The Redeemers: Definition & History

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  • 0:05 Southern Greivances
  • 1:19 Violent Resistance
  • 3:54 Political Resistance
  • 5:22 Total Redemption
  • 6:32 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will explore the reactions of white Southerners to Reconstruction. We will examine their grievances, discuss their sometimes violent backlash, and take a look at their political efforts to regain control of the South.

Southern Grievances

After the Civil War, the South was in tatters. Cities like Richmond and Atlanta had been reduced to ruins. The countryside, especially in Georgia and Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, was covered with the ashes of burned homes and farms. The military conquest of the South was complete. The political conquest, however, continued as Radical Republicans in Congress tightened their control over Reconstruction and enforced their agenda of African American rights and northern ideals on the South.

Southerners, especially the richer planter class, balked at these insults. They were horrified by what they saw as the new 'Black Dominion' in which African Americans could vote and even hold political office, and they despised the northern carpetbaggers who traveled south to take control of Republican-led state governments, and the southern scalawags who cooperated with them and betrayed their families and neighbors. Southerners believed that they were losing their freedom and their culture, and they resented the high taxes and corruption of their new governments.

Violent Resistance

Legally, there was not much that Southerners could do to change their situation, but many of them were quite content to resort to non-legal means. Early in 1866, a group of Confederate veterans met in Pulaski, Tennessee, and formed the Ku Klux Klan. What started out as a social organization quickly spread throughout the South as it incorporated pro-Confederate planters, doctors, politicians, farmers, artisans, mayors, sheriffs, and even common criminals.

As the KKK spread, its purpose changed, and it morphed into a terrorist organization dedicated to intimidation, violence, and murder. Dressed in their white robes and pointed hoods, KKK members particularly targeted Africans Americans, striking terror in the hearts of innocent people across the South. They beat, whipped, and lynched African American voters and politicians, burned African American schools and churches, and threatened and attacked African American individuals and families that offered any shred of resistance or perceived disrespect to white people.

One often-quoted African American man succinctly summed up the situation: 'We have very dark days here. The colored people are in despair. The rebels boast that the Negroes shall not have as much liberty now as they had under slavery. If things go on thus, our doom is sealed. God knows it is worse than slavery.'

The KKK also focused its attention and its violence on the so-called carpetbaggers and scalawags, who, in Southerners' eyes, were invaders and traitors. These men, however, were in the position to turn to the federal government for help. In 1870 and 1871, Congress enacted the Enforcement Acts against the KKK. The strongest of these acts they labeled as a federal offense any attempt to deprive citizens of their legal rights. It also allowed the president to deploy the military to quash KKK violence and restore order. The acts proved successful in crushing the KKK threat, and the organization was soon merely a shadow of its former self. Its ideas, however, lived on and assumed new forms.

Political Resistance

By the mid-1870s, Southern Democrats, calling themselves the Redeemers of the South, were beginning to reassert political influence in their state governments, along with the white supremacy that the KKK had so violently advocated. These Democrats steadily gained control as Northerners turned their attention to problems like westward expansion and the economy. By this point, many in the North felt like they had done quite enough for former slaves, and after the last southern state was readmitted to the Union in 1870, interest in Reconstruction waned.

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