After Slavery: Educator Resources

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5. Wade Hampton's Advice to Confederate Veterans

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Five: Conservatives Respond to Emancipation in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

South Carolina's Wade Hampton III was one of the richest planters in the South when war broke out in 1861. With no previous military experience, he raised and equipped troops, known as Hampton's Legion, and began gaining military renown in the Battle of Manassas. By August 1864, he had become Robert E. Lee's commander of cavalry. As other generals were surrendering in spring 1865, Hampton wanted to fight on, taking his troops to Mexico if necessary, and he only reluctantly surrendered. As the "beau ideal" of the plantation aristocrat arising to defend the South, Hampton was tremendously popular in South Carolina in the early years of Reconstruction. Despite announcing that he was not interested in the position, the voters very nearly elected him governor in 1865. While he would later be the subject of much "Lost Cause" commemoration (as much for his role in overthrowing Reconstruction in 1876 as for anything he did during the Civil War itself), Hampton was also a contributor to that movement, as this unreconstructed speech to a Confederate veterans' group in Walhalla in 1866 demonstrates.

Wade Hampton's Advice to Confederate Veterans

. . . For four years the South was the victim of a cruel and unnecessary war-a war marked on the side of her opponents by a barbarity never surpassed, if equaled, in the annals of civilized warfare.

The sword failed to conquer her, for on nearly every battle-field she was victorious, and her enemies were forced to resort to weapons more congenial to their nature-fire and famine. The torch was applied with an unsparing hand. The mansion of the rich; the cottage of the poor; peaceful villages; thriving cities; even the temples of the Most High God, fell before this ruthless destroyer, leaving to mark the spots where once they stood, but ashes and blackened ruins.

All the industrial resources of the South were wantonly destroyed or stolen, and gaunt famine followed in the footsteps of the invaders. The men who had borne without a murmur every privation, who had faced death in a thousand shapes without flinching, were not proof against the cries which came to them from homeless and starving wives and children. They laid down their arms, which they had crowned with eternal lustre, and they accepted the terms offered to them by the North. What were these terms? Throughout the whole war the North declared in the most solemn and authoritative manner that she fought solely to re-establish the Union: to bring back to one fold all the States, and to give to all equal rights and equal liberty. This was the constant declaration of Mr. LINCOLN. Mr. SEWARD not only announced the same principle, but he declared that whatever might be the result of the war not only would all the rights of the Southern States be preserved, but that all their institutions would be intact. The Congress of the United States in a resolution passed, I think unanimously, and never repealed, announced the object and the sole object of the war to be the restoration of he Union under the supremacy of the Constitution.

The very powers under which we laid down our arms promised the protection of the Government and gave the assurance that we should not be interfered with, so long as we obeyed the laws of the States wherein we resided. These declarations were made not only to the South, but to foreign nations; and the South was assured that she had but to acknowledge the supremacy of the National Government to be received into the Union, as equal members of the great family of States, with all her rights and all her privileges unimpaired.

. . .

I am aware that the North has given a new meaning to this word when applied to the South. For the South to be loyal in the eyes of the North, she must admit herself to be inferior in all points; she must declare that she has sinned, and, like a repentant child, she must humbly sue for forgiveness. She must pronounce State Rights and State Sovereignty fallacies, and she must forget the teachings of PATRICK HENRY, of JEFFERSON and of MADISON. You, men of Pickens, must forget the illustrious son you gave to our State, and you must brand CALHOUN as a traitor. The names of McDUFFIE, CHEVES, HAYNE, HAMILTON, HARPER, must no longer be held in reverence in their own State, as those of great statesmen and pure patriots, but the men who bore them, like their immortal compatriot, are to be called traitors, and their doctrines seditious. You will not be loyal until you import, along with everything else, your politics, your morality and your religion from the North.

. . .

For four years the North waged war upon us, only, as she solemnly declared, to bring us back into the Union. More than a year ago the South expressed her willingness to return, and yet she is now as effectually out of the Union as if she had never formed a part of it. The North professed to fight for the Constitution. As soon as she had the power to do so, she changed that Constitution, and she violated its sacred provisions. The North protested that she did not fight for conquest, or for plunder. The Southern States are at this moment practically conquered provinces, and more of their moveable property is now in the hands of Northern soldiers, who stole it, than in those of its rightful possessors. The parole which Southern soldiers received promised, as I have already said, that they should not be interfered with, so long as they obeyed the laws of their own States. And yet on their return to their States they were not allowed to exercise any right pertaining to free citizens, until they had, under oath, endorsed all the Acts of Congress and declared the abolition of slavery fixed, irrevocable and constitutional.

Amnesty for the past has been repeatedly promised to the South, yet how many of her citizens are still, in the brotherly language of the Radicals, only "unpardoned rebels," whilst her most honored and best beloved son languishes in a felon's cell, denied his sacred right guaranteed by the Constitution, of a "speedy trial by an impartial jury." The Southern States were to be recognized as equal members of the Union; and even in the imposition of taxes, there is no equality, for the cotton of the South has to bear a heavy discriminating tax for the benefit of the North.

All the rights of the South were to be held sacred. She has only the right to live, and to labor, perhaps to complain, though to do so may be treason.

. . .

Of all the inconsistencies of which the North has been guilty-and their name is legion-none is greater than that by which she forced the Southern States, while rigidly excluding them from the Union, to ratify the Constitutional Amendment abolishing slavery, which they could do legally only as States of that Union. But the deed has been done, and I for one, do honestly declare that I never wish to see it revoked. Nor do I believe that the people of the South would now remand the negro to slavery if they had the power to do so unquestioned. Under our paternal care, from a mere handful he grew to be a mighty host. He came to us a heathen, we made him a Christian. Idle, vicious, savage in his own country; in ours he became industrious, gentle, civilized. Let his history as a slave be compared hereafter with that which he will make for himself as a freeman, and by the result of that comparison we are willing to be judged. A great responsibility is lifted from our shoulders by this emancipation, and we willingly commit his destiny to his own hands, hoping that he may prove himself worthy of the new position in which he has been placed. As a slave he was faithful to us; as a freeman, let us treat him as a friend. Deal with him frankly, justly, kindly, and my word for it he will reciprocate your kindness, clinging to his old home, his own country and his former masters.

If you wish to see him contented, industrious, useful, aid him in his effort to elevate himself in the scale of civilization, and thus fit him not only to enjoy the blessings of freedom, but to appreciate its duties.

SourceNew York Times, October 17, 1866


Questions to Consider

  1. What were the terms under which the Confederate armies surrendered? Does Hampton misunderstand these terms, and if so, why?

  2. How sincere do you think Hampton is when he claims the South would not re-establish slavery even if it could?

  3. How might Hampton's audience of Confederate veterans have influenced the tone and content of his speech?

  4. Why might a newspaper in New York have been interested in printing Hampton's speech?

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