The Result in South Carolina

An anonymous contributor described mounting racial tensions as Reconstruction wore on

But prosecution is not confined to official malfeasance. In one county twenty or thirty prominent republicans are charged with perjury. The county went republican, but the officers elect could get no democrats to go on their bonds. No republicans were worth enough to stand, as the state laws require sureties to swear before a notary (false swearing being made perjury by statute) that they are worth the amount they stand for over and above their homestead ($1500) and debts; and yet the culprits in question took the required oaths and went on their friends' bonds, to be discovered and presented by a grand jury this spring. A colored legislator is among them. Another colored legislator has been sent to the penitentiary for bigamy. Others are in straits about fraudulent breaches of private trusts. When the legislature comes together again in December, it is possible that not a dozen republicans will be left in it.

But not only has there been a crusade against the politicians; there has been a relentless effort to bring to retribution and get out of the way all those negroes who, without holding office, made themselves obnoxious or dangerous, through vindictiveness or crime, to the whites. And this movement has been more formidable, or at least it has aroused far more excitement in the State, than the former. No whites have been prosecuted in the state courts for the violent crimes of the campaign; and when the Ellenton rioters were tried before the United States circuit court at Charleston, in June, the chief-justice presiding, the whites on the jury obstinately declined to find a verdict against them, and a mistrial was ordered. But hundreds upon hundreds of negroes, accused of participation in the arsons, the burglaries, the larcenies, the riots, and the murders of the republican rule, and especially of the last canvass and the dual months, have been and are now being prosecuted in the state courts, by the instigation of either grand juries or individuals. Civil business is rarely reached, so crowded is the criminal side of the courts; and even on the criminal side the docket is rarely cleared or a jail delivery made. The jails have been overcrowded all the year: a small one in the country, I have had occasion to notice, used to contain on an average about fifteen prisoners; there are now fifty-one in it, and it has the odor of a wild beast's cage in a managerie. The number of convicts in the penitentiary has increased from three hundred and fifty during the last year to nearly six hundred. Imprisonment is for longer terms, and as many as two and three negroes are frequently hung at a time, once (in May, I think) even five. The state constabulary, an oppressive instrument of republican invention, designed for use against the Ku-Klux Klan especially but the whites generally, has been turned against its inventors. These constables are appointed by a chief constable, who is named by the governor and senate. They exercise all the common law powers of constables and sheriffs, but are besides invested with detective duties, and have power to arrest without a warrant. In some counties, Darlington especially, where there was considerable lawlessness, the colored people have lived in terror of these officers. They have searched the houses of negroes freely, arrested right and left, often on suspicion, and acted with stringency in binding, knocking down, and even shooting stubborn prisoners. When they "go scouting," as they call it, they usually summon a posse of fifteen or twenty mounted white riflemen, and with them go scouring through the country, which has at times, from the frequency of such scenes, presented quite a military appearance. These posses are generally requisite, as the criminals have been numerous and desperate, resisting arrest, and sometimes inducing the negro population to aid them.

The guilt of most of the negroes prosecuted as described is so apparent on trial that it is impossible for a juror mindful of his oath to say otherwise than guilty. Yet there is a political aspect to the prosecutions, the crimes having been mostly the outgrowths of political disturbance, of which both whites and blacks are conscious. I should add, too, that there was much distress during the dual months, owing to the discharge and proscription of colored republican voters, many of whom were compelled by want to resort to crime, or to change their localities in order to get work. The odium, too, against a "loud-mouthed" or villainous negro is so great that white juries arc in the habit of convicting him even when his innocence is clearly established, excusing themselves by saying that if not guilty in that instance, he has done other and worse things, is a bad egg, anyhow, and ought to be got rid of while the chance offers. This spirit has tempted many base whites to carry very worthy and blameless colored men into court on flimsy charges, and convictions are generally certain. But a good negro, quiet and hard-working, usually has white friends who, if he be maliciously indicted, will take up his quarrel, lending him money and influence, and testifying to his good character. Such negroes obtain very fair trials; and if convicted on some old, raked-up charge, and there be any ground, a petition is drawn up, influential signatures are secured, and a light sentence or pardon is often obtained.

Whatever names parties may hereafter bear in South Carolina, whatever local issues may divide them, or whatever may be their assumed general principles, one thing may safely be predicted: the whites, in the future as in the past, will not tolerate, unless forced, any party which aggressively and in real earnest advocates negro rights, or in the same manner denounces the past course of the South.

The whites were long so engrossed with home troubles as to care little for national affairs. In the ascendant again at home, they are now looking with no little interest at federal politics. They have returned to power like the Bourbons in having forgotten nothing, but unlike them in having learned something. They have not forgotten the old issues and the struggle with the North. Nor have they ceased to think that this is a white man's government, and that the negro should keep his place. But they have learned, what once they did not seem to know, that they cannot always have their way. They have learned that separation from the Union is a thing attended with difficulty and danger of such magnitude that nothing hereafter, except the absolute certainty of success at small cost and unattended by risk of invasion, could induce a secession. Consequently, separation is rarely spoken of, and when spoken of is dismissed with a sigh or a laugh as something which, however desirable once, is now out of the question.

Nevertheless, Southerners look upon their connection with the Union as somewhat resembling the connection of Ireland with England;[3] as a thing forced and inevitable, and possibly not unbearable if they are allowed to rule at home; but at the bottom a distasteful subjection of one nation that has a right to be independent to another nation that has proved itself stronger in war. The expression of Mr. Key, "erring brethren," was promptly taken up and indignantly repudiated by every paper in the South. The South will never admit that she was wrong in the issues that led to the war, or that her conquest was right.

The remarks of President Hayes during his recent tour South, that he recognized the Southerners as men who had fought for what they conscientiously believed right, and who had succumbed only before superior numbers, were enthusiastically received and quoted all over the South. Zeal for the Confederacy and rank in the Confederate army are every day flaunted in the papers or before the conventions as the highest possible recommendations of candidates for office. There is a very significant reluctance amongst the white military to march or parade under the United States flag; it is rarely done, and causes much aspersion from the spectators, state banners being used. This is not surprising when three fourths of Southern tradition relate to the war, and when every family has a Life of Lee or Jackson on the centre-table, and their portraits on the wall. But secession being impossible, everybody is full of suggestions as to how we should make the most of our situation in the Union. Some hope we can in the future elect a Southern president, gain the control of both houses of Congress, and then get everything possible out of the Union in the shape of offices, internal improvements, war losses, it may be, or more Southern States from Mexico and Spain, or by dividing Texas into four or five States, so as to acquire more votes in the senate. Many of these things are expected during the present administration. Others, however, are not so sanguine. The consciousness of the infrangible solidity of the South, joined to the hope of some democratic votes in the North, or of divisions in the republican party, encourage all to hope that the South will be able to make a more or less good showing for herself in the future. All are aware of the jealousy with which the action of a solid South will be watched at the North, and of the improbability of securing enough votes there to carry out a rabid sectional course. Consequently, they are likely to act with moderation, undertaking nothing until they have carefully ascertained its practicability. They will probably claim the management of the national democratic party; though there is another possibility: the antipathy to the Union, joined to the constrained acceptance of the last constitutional amendments (which makes but little difference now between democratic and republican platforms), may cause the South hereafter to look on Northern democrats and Northern republicans with very much the same kind of feeling, — a feeling compounded half of aversion and half of eagerness to get all out of them that is possible. It is not impossible that the South may essay a professedly conservative and independent, but really experimental and speculating course, joining sometimes with the Northern democrats and sometimes with the republicans, as it advantages most.

To sum up, the South is awake to the situation, but has settled on no policy for the future, and will be rabid or moderate as prudence dictates; there is no course too strange for her to adopt. If her solidity be broken, it will be on issues not relating to the war and the negro; or if on those issues, it will be because there is disagreement as to what lengths principles common to all should be carried. I should add that at present Southerners are very enthusiastic about the president, and grateful for his action. He might have protracted their Bufferings. Their idea is that of late years the North has been swayed by fanatics, demagogues, and speculators; and there is immense relief to think that practical, conservative, and cultured men from a better element have come to the front. Many Southern leaders, emulous of Key, are becoming very ambitious of playing a part in national affairs, some even aspiring to the presidency. These affect a very conciliatory tone to attract Northern support.

But enough for the whites. Let us turn to the other color. Only three negroes have been killed by whites since March, and there has been a marked decrease of beatings and affrays. One reason is that the negroes, to use a popular phrase, are " lying low." Another is that violence towards negroes who do aggrieve whites is at present discouraged as impolitic, and redress is sought through the courts. When Chamberlain fell, the negroes were generally submissive; but many were moody and apprehensive for their liberty. They soon perceived that things went on with them just about the same under democratic as under republican rule. Their politicians lost office; but the change did not affect the main body, whose only connection with politics had been to vote once a year or so, and attend the occasional meetings of the party. The party was now broken up, and though still, at liberty to vote they must be cautious in so doing not to offend their employers or patrons. They had long ago found that party and suffrage did them no appreciable good,— they had to work for a living all the same,—and only valued them because they were thought essential to keep down the democrats, who would of course restore slavery should they triumph. But the democrats were in at last; the persons of freedmen were unmolested, their property secure. The brisker times soon began to increase their individual prosperity, and it is positively a fact that if a plebiscitum could be held in South Carolina to-morrow, it is questionable whether negro votes would not defeat the republicans. The prosecutions for political and personal crimes before mentioned have caused a renewal of apprehension at times and places. But it is discerned that the hard-working, respectable, quiet class of negroes are safe, and that only the leaders in the past iniquity and the evil spirits are in danger. Accordingly, they turn to work with renewed ardor, and strive to avoid offense and to placate the whites by settling up their liens and other debts, by frowning down pilfering, by courteous demeanor, or by a change in politics. It is amusing to hear how many of them voted for Hampton. This has led to a renewal of many kindly relations long severed. Whites are seen attending the funerals of their servants, aiding black children in their yards to learn by heart their "speeches " for the Sunday-school celebrations, or the.girls to dress, and even taking peeps at colored festivities; while the negroes are again surrounding every white gathering.

In some localities, however, the arrest and carrying to prison of the negro leaders, known and perhaps loved by all, has caused great alarm and sorrow. Crowds bid them farewell at the railway stations, wring their pinioned hands, ask what is the difference between this and the old slave-traders' doings, and as the train moves off utter loud lamentations and raise wild hymns; oven rescues have been attempted. The prevalence of larceny, bigamy, and the like, now and in the past, causes thousands of negroes to fear that their turn will come. Many have become either very moody and desperate or very obsequious. There has been an immense crop of offers to turn State's evidence. Negro jurors are often quite as ready now to convict those of their color prosecuted by whites as white jurors themselves. These things have resulted in the tremendous falling off of crime, before recounted, as crime in previous years has been comparatively safe, from the determination of the negroes not to tell on or convict each other. Many negroes were so uneasy during the spring and summer that a proposition to emigrate to Liberia created great interest. Organization was attempted, but want of money has been in the way, as well as want of unanimity. So nothing, or little at least, is likely to come of it.

The position of the whites towards the negro is just this: reenslavement is not desired by one in fifty, and is looked on as utterly impracticable, visionary, and dangerous, many even admitting that slavery in the past was an economical blunder. But they would not be unwilling to restrict the freedom of the negro in many such things as wandering about at night, holding public meetings, attending day schools,—or any at all, — and living in idleness; and to make the law stringent on him as regards contracts made with whites, or crimes committed against them. Nor is the idea of negro citizenship yet palatable. But some decency is to be expected in view of the platforms and pledges of the past few years, guaranteeing colored rights; [4] nor has the fear of Northern interference yet subsided. Consequently, while we are in the Union, encroachments on negro liberty will be made cautiously, slowly, and under disguises. But even already, in this State, there are indications of what the feeling is. The new legislature made it a criminal offense to sell or buy seed cotton at night, there having been much stealing of the staple from the field at night by negroes in the past; and decreed that convicts in the penitentiary should hereafter be farmed out to contractors for labor on railroads, etc. The whites everywhere applauded both measures, particularly the last, on account of their race significance, while the negroes everywhere deplored them for the same reason. Few or, in many cases, no negro jurymen were summoned in over half the counties in the State for the fall courts, the panels being for the most part white; while many papers, and in several counties (Abbeville, for instance) the grand juries, have recommended the whipping-post, to which harsh memories will cling, as a punishment for larceny; and many grand juries and all the papers are advocating constitutional enactments disfranchising voters who fail to pay their capitation or other tax, or who are convicted of larceny, and prescribing an educational qualification for voting and jury duty. This reminds me that the colored university was relentlessly broken up, an appropriation being refused to pay even the arrears of the professors. It was very odious to the whites from its perversion, having once been to the old, gentlemanly, chivalric Palmetto element as Oxford to the tories and churchmen. The legislature has resolved to turn it into a white college again, and give the negroes a college for themselves, with an equal pecuniary support. There is great prejudice in this State against free schools for any color; nor have the airs put on by colored school children contributed to remove it. Policy, however, and past promises will probably impel the maintenance of a free-school system for some time at least, but on a less extensive scale. It is proper to add that some cultured Southerners are in favor of educating and elevating the negro as the best way to solve our race difficulties. But it is doubtful if their views will prevail against inherited prejudice.

Reconstruction has certainly failed to make the negro a full-fledged citizen, with all the rights and privileges enjoyed by the white race. But no longer a slave, owning perhaps a tenth of the property in the State, free to earn money and to go where and hire to whom he pleases, with his rights of property and (while he votes with his master, or refrains from voting) his person secure, he certainly has made an immense stride forward from the time of the overseer and the patrol, the quarter and the plantation; nay, even from the time when he was set free, penniless and helpless, despised and ridden over by his former masters, and the prey of greedy adventurers from the North. As to the future, he is side by side with a branch of that race which has yet found no superior on the earth; and the evolutionists should watch with interest that which will prove to be a most instructive phase in the progress of the great struggle for existence.

Readers of this paper may find themselves left in some doubt as to the sentiments of the author on the policy whose results are recounted. Nor should they be charged with a lack of discernment. Over the first and second results stated, the author is inclined on the whole to rejoice. In the third, fourth, and fifth results described, while he finds some things to approve, he perceives much to deplore. Consequently, he knows not what to say at present. His mind is not made up.

—A South Carolinian.

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FOOTNOTES:

[1] A thousand buildings, including a dozen towns or portions of towns, worth a million dollars, were burnt by incendiaries within the year preceding lost April.

[2]  The senate resolved to meet the republican house to elect a United States senator by joint ballot, and the republican senators, and consequently the majority, actually did so. Mr. Corbin was thus elected. But the democratic senators, though a minority, met in joint session with the democratic house, and elected General Butler.

[3] I have seen this comparison used by Southern papers so often that I am almost ashamed to repeat it.

[4] Indeed, so many promises were made to the colored democrats during the canvass that a few dozens of them have unavoidably been made justices, constables, etc.; a half dozen have been appointed to really high positions ; while in Charleston County, mirabile dictii, three subservient colored men were elected, on the democratic ticket, to the legislature.

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