Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2015, April 28: A veteran of Reconstruction defends it from Lost Cause dogma (2)

John Roy Lynch, who I've been quoting in recent posts and who served three terms as a Republican Congressman from Mississippi during Reconstruction, wrote a defense of Reconstruction in Some Historical Errors of James Ford Rhodes The Journal of Negro History 2:4 (Oct 1917). He was responding to the account of Reconstruction in the multi-volume History of the United States by James Rhodes, which he describes as "the most biased, partisan and prejudiced historical work I have ever read."

He objects to Rhodes' description of the "Redemption" (end of Reconstruction) as the restoration of "home rule" to the former Confederate states. Lynch in responding gives an accurate picture of the nature of the Redemption governments:

If home rule were finally restored to the South in 1877, the natural and necessary inference to be drawn is that prior to that time those States were subjected to some other kind of rule, presumably that of foreigners and strangers, an inference which is wholly at variance with the truth. Another inference to be drawn is that those States had enjoyed home rule until the same was revolutionized or set aside by the Reconstruction Acts of Congress and that it was finally restored in 1877. If this is the inference which the writer meant to have the reader make, it is conclusive evidence of the fact that he was unpardonably and inexcusably ignorant of the subject matter about which he wrote.
As he indicates in his argument, the "home rule" trope was a propaganda label meant to disguise the dirty and undemocratic nature of the Redemption governments.

As that term is usually and generally understood, there never was a time when those States did not have home rule, unless we except the brief period when they were under military control, and even then the military commanders utilized home material in making appointments to office. Since the officers, however, were not elected by the people, it may be plausibly claimed that they did not have home rule. But the State governments that were organized and brought into existence under the Reconstruction Acts of Congress were the first and only governments that were genuinely republican in form. [my emphasis]
He is arguing here that even the antebellum governments which were "republican" in the understanding of the Constitution of that time were not genuinely so.

The form of government which existed in ante-bellum days was that of an aristocracy. That which has existed since what Mr. Rhodes is pleased to term the restoration of home rule is simply that of a local despotic oligarchy. The former was not, and the present is not, based upon the will and choice of the masses; but the former was by far the better of the two, for whatever may be truthfully said in condemnation and in derogation of the southern aristocracy of ante-bellum days, it can not be denied that they represented the wealth, the intelligence, the decency and the respectability of their respective States. While the State governments that were dominated by the aristocrats were not based upon the will of the people, as a whole, yet from an administrative point of view they were not necessarily bad. Such can not be said of those who are now the representatives of what Mr. Rhodes is pleased to term home rule. [my emphasis]
That is a straightforward and accurate description of both the antebellum and Redemption governments. But it was very much outside the mainstream of academic and popular interpretation of the Civil War and Reconstruction in 1917, which had come to be dominated by the Lost Cause perspective.

Lynch also gives an account of how some Southern whites eventually became attracted to the Republican Party during Reconstruction. He offers a bit of worldly wisdom in that regard:

It is true there are some men whose party affiliations are based upon principle and convictions regardless of consequences personal to themselves. Occasionally there are found some who are even willing to be martyrs, but they are exceptions to the general rule. The average man is politically ambitious. He desires political distinction and official recognition. In determining his party affiliations, therefore, he is more than apt to cast his lot with the party through which he believes that ambition may be gratified.
And he points out that just after the Civil War, Southern whites tended to think it was safer to adhere to the Democratic Party:

The Civil War had just come to a close; sectional animosity was bitter and intense. The Republican party was looked upon as the party of the North and, therefore, the bitter enemy of the South. The southern white men who joined the Republican party were accused of being traitors to their section and false to their own race and blood; they were called Scalawags. Through a process of intimidation, chiefly by means of social ostracism, independent thought and action on the part of southern whites, during the early period of Reconstruction, were pretty effectually prevented. Through such methods, they were quite successfully held under the subjection and control of those whose leadership they had been accustomed to follow.
But with Grant's election in 1868 which put a President in the White House that was in broad agreement with the policies of Congressional Reconstruction, the political atmosphere in the South, and he is writing with particular reference to Mississippi, began to shift:

After the election of Grant, however, in 1868 the feeling of intolerance somewhat subsided, resulting in a large number of accessions to the Republican party from the ranks of the best and most substantial white men of that section. But it was not until the reelection of Grant in 1872 that the feeling of political proscription, social ostracism and intolerance among the whites seemingly disappeared. It was then that white men came into, took charge of and assumed the leadership of the Republican party, in large numbers. They then had nothing to fear and nothing to lose by being identified with the Republican party when social distinctions growing out of politics ceased to be effective. [my emphasis]
I assume in the directly following passage, he was speaking in terms of potential as well as experienced reality, which is never quite so pleasant as this passage might suggest:

The South then entered upon a new era which was destined to bring to that section wealth and prosperity with happiness and contentment among its people of both races, all living under local governments successfully controlled by the better element of native whites with the cooperation and participation to some extent of the newly enfranchised blacks.
Lynch leans to the extravagant in his praise of Mississippi whites who became Republicans: "In fact, the southern white men that came into the Republican party were typical representatives of the best blood and the finest manhood of the South, than whom no better men ever lived."

He attributed to discrediting of Reconstruction among Southern whites to three events:

The true reason why so many white men at the South left the Republican party may be stated under three heads: first, the Democratic victories of 1874 which were accepted by southern Democrats as a national repudiation of the congressional plan of Reconstruction; second, the closeness of the Presidential election of 1876 together with the supposed bargain entered into between the Hayes managers and southern Democratic members of Congress, by which the South was to be turned over to the Democrats of that section in consideration of which the said southern Democrats gave their consent to the peaceable inauguration of Hayes; third, the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States [in the Civil Rights cases] by which the doctrine of States' Rights was given new life and strength. [my emphasis]
Lynch noted in a later article that I quoted in a previous post that, in reality, the 1874 election were largely driven by the national repercussions of the Panic of 1873 and Reconstruction was such was not a major theme. But here he's talking about how Southern Democrats interpreted that result at the time.

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