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The last chapter in the history of Reconstruction in South Carolina— administration of D. H. Chamberlain.

By F. A. Porcher, President South Carolina Historical Society.

Paper no. 2.

Daniel H. Chamberlain is, I believe, a native of Massachusetts. In the triennial catalogue of Yale College, among the graduates in 1862, are the names of D. H. Chamberlain and W. H. Kempton, the notorious financial agent of the State. After the war was over Chamberlain was on John's Island, where he undertook to plant cotton. When the Reconstruction Convention was called by Satrap Canby, Chamberlain sat in that body, and when the State was reconstructed in pursuance of the new constitution he was elected to the post of Attorney-General, a post which he held until 1872. During the next two years he seems to have lived in private life in Columbia, attending to the bar, his profession.

If it were possible I would gladly insert a paper published in the Atlantic Monthly in February, 1877, for a minute and graphic view of the condition of South Carolina under the misrule of Scott and [194] Moses. It is a paper which might have been written by a Carolina Democrat writhing under the humiliation which the wretched state of the country caused him. It was written in the interest of Chamberlain, if not by himself, then under his direction and supervision. Its object was to expose all the evils of Radical misrule, and by this showing they were enormous. It was to be inferred that they came to an end with his election, and that he was the prophet and leader who was to solve the difficult problem of harmonizing the races and evolving order out of chaos, and that the opposition to his administration was the outbreak of the spirit of rebellion and mischief which was ever rankling in the Southern heart. The essay is able, artful and plausible; but it ignores some facts which would give a very different color to the case, and put him to a very serious examination. One of these is that the want of harmony between the races was in great part the work of the Radicals, who for their own selfish ends had carefully, industriously and ceaselessly fomented the spirit of dissatisfaction among the blacks, and the paper does not tell how far Chamberlain was responsible for the Radical misrule, which he so ably describes and denounces.

The Legislature with apparent wisdom had entrusted all the great interests of the State to commissions, each of which was to be supervised and directed by an advisory board. Of each of these advisory boards the Attorney-General was a member, either ex-officio or by special appointment. Now all of these commissions were steeped in corruption, and it could not be but that the Attorney-General must have known of this corruption, had sanctioned, had perhaps profited by it. First of these swindling jobs was the Land Commission, whose specious object was to provide lands for the landless, but whose actual performance was the robbing of the State to the amount of nearly a million of dollars. This precious job was managed by a philanthropist from New York by the name of Leslie. This swindler, encouraged by his success, grew bold enough, when attacked for his corruption in the Legislature, to defy his adversaries, and to threaten so to unmask their frauds as to send them to the penitentiary. Another charge was that as Attorney-General he had advised the misapplication and consented to a disadvantageous sale of the agricultural land scrip granted to the State by Congress, whereby the State lost a very large sum of money. A third charge was that as a member of the advisory board he was responsible for the action of the Commissioners of the Sinking Fund by which more than a hundred thousand dollars were expended without any benefit to the [195] State; and, further, that it was his motion and his influence which had made H. H. Kempton the financial agent of the State and the convenient agent of all the frauds of the party in power.

It was not only the opposition which took these exceptions against Chamberlain. About two years later, when he was giving offence to his party by his apparent zeal for reform, Judge Carpenter distinctly charged him with being the author and contriver of all these abuses against which the reforming Governor was so loudly protesting, and he also added that the tax bill of 1875, which went little short of confiscation, was the work of Chamberlain himself, and that he made seeming efforts to have it modified so as to secure the good will of the Democratic party as a reformer. With these damning facts before them, Chamberlain was elected by an immense majority. It is a marked feature in the history of the Republican party in this State that no loss of popularity or of influence follows the proof of corruption—nay, the power of the person so denounced and convicted seemed rather to rise; and why should he suffer when Leslie did not deign to deny that he was a rogue, and Henly even boasted of it.

The Legislature.

When the Legislature met the first act of the House of Representatives was to elect as their Speaker the negro adventurer R. K. Elliott. This bold, bad man had arrived in South Carolina in the train of the Northern army. Well educated, he resolved to make this State his abiding place and the field of his operations. He professed to have in view the elevation of his own race, but committed the fatal mistake of supposing that this was to be accomplished by raising them to high places without regard to their qualifications, never reflecting that when improperly elevated their glaring faults would only expose the fallacy of their pretensions and inflict on the whole race a still deeper stigma. He had served in the late Congress, but declined a reelection in order to become a member of the Legislature of his adopted State. This apparent desertion of a higher for a lower place boded no good for the State. He had discovered that in Congress he was a very little man, but at home he was a power, and he could make what terms he chose for himself. As soon as the House of Representatives met he was chosen Speaker, and this choice proclaimed that the conflict of races was a foregone conclusion.

When the votes for Governor were counted Chamberlain was [196] found to be elected by a majority of more than eleven thousand. He went into office on the 1st December. His inaugural address astonished everybody. It declared his intention to carry out the principle of reform which was a main feature of the platform of his party. It might have been a set of words, of course, signifying nothing. But the speech showed such an intimate knowledge of the condition of the State, such a convincing sense of the corruptions which had disgraced the party that ruled it, and so earnestly urged the reform of abuses, that the Republicans were alarmed, fearing that the man of their choice might prove a traitor, and the Conservatives hoped that he might prove a powerful ally. All parties waited for time to show the stuff of which the new Governor was made. In the meantime Elliott had given a distinct intimation of his official conduct. By the death of Judge Graham during the past summer there was a vacancy in the First judicial district, which must be immediately filled. Prominent among the candidates was Elliott's favorite, W. H. Whipper, a clever but ignorant negro, who like Elliott had come into the State after the war. He was by profession a lawyer, by practice a gambler and swindler, and this was the man whom the extremists of the Republican party desired to clothe with the ermine. The Governor seemed to regard him with ineffable disgust, and entered into the contest with so much zeal and energy that Mr. Reid, of Anderson, was elected, and the people of Charleston spared the humiliation of seeing a bad negro on their circuit bench.

The satisfaction caused by this salutary interference of the Governor was so great that the Conservatives accepted with patience his next public acts, which were, indeed, of a very questionable character. One was the appointment of Timothy Henly as Treasurer of Charleston. This notorious adventurer came to South Carolina with the Union League in his carpet-bag, out of which he made a fortune for himself. Excessively vulgar, but of a jovial and genial temperament, he insinuated himself into the society and tolerance of men who ought not to have forgotten their self-respect. He unblushingly proclaimed himself a rogue, and claimed, and even received credit for his frankness. It is said that he had little to do with robbing the public treasury. His genius lay in his powers of persuasion; an able lobbyist, he corrupted the members of the Legislature, acting as broker for all who had jobs to carry. He received their money, transacted their business and pocketed his commissions. It is no scandal to call him a rogue, for so he called [197] himself, and this was the Treasurer that the Governor gave to Charleston.

The next act revealed a weakness in the Governor which showed that his reform principles were not proof against powerful influences.

The Legislature was anxious to take a recess for Christmas, but the members were without money, and there was no money in the treasury from which they could be paid. An act was accordingly passed to appropriate one hundred and fifty thousand dollars for that purpose. This act was a violation not only of the Constitution, but of all sound principles of legislation, and it was confidently expected that it would be rejected by the Governor. After a painful suspense he returned it approved, but with a mild protest against such unusual and unconstitutional legislation, as well as against its extravagant provisions, all of which he was willing to overlook rather than subject the members to personal inconvenience. This was much worse than a simple approval would have been. It showed that he acted with a full knowledge of his conduct. Thus the Legislature scored the first triumph over the reforming Governor.

Edgefield riots.

It was during this recess that Edgefield became the scene of one of those conflicts of races, which had been begun, if not encouraged, by Governor Scott, but which were a common occurrence under Chamberlain's administration. A negro man named Tennant, who held the rank of Captain of militia in Edgefield, under the pretext that white men had shot into his house, had the long-roll beaten, and the negro militia poured in to his call for assistance. The whites, feeling that mischief was intended, assembled with their own arms (for the Governor had never given them any) for their own protection, surrounded the armed negroes and cut them off from their supplies. Having thus shown their strength as well as their energy, they now showed their moderation by retiring, on the assurance that the arms and ammunition of the insurgents should be delivered into the custody of the United States troops at the courthouse. This was done, and the arms deposited in the courthouse. A few days later Tennant marched his militia into the village, and apparently without any resistance on the part of the United States officers, recovered possession of the arms, &c. The whites thereupon sent a committee of remonstrance to the Governor, who declared that [198] Tennant had acted without his knowledge or consent, and that the arms should be again delivered up. It does not appear that he took any steps to execute his promise, and for several days Edgefield was the scene of riot and incendiary outrages. Houses were burned in the dead of night at the peril of the inmates. General M. C. Butler's house was burned, and a party implicated in the crime asserted that he had done it at the instigation of Tennant. Affairs were daily becoming worse and worse; it was discovered that hired laborers were leagued with Tennant against the peace of their employers, whose bread they were eating. These employers did then what common sense dictates—they dismissed such traitors from their service—and this ordinary act of self-preservation was treated as a crime, and a proposition seriously made by Elliott to punish it. An attempt was made to arrest Tennant for burning Butler's house, but he refused to be arrested, and fired upon the posse which was sent to arrest him. The Governor, instead of going himself to the scene of disorder, sent one of his henchmen—one General Dennis—to preserve the peace. Tennant retired to the swamp, and Dennis retired to his superior, defeated and disappointed. The eccentric Judge Mackey was now sent as a peacemaker. General Butler was arrested on a charge by Tennant that his life was threatened by him, but the charge was not sustained. A sort of peace was trumped up by Mackey, how, we do not know. In his report he denounced the government of Edgefield as the most infamous to which any English speaking people had ever been subjected, and denounced the militia as perverted to the worst uses; if a negro, he says, quarrel with a white man the militia is called out to settle the quarrel; he therefore recommended that the Edgefield militia be disbanded and their arms called in.

Meanwhile the Legislature assembled again and the Edgefield troubles were immediately brought up by Elliott, who denounced in the bitterest terms those farmers who had dismissed their servants who were plotting against them. A bill was introduced to lay a special tax upon Edgefield for the support of those turbulent rioters who had been dismissed from service. The enormity of this bill did not operate against its passage, but Elliott discovered that it could never be enforced, and it was tabled with his consent.

The events of the year 1875 which showed the progress of corruption were chiefly of a financial character, and the detail of them would be long and tedious, and which I am willing to confess I know too little about to undertake to give. One was the failure of Hardy [199] Solomons's bank in Columbia, by which the State lost about two hundred thousand dollars which had been deposited in it. This corporation was chartered as a sort of close corporation, of which the worst feature was that Whittemore, the notorious seller of cadet appointments, was a director. It afterwards received a charter conferring on it banking privileges, and was sold for $25,000 to a party consisting of N. G. Parker, J. G. Patterson, Stollbrand, Matton— names not calculated to give a favorable idea of the concern—and it got ultimately into the almost exclusive possession of Hardy Solomons, a grocer of Columbia. It dealt heavily in paper of the government, and at one time was the sole depository of the public money, but lately, through the influence of Chamberlain, Cardozo, the mulatto Treasurer, transferred some of this money to some other banks. A heavy draught by Cardozo was the immediate cause of its failure. The Treasurer was charged with having deliberately planned and contrived the ruin of this bank; if so, then he deliberately planned the destruction of two hundred thousand dollars of which he was the legal custodian and the imposition of heavier burdens on the people. The most noticeable feature in this history is that the only persons who seemed to have anything to do with this serious loss were Dunn, an adventurer, the Controller, and Cardozo, a mulatto, who quarreled lustily over it; and we had become so used to such scenes that we scarcely felt astonished at the charge, when in a matter in which the State was so deeply interested it was these two creatures alone who seemed to have any authority to examine or to act.

The case of Niles G. Parker, who was administrator of the Sinking Fund, is one of the most singular cases on record of a prosecution of a high civil functionary for a gross violation of his trust. Corruption appears in every line of it, and in no case has the law ever been rendered so contemptible. This Parker was, I believe, from New Hampshire, where, it is said, he was a barkeeper. Coming to South Carolina with the Federal army, he remained behind for his own benefit. After Governor Canby began to exercise the functions of Satrap, he dismissed from office some of the councilmen of Charleston, and in the exercise of his wisdom gave Parker one of the seats thus vacated. I am not aware that he distinguished himself as a councilman, but his ambition led him to Columbia, where he was put in charge of the Sinking Fund. He was arrested on the charge of having embezzled coupons of the State bonds to the value of $225,000. There is an inextricable [200] mystery connected with this whole transaction. The Attorney-General was unwilling to sue and declined the assistance of some distinguished lawyers in Columbia who had urged the prosecution. One Ladd who had been an employee of Parker, and who had attempted to escape on Parker's arrest, declared on the trial that he saw in Parker's possession coupons to the amount of $450,000, which were to be distributed among partes whom he named. Parker himself was to have $75,000 and Chamberlain $50, 000. On this testimony the jury found that Parker was indebted to the State in the sum of $75,000, the value of the coupons which he had kept as his share of the plunder, and took no notice of the $300,000 which had been lost by his connivance, thus actually sanctioning the monstrous act by which he had thrown away such an immense sum that he was bound to keep. He ought to have been convicted of a gross embezzlement, he was treated as an insolvent debtor. Judge Carpenter ordered him to be kept in jail until the debt should have been paid. A practice had grown into use in this State for the State officers to go to the North to enjoy their holidays. Judge Carpenter went to the North soon after the Parker case was over, and the Governor also went away for recreation. Parker, after remaining in jail a short time, made his escape, but was quickly captured, and now an extraordinary effort was successfully made, not only to release him, but to give him absolute freedom from all claims which might be brought against him. Judge Mackey, from another circuit, was brought in to try a process of habeas corpus.

This eccentric judge decided that the verdict of the jury had made Parker a debtor to the State; that as the prisoner had represented that all his property lay in the State, the State could proceed only against that, and that he could not be imprisoned for debt. After this release of a prisoner guilty of such gross embezzlement, the sheriff proceeded to rearrest Parker for other fraudulent transactions, but was repulsed by the judge, who declared Parker to be under the protection of the court. A day or two afterwards Parker was brought before a trial justice on a charge of fraudulent transactions, and was released on slender bail. Not long afterwards he withdrew from the State.

It is needless to go over the several incidents of the summer, the election riots in Charleston and the unblushing effrontery of the petty officials of the government. There was scarcely a day in which the white people were not made to feel that the struggle was at hand, the event of which was to be their liberation, or to plunge [201] them into hopeless apathy. One sentiment pervaded the whole body of them; they were on their trial, and any false step would prove their ruin, by furnishing President Grant with a plausible pretext for resorting to the strong hand.

Election of Whipper and Moses.

The Legislature met as usual in December. The great event of this session was to be the election of judges. Judge Reed had been elected to supply the vacancy occasioned by the death of Judge Graham, and Shaw to supply that occasioned by the death of Judge Greener. It was supposed that the term of office of these judges would expire with that of the judges to whose places they succeeded. There was also a third vacancy in the Southern circuit. Elliott determined that the Radical vote should be given to Moses, the late Governor, in place of Shaw, and to Whipper in place of Reed. Chamberlain openly and earnestly opposed the election of these two men. He regarded it as sounding the knell of civilization, and acted accordingly. As long as he remained in Columbia he contrived to keep off the election. The Governor had an engagement of a literary kind in Greenville on the 18th December. A message had been sent from the Senate proposing to go into the election that day. Chamberlain waited in the State-House for an answer. It was laid on the table. In an interview with the Speaker he was assured that the matter would not be called up directly, and with this assurance he went to Greenville. He was scarcely out of Columbia before it was proposed to go forthwith into the election of judges. When the election was going on Elliott, the Speaker, declared that he would measure the members by the votes which they should give on this occasion. The negro Whipper was elected to fill the bench on the Charleston circuit. The election caused a shock like that of electricity to pass through the country. The Governor emphatically declared that the civilization of the Puritan and the Huguenot was in danger. The citizens of Charleston met to protest against the outrage, and to devise means to protect themselves from it, and the bar resolved to ignore Whipper and defend the right of Judge Reed to keep his seat.

On the 21st the Governor issued commissions to all the recently elected judges except Moses and Whipper, which he withheld on the technical ground that as the term of service of Shaw and Reid had not expired there was no vacancy in those circuits and the election of successors was nugatory. The objection was purely technical, [202] and as it answered fully the purpose desired it was perhaps better than any other objection could have been. This refusal, on whatever ground, was hailed with acclamation, and Chamberlain was rapidly overcoming the ill — will which too many of his acts had gained. Soon afterwards the State Democratic Committee wrote a letter to the people in his commendation, and suggested that he ought to receive their support at the next election for Governor; nay, so decidedly had he won the people that Senator Morton raised the cry of alarm and charged him with having deserted his party and courting the Democrats. To this malignant attack the Governor ably and conclusively replied that it was not the intent of the Republican party to be represented by negroes and swindlers, and it was not courting the Democrats if by well-doing and acting for the best interests of the Republican party good Democrats could be won over to that party. The words were wise, and if Chamberlain had possessed moral courage he might have commanded the support of the people of the State. Six years of misrule had prepared them to welcome any one who would give them the blessing of a pure government, but Chamberlain was too weak a man to be a wise man, and a pure government was not to be had until he had suffered the humiliation of a shameful defeat. While he was growing in favor with the people, his political friends were eagerly engaged in criminating each other. They were witnesses against themselves that corruption was universal, and it was impossible that a government so corrupt could sustain itself. It might well be that the Governor earnestly wished for reform; and certainly many of his political friends feared that he was in earnest in his professions. In the Legislature there were topics discussed, among which were investigations of official misconduct, but these were too common to excite any special interest, and the public knew from the experience of the past that they would result in nothing. One scene may be reported as calculated to give an idea of the tone and bearing of the House of Representatives. Whipper had pronounced against the Governor a vituperative speech, which he contrived in some way to have recorded in the Journal of the House. The subject was brought to its notice on a motion to expunge it, when a bitter controversy took place between the speaker, Elliott, and Whipper. The same man who but a few weeks before had declared that the test of a member's Republicanism was to vote for Whipper, now openly denounced him as an ingrate, a falsifier and a knave. We may form a faint idea of the [203] the character of Whipper's speech against Chamberlain when we are told that when the subject came up for discussion, the few ladies (?) who were in the galleries were turned out, and the doorkeeper instructed to give admittance to none during the discussion. How self-respecting ladies could condescend to give their presence at the meetings of this motley assembly, I cannot understand, but the speeches must have been filthy in the extreme when such an assemblage thought it expedient to exclude the weaker and more delicate sex.

In April of this year a Convention of the Republicans was held to appoint delegates to the National Convention, to meet in Cincinnati, for the purpose of nominating their candidates for President and Vice-President of the United States. Chamberlain's popularity was waning with his own party, and it was understood that elections of this Convention were to be a test of his power. He and Patterson were the prominent candidates to represent the State at large, and both factions were arranging their forces to meet the crisis. Senator Morton had denounced Chamberlain for courting the Democrats. He felt that his position was insecure and that he needed all the aid he could get. He wrote accordingly to President Grant, to define and defend his position in the matter of the judges, avowing his great ambition to give the vote of South Carolina for a Republican President at the next election, and praying for the moral aid of the government to protect him against his enemies, the extreme radicals. As the leader of the Republican party he naturally expected the first place on the delegation. But his claim was opposed by a host of discontented Radicals. Patterson, Elliott, Leslie, Whittemore, Bowen, all the leaders of the party, were against him. The only supporters he had were Cardozo and the eccentric Judge Mackey. The latter did not hesitate to denounce Elliott and others and all who had voted for Whipper and Moses as a band of thieves and robbers who had plundered the State. When we reflect that nearly a hundred of these men were present in the convention the audacity of this denunciation was at least remarkable. But one of the most remarkable things in Carolina Radicals is the meekness and Christian-like spirit with which they receive abuse. As a test of the feeling of the convention, Scrails, a negro Senator from Williamsburg, and not Chamberlain, was elected to preside, and the Governor was compelled to listen to speeches in which he was denounced in no measured terms for deserting the party and courting the Democrats. Judge Carpenter denounced him not only for deserting the party, [204] but for a pretended zeal for reform, when in fact all the enormities of Scott's administration had been perpetrated with his knowledge and consent, as he was at that time not only Attorney General but a member of the advisory boards connected with all those monstrous frauds. He also exposed other tricks of the reforming Governor. To this crushing speech Chamberlain made a reply, which, if not triumphant, gave him for the time a triumph. It was received with cheers, and he was afterwards elected to the first place on the delegation, but he could not get a vote approving of his administration.

In May the Democratic party met to send delegates to the National Convention to be held at St. Louis. The feeling in this body was very much divided. A large portion, having no confidence in Chamberlain, urged the propriety of proceeding at once to adopt an exclusively Democratic policy and to abandon all temporizing. But more prudent counsels prevailed, and it was determined to watch the current of events before committing themselves to any policy.

Indeed, it was no easy problem for the people to solve. For eight years the State had been governed as a conquered territory. Free suffrage existed, but only to give a color of legality to the acts of those strangers who were preying on her vitals, and had made her a disgrace to civilization. No Carolinian, except such as Moses, had a voice or a hand in any matter that concerned her interests. Her finances were in the hands of people that she knew not. Matters of the utmost moment were settled for her by men whom she knew not, or knew only as loathesome objects. Her prospects were growing worse every year. In 1870, in the hope of obtaining some relief from the evils that pressed upon her, she had put forward a prominent Radical to be her candidate for Governor, and in the hope of success, had made every concession that a spirited people could make to win over the blacks to their side. Their overtures were rejected with contempt, and Chamberlain himself was loudest in denouncing the reformation which was aimed at. In 1874, availing themselves of a split in the Republican party, they rallied to the aid of that faction which seemed less steeped in corruption and gave their vote to Judge Greener against Chamberlain. But the man they had opposed seemed determined to make a reality of the promise of reform which had, as a matter of course, been brought forward as their platform, and they gave the Governor the aid of a steady, consistent and sometimes even unnecessary support; and though he was far from being a Democrat, though many of his acts [205] were not to their liking, yet it seemed that, all things considered, the prospect of reform was better with him than with any one else; and his conduct in the matter of the judges had won their unqualified approbation. He had acted manfully in a case which made the blood of every Carolinian tingle with indignation, and very many thought that the wisest and best thing that the people could do was to give him their support at the next election. But the Governor excited no enthusiasm. We could lavish praises upon him for good service, but no one had implicit faith in him. His words never went to our hearts. It was uneasily felt that he was not a true man. Judge Carpenter had shown that his word was not to be depended upon. He was too anxious to stand well with Morton, and he too evidently stood in awe of Grant. He was a man of culture—knew what the world held highest, and perhaps in his better moments would have gladly been the minister of that highest good, but he lacked courage to embrace it, if he was in danger of forfeiting the Radical support. He might set at defiance Whipper and Elliott, negroes whom he despised, but he could not bear the frown of Morton, nor brook the rude displeasure of Grant. All this was known even to those who were willing to stand by him, but what hope was there that the incubus of radicalism could be shaken off? Again and again had efforts been made to do so, but they were met by a solid and stolid majority of twenty thousand black votes. The negro would go to his white neighbor for aid and counsel (in all his troubles), which were freely given, but when an election was to be held he went to the polls and obediently voted the ticket given him by the stranger who stood between him and his friends. A secret power, called the Union League, attended every negro to the polls, and the free suffrage was only the proof of the despotic rule which was exercised over him by the ambitious and designing stranger.

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