This is the first of a four-part series on immigrants and the 14th Amendment.
German revolutionary refugee and Union general Carl Schurz traveled to Washington in late 1865 after completing a tour of the defeated Confederacy. He visited the Gulf Coast states in the months after slavery was seemingly ended, but all around him he saw blacks kept in the positions of slaves by white patrols forcing them to remain on the plantations of their enslavement. In interviews with planters, Schurz heard from the agricultural elite that while slavery was over and blacks could no longer be sold, they must still remain as the underlings of the owners to pick cotton and harvest sugar cane.1
Carl Schurz had been a student revolutionary in Germany and a Union general in the United States. A hero among liberal German immigrants, he had advised both Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. Johnson had risen to the presidency when Lincoln was assassinated.
Schurz described the situation:
In many instances negroes who walked away from the plantations, or were found upon the roads, were shot or otherwise severely punished, which was calculated to produce the impression among those remaining with their masters that an attempt to escape from slavery would result in certain destruction. A large proportion of the many acts of violence committed is undoubtedly attributable to this motive…2
Schurz had been sent by President Andrew Johnson as a special rapporteur on the conditions in the old Confederate states. While travelling through Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi he received disturbing news that the man who had sent him was reducing the military presence in these very states and allowing former Confederates to regain political power. White vigilantes seemed free to roam the countryside terrorizing freed slaves and Black Codes were enacted in state after state by legislatures in the South forcing freed slaves to stay on the plantations of their enslavement. In September 1865, Schurz wrote to his wife that “I have done everything that is possible through reports and telegraphic dispatches” to try to inform Johnson of the dangerous political violence in the South. He warned that if the President did not listen, “he must not be surprised if, later, I bring into the field against him all the artillery I am assembling now.” That artillery was the evidence of abuse he had gathered.3
This map shows the position of Union occupation troops in September of 1865. Troops, many of whom were black, played an important role in freeing slaves from “masters” who tried to hold them in slavery even after the Confederate surrender. As troops were withdrawn in the Fall of 1865, new controls were place by Southern legislatures on the freedoms of black people.
As Union troops were withdrawn from the South, all-white militias were organized, ostensibly to keep the peace. Schurz told his wife that the “result will be a sharp and perhaps bloody persecution of the negroes and the Union men.” His research had convinced him that the “proslavery element is gaining the upper hand everywhere and the policy of the government is such as to encourage this outcome.” 4
At the end of November, Schurz filed his report with the president. It laid out the sorry state of black rights in the South.5
After describing the poor position of blacks in the states he visited, Schurz offered his conclusions. He said that for white former slave owners; “The emancipation of the slaves is submitted to only in so far as chattel slavery in the old form could not be kept up. But although the freedman is no longer considered the property of the individual master, he is considered the slave of society, and all independent State legislation will share the tendency to make him such.”6
A section of the Florida Black Code requiring freed slaves to have a white employer or be arrested and sold at auction as vagrants. Such Black Codes were passed in the states of the old Confederacy to control black labor and many other areas of black life.
While the white legislatures had passed laws formally abolishing slavery, the Black Codes they passed at the same time were for “the establishment of a new form of servitude” for black men and women, he wrote. Blacks, some of whom had served in the Union army, were not likely to meekly accept a new form of slavery. “Practical attempts on the part of the southern people to deprive the negro of his rights as a freeman may result in bloody collisions, and will certainly plunge southern society into restless fluctuations and anarchical confusion,” Schurz warned. He argued that rather than withdrawing Federal troops, the army’s role in the South should be expanded to protect African Americans. He believed that Congress should act to protect the long-term interests of the black community against “oppressive legislation” and “persecution” by the whites and that this could only be done if blacks were “endowed with a certain measure of political power.”7
Schurz soon wrote to his wife that “the President is not at all favorable to me.” He informed her that Johnson had hoped for a report showing that further Federal protections of African Americans were no longer needed. Johnson, he said, “wanted to use me as the official support of his policy and he is now angry” that the report was “a great hindrance” to withdrawing troops from the South and allowing for white rule.8
African Americans began meeting in state conventions to oppose the imposition of Black Codes and to call for equal rights. The 1865 South Carolina convention issued this statement: “Without any rational cause or provocation on our part…we…have been virtually, and with few exceptions excluded from, first, the rights of citizenship, which you cheerfully accord to strangers, but deny to us who have been born and reared in your midst…We are denied the right of giving our testimony in like manner with that of our white fellow-citizens, in the courts of the State, by which our persons and property are subject to every species of violence, insult and fraud without redress. We are also by the present laws, not only denied the right of citizenship, the inestimable right of voting for those who rule over us in the land of our birth, but by the so-called Black Code we are deprived the rights of the meanest profligate in the country—the right to engage in any legitimate business free from any restraints, save those which govern all other citizens of this State…”
Schurz’s Report on the Condition of the South became a battleground between the president and those who wanted to place the United States firmly on the side of the freed slaves. When Congress convened in December, Radicals in the Senate demanded that President Johnson release the report. When he did not do so, powerful Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts introduced a resolution calling for the publication of the Schurz report. It was passed on December 12. Six Days later, the president at last sent the report to Congress. 9
Senator Charles Sumner had been a radical advocate for the rights of African Americans since he first took office. Before the war, he had been attacked on the floor of the Senate by a pro-slavery Congressman and nearly crippled.
When Schurz’s report was delivered, it came with a preface by President Johnson with his own assessment of the situation that was completely at odds with the detailed information in the Schurz report. Johnson said that; “As the result of the measures instituted by the Executive…the people in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee, have reorganized their respective State governments, and ‘are yielding obedience to the laws and government of the United States,’ with more willingness and greater promptitude than…could reasonably have been anticipated.” The president claimed that the white governments in those states were implementing state laws to guarantee the “comfort, protection, and security” of the freed slaves and that in the all-white legislatures of the Southern states “systems are gradually developing themselves under which the freedman will receive the protection to which he is justly entitled.”10
Johnson’s message was a dead letter before it was read.11
On the same day that Schurz’s report was delivered to the Senate, Speaker of the House Thaddeus Stevens announced that he intended to use his office to end Federal support for white supremacy. The Pennsylvania Radical Republican informed his colleagues that the supposedly reformed Confederates whom President Johnson was appointing to offices in the South as well as their Northern Democratic allies were pandering “to the lowest prejudices of the ignorant, repeat[ing] the cuckoo cry, “This is the white man’s Government.”” Stevens warned that the pandering might extend even to the president saying that “Demogogues of all parties, even some high in authority, gravely shout, “This is the white man’s Government.””12
Defiantly, Stevens asked “What is implied by this? That one race of men are to have the exclusive right forever to rule this nation, and to exercise all acts of sovereignty, while all other races and nations and colors are to be their subjects, and have no voice in making the laws and choosing the rulers by whom they are to be governed. Wherein does this differ from slavery except in degree?” This doctrine of rule by one race over all others contradicted the great doctrine of the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal””, he insisted.13
Before the Declaration, “it was held that the right to rule was vested in families, dynasties, or races, not because of superior intelligence or virtue, but because of a divine right to enjoy exclusive privileges,” Stevens reminded Americans. With the Declaration, “Our fathers repudiated the whole doctrine of the legal superiority of families or races, and proclaimed the equality of men before the law. Upon that they created a revolution and built the Republic.” Through the compromises necessary to create the new United States, the Founders put off dealing with slavery, thereby creating an imperfect union. He told these men who had just won the Civil War that “It is our duty to complete their work. If this republic is not now made to stand on their great principles, it has no honest foundation.” Ending slavery would never be enough if blacks were left without the full protections of citizenship.14
Thaddeus Stevens speaking in the House of Representatives. Stevens was a radical opponent of white supremacy and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Stevens’s speech was the great battle cry of the new revolution to upset the regime of white supremacy that had chained the great American republic for four score and ten years. In a few months Stevens would turn to Scottish immigrant Robert Dale Owen for a way forward in what they both saw as an epochal struggle for the principle of equality. These months were the formative time for the revolutionary 14th Amendment.15
Video: Historian Eric Foner on President Andrew Johnson
1. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 by Eric Foner; After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War by Gregory P. Downs (2015); A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration by Steven Hahn (2005); Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment by Michael Vorenberg published by Cambridge University Press (2001); Report on the Condition of the South by Carl Schurz (1865); The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz Volume 3 by Carl Schurz, edited by Frederick Bancroft and William Dunning published by Doubleday (1917); Advice After Appomattox: Letters to Andrew Johnson, 1865-1866. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987 edited by Brooks Simpson, LeRoy P. Graf, and John Muldowny; Intimate Letters of Carl Schurz 1841-1869 by Carl Schurz published by State Historical Society of Wisconsin (1928).
2. The Immigrants’ Civil War
3. Intimate Letters of Carl Schurz 1841-1869 by Carl Schurz published by State Historical Society of Wisconsin (1928) p. 349.
4. Intimate Letters of Carl Schurz 1841-1869 by Carl Schurz published by State Historical Society of Wisconsin (1928) p. 351.
5. Intimate Letters of Carl Schurz 1841-1869 by Carl Schurz published by State Historical Society of Wisconsin (1928) p. 349-352
6. Report on the Condition of the South by Carl Schurz (1865); Intimate Letters of Carl Schurz 1841-1869 by Carl Schurz published by State Historical Society of Wisconsin (1928) p. 349-352
7. Report on the Condition of the South by Carl Schurz (1865)
8. Intimate Letters of Carl Schurz 1841-1869 by Carl Schurz published by State Historical Society of Wisconsin (1928) p. 351.
9. Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America by Garrett Epps published by Henry Holt (2007) pp. 35-38, 65-72.
10. Report on the Condition of the South by Carl Schurz (1865) Johnson’s Preface.
11. Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America by Garrett Epps published by Henry Holt (2007) pp. 65-72.
12. Reconstruction Speech of Hon. Thaddeus Stevens, of Pennsylvania Delivered in the House of Representatives, December 18, 1865
13. Reconstruction Speech of Hon. Thaddeus Stevens, of Pennsylvania Delivered in the House of Representatives, December 18, 1865
14. Reconstruction Speech of Hon. Thaddeus Stevens, of Pennsylvania Delivered in the House of Representatives, December 18, 1865
The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:
1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.
2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.
3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.
5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants
10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.
12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.
17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers
39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.
40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.
43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.
49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.
50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.
54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.
60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation
106. The Draft Riots End in a Sea of Blood-July 14-15, 1863.
157. A Scottish Socialist and a German General Work to Help Slaves Become Freedpeople-Robert Dale Owen, Carl Schurz and the founding of the Freedmen’s Bureau.
169. The 14th Amendment, the German Immigrant Carl Schurz, and the Assault on White Superiority Part of The Coming of the 14th Amendment
Immigration Vacation -Civil War Sites