Facts of Reconstruction, The



It is claimed that in States, districts, and counties, in which the colored people are in the majority, the suppression of the colored vote is necessary to prevent "Negro Domination,"—to prevent the ascendency of the blacks over the whites in the administration of the State and local governments.

This claim is based upon the assumption that if the black vote were not suppressed in all such States, districts, and counties, black men would be supported and elected to office because they were black, and white men would be opposed and defeated because they were white.

Taking Mississippi for purposes of illustration, it will be seen that there has never been the slightest ground for such an apprehension. No colored man in that State ever occupied a judicial position above that of Justice of the Peace and very few aspired to that position. Of seven State officers only one, that of Secretary of State, was filled by a colored man, until 1873, when colored men were elected to three of the seven offices,—Lieutenant-Governor, Secretary of State, and State Superintendent of Education. Of the two United States Senators and the seven members of the lower house of Congress not more than one colored man occupied a seat in each house at the same time. Of the thirty-five members of the State Senate, and of the one hundred and fifteen members of the House,—which composed the total membership of the State Legislature prior to 1874,—there were never more than about seven colored men in the Senate and forty in the lower house. Of the ninety-seven members that composed the Constitutional Convention of 1868 but seventeen were colored men. The composition of the lower house of the State Legislature that was elected in 1871 was as follows:

Total membership, one hundred and fifteen. Republicans, sixty-six; Democrats, forty-nine. Colored members, thirty-eight. White members, seventy-seven. White majority, thirty-nine.

Of the sixty-six Republicans thirty-eight were colored and twenty-eight, white. There was a slight increase in the colored membership as a result of the election of 1873, but the colored men never at any time had control of the State Government nor of any branch or department thereof, nor even that of any county or municipality. Out of seventy-two counties in the State at that time, electing on an average twenty-eight officers to a county, it is safe to assert that not over five out of one hundred of such officers were colored men. The State; district, county, and municipal governments were not only in control of white men, but white men who were to the manor born, or who were known as old citizens of the State—those who had lived in the State many years before the War of the Rebellion. There was, therefore, never a time when that class of white men known as Carpet-baggers had absolute control of the State Government, or that of any district, county or municipality, or any branch or department thereof. There was never, therefore, any ground for the alleged apprehension of negro domination as a result of a free, fair, and honest election in any one of the Southern or Reconstructed States.

And this brings us to a consideration of the question, What is meant by "Negro Domination?" The answer that the average reader would give to that question would be that it means the actual, physical domination of the blacks over the whites. But, according to a high Democratic authority, that would be an incorrect answer. The definition given by that authority I have every reason to believe is the correct one, the generally accepted one. The authority referred to is the late Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Mississippi, H.H. Chalmers, who, in an article in the North American Review about March, 1881, explained and defined what is meant or understood by the term "Negro Domination."

According to Judge Chalmers' definition, in order to constitute "Negro Domination" it does not necessarily follow that negroes must be elected to office, but that in all elections in which white men may be divided, if the negro vote should be sufficiently decisive to be potential in determining the result, the white man or men that would be elected through the aid of negro votes would represent "Negro Domination." In other words, we would have "Negro Domination" whenever the will of a majority of the whites would be defeated through the votes of colored men. If this is the correct definition of that term,—and it is, no doubt, the generally accepted one,—then the friends and advocates of manhood suffrage will not deny that we have had in the past "Negro Domination," nationally as well as locally, and that we may have it in the future.

If that is the correct definition then we are liable to have "Negro Domination" not only in States, districts, and counties where the blacks are in the majority, but in States, districts and counties where they are few in numbers. If that is the correct definition of "Negro Domination,"—to prevent which the negro vote should be suppressed,—then the suppression of that vote is not only necessary in States, districts, and counties in which the blacks are in the majority, but in every State, district, and county in the Union; for it will not be denied that the primary purpose of the ballot,—whether the voters be white or colored, male or female,—is to make each vote decisive and potential. If the vote of a colored man, or the vote of a white man, determines the result of an election in which he participates, then the very purpose for which he was given the right and privilege will have been accomplished, whether the result, as we understand it, be wise or unwise.

In this connection it cannot and will not be denied that the colored vote has been decisive and potential in very many important National as well as local and State elections. For instance, in the Presidential election of 1868, General Grant, the Republican candidate, lost the important and pivotal State of New York, a loss which would have resulted in his defeat if the Southern States that took part in that election had all voted against him. That they did not do so was due to the votes of the colored men in those States. Therefore Grant's first administration represented "Negro Domination."

Again, in 1876, Hayes was declared elected President by a majority of one vote in the electoral college. This was made possible by the result of the election in the States of Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida, about which there was much doubt and considerable dispute, and over which there was a bitter controversy. But for the colored vote in those States there would have been no doubt, no dispute, no controversy. The defeat of Mr. Hayes and the election of Mr. Tilden would have been an undisputed and an uncontested fact. Therefore, the Hayes administration represented "Negro Domination."

Again, in 1880, General Garfield, the Republican candidate for President, carried the State of New York by a plurality of about 20,000, without which he could not have been elected. It will not be denied by those who are well informed that if the colored men that voted for him in that State at that time had voted against him, he would have lost the State and, with it, the Presidency. Therefore, the Garfield-Arthur administration represented "Negro Domination."

Again, in 1884, Mr. Cleveland, the Democratic candidate, carried the doubtful but very important State of New York by the narrow margin of 1,147 plurality, which resulted in his election. It cannot and will not be denied that even at that early date the number of colored men that voted for Mr. Cleveland was far in excess of the plurality by which he carried the State. Mr. Cleveland's first administration, therefore, represented "Negro Domination." Mr. Cleveland did not hesitate to admit and appreciate the fact that colored men contributed largely to his success, hence he did not fail to give that element of his party appropriate and satisfactory official recognition.

Again, in 1888, General Harrison, the Republican Presidential candidate, carried the State of New York by a plurality of about 20,000, which resulted in his election, which he would have lost but for the votes of the colored men in that State. Therefore, Harrison's administration represented "Negro Domination."

The same is true of important elections in a number of States, districts and counties in which the colored vote proved to be potential and decisive. But enough has been written to show the absurdity of the claim that the suppression of the colored vote is necessary to prevent "Negro Domination." So far as the State of Mississippi is concerned, in spite of the favorable conditions, as shown above, the legitimate State Government,—the one that represented the honestly expressed will of a majority of the voters of the State,—was in the fall of 1875 overthrown through the medium of a sanguinary revolution. The State Government was virtually seized and taken possession of vi et armis. Why was this? What was the excuse for it? What was the motive, the incentive that caused it? It was not in the interest of good, efficient, and capable government; for that we already had. It was not on account of dishonesty, maladministration, misappropriation of public funds; for every dollar of the public funds had been faithfully accounted for. It was not on account of high taxes; for it had been shown that, while the tax rate was quite high during the Alcorn administration, it had been reduced under the Ames administration to a point considerably less than it is now or than it has been for a number of years. It was not to prevent "Negro Domination" and to make sure the ascendency of the whites in the administration of the State and local governments; for that was then the recognized and established order of things, from which there was no apprehension of departure. Then, what was the cause of this sudden and unexpected uprising? There must have been a strong, if not a justifiable, reason for it. What was it? That question will be answered in a subsequent chapter.

1 of 2
2 of 2