The Southern People During Reconstruction

THE Southern people, prior to the war, were almost exclusively of English, Scotch, and Irish blood; the last being mainly that Puritan strain that came originally from Scotland by way of Ireland, and is known among us as the “Scotch-Irish,” a term wholly American. The only infusion, except in Louisiana, that need be taken into account was that of French Huguenots who had left France after the failure of their cause and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, — a virile and sturdy stock. The population was almost entirely nativeborn. Even now, according to the last census, when the foreign-born population in some of the old states runs up from one fourth to one third of the whole, the foreign-born population of the South is so small as scarcely to be worth considering.

These people inherited the traits and tendencies of those from whom they had sprung; were bred on the traditions of the past, and loved the land on which they had been reared with a devotion little short of idolatry. Taine, in his History of English Literature, remarked that the Saxon, on his first settlement in England, as soon as a footing was made good, selected a hill or a grove beside a spring, built there a habitation, and was prepared to defend it to the death. The same instinct had survived among his descendants who settled in the South. The life there had fostered the inherent tendencies. While at the North the people lived in communities, at the South they took up lands in separate parcels and lived on them, apart from their neighbors. This tended to develop individuality, and thus each man became in some sort a master and ruler of a domain, however small and mean it was. They were habituated to rule, to ride, to shoot, and to maintain their rights. The Duel existed among those of the upper class ; those of the more common sort were equally prepared to assert their rights in another form of contest. Lands and negroes were the principal kinds of property.

The majority of the whites of the South were not slaveholders. Indeed, only a relatively small proportion of them were such. The census of 1850 showed that, of the entire white population of the South, those who owned slaves or hired slaves — if only one — were but about a half million, or one sixth of the adult population. Some of these would have been glad to see Slavery abolished, if it could have been done in any way by which whites and blacks could be equitably provided for; and there was a more or less constant agitation to enlarge the work of the colonization societies that had long existed. The interference of the Abolitionists and the invention of the cotton gin together nullified the work of the colonizers. A far larger proportion were landowners. It is probable that ninety-nine per cent of them had been bred on the maxim that every man’s house is his castle, and were ready to stand on that maxim to the death.

The existence of Slavery among them had tended to discredit manual labor, but it had given the superior race the habits and the character of domination. Burke, in studying this same people nearly a hundred years before, had pointed out that the tendency of Slavery was to create an aristocracy of the governing people, and to give to the dominant race a feeling of superiority and the habit of control.

They knew little more of the modern outside foreign world than they knew of Assyria and Babylon ; that is, they knew it almost exclusively from books. They knew no more of New England and the rest of the North than New England knew of them, and that is a large measure. The time was to come when both were to know each other somewhat intimately, and their misconception of each other was to be rudely disposed of.

The contest between the North and the South that had gone on for years had been of a kind to touch the Southerners nearly ; it related to their property rights, and through these to their other rights under the Constitution. The Constitution itself was a matter of compromise, and with all its wisdom and adaptableness was, unhappily, in some particulars, liable to two diverse constructions. This early became a practical matter, chiefly owing to diverse interests growing out of the existence of slave-labor in half the states, and two different schools of interpretation almost from the first sprang up in the Country ; the one teaching primary allegiance to the State, the other to the National government. Owing to natural causes, the latter had come to have its chief adherents in the North ; the belief in state rights found its stronghold in the South.

Gradually, as the economic conditions became more pressing and the questions became more practical, the struggle was carried on with a heat and acrimony that tended always to inflame passions already burning; and the breach that had existed from the first steadily widened, until at last the split was absolute and irremediable. In this contest, as the preponderance grew on the side of the North, the power of the National government was beginning to be more and more thrown, or was liable to be more and more thrown, against the South, while the influence of the several states was exerted on behalf of its contention. Thus the state eclipsed, for the Southern people, the National government, and became more and more the representative of their principles and the object of their devotion.

Even when the final convulsion came, a large percentage of the people of the South were devoted to the Union and opposed to Secession. For example, in Virginia, for the first time, perhaps, in her history, the convention that was elected to consider the great questions at issue had a majority of Whigs. Virginia, in the shadow of the portentous cloud that was threatening her, had chosen her most conservative advisers, and refused to secede until all her efforts at pacification had failed, and she was called on to furnish her quota of troops to coerce the already seceded states back into the Union. Then, having to fight on one side or the other, she elected to side with the South. She could not tolerate Invasion.

In Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri the Union element was very large. Even in the other states it was not as insignificant as has been considered. Though bells had been rung and salutes of joy fired when the Ordinances of Secession were adopted, there was a large and conservative element to whom the sound bore only sorrow.

The storm of war swept everything along in its track. The whole of the South rose in arms. Men who had been the most earnest advocates of the Union went into the Southern army. Even men like Governor Perry of South Carolina and Mr. Wickham of Virginia, who had fought Secession to the last moment, at length went with the people of their states ; “ ready,” as the former said, “ to go to the devil with his own people.”

The war closed in the spring of 1865, after having lasted about four years. It cost the South even more than it cost the North, and its cost had no counterbalance. The actual expenditures of the Confederate government from February 18, 1861, to October 1, 1864 (the date of the last report accessible), were $2,099,768,707. To this must be added the loss to the people of the South of their personal property, of which the four millions of slaves constituted only a part, and the destruction of all taxable values. This was a total loss; for at the close of the war the repudiation of the bonded debt of the Confederate government was enforced. Its currency was extirpated, as an incident. The railways, canals, and other public works were worn out and dilapidated. To the whole must be added the complete disorganization of the labor system, and, later, the imposition of its proportionate part of the immense pension tax, which absorbed its money like a vast sponge, to pour it out in other parts of the country. When the whole is reckoned, the amount is almost too great to be comprehended.

The reconstruction period lasted about eight years, — reckoning to 1876, when the whites, on the removal of the United States troops, resumed control of all the Southern states. Its cost to the South has never been accurately calculated, — perhaps because it is incalculable. It is, however, not impossible — indeed, in the opinion of many it is probable — that, reckoning the indirect loss, it cost the South, even in those values which may be measured by figures, more than the war itself had done.

When the war closed, the armies of the Confederacy, composed of well-nigh the entire manhood of the South, had been destroyed, but the remnants had gone home, prepared to apply all their energies to building up the South afresh ; the personal property of the South had been largely swept away, but the lands, the chief basis of its former wealth, remained.

The slaves had been emancipated, and labor had been disorganized ; but the laborers yet survived, full of health, skilled in many kinds of manual work, trained to habits of industry, and disciplined to good order. Besides its equipment of able-bodied field laborers, almost every plantation possessed its smiths, wheelwrights, and carpenters ; its spinners and weavers and cobblers. Moreover, outside of the question of emancipation, the blacks were generally in full sympathy with the whites, and the ties of personal association and affection were recognized on both sides. It was not unknown for officers returning from the war to give their body servants the horses they rode. The tool chests were opened to the mechanics. Jewels and plate, which had been held through all the hardships of war time, were sold to feed the population of the plantations.

When reconstruction was completed, what personal property had remained at the close of the war had, speaking generally, almost wholly disappeared; the laboring population of the South had been diverted from its former field, and changed from a blessing to a curse ; the former relation of dependency and sympathy had been changed to one of distrust and hostility ; their habits of industry had fallen into those of idleness and worthlessness ; the lands had been taken from the former owners by taxation, or rendered valueless in their hands; and the white people of the South found themselves alienated from the government, — or, more properly, from those who then conducted the government, — impoverished beyond hope, their former slaves turned from friends to enemies, and themselves fighting with their backs to the wall for the very existence of Civilization in their section.

Happily for all classes and sections, they won at last; but it was at a terrible cost. Among the items of loss was the old civilization of the South, with its ideals and its charm.

The rest of the country has never had a very accurate idea of what this civilization was; the present generation certainly has none, and it is not to be wondered at. Remnants of it yet remain; but they are to be sought for and found only in secluded places, as relics of antique art are discovered amid ruins or tangles in out-of-the-way parts, or are exhumed from beneath the desolation and the heaps of decayed cities, or under new cities built on the ancient sites.

Possibly the most general conception of the old life at the South held by the rest of the country is that drawn from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a work which, whatever its truth in detail, — and there was doubtless much truth, — yet, by reason of its omissions and its grouping, contained even more untruth as a correct picture of a civilization. As an argument against the evils inherent in Slavery, it was unanswerable ; as a presentation of the life it undertook to mirror, it was rather a piece of emotional fiction, infused with the spirit of an able and sincere but only partially informed partisan, than a correct reflection. It served a purpose far beyond the dream, and possibly even the intention, of its author ; it did much to hasten the overthrow of Slavery ; it did no less to stain the reputation of the South, and obscure what was worthy and fine in its life. From that time the people of the South were regarded, outside its own borders, much as — shall we say, China is regarded to-day? — as one of the effete peoples, as an obstacle in the path of advance, and possibly, among many, as an object of righteous spoil. Is it too much to say that the general idea of the people of the South held by the people of the North was that they were lazy, self-indulgent, and frequently cruel; that they passed their time in the indulgence of their appetites, supported by the painful labors of slaves to whose woes they were worse than indifferent?

What the South really was she gave no small proof of during the war ; she gave even stronger proof of after the war. Without ships ; without money ; without machinery that could produce a knife, a blanket, or a tin cup ; without an ally; without even the sympathy of a single nation ; without knowledge of the outside world, or indeed of her able and determined opponent, she withstood to the final gasp the vast forces thrown against her, — enduring all things, hoping all things, until she was not only overthrown, but was actually destroyed. When Sherman marched across the South to the sea, he found it to be an empty shell. At that same time the campaign from the Rapidan to Appomattox cost Grant 124,000 men, — about two men for every man that Lee had in his army.

But as notable as were the intrepidity of her soldiery in the field and the endurance of her people at home, they were not equal to the resolution and courage that her people displayed in the great and unrecorded struggle afterwards. The one was a fight of disciplined armies, with an open sky and a fair field, the endurance of a people animated by hope ; the other was a long and desperate struggle, with shackled hands, against a foe that, in the darkness, unknown to the rest of the world, or with a sort of blind approval on its part, fastened on its vitals and slowly sapped its life blood.

The several classes of which the population of the Southern states at the close of the war were composed were rapidly merged into two,—the whites and the blacks. The whites had, with few exceptions, been in the war, and, trained in its stern school, were inured to hardship and self-reliance. Class distinctions had been diminished ; for the poor as well as the rich had borne their part bravely in the straggle, and every man, irrespective of social condition, had the consciousness of having imperiled his life and given his all to serve his state.

It was a veteran soldiery that repeopled the plantations and the homesteads of the South, and withstood the forces thrown against them during the period of reconstruction. In addition to such racial traits as personal pride, self-reliance, and physical courage, they possessed also race pride, which is inestimable in a great popular struggle. This race pride the war had only increased. However beaten and broken they were, the people of the South came out of the war with their spirit unquenched, and a belief that they were unconquerable.

A story used to be told of an old Confederate soldier who was trudging home, after the war, broken and ragged and worn. He was asked what he would do if the Yankees got after him when he reached home.

“ Oh, they ain’t goin’ to trouble me,” he said. “ If they do, I ’ll just whip ’em agin.”

The South, after the war, was ready for peace. Its leaders accepted the terms of capitulation without a single mental reservation.

The terms had been equally honorable to both the victors and the vanquished; and the troops returned home fully prepared to abide by those terms in every particular. They were sustained by the consciousness of having been animated by the highest of motives, — love of country and of home, — of having made an unsurpassed struggle, and of being able to meet and endure every fortune that could befall. Their idolized general refused all proffers of aid and tenders of attention, and retired to the little college town of Lexington, Virginia, to devote the rest of his life to educating the young men of the South. George Washington had given the first endowment to the college there, and the next greatest Virginian now endowed it with his presence and his spirit. Here the sons of his old soldiers flocked to be under the command of the man who had led their fathers in battle, and to learn from his life the high lesson of devotion to duty.

The writer can speak from personal knowledge when he records that his teaching was the purest patriotism. As was said by a distinguished divine who came to deliver the Baccalaureate sermon the year after General Lee’s death : “ The oath sworn at that shrine was more solemn than that of Hannibal: it was not to destroy Rome, but to rebuild Carthage.”

The example of General Lee was inestimable. It possibly did as much as the garrisons that filled the South to prevent the lawlessness that almost always follows the close of war and the disbandment of armies.

The worst that the people of the South anticipated was being brought back into the Union with their property gone and their wounds yet smarting. The sense of defeat, together with the loss of property by force of arms, which left them almost universally impoverished, and the disruption of their social system, was no little burden for them to bear ; but it was assumed bravely enough, and they went to work with energy and courage, and even with a certain high-heartedness. They started in on the plantations, where by reason of the disorganization of all labor they were needed, as wagoners or ploughmen or blacksmiths. They went to the cities, and became brakemen or street - car drivers, or watchmen or porters. Or they sought employment on public works in any capacity; men who had been generals even taking places as axemen or teamsters till they could rise to be superintendents and presidents. But they had peace and hope.

On the 18th of December, 1865, General Grant, who had been sent through the South by the President to inspect and make a report on its condition, in his report said : —

“ I am satisfied the mass of thinking men in the South accept the present situation of affairs in good faith. The questions which have hitherto divided the sentiment of the people of the two sections — slavery and state rights, or the right of the state to secede from the Union — they regard as having been settled forever by the highest tribunal, that of arms, that man can resort to.”

He also made the wise suggestion that negro troops should not be employed in garrisoning the Southern states, as they tended to excite the people and intensify their animosity.

It is possible that but for the race questions that existed, the South would have been pacified within a few years ; the process of reconstruction, if it was tried at all, would have been carried out in a wiser and less disastrous way ; the South would have resumed its normal place in the Union with the net results of the war, — an indissoluble Union and a homogeneous people, freed from the canker of Slavery and bound together by ever closer ties.

The whites numbered, roughly, about 8,000,000, and the other class, the negroes, about 4,000,000. A relationship too singular to be understood by the outside world existed between the races. It bore on the side of the masters a sort of feudal coloring, — the right to demand duty, and the duty to give protection ; on the part of the slaves it had a tinge that has been well said to resemble a sort of tribal instinct. The outside world, including the North, saw only a relation of brute power and of enforced subservience. The examples which came to their attention were, in the main, only the worst cases. The proportion of negroes who, during the war, availed themselves of the opportunity to escape from Slavery and seek asylum within the Union lines was by no means a large one. Doubtless they comprised many who were ambitious and enterprising; but, speaking generally, they were the idle and the vicious. Others went because of the scarcity on the plantations, caused by war, or of the new hardship, due to the absenteeism of their masters, and the rumors of gilded rewards awaiting them, — rewards beyond freedom, — which reached them in their homes. Many Confederate officers had their colored servants with them in the field. It was almost unheard of for one to desert. It was not unknown for them to avail themselves of their color to forage within the enemy’s lines for their masters’ mess.

The negroes had, as slaves, indeed, have often done during wars, borne themselves admirably all during the war, — a fact which speaks with equal force for their loyalty and for their knowledge of the resolution of their masters. Even those who, under the temptation of freedom and bounties, had gone into the Union army had never been charged with exceptional violence. Emancipation had brought no outbreak. They had generally gone off from their old homes, — perhaps as a practical proof of freedom, — most of them slipping away in the night; but the first taste of freedom over, and the first pinch of poverty experienced, they had come straggling back with a certain shamefacedness, and had been received with cordiality.

The writer can recall now the return of some of these prodigals, and the welcome they received.

In many cases they had their old cabins assigned them ; in others, at their option, they were given a lodgment on a piece of land on some part of the plantation more or less removed from the mansion, where they could build and live independent whilst they worked as laborers for hire. Almost universally, the relation reëstablished after the first break was one of friendship and good will. Their return was marked by a revival of the old plantation life, and in a short time the old régime appeared to have begun again, with every prospect of continuing. Land, the only property which had survived the war, rose in value, until it was as high as it had ever been. Loans were negotiated on it to repair the ravages of war and restock the plantations ; cotton, wheat, and tobacco were at prices that promised well for the agricultural interest ; and the people of the South began to experience the awakening of hope.

The machinery, however, had hardly got started when new factors injected into the new conditions began to make themselves felt. The treatment in prison of the ex-President, who was put in irons and subjected to the constant presence of a sentinel, aroused bitter resentment at the South. A very considerable faction there had always been opposed to Mr. Davis. But he had done no more during the Secession period than half the people of the South had done, and no more during the war than all of them had done, and his treatment now was taken as an intention to humiliate them. It had, moreover, as an object lesson, a disastrous effect on the negro population, who drew from it the not unnatural inference that the North was able and willing to go to any lengths.

The severity visited on Mr. Davis at once destroyed every vestige of resentment in those who had opposed him, and from that time to his death he stood to the South as a vicarious victim, sacrificed for her act.

Unhappily, the work of a madman cut down, in the very hour of success, the leader who had brought the country safely through the war, and who might, with his calm foresight and his gift for conciliation, have guided it through the troubled times that were to follow. The assassination of President Lincoln, with the murderous attack on his advisers, filled the North with consternation and rage, and gave the chief haters of the South an opportunity to vent their wrath, which they were not slow to use.

Under a plan devised by Mr. Lincoln, the recently seceded states had set to work to reorganize themselves, and their civil governments were in full operation a few months after the close of the war. The next step was the election of representatives in Congress. In the main, men known nationally to be of conservative views, many of them old Union men, were selected. It was, however, to be long before Southern representatives were to be admitted.

Now, in its struggle, the South had no such potent friend as Lincoln might have been. The first official act of Secretary Stanton after Mr. Lincoln’s death had been to reverse one of his decisions, and issue an order for the arrest of a member of the late Confederate Cabinet who was on his way to Canada. On Lincoln’s death, Andrew Johnson, who had come into note as the war governor of the newly reconstructed state of Tennessee, had begun by breathing threatenings and slaughter against the South. His first measures had been so severe that Mr. Seward had felt it necessary to restrain him. His proposed action had been so violative of the terms accorded by Grant at Appomattox to Lee and his army that Grant, always magnanimous and courageous, had felt himself compelled to threaten him with the surrender of his command. In a short time, however, a contention had arisen between Johnson and the Congress, growing, on his side, partly out of his attempt to exercise the power claimed for the Executive by Mr. Lincoln, partly out of his ambition to be reelected, and the necessity he was under to secure the votes of the Southern states as a part of his electoral machinery; on the other side, out of the wish of the Congress to control the reorganization of the South, and the determination of its ablest leaders to secure at all cost perpetual control of the government. Johnson, who had been among the most virulent enemies of the South, and assuredly not the least hated, was thrown by this contest into the anomalous position of its advocate, and the Congress was hurried along, with its passions inflamed by its most radical leaders, until reason was lost, moderation was thrown to the winds, and it found itself paramount, indeed — with the South prostrate, the Constitution a thing to be tinkered with or overridden as partisan expediency suggested, and “ the party of the Union ” burdened in the South with the most ignorant, venal, and debauched representatives that ever cursed a land. The white race of the South, the constituent part of the great race that had made the country and was to help hold it in the coming years against the world, were outraged almost beyond cure. With every divergence of opinion forgot, every possibility of wholesome division on economic or other public questions buried, they were consolidated in the passionate desire to hold their homes and save their race.

The blacks had not been less injured by the political debauchery into which they had been wiled. Withdrawn from the field of activity in which they had been trained, and in which they might have attained continued success, the close of the reconstruction period found them estranged from the whites, their habits of industry impaired, their vision obscured, their aims turned in directions in which they have shown neither the genius nor the training to compete successfully. They were legislated into a position where they did only harm to themselves and others, and in which they could be maintained only by outside power.

It was the South’s misfortune that the new problems could not be worked out on their own merits. The negro question, “ the direful spring of woes unnumbered,” almost at once became the paramount issue, and from that time to the present has tinged nearly every measure in which the South has been concerned. Emancipation had been accepted readily enough ; but emancipation brought new problems. The proper solution of the new questions, which would have been a

delicate and difficult task under any circumstances, was rendered impossible by the ignorance of the elements to be handled, and the passion infused into every act touching them.

The institution known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, and its work in the South, played a not inconsiderable part in the trouble that arose. The motive for its origin was, no doubt, a good one, and, nodoubt, a part of its work was beneficial to one of the races. It had the “ supervision and management of all abandoned lands, and the control of all subjects relating to refugees and freedmen.” It issued rations to freedmen ; regulated all matters of labor and contract in which the freedmen were interested ; administered justice wherever they were concerned ; and had power to take charge of all “ abandoned lands ” and parcel them out to negroes as homes, and generally to administrate the negro and his affairs. Incident to these duties was the power to arrest and imprison. The Bureau began its work with an idea which was fatal to its success: that the negro was a poor oppressed creature who was to be treated as the nation’s ward, and that the white was a hardened tyrant who had to be restrained.

The officials of the Bureau were of various kinds : honest men, more or less fair-minded and wise ; honest men, hopelessly prejudiced and bigoted ; and men without honesty, wisdom, or any other qualification. All were absolutely ignorant of the true relation between the old masters and slaves ; all had a bigoted people behind them, and a bigoted people before them. Unhappily, the largest, or at least the most active element among the officials were the last class: sutlers, skulkers, and other refuse of a great army, who had no sooner found the dangers of war over than they had begun to look about them to see what spoil they could appropriate, and, recognizing in the newly freed negroes the most promising instrument at hand for their purposes, had ingratiated themselves with the Freedmen’s Bureau. One of the first evidences of their malign influence was the idea disseminated among the negroes, which grew out of the provision relating to abandoned lands, that every freedman was to be given by the government, out of the lands of his old master, forty acres and a mule, — a teaching which was productive of much danger to the whites, and of much evil to the blacks. Among other things, it prevented the former from settling the negroes on the old plantations, as they would otherwise have done very generally.

The Freedmen’s Bureau and its work soon had the whole South in a ferment. The distribution of rations relieved the slaves, but misled them into thinking that the government would support them, whether they worked or not. The officials began inquisitorial investigations. They summoned the best and the most stately of the old gentry before them, as if they had been schoolboys. If the officials were of the last class mentioned above, they hectored them before crowds of gaping negroes, which taught another lesson. They interfered with the administration of courts that had begun to work again, even taking convicted prisoners out of the hands of the officers of the law. As an illustration: In Virginia, an old magistrate, who had tried and sentenced a negro for some crime, was peremptorily ordered by the military authority to release the prisoner, and appear himself before the provost to explain his action. He replied that the prisoner had been tried fairly, convicted justly, and sentenced legally; and though he might be released by the military power, it would only be after he had summoned the whole power of the county to resist it. Naturally, such action tended to excite the negroes and embitter the whites.

The negroes in some places began to hold night meetings, and parcel out the lands of their former masters.

On one of the finest plantations in Virginia this nocturnal partition went along amicably enough until the mill was reached. Here trouble arose at once. The idea of being able to sit and watch the meal spurt down from under the hopper, with nothing to do but to take the tithe, was so attractive that there were too many claimants to agree to its disposal to any one of them, and the meeting broke up in a row. Knowledge of what was going on thus reached the master, who sent at once to the court house for the Federal officer stationed there, who then represented law and order in the county ; and the officer soon settled the matter, and disposed of all apprehension of further trouble on that plantation.

No one would say that army officers make generally ideal rulers; for, after all, military rule subjects government to the will of one man. In the pacification of a people, the questions are so difficult and delicate that only wisdom, firmness, singleness of purpose, and an inherent sense of equity avail. These did not always exist. But a dispassionate reading of the records shows that the army officers in the South endeavored, in the main, to perform their duties with wisdom, equity, and moderation. Conditions, however, were to grow worse. The army officers were soon to be supplanted by worse rulers.

The carcass was recognized, and the eagles gathered together. The sutlers, skulkers, and refuse, who had been given a chance, under the working of the Bureau, to ingratiate themselves with the negroes, soon were chosen as the political leaders. The ignorance and the credulity of the negro became the capital of these creatures, and with it they traded to their own enrichment and the impoverishment of every one else. The misapprehension on the part of the Southern people of the changed conditions played into their hands.

The laboring population had been withdrawn from the fields, but were still present in the community, while the fields were untilled and the plantations were going to waste. History had shown that such an element might change from a useless to a dangerous one. The legislatures of the various states, assuming that, after a successful war to preserve the Union, the Union still existed, and unable to recognize the completeness of their overthrow, began to pass labor laws directed at the negro, some of which certainly were calculated to impair his freedom of action. Similar laws existed in some of the Northern states, such as Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. But these new statutes were frankly aimed to control the newly emancipated slaves. An impression of profound distrust was created throughout the North, the people of which, with their sympathies quickened for an entire race turned adrift, without homes or property, had almost begun to consider that the war had been fought for the emancipation of the blacks. Unhappily, at the same time state representatives were chosen whose votes might have a decisive influence on the fortunes of those leaders who now esteemed themselves the saviors of the country. It was determined by these leaders to perpetuate their power at every hazard, even if it were found necessary to overthrow the white race altogether, and put the black over them. The South was intractable and uncompromising. The North was blinded by passion, and led by partisan leaders bent on domination and without scruple in their exercise of power. A large element of the people of the North believed that they were doing God and man service in supporting them, and putting down a rancorous people who were, they thought, still ready to destroy the Union, and were trying to effect by shift what they had faded to do by force. But so far as the leaders were concerned it would appear that along with other motives was an implacable resentment against the white people of the South, and a deliberate determination to humiliate them and render them forever powerless. The result was one of the mistakes that constitute what in the life of a nation is worse than a national crime, — a national blunder. Those who had been the masters, and had given proof by their works that they were behind no people in the highest fruits of civilization, — who had just shown by their constancy, if by no other virtue, that they were worthy of being treated with consideration, — were disfranchised and shut out from participation in the government, while their former slaves were put over them.

For instance, in the county that had produced Patrick Henry and Henry Clay, one of the most noted of the old gentlemen stood as a conservative candidate for the first General Assembly held in Virginia after the war. He was a man of remarkable intelligence and culture. He had traveled abroad, — a rare thing in those days, — and had translated the poems of Ariosto. He was one of the largest property owners in the state; had been a Union man, and one of the stoutest opponents of Secession. He was the head of one of the few old families in Virginia who, immediately after the war, announced their determination to accept the new conditions and act with the Republican party. This gentleman was beaten for the General Assembly by the brother of his negro carriage driver. This was early in the period following the war. Later on, when “ironclad oaths” had been devised, and the full work of disfranchisement had been effected, no whites but those who had had their disabilities specially removed could hold office or vote. For a time, only the negroes, the carpet-baggers, and those who disregarded perjury voted.

The white race were disfranchised, and were not allowed the franchise again until they had assented to giving the black race absolute equality in all matters of civil right. This the leaders of the other side vainly imagined would perpetuate their power, and for a time it almost promised to do so.

The result of the new régime thus established in the South was such a riot of rapine and rascality as had never been known in the history of this country, and hardly ever in the history of the world. It would seem incredible to any but those who have investigated it for themselves. The states were given over to pillage at the hands of former slaves, led largely by adventurers whose only aim was to gratify their vengeance or their cupidity. The measure of their peculation and damage, as gauged by figures alone, staggers belief.

The cost to the state of Louisiana of four years and five months of carpet-bag rule amounted to $106,020,337. Taxation went up in proportion. The -wealth of New Orleans during the eight years of carpet-bag rule, instead of increasing, fell from $146,718,790 to $88,613,930. The governor himself, who, when he stood for the governorship, had a mite chest placed beside the ballot box, to receive contributions from the negroes to pay his expenses to Washington, had been in office only a year when it was estimated that he was worth $225,000. When he retired, he was said to have one of the largest fortunes in Louisiana.

In Mississippi, the state levy for 1871 was four times what it was in 1869. For 1873 it was eight and one half times as great. For 1874 it was fourteen times as great, and 640,000 acres of land, comprising twenty per cent of all the land in the state, had been forfeited for non-payment of these extraordinary taxes.

In South Carolina, the taxable values in 1860 amounted to about $490,000,000, and the tax to a little less than $400,000. In 1871 the taxable values had been reduced to $184,000,000, and the tax had been increased to $2,000,000. A large percentage of the lands of the state were sold for unpaid taxes, and a land commission was established to take them and distribute them among the freedmen and their friends on terms that substantially placed them at the disposal of the commission.

But as extraordinary as the mere figures would appear, and as strong as they are to show the extent of the robbery to which the people of the South were subjected, they give little idea of the bitterness of the degradation that they underwent. The true measure of injury to the people of the South was the humiliation to which they were subjected during the progress of this system of rapine. Some states were subjected to greater damage and, if possible, deeper humiliation than others. The people of South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas, perhaps, suffered the most; but all underwent the humiliation of seeing their states given over to pillage by miscreants and malefactors, of having their slaves put over them and kept over them by armed power, whilst they themselves were forced to stand bound, helpless witnesses of their destruction.

Virginia escaped in a measure some of the most extreme consequences. For instance, there were no continued incitements to riot and no wholesale arrests of an entire community, as took place in South Carolina ; there was no general subjection to an armed and insolent militia of former slaves who terrorized the country, as happened in the more southerly states. Virginia never had a governor, as Arkansas had, who issued to his adjutant general proscription lists of leading citizens, accompanied by a notification that he had marked with asterisks the names of the most obnoxious persons, and that if they could be tried by court-martial and executed while the writ of habeas corpus was suspended, the finding would be approved by the governor. The Ku Klux Klan, with its swath of outrage and terrorism, never obtained the footing in Virginia that it had in states farther south, where life had been made more unendurable. But the people of Virginia, like those of the other Southern states, drank from the same cup of bitterness in seeing their civilization overthrown, — intelligence, culture, and refinement put under the heel of ignorance and venality, and a third of the people, who had comprised most of the laboring population and all the domestic servants, and had lived in the past in amity and affection with their masters, turned for a time into violent enemies.

Unhappily, the credulity and ignorance of the negroes threw them into the hands of the worst element among the adventurers who were vying to become their leaders. The man who was bold enough to bid the highest outstripped the others. Under the teaching and with the aid of these leaders, the negroes showed signs of rendering considerable parts of the Southern states uninhabitable by the whites. Had the latter given the slightest sign of being cowed or of yielding, they probably would have been lost forever; but, fortunately for the South, they never yielded.

Unable to resist openly the power of the National government that stood behind the carpet-bag governments of the states, the people of the South resorted to other means which proved for a time more or less effective. Secret societies were formed, which, under such titles as the “ Ku Klux Klan,” the “ Knights of the White Camellia,” the “ White Brotherhood,” etc., played a potent and, at first, it would seem, a beneficial part in restraining the excesses of the newly exalted leaders and their excited levies.

Wherever masked and ghostly riders appeared, the frightened negroes kept under cover. The idea spread with great rapidity over nearly all the South, and the secret organizations, known among themselves as the “ Invisible Empire,” were found to be so dangerous to

the continued power of the carpet-bag governments, and in places so menacing to their representatives personally, that the aid of the National government was called in to suppress them.

In a short time every power of the government was in motion, or ready to be set in motion, against them. “ Ku Klux Acts ” were passed; presidential proclamations were issued; the entire machinery of the United States courts was put in operation ; the writ of habeas corpus was suspended in those sections where the Ku Klux were most in evidence, and Federal troops were employed.

The testimony taken before what was known as the “ Ku Klux Committee,” with the reports made by that committee, is contained in thirteen volumes, and makes interesting reading for the student of history. The investigation covered every state in the South.

One who studies those reports is likely to find his confidence in human nature somewhat shaken. It will appear to him that gross and palpable perjury was almost common before that committee, and that the story contained in those reports is so dreadful that if published now it would not be believed. It serves to illustrate, at least, the violence of party feeling at that time, that, under the stress of passion which then prevailed, the Republican members of the Committee of Investigation all signed one report laying the entire blame on the Southern people, and the Democratic members all signed a minority report charging the blame wholly on the other side.

With Congress passing penal acts against all connected with the secret societies, the army of the United States at hand to put them down, and the United States courts ready to push through the convictions of all participants in their work, the constituency and purposes of the secret societies soon changed. The more law-abiding and self-respecting element dropped out, and such organizations as remained were composed only of the most disorderly and reckless element. Under conduct of such a class, the societies, whatever their original design, soon degenerated into mere bands of masked ruffians, who used their organization and their disguises for the private purposes of robbery and revenge. As might have been foreseen, they became a general pest in the regions which they infested, and the better element of native Southerners were as concerned to put a stop to their action as was the government. This class, later on, found it necessary to keep themselves banded together ; but it was no longer in a secret association. During the later phases of the struggle the meetings of the whites were open. Fortunately for them, by this time the debauchery of those who had formerly been sustained by the government had become so openly infamous that it began to be known at the North for what it really was, and the people of the North began to revolt against its continuance. The indorsement of the government leaders at Washington became more and more half-hearted ; and as this was recognized, the white people of the South began to be reanimated with hope.

The action of the other side at the South generally played into their hands. The leaders lacked the first element of wisdom ; their moderation was only the limit to their power.

The women and children of the Southern states, during the utmost excitement of war, had slept as secure with their slaves about them as if they had been guarded by their husbands and fathers, but under the new teaching the torch became a weapon. A distinguished leader of the colored race, a native white man in South Carolina, said, in a public speech to his constituents, that the barns had been built by them, and their contents belonged to them ; and if they were refused the distribution of those contents, matches were only five cents a box. Is it to be wondered at that, with such suggestion, the burning of houses became more or less frequent in the belts subject to the domination of the excited race ? This man, who had many crimes to answer for, after passing through numberless dangers, became the victim of a foul assassination. A story is told that some years ago two men were sitting together in a well-known restaurant in Washington. One of them, who was from a Northern state, said to the other, who was from South Carolina, “ Tell me, now that it is so long past, who murdered So-and-So,” mentioning the name of the leader who has been spoken of. “Well,” said the other quietly, “I was tried for it.”

Amiable and orderly as the colored race were when the whites were in control, as soon as an election approached they showed every sign of excitement. When they were in power, life became intolerable, and a clash was imminent at every meeting; men and women went armed ; many families, unable to endure the strain, abandoned their homes, and moved to other communities or other states. The distinguished pastor of a large church in the North, one of the godliest of men, who had a church during this period in one of the Southern states, has said that when he went to his night services he as regularly put a pistol in his pocket as he took his Bible. Even funerals were liable to be interrupted by the half-maddened creatures, and instances occurred when the hearse had to be driven at full speed to outstrip a mob bent on the last extremity of insult.

It was notable that even during the periods of greatest excitement, when the negroes were stirred almost to frenzy, the old family servants ever stood ready to prevent personal harm to their former masters and mistresses; and that when the excitement had passed, the entire race were ready to resume, and even to seek, friendly relations with the whites.

When, at last, with their homes rendered unsafe and their life intolerable, the people of the South finally threw off the yoke under which they had been bowed, it is hardly strange that they should thenceforth have remained solidified to withstand the possibility of such a condition ever being repeated.

It is not probable that any wholly sane man of any section or race, who knows the facts, would ever wish its repetition. The last governor of South Carolina under that régime (who has recently written a paper in this series) stated, during his incumbency, that when, in May, 1875, he entered on his duties as governor, two hundred trial justices were holding office by executive appointment (of his predecessor) who could neither read nor write. No wonder that he should have declared, as he did, in writing to the New England Society, that the civilization of the Puritan and Cavalier, of the Roundhead and Huguenot, was in peril.

In the last stages of their existence, these governments were sustained solely by the bayonet. As soon as the United States troops were removed they melted away. As an illustration : In South Carolina, in 1876, after the extraordinary Wade Hampton campaign, in which the whites had won a signal victory, two distinct state governments performed their functions in the State House; a small guard of United States soldiers marched their beats back and forth, representing the power that alone sustained one of those governments. An order was issued by the President of the United States removing the troops, and in twenty-four hours, without a drop of blood shed, without a single clash, the government of the carpet-bagger and the negro had disappeared, and the government of the native South Carolinian and of the white man had quietly, after a lapse of years, resumed control. But during those years the people of the South had seen their most cherished traditions traversed, their civilization overthrown.

All this is now matter of history. The fierce passions of that time have almost, or quite, burned out. Even the memory of the enforced humiliation through which the people of the South passed is blunted by the passage of time, by the ever increasing friendliness between the sections, which grows steadily under the influences of a greater community of interest, a better understanding of each other, and a wider patriotism. The old life of the South, of the kind which made it distinguished, has more or less passed away ; a new life, and possibly one that embraces a larger section of the people in its advantages, is taking its place. A more practical spirit is growing up, prepared to utilize present conditions, and avail itself of all the material advantages that may be offered. The waste and the anguish of that time have long since been passed to the account of profit and loss, which only the historian or the student ventures to open. Many of the old houses which were the chief charm of the South went down under the ploughshare of reconstruction. The people who made them and gave them their sweetness have passed or are passing away.

One riding through the stretches of country where the fields have reverted to forest, or are worked by the small cropper, can form little idea of the time when they were a part of a wide and well-tilled domain which supported the whole population of a teeming plantation. He might as well imagine that the quiet, grizzled farmer whom he sees in the field or meets on the road, in friendly intercourse with some dusky neighbor, once fought in battles that marked the high tide of Anglo-Saxon courage, or rode with a band of nightriders, resolute to withstand for his race those who threatened it, backed by the dread power of the United States.

The present generation is, as is, of course, every generation, the product of heredity and environment. Its members are said to exhibit qualities which were once wanting, or which, if they existed, were despised; but, in reckoning their virtues, a deeper student is likely to conclude that the best that is in them is the inheritance from their fathers : devotion to duty, the sense of honor, and a passion for free government.

The senior Senator from Massachusetts passed, years ago, a judgment upon the Southern people which was not lacking in vigorous criticism ; but his criticism was tempered by a piece of characterization which it seems not impertinent to quote here.

“ They have,” he said, “ an aptness for command which makes the Southern gentleman, wherever he goes, not a peer only, but a prince. They have a love for home ; they have, the best of them, and the most of them, inherited from the great race from which they come the sense of duty and the instinct of honor as no other people on the face of the earth. They are lovers of home. They have not the mean traits which grow up somewhere in places where money-making is the chief end of life. They have, above all, and giving value to all, that supreme and superb constancy which, without regard to personal ambition and without yielding to the temptation of wealth, without getting tired and without getting diverted, can pursue a great public object, in and out, year after year, and generation after generation.”

Looking at the other race in the South, — who must be reckoned, if they will allow themselves to be so, as a part of the Southern people, — whilst there is much to cause regret and even disappointment to those who are their truest friends, yet there is no little from which to draw hope. No other people ever had more disadvantages to contend with on their issue into freedom. They were seduced, deceived, misled. Their habits of industry were destroyed, and they were fooled into believing that they could be legislated into immediate equality with a race that, without mentioning superiority of ability and education, had a thousand years’ start of them. They were made to believe that their only salvation lay in aligning themselves against the other race, and following blindly the adventurers who came to lead them to a new Promised Land. It is no wonder that they committed great blunders and great excesses. For nearly a generation they have been pushed along the wrong road. But now, in place of political leaders who were simply firebrands is arising a new class of leaders, who, with a wider horizon, a deeper sagacity, and a truer patriotism, are endeavoring to establish a foundation of morality, industry, and knowledge, and upon these to build a race that shall be capable of availing itself of every opportunity that the future may present, and worthy of whatever fortune it may bring.

Many of the baleful fruits of reconstruction remain among us. Inability to divide freely on great public questions is a public misfortune.

Obedience to law is one of the highest qualities of a people, and one of the first elements of national greatness. However strong the necessity may appear, law cannot be overridden without creating a spirit that will override law, — a spirit which is liable to end by substituting for law its will, and by confounding with right its interest.

Among the baleful fruits is whatever fraud or evasion has appeared in the electoral system in any part of the South. In old times this evil was not known among the people of the South. Fighting the devil with fire may be the only effective mode of such warfare ; but fire is a dangerous weapon to use under any circumstances.

Something has been said in these papers on the subject of lynching in the South. It is not too much to say that nearly every black victim of lynching and nearly every victim of that person may be set down to the not yet closed account of reconstruction. This, too, was a crime which in old times was not known in the South.

Among the better signs is the increasing feeling that it is best, on the whole, to leave every section to work out its own problems. Many years ago Mr. Seward said of the negro race: “ They will find their place ; they must take their level. The laws of political economy will determine their position and the relation of the two races. Congress cannot contravene those.”

Congress attempted to contravene them; but though for a brief period it appeared to have succeeded, the lapse of time has shown its failure. It might as well have attempted to contravene the law of gravitation.

That intelligence, virtue, and force of character will eventually rule is as certain in the states of the South as it is elsewhere; and everywhere it is as certain as the operation of the law of gravitation. Whatever people wish to rule in those states must possess these qualities.

Thomas Nelson Page.