Comic History of the United States - Bill Nye

Reconstruction without Pain

Administrations Of Johnson And Grant

It was feared that the return of a million Federal soldiers to their homes after the four years of war would make serious trouble in the North, but they were very shortly adjusted to their new lives and attending to the duties which peace imposed upon them.

The war of the Rebellion was disastrous to nearly every branch of trade, but those who remained at home to write the war-songs of the North did well. Some of these efforts were worthy, and, buoyed up by a general feeling of robust patriotism, they floated on to success; but few have stood the test of years and monotonous peace. The author of "Mother, I am hollow to the ground" is just depositing his profits from its sale in the picture given on next page. The second one, wearing the cape-overcoat tragedy air, wrote "Who will be my laundress now?"

Andrew Johnson succeeded to Mr. Lincoln's seat, having acted before as his vice.

A great review of the army, lasting twelve hours, was arranged to take place in Washington, consisting of the armies of Grant and Sherman. It was reviewed by the President and Cabinet; it extended over thirty miles twenty men deep, and constituted about one-fifth of the Northern army at the time peace was declared.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


President Johnson recognized the State governments existing in Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana, but instituted provisional governments for the other States of the defeated Confederacy, as it seemed impossible otherwise to bring order out of the chaos which war and financial distress had brought about. He authorized the assembly also of loyal conventions to elect State and other officers, and pardoned by proclamation everybody, with the exception of a certain class of the late insurgents whom he pardoned personally.

On Christmas Day, 1868, a Universal Amnesty was declared. The Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery, became a part of the Constitution, December 18, 1865, and the former masters found themselves still morally responsible for these colored people, without the right to control them or even the money with which to employ them.

The annual interest on the national debt at this time amounted to one hundred and fifty million dollars. Yet the Treasury paid this, together with the expenses of government, and reduced the debt seventy-one million dollars before the volunteer army had been fully discharged in 1866.

Comment on such recuperative power as that is unnecessary; for the generation that fights a four-years war costing over two billions of dollars generally leaves the debt for another generation or another century to pay.

Congress met finally, ignored the President's rollicking welcome to the seceded States, and over his veto proceeded to pass various laws regarding their admission, such as the Civil Rights and Freedman's Bureau Bills.

Tennessee returned promptly to the Union under the Constitutional Amendments, but the others did not till the nightmare of Reconstruction had been added to the horrors of war. In 1868, after much time worse than wasted in carpet-bag government and a mob reign in the South which imperilled her welfare for many years after it was over, by frightening investors and settlers long after peace had been restored, representatives began to come into Congress under the laws.

During this same year the hostilities between Congress and the President culminated in an effort to impeach the latter. He escaped by one vote.

It is very likely that the assassination of Lincoln was the most unfortunate thing that happened to the Southern States. While he was not a warrior, he was a statesman, and no gentler hand or more willing brain could have entered with enthusiasm into the adjustment of chaotic conditions, than his.

The Fourteenth Amendment, a bright little bon mot, became a law June 28, 1868, and was written in the minutes of Congress, so that people could go there and refresh their memories regarding it. It guaranteed civil rights to all, regardless of race, color, odor, wildness or wooliness whatsoever, and allows all noses to be counted in Congressional representations, no matter what angle they may be at or what the color may be.

Some American citizens murmur at taxation without representation, but the negro murmurs at representation without remuneration.

The Fenian excitement of 1866 died out without much loss of life.

In October, 1867, Alaska was purchased from Russia for seven million two hundred thousand dollars. The ice-crop since then would more than pay for the place, and it has also a water-power and cranberry marsh on it.

The rule of the Imperialists in France prompted the appointment of Maximilian, Archduke of Austria, as Emperor of Mexico, supported by the French army. The Americans, still sore and in debt at the heels of their own war, pitied the helpless Mexicans, and, acting on the principles enunciated in the Monroe Doctrine, demanded the recall of Maximilian, who, deserted finally by his foreign abettors, was defeated and as a prisoner shot by the Mexicans, June 19, 1867.

The Atlantic cable was laid from Valentia Bay in Ireland to Heart's Content, Newfoundland, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-four miles, and the line from New York to the latter place built in 1856, a distance of one thousand miles, making in all, as keen mathematicians will see, two thousand eight hundred and sixty-four miles.

A very agreeable commercial treaty with China was arranged in 1868.

Grant and Colfax, Republicans, succeeded Andrew Johnson in the next election, Horatio Seymour, of New York, and Frank P. Blair, of Missouri, being the Democratic nominees. Virginia and Mississippi had not been fully reconstructed, and so were not yet permitted to vote. They have squared the matter up since, however, by voting with great enthusiasm.

In 1869 the Pacific Railroad was completed, whereby the trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific—three thousand and three hundred miles—might be made in a week. It also attracted the Asiatic trade, and tea, silk, spices, and leprosy found a new market in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Still flushed with its success in humorous legislation, Congress, on the 30th of March, 1870, passed the Fifteenth Amendment, giving to the colored men the right to vote. It then became a part of the Constitution, and people who have seen it there speak very highly of it.

Prosperity now attracted no attention whatever. Gold, worth nearly three dollars at the close of the war, fell to a dollar and ten cents, and the debt during the first two years of this administration was reduced two hundred million dollars.

Genuine peace reigned in the entire Republic, and o'er the scarred and shell-torn fields of the South there waved, in place of hostile banners, once more the cotton and the corn. The red foliage of the gum-tree with the white in the snowy white cotton-fields and the blue-grass of Kentucky (blue-grass is not, strictly speaking, blue enough to figure in the national colors, but the author has taken out a poetic license which does not expire for over a year yet, and he therefore under its permission is allowed a certain amount of idiocy) showed that the fields had never forgotten their loyalty to the national colors. Peace under greatly changed conditions resumed her vocations, and, in the language of the poet,—

"There were domes of white blossoms where swelled the white tent;

There were ploughs in the track where the war-wagons went;

There were songs where they lifted up Rachel's lament."

October 8, 1871, occurred the great fire in Chicago, raging for forty-eight hours and devastating three thousand acres of the city. Twenty-five thousand buildings were burned, and two hundred million dollars' worth of property. One hundred thousand people lost their houses, and over seven and one-half millions of dollars were raised for those who needed it, all parts of the world uniting to improve the joyful opportunity to do good, without a doubt of its hearty appreciation.

Boston also had a seventy-million dollar fire in the heart of the wholesale trade, covering sixty acres; and in the prairie and woods fires of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan, many people lost not only their homes but their lives. Fifteen hundred people perished in Wisconsin alone.

In 1871 the damage done by the Alabama, a British-built ship, and several other cruisers sent out partly to facilitate the cotton trade and partly to do a little fighting when a Federal vessel came that way, was assessed at fifteen million five hundred thousand dollars against Great Britain by the arbitrators who met at Geneva, Switzerland, and the northwestern boundary line between the United States and British America was settled by arbitration, the Emperor of Germany acting as arbitrator and deciding in favor of America.

This showed that people who have just wound up a big war have often learned some valuable sense; not two billion dollars' worth, perhaps, but some.

San Domingo was reported for sale, and a committee looked at it, priced it, etc., but Congress decided not to buy it.

The Liberal Republican party, or that element of the original party which was opposed to the administration, nominated Horace Greeley, of New York, while the old party renominated General Grant for the term to succeed himself. The latter was elected, and Mr. Greeley did not long survive his defeat.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


The Modoc Indians broke loose in the early part of Grant's second term, and, leaping from their lava-beds early in the morning, Shacknasty Jim and other unlaundried children of the forest raised merry future punishment, and the government, always kind, always loving and sweet toward the red brother, sent a peace commission with popcorn balls and a gentle-voiced parson to tell Shacknasty James and Old Stand-up-and-Sit-down that the white father at Washington loved them and wanted them all to come and spend the summer at his house, and also that by sin death came into the world, and that we were all primordial germs at first, and that we should look up, not down, look out, not in, look forward, not backward, and lend a hand.

It was at this moment that Early-to-Bed-and Early-to-Rise-Black Hawk and Shacknasty James, thinking that this thing had gone far enough, killed General Canby and wounded both Mr. Meacham and Rev. Dr. Thomas, who had never had an unkind thought toward the Modocs in their lives.

The troops then allowed their ill temper to get the best of them, and asked the Modocs if they meant anything personal by their action, and, learning that they did, the soldiers did what with the proper authority they would have done at first, bombarded the children of the forest and mussed up their lava-beds so that they were glad to surrender.

In 1873 a panic occurred after the failure of Jay Cooke & Co., of Philadelphia, and a money stringency followed, the Democrats attributing it a good deal to the party in power, just as cheap Republicans twenty years later charged the Democratic administration with this same thing. Inconsistency of this kind keeps good men, like the writer, out of politics, and turns their attention toward the contemplation of a better land.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


In 1875 Centennial Anniversaries began to ripen and continued to fall off the different branches of government, according to the history of events so graphically set forth in the preceding pages. They were duly celebrated by a happy and self-made people. The Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia in 1876 was a marked success in every way, nearly ten millions of people having visited it, who claimed that it was well worth the price of admission.

Aside from the fact that these ten millions of people had talked about it to millions of folks at home,—or thought they had,—the Exposition was a boon to every one, and thousands of Americans went home with a knowledge of their country that they had never had before, and pointers on blowing out gas which saved many lives in after-years.