Mike ScruggsOpinion

Southern Reconstruction: Part 6: How Federal Reconstruction tyranny led to the Klan

Scruggs March 15

Thomas W. Gregory, United States Attorney General 1914-1918

Gregory began by detailing the nature and consequences of a “Civil Rights” bill in 1866 and three Reconstruction bills in 1867, all passed over the veto of President Andrew Johnson. The “Freedman’s Bureau Bill,” first introduced in February 1866 and finally passed in July 1866, created the Freedman’s Bureau and made it an arm of the War Department. Under this bill, every county in the South was placed under the rule of Army officers and appointed Freedman’s Bureau agents exercising the authority of military judges. This was done to assure the rights of former slaves, especially their registration as voters, but in so doing, it abolished the ordinary rules of procedure by law and denied the right of trial by jury and appeal to the vast majority of white Southerners. Thus Federal agents ruled the South with tyrannical and unconstitutional powers.

Because ten Southern states had effectively blocked passage of the proposed 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which they considered a revolutionary assault on the Constitution, honest legislative procedure, and Southern leadership, three Reconstruction bills in 1867 placed those ten Southern states in five military districts each ruled over by a Union officer with the rank of at least brigadier general and having dictatorial powers. These states were to remain under military rule until they passed the 14th Amendment.

The first Reconstruction bill passed in February 1867 denied Confederate veterans and former Confederate public officials the right to vote or hold office. Radical Republican Governor Brownlow of Tennessee had already denied Confederate veterans the right to vote and hold office in 1865. Thus the great majority of eligible native white Southerners were denied the right to vote or hold office until Federal Legislation changed this in 1872, although there had been some gradual relaxation of the 1867 restriction in some states. (Women did not have voting rights until the 19th Amendment in 1920.)

Hence the Radical Republicans hoped to maintain control over Southern states with the votes of Northern carpet-baggers, Southern scalawags, Federal soldiers and government agents, and the black vote, which they fiercely endeavored to manipulate. From 1867 to 1872, the vast majority of white Southerners had neither political nor judicial recourse to justice, the protection of their property, or the safety of their families.

During his address, Gregory cataloged many of the colossal economic injustices and follies of the carpet-bagger governments. South Carolina’s state debt increased from $1.0 million in 1867 to $30.0 million in 1872. Property taxes rose, while property values fell, increasing the effective tax rate 15-fold from 1860 to 1871. Twenty percent of the acreage in Mississippi was forfeited for taxes.

Near the close of his address, the future Attorney General of the United States said that he did not approve of the crimes and excesses incident to the Ku Klux Klan but stated that the movement’s largely spontaneous birth and growth were completely understandable given the conditions that existed in the South from 1866 to 1872 due to Reconstruction era policies and corruption.

In 1870, a Congressional Committee was formed to investigate the Ku Klux Klan, which it claimed was operating in 11 Southern states. The Committee of 21 members was dominated by the Radical Republicans, including former Union general and Radical leader, Ben Butler. They interviewed hundreds of witnesses, gathering testimonies that included hearsay, rumors, and allegations that some members of the Committee strongly suspected were fabricated for political purposes. Thirteen of them condemned the Klan and passed harsh “Force Laws” that substantially reduced the civil rights of anyone opposed to the policies or actions of the Military Occupation Government, its appointed state governments, the Freedmen’s Bureau, and its Union League militias.

A minority report filed by eight conservative members, including Senator Thomas F. Bayard Sr, who later served as U.S. Secretary of State (1885-1889) under President Grover Cleveland, however, took issue with the majority’s conclusions and recommendations:

“Had there been no wanton oppression in the South, there would have been no Ku Kluxism. Had there been no rule of the tyrannical, corrupt, carpetbagger or scallywag, there would have been no secret organizations. From the oppression and corruption of the one sprang the vice and outrage of the other…when the testimony before us was analyzed…the carpetbaggers, the Freedmen’s Bureau agents, and Loyal Leaguers [Union Leaguers] who went into these states, took as the theme of their harangues, the wrongs the blacks had suffered and the right they had to take whatever they pleased of the property they had labored to acquire for their masters; when, in secret sworn organizations, [the Union Leagues] hatred of the white race was instilled into the minds of these ignorant people by every art and wile that bad men could devise; when the blacks were formed into military organizations and the white people of these states were denied the use of arms; when arson, rape, robbery, and murder were things of daily occurrence; when the great masses of the most intelligent whites were disenfranchised and the ballot was put in the hands of blacks by the government at Washington; when every promise made and every law enacted was broken and disregarded by the Federal Government whenever it suited their purpose to do so; when the courts were closed and the Federal officers, who were by Congress absolute rulers and dispensers of what they called justice, ignored, insulted, and trampled upon the rights of the ostracized and disenfranchised white men while the officials pandered to the enfranchised blacks on whose vote they relied; in short, when the people saw they had no rights which were respected, no protection from insults, no security even for their wives and little children, and that what little they had saved from the ravages of the war was being confiscated by taxation and rendered valueless by the debts for which men who owned nothing had pledged it, and saw that all their complaints and remonstrances, however honestly and humbly presented to Congress, were either wholly disregarded as evidence of a rebellious and unsubdued spirit, many of them took the law into their own hands and did deeds of violence which we neither justify nor excuse. But all history shows that bad government will make bad citizens; and when the corruption, extortion, and villainy of the governments which Congress has set up and maintained over the Southern states are thoroughly understood and made known, as we trust they will someday, the world will be amazed at the long suffering and endurance of that people.”

Governor Dewitt Clinton Senter of Tennessee (February 1869 to October 1871) was initially a backer of the notoriously harsh Radical Republican Governor William G. Brownlow, but when he succeeded to the office of Governor on Brownlow’s resignation and was elected a few months later, his more reasonable conservative Republican principles became evident. He reversed most of Brownlow’s radical policies, disbanded the unpopular “State Guard” and was instrumental in returning the voting franchise to Confederate Veterans. Although he pledged to get rid of the Klan, he pointed out why there were so many false allegations of Klan outrages:

“The powers of the government were almost entirely subsidized to the interest of individuals, and large fortunes made by a few at the expense of the public treasury… All the agencies and resources of the state government were used to the advantage of the few and to the injury of the many…Hence the clamor in order to evade or prevent an investigation of their official acts, and to excite sympathy of those abroad who do not know of their misdoings and malversion in office. They wish to make good men in other states believe that they are martyrs to their political faith, and thus excite the sympathy of all lovers of the Union, and cause places of profit to be assigned to them by the President or Congress, after they have lost the confidence and good opinion of the people whom they have outraged and embarrassed by their maladministration.”

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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.

Click the website below to order books.


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