Under the pretense of ensuring the purity of elections the South, the Republican party in 1890 proposed a Force Bill to reinstitute federal interference at the polls in the South as had been done during Reconstruction. Below Senator Zebulon Vance of North Carolina addresses his Republican colleagues.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circ1865.com
Vance Resists the Party of Misrule and Ignorance
“The title of this [Force] bill reads: “An act to prevent force and fraud in elections of the House of Representatives of the United States . . . and to insure the lawful and peaceable conduct of such elections.”
“[Senator Vance]: The object then, of the bill is to restore the purity of elections!
I presume that no one will doubt that this is desirable, nay, that it is indispensable. But the manner in which the Senator and his associates propose to bring about this purity is what strikes us with wonder.
When this [Republican] party presents itself as the defender of public virtue, and by reason of its high pretensions claims that only through its agency can this beatitude be reached, a prudent man would naturally inquire into its history for proof of its exalted qualifications.
Let us take this method for a moment and see who is, and what is the Republican party, as represented by the supporters of this bill. We shall find that it is the same party, which inaugurated Reconstruction. By Reconstruction, it will be remembered one-fifth of the votes in eleven States was suppressed by law. The punishment of disfranchisement was freely inflicted as a punishment for crime without trial and conviction.
Thousands upon . . . thousands of other votes were suppressed by fraud, the returns being counted and canvassed in secret by men not sworn or in any way responsible to anybody, acting in States far distant from the places where the votes were cast. In addition to this there were received and counted the ballots of those who were not entitled to suffrage under any law known to American history or tradition.
In this way eleven Southern States were subjected to the control of this fountain of purity. The Republican party took full charge of them and their destinies. Behind and in support of their leaders stood the Army of the United States and all the moral power of the government then under the control of this great party whose chief desire is the purity and freedom of elections.
The carnival of corruption and fraud, the trampling down of decency, the rioting in the overthrow of the traditions of a proud people, the chaos of hell on earth which took place beggars the descriptive powers of plain history . . . I believe a committee of Congress, who took some testimony on this subject, estimated in 1871 the amount of plunder which was extracted from the Southern people in about 5 short years — some $300 millions of dollars in the shape of increased debt alone, to say nothing of the indirect damage inflicted by the many ways of corruption and misrule which can not be estimated in money.
The trick by which Republicans fastened itself for a term of years upon the downtrodden States was one which could only have been originated with a party devoted to the highest morality and the purest elections.
In the formation of new governments primarily, the Negro who had no right to vote was permitted to do so by military force. The historical inquirer will likewise learn that during the time the South was being thus plundered by the carpetbaggers through the ignorance of the Negroes in the Southern department of the party of purity and free elections, the home office was doing a business, which reflected no mean luster on the active and energetic Southern branches.
The system of levying contributions upon all Federal officeholders for corrupt political purposes was inaugurated and set going with efficiency and success.
Grants of the public domain equal to the area of many great nations were jobbed away to companies of loyal speculators. The Credit Mobilier was born and with incredible rapidity became the scandal of Christendom. Whiskey rings fastened their thievish grip upon the revenues. The Black Friday conspiracy shook the credit of the continent and made businessmen lose faith in human integrity.
As soon as there began to appear any necessity for it, that is to say, so soon as there appeared a feeble and languid rallying of political virtue in the dazed public mind, this pure and virtuous party began to provide against the reaction with a system of gerrymander. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Ohio and various other States were so arranged in their Congressional and legislative districts as to completely drown the will of the majority and suppress their votes.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the dominant majority in both Houses of this Congress is the legitimate result of this suppression of the popular will by the methods of gerrymandering, aided and supplemented by a skillful application of the “fat” fried out of the tariff beneficiaries and used for the purposes of floating voters in blocks of five, by the very party leader who here says that the [Force] bill is intended to defend the Constitution of the United States against those who . . . are in the habit of substituting “processes of fraud, intimidation and bribery” [for honest elections].
At the present moment there are in the Union but twelve Republican States, representing some 9,000,000 of people, whilst there are thirty Democratic States containing 53,000,000 of people; yet the 9,000,000 control both Houses of Congress and every department of government . . .
The bill is not intended to preserve purity in elections. It is not intended to defend the Constitution of the United States against those who would substitute “processes of fraud, intimidation and bribery” for honest elections.
It is intended to resurrect, if possible, the Republican party and restore its hold on power. To do this, it is intended by this bill to subject the people of the South once more to the domination of their recent slaves. The objects at which the provisions of this bill are aimed are the Democratic South, the great Democratic cities of the North, and all naturalized citizens.
The policy of subjecting the intelligence and property of the South to the control of ignorance and poverty is not a new one. It has been tried. To the candid man who really desires the welfare of his country, the experiment resulted in a failure so disastrous that he would never desire to see it repeated.
The carpetbag rulers were infinitely worse than the Negroes. The evil propensities of the one were directed by intelligence, and the ignorance of the other became simply the instrument by which the purposes of the white leaders were carried out. The material and moral ruin wrought under this infernal conjunction of ignorance and intelligent vice was far greater than that inflicted by war. The very foundations of public virtue were undermined, and the seeds of hatred were thickly sown between the races.
In this great struggle to escape Negro rule and restore our State governments to the control of those who made them, and whose ancestors had established their principles in their blood, we had both the aid and the sympathy of Northern Democrats everywhere. We had neither from you.
You did not even stand by with indifference. You upheld the party of misrule and ignorance in every way you could. You kept the Army of the United States in the South to overcome the struggling whites as long as you dared. You sorrowed when the plundering of our people was stopped, and you received to your arms as martyrs the carpetbag fugitives expelled by the indignation of an outraged people.
In 1865, the property of North Carolina assessed for taxation was $121,000,000; in 1860 it had been $292,000,000, showing a loss of $171,000,000. In 1865, the debt of the State was $10,899,000; in 1871 the debt of the State was $34,887,000. Taxation in 1860 for State and county purposes was $799,000; in 1870 taxation for State and county purposes was $2,083,000 per annum.
But such were the recuperative powers of our people when freed from the corrupt yoke of strangers and permitted to manage their own affairs, that our taxable property is now assessed at about $230,000,000. Best of all, under the influence of the kindly associations of these years of labor and recuperation, race asperities have become softened and white and black have grown closer to each other in the recognition of the fact that the interest of one is inseparably connected with the other.
The direct effect, if not the object of this bill will be to disturb this prosperity and peace. There is made no secret of the fact that it is intended to secure the domination of the black voters of the South wherever they can be persuaded or morally coerced by this army of Federal officers into voting the Republican ticket. It [the bill] is a scheme for managing elections in the interest of a party as purely as was ever framed by designing politicians.”
(Excerpts of Speech by Senator Zebulon B. Vance of North Carolina in the Senate of the United States, December 15, 1890)