Watch Live: The Washington Ideas Forum 2014
February 1866 The Civil War

Three Months Among the Reconstructionists

In 1866, a journalist offered a scathing report on post-war life in the South.
In the fall of 1865, Sidney Andrews, a northern-Illinois-based journalist, set out to take stock of the post-war South, traveling extensively in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia—attending state constitutional conventions and speaking with people from a variety of backgrounds. His scathing assessment gave ammunition to those advocating a more aggressive Northern hand in Reconstruction: he wrote disparagingly of a widespread lack of education and culture, an undemocratic caste system, festering racial tensions, and entrenched anti-Union sentiment.

His reports were published in The Atlantic and elsewhere, and the topic proved to be of such interest to Northern readers that some of his writings were gathered in an 1866 book, The South Since the War.

In the congressional elections that year, advocates of much harsher policies toward the South swept to power, and for the following decade—known as the years of “Radical Reconstruction”—the South would be subjected to firm rules imposed by Congress.

—Sage Stossel

I spent the months of September, October, and November, 1865, in the States of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. I travelled over more than half the stage and railway routes therein, visited a considerable number of towns and cities in each State, attended the so-called reconstruction conventions at Raleigh, Columbia, and Milledgeville, and had much conversation with many individuals of nearly all classes …

I often had occasion to notice, both in Georgia and the Carolinas, the wide and pitiful difference between the residents of the cities and large towns and the residents of the country. There is no homogeneity, but everywhere a rigid spirit of caste. The longings of South Carolina are essentially monarchical rather than republican; even the common people have become so debauched in loyalty, that very many of them would readily accept the creation of orders of nobility. In Georgia there is something less of this spirit; but the upper classes continually assert their right to rule, and the middle and lower classes have no ability to free themselves … Thus, Charleston has much intelligence, and considerable genuine culture; but go twenty miles away, and you are in the land of the barbarians. So, Raleigh is a city in which there is love of beauty, and interest in education; but the common people of the county are at least forty years behind the same class of people in Vermont …

I think no one can understand the actual condition of the mass of whites in Georgia and the Carolinas, except by some daily contact with them. The injustice done to three fourths of them was hardly less than that done to all the blacks. There were two kinds of slavery, and negro slavery was only more wicked and debasing than white slavery. Nine of every ten white men in South Carolina had almost as little to do with even State affairs as the negroes had … Whether they are technically in the Union or out of the Union, it is the national duty to deal with these States in such manner as will most surely exalt the lower and middle classes of their inhabitants. The nation must teach them a knowledge of their own rights, while it also teaches them respect for its rights and the rights of man as man …

There is everywhere a lack of intellectual activity. Schools, books, newspapers,—why, one may almost say there are none outside the cities and towns. The situation is horrible enough, when the full force of this fact is comprehended; yet there is a still lower deep,—there is small desire, even feeble longing, for schools and books and newspapers. The chief end of man seems to have been “to own a nigger” … It is this general ignorance, and this general indifference to knowledge, that make a Southern trip such wearisome work. You can touch the masses with few of the appeals by which we move our own people. There is very little aspiration for larger life; and, more than that, there is almost no opportunity for its attainment. That education is the stairway to a nobler existence is a fact which they either fail to comprehend or to which they are wholly indifferent …

The political leaders of this people have apparently indoctrinated them with the notion that they are superior to any other class in the country. Hence there is usually very little effort to conceal the prevalent scorn of the Yankee,—this term being applied to the citizen of any Northern State. Any plan of reconstruction is wrong that tends to leave these old leaders in power …

In South Carolina there is very little pretence of loyalty. I believe I found less than fifty men who admitted any love for the Union. There is everywhere a passionate devotion to the State, and the common sentiment holds that man guilty of treason who prefers the United States to South Carolina … The war has taught this people only that the physical force of the nation cannot be resisted. They will be obedient to the letter of the law, perhaps, but the whole current of their lives flows in direct antagonism to its spirit …

Presented by

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

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

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Video

Maine's Underground Street Art

"Graffiti is the farthest thing from anarchy."

Video

The Joy of Running in a Beautiful Place

A love letter to California's Marin Headlands

Video

'I Didn't Even Know What I Was Going Through'

A 17-year-old describes his struggles with depression.

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

More in National

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In