Study Reconstruction to Understand the South
Reconstruction Was a Horror in Texas!
It’s amazing how one can see the roots of today’s problems in this important period of U.S. history. I’m writing this on Nov 14, 2016; the same day that Ed Sills of the Texas AFL-CIO wrote that two Texas Legislators have decided that “states rights” still supersedes national law. They have filed two companion bills, SB 89 and SJR 7, by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Canton, that would provide for nullification of federal laws that Texas deems to violate the Constitution. HB 74 by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, is in a similar vein. By their thinking, the Emancipation Proclamation never took effect in Texas because the Texas Legislature didn’t want it!
When I first began to study and ask questions about Texas during the Reconstruction Period, I received the impression that all went rather smoothly. Texans accepted the federal troops, freed the slaves, and continued with their business, I was told.
What an incredible lie!
The following book has some of the facts:
Richter, William L., Overreached on All Sides. The Freedman’s Bureau Administration in Texas 1865-1868. Texas A&M Univ Press, College station, 1991. For forty months, the Freedman’s Bureau attempted to enforce the ideals of political liberty, and, to a lesser extent, economic liberty for African Americans in Texas. This book details their failure to stop lynchings, continued slavery, torture, rape, robbery, and illegal exploitation. The victorious North lacked both the material resources and the commitment to carry out these ideals.
Texans resisted mightily. For those seeking to document the racist atrocities perpetrated by white Texans during Reconstruction rather than believe the glossed-over histories we are usually offered, there are plenty of descriptions here. In fact, there is more blood than ink on these pages. Blacks and their grossly outnumbered white supporters were vilified, terrified, driven out, and murdered throughout the book while the tiny force of reconstructionists hurried from one part of the state to another seeking justice.
Northeast Texas was particularly bad.
But the book also contains many stories of men who made a great effort to bring justice to Texas. Their failure does not diminish their commitment nor valor.
A Definitive Text on Reconstruction
Foner, Eric, “Reconstruction, America’s Unfinished Revolution: 1863-1877” History Book Club by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1988
What most of us were told about reconstruction is that it was a failure and the fault was on the former slaves, who “just weren’t sophisticated enough to make their own way and handle all the gifts they were given.” It’s an ugly view.
This author, on the other hand, talks about the real problems. He especially points to the role that the freedmen played in trying to win their own equality. In spite of criminal acts against them, including numerous mass murders, they managed to accomplish some things, and they laid the groundwork for the future civil rights gains.
Even though the author joins the chorus in branding American Reconstruction a failure, he points out that we did better than any other country that had emancipated its slaves, in that we granted them citizenship fairly soon. Also, he puts the main blame for failure on the economic crisis of the 1870s.
Even though the author doesn’t point it out, one can see how the Republican party evolved from one advocating “free labor” capitalism to one favoring big corporations and caring very little for anybody’s rights – all in a short space of time during the industrialization that followed the Civil War.
I was a little disappointed that there was so little about Texas, and nothing about Dallas. I had read elsewhere that the appointed head of the Freedman’s Bureau in Dallas never made it to the city, but was murdered somewhere in East Texas while en route! About Reconstruction in Dallas, almost nothing is known. See Wikipedia — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Dallas_(1856%E2%80%9373)
Here are some of the sentences from the book:
Pg 17: Texas “The (Republican) party’s Southern governors would include Edmund J Davis, who during the war raised the First Texas Cavalry for the Union Army…”
63 Texas “Jean-Charles Houzeau, one of the most remarkable men to take part in the saga of Reconstruction…” revolutionary. Journalist and astronomer who emigrated to Texas in 1858, sided with Unionists there early in the Civil War, and in 1865 arrived in Louisiana. Edited New Orleans Tribune.
97 education “Northern benevolent societies, the Freedmen’s Bureau, and, after 1868, state governments provided most of the funding for black education during Reconstruction. But the initiative often lay with blacks themselves…”
119 murder “In Texas, where the army and Freedmen’s Bureau proved entirely unable to establish order, blacks, according to a Bureau official, ‘are frequently beaten unmercifully, and shot down like wild beasts, without any provocation.’”
121 Texas “One black who refused to be bound and whipped, asserting that ‘he was a freeman and he would not be tied like a slave,’ was shot dead by his employer, a prominent Texas lawyer.”….
181 Johnson “Throughout his Presidency, Johnson held the view – not uncommon among Southern yeomen – that slaves had in some way joined forces with their owners to oppress nonslaveholding whites.”
195 Texans for Suffrage: “A handful of delegates, such as Texas Unionist Edward Degener, called for extending the suffrage to literate blacks, but in general the idea was scarcely contemplated.”
204 TX murder an inalienable right: “Texas courts indicted some 500 white men for the murder of blacks in 1865 and 1866, but not one was convicted. ‘No white man in that state has been punished for murder since it revolted from Mexico,’ commented a Northern visitor. ‘Murder is considered one of their inalienable state rights.’” The footnote is John A Carpenter, “Atrocities in the Reconstruction Period,” JNH, 47( Oct 1962)
205: “The convict lease system, moreover, which had originated on a small scale before the war, was expanded so as to provide employers with a supply of cheap labor. In Texas in 1867, blacks constituted about one third of the convicts confined to the state penitentiary, but nearly 90 percent of those leased out for railroad labor.”
218 Johnson/Jackson: “…Johnson’s hero, Andrew Jackson.” The same page says Johnson was a drunk.
235 40 acres: “In a speech to Pennsylvania’s Republican convention in September 1865, Stevens called for the seizure of the 400 million acres belonging to the wealthiest 10 percent of Southerners. Forty acres would be granted to each adult freedman and the remainder – some 90 percent of the total – sold ‘to the highest bidder’…” The book has several references to the idea of selling or giving land to freedmen. General Sherman did it on his march to Atlanta. Lincoln allowed it on the Carolina Islands and in a large area at a river junction. Johnson, however, had the soldiers remove all African Americans from their land.
243 Natives: On the Civil Rights Bill around 1866. “This defined all persons born in the United States (except Indians) as national citizens…”
279 Citizenship: “Alone among the nations that abolished slavery in the nineteenth century, the United States, within a few years of emancipation, clothed its former slaves with citizenship rights equal to those of whites.” I conclude from this that Reconstruction may have been a “failure,” but it was less of a failure than all the other countries that stopped slavery!
281 Strike 1867: “Strikes broke out among black longshoremen in Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, Richmond and New Orleans, and quickly spread to other workers, including Richmond coopers and Selma restaurant waiters.”
282 Waco: “Throughout the South, planters complained of blacks neglecting their labor. Once a week during the summer of 1868, ‘the negros from the entire county’ quit work and flocked to Waco, Texas, for political rallies.”
285 Tx back wages: “…some Texas leagues demanded back wages for blacks held in slavery after the Emancipation Proclamation.” //I think they mean “union leagues.”
297 Parsons: “…the party did gain the support of Gen. James Longstreet, whose example inspired some Confederate veterans to follow in his footsteps. One was Alabama-born Albert R Parsons, a descendant of Mayflower Pilgrims, who in 1867 established a Waco newspaper advocating black rights, and stumped central Texas for the Republicans.” //the footnote is Hamilton and William, eds., “Graham Papers” 7:533//
299 TX Germans: //Germans are mentioned here and there as scalawags — Southerners opposing the Confederacy.// “The Germans of Southwestern Texas comprised the largest bloc of immigrant Southern Republicans, helping to send to Congress Edward Degener, a San Antonio grocer who had taken part in the revolution of 1848, been imprisoned by Confederate authorities, and seen his two sons executed for treason.” //I googled him and found Wikipedia summary that said he settled in Sisterdale in 1850 and that his two sons were killed in the Nueces massacre. He joined in purchasing the land for the “true der union” monument in Comfort!//
342 KKK shut down, 1868 elections: //There’s a long list of mass murders and other atrocities.// “Unable to hold meetings and fearful that attempts to bring out their vote would only result in further massacres, Georgia and Louisiana Republicans abandoned the Presidential campaign.” (1868 I think)
//some nice photos in the middle of the book//
399 TX planters’ decline: “Planters constituted a large majority of the wealthiest Texans in 1860, but only 17 percent ten years later.”
437 Colfax massacre of 280 people: Apparently armed blacks tried to resist in Louisiana around 1873. “They attempted [armed self-defense] in Colfax. The result was that on Easter Sunday of 1873, when the sun went down that night, it went down on the corpses of two hundred and eighty negroes.”
Pg 440 Davis Suppressed Klan in TX: “By early 1869, order had been restored and the Klan destroyed. Davis proved equally decisive, organizing a crack two-hundred-member State Police, 40 percent of whose members were black. Between 1870 and 1872, the police made over 6,000 arrests, effectively suppressing the Klan and providing freedmen with a real measure of protection in a state notorious for widespread violence.”
480 Sylvis a racist? “William Sylvis, president of the Iron Moulder’s Union, toured the South early in 1869 recruiting members of both races, but simultaneously called the Freedmen’s Bureau, a ‘huge swindle upon the honest workingmen of the country’ and blamed carpetbaggers for the South’s woes.”
528 the Depression of 8173 – largely ended reconstruction: “Buffeted by the shifting tides of public opinion, p[reoccupied first with the economic depression and later with yet another wave of political scandals, the second Grant Administration found it impossible to devise a coherent policy toward the South…. Grant in his second term presided over a broad retreat from the policies of Reconstruction.” //there’s some point here where he refuses to use troops in Louisiana, and that’s the dividing line ending the Reconstruction era.//
531 Supreme Court racism: Slaughterhouse case of 1873. Supreme Court more or less re-affirmed states’ rights. “In the name of federalism, the decision rendered national prosecution of crimes committed against blacks virtually impossible, and gave a green light to acts of terror where local officials either could not or would not enforce the law.”
548 Grange excluded Blacks: Grange …”’really a political society’ which excluded blacks from membership and took an active part in mid-decade Redemption campaigns.”
549 Texas taken by Democrats in 1873: “Texas Democrat Richard Coke defeated Gov. Edmund J Davis in 1873 by a margin of better than two to one.” Texas had a massive influx of white immigrants that changed the demographics.
550 Assassinations! “The situation worsened in 1874 with the formation of the White League, openly dedicated to the violent restoration of white supremacy. It targeted local Republican officeholders for assassination, disrupted court sessions, and drove black laborers from their homes.”
556 Dawes’ early career: “”…the Massachusetts legislature elected Henry L Dawes to fill Sumner’s seat…” //Dawes comes up in my history again as author of legislation ending tribal ownership in Oklahoma — thus opening up all Native lands to exploitation//
556: “Civil Rights Act” “Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1883…”
557 communists in 1875: Some guy in Ohio advocated Greenbackism and was accused as a “proponent of ‘communist revolution.’”
586 1877 strike and federal intervention: Author makes the point that federal govt had decided they didn’t need to intervene in local affairs and thus ended protection of blacks, but they had no qualms about intervening against workers during the general strike of 1877! “Thus, the upheaval marked a fundamental shift in the nation’s political agenda.”
587 Civil rts act of 1875 declared unconstitutional in 1883
603 Summary of failure. “Nonetheless, whether measured by the dreams inspired by emancipation or the more limited goals of securing blacks’ rights as citizens and free laborers, and establishing an enduring Republican presence in the South, Reconstruction can only be judged a failure.” He blames the depression of the 1870s. “None of these factors, however, would have proved decisive without the campaign of violence that turned the electoral tide in many parts of the South, and the weakening of Northern Resolve, itself a consequence of social and political changes that undermined the free labor and egalitarian precepts at the heart of Reconstruction policy.”
Pg 603: “Perhaps the remarkable thing about Reconstruction was not that it failed, but that it was attempted at all and survived as long as it did.”
609 Rewriting history: ‘This rewriting of Reconstruction’s istory was accorded scholarly legitimacy – to its everlasting shame – by the nation’s fraternity of professional historians.”
Pg 609: “The views of the Dunning School shaped historical writing for generations, and achieved wide popularity through DW Griffiths film, Birth of a Nation (which glorified the Ku KLUX Klan and had its premier at the White House during Woodrow Wilson’s Presidency)…”
Pg 612: accomplishments: family, church, and school. “Yet the institutions created or consolidated after the Civil war – the black family, school, and church – provided the base from which the modern civil rights revolution sprang. And for its legal strategy, the movement returned to the laws and amendments of Reconstruction. ‘The river has its bend, and the longest road must terminate’ Rev Peter Randolph a former slave, wrote these words as he dark night of injustice settled over the South. Nearly a century elapsed before the national again attempted to come to terms with the implications of emancipation, and the political and social agenda of Reconstruction. In many ways, it has yet to do so.” //end of book//
This is just a tiny part of my on line labor history collection