Certainly one of the most controversial eras in American history, the period after the Civil War
saw much of the South faced with economic and social turmoil. This was a time of bitterness and loss, but also a time of hope and
empowerment. Much of South Carolina was in ruins, and the state lost nearly one fifth of its white male population. Many whites in
the state resented Reconstruction and did not consider those governments as legitimate.
On the other hand, this was also a time of empowerment and hope for a new order, particularly for former slaves and
their sympathizers. Tensions flared as struggles for local control pitted Republicans (largely consisting of freedmen, some local
whites, and others from the North) against Democrats (or “Conservatives” who consisted almost entirely of local whites).
Democrats labeled their white Republican opponents as either scalawags or carpetbaggers. “Scalawags” were those southern
whites who supported Reconstruction. “Carpetbaggers” were whites who came from the North to aid in the Reconstruction process.
Democrats accused Republicans of corruption and graft, claiming their politics revolved around personal financial gain.
Historian Walter Edgar maintains that the corruption and graft that ran rampant throughout the country during the
Reconstruction years “knew neither race nor party label.” The Republican efforts toward public education and public equality
shocked and embittered whites, not only for their social implications, but also economic. All landowners in the state faced higher taxes
and hundreds of thousands of acres of land were seized for non-payment. A large number of whites in the state never accepted the Reconstruction
government as legitimate, and they began a ruthless (and effective) campaign to point out wrongdoings and discredit the Republican regime.
The largely black state militia, in and of itself an alarming sight to most whites, was ineffective in quelling white insurgency. Tensions rose,
and violence erupted throughout the state (Edgar, 388 (quote), 394-404).
Republican victories across the country during the election of 1868 ushered in a dramatic shift in Reconstruction
politics. The passage of the Reconstruction Acts, which allowed blacks to hold office for the first time, began what has been termed as
Congressional Reconstruction or Radical Reconstruction. Congressional Republicans worked to enfranchise the black population but prohibited
whites that had supported the Confederacy from voting, unless they took an oath of allegiance to the United States. The Reconstruction Acts
required that the majority of registered voters in the state vote for or against a state constitutional convention and choose delegates.
White Carolinians took the strategy of registering in large numbers and then voting no or boycotting the vote altogether. They preferred
living under military rule as opposed to a state government composed largely of black leaders (Fraser, 284; Zuczek, 38-39).
Using the Ohio constitution as a model, the delegates of South Carolina’s 1868 Constitution sought to promote
public education and public equality with their new document. These delegates enacted a number of social reforms and gave local government
more power, reversing the 200-year-old tradition of centralized control in the General Assembly. As districts became counties, local voters
elected a three-man county board of commissioners with budgetary and taxing authority. Four new counties—Aiken, Hampton, Berkeley, and
Florence—came into being as a result of the 1868 Constitution (Edgar, 385-388).
Some of the social and political reforms made effective by the 1868 Constitution include the following: Creating a more
balanced form of government among the three branches in state government; reorganizing and giving more authority to local governments;
establishing a welfare program; providing a means for state-wide public education; and establishing political equality such as removing
property requirements for voting rights. While much has been written about the shortcomings of Reconstruction, that reconciliation between
the sections and the races ultimately failed, most all of the reforms mentioned above (with obvious exceptions to political and voting reforms)
lasted through and beyond the Jim Crow era. Rights for women to own property and obtain divorces were also enhanced during this period. While
acknowledging the turbulence and failures of the era, historians Francis Butler Simkins and Robert H. Woody’s classic 1932 book, South
Carolina During Reconstruction, emphasized the advances made during the Reconstruction years (Simkins and Woody, 562; Edgar, 386-388).
With all the attempts at social reform and reconciliation, heated political struggles between the two parties raged on,
leading to violence in many parts of the state. Led by Edgefield native, Matthew C. Butler, a white Democratic faction within the state
legislature enacted the Black Code, which put severe limits on the rights of blacks and attempted to return the racial order to that which
existed during the antebellum years. The act virtually reestablished the slave patrol system, as white vigilante groups assaulted blacks and
whites that they felt were violating the Black Codes.
In the election for governor in 1876, Wade Hampton supporters, known as Red Shirts, used intimidation, fraud, and
violence to ensure a Democratic victory. The hotly contested election between Daniel Chamberlain and Hampton was not decided until the US Supreme
Court ruled in his favor in April 1877. Chamberlain would resign, allowing Hampton to take control of the state. Hampton’s election, as
well as Rutherford B. Hayes’ controversial national presidential election, marked the end of the Reconstruction era for the state, as the
last Federal troops left South Carolina (Edgar, 406).
The physical separation of the races was one of the most profound consequences of the Reconstruction period. The breakup
of the plantation system of slavery resulted in white and black Carolinians separating and building communities and institutions largely
apart from each other. Custom would become law as the 1895 State Constitution laid the groundwork for legalized racial segregation and it
effectively disenfranchised blacks. While there was opposition to Jim Crow legislation, most notably by the Charleston News and Courier
in 1898, a myriad of segregation laws and customs would become entrenched into the everyday lives of black Carolinians by the early 1900s
(Edgar, 448-450; Fraser, 336-338).