The era of "Reconstruction" was transitional in U. S. History. Years of sectional bickering culminated in a horrific war, which took the lives of hundreds of thousands, maimed countless others, and destroyed billions in property holdings throughout the Southern states. Then, this fratricidal conflict crashed, headlong, into a bitter Reconstruction era that created the movements, court cases, and issues which still reverberate in modern American society.
This excerpt, written by Myrta Lockett Avary in her work, Dixie After the War, offers insight into some of the agitating issues between the North and South during Reconstruction: the treatment of Jefferson Davis, the disenfranchisement of whites vis-a-vis the enfranchisement of blacks, and the influence and rhetoric of the the so-called carpetbaggers who flooded into the Southern states after the war.
August Glen-James, editor
We, the Republican Party, propose to confiscate the land of these white rebels and traitors and give it to you, to whom it justly belongs—forty acres and a mule and $100 to every one of you!
Official reports to Washington, changing their tone, referred to him as “State Prisoner Davis” instead of merely “Jeff Davis.” The National Republican, a Government organ, declared: “Something ought in justice to be done about his case. By every principle of justice as guaranteed by the Constitution, he ought to be released or brought to trial.” It would have simplified matters had he asked pardon of the National Government. But this he never did, though friends, grieving over his sufferings, urged him. He did not hold that the South had committed treason or that he, in being her Chief Magistrate, was Arch-Traitor. Questions of difference between the States had been tried in the court of arms; the South had lost, had accepted conditions of defeat, would abide by them; that was all there was to it. Northern men were coming to see the question in the same light.
Through indignities visited upon him who had been our Chief Magistrate was the South most deeply aggrieved and humiliated; through the action of Horace Greeley and other Northern men coming to his rescue was the first real balm of healing laid upon the wound that gaped between the sections. That wound would have healed quickly had not the most profound humiliation of all, the negro ballot and white disfranchisement, been forced upon us. . . .
[Ms. Avary then quotes a Republican Party operative . . . i.e., a carpetbagger.]
“The Republican Party gave you freedom and will preserve it inviolate! The Republican Party is your friend that has led you out of the Wilderness into the Promised Land! You do not need for me to tell you never to vote for one of these white traitors and rebels who held you as slaves. . . . We have given you freedom. We intend to give you property. We, the Republican Party, propose to confiscate the land of these white rebels and traitors and give it to you, to whom it justly belongs—forty acres and a mule and $100 to every one of you! (The Chairman exhausted himself seeking to subdue enthusiasm.) The Republican Party cannot do this unless you give it your support. All that it asks is your vote and your influence. If the white men of the South carry the elections, they will put you back into slavery.”