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|The President says that "the condition of the Southern States is, unhappily, not such as all true patriotic citizens would like to see." It is, in fact, what such citizens sincerely dislike to see. But the problem is not so simple as some intelligent critics assume. Of course the talk of the old guard of slavery about the frightful overthrow of liberty in those States by the "ignoble incubus" and "usurper," whom they used to call with the same propriety "butcher," troubles the country very little. It sustains him by increasing majorities, wisely deeming liberty somewhat safer with those who abolished slavery than with those who strove to perpetuate it. There is a very plain logic upon this subject in the American mind; and the Democratic critics, although too dull to see it, would yet help their cause by changing their point and method of assault.|
We say that the problem is not simple. When the war ended we were of those who thought the better policy was to maintain for some time the complete national supremacy in the Southern States. But another policy prevailed, and we have to deal with its results. There were three classes of persons in those States—the old slave-holding proprietors, the poor whites, and the freedmen. The first two classes had been rebels, and the last had been honestly loyal. The first class comprised the persons of property and education, the traditional political leaders; the other two classes were ignorant and poor. The state of feeling was, of course, deplorable. The old proprietors and the poor whites were morbid with hate of the Yankee, and bitterly humiliated by their defeat. The easy contempt of the first for the late slaves had changed into a feeling of aversion, and a resolution, which was not surprising, to do what was possible still to hold them as inferiors. The jealousy which the poor whites felt for a class from which they were separated only by caste became hatred when caste disappeared.
The first attempt of the proprietary class was to recover political control of their States, and to remand the freedmen to virtual slavery. This could not be allowed; and by laws of prohibition, of disfranchisement, and ineligibility on the one hand, and of equal civil and political rights upon the other, it was defeated. The operation of these laws was necessarily deplorable in many ways, but the alternative was still more deplorable. Political power was taken from the old proprietors and given to the new men; but had it remained with the old proprietors, the condition of the new men would unquestionably have been such that the United States could not have tolerated it, and would have peremptorily changed the situation. Indeed, that was really very much the course of events, the original settlement being milder than that which followed. The Ku-Klux was, as the Nation says, naturally developed from this situation. Hate of the victorious Union, and of the freedmen who represented it, with the indignation at laws which were believed to submit the whites to the blacks, took expression in secret conspiracies which aimed at the control of the blacks and their friends by terror; and in certain parts of the Southern States the Ku-Klux has unquestionably produced anarchy.
Meanwhile the disabilities have been gradually removed, and the President now suggests that they be made to disappear entirely. But in the degree that this has taken place the situation has become worse in the Southern States. It is alleged that the exclusion of part of the old proprietary class from political power and from office has thrown the conduct of affairs into the hands of ignorant knaves, white adventurers, and ductile blacks. But the number of those actually disfranchised has long been very small, and the explanation does not suffice. Then it is said that where knaves legislate we must expect the Ku-Klux, and that it is useless to hunt the Ku-Klux if honest men do not control the government. But is it gravely meant that the United States must patiently see its citizens harried, whipped, murdered, and terrorized in certain States until honest men are elected to office there? If the difficulty is that there are dishonest and ignorant men in the Legislature, and if disabilities are removed and there is equal suffrage, so that the ordinary chances of a free government are provided for all, must hones citizens submit to be scourged and shot upon the plea that where Legislatures are corrupt public disorders must be expected? What can any honest citizen, white or black, do except vote for honest representatives? And if he and his friends can not carry the election, are they to be murdered because they have not been successful, while the United States tranquilly remark that the principles of free government require the sacrifice?
Nothing more preposterous can be imagined. If the old proprietors and the poor whites, all disabilities being removed, can elect honest officers, we shall all rejoice; but if they can not, they really must not expect to be allowed to shoot their political opponents. We have long favored the completion of amnesty. But amnesty has been for some time practically a fact, and it will be found that the completion will not remove the trouble: it will remove only one of the excuses of the trouble. A wise government will avoid every reasonable pretense for disorder; it will do what it can to secure equal rights; and it will then take care that disorder is not tolerated.
|Harper's Weekly, December 23, 1871, page 1194 (Editorial)|
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