HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES
DURING armed conflict the commercial and industrial capitalist skulks in the background, fattening upon the offal of war. When even the low virtues that war demands were no longer necessary to social rulership, these vultures came from their retreat and ruled and rioted in plunder. Part of that ruling and rioting made up what is called the Reconstruction Period.
The conquest of the South was complete and crushing. The old ruling class, and the social system upon which it lived, were gone, and none could be foolish enough to expect its restoration. The attitude of the ruling spirits of the South may be judged by the announcement in the first number of a new series of DeBow's Review, appearing in January, 1866, and which reads as follows: -
My purpose in the future is to give it [the Review] a national character, and to devote all of my energies and resources to the development of the great material interests of the Union... .
Northern generals who were stationed in the South at the close of the war were almost unanimous in reporting that the former Confederate1 soldiers and officers were willing to accept the results of the defeat they had suffered. The passage of sectional hatred would, however, have thwarted the plans of a small but powerful division of the Northern capitalists. The group of great capitalists created by the war was still composed of too few persons, and was too highly competitive, to be able to control the national government under normal conditions.
This group of great corporations, whose influence was so feared by Lincoln, was helpless to combat the small bourgeoisie which was still dominant in much more than a majority of the states. The abolition of slavery raised the same small bourgeoisie into power in the South. Had the South been permitted to return to the Union in the simple natural manner desired by Lincoln,' there would have been a vast fairly uniform body of voters throughout the South and the upper Mississippi Valley who would have been hostile to the interests of the great capi
1 "Complete Works," Vol. II, p. 674. Last public address :
We all agree that the seceded states, so-called, are out of their proper, practical relation with the Union, and that the sole object of the government, civil and military in regard to those states is to again get them into that proper practical relation. I believe that it is not only possible, but in fact easier, to do this without deciding, or even considering, whether these states have ever been out of the Union. Finding themselves safely at home, it would be utterly immaterial whether they had ever been abroad. Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper, practical relations between these States and the Union, and each forever after innocently indulge his own opinion whether in doing the acts he brought the States from without into the Union, or only gave them proper assistance, they never having been out of it.
talists. The Greenback movement, the Union Labor party of the early 70's, and the widespread antagonism to the clique of bondholders, great steel and woolen manufacturers, and government contractors, show how real was this danger to great capitalist interests.
If, on the other hand, a way could be found to keep alive and aggravate sectional hatred, and to keep the Southern states from the Union until a powerful plutocracy could seize upon all the strategic points of social control, then the interests of rapidly concentrating wealth would be conserved. It is not necessary to conceive that all this was clearly foreseen and made the basis of conscious social action, by those responsible for the program of Reconstruction. There were plenty of immediate material advantages for individual members of the class whose more distant interests were to be conserved which led to the same end.
There were still prodigious possibilities of plunder in the stricken South. There were hordes of picayune political camp followers hungry for pelf. The fanatical abolitionist, to whom the chattel slaveholder had been a demon, and the purchaser of wage slaves a public benefactor, was a willing tool in the orgy of Reconstruction. To these could be called the support of all that flock of vultures that was to glut itself upon the desolation of the Southland.
At first glance there would seem to have been little left in the South worthy the attention of vandals. Seldom has the desolation of war been more terrible, for seldom has war swept over as complex a society, where its destruction could be so terrible. For compared with the societies of other centuries that of the South was
complex, however simple it appears when contrasted with that of to-day or with the contemporaneous North.
Almost all of the industrial life that belonged to recent times was wiped out by the war. It would be hard to paint an exaggerated picture of the conditions that prevailed. One such picture has been given by James W. Garner, in his "Reconstruction in Mississippi." This will hold good for the entire South save that in many states where the operations of the armies had been more general, the devastation and social disintegration was much greater. He says of Mississippi:
The people were generally impoverished; the farms had gone to waste, the fences having been destroyed by the armies, or having decayed from neglect; the fields were covered with weeds and bushes; farm implements and tools were gone, so that there were barely enough farm animals to meet the demands of agriculture; business was at a standstill; banks and commercial agencies had either suspended or closed on account of insolvency; the currency was in a wretched condition; . . . there was no railway or postal system worth speaking of; only here and there a newspaper running; the labor system in vogue since the establishment of the colonies was completely overturned; . . . worse than all this was the fact that about one-third of the white bread-winners of the state had either been sacrificed in the contest or were disabled for life, so that they could not longer be considered as factors in the work of economic organization. . . . The number of dependent orphans alone was estimated at 10,000.
Into this industrial and social chaos came a horde of mercenary Goths and Vandals. They were released upon
this desolated land as a part of the political coup d'etat, by which the present ruling class attained to power.
Had President Lincoln lived, it seems probable that his powerful personal following, his political shrewdness, and keen tactful insight into human motives might have enabled him to rally the interests from which he sprung, - the pioneer, farmer, and small manufacturing and trading class,-and joining these with the new-born factory wageworking class, carried through his policies. But he was dead, and there is no small amount of evidence tending to show that the shot that killed him came from the direction of Wall Street rather than Richmond. It would be hard to find a man more unsuited to take up Lincoln's task than Andrew Johnson. Tactless, stubborn, abusive, quarrelsome (aggravated by occasional intoxication), lacking in political skill, suspected of Southern sympathies and of general mediocre ability, he was the very opponent which best suited the purposes of the followers of Thad Stevens, the Pennsylvania ironmaster.
By a skillful use of sectional animosities and political alliances the great capitalist element had gained control of Congress. The war it had waged secretly against Lincoln, was made openly and boastingly upon Johnson, who was trying to continue Lincoln's policies. That he was so following Lincoln, though in a blundering, tactless manner, no historian of to-day would deny. As fast as the rebellion had been crushed, Lincoln had set about reorganizing the state governments in a simple, practical manner. This was a natural action since the whole war had been waged upon the theory that a state cannot secede, and that therefore the Southern states
had never been outside the Union. The national government had been conducting the war under the clause of the constitution giving power to "suppress domestic insurrection" in any state.
While the states were de facto out of the Union, therefore, Congress, courts, and army had declared them firmly inside.1 When the "domestic insurrection" was suppressed, and the state governments were recognizing the authority of the national government, it became to the interest of the class that controlled Congress to proceed upon the theory that these states were now outside the Union. This theory was translated into action by another coup d'etat. When the regularly elected representatives of the former Confederate states presented their credentials at Washington, the clerk of the House of Representatives under the instructions of the so-called "Radical," or Stevens wing of the Republican party, refused to read their names when calling the roll of the new House.
A law was then forced through by this same element (March 2, 1867, nearly three years after the war had closed), entirely contrary to all constitutional provisions, and therefore strictly revolutionary in character. This law wiped out state governments and even ignored state
1 The Crittenden Resolution, adopted by large majorities of both houses of Congress in July, 1861, gives the theory upon which the war was waged. In part it read as follows: "That this war is not waged on their part in any spirit of oppression, or for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, or purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those states, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the constitution, and to preserve the union with all the dignity, equality and rights of the several states unimpaired; and that as soon as these rights are accomplished the war ought to cease."'` Documentary History of Reconstruction," Vol. I, p. 118.
lines, and divided the South into five military districts. The military officers in charge of these districts were given absolute power over life, liberty, and property, save only that death sentences required presidential sanction. No such power had been exercised while war existed. It was conferred now long after peace had been restored as one of the methods by which the present capitalist class captured and held the control of the national government. Lest it may be denied that such was the purpose of these actions, I will let the man who was directing this legislation speak for himself. Whatever else may be said of Thad Stevens, friend and foe alike admit his brutal frankness. Speaking of the Southern states on the floor of the House of Representatives, December 18, 1865, he said:
They ought never to be recognized as capable of acting in the union, or being counted as valid states, until the constitution shall have been so amended as to make it what its framers intended; and so as to secure permanent ascendency to the party of the union.
Again on January 3, 1867, he said, speaking for the passage of the Reconstruction legislation : -
Another reason is, it would assure the ascendency of the union party.
By the "party of the union" and the "union party" he meant, and intended to be understood as meaning, the "Radical" wing of the Republican party.
Having eliminated President Johnson by well-nigh successful impeachment proceedings, after he had almost eliminated himself by his foolish actions, the Stevens faction proceeded to work its will upon the South in such
a manner as "to secure permanent ascendency to the party of the union."
Cotton was still king in the South. Prices were still phenomenally high, although four years of war had brought about a great increase of cotton-growing in India. In the twelve months after the close of the war the value of cotton exports reached $200,000,000.1 Here was a prize worth grabbing, and the hungry "Reconstructionists" did not overlook it. During the war the Confederate government had contracted for some cotton, hoping to smuggle it through the blockade. All so contracted for was declared confiscated for the benefit of the United States treasury. How that confiscation was carried out is thus described by Professor Walter L. Fleming, editor of the "Documentary History of Reconstruction" : -
The territory of the former states was invaded by swarms of treasury agents, or those who pretended to be, searching for confiscable property. No distinction appears to have been made by them between property legally subject to confiscation and property that was not. These agents often united with native thieves and plundered the country of the little that was left in the way of supplies, cotton, tobacco, corn, etc.2
We learn of one agent in a small town in Mississippi who cleared $8o,000 in one month "confiscating cotton."
The great instrument of class rule, exploitation, expropriation, and accumulation is always the state. Here rests the power of taxation and of conferring special privileges. This was the next instrument grasped and used by the Reconstructionists in plundering the South.
1 "Cambridge Modern History," Vol. VII, p. 697.
Four means were effective in this capture of the power of the states : military force, negro suffrage, the Freedmen's Bureau, and widespread secret conspiratory organizations, like the Loyal League.
The national troops in the South were the pliant tools of the politicians. They intimidated voters, protected ballot-box stuffers, or assisted in the stuffing, and when these methods failed to obtain a majority suitable to the political camp followers, regularly elected officials were thrown out that defeated candidates might take their place.1 An extensive state militia, composed of black and white "Radical" Republicans, was later added to the national troops. Ninety-six thousand such "soldiers" were supported by the Reconstruction government of South Carolina at one time. Their only duty was to draw money and supplies from the state treasury and see that the elections went for the proper Republican candidates.2
The trump card of the Reconstructionists was negro suffrage. This was advocated as a benevolent measure for the protection of the negro, and was accompanied by acts disfranchising nearly the whole white population in the South. Had freedom and the vote been achieved by the negro, they would have been powerful defensive and offensive weapons. But they were thrust into his hands as tools with which to do the work of his industrial and political exploiters. Like the hoe with which he "chopped cotton," they were but instruments with which to bring profit to his masters.
1 "Documentary History of Reconstruction," Vol. II, pp. 148-156,
tells how this was done in New Orleans.
Lincoln had favored an educational test, and also, apparently, some proof of individual initiative, as a condition of suffrage.1 It should be unnecessary to say that I do not raise the question of the "rightness" or "wrongness" of universal negro suffrage, but am only discussing the forces which led to its being conferred at this time and the results which flowed from it. Several Northern states, controlled by the Republican party, refused the negro the ballot by referendum vote during the very years when that party was philanthropically thrusting that same ballot into the hands of the negro in the South.2 A possible explanation of this action may be found in the greater average intelligence and individual initiative of the Northern negro.
The immediate excuse for forcing suffrage upon the negro without any request for it being preferred by him, and indeed for much of the hypocritical "protective" legislation, was found in the "black codes" and "vagrancy laws" enacted by some of the Southern states immediately after the war.3 These laws sought to introduce a sort of modified serfdom for the negro. They were much like those enacted by capitalist nations to compel the natives of tropical colonies to work.4 In some cases, with a shrewd cunning, they were copied almost verbatim from the "vagrancy laws" of Northern states, with
1 Letter to Gov. Hahn, Nicolay and Hay, "Complete Works," Vol. II,
the exception that instead of leaving the competitive struggle to decide to whom the law should apply, they described the persons aimed at by the color of their skin. The same laws, with slight change, have been reenacted in most Southern states in recent years, along with measures disfranchising the negro, and no protest has been raised from Republican sources.
There was no question of the pitiable predicament of the negro at the close of the war. Cut off from his former master and unable to adjust himself to the new social organization in whose coming he had played no part, the football of all contending factions, with a death rate far higher than in chattel slavery days, one is not surprised to learn that many of them longed for the "good old days."1
1 Albert Phelps, "New Orleans and Reconstruction," in Atlantic
Monthly, Vol. LXXXVII, p. 125:
Under the institution of slavery he had developed from a state of lowest savagery to a condition of partial civilization; but this development had been due to wholly abnormal conditions, and had not been at all analogous to the slow process and weeding-out struggle through which the white races had toiled upwards for thousands of years. . . . The peculiar institution of slavery, however, protected him, not only from this competition, but also, by artificial means, from those great forces of Nature which inevitably weed out the weaker organisms, and which operate most unrestrainedly upon the ignorant savage. For the first time, perhaps, in the history of the world, human beings had been bred and regulated like valuable stock, with as much care as is placed upon the best horses and cattle.
-Montgomery Advertiser, Aug. 13, :186,3; quoted in "Documentary History of Reconstruction," Vol. I, p. 89:
Nine hundred of [the negroes] assembled (near Mobile) to consider their condition, their rights and their duties under the new state of existence upon which they have been so suddenly launched. . . . After long talk and careful deliberation, this meeting resolved, by a vote of 700 to 200, that they had made a practical trial for three months of their freedom which the war had bequeathed to them; that its realities were far from being so flattering as their###
Those who had forced the ballot into his hands now set about driving and deceiving him into doing their work. One of the means to this end was the Freedmen's Bureau, one of those strange combinations of cant and crookedness, philanthropy and profits, piety and plunder, that are peculiar to capitalism. The form of the law creating the Bureau was cast in terms of philanthropy. It was to be the most gigantic piece of paternalism ever attempted by any government. The most intimate details of the lives of the negroes were confided to its care. Their marriages, their business transactions, their food, homes, clothing, wages, education, and religion were to be supervised, regulated, and adjusted by the agents of this benevolent institution.1 The War Department issued supplies for the destitute, and vast sums from various sources were placed at the disposal of the Bureau. That suffering was relieved, schools established, many impositions prevented, and much general charitable work done by the Freedmen's Bureau is indisputable.2 But that such work was its main object after the first year of its existence none but the most prejudiced of its friends could claim3 imagination had painted it . . . and finally that their `last state was worse than their first,' and it was their deliberate conclusion that their true happiness and well-being required them to return to the homes which they had abandoned in the moment of excitement, and go to work again under their old masters." Garner, "Reconstruction in Mississippi," p. 124:
The black population of Mississippi decreased 56,146 between 186o and 1866. . . . The Southerners said they had died from disease and starvation resulting from their sudden emancipation, and the explanation was not wholly without foundation
1 "Documentary History of Reconstruction," Vol. I, pp. 319-340.
With its hundreds of agents possessed of the power to grant or withhold nearly all the necessities, comforts, and luxuries of life from the enfranchised blacks, it constituted a perfect machine for the control of the negro vote.1 It was so used to the extreme limit of that power. The agents elected themselves and their friends to office everywhere.2 Bureau funds were used directly for political corruption, and its whole far-reaching influence was always openly used as a political asset.3
Interwoven with the Freedmen's Bureau and the military organization in the work of controlling the negro vote were several secret oath-bound conspiratory organizations, the chief of which, and the pattern for the rest, was the Union League. The Bureau agents were the organizers of this society. "By the end of 1867 nearly the entire black population was brought under its influence."4 Solemn oaths bound the members to vote for the League nominees. All the methods of secret terrorism, boycotts, and personal violence were used to enforce this political obedience.5 The organizers of these societies did not overlook any opportunities for petty graft in the form of dues and fees that could be dragged from the deluded and terrorized blacks.6
All sorts of despicable swindles were perpetrated upon
1 Hilary Herbert, "Why the Solid South," p. 17.
these "wards of the nation" by their grasping guardians. The story that Congress had voted "forty acres and a mule" to every former slave was almost universally circulated and believed among the negroes. Red-white-and-blue pegs were peddled to the confiding blacks, with the tale that any land marked with them would belong to the owner of the pegs.1
The army of men that were thus marshaling the negroes for the Republican party, organizing, voting, and robbing them, was made up in part of Northern adventurers ("carpet-baggers") and so-called Southern "Union men" ("scalawags"). These took the spoils of office, and made the state government simply means for private profit.
It is probably impossible to exaggerate the corruption of these Reconstruction governments. They voted enormous issues of bonds, and coolly pocketed the money for which they were sold. They doubled, quadrupled, and multiplied state debts twenty fold, and this without creating a single public improvement.2 They raised the taxes until, in Mississippi, 20 per cent of the acreage was sold to satisfy the tax collector.3 Legislatures voted fabulous sums for "supplies" for their members.4
All this was inflicted upon a land devastated by war and in most desperate need of every resource available for the establishment of the most elementary social needs. All this was part of the "original accumulation"
1 "Documentary History of Reconstruction," Vol. I, pp. 359-360.
of the political and profit-making power of the present ruling class.
The character of these Reconstruction governments is sometimes offered as a proof of the evils of negro suffrage. It should never be forgotten that it was not the black, but the white, man who maintained these governments, by military force, conspiracy, and chicanery, and that the white alone profited from them.1 At the first signs of independence by the negro, even though that independence found no further expression than a demand for a share of the plunder,2 interest in negro suffrage by the Reconstructionists waned. When some of the negroes joined with a remnant of decent whites, the Northern philanthropists withdrew the military support, and the Reconstruction governments collapsed.3
A parenthetic word is here necessary before discussing the further reasons for the fall of Reconstruction governments and policy. It would be as foolish to follow those Southern historians who would have it that the evils of the Reconstruction governments were due to the immorality and vindictiveness of the carpet-baggers and politicians, as to follow those Northern writers who make of the whole thing a benevolent action on behalf of the negro, alloyed only by a patriotic ambition to "save the Union."
Even the Congressional leaders were but instruments working in the interest of newly enthroned capitalism, - that royal heir whose birth we celebrated in the War of 1812. The way to that throne led through four
1 "Documentary History of Reconstruction," Vol. II, p. 33.
bloody years of Civil War, followed by three times as many more years of political anarchy, bribery, oppression, conspiracy, hypocrisy, violent disregard of law and order, and the creation of a murderous race and sectional hatred, the terrible depths of which we have not yet sounded.
These words imply individual moral judgments and responsibility. This is necessary until a new industrial basis of society shall develop a vocabulary based on social responsibility.
Yet it would be false to assume that a majority, or even the leaders of the dominant faction in Congress, were consciously moved by a desire to place the great capitalists in power. Some were fanatically sincere abolitionists, earnestly and intensely believing that they were helping the negro. Even Thad Stevens seems to have been to some extent controlled by this motive.
They were "good" men when judged by individual standards of morality and responsibility. Looked at from a little broader social point of view, the vocabulary of denunciation and abhorrence seems inadequate when applied to their actions. Viewed with a still wider social and historical vision, they are seen to be instruments in the process by which the capitalist class attained to a power without which it could not have worked out its destiny and prepared the way to the better things that are still possible.
One of the obstacles to the carrying out of the Reconstruction program was the Supreme Court. This body was still dominated by a combination of small capitalist and chattel slave interests and ideas. Because that power generally safeguarded the interests of the exploiting
class, this Court had been permitted to retain its usurped power to declare laws unconstitutional. It now became evident that this power would be used to nullify some of the Reconstruction legislation. Another "palace revolution" was necessary.
Accordingly on the 27th of March, 1868, Congress passed a law threatening the members of the Supreme Court with fines and imprisonment if they interfered with the carrying out of such legislation, and notifying that body that this legislation was not subject to review as to its constitutionality.
The Supreme Court at once recognized the right, or rather the power (which in class government is the same thing), of Congress to so curb the judicial department of the government, and dismissed the cases which were already before it.1
The Court and Congress by this action completely punctured the bubble upon which the autocratic power of the Supreme Court rests, and demonstrated that the Supreme Court only declares laws unconstitutional when it is to the interest of the ruling class to permit it to exercise that power.
Several years later, when powerful class interests had no further use for such legislation, the Court was permitted to receive another case involving these laws, and to then declare them unconstitutional (October, 1875).2
By the time the negro became dissatisfied with the role of a blind and dumb political tool, the great capital
1 Rhodes, "History of the United States," Vol. VI, p. 94; Cong.
Globe, Jan. 13, 1868, p. 476. See especially the speech of Frederick T.
Frelinghuysen, Jan. 28, 1868.
ists of the North had gained such complete domination over the national government and political machines that they could afford to relax their violent rule in the South. The troops were withdrawn, and military rule was ended by Hayes in 1876, and the whole Reconstruction society crumbled and fell. The negroes were disfranchised, at first by force and fraud, and then later by laws. Meanwhile their erstwhile Republican defenders, who had once thrust that ballot into their hands at the point of the bayonet, now passed by on the other side without protest.
These interests could well afford to ignore the South. They had found a richer field of plunder. A saturnalia of corruption now centered around the national government, and had extended to state and municipal administrations. It was not simply that the powers of taxation were used to convert the national treasury into a mammoth widow's cruse, from which the privileged few stole almost countless sums. The national government was also used to bestow empires of land and piled up millions of dollars upon railroad corporations, who in turn were to use this national plunder only as a base for still further and greater frauds. In the stock and bond market it was the time of the Tweed Ring in New York and the Credit Mobilier in the West. To merely enumerate the more flagrant frauds of this time, when the fortunes of to-day were being founded, would fill the pages of a larger volume than this one.
Out of this corruption the great capitalist class drew the funds that enabled it to control the machinery of politics. The horrors of Reconstruction had engendered a sectional hatred so fierce as to render impossible any
political combination across the line that divided the North from the South. The Republican party had made itself the object of a peculiar sort of patriotism, based on its claim to have saved the Union, and this made possible its dominance for a generation.1
Great and complex political machines had been built up throughout the country, resting on political patronage and illicit favors of government, which controlled nominations and directed elections. In the South a race war had been fostered that embittered and strengthened sectional antagonism, and helped to maintain the divisions among the voters so valuable to a ruling class.
By such methods and measures did the present ruling class obtain its industrial
and political power.
1 Ostrogorsky, "Democracy and the Origin of Political Parties," Vol. II, pp. 126-127.