After Slavery: Educator Resources

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6. Belton O'Neall Townsend on 1876 Strategy

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Eight: Planters, Poor Whites and White Supremacy in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

White conservatives in South Carolina failed to regain control in 1870 through the Union Reform party, leading to an escalation of Ku Klux Klan attacks. Those attacks accomplished some changes on a local level in parts of the upcountry, but they could not dislodge the Republicans across the entire state, and federal intervention made it clear that mass violence on its own was not going to be a winning strategy for the white supremacists. In 1873, however, the economy crashed, and the troubled times diminished northern support for Republican administrations in the South protecting the rights of working people. By 1875, Democrats in Mississippi used a combination of violence, intimidation, and fraud to regain control of the state government. The following year, many South Carolina Democrats called for a similar "Straight-Out" policy rather than cooperating with the reform-minded governor, Daniel H. Chamberlain. Crucial to the Democrats' 1876 strategy in South Carolina was unifying all whites behind the campaign.

Belton O'Neall Townsend on 1876 Strategy

From the beginning of 1876 they set themselves to the task of arousing the people. A violent cry was raised against the governor, and the whites were called on to follow the example of their brethren in the other Southern States. Social pressure was brought to bear, an energetic canvass begun, and newspapers were bought up or new ones founded; for the main body of the whites were still disposed to hesitate. "We had better wait," said they, "and see how things go in the North. If the democrats carry the elections there in November, and get control of the national government, why, of course, we can rise up and throw off republican rule in the State. But we have a good government now, and had best let well-enough alone, for fear our old oppression might be re-established." But the work went on. At the Fort Moultrie centennial thousands of Confederate soldiers, once more under arms, were paraded before the people of the State. Wade Hampton was their captain. Hot Southern speeches were made, and the troops in attendance from Georgia, disgusted at the unwonted spectacle of negroes in office, rode rough-shod over the colored police of Charleston. Mr. Tilden had just been nominated at St. Louis, and the brilliant prospects of electing him were triumphantly paraded. Then came race conflicts: the killing of a colored legislator in Darlington County, the lynching of two negroes in Marlboro and six in Edgefield, and finally the Hamburg massacre. This last and the governor's action concerning it were followed by appeals to the whites, made with all the old vehemence of Carolinians. Everybody was urged to buy arms; rifle clubs and mounted companies were everywhere formed, the young men being cheered on to join them; and the old system of browbeating and challenging all non-conformists in the duello was vigorously put in operation

The whites in the old Ku-Klux counties, where the negroes are in the minority, turned over en masse to the revolutionary policy; in the other counties they held back for a long time, discouraging violence as inexpedient, as likely to hurt Tilden in the North, as being, in short, premature. But gradually they half fell, were half driven, into line; though not all; for when the state democratic convention met on August 15th there was still a powerful minority (about two fifths) in favor of postponing action until it should be seen what the republicans would do about Chamberlain. It is useless to say, however, that the majority earned their point. General Wade Hampton, the Murat of the Confederacy, in whom are strikingly crystallized all the arrogant old plantation qualities of the South, was nominated for Governor with a corresponding ticket. It was determined to carry the State by the method known as the Mississippi Plan.

I will merely summarize the means used; I was in the State during the whole campaign, and know whereof I speak. The plan was, first, to arouse the white population to secession or nullification madness; next, to get as many negroes as possible to vote the democratic ticket, and prevent as many as possible from voting the republican; and finally, to put such a face on their doings as to work no harm to the democratic cause outside the State.

In the first matter they thoroughly succeeded. General Hampton, an orator of no mean order, an accomplished gentleman sprung from the best Carolina stock, our greatest and most celebrated soldier, in company with numerous other ex-Confederate generals and officers (among whom were some from other States, including Toombs, Hill, and Gordon), began a systematic canvass of the State, speaking at every county town and at other places of size. Such delirium as they aroused can be paralleled only by itself even in this delirious State. Their whole tour was a vast triumphal procession; at every depot they were received by a tremendous concourse of citizens and escorts of cavalry. Their meetings drew the whole white population, male and female (for the ladies turned out by tens of thousands to greet and listen to the heroic Hampton), for scores of miles around, and had invariably to be held in the open air. They were preceded by processions of the rifle clubs, mounted and on foot, miles in length, marching amidst the strains of music and the booming of cannon; at night there were torch-light processions equally imposing. The speakers aroused in thousands the memories of old, and called on their hearers to redeem the grand old State and restore it to its ancient place of honor in the republic. The wildest cheering followed. The enthusiasm, as Confederate veterans pressed forward to wring their old general's hand was indescribable. Large columns of mounted men escorted the canvassers from place to place while off the railroad. They were entertained at the houses of leading citizens, held receptions attended by all the wealth, intelligence, and brilliance of the community, and used all the vast social power they possessed to help on the work.

Source: A South Carolinian [Belton O'Neall Townsend], "The Political Condition of South Carolina," Atlantic Monthly 39:232 (Feb., 1877), pp.182-184.


Questions to Consider

  1. Why is it important for the author to note that Hampton was supported "by all the wealth, intelligence, and brilliance of the community"? What does this phrase mean?

  2. Why might whites in "the old Ku-Klux counties" have been hesitant to embrace the aggressive strategy of the "Straight-Outs"?

  3. What was it about Hampton that made him an ideal candidate for the Democrats in 1876?

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