Mildred Rutherford, Address, “Historical Sins of Omission and Commission,” given before the United Daughters of the Confederacy convention, Oct. 22, 1915, Civic Auditorium Hall, San Francisco, California. She recommends S.E.F. Rose's book on the Ku Klux Klan to her audience.
RECONSTRUCTION IN THE SOUTH. I come to a period of history about which the South still feels sore, and a period I fain would pass without a comment. I refer to the Reconstruction Period following the War between the States. But since so many are writing to your Historian to ask how far the story of that period is truthfully represented in the new play “The Birth of the Nation,” she feels it is best to give authentic facts. Thomas Dixon in his Clansman has been brave enough to faithfully give the picture of the conditions then, and for this he has been greatly
maligned, but the half he has never told. Thomas Nelson Page in his “Red Rock” has given but a faint picture of those days.
“The Birth of the Nation,” is not altogether a true presentation of Reconstruction Days, for it does not tell the half of the story. The humiliation and mortification endured by the men and women of the South at that time can never be told by a picture film. Still it is teaching history. I feared to see it, for I did not wish to live over again those awful experiences even through a moving picture show. I never heard of a Ku Klux being killed, especially by a negro. Their superstitious fear lest they should forever be haunted by his spirit would have made them afraid to do it. In this respect the representation is misleading, but the South owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Griffith for having the South’s side presented in this period of our history. This presentation is opening the eyes of the North.
Lest our Northern friends may think we have taken advantage of this opportunity to give vent to our feelings from the Southern point of view and what we may say will seem to be from prejudice, I shall only quote from fair-minded men of the North, not of the South, nor will I even tell you the worst things these men of the North have said.
I shall first quote from Walter Henry Cook, a professor in the Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, a Northern man by birth and education, one who is trying to read history with his heart as well as his eyes: “The Northern soldier returned to his home to find every comfort and convenience. The North was more prosperous than when the war began.
Manufactures had increased; railroads had opened up the West; immigrants were supplying labor for factory and farm, and while the most destructive war in the history of the world had taken place, yet an increase in wealth, population and power had been the result.
“What a contrast to the South! The Southern soldier returned defeated, sorrowful, ill-clad, ill-fed, sick in mind and body, to find the South desolate and prostrate. The whole economic system had been destroyed or confiscated. Factories in ashes, railroads in ruin, bonds useless, currency valueless, a pitiable condition!
“A new economic system could have been built up by the men and women of the South with freed slaves had they been let alone. The policy of Thad Stevens and Charles Sumner after Lincoln’s death stirred up ex-slaves to hate the white men of the South, especially when they preached a gospel of social equality for which the men of the South would not stand under any
The next quotation is from Dan Voorhees, Representative for many years, and later a United States Senator from Indiana. In his speech “Plunder of Eleven States,” made in the House of Representatives, March 23rd, 1872, he pictures well the animus of Reconstruction. He said, “From turret to foundation you tore down the government of eleven States. You left not one stone upon another, you not only destroyed their local laws, but you trampled upon their ruins. You called Conventions to frame new Constitutions for these old States. You not only said who should be elected to rule over these States, but you said who should elect them. You fixed the quality and the color of the voters. You purged the ballot box of intelligence and virtue, and in their stead you placed the most ignorant and unqualified race in the world to rule over these people,” Then taking State by State he showed what Thad Steven’s policy had done.
“Let the great State of Georgia speak first,” he said.”You permitted her to stand up and start in her new career, but seeing some flaw in your handiwork, you again destroyed and again reconstructed her State government. You clung to her throat; you battered her features out of shape and recognition, determined that your party should have undisputed possession and enjoyment of her offices, her honors, and her substance. Then bound hand and foot you handed her over to the rapacity of robbers. her prolific and unbounded resources inflamed their desires.
“In 1861 Georgia was free from debt. Taxes were light as air. The burdens of government were easy upon her citizens. Her credit stood high, and when the war closed she was still free from indebtedness. After six years of Republican rule you present her, to the horror of the world, loaded with a debt of $50,000,000, and the crime against Georgia is the crime this same party has committed against the other Southern States. Your work of destruction was more fatal than a scourge of pestilence, war or famine.
“Rufus B. Bullock, Governor of Georgia, dictated the legislation of Congress, and the great commonwealth of Georgia was cursed by his presence. with such a Governor, and such a Legislature in perfect harmony, morally and politically, their career will go down to posterity without a rival for infamous administrations of the world. That Governor served three years and then absconded with all of the gains. The Legislature of two years spent $100,000 more than had been spent during any eight
previous years. They even put the children’s money, laid aside for education of white and black, into their own pockets.”
When Senator Voorhees came to South Carolina, the proud land of Marion and Sumter, his indignation seems to have reached its pinnacle.
“There is no form of ruin to which she has not fallen a prey, no curse with which she has not been baptized, no cup of humiliation and suffering her people have not drained to the dregs. There she stands the result of your handiwork bankrupt in money, ruined in credit, her bonds hawked about the streets at ten cents on the dollar, her prosperity blighted at home and abroad, without peace, happiness, or hope. There she stands with her skeleton frame admonishing all the world of the loathsome consequences of a government fashioned in hate and fanaticism, and founded upon the ignorant and vicious classes of manhood. Her sins may have been many and deep, and the color of scarlet, yet they will become as white as snow in comparison with those you have committed against her in the hour of her helplessness and distress.”
Then he took in like manner State after State, and wound up with this: “I challenge the darkest annals of the human race for a parallel to the robberies which have been perpetrated on these eleven American States. Had you sown seeds of kindness and good will they would long ere this have blossomed into prosperity and peace. had you sown seeds of honor, you would have reaped a golden harvest of contentment and obedience. Had you extended your charities and your justice to a distressed people you would have awakened a grateful affection in return. But as you planted in hate and nurtured in corruption so have been the fruits which you have gathered.”
I return now to quote from Walter Cook in regard to Reconstruction graft. “Governor Warmouth of Louisiana accumulated one and a half million in four years on a salary of $8,000 a year. Governor Moses of South Carolina acknowledged that he had accepted $65,000 in bribes. Governor Clayton of Arkansas said he intended to people the State with negroes. The carpetbag government of Florida stole meat and flour given for helpless women and children. In North Carolina and Alabama negro convicts were made justices of the peace, men who were unable to read or write. In South Carolina Legislature 94 black men were members. The Speaker of the House, the Clerk of the House, the doorkeeper, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and the Chaplain were all black men and some of
them could neither read nor write.”
The next is an extract from The Chicago Chronicle, written by a Northern man:
“The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution grew out of a spirit of revenge, for the purpose of punishing the Southern people. It became a part of the Constitution by fraud and force to secure the results of war. The war was not fought to secure negro suffrage.
“The history of the world may be searched in vain for a parallel to the spirit of savagery which it inflicted upon a defeated and impoverished people, the unspeakably barbarous rule of a servile race just liberated from bondage. Negro suffrage was a crime against white people of the South. It was a crime against the blacks of the South. It was a crime against the whole citizenship of the Republic. Political power was never conferred upon a race so poorly equipped to receive it.”
Now a last quotation from Charles Francis Adams, the grandson of John Quincy Adams: “I have ever been one of those who have thought extremely severe measures were dealt the Southern people after the Civil War, measures of unprecedented severity. The Southern community was not only desolated during the war, but $3,000,000,000 of property confiscated after the war. I am not aware that history records a similar act superadded to the destruction and desolation of war.”
Again: “Their manumitted slaves belonging to an inferior and alien race, were enfranchised and put in control of the whole administration. Is there a similar case recorded in history? If so I have never heard of it. It was simply a case of insane procedure, and naturally resulted in disaster. We stabbed the South to the quick, and during all the years of reconstruction turned the dagger round and round in the festering wound. If the South had been permitted to secede slavery would have died a natural death.”
The United States government is the only government that ever freed her slaves without giving just compensation for them.
Dr. Wyeth in his “With Sabre and Scalpel,” published by Harper & Brothers, New York, says, “None but those who went through this period have any conception of it. Defeat on battlefield brought no dishonor, but all manner of oppressions, with poverty and enforced domination of a race lately in slavery brought humiliation and required a courage little less than superhuman.”
The North said the Freedman’s Bureau was necessary to
protect the negro. The South said the Ku Klux Klan was necessary to protect the white woman.
The trouble arose from interference on the part of the scalawags and carpetbaggers in our midst, and they were the ones to be dealt with first to keep the negroes in their rightful place.
Mrs. Rose’s “Ku Klux Klan” is authority on this subject. Put that book into your schools.