The Horrors of Reconstruction

 

from THE BONDAGE OF THE FREE, BY KENT H. STEFFGEN (Vanguard, 1966)

RECONSTRUCTION PHASE ONE
pp 93-94

There was not the slightest
confusion among the whites on either side of the
political fence as to what the fate of the Negro was to
be under carpetbag rule. The radicals were going to
promise the Negroes Heaven, lead them up to the pearly
gates and hitch them to the outside. No mystery to
anyone but the Negroes themselves, the whites were
met with continuous offers in the early period, mostly
from scalawags (southerners who turned corrupt in
politics), to climb on the bandwagon.
As it took shape, this tragic policy gradually trans-
formed the American dream into a horrifying night-
mare. In 1865, the freed slave had gained his liberty
with no conception of its meaning or application.
Thousands of Negroes packed small bits of gear and
fell in behind Union troops crossing the countryside
from town to town. After several weeks of this, most of
them returned to the plantation discouraged and ex-
hausted, to be swept into the open arms of the radicals.
With the promise of forty acres and a mule ringing in
their ears, many of them actually showed up at the
polls with halters to lead their mule back home-a fairy
tale which never matured nor was ever intended to.
When Federal surveyors came through, knowing the
Party had promised the freedmen 40 acres, they had
prepared a harmless scrawl on pieces of parchment for
Negroes who badgered them for information. These
were supposed to pass for deeds and the Negro, being
unable to read, figured that was just what they were.
During the first voter registration drives in 1867, they
were told to come to the Freedmen's Bureau where
their elective franchise would be given them. Thou-
sands of them showed up with bags and gunny sacks
to carry off their "elective franchise" and in some cases
mobbed the doors of the agency for fear there would
not be enough to go around. Others brought empty
bottles in hope of taking theirs out in hard liquor.
The agitation was already underway when the Con-
federate war veterans headed homeward. And it was
not at all inconceivable that they would return to find
another kind of Negro. Although the South lived in
relative peace during the two critical years from 1865
to 1867, in that same short period freedmen were filled
to overflowing with visions of rights, power and plun-
der and had already begun to loot vacant homes, en-
gage in crime, attack white women, and go on wild,
drunken rampages-acts which before the war were
unheard of. Rape became the illegitimate child of
Reconstruction.
Louisiana had been occupied by Union troops al-
most since the start of the war, when the Emancipa-
tion Proclamation was issued. For four years colored
detachments had had the word "freedom" dangling
before their eyes until, by the time of Lee's surrender,
they were getting out of hand. With the Army uni-
form as a front and armed, they forced their way into
private homes, bullied and insulted white women and
fought with each other in the streets and taverns. Upon
resigning his command, General Weitzel wrote from
La Forsche to General Butler in New Orleans that
he could no longer command or control the colored
regiments, and that women and children, left defense-
less by the death of the father during the fighting, were
in a state of terror. There was no protection (op. cit.,
Dixie After The War, page 377). General Halleck
wrote to General Grant in April, 1865 that numerous
cases of rape and assault had already occurred and he
hoped Grant would remove the problem. Similar re-
quests were made by other officers in other parts of the
South (The Evolution of the Negro, by W. T. Parker,
North American Revolution, 1899).

RECONSTRUCTION PHASE TWO
pp. 110-114

The Freedmen's Bureau prepared to register Negroes.
Announcements were posted everywhere. When
a Negro applied, he was asked if he was a member
of the Union League. If not, he was denied registra-
tion unless, as a servant to a white family, he was
personally escorted to the Bureau by his employer.
After that, however, this Negro became a marked man
by other members of his own race. Most of the white
population had been disfranchised by the Reconstruc-
tion Act and there was small reason for the others to
attempt anything, except in those counties which had
few Negroes.
When the shouting was over, the Republican Party
had a stacked deck in every southern state built upon
a solid base of Negroes and enforced by Federal bay-
onets. This was the vote that would create colored
governments in every southern state and elect Ulysses
S. Grant for two executive terms.
On Election Day in 1868, people wondered what
had happened to the publications which usually an-
nounced locations of the polling booths. They had not
been posted. Instead, notices had gone out only to the
secret leagues. Others who still had a semblance of
faith sought them out as best they could. Sixteen-year-
old Negroes voted-and voted-and voted at as many
polls as they could reach; inside, voting certificates
were forged and added to the pile. Colored men try-
ing to vote a Democratic slate were met at the door
of the booths by hungry mobs of Negroes standing
guard. There were beatings and killings.
Ballots were then carried to the military bases and
counted. When it was over, carpetbag regimes were
swept into power and Washington received news of
a Republican landslide south of the Mason-Dixon
Line. Grant won handily over Seymour. Suddenly the
Republican Party was invincible and remained so for
the following eight years.
In the short space of two years, the Republican
Party had repudiated Abraham Lincoln and turned
its back on some of the greatest contributions to Amer-
ican political theory. This was the Party of "civil rights
for the Negro."

COLORED GOVERNMENT AND ITS IMPACT

In from their respective counties came the new legis-
lators-in overalls, unable to read, and anxious to make
a quick change into walking clothes. Cots were set up
inside the state houses, there being a lack of local
accommodations. That would change. When the legis-
latures were finally seated, every southern state gov-
ernment was at least three-fourths Negro, enough to
produce a quorum anytime, for almost anything.
Eventually, the courts, juries, police and sheriffs de-
partments, boards of education, city councils, and
aldermanic posts became dominated by Negroes under
the Party management of white carpetbag politicians.
Immediately the new legislators wanted to know
when they were going to be paid. The first cash divi-
dend came in the form of a per diem mileage and
expense allowance for the trip into town. When it was
discovered how easy it was to obtain pocket money
by this novel method, new resolutions were introduced
to raise travel allowances, each one always passing with
a round of cheers. The accepted signature was an 'X'
or facsimile. High per diem allowances were often
passed under a threat that without them the legisla-
tors would steal openly-which many of them did
anyway.
Graft and corruption skyrocketed. School bonds,
railroad bonds and tax proceeds were divided and
pocketed.
With hundreds of thousands of dollars appropriated
for supplies, sundries, and incidentals, elaborate liquor
stores were constructed next to the state houses or, as
in the case of South Carolina, directly adjoining the
capitol building. Warrants were issued, without names,
to be served on anyone as the situation arose. The
victim was tried in a stacked court before a jury
one could not believe composed of half-drunk, jeering
and cajoling Negroes. Or, if he had any money, the
defendant could always purchase his freedom at
the right price. (Destruction and Reconstruction, Rich-
ard Taylor, New York, 1879.)
Printing costs, previously held to within $10,000 per
year in most legislatures, soared to hundreds of thou-
sands of dollars, part of the sum going to subsidize
pro-Republican newspapers throughout the state, some
of it to buy loyal editors, and the rest disappearing
into private bank accounts. Billions were floated for
railroads over the following eight years for which
hardly a mile of track was laid. The railroad ring was
the most effective group of thieves in existence during
the carpetbag era. Judgeships and senate seats were
bought and sold as bribery funds flowed into the
pockets of legislators. Elaborate gifts went to favored
lady friends-furs, jewelry, expensive dresses and even
interior decorating-all at state expense. Eventually,
different orders of thieves had to be organized to watch
over each other within the fiscal machinery.
North Carolina under the reign of military Gover-
nor William Holden (1868-1870) was unbelievable. In
one instance, $420,000 in railroad stocks belonging to
the Educational Fund for the Benefit of Poor Children
were sold for $158,000 to be applied to per diem
allowances of legislators. This legislature kept a bar
and a house of prostitution within the capitol build-
ing (op. cit., Dixie After The War, page 307). Thou-
sands were gambled away in New York on frequent
trips, then reimbursed out of the state treasury.
In South Carolina most of the urgent business of
the State Legislature of carpetbag days was conducted
upstairs over Fine's Saloon across the street from the
capitol building. Here special accommodations were
made available to legislators and visiting lobbyists.
Due to the amount-and type-of business that was
transacted in this tax-supported brothel, Fine's Saloon
gained the more appropriate title, "Republican Head-
quarters." Before the Moses regime, the honor be-
longed to the well-patronized rooms of the Rollins
sisters, mulattos of French extraction.
Frank Moses went down in South Carolina history
as the "robber governor." In 1872, Moses outfitted him-
self with a black militia to protect the machine he had
inherited from Robert Scott, the previous governor.
These troops were armed with one-half million dollars
worth of equipment for which the governor accepted
gratuities worth $10,000 for placing the order. The
state house was completely overhauled: $5 clocks were
replaced by $600 clocks; $4 mirrors with $400 mirrors;
while $200 sofas, $175 desks, cuspidors costing $14 and
hundreds more expendable items were added to the
repertory. Each legislator was provided with an ink
stand and gold pen costing $25 and $10 respectively.
Free railroad passes were handed out like lottery tick-
ets; use of Western Union telegraph was free. During
legislative sessions, forty bedrooms were supplied as
"committee rooms." (Ibid., page 353.)
Hams, oysters, liquors, baskets of delicacies, cham-
pagne by the carload, perfumes, complete wardrobes,
gloves, gold watches, stick pins, diamond earrings, en-
tertainment, girls-all showed up on the state account
as school fund appropriations, "building improve-
ments," etc. State paid gardeners worked at legislators'
private residences. Coal and wood purchased for asy-
lums went into furnaces in legislators' homes. Bonds
for colored orphans were converted into cash to add
to the merry-go-round. Moses once lost $1,000 on horse
racing which was later restored to him by the lower
house as a "gratuity." The order on the State Treas-
urer, signed by Moses, is still on file in Columbia,
South Carolina. (Reconstruction in South Carolina,
by John S. Reynolds, Columbia, S. C., 1905.)
State Universities were taken over completely by
Negroes and scholastic standards fell into nothing-
ness. When confiscatory taxation finally drove white
Southerners to near beggary, their once fine and taste-
fully furnished homes were taken over by members
of this circus parade who lived in ease while others
starved. Moses moved into the mansion of Wade
Hampton who, two years later, was to become the
first governor of the state after liberation. Hampton
was reputed to have been the South's wealthiest planter
before the war.

RECONSTRUCTION PHASE III
pp 146-7

Whites were in the minority on a statewide basis
and would have to devise novel methods of gaining
a sufficient voting margin. One way was to rely
on the disinclination of many Negroes to go to the
polls. Another was to form Democratic clubs composed
of Negroes, of which there were already a few. But
neither would produce a majority, particularly with
agitation as strong as it was on the other side.
Mississippians then discovered something that was to
become the turning point in their drive for liberty and
that of South Carolina after them.
They reasoned that white carpetbag politicians did not
hold the blacks in abeyance because they had something
dynamic to sell them, but because of the patience of the
whites which the Negroes had been
interpreting as fear. Colored faith in the radicals de-
rived mainly from a feeling of confidence in their
strength. This had to be changed.
A plan came into being. Forthwith, whites would go
before colored political meetings and demand equal
time to challenge their radical leaders. They would
then assail the radicals as cowards who had used the
Negroes for their own benefit and given them nothing,
corrupted them, fed them with mountains of lies and
used their votes to line their own pockets, all of
which was perfectly true. The whites were instructed
to offer no reasons for their argument nor to overdo
it-just to hurl violent assertions against the radicals
and let them hang in the air, expose the thievery and
rascality of the carpetbag regime and depart, leaving the
leader to defend himself before his colored audience. If the
theory held up, the sight of their own leaders on
the defensive would upset the blind allegiance of the
Negroes.
The plan went into being and produced immediate
results. Radicals who tried to leave the meeting were
ordered back and told to remain seated until the chal-
lenger had finished talking. Seeing their leaders quake
and sink beneath these demands, the Negroes began to
turn away, and the whites added an important weapon
to their political arsenal. The "Mississippi Plan" be-
came a main cog in the victory formula for 1876.
Governor Ames knew that his only hope lay in
fomenting violence and conflict in order to supply
proof of rebellion so as to demand Federal reinforce-
ments for the area. Knowing this, George instructed
his battalions not to respond to provocations but to
remain calm at all costs, and his authority prevailed.
In addition, whites set up an armed guard around
the state house to remind Ames they would not tol-
erate any further arming of the Negroes. Acting
mainly on the advice of onetime Mississippi (Republi-
can) Governor James Alcorn, Grant refused to declare
martial law, and Mississippi went ahead to win the
election, thus delivering itself into the ranks of the liv-
ing and out of the hands of the carpetbaggers.

 

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