For Love of God and Country
Why have African-Americans abandoned the Republican Party when it never abandoned them? Part I
This is the first part in a two-part series
October 26, 2012"I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored. I am merely a fragment of the Great Soul that surges within the boundaries. My country, right or wrong." -- Zora Neale Hurston.
The history of African-Americans is a history of cruelty and callousness. But then it became a history of triumph and character. As Frederick Douglass once said, in the beginning we watched how a man was made a slave, but then we saw how a slave was made a man.
When the delegates from twelve of the original thirteen states met in Philadelphia in 1787 (Rhode Island didn't participate) to draft a new constitution that would "create a more perfect union," the hope, and indeed the plan, was to abolish slavery. At first, South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina refused to join that union if the institution was outlawed, but then North Carolina gave in, noting that it already had a state law which banned the slave trade (although not directly). But South Carolina and Georgia were steadfast and unyielding. The plan for a Union would not work without those states. 
Thomas Jefferson said: "There is preparing, I hope, under the auspices of heaven, a way for a total emancipation." George Washington said, near the end of his life, wrote these words: "It is among my first wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery in this country shall be abolished by law. I know of but one way by which this can be done, and that is by legislative action; and so far as my vote can go, it shall not be wanting." Patrick Henry said, "We should transmit to posterity our abhorrence of slavery." And George Mason, of Virginia, who refused to sign the Constitution because it did not abolish slavery outright, was particularly passionate on the subject: "Slavery is slow poison, which is daily contaminating the minds and morals of our People. Practiced in acts of despotism and cruelty, we become callous to the dictates of humanity, and all the finer feelings of the soul. Taught to regard a part of our own species in the most abject and contemptible degree below us, we lose that idea of the dignity of Man, which the hand of nature had implanted in us, for great and useful purposes..... Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. Slaves bring the judgment of heaven on a country. As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes national sins, by national calamities." [Mason's prediction about "national calamities" would come to pass in 1861].
A compromise was needed to bring South Carolina and Georgia together with the other states.
In the final draft of the Constitution, as submitted on September 17, 1787, a provision was intentionally included in Article I, respecting the duties of the legislative branch. In Section 9 ("Limits on Congress"), our drafters included the following prohibition: "The migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person." In other words, the government could not ban the importation of slaves for 20 years after the adoption of the Constitution.
The compromise on slavery occurred because the delegates as a whole agreed with Roger Sherman of Connecticut, who made the observation that it was better to let the Southern states import slaves than to part with those states.
As the designated year 1808 approached, those opposed to slavery began making plans for legislation that would ban, or outlaw, the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
In fact, in 1805, the first such piece of legislation was introduced by a senator from Vermont. The following year, in his annual address to Congress, President Thomas Jefferson urged Congress to pass the bill, which it did. The law was finally passed by both houses of Congress on March 2, 1807, and then signed it into law on March 3, 1807 by Jefferson. However, given the restriction imposed by Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, the law would only become effective on January 1, 1808.
The 1807 law ending the importation of slaves did nothing to stop the buying and selling of slaves within the United States and that turned out to be another battle for another day. This issue of slavery would not be resolved until the end of the Civil War and then with the passage of the 13th Amendment.
The condition of the Negro during the time of slavery here in the United States can be summed up by a sermon delivered in 1808 by Bishop Absalom Jones:
The history of the world shows us, that the deliverance of the children of Israel from their bondage, is not the only instance, in which it has pleased God to appear in behalf of oppressed and distressed nations, as the deliverer of the innocent, and of those who call upon his name. He is as unchangeable in his nature and character, as he is in his wisdom and power. He has seen the affliction of our countrymen, with an eye of pity. He has seen the wicked arts, by which wars have been fomented among the different tribes of the Africans, in order to procure captives, for the purpose of selling them for slaves. He has seen ships fitted out from different ports in Europe and America, and freighted with trinkets to be exchanged for the bodies and souls of men. He has seen the anguish which has taken place, when parents have been torn from their children, and children from their parents, and conveyed, with their hands and feet bound in fetters, on board of ships prepared to receive them. He has seen them thrust in crowds into the holds of those ships, where many of them have perished from the want of air. He has seen such of them as have escaped from that noxious place of confinement, leap into the ocean; with a faint hope of swimming back to their native shore, or a determination to seek early retreat from their impending misery, in a watery grave. He has seen them exposed for sale, like horses and cattle, upon the wharves; or, like bales of goods, in warehouses of West India and American sea ports. He has seen the pangs of separation between members of the same family. He has seen them driven into the sugar; the rice, and the tobacco fields, and compelled to work--in spite of the habits of ease which they derived from the natural fertility of their own country in the open air, beneath a burning sun, with scarcely as much clothing upon them as modesty required. He has seen them faint beneath the pressure of their labors. He has seen them return to their smoky huts in the evening, with nothing to satisfy their hunger but a scanty allowance of roots; and these, cultivated for themselves, on that day only, which God ordained as a day of rest for man and beast. He has seen the neglect with which their masters have treated their immortal souls; not only in withholding religious instruction from them, but, in some instances, depriving them of access to the means of obtaining it. He has seen all the different modes of torture, by means of the whip, the screw, the pincers, and the red hot iron, which have been exercised upon their bodies, by inhuman overseers: overseers, did I say? Yes: but not by these only. Our God has seen masters and mistresses, educated in fashionable life, sometimes take the instruments of torture into their own hands, and, deaf to the cries and shrieks of their agonizing slaves, exceed even their overseers in cruelty. Inhuman wretches! though You have been deaf to their cries and shrieks, they have been heard in Heaven. The ears of Jehovah have been constantly open to them: He has heard the prayers that have ascended from the hearts of his people; and he has, as in the case of his ancient and chosen people the Jews, come down to deliver our suffering country-men from the hands of their oppressors. He came down into the United States, when they declared, in the constitution which they framed in 1788, that the trade in our African fellow-men, should cease in the year 1808. He came down into the British Parliament, when they passed a law to put an end to the same iniquitous trade in May, 1807. He came down into the Congress of the United States, the last winter, when they passed a similar law, the operation of which commences on this happy day."Bishop Jones delivered that sermon on January 1, 1808, in St. Thomas's, or the African Episcopal, Church, Philadelphia, in recognition of the legislation that was passed that day by the US Congress to abolish the African slave trade.
By 1820, most of the Founding Fathers were dead and Thomas Jefferson's party, the Democratic-Republican Party, had become the majority party in Congress, outnumbering the Federalists. In fact, 1820 is said to be the year which marked the death of the Federalist Party. With this new Democratic-Republican Party in charge, a change in congressional policy emerged. At the time, a law that was enacted in 1789, prohibiting slavery in federal territory, was still on the books. In 1820, the Democratic-Republican Congress passed the Missouri Compromise and reversed that earlier policy and thereby permitted slavery in almost half of the federal territories. Several States were subsequently admitted as slave States. For the first time since the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, slavery was being officially promoted by congressional policy. Yet, the only way for the Congress to promote slavery was to ignore the principles in the founding documents. As Founding Father and President John Quincy Adams explained: "The first step of the slaveholder to justify by argument the peculiar institutions of slavery is to deny the self-evident truths of John Quincy Adams the Declaration of Independence. He denies that all men are created equal. He denies that they have inalienable rights."
Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party would lay the foundation for the Democratic Party. In 1828, the Democratic-Republicans split over the choice of a successor to President James Monroe, and the party faction that supported many of the old Jeffersonian principles, led by Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, became the Democratic Party. Andrew Jackson is considered our first Democratic president. Ironically, the Democratic party believed in strict adherence and strict interpretation of the Constitution, as well as limited government and states' rights, and it opposed a national bank and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. 
The Democrats soon became the leading party in Congress and they passed several pro-slavery laws, including the infamous 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. The Fugitive Slave Law required Northerners to return escaped slaves back into slavery or else pay huge fines. In many instances, the law became little more than an excuse for southern slave hunters to kidnap free blacks in the North and carry them into slavery in the South.
In 1854, the democratically-controlled Congress passed another law which strengthened slavery - the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Even though Democrats in Congress had already expanded the federal territories in which slavery was permitted through their passage of the Missouri Compromise, the compromise retained a ban on slavery in the particular territory that would later become the states of Kansas and Nebraska. But through the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Democrats were able to repeal that ban and therefore allow slavery to be introduced into parts of the new territory where it previously had been forbidden, thereby increasing the national area in which slavery would be permitted. This law led to what was called "bleeding Kansas," where pro-slavery forces came pouring into the territory that was previously free and began fighting violent battles against the anti-slavery inhabitants there.
Northern leaders such as Horace Greeley (famous NY newspaper editor of his day), Ohio Senator Salmon Chase (a senator from Ohio, and Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner (senator from Massachusetts, known as a powerful orator) could not sit back and watch the flood of pro-slavery settlers cross the parallel. They began to toss around the idea for a new party. In 1854, six anti-slavery members of Congress - belonging to the Democratic Party, the Whig Party, and the Free Soil Party - wrote an article entitled "Appeal of the Independent Democrats" which was widely published in major newspapers all over the states and territories and which criticized the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The six authors were as follows:
Salmon P. Chase (Senator from Ohio; member of the Free Soil Party; later to become Lincoln's Secretary of Treasury and then appointed by him to the Supreme Court where he later wrote an opinion announcing that states have no right to secede from the Union)
Charles Sumner (Senator from Massachusetts; although he helped found the Free Soil Party, he took his seat in the US Senate in 1951 as a Democrat. Sumner was known as a powerful orator. In fact, in 1856, after he delivered an intensely anti-slavery speech called "The Crime Against Kansas" on the Senate floor, he was almost beaten to death by a senator from South Carolina)
J. R. Giddiugs (anti-slavery congressman from Ohio; member of the Whig Party who would befriend a fellow Whig, Abraham Lincoln)
Edward Wade (Congressman from Ohio, member of the Free Soil Party)
Gerritt Smith (Congressman from New York, member of the Free Soil Party; staunch abolitionist)
Alexander De Witt (Congressman from Massachusetts, member of the Free Soil Party)
The "Appeal of the Independent Democrats" stated:
"The original settled policy of the United States, clearly indicated by the Jefferson provision of 1784 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, was non-extension of slavery. In 1803 Louisiana was acquired by purchase from France and the plain language of the treaty under which the territory had been acquired from France emphasized that national policy......Following the publication of this "Appeal," spontaneous anti-slavery demonstrations occurred throughout 1854. Sentiment was quickly building for this new political party which would oppose slavery and help secure equal civil rights for negroes. It would become known as the Republican Party. The Republican Party name was christened in an editorial written by newspaper magnate Horace Greeley. Greeley printed in June 1854: "We should not care much whether those thus united against slavery are designated 'Whig,' 'Free Democrat' or something else. We think some simple name like 'Republican' would more fitly designate those who had united to restore the Union to its true mission of champion and promulgator of Liberty rather than propagandist of slavery."
We appeal to the people. We warn you that the dearest interests of freedom and the Union are in imminent peril. Demagogues may tell you that the Union can be maintained only by submitting to the demands of slavery. We tell you that the Union can only be maintained by the full recognition of the just claims of freedom and man. The Union was formed to establish justice and secure the blessings of liberty. When it fails to accomplish these ends it will be worthless, and when it becomes worthless it cannot long endure.
We entreat you to be mindful of that fundamental maxim of Democracy—EQUAL RIGHTS AND EXACT JUSTICE FOR ALL MEN. Do not submit to become agents in extending legalized oppression and systematized injustice over a vast territory yet exempt from these terrible evils.
We implore Christians and Christian ministers to interpose. Their divine religion requires them to behold in every man a brother, and to labor for the advancement and regeneration of the human race.
Whatever apologies may be offered for the toleration of slavery in the States, none can be offered for its extension into Territories where it does not exist, and where that extension involves the repeal of ancient law and the violation of solemn compact. Let all protest, earnestly and emphatically, by correspondence, through the press, by memorials, by resolutions of public meetings and legislative bodies, and in whatever other mode may seem expedient, against this enormous crime.
For ourselves, we shall resist it by speech and vote, and with all the abilities which God has given us. Even if overcome in the impending struggle, we shall not submit. We shall go home to our constituents, erect anew the standard of freedom, and call on the people to come to the rescue of the country from the domination of slavery. We will not despair; for the cause of human freedom is the cause of God."
By 1855 it would already have a majority in the US House of Representatives. By 1856, it held its first nominating convention, in Philadelphia, where it announced that it had become a unified political force. It's first presidential candidate would be Abraham Lincoln in 1860. And his platform would specifically include a pledge not to permit slavery to exist into any US territory that was not already a state.
Before Lincoln would run for president, there would be one more insult to the negro - the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857. This decision would energize the growing abolitionist movement.
In Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether a slave who escaped from a slave state to a free state is considered free. And the words and thought which flowed from the minds of such supposed constitutional scholars entrusted with the bench of the highest court in the land represented the lowest point in American constitutional jurisprudence.
On March 6th, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, a Democrat, a staunch supporter of slavery, and one intent on protecting the South from northern aggression, delivered the majority opinion. He summed the case up in one question: "The question is simply this: Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country (from Africa), and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guaranteed by that instrument to the citizen? One of which rights is the privilege of suing in a court of the United States in the cases specified in the Constitution."
Taney answered: "We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'citizens' in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them."
Seven of the nine justices agreed that Dred Scott should remain a slave, but Taney did not stop there. He referred to blacks as an "inferior race" and an "unfortunate race" and a degraded and unhappy race." He said they are "beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery." He ruled that blacks, whether slaves or as free men, are descended from an inferior race which was never intended to be included among the class of persons protected by our Declaration of Independence or Constitution. As he explained, the framers of the Constitution believed that blacks "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it." Justice Taney ruled that as a slave, Scott was not a citizen of the United States, could never be a citizen, was therefore not entitled to any rights or privileges afforded by the Constitution, and therefore had no right to bring suit in the federal courts on any matter. In other words, because blacks (Africans, as Taney referred to them) are an inferior race, they are only fit to serve the interests of other human beings. No African, therefore, can ever be protected by the Constitution. Referring to the language in the Declaration of Independence that includes the phrase, "all men are created equal," Taney reasoned that "it is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration...."
In addition, he declared that Scott had never been free, due to the fact that slaves were personal property; thus the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional, and the Federal Government had no right to prohibit slavery in the new territories. The court appeared to be sanctioning slavery under the terms of the Constitution itself, and saying that slavery could not be outlawed or restricted within the United States.
There was a growing abolitionist movement in the United States at the time, particularly in the northern states. And the Dred Scott decision gave further fuel to ignite the movement. As mentioned above, Abraham Lincoln ran in 1860 on a platform which promised to end the spread of slavery. He would prohibit slavery in any territory of the United States; only those states already established would be able to keep the institution. He believed if slavery was contained, it would easily die a natural death. 
When Lincoln won the election, and even before he was inaugurated, the southern states began to secede from the Union. South Carolina led the way. Eleven southern states would secede and form a new nation - the Confederate States of America - with their own constitution, government, and leaders. Their new constitution permitted slavery outright. President Lincoln, believing the states had no right to secede, attacked the Confederacy (at Fort Sumpter) and engaged them a Civil War from 1861-1865.
The Civil War was fought for many reasons but one instigating factor was slavery, indeed. While the North did not invade the South for the purpose of abolishing slavery, in 1863, it became politically expedient for Lincoln to announce that slaves will be emancipated. He figured it would energize the war effort, hasten the defeat of the South, and end the war. And so, on January 1, as the nation approached its third year of horrible bloodshed, Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation which declared that "all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states are, and henceforward, shall be free." The 1963 Emancipation Proclamation was a great boost for moral, particularly among slaves and abolitionists.
Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. First, it would be seen as a temporary war measure, since it was solely based on Lincoln's war powers. Furthermore, the Proclamation did not free any slaves in the border states nor itself make slavery illegal. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory. What it did, however, was to invigorate the abolitionist sentiment in the north, and more importantly, it changed the character of the war. The war went from being a war to re-unite and save the Union to a war to free the slaves. After Lincoln delivered the Proclamation, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, approximately 186,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and for freedom. But how to overcome the limitations of the Emancipation Proclamation and memorialize the intent and spirit it represented?
A constitutional amendment would have to be the answer.
Even before the war had come to an end, in April 1865, an amendment to the US Constitution was drafted to abolish slavery and a vote was taken in Congress. It would be the 13th Amendment, which provides: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." The Senate proposed the amendment in February of 1864 and passed it two months later. But the House refused to pass it. President Lincoln then got involved. If the House wouldn't pass it, then he would make sure the amendment was added to the Republican Party platform for the upcoming Presidential election. His efforts must have worked because the House passed the joint resolution (the 13th Amendment) on January 31, 1865, by a vote of 119 to 56. It was a very partisan amendment, with 100% of House republicans voting in favor and only 23% of democrats supporting it. It was then sent to the states for adoption. Note that the Civil War had not yet been won at this point. The bloody war would not end until April 9, when the great General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia (the confederate army) to the victorious General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia.
The 13th Amendment was finally ratified on December 6, 1865 when 27 out of the 36 states ratified it (= 3/4 of the states, as required by Article V of the Constitution). Unfortunately, Lincoln would not live to see the day when slavery would be officially abolished in the country for he was assassinated on Good Friday, April 14.
When the war ended, and the Confederate States of America were defeated, plans had to be made for the individual southern states to re-enter the Union. Conditions had to be required. And as it turned out, some degree of punishment would be inflicted as well. While the 13th Amendment received the approval of 3/4 of the states and became effective as part of the Constitution, many of the southern states were still bitter and not willing to recognize blacks as anything other than slaves or an inferior race of people. Slavery may have been abolished by the Constitution but it didn't mean that they, as states, had to treat them any differently. Blacks may have been free, but the states weren't about to permit them to be citizens. And so Congress came up with the Civil Rights Act.
That was still the year of 1865.
In 1865, Republican Senator Lyman Trumbull (of Illinois) proposed the Civil Rights Act. (He was also the co- drafter of the 13th Amendment). The Civil Rights Act declared that people born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power are entitled to be citizens, without regard to race, color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude. It also said that any citizen has the same right as a white citizen to make and enforce contracts, sue and be sued, give evidence in court, and inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property. The Civil Rights Act passed both houses of Congress, but President Andrew Johnson vetoed it - in 1865 and then again in 1866. But in 1866, a 2/3 majority in each house overcame the veto and the bill became law (hence, the official name of the legislation - the Civil Rights Act of 1866). But that victory didn't come without a fight by the Democrats. Democrats tried to stall the passing of this legislation by declaring it was unconstitutional, but Trumball, an attorney and former chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, countered by arguing that Congress had power to enact it in order to eliminate a discriminatory "badge of servitude" prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment. [In the 20th century, the US Supreme Court would ultimately adopt Trumbull's rationale in finding congressional power to ban racial discrimination by states and by private parties].
To eliminate any doubt about its constitutionality and to make sure that no subsequent Congress would later repeal or alter its core provisions, Republican members of Congress decided to memorialize the Civil Rights Act in a constitutional amendment. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 would become our 14th Amendment. Republican members of the US Congress took advantage of the fact that the southern states were not yet restored to the Union. In order to be sure that they had the required majority of Senators to pass the amendment (2/3, as required by Article V of the Constitution), they pulled a fast one. They simply refused to seat Senators from the southern states.
The 14th Amendment declares that free slaves are citizens - not only of the United States but also of the state in which they reside - and as such are entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizenship. ("All persons born in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the state they reside.") It also provides that freed slaves cannot be deprived of Life, Liberty, and Property without Due Process and that they are entitled to the Equal Protection of the laws. The Citizenship Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment paralleled the "citizenship" language and the "nondiscrimination" language, respectively, in the Civil Rights Act of 1866. (They would not be re-admitted until 1868- 1870).
Specifically, the 14th Amendment reads: Section 1: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
The Citizenship Clause provides a broad definition of citizenship that expressly overruled the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857, which declared that all blacks - slaves as well as free - were not and could never become citizens of the United States. The Due Process Clause prohibits state and local governments from depriving persons of life, liberty, or property without certain steps being taken to ensure fairness. This clause has been used to make most of the Bill of Rights applicable to the states, as well as to recognize substantive and procedural rights. And the Equal Protection Clause requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction. This clause was the basis for the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which precipitated the dismantling of racial segregation in our schools.
The 14th Amendment was proposed on June 13, 1866, as House Joint Resolution 127, and was then immediately sent to the states for ratification. At that time, the eleven defeated confederate states were not yet re-admitted to the Union. Nonetheless, as with the 13th Amendment, they were asked to ratify the 14th Amendment, which all refused to do - except Tennessee, which adopted it immediately and was therefore permitted re-admission. It was re-admitted on July 24, 1866. (Tennessee had been conflicted even from the very beginning as to whether it wanted to secede or not. In fact, after the state legislature voted to secede from the Union, a large portion of the population tried to secede from Tennessee and remain with the Union). In addition, the 14th Amendment was decidedly rejected by the border states as well. By March 1867, twenty states had ratified and thirteen had rejected the proposed amendment. With the southern and border states refusing to adopt the 14th Amendment, it failed to secure the 3/4 of states necessary for ratification as required under Article V. And so the amendment failed to pass.
After learning that the proposed amendment's failure, the Republicans (specifically referred to as the "Radical Republicans") in Congress responded by passing the Reconstruction Act of March 2, 1867, which essentially put the south under martial law and restricted their abilities to govern themselves and to participate in the federal government. Under the congressional plan, the former confederacy (minus Tennessee) was broken up into five military districts. Each district was under the control of federal troops and headed by a particular northern Civil War general. This was the notorious Reconstruction Era, which would have longstanding impressions on the southern states. The purpose of Reconstruction, as was made clear by the Reconstruction Act, was to punish the South. The law set out to determine the conditions under which the southern states would be permitted to return to the Union, how they would be re-seated in government, how they would govern themselves, what would become of their "rebellious" leaders, and how they would treat their freedmen. All this would be determined while the states were under martial law and under the scrutiny of the federal government. Specifically, in order to be re-admitted to the Union , the states would have to rewrite their constitutions to disqualify former Confederate officials from office and guarantee black males the right to vote. Most importantly, the states would have to ratify the 14th Amendment. Once these conditions were met and military rule was ended, then could the former confederate states be re-admitted to the Union. As one Republican (northern) representative described the situation: "The people of the South have rejected the constitutional amendment and therefore we will march upon them and force them to adopt it at the point of the bayonet."
By July 9, 1868, with ratification by North Carolina, Louisiana, and then South Carolina, enough states had ratified the 14th Amendment so that it was certified to become part of the US Constitution. It would not be until 1870 that the last southern state, Georgia, would be re-admitted and the Union would be reconstituted. 
Let's return again to the year 1865. In that year, the Republican Congress created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedman, and Abandoned Lands (aka, "Freedman's Bureau") to help freed slaves transition from bondage to freedom. An Inquiry Commission was tasked with assessing the needs of Freedman to justify whether such a Bureau was worthwhile, and in their Final Report, the Commission concluded:
"Let us beware the temptation to treat the colored people with less than even justice, because they have been, and still are, lowly and feeble. Let us bear in mind that, with governments as with individuals, the crucial test of civilization and sense of justice is their treatment of the weak and the dependent.The Freedman's Bureau established schools to teach freed slaves how to read and write and provide them with a basic education. The Bureau also provided food, set up courts to protect emancipated slaves' contractual and other civil rights, and founded savings banks to protect their assets. The crowning achievement of the Freedman's Bureau was its significant accomplishments in the area education, particularly in the face of the hostile political environment towards blacks at the time. By the end of 1867, the number of schools had doubled and the number of blacks (adults and children) being educated had tripled. At the same time, the number of banks (including the "Freedman's Saving & Trust Company," chartered by Congress) had increased and freedmen were saving at a rate of four times higher than the previous year to purchase homestead plots and businesses.
God is offering to us an opportunity of atoning, in some measure, to the African for our former complicity in his wrongs. For our own sakes, as well as for his, let it not be lost. As we would that He should be to us and to our children, so let us be to those whose dearest interests are, by His providence, committed for the time to our charge.
As regards the question, What amount of aid and interference is necessary or desirable to enable the freedmen to tide over the stormy transition from slavery to freedom? We have chiefly to say that there is as much danger in doing too much as in doing too little. The risk is serious that, under the guise of guardianship, slavery, in a modified form, may be practically restored. Those who have ceased, only perforce, to be slave-holders, will be sure to unite their efforts to effect just such a purpose. It should be the earnest object of all friends of liberty to anticipate and prevent it. Benevolence itself, misdirected, may play into the hands of freedom's enemies, and those whose earnest endeavor is the good of the freedman may, unconsciously, contribute to his virtual re-enslavement.
The refugees from slavery, when they first cross our lines, need temporary aid, but not more than indigent Southern whites fleeing from secessionism, both being sufferers from the disturbance of labor and the destruction of its products incident to war. The families of colored men, hired as military laborers or enlisted as soldiers, need protection and assistance, but not more than the families of white men similarly situated. Forcibly deprived of education in a state of slavery, the freedmen have a claim upon us to lend a helping hand until they can organize schools for their children. But they will soon take the labor and expense out of our hands, for these people pay no charge more willingly than that which assures them that their children shall reap those advantages of instruction which were denied to themselves.
For a time we need a freedman's bureau, but not because these people are negroes, only because they are men who have been, for generations, despoiled of their rights. The Commission has, in supplemental report made to you last December, recommended the establishment of such a bureau, and they believe that all that is essential to its proper organization is contained, substantially, in a bill to that effect reported on April 12 from the Senate Committee on Slavery and Freedmen."
Unfortunately, the activities of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), as well as state action in the form of Black Codes and then Jim Crow, would present barriers to the Republican's plan to advance the freed slaves and make sure that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 would fail to secure their civil rights. The KKK, as we'll soon see, was started in 1866 to frustrate the attempts of Republicans to infect the South. Black Codes were laws that were passed in the 1860's by the Southern states (and varying from state to state), to maintain the inferiority of freed blacks and to undermine their civil rights. The black codes were passed in retaliation to the abolition of slavery and the defeat by the North. They had their roots in the former slave codes, which were premised on the notion that Africans were property, or chattel (and therefore, had very few, if any, legal rights). Black Codes were distinct from Jim Crow. Jim Crow refers to an era ushered in later in the 19th century, following Reconstruction.
As mentioned earlier, 1867 was the start of the Reconstruction Era. In order to be re-admitted to the Union , the former confederate states would have to endure military rule until they met the conditions set forth in the Reconstruction Act - including rewriting their constitutions to disqualify former Confederate officials from office, guaranteeing black males the right to vote, and ratifying the 14th Amendment. During Reconstruction, military governors oversaw the registration of voters, in order that freed slaves were not disenfranchised. Under the scrutiny of federal troops, elections were held in which the freed slaves could vote. At the same time, while whites who held leading positions under the Confederacy were not only barred from running for office but were also temporarily denied the right to vote. It was a profoundly bitter time for the South.
Reconstruction was never part of Lincoln's plan to restore the Union. We have to take him at his word. In his second Inaugural Address, he declared: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace."
As one reference describes that period of time for the South: "Reconstruction is the period after the war when the South was under martial law and when the people basically lost their rights as Americans, was a terrible time for the citizens of the former Confederate States of America. It was intended by the US Congress as punishment for secession. The South was controlled by military leaders, who may have been excellent commanders in battle, but were pretty much universally horrible as governors. A 'carpetbagger' government was put in place... Men who were generally scoundrels and often criminals served as 'rulers' of the states and communities. They appointed former Union sympathizers and former slaves in positions of authority, to infuriate and humiliate the people. This was pretty much a lawless time throughout much of the south, not unlike that in the western territories. [Former Civil War General Nathaniel Bedford] Forrest described that government as 'I believe that party to be composed, as I know it is in Tennessee, of the worst men on Gods earth - men who would not hesitate at no crime, and who have only one object in view - to enrich themselves.' " [ www.freesociety.com]
Reconstruction would last for 17 years and would be responsible for much of the resentment that the South continues to feel for the North and for the government in general.
In ten out of the eleven seceding southern states (again, all except Tennessee), black freedmen and white transplants from the North (known as "carpetbaggers" because many brought their belongings in large carpet bags) and white Southerners who switched allegiance and supported Reconstruction (known as "scalawags") joined together to establish republican bi-racial state governments during the Reconstruction era. They introduced various reconstruction programs, secured massive federal aid to re-build railroads and other transportation, established public school systems, and raised taxes to fund it all. They also helped freed blacks become involved in the local government, become educated, and become employed. These groups, however, were seen as outsiders and/or traitors and were attempting to transform the South into a society that it wasn't ready to accept. They would have to be stopped. Thus was born the Ku Klux Klan.
History teaches us that the Ku Klux Klan was a violent organization aimed at terrorizing and intimidating former slaves. They operated as a secret society - a bunch of cowards with white gowns and masks, often carrying guns and a noose. We know the Klan's record of burning crosses and lynching negroes. We know its record on civil rights.
But the reason the Ku Klux Klan was formed was for a far different purpose. The KKK was founded in 1866 in Pulaski, Tennessee, by six former Confederate officers of the Civil War. These men approached distinguished General Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the great heroes of the war, with the idea of a "police force" and asked for his "blessings," for he held the love and respect of the people. He gave his blessings, and in return, he was appointed their first leader. He was the first Grand Wizard. He would describe the organization as a social club and as "a protective political military organization." It was initially formed to help take care of poor Confederate widows. They also fought crime and "took care" of criminals. In other words, they basically restored order to the South, where for years there was none.
In an interview, General Forrest had this to say: "Yes, sir. It is a protective political military organization. I am willing to show any man the constitution of the society. The members are sworn to recognize the government of the United States. It does not say anything at all about the government of Tennessee. Its objects originally were protection against Loyal Leagues and the Grand Army of the Republic; but after it became general it was found that political matters and interests could best be promoted within it, and it was then made a political organization, giving its support, of course, to the democratic party.......Since its organization, the leagues have quit killing and murdering our people. There were some foolish young men who put masks on their faces and rode over the country, frightening negroes, but orders have been issued to stop that, and it has ceased. You may say, further, that three members of the Ku-Klux have been court-martialed and shot for violations of the orders not to disturb or molest people."
But soon, the Klan took on a more aggressive nature. It began to "persuade" freed blacks to assume their former status and to "scare" them into not voting or running for any elected office, as well as to harass and intimidate northern transplants, southern republicans, and other southerners who were supportive of the Union.
Controversy exists over whether Forrest actually played an active part in the organization and when he decided to sever his associate with it. Within a year or two of the Klan's founding, Forrest was asked if he was a member and he answered: "I am not, but am in sympathy and will co-operate with them. I know that they are charged with many crimes that they are not guilty of." In 1869 he asked the KKK to disband, stating: "being perverted from its original honorable and patriotic purposes, becoming injurious instead of subservient to the public peace."
Again, the KKK, as originally intended, did not target Negroes. In fact, Forrest gave many speeches and talks around the Memphis area from 1866, the year the KKK was founded, until 1874. Most of these speeches talked of peace, patriotism for the US Constitution, and trying to bring the country back together. On several occasions, he addressed black groups, to which he spoke these words: "We are born on the same soil, breathe the same air, live on the same land, and why should we not be brothers and sisters?" This is hardly the rhetoric of the Ku Klux Klan that it would later become a murderous hate group.
[Someone once asked Robert E. Lee to name the greatest soldier produced on either side during the war and he replied, "A man I have never seen, sir. His name is Forrest." William Tecumseh Sherman, General of the Army of the Potomac, who during the called him "that devil Forrest," also had a high opinion of Forrest and said, "Forrest was the most remarkable man our Civil War produced on either side." ]
As we all know, the KKK would continue on to spread into nearly every Southern state, launching a "reign of terror" against Republican leaders - black and white. It would become the "militant arm" of the Democratic Party. Forrest's grandson, Nathan Bedford Forrest II, a democrat and Grand Dragon of the KKK, wrote in the September 1928 edition of the Klan's The Kourier Magazine: "I have never voted for any man who was not a regular Democrat. My father never voted for any man who was not a Democrat. My grandfather was the head of the Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction days…. My great-grandfather was a life-long Democrat…. My great-great-grandfather was…one of the founders of the Democratic party."
In Dr. Eric Foner's book, A Short History of Reconstruction, he wrote: "In effect, the Klan was a military force serving the interests of the Democratic party, the planter class, and all those who desired the restoration of white supremacy. It aimed to destroy the Republican party's infrastructure, undermine the Reconstruction state, reestablish control of the black labor force, and restore racial subordination in every aspect of Southern life." [pg. 184]. He provides many accounts of the horrific acts of terror inflicted by Democrats on black and white Republicans. Professor Foner recounts one such act of terror: "Jack Dupree was a victim of a particularly brutal murder in Monroe County, Mississippi. Assailants cut his throat and disemboweled him, all within sight of his wife, who had just given birth to twins. He was 'president of a republican club' and known as a man who 'would speak his mind.'" [pp. 184-185].
After examining the abundant evidence concerning this violence, US Senator Roscoe Conkling concluded that the Democratic Party was determined to exterminate blacks in those States where Democratic supremacy was threatened. As a response to Democratic violence in the South, and in order to further secure the civil rights of blacks, Congress passed the 15th Amendment, explicitly guaranteeing voting rights for blacks.
The 15th Amendment – the final of the three post-war civil rights amendments was proposed by the US Congress on February 26, 1869. It was ratified by the states in 1870. It was the first-ever constitutional expansion of voting rights. Like the two previous civil rights amendments, it was passed along partisan lines. Not a single one of the 56 Democrats in Congress at that time voted for the 15th Amendment. Not a single Democrat, either from the North or the South, supported granting explicit voting rights to black Americans. Several fierce advocates of equal rights, like Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, abstained from voting because it did not go far enough, in their opinion. They wanted the amendment to prohibit such arbitrary schemes which states might use to restrict black suffrage, such as literacy tests and poll taxes. Yet, despite the opposition from Democrats, the 15th Amendment did pass, thanks to the overwhelming support by Republican legislators. With the passage of this Amendment, leading abolitionist Wendell Phillips joyfully exclaimed, "We have washed color out of the Constitution!"
Reconstruction officially ended with the presidential election of 1876, which is discussed below. The newly-elected president, Rutherford B. Hayes, removed the remaining federal soldiers from the military districts and the southern states were once again free to resume their traditional state functions. Once the soldiers were gone, however, southern Democrats started mistreating the black people again with no fear of punishment because there were no soldiers to enforce the new laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the civil rights amendments. As Republican influence was waning in the former confederacy, there was little political protection for the emancipated blacks from the Republican Party. It would only get worse in the years following the end of martial law.
The period that followed Reconstruction was known as "Redemption." Redeemers were part of the Southern Democrats who sought to oust the Republican coalition of freedmen, carpetbaggers, and scalawags and "redeem" the states from the Republicans back to the Democrats. Redemption would be complete before the election of 1880.
It wasn't until 1876 that the Southern Democrats were finally able to regain state political control. And it occurred thanks to the efforts of the Ku Klux Klan and other more formal paramilitary (terrorist/intimidation) groups affiliated with the Democratic Party, such as the White League and the Red Shirts. And it most specifically occurred thanks to the fraud and controversy which surrounded the 1876 election between Republican presidential candidate Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. By 1876, only 3 states - Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida - were not yet "redeemed." The election ended up with 20 disputed electoral votes. On election night, as the votes were counted and the results circulated about the country by telegraph, it was clear that Tilden had won the popular vote. His final popular vote tally would be 4,288,546. The total popular vote for Hayes was 4,034,311. But the election was deadlocked. Tilden had 184 electoral votes, one vote short of the required majority. Four states - Oregon, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida - had disputed elections, and those states held 20 electoral votes.
A special commission, the Electoral Commission, was established by Congress to resolve those votes. There were 15 members - 7 members from the Democratic House, 7 members from the Republican Senate, and one member from the Supreme Court (who turned out to be a Republican). The commission voted along strict partisan lines to award all the disputed voted to Hayes, making him the winner by an electoral count of 185-184. Infuriated Democrats threatened to contest the election results until a deal was struck with Republicans. The Democrats would agree to support the commission's finding in exchange for removing federal troops from the South, naming a Southerner to the Hayes' cabinet, and allocating federal aid to the South. The Democratic Party regained power in South Carolina in 1877 and other states quickly followed. Thus was the quick rise and fall of the Republican Party in the South.
The 1880's began the period known as the Jim Crow era. This was the era where democratic state legislatures attempted to roll back the advances on behalf of freed slaves and other blacks by the Republicans. It was during this time that democratic state legislatures disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites through a combination of state constitutional amendments and electoral laws. They segregated blacks from white society and plantation owners found new ways to bind their former slaves as miserably-paid workers through sharecropping and other contractual arrangements. For all intents and purposes, many blacks found themselves in virtually the same position they had occupied before their emancipation.
In 1896, the Supreme Court heard the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which addressed a Louisiana Jim Crow law that segregated rail cars. Homer Plessy, a black man, tried to board a "whites-only" train in Louisiana when the car designated for blacks was full. Once he boarded, he was forcibly removed and jailed. He sued the state, claiming the Louisiana segregation laws violated both his 13th and 14th Amendment rights. The Supreme Court, by a vote of 8-1, ruled that the 14th Amendment did not include a requirement that the races needed to be co-mingled and therefore upheld the doctrine of "Separate but Equal" when it came to facilities for blacks. Segregation was justified, providing the facilities and services were essentially equal. Plessy marked the beginning of a 58-year period where Jim Crow laws were largely unchallenged and condoned by the federal government. It not only perpetuated the white supremacist beliefs of the time, but also made it possible for states to make and enforce Jim Crow laws with impunity.
As admirable and inspiring as blacks were in the years following their liberation, a stark contrast in human nature was seen by the forces against them. Groups like the KKK and southern democrats behaved shamefully, deplorably, and inhumanely. Blacks began a distinguished, dignified, and long-overdue chapter in their history after the Civil War, but the opposite was true for the groups who acted in opposition to their freedom and to their rapid success. Many southern Democrats despised blacks and Republicans and they utilized every means possible to keep them from voting – including not only the use of devious and cunning means but also the direct use of violence. Here's the thing. After slavery was abolished, ALL freed slaves and other blacks were Republicans. [In the South, whites were mostly Democratic, but some could be Republican. Southern whites loyal to the antebellum South were mostly Democratic. Whites who sympathized with the North and wanted civil rights for blacks were Republican (scalawags). The worst thing you could be in the Reconstruction era South, and in the years that followed, was a Republican. And the most offensive Republican was a black one.
By 1900, democrats actually began actively to seek a repeal of the 14th and 15th Amendments. As democratic Senator Ben Tillman from South Carolina explained: "We made up our minds that the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution were themselves null and void; that the civil rights acts of Congress were null and void; that oaths required by such laws were null and void." Prominent democratic leader A. W. Terrell of Texas said that the 15th Amendment guaranteeing black voting rights was "the political blunder of the century."
Democrats from both the North and the South agreed with Terrell and Tillman, and several asked for a repeal of the amendments. Louisiana Senator Samuel McEnery, who was one of those democrats, was confident that the effort would succeed. He even declared: "I believe that not a single southern Senator would object to such a move." Fortunately, the attempt failed.
In 1901, at the same time that democrats were seeking to roll back the civil rights amendments, republican President Teddy Roosevelt infuriated many democrats by inviting Booker T. Washington, a mulatto former slave who went on to become the leader of the Tuskegee Institute, to the White House. Washington became the first American of African descent to dine with a President at the White House. He served as an advisor to three republican US presidents - William McKinley, Roosevelt, and William Taft. Democrat President Woodrow Wilson, however, would not seek his counsel.
In 1915, the pro-Klan movie "Birth of a Nation" by D.W. Griffith was released to help beef up the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan. It was based on a book called "The Clansman" which was written by an avid racist, Thomas Dixon Jr. Dixon's text incorporated some material from Woodrow Wilson's book, "History of the American People" - particularly the part portraying the Ku Klux Klan in a sympathetic light. For example, it includes this piece from Wilson's book: "The white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation until at last there had spring into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country." This section also made it into Griffith's movie. Democratic president Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) held a private showing of this racist Klan-recruiting film at the White House. It was the first film to ever be shown at the White House. How racist was this film? It would become a major recruiting tool. It would be so successful that it helped the Klan to reach its peak membership of almost two million. Could the success in recruitment stem, perhaps, from an endorsement of the film from the highest office in the land?
President Woodrow Wilson was the first southerner to be elected to the White House since 1844 and only the second Democrat to be elected since Reconstruction. While he is respected as a scholar (serving as president of Princeton University) and viewed as a man of peace, especially in the public school system (he presented his "Fourteen Points of Peace" to Congress for establishing a lasting peace in Europe after WWI and wanted so badly to establish his particular version of a League of Nations), he was also regarded as an outright racist and a white supremacist. There is certainly an abundance of historical documentation to support this statement. While serving as the president of Princeton, Wilson discouraged black from applying to the university. And then when he served as Governor of New Jersey, he refused to confirm the hiring of blacks in his administration. As Wilson was known to say: "Segregation is not humiliating; it's a benefit!" As historians explain, he was a product of the pre- and post-war South and was brought up under the assumption at the time that the black race was inferior to the Saxon people. He was also bitter over the forced policies of Reconstruction on the southern states. He feared what might arise from a South "ruled by an ignorant and inferior race." Ironically, in the election of 1912, "an unprecedented number" of blacks left the Republican Party to cast their vote for Wilson, a Democrat because they were encouraged by his promises of support for minorities.
But once he took office however, he acted contrary to his campaign promises. Black leaders quickly noticed that he put segregationist white southern democrats in charge of many executive departments. He fired most of the blacks who held appointed posts within the federal government, and then permitted his segregationist cabinet appointees to establish official segregation policies in the Post Office, Treasury, and Navy, which until that time had been desegregated. (Many of these would remain segregated clear into the Truman administration, in the 1940's). Suddenly, under his authority, photographs were required of all applicants for federal jobs and new facilities were designed to keep the races working there separated (including separate toilets and lunch rooms). And then the democrat-controlled House proposed passed a bill making it a felony for any black person to marry a white person in Washington DC.
In the early 20th century, African-Americans needed a President to offer them hope. In many parts of the country, mostly in the South however, whites made them feel inferior. State laws enshrined a presumption of inferiority. And the Supreme Court had upheld those laws, thereby allowing the perpetuation of such laws and establishing cruel stereotypes. In the early 1860's, Abraham Lincoln was one such president who offered hope. In a time when it wasn't necessarily acceptable, he formed a strong friendship with a man of color - Frederick Douglass, a freed slave. Douglass was welcome at the White House and was often there to speak with the President. The mutual affection the men had for each other inspired Douglass to write these words in his memoirs after Lincoln was assassinated: "I have often said elsewhere what I wish to repeat here, that Mr. Lincoln was not only a great president, but a great man — too great to be small in anything. In his company I was never in any way reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color."
But Woodrow Wilson would not be that kind of president. His government policies would remind black Americans of their humble origin and of their unpopular color. It would remind them of the low expectations that the country still had of them. Robert Kennedy once spoke most eloquently about the importance of standing up for the rights of others. "Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope... and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
Click here to read Part II.
Diane Rufino lives in Greenville, NC. She is a wife, mother and current student. She has a law degree as well as a degree in science. She is now working on her teaching credential and expects to do her student teaching in the fall. She is active in both the Eastern NC Tea Party and the Beaufort Patriot Tea Party and is a true Patriot.