The Result in South Carolina

An anonymous contributor described mounting racial tensions as Reconstruction wore on
More

In South Carolina there are five very noticeable results of the president's policy: first, the decreased expense of the state government, and its increased purity and efficiency; secondly, a great decrease of crime and disorder, a marked increase of material prosperity, and a striking renewal of public, social, and military spirit among the whites; thirdly, the utter extinction of the republican party, and a revival of the old political intolerance; fourthly, a renewal of interest in federal affairs on the part of the whites; and lastly, the banishment of the negro from politics, and his enhanced material prosperity.

But in order to understand what may be said on these points, it is requisite to take a glance at the condition of the State when the policy in question was adopted.

During the canvass of 1876 the democrats openly announced that they purposed to carry the election, peaceably if possible but forcibly if necessary. They threatened that if Chamberlain should win, they would refuse to pay taxes to his government. When it was ascertained that the votes actually cast gave Hampton about eleven hundred majority, their indignation at the idea of going behind the returns was exceeded only by their indignation that the electoral returns at Washington were not subjected to the process; they unanimously declared that they would have Hampton or a military government. Their deliberate design all along was to achieve a party victory if they could, and a revolution if they could not. Their arming, their martial organization, their violent proceedings during the campaign, and the responsive excesses of the negroes when aroused have become matters of history. When President Hayes was inaugurated, the State was in anarchy. Within a month after the election the garrisons which had been stationed by Grant and Chamberlain in nearly every populated place in the State had been withdrawn from all points except Columbia, Charleston, and Greenville, where garrisons ordinarily are posted. After their withdrawal the hostile races confronted each other. The violent passions of the campaign not only did not cool, but became inflamed by the establishment of rival state governments. These governments, headed respectively by Chamberlain and Hampton, had each its set of officials in every county and in every town. Nothing but the fear of resistance in each particular case kept the blacks from lawlessness towards the whites. Nothing but dread of the torch, solicitude for their families, and party policy, the wish to do themselves and Tilden no harm in the North, restrained the whites from ruthlessly putting down the blacks. Wherever immunity seemed possible the negroes were burning the buildings of whites, stealing their property, and assembling as militia or in mobs to assail whites and terrorize communities by riot and tumult; while murders of whites during arsons, burglaries, highway robberies, and riots became frequent. Every white family in the country kept watch at night, or slept in dread, with dogs turned loose in the yard and the gun at the bedside. Every village and town was patrolled by relays of white citizens from dark till daylight. The moment a crime was reported, the mounted rifle clubs assembled from all parts and scoured the country, to the terror of the blacks, arresting suspected criminals, conveying them to jail, or inflicting summary vengeance. They were sometimes resisted by the colored militia, and regular battles occurred. Individual members of the races were constantly quarreling and fighting. The courts, though recognized by both parties, vainly tried to execute justice. Blacks on the juries would consent to no conviction of one of their race prosecuted by a white man. White jurymen acted similarly in the cases of whites indicted for violence towards blacks. The rival officials in each county were endeavoring vi el armis to oust their opponents from the court-houses, or to assert their authority over the people. They were backed up, respectively, by the whites and blacks, and collisions were happening every day. A reign of terror existed. Trade was paralyzed. The merchants' stocks grew small and were not replenished. Men with money were afraid to lend or invest. The farmers delayed their operations. Such was the ordeal to which the whites subjected themselves rather than submit. They swore they could be overcome only when twenty thousand federal troops should be sent to the State, and kept there; when they should be relentlessly crushed by the bayonet, disarmed, their prominent men punished, and every deputy of a Chamberlain sheriff supported by a posse of blue coats whenever he went to arrest a white man, or sell property for taxes.

This state of things continued till April. But the negroes were gradually yielding. The long-hoped for recognition from Washington did not come. The depression of the times began to affect them. They had spent the earnings of the previous year, and they had stolen all the property they dared. Hundreds were being thrown into jail to await trial at the courts, which meet but once in four months. Starvation was at their doors. The spring was coming on, and they could secure no advances from the merchants to plant their crops; while the white farmers feared to enter into arrangements with laborers till they could see ahead. The Hampton government, also, with admirable management, gradually pushed the opposition to the wall. The courts and the tax payers were on its side: the former recognized its legitimacy, and the latter .voluntarily contributed funds for its expenses; while the Chamberlain government was adjudged illegal, and could raise no supplies. At length the whole machinery of the government was in the possession of the democracy. Its authority was, indeed, denied by more than half the citizens, but its processes were everywhere enforced; while the authority of the other faction obtained nowhere but within the granite walls of the state-house, which inclosed a garrison of twenty-two soldiers of the United States.

Towards the end of March Chamberlain and Hampton, by invitation of the president, visited Washington to confer with him as to the condition of South Carolina. The result is known. Orders were issued for the withdrawal of the troops from the state-house. Chamberlain at once returned to South Carolina, and knowing that further resistance was useless soon surrendered the executive office, first publishing an address, bitterly commenting on the action of the president. Hampton immediately took possession, and, has since been undisputed governor of the State.

The whites hardly knew what to say at first. Their strongest passions had been aroused during the contest. They had staked everything upon the issue. During the dual months they had hung on to the hope that Tilden would be seated, and that then would come relief, victory, and revenge. But the inauguration of Hayes crushed every expectation. Nothing was to be looked forward to then, they thought, but a continuation of their distractions. Chamberlain's government would be recognized by the president. They were determined to repudiate it. The lower house of Congress might refuse the means to prop it up with the army; but they dared not crush it out and assert their supremacy over the blacks, for fear that a revulsion of popular feeling in the North would force Congress to take action against them; and while it lasted, lawlessness and material depression were inevitable. During March the despondency of the whites was inexpressible. They became willing to agree to almost any terms which would rid them of Chamberlain and negro rule, and give them "Hampton and home government." It gradually dawned on them that relief was coming from the president whom they had expected to prolong their troubles. When the final announcement came, their joy was bewildering. Grand demonstrations, the firing of cannon, the ringing of bells, greeted Hampton on his return along the roads, at Columbia, and at Charleston. A sense of relief at once pervaded the community. Trade forthwith revived. The lean shelves of the merchants were soon filled with goods. Securities rose in price. Credit was reestablished. The farmers, white and colored, secured advances for the year, and went heartily to work. Thousands of colored men, long idle, obtained employment. Race conflicts ceased, and the decrease of crime was tremendous. The negroes had been losing hope, were starving and exhausted, and, glad to have the suspense terminated in whatever way, submitted quietly. Hampton's tact contributed to the result. He gave a public reception in the city hall to the colored citizens of Charleston, shook several thousand by the hand, made them a stirring speech, promising that their rights as citizens should be maintained, and called on them and the whites alike to drop enmity, resume amicable relations, and go to work to build up private and public welfare. The colored militia officers waited on him, were recognized as officers, and promised that their organization should be respected and continued.

We are now prepared to consider the outgrowths of the president's action. As stated at the outset, the first is general improvement in the workings of our government; and that even when compared with the administration of Governor Chamberlain, who was hampered by the party which had elected him, and from whose members, though they were mostly corrupt or willing to be corrupted, he was expected generally to select his subordinates. The new government was set in operation by the ejection of the republican comptroller-general, treasurer, and other state officers from their offices in the state - house. They had been elected on t\w prima-farie vote, like Hampton himself; but the democratic candidates made contest on technicalities before the supreme court. Pending the decision, Hampton arbitrarily and very unexpectedly closed the offices on the incumbents. Records were probably thereby preserved from destruction which have since given weighty evidence against the reconstruction corruptionists. The ever ready supreme court soon installed the Hampton claimants. The governor next convened the legislature, which met on April 24th. This was because we had had no tax levy or other legislation during the winter, on account of the dispute over the organization of the legislature. The senate, which had been recognized as legal by both parties, was republican by three or four votes. The returns had made the house democratic. But a sufficient number of democrats had been rejected (without seating their opponents, the election being pronounced null and void from fraud) by the returning board, or, as it is called here, the board of state canvassers, to give the republicans a majority. The democrats thus counted out, however, were declared by the supreme court to be entitled to their seats, and accordingly had claimed them when the general assembly met in December. They had then been excluded from the state-house by the aid of federal soldiers. Thereupon, they and the other democratic members adjourned to a public hall in the city, and organizing declared themselves the legal house. The republican members remained in the statehouse. They did not have a majority of that number of members of which the house should consist, but they claimed a quorum because they had a majority of all declared elected by the canvassing board, and they also asserted themselves to be the true house. They were called to order by the clerk of the last house, and recognized, on a strict party vote, by the senate, which afterwards united with them and Governor Chamberlain in enacting laws which could never be executed. The democratic senators protested, but did not secede.[2] The democratic house was adjudicated legal, as usual, by the supreme court, but did not try to legislate, merely joining with the democratic senators to inaugurate Hampton and elect Butler, as described below. Both houses and the senate had adjourned before the new year. Under Hampton's call the senate and the democratic house assembled as the legislature. The original members of the republican house, which had been swollen by admitting some republicans contesting the seats of democrats, now recognized the legality of this democratic house and applied for their seats. Only about half were admitted, and then only on condition of purging themselves at the bar of their contempt in joining the rival body, or, as most of them called it, "axing" pardon. The others were excluded upon the ground of fraud or of insufferable deportment. The new lieutenant-governor, on taking the chair of the senate, ordered several democrats claiming seats, but whose election was not conceded by the senate, to be sworn in; and by refusing to submit the matter to the senate, when the republican members appealed against his action, succeeded in so increasing the democratic minority that that party soon had practical control of the chamber.

Expenditures were greatly reduced by the new legislature. The salaries in 1876, under Chamberlain, amounted to 8264,418; legislative expenses, $142,135; printing, $78,187. The appropriations under Hampton for 1877, for the same purposes, are: for salaries, $143,000; legislative expenses, $105,000; printing, $10,000. The total tax levy for 1876 was about thirteen mills on the dollar. This year (1877) it is ten mills, and would be smaller but for deficiencies for the preceding fiscal year. The cutting off of three mills means the reduction of the annual taxes by about $350,000. Local township taxation for schools is also abolished. This leads me to say that the appropriation this year for educational purposes (§100,000) is only about a third of what it used to be under republican rule, when, however, the most of it was stolen or wasted. The poll-tax is devoted to education by the constitution. Legislative corruption has ceased; and in every branch of the government, from the state and county administrations down to the courts of the peace justices, there is greatly increased efficiency. The appointees are men of intelligence and high standing, and are above temptation. So, also, are those elected. Four or five democrats in the senate, by voting with the republican senators in the spring, prevented for a while a reduction in legislative compensation. But the public raised such a storm that they had to recede and consent.

As a second result, not only have the unusual violence and infamous crimes of the fall and winter ceased, but the State is quieter, with less violation of law, than at any other time since the war. Further on, some circumstances will be noted which will contribute to explain these facts. The crops, by reason of hearty work and unwonted security, have been unusually good this year. The fall trade is brisker than since 1860. Every wholesale house in Charleston, and I suspect in the North, will attest this, and in the villages I have visited not only have merchants laid in larger stocks than is their custom, but many new stores have arisen. The railroads are doing well, and every branch of industry seems to be thriving. The taxes have ceased to be so great a burden, and it is probable that the unblushing repudiation, or, as it was called, scaling, of the legislature in 1873 so cut down the iniquitous bonded debt that it amounts to but four or five millions. A commission is investigating the condition of this debt, which has long been in confusion. But the revival of spirit amongst the whites, long cast down by vicissitude, poverty, and the post-bellum troubles, has been remarkable. Long excluded from office, they have devoted themselves to work, and while looking on the government with sullen or malignant hostility have manifested little curiosity about its workings. Now everybody is a candidate for position, and everybody is discussing everything about our rulers and politics. The ladies, after an intermission of ten years, grace the sessions of the legislature by their presence. Newspapers have increased their circulation, and new ones been established. Charleston, which could long support but one daily, now boasts of two. County towns, where one weekly with a "patent outside '' found it hard to keep from starving, now sustain two and even three weeklies, printed on both sides at home.

The gayeties of the summer have rivaled those of ante-bellum times. There has been no end of visiting and hospitality, traveling and attendance on watering-places, parties, balls, public entertainments, etc. Associations have been well attended. The agricultural and horticultural fairs for the year have been, and promise to continue, unexampled successes. The governor, through the adjutant-general, was authorized by law to organize the whites into a militia, to be distinct from the negro national guard; and the adjutant-general's office has had more business than any other at the capital. Innumerable companies have been formed and organized into the higher divisions; and the enthusiasm over titles, uniforms, drilling, parades, military hops, and so on, has been tremendous. In all these things the old aristocracy, as usual, takes the lead.

Republicanism is dead, and the old intolerance has revived. No overt violence has been offered to any one on account of his republican sentiments since Hampton's triumph, though there has been plenty of hooting and gibing. But it is because the republicans have kept very quiet. There is no federal support now, and they know from the experience of the autumn what would follow if a vigorous party course were adopted, calculated to consolidate the negro vote and win: that is, violence and starvation. Furthermore, the democrats have shown themselves willing to use the election machinery, now in their hands, to achieve victory, and did so as flagrantly in the first elections under Hampton as the republicans in their prime. The latter see that it would be of no use to gain votes. Negroes, too, dependent on whites, and consequently the majority, are now made to understand that to cast a republican ticket means discharge, proscription, and starvation. Therefore, perceiving in what corner the wind sits, perhaps a third of the colored men now profess democracy, and vote in accordance, to the great joy and satisfaction of their employers or patrons. You can see advertisements before the shops of negroes, like this: "Patronize So and So, the only colored democratic barber [or shoemaker] in town." These converts would have been summarily bulldozed by their sable brethren up to this year, but the whites now delight in protecting and petting them. Since Chamberlain's retirement there have been fifteen or twenty elections in single counties at different times, to fill vacancies in the legislature, etc. On such occasions great numbers of young white men, largely from adjacent counties, ride to and remain about the polls, " to see fair play," they explain. These have not attempted openly to molest, but they have certainly frightened the republican negroes. Accordingly, every election has gone democratic. The republicans put up tickets only two or three times at first, but never think of it now. Even Charleston, Darlington, and Orangeburg, the old strongholds of radicalism, have gone democratic with no opposition, except in the last. The republicans meet in few places now; their organization has fallen to pieces. But the democrats preserve strict party discipline. Some candidates, defeated before their conventions, have threatened to bolt, and the republicans have offered to vote for such; but thereupon such a cry was raised, not only in the county but all over the State, that no such bolt has happened yet, or is likely to.

The republicans have furthermore lost their leaders. The whites regard the negro as an inferior animal, admirably adapted to work and to wait, and look on him, "in his proper place," with a curious mixture of amusement, contempt, and affection. It is when he aspires to participate in politics or otherwise claim privileges that their hatred becomes intense. They knew that the main body of blacks were ignorant and by themselves harmless; that they had been following politicians, and would readily resume work and give no more trouble. Consequently, there was little desire to persecute them after the settlement. Not so with the leaders, however. There has been a relentless determination to purge the offices of republicans, to get rid of every vestige of the hateful carpet-bag regime, and to bring its upholders to a heavy reckoning. Nor have there been wanting reasons or plausible pretexts. The republican representatives elect from Charleston County, seventeen in number, were refused seats in the lower house, the election being annulled on the ground of fraud, and a new one ordered. This would have been proper enough had not the delegates from Edgefield been seated and lionized. The colored justice of the supreme court has been impeached for drunkenness. A circuit judge, still too republican, was unseated by a technical objection to the way in which he had qualified the year before; and the legislature took some steps, and will probably complete them this winter, to declare vacant the seats of all the circuit judges, most of whom, despite their eminent services last fall, were once, in some way, mixed with republicanism, on account of a slight informality in the method of their election by the legislature in 1875. It was with difficulty, and only after bitter quarreling in caucus, that Hampton could induce the legislature to elect the facile white associate justice of the supreme court to the place of Chief-Justice Moses, on the latter's decease, in reward for indispensable services during the dual imbroglio. I have referred to the treatment of the state treasurer, etc. A republican state attorney has been ousted, — for being a congressman at the same time. Half the republicans elected to county offices last November [1876] were unable to get bondsmen, so strong was the feeling; and many who did get them have since had them to withdraw. So, new elections have been held and democrats put in.

But the most potent instrument for both purging and revenge has been prosecution for official misconduct. A legislative investigating committee has been sitting in Columbia since June, taking testimony and overhauling the state archives. In most of the counties, too, the grand juries have been examining witnesses and searching the records in the court-houses. Indictments and presentments without number have followed; and starting with two congressmen (a senator and a representative-), passing by two ex-governors, several lieutenant governors and speakers of the house, two ex - treasurers, two ex-comptroller generals, and over half the republican members and ex-members of the legislature, with the ex - clerks, and coming down to numberless state attorneys and ex-state attorneys, county officers and ex-county officers, — treasurers, auditors, county commissioners, school commissioners, sheriffs, clerks of court, trial justices, school trustees and teachers,—we find that nearly all the republicans in the State who have ever held office are under indictment, are already convicted and punished, or have fled from justice. So palpable is their guilt, generally, that even the most radical negroes on the juries are compelled to find true bills or verdicts of guilty. I should state that rumors are afloat that all the prominent parties under indictment in Columbia will not be prosecuted further should public opinion in the North condemn the proceeding. It is also proper to say that many rogues have had the cases against them "nol. pros'd," upon condition of making restitution of their plunder to the State or of immediately resigning important offices which their prosecutors were desirous of getting. There have been no trials of cases worked up by the committee yet. It is notorious both in Columbia and the counties that not a few white democrats being implicated in some of the corruptions, their investigation has been promptly dropped to shield these democrats. The legislative committee has been compared to the Star-Chamber, sitting with closed doors and enjoining silence on all called before it. But there has been no lack of purely republican rascality to punish. Members of former legislatures, some still sitting, are indicted for taking bribes. A United States senator, individuals and members of rings and corporations, are indicted for bribing them. It has been discovered that a clerk of the senate issued thousands upon thousands of dollars in pay certificates to merchants, which although recorded as paid for stationery were really given for fine wines, liquors, cigars, furniture, novels, etc., for the private use of himself and certain senators. The managers of a colored state orphan asylum in Columbia, where were kept fifty poorly cherished children, are found to have been ordering for their wards, if the books may be trusted, hundreds of dollars' worth of assorted candies, whisky, water-melons, and carpets. A voucher was found in the comptroller-general's office for $4320 in figures. Being traced back it is seen that the original bill was for $320, and that the prefixing of the figure four has netted the forger as many thousand dollars. Another bill for $1100 in figures is metamorphosed by two neat additions to the ones into $4400. There are charges of frauds in issuing state bonds and funding coupons; for diverting the taxes to objects for which they had not been appropriated, etc. In the counties there are indictments for issuing and paying innumerable fraudulent claims on the county treasury, for defalcations and other crimes too numerous to mention. In one county the auditor and treasurer, who respectively assess and collect taxes, as a check upon each other, are found to have been in collusion, and to have doctored the books in their respective offices so as to leave unentered the taxes due and paid on large amounts of property, and to have pocketed the taxes thus unrecorded. Most, though by no means all, of the offenses in both state and county governments seem to have occurred prior to Governor Chamberlain's administration: that he strove to stem the corruption while chief executive everything goes to prove.

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Why Do People Love Times Square?

A filmmaker asks New Yorkers and tourists about the allure of Broadway's iconic plaza


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Why Do People Love Times Square?

A filmmaker asks New Yorkers and tourists about the allure of Broadway's iconic plaza

Video

A Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier

Video

What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets

Video

Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.

Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Writers

Up
Down
More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In