Redeemers and Radicals

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By 1890, the Redeemers returned the South to political “home rule” which led to the complete disenfranchisement of the new black electorate.

Ulysses S. Grant served as President of the United States from 1869 to 1877, at a at a time when the congressional Republicans, also known as Radical Republicans, seized control of the Reconstruction process. Even though Republicans succeeded in passing the Fifteenth Amendment prohibiting states from denying any individual the right to vote based on color, they did not foresee the future use of such devices as literacy tests and poll taxes as a way of disenfranchising blacks.

Furthermore, they also did not anticipate the political southern backlash that would result in the Ku Klux Klan. Generally, identifying themselves as “Redeemers” scores of southerners had grown weary of carpetbaggers and their callous treatment of southerners and determined to bring about a return of home-rule throughout the South.

Failure of the Grant Administration

Even though Grant served two terms as President of the United States, he is generally regarded as a lackluster leader whose administration was riddled with corruption. His administration was also charged with enforcing the Reconstruction Amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th) and protecting black voting rights throughout the South. Since the survival of the Republican Party and their carpetbag governments depended upon a manipulation of black votes, it was imperative to protect the rights of blacks. However, a waning Northern interest in the South led to a gradual abandonment of the protection of the new black electorate and the introduction of a period of unbridled violence throughout the South.

The KKK

Between 1868 and 1872, the newly formed Ku Klux Klan became the main threat to the survival of the southern Republican regimes by intimidating blacks who sought to exercise their new political rights. The Klan began as merely a grass-roots vigilante movements bent on restoring what they perceived was the rightful social order where whites were superior to blacks. Therefore, any black who attempted to vote was threatening the proper social order. With support from whites of all social classes, the Klan enjoyed support and adoration as they ruthlessly intimidated, whipped and murdered with severe fear of punishments.

The Retreat of the Radicals and the Victory of the Redeemers

Grant’s administration passed a series of laws designed to federally protect the new black electorate and generally enforce the Fifteenth Amendment between 1870 and 1871. However, these laws, and their federal enforcement, were not wholly successful, nor did not destroy the Klan. It became apparent that the regimes led by carpetbaggers and political supported by the Radical Republicans were on the brink of collapse by 1872.

By 1875, Grant seemed unwilling to use federal power continue supporting the carpetbag regimes in the South and he was also unwilling to protect the lives of blacks from Klan violence. By 1876, Republicans could only claim dominate political influence in three southern states (South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida). The reminder of the former Confederacy return to their previous ante bellum social and political structures where white supremacy was the unquestioned law.

Conclusion-The New South

The Redeemers’ victory would be complete by 1877 after new president Rutherford Hayes withdrew the last remaining federal troops from the South. The subsequent return to home rule ushered in the “New South.” However, it was remarkably similar to that which governed the Peculiar Institution. By the 1890s, white Democrats controlled the southern political landscape and blacks were virtually socially, economically, and politically disenfranchised throughout the South. The Redeemers succeeded in returning white supremacy to what they believed was its rightful place in southern society. For blacks, this meant a return to segregation and being victims of hideous crimes that too often went unpunished.

Reference:

  1. Devine, Robert, and T.H. Breen, et.al. (1986). America: Past and Present. Glenview: Scott, Foresman and Co.