South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948

By David Duncan Wallace | Go to book overview

CHAPTER LVII
READJUSTMENT UNDER HAMPTON, 1877-1886

Some Results of Reconstruction. --With the close of the incredible decade of 1867 to 1876 there began the real reconstruction, which was largely the undoing of "Reconstruction." Many of the miscreants fled, and a few were prosecuted as examples. Some of the fugitives approached South Carolina congressmen in Washington with suggestions of compromise. Large numbers of South Carolina Democrats were under prosecution under the election laws. The President and the Governor agreed, and "the exchange of prisoners" was consummated by the mutual abandonment of prosecutions and the pardon of those already convicted. The results of the war and Reconstruction, which for the South were parts of one whole, exercise to this day a profound influence in every department of Southern life. Apologists point to certain social legislation enacted during Radical rule as a justification for Reconstruction; but it is clear that this legislation would soon have come if a Negro had never voted. The State as a whole would soon have done what Charleston had done in 1856 in creating a thoroughly modern common school system. Nor can Reconstruction justly be praised or blamed for the democratizing of South Carolina politics. There had been a strong current of democratic protest in South Carolina until the exigencies of approaching war compelled concentration on external defense. The long step toward modern democracy which was taken in the white-man Constitution of 1865 would, but for Reconstruction, have been followed by others in the path of world-wide democracy long before 1890. Reconstruction, by forcing concentration on the maintenance of white supremacy, thereby withdrawing attention from social and economic problems, in effect postponed democratic reform. The democratic legislation of Reconstruction South Carolina retained, because it effected what South Carolina was already largely ready to do of herself.

One effect of Reconstruction was the political solidarity of the whites. The remembrance of what Negro rule meant, and what even the possession of the balance of power in the hands of an educated Negro minority would mean, has stiffened South Carolina politics into an intolerance of political action outside the organized white party which is unintelligible to persons unaware of South Carolina's history and

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