During the 1890 Congressional debate on the election Force Bill, Southern representatives saw the farce of Northern oversight of Southern elections for what it was — a return to the corrupt Reconstruction measures which used racial hostility to gain political ascendancy and power. The political descendants of Tammany Hall and corrupt Northern machine politics were in no position to lecture the South on political ethics and propriety.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Exceeding All Other Nations at Political Corruption
“Speech (excerpts) of Honorable J.Z. George of Mississippi:
The Senate being in Committee of the Whole and having under consideration the bill (H.R. 11045) to amend and supplement the election laws of the United States, and to provide for the more efficient enforcement of such laws, and for other purposes—
Mr. George said:
“Thus Virginia, in the act of acceding to the Union which had been already formed, led and guided by the ablest and most eminent men in the United States — her own illustrious sons . . . and yet Mr. President, we see Virginia to-day, struggling, through her Senators and Representatives, to prevent the exercise of this power [of election supervision in the South by] Massachusetts, who seeks to impose its infliction upon her.
Virginia’s great son, James Madison, persuaded the State to ratify the Constitution . . . because the regulations to be made by Congress would operate impartially on all the States. He did not foresee the evil day when the great power of Virginia would have departed, when her great services would be forgotten, and when an alien and barbarian race, against her protest, had been elevated to citizenship.
He could not foresee . . . this power [of granting citizenship] would be exercised by Senators and Representatives from other States, who, whilst securing exemption to their own States from this burden, would seek through it to subjugate the land of Washington, Madison, Marshall and Jefferson, to a domination never imposed on a civilized people.
Rhode Island had contributed her full share to the success of the Revolution. Her great son, Nathaniel Greene was a Quaker, yet second only to Washington in his merits as a military commander. [After] freeing the Southern States from the British arms, and witnessing the final triumph of the American cause, he became a citizen of Georgia.
Is Rhode Island prepared to-day to repudiate her principles, her solemn declarations, and join in placing a yoke upon her Southern sisters, which, in the very act of joining the Union, she declared should not be placed on herself?
Mr. President, New England, against the protest of Virginia in the Federal Convention of 1787, voted to legalize the African slave trade for twenty years. Rhode Island, far more than any other State, was enriched by that trade.
Rhode Island persisted in this trade to the very last moment, introducing into Charleston, S.C. in the years 1804-1807 seven thousand nine hundred and fifty-eight slaves, to two thousand and six by all other States and countries. As late as 1822, she manifested her tolerance of this traffic by electing to this body James DeWolf, who had continued the slave trade up to the last moment allowed by law.
Will she now, for mere party purposes, engage in forcing on Virginia as New England had forced on her the slave trade in 1787, the ignorant and incompetent rule of the very barbarians whom Rhode Island deemed unfit for freedom even, so largely contributed to plant in her bosom?
Mr. President, in 1870, 1871 and 1872 a wide departure from the previous practice was inaugurated. Negro suffrage had been ordained by the Federal power. It was known that these . . . dependent wards who had been invested with political power would not understand how to exercise their newly conferred rights, except as Mr. Fessenden had said, “under such good advice as might be given,” and so provision for the good advice was made in the appointment of supervisors and deputy marshals at election precincts.
Mr. President, in those years, in the very midst of reconstruction, constitutional limitations and constitutional restraint constituted no hindrance to [Republican] partisan action; especially where the Southern States were concerned and the rights of the Negro were involved. That was the era of the civil rights act and other laws to perpetuate Negro supremacy, which had been held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
The dominant [Republican] party had just succeeded in grafting in the Constitution the fifteenth amendment, securing Negro suffrage. This was done in direct violation of the pledges of the leaders of that party, and also of the solemn pledge of the party in their national convention which nominated General Grant for the presidency.
The party was flush with victory, not only in arms, but in subsequent elections. It had added to the electoral body of the Union more than a million of ignorant . . . noncitizens, and incapable of being made citizens but by a change of the Constitution.
If these could be made real and effectual suffragists, their enfranchisement would be no less than placing . . . automatons in the hands of the leaders of the Republican party. With this addition, the leaders could safely rely on victory when there was a majority of nearly a million white voters against them. Besides — and this was the essence of the political bonanza they had struck by amending the Constitution — the black voter was a blind, unreasoning follower whose allegiance had been secured by emancipation . . . certain to march in line to whatever destination he should be commanded.
[At this time] . . . Public men were enriched through measures for which they had voted; official virtue and fidelity had become bywords; Congressmen, judges, State and Federal and Cabinet officers were bought and sold as slaves in the market. To such an extent had this debasement gone that it was no longer concealed or attempted to be concealed. Our corruption had a world-wide fame.
To such a pitch had this gone that a distinguished member of the [Republican] party then and now in power . . . felt authorized to say that in the World’s Fair in Paris, the only product in which American had excelled all other nations was the corruption of her Government.”
(Federal Election Bill, Speech of Honorable J.Z. George of Mississippi in the Senate of the United States, December 10, 1890, Washington-GPO, 1890)