(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
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