How to Put Down the Radicals Constitutionally

September 20, 1866


Angered by the current treatment of the South and the reports published by Radical newspapers, the editor of the Dispatch suggests that the North be treated the same way the South was treated during the war. The editor suggests that newspaper be destroyed and editors jailed if they write pieces critical of Johnson. The editor says this is constitutional because the Civil War still is not truly over.


How to Put Down the Radicals Constitutionally. There can bo no good reason why the President should not suppress all the Radical papers and imprison their editors until they learn to conduct themselves with more propriety. To allow newspapers to apply such terms as "traitor" "perjured villain," and the thousand other epithets which crowd the Radical vocabulary to a President for whom one year ago a southern Bishop was required to pray, and all the churches of whose diocese were closed because he would not do so, is to administer the " laws " in a very partial and one-sided manner. The heresy of the right of secession and all its concomitant and consequential doctrines have been entirely knocked out of the southern people by the war, as we have more than once had occasion to intimate. They now believe in a strong government--by which we mean a President with the will to assume and exercise all the powers which the events of the war have taught us belong to the executive office. We have heretofore declared that without the right of secession a State cannot possibly have any rights at all, except such as her associates in the Union may choose to accord her; for if she is not to judge when her rights are invaded, but must submit to the judgment of the majority invading them, then, of course, that majority will decide their own acts to be valid and constitutional, and the State to have no cause for complaint; and if she prove refractory, and try to withdraw from partnership with such "sisters," she must be whipped back into the same-bonds of union. In a word, the late war has changed the entire structure of our government "from turret to foundation stone," and left us, in the stead of the one we had previously, a consolidated, national government, ruled over by a monarch whom we still call President. During the war, citizens of the northern States were frequently arrested and imprisoned in defiance of all constitutions and laws, State and Federal. The President exercised absolute power, and whoever had the temerity to call in question his right to do so, was quickly consigned to Fort Lafayette, Camp Chase, Fort Delaware, or some other bastile. Newspapers were suppressed at the will of the President or his subordinates. Millions of slaves, recognized as such by the Constitution, were emancipated by a mere stroke of the pen. To be brief, it was settled by the well-nigh unanimous voice of the " great and magnanimous North" that the President had the right to exercise any and all powers whatsoever that had ever been exercised by any prince, king, potentate, emperor, or monarch of any kind or degree. It is not for us who wore "subjugated" by these "short, sharp, and decisive" measures to question their wisdom or to insist upon their unconstitutionality or their inconsistency with a "free" government. We know that "the life of the nation" was said to be "in danger," and that these measures were all declared and decided to be necessary to its preservation And inasmuch as they proved so effective in one case, we would like to see them again employed, now that "the life thr nation" is again threatened. To us of the South it is marvellous that Mr. Johnson should allow such men as Botts, Brownlow, Forney, Greeley, Butler, Wendell Phillips and Jack Hamilton to travel over the country and make speeches denouncing him and his policy, to publish newspapers filled with bitter denunciations of his policy, his character and his intentions. Where is the army? Where is the speaking bayonet? Where the gentlemen in blue who used to shut up printing offices and stand guard over refractory editors? Where the military commissions that condemned loud-mouthed orators to a residence upon the sunny Island of the Dry Tortugas? Surely the President still commands all these means. Surely he is still "every inch a king." If he does and is, then let him silence the Radical orators and editors. He can easily do it. A very small army can soon cause the entire press of the North to unite in supporting the President's policy. One hundred soldiers could guard each of the cities of New York, Baltimore, and Washington, and two or three hundred each of such Radical hotbeds as Boston and Philadelphia. But this is not all that ought to be done. To secure the same degree of unanimity of opinion amongst the people which was deemed so necessary by the last Administration, Mr. Johnson and his Cabinet should have officers stationed at all the churches where the Radicals worship and Radical preachers hold forth, to compel them to "pray for the President." This was a conditio sine qua non a year or two since. Without complying with this condition, no minister was permitted to preach to his own congregation. Can there be any reason In the world why Mr. Johnson should not exact the same conditions ? Is he not threatened with impeachment ? Is not the country threatened by a second civil war? Are not the Radicals in Congress as truly "rebellious" as ever we were? Do they not despise the requirements of the Constitution and turn a deaf ear to the pleadings of justice? Do they not construe laws and constitutions to mean what they please, just as we were said to do? Do they not declare their purpose to force a change of the Constitution upon the people ; or, failing in this, to disregard tho Constitution as it is? Wherein, then, were the late rebels more guilty than these? And why should not the same strong measures which conquered them be brought to bear upon these? It is not for the Radicals to object. They propose to visit upon us of theSouth all these and many worse forms of punishment, because we do not agree with them in opinion. They care naught for the reserved rights of the State or the sacred and inviolable rights of persons. They condemn bills of rights, constitutions, and laws. They wish to make laws for us, and yet call us part of a nation of free men. Mr. Johnson cannot possibly treat them as badly as they wish to treat us, for no other reason than bacause we thought and think that "all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." Let Mr. Johnson apply there own doctrines to themselves, and they will soon learn a lesson in political economy. Does any one reply that these proceedings can only be taken during a state of war? That is just what the Radicals contend is virtually the present condition of the country. They do not admit that the war is over, that the "rebels" are "reconstructed" or that the military should be subordinated to the civil authorities. On the contrary, they in effect deny all these propositions. Then they have no right to object to the use of war measures. They justify General Swawne In preventing Judge Semmes from qualifying as a judicial officer; and Justifying this, they cannot but justify anything. For as the distinguished George F. Comstock said in his speech in New York Monday night, the southern States have precisely the same status in the Union and the same rights that the northern States have, and it follows that if a judge or a newspaper may be "suppressed " in Alabama, an editor or a newspaper may be suppressed in Philadelphia. We commend these reflections to the President and to the Radicals.
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Nat Berry




“How to Put Down the Radicals Constitutionally,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed March 30, 2023,