By the end of the war the South was as devastated as any nation in the history of war . Total war had been inflicted on the “rebels” leaving the South with no means of resistance, shelter or food and with 1 out of every 4 of the male population dead and their families demoralized. The reconstruction was an extension of the total war through political means. Through the Northern press, radical abolitionists and republicans had presented the South as a “brutal, backward, racist” society and had fanned the flames of animosity between North and South. President Lincoln, however, was in favor of a peaceful reunion “with malice toward none; with charity for all…” but after his assassination, the ardent hatred and desire for vengeance on the South sprang up with renewed passion. The ultimate goal of the radical republican party was complete governmental dominance and the suffering, defeated South was the perfect stage for acting out their plans. The Southern states should be humiliated and subjugated, then remade into the mold of the Northern states, completely controlled and run by radicals. Though Civil rights played a part in the thinking of the republicans, the main role of former slaves was to insure republican political dominance and prevent any political resistance. The South would also be open to economic exploitation and rule by Northern fortune hunters. And so, using Union war casualties and Civil rights issues ( Many of which were extremely exaggerated, fabricated, and even incited and were contrary to the reports of General Grant) over the veto of President Johnson, the Reconstruction Act was passed and the stage was set for the subjugating of the already defeated, yet unconquered South.
Union League Terrorism
The Union League AKA The Loyal League was a precedent of the Ku Klux Klan and exceeded them in numbers, violence, bullying, and murders. Though most people have heard of the KKK, very few know of the Union League of America, due to the politically correct history of today. After all, the government doesn’t wantAmerican citizens to know of the atrocities, political corruptions, despotism and violence perpetrated by one of its own federal agencies. So how did the Union League start? Due to pro-state rights democrats making great political gains in 6 Northern states, the republicans feared that Union war policies and efforts would be threatened, and so to prevent this, Union Clubs were formed in almost every town to support the war, troops, and the republican party. Thus the Union League of America was formed. As the war drew to an end Union Leagues were formed by Union loyalists in Southern states. This provided a perfect doorway for the radicals into the Southern states and their governments. The initial goal was to register ex-slaves to vote and to make sure they voted republican. After a while most loyalist whites dropped out and so the League was composed almost entirely of former slaves and black soldiers of the Union army, except for the politicians and federal officers who formed the leadership. The radical republicans had realized that if the South came back into the Union with democrat congressmen they would lose the political control that they had enjoyed since the 1860 election. President Johnson, a former democrat sympathetic to states rights and an advocate of President Lincoln’s lenient re-union plan, however, was an obstacle so they found every means, no matter how illegitimate, to circumvent and thwart him and fulfill their power hungry schemes. Their goal was to punish and humiliate the South, then dominate it and their key for this was the black vote through the Union League. The Reconstruction Act disenfranchised Confederate veterans, thus eliminating 85% of the white vote. Under the military rule, the Southern states were left to the depredations of the Union League who burned, pillaged, murdered and raped freely with no retribution for their crimes and no justice or legal recourse for the white Southern civilians. As Union League depredations increased the KKK began also to attack unionists and commit violence against them. But the initial purpose of the Klan was to protect southerners, both black and white. The Union League targeted Southern whites- for being Southern- and many blacks for being faithful to their former owners and for having democratic sympathies. The numerous beatings, torturings, and lynchings of the Union League against Southern blacks are astonishing. After a long bloody war to supposedly free and liberate the poor slaves from their “barbaric, cruel masters” the treatment of blacks by Northerners is truly heinous. Now by the time of elections many Union Leaguers couldn’t stand the despicable actions of the League and, despite threats of hanging, voted democrat and so the Union League and the radical Carpet Baggers were voted out and the Union League disappeared. But the dangerous seed of mistrust and hate had been planted between whites and blacks.
Plundering the South
The war had left the South devastated economically, socially and agriculturally, and with 2/3 of the male population either dead or seriously crippled. Ruin, poverty and desolation prevailed in the Southern states. The Northern fortune hunters took every advantage of these conditions to exploit the south and to get rich quick. One asset the South still had despite the destruction was 5 Million bales of Cotton. In order to sell the cotton the owners had to pay exorbitant taxes and fees, and often times, bribes. Of course, if the cotton had been raised with slave labor it was subject to an extra 25% tax. The North confiscated 3 million bales on grounds that the owners had previously sold cotton to the Confederate government. All the high tariffs policies, which had sparked the “Civil War” in 1860-1861, were instituted and kept in place 'till 1906. Property taxes were so high that many Southern property owners were forced to sell their land at distressed prices. Ultimately, the Reconstruction did not reconstruct the South but further destroyed it and allowed its economic recovery, of which it has only in recent years been able to recover.
The Rise of The Ku Klux Klan
The Ku Klux Klan began on Christmas eve of 1865 in the town of Pulaski, Tennessee. 6 young Confederate veterans decided to have some fun and lift the spirits of the town. They decided to form a secret club with secret codes, costumes, rituals and names. Using the Greek word for circle, kuklos, they came up with the Ku Klux then added Klan since all of them were of Scotch/Irish descent. Dressing up in bed sheets they rode into town the next week to introduce themselves and their club and to serenade sweethearts and families. It was a roaring success. However the former slaves though they had seen ghosts of dead Confederate soldiers and were very frightened. Realizing the psychological power they possessed, the 6 veterans decided to use their new club to defend poor Southerners against the depredations of carpetbaggers and the Union League. The admittance rules were very strict and required a member to have good character, principles and reliability. Chivalry, patriotism and respect for the Constitution and legitimate laws were emphasized. Members swore to protect and defend the helpless, weak and defenseless, to abstain from alcohol and to never betray other klansmen. From Pulaski the Klan spread to Athens, Alabama, and continued to spread and soon expanded from protecting the helpless and racketeering the US Treasury agents to guerrilla warfare against the Union League. The Klan was getting so large that the 6 founders decided to get a national Klan leader. They chose distinguished Confederate cavalry officer, Nathan Beelford Forrest. However, as the Klan continued to grow it also began to face a serious control problem.
The Invisible Empire: A response to Federal Tyranny
As the KKK grew the Union League found a convenient way to shift the blame of atrocities committed by them to the Klan by having their marauders masquerade in bed sheet costumes. The radical government encouraged this as the radical propaganda was invaluable to further their purposes and to keep the Northerners incited against the South It was difficult to refute these slanders since Klan members took seriously their oath never to reveal their Klan membership or the names of other Klan members. Still many former Confederate soldiers, officers and even General are believed to have been at the head of the KKK and to have managed its activities.
The Klan battles against Reconstruction
The Klan"s presence helped reduce Union League atrocities, but as the Klan grew its atrocities grew as well. Many crimes attributed to the Klan were the product of Klan imitations such as the White League, The White Brotherhood and The Knights of the White Camellia or by the Union League itself. Still, there was a growing amount of violations of discipline and principle in the Klan. Due to this, an order was issued in 1861 by General Forrest ordering: “that the mask and costumes of the order be entirely abolished and destroyed.” However, it was clearly stated that “this is not to be understood to dissolve the Order (klan)” so the KKK continued to battle against the reconstruction until the Union League was defeated.
The Klan Intimidates and Defeats the League
The Klans principle objectives were: 1-To protect the defenseless South from injustice at the hands of the Union League, 2-To protect cotton farmers from swindlers and racketeering Us treasury agents, and 3-To ultimately eradicate the corrupt radical republicanism from the South. Essentially, the Klan helped these ends. In 1876, in order to break an electoral impasse, republican Rutherford B Hayes agreed to remove all federal troops from the South and consequently the radical republicans and the carpetbagger government fell in 1877. The radicals had completely failed in their purpose as the south was as completely democratic and conservative as ever and the radicals were completely voted out of power. However, the radicals had succeed in causing a great racial mistrust between Southern whites and blacks which has not been completely eradicated to this day. Due to the tortures and harassment the Southern whites had suffered at the hands of blacks in the Union League, white animosity grew and caused them to prevent blacks from gaining political powers or to participate in government. So, though the Union League was ultimately defeated by the invisible empire of the KKK, the damaged racial relations caused by the Union League policies still linger.
The Role of the Klan in Defeating Corrupted Reconstruction
Besides racial animosity, the reconstruction fanned regional mistrust between North and South and widely accepted misconceptions of the South and Southerners in general. As General Gordon aptly stated: “No people in the history of the world have been so misunderstood, so misjudged, and so cruelly maligned as the people of the South.” Gordon, a Klan leader, was crucial in the redemption of the South, having negotiated with Rutherford B. Hayes for the removal of federal troops from Southern states. Gordon was also willing to assist Wade Hampton with Klan support if the radicals tried to prevent his election as governor of South Carolina by force. Wade Hampton’s inauguration as governor was an immense victory for the South and a big step towards redeeming her from the tyranny of the reconstruction. Having accomplished its purpose, the Ku Klux Klan was officially disbanded in September of 1877 and thus the curtain fell on the 17 darkest years in Southern history.