America

Topic Three: Social and Political Development in the South in the Period of the Reconstruction Programme

The reconstruction programme that was inaugurated at the end of the civil war had far-reaching implications for both blacks and whites. In the south, there developed two groups, which were hated much more than the blacks.

These were the Carpet Baggers and the Scalawags. Because the reconstruction programme inaugurated by the congress did not have enough faith in the southerners, officials from the north had to be drafted to the south not only to monitor the activities of those in charge of reconstruction but ultimately to serve as administrators.

The officials who came from the north were derisively known as the Carpet Baggers. Their collaborators in the south were known as the Scalawags. The dichotomy created by the reconstruction programme further made complex the social and political situation in the south.

The existence of the four million blacks that were freed by the President proclamation did not make matters better. Their existence could best be described as a fate worse than slavery. In spite of this, a new reconstruction government took off in the south.

And for the first time in the history of the south, the administration was not only in the hands of northerners, but also the most hated species “the blacks”. The blacks participated actively in the administration of the south.

They had several roles, which included Lt. Governors, secretaries of the treasury and members of the assemblies. They were, however, not allowed to be governors.

The whites in the south responded to this new development with terror tactics; they resorted to the creation of secret societies such as the Palefaces, Constitutional Union Guards, Knights of the White Camelia and most important, the Knight of the Ku Klux Klan and a host of other bodies, which pressed home their grievances through terror.

All the secret societies at several points in time adopted strategies such as burning, looting, kidnapping, etc. There were also counter activities by the blacks to protect themselves from the tyrannies of southern whites.

The violence escalated to the extent that the federal government had to resort to the use of army and naval personnel to quell the riots that ensued in the aftermath of all the episodes of violence.

To the northerners, the adoption of strong arm tactics was to prevent the south from nullifying against the civil war. To the south on the other hand, the adoption of violence was not regarded as an untoward weapon, but simply as a tool of emancipation.

The antagonism between both groups flared into the open in 1874 over the elections that were conducted in Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Louisiana. In these elections, the southern controlled Democratic Party was trying to stage a comeback and was on the verge of defeating the Republicans.

The violence that ensued became one of the bloodiest political riots in American history. Thereafter, many people frowned at the antagonisms that characterized American politics.

As a result of the desire to bring about genuine peace, a new agreement developed between the north and the south and this subsequently led to the acceptance of the south as a new political force.

There was a multiplicity of factors, which helped the southerners rise to political prominence in the post civil war period. First of all, the reconstruction governments that ruled in the south were so inept and so corrupt that the Democrats were able to point out their weaknesses and also launched a propaganda war to discredit this government.

Secondly, there developed a new group of congressmen that no longer felt concerned with the issue of reconstruction. The generation of politicians like Thaddeus Stevens had gone into retirement and so the newer generations were no longer interested in curtailing the activities of southern politicians.

Another significant change in the American political scene was the ruling of the Supreme Court over the 15th Amendment. The Supreme Court had delivered the landmark judgement, which freed the state from being compelled to apply the 15th Amendment to its letter.

By 1894, the radical reconstruction programme had collapsed and all the southern states had come under the control of the southern whites. However, the new administration in the south did not fare better than those that came into power in the aftermath of the ten percent plan.

It would be recalled that those governments had instituted what became known as the “black codes”. By 1894, the black codes had not only staged a comeback, but had become much more virulent.

All the states adopted series of strategies to debar blacks from finding accommodation within the new political process. There were different types of obstacles to black progress. In Louisiana, for instance, a black man who desires to vote or be voted for must show evidence of a regular payment of the poll tax as well as possessing a property worth about 300 dollars.

This was a major obstacle to black emancipation as it became difficult to survive the harsh economic climate in which they found themselves in the aftermath of their emancipation.

Many of them, therefore, had to resort to criminal means to survive. Unfortunately, this became a potent weapon the southern administration used to prevent the blacks from securing the votes.

It became a regulation in all the southern states that petty acts of criminality such as stealing, pilfering, vagrancy, etc, ipso facto, (that is to say) debars any black person from securing the vote.

Another veritable weapon utilized by the states was the sabotage of the transport system on the Election Day. By this weapon, blacks living several kilometers away from polling stations were completely immobilized or if they attempted to move far away from their abodes they were charged with the crime of vagrancy.

The citing away of polling booths from the black areas also prevented the blacks from exercising their voting rights. As a corollary to this, there was the adoption of a strategy that was known as Gerrymandering.

This was the process whereby the black areas were split into various units in order to break their votes. This was designed to prevent the blacks’ votes from becoming a factor in American politics. 

Several states also made cautious attempts to prevent the blacks from participating in the electoral process through two potent weapons of the Grandfather Clause and the Education Clause.

The Grandfather clause stipulated that anyone, whose grandfather did not vote in 1867, would not vote in 1894. The Education clause on the other hand stipulated that anybody who could not read portions of the constitution had no right to vote. The situation of the blacks became worsened with the adoption of a policy of separateness by the states.

This was encapsulated in a principle that later became known as “separate but equal”. This achieved the segregation of facilities between whites and blacks.

The Supreme Court gave a legal backing to this odious development in two landmark judgments, one in 1896 in the case of Plessy versus Fergusson, and in another case in 1890 between Cummings versus Board of Education.

In these judgments, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of the states to have separate facilities for blacks and whites. This finally nailed the aspirations of the blacks for an equitable society and ultimately achieved a nullification of the gains of the civil war.

The struggle to upturn this negative development continued until the 1960s, when the Civil Rights Acts recognized that separate was not equal.    

 
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Sonniee Alli

Dr. Sunday Abraham OGUNODE (aka Sonniee Alli) is a lecturer in the Department of History and International Studies and currently the Sub-Dean, Faculty of Arts, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko. He preferred to be called a Teacher not a Lecturer in order to allow students' easy access and enhance their inclusive experiences while imparting knowledge in and out of classes. It is, therefore, not surprising that Sonniee Alli takes time out of his very busy schedules to write and make available detailed notes in all his courses to the students. Despite this, he attends all his classes and passionately explains issues using real-time illustration. His notes are available on the History Archives managed by his mentee Obaloluwa Tadese FAFORIJI, a 300level young but promising student of the Department. Enjoy as you explore the academic world of Sonniee Alli.

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