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The Union as it was, The lost cause, worse than slavery

Political cartoon depicting the Ku Klux Klan and the White League

Nast, Thomas
1874
Print
Library of Congress

Nast, Thomas, Artist. The Union as it was The lost cause, worse than slavery / / Th. Nast. , 1874. Print. https://www.loc.gov/item/2001696840/.

The Ku Klux Klan and the White League were both paramilitary terrorist organizations composed of Southern whites, most of whom were ex-Confederate soldiers. Both organizations and others like them used violence against the freedmen to try to restore the system of racial hierarchy and economic exploitation that existed before the Civil War. Members of these and similar organizations attempted to destroy the Republican Party in the South as it attempted to build schools, register African Americans to vote, and elect supporters of Reconstruction policies to state and federal offices. Even whites who had opposed secession and resisted the Confederacy frequently opposed attempts to empower former slaves. Many white Southerners began to argue that the South had been destined to lose the Civil War but had fought valiantly to defend its people, land, and honor. This mythology, known as the Lost Cause, argued that Northerners who had wanted to end slavery were misguided and actually made the condition of black and white Southerners worse. This interpretation presented Northerners as invaders, African Americans as inferior savages, and the Klan and the White League as vigilante groups dedicated to restoring order and preventing racial chaos. 

 

The Ku Klux Klan and other vigilante organizations murdered untold numbers of people across the Southeast during the 1860s and early 1870s before the federal government cracked down on the organization. The White League formed in Louisiana in the early 1870s and led some of the worst episodes of racial violence in the nation’s history. Members of some of these paramilitary organizations chose to wear hooded costumes. How does this document and information about white supremacist terrorist organizations help to answer the question, How did the country change after the Civil War?

The Ku Klux Klan and the White League were both paramilitary terrorist organizations composed of Southern whites, most of whom were ex-Confederate soldiers. Both organizations used violence against the freedmen to try to restore the system of racial hierarchy and economic exploitation that existed before the Civil War. Members of these and similar organizations attempted to destroy the Republican Party in the South as it attempted to build schools, register African Americans to vote, and elect supporters of Reconstruction policies to state and federal offices. Even whites who had opposed secession and resisted the Confederacy frequently opposed attempts to empower former slaves. Many Southerners began to argue that the South had been destined to lose the Civil War but had fought valiantly to defend its people, land, and honor. This mythology, known as the Lost Cause, argued that Northerners who had wanted to end slavery were misguided and actually made the condition of black and white Southerners worse. This interpretation presented Northerners as invaders, African Americans as inferior savages, and the Klan and the White League as vigilante groups dedicated to restoring order and preventing racial chaos. 

 

The Ku Klux Klan and other vigilante organizations murdered untold numbers of people across the Southeast during the 1860s and early 1870s before the federal government cracked down on the organization. The White League formed in Louisiana in the early 1870s and participated in some of the worst episodes of racial violence in the nation’s history. Members of some of these paramilitary organizations chose to wear hooded costumes. These questions can guide your students to understand the significant role that these groups played in shaping the post–Civil War country: Why would members of these organizations attempt to conceal their identities? Why would these organizations use violence and terrorism to achieve their goals? What does the cartoon from Harper’s Weekly argue about the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the fate of former slaves in the South? What is the point of view represented by this cartoon? Do you think African Americans would agree with that point of view? Why? What is happening in the background of this image? Why is what is happening in the background important for understanding how race relations in the South changed after the Civil War? What is the difference between the man hanging from the tree in this cartoon and the fate of Jefferson Davis? How are these two distinct fates dependent on the same series of events during the Civil War and Reconstruction? How would Alexander Stephens respond to this political cartoon? How would Sojourner Truth respond to the cartoon?

The Union as it was Worse than Slavery