BY YENA SEO, THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
Washington, D.C. — While the Union claimed victory following the bloody and brutal civil war that tore apart the United States of America for several years, an unfortunate crisis created chaos and disarray among high-ranking union officials. In a truly tragic event, Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of President Abraham Lincoln and beloved First Lady, became the victim of an assassination attempt.
Mary Todd Lincoln was fatally shot while attending Our American Cousin, a play featured at Ford’s Theatre on the evening of April 14, 1865. President Lincoln was also in attendance, but escaped from the theatre unharmed.
The death of Mary Todd Lincoln exacerbated an already tumultuous time period for President Lincoln and the rest of his trusted leaders. The committee, ranging from Congressional representatives to members of the Presidential Cabinet, gathered at the White House to mourn for the loss of the First Lady and to discuss viable solutions to reconstructing the broken union. While many ideas and propositions were introduced, the committee struggled to cohesively work together and settle on initial first steps to repair the fabric of the nation.
Many of the higher-ranking government officials proposed tackling the issue of punishing conspirators and other confederate leaders as the first step, while others stressed the importance of reintegrating the southern states with the rest of the country.
“We need to integrate our development of the South with the development of the West,” Secretary of State William H. Seward commented.
Others disagreed with Seward’s proposition, claiming that it was not the right time and that the tension between the North and the South was still too high for any productive reintegration. Schuyler Colfax, the Speaker of the House, argued that reintegrating the South was a hasty move, while Congressman Rutherford B. Hayes (R-OH) questioned the practicality of reintegrative efforts.
Colfax brought up the issue of allowing former confederate leaders to run for public offices in the United States, noting that they should not be given the opportunity to run until they are screened to fully determine their loyalty to the country. Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase stated that while his current legal opinion allowed for former confederates to run, he would be willing to discuss his opinion with the rest of the committee.
Another topic in heated debate was the granting of amnesty to top officials. While Seward explained that former confederate leaders should be put in jail or sentenced to death in fear of appearing like a nation without a backbone, Postmaster General William Dennison, Jr. argued that such action would result in American government officials looking like tyrants.
The committee continued to have difficulty deciding on one topic of discussion. Secretary of Treasury, Hugh McCullough, reminded his colleagues that to ensure progress, the committee had to be a cohesive body.
“We are talking about too many things, we are talking about economic integration and reintegration and educational efforts,” McCullough said. “We must focus on one area at a time.”