Historians have reinterpreted Civil War Reconstruction over the past fifty years. Shortly before the Centennial it was commonly believed that the chief aim of the Republican-dominated Congress was to ensure lasting Party control of the federal government by creating a reliable voting bloc in the South for which improved racial status among blacks was a coupled, but secondary, objective.
Daniel Chamberlain, Republican governor of South Carolina during Reconstruction, would agree with the earlier interpretation. And since he was a Republican and served in office during that time, his opinion should be taken as authoritative on this topic.
Out of these adverse conditions came reconstruction. Its inception and development into policy and law were not the results or dictates of sober judgment of what was best; least of all were they inspired by statesmanlike forecast, or the teachings of philosophy or history. The writer has recently turned over anew the congressional discussions, in 1866 and 1867, of reconstruction, the South, and especially the negro question, some large part of which he heard at first-hand. It is, for by far the greater part, melancholy reading, — shocking in its crudeness and disregard of facts and actualities, amazing for the confident levity of tone on the part of the leading advocates of the reconstruction acts of 1867, and for its narrowly partisan spirit. Confidence here rose easily into prophecy, and the country was assured of a peaceful, prosperous South, with negro loyalty forever at the helm. The white South was helpless. The black South was equal to all the needs of the hour: ignorant, to be sure, but loyal; inexperienced, but, with the ballot as its teacher and inspiration, capable of assuring good government. Hardly anywhere else in recorded debates can be found so surprising a revelation of the blindness of partisan zeal as these discussions disclose. But it may now be clear to all, as it was then clear to some, that underneath all the avowed motives and all the open arguments lay a deeper cause than all others, — the will and determination to secure party ascendency and control at the South and in the nation through the negro vote. If this is a hard saying, let any one now ask himself, or ask the public, if it is possibly credible that the reconstruction acts would have been passed if the negro vote had been believed to be Democratic.