Woodrow Wilson

Negroes constituted the majority of their electorates; but political power gave them no advantage of their own. Adventurers swarmed out of the North to cozen, beguile, and use them. These men, mere "carpet baggers" for the most part, who brought nothing with them, and had nothing to bring, but a change of clothing and their wits, became the new masters of the blacks. They gained the confidence of the negroes, obtained for themselves the more lucrative offices, and lived upon the public treasury, public contracts, and their easy control of affairs. For the negroes there was nothing but occasional allotments of abandoned or forfeited land, the pay of petty offices, a per diem allowance as members of the conventions and the state legislatures which their new masters made business for, or the wages of servants in the various offices of administration. Their ignorance and credulity made them easy dupes. A petty favor, a slender stipend, a trifling perquisite, a bit of poor land, a piece of money satisfied or silenced them. It was enough, for the rest, to play upon their passions. They were easily taught to hate the men who had once held them in slavery, and to follow blindly the political party which had brought on the war of their emancipation.

There were soon lands enough and to spare out of which to make small gifts to them without sacrifice of gain on the part of their new masters. In Mississippi, before the work of the carpet baggers was done, six hundred and forty thousand acres of land had been forfeited for taxes, twenty per cent. of the total acreage of the State. The state tax levy for 1871 was four times as great as the levy for 1869 had been; that for 1873 eight times as great; that for 1874 fourteen times. The impoverished planters could not carry the intolerable burden of taxes, and gave their lands up to be sold by the sheriff. There were few who could buy. The lands lay waste and neglected or were parcelled out at nominal rates among the negroes. In South Carolina the taxes of 1871 aggregated $2,000,000 as against a total of $400,000 in 1860, though the taxable values of the State were but $184,000,000 in 1871 and had been $490,000,000 in 1860. There were soon lands to be had for the asking wherever the tax gatherer of the new governments had pressed his claims. The assessed valuation of property in the city of New Orleans sank, during the eight years of carpet-bag rule, from $146,718,790 to $88,613,930. Four years and a half of "reconstruction" cost Louisiana $106,020,337. The demoralization of affairs in Louisiana had begun in 1862, when General Butler took possession of the city of New Orleans. The rich spoils of the place had proved too much for the principles of the men intrusted with the management of her affairs in times when law was silent; and the political adventurers who came out of the North to take charge of the new government set up under Mr. Stevens's plan of reconstruction found the work they had come to do already begun.

Taxes, of course, did not suffice. Enormous debts were piled up to satisfy the adventurers. The cases of Louisiana and South Carolina were no doubt the worst, but other States suffered in proportion to the opportunities they afforded for safe depredation. In 1868 the debt of South Carolina had been $5,000,000; in 1872 it was nearly $30,000,000. The debt of Louisiana in 1868 had been between six and seven millions; in 1872 it was $50,000,000. Where the new rulers acted with less assurance and immunity or with smaller resources at hand, debts grew more slowly, but the methods of spoliation were everywhere much the same; and with the rise of debts went always the disappearance of all assets wherewith to pay them. Treasuries were swept clean. Immense grants were made in aid of public works which were never completed, sometimes not even begun. Railways were subsidized, and the subsidies, by one device or another, converted into outright gifts, which went into the pockets of those who had procured them, not into the building or equipment of the road. A vast burden of debt was piled up for coming generations to carry; the present generation was much to poor to pay anything.

The real figures of the ruin wrought no man could get at. It was not to be expressed in state taxes or state debts. The increase in the expenditure and indebtedness of counties and towns, of school districts and cities, represented an aggregate greater even than that of the ruinous sums which had drained the treasuries and mortgaged the resources of the governments of the States; and men saw with their own eyes what was going on at their own doors. What was afoot at the captials of their States they only read of in the newspapers or heard retailed in the gossip of the street, but the affairs of their own villages and country-sides they saw corrupted, mismanaged, made base use of under their very eyes. There the negroes themselves were the office holders, men who could not so much as write their names and who knew none of the uses of authority except its insolence. It was there that the policy of the congressional leaders wrought its perfect work of fear, demoralization, disgust, and social revolution.


A History of the American People, Volume 5, by Woodrow Wilson, pages 46-49
Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York and London, 1902