In the midst of the mostly inflammatory influence of the Republican’s Union League upon the freedmen, the Ku Klux Klan emerged in the immediate postwar. To underscore the Union League’s destructiveness, an 1870 Congressional Committee report provided this indictment of Republican rule over the conquered South: “[The] hatred of the white race was instilled [by the League] into the minds of these ignorant people by every art and vile that bad men could devise; when the Negroes 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, . . . and that what little they had saved from the ravages of war was being confiscated by taxation . . . many of them took the law into their own hands and did deeds of violence which we neither justify or excuse. But all history shows that bad government will make bad citizens.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
The Union League of the Republican Party
“The nocturnal secrecy of the gatherings, the weird initiation ceremonies, the emblems of virtue and religion, the songs, the appeal to such patriotic shibboleths as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Flag, and the Union, the glittering platitudes in the interest of social uplift — all these characteristics of the League had an irresistible appeal to a ceremony-loving, singing, moralistic and loyal race. That the purposes of the order, when reduced to the practical, meant that the Negro had become the emotional and intellectual slaves of the white Radical did not dull the Negro’s enthusiasm, he was accustomed to be a slave to the white man” [South Carolina During Reconstruction, Simkins & Woody, page 7].
The Union League gave the freedmen their first experience in parliamentary law and debating . . . the members were active in the meetings, joining in the debate and prone to heckle the speakers with questions and points of order. Observers frequently reported the presence of rifles at political rallies, usually stacked in a clump of bushes behind the speaker’s platform, sometimes the womenfolk left to guard them.
In the autumn of 1867, a League chapter made up mostly of blacks, but with a white president named Bryce, was holding a meeting with its usual armed sentries on the perimeter. When a poor white named Smith tried to enter the meeting, shots were fired; there followed a general alarm and, subsequently, a melee with a white debating club nearby. The Negroes rushed out; Smith fled, hotly pursued to the schoolhouse; the members of the debating club broke up in a panic and endeavored to escape; a second pistol was fired and a boy of fourteen named Hunnicutt, the son of a respectable [white] citizen, fell dead.
[Carpetbagger John W. De Forest wrote]: “The Negroes, unaware apparently that they had done anything wrong, believing, on the contrary, that they were re-establishing public order and enforcing justice, commenced patrolling the neighborhood, entering every house and arresting numbers of citizens. They marched in double file, pistol in belt and gun at the shoulder, keeping step to the “hup, hup!” of a fellow called Lame Sam, who acted as drill sergeant and commander. By noon of the next day they had the country for miles around in their power, and the majority of the male whites under their guard.”
(Black Over White, Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina During Reconstruction, Thomas Holt, University of Illinois Press, 1977, pp. 29-32)