A Vindication of the Ku Klux Klan in the Confederate Veteran
Published in the Confederate Veteran, Vol. 21 No. 2, February, 1913, page 74. The Confederate Veteran was the official publication of the United Confederate Veterans, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Confederated Southern Memorial Associations, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Spelling is as in the original.
The article is as follows:
A VINDICATION OF THE KUKLUX KLAN.
BY ROBERT L. PRESTON, WASHINGTON, D, C.
In a recent editorial in the Boston Transcript readers of the paper are instructed as to the history and meaning of the Ku-Klux Klan. The editor writes in part: “The New Englander of twenty-two or twenty-three is pardonable if he asks, ‘What was the Ku-Klux Klan?’ It was the ‘Black Hand’ in politics, used for politics, though it never sank to the level of blackmail. Its purposes were to frighten negroes out of voting the Republican ticket, to paralyze the Freedmen’s Bureau, to run out carpetbaggers, Northern schoolteachers, and, in general, by terror to unsettle the results of the war. In the beginning it was little more than a secret vigilance committee which kept the recently emancipated slaves in order, enforced law, and, in general, took the place of the old machinery of justice which had not recovered from the war. It soon passed under the control of a more brutal element which saw its political possibilities. The founders dropped out and the Ku-Klux, stopping at nothing, made itself felt by fire, blood, and suffering. It developed into an atrocious organization for whose suppression it was necessary to pass a Federal law known as the ‘Ku-Klux Act.’”
Verily, the New England historians, great and small, have followed the Biblical injunction: “Feed me with food convenient for me.” Is it not time now, forty-seven years after the war, to strengthen the diet of “the New Englander of twenty-two or twenty-three,” to give him more nourishing food, and to cease coddling him with the broth that has for so many years been served up to him? Would it not be safe now to give him an insight into some of the horrors of Reconstruction in the Southern States and to tell him the facts?
The treatment accorded the Southern States after the war showed how just and well grounded were their apprehensions when the Republican party in 1861 obtained control of the government. They felt the beginning of their political extinction, and they saw with stupefaction that calm, cold, determined band of their enemies in their secret meetings at the Revere House in Boston—Dr. Howe, known as a philanthropist; Frank Sanborn, an instructor of youth; Gerritt Smith, also called a philanthropist; and Theodore Parker, a disciple of the meek and lowly Jesus—calmly arranging the details of Brown’s venture, furnishing him with arms and supplying him with money, and plotting an armed invasion. They saw that they were in the house of their enemies, and they resolved to leave.
Of the four years of the War of the States the young New Englander has a fair idea, but it would be well to let him know that soon after the beginning of the war a resolution was presented and passed both houses of Congress almost unanimously to the effect that the sole object of the war was the preservation of the Union, and that when that object was accomplished the army was to be disbanded. With this amount of information to start with we may omit the war and enlighten him on the subject of the Ku-Klux Klan.
The Ku-Klux Klan was largely instrumental in preserving civilization in the South, which, thanks to the Thad Stevenses and Sumners of the day, came near being engulfed in the unfathomable abyss of negro rule. The history of the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment would be instructive reading. Our young friend would see that it was fraudulent, the work of negroes and carpetbaggers supported by bayonets. The white people of the South being prostrate and disfranchised and the negro being in supreme control, every avenue of hope was closed. The situation was desperate. Helplessness and despair were on every hand with the black shadow of the negro hovering over all.
At this juncture a few of the representative young men of the South formed an association for the purpose of getting rid of the negro as their political ruler. Among its organizers were Gen. George W. Gordon and Gen. N. B. Forrest, and its rank and file as well as its leaders were composed of many of the highest types of Southern manhood. It was called the “Ku-Klux Klan,” and the sole object of its formation and existence was the rescue of the South from the clutches of the destruction that enveloped it. If it was “dangerous and defiant,” it was so only to the heel of the oppressor. If it was “criminal,” it was so only to the wreckers of civilization in the exhausted South. If it was the “Black Hand” in politics, how much blacker were the hands and hearts of the contrivers of the scheme that condemned that fair land to degradation and decay! That one of its purposes was “to keep negroes from voting the Republican ticket” showed its sense of law and the Constitution. The States alone, according to the Constitution, have the right to determine the qualifications of their electorates, and nothing but violence could deprive them of it. If one of its objects was “to paralyze the Freedmen’s Bureau,” surely no indictment can lie against it for its efforts to crush what turned out to be a gigantic fraud and swindle. If its purpose was “to run out carpetbaggers,” its mission was a most holy one. The carpetbaggers were the foulest birds of prey that ever sank their talons into the bodies of their victims; human vultures they were, sucking the last drops of blood from a helpless and exhausted people. If Northern schoolteachers were run out by the Ku-Klux Klan, it was a good riddance of a most undesirable and pernicious element, hostile to the white people of the South and breeders of discord. These teachers never affiliated with the better classes of the South, because they were their enemies. They came as aliens and as aliens they remained. Southern schoolteachers had never invaded the North and stirred up strife in the industrial system of New England or incited the ground-down mill workers to rise against those who were coining wealth from their and their children’s overworked bodies and brains. Why did Northern schoolteachers undertake to undermine the social system of the South?
Finally, it was charged that one of the purposes of the Ku-Klux Klan was “in general by terror to unsettle the results of the war.” What results? As already stated, the sole object of the war, as distinctly announced by Congress in the beginning, was the restoration of the Union. The Union was restored. The South had absolutely surrendered and had put its State governments into operation.
The Ku-Klux Klan left neither the White Caps nor the Night Riders as its successors, as the editorial charges, any more than it left the mill strikers of New England or the Pittsburg rioters or the Chicago anarchists as its successors The White Caps originated in Indiana thirty years after the war, as did the Night Riders in Kentucky ten years later. The Ku-Klux Klan left no successors. It did its share in freeing parts of the South from tyranny and degradation, and to it and the white minorities in all the black districts of the South that resisted that avalanche of terror should be raised a monument more enduring than bronze.
The Anglo-Saxon has frequently subjected other races to his own civilization, but history records no instance in which any other race has robbed him of his own. Utterly crushed as they were, the fierce fire of the race was not yet extinguished in the Southern people.
The Ku-Klux Klan blazed up as the last flame from the embers of an expiring people. The fate of a mighty race hung in the balance. It was the last remnant of fast-failing strength that the South threw into the unequal struggle, and it saved a nation. If occasional injustices marked the close of its career, they were few and far between, such as are inevitable in every civil convulsion. It sprang up in the twinkling of an eye as a mighty protest against a crime unspeakably hideous and disgusting and without a parallel in the history of the world. Of it it may truly be said: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” It did its share in keeping alive the torch of civilization already so dimly burning in that unhappy land, and in shielding its women and children from a desolation worse than “the pestilence that walketh in darkness” or “the destruction that wasteth at noonday.”