William Fishback Denounces Radical Reconstruction
August 24, 1866

In this letter to the National Union Club, William M. Fishback accused Radical Republicans of stoking sectional conflict and seeking "revenge" against the South. He supported President Andrew Johnson's lenient plan for Reconstruction and urged Unionists to work toward a "lasting and an universal peace." 

Letter from Hon. W. M. Fishback

Ft Smith, Aug. 24th, 1866

Hon. Lorenzo Gibson, Chairman of the National Union Club, Little Rock—

Sir: I have just seen a letter from a government official, (Radical) in Washington county, in which it is stated that “there is great excitement here—both parties are armed to the teeth!”

Making due allowance for the exaggeration usually accompanying a state of “great excitement,” it is yet unquestionable, that our society is in danger of serious disturbance, from the still unallayed passions of the recent conflict.

It has been my desire, sir, and my design, to take no part, of any kind, in any political movement, State or National. Both my interests and my inclination call me to the quiet practice of my profession, by which alone, I expect to acquire a competence. But, sir, I cannot, as a good citizen, be deaf to the appeal which such a state of affairs as the above makes to every patriot, to exert whatever of influence he may have, however small, in the interests of concord and harmony. I recognize it, as especially a duty in my own case, to speak out; because notwithstanding my repeated declarations private and public, to the contrary, since the surrender. There is a number of gentlemen, with whom I actively co-operated, both prior to, and during the war, who, as I learn, still regard me as favoring the new views of the so-called “Radicals!” I cannot consent to be thus misunderstood. Under no other circumstances, I assure you, sir, could I be induced to obtrude my private views upon a public which is making no especial call for them.

A number of those gentlemen, sir, who were with me, Radical war men, pending the late struggle, seem to have been so much alarmed by the magnitude of the conflict, or so exasperated by personal wrongs, as to forget that the war is over, and the issues involved in it all settled! The issue now before us, sir, is not how to make war, but how to make peace! Nor am I entirely free from difficulty in conceiving how a Union man who was a Radical war-man, during the war, from principle, can be anything else than a peace-man, [now] that the Union is saved and the war at an end! I confess that the same love of country which induced me to favor every warlike measure necessary to save the country, induces me, now that the country is saved, to favor every measure necessary to a lasting and an universal peace; for it cannot but be apparent, to even the bluntest intellect, that “great and armed excitement” and riot and strife, is a state of things utterly at war with every true interest of the country!

If there were more of good sense, and less of passion—more concern for the public good, and less of the feeling of revenge, in the councils of our country, the people would find no difficulty in discovering the true issue before them to be—“how best to make the best peace?” Nor would they be at any loss to discern that the very best, if not the only method, is so to conciliate and fraternize the elements of our society, as to render them all interested in advancing, rather than retarding the public good. And, in accomplishing an end so desirable, it surely cannot be a matter of any great concern, what those, who co-operate with us, have been, or have done, but what they will be, and do in the future!

Entertaining views such as these, it is hardly necessary for me to add, that I have no sympathy, whatever, with those extremists, of either party, who seem interested in keeping up this state of “armed excitement.”

Nor, sir, have I any more sympathy with the novel and monstrous doctrines enunciated by what is called the Radical party of the country! And, for one, I do not find myself laboring under any fear that, when properly understood by the American people, they will not be repudiated, as utterly at variance with the character of our Government and subversive of tis liberties.

I call them novel, because they are of very recent date, totally unknown in this country, until now. In this State, they were first enunciated in the winter of 1864, when the informal convention, which framed the present State Constitution, met at Little Rock, to re-organize a State Government. In opposition to their action, certain Radical gentlemen claimed, that we were a territory and no longer a State—that the people of Arkansas had no right to reorganize their Government, but that this right belonged to the Congress alone. The convention very justly adopted the opposite view. They held that this right is inherent in the people of each State, and that Congress has nothing to do with the matter, except to lend its assistance to the Executive, in removing whatever of obstacles might be in the way of the people in the exercise of this their exclusive right and to see that the Government is Republican, that there is no legal excuse for the appointment of provisional and military Governors, except upon the ground of the necessity of removing such obstacles. And sir, it is in this reasoning alone, that the present State Government has its origin or its justification. If it be true, that Congress alone has this right, every State official in Arkansas [is] an usurper, and obnoxious to the penalties of treason; for I have not heard that Congress has either organized a State Government here, or reorganized the one organized by the people.

After the State Government had been reorganized, the credentials of the Senators from Arkansas went before the Senate of the United States, and mine, being the first ever presented from the rebellious States, this Radical dogma was, in my case, for the first time, in the history of our Government, so far as I am advised, enunciated in the National Legislature. Mr. Sumner said, in a speech upon my case, that the State Government had ceased to exist and that no power, within the State, could resuscitate it—that this must be done by some extraneous power, and that power was the Congress of the United States.

What a startling doctrine, sir! That the right to organize their municipal Government should be taken from the people themselves and lodged in the hands of a body in which they are not represented, and which is, therefore, necessarily stranger to both their interests and their wishes, is so totally inconsistent with all our ideas alike of justice and of constitutional rights, as also with the genius of our institutions, that it is difficult to conceive, how any intelligent man can entertain a proposition, so destructive of Republican ideas and of Repub[lican] rights. If, sir, the pestilence, which is raging with such fearful fatality in New York, were to sweep from existence every State official, from Governor down to Constable, thus leaving that State totally disorganized, would any American Statesman have the hardihood to claim for the Congress, the right to reorganize the State Government of New York? And where is the difference between a State Government disorganized by pestilence, as in the supposed case, and one disorganized, as in the actual cases South, by war? Yet, sir, it is from this pretended right, as a parent whence have sprung all the other asserted rights to interfere with the municipal affairs of the States, which are now claimed for Congress by the Radicals, and which, if asserted by the people, would sweep from the mind of the intelligent patriot, the last hope for the future of his country. But, sir, I for one, have no fears of their being indorsed by the American people. The Convention called forth, by the patriotic instincts of the country, recently in Philadelphia, both in its origins, its large attendance, its harmony, and its declarations, at once proves and illustrates the patriotism of our people! God grant is success! The doubt and uncertainty which hang brooding, like an ill-omened cloud, over the South, paralyzing her energies, restraining her enterprise, keeping her back from that race of development, for which nature has so well fitted her and depriving the national treasury of her vast assistance, in liquidating the national debt, can only be removed by the success of this truly national and patriotic movement. And I am the more encouraged sir, to look for that success, because, this Radical creed is so totally inconsistent with the principles, which were announced and which called forth such immense efforts during the late war for the preservation of the Government. The people then held that the Union is indissoluble—the Radicals hold that the Union was dissolved by the Rebellion! The people then held the doctrine that the Southern States are, and were, integral parts of their common Government, in which it was the highest duty of the Executive to remove all obstacles to the due execution of the law, whether from invasion or insurrection, and upon this principle they fought. The Radicals hold as a necessary sequence of their creed, that they were fighting to conquer an independent Government.

The people who fought for the Union were engaged in a war of patriotism. The Radicals, if their views be correct, were engaged in the most stupendous crime of the age—no less in guilt, and infinitely greater, in magnitude, than the robbery of Poland; while the Southern Union man, who conscienciously believed himself a patriot, engaged in a patriotic duty to his country, finds himself, under this Radical view, a traitor to this independent confederacy, which his traitorous efforts helped to conquer, and now helps to hold in subjection!

This divulgence, sir, is too wide and glaring for the people to fail in discerning it. They know that they are right; their patriotic instincts tell them that these Southern States are now, and have always been essential portions of a common Government, from which, no power, but successful revolution, can sever them, and having rights, however obscured during military occupation and from military necessity, co-extensive and co-existant with those of every other like portion of these United States.

Indulging with yourself, sir, the earnest hope, as I do also, the belief, that the decision of the American people, at the ensuing Poll, will be as emphatic, as I am assured it will be patriotic,

I remain, sir, respectfully

Your friend and serv’t,




Daily Arkansas Gazette, September 6, 1866.