Wikiquote:Transwiki/American History Primary Sources Reconstruction and the New South


1865 We want the burnt district of Richmond to... sit proudly again. People of Richmond, Virginia, largely destroyed in the evacuation of the Confederate government and army on April 2, not wanting its stockpiles of supplies to fall into the hands of the Union.

1865 A wilderness of crumbling walls, naked chimneys, and trees killed by flames. Visitor’s description of Columbia, South Carolina, destroyed by Sherman’s army on its march northward.

1865 Our fields everywhere lie untilled. White Mississippian at the end of the war, after slaves had fled.

1870 I do not forgive. I try not to forgive. What! Forgive these people, who have invaded our country, burned our cities, destroyed our homes, slain our young men, and spread desolation and ruin over our land! No, I do not forgive them. Rev. Robert Lewis Dabney of Virginia, on the North.


1865 An’ we got on the boat in a hurry.... [W]e all give three times three cheers for the gunboat boys, and three times three cheers for big Yankee [soldiers], an’ three times three cheers for gov’ment; an I tell you every one of us, big and little, cheered loud and long and strong, an’ made the old river just ring ag’in. Account of two women slaves, Mill and Jule, who were set free by sailors on a gunboat passing their plantation.

1865 No, Miss, I must go. If I stay here I’ll never know I am free. Former slave in South Carolina, responding to her former owner’s request that she stay on as the family’s cook after being freed.

1865 In slavery I owns nothin’. In freedom I’s own de home and raise de family. All dat cause me worryment and in slavery I has no worryment, but I takes de freedom. Former slave in Texas, when asked which of she preferred: slavery or freedom?

1865 Right off colored folk started on the move. They seemed to want to get closer to freedom, so they’d know what it was — like it was a place or a city. A freedman recalling how great numbers of former slaves began a great migration after the Civil War.

1865 Dear Sister Jane, Your little brother Hawkins is trying to find out where you are and where his poor old mother is — Let me know and I will come to see you — I shall never forget the bag of biscuits you made for me.... Please send me some of Julia’s hair whom I left as a baby in the cradle when I was torn away from you. Letter from former slave Hawkins Wilson to his sister, presumably sent to the plantation where they had been enslaved.

1865 Just think of whole droves of people, that had always been kept so close, and hardly ever left the plantation before, turned loose all at once, with nothing in the world, but what they had on their backs. Former slave Parke Johnson.

1865 Men are taking their wives and children, families which had been for a long time broken up are united and oh! Such happiness. Union Army officer in the postwar South.

1865 [T]he best thing about the war setting us free, [was] he could come back to us. William Curtis of Georgia, a former slave, on the return of his father, who had been sold to a planter in Virginia.

1865 In their eyes, the work of emancipation was incomplete until the families which had been dispersed by slavery were reunited. From a report of an agent by the Freedmen’s Bureau.

1865 That old white preachin’ wasn’t nothin.’ Old white preachers used to talk with their tongues without sayin’ nothin,’, but Jesus told us slaves to talk with our hearts. Former slave Nancy Williams, on why former slaves began going to their own churches after the Civil War.

1865 "Why, Si, you're a gentleman now." "Ma'am, I always was a gentleman." Exchange between James Henson, an escaped slave of Montgomery County, Maryland and the lady of the house, upon his return after the Civil War to the plantation where he had been a slave. Henson’s autobiography Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction became a best seller and provided information about slave life and Henson was used by Harriet Beecher Stowe as the model for Uncle Tom in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

1865 It seems humiliating to be compelled to bargain and haggle with our own servants about wages. Daughter of a Georgia plantation owner.

1865 They’ve left me one inestimable privilege — to hate ‘em. I git up at half-past four in the morning, and sit up till twelve at night, to hate ‘em. Opinion of Northerners of a white North Carolinian, who lost his home, his sons, and his slaves, in the Civil War.

1865 It is the first time in my life that I ever had to give up the sidewalk to a man, much less to negroes! Eliza Andrews, a Georgia plantation mistress, after a former slave refused to give way to her on a sidewalk.


1865 [Former slaves] committing riots, routs, affrays, trespasses, malicious mischief, cruel treatment to animals, seditious speeches, insulting gestures, language, or acts, or assaults on any person, disturbance of the peace, exercising the function of a minister of the Gospel without a license,... vending spiritous or intoxicating liquors, or committing any other misdemeanor, the punishment of which is not specifically provided for by law. From the Mississippi “Black Code” (Southern state laws meant to limit the freedom of former slaves).

1865 The men of the North will convert the State of Mississippi into a frog pond before they will allow such laws to disgrace one foot of soil in which the bones of our soldiers sleep and over which the flag of freedom waves. Editorial in the Chicago Tribune opposing the Mississippi Black Code.

1865 [N]o person of color shall pursue or practice the art, trade, or business of an artisan, mechanic, or shopkeeper, or any other trade employment, or business, besides that of husbandry [farming], or that of a servant under contract for service or labor” without buying an expensive permit. From the South Carolina Black Code.

1865 If you call this Freedom, what do you call Slavery? Black Southern war veteran, protesting his being forced to sign a 12-month labor contract or be arrested for vagrancy.

1865 The gentlemen of the South mean to win. They meant it in 1861 when they opened fire on Sumter. They meant it in 1865 when they sent a bullet through the brain of Abraham Lincoln. They mean it now. The moment we remove the iron hand from the Rebels’ throats they will rise and attempt the mastery. Horace Greeley, editorial in the New York Tribune (November 15, 1865).

1866 African Americans have “full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens. From the Civil Rights Act of 1866, meant to weaken Southern states’ black codes.

1867 Grandfather clause Part of Black codes in Southern states excluding persons (former slaves) from having rights, such as the right to vote, not held by their grandfathers.

1868 I saw them kill my husband;... he was shot in the head while he was in bed sick.... There were between twenty and thirty men.... They came into the room.... The one... put the pistol to his head and shot him three times. Former slave Sarah Song, recounting the murder of her husband by the Ku Klux Klan.

1868 The Republicans] in time of profound peace... [brought to the country] military despotism and negro supremacy... [while the Democrats demanded] the abolition of the Freedmen’s Bureau; and all political instrumentalities designed to secure negro supremacy. Platform of the National Democrat Party, 1868.

1869 These constitutions and governments will last just as long as the bayonets that ushered them into being, shall keep them in existence, and not one day longer. A South Carolina Democratic newspaper, saying that Reconstruction will end when the Union Army is pulled out of the South.

1871 [The word carpetbagger] applied to the office seeker from the North who came here seeking office by [getting the votes of] the negroes, by arraying their political passions and prejudices against the white people of the community. Spoken by a Democrat Congressman from a Southern state.


1864 It is said that the colored man is ignorant, and therefore he should not vote. In saying this, you lay down a rule for the black man that you do not apply to no other class of your citizens.... If he knows enough to be hanged, he knows enough to vote. If he knows an honest man from a thief, he knows much more than some of our white voters.... All I ask, however, in regards to blacks, is whatever rule you adopt, whether of intelligence or wealth, as the condition of voting, you should apply it equally to the black man. Frederick Douglass

1865 [N]either slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime.... shall exist within the United States. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

1865 I am for the “immediate, unconditional, and universal” enfranchisement of the black man, in every State of the Union. Without this, his liberty is a mockery; without this, you might as well almost retain the old name of slavery for his condition; fir in fact, if he is not the slave of the individual master, he is the slave of society, and holds his liberty as a privilege, not as a right. He is at the mercy of the mob, and has no means of protecting himself... It may be asked, “Why do you want it? Some men have got along very well without it. Women have not this right.” Shall we justify one wrong by another? This is the sufficient answer. Shall we at this moment justify the deprivation of the Negro of the right to vote, because some one else is deprived of that privilege? I hold that women, as well as men, have the right to vote, and my heart and voice go with the movement to extend the suffrage to women.... We may be asked, I say, why we want it. I will tell you why we want it. We want it because it is our right, first of all. No class of man can, without insulting their own nature, be content with any deprivation of their rights. We want it, again, as a means for educating our race. Men are so constituted that they derive their conviction of their own possibilities largely by the estimate formed of them by others. If nothing is expected of a people, that people will find it difficult to contradict that expectation. By depriving us of suffrage, you affirm our incapacity to form an intelligent judgment respecting public men and public measures; you declare before the world that we are unfit to exercise the elective franchise, and by this means lead us to undervalue ourselves. Frederick Douglass, “What the Black man Wants,” a speech before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society (April 1865). 1865 We would ask for no rights or privileges but such as rest upon the strong basis of justice.... We ask first, that the strong arm of law and order be placed alike over the entire people of this State; that life and property be secured, and the laborer free to sell his labor as the merchant [sells] his goods. We ask that a fair and impartial instruction be given to the pledges of the government to us concerning the land question. We ask that the three great agents of civilized society — the school, the pulpit, the press — be as secure in South Carolina as in Massachusetts or Vermont. We ask that equal suffrage be conferred upon us, in common with the white men of this State. This we ask, because ‘all free governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed’; and we are largely the majority in this State, bearing for a long period the burden of onerous taxation, without a just representation. Letter to Congress from a group of African Americans in South Carolina (November 1865).

1865 Our wives, our children, our husbands, has been sold over and over again to purchase the lands we now locates upon. We have a divine right to the land. Former slave Bayley Wyat

1865 [Universal manhood suffrage is] an essential and inseparable element of self-government.... [The Declaration of Independence is] the broadest, the deepest, the most comprehensive and truthful definition of human freedom that was ever given to the world. Statement of the Freedmen’s Convention of North Carolina.

1866 [All citizens are granted] equal protection of the laws. From the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

1866 The colored people are very anxious to get land of their own to live upon independently; and they want money to buy stock to make crops.... The only way to get these necessaries is to give our votes to the [Republican] party... making every effort possible to bring these blessings about by reconstructing the State. A union League organizer, working for the successful election of Brister Reese and James K. Green, two former slaves, to the Alabama state legislature.

1867 Give us our own land and we can take care of ourselves. But widout land, de ole massas can hire us or starve us, as dey please. Call of former slaves to be given land.

1867 [The land of white plantation owners had been] nearly all earned by the sweat of our brows, not theirs. It has been forfeited to the government by the treason of its owners, and is liable to be confiscated whenever the Republican Party demands it. Report of the Colored Convention, Montgomery, Alabama, arguing that rebels’ land should be turned over to former slaves.

1867 We claim exactly the same rights, privileges and immunities as are enjoyed by white men — we ask nothing more and will be content with nothing less.... The law no longer knows white nor black, but simply men, and consequently we are entitled to ride in public conveyances, hold office, sit on juries and do everything we have in the past been preventing from doing solely on the ground of color. Report of the Colored Convention, Montgomery, Alabama.

1869 [T]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged... on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.... The proposed Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

1869 American women of wealth, education, virtue, and refinement... [should oppose the Fifteenth Amendment] if you do not wish the lower orders of Chinese, Africans, Germans, and Irish, with their low ideas of womanhood to make laws for you and your daughters. Women’s suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, of the American Equal Rights Association, opposing adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment until women were first given the right to vote.

1869 This hour belongs to the negro. African-American group to women’s rights leaders who opposed passage of the Fifteenth Amendment.

1869 My reply is this: Do you believe the African race is composed entirely of males? Women’s suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, reply to African-American critics.

1869 Universal suffrage can only mean in plain English the government of ignorance and vice — it means a European, and especially Celtic, proletariat [working class] on the Atlantic coast, an African proletariat on the shores of the Gulf, and a Chinese proletariat on the Pacific. Liberal Republican Charles Francis Adams, opposing the Fifteenth Amendment.

1870 This wonderful, quiet, sudden transformation of four millions of human beings from... the auction-block to the ballot-box. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, on the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment.

1871 When myself and colleagues shall leave these halls and turn our footsteps toward our southern home we know not but the assassin may await our coming. Be it as it may we have resolved to be loyal and firm, and if we perish, we perish! I earnestly hope the bill will pass. Rep. Joseph Rainey (R-South Carolina), a former slave, urging Congress to pass the Ku Klux Klan Act.

1874 The passage of this bill will determine the civil status, not only of the negro but of any other class of citizens who may feel themselves discriminated against. It will form the capstone of that temple of liberty begun on this continent. Representative Robert B. Elliott (R-South Carolina), a former slave, speaking in the House of Representatives in favor of a civil rights bill.


1864 Ten Percent Plan. President Lincoln’s plan of Reconstruction: when 10% of prewar voters in a Southern state took a loyalty oath to the United States, that state could begin to be readmitted to the Union.

1865 With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on... to bind up the nation’s wounds... to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace. President Lincoln, from his Second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1865).


1865 Johnson, we have faith in you. By the gods, there will be no trouble now in running the government. Senator Ben Wade of Ohio, co-author of the Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill of 1864 that had been vetoed by President Lincoln because it would punish the South.

1865 Restoration Word used by Pres. Andrew Johnson for what others called “Reconstruction”, implying that the only problem was to restore the states as they were in 1860, before secession. 1866 [T]here were two parties — one for destroying the government to preserve slavery, and the other to break up the government to destroy slavery. The objects to be accomplished were different, it is true, but they agreed in one thing, and that was the breaking up of the government. They agreed in the destruction of the government, the precise thing which I have stood up to oppose. Whether the disunionists come from the South or the North, I stand now where I did then [in 1860], to vindicate the Union of these states and the Constitution of the country.... The war to suppress our rebellion was to prevent the separation of the states and thereby change the character of the government and weakening its power. Now what is the change? There is an attempt top concentrate the power of the government in the hands of a few, and thereby bring about consolidation which is equally dangerous and objectionable with separation.... What us being proposed? We find that, in fact, by an irresponsible central directory, nearly all the powers of government are assumed without even consulting the legislative or executive departments of the government... [in] a committee upon whom all the legislative power of the government has been conferred.... President Andrew Johnson, extemporaneous remarks attacking the Radical Republicans, on Washington’s Birthday on the White House lawn (February 22, 1866).


1865 The great plantations... must be broken up, and the freedmen musty have the pieces. Senator Charles Sumner (Republican-Massachusetts)

1865 The whole fabric of southern society must be changed and never can it be done if this opportunity is lost. How can republican institutions, free schools, free churches, free social intercourse exist in a mingled community of nabobs and serfs? If the South is ever to be made a safe republic, let her lands be cultivated by the toil of the owners. Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, a leader of the Radical Republicans in the House of Representatives, to a meeting of the Pennsylvania delegation in Congress.

1865 The Federal Government must eliminate the South’s “large estates, widely scattered settlements, wasteful agriculture, popular ignorance, social degradation, the decline of manufactures, contempt for honest labor, and a pampered oligarchy... [and replace it with] small farms, thrifty tillage, free schools, social independence, flourishing manufactures and the arts, respect for honest labor, and equality of political rights. Radical Republican Representative George W. Julian of Indiana, giving the ideas of Radical Republicans on reconstructing the South.


1865 The war being at an end, the Southern states having laid down their arms and the questions at issue between them and the Northern states having been decided, I believe it to be the duty of everyone to unite in the restoration of the country and the reestablishment of peace and harmony. General Robert E. Lee, letter (September 7, 1865)

1865 We did anything and everything to make a living. Prominent citizens became piesellers. Colonel Cary, of General Magruder’s staff, came home to find his family desperately poor, as were all respectable folks. He was a brave soldier, an able officer — before the war, principal of a male academy at Hampton. Now he did not know to what he could turn his hand for the support of himself and his family. He walked around his place, came in, and said to his wife: “My dear, I have taken stock of our assets. You pride yourself on your apple pies. We have an apple tree and a cow. I will gather the apples and milk the cow, and you will make the pies, and I will go around and sell them.” Armed with pies, he met his aforetime antagonists at Camp Grant and conquered them quite. The pies were delicious; the seller was a soldier, an officer of distinction, in hard luck; and the men at Camp Grant were soldiers too. There was sharp demand and good prices; only the elite — officers of rank — could afford to indulge in these confections.... Colonel Cary had thrifty rivals throughout Dixie.... General Stephen Elliott sold fish and oysters which he caught with his own hands. His friend, Captain Stoney, did likewise. Gentlemen of position and formerly of wealth did not pause to consider whether they would be discredited by pursuing occupations quite as humble. Men of high attainments, without capital, without any basis upon which to make a new start in life except ‘grit,’ did what they could to find to so and made merry over it. For months after the surrender, Confederates were passing through the country to their homes, and hospitality was free to every ragged and footsore soldier; the poor best the larder of every mansion afforded was at the command of the grayjacket.... A man who belonged to the crippled squad, not one of whom had a full complement of arms and legs, told this story: As four of them were limping along near Lexington (Virginia), they noticed a grayheaded white man in rough, mud-stained clothes turning furrows and behind him a white girl dropping corn. Taking him for a hired man, they hallooed: ‘Hello, there.’ The man raised his head. ‘Say,’ they called, can you tell us where we can get something to eat/’ He waved them toward a house where a lady was on the porch asked them to have a seat and while she had food cooked. They had an idea that she prepared with her own hands the dinner to which they presently sat down, of hot hoecakes, buttermilk, and a little meat so smothered in lettuce leaves that it looked a great deal. When they had cleaned up the table, she said: “I am having more bread cooked if you can wait a few minutes. I am sorry we have not more meat and milk. I know this has been a very light repast for hungry men, but we have entertained others this morning, and we have not much left. We have to send our soldiers hungry from the door; they ought to have the best of everything when they have fought so long and bravely and suffered so much.” The way she spoke made them proud of the arms and legs they didn’t have. Now that hunger was somewhat appeased, they began to note surroundings. The dwelling was that of a military man, and a man of piety and culture. A lad running in addressed the lady as Mrs. Pendleton and said something about “where General Pendleton is plowing.” They stumbled to their crutches! and in blushing confusion humble apologies, all the instincts of the soldier shocked at the liberties they had taken with an officer of such high grade and at the ease of manner with which they had sat at his table to be served by his wife. They knew their host for William Nelson Pendleton, late brigadier general, C.S.A., chief of artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia, a fighting preacher. She smiled when they blundered out the excuse that they had mistaken him for a day laborer. “The mistake has been made before,” she said. “Indeed, the General is a day laborer in his own field, and it does not mortify him in the least now that all our people have to work. He is thankful his strength is sufficient, and for the help that the schoolboys and his daughters give him.” She put bread into their haversacks and sent them on their way rejoicing. The day laborer and his plow were close to the roadside, and as they passed, they drew themselves up in line and brought all the hands they had to their ragged caps in salute. Myrta Lockett Avary

c. 1871 “[The] party of progress and civilization,” and the “gospel of prosperity” Mottos of Southern Republicans, appealing for support from Southern white voters.

c. 1871 Yankees and Yankee notions are just what we need in this country. We want their capital to build factories and workshops. We want their intelligence, their energy and enterprise. Thomas Settle of North Carolina, calling for a “New South” that would become more like the North.

c. 1875 [Sharecropping is] an unwilling concession to the freedmen’s desire to become a proprietor. Southern Argus of Montgomery, Alabama.

c. 1875 I just got tired of working for the other fellow. I worked and toiled from year to year and all the fruits of my labor went to the man who never struck a lick... I never made anything. John F. Armstrong, a white one-time sharecropper who left sharecropping.

1877 The whole of the South is hidden by successive layers of broken promises. To trust a Southern promise would be fair evidence of insanity. Abolitionist Wendell Phillips, arguing against the “Compromise of 1877" that removed the U.S. Army from the South, thus ending Reconstruction, and returned white Democrats to power, promising that they would respect the rights of African Americans.

1877 The whole South — every state in the South — has got into the hands of the very men that held us slaves. A black Louisianan, after the “Compromise of 1877".

1877 The negro will disappear from the field of national politics. Henceforth, the nation, as a nation, will have nothing to do with him. Piece in the liberal magazine, The Nation, on the ending of Reconstruction.

1880 Set up spindles in the cotton fields. Advice of the Mississippi Valley Cotton Planters’ Association to its members.

c. 1881 The craze for Greek and Latin learning. Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute, wanted American-Americans to become educated in practical skills rather than in the Classics of traditional education.

c. 1890 The South is Pennsylvania’s most formidable enemy. Pennsylvania steelmaker Andrew Carnegie, after visiting the new steel mills in Birmingham, Alabama.

1892 Solid South After Reconstruction ended, Republican state governments were replaced by racist white Democrats, and all of the South supported the Democrat candidate for president. 1895 In all things purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.... [There were] no limits to the attainments of the Negro.... I want to see him enter the all-powerful business and commercial world. Booker T. Washington, discussing race relations in his address at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta.

1896 [The Supreme Court gave states the power] to place in a condition of legal inferiority a large body of American citizens. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, dissenting from the Court’s rulings in Plessy v. Ferguson and other cases that allowed Southern states to do away with many of the rights of African-Americans.

c. 1900 We were about five and seven years old at the time. Mama and Papa used to take us to Pullen Park in Raleigh (North Carolina) for picnics, and that particular day, the trolley driver told us to go to the back. We children objected loudly, because we always liked to sit in the front, where the breeze would blow in your hair. That had been part of the fun for us. But Mama and Papa just gently told us to hush and took us to the back without making a fuss. Sarah. L. Delany and A. Elizabeth Fdelany, Having Our Say. The Delany sisters lived their last days in Mount Vernon, NY.

c. 1900 [The African-American is] a fiend, a wild beast, seeking whom he may devour. Senator Ben Tillman (D-South Carolina)

1904 The only good Negro is a dead Negro. Gov. Jefferson Davis of Arkansas to President Theodore Roosevelt (October 25).

1904 Above all other men, governor, you and I as exponents and representatives of the law, owe it to our people, owe it to the cause of civilization and humanity, to do everything in our power, officially and unofficially, directly and indirectly, to free the United States from the menace and reproach of lynch law. President Roosevelt’s reply to Gov. Davis of Arkansas.

1905 Any discrimination based simply on race or color is barbarous. Persistent manly agitation is the way to liberty. W. E. B. DuBois (1868-1963), in 1909 the co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

1909 Is it possible... that the nine millions of men can make effective progress in economic lines if they are deprived of political rights?... If history and reason give any distinct answer to those questions, the answer is an emphatic No. W. E. B. Dubois, in The Souls of Black Folk.