Republicans Steal a North Carolina Election

Postwar federal election supervision in the South purportedly ensured fair and impartial elections, but in reality only ensured Radical Republican political control. The slim margin of Grant’s 1868 victory was not to be repeated and Republicans took no chances in 1872. Below former North Carolina legislator and Confederate General Thomas Clingman noted their strategies.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Republicans Steal a North Carolina Election

“On 9 July 1872 twenty delegates from the Old North State assembled in Baltimore to attend the eleventh quadrennial Democratic convention. Clingman was selected to serve on the Committee on Resolutions. Shortly after the convention adjourned, Clingman dropped a bombshell on the North Carolina Republicans in the form of a letter ostensibly written by former Democratic congressman James B. Beck of Kentucky.

The letter, which was addressed to Clingman, pointed out that the August State elections in North Carolina were widely regarded as a barometer for the presidential election in November. For that reason, the Grant administration had determined to use every corrupt means possible to carry the Old North State. Large sums had been raised for that purpose, including funds illegally drawn from the Justice Department.

Clingman played a leading role in the [post-election investigation] movement. In a letter published in the New York World and copied by numerous North Carolina newspapers, he presented a cogent summary of the Conservative argument.

The election, he said, had been managed “by an army of . . . [federal] revenue officers and deputy marshals,” who had been “liberally supplied” with money.” Those federal managers had practiced massive fraud, importing black voters from other States into the eastern counties and inducing native blacks to vote several times in different townships.

In the white-majority counties of the west, they had mobilized violators of the revenue laws and those under indictment for Klan activity with promises of immunity from prosecution “if they voted the Radical ticket.” Others, who refused to cooperate, had been arrested in order to prevent them from voting. [North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Augustus] Merrimon shared in the widespread belief that the Republicans had stolen the election.

In several eastern counties, the number of voters did exceed the number of adult males reported in the census. Moreover, a large number of indictments for Klan activity were in fact made just before the election, and many of them were dropped soon after the campaign had ended.”

(Thomas Lanier Clingman, Fire Eater From the Carolina Mountains, Thomas E. Jeffrey, UGA Press, 1998, pp. 207-209)

 

Federal Government as an Ideal

Federal Government as an Ideal

“I wish, however, to enter my protest against that interpretation of American history that would make the Southern States the anvil on which federal government wrought out its greatest victory. This widespread misconception of our history implies that there were two sections in the United States, one seeking to uphold federal government, the other to overthrow it. That is not true.

Federal government as a principle, as an ideal, was not at stake, but only a particular form of federal government.

The first paragraph of the Constitution of the United States declares that we, the people of the United States, do ordain and establish this Constitution “in order to form a more perfect union.”

The first paragraph of the Constitution of the Confederate States of America declares that we, the people of the Confederate States, do ordain and establish this Constitution “in order to from a more permanent federal government.”

Scrutinize these two paragraphs as you will, the advantage for federal government as an ideal does not lie with the first.”

(Our Heritage of Idealism, C. Alphonso Smith, Address (excerpt) delivered at the University of South Carolina, January 11, 1912)

North Carolina Fears a Pagan Congress

North Carolinians were not alone in fearing the consolidationist tendencies under the proposed Constitution, and held out for amendments rather than taking someone’s word. It was made very clear that religious tests and political office did not include Muslims or Hindu’s, nor were pagans desired in the halls of government. North Carolina’s proposed amendment of a two-thirds majority to determine if a State was in rebellion would have perplexed a president 70-some years later.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

North Carolina Fears a Pagan Congress

“The anti-federalist plan as introduced by [Willie] Jones, which was a refusal to ratify [the Constitution] until certain amendments were added, appears in the records when the committee of the whole reported to the convention. While the discussion of this motion [to ratify] was in progress, Willie Jones stated that Jefferson wished nine States to ratify the Constitution to preserve the union, but he wanted the other four to reject it to make certain that the amendments would be added.

Jones said it would probably take about eighteen months to have the amendments ratified, but he had “rather be eighteen years out of the Union than adopt it in its present form.”  The North Carolina anti-federalists felt that, since their proposed amendments were so similar to those of Virginia, they would have the support of that State in urging their acceptance, and in North Carolina’s favorable reception when it wished to enter the union.

The last clause of the Constitution which occasioned debate in the committee was the one prohibiting religious tests for public offices. The delegate who opened the discussion was Henry Abbott, a Baptist elder from Anson [county] who voted with the federalists . . . [who] said that some persons were afraid that, should the Constitution be put into effect, they would be deprived of the privilege of worshipping God according to their consciences, which would be denying them a benefit they enjoyed under the existing [Articles of Confederation].

He said he wished to know what religion would be established. For his part, he was against any exclusive establishment, but if there were any he preferred the Episcopal. Many thought that the prohibition of religious tests was dangerous and impolitic. They supposed that if there were no religious test required, pagans, deists and Mahometans might obtain office, and that the senators and representatives might be all pagans.

It is well to note the additional amendments desired by the North Carolina anti-federalists, for they relate to the special interests of that State. In order to safeguard independent action, one amendment proposed that Congress should not declare any State to be in rebellion without the consent of at least two-thirds of all the members present in both houses. Another, showing the fear of commercial interests, provided that Congress should authorize no company of merchants with exclusive privileges.

(Ratification of the Federal Constitution in North Carolina, Louise Irby Trenholme, Columbia University Press, 1932, pp. 178-184)

 

Black Legislators and Northern Racism

Grant won his 1868 presidential victory by a 307,000 vote margin enabled by the 500,000 enfranchised freedmen organized by Republican organizations like the Freedmen’s Bureau, Union League and Loyal League, and using black militia to suppress white votes in the South. In North Carolina, former Northern general and notorious carpetbagger Milton S. Littlefield had been elected president of North Carolina’s Union League, making him “Chief of Black Republicanism” under scalawag Governor Holden and charged with delivering the State to Grant, which was done.

Bernhard Thuersam,www.circa1865.org

 

Black Legislators and Northern Racism

“Most Reconstruction legislators in South Carolina – white as well as black – were political novices when they first arrived in Columbia. Democrats who had held State office before and during the war shunned any association with the new regime and left the field largely to less-experienced men. The northern white Republicans were former army officers, teachers and missionaries.

In one sense or another they were men on the make and, as such, not likely to have left successful political offices in the North for an uncertain competition in the war-torn South. And of course the Negroes had had little opportunity to gain experience in partisan politics . . . in most northern States they had not been able to vote, much less run for political office.

The Freedmen’s Bureau . . . was simply another patronage job [for many Northerners] to which they were attracted for strictly pecuniary reasons. Not only were many of them not moved by abolitionist sentiments, but some were described as being “more pro-slavery than the rebels themselves. Doing justice seems to mean, to them, seeing that the blacks don’t break a contract and compelling them to submit cheerfully in the whites do,” complained one northern teacher.

[For most black Reconstruction] legislator’s military service had bestowed benefits other than the glory of battle and the red badge of courage. Sergeant Richard H. Humbert sought to apply his expertise for direct political advantage during the postwar years. After his election to the lower house in the summer of 1868, Humbert wrote to the newly-inaugurated Governor Robert K. Scott to inform him that he had organized two militia companies in Darlington County, and that he planned to form several others in preparation for the presidential elections that fall.

He saw his previous military experience as essential to this enterprise and requested [an officer’s] commission from the governor. Humbert did not mince words when he stated that “the organization of the militia will be of great benefit to the Republican Party in this district.”

When [slave] Prince Rivers [enlisted] in the [Northern] First South Carolina Volunteers [he] was made first sergeant of the regiment and taken to New York City by General David Hunter in an attempt to gain support for his policy of enlisting black troops.

There was considerable antiwar and antiblack feeling in New York City, which would be the scene of the bloody draft riots in [July] 1863. White New Yorkers were incensed at the sergeant’s chevrons on the arm of the tall, proud, “jet-black” ex-slave; as he walked down Broadway, they attacked him viciously. However, Rivers managed to hold off the mob until police arrived to escort him away.

Robert Smalls had a somewhat similar experience with northern racism when he took his ship to Philadelphia for repairs. He became involved in that city’s . . . segregated public accommodations when he refused to surrender his seat on the streetcar to a white rider and move to the platform reserved for blacks.”

(Black over White, Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina During Reconstruction, Thomas Holt, University of Illinois Press, 1977, pp. 72; 78-79)

Colonial Fears of Slave Insurrection

The great fear of slave insurrection prompted severe restrictions on slave freedoms in the early 19th century South with the horrid example of Santo Domingo’s massacre of whites a stern lesson of what to expect. The extreme concern by Virginians and North Carolinians over the continued slave importations to the Southern colonies on British and New England ships fell on deaf ears in the mid-1700’s; Royal Governors were instructed to ignore colonial legislative efforts to restrict slave imports and forced to accept the British colonial labor system.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Colonial Fears of Slave Insurrection

“Although in 1808 North Carolina felt considerable alarm over the plot which was discovered in Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia, this State did not have another threat of conspiracy until 1821. Previous to this, however, runaway Negroes on various occasions had organized camps and defied the police. In 1811 a party of men searched Cabarrus Pocosin and found a camp occupied by three men and two women. It contained a “vast deal of plunder” and a great number of keys. In 1818 a group of whites went in search of runaways and killed one of them.

It was a group of runaways, at one time reported to be eighty in number, who caused the so-called insurrection of 1821. The Negroes had taken refuge in a swamp in Onslow County near a place called White Oaks on Trent River, and the whites feared an insurrection among the Negroes from Wilmington to Washington [North Carolina]. On August 7, two justices of the peace in Onslow County unlawfully called out two detachments of militia, 200 men who remained under arms twenty-six days.

In September Bladen and Carteret Counties also called out the militia. The panic among the whites in that section of the State was widespread. Many white families fled from their homes. William L. Hill, colonel of the Onslow militia, on several occasions stated that the ranks of the Negroes “were filled with the most daring runaways, who well armed and equipped had long defied civil authority, and in open day had ravaged farms, burnt houses, and had ravaged a number of females.” By the middle of September the band had been dispersed and the whites had returned to their everyday life.

In December, 1825, Tarboro was greatly excited “by the partial discovery of an insurrectionary plot among the “blacks” of Edgecombe [county] and, “if it is believed, some of the adjacent counties.” The plot was hatched, according to a petition which reached the Legislature, by “those preachers who under the semblance of religious worship instill into the minds of the blacks, the most diabolical opinions & prepare them for the perpetration of the most horrible crimes.”

The Negroes had been told that the National government had set them free in October and that they were being unjustly held in servitude. Christmas Eve was to have been the time for rebellion, but the plot was discovered, the militia called out, and the patrol strengthened.”

(Antebellum North Carolina, Guion Griffis Johnson, UNC Press, 1937, pp. 514-515)

 

The North's Soulless Captain of Industry

The Northern wage system was creeping southward in antebellum times and doomed the plantation system if the question of the emancipated freemen’s position could be determined. That wage system, more cruel but more efficient and cost-effective, would replace the plantation socialism which cared for its workers from cradle to grave.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The North’s Soulless Captain of Industry

“It was not until fanatics, like William Lloyd Garrison, began to burn the Constitution, preach secession and denounce as fiends all Southern slaveholders that the South began to defend slavery and stand on their rights under organic law. To stand by their dignity as men and repel insults by force of arms if need be. My father believed that slavery would die of its own weakness in the South, as it had died in the North, unless meddling fools should provoke a war over it. As they did.

He held no illusions of the moral superiority of the Northern wage system. It had been introduced into the mills of the South and he had studied it at close range. He knew that slavery was doomed because of the superior cruel efficiency of the wage system, a far deadlier instrument of oppression if used without conscience. The Yankee had discovered this tremendous fact and applied it to his whole economic system.

They could hire an able bodied white man to work in the mills for 80 [cents] a day, a woman for 30 [cents]. Working every day in the year a man could earn $200, out of which he must pay his rent, his food, his clothes and his doctor’s bills. It cost my father $300 a year to feed, clothe, and house and care for each slave and then it took two slaves to do the work one white man was doing in the North.

My father knew that no human being could live on this earth and reproduce his kind on 80 [cents] a day. And for this reason he never believed in the moral superiority of this new master who used the wage system. In the South they called a slave a slave. In the North they called him a wage earner. He knew that ethics had nothing to do with the abolition of slavery in the North. It was abolished by the Captain of Industry, not the preacher or the agitator.

The Captain established the wage system because it became a mightier weapon in his hand for producing riches and paying dividends. It was subject to but one law . . . the iron law of wage . . . of supply and demand. The system was scientific, soulless. The wage earner, driven by hunger and cold, by the fear of loss of life itself, was always more efficient in his toil than the care-free Negro in the South, who was assured bread, clothes, fuel, shelter and the doctor’s care.”

(Southern Horizons, The Autobiography of Thomas Dixon, IWV Publishing, 1984, pp. 5-6)

Fanatical and Intransigent Abolitionists

The antebellum abolitionists saw in majority rule the basis of power – that “might makes right” and through their higher law fiction new laws could be manufactured that would impose punishment on those they disliked. It should be noted that the author below mentions “the free States” as many historians do, but should rightly be identified as “former slave States.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Fanatical and Intransigent Abolitionists

“The abolitionist, sharing the transcendentalist’s refusal to accept the dictum vox populi vox dei, had to carry that refusal one step further: public opinion at any given time before the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth could never be the voice of God, and if it were, the reformer would lose his vocation. The voice of the reforming minority was the voice of God.

But the majority was also teachable; the reformer was God’s instrument to teach the nation the truth and the vanguard in its march to a better social order. [T]he abolitionist would insist that truth is not ascertained by public opinion polls, and he would point out that the majority in the 1830s and 1840s would vote against abolition of slavery, against prohibition (a few abolitionists would too), for capital punishment, and for Jim Crow laws in the free States.

The laws, customs, even the Constitution, reflecting the general will in the unregenerate state, could not be the authority on which the reformer based his claim to the role of teacher. His authority to a higher law as embodied in the Bible and conveniently set forth, in part, in the first sentence of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. The corrupt majority prevailed not because it was right, but because it could enforce its will. “Might makes right” was in the abolitionist’s view logically deducible from the principle of majority rule.

It follows that the reforming minority, while necessary, must always be unpopular. As Wendell Phillips put it, when explaining why even abolitionists who employed conciliatory and moderate language “found every man’s hand against them”: “our unpopularity is no fault of ours, but flows necessarily and unavoidably from our position.” [Those abolitionists who carried this logic to its conclusion would suggest . . . that public acceptance would be a sign that their duty was to move on to a new unpopular position.]

Their refusal to water down their “visionary” slogan was, in their eyes, eminently practical, much more so than the course of the antislavery senators and congressmen who often wrote letters to abolitionist leaders justifying their adaptation of antislavery demands to what was attainable.

The abolitionist, while criticizing such compromises, would insist that his own intransigence made favorable compromises possible. He might have stated his position thus: If politics is the art of the possible, agitation is the art of the desirable. For one thing, [this] can be useful to the political bargainer; the more extreme demand of the agitator makes the politician’s demand seem acceptable and perhaps desirable in the sense that the adversary may prefer to give up half a loaf rather than the whole.”

(Means and Ends in American Abolitionism, Aileen S. Kraditor, Pantheon Books, 1967, pp. 25-28)

Northern Hatred Shrouded in False Humanitarianism

Lincoln as president-elect had ample opportunity to tour the South to better understand the region, as well as chastise the fanatic abolitionists who fueled the secessionist impulses of the South. He did neither, and after his unconstitutional call for troops to levy war upon a State, gave North Carolina Unionists no alternative but to join their brethren in what they regarding as a more perfect American union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Northern Hatred Shrouded in False Humanitarianism

“Appealing to his constituents on a platform which included a protective tariff, internal improvements, free homesteads to free-soilers, and limiting slavery to its current borders, Abraham Lincoln won the presidency by pulling in the electoral votes of all the Northern States with the exception of New Jersey. In ten Southern States he pulled no votes at all and consequently had no electors from that section. The national voting performance indicated that Lincoln drew considerably fewer votes than the total number of ballots cast for his three rivals, Douglas, Breckinridge, and Bell.

In searching for solutions to the troubling problems following the national elections, alert citizens wanted to know more about the kind of program the new president intended to implement during his administration. To effectively counter secession arguments, Southern Unionists needed answers to vital questions – answers only the president-elect could give.

Reflecting the anxiety of many was North Carolina Congressman John A. Gilmer’s letter of December 10, 1860, to Lincoln . . . [that] before assuming his high office, should “give the people of the United States the views and opinions you now entertain on certain public questions now so seriously distract[ing] the country.”

Lincoln, in his return letter . . . chose to continue his policy of silence relative to his pending administration. Giving assurance he did not intend to interfere with slavery in the District of Columbia, [and] seemed to imply flexibility “on everything except the territorial question, and on this he would not yield.”

To those citizens both North and South who were thoroughly convinced that slavery extension existed more in theory than in fact, the president-elect’s position bordered on absurdity. In truth, the plantation system was not destined to expand into any existing territories of the United States. The territory of New Mexico, for ten years open to settlement by slaveholders, recorded not one slave in the census of 1860. Colorado and Nevada were likewise without slaves. A few bondage blacks were to be found in Utah, and for the same year, census statistics indicated that two slaves resided in all of Kansas.

Thoughtful observers knew it would be a tragic mistake for Lincoln to proceed without a thorough understanding of the present South, reflecting the conditions brought on by a decade of intense and often bitter sectional rivalry with the North. Republican leaders, convinced as they were that an inevitable climax to the slavery issue was drawing near, surely would not overlook the strong likelihood that resolution was not attainable without secession and war.

Also, might certain essential observations have escaped Lincoln in his firm belief that there still remained throughout the South a strong residue of Union support and loyalty? In truth, Union sentiment in the region was much weaker than it had been in years past. The loyalty that had made North Carolinians proud to send James K. Polk to the presidency had now been supplanted by new and disturbing sensations.

For reasons valid or otherwise, there was furthermore a persistent suspicion that selfish and sinister forces were behind or perhaps a part of the Northern anti-slavery movement. If an irrepressible conflict lay ahead, as contended by some, how accurate was it to conclude that black people held in forced labor were the major cause of this impending crisis?

Tariffs revised upward, a national government favorable to the industrialization and capital investments so essential to expanding industry and commerce – these and related matters occupied the attention of Northern entrepreneurs and political leaders. Could it be that when spokesmen for these special interests lashed out critically against slavery, very often their zeal was intended not so much to liberate unfortunate black people as to obliterate the political power of the region in which they resided?

Was not the South – represented by its phalanx of representatives in Congress, by its dominance of the Supreme Court and almost continuous control of the executive branch, and by its agriculturally-oriented society . . . the real target of North attacks? Until this establishment was dismantled, impatient but determined Northern economic forces would continue to be held in check. So why not strike at the South’s Achilles’ heel by mounting a convincing humanitarian campaign against its “peculiar” institution?”

(Matt W. Ransom, Confederate General From North Carolina, Clayton C. Marlow, McFarland & Company, 1996, pp. 3-5)

"Oh Momma, I Am So Hungry"

Sherman saw the Southern people themselves as a legitimate target of his army. He rationalized in a letter to Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase, that “When one nation is at war with another, all the people of the one are enemies of the other [and] the rules are plain and easy of understanding. The Government of the United States may now safely proceed on the proper rule that all in the South are enemies of all in the North.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

“Oh Momma, I Am So Hungry . . . “

“Some time after her trip to Jonesboro [Georgia, Mary A.H. Gay] wrote, late in 1864:

“We had spent the preceding day in picking out grains of corn from cracks and crevices in bureau drawers, and other improvised troughs for Federal horses, as well as in gathering up what was scattered on the ground. In this way by diligent and persevering work, about a half bushel was obtained from the now deserted camping ground of Garrard’s cavalry, and this corn was thoroughly washed and dried, and carried by me and Telitha to a poor little mill (which had escaped conflagration, because too humble to attract attention), and ground into coarse meal.”

Returning from the mill one day, Miss Gay saw her mother running to meet her to tell her that Mrs. Benedict, one of her neighbors, and the latter’s little children were in an actual state of starvation. Mrs. Benedict’s husband was in the Confederate Army and she and her children had been supported by refugees driven from their own section by the further invasion of the Federal Armies. Miss Gay at once cooked what little food she had and prepared to divide it with the starving family.

“On the doorsteps,” she wrote, “sat the young mother, beautiful in desolation, with a baby in her arms, and on either side of her a little one, piteously crying for something to eat. “Oh mamma, I want something to eat so bad. Oh mamma, I am so hungry – give me something to eat.” Thus the children were begging for what the mother had not to give. She could only give them soothing words.”

(In Sherman’s Path, The Women of the South in War Times, Matthew Page Andrews, pp. 307-308)

No Sanity in Reconstruction

Raised in poverty in Reconstruction North Carolina, Thomas Dixon became a State legislator before he was old enough to vote, practiced law, was a noted minister, and author of “The Clansman” at age thirty-eight. He was determined to one day write the story of Reconstruction to let the truth be known.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

No Sanity in Reconstruction

“[Many] corrupt [Northern] leaders sought means to give vent to hatreds that had been aroused by the war. William G. Brownlow, better known as “Parson Brownlow,” a preacher who became Governor of Tennessee during the Reconstruction era, had declared in a speech to a convention in New York in 1862:

“If I had the power, I would arm every wolf, panther, catamount and bear in the mountains of America, every crocodile in the swamps of Florida, every Negro in the South, every fiend in hell, clothe them all in the uniforms of the Federal army and turn them loose on the rebels of the South and exterminate every man, woman and child south of the Mason Dixon line. I would like to see especially the Negro troops, marching under Ben Butler, crowd the last rebel into the Gulf of Mexico and drown them as the Devil did the hogs in the Sea of Galilee.”

Such fanaticism from influential leaders was not conducive to soothing the wounds of the war. In Dixon’s native State of North Carolina, as a result of proceedings brought by Dixon’s uncle, Colonel [Lee Roy] McAfee, William W. Holden became the first governor to be impeached in an American commonwealth when his corrupt practices could no longer be borne by the people.

Many sane, responsible men, such as Dixon’s father and Colonel McAfee, took part in the Ku Klux Klan in an effort to bring some sort of order out of the tragedy of Reconstruction. These men did not tolerate injustice, and when they saw that the Klan had served its purpose, they immediately wanted to disband it.

In later years, Dixon wondered how any person could have lived through Reconstruction and still have retained his sanity. Lawlessness was, for a period of many months, the rule rather than the exception.

One of the brightest periods in Thomas’s childhood began on the day a young Negro boy, bloody, unconscious and almost dead, was brought to the home of the Dixon’s. The boy’s father, in a drunken fit, had tried to kill him with an axe. [The Dixon’s legally adopted him] and from that day forward young Dixon and little Dick were inseparable companions.”

(Fire from the Flint, The Amazing Careers of Thomas Dixon, Raymond Allen Cook, John F. Blair, Publisher, 1968, pp. 13-14)