In his book History in Three Keys, author Paul A. Cohen says there are three ways of looking at history. The first is the historian’s objective to understand the past intellectually and then explain it as “event”, or for its own sake. This is the definition of “historicism,” and is the objective of all who seek the truth. The second way of looking at history is that which is related by those who made it, those who lived it and lived through it, that is, history explained as “experience.” These narratives may necessarily have a more restricted view than those of the professional historian. The historian may be compared with the general on the hill with his broad view of the battle as it unfolds, while those relating their experiences may be compared with the soldiers in the ranks down on the field assaulting the breastworks in the smoke and confusion of battle. Another difference is the historian tries to look at the past with a detached objectivity, whereas the people who made the history tend to look at it more subjectively, and in a fashion that tends to be psychologically tolerable to themselves. If such subjectivity becomes validated by communal consensus, then myths can be created in place of intellectual truth. “Myth” is the third way of looking at history (1). If this myth, this collective view of history, is made to conform to the politics of the day, then this is called “presentism,” which is not history at all, but political propaganda.
The North’s war to prevent the South’s independence is a glaring example. Today, the simple and obvious truth in that description of what the North calls “The Civil War” is derisively dismissed as “The Myth of the Lost Cause.” The story trumpeted from the heights is that the war (2) was all about slavery, that the righteous North fought to free the slaves and the evil, treasonous South fought to keep them. End of story. Any questions? Well, yes. Something doesn’t compute, here. Could it be that this is what Voltaire called “The propaganda of the victorious?” Could it be that this in itself is a myth, “The Myth of American History” – a smelly “red herring” to throw us off the scent of a colossal usurpation of power? The North was just as complicit in slavery as the South. Slave-produced staples were the backbone of the North’s economy, while Northern-induced tariffs sucked the life’s blood out of the South for the profit of the North’s industries. Northern wealth was further built on the African Slave-trade, from Colonial times right on until the war of the 1860s. The January 1862 Continental Monthly stated that New York was the largest African Slave-trading port in the world, with self-righteous, Abolitionist Boston second (2). Many of the most prominent families with the fine old names of New England made their fortunes importing “Black Gold” from the African coast. The founder of Brown University, in Rhode Island, who founded it with money from the African Slave-trade, said he saw no more crime in bringing off a cargo of slaves than in bringing off a cargo of jackasses (3).
So what was the war really all about? Follow the “Yankee dollar.” The slavery issue was the North’s “red herring” used as moral cover for the true “Irrepressible Conflict” that was building within her classical mercantile system: the conflict between an increasingly predatory Northern industrial and mercantile center that wanted to burst the constraints of the Constitution and centralize the power of the Federal Government into its own hands through the tyranny of its ever-increasing majorities in order to promote its ambitions, and a resistant Southern agricultural periphery that insisted on the federative nature of the Union each State had acceded to with its ratification of the Constitution – the charter of the Union - since the Founding in 1788. This came to a crisis in 1860 with the election of Abraham Lincoln, which brought to power an economically exploitive and strictly Northern sectional political party in vocal and vitriolic enmity against the South, which resulted in the secession of seven States of the Deep South.
As we all know, the peaceful secession of the seven “Cotton States” should have resolved the differences, but “Cotton was King,” and with these States out of the Union, the North would have lost its largest source of cotton for its mills, its largest source of tariff revenues, its largest source of exports for its shipping, a major market for its manufactured goods, and control of the mouth of the Mississippi. The free-trade South would do business with England while the North’s economy would collapse into bankruptcy and social anarchy. Therefore – at the behest of the Northern industrialists, railroad magnates, financiers and crony capitalists who had gotten him elected – Lincoln provoked the South into firing the first shot and got the war he wanted, which drove Virginia and four more States out of the Union and into the Confederacy when Lincoln called for their troops.
For four years Lincoln marched his armies across the South to the tune of the militantly Puritanical “Battle Hymn of the Republic” - burning, pillaging, raping, and killing - and drove the Southern States back into the Union at the point of the bayonet. As many as 38,000 citizens in the North who disagreed with Lincoln’s policies got locked up without trial after he suspended the writ of habeas corpus in 1862, with opposition printing presses being destroyed by Federal troops. Lincoln’s lofty rhetoric in his Gettysburg Address – claiming his war of invasion, conquest, and coerced political allegiance was in order to save “government of the people by the people for the people” – is pure Orwellian doublespeak, while his Emancipation Proclamation - a desperate war measure issued halfway through the war when the South was winning it – plainly stated that slavery was alright as long as one was loyal to his government. This was proven the following summer when he admitted West Virginia – a so-called “slave-State” – into the Union. But that exposes “The Myth of American History” as a “red herring” masking a murderous usurpation of Power. As a result, any attempt by the South to expose this truth is derided and dismissed as “The Myth of the Lost Cause.” It has so corrupted our culture that even the Virginia Historical Society’s web site states that the “Lost Cause” narrative was “developed by former Confederates who claimed that states’ rights, not slavery, caused the war; that enslaved blacks remained faithful to their masters; and that the South was defeated only by overwhelming numerical and industrial strength…” Paul Kennedy, in his book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, debunks the Virginia Historical Society’s corrupt, Politically Correct Yankee narrative by detailing the North’s advantages in men and materiel and making the truth of the “Lost Cause” narrative abundantly clear (4). But Winston Churchill, in his monumental four-volume work entitled A History of the English Speaking Peoples, sums it all up with a clear and unbiased picture of not only the disparity between the combatants, but the loyalty of most of the slaves: “Twenty-three states, with a population of twenty-two millions, were arrayed against eleven states, whose population of nine millions included nearly four million slaves… Most of the slaves, who might have been expected to prove an embarrassment to the South, on the contrary proved a solid help, tending the plantations in the absence of their masters, raising the crops which fed the armies, working on the roads and building fortifications, thus releasing a large number of whites for service in the field” (5).
The loyalty of the slaves was a problem for Lincoln during the war, and led in part to his issuing his Emancipation Proclamation. In addition to helping to keep Britain and France from recognizing the Confederacy, it was hoped that it would disrupt the South’s “support troops” and perhaps even provoke a slave insurrection, which would empty the Confederate ranks. But beyond causing runaways to be enlisted into the US Colored Troops, and the internment of so-called “contraband” slaves in pestilential contraband camps in Union-controlled areas, there were no insurrections. The loyalty of the slaves during the war made for treasured stories in Southern family lore and headaches for the Lincoln war effort, while after the war it caused political problems for the carpetbaggers and the Radical Republicans during Reconstruction. They needed the votes of the newly freed blacks to cement their political control over the conquered Southern States. It took them two years to accomplish this, as we shall see.
Lincoln’s plan of Reconstruction was for the same State governments that had taken the Southern States out of the Union to bring them back in, but Lincoln’s assassination interrupted that plan. As Walter Lynwood Fleming wrote in his book The Sequel of Appomattox, Vice-President Andrew Johnson, sworn in as President, tried to continue with that policy, and a majority of the war-weary Northern people would have supported it - except for three personalities: President Johnson’s obstinacy and bad behavior; Radical Congressman Thaddeus Stevens’ vindictiveness and parliamentary tyranny; and Radical Senator Charles Sumner’s obstinate and misguided humanitarianism (6).
During the war, Lincoln had recognized the Virginia Unionist government of Governor Francis H. Pierpont, which consisted of Pierpont, and thirteen others acting as the “General Assembly of Virginia.” Their domain encompassed the Cities of Alexandria and Fairfax (right across the river from Washington) and from it Lincoln claimed “Virginia’s” electoral votes in the election of 1864. In February of 1864, Pierpont drafted a new State constitution that abolished slavery in Virginia and denied the vote to any who had supported the Confederacy. After the war, President Johnson decided to use the Pierpont government, naming Pierpont as the provisional Governor of Virginia, and subjecting him to the Federal military authorities of the State. Pierpont called for an October election for both the Virginia General Assembly and for Virginia’s representatives in the US Congress (7).
In December, 1865, the Virginia General Assembly and the US Congress met on the same day. The Virginia and other Southern representatives to Congress could not take the oath prescribed by the Radicals who were in control, and they were not allowed to take their seats. For four more years, Virginia had no representation in the US Congress. Virginia’s few original “Union men,” under the Radical John C. Underwood, petitioned Congress to set aside the State government and organize a Territorial government for Virginia (8). With the Southern States out of the Union, the Northern Radicals were in control and they intended to keep it that way. Representative Thaddeus Stevens stated: “The future condition of the conquered power depends on the will of the conqueror. They must come in as new States or remain as conquered provinces. Congress … is the only power that can act in the matter… Congress must create States and declare when they are entitled to be represented… As there are no symptoms that the people of these provinces will be prepared to participate in constitutional government for some years, I know of no arrangement so proper for them as territorial governments. There they can learn the principles of freedom and eat the fruit of foul rebellion…” (9)
In that session, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the US, was drafted, sent to the States, and ratified. But immediately thereafter, the Fourteenth Amendment was proposed over President Johnson’s veto. This Amendment gave illiterate Blacks – North and South - the right to vote and serve on juries. It provided that if any State denied the right to vote to any of its citizens, its representation in the House of Representatives would be reduced proportionately. It barred from Federal and State offices all supporters of the Confederacy, and it required the Southern States to repudiate their war debt, but share in the payment of the Union war debt. Tennessee ratified, but the ten ex-Confederate States that rejected it lost their identities in March of 1867 with the passage by Congress of the First Reconstruction Act (10):
“WHEREAS no legal State governments or adequate protection for life or property now exists in the rebel States of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Texas, and Arkansas; and whereas it is necessary that peace and good order should be enforced in said States until loyalty and republican State governments can be legally established: Therefore
It might be asked that if these States were out of the Union and under martial law, how could they ratify an amendment to the Constitution of a Union they were not in, and if they were in the Union, how could they be compelled to ratify it? The answer, of course, is, at bottom, Federal bayonets. The voluntary Union of sovereign States created by the Founders was being revolutionized into a coerced Yankee Empire. As Walter Fleming said, “The war had been fought upon the theory that the old Union must be preserved; but the basic theory of the reconstruction was that a new Union was to be created… Northern observers who were friendly to the South or who disapproved of this radical reconstruction saw the danger… In this connection the New York Herald remarked: ‘We may regard the entire ten unreconstructed Southern States, with possibly one or two exceptions, as forced by a secret and overwhelmingly revolutionary influence to a common and inevitable fate. They are all bound to be governed by blacks spurred on by worse than blacks – white wretches who dare not show their faces in respectable society anywhere…’” (12)
Strangers and unscrupulous adventurers from the North, often with their entire worldly possessions carried in a carpetbag, came flocking into the South with the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Union Leagues to pick over the bones like buzzards. The Freedmen’s Bureau was an agency whose purpose was to help the Blacks adjust to the new order. Many in the Bureau were honest and charitable, but many were corrupt. The Freedmen’s Bureau with their promises of “forty acres and a mule” did much to break down the influence of “Ole Marster,” but it was the Union Leagues that had the real influence in organizing the Blacks for Radical purposes. The Union League was formed in the dark days during the war to revive the failing spirits of the Northern people. After the war, emissaries of the League flocked to the South to organize the Blacks and turn them into good voting Radicals. As Claude Bowers wrote in his work The Tragic Era, “Left to themselves, the negroes would have turned for leadership to the native whites, who understood them best. This was the danger. Imperative, then, that they should be taught to hate – and teachers of hate were plentiful…” (13)
Walter Fleming described the work of the Union Leagues: “The Union League of America had its origin in Ohio in the fall of 1862, when the outlook for the Union cause was gloomy…. The members were pledged to uncompromising and unconditional loyalty to the Union, to complete subordination of political views to this loyalty, and to the repudiation of any belief in state rights…. With the close of the Civil War the League did not cease its active interest in things political. It was one of the first organizations to declare for negro suffrage and the disfranchisement of Confederates; it held steadily to this declaration during the four years following the war; and it continued as a sort of bureau in the radical Republican party for the purpose of controlling the negro vote in the South…. By the spring of 1866 the negroes were widely organized under this leadership, and it needed but slight change to convert the negro meetings into local councils of the Union League… Over the South went the organizers, until by 1868 the last negroes were gathered into the fold…. The influence of the League over the negro was due in large degree to the mysterious secrecy of the meetings, the weird initiation ceremony that made him feel fearfully good from his head to his heels, the imposing ritual, and the songs. The ritual, it is said, was not used in the North; it was probably adopted for the particular benefit of the African… He was told to the accompaniment of clanking chains and groans that the objects of the order were to preserve liberty, to perpetuate the Union, to maintain the laws and the Constitution, to secure the ascendancy of American institutions, to protect, defend, and strengthen all loyal men and members of the Union League... The council then sang Hail, Columbia! and The Star Spangled Banner, after which an official lectured the candidates, saying that though the designs of traitors had been thwarted, there were yet to be secured legislative triumphs and the complete ascendancy of the true principles of popular government, equal liberty, education and elevation of the workmen, and the overthrow at the ballot box of the old oligarchy of political leaders. After prayer by the chaplain, the room was darkened, alcohol on salt flared up with a ghastly light as the ‘fire of liberty,’ and the members joined hands in a circle around the candidate, who was made to place one hand on the flag and, with the other raised, swear again to support the government and to elect true Union men to office... White men who joined the order before the negroes were admitted and who left when the latter became members asserted that the negroes were taught in these meetings that the only way to have peace and plenty, to get ‘the forty acres and a mule,’ was to kill some of the leading whites in each community as a warning to others. In North Carolina twenty-eight barns were burned in one county by negroes who believed that Governor Holden, the head of the State League, had ordered it… That outrages were comparatively few was due, not to any sensible teachings of the leaders, but to the fundamental good nature of the blacks… The relations between the races, indeed, continued on the whole to be friendly until 1867-68… With the organization of the League, the negroes grew more reserved, and finally became openly unfriendly to the whites…” (14) To further cement power, the Blacks were compelled to join the Union League Militia to keep any Conservative Blacks in line, and to intimidate the Whites (15).
Radical Republican plans were well-laid for control of Virginia: The Freedmen’s Bureau, Union League, and office-holding carpetbaggers would deliver the Black vote, while the Federal Army of Occupation would correct any slips. Two prominent Radicals were the carpetbagger Judge John C. Underwood and the scalawag Reverend James W. Hunnicut. Underwood included Blacks on a Virginia jury for the first time, and delivered an inflammatory address to the accusing Confederates of being motivated by the “fiery soul of treason” and deliberately murdering Federal Prisoners of War by starvation, yellow fever, and smallpox. Hunnicut operated a Radical newspaper in Richmond after the war in which he told the Blacks: “The white race have houses and lands. Some of you are old and feeble and cannot carry the musket but can apply the torch to the dwelling of your enemies…” (16)
Robert Somers, an English visitor to the South five years after the war, describes the upheaval wrought by Reconstruction and the Union Leagues: “The negroes, after the Confederate surrender, were disorderly. Many of them would not settle down to labour on any terms, but roamed about with arms in their hands and hunger in their bellies; and the governing power, with the usual blind determination of a victorious party, was thinking only all the while of every device of suffrage and reconstruction by which ‘the freedmen’ might be strengthened, and made, under Northern dictation, the ruling power in the country. Agitators of the loosest fibre came down among the towns and plantations, and, organizing a Union league, held midnight meetings with the negroes in the woods, and went about uttering sentiments which, to say the least, in all the circumstances were anti-social and destructive. Crimes and outrages increased. The law, which must be always more or less weak in all thinly populated countries, was all but powerless; and the new Governments in the South, supposing them to have been most willing, were certainly unable to repress disorder, or to spread a general sense of security throughout the community. A real terror reigned for a time among the white people; and in this situation the ‘Ku-Klux’ started into being. It was one of those secret organizations which spring up in disordered states of society, when the bonds of law and government are all but dissolved, and when no confidence is felt in the regular public administration of justice. But the power with which the ‘Ku-Klux’ moved in many parts of the South, the knowledge it displayed of all that was going on, the fidelity with which its secret was kept, and the complacency with which it was regarded by the general community, gave this mysterious body a prominence and importance seldom attained by such illegal and deplorable associations. Nearly every respectable man in the Southern States was not only disfranchised, but under fear of arrest or confiscation; the old foundations of authority were utterly razed before any new ones had yet been laid, and in the dark and benighted interval the remains of the Confederate armies – swept, after a long and heroic day of fair fight, from the field – flitted before the eye of the people in this weird and midnight shape of a ‘Ku-Klux-Klan’” (17). As a result, harsh new Federal “force” laws were enacted, usurping the power of state courts, and enabling the Federal Government to enforce the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment (18).
In October, 1867, the eligible voters of Military District Number One elected delegates to a Constitutional Convention. Of the 102 delegates seated, 32 were Conservatives and 70 were Radicals. Of the Radicals, 25 were Black, 6 were from foreign countries, and the rest were carpetbaggers or scalawags. Judge Underwood presided, and therefore it was known as “The Underwood Convention” (19). It met in Richmond in December of 1867. A letter written by Joseph A. Waddell, a Conservative member of the Convention, representing Augusta County, gave a description of the body: “The white Radicals are a motley crew. Some of them have apparently little more intelligence than the negroes, and have doubtless come from the lowest ranks of the people. The leaders, with three or four exceptions, are Northern men who came to this State with the Federal army in the capacity of petty officers, chaplains, commissaries, clerks, sutlers, etc. Others were probably employees of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and when that institution dispensed with their services were left here stranded like frogs in a dried-up mill-pond. Having no other resource they plunged into politics. They are now jubilant in the receipt of eight dollars a day from the treasury of the State, and happy in anticipation of the fat offices they are to get by means of the same voters who sent them to the Convention. In regard to the latter particular, however, they may be disappointed. The negroes have their eyes on the same places for themselves, and will probably claim them. ‘Dr. Bayne’” (a Black Radical from Norfolk) “would not hesitate to take a seat on the bench of the Court of Appeals… The Radical members of the Convention were of course elected by the votes of negroes, the whites yielding to apathy in many counties where it might have been otherwise. Some of the Northern leaders were men of good talent, but all were, more or less, possessed by a spirit of vindictive hostility to everything distinctively Virginian, and sought to frame all the institutions of the State according to the New England pattern” (20).
In a description of the proceedings of the 29th of January, 1868, Waddell states: “I have a suspicion that some of the white Radicals are getting sick of their black allies. The white leaders expected the blacks to be a very tractable set of voters, so excessively in love with ‘the old flag,’ and so thoroughly ‘loyal,’ as to give all the good fat places to the pale-faces. But genius will assert itself, - the star of Africa is in the ascendant, and the light of its civilization is dawning upon us. The new era, beginning with ‘equality before the law,’ has now reached the stage of ‘manhood suffrage,’ and the consummation of no distinction anywhere ‘on account of race or color’ is hastening on. No, not exactly that, - there is to be distinction, for the blacks seem to claim the honors and emoluments without bearing the burdens of government. The black speakers scold and hector their white associates, whom they suspect of an indisposition to toe the mark. Some of the latter cower and cajole, and do everything possible to conciliate. Others of the whites, however, are evidently restive. They have caught a Tartar” (21).
Eventually, and one-by-one, the Southern States – under carpetbag governments, “Black and Tan” conventions, and Federal bayonets – created and ratified Radical Constitutions that met with the approval of the Yankees, the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, and the States (in the Union for purposes of rule and plunder but out of the Union for any recourse to Constitutional rights) were re-admitted to the Union and representation in Congress. With the voluntary Union of sovereign States thus transformed into a coerced Union “pinned together by bayonets,” (such a one as “held no charms” for General Lee), the Army and the carpetbaggers then went away to deal with the Indians and the trans-continental railways, leaving their Black puppets to the upheaval they had wrought in Southern society, but leaving also - as a legacy of their corrupt Union Leagues - a bloc of voters ready to be again exploited as Tools of Power by the Party of Big Government.
5/30/2020 04:26:13 am
This article illustrates why Virginia was known in the other southern states as "The Scalawag State" during the military occupation. The unionist state government of the northern counties of Virginia continue to this day to rule over the rest of the state by a mere plurality provided by the more heavily populated counties, mostly in the northern section around DC.
11/10/2021 10:44:30 am
The author Traywick done a great job. I know I would like to know more about the Union Leagues and their activities. It's a subject most don't know about as everyone is always focused on the Klan. People just assume Southerners are bad or racists and farmers had nothing better to do than put on hoods and robes and intimidate black people.
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A native of Lynchburg, Virginia, the author graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1967 with a degree in Civil Engineering and a Regular Commission in the US Army. His service included qualification as an Airborne Ranger, and command of an Engineer company in Vietnam, where he received the Bronze Star. After his return, he resigned his Commission and ended by making a career as a tugboat captain. During this time he was able to earn a Master of Liberal Arts from the University of Richmond, with an international focus on war and cultural revolution. He is a member of the Jamestowne Society, the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Society of Independent Southern Historians. He currently lives in Richmond, where he writes, studies history, literature and cultural revolution, and occasionally commutes to Norfolk to serve as a tugboat pilot