In United States history, the Redeemers were
a political coalition in the Southern United States during the Reconstruction Era that
followed the Civil War. Redeemers were the southern wing of the Bourbon Democrats, the
conservative, pro-business faction in the Democratic Party, who pursued a policy of
Redemption, seeking to oust the Radical Republicans, a coalition of freedmen, “carpetbaggers”,
and “scalawags”. They generally were led by the rich landowners, businessmen and professionals,
and dominated Southern politics in most areas from the 1870s to 1910.
During Reconstruction, the South was under occupation by federal forces and Southern
state governments were dominated by Republicans. Republicans nationally pressed for the granting
of political rights to the newly freed slaves as the key to their becoming full citizens.
The Thirteenth Amendment (banning slavery), Fourteenth Amendment (guaranteeing the civil
rights of former slaves and ensuring equal protection of the laws), and Fifteenth Amendment
(prohibiting the denial of the right to vote on grounds of race, color, or previous condition
of servitude) enshrined such political rights in the Constitution.
Numerous educated blacks moved to the South to work for Reconstruction, and some blacks
attained positions of political power under these conditions. However, the Reconstruction
governments were unpopular with many white Southerners, who were not willing to accept
defeat and continued to try to prevent black political activity by any means. While the
elite planter class often supported insurgencies, violence against freedmen and other Republicans
was usually carried out by other whites; insurgency took the form of the secret Ku Klux Klan in
the first years after the war. In the 1870s, paramilitary organizations such
as the White League in Louisiana and Red Shirts in Mississippi and North Carolina undermined
the opposition. These paramilitary bands used violence and threats to undermine the Republican
vote. By the presidential election of 1876, only three Southern states – Louisiana,
South Carolina, and Florida – were “unredeemed”, or not yet taken over by white Democrats.
The disputed Presidential election between Rutherford B. Hayes (the Republican governor
of Ohio) and Samuel J. Tilden (the Democratic governor of New York) was allegedly resolved
by the Compromise of 1877, also known as the Corrupt Bargain or the Bargain of 1877. In
this compromise, it was claimed, Hayes became President in exchange for numerous favors
to the South, one of which was the removal of Federal troops from the remaining “unredeemed”
Southern states; this was however a policy Hayes had endorsed during his campaign. With
the removal of these forces, Reconstruction came to an end.==History==In the 1870s, southern Democrats began to
muster more political power as former Confederates began to vote again. It was a movement that
gathered energy up until the Compromise of 1877, in the process known as the Redemption.
White Democratic Southerners saw themselves as redeeming the South by regaining power.
They appealed to scalawags (white Southerners who supported the Republican Party after the
Civil War and during the Reconstruction Era. More importantly, in a second wave of violence
following the suppression of the Ku Klux Klan, violence began to increase in the Deep South.
In 1868 white terrorists tried to prevent Republicans from winning the fall election
in Louisiana. Over a few days, they killed some two hundred freedmen in St. Landry Parish
in the Opelousas massacre. Other violence erupted. From April to October, there were
1,081 political murders in Louisiana, in which most of the victims were freedmen. Violence
was part of campaigns prior to the election of 1872 in several states. In 1874 and 1875,
more formal paramilitary groups affiliated with the Democratic Party conducted intimidation,
terrorism and violence against black voters and their allies to reduce Republican voting
and turn officeholders out. These included the White League and Red Shirts. They worked
openly for specific political ends, and often solicited coverage of their activities by
the press. Every election from 1868 on was surrounded by intimidation and violence; they
were usually marked by fraud as well. In the aftermath of the disputed gubernatorial
election of 1872 in Louisiana, for instance, the competing governors each certified slates
of local officers. This situation contributed to the Colfax Massacre of 1873, in which white
Democratic militia killed more than 100 Republican blacks in a confrontation over control of
parish offices. Three whites died in the violence. In 1874 remnants of white militia formed the
White League, a Democratic paramilitary group originating in Grant Parish of the Red River
area of Louisiana, with chapters arising across the state, especially in rural areas. In August
the White League turned out six Republican office holders in Coushatta, Louisiana, and
told them to leave the state. Before they could make their way, they and five to twenty
black witnesses were assassinated by white paramilitary. In September, thousands of armed
white militia, supporters of the Democratic gubernatorial candidate John McEnery, fought
against New Orleans police and state militia in what was called the Battle of Liberty Place.
They took over the state government offices in New Orleans and occupied the capitol and
armory. They turned Republican governor William Pitt Kellogg out of office, and retreated
only in the face of the arrival of Federal troops sent by President Ulysses S. Grant.
Similarly, in Mississippi, the Red Shirts formed as a prominent paramilitary group that
enforced Democratic voting by intimidation and murder. Chapters of paramilitary Red Shirts
arose and were active in North Carolina and South Carolina as well. They disrupted Republican
meetings, killed leaders and officeholders, intimidated voters at the polls, or kept them
away altogether. The Redeemers’ program emphasized opposition
to the Republican governments, which they considered to be corrupt and a violation of
true republican principles. They also worked to reestablish white supremacy. The crippling
national economic problems and reliance on cotton meant that the South was struggling
financially. Redeemers denounced taxes higher than what they had known before the war. At
that time, however, the states had few functions, and planters maintained private institutions
only. Redeemers wanted to reduce state debts. Once in power, they typically cut government
spending; shortened legislative sessions; lowered politicians’ salaries; scaled back
public aid to railroads and corporations; and reduced support for the new systems of
public education and some welfare institutions. As Democrats took over state legislatures,
they worked to change voter registration rules to strip most blacks and many poor whites
of their ability to vote. Blacks continued to vote in significant numbers well into the
1880s, with many winning local offices. Black Congressmen continued to be elected, albeit
in ever smaller numbers, until the 1890s. George Henry White, the last Southern black
of the post-Reconstruction period to serve in Congress, retired in 1901, leaving Congress
completely white. In the 1890s, William Jennings Bryan defeated
the Southern Bourbon Democrats and took control of the Democratic Party nationwide. The Democrats
also faced challenges with the Agrarian Revolt, when their control of the South was threatened
by the Farmers Alliance, the effects of Bimetallism, and the newly created People’s Party.===Disfranchising===
Democrats worked hard to prevent such populist coalitions. In the former Confederate South,
from 1890 to 1908, starting with Mississippi, legislatures of ten of the eleven states passed
disfranchising constitutions, which had new provisions for poll taxes, literacy tests,
residency requirements and other devices that effectively disfranchised nearly all blacks
and tens of thousands of poor whites. Hundreds of thousands of people were removed from voter
registration rolls soon after these provisions were implemented.
In Alabama, for instance, in 1900 fourteen Black Belt counties had a total of 79,311
voters on the rolls; by June 1, 1903, after the new constitution was passed, registration
had dropped to just 1,081. Statewide Alabama in 1900 had 181,315 blacks eligible to vote.
By 1903 only 2,980 were registered, although at least 74,000 were literate. From 1900 to
1903, the number of white registered voters fell by more than 40,000, although the white
population grew overall. By 1941, more poor whites than blacks had been disfranchised
in Alabama, mostly due to effects of the cumulative poll tax. Estimates were that 600,000 whites
and 500,000 blacks had been disfranchised.In addition to being disfranchised, African Americans
and poor whites were shut out of the political process. Southern legislatures passed Jim
Crow laws imposing segregation in public facilities and places. The discrimination, segregation,
and disfranchisement lasted well into the later decades of the 20th century. Those who
could not vote could not run for office or serve on juries, so they were shut out of
all offices at the local and state as well as federal levels.
While Congress had actively intervened for more than 20 years in elections in the South
which the House Elections Committee judged to be flawed, after 1896 it backed off from
intervening. Many Northern legislators were outraged about the disfranchisement of blacks
and some proposed reducing Southern representation in Congress. They never managed to accomplish
that, as Southern representatives formed a strong, one-party voting block for decades.
Although educated African Americans mounted legal challenges (with many secretly funded
by educator Booker T. Washington and his northern allies), the Supreme Court upheld Mississippi’s
and Alabama’s provisions in its rulings in Williams v. Mississippi (1898) and Giles v.
Harris (1903).===Religious dimension===
People in the movement chose the term “Redemption” from Christian theology. Historian Daniel
W. Stowell concludes that white Southerners appropriated the term to describe the political
transformation they desired, that is, the end of Reconstruction. This term helped unify
numerous white voters, and encompassed efforts to purge southern society of its sins and
to remove Republican political leaders. It also represented the birth of a new Southern
society, rather than a return to its antebellum predecessor. Historian Gaines M. Foster explains
how the South became known as the “Bible Belt” by connecting this characterization with changing
attitudes caused by slavery’s demise. Freed from preoccupation with federal intervention
over slavery, and even citing it as precedent, white Southerners joined Northerners in the
national crusade to legislate morality. Viewed by some as a “bulwark of morality”, the largely
Protestant South took on a Bible Belt identity long before H. L. Mencken coined the term.==The “redeemed” South==
When Reconstruction died, so did all hope for national enforcement of adherence to the
constitutional amendments that the U.S. Congress had passed in the wake of the Civil War. As
the last Federal troops left the ex-Confederacy, two old foes of American politics reappeared
at the heart of the Southern polity – the twin, inflammatory issues of state rights
and race. It was precisely on the ground of these two issues that the Civil War had broken
out, and in 1877, sixteen years after the secession crisis, the South reaffirmed control
over them. “The slave went free; stood a brief moment
in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery”, wrote W. E. B. Du Bois. The black community
in the South was brought back under the yoke of the Southern Democrats, who had been politically
undermined during Reconstruction. Whites in the South were committed to reestablish its
own sociopolitical structure with the goal of a new social order enforcing racial subordination
and labor control. While the Republicans succeeded in maintaining some power in part of the Upper
South, such as Tennessee, in the Deep South there was a return to “home rule”.In the aftermath
of the Compromise of 1877, Southern Democrats held the South’s black community under increasingly
tight control. Politically, blacks were gradually evicted from public office, as the few that
remained saw the sway they held over local politics considerably decreased. Socially,
the situation was worse, as the Southern Democrats tightened their grip on the labor force. Vagrancy
and “anti-enticement” laws were reinstituted. It became illegal to be jobless, or to leave
a job before the required contract expired. Economically, the blacks were stripped of
independence, as new laws gave white planters the control over credit lines and property.
Effectively, the black community was placed under a three-fold subjugation that was reminiscent
of slavery.==Historiography==
In the years immediately following Reconstruction, most blacks and former abolitionists held
that Reconstruction lost the struggle for civil rights for black people because of violence
against blacks and against white Republicans. Frederick Douglass and Reconstruction Congressman
John R. Lynch cited the withdrawal of federal troops from the South as a primary reason
for the loss of voting rights and other civil rights by African Americans after 1877.
But by the turn of the 20th century, white historians, led by the Dunning School, saw
Reconstruction as a failure because of its political and financial corruption, its failure
to heal the hatreds of the war, and its control by self-serving Northern politicians, such
as those around President Grant. Historian Claude Bowers said that the worst part of
what he called “the Tragic Era” was the extension of voting rights to freedmen, a policy he
claimed led to misgovernment and corruption. The freedmen, the Dunning School historians
argues, were not at fault because they were manipulated by corrupt white carpetbaggers
interested only in raiding the state treasury and staying in power. They agreed the South
had to be “redeemed” by foes of corruption. Reconstruction, in short, was said to violate
the values of “republicanism” and all Republicans were classified as “extremists”. This interpretation
of events, the hallmark of the Dunning School, dominated most U.S. history textbooks from
1900 to the 1960s. Beginning in the 1930s, historians such as
C. Vann Woodward and Howard K. Beale attacked the “redemptionist” interpretation of Reconstruction,
calling themselves “revisionists” and claiming that the real issues were economic. The Northern
Radicals were tools of the railroads, and the Republicans in the South were manipulated
to do their bidding. The Redeemers, furthermore, were also tools of the railroads and were
themselves corrupt. In 1935, W. E. B. Du Bois published a Marxist
analysis in his Black Reconstruction: An Essay toward a History of the Part which Black Folk
Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880. His book emphasized
the role of African Americans during Reconstruction, noted their collaboration with whites, their
lack of majority in most legislatures, and also the achievements of Reconstruction: establishing
universal public education, improving prisons, establishing orphanages and other charitable
institutions, and trying to improve state funding for the welfare of all citizens. He
also noted that despite complaints, most Southern states kept the constitutions of Reconstruction
for many years, some for a quarter of a century. By the 1960s, neo-abolitionist historians
led by Kenneth Stampp and Eric Foner focused on the struggle of freedmen. While acknowledging
corruption in the Reconstruction era, they hold that the Dunning School over-emphasized
it while ignoring the worst violations of republican principles — namely denying African
Americans their civil rights, including their right to vote.==Supreme Court challenges==
Although African Americans mounted legal challenges, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Mississippi’s
and Alabama’s provisions in its rulings in Williams v. Mississippi (1898), Giles v. Harris
(1903), and Giles v. Teasley (1904). Booker T. Washington secretly helped fund and arrange
representation for such legal challenges, raising money from northern patrons who helped
support Tuskegee University.When white primaries were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme
Court in Smith v. Allwright (1944), civil rights organizations rushed to register African-American
voters. By 1947 the All-Citizens Registration Committee (ACRC) of Atlanta managed to get
125,000 voters registered in Georgia, raising black participation to 18.8% of those eligible.
This was a major increase from the 20,000 on the rolls who had managed to get through
administrative barriers in 1940. Georgia, among other Southern states, passed new legislation
(1958) to once again repress black voter registration. It was not until African-American leaders
gained passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the
Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the American citizens who were first granted suffrage by
the Fifteenth Amendment after the Civil War finally regained the ability to exercise their
right to vote.==See also==
Jim Crow laws Disfranchisement after the Reconstruction
Era Phoenix Election Riot, in South Carolina==Notes

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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