September 3, 1866
And let me say tonight that my head has been threatened. It has been said that my blood was to be shed. Let me say to those who are still willing to sacrifice my life [derisive laughter and cheers], if you want a victim and my country requires it, erect your altar, and the individual who addresses you tonight, while here a visitor, [“No,” “No,” and laughter,] erect your altar if you still thirst for blood, and if you want it, take out the individual who now addresses you and lay him upon your altar, and the blood that now courses his veins and warms his existence shall be poured out as a last libation to Freedom. I love my country, and I defy any man to put his finger upon anything to the contrary. Then what is my offence? [Voices, “You ain’t a radical,” “New Orleans,” “Veto.”] Somebody says “Veto.” Veto of what? What is called the Freedmen’s Bureau bill, and in fine, not to go into any argument here tonight, if you do not understand what the Freedmen’s Bureau bill is, I can tell you. [Voice, “Tell us.”] Before the rebellion there were 4,000,000 called colored persons held as slaves by about 340,000 people living in the South. That is, 340,000 slave owners paid expenses, bought land, and worked the negroes, and at the expiration of the year when cotton, tobacco, and rice were gathered and sold, after all paying expenses, these slave owners put the money in their pockets- [slight interruption]-your attention-they put the property in their pocket. In many instances there was no profit, and many came out in debt. Well that is the way things stood before the rebellion. The rebellion commenced and the slaves were turned loose. Then we come to the Freedmen’s Bureau bill. And what did the bill propose? It proposed to appoint agents and sub-agents in all the cities, counties, school districts, and parishes, with power to make contracts for all the slaves, power to control, and power to hire them out-dispose of them, and in addition to that the whole military power of the government applied to carry it into execution.
Now [clamor and confusion] I never feared clamor. I have never been afraid of the people, for by them I have always been sustained. And when I have all the truth, argument, fact and reason on my side, clamor nor affront, nor animosities can drive me from my purpose.
Now to the Freedmen’s Bureau. What was it? Four million slaves were emancipated and given an equal chance and fair start to make their own support-to work and produce; and having worked and produced, to have their own property and apply it to their own support. But the Freedmen’s Bureau comes and says we must take charge of these 4,000,000 slaves. The bureau comes along and proposes, at an expense of a fraction less than $12,000,000 a year, to take charge of these slaves. You had already expended $3,000,000,000 to set them free and give them a fair opportunity to take care of themselves -then these gentlemen, who are such great friends of the people, tell us they must be taxed $12,000,000 to sustain the Freedmen’s Bureau. [Great confusion.] I would rather speak to 500 men that would give me their attention that to 100,000 that would not. [With all this mass of patronage he said he could have declared himself dictator.]
The Civil Rights bill was more enormous than the other. I have exercised the veto power, they say. Let me say to you of the threats from your Stevenses, Sumners, Phillipses, and all that class, I care not for them. As they once talked about forming a “league with hell and a covenant with the devil,” I tell you, my countrymen, here tonight, though the power of hell, death and Stevens with all his powers combined, there is no power that can control me save you the people and the God that spoke me into existence. In bidding you farewell here tonight, I would ask you with all the pains Congress has taken to calumniate and malign me, what has Congress done? Has it done anything to restore the Union of the States? But, on the contrary, has it not done everything to prevent it?
And because I stand now as I did when the rebellion commenced, I have been denounced as a traitor. My countrymen here to-night, who has suffered more than I? Who has run greater risk? Who has borne more than I? But Congress, factious, domineering, tyrannical Congress has undertaken to poison the minds of the American people, and create a feeling against me in consequence of the manner in which I have distributed the public patronage.
While this gang-this common gang of cormorants and bloodsuckers, have been fattening upon the country for the past four of five years-men never going into the field, who growl at being removed from their fat offices, they are great patriots! Look at them all over your district? Everybody is a traitor that is against them. I think the time has come when those who stayed at home and enjoyed fat offices for the last four or five years -I think it would be more than right for them to give way and let others participate in the benefits of office. Hence you can see why it is that I am traduced and assaulted. I stood by these men who were in the field, and I stand by them now.
I have been drawn into this long speech, while I intended simply to make acknowledgments for the cordial welcome; but if I am insulted while civilities are going on I will resent it in a proper manner, and in parting here tonight I have no anger nor revengeful feelings to gratify. All I want now, peace has come and the war is over, is for all patriotic men to rally round the standard of their country, and swear by their altars and their God, that all shall sink together but what this Union shall be supported. Then in parting with you tonight, I hang over you this flag, not of 25 but of 36 stars; I hand over to you the Constitution of my country, though imprisoned, though breaches have been made upon it, with confidence hoping that you will repair the breaches; I hand it over to you, in whom I have always trusted and relied, and, so far, I have never deserted-and I feel confident, while speaking here tonight, for heart responds to heart of man, that you agree to the same great doctrine.