After Slavery: Educator Resources

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11. Martin W. Gary's Plan for the Conservative Campaign of 1876

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Nine: Coercion, Paramilitary Terror, and Resistance in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

Winnsmith's assessment that white conservatives were regaining the upper hand and seemed anxious to bring on a 'war of races' was not far off. White paramilitary organization in South Carolina took on new aggressive forms in the post-1874 period. The conspiratorial methods of the Ku Klux Klan gave way to an overt military plan, closely and quite openly linked to the Democratic Party (sometimes called the 'Conservatives'). In the build up to the critical 1876 elections, white Carolinians drew the lessons from the experience of the White Leagues in Louisiana and the 'shotgun plan' by which white Mississippians had overthrown Reconstruction just a year earlier, embarking on a spectacular campaign of public intimidation. In the summer of 1876 conservatives nominated the state's wealthiest planter, former Confederate General Wade Hampton, as their candidate for Governor. Everywhere he went, Hampton was accompanied by armed, mounted bands of 'Red Shirts'—many of them former Klansmen, now united with others in their determination to 'redeem' the state for white supremacy.

In their efforts to overcome South Carolina's substantial black majority, the Red Shirts played a critical role in the success of conservative Democrats, disrupting Republican mass meetings and intimidating freedpeople from voting the Republican ticket. Major armed clashes developed at Hamburg and Ellenton in the interior and at Cainhoy, along the coast. The following excerpt, from prominent conservative Martin W. Gary's 'Plan of the Campaign of 1876,' provides rare evidence of the lengths to which the 'Redeemers' were willing to go to regain state power and bring Reconstruction to an end.

Martin W. Gary's Plan for the Conservative Campaign of 1876

. . .

12. Every Democratic must feel honor bound to control the vote of at least one Negro, by intimidation, purchase, keeping him away or as each individual may determine, how he may best accomplish it.

13. We must attend every Radical meeting that we hear of whether they meet at night or in the day time. Democrats must go in as large numbers as they can get together, and well armed, behave at first with great courtesy and assure the ignorant Negroes that you mean them no harm and so soon as their leaders or speakers begin to speak and make false statements of facts, tell them then and there to their faces, that they are liars, thieves and rascals, and are only trying to mislead the ignorant Negroes and if you get a chance get upon the platform and address the Negroes.

14. In speeches to Negroes you must remember that argument has no effect upon them: they can only be influenced by their fears, superstitions and cupidity... Prove to them that we can carry the election without them and if they co-operate with us, it will benefit them more than it will us. Treat them so as to show them...that their natural position is that of subordination to the white man.

. . .

21. In the month of September we ought to begin to organize Negro clubs, or pretend that we have organized them and write letters from different parts of the County giving the facts of organization [but] from prudential reasons, the names of the Negroes are to be withheld. Those who join us are to be taken on probation and are not to be taken into full fellowship, until they have proven their sincerity by voting our ticket... [marked 'omit']

. . .

28. In all processions the clubs must parade with banners, mottoes, etc. and keep together so as to make an imposing spectacle.

Source: S. C. Democratic Candidate Martin W. Gary's 'Plan of the Campaign of 1876,' in Frances Butler Simkins and Robert H. Woody, South Carolina During Reconstruction, Appendix, pp. 564-569.


Questions to Consider

  1. What are the racial assumptions that Gary brings to the conservative effort to intimidate black voters?

  2. What is the purpose of organizing 'Negro clubs' across the state? After reading Gary's plan, how do you think historians should consider newspaper evidence about the existence of such clubs during the 1876 campaign?

  3. What do leading Democrats mean when they express the need to present an 'imposing spectacle' in their public processions?

  4. Imagine yourself as a freedman who has voted the Republican ticket in previous elections. What factors might dissuade you from doing the same in the coming election? Which way will you vote?

Return to Exhibition: Unit Nine