Tag Archives: Southern Reconstruction

Speech at Palm Beach Civil War Roundtable

On Wednesday the 14th of June I will be speaking to the Palm Beach Civil War Roundtable about my new book, Southern Reconstruction and the details are provided below.


Audience: Palm Beach Civil War Roundtable
Topic:         Southern Reconstruction
Time:          7:00 PM
Date:           Wednesday: June 14, 2017
Location:   Scottish Rite Masonic Center
                     2000 N. “D” Street
                     Lake Worth, Florida 33460
Contact:     Gerridine LaRovere (561-967-8911)

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Southern Reconstruction Book Now Published

(June 10, 2017) My new book on Southern Reconstruction is now available at bookstores across the country. You may click here, or at the cover image below, to buy it online. If you would like a signed copy please email me and I will send you instructions.

Provided below is a speech I made about the book.

Historians reinterpreted Civil War Reconstruction over the past fifty years. Shortly before the Centennial it was commonly believed that the chief aim of the Republican-dominated Congress was to ensure lasting party control over the federal government by creating a reliable voting bloc in the South for which improved racial status among blacks was a coupled, but secondary, objective. By the Sesquicentennial, however, it had become the accepted view that Republicans were primarily motivated by an enlightened drive for racial equality untainted by anything more than negligible self-interest. Consequently the presently dominant race-centric focus on Reconstruction minimizes political and economic factors that affected all Southerners regardless of race.[1]

Contrary to popular belief, for example, Southern poverty has been a longer-lasting Civil War legacy than has Jim Crow or segregation. Prior to the war the South had a bimodal wealth distribution with concentrations at the poles. The classic planters with fifty or more slaves had prosperous estates but they represented less than 1% of Southern families. Partly because 1860 slave property values represented 48% of Southern wealth, seven of the ten states with the highest per capita wealth soon joined the Confederacy.[2]

Since nearly 70% of Confederate families did not own slaves, however, the regional per capita income was only slightly ahead of the north central states and well behind the average northeastern state. A century later eight of the bottom ten states in per capita income were former members of the Confederacy. The depth of post Civil War Southern poverty and its duration were far greater, longer, and more multiracial than is commonly supposed. It took eighty-five years for the South’s per capita income to regain the below average percentile ranking it held in 1860.[3]

The war had destroyed two-thirds of Southern railroads and two-thirds of the region’s livestock was gone. Steamboats had nearly disappeared from the rivers. Excluding the total loss in the value of slaves resulting from emancipation, assessed property values in 1870 were less than half of those of 1860, while property taxes were four times higher. Approximately 300,000 white Southern males in the prime of adulthood died during the war and perhaps another 200,000 were incapacitated, representing about 18% of the region’s approximate 2.7 million white males of all ages in 1860 and about 36% of those over age nineteen.[4]

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Radical Republican Racism

(May 19, 2017) Most modern historians give the post Civil War Republican Party a free pass on racism. They generally presume that the Party’s demand for black suffrage and civil rights in the South was motivated by the intrinsic morality of racial equality and pejoratively contrast it with the violent resistance such policies sometimes encountered from the region’s whites.

Earlier historians, however, more often explained that the Party also had a second agenda. Specifically, Republicans realized that they could lose control in Washington if the Southern states re-entered the Union without a significant Republican voting block, which almost certainly would have happened if whites dominated the Southern electorate. Thus, they reasoned, continued Republican control could be assured by imposing two federal actions. First was to create a Republican-loyal constituency out of the freed slaves, which accounted for 40% of the former Confederacy’s population. Second was to shrink the South’s opposing electorate by denying voting rights to many former Confederates.

The impact was almost immediate. In the 1868 presidential election Ulysses Grant would have lost the popular majority without Southern black votes, although he would have retained his Electoral College victory,

Current historians also applaud Reconstruction Era Republicans for creating and using federal powers—including the suspension of habeas corpus—against Southern whites suspected of intimidating and sometimes killing black and Republican voters in the region. They neglect, however, to mention that the Republicans failed to use those same powers to protect other racial minorities that were not solidly Republican. In fact, the Republican-sponsored 1866 Civil Rights Act and the three constitutional amendments of the era mostly ignored “non-white” American residents who were not black. One of the most abused among such groups were the Chinese-Americans.

Two thirds of the lynching victims in California between 1850 and 1900 were Asians. The biggest such episode occurred in Los Angeles in 1871 when nineteen were lynched, including one woman. While modern biographers applaud President Grant for enforcing the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act in the South, they neglect to mention that his Administration failed to apply the Act to the Los Angeles lynching where the bad guys were white Californians. That’s different, see?

Another incident occurred in Eureka, California fourteen years later. After a white man was killed in the crossfire between two quarrelling Chinese in 1885 the city forcibly removed all of its Chinese residents in 48 hours. Over 300 were hurriedly loaded onto two ships that happened to be in the harbor and told never to return. There can be little doubt that massive bloodshed would have resulted if the Asian immigrants had resisted. When the Chinese-Americans sued for damages in 1886 the California Federal Circuit Court ruled in Wing Hing v. City of Eureka that the Asians were not entitled to any recompense because tax records showed that they owned little property and what they did own was “probably worthless.” Nearly all the Asians were renters because the whites of Eureka refused to sell them real estate.

Although there were far fewer lynching in California than in the South, the number of Chinese-Americans in the state never topped 10% and few were permitted to vote until well into the twentieth century. In fact, they could not become naturalized citizens until 1943 when a bill sponsored by a Southern Democrat in the Senate became law. It is horrifying to imagine the amplification of White Terror against Chinese-Americans that might have resulted in California if the Asian immigrants had been permitted to vote while representing as large a share of the population as the 40% that blacks did in the South.

The 1870 Naturalization Act is another example of how the infant GOP deliberately excluded civil rights to racial minorities that were not part of the Republican-loyal Southern black voting block. The Act guaranteed blacks the right to become naturalized citizens and, as such, to own property. If it had included other “non-white” immigrants many of Eureka’s Chinese-Americans could have been property owners, entitled to recompense after their banishment. The 1870 Act was sponsored by two New York Republicans, in the Senate and House respectively. It passed 33-to-8 in the Senate and 132-to-53 in the House and was signed by President Grant. In 1878 a California Federal Circuit Court specifically ruled in In re Ah Yup that Chinese-Americans could not become naturalized citizens.

Since Californians recognized that the Fourteenth Amendment would automatically bestow citizenship on the offspring of Chinese-Americans born in the USA, they took three actions to minimize such possibilities.

First they persuaded Congress to pass the 1875 Page Act that basically blocked Chinese women from immigrating at a time when the great majority of Chinese in America were males. Second, in 1905 California passed a miscegenation law, which prevented Chinese and white intermarriage. Third, despite the results of the Civil War, the state’s Supreme Court ruled in People v. Brady (40 Cal. 198 – 1870) that the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to California because it was a “sovereign state.” California basically nullified, with impunity, a part of the U. S. Constitution that it did not like.

Next came a series of federal Chinese Exclusion Acts designed to reduce the number of Asian residents. The first, in 1882, stopped Chinese immigration for a decade. Seven years later the Republican-dominated U. S. Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutional. The 1892 Geary Act extended the exclusion for another decade. In 1904 the exclusion acts were made permanent. In 1925 even the Chinese wives of American citizens were denied entry into the United States. As the accompanying table illustrates, the Exclusion Acts sharply reduced the growth of Chinese-Americans, which as late as 1950 represented less than 2% of California’s population.

There is no denying that much of the hostility toward Chinese-Americans came from the white laboring classes of the Democratic Party that competed for employment with the Asian immigrants. Thus, the Democratic Party platforms during the presidential elections of 1876, 1880, 1884, 1888, and 1892 contained planks supporting limits on Chinese immigrations. Nonetheless, the Republican Party platforms of 1882, 1884, and 1888 also included planks supporting Chinese immigration limits.

The key difference is that the GOP hypocritically limited its concern for minority suffrage and civil rights to Republican-loyal black voters and largely ignored the plight of other “non-white” minorities. As a result, it is difficult to conclude that Republicans were genuinely interested in minority rights, except for the solitary minority that would help keep the Party in power. Such a conclusion changes the complexion of the currently dominant Reconstruction interpretation that minimizes Republican Party self-interest.

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Eric Foner Gets This Right

(January 3, 2017) In the 48th episode within the middle segment of his Civil War and Reconstruction lectures, Columbia’s Dr. Eric Foner comments on the long-term postwar dominance of the Republican Party and its implications for the relative prosperity and impoverishment of America’s North and South geographic sections, respectivley. Foner says:

The [Civil] War creates the national dominance of the Republican Party. From 1860 to 1932—72 years—only two Democrats are elected President. [Republicans] control the national government most of that time. One result is that national economic policy favors the North.

[Aside from the status of Freedmen] many other political issues of the late nineteenth century come out of the Civil War. What should be the tariff? How should [war] bondholders get repaid…Greenbacks or gold? What should happen to paper currency?

The chief consequence of the national economic policies favoring the North during the 72 year period Foner mentions was that they promoted prosperity in the North while relegating Southern farmers—white and black—into peonage.


As explained in recent posts, the persistently high post-war tariffs were a major factor benefitting the North and hurting the South in the post war era. First, they increased the cost of domestic goods, which were chiefly produced outside the South. Second, they promoted monopolies, primarily in the North. Third, the tariffs often prevented interested overseas buyers of American cotton from selling manufactured goods into the USA. That blocked, or limited, the potential buyers from earning the exchanges credits needed to pay for the American cotton and encouraged them to purchase cotton from other countries.

The multi racial consequences of the post-war Republican economic policies were far more drastic and protracted than the vast majority of modern historians realize. Consider the first economic depression following the Civil War that was triggered by the failure of Jay Cooke’s financial empire in 1873.

Although the federal government did not record poverty statistics at that time, the Ohio Department of Labor estimated “absolute poverty” at a dollar a day. Sixty-five years later President Franklin Roosevelt submitted a report to Congress informing that Southern sharecropper per capita incomes ranged to $0.10 to $0.25 per day. Although modern historians commonly associate sharecropping with blacks, Roosevelt’s 1938 report explained that whites composed half of all Southern sharecroppers and that they lived “under economic conditions almost identical with those of Negro sharecroppers.”

Seventy-three years after the Civil War, Southern farmers—white and black—were living under conditions similar to nineteenth century Russian serfs. Southern poverty adversely affected health. As late as 1930, for example, half of South Carolina’s population was under the age of twenty.

After World War II the manufacturing interests of the Northern states wanted “free trade” on a global basis. Essentially they no longer had any international competition since the economies of Europe and Asia had been wrecked by the war. Consequently, America sharply reduced her tariffs in the 1940s in order to encourage reciprocity overseas. The current economic conditions in Detroit and Flint illustrate how badly Northern industialists overestimated their ability to compete without protective tariffs.

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Southern Reconstruction, Part 3: Discriminatory National Policies

Provided below is the third and final installment of my Southern Reconstruction speech last Saturday in Tullahoma, Tennessee. It addresses national policies after the Civil War that delayed economic recovery in the South but promoted prosperity in the North. 


During Reconstruction Southerners were required to pay their share of federal taxes for sizable budget items that if funded by an independent defeated foe would have constituted reparations. To be sure, reparations are not a rare form of a victor’s compensation, but it should not be assumed that the Southern states escaped equivalent penalties merely because they were readmitted to the Union.

The table below summarizes federal tax revenues and spending for a quarter century following the Civil War. More than half of federal tax revenues were applied to three items: (1) interest on the federal debt, (2) budget surpluses, and (3) Union veterans benefits. Although compelled to pay their share of taxes to fund them, former Confederates derived no benefit from the allocations.


But the table does not tell the whole story.

First, the 1869 Public Credit Act required that federal debt be redeemed in gold. During the war, however, the great majority of investors used paper money to buy the bonds even though the paper currency traded at a discount to gold. The discount got as high as 63% while Grant was sustaining heavy casualties in 1864 only to be stalemated at the siege of Petersburg. In short, gold redemption was a huge windfall for the bondholders.

Southerners held few, if any, bonds. Some were held by national banks, which bought them to use as monetary reserves as mandated by the 1863 National Banking Act, but many Northern civilians also owned them. Federal debt jumped forty-fold from $65 million to $2.7 billion during the war. Since bonds and interest had to be paid in gold, the amount of paper currency needed pay them was significantly larger than the face amounts of the bonds and the nominal coupon interest rates. The difference was an extra cost to the taxpayer and a bonus to the bondholder.

The budget surpluses were caused by protective tariffs that generated more income than necessary to operate the federal government. As the table below documents dutiable items were taxed at about 45% until after President Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated in 1913. They were increased again in the 1920s after the Republicans regained the White House. Rates generally remained high until after World War II when the manufacturing economies of the Northern states had no international competitors because of the World war’s destruction of European and Asian economies. In short, American finally became a free-trade advocate only after the manufacturing economies of the Northern states had no international competition.


Protective tariffs were designed to restrict competition for domestic producers, almost none of which were in the South. The South’s was primarily an export economy. Even as late as the 1930s, 60% of its cotton was sold overseas. Foreign buyers, however, were unable to pay for Southern cotton unless they could generate exchange credits by selling manufactured goods into the USA, which protective tariffs impeded. By one estimate the post-war tariff imposed an implicit 11% tax on agricultural exports. As Cornell professor Richard Bensel puts it, “[The tariff] redistributed [wealth] from the periphery to the [Northern industrial regions] in the form of higher prices for manufactured goods and from the periphery to the national treasury in the form of customs duties.”

Finally, former Confederates derived no benefit from generous federal spending on Union veteran pensions. Ex-Rebel soldiers could only collect much smaller pensions from their respective states. Union veteran pensions were originally paid only to soldiers who sustained disabling injuries during military service, but Republicans gradually expanded eligibility to solidify veterans as one of the Party’s voter constituencies. In 1904 any Union veteran over age 62 was regarded as disabled thereby transforming the program into an old age retirement system instead of the disability-only program it was originally intended to be. In 1893 the pensions represented over 40% of the federal budget. Although dropping as a percent of the total budget thereafter, annual spending on Civil War Union veteran pensions did peak until 1921, which was over 55 years after the war had ended.


While some federal spending items not specified in the preceding table benefitted the South, they were few, tiny, or funded by the Southerners themselves. From 1865 – 1873 the federal government spent $103 million on public works, but less than 10% went to the former Confederate states. New York and Massachusetts alone got more than twice as much as the entire South. Continue reading

Southern Reconstruction, Part Two: Republican Hegemony

(November 7, 2016) Provided below is Part Two of my Southern Reconstruction speech to a November 5th seminar in Tullahoma, Tennessee. Labeled “Republican Party Hegemony” today’s installment follows the “Protracted Poverty” of Part One. 


Post-war politics and federal economic policies contributed to the South’s long delayed economic recovery. Among such factors were property confiscations, Republican Party self-interest, discriminatory federal budgets, protective tariffs, Union veteran pensions, banking regulations, discriminatory freight rates, lax monopoly regulation, absentee ownership and the requirement that America’s most impoverished region pay for the public education of the children of ex-slaves even though emancipation was a national—not regional—policy.

When Lee surrendered to Grant, more than two million fungible cotton bales were scattered across the South. Given an average price of 43 cents per pound, each bale was worth about $172, putting the value of the entire inventory at nearly $350 million as compared to $15 million of US currency then circulating in the region. The cotton inventory might have primed the pump of Southern recovery, but instead it was plundered.

Union soldiers, US treasury officials, and Northern businessmen stole most of it under the pretext of legitimate confiscation, or no pretext at all. A dismayed US Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch remarked, “I am sure that I sent some honest cotton agents South, but it sometimes seems very doubtful that any of them remained honest very long.”

Southern lands were also confiscated for non-payment of state taxes imposed by Carpetbag regimes, which were some of the highest in relation to wealth in US history. At one point 15% of Mississippi’s taxable land was up for sale due to tax defaults and an Arkansas newspaper required sixteen pages to list delinquencies.

When the Civil War ended the Republican Party was barely ten years old. Its leaders worried that it might be strangled in the cradle if re-admittance of Southern states into the Union failed to be managed in a way that would prevent Southerners from allying with Northern Democrats to regain control of the federal government. If all former Confederate states were admitted to Congress in December 1865 and each added member was a Democrat, the Republican Senate majority would have dropped from 40-to-8 and become 40-to-30. Similarly, the Party’s majority in the House would have dropped from 111-to-40 and become 111-to-79. In short, the Republicans would have no longer held a veto-proof two-thirds majority in Congress.

Thus, the infant GOP needed to insure that most of the new Southern senators and congressmen were admitted as Republicans. That required that vassal governments be established in the Southern states. Since there were few white Republicans in the region the Party needed to create a new constituency. Consequently, Republicans settled on two objectives.

First was mandatory African-American suffrage in all former Confederate states. Republicans expected that the mostly illiterate and inexperienced black electorate could be manipulated to consistently support Party interests out of gratitude for emancipation and voter suffrage. Second was denial of the vote to the Southern white classes most likely to oppose Republican policies.

Although it is often assumed that Republican Party sponsorship of Southern black suffrage was motivated by a moral impulse to promote racial equality, the bulk of the evidence suggests the Party was more interested in retaining political power.

First, the 1866 Civil Rights Act passed over President Johnson’s veto declared nearly all blacks to be citizens but expressly denied citizenship to Indians unless they were paying taxes. Indians would not gain full citizenship until the 1920s.

Second, Republicans recognized that many Northerners did not favor black suffrage in their own states. When the Civil War began, blacks were not permitted to vote in sixteen of the twenty-two Union-loyal states. In most of the remaining six they could only vote by meeting property and education tests that were more stringent than those applied to whites. Upon the war’s conclusion, only five New England states with tiny black populations permitted them to vote. Connecticut, Minnesota, and Wisconsin each rejected black suffrage in 1865. Kansas did so in 1867 as did Michigan and Missouri in 1868 and even New York in 1869. As shall be explained, the Republicans would adopt a strategy that would permit Northern states to reject black suffrage with only negligible consequences but that would significantly penalize Southern states for doing so.

Third, a month after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Union Major General William T. Sherman wrote a colleague, “I have never heard a negro ask for…[voting rights]…and I think it would be his ruin…I believe the whole idea of giving votes to the negroes is to create just that many votes to be used by others for political uses…”

Major General William T. Sherman

Major General William T. Sherman

Fourth, the two Republican leaders most commonly believed to be sincerely interested in black racial equality also admitted that they also wanted Southern black suffrage in order to help keep their Party in power.

Pennsylvania Representative Thaddeus Stevens who would ultimately be buried in a black cemetery said, “If [black] suffrage is excluded in the rebel States then every one of them is sure to send a solid rebel representative delegation to Congress…They, with their kindred [Northern] Copperheads, would always elect the President and control Congress.” He also stated that the Southern states, “ought never…be…counted as valid states until the Constitution shall have been amended…to secure perpetual ascendancy to the party of the Union [meaning the Republican Party].” Continue reading