The Unionists as a Party.

from a series of sketches by J. W. De Forest: "Chivalrous and Semi-Chivalrous Southrons."

            “Why don’t you extend your operations into other districts?“ I sometimes asked of the loyalists of Greenville.

            “Yes, and run a mighty smart chance of being bushwhacked,” was the usual answer.

            Even the pugnacious mountaineers of the Alleghany ranges had not thrown off the terrorism of the Confederacy and the domination of the “chivalry.” Notwithstanding its military and financial overthrow, the old planter class, with its superior education, its experience in politics, and its habit of authority, is still the most potent moral force of the South. It is the high crime and misdemeanor of President Johnson that he has so managed matters as to reconsolidate this lately shattered class into a party, the same old party that it was before the war, a purely sectional party, a Southern party. Justice, however, compels me to add that this unfortunate result is partly due to the suspicions, fears, and prejudices of the Southern Unionists.

            “I want to join the League,” said more than one intelligent citizen of Greenville to me, or to others whom I knew. “But the Leaguers won’t have me; they blackballed my application. Some of them tell me that I have too much land to get in. You know they are still in hopes of confiscation.”

            When I spoke to the Leaguers about such an applicant, their reply was usually to this effect: “We can’t trust him. He has been too good a reb; he served in the Confederate army. He’s no true man, all he wants is to save his land or get office; if he should get in, he would betray us.”

            “But your party won’t fill an omnibus if you go on in this style,” I expostulated. “Of course, some people are guided by their own interests; but they may be valuable members of society notwithstanding. Here you go, rejecting men of education, political experience, social influence; you won’t have a convert unless he is poor, ignorant, stupid, and of no value; you are making a party without money and without brains. You are turning lukewarm friends into open enemies, who in less than four years will outmanæuvre you and beat you. It looks as if you were afraid of clever recruits, lest they should seize upon the offices.”

            The invariable stubborn response was, “Well, we don’t want no rebs.”

            The result was that the Union party of Greenville District contained, so far as my knowledge extended, but one planter of family and culture; and that its next best man was a circuit preacher blessed with a common school education and an experience of living on three hundred dollars a year. Having heard him speak, I believe him to be a good preacher; but he is no fit opponent for Wade Hampton or Governor Perry. As a Republican and a lover of the Union I am filled with wrath when I think of the men who might have been and should have been in his place.

            Solomon Jones, the sheik of the mountains, a man of unusual “horse sense” and moral vigor, the projector and builder of one of the best roads over the Blue Ridge spurs, writes with so much difficulty that when he was president of a board for enrolling electors his signatures were all made for him by the secretary. In other words, he did not set pen to a single one of the hundreds of official papers which exhibit his name. Yet so bare is the Union party of character, talent, and education, so successfully has it repelled the penitent rebels of the higher class who at one time would have rejoiced to join it—in short, so deficient is it in the proper material wherewith to fill responsible offices, that Solomon Jones was at one time spoken of as candidate for Governor! Knowing the man’s superior natural abilities, I have no doubt that, with a good secretary, he would have made a fair chief magistrate; but in this century one recoils from the idea of a Governor who needs as much time to sign his name as Dexter needed to trot a mile.

            Of carpet-baggers, that is Northern adventurers hunting office, we had none in Greenville. They flourished in the low-country, where the native Unionists were few and the negroes were many and ignorant. Judging from what I heard of them and read of their effusions, I am forced to agree with rebels and Copperheads that they are a poor lot and a bad lot. It is a pity that revolutions, even the noblest of revolutions in cause and effect, will fling so much scum to the surface. However, the carpet-baggers are not “Southrons,” and this article has nothing to do with them.

            I have made a doleful exhibit of the Union party in Dixie. If any one thinks it exaggerated let him write to the military commandants I of the Southern districts, and ask them how easy it was to find men for inspectors of elections who could both take the oath of loyalty and produce a decently spelled letter. From Virginia to Texas it is a party of the most excellent principles, except in the matters of murdering our mother English, and of committing political suicide. If the Republicans of the North can not renovate it, and if it does not draw over recruits from the educated classes of the South, how long will it continue to rule? I leave the response to a people which believes in free schools and in the power of education. Within the narrow limits of a city, where combinations of masses are easily effected, an ignorant populace may permanently govern a cultured class; but I do not know that this has ever been done, and I do not believe that it can be done, where such an antagonism is spread over a broad range of country.

De Forest, J. W., “Chivalrous and Semi-Chivalrous Southrons” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume 38, Issue 225, February 1869; New York: Harper & Bros.

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