(The UNITED STATES, 1865-1900 – continued)
The 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified by the Union states in December 1865. It freed the slaves and outlawed involuntary servitude (except for those duly convicted of a crime). Unlike in Britain, there was no compensation to slave owners.
And in the US there was no promise from the federal government of a mule and forty acres, but there was the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, called the Freedmen's Bureau. It was run by the US Army and had numerous field agents who were supposed to issue emergency rations and to help black and white refugees dispossessed by the war to return home – while former slaves had no home to return to.
The federal government had a program to sell land cheaply to former slaves, and there was some exodus among blacks to lands in the West. But settlement in the West and starting a farm took some money. As one former slave said,
It takes money to get started in farming. You got to have tools and seeds and things. All I really know how to do is grow cotton. note56
Some freed blacks stayed with their former masters, who needed help bringing in the cotton and were willing to feed and house their former slaves. And plantation owners began offering their former slaves a piece of their plantation for planting – tenant farming – with the former masters supplying the seed, tools, a mule and perhaps rationing out food.
Some former slaves responded to offers of work from people who needed inexpensive labor. Some clustered in "freedmen's villages." A few removed themselves from whites by taking to the hills, while some others clustered about army posts. Northerners were donating food to relieve hunger in the "suffering South," and in the North some wealthy folks established a trust fund to promote primary education in the South for blacks and whites.
Immediately after the war, Robert E Lee and others had called on people to stay and help rebuild the former Confederate states, but perhaps as many as ten thousand removed themselves from what they saw as the catastrophe and defeat of the South. Some who had been planters went to prosperous cities in the North. Some left to take up farming on the plains or in the West. Some went to England, and fewer went to France. In Brazil slavery was still legal, and would be until 1888, but, unmindful of historical trends, Brazil was a popular destination for former planters. Southern newspapers described it as a wonderful place. People saw it as the last resting place of slavery and as having abundant resources and rich soil. Many wanted to leave for Brazil, but, as one Mississippi woman observed, they did not have the means. note57
Southern whites, meanwhile, were suffering from a large drop in income. The South's economy had been in a steep decline. Demand for the South's cotton remained low. The South's economy was not to recover from the Civil War until 1880, and then economic growth would be slower than in the North.
Many Confederate veterans whose status had been modest before the war had a new pride and identity coming out of the war. And among Southern whites of modest status was concern about the status of former slaves. The ideology that supported slavery did not disappear suddenly with military defeat. Persisting among many of these whites was the belief that all blacks were incapable of improvement and that no black should pretend to be equal or better in ability than any white. There was talk among the whites that the black equality sought by the Yankees would bring "Negro rule." And they feared that mass hunger was on the way and there would be pillaging and rampaging blacks. White society, they believed, was no longer safe for children and women.
Many in the former Confederate states saw Northern "fanatics" as responsible for the mess that their society was in. Agents of the Freedmen's Bureau were assaulted, shot at, and in a few instances killed. Many yearned for preserving what they called "white man's country." A number of secret white societies formed, one of which was called the Ku Klux Klan. And laws were passed called Black Codes. These laws differed from state to state, but in general they prohibited blacks from voting, from sitting on juries. The laws limited black testimony against whites, forbade blacks from carrying weapons in public and outlawed interracial marriages. Laws were passed against vagrancy directed against blacks. And laws were passed that forbade blacks some kinds of employment. In South Carolina, for example, a black needed a special license and certificate provided by a judge to work in an occupation other than in agriculture or as a domestic.
Just after the war the former Confederate states sent representatives to Congress, but, responding to discrimination and denial of rights to blacks, Congress refused to recognize them and passed civil rights legislation, which became the 14th and 15th amendments to the US Constitution. These amendments guaranteed the civil rights of all except Indians or anyone who had held office in the Confederacy. The legislation guaranteed that the right of men to vote could not be denied "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." And former Confederate states were not to be readmitted to the Union until they ratified these amendments.
State legislatures in every formerly Confederate state, with the exception of Tennessee, refused to ratify the amendments. This refusal led to the passage of the Reconstruction Acts of 1867, which gave new life to the Freedmen's Bureau and sent an army of occupation, including a black militia, into the former Confederate states – except for Tennessee, which had been readmitted to the Union.
The stated purpose of the military occupation was to protect persons and property, to create a new electorate based on male suffrage and to supervise the election of conventions to draft new state constitutions. Military rule in the South suppressed Confederate historical societies, veterans' organizations and parades, and where military authority concluded that civil courts had failed to do their duty these courts were replaced by military tribunals.
With the military came people to help run the occupied states, and teachers who wanted to help educate blacks – people called carpetbaggers by hostile Southern whites. Most of the teachers were women – some of them sent by churches. Some Southerners verbally assaulted the white teachers, and white communities made the teachers dependent upon blacks for a place to stay.
Those Southerners who worked with the "carpetbaggers" were called "scalawags." In time, myth was to turn the scalawags into "white trash," but some of them were from families of status and wealth. These were people who didn't feel challenged by the new freedom for those whom polite people called Negroes.
Many whites refused to cooperate with the Union's military occupation of their state. In voting for delegates to the constitutional convention in Mississippi, for example, around half of the whites did not vote. The selection of delegates to the Mississippi's convention resulted in 16 who were black and 24 whites who were considered "carpetbaggers." Of the 100 delegates, 67 considered themselves Republicans, and the Republican Party was becoming associated with the military occupation.
By the summer of 1868, "reconstructed" governments had been set up in Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina, and in 1870 reconstructed governments were set up in Mississippi, Texas and Virginia. These states ratified the 14th and 15th amendments to the US Constitution and were readmitted to the Union. Seventeen Blacks were elected to the U S House of Representatives and the U S Senate.
In the North, meanwhile, Democrats were criticizing reconstruction. From the Democrats of Ohio came denunciation of the Republican Party's plan to impose racial equality on "unsuspecting Americans." There was talk of reconstruction meaning "Negro supremacy in the South and a barbarian balance of power in the whole of the country." Some Ohio Democrats called for a return to "white freedom" and the "Union as our fathers formed it." And there was fearful talk of a change of the federal government "from white to a black and tan mongrel government." note58
With all of the former Confederate states back in the Union, the withdrawal of a portion of the troops from the South began. In 1872 the Freedmen's Bureau was disbanded. And the Amnesty Act of 1872 restored the vote to those whites in the South who had been denied it.
In 1873 the nation's economy went into one of its periodic declines. The Democrats became a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, and, in the South, many blacks who were disappointed by their state's Republican regimes were also voting Democratic.
By 1876, conservatives were in power in most of the former Confederate states, running what they called "redeemed" governments. Some of these governments were inventing ways of limiting black voting, such as complicated ballot boxes, literacy tests and poll taxes.
Occasionally there was violence, some of it perpetrated by blacks, as in Charleston, South Carolina, on September 6, 1876, with rampaging blacks attacking any whites that they happened upon. Another black-initiated racial confrontation at Ellenton, South Carolina, beginning on September 15th. And in rural areas, whites were lynching blacks.
Congress passed legislation to protect the civil rights of blacks – the Civil Rights Act of 1875 – but the legislation was ineffective and eventually, in 1883, to be declared unconstitutional.
In 1876, the scandal-ridden eight-year Republican presidency of Ulysses S. Grant was nearing an end, and that year another Republican was elected president: the governor of Ohio, Rutherford B. Hayes. He had won fewer votes than his Democrat opponent and through political maneuvering had won by one vote in the Electoral College. To avoid a filibuster by the Democrats, the Republicans agreed to withdraw the last of federal troops remaining in the South and to appoint at least one Southerner to Hayes' cabinet.
In 1877 the last of the troops were withdrawn from the South. Ending also in the former Confederate states was enforcement of the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution. With what appeared to be the end of the North's intrusions into the South, the Ku Klux Klan formally disbanded – to reappear again in 1915.
Copyright © 2003-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.