After Slavery: Educator Resources

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7. Wade Hampton's Advice to Freedpeople

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.

Conservative whites such as Wade Hampton were accustomed to being listened to, especially by black people. When it became clear that President Andrew Johnson had lost control of Reconstruction policy and that Congress, controlled by Radical Republicans, would dictate the terms now, many like Hampton still confidently assumed they could stay in control by telling the 'less important' people around them what to do, as they had always done. In this case, Hampton accepts the inevitability that African Americans will be allowed to vote, but he hopes to be able to persuade them to throw their support behind men like him, trusting South Carolina's traditional leadership class rather than wanting to govern themselves. Interestingly, Hampton urges that suffrage be limited by education and property, even agreeing that poor whites might be disfranchised along with African Americans. Ultimately, of course, Hampton's hopes were dashed in the elections held in November 1867, when South Carolinians voted decisively in favor of the convention.

Wade Hampton's Advice to Freedpeople

MY FRIENDSYou have requested me to give you a few words of advice to-day, and I accept the invitation in the same kind spirit in which it was given. There have been few incidents of a public character that have gratified me more than this mark of confidence from the colored people of this district, among whom my life has been passed.

And it gives me pleasure to say that by them I have always been treated with kindness and respect. Nor has their conduct toward me changed in the slightest degree since the change in our relative positions. I am, therefore, justified in calling you my friends, and I hope that as my past conduct to you has made you look upon me as your friend, so my advice and actions in the future will but confirm you in that belief. You may not know, perhaps, that I was the first Southern man who addressed a colored audience after the close of the war. This I did nearly two years ago, in the lower part of this district, and the advice I gave them I shall repeat now.
. . .
I regard the invitation you have extended to us to-day, to offer such advice, as honorable alike to us and to yourselves. It is a fit answer and a strong rebuke to those who so persistently misrepresent the feelings of the whites and the blacks of the South toward each other. It is honorable to us, as it shows you look upon us as your friends; friends with whom you wish to act and from whom you are willing to seek counsel. It is honorable to you as it proves that you cherish no ill-will toward your former masters, that you confide in their honesty and that you look upon them as your natural and life-long friends. Your own orator of the day, who has just addressed you, has spoken wisely and kindly on this topic, and the advice he has given you I approve of heartily. Why should we not be friends? Are you not Southern men, as we are?

Does not that glorious Southern sun above us shine alike for both of us? Did not this soil give birth to all of us? And will we not all alike, when our troubles and trials are over, sleep in that same soil in which we first drew breath? I see a banner before me, on which is inscribed "united we stand, divided we fall." The motto is full of significance and truth, for your welfare is inseparably linked with that of the whites of the South. If we are unjustly taxed, you will suffer; if we are ruined you will be destroyed. Your prosperity depends entirely on that of your country, and whatever fate awaits the white people of the South will be yours.
. . .
Now let us consider for a few moments the subject that has brought you together to-day, the Military Bill just passed by Congress. You must bear in mind that a great many persons, among them the President of the United States, think that this bill is unconstitutional; that Congress had no authority to pass it. Now the only way that question can be settled is by a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States. That Court will declare the bill either constitutional or unconstitutional. If constitutional you will, by it, be allowed to vote. How will you vote? Whom will you select to make the new laws which are to govern the State? Will you choose men who are ignorant of all law-all science of Government, to make your laws and frame your Government? Will you place in office these strangers who have flocked here to plunder what little is left to us? Or will you trust the men among whom you have lived heretofore-amongst whom you must always live?

It seems to me that this latter course would be the wisest, for as it is to the interest of the Southern whites to make the blacks enlightened, prosperous and contented, they would surely do all in their power to secure these objects. I do not tell you to trust to professions of friendship alone, whether they come from the Southern man or the Northern. But what I ask you to do, what I have the right to ask of you is, that as we profess to be your friends, you will give us the opportunity of showing by our actions whether we are sincere or not.

If we deceive you, then turn to the North and see if you can find better friends there. I have no fears of the result; for with us not only does humanity dictate kind treatment, honest dealing, just laws for the colored population, but self-interest demands from us the same course.
. . .
But suppose the bill is pronounced unconstitutional, how then? You will be left in precisely the same position you held before its passage. The present State Governments will continue, and the present laws will prevail. It will then be for us to prove that our professions of friendship were not idle, and while I cannot speak for others, I tell you what I am willing to see done. I am willing to give the right of suffrage to all who can read and who pay a certain amount of taxes, and I agree that all, white as well as black, who do not possess these qualifications, should be excluded.

I would not take this right from any who have hitherto exercised it, but I wish to see an educational and property qualification for voters adopted for the future. Let this qualification bear on white and black alike, and while it will cut off from voting some of both races, it will be a strong inducement to all to seek education and to obtain for themselves a real and tangible interest in the State. It will serve to elevate all classes, and contribute not only to the material prosperity of the State, but to the increase of virtue and education among her people.

SourceNew York Times, March 27, 1867


Questions to Consider

  1. For Hampton, does friendship imply equality?

  2. What would Hampton and the freedpeople he was addressing have had in common?

  3. Do you think Hampton, in 1867, could envision a South where white men of his class were not in charge?

  4. How would Reconstruction have worked out differently had Hampton's plans for voting been adopted?

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