Hyde goes home
After Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered his forces at Appomattox
in April of 1865, Thomas Worchester Hyde, of the Bowdoin class of 1861,
a veteran of nearly every eastern battle of the Civil War and a brigade
commander at the age of 24, marched his troops to the aid of Union general
William Tecumseh Sherman, who was still battling rebel troops under rebel
Joseph Johnston in North Carolina. Before he got there, however, Johnston
surrendered. Hyde, at that time in the vicinity of Danville, Virginia,
was made military governor of the place and the surrounding counties until
the 16th of May. After this brief interlude Hyde marched his men back
to Washington. On the way, he noted that:
The peaceful march to Washington over familiar war-worn ground seemed
very queer. There was no firing or [sic] the picket line at night. We
were all becoming impressed with the problem of what we were going to
do when we got home.
Before that problem had to be faced, Hyde and the Sixth Corps troops
got their own grand review in Washington, having missed the first "Grand
Review." After that the men went their separate ways and Tom Hyde's
adventure in the American Civil War came to a close. But meanwhile the
Civil War was still raging for the members of the United States Senate.
The questions of peace and reconstruction now had to be discussed.
Maine Senator William Pitt Fessenden, having resigned as Lincoln's Treasury
Secretary in early 1865, wrote the following words to the sixteenth president,
thanking him for his trust:
to congratulate you upon the greatly improved aspect
of our national affairs
.That your future administration may be crowned
with entire success, and that you may at its close take with you into
retirement the well-deserved gratitude of the people you have well and
faithfully ruled, is the most fervent wish of Your friend and obt. Servant,
W. P. Fessenden.
Abraham Lincoln, however, did not get a chance to retire. John Wilkes
Booth's bullet found him in his hour of triumph and elevated Andrew Johnson
of Tennessee to the presidency.
Fessenden, Bowdoin class of 1823, had recently won reelection to his
senate seat even though he had not campaigned personally for it. Returning
to Washington in December of 1865, the senator from Maine was among the
members of Congress who were upset that Johnson had not called a special
session to deal with the issues surrounding Reconstruction.
The President believed that he had the power to deal with Reconstruction
without Congress. This belief, however, was not in line with what many
in Congress believed. Fessenden, for instance, thought that the former
rebels had no constitutional rights until Congress had readmitted them.
Swearing an oath of allegiance was not enough proof for him that the Southerners
were loyal citizens again. Congress needed to readmit their representatives
first. When Johnson made two proclamations, declaring amnesty and creating
a convention in North Carolina to begin the reconstruction process, Fessenden
noted that "In these proclamations the President had jumbled his
When Congress reconvened that December, eight months after Lincoln's
assassination, the members were out to take matters back into their own
hands. Fessenden found himself at the head of the Senate Finance Committee
once again. But he was also placed at the head of the newly formed Joint
Committee on Reconstruction.
Andrew Johnson's actions quickly earned him the hatred of many congressmen
and senators. He used his authority to veto two bills, which would have
helped newly freed blacks gain aid and representation. Johnson also attacked
Congress, calling it an illegal body since it had failed to seat the eleven
members of the Southern states, which with Johnson's approval had returned
to Washington-many of these representatives had been high-placed Confederate
officials, hence Congress's hesitation to admit them.
Senator Fessenden wanted guarantees made that the Civil War could never
recur and also supported equal rights for African-Americans. In its report,
the Joint Committee noted that former Confederates should have no rights
until they had demonstrated their loyalties to the government against
which they had rebelled.
During this busy congressional session, Fessenden dealt with other issues
as well. He had helped Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch slow down the
government's money machine now that there was no need for a wartime economy.
Fessenden had also disapproved of Secretary William H. Seward's purchase
of Alaska from Russia, believing the territory to be a worthless wasteland.
In other issues, Fessenden also debated the Army Appropriations Bill and
had opposed the passage of the Tenure of Office Bill, a law that restricted
the Executive's authority to remove officials.
Tensions between the two sides were allowed to mount as Johnson turned
more and more towards the conservatives. Congress would not shut its doors,
believing that it should stay in session, for fear that the President
would make other unacceptable policy changes.
Sixty years old and in a state of failing health, Fessenden seriously
considered retiring from the Senate. He had long wanted to return to his
beloved state of Maine, where the fresh air and ocean always revitalized
his soul. He had eyed the position of judge of the U.S. District Court
of Maine but when the seat opened up, however, Fessenden had to turn it
down, realizing that he was needed most in the United States Senate.
And thus, old, sick, and lonely, William Pitt Fessenden surrendered his last chance of a peaceful retirement to serve his country and hold the fort against radical Republicans. As 1868 dawned, Fessenden prepared to fight his final battle.
Next Time: Fessenden & The Trial of Andrew Johnson.
Some editing (by the Orient staff) may have occurred before this piece
was published. To view a full version of the entire series (including
source citations) please visit my website. (This site includes the Chamberlain
and Howard Series and is updated weekly during the school year) at: http://www.bowdoin.edu/~kwongsri
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