Naturally, today we are convinced -- and rightfully so -- that the Ku Klux Klan's politics and desires and goals are inherently evil. They are not in sync with the times, at the very least, and at the very most, they are a representation of all that is negative in racial relations. However, to understand the Klan's motivations, one must truly look at the group's origins and history.
While today's modern Klan groups are fighting for a goal that is a far cry from what the original Klan fought for, a better understanding of exactly what was going on during Reconstruction may reveal that just about any race of man today, if put in their shoes, would join such a group. They had a purpose, and they came out to fight for it. Once their job was done, they closed shop. The Klan today have no such purpose as they did (at least not one that is so obviously abusive), and their actions today have different intents and outcomes.
Did the Historical Situation Justify the Hatred?
The origination of the Klan requires an attempt to imagine oneself in the late 1860's, after the war, living in the South. The Yankees have invaded, stealing and destroying just about all of your family belongings, digging up graves for treasure items, etc. Many of them have raped and killed your wives and slaves. They have stolen everything near and dear to you, and burned down your house. You must now return to try to get back to life, without any assistance.
If that was not incentive enough, you now find that all sense of State government that you are used to, has been destroyed and replaced by armed soldiers in and around your neighborhoods, enforcing their views. They simply come and go as they please, continuing the abuse of you and your family. They refuse to allow any white southerner to vote for anything. All voting is granted only to the un-educated former slaves, and they are only allowed to vote, if they vote for the party in charge. An example to be made, is that of a banner displayed in Georgia voting booths during the 1868 presidential campaign, that states "Every man [Negro] that didn't vote the Radical [Republican] ticket, this is the way we want to serve him: hang him by the neck." If they refuse, of course they are abused and even killed. So in essence, the voting process is just game playing by the North.
In addition, you view scalawags and carpetbaggers coming down and holding secret meeting, teaching the ex-slaves how to best go back now and take vengeance on their former masters. They are armed and taught how to kill, rape and destroy, and then sent out in the night to do so. On top of the Yankee atrocities already having taken place, you now have this violent rebellion going on. Masses of former slaves are going about raping, killing, burning, and destroying just about anything -- and this is entirely unchecked as there is no semblance of a police force.
The Klan in the Conflict Between Northerners and Southerners, the North and the South
As denoted above, flooding into the South, came Northern troops and men with hostile ideas. They brought with them heavy taxation and more abuse. Along with them, came the Union League - supported by a new militia of ex-black Union soldiers. They shifted right into the plantations, cities, towns and villages, looking for the ex-slaves. The illiterate, simple minded freedman became easy prey for their political agenda. Hate the whites, hate your masters, and vote for us. We will divide the spoils of the South with you. The Union League and militia constantly insulted the white people in the South, in front of the ex-slaves, giving them the illusion that they had great power and superiority. By telling them they would soon acquire the land of their former masters, these newly freed blacks had false expectations and were furnished with a disincentive to work -- which increased the rift.
Secret clubs were established with the intent of rising the ex-slaves into political power over the Southern Whites. It soon became almost "anything-goes," with the ex-slaves abusing and threatening whites at every turn, causing the beaten down Southern whites to live in much fear. The Union League, militia and ex-slaves patrolled all the streets at all hours of the day and night, harassing and threatening all the wives and daughters of the towns.
In the beginning, the Klan was organized by a small group of men, to have fun. The spirits of the people were much beaten down after the war and Reconstruction, and it was a very sad state of affairs. Theses ex-soldiers made home-made costumes and rode through town like clowns, making faces, acting silly, and being disrespectful in so many other ways. However, they noticed that many ex-slaves saw these strange horseman and thought they were the ghosts of Confederate dead. This caused many a rebellious ex-slave to cease their activities of destruction and lawlessness, and seek gainful employment.
In the face of the overwhelming abuse and oppression placed upon them, it is no hard thing to understand how this soon became a tool to be used attempt to restore order and balance as was once in place. Thus the Ku Klux Klan turned into a militant, guerilla order group, with a purpose to preserve white rule in the South, and to protect themselves from militant ex-slaves who sought revenge at any cost.
The Method to the Klan's Madness
The Klan soon developed a system that allowed them to monitor these secret meetings and rallies that the carpet baggers and Union League soldiers were holding with the ex-slaves. The Klan would rally their men, in costume, and ride through, breaking up these meetings that sought to teach and incite rebellion and destruction. They, in a sense, became a form of the law, since rarely was a crime against a white punished under this new regime. When men of any color were caught destroying, raping, or any other crime, they were dealt with. It was not as if the Klan simply rode around town looking for any and every black man to lynch or kill, it was seeking the rebellious, destructive ones, and restoring order to the lawlessness whenever possible.
Given the circumstances and abuse that came down on the Southern White, at the hand of Northerners and blacks after the war, you will hopefully understand the meaning of the olde South when they referred to "white supremacy." They sought to preserve their culture and land. It did not necessarily have reference to a hatred of blacks by the whites, but simply the restoration or order as it was, with the whites regaining the supreme political power, as they once had. This view of white supremacy was strongly held in both regions, North and South, so it was not a "Southern thang." It is possible, from a historical perspective, believe that any race, put into the shoes of the white men after the war, would cry for supremacy of their race, and most likely seek to protect their homes, families and land in a similar manner as the Klan did.
The Result -- The Klan Before, During and After the Civil War
The original Ku Klux Klan was organized by ex-Confederate elements to oppose the Reconstruction policies of the radical Republican Congress and to maintain "white supremacy." After the Civil War, when local government in the South was weak or nonexistent and there were fears of black outrages and even of an insurrection, informal vigilante organizations or armed patrols were formed in almost all communities. These were linked together in societies, such as the Men of Justice, the Pale Faces, the Constitutional Union Guards, the White Brotherhood, and the Order of the White Rose. The Ku Klux Klan was the best known of these, and in time it absorbed many of the smaller organizations.
The Klan itself was organized at Pulaski, Tenn., in May, 1866. Its strange disguises, its silent parades, its midnight rides, its mysterious language and commands, were found to be most effective in playing upon fears and superstitions. The riders muffled their horses' feet and covered the horses with white robes. They themselves, dressed in flowing white sheets, their faces covered with white masks, and with skulls at their saddle horns, posed as spirits of the Confederate dead returned from the battlefields. Although the Klan was often able to achieve its aims by terror alone, whippings and lynchings were also used, not only against blacks but also against the so-called carpetbaggers and scalawags -- as mentioned above.
A general organization of the local Klans was effected in Apr., 1867, at Nashville, Tenn. Gen N.B. Forrest, the famous Confederate cavalry leader, was made Grand Wizard of the Empire and was assisted by ten Genii. Each state constituted a Realm under a Grand Dragon with…