Robert W. Flournoy to Thaddeus Stevens
November 20, 1865
Robert W. Flournoy
The following is a letter from Robert W. Flournoy to Thaddeus Stevens, in which Flournoy discusses the dangers facing the newly freed slaves as well as other possible consequences of the North's loose hold on the South.
New Albany, Miss.
November 20, 1865
Hon. Thaddeus Stevens
Having written to Senators [Henry] Wilson & [Charles] Sumner, touching subjects of vital interest to the country and especially to the freedmen, I take the liberty of addressing you because I believe there is no person to whom I can communicate who is more disposed to see justice extended to that unfortunate people than yourself. I am a Southern man by birth and education, and at one time partook of all the prejudices incident to one so circumstanced. I was until the abolition of slavery a large slave holder, and my interest led me to sustain the institution. It now being destroyed I look at the whole question in a very different light than that in which I once viewed it.
I in common with a few men here am anxious to see the negro have all the rights of a citizen, and I wish to see him possessed of and protected in those rights, and as the end to the securing [of] those privileges and rights, I wish to see continued in the ascendancy that party who has been instrumental in giving him freedom and to whom he can alone look or hope for protection. This is my honest and heart-felt desire.
To leave the negro to be dealt with by those whose prejudices are of the most bitter character against him, will be barbarous. Look at the character of the legislation already carried out and proposed: does it not clearly evince a determination that wrongs and aggression upon that unfortunate people shall be continued[?] And whether the opinion is well or ill founded, it, is very widespread here, that the president intends to sustain such a course; and hence the south is encouraged in the course she is now pursuing, and today not only is the hatred intensified against the freedmen[,] but is deep rooted against the free states and against the Union. Whatever genuine Union sentiment was forming and would in time have grown up, has been checked by Mr. Johnson's course[;] he has made a great mistake. He is now the favourite [sic] of all the diseffected [sic] elements here, in fact [of] all but the very few who through the whole war amidst persecutions and dangers remained though with fear and trembling true to the Union.
We had hoped when the government had succeeded in crushing out the rebellion treason would if not punished at least by the government been held dishonorable. But instead of that traitors are elevated to offices of honor and will soon be knocking at the doors of Congress claiming seats, elected by traitors as a reward for efforts in attempting to destroy the very government they are now asking to take a part in governing. To admit such men[,] many of whom have defeated union men upon no other grounds but that they were union men[,] will be rewarding treason. And their objects to renew in the halls of congress those disgraceful scenes so supercillious [sic] and overbearing [and] characteristic of southern men for the last twenty years. Those men will expect you to repeal all disabilities against them because they were active in their overt treason against the government.
By admitting them you will strengthen a party north who is as treasonable as any people here, whose public men and papers did do, and are doing[,] more to cause the rebellion and keep up a hatred of the Union and union than [any]thing else. The hope is wide spread that a foreign war will occur; that these men may strike again at the Union, and failing that they hope to get up an internal revolution and by the assistance of copperheads to control the government by physical force and crush any party or man north who they believe was instrumental in wresting from them their treasured institution of slavery. And the feeling is becoming general here that slavery will be reestablished in other words. Those whom the government and in many instances the states have declared free, shall be returned into slavery for their benefit. And these are the hopes and expectations you are called upon to cherish and foster. And the badge of disgrace is to attach to men, and the lives of themselves and their families endangered at the south, because they did not raise patricidal hands against the government their fathers had established for them, and which they believed was the best that ever existed.
He who supposes all danger is over knows but little of real southern feelings; there is comparatively no nationality here, the south would rejoice over defeats which the United States might meet with in conflicts with foreign governments. And the policy of removing the military from rebellious states is simply suicidal. To save a few millions of money, you are preparing the way for the spending of billions and the sacrifice of thousands of valuable lives. The whole policy of the government as proposed to be conducted by the president is wrong, he is enlisting no gratitude upon the part of the south, he is creating no generous patriotism, which embraces all sections of the country, or that feeling of fraternal regard for all the people of our common government. The South has yet to learn a lesson which five years of disaster has not taught her[:] she is moody, proud, arrogant, and vindictive; gloating over her delayed revenge, and anxiously waiting for the opportunity to strike. Such being her condition you are called upon to extend to her a generous confidence, and shake the hands still dripping with the blood of slaughtered union men and soldiers.
Send the applicants for seats upon the floor of congress back home, and let the rebellious states know and feel that there is a power left that can reach and punish treason. But the other day a negro woman was killed by a white man, and not three miles from where I write a negro man was accused of stealing cotton. There was no proof to convict him[;] at the dead hour of the night he was taken out of his bed from his wife, and this morning I hear his body has been found suspended by the neck to a tree[;] the murder occured [sic] three or four nights ago. This would not have taken place had the company of troops stationed at Pontotoc remained. There will be no attempts made to investigate this horrible act by the authorities or people here. It would cost any man his life to attempt to do so. Is this to be the end of all that has been done to accomplish the freedom of the negro, is he to be left in the hands of his bitterest foes, who will seek their disappointed vengeance upon him, for the acts of others[?]
R. W. Flournoy