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I have never, on the field of battle, sent you where I was unwilling to go myself; nor would I advise to go a course which I myself was unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers; you can be good citizens… Nathan Bedford Forrest

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The Ku Klux Klan has become a symbol of hate and as it is constituted today its reputation may be deserved. The Klan of today is composed of the remnants of nativist groups who revived the Klan in the early 20th century, burning crosses and staging rallies, parades and marches denouncing immigrants, Catholics, Jews, blacks and organized labor. These same people opposed the civil rights movement of the 1960s with bombings of black schools and churches and counter-violence against black and white activists in the South. They bear no more relationship to the post civil war Klan than today’s politicians, even the so-called conservatives, do to the founding fathers. You would not learn that from reading this book and that it its mortal error.

The simple facts are that the South was under military occupation from 1865 until 1877 with few if any rights extended to any white citizens while the Republican carpetbaggers aided by the Freedman’s Bureau sought to deprive anyone who had owned property prior to 1861 from retaining it. The modern equivalent is Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe. Nathan Bedford Forrest‘s advise to his troops to, Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the Government to which you have surrendered can afford to be, and will be, magnanimous, could not have been more wrong and having it found to be so he acted with others to provide an armed force to protect the disenfranchised.

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Raising an armed guard of 500,000 men and using it effectively proved to be two entirely different matters. A Congressional investigation on Klan activities in 1871 found, When it is considered that the origin, designs, mysteries, and ritual of the order are made secrets; that the assumption of its regalia or the revelation of any of its secrets, even by an expelled member, or of its purposes by a member, will be visited by ‘the extreme penalty of the law,’ the difficulty of procuring testimony upon this point may be appreciated, and the denials of the purposes, of membership in, and even the existence of the order, should all be considered in the light of these provisions. As it might be phrased today privacy is guilt and any means to prove that guilt is justified regardless of how trampled the Constitution may be in the process. The committee finally concluded that, The natural tendency of all such organizations is to violence and crime; hence it was that General Forrest and other men of influence in the state, by the exercise of their moral power, induced them to disband.

The organization formally disbanded by Forrest in 1869 bears no resemblance to the 20th century permutations of the organization using the same name but in the same way that second-rate politicians of all stripes like to raise the specter of hate the academics that they spawn and support who are apparently equally willing to repeat the same lies presented in this following post war broadside. If you tell the same lie often enough apparently it is eventually believed.

A searing, election-year indictment of four prominent figures in the Democratic party, three of them former Confederate officers. Former New York governor and Democratic presidential nominee Horatio Seymour is portrayed as a "rioter." Standing in a burning city, he waves his hat in the air while he steps on the back of a crawling figure. In the background a corpse hangs from a lamppost. Between 1862 and 1864 Seymour had opposed Lincoln's war policies, and he was branded as instigator of the 1863 New York draft riots. (See "The Meeting of the Friends, City Hall Park," no. 1863-12.) Below the portrait are inflammatory passages from his speeches. Tennessee general Nathan Bedford Forrest, the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, and infamous for his role in the massacre of surrendered Union troops at Fort Pillow, is called "The Butcher Forrest." He waves a flag labeled "No Quarter" and fires a pistol. Extracts from reports of the Pillow massacre are given below his picture. Confederate admiral Raphael Semmes is portrayed as a pirate, wielding a knife in one hand and holding aloft a flaming torch in the other. Behind him flies a flag with a skull and crossbones. To the right a family cowers in fright. Semmes was the scourge of Union shipping during the Civil War. Under his command the "Alabama," a British-built ship, captured sixty-two merchant vessels, most of which were burned. An excerpt from Semmes's July 1868 speech at Mobile, Alabama, appears below this image. Confederate cavalry officer Wade Hampton appears as a hangman. He holds his plumed hat at his side and wears a uniform embossed with a skull and crossbones and a belt inscribed "C.S.A" (Confederate States of America). In the distance three Yankee soldiers hang from a gallows.

A searing, election-year indictment of four prominent figures in the Democratic party, three of them former Confederate officers. Former New York governor and Democratic presidential nominee Horatio Seymour is portrayed as a “rioter.” Standing in a burning city, he waves his hat in the air while he steps on the back of a crawling figure. In the background a corpse hangs from a lamppost. Between 1862 and 1864 Seymour had opposed Lincoln’s war policies, and he was branded as instigator of the 1863 New York draft riots. (See “The Meeting of the Friends, City Hall Park,” no. 1863-12.) Below the portrait are inflammatory passages from his speeches. Tennessee general Nathan Bedford Forrest, the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, and infamous for his role in the massacre of surrendered Union troops at Fort Pillow, is called “The Butcher Forrest.” He waves a flag labeled “No Quarter” and fires a pistol. Extracts from reports of the Pillow massacre are given below his picture. Confederate admiral Raphael Semmes is portrayed as a pirate, wielding a knife in one hand and holding aloft a flaming torch in the other. Behind him flies a flag with a skull and crossbones. To the right a family cowers in fright. Semmes was the scourge of Union shipping during the Civil War. Under his command the “Alabama,” a British-built ship, captured sixty-two merchant vessels, most of which were burned. An excerpt from Semmes’s July 1868 speech at Mobile, Alabama, appears below this image. Confederate cavalry officer Wade Hampton appears as a hangman. He holds his plumed hat at his side and wears a uniform embossed with a skull and crossbones and a belt inscribed “C.S.A” (Confederate States of America). In the distance three Yankee soldiers hang from a gallows.

The great South Carolina Ku Klux Klan trials, 1871-1872  Lou Falkner Williams  Athens : University of Georgia Press, c 1996  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xiii, 197 p. : ill., 1 map ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [179]-191) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

It is remarkable that the most serious intervention by the federal government to protect the rights of its new black citizens during Reconstruction has not received more study. In The Great South Carolina Ku Klux Klan Trials, Lou Falkner Williams presents an account of the events following the Klan uprising in the South Carolina Piedmont in the Reconstruction era. It is a gripping story — one that helps us better understand the limits of constitutional change in post-Civil War America and the failure of Reconstruction.

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The South Carolina Klan trials represent the culmination of the federal government’s most substantial effort during Reconstruction to stop white efforts to provide personal security for their families and property from blacks. Federal interventions, suspension of habeas corpus in nine counties, widespread undercover investigations, and highly publicized trials resulting in the conviction of several Klansmen are all detailed in Williams’s study.

When the trials began, the Supreme Court had yet to interpret the Fourteenth Amendment and the Enforcement Acts. Thus the fourth federal circuit court became a forum for constitutional experimentation as the prosecution and defense squared off to present their opposing views. The fate of the individual Klansmen was almost incidental to the larger constitutional issues in these celebrated trials. It was the federal judge’s devotion to state-centered federalism — not a lack of concern for the Klan’s victims — that kept them from embracing any constitutional doctrine that would have fundamentally altered the nature of the Union as later courts would.

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Placing the Klan trials in the context of post emancipation race relations, Williams shows that the Klan’s campaign in the upcountry reflected white determination to preserve prewar social standards. This account of the Klan uprising in the South Carolina Piedmont in the late 1860s and early 1870s makes a significant, if deeply flawed, contribution to the history of Reconstruction but is monumentally important in showing that the post war victors had no more value than Lincoln for habeas corpus and no more scruples about using prosecutorial misconduct and trying weak cases in a tame press seeking vindication.

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