Redeemers in Reconstruction: History & Explanation

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Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

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Jeffrey Perry

Jeffrey Perry earned his Ph.D. in History from Purdue University and has taught History courses at private and state institutions of higher education since 2012.

The Redeemers played a significant role in the Reconstruction Era. Learn about the composition of the group, their philosophy, and the legacy they had in restoring antebellum values to the South. Updated: 11/26/2019

Rise of the Redeemers

A period known as Reconstruction enveloped the nation following the end of the American Civil War. The ethos behind the Reconstruction Era was to establish pro-union governments in the South as well as to punish those who participated in the rebellion. Republicans, carpetbaggers, freedmen, and scalawags all flocked south in an attempt to encourage the revival of democracy while protecting the newly-acquired rights of African Americans.

The optimism of a renewed society did not last, however. White supremacists eventually regained ahold of the South by inflicting domestic terrorism throughout the region. By the beginning of the 1870s, a group known as the Redeemers surfaced with guarantees of restoring the old order of the South.

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  • 0:03 Rise of the Redeemers
  • 0:53 Who Were The Redeemers?
  • 1:27 Redeemer Ideology
  • 2:58 How Did Redeemers Succeed?
  • 4:18 Legacy
  • 5:04 Lesson Summary
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Who Were the Redeemers?

The Redeemers were an eclectic group of individuals comprised of wealthy businessmen, farmers, and merchants. This was an all-white, pro-Democratic Party group, and they shared a general disdain for Republicanism as well as for the rights of African Americans.

The collective goal of the group was to destroy the political institutions and race relations that were formed during Reconstruction. This meant that the Redeemers sought to end Republican-controlled state governments as well as remove African Americans from political positions and restrict their overall right to equality.

Redeemers Ideology

Redeemers did not believe in federal intervention, nor did they view a 'hands-on' state government as necessary in the South. Instead, the Redeemers sought to limit the power of the various state governments. State budgets were overwhelmingly reduced in areas such as education, healthcare, and transportation (areas where equality could be supported with funding), and taxes were cut for thousands of white planters who struggled to pay their property tax under the Republican regime.

The education system was crippled by the Redeemers. Spending on an African-American student was drastically reduced to the point of negligibility. While spending on education was reduced, financial penalties against African Americans skyrocketed. Any type of crime was punishable by a significant fee. If the suspect was unable to pay the penalty, he or she would be immediately jailed. Most would then be required to stand trial before a white jury.

Voting standards were also curbed under the Redeemer faction. While African Americans were still permitted to cast votes, they did so under harsh requirements or the fear of potential repercussions. Redeemers slowly eliminated many black politicians from the government and the ballot. Redistricting was an important part of the Redeemer agenda, as was supporting a poll tax and literacy test in order to vote. Needless to say, white supremacy thrived once again by the end of Reconstruction in 1877.

How Did Redeemers Succeed?

There are two main reasons as to why the Redeemers were able to take control of the South. First, white domestic terrorist groups made it difficult for the federal government to ensure the success of all Reconstruction programs. Groups such as the Rifle Club, Red Shirts, and Ku Klux Klan spread fear throughout much of the South, especially against those who attempted to forward the civil rights of African Americans. The federal government had some success in stopping these groups, but it was not possible to permanently end the turmoil.

Second, soldiers who served the Confederacy slowly began to cast their ballot once again. Most of these individuals were forced to swear allegiance to the Union following the end of the Civil War. Southern states had no choice but to encourage this program in order to reapply for statehood in the Union. Those who chose to avoid taking an oath of allegiance were suppressed. It took the better part of Reconstruction for Confederate veterans to begin voting for candidates that represented their values. The rise of the Redeemers encouraged these individuals to get to the ballot box. Power and fear, in addition to the failing programs of Reconstruction, helped the Redeemers achieve a stranglehold on the South and revive the Democratic Party.

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Additional Activities

Writing Prompts for Redeemers in Reconstruction:

Writing Prompt 1:

Imagine you are an African American in the South in the 1880s. You were born into slavery and freed by the 13th Amendment. At first, you acquired rights such as equality before the law and the right to vote, but now you fear for the future of those rights and the safety of your family in the South. Write a letter to your friend, who lives in the North, discussing the recent occurrences that make you fear for your rights and life. Remember that your friend lives in the North, so he or she will need details on how the political and social atmosphere has changed since the end of Reconstruction in 1877.

Writing Prompt 2:

Compare and contrast the goals of northern Republicans and southern Democrats during Reconstruction. What did each side desire, what strategies did they use to achieve their goals, and how successful were they?

Additional Questions to Consider:

In what ways did Redeemers seek to disenfranchise African Americans in the South?

Besides restricting African Americans rights, Redeemers sought to cut government spending in a number of areas. In what areas did they cut state spending? What long term consequences do you think such financial cuts might have for southern states?

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