Part 4 of a Series on Reconstruction: Economic and Political Tyranny


One asset the South had left after the war despite all the destruction was five million bales of cotton. Prices were also at an all time high of 50 cents to a dollar per pound. The North confiscated three million bales of this cotton on the grounds of its association with owners who had previously sold cotton to the Confederate government. Cotton raised by slaves was also subjected to a 25 percent tax. It was up to the owners of cotton to prove the absence of any Confederate or slave taint, so U. S. Treasury agents frequently made some arrangements to clear the cotton by some means of bribery. Many Treasury agents were racketeers, using threats of total confiscation, if an appropriate bribe was not forthcoming. They also purchased cotton at low prices using this racketeering scheme. One Texas widow was forced to sell her 400 bales of cotton valued a $200 per bale for $75 per bale or have them confiscated for Confederate taint. Treasury agents took their payment in cotton. They were normally entitled to 25 to 50 percent of confiscated cotton as their fee, but their shameless greed exceeded their authority. They were willing to defraud the U. S. government as well as cotton owners. Some were caught red handed in these schemes, but were released by the Army.

In addition, a three-cent per pound export tax was put on cotton. This was to pay for the war, which according to the Northern party line, Southerners had started. When cotton returned to its normal price range of twelve to eighteen cents per pound, the three cent tax was a 20 percent burden. As usual, Treasury agents often settled for a bribe. A transportation fee of four cents per pound was also charged for the privilege of getting it to market. Cotton planters were forced to survive a gauntlet of numerous Treasury agents, racketeers, and swindlers in getting their cotton to market with any profit at all. Reconstruction governments dominated by opportunistic carpetbaggers with little sympathy for Southerners and with their own fingers deeply into corruption left white Southerners little legal recourse. Consequently, they began to call on the KKK for justice. Usually a Klan warning was sufficient to drive a Treasury agent away and allow cotton producers to get their cotton to market. The cotton tax was removed in 1868 in response to falling cotton production and increasing embarrassment in Congress. Moreover, two-thirds of the Northern opportunists who bought cotton plantations at distressed prices failed in the cotton business. One Florida failure in the cotton business was famous novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Toms Cabin. Treasury Secretary, Hugh McCulloch, was by conscience finally forced to admit,

I am sure I sent some honest agents south; but it sometimes seems very doubtful whether any of them remained honest very long.

The carpetbagger state legislatures were notorious for extravagant personal spending abuses, arranging legislation for personal or partisan profiteering, for bribe-taking, and for costly maladministration. Property taxes were raised to force Southern property owners to sell their land at distressed prices. For the average Southern state, property taxes were four times as high in 1872 as in 1865. In South Carolina, property taxes increased thirty fold. At one time, over 20 percent of the land in Mississippi was for sale under property tax duress. These tax increases were not used to pay down state spending deficits. It took Alabama and South Carolina almost one hundred years to pay off the deficit spending of the Reconstruction era. Again, Southerners had little recourse to law and justice. It was truly a case of taxation without representation. Most white Southerners had been disenfranchised because they served the Confederate cause. In the present era, we are again rapidly reaching the dangerous point where tax consumers can out vote taxpayers.

It is only in recent years that the South has been able to overcome the economic abuse of Reconstruction. In 1860, Louisiana ranked second in the nation in per capita income. South Carolina ranked third; Mississippi was fifth; and Georgia was eighth. In 1880, Louisiana ranked as number 37. South Carolina had fallen to number 45, Mississippi to 46, and Georgia to 40. These figures are only slightly distorted because of the change in status of former slaves from 1860 to 1880. Contrary to popular opinion, according to Nobel Laureate economists R. W. Fogel and S. L. Engerman, both professed liberals, black slaves in the South had a higher living standard in nutrition, housing, leisure time, medical care, and old age security than did Northern factory workers. Their 1974 book, Time on the Cross, was not an apology for slavery, but a realistic look at the actual conditions of slavery, which were far less degraded than what most modern Americans imagine. Despite nominal legal improvements, black economic and lasting political progress was substantially retarded by Reconstruction.

The bottom line is that Reconstruction further devastated the South and retarded its economic recovery by many decades. The primary economic beneficiary was the Northeast. The primary political effect of the War and Reconstruction was that the U.S. evolved from a philosophy of limited government to big, powerful, highly centralized, unlimited government. The degree of corruption and despotism during Reconstruction may seem incredible, but it was the natural result of a collusion of big government and politically connected businesses unchecked by the consent of the governed.

Robert E. Lee had accepted defeat at Appomattox and encouraged his men to go home and be good Americans. But in 1870 after five years of Reconstruction, he privately told Fletcher Stockdale, former Governor of Texas, this:

Governor, if I had foreseen the use those people designed to make use of their victory, there would have been no surrender at Appomattox; no, sir, not by me. Had I foreseen these results of subjugation, I would have preferred to die at Appomattox with my brave men, my sword in my right hand.

Few nations in the last millennium have been so devastated by loss of life and property as the South in 1865. Perhaps only the Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Serbians, and in turn the Germans themselves in the Second World War endured such suffering. A Union general bragged that crows flying over then Shenandoah Valley in Virginia would have to pack their own lunches.

The Union conquerors then proceeded with the Reconstruction of the South by laying on heavy taxes, confiscating much of their remaining wealth in cotton and other goods, and forcing the sale of land under tax duress. They gave the right to vote to blacks, but took it away from Confederate veterans. They removed from Confederate veterans and their families all recourse to civil law and justice. They sent in swarms of Northern school teachers to teach their children to be ashamed of their fathers and their Southern heritage. They loosed upon them a reign of terror with a constant threat of depredations and outrages at the hands of the Union League. Political opportunists from the North constantly promised blacks that the properties of whites would be confiscated and given to them, if they voted Republican. Many of them also promised that Republican voting blacks would be given political and racial hegemony over the whites. The Union League regularly promised to hang blacks that did not vote Republican. Many blacks were, in fact, beaten and some murdered for resisting Union League political objectives. These circumstances made forceful underground resistance to Radical Reconstruction inevitable.

Often our readers have comments they wish to make in response to commentaries in The Tribune Papers.
We welcome such response.
Please e-mail them to



Mike Scruggs

Author and Columnist

a.k.a. Leonard M. Scruggs

 Mike Scruggs is the author of two books: The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths; and Lessons from the Vietnam War: Truths the Media Never Told You, and over 600 articles on military history, national security, intelligent design, genealogical genetics, immigration, current political affairs, Islam, and the Middle East.

He holds a BS degree from the University of Georgia and an MBA from Stanford University. A former USAF intelligence officer and Air Commando, he is a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and holds the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and Air Medal. He is a retired First Vice President for a major national financial services firm and former Chairman of the Board of a classical Christian school.

Click the website below to order books.


Show More

Related Articles