After Slavery: Educator Resources

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10. Plato Durham Argues Against the Reconstruction Acts in the 1868 Constitutional Convention

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.

Once the elections of 1867 had determined that there would be new state constitutions written by conventions elected with the votes of whites and blacks, many conservative whites began to disengage with the political process, often because they were disenfranchised by the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment. This removal, by necessity or by choice, from the normal processes of politics was beneficial to the extent that is made space for those previously excluded from politics—African Americans and poor whites—to enter and fashion constitutions, state governments, and legislation that promised real change. Still, this disengagement also had an element of danger to it, since these conservatives were not going to yield quietly to radical change. Outside the political realm, they organized into violent paramilitary groups such as the Ku Klux Klan to achieve their ends. In this document, Plato Durham, a young, white attorney from Cleveland County and a delegate to the 1868 convention, announces his opposition to the entire project of Congressional Reconstruction. By the end of the year, he would be expressing this opposition as a leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Plato Durham Argues Against the Reconstruction Acts in the 1868 Constitutional Convention

Mr. Durham offered the following resolutions:

Resolved, That it is the sincere desire of the people of North-Carolina to restore the State to her Constitutional relations with the Federal Government at the earliest day practicable, upon terms just and honorable, both to the Government of the United States and to the State.

Resolved, That, recognizing the helpless condition of North-Carolina and the power of the Federal Government to force the acceptance of the terms of reconstruction proposed by Congress, it is nevertheless the sense of this Convention that these measures known as the Reconstruction Acts are unconstitutional, unwise, unjust and oppressive; subversive of the rights and liberties of eight millions of people, and calculated to hasten and complete the destruction of that wise system of government, which, when faithfully adhered to, secured so much happiness and prosperity to the American people.

Resolved, That the white and black races are distinct by nature, and that any and all efforts to abolish or abridge such distinction, and to degrade the white to the level of the black race, are crimes against the civilization of the age and against God.

Resolved, That the Government of the United States and of the Southern States were instituted by white men, and that while the lives, liberty and property of the black race should be protected by just laws, these governments ought to be controlled by white men only.

Resolved, That we appeal to the sense of justice of the masses of the Northern people to remove from the intelligent American citizens of the Southern States the degradation now heaped upon them, and to consider the dire results to the whole country if the policy of depriving eight millions of people of the services of these statesmen, disfranchising intelligent whites and transferring political power to ignorant blacks should be continued.

After some discussion the House, on motion, adjourned.

SourceJournal of the Constitutional Convention of the State of North-Carolina, at Its Session 1868 (Raleigh: Joseph W. Holden, Convention Printer, 1868), pp. 32-33.


Questions to Consider

  1. What audiences do these resolutions seem to be addressed to and why?

  2. Why does Durham bring God into the discussion? What influence did religion have on attitudes toward Reconstruction?

  3. What does Durham's later leadership role in the Ku Klux Klan suggest about his views on the legitimate modes of political debate?

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