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The Confederate Lawyer
November 30, 2011

Rewriting Southern History
Part II: Reconstruction
by Charles G. Mills
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GLEN COVE, NY — Once it was clear that the South was losing the war, Lincoln began to formulate a policy of rebuilding the South on the basis of government by those white Southerners willing to accept the end of slavery and the illegality of secession. President Johnson attempted to implement this policy, although he refined it. Congress never allowed this policy, dissolved the governments Johnson and Lincoln had created, and instituted a new or “Radical” form of Reconstruction in 10 states.

For over a century, historians were in agreement that Radical Reconstruction was a corrupt and vindictive event. Although Reconstruction was placed in the hands of five Northern generals, it took a different form in each of the 10 states. Today’s historians want to simplify this complex period by depicting it entirely as a failed effort by Northern officers to protect the civil rights of blacks from wicked Southerners.

The one common element of Reconstruction throughout the South was that it was all about perpetuating Republican electoral majorities. Without the manipulated votes of the South, it is not clear that Grant would have been elected in 1868 or 1872.

Alabama was the first of the Southern states that Congress deemed reconstructed, but from 1868 to 1872 the Republicans won most, but not all, of the elections. There was a small Republican voting block on its Northeast, but elections were largely controlled by preventing former Confederates from voting, manipulating the votes of illiterate blacks, and placing control of vote counting in the hands of the Northern Army. In 1874, Alabama voted the Republicans out of office.

Arkansas adopted a Reconstruction constitution that denied the vote to former Confederates. The state remained Republican until the vote was restored to this group in 1874; the Republicans were voted out.

Florida was one of four states in which the Northern Army cracked down after the 1874 elections and imposed a military dictatorship disguised as a civilian government. When the 1876 election for governor was disputed, the Florida Supreme Court ruled against the Republicans, ending reconstruction in Florida.

Georgia was deemed reconstructed three times. After the original state government recognized by Johnson was dissolved, the Northern Army hoped that a coalition of Northwestern Georgia Republicans and big-city Republican blacks would rule. The Northwestern Republicans, however, sided with the Democrats and refused to seat the black legislators creating a Democrat majority. A new Reconstruction government was formed, but in 1870 the Democrats won the election and the Northern Army gave up on Georgia.

Louisiana, one of the two most corrupt Reconstruction governments in the South, was one of the four states put under military dictatorship disguised as civilian government in the last days of Reconstruction. Louisiana was the only state ever to have a black governor under Reconstruction, but this was only for a few weeks following the impeachment of the elected governor, Henry C. Warmouth, a white lieutenant colonel in the Northern Army.

Black lieutenant governors, without real power, were common in the South during Reconstruction. One of the last acts of the Reconstruction government occurred when a group of soldiers entered the chamber of the Louisiana legislature, ejected several members, and replaced them with Republicans to ensure a majority. This was possibly the action that most turned the North against Reconstruction. Reconstruction in Louisiana lasted until Hayes was elected president and ended Army interference in politics.

Mississippi represents the clearest example of what was wrong with Reconstruction. It had a black majority, very few of whom were educated. Sensing that the political tide was turning against them in 1873, the Republicans elected General Adelbert Ames from Maine as governor. Like the last Reconstruction governments in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, his power depended entirely on the Northern Army. He had previously served as military governor of Mississippi in 1866. He and his wife made no secret of their hatred of Mississippi.

When the Democrats took over the legislature in 1875, he resigned and returned to the North to avoid impeachment. Although Mississippi’s blacks were among the least educated in the South, a notable exception was Blanche Kelso Bruce, a highly educated former slave freed before the War and a Republican senator from Mississippi. The first anti-Reconstruction senator from Mississippi was Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, a former Confederate General and future Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. For the four years following the end of Reconstruction, the two friends and allies served as Mississippi’s two senators. Contemporary historians often portray the overthrow of Reconstruction in Mississippi as a violent suppression of its black population. This is not true. The two senators worked together to get federal jobs for black Mississippians.

North Carolina ended Republican rule in 1870 but retained one black Republican seat in Congress until 1900.

South Carolina under Reconstruction was so corrupt that if frequently did not keep any records of government expenditures. The members of its black majority legislature once held a debate on wearing shoes in the legislature. In 1874, James Shepherd Pike of Maine published a book about the corrupt South Carolina Reconstruction government called The Prostrate State. This book — along with the highhanded interference by the military with the civilian government in Louisiana — were major causes of the rejection of Reconstruction by Northern public opinion. Sensing that power was slipping away in 1874, the Republicans installed General Daniel Chamberlain from Massachusetts as governor. South Carolina stayed under Reconstruction until Hayes was elected president and ended military interference in South Carolina and Louisiana politics.

The Reconstruction government in Texas disbanded the Texas Rangers and created a partisan state police force. Once the Republicans were finally voted out in 1874, the Texas Rangers were reconstituted.

Virginia resisted agreement with the Northern Army on a Reconstruction Constitution and remained under direct military rule longer than any other Southern state, but the state was spared a rigged Republican government pretending to be fairly elected.

Reconstruction was never really about black rights. It was about Republican congressmen and state governments and especially about Republican votes in presidential elections. That is why the recognition of eight Reconstruction constitutions was rushed through in time to elect Grant in 1868.

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The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2011 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.

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