Saturday, April 25, 2015

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2015, April 25: Early decades of "Redemption"

The end of Reconstruction is conventionally dated to the deal after the 1876 Presidential election that allowed Republican Rutherford Hayes to become President despite losing the popular vote. The Republican concession was to abandon the Reconstruction program in the former Confederate states. The opponents of democracy who overthrew the Reconstruction governments with force, violence and fraud styled themselves as "Redeemers." And the post-Reconstruction disfranchisement of African-American citizens and the establishment of segregation is known as "Redemption."

But major historical transitions are very rarely able to date so cleanly. Reconstruction is no exception. There had been resistance from white elites and many ordinary whites to the black franchise before 1876. But federal discouragement with enforcing the Constitution and Democratic attempts to undermine the elected governments achieved a new success with the campaign of violence against Mississippi Gov. Adelbert Ames, culminating in his impeachment and resignation in 1876. This method of what we now call "regime change" was even called the Mississippi Plan after the state where it was so successful in 1875-6.

The former slave and African-American politician John Roy Lynch (1847–1939) served three terms as a Republican Congressman from Mississippi (1873-1877, 1882-1883). While the end of his first stint in Congress corresponds to the turn of the political tide in favor of the Redeemers, the second came after the general victory of Redemption. That doesn't mean that the Redeemers were happy to have an African-American Congressman. It represents the efforts of black voters in the Congressional district around Natchez to hold on to their rights even in the face of federal abandonment and Democratic power in Mississippi.

Lynch published a collection of essays title The Facts of Reconstruction in 1913, which was republished in 1970 in an edition featuring an introduction by historian William Harris. Harris writes:

When Lynch was selected for Congress by Negro delegates to the Sixth Congressional District convention, the struggle between the black and white factions in Natchez was brought into the open, and its reverberations threatened to disrupt the Republican party throughout the river counties. The factions assumed the names of "Warm Spring Indians" (blacks) and "Modocs" (whites), but such colorful appellations had no effect on the outcome of the dispute. Complete victory for the Warm Spring Indians came when Senator Ames, who naively envisioned himself in the role of mediator, placed the influence of his patronage at the disposal of Congressman-elect Lynch. The growth of black authority in the river counties, however, was checked in 1875 with the so-called redemption of Mississippi from Radical rule. But in Natchez Lynch and his followers remained until the 1890's a political influence to be reckoned with by the Democratic Conservatives. [my emphasis]
The use by both factions of Indian nicknames is also an interesting twist on race relations in Mississippi at the time.

Dennis Mitchell in A New History of Mississippi (2014) also explains:

Too often the period of Redemption (1876-1903) has been misunderstood as a return to absolute white control; instead, historians have come to view these years as a contentious time when Republicans continued to share power and a variety of political parties challenged the Bourbons, as the Democratic elite became known, for control of state and local government. Intertwined with the political conflict, a racially segregated society emerged with customs designed to remind black Mississippians daily of their status as an inferior caste. (p. 217)
And he continues to describe how the neo-Confederate myth of the Lost Cause as well as the white racist version of the Christian religion functioned as part of that process:

White Mississippians bolstered their new political and social system with a civic religion that held the "War Between the States" to have been a holy crusade fought by saintly men defending a righteous cause. J. William Jones, Virginian prophet of the creed, routinely invoked the secular saints Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson along with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in his public prayers. By the end of this period, white Mississippians had incorporated segregation into their worldview based on evangelical religion and deemed a violation of the informal segregation code a sin. On the other hand, maintaining white control justified lying, theft of ballot boxes, stuffing them if necessary, or violence against political opponents when required. The political conflict and growth of a new social system took place in a declining cotton economy in which furnishing merchants used legislature-provided lien laws to exploit and essentially enslave a growing sharecropping population whose economic desperation grew with the fall of cotton prices. [my emphasis]
It's fascinating to me to think that someone who turned 19 the year the the Civil War ended lived to see the second Administration of Franklin Roosevelt. Harris quotes from an essay that Lynch wrote in 1929, "The Republican Party South," in which he warns the new President Herbert Hoover that he should "not flatter himself with the belief that because he carried several southern states that he can keep those states in the republican column by making a trade with southern democrats at the expense of the fundamental principles and doctrines for which the republican party has heretofore stood."

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