01-28-2007 02:23 AM
500,000 black and white Americans died in the abolitionist cause during the Civil War. The North won the war but the South won the peace. With the assassination of Republican president Abraham Lincoln, his vice president, Andrew Johnson, an anti-black Tennessee dirt farmer, gave the South back everything it had fought for and lost. It's a period known as "Presidential Reconstruction." Andrew Johnson, who had initially promised to carry through with Lincoln's plans, turned around and made amends with the former rebels, pardoned them, returned their lands, and granted home rule, which meant white home rule. The Southern states, fearing economic and political gains by blacks enacted a revised edition of the infamous Black Codes, leaving the former slaves at the mercy of former slaveholders whose war losses had made them vindictive. But it backfired. It was immediately and rightfully opposed by the outraged members of Johnson's own party in the Republican-controlled 39th Congress who initiated a phase known as "Radical Republican Reconstruction." The congress refused to recognize the Southern delegates who intended to institutionalize a modified form of slavery. "The Joint Committee of Fifteen" led by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania and Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was appointed to investigate the Southern states. Their findings caused them to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1866, eventually followed by the three so-called "Civil War Amendments" to the US Constitution: the 13th which guaranteed the freedom of the former slaves, the 14th which granted them citizenship, and the 15th which secured their voting rights.
In the South, only Tennesse ratified the civil rights measure. The other states reacted with reprisals against blacks -- riots and the burning of black schools and churches. The New Orleans Massacre of 1866 actually took place in the legislature when black voting rights were being discussed, and the killing was aided by the police and the mayor.
Thomas Nast, the same political cartoonist who eventually helped to bring down corrupt NYC ward heeler and Tammany hack Boss Tweed, depicted the N.O. massacre of 1866 in a famous editorial cartoon. I read Kenneth Ackerman's biography of Boss Tweed, published in 2005.
Congress passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867 which divided the former Confederate States (except for Tennessee) into five districts and placed them under martial law. The states were required to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment in order to be readmitted. Blacks organized the Loyal League, an outgrowth of the northern Union League, aimed at securing the right to vote, which was secured in 1870 with the passage of the 15th Amendment, passed to protect black suffrage.
During the Reconstruction period (roughly 1865 to 1877), many blacks were elected or appointed to government. Between 1868 and 1896, 113 black legislators served in Louisiana alone.
Blacks were in the majority in at least two states, Mississippi and South Carolina, and in states where they formed a large minority they were often in the majority in certain congressional districts. Whites who wanted to continue in politics, mostly Republicans but some Democrats as well, chose educated blacks for their running mates or promised them key positions in order to win the black vote. To give one example, there were 2 African American US Senators from Mississippi during Reconstruction. I just read the biography of one of these black senators, Blanche Kelso Bruce. It's called "The Senator and the Socialite" by Lawrence Otis Graham.
To make a long story short, by the time Blanche Kelso Bruce was sworn in as a US Senator in 1875, black voting rights were already under attack in his home state of Mississippi. There was a campaign of terror by the White Liners: the White League, the Ku Klux Klan, and others who murdered, massacred, and intimidated blacks into not voting. And it succeeded. It's called the southern "Redemption" and it's the subject of a new book by Columbia professor Nicholas Lemann. Other less violent means of preventing blacks from voting included "grandfather clauses" in local voting ordinances, which meant that a potential voter had to prove that his grandfather had voted before 1865, which automatically excluded almost 100 percent of blacks.
I have not yet read "Redemption," but I have read Eric Foner's award-winning "Reconstruction," which is considered by many to be the standard text on the subject. The Reconstruction in US history was misrepresented for many decades as a period of black corruption by historians of the Dunning-Bowers school and even in the D.W. Griffith film "Birth of a Nation," a technologically cutting-edge movie which unfortunately glorified the KKK and visciously distorted Reconstruction. It's worth watching though if you can find it at Blockbusters because it pioneered the use of close-ups, cross-cutting, split-screen, panorama, etc. Today, not a single reputable historian believes in the distortions of the John Dunning school and the Lost Cause Myth, however, it still has a hold on the popular imagination. Here's the abridged edition of Foner's Reconstruction:
THE HAYES-TILDEN COMPROMISE (or the Compromise of 1877)
The disputed 1876 US presidential election was settled by a compromise which gave the presidency to the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio, even though the Democratic candidate, Samuel Tilden of NY was ahead by approximately 250,000 in the popular vote count. The electoral votes of three Southern states were in dispute: South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. I don't pretend to know the complexities of the deal which was struck (ironically at the black-owned Wormsley Hotel) in Washington, D.C. but it's essentially this. The Democrats gave the Republican candidate Hayes the presidency in exchange for the governement withdrawing federal troops from the South, thereby ending Reconstruction and with it, black rights, and ensuring the return of Democratic Party control in the South.
My points are simple. One, neither candidate cared about black rights. Two, Mississippi, a majority black Republican state, was in the Democrat Tilden's column and not in dispute, but only because it had already been "redeemed" by the White Liners. Same for the other southern states which had to a large degree followed Mississippi's lead. So Tilden had not really won those states fair and square and was therefore not the real winner. And finally, the Samuel Tilden described in Kenneth Ackerman's biography of Boss Tweed is in some ways a less sympathetic figure than Tweed, at least in the sense that he paid for his corruption by his imprisonment. From Bob Bauer's review"
"It could not be said that Tweed and his cronies stood alone in their plunder of government or their manipulation of the ballot box. Tweed’s bitter adversary, Samuel Tilden, revived his reputation and political fortunes as a reformer, but his stance was somewhat compromised by ambition and some questionable associations of his own. Vote fraud had been alleged against him in his efforts on behalf of the failed 1868 Presidential candidacy of Horatio Seymour, and it was to be raised again during his own presidential campaign, six years later, when his agents were said to have used cash to try to sway undecided electors in the stand-off with Rutherford B. Hayes. In Tweed’s glory days, moreover, Tilden had willingly shared the public platform with the Boss."
08-19-2007 11:42 PM
08-19-2007 11:45 PM
This past June Nikki debut the book at NYC, Book Expo America and the American Library Association in Washington DC with PMA.
The book is also scheduled to be exhibited at seven regional shows this Fall across the country. Go to the Tilden web site for locations and time. www.samueltilden.com
12-01-2007 12:30 AM