore wrote: “All the cases [regarding representation from Confederate states] were presented early in the session and properly referred. The House committee was the first to report, but only on February 11, 1865, after the joint resolution excluding the electoral vote of Louisiana, Arkansas, etc., had been passed by both houses. The majority report recommended that Mr. Bonzano be seated as a representative from the first district of Louisiana. The minority report, signed by Messrs. Smithers (Del., Rep.) and Upson (Mich., Rep.), recommended that he be not seated. On February 17th the committee reported favorably on two companion cases from Louisiana, the cases of Mr. Field, from the second, and Mr. Mann, from the third district…..The House took no action whatever on any of the cases.”191 A majority report in the House found “a majority of not only the loyal people, but of the people of the state participated” in the election but a minority report concluded that most of the state was outside of federal control and therefore only a minority of eligible voters participated.

Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: “The question arose when senators and congressmen from Louisiana asked to be seated. As the senate addressed their request in January, Lincoln tried to frame the debate by suggesting to the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Lyman Trumbull that the most important question before that body was: “Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relations with the Union sooner by admitting or by rejecting the proposed Senators?’ The committee, which had rejected Arkansas’s senators a few months earlier, now recommended that Louisiiana’s be accepted. That necessarily entailed recognizing the Hahn government, which t he committee said ‘fairly represented a majority of the loyal voters of the State’.”192

Having pushed Louisiana and the Union army into reconstruction, Lincoln was now blocked by Congress. Historian Stephen B. Oates wrote that Lincoln’s reconstruction “program had run into stiff opposition from Sumner and some of his liberal colleagues on Capitol Hill. Following Lincoln’s work in Dixie with a critical eye, they had grave doubts that the President was really changing anything there.” 193 Lincoln wrote Senator Trumbull: ‘Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relations with the Union, sooner, by admitting or by rejecting the proposed Senators?” Louisiana’s congressional representatives were denied seats — with Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner taking the lead in blocking their seating. Historian Brooks D. Simpson wrote: “By failing to recognize the Louisiana regime, he thought he had bought time for public discussion and the acceptance of black suffrage: ‘We shall need the votes of the negroes to sustain the union, to preserve tranquility and to prevent repudiation of the national debt.'”194

The Senate Judiciary committee proposed that the Louisiana state government be recognized, but when the legislation was taken up on February 24, Senator Sumner began a campaign to delay it while Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull championed its passage. Congressional agreement on reconstruction in Louisiana bogged down on the issue of black suffrage. Historian James A. Rawley wrote that Trumbull “introduced a joint resolution to recognize the Lincoln government as the ‘legitimate government’ of Louisiana. Trumbull’s resolution provoked the wrath of the righteous Charles Sumner. He desired to have Congress impose black suffrage on all the states that had seceded, before admitting them. In a grandiloquent speech he assailed Lincoln’s ‘pretended Louisiana State Government…begotten by the bayonet in criminal conjunction with the spirt of caste.’ Sumner found support among other Radical Republicans as well as Democrats, and Trumbull’s effort to recognize the Lincoln government fell through.”195

Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg wrote: “The central figure of the Senate, gazed at by all, Sumner in the last days of the session piled his desk high with documents, books, papers, notes, gave the word he was going to filibuster. There at his post, where once he had taken a merciless beating and come near death, there he would stand and speak and read — and read and speak — till the session officially ended.”196 Historian Frederick W. Moore wrote: “Senator Trumbull charged the Republican members of the minority with factious obstruction. Senator Sumner, to whom the remarks were particularly addressed, repudiated the charge of factiousness, but insisted that the Senate could not be brought to a vote that night. ‘Parliamentary law is against” it; ‘and the importance of the measure justifies a resort to every instrument that parliamentary law supplies.’ When the Senate finally adjourned (without division) the measure was left as unfinished business. The impression made by the votes and the debate is that the resolutions of the committee would have passed that night [February 25] if they had been brought to a vote.”197 President had long courted Sumner’s good will, but his patience was exhausted. Lincoln biographer Burlingame wrote: “It was not hard to understand Lincoln’s aversion to the vain, haughty, pedantic senator, who was thwarting the will of the overwhelming majority of his colleagues and frustrating the president’s laboriously achieved attempt to rehabilitate Louisiana.”198

Both Lincoln and Louisiana’s representatives were stymied. “The Louisiana claimants for seats, as well as those from Virginia and Arkansas who were waiting in the wings for congressional approval, were stunned by the postponement,” wrote historian William C. Harris. “The Louisianans rushed to the White House to determine what they should do. Lincoln, ‘in ‘a long and very satisfactory interview’ with the delegation, reaffirmed his support for them, the Louisiana government, and by implication other Union governments in the South.’ Senator-elect [R. King]Cutler quoted the president as saying all Louisianans should ‘stand firmly by the acts of the late Constitutional Convention and the Constitution of 1864.'”199 On March 15, Lincoln met with Louisiana officials. The next day, Lincoln’s old friend Alexander P. Field wrote the President:

“The adoption of a free state constitution in Louisiana, and the organization of civil government of the Loyal people, (comprising more than three fourths of the inhabitants within the Federal lines.) has encountered such successful opposition in both houses of Congress, that it becomes neccessary for those who have been sent here as Representatives and Senators from that State to seek some advice from you, as the head of the executive branch of the Government, in reference to the course you will adopt towards us and the course we should pursue in the future.”
“It is not to be disguised that many persons professing friendship to the Union, and Emancipation, from some unknown cause, have set on foot, many of the most plausible arguments, against our Civil Government, and I must say, have invented the most unblushing falsehoods, as reasons why we should not be recognized.”
“Some of these men engaged in this unwarrantable and unfortunately, successful opposition, are men that you have appointed to Office, and have been for several years, not only enjoying a large patronage, but receiving large and remunerative salaries. The military as it now stands, has been in every manner embarrassing the successful administration of our affairs, in matters in no way connected with military opperations: And if we are not to receive your aid under whose proclamation our Government in Louisiana was inaugurated, by the removal from Office, of these elements of opposition, it will then be useless for us to struggle any longer, but at once return to military rule. But, relying upon your perfect knowledge of the success which has attended our establishment of Civil Government, and the adoption of one of the most Republican Constitutions that can be found amongst the American States, and knowing the great desire you have had throughout your highly successful Administration, to encourage the return of the Rebellious States to loyal Civil Government. We feel assured that when you are made acquainted with the nature of the opposition we have had to encounter in this difficult work of restoring Civil Government in States where for a time it was overthrown, that you will be disposed, as far as you can, to remove the difficulties in our way, to which I have adverted. I speak in behalf of my colleagues and the loyal people of Louisiana, which State I insist is as true to our national flag today any state in any part of our Government.”200

Louisiana planter James Madison Wells, who was serving as lieutenant governor, replaced Governor Hahn when he is elected to the Senate in January 1865. The same day that President Lincoln met with Louisiana delegation, General Hurlbut himself a lawyer in Louisiana was also perplexed about the state of Louisiana’s reconstruction and gave a long and pessimistic summary of the state when he wrote President Lincoln on March 15, 1865:

“Congress having adjourned without any action on the state of Louisiana I respectfully ask instructions from your Excellency as to the relations to be maintained between the Military & Civil authorities within this State.”
“My own opinion of the legal status of the State officers has been expressed in some remarks made by me to the Legislature on 4th March 1865.”
“I consider that the Convention, and the Legislature and officers created by it are the creatures of the Executive authority exercised through the thus Commanding General.”
“That this principle extends to and covers every subordinate agency of this State.”
“That the money received by them from the Military Governor is in law still the property of the United States.”
“That until recognized and affirmed by all branches of the U S Government they are of necessity subordinated to the military authority.”
“These principles I think are the law of the case.”
“The question of policy in the applications of them is one of more serious and doubtful nature…”
“It appears very clear that the present anomalous state of things should not continue. Either the State should be sustained in full force vigor and independent life free from interference and control on the part of the Military Officers and without any responsibility on the part of the United States for their action, or the supremacy of the Executive through the Military commanders should be plainly and distinctly understood.”
“The first course involves the surrender to the State authorities of the City of New Orleans now held as from the first by Military Officials and as a matter of course the Election of Charter officers under the forms of Law.”
“I regret to state that I do not consider this thing safe to be done at present. I do not think that the electors of New Orleans are to be trusted with this franchise. In addition the Enormous increase of expense to the taxpayers deserves consideration.”
“So in the Parishes — There are very few locations where peace and good order can be preserved and the rights of the Emancipated laborer protected except by Military intervention I am reluctantly forced to believe that with two thirds of the Territory of the state under rebel jurisdiction, with the Trans Miss. Army quartered at Shreveport and Alexandria with unnumbered rebel sympathizers within our lines, with constant communication through our lines under Cotton Permits and otherwise with our forces within the State depleted to the last degree by the Mobile Expedition — it is unsafe to the Government to permit the Exercise of the functions of Sovereignty by the people of Louisiana under their State Government.”
“The new Governor J[ames] Madison WellsError! Hyperlink reference not valid. seems disposed to consult with the Mil. Authorities on all matters of moment and is endeavoring to root out the Corruptions Engendered by these times. In Every respect in which he has called for assistance from me it has been granted, readily and willingly, and always will be.”
“I have once before adverted to the peculiar situation of the Taxpaying population here. The real and personal Estate of known rebels has been seized by the Government and the burden of Taxation therefore falls on the loyal or at least the quiet.”
“Three years State taxes are now called for to be collected at once. The U.S. Direct Tax is being collected. Local assessments for various causes, for Levees and other purposes swell the List, and I am unable to see how this impoverished and broken people are to meet these demands.”
“Hence the necessity of the most rigid Economy the abolition of useless offices and the simplification of the machinery of Government. This thing has not been done but the contrary rather by this Experimental body. If the officers of the army have no responsibility for these things we shall be greatly relieved. If we have responsibility for this state of things we should have the power to correct these abuses when manifest. I am assured that the whole necessary machinery to keep up & assure safety and the Exercise of liberty to the people can be maintained for one third its present cost and to better satisfaction of all loyal and decent men. If the present State of things continues the Course of the Government will constantly suffer loss in the Estimation of Citizens.”
“I pray you Sir to excuse the directness of this application, and beg of you as the Executive of the Nation to indicate to me what course you desire pursued on this very grave and important question.” 201

“After a great deal of progress in 1864, Louisiana reconstruction was once again stalled and the president frustrated in 1865. Historian Don E. Fehrenbacher wrote: “Of course Lincoln’s reconstruction policies… reflected not only his perception of what was desirable but also his estimate of what was possible. His personal values and beliefs were almost always immersed in political strategy. It is therefore difficult to separate Lincoln the leader from Lincoln the acquiescer and confirmer — difficult to determine, for instance, whether he or Banks was the chief architect of presidential reconstruction in Louisiana.”

Historian Eric Foner wrote that “as the Civil War progressed, the future political status of African Americans emerged as a key dividing line in public debates. Events in Louisiana made this issue the subject of national attention.”202 In his speech on April 11 to serenaders gathered outside the White House, President Lincoln addressed issues of reconstruction. Contemporary John Brigham wrote: “On the evening of April 11th, about two thousand people — perhaps more — gathered in the driveway and upon the lawn in front of the White House to listen to the President’s speech on the all-important subject of the hour — reconstruction. It was a dark night and rain was falling; hundreds of umbrellas massed together made an imperfect covering for the shivering crowd. The dim lights from the outdoor gas jets and from the executive mansion gave a weird appearance to the throng, and the hollow sound of raindrops falling upon the canopy of umbrellas accentuated the strangeness of the scene.”

“Soon after eight o’clock some one raised the historic east window over the front entrance of the White House, and presently the tall, angular form of the President was silhouetted against the background of light. Without formality he began to read his speech…”
“The somewhat metallic voice, in which was a suggestion of the quaintness of the man behind the voice, was clear and distinct to those within the limits of the semicircular driveway; but it did not carry much further. Conscious of the importance of the subject, the President rarely lifted his eyes from the manuscript, and then only to round some familiar period. That historic address related to an experiment in reconstruction then going on in Louisiana…”203

President Lincoln had prepared his speech carefully. They would be his first substantive comments after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox on April 9. He reviewed some of his actions regarding reconstruction in Louisiana and concluded:

“Some twelve thousand voters in the heretofore slave-state of Louisiana have sworn allegiance to the Union, assumed to be the rightful political power of the State, held elections, organized a State government, adopted a free-state constitution, giving the benefit of public schools equally to black and white, and empowering the Legislature to confer the elective franchise upon the colored man. Their Legislature has already voted to ratify the constitutional amendment recently passed by Congress, abolishing slavery throughout the nation. These twelve thousand persons are thus fully committed to the Union, and to perpetual freedom in the state — committed to the very things, and nearly all the things the nation wants — and they ask the nations recognition, and it’s assistance to make good their committal. Now, if we reject, and spurn them, we do our utmost to disorganize and disperse them. We in effect say to the white men “You are worthless, or worse — we will neither help you, nor be helped by you.” To the blacks we say “This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where, and how.” If this course, discouraging and paralyzing both white and black, has any tendency to bring Louisiana into proper practical relations with the Union, I have so far, been unable to perceive it. If, on the contrary, we recognize, and sustain the new government of Louisiana the converse of all this is made true. We encourage the hearts, and nerve the arms of the twelve thousand to adhere to their work, and argue for it, and proselyze for it, and fight for it, and feed it, and grow it, and ripen it to a complete success. The colored man too, in seeing all united for him, is inspired with vigilance, and energy, and daring, to the same end. Grant that he desires the elective franchise, will he not attain it sooner by saving the already advanced steps toward it, than by running backward over them? Concede that the new government of Louisiana is only to what it should be as the egg is to the fowl, we shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it? Again, if we reject Louisiana, we also reject one vote in favor of the proposed amendment to the national constitution. To meet this proposition, it has been argued that no more than three fourths of those States which have not attempted secession are necessary to validly ratify the amendment. I do not commit myself against this, further than to say that such a ratification would be questionable, and sure to be persistently questioned; while a ratification by three fourths of all the States would be unquestioned and unquestionable.”
“I repeat the question. Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining or by discarding her new State Government?”
“What has been said of Louisiana will apply generally to other States. And yet so great peculiarities pertain to each state; and such important and sudden changes occur in the same state; and, withal, so new and unprecedented is the whole case, that no exclusive, and inflexible plan can safely be prescribed as to details and colatterals. Such exclusive, and inflexible plan, would surely become a new entanglement. Important principles may, and must, be inflexible.”
“In the present ‘situation’ as the phrase goes, it may be my duty to make some new announcement to the people of the South. I am considering, and shall not fail to act, when satisfied that action will be proper.204

Black abolitionist Frederick Douglas contended that Lincoln’s comments on black suffrage that night “meant a great deal. It was just like Abraham Lincoln. He never shocked prejudices unnecessarily. Having learned statesmanship while splitting rails, he always used the thin edge of the wedge first — and the fact that he used it at all meant that he would if need be, use the thick as well as the thin.”205 The comments were particularly serious for one listener that night. Actor John Wilkes Booth was in the crowd outside the White House that night and vowed: “That is the last speech he will ever make.” Historian Michael Burlingame concluded that General Banks was following Lincoln’s policies when he spoke to a meeting of African-Americans in New Orleans after Lincoln was shot: “To the colored people of this State, I will say that the work is still going on; and by being patient, they will see that the day is not far distant when they will be in the enjoyment of all rights….Abraham Lincoln gave his word that you will be free, and enjoy all the rights invested to citizens.'” Burlingame added: “Presumably among those rights was the suffrage.”206

The day after his speech, President Lincoln met William Pitt Kellogg, an Illinois lawyer whom Lincoln was about to appoint a key Treasury Department position in Louisiana. Kellogg recalled: “I called upon President Lincoln as he requested on the evening of April 12th, finding him in the large room where he usually received visitors during the day. I was with him a considerable time. He referred among other things to the Louisiana situation, and to the speech he had made the night before, adding: ‘I am trying to blaze a way through the swamp.’ He seemed to have in mind that New Orleans and the adjacent portion of the state, which had been since 1863 under the control of the federal forces, might first be brought into practical relations with the government, by allowing the loyal people and those who pledge their loyalty to vote. Mr. Lincoln offered to appoint me Collector of the Port of New Orleans, and advised me to take the place. He explained that I would be the first collector since before the war, and that the position was very important at this time; that the gentleman now discharging the duties of the office, few words, to be careful and discreet in the discharge of my duties, he bade me goodbye.”207

After Lincoln’s death, the Republican Party remained divided on the critical issue of black suffrage. “Much support existed for the measure among radicals and moderates. Although the fear of grass-roots racism caused most (but by no means all) Republicans to maintain a pragmatic silence on the controversial topic of enfranchising Northern blacks, the notion that the ballot could be an important weapon in the hands of the loyal freedmen appealed to supporters of laissez-faire as well as state intervention within the ruling party. If blacks did not merit the franchise as equal men or because of their service to the Union, then they might well be entitled to it on the ground of national security, “wrote historian Robert Cook. “To the last, however, the president’s attitude to the reform remained a cautious one. Influenced by his own border state Whiggery, a temperamental dislike of extreme measures, an astute awareness of white racism among voters, and a genuine respect for the role that blacks had played in defeating the Confederacy, Lincoln found himself, in his last public address, willing to declare a personal preference for partial suffrage but still unable to demand this as a condition of restoration.”208


 
References
 

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  144. Thomas J. Goss, The War Within the Union High Command, p. 143.
  145. Curt Anders, Henry Halleck’s War, pp. 556-557 (Letter from Halleck to Ulysses S. Grant, May 3, 1864).
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  147. John Rose Ficklen, History of Reconstruction in Louisiana, p. 59.
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  149. James G. Hollandsworth, Jr., Pretense of Glory: The Life of General Nathaniel P. Banks, p. 211.
  150. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 635
  151. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 777.
  152. Fred H. Harrington, Fighting Politician: Major General N.P. Banks, p. 114.
  153. Brooks D. Simpson, The Reconstruction Presidents Simpson, Brooks D., The Reconstruction Presidents, p. 44.
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  155. William C. Harris, With Charity for All, Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union, p. 183.
  156. John Y. Simon, Harold Holzer, Dawn Vogel, editor, Lincoln Revisited, p. 226 (Michael Vorenberg, “After Emancipation Abraham Lincoln’s Black Dream”).
  157. Larry E. Nelson, “Black Leaders and the Presidential Election of 1864, The Journal of Negro History, January 1978, p. 45.
  158. David M. Potter, Division and the Stresses of Reunion, 1845-1876, p. 165.
  159. Don E. Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher, editors, Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln, p. 14 (New York Post, March 4, 1864).
  160. Don E. Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher, editors, Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln, p. 14 (New York Times, March 5, 1864).
  161. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 607.
  162. CWAL, Volume VII, p. 243 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Michael Hahn, March 13, 1864).
  163. LaWanda Cox, Lincoln and Black Freedom, p. 95.
  164. Susan-Mary Grant and Brian Holden Reid, editors, The American Civil War: Explorations and Reconsiderations, p. 230 (Robert Cook, “The Fight for Black Suffrage in the War of the Rebellion,”).
  165. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 608.
  166. Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, p. 50.
  167. Steven Hay, A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration, p. 105.
  168. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 608.
  169. Stephen B. Oates, Abraham Lincoln: The Man Behind The Myths, p. 143.
  170. Fred H. Harrington, Fighting Politician: Major General N.P. Banks, p. 148.
  171. William C. Harris, With Charity for All, Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union, p. 184
  172. Richard J. Carwardine, Lincoln: Profiles in Power, p. 237.
  173. Fred H. Harrington, Fighting Politician: Major General N.P. Banks, p. 115.
  174. Salmon P. Chase and George Stanton Denison, Diary and Correspondence of Salmon P. Chase, p. 450 (Letter from George Denison to Salmon P. Chase, October 8, 1864).
  175. Stephen B. Oates, With Malice Toward None: A Life of Lincoln, p. 378.
  176. Michael Les Benedict, A Compromise of Principle: Congressional Republicans and Reconstruction 1863-1869, p. 79, 81, 83.
  177. Herman Belz, Reconstructing the Union: Theory and Policy During the Civil War, pp. 226-227.
  178. Eric Foner, Reconstruction, 1863-1877: America’s Unfinished Revolution, p. 61.
  179. LaWanda Cox, Lincoln and Black Freedom, p. 110.
  180. Peyton McCrary, Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction: The Louisiana Experiment, p. 283.
  181. George T. McJimsey, The Dividing and Reuniting of America: 1848-1877, p. 126.
  182. Stephen B. Oates, With Malice Toward None: A Life of Lincoln, p. 378.
  183. Jeffrey N. Lash, A Politician Turned General: The Civil War Career of Stephen Augustus Hurlbut, p. 153.
  184. Jeffrey N. Lash, A Politician Turned General: The Civil War Career of Stephen Augustus Hurlbut, p. 178.
  185. Larry E. Nelson, “Black Leaders and the Presidential Election of 1864,” The Journal of Negro History, January 1978, p. 52.
  186. Jeffrey N. Lash, A Politician Turned General: The Civil War Career of Stephen Augustus Hurlbut, p. 165.
  187. Calvin Pease, editor, Diary of Orville H. Browning Diary, Volume I, p. 692 (November 14, 1864).
  188. CWAL, Volume. VIII, pp. 106-108 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Stephen Hurlbut, November 14, 1864).
  189. Jeffrey N. Lash, A Politician Turned General: The Civil War Career of Stephen Augustus Hurlbut, p. 169.
  190. CWAL,, Volume VIII, pp. 163-165 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Edward R. S. Canby, December 12, 1864).
  191. Frederick W. Moore, “Representation in the National Congress from the Seceding States, 1861-65, The American Historical Review, April 1897.
  192. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 775.
  193. Stephen B. Oates, With Malice Toward None: A Life of Lincoln, p. 378.
  194. Brooks D. Simpson, Reconstruction Presidents, p. 54.
  195. Merrill D. Peterson, The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay and Calhoun, p. 494.
  196. Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, Volume III, p. 78
  197. Frederick W. Moore, “Representation in the National Congress from the Seceding States, 1861-65, The American Historical Review, April 1897, p. 468.
  198. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 776.
  199. William C. Harris, With Charity for All, Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union, p. 245
  200. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois (Letter from A. P. Field to Abraham Lincoln, March 16, 1865).
  201. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois (Letter from Stephen A. Hurlbut to Abraham Lincoln, Wednesday, March 15, 1865).
  202. Eric Foner, Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction, p. 61.
  203. John E. Boos (edited by William R. Feeheley and Bill Snack), Rare Personal Accounts of Abraham Lincoln, pp. 249-250
  204. CWAL, Volume VIII, pp. 402-405 (Last Public Address, April 11, 1865).
  205. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, pp. 802-803.
  206. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, pp. 776-777.
  207. Paul M. Angle, editor, “The Recollections of William Pitt Kellogg,” The Abraham Lincoln Quarterly, Volume III, No. 7, September 1945, pp. 335-336.
  208. Susan-Mary Grant and Brian Holden Reid, The American Civil War: Explorations and Reconsiderations, p. 235 (Robert Cook, “The Fight for Black Suffrage in the War of the Rebellion”).

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