Part 08: Post Civil War/Reconstruction

Part Eight: Post Civil War/Reconstruction

As the Civil War came to an end people north and south became concerned about "what to do with the Negro." Some went so far as to predict his extinction. Others, notably President Lincoln, saw colonization in Africa as the solution. However, this notion was highly contested, especially by Frederick Douglass who felt that most of these Negroes were born in America and therefore entitled to be a part of it. The planters sought to continue to exploit their labor, rationalizing that they were dumb, lazy, inclined toward crime and loose living, etc. Besides finding the Negro unacceptable as free men, neighbors and citizens, uneducable and uncivilizable, the planters feared the emergence of an educated Black vote as the worst of all evils.

In the year 1865, three significant events happened:

April 9th, Lee surrendered at Appomattox;
Lincoln was assassinated five later by John Wilkes Booth, elevating Andrew Johnson to the presidency;
And the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery was ratified in December.
In his early days (before the presidency) Johnson was a champion for labor (white) and the poor and demanded punishment for the planter, who by slavery prevented his cause. Now, the Blacks were free, but Johnson just could not conceive of them as MEN. Upon becoming president and realizing that the things that he had been advocating for would mostly benefit Blacks, his positions began to change. Johnson succumbed to his prejudices and became more and more aligned with the planters and their desire to restore slavery under a different name.

The poor whites of the South followed the course laid out by their champion, Andrew Johnson; "and although ignorant and impoverished, maimed and discouraged, victims of a war fought largely by the poor whites for the benefit of the rich planter, they sought redress by demanding unity of white against Black, and not unity of poor against rich, or of worker against exploiter."

"Right here had lain the seat of the trouble the war. All the regular and profitable jobs went to the Negroes, and the poor whites were excluded. It seemed after the war immaterial to the poor white that profit from the exploitation of Black labor continued to go to the planter. He regarded the process as the exploitation of Black folk by white, not of labor by capital. When, then, he faced the possibility of being himself compelled to compete with a Negro wage worker, while both were the hirelings of a white planter, his whole soul revolted. He turned, therefore, from war service to guerrilla warfare, particularly against Negroes. He joined eagerly secret organizations, like the Ku Klux Klan, which fed his vanity by making him co-worker with the white planter, and gave him a chance to maintain his race superiority by killing and intimidating 'niggers'; and even in secret forays of his own, he could drive away the planter's Black help, leaving the land open to white labor. Or he could murder too successful freedmen."

To make these revelations clearer, let us recall that as the tide of the war swung toward the North, and as territory came under the North's control, military rule was set up. What to do with the emancipated Blacks became a major concern. Some thoughts were as follows:

Lincoln; colonization in Africa,
Sojourner Truth; transplantation in the West,
Douglass; leave them where they are.
To deal with this problem the Freedman's Bureau was proposed. It was Sen. Charles Sumner, who chaired the committee that shaped the bill, "to take the form of great measure of social uplift and reform," and pressed for its passage on March 3, 1965.

"Lincoln assigned Gen. O. O. Howard to head the bureau and administer its tasks, which were: to make as rapidly as possible a general survey of conditions and needs in every state and locality; to relieve immediate hunger ad distress; to appoint state commissioners and upwards of 900 bureau officials; to put the laborers to work at regular wage; to transport laborers, teachers, and officials; to furnish land for the peasant; to open schools; to pay bounties to Black soldiers and their families; to establish hospitals and guard health; to administer justice between man and former master; to answer continuous and persistent criticism, north and south, Black and white; to find funds to pay for all this."

The abolitionist movements in the North including churches and philanthropic organizations "began the systematic teachings of Negroes and poor whites." They instituted day, night, and industrial schools, Sunday schools and colleges. They began the training of Black teachers. Most of the present Black colleges, like Howard (named after the general and bureau head), Fisk (named after Gen. Fisk), and Atlanta, were "founded or substantially aided in their earliest days by the Freedman's Bureau." The hospitals and medical care made tremendous inroads into the Black death rate.

In addition to this several banks had been established for Blacks: Gen. Banks established one in New Orleans in 11864; Gen. Butler and Gen. Saxton established several in South Carolina. As a result of these beginnings, Lincoln signed the law on March 3rd to incorporate the Freemen's Savings and Trust Company (Freedman's Bank). The thrift of the Blacks astonished the whites both north and south. For the ex-slaves' bank had total deposits at one time of 57 million dollars. At first these savings were protected by provisions declaring that investments be made in government securities. But an amendment was passed in Congress in 1870, which allowed half the holdings invested in United States Bonds to be invested in other "notes and bonds secured by real estate mortgages." The Freedmen's savings were then loaned recklessly to speculators, ultimately leading to the bank's decline. (An effort was made to dump this mess on Douglass as a representative of the Black man.)

When the slaves were made legally free (by the Thirteenth Amendment), the planters and ex-slave owners were bent on the continued exploitation of Black labor. To accomplish these ends they immediately set out to enact a set of laws designed to virtually re-enslave the Blacks. Laws against vagrancy allowed Blacks in violation of such laws to be arrested and worked on county "prison farms" or have their labor hired out to land owners with the county or sheriff keeping the money. Labor contracts were legalized and when a Black left his job to search for a better one he could be arrested for vagrancy. Laws of this nature became known as the infamous "Black Codes."

When the abolitionists of the North became aware of these carryings on they began to press for intervention on behalf of the Blacks, offering the argument that they had been loyal to the Union and it was their fighting and contributions that helped preserve it. These considerations were important factors, also, in the establishing of the Freedman's Bureau.

Meanwhile in the North:

"During the war, business prospered… inflated currency increased and favored business profits… it decreased real wages and the income of the farmers. Wealth became concentrated among the manufacturers, merchants, and the financiers and the speculators. There was, consequently, a large accumulation of capital for investment in new business enterprises; industrial development hastened. Inventions and technical improvements increased. Plants became larger and more efficient; steel manufacture became the basis of modern industry and developed rapidly because of demands of war. The metal industry, thus expanded, turned to the production of peace goods."

"The freeing of the nation from the strangling hands of oligarchy in the South freed not only Black men but white men, not only human spirit, but business enterprise all over the land… Quite naturally, and logically, under the stress of war, national and local taxes rose and rose and rose yet again, forcing the whole community and the nation to pay for things formerly paid for by individuals. First, necessary money was provided for by taxing imports; then, to encourage local manufacturers of goods that must be had for war; thus by imperceptible transition, that must be had for war; thus by imperceptible transition, the nation was taxed to support manufacturers." The South, at first, forced the tariff down until in 1857 there was practically free trade. But during the war, since the tariff was the easiest way to raise money, it rose higher and higher until industry had a virtual monopoly. All of this was fostered by the new national spirit whose slogan was "America for the Americans."

As the war dwindled to a close, "the new organized industry of the North was not only triumphant in the North but began pressing in upon the South; its advance guard was represented by those small Northern capitalists and officeholders," dubbed carpetbaggers, "who sought to make quick money in raising cotton and taking advantage of the low priced labor and high cotton prices due to the war famine." The planters and landowners did not take too kindly to this intrusion on their territory, as they wanted to recoup as much of their losses as possible. Hence, they began a campaign of slander against the carpetbaggers. This campaign was at one time to include every northerner who defended the Blacks or was connected with the Freedman's Bureau, Black schools, or who advocated his right to vote, or defended him in any way. It was their general belief that carpetbaggers were liars, jailbirds, criminals, and thieves. However, in time, their feelings and pronouncements became more moderate as they realized that there were "a few" decent people among them.

Among the planters, the masses, and the more intelligent of the poor whites were leaders who wanted political combination and economic alliance with Blacks. These persons were called "scalawags" and they sought a democracy across racial lines and wanted to organize labor against capitalists and landowners.

The planters strove for political control of Blacks to secure their economic interest. The poor whites feared this action. The carpetbaggers offered the Blacks the right to vote and to hold office as well as some economic freedom. This economic freedom meant land holding and higher wages for the Blacks that came into conflict with the schemes of the planters. So, With the planter alienated the Blacks, carpetbaggers, and scalawags combined to form a coalition that would exclude the poor whites unless they make common cause with the Blacks; which they did.

The interplay of all of these activities produced several events in a two to three year span. In order to point them out as well as tie it all together we recall: That during slavery, slaves were counted as either "three-fifths" or a "whole man." Thus, the South was given representation in Congress; and since the slave-owner cast the slaves' vote he had additional power both locally and nationally. This is how the South had enough political power to force down the tariffs. But after the war, emancipation and the Thirteenth Amendment (abolishing slavery), since the Blacks did not vote, questions arose about the South's representation.

To deal with the problem of representation and apportionment, the "committee of Fifteen" with Thaddeus Stevens as its chairman was set up. It was this committee, with the relentless pressure of Charles Sumner and the abolitionists, that produced the Civil Right Bill (passed over Johnson's veto on March 14, 1866) giving the Blacks United States citizenship. And produced the bill, which in June of 1966, became the Fourteenth Amendment. Which made the Blacks citizens and based representation and apportionment on the whole number of citizens who are eligible and not denied the opportunity to vote. Its ratification was made a condition for the southern states' restoration to the Union.

It was now left up to the states to ratify the amendment. The South wanted to count the Negro population, but it did not want the Negro to vote. Consequently, southern states refused to ratify it.

The North viewed the South as being in shambles. They were afraid that democracy as well as industry would not be allowed to flourish there. As martial law had already been set up as a result of the North conquering southern territory, it was expedient to prolong this military rule. Hence, the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 were passed. These Acts divided the South into military districts each having a commanding officer, under the jurisdiction of the President, to govern them; and re-admitted the southern states into the Union. When the bill passed over Johnson's veto, he resorted to executive action that would nullify it. This is what eventually led to the attempt to impeach him in 1868. (Remark: Congress could always override a veto, but to deal with executive action, other steps had to be taken.)

The carpetbaggers, who were aligned with northern industry through business interest and the scalawags, were beginning to make their presence felt much to the dismay of the southern planters and landowners. If the Blacks are not allowed to vote, they cannot be counted or have representation nationally. This would mean the North would control the national government, but the South would control local southern governments. Since the latter perceivably would stifle business prospects, the North, industry, and big business would be uncomfortable with it. If the Blacks were given the ballot they would be expected to align themselves with the scalawags and carpetbaggers, which was in the best interest of the northern factions. With the abolitionists pressing hard for Black suffrage, a coalition evolved, containing both of these groups, known as the "abolition democracy." The result of all of this was that in 1869 their representatives in congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment (ratified in 1970) giving the Blacks the vote.

After the war's end, wholesale violence broke out against the Blacks. The masses of poor whites as Ku Klux Klansmen et. al. threatened Black voters and laborers. In order to suppress southern violence and destroy conspiracies against the Fourteen and Fifteenth Amendments, President Grant requested military aid. As a result the Ku Klux Klan Enforcement Act of April 20, 1871 was passed.

When the poor whites saw the Blacks with the ballot, backed by northern industry and power, they "began to conceive of an economic solidarity between the white and Black workers." For with the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Reconstruction Acts in 1966 and 1867, respectively, the Blacks' use of the ballot from 1868 "aroused the property holders to a frenzy of protest. But it also attracted certain elements of white labor, and bade fair, with reform and efficiency, to build a southern labor party."

During the period of 1868 to 1876 the Black man's vote, selection of candidates, action in convention and early legislatures, was, "on the whole, sane, thoughtful and sincere." A public school system was established in the South where there was none before. (And due Black demand, it was void of racial discrimination.) The ballot-box and jury box was opened to thousands of men, Black, and white, who had formerly been barred from them due to lack of earthly possessions. Home rule in the South was instituted. Barbarous forms of punishment (whipping-post, branding, etc.) were abolished. Appropriations were made for public works. And "no man's rights of person were invaded under the forms of laws."

Even in view of all this, the southerners thought that Blacks would not work as a free laborer. But he did. And slowly but surely the tremendous losses of the war were restored. By 1870, the cotton kingdom was re-established. And by 1875, it was clear that with cheap labor, free from government control, it was possible for individuals to acquire large profits from the old agriculture and new industry.

In the North, after the war, there were new supplies of raw material, a vast organization for production, a growing land and water transportation system, and a new technical knowledge. These things combined with the industrial monopoly achieved through the tariffs and immigration of laborers greatly stimulated the economy.

The scramble that broke out for the control of this new power, wealth, and income was characterized by graft, bribery, patronage—in short, wholesale corruption. William N. "Boss" Tweed became a New York state senator in 1868 and his candidates became mayor and governor. Tweed became the director of several great corporations. And through bribes in the legislature and grafts in city business, he and his cohorts stole somewhere around $75,000,000.

This disgrace was national. It embraced all sections, classes and races. In 1873 financial panic broke out and evolved into a five-year depression.


Hence, the reform movement of reconstruction was being undermined. "Race repulsion, race hate, and race pride were increased by every subtle method, until the Negro and his friends were on the defensive and the Negro himself almost convinced of his own guilt. … The South resorted to brute force (e.g. KKK) and deliberate deception in dealing with the Negro…"

Meanwhile, abolitionists had been pushing for Black civil rights, such as public accommodations, in the North as well as the South. But this renewed attack on the Blacks in the South accelerated their efforts. It was Charles Sumner, steadfast, true, and dedicated to his convictions to his dying day who pushed for the passage of the civil rights bill, which he had worked on. In march of 1874, with three Blacks, including Frederick Douglass, beside his death bed he thrice, hoarsely, and earnestly urged: "You must take care of the civil rights bill—my bill, the civil rights bill—don't let it fail!"

"The temporary dictatorship as represented by the Freedman's Bureau was practically ended by 1870. This led to an increase of violence on the part of the Ku Klux Klan to subject Black labor to strict domination by capital and to break Negro political power. The outbreak brought a temporary return of military dictatorship, but the return was unpopular in the North and aroused bitter protest in the South."

The presidential election of 1876 was a close one. "The whole nation waited on the outcome in Louisiana which would settle the outcome." For the "Klansmen" like activities and corruption in Louisiana ran rampant, so much so as to throw the election into shambles. As a result, Louisiana ended up with two sets of election returns. President Grant had to resort to the use of federal troops to keep the peace.

"The white folk of Louisiana with threat of civil war entered into negotiations with the President and President-elect and arranged a filibuster of 116 Congressmen to prevent counting the electoral vote." Rutherford B. Hayes and his party "promised to work for the 'material prosperity' of the South and allay sectional feeling." The legislature "solemnly agreed not to deprive the Negro of any political and civil rights. … Finally, the filibuster was dropped. …" When the votes were counted, Hayes became president. Later the federal troops were withdrawn "and Louisiana was free for a new period of unhampered exploitation of the working classes." "Labor control passed into the hands of white Southerners, who combined to out northern capitalists." First in Louisiana, then Mississippi, and finally in South Carolina.

By 1877 the Reconstruction era had ended.

Principle Reference: Black Reconstruction in America 1860–1880 by W.E.B. DuBois

Other References:

Negro Almanac
The New York Times Encyclopedia Almanac
All quotes are from Black Reconstruction.