Southern Reaction to the Republican Governments

Southern Reaction to the Republican Governments

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The postwar Republican governments in the South could not have existed without the presence and active support of the U.S. Army, which occupied the area as a conquered territory. Heedless of any positive motivations on the parts of the scalawags and carpetbaggers, Southern traditionalists fought back in several ways:

  • Secret societies — organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of the White Camellia (mostly in Louisiana) used intimidation and violence to frighten Republican officeholders and black voters; these societies died out in the 1870s because of federal force and public revulsion
  • Public paramilitary organizations — groups such as the Red Shirts in South Carolina went to the polls on election day, en masse and fully armed; this open intimidation discouraged blacks and Republicans from voting
  • Legal means — Southern states adopted legal strategies to reduce or eliminate black votes, including the Poll Tax and later the Grandfather Clause
  • Economic blackmail — given that whites controlled the land, banks and major businesses, they could often manipulate the black vote by threatening to withhold jobs or economic assistance.

As time passed, Northern attitudes began to change. It became obvious that the problems of the South were not being solved by harsh laws and continuing rancor against former Confederates. In May 1872, Congress passed a general Amnesty Act, restoring full political rights to all but about 500 Confederate sympathizers.Gradually, Southern states began to elect Democratic Party members into office. As part of the solution to the disputed Election of 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes pledged to end Reconstruction. In 1877, he carried out his promise and removed the last of the occupation forces from the South, leaving the region firmly in Democratic hands.The South remained a region devastated by war, burdened by debt caused by misgovernment and demoralized by a decade of racial strife. Unfortunately, the pendulum of national racial policy swung from one extreme to the other. Whereas formerly the policy had supported harsh penalties against Southern white leaders, it now tolerated new and humiliating versions of discrimination against blacks. The last quarter of the 19th century saw a profusion of Jim Crow laws that segregated Southern society. In effect, the 14th and 15th Amendments had been nullified in the South.