Republicans and Black Suffrage During Reconstruction

Phil Leigh’s upset. Having had his essay on the Memphis Riots shredded in this blog, he complains that I’ve failed  “to address the central question of whether black suffrage in the South was more important to Radical Republicans as a matter of morality or as a tool to sustain the Party’s political power.”

Generally speaking, that’s not the central question people choose to explore when they discuss the wholesale slaughter of African Americans, including US Army veterans, by an out-of-control white supremacist mob egged on by local leaders. But Mr. Leigh would rather not tell you whether white southerners who opposed Reconstruction killed African Americans for political advantage or simply because they were vile racists. After all, in his mind it was the murderers who were the victims, not the murdered.

But let’s take Mr. Leigh’s query seriously for the moment. Have I failed in this blog (let alone my scholarship) to address the question he claims I’ve ducked?

Well, let’s first let Mr. Leigh rant on a little more:

As always, he plays the race card early and often as if morality was all that mattered to Republicans and that racism was all that mattered to their opponents. He does not mention that Republicans abandoned black Southern voters eleven years after the Memphis Riots as well as many other factors suggesting the primacy of political—as opposed to moral—motivation.

Nor does he mention that three Northern states put black suffrage on the ballot in 1868 where all of them rejected it. He ignores Northern racism where blacks represented 1% of the population and could not impact the balance of political power in any state. Conversely, he pretends that racism alone explains the white Southerner’s objection to black suffrage where African-Americans represented 40% of the population and would be an even greater percentage of total voters given black suffrage and continued disfranchisement of former Rebels as in Tennessee and other Southern states.

I’m still looking for that race card, which was most frequently played during Reconstruction by the very people Mr. Leigh thinks were wronged: namely, white southerners.

Nor do I see why I have to cover all of Reconstruction in an essay about the Memphis Riots. I guess Mr. Leigh concedes that he was wildly misinformed about a number of facts, or else he would have told me where I had erred when it came to those riots. After all. Mr. Leigh forgot to mention the Colfax and Hamburg massacres. Are we to conclude that he’s once more covering up for or excusing (perhaps even endorsing) white supremacist violence?

Note, however, that he’s willing to admit that white southerners killed black southerners for political advantage as well as due to sheer hatred rooted in racism. So it’s bad in his mind to push for black suffrage for political advantage while it’s perfectly acceptable to him to kill black southerners for political advantage.

That’s one way to play the race card, Mr. Leigh. You do it so well.

However, readers of this blog know full well that I’ve already explored the issue of Republicans and black suffrage on this blog, several years ago. Perhaps Mr. Leigh’s research skills have deserted him again, or perhaps the “search” box is too difficult for him to use. As to whether why his failure to do some research is due to incompetence, ignorance, or something else is left to you, the reader, to figure out.

I thus point you to the follow entries on this blog to give you some idea of my thinking on the issue:

The North, Politics, and Race: Some Observations

The Lessons of the Elections of 1866 and 1867

The Election of 1868

Republicans and the Fifteenth Amendment

One might also consult some of my writings on Reconstruction policy, especially The Reconstruction Presidents (1998).

Once Mr. Leigh does some reading, I might take him seriously.

So, when Phil Leigh, who has contributed essays to such fine sources of accurate history as the Abbeville Institute, tells you …

In sum, the central issue, which Simpson shrinks from debating, is whether Republican interest in Southern black suffrage was chiefly motivated by desires for racial equality or represented an attempt to secure a reliable voting block that would sustain the Party’s political power.

… remember this song:


18 thoughts on “Republicans and Black Suffrage During Reconstruction

  1. Jimmy Dick May 14, 2016 / 5:52 pm

    Hmm, let’s see. What would a good historian do when confronted by this situation? How about using primary sources to see what was being said the people at that time? I believe some very good historians have covered this. I’m pretty sure some guy named Foner may have written a book about Reconstruction. I know he covered it in his EdX courses during the third course.

    Another guy named Simpson (sound familiar?) covered this as well. I get the feeling that Mr. Leigh dislikes the facts and wants a different interpretation. Does he want the facts tossed out? Does he think the whole thing is a big giant conspiracy?

    Again, we see where the Dunning School on Reconstruction is being challenged by historians and people who prefer the older interpretation (and who are not historians) are upset. The idea that their ancestors were racists and willingly engaged in terrorism is best left alone in their minds. Sorry for them, but the facts show what happened.

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 14, 2016 / 6:05 pm

      Phil Leigh’s still sputtering in anger at his blog. Perhaps he doesn’t want to be revealed as a poor man’s Dunning or Bowers. Maybe he’ll rant some more once he tears himself away from his daily viewing of Birth of a Nation. Like Connie Chastain, he’s sunk to mocking people by accusing them of suffering from Tourette’s syndrome. I wonder what the Abbeville Institute will make of that. But, as I have said before, it’s the best these folks can do.

  2. James F. Epperson May 14, 2016 / 8:16 pm

    The original blog post (by Mr. Leigh) was bad; the response was worse.

  3. Christopher Shelley May 14, 2016 / 8:41 pm

    Why do so many Abbeville Institute economics enthusiasts (I can’t bring myself to call them “scholars”) feel compelled to write about the history of this period?

  4. Al Mackey May 14, 2016 / 9:18 pm

    Leigh shows why no one who has any understanding of history takes him seriously.

  5. OhioGuy May 14, 2016 / 9:59 pm

    Those dang primary sources and contemporary writings keep getting in the way of a good Yankee conspiracy theory. And, speaking of primary source research, it appears that a lot of baseball historians were recently found guilty of just regurgitating questionable secondary sources in labeling the Georgia Peach as a racist. A new book by Charles Leerhsen tells a much different story about Ty Cobb.

    For the short video version:

    For the unabridged video version:

    For the book:

    Let me note that Ty Cobb was a Georgian, who was apparently labeled a racist mainly because of where he was from and his accent. Since it fit so many northerners’ stereotypes of the southern cracker no one challenged that depiction of him for nearly 75 years, until Leerhsen dug through the primary source material that others had ignored. That’s the type of discrimination that Phil Leigh might want to work to stamp out.

    • Lyle Smith May 15, 2016 / 8:32 am

      The new Leerhsen biography is a must read for people interested in baseball history. Now we know there was more to Cobb.

      I would like a more academic work about Cobb, but I’ll take Leerhsen’s work.

    • Scott Ledridge May 15, 2016 / 11:35 am

      “What I didn’t understand was the power of repetition to mold minds…” Hear! Hear!

      …another book to buy.

  6. Rblee22468 May 14, 2016 / 11:12 pm

    You “sLeigh” me. LOL!

  7. Shoshana Bee May 15, 2016 / 12:40 am

    It’s after midnight, so I guess it’s safe to comment…

    Quote: “Generally speaking, that’s not the central question people choose to explore when they discuss the wholesale slaughter of African Americans, including US Army veterans, by an out-of-control white supremacist mob egged on by local leaders”

    Exactly how I feel.

    I normally would have avoided any CW conversation as heated as this — due to lack of background — but I was fortunate enough to have already read Pat Young’s fabulous articles on the Memphis Riots. When he made the primary source material available, I read them, also — specifically excerpts from The Joint Committee Investigation. They are quite specific and graphic.

    A quote from the Majority Report:

    “Most of the newspapers in the city had grossly misrepresented nearly everything connected with it, while great efforts had been made by the citizens to belittle it into a simple row between some discharged negro soldiers and the Irish police…..”

    Conclusion of Majority Report:

    “The state of things in the city of Memphis is very much now as it was before the breaking out of the rebellion. Many of the same newspapers published there then are published now, and by many of the same men – by men who, during the war, were in the rebel armies fighting for the overthrow of the government. Professing to accept the situation, they seem inspired with as deadly hatred against the government as ever, and are guilty of the same incitation to violence, persecution , and oppression toward the men who were well disposed toward the Union men in 1861.”

    I have stated this before: I am a rank amateur regarding all things Civil War, however, I have learned well enough that opinion is only worth the evidence that supports it.

    After all that I have read on this deeply disturbing, violent Massacre in Memphis, I find it degrading to the memory of those slaughtered human beings to put forth this posit by Leigh:

    “to address the central question of whether black suffrage in the South was more important to Radical Republicans as a matter of morality or as a tool to sustain the Party’s political power.”

    I am getting a bit confused about which post this comment should have been attached to Dr. S, so please feel free to move it, shelf it, or toss it. Felt good just to get the thoughts out.

  8. Michael Bradley May 18, 2016 / 5:05 pm

    General George Stoneman was the commander of the U.S.garrison in Memphis. How do you assess his involvement in this event?

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 19, 2016 / 12:13 am

      As you must know, Stoneman came under heavy criticism for his inaction in this event. Trusting the mayor and the chief of police to do their jobs was undoubtedly a mistake. Given Stoneman’s opposition to Republican Reconstruction, he may also have felt that military intervention, even to control the behavior of his own men on the eve of being discharged, would bring with it cries that military rule damaged reconciliation and deprived southern whites of the chance to maintain law and order. The riots suggested just how poorly equipped white southern political and municipal leaders in Memphis performed when it came to restraining white supremacists from committing acts of violence against US army personnel and veterans. But then Stoneman was no friend of blacks, either, and his control of the black soldiers in a military sense ceased upon their discharge.

      How do you assess the involvement of Mayor Park, Sheriff Winters, and Chief Garrett?

      • Michael Bradley May 19, 2016 / 7:30 am

        I am still in the process of doing research into the background and activities of these men. While I have known the basic facts about the event for many years I have never looked into it in depth. I do know that Stoneman went on to a long career in the army.

        • Brooks D. Simpson May 19, 2016 / 8:55 am

          Not all that long. He was out in the 1870s after a somewhat rocky postwar career. He became a good Democrat, and served as governor of California.

  9. Pat Young May 19, 2016 / 4:23 pm

    Leigh’s earlier post “Ulysses Grant” is very troubling. He calls into question the motives for:

    “Grant’s…sporadic efforts to sustain black voting privileges in the South”

    Why were votes for blacks privileges? All the Federal elections of the Grant Administration were held after the passage of the 15th Amendment. These were not privileges, they were rights.

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 19, 2016 / 5:27 pm

      Mr. Leigh says that to point out that the targets of white supremacist terrorism were usually African Americans is to play the race card (“playing the race card” is the card he plays a lot when he can’t deal with issues of racism). He accepts and even excuses the racism of his favorites, the Confederates and the terrorists, while waging his finger at others, and hopes that someone will chime in with whining about “political correctness.” Historical accuracy is beyond them.

    • rcocean May 21, 2016 / 8:21 pm

      It seems you’ve uncovered another closeted Counter-revolutionary, uh wait, I mean racist, Mr. Young. Well done.

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