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In some ways, the Civil War was the analogue of the Terror for Americans: It was the bloodthirsty incestuous violence that allowed the nation to move onward to a full embrace of democracy, joining itself to Europe as the world began to tip toward democratic ideas and ideals.
Stephen Kantrowitz's biography of Benjamin Tillman demonstrates how he can be seen as a symbol for an entire cohort of Southerners of his generation, people (mostly but not exclusively men) who could neither understand nor tolerate the new order that had formally instituted itself after Emancipation. They could not understand a world in which black men were suddenly their legal equals. Tillman, and others like him, lived in a world that told them that blacks had to be treated like equals even though many white Southerners did not see their black compatriots as even being fully human.
This set up an internal conflict that many chose to act out by adhering to a philosophy of White Supremacy, a philosophy that allowed them to deny the political realities of Reconstruction and to plan (in ways that only partly proved to be ineffective) in which the old order would persist in fact if not in law. White Supremacy allowed white Southerners to put aside the inconvenient realities of a world in which black men could vote, hold land, marry as they wished, take their fate into their own hands.
All these rights had been recognized by the Constitutional amendments that recognized the rights of black men (and to a lesser extent black women). For racist Southerners, such rights simply did not exist: It was not that they did not want to recognize the rights of blacks; rather men like Tillman instituted a worldview in which only whites has rights. They wished to return to a "truth" stated in the Constitution -- that black slaves were "worth" only three-fifths of what a white man was worth.
Tillman created coalitions around three of the most important and enduring principles of white supremacists from Reconstruction through the Civil Rights Movement: To deny blacks any real access to the franchise, to punish whites who attempted to bury the traditions of the past with a more egalitarian vision of what the future might be, and to limit the power of the federal government both the create political policies and to enforce those policies through economic sanctions.
Kantrowitz emphasizes not the morally problematic nature of Tillman's thoughts and actions; he takes these as obvious from our historical perspective but the reasons that it proved to be so ineffective. Tillman focused on the change in legalities that had occurred during the Civil War and so missed the larger social and cultural changes, changes on a scale that could not be dismissed by a retrograde racism. The New South (and the nation in large measure) would be built upon the foundation of connections between freed blacks and whites who were either proponents of integration, just saw a good business opportunity, or both.
Tillman, who treasured the values of the Old South, was limited in his vision of what the future could be. These limitations on his vision are what brought about his failure and the failure of others like him. As Kantrowitz describes him, he was a revolutionary but not a radical, and his ideas of what could be accomplished were too small to overcome the momentum of the new South.
The New South
Political orator and sometime-journalist Henry Grady popularized the term the "New South" as a part of his campaign to knit together the states after the Civil War. His father had been killed in battle and Grady himself had been a witness to much of the most terrible violence of the war and he was no doubt inspired by the thought of preventing such bloodshed and loss of life again as he traveled around the country extorted people to restore the comity of the country.
To what extent he was successful is hard to say, since his efforts were joined with those of many others who wished to reunited the country on a cultural basis. The fact that the nation had been formally and legally joined again made little difference for many Southerners who believed that the "South would rise again." A war produces victors and losers, not a single united set of people who wish to follow the beliefs of the winners. Grady understood this: Indeed it may well have taken a Southerner to understand this position.
Grady understood that key to the South's ability to rejoin the Union on anything like equal terms required a South that had a secure economic base that was far more diverse that it had had before the war. Grady, in a speech delivered in 1886 advertised the readiness of Southerners to regain their civilian status:
The soldier stepped from the trenches into the furrow; horses that had charged Federal guns march before the plow, and fields that ran red with human blood in April were green with the harvest in June; women reared in luxury cut up their dresses and made breeches for their husbands, and, with a patience and heroism that fit women always as a garment, gave their hands to work. (Grady, the New South)
Thomas Watson, in his 1892 essay "The Negro Question in the South," addresses an issue that would become an important one over the next fifty years in American politics: The way in which parties enforced loyalty among certain groups. In a strategy that Tammany Hall would have been proud of, Northern Republicans continually reminded Southern blacks how much the latter owed to the former. Watson writes that the Southern black was:
Reminded constantly that the North had emancipated him; that the North had given him the ballot; that the North had upheld him in his citizenship; that the South was his enemy, and meant to deprive him of his suffrage and put him "back into slavery," it is no wonder he has played as nicely into the hands of the Republicans as his former owner has played into the hands of the Northern Democrats. (http://chss.montclair.edu/english/furr/spl/tomwatson.html)
Watson is describing the ways in which the major consequence of the Civil War -- the freeing of the slaves -- was subsumed to other consequences in the generations of Reconstruction. While the Civil War was putatively about giving to blacks the rights that all Americans deserve through the process of ending slavery, in fact there were a number of other currents running through the nation at the time. Grady and Watson both noted that the war had fundamentally reshaped the relationships of all parts of society to each other, often in ways that had not been foreseen during the war itself, nor yet in the earliest years of Reconstruction.
Watson writes that emancipation was translated to blacks (primarily through the mechanism of the Northern Republicans) not so much as a chance to move forward as one with other Americans but rather as a chance to seek revenge for slavery. Blacks were told:
that the ballot was placed in their hands as a weapon of defence against their former interns; that the war-won political equality of the black man with the white, must be asserted promptly and aggressively, under the leadership of adventurers who had swooped down upon the conquered section in the wake of the Union armies. (http://chss.montclair.edu/english/furr/spl/tomwatson.html)
Given this, it is hardly surprising that Reconstruction raised rather than lowered the degree of enmity in the country.
Wells and Washington
Ida B. Wells and Booker T. Washington were two of the most important voices seeking change to the nation's culture, striving to find a way that would take the country forward to a truly more egalitarian future while not causing the country to fall into any greater degree of internal chaos and acrimony. Both championed the rights of communities that were in desperate need of articulate and fierce advocates.
Wells was as concerned with improving the rights of women as she was with improving the rights of blacks. The daughter of freed slaves, she grew up in the shadow of a family whose lives would always be defined by the fact that they had been born in one world but spent the second part of their lives in a different one. By the time she was 24, she had already settled into firm ideas about the rights that she had as an American: stating that she would not "begin at this late day by doing what my soul abhors" by flattering men simply to make them feel more important than her simply because of their gender.
One of the most important causes that Wells took up was that of lynching. The lynching of black men by white mobs was one of the most effective (as…[continue]
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