Rule in a Reconstructed (?) State
(The members call
each other thieves, liars, rascals, and cowards.)
Columbia. "You are Aping the lowest Whites. If you
disgrace your Race in this way you had better take Back Seats."
|If we may trust the
following report, taken from a recent number of the Charleston
News, some of the colored members of the South Carolina
Legislature must be men of very different stamp from the
cultivated and able gentleman who represents the State in the
Congress of the United States. During a recent debate in the
House on the appropriation for the penitentiary, a motion for
a reduction of the amount named in the bill led to the
"The proposed appropriation is not a whit too
"The institution ought to be self-sustaining. The member
only wants a grab at the money."
to Minortís relief). "Mr. Speaker, I riseó"
Hurley). "You shet you mouf, Sah." (Roars of
"That thief from Darlington." (A delicate allusion
Humbert. "If I
have robbed any thing, I expect to be Ku-Kluxed by just such
highway robbers as the member [Greene] from Beaufort. If I get
in the penitentiary, I wonít ask for $65,000 to support
Hurley). "You know as much about it as you do the
Governorís contingent fund."
least no one has been able, or ever attempted, to refute my
charges against the Governor, and his Excellency will not dare
"No; but if the Governor were not such a coward, he would
have cowhided you before this, or got somebody else to do
Hurley. "If the
gentleman from Beaufort [Greene] would allow the weapon named
to be sliced from his cuticle, I might submit to the
The next day Mr.
Greene attempted to explain that he did not mean to say
Governor Moses was a coward.
Greene (rising to
a question of privilege). "It was not the Governor to
whom I referred, but his aids. What I said was that if the
Governorís aids were not cowards, they would have cowhided
Hurley, and if I were a member of the Governorís staff, I
would have done it before this."
Hurley (rising to
a counter-question of privilege). "Nobody on the
Governorís staff, nobody he could put on there, not the
doughty gentleman from Beaufort, nor the valiant Governor
himself, dare undertake to cowhide me."
This, says the
Charleston News, "is the usual style in which the
business of law-making and money-grabbing is conducted in the
South Carolina Legislature. The radical members call each
other thieves, liars, and rascals without any provocation, and
do not appear to have any idea that they are insulting any
body, or that they are not telling the Gospel truth. Roars of
laughter on the part of the House and an increased consumption
of pea-nuts follow these outpourings of fish-fag rhetoric; but
for the honest citizens of the State the farce threatens to
have a tragic ending." The moral to be drawn from this is
indicated in Mr. Nastís cartoon on our front page. These
ignorant and incompetent legislators must give place to those
who will more faithfully represent the worth and intelligence
of the people of the State, both white and colored. But it
must be confessed that the colored members of the South
Carolina Legislature could point to very unsavory precedents
as to manner and language among white legislators of Southern
and Northern States.
While the Reconstruction effort faced an
opposition in the South characterized by
intimidation and violence, a political backlash
against those policies developed in the North.
Many Northern white Americans became wary of the
continued use of the military to enforce a
political agenda. Concerns about national
priorities were exacerbated when an economic
depression began in 1873-74, provoking much of the
Northern electorate to insist that the government
concentrate on economic affairs. Adding to the
Northern white reaction against the federal
Southern policy was the conventional wisdom that
the Reconstruction governments had become corrupt.
Those sentiments combined in the fall 1874
elections to allow the Democratic party to win
control of Congress for the first time since
before the Civil War.
In fact, there had been corruption in the
Reconstruction governments. Most historians,
however, have concluded that it was no worse, and
often not as bad, as the corruption in other state
governments at that time or in the past. Yet, the
commonly-held belief that Reconstruction
governments were especially corrupt would continue
well into the twentieth century. Much of the blame
for the alleged malfeasance was placed unfairly on
black office-holders. The South Carolina
legislature was particularly targeted as a symbol
of corruption because it was the only state
legislature in which blacks held a majority of the
For years, Thomas Nast had used his artistic talents in Harperís
Weekly to generate sympathy for the plight of black
Americans and support for black civil rights. This
illustration, though, demonstrates that he was not immune from
accepting the standard line on Reconstruction corruption or
from using racial stereotypes to make his point. The imagined
scene takes place in the South Carolina legislature. The
corresponding text in Harperís Weekly contains a
fictional and stereotyped exchange between black legislators.
The newspaper notes, however, that the corruption was probably
no worse than other instances of political graft.