ADVANCED PLACEMENT UNITED STATES HISTORY
The New South

*Life under Reconstruction was not easy for anyone.  Blacks had a measure of freedom, although it had been slow in coming thanks to disputes within Congress and between Congress and the President and the South.  The XIV Amendment was meant to put Blacks in the same position as women—they were to be citizens but not be guaranteed the franchise by the Federal Government.  However, this was partly a compromise to satisfy moderate Republicans and the few Democrats in Congress.  The Radicals wanted to give the vote to blacks, at least in the South.  They would do this, moreover, while preventing thousands of white Southerners from voting, due to their Confederate service records.

*With the army to protect them, black men in the South voted in great numbers.  They joined the Union League, a political organization based in the North but that soon helped Southern blacks learn to vote and to campaign for offices or on behalf of their favourite office-seekers.  Even black women assisted in campaigns, often doing important work despite not being able to vote.

*With Black votes behind them, Black Southerners went to the conventions that created new state Constitutions and they were elected to local, state, and even federal offices.  Between 1868 and 1876, 14 black Congressmen and 2 Senators (Hiram Revels and Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi) were sent to Washington from the South.

*Reconstructed governments did initiate many valuable reforms, some of which were kept around by the Redeemer governments that replaced them.  Among these were public schools, simpler tax systems, and new public works (although these often ended up putting Southern states deep in debt to carpetbaggers—in Tennessee, for example, Governor Brownlow issued far more bonds than the state could afford).  Women also got a few more rights, mainly the right to control their own property.

*Southerners cursed the Yankees who came South to take part in Reconstruction and the new governments, calling these people carpetbaggers, suggesting that they were poor, no-account people at home who carried everything around in a cheap suitcase made of carpet scraps.  The only thing worse than a carpetbagger was a scalawag, a Southerner who became a Republican after the Civil War.  Most of these men had been Whigs and Unionists before and during the war, but some were former Democrats who changed parties when it became obvious who was running the show.

*The stereotype of these scalawags and carpetbaggers was that they were corrupt, opportunistic profit-seekers out to take advantage of the defeated South under a corrupt government.  In some cases that was true—the 19th Century after the Civil War was characterized by government corruption at almost all levels.  However, many were simply businessmen and even reformers who wanted to modernise the South, although many were, of course, not averse to making some money on the deal. 

*Some, of course, did treat Reconstruction as a period of imperial rule, which is why no West Virginian owns the mineral rights on his own lands.  Indeed, some historians have described the South as an ‘internal colony’ in which it could be exploited for raw materials in the same way that Europeans of the 19th Century exploited their colonies overseas. 

*Others did skim liberally from public funds, accept bribes, and use government money for private purchases, especially in South Carolina and Louisiana.  One carpetbagger governor with an $8,000 annual salary managed to make $100,000 in one year through graft.  However, this kind of corruption was common in all the United States, and generally even worse in the North, where there was more to steal.

*Former slave-owners are incensed to see their former slaves running their states, especially when they could not vote or hold office themselves.  They resented being a conquered people prevented from even voting by an occupying army that seized property and bullied former rebels into obedience.

*To fight back, Southerners formed resistance organizations.  On Christmas Eve, 1865 the Ku Klux Klan was formed in Pulaski County, Tennessee.  The name came from the Greek 'kyklos,' meaning 'circle.'  Their first Grand Wizard was General Nathan Bedford Forrest, infamous for his role in the Fort Pillow Massacre.   They soon began playing tricks on black people in order to frighten them out of voting or taking a large role in public life or otherwise ‘getting above themselves.’  To do so, they wore bed sheets so they would resemble ghosts or spooks or something.  Early tricks were as simple as pretending to drink an entire bucket of water or claiming to be the ghost of a Confederate soldier.  To the superstitious Blacks (and even poor Whites) of the day, this could be very frightening.  Many Blacks and carpetbaggers got the message and quit going out to vote or left town.

*Soon, though, pranks were not enough, and the Knights of the Invisible Empire turned to outright violence and terror.  The Ku Klux Klan attacked freedmen, carpetbaggers, and scalawags in order to scare them away from things the Klan did not want them doing, especially voting or holding public office, but even to keep Black from buying their own property, especially in towns near White people.  Enemies of the Klan were harassed, kidnapped, and often murdered.  1,000 Louisianans alone were supposedly killed by the Klan in 1868, and 300 Republicans were killed across the South, including a Congressman.

*Congress was outraged by the Klan’s activities.  In 1870 and 1871 Congress passed the Force Acts, which, despite the ruling in ex parte Milligan, gave the US Army tremendous power to use against anyone suspected of participating in violence through the Klan or any similar group.  Under the president at that time, Ulysses S. Grant, the Army was very active in suppressing the Klan under these laws. 

*However, many of these groups just went underground, claiming to be dancing clubs or missionary societies.  Besides, they had already done their work.  Afraid to vote or seek office, many Blacks were in much the same position they had been in before military reconstruction began.  This power, now back in the hands of white Southerners, would be used to flout the XIV and XV Amendments throughout the 19th and well into the 20th Centuries.  Afterwards, the Klan would be romanticised as a freedom-fighting organisation that saved the South from oppression by carpetbaggers and their black allies.  The most famous instance of this was the 1915 movie Birth of a Nation.  That film would be one of many forces that would bring the Klan back to prominence in the 1910s and ‘20s.

*Congress had problems besides the Klan.  The Radicals were increasingly frustrated by that drunken tailor Johnson.  The Radicals had an ally in the executive branch, though.  Secretary of War Stanton was on their side and often told them what Johnson was up to, essentially serving as a spy against the president on behalf of Congress.  This angered Johnson almost as much as Johnson angered Congress.  Furthermore, it gave Congress an idea for a pretext for impeachment.  Impeachment would benefit Congress because then the president pro tempore of the Senate (according to the custom of the day) would become President.  The present president pro tem was the controversial, but certainly Republican, ‘Bluff’ Ben Wade of Ohio.

*In 1867 Congress declared that since the Senate had to confirm all Cabinet appointments, that also meant that the Senate had to confirm any removal from office of any Cabinet member during a president’s term.  This was called the Tenure of Office Act.  Congress knew Johnson, who badly wanted to fire Stanton, was likely to break this, and they turned out to be right.

*On 5 August, 1867 Johnson requested Stanton’s resignation.  Stanton refused and the Senate backed him up.  Stanton barricaded himself in his office, even after Johnson named General Grant as his replacement.  Grant eventually turned the job down to show support for Stanton.

*This gave Congress what they needed.  For violating the Tenure of Office Act Johnson was impeached by the House of Representatives.  During the Senate trial, however, Johnson behaved himself, was quiet, sober, and conciliatory, when he even appeared in the Senate chamber at all.  His defence suggested that the law was unconstitutional (and the Supreme Court would officially say so in 1926, but in the 1860s was too scared of the Radical Republicans to challenge them much, and its Chief Justice, Salmon P. Chase was pretty radical himself).

*The prosecutors had a fairly flimsy case, and Johnson was acquitted, although only by one vote.  This was partly because many Republicans did not trust Ben Wade, whom they regarded as a dangerous radical because he supported paper money, the labour movement, and a very high tariff, most of which scared the business community.  Others simply felt the charges were not substantial enough:  Johnson was certainly obnoxious, but that alone is neither a high crime nor a misdemeanour.  Other Congressmen were nervous about setting a precedent that would weaken the executive office too much.  Besides, Johnson would be out of office a few months after the end of the trial in 1868, so there was no great need to remove him a few months early.  It is possible that the entire trial was rigged to yield this dramatic outcome for the sole purpose of breaking Johnson’s remaining power and prestige, and to show him just who was in charge. 

*Indeed, Congress would remain the most important part of the government for the rest of the century. The Third Two-Party System, which was beginning to develop and which would last until about 1900, would be characterised by relatively weak presidents (almost all of them Republicans elected by Union veterans) facing a more powerful Congress (often controlled by a slim majority of Democrats, at least in the House, and with the support of the entire South behind them, as no Southerner would ever vote for the Party of Lincoln).  Although voter turnout was very high, the differences between the two parties were fairly trivial and few great policies were enacted.

*Even one of the few triumphs of Johnson’s presidency was seen as a great mistake at the time.  This was Seward’s purchase of Alaska in 1867 from the Tsar of Russia, Alexander II, who wanted America as an ally to counterbalance Britain.  Seward got all of Alaska for $7.2 million.  It was seen as useless and a waste of money at the time and was called ‘Seward’s Icebox’ and ‘Seward’s Folly,’ and political cartoons showed all the polar bears voting Republican, but Alaska has since proven to be very valuable.

*After leaving office, Andrew Johnson returned to Greeneville and to Tennessee politics, and after a couple failed attempts at election, was returned to the Senate in 1875, the only former president to serve in the Senate, although he only served six months before dying of a stroke while visiting his daughter in Elizabethton.  He was buried wrapped in an American flag with a copy of the Constitution for a pillow.

*One irony of the creation of new state constitutions by Black legislators and Yankee carpetbaggers is that once the Southern states were back in the Union and the white population could vote again, those Black men and carpetbaggers would lose most of their powers under the Redeemer governments of states that got through Reconstruction and set up new, usually anti-Black and anti-Northern governments. 

*These Redeemer or Home-Rule governments had to be careful not to re-create de facto segregation too quickly, as they could be re-occupied, and some were.  Southern governments remained volatile, but they began to run themselves as soon as they could, and by 1870 most Southern states were back in the Union, although they would still need watching if the North wanted to look after the freed slaves.

*In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes, Republican Governor of Ohio ran against Samuel Tilden, Democratic Governor of New York, for the presidency.  Hayes was a Civil War veteran, a fact his supporters mentioned often, thus ‘waving the bloody shirt.’  Tilden was more popular, however, and won a slight majority of the popular vote.

*In the Electoral College, however, things were closer.  Several states--Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Oregon--had one or more of their electoral votes questioned, so that twenty votes were unallocated at the end of 1876.  The election was close—if Tilden got even one of the disputed votes, or if Hayes got them all, that man would win.

*Tilden probably should have won, but the Democrats were afraid to complain too loudly, because they feared (unjustifiably) that Grant would set himself up as military dictator if pushed too far.  Republicans were upset, but some were willing to let Tilden in.  Some Blacks were supposedly afraid that if Tilden did win, slavery would be re-established.  It was a very tense situation.

*Congress had to decide what to do, so they set up a special committee.  The committee had 7 Democrats, 7 Republicans, and one honest man.  However, at the last minute, the neutral man, David Davis of the Supreme Court, was appointed to the Senate and resigned his judgeship.  He was replaced by a Republican.  Not surprisingly, the commission voted 8 to 7 in favour of Hayes.

*The Democrats were furious.  However, rather than have a constitutional crisis, a bargain was reached:  the Compromise of 1877.  Tilden would let Hayes take office without complaint, but in return Reconstruction would end in the South, and some money would be spent to improve the Southern states in ways they wanted.

*By this point almost every Southern state was part of the Union again, but as government scrutiny declined the South returned to its old ways.  The Black Codes were replaced by Jim Crow Laws, civil rights were ignored, and Black suffrage was limited.  Furthermore, the North and especially the South would remain bitter about the war for generations to come.

*After the devastation of the Civil War and Reconstruction, many Southern leaders felt they needed to change how the South did business.  They wanted to move away from growing staple crops, and industrialise as the North and Europe had.  They said they needed to become ‘Southern Yankees’ and create a New South.

*In some places this happened, although it was usually funded by Northern (and sometimes British) investors, so a lot of the real profits did not stay in the South.

*Some industries seemed natural for the South:  textile mills opened in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia; cigar factories opened in Virginia and North Carolina.  A large timber industry developed in the Appalachians (especially North Carolina) and iron and steel manufacturing expanded in Nashville and especially Birmingham.  Tennessee, especially Middle Tennessee, also produced a great deal of flour.  A lot of their products, though, were sent North (planks went North to become furniture, cloth went North to be dyed and made into clothes, iron and steel went north to be made into beams, machines, and tools).

*Many more railroads were also built, particularly leading to and from major cities such as New Orleans, Charleston, Montgomery, Mobile, and elsewhere, but they were still slow to enter rural areas and only a few linked the South to major Northern cities.  Later, Atlanta, Dallas, and Nashville also grew into railroad hubs, and the Louisville and Nashville Railroad had a near-monopoly on rail transit in much of the central South.

*The Southern economy did grow, but slowly, largely because there were not enough educated workers, nor did Southerners have enough money to spend or to invest to really help industry grow.  Northern industry had grown in part because of the conspicuous consumption or a growing middle class, but the South could not afford that.

*Because business owners had limited funds, and Southern banks did not have much to lend, Southern factories could not grow as large or offer the same wages as Northern businesses, so southerners who wanted to work in factories often went north to work for better wages there.  In the South, workers might earn 6 cents to 50 cents a day, while the standard daily wage in the North was $1, and railroad workers might make $1.75 to $2, and some jobs even paid more.

*In many ways, therefore, the New South looked a lot like the Old South.  Most people were still farmers, even though many people, white and black, could not afford to buy land.  Unable to afford land, or often even the supplies needed to farm it, blacks and poor whites had to find other things to do or other ways to get the means to farm.

*Sharecroppers and tenant farmers were encouraged to grow only cash crops on their plots, so they could give a better crop to their landlord of have the money to pay their rent.  This meant that the South quickly regained its cotton production and soon exceeded pre-War levels.  However, farmers often stopped growing enough food to feed their families, and had to buy it elsewhere.  Eventually the South, the most rural part of the country, had to import food.

*These systems inadvertently (or sometimes intentionally) created vicious cycles of debt for whites and blacks. At the beginning of the year, sharecroppers and tenant farmers had to buy their seeds and other supplies, but they typically had to borrow money to do so, either from the bank, their landlord, or the local merchant, a class that grew richer and richer during this time.  Likewise, farmers often borrowed money to buy food, clothes, or supplies during the year.  When the crop was finally sold, the proceeds went to pay off this debt.  The next year, more money was borrowed to start planting again.  If crops failed one year, it might be difficult to pay off the debt, and the land and property would be seized by creditors. 

*Furthermore, the price of cotton fell badly after the end of the Civil War, making it even harder for small farmers to get out of debt or large landowners to spare money to invest in businesses.

*Just as Northern workers created Labour Unions, some Southerners created the Farmers Alliance—many chapters even included Black members, as some poor farmers came to feel they were more alike due to their economic status than they were different due to their race.  It demanded that the government force railroads to ship agricultural products cheaply.  It also wanted the government to regulate interest rates so that it would be easier to repay loans.

*Indeed, repaying loans became a major political issue in parts of the South.  In many Southern states, railroads (and some other public works) had been funded by issuing bonds, but as many of the early railroads had gone bust, states were still paying interest on loans that had ended up being wasted.  Many of the bonds had been sold on by the initial beneficiaries (who were often corrupt or sometimes just incompetent), and ended up in the hands of legitimate businessmen—although many of them were Yankees, British, or other foreigners.

*Paying these bonds back was expensive and unpopular, and some Southern governments wanted to repudiate their debts in whole or in part, but others felt this would make it impossible for the states or business leaders there to borrow again, and said the bonds needed to be redeemed at face value.  Supporters of redemption were typically supporters of the New South.

*Southerners escaping Reconstruction described their new state governments as Redeemed governments, and the Democratic politicians who led the opposition to Reconstruction and its legacy were also called Redeemers.  However, for some people in the South, the end of Reconstruction was not a redemption at all.

*The end of Reconstruction meant that the US Army was no longer in the South to protect the rights of African-Americans.  The XIII, XIV, and XV Amendments had ended slavery, established civil rights, and granted Black suffrage.  The Freedmen’s Bureau had also built schools and provided legal services to African-Americans.  Once they were gone, Southern states began to create black codes.

*Black codes contained oppressive provisions that included curfews (to keep Blacks from gathering together after sunset), vagrancy laws (which let vagrants (Blacks who did not work) be whipped, fined, or sentenced to a year’s labour and sold to a white man under a contract), labour contracts (obliging blacks to sign year-long contracts for which they were often paid at the end of the year so they could not quit), and land restrictions (allowing blacks to own or rent property only in rural areas, which essentially forced them to live on plantations).  Blacks could not vote, marry white people, own firearms, or exercise many other rights white people enjoyed.

*In one of the most important rights they were denied, African-Americans were kept from voting through literacy tests (which required voters to read, but gave much harder tests to blacks than whites, grandfather clauses (which only let people vote if their ancestors had voted before 1866), and poll taxes (which kept poor people from voting).  Although the Ku Klux Klan vanished in the 1870s, terror and violence also kept blacks from voting.

*Eventually, leasing out convict labour came to an end in parts of the South, including in Tennessee.  It happened in Tennessee in the Coal Creek Miner’s Wars.

*In 1891, a mining company in Briceville (in East Tennessee) brought in convict labour to break a strike.  This started the Coal Miners’ War.  Three hundred coal miners from around Anderson County surrounded the convicts’ stockade and forced their guards to surrender.  The prisoners and their guards were shipped back to Knoxville.

*Governor Buchanan and the state militia marched the convicts back to work.  The miners sent them back to Knoxville again, and then started going around the county breaking up other convict camps.

*The governor sent in 600 militiamen.  The miners refused to stand down until they were promised that the convicts’ lease would be repealed by the state legislature.  Instead, the legislature made it illegal to interfere with convict labour at all.

*From 1891 to 1893 the miners struck back, freeing convicts, burning their stockades, and fighting with the state militia.  It was estimated that although the state made $50,000-$75,000 a year from the convicts’ lease, it spent about $200,000 on the militia.  Furthermore, most Tennesseans sympathised with the miners.  Demonstrations were held across the state, and money was sent to the miners.

*Finally, in 1893, the state agreed that while the existing convict leases would be allowed to run their course, none would be renewed and no new ones would issued.

*Some African-Americans sued for their rights, but usually lost their cases.  One of the most important was the Supreme Court case of Plessy v Ferguson in 1896, in which it was decided that it was acceptable to force Homer Plessy to ride in a railroad car for blacks only, because that railroad car was (supposedly) as good as the ones whites rode in.  This established the precedent of ‘separate but equal’—as long as blacks got accommodations as good as those whites got, it was all right for them to be segregated.  In fact, the separate facilities were almost never equal.

This page last updated 28 September, 2020.
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