The following educational document corresponds with Unit Ten: Freedpeople and the Republican Party in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.
Although some prominent former slaveholders (like South Carolina's Wade Hampton) assumed that pressure could be brought on ex-slaves to compel them to vote for the conservative ticket, the reality was that freedpeople were overwhelmingly loyal to the Republican Party—and for obvious reasons. Historians continue to debate the extent to which slaves succeeded in forging grassroots political networks under the antebellum slave regime, but by most accounts they responded enthusiastically to early efforts by Republican organizers to consolidate their black constituency across the South. The cities and towns where the Party organized freedpeople into Republican clubs and Union (or Loyal) Leagues became 'schools of politics' for their enthusiastic, hopeful membership.
The Republican's organizing campaign relied heavily on the self-sacrifice of dozens of black and white activists, who tramped across the South in the 1866 and 1867 speaking directly to freedmen and women, in meetings organized in open fields and roadsides, train stations and town squares. But an effective campaign required financing as well, and the following document provides a glimpse into the difficulties that the national organization confronted in trying to secure the resources necessary for organizing in the South.
An Appeal for Resources to Organize the South
Union Republican Congressional Committee
Washington, D. C., July 20th, [handwritten: "Sept. 11th"] 1867.
. . . the Committee has sent several hundred thousand suitable documents through the South. It has employed over seventy (handwritten in margins: "135") active and intelligent speakers and organizers, who have been at work in the unreconstructed States, and to a limited extent in Tennessee. Both white and colored men have been and are now employed. In addition to those directly controlled by the Committee, State Committees and Union League Councils, with other auxiliaries, have been aided. . . The Committee has the names of 20,000 loyal persons at the South to whom documents are regularly sent . . . The Committee's correspondence is very extensive; hundreds of letters being received weekly from all parts of the South. From their contents, a minute knowledge of the necessities of almost every Congressional district is readily obtained. Of agents now in the field, some are at work in every State. A Republican organization exists in each State, the representatives of which are in constant correspondence with this Committee. Union League Councils are being rapidly formed . . . Were ample means at its disposal there would be no difficulty in widely extending its operations. The demands far exceed its means, present and prospective. A large number of intelligent men, white and colored, are ready to enter the field, most of whom could be advantageously employed. Our funds have been altogether devoted to circulating suitable reading matter and employing speakers and organizers. They will continue to be so used. This Committee cannot undertake the establishment or support of Republican newspapers, although that important agency demands attention. [asserts there are 90 Southern Republican newspapers, 20 of which are dailies]. The present campaign is but a continuation of the war. It has, however, assumed another shape. It is no longer the shock of armies, but the conflict of ideas. The thunder of guns no longer rends the sky or makes the earth tremble; but the results for which our best lives were given are still trembling in the balance. We contend for the principles for which we fought . . . Shall we, victorious in the field, be defeated at the ballot box? . . . The loyal people of the South are very poor; they are with us in every desire for success, but they need assistance, both of money for political organization, and of knowledge, for the best means effecting it. Slavery crushed the white friends of the Nation, as well as oppressed its colored allies. The rebellion impoverished them as well as those who rebelled. Shall we let them again be sacrificed for want of means to send men to then or to enable them to help themselves?
Robert C. Schenck [and other committee members]
Source: Union Republican Congressional Executive Committee Circular, September 11, 1867, in Robert C. Schenck Papers, Miami University Special Collections.
Questions to Consider