The New South
|The New South
|As recorded in Frederic Bancroft, ed., Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers of Carl Schurz, Volume IV, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1913, pp. 368-400. This was originally published in 1885 (New York: American News Company) as a pamphlet.|
Twice during the last twenty years I had occasion to travel extensively over the Southern states, and to become acquainted with their condition. In 1865, a few months after the close of the civil war, I visited all of them, except Texas and Florida, and last winter all of them, except Mississippi. Each time I came into contact with a great many persons of all shades of social position and of political opinion. I improved my opportunities of inquiry and observation to the best of my ability. My object was, not to verify the correctness of preconceived notions, but to gain, by impartial investigation, a true view of things. Of the view thus obtained these pages are to give a brief and plain account.
|New York, April, 1885.|
In 1865, immediately after the close of the civil war, Southern society presented the spectacle of what might be called a state of dissolution. The Southern armies had just been disbanded, and the soldiers, after four years of fierce fighting, had returned home to shift for themselves. The Southern country was utterly exhausted by the war. Even where there had been no actual devastation, the product of labor had, ever since the spring of 1861, been mostly devoted to the support of armies in the field — that is, economically speaking, wasted. The money in the hands of the people had become entirely valueless. Thus the people were fearfully impoverished. The slaves, who had constituted almost the whole agricultural working force of the South, had been set free all at once. The first and very natural impulse of a large number of them was to test their freedom by quitting work and wandering away from the plantations. The country roads swarmed with them, and with a vague anticipation of a great jubilee they congregated in the towns. Thus the South was not only in distress and want, but the complete breaking up of the old labor-system and the difficulty of getting to work on a new basis made the prospect of recovery extremely dark. The negroes behaved on the whole very good-naturedly. There were few, if any, criminal excesses on their part, except pig and chicken stealing. But the negro did not yet know what to do with his freedom, and the whites had not yet learned how to treat the negroes as freemen. The former masters were easily infuriated at the new airs of their former slaves, and resorted to all sorts of means to make them work. A great many acts of violence were committed by whites on blacks. But for the interposition of the national power much more blood would have flown, and the South might have become the theater of protracted and disastrous convulsions. The Freedmen's Bureau, an institution which subsequently became discredited by abuses creeping into it, did at the beginning most valuable service in evolving some order from the prevailing chaos, and in preventing more serious catastrophes. The passions of the war were still burning fiercely, and the restored Union, which manifested itself to the defeated Southerners only in the shape of victorious “Yankee soldiers” and liberated negro slaves, was at that time still heartily detested.
The contrast between the condition of things existing then and that existing now, cannot well be appreciated without a review of the developments which have brought it forth. No greater misfortune could, in my opinion, have happened to the South at that time than the death of Mr. Lincoln. He was the only man who, taking the perplexing problem of reconstruction into his hand, would have stood between the North and the South, looked up to with equal confidence by both. His moderation and charity would not have aroused suspicion at the North, nor would his tenacity of purpose with regard to emancipation and the rights of the negro have appeared vindictive to the South. He could have prevented the passions of the war from disturbing the work of peace. While thus President Lincoln would have been the best man for the business of reconstruction, President Johnson was, perhaps, the worst imaginable. During and immediately after the war his uppermost thought was that treason must be made odious by punishing the traitors. But a few months after his accession to the presidency he insisted with equal vehemence that the government of the late insurgent states, then in a state of dangerous confusion, must be virtually turned over to the same class of men whom but recently he had denounced as traitors fit to be hanged. His ill-balanced mind was incapable of seeing that what might be wisdom some time afterwards, was folly then. The passionate temper with which he plunged into a bitter quarrel with Congress and the Republican party about these questions produced two most unfortunate effects. The minds of Southern men were turned away from the only thing that could put them on the road of peace, order and new prosperity, namely, a prompt and sincere accommodation of their thoughts and endeavors to the new order of things. They were made to delude themselves instead with the false hope of reversing in some way the emancipation of the slaves, at least partially, by legislative contrivances — their false hopes begetting false efforts in many directions, and these efforts leading to bitter, futile and wasteful struggles, which the poor South might and should have been spared. And secondly, Mr. Johnson's proceedings made the Northern people seriously afraid of a disloyal pro-slavery reaction in the South. He irritated the majority in Congress by defiant demonstrations, and thus he caused the most intricate problem of the time to become the subject of a passionate party broil, which seemed to render men heedless as to the consequences of their doings. The Republican majority in Congress, thinking itself betrayed by the president, went faster and farther in their measures to protect the rights of the freedmen, and to procure loyal majorities in the Southern states, than they might have thought necessary to do had they not distrusted the executive. And, on the other hand, Mr. Johnson, by intemperate utterances, stirred up opposition in the South to the measures enacted by Congress. Negro suffrage was introduced, instantaneous and general, thus thrusting a mass of ignorance as an active element into the body politic, while at the same time a large number of those who had taken a more or less prominent part in the rebellion, constituting the bulk of the property and intelligence of the South, were disfranchised and debarred from active participation in public affairs.
I do not say this to criticise the reconstruction measures in general. I have always believed that they were adopted from good motives and for good purposes; that in the light of history some of them appear ill-judged, but that reconstruction was one of those tangled problems in solving which any policy that may be adopted will in some way bring forth unsatisfactory consequences, and in some respects look like a mistake. Here were a number of insurgent communities just reconquered by force of arms; in them four millions of negroes liberated from slavery by the government against the will of their former masters; that former master class exasperated by defeat and material distress, and face to face with the former slaves; these elements, with a fierce and apparently irreconcilable antagonism between them, to be brought into peaceful and mutually beneficial relations under a new order of things, so that the weaker might be permanently safe in the presence of the stronger. That was the perplexing task to be accomplished. Was it to be done by the constant interposition of a superior power? That would have been putting off indefinitely the restoration of local self-government in the Southern states. Was it to be done by at once restoring the states to their functions, leaving all the political power in them exclusively in the hands of the whites? That would have been surrendering the late slaves, emancipated by the act of the national government, helpless to the mercy of their former masters, whose natural desire at the time was to reduce them to slavery again. Was it to be done by arming the late slaves with political rights so as to give them the means of self-protection, and by curtailing at the same time the political rights of the late master-class, so as to weaken their means of aggression? That would expose those states to all the evils of a rule of ignorance. Thus neither of these systems, nor any mixing of them, could in all respects have worked satisfactorily as to immediate consequences. But here I have to do only with actual results.
The great mass of negro voters fell promptly into the hands of more or less selfish and unscrupulous leaders, and the scandals of the so-called carpet-bag governments followed. The Southern whites might, perhaps, have exercised a stronger influence for good upon the negroes had they at once frankly and cordially accepted the new order of things. But the old passions and prejudices did not yield so quickly, and, moreover, I repeat, President Johnson's ill-advised doings had inspired them with delusive hopes of some sort of reaction. It would be wrong to class all who during that period — from the close of the war until 1877 — acted as Republican leaders in the South among the demagogues and scoundrels. There were very honorable and patriotic men among them. But, on the whole, the corruption and public robbery going on under those governments can hardly be exaggerated. A mimicry of legislation, carried on by negroes, in part moderately educated, in part mere plantation hands, and led in many cases by adventurers bent upon filling their pockets quickly — that was for years what they had of government in several Southern states.
This, of course, could not last long. A change was sure to come. Unfortunately, the carpet-bag governments were, in a measure, sustained by party spirit in Congress, while, on the other hand, the reaction against them in the South took a lawless character. The Ku-Klux organization was first started for the suppression of disorder, and then became itself an element of lawlessness. Efforts were made to overcome the negro majorities by terrorism. Negroes who were politically active, suffered cruel maltreatment. A good many murders occurred. No doubt, of the “Southern outrage” stories, some were manufactured for political effect in the North, but others were unquestionably founded on truth. When the national government ceased to uphold the carpet-bag governments by force of arms, the “Southern outrages” of the bloody kind gradually ceased. But the efforts to keep the negroes from exercising political control continued, although by different means. Force was supplanted by ruse. In some places negro majorities were overcome by tissue ballots. In others, registration was made difficult. In others, the voting places were so arranged as to put the negroes at a disadvantage. In others, where many offices were voted for at the same time, it was provided by law that there should be a separate ballot-box for each office, and that ballots put by voters into the wrong boxes should not be counted, the effect of which was that persons unable to read, and thus to identify the boxes, would be apt to lose their votes an arrangement working somewhat like a disqualification of illiterates. In still other places efforts were made to influence the negro vote as it is influenced here and there in the North. Thus, while at the beginning of the reconstruction period the negroes were enfranchised and a large number of whites disfranchised by law, which brought forth Republican majorities and the carpet-bag governments, subsequently the negro vote was in a large measure neutralized, first by force and then by trickery, thus, by means wrong in themselves and eventually demoralizing in effect, making Democratic majorities to put an end to the carpet-bag governments, prevent the return of negro domination and secure honesty in the administration of public affairs.
There has been, concerning these facts, much crimination and recrimination between the North and the South, partly just and partly unjust. “By your reconstruction acts,” said the South, “you subjected us to the rule of ignorant and brutal negroes led by rapacious adventurers, who mercilessly plundered us at the time when the South, exhausted and impoverished, was most in need of intelligent and honest government.” “We could not help that,” answered the North, “for we were in justice bound not to leave the emancipated negro helpless at the mercy of his former master; we had to arm him with rights, and if you had been in our places, you, as an honorable people, would have been bound to do, and would have done, the same thing.” “You have terrorized voters,” said the North, “and controlled the ballot-box by force and fraud, and thus got political power which did not belong to you.” “We could not help that,” answered the South, “for the government of combined ignorance and rapacious rascality stripped us naked, and threatened us with complete ruin. No people could have endured this. We had to get rid of negro domination at any cost, and if you had been in our places you would have done the same thing.”
While this discussion was going on, a non-political but most powerful influence asserted itself. The Southern people got to work again. Immediately after the war the average Southerner was laboring under the impression that the emancipation of the slaves had brought the whole economic machinery of the South to a complete standstill, and that, unless some system of compulsory labor were restored, there was nothing but starvation and ruin in the future. Encouraged by President Johnson's erratic manifestations, he made all sorts of reactionary attempts, but failed. He had, after all, to try what could be done under the new order of things, and he did try. Gradually he discovered that the negro as a free man would work better than had been anticipated. He discovered also that white men could, and under the pressure of circumstances would, do many kinds of work to which formerly they had not taken kindly and readily. As work proved productive, hope revived, and with hope, energy and enterprise. The Southern man became aware that his salvation did not depend upon a reversal of the new order of things, but upon a wise development of it. He found that this new order of things was opening new opportunities and calling into action new energies. So his thoughts were more and more withdrawn from the past, with its struggles and divisions and resentments, and turned upon the present and future with their common interests, hopes and aspirations. While the professional politicians of the two sections were still storming at one another, the farmers, and the merchants, and the manufacturers, and the professional men, had found something else to occupy their minds. Many of them came into contact with Northern people and met there with a much friendlier feeling than they had anticipated. It dawned upon them that this was, after all, a good country to live in, and a good government to live under, and a good people to live with. And it is this sentiment, grown up slowly but with steadily increasing strength and spreading among all classes of society, even those whose feelings against the Union were bitterest during and immediately after the war, that has made the New South as we see it to-day.
It is not my purpose here to show in detail the economic growth of the South since the war. The Northern visitor will still be struck with the enormous difference between the South and the North in the matter of wealth. Travelling from state to state and attentively looking at country and town and people, he will be apt to ask two questions. One is: How could Southern men, considering the sparseness of their population and their comparative poverty, be so foolhardy as to urge the South into that war with the rich and populous North? And the other is: How was it possible for the Southern people, considering the enormous disparity of means and resources, to maintain that war for four long years?
But, although still poor, the South is decidedly richer than it was before the war, while, of course, its wealth is differently distributed. New industries have sprung up and old ones are better developed. The mineral resources are gradually drawn to light. In the iron regions of Alabama new towns are growing up, the appearance of which reminds one of Pennsylvania. Cotton mills are multiplying. Manufacturing establishments of various kinds are rising in many places. While the sugar interest in Louisiana has much declined, other branches of agriculture, such as tobacco in North Carolina, have taken a new start. The cotton crop is constantly growing larger. The question of decisive import is no longer only how the negroes will work, for the white people themselves are working much better than before. The number of young men in the villages and small towns standing idle around the grocery corners is steadily decreasing. Among young people the tendency to devote themselves earnestly to useful and laborious occupations is becoming much more general. The poor whites of both sexes are in many places found to make industrious and faithful operatives in manufacturing establishments.
About the working habits of the colored people different judgments are heard. One planter and one manufacturer will praise them while another complains. After much investigation and inquiry, I have formed the conclusion that the employers who treat the negroes most intelligently and fairly are usually satisfied with their work, while the employers who complain most are usually those who are most complained of. The question of negro labor seems to be largely a question of management. There may be exceptions to this rule, but not enough to invalidate it. The number of colored men who have acquired property is not very large yet, but it is growing. I have seen negro settlements of a decidedly thrifty and prosperous appearance. A few colored men have become comparatively wealthy and live in some style. It is generally said of them that they are “improvident.” This is doubtless true of a large majority of them; but they are only somewhat more improvident than their former masters who used to live on next year's crop. It is a question of degrees between them. Since their emancipation they have shown much zeal for the education of their young people. Here and there this zeal is said to have cooled a little, but, as far as I have observed, it has not cooled much. Their educational facilities are still scanty in the agricultural districts, where school is kept only three months in the year. A large portion of the colored country population is therefore still lamentably ignorant.
The most unsatisfactory feature of their condition as a class is a disinclination to work, shown by many of their young people who have grown up since the abolition of slavery. There is said to be a notion spreading among them that it is the aim and end of education to enable people to get on without work. This tendency is exciting a prejudice against the education of negroes not only among certain classes of whites, but also with some of the more thrifty among the negroes themselves. I heard of a prosperous negro farmer in Alabama owning a well-stocked farm of 500 acres, worked by him with his children, who refuses to send his boys to school because learning would spoil them for farm work, and who permitted only one of his girls to learn reading and writing, so that she might be able to keep his accounts. Here is a field for missionary work, which those whose public spirit is devoted to the elevation of the colored race should keep well in view. The relation of grammar to industry must be made tangible to the young mind, as it is at the Hampton Institute and several others. The addition of industrial teaching to the common school is in this respect of especial importance. Among those who have been slaves there are a great many skillful mechanics — blacksmiths, carpenters, harness-makers, shoe makers, etc. Their sons, raised in freedom, seem to be less inclined to devote themselves to these laborious trades; and yet the negro, with his mechanical aptitudes, might, properly trained and guided, furnish the South all the handicraftsmen necessary for ordinary work. As it is, the negroes constitute, and will for a long period to come continue to constitute, the bulk of the agricultural laboring force in the principal cotton states, and every sensible Southern man recognizes them as a most valuable and, in fact, indispensable element in developing the resources and promoting the prosperity of the South. They are there to stay, and must be made the best of by just and wise treatment.
The visitor will be struck with the generally hopeful and cheery tone prevailing in Southern society. Their recovery from the disasters of the war has been more rapid than at first they expected. They are proud, and justly proud, of what they have accomplished in that direction. They are glad to have strangers observe it. Having done so much, they feel that they can do more. While business is in many respects depressed in the South, less complaint of this is heard than at the North. The general spirit prevailing in the South now is very like that characteristic of the new West: a high appreciation of the resources and advantages of the country; great expectations of future developments; a lively desire to excite interest in those things, and to attract Northern capital, enterprise and immigration; a strong consciousness and appreciation of the importance to them of their being a part of a great, strong, prosperous and united country.
The political effect of the steady growth of such feelings has been a very natural one. It is the complete disappearance of all “disloyal” aspirations. However strong their desire to destroy the Union may have been twenty years ago, I am confident, scarcely a corporal's guard of men could be found in the South to-day who would accept the disruption of the Union if it were presented to them. Those were right who predicted in the early part of the war that the abolition of slavery would not only break the backbone of the rebellion, but also remove the cause of disloyalty from the South. This it has completely accomplished. In fact, never in the history of this republic has there been a time when there was no disunion feeling at all in this country, until now. Ever since the revolutionary period until within a few years there have always been some people who, for some reason or another, desired the dissolution of the Union, or who thought it possible, or who speculated upon its effects. Now, for the first time, there is nowhere such a wish, or such a thought, or such a speculation. By everybody the “Union now and forever” is taken for granted. The South is thoroughly cured of the mischievous dream of secession, not only by the bloody failure of its attempt, but by the constantly growing conviction that success would have been a terrible misfortune to themselves. Many a Southern man who had been active in the rebellion, said to me in conversation about the war: “It is dreadful to think what would have become of us if we had won.” They would fight now as gallantly to stay in the Union as twenty-two or three years ago they fought to get out of it. There is no doubt, should any danger threaten the Union again, the Southern people would be among its most zealous defenders.
There has been a suspicion raised at the North that this loyal garb is put on by Southern men merely for the purpose of concealing secret disloyal designs. This is absurd. Before the war they plotted and conspired, it is true. But they did not keep their purposes secret. On the contrary, they paraded them on every possible occasion. They were outspoken enough, and it was not their fault if they were not believed. Whatever may be said of our Southern people, they have never been deep dissemblers. When they say they are for the Union, they are just as honest as they were when they pronounced themselves against it.
As to the abolition of slavery, the change of sentiment is no less decided. However desperately they may have fought against emancipation, but few men can now be found in the South who would restore slavery if they could. It is said that there are some, but I have not been able to find one. The expression: “The war and the abolition of slavery have been the making of the South,” is heard on all sides. It is generally felt that new social forces, new energies, have been called into activity, which the old state of things would have kept in a torpid condition. There is, therefore, no danger of another pro-slavery movement. The relations between the colored laborer and the white employer are bound to develop themselves upon a bona-fide free-labor basis. Of the social and political relations between the two races, something more will be said below.
The distrust among Northern people as to the revival of loyal sentiments in the South, while in some cases honestly entertained, has in others been cultivated for political purposes. The question is asked: “Why, if they are loyal, do they select as their representatives men who were prominent in the rebellion? What about their reverence for Jefferson Davis?” and so on. Every candid inquirer will find to these questions a simple answer: In the “Confederate states,” a few districts excepted, nearly all white male adults entered the military service. They were all “rebel soldiers.” When after the war the Southern people had to choose public officers from among themselves, they were in many places literally confined to a choice between rebel soldiers and negroes. In other places they were not so confined. But they followed the natural impulse of preferring as their agents and representatives men who really represented them, who had been with them “in the same boat” in fair weather and in foul. This companionship in good and ill fortune has in all ages and in all countries been a strong bond to bind men together. One rebel soldier could hardly be expected to say that another rebel soldier was unworthy of public trust because of his service in the rebel army, for he would thus have disqualified himself. Nor was there necessarily any disloyalty in this — not even a remnant of it; for a rebel soldier who after the war had “accepted the situation” in perfectly good faith and sincerely resolved to accommodate himself to the new order of things, might naturally prefer as his representative another rebel soldier who had “accepted the situation” with equal sincerity, for the representation would then be more honest and, probably, more efficient.
A peculiarly terrific figure in partisan harangue is the “Rebel Brigadier.” From the descriptions made of him the “Rebel Brigadier” might be supposed to be an incurably black-hearted traitor, still carrying the rebel flag under his coat to bring it out at an opportune moment, still secretly drilling his old hosts on dark nights, and getting himself elected to Congress for the purpose of crippling the government by artfully contrived schemes to accomplish the destruction of the Union as soon as his party is well settled in power. Now, what kind of man is the “Rebel Brigadier” in reality? He belonged in the South, originally, to the same class to which the Union brigadiers belonged in the North. After the close of the war he found himself as poor as the rest of his people. At first he moped and growled a little, and then went to work to make a living as a farmer, or a lawyer, or a railroad employee, or an insurance man, or a book agent. Being a man of intelligence, he was among the first to open his eyes to the fact that the war had been — perhaps a very foolish venture for the South, because it was undertaken against overwhelming odds — and certainly a very disastrous one, because it left nothing but wreck and ruin behind it; one of those enterprises which a man of sense may delude himself into once, but never again. He is now very busy repairing his fortunes in the civil walks of life, and the better he succeeds, the more conservative he grows, for the more clearly he perceives that his own fortunes are closely linked to the general prosperity of the country, and that everything hurtful to the country hurts him. He is in many instances drawn into public life by the choice of his neighbors. His views on questions of public policy may frequently be mistaken — they probably are. He may also be always ready to jump up in defense of his record and the record and character of his associates in the war. He shows pride of his and their gallantry in the field, as every soldier will do, and he is unwilling to have it said that his motives were infamous a thing which but few men, and those not the best, are willing to hear or admit. But having learned at his own cost what civil war is, he would be among the last to think of rebellion again. He has that military honor in him which respects the terms of a capitulation; and if he has any ambition to show his prowess once more, it will be for the restored Union and not against it.
But what does the affection for Jefferson Davis mean which is occasionally displayed? The candid inquirer will find that those demonstrations of affection have a sentimental, not a practical significance. Southern men do not attempt to shift the responsibility for the rebellion. They discriminate little among themselves as to the proportion of guilt, and in treating Jefferson Davis and other leaders with respect after their downfall, they think they are in a certain sense acting in self-defense. I have heard the most thoroughly “reconstructed” Southerners say that, if after the close of the war they had made haste to tear one another to pieces and to cover their leaders with disgrace, they would not feel themselves entitled to the respect of Northern gentlemen. To illustrate the compatibility of such sentiments with thorough loyalty to the Union I may quote a conversation I had with a young Southerner who had grown up since the war, graduated at Harvard and become in all respects a thoroughly national man without the least tinge of sectional feeling or prejudice.
The Southern people [said he] really trouble themselves little about Jefferson Davis. They have no confidence in his judgment, and would not think of following him again as a leader. But they do not like to hear it said that the leader they once followed was an infamous rascal. The Northern people ask too much of us when they insist that we should brand all such men with infamy. Look at my case. My father was a Confederate general. I was a baby when the war broke out, and have studied the matter since. I think the secession movement was the craziest thing ever attempted, and its success would have been one of the most horrible misfortunes in the history of the world. Now, my father talked, and agitated, and fought on that side. He is as guilty as any of them. And yet I know him to be a very kind, honorable and good man in every respect, the best man I ever saw. Would you ask me to call my father a black-hearted traitor? I cannot do it. He is a good and honest man, and is my father.
I repeat, the young man who said this is one of the most enthusiastic Americans that ever cheered for the Stars and Stripes, a man who would willingly let his state go to the bottom to serve the Union.
As to Jefferson Davis, the question of practical importance is whether he would find any followers if attempting to lead another movement against the national authority. He would not only not find any number worth speaking of, but such an attempt would destroy the last remnant of his prestige in the South at once. If he were suspected of having any ambitious designs involving the political action of the Southern people, he would instantly reveal himself as what he really is: a powerless old man who, having once led the Southern people into disaster and ruin, is now treated with the respect usually thought due to eminent misfortune, because it is believed by all that he will never try to do so again. The sentimental demonstrations in his favor, while they do sometimes touch a sore point at the North, are, therefore, beyond that, really of no practical consequence whatever.
More pertinent is the question why the Southern whites, with the revival of loyal sentiment, did not in large numbers join the Republican party, but remained in mass on the Democratic side. Men of standing and influence in the South would, in my opinion, indeed have rendered a valuable service to their people had they put themselves into friendlier communication with the dominant party immediately after the war, thus to gain more of the confidence of the freedmen who naturally looked to the Republican party for guidance. Many difficulties might thus have been avoided. But, unfortunately, it was just then that President Johnson's indiscreet conduct turned their thoughts in a different direction. And, moreover, the character and conduct of many of the Republicans in places of power in the South at that period did not invite such a movement. Some of the latter preferred to organize the negroes as a political force under their own absolute leadership. And thus the Republican party, in some of the Southern states at least, became that organization of ignorance led by rapacity, by which the Southern whites felt themselves virtually forced, in spite of the divergencies of political opinion among them, to rally under the Democratic banner. The bond which held them together was the common fear of negro domination. This fear exercised an influence more or less strong as the danger of negro predominance was locally more or less threatening. But for this one element of political cohesion, that which is called “the Solid South” would ere this have dropped to pieces. And as that element of cohesion loses its strength, the South will, no doubt, gradually cease to be “solid.”
Of this the premonitory symptoms are already apparent. The common interest, as Southern men conceive it, of preventing negro domination in their own borders, is essentially of a defensive character. But the Southern states have no longer any common object to carry aggressively against the interests of the rest of the country, as they had, for instance, when they were fighting for the expansion of slavery. There is, therefore, no longer any distinctive “Southern policy” in the old sense. The economic interests of the South and of the North are becoming more and more alike. There is no longer any essential difference between them as between two countries whose material development requires, respectively, different means and policies. Economic questions are no longer discussed between the sections, but within them. As to the tariff, for instance, it looks as if the protection sentiment were gaining ground in the South as it is losing ground in the North. Although the “cause of silver” is strong in the South, yet nobody will pretend that there is unanimity about it or that it is felt to be a peculiarly Southern interest. About these things, as well as the matter of internal revenue, the subject of banking, civil service reform, temperance legislation etc., there is enough difference of opinion among Southern men who now call themselves Democrats, to produce serious effects as soon as the apprehension of common danger disappears.
The “time-honored principles” of the Democratic party, as far as they refer to theories of government, have become somewhat obscure as to their identity in the Southern mind, and are correspondingly weakened as to their influence in Southern politics. Many of the older men there, indeed, still delight in an argument about a point of “strict construction,” and in quoting Jefferson's first inaugural. But to the common run of mankind in the South the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions of 1798 have ceased to be known by name, and even a good many of the older men, when it comes to a practical application of their political principles, are not at all disinclined to admit considerable latitude in the exercise of the national power, if it promises them any local advantage. Indeed, it might even be said that many Southern men in these days seem inclined to favor — perhaps not in theory but certainly in practice — rather too loose than too strict a construction of the Constitutional functions of the general government.
Moreover, there is a generation of young men growing up in the South who, when the present and prospective condition of the South is discussed at the North, are in most cases left altogether out of view. And yet, in point of fact, in a very few years an absolute majority of the voters of the South will consist of men who never saw a Confederate flag, who never in their lives saw a negro that was not a freeman, and who know of slavery only as a thing of mere historic interest, which in its day did a great deal of mischief to the country, and upon which the enlightened opinion of mankind has recorded its judgment. Whatever foolish attempts may have been made by some persons in the South immediately after the war to educate their posterity in hatred of the North and of the Union, these young men draw their ideas and aspirations entirely from the new order of things. The political battlecries of old times are to them almost meaningless vociferation; their minds are absorbed by present cares and interests of far greater importance to them. A good many of them are ambitious to accomplish something in the world, to make their abilities tell, and to that end to infuse some new life into the old Southern communities. They grow impatient at the slow pace of the old-time “war horses,” and of the solemn dignitaries who still cling to traditional notions and ways; they speak with remarkable irreverence of the antiquated pretensions of the old “chivalry,” and have as little sympathy with the narrow views of the farmer politician who would rather see a good system of public instruction go to the bottom than make a decent appropriation of money for the support of it. A good many young men answering this description are beginning to show an active interest in public affairs; not a few have already become members of Southern legislatures, and they will, of course, in rapidly increasing numbers push to the front, and at no distant day occupy the places of controlling influence. Their feelings are throughout strongly national, and in several places I found among them evidences of a very intelligent and stirring public spirit. They have so far “gone with the party,” but there is much independent thinking among them, which, no doubt, in the course of time will determine their political action. Some exceptions may be found, but not many.
In this respect the change taking place in the political attitude of the colored people can scarcely fail to produce far-reaching effects. The two races in the South have been kept in relations of mutual fear by the apprehension on one side that negro domination meant ruin to the people, and that the continued ascendancy of the Republican party threatened a return of negro domination, and, on the other side, that a victory of the Democratic party in a national election would mean the restoration of slavery. The latter belief had been industriously kept alive by Republican politicians and colored preachers, and was much more generally entertained among the negroes than might be thought possible. In fact, as soon as the result of the late presidential election became known in the South, very many of the former slaves went to their former masters to offer themselves anew for service.
Of this fear the colored people are now thoroughly cured. They looked upon the Republican party as the natural protector of their freedom, and upon that protection as necessary to them. They have now discovered that this necessity no longer exists, and that, as to their freedom, they need not be afraid of the Democrats. This experience has set a good many of them to thinking about some other things, especially about their social status, and the means by which to improve it.
There are two different standards by which to judge the treatment the negro receives in the South: one is a comparison with the treatment white people mete out to one another, and the other is a comparison with the treatment the negro receives at the North. Applying the first standard, we find the difference undoubtedly very great in all those relations of life which are not effectively regulated by law. But comparing, in this respect, the South with the North, the difference will be found small, and it is accounted for in a great measure by the obvious difference in the mental and moral condition of the colored people, and their significance in the social body at the North and the South respectively. The Northern negroes have, with few exceptions, been freemen all their lives, and their parents before them; most of them are tolerably well educated, and they form only a small percentage of the population, so small, indeed, that as a constituent element of society they are scarcely of any consequence. While there are in Southern towns not a few negroes comparing very favorably with those we see in the North, a large part of the colored population of the South consists of plantation hands, a class of persons entirely unknown in the Northern country. Emancipation found many of them only a few removes from absolute barbarism, and no educational efforts could have lifted them very high above that state in one generation. The colored population, with such elements in it, forms in some of the Southern states a majority, in others a strong minority of the people, heavily preponderating in certain geographical districts. The negro in the South is, therefore, a very different being from the negro in the North in point of quality and of quantity, and of his practical relations to the interests of society. As to the spirit in which the negro is treated the two sections correspondingly differ somewhat, but not very much. As a matter of fact, there is among the white people of the North as well as of the South a wide-spread feeling that the two races do not belong together. In neither of the two sections do they, therefore, mingle socially upon an equal footing. But as to those public accommodations and conveniences, the equal enjoyment of which is usually put under the head of “civil rights,” a difference in the treatment colored people receive is perceptible between the North and the South; it is, however, mainly one of degrees, and not very great. Neither is the treatment of negroes the same in all the Southern states. I have travelled with negroes — I mean colored persons travelling independently, not as servants accompanying their employers — in first-class railway cars as well as street cars, not only in the North, but also in the South — in some Southern states at least. In Georgia the railroad companies have to provide for the colored people separate cars, of the same quality, however, as furnished to white people paying the same fare, while in Tennessee, as I am informed, colored passengers are invariably turned into the smoking-cars. I found at several railroad stations in the South separate waiting-rooms for colored people, a discrimination which is not made at the North. I have never met any colored people as guests in the dining-rooms of first-class hotels, either at the South or at the North. I have seen colored people sitting in the same rows with whites at lectures, in at least one or two instances in the South, and several times in the North. In the South the two races do not attend the same churches and schools, and this, as I have been assured by colored and white people alike, in accordance, not only with the wishes of the whites, but also with the preference of the colored people themselves, who in many places have shown a desire even to have their white teachers supplanted by persons of color. In the North, whites and negroes have sat together in schools and churches, and here and there do so now; but, if I am rightly informed, in most places where the number of colored people is considerable, they have separated. This separation is, of course, more voluntary in the North than in the South, but it is generally favored by colored preachers and teachers for business reasons. We hear, from time to time, of inoffensive colored people being brutally ejected from public places and means of conveyance, and such stories come unquestionably oftener from the South than from the North. The spirit which prompts such brutalities is, of course, the same everywhere. It is more frequently met with in the South, partly because the contact between the two races is more frequent, and partly because there is still a larger class of whites in the South who feel so little confident, and therefore so restless, concerning their superiority over the negro, that they avail themselves of every chance to make sure of it by some outward demonstration. And the frontier tone still prevailing in the sparsely-settled districts of the South is apt to make such demonstrations peculiarly rude. There is but little, if any, difference between the North and the South as to the sentiment prevailing about such things in what may properly be called the best society, for a gentleman of genuine self-respect will never fear any danger for his dignity in meeting with people of ever so lowly a station, or in respecting their rights.
It has frequently been asserted, and probably not without reason, that on the whole the colored race meets with more cordial kindness among the white people of the South than among those of the North. The difference may be defined thus: In the South more kindness, in the North more justice. Kindness is warm, but arbitrary; justice is cold, but impartial. I am, however, inclined to think that, but for the low moral and intellectual condition of the plantation negroes, and the dread inspired by their number, and the race-antagonisms on the political field, the general relations between the colored people and the whites would indeed be more satisfactory, more agreeable, in the South than in the North, and I believe that as the negroes become better educated, and as the change in their political attitude takes place to which I shall refer below, their “civil rights” will, even without further legal machinery, find fully as much protection in the South as in the North, and perhaps more.
The election of a Democratic president has been to the negro a great blessing, for it has delivered him from two dangerous delusions: one, that the success of the Democratic party in a national election would make him a slave again, and the other, that by acting together as a race the negroes could wield in politics a controlling influence with much profit to themselves. They know now that their freedom is assured whatever party wins, and that it is not necessary for them to herd together in a political party of their own for self-defense. They know also that they can never hope again to become the ruling power in politics as they felt themselves to be for a time under the leadership of Republican adventurers, and that, therefore, negro politics in the old way will never pay them again. This will help them to understand that they will best serve their race by identifying themselves closely with the general interest.
The state of mind produced among the negroes by this revelation can scarcely be better expressed than in the language of an address delivered by an intelligent colored politician, a United States mail agent, before a colored debating club in a Southern city during my visit there. Of this address I was fortunate enough to secure the manuscript. The title was “The Effect of the Incoming Administration upon the Negro Race.” After setting forth that the election of a Democratic president did not, as had been apprehended, threaten the freedom of the negro, it proceeded:
Man cannot live upon bread alone, nor can a race achieve civil and political success by politics alone. Education, wealth and morality must keep pace with political progress in order for that progress to be of a lasting and permanent character. Having given nearly twenty years to vain endeavors to secure full and complete civil and political rights under Republican rule, and having failed, Democratic restoration destroys all hope of securing them with the ballot; therefore, the negro will eliminate himself from the body-politic. His ambitions and aspirations will naturally turn to the obtaining of money, property, education and the improvement of his morals. And when he shall have spent as much time and consideration upon these subjects as he has upon politics, his condition will be advanced a hundred per cent. The bugbear “negro domination” being removed by national Democratic success, will bring about a better local feeling between the two races, and also be the means of producing division in the ranks of the party that is now held together by fear and race prejudices. That Democratic success will benefit rather than injure the negro race is fast making itself manifest to every thoughtful reader of the signs of the times. Too much politics and not enough of the other substantialities of life has done the race more harm than Democratic opposition.
This, no doubt, expresses the general sentiments of educated colored people in the South. It means the end of race politics. But it does not mean the end of negro voting. About this, too, the orator here quoted had something to say:
Hereafter the negro, in casting his vote, will be governed by his immediate interest. If A, a Democrat, runs for office against B, a Republican, he will not vote for B, simply because he is a Republican, nor for A, simply because he is a Democrat; but he will vote for the one who will do that which will be to his interest. No one can call this ingratitude on his part, for he has more than paid the debt of gratitude he owed the Republican party for his freedom.
Indeed, the phrase that the debt of gratitude to the Republican party was more than paid, I heard from so many colored men in nearly the same language, that it seemed almost as if the word had been passed around among them. This simply signifies a strong tendency among the negroes of the South to go over to the Democrats, and to put themselves in accord with “their white neighbors and friends.” Many of them openly avow this intention.
The consequences will inevitably be what they always are under such circumstances. In most of the Southern states the Democratic party will be substantially without opposition. The common dread of negro domination, which held it together in spite of internal differences of opinion on other points, will have vanished. These differences will make themselves felt more strongly and widely. Independent movements will multiply. Most of these will probably at first not turn on national politics, but on home questions. Instead of driving the negro away from the ballot-box, each Democratic faction will try to strengthen itself by getting as much as possible of the colored vote. The negro will thus be virtually dragged to the polls again by Democratic hands. In stances of this on a small scale, in local contests, have already been witnessed. When different candidates or factions of the Democratic party, or two different parties, outbid one another for the colored vote, the negro's rights will, of course, find the most efficient protection in that very competition for their political favor, and the effect will also be gradually to soften the harshness of civil discrimination in the way above indicated. Thus the original object for which negro suffrage was instituted, the protection of the freedman's rights, will, indeed, have been accomplished by it. Of course, as soon as the colored vote breaks up, it will cease to be a political force on the side of the Republican party. Republican politicians complain already that the introduction of negro suffrage has served only to give the Southern states a larger proportion of votes in Congress and in the Electoral College than they otherwise would have had, and that this increase tells almost wholly in favor of the Democrats. It has, indeed, had that effect with regard to the relative strength of parties; but there is nothing surprising in this. When the matter of negro suffrage was under discussion there were far-seeing men enough who predicted that, as is usually the case with a population at the same time ignorant and poor and dependent, the vote of the negro would, for a long period to come, really not be his own; that it would virtually be cast by the political leader, probably a demagogue, or by the employer. This prediction, in the very face of which negro suffrage was introduced, stands justified. The demagogue cast the bulk of the colored vote as long as the negro was in dread as to his freedom. That apprehension being dispelled, the employer, or rather the employer class, will control the bulk of it now — until the negro shall have become sufficiently educated and independent to think and act for himself. This may be considered a grievance by the Republican politician. But the Republican of conscience and principle will not forget that just in this way negro suffrage has accomplished the paramount object for which the true Republican desired its introduction, namely, the protection of the freedman's rights, and that it was probably the only way in which that end could be reached.
But as the old antagonisms cease and the negro vote is bid for by different interests among the employers, it will be apt to become a regular article of trade, and an element of gross corruption in Southern politics. In casting about for remedies to be applied, Southern men will do well to consider that, consistently with the new order of things, this evil can be mitigated only by bringing the colored people under the best possible educational influences, and by encouraging among them the acquisition of property, and thereby the creation of a conservative interest calculated to bring the responsibility of voters home to them.
The accession of a large body of colored voters will, of course, make the Democratic party in the South much stronger than before. But it is probable that, in the absence of the cohesive power of common fears and of a distinctively Southern policy, the divisions on local questions which have already taken place will facilitate the formation of new groupings on questions of a national character, and that the South, at a day not very distant, will cease to figure as a “solid” quantity in our national elections.
But whether this takes place in four, or in eight, or in twelve years, no unprejudiced observer will fail to recognize the fact that the rebellion is really over, and that those who still speak of the white people of the South as “unregenerated rebels, as disloyal and as bitter as ever,” betray either lamentable ignorance or something much worse.
I think it safe to affirm that to-day, twenty years after the close of the war, the Southern people are as loyal to the Union as the people of any part of the country, that they fully understand and profoundly feel the value of their being part of it, and that a disunion movement would find no more adherents in South Carolina than in Massachusetts. I think it also safe to say that, whatever atrocities may have happened during that terrible period of sudden transition from one social order to another, the relations between the white and black races are now in progress of peaceful and friendly adjustment, and that the disappearance of race antagonism on the political field will do more for the safety of the negro's rights and the improvement of his position in human society than could be done by any intervention of mere power.
If there are any dangerous political tendencies perceptible among the Southern people, they are not such as are frequently used as bugbears to frighten the loyal sentiment of the North, but rather lie in the opposite direction. There is no longer any danger of a stubborn adherence to state-rights doctrines of an anti-national character. The danger is rather in an inclination to look too much to the national government for benefits to be conferred upon the people of the Southern states — an inclination cropping out in a variety of ways of far greater practical significance than mere discussions on theories of government. Neither is there any danger that in consequence of the Democratic victory in the national election the negro will be deprived of his right to vote; the danger is rather that, as the Democrats divide among themselves, the negro will be drawn to the polls and made to vote more than he otherwise would, by demoralizing inducements.
It is also to be apprehended that large numbers of people in the South, under the influence of their struggle with poverty or with chronic embarrassments, will long be subject to those delusions on economic questions which are at the bottom of the fiat-money idea and the silver movement, and that, as they see a prospect for an industrial development in the South, extreme protection theories may grow strong there by the time the North is through with them. But these things are not peculiar to the South. There is nothing of a “peculiar institution,” of a “Southern policy” in them. A “friend of silver” in Texas cannot possibly be hotter than a “friend of silver” in Colorado. The fiat-money man in Mississippi borrows his arguments from the fiat-money man in Ohio; and the free-trader in South Carolina or the protectionist in northern Alabama is substantially of the same mind with the free-trader in Minnesota or the protectionist in Pennsylvania. There is no longer any division of political aims and motives marked by Mason and Dixon's line. The errors which the Southern people are liable to commit with regard to all these things may be grievous enough, but they will not be peculiarly Southern errors; and in the eyes of sensible men they will not furnish even a plausible pretext for keeping alive sectional suspicions and animosities.
The election of a Democratic president, whatever else may be hoped or apprehended from it, has certainly had two immediate results of great importance. It has convinced every candid man in the country that the Southern people were not, as had been apprehended by some, waiting for the advent of the Democratic party to power to put forth disloyal sentiments and schemes, but that the victory of the party supported by them was rather esteemed by them as an opportunity for a demonstration of national feeling; and, secondly, it has proven to the country in general, and in particular to the negroes, that the freedom and rights of the late slave do not depend upon the predominance of any political party, but are safe under one as well as under the other.
These points being settled, the public mind may henceforth rest in the assurance that the period of the rebellion is indeed a thing of the past; that the existence of the government and the legitimate results of the war are no longer in jeopardy, whatever political party may carry the elections, and that the American people can, without fear of any darkly lurking danger, give themselves to the discussion of questions of political ethics, or of administration, or of political economy, treating them upon their own proper merits. This consummation may be unwelcome to that class of politicians whose main stock in trade has long consisted in unwholesome sectional distrusts and animosities carefully nursed, and who, therefore, make it a business to blow up any savage freak of a Southern ruffian into a crime of the Southern people, or the harmless lunacy of any Southern “crank” into a serious danger to the Union. But to the patriotic American the welfare of the republic is after all dearer than the political capital of any party. The more enthusiastic he was as a Union man, the more sincerely happy he will be to see the Union fully restored, and held together, not by force of arms, but by a common national pride and common interests and hopes and aspirations. The more earnest he was as an enemy of slavery, the more he will rejoice to find the rights of the freedman secured by his friendly relations with his white neighbors. Instead of eagerly seizing upon every chance for sowing suspicion and bitterness between the North and the South, he will hail with gladness all evidences of returned fraternal feeling, and he will not be ashamed to own that even those who during the war stood against him as enemies, had, as fellow-citizens, his sympathy in the calamities they had brought upon themselves, and that his heartiest wishes are with them for the success of every honorable effort to repair their fortunes and to resume their places in the citizenship of this republic.
|This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.|