After Slavery: Educator Resources

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4. White Moderates Maneuver to Prevent Radical Domination of the Republican Party

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.

In South Carolina, with a substantial black majority, tensions between the ex-slaves constituting the bulk of the Republican constituency and the white moderates dominating the Party leadership became apparent early on. Initially around the questions of land ownership, and later over other critical issues, freedpeople seemed often to demand the most radical overhaul of the status quo, while business-oriented moderates exerted themselves to contain the revolution let loose by emancipation. Eventually these tensions would cause serious ruptures in the Republican ranks, but in the following two documents we can see that as early as the summer of 1867, prominent moderates were maneuvering to marginalize radical elements in the Party, ensure the election of "sensible" men, and thereby dampen the radical spirit. The writer of these two letters, J. P. M. Epping, was a U.S. Marshal for Charleston at the time. He later defected from the regular Republican Party to run as an Independent Republican in 1872.

White Moderates Maneuver to Prevent Radical Domination of the Republican Party

You will have noticed that we have the convention of the Union Republican Party in this city a few days ago, but the whole affair turned out to be a complete failure, from the fact that the country was not represented and a few bad and designing [more than] colored and white men got the better of our colored people[,] elected themselves into every office of honor and trust, to the total exclusion of every one identified with the people of the state and the disgust of a great portion of our well-meaning colored population. However a state convention has been called to meet in Columbia on the second Monday in July next [and we] hope to have a good representation of white union men as well as a sensible colored representation from every part of the state, so that we can outvote and...actually put down all evil disposed elements. I write now [to ask you] to assist us in this war, and to see to this and to consult with your friends in the upper Districts who are willing to join the Republican Party and also with intelligent colored men and to show them the necessity for full Colombia in July and of a Character that will do justice to all classes, both white and colored. Had a long talk with Mr. Wilson, during his visit here about affairs in the state in general and in particular concerning your position and expressed the hope that you would want to join in the movement to create a Republican Party in the state...

Upon my return to the city I find, that orders have been received in this city to muster out Mr. B. F. Whittemore and B. F. Randolph, and I am very glad of it.Particularly the first - Randolph could be handled but Whittemore and his Yankee comperes cannot. Their inordinate lust for place and power, has made them, even amongst the better thinking negroes, many enemies, but so long as they were in office and in power, their will was supreme amongst the freedmen. For this reason it is very necessary, that a Mr. Pillsbury, Superintendent, of the colored Orphans House in this city, and President of the provisional State Council of the Union League, should be shut down also. He is using the means in his hands to send his men, such as Bowen & Elliott, Hurley and Hayne, all over the lower portion of the state to organize the negroes into leagues and into party organizations for the benefit and in the interest of their faction. We are now organizing an opposition amongst the better thinking and conservative colored men, but it is all important that this man Pillsbury should be lifted out of his place - for without means these fellows are all powerless - it means they keep their own ball in motion teach agrarian doctrines into ignorant freedmen and hold out the prospect of obtaining property or Land and other plunder, by telling them that the rebels have forfeited all rights to the land and property & etc. & etc. Now Dear Governor can't you help us to get this man out of the way? We will try and lift him out of the State Council of the League, which at present is only provisional, by calling delegates from all Leagues in this State to meet in convention and to form a permanent supreme Council for the State. In this new body we will [be] the majority and the Pillsbury, Bowen & Hurley party will be nowhere.

Sources: J.P.M. Epping [Charleston] to Governor James L. Orr, May 14, 1867; September 23, 1867, Governor's Papers, South Carolina Department of Archives and History


Questions to Consider

  1. Who are the "evil disposed elements" in Epping's rendering, and who does he oppose them?

  2. What sort of men does Epping want to recruit to join the Republicans and attend the upcoming meeting in Columbia? What are his prospects of success in recruiting them? What might hamper his efforts?

  3. Epping refers to his discussions with the "better thinking and conservative colored men." What does he mean by this phrase? If there are divisions becoming evident among black South Carolinians, as he suggests, what issues are these likely to emerge around?

  4. What are "agrarian doctrines" and why might freedmen be inclined to look favorably upon them? Epping asserts it has to do with their "ignorance": are there other explanations?

  5. How aware would ordinary Republicans be of the maneuvering taking place within the Party? What might be the reaction if Epping's actions were revealed?

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