Facts of Reconstruction, The



To turn again to the South. This section has been a fertile field for political experimental purposes by successive Republican administrations, ever since the second administration of President Grant. The Solid South, so-called, has been a serious menace to the peace and prosperity of the country. How to bring about such a condition of affairs as would do away with the supposed necessity for its continuance has been the problem, the solution of which has been the cause of political experiments. President Hayes was the first to try the experiment of appointing Democrats to many of the most important offices, hoping that the solution would thus be found. But he was not given credit for honest motives in doing so, for the reason that the public was impressed with the belief that such action on his part was one of the conditions upon which he was allowed to be peaceably inaugurated. At any rate the experiment was a complete failure, hence, so far as the more important offices were concerned, that policy was not continued by Republican administrations that came into power subsequent to the Hayes administration, and prior to that of Taft's.

I do not mean to say that no Democrats were appointed to important offices at the South by the administrations referred to, but such appointments were not made with the belief or expectation that they would contribute to a solution of the problem that was involved in what was known as the Solid South. Political and social conditions in that section of the country are such that the appointment to some of the federal offices of men who are not identified with the Republican party is inevitable. The impression that the writer desires to make upon the mind of the reader is that, between the administration of Hayes and that of Taft no Republican administrations made such appointments with the expectation that they would contribute to a breaking up of the solid south. President Roosevelt tried the experiment of offering encouragement and inducements in that direction to what was known as the Gold-standard Democrats, but even that was barren of satisfactory results. President Taft seems to be the only Republican President since Mr. Hayes who has allowed himself to labor under the delusion that the desired result could be accomplished through the use and distribution of Federal patronage. The chief mistake on the part of those who thus believe, and who act in accordance with that belief, grows out of a serious lack of information about the actual situation. In the first place their action is based upon the assumption that the Solid South,—or what remains of it,—is an outgrowth of an honest expression of the wishes of the people of that section, whereas, in point of fact, the masses had very little to do with bringing about present conditions and know less about them. Those conditions are not due primarily to the fact that colored men are intimidated by white men, but that white men are intimidated by the Democratic party. They are not due primarily to the fact that colored men are disfranchised, but that white men are prevented from giving effective expression to their honest political opinions and convictions.

The disfranchisement of the colored men is one of the results growing out of those conditions, which would not and could not exist if there were absolute freedom of thought and action in political matters among the white people. The only part that the so-called Race Question plays in this business is that it is used as a pretext to justify the coercive and proscriptive methods thus used. The fact that the colored man is disfranchised and has no voice in the creation and administration of the government under which he lives and by which he is taxed does not change the situation in this respect. His presence,—whether he can vote or not,—furnishes the occasion for the continuance of such methods, and, as long as intelligent persons, especially at the North and particularly in the Republican party, can be thus fooled and deceived they will not be discontinued.

The announcement of President Taft's Southern policy, therefore, was received by the present leaders of the Democratic party at the South with satisfaction and delight, not on account of the official recognition that members of their party were to receive, for that was of secondary importance, but on account of the fact that they could clearly see that their contention about the so-called race question was thus given a national sanction, which would have the effect of making that question serve them for several more Presidential campaigns. It was giving a new market value to this "watered stock," from which they would derive political dividends for a much longer period than they otherwise would. They could thus see to their unbounded glee that if a man of President Taft's intelligence and experience could thus be deceived as to conditions at the South, they would not have very much difficulty in deceiving others who were not believed to be so well informed.

To solve this problem, therefore, the disposition of the federal patronage will cut a very small figure. The patronage question is not half so important, in a political or party sense, as many have been led to believe. It really makes very little difference by whom the few offices are held, whether they be all Democrats, all Republicans, some white, some colored, provided they be honest, capable, and efficient For political, personal or party reasons some feeling may be created, and some prejudice may be aroused on account of the appointment of a certain person to an office; but if no attention should be paid to it, and the fact should be developed that the duties of the same are being discharged in a creditable and satisfactory manner the public will soon forget all about it. The fact remains, however, that the disposition of the federal patronage will not produce the slightest change in the political situation in such localities. If a national Republican administration should refuse to appoint a colored man, for instance, to any office in any one of the Southern States for the alleged reason that it might be objectionable to the white people of the community,—and therefore might have a tendency to prevent white men from coming into the Republican party,—at the very next election in that community the fact would be demonstrated that the Republican party had not gained and that the Democratic party had not lost a single vote as a result thereof. The reason for this result would be in the first place that the excuse given was insincere and untrue, and in the second place, because the incumbent of the office, whoever he might be, would produce no effect whatsoever in the local situation in consequence of his appointment to the office and his acceptance of it. If there should be any change at all in the situation it would doubtless be to the detriment of the Republican party; for there would, no doubt, be some who would be disposed to resent what would seem to them to be political or party ingratitude.

So far as the colored Republicans are concerned they have been in the past, and must be in the future, nothing more than party allies. They have never dominated a State, nor have they controlled the Republican organization of any State to the exclusion of the white men thereof. They have simply been the allies of white men who could be induced to come forward and assume the leadership. This is all they have been in the past; it is all they desire to be in the future. They are perfectly willing to follow where others lead provided those others lead wisely and in the right direction. All they ask, desire and insist upon is to be recognized as political allies upon terms of equality and to have a voice in the councils of the party of their choice and in the creation and administration of the government under which they live, and by which they are taxed, and also a fair and reasonable recognition as a result of party success, based, all things else being equal, upon merit, fitness, ability and capacity. Even in States where it is possible for them to wield a sufficient influence to be potential in party conventions, and to help shape the policy and select the candidates of that party, they never fail to support the strongest and best men among the white members of the organization. If it be true that they were sometimes the victims of misplaced confidence, it cannot, and will not, be denied that the same is equally true of white men of far more experience in such matters.

If there is ever to be again, as there once was, a strong and substantial Republican party at the South, or a party by any other name that will openly oppose the ruling oligarchy of that section,—as I have every reason to believe will eventually take place,—it will not be through the disposition of federal patronage, but in consequence of the acceptance by the people of that section of the principles and policies for which the National Organization stands. For the accomplishment of this purpose and for the attainment of this end time is the most important factor. Questionable methods that have been used to hold in abeyance the advancing civilization of the age will eventually be overcome and effectually destroyed. The wheels of progress, of intelligence, and of right cannot and will not move backwards, but will go forward in spite of all that can be said and done. In the mean time the exercise of patience, forbearance, and good judgment are all that will be required.

Another fact which seems to be overlooked by many is that the so-called Solid South of to-day is not the menace to the country that it was between 1875 and 1888. During that period the Solid South included the States of Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri. Those States at that time were as reliably Democratic as Texas and Georgia. Such does not seem to be true of them now, and yet I venture the assertion that the disposition of the federal patronage in them had very little, if anything, to do with bringing about the change. What has been done and is being done in those States can be done in others that are located south of them. As strong as the Republican party is there is one thing it cannot afford to do, and that is to encourage or tolerate the drawing of the race or color line in any efforts that may be made to break up and dissolve what now remains of the Solid South. One of the cardinal principles and doctrines of the Republican party,—the principle that has, more than any other, secured for it the loyal and consistent support of those who represent the moral sentiment of the country,—is its bold and aggressive advocacy and defense of liberty, justice, and equal civil and political rights for all classes of American citizens. From that grand and noble position it cannot afford to descend in an effort to find new and doubtful allies. If it should in an evil moment allow itself to make such a grave blunder, such a criminal mistake, it will thereby forfeit the confidence and support of the major part of those upon whom in the past it has relied,—and never in vain,—for its continuance in power. There is nothing in the situation that would justify the experiment, even if it were thought that a little temporary and local advantage would be secured thereby.

The Fifteenth Amendment to the National Constitution was not intended to confer suffrage upon any particular race or class of persons, but merely to place a limit upon the National Government and that of the several States in prescribing the qualifications of electors. Whatever power the national or any state government may have had in prescribing the qualification of electors prior to the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment it still has, save that it cannot legally and constitutionally make race or color a ground of disqualification. In other words, whatever qualifications may be prescribed and fixed as a condition precedent to voting, must be applicable to white and colored alike. A few States, under the false plea of political necessity, have resorted to certain schemes of doubtful constitutionality, for the sole purpose of evading this plain provision of the National Constitution. They may stand for a while, but, even if they could stand indefinitely, that fact would furnish no excuse for the party,—a party that has stood so long, and fought so hard for liberty, justice, equal rights, and fair play,—to enter into a political alliance with any other party or faction which would involve a compromise or an abandonment of those grand and noble principles. The Republican party is still in the prime and glory of its usefulness. It is still strong in the confidence and affections of the masses of the people, at least such was the case in 1908, because it had not up to that time allowed itself to compromise or abandon,—so far as its platform utterances were concerned,—the fundamental principles which called it into existence and which caused it to be placed in control of the National Government, and which have caused its continuance in power for so many years. Whether or not the unwise and unfortunate southern policy inaugurated by the Taft Administration will result in disaster to the party is not and cannot be known at this writing. We can only hope.


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