Tag Archives: Reconstruction

Why Didn’t Blacks Get Post-War Southern Lands?

(January 22, 2019) In today’s politically correct environment most academic historians lament that post Civil War Reconstruction failed to confiscate large amounts of land owned by Southern Whites and redistribute it to Blacks. This, they argue, would have given economic power to the Freedmen thereby minimizing the ensuing protracted racism. The chief reason Northerners failed to do so, they explain, was because Northerners chose to be lenient with the defeated Southerners. But they were not lenient, as this speech about my Southern Reconstruction book documents.

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In truth, the chief reason Northerners didn’t want to confiscate Southern lands was because they worried such action might adversely impact the national economy after the War ended in 1865. Since they rightly feared that a drop in wartime spending might cause a recession, they wanted the Southern economy to recover as quickly as possible, although they were unwilling to invest any federal tax money to help it along. As feared, America’s Gross Domestic Product declined 23% from $10 billion in 1865 to $7.7 billion in 1871. But during the same period annual cotton production alone increased from zero to 4.4 million bales, which about equaled the average annual production for the three years prior to the War. Southern production of tobacco and other goods and services also increased. Thus, without the South’s recovery the national GDP would have declined even farther.

Aside from the GDP, however, Northerners were anxious to get cotton back into production in order to improve the nation’s trade balance-of-payments, which threatened to be in almost perpetual deficit. As the table below documents, cotton alone accounted for about 70% of American exports before the War and for the decade after the War it represented an accumulated average of 61%. Notwithstanding that tariffs on dutiable items increased from 19% before the War to an average of 45% for nearly fifty years afterward, America reported a merchandise trade deficit for every year except two during the first eleven years after the War. The accumulated deficit for that period totaled $750 million. Without cotton exports the deficit would have been nearly $3,600 million, which was more gold than the Treasury had available to settle the international payments shortage.


The above figures underscore one reason why the Republican Party chose to abandon the Carpetbag regimes in the former Confederate states. Starting in 1872, and increasingly thereafter, Republicans became persuaded that the national economy would do better with White “home rule” state governments in the South in place of the Carpetbag regimes whose corruption was perceived as a drag on the region’s economic recovery.

When Academics Accept Secondary Sources

(December 28, 2018) Typically academic presses that publish books on the Civil War and Reconstruction will decline manuscripts that rely primarily on secondary sources. As opposed to a primary source such as an era-specific letter, diary, or official document, secondary sources are usually books and articles that cite the primary sources within their narratives. There are, however, three exceptions to the academy’s avoidance of books chiefly documented with secondary sources.

First are books that denigrate the Confederacy or her leaders. One example is Alan Nolan’s Lee Considered, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 1991. In her review of the book for the New York Times historian, and former Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust, admits that Nolan provides “no new or sensational facts.” Yet she applauds Nolan’s destruction of “the Lee tradition” because it “led Americans to embrace a racist view of the war.” This, Faust quotes Nolan as saying, “deprived . . . the nation of any high purpose for the war.” She shows no concern about whether Nolan’s revised portrayal of Lee is accurate or fundamentally changes his character. Instead she is satisfied that it provides an excuse to ignore Lee’s nobilities in order to pin America’s lingering racism on the losing side of the war while simultaneously sanctifying the winning side.

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Second are books that demonize white Southerners as “terrorists” obsessed with abusing blacks during Reconstruction and thereafter. Allen Guelzo’s Reconstruction: A Concise History, released earlier this year by the Oxford University Press, is a good example. Eighty-seven percent of Guelzo’s 141 sources are secondary ones.

Like Eric Foner’s much bigger text released thirty years ago, Guelzo idealizes the black community. Also like Foner, Guelzo is so lacking in sympathy for all Southern whites that their problems receive none of the analysis and sympathetic understanding  given to issues that confronted blacks. Consequently, readers will likely fail to understand that most ex-Confederates were not involved in lynchings, terrorism, and Ku Klux Klan vigilantism. Instead they lived hardscrabble lives, attempting to restore a region devastated by war. The cover of Guelzo’s book alone emphasizes only the racial aspects of Reconstruction. Six of the seven images depict blacks in various activities empowering themselves such as voting and working as freedmen, or conversely being helplessly abused by Southern whites.

A third type of book mostly documented with secondary sources that the academy will publish are those authored by tenured professors. Dr. Michael Holt’s By One Vote: The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876 is a good example. The University Press of Kansas released the Virginia professor’s book in 2008 even though Holt admits in his preface, “I make no claim to have exhaustively researched primary sources.” Instead, his objective was to analyze the implications of generally known facts, not to discover new ones. And he succeeds.

Contrary to popular belief, for example, a number of factors gave Hayes the election over Tilden aside from Reconstruction compromise. Among them were monetary policy, civil service reform and Colorado statehood. Without the admission of Republican-controlled Colorado as a state, for example, no amount of vote-count compromise with Southerners in the disputed states of  Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina could have put Hayes in the White House. Not the least of pivotal election factors was the GOP’s re-emphasis on waving the bloody shirt to put the blame for Civil War casualties on the Democrats. Unlike Nolan’s, however, Holt’s analysis is not a deliberate character assassination designed to destroy a good man’s reputation in order to create a scapegoat for protracted racism.

“White Supremacy” and “Negro Supremacy”

(June 26, 2018) Nearly all white Reconstruction-Era Southerners regarded the “Carpetbagger” Republican state regimes as corrupted interlopers, which they desired to replace with “Home Rule” governments run by whites endemic to the region. Less well known, however, is that both “Carpetbagger” and “Home Rule” were terms that had racially-charged synonyms. While most students of the era recognize that “White Supremacy” was synonymous with “Home Rule,”  few realize that “Negro Supremacy” was synonymous with “Carpetbag Rule.” Even fewer know that “Negro Supremacy” predated “Carpetbagger” as a political expression. Thus, even though “White Supremacy” undeniably had a racist meaning, in the politics of Reconstruction it was also a contra term response to “Negro Supremacy.”

As a result, Southerners who cheered “White Supremacy” victories were not only proclaiming a false belief in racial superiority they were also celebrating the defeat of “Negro Supremacy” as a synonym for Carpetbag governments. Many modern historians choose to ignore the second connotation. Instead they interpret use of the term by era-specific Southerners as proof of a particularly virulent form of racism that was limited to the region’s whites. (As such, it contributes to the South as Evil Twin interpretation of the period.)

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“Negro Supremacy” may have first entered the political lexicon in President Andrew Johnson’s December 1867 annual message as a characterization of a Radical Republican intent  to establish Southern puppet regimes based on the Reconstruction Acts passed earlier that year. The National Democratic Party repeated the expression in their Party platform released at the New York City convention on July 4, 1868. Although President Andrew Johnson’s successor as Tennessee’s governor had ruled a Scalawag government in that sate since 1865, the “Negro Supremacy” term was first used at least six months before a single Carpetbag government was operating in the other ten states of the former Confederacy. Democrats utilized the pejorative term for two reasons.

First, the 1867 Reconstruction Acts of the Republican-controlled Congress compelled black male suffrage in each of the ex-Rebel states, but none of the Northern states.  It simultaneously denied voting and office holding rights to many former Confederates. The Acts were deliberately intended to establish Republican-loyal regimes in the Southern states. Only seven of the ten applicable states were readmitted to the Union before the 1868 presidential election. African-Americans composed the majority of voters in four of the seven.

When Southern whites attempted to avoid having their states re-admitted to the Union under “Negro Supremacy” by abstaining to vote and thereby preventing approval of the state constitutions by “the majority of registered voters” as required by the first two Reconstruction Acts, Congress moved the goalposts. In February 1868 it passed a third Reconstruction Act that enabled the states to be admitted when only a “majority of the votes cast” approved the constitutions.

Since Southern Republicans controlled the election machinery in the final three ex-Confederate states, they sometimes cancelled the registrations of opposing voters and secretly moved polling locations in order to obtain the desired “majority of votes cast” for their side. In this manner, Carpetbag regimes were installed even in the Southern states where blacks represented only a minority of registered voters. Once the regimes were in place, they were able to disfranchise even more former Confederates via legislative action in order to ensure that the Carpetbag governments remained in control.

The second reason that the Democrats adopted the “Negro Supremacy” pejorative was that the majority of white Americans nationwide were reluctant to support a government whose election might pivot on black votes. Thus, despite his popularity as a Civil War hero, President Ulysses Grant received only a minority of white votes for his first term election in 1868. His overall 53% popular vote hinged on an overwhelming sweep of Southern black votes.  Notwithstanding that only a tiny fraction of their populations were black, every Northern state where black suffrage was proposed during the preceding three years rejected it. Examples include Ohio, Kansas, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Minnesota.  Then in 1868, the very year when Grant becomes President-elect, black suffrage was additionally rejected by the legislatures of Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York and by voters again in Ohio.  

Accordingly, later statues and plaques memorializing the victories of “White Supremacy” had two purposes. One was to proclaim the obvious and false presumption of white racial superiority. But the other was to celebrate the defeat of “Negro Supremacy,” which was synonymous with the “Carpetbag Supremacy.”

Perhaps Louisiana has become the state most notorious for “White Supremacy” memorials, which have since been removed. If, however, “White Supremacy” is taken to partly mean the defeat of the crooked Carpetbag regimes—instead of entirely a racial slur—that were empowered by “Negro Supremacy,” then Louisiana whites had some legitimate complaints.

Lincoln had authorized a Louisiana Republican government early in 1864, while the Civil War was still ongoing. When Congress refused to accept that government’s elected congressional representatives, participating Louisianans felt betrayed. Their very lives were at risk because they had disclosed their loyalty to the federal government when the Confederacy was still fighting.

Less than a year after the war ended Louisiana governor Wells realized that former Confederates returning to the state would not support him at the polls. Thus, Wells urged that the state constitutional convention of 1864 which had created Lincoln’s state government should be reconvened. His purpose was to get a new constitution which would give voting rights to blacks, whom he expected to support him out of reciprocity. Continue reading

Latest Book Review of *Southern Reconstruction*

(March 5, 2108) Fred Ray at the TOCWOC Blog wrote the review below on my Southern Reconstruction book.

Reconstruction in the South has become a subject dominated these days mostly by academics writing about race and America’s “unfinished revolution,” as viewed through the lens of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. However, there is much more to it than that. New England and the South had been rivals since Revolutionary times, and when the shooting stopped in 1865 the Yankees had a glittering prize—control, perhaps permanent, of their old rival. It was simple—the former Confederates (which included pretty much all the male population) would be disenfranchised, and their former slaves enfranchised. They, along with the much smaller number of Union loyalists (who would never be enough by themselves) would provide a permanent majority in the troublesome South. However, it didn’t work out quite that way, and it led to an era just as divisive, in many ways, as the war that proceeded it.

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President Lincoln, unfortunately, had little to say about his plans for reconstructing the South or about Negro voting, which left the field open to the Radical Republicans after his death. Although we consider black citizenship and voting rights a given today, it was certainly not seen that way after the war, and was one of the many issues that led to a struggle between the president and congress. On the one hand was the need for national reconciliation, on the other the rights of freedmen, including the franchise.

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Philip Leigh, two of whose books I have reviewed previously, approaches the subject with a different perspective. Leigh has worked as a computer industry stock analyst, and in addition to a degree in Electrical Engineering has a Masters in Business Administration. This gives him tools that most historians do not have, or indeed may not even be aware exist. In his earlier book Trading With The Enemy, which examined the informal and illegal trade between North and South during the war, he gave a solid economic analysis of the situation and does so here as well, utilizing facts and figures instead of the generalizations so common these days. There have been recent attempts, for instance, to rehabilitate the Carpetbagger governments of Reconstruction, but Leigh is having none of it, showing how corrupt they really were, and how budgets soared during their tenure regardless of the impoverished postwar condition of the states.

Continue reading the review here.

Gilded Age Historian Speaks a Truth

(January 29, 2018) In his recent Oxford history of the United States from 1865 to 1896, Richard White admits a truth that modern Reconstruction Era historians generally refuse to concede. Specifically when writing of the Southern carpetbag regimes in The Republic for Which it Stands White says, “The corruption of the Republican governments and the high taxes for small landowners were not just Democratic slanders; they were Republican failures.” To be sure, the author also chants the familiar mantra about white Southern “terrorists.” But at least he affirms that corrupt carpetbaggers were a significant cause of Reconstruction’s failure.

In contrast, the leading Reconstruction Era historian, Eric Foner, generally dismisses carpetbag corruption by noting that all of America was rife with corruption at the time.  Similarly, modern Ulysses  Grant biographies usually fail to admit that the reprehensible ethics in Washington during his presidency radiated across the country as a model for local governments. Perhaps nowhere was the pernicious effect more pronounced than in the carpetbag governments, which were the very offspring of Washington Republicans.

But even White fails to realize how the carpetbagger’s “high taxes for small landowners” contributed to racial animosity. Here’s what happened.

The carpetbag regimes had two ways to raise money. First was to sell bonds, which the taxpayers of the applicable state would ultimately have to repay. Second was to collect taxes, mainly property taxes. Both were abused and the victims were chiefly white property owners because few blacks owned land. Yet, under the guidance of the Union Leagues and the Freedman’s Bureau, ex-slaves overwhelmingly voted for Republicans who would flood the state governments with money. Even though nearly all of the funds raised went to carpetbaggers, scalawags and other politically connected whites, black leaders got a small share. Ex-slaves found it hard to reject even the small slices when it was the white property owner that paid the bill and when it was within the power of non-taxpaying black voters to kick the consequences of the Ponzi scheme down the road.

Such circumstances were bound to create, or amplify, racial animosity. This was especially true among whites who lost their homes through tax deficiency sales.

In short, modern historians generally fail to appreciate that the carpetbag regimes could not have survived after they became perpetually insolvent. Unlike the federal government, no state government is allowed to sustain deficit spending forever. They are generally subject to the same requirements to ultimately live within their financial means as any individual citizen. Moreover, the economies of the underlying states would be wrecked as an ever-growing number of small landowners went bankrupt. Under such circumstances, taxpayers—whether they be black, white, green or even Yankee—are certain to eventually eject the financially irresponsible government, one way or another.

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Chernow’s Spin on President Grant Gives Whiplash

(November 23, 2017)       True history is the final fiction. – Gore Vidal

Unfortunately, the new surge of Ulysses Grant biographies compete with one another to saturate readers with “true history” in the Vidal context. While recent posts offer several examples of politically correct falsehoods, misrepresentations and omissions, Ron Chernow’s biography delivers yet another. He fails to fault President Grant for backing a wicked Louisiana state government that unnecessarily provoked white resentment thereby leading to racial violence. Moreover, he fails to investigate whether Grant personally profited by doing so.

Specifically, Grant used military force to buttress carpetbag Governor William P. Kellogg’s regime that counted a Grant brother-in-law—James F. Casey—among its leaders. As customs tax collector in New Orleans, Casey held one of America’s most lucrative federal patronage posts. Moreover, Chernow fails to even consider whether the President may have profited personally from Casey’s activities. The author begins as follows:

Although Kellogg emerged victorious, his foes refused to concede the [1872] election, which had been marked by illegalities on both sides.

The undisclosed story behind the phrase, “emerged victorious,” undermines Chernow’s credibility. Specifically, Kellogg did not “emerge victorious” in the balloting; he “emerged victorious” as a result of a questionable intervention by a possibly corrupt federal judge.

First, Chernow imprecisely identifies Kellogg’s opposing candidate, John McEnry, as a “Democrat.” In truth, McEnry was on both the Liberal Republican and Democratic tickets, as was Presidential candidate Horace Greely, who lost to Grant that year.

Second, the state government settled Chernow’s “illegalities on both sides” in favor of McEnry where he admittedly benefitted from the near dictatorial powers of the incumbent carpetbag governor who opposed Kellogg. As future governor, however, Kellogg would proceed to use even greater dictatorial powers to perpetuate his own interests, as well as those of Washington Republicans. He would, for example, steal the 1876 presidential election for “Rutherfraud” B. Hayes. But that’s another story, and a good one.

Third, Kellogg appealed to Louisiana’s only federal judge, Edward Durell, to block McEnry’s inauguration. Although mostly criticized in Louisiana and the South, the interference of a federal judge in a state election was questioned all over America. It had no basis in law but for the 1870 Enforcement Act passed two years earlier.

The act essentially enabled the federal government to step-in anytime a carpetbag regime complained that Southern whites had intimidated black voters. Judge Durell suspiciously declared a hastily organized Kellogg-dominated Election Returning Board as the only legitimate board thereby arbitrarily putting Kellogg into the governor’s office.

Fourth, in January 1874 the House Judiciary Committee in Washington started to investigate Durell. Massachusetts Representative Benjamin Butler chaired the Committee. Butler, it should be noted, had few native Louisiana friends because of his confiscatory policies as commander of the New Orleans occupation army during the Civil War.

The Committee voted six-to-five to impeach Judge Durell for systematic bribery in bankruptcy cases and for exceeding his authority in the 1872 elections. After the 1874 elections increased the Democratic majority in the House and because he felt the Senate would convict him, Durell resigned.

In sum, Kellogg “emerged victorious” because a federal judge that Congress appeared likely to impeach only two years later unilaterally selected Kellogg as the winner. While the anger among Louisiana whites provoked by Judge Durell and Governor Kellogg does not justify racial violence, it verifies that resentment toward Kellogg was not a mere byproduct of endemic Southern racism as Chernow implies. Although a currently popular interpretation, the implication is merely the latest fiction.


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