James M. Rutland to Andrew Johnson
July 6, 1865

In July 1865, James M. Rutland wrote to President Andrew Johnson, urging him not to remove federal soldiers from South Carolina.

Long Town, Fairfield District
So. Carolina 6th July 1865

His Excellency, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States
Honored Sir:

            I crave pardon of your Excellency for intruding myself upon your Excellency’s notice for a brief moment at this important juncture of our affairs.

            I am a native South Carolinian and have always been loyal to the Constitution and laws of the United States, for which I have suffered much persecution. Two different mobs on two separate occasions visited my house to hang me; I happened to be absent from home on both occasions, and my life was thus saved by accident. A third time a mob was assembled for the same purpose and would have found me if they had come, and would, no doubt, have finished their work that night if they could have procured horses to ride only five miles—they said it was too far to walk and abandoned the business on that ground.

            At this very moment three young men have taken and hold forcible possession of a large estate—and living on it and plundering it—of which I am the legal owner as executor of the will of one Nicholas A. Peay, and swear they will Kill me if I put my foot on the premises. These and numerous other outrages upon me constitute my apology for respectfully soliciting the ear of the chief magistrate of the country for a few moments.

            I made application for redress to the United States’ authorities in Columbia on the 29th of May last—They seemed willing to do their duty, and have since [illegible] to have the principle offenders arrested, but there are many citizens who sympathise with the culprits and give them notice upon the approach of danger, so that they are enabled to elude the authorities.

            Three brothers, John A., Nicholas P., and Franklin Myers, my principle persecutors, stand charged with having committed several murders, and are still at large, though efforts have been made by the military authorities here to arrest and bring them to trial. Some of the murders were of the most brutal and shocking character, and yet (I am ashamed to acknowledge it) the murderers have many sympathisers here—men and women—who would shield them from punishment if they could do so with safety to themselves.

            It is currently reported and believed here that your Excellency, intends at an early day, to appoint a [provisional?] governor for S. Carolina, withdraw the garrisons, and establish civil law once more within our borders. My humble opinion is (though they would probably hang me if they knew I said it) that a majority of the people of this state are not ripe for such a measure. It seems to me, from the best observation I can make, and the best information I can procure, that there is a strong undercurrent of feeling here against the authority and Government of the United States. It is true they are taking the oath of allegiance freely, but many of them look upon it as a sort of necessity, and do not love the Union any the more because they have taken the oath.

            The public meetings held in the State recently would seem to indicate that the people are almost sincere in their desire to return to their allegiance and become good citizens. I think these indications illusory. The truth is they wish to get rid of what they call a military despotism, and this is the only mode of attaining that end.

            My opinion is that many criminals will go [unwhipt?] of justice unless [they are?] punished by military law, especially those who have murdered [illegible] prisoners belonging to the Union army, and those who have stolen property belonging to the U.S. Government. I mean more particularly the property which belonged to the once so-called Confederate Government, and was to be turned over to the U.S. Government by the terms of the surrender of generals Lee and Johns[t]on. A secession jury would probably convict with reluctance in all such cases.

            The transition from slavery to freedom will no doubt cause great trouble and distress in the country, and unless the U.S. authorities remain among us at least until after the first of January next (when many changes must necessarily taken place) I think that trouble and distress will be greatly increased. Many of the negroes are intoxicated by the idea of freedom, and with no very kind feelings for their former owners or the white race in the former slaveholding States generally, are disposed to run into excesses and become insolent and disorderly; and hence they will require to be dealt with sternly for many months before they can be brought fully to understand their duties and properly to practice them. I am very sure they can be much more successfully and more easily managed by United States troops than by the civil authorities of the State.

            Unfortunately for us of the South we have been a people of but one idea (slavery) and have met the fate that every people of but one idea must sooner or later meet—destruction. We are ruined individually and collectively, and I can hardly say we have not deserved our fate. Those who, like myself, were so unfortunate as to be in the path of Genl Sherman in his recent march through the country, are doubly ruined. They have felt and experienced what it means to send “fire and sword” through the land. The destroying angel seemed to have directed his movements. The transition of the white man in the former slave states, from one idea to many, without convulsion, is about as difficult as that of the negro from slavery to freedom.

            If left to ourselves at this time, we will be apt to run into excessive legislation, and make too many invidious distinctions between the two races—especially while the mortification of defeat, and our immense loss of property, are agitating our minds as strongly as they are at present. In such a state and condition of things I do not think we are capable of judiciously governing ourselves. A little delay, it seems to me in making the appointment of provisional governor will be of service to South Carolina, and can work no detriment to the General Government.

            I trust your Excellency will entertain the suggestions I have herein made, and give them such consideration as they may seem to merit. I assure your Excellency they are prompted by the earnest desire of advancing justice and benefiting the country.

            For my character and standing in the community where I live I refer your Excellency to Hon. W. W. Boyce of Winnsboro’ S. Carolina, who has known me intimately for more than twenty years; to Hon. James L. Orr of Anderson S.C. who was a classmate in college; also to Hon. L. M. Ayer of Barnwell S.C., another classmate in college. I could give hundreds of other references but these are deemed sufficient.

            I am, sir, with great respect, your Excellency’s most obt and humble servt.

J.M. Rutland


James M. Rutland to Andrew Johnson, 6 July 1865, Andrew Johnson Papers, Library of Congress.