August 20, 1866 — THE SOUTHERN PEOPLE: The Disposition of the South with Respect to the Union, by Major General Gordon Granger

To His Excellency Andrew Johnson, President of the United States:

SIR: In obedience to instructions, dated May 9, 1866, directing me, while carrying out a specific mission, “to examine carefully into the disposition of the people of the Southern States through which I might pass, toward the Government of the United States,” I have the honor to report:

That in all the States I visited I found no sign or symptom of organized disloyalty to the general Government. I found the people taking our currency, and glad to get it: anxious for Northern capital and Northern labor to develop the resources of their wasted country, and well disposed toward every Northern man who came among them with that object in view.

In some localities I heard rumors of secret organizations, pointing to a renewal of the rebellion. On investigating these secret societies I could discover in them nothing more than charitable institutions, having for their principal object the relief of the widows and orphans of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in the war.

During the whole of my travels I found it to be as safe and as convenient to mingle with the people of the South, freely discussing any and every topic that came up, as in any other section of the United States. I was often among them unknown, and the tenor of their acts and conversation was then the same as when my name and official position were thoroughly understood.

The people of the South may be divided into two classes. There is the industrious class, laboring earnestly to build up what has been broken down, striving to restore prosperity to the country, and interested mainly in the great question of providing food and clothing for themselves and families. These form the great majority of the people. Then there is another class, an utterly irresponsible class, composed mainly of young men who were the “bucks” of Southern society before the war, and chiefly spent their time in lounging round the courtrooms and bars, in chicken fighting and gambling. These have been greatly broken up by the war; many of them have been killed; but those who remain are still disturbing elements in the community, and are doing much mischief. It is this class of men, and a number of the poor whites, who have formed gangs for horse-stealing. It is they who in some instances have made attacks on officers of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and have ill-treated the freedmen. It is they who afford the main pretext for saying that there is among the people of the South a feeling of hostility toward the United States Government. But they are not the representatives of the Southern people. They form but an insignificant minority in the community, and even they are actuated not so much by a feeling of opposition to the Government as by a reluctance to earn their own livelihood by honest labor and individual exertion.

That cases of authentic outrage have occurred in the South is patent to every one familiar with the current news of the day. But these cases are few and far between, and it is both unjust and ungenerous to charge the responsibility for such acts of lawlessness upon the whole Southern people. For some malicious purpose, accounts of these isolated disorders have been collected and grouped together and sown broadcast over the North, so as to give the public mind an utterly erroneous impression as to the condition of Southern society. The fact is, that wherever disaffection and turbulence have manifested themselves outside the class to whom I have above alluded, there has been some local or specific cause to account for it. Lawlessness, like an epidemic, is equally traceable to some initiatory cause. Chief among these causes must be named bad government, pillage and oppression.

For five years the Southern people have been the subjects of gross misrule. During the war their Government was a military despotism, dependent solely on the dictum of an individual. Since the war they have been left more or less in a chaotic state — their Government semi-civil, semi-military, or rather a division of rule between the military, the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Provisional Governments. What might have been the result of a different policy it is not altogether idle to speculate. Every military man who served in the South during the war will agree that the heart of the great mass of the people was not thoroughly in the struggle. The number of desertions from the rebel armies abundantly establishes this fact. Had a policy of wise and statesmanlike conciliation been followed out immediately after the close of the war, it is no more probable that the condition and disposition of the people would now be far better than they are. But on the subjugation of the South the national authority in the lately rebellious States was divided and broken up into opposing factious, whose action greatly hindered the reestablishment of civil law and good order so much needed among a people demoralized by the most demoralizing of all agencies — civil war. The country was flooded with Treasury agents who, with their accomplices and imitators, fleeced the people right and left, returning into the United States Treasury for all the enormous amount of property they have seized and confiscated barely enough to pay the cost of confiscation. Agents of the Freedmen’s Bureau stepped between the planter and the laborer, stirring up strife, perpetuating antagonism and often adding their quota of extortion and oppression. On every hand the people saw themselves robbed and wronged by agents and self-appointed agents professing to act under the sanction of the United States Government. Need it be wondered at that among a community thus dealt with, powerless to resist and too weak and prostrated for successful complaint, some bitterness and ill feeling should arise? None but a brave and well-meaning people could have endured unresistingly all that the South has undergone.

In prosecuting this inquiry I hardly deemed it fair to ask more than what had been the actions of the people of the South toward the General Government. With their private opinions, their sympathies and their prejudices I had nothing to do. Yet for a more thorough understanding of the question I made it a part of my mission to investigate even these, I found they had universally complied with the conditions granted and accepted at the final surrender of their armies and cause. I found that they were carrying out with good faith and alacrity the requirements of the constitutional amendment abolishing Slavery, and that in all the States except Mississippi and Texas, the famous Civil Rights Bill had been anticipated by the action of the State Legislatures previous to its passage by Congress. Further than this, I found that in the repudiation of every dollar known as the Confederate debt, the same prompt action had been taken by the State authorities, and had been universally indorsed by the people; and I neither saw nor heard any disposition, to repudiate the National debt, or to revive the institution of Slavery.

But while the Southern people are thus loyal, and have fulfilled all the requirements asked of them by the Federal Government, it is impossible to disguise the fact, and the better class of citizens do not attempt to disguise it, that there is among them a deep feeling and a strong apprehension as to the cause of their long-continued exclusion from Congress. They believe that it is part of a set plan for perpetuating the existence of the political party now in the ascendant, and that the question of suffrage, readjustment of representation and taxation are but excuses for still longer delay. Thus regardless of the great interests, not only of the suffering South, but of the whole country, burdened with debt and laboring under severe embarrassment, I found the prevailing opinion among the most intelligent citizens, as well as among those most anxious for an early restoration of the Union, to be that, if representation and an equal and just cooperation in the administration of Federal affairs were much longer withheld from the Southern States, a feeling of indifference would spring up toward taking any part in filling Federal offices, and more particularly toward refilling their seats in Congress — that the people, in fact, would stay away from the polls, and allow the elections to go by default, to the great detriment of the country at large. This feeling of indifference indeed is already manifesting itself, and is rapidly increasing, so much so that were it not for a few persons in each Southern State who have found it necessary for their existence to live upon and hold office, and whose haunts and occupations have hitherto been at the Federal capital, I do not believe that any clamor for representation would be heard.

What is needed to restore harmony and prosperity to the entire country, both North and South, is closer and better acquaintance with each other. I have been astonished to notice how little people, even whose social relations are all Southern, know of the true state of feeling in that section of the country. We need greater political, social and commercial freedom, more frequent intercourse, and a kinder appreciation of each other’s peculiarities. The advantages to the country in its present financial stress of a reunion of heart and sentiment would be beyond enumeration. The broad lands of the fertile South are now lying almost in waste for want of means and capital to cultivate them, when every acre of the beneficent soil might be a gold mine to its possessor, were the political relations of the people better understood and acted upon.

I have the honor to be, your most obedient servant,
GORDON GRANGER,
Brevet Maj.-Gen., United States Army.

-Article courtesy of The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/1866/08/28/archives/the-southern-people-report-of-gen-gordon-granger-the-disposition-of.html

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