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Unit Ten - Freedpeople and the Republican Party
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Freedpeople and the Republican Party
The 'party of Lincoln' had moved hesitantly toward linking emancipation with preservation of the Union in the last two years of the War, but on plantations across the South slaves seem to have grasped from the outset that their freedom was bound up with the fortunes of the Union military. In pockets of Confederate territory recaptured by federal troops in eastern North Carolina and the sea islands below Charleston, military and government officials began to patch together the new systems of labor and civil authority that would replace slavery once the war ended, but it was not until the Confederate surrender in April 1865 that discussions began in earnest about the extent to which freedpeople would be regarded as full citizens-whether they would have the right to vote or hold office, testify in court or have a meaningful say in constructing the new society.
Freedpeople played a central role in forcing this discussion, and in pushing it in more democratic directions. At a national level, the Republican Party was deeply divided over its commitment to black freedom: a minority, know as the Radicals, fought consistently for a more expansive vision compatible with the ex-slaves' demands, but most brought to the task a 'free labor' outlook that drew a sharp line between civil and economic equality; on the right of the Party were men who had been reluctantly drawn into the frontal assault on slavery, and who insisted that the abolition of slavery ended their obligations to freedpeople; in the middle, the majority of northern Republicans were pulled in both directions, anxious (especially in the early years after the war) to deny former Confederates the space to rebuild a system that pushed blacks back into slavery, but without any real plan for ensuring this, and often lacking a genuine commitment to thoroughly re-making the South. Black freedom therefore depended on an alliance between freedpeople and the Radicals, a partnership that was itself subject to tensions, and buffeted by fluctuations in public support among the northern public.
Freedpeople in South Carolina were in some ways in a far more favorable position to influence Republican politics than their neighbors to the north: the state was one of two ex-slave states with a black majority, and after freedmen won the right to vote it became virtually impossible for conservatives to return to power there through legal means. In North Carolina, the presence of a substantial number of white unionists who had opposed the war partially offset freedpeople's numerical weakness.
The evidence suggests that there were possibilities for winning a minority of whites to republicanism, and in both states the Party's ranks included a number of courageous whites who risked ostracism (and worse) to stand with freedpeople. But deeply-rooted racial divisions, combined with bitterness over the results of the war, made this an uphill battle, and freedpeople found out quickly that even wartime unionists could not be counted on to defend black rights. In both states the project of sustaining a Republican government required serious organization, persistence in the face of continual challenges, and-for activists on the ground-great personal sacrifice, sometimes including their lives.
Armed confrontations-or "paramilitary politics," in historian Steven Hahn's phrase- played an important role in the changing possibilities for black political assertion in both states. Although we have included only a couple of documents that touch upon paramilitarism below, you will find a useful selection in the unit on Coercion, Paramilitary Terror and Resistance.
As Reconstruction came under greater strain from the early 1870s onwards, the tensions that had been submerged in the Republican ranks became more and more apparent, and debilitating. In both states the strategies of white moderates had never neatly corresponded with the aspirations and expectations of their mostly destitute, ex-slave constituents. Among blacks themselves, tensions between former slaves and a rising minority of relatively prosperous race leaders became more pronounced.
These divisions between the republican leadership and its base widened at a time when white conservatives were recovering their momentum and aggressively raising the banner of white unity. The federal commitment to black rights began to wane, and after economic crisis in 1873 the clamor to withdraw from entanglement in the South (and on the side of freed slaves) grew louder. Under these pressures, as some of the documents below suggest, Republican strength began to wither, opening the door to the restoration of "white home rule" after the mid-1870s.
Black Charleston Reacts to News of the Confederate Surrender
In the decades leading up to the outbreak of Civil War, Charleston's white elite had made itself notorious for leading the intellectual defense of slavery. John C. Calhoun was only the best known of a circle of white politicians and intellectuals that made their reputations countering the abolitionist sentiment increasingly popular at the North. But even in this, the citadel of slavery, there were cracks in the slaveholder's power. Since the uncovering of Denmark Vessey's insurrectionary plot in 1822, Charleston whites had been on edge about prospects for a clash, especially in a region where they were vastly outnumbered. Repression was one solution, but by the late 1840s the city had a large free black population, and depended on the labor of hundreds of slaves 'hired out' and enjoying a degree of independence.
In taverns and grog shops along the waterfront and at illicit trading posts along the lowcountry riverways, slaves and poor whites fraternized, threatening the stability required by slavery. Masters liked to imagine that their slaves were loyal, and would not desert them once the war came, but the reality was that many took the first viable opportunity to escape. In the document below, S. Willard Saxton, brother of Union general Rufus B. Saxton, reports on the intense reaction to news that Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox.
Friday April 14, 1865.-The pen falters and the language fails when they come to tell of the great and glorious doings of this day, one of the most eventful of the war, and one that will be recorded on the page of history as one of the brightest... [continued April 15th]. There was a great meeting in Zion's church, which was crowded, in the forenoon. Senator Wilson, Mr. Garrison, Judge Kelley, of Penn, Theodore Tilton, and Mr. George Thompson, of England,a were the speakers, and that is enough to make a great and splendid meeting. A large crowd had gathered on Citadel Square, and speakers were sent out to entertain them. Such Abolition talk was then and there held as Charleston never before heard, and there must have been loud amens spoken in the other sphere to the eloquent truths that there found utterance. It was splendid indeed, and filled the heart and eyes full to overflowing. There was great enthusiasm among the immense throng of blacks, and 'white-blacks' and they felt, with justice, that it was their day, and that they had a night to hold up their heads and rejoice with exceeding great joy.
A touching scene occurred before the meeting opened. A black man came forward, with two little girls and in an earnest speech, short, eloquent, and powerful, thanked Mr. Garrison for his long labors for the slave, and that he had lived to see this day; after which he presented a beautiful wreath of flowers, and two elegant bouquets through the little girls. It was a proud and happy day for Mr. Garrison and for all who have ever labored in the holy cause. There was singing interspersed, the whole audience joining, and it was altogether the most affecting meeting, and the most glorious enthusiasm, among the freedmen, and genuine, heartfelt joy, expressed in many ways.
After the meeting, there was a procession formed on the square, headed by our colored band, and the speakers and some of us more humble ones, were escorted to the Charleston hotel. Some two or three thousand happy school children joined in the procession, and passed in review before us singing, "We'll hang Jeff Davis to a sour apple tree."
aMassachusetts Senator Henry Wilson was a prominent Republican closely associated with antislavery; Garrison was the most prominent abolitionist in the United States; William 'Pig Iron' Kelley was an antislavery industrialist centrally involved in Pittsburgh's iron industry; Tilton was the abolitionist editor of the New York-based Independent; and Thompson, a close personal friend of Garrison's, was a self-educated abolitionist prominent in social reform in Britain.
Source: S. Willard Saxton Journal, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library
Document 1 Questions
- Why does Saxton believe that the kinds of speeches he heard in Charleston had "never before" been heard?
- Why might the city's blacks and 'white-blacks' have felt that this was their day? What doe this suggest about their attitude towards the war? Why might they have refrained from outward expressions like this previously?
- Saxton does not report on the attitude of the city's white population to this display. Why do you suppose they do not figure in his account? How might they have responded to the news of Lee's surrender? What were their expectations for the future?
- How did Charleston schoolchildren know who 'Jeff' Davis was, and why might they have been 'happy' singing this song?
An Appeal for Resources to Organize the South
Although some prominent former slaveholders (like South Carolina's Wade Hampton) assumed that pressure could be brought on ex-slaves to compel them to vote the conservative ticket, the reality was that freedpeople were overwhelmingly loyal to the Republican Party-and for obvious reasons. Historians continue to debate the extent to which slaves succeeded in forging grassroots political networks under the antebellum slave regime, but by most accounts they responded enthusiastically to early efforts by Republican organizers to consolidate their black constituency across the South. In cities and towns the Party organized freedpeople into Republican clubs and Union (or Loyal) Leagues that became 'schools of politics' for their enthusiastic, hopeful membership.
The Republican's organizing campaign relied heavily on the self-sacrifice of dozens of black and white activists, who tramped across the South in the 1866 and 1867 speaking directly to freedmen and women, in meetings organized in open fields and roadsides, train stations and town squares. But an effective campaign required financing as well, and the following document provides a glimpse into the difficulties that the national organization confronted in trying to secure the resources necessary for organizing the South.
Union Republican Congressional Committee
Washington, D. C., July 20th, [handwritten: "Sept. 11th"] 1867.
...the Committee has sent several hundred thousand suitable documents through the South. It has employed over seventy (handwritten in margins: "135") active and intelligent speakers and organizers, who have been at work in the unreconstructed States, and to a limited extent in Tennessee. Both white and colored men have been and are now employed. In addition to those directly controlled by the Committee, State Committees and Union League Councils, with other auxiliaries, have been aided...The Committee has the names of 20,000 loyal persons at the South to whom documents are regularly sent... The Committee's correspondence is very extensive; hundreds of letters being received weekly from all parts of the South. From their contents, a minute knowledge of the necessities of almost every Congressional district is readily obtained. Of agents now in the field, some are at work in every State. A Republican organization exists in each State, the representatives of which are in constant correspondence with this Committee. Union League Councils are being rapidly formed... Were ample means at its disposal there would be no difficulty in widely extending its operations. The demands far exceed its means, present and prospective. A large number of intelligent men, white and colored, are ready to enter the field, most of whom could be advantageously employed.
Our funds have been altogether devoted to circulating suitable reading matter and employing speakers and organizers. They will continue to be so used. This Committee cannot undertake the establishment or support of Republican newspapers, although that important agency demands attention. [asserts there are 90 Southern Republican newspapers, 20 of which are dailies]. The present campaign is but a continuation of the war. It has, however, assumed another shape. It is no longer the shock of armies, but the conflict of ideas. The thunder of guns no longer rends the sky or makes the earth tremble; but the results for which our best lives were given are still trembling in the balance. We contend for the principles for which we fought... Shall we, victorious in the field, be defeated at the ballot box?... The loyal people of the South are very poor; they are with us in every desire for success, but they need assistance, both of money for political organization, and of knowledge, for the best means effecting it. Slavery crushed the white friends of the Nation, as well as oppressed its colored allies. The rebellion impoverished them as well as those who rebelled. Shall we let them again be sacrificed for want of means to send men to then or to enable them to help themselves?
Robert C. Schenck [and other committee members]
Source: Union Republican Congressional Executive Committee Circular, September 11, 1867, in Robert C. Schenck Papers, Miami University Special Collections.
Document 2 Questions
- What kind of criteria might the Republicans have used in recruiting men to help organize in the former slave states?
- Why are material resources critical for the Republican in the region? Is the Party able to take full advantage of the opportunities available to it?
- What considerations might party organizers take into consideration in deciding whether to devote their limited resources to printed material or public speakers?
- What does the Committee mean when they argue that the "present campaign is but a continuation of the war"?
A North Carolina Republican Seeks to Clear his Name
White conservatives organized in the Democratic Party adopted a range of measures to obstruct freedpeople from playing an active role in politics. As the following document makes clear, nearly four years after emancipation the legacy of the old order weighed heavily upon those seeking to assert their rights in the new one. The subject of the communication, John M. Mitchell, is listed in the 1870 census as a mulatto and a father of eight; from the text below it appears he had been free before the War.
Stat of N. C. Columbus county January the 1th 1869
John M. Mitchell a bout 20 years ago traded with a slave and a serspison Return him to cort and delt with him as if he had Stolen[.] all Person nows how the Dimacrats Laws was South if a man of coller jest serspison and col not prove wheare he was at that time he was punish for the crime with out any prof attall and that was the way he was don and now I don't Look or Expect any assistance from any but the Republican party and I want you if you please to Remove his disability so I Leave this to the genalasemely[.]a
he is a nomated by his frinds and fellow sittinzin to offer for Justes of the Peace[.] We the Republican party of Columbus county wod not Reckormend any person that tha though not worthey of ofis[.] [We] sent one befour and naver got no returns But when We heare from this Letter we hop to hear from it with Joye we will send this to the Reppresentive of Bladen county Mr. F. W. Foster[.]
We don't Repli to any party but the Republican Party for any help what ever January the 17 1869
John M. Mitchell
Direct your Letter to Crowells Mill Bladen county N. C to Mr Jonas. A. Mooreb
aread "General Assembly"
bMoore (spelled "More" in the census) is listed as a 38 year-old mulatto laborer.
Source: F. W. Foster, Jonas Moore and others to Governor William W. Holden, Jan. 17, 1869, Holden Papers, North Carolina
Document 3 Questions
- On what grounds do the Democrats seek to bar Mitchell from holding office? How do the petitioners try to counter their objections?
- The petition to Holden is signed by more than ten individuals, a majority of whom are likely to have been freedmen. How might the petition have been circulated? Is it likely that a meeting took place at which Mitchell's situation was discussed? How might the Republicans of Columbus have decided that a petition was the best means of seeking redress for their grievances?
- Do they expect a positive response from Governor Holden? What has been their experience previously?
White Moderates Maneuver to Prevent Radical Domination of the Republican Party
In South Carolina, with a substantial black majority, tensions between the ex-slaves constituting the bulk of the Republican constituency and the white moderates dominating the Party leadership became apparent early on. Initially around the land question, and later over other critical issues, freedpeople seemed often to demand the most radical overhaul of the status quo, while business-oriented moderates exerted themselves to contain the revolution let loose by emancipation. Eventually these tensions would cause serious ruptures in the Republican ranks, but in the following two documents we can see that as early as the summer of 1867 prominent moderates were maneuvering to marginalize radical elements in the Party, ensure the election of "sensible" men, and thereby dampen the radical spirit. The writer of these two letters, J. P. M. Epping, was a U. S. Marshal for Charleston at the time. He later defected the regular Republican Party to run as an Independent Republican in 1872.
You will have noticed that we have the convention of the Union Republican Party in this city a few days ago, but the whole affair turned out to be a complete failure, from the fact that the country was not represented and a few bad and designing [more than] colored and white men got the better of our colored people[,] elected themselves into every office
of honor and trust, to the total exclusion of every one identified with the people of the state and the disgust of a great portion of our well-meaning colored population. However a state convention has been called to meet in Columbia on the second Monday in July next [and we] hope to have a good representation of white union men as well as a sensible colored representation from every part of the state, so that we can outvote and...actually put down all evil disposed elements.
I write now [to ask you] to assist us in this war, and to see to this and to consult with your friends in the upper Districts who are willing to join the Republican Party and also with intelligent colored men and to show them the necessity for full representation...in Colombia in July and of a Character that will do justice to all classes, both white and colored.
Had a long talk with Mr. Wilson, during his visit here about affairs in the state in general and in particular concerning your position and expressed the hope that you would want to join in the movement to create a Republican Party in the state...
Upon my return to the city I find, that orders have been received in this city to muster out Mr. B. F. Whittemore and B. F. Randolph, and I am very glad of it.Particularly the first - Randolph could be handled but Whittemore and his Yankee comperes cannot. Their inordinate lust for place and power, has made them, even amongst the better thinking negroes, many enemies, but so long as they were in office
and in power, their will was supreme amongst the freedmen. For this reason it is very necessary, that a Mr. Pillsbury, Superintendent, of the colored Orphans House in this city, and President of the provisional State Council of the Union League, should be shut down also. He is using the means in his hands to send his men, such as Bowen & Elliott, Hurley and Hayne, all over the lower portion of the state to organize the negroes into leagues and into party organizations for the benefit and in the interest of their faction. We are now organizing an opposition amongst the better thinking and conservative colored men, but it is all important that this man Pillsbury should be lifted out of his place - for without means these fellows are all powerless - it means they keep their own ball in motion teach agrarian doctrines into ignorant freedmen and hold out the prospect of obtaining property or Land and other plunder, by telling them that the rebels have forfeited all rights to the land and property & etc. & etc.
Now Dear Governor can't you help us to get this man out of the way?
We will try and lift him out of the State Council of the League, which at present is only provisional, by calling delegates from all Leagues in this State to meet in convention and to form a permanent supreme Council for the State. In this new body we will [be] the majority and the Pillsbury, Bowen & Hurley party will be nowhere.
Sources: J. P. M. Epping [Charleston] to Governor James L. Orr, May 14, 1867; September 23, 1867, Governor's Papers, South Carolina Department of Archives and History
Document 4 Questions
- Who are the "evil disposed elements" in Epping's rendering, and who does he oppose them?
- What sort of men does Epping want to recruit to join the Republicans and attend the upcoming meeting in Columbia? What are his prospects of success in recruiting them? What might hamper his efforts?
- Epping refers to his discussions with the "better thinking and conservative colored men." What does he mean by this phrase? If there are divisions becoming evident among black South Carolinians, as he suggests, what issues are these likely to emerge around?
- What are "agrarian doctrines" and why might freedmen be inclined to look favorably upon them? Epping asserts it has to do with their "ignorance": are there other explanations?
- How aware would ordinary Republicans be of the maneuvering taking place within the Party? What might be the reaction if Eppings' actions were revealed?
A South Carolina Agitator Falls Foul of Military Authorities
Freedpeople were well aware that their emancipation had been in large part secured through the actions of the Union military, and particularly in the early period after the end of the War, many of them looked upon the "blue coats" as their protectors. But their faith in Union troops took a battering, as black men and women too frequently found themselves on the receiving end of racist brutality, as they found themselves compelled under military order to yield the lands that the government had earlier promised, and as the protection from white paramilitaries that they so desperately needed failed to materialize. The document below attests to the tensions that frequently arose between freedmen and federal authorities as former slaves tested the boundaries of the new order.
Riotous Conduct of Freedmen
Wednesday last, registration, by previous announcement, was commenced in the Parish of St. Thomas, at the Brick Church, under the superintendence of Messrs. L. P. Smith (a Northern gentlemen lately located here), Jeremiah Yates and Aaron Logan, a freedman... About a thousand colored men were present, a fifth of whom were armed with guns or muskets, and when the books were opened, [Smith made a brief address], when some of the crowd requested his opinion as to the rights of the planters with whom they had contracted for labor to deduct from their wages for the time during which they were absent for work for the purpose of being registered.
Mr. Smith made the proper response, but was interrupted by his colleague, the colored man Aaron Logan, who proceeded to harangue the crowd, and in inflammatory language to declaim against the right of white men to prevent the carrying of arms by freedmen. He said, also, that the planters should not interfere with the colored people registering, nor deduct from their wages, and that there was nothing in the law, nor in General Sickles' orders to prevent them from exercising their rights to the fullest extent. That now was the time when the freedmen should show that they possessed rights which they meant to maintain, and that when election took place they ought to vote for white radicals if they could be found, or else to fill the offices by men of their own color. That the native whites of his State were not to be trusted, and if permitted, they would enact laws operating against the black man, and, therefore, black men should be elected to make laws for themselves. [Smith intervenes, adjourns the session till Monday meeting at Mt. Pleasant Poll, in Christ's Church Parish].
...three hundred freedmen were on the ground, a considerable proportion of whom were supplied it with muskets, guns, and bludgeons. Mr. Smith again made a brief address, similar to the one delivered at the Poll in St. Thomas, and was again interrupted by Logan, who was if possible more violent in his language, and seemingly more disposed to engender strife. He was...requested to desist, but declined so to do; and Mr. Smith...closed the poll, came to the city, and reported the facts to General Clitz, the Commandant of this Post. On the same boat, came Logan, who also waited on the General to present a statement of the case.
When General Clitz had been apprised of all the circumstances, he promptly ordered the arrest of Logan and his incarceration in Castle Pinckney, on a charge of impeding Registration.
[Smith returns to Mt. Pleasant, with Provost Marshal]. The poll was reopened and the freedmen invited to come forward and register, but they declined to do so unless...a black man sitting on the Board, and demanded the release of Logan. Seeing that a number of them were armed as on the day before, Major O'Brien explained to them that they were violating the express orders of General Sickles, and commanded them to surrender their weapons. They paid no attention whatever to his orders, and as he was not supported by a force sufficient to ensure obedience, he retired, unwilling to provoke a disturbance which he was not in a position to quell, and returning to the city, reported the condition of affairs to General Clitz. The freedmen afterwards dispersed, but not without threats that they would burn the village if they were not permitted to exercise such rights as Logan had declared they were entitled to enjoy. We understand that General Clitz will go to Mt. Pleasant this morning, with a sufficient force to suppress any disorderly conduct which may occur amongst the freedmen, who doubtless will again assemble, and to arrest all who appear armed on the scene. It is devoutly to be hoped that no difficulty will occur
HEADQUARTERS SECOND MILITARY DISTRICT
Charleston, S. C., November 21, 1867
I. Before a Military Commission convened at the Citadel...was arraigned and tried:
Aaron Logan. colored, citizen.
CHARGE 1st.-"Misconduct in office."
Specification 3d-"In this, that he, Aaron Logan, colored, citizen of Berkeley District, S. C., a member of the Board of Registration...at a lawful meeting of said Board, when the people had collected for the purpose of being registered, did make a violent speech to said people, and informed the freedmen there assembled that they had a right to come every day to the polls if they pleased, and their employers could not deduct from their wages for such absence; and that when Lawrence P. Smith, a member of said Board, made an attempt to correct this statement, the said Logan became greatly excited, and did create confusion for more than an hour, thereby during the said hour preventing the registration of voters. This at the Muster-house Poll, Saint Thomas Parish, S. C., on or about the 21st day of August, 1867."
Specification 4th-"In this, that [Logan] did interfere with the process of registration by making a speech, notwithstanding the people assembled had declared themselves satisfied with the explanation of said Smith; and said Logan, by his said speech and violence, did create confusion and disturbance, so much so as to prevent Alexander Knox and many others from registering; and the books of such registration had to be closed, and said Board, by reason of said interruption, were compelled to...adjourn, being unable to perform their duties.. This on or about the 27th day of August, 1867."
Specification 5th-"In this, that [Logan], against the protests of a majority of said Board, when the people and said Board had lawfully assembled for the purpose of registration, did make a violent speech, and did tell said people that they had a right to carry their arms whenever and wherever they pleased; and did continue his said speech in a violent and incendiary manner, creating great confusion and tending to a breach of the peace. This at the Muster-house Poll in St. Thomas Parish, S. C., on or about the 21st day of August, 1867."
Of the third, fourth and fifth specifications of the charge, "Not Guilty"
BY COMMAND OF BVT. MAJOR-GENERAL ED. R. S. CANBY
LOUIS V. CAZIARC.
Actg. Asst. Adjt. Genl.
[Note: Logan was found guilty on other charges related to his role in the nighttime 'arrest' of one J. S. Frazer of Christ Church Parish, and sentenced "to be confined at hard labor" for two years. The sentence was later mitigated to six months; Logan was sent under guard to Fort Macon, North Carolina. By 1870 he was again active in an official capacity, as a trial justice under the Scott administration.]
Sources: Charleston Daily Courier, August 29, 1867; M869: General Orders No. 126, RG 105, Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands
Document 5 Questions
- What are the differences between Smith's and Logan's speeches to the assembled freedmen on the Wednesday and the Monday in question? In what ways did Logan create "disturbance and confusion"?
- Why might the freedmen be inclined to support Logan? What action do they undertake to support him? Is it effective?
- The Courier reports that freedmen "refused" to register at Mt. Pleasant; the military authorities suggest that Logan "prevented" them from doing so. Is the difference significant? How might we account for the discrepancy?
- How might Logan's imprisonment in this incident affect freedpeople's attitudes towards the military authorities?
Blacks Organize against Discrimination in the Republican Party
By the late 1860s a great deal of resentment had begun to build up amongst freedmen against the unwillingness of the Republican leadership in both the Carolinas to deny them representation in proportion to their actual numbers. At a time when Democrats missed few opportunities to try to convince African Americans that Republican 'carpetbaggers' were using them as mere pawns, discrimination against black Party members could have a demoralizing effect: some broke with the Republicans completely and joined the Liberal Republican coalition (drawing together former race militants like Martin R. Delaney and diehard white conservatives);others vowed to vote only for native-born Carolinians, or for exclusively black candidates as a protest against northern white domination. This early document suggests that some freedmen pursued a different strategy: they tried to counter attempts at marginalizing black Radicals through organized political networks.
[W]e are about forming a Board in each precinct, each having five delegates for the purpose of forming a kind of link, in order to put down the abuses which have been practiced upon us by making nominations which was contrary to our wishes, and contrary to our Constitution not being qualified for the offices which they may be seeking,
according to our constitution, and also there are many of those who are not our political friends are endeavoring to insinuate themselves into our Meetings, endeavoring to make the peoples meeting into a Meeting of nomination and thereby taking Men into office who should not hold office which imposition is done in a great measure through the County commissioners they not knowing the individuals only from hearsay, not giving the colored man the same chance of a white man, and we think that by this Board which we are now forming in each precinct...that the abuses which have been practiced upon us may in some measure be removed...
Source: Joseph Larkin ['x' his mark] (Orangeburg) to Governor Robert K. Scott, March 30, 1869, Governor's Papers, South Carolina Department of Archives and History
Document 6 Questions
- Judging from the correspondence, who is responsible for the "abuses" which Larkin complains of? How does their intervention change the character of the Republican meetings?
- Why might people who were "not [the freedmen's] political friends" want to "insinuate" themselves into the Republican Party rater than work through their own, separate organization? What might be the effect of such intervention if it is ultimately successful?
- Are Republican voters concerned merely about the lack of black representation that such methods will result in, or are there other issues bound up with their complaints?
North Carolina Conservatives Refuse to Seat a Black Republican Appointee
Congress and the executive branch, supported by federal officials and military commanders on the ground in the South, exerted considerable control over statewide and regional politics throughout Reconstruction. But at a local level, where the contest between the old order and the new was most visibly played out, conservatives held to power where they could, obstructing freedpeople in their attempts to take advantage of changed circumstances. Here a group of freedmen write to North Carolina Governor William Woods Holden to complain that Democrats have proscribed blacks from holding office.
Weldon, N C. Jan. the 7th, 1869
You must excuse the liberty I take in writing these lines to you but hoping you will not think that I am intruding on you by so doing the credentials you indorsed for me as a Town Commissinor was not respected at all, they have ruled out the colord officers and put in all white men and also say that colord men shall not hold office as a Commissinor, and I don't think it is Constitutional because it was indorsed by you at the city of Raleigh on the 10th day of August 1868, and we have a colord man here Beng.
Franklin our Teacher who is worthy the office and I think he should have one of some kind, and I want to know [what] fault they had of Mr. Jackson Dockery and my self he was as this as [just as?] true Republican as lived, Please answer my letter.
R. J. Baysmore
Harnell De Loak
aHicks is the only signatory who can be found living in Halifax county in the 1870 census. He is listed as a 47 year-old mulatto.
Source: R. J. Baysmore and others to Governor William W. Holden, Jan. 17, 1869, Holden Papers, North Carolina Archives and History
Document 7 Questions
- Judging from this document, what is the attitude of conservatives to Holden's authority as Governor?
- Why might Mr. Franklin have been a likely candidate for office? If one of the desired criteria for officeholding among black Republicans is literacy, how representative of the social and economic status of the freed population will officeholders be?
- What are Governor Holden's options for redressing the correspondents' grievances? What reaction might he anticipate from Halifax county conservatives?
Republicans in Tallyho, North Carolina, Protest against Democratic Fraud
As with the previous document, this letter to Governor Holden outlines Democratic resistance to Republican electoral gains-in this case through unspecified 'fraud' during local "township" elections. Holden's petitioners seem to perceive that conservative disruption at the local level is linked to a wider plan to undermine Reconstruction (and "the republican form of government") nationally. The correspondence of Republican governors across the South is littered with similar complaints.
Agust. 11th. 1869.
The Exencilence Governor W. W. Holden.
Dear Sir. We the Republican of Granville County most respetifully protest against - the township Election of talleyho in consiquience of The way it was conducted. and do Ernenstly believe - that it oght to be remoddled. and a fair and squar Election given - We most recollect - that the democrats will - and do - do all and every thing they can - to get in power, and they think. If they -can fool the republicans - as they have already don at tallyho And other places. and Get in power in the townships. By that means after awhile - they can Get the county ofices. And from that to the States ofices and unitedstates ofices. And then they can nulify - the the republican form of - Government and place the colored. Race - and labering Class of white people - in the same possion - only wors - As they were before.
and please your honor sir - if you can not Grant us a reelection - which we honestly - believe that we oght to have - what most we do. in such a case. and we can also prove by a colored man responcible one - that the democrat candidate told him that they [the Republicans] had beet them. and if the republican had had as meny more as they did have we would have beet them And as it was - they onley beet about thirty.
What most we do - most we put up with such - When we know there are frade - know we will die first[.] Recolect - that dividing in to townships all of the counties makes a concitable difference - among the Colored people - Egnorent as they are
And meny and members are dissatisfied at the Election Except it had bin don fair, and we appeal to our Superer - our Surpream for refuse.
Most respetifully Your obedient
Hopeing to here from you soon.
Silas L. Curtisa
And meny others - too tedious to mention both white and Colored.
Answer to S. L. Curtis.
Oxford, N. C.
aCurtis is listed in the 1870 census as a 35 year-old shoemaker (34 at time of writing) living on his own. Green was a 20 year-old illiterate farm laborer listed (along with his twin sister, a cook) as living in the household of his white employer. Norwood was a 34 year-old foundry worker living in Tallyho; there are several black men in Granville county named James Harris, including a 45 year-old blacksmith in Tallyho living in the close vicinity of Thomas Curtis, listed as a 50 year-old farmer with $1200 in real estate; also in Tallyho is L. Williford, the only white signatory, listed as possessing property and assets worth $750; neither Alden nor Lasiter can be found, but there is a Robert Ridley listed as a 35 year-old farm laborer in adjoining Person county (formerly part of Granville).
Source: Silas L. Curtis and others to Governor William W. Holden, August 11, 1869, Governor's Papers, North Carolina Archives and History
Document 8 Questions
- How might conservatives attempt to "fool" Republicans in order to win an election?
- The petitioners refer to conservative aims to subdue both freedpeople and "labering Class" whites. What does this tell us about their understanding of Reconstruction? Why might they express themselves in this way?
- Why might the petitioners suggest that they are "willing to die first" rather than allow the Democrats to return to power by fraud? What are the stakes in this contest as they see it?
- Why might the division of the counties into townships matter so much to African Americans?
- Read through note 'a' at the end of the document. How would you characterize the Republican constituency in social and economic terms?
Illiteracy, Competence and the Difficulty of Building a Bi-Racial Party
Among the many faults charged to southern Republicans by white conservatives was its elevation of poor and barely literate men-mostly black-to office under Reconstruction. Southern elites expressed outrage that, as they frequently put it, men of "intelligence and wealth" were being governed by their former slaves, many without any formal education. It was a dubious assertion on many levels: blacks never dominated state government, even in states like South Carolina where they were a majority; of those who did hold office, a large proportion had never been slaves, or at least had never worked in the fields alongside plantation laborers; and even among officeholding ex-slaves, some had acquired basic literacy through their own efforts. Coming from conservative elites, the assertion was a malicious one, calculated to undermine the legitimacy of Reconstruction.
The uneven spread of literacy among freedpeople did pose practical problems for Republicans committed to building a bi-racial coalition, however. As the document below suggests, relentless pressure placed Republicans on the defensive. Given the shortage of literate freedmen able to hold office, one solution was to cooperate with sympathetic or moderate whites. But what were Republicans to do when native whites refused to take part in bi-racial government? A black former trial justice from Winnsboro, South Carolina (refugeed at the time in Columbia) gave the following interview to the Congressional Committee investigating Ku Klux Klan activities.
Q: Are not most, if not all, of the county officers colored men?
A: All but a few men. The school commissioner is a white man.
Q: Had you any education while a slave?
A: A little; not much-very little.
Q: As to your other office-holders in that county, how is it?
A: They were all slaves too.
Q: Are there not many of these officers who are really incapable of fulfilling the duties of these offices?
A: I can say only what I hear. I hear a great deal of complaint, saying that they are incompetent.
[An interesting section follows in which the interviewee talks about having been a trial justice for two years, until they "did away with magistrates throughout the State"]
Q: Can [officials] read and write?
A: There is not one in the county but what can read and write.
Q: Do they generally try to get educated, intelligent men?
A: We get the best we can all the time.
Q: Why do you colored people not get white people there to fill your offices?
A: We tried that at the last election. We asked them to accept the positions; they said they would not accept a vote or a nomination from any ignorant colored man.
Q: Did they expect to elect officers without the votes of the colored people?
A: They did.
Q: Did they know you had a majority?
A: They did.
Q: How did they expect to get along?
A: They knew we did not have sense enough to carry it out ourselves, and they did not suppose anybody else would come in to assist us.
Q: Did anybody come?
A: Yes, sir... Northern men came and established Leagues all about, and we gained information from them.
Q: Did any native whites join your party at Fairfield?
A: Four or five; that is about all.
Source: Testimony of Henry Johnson, July 3, 1871, Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States [South Carolina], Washington, D. C., 1872: 322-3.
Document 9 Questions
- Does literacy matter in a democratic society? In what ways? How might freedmen account for the low levels of literacy among ex-slaves? How might their opponents explain the same?
- What do you suppose whites intended to accomplish by refusing to serve in bi-racial local governments? Did they succeed?
- Johnson is asked how whites expected to carry an election while they were a minority, and replies that whites "knew we did not have sense enough to carry it out ourselves." What does he mean by this?
- Johnson gives important testimony here regarding the role played by "northern men," often denigrated as self-interested "carpetbaggers" by white conservatives. How does Johnson's testimony complicate our understanding of them?
Pressures on Freedmen to Vote the Conservative Ticket
The Reconstruction South was in many ways an anomalous set of affairs when considered in light of American - indeed world - history: with the support of federal authorities the mostly impoverished former slaves were raised to political power, while those who continued to control the main source of wealth (land) were disfranchised or otherwise blocked from exercising political control. This disjuncture between political and economic power resulted in chronic instability and frequent outbreaks of violence.
In the early period of Reconstruction white conservatives generally refrained from electoral politics. In South Carolina and elsewhere across the region elites hoped by their "masterly inactivity" to withhold legitimacy from the Republican regimes, wrongly assuming that they would then collapse. But when it became clear that this was not the case, they then had to entertain the idea of 'persuading' black men to vote the conservative ticket. Here their control over land and, crucially, employment, proved critical: in many places freedmen confronted the options of either voting the Democratic ticket or being evicted, terminated from employment, and/or denied credit. The first two documents below are typical of hundreds of similar reports filed by Freedmen's Bureau agents across the South; the third records a white employer's astonishment at a freedman's unwillingness to vote as directed.
[Greenville, S. C.]
The unsatisfactory condition of affairs in this Bureau District which was evinced by the frequent complaints of injustice and outrage upon the part of the whites against the freedmen, at and about the time of my arrival here[,] has had the effect for which undoubtedly it was inaugurated, in the success of the Democratic ticket in this, and the adjoining Districts, in the late election. Since which time as great a degree of peace, and quiet, has been enjoyed by those peaceably disposed...
That the most strenuous exertions are being put forth upon all sides by every friend of the "white man's party", the members of which party or at least of some organizations of the party, are in the vicinity wearing upon their persons a button… shown no less by the fact that a number of dismissals from employment have occurred, on account of suffrage thrown for the Republican Ticket, then by an organized effort and determination to make the freedpeople realize their dependence upon those who have before been regarded as the ruling class, by telling those who are at this time engaged upon their crops, and who cannot be spared at the present critical period, that they cannot remain another year, without a change in their political opinions, and in cases where freedmen have rented land, and are trying to make a crop for themselves, all aid of whatever kind is studiously withheld from them.
The idea of extending credit to them is not for a moment entertained, and where they are able to buy… extortionate prices are demanded, and in a few cases that have been brought to my notice, where the supplies...were in the hands of the few men, and those in need remote from the sources of supply, it has absolutely been refused to them in any terms, a concession of principle being thus enforced, through fear of being reduced to extreme want.
In towns and villages where the nature of the services required from the freedpeople is essentially different from that in the country the same proscription is practiced, and draining and all kinds of menial work withheld from members of the League. From the fact that it was the custom of a late Bureau Agent to discourage the idea of bringing Contracts for approval...very few of these have been offered this year for examination...
[Aiken, S. C.]
The Election passed off without disturbances [requiring] military force to suppress them. Scarcely a case of discharge because of voting has been reported to this Office. Any general discharge of laborers at that time would, however, have been fatal to planters.
The influence of party feeling is stronger now than it has been at any time here before. Both political parties are organizing clubs and in some portions of the District a majority of the colored people voted the Democratic ticket.
The superior intelligence of the whites, their constant intercourse with the freedmen, the covert threats or promises of reward and assistance which have been so frequently made, have not been without their effect upon the freedmen and in neighborhoods remote from railroads or large villages the freemen are almost entirely under the influence of the whites, who are, of course, opposed to Reconstruction.
Many political clubs have passed resolutions binding their members not to employ, after their present contracts expire, freedmen who have voted the Republican ticket provided those who voted the Democratic ticket can be found. It is doubtful if this resolution is adhered to particularly if good crops are raised this year.
[Charleston, S. C.]
...William was discharged on the 1st. I have never known such a fool, his income must have been near $100 per month, with courteous and kind treatment from all, and yet with a full knowledge of the consequences he voted the radical ticket. About little Wm, however, you must be mistaken. He voted the straight Hampton and Tilden ticket having without any solicitation volunteered to do so. He voted too between Ben Huger and Fred Tupper who say there can be no mistake about his vote, and that he behaved boldly and well at the polls. If every employer of negroes had done half as well as you did-the election of our entire ticket would have been admitted at once. I feel confident anyhow that Tilden will be seated either by the direct vote or by their being no election, and the choice following on the Democratic House of
Representatives, as to Hampton I don't think there is a shadow of doubt, and regard it as only a matter of time. The bayonet affair is fast dying from organic corruption, materially aided by corruption-I think they have found that there are some men among us yet after 10 years crushing...
Source:  Carroll Neide to Bvt. Maj. H. Neide, June 30, 1868, , RG 105, BRFAL Papers;  William Stone to Bvt. Maj. H. Neide, July 1, 1868, , RG 105, BRFAL Papers;  C. P. Allston, Esq. and James Lesesne to 'Charley', Dec. 8, 1876, Allston Family Papers, Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina
Unit 10 Questions
- According to the first document, by what means have Democrats succeeded in winning a majority in Greenville? What are the consequences of this victory for freedmen?
- What does William Stone mean in the second document when he writes that "any discharge of laborers" at election time "would have been fatal to planters"? How might labor demands affect planters' efforts to counter freedmen's political activism?
- How does Stone explain the Democrats success in Aiken? What can Republicans do to counteract this trend?
- Judging from the third document, how closely are employers scrutinizing the voting behavior of their employees? Why might they be especially observant in 1876? What are the consequences for freedmen who vote contrary to their employers' instructions?
Election Day Street Confrontations in Charleston
With a large and restive black majority that grew larger after emancipation, Charleston was in some ways the epicenter of lowcountry black mobilization: it became the nexus of transport and communication networks that spread southward to the sea islands and Port Royal, northward to the rice plantations at Georgetown, and westward into the interior of the state. The following document, an article from the ultra-conservative Charleston Mercury, conveys some sense of the polarization that the city experienced at election time, but also of the tensions between Republican officials and black voters, the public involvement of freedwomen in street mobilizations, and the air of defiance which black voters displayed toward the city's conservatives.
[Charleston is] full of excitement on the part of the colored men, who hung around the polls, and particularly polls 1 and 2...indulg[ing] in demonstrations that at various periods threatened trouble. They made use of the most trivial causes to congregate in different parts of the streets, and brandish their clubs; draw their knives and gather brickbats...became so turbulent at one time that [Republican official] had to mount the railing of the city park and address them on their unbecoming conduct...
Their conduct to the colored men who sustained [the conservative candidate] was a shameful commentary on their alleged respect for the rights of others, who would not bow down and worship at their shrine.
Whenever an announcement was made showing a majority for Pillsbury,a they would give vent to hurrahing and the utterance of epithets, to say the least of it, disgraceful. Not an unimportant feature in the assemblage, was the number of women, who seemed vastly interested in the political conflict. They shook their skirts and twisted themselves, as though the millennium had dawned for their special benefit.
[Later, after the announcement of Pillsbury's victory]:
Up Meeting Street they went after procuring an American flag bordered with black, emblematic we fear of the future of our municipality, which was borne at the head of the disorderly column hilarious in the extreme... Pillsbury's remarks were temperate and full of promise to respect the rights of his "enemies" as well as his friends... On our way towards Rutledge Street, we saw a quartet of Negroes, led by a white man with his "shillalay" in hand, while they bore aloft a pole on which there was a dead rooster,b hanging by his feet. As they walked, they continually cried, "the rooster's dead that crowed so lustily this morning," [tramping the city streets with the pole and the dead rooster "wagging to and fro"].
aGilbert Pillsbury was a Massachusetts-born abolitionist and former Freedmen's Bureau official, selected with black support to stand in the election for mayor of Charleston.
bThe rooster was the symbol of the conservative or Democratic Party.
Source: "Election Day and Its Incidents," Charleston Mercury, November 12, 1868
Document 11 Questions
- Are there any clear signs that this is a partisan account of events on election day? What aspects of the events are emphasized in the article and what details about the day, if any, are missing?
- How does the Mercury characterize freedmen's attitudes toward black Democratic voters? Why might some African Americans in Charleston be willing to vote the Democratic ticket?
- In some parts of the South at the same time, observers sympathetic to freedpeople portray them as timid or intimidated by white opponents of Reconstruction. Does this account portray them in that light? Why might they feel more confident in Charleston at this time?
- The account notes the prominent involvement of freedwomen in the street celebrations, suggesting that they were "vastly interested in the political conflict" being played out in Charleston. How do we account for their interest in an election in which they were denied the right to vote?
- The article reports that a white man accompanies the "quartet" blacks parading through the streets of Charleston, an observation that seems to contradict the racial depiction of events surrounding the election. Where might the Republicans find support among the city's white population, and how might conservatives (like the editors of the Mercury) regard white Republicans in the city?
A White Schoolteacher on the 1876 Elections in the South Carolina Lowcountry
The letter below, almost certainly written by schoolteacher Martha Schofield, offers a rare and compelling account of the 1876 election in the South Carolina lowcountry. The stakes in this critical election could hardly have been higher: their outcome sealed the fate of the Republican state government in the state, but also led to a national 'deal', often called the Compromise of 1877, which ended the project of Reconstruction in the South and returned the region to "white home rule." A victory for the conservative candidate for Governor Wade Hampton was eventually declared after months of intense wrangling, but this outcome was, as his own supporters later admitted, the result of widespread fraud and intimidation directed against African Americans. Schofield's account suggests not only that these tactics had little effect in the lowcountry, where freedpeople wielded such a clear majority, but that they hardly dented Republican confidence there.
The whites tore away about the soldiers being sent down, but let me tell you, where they thought the soldiers could help them they were in hot haste to avail themselves of them. For instance, on Monday afternoon, before election, up comes a squad of soldiers, under the command of a Lieutenant, to my school-house, accompanied by two native whites. I gave them the recitation-room in the schoolhouse.
They (the whites) represented to the General that they were a great many colored men who wanted to vote the Democratic ticket, but their lives were threatened in case they did. Not long after the soldiers came the news spread over the island like wild-fire, and the clans [freedpeople] began to gather. On they came-on horse-back, mule-back, and "foot-back," and wanted to know of me "what dis yere ting mean?" and "how de rebel bring em?" Their first thought was to put them off the island. Of course, I set them all right, and told them all violence will only damage ourselves. In the meantime, seeing the gathering, the Lieutenant came up, told them when they saw the blue it was alright. One man said, "I know de blue cloths, Sir, but dese are tricky times, and the rebs can buy blue cloths." The Lieutenant smiled at the idea of tricky times. Well, next morning the polls opened at six o'clock-before daylight. The whites came with everything cut and dried...[but] the result of our poll was 585 solid Republican votes and only sixteen Democratic votes... During the day one fellow that the Democrats had been trying to persuade to vote their ticket, and as an argument laid all the hard times to the Republican Party, as he put his ticket in the box said: "There goes a straight Republican ticket, if I have to eat hay the next six months." Another old man hobbled along and as he put in his ticket said: "There goes a good 'Publican ticket, and may de Lord prosper him!" "Amen!" said I, in good Methodistic fashion... We insisted [the Democrats] keeping their own count, so their was no unfairness the whole day. But the whites were a sick crowd... We have carried this county by over 6,000 majority.
The women went to the polls to see how their husbands voted. At one place, a woman saw her husband about to put in a Democratic vote, and she sprang on him like a tiger and dragged the shirt off his back. The "brudder" left for repairs, and didn't vote that day. The News and Courier now complains that the women intimidated the men.
Source: "More Light: How the Negroes Vote When they Have a Chance," New York Times, November 25, 1876
Document 12 Questions
- Why do you suppose this correspondent is eager to point out the contradiction in whites' attitudes toward federal troops? How do lowcountry whites try to encourage military intervention in the area?
- According to this account, word spreads rapidly about the discussions taking place between the military and local Democrats. How might we account for this, and for the mobilization of freedpeople that followed?
- What is the attitude of local freedpeople to federal troops? In what sense are these "tricky times" in South Carolina?
- Is there any evidence in the document as to whether freedmen are intimidated by lowcountry conservatives? How would you describe their reaction to Democratic attempts to win their votes?
Freedpeople Confront a Black Politician for Having 'Sold Out his Race'
It is a mistake to assume that African Americans went into the struggles facing them during Reconstruction with a single, coherent outlook.
Although the bitter racial hostility infusing the conservatives made it unlikely that they could win large numbers of blacks to their side, there were nevertheless real tensions within black politics, and these tended to grow more pronounced as Reconstruction weakened and factional quarrels affected the Republican Party. In the early period, Charleston's large and somewhat prosperous free black population was uncertain whether to hitch its fate to that of poor, ex-slave plantation laborers and domestics; later divisions emerged between mulattoes and blacks, between urban and rural freedpeople, and between those who'd managed to acquire wealth and the large mass of former slaves still destitute.
The following letter (submitted by a correspondent using the initials "G. T. W.") to the Charleston News and Courier describes the hostility that greeted then-Republican politician Thomas Hamilton at a meeting held on St. Helena Island in the lowcountry. By this time Hamilton was a fairly prosperous rice planter and was moving towards an alliance with conservatives (he would soon join the Democratic Party). Just prior to the meeting he had spoken in opposition to the 'indignation meeting' organized by Republicans in Charleston to protest against a massacre of blacks at Hamburg, South Carolina. The wider context was the critical 1876 election.
[Describing freedpeople attending a meeting at St. Helena Island]: ...rotting amid wreck, ruin, destitution, neglect and immorality-a population without life or industry, cast away from the anchorage of civilization, of reason and of common sense... a considerable degree of faction and party feeling is nurturing in opposition to the absorption of office by what are called "Yankee niggers," and in favour of distributing some of the lucrative offices among the native blacks, who have become jealous as well as ambitious...
Representative Thomas Hamilton commenced to speak, and was attempted to be interrupted by one of the bystanders, who charged him with having gagged Senator Sammy Greena upon the occasion when he was chairman of a meeting in Beaufort, and [insisted he] should not be heard until he apologized... He was further charged with being a Democrat, and with having written a letter to the News and Courier disapproving of indignation meetings, with having sold out his race, and with trying to popularize himself with the Democrats and white folks to the disparagement of his race and constituents.
[A]t the conclusion of these remarks Sammy Green commenced a bitter and incendiary speech. He took the Hamburg affair for his text, and called for vengeance. He stated that this was a negro country, and that the whites should be made to feel it...
The views of Thomas Hamilton, as expressed in his letter to the News and Courier a week ago,b has brought down upon him the bitterest and most unmeasured denunciation within the limits of his party... he is perfectly indifferent and is the most extraordinarily courageous and independent black man for his opportunities I ever saw...
aSamuel Greene was an ex-slave and a carpenter from adjacent Lady's Island
bIn which Hamilton denounced the organizers of the Hamburg indignation meting in Charleston
Source: G. T. W., "Firing the Negro Heart," Charleston News and Courier, August 1, 1876
Document 13 Questions
- What is the tone of the correspondent's remarks about freedpeople at St. Helena's? Do they suggest that G. T. W. is hostile or friendly to the Republican Party? How might this color the account of the meeting which follows?
- What are the grounds for opposition to Thomas Hamilton? Why might these objections provoke hostility in the late summer of 1876?
- "T. G. W." describes Hamilton as "extraordinarily courageous" for standing up to his opponents. What are the grounds for lauding him in this way? How might others who attended the same meeting differ in their assessment?
This ends Unit Ten.
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