Reconstruction – the quaint little experiment in social progress By Bill Vallante
Years ago I was reading a National Park Service E-book entitled, “Rally on the High Ground.” The E-book, on the park service website, was not really a book, but rather a transcription of a 2000 seminar of the same name that was attended by Dept of the Interior and Park Service officials, a gaggle of contemporary historians, and at least one politician, Jesse Jackson Jr. Jackson’s 2000 legislation mandated that the Park Service include slavery as a cause of the war in all its national battlefield parks, and place all those battles “in the larger context of both the causes of the war and the consequences--most notably--the issue of African slavery and its woeful legacy of racism and discrimination, which continues to this day.”
Then Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbit opened with an address that touched upon Reconstruction. He spoke specifically of that period as it related to African Americans and the elective franchise:
“….They went to the polls in extraordinary numbers, elected black officials to county governments, to state legislatures, to state offices, to the House of Representatives, and to the United States Senate. Many of these figures are mostly forgotten, but, in their time, they were eloquent, productive leaders who in many states laid foundations for the first time for public education in their states. They were the leaders in anti-discrimination legislation, public housing accommodations, and social services.” 
Until that time I had never explored the Reconstruction period in depth and consequently knew little about it. Nevertheless, a question occurred to me as I was reading Babbit’s babbling. Given the fact that most blacks in the South at that time were newly freed slaves, who, not more than 2 or 3 years earlier had been living on a farm or plantation, and given the fact that most of them were still illiterate, how is it that they could make such an outstanding leap of progress in so short a time so as to be able to know what they were doing when they wielded the elective franchise? More importantly, how is it that so many of them could find their way into political office and become great “productive leaders”? Such a leap of progress in such a short time is unknown in recorded human history! So then, who waved their magic wand and turned a simple, untutored people into a bunch of Henry Kissingers?
I once posed this question to former Gettysburg Park Superintendent John Latschar (before he got snagged for surfing porn on his work computer). I had just been to the new visitor’s center at Gettysburg and had seen that the Park Service’s presentation there extended far beyond the battle itself. Not only was the slavery issue highlighted, but Reconstruction and civil rights as well. And of course, the alleged accomplishments of these black “productive leaders” were touted. I asked Mr. Latschar how it was that so many of these people could manage to hold political office when most of them had been picking cotton only a few years before. Latschar cited two black politicians, Hiram Revels and Francis Cardozo, who actually were not only literate but highly educated as well. I replied by sending him numerous examples which clearly demonstrated that these two men were the exceptions and not the rule. In any case, I never heard from Latschar again. Maybe he was too busy surfing porn?
The Wikipedia description of those who contributed to the literary movement known as the “Lost Cause,” reads in part, “they also tended to condemn Reconstruction.” That, in case you haven’t guessed, is supposed to be a criticism. The mantra today is that Reconstruction was a wonderful experiment in “interracial democracy” that was shot down by those evil, nasty white supremacists. I’ve learned a lot about the period since reading “Rally on the High Ground,” and it was anything but wonderful. Yes, it was “interracial” in nature, but simply sticking that adjective in front of a word does not necessarily make that word a good thing.
Yes, it was indeed a form of “interracial democracy.”
It was an “interracial democracy” which excluded most of the native Southern white population. As per the 14th amendment - anyone who had engaged in “participation in any rebellion or civil war against the United States” was disenfranchised, thereby leaving state governments in the hands of Yankee transplants, ex-slaves and a few compliant Southerners who were willing to “swallow the dog,” 
It was an “interracial democracy” administrated, in part, by a people who had been slaves not more than 3 years before. This mysterious, and unbelievable leap of progress in so brief a time, unequaled in all of human history, has never been fully explained by anyone who has anything positive to say about the period. Yet, its incongruity was noted, even by Northerners of the period, who wondered at the curious nature of the Freedmen’s bill…namely that - “It took the blacks under the protection of the Federal Government as if they were not able to take care of themselves, while the same persons who urged…the measure are the most clamorous to give this same dependent population a large share in the government of the country.’” 
The incongruity in question is easily explained however. If one wants to know the real motivation behind the Party of Lincoln and its drive to gain the elective franchise for the newly freed slave, one need only consult one of the chief architects of the Congressional Reconstruction policy, Rep. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania. In Stevens’ own words, the purpose of giving this “dependent population” the vote in the South was to “insure perpetual ascendancy to the party of the union.”  Since when does one-party rule constitute a democracy, interracial or otherwise?
It was an “interracial democracy” that even Frederick Douglass found, at least in part, appalling, as he commented on the white portion of Alabama’s 1869 Reconstruction state government - “Well, I would be a Democrat if I was a white man and had to herd with that cattle.” 
It was an “interracial democracy” that caused Georgia’s debt to go from “0” in 1865 to 50 million dollars in 1872 , whose budgetary practices in Louisiana caused the cost of the 1871 legislative session to be 9 ½ times the average cost of a pre-Reconstruction session , and whose budgetary practices in the South Carolina legislature caused the total cost of 6 years of Reconstruction for that not-so-august body to total $2,339,000, (when the average cost of a pre-Reconstruction session of the legislature had been $20,000/year!) .
This wonderful “interracial democracy” resulted in the tax rate in Mississippi increasing 14 fold during its 5 year tenure in that state and caused 1/5 of all privately owned land in that state to be put up for sale on the tax auction block .
In Texas, this wonderful “interracial” experiment resulted in a 400% tax increase, while at the same time, another Southern state, Tennessee, saw its state debt inflated by 16 million dollars. .
It was an “interracial democracy” which saw ¼ of all the property in Little Rock Arkansas in the hands of former Union General Schenck, who had purchased said property at bargain basement prices after those properties had been confiscated for non-payment of taxes. .
It was a “interracial democracy” which saw, in South Carolina, the expenditure by the legislature, “of $200,000 - all of which was spent in furnishing the state capitol with costly plate glass mirrors, lounges, arm chairs, a free bar and other luxurious appointments for the use of the legislators.” 
It was an “interracial democracy” in South Carolina composed of black men like Beverly Nash, who admitted to taking a $2500 bribe, and who defended his actions with the words, “I merely took the money because I thought I might as well have it and invest it here as for them to carry it outside the state”. . That same type of government, in that very same state, also produced the likes of State Representative John Patterson, a white Pennsylvania transplant, who, when questioned about corruption flippantly replied, “Why there are still 5 good years of stealing left in South Carolina”.  In Mississippi, it produced the likes of William Gray, a black State Senator, who proclaim “that he would win [the 1874 election] if he had to kill every white man, woman and child in the county, which was predominantly black.” 
It was an “interracial democracy” which demanded that the black man have his vote, but which also mandated that the black man vote the way he was told! Black men contemplating a vote for the Democratic ticket (or the Conservative Ticket), were warned off with “Death to Colored Democrat” signs in polling places, and with banners proclaiming “Every man that don’t vote the Radical ticket this is the way we want to serve him – hang him by the neck.” 
Finally, that “interracial democracy” produced a financial house of cards which collapsed upon the head of the freedman in 1874 when the Freedman’s Bureau Savings and Trust went belly-up. Those freedmen who had worked hard to build an economic base for themselves (instead of feeding at the public trough), and who had trusted in their Yankee benefactors, lost all they had, a grand total of 3 1/3 million dollars – a huge sum for that time belonging to relatively poor people who could ill afford to lose it. And the government whose soldiers allegedly “died to make men free” did nothing to compensate them.  No bailouts in 1874 I guess?!
But it’s all ok you see -because it was all “interracial.” So sayeth our “Myth of the Lost Cause Mythologists.”
(to be continued)
 “Rally on the High Ground” – opening address by Bruce Babbit. http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/rthg/fore.htm
[31} See the 14th Amendment
 Ralph Seth Henry, “The Story of Reconstruction February, 1866 Page 160 (Konecky & Koncekcy, 150 Fifth Ave. New York, NY, 10011)
 ibid, PP. 210- 211
 “Brooklyn Eagle,” copied in “Montgomery Advertiser”, Feb 19, 1869)
 Mildred Lewis Rutherford, “The Truths of History,” Pages 128-129, Daniel Voorhees, Representative from Indiana, “Plunder of Eleven States”, a speech made in the House of Representatives March 23, 1872:
 Ella Lonn, “Reconstruction in Louisiana after 1868,” New York, 1918, P. 78
 “Republican Governor Daniel Chamberlain’s Reflections” 1901, in the Atlantic Monthly
 John S. Tilley, “The Coming of the Glory,” page 256, Copyright 1949, (Bill Coats, Ltd., 1406 Grandview, Nashville, TN, 37215-3030, 1995)
 ibid, page 259
 “Albany Argues”, copied “Montgomery Advertiser,” November 29, 1868
 Mildred Lewis Rutherford, “The Truths of History,” Page 127, Copyright, 1920, Southern Lion Books Inc., PO Box 347163, Atlanta, Ga., 30334, 1998, (as quoted in Muzzey’s “American History”, page 486)
 John S. Tilley, “The Coming of the Glory,” page 241, Copyright 1949, (Bill Coats, Ltd., 1406 Grandview, Nashville, TN, 37215-3030, 1995)
 ibid, page 232
 Claude G. Bowers, “The Tragic Era,” Page 453
Simon Publications, PO 321, Safety Harbor, Fl., 2001, c 1929
 “The Southern Argus,” August 25, 1869
 House- Misc Doc No. 16, 39, Cong 2 Sess.,, pp 61, 91