Monday, January 6, 2014

Reconstruction's Poisoned Air


The immense racial discord and animosity sown by the Republican party's Union League was incalculable and much of its sad residue remains with us today.  With their military victory over Americans in the South complete, and to rule the desolated South politically, Republicans used the black race to deliver their votes to unscrupulous Northern men and scalawags who plundered what was left and impoverish future generations.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman

North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission

"Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty"

"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"

Reconstruction's Poisoned Air

"The freeing of the slaves left a strong impression upon Clarence [Dixon], Tom's older brother, who said many years later:  "It was a pathetic occasion when father told the slaves they were free.  But the most pathetic part was nearly a year afterwards when they sent a committee to beg father to take them back on the plantation on the old terms, and look after them as he had done before."

Of course, the poverty-stricken Mr. [Thomas] Dixon [Sr.] could not see means of supporting his own family, to say nothing of the numerous Negro families now asking aid.  In the fall of 1865, the Dixons, now stripped of all their possessions, not knowing how or where to find the necessaries of life from day to day, and faced with the prospect of no harvest because of a lack of laborers to till the soil, gave up the farm and moved to an old-fashioned white house facing the public square in Shelby [North Carolina].

Then came the terrors of Reconstruction. The young Thomas Dixon was never to forget the impressions he received during this chaotic period, for he was to say over three-quarters of a century later: "The dawn of my conscious life begins in this strange world of poisoned air. My first memories still vibrate with its tense excitement."

When Lincoln was assassinated, the most powerful political figure among the Northern leaders was Thaddeus Stevens . . . [and his] determination to subjugate the South became almost an obsession.  The two main instruments by which Stevens hoped to bring about the subjugation were the "Union League" and the "Freedmen's Bureau."  Stevens planned to confiscate the farms of the South and give them to the Negroes.  By offering food, clothing, and free land, the agents hoped to induce the poverty-stricken Negro to cease working for the white man.

In the fall of 1866 throughout the next year, many men from the Union League of Philadelphia and New York filtered through the Negro population, sowing discontent.  [In] an effort to consolidate their [Republican] party, they were seeking the Negro vote in the South. The agents of the Leagues wandered about the plantations, seeking the Negro in field and cabin, promising him preposterous wealth and privilege if he would turn against his white neighbor and vote himself free of the [Southern] white man's restraint.

Unscrupulous agents took advantage of the ignorant, illiterate Negro populace, often inciting it to acts of treachery and violence.  The enmity, fear and distrust thus aroused between the white and Negro populations resulted in a reign of terror that is still remembered as one of the darkest periods in American history.

The corruption of the Reconstruction period can scarcely be exaggerated. [Thomas] Dixon said in his old age, "We are too close to realize the tragedy. The scholar and historian must have the perspective of a hundred years in which to tell this story to make it credible."  Unscrupulous political leaders, interested only in the wealth they could obtain from the disrupted government of the south, aroused antagonisms that never died among those who experienced the terrible years after the Civil War."

(Fire from the Flint, The Amazing Careers of Thomas Dixon,  Raymond Allen Cook, John F. Blair, Publisher, 1968, pp. 9-13)