Description[Reconstruction]. 1876 South Carolina Election Archive comprising sixty-nine letters and telegrams, military reports and orders, depositions, and petitions spanning the months September through November, 1876.
Reconstruction of the rebellious Southern states, in the wake of the Civil War, was marked by military occupation, corrupt and oppressive Radical Republican leadership, violence, and intimidation. White southerners were frustrated with the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, guaranteeing rights to a sizable (nearly 4 million) population of Freedmen in addition to restrictions placed on former Confederate soldiers (numbering some 150,000) barring them from voting or holding public office (Fourteenth Amendment, Section 3). With the passage of the Amnesty Act of 1872, however, the restrictions of Section 3 were lifted to all but 500-750 former Confederate officers and the political climate in the South began to intensify in the years leading up to the election of 1876. Tired of Republican rule, Southern Democrats were free again to vote and run for office.
Twelve years earlier, in 1865, Confederate General Wade Hampton III held the belief that the State of South Carolina would do well to accept the terms of President Andrew Johnson for full reentry into the Union, but the State legislature disagreed and passed a series of "Black Codes," which only served to further anger Northern politicians who accused them of imposing another form of slavery on the black populace. For this, the State was placed under the "protection" of the United States Army Department of the South, the civilian government being disbanded in 1867. Brevet Brigadier General Thomas H. Ruger, the former Union commander who had served as Military Governor of Georgia in 1868 and most recently as Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point, was appointed commander of the Department in 1876.
The months leading up to the election of 1876 were rife with tension. Violence was ever present and groups of armed men, calling themselves "rifle clubs," roamed the countryside. Supporters of the Democratic Party, they would often break up Republican meetings and intimidate Republican voters, both white and black. Black Republicans would often do the same toward black Democrats, Freedmen disillusioned with the corruption and broken promises of the Republican Party. Thomas Ruger was tasked with assisting Governor Daniel Chamberlain and the United States Marshals in keeping the peace.
Under the watchful eyes of U. S. troops, who had been placed at various polls throughout the state, Election Day came and went with little event, as this archive will illustrate. The result of the gubernatorial election, however, was anything but peaceful. In the first days of ballot counting, it appeared that Republican incumbent Daniel Chamberlain would win a second term, but by Thursday Democratic challenger (and South Carolina's favorite son) Wade Hampton III took the lead. Hampton declared a victory, but Chamberlain claimed voter fraud due to stuffed ballots in Edgefield and Laurens Counties. As a result, the Board of Canvassers was unable to certify the election. President Grant declared Chamberlain governor and the State Supreme Court proclaimed Hampton the victor. In addition to the gubernatorial mess, two separate Houses of Representatives convened, one Democratic and one Republican, both claiming legitimacy.
This collection of letters represents correspondence between the major players from each political party and the officers of the United States military. The story unfolds through each page, giving a clear picture of the racial tension surrounding one of the most turbulent elections in American history. Of note are petitions and letters from black voters (mostly Democrats) and anxious white citizens to the authorities asking for protection or describing the violence around them such as: Letter Signed, n. d. (circa October, 1876), to the "Gentlemen of the Democratic Executive Committee" from black citizens of James Island. In part: "We...are anxious to hold a public meeting at which the principles of our party can be discussed, and where we can listen to the speakers of our own party...We however would say to you that we are living among people who are opposed to us and the more hostile to us because being colored men, we are Democrats. We beg therefore that you will adopt such a plan as will protect us in holding our meeting as otherwise we will be assaulted and beaten..." Each of the fifteen men has signed using their mark. [and:] Sarah T. Marshall ALS, October 21, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger writing "...on behalf of the Ladies, (Wives & Mothers), living at this place [Adams Run], & the surrounding County..." to requests troops for the upcoming election. According to her, "...colored Militia Companies are drilling their men..." and have expressed "...determination to come to the Polls...fully armed..." They have warned that "...should so much as a finger be raised, on that day, they will burn out this entire section & murder every white Person they can lay hands on...The White population here are very few compared with the Blacks, & could make but a very meagre [sic] resistance, in case anything of the kind should occur..." [and:] Lewis C. Carpenter ALS, September 20, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger relating the events of a killing. He says, in part: "A gentleman has just left my office...whom I believe to be truthful. He informs me, that he has just left the scene of the difficulties in this state...He says he yesterday...saw a member of the legislature, named Coker and a recent delegate to the state convention, (republican) to nominate candidates for office, deliberately shot down in cold blood...Coker, who is a colored man, had just reached home from Columbia...where he was waited upon by white democrats, taken to Ellenton some distance from his home, and there, in presence of this witness, shot to death...He also say, he saw two other dead bodies by the side of the rail road, one with his head shot almost entirely off...He farther says it is reported in Augusta that 100 'niggers' have been slain. Is there no way to stop this slaughter of innocent men?...Is it necessary in order to perpetuate this republican form of government, that hundreds of men should be slain for their opinions sake, or on account of the color of their skin?" These three examples barely scratch the surface.
With the election of Rutherford B. Hayes as president (an election that was also in dispute), Reconstruction would come to an end. Shortly after assuming office, Hayes pulled all remaining U. S. troops out of the state capitals of South Carolina and Louisiana, the last two reconstruction states, and returned home rule to both. With the ending of military occupation, Wade Hampton was declared governor and Daniel Chamberlain fled north to New York City. This is a fascinating chapter of American history that gets largely overlooked and deserves further research.
Additional material included:
Report of Stations by County in South Carolina, November 7, 1876. Being a list of 32 counties and the U. S. troops posted to each during the 1876 election.
ALS, October 25, 1876, to Colonel Charles H. Simonton from the "white residents" of James Island requesting the presence of troops during the election. They make claim that they are "...prevented from organizing while the colored people have a complete organization of both Infantry & Cavalry.and have shown great hostility to all who differ with them in political opinion. White citizens while travelling the roads at night have been stopped by armed bodies of colored men."
William Falck Fair Copy of an Report, November 7, 1876, regarding the happenings at Edgefield, South Carolina during the 1876 election including a letter from Joseph Merriwether to Col. Falck asking for "...a file of soldiers." as "...the Marshal fails or refuses to do his duty."
James A. Beattie Fair Copy of an Report, n. d. (circa November, 1876), to John Brannan regarding the blocking of "...colored men..." from voting in Edgefield, S. C. Beattie was a Deputy U. S. Marshal.
Charles B. Hinton Fair Copy of a Report, November 7, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger regarding the request for troops from the Deputy Marshal in Columbia, S. C.
James Canton Fair Copy of an Report, November 7, 1876, to Charles B. Hinton requesting the presence of U. S. troops at the polls as his "...life has been repeatedly threatened and interference has been offered by Judge T. J. Mackey."
List of "No of Stations by Counties," November 7, 1876, for the Election of 1876 in South Carolina. A note on the verso reads: "Not quite correct."
George W. Earle Fair Copy of an Report, November 7, 1876, to Lt. Deems informing him that "...a considerable number or rifles and muskets are now deposited in the jail.all deposited there by members of the Republican party, for the purpose of carrying this election by intimidation."
J. J. Carrington Fair Copy of an Report, November 7, 1876, to Robert F. Bates warning him that he has received information that there may be "...an attempt.to capture and destroy the ballot box known as Precinct No. 1."
[William T. Sherman]. Copy of a Telegram, October 17, 1876, from Sherman to Thomas H. Ruger ordering him to remain at Columbia and await orders.
Thomas M. Vincent Fair Copy of a Letter, October 17, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger ordering him to return to Columbia and await further orders from the Secretary of War.
Alexander C. Haskell ALS, October 30, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger forwarding a "...package of papers sent to me by Gov. Magrath."
A. S. White Fair Copy of a Letter, November 6, 1876, to Lt. Deems informing him that "...several colored men have this night deposited in the County jail.about thirty muskets or rifles, intending evidently to use them on tomorrow."
Alexander C. Haskell ALS, October 14, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger requesting an audience.
Alexander C. Haskell ALS, October 15, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger requesting an audience with himself and General Hampton "...after church service."
Copy of a Telegram from Thomas M. Vincent, October 17, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger ordering him to "...return to Columbia, S. C. there to await orders." from the Secretary of War.
Printed Copy of General Orders No. 96, September 7, 1876. Directed to all U. S. Marshals from the HQ of the Army per the Secretary of War as a guide "...in the manner of discharging their offices."
[William T. Sherman]. Copy of a Telegram, October 14, 1876, from Sherman to Thomas H. Ruger asking if he is in need of anything and to operate at the bare minimum, but if anything is required, he need only ask.
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, November 4, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger making requests for troops to "...William's Store..." as "...Our Manager of Election refuse to serve there unless they have some protection..." and that the detachment to be sent to "...Marion C. H. should go to Little Rock."
Lawrence Cain and Paris Simkins ALS, November 2, 1876, to Daniel H. Chamberlain. Col. Cain and Lt. Col. Simkins, both black men and state legislators, write to Gov. Chamberlain expressing concerns that have been brought to their attention: "Most of the managers have been in to-day to confer with us about the coming election. All of them were under the impression, that troops would be sent to their voting places, and finding that such was not the case many of them appear to be afraid to attend." They then urge to governor to see General Thomas H. Ruger to request a detachment of U. S. troops to a local polling place.
Charles C. Macoy ALS, November 4, 1876, to Daniel H. Chamberlain requesting that a company of troops be sent to Rich Hill as "...the democrats have learned.that the troops are to be confined to Chester and Carmel Hill, they show plainly that they will attempt to carry out their programme at the other precincts.We honestly believe that there cannot be a free and fair election without it." Macoy himself has been personally attacked and relates the tale to the governor: "Several democratic ruffians at midnight last night, attacked my residence, and shattered to pieces one of my windows with rocks. Their yells and curses proved twas done solely on account of politics. I fired into them, but without effect."
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, November 5, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger requesting a detachment to Silverton.
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, November 5, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger as a letter of introduction for Secretary of State Henry E. Hayne, a black man and the first black student of the Univ. of S. C.
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, November 5, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger forwarding two letters regarding troop placement at Rich Hill and expressing concern that "...they [the Democrats] will use open violence on Election day wherever the troops are not present. At least...in the upper part of the State."
Thomas H. Ruger AN, November 7, 1876, regarding communication with "...the Governor of South Carolina and various other persons relating to disposition of troops and as to other matters relating to the election of 1876."
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, November 10, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger regarding reports of a possible raid: "Reports reach me from several sources that threats are made of a raid on the State Armory. It would hardly be any trouble to Col. Black to guard that a little.The Armory contains a large quantity of ammunition and a few hundred guns."
Petition Signed, October 30, 1876, by the "Committee of Citizens" from Bluffton, Beaufort County to Thomas H. Ruger requesting a detachment of troops for the upcoming election.
Thomas H. Ruger AD, n.d. (circa November 6, 1876), describing his trip from Tallahassee, Florida to Columbia, South Carolina and his actions during the days leading up to the November 7 election.
David McPherson ALS, November 3, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger requesting aid after learning that there has been trouble on his plantation. He encloses the letter which details the incident.
ALS, November 2, 1876, from citizens of Clarendon County to Thomas H. Ruger asking for a detachment of troops for the upcoming election. Blacks are drilling and threatening violence to those who vote Democratic.
William Elliott ALS, October 31, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger requesting the presence of troops on behalf of the citizens of Beaufort County. Violence to Democrats, etc.
Alexander C. Haskell ALS, November 1, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger forwarding copies of letters to Haskell and Governor Daniel Chamberlain from Joseph E. Glover, Jr. requesting troops for the election. Violence to Democrats, etc.
James Gahagan ALS, November 3, 1876, to David McPherson reporting the incidence of "...another Strike." He describes the incident, in part: "On Wednesday about twenty men came here with whips and clubs and whipped and beat nearly every hand they found at work. It is the worse Strike we have had yet.They said that no work should be done till after the election...Everything was quiet here until several of the negroes from this Section went to the republican convention...this last Strike is for no other purpose than to prevent the whites from influencing the blacks to vote the Democratic ticket...they have even gone so far as to say that if they vote the Democratic ticket, the [sic] shall not get back home alive."
Daniel H. Chamberlain (Governor of S. C.) Letters (3): Thomas H. Ruger ALS, November 4, 1876, as Commander of the Dept. of the South to Governor Chamberlain regarding the arrival of troops and the election; Alexander S. Wallace ALS, November 4, 1876, to Governor Chamberlain regarding the break-up of their meeting "...by an armed mob." Wallace was a member of the U. S. Congress, but lost his seat in the 1876 election; Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, November 4, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger regarding the use of troops to protect Republican voters so they can reach the polls to vote.
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, November 1, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger regarding "...threats &c. again the white people at Adam's Run."
Alexander S. Wallace ALS, October 31, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger regarding the sending of troops to six counties to ensure a fair election; Alexander S. Wallace ALS, n. d., to an unknown recipient, but most likely Thomas H. Ruger, requesting troops for various towns and precincts in separate counties during the 1876 election. Wallace was a member of the U. S. Congress, but lost his seat in the 1876 election.
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, October 31, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger regarding threats against an upcoming Republican meeting.
Daniel H. Chamberlain AL Twice S, October 31, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger where he requests that he delays the sending of troops to Anderson County if a secure, fair election could be had without them.
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, October 30, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger regarding his "..views and information respecting the preservation of the public peace on the day of the approaching election." What follows is a list of counties and recommendations for each.
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS to Thomas H. Ruger as a report offering "..the most precise information in my power respecting the prospect of the public peace on election day in this State." What follows is an assessment of each county.
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, October 27, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger whereby he informs him that "...the Republican meeting at Newberry Court House today has passed off quietly."
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, October 14, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger regarding the movement of troops and reminding him of an upcoming meeting of Republicans.
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, October 23, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger regarding the need for troops in Lewis C. Carpenter's Congressional District for the election.
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, October 21, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger regarding peace at Republican meetings at various towns.
[William T. Sherman]. Copy of a Telegram from General Sherman, October 18, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger. In full: "In the enforcement of Presidents proclamation use the Second and Eighteenth Infantry, also the Fifth Artillery...all will be strengthened by recruits. General Hancock will send to Columbia strong detatachments [sic] of the First and Third Artillery. Acknowledge receipt." Regarding Proclamation 232 - Law and Order in the State of South Carolina, issued October 17, 1876.
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, October 16, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger regarding local Republican meetings.
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, October 16, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger regarding a dispatch he has received from Rep. candidate Lewis C. Carpenter saying: "Meeting in possession of the Democrats. I could not speak without interruption. Meeting in their hands."
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, October 15, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger inviting him over that evening.
Jacob Kline ALS, October 11, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger regarding a letter he has received from Gov. Chamberlain. The captain of the 18th Infantry relating the appearance "...at the last public meeting (Democratic)...a body of 700 mounted men, organized in clubs.CF with revolvers." He believes it may be linked to the "...recent seizing of the state arms on the night of Oct 9 1876." He warns that his command would be insufficient if he were called to engage the armed group and recommends an additional two companies be sent.
Jacob Kline LS, October 11, 1876, to Gov. Daniel H. Chamberlain regarding the requisition of U. S. troops by U. S. Marshals and their deputies.
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, October 10, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger regarding an upcoming meeting at Edgefield Court House to put the Atty. Genl's order in force and ask Major Kline if he has sufficient orders to give assistance if necessary.
Fair Copy of a Letter from Daniel H. Chamberlain to Major Jacob Kline, October 10, 1876, where he relates, in confidence, that he has called a meeting in Edgefield to see "...whether we can hold a peaceful [Republican] meeting there." He says he has conferred with Ruger, Gen. Sherman, Secy. Cameron, and Atty. Gen. Alfonso Taft (father of Pres. William H. Taft) and they recommend holding the meeting and issuing arrests if the "rifle clubs" appear and issue further arrests until "...the Democrats are quiet and satisfied." Kline was to be there with his troops in case there is trouble.
Thomas H. Ruger ALS, October 8, 1876, to Daniel H. Chamberlain regarding the sending of troops to Allendale and Newberry.
Daniel H. Chamberlain ALS, October 6, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger concerning the lack of troops at Allendale and Newberry. Chamberlain requests to see Ruger at once if possible.
James B. Fry Telegram Signed, November 10, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger ordering him to "...assemble all the detachments in South Carolina at Charleston and Columbia, to be ready to move to New Orleans or wherever they may be wanted."
Winfield Scott Hancock Telegram, November 11, 1876, to Colonel Henry J. Hunt who has been left in command in South Carolina as Thomas H. Ruger was ordered to Florida following the election. He directs Hunt to oversee the movement of troops in South Carolina to "...the rendezvous..." and to "...confer with Governor Chamberlain as to the distribution of troops [throughout South Carolina] in the same manner as General Ruger has here before done."
Andrew G. Magrath ALS, October 28, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger forwarding papers to him.
Andrew G. Magrath ALS, November 2, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger forwarding a letter he has received from several citizens of John's Island asking assistance from the U. S, in part: "We have about forty white families on John's Island, scattered and apart, in the midst of a very large voting population of colored people. All of them are filled with political excitement and threaten all colored people who should venture to vote the Democratic ticket with violence. We fear riot and danger to our women and children pm the day of election. We earnestly request the presence of U. S. troops on that day as we are prohibited by the Proclamation from protecting ourselves."
Charles H. Simonton Telegram, November 4, 1876, to Thomas H. Ruger informing him of a request from the citizens on Edisto and Wadmalaw Islands for U. S. troops for the upcoming election.
Petition Signed, n. d. (circa November 6, 1876), by the "merchants & citizens of Lewisville and of the Precinct Democratic Club" requesting the presence of U. S. troops for the upcoming election: "...the colored voters are in excess in the ratio of four to one.violent threats have been made and riotous demonstrations indulged in by these colored men in the presence of the citizens...the colored men who have expressed a wish to take the Democratic ticket have been attack [sic] and intimidated and are now affraid [sic] to...exercise their rights of citizenship in consequence of the violence of the Republicans of their own race."
ALS to Alexander C. Haskell, November 4, 1876, regarding a request for U. S. troops for the upcoming election. In part: "We are in possession of the fact that intimidation is threatened & that many voters will not be allowed to exercise the free right of suffrage. At a Republican meeting on last Tuesday, a colered [sic] man was violently beaten, for simply expressing his political opinion. And violent threats are being made against the whites and particularly against the Ladies and children."
Autograph Deposition, November 5, 1876, Merriman Washington, a black man and "...a citizen of the State of South Carolina and of the United States...," gives sworn testimony that he was "...approached by one Abram Carter who told this deponent in a threatening manner that they...would 'give Hell' to any colored men who voted the Democratic ticket.signifying that.he would be in great bodily harm." Abram Carter is "...also a man of color." Washington signs the document with his mark.
Petition Signed, November 5, 1876, by citizens of Beaufort County who belong to the Democratic Party to Thomas H. Ruger requesting a detachment of U. S. troops because of threats made by local Republicans, mostly black citizens, to burn their crops and the physical violence brought upon black Democratic voters by black Republicans.
Petition Signed, October 30, 1876, by white and black citizens of Colleton County to Thomas H. Ruger requesting the presence of troops.
Petition Signed, n. d. (circa November, 1876), by black citizens of Georgetown County to Thomas H. Ruger requesting the presence of troops.
Thomas H. Ruger Autograph Report, n. d. (circa November, 1876) of troop movement for the 1876 election in South Carolina.
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