[FROM OUR SPECIAL 'CORRESPONDENT.)
New York, October 12, 1865. THIS week one occasion of outcry against the Southern people,. and one very good reason for the demand that they should not be released from the pressure of military authority has been removed. It has been announced by telegraph that the State Convention of Alabama had "practically abolished" negro testimony in courts. of law. Whereupon, although it seemed difficult to abolish that which did not previously exist, there was great indignation. Naturally and justly, for even under a Government not reckoned among the few called free, there seems to be no tenable reason for refusing to accept the evidence of any person, be he infidel, slave, interested party, or what not, at what it is worth, leaving: the determination of that worth to court, counsel, and jury. But it proved that the telegraph should have said " established," and that the Convention provisionally admitted negro testimony, the- question as to which is to be finally passed upon by the next State Legislature. There is hardly a doubt that the Legislature, in, this case at least, will confirm the decision of the Convention, although, strange as it may appear, there is more reluctance at the South, among the more cultivated classes, to yield this point to the negro than any other, not even excepting that of the elective- franchise.
I had yesterday evening a long interview with a gentleman who had arrived here only in the morning from an extended tour- through the States of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina,. Georgia, and Tennessee. I have known him intimately for many years. He is one of those rare men who unite the ability of tell- ing exactly what they see, neither more nor less, with that of seeing, really seeing, all that is before their eyes. He made his. journey under peculiar advantages, which I need not detail here.. I should add that he is one of those Boston men who are in favour of giving the negroes the elective franchise. As to the external aspect of the South, he informed me that nothing was to be learned by a traveller which was not already well known to the readers of newspapers here and in England. He crossed the sixty-mile wide swath that Sherman cut through Georgia and South Caro- lina, and even there found nothing whatever new to him. There were the evidences of destruction, but they were such as any one can imagine ; railways torn up, barns and fences destroyed, especially in South Carolina ; crops carried off, and the marks of fire frequently occurring. The ruins of a railway station, a mile or two of track torn up, the cinders of a barn or two, a good many ragged negroes lounging about,—this is about all that can be seen that is remarkable to a Northern eye, on the line of Sherman's great march. The significance of the prospect is in its continuity. All that a traveller ordinarily well informed can gain by his visit he learns by intercourse with the people. Upon two points he formed very decided opinions,— opinions which will have great weight with the War Department, and even in the Cabinet as a whole. The late Slave States should, in his opinion, be cleared thoroughly and immediately of negro troops. The presence of these troops has a very bad effect both upon the whites and upon their own people. The whites are offended and much irritated by what they regard as the inten- tional insult of intimidating a conquered people by a force of men who were or might have been their former slaves. This aggra- vates their sense of calamity, and makes sore their consciousness of subjugation. In this manner it provokes them also to the manifestation of ill-will against the negroes themselves, and tempts them to throw difficulties in the way of efforts made to adapt the freedmen to their new condition. The freedmen themselves are made lazy, fractious, and " sassy " by the presence of troops of their own colour. Their ignorance cannot be over- estimated, or their credulity overtasked. To them the world seems but a few plantations wide, with a place beyond—very like the place "beyond Jawdam," the poor creatures think—where Yankees live, and whence they have come to be the good genii of the negroes. Having a few months ago been mere human chattels, not allowed to be out after a certain time, or to step over a certain line without a pass, the evidence of a hundred of them worth nothing against the meanest white man's word, the presence among them of men of their own race, armed, in uniform, in military array, and exercising power, not over them only, but their masters, makes them—why should it not ?—feel as if they each one had Aladdin's lamp. The mere sight of a negro sentinel halting one of their former masters, who only a few months ago might have killed him on the spot for raising his hand, and no questions been asked, this sight acting upon their childish, half-civilized imaginations, is enough to make them ready to believe everything. And they do believe, and are encouraged by the black troops to believe, that the land ought to be and will be divided among them ; and they then fancy that in some mysterious way, con- sequent upon this miraculously new order of things, they will be able to live upon their acres without labour, as their masters did formerly. There are some of them who, although they are sorely unsettled by their new condition, as it was inevitable that they should be, are not led entirely away by these hallucinations. But these are the house negroes, most of whom have some white blood in them, although it may only be an eighth or a sixteenth ; and they form the very rare exceptions. The field hands on the plantations are at present in a mild craze, which manifests itself chiefly in laziness and in impudence of a monstrous and grotesque character, which seems to justify the whites in their ill-feeling, and keeps up a deplorable condition of affairs.
The other point which seemed so clear to this clear-headed and candid observer was that the giving of the elective franchise to the Southern negroes must be postponed as long as possible, certainly for a generation, which conclusion indeed followed almost inevit- ably upon the former. He clung with unflinching tenacity, though with manifest effort and sense of duty, to his conviction that it would be wrong, the negroes being there and subject to the laws of the country, to cut them off, after due preparation and proba- tion, 'as a race, from all hope of the same political right that was given in the course of a few years to every Irish and German pea- sant that came to the country—to deprive them, in his own words, of a future. But he said that no man of common sense and ordinary prudence could go down among them and advocate the giving of political power to this overwhelming mass of semi-barbarous (though in the moral sense not savage) and utterly ignorant men, who were born and " raised " not even to own themselves, or be guided by their own volition. He favoured a somewhat advanced standard of qualification for the franchise to be applied to all of either race who hereafter should be admitted to the suffrage. And this because it would exclude not only the present generation of negroes, but hereafter the more debased of the " mean whites," who are intellectually benighted, and morally little superior to the negroes, except in that quality of self-reliance which the negro rarely acquires, even in the Free States, in all of which he may acquire real property, and in some become a voter. To disfranchise men who are already voters is a proposition of course not to be entertained for a moment. It is impossible. But he thought that this check might be impartially applied hereafter. In the case of the whites I believe this plan to be utterly impracticable. The people neither of the North nor of the South would, in my judgment, listen patiently to the sug- gestion. To his surprise, he found the large planters less opposed than most people at the North to giving the negroes the elective franchise. The opposition is greatest among those of middling and lower station. But one of the planters let him into the secret of this willingness. " Give the niggers the suffrage if you
please," he said ; " I'm content. I know that my Diggers will vote as I tell them." But the people of inferior means and position, who have had only two or three slaves with whom they have been brought into pretty close contact, the " mean whites," who have had none, rebel against a project which, in their eyes, reduces them to the level of " nig- gers" who a few months ago were slaves, and who now are what has been detested at the South most of all human creatures- " sassy free niggers." As the people of middling and low condi- tion are of course very largely in the majority, these men are likely to have their way, unless they are coerced, or at least re- strained, by irresistible external authority.
The plan of political reconstruction which this gentleman thought most likely to be adopted is one which is in great favour at the West, although, as he said, it is illogical, and directly at variance with our theory and practice of government. To under- stand this project my readers must remember that representation has front the beginning of our Government been based upon popu- lation, and that although it is but recently that manhood suffrage has obtained in any part of the country, the number of represen- tatives sent by a State to the House is determined by the num- ber of its inhabitants. But at the formation of the Constitution the delegates from the Free States contended that slaves being property, and having no interest in the Government, should not be reckoned as part of the basis of representation, while on the other hand, the delegates from the Slave States contended that the slaves, although they were property, were also popula- tion, and should be reckoned. The dispute was settled by a com- promise providing that five slaves should be reckoned as three in the basis of representation. By this arrangement the weight at Washington of the white population at the South was greater than that of the same number at the North just in proportion to the number of slaves. But now that the slaves have been made free, and according to the letter of the Constitution must be reckoned at their full number in the basis of representation, if they do not vote, the weight of the Southern people in the Government will be yet more increased, so that in fact one Southern vote will be about equal to two at the North ; which very simple and obvious fact was set forth long before the publication of the Boston manifesto. But to suppose that we would spend three thousand millions of dollars and sacrifice four or five hundred thousand men to take back the conquered insurgents at twice our own value, is some- what to overrate our magnanimity and self-sacrifice. It is therefore proposed that the basis of representation shall be, not population, but voters ; and this is the plan which is in favour at the West, and which my friend, who is not only well informed but sagacious, thought likely to find general favour, although he himself condemned it because it makes no provision for the political enfranchisement of the negro. In its effect this plan, if the State Governments secured the negro in his civil rights of person and property, with a status in court as witness, would probably be acceptable to a very large majority of the people of the country. In its effect, I say, for in fact it would be very difficult to secure its adoption, because it would require a change in the Constitution, and would affect the representation of
every State in the Union. For if voters only are to be reckoned in the basis of representation, of course women, children, and
annaturalized foreigners, who swell the census lists of all States, must be left out of the calculation. This condition of the pro- posed plan, the difficulty with which even the slightest change is made in our Constitution, and which inflexibility is under ordi- nary circumstances one of the worst features of our system of
government, and, last not least, a kind of conservatism which makes our people exceedingly averse to any organic political change, are obstacles to this project which may prove insuperable. Thus this question, —what shall, or rather what can, be done with the negro ? appears every day more and more perplexing. But the present prospect is that in some way, we can hardly tell how, he will be immediately secured in every civil right, and that the question of his political position will, for a time at least, remain A YANKEE.