1898 Wilmington Race Riot
The Carpetbagger Class:
Republican Party Corruption in the South:
What experience did the white citizens of Wilmington have with the Republican party since 1865, and what were their expectations if that party returned to power, and stayed in power sustained by the votes of black voters? Given that the resurgent Republican party in North Carolina was once again in power in 1896 along with a Republican governor, Daniel Russell, the worst was feared. One also sees the political adversary Southern leaders were up against, and they had to resort to political tactics unknown in a free republic.
"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 he State. In the same year, 500 Negroes were marched across the Florida border on election day to Tallahassee, voting at each precinct en route 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)
Horace Greeley Reports on the Carpetbaggers in the South:
“Greeley had set the theme when, in 1871, he returned to New York from a tour of the South. In a widely published speech he declared:
The thieving carpet-baggers are a mournful fact; they do exist there and I have seen them. They are fellows who crawled down South in the track of our armies, generally at a safe distance in the rear; some of them in sutler’s wagons; some bearing cotton permits; some of them looking sharply to see what might turn up; and they remained there. They at once ingratiated themselves with the blacks, simple, credulous, ignorant men, very glad to welcome and to follow any whites who professed to be the champions of their rights. Some of them got elected Senators, others Representatives, some sheriffs, some Judges, and so on. And there they stand, right in the public eye, stealing and plundering, many of them with both arms around the Negroes, and their hands in their rear pockets, seeing if they cannot pick a paltry dollar out of them…What the Southern people see of us are these thieves who represent the North to their jaundiced vision, and, representing it, they disgrace it. They are the greatest obstacle to the triumph and permanent ascendancy of Republican principles at the South, and as such I denounce them.”
(Those Terrible Carpetbaggers, Richard Nelson Current, Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. 261-262)
“Southern Panorama: Edward King’s The Great South.”
(Among the numerous books and magazine articles produced by fact-gatherers after the war, Edward King’s “The Great South” was by far the most comprehensive and detailed. King was a native of Massachusetts and for fourteen months in 1873 and 1874, covered every section in the South and some 25,000 miles.)
“King begins his chronicle with Louisiana and New Orleans. Colorful New Orleans, in particular, seems to have fascinated him. The war’s effect on the plantations had been drastic; many were entirely deserted because of the Negroes refusal to work on them ; the blacks preferred to flock to the cities or to cultivate their own land. A Negro government had taken over the State.
The legislature included 55 blacks who could neither read nor write, and, King reported, “The Louisiana white people were in such terror of the Negro government that they would rather accept any other despotism.” Demoralization was general.
King’s picture of the New Orleans blacks was unflattering. “The Negroes, taken as a whole, seem somewhat shuffling and disorganized; and apart from the statuesque old house and body servants, they are by no means inviting. They gather in groups at the street corners just at nightfall, and while they chatter like monkeys, even about politics, they gesticulate violently. They live without much work, for their wants are few.”
By the time of Edward King’s travels….horror stories about the depredations committed
On a prostate, impoverished region by carpetbaggers, scalawags and illiterate Negroes were penetrating northward, creating sympathy for Southern whites. The North, in any case, was becoming disillusioned with Radical Reconstruction and its consequences. BY 1877, when Rutherford B. Hayes became president, therefore, general sentiment approved withdrawal of the last federal troops from the South.
King deals only in part with political questions, but discussions of Republican State governments and of the Negro in politics crop up frequently as he moves State to State. In Louisiana for example, King found that the ruling (Radical Republican) party was “composed of ignorant and immoral Negroes, led on by reckless and greedy white adventurers,” as a result of which “the State has been broken down by taxation and debt; the Negro has been demoralized; the principal cities and towns are impoverished.”
“(In) Florida…the balance of power in the State was held by the blacks, led by a few white men…a great deal of fraud and plundering on the part of county officers” was reported by King.
South Carolina towns were pervaded by complete prostration, dejection, stagnation.” Planters land was confiscated after the war by the blacks, and “hundreds of white families were left homeless, money-less, and driven into cities where they were friendless.” The two houses of the legislature, predominantly black, soon ran the State’s indebtedness into millions of dollars. The Conservatives, “as the white natives style themselves, alarmed at the riot of corruption and the total disregard of decency manifested by the governing powers, rallied and made a decided effort to get the State into their own hands” in 1870, but failed to win the governorship.
Conditions were little better in neighboring North Carolina, King discovered. “The evils of universal suffrage have been very great in this State,” he writes. The great mass of ignorant and ambitious blacks suddenly hurled upon the field created the wildest confusion and crushed the commonwealth under irredeemable debt. The villainy and robbery to which the white population was compelled to submit, at the hands of the plunderers maintained in power by the Negro, did much to destroy all possibility of a speedy reconciliation between the two races.”
(Books That Changed The South, Chapter 13, Robert B. Downs, UNC Press, 1977, pp 138-142)
Local conditions around Wilmington are found in remembrances such as this:
Brunswick County After The War:
"The Freedmen’s Bureau had established itself in Smithville (now Southport) and was constantly issuing rations to Negroes who applied for them. There was a detachment of Yankee "school marms" who sat down here, and instructed the young colored "idea how to shoot." The army stragglers and carpetbaggers and bummers and "school marms" continued the work of instructing the colored voter. Many important ideas had to be instilled into the vacant minds of the colored man who was to be a voter, a legislator, a judge, a member of Congress and makers of laws to govern the white race who were mostly disqualified from exercising any function.
He had to learn that he was free and the equal of the white man; he had to learn that he must not take off his hat while speaking to a white man or woman, and above all things they must not address them as master or mistress, and to continually remember "dat de publikin party" had freed him from slavery and that if he had voted for a Democrat for any office he would immediately be put back into slavery.
Should he be ordered, he was to march to the polls to the music of the drum and under colors of the United States. As he could not read his vote, he was ordered to supply himself with tickets from certain persons designated for that purpose.
Brunswick County was represented in this (first reconstruction) Legislature by a carpetbagger named Edwin Legg, an ex-sutler of the Federal army. All Federal offices had been filled by Republicans, who had exercised all their powers to ensure a solid Negro vote. The Negroes were gathered together and provided with votes (ballots) and marched to the polls where their votes were inspected to ensure that they had not been tampered with. The military were stationed within convenient call in case any obstruction was offered to prevent the voter from voting the "publican ticket."
The interest with which every Negro voted was a terror because he was instructed that a continuance of his freedom depended upon his voting against his former master; and he has never forgotten the lesson then instilled in his mind."
(Reminiscences of Wilmington and Smithville-Southport-1848-1900.
Walter Gilman Curtis (1905), Southport Historical Society, 1999, pp 46-48)
Harnett County After The War:
In the following excerpt, the author mentions the effect of the Union League on the freedmen, and this is why the Klan cannot be understood without viewing gthe infamous Union League first. After the demise of the Union League in 1870 (due to Klan retaliation), the Republican party and its carpetbag regimes in the South continued to foment hatred for Southern white people in the the blacks, in order to maintain their political ascendancy.
Postwar Harnett County, North Carolina:
"When freedom came to the slave in 1865, power was thrust into hands not ready to wield it. Authority, backed by federal bayonets, was given to people who had never issued an order in their lives.
Mistakes were made and excesses committed that only the passing of years—even generations—could obliterate. Most of the depredations of the freed slaves consisted of barn-burning and larceny.
In all fairness to the Negro race, let it be said now that most of the trouble makers were an irresponsible minority acting under the orders of the Union League and the protection of agents of the Freedmen’s Bureau.
Appeals for redress of grievances did no good. In fact, matters reached the point where if a white man complained he could almost certainly expect his barn to be burned, or his livestock stolen within a few days.
The Union League, which came with the carpet-baggers in the wake of the federal army, began organizing the Negroes for political purposes. Any Negro who refused to join was called a Conservative, and severe punishment was dealt him by his own race. Naturally, the Union League operated in the interest of the Republican party. Their primary aim was to put that party in power and keep it there by the votes of the freed slaves.
Nightly, the sky glowed with the light of burning barns. The normal sounds of night were mixed with abnormal noises: that scrape and thud of the feet of stolen cattle and horses being led away.
The (black) hoodlum element grew more reckless as the courts refused to convict them. Insults and indignities were the order of the day. The situation grew intolerable for the embattled whites and the Conservative Negroes.
Then out of the night came the thundering hoof beats of horses ridden by white hooded and white sheeted riders. The Ku Klux Klan! Ride, Redeem and Restore Order was the directive under which they operated. The Klan and similar orders by their nature operated beyond the law, but they visited swift and severe punishment on the Union Leaguers. By the end of 1870, the Union League had vanished. Law and Order had been reestablished throughout the State."
The Negro in Harnett County, Malcolm Fowler, pp. 121-122
The Carpetbagger in the American South:
The following well-captures the class of men who descended upon the Southern States after the War Between the States; Those who saw opportunities for unlimited political fraud, graft and personal profit at the expense of near-impoverished Americans in the South.
Their politcal careers were created and sustained by a newly-freed class of voters, who believed them to be their friend.
(After his successful campaign for Governor of South Carolina in 1876) “Hampton credited “the honest people in this State, without regard to party or race,” for demanding an end to “years of misrule, corruption and anarchy, brought upon us by venal and unprincipled political adventurers.”
“We owe much of our late success (in the election) to those colored voters who were brave enough to rise above the prejudice of race and honest enough to throw off the shackles of party, in their determination to save the State.”
Wade Hampton of
“(when President) Hayes asked him what would happen if (carpetbag governor) Chamberlain were recognized as governor (after South Carolina’s contested 1876 election). “I told him,” Hampton answered, “that the first thing would be that every Republican tax collector in the State should be hanged within twenty-four hours.”
Wade Hampton, Walter Brian Cisco, Brassey’s Inc., 2004, pp. 258-267.
The Confederate Veteran Meets the Carpetbagger:
“And now the surviving Confederate soldier returned to what was his happy home. He had faith in the terms of his parole, that he was “not to be molested by the United States authorities as long as he obeyed the laws of 1861.” And now in adversity, almost naked, with unending toil before him he commenced life anew and went manfully to work with hope for the joy of peace, little thinking of the degradation, insults, humiliations, oppressions, robbery and extortions he and his family would be subjected to during the coming years, caused by revengeful legislation. And now behold him even greater in peace than in war!
Northern General Milton S. Littlefield,
"The Prince of Carpetbaggers"
This former general was notorious for his role in the North Carolina railroad frauds. He was aided and abetted in his schemes by Wilmington carpetbagger George Z. French and fellow Northern general and carpetbagger Joseph C. Abbott, who came ashore at Fort Fisher in February, 1865.
The plunder obtained by the soldiers of the Union army had so whetted the avaricious spirit of those who had furnished substitutes for themselves, that they were bent on having their own share of the spoils; and the politicians, anxious to ride into place and power, to that end resorted to more machinations than Machiavelli ever dreamed of in his advice to the prince.
By the daily trains came men, generally from the Eastern States, in every garb, and they walked along the streets in single file in quest of cheap hotels and boarding houses, and the insignia of their order was a carpetbag, and their interests and tastes—not their sympathy—prompted them to associate with the freedmen, considering themselves just as good and honorable as the “Wards of the Nation.”
“Two Wars; The Autobiography of Gen. Samuel G. French, CSA”, Confederate Veteran, 1901, pp. 311-312.
“As vultures sail in long lines from their roost (countless in numbers) to where the carcass is, so came in the harpies and political adventurers to the carcass (the South) to embrace the colored citizens; and, hand in hand, cheek by jowl, they entered the political arena and filled the capitols of the South. Every officer in the State from governor to coroner was dismissed, and new appointments made. The Legislatures became bacchanalian feasts to divide the spoils of office and increase the debts of the States by selling State bonds to the amount of countless millions. They subsidized everything they could; in short, they ate up or took possession of all that was left after the war ceased; and at last departed with stolen wealth, and the execrations of all the honest people.
Perhaps in all the wide world never again will be seen such malignant legislation, and mal-administration of law, such trials in the courts…idleness of the laborers, immorality taught by men from the slums of Northern cities, thirst for money, howling for office, insolence in office, creating anxiety of mind as to what a day might bring forth.
Add to this the formation of loyal (Union) league societies of Negroes, by politicians swearing them to obedience to orders, bands of brothers and sisters, composed of blacks under white villains, to burn our towns and murder the whites, the Ku Klux Klan of the whites for protection, and other kindred vexations and trials that made the South the home of the spirits of pandemonium; so one could truly exclaim with Ariel: “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”
“Two Wars; The Autobiography of Gen. Samuel G. French, CSA”, Confederate Veteran, 1901, pp. 331-333.
“Whilst in Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, I was offered the opportunity of seeing the legislators who made our laws, composed mainly of carpetbaggers and Negroes. For this purpose I obtained a seat by the sidewalk on the main street leading to the capitol.
The carpetbagger was generally holding onto the arm of his colored brother and engaged in conversation; and, judging from the gestures, they were advocating some benevolent measure for the benefit of the “wards of the nation,” and their own prosperity.”
“Two Wars; The Autobiography of Gen. Samuel G. French, CSA”, Confederate Veteran, 1901, page 343..