Reconstruction in South Carolina

Voorhees

In 1872, Daniel W. Voorhees, a Congressman of Indiana, made a speech in the U.S. House of Representatives in which he described conditions in the South after the war, during the period (laughingly) known as “Reconstruction.”  He accused the United States government, under the control of the Republican Party, of plundering and slandering the conquered Southern states, sending “powerful missionaries of mischief in the form of committees, backed by the money and power of the government, whose labors are to blacken the character and fame of their people, under the guise of official investigations and reports.”

Speaking of South Carolina, “the once proud land of Marion and Sumter,” then under Carpetbagger (Republican) control, Voorhees, stated the following:

…South Carolina…now the most wretched state that the sun shines on in its course through the heavens.  There is no form of ruin to which she has not fallen a prey, no curse with which she has not been baptized, no cup of humiliation and suffering her people have not drained to the dregs.  I am told that disorder has reigned in some counties within her borders, and we behold martial law, worse than the lawless tyranny of the dark ages, ravaging her firesides and scattering her households.  Bad governments are fruitful of such calamitous results…The wickedness of corrupt rulers breeds outbreaks among citizens.  How has South Carolina been governed?  The Republican party has held undisputed sway there every hour since the overthrow of the rebellion.  Her entire delegation in both branches of Congress belong to the party now in power.  Her state officers and legislators, of all colors, have been of the same political faith.  What are their works?  What trophies of progress and civilization do they bring…?  Not one good deed adorns the polluted pages of their record.  At the close of the war the valid debt of the state amounted to $5 million dollars.  A committee of investigation in an official report made December 26, 1871…say…29 million.

Add to this $10 million more that is disputed as fraudulent, and we have an increase of $34 million in the debt of the state since it fell into the hands of its present destroyers…The New York Tribune, of December 19, 1871, announces that over $6 million of her bonds have been fraudulently issued by her Republican governor; but no mode by which the toiling tax-payer can escape their payment is pointed out to him.  Taxation for the support of a good government often becomes a grievous burden, but when it springs directly an avowedly from fraud and forgery, it is a curse intolerable not to be borne…

Governor Scott…is said to be investing large sums at Napoleon, Ohio, where his home in reality is, and where he expects to retire when fully gorged with plunder.  He went to South Carolina for pillage and rapine, and will soon return with his spoils…

What right have you to expect peace and order in a land whose rulers are lawless felons?  When did a bad government ever fail to produce wickedness and crime?  Do you expect the people to obey the laws when their officials do not?  Do you expect them to love and reverence a government whose policy has made them bankrupt and miserable?  Do you wonder that they become restless, desperate, and disobedient, as they daily behold the fruit of their toil stolen from them in the name of government?  Are you amazed at scenes of violence, outrage, bloodshed, and cruel vengeance, when the executive of a state sets aside the entire administration of justice?  Rather you should be filled with astonishment at the forbearance and moderation you have witnessed…

Had you sown the seeds of kindness and good will, they would long ere this have blossomed into prosperity and peace.  Had you sown the seeds of honor, you would have reaped a golden harvest of contentment and obedience.  Had you extended your charities and your justice to a distressed people, you would have awakened a grateful affection in return.  But as you have planted in hate and nurtured in corruption, so have been the fruits which you have gathered.

This speech is found in Forty Years of Oratory: Daniel Wolsey Voorhees, Lectures, Addresses and Speeches, compiled by Harriett C. Voorhees, 1897

About Karen Stokes

Karen Stokes, an archivist at the South Carolina Historical Society in Charleston, is the author of nine non-fiction books including South Carolina Civilians in Sherman’s Path, The Immortal 600, A Confederate Englishman, Confederate South Carolina, Days of Destruction, and A Legion of Devils: Sherman in South Carolina. Her works of historical fiction include Honor in the Dust and The Immortals. Her latest non-fiction book, An Everlasting Circle: Letters of the Haskell Family of Abbeville, South Carolina, 1861-1865, includes the correspondence of seven brothers who served in the Confederate Army with great distinction. More from Karen Stokes

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