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South Carolina's Governor Requests Federal Intervention (1876)

South Carolina governor Daniel Chamberlain sent the following letter to President Grant in 1876:

State of South Carolina,
Executive Chamber,
Columbia, July 22, 1876.

SIR: The recent massacre at Hamburgh, in this State, is a matter so closely connected with the public peace of this State that I desire to call your attention to it for the purpose of laying before you my views of its effect and the measures which it may become necessary to adopt to prevent the recurrence of similar events.

. . . It is not to be doubted that the effect of this massacre has been to cause widespread terror and apprehension among the colored race and the republicans of this State. There is as little doubt, on the other hand, that a feeling of triumph and political elation has been caused by this massacre in the minds of many of the white people and democrats. The fears of the one side correspond with the hopes of the other side.

. . . It is certainly true that most, though not all, of those who have spoken, through the newspapers or otherwise, here, on the white or democratic side, upon this matter, have condemned the massacre. Their opposition to such conduct has not, however, sufficed to prevent this massacre, nor do I see any greater reason for believing that it will do so in the future. That class which now engage in this cruel work certainly disregard the express sentiments of those who assume to speak, for the most part, for their communities, and go forward without fear of public opinion or punishment.

. . . [S]uch occurrences as this at Hamburgh have generally resulted in what is thought to be political advantage to the democratic party here. From this fact it results that the white people here are induced, to a considerable extent, to overlook the naked brutality of the occurrence, and seek to find some excuse or explanation of conduct which ought to receive only unqualified abhorrence and condemnation, followed by speedy and adequate punishment.

In this way it often happens that a few reckless men are permitted or encouraged to terrorize a whole community and destroy all freedom of action on the part of those who differ from them in political opinions. The more respectable portion of the white people here content themselves with verbal perfunctory denunciations, and never adopt such measures or arouse such a public sentiment as would here, as elsewhere, put a stop to such occurrences.

In respect to the Hamburgh massacre, as I have said, the fact is unquestionable that it has resulted in great immediate alarm among the colored people, and all republicans in that section of the State. Judging from past experience, they see in this occurrence a new evidence of a purpose to subject the majority of the voters of that vicinity to such a degree of fear as to keep them from the polls on election-day, and thus reverse, or stifle, the true political voice of the majority of the people . . .

. . . [W]ill the [federal] Government exert itself vigorously to repress violence in this State during the present political campaign on the part of persons belonging to either political party, whenever that violence shall be beyond the control of the State authorities? Will the [federal] Government take such precautions as may be suitable, in view of the feeling of alarm already referred to, to restore confidence to the poor people of both races and political parties in this State . . . ?

. . . I understand that an American citizen has a right to vote as he pleases; to vote one ticket as freely and safely as another; to vote wrong as freely and safely as to vote right; and I know that whenever, upon whatever pretext, large bodies of citizens can be coerced by force or fear into absenting themselves from the polls, or voting in a way contrary to their judgment or inclination, the foundation of every man’s civil freedom is deeply if not fatally shaken . . .

I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,
D. H. CHAMBERLAIN
Governor of South Carolina1

  1. Citations

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