Letter from Jun. 17, 1865

S.M. Swenson to Elisha M. Pease

  • Full Title

    Original letter from S.M. Swenson to Elisha M. Pease

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    Personal letter written by S.M. Swenson to Elisha M. Pease of Austin, TX on June 17, 1865. In the letter, Swenson writes about his "crude ideas of passing events", including the death of Abraham Lincoln (page 3).

  • Transcription

    New Orleans, 17th Juin 1865

    My dear Sir!

    I have often during the past two years been tempted to write to you or Judge Bell, with a view to give you my crude ideas of passing events, but on reflection, I have always desisted from writing, for fear that the reception of a letter, however innocent might have led to serious trouble with the dominant mob, who have se unfairly, and intolerantly held sway in Austin, You are no doubt, by this time, fully aware of all the important changes which have so rapidly crowded upon us for the last three months, and which have happily broken the power of the military tyranny which for so long a time has been the dread and the bane of the Southern part of the Republic but an equally important part of the close of rebellion still remains to be settled, and in it, I sincerely hope you, and other good and wise men will take a prominent part in Texas. The reconstruction of state Government, I do not think will be so easy or rapid, as seem to be the impression in Texas, if Gov Murrahs acts, is to be taken as an index of opinion there, on this subject I rather think that Texas will for some reasonable time be governed by a military Governor, and aided by the military power now transferred to Texas. Genl Hamilton is the Governor, and I have no doubt will excercise the functions as such, until Civil Government shall be established, He is now at Washington or on his way back and I am informed by letter from thence that be possesses the confidence of the President and Cabinet. I know there is great and bitter prejudices in Texas against him, but I think they are ill founded, except so far as his occasional irregular habits may make him objectionable. He is I am sure kindly disposed to all, even those who persecuted and hunted him, need not apprehend any revengeful acts on his part and I am equally confident that be desires to promote the best interests in Texas. You know him as well, perhaps better than I do. He will need aid and good counsel. I hope you will be his friend and thereby both aid him, and promote the welfare of the state.

    I do not know, or clearly understand the policy of President Johnson towards the Southern States, but I feel confidant that it is widely different from that of the late Mr. Lincoln, who was truly a good and a liberal man, perhaps too much so- his martyrdom is a great loss to us- so far as I can judge, (I may be in error, but I prefer to err on the dark side, rather than to hold out any false hope) the Government does not intend to tolerate the perpetuation in power of any officer or other influential person having held office or been conspicuous in the late rebellion, I think also that slave owners generally will be restrained as much as possible from participation in the reconstruction, for fear that they might by state legislation perpetuate slavery though in disguise and hence the serious efforts to make Negroes voters. I think the amnesty proclamation of President Johnson will be the strict rule, by which the qualification for the exercise of political rights will be judged and the reconstruction to be governed pretty much according to his North Carolina prescriptions. I know there is a large class of influential citizens in Texas who yet think that they will govern the state as formerly, but they will no doubt realize the mortification of being mistaken in that respect, but otherwise I think they will have very little to apprehend either to their personal safety or property except those who do not come under the rule of pardon, and such as may hereafter show hostility to the government. It is no doubt that the government will make itself respected by all, and felt by those who may choose to remain offenders .

    In commercial relations the Government will undoubtedly be equally just to the South as to the North, restrictions upon commerce is daily disappearing, and the duties upon the products of insurrectionary states are abolished east of the Mississippi river, and I have no doubt, will be extended over the country west of that river in a very short time but on the other band
    we must necessarily bear our quota of burden, to which the loyal states have so patiently and liberally submitted during the whole period since the rebellion broke out, this may be inconvenient, but we must do it cheerfully.

    The effort at reconstruction in Texas under the auspices of Gov Murrah, I think is decidedly premature, and however well meant by the Governor, I fear will nevertheless be construed as a wish on his part to perpetuate a defunct power, It had better be abandoned at once, I don't think the assembling of a convention on the state legislation will be tolerated by the military power
    in Texas, and certainly cannot be countenanced by the Government at Washington. If we forget that we were Rebels but yesterday, the government cannot be so oblivious of that fact. We are not going to come back under impression that by so doing we are bestowing a favor upon the government, but rather ask, this boon as erring and repentant citizens- the government is well able to take care of itself, and of us. that we do no more harm.

    As regards the Negroes- they are free and the only question, as yet undecided is whether they shall not immediately be allowed to exercise all political rights this latter concession may be delayed a little while, but it will not be many years before color, or caste, will be no part of the qualification of a voter neither South or North. But I think the government will lend all aid and encouragement in order to make them useful and industrious agriculturists, in fact it is now a question of great solicitude as a subject of political economy apart from humanity or conjointly with it. And to give proper direction to this important element for the well being of Texas, will be one of the most important cares of the governing class. [unlegible] to the Negroes will be disastrous to the planters and the state, if the planters can realize their situation and accommodate themselves to the altered condition of the slaves, they can undoubtedly prosper by raising cotton with paid labor, and I have no doubt realize greater profits from their farms than they ever did under the late labor system. Cotton is high, and will continue so. Texas is now the most prominent state for the production of this staple, and will no doubt remain so under a wise and liberal government, which will enforce justice to the Negro as well as protection to the planters interest. It is no use to try to enact laws, that is not equally applicable to the white, as the black man, and any evasion of as full justice to the Negro as to the white man, will only involve as in embarrassment.

    We must also make up our minds to treat as void, all enactments, and state obligations, passed under rebel rule, this involves repudiation of the revolutionary part of the state debt which is very unpalatable to me in principle , but it has to come either now or in a few years, and it had better be done at once, while so many other unpleasant sores have to be healed than to be left a subject of future controversy and discontent, I was in Mobile a few days after that city was captured, and an influential citizen of Ala. remarked to me "We must rub out and begin anew", I believe here was wisdom in his good natured remark.

    Up to the time when I left Texas we were very much in error as to the power and endurance, as well as resources of the rebellion, last summer there was a very critical period, in fact many wise men trembled for the safety of the country, not so much perhaps simply en account of the rebellion in the south, but foreign fairs
    was a powerful party at the North who favored the election of Genl. McLellan, they were inimical to Mr. Lincoln' s administration, and seemed perfectly willing to acknowledge the peparate existence of the south as a government and so sacrifice the integrity of the country, they failed, and with it the rebellion was doomed to failure also. I was in Washington a couple of months during that period, and it was painful to witness the anxiety of the 1'1al men and equally disgusting to bear northern men as well as from other section, talk treason as publicly and vauntingly as they could have done in Mexico. I was much surprised at the tolerance of the Government, and I yet doubt whether it bad not been a better policy to silence the continual, and undisguised efforts in all the large cities to overthrow the Republic, I spent also some time in Connecticut and called occasionally on Mrs. Niles and Miss Juliet. They were then well, and I think they yet continue to enjoy good health. I occasionally have letters from Mr. Pierson and be always mentions them. In the country all over peace and prosperity, and apparently all were growing rich from the untiring pursuits of industry. And should the finances of the US be well managed hereafter, I think the war has made the north permanently wealthy, at present there is the most unbounded confidence in the Government to pay all its liability and even to extinguish the debt in a comparatively short period the magnitude of the debt is as far above my real comprehension as is the resources of the country to pay it, I think the financiers are right, but it is not reasonable to suppose that a country which has impaired its industry and destroyed one fourth of its resources can be more really prosperous now, than before the war therefore I take for granted that the prosperity is apparent, and that a period not very distant will come, when financial embarrassment will overtake the great masses as well, as the Government but this is really beyond my comprehension and I hope I am wrong in mistrusting the very confident assertions of financiers all over the country. I do not however fear any great depreciation in the Treasury notes because the Government has it in its power to exchange it for interest bearing debt or tax it out of existence . I mean absorb it by taxation what I do fear is depletion of coin, and a want of products for export, to meet the demand for foreign liabilities, I am sorry to see large exports of specie are now being made from New York, and consequent rise in gold, this is a sure test that Govt bonds in Europe are not up to our notions of their value. Bod now is 42%pre and seems to be steadily advancing. Cotton would mend this matter at once but I fear there is not enough of it in the country, and but very little will be produced this year. Be this as
    it may, it is true that all who have aided and reposed confidence in the Government must have prospered, and those who have mistrusted the government credit or been disloyal have either been ruined or impared their fortunes as well as their standing in society. I have most bitterly deplored the extreme folly of Texas following in the lead of South Carolina she has accomplish much, or at least not all that they desired. Col Smiths account as given in the Texas papers is strange news to us. I was much pleased to find these gentlemen so well disposed towards the government, and I admired their manliness and devotion to the state. I saw more of Mr. Ballinger than of Col Smith and I shall be much mistaken if he does not accomplish some good for the state although himself excluded from all direct participation in political affairs-I think he is an estimable and trustworthy gentleman and I feel sorry that he should have consented to have held so obnoxious an office which will undoubtedly be embarrassing to his fortune for the balance of his life. In fact all the officers of the late rebel government will be held individually responsible for all acts of depredation upon property.

    I had a letter a few days go from Mr. Cave, he is in Havanah, and intends to return to Texas, braving the oioum of having acted with the rebellion, as preferable to perpetual banishment. He says he never changed the sentiments he entertained at the dawn of secession.

    I learn Mr. Shaw is alive and in Europe, but I have not had any letters from him since 1863.

    Col. Allston and his wife (Ellen Robinson) are here awaiting transportation to So.Car. The Col looks subdued, but can ill dissemble the wounded pride, peculiar to the citizen of that state. I think he is also a sincere mourner of the death of the "divine institution". In this he is not singular, and possible has greater reason than most of us, who have comparatively but little to lose of that property. Ellen looks to be in delicate health.

    I also met, the other day, with another Austin girl (Miss Clara Freeman). She is now Mrs. Kent- her husband is a native of this city and appears to be very respectable. It is said Genl Beauregard was arrested on yesterday and sent to Washington. It seems to be the fate of all the prominent Rebels to make involuntary journeys northward, particularly so, with the Governors of insurrectionary states who have held power under usurped authority. Poor Lubbock has been in limbo for some time- this must make Govrs Clark and Murrah feel uncomfortable, as it no doubt is a striking admonishion to them.

    I have all the loyal league publications which I procured for the purpose of sending to you or Uncle Swatne, but I never had a safe opportunity to do so and now they are useless literature, I don 't know whether to trouble any one with them I frequently send papers to my wife and I hope she has been neighborly with them. Give my kindest regards to Mrs. Pease, your daughters, Mrs. Ward, Judges Bell and Paschal, Mr. Harris-Hamilton and all other friends and with my best wishes for your health and happiness , I am sincerely your friend and most obedient servant

    S M Swenson

    Hon EM Pease


    I don't know that I hove done right in writing so long a letter, when I began I did not intend to write more than one sheet at most, but it being Saturday night, and alone at my room, I have rambled away without reflection, I hope there may be some items of news to you. I heard from your brother who lives at Janesville through a Mr Blossom who had seem him recently, he was well.



  • Source

    Austin History Center, Pease Papers AR.A.001

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    S.M. Swenson. "Original letter from S.M. Swenson to Elisha M. Pease". Remembering Lincoln. Web. Accessed May 28, 2020. https://rememberinglincoln.fords.org/node/465