Freedom Failed: Confessions of a Carpetbagger

Gov. Daniel Chamberlain reflects upon Reconstruction

South Carolina

In his exchange of comments with Palmetto Patriot, Kevin Levin claims that a commentator from The Atlantic has “just as much a claim on the history of the South as you do.”

Fair enough.

If that is the case, then Daniel Chamberlain (the carpetbagger governor of South Carolina from Massachusetts) has an even greater claim on the “Civil War Memory” of Reconstruction, as he was personally there and presided over what was unquestionably one of the worst and most destructive phases of the experiment.

Briefly, here is Mr. Chamberlain on “The Failure of Reconstruction”:

“Let us look at our State when the reconstruction acts first took effect in 1868. A social revolution had been accomplished – an entire reversal of the political relations of most of our people had ensued. The class which formally held all the political power of our State were stripped of all.

The class which had formerly been less than citizens, with no political power or social position, were made the sole depositories of the political power of the State. I refer now to practical results, not to theories. The numerical relations of the two races were such that one race, under the new laws, held absolute political control of the state.

The attitude and actions of both races under these new conditions, while not unnatural, was, as I must think, unwise and unfortunate. One race stood aloof and haughtily refused to seek the confidence of the race which was just entering on its new powers; while the other race quickly grasped all the political power which the new order of things had placed within their reach.

From the nature of the case, the one were race were devoid of political experience, of all or nearly all education, and depended mainly for all these qualities upon those who, for the most part, chanced to have drifted here from other States, or who, in very rare instances, being former residents of the State, now allied themselves with the other race. No man of common prudence, or who was even slightly familiar with the working of social forces, could have then failed to see that the elements which went to compose the now dominant party were not of the kind which produced public virtue and honor, or which could long secure even public order and peace.

I make all just allowance for exceptional cases of individual character, but I say that the result to be expected, from the very nature of the situation in 1868, was that a scramble for office would ensue among the members of the party in power, which, again, from the nature of the case, must result in filling the offices of the State, local and general, with men of no capacity and little honesty or desire to serve the public.

The nation had approved the reconstruction measures, not because they seemed to be free of danger, nor because they were blind to the very grave possibilities of future evils, but in the hope that the one race, wearing its new laurels and using its new powers with modesty and forbearance, would gradually remove the prejudices and enlist the sympathies and cooperation of the other race, until a fair degree of political homogeneity should be reached, and race lines should cease to mark the limits of political parties.

Three years have passed and the result is – what? Incompetency, dishonesty, corruption in all its forms, have “advanced their miscreated fronts,” have put flight to the small remnant that opposed them, and now rules the party which ruled the State.

You may imagine the chagrin with which I make this statement. Truth alone compels it. My eyes see it – all my senses testify to the startling and sad fact. I can never be indifferent to anything which touches the fair fame of that great national party to which all my deepest convictions attach me, and I repel the libel which the party bearing that name in this State is daily pouring upon us. I am a Republican by habit by conviction, by association, but my republicanism is not, I trust, composed solely of equal parts of ignorance and rapacity.

Such is the plain statement of the present condition of the dominant party of our State. What is the remedy? That a change will come, and come speedily, let no man doubt. Corruption breeds its own kind. Ignorance rushes to its own downfall. Close behind any political party which tolerates such qualities in its public representatives stalks the headsmen. If the result is merely political disruption let us be profoundly thankful. Let us make haste to prevent it from being social disruption – the sundering of all the bonds which make society and government possible.”

Note: Daniel Chamberlain wrote an even more blistering and highly recommended article on the failure of Reconstruction and the total control of the state government by the Black Undertow in an article for The Atlantic Monthly in 1901:

“The quick, sure result was of course misgovernment. Let a few statistics tell the tale. Before the war, the average expense of the annual session of the legislature in South Carolina did not exceed $20,000. For the six years following Reconstruction the average annual expense was over $320,000, the expense of the session of 1871 alone being $617,000. The total legislative expenses for the six years were $2,239,000.

The average annual cost of public printing in Massachusetts for the last ten years has been $131,000; for the year 1899 it was $139,000, and this included much costly printing never dreamed of in South Carolina in those days. In reconstructed South Carolina the cost of public printing for the first six years was $1,104,000 – the annual average of $184,000, the cost for the single year 1871-72 being $348,000.

The total public debt of South Carolina at the beginning of Reconstruction was less than $1,000,000. At the end of the year 1872, five years later, the direct public debt amounted to over $17,500,000. For all this increase the state had not a single public improvement to show; and of this debt over $5,950,000 had been formally repudiated by the party and the men who had created the debt, and received and handled its proceeds.

Prior to Reconstruction, contingent funds were absolutely unknown in South Carolina; a contingent fund, as known under Reconstruction, being a sum of money which a public officer is allowed to draw and expend without accountability. During the first six years of Reconstruction the contingent funds in South Carolina amounted to $376,000.

These are the pecuniary results, but they tell a moral tale. No such results could be possible except where public and private virtue was well-nigh extinct, nor could they exist alone. In fact, they were only one salient effect or phase of a wide reign of corruption and general misrule. Public offices were objects of vulgar, commonplace bargain and sale. Justice in the lower and higher courts was bought and sold; or rather, those who sat in the seats nominally of justice made traffic of their judicial powers. State militia on a vast scale was organized and equipped in 1870 and 1871 solely from the negroes, arms and legal organization being denied the white Democrats. No branch of the public service escaped the pollution.”

About Hunter Wallace 12382 Articles
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent


  1. “Close behind any political party which tolerates such qualities in its public representatives stalks the headsmen. If the result is merely political disruption let us be profoundly thankful. Let us make haste to prevent it from being social disruption – the sundering of all the bonds which make society and government possible.”

    I will apply this to the Obamanation in toto. I now realize that Barack is nothing less, than Reconstruction applied to the Nation as a whole. Even after these clearly monstrous follies of other negroe legislators, who were far less talented, educated, and qualified, nevertheless, Four years of Negro rule as a nation, has almost ruined us.

    Plus ça change, plus qu’il reste la meme.

  2. This is a slow time of year. What you are writing now is brilliant and keep it up. The history you are telling us is essential for us to learn.

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