Introduction

As the Civil War progressed and Union forces gained control of territory in states that had seceded, the question arose as to how that territory and its people – slave and free – should be dealt with. This issue became more pressing as the war ended. President Lincoln encouraged reconciliation, and a respect for the constitutional limits of the authority of the President, the Congress and the states. Other Republicans believed that the South had to be reconstructed in a fundamental way. They, too, considered constitutional limits (especially Thaddeus Stevens), and concluded that, for the ultimate good of the Union and all its people, the seceding states had to be treated as conquered territories. Meanwhile, the freed men and women sought to construct new lives in extraordinarily difficult circumstances (see “Many Thousand Gone“). The long-term effects of Reconstruction – or its failure – are evident in Senator Tillman’s speech from 1900. He defended the system of segregation developed in the South after Reconstruction (including lynching); segregation was not challenged until the 1950s and 1960s.


Congressional Record, 56th Congress, 1st Session, 3223-3224. Tillman (1847–1918) was Governor of South Carolina (1890–1894) and U.S. Senator (1895–1918). He played an active role in anti-black violence in the 1870s and helped draft the state constitution that disenfranchised blacks.


Mr. President, I regret that I feel the necessity of bringing up again some parts of the speech of the Senator who has just taken his seat. However, he would not allow me to answer or interject an objection as he went along. It has reference to the race question in the South, the question which has been the cause of more sorrow, more misery, more loss of life, more expenditure of treasure than any and all questions which have confronted the American people from the foundation of the Government to the present day. Out of it grew the war, and after the war came the results of the war, and those results are with us now. The South has this question always with it. It cannot get rid of it. Is it there. It is like Banquo’s ghost, and will not down.1 I have felt called on to attack the Republican policy of this day and time and to accuse the Republicans in this Chamber with being hypocrites in regard to that issue; I have felt constrained to do so by reason of the facts and of the events of the past few years.

The Senator from Wisconsin2 . . . gave us a picture of the condition of the slave during the war, and of the debt of gratitude which the Southern people owe to those slaves, who had charge of our wives and children and homes, and, to their everlasting credit, during those four long and bloody years not one solitary crime was reported against them of the kind that is now reported every week. I say that he cannot exceed me in appreciation of the fact that the Southern people did owe and do owe and will exceedingly owe a debt of gratitude to their slaves for their behavior.

But I would call the Senator’s attention to the absolute and inevitable corollary, that if the slaves of the South, with the opportunities which were afforded them during those years when all the men were at the front, and when their wrongs, if they had any, would have prompted revenge, were guilty of no crime against their mistresses and their children, it in thunder tones gives the lie to the charges as to the cruelty of the slave system in the South.

There were numerous instances, possibly too numerous, of cruelty and wrongdoing, and I shall not apologize for the system, for, thank God, it is gone – torn up by the roots at a great cost of life and sacrifice of property. I would not restore it if I could by the waving of a hand. But I say to him when he parades that as a reason why we ought to be grateful – and I acknowledge that we ought – he at once convicts himself and those of his fellows who went on that crusade of blood and destruction for the purpose of liberating those people of having been misled and of having given Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin undue weight in inaugurating that crusade. I have already given due credit on this floor to the North for patriotism and honesty of purpose and I realize that the love of the Union was a mighty factor in that great struggle. But it cannot be denied that the slaves of the South were a superior set of men and women to the freedmen of today, and that the poison in their minds – the race hatred of the whites – is the result of the teachings of Northern fanatics. Ravishing a woman, white or black, was never known to occur in the South till after the reconstruction era. So much for that phase of the subject.

As to the rights of the negros in the South, of which he now claims to be the champion –

Mr. Spooner. [interrupting] No.

Mr. Tillman. Well, I do not understand the Senator. I am very unfortunate in being unable to fathom his meaning. He speaks clearly, and I usually have the means of interpreting language that is plain and unmistakable; but he did say something about the rights of those people.

Mr. Spooner. I did.

Mr. Tillman. And he said we had taken their rights away from them. He asked me was it right to murder them in order to carry the elections. I never saw one murdered. I never saw one shot at an election. It was the riots before the election, precipitated by their own hotheadedness in attempting to hold the government, that brought on conflicts between the races and caused the shotgun to be used. That is what I meant by saying we used the shotgun.

I want to call attention to one fact. He said that the Republican Party gave the negroes the ballot in order to protect themselves against the indignities and wrongs that were attempted to be heaped upon them by the enactment of the black code.3 I say that [the negroes were given the ballot] because the Republicans of that day, led by Thad Stevens, wanted to put white necks under black heels and to get revenge. There is a difference of opinion. You have your opinion about it, and I have mine, and we can never agree.

I want to ask the Senator this proposition in arithmetic: In my State, there were 135,000 negro voters, or negroes of voting age, and some 90,000 or 95,000 white voters. General Canby4 set up a carpetbag government5 there and turned our State over to this majority. Now, I want to ask you, with a free vote and a fair count, how are you going to beat 135,000 to 95,000? How are you going to do it? You had set us an impossible task. You had handcuffed us [and] thrown away the key, and you propped your carpet bag negro government with bayonets. Whenever it was necessary to sustain the government you held it up by the Army.

Mr. President, I have not the facts and figures here, but I want the country to get the full view of the Southern side of this question and the justification for anything we did. We were sorry we had the necessity forced upon us, but we could not help it, and as white men we are not sorry for it, and we do not propose to apologize for anything we have done in connection to it. We took the government away from them in 1876. We did take it. If no other Senator has come here previous to this time who would acknowledge it, more’s the pity. We have had no fraud in our elections in South Carolina since 1884. There has been no organized Republican Party in the State.

We did not disfranchise the negroes until 1895. Then we had a constitutional convention convened which took the matter up calmly, deliberately, and avowedly with the purpose of disenfranchising as many of them as we could under the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments. We adopted the educational qualification as the only means left to us, and the negro is as contented and as prosperous and as well protected in South Carolina today as in any State of the Union south of the Potomac. He is not meddling with politics, for he found that the more he meddled with them, the worse off he got. As to his “rights” – I will not discuss them now. We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to govern the white men, and we never will. We have never believed him to be equal to the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.6 I would to God the last one of them was in Africa and that none of them had ever been brought to our shores. . . .

I want to ask permission in this connection to print a speech which I made in the constitutional convention of South Carolina when it convened in 1895, in which the whole carpetbag regime and the indignities and wrongs heaped upon our people, the robberies which we have suffered, and all the facts and figures there brought out are incorporated, and let the whole of the facts go to the country. I am not ashamed to have those facts go to the country. They are our justification for the present situation in our State. . . .

Study Questions

A. What explains President Lincoln’s attitude toward Louisiana in his letter to General Banks? Does his Second Inaugural Address explain his attitude? How do Lincoln, Douglass, and Stevens’ attitudes toward the South differ? Is Stevens’ constitutional argument about the basis of Reconstruction sound? If so, was that sufficient to make his approach to the seceded states sound? Do Stevens’ remarks about Jews, the Irish and others undermine his claim to be a champion of the principles of the Declaration of Independence? Was the response of Southerners as described and defended by Tillman inevitable, or could some version of restoration or reconstruction have prevented it?

B. Do the views expressed in the twentieth century differ from those expressed in the documents below? For example, compare the views of Senators Tillman and Thurmond, both Democrats from South Carolina. Did the constitutional arguments change between the 1860s and the 1960s?

C. How true does President Abraham Lincoln’s remark in his Second Inaugural Address that both Northerners and Southerners prayed to the same God and read the same Bible appear in light of the very different interpretations of said Bible on the question of slavery, as evidenced in the antebellum period?

Footnotes

  1. Lord Banquo, Thane of Lochaber, from the play Macbeth, by William Shakespeare. Macbeth murders Banquo in the first half of the play in an attempt to secure his claim on the throne; Banquo’s ghost reappears at various points in the second half of the play to torment the king.
  2. John Coit Spooner (1843–1919) was a Republican Senator, 1885–1991, 1897–1907. He enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War.
  3. Black codes were laws passed by Southern states at the end of Civil War to restrict the freedom of freedmen.
  4. Edward Canby (1817–1873) was Military Governor of the Second Military District (August 1867 to August 1868) that included North and South Carolina. Canby was assassinated by Modoc Indians during a negotiation.
  5. “Carpetbaggers” is a derogatory term for a Northerner who went to the South after the Civil War and held office, or otherwise sought to take advantage of post-war conditions.
  6. Estimates of lynchings vary. According to the Tuskegee Institute, from 1882-1968, 4,745 lynchings occurred in the United States. Of this number, 3,446 or 73 percent were Black. Lynching peaked in the early 1890s. In 1892, 230 were recorded. See https://goo.gl/e7NVTY. Lisa D. Cook, “Converging to a National Lynching Database: Recent Developments,” (2011) describes and analyzes different databases of lynching incidents. Available at https://goo.gl/QvpcRf.