Just how defeated and cowed was the Confederacy after the war? Did all Confederates go peacefully to their homes and begin to rebuild, or was there still animosity and a desire for independence in their hearts? We certainly know that the rash of racially motivated riots in cities throughout the South, the December 1865 insurrection scare, and the rise of groups like the Ku Klux Klan caused many loyal citizens (black and white, North and South) to be wary of former Confederates’ claims that they had accepted the results of the war and moved on. The South was still a tumultuous, dangerous, and violent place.
Some digging in the 1870 and ’71 issues of Fredrick Douglass’ Washington D.C. New Era (and later the New National Era) may have some evidence of some lingering plans for the South to rise again. The first comes in a July 28, 1870 article, “Rebels Ready for Another Struggle,” and quoted the editor of the Griffin (Georgia) Star:
Then, again, there is another and a much greater hope looming up in the distance, and that is Southern Independence! ...we can not, unaided, achieve our own independence. Should Europe, however, engage in universal war, European possessions in America must become involved and through these complications the United States must inevitably be drawn into the contest. Then it will be seen and known that the South will join fortunes with any European power that will guarantee us freedom from the thralldom of the North.
That threat to rise with European help, of course, was made all the more real to Douglass' readership by the news of the Franco-Prussian War that flooded the columns that summer. The same unreconstructed thinking was present the next year as well. On July 20, 1871, the New National Era printed an interview with former Confederate politico Bob Toombs originally from the New York Herald.
“You have given up, however, all hope of making armed resistance to the United States Government?”The question that remains, in my mind is not whether the thing would have worked or not, Toombs himself admitted that it “would be a desperate undertaking, of course.” But I want to know, would “the farmers,” as Toombs designated the yeomen standing nearby, have fought? The “farmers” abandoned the Cause the first time around when crop production fell, promised salt failed to materialize, and families began to starve. Their need to provide for the folks at home and willingness to desert to do so drained the Confederacy just as the heat was really being applied by Union armies in late 1863 and 1864. But in the wake of the first five years of Reconstruction, would the nonslaveowning farmer have fought? Now that he could see African Americans socially and politically equal to and competing economically with himself, would he have been willing to fight again, and this time to see success? Many have argued the South was more united after Reconstruction than it was in 1861 or 1865; would that have told out in some hypothetical “Civil War, pt. II?” Would Missouri, Kentucky, or Maryland, with many slaveowners stinging from the Emancipation Proclamation and XIII, XIV, and XV Amendments have joined in on the fun, as well? Would the perceived indignity of racial equality have brought “the farmers” back into the fight?
“Not at all. I don’t know but that it is about time for us to fight again. Our only hope is in ourselves; every party in the North abandons us. I never expected much from Northern Democrats since they deserted us at the beginning of the war, so I am not greatly disappointed. I know the men who are their leaders and they are just as unscrupulous as the Radicals [Republicans]....
“But you surely do not seriously mean that the war ought to begin again?”
“Yes, I do.”
“And you remember the bloodshed and misery which that must involve?”
“Yes; but what of it? I am not a peace man. There are many worse occupations for a gentleman than fighting. Besides, everything nearly in the way of political freedom has been won in battle....”
“When are you going to raise the standard of revolt?”
“Whenever a favorable opportunity occurs. We will wait until your people at the North are divided among themselves or are at war with some foreign power. The time will come, sooner or later. And these men” (here Mr. Toombs pointed to some farmers standing near by) “would fight again, to-day, if need be. You cannot conquer us except by killing us all off, and that would be an impossibility.”