2: Experiments in Local Government
S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership.
S2: Welcome to Reconstruction. A Slate Academy. I’m Rebecca Onion. And I’m Jamelle Bouie.
S3: This is the second episode of our series on the history of American Reconstruction. It’s a series that’s coming to you as part of your slate plus membership. And thank you. And if you heard our first episode, you know that we’re structuring each one of these podcasts around a different type of social or political experimentation to help define the reconstruction era.
S4: Episode 1 Focus from experiments by formerly enslaved people in landowning and communal living. Today, we’re going to turn to experiments in local politics and administration situations in which black people or radical Republican white people won power in towns and counties and occupied the kinds of offices that made it big. They did a difference in southern life after the war. Later on in the show, we’re going to bring on historian Ed Ayres, who has a hot off the presses book about politics and the daily struggles of free people during reconstruction.
S5: But first, Rebecca and I are going to take a little time to report back on the books she read in preparation for this episode, each of which contains a sort of case study for a big theme.
S6: All right, so the reason that we wanted to sort of talk about a couple of local case studies is as we address a little bit in our sort of Episode 0, we talked about the timeline of the politics of reconstruction. You know, there are these big picture sort of national stories. And then because of the way that the country worked at the time, where things were very specific to the local scene, things played out in such a diversity of ways from state to state, from county to county, from town to town. And I think that’s one of the things that makes reconstruction in a way like hard to mentally picture is that it just was so different, so many different places. But one thing that historians of the period know for sure is that there were a ton of black officeholders at local level. So, you know, there’s sort of more famous examples of black senators and representatives and people who, you know, went to Washington and represented Southern districts during the time. But there was also a ton of people, free people and also people who were born free, who ended up, you know, filling elective or appointive local offices. And in a time when communication is slow and, you know, things are especially in rural areas, like things really depend on who, you know, who’s around you, you know, being a sheriff or being, you know, a judge, that that made a big difference in people’s lives.
S7: Right. Or even being a postmaster, you know, being able to direct the flow or be the conduit for flow of a community’s mail was a big deal. And there are definitely stories of African-Americans attempting to get positions like postmaster and then being tightly contested by by their white counterparts. And so even on this very local level, the story here that like the story of reconstruction broadly is one of contestation and people trying to forge really a new kind of democratic life.
S6: So we wanted to get to a few specific stories in this first part of our of our episode today. So we ended up reading a memoirs by a northern men who went south and became local leaders. So some might call them carpet baggers. All that. We’re going to talk about that because actually, I don’t know if they qualify. And one of them is white. So I read Albert Morgan’s autobiography. It’s called Yasu or on the Picket Line of Freedom in the South. He wrote it in 1884. And then Jamal read Tuna’s Campbell’s Sufferings of the Reverend T.J. Campbell and his family in Georgia, which is from 1877. So I’m gonna tell Jamal about Albert Morgan’s story, his autobiography, Yasu. He was raised as an abolitionist. He was born in Wisconsin in 1842. And Morgan was a union army officer. And so was his brother Charles. And they came from a really big family. And like I said, he was raised as an abolitionist. He enrolled at Oberlin. He was wounded at Gettysburg. And he kind of called himself a person who joined the war effort because of slavery. So we know that’s not necessarily the case with a lot of people who went with the Union Army to fight. But anyway, so regardless of their motivations during the war, Charles and Albert, who were still young, you know, young men in their late 20s came to Mississippi after they were basically to make money. So they had a little sort of stake of money from their family and they want to grow it. They came to Yazoo County and in the 1860 census, Yazoo County with 74 percent black. But there wasn’t a single free black person living there. So the population of the county before the war was three quarters enslaved. And there were only a small number of the people in the county who were white, actually owned slaves, but they were socially dominant. You know, Morgan is one of the reasons why I found his autobiography so valuable is that he makes a lot of observations about how furious the ex slave holders are at, just like the very idea of being asked to sort of interact with the free people. So Morgan sort of initially, interestingly, considering that he came from an abolitionist background, he initially actually sort of gets along with the white population of Yasu, the people who, you know, have been in power before the war, ex-slave holders, you know, start to sort of notice that he and his brother are not keeping their workers in line maybe as much as the ex-Labor holders would like. So they hire a bunch of free people to work on the plantation and they are sort of treating them as they might treat workers, which is not to say that they’re necessarily angelic and. Perfect white people towards these free people, but they’re, you know, they’re not invested in sort of perpetuating this hierarchy that had been there before. So in 1867, the Morgans end up there is the sort of this this double kneeling thing that their landlord ends up doing to get the plantation back from them. They’re able to sort of convince local officials that, you know, that Morgan and the brother and Charles Morgan have not lived up to their end of the bargain. So they end up taking the plantation back. But the Morgans decide to stay. Which is sort of interesting turning point, because they’re sort of saying, you know, we think there’s still money to be made here. But they’re also thinking. And I think there’s a place for us here. And more and more, Morgan is really sympathetic to the free people and thinking about them a lot. And so, of course, when Grant was elected and they he you know, he puts out Wilbur Ames, who’s a military authority in charge of Mississippi, who sort of, you know, famously radical reconstruction person. There a lot of black voters that get registered in Yazoo and they start electing black candidates and people that are friendly to free people to more or more of the offices. And so it’s not until 1873 that Morgan is elected sheriff, but he ends up being elected sheriff, which is a really big office. And he gets elected through creating relationships with a ton of free people. There’s a number of, you know, men within the four people community who support him, who also have offices that, you know, work with him. And he also is working with a Freedmen’s Bureau official who he says actually has the spine is actually like a strong person. And so he did some pretty impressive things while he was sheriff, although he was only sheriff for a short period of time. He rebuilt a bunch of roads and bridges. He opened one hundred free school buildings, which he will always say that, you know, in his narrative that really, like, he provides the money for the buildings. But it’s the community of free people that really wants to get an education and is trying super hard to make it happen. And he also helped a bunch of black laborers, ex free people in the county to to own land. So a bunch of good stuff happens between the election of Grant and 1875.
S8: Sir, the Morgans, the only people from up north that had come to the area to work with the freed people were to try to make their fortune or make their their riches. Were they singular figures, my community, or were they part of themselves, a community of transplants?
S6: Well, there are sort of couple other northerners. So I mentioned the Freedmen’s Bureau official who, of course, is in the military. There’s a general, a union army ex union army general who initially as sort of their business partner, whose days for a while he mentioned that there’s a couple northerners who come who just don’t kind of give a crap about the free people. You know, they’re there basically to make money. And he’s not he’s not really like them. And I think there’s a period where he sort of mentions like that he and Charles and the general who was the you know, their their partner, business partner, basically just sort of feel like they’re besieged, like they don’t. This is in, you know, before the election of Grant in 1867 after the plantation gets taken away from them. He describes their living situation as being like a garrison or for it. They’ve taken some rooms in in town, in Yazoo City above. I believe it’s a lawyer’s office. And they just kind of hide in there and they have a bunch of guns because they’re really worried that they’re they’re so friendless that they’re basically and end up, you know, violence being done to them. And he always will say, you know, they’re free people. Whenever something like this was gonna gonna happen, they they would sort of show up to defend him or to defend him and his brother. But he also one of the most sort of singular aspects of his autobiography is that in 1870, he ended up marrying a woman named Carrie Highgate, who was a schoolteacher from Syracuse, New York, who was down in Jackson, Mississippi, teaching four people’s children. And she was actually black. So he is a white northerner in Mississippi during Reconstruction. Married to a black northerner. And, you know, she was born free. You know, it’s born in New York. And he ends up raising an interracial family. You know, they have, I believe, by the end of their marriage, they have. I think it’s four or five kids and they have a number of them in Yasu. So he’s sort of embedding himself in this really singular position in the community where, you know, it’s not that. He didn’t marry a free person. You know, it’s sort of a different situation in terms of cultural capital or, you know, social position. But the people, the white people in Yasu do not see it that way.
S7: Right. I’m sure they don’t make those distinctions.
S6: No, no, no, no. And there is a lot of discussion that he makes of the fact that their reaction that a lot of the white men have in Yasu is like, oh, crap, like you married this woman. And we who have long been sort of abusing black women through first through slavery and then through coercion, the various means after the war, you know, is it going to be a thing where, you know, if interracial marriage is a norm now or something that that happens here, like this system, which has been working pretty well for us of like unfettered sexual access through all kinds of coercion and enslavement.
S9: And a, you know, evil means is going to look different if we’re now living in a community where white men marry black women. So, you know, that created a whole bunch of other tension. And I kind of can’t believe that they stayed there for five years. It’s kind of really amazing to me and telling about the degree to which during, you know, the part of reconstruction where there was a sense that the federal government and and the military were backing up these changes, you know, the very fact that this sort of really unusual family could live in this place is really telling to me.
S10: Yes. It’s I, frankly, would have never imagined.
S11: Yeah, I know. Right. I mean, I take that back.
S7: I could imagine, say a someone socially adjacent to freed people like a poor white farmer having basically some off the grid, interracial marriage. But the notion of a visible, highly visible person, like a relatively affluent white northerner coming down the Mississippi, even if he’s marrying another northerner, that seems wild to me.
S6: OK. So so going back to the question of, you know, how does it affect Morgan when sort of larger things happen on the state and federal level? So, you know, we’ve talked a little bit about the you know, after about 1870 to between 1872 and 1877, the sort of rolling attempts to. Quote unquote, take back, let’s say, white Democrats trying to take back their states by passing various plans, by, you know, doing various sort of dubious political things and using violence in order to reinstall themselves in power of their state. So in 1875 in Mississippi, the state government enacted the Mississippi plan, which was trying to prevent black political participation by using economic coercion. So saying, you know, we won’t let you buy this land or, you know, we’re gonna take this land from you. Through various crappy means and just plain violence. And so for Morgan. He saw this happening in Yasu. You know, he mentions a bunch of times that there’s there’s this feeling of a shared assurance that the white people who are not on board with reconstruction get when they see state level officials and and federal officials sending them the message of, hey, we’re gonna we’re gonna start stopping this. So they start basically, you know, Morgan says, I started to hear reports of companies of white people sort of drilling on the bluff of the river at night. And, you know, he says he saw a stack of weapons at one point being amassed. And he’s like, it reminded me of nothing less than, you know, what I saw during the war when we were like moving from place to place as an army. And we’d have these like stacks of of rifles. So he starts to sort of think, you know, something bad is gonna happen. And slowly, a bunch of his allies in the county are killed, including some black officeholders. Some of the other northerners at that point really start to fall in line with the planters, including, actually, I believe, his brother, who he doesn’t really want to speak ill of because I think his brother died of it of an illness not long before he wrote this this autobiography.
S9: But his brother did decide basically just not to resist the shift to the Mississippi plan. And, you know, Morgan tried to stand up to it and he and his allies, including a couple other white people, but mostly free people holding offices, held the big meeting to try to talk about what was going on. And at the meeting there, there was an assassination attempt. And, you know, one of his black allies was actually killed right there in public. And Morgan basically fled with his family. And basically, it turned out that the election 1875, the result of Grant and the Army basically saying we’re not going to interfere in this. Was that the officials?
S6: Holly, in Yasu County, 1875 election was the only seven people voted Republican, which in a county where most of the offices had been held by Republicans for the past half decade, was strange, indeed. And so, yeah. So basically, you know, it’s a pretty sad end for everybody, not just Morgan, but all the people that he knew there. And, you know, he himself, you know, he went to Washington, he got a minor clerical post in the government, but he ended up getting forced out of that post. When, you know, people from Mississippi who, you know, Democrats in Mississippi who were still really angry at him, basically turned some gears in the government to get him unemployed.
S9: And so he basically, you know, had no money and and no allies and and was just kind of a miserable guy. It seems like until the end of his life and he actually self-published the memoir, nobody would publish it when he wrote it. Wow. And, you know, I find it methodologically a little mythological upsetting to use the observations of a northern white guy to try to figure out what happened. But, you know, he seems like genuinely, constantly sort of trying to throw the glory back to the free people who held the offices and tried to lead politics in the county. So you always is. You know, he dedicates the book to those who are in the Yasu County graveyard who tried to make this change happen.
S5: Know, I don’t know if Morgan was a singular figure or not, but he certainly sounds like one someone who honestly seems like he did more than his fair share in trying to make all of this work.
S6: Yeah, it seems that way to me. So tell me about Campbell. It seems like maybe I didn’t look that deeply. But it seems like maybe his memoir is a little bit less in-depth about the politics of the place where he was going.
S5: Right. So your description of Morgan’s memoir very much almost sounds like a political it’s a political tract.
S7: It’s as much about Morgan’s own life as it is about reconstruction. It’s very different for Tuna’s Campbell’s memoir, which is much more of a chronological retelling of his experiences. In Georgia, and specifically those experiences leading up to his imprisonment in Georgia when he was a state lawmaker and official in charge of local government. So is that going to start at the beginning? Campbell was born in Somerset County, New Jersey, in 1812, a free African-American in the memory.
S10: He doesn’t spend very much time dwelling on his early years. He mentions that as a young adult in the 1830s, he formed an anti colonization society. Huh. Colonization of freed slaves as a solution to slavery was pretty much in vogue among white anti-slavery activists at this time, but for reasons I think are easy to understand. Black Americans themselves were very skeptical about this.
S5: Yeah, and it was during this time that he made a personal pledge to never leave this country until every slave was free on American soil. So after this, Campbell talks a bit about how he was a reverend in the Methodist church. He says he was a moral reformer and temperature lecturer who worked for a time in New York City and also in New York City. And it should be said he kind of jumps around in time. So by now, we’ve reached the 1840s, although he doesn’t really mention it, while in New York City, he was an agent with a bread manufacturer, which is how he may made his way to the union army. He spent several years petitioning lawmakers. And obviously by now we’re like in the 1860s, again, the type he just does not mark time whatsoever. So he spent several years petitioning lawmakers. He petitioned Secretary of State William Seward. He even sent a letter to President Lincoln. And eventually, after all of this pasturing, trying to get a commission in the army, he has given one and he’s given orders to join the Union Army in the sea islands off the coast of Georgia. And this was 1863.
S6: So he’s he’s a little older, right at the same. So he’s like in his 40s when the war starts.
S7: Right. If if he adds he’s about forty nine when the war starts. And by now he’s not going to be joining up at the altar. No, not at all. Although he wanted to participate, he wanted to help because he it seems and he doesn’t talk about this at all. But simply when you when you consider the fact that he made note of this pledge to not leave the country to every slave was free in that also his constant petitioning to get a commission, the Union Army. It seems clear that he understood the war from the very beginning. Its being basically a war to end slavery, even if that was not an explicit war aim at the time. Yeah.
S12: So it’s 1863 and he is in the Sea Islands which are off the coast of Georgian territory in South Carolina. And it’s there in fact that kind of the first movement, major movement of freed slaves is happening.
S7: It’s where one of the first major contraband camps are set up, contraband referring to the fact that two kind of square the circle of what you do with all of these. If the war is officially against slavery, where you have all these freed slaves and you don’t want to send them back home, what you do is you put the president Lincoln in his is subordinate’s came up with is you label them contraband as an contraband goods and then you don’t have to turn them over again, just like you wouldn’t turn over a horse or some other supplies. You’re not going to turn over an enslaved person.
S5: So that’s where he is. He’s an administrator on the Sea Islands, kind of working to organize groups of freed slaves in the communities to begin to work on the land while they’re there. He helps build schools. He recruits black and white teachers from up north to build schools. And he goes in to his own pockets to purchase land, to establish farms.
S13: So in your description of Morgan, Morgan speaks very much about his intent in coming down the Mississippi. Campbell, does not you kind of have to you kind of have to assume it’s based on his actions and the fact that the fact that he’s an administrator on these islands, he brings his family down. He’s building schools, is helping establish farms. And it gives you a sense that he’s invested in the project of helping the former slaves get on their feet.
S6: So it seems like he what he thinks would be good or fair or sort of generative is to have them own land where they are.
S14: That’s right. After the war in Cuba. Michima, he jumps around in time because that’s. Otherwise, it can seem confusing. But he immediately talks about being a registrar for the second senatorial district of Georgia. This is after the war. But 1867 he is. Basey working to register formerly enslaved black men to vote. And during this time he is elected as a member of the state constitutional convention. And then after that, after that constitution is ratified, he is elected a member of the state Senate as a member of the state Senate. He is immediately embroiled in a dispute with white Democrats over the legitimacy of black lawmakers, which is not hard to understand why this would happen immediately. We’re just a couple of years removed from the war. Many of these lawmakers are themselves former slaves. They are recently freed. And it is not hard to imagine why a white Democratic lawmakers and many of them ex confederates are at the very least, men who supported the Confederacy from their homes, from their towns would be outraged at the idea that a black person could be a lawmaker and through an end.
S6: But he does. Did he have any connection with Georgia before the war? Like so he’s thought of as a northerner coming down and and getting a post in a state legislature where he doesn’t have like a long history.
S11: That’s right. Out, fair to say. That’s hard to say. He doesn’t have much of a connection to Georgia. He doesn’t seem have much of a connection to the south.
S12: He doesn’t go into how we got elected, a member of the state constitutional convention or the state Senate. But I think it’s fair to ascertain that in his by this point, four years working on the Sea Islands, working in Georgia, he had basically built up relationships. He had been become known as someone, a leader in the community and thus someone who could stand for elected office. Now, after this dispute, he and other black elected officials are basically expelled from the Georgia legislature. And in response, they organize a trip to Washington, D.C. and argue to lawmakers there that the Georgia senators should not be seated in, that what was needed is a federal law to basically protect all persons, regardless of their race or color or previous condition of servitude. And this is the same time where Congress is debating the 14th Amendment. And so essentially, he and his fellow lawmakers go to DC to petition Congress to pass the 14th Amendment. Those senators, those white Democratic senators are not seated in 1869, Campbell reports. And so he was successful and he returned to Georgia to promote reconstruction policies and assist Republican lawmakers in getting seated in the state legislature. And it’s basically during this time that things go from being pretty interesting to be extremely interesting and where the bulk of the narrative of the memoir lies. And so for these activities, for preventing the seating of white Democratic senators, for organizing black lawmakers in support of reconstruction policies, he’s threatened by white Democrats and former Confederates on the Georgia legislative floor. At least one one, the several groups of white observers threatened to shoot him while he speaks, demanding that he stay silent. He returns to Washington. During this period, the advocate for the passage of the force acts, which were pieces of legislation passed in 1870, Nathans, 71, that gave the federal government the power to stop the Ku Klux Klan. And after successfully petitioning for the passage of these laws, he has to make his speedy escape from the city because there are rumors that there are assassination plots at work, that if he stays any longer, he’ll be killed. He returned to Georgia. And I’m kind of compressing things a bit here because he really goes into exquisite detail about all of these events, because, again, the memoir is titled The Sufferings of the Reverend T-G Campbell and His Family in Georgia. And so when we actually get to the sufferings, he kind of he himself slows down and really focuses on them. But the short story is that once back in Georgia, went back in Atlanta, I believe he is arrested by a white Democratic sheriff. He is charged with falsely imprisoning someone who presumably is a white man. He is indicted. He then leaves the county or leaves Atlanta to attend to some business. When he returns, his home and general store have been burned down. He goes before a jury and the jury convicts them. He requests a new trial, but he’s refused and thrown into jail. And then what follows from there for the kind of remaining page of the memoir is a very granular description of his experiences in jail, as well as his efforts to dismiss the charges against him and find his freedom. He speaks of the violence done to other prisoners, of the deprivation of being in jail. He is constantly his legal counsel isn’t Savannah, and he is in jail in Atlantis, who is constantly trying to send letters and materials down the savannah to get charges dismissed against him. This takes years and the efforts of his wife and son put an end as well as that repeated communications to federal officials, petitions to the attorney general, basically based on the fact that he himself was a federal official for some time and he deserves assistance. And after several rebuffs, eventually he secures release by the time he finds his freedom. Campbell had been in prison for about five years, had been subject to the abuse and violence, he would imagine, and he closes his memoir. This is the very end. The last sentence, he closed his memoir stating his fear of the roving bands of men who broke open jails and prison camps to give the persons they wanted out of the way. Oh, boy. That’s where the story ends. B B, non textual postscript, if you just look up, Campbell, is that he and his family fled. They left the area. They left Georgia. And I believe they fled to Washington, D.C.. Hmm.
S14: So even though the Campbell memoir and the Morgan memoir are, I think, very different documents. I think they do illustrate at the very least the perils that came with coming from the north to the south to work on behalf of the freed slaves or even just to make a quick buck that the you you don’t just you could you can’t just try to attempt to maintain this economic relationship or even do a little charity. If you were a teacher coming down, you were immediately thrown into these very fluid social relationships. You were immediately forced to contend with these competing sources of power in an attempt on part of many whites to re-establish the hierarchies of the past. And in the case of Campbell, if you were essentially directly opposed to that, if in your very being you represented the the negation of the old hierarchy is then your life was in danger.
S1: Totally. It’s it is a very brave thing to do.
S6: And it also it just throws into high relief the fact that these people are coming south into you. As you say, it’s fluid. Another way to say it would be chaotic. It’s just like, you know, you’re trying to figure out the situation on the ground and obviously you’re trying to sort of like work within it. And you just have to you know, Morgan talked a bunch about the ways that he, you know, and asked freed people about, you know, the history of the slave holder or that slave holder, you know. And, you know, you have to find people to help you. You have to figure out who is going to be, you know, just a blowhard and a drunk and who’s going to be actually dangerous. In all of these things that, you know, I can imagine doing something like this.
S13: Right. I do not I do not envy anyone who who attempted to make that pilgrimage essentially down south or even just to get a quick buck. It seems like not just a difficult enterprise, but, again, a profoundly dangerous one. And I think it’s worth just emphasizing that part, given the kind of even still kind of casual disdain that exists around words like carpetbagger. It’s still use the insupport the words still use it using a disdainful way. But here are two men who may or may not fit the label technically, but it did come from north to south to participate in reconstruction one way or another and weren’t necessarily altruistic. But we’re certainly trying to build something new. And they risk a lot.
S15: So we’ve raised a number of sort of broader questions about the way that power worked in particular places during reconstruction and sort of suggested that thinking about these things locally is a helpful way to sort of understand who the players were and how things evolved over time. So we’re going to now talk to historian Ed Ayres, who has a book out right now. His latest is called The Thin Light of Freedom, Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America.
S16: And that book is set in the Great Valley of Virginia and Pennsylvania. And it talks about politics and daily struggles during the civil war and reconstruction. And we hope that Ed can help us talk a little bit about these kinds of local power dynamics. Ed, welcome to the podcast.
S17: Hey, thanks very much. So one thing both Rebecca and I are curious about is just the way in which reconstruction in really sort of the war itself may have disrupted power structures already present in towns and counties because there’s just a huge amount of change happening from newly freed people to returning soldiers. Shifting populations, all sorts of stuff happening. And so as part of that question first, what was that kind of typical American way, a government at this level before the war? What was the relationship between towns, counties, states and then the federal government? And how different was that north versus south?
S18: Yeah, governance basically was local. The federal government had very little power before the civil war and even the state governments weren’t very powerful. They taxed, but they didn’t do much. The main thing they did was build internal improvements to connect different communities. But if you wanted to know who is in charge of a place, you’d see who the local powerbrokers were. Right. And in the north, in the south actually had quite similar governmental structures, and they were both driven by the same party identities until pretty late in the 1850s. And you’d find that the two parties were national. Whigs would be in Massachusetts and Mississippi, right? Democrats would be in Ohio and Georgia. And that’s kind of what broke that broke apart on the civil war when this thing suddenly aligned along regional boundaries. Then they led to war, something that had prevented, you know, things falling apart for a long time suddenly became the reason things fall apart. So you still have that overlay of that partisan identity in the Confederacy. The idea was no parties.
S1: We’re not going to do that anymore in the North. The parties became hyper partisan. And a remarkable thing to remember is that the number of people who switched from the Democrats to the Republicans i.e. who would vote for President Abraham Lincoln, and all this barely changed over the course of the American Civil War.
S19: So you have almost half of white northern men won’t vote for Abraham Lincoln even at the end of the war. So that’s that’s how stubborn these partisan identities are in the South. They had to put it all back together because they said there’s no room for a party in the Confederacy. We’ll just argue with each other all the time without parties. So, you know, you’re exactly right. Mel, things could not have been in any greater disarray or flux. And then you take that partisan dissolution and add the ending of the largest, most powerful system of slavery in the modern world overnight. You can imagine the chaos.
S16: So is it possible to speak in broad terms about who you said, power brokers? Yeah. About who the powerbrokers tended to be.
S6: In the South, maybe. Let’s talk about before the war, during the war, after the war. You know, is it always the sheriff who has a lot of power in a particular place or did it vary from place to place? Is it possible to sort of talk about it broadly or is it so different from place to place that it’s difficult to say?
S18: Now, you can certainly talk about it broadly. And the thing is that the same people were in charge before, during and after the war until reconstruction comes along. That’s the reason you have reconstruction. Is that the power brokers were the same across all that. Because you know me, the real power brokers are not the sheriff or anybody who holds political office, but the people who are wealthy and have power. And these are you know, if you’re if you’re holding local office, you’re not actually a very powerful person. Right. But you are acting at the behest of the powerful people. And it’s very clear who the powerful people are. They are almost uniformly slaveholders. Whether you’re talking about the mountains of Appalachia or the black belt, the richest people or the people who own other people. It’s not just wealth, but they’re the ones who command, respect and authority and maybe are the leaders of the church and so forth. And, you know, if they go tell all their friends. Yeah. You know, you support Joe for sheriff. That I’d be in favor of that. And of course, everybody knows how everybody else vote. And so you’d want to you know, the big planters standing there with his arms crossed as Arabize coming in and voting. If you plan to borrow money from him or if you actually plan to borrow and enslave person from him. You’d want to stay on his good side. I mean, that literary that people are voting in public. Yes. And by the way, you have to stand up and say, I vote for so-and-so later on. The big improvement as you have a paper ballot, but they’re different colors for the different parties and everybody can see who you’re voting for. So, you know, you have a democratic system with power affected on the largest group by the people who are the property holders and who are, you know, the bankers or the manufacturers or whatever. And so it’s not much of that different from across the whole 19th century.
S17: How did the interests of freed people into all of this change, this dynamic, especially with the return of competitor to me, amnesty granted by President Johnson? How did that how did that brew change things?
S1: Well, you know, at first it doesn’t change things very much because the white voters of the former Confederacy support white leaders of the former Confederacy. And this is what really drives reconstruction.
S18: White Republicans in the north had assumed that white voters would reject the men who’d led them into this catastrophic war where they basically gave away his slavery and power. Right. But instead, they continue to support the man who had been Confederate leaders and from the viewpoint of northern leaders of Reconstruction. This was not only unjust, but it was an affront to that. They had sacrificed 350000 of their sons and brothers for the White Confederates to not be contrite at all and to try to put things back in control.
S19: So the real issue then becomes how do you create space for the freed people to have a chance by removing this native elite that has managed to hold onto its power during this massive transformation?
S17: And that’s very getting to agencies like the Freedmen’s Bureau and through the military governance of the South.
S18: Well, this Cobban overlay on that, Jim, MLK, because that during the war itself is when the Freedmen’s Bureau begins and it’s before that the non-contract confederates had showed just how intransigent they were going to be. So the freedom the bureau grows up, you know, its formal name is the Bureau of Refugees and Friedmanite abandoned lands. Right. Is designed to give surplus military supplies to starving people, black and white. And so it’s an emergency vehicle first and it begins before the war is actually over. So you’d have the Freedman’s Bureau existing as Andrew Johnson comes into power and as these former confederates are coming back home. And so you have these things were overlaid rather than sequential. And so the big controversy is Johnson says this thing might have been okay during the war, but it’s unconstitutional in peacetime to have this big federal bureaucracy interfering in local governance. Right. And also, we all know that black people aren’t going to work if you give them food. And so, you know, if it becomes encrusted almost immediately with the political ideologies of people, the challenges that northern Republicans aren’t eager to sustain that any longer than they have to. Because as you can imagine, if you’ve had four sons in the United States Army for four years risking their lives, you’d like for them to come home. Right. And the idea of any Volf been spending just really unimaginable amounts of money to wage this war. You’re ready to stop spending that money, right?
S1: On the other hand, and this is kind of my major argument. Reconstruction is driven by its opponents.
S18: OK, so you have those reasons to want to end the Freedmen’s Bureau. Andrew Johnson says it’s unconstitutional and even supports the unions say it’s just an expense that is hard, but quite s is just refuses to give anything. And people have heard of the black codes. This is in that period where they’re writing new laws. I just mark out slave and put in Negro write and make it impossible for former utterly enslaved people to own property or to move from one place to another. So the White South and the only reason stalls its former leaders. It tries to reinstall slavery as much as possible. So even people who would not have been enthusiastic in the north about a giant experiment in federal power to extend rights for African-Americans would say, no, this will not stand.
S1: And the Freedmen’s Bureau is sort of already there. Right. And now it’s kind of caught in the middle. And the question becomes, how much power will you give the Freedman’s Bureau to actually an act justice, not merely to aid people who have are coming out slavery with nothing but the shirts on their backs and often the dislocation of war, too. But what kind of deeper social transformation is going to be necessary?
S16: Is that in the Albert Morgan autobiography, I notice that he talks about the local Freedmen’s Bureau agent as being sort of a man with a spine. Like he and he says something like, ha, you know, there’s many instances in which if he had been a different person, he wouldn’t have done anything. So had me sort of wondering what if they know that Freedmen’s Bureau agents were sort of few and far between and maybe not well funded. And he sort of was wondering to what extent what the Freedmen’s Bureau did varied from locality to locality and what, you know, what the worst case and best case maybe of what they were able to do or what they were motivated to do in an individual place was.
S1: Well, I think Morgan’s Point is right. Basically, the power the Freedmen’s Bureau depended in some ways on the courage of the Freedmen’s Bureau agent.
S18: But here’s what you need to remember, Rebecca. Not only is it poorly funded and scattered, but the turnover among the agents is really quite rapid.
S1: And so so they’re army officers who are being basically sent to these outposts. And sometimes they have army with them, too, and Calvary to help protect them.
S18: Other times, they’re just showing up at the power of the federal government in the middle of some, you know, middle of nowhere place claiming authority to adjudicate between black people and white people, which white people just don’t recognize the legitimacy of in the first place. And they had to fill out all these bureaucratic forms. But remember, this is the day before really any kind of communication could bring anybody to your aid with anything that would be worth anything. So I you know, I’ve worked through the records of all the Freedmen’s Bureau agents in the county that I study in Virginia. And you can see that in that profile, these reports, which are so valuable because they come in every time, say, here’s what the situation is. Right. And it’s every six figure, the historian. Exactly. Very much. Exactly. And they come in and they all believe that they can fix things. They all say the Freemen are working hard and are showing good faith and are ready to sign contracts. But they’re being treated poorly by the white people and with different degrees of success. They try to change that situation now. Imagine your Freedmen’s Bureau agent in 1865 is a very different thing from being a Freedmen’s Bureau agent in 1867. Sixty five, it’s Freedmen’s Bureau under Andrew Johnson, who’s talking about getting rid of it. You’d still have the devastation of war everywhere. There’s complete social dislocation. By 1867, you’re seeing the beginnings of reconstruction. And they their job then is to register black men to vote.
S1: So that is where things really aren’t yet touchy before that very early on when. Heartening things they do is register people as man and wife.
S19: That is a different thing than retrofitting men to vote, and that all happens within an 18 months you’d see going from one of the situations to the other.
S16: It’s actually curious to talk about marriage a little bit because at least with Morgan, you know, he was married to a black woman from the northeast and a schoolteacher who happened to be working in Jackson when he met her. And but his he’s sort of very interested in, well, what he would call con cute concubine bondage concubine it. Yes. Right. I’ve never said that word out loud before. And sort of. He talked a lot about the idea that the way people that he sort of encountered who were very sort of staunchly well, he called them irreconcilables. People who did not want to have anything to do with the new way would often bring up the idea that concubine, it would become illegal, like the major sort of crux of all of the all of their objections. You know? Oh, are you going to make us marry bronze women? And I sort of wondered how whether that was a Mississippi thing or, you know, to what degree sort of the sexual politics of, you know, we’re coming out of slavery where, you know, white men who owned people had the license to do whatever they wanted. And, you know, and it’s changing in different places, probably at different in different ways. And I wonder whether that’s something that occurs across the south or to what degree. That’s a Mississippi thing that it became such an issue.
S18: Yeah, I I think that is kind of a sub item among the really big story. So here’s what it is. As people know, it was illegal for enslaved people to be married and.
S20: What that meant mean a lot of things, one, that families were ripped apart on any day. A husband from wife and children from parents.
S1: And that was just an expected part of a life as a slave person. Sometimes you hear people say, well, nothing really changed with emancipation. You know, it was just as bad as slavery. And I understand where that comes from. But I point out. No. After emancipation, they can’t sell your children. OK. Also, after emancipation, you can declare yourself married in the eyes of the state as well as in the eyes of God and of each other. So one of the most heartening scenes, I think, for reconstruction is the Freedmen’s Bureau. And I believe if it didn’t do anything else but did this, it would have been a worthy innovation. Couples would come forward to the Freedmen’s Bureau and register their marriage and they would the list the number of children they have.
S18: I’ve seen one who they had nine children that they’d been together for a long time and they would tell where they were born. And you could see the incredible churn that slavery had meant that they would be had been dragged to wherever they were from all over the south. And yet they’d found each other. And yet they had maintained a relationship through the civil war as well as through slavery. And they were coming forward to declare the legality of their marriage and therefore of their children. And they focused like the first six months in most of these localities. And they will go around to all the little hamlets and isolated farms to make sure everybody gets a chance to do this. That fundamentally changes your definition of yourself as a citizen and as a member of a family. Now, you talked about the sexual politics, Rebecca. There’s a lot that’s going on in all of this. Not every African-American person wanted to be married to the person with whom they happen to be living at the time of emancipation. Sometimes that had been forced upon them right by master. Sometimes they had had previous husbands or wives and their own eyes from four or five years ago. And now they would set out to find them. Right. And maybe people that they’d had children with before they would prioritize them.
S21: Other times you would find women who would go to men with whom they’d had children and say, I’m ready to be married. And he would say, no. Okay. And then what would happen? And vice versa. Men would go to women and they’d say, I don’t want to be married to you.
S22: So you can imagine, like in our society, suddenly her body had to freeze musical chairs. Who are you? Who do you love forever?
S18: But I think the major story, however, is the number of people who had been able to maintain these family relationships intact in the face of every kind of antagonism and violence and step forward and declared their love and devotion to each other in the eyes of the state. That becomes the foundation for everything else that happens in African-American communities. From then on today, that it’s a major source that genealogists of African-American families will go to, this will be the first time you’ll see people who are listed with their full names. And here’s the other fascinating things. What names do they choose? Or what names do they declare? Right. Very often they would have had last names, but white people would not have acknowledged them. Now, I was curious about this place that I studied. And so I looked to see what names they had chosen. Did they choose the names of their former owners?
S1: No. And this is an amazing. I think a mythology that people have is that people have the names of the people who own them. But I’ve seen other studies that say no. And you’ll notice what they did. They chose names like Brown, GREENE, Johnson, Jackson or Jefferson or Washington. Smith, names that were common that their own. We don’t know what the rationale was, but what we do know is they were not looking to identify themselves with a rich man in the county. The other thing that we know is go back to your first question, Rebecca, is that before emancipation, as you say, powerful white men had dominion over the black women that they they own. One of the first things that happens with emancipation is that black people do everything they can to protect themselves from that predation. And certainly we see over the course of the next 50 years that black people create institutions and structures and self-defense to try to counter that sexual violence as much as they can. So your question is a really good one. I think as we think about the difference that emancipation made. The most powerful and immediate in some ways long lasting change may have been in this, not in national politics.
S17: It makes you feel bad about turning this conversation. Betteridge Politics. No, because it all depends on politics. I know. Yeah. And one thing I wanted to ask you about is, you know, we’d be talking about the free people and whites, for that matter, being in these sort of isolated places. And that the actual help is hard to get in this day and age. So what recourse did free people actually have if they faced local harassment, if they faced violence, if they if they faced of intransigence by local whites?
S1: Well, you you hinted in your question at the answer. Let’s go to town. Let’s go to the city.
S23: And there’s a massive migration of newly freed people to places where they can find security. And security is the first thing they can find later. They can also find schools. Right. And then they can find larger churches. But first, they’re trying to be safe.
S22: And this drives white southerners crazy because they want them to stay there and work on their farms for virtually nothing. Right. And of course, in the eyes of the white southerners, this is shiftless ness or, you know, whatever.
S1: When in fact, it is a rational calculation of where can my family be safe? And the answers among other African-American people. And so you could see the areas that were heavily black before the war become more black.
S23: And places where there were relatively scattered Africa-American populations would move to places where they would have allies. So because the short answer to your question is there is almost no place for recourse. Right. You can protect yourself. You can have friends and allies who protect you. But otherwise, you’re virtually defenseless.
S7: Is there is there sort of an urbanization boom then, like during this period?
S18: You know, yes. You hear something that people don’t know. Is that the rate of urbanization in the south for that half century after the civil war is as great as the rate of urbanization the rest of United States? Well, it starts from a lower level, but the rate of growth is enormous. Two things are happening. One, what we’re talking about, Praet, people looking for security and jobs. But the other thing, too, is that white southerners don’t want to live on this sort of landscape where they no longer control things through slavery. Right. They don’t want to have to be jostling every growing season with laborers. Right. Negotiating these contracts. And so that’s one reason sharecropping comes along is way. The planters have no money.
S1: The freed people have nothing. Let’s let you work on the land until we have something that will share it. Right. Is kind of the deal that that’s not nearly as profitable as slavery.
S18: Right. And you find that generations of whites and blacks realize that the countryside is getting hollowed out in the south and they move to towns and cities. A lot of the growth is in smaller towns where you think two or three thousand people. But if you realize a town, two or three thousand people has a telegraph, a general store, maybe a newspaper, five churches, that’s a far cry from the middle of nowhere for you to have any of those things.
S17: I think this also brings us to the question of carpet bagging and also the other influx. Or are northerners, white and black to the south to participate in in reconstruction so that they’re very open and in question? But I’d be curious to see you talk a little about about that.
S18: Well, there’s another case to where you we need to have the overlay of time. Okay. So if you would think about the way that it’s usually portrayed. Well, first of all, the way it’s usually portrayed and Gone with the Wind. People don’t realize that you did you don’t go directly from the civil war to massive union occupation and black Blattman voting. Right. In fact, it’s two years.
S1: It’s two years from the end of the war to the beginning of radical reconstruction. Until you have radical reconstruction and black men voting, they’re socialist. You can’t have a carpetbagger, right. Because a carpetbagger, by definition, is somebody who’s so, so shiftless that everything he owns will fit to a carpetbag which like a Jansport backpack to that it’s made out of carpet remnant, which is why it’s that’s what it is. People have always wondered for that comes from. And they look they they read the newspaper. They’re in Ohio or Massachusetts and they say are black men can vote, but they won’t have any leaders. I bet if I go down there and say, I’ll be your leader if you vote for me, I can get a sweet government job. That’s why it’s understood. Studies have shown that many of the white northern men who end up assuming leadership. Rolls at all levels in the Republican Party had cast their lot with the South. Soon after the war. Now you might think, well, why would anybody do that? Well, first of all, you can buy land for very, very little in the wake of all this. And white northern men think that they will be able to. Control work with, cooperate with depending on who they are. Black labor in a way that former rebels can’t. They’d say, okay, I’m sympathetic to these folks.
S18: I’m a northerner. Therefore, I’m a better business person right. Than these people are. Maybe I have some capital that I’ve saved up from serving the army or that my father will loan me and I can start a plantation or I can start a business in some of these southern towns. Cause there’s a huge vacuum of capital and leadership. And so most of the people who end up being carpetbaggers don’t come down after the advent of the political revolution, but are actually already in the south and frankly struggling.
S22: It turns out that just because you’re a Yankee doesn’t mean you’re a good business man at a time when the entire economic system has been turned upside down. And it also turns out that black people don’t necessarily want to work for a Yankee any more than they want to work for a former Confederate. Right. It’s like who’s gonna give me a wage that I can support my family with.
S19: Right. And if my former owner will pay me more, you know, I can look past whatever that his right to bet just to come down here and be self-righteous and tell me I don’t really understand my religion. Right. And talk funny, too, you know. Doesn’t mean I necessarily want to work for you.
S1: So it turns out that the element of truth in the carpetbagging story is that there were white men from the north who were eager to take advantage of political opportunities that were created by black suffrage.
S22: So from the viewpoint of the very fact that we still talk about carpetbaggers suggesting your story. Right. Right. Because otherwise, what we should be saying, white northern Republicans live in the South. Right. That’s a lot of work. Very long. Yes. And you’re at your other option. If you’re not a carpetbagger, you’re a scallywag, which the tactical definition was a puny horse. But me, I did not know that. Yeah, it does.
S23: And but it also means a white man from the south who. So no count that he’ll vote with Republicans and black Blattman.
S17: So how many that get said? A question I have to what how many scalawags were there or how many white men? White southerners, native white southerners who were willing to throw in their lot with the Republican Party.
S1: So depends where you live. OK. So in the mountains, in the up country where you have a white majority. You would have quite a few white Republicans where I’m from, an east Tennessee. It has voted Republican since the end of the civil war to today without a break.
S22: Oh, wow. It’s very unusual. It’s the only district in the south, I think is where Andrew Johnson was from. Right. Maybe I’ll get some extra street Krebs. You folks, by saying I went to Andrew Johnson Elementary School. There’s only two of the country, one’s hometown of one of ours. Thirty five miles away for some reason. Yeah. Yeah.
S19: And so there to be a Republican was to have access to political patronage. Some kind of power. It would suggest that you were never that big a fan of the Confederacy in the first place, that you were unionist. Chances were you’d been Whig before the Civil War.
S23: And so there’s a case where to be a Republican was a responsible and respected thing to be what people usually meant when they said scallywag, that you were one of the few white men in a county where there was a larger percentage of black people who were willing to cast your lot with him just so you could get to be a postmaster or whatever. That would’ve been a small number and it would have diminished quickly because the risks of doing that far outweigh the benefits. They quickly discovered that people would inflict violence on you, just as they would on carpetbaggers and on black people. In some ways, if you were a race traitor is the way that White Confederates would have seen it. You were even more dangerous than black people who were at least voting in ways that were rational. Right. But because it was hard to imagine the story about which a white man would vote with black men other than self-interest. They couldn’t imagine that anybody would believe in justice or fair.
S16: Right. I was wondering about the relationship between public opinion as it was sort of broadcast mostly through newspapers, I’m assuming, or through probably gossip and conversations and the sort of the motivations people had in particular places to thinking about. You know, Albert Morgan reports that their ex confederates, sort of the people who were just the reactionaries in Yasu County would use northern public opinion sort of against free people and against him if northern public opinion seemed to be shifting, you know, away from radical Republicanism. And I’m wondering through what the relationship is between what people in the north thought, what maybe what DC thought about the prospects of reconstruction and what happened on the local scene.
S18: Well, people were very carefully monitoring what everybody else was thinking, right, so that the South was watching carefully for the north and waiting for the Democrats to take control back from the Republicans. Republicans and Democrats in the north are watching the South and seeing if there is any evidence at all of good faith ahead of bending toward a more equitable situation. And they do not see it. I think that the the truth and Morgan’s situation is this. The White South did as much as it felt as it could get away with. And any time that it would see anything that looked like weakness in northern resolve, by which that would be Andrew Johnson or the Democrats winning state elections in off year elections in which you would look at the Republicans are losing their power or after reconstruction begins, any indication that northern voters are losing patience with Republicans and turn their backs on him? I think Morgan’s right that white southerners would pounce as soon as they saw any evidence of weakness on the part of the Republicans.
S16: It all sounds just frankly exhausting. I mean, like horrifying and chaotic and exhausting. Yeah. Period.
S1: And remember how long this is? I mean, so not only. And this is one thing that makes reconstruction hard to understand. Every state follows a different chronology. In some states, such as Virginia, it’s over by 1870 and other places, you know. You know, goes to 1877. Our textbooks always listed 1865, 1877. That’s really misleading. It doesn’t start at the beginning and it’s over for most places long before 1877. And the deal is usually this. It’s chaotic. And everybody keeps saying we’re never going to recover as a nation as long as we foster this chaos. That was always the argument that the White South would make and white northerners make enough. How much we have to give, you know, for these enslaved people. Let’s let the country gets back on his feet. And so you would find that the the chaos that you’re referring to, Rebecca, is something that people would use sometimes and sometimes that they would do everything they could to manage. And I think, you know that African-Americans. Saw the chaos both as an opening to get power, but also as a great threat to them.
S18: The longer things are turned up, that’s when you start having the Ku Klux Klan, right. The Klan says there’s nobody in charge here. And so our excuse is that we are going to be the forces of Christian control. And that’s why they have all the regalia that we’re familiar with. We’re going to bring morality to a chaotic situation. So it is chaotic for month after month after month at bed.
S1: It seems to benefit and hurt everybody. At almost at random.
S16: Can you. I’m curious what happened in Virginia to make it different? Yeah. Why 1870?
S1: Something that we don’t really seem to notice very much anymore. Is that the crucial issue was when would former confederates be allowed to vote again? And they could recognize that they had lost that slavery was over. That the North was in power, but they could not reconcile themselves to the belief that they would be forever disfranchised.
S18: Now we use the word disfranchise to talk about black people, but it would been used first to talk about former confederates being taken out. And the crucial issue in all this, this is really important. Understand, all of reconstruction is the iron clad oath. The ironclad oath was imposed by the Republicans and said unless you can swear that you never gave support to the Confederacy in any form.
S20: You were disfranchised.
S22: In all honesty, very few white men in areas that we’re not way up in the mountains could make that claim.
S1: And if you did claim it, you’re often doubted because you are living in a place like Virginia that had been completely consumed by the war for four years. Not supporting it wasn’t really an option. You know, people talk about, well, why would people have fought for the Confederacy if they didn’t own slaves? Well, you know, you have over 90 percent of all military age white men in the south fight. Now it’s the draft, but it’s also community pressure you. You basically either have to fight or leave. Right. Right. So that what that means is they basically with the ironclad oath have said that no former Confederates, therefore no southern white men can have political power. And white southerners of lots of different political persuasions, former Whigs who had seen themselves as moderate and former secessionists who were furious. All agree that this is the thing is going to have to change. So in Virginia, they deal, they end up making is this one universal amnesty? By which they mean amnesty for themselves. That former confederates will be allowed to vote for universal suffrage. So they say we will not oppose black men voting as long as we can vote too. And we are all pardoned. And they say explicitly because we don’t care. As soon as we can vote, we will control everything again. And they do. Right. And so from their point of view, they will manage black voting and they manage it by the things that you know about of violence, intimidation, economic retribution. And Virginia has a majority white population. So they know if we can just restore the normal population, a few places like Tidewater. Right. Which will end up having black political representation in Congress till the turn of the 20th century. Right. They they basically say, okay, we can’t control that until we write a new constitution in 1981 that finally gets rid of black voting. That’s how long it takes the white South to restore legal control over black voting. They restore extralegal control early on.
S21: So that’s the question. So lots of states are cutting deals and in 69, 70, 71, 72, 73. And it’s not just I think we have the misconception that all that keeps reconstruction in power are federal troops. Those are relatively weak even in the places where they’re removed. Reconstruction is ending almost as soon as it begins, as soon as white southerners have access to the vote.
S24: They begin ending reconstruction. It seems that even with the universe destruction, but the restoration of white political power, you would still have large Africa-American are somewhat isolate African-American populations.
S5: You’d still have places in the South where blacks are majority and account outright majority in several counties.
S17: So what what what are what is a kind of local black politics look like in these places? Even as the larger regional story is the restoration of white power?
S1: Yeah, that’s a great question, because I think another major misperception of all this is that the white violence and intimidation stopped black voting at the end of reconstruction. It did not. And throughout the 1880s and 1890s, there is persistent African-American voting, which is why we have why there are new constitutions.
S18: So let me briefly sketch what could happen. So it could be in a place it’s 80 or 90 percent African-American. There you go. OK. Is it that they hold all the political offices and all that and because there’s nothing anybody can really do about it? Partly. If you have those kinds of numbers, even white men through intimidation can’t do anything right. There’s more guns. There are other places that are say, you know, 60 percent African-American white people still own all the land and have economic power.
S1: But if you want to be the sheriff, you kind of need some black people to vote for you. Right. And so this horrible thing that white people refer to as fusion happens, which is that, you know, so there’s only one party for the white people to Democrats. Right. But there’s more than one person wants to be sheriff. So he is thinking, well, how can I get enough votes to be sheriff? Well, maybe I’ll cut a deal with a local black political broker and say, I’ll let you be tax assessor, if you will have your folks vote for me. And you can imagine that guy might say, well, good. You know, if I have the sheriff having support of black voters, that might be to the benefit of my community. Right. Right. It also might mean that I would get a bribe. So all this that, you know, politics is politics. Right. And so all these things are happening all the time. And in 1890 in Mississippi, they finally decide that this is corrupting southern politics. The constant bargaining with black men buying liquor or just paying outright votes or giving them respect. All those things are seen as a violation of the normal order. So the quote is something like this We can’t afford to hand political power to our sons. With a shotgun in their hands and a lie in their mouths. Right. So in order to stop them from violence and fraud, we’re going to have to take the vote away from black people.
S22: Oh, that’s perfect. That is. And I’m like that is the very explicit logic.
S1: As long as there is the possibility of black voting and black political office holding. It’s a temptation that some white people will succumb to.
S17: Right. I mean, it sounds like you’re describing a recognition that they can’t do it. They can’t. Social pressure alone won’t stamp out bi racial politics.
S1: That’s what is so frustrating to white people, is that black people insist on exercising their rights as American citizens. You know, and what’s amazing, too, is that telling themselves for 250 years that black people had no capacity for self-government, it turns out to be right and that they can mobilize very effectively. And so the White South basically has to admit that the only way they’re going to restore white supremacy and this is where the when you really start seeing that word used a lot would be to actually just undercut any possibility of black political mobilization, which is apparently not going to be killed by random violence. Lynching, economic intimidation. Everything else. But people are going to insist on maintaining their rights as Americans until it’s taken away by the courts. A new constitution. So the main thing happens in reconstruction is that the north says that north the Republicans say when you’re under military control, until you have an election for which black men can vote and for which black men can be delegates. For a new constitutional convention to write an entirely new constitution for your state that acknowledges the rights of black men to vote and the end of slavery, and till you and accepted the 14th Amendment, until you’ve done those things, you may not come back into the union. So every southern state has a reconstruction constitution. They have to or they cannot come back into the union. What happens 30 years later is that they overturn those those constitutions. So. But you need to say all the period. Rebecca, you you’d referred to the chaos in the eyes of white southerners. There’s chaos for 25 years after reconstruction. And the big thing that triggers a lot of this is the largest third party political revolt in American history. The populist in the 1890s scares a lot of white southern skies. I say some of these. Populist leaders are going to pour black farmers and making the case, as Tom Watson says. You’re in the ditch just like we are. Let’s rise up against the rich white men because they’re our common enemy. And when the White South sees this, then their constitutions follow. So but I think, you know, we’re a little captive to our stories of the great injustice done to black people. We imagine that that stops them from voting. Right. It doesn’t. The injustice is real. The violence is real. But and it succeeds in redeeming the state as a whole. But it does not succeed in rooting out black political ambition and aspiration and accomplishment. And so my story is that reconstruction was a failure of policy, but that African-Americans took any opening, even if it was just the creation of a school for three years, even if it was just the registering of your name in a marriage register, even if it was a chance to vote for yourself three times and built all these structures out of it that make the civil rights movement possible. Right. It’s this great mystery in American history. Where were the people at Martin Luther King come from? They come out of the seeds that are planted in reconstruction. So that’s my own take on all this, is that in some ways, if you look at the viewpoint of white people or from the viewpoint of white northerners, it’s one thing to turn it other way round and say, what were black people able to do with this? Right. It’s a different story.
S17: Thank you, Ed, so much for joining us and having this really enlightening conversation about reconstruction.
S18: It’s my pleasure. I’m honored to be a part of this.
S25: Ed Ayres is the author of numerous books about the 19th century s most recently, The Thin Light of Freedom The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America. He’s president emeritus at the University of Richmond and continues to serve as a professor there. You can hear at every week on the great American History podcast BackStory, which he has co-hosted for just about ten years.
S15: Boy, he just blew my mind like three different ways before, one of the things that is really hard with planning a project about reconstruction is, you know, thinking about it as a long arc. So, you know, we just read, you know, the Tuna’s Campbell and the Hour Morgan. And these are both people who spent, you know, a decade in their respective places. And then for them, you know, the story didn’t end, but they left because they were forced to leave.
S6: And in a way, you just sort of end up feeling as a reader like, OK. And then what happened in Yazoo County or what happened to McIntosh County is sort of like a like a blank in a way. And it all feels very dire and very horrible. But what anything is, you know, you also have to think about the couple decades after, you know, think about it as like a longer story.
S7: Right. Not just think about it as a longer story, but a story that really just varies dramatically from place to place. And so we with the Morgan and Campbell memoirs discussed what may have been somewhat unrepresentative situations, places where the majority of the people there were black places where black people held kind of in the immediate aftermath of the war some political power or had the opportunity to claim whatever political power and places where the military was something of a presence. But that’s not just not true of everywhere in the south or in reconstruction. And over the course of this series, we’ll certainly see that and we’ll see just how much it varies, how much the situation changes from place to place and in how much that really does complicate the notion of any particular narrative of reconstruction.
S6: Yeah. You know, it comes to mind that that makes it hard for historians and for people who are trying to tell a story about what happened. But it also must have just been so difficult for people who are living in that situation. If you’re partially a free person with no money, you know, maybe you lost touch with family and you’re trying to suss out, you know, should I stay here or should I go where else will be better? You know, even if it is better someplace else. And you hear about it from a far-flung family member or friend. By the time you get there, it might not be better anymore. So, you know, it just makes me think a lot about the amount of strategizing and positioning that people were doing.
S15: You know, from day to day, from week to week, you know, from year to year during this period. And how exhausting and stressful, but also in some ways rewarding and also stressful it must have been for everybody.
S4: And with that, we conclude this installment of Reconstruction Academy. Let us know what you thought. Have a private Facebook conversation going. And if you post a or question there, we’ll do our best to respond. You’ll find the link to that on our show page. Slate.com slash reconstruction.
S25: You’ll find a ton of material there along with links to background reading that will prepare you for our third episode, which focuses on experiments and participatory government. And you can listen to our episode 0, which is basically a timeline of the political history of reconstruction at the federal level. Again, that’s all at Slate.com slash reconstruction.
S3: Our series is produced by Tony Field. We received some production support from Bunk, a new online hub for American history related content. And I should say that that’s an ad Ariz. project. He’s the founder. The URL is Bank History dot org. And you can read a recent piece he wrote there about what it’s been like to be a civil war historian in 2017.
S4: A huge thanks goes out to our friends at the podcast with good reason for using their studio space at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. The editorial director of Sleep +S, Gabriel Roth, thanks so much for listening. We’ll be back soon with another installment of Reconstruction Academy.