BLACK AND WHITE IN THE SOUTH.
IF ingenious sophistry and delicate distortion of fact could 1 obscure to the English mind the tremendous issues involved in the pending conflict in the United States, the line of argu- ment taken by some English journalists would go far to set middle-class opinion in England as wrong again on American affairs as it is now admitted to have been down to the close of the Civil War. The moderate sentiments of General Lee's letter are accepted as representing the attitude of the South towards the Negro, and it is urged by writers here who parrot the Constitutional-fetish-worshipping fanaticism of our able correspondent, " A Yankee," that the issue to be decided in November is not, as the Republican party insist, in effect the same issue as that which was fought out in the war, but one wholly different. In choosing between General Grant and Mr. Seymour, it is said, the American people make their election between the party that meditates an utter overthrow of the Constitution and the party that is resolute to preserve that Constitution, purged of the one black blot which defaced it. The question of Slavery is clean gone ; the question of Secession is altogether put out of the way. General Lee and his dis- ciples acknowledge as accomplished facts the freedom of the negro and the solidarity of the Union. Why, then, does the North persist in forcing measures of internal legislation upon the Southern States contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution ? This is the case of the Democratic party and of the Southern oligarchy, as it has been urged with various ability by "A Yankee," by General Lee, and by some of our contemporaries. And it is, on the face of it, a strong case,—so strong that, if we accept it, we cannot explain on any intelligible hypothesis the temper and action of the people of the Northern States. Every day some new event confirms the confidence of the Republican party ; one by one the high-wrought hopes of the Democratic faction are dwindling away ; and now we should think even "A Yankee " can hardly look for Mr. Seymour's triumph over General Grant. The people of the North are eminently law-loving, and by no means nigger-loving ; yet, according to " A Yankee" and the rest, they are now voting for a policy which means sacrificing the Constitution to the Negro. There must be, we are led to conclude, some strong reason for the course which the North has chosen with open eyes ; and the reason is not far to seek. We have only to turn from words to facts, from the specious Constitutional pleading of "A Yankee," and the flowing courtesy and kindliness of General Lee's letter, and the dreary old common-places of our contemporaries to what is actuallypassing in the Southern States. If Englishmen will only read the accounts of the proceedings in the Georgian Legislature, and take the same trouble to come at the meaning of the Ashburn murder that they would take if the crime had been perpetrated at Clonmel instead of at Columbus, they will per- haps begin to understand how the people of the Northern States have been forced to assume a hostile attitude to " the Southern people " of General Lee's eulogy. And it will become clear, also, that, in spite of " A Yankee's " assertion, neither the question of slavery nor the question of secession has yet been disposed of ; but that these, making up together the issue for which the war was fought, have again to be practically decided by the result of the Presidential contest.
What has taken place recently between the white and the black populations in the State of Georgia may be referred to as a conspicuous but by no means a singular instance of the spirit in which General Lee's doctrine of "good-will to the negro" is acted upon by General Lee's fellow-citizens. Last week we alluded to some laws, embodying the worst vices of the old slaveholding code, which have been enacted by the State Legislature of North Carolina, with the tacit assent of Mr. Johnson and his party, since the termination of the war. In Mississippi an Apprenticeship Act was passed by which all negroes " under the age of eighteen, who are orphans or whose parents have not the means or refuse to provide for and sup- port said minors," were "hired out," the hirer enjoy- ing the right " to punish with corporal chastisement and to pursue and recapture said apprentice." A " Vagrant Act" extends this plan of ," hiring " to adults in various cases ; and for those who escape its meshes a stringent code of limitations
and penalties is laid down in a law called, with grim irony, "an Act to confer civil rights on freedmen, and for other pur- poses." This sort of legislation explains the ends which the Southern " Conservatives " have in view when they oppose negro suffrage in the South, and purge the Legislatures of the. coloured element. The history of the counter-revolution in Georgia is worth attention in this regard. The Constitutional. Convention, having adopted at Columbus a plan of reconstruc- tion on the Congressional basis, the reformed Legislature was- elected and included many coloured members in the Lower House and two in the Senate among the Radical party. The- reactionists, who were led by three men of considerable- ability, of no scruples, and abundant powers of vituperation, —Toombs, Cobb, and Ben Hill,—immediately commenced both by action inside the Legislature and menace without to- procure the expulsion of the negroes. The qualification of members as regulated by ordinance of the Constitutional Con- vention is absolutely silent on the question of colour ; and in the particulars required, all the coloured members, except one, were admitted to have been duly quali- fied. But the reactionists were determined upon their expul- sion. A vote was carried, partly by the defection of some white Radicals of the " carpet-bagger " order, expelling the negroes, on the ground that the old common law of the State as it existed in 1860 was revived, except where specially altered, as in the ease of slavery. The expelled members, two of them in particular, Turner and Campbell, being men of dis- tinguished ability and character, entered a dignified protest against the violence done to them, and have appealed to Congress. The protest and also the argument of Governor Bullock against the Act of Expulsion have of course been disregarded by Toombs and his faction, who proceeded in defiance of all law and precedent to place the Democratic candi- dates, who had been beaten at the polls by the expelled members, in the seats declared vacant. The two coloured senators have been ejected, like their brothers in the Loiler House, and the Legislature, it is said, is about to pronounce colour a formal and absolute disqualification for office or legislative functions in the State. How Congress will or can answer the appeal of the expelled members is not very clear. Perhaps the best answer will be the election of General Grant, which all men have agreed to recognize as a distinct pledge that the North will not abandon the negro to the Toombses and the Cobbs. It may be impossible to interfere directly with the proceedings. of the Legislature at Atlanta ; but by securing the negro the right to vote freely at the State elections, there is obtained for him a direct and legitimate influence in the State Legis- latures, which must soon be effectually felt in the composition of those bodies. But to make this right anything more than a snare and a delusion, the law at any cost must be made strong to protect life and liberty.
That it is not so strong now in the Southern States as to cope successfully with a conspiracy,—desperate, unscrupulous, and powerful in numbers and organization,—in which the whole of the white oligarchy, the evangelists of General Lee's " goodwill," are banded together against the friends of the Union and the negro, may be gathered from General Meade's report on the Ashburn outrage. The document is the more trustworthy and instructive, inasmuch as General Meade is not a party man, but a Pennsylvanian, and therefore the very opposite of Radical in his leanings, connected with rich Democratic society in Philadelphia, and with no love probably of the negro or the negrophiles. The crime into which General Meade has investigated was perpetrated on the 30th of March, at Columbus. The victim, Ashburn, was a Radical member of the ConstitutionalConvention, and had taken an active part in framing the reconstructed constitution for the State. He becameobnoxious, accordingly, to the reactionists, and on the date mentioned, at midnight, the house in which he lodged with some coloured friends was surrounded by an armed band of over a hundred men, a dozen or so of whom penetrated to the room where Ashburn was sleeping, and deliberately fired round after round from their revolvers upon the defenceless man, leaving when they went away a corpse almost shattered with the bullets. And these men were not hired bravoes or marauding rowdies. They were, many of them, in good positions, and all of them well known among the " society " of the town. The magistrates at once set about the work of detection, and General Meade at first kept the military authorities neutral. He soon discovered, however, that the civil officials were merely playinga part of hypocritical assiduity.. They knew, we cannot doubt, as did the rest of the white citizens of Columbus, who and what the murderers were ; but
to assist in arresting and punishing them was the furthest thing from the thoughts of the Mayor and the magistrates. General Meade, perceiving this, took a bold step : he at once removed the civil authorities, and placed the magisterial power in the hands of Captain Mills ; some arrests followed, but such was the terror inspired by the " White Conspiracy " that it was found impossible at first to get together any evidence. At last detectives were employed, and certain persons who were suspected to have a knowledge of the circumstances of the crime were seized and sent to Fort Pulaski, where, being out of the way of the danger that had silenced them, they disclosed the details of the plot, and enabled General Meade to arrest the principal criminals.
If the conduct of the Toombs-and-Cobb faction in the Legislature be considered to indicate the political temper of the Southern oligarchy, and the Ashburn outrage the moral corruption of Southern society, Englishmen may comprehend a little the impulses which have, in spite of ably-reasoned predictions, kindled an earnest and unshaken zeal throughout the Free States for the cause which is represented by General Grant. So long as laws are passed which revive the curse of human servitude, and so long as legislatures are packed and purged in order that it may be possible to pass such laws, so long is the great issue between freedom and slavery left undecided. The history of the United States is full of warn- ings against the aggressive and propagandist spirit of the slaveholder. If the Toombses and the Cobbs have their way in their first faltering attacks on liberty, they will grow stronger and bolder apace. " Obsta principiis" is the watchword which American statesmen should never forget. It would only be too easy to build up again, with some colourable disguise, the whole hateful fabric of the Slave Power ; and if ever again the Slave Power should rise, the question of slavery must be raised between North and South, and must bring with it the question of secession. " A Yankee " does not believe in the danger to the freedom of the negro from the uncontrolled supremacy of the class most interested in depriving the negro of his freedom, nor in the disloyal temper of the South. But how, then, are the acts of the Southern Legislatures to be explained away ; and what are we to think of a state of society in which the cowardly crime of respectable scoundrels, who shoot a defenceless man to death in his bed, is abetted and connived at by an entire community ? The facts, we believe, are indisputable, and the inferences to be drawn from them appear direct and irrefragable. General Lee's letter is plainly inconsistent with the realities of the Southern conflict, and to appeal to it as an authority would be to appeal to ignorance or worse.