Joint Committee on Reconstruction
Governor William G. Brownlow
What Secession Brought Tennessee

Nashville, April 6, 1865.

Secession is an abomination that I cannot too strongly condemn, and one that you cannot legislate against with too much severity. What has it done for our country in the space of four years? It has plunged our country into civil war, paralyzed our commerce, destroyed our agricultural pursuits, suspended the whole trade and business of our country, lessened the value of our property, destroyed many of the pursuits of life, and has involved the South in irretrievable bankruptcy and ruin.

What has it done for Tennessee? It has formed odious and unconstitutional military leagues, passed military bills, and inaugurated a system of oppressive taxation, without consulting the people, and then, in mockery of a free election, has required them by their votes to sanction its usurpation, at the point of the bayonet, under the penalty of imprisonment and death. It has offered a premium for crime, in ordering the discharge of culprits from prison, on condition that they would enter the rebel army, and in recommending the judges to hold no courts for the trial of offenders. It has stained our statute book with the repudiation of honest northern debts, and has palpably violated the Constitution, by attempting, through its unlawful extensions, to do away with the right of suffrage. It has passed laws making it treason to say or do anything in favor of the government of the United States, or against the so-called Confederate States. It has prostrated and overthrown the freedom of speech and of the press; it has involved the whole South in a war whose success is now proven to be utterly hopeless, and which, ere another year roll round, must lead to the ruin of the common people. Its bigoted, murderous, and intolerant spirit has subjected the people of Tennessee to many grievances. Our people have been arrested and imprisoned; our houses have been rudely entered and shamefully pillaged; our families have been subjected to insults; our women and children have been tied up and scourged, or shot by a ruffian soldiery; our towns have been pillaged; our citizens have been robbed of their horses, mules, grain, and meat, and many of them assassinated and murdered.

Hundreds, yes, thousands of our young men, middle-aged and old men, have been driven from our State, and compelled to enter the federal army, in strange regiments, and their bones now lie bleaching upon the many battle-fields of the south and west, and all this because our people were true to the traditions of their fathers, and refused to worship rebel gods. And to the honor of the people be it known, that more regiments to-day swell the number of the armies of the Union than there are living traitors in the ranks of the enemy.

In this once proud capital of the "Volunteer State," there have been thousands of Union refugees, men, women, and children, broken-hearted, naked and starving; a great many are here still. They have fled from the wicked and murderous guerillas, after being robbed of everything they possessed. They have lived in camps or tents, by fires in the open woods, have dragged out a miserable existence for a time, and died among strangers. Hundreds have suffered from actual want of necessary food, shelter, and clothing, while many residences in this rebellious city have been occupied by the families of those who were fighting against their country, or, being citizen rebels, and home traitors, have fled within the rebel lines. These families have remained here protected, and have wielded an over-ruling social influence. Many of them are wealthy, and live in ease and comfort. They have busied themselves in giving information to the enemy, in carrying delicacies to rebel prisoners who have been confined here for their crimes and treason. And it is stated upon undoubted authority, and the fact is notorious in this capital, that the disloyal families never contributed in the slightest degree to the relief of the poor and distressed women and children, or disabled soldiers thrown upon this population by the operations of the war. I state these facts, which may have the appearance of a personal and local character, that you may know how to shape your course when personal and local legislation is called for.


Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction of the First Session Thirty-Ninth Congress, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1866, Tennessee, pages 13-14.