Return to Lecture 1 Index Return to History 2 Main Page
Disunity and Sectional Division: The Hatred Factor
The Radical Republicans ultimately won the battle over what should be the objective of post-war actions with respect to the South: Reconstruction, rather than reunion or restoration. But the Radicals version of reconstruction was to exacerbate bad feelings on both sides and turn them into permanent hostilities that continue to be evidenced in American society today and to create permanent patterns of racial prejudice and discrimination. No small part of the reason for the dysfunctional outcomes of Reconstruction is that many of the measures taken as a part of Reconstruction had purely partisan political motives. These purely partisan objectives were designed to ensure that Republicans stayed in power even though they were actually a minority party. The Radicals were aided in their efforts by many groups, but none were more visible than the Protestant churches and the press in the North. The concerted effort made by these groups evoked a response from the South: hatred of Yankees and blacks, long-lasting commitment to the Democratic party, and the creation of a mythology that romanticized a South that never existed and portrayed the aims of the Confederacy as a just cause.
No small part of the Radical victory over the nature of Reconstruction was due to the Northern reaction to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had tried to offer a generous and magnanimous peace despite the opposition of many who, molded as partisans by two decades of national rancor, had believed that eradicating Southern culture and politics should be the first order of the post-war era. Lincoln was shot on a Friday night and died on Saturday. This meant that clergymen, not newspaper editors or other community leaders, were to have the first crack at doing what sociologists call "defining the situation," that is, identifying what happened, what it meant, and how people should react.
Shortly before the Civil War, most of the Protestant denominations of the nation had experienced divisions over the issue of slavery that caused them to divide their national structures along sectional lines. During the war, northern pastors preached vigorously on the evils of slavery and the sinfulness and evilness of anyone who would support it. Northern Protestant ministers issued far less than temperate responses to Lincoln's death. Many argued that the death of Lincoln, whom they had sometimes portrayed as the instrument of God's will in leading the North to victory, was the ultimate unpardonable sin for which the whole of the South, not just John Wilkes Booth and a handful of co-conspirators, should be held accountable. This reaction by the Northern clergy pushed many people toward support for the Radical programs. Southern pastors in the prewar era were equally vociferous in their defense of slavery as an institution ordained by God and sanctioned by scripture. The reason given for the defeat of the South in Southern churches was not God's will. The churches, both northern and southern, became major contributors to sectional division after the Civil War by continuing preaching along these lines. To this, Northern preachers added a litany of complaints about how the South had treated union soldiers who had been captured and imprisoned in places like Andersonville. Southern preachers added a litany of complaints about the devastation done by Sherman's march through Georgia and other wanton devastation done by Union soldiers on Southern soil. Generations of growing children were indoctrinated with the raw materials for developing attitudes of hostility toward those in the other half of the nation as a part of their Sunday church services.
From the standpoint of political realities, the objective of keeping the Republican party in power required minimizing and marginalizing the Democrats. The Democrats had been the most powerful party before the Civil War and were well distributed throughout the nation. By contrast, the Republicans were a sectional party whose candidate would not have been elected president in 1860 had not the Democratic party been split into three factions and would not have been elected in 1864 but for the fact that most Southern states were still a part of the Confederacy. Radicals realized that maintaining power in the post-war era required the disenfranchisement of as many southern whites (most of whom were Democrats) as possible, the enfranchisement of as many blacks as possible (because the Republicans believed blacks owed their freedom to Republicans and would thus vote for them), and the portraying of Northern Democrats as traitors to the Union (in order to minimize the number of Northerners who would vote for a Democrat).
Democrats had given the Radicals considerable ammunition for the charge of "disloyalty to the Union." During the war some prominent Democrats were members of the Copperhead group of overt Southern sympathizers. Democrats had proposed reunion after the war on terms that would not have left the same people in charge of the South who had formed and run the Confederacy and that would not have enfranchised blacks. Democrats opposed the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments on the grounds that forcing such measures was federal intrusion into states' internal affairs and would provoke considerable hostility in the South. Democrats had included southern delegates in their conventions in 1868, the first presidential election year after the war; some of these had been Confederate officials or military officers who had been pardoned by a president. Some Democrats had also proposed to sponsor some speeches by Jefferson Davis in the North. although they thought what they were doing war trying to heal the nation's wounds by bringing opposing sides back together. Although Democrats thought what they were doing was trying to heal the nation's wounds by bringing opposing sides back together, the Radicals portrayed these acts as traitorous. Leveling a charge of "disloyalty" or "traitorous" behavior at the party out of power because of the position it takes on national problems or constitutional issues involves much more than "politics as usual." It is the same sort of tactic used by the Federalists when they passed the Sedition Acts in the 1790s and by Senator McCarthy in the Red Scare of the 1950s.
There was a series of anti-Black propaganda efforts that followed emancipation. These included cartoons by Thomas Nast and others as well as articles in both northern and southern presses. This propaganda continued the theme that had accompanied slavery (as a part of justifying it) from the beginning: That blacks were not really human beings, but instead, some sub-human species. This belief, shared by a large percentage of southerners, would be used to justify the "Black Codes" that limited the rights of blacks. When Congress proposed the Fourteenth Amendment, the governments of the states that had seceded promptly voted against ratifying it. Getting the Fourteenth Amendment ratified by three-fourths of the states virtually required the Radical version of Reconstruction, under which the former Confederate states were removed from the union and re-admitted under a new set of rules that excluded a huge percentage of Southern whites as voters and a new set of legislatures that were largely puppets of the Radical Republicans. Both the anti-Black propaganda and the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments by means of tactics that excluded the majority of Southern whites and the legislatures created in the presidential reconstruction era ultimately proved to be major sources of division in the nation.
Southern women, perhaps far more than their northern counterparts, contributed to the development of sectional attitudes. Many Southern women had been reared in traditions that left them ill-equipped for life in a world without slaves. During the war, Southern women had taken over running farms and plantations, small businesses, etc., in addition to their households. But finding themselves, far more often than their northern counterparts, with husbands and sons killed or maimed during the war, and often finding their families bankrupted by the war, southern women had come to hate Yankees and all things northern even before the war ended. After the war, they taught their offspring to continue that hatred. Southern women had also come first to fear and then to hate blacks, in part as a result of the propaganda barrage that began shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation that portrayed black males as dangerous potential rapists and criminals. They also socialized their children to fear and hate blacks.
Remember that slavery had existed and had been nearly universally accepted for thousands years before the Civil War. The idea that it was morally wrong began to gain fairly wide acceptance only a relatively short time before the Civil War. The legacy of hatred developed more easily because the Northerners insisted upon portraying Southerners as "immoral" and as "sinners" for having condoned slavery whether they owned slaves or not. Yankee missionaries descended upon the South along with the carpetbaggers not only to try to address the problems of the freedmen but also to save what they had come to believe were the doomed souls of the wicked Southern white. The mistaken image of the South that most Northerners held both then (and now) was of the large plantation with many slaves. In fact, the average (mean) number of slaves owned by what slave owners there were was only four. And most Southern households did not own any slaves. The portrayal also ignored both that some Northerners had also owned slaves and that many had participated in perpetuating the institution of slavery. In that sense, the innocent were being condemned with that part of the guilty--slave owners in seceded states--who were the targets of Yankee invective. The Northerners also ignored their own racism, clearly visible in the Northern press, in anti-Black riots and lynchings taking place is such places as New York City, etc.
It is also
important to remember that in the Ante-bellum South, poor whites were as much a
disfavored group as slaves from the standpoint of the whited upper and middle
classes. Immigrant whites were often hired to do highly dangerous
work such as blasting on plantations that had many slaves because these
poor whites were considered "expendable" should they be killed, while a slave,
who represented a significant financial investment, was too valuable to
lose. Poor whites were kept from being the lowest group in social status
only by virtue of the fact that they were white rather than Black.
Attitudes toward poor whites did not change significantly after the Civil War;
they were considered "white trash." This created a situation in which
any status gain for Blacks during or after Reconstruction was perceived
by poor whites as a status loss for themselves. Creation or perpetuation
of cultural myths and stereotypes that justified measures to keep Blacks
subordinated in social, economic, and political status to all whites--including
disenfranchisement, segregation, and outright terrorism--contributed
significantly to the legacy of hate.
Return to Lecture 1 Index Return to History 2 Main Page