CHAPTER I. RECONSTRUCTION AND ITS AFTERMATH
While the Mexican difficulty was being brought to a successful outcome, the government of Russia offered to sell to the United States her immense Alaskan possessions west and northwest of Canada. Secretary Seward was enthusiastically disposed to accept the offer and a treaty was accordingly drawn up on March 30, 1867, providing for the acquisition of the territory for $7,200,000. The Senate, however, was far less inclined to seize the opportunity. Little was known about Alaska, and the cost seemed almost prohibitive in view of the financial strains caused by the war. Nevertheless the inclination to acquire territory was strong and there was a widespread desire to accede to the wishes of Russia who was understood to have been well-disposed toward the United States during the war. Under the operation of these forces the Senate changed its attitude and ratified the treaty on April 9, 1867. By this act the United States came into possession of an area measuring nearly 600,000 square miles, and stores of fish, furs, timber, coal and precious metals whose size is even yet little understood.
It was not long before it became apparent that radical reconstruction had been founded too little upon the hard facts of social and political conditions in the South, and too much upon benevolent but mistaken theories, and upon prejudices, partisanship and emotion. It was inevitable that there should be an aftermath.
At the close of reconstruction in 1871, the southern negro was a citizen of civil and political importance. As a voter, he was on an equality with the whites; he belonged to the Republican party and his party was a powerful factor in the politics of the South; his position was secured, or at least seemed to be secured, by amendments to the federal Constitution. Legally and constitutionally his position appeared to be impregnable. In the minds of the southern white, however, the amendments vied with military reconstruction in their injustice and unwisdom. To his mind they constituted an attempt to abolish the belief of the white man in the essential inferiority of the black, to make the pyramid of government stand on its apex, and to place the very issues of existence within the power of the congenitally unfit. To the discontent aroused by war were added political and racial antagonism, which blazed at times into fury. The southern whites began to invent methods for overcoming the power of the freedmen in politics and for insuring themselves against possible danger of violence at the hands of the blacks.
The most famous device was the Ku Klux Klan or the Invisible Empire, a somewhat loosely organized secret society which originated in Tennessee during the turmoil immediately after the close of the war. In theory and practice its operations were simple and effective. Its chief officials were the Grand Wizard, the Grand Dragon, the Grand Titan. Local branches were Dens, each headed by a Grand Cyclops. The Den worked usually at night, when the members assembled clad in long white robes and white masks or hoods, discussed cases which needed attention, and then rode forth on horses whose bodies were covered and whose feet were muffled. The exploits of the Klan expanded, in the exaggerated stories common among the negroes, into the most amazing achievements. The members were thought to be able to take themselves to pieces, drink entire pailfuls of water, and devour "fried nigger meat." Usually the person about to be "visited" received a notice that the dreaded Klan was upon him. He was warned to cease his political activities or perhaps to leave the neighborhood. If the threat proved ineffective, whipping or some worse punishment was likely to follow.
In 1872 Congress unintentionally aided in the process of overcoming negro domination by the passage of the Amnesty Act, which restored to all but a few hundreds of the former Confederates the political privileges which had been taken from them by the Fourteenth Amendment. Under the latter the great majority of former southern leaders had been deprived of the right to hold office. On the restoration of this right such men as Alexander H. Stephens, former Vice-President of the Confederate States, and Wade Hampton, one of the most influential South Carolinians, could again take an active part in politics. With their return, the cause of white supremacy received a powerful impetus.
In taking this step, however, Congress did not intend to allow the legal and constitutional rights of the blacks to be waived without a contest. Reports reached the North concerning the activities of the southern whites - reports which in no way minimized the amount of intimidation and violence involved - and in response to this information Congress passed the enforcement laws of 1870-1871, generally known as the "Force Acts." These laws laid heavy penalties upon individuals who should prevent citizens from exercising their constitutional political powers - primarily the right to vote. As offences under these acts were within the jurisdiction of the federal courts and as the federal officials manifested an inclination to carry out the law, the number of indictments was considerable. Convictions, however, were infrequent. The famous Ku Klux Act of 1871 amplified the law of 1870 and was aimed at combinations or conspiracies of persons who resorted to intimidation. It authorized the President to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and made it his duty to employ armed force to suppress opposition.