|"The Massacre in New Orleans"|
|Harper's Weekly, August 18, 1866, page 514 (Editorial)|
The late tragedy in New Orleans, terrible
as it was, will be of the most salutary effect. Thirty years ago slavery shot Lovejoy
in Alton for defending the right of free speech. Year after year slavery insulted, threatened,
and mobbed Northern men for preaching the Declaration of Independence. For five and six
years past slavery has exiled, tortured, hung, and burned Southern men for fidelity to the
Union. But the sure mills of God grind slowly on, and slavery is abolished.
We have entered upon a new era. Already men are shot by stealth in the late slave States because they declare justice to be the best policy. Already school-houses are burned and teachers hunted away because they seek to enlighten the minds which slavery had darkened. Already the New York World and the other Northern lackeys of slavery denounce Southern men who were true to the Union through fire and flood as "cravens and cowards." In Memphis hatred of the principle of equal rights before the law massacres the most friendless and unfortunate part of the population; and in New Orleans the advocates of the same principle, meeting to discuss the subject, are ferociously murdered. But still the slow mills of God grind on. The seed of equal rights will be watered, not drowned, by the blood of the sowers. It will surely grow into a harvest which no storm can destroy. It will bear its natural fruit of national peace and prosperity; and in the happy day of its ripening those who sought to destroy the seed, whatever their station, whatever their temporary power, will be remembered only as the murderers of Lovejoy and the assassin of Lincoln are remembered.
It is of no importance whether the members of the Louisiana Convention of 1864 were wise or unwise, fanatical or moderate. Any body of men, any where in the country, have the unquestionable right of assembling under any call whatever to consider public affairs. The desire of discussion is their authority. Any number of citizens of the State of New York may lawfully meet any where in the State to propose a new Constitution. One man alone may lawfully proclaim a new Constitution. There is no law against debate or against propositions of any kind, however sweeping or radical they may be. But when men proceed from debating to enforcing their propositions they become amenable to the law and must answer for their overt acts. The Secession Conventions of 1860-61 were properly tolerated as the disunion arguments of the abolitionists had been previously properly tolerated. The Fenian meetings to found an Irish republic were perfectly lawful. But when the secessionists passed from declarations to deeds, and fired upon the forts, and seized the navy-yards, and stole custom-houses; and when the Fenians attempted with arms to make war upon a peaceful neighbor, the United States justly interfered.
The President knew, as every body else knew, the inflamed condition of the city of New Orleans. He had read, as we had all read, the fiery speeches of both parties. He knew, unless he had chosen willfully to ignore, the smothered hatred of the late rebels toward the Union men of every color. He may have considered the "Conservatives" wise, humane, and peaceful. He may have thought the Radicals wild and foolish. He knew that the Mayor was a bitter rebel, whom he had pardoned into office. He knew that the courts had denounced the Convention, and he was expressly informed that they meant to indict the members. He could not affect ignorance of the imminent danger of rioting and bloodshed. Still, if, as he constantly asserts, Louisiana is rightfully in the same
relation to the Union that New York is, he had no authority to say a word or to do an act in that State except "on application of the Legislature, or of the Executive when the Legislature can not be convened." Why did he presume, then, to judge of the authority of the Convention? What has the President of the United States to do with the manner in which delegates to a State Convention are selected? If his own assertion be correct as to the present relation of Louisiana to the Union, the President convicts himself of the most extraordinary and passionate act of executive usurpation and federal centralization recorded in our history.
If, however, he had any right whatever to intervene in the absence of a demand from the
Legislature or the Governor, it was derived from the fact that Louisiana is held by the military power of the United States, in which case her present relation to the Union is not what the President declares it to be, and he has ample and absolute power to do in that State whatever is necessary to keep the peace. And he knew, as he knew his own existence, that a simple word to the military commander to preserve the peace at all hazards would prevent disorder and save lives. He did not speak that word. Assuming to plant himself upon the Constitution, which by his very act he violated, he telegraphed to the Attorney-General of the State. He threw his whole weight upon the side of those from whom he knew in the nature of things the disorder would proceed, and from whom it did proceed. He knew the city was tinder, and he threw in a spark. Every negro hater and every disloyal ruffian knew from the President's dispatch that the right of the citizens to assemble and declare their views would not be protected. The Mayor's proclamation was a covert but distinct invitation to riot. He announced to a city seething with passionate hatred of the Convention, that it would "receive no countenance from the President." It was simply saying, "The Convention is at your mercy."
And the mob so understood it. A procession of negroes carrying a United States flag was attacked. It defended itself; and the work which one word from the President would have stopped, and which he had the full authority to speak if he could speak at all, went on to its awful result. The rebel flag was again unfurled. The men who had bravely resisted it for four years were murdered under its encouragement, and while they were still lying warm in their blood the President telegraphed that they were "an unlawful assembly," and that "usurpation will not be tolerated" -- words which he had no shadow of authority to utter except by the same right which empowered him to save all those lives; a right which he declined to exercise.
The President, who has undertaken by his own arbitrary will to settle every question of the war without consultation with the representatives of the people, says to the murdered men in New Orleans, "Why did you assume to act without obtaining the consent of the people?" The autumn elections will terribly echo that question. Surveying the Executive action of eighteen months, with its plain tendencies and apparent inspiration, seeing that it has left the President with no other party than the most vehement of the late rebels at the South, the Copperheads at the North, and the timid and trimming adherents of the Union party, while the great mass of sturdy Unionists in all parts of the country at the North and South still maintain the ground they have always held, those Union men will write upon the back of every ballot they cast at the coming elections, "Usurpation will not be tolerated;" and upon its face, "Why did you assume to act without obtaining the consent of the people?"
|Harper's Weekly, August 18, 1866, page 514 (Editorial)|
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