The New Governor of Virginia
April 6, 1868
Out with the old Governor Peirpoint in with the the new Governor Wells. Governor Henry Wells, born in New York, is a successful lawyer. Although Wells is from the north and a Republican, white Southerners view him in a good light differentiating him from a northern adventurer, also known as a carpet-bagger. Wells wholly supports "negro" suffrage and plans to achieve order with a military provisional government.
The New Governor of Virginia. " The king is dead." " Long live the king." "The king never died" "Time runs against the king." The first sentence applies to our good friend Governor Peirpoint. The second to General Wells. The third to the office. The fourth to General Schofield, who has appointed a man Governor who has not been a " citizen" of Virginia for five years. Henry H. Wells is about forty-two years of age. He was born in the State of New York, but removed while young to Detroit, Michigan. We know not where he received his education; but he studied law under Hon. J. M. Howard, now one of the United States Senators from Michigan. He practiced his profession successfully in Detroit. He also entered political life, and was several times elected to represent that city in the Legislature of Michigan. He was the presiding officer of the House at the session of 1855-'6. He was a Whig at first, but became a Republican years before the war. Upon the breaking out of the war he entered the military service. One of our informants says he was a cavalry officer, and another that he was colonel of the First Michigan regiment of infantry ; but we incline to credit the statement of a Radical contemporary that he was lieutenant-colonel of the Twenty-sixth Michigan infantry. In 1863 he was appointed Provost-Marshal General of the defences south of the Potomac, with headquarters at Alexandria. In April, 1863, while acting as such officer, he sold out his possessions in Detroit, and removed with his family to Alexandria, where he has ever since resided. It is said that a mission to Italy was tendered to Mr. Wells by President Fillmore. At any rate, he was a lawyer of good standing at home, and has maintained a good reputation at the bar since his removal to Virginia. His practice is said to have been quite a large one at Alexandria, and quite a lucrative one also in Judge Underwood's court in this city. In this respect, as well as in the fact that he is a man of good family, good character, good reputation, and good education, he differs from the northern adventurers who are known as " carpet-baggers." His interests are now the interests of Virginia, and he is not supposed to be as rabid a Republican as some others. Nevertheless, he is fully committed to negro suffrage. In 1865 he was invited by a delegation of " loyal" men to accompany them to Washington to see Mr. Johnson upon party business, but declined to do so in the following sharp letter: " Alexandria; Va., June 21, 1865. "My Dear Sir,-I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note inviting one to accompany a committee of loyal citizens of Virginia in a call upon the President of the United States. My official duties deny me that pleasure, but I cannot forego the opportunity of expressing my earnest sympathy in the movement you are inaugurating. "Very soon after the fall of Richmond I became aware that many of the leading secessionists, despairing of resisting by force of arms the power of the Government or the mighty logic of events which was soon to make Virginia truly free, had determined to attempt by policy what force could not do. Therefore it was that, soon after that event, these persons, in considerable numbers, and with such concert as to indicate a common purpose, appeared and took the oath of allegiance. "An election of members of the Legislature was soon to be held, and among those who announced themselves as candidates were some who had uniformly refused to take the oath, and preferred to lose their property and be separated from their families rather than to acknowledge the supremacy of the Government of the United States. Two years of duty here, and such general acquaintance as it brought, taught me that an oath of allegiance was not conclusive evidence of loyalty, out that it was nearly worthless, unless accompanied by consistent conduct and loyal acts, and no surprise was felt when, on counting the vote, it was found that these gentlemen were elected by large majorities to represent the people in a State Government whose legal existence they had positively denied, and for whose overthrow some of them had within one year plotted and conspired. No one for a moment misunderstood their design, for it was too palpable, and too frequently admitted by the less discreet, to leave room for doubt. With the Legislature in the hands of these men, the calling of a constitutional convention which would repeal the present and restore the old Constitution would be a work of short time and little labor, but very sad in its consequences both to the white and black man. "The country is to-day in a most disturbed condition. The rights of property are not respected ; the man whose fidelity to the Government has never been questioned is told by men fresh from the ranks of the enemy that Virginia will soon furnish him no home ; that its boundaries are not broad enough; that there is no room for the 'Yankee' or those who helped to carry on 'the Yankee war.' The colored man, who was held worthy to bear arms, and did fight bravely, finds no protection, peace, or security, except when in the immediate presence of a military force, and not always even then. This is all wrong, and you are in danger of losing the very things for which the war has been prosecuted ; you may theorize and speculate to the contrary, but the facts remain, and the only wise course is to admit their existence and provide the remedy. "And what is that remedy? It is, in my judgment, to establish a military provisional government, to locate a sufficient military force to preserve peace, command respect, and secure order. In other words, to vindicate the supremacy of the law. Then disfranchise those who are not loyal, making loyal acts, and not a paper oath, the test of loyalty. This done, create a perpetual balance of power, which will at all times secure you from political danger; or, more plainly, let the negro vote. He has fought-let him enjoy the fruits of victory which he helped to win; and in extending the elective franchise to him it is done not because he is a negro, but because he is a free native-born citizen of the United States, twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, who has always been and now is faithful to his Government, obeying all the laws of the State; and every man, white or black, who has such a record ought to vote. It is true there is a prejudice-an old prejudice against such a measure; but, then, it is only a prejudice, and not an argument, and should be weighed as such. "I am, very respectfully, " Your most obedient servant, "H. H. Wells. "To S. F. Beach, Esq., President Virginia Union Association."
About this article
“The New Governor of Virginia,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed February 19, 2019, http://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/961.