Rollin, Frank [Frances] A.
|CHAPTER XXXIV -- CIVIL AFFAIRS.--PRESIDENT JOHNSON.|
MAJOR DELANY was fully cognizant of the exceeding delicacy of his position, filling, as he was, a position of trust and honor such as no man of his race had ever yet obtained under the general government; and how easily it could be compromised in this case! yet his old ardor in contributing his efforts in building up any measure, or uprooting whatever opposition presented itself in the onward march of his race, remained unabated.
Notwithstanding his position in the army, yet to every one aware of his life-long consecration to the interests of his race, there would be no hesitancy on their part to decide on which side he would be found in any matter in which he should choose between them and his position. While he studiously avoided the general discussion of politics, he was by no means indifferent to the political aspect of the times, and aided, in his position as the military official, as he had formerly done in deeds as the civilian. Thus, while in Beaufort awaiting orders, the subject of reconstruction being under popular discussion, he perceived that the claims of the colored people were evaded; and that the sacrifice of lives made in countless battle-fields by
To His Excellency President Johnson :
Sir: I propose, simply as a black man,--one of the race most directly interested in the question of enfranchisement and the exercise of suffrage,-- a cursory view of the basis of security for perpetuating the Union.
When the compact was formed, the British--a foreign nation--threatened the integrity and destruction of the American Colonies. This outside pressure drove them together as independent states, and so long as they desired a Union,--appreciating the power of the enemy, and comprehending their own national strength,--it was sufficient security against any attempt at a dissolution or foreign subjugation.
So soon, however, as, mistaking their own strength, or designing an alliance with some other power, a portion of those states became dissatisfied with the Union, and recklessly sought its dissolution by a resort to the sword, so nearly equally divided were the two sections, that foreign intervention or an exhausting continuance of the struggle would most certainly have effected a dissolution of the Union.
But an element, heretofore latent and unthought of,--a power passive and unrecognized,--suddenly presented itself to the American mind, and its arm to the nation. This power was developed in the blacks, heretofore discarded as a national nonentity--a drew or experience on the body politic. Free, without rights, or slaves, mainly--therefore things constructively,--when called to the country's aid they developed a force which proved the balance precisely called for, and essentially necessary as an elementary part of the national strength. Without this force, or its equivalent, the rebellion could not have been
What becomes necessary, then, to secure and perpetuate the integrity of the Union, is simply the enfranchisement and recognition of the political equality of the power that saved the nation from destruction in a time of imminent peril-- a recognition of the political equality of the blacks with the whites in all of their relations as American citizens. Therefore, with the elective franchise, and the exercise of suffrage in all of the Southern States recently holding slaves, there is no earthly power able to cope with the United States as a military power; consequently nothing to endanger the national integrity. Nor can there ever arise from this element the same contingency to threaten and disturb the quietude of the country as that which has just been so happily disposed of. Because, believing themselves sufficiently able, either with or without foreign aid, the rebels drew the sword against their country, which developed a power in national means--military, financial, and statesmanship that astonished the world, and brought them to submission. Hence, whatever their disposition or dissatisfaction, the blacks, nor any other fractional part of the country, with the historic knowledge before them of its prowess, will ever be foolhardy enough to attempt rebellion or succession. And their own political interest will ever keep them true and faithful to the Union, thereby securing their own liberty, and proving a lasting safe-guard as a balance in the political scale of the country.
As the fear of the British, as an outside pressure, drove, and for a time kept and held the Union together, so will the fear of the loss of liberty and their political status, as an element in this great nation, serve as the outside pressure necessary to secure the fidelity of the blacks to the Union. And this fidelity, unlike that of the rebels, need never be mistrusted; because, unlike them, the blacks have before them the proofs of the power and ability of the Union to maintain unsullied the prestige of the national integrity, even were they, like them, traitorously disposed to destroy their country, or see it usurped by foreign nations.
This, sir, seems to me conclusive, and is the main point upon
I have the honor to be, sir, your most obedient servant,
Major 104 th U.S.C.T.
Port Royal Island , S.C., July 25, 1866.
On another occasion from his island post he stood an interested listener to the sounds which the breeze bore up to him, telling of the plans of reconstruction towards the Southern States. Impatient, he watched for the action of the leaders of colored people themselves on this momentous question, but as yet saw no evidence of it.
In his position as an officer in the service of the government, and a civil magistrate, as all officers of the Bureau necessarily are, he was contributing a giant's help to the cause, which, in view of the limited sphere apportioned his race, rendered him an invaluable auxiliary.
The political horizon had suddenly become overcast; the role of the executive was changed to that of Pharaoh instead of "Moses,"and he beheld with joy the general uprising of the colored people in their strength to avert the threatening ruin.
It was an occasion long to be remembered, and suggestive of a moral which should not be lost sight of by the American people. They sent from every section of the Union delegated representatives of their own race to the national capital, near the government, to "lobby" for their claims in the great American body politic, as at this time these claims were fast being evaded, if not actually ignored.
It is not yet forgotten the visit of the delegates to the president; his remarks on the occasion, with the advice to place their cause before the people ; or the able manner in which the noble Douglass replied to him, and the subsequent ringing appeal which he made resound through the land to reach the people.
Major Delany, anxious to identify himself with the movement, though absent from the immediate scene, showed his entire co÷peration with them in the following letter, which he addressed to them:--
Bureau R. F. A. L.
Port Royal, Hilton Head Island, S.C. ,
February, 22, 1866.
To Messrs. G. T. Downing, William Whipper, Frederick Douglass, John Jones, L.H. Douglass , and others, Colored Delegation representing the Political Interests of the Colored People of the United States, now near the Capital and Government, Washington, D.C.
My dear Brothers: I have been watching with deep interest your movements at Washington, near the government of your country. I need not repeat to you that which you all know, and that which we have oft repeated to each other privately, in council, and through the public journals,--we are one in interest and destiny in America. I am with you: yea, if your intentions, designs, purposes, matter, and manner continue the same as those presented to the chief magistrate of the nation, then I am with you always, even to the end. Be mild, as is the nature of your race; be respectful and deferential, as you will be; and dignified as you have been; but he determined and persevering. Your position before the saged president, and reply after you left him, challenges the admiration of the world. At least it challenges mine, and as a brother you have it.
Do not misjudge the president, but believe, as I do, that he means to do right; that his intentions are good; that he is interested,
Here, what one shuns as a danger another regards as a point of safety; and that which one dreads another dares. What General Sherman succeeded in, General Meade might have failed in; while General Grant may have prosecuted either with success. Men must be measured and adjudged according to their temperaments and peculiar constitutional faculties.
Do not grow weary nor discouraged, neither disheartened nor impatient. Do not forget God. Think, O think how wonderfully he made himself manifest during the war. Only think how he confounded, not only the wisdom of the mighty of this land, but of the world, making them confess that he is the Lord, high over all, and most mighty. He still lives. Put your trust in him. As my soul liveth, you will reap if you faint not. Wait! "The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but he that endureth to the end." Bide your time.
Since we last met in council great changes have taken place, and much has been gained. The battle-cry has been heard in our midst, a terrible contest of civil war has raged, and a death-struggle for national life summoned every lover of the Union to the combat. We among our fellow-citizens received the message,
"Be patient in your misery;
Be meek in your despair;
Be patient, O be patient!
Suffer on, suffer on!"
Your brother in the cause of our common country,
M.R. Delany .
Before the immediate reapers themselves could discern the whitening harvest, he had within sight other fields in which to lead them.
For their protection, and at the same time to facilitate the duties of the Bureau, he established a police system, each plantation or settlement having its distinct body of policemen, not exceeding five. This included the chief, or, as called by the freedmen, "headman," who made choice of his assistants, who reported, and were responsible to him for their action; the chief, in turn, monthly reporting to Major Delany. And all such cases as could not be settled by the chief of police were immediately reported to him at headquarters. As it was mutually beneficial, causing each to respect the right of the other, this arrangement found favor with both planters and freedmen. It was practically demonstrating the reality of the new social relation. It was designed by him to prove the fitness of the ex-slave to perform his part in the duties of the civil, with
After its adoption, brigadier General Nye, commanding the district at that time, witnessing its utility, at once approved of it. And it continued uninterrupted through all the succedding commands.
Their vigilance in detecting fraud and other unlawful practices, it was acknowledged, far exceeded the military police. Nothing seemed to escape them. Indeed, it was often said their adroitness in detection was such as might be coveted by a New York detective.
They were frequently called upon by the military authorities to accomplish work which strictly belonged to the soldier police, but in which they had failed.
It was a matter of general regret that there was no remuneration provided for these men, who had so cheerfully and faithfully served the country, aiding in establishing order where otherwise anarchy might have ensued.