After Slavery: Educator Resources

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7. A Description of Wade Hampton's Campaign

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Eight: Planters, Poor Whites and White Supremacy in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

In 1876, Alfred B. Williams was a young reporter for the Journal of Commerce, a newspaper based in Charleston. He covered the 1876 campaign and accompanied Wade Hampton on his canvass of the state during September and October. In 1926, fifty years later, he reminisced about the campaign, and in this selection Williams comments on how the campaign unified whites across the state. The Democrats adopted the "red shirt" as their uniform, making quite an impression when they assembled for a campaign rally or to harass Republicans at their meetings. A crucial part of the Democratic strategy was to convince all poor whites that they should vote for Hampton, a point emphasized by Williams's description of the Hampton parades.

A Description of Wade Hampton's Campaign

Those two weeks of October must have been busy for the women. Including those made for and worn by the boys, eighty-five thousand red shirts must have been made before the twentieth of October. The fashion flashed through the state with the amazing swiftness with which ideas, changes or modifications of politics and methods of campaigning spread. It seemed hardly necessary for "A. C. Haskell, Chairman," or "Your Fellow Citizen, Wade Hampton" to issue orders through the newspapers. Their opinions and wishes apparently were felt somehow and obeyed from Beaufort to Oconee in a day. So, the red shirt blossomed everywhere at once, like dandelions in spring. No official order or suggestion concerning them ever was given out, so far as is known.

The historic garments came out in the state—to change the simile—like scarlet fever on the skin.

In this connection, it is well to remember that when this story tells of seven hundred or one thousand, or three thousand mounted Red Shirts in procession readers are not to imagine long lines of stately, vividly clad, knightly figures on prancing steeds. Few people in South Carolina had fine horses then. Probably the majority of the riders bestrode mules. The Hampton riders illustrated equine as well as human democracy. If there was a thoroughbred horse in line he might be alongside a patient, plodding bony plow animal or a mare with her foal trotting at her side. Now and then a poor fellow who had nothing else on which to follow Hampton would appear riding an ox and be especially cheered for doing it; but he would have gotten himself a red shirt somehow. And the riders would be men of all ages and degrees--old and bent, young and stalwart, smart and shabby, ragged and patched breeches and cowhide boots or brogans along with costly equipment—differing widely in outward aspects as men can differ, but with the one purpose and hope in all their hearts. "For Romans were like brothers in the brave days of old."

Source: Alfred B. Williams, Hampton and His Red Shirts: South Carolina's Deliverance in 1876 (Charleston: Walker, Evans and Cogswell, 1935), pp.255-256.


Questions to Consider

  1. Why was having a distinctive uniform important for the Democrats in the 1876 campaign?

  2. If news about things such as the red shirt uniform spread quickly and spontaneously around the state, what does that say about the level of organization and common purpose amongst whites?

  3. What is Williams's point in emphasizing the humble nature of the Democrats' steeds?

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