Negro and the Nation - G. S. Merriam

Three Troubled States

In Grant's second term, the divergence between the Republicans on Southern questions, though never taking permanent form, often found marked and effective expression. In the Senate, the controlling group, who were also the special friends and allies of Grant, were radicals, and generally of a more materialistic class than the earlier leaders. Fessenden had died in 1869; Sumner was alienated, and died in 1874; Wilson had passed into the insignificance of the Vice-Presidency; Trumbull was in opposition. At the front were Chandler, of Michigan; Oliver P. Morton, War Governor of Illinois, powerful and partisan; Roscoe Conkling, of New York, showy and arrogant. In the House the foremost man was James G. Blaine, Speaker until with the Democratic majority he became leader of the opposition; brilliant in speech, fascinating and "magnetic" in personal intercourse, always prominent and popular, but almost never closely identified with any great principle or constructive measure. Very prominent on the floor was General Butler, a foremost radical toward the South; always a storm-center; an advocate of inflation, an ally of most bad causes, an effective mischief-maker; followed, feared, and hated with equal ardor. The membership of the House was notable for able men,—the Hoar brothers, Henry L. Pierce, Eugene Hale, Dawes, Hawley, Poland, Garfield, Kasson, and others of almost equal mark. The death of Thaddeus Stevens, in 1868, had left the House without a master. The Greeley campaign, disastrous though it was, had started a contagious spirit of independence. During Grant's second administration, 1873-7, there was shown in the House, on important questions, a degree of independence rare in American politics. It was the growing Republican opposition to Federal interference in the South that hastened its end, and prepared the way for the consummation of that result under President Hayes.

We now return to the individual cases of three Southern States. To South Carolina fell the bitterest experience of misgovernment. Its black majority was organized and led by a group of white men of the worst character, who were resisted for a time without success by a better element in the party. Under four years' administration of Governor R. K. Scott, a Northerner, and two of F. J. Moses, Jr., a South Carolinian—who later disappeared from public view in a penitentiary,—money was lavished in profligate expenditure; hundreds of thousands spent for legislative furniture and luxuries; franchises were corruptly sold; bogus enterprises enriched; debt piled up by millions, and thrown off by millions. (Repudiation, be it said, always came easily to the South,—before the war and after; during reconstruction and after; whether the borrowed money had been spent for railroads or squandered by thieves; and the ghost of an unpaid $300,000,000 still scares Southern Senators when a general arbitration treaty is discussed.) South Carolina went from bad to worse for six years.

When, in 1872, the honest Republicans bolted, under an unimpeachable candidate, Reuben Tomlinson, a Philadelphia Quaker, and gave him 35,000 votes, the Democrats stood scornfully aloof—"better a native thief than an honest Yankee!" But in 1874 came a revolution in the Republican ranks. Honesty triumphed, under the lead of the elected governor, Daniel H. Chamberlain, of Massachusetts birth and education,—a remarkable man; shrewd, long-headed, a past master in political management; with high aims; by no means indifferent to personal success, but generally succeeding in combining personal and public service. With a Legislature in which two-thirds were Republicans, and whites and blacks were about equal in number, he achieved a surprising reversal of the evil tendencies that had prevailed. In the Legislature the best of the Democrats backed him, together with the best of the Republicans, and overmatched the corruptionists. Stealing was stopped; the abuses of the pardoning power were ended; the tax laws were amended so as to secure uniformity and equality of assessment; expenditure was reduced and regulated. These were the statements of the Charleston News and Courier, the leading paper of the State, in July, 1876, when another election was coming on. Most of the Democratic papers had praised and supported Governor Chamberlain. It was now very seriously contemplated, and advocated by the News and Courier, to let him be re-elected without opposition. But the old-time pride of race and party was too strong, and the Democrats nominated Wade Hampton. They supported him with little scruple as to means,—with free use of intimidation and proscription, with frequent threats and often the reality of violence. There was a shocking massacre at Hamburg. Governor Chamberlain called on the President for aid, and a thousand troops were sent into the State. When the election came, there was claimed a majority for Chamberlain and for the Republican Presidential ticket. The claim was instantly and fiercely challenged by Hampton's supporters. And here the story pauses, until it joins the main current of national affairs.

Mississippi was under Republican control until 1875. If one attempts to judge of the character of that control, he plunges into a sea of contradictions almost enough to submerge the hope of truth. Whether we turn to standard historians, to the 1000 pages of sworn testimony before a Congressional committee, or to individual witnesses, the perplexity is the same. Thus, we consult Woodrow Wilson's History of the American People,—and this book invites a word of comment. Its author has woven together the immense material of the national history for three centuries, in the main with admirable judgment and skill. He has produced a comprehensive, well-proportioned, graphic narrative, which closely holds the reader's attention, and gives in general the spirit as well as the substance of the people's story. But upon the main theme of the crowning century, he misses some of the vital elements. Of the wrong and mischief of slavery he has hardly a word, waving the subject aside as if beyond his province. He gives with admirable sympathy and intelligence the attitude of the well-meaning Southerner before and after the war; and this feature has special value for those familiar only with the Northern standpoint. But he has not the least appreciation of the anti-slavery spirit in its heroic phase. On the wrongs of the slave he is silent, while upon the sins of the carpet-bagger he is eloquent. This one-sidedness robs of its significance what should be the American epic of the nineteenth century.

Of the misgovernment of Mississippi, Dr. Wilson instances that "before the work of the carpet-baggers was done, 640,000 acres of land had been forfeited for taxes, twenty per cent. of the total acreage of the State." The nearest atlas or gazetteer is enough to check this statement. The total acreage of the State is 29,640,000,—of which 640,000 is not twenty per cent., but a trifle over two per cent. Dr. Wilson goes on to say that the State tax levy in 1874 was fourteen times as great as in 1869. This is apparently taken from the "Taxpayers' petition" of 1875, but from whatever source, it gives an utterly exaggerated impression. Before the Congressional committee Judge H. R. Ware, chairman of the State Republican committee,—a Kentuckian by birth, and a life-long resident of Mississippi,—gave his testimony; and it included documents showing that the total State expense during the last two years of Democratic rule, 1864 and '65, was $1,410,250 and $1,860,809; for twenty years of Democratic administration, throwing out the extra expenses of the war period, the average cost was $699,200; under military government (always the cheapest) in 1869 it was $563,219; while under the Republicans in 1875 it was $618,259; and the average for six Republican years had been $992,920. When the Republicans came in, they had to make payments in warrants worth only sixty-five cents on the dollar, with proportionate increase of expense; they had to provide for a free population doubled by the emancipation of the slaves, and for the last four years they had made an annual reduction.

Yet the "Taxpayers' petition"—addressed to the Legislature early in 1875, and without effect,—must be taken as evidence of at least a considerable extravagance and waste. A reading of it gives the impression of a needless multiplication of offices and excessive salaries. The public printing seems clearly a scandal, running above $73,000 a year, as against a cost in the sister State of Georgia of only $10,000. The general charge seems to be of laxness and needlessly high salaries rather than any wholesale corruption. Some question as to the justice of the general charge occurs when a point is encountered as to the payment of teachers in the public schools. The petitioners claim that this should be reduced to $25 a month for second-class schools, and $50 a month for first-class schools. In fact, when the Democrats came into power, they reduced the rate to $40 a month,—which, for a school year of four months only, seems like penny-wise economy. The petition makes perhaps the strongest impression in its statement that the boards of supervisors, controlling local taxation, are, as a general rule, "wholly unfit to discharge their duties, and without respectability or even accountability"; that the public works under their care are recklessly and carelessly managed, and the county taxes are grievous. It would seem that in these local bodies, especially in the "black counties," lay the worst of the taxpayers' grievance.

Judge Story makes a vigorous retort, testifying after a year of Democratic administration, 1875-6, as to the question of comparative expense. He shows that the State tax had indeed been reduced from 9-1/4 mills to 6-1/2 mills, but this only by cutting off outright the school tax of two mills. Not to follow further the labyrinth of figures, it is interesting to note, as to the favorite term "carpet-bagger," that of the six Republican candidates for Congress in Mississippi, in 1876, only one was of Northern birth, and he had married and lived in the South since the war; one had been an old Southern Democrat and a circuit judge; two had been Confederate officers; and one, John R. Lynch, was a colored man of high intelligence and excellent character. He, as Speaker of the House, and B. K. Bruce, United States Senator, were among the colored men who showed capacity and character worthy of the high positions they attained. Among the Republican leaders of Northern birth were some who were honored and trusted in their old homes; such men as General Eggleston, president of the Constitutional convention; Colonel Warner, afterward State Treasurer of Connecticut, and Henry W. Warren, of Massachusetts. The first Republican governor, J. M. Alcorn, was a Southern man, very able, but apparently not of the highest moral standards. His successor, Adelbert Ames, was from Massachusetts, conceded now to have been "honest and brave, but narrow and puritanical," and with the mysterious trait of "hating the Aryan race of the South."

These last words are quoted from the story of an old friend of the reader's,—Thomas Dabney, the "Southern planter," whose noble character was sketched in chapter XII. He had fought a brave fight with poverty and hardship since the war, and as we come again into his company for a moment, it is with a sense of confidence which even official documents do not inspire. He had no doubt of the oppressiveness of Republican rule, and the need of shaking it off by vigorous measures. It is related that the taxes on his plantation for 1873 were over $900, while the income was less than $800. Yet one letter tells that he is in "a laughing humor" because he has just paid his taxes for 1875—only $375,—a reduction of more than half—and this was still under Republican rule.

One other witness may be heard, the writer's life-long friend, Henry W. Warren, now of Holden, Mass. To those who know him his name is a synonym for integrity, efficiency and modesty; he is one of the men who never seek a public honor and never decline a public service. From his own words some statements are here condensed. "After graduating at Yale in 1865, I was called to a position as public school teacher at Nashville, Tenn.; and from there, seeing a promising opportunity, I went with two friends to work a cotton plantation in one of the 'white' counties of Mississippi. We bought it from its old owner, who had kept his slaves in his employ as paid laborers, and they continued to work for us. As slaves they had not been badly treated, except by the overseer during the master's absence. Many of the whites of the county, owning no slaves, had been indifferent to the Confederate cause, and many of them had served in its army only when hunted by the conscription officer, sometimes with bloodhounds. More than a few of them were Republicans. I was asked to serve as registrar of voters for the Constitutional convention, being one of the few who could take the 'iron-clad oath' (that is, that he had never aided the Confederacy) and this led to my going to the convention, and afterward to the Legislature. The Speaker dying, I was chosen to his place for the rest of the term. Our county going Democratic, I was not re-elected; but I was chosen chief clerk of the House, and served for four years, after my two years as a member. All the Democrats united in signing a paper, asking me to be always present in the House,—this was after I had induced the Speaker to change a mistaken ruling. So I was in a position to know pretty well what was going on. From the first there were plenty of Confederate generals and colonels in the Legislature." (The excluding clauses were struck out of the Mississippi constitution at the start.) "The manner of the blacks to the whites was habitually civil, and something of the slave's deference to the white man remained. I think the legislation was generally of reasonably good character. I knew positively of but little corruption. That there was some corruption and more extravagance, I have no doubt. But I have served since in the Massachusetts Legislature, and I think the Southern State was but little worse than the Northern. The negro members, though with some able and honest leaders of their own, like Bruce and Lynch, followed largely the prominent white men. Of the Northerners whom I knew, almost all were men of substance and had come to stay. Six out of ten owned plantations. A 'carpet-bagger' I hardly ever met, though no doubt there were some,—but the name was given to all Northerners. As to expense, you must remember that the State had to be completely rehabilitated. The war had ruined everything; public buildings were destroyed or dilapidated; and under military rule things had simply been kept going. Everything had to be reconstructed. The slaves had become citizens, and that doubled the number to be provided for. There had been practically no public schools, and they were set up throughout the State. Taxes had fallen largely on slave property, now they came on land. So it was inevitable that there should be an increase of taxation. About county taxes I have no special knowledge, though in our locality they certainly were not burdensome. In some of the black counties it may have been worse. The Republicans, both blacks and whites, were drilled in the 'Loyal League of America,'—it was a purely political organization, often meeting in the woods at night. In those years there was immense progress on the part of the negroes,—political discussion was educational. I think if the Federal government had provided better school education, and had protected the voters at the polls, all might have gone well. That there was more or less of extravagance on the part of the Legislature is not to be denied. So there is in Massachusetts. That there was anything to justify the means resorted to in 1875 and 1876 to get complete control of the State government, might safely be questioned."

What those means were, there is no serious question. The Democrats organized a campaign of clubs, processions, enthusiasm, and—intimidation. The better part would have disclaimed the last feature, but they did not prevent it. Thomas Dabney was among the leaders. He relates that the best men were brought out for the nominations, often against their own desire. He, in his old age, was made president of the local club, and kept busy with marchings, meetings, and barbecues. He quotes sympathetically the response of a friend to his remark that the uprising was wonderful: "Uprising? It is no uprising. It is an insurrection." He relates that at Clinton the Republicans got up a riot, that they might have a pretext for asking President Grant for troops. "They succeeded in getting up their riot, which was put down by our own people after so sanguinary a fashion as to strike them with a terror not easily described." There can be no doubt as to the "sanguinary fashion" and the "terror." Testimony abounds of the invasion of Republican meetings, enforced demands on the Republican speakers to "divide the time," with threats and occasional violence. Sometimes the meetings were prevented, sometimes they were broken up. There was a great deal of terrorizing and now and then a murder. In some cases the officers at the polls interposed so many hindrances that many of the negroes were unable to vote. There was but a handful of Federal troops in the State, and the President declined to send more at Governor Ames's request. The reign of terror was effective. Once again we quote Mr. Warren: "In our part of the country there were constant parades of the 'red-shirted cavalry,' and the negroes were thoroughly frightened. Two rough fellows once assailed me with threats and abuse, but drew off when I stood my ground. When the election came on, to get our ballots printed I had to go to New Orleans; spies dogged me in going and coming; and as with a friend I rode toward home, we were beset and besieged in a planter's house, that they might get possession of the ballots. Finally we rode away on an unguarded road, pistol in hand, and escaped. But they afterward captured and destroyed a part of the ballots, and by such means they carried the local election. By such means and more violent measures they carried the State."

The Democratic Legislature now proceeded to impeach Governor Ames, on frivolous charges, but agreed to drop the proceedings if he would resign, which he did, and left the State, knowing that his trial would be a farce. In 1876 the campaign was of the same character as in 1875, and so Mississippi was "redeemed."

The case of Louisiana was widely different. In that State the corruption of the Republican managers was flagrant; it extended to the manipulation of election returns; and the Federal Government interfered freely, and with notable results. A knot of knavish adventurers were in control,—Henry C. Warmoth, William P. Kellogg, F. F. Casey, and United States Marshal S. B. Packard. Casey was the President's brother-in-law, and General Grant was almost as incapable of believing a relative of his to be a bad man as he was incapable of knowingly supporting a bad man. Casey was made collector of New Orleans, and was allowed to hold the Republican convention in the custom-house, with United States soldiers guarding the doors and regulating the admissions. As he and his crew were wrecking the finances of the State, there was in 1872 a general combination against them of the better elements,—they preferred the name "Conservatives" to "Democrats,"—and they claimed to have elected their candidate, John McEnery, as governor. Warmouth, who had been governor for a four years' term, had quarreled with his confederates over the division of plunder, and gone over to the Conservatives. He controlled the State returning-board, to which the laws intrusted a very elastic and dangerous power of throwing out returns from districts where intimidation was proved, and undertook to declare McEnery elected. But there was a split in the board; then two rival boards, one awarding the governorship to Kellogg and the other to McEnery.

The imbroglio was suddenly ended by the intervention of a United States judge, E. H. Durell, who issued a writ at midnight, directing the United States marshal, S. B. Packard, to occupy and hold the capitol, and ordering a detachment of United States troops to support the Kellogg government. This fixed the character of the State for the next four years, by perhaps the most lawless act done under the name of law in this whole troubled period. It was perhaps only the overshadowing interest of the Presidential campaign that prevented its reversal by Congress,—that, and the lingering disposition of the North to pin faith on whatever wore the label "Republican."

McEnery kept up a shadowy claim to the governorship, with the countenance of the "respectable" element. But Kellogg and his pals had the actual administration, and used it to such effect that in two years the State bonds had fallen from seventy or eighty to twenty-five, and New Orleans city bonds from eighty or ninety to thirty or forty. In 1874 the Conservatives made a determined effort to carry the Legislature. There was an organization called "The White League,"—a legitimate political society, said one side;—a revival of the Ku-Klux spirit and methods in a more guarded form, said the other side. Beyond question, there was in Louisiana, at all stages of reconstruction, some degree of terrorism, and occasional acts of cruelty and outrage. There was knavery among the Radicals, and there was violence among the Conservatives. At the 1874 election the Conservatives were successful at the polls; but the State returning-board at once began to juggle with the returns so palpably that the Conservative member protested and resigned. The remainder of the board, after a month of diligent work, threw out a number of districts, on the pretext of intimidation, and as to five seats referred the question to the House itself. That body met, organized in a hasty and irregular fashion, and awarded the five seats to the Democratic claimants. But Governor Kellogg had the United States troops at his disposal, and by his command General De Trobriand with a file of soldiers entered the House and ejected the five Democrats,—whereupon the Republicans organized the House anew.

But now the whole country took alarm. The President sent General Sheridan in haste to New Orleans, and his first dispatch sustained Kellogg, and threw the blame on the White League, to which Secretary of War Belknap telegraphed his full approval. But the affair transcended ordinary politics in its importance. New York spoke through Cooper Institute, and Boston by Faneuil Hall. Such citizens as Bryant, Evarts, and George T. Curtis led the protest. Congress rose above partisanship. A committee of the House, including such Republicans as George F. Hoar, William A. Wheeler, Charles Foster, William W. Phelps and William P. Frye, with Clarkson N. Potter and Samuel S. Marshall for the Democrats, visited New Orleans, and after full inquiry agreed that the returning-board had "wrongfully applied an erroneous rule of law"; that the five Democrats had been defrauded of their seats; and that the Louisiana House should be advised—the national House having no compulsory power—to "repair this great injustice." The two Democrats went further, and declared that Governor Kellogg himself held by no rightful tenure. But the Republicans backed a compromise offered by Wheeler, which the Louisianians accepted,—the Democrats took the Legislature, while the Republicans kept the governorship. The returning board survived, to put in its deadly work two years later.