The whole question of the wisdom or folly of President Johnson’s plan of reconstruction, as he is at present carrying it out, turns upon the amount of confidence which ought to be reposed in the good faith and good intentions of the Southern people. He is evidently of opinion, if we may judge by his action in the Sharkey-Slocum case in Mississippi, as well as by his language to the Southern delegations, that there is not and ought not to be any limit to this confidence. We are given to understand that before very long he means not only to permit the militia to be called out in all the Southern States, but to recall the Federal troops, except a few garrisons, and leave our Southern brethren entirely to their own devices.
Those who defend his course and his opinions do so by ridiculing the notion that there is any danger of a renewed attempt at insurrection in the South, but this is simply fighting a man of straw. There are very few people at the North who apprehend anything of the sort. The Chicago Tribune the other day showed, by an elaborate calculation, that the permission to call out the Southern militia would place 161,000 men under arms, most of them disbanded rebel soldiers, smarting under their defeats and still fired by the passions of the struggle, and gave its readers plainly to understand that it was fair to anticipate from these people a fresh effort to throw off the “Yankee yoke.” We think this arming of the Southern militia to be unquestionably a very unwise and dangerous proceeding, but not because we expect it to lead to a fresh revolt.
There is nobody who has the least knowledge of the actual physical and moral condition of the South but must treat all such apprehensions as chimerical. There has probably never been a people, since the Gauls, so thoroughly beaten in war as the Southerners have been. The completeness of their overthrow has been in the exact ratio of the vigor and obstinacy of their resistance, and resistance more vigorous and more obstinate was probably never offered by any population of the same size. This generation is certainly completely at the mercy of its conqueror, and incapable of offering the least opposition to his mandates. Should it be able to bequeath its passions and hopes to the next one, there might be a possibility of the latter renewing the struggle, but the next generation is twenty years away, and we are not disposed to look forward so far.
What we fear from the President’s policy is, not a renewal of the war, but the restoration of the state of things which led to the war. We, of course, do not anticipate a revival of slavery “pure and simple”; but it was not the fact of slavery in itself which led to the revolt, but the state of feeling and of manners which slavery bred—the hatred of democracy, the contempt for human rights, the horror of equality before the law, the proneness to violence which always results from inequality, the tone which all these things communicated to Southern manners, literature, education, religion, and society. What we fear now is the reconstruction at the South, not of “slave society,” properly so called, but of a society so closely resembling slave society as to reproduce most of the phenomena which made slave society, politically, so obnoxious, and so dangerous, to the public peace and prosperity. The great lesson which we have learned from the war, if we have leaned any lesson at all, is that homogeneousness, social as well as political, is the first condition of our national existence. This government, we now know as well as we know anything, cannot be carried on, if any portion of the population which lives under it is legally kept in degradation, or legally excluded from the enjoyment of any of the rights or privileges possessed by the rest of the community.