Join
Connect
Archibald Gracie Camp #985
New York, N.Y.
SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS
The Fort Warren Letter

Today is the birthday of a great American, Confederate, and Texan: John Henninger Reagan. A US Representative from Texas until he resigned when Texas seceded, Reagan would go on to serve as Postmaster General of the Confederacy. At the conclusion of the War, he was imprisoned, and sent a letter to his fellow Texans urging them to bow at once to the will of the Federal Government. The letter was widely condemned, and Texas went on to assemble a government of its own choosing. However, the government was inevitably rejected, and Texas was placed under martial law via Reconstruction. This, tragically, validated Reagan’s foresight, and rehabilitated his image among his fellow Texans, and was returned to the Congressional seat he had held prior to the War.

Here, in full, is the infamous letter:

TO THE PEOPLE OF TEXAS

The condition of the country is such as to awaken the anxious solicitude of every citizen. Portions of you have honored me with your confidence on many occasions. I have tried to repay that confidence by sincere efforts for your good, and by faithful service. Though now a prisoner, in solitary confinement, and far from you, without knowing when, if ever, I shall be permitted to mingle with you again, and my children and relatives and friends among you, my anxiety for their and your welfare induces me to ask the permission of the Government to send you this communication. I have tried to form a correct estimate of the condition of affairs, and send you the result of my reflections. The times demand the exercise of thought and reason, and the free expression of opinions. I hope mine may be the least suggestive. As our condition forces unwelcome thoughts and actions on us, and as, in my judgment, your best interests require you to assent to facts and conclusions, and to adopt measures, conforming to the new order of things, which must be repugnant to your past experience and to your reason and prejudices, I take the liberty of suggesting to you frankly that line of action which seems to me best calculated to promote your welfare. I need not assure you of my sympathy with you, and I trust I need not doubt your confidence that I would advise you to no course which I did not think best for you.

I see that General Hamilton, who has been appointed Provisional Governor by the President, has entered on the discharge of his duties. He will have advised you of the policy of the Government, and of what will be expected of you, and will no doubt call a convention to organize the State government, as is being done in other States similarly situated.

Your condition as a people is one of novelty and experiment, involving the necessity of political, social, and industrial reconstruction, after a sweeping and thorough revolution in all these respects; and this is to be accomplished in opposition to your education, traditional policy, and prejudices.

I do not propose to discuss either what belongs to the past, or the policy of what is now required of you, but to accept the present condition of things, as the result of the war, and of inevitable necessity, and from this, as a starting point, to inquire what policy our people should adopt for the future.

You must, m the first place, recognize the necessity of making the most you can of your present condition, without the hope of doing all you might desire. This is required both by reason and necessity.

The State occupies the condition of a conquered nation. State government and State sovereignty are in abeyance, and will be so held until you adopt a government and policy acceptable to the conquerors. A refusal to accede to these conditions world only result in a prolongation of the time during which you will be deprived of a civil government of your own choice.
And it would do more than this‑it would keep questions of the gravest character open for discussion and agitation, and by degrees accustom the whole country to a sort of military government, which, if greatly protracted, must necessarily subvert the civil government, and result in the establishment of a military‑ despotism, without bringing you any nearer to the attainment of your wishes than you are at present. In order to secure to yourselves again the blessings of local self‑government, and to avoid military rule, and the danger of running into military‑ despotism, you must agree

First, to recognize the supreme authority of the Government of the United States, within the sphere of its powers, and its right to protect itself against disintegration by the secession of the States. And, second, you must recognize the abolition of slavery, and the rights of those who have been slaves to the privileges and protection of the laws of the land.

From what I can see this much will be required as the least that would likely satisfy the Government, and secure to you the benefits of civil government, and the admission of your members into the Congress of the United States.

But even this may fail of the attainment of those ends, unless provision shall be made, by the new State government, for conferring the elective franchise on the former slaves. And present appearances indicate that this will be required by Northern public opinion and by Congress. And our people are in no condition to disregard that opinion or power with safety. But I am persuaded that you may satisfy both without further injury to yourselves than has already occurred. If you can do this, and secure to yourselves liberty, the protection of the Constitution and laws of the United States, and the right of local self‑government, you will be more fortunate than many conquered peoples have been. The Government and the people of the Northern States will, I have no doubt, recognize the necessity of your securing these blessings, as important to the whole country, as a means of preserving to it constitutional liberty and the present form of republican government. This is new language to employ in addressing you, and will be as unwelcome to you as it is sorrowful to me. But it would be more than folly, it would be a great crime, for you, and me, and those who may be charged with the duty of reorganizing, and restoring the State to the Union, to refuse to recognize the facts of your situation, however disagreeable, and to speak of and deal with them with candor and directness.

While the Government offers its terms for the restoration of the State to the Union, it demands no other sacrifices than those already made by the result of the war, of renouncing the right of secession, and recognizing the abolition of slavery, with its necessary consequences. These demands being complied with, the civil governments will be organized, the military government withdrawn, your members will be admitted to their seats in Congress, and the State will be in the Union on an equality in all respects with the other States; with no further disabilities, save only such as may attach to individuals. While the Government prescribes the conditions of this return, it authorizes the people of the State, through representatives of their own choice, to execute them. It seems to be the object of the Government, in pursuing this course, to secure what it regards as the fruits of the victory it has won, and, at the same time, to preserve our form of government and the liberties of the people. I know that those who look to the past only, with its sacrifices and losses of principles believed to be true, of property possessed, of national independence sought, and of the heroic dead, may say why talk of liberty now, and of equality in the Union? The answer is, that having attempted to secure and preserve these by an appeal to the God of battles, we failed, and they now, so far as it relates to our political restoration, belong to the dead past, where it is the policy of the conquerors to leave them, and we are required to look to the living present and to the future. If it be thought hard to surrender so much, it must be remembered that such is the fate of war, and we must not forget that by the appeal to arms, whether willingly made or not, we staked not only what the Government exacts, but all our rights and property on the result. That we are not required to surrender all is due, not to the laws of war, but to the enlightened and Christian age and country in which we live, to the liberality of the Government, and to the spirit and genius of our institutions. The questions as to which party to the contest was right or wrong, or as to whether both were partly right and partly wrong, and as to whether we did right or wrong in staking all on the fate of battle, were discussed before the war was commenced, and were decided by each party for itself, and, failing to agree, they made their appeal to the dread arbitrament of arms. It was precisely because the parties could not agree as to the issues between them that they went to war, to settle them in that way. Why should we now think of reopening the discussion of these questions? What good would come of doing so? Wisdom requires us to accept the decision of battle upon the issues involved, and to be thankful that no more has been demanded by the conquerors, and to unite frankly, and as cheerfully as we can, with the Government in carrying out the policy it has propounded. Some of our people seem to still think they can retain their property in slaves under the authority of the Constitution and laws of the United States. If the question had been originally submitted to the courts of the country, instead of to the trial of battle, this might have been the case. But we are not now permitted to claim the protection of the Government which we repudiated and fought against, unless by its consent. It says to the great mass of our people, you may retain your property except your slaves. They are now free. And unless you agree to this you can neither get back into the Government as a citizen, nor into its courts to assert your claims to slaves or any other species of property. The only wise and safe course for you to pursue is to accept promptly, unreservedly, and in good faith the terms and policy offered, and to go forward in the work of reorganization and restoration to the Union. This requires your assent to great pecuniary sacrifices, momentous changes in your social and industrial system, and a surrender of your opinions and prejudices on most important questions. It is humbling to our self‑esteem, humiliating to our pride, and cannot be more unwelcome to you than it is painful to me to feel that duty requires me to give and you to accept this advice. It is not that sort of advice which persons sometimes give but do not accept for themselves. It is for me and mine as well as for you and yours.

To the conferring of the elective franchise on your former slaves, I anticipate stubborn and sincere opposition, based upon the ignorance of the great mass of them, and their total want of information and experience in matters of legislation, administration, and everything which pertains to the science of government, and upon the pride of race. And this objection may be sustained by pointing to the examples of Mexico, and the Central American and the South American States, where by the enfranchisement of the Indians, and negroes, and all others, without reference to race or mental or moral fitness for the exercise of these responsible rights, they have been deprived of the blessings of peace, order, and good government, and involved in an almost uninterrupted series of wars and revolutions, often of the most cruel and barbarous character, for more than half a century, with no present prospect of an amelioration or improvement of their condition. But these difficulties are not insuperable, if you will meet them with patience and reason. I have no doubt that you can adopt a plan which will fully meet the demands of justice and fairness, and satisfy the Northern mind and the requirements of the Government, without endangering good government and repose of society. This can be done by

First, extending the privileges and protection of the laws over the negroes as they are over the whites, and allowing them to testify in the courts on the same conditions, leaving their testimony subject to the rules relating to its credibility, but not objecting to its admissibility. And in this you will conform with the wise current of modern legislation and the tendency of judicial decisions in all enlightened countries.

And, second, by fixing an intellectual and moral, and, if thought advisable, a property test, for the admission of all persons to the exercise of the elective franchise, without reference to race or color, which would secure its intelligent exercise. My own views would be: First, that no person now entitled to the privilege of voting should be deprived of it by any new test. I would recognize m this the difference between taking away a right heretofore enjoyed, and the conferring of a right not heretofore exercised. Second, that to authorize the admission of persons hereafter to the exercise of the elective franchise they should be, 1st, males; 2d, twenty‑one years of age; 3d, citizens of the United States; 4th, should have resided in the State one year, and in the district, county, or precinct six months next preceding any election at which they proposed to vote; 5th, should be able to read in the English language understandingly; and, 6th, must have paid taxes for the last year preceding for which such taxes were due and payable, subject to any disqualification for crime, of which the person may have been duly convicted, which may be prescribed by law.

The adoption of these measures in addition to those before mentioned, would, in my judgment, meet the ends of justice and fairness, secure the reestablishment of the State government, the admission of her Senators and Representatives in Congress, the suspension of military rule, and the restoration of civil, constitutional, and local self‑government. And it would do more. It would secure your protection against other great and pending evils, and is, I am persuaded, of the greatest consequence to your future peace, prosperity and happiness. And for these reasons

First, it would remove all just grounds of antagonism between the white and black races. Unless this is done, endless strife and bitterness of feeling must characterize their relations, and, as all history and human experience teach us, must sooner or later result in a war of races. We know from sad experience what war is between equals and enlightened people. But of all wars, a social war of races is the most relentless and cruel. The extermination or expulsion from the country, or enslavement of one or the other, being its inevitable end, where they are left to themselves; or the loss of liberty to both races, when they are subject to the control of a superior power, which would be our situation. I speak of course of the legal rights and status of the two races. Their social relations are matters of taste and choice, and not subject to legislative regulations.

Second, this course would disarm and put an end to interstate, sectional, political agitation on this subject at least, which has been the special curse of our country for so many years, and which was the cause of the unnumbered woes we have recently experienced and still suffer, by depriving the agitators of a subject on which to keep up such agitation, and of the means of producing jealousy, animosity, and hatred between the different parts of the country, and between the different races. And this would do much toward a renewal of the ancient relations of national harmony and fraternal good will between all parts of the country. And this too is of the greatest consequence to our future welfare, and especially to our people, who know there is no hope of escape from it by appealing to the principles of State sovereignty and to the right of secession.

If the State will adopt this policy at once it will attain the great ends heretofore mentioned, and it will save its own people from years of painful strife and agitation on these questions, which would at last, probably after years of contention, be found to be the only means of bringing it to an end, even if we are driven to nothing worse. How infinitely better it will be for you, for both races, for the present and future, for the whole country, if you will unhesitatingly recognize the existing unalterable facts as to your condition, and the inevitable logic of events, and hasten, as it is in your power to do, the return of the blessings of civil government and constitutional liberty; and avoid, as it is in your power to do, the fearful perils which now lie before you.

I know the painful struggles against education, and habit, and tradition, and prejudice, which such a course will require you to encounter, and how hard it is for human nature to overcome such difficulties. But my sincere prayer is that God, in His goodness and mercy, may enable you to exhibit this last crowning evidence, in the midst of your calamities and sorrows, of your greatness and wisdom as a people.

I do not know how far it may be necessary or wise in the convention, and the succeeding legislatures, to change the general frame of the State government. But if you will pardon me, there is a subject, in this connection, to which I will call your attention.

For many years past it has been my opinion that we have carried our system of popular government to a vicious extreme, which has developed sad evils, and which required correction. I refer to the frequency of the occurrence of popular elections, to the great number of offices filled by the popular vote, and to the shortness of the terms of office. As our laws now stand, all officers, executive, judicial, ministerial, corporate and military, I believe, with the exception of the secretary of state, the Governor’s private secretary, and the clerk of the Supreme Court, are elected by the popular vote of the people, and with the exception of the judges and clerks of the Supreme and district courts, and of State senators, for the short term of two years. And the elections are so arranged that a part of these are elected one year and a part the next, or alternate year, causing a general popular election every year. To this, there are, it seems to me, several serious objections.

First, it involves the too frequent change of officers, and often the loss of skill and experience; and these changes also produce expensive and inconvenient changes of business to a great number of people.

Second, it involves too much expense and loss of time to the public generally, and especially to the large number of candidates, with no compensating benefit.
And, third, which is the main and most serious objection, annual popular elections keep the country in an almost continual political canvass and commotion, and produce and keep up an unnatural and injurious public excitement, for which there is no necessity, and no compensating benefit. And for many years, before the commencement of our late troubles, these might well have produced the impression that the carrying on of canvasses and the holding of elections were the principal business of the country, while the carrying on of the various industrial and professional pursuits, the rearing and education of families, and the support of the Government were but incidental matters. The remedy for these evils may be easily found, and as easily applied, with very great benefit to the public, and with greatly increased credit and safety to our system of free popular self government.

The one I would recommend would be

First, to lengthen all terms of office, which are now two, to four years.

Second, to require all general elections, as far as practicable, to take place during the same year, and at the same time.

And, third, to provide: 1st, that the State treasurer, comptroller, attorney‑general, and commissioner of the general land office should be appointed by the nomination of the Governor and confirmation of the Senate, as the secretary of the state now is; 2d, that the clerks of the district courts should be appointed by the several judges, as the clerk of the Supreme Court is by the judges of the court; 3d, that the county courts should appoint their clerks and the sheriffs, coroner, assessors and collectors of taxes, county treasurers, county surveyors, and the constables for the several precincts of their several counties; 4th, that the mayor and aldermen or councilmen of all cities and towns should appoint their clerks, marshals, treasurers, and other officers.

This would withdraw the appointment of the vast number of ministerial officers from the scramble, excitement, expense, loss of time, and commotion of popular elections. It would confer the authority for their appointment on responsible, intelligent men, who would have been elected to office by the people, and would be responsible to them; and it would secure their appointment on account of their qualifications and fitness for their several duties, rather than for political considerations, or on account of mere personal popularity, without reference to these qualities. It would give greater dignity and importance to our county courts, which they never can have to a proper extent under our present system.

It would at the same time retain to the people the election by popular vote of the Governor, Lieutenant‑Governor, State senators and representatives, judges of the Supreme and district courts, district attorney, chief justices and commissioners of county courts, justices of the peace, and the mayor and aldermen or councilmen of cities and towns; embracing the chief executive officer of the State, and all those who have the power of making laws, or of expounding them or of imposing taxes or other burdens on the people.

And what is of most value, it would render the elections so infrequent and so far apart as to suspend all excitement about them for long intervals, and allow the people to pursue their ordinary vocations free from the repeated interruptions and excitements to which they are subject under our present system; and it would put an end to the corrupting and debasing trade of politics which was created and is being nourished and strengthened by the number and frequency of popular elections. I am persuaded that some such change as this is essential to the public welfare as well as to the credit and success of our system of government, to the permanency of our institutions, and the repose and security of society. And this will be doubly important now, since such great numbers of people, heretofore slaves, and in great ignorance, are now made freemen, and are to become, in some form, either participants or an element in all our political contests.

With these two lines of policy adopted, I think, notwithstanding all your recent misfortunes, you might look with hope and confidence to the future. The negroes will, it is hoped, gradually diffuse themselves among the greatly preponderating numbers of the whites, in the different States and Territories; many of them will probably go to Mexico, and other countries, in search of social equality, and few or none of their race will be added to their numbers by accessions from other countries. While the steady rapid influx of great numbers of the white races, from other countries, will gradually increase the disproportion in numbers between them and the whites, and so render this new element in society and government innocuous, or at least powerless for evil, if they should be so inclined. But from the general docility of their dispositions we may expect the most of them to be orderly, and many of them industrious and useful citizens. But to secure these desirable ends, it must not be forgotten that it is an essential prerequisite to confer on them their reasonable and necessary rights, and to adopt a policy which will prevent them from becoming an element of political agitation, and strife and danger. And we must bury past animosities with those of our fellow‑citizens with whom we have been at war, and cultivate with them feelings of mutual charity and fraternal good will. And it will be .greatly to your advantage, in many ways which I cannot trespass upon you to mention now, to hold out inducements to them, and to emigrants from other countries, to come and settle among you, with their labor, and skill, and capital, to assist in the diffusion of employments, the increase of your population, and the development of your vast resources into new creations of wealth and power.

Time, and patience, and wisdom, and justice, mingled with the holy precepts in the New Testament, are necessary to enable you to secure these great and beneficent ends. That you may by the means I have indicated or others secure these results, shall have my constant hopes and prayers.

Very truly and respectfully,

JOHN H. REAGAN.


Warning: file_get_contents(https://graph.facebook.com/comments/?ids=http://scv.nyc/the-fort-warren-letter): failed to open stream: HTTP request failed! HTTP/1.1 400 Bad Request in /home/content/49/7727949/html/www.nycscv.org/wp-content/themes/newscvnyc/single-primary.php on line 497
Facebook

Warning: file_get_contents(https://graph.facebook.com/scvnyc/feed?access_token=376963709010653|5GLyY9kh8kcmHRI3tfLFTTmtKV8&format=json): failed to open stream: HTTP request failed! HTTP/1.1 403 Forbidden in /home/content/49/7727949/html/www.nycscv.org/wp-content/themes/newscvnyc/sidebar.php on line 19
December 31 at 7:00pm
Like Comment Share


Archibald Gracie Camp #985
New York, N.Y.
SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS
PGMcCullough@scv.nyc
1-800-MY-DIXIE (1-800-693-4943)