Some republicans were initially a little hesitant to back Chamberlain for governor fearing that he supported
President Johnson in wanting to hand power back to the South.1
This could have been due to comments Chamberlain
made in February at the Military Order of the Loyal Legion where he said,
"A great and difficult duty is laid upon us all to help the poor, surprised race among us, whose
enfranchisement was the signal incident of the war, to make themselves truly free. Still greater and
more difficult is the task for the States now restored to their place in the Union, having on them a double burden;
of dealing with this multitude among them suddenly let loose from slavery; and of settling in a new order civil,
social and industrial relations which have been shaken to their very foundations. A work which can effectually be
done through the best minds of the South, although lately swept into the ranks of the Rebellion. Surely they need
our truest sympathy and assistance, in working out this revelation of the new life."2
His comment on "the best minds of the South," along with the knowledge that he had
saluted the surrendering Confederates at the formal surrender ceremony could have fueled fears that
Chamberlain sympathized with the President Johnson and the South. Some papers even accused him
of being a Democrat. Chamberlain relieved these fears by addressing the issue in a letter to a friend.
"It seems little else than absolute madness to hasten to reinvest with political power the very men
who precipitated upon us the horrors of civil war; and little else than cowardly wickedness to turn our backs upon the
millions whose humble and despised condition did not prevent them from befriending the country
when it was most in need of friends, and yet this very madness and this very wickedness constitute to-day
the main feature of a policy urged upon the country with the full strength of the party which,
pretending to oppose the war during its continuance, did in reality encourage and prolong it by moral
support, and now that the war is ended in triumph, so contrary to their predictions, seeks to rob that
victory of the fruits we had supposed secure."
This letter, along with testimony from Republicans in his home town who stated Chamberlain had been voting
Republican loyally since 1856, succeeded in alleviating his party's fears and they enthusiastically elected him governor.
In his Inaugural Address
Chamberlain gives an explanation for his apparent change of mind on Reconstruction,
"At the close of the war, the secession element was completely disorganized and broken. The South
as a faction was disintegrated. The war for secession had revealed the selfish motives and reckless means of its instigators,
and had bred bitter dissensions. The Confederacy was held together only by military force. And when vanquished with its own
weapons, it laid down its arms, its people were ready, looking at their necessities and their interests, to accept
such terms as they knew they could expect from a victor whose magnanimity was proverbial to a fault. -
And it is not hazarding too much to assert that had no particular policy of reconstruction been
interposed, and nothing been attempted but to provide against suffering and protect personal rights in the South
until the assembling of Congress - the rightful authority in the matter - the whole country to-day would be in relations far
more satisfactory both to North and South. Now however, the distracted elements have been united, the spirt of rebellion has been
revived to hopes it had abandoned, and with divers passions harmonized and excited to the key note of a battle-cry, the South
stands to-day in solid and bristling phalanx."
When put in command of a small region of Virginia af after the War ended, Chamberlain had a good experiences with the citizens there,
being offered Mint Juleps on the porch or banquets in his honor, perhaps lead him to expect more out of the vanquished South.
The report of assassination attempts on General Ames, his one time commander, seen on April 10th and 19th, may have been the trigger for Chamberlain.
It suggested that the war was not over and that there were many battles yet to be won.
To his credit he did come around to the need for stronger Reconstruction measures before the Memphis Race Riots, before the New Orleans
Race Riot, and before the formation of the Ku Klux Klan.
- For the book mentioned on June 26th see Campaigns of a Non Combatant
- The official report on Petersburg that is quoted I have not yet found.