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Looking Back at Wilmington’s “1898”

Largely, if not totally ignored in today’s discussion regarding November 1898’s unfortunate “newspaper editorial confrontation turned-violent” is the lack of perspective regarding the long lead-up to it. The local government, media and university are all complicit in beating the drums of racial animosity which will lead to less racial harmony, not more. The most detailed and informed book regarding this sad event is not a book, but a hard-to-find 800-page doctoral dissertation found at the end. Unfortunately, there are only several poorly researched and outright fictional books which do nothing to enlighten the reader.

Looking Back at Wilmington’s “1898”

First, it is probable that had the war of 1861-1865 not occurred and the South was left on its own to solve the riddle of racial coexistence, no November 1898 violence would have occurred. This racial conundrum was imposed on the American South by African tribes enslaving their own people and selling them to English, and later New England traders. After the Civil War the Republican party, anxious to maintain political hegemony over the country, enfranchised black men. These, along with Union veterans bought with pension money, kept Republicans in power.

The Democratic party finally rid North Carolina of Republican/Carpetbag rule by 1872, but Wilmington remained a holdout of Republican power due to its majority black population. The Democratic party dominated State politics through the early 1890s.

After the Republican-Populist victory in State politics in 1896, the Republicans began a program common to political parties – they dismantle and rearrange legislation the opposition party had erected to establish their own barriers to their opponents ever returning to power. This political strategy continues today.

In the run-up to the 1896 elections, Populists realized their plight as described by Hal W. Ayer, chair of the New Hanover County Populist party: “If the Democrats won, they would continue to ignore the farmers; if Republicans won, independently of Populists, they would be forced by the large black constituency which constitutes the great body of the party into some of the [Reconstruction] recklessness of 1868; and this is something to be feared as much as Democratic rule.”

These Populists, many of them farmers who believe the Democrats should have been more politically-attentive to them in the past, and “who distrusted the large black element of the Republican party,” decided to cooperate with the Republicans in order to “defeat the arrogant and hypocritical Democrats, and at the same time secure by such cooperation a balance of power in the State Legislature that would effectually check any wild or reckless plan that might be advocated by the Republican party.” As with many partnerships, the Republicans would forget their Populist associates once in power.

Both the Wilmington Messenger and Wilmington Morning Star newspapers wrote of the specter of corrupt Reconstruction politics returning to bedevil white residents. The black-owned Wilmington Sentinel endorsed Daniel Russell for governor – who was nominally a Republican and ignored by party leadership – to ensure black unity within Republican ranks. To the dismay of white Democratic voters, Russell, who promised patronage positions to those lieutenants delivering the vote, was elected thanks to strong turnout in sixteen black-dominated counties, with 87 percent of eligible blacks voting. It is noteworthy that 20 percent of eligible black voters cast ballots for the Democratic candidate, and 8 percent voted for the Populist candidate.

An irony within white Republican ranks was though they preached racial equality publicly, “they resented black officeholding and activity in Republican party affairs.” While earlier a superior court judge, Russell himself stated that “Negroes are natural-born thieves. They will steal six days in the week and go to church on Sunday to shout and pray it off.” However, by the mid-1890s white Republicans were a minority in their party and only constituted those hungry for political employment.

Prior to the elections of 1898, black newspaper editor Alex Manly penned an unfortunate editorial which insulted white women and predictably incurred the wrath of the area’s white menfolk. Many prominent men in Wilmington demanded that the city’s Republican mayor and aldermen close down the paper and force the editor to leave town. The Republicans did little or nothing which eventually led to a violent confrontation.

But lost in today’s rhetoric is the very basis of Manly’s editorial and what prompted it. Why is this ignored and not identified as the primary cause? Manly was commenting on an earlier speech of Rebecca Felton of Georgia, wife of a legislator, who addressed a group of Savannah women earlier and denounced the rape of white farm women by black men while their husbands were far off in the fields working. Mrs. Felton demanded that the Republican party, the political home of most black voters and which preached hatred toward Democrats, do something to end the heinous crimes of their constituents.

Manly’s later editorial claimed that the white women had somehow encouraged the advances of the black men attacking them in their homes. This predictably led an enraged group of white residents to march to Manly’s establishment to escort him to the rail station. Not finding Manly, on the march back to their homes these men were fired upon by black men concealed in houses being passed, and they returned fire. This entire episode was preventable.

The black New Hanover County Coroner, David Jacobs, summoned a Coroner’s Jury the following day to investigate the deaths of five black men from gunshot wounds. Three white men were wounded in the affair, one seriously. Though there are numerous unsubstantiated estimates of those killed or wounded, we have only the coroner’s investigation as an official source. On November 15th, black resident Thomas Lane was tried for firing a pistol into the group of men marching to Manly’s news office. Lane quickly ran out the back, but the return fire unfortunately caused the death of an occupant, Josh Halsey.

An important but marginalized voice in this 1898 affair is Collector of Customs John C. Dancy, a black Edgecombe County native appointed by Republican presidential patronage to his position, and the highest-paid person in North Carolina at the time. In this influential position he was considered the head of the Republican party and expected to foster and deliver the vote, and he surrounded himself with black employees at the Custom house who were expected to promote party interests. After the violence of November 1898, Dancy concluded that all blame be placed upon Manly’s editorial, which lit the flame.

A question to be put to rest is the often-heard claim that the conflict ended democratically elected government in Wilmington. The Republican-Populist legislature, once in power in 1895, altered municipal charters to benefit themselves. They amended Wilmington’s charter “so as to establish a partly elected and partly appointed Board of Aldermen.

The amended charter did not alter ward lines but allowed “qualified voters of each ward to elect one alderman and empowered the Governor to appoint one alderman from each of the five wards.” (McDuffie, pg. 460-461).  Under the guise of “preventing misrule by the propertyless and ignorant elements,” the Republicans strictly controlled Wilmington’s municipal government.

(Politics in Wilmington and New Hanover County, NC: 1865-1900. Jerome A. McDuffie, PhD dissertation, 1979, Kent State University, pp. 442-453; 738)

The Hardship of Wheatless Days

Mississippi Senator John Sharp Williams (1854-1932) was born in Tennessee but raised in Mississippi after being orphaned in the Civil War. After attending several fine universities in the US and Europe, he took his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1876. As a patriotic response to England launching its HMS Dreadnought in 1906, Senator Williams introduced a bill to change the name of an American battleship to the USS “Skeered O’ Nuthin’.

The Hardship of Wheatless Days

“In March 1918, the New York World, in an editorial article on the World War of the early twentieth century, took occasion to state:

“It will do the country no harm to note the reminder of Senator John Sharp Williams of Mississippi that its war sufferings in the matter of food have reached no very heroic stage as yet.”

Senator Williams was then quoted as saying:

“Men go out and exploit themselves about ‘wheatless days’ and the lack of food. The Southern Confederacy had no wheat for three years during the Civil War. I went from 1862 to Lee’s surrender without seeing anything made out of wheat except an occasional Christmas or birthday cake, and that was sweetened with molasses. What is the use of talking about hardships? We are having no hardships in this country. If you cannot stand hardships, then you are not worthy of your ancestors. Let us send men, munitions and food to France and quit our patrioteering camouflage.”

(The Women of the South in Wartime. Matthew Page Andrews, The Norman, Remington Company, 1920, pg. 30)

Jul 30, 2023 - Antebellum Realities, Historical Accuracy, Recurring Southern Conservatism, Southern Statesmen    Comments Off on American Jews in Grey

American Jews in Grey

To put the below in perspective, the number of Jewish men in the northern army was anywhere between 6,000 to 15,000. The Jewish contribution to the military effort of the Confederacy was significant, and Secretary of War John Seddon’s estimated that there were between 10,000 and 12,000 Jews fighting in grey.

American Jews in Grey

“At the time of the Civil War there were about 150,000 Jews in the United States among a white population of 27 million. Jews thus constituted slightly more than half of one percent of the total.

The intense loyalty of Southern Jews to the Confederacy was to be expected in view of the fact that the South was the first region in the United States to tear down the barriers blocking the political and social advance of Jews. Thus, the first Jew to serve as a State governor was David Emanuel, who, having distinguished himself for valor in the siege of Savannah in the Revolutionary War, was elected Governor of Georgia in 1801. In contrast, the last State to retain discriminatory laws against Jews holding public office was New Hampshire, which did not remove them until 1876.

The first Jew to be elected to the United States Senate was also a Southerner. David Levy Yulee was elected Florida’s first United States Senator in 1845. In Congress he was vociferous in his opposition to federal restrictions on the introduction of slavery into the territories to be acquired from Mexico.

The second Jew to serve in the Senate was Judah P. Benjamin, a man descended from Spanish Jews who were expelled from the peninsula, then ended to England, then to the American South. He left Yale without graduating, arrived in New Orleans with four dollars in his pocket, married into a distinguished Creole family, became an immensely successful lawyer and planter, and pioneered in the mechanization of sugar cultivation.

President Zachary Taylor nominated him for Attorney General; Millard Fillmore nominated him for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.”

(The Jew in American Politics. Nathaiel Weyl. Arlington House. 1968, pp. 50-51)

May 18, 2023 - Future Political Conundrums, Recurring Southern Conservatism, Southern Conservatives    Comments Off on Reassessing George Wallace

Reassessing George Wallace

Author Josh Doggrell provides an exceptional synopsis of George Wallace’s political career and his positions which appeared in the December issue of Chronicles Magazine. This periodical provides some of the finest commentary on American culture today and is highly recommended.

Doggrell posits that “In the poisonous political climate of the 21st century, it is nearly impossible to have rational conversations about the social issues of the 1950s and 1960s. Nearly sixty years later, not only have the wheels not fallen off that bus, but the bus has become a revenge locomotive surging ahead at full speed.”

The author identifies “two main takeaways from the life and impact of George Wallace. He failed to improve his legacy as “those on the Right cannot seem to learn that trying to win points with the Left and win battles on their home turf playing by the Left’s warped rules is an exercise in futility.” No matter what, the Left still reviles him as much as the unfortunate Trent Lott who groveled in front of Jesse Jackson.

Second, Wallace won enormous support from the people. He said that “Reagan ran on everything I ran on . . . He even used some of the same phrases I used.” The author suggests that the George Wallace’s populist revolution of the 1960s made possible the Reagan revolution of the 1980s.

Reassessing George Wallace  

“One can study the texts of [George] Wallace’s inaugural address and his schoolhouse-door speech from 1963 and see the consistent themes of federal overreach, State sovereignty, Yankee dissimulation, constitutionalism, free enterprise and regional pride.

Virtually ignored in the popular history of this event is that in the following three days Wallace received over 40,000 letters and telegrams, the vast majority supportive and over half coming from outside the South.

Barry Goldwater became the first presidential candidate to echo, if not incorporate wholesale, the views of candidate Wallace when Goldwater became the Republican nominee in 1964. In 1968 Richard Nixon won the presidency by sounding a lot like Wallace without a Southern accent.  The “Southern strategy” was born.

Nixon took the populist threat of Wallace very seriously, instructing his personal attorney Herbert Kalmbach to make secret payments to his opponent’s campaign.

It is easy for us to forget just how well Wallace was doing in the 1972 presidential race, before calamity struck. He was riding high in the polls just before he was shot five times in Laurel, Maryland. Before entering the 1972 Florida Democratic primary, he said: “I have no illusions about the ultimate outcome. But we gonna shake up the Democratic party. We gonna shake it to its eye-teeth.”

Wallace would go on to win more Democratic primaries than anyone except the nominee, George McGovern, in a five-way race. Wallace’s popular vote was less than two points behind McGovern’s.

Nixon went on to win by a landslide – and we are left only to imagine the entertainment spectacle of a Nixon-Wallace debate.”

(Reassessing the Legacy of George Wallace. John Doggrell, Chronicles Magazine, December 2021, pp. 39-40)

Nathaniel Macon, Model Conservative

Nathaniel Macon, Model Conservative

From the Congressional Globe, February 14, 1826:

“The government which John Quincy Adams found when he moved into the White House in 1825 was a much bigger government than his father had left; and Nathaniel Macon, who had represented North Carolina in Congress since 1791, was far from happy with it.

He regretted that everything had grown, just like the number of doorkeepers of the houses of Congress. “Formerly two men were sufficient for doorkeeper, etc., for the two houses,” Macon complained, “but now there is a regiment.”

As he recalled at the time, during the presidency of John Adams, when the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions had been passed, he asked: “If there was reason to be alarmed at the growing power of the General Government [then], how much more has taken place since? Congress now stopped almost at nothing, which it deemed expedient to be done, and the Constitution was construed to give power for any grand scheme.”

To Macon, it was a dangerous development. “Do a little now, and a little then, and by and by, they would render this government as powerful and unlimited as the British Government was,” Macon told his colleagues in the Senate in 1825.

At the next session, Macon declared that “he did not like to go on in this way – the Government constantly gaining power by little bits. A wagon road was made under treaty with an Indian tribe some twenty years ago – and now it has become a great national object to be kept up by large appropriations. We thus go on by degrees, step by step, until we get almost unlimited government power.”

(Nathaniel Macon and the Southern Protest Against National Consolidation. Noble E. Cunningham, Jr.  North Carolina Historical Review, Volume XXXI, No. 3, July 1955, pg. 376)

 

Unable to Settle the Great Differences

“The South in 1860 knew only that the party which was hotly intolerant of the whole body of Southern institutions and interests had triumphed in the elections and was about to take possession of the government, and that it was morally impossible to preserve the Union any longer.

“If you who represent the stronger portion,” Senator John C. Calhoun stated in 1850, in words which perfectly convey this feeling in their quiet cadences, cannot agree to settle the great questions at issue on the broad principle of justice and duty, say so; and let the States we both represent agree to separate and depart in peace.”  (Division and Reunion, 1829-1909. Woodrow Wilson. Longmans, Green and Co., 1912; pp. 209-210)

Let the South Depart in Peace

Let the South Depart in Peace

Frederick Grimke’ (1791-1863) wrote about the meaning of American constitutional democracy in his “Nature and Tendency of Free Institutions” of 1848. His work was hailed as a fitting companion to Tocqueville’s Democracy in America as both works at the time were deep philosophical studies of this country’s democratic civilization.

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Grimke’ was a Southern aristocrat, well-acquainted with American history and possessed a lifetime’s intimate experience with American legal and political institutions.  He parted with what he saw as Tocqueville’s grand mistake “of identifying equality of condition,” instead holding that the American system contained the promise of equality of opportunity.

On the subject of African bondage, he opposed immediate and uncompensated abolition and found himself frequently at odds with sisters Sarah and Angelina, the latter married to the intense Connecticut abolitionist Theodore Weld. Grimke’s first-hand experience with free black communities around Cincinnati convinced him of their not yet being ready to assume the responsibilities of American self-government.

As the sectional gulf between North and South widened, Grimke’ held that States could not nullify federal laws within the Union but were at full liberty to withdraw from that union and form another. He viewed this as akin to a person who had decided to migrate to another country.

He wrote that “no enlightened person who values freedom would contest the right of an individual to emigration; and likewise, none should threaten or compel a State bent on seceding to remain” in a political union it wished to leave.

Grimke’ understood this policy of peaceful departure from the 1789 Union by a group of States to be a lesser evil than war. Grimke’ also believed – as did Jefferson – that a number of regional American confederations might later be created; and while they would have distinct political governments, they would continue to belong, if not to the original union, but to the American democratic civilization which he so greatly prized.”

(The Nature and Tendency of Free Institutions, Frederick Grimke, John Williams Ward, editor. Harvard University Press, 1968. Review essay by Adrienne Kohn, South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 71, 1970.)

 

What Congress is Doing to Curb the Supreme Court

What Congress Is Doing to Curb the Supreme Court

“Bills to counter recent Supreme Court rulings are starting to make their way through Congress. How much further will Congress go? Everything about the Court – how it operates, terms of judges, scope of rulings – is about to get a thorough review, the first in decades.

US News & World Report – July 12, 1957 – Congress is starting to strike back at the Supreme Court. A score of bills have been introduced to curb the Court’s power and to sidestep the effects of controversial decisions. It is clear that a growing number of Congressmen are convinced that new laws must be passed to overcome the effects of these decisions. Other Congressmen propose to go much further and trim the powers of the Court itself.

Senator Herman Talmadge (Dem.) of Georgia, for example, proposes to amend the code of laws to remove public schools from the jurisdiction of federal courts. Others have offered amendments to the Constitution giving States the exclusive power to regulate schools and all other matters relating to health and morals.

Limits on Tenure? Court decisions during the recent term have produced a rash of bills to make Supreme Court Justices less safe in their lifetime jobs. Senator Russell Long (Dem.) of Louisiana, offered a constitutional amendment to require reconfirmation of a justice by the Senate after 12 years on the bench.  Senators Olin D. Johnston (Dem.) of South Carolina, and James O. Eastland (Dem.) of Mississippi propose amendments to require reconfirmation every 4 years.

Behind all the proposals affecting the appointment of Justices is the objection in Congress that recent decisions have been more political than judicial in purpose and in effect.

To promote full debate, Senator Talmadge also is sponsoring a bill to require the Court to give a full hearing, with oral argument, on any case it decides. His contention is that the Court acted in at least ten cases during the recent term without hearing arguments.

All of these bills, in effect, are telling the Court that it is asserting too much power over Congress, the President and the States.”

The North Befogged by Bitterness and Prejudice

Democrat US Congressman Graham A. Barden of northeastern North Carolina first took his seat in November 1934 and served initially on the Library Committee. His positions were usually conservative and often differed with the Truman administration. He was wary of the administration’s Palestine policy in 1948 characterizing it as “terribly dangerous” and one that “would arouse the whole Moslem world.” He charged that Truman was being influenced by American Zionists and bought UN support with Marshall Plan funds. He predicted that the US would be called upon to aid the new Israeli government with both men and money.

Barden was wary of federal aid to education while firmly stating that “the prime responsibility for financing education was in the hands of State and local government,” and that any federal aid must not bring with it any federal control. He rightly feared what the federal bureaucracy might do in interpreting the bill.

North Befogged by Bitterness and Prejudice

“Barden’s opportunity to appear as a champion of the American South occurred when a delegation of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic appeared before the Library Committee to oppose a resolution to erect a memorial to Robert E. Lee near the Lee Mansion in Arlington. Barden sat quietly and uncomfortably until the ladies’ attack upon Southern generals and the Confederacy turned into a tirade against the South and all Southerners.

As the only Southerner present on the committee, Barden came to the defense of not only Robert E. Lee, but of the South’s heritage. The congressman declared that he had “never heard such sectional bitterness expressed.” Answering the women’s insistence that Arlington National Cemetery was a “Union and not a Confederate graveyard” and that even though a few Confederate dead were buried there, Arlington was not a place to honor Confederates, Barden pointed out that in his hometown of New Bern, North Carolina a thousand Union soldiers were buried with honor in a beautiful cemetery.

He continued “We of the South do not propose to keep our brains and characters befogged by bitterness and prejudice. The hospitality of the South has never been questioned, not even by a dead Union soldier.”

The effectiveness of Barden’s position was apparent when the committee voted to report the Robert E. Lee Memorial bill favorably.”

(Graham A. Barden: Conservative Carolina Congressman. Elmer L. Puryear, Campbell University Press, 1979, pp. 22-23; 55; 82)

Chief Justice Taney and Dred Scott

What follows is an abridgment of an article written by a descendant of Chief Justice Taney to clarify the legal question presented and facts considered. Taney was 12 years old when Washington died and lived long enough to see the Constitution overthrown by military force. It is said that his arrest was ordered for defying Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus.

Chief Justice Taney and Dred Scott

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (pronounced “tawney”), 1777-1864, is mostly known for his decision in the Dred Scott v. Sanford case in 1857. Largely forgotten is his 30 years on the bench of the Supreme Court, and his steadfast understanding that the Constitution is a compact among sovereign States. In his view, most matters of importance were the domain of States, not the federal government, and the Court was to interpret the Constitution according to the original constitutional meaning when it was first adopted.

The primary question the Court was to decide in the Dred Scott case was whether black people in the United States were “citizens” of the United States. It must be recalled that in the antebellum United States people were first citizens of the individual States, and by virtue of that, the United States.

Taney’s Court was to determine whether people of African descent were actual members of the American political community under the original intent and meaning of the Constitution. His study and understanding reflected that the United States in 1789 were primarily white, Anglo-Saxon people and black people were not part of what was an original political creation of Europeans. The racial viewpoint of the latter toward African people was primary in his consideration.

He and his Court saw that in all States, North and South, laws restricted relations between the white and black races because it was widely believed that “a perpetual and impassable barrier was intended to be erected between the white and black race.” Clearly, this is in general an accurate assessment of 17th and 18th century colonial law.

The Court also explored whether the Declaration of Independence proposition that “all men are created equal” altered the legal and social status of black people in America. Taney argued that if understood in its proper historical context where blacks and whites occupied different legal and social spheres, “it is too clear that black people were not intended to be included and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this Declaration” in 1789.

It was clear then as it is now, that the Declaration of Independence stood only for the proposition that the American colonists, as Englishmen, had the same rights to self-determination and self-government as their British kinsmen. The Founders of course provided for future amendments to their work, but Taney and his Court were considering this legal question in 1857.

Taney’s Court also investigated whether the Constitution itself had changed the status of black people so as to make them part of the American political and legal community. Taney noted that as the Preamble declared that the United States was formed “by the people” – which was those who were members of the different political communities in the several States forming the United States. Taney concluded that as most States, North and South, had long distinguished between blacks and whites in terms of social and legal rights, and the Constitution itself implicitly distinguishing between the races in its Migration and Importation clause (permitting the abolition of the slave trade after 1808) and the Fugitive Slaves clause, black people were simply not intended as part of “the people” described in the Constitution.

As Taney reviewed federal statutes to further divine the Founders’ minds in 1789 and what they considered “the people of the United States,” he found two federal laws passed within a few years of ratification. One was the first naturalization law of 1790, which provided that only “free, white persons” could become citizens and therefore this was the political community. The other was the first militia law of 1792, which required the enrollment of every “free, able-bodied white male citizen.”

Though one could contest Chief Justice Taney’s interpretations at that time, eminent historian Carl Brent Swisher wrote in his well-respected biography of Taney that his decision was based upon an “accurate portrayal of relations between the two races in communities where both lived in considerable numbers” at the time it was written.

Thus, investigating this important question in 1857, Chief Justice Taney concluded that people of African descent were not citizens of the United States, and therefore the Dred Scott case did not fall under federal jurisdiction. To rule otherwise, Taney warned, “would require that the Court give to the words of the Constitution more liberal construction in their favor than they were intended to bear when the instrument was framed and adopted.”

Such a “liberal construction” would exceed the Supreme Court’s authority.

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