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Reconstruction in South Carolina.

By Professor F A. Porcher.

Paper no. 4. joint discussions.

I have dwelt the longer on this riot because it was the first in a series of riots which gave a character to the election contest which was at hand; because it was greedily received by Northern Republicans, and dinned into the ear of excitable masses willing to believe anything discreditable to the South, and because of the character and social position of many who were implicated in it. No opportunity was ever given by the State to sift the mass of conflicting testimony which it elicited. The government pretended that no trial could be had. One of two things must be true. The government discovered that it had no good ground for a prosecution; in that case it had slandered many of the best men in the State for political ends, or it was really unable to bring the criminals to justice, and therefore a failure, a sham, and a mockery, whose existence was an offence against civilization.

On the 12th August one of those scenes occurred in Edgefield, at which Chamberlain was deeply disgusted, but of which, as according to the statement of Judge Carpenter, he had four years before given, and led a striking example at Chester, he could not bitterly complain. The Radicals had called a meeting on that day, at which Chamberlain was to be present. As such meetings had always been attended with much boisterous and roystering conduct, it was determined by the whites to attend it in such numbers as would make riotous conduct on the part of the others a dangerous procedure. Accordingly, about six hundred men rode in town on the track of the Radicals and sent a civil message to the Governor that they were anxious to have an opportunity of speaking to the blacks, and [310] proposed that the meeting should be a joint discussion. As there could be no reasonable objection to this reasonable request, it was granted. Chamberlain began the discussion; he was tame and dull, and it was no wonder, for he had to confront men whom he had denounced as murderers and conspirators. He was replied to by General Butler and General Gary, both of whom handled him without gloves. Several annoying accidents happened to disgust the Radicals, and the meeting was broken up. The excentric Judge Mackey, who had gone to the meeting with the Governor, remained with the Democrats. A like meeting was held a few days afterwards at Newberry. It must be borne in mind that the Radical party looked upon the black population as their own, and any attempt on the part of the Democrats to win them was regarded as a trespass on their rights, and fiercely resisted. The deluded blacks were instructed to believe that the success of the Democratic party would be followed by remanding them back to slavery. Emmissaries were sent all over the State to urge the negroes not even to go to listen to the persuasions of the white men, and those negroes who dared show any leaning towards them were punished in every conceivable way. Social ostracism was imposed upon them; they were refused admission into the churches, and the women were even more outrageous against any black man who dared to falter in his allegiance to the Radical party. At a later period personal violence was added to the moral influences, which had at first been practiced. The only way in which the whites could get a hearing from the negroes was by going to meetings called by the Radicals and soliciting a hearing. This was at first granted. But when men were present who could and did repel their monstrous assertions, the Radicals found that a prime source of their eloquence was taken away from them, and instead of playing the part of saviours and immaculate leaders, they were often put on their defence and made to suffer humiliation, when they had expected to act the part of philanthropic heroes. It became, therefore, a prime object with the party to stop these joint discussions.

On August 15th the Democratic State Convention met. Chamberlain's letters had fully stripped him bare, and General Hampton received the unanimous vote of the convention. As this nomination deprived Chamberlain of any hopes he may have entertained of receiving the votes of the Democrats, he was no longer under the necessity of wearing a mask, and could break openly with that party. Indeed it was time; his conciliatory policy had alienated from him almost [311] all the leading Republicans. We shall show directly what powerful opposition he had to encounter. It was first of all necessary to secure the powerful aid of the government. At the approaching election it was certain that the South generally would vote for Tilden, and though South Carolina was largely given over to the negroes, it was certain that Tilden would make a very respectable show of votes. With the Republicans the great end of policy was to secure the election of Hayes; and nothing pleased them more than a tale of outrages against negroes, which was eagerly sought after, invented if no better could be had, and published broadcast over the Union, to demonstrate the semi-savage and rebellious conduct of the Southern people. Chamberlain himself, as we shall shortly see, entered without scruple into this business. The Secretary of War had directed that all the troops not wanted to meet the Indian troubles should be sent to the Southern States, and on September 4 a circular was issued by the Attorney-General, directing all the marshals in the Southern States to take charge of the approaching elections. Both Chamberlain and Patterson were in the Attorney-General's office that day, and expressed the opinion that it would be impossible without this aid to have a fair election. It is a curious coincidence that on that very day a telegram was sent to the Governor's office in Columbia, praying aid against some lawless negroes who had for more than a week stopped entirely all work on the rice-field of Combahee. This telegram was never answered. The Governor was in Washington, providing for Republican votes at the next election. In comparison with this object the riots and lawlessness of the southern district were insignificant.

Republican Convention.

It was about the middle of September before the Republican convention met to nominate State officers. The prospect of the Governor for nomination appeared very gloomy. The better portion of the party was disgusted with his pretended zeal for reform; some of the worst because they feared that this zeal was real; all denounced him as a traitor to his party and a flatterer of the whites. Elliot could not forgive him for withholding Whipper's commission, and declared that he had documents in his possession which, if produced, would send the Governor to the penitentiary. Amid this storm of denunciation, it seemed that Chamberlain must be overwhelmed. He was saved by Patterson, whom he had not long [312] before denounced as one, a reconciliation with whom he would consider as worse than a defeat. Patterson's speech saved him; but is an ebulition of his contempt for the Governor. It is so curious and characteristic, that I shall insert it as a part of the history of the times. The ball seemed to be opened by Whittemore, who had been guilty of peddling in appointments at West Point, and had resigned his seat in Congress to avoid expulsion. He opposed Chamberlain because he was too thick with the Democrats. He wished there was no such thing as color in the State. In other words, he wished he was a negro. He was glad of the straighout Democratic ticket because it would shut them straight out of their hopes in November. Ever since he was inaugurated Chamberlain had been plowing with Democratic heifers, and holding the Republican party up to scorn. He could not countenance for a moment a man who would rise above party and not be governed by the men who put him in office. He would support T. C. Dunn for Governor. His life had been threatened, but he thanked God that if there are Democrats in South Carolina, there is also a God in Israel.

I have given this speech merely as a specimen of the drift of thought of those philanthropists who came from New England to enlighten the ignorance and tame the barbarity of the unhappy Southern people. The speech of Patterson decided the question. He spoke by authority; he was the organ of President Grant. In all matters relating to South Carolina, President Grant surrendered himself completely to the dictation of John J. Patterson. This disreputable adventurer had been elected to the United States Senate by bribery so palpable, and so shame-faced, that even the Republican party was compelled to prosecute him for it. He was saved by one of those blunders which the party was always making. The day before that fixed for his trial the Attorney-General whose duty it was to prosecute, but who intended to save him, called up a petty and insignificant case. In the preliminary conversation which ensued, the question of the legality of the jury was discussed, and it appeared that through some informality, some neglect, possibly, of the jury commissioner, the whole jury of Richland county was illegal, their indictments void, and Patterson was free.

He had been a noted Pennsylvania swindler before he came to South Carolina, and a fugitive who had been more than once in the hands of justice. It has been well observed by the Nation newspaper that one of the shameful incidents of this Presidential struggle was the calm with which good Republicans watched this wretched [313] criminal figuring at Washington as the adviser of the President as to his policy towards the contending parties in South Carolina. In fact the paper adds: ‘We can recall nothing more discreditable in political history than the determination with which the Republican party kept up its alliance with these jail-birds and relied on them as an instrument of government years after they were either notorious or objects of strong suspicion. Numbers of worthy men in the party seemed to have worked themselves into a state of readiness to suspend the laws of morality in order to carry out one particular experiment in protection of the negro, and to have supposed that they were in some measure benefitting him by leading him to believe, on the very threshold of his new life, that in the opinion of good men of the North, ignorance, obscurity, and disrepute are no disqualification for office in a Christian State, and that there was far deeper guilt in fighting on the wrong side in a just civil war than in committing theft, forgery and embezzlement.’

With this introduction we may understand the better the speech of Patterson before the convention.

Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention.

This is, as I understand, a convention of the representative people of South Carolina. I am happy to be with you, and I greet you, my friends, as Republicans. It has been said in some places that the Republican convention in South Carolina would not meet, but, thank God, you are here, and in your countenances I see a determination to do your duty. Let every man in South Carolinia, rich and poor, white and black, rise up in recognition of the great importance of the hour. You have rights that men are bound to respect. No armed force under heaven dare attempt to take these from you. Carry the determination to your homes to demand that your rights be respected, and you will prove that you are not only Republicans, but American citizens, and you can't prove it any other way. The Republican party is on trial, and you must assert yourselves like men, and repel the base attempt to intimidate and coerce you. I tell you I know a thing or two, that the great arm of the North will stand by you, and be here to protect you and see that you are not deprived of your rights by Democratic arms. You have the great principle of universal freedom in your hands. See that every one of you discharges his whole duty. You have a right to your choice, and no man, nor set of men, has a right to dispute it with you by armed force. [314]

There are three great issues before you. The first of these is Reform. There is no reform in the Democratic party. If you see a community poor, beggarly, ignorant, and degraded, you may know without asking that these people are under Democratic rule. In 1868 the great Republican party took possession of the government which had been shattered to atoms by Democratic rule. They took it and built it up to what it is now, and yet you hear from the Democrats nothing but Reform—Reform. It is very well to shout reform when you are out of office, but I would rather trust the man who does reform while he is in office. The Republican party has acted reform and carried it out. We don't mean the reform that reforms the Republicans out and the Democrats in. The Republican party in South Carolina may have done wrong, and may have made mistakes, but it is the great party of freedom, and shall be protected. Take Georgia to-day, and what showing has a colored man? No schools for their children, while the taxes and the salaries are higher than ever they were under Bullock, the last Republican governor. Why don't the Democratic press say something about that? (A voice—Because it is a lie, and you know it.) Under Governor Chamberlain, reform after reform has been effected. Everything has been done that has been demanded by the people, to bring about good government. When Governor Chamberlain became so thick with the Democracy, and they began to praise him so much, I began to get suspicious of him, and it was said we had quarreled. I was opposed to him for none of his reforms, but because he was too thick with the Democrats, and I got suspicious of of him. [Chamberlain—Well, do you think so now?] No, I see that you have thrown off your new friends, and Daniel is all right again. Why don't Democrats vote for Chamberlain now? What has Wade Hampton done for South Carolina that he should be her governor? The Domocrats don't want good government, and by the eternal God they shan't have any part in the government at all. President Grant, I tell you, has an eye on this State, and you know that when he puts his eye on anything he means business. I know enough to say to you that the man on horseback will take care of you. You shall have the right of free speech and expression of opinion, and no armed men shall now dare intimidate you. Albany penitentiary still stands with doors open, and with plenty of room, and I warn those fire-eaters now that some of them will get there as soon as this election is over, if they don't look sharp. I am rejoiced to hear that General Hampton wants joint discussion, and if he [315] can, by argument, by force of reasoning, or the power of his eloquence, convince his hearers to vote for him, all right; but if he means by joint discussion to come with a band of armed men and say how long we shall speak, why, we wont put up with it, that's all. I tell you that there is a strong power ready and willing to let its strong arm fall upon these men who go to Republican meetings to intimidate Republican voters. The Northern people are the masters of the Southern people (to the reporters), yes, put that down. If they have not learnt it they will know all about it before the election is over. The power of this government will protect you and keep the Republican party in power. Let us have no bloodshed, let us go as citizens, and not behave as brutes and villains.

The Republican party will be in power in South Carolina for ten years longer, and you will never hear of the Democratic party any more. We will change the whipping-post for the school-house, where every colored child will be educated and learn as good as the best people in the State. The Democrats don't want the colored people educated, because, if they are, they can't fool them as they are trying to do now. They thought I was opposed to Chamberlain, but they were mistaken. I was only opposed to his Democratic friends. The principles of the Democratic party are the principles of hell and damnation, and no decent man should vote for them. The Democratic presses here say that I and Governor Chamberlain entered into a contract in Washington about the conversion of bonds, etc., and worse than that, that after I had made the bargain I told about it. Now, I have been called a liar and a thief, but I have never been called a fool, and I don't think any one thinks Daniel a fool. They said I would oppose Governor Chamberlain. The Democratic party don't know me. The man that thinks I would do anything to bring such discord into the Republican party of South Carolina is mistaken. I think more of my party than I do of myself. The Democrats thought that we would wrangle and quarrel, but we are no fools. We know what we are about Every day during my service for the Republican party have I laid my hand on my heart and prayed that I should not swerve from my duty to my party. I have been called a liar and a thief by the Democratic press for years. I defy them now and here to prove that I have ever done one single corrupt act or stolen one cent from the people of South Carolina or the United States. If they can prove it, I will resign my commission, for if I am a thief I should not represent you in the Senate of the United States. In conclusion, I repeat that the north will help [316] you, and they will see that Hayes and Wheeler are elected; and if anything happens in South Carolina, you will still have a man on horseback to come to your relief.

This precious morsel of eloquence, with the repeated promise of the advent of the man on horseback, coming from a man who certainly appeared to have the ear of the President and Chamberlain, restored harmony to the convention. In the evening a business meeting was held and the next morning the nominees entered the convention—Chamberlain, the designated Governor, and Elliott, designated Attorney-General, walking in, arm locked in arm. Chamberlain had forgotten that he had denounced Elliott as opposing the civilization of the Puritan and the Huguenot, and Elliott that he had documents in his possession, the production of which would consign the Governor to the penitentiary. These were the men for the election of whom the aid of the man on horseback was to be obtained; and now, each party having selected its standard-bearer, the election cenvass was regularly begun.

Ricefield riots.

Meanwhile the State generally, and the low country particularly was drifting into chaos. I have already mentioned the alarming riots which had disturbed the labor in the rice-fields of the Combahee district. These seemed to have subsided of themselves, perhaps with the design of another and more serious disturbance, when it would produce more serious results. There was quiet in that region, but no sense of security. Those who had presumed to put themselves above the law, and to determine that men should not work but on terms which they should dictate, had felt, not the power, but the imbecility of the government—nay, the Governor, while condemning the lawless acts, had more than intimated that they had grievances which ought to be redressed. In August the riots recommenced, not only more formidable in their dimensions, but occurring just when the rice was ready for the harvest, promised to spread desolation over the whole country. The plantations were visited by mobs who went into the rice-fields, stopped all who were disposed to work, and flogged all who did not readily yield to their orders. Information was quickly forwarded to the Governor, who directed a trial justice to issue warrants, and the sheriff to summon a posse to arrest the guilty parties, if it took the last man in the county to make the arrests. Several men were arrested and put in charge of a constable to be carried to jail. They were rescued by the strikers and [317] set at liberty. Then came Gleaves, the Lieutenant-Governor, like a Deus ex machina, to make peace, and the peace which he made was actually praised, even by the Democratic papers. Gleaves went to the mob, and persuaded the leaders to submit to arrest, on condition of being released the next day. To this mockery of government the leaders made no objection. They submitted, took a pleasant jaunt to the Court-house, and the next day were released, according to the terms of the contract. And this was the Lieutenant-Governor's method of upholding the majesty of the law. For a few days there was quiet, but by September 1 the riots began again as furiously as ever, and now there was not even the shadow of a government to go through the mockery of repression. Several gentlemen of the county, Messrs. Elliott, Bellinger, Bissell and Campbell,, despatched from Green Pond the following despatch to the Governor: ‘Strike in progress in Combahee; sheriff and trial-justices both absent. Mob stopping the laborers and beating them. Plenty of hands willing to work, but are afraid. Can you stop it? If not, say so, and we will.’ There is no doubt but that if the Governor had ‘said so,’ the strike would have been easily subdued, and without any bloodshed. But he did not answer the telegram. He was not in Columbia to receive it. Regarding the social troubles of the State of which he was Governor as a matter of minor consideration fit only for trial-justices, he had gone to Washington to provide by military means that the poor negro should not be disturbed in the exercise of the inestimable right of voting as the Radical party should direct. At the moment that telegram was sent he was calmly sitting in the Attorney-General's office preparing for the advent of the man on horseback which would insure a free election in the State.

After a time the sheriff appeared on the scene. He began work by organizing a posse of colored men to arrest the leaders. The strikers resisted, and the posse was driven off and took refuge in Bissell's store. They were immediately surrounded by the strikers who breathed curses and vengeance against them, and kept them in confinement all that night.

Among the prisoners were about thirty members of a rifle-club, who were taken to serve as a posse. Their task was a difficult and a delicate one. They had every reason to believe that nothing would be so pleasing to the government as an act of violence on their part. They had observed that while no negro was safe from the violence of the mob, no white man was in peril. They were insulted and provoked, but no violence was offered them. It was evidently the [318] design of the supreme directors that a few negroes should be killed, not in self-defence, but to punish insults. These men could have extricated themselves from their confinement, but it might be at the the loss of some lives, and they determined to forbear, and not do the thing which they believed their enemies wished them to do.

And here let me deign to say a few words to account for the conduct of the white men during all the stormy scenes that were enacted until the contest was closed by the triumph of the Democratic party.

Many persons were grieved and astonished that the people should so tamely submit to outrageous insults which were often offered by the negroes. When just before the election Governor Hampton was escorted through the streets of Charleston by his enthusiastic friends, the streets were thronged with negroes, both men and women, who saluted him as he passed with the most filthy and abusive language, and the thousands of friends who made the escort bore it all with patience. Nay, when one negro, more audacious than the rest, ran up to the General's carriage and used such foul language that a policeman on duty (the policemen were all radicals) felt himself compelled, for decency's sake, to arrest the foul-mouthed rioter, the General begged forgiveness for him because he knew not what he did. The spirit manifested by the great leader on this occasion was the same spirit felt by all of his friends. It was universally believed that what the Republicans most wanted was an outrage on the blacks by the whitest. A batch of such, even if well imagined, would have been greedily received by Chamberlain and his associates and published throughout the North in the interest of the Republican party. It was a wise policy, therefore, to refuse to do that which their enemies anxiously desired them to do. Hence a spirit of forbearance, manifested on all occasions, which was harder to exercise because the negroes mistook its meaning, construed it as timidity, and became the more aggressive in consequence. As I have said, the Rifle Club, in duress in Bissell's store, forbore to release themselves, lest it might occasion the killing of some negroes, and sent for Gleaves to come to their assistance. During the day Gleaves did come, but he had pressing business of his own which called him to Charleston. Aid, however, did come in the person of Lowells, the member of Congress, who dispersed the mob. Meanwhile it was proposed in Charleston to send efficient aid to the authorities, and application was made to the Governor, who, as usual, sent his chief constable, Laws, to visit the disturbed districts and report on their situation. Laws reported that, since the appearance [319] of Lowells, all was quiet and peace restored. But the peace of Lowells was short-lived and delusive. On the night of the 10th Roberts' store at Enslow's Cross-Roads was burned. The next day men, women and children, armed with clubs, paraded the different plantations on the Combahee and Ashford, and beat or threatened with violence all negroes who were at work or disposed to work. The rioters always asserted that they were acting in obedience to instructions from the Governor. This was doubtless not true; but it was fairly presumable from the conduct of those whose duty it was to keep the peace and preserve order, that their inefficient conduct was not disapproved by those in authority, and therefore the ignorant and deluded rioters might without absurdity have inferred that the Governor approved of that which his subordinates did not seem to condemn.

Again the Governor was informed of the renewal of the violence, and again he had recourse to trial-justices. The blacks, the objects of the rioters' vengeance, themselves implored the aid of the Governor in the following touching telegram:

‘The rioters continue to keep us from our work on the Combahee. For God's sake stop this thing and let us make bread for our families.’

To this dispatch, signed by W. Middleton and others, the Governor the next day dispatched the following answer:

You must first use the ordinary means before calling on me. Go to trial-justices, get warrants and have all persons arrested who molest you. If resistance is made, report to me.

D. H. C.

The ordinary means had been tried and failed for three weeks. The governor could not turn from his high purpose of securing freedom of election to attend to such petty matters as giving tranquility to two counties. This work might be left to a trial-justice. The rifle clubs were then ready to assist to restore peace and tranquility, but the Governor had a motive for ignoring them, which appeared afterwards. The militia had been once or twice called, but they fraternized with the rioters. At last Terry, the sheriff — of Colleton, sent to the Governor that he was utterly helpless and unable to preserve the peace. With this letter he sent the warrants which he had been unable to serve. The Governor sent back the warrants with directions that they were to be kept until the arrival of the [320] United States troops. To them was to be committed the police duty of the county. (It may as well be stated here, that the troops were never sent into that neighborhood. Their services were wanted elsewhere to intimidate the whites, and so protect the polls that the Radicals might win).

While imbecility was thus permitting lawlessness to run riot in Colleton, the Radical Sheriff of Beaufort, Wilson, appeared on the scene and showed how easily the troubles might have been nipped in the bud had the Government wished or dared to stop them. Without a posse, with no aid beyond a strong will and a revolver, judiciously displayed, Wilson appeared in the mob and arrested the leaders. The prisoners were carried to the Beaufort jail, and a short time afterwards were tried and acquitted of the charges which were brought against them. This was little encouragement for a good officer to go on in the way of enforcing the law. But by this time the riot had run its course; it had done nearly all the mischief it had intended. The harvest season was nearly over, and as troubles of a serious nature were rife in other parts of the State, the rioters were no longer the sole object of attention, and by degrees the country was quiet, if not at peace. A dangerous lesson had been taught to an ignorant and half-savage people, that violence was above law, and that the Government had no power which they were bound to respect. Throughout all the troubles which distinguished his administration the conduct of the Governor was disgraceful. He showed clearly to the world that he considered himself not the Governor elected by the people to be their leader and director, but the clerk let us say the chief clerk—of an administration bureau. In Edgefield, at Hamburg, and in the rice-fields, he kept aloof from the scenes, but sent agents, not to quell and punish, but to report what they had seen, and, if they could, to pacify. A real Governor appearing and invoking of the people that aid which they had virtually promised to give him when they made him their leader, might, and probably would, have changed the whole course of this history. But his philosophic mind never conceived the simple and obvious duty of a chief magistrate, never comprehended the magic power which can be exercised by a chief. To Edgefield he sent the corrupt Dennis, whose mission was treated with contempt by all parties. Then he sent Judge Mackey, not to punish, but to pacify. To Hamburg he sent the facile Stone, who eagerly and instantly concocted an indictment against the whole county. To Combahee he sent proclamations, trial-justices, and Colonel Laws. It never occurred to him [321] that when any part of the State was in trouble, there was the place for the Governor to show himself. But he had more important and more pressing duties to perform. The fate of the Republican party might depend upon the vote of South Carolina. He had promised to President Grant to bend all his efforts to obtain it, and to accomplish it was his first and his last object.

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