Abandonment of Reconstruction – OpenBUCS
Articles,  Blog

Abandonment of Reconstruction – OpenBUCS


So, talking about the Republican Party and the south, I tried to
get across the sense that as we move into the late 1860s and as Congress’ role in southern politics becomes more notable, you begin to get a sense of how the politics of America are playing out
with Reconstruction in the south. That some of what’s being done is tied to the future of the Republican
Party as it affects both whites and blacks in the south. But nationally, nationally, I would
suggest that what we’ve seen in the south in terms of a sort of waning interest in
Reconstruction is a national phenomenon.
What I want to do in this segment is talk a bit about why the waning of interest that we see
in terms of Reconstruction begins to happen. I would start out again going back to sort of this business of Republican
politics. If we look at 1868 for instance and that kind of the heights of radical power, certainly the impeachment of Andrew Johnson is that telling moment but it’s also a moment which shows the fracturing. And it’s this fracturing
among those who would pursue further the interest the investments
in Reconstruction and those who have their limits, who won’t necessarily vote to unseat a sitting president in order to pursue
the goals of Radical Reconstruction it’s that very fracture
that begins to evolve into the
late ’60s and ’70s as the Republicans struggle
to define themselves beyond reconstruction. Let me see
if I can explain sort of more what I mean. If you think about it, by the early to mid-1870s and the passage of the very laws the Ku
Klux Klan laws, the Enforcement Act, the Civil Rights Act, the 15th Amendment being ratified, when all that is done many
Republicans began to ask what more is to be done? What’s left to do? We have amended the Constitution. We have
ended slavery through that means, we have established the citizenship with protections
for the rights of citizens and now the 15th Amendment we have given Constitutional protections for the
rights of voters to ensure that citizens can vote, but then we’ve passed further legislation
that has moved us beyond just the Constitution and beyond just politics, beyond in fact just law, to look at sort of socially how the races – in terms of citizenship – may be considered under the law; I
refer, of course, to the Civil Rights Act. Notions of public
accommodation, for instance, that go well beyond mere
Constitutional protections, that authorize authority for federal intervention in the states over the issue of how someone is
accommodated, that their basic civil rights are not
threatened in this social climate or social environment.
The election of 1872 I think is quite telling of this fracture that’s going on in the
Republican party between or among the groups, especially
those who wish to persist in defining and
protecting the rights of African Americans and those who are
looking to other issues who were having their attention drawn
away from the south. In this election of ’72 and a
reelection for Ulysses Grant, who has largely sided
with radical positions, we began to see I think the
emergence of groups in the Republican Party who are divided and specifically we use the terms
(they did too to some extent) the Stalwarts or the Stalwart Republicans who wished to
adhere to the policies of Radical Republicanism of the 1860s. Then you have the emergence of a faction
that is more leaning toward other issues like the economy, like corruption, and even thinking about reform
of Republican politics and of national politics. In other words it’s an opening, if you will, when
republicans begin to think about their own party when they begin to
think about the problems that exist in their own regions outside the south it seems somewhat natural that their
attention would be drawn away from the problems of the south and toward their own homes, so to speak – their own cities and towns
and rural villages. It’s something I
think we see again. As much as there are parallels from
1860s to the 1960s in terms of things like civil rights
legislation I think, in the 1960s especially, the
late 60s and into the 1970s you do see in the United States a sort of
gradual weariness developing especially among whites with the whole idea of civil rights. Now clearly we’re
talking about two different things and no time in history is
exactly like another time but there’s enough there in parallel to suggest that what’s going on with Republicans at least has the
symptoms of a certain weariness with the campaign on behalf of African Americans – freedmen in the south. A campaign that
ultimately, like the civil rights movement in the south, in the 1960s, a campaign that sort of turns a mirror on society, a campaign that asks non-southerners to consider their own relationships in terms of race, their own perceptions culturally. While it’s suggested that
some of what was pulling Republicans away from
previous devotions say to congressionally led or
Republican-dominated Reconstruction issues was among other things scandal. There are two major scandals, and I’ll
just sort of mention them, that occurred during the
Grant administration – or administrations –
that will ultimately cause the republicans a great deal of
difficulty especially those that support Ulysses Grant. The first is known as the
Credit Mobilier Scandal. It involves a construction
firm that’s associated with the Union Pacific Railroad. This firm which is owned by the owners
of the Union Pacific Railroad is charging exorbitant fees for work that’s done to construct
the Union Pacific. Now if you don’t know, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific are those two railroads that would stretch
across the western United States to connect the Pacific coast
with the Mississippi valley. In essence, they
unite the continent as nothing really had done before and we refer to them together and sort
of the Transcontinental or a transcontinental rail line. It’s the Transcontinental Railroad, and you know the story of Promontory Point and the driving of the last spike
and all that. It turns out that officers of the Union Pacific who had created this construction firm,
were profiting handsomely from their use of federal funds. And the Union Pacific, by the way, had
been heavily subsidized by the United States government. Radical Republicans – or more generally-
Republicans were far more open (far more open) to federal subsidies for
things like railroads or other internal improvements, as we call
them, that would facilitate economic development in the United
States and they had been since before the war – the Civil War. Well a Congressional investigation reveals that a number of congressmen major important congressmen and members
of the Grant administration have been actively involved in this corruption that’s been occurring with the Union Pacific. Additionally, there’s another scandal that
occurs in relation to gold. During the Civil War,
in order to deal with the financial issues surrounding paying
for the war and keeping the United States economy going, the US Treasury had turned
to the printing of paper money, paper currency,
known as greenbacks. Traditionally, the
idea was that any paper currency or
notes were to be backed or supported with actual bullion – gold or silver we
often refer to as specie. This is a valuable mineral of some
kind that has a sort of inherent value. Well the issuance of greenbacks
was generally considered not very economically proper, certainly not a good
idea for a stable economy but more important – it was a
wartime measure it was to last a limited time. So after the war, certainly by the late
1860s, you begin to hear calls for reducing and gradually
eliminating greenbacks from the American currency
because they were not technically backed in
any way except by the good faith and credit of the United
States – kind of how our paper currency operates now. At any rate, what this meant for the supplies
of gold and silver was basically that as the major elements backing America’s currency, gold and silver and other precious
minerals would be in high demand. So if you knew that this process was going to
go on and you could get in on the the sort of early days of the the pulling of these
greenbacks from circulation, you could stand to make
quite a fortune. I mean the supply of gold and silver is
finite, it’s sort of limited, so as it becomes more and more precious
to circulate and back circulating currency its price goes up. Its value goes up. Two major financiers – major players in American financial markets in the financial world, involved in railroad construction and
combination of railroads that we see happening through the
Gilded Age as it was called, and which we’ll talk about later, two of these figures Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, very very well-known investors and financiers,
decided that with a little help they could manage to corner or take control of vast quantities of gold
so that they commanded the market. They could sort of help limit the supply of gold and silver
available but particularly gold. So, their plan is going along reasonably well until it comes to the
attention of Ulysses Grant. Grant is known for sort of his complacency. He is not a
particularly strong or active president but when he finds out that his own brother-in-law has been tied in with Gould and Fisk in this effort to corner the gold market based on Grant’s own policies, his own financial policies, he just can’t believe it. He is struck by the corruption, and acts very quickly
then to release gold from the federal treasury
which effectively underminds the whole scheme because now
there’s more gold available than there was before, there would be more, it’s impossible to see
the value of gold rise. Now whether or not Grant was ever actively involved in the corruption of his own
administration, I don’t know. In some sense it’s less
important whether he was actively or knowingly involved than what image was left of Grant and it was an image of a man who, at a minimum, could not oversee, could
not or would not control his own presidential administration. At a minimum he had made
some poor choices about the people who
would serve in his cabinet. I suppose there wasn’t much he can do
about his brother-in-law, but this business of economics tied into
these scandals that rocked the Grant administration, economics will play a
further role in the diminished interest that seems
to exist in Reconstruction. Specifically, in 1873, (in 1873) the United States will experience
another in a long series of financial panics. This panic of ’73 will lead to
approximately five years of a depressed economy. In which business suffers, individuals suffer, unemployment rises.
This particularly affects the growing northern United States – the Midwest, which is in the process of extensive settlement. What we end up with is economically and because of scandal
there are numerous issues to draw away the attention of
Republicans, who now see their own homes, their own constituents,
being affected by these issues on a daily basis and if they want to retain their position
politically they’ve got to respond. Somehow, if I can maybe
put it best this way, somehow what’s happening in the south, what’s happening with freedmen, seems less important to many
northerners in the United States as they’re affected or afflicted
by their own problems at home and politicians have to respond. Meanwhile, there’s the Supreme
Court to consider. The United States Supreme Court would
ultimately be asked to reach decisions about the
laws being passed under these Reconstruction
governments federally, and at state as well.
I would argue that in anyways the Supreme
Court somewhat willingly drives the final nail in Reconstruction – at least the theories behind
Reconstruction – through a series of decisions that
I’d like to talk about briefly now. In 1873, we have the so-called
Slaughterhouse Cases. I want say that again,
Slaughterhouse, and specifically it had to do with Louisiana
and New Orleans in a question of Monopoly. Not the game right, not the game Monopoly, but
specifically the ability of New
Orleans to designate certain rendering or butcher shops dealing with
the preparation of meat and giving them advantages
over other butchers in the city. The Louisiana Legislature
had passed just such a law and rival butchers who were not part of
the monopoly – who were unwilling to go to a central site and practice their craft – (they took) they went to court, shall we say, over this, suing
because they argue that their basic 14th Amendment
rights (their rights as citizens to pursue their own livelihoods) had been
violated, that the state had intervened in the
economy in such a way to deny them what was theirs
by right as citizens, the right to make a living. The Supreme Court showed in this
decision -the Slaughterhouse Cases decision in 1873 – that their interpretation of these amendments that had been
passed would be extraordinarily narrow. In other words, their
interpretation of the Constitution would be strict. And so looking at this, their argument is that federal powers would extend only
to those privileges originating from the federal
government. In other words, unless the authority
for a claim to right was a federally granted authority
through the US Constitution – a matter for the United States
government to be involved in – then really you could not argue that
under the Constitution your rights had been violated. For
instance, if it was a matter for the states. Here’s the thing, this issue of monopoly because it was a grant made by Louisiana for New Orleans butchers did not meet the test
of becoming a federal issue and thus – not making
too much of a hash of this – thus the Constitution in this case didn’t necessarily or didn’t apply. Now think about it, it may not
make much sense yet but let me say this and maybe it
will. If you think about this thoroughly, you begin to
get the idea that this Court, in emphasizing what we usually call federalism, which is
the divided powers of our political system here in the United States, some federal some state but identified
as belonging to one or another, that the Supreme Court
here is going to- when it comes to the 14th amendment say-
is going to think specifically about whether an action falls under a federal question or a state question. Once the court’s done that,
issues of civil rights generally, which can’t be explicitly
shown to be federal in nature, well they fall under that state category. And that opens just this huge gap in how the 14th amendment
can be interpreted. The Supreme Court has left open the
door for all sorts of actions that really, under the
14th Amendment, might have been prohibited had they
read the Constitution broadly there but because they don’t, many actions
that may be committed against freedmen, for instance, so long as they meet this standard of being state
matters rather than federal, are now actions that people
can carry out without fear of sort of legal retribution
under the Constitution. Another case that’s very
important, very quickly, is United States v. Cruikshank. This case goes back to
1876 into an event known as the Colfax Massacre which
occurs, again, down in Louisiana. The Colfax Massacre was a really
messy affair and massacre is the proper term – African Americans being attacked by whites, being protected by
African American militia, specifically is sort of white league sort of shadow government in Colfax and in the end is this malicious attack. They surrender to this white group and what ensues is an out right massacre.
The actual numbers, you have a hundred African Americans,
or freedmen, killed versus three whites and you can get,
from that sort of score, you can get a sense of who had the
power here in this situation. What makes it a massacre in particular
is that so many of the African Americans killed, freedmen killed, are killed
after they’ve surrendered. It’s abject murder. Well, the argue ultimately is that it’s a question of rights
and the invalidation of rights under the
Constitution, that Colfax, and the events surrounding it, had been
examples of white Louisianans trying
to deny rights to freedman, again under the 14th Amendment. Here again the court
takes a very narrow view. They determine that
the acts committed surrounding the Colfax Massacre
had been committed by, get this, individuals. Why is that important? You may be asking what’s important because if you remember
the specific language of the 14th Amendment I emphasized back when
I talked about that, the wording is that no STATE shall undertake actions
to abridge based on various and sundry conditions.
The point being, no STATE, the emphasis is on state. The Court in this narrow way is
saying ‘well it wasn’t a state, this wasn’t a state initiative,
even though these whites are operating in the form of a sort of shadow or secondary government they’re
not operating as the official government. They’re not the state
they’re individuals. It’s a mob. Again, a very narrow reading. Then we have
United States v. Reese. Again, moving ahead to 1876. The question here becomes
the 15th amendment, it’s a voting issue in Kentucky and the question with the 15th amendment is did it insure everyone the right to the vote, or did it merely prohibit the states from using as a determinate those
factors that were specifically listed in the amendment? Now what I mean by that is – what they
meant, the court meant – you remember the language
that I emphasized earlier. He can’t be denied the
right to vote based on what? Race, color, or previous
condition of servitude. The court is essentially saying by
the mid-1870s is look if you’re not being denied the vote
based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude then the Constitution and
this amendment don’t apply. We’re looking at this very narrowly here.
In other words, if you can be denied the right to vote based on
what shoes you have on or what you do for a
living or whatever else, anything that’s not specifically
mentioned in the amendment there’s nothing we can do. That’s
not what the Constitution says. It’s very, very narrow. It’s a conservative
court in many ways and conservative in part because too much federal power stands to
interfere with too much that’s going on, not merely in the south but in the north. This is a north that is
expanding in terms of industry and business. There’s opportunity and frankly there’s a good bit of
corruption going on. So would the court wish to really support a broad
interpretation of the Constitution? I think not. I think not. By 1883, just to kind of finish this up
with the so-called civil rights cases, the court has declared even the Civil
Rights Act of 1875, which we talked about earlier which provides for access to public accommodation. They have declared that
to be unconstitutional, as an excessive use of authority under the federal government. So the stage is sort of set not only for Jim Crow, not only for
segregation, but ultimately in the future for the civil rights
movement that will grow throughout the
20th century and perhaps culminate, be manifested again in the 1960s.

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