Three Southern White Views of Emancipation and Reconstruction
All three of these interviews are before Congressional committees less than a year after the war ended. The first two reflect conservative viewpoints, but the third is by a future "scalawag" who supported Reconstruction and black voting later on.
B. R. GRATTAN
Washington, D.C., February 10, 1866
Question: Where do you reside?
Answer: Richmond, Virginia.
Question: Are you a native of Virginia?
Answer: Yes, sir: I was raised in the [Shenandoah] valley of Virginia.
Question: Do you hold any public position?
Answer: I am a member of the present house of delegates of Virginia.
Question: Is that the only public position you have held?
Answer: I held the office of reporter to the court of appeals since January, 1844.
Question: I speak of two classes of people in Virginia for the sake of convenience, not with a view of offending anybody. I speak of secessionists and Union men. By secessionists I mean those who have directly or indirectly favored the rebellion; and by Union men I mean those who opposed the rebellion; and by the rebellion I mean the war which has taken place between the two sections of the country. What is the general feeling among the secessionists of Virginia towards the government of the United States, so far as your observation extends? Answer: So far as I know, the sentiment is universal that the war has decided the question of secession entirely, that it is no longer an open question, and that we are all prepared to abide by the Union and live under it.
Question: You mean to be understood as saying that they suppose that
the sword has settled the abstract right of secession?
Answer: Yes; we consider that we put it to the arbitrament of the sword, and have lost.
Question: What proportion of the legislature of Virginia are original secessionists. . .in view of the definitions I gave?
Answer: I would suppose that there are few members of the legislature who are less able to judge of that matter than myself, for my acquaintance as a member is very limited; but I should suppose, from the general sentiments of the people of Virginia, that while probably a very large proportion of those who are now members of the legislature were not in favor of secession or a dissolution of the Union originally, yet nearly all of them went with their State when it went out. They went heartily with it.
Question: How have the results of the war affected the feelings of Virginians generally? What is the sentiment left in their hearts in regard to satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the government of the United States-love or hatred, respect or contempt?
Answer: I cannot undertake to say generally; my intercourse is very limited. I would rather suppose, however, that while the feeling against the government was originally very strong, that feeling has been very much modified; it is nothing like as strong as it was, and is gradually declining.
Question: You think that the feeling is gradually changing from dislike to respect?
Answer: Yes, I think so.
Question: Have you any reason to suppose that there are persons in Virginia who still entertain projects of a dissolution of the Union?
Answer: None whatever. I do not believe that there is an intelligent man in the State who does.
Question: What has been, in your judgment, the effect, in the main, of President Johnson's liberality in bestowing pardons and amnesties on rebels?
Answer: I think it has been very favorable; I think President Johnson has commended himself very heartily. There is a very strong feeling of gratitude towards President Johnson.
Question: What, in your judgment, would be the consequences of such
an enfranchisement: would it produce scenes of violence between the two races?
Answer: I believe it would. I have very great apprehension that an attempt of that sort would lead to their extermination, not immediately, but to their gradual extinction. It would set up really an antagonistic interest, which would probably be used as a power, because I have no doubt that the Negro vote would be under the influence of white people. You are to recollect that this is not simply a prejudice between the white and black races. It has grown to be a part of our nature to look upon them as an inferior; just as much a part of our nature as it is a part of the nature of other races to have enmity to each other; for instance, between the Saxon Irish and the Celtic Irish, or between the English and the French. You must change that nature, and it takes a long time to do it. I believe that if you place the Negro on a footing of perfect equality with the white, it would actually increase the power of the white race, which would control the Negro vote; yet it seems to me that nothing can reconcile the white people to that short of equal political power, and I fear, therefore, very much the consequences of any attempt of that sort upon the black race in Virginia.
Question: Would not that prejudice become modified a great deal in case the blacks should be educated and rendered more intelligent than they are now?
Answer: You would have to change their skin before you can do it. I beg leave to say this, so far from there being any unkind feeling to the Negro, I believe that there is, on the part of the white race, towards the Negro, no feeling but that of kindness, sympathy, and pity, and that there is every disposition to ameliorate their condition and improve it as much as possible; but it is that difference which has existed so long in their obvious distinction of color and condition.
Question: But suppose the condition of the Negro should change?
Answer: The condition is annexed to the color. We are accustomed to see the color in the condition.
Question: Is there a general repugnance on the part of whites to the acquisition and enjoyment of property by the blacks?
Answer: I do not know. I do not think there is. Far from it. We would
be very glad to see them all doing well and improving their condition.
Question: Do you find a similar repugnance to the acquisition of knowledge by blacks?
Answer: No, sir; far from it; on the contrary, we are trying, so far as we can, to educate them; but we are too poor ourselves to do much in educating other people, and they are certainly too poor to educate themselves.
Question: You would, then, anticipate a struggle of races in case the right of suffrage was given to the blacks?
Answer: Yes, sir; I think so.
Question: You would not anticipate it in case the blacks should vote in the interests of the white race?
Answer: As I said before, I believe that if the blacks are left to themselves, if all foreign influence were taken away, the whites would control their vote. It is not in that the difficulty lies, but it is in the repugnance which the white race would feel to that sort of political equality. It is the same sort of repugnance which a man feels to a snake. He does not feel any animosity to the snake, but there is a natural shrinking from it; that is my feeling. While I think I have as much sympathy for the black race, and feel as much interest in them as anybody else, while I can treat them kindly and familiarly, still the idea of equality is one which has the same sort of shrinking for me, and is as much a part of my nature, as was the antagonism between Saxon and Celt in Ireland.
Question: You are aware that that state of feeling does not exist in Ireland, England, or Scotland towards the blacks?
Answer: No; because they never had them; because they never saw them in their constant condition. So that difference of alienation between Saxon and Celt does not exist here, but it exists in Ireland. It is where that has been the feeling operating for so long that it has become a part of our nature. It is not a simple prejudice, but it becomes part of the nature of the man....
Question: You have not much reason to expect that the legislature of Virginia will adopt this constitutional amendment in case it shall pass both houses of Congress? [This I think is the 14th Amendment, assuring blacks some legal equality short of voting rights--Prof. F].
Answer: I cannot speak for others, but for myself I say certainly not.
No political power would ever induce me to vote for it. That form is much more objectionable than even a proposition to make them voters. It is giving you all the advantages of numbers, while you are taking that from us which, according to the original constitution, we had three-fifths of the slave population and no political power will force me to consent to that.
CALEB G. FORSHEY
Washington, D.C., March 28, 1966
Question: Where do you reside?
Answer: I reside in the State of Texas.
Question: How long have you been a resident of Texas?
Answer: I have resided in Texas and been a citizen of that State for nearly thirteen years.
Question: What opportunities have you had for ascertaining the temper and disposition of the people of Texas towards the government and authority of the United States?
Answer: For ten years I have been superintendent of the Texas Military Institute, as its founder and conductor. I have been in the confederate service in various parts of the confederacy; but chiefly in the trans-Mississippi department, in Louisiana and Texas, as an officer of engineers. I have had occasion to see and know very extensively the condition of affairs in Texas, and also to a considerable extent in Louisiana. I think I am pretty well-informed, as well as anybody, perhaps, of the present state of affairs in Texas.
Question: What are the feelings and views of the people of Texas as to the late rebellion, and the future condition and circumstances of the State, and its relations to the federal government?
Answer: After our army had given up its arms and gone home, the surrender of all matters in controversy was complete, and as nearly universal, perhaps, as anything could be. Assuming the matters in controversy to have been the right to secede, and the right to hold slaves, I think they were given up teetotally, to use a strong Americanism [that is, slang]. When you speak of feeling, I should discriminate a little. The feeling was that of any party who had been cast in a suit he had staked all upon. They did not return from feeling, but from a sense of necessity, and from a judgment that it was the only and necessary thing to be done, to give up the contest. But when they gave it up, it was without reservation; with a view to look forward, and not back. That is my impression of the manner in which the thing was done. There was a public expectation that in some very limited time there would be a restoration to former relations; and in such restoration they felt great interest, after the contest was given up. The expectation was, and has been up to the present time, that there would be a speedy and immediate restoration. It was the expectation of the people that, as soon as the State was organized as proposed by the President, they would be restored to their former relations, and things would go on as before.
Question: What is your opinion of a military force under the authority of the federal government to preserve order in Texas and to protect those who have been loyal, both white and black, from the aggressions of those who have been in the rebellion?
Answer: My judgment is well founded on that subject: that wherever such military force is and has been, it has excited the very feeling it was intended to prevent; that so far from being necessary it is very pernicious everywhere, and without exception. The local authorities and public sentiment are ample for protection. I think no occasion would occur, unless some individual case that our laws would not reach. We had an opportunity to test this after the surrender and before any authority was there. The military authorities, or the military officers, declared that we were without laws, and it was a long time before the governor appointed arrived there, and then it was some time before we could effect anything in the way of organization. We were a people without law, order, or anything; and it was a time for violence if it would occur. I think it is a great credit to our civilization that, in that state of affairs, there was nowhere any instance of violence. I am proud of it, for I expected the country; I expected that our soldiers on coming home, many of them, would be dissolute, and that many of them would oppress the class of men you speak of; but it did not occur. But afterwards, wherever soldiers have been sent, there have been little troubles, none of them large; but personal collisions between soldiers and citizens.
Question: What is your opinion as to the necessity and advantages of the Freedmen's Bureau, or an agency of that kind, in Texas?
Answer: My opinion is that it is not needed; my opinion is stronger than that--that the effect of it is to irritate, if nothing else. While in New York city recently I had a conversation with some friends from Texas, from five distant points in the State. We met together and compared opinions; and the opinion of each was the same, that the Negroes had generally gone to work since January; that except where the Freedmen's Bureau had interfered, or rather encouraged troubles, such as little complaints, especially between Negro and Negro, the Negro's disposition was very good, and they had generally gone to work, a vast majority of them with their former masters. I was very gratified to learn that from districts where I feared the contrary. Still this difference was made, particularly by Mr. Carpenter, from Jefferson, the editor of the Jefferson Herald. He said that in two or three counties where they had not been able to organize the Freedmen's Bureau, there had been no trouble at all; nearly all the Negroes had gone to work. The impression in Texas at present is that the Negroes under the influence of the Freedmen's Bureau do worse than without it.
I want to state that I believe all our former owners of Negroes are the friends of the Negroes; and that the antagonism paraded in the papers of the north does not exist at all. I know the fact is the very converse of that; and good feeling always prevails between the masters and the slaves. But the Negroes went off and left them in the lurch; my own family was an instance of it. But they came back after a time, saying they had been free enough and wanted a home.
Question: Do you think those who employ the Negroes there are willing to make contracts with them, so that they shall have fair wages for their labor?
Answer: I think so; I think they are paid liberally, more than the white men in this country get; the average compensation to Negroes there is greater than the average compensation of free laboring white men in this country. It seems to have regulated itself in a great measure by what each neighborhood was doing; the Negroes saying, "I can get thus and so at such a place." Men have hired from eight to fifteen dollars per month during the year, and women at about two dollars less a month; house-servants at a great deal more.
Question: Do the men who employ the Negroes claim to exercise the right to enforce their contract by physical force?
Answer: Not at all; that is totally abandoned; not a single instance of it has occurred. I think they still chastise children, though. The Negro parents often neglect that, and the children are still switched as we switch our own children. I know it is done in my own house; we have little house-servants that we switch just as I do our own little fellows.
Question: What is your opinion as to the respective advantages to the white and black races, of the present free system of labor and the institution of slavery?
Answer: I think freedom is very unfortunate for the Negro; I think it is sad; his present helpless condition touches my heart more than anything else I ever contemplated, and I think that is the common sentiment of our slaveholders. I have seen it on the largest plantations, where the Negro men had all left, and where only women and children remained, and the owners had to keep them and feed them. The beginning certainly presents a touching and sad spectacle. The poor Negro is dying at a rate fearful to relate.
I have some ethnological theories that may perhaps warp my judgment; but my judgment is that the highest condition the black race has ever reached or can reach, is one where he is provided for by a master race. That is the result of a great deal of scientific investigation and observation of the Negro character by me ever since I was a man. The labor question had become a most momentous one, and I was studying it. I undertook to investigate the condition of the Negro from statistics under various circumstances, to treat it purely as a matter of statistics from the census tables of this country of ours. I found that the free blacks of the north decreased 8 per cent.; the free blacks of the south increased 7 or 8 per cent., while the slaves by their sides increased 34 per cent. I inferred from the doctrines of political economy that the race is in the best condition when it procreates the fastest; that, other things being equal, slavery is of vast advantage to the Negro. I will mention one or two things in connexion with this as explanatory of that result. The Negro will not take care of his offspring unless required to do it, as compared with the whites. The little children will die; they do die, and hence the necessity of very rigorous regulations on our plantations which we have adopted in our nursery system.
Another cause is that there is no continence among the Negroes. All the continence I have ever seen among the Negroes has been enforced upon plantations, where it is generally assumed there is none. For the sake of procreation, if nothing else, we compel men to live with their wives. The discipline of the plantation was more rigorous, perhaps, in regard to men staying with their wives, than in regard to anything else; and I think the procreative results, as shown by the census tables, is due in a great measure to that discipline.
I think they are very much better off in having homes than the free blacks are. The free blacks in Louisiana, where we had 34,000, with a great deal of blood of the whites in them, and therefore a great deal of white sense, were nothing like so happy and so well off as our slaves are. My observation for many years leads me to this conclusion.
Question: What is the prevailing inclination among the people of Texas in regard to giving the Negroes civil or political rights and privileges?
Answer: I think they are all opposed to it. There are some men-I am not among them-who think that the basis of intelligence might be a good basis for the elective franchise. But a much larger class, perhaps nine-tenths of our people, believe that the distinctions between the races should not be broken down by any such community of interests in the management of the affairs of the State. I think there is a very common sentiment that the Negro, even with education, has not a mind capable of appreciating the political institutions of the country to such an extent as would make him a good associate for the white man in the administration of the government. I think if the vote was taken on the question of admitting him to the right of suffrage there would be a very small vote in favor of it-scarcely respectable: that is my judgment.
REVEREND JAMES SINCLAIR
Washington, D.C., January 29, 1866
[James Sinclair was a Scottish born minister who served on the Freedmen's Bureau in 1865, had been living in North Carolina for some years. Though a slaveholder himself, Sinclair opposed succession. His Union sentiments caused eventual arrest during the war. Even after the war, he remained skeptical of ex-Confederates' acceptance of Emancipation.]
Question: What is generally the state of feeling among the white
people of North Carolina towards the government of the United States?
Answer: That is a difficult question to answer, but I will answer it as far as myown knowledge goes. In my opinion, there is generally among the white people not much love for the government. Though they are willing, and I believe determined, to acquiesce in what is inevitable, yet so far as love and affection for the government is concerned, I do not believe that they have any of it at all, outside of their personal respect and regard for President Johnson.
Question: How do they feel towards the mass of the northern people--that is, the people of what were known formerly as the free States?
Answer: They feel in this way: that they have been ruined by them. You can imagine the feelings of a person towards one whom he regards as having ruined him. They regard the northern people as having destroyed their property or taken it from them, and brought all the calamities of this war upon them.
Question: How do they feel in regard to what is called the right of secession?
Answer: They think that it was right ... that there was no wrong in it. They are willing now to accept the decision of the question that has been made by the sword, but they are not by any means converted from their old opinion that they had a right to secede. It is true that there have always been Union men in our State, but not Union men without slavery, except perhaps among Quakers. Slavery was the central idea even of the Unionist. The only difference between them and the others upon that question was, that they desired to have that institution under the aegis of the Constitution, and protected by it. The secessionists wanted to get away from the north altogether. When the secessionists precipitated our State into rebellion, the Unionists and secessionists went together, because the great object with both was the preservation of slavery by the preservation of State sovereignty. There was another class of Unionists who did not care anything at all about slavery, but they were driven by the other whites into the rebellion for the purpose of preserving slavery. The poor whites are to-day very much opposed to conferring upon the Negro the right of suffrage; as much so as the other classes of the whites. They believe it is the intention of government to give the Negro rights at their expense. They cannot see it in any other light than that as the Negro is elevated they must proportionately go down. While they are glad that slavery is done away with, they are as bitterly opposed to conferring the right of suffrage on the Negro as the most prominent secessionists; but it is for the reason I have stated, that they think rights conferred on the Negro must necessarily be taken from them, particularly the ballot, which was the only bulwark guarding their superiority to the Negro race.
Question: In your judgment, what proportion of the white people of North Carolina are really, and truly, and cordially attached to the government of the United States?
Answer: Very few, sir; very few.
Question: Judging from what you have observed of the feelings of the people of that State, what would be their course in case of a war between the United States and a foreign government?
Answer: I can only tell you what I have heard young men say there; perhaps it was mere bravado. I have heard them say that they wished to the Lord the United States would get into a war with France or England; they would know where they would be. I asked this question of some of them: If Robert E. Lee was restored to his old position in the army of the United States, and he should call on you to join him to fight for the United Sates and against a foreign enemy, what would you do? They replied, "Wherever old Bob would go we would go with him."
Question: Have you heard such remarks since the war is over, as that they wished the United States would get into a war with England and France?
Answer: Oh, yes, sir; such remarks are very common. I have heard men say, "May my right hand wither and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I ever lift my arm in favor of the United States."
Question: Did you ever hear such sentiments rebuked by bystanders?
Answer: No, sir; it would be very dangerous to do so.
Question: Is the Freedmen's Bureau acceptable to the great mass of the white people in North Carolina?
Answer: No, sir; I do not think it is; I think the most of the whites wish the bureau to be taken away.
Question: Why do they wish that?
Answer: They think that they can manage the Negro for themselves: that they understand him better than northern men do. They say, "Let us understand what you want us to do with the Negro-what you desire of us; lay down your conditions for our re-admission into the Union, and then we will know what we have to do, and if you will do that we will enact laws for the government of these Negroes. They have lived among us, and they are all with us, and we can manage them better than you can." They think it is interfering with the rights of the State for a bureau, the agent and representative of the federal government, to overslaugh the State entirely, and interfere with the regulations and administration of justice before their courts.
Question: Is there generally a willingness on the part of the whites to allow the freedmen to enjoy the right of acquiring land and personal property?
Answer: I think they are very willing to let them do that, for this reason; to get rid of some portion of the taxes imposed upon their property by the government. For instance, a white man will agree to sell a Negro some of his land on condition of his paying so much a year on it, promising to give him a deed of it when the whole payment is made, taking his note in the mean time. This relieves that much of the land from taxes to be paid by the white man. All I am afraid of is, that the Negro is too eager to go into this thing; that he will ruin himself, get himself into debt to the white man, and be forever bound to him for the debt and never get the land. I have often warned them to be careful what they did about these things.
Question: There is no repugnance on the part of the whites to the Negro owning land and personal property?
Answer: I think not.
Question: Have they any objection to the legal establishment of the domestic relations among the blacks, such as the relation of husband and wife, of parent and child, and the securing by law to the Negro the rights of those relations?
Answer: That is a matter of ridicule with the whites. They do not believe the Negroes will ever respect those relations more than the brutes. I suppose I have married more than two hundred couples of Negroes since the war, but the whites laugh at the very idea of the thing. Under the old laws a slave could not marry a free woman of color; it was made a penal offence in North Carolina for any one to perform such a marriage. But there was in my own family a slave who desired to marry a free woman of color, and I did what I conceived to be my duty, and married them, and I was presented to the grand jury for doing so, but the prosecuting attorney threw out the case and would not try it. In former times the officiating clergyman marrying slaves, could not use the usual formula: "Whom God has joined together let no man put asunder;" you could not say, "According to the ordinance of God I pronounce you man and wife; you are no longer two but one." It was not legal for you to do so.
Question: What, in general, has been the treatment of the blacks by the whites since the close of hostilities?
Answer: It has not generally been of the kindest character, I must say that; I am compelled to say that.
Question: Are you aware of any instance of personal ill treatment towards the blacks by the whites?
Answer: Yes, sir.
Question: Give some instances that have occurred since the war.
Answer: [Sinclair describes the beating of a young woman across her buttocks in graphic detail.]
Question: What was the provocation, if any?
Answer: Something in regard to some work, which is generally the provocation.
Question: Was there no law in North Carolina at that time to punish
such an outrage?
Answer: No, sir; only the regulations of the Freedmen's Bureau; we took cognizance of the case. In old times that was quite allowable; it is what was called "paddling."
Question: Did you deal with the master?
Answer: I immediately sent a letter to him to come to my office, but he did not come, and I have never seen him in regard to the matter since. I had no soldiers to enforce compliance, and I was obliged to let the matter drop.
Question: Have you any reason to suppose that such instances of cruelty are frequent in North Carolina at this time-instances of whipping and striking?
Answer: I think they are; it was only a few days before I left that a woman came there with her head all bandaged up, having been cut and bruised by her employer. They think nothing of striking them.
Question: And the Negro has practically no redress?
Answer: Only what he an get from the Freedmen's Bureau.
Question: Can you say anything further in regard to the political condition of North Carolina-the feeling of the people towards the government of the United States?
Answer: I for one would not wish to be left there in the hands of those men; I could not live there just now. But perhaps my case is an isolated one from the position I was compelled to take in that State. I was persecuted, arrested, and they tried to get me into their service; they tried everything to accomplish their purpose, and of course I have rendered myself still more obnoxious by accepting an appointment under the Freedmen's Bureau. As for myself I would not be allowed to remain there. I do not want to be handed over to these people. I know it is utterly impossible for any man who was not true to the Confederate States up to the last moment of the existence of the confederacy, to expect any favor of these people as the State is constituted at present.
Question: Suppose the military pressure of the government of the United States should be withdrawn from North Carolina, would northern men and true Unionists be safe in that State?
Answer: A northern man going there would perhaps present nothing obnoxious to the people of the State. But men who were born there, who have been true to the Union, and who have fought against the rebellion, are worse off than northern men. And Governor Holden will never get any place from the people of North Carolina, not even a constable's place.
Question: Why not?
Answer: Because he identified himself with the Union movement all along after the first year of the rebellion. He has been a marked man; his printing office has been gutted, and his life has been threatened by the soldiers of the rebellion. He is killed there politically, and never will get anything from the people of North Carolina, as the right of suffrage exists there at present. I am afraid he would not get even the support of the Negro if they should be allowed to vote, because he did not stand right up for them as he should have done. In my opinion, he would have been a stronger man than ever if he had.
Question: Is it your opinion that the feelings of the great mass of the white people of North Carolina are unfriendly to the government of the United States?
Answer: Yes, sir, it is; they have no love for it. If you mean by loyalty, acquiescence in what has been accomplished, then they are all loyal; ff you mean, on the other hand, that love and affection which a child has for its parent even after he brings the rod of correction upon him, then they have not that feeling. It may come in the course of time.
Question: In your judgment, what effect has been produced by the liberality of the President in granting pardons and amnesties to rebels in that State-what effect upon the public mind?
Answer: On my oath I am bound to reply exactly as I believe; that is, that if President Johnson is ever a candidate for re-election he will be supported by the southern States, particularly by North Carolina; but that his liberality to them has drawn them one whit closer to the government than before, I do not believe. It has drawn them to President Johnson personally, and to the democratic party, I suppose.
Question: Has that clemency had any appreciable effect in recovering the real love and affection of that people for the government?
Answer: No, sir; not for the government, considered apart from the person of the Executive [that is, President Johnson].
Question: Has it had the contrary effect?
Answer: I am not prepared to answer that question, from the fact that they regard President Johnson as having done all this because he was a southern man, and not because he was an officer of the government.