April 2, 1877

Washington, D.C.



I am instructed by the President to lay before you some observations upon the occasion and objects which have led him to invite you, as members of the commission about to visit the State of Louisiana, to undertake this public service.


Upon assuming his office the President finds the situation of affairs in Louisiana such as to justly demand his prompt and solicitous attention; for this situation presents as one of its features the apparent intervention of the military power of the United States in the domestic controversies which, unhappily, divide the opinions and disturb the harmony of the people of that State.  This intervention, arising during the term and by the authority of his predecessor, throws no present duty upon the President, except to examine and determine the real extent and form and effect to which such intervention actually exists, and to decide as to the time, manner, and conditions which should be observed in putting an end to it.  It is in aid of his intelligent and prompt discharge of his duty that the President has sought the service of this commission to supply by means of its examination, conducted in the State of Louisiana, some information that may be pertinent to the circumspection and security of any measure he may resolve upon.


It will be readily understood that the service desired of and entrusted to this commission does not include any examination into or report upon the facts of the recent State election, or of the canvass of the votes cast at such election.  So far as attention to these subjects may be necessary the President cannot but feel that the reports of the committees of the two Houses of Congress, and other public information at hand, will dispense with and should preclude any original exploration by the commission of that field of inquiry.


But it is most pertinent and important, in coming to a decision upon the precise question of executive duty before him, that the President should know what are the real impediments to regular, legal, and peaceful procedures under the laws and constitution of the State of Louisiana by which the anomalies in government there presented may be put in course of settlement without involving the element of military power as either as agent or a make-weight in such solution.  The successful ascertainment of these impediments, the President would confidently expect, would indicate to the people of that State the wisdom and the mode of their removal.  The unusual circumstances which attended and followed the State elections and canvass, from its relation to the excited feelings and interests of the Presidential election, may have retarded, within the State of Louisiana, the persuasive influences by which the great social and material interests common to the whole people of a State, and the pride of the American character as a law-abiding nation, ameliorate the disappointments and dissolve the resentments of close and zealous political contests.  But the President both hopes and believes that the great body of the people of Louisiana are now prepared to treat the unsettled results of their State election with a calm and conciliatory spirit.  If it be too much to expect a complete concurrence in a single government for that State, at least the President may anticipate a submission to the peaceful resources of the laws and the constitution of the State of all their discussions, at once relieving themselves from the reproach, and their fellow-citizens of the United States from the anxieties, which must ever attend a prolonged dispute as to the title and the administration of the government of one of the States of the Union.


The President, therefore, desires that you should devote your first and principle attention to a removal of the obstacles to an acknowledgement of one government for the purpose of an exercise of authority within the State, and a representation of the State in its relations to the General Government, under section four of article four of the Constitution of the United States, leaving, if necessary, to judicial or other constitutional arbitrament within the State the question of ultimate right.  If these obstacle should prove insuperable from whatever reason, and the hope of a single government in all its departments be disappointed, it should be your next endeavor to accomplish recognition of a single Legislature as the depositary of the representative will of the people of Louisiana.  This great department of government rescued from dispute, the rest of the problem could gradually be worked out by the prevalent authority which the legislative power, when undisputed, is quite competent to exert in composing conflict in the coordinate branches of the Government.


An attentive consideration of the conditions under which the Federal Constitution and the acts of Congress provide or permit military intervention by the President in protection of a State against domestic violence, has satisfied the President that the use of this authority in determining or influencing disputed elections in a State is most carefully to be avoided.  Undoubtedly, as was held by the Supreme Court in the case of Luther vs. Border, the appeal from a State may involve such an inquiry as to the lawfulness of the authority which invokes the interference of the President in supposed pursuance of the Constitution.  But it is equally true that neither the constitutional provision nor the acts of Congress were framed with any such design.  Both obviously treated the case of domestic violence within a State as of outbreak against law and the authority of established government which the State was unable to suppress by its own strength.  A case wherein every department of the State government has a disputed representation, and the State, therefore, furnishes to the Federal Government no internal political recognition of authority upon which the Federal Executive can rely, will present a case of so much difficulty that it is of pressing importance to all interests in Louisiana that it should be avoided.  A single Legislature would greatly relieve this difficulty, for that department of the State government is named by the Constitution as the necessary applicant, when it can be convened, for military intervention by the United States.


If, therefore, the disputing interests can concur in or be reduced to a single Legislature for the State of Louisiana, it would be a great step in composing this unhappy strife.


The President leaves entirely to the commission the conciliatory influences which, in their judgment formed on the spot, may seem to conduce to the proposed end.  His own determination that only public considerations should inspire and attend this effort to give the ascendancy in Louisiana to the things that belong to peace, is evinced by his selection of commissioners who offer to the country, in their own character, every guarantee of the public motives and methods of the transactions which they have undertaken.  Your report of the result of this endeavor will satisfy the President, he does not doubt, of the wisdom of his selection of and of his plenary trust in the commission.


A second and less important subject of attention during your visit to New Orleans will be the collection of accurate and trustworthy information from the public officers and prominent citizens of all political connections as to the State of public feeling and opinion in the community at large upon the general questions which affect the peaceful and safe exercise, within the State of Louisiana, of all legal and political rights, and the protection of all legal and political privileges conferred by the Constitution of the United States upon all citizens.  The maintenance and protection of these rights and privileges, by all constitutional means, and by every just, moral, and social influence, are the settled purpose of the President in his administration of the Government.  He will hope to learn from your investigations that this purpose will be aided and not resisted by the substantial and effective public opinion of the great body of the people of Louisiana.


The President does not wish to impose any limit upon your stay in Louisiana that would tend to defeat the full objects of your visit.  He is, however, extremely desirous to find it in his power, at the earliest day compatible with a safe exercise of that authority, to put an end to even the appearance of military intervention in the domestic affairs of Louisiana, and he awaits your return with a confident hope that your report will enable him promptly to execute a purpose he has so much at heart.


The President desires me to add, that the publication of the results of your visit he shall hope to make immediately after their communication to him.


I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,


Wm. M. Evarts


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