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:
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: