Tag Archives: Southern Reconstruction

A Message for Ta-Nehisi Coates

(May 11, 2018) After The Atlantic published Coates’s “Case for Reparations” numerous mainstream media sources and politicians endorsed it, or at least commented sympathetically about it. As Coates’s analysis spread I noticed that he and his fanbase seemed to be unaware that Southerners have already paid  a form of reparations, if not for slavery then for losing the Civil War. I wrote letters to The Atlantic and some of Coates’s other media supporters, but none were interested in the facts summarized below.

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In short, the surrendered Confederate soldiers and their descendants had to pay their share of Federal taxes to fund some big Federal budget items that exclusively benefitted Union-loyal citizens and their descendants. If the Confederacy had been an independent sovereign and defeated nation, such payments would undeniably have been defined as reparations.

  1. Union Veterans Pensions totaled $8 billion by 1950 as compared to an estimated cost to the Federal Union of fighting the Civil War of $2.3 billion. In 1893 Union veterans pensions alone represented 40% of the entire federal budget. The annual disbursements  for such pensions did not top-out until 1921, which was fifty-six years after the war ended.
  2. Redemptions of the Federal debt, which was a debt that increased from $65 million at the start of the war to $2.7 billion at the end. Debt retirements represented about 17% of the cumulative Federal budget for the first 25 years after the War. All the debt was redeemed in gold although Northern investors typically purchased their bonds with discounted paper currency.
  3. Interest paid on the Federal debt totaled $2.3 billion during the first 25 years after the end of the War and represented 23% of the cumulative Federal budget.

Like the Union Veterans Pensions, payments for items two and three above also extended well beyond the first twenty-five years after the war . . . I just chose not to quantify them beyond that quarter-century mark.

All of the above is documented in my Southern Reconstruction book released last year. If you’d like to buy a signed copy for $29 please email me at phil_leigh(at)me.com. Unsigned copies are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other bookstores.


American Library Assoc. Review of Southern Reconstruction

(May 2, 2018) The May 2018 issue of Choice Magazine (Vol. 55, No. 9) includes the review of my Southern Reconstruction book provided below. Choice Magazine is published by the Association of College and Research Libraries, which is a division of the American Library Association. The reviewer is Dr. Jerry Sanson who chairs the History and Political Science Department of Louisiana State University at Alexandria. He concludes that the book is highly recommended for all levels of public and academic libraries.

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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