The Blackout of Honest Government
A forgotten reality of Reconstruction in the postwar South was something even Northerners saw:
"They feel that they were wronged, that they have no future, and they cannot protect themselves, and that nothing but death or voluntary exile will give them relief.” That the South survived this shameful blot on American history is a testament to the inner strength, faith in culture and traditions, and political fortitude of Southern Americans. One senses too that even the Northern army commanders felt remorse at that they had wrought upon American soil, and the shredding of the Founder’s Constitution.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
The Blackout of Honest Government:
"Psychologically and in every other respect the Negroes were fearfully unprepared to occupy positions of ruler-ship. Race and color came to mean more to them than any other consideration, whether of honest government, of justice to the individual, or even of ultimate protection of their own rights. Negroes on juries let color blind them, and the rejected the wisest counsel, Northern and Southern, against banding together politically, instead of dividing on issues and policies of government….But Negroes proscribed their own race if any voted Democratic—their preachers excommunicating them, their womenfolk bringing all their feminine powers to play against them, and Loyal Leagues intimidating and doing violence to them.
Radical leaders imposed their views on them….”every man knows that the Republican party, under the lead of God, President Lincoln and General Grant, freed the whole colored race from slavery; and every man knows anything, believes that the Democratic party will, if they can, make them slaves again (North Georgia Citizen, September 10, 1868, Dalton, Georgia). Negro militia, which were organized in many of the (Southern) States, incited violence as much as they promoted law and order; Loyal (and Union) Leagues incited Negroes into incendiarism and racial clashes. “There seems to be no limit to the insolence of the Carolina Negroes,” declared a Georgia editor. “They have been taught (by the Northern radicals) to regard the whites as their enemies and, having the power, let pass no opportunity to inflict annoyance or insult.”
Most Negro officeholders were more to be pitied than blamed, but a few blatant, dishonest, insolent megalomaniacs discredited all. A carpetbagger characterized Henry M. Turner, preacher, politician and presided at many Negro conventions, as a “licentious robber and counterfeiter, a vulgar blackguard, a sacreligious profaner of God’s name, and a most consummate hypocrite. Yet the Negroes elected him to the Georgia legislature—“if he had received his deserts, he would have gone to the penitentiary”; he was “a thief and a scoundrel, and yet they voted for him.” “If the colored people have not the elements of morality among them sufficiently to cry down on such shameless characters, they should not expect to command the respect of decent people anywhere.”
General William S. Rosecrans, amidst a Confederate atmosphere at White Sulphur Springs, asked General Lee, in writing, whether he thought the South must in reality be ruled by “the poor, simple, uneducated, landless freedmen” under the corrupt leadership of whites still worse. Lee and thirty-one other prominent Southerners signed an answer declaring their opposition, basing it on no enmity toward the freedmen, “but from a deep-seated conviction that at present the Negroes have neither the intelligence nor other qualifications which hare necessary to make them depositories of political power.” The minority report of a Congressional committee declared, “History, till now, gives no account of a conqueror so cruel as to place his vanquished foes under the domination of their former slaves. That was reserved for the radical (Republican) rulers in this great Republic.”
As for Federal commanders, Rosecrans, Sherman, George H. Thomas, George G. Meade, Winfield S. Hancock, George B. McClellan, Don Carlos Buell, Henry W. Slocum, John A. McClernand, William S. Franklin and others either were silently ashamed or expressed their abhorrence of what was going on. The editor of Scribner’s Monthly saw Southerners in despair and he blamed the Federal government: They feel that they were wronged, that they have no future, and they cannot protect themselves, and that nothing but death or voluntary exile will give them relief.”
The editor of The Nation by 1870 had come to view the South with a different light from that of 1865. There people were worse off than they were in any South American republic. Southerners must continue to suffer enormities “which the Czar would not venture toward Poland, or the British Empire toward the Sautals of the Indian jungle.” The North with all its charities had done less good than the Carpetbaggers had done harm.
(The History of the South, Volume VIII: The South During Reconstruction, E. Merton Coulter, 1947, LSU Press)