Contemporary American History, 1877-1913

Contemporary American History, 1877-1913

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CHAPTER I THE RESTORATION OF WHITE DOMINIONIN THE SOUTH

When President Hayes was inaugurated on March 4, 1877, the southern whites had almost shaken off the Republican rule which had been set up under the protection of Federal soldiers at the close of the Civil War. In only two states, Louisiana and South Carolina, were Republican governors nominally in power, and these last "rulers of conquered provinces" had only a weak grip upon their offices, which they could not have maintained for a moment without the aid of Union troops stationed at their capitals. By secret societies, like the Ku Klux Klan, and by open intimidation, the conservative whites had practically recovered from the negroes, whom the Republicans had enfranchised, the political power which had been wrested from the old ruling class at the close of the War. In this nullification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution and other measures designed to secure the suffrage for the former bondmen, President Grant had acquiesced, and it was openly rumored that Hayes would put an end to the military régime in Louisiana and South Carolina, leaving the southern people to fight out their own battles.

Nevertheless, the Republicans in the North were apparently loath to accept accomplished facts. In their platform of 1876, upon which Hayes was elected, they recalled with pride their achievement in saving the Union and purging the land of slavery; they pledged themselves to pacify the South and protect the rights of all citizens there; they pronounced it to be a solemn obligation upon the Federal government to enforce the Civil War amendments and to secure "to every citizen complete liberty and exact equality in the exercise of all civil, political, and public rights." Moreover, they charged the Democratic party with being "the same in character and spirit as when it sympathized with treason."

But this vehement declaration was only the death cry of the gladiators of the radical Republican school. Stevens and Sumner, who championed the claims of the negroes to full civil and political rights, were gone; and the new leaders, like Conkling and Blaine, although they still waxed eloquent over the wrongs of the freedmen, were more concerned about the forward swing of railway and capitalist enterprises in the North and West than they were about maintaining in the South the rule of a handful of white Republicans supported by negro voters. Only a few of the old-school Republicans who firmly believed in the doctrine of the "natural rights" of the negro, and the officeholders and speculators who were anxious to exploit the South really in their hearts supported a continuance of the military rule in "the conquered provinces."

Moreover, there were special circumstances which made it improbable that President Hayes would permit the further use of troops in Louisiana and South Carolina. His election had been stoutly disputed and it was only a stroke of good fortune that permitted his inauguration at all....