Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Reconstruction and The Rise of the Klu Klux Klan


Senator Ted Cruz's Comments 

Texas Senator Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)claimed, "The Democrats are the party of the Ku Klux Klan." Speaking on Fox News, Cruz blasted the party for its opposition to Jeff Sessions,who was later confirmed as attorney general. 
Critics had accused Sessions of racial bias, among other things, but Cruz attempted to turn it around on the Democrats.

"When the left doesn’t have any other arguments, they go and just accuse everyone of being a racist. It’s an ugly, ugly part of the modern Democratic Party,” he said on "America’s Newsroom." 

"You look at the most racist, you look at the Dixiecrats, they were Democrats who imposed segregation, imposed Jim Crow laws, who founded the Klan,"Cruz said. "The Klan was founded by a great many Democrats." 

However, historians say the KKK and its founding had nothing to do with what Cruz called the "modern Democratic Party." 

PolitiFact looked into the accusation when it came up in 2013 and called it false.

The KKK was indeed made up largely of Democrats in the South after the Civil War, as most whites in the South were Democrats, but it was not started by the party. In addition, the modern Democratic and Republican parties are not what they were in the 19th century.

The Klan is Established

A group of southerners including many Confederate veterans founded the first branch of the Ku Klux Klan in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1866. The organization was originally established as a social club. The first two words of the organization’s name supposedly derived from the Greek word "kyklos," meaning circle. In the summer of 1867, local branches of the Klan met in a general organizing convention and established what they called an "Invisible Empire of the South." Attendees elected Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest as the first leader or "grand wizard" of the Klan.

Radical Republican Reconstruction Policies Energize the Klan

In keeping with President Lincoln's policy toward the former Confederate states, President Andrew Johnson’s relatively lenient Reconstruction policies were in place from 1865 to 1866. The nature of the Klan changed significantly with the beginning of the second phase of post-Civil War Reconstruction, which the more radical members of the Republican Party in Congress put into place. Congress passed the Reconstruction Act over the President Johnson's veto. The provisions of the act divided the South was into five military districts. The act also required each state to approve the 14th Amendment, which granted "equal protection" of the Constitution to former slaves and enacted universal male suffrage.
Freemen Voting in New Orleans in 1867
This act set resulted in a violent eruption by Southerners who was still reeling from their defeat in the Civil War. The life that they knew was gone and the new social and political status of blacks and Republicans destroyed the last semblance of the plantation life.  The Klan quickly evolved into a military organization to resist the Reconstruction Act. White Southerners from all classes of society joined the Klan. The first step was to attack and destroy the "Republican influence in the South by terrorizing and murdering its party leaders and all those who voted for it."  Then the Klan punished newly freed blacks for a variety of reasons, including behaving in an "impudent" manner toward whites. They whipped the teachers of freedmen's schools and burnt their schoolhouses.
An October 24th, 1874 Harper's Magazine
editorial cartoon by Thomas Nast
denouncing KKK and White League
 murders of innocent blacks
The isolated incidents against blacks and Republicans grew into riots. In 1866, a quarrel between whites and black veterans erupted into a full-fledged riot in Memphis, Tennessee. White police officers assisted the mobs in their violent rampage through the black sections of town. By the time the violence ended, the mob killed forty-six people, wounded seventy, and burned numerous churches and schools. Two months later, on July 30, a similar violent outbreak erupted in New Orleans. A white mob attacked the attendees of a black suffrage convention and killed thirty-seven blacks and three white supporters.
The violence in the South threatened to catapult the nation into a second civil war. Numerous organizations defied the Republican-led federal government and violently intimidated blacks and Republicans who tried to win political power. 

Grant's Presidency  

President Ulysses S. Grant
The Klan's activities increased in speed and brutality prior to the 1868 presidential election. In the crucial contest, Republican Ulysses S. Grant opposed Democrat Horatio Seymour. To the Klan, a Republican victory meant that the federal government would continue programs that "prevented Southern whites from gaining political control in their states." Klan members knew the blacks in their communities would vote Republican. Across the South, the Klan and other groups used brutal violence to intimidate Republican voters. In Kansas, over 2,000 murders were committed in connection with the election. In Georgia, the number of threats and beatings was even higher. In Louisiana, the Klan and other organizations killed 1,000 blacks before the election. In those three states, Democrats won decisive victories at the polls.
The Klan's violent actions actually backfired. Northerners believed the violence and coercions indicated that the South had not learned its lesson in the recent war. Federal government officials  realized that the South required harsher laws to stop the violence and protect Southern blacks.
Republican Ulysses S. Grant won the 1868 presidential election with the slogan, "Let Us Have Peace." Republicans also won a majority in Congress. Many Northerners, disgusted by Klan violence, supported the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave the vote to black men in every state, and the First Reconstruction Act of 1867, which placed harsher restrictions on the South and closely regulated the formation of their new post-Civil War governments. 

Enforcement and Klu Klux Klan Acts

Between 1870 and 1871, Congress passed the Enforcement Acts, which made it a crime to interfere with registration, voting, office holding, or jury service of blacks. Courts indicted more than 5,000 people under these laws, but only convicted slightly more than 1,000.
In 1871, Congress also passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, which allowed the government to act against terrorist organizations. Grant did not rigorously enforce these laws, although he did order the arrest of hundreds of Klan members. However, the overwhelming support of the Klan in the South made convictions difficult to obtain, and the financial panic of 1873 distracted the North from the problems of Southern racism. 
From the early 1870s onward, white supremacy gradually reasserted its hold on the South as federal support for Reconstruction waned. By the end of 1876, the Democratic Party again controlled the entire South. In 1882, the United States Supreme Court declared Ku Klux Klan Act unconstitutional.

Hayes Ends Reconstruction

President Rutherford
 B. Hayes
On January 29, 1877, President Grant signed the Electoral Commission Act, which set up a fifteen-member commission to settle the disputed 1876 election of eight Republicans and seven Democrats. The Electoral Commission awarded Rutherford B. Hayes the electoral votes he needed and Congress certified that he won by one electoral vote. Southern Democrats agreed not to block Hayes' inauguration based on a "back room" deal. Key to this deal was the understanding that federal troops would no longer interfere in southern politics despite substantial election-associated violence against blacks. The Southern states said they would protect the lives of blacks. Hayes' friends spread rumors that he would promote Federal aid for internal improvements and name a Southerner to his cabinet. With the end to the political role of Northern troops, the President had no method to enforce Reconstruction, thus this "back room" deal signaled the end of American Reconstruction.   

Rebuttal of Senator Cruz's Statements

Based on the historical record, Senator Cruz's assertion is wrong. The Klan drew their membership from "small farmers and laborers to planters, lawyers, merchants, physicians and ministers."  In areas of high Klan activity, local law enforcement officials either belonged to the Klan or refused to take action against it.  Even officials who arrested accused Klansmen found it difficult to find witnesses willing to testify against them. Other leading white citizens in the South declined to speak out against the group’s actions and gave them tacit approval. The Klan members were probably Southern Democrats. Attributing the rise of the Klan to all Democrats ignores the Northern Democrats who rejected the Klan's actions.
Senator Cruz also ignores the role that radical Republicans played in fostering the growth of the Klan. Klan activities were in direct response to legislation passed by Republican legislators. Efforts to elect Republicans to local, state, and national posts were met with violence.  At least ten percent of the black legislators elected during the 1867-1868 constitutional conventions were victims of violence including seven who were murdered. The more the Republican-controlled federal government tried to enforce legislation against the Klan, the more the Klan resisted attempts to change the social and political environment in the South. Then, federal Republican authorities led by President Rutherford B. Hayes compounded the issue by refusing to enforce the very laws they enacted.

Sources

Sen. Ted Cruz Calls Democrats "The Party of the KKK"
PBS - Rise of the Klu Klux Klan
History - Klu Klux Klan
New Georgia Encyclopedia - Klu Klux Klan in the Reconstruction Era
North Carolina Digital History - The Compromise of 1877
Wikipedia - Reconstruction Era
Wikipedia - Klu Klux Klan

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