Chapter 6: The industrial capitalists consolidate their victory
Well before the majority of the industrial capitalists were prepared to take any decisive measures to bring the Republican Party machine under control, a reform movement developed. As is to be expected, the intelligentsia provided many of the first campaigners for reform. The middle-class abolitionists had anticipated the long range requirements of rising industrial capitalism before the industrial capitalists had even dared to consider the idea that abolition of slavery would be in their own interests. Now a new reform movement arose that again was a forerunner of the needs of industrial capitalism.
This movement, however, was not associated with an oppressed layer of the population as abolitionism had been. The demand of the new reformers was not part of any social program for Blacks, workers, or farmers. It was a call for stability, tranquillity, and efficiency in the interest of capital. It sought to reorient America to make industrial capitalism work more efficiently and to end turmoil (i.e., class struggle) in the South.
This shift on the part of the middle-class intelligentsia reflected a more fundamental turn being made by the ruling class. The industrial bourgeoisie, regardless of its vacillations, cowardice, corruption, or criminal disregard for the lower classes, had nonetheless promoted social progress during the revolutionary upheaval.
They had finally freed the slaves and made land in the Midwest available to white farmers. This had constituted an expansion of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. But now their aim was solely to consolidate their power. They sought no new alliance with the lower classes but wanted instead to rule more effectively over them and extract profits from their labor with as little social disturbance as possible.
The ruling class was turning against the ideals of its own revolution. The intelligentsia, like the topmost leaves of a tree, were the first to move in response to the new breeze beginning to blow.
These new reformers had various origins. An amazingly large number were former abolitionists. At a reform meeting in Cooper Institute in New York in the spring o f 1872, observers noted that the audience was composed of the same “sober, thoughtful middle class” types that had gathered in the same rooms in earlier years to hear the abolitionists. The rebellion within the Republican Party that this movement presaged is most closely associated with Carl Schurz. Schurz was a German who fought bravely in the Revolution of 1848 until the last barricades fell. His fame really grew afterwards when he reentered Germany clandestinely to break into jail and liberate his old professor and teacher of revolutionary ideals.
Coming to the United States in the 1850s, Schurz joined the antislavery struggle. He became associated with Lincoln during the 1860s and undertook various important governmental assignments. In 1865 he was asked by President Johnson to report on conditions in the South. Johnson was unaware that Schurz was already working for the Radicals, his trip being secretly financed by them.
Schurz became one of the periods most outspoken ideological radicals. He favored land reform in the South and at one point called not merely for the impeachment of Johnson but for his hanging. But as early as 1868, repelled by the corruption surrounding all Republican Party activity, he began to change. Speaking out against the corruption, he soon found himself isolated by the party machine. As his anger against the machine politicians grew, his interest in and support for Blacks in the South waned. He became sensitive to the complaints o f the Southern Conservatives about the “excesses” of corruption and Republican Party abuses in general.
Schurz had been elected U.S. senator from Missouri in 1869 as a Radical. But he soon joined hands with another reform-minded Radical, B. Gratz Brown, to organize a split in the states Republican ranks, creating a “Liberal” wing. With Schurz’s support, Brown ran for governor in 1870 on a platform calling for civil service reform and for “pacification” and “stability” in the South. But both remained Republicans in their overall economic policies. The Conservatives in Missouri immediately noted the similarity of the Schurz-Brown program to their own and threw their weight behind the new movement. Brown defeated the Radical Republican candidate by 40,000 votes, and with that election Radical Reconstruction ended in Missouri.
Joining Schurz and Brown in the Liberal Republican rebellion was Indiana’s George W. Julian, who had possibly been the most radical member of Congress during the war. Julian had fought relentlessly for land for Blacks. He had proposed a Southern homestead act not only in the early 1860s but in 1866. He fought for the eight-hour day, women’s suffrage, and better treatment of Indians.
An even better-known figure from the Senate’s abolitionist ranks was Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Sumner was more hesitant to make the break, his dedication to the Afro-American people being more genuine than that of most defenders of Radical Reconstruction. But after he was gradually pushed out of power by the Republican machine bosses he switched his support to the Liberals.
The influence of the Liberals grew and people joined the movement on a national scale in response to a call by Schurz issued in Nashville in 1871. The famous abolitionist editor Theodore Tilton, along with the more moderate editor o f the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley, joined in New York. Charles Francis Adams and Henry Adams, the sons o f Lincoln’s ambassador to England, volunteered their journalistic talents, along with Whitelaw Reid, Horace White, Henry Watterson of the influential Louisville Courier, George William Curtis, editor of Harpers Weekly, and Murat Halstead of the Cincinnati Commercial. The poet-editor William Cullen Bryant and the progressive young president of Harvard University, Charles W. Eliot, also took up the cause.
The Massachusetts Bird Club, so called after its original organizer, Frank W. Bird, a small select circle of powerful Radicals, passed over to the Liberal camp en bloc. Members included Senators Sumner and Wilson along with Governor John A. Andrew and many wealthy personalities.
As the ranks grew, one of “the most striking features was the large number of free-soilers and founders o f the Republican party among the bolters. . . ” But the movement did not include all of the old abolitionists. Some, whose commitment to the ex-slaves was deeper, quickly saw the true nature of this trend and its social meaning for Blacks. The Liberal reform movement led, in effect, to a split in the ranks of the now unorganized remnants o f the abolitionists. The American Anti-Slavery Society was formally dissolved in 1870, most members having become convinced that the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteeing the freedmen the right to vote had ended their task. This amendment, they declared in a resolution, was “the capstone and completion of our movement; the fulfillment of our pledge to the Negro race; since it secures to them equal political rights with the white race, or, if any single right be still doubtful, places them in such circumstances that they can easily achieve it.”
Such were the illusions in the magical power of the ballot entertained by the abolitionists. Even Wendell Phillips, who supported the Paris Commune a year later, joined Theodore Tilton in declaring that the Fifteenth Amendment would take the “ Negro question” out of politics....