Tag Archives: Southern Reconstruction

Understanding Multi-Racial Reconstruction

(July 7, 2017) Provided below is the Introduction to my latest book, Southern Reconstruction which was released last month. This online version does not include the footnotes that are in the book.

Southern Reconstruction 

Partly because of a focus on racial injustices underscored by about four thousand lynchings between 1882 and 1951, mostly in the South, modern histories of Southern Reconstruction tend to ignore, or minimize, how developments in one section of the country impacted those of the other and concentrate almost exclusively on race.

Regarding the first limitation, a valid picture of Reconstruction cannot be drawn without integrating the history of the Gilded Age in the North with that of Reconstruction in the South. The experience of Amos Akerman provides an example.

Akerman was one of Republican President Ulysses Grant’s five attorneys general. He served a little over a year, from November 1870 to December 1871. Born in New Hampshire, at age twenty-one, in 1842, he moved to Georgia, where he first worked as a tutor and later became a lawyer. Despite initially opposing secession, he remained loyal to the South and served as a Confederate quartermaster during the Civil War. He was among the rank and file defenders after Union Major General William T. Sherman invaded Georgia in 1864

Akerman was the most vigorous of Grant’s attorneys general in prosecuting the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). In order to expedite prosecutions, he expanded the powers of the then newly created federal Justice Department. About six hundred Klan members were convicted. Although most received light sentences, sixty-five were imprisoned for up to five years at a federal penitentiary in Albany, New York.

Amos Akerman

Grant, however, may have revealed his secondary interest in racial justice when he abruptly asked Akerman to resign in December 1871. Partly at the prompting of Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, Grant had misgivings about Akerman’s “obsession” with the Klan. Perhaps more importantly, Akerman also frustrated important Northern capitalists.

He was, for example, critical of the dubious terms under which railroads often qualified for federal subsidies. He may have suspected the long-festering Crédit Mobilier scandal that was a paragon of such corruption and would soon dominate the news. In June 1871, Akerman had denied land and bond grants to the Union Pacific Railroad, which had given Crédit Mobilier lucrative contracts to build the line when the railroad was unprofitable because of the inability of a partially completed line to generate much traffic in a sparsely populated territory. Crédit Mobilier allocated shares of stock—a genteel form of bribery—to influential politicians, including both of Grant’s vice presidents as well as a future president, James Garfield, who likely committed perjury when he denied it.

Grant biographer William McFeely concluded that after Akerman’s resignation, “the finest champion of human rights in the Grant administration went home to Cartersville, Georgia, where he practiced law privately for only eight more years. He had given up on his native North and Northerners.”

 Akerman correctly reasoned that Northerners were too preoccupied with the economic progress and growing wealth of the Gilded Age to be much concerned about racial equality. Following his resignation, he wrote Georgia’s carpetbag governor, Benjamin Conley, “Even such atrocities as Ku-Kluxery do not hold their attention . . . the Northern mind being active and full of what is called progress runs away from the past.”

Significantly, Akerman was echoing a point that was increasingly obvious to Northerners outside of Washington. Six years earlier, in 1866, the editor of the Chicago Tribune wrote US Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois:

“You all in Washington must remember that the excitement of the great contest is dying out, and that commercial and industrial enterprises and pursuits are engaging a large share of public attention . . . people are more mindful of themselves than of any philanthropic scheme that looks to making Sambo a voter, juror and office holder.”

The same month that Akerman resigned, the Thirty-Ninth Congress reconvened, after a ten-month recess, under a cloud of suspicion that it was controlled by the railroad industry. One newspaper correspondent famously suggested that notices be nailed to the congressional doors stating, “The business of this establishment will be done hereafter in the offices of the Pennsylvania Railroad.” In addition to being the biggest railroad, the Pennsylvania was the country’s largest corporation.

Akerman’s story also shows how political actions targeted at the South later boomeranged to impact developments in the North. Although urged to destroy the KKK, President Grant had doubts about using stern federal powers to supersede the legal prerogatives of the individual states. He was wary of claims that he wanted to become a military dictator. One bill under congressional consideration that might be subject to such interpretation proposed to give the president the right to use the army to enforce court decisions and suspend the writ of habeas corpus. Nonetheless, reasoning that federal interdiction in local affairs was justified when tax collections and mail transportation were endangered, Grant threw his support behind the 1871 bill, which became known as the Ku Klux Klan Act.

Twenty-three years later, Grant’s logic for using federal power to protect the mails during the KKK crisis was applied to striking laborers. During the 1894 Pullman strike, workers disrupted train movements, particularly through Chicago. In response, President Grover Cleveland authorized armed federal troops to run the mail trains. When strikers attacked one regiment, the soldiers opened fire, wounding scores of people and killing about thirty. The strike was broken. Strikers were subjected to arrest and trials without jury. To pleas opposing federal intervention, Cleveland replied, “You may as well ask me to dissolve the government of the United States.”

The Fourteenth Amendment is another example of legislation presumably targeted at improving the civil rights of freedmen that redounded to obstruct consumer and progressive interests by guarding the properties of powerful capitalists. The amendment characterized ex-slaves as “persons” and deemed them to be American citizens and citizens of the state in which they resided. All states were prohibited from abridging the rights of any “person,” which leveraged the Fifth Amendment declaration that no “person” could be “deprived of . . . life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Twenty years after adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled in two late 1880s decisions that corporations were also “persons” whose property rights were protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Those two decisions sharply curtailed the powers of states to regulate railroads and other corporations.

Some of the Fourteenth Amendment’s authors evidently had such motives from the beginning. When Republican Ohio Congressman John Bingham wrote the “due process” clause, he said he composed it “word for word” to protect property rights as well as civil rights. Later, in 1882, when former US Republican Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York represented the Southern Pacific Railroad before the Supreme Court with objections to California taxes, he argued that as an architect of the amendment, he labored to word it in a way to protect both private property rights and black civil rights against the encroachments of state legislatures.

The second limitation of current Reconstruction narratives is the virtually exclusive focus on race. To illustrate, the standard college text and currently most influential academic book about the era is Eric Foner’s Reconstruction, which concludes:

What remains certain is that Reconstruction failed and that for blacks its failure was a disaster. . . . If racism contributed to the demise of Reconstruction, by the same token Reconstruction’s demise . . . greatly facilitated the spread of racism. . . . An enduring consequence of Reconstruction’s failure [was that] the [politically Democratic] Solid South helped . . . weaken the prospects not simply of change in racial matters but of progressive legislation in many other realms.

Foner fails to mention any lingering consequences affecting both Southern whites and blacks, even though whites represented 60 percent of the region’s population. Nonetheless, the harmful effects of Reconstruction were more substantial, multiracial, and protracted than commonly understood. One example is Southern poverty.

Nearly a century after the war, eight of the ten states with the lowest per capita income in 1960 were former Confederate states. Even 150 years later, in 2011, Virginia was the only Southern state to rank among the top ten in per capita adjusted gross income, whereas five of the lowest ten were other Confederate states. The classic example is Mississippi, which ranked number one in 1860 per capita wealth but was dead last at fiftieth in 2011 per capita income.

Although Southern poverty and cotton culture is commonly associated with blacks, in 1940, whites made up two-thirds of the region’s farmers who either rented their lands or were sharecroppers. According to a 1938 presidential economic report, about half of Southern white farmers were sharecroppers “living under economic conditions almost identical to those of Negro sharecroppers.”

Shortly after the Great Depression began, the president of General Motors (Alfred P. Sloan) voluntarily slashed his annual salary from $500,000 to $340,000. His $160,000 cut was more than all the income taxes paid by the two million residents of Mississippi that year. Widespread Southern poverty led to lower life expectancies, principally because of poor diets and unaffordable medical care. In 1930, sixty-five years after the end of the Civil War, South Carolina was the only state with as much as half of its population under the age of twenty because its residents died earlier.

Memoirist Shirley Abbot, who grew up in Arkansas during the 1930s and ’40s, wrote of the period:

The words of President Roosevelt echoed in our heads—“one third of a nation ill-clothed, ill-fed, and ill-housed,” and we certainly knew which third he meant. We knew that we were poor, backward, behind . . .

[As for local politicians] . . . it should be said that most of the post-Reconstruction South was run in [a] more or less . . . [despotic] fashion. In little towns like Hot Springs, the rule of law had not yet outpaced the rule of poverty or the southern code. People, black and white, were mostly poor, trying to survive in an economy that was still largely rural.

Abbott’s adulthood illustrates a persistent consequence of Southern poverty. After Arkansas taxpayers funded her public education, Abbott left to become a successful editor and writer in New York and Massachusetts, where she paid taxes to educate the children of those well-endowed states. For at least a century after the Civil War, one of the South’s greatest exports included some of its most capable people.

Contrary to Foner’s claim that Southerners resisted progressive movements, outside the realm of race relations, Southern Democrats championed some of the most progressive legislation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Former Confederate Postmaster General John Reagan was an early proponent of federal railroad regulation after he became a US congressman in 1874. After Woodrow Wilson became the first president whose boyhood was in the South following the Civil War, he successfully promoted such measures as a graduated income tax, tariff rate reductions, the Federal Reserve System, the Farm Loan Act, and the Warehouse Act. Finally, the Populist movement originated in the South instead of in the Great Plains as is customarily supposed.

In contrast, Republicans fostered some of the most regressive policies. For forty-five years, between the 1868 election of Grant as president and the inauguration of Democrat Woodrow Wilson in 1913, the Republicans held the White House over 80 percent of the time, the Senate over 90 percent of the time, and the House of Representatives almost two-thirds of the time. During that era, 90 percent of the money collected by the Internal Revenue Service were excise taxes on liquor, beer, wine, and tobacco. There was no income-sensitive tax.

As for external tax revenue such as customs duties, the Republicans consistently favored high protective tariffs, which were essentially a regressive sales tax on consumers. Furthermore, tariffs were the chief federal revenue source during the forty-five-year period. The Republican Party refused to reduce them even when the Treasury reported surpluses every year from 1866 to 1893. Some surpluses were embarrassingly large, particularly toward the end of the era.

Instead of cutting taxes by lowering tariffs, Republicans spent the surplus extravagantly to win political support among favored constituencies. A prime example was the increasingly liberal Union veterans’ pensions. Most Southerners preferred lowering the tariff over spending the excess customs duties on Union veterans pensions, which grew to an astounding 40 percent of the federal budget in 1893. Before the surplus was consumed by the growing pensions, however, one sympathetic Northern senator sponsored an education-funding bill to apportion part of the surplus to the states based upon illiteracy rates. It would have particularly aided the South, where such rates were higher, income levels lower, and the school age share of population larger, but the bill never got out of the House of Representatives.

Furthermore, Northern attitudes toward racial equality were more obstructive than is usually assumed. They even provided a precedent that led to the separate-but-equal doctrine of the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which legitimized segregation for almost sixty years thereafter. Although the case involved a Louisiana incident, Justice Henry Brown of Michigan cited a Boston precedent upholding segregated schools. Six other justices joined him in the 7–1 decision. The lone dissenter was from Kentucky, while six of the seven justices voting with the majority were from states that were loyal to the Union during the Civil War.

Finally, Republican advocacy of African-American civil rights was diluted by a huge dose of self-interest. When the Civil War ended, the Republican Party was barely ten years old. It could be eclipsed, and possibly strangled in its cradle, if the readmittance of Southern states into the Union failed to be managed in a manner that would prevent Southerners from allying with Northern Democrats to regain control of the federal government. With other things the same, the abolition of slavery would increase Southern congressional representation by fifteen members over the antebellum tally because of the obsolescence of the original constitutional provision restricting the counting of slaves to three-fifths of their number for purposes of a state’s congressional representation and electoral votes.

The historical facts reveal that Republicans were distressed about the consequences to their party if Southern states were promptly readmitted into the Union without Republican control over the method of readmission. Even before the war ended, a joint congressional resolution in December 1864 proclaimed that Arkansas and Louisiana—temporarily readmitted under a wartime Reconstruction plan by President Abraham Lincoln—were “not entitled to representation in the electoral college.” Historian Matthew Josephson concluded:

The resolution reveals how even in the winter of 1864-65 [before the war was over] the Republican Party leaders were secretly obsessed with once again becoming a minority Party. Even in the twenty-three United States, only 55% of the vote in the presidential election of 1864 had been Republican. The Democratic anti-war vote was thus a big minority. What, then, if eleven unregenerate States returned to constitutional relations with the Union? They assailed Lincoln on this ground; they would fall upon his successor, too, should his policies threaten or jeopardize the retention of power by the war party.

If all representatives from the former Confederate states were admitted to the Thirty-Ninth Congress in December 1865, and each added member was a Democrat, the Republican majority in the Senate would have dropped from 43–9 and become 43–31. Similarly, the party’s majority in the House would have dropped from 152–40 and become 152–81. In short, the Republicans would have no longer held a veto-proof two-thirds majority in Congress.

Historians William Cooper and Thomas Terrill elaborate in their American South: A History:

“Republicans’ fears that the Democrats would regain their antebellum political dominance were not fantasies. The dominance of the Republican Party was not assured in 1865, and would not be until the 1890s. Only then were the Republicans able to control the White House and both houses of Congress consistently.”

Historian Arthur Schlesinger’s analysis of Republican motivations concluded, “The technique of ‘waving the bloody shirt’—meaning to rekindle hatred toward Southerners due to the violence of the Civil War—enabled the Republicans to long submerge the fact that they were becoming the party of monopoly and wealth.” Banker J. P. Morgan, who epitomized Gilded Age wealth, cogently observed, “A man always has two reasons for the things he does­—a good one and the real one.” Morgan was implying that the good reason is a false, benevolent explanation that conceals the real self-serving one.

If, for example, racial equality was the true objective of nineteenth-century Republican black suffrage advocacy, an explanation for why the party did not promote suffrage for Chinese immigrants is needed. The historical record, however, suggest that there is no good explanation. The inconsistency more likely results from the fact that Chinese exclusion attracted California voters to the Republican Party, whereas the inclusion of black voters transformed the Southern states from a Democratic stronghold into a Republican one.

Beginning in 1882, the federal government responded to racist pressures from California and other Western states with laws that would help deny the vote to Chinese residents and reduce their numbers. The ’82 law was succeeded by additional measures—known collectively as the Chinese Exclusion Acts— that restricted immigration and denied citizenship to the Chinese. California used the acts, which were not repealed until 1943, to deny voting rights to Chinese people. The immigration restrictions effectively cut the number of Chinese in America from 105,000 in 1880 to 62,000 in 1920.

The Chinese were never more than 10% of California’s population and few were permitted to vote until well into the twentieth century. In contrast, blacks represented  40% of the Southern population and were granted universal male suffrage in 1868. Even though most of the nation’s lynchings after the Civil War were in the South, California was also notorious for lynching Chinese-Americans. In fact, the biggest mass lynching in American history was in Los Angeles in 1871 when nineteen Chinese-Americans, including one woman, were executed. If Chinese-Americans represented 40% of California’s population and they had the right to vote, it seems likely that the state would have been every bit as racially violent as the South.

Nonetheless, most contemporary Reconstruction historians are too prone to accept the putative righteous explanations for Republican actions as opposed to the real ones. Conversely, they too readily apply sinister interpretations to the actions of Southern Democrats. Foner, for example, laments that the 1866 Georgia legislature appropriated $200,000 to aid “aged and infirm white persons,” including Confederate widows and orphans, while making no allowance for the dependents of deceased Union soldiers or aged and infirm blacks. He failed, however, to disclose four mitigating points.

First, although Georgia didn’t aid the survivors of killed Union soldiers, neither did the Northern states aid the widows and orphans in their states who had husbands and fathers in the Confederate army.

Second, the federal government started paying increasingly generous Union veterans’ pensions in 1862. The former Confederate states individually paid much smaller pensions to Rebel veterans. Moreover, Southern veterans of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) were not granted pensions until Cleveland became president in 1885. Additionally, Southerners had to pay their share of federal taxes needed to fund the Union pensions. The annual Union veteran pension disbursements did not peak until 1921 and trailed off only gradually for years thereafter. Before they became standardized, a study ordered by President Cleveland in 1885 estimated that about one-fourth of the awarded pensions were fraudulent. During the fifty years prior to 1917, the accumulated Union veterans’ pensions totaled over $5 billion, which was more than twice the amount spent by the federal and Northern state governments to fight the war.

Third, the 1866 federal Southern Homestead Act gave freedmen temporary preferential homesteading access to 46 million acres of Southern land. The Republican-dominated Congress, however, declined to provide blacks with preferential access to homesteads outside the South.

Finally, even Foner admits that the 1866 Georgia legislature reasoned that aid to blacks should at least temporarily be the responsibility of the federal government through its much better financed Freedmen’s Bureau, which was targeted chiefly at African-Americans. Emancipation was, after all, a national policy, which justified reliance upon national (i.e., federal) funding sources to pay for the needs of the ex-slaves.

The purpose of this book is to tell the story of Southern Reconstruction by transcending the limitations of a race-centric narrative and to more fully put the account into context with that of the rest of the country. Although racism has been a shameful characteristic and legacy of the era, there is a larger story to be told involving members of all races.

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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 vote 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 perpetrators were white Californians.

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 three hundred 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 Eureka’s whites 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 frightening to imagine the amplification of white violence 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 immigration. Nonetheless, the Republican Party platforms of 1882, 1884, and 1888 also included planks supporting Chinese immigration limits.

The key difference is that the GOP 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