When an American has been born who
can write an impartial history of the ten years of our country immediately succeeding Appomattox, and deal fairly with the
opposing factions in the bitter and frequently bloody after-struggle, he will find nothing so remarkable and mysterious as
the purposes and history of "The Invisible Empire," more commonly known as the "Ku Klux Klan." It sprang into being almost
in a night; it spread with inconceivable rapidity, until its "dens" largely dominated the States of Mississippi, Alabama,
Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and parts of Arkansas and Louisiana. It defied State and national
authority (as they then existed), and under the very nose of the army of the United States it sent forth 100,000 armed men
to do its bidding, passed laws without Legislatures, tried men without courts, and inflicted penalties, sometimes capital
ones, without benefit of clergy; it was the most thoroughly organized, extensive, and effective vigilance committee the world
has ever seen; or is likely to see; its every act was in defiance of the established order and the spirit and letter of our
institutions, and yet I am thoroughly convinced that, among conditions as they existed in the States referred to between 1866
and 1872, scarcely a man in this assembly would have been other than a Ku Klux or a Ku Klux sympathizer. I do not mean that
anyone present could for an instant tolerate or excuse many acts of cruelty and oppression committed by "The Invisible Empire,"
or the still larger number committed in its name by its enemies and reckless and malicious individuals, who had no real connection
with the movement; I do not mean that the original design of the organization, treated as an academic question, could meet
with the approval of right-minded men; but an individual can be properly judged only in the light of surroundings and the
conditions under which he acts; applying this standard, the Ku Klux movement assumes the dignity of a revolution, the protest
of a proud and despairing race against conditions not to be endured; not a movement of weaklings or theorists, but of desperate
men, challenging fate, and swearing that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should be theirs and their children's
at any cost.
All authorities have not agreed on what
constitutes the right of revolution; it is stated by one that "The right of revolution is the inherent right of a people to
cast out their rulers, change their polity, or effect radical reforms in their system of government or institutions, by force
or a general uprising, when the legal and constitutional methods of making such changes have proved inadequate, or are so
obstructed as to be unavailable." (Black's Constitutional Law, 2nd Ed., p.11.)
Another says - "The general duty of obedience
to the laws results from the protection they afford to the lives and property of the citizens and subjects; but when a civil
government fails to afford that protection, and obstinately persists in a course injurious to the people, and when the probable
evils accompanying the change are not greater than the blessings to be obtained by it, revolution becomes a duty as well as
a right." (Sir Sherston Baker,)
Still a third says - "When a long train
of abuses and usurpation's, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under an absolute despotism,
it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their security."(Halleck
on International Law.)
It has been contended by some that the right
of revolution exists in instances where there is a reasonable probability of its being successfully asserted, and it may be
said that a revolution is a rebellion which succeeds, while a rebellion is a revolution which fails; measured by any of these
rules, the Ku Klux movement must be set down as a revolution, in that it accomplished certain results when all other measurers
The author of this paper was born during the
war and raised on a plantation in Monroe County, Mississippi, near the Tombigbee River; it was a section devoted to cotton
raising, the Negroes outnumbered the whites about four or five to one, and no portion of the South suffered more from the
horrors of reconstruction or responded more militantly to the call of "The Invisible Empire."
As a child the writer has spent many a winter's
evening in the Negro quarter listening to the weird stories of phantom horses and gigantic riders who nightly kept the countryside
in fear, of ghostly visitors whose grinning skulls were carried under their arms and whose skeleton hands were offered in
salutation, and of how each night they came from the graves of Shiloh and Vicksburg to ride again and warn the wandering Negro
to stay by his own fireside and not tempt Providence by nocturnal meetings.
As the years rolled by the child gradually learned
who the riders were, and why they rode; he came to know that perhaps all the adult male members of his own family had been
Ku Klux, and in writing and by word of mouth received from survivors a clearer insight into what has never been half understood
at the North and not fully at the South. In his search for the truth the writer has not hesitated in appropriating from several
excellent articles on the subject important facts and figures; an article written by D.L. Wilson, which appeared in the July
Century for 1884, entitled "The Ku Klux Klan," and one published by William Garrott Brown in The Atlantic Monthly
of May, 1901, with the title "The Ku Klux Movement," have been especially helpful, and quotations from both have been freely
indulged in in several instances.
In order to understand the remarkable conditions
existing when the order sprang into being, it is necessary to glance at national legislation and policy between 1865 and 1872.
Perhaps the greatest misfortune which could
have befallen the South was the assassination of Abraham Lincoln; he was not only a great man, but he was a kind and generous
man, who, throughout the war, looked upon the South as an erring child to be brought back, forcibly in necessary, into its
father's house, and in dealing with the great problems immediately following the war he would have acted with "charity for
all, with malice towards none,"
Perhaps the second greatest misfortune which
could have befallen the South was the succession of Andrew Johnson to the presidency. With the single exception of Aaron Burr,
no public man of our country has suffered so much at the hands of his contemporaries as has Andrew Johnson; despised by the
South as a renegade, first distrusted and finally hated by the Republicans with a venom unsurpassed in public life, he was
ground between the upper and nether millstones. As a matter of fact, honesty and consistency marked his remarkable political
career, but no man was ever more brutal or less diplomatic in dealing with delicate situations or endowed with such a faculty
for doing the right thing in the wrong way.
It hardly admits of question but that Johnson
adopted, almost in total, the plan Mr. Lincoln had mapped out for dealing with the Southern States, involving the
immediate organization of the State governments and their representation in both Houses of Congress.
The details of the plan included the appointment
of a provisional governor by the President in each State , and the calling of a Constitutional Convention with delegates selected
by those who were qualified voters under the old laws and would take the oath of allegiance prescribed by the Amnesty proclamation;
it was also Mr. Lincoln's plan to admit as voters such Negroes as could read and write and had served in the Union army.
When Congress met in December, 1865, the Southern
States had carried out the design of the President.
It must be borne in mind that throughout the
war and up to this time the North and the Republican party had uniformly contended that the Southern States had never been
out of the Union, that the Union and the States were indestructible, and that there was no way by which any of them could
get out/ this had been announced in various resolutions of Congress and proclamations of Mr. Lincoln, and was in fact the
only theory on which the position of the Union in the war between the States could be sustained.
Immediately on the collapse of the Confederacy
the views of the leaders of the Republican party underwent a startling change; Thaddeaus Stevens, as leader in the House,
and Wade and Sumner in the Senate began to preach the doctrine that the Southern States had become conquered provinces, that
all Federal laws and guarantees of the Constitution of the United States were suspended within their limits, and that Congress
alone could restore the laws and rights so suspended. It the Southern States were still States of the Union, then their citizens
were entitled to all the guarantees of the Federal Constitution; if they were no longer States, that a successful war waged
to preserve the Union had resulted in its dissolution.
It is not the purpose of this paper to discuss
the motives that inspired these men. It is to be noted, however, that at the very time the dominant party in Congress was
denying the existence of these States as such, the Supreme Court of the United States was recognized their existence by trying
cases brought by and against them as States, the justices of the court were sitting on Circuit in these States, which was
permissible only in the event tat they were States, and their votes as States had just been considered and counted in the
adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment, which otherwise could not have been adopted, as the Southern States constituted over
one-fourth of those in the Union.
The personal and political strength of Mr. Lincoln,
coupled with the fact that he was one of the original leaders and organizers of the Republican party, might have enabled him
to succeed where Johnson failed. Andrew Johnson was never a Republican, but a States Rights Union Democrat, and in 1864 was
placed on the Republican ticket as a sop to the War Democrats of the North and to strengthen the administration in the border
The North had hardly recovered from the first
sensation of horror over the assassination of Mr. Lincoln and corresponding bitterness towards the South, before President
Johnson announced his policy, and the long contest between the Executive and Legislative Departments of the National Government
The first open rupture occurred in February,
1866, when the President vetoed what is known as the "Freedmen's Bureau Bill," which was passed in a slightly different
shape over his second veto on July 16th of the same year.
The bill established a bureau, to be a part
of the War Department, which was to have jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to freedmen; it provided for agents to be
appointed from the army, or civil life, in all counties of the South, who were to exercise the powers of military judges;
among other vague and indefinite provisions it contained the following:
"The President shall, through the
commissioner and the officers of the bureau, and under such rules and regulations as the President, through the Secretary
of War, shall prescribe, extend military protection and have military jurisdiction over all cases and questions concerning
the free enjoyment of such immunities and rights" as are guaranteed to freedmen by the terms of the bill; these agents likewise
exercised jurisdiction over all matters of contract between Negroes and white men; In trials before them, the ordinary
rules of law governing procedure were abolished, the right of trial by jury was denied, no presentment or indictment was required,
the punishments were not fixed by law, but were such as the different agents might deem proper and adequate, and from these
remarkable tribunals no appeal lay to any of the courts vested by the Constitution of the United States with the exclusive
judicial powers of the Nation. Last, but not least, a detail of troops was at the beck and call of each agent to enable
him to enforce his extraordinary jurisdiction. Although the Constitution of the United States provides that every State shall
have at least on representative in Congress and that no State, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage
in the Senate, not a single member of either House of Congress from any of the States affected by this bill was recognized
or allowed to participate in the proceedings of Congress when it was being passed, although, under proclamation of the President,
their State governments had been duly organized and their elected representatives were at Washington demanding their seats.
At this day it will not be seriously
contended that this legislation was warranted as a war measure, for the war had been over for more than a year, and the authority
of the United States was not being questioned in any portion of the South.
In the spring and summer of 1867
Congress passed, over the President's veto, three bills providing for "the more efficient government of the rebel States."
These bills divided ten of the Southern
States into five military districts, each to be ruled over by an army officer not below the rank of brigadier general; his
duties and authority were "to protect all persons in their rights of person and property; to suppress insurrection, disorder,
and violence, and to punish, or cause to be punished, all disturbers of the public peace and criminals"; one provision declared
all interference by State authority void; another provided that the military commander might "allow local civil tribunals
to try offenders," but left it to his discretion whether he should do so or not; another gave the commander the power to suspend
or remove from office, or from the performance of official duties, all civil or military officers of any State or municipality,
and fill their places with such soldiers or civilians as he saw fit; the effect of this legislation was to abolish the trial
by jury in all criminal and civil cases, to proclaim martial law and thereby suspend the writ of habeas corpus to authorize
arrests without warrant, abolish indictment and presentment for crime, discard process of law, and make the citizen and his
property answerable to the will or caprice of a military officer from whose decision there was no appeal, except in case of
a death sentence, when the approval of the President was required; the power was also given to the military commander to delegate
most of these powers to whatever subordinates he saw fit. Not only did this legislation violate almost every guarantee of
the State and Federal Constitutions, but it gave to a subordinate military officer powers which the combined legislative,
executive, and judicial branches of the National Government could not exercise.
In one of his veto measures
Andrew Johnson truthfully said, "Such a power has not been wielded by any monarch in England for more than five hundred years.
In all that time no people who speak the English language have borne such servitude."
In this legislation it was also proved
that the prescribed military rule was to continue until the ten States held constitutional conventions in a manner set out,
elected delegates thereto under domination of the military, adopted constitutions satisfactory to Congress, had their Legislatures
adopt the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and until said amendment had been adopted by three-fourths
of the States of the entire Union.
When it is added that up to 1872
all white men were disfranchised and forbidden to hold any State or Federal office who had been engaged in insurrection forgiven
aid or comfort to the enemies of the United States and had previously held any State or Federal office, it will be seen how
complete was the scheme of reconstruction.
The only possible excuse for the
plan was that the condition of the country demanded martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, and this
is fully met by calling attention to the fact that the suspension of this great writ is prohibited by the Constitution except
in cases of "rebellion or invasion"; no one will seriously contend that either of these conditions existed.
The Civil Rights Bill, passed several
years later through the influence of Charles Summer, completed what are usually considered the reconstruction acts. Sumner
is said to have been a believer in the social equality of the Negro, and for the purpose of forcing this on the South a bill
was put through Congress authorizing the United States courts, by heavy penalties, to compel admission of Negroes to hotels,
theaters, schools, etc., and upon juries. This last act was held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States
in 1883. A bill was also introduced by Thaddeus Stevens to confiscate the property of all persons who participated in the
rebellion, but his never became a law.
The writer of this paper is willing
to let these acts speak for themselves without further comment, except to quote the recent public denunciation of them by
Chas. Francis Adams as "impossible and indefensible."
But, if the reconstruction laws were
unconstitutional, and wrong and vicious in theory, their practical application to the situation was infinitely worse; substantially
all of the intelligent class of the South were disfranchised; the Negroes, not one of whom out of every hundred could either
read or write, constituted almost the entire voting population carpetbaggers from the North and scalawags from the South,
composed almost exclusively of the very scum of creation, organized and controlled the Negro vote, held the more lucrative
offices and began an era of corruption and plunder unheard of before in the history of America. Even Republican papers admitted
An editorial of The Nation,
issued March 23, 1871 says, "We owe it to human nature to say that worse governments have seldom been seen in a civilized
country. They have been largely composed of trashy whites and ignorant blacks. The great majority of the officers and legislators
have been either wanting in knowledge or in principle, or in both."
In another leader, issued March
30th of the same year, the same paper says. "Nothing would satisfy the hot-headed majority in Congress but to drive these
men (the Southern leaders) into private life, and hand over the government to ignorant Negroes and worthless Northern adventurers."
The Charleston Daily Republican,
speaking of the appointed officers in South Carolina, says: Some of them had better hammer stone in the penitentiary than
hold office," and speaking of the elected Negro officers, it says, "many are ignorant and degraded and altogether sold to
Undoubtedly a few good men came South
at the close of the war, but it can be truthfully said of the great mass that no Goth who followed the banner of Alaric to
the sack of Rome was a more ruthless destroyer of property, or held in greater contempt the rights of a prostrate people than
did the carpetbaggers who followed in the wake of the Federal armies.
A few figures will give some
faint idea of the results of this saturnalia of ignorance and corruption. In Mississippi 6,4000,000 acres of land, being 20
percent of the total acreage of the State, was forfeited for taxes, the State tax for 1871 being four times as great as for
1869, that of 1873 eight times as great, and that of 1874 fourteen times as great; State, county and municipal taxes aggregated
an amount equivalent to confiscation, and values for taxation were frequently placed by Negro boards of supervisors at from
two to four times the actual values.
In South Carolina the taxes in 1860
amounted to $400,000, while in 1871 they amounted to $2,000,000, though the taxable values had shrunk from $490,000,000 to
$184,000,000, thus making the rate of taxation almost fifteen times greater. The result was that a large part of the land
was forfeited and lay waste or was parceled out among Negroes. Notwithstanding this enormous tax, the debt of the State increased
from $1,000,000 in 1867 to $5,000,000 in 1868 and to $30,000,000 in 1872.
During the Same period the debt of
Louisiana increased from $6,500,000 to $50,000,000.
The affairs of counties, towns and
villages were in even worse condition, most of their officers being Negroes, who could neither read nor write, and "who knew
none of the uses of authority except its insolence."
The utter bankruptcy of States, counties
and cities and their citizens was the least of the evils which prevailed.
Thousands of Negroes left the farms
and crowded into the towns and villages to live on the bounty of the government and exercise the rights of suffrage and office
holding denied to their late masters; many of them were armed and organized into militia companies, Southern white men being
excluded from these bodies; the agents of the Freedmen's' Bureau and the judges of the courts were largely prejudiced against
the native whites, and frequently profoundly ignorant, and many members of the constabulary were unable to write a return
upon a writ; drunken and insolent Negroes thronged the streets, and white women were frequently subjected to the vilest insults;
Federal troops were quartered in the towns and often used to enforce the malice or caprice of agents of the Freedmen's Bureau
and Negroes and Northern adventurers; men and women were frequently arrested without warrant or specific charge and carried
forty or fifty miles from their homes and imprisoned for indefinite periods without a hearing and finally discharged without
even appearing before a judge;
Woodrow Wilson in his History
of the American People, says:"The white men of the South were aroused by the very instinct of self-preservation
to rid themselves, by fair means or foul, of the intolerable burden of government sustained by the votes of ignorant Negroes
and conducted in the interest of adventure; governments whose incredible debts were incurred that thieves might be enriched,
whose increasing loans and taxes went to no public use, but into the pockets of party managers and corrupt contractors. There
was no place of open action or of Constitutional agitation, under the terms of reconstruction, for the men who were the real
leaders of the Southern communities. Its restrictions shut white men of the older order out from the suffrage even. They could
act only by private combination, by private means, as a force outside of the government, hostile to it, proscribed by it,
of whom opposition and bitter resistance was expected, and expected with defiance."
The men of the South had seen the last hope
from constituted authority dissipated; there remained "nothing less than the corruption and destruction of their society,
a reign of ignorance, a regime of power basely used, " under which they and their wives and children could hope for no protection
of life, liberty or property, and at this point they gathered for resistance.
Curiously enough, fate had prepared a potent
weapon, and at the critical moment thrust it into the hands of these desperate and despairing men.
On Christmas eve in 1865 in the law office of
Judge Thomas Jones, in the little town of Pulaski, in Southern Tennessee, near the Alabama line, six young men, all confederate
veterans, concluded to organize a society of some kind; some one suggested that they call it "Kuklid," from the Greek word
Kuklos, meaning a circle, and some other person present said, "Call it Ku Klux"; the word "Klan" was then added to complete
the alliteration. In order to arouse public curiosity and surround the organization with an atmosphere of mystery, various
devices were resorted to; the oath bound the member to absolute secrecy in regard to everything pertaining to the order, and
he was prohibited from disclosing the fact that he was a Ku Klux, or giving the name of any other member, or soliciting membership;
each member was required to appear at the meetings arrayed in a long robe with a white mask and very tall hat made of white
pasteboard; the meetings were held at night in the cellar of a deserted brick house standing on a hill near the town. The
officers were a "Grand Cyclops," who presided at the meetings; a "Grand Maji, " who was a kind of vice-president; a "Grand
Turk," or marshal, a "Grand Exchequer," who acted as treasurer, and two "Lictors, who were the outer and inner guards of the
"Den." One of these "Licotrs: was stationed in front of the old ruin and another between it and town, both dressed in the
hideous regalia of the order and bearing enormous spears. The only business transacted at the meetings was the initiation
of new members with the most fantastic of ceremonies, and the only purpose of the order was to mystify outsiders and have
fun. During the summer the membership rapidly increased, the local papers contained many references to it, and the probable
objects of the movement were being generally discussed; young men from the country and neighboring counties were initiated
and organized "dens" in their neighborhoods, the same mystery and secrecy being maintained. The red lights and uproar of initiations
seen and heard at midnight from graveyards and haunted houses were duly reported and repeated in the Negro quarter and among
whites of the lower classes with every exaggeration which ignorance and suppression could suggest. Acting on mysterious statements
from gigantic shrouded figures who frequented lonely country roads a midnight, it began to be bruited abroad the the Ku Klux
were the spirits of dead Confederate soldiers. Travel along the roads on which the ghostly "Lictors" stood sentinel was almost
discontinued at night, and even the wisest and least imaginative persons began to wonder what it all meant.
The most remarkable characteristics of the Negro
race at the present day are their vivid imagination and universal superstition; during slavery and the years following the
war, for obvious reasons these characteristics were much more pronounced than now.
The Ku Klux Klan readily appealed to these people
as an incation of powers of darkness, and it was soon noticed that in neighborhoods where "dens" were actively operating no
Negro could be induced to budge beyond his doorsill after dark.
The rapidity with which the order spread during
the winter of 1865-1866 was marvelous, and yet there was still no serious purpose behind the movement and nothing to support
it beyond the enjoyment of the initiations and the baffled curiosity of the mystified public. As time went by, however, and
the members began to realize the amazing influence of the unknown over the minds and actions of men, and what a power was
in there hands, and saw the unexampled rapidity with which the order crossed mountains and rivers and states, they themselves
began to be imbued with that the idea that some great mission awaited the movement. The discovery of such a mission was not
difficult; the need of some drastic remedy for existing conditions was recognized by all, and the terror inspired by the Ku
Klux Klan suggested that it might be utilized to protect property and suppress crime and disorder.
At this time there were probably several hundred
"dens" in Middle and West Tennessee, and a number in Mississippi and Alabama, but they had no general organization, no means
of communication, no supreme authority, and in fact, they had no need of such things; the idea of using the order as patrols,
or "patter rollers," and regulators seemed to spontaneously spring up over the entire region dominated by the "dens," without
an consultation, or chance for consultation among the scattered local leaders, and was promptly acted on. As soon as this
developed, it was deemed best to perfect a more regular organization, and in the spring of 1867 the "Grand Cyclops" of the
Pulaski "den" sent out a request to all dens of which he had knowledge to send delegates to a convention to be held in Nashville;
these delegates met secretly without attracting public attention, and adopted a plan of organization. The region in which
the Klan operated was to be known as the "The Invisible Empire," divided into Realms," corresponding with states; each "Realm"
was divided into "Dominions," corresponding with congressional districts; each "Dominion" into "provinces," corresponding
with counties, and each "Province" into "Dens."
The supreme head of the order was the "Grand
Wizard, " the ruler of a "Realm" was a "Grand Dragon," that of a "Dominion" a "Grand Titan," That of a "Province" a "Grand
Giant," and that of a "Den" a "Grand Cyclops."
A statement of the principles of the order,
not for publication, contained the following words:
"We recognize our relation to the United States
Government, the supremacy of the Constitution, the Constitutional laws thereof, and the Union of the States there under."
The special objects of the order were set out
"(1) To protect the weak, the innocent, and
the defenseless from the indignities, wrongs, and outrages of the lawless, the violent, and the brutal; to relieve the injured
and the oppressed; to secure the suffering and unfortunate, and especially the widows and orphans of Confederate soldiers.
(2) To protect and defend the Constitution of
the United States, and all laws passed in conformity thereto, and to protect the States and people thereof from all invasion
from any source whatever.
(3) To aid and assist in the execution of all
Constitutional laws, and to protect the people from unlawful seizure, and from trial, except by their peers, in conformity
with the laws of the land."
The secret Nashville convention gave a still
greater impetus to the movement, for the same unbearable conditions existed in almost every Southern community, and the belief
that nothing could be hoped for from national or local authorities was prevalent and well founded. In order to more effectively
carry out their plans, and deceive the public as to their members, the "Grand Dragon" of the "Realm" of Tennessee issued an
order for a general parade in each county seat on the night of July 4, 1867. A faint idea of the impression created can be
gathered from the account of an eye-witness of what occurred in Pulaski. "On the morning of that day the citizens found the
sidewalks thickly strews with slips of paper bearing the printed words: "The Ku Klux will parade the streets tonight.' This
announcement created great excitement. The people supposed that their curiosity, so long baffled, would now be gratified.
They were confident that this parade would at least afford them the opportunity of learning who belonged to the Ku Klux Klan.
Many came from the surrounding country. The
members of the Klan in the county left their homes in the afternoon, and traveled alone or in squads of two or three, with
their parapher"Soon after nightfall the streets were lined with an expectant and excited throng of people. nalia carefully
concealed. If questioned, they answered that they were going to Pulaski to see the Ku Klux parade. After nightfall they assembled
at designated points near the four main roads leading into the town. Here they donned their robes and disguises, and put covers
of gaudy materials on their horses. A skyrocket sent up from a point in the town was the signal to mount and move. The different
companies met and joined each other on the public square in perfect silence; the discipline appeared to be admirable. Not
a word was spoken. Necessary orders were given by means of whistles. In single file, in deathlike stillness, with funeral
slowness, they marched and countermarched throughout the town. While the column was headed north on one street it was going
south on another. By crossing over in opposite directions the lines were kept up in almost unbroken continuity. The effect
was to create the impression of vast numbers. This marching and countermarching was kept up for about 2 hours, and the Klan
departed as noiselessly as they came The public was more than ever mystified. The efforts of the most curious to find out
who were Ku Klux failed. One gentleman from the country was confident that he could identify the riders by the horses, but,
as we have said the horses were disguised as well as the riders. Determined not to be baffled, during a halt of the column
he lifted the cover of a horse that was near him and recognized his own steed and saddle, on which he had ridden into town.
The town people were on the alert to see who of the young men of the town would be Ku Klux. All of them, almost without exception,
were marked mingling freely and conspicuously with the spectators.
"Perhaps the greatest illusion produced was
in regard to the numbers taking part in the parade. Reputable citizens were confident that the number was not less than three
thousand. Others, whose imaginations were more easily wrought upon, were quite certain there were ten thousand. The truth
is that the number of Ku Klux in the parade did not exceed four hundred."
It is safe to say that 90 percent of the work
of the Klan involved no personal violence. In most instances mere knowledge of the fact that the Ku Klux were organized in
the community and patrolled it by night accomplished most that was desired; in case the nocturnal political meetings of the
Negroes, organized by the scalawags and carpetbaggers, proved disorderly and offensive, sheeted horsemen would be found drawn
up across every road leading from the meting place, and, though not a word was spoken, and no violence whatever offered, that
meeting usually adjourned; sometimes the entire Klan was divided into smaller bodies, which rode all night , appearing in
Negro quarters distributed over a large section of country, and usually maintain absolute silence and troubling no one. In
case a Negro became insolent or dangerous, he was likely to be visited by a mounted specter some twelve feet high, who asked
for water, drank a bucket full with the remark that it was the first he had tasted since he was killed at the battle of Shiloh,
extended a skeleton hand, or what appeared to be his skull, to his unwilling host, and departed with the suggestion that he
would call again in case the owner of the cabin did not improve his manners. No one who was not raised among Negroes can form
the slightest conception of the potency of these methods.
In dealing with objectionable characters among
the whites, mysterious communications, sealed with skull and crossbones, were usually pinned upon their doors at night, warning
them to mend their ways or leave the country. In many instances all the officers of a county were notified that it was time
for them to depart, and they did so with no unnecessary delay.
There lives in the capital City of Texas an
honorable member of our profession, who has held for many years one of the highest positions within the gift of the state,
who organized every "Den" in the state of Florida. I have his word for it that not one single act of personal violence was
committed by any one of these "Dens." Their most noteworthy achievement was the destruction of the entire shipment of guns
sent from the North to arm the Negro militia of the State. Every telegraph operator, brakeman, engineer and conductor on the
road over which these arms entered the State was a Ku Klux; the shipment was watched at every point, and between Lake City
and Madison, Florida, the entire two carloads of guns were thrown from the moving train by night by a select band of Ku Klux
under the personal command of this gentleman, who had quietly boarded the train at the last stop. The Ku Klux left the train
at the next station and destroyed the shipment before it was missed, and this notwithstanding the fact that two coaches filled
with United States soldiers, sent to guard the arms, were attached to the same train. I am informed by one who participated
in the movement that when the 1500 stand of arms intended for the Negro militia of Arkansas left Memphis on the steamer "Hsper,"
it was overtaken by a tug and the entire shipment broken and thrown into the river.
The men who committed these acts may be condemned
by some as lawless, but the destruction of tea in Boston Harbor by comparison becomes rank piracy.
But masked riders and mystery were not the only
Ku Klux devices; carpetbaggers and scalawags and their families were ostracized in all walks of life; in the church, in the
school, in business wherever men or women, or even children gathered together, no matter what the purpose or the place, the
alien and the renegade, and all that belonged or pertained to them, were refused recognition and consigned to outer darkness
and the companionship of Negroes.
In addition to these methods there were some
of a much more drastic nature; the sheeted horsemen did not merely warn and intimidate, especially when the warnings were
not heeded. In many instances Negroes and carpetbaggers were whipped, and in rare instances shot or hung. Notice to leave
the country was frequently extended and rarely declined, and , if declined, the results were likely to be serious. Hanging
was promptly administered to the house burner, and sometimes to the murderer; the defamer of women of good character was usually
whipped, and sometimes executed if the offense was repeated; threats of violence and oppression of the weak and defenseless,
if persisted in after due warning, met with drastic and sometimes cruel remedies; mere corruption in public office was too
universal for punishment, or even comment, but he who prostituted officilial power to oppress the individual, a crime prevalent
from one end of the country to the other, especially in cases where it affected the widow and the orphan, was likely to be
dealt with in no gently way, in case a warning was not promptly observed; those who advocated and practiced social equality
of the races and incited hostility of the blacks against the whites were given a single notice to depart in haste, and they
rarely took time to reply.
I have in my possession a letter recently received
from one who in his young manhood was one of the advisers and leaders of the Klan in East Mississippi, and who subsequently
for years served his State with distinction in the National Congress. I quote this language of his, worthy of all acceptation:
"No Victim of their displeasure never suffered
without first a full and ample investigation of his case, ex p, 'tis true, but all the facts were first found out
and thoughtfully weighed, for and against him, and the sentence carefully considered and made commensurate with the justice
and necessity of the case. They made the punishment suit the crime." Where good men controlled little real injustice was done,
but in many instances "Dens" were dominated by the reckless and the cruel. These men committed crimes equal to, or worse than
those the movement was intended to suppress, and ultimately brought the greatest reproach upon the order. The writer, after
going over a very large amount of data, include a hurried perusal of some thirteen volumes devoted by the committees of Congress
to the subject, has become fully convinced that in a vast majority of cases the victims of the Ku Klux Klan received just
about what they were entitled to.
On account of the secret character of the Klan,
it was impossible for it to defend itself against many false accusations. Violence and crimes with which it had no connection
were constantly charged to it, and it is well known that many arrests were made of lawless persons clothed in the Ku Klux
disguise, who did have, and could have had no connection whatever with the order.
" But the Invisible Empire, however its sway
was exercised, was a real empire. Wisely and humanely, or roughly and cruelly, the work was done. the State governments, under
carpetbag control, made little headway with their freedmen's/ militia against the silent representatives of the white man's
will." Acts of Congress and proclamations of President Grant, backed by the army of the Nation, were not sufficient to meet
the desperate onset of men who, armed with crude weapons, were making what seemed to them the last stand for all they held
sacred. Time is not allowed to review the history of the order in the different States; in some it lasted much longer than
in others, because the conditions it was intended to remedy lasted longer.
In September, 1868, Cover nor Brlownlow called
the Legislature of Tennessee together and had an at passed comparable only to the reconstruction acts of Congress. By its
terms association or connection with the Klan was punished by a fine of $500 and imprisonment in the penitentiary for not
less than five years; every inhabitant of the state was constituted an officer with power to arrest without process anyone
known to be, or suspected of being, a Ku Klux; to feed, lodge, entertain or conceal a ku Klux subjected the offender to a
fine of k$500 and imprisonment for five years, and informers were offered one-half of the fine.
Notwithstanding these drastic provisions, the
Ku Klux continued to actively operate in Tennessee for about six months thereafter. In the latter part of February, 1869,
the "Grand Wizard," a citizen of Tennessee, issue a proclamation to his subjects, reciting the legislation against the Klan,
stating that the order had now largely accomplished the purposes for which it had been organized; that the civil law now afforded
adequate protection to life and property; that robbery and lawlessness were longer unrebuked; that the better elements of
society were no longer in dread for the safety of their property, persons and families; that the "Grand Wizard" had been invested
with power to determine questions of paramount importance, and , in the exercise of the power so conferred, he declared the
Klan dissolved and disbanded. It is believed that "Grand Wizard" was no less a personage than Nathan Bedford Forrest. As the
possessor of dauntless and sustained courage, resourcefulness and a grim disregard of all consequences, no more ideal leader
of such a movement ever appeared upon the American Stage. This proclamation was addressed to all "Realms," "Dominions," "Provinces"
and "Dens" of the "Empire," but it had little effect beyond the borders of one State. Tennessee was the first Southern State
in which constitutional government was restored and the scheme of reconstruction abounded. the writer is satisfied that as
late as 1872 the Klan was a potent factor in other States.
As a general rule, this grim protest against
unbearable conditions disappeared with the worst of the conditions, and not sooner.
In 1870, 1871, and 1872 the Ku Klux Klan consumed
a large part of the attention of Congress, the President, and the army of the United States; investigating committees visited
every section of the South, many volumes of testimony were compiled, hundreds of speeches were made, martial law was declared
in some instances, and proclamations issued in others, still more drastic laws were passed; but in the face of all this, the
movement relentlessly moved on to the accomplishment of its purposes.
The Senate investigating committee and the joint
committee of the Houses of Congress each presented majority and minority reports; the first to the effect that a conspiracy
existed in the South, of a political nature, against law and the Negro; the second, that misgovernment and criminal exploiting
of the country by the reconstruction leaders had provoked natural resistance.
The great debates in Congress and the press
of the country began to educate the people as to the awful conditions which had prevailed, and the revolution resorted to
as a remedy.
In 1872 Congress passed an act restoring the
right vote and hold office to the real leaders and capable men of the South, the worst conditions had disappeared, he troops
had been withdrawn, and what was known in the North as "The Great Ku Klux Conspiracy" was at an end.
Just how much the acts of Congress and of the
President had to do with the disappearance of the order it is hard to say, but the scalawag and the carpetbagger disappeared
about the same time, and it might be said that the purposes of the Klan had been substantially accomplished. The belief of
most people in the North that the movement was organized and controlled by roughs and criminals associated together for the
commission of crime and bent on re-enslaving the Negro and driving has Northern protectors from the South, is not sustained
by the facts. The men who engaged in this movement were largely of the very best.
The leading editorial in The Nation of
March 30, 1871, speaking of the ignorance and corruption of the carpetbag regime, says:
"We might be told that phenomena like these
may be witnessed in New York, which is true. But in New York no one is disfranchised, and we may add that, were decent people
in new York hot-blooded, like the same class in South Carolina, and did they believe, as the South Carolinians do, that Ku
Kluxing would work reform, they would be busy at it day and night, andy many a hardened ruffian would be yelling for Federal
troops to save him from the consequences of his villiany. We say deliberately, too, that we believe a community which sits
down, as we do, under some of the evils from which we here suffer and of which we hear every day is doubtless wiser than the
South Carolinians, but it is very doubtful whether it is healthier in spirit. We seek neither to defend nor palliate Ku Kluxs,
but we can not allow the persons who sow the seeds from which Ku Kluxery naturally springs to throw the whole blame on the
men who engage in it."
Speaking of the typical Southern man of that
day, Daniel H. Chamberlain, the reconstruction ruler of South Carolina, said: "I consider him a distinct and really noble
growth of our American soil. For, if fortitude under good and under evil fortune, if endurance without complaint of what comes
in the tide of human affairs, if a grim clinging to ideals once charming, if vigor and resiliency of character and spirit
under defeat and poverty and distress, if a steady love of learning and letters when libraries were lost in flames and the
wreckage of war, if self-restraint when the long -delayed relief at last came; if, I say, all these qualities are parts of
real heroism, if these qualities can vivify and ennoble a man or a people, then our own South may lay claim to an honored
place among the differing types of our great common race."
Such was the matured judgment of the Massachusetts
Governor of South Carolina during the reconstruction period in regard to the class of men who organized and chiefly dominated
the Ku Klux Klan, and there is nothing I would wish to add to it.
Did the end aimed at and accomplished by the
Ku Klux Klan justify the movement? The opinion of the writer is that the movement was fully justified, though he, of course,
does not approve of crimes and excesses incident to it.
The abuses under which the American colonies
of England revolted in 1776 were mere child's play compared to those borne by the south during the period of reconstruction,
and the success of the later movement as a justification of a resort to revolutionary methods was as pronounced as that of
Whatever may be your views, I leave the question
with you, repeating the proposition with which I began, that, amid conditions as they existed in the South from 1866 to 1872,
scarcely a man in this audience would have been other than a Ku Klux or a Ku Klux sympathizer.