Their former slaves, however, thought they had seen the ghosts of dead Confederate soldiers. The next week, the agitation that had been stirred among their former slaves by political opportunists from the North was considerably reduced. The six young members of the Ku Klux Klan now realized they had a powerful psychological tool to curtail the violence and outrages being suffered by Southern families. The KKK could be a protective organization for beleaguered Southern whites as well as their black friends.
The original founders had strict character standards for membership. They wanted men of principle and reliability. They placed a high emphasis on the ideals of chivalry, patriotism, and respect for the Constitution and legitimate law. They sought to protect the weak and defenseless, especially Confederate widows and their children, and to relieve the injured and oppressed. This included relief from the oppressive and hated cotton taxes. Initiates pledged total abstinence from alcohol as long as they were members. They also pledged never to reveal that they were a member of the KKK or to reveal the names of any other members. They were not anti-black, but they were white supremacists. This advocacy of white supremacy must be seen in historical perspective to be fully understood. Living under a black dominated society was an intolerable prospect to them, but this prospect was constantly threatened by federal authorities, the Union League, and carpetbagger demagogues appealing for black Republican votes.
White supremacy was not a political idea that was confined to the South. In fact, Southern white supremacy retained a paternalistic view of blacks, whereas the equally prevalent white supremacy of the North was simply anti-black. Most Northern states did not want blacks within their borders, and Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Oregon had strict laws to enforce this bias.
Lincoln’s attitude toward blacks was very typical of Northern whites, and he sometimes appealed to this sentiment in his political speeches. Lincoln was personally against slavery, but not at the cost of breaking up the country. Originally, before using emancipation as a military strategy, Lincoln favored a gradual, slave-owner compensated emancipation of African slaves, but favored their removal to Central America, the Caribbean, or back to Africa. Lincoln’s thinking was prevalent in the North. Before the war, Massachusetts was the only state in which blacks were allowed to be jurors. Even after Radical Reconstruction disenfranchised whites and enfranchised blacks in the South in 1867, voters in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and Kansas refused to extend the franchise to blacks.
The situation in Tennessee was aggravated by its Radical Republican Governor, William P. Brownlow. Brownlow forced through the puppet Legislature a bill disenfranchising Confederate veterans in June of 1865, a full twenty-one months before such a measure was taken in ten other Southern states. Brownlow also provoked fear in Tennessee and the whole South with public pronouncements such as this:
“If I had the power I would arm…every negro in the South, every devil in Hell, clothe them in the uniform of the Federal Army and then turn them loose on the rebels of the South and exterminate every man, woman, and child, south of the Mason and Dixon line.”
Brownlow also said this to a New York audience:
“I would like to see Negro troops under Ben Butler [former Union general and Radical Massachusetts Republican Congressman] crowd every rebel into the Gulf of Mexico, and drown them as the devil did the hogs in the Sea of Galilee.”
Brownlow disbanded the regular Tennessee Militia and replaced it with a force of black Union Army veterans and white bushwhackers to intimidate political opposition and resistance to his corrupt and tyrannical government. Thus Southern white supremacy was bolstered by constant threats of black supremacy and even wholesale white annihilation.
From Pulaski, Tennessee, the Klan spread to nearby Athens, Alabama, the scene of Union pillaging during the war. Still under the guidance of its original founders, it continued to spread, and its dens began to take on the role of Regulators protecting the people from abuse by the Union League and racketeering U.S. Treasury agents. In response to Union League murders and outrages, they also began to engage in retributive guerilla warfare.
By May of 1867, the Klan’s numbers and role had grown so large that the founders decided that a leader of national prominence was needed. Although this has never been proven, it is said that key Klan leaders met one evening right under the nose of the Union Army at the Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville and chose famed Confederate cavalry general, Nathan Bedford Forrest of Memphis, as their leader. In reality, Forest may never have attended a single traditional Klan meeting anywhere. Yet he seemed to know a lot about them and sometimes used his reputation as a national Klan leader for political leverage or bluff in Southern politics. Forrest’s success as a cavalry leader had often used the art of bluff to confuse and intimidate opposing military forces. The “Invisable Empire” of the KKK thus advanced as a champion of the Southern people against the tyrannies of Reconstruction and Union League violence. But the KKK would soon face a serious control problem. They did not have an enforceable patent on wearing white sheets. They had several imitators, including the Union League.
It is essential to understand that the Ku Klux Klan of the Reconstruction years of 1865 to 1877 has absolutely no connection to the various organizations calling themselves the Ku Klux Klan in the twentieth or present century. Nor is it likely that many of the original Klan members would be less than outraged by the indignities and atrocities committed by groups calling themselves the KKK beginning about 1915. The original Klan of the Reconstruction years arose in response to Federal tyranny against which the Southern people were allowed neither political nor legal recourse. Armed defensive measures and resistance were made inevitable and often necessary for the protection of their property, livelihoods, lives, and dignity. They were especially concerned for the safety and dignity of their wives and children. The Klan can reasonably be credited with a significant role in breaking the back of Reconstruction and with it Radical Republican power and tyranny in the South. It could even be argued that they hastened the demise of Radical Republican hegemony in the North. A major problem the Klan faced during Reconstruction was keeping its subdivisions under disciplined control. Moreover, despite the severe injustices imposed upon the Southern people during Reconstruction, attempting to administer regulatory justice through secret organizations is in itself problematic.
In addition, there was the problem of imitation by imprudent or rogue “allies” and by outright enemies such as the Union League. Operating in disguise is a tactic anyone can imitate or use as a false flag for deceptive purposes. There is strong evidence that the Radical Republicans and Union League used false flag KKK disguise for deception and political advantage. Even recently, in August 2017, there were highly credible allegations that Antifa used false flag KKK disguise to discredit a legal protest in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Mike Scruggs, Author and Columnist
a.k.a. Leonard M. Scruggs
Mike Scruggs is the author of two books: The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths; and Lessons from the Vietnam War: Truths the Media Never Told You, and over 600 articles on military history, national security, intelligent design, genealogical genetics, immigration, current political affairs, Islam, and the Middle East.
He holds a BS degree from the University of Georgia and an MBA from Stanford University. A former USAF intelligence officer and Air Commando, he is a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and holds the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and Air Medal. He is a retired First Vice President for a major national financial services firm and former Chairman of the Board of a classical Christian school.
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