Monday, March 12, 2012

Southern History: The First Reconstruction

The First Reconstruction
Thomas Allen

With the end of the War came Reconstruction. When the War ended with the Northern army carrying the day on the battlefield, the Radical Republicans were determined to carry the day in the political arena. They were determined to reconstruct the Southern States in their own image. They were determined to remake the entire United States. They were determined that the Republican Party would rule forever and would rule absolutely. To accomplish this agenda, Congress, under the control of the Radical Republicans, enacted a number of laws to remold the South and maintain Republican supremacy. According to Thomas Robinson Hay, “The chief aim of these Reconstruction acts was political and the result was the creation of a class government subject to and supported by the military. In addition, the acts were designed to cripple and so handicap Southern business and industry as to eliminate them as effective competitors of Northern business.”[1] In his Third Annual Message to Congress on December 3, 1867, President Andrew Johnson expressed his objection to these despotic acts as follows:
Yet the system of measures established by these [Reconstruction] acts of Congress does totally subvert and destroy the form as well as the substance of republican government in the ten States to which they apply. It binds them hand and foot in absolute slavery, and subjects them to a strange and hostile power, more unlimited and more likely to be abused than any other now known among civilized men. It tramples down all those rights in which the essence of liberty consists, and which a free government is always most careful to protect. It denies the habeas corpus and the trail by jury. Personal freedom, property, and life, if assailed by the passion, the prejudice, or the rapacity of the ruler, have no security whatever. It has the effect of a bill of attainder or bill of pains and penalties, not upon a few individuals, but upon whole masses, including the millions who inhabit the subject States, and even their unborn children. These wrongs, being expressly forbidden, can not be constitutionally inflicted upon any portion of our people. . . .[2]
(President Johnson’s statement is just as appropriate today — perhaps even more appropriate — when applied to the Second Reconstruction. Judicial decrees issued since 1954 and federal laws enacted since 1960 have done even more damage to republicanism, federalism, and freedom than the Reconstruction laws of the 1860s. If only Lyndon Johnson had been more like Andrew Johnson.) Johnson held that high officials of the Confederacy should be punished, but he opposed punishing Southerners in general. He adamantly objecting to subverting the Constitution and the republican form of government in order to punish those Southerners that he held guilty. Although he acknowledged that military rule would not be perpetual, nevertheless he did not favor it. He remonstrated:
If the guaranties of the Constitution can be broken provisionally to serve a temporary purpose, and in a part only of the country, we can destroy them everywhere and for all time. Arbitrary measures often change for the worse. It is the curse of despotism that it has no halting place. The intermitted exercise of its power brings no sense of security to its subjects, for they can never know what more they will be called to endure when its red right hand is armed to plague them again. Nor is it possible to conjecture how or where power, unrestrained by law, may seek its next victims.[3]
Johnson’s remonstration was ignored. The South endured tyranny for twelve years following the War. What Johnson predicted would happen has again happened in the South, for the South once again endures tyranny.

The South would now endure the tyranny of Reconstruction, which Richard H. Cain, a Black man, described as follows: “When the smoke and fighting is over, the Negroes have nothing gained, the whites have nothing left, while the jackals have all the booty.”[4] Claude G. Bowers wrote about Reconstruction, “Brutal men, inspired by personal ambition or party motives, assumed the pose of philanthropists and patriots.”[5] Frank Owsley declared of Reconstruction, “For ten years the South, already ruined by the loss of nearly $2,000,000,000 [nearly 25 billion in 2006 dollars] invested in slaves, with its lands worthless, its cattle and stock gone, its houses burned, was turned over to the three millions of former slaves. . . . For ten years ex-slaves, led by carpetbaggers and scalawags, continued the pillage of war, combing the South for anything left by the invading armies, levying taxes, selling empires of plantations under the auction hammer, dragooning the Southern population, and visiting upon them ultimate humiliations.”[6] Robert Somers, an English writer traveling through the South five years after the War, described life in the South as follows: “nearly every respectable white man in the Southern States was not only disfranchised but under fear of arrest or confiscation; the old foundations of authority were utterly razed before any new ones had yet been laid, and in the dark and benighted internal the remains of the Confederate armies — swept after a long and heroic day of fair fight from the field — flittered before the eyes of the people in this weird and midnight shape of a Ku Klux Klan.”[7] It was, in the words of John Peale Bishop, a “ten-year period of dictatorship of the proletariat, under the Republican Party. . . .”[8] Reconstruction was an era characterized by Thomas Nelson Page as an attempt “made after the war to destroy the South. She was dismembered, disfranchised, denationalized. The States which composed her were turned by her conquerors into military districts, and their governments were subverted into military tribunals.”[9] Although the Northerners did not literally follow the advice of the Honorable George W. Julian, an Indiana Republican, “I would hang liberally while I had my hand in,”[10] it did deprive most Whites of their political rights as long as they could. With the backing of the Union army, Northern carpetbaggers, Southern scalawags, and Black quislings stole as much property as they could. (The Independent Monitor of Tuscaloosa gave a most appropriate description of the Southern scalawag, “Our scalawag is the local leper of the community. Unlike the carpet bagger, he is native, which is so much the worse. Once he was respected in his circle; his head was level, and he would look his neighbor in the face. Now, possessed of the itch of office and the salt rheum [tears] of Radicalism, he is a mangy dog, slinking through the alleys, haunting the governor’s office, defiling with tobacco juice the steps of the Capitol, stretching his lazy carcass in the sun on the Square, or the benches of the Mayor’s Court.”[11]) The United States government’s treatment of Southerner’s during Reconstruction was based on the principle that Southerners were, as General Pettus said, “an inferior, degraded people and not fit to be trusted.”[12]

With the emancipation of the slaves after the War came the Black Codes in several Southern States. The Black Codes of the South were modeled after New England labor codes. However, the abolitionists and unionists quickly castigated and vetoed these codes. If Blacks comprised as large a percentage of the population in the North as they did in the South, undoubtedly most Northern States would have had Black Codes. Perhaps an exception would have been Indiana and Illinois: They made it illegal for Negroes to enter them.

The North proclaimed equality of the Black man with the White man — in the South, of course, but not in the North. The Northern industrialists, bankers, and their politicians saw the importance of the Black man in the South in maintaining their control of the United States government through the Republican Party. The Black man was the key to their new world order (centralized banking, regulated business for the advantage of big business, growing governmental debt, subsidies from the government, protective tariffs, i.e., the concentration and consolidation of political and economic power) that Southerners opposed. “Equality of the franchise for freedmen was deemed essential to Republican supremacy, and Republican supremacy was consider necessary by influential classes to protect the new economic order,”[13] wrote C. Vann Woodward. Thus, Blacks received the vote in the Southern States before they received the vote in most Northern States. Their vote was unnecessary in the North for Republican supremacy; in the North the bloody shirt was all that was needed. To ensure further Republican supremacy in the South, many Whites were deprived of their right to vote.

Blacks were to be enfranchised in the South but not in the North. On the Black enfranchisement issue, the Republican platform of 1868 proclaimed, “The guaranty by Congress of equal suffrage to all loyal men at the South was demanded by every consideration of public safety, of gratitude, and of justice, and must be maintained; while the question of suffrage in all loyal States properly belongs to the people of those States.”[14] Such was the position of the Republican Party until Grant became President and the Fifteenth Amendment was proposed and ratified. (This Amendment was more vigorously enforced in the South, and continues to be, than it ever was, or has been, in the North.)

The abolitionists and other Northerners who hated the South and Southerners saw equality as the means to punish Southerners. C. Vann Woodward described this hatred for Southerners:
Abolitionists had grounded their whole crusade against slavery on the proposition that it was a ‘sin.’ It is not sufficient simply to abolish a sin; it has to be expiated, and the sinner purified. Purification and expiation involve penance and suffering. Equality had a punitive purpose: the infliction of a penance of humiliation upon the status of the sinner. For those with an uncomplicated interest in sheer vengeance upon a hated foe, equality had punitive uses of a simpler sort.[15]
Lincoln’s solution to the race problem was repatriation. In an executive proclamation issued concurrently with his Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln stated:
I have urged the colonization of the Negroes, and I shall continue. My Emancipation Proclamation was linked with this plan. There is no room for two distinct races of white men in America, much less for two distinct races of whites and blacks. I can conceive of no greater calamity than the assimilation of the Negro into our social and political life as equal. . . .[16]
Why wasn’t Lincoln’s plan to repatriate Blacks implemented after the War? It was not implemented because the pious, sanctimonious Radical Republicans hated the South and all that was Southern. They wanted to humiliate Southerners by having Blacks rule over them. But more than that. They wanted to destroy Southerners. They wanted to use the Negro to breed the Southerner out of existence.

“The war had been fought upon the theory that the old Union must be preserved; but the basic theory of the reconstruction was that a new Union was to be created,”[17] wrote Walter Fleming. The abolitionists were determined to create a new South without Southerners. Thaddeus Stevens, who was arguably the most powerful man in the United States government from the death of Lincoln in 1865 until his own death in 1868, said that the United States should treat the Southern States “as conquered provinces and settle them with new men and exterminate or drive out the present rebels as exiles.”[18] (Such was the object after the War; such remains the objective today.) Walter Fleming described Stevens as “vindictive and unscrupulous, filled with hatred of Southern leaders, bitter in speech and possessing to an extreme degree the facility of making ridiculous those who opposed him.”[19]

What Stevens and the Radical Republicans did was, as Thomas Nelson Page informed, to take “eight millions of the caucasian race, a people which in their devotion and their self-sacrifice, in their transcendent vigor of intellect, their intrepid valor in the field, and their fortitude in defeat, had just elevated their race in the eyes of mankind, and placed them under the domination of their former slaves.”[20] According to Thomas Page, “the eight years of negro domination in the South cost the South more than the entire cost of the war, inclusive of the loss of values in slave property.”[21]

Commenting on Reconstruction, Charles Francis Adams, a Union officer, public official, and historian, wrote, “It may not unfairly be doubted whether a people prostrated after civil conflict has ever received severer measure than was dealt out of the so-called reconstructed Confederate States during the years immediately succeeding the close of strife.”[22] Reconstruction was an era of actual servile domination and outrages and humiliations worse than outrages.

Whatever else Reconstruction gave the South, it gave the Southern States corrupt governments. E.L. Godkin, editor of the New York Nation and supporter of the Reconstruction acts, described the State governmental officials in Georgia as “probably as bad a lot of political tricksters and adventurers as ever got together in one place.”[23] This description could have been written as equally well about the White officials of all the other reconstructed States. Richard Weaver elucidated on the governments of the Southern States during this period: “State governments were set up consisting of outsiders with various axes to grind, the scum of local populace and the misled and eventually victimized freedmen.”[24] (The legacy of corrupt government continuous to curse the South even to this day. Unfortunately, corrupt governments controlled by the scalawags, carpetbaggers, and quislings have been more the rule than the exception since the War.)

In the end, what Reconstruction gave the South was, as Walter Fleming described, a “new generation of whites [that] was poor, bitter because of persecution, ill educated, overworked, without a bright future, and shadowed by the race problem.”[25] Perhaps this is what Yankeedom really wanted for the South all along. A demoralized people are an easily controlled people.

With the election of 1876, the Republican Party needed to cut a deal with the South to maintain power. The South gave the presidential election to the Republicans, and the Republicans ended Reconstruction.

1. Jeffery St. John, “Reconstruction & French Revolution,” The New American (December 9, 1985), p. 60.

2. “The Evil Ends of Radical Republicans,” The New American (December 9, 1985), p. 58.

3. Ibid., p.58.

4. William F. Freehoff, Southern Partisan, IX (Third Quarter, 1989), p. 9.

5. “Southern Sampler,” Southern Partisan, VII (Spring, 1987), p. 57.

6. Frank L. Owsley, “Irrepressible Conflict,” in A Southern Treasury of Life and Literature, ed. Stark Young (New York, 1937), p. 449.

7. Walter L. Fleming, The Sequel of Appomattox: A Chronicle of the Reunion of the States (New Haven, 1919), p. 243.

8. John Peale Bishop, The Collected Essays of John Bishop Peale, ed. Edmund Wilson (New York, 1948), p. 452.

9. Thomas Nelson Page, The Old South; Essays Social and Political (New York, 1911), p. 4.

10. “Southern Sampler,” Southern Partisan, VII (Summer, 1987), p. 57.

11. The Stars & Bars (January, 1994), p. 2.

12. Fleming, p. 250.

13. C. Vann Woodward, The Burden of Southern History (New York, 1960), p. 75.

14. Ibid., p. 98.

15. Ibid., p. 76.

16. “Abraham Lincoln Was a White Separatist!” Crisis Paper #19, p. 1.

17. Fleming, p. 139.

18. Ibid., p. 59.

19. Ibid., p. 122.

20. Page, pp. 308-309.

21. Ibid., p. 333.

22. Basil L. Gildersleeve, The Creed of the Old South 1865-1915 (Baltimore, 1915), p. 121.

23. Fleming, p. 226.

24. Richard M. Weaver, The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver, ed. George M. Curtis III and James J. Thompson Jr. (Indianapolis, 1987), p. 249.

25. Fleming, p. 280.

Copyright © 1995 by Thomas Coley Allen.

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