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The Emergence Of The Kkk Essay, Research Paper
The occupation by Union troops in the former Confederate states led to the development of the Ku Klux Klan. During the Reconstruction, the process of rebuilding that followed the Civil War, white supremacy reigned supreme in the Southern states (Trelease xxviii). However, early Reconstruction legislation limited the amount of power that whites had over blacks politically and socially. Implementations such as the Reconstruction Act of 1867 created a precedent that made blacks equal with whites, giving them their civil rights as well. Violence and uprisings caused President Grant to send in Union troops to put down the initial attacks and to sustain peace throughout the former Confederacy. These troops, though, caused hatred to run through the minds of the citizens of the South and resulted in more violent attacks. The troops, with their presence in the South, actually caused more harm than good. Terrorist organizations, the Ku Klux Klan being the most prominent and overpowering, began forming and meeting under the cover of darkness. With the withdrawal of the troops, President Grant put the lives of black people in the South in certain jeopardy. Violence immediately rose in the South and the Ku Klux Klan came into existence.
The Reconstruction period was deeply hurt by the overbearing presence of the Civil War. The country, in disarray, needed to get back on track and began reconstructing itself. A temporary settlement was reached during the war in order to create a better country and to get the U.S. back on the right foot. But, as the war ended, the Reconstruction settlement was still left unsettled. The situation became even more strayed with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865, which then made Andrew Johnson, Lincoln s vice president, the Commander-in-Chief. Being from Tennessee and, as well, being a Democrat, Johnson soon made it obvious that the Republican commitment to rebuilding the South and his commitment were completely different. Johnson blamed the Confederate rebellion on a group of wealthy Southerners and therefore fought for a policy of leniency for former rebels and one of neglect for former slaves. Johnson wanted to restore political rights to the Southern states as quickly as he could. By immediately giving the governors of Southern states the right to call a constitutional convention, they would be able to write a new constitution forbidding slavery and prohibiting secession.
All of a sudden, the South grew very optimistic after the realization that they had a friend in the White House. Scheming and extremely rejuvenated, Southern governments reorganized years of chaos under Johnson’s new policy. For example, the Southern governments created and passed a series of acts or laws known as the black codes . These codes, varying in severity from state to state, strongly restricted the rights of freed slaves and hampered their efforts to eventually become an equal in Southern society. The codes were made to leave blacks with a status of in-between that of slave and freed slave.
It was during this time in the mid-to-late 1860s in Pulaski, Tennessee that an informal group of men began what was called a social club at first, named the Ku Klux Klan. Nathan Bedford Forest along with six other officers, after serving in the Confederate army during the Civil War, began the club in the South to be, in effect, a military force serving the interests of the Democratic party (Foner 425, Reconstruction). The Klan s actions were soon directed at the Reconstruction governments because of the dislike and hatred the KKK had for them. In becoming more powerful and having a membership of up to 40,000 by 1868, the KKK became more forceful in their tactics to have Democrats elected into offices around the Southern states (Tourg e 30). The occupation of Union troops in Southern territory aggravated them to the point that there was hatred toward the Union. It was at this time period that the KKK formerly came into existence for the first time.
Aside from the Presidential Reconstruction, Congressional reconstruction occurred and activity continued after 1867. Impeachment hearings against President Johnson were a part of the Congressional reconstruction and reorganization. Johnson, however, was not convicted and removal from office failed by one vote in the Senate. Congressional Republicans felt that Johnson was blocking the implementation of the government’s Reconstruction policy. Congress, therefore, passed the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1869. It extended the power of the Fourteenth Amendment, allowing the protection of the right to vote for blacks by saying that no person could be disallowed the right to vote on the basis of skin-color or race. Another act passed during the Reconstruction was the Civil Rights Act (1875) which disallowed hotels, theaters, or railroads to discriminate or segregate according to color or race. The Supreme Court, however, declared this act unconstitutional in 1883. Many other acts, laws, and codes were passed during the Reconstruction as a result of the change in the country. But the backbone of the Reconstruction was the Reconstruction Act of 1867. In the Reconstruction Act it was stated that the former Confederate states would be required to give equal civil and political rights to blacks as to whites. These governments, on the other hand, were free to govern themselves after they complied with the federal compromise. The treatment of blacks from this point on hurt the Confederate governments. In the future, Reconstruction governments had disastrous economic consequences because of their inability to protect blacks against violence. (Foner 119, Politics)
The opposition to the Reconstruction became apparent in the months and years directly following the Civil War. Violence and attacks on the government and its officials began and caused concern among American citizens. The method by which Reconstruction governments were overthrown differed. States with white majorities, especially the ones in the upper South, tried to convince most whites to vote Democratic. The whites believed this would be enough to beat the Reconstruction, a process that white Southerners called redemption . By 1871, governments, especially those run by Republicans, transformed into traditional Democratic rule in the upper Southern states.
The Ku Klux Klan became extremely violent and uncontrollable by the late 1860s. In 1869, local organizations of the KKK, named klaverns , became increasingly cruel and inhuman to the point that the Klan s leader, Nathan Forest, officially disbanded himself from the group. After Forest s disbanding, the klaverns continued to operate by themselves, taking matters into their own hands. The Klan spread a nameless terror among negroes. and was labeled southern murderers as a result of their actions (Foner 342, Reconstruction). With the group s membership increasing by leaps and bounds, their overbearing presence in Southern politics and social life began to concern politicians in Washington D.C. President Grant, therefore, passed the Force Bill, which led to the Fourteenth Amendment being passed and ratified in 1870. As well, Grant passed legislation through Congress adopting three Enforcement Acts in 1870 and 1871 outlawing terrorist organizations and giving the President the power to use the Federal army against them if necessary. In late 1871, President Grant orders the arrest of hundreds of Klansman for their part in the violence that was sweeping through the South at the time. It was only after substantial force was taken by Washington and by Federal troops in 1872 that the Klan went out of existence. The disappearance of the KKK marked the first time peace reigned in the Confederacy after the Civil War (Foner 125, America s Reconstruction).
Again, though, it was Union forces that created the peace in the South and the implementation of black civil and political rights. The southern citizens hatred returned with the occupation of Union troops again in the South. But, s troops pulled out of the former confederacy due to a period of relative peace, the Democrats returned to power in the mid-1870s. Along with this new dominance, of course, came the re-emergence of the KKK in 1873. In the elections of 1876, both Democrats and Republican claimed to be victorious. However, the Republican Party gave in to Democratic claims to state offices because the Democrats clearly won the electoral votes. Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes, in this case, won the presidential election and brought the Democrats to the forefront once again. Helping Hayes election to office were once again the overbearing presence of the KKK. They destroyed ballot boxes and drove former slaves from the poles, resulting in the Democratic electoral vote landslide (Foner 129, America s Reconstruction). While still gaining support during its non-existence in 1871 and 1872, membership of the KKK rose to almost 500,000 (Tourg e 30). The KKK s reappearance made them, if at all possible, more feared and more violent than in the past. Their victims now became strictly blacks who were successful economically or blacks who resisted white control of labor (Foner 120, Politics). It was now evident that the Klan had no real motive in terrorizing blacks. The most apparent motive, yet still extremely unreasonable, was the hostility they had toward the elevation of the colored race in society (Tourg e 30). At the time, Governor Albert Ames of Mississippi commented on the treatment of blacks, especially by the KKK:
“A revolution has taken place and a race disenfranchised-they are to be returned to an era of secondslavery.
(Foner 129, America s Reconstruction)
Repeated killings and murders throughout the South after 1875 became all too common, beginning with the massacre of thirty blacks in Clinton, Mississippi and continuing with the assassinations of Arkansas Congressman James M. Hinds, three members of the South Carolina legislature, and several men who had served in Constitutional conventions (Foner 342, Reconstruction). With the clear evidence that the KKK was the driving force behind these killings, they received the reputation that they so duly earned over the many years of their existence.
The main reason for the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan came as a result of the occupation of Union troops in the South. There were two times within a seven-year span that troops from the North came to the South to calm tempers and to suppress the violence. Southerners took offense to the flooding of enemy troops in their territory, and hatred quickly spread throughout. Ignorance, as well as racism, brought about the theory and development of terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. Both periods in which the troops were stationed in the South, white supremacists grew more and more intolerant of the acceleration of the black race in their society. The troops allowed blacks to gain back their rights, and the KKK was formed to help stop negroes from influencing political issues and elections. Had Union troops never occupied the South, it can be assumed that organizations like the Ku Klux Klan would never have existed. It is understood, then, that blacks never would have received equal treatment in the South, but they also would never have been terrorized the way they were by the KKK. Therefore, Union troops caused the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan.
Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. New
York:Harper and Row, Publishers, 1988.
Foner, Eric and Olivia Mahoney. America s Reconstruction: People and Politics After
the Civil War. New York:Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., 1995.
Foner, Eric. Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War. New York:Oxford
University Press, 1980.
Trelease, Allen W. White Terror: The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern
Reconstruction. Baton Rouge:Louisiana State University Press, 1971.
Tourg e, Albion Winegar. The Invisible Empire. Baton Rouge:Louisiana State
University Press, 1989.
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