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Chapter 14: Charleston.

Overtopping Charleston, as St. Paul's overtops London, springs the belfry of a new Orphan Asylum; crowning the gay city and expansive bay; and looking over goodly towers, bright gardens, and ruined edifices. Emerging on the leads of this edifice we find a watchman leaning in a corner, smoking his pipe, and gazing at the sky. “And what may be about the time?” he asks. “Time? Just gone twelve.” “Gone twelve? Then guess I'll sling the bell.” Bang, bang! Men lounging in the streets below look up; the hour is noon, say the lotos-eaters; yes, it is the hour of prayer. Alla hu Akbar!

“You don't seem to mind a few minutes?”

“No, Sir, we are not such fools as to bother about a few minutes, more or less. Who cares?”

This watcher in the belfry is a Carolinian, and [145] his eirie in the clouds the heart of South Carolina. What a proud and indolent people; what a sunny, picturesque place! Observe the Ashley and the Cooper, rivers which embrace the city, as the Hudson and East rivers hug New York-how lazily they roll into the bay, and curl about the shores and islets, lapping and ebbing with the tides, around Fort Ripley and Fort Sumter, and out, by the Beach Channel, into the Atlantic Ocean! Peep into these nooks of myrtle and palmettoes at our feet. What verdure on the ground-what colour in the trees You may have seen sweet nooks before; but where on earth a nest more perfect in its kind than one of these villas on the bay, looking over Castle Pinckney and King Street Battery, with balconies screened by roses and palmettoes, and with oranges hanging to the water's edge? And then, what women pace these walks, peep from these lattices, adorn these balustrades! Surely the mothers of these women must have been the ladies painted by Lely and Vandyke!

Yet what a fiery energy in the men and women! It is a saying in Charleston “that no Negro or I[Mulatto dares to look straight into a [146] gentleman's face.” How many Negresses and Mulattaes would face one of these White damsels?

The Government is under the control of Negro voters, and the State of South Carolina is for the moment a Black Commonwealth, ruled, like an Italian Republic of the Middle Ages, by a stranger. Daniel H. Chamberlain is the name of the American Podesta. Robert H. Gleaver, a Negro, is Lieutenant-governor. Of the thirty-three Senators for South Carolina, fourteen are Black. Out of a hundred and twenty four Members of the Lower House, no less than seventy-three are Black. Gleaver, the Negro Lieutenant-governor, presides in the Upper House; Elliot, a Negro Speaker, presides in the Lower House. Few of these senators can write their names; yet they aspire to fill the highest offices in the Government. The Secretary of State is a Negro. Offices which demand some aptitude in reading and writing, such as those of Attorney-general and Superintendent of Education, are left to White men, but those of higher pay and wider patronage are taken by the Blacks. The State Treasurer is a Negro; the Adjutant and Inspector-general is a Negro. Chief-Justice Moses is a White, but [147] his Associate-Judge, Wright of Beaufort, is a coloured man.

Carolinian judges used to be named for life, like English judges, and were as rarely deposed from the bench as judges in the parent State; but this Conservative way of dealing with the higher magistracy has been set aside under the Reconstruction Act. A judge is now appointed for four years only, and is seldom named a second time. His day is short, and he must make it pay. Some of the judges (I am told, on good authority) deal in cotton, rice, and other produce, and not unfrequently appear as parties to suits at law! An ignorant Negro, placed on the bench by party voters, has much temptation to resist.

A Negro has not sense enough to see that office requires some training, not to say some natural aptitude. His only thought of office is a place where he can sit and smoke, give saucy answers, and receive his salary. Office was made for man, not man for office. If you ask a Negro what he wants, he says “a place,” caring but little whether you make him a jailor or a judge.

Some weeks ago a coloured man was brought to [148] me in Philadelphia, whose name was Henry Griffin, whose craft was door-keeping, whose desire was legislation. A shrewd fellow, thirty-five years old, and yet obliged to mind a door for bread, Griffin thought the time had come for him to rise. His neighbours shared the public spoil-why should not he? Hence, to the amusement of his employers, he was running as a candidate in the seventh ward of Philadelphia.

“On which side in politics do you stand?” I asked the candidate.

“ Republican, Sah.”

“Republican! Then you are running against Bardsley and Patterson, men of your own opinions, giving your enemies, the Democrats, a chance of slipping in?”

“ Guess that's so,” he answered; “but we like to have our share, and the Republicans cheat us every way.”

“Indeed! I thought they gave you liberty, and fought for you against their brethren in the South?”

“Guess that was long ago. That dead and buried. I am speaking of to-day. We coloured people vote the Republican ticket. When they get [149] in, by coloured votes, they give us nothing. We have a White Governor, a White Secretary of the Commonwealth, a White Chief-Justice.”

“Would you like to have a Black Chief-Justice in the seat of Daniel Agnew

“Well, sah, might we not have a coloured councillor, a coloured letter-carrier, a coloured policeman? In New Jersey, just across the Delaware, you see coloured police-officers and coloured magistrates. In Pennsylvania, though we call ourselves Republicans, we have no coloured men in office, save the turnkeys in the police-yard, and these coloured officers are required to sweep their own rooms and whitewash their own walls! Is that equality?”

Griffin is frank. Not having learned the art of wrapping up ugly things in golden words, he tells you that he wants to get his hands into the public chest.

Affairs look smooth in Charleston; smoother than anyone would expect to find under a carpetbag Government, a Negro Legislature, and a Federal .army.

Daniel H. Chamberlain, the Governor, is a New [150] Englander, who came to Charleston as William P. Kellogg went to New Orleans, armed with a carpetbag, a pleasant manner, and an eloquent tongue. He has been long in power, and has been savagely abused by the Conservatives, not without good cause; but he is now changing his policy, curbing the excesses of his coloured friends, and listening more and more to the White minority. Such moderate Conservatives as Captain Walker and George A. Trenholm, are disposed to work with him, instead of speaking, voting, and caballing against him. Chamberlain has done much mischief and is capable of doing more. An abler man than Kellogg, he has also a finer field in South Carolina than Kellogg has in Louisiana. Chamberlain has a solid Negro majority at his back. He is also stronger in the North than Kellogg ; not because people in Boston and New York either know or like him better than his rival, but because they have a fresher recollection of the sins of Charleston than they have of New Orleans. In any measures of repression he might choose to adopt, Chamberlain could count on the support of Congress and the sympathy of every city in the North. The sin of Charleston is the sin [151] that cannot be forgiven. Here, the scheme of Secession was planned, here the first insult was offered to the National flag. Thousands and tens of thousands in the North believe that the city should have been burnt to the ground, that her wharves and docks should have been destroyed, that her channels should have been choked up, and that her people should have been scattered over the earth.

In treating with a man who represents so much power and passion, the Conservatives see the need for prudent act and reconciling speech. Like other strangers, Chamberlain is open to the softer influences of society. He likes to sit at good men's feasts and bask in the smiles of well-born women. A podesta in Verona or Ferrari, seldom, if ever, stood beyond the reach of social courtesies; and the podesta of South Carolina shows a disposition to respond, so far as he can meet these White advances without fear of estranging his coloured friends.

“Things are now going well with you?” we ask a staunch Conservative.

“So, so. We wait and bear, for time is working on our side. Chamberlain, though a stranger, like [152] Kellogg in Louisiana, is something of a gentleman. Though we dislike his origin, as well as his policy, we can work with him for the public good.”

Business, our Consul tells me, is regaining something of the old activity, but not in the old languid and lofty ways. Young men are bringing in new energies; young men who have been trained in New York and Chicago. They attend to what they are about, and fag in wharf and counting-house from dawn till dusk. Such men get on.

In reading-rooms and clubs we hear the same report. Charleston, by her precipitate action, brought about the Civil War. No port had more to lose, no port has lost so much. Her pride is deeply galled, yet she is trying, in a spirit of self-denial, to forget her present miseries, undo her past offences, and prepare a better future.

“ Tell me what good there is in playing at Democracy,” exclaims a cotton-planter, as we sit in the club window, talking of the prospects of South Carolina. “ No use. Our branch of the American Democracy is dead. Look at these voting lists. You hear the lists are false; we know the lists are false.”

“But here they are, with Federal officers asserting [153] they are true. The law has given our negroes votes, and under a republic votes are all in all. Why strain against the rock? In 1868 we tried. What came of all our efforts to be free? Beaten at every point; routed in shame from every field! Not one Conservative Member was returned for Charleston. A third of the Assembly was white trash-strangers, bankrupts, scalawags; not a man in whom our citizens had confidence got a seat. Two-thirds were Negroes and Mulattoes, hardly any of whom could read and write. Acting with Chamberlain, these rascals robbed and scourged us; but we bore our injuries — under the muzzles of their shotted guns-until the time for a new election came. Taught by events, we tried another course; not readily and with unity, for it is hard to bind the old Adam in our spirits; yet with a promise that invites us to go on. Though we are far from having got a Conservative Government yet in Columbia, we have secured a White majority in the Senate, and a powerful White minority in the Lower House. In Charleston county, though the Negroes count two to one, we have conquered by our new tactics half the seats.”

“ How is the conquest made?” [154]

“By sense and science; by the White man's power of putting this and that together. In certain counties we are too weak to fight. What is the use of running seven men in Beaufort County, where the Negroes stand at six to one, or three in Georgetown County, where they stand at seven to one? Why try for eighteen seats in Charleston County, seeing that the Negro voters stand at three to one? Till we can seize Fort Sumter and the Citadel, we cannot change these voting lists. Then why not try a compromise? That is the question we asked each other.”

“Yes; and the reply.”

“Some said it was no use to try; others believed there was a chance. You see the Negroes have their leaders, and these leaders want to push their way. It is a great thing for a Negro to have a talk with gentlemen; and after all that has been done to set the servile race against their old masters, Negroes have the common feeling of attachment to the places of their birth. Most of us thought a bargain might be struck.”

“ You tried the scheme-?”

“Yes; Captain Dawson, one of our shrewdest [155] citizens, started on a mission to the Negroes, who received him well and listened to his words. Hie told them, very truly, that White and coloured people are afloat in one ship, and have to sink or swim with her; and he asked them whether they would not do well to pull together, instead of pulling against each other? Yes, they thought that very true. Dawson then showed them that White men have nothing to say against Negroes choosing their own rulers where they have a clear majority; but he told them that the White men wished, for sake of the common weal, that Negroes should choose good men. He offered, on the part of his friends, that if the Negroes would select good men, whether Black or White, in those districts, the Whites would run no candidates in opposition, a policy which would save the Negroes much expense and trouble. They liked his message and his manner, and, in spite of all that scalawags and agitators urged against him, a bargain was concluded and was fairly carried out. A list of moderate Republicans has been returned, in place of a list of strangers, bankrupts, and communists, so that, in spite of Negro ascendancy, we have now a powerful influence in the Legislature.” [156]

Governor Chamberlain, we hear, is much impressed by the success of this new policy. Working through the Negro rather than against him has begun to pay. Chamberlain is changing front; for, with his new Assembly, he could never hope to do in Columbia what Kellogg is attempting to achieve in New Orleans.

A case has just occurred which puts his feeling to the test. For many months complaints have been coming to his Cabinet of great disorders in Edgefield county. Edgefield county lies on the Savannah river, bordering Lincoln county in Georgia; a region in which the coloured people have a great majority of souls. There is a Black militia, a Black general, and a Black staff, as well as a Black sheriff, a Black judge, and other Black officers in Edgefield county. The White inhabitants are treated as a subject race. If any White man resents an insult, the Black militia is ordered out. “ You cannot call out the State militia,” say the citizens “ it's against the Constitution;” but the Negro captains and colonels in Edgefield county know nothing about Constitutions. If a quarrel springs up between a

Black man and a White, the Negro captains order [157] out their companies, and blood is certain to be shed. Two years ago Governor Chamberlain declined to interfere. With his blandest smile, he told his visitor that a great deal was being made out of nothing ; while his franker secretary said these troubles only paid the tyrants back in their own coin.

But Governor Chamberlain is now open to reason, and having heard fresh complaints from the border county, he has sent a Republican magistrate, Judge Mackey, to look into the facts and report what should be done. Mackey has just returned. This Republican magistrate reports, that, contrary to an express Article in the State Constitution, the coloured officers in Edgefield county have been in the constant habit of calling out their companies, and taking part in street rows. He lays the blame of nearly all disorder on the abuses of Negro government. He declares that since the days when Norman barons put their iron collars round the throats of Saxon thralls, no people speaking the English language have been subjected to such gross indignities as the White inhabitants of Edgefield county. Mackey concludes his report by [158] recommending the Governor to disarm and disband the Negro regiments.

Chamberlain is inclined to follow this advice; but such a course is not to be taken without some peril. The Negroes are now used to arms, and may object to being disarmed. A military spirit is abroad, and Negro mutinies are not unlikely to occur. If Chamberlain disbands his Negro troops, he will be forced to lean more and more on White support. Such compromises as those of Russell, Trenholm, and Dawson, are the true secrets of statesmanship; and this Conservative success in Charleston is a happy augury for every section of the South.

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