Browsing "Union Leagues and Klans"

Scarcity of Black Democrats in North Carolina

New York’s Tammany Hall was notorious for herding recent immigrants to the polls to vote for selected candidates and the selected party. Northern Republicans saw the future of their political hegemony in the South in the freedmen, who were informed that their white neighbors would re-enslave them should blacks vote Democratic. The Klan was formed to counter the infamous Union League of the Republicans, whish taught Southern blacks to hate Sothern whites.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Scarcity of Black Democrats in North Carolina

“Very few whites voted the Republican ticket [in North Carolina]. The notable exception was the Lewellen connection, a large clan of Welsh extraction, substantial farmers dwelling to the east of town. On election day they were apt to steal the show from the Negroes. They were not so loud and “biggetty,” but they were dangerous as fighters, especially when they had liquor aboard. They were known as clannish; anyone who got into a fight with one of them soon found the whole pack on his back.

In this election my father was defeated for justice of the peace, the only office he ever consented to run for, by a coal-black Negro shoemaker; let it be added, however, that this Negro had intelligence and character. I knew him in later years and always respected him. I was sorry for him when his thieving brother was convicted of burning our smokehouse, sent to the chain-gang, and later shot to death by a guard when he tried to escape.

There were only three Negro Democrats in this voting district. Any Negro who was for any reason inclined to vote the Democratic ticket was looked down upon by his race and often threatened with bodily harm. Henry Ward was one of these. In his pocket he carried an ugly knife, threatening to cut to pieces anybody who interfered with his voting. He belonged to the unterrified Democracy. Later he was hanged for burglary.

Another Negro Democrat was Lewis Merritt, a rather handsome buck who worked as a farm hand during the week and dressed up in good taste on Saturday and came to town. He did not drink. He was quiet, poised, and had an air about him. It was whispered around that he carried a revolver. The other Negroes talked darkly about him behind his back but never to his face.

The third man, Candy Parton, voted the Democratic ticket by suggestion. Tall, lanky, old and fragile, he was the body servant of Dr. Frank Smith, a colorful survivor of what the historical writers of today call the slaveholding aristocracy. When he appeared on election day, he was always dressed for the part: high hat, frock coat, flowered waistcoat, and gold-headed cane, chin whiskers like Uncle Sam’s.

He planted himself before the voting window, legs wide apart….”Candy, go up to that window and vote,” he said with emphasis, as he scowled at a group of Negroes who seemed inclined to crowd in on Candy. The old darkey shuffled up to the polls and voted, looking as if he were not quite sure he could go through with it, but Dr. Smith never had a doubt. There stood the Old South.”

(Son of Carolina, Augustus White Long, Duke University Press, 1939, pp. 30-32)

Republicans Warn of Papist Plot

Democrat, anti-Prohibition and Catholic presidential candidate Al Smith found that many of his party had deserted him, though he did carry Massachusetts with its liquor interests, the first Democrat to do so since the War. A previous Democratic presidential candidate knowingly stated: “Smith hasn’t a chance, the Middle West does not know him and does not want him; and the South, of course, won’t have Smith.”

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Republicans Warn of Papist Plot

“Smith’s career had been a demonstration of the validity of Americanism. In his own mind, his success had confirmed the premise established by his life . . . that men of diverse backgrounds and different beliefs could nevertheless understand each other.

[An opposing view] . . . had begun earlier in the century, in the movement to restrict immigration . . . [and these] fears revived the Ku Klux Klan. Founded in 1915 in Georgia, the organization was still small and powerless at the end of the war. Thereafter it spread rapidly, not only in the South but everywhere in rural and small town America. It was particularly influential in Oregon and Indiana and had significant centers of strength throughout the West.

Purification was essential through a return to the old order, through fundamentalism in religion, through abstinence and restraint in personal behavior, and through the forceful exclusion from government and the economy of all alien sources of infection.

The millions of adherents of the Roman Church, held in subservience to a foreign despot by an army of priests and bishops, wielded enormous political power through the city machines. Their doctrines and rituals, like their hostility to Prohibition, were a danger to old America. It was necessary to prepare lest they insidiously assume control of the whole nation.

Smith did not take the Klan seriously, even in 1924. The “spirit of unrest” was an “unnatural consequence of war” and would soon subside.

The Klan, which had heretofore shown itself mostly on the local level, was nonetheless to be pre-eminent issue of the 1924 convention. Much of the strength of the organization was located in the Republican party, which was able to arrive at a tacit decision to evade any mention of the Klan in the campaign.

Openly and squarely he faced the religious issue [but] . . . With the covert encouragement of local Republicans, numerous fundamentalist groups spread the tale of the Papist plot to conquer America at the ballot box. Al made no pretense that the problem [of his Catholicism] did not exist. In North Carolina he insisted on speaking on immigration. In Oklahoma City, one of the centers of Klan strength, he launched into an attack upon the forces injecting bigotry “into a campaign which should be an intelligent debate of the important issues.”

But now as he looked down upon the stony faces, row upon row of bitter farmers soon to leave their parched lands, he perceived “the dull hostility in their staring at his strangeness and for a moment he felt a premonitory fear, for what had he and they in common?”

Through the rimless glasses across his thin parched face, Bishop Cannon had looked bitterly out upon the Houston convention. Control had fallen to the men from the “foreign-populated city called New York,” where “confessedly Satan’s seat is.” Now . . . he was resolved that “no subject of the Pope” should be President.”

(Al Smith and His America, Oscar Handlin, Little, Brown and Company, 1958, pp. 117-120; 131-132)

Secret Society Radicals

The Union Leagues were able to muster such large memberships as many Northern white men stayed home while foreigners, impressed former slaves, and bounty-enriched substitutes were off fighting Americans in the South. The Union League quickly became a powerful propaganda arm of the radical Republican party, strong enough force Lincoln to remove conservative General John Schofield from command of the western department.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Secret Society Radicals:

“The first Union League was founded in Pekin, Illinois, by a Republican party activist, George F, Harlow.  As war weariness deepened, and the restraint that had held back dissenters in the early months of the war fell away, loyal Republicans became alarmed by the resurgence in support for the Democratic party. To combat this, they formed a secret society “whereby true Union men could be known and depended on in an emergency.” By the end of 1864 the Leagues claimed more than a million members.

In May 1863, the [Philadelphia] Press urged that the North unite “by any means” and called on Unionists to “silence every tongue that does not speak with respect of the cause and the flag.” Union Leagues institutionalized the denial of legitimate partisanship by conflating opposition to the Union [Republican] Party with disloyalty to the United States. “Men of the Northwest! Are you ready for Civil War?” asked an editorial in the radical Chicago Tribune, “the danger is imminent; the enemy is at your door . . . a Union Club or League ought to be formed in every town and placed in communication with the State central committee.” They formed vigilante groups, which reported suspected disloyalists to the War Department and called for the suppression of opposition newspapers. Leagues also mobbed the offices of several small-town newspapers whose editors had expressed support for Democratic candidates or had attacked the [Lincoln] administration.

Unlike the mass-membership Union Leagues, the Union League of Philadelphia, the New York Union League Club, and the Boston Union League Club were founder with the appropriate accoutrements of a mid-Victorian gentlemen’s club: elegant headquarters with libraries, billiard rooms and butlers. Membership was by invitation only and determined by social status and “unqualified loyalty to the Government of the United States and unwavering support for the suppression of the rebellion.” The idea was to exclude anyone suspected of Southern sympathies from business or social relations with members.

“Sympathy with [armed rebellion] should in social and commercial life be met with the frown of the patriotic and true. Disloyalty must be made unprofitable.” [A founding member of the Philadelphia club] . . . the issue of the war was, after all, one that directly confronted the class interests of the city’s business elite. “We . . . live under the national law. If that is broken down, our interests, our property, and our lives may be lost in the disorder that will ensue…Nothing but ruin awaits all business interests of ours . . . if the doctrines of the Secession leaders are to prevail” Sustaining the federal government was essential . . . [and] Furthermore, as bankers and the monied elite of New York assumed an ever-greater responsibility for financing the war effort through buying government bonds, there was also a strong economic interest in the success of the Union war effort.

(No Party Now, Politics in the Civil War North, Adam I.P. Smith, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 68-74)

Union League Begat the Klan

To paraphrase Southern leaders during Reconstruction hearings in Congress, disband the Northern Union and Loyal Leagues that set black against white in the South, and the Klan would disappear from the face of the earth. This original Klan was apparently defensive in nature and flew no flag.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Union League Begat the Klan:

“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 [Union] 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 speakers 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)

 

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