|Illustration page 466 of Book|
I've kept the book "American Ulysses" by Ronald C White, longer than I should have. If I get a chance I'll buy a copy for my personal library, but in the meantime I wanted to share what I considered important about it. Grant, like all Human beings, is both a hero and a human being. White compares him to Ulysses of Homer. He was a heroic individual who did heroic things during the heroic times of the Civil War, but was nearly destroyed facing corrupt and venal Democrats on one side and corrupt and greedy Republicans on the other. The post war era after the Civil War is recognizably modern. There is something quaint about the the anti-bellum period, even in the North. But the USA is recognizable from the Civil War on. And part of what is recognizable was the shift of the South from overt traitorous rebellion to covert murderous subversion at wars end.
The Civil War didn't end at Appommatox
Grant defeated a number of important Confederate Generals on the battlefield. At the end of the War Robert E Lee asked if his officers, cavalry and artillerymen could keep their horses. Grant didn't see any wrong with it [page 406]. He figured they needed them for going back to farm work. Those officers went home, and almost immediately began terrorizing freemen and "carpet-bagger" northerners back home. They needed their horses to terrorize and reenslave freemen. The overt, treasonous, army on army phase of the Civil War may have ended at Appomattox, but the long war of racist, oppressive, revanchism had just begun. Lee Surrendered on April 9th 1865. The south claimed to choose "reconciliation", but the war for true liberty and equality was just beginning when Lee Surrendered. Lincoln was assassinated on April 14th 1865 by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's theater, while basically celebrating the end of the Civil War. Andrew Johnson, a Southern Democrat with deep sympathies to the Southern Cause, would do his best to subvert and block civil rights for freemen and any actual reconstruction of the south that didn't restore slavery. Getting Lee to Surrender may have saved the country years of overtly treasonous guerrilla war, but it ended up being a betrayal of the principles the Civil War had been fought over. Grant tried bravely to uphold those principles, but such betrayal is never the work of one person. There was money to be made, and more loot for the captains if the crew need not be paid. Southerners would rejoin our Federation on their terms, and wage their ideological battles in the press and streets.
Constituting the Unconstitutional
While Grant was trying to avoid "collision" between Federal Troops returning home and returning confederates, he also tried to protect the "freedmen" from those returning Confederate Troops. During the last half of 1865 southern states began to craft
"constitutions denying the hard-won fruits of emancipation. New State Laws "guaranteed to blacks the right to marry, make contracts, and own property" but "black codes" "limited work possibilities to plantation labor." [page 421] "Starting on January 1 1866, blacks in Mississippi" (for instance) "would have to possess written proof of employment" and if they left their jobs they would "forfeit their wages, be subject to arrest and imprisonment."
For many Southerners their "whole thought" was devoted to:
"plans for getting things back as near to slavery as possible" [Page 421]
Many of those slaves were wearing Union Uniforms and had been enlisted in the Union Army. Their late entry meant their terms of enlistment were not over when the war was over. At the end of the war blacks were 11% of the Army, when Grant reduced the Army from more than a million to 227,000 the percentage was 36% Eventually many of these soldiers would be transferred out west. But in the south they were targets for Southern Violence from revanchist former Confederates.
Grant toured the South with several others, one, Carl Schurz. Carl found:
"Things are very far from being ripe yet for the restoration of civil government."
The other, Cyrus Comstock noted that the women made mocking faces whenever officials talked about Civil rights. Cyrus noted:
the women "express openly what their husbands & brothers feel but do not show."
The South would put on a show of civility and solidarity in public and wear white sheets and attack at night. Grant heard their public pronouncements and declared
"The people are more loyal and better disposed than [I] expected to find them" and "I am satisfied that the mass of thinking men of the south accept the present situation... in good faith.
But Grant soon realized they were playing him.
Killing Lincoln as Strategy to Promote Andrew Johnson
Killing Lincoln and sparing Andrew Johnson, had to have been a winning strategy for Southerners. Johnson would be impeached over his efforts to sabotage and defeat Civil Rights for freedmen. He was an unreconstructed Democrat from a border state and so he was loyal to the Union but not to principles of liberty and justice for non-Whites. The Democrats didn't learn that lesson til 1964. When the Country passed the Trumbull bill enforcing civil rights with a law that "provided for the equality of citizens in the enjoyment of civil rights without distinction of race and color" and another bill conferring citizenship on "all person's born in the United States." Johnson vetoed the act. He claimed the act handed over judicial powers to the military, which was false.
Johnson, like many educated Southerners of privilege, was a racist. in March 1866 he argued that:
"All our experience as a people" ... granting citizenship to blacks would show prejudice against whites! "The distinction of race and color is by the bill made to operate in favor of the colored against the white race." [page 427]
Vitriol and Murder in the South
Southerners would call pro civil rights whites "nigger lovers" and "carpetbaggers." Southern Newspapers and propaganda filled with vitriol against civil rights and black people. The south insisted they had a first amendment right to inflame folks and verbally attack freedmen and those trying to help them. In 1866 there would be the "Memphis Riots", May 26 1866, where black soldiers and freemen (and women) living in South Mephis where they burned homes, churches and schools. The revanchist former confederates wanted to make sure that there were no educated black people and that they were kept afraid and subservient. What made this sad is that the garrison of Fort Pickering, nearby, took no action. With the blessing of Andrew Johnson Southerners "struck out" against "all visible signs of 'Yankee Black Republicanism.'" [page 433] To Southerners the Civil War wasn't over til blacks were put down. The newspapers frequently blamed the victims. But while General Stoneman did nothing to help the blacks in Memphis, he did report that the black folks in South Memphis did not do any of the rioting; they were "engaged in no riotous proceedings." Southerners would vilify blacks and project their own violent behavior on them. But it was rarely true that any freedmen did more than defend themselves and most weren't allowed to do even that.
Johnson would veto the "Military Reconstruction Act" in 1867. The Fortieth Congress over-rode his veto. He would block "any and all" of Congress's reconstruction efforts. A First, Second and third act would be opposed each time. Congress had to impeach Johnson, not because of personal corruption, but because he stood in the way of reconstruction and civil rights. That narrative got lost in subsequent years. Grant became President as a champion of Civil Rights. He was fighting State and Insurgent Terrorism. The terrorists?
Rise of the KKK
Ronald White describes the origins of the KKK on page 519 of his book:
"A mysterious organization it ha strange Greek name, secret rituals and members dressed in white sheets struck terror across the South in the years immediately after the Civil War. In the name of white supremacy, the Ku Klux Klan beat, whipped, maimed, kdinapped, and hanged thousands of black citizens. Their main aim became voter suppression of newly franchised African Americans, who they knew would vote overwhelmingly Republican in local and state elections. In the 1870 state elections, the Klan's tactics allowed, white Democrats to make substantial gains in several southern states." [page 518]
Not much has changed except the KKK now works for the Republican Party and it is the Democrats supporting Civil Rights. The KKK's hero was
"cavalry hero Nathan Bedford Forrest, Grant's old foe, as its first leader, or Grand Wizard." [ibid]
Grant had fought Forrest in his earliest campaigns. The Klan would engage in a "maelstrom of physical bullying." All this belying propaganda depicting ante-bellum slavery as "a blessing for previously 'happy slaves'", now terror would try to propel the propaganda by making the present life of freedmen miserable. The Southerners considered this "race control" meant to keep freedmen from becoming "saucy." They attacked African Americans "in homes and churches" and missionaries as "outside agitators." Grant fought the Klan, with minimal success his whole career. Where Bedford Forrest had been an nuisance as a Cavalry leader, as a thug leader, he was more effective. Rule of law is difficult to enforce if the perps are judges, politicians, sheriffs and legislators. Grant would get "enforcement acts" from his first congress, and mixed results as Democrats started making a come back, and the appeal of riches started subverting his own party. Southern Republicans were often heroes in this effort. Northern Republicans not so much. Led by the German immigrant Carl Shurz, "liberal Republicans" would undermine his efforts and eventually in 1877 betray civil rights entirely. Grant served two terms. His last service was trying to broker a fair end to a constitutional crisis in 1876-1877 known as the "Centennial Crisis" where nobody was sure who had been elected President. After that he was a civilian.
Parallel to this book on Grant was the news of the removal of a monument to the Liberty Town Massacre. The article notes:
"The so-called "Battle of Liberty Place" happened on September 14, 1874, when members of the Crescent City White League (who were all white) attacked the New Orleans Metropolitan Police (who were white and black). The White League won, New Orleans sank into segregation, and in 1891 the city erected a 35-foot-tall monument at the foot of Canal Street -- the most prominent spot in the city -- honoring the White League members who had died in the fight. In 1932, with New Orleans even more segregated, an inscription was added to the monument. It said that the Battle was fought for the "overthrow of carpetbag government" and that afterward the Yankees "recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state." [Liberty Town Massacre]
By 1877 the South had won their war to destroy the civil rights of their black citizens enough that the North went along with it. They did so in order to win elections and divide power. And also because by then the whole country had entered the Gilded age where railroads and monopolies, wealth and power, became more and more concentrated.
By 1977 things had reversed again. The spirits of lincoln and Grant are gone from the Republicans, but that of Jefferson Davis, Andrew Johnson and Horace Greeley, Forest, Nixon and Reagan; are alive and well in the Republican Party. This is a depressing subject. But I have to write about it anyway. I can take the book back to the library now.
Further Readings and Sources
A number of posts have referred to:
- Posts Referencing this book:
- I also referenced him before reading this book
- Liberty Town Massacre
- More on Horace Greeley
- My Posts on the subversion of the Republicans by Lee Atwater and Co
- Thomas Nast