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Unit Eight - Planters, Poor Whites and White Supremacy
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Planters, Poor Whites and White Supremacy
We commonly think about the incredible social and political power of white supremacy during Reconstruction, but many white supremacists at the time were much more concerned with the brittleness of the racial alliance that held planters and poor whites together. Looking back from the twentieth century when the Jim Crow system--what Robert Korstad calls "racialized capitalism"--was firmly in place, we can assume too easily that all whites, whether rich or poor, powerful or powerless, agreed on how society should be ordered. However, in recent decades, scholars of the Civil War have emphasized that one of the key reasons for the defeat of the Confederacy was the growing disenchantment, dissent, and outright resistance of poor whites to support the war.
No surprise, then, that when Reconstruction came and changed the rules of the game that many of these poor whites continued their opposition to the planters, sometimes even taking the bold step of allying themselves with those who had recently been enslaved.
Part of the reason that some poor whites sought alliances with freedpeople is that many of the policies of Reconstruction, such as homestead protections, helped poor people, whatever their color. Planters, accustomed as they were to commanding both their slaves and their poor white neighbors, reacted with a mixture of violence and puzzlement. Matthew C. Butler, a Confederate cavalry general, explains to the Congressional committee investigating the Ku Klux Klan in one of the documents below how men of his class felt when they realized that their counsel was not being listened to and that they could no longer exercise the prerogatives of command they had assumed to be their birthright. The Ku Klux Klan itself was hardly a model of white unity; they often attacked whites who supported the Republican party or even helped freedpeople with something as mundane as a church building.
As national Republican politics in 1872 and the Panic of 1873 began to weaken the foundations of Reconstruction, planters seized back the initiative and in South Carolina launched and all-out campaign against the Republican government in 1876.
One of their key strategies was to get the support of all whites, whether by conviction or persuasion or coercion. Once in power, though, the planter Democrats, known often as Bourbons, reversed the Republican policies that assisted poor farmers by passing measures such as the fence law. This betrayal of poor whites led many to try to find a new political home, away from both the planter-dominated Democratic party and the discredited Republicans.
Sidney Andrews on Attitudes among North Carolina's Poor Whites
A few months after the Civil War ended, northern journalist Sidney Andrews made a tour of Georgia and the Carolinas and published a book describing his travels and the people he met. To his surprise, he found North Carolina to be much more unsettled than South Carolina. The Rebels in North Carolina remained much more defiant (because, Andrews concluded, they had not experienced the destruction of Sherman's march as South Carolina had) and the whites were much more antagonistic. Throughout the war, Unionism had been much stronger in North Carolina than in South Carolina, and at the beginning of Reconstruction, Unionists in North Carolina, many of whom had been relatively poor, were holding a grudge against Rebels, many of whom had been relatively wealthy.
The poor whites could be relied upon during the war because their instincts led them in a path parallel to that taken by the government. Now, however, say many of our officers on duty in this section, they give us more trouble than the real Rebels,-those who voluntarily went into the Rebel army. They have very little judgment, and their instincts do not now lead them toward the ends the government is pursuing. Not a few of them claim that the farms of the leading Rebels should be apportioned out among those who fought Rebels.
I have already spoken of the somewhat savage disregard of the lives of those who have been known as Rebels. There is, further, an almost utter contempt of the property rights of Rebels in the country districts. It is a remark one often substantially hears, - "Every d--n thing in South Carolina ought to be destroyed, and every d--n man driven out of the country, and every d-n woman hung." Unquestionably these North Carolina Unionists have suffered much from Rebels before the war as well as during the war. I am not arguing a case against them, but only stating facts. The root of the matter is, that they are making the readjustment just what they made the Rebellion, - a personal issue with another class of the people. However satisfactory this fact may be to any man or any body of men in the North, it is one which gives trouble to our troops.
Source: Sidney Andrews, The South since the War: As Shown by Fourteen Weeks of Travel and Observation in Georgia and the Carolinas (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1866), p.116.
Document 1 Questions
- What do Andrews's comments suggest about northern perceptions of the loyalties of southern poor whites during the war?
- What accounts for the expression of hostility towards South Carolina expressed by North Carolina Unionists?
- Why does Andrews believe that poor whites' "instincts do not now lead them toward the ends the government is pursuing"?
J. B. Sitton's Petition for a Presidential Pardon
One of the divisions between poor and prosperous whites was made near the beginning of Presidential Reconstruction. When Andrew Johnson became president following Lincoln's assassination, his priority was to restore order to the South now that the Confederacy had collapsed. To begin that process, he had to retreat from some of his statements a year earlier when he called for the treason of Confederate leaders to be dealt with harshly. As a practical matter, and an attempt to treat white southerners, as Lincoln had wished, "with malice toward none," Johnson issued a wide-ranging amnesty proclamation on May 29, 1865. Under its terms, the average Confederate soldier was pardoned, since Johnson had long felt that planters had bulldozed average, decent southerners into secession. There were, however, fourteen classes of people who were excepted from the amnesty; they would have to petition the President individually to have him consider their cases. Over half of the fifteen thousand who petitioned for pardons did so because they owned more than $20,000 worth of property before the war. In the document below, a carriage maker and postmaster from Pendleton, in Anderson County, South Carolina, explains his situation to Johnson and requests a pardon.
To His Excellency
President of the United States
The undersigned, a citizen of Anderson District, State of South Carolina, begs leave to represent that he is one of the excepted classes in your Excellency's Amnesty Proclamation and respectfully and earnestly invokes the clemency of your Excellency in his behalf for pardon. He is fifty four years of age, has eight children, was a union man and Jackson Democrat and the only one left in the village of Pendleton competent to fill the office, was without solicitations on his part appointed Postmaster in 1835 and continued in discharge of the duties of said until 1st May 1861 when by a Proclamation issued by Hon. John H. Regan then claiming to exercise the duties of Postmaster General of the Confederate States, he was ordered to send in his resignation as Postmaster at Pendleton and pay over all moneys, stamps & envelopes belonging to the United States to the Postmaster General at Washington D.C. which he did promptly. A commission was then sent to him and he felt in duty bound to serve as Postmaster until the surrender of Gen.s Lee and Johnson.
He would also represent that about the 1st of January 1862 without solicitation or knowledge on his part, a commission was sent him by Hon. A. G. McGrath Judge of the South Carolina District Court, as Receiver under the Sequestration Act for the Districts of Anderson Pickens Laurens Greenville & Spartanburg he at first refused to accept on the ground that being Postmaster he could not consistently hold both offices, but this objection was over ruled by being submitted to the District Attorney & Secretary of State, and he then accepted the office and remained in discharge of said office until the surrender of Gen. Lee. He has never been concerned in running the blockade or speculating in any way, has been a carriage maker for thirty five years and by his industry had made some property consisting of 13 servants houses lots & land bank accounts and promissory notes. His debtors paid him in Confederate bonds & notes, and he has lost seventy thousand dollars in that way, and nine tenths of his remaining credits, he regards as worthless on account of the parties having lost all their property in slaves, are utterly unable to pay. Consequently he is worth less than twenty thousand dollars. He has taken an oath of allegiance to the United States (in copy annexed) and expects to remain a loyal citizen of the same the short remainder of his days. With these facts stated candidly on his part, he hopes that you will hear and grant him a full pardon, and he will as in duty bond ever pray. He intends to be a loyal & faithful citizen & will behave himself as such.
J. B. Sitton
Source: Case Files of Applications from Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons ("Amnesty Papers"), 1865-67. Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, Record Group 94, Publication M1003; National Archives, Washington, D. C.
Document 2 Questions
- Why does Sitton explain his role as postmaster of Pendleton as part of his petition?
- What was the Sequestration Act, and how does this affect Sitton's position?
- Who would have owed money to Sitton?
- Why did Sitton lose so much money by being paid in Confederate bonds and notes?
North Carolina Constitutional Convention Protects Homesteads
The constitutional conventions that convened in 1868 under the authority of the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 included not only African Americans but also a greater representation of poor white men than had participated in the 1865 constitutional conventions. One of their key concerns was passing a homestead law. In this context, a homestead law refers not to the federal government giving away free land, as in the federal Homestead Act of 1862, but the state government protecting a minimal amount of productive property for each citizen. The law would insure that even if a person was in debt, his creditors had to leave him enough land and other material to provide a basic living for himself and his family. Over the next several years, these homestead laws were constantly being modified by both legislatures and courts. This document is the work of the North Carolina constitutional convention, and its provisions were:
MAJORITY REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON HOMESTEADS.
The Committee appointed to report on a Homestead, respectfully submit the following article, to wit:
SECTION 1. The personal property of any resident of this State, to the value of three hundred dollars, to be selected by such resident, shall be exempted from sale or execution, or other final process of any court, issued for the collection of any debt contracted after the adoption of this Constitution.
SEC. 2. Every Homestead not exceeding one hundred acres of land and the dwelling and buildings therewith, not exceeding in value one thousand dollars, to be selected by the owner thereof, or in lieu thereof, at the option of the owner, any lot in a city, town or village, with the dwelling and buildings used thereon, owned and occupied by any resident of this State, and not exceeding the value of one thousand dollars, shall be exempt from sale, execution, or any final process, obtained on any debt contracted from and after the adoption of this Constitution. Such exemption, however, shall not extend to any mortgage lawfully obtained; but no such mortgage or deed in the nature thereof, made by the owner of the homestead, if a married man, and no deed of conveyance by him shall be valid without the voluntary signature and assent of his wife, signified on her private examination before a Judge of some Court of this State.
SEC. 3. The homestead of a family, after the death of the owner thereof, shall be exempt from the payment of any debt contracted by him after the adoption of this Constitution, during the minority of his children, or any one of them.
SEC. 4. The provisions of sections one and two of this Article shall not be so construed as to prevent a laborer's lien for work done and performed for the person claiming such exemption, or a mechanic for work done on the premises.
SEC. 5. If the owner of a homestead die, leaving a widow but no children, the same shall be exempt from the debts of her husband, and the rents and profits thereof shall inure to her benefit for her life.
SEC. 6. The real and personal property of any female in this State, acquired before marriage, and all property, real and personal, to which she may, after marriage, become in any manner entitled after the adoption of this Constitution, shall be and remain the sole and separate estate and property of such female, and shall not be liable for any debts, obligations or engagements of her husband, and may be conveyed, devised, or bequeathed by her as if she were a femme sole.
C. C. JONES, Chairman.
J. L. NANCE,
JOHN H. RENFROW,
SWEEN McS. McDONALD
Source: Journal of the Constitutional Convention of the State of North Carolina at its Session 1868 (Raleigh: Joseph W. Holden, 1868), 219-220.
Document 3 Questions
- What are the exceptions to the homestead protection, and whose interests do those exceptions serve?
- What is significant about section 6 of the proposed law?
- What groups of people might be opposed to this law, and why?
The Ku Klux Klan Attacks a White Man Assisting Blacks
The Ku Klux Klan was a complex organization that worked in different ways at different times and places. An older view held that it was originated by planters to stop African American crime but that soon lower-class whites took over and began indiscriminate attacks on innocent African Americans, prompting the "better class" of whites to withdraw from the organization. More recent historians tend to see the Ku Klux Klan as including both planters and poor whites; sometimes the planters were in a position to direct the organizations actions, and other times they merely tried to take advantage of opportunities created by the actions of poor whites. While the Ku Klux Klan targeted politically active African Americans and those who sought economic independence from whites, it also played an important role in policing white solidarity. White Republicans were less often killed, but were frequently forced to publicly renounce their party affiliation.
In the excerpt from the 1871 Congressional inquiry below, the Ku Klux Klan attacks a white man who was not necessarily a Republican, but who had simply tried to help his black neighbors.
By the CHAIRMAN:
Question. State the whole history of that transaction as it was disclosed in the testimony, the original case in which the Judds were parties.
Answer. The Judds were freedmen who formerly belonged to a gentleman named Henderson Judd. Their names was Judd. They assumed the name of their former master, as most of them do down there.
Question. What had he done for them?
Answer. When they were liberated he divided off some land for his former slaves, and told them that they had been good servants, and he desired to make some provision for them; he gave them assistance--oxen and means of cultivating the ground. They had been laboring there; they raised cotton and corn, and had accumulated some means, and some of them had bought buggies and horses, with which they could go to church on Sundays. They had built them a church on the land of Anderson Dickens, who gave them an acre of land for that purpose.
Question. Who had built the church?
Answer. The colored people, and also those white people who inclined to favor them in having a house of worship. After the church was built and they had employed a minister to preach for them, after they had held service there for some time, was the occasion when these disguised men took Judd and his family, and Stokes Judd and Anderson Dickens, and abused them.
Question. Was Dickens a negro or a white man?
Answer. He was a white man. He was the man who gave them the ground to build them the church on, near where the Judds live--in the same neighborhood. Soon after that these disguised men, as appeared by the evidence of Mrs. Dickens and her husband, went to the house of Anderson Dickens, and with fence-rails broke down the doors of the house and went in, compelled Dickens and his wife to get up from the bed in their night-clothes, and with threats of violence compelled them to take fire from their own place and carry it to the church. There they compelled Dickens to take benches that were in the church and pile them in the middle of the floor, and compelled his wife to gather brush and sticks from the woods around and kindle the fire. The fire was kindled, and the church was soon in flames. They were ordered to go home and never mention to any living being what had happened. This was the testimony given by Mrs. Dickens before the commissioner, as near as I can remember.
Source: Testimony taken by the Joint Select Committee appointed to inquire into the condition of affairs in the late insurrectionary states, North Carolina (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), p.14.
Document 4 Questions
- To what extent could religious values unify southerners across racial lines?
- Why might the Ku Klux Klan have forced Anderson Dickens and his wife to burn down the church rather than simply burning it down themselves?
- Henderson Judd gave the freedpeople oxen and materials so they could grow crops, and Anderson Dickens gave the freedpeople a church where they could come together and worship--which was more important to freedpeople and why?
Matthew C. Butler - Planters React to Being Ignored by Government
It can sometimes be difficult to document the subtle changes in attitude that underlay more concrete and observable political actions. Since planters controlled much of the material resource of the South and wielded great political and social influence, their responses to Reconstruction were of great importance.
Had enough of them been convinced to support the changes brought about by Reconstruction, the entire episode might have ended quite differently. In the excerpt from the Congressional testimony on the Ku Klux Klan below, Matthew Calbraith Butler, a prominent attorney and Confederate general, reflects on the response of men of his class to the Reconstruction government in South Carolina. Butler also comments on his experience as the candidate for lieutenant governor in 1870 on the Union Reform ticket. The Union Reform movement was an attempt by South Carolina Democrats to join forces with more moderate Republicans in the state to prevent, or at least delay, the changes being brought about by the Radical Republicans, who advocated greater rights for African Americans and poor whites. Frustrated in his aspirations in 1870, Butler turned away decisively from cooperating with Republicans and was a key leader in the 1876 "straight-out" campaign in South Carolina that brought Reconstruction to an end.
By Mr. STEVENSON: Question. I would like to understand the meaning of the word "people." Do you mean the white people?
Answer. Yes, sir, I mean white people.
By Mr. VAN TRUMP: Question. Have you made as full an answer as you desire to the general question why the people of South Carolina did not readily and cheerfully accept the reconstruction measures?
Answer. I think there are other causes. I think the existence of disabilities upon that class of people upon whom we had been accustomed to look with confidence has been a cause: The want of confidence manifested in keeping these disabilities upon the people of the State has produced indifference in the minds of many that would not otherwise have existed. On the contrary, I think the relations of the people of the State would have been more cordially restored, not only to the State government, but to the General Government, if a more liberal policy had been pursued toward those men who had been recognized by the people theretofore. I think there was a general feeling among the people of the State that the old politicians should not necessarily be restored to power. I do not think they felt it at all. I think their feeling was that the most prominent men in the confederate army should not be brought forward. They preferred men of conservative views, and men who had not been prominent in politics, not prominently identified with the secession movement. That was very much the feeling of the people. I think that was one of the main causes of dissatisfaction, if there is any; it has not developed itself into open hostility, bit there is an amount of indifference which I think would not have existed if a different policy had been pursued. And in that canvass, last year, the acts of corruption, the partisanship, the most flagrant mismanagement and misgovernment that has probably ever disgraced any government, and which is notorious in South Carolina
Question. Is not that admitted by a great many republicans?
Answer. A great many. These facts were brought to the attention of the General Government. I presume it must know it. We were making an honest effort, regardless of party alliances, each desirous of suspending for the time all party affiliations, for the purpose of securing an honest government without regard to political opinions. I had got to that point when I did not care for political opinions if I was governed honestly, and allowed the opportunity of restoring my fortune, and not oppressed by a persistent system of taxation which amounted to practical confiscation and robbery.
Question. Is it not a fact, general, in relation to the leading men of South Carolina, that they would prefer now and have preferred a restoration to quiet, order, and the undisturbed prosecution of their business to political life altogether?
Answer. Yes, sir; I have no doubt of it. We had got very tired of excitement in the four years of war. I was simply desirous of being let alone, but a man could not quietly sit down and permit it. He must do one of two things, leave the country, or make an honest effort to improve matters. I think if any people in the world ever did do that, the white people of South Carolina did last year.
Question. Is it that state of things which has produced this apparent indifference of the people of South Carolina to public affairs?
Answer. I think so. I think if the people ever made an honest effort to bring about a better state of things, regardless of politics, the white people of South Carolina did last year.
Question. It is complained that influential citizens of the State have not exerted themselves to put down violence in South Carolina. Is that true?
Answer. I do not think it is true. It is true in one particular and not true in another. Wherever that class of men have had an opportunity of expressing a sentiment anything like a uniform sentiment, they have denounced it.
Question. On what occasions have they denounced it?
Answer. I remember here the manifesto of the democratic party in 1868, issued by the committee of which General Hampton was president. There were several such acts. When that man Randolph was killed the democratic committee issued a sort of manifesto
Question. An address?
Answer. Yes, sir, calling upon the young men and all others to obey the laws and refrain from violence. And in the tax-payer's convention the same condemnation was put upon violence. But my position is simply this: until I am allowed to have a voice, either directly or indirectly, in the State government; until influential men, men who have the right to express an opinion, are allowed to utter a voice,
I, for one, do not intend to raise my hand against it; and for this reason, gentlemen of the State have approached Governor Scott and offered him every assurance in the world of a desire to maintain the law, however odious the law may be, recognizing it as better than no law at all. They have given him every assurance that they would sustain him in every effort. Instead of those assurances being received in the spirit in which I think they ought to have been received, he has, until recently, discarded them.
Question. He has repented lately?
Answer. Yes, sir. He says, practically, "I am governor of this State; I am charged with the execution of the laws, and I will run this machine my own way." What is the result? A riot takes place in Edgefield. He might, by simply going out and standing on a box and calling to the people "stop," have stopped it. But I have no idea of jeopardizing my life when my suggestions are treated as they have been. I say as long as you don't touch my house, shoot and kill as many as you please; and that is the feeling all over the State. In a conversation with the governor a short time ago, I said to him. "Governor, you ought to be satisfied that you cannot carry on this State government, certainly by men of this character." He said, "I am satisfied of that."
Question. Did he not become so satisfied of it that he called a conference of men of all parties?
Answer. Yes, sir; and I will do him the justice to say that, whenever he has had the opportunity, he has made amends for many inefficient appointees by appointing good men to office.
Source: Report of the Joint Select Committee Appointed to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States [South Carolina, Volume II], (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), p.1190.
Document 5 Questions
- What group of people does Butler believe should be running the political show in South Carolina?
- Why does Butler say he would not work to end Ku Klux Klan violence?
- When Butler describes men like himself as "men who have the right to express an opinion," what does he assume should be the basis for political participation and leadership?
Belton O'Neall Townsend on 1876 Strategy
White conservatives in South Carolina failed to regain control in 1870 through the Union Reform party, leading to an escalation of Ku Klux Klan attacks. Those attacks accomplished some changes on a local level in parts of the upcountry, but they could not dislodge the Republicans across the entire state, and federal intervention made it clear that mass violence on its own was not going to be a winning strategy for the white supremacists. In 1873, however, the economy crashed, and the troubled times diminished northern support for Republican administrations in the South protecting the rights of working people. By 1875, Democrats in Mississippi used a combination of violence, intimidation, and fraud to regain control of the state government. The following year, many South Carolina Democrats called for a similar "Straight-Out" policy rather than cooperating with the reform-minded governor, Daniel H. Chamberlain.
Crucial to the Democrats' 1876 strategy in South Carolina was unifying all whites behind the campaign.
From the beginning of 1876 they set themselves to the task of arousing the people. A violent cry was raised against the governor, and the whites were called on to follow the example of their brethren in the other Southern States. Social pressure was brought to bear, an energetic canvass begun, and newspapers were bought up or new ones founded; for the main body of the whites were still disposed to hesitate. "We had better wait," said they, "and see how things go in the North. If the democrats carry the elections there in November, and get control of the national government, why, of course, we can rise up and throw off republican rule in the State. But we have a good government now, and had best let well-enough alone, for fear our old oppression might be re-established." But the work went on. At the Fort Moultrie centennial thousands of Confederate soldiers, once more under arms, were paraded before the people of the State. Wade Hampton was their captain. Hot Southern speeches were made, and the troops in attendance from Georgia, disgusted at the unwonted spectacle of negroes in office, rode rough-shod over the colored police of Charleston. Mr. Tilden had just been nominated at St. Louis, and the brilliant prospects of electing him were triumphantly paraded. Then came race conflicts: the killing of a colored legislator in Darlington County, the lynching of two negroes in Marlboro and six in Edgefield, and finally the Hamburg massacre. This last and the governor's action concerning it were followed by appeals to the whites, made with all the old vehemence of Carolinians. Everybody was urged to buy arms; rifle clubs and
mounted companies were everywhere formed, the young men being cheered on to join them; and the old system of browbeating and challenging all non-conformists in the duello was vigorously put in operation
The whites in the old Ku-Klux counties, where the negroes are in the minority, turned over en masse to the revolutionary policy; in the other counties they held back for a long time, discouraging violence as inexpedient, as likely to hurt Tilden in the North, as being, in short, premature. But gradually they half fell, were half driven, into line; though not all; for when the state democratic convention met on August 15th there was still a powerful minority (about two fifths) in favor of postponing action until it should be seen what the republicans would do about Chamberlain. It is useless to say, however, that the majority earned their point. General Wade Hampton, the Murat of the Confederacy, in whom are strikingly crystallized all the arrogant old plantation qualities of the South, was nominated for Governor with a corresponding ticket. It was determined to carry the State by the method known as the Mississippi Plan.
I will merely summarize the means used; I was in the State during the whole campaign, and know whereof I speak. The plan was, first, to arouse the white population to secession or nullification madness; next, to get as many negroes as possible to vote the democratic ticket, and prevent as many as possible from voting the republican; and finally, to put such a face on their doings as to work no harm to the democratic cause outside the State.
In the first matter they thoroughly succeeded. General Hampton, an orator of no mean order, an accomplished gentleman sprung from the best Carolina stock, our greatest and most celebrated soldier, in company with numerous other ex-Confederate generals and officers (among whom were some from other States, including Toombs, Hill, and Gordon), began a systematic canvass of the State, speaking at every county town and at other places of size. Such delirium as they aroused can be paralleled only by itself even in this delirious State. Their whole tour was a vast triumphal procession; at every depot they were received by a tremendous concourse of citizens and escorts of cavalry. Their meetings drew the whole white population, male and female (for the ladies turned out by tens of thousands to greet and listen to the heroic Hampton), for scores of miles around, and had invariably to be held in the open air. They were preceded by processions of the rifle clubs, mounted and on foot, miles in length, marching amidst the strains of music and the booming of cannon; at night there were torch-light processions equally imposing. The speakers aroused in thousands the memories of old, and called on their hearers to redeem the grand old State and restore it to its ancient place of honor in the republic. The wildest cheering followed. The enthusiasm, as Confederate veterans pressed forward to wring their old general's hand was indescribable. Large columns of mounted men escorted the canvassers from place to place while off the railroad. They were entertained at the houses of leading citizens, held receptions attended by all the wealth, intelligence, and brilliance of the community, and used all the vast social power they possessed to help on the work.
Source: A South Carolinian [Belton O'Neall Townsend], "The Political Condition of South Carolina," Atlantic Monthly 39:232 (Feb., 1877), pp.182-184.
Document 6 Questions
- Why is it important for the author to note that Hampton was supported "by all the wealth, intelligence, and brilliance of the community"? What does this phrase mean?
- Why might whites in "the old Ku-Klux counties" have been hesitant to embrace the aggressive strategy of the "Straight-Outs"?
- What was it about Hampton that made him an ideal candidate for the Democrats in 1876?
A Description of Wade Hampton's Campaign
In 1876, Alfred B. Williams was a young reporter for the Journal of Commerce, a newspaper based in Charleston. He covered the 1876 campaign and accompanied Wade Hampton on his canvass of the state during September and October. In 1926, he reminisced about the campaign fifty years previously, and in this selection Williams comments on how the campaign unified whites across the state. The Democrats adopted the red shirt as their uniform, making quite an impression when they assembled for a campaign rally or to harass Republicans at their meetings. A crucial part of Democratic strategy was to convince all poor whites that they should vote for Hampton, a point emphasized by Williams's description of the Hampton parades.
Those two weeks of October must have been busy for the women. Including those made for and worn by the boys, eighty-five thousand red shirts must have been made before the twentieth of October. The fashion flashed through the state with the amazing swiftness with which ideas, changes or modifications of politics and methods of campaigning spread. It seemed hardly necessary for "A. C. Haskell, Chairman," or "Your Fellow Citizen, Wade Hampton" to issue orders through the newspapers. Their opinions and wishes apparently were felt somehow and obeyed from Beaufort to Oconee in a day. So, the red shirt blossomed everywhere at once, like dandelions in spring. No official order or suggestion concerning them ever was given out, so far as is known.
The historic garments came out in the state--to change the simile--like scarlet fever on the skin.
In this connection, it is well to remember that when this story tells of seven hundred or one thousand, or three thousand mounted Red Shirts in procession readers are not to imagine long lines of stately, vividly clad, knightly figures on prancing steeds. Few people in South Carolina had fine horses then. Probably the majority of the riders bestrode mules. The Hampton riders illustrated equine as well as human democracy. If there was a thoroughbred horse in line he might be alongside a patient, plodding bony plow animal or a mare with her foal trotting at her side. Now and then a poor fellow who had nothing else on which to follow Hampton would appear riding an ox and be especially cheered for doing it; but he would have gotten himself a red shirt somehow. And the riders would be men of all ages and degrees--old and bent, young and stalwart, smart and shabby, ragged and patched breeches and cowhide boots or brogans along with costly equipment--differing widely in outward aspects as men can differ, but with the one purpose and hope in all their hearts. "For Romans were like brothers in the brave days of old."
Source: Alfred B. Williams, Hampton and His Red Shirts: South Carolina's Deliverance in 1876 (Charleston: Walker, Evans and Cogswell, 1935), pp.255-256.
Document 7 Questions
- Why was having a distinctive uniform important for the Democrats in the 1876 campaign?
- If news about things such as the red shirt uniform spread quickly and spontaneously around the state, what does that say about the level of organization and common purpose amongst whites?
- What is Williams's point in emphasizing the humble nature of the Democrats' steeds?
T. D. Gwyn Argues Against the Fence Law
Before the Civil War, the common law in most of the South allowed people to use land for a variety of purposes whether they owned it or not, rights dating back to the English Charter of the Forest of 1217. Hunters could follow game, foragers could gather plants or firewood, and most importantly, owners of livestock could let them roam wherever they wanted. Fences were built around crops to protect them rather than being built around pastures to keep animals in. This allowed poor people who owned little or no land to keep animals for milk, meat, and wool. However, landowners had been agitating to change this since the late 1860s. Once Democrats were back in power in South Carolina after 1877, they began moving to change the law and introduce a "fence law," meaning that animals now had to be fenced in and that their owners could be held liable for damage they did to someone else's crops. While the 1876 campaign had drawn many poor whites into the ranks of the Democrats, many of these same poor whites were strongly opposed to the fence law and felt betrayed by Wade Hampton and other Democratic leaders.
Much has been said and written for and against the above law. The most of the articles published in your paper are in favor of it. We of the upper portion of the county, as a general rule, are opposed to the law.
We do not object to its being a law in those parts of the State where timber is scarce, but in all this region, from North Carolina line to Greenville Court House, we have a beautiful supply of timber for all our purposes. Our plantations are well fenced, and when the different crops are gathered, we have pasture for our stock. The cattle, hogs sheep and goats of both land owner and tenant now have a large range outside of the plantations, both wood and turned-out lands, which afford abundant pasture for them during spring, summer, and autumn. In the winter we turn the stock into our plantations in dry and freezing weather, during which time they require no feeding. When the land is wet and soft, we keep our stock in lots and feed them.
Now if we have the "no fence law," we must fence our wood land for our stock, because we have not got the cleared land to spare, and it would require more rails to fence our wood and turned-out lands, than is now required to fence and cultivate farms. Perhaps three-fourths of the land owners have no old fields to fence in, and would therefore be compelled to fence their wood lands for pasture, in which alone, stock could not live without feeding. This fencing too, would be limited to the owners of the land, because tenants would not fence off a piece of ground for the short time most of them remain on a certain plantation. Very many of them remain one year only. The bad result would be the poor man having no land and no pasture, would be compelled to sell out his stock at very great sacrifice and keep but few, if any at all.
And without stock it would be both hard to live and hard living. This would be a great oppression on the poor man, and God's curse is pronounced upon those who oppress the poor. And again, the land owner, him, or herself, would not be able to keep the number of stock they now have, and hence, the number of live stock in all this great "no fence" region would be greatly reduced, and a corresponding high price would be demanded and paid for the comparatively few stock that would be left. In a short time--a few years at most--the inhabitants of the city of Greenville, who buy nearly all the meat they eat, and very many in the county, who like them, buy much of their meat, would be compelled to pay--well, perhaps, three or four times the prices they are now paying for the meat they now eat. Therefore, the City of Greenville, and all meat buyers in the county ought to oppose the "no fence law." But they may say that stock will be driven in to Greenville, as now, from North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and hence the want of stock in this "no fence" clime, will be supplied from those States. In this calculation they will certainly be mistaken, for the stock driven through this "no fence" section, will destroy much of the crops on either side of the public highways, and as the penalty of stock deprivations on farms, is a heavy one, the owners of those cattle, hogs, sheep, horses, and mules, will not risk the liability of this penalty, but will either, drive them other where, or ship them on the railroads, which will cost much more than to drive them. Then the City of Greenville and all the stock buyers of the county will find, when perhaps too late, that the adoption of the "no fence law" will have been a death, or poverty stricken blow to them.
But again, another and stronger reason against the "no fence law," remains to be presented, and it is this. If this law is made a State law, and all the people of the State taxed to build a fence around the borders, the tenants and non-land-owners will leave the State as soon as possible, especially those in the upper counties. I have heard quite a number of these good substantial citizens, who own no land, and who are now good renters, and are making the abundant crops of the county say, that if the "no fence law" is adopted, they will "leave the State immediately before they got too poor to leave," and in the event that gant poverty prevents them from leaving, they will never vote for a Senator or Legislator who voted for such a law. So honorable gentlemen, consider well what you are doing before you urge and vote for the passage of this law. Those good men to whom I refer, say furthermore, that when this "no fence law" is adopted, the Radicals will see the door opened for them to get into power again, and availing themselves of this opportunity, they will rally and adopt as a fundamental article of their platform, "a fence" as it is, instead of "a no fence law," and with this motto emblazoned on all their banners, they will make the welkin ring from the mountains to the sea-board, and ride triumphant into power again. Then, then, when alas too late, the "no fence" law-makers will see their folly, and our doom as a State will be sealed!
These good men who speak thus are democrats; and did all they could for Hampton, glorious Hampton, and his government. But if the Radicals will pledge themselves to repeal this "no fence law," after it shall have been passed by the democrats, they will vote for them, therefore, law-makers, consider the subject politically, before you pass the law. The power of the democratic party lies in the upper counties of the State, and if this power be put into the radical scales, along with the overwhelming majority of the lower counties, it will preponderate in favor of the latter party, and give them the victory, and bring defeat and disaster to the former. Think of this.
These are some of the reasons why the upper portion of the county are opposed to the law. Our voice in this matter should be heard and our wishes regarded.
I am no politician nor political aspirant, but having been requested by many of my friends to write and article against the "no fence law," I have, therefore, done so. If you see fit, Mr. Editor, you will please give this communication a place in your columns, and thus oblige many of your friends, and
Yours very truly,
T. D. Gwyn
South Saluda, Nov. 25th, 1879
Source: Greenville (S.C.) Enterprise and Mountaineer, December 3, 1879
Document 8 Questions
- How important was access to open range for poor farmers?
- Whose economic interests would be served by the passage of the fence law?
- How realistic are Gwyn's concerns that the fence law could disrupt white support for the Democrats?
South Carolina Greenbacker Explains His Opposition to Democrats
Discontent over issues such as the fence law continued to grow in the late 1870s. On a national level, one of the problems facing the poor was the federal monetary policy. During the Civil War, a large amount of paper money not backed by gold--"greenbacks"--had been issued. In response to this period of "soft money" and also the Panic of 1873, the Republicans passed the 1875 Specie Resumption Act, meaning that greenbacks ("soft money") would be recalled and replaced with gold ("hard money"), contracting the money supply. A contracted money supply meant higher interest rates, which was bad for anyone in debt. Southern farmers who found themselves slipping further into debt found the Greenback-Labor party, formed in opposition to the 1875 Specie Resumption Act, an appealing option. In South Carolina, many poor whites felt that the Democrats were controlled by wealthy planters such as Wade Hampton and had little real interest in policies that would help struggling farmers like themselves. Although the Greenback-Labor party did not accomplish much in South Carolina in 1880, it did herald a split in the Democratic party that would propel Benjamin Tillman to political control of the state. In North Carolina, that split would lead to the rise of the Populist party in the 1890s. The author of the letter below admits candidly that many poor whites were considering allying with the Radicals, as the Republicans were often called in South Carolina.
Glassy Mountain, S.C.
June 19, 1880
Mr. Editor--I notice a correspondence in your issue of 2d inst., from Tygersville, S.C., giving the news of that section generally, closing with a heavy but harmless assault on our Greenback Club, claiming us as his neighbors; also calling us radicals in sheep's clothing. We are very much obliged to Mr. "Highland," whoever he may be, for his gratitude to his neighbors who assisted him with others to lift the Rads' yoke from our necks, with the promise that they would make us happy by repealing and removing all the obnoxious Radicals' laws from alpha to omega. And now, Mr. Editor, instead of removing any of them, they have added fuel to the fire. We are as much opposed to the Radical party today as you are, because by their rascally way of legislating for the rich and against the poor, we, as poor farmers, cannot afford to trust them again. And we did place all confidence in what the Democratic party promised and even proclaimed from the housetops, from the sea board to the mountains, in 1876; and now, Mr. Editor, what have they done in the interest of the poor working man? That is easily answered. Simply by saying--Nothing. Now, Mr. 'Highland,' can you blame us, after having been, deceived and lied to as we have been to abandon the party before we are utterly ruined, and try the greenback or the People's Party, as we claim it to be? In ancient times at Rome, Sylla had a party and Marius had a party, and poor Rome had none. So it is now. The Republicans have a party and the Democrats have a party, but the people had none until God in his wisdom saw fit to send us
the Greenback party, and placed the Hon. J. B. Weaver as our leader, and we propose to use every means honorable to elect him president at the coming presidential election. Another thing, Mr. 'Highland,' and we are done. We do not intend to follow the false Democratic gods any longer, unless they reform and turn from their evil ways of oppressing the poor laborer in the interest of the bloated bondholders, both State and National. We further propose to organize a Greenback club in every township from the seaboard to the mountains. We have been especially solicited to assist in organizing one in our neighbor's, Highland, and will do so as soon as possible.
Source: Greenville (S.C.) Enterprise and Mountaineer, June 30, 1880
Document 9 Questions
- If Republicans at the national level were responsible for the 1875 Specie Resumption Act, then why was "Glassy Mountain" toying with the idea of cooperating with the Republicans in the 1880 election in South Carolina?
- What might the author have meant by the Republicans' " rascally way of legislating for the rich and against the poor"?
- To what extent can you see the Democratic tactics of 1876 continued in this 1880 campaign?
This ends Unit Eight.
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Unit Nine: Coercion, Paramilitary Terror & Resistance