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
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
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
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
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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