Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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KU-KLUX KLAN (IN U. S. HISTORY), a secret, oath-bound organization, otherwise known as "The Invisible Empire," "The White League," "The Knights of the White Camellia," or by other names, formed in the southern states during the reconstruction period, for the primary purpose of preventing the negroes, by intimidation, from voting, or holding office. Until the abolition of slavery necessity compelled a rigid policing of the black population by official or volunteer guards. (See SLAVERY.) The origin of the "ku-klux" order was in all probability a revival of the old slave police, at first sporadic, to counteract the organization of "loyal leagues," or "Lincoln brotherhoods," among the negroes, and afterward epidemic, as the process of reconstruction by congress began to take clear form.


—The various moving causes which led to the reconstruction of southern state governments by congress are elsewhere given. (See RECONSTRUCTION.) When the preparations for reconstruction had gone far enough to make it reasonably certain that negro suffrage was to be the law in the south, the opposition, hopeless of open revolt, took the shape of this secret society. Attempts have been made to date its origin back to 1866, under the rule of Governor Brownlow in Tennessee; but the most probable date is early in 1867. The constitution mentioned below dates the first election of the order in May, 1867. The place of its origin is entirely unknown, and it was probably at first a congeries of associations in different states, originated without concert and from a common motive, and finally growing together and forming one combined organization in 1867. No authentic account of its origin, founder or date has come to light.


—A "prescript," or constitution, of the order, discovered in 1871, shows an attempt to imitate the machinery of masonic and other similar societies. The name of the order is not given; its place is always filled by stars (* *). A local lodge is called a "den"; its master the "cyclops," and its members "ghouls." The county is a "province," and is controlled by a "grand giant" and four "goblins." The congressional district is a "dominion," controlled by a "grand titan" and six "furies." The state is a "realm," controlled by a "grand dragon" and eight "hydras." The whole "empire" is controlled by a "grand wizard" and ten "genii." The banner of the society was "in the form of an isosceles triangle, five feet long and three feet wide at the staff; the material yellow with a red scalloped border about three inches in width; painted upon it, in black, a Draco volans, or flying dragon, with the motto Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus." The origin, designs, mysteries and ritual were never to be written, but were to be communicated orally. The dress of the members, when in regalia, is not given, but is known to have been mainly a hood covering the head, with holes for the eyes and mouth, and descending low upon the breast; fantastic or horrible figures according to the owner's ingenuity; in other respects the ordinary dress.


—A more effective plan could hardly have been devised with which to attack a race which was superstitious, emotional, and emasculated by centuries of slavery. Before it had been tried very long the cry of "ku-klux" was sufficient to break up almost any negro meeting at night; the suspicion that disguised horsemen were abroad at night was sufficient to keep every negro in his own cabin; and the more virile and courageous of their number, who had become marked as leaders, were left to whipping, maiming or murder at the hands of the "ghouls" without any assistance from their cowering associates. By day the negroes would fight, and often did so; by night the "ku-klux" had the field to themselves.


—So long as the attacks of the order were confined to the negroes there was little need of any means more violent than whipping. A more difficult problem was that of the "carpet-baggers" and "scalawags," who with the negroes made up the republican party in the south. The "carpet-baggers" were northern men, whose interests in the south were supposed to be limited to the contents of their carpet-bags; the "scalawags" were southerners who, either from conviction or from interest, had joined the republican party and taken part in reconstruction. Neither of these classes was easily to be terrorized, and in their cases the order very easily drifted into murder, secret or open. Before the end of its third year of existence the control of the order had slipped from the hands of the influential men who had at first been willing, through it, to suppress what seemed to be the dangerous probabilities of negro suffrage, and had been seized by the more violent classes who used its machinery for the gratification of private malice, or for sheer love of murder. Even before the appointment of the final congressional investigating committee in 1871, the order had "departed from its political work, and gone into murder for hire and robbery." It had thus become dangerous to the very men who had at first tacitly or openly sanctioned its existence, and open attempts to suppress it were only checked by a fear of being classed among the "scalawags."


—Throughout the winter of 1870-71 the ku-klux difficulties in the south were debated in congress, and a joint investigating committee was appointed by the two houses, March 21. Two days afterward a message from President Grant informed congress that the condition of affairs in the south made life and property insecure and interfered with the carrying of the mails and the collection of the revenue; and asked that congress would enact measures to suppress the disorders. The result was the passage of the so-called "force bill," April 20, 1871. Its provisions were as follows: 1, it gave federal courts cognizance of suits against any one who should deprive another of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the constitution, "any law, regulation, custom or usage of a state to the contrary notwithstanding"; 2, it denounced punishment by fine, imprisonment, or both, against any conspiracy of two or more persons to overthrow, put down, destroy, or levy war against the government of the United States, to delay the execution of federal laws, or to deter any one from voting, holding office, or acting as a witness or juror in a federal court; 3, in case the state authorities were unable or unwilling to suppress disorders intended to deprive any class or portion of the people of their constitutional rights, it authorized the president to employ the federal land and naval forces or militia to suppress the disorders, and 4, to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus "during the continuance of such rebellion against the United States," the trial provision of the act of March 3, 1863, to remain in force (see HABEAS CORPUS); 5, it authorized federal judges to exclude from juries persons whom they should judge to be in complicity with such conspiracy; 6, it gave a civil remedy to injured parties against persons who, having knowledge of conspiracy and power to prevent injuries being done, should neglect or refuse to do so; and 7, it confirmed former civil rights legislation. The habeas corpus section was to remain in force only until the end of the next regular session.


—Oct. 12, 1871, President Grant issued a preliminary proclamation calling on members of illegal associations in nine counties of South Carolina to disperse and surrender their arms and disguises within five days. Five days afterward another proclamation issued, suspending the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus in the counties named. Arrests, to the number of 200, were at once made, and the more prominent persons implicated were prosecuted to conviction. In other parts of the south the organization was rapidly run to death, the most effectual provision being that which gave federal judges power to exclude suspected persons from juries. It is probable that the order was completely overthrown before the end of January, 1872.


—The generic name of "ku-klux troubles," however, was still applied to the political and race conflicts which still continued in the south. The name was made more odious by the report of the joint congressional investigating committee, Feb. 19, 1872, in thirteen volumes, covering about 7,000 printed pages of testimony, which had been taken during the previous year. It only lacks such a collation and comparison of evidence as that of the English chief justice in the Tichborne case to make it one of the most valuable sources of information as to the social condition of the south during the reconstruction period. The reports of the majority and minority of the committee do not supply the need, for both are rather partisan than judicial. The majority (republican) report considered the issue between anarchy and law in the southern states fairly made up; the minority (democratic) report, while it did not deny that "bodies of armed men have, in several of the states of the south, been guilty of the most flagrant crimes," held that the perpetrators had no political significance, nor any support by the body of the people. The latter report seems to have been the more nearly correct at the time it was made, but only because the order itself had already become dangerous to both friends and foes. A line of citations from the volumes of the report is given below, from which the reader may learn the general features and purposes of the order.


—At the following session of congress, May 17. 1872, a bill to extend the habeas corpus section of the "ku-klux" act for another session was taken up in the senate and passed. May 28, an attempt to suspend the rules in the house, so as to consider the bill, was lost, two-thirds not voting for it; and the bill was not further considered by the house.


—The attempt to check negro suffrage in the south by the irresponsible action of disguised men, was practically abandoned after 1871. From that time such attempts were confined to open action, the presence of organized parties of whites at negro meetings, and the employment of every engine of the law by an active, determined and intelligent race. The results were the overthrow of the reconstructed state government in every southern state before 1878 (see INSURRECTION, II.; and the names of the states, particularly MISSISSIPPI and SOUTH CAROLINA) and the formation of the so-called "solid south" (See DEMOCRATIC-REPUBLICAN PARTY, VI.) The indications, however, are very strong in 1882 that the "color line" in the south, if not already broken, will soon be broken, and that the white vote of the south will soon be divided into opposing parties, each determined on maintaining unimpaired the rights of its share of the colored vote. (See RECONSTRUCTION)


—See Report of the Joint Select Committee on the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States, Report No. 22, part 1, 42d Congress, 2d Session, Feb. 19, 1872, as follows: 1:1, report of the majority (republican); 1:101, of the subcommittee on election laws; 1:289, of the minority (democratic); 1:589, journal of the committee; 13:35, constitution of the order; 8:452, probable origin; 2:208, 232, 11:274, 12:778, 1159 (cut), disguises; 4:653. oaths; 11:385, definition of "scalawag"; 7:764, definition of "carpet-bagger"; the most useful testimony to the reader is that of James L. Orr, South Carolina (3:1), D C. Forsyth, J. B. Gordon, and Carleton B. Cole, Georgia (6:19, 854, and 7:1182), Peter M. Dox, Lionel W. Day, and Wm. S. Mudd, Alabama (8:428, 590, and 10:1745). John A. Orr and G. W. Wells, Mississippi (12:697, 1147), and N. B. Forrest, Tennessee (13:3); Ku-Klux Trials (1871); the act of April 20, 1871, and proclamations of Oct. 12 and 17, are in 17 Stat. at Large 13, App. iii. (Nos. 3, 4).


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