History of the Butterfly, part 105: Grinnell’s Side of the Story

From:  Men and Events of Forty Years, J.B. Grinnell, 1891:

I never saw a man struck by another with a blow in anger until I was called to in a friendly voice on the porch of the capitol of Washington, and assaulted by a cane in the hands of General Rousseau of Kentucky.  He was a pugilist, over six feet in height, weighing fully two hundred pounds, and armed with pistols.  I had not even a pen-knife by me, and was physically unable to resent his assault.  The sequel will show how fully afterwards he was in my power, that heavy drinking was held to mitigate the offense, and that on his death-bed not long after he sent me a frank, if late, apology….

This is, in part, the record.  The House having under consideration the bill to enlarge the powers of the Freedman’s Bureau, I as a member of the special committee and selected to lead in the debate, said:  “This bill has been carefully considered in committee.  It is endorsed in its main features by General Howard of the Bureau, General Grant and Secretary Stanton.”  I showed the abuses of the colored people in Kentucky and the desperate opposition of the delegation from that state, headed by General Rousseau…

Near the conclusion of an hour’s speech I said:  “This discussion is plainly not promotive of the most commendable temper.  The honorable gentleman from Kentucky, Mr. Rousseau, declared on Saturday, as I caught his language, that if he were  arrested on the complaint of a Negro, and brought before one of the agents of this bureau, when he became free he would shoot him.  Is that civilization?  It is the spirit of barbarism that has long dwelt in our land; the spirit of the infernal regions that brought on our war.”

On challenge of my statements, I used this language, which gave offense; proposing to extract or qualify it, if not true:

Mr. Grinnell.  History repeats itself.  I care not whether the gentleman was four years in the war on the Union side or four years on the other side; I say that he degraded his state and uttered a sentiment I thought unworthy of an American officer when he said that he would do such an act on the complaint of a Negro against him.

After Mr. Rousseau had risen to a question of privilege and attempted a denial of the language as reported in the Globe, I said

“I give the member the full benefit of an explanation of his declaration that he would kill a white officer acting under oath and in the discharge of his duty, if that is a less unworthy act than to shoot an American citizen of African descent.  That may not have been degrading to his state, and whether it was, as I said, language unbecoming an American officer is a question which I shall refer to the gallant soldiers of the State of Iowa who never fought, thank God!  but on one side, and it may properly be decided by the code of the first of American generals, and referred to the greatest of American captains, the Lieutenant-General of the United States.*

*(He was referring to General Grant)


About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
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