Northern Reconstruction of the South
Many Marxist academics believe that Reconstruction was an unfinished social revolution that abandoned the black man in 1876. It might well be that the black man would have fared better learning honest government from his white Southern neighbors, instead of assisting white Northern political criminals in their personal enrichment schemes and widespread corruption.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Northern Reconstruction of the South:
"It must be conceded that many officials of the radical governments were ignorant, others unscrupulous, and their administrations extravagant and corrupt. School funds were embezzled, tax rates quadrupled and State debts increased by as much as 1400 percent in a few years, Carpetbag officials came into the region penniless and quickly made fortunes. Henry Clay Warmoth, a native of Illinois, dismissed from the Union army by General Grant and subsequently indicted for embezzlement in Texas, settled in New Orleans and quickly rose to power. Elected governor in 1868 with a salary of $8000, he admitted making $100,000 the first year. At the close of his term in 1872 his fortune was variously estimated at a figure somewhere between $500,000 and $1,000,000.
An eyewitness of the South Carolina legislative session of 1870 thought that body so generally corrupt that “the (few) honest and honorable members of either race had no more influence in it than an orchid might have in a mustard patch.” Robert K. Scott, carpetbag governor of the State, sold pardons right and left and later admitted that he accepted a $15,000 bribe for approving a false printing bill. His successor, scalawag Governor Franklin J. Moses, Jr. used his contingent fund to bribe legislative committees that were charged to investigate reports of his misuse of that fund. As a result, Moses was exonerated by the legislature and his contingent fund increased. Conservative legislators were sometimes arrested in order to ensure a radical majority when key measures were to be voted on, and in Florida, a “smelling committee” was actually set up in the legislature to ferret out new schemes whereby dishonest legislators might enrich themselves.
There was much corruption of a comparatively petty nature. Booty in the form of State printing concessions was a favorite device by which legislators rewarded friends of the press. Florida’s printing bill in 1869 was greater than the entire cost of the State government in 1860; Louisiana’s under three years of Warmoth’s administration grew almost tenfold, from $60,000 to $500,000. New offices were created to reward political henchmen, and salaries of others raised. New counties were created in return for bribes paid by expectant county officials or by speculating landowners. An Arkansas Negro was paid $9000 to repair a bridge originally built for $500. The South Carolina legislature paid almost twice as much for the taking of a State census in 1869 as the Federal census would cost the following year. It also voted $1,000 extra compensation to its speaker because he had lost that sum on a horse race. Westphalia hams, whiskies and wines were purchased as “legislative supplies.”
A carpetbagger wrote from Raleigh, North Carolina in the autumn of 1867: “I strayed down here and was appointed Register in Bankruptcy by Judge Chase and to use one of our western phrases, “am making it pay.” Thievery on a large scale was practiced through the use of the State’s credit, generally by issuing bonds to promote railroads, some of which were never built. North Carolina issued $17,500,000 of railroad bonds, Arkansas more than $8,000,000, Georgia almost $6,000,000. State debts rose to fantastic heights: in South Carolina, North Carolina and Alabama to about $30,000,000; in Louisiana to $50,000,000.
“…Elections had become a travesty. According to James G. Randall, “blacks by the thousands cast ballots without knowing even the names of men for whom they were voting,” and Southern communities “were subjected to the misguided action of these irresponsible creatures directed by white (Republican) bosses. Election laws were “deliberately framed to open the way for manipulation and fraud.” Vote-buying “became so common that Negroes came to expect it.” Union Leaguers, according to another authority, “voted the Negroes like herds of senseless cattle.”
“We are entirely in the power of the radicals,” wrote a Southerner from Baton Rouge, “and there is a few low whites who condescend to take the Negro by the arm to get his vote. We are entirely at the mercy of the Negro as there is four Negroes to one white registered…”
A committee of Congress, investigating the Louisiana election of 1872, reported that the Republican returning-board juggled returns, accepted false affidavits, and merely “estimated what the vote might have been.” In Alabama, radical (Republican) bosses in 1874 distributed to thousands of Negro voters a winter’s supply of bacon and hams furnished by Congress for the relief of people in flooded areas of the State. In the same year, 500 Negroes were marched across the Florida border on election day to Tallahassee, voting at each precinct enroute under assumed names. These tactics called for escalation of the political war, and white conservative leaders resorted to organized intimidation and violence."
(The South Since Appomattox, Thomas D. Clark, Albert D. Kirwan, Oxford University Press, 1967, pp 37-41)