U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Reconstruction era conservatives

This week, I offer a couple brief primary sources to add to the conversation about the history of conservatives, sparked by Corey Robin’s book and Mark Lilla’s review; Andrew wrote an excellent response yesterday.

(This was in part inspired by Corey Robin’s response to Ta-Nehesi’s Coates’ defense of his work)

Ortiz writes, “Growers in the plantation districts of middle Florida created a plan of action to seize control of the political system. Plantation owners used employers’ meetings to educate each other about the scheme:

     Here are a few facts, which it would be well to state: 1st: the negro population of our country constituting the only labouring class of any importance are nearly all our political enemies & we are satisfied that the Chief reason why they have become such trifling workers is simply because they have so much to do outside the field to sustain the heavy weight of Radicalism & keep up the Radical Party.
     2nd: Our circumstances are such that we cannot afford to allow our fields to remain uncultivated & if we are not able to get our friends as labourers we must of necessity take our enemies.
     3rd: This is distasteful & repugnant to our feelings & yet we cannot afford to ‘cut off our noses to spite our faces.'(25)

“For decades afterwards, conservatives remembered the election of 1876 in heroic terms. The Times-Union crowed: ‘[The white man] violated the sanctity of the ballot box to save his State from shame and his community from destruction.’ Black get-out-the-vote meetings were violently broken up.” (26-27)

From Paul Ortiz, Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

One Thought on this Post

  1. Conservatism conserves nothing but unearned privilege and unjust dominance. The primary trait of a conservative is fear – fear of loss of status and privilege, and fear of loss of livelihood. These fears are primal and so some would say understandable; the natural response is that a life based in fear of loss is not spiritually vital or meaningful: its basis is hoarding rather than sharing, and stasis, not movement. The reactionary or conservative mind is a brute animal thing, and does nothing to advance the cause of humanity and justice.

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