Washington, Arkansas’s Mayor John Eakin, who was also editor of the Washington Telegraph Newspaper, managed to keep a sane point of view at a time of confusing foment. Not a single Union soldier had been to his city during the War Between the States, but at the end of the costly and bloody conflict, troops from Michigan came marching in, ostensibly to keep order. Emotions amongst the citizenry ranged from fear to resentment to anger to frustration. So, the Yale-educated mayor wrote a poignant editorial for the paper and made an impassioned speech.
In these, he made it clear that all duties of patriotism concerning the Confederacy died when President Davis and his cabinet were captured and when the Southern congress dispersed never to re-form. He also mentioned the final surrender of the last army of the South under General Smith. He held out no hope of the reassembling of the Confederate government. Mayor Eakin showed the futility of allegiance to that government for, in his words, “nothing remains to which allegiance may attach.”
His argument was clear, concise, cogent and apparently well-received by the majority of citizens who just wanted to regain a sense of normalcy. Many agreed when the mayor looked at the flag of the United States flying in front of the courthouse and said, “It is good to see the old flag flying here again.” But there were those who could not accept the new configuration. To these, Eakin said they should find a new country, probably meaning Mexico just to the south. Those who stayed, the great majority, were required to sign an oath of loyalty to the United States which included this phrase: “I will abide by…proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God.”
The wife of a local former slave-holder in Washington, Mrs. Carrigan, made an entry in her dairy just after the war expressing great concern for former slaves who were homeless, wandering about the streets of Washington with no place to lay their heads. I know that must have been a terrifying condition with no local prospects for a livelihood in the place called home for so long. The price of freedom was great for all concerned. But freedom finds a way in the United States of America.
In every age, leaders emerge like John Eakin, who energetically acted as educator and encourager of the populace through his editorial skills and rhetorical acumen. Eakin had the gift of seeing what we sometimes call “the big picture.” Provincial in his personal tastes, he was nonetheless cognizant of the world beyond his borders. He had read history and he had a deep understanding of the human heart in conflict with itself. He knew as we often forget that there was not a single motive for the great war, but many motives, some of them wildly contradictory. And, mainly, he knew the necessity for a powerful persuasive voice, which he provided eloquently.