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exaggerated the reports of the Ku-Klux crimes may be, there can be no
question whatever of the serious disturbance of many parts of the Southern
States. In Mississippi, for instance, Governor Alcorn declines to call
upon the National Government, but he asks special authority of the State
Legislature to raise a force of cavalry to keep the peace. The ample mass
of testimony in regard to the situation in North Carolina, accompanying
the report of Senator Scott is conclusive upon the point of the Ku-Klux
terror in that State. And the story of the Ku-Klux revenge of the Stevens
murder in South Carolina, as told in the Cincinnati Commercial, is
illustrative of the condition of much of the Southern part of the country.
Governor Scott appointed colored County Commissioners at Unionville, a little town of a thousand inhabitants, and a company of colored militia was stationed there. A man names Stevens, who had been rich, but who had lost every thing during the war, was one day bringing a barrel of whisky into the town. He was met by some twenty militia-men, to whom he refused to give all the whisky that they wanted, and they murdered him. Several colored men were thereupon arrested and imprisoned, and it was rumored that some of the militia would attempt their rescue. In the evening, as it was reported that a body of colored men were assembled at a certain house, the sheriff sent a posse to disperse them. The posse was fired upon from the house, and returning the fire, two of the militia were killed. The next night a barn was burned, and a captain of militia being arrested, was about to be released by his men, who, however, desisted at his request. Two nights afterward the Ku-Klux came to the town, arrested the sheriff, broke into the jail, took out five of the prisoners, murdered two of them, desperately wounding the others. The citizens then begged the Governor to send some United States troops. It is not stated what the Governor replied. But after two or three weeks the sheriff was ordered, under a writ of habeas corpus, to remove the three wounded men to Columbia. The night before they were to go three hundred Ku-Klux came to the town, masked, bound the officers of the jail, broke it open, took out ten prisoners who had not been tried, against whom no evidence had been offered, and murdered them by hanging and shooting.
Some weeks passed during these transactions. The Ku-Klux had apparently absolute control. There is no allusion in the report in the Commercial of any effort upon the part of the proper authorities to enforce the law and keep the peace. It was a complete system of terror; and the dullest fool can see whether, under such a system, the colored men or their friends would be allowed by the Ku-Klux to vote against its will. It is a situation very much graver and more deplorable than that of the whisky insurrection in Pennsylvania during Washington’s administration, or Shay’s rebellion in Massachusetts at an earlier period. It is a disorder so threatening that it should command the most serious reflection of every good citizen of every party. Any tendency to justify such a situation is a disposition to tolerate anarchy. Any attempt to belittle or to ridicule such crimes against civil society itself reveals a disastrous indifference to all the safeguards of liberty and order. Yet this is the spirit and the tendency of the Democratic party. The control of the national government is seriously contested by those who virtually justify these murders. The pretense is that justice was not likely to be done through the regular forms, although the report in the Cincinnati Commercial states that two of the Stevens murderers who were not in jail when the Ku-Klux came were subsequently tried and convicted by a jury of six white and six colored men, and sentenced to be hung.
Even the New York World, which is as good a specimen as there is of the Democratic papers which advocate "acquiescence" in the settlements of the war, calls this occurrence a foul murder "irregularly avenged." It says: "A part of the twenty black ruffians and cut-throats who murdered Mr. Stevens have got what they richly deserved, although justice ‘came across lots’ in consequence of a blocking up of the regular road. Thirteen out of the twenty were punished without judge or jury, and if there were no mistakes of identity, the only crime of the citizens was in cheating the gallows of its rightful victims." This is the same old spirit which used to say, when a Northern man was mobbed, or shot, or hung, or burned in a Southern State, under suspicion of being an Abolitionist, that it served him right. It shows how instinctive is excuse for the most threatening lawlessness upon the part of those whose party necessities have trained them to defend slavery, the most wanton crime against the divine law.
And it shows to every thoughtful man in the country how wholly the sympathy of the most advanced Democratic partisans is with those who ravage and murder in the Southern States, if only their victims are of the colored race. That colored soldiers, maddened by the whisky given them by Stevens, and irritated by his refusal of more, murdered him on the spot, is, in such Democratic judgment, a "foul murder." That, weeks afterward, in the dead of night, three hundred masked men take ten men from prison, and murder them in cold blood, is "irregular" vengeance. It must not be forgotten that the success of the Democratic party is the success of the Ku-Klux—of the spirit which malignantly cherishes the social prejudices and the political theories from which the war and all our sorrow sprang. Its success would be not only a change of administration, but the control of the government of the Union by the party which is supremely jealous of the Union, and which declares that its reconstruction and its present condition are unconstitutional and void. What would the country gain by such a result?
|Harper's Weekly, April 29, 1871, page 378 (Editorial)|
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