The Reality of Reconstruction

Washington’s goal was to centralize power, not to help former slaves

Michael C. Tuggle of Charlotte, communications officer of the Egbert Ross Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp, responding to Mary C. Curtis’s April 2 column, "Confederates with fingers in their ears":

Mary C. Curtis thinks the Sons of Confederate Veterans promotes "a twisted version of history" because we oppose a proposed National Park Service Reconstruction site. Let’s look at the facts and then decide who’s got their fingers in their ears.

One of the myths Curtis perpetuates is that Reconstruction was a noble effort to rebuild the South from its war damage: "After the Civil War, Northern Republicans and Southern progressives and blacks tried to forge a more equal society, one approaching the American ideal."

This ignores numerous historical realities. Lincoln never recognized the South’s right to secede. He (incorrectly) treated her struggle for independence as an insurrection. Once the Southern armies had been defeated, the state governments resumed their places in the Union. In December 1865, the Southern states participated in the passage of the 13th amendment outlawing slavery.

However, when most Southern states rejected the 14th amendment, which reversed the roles of the state and federal governments, the Radical Republicans punished the South with the Reconstruction Acts in 1867. These acts said Southern states that had voted against the 14th amendment were no longer in the Union — a direct reversal of Lincoln’s position that the Union was indivisible. Reconstruction imposed military rule over the South, took the right to vote away from Southern whites who had supported the Confederacy and established new state governments run by white Republicans and blacks.

Nor is it true that the "America ideal" of the time recognized blacks’ right to vote. In 1867, Ohio, Michigan, Kansas and Minnesota rejected proposals to allow blacks to vote. The Republican Party Platform of 1868 stated that "The question of suffrage in all the loyal States properly belong to the people of those States."

The corruption and tyranny of Reconstruction are well documented. In North Carolina, the carpetbag Republican legislatures of 1868 and 1869 illegally authorized $28 million in railroad bonds, which New York carpetbagger Milton Littlefield used to buy votes. The military government suspended the right of habeas corpus. While much is made of the Klan, little is said of the Union League, a Radical Republican organization whose terrorism preceded the Klan. In Gaston County alone, Union League members torched 28 barns belonging to whites in one week. These actions, intended to create ill will between blacks and whites, worsened race relations for political gain.

The purpose of Reconstruction was to destroy the decentralized Republic of Republics established by the Founding Fathers. Once political and military power was centralized in Washington, the pretense of protecting former slaves was abandoned. The lessons of Reconstruction are real, and still relevant today. The most important is that centralized government will use all the institutions it controls to justify and increase its power.

Today, thanks to federal legislation, Civil War battlefields run by the National Park Service no longer present the stories of the soldiers who fought and died. The Park Service’s new purpose is to cast its employer as a liberating force whose unconstitutional actions are all for the better.

That is dangerous historical revisionism. In a troubled time when habeas corpus and other rights are again targeted by the national government, this time in an open-ended war on terror, we cannot remain silent. The history of the Southern people is a proud story of resistance to centralized government. Preserving that history is the responsibility and privilege of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.