I do not err in my estimate of the agencies which brought about the adoption of this measure. Mr. Lincoln told the whole story in his letter to Colonel Hodges, of April 4th, 1864 when he said, "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years' struggle the nation's condition is not what either party or any man devised or expected. God alone can claim it. [Cries of yes! yes!] Whither it is tending seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong and wills also that we of the North, as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wong impartial history will find therein new causes to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God."
Not less instructive and wonderful is the history of manhood suffrage. When the active hostilities closed in April, 1865, the slavery question was virtually settled but there then loomed up another question quite as difficult. It remained for us to ascertain what consideration was to be given to the four millions of the African race whose lot had been cast amongst us. All idea of an extensive plan of involuntary colonization had been abandoned. It was conceded that these people were to remain here and become a permanent portion of our population, but the problem was to determine what position they were to occupy and what functions they were to discharge in our political system. To the solution of this enigma the best minds of the country were steadily addressed. Difficulties apparently insurmountable presented themselves on every hand. Life-long prejudices stood ready to strangle every effort to award even a limited citizenship to manumitted slaves, and cried out with unfeigned horror at the bare mention of a design to confer upon them the right to vote. But observe how these obstacles, so formidable in the distance, were leveled to the plain as we approached them, and how the way was cleared when the time came for the nation to make its second grand advance in the application of liberal principles.
Among the first to grapple with the question of reconstruction was Henry Winter Davis, who with his remarkable prescience fully appreciated its transcendent importance long before the rebellion had been overthrown. [Applause.] It was on his motion that a committee was in the Thirty eighth Congress to consider and report upon the recommendations of the President's Message touching that subject. The bill which the committee was passed by Congress and fialed only to become a law because Mr. Lincoln refused to give it his approval. This bill, be it remembered however right on other points confined suffrage to the white male citizens of the Rebel States duly enrolled. The Republican majorities in Congress which adopted it as containing their plan of reconstruction were not then prepared to entrust the negro with the ballot. Mr. Lincoln in his proclamation giving his reasons for refusing to sign the bill made no point whatever in favor of negro suffrage. Nor did he make any such point in the plan which he presented to the country in his annual message of 1863. On the contrary Mr. Lincoln recommended that only those should be alllowed to vote who were qualified voters 'by the election law of the State existing immediately before the so-called act of scession.' He even declared himself satisfied with the plan of the Davis bill as 'one very proper plan' but justified his failure to approve it on the ground that he did not wish to be 'inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration.' Thus it is clear that as late as August 1864, neither a Republican President nor a Republican Congress was prepared to proffer the ballot to the colored man. The plans of both were equally inconsistent with universal suffrage and a difference of opinion upon non-essential points prevented the adoption of either.
Mr. Lincoln in his speech made on the 11th of April 1865 (the last he ever made) expressed a preference that the elective franchise should be conferred on very intelligent colored men [applause] and on thsoe who had served as soldiers in the Union army [applause] but argued in the same speech in favor of the recognition of the State Government of Louisiana, which had been organized under his plan. In this condition stood the Reconstruction problem when Andrew Johnson succeeeded to the Presidency.
In all the Reconstruction proclamations which he issued he made the law in existence prior to the rebellion the test of qualifications and threw all the weight and power of his great office into the contest in support of his views. The result was a notable failure. Instead of restoring the Union he restored the rebellion. A result so unexpected and alarming roused the loyal people of the country to a sense of their danger, and they at once declared against Mr. Johnson and his policy. [Cheers.] They became satisifed that nothing short of positive, unalterable guarantees could protect them from a repetition of the devastating and ruinous treason from which they had shortly before been delivered, and hence they demanded that the terms of adjustment should be incorporated into the Constitution. [Applause.] They further demanded that the tests of loyalty should be specifically prescribed, and that every Rebel should be made to conform to them before taking any part in the reorganization or administration of any State Government. In response to these demands, Congress submitted to the States the Fourteenth Amendment which was readily accepted and ratified. [Applause.]