Tag Archives: Southern Reconstruction

Why Fred Ray’s Book Review is Best

(March 6, 2018) Of the half-dozen reviews of my Southern Reconstruction  book to date, Fred Ray’s at TOCWOC is the only one that mentioned the analysis showing that Southerners have already paid a form of reparations, if not for slavery then for losing the war.

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Specifically, former Confederates paid their share of federal taxes to fund sizable budget items that only benefitted Americans who had sided with the federal Union during the Civil War. One example was the retirement of federal debt that exploded from $80 million at the start of the war to $2.7 billion at the end. A second example was the interest on the federal war debt, which represented a cumulative 23% of the federal budget for the first twenty-five years after the war. A third example was the increasingly generous Union veterans pensions, which accounted for 40% of the federal budget in 1893. They reached a cumulative total of over $5 billion by 1917 and $8 billion by 1942, yet the only recipients were Union veterans and their dependents.

Although the facts are undeniable, most modern historians are blind to such truths because they are obsessed with the racial aspects of Reconstruction. While some of today’s historians might readily argue that blacks should be paid slavery reparations, nearly all seem to be unaware that if the South had been a defeated sovereign state the payments by former Confederates and their descendants noted above would have been classified as war reparations.


“True Grit” is a Reconstruction Era Story

(February 8, 2018) Although labeled a Western, True Grit is also a novel about Reconstruction in Arkansas and the Indian Territory that would become eastern Oklahoma. The Reconstruction aspects are more evident in the novel, which turns fifty years old this year, than in the movies. Pulitzer Prize winning author Donna Tartt reads the entire novel aloud here at YouTube.

The story is about fourteen year old Mattie Ross who leaves her mother, sister and little brother at home on a farm of ” 480 acres of good bottomland . . . not far from Dardenelle in Yell County” to “avenge her father’s blood.” He had been murdered by a hired hand named Tom Chaney while on a shopping trip to Fort Smith, which was a frontier town on the edge of the Indian Territory.

Subtleties about Reconstruction that slip into the novel but not the movies include the following:

  1. When Mattie says that “Tom Chaney was a tenant but working for hire and not for shares,” she is disclosing that whites were often sharecroppers. Although commonly associated with blacks, most sharecropping was done by whites as late as 1940. Moreover, their impoverished living standards were identical to those of black sharecroppers. Segregation only gave the poor whites a higher social status.
  2. “Papa used to say that the only friends we had down here right after the [Civil War] were the Irish Democrats in New York. Thad Stevens and the Republican gang would have starved us all out if they could.” Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens was the chief architect of Radical Republican Reconstruction. Although often hailed as a champion for blacks he tried to impose a federal tax on exported cotton. Since most cotton was then sold on the London market there would have been no way for cotton growers to pass the tax on to buyers because other countries could sell their cotton in London without having to pay an American tax. Thus, Stevens’s tax would have hurt the black cotton farmer as much as the white.
  3. Since Mattie’s story is a reminiscence by an old lady during the 1920s it is significant that she remarks, “I am not afraid of Al Smith for a minute. He is a good Democrat and when he is elected I believe he will do the right thing . . . ” She is referring to New York Governor Al Smith who was an Irish-American Catholic that ran for President in 1928. Mattie is saying that she did not hold his religion against him. While historians often castigate 1920s era Southerners for racial prejudice, they seldom note that six of the eight states that voted for the first Roman Catholic presidential candidate were Southern, including Arkansas.

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2nd Printing of “Southern Reconstruction” Now Available

(February 6, 2018) As regular readers know, bookstores sold out their copies of the first print run of Southern Reconstruction during the Christmas selling season. The second print run is shipping now and should be in stock at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other bookstores within a week. Presently, I have personal copies available, which I may sell with, or without, my autograph for $29.00. Those with an interest may contact me at: phil_leigh(at)me.com.

Provided below is a copy of a review of Southern Reconstruction by Publishers Weekly. 

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President Grant’s Doubtful Civil Rights Motives

(February 3, 2018) Modern historians and biographers are tripping over one another in their rush to praise President Ulysses Grant as a pioneering civil rights leader. In a recent interview Ron Chernow said, “[Grant] was the single most important president in terms of civil rights between Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson and that, unfortunately, is an overlooked story.” While it may be a “story,” it is not an overlooked one.  In 2012 H. W. Brands wrote, “Nearly a century would pass before the country had another president who took civil rights as seriously as Grant did.” Similarly, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz states, “The evidence clearly shows that [Grant] created the most auspicious record on racial equality and civil rights of any president from Lincoln to Lyndon B. Johnson.”

Such statements imply that Grant’s chief reason for supporting black suffrage was to promote racial equality per se. They fail to take into account that his prime motive may have been to gain the political power that a routinely obedient voting bloc could provide to Republican candidates. For example, only a minority of America’s whites voted for Grant when he was first elected President in 1868. His 300,000 popular vote majority resulted from winning about 90% of the votes of mostly illiterate ex-slaves.

More importantly, Grant limited his civil rights advocacy to blacks who composed the solitary minority group that could be politically significant. He did nothing for smaller racial minorities such as Indians, Chinese Americans and other immigrant ethnic groups.

Indians generally could not vote during Grant’s Administration. Moreover, in 1875-76 he secretly provoked a war with tribes in the Northern Great Plaines. He wanted to give white men access to dubiously valuable gold deposits in the Black Hills as a way to help America’s economy recover from the depression that followed the Panic of 1873. Although the Centennial War is best known for the fight at “Custer’s Last Stand” the U. S. Supreme Court ruled a century later that it was illegal and awarded over $100 million in damages to tribal descendants. (A lower court specifically cited “President Grant’s duplicity” in the matter.)*

Additionally, Chinese Americas generally could not vote, nor could they become naturalized citizens until 1943. Even though they never numbered more than ten percent of California’s population, they represented about two-thirds of the state’s lynch victims between 1849 and 1902. In fact, the biggest lynching in American history took place in Los Angeles during Grant’s first presidential term in 1871. The nineteen victims were Chinese Americans.**

Since the 1868 Fourteenth Amendment only granted citizenship to blacks born in America, Grant signed the 1870 Naturalization Act in order to enable blacks born elsewhere to become citizens. But the act deliberately excluded Chinese Americans and other “non-whites.” In 1875 he signed the Page Act that restricted entry into America by Chinese immigrants and other “undesirables.” The 1875 Civil Rights Act also failed to include Chinese Americans. In Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans, Jean Paelzer writes, “The Civil Rights Act and the Page Act of 1875 . . . removed the right of Chinese immigrants to ever become citizens and banned the immigration of most Chinese women.” Since only four percent of the group’s members in 1875 were women the true purpose of the Page Act was “to force thousands of men to return to China.”***

Finally, Grant used one of the Ku Klux Klan Acts to influence voting in immigrant-dominant big city precincts that were heavily Democratic. When the wife of his Attorney General George Williams accused Grant of using Secret Service funds to help Republican candidates in New York City, the President explained that the funds were used in compliance with the 1871 KKK Acts. Although Grant said the money was spent to “prevent frauds,” Democrats were suspicious that the money was simply a secret Republican slush fund used for partisan political purposes.****

*Bryan Wildenthal, North American Sovereignty on Trial (Santa Barbara, Ca.: ABC-CLIO, 2003), 163

** Erika Lee, “Review of The Chinatown War: Chinese Los Angeles and the Massacre of 1871(2012), by Scott Zesch”, Journal of American History, vol. 100, no. 1 (June 2013), 217

*** Jean Paelzer, Driven Out, 42, 52, 58, 102

****Allan Nevins, Hamilton Fish: The Inner History of the Grant Administration, Volume II  (New York: Fred Ungar Publishing, 1936), 818-19

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The Wisdom of J. P. Morgan

(January 24, 2018) J. P. Morgan once said “A man always has two reasons for the things he does­—a good one and the real one.” The legendary banker was implying that the “good” reason is a false, benevolent explanation that conceals the true self-serving one.

Consider, for example, the current political debate over youthful illegal immigrants under the rubric of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.) Democrats generally want to set minimal requirements for DACA citizenship. They promote their position with noble-sounding slogans such as, “It’s the right thing to do,” or “It is who we are as Americans,” and etc.

But Republicans mostly believe the Democrats have a second, unspoken, reason. Specifically, since recent immigrant citizens overwhelmingly vote Democratic, the GOP feels that the Democratic Party’s DACA stance is chiefly selfish. Even “no action” on DACA favors the Democrats, they believe, because the number of DACA illegals will eventually grow too large for Congress to resist the group’s demands to make them legal citizens. As a rejoinder to Democratic sloganeering, the GOP replies, “We either have a country or we don’t.”

A similar situation prevailed 150 years ago when the postbellum Republican Party advocated black suffrage. Modern historians commonly attribute the infant GOP’s motive to a push for racial equality. They generally minimize the fact that ex-slaves voted robotically for Republicans. They downplay the point even though freedmen were an especially powerful voting block in the eleven former Confederate states where they represented 40% of the population and carpetbag governments often blocked ex-Confederates from voting or holding office thereby putting the black electorate in control. Republican Ulysses Grant, for example, won only a minority of America’s white popular vote in the 1868 presidential election.

The recent federal government shutdown is causing many Americans to ponder whether the Democratic Party’s stance on DACA is a morally superior position, or merely a selfish one. Presumably, time will reveal our verdict and future historians will report it as the accepted narrative. As students of the Civil War era, the present might also be a good time to consider whether the postbellum Republican Party motives for black suffrage were primarily driven by morality, or self-interest.

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Politics of the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act

(January  10, 2018) The 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act gave the federal government sweeping powers to intervene in state elections whenever Republicans were suspicious that either voter fraud or intimidation was present. It is popularly represented as an Act to enforce the voting rights of post Civil War blacks—but not other racial or ethnic minorities—under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

The Act allowed President Grant to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in geographic areas were he felt Republican votes were under-counted or blocked through intimidation. Thus, he could empower federal marshals to arrest anyone without needing to charge them with a crime. It was the first peacetime application of such power. Since the Klan was relatively inactive in 1868, Grant did not need the Act in order to be elected that year to his first term as President. The Act was adopted only later, in order to insure Republican victories in future elections, after the Klan started to reduce Republican power in the South.

As the table below documents, Republicans held 84% of the seats in the Senate and 72% of those in the House in the Forty-First Congress when Grant moved into the White House. Generally, there was little Klan activity in the 1868 elections because Southern white Democrats hoped to win the black vote. But it was a forlorn hope. Grant won about 90% of the black vote. In fact, his black share was strong enough to offset the point that he received only a minority of white votes across the country. The natural tendency for Southern blacks to vote the Party of the Civil War’s Great Emancipator was amplified by the persuasion of the Union Leagues and the Freedmen’s Bureau, which were basically arms  of the Republican Party.

After Southern Democrats failed to win black votes in 1868, the Klan became aggressive. Consequently Republican power in the Senate, and particularly the House, declined in the Forty-Second Congress. Republican Senate seats dropped from 84% to 77% and House seats dropped from 72% to 57%. Thus, the Ku Klux Klan Act was a politically motivated response to a drop in Republican congressional representation.

As the table’s third column shows, the Act successfully increased Republican strength in the Forty-Third Congress, as intended. The Klan had ceased to be a factor.

In order to justify the Act, a joint Senate-House “Ku Klux Committee” took testimony to document Klan violence. Historians point to the Committee’s thirteen volume report for plenty of such evidence. Simultaneously, however, many modern historians often fail to explain that Democrats from ten of the eleven former Confederate states were not even members of Congress and could therefore not be assigned to the Committee.  That’s because all Southern  congressional representatives, except Virginia, were composed of Republican carpetbaggers or scalawags. Thus, the Committee made no meaningful inquiry into voter fraud by the Republican regimes that controlled the election machinery in the Southern states. Given the composition of the Committee, that would be like asking the criminal to investigate himself.

On January 9, 2018 the U. S House of Representatives passed 415-to-2 resolution supporting Iranian protestors. If Iran were to respond by holding “democratic” elections under the glitter Iranian Army bayonets, the House resolution implies that few Americans would consider such an election to be free. Yet many of today’s historians seem to teach students that the federal marshals and soldiers deployed in the South during Reconstruction were used to guarantee impartial elections. It’s the Devil’s own nonsense.

While a fair evaluation of Reconstruction should concede Southern racism, it should also admit that the Republican puppet regimes in the South were much more likely to commit voter fraud than out-of-power Southern whites.  After all, it was generally the Republicans who controlled the election machinery in each state. In fact, the 1872 elections in Louisiana were so obviously fraudulent that even the Republican Congress refused to seat members from either side.

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