Making Politics Pay in Reconstruction South Carolina
Once elected to the postwar South Carolina legislature, Matthew Calbraith Butler discovered the inner workings of the carpetbag regime which controlled the corrupt saturnalia known as State government. He also came to know carpetbag Governor Robert K. Scott, an opportunist Ohioan who had served under the war criminal Sherman on the march through Georgia and the Carolinas. Scott became chief of the Freedman’s Bureau, a Radical Republican enterprise intended to herd former slaves to the polls to vote properly, then saw good money to be made in South Carolina politics.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Wilmington, North Carolina
Making Politics Pay in Reconstruction South Carolina:
“Upon his arrival in Columbia, Matthew learned that the corruption and waste in [carpetbag South Carolina Governor Robert K.] Scott’s administration continued unabated. The legislature, for example, spent that year  over $150,000 for wines, cigars, and groceries for members. “The State has no right to be a State,” Senator C. P. Leslie said with tongue in cheek, “unless she can afford to take care of her statesmen.” The cost for chandeliers, sofas, and spittoons was approximately $40,000, but these bills were padded with bribes, bringing the total cost to about $90,000. And the public printing expenses (for a company owned by members of the assembly) were over $150,000, three times as much as in previous years.
These examples of graft, however, were negligible when compared to the bond scandals. The State borrowed money for its operations by selling bonds or using them for collateral for loans. From the original authorization of $1 million in 1868, the official value issued had grown to over $8 million. The State’s credit, however, was so poor, the bonds had sold at far under par, yielding only about $3.5 million. The corruption in this program took two forms: monies collected went into the pockets of the bond commission instead of the State’s treasury; and the selling agent in New York, H. H. Kimpton, [Massachusetts carpetbagger and South Carolina] Attorney General [Daniel H.] Chamberlain’s college roommate, sold additional, unauthorized issues, perhaps as much as $6 million. It was impossible to calculate the total because Kimpton’s books were hopelessly jumbled.
[Butler soon found] yet another case of official corruption, the Railroad Ring. The scheme to steal money through the State began back in early 1870. Attorney General Chamberlain originated this plan with a letter to Kimpton, in which he noted, “There is a mint of money in this, or I am a fool.” He was referring to the takeover of the Columbia & Greenville Railroad. South Carolina owned stock in the C & G, an investment made prior to the war to aid its development. Chamberlain’s idea was to steal these issues. (Previously worthless securities] were suddenly worth $1.5 million. Kimpton immediately began to sell them. The proceeds flowed into the pockets of the cabal.
Governor Scott’s four-year administration produced rampant corruption, funded by ever increasing taxes levied by a black-dominated legislature. The State’s debt at the onset of his first term was about $5.4 million. Four years later it totaled $18.5 million, almost $6 million of this in unauthorized conversion bonds, most of which found its way into the pockets of dishonest politicians.”
(Southern Hero, Matthew Calbraith Butler, Samuel J. Martin, Stackpole Books, 2001, 188-193)