History, History Column

The Lost Cause and Jim Crow

The Lost Cause and Jim Crow

Written by ©2018 Sarah Becker

In 1888 Congress established the U.S. Department of Labor; former Union General and U.S. Senator Benjamin Harrison (R-IN) won the Presidency (1889-1893), and the National Farmers’ Alliance and Industrial Union or Southern Alliance emerged. Business gave way to industry; William Burroughs invented the first commercially successful adding and listing machine and farmers, including the one million member Colored Farmers’ Organization, advocated for greater control of railroaders, bankers and land speculators. In Alexandria, as in Jackson, Mississippi, the city approved a Confederate monument.


The evangelical Alliance welcomed all who were “not obnoxious to the Constitution.” Harrison “held that a protective tariff [a tax on imports] is…wholesome and necessary.” He also dealt with election fraud and immigration.

  • “In many parts of our country…the colored…people…are by various devices deprived of any effective exercise of their political [and] civil rights,” Harrison continued. “The colored people did not intrude themselves upon us. They were brought here in chains….” He favored “National aid to education” and “a free and unmolested exercise of suffrage.”   
  • “Closely connected with the subject of the tariff is that of the importation of foreign laborers under contracts of service to be performed here,” Harrison concluded. “In the earlier years of our history public agencies to promote immigration were common…Labor was scarce and fully employed….While our doors will continue open to proper immigration we do not need to issue special invitations to inhabitants of other countries.” Especially China.

George Washington, America’s first President, was inaugurated in New York City on April 30, 1789. In his Address he spoke of “an indissoluble union…of duty…and the destiny of the republican model of government.” President Benjamin Harrison twice visited Mount Vernon, in 1889 and 1890.

“[O]ur country now steps…into its second century of organized existence under the Constitution,” Harrison said in his 1889 Inaugural Address. “Our country” included “thirty-eight populous and prosperous States.”

“The revival at the end of the century of…patriotic interest in the…development of domestic industries…against injurious foreign competition is…worthy of attention,” Harrison noted. “It is not a departure but a return that we have witnessed.  The protective [tariff] policy had then its opponents. The argument was made, as now, that its benefits inured to particular classes or sections.”

“If the question became in any sense or at any time sectional, it was only because slavery existed in some of the States,” Harrison continued. “But for this there was no reason why the cotton-producing States should not have led or walked abreast with the New England States in the production of cotton fabrics.”

How long will those who rejoice that slavery no longer exists cherish or tolerate the incapacities it puts upon the communities?” Harrison asked. “Is it not quite possible that the farmers and the promoters of the great mining and manufacturing enterprises which have recently been established in the South may yet find that the free ballot of the workingman, without distinction of race, is needed for their defense as well as for his own?”

“I do not doubt that if those men in the South who now accept the tariff views of [Henry] Clay and constitutional expositions of [Daniel] Webster would courageously avow and defend their real convictions they would not find it difficult…to make the black man their efficient and safe ally,” Harrison concluded. “At least until the good offices of kindness and education have been fairly tried…” The Republicans Civil Rights Act of 1875 was mostly overturned in 1883.

“We must expect reverses, even defeats,” Confederate General Robert E. Lee wrote President Jefferson Davis in 1863. “They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters.”

Defeat is “to win victory over; to prevent the success of.” What does the Confederate soldier’s defeat teach us? That defeat is not the end; it is the beginning of something new. The extent of the defeat is determined by how well the defeated and the victor adjust.

“Southerners emerged from the war subdued but unrepentant,” historian James M. McPherson wrote. “They had lost all save honor, and their unsullied honor became the foundation.”

It was important for southern leaders to justify a war that “wiped out two-thirds of the assessed value of wealth in the Confederate states, two-fifths of the South’s livestock, and more than half its farm machinery—not to mention one-fourth of the Confederate white men of military age,” McPherson continued.


“Defeat has not made ‘all our sacred things profane,’” Richmond-er Edward Pollard, author of The Lost Cause wrote in 1866. “The war has left the South its own memories, its own heroes…And lessons sink deep.”

“The Constitutional Doctrine of the Rights of States is not to be given up, in argument, discussion, or political action,” the Alexandria Gazette wrote in 1867. “The principle is not a “Lost Cause.” Though crushed to earth it may rise again in our civil history.”

CSA President and Lost Cause enthusiast Jefferson Davis died in 1889. Every action was taken “in order to enable citizens from every section of the South to attend the funeral.” Coincidentally Alexandria dedicated its Confederate statue Appomattox the same year, on Virginia’s Confederate Memorial Day.

“Not one of this great assemblage of Republicans…wishes ill to the South,” Harrison said. “We wish them to share in the onward… movement of a great people. It is not a question of the war; it is not a question of what was done between ’61 and ’65 at all. It is what they have done since 1865.”

“Our controversy is not one of the past, it is of the present,” Harrison explained. “What is it that we ask? Simply that the South live up to the terms of the surrender at Appomattox…We ask nothing more of the South than that they shall cease to use this recovered citizenship, which they had forfeited by rebellion, to oppress and disenfranchise those who equally with themselves under the Constitution are entitled to vote….”

  “Slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest,” President Abraham Lincoln said in 1865. “All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the [Confederate] object….”

The Civil War “did not decide Negro equality,” Pollard’s The Lost Cause continued. “It did not decide Negro suffrage; it did not decide States Rights, [and] it did not decide the orthodoxy of the Democratic Party.” Congress repealed the Enforcement Act of February 1871, an Act which provided for federal supervision of elections in 1894.

President Benjamin Harrison enjoyed many successes. The first International Conference of [Pan] American States and the International Act for the Suppression of African Slave Trade; passage of the Sherman Anti-Trust Law and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act; the McKinley Tariff Act; Yosemite Park, the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 and Ellis Island.

Yet the Federal Election Bill of 1890—[as per Amendment 15 Section 2] “One to Secure Government Supervision”—failed to pass the Senate. “We have fallen upon bad times for the party,” the Bill’s sponsor Senator John C. Spooner (R-WI) explained. “The Confederacy (D) and the Western mining camps (R) are in legislative supremacy,” politically united.

“There are many things more important to the welfare of this nation than that the colored citizens of the South should vote,” Senator Edward Wolcott (R-CO) said. Like Free Coinage [silver]. Still Independent Republican John Mercer Langston—Dean Howard University Department of Law (1870-1876), winner of an 1888 disputed Congressional election and the first black Congressman from Virginia—acknowledged President Harrison for his “brave and opportune words.” Lawyer Langston supported “absolute legal equality.”

“What southern Democrats really ‘dreaded and hated’ was the thought of losing the power of certification in congressional elections to federal canvassers or a judge appointed by a Republican president,” Senator Spooner said. “Nor did they hesitate to invoke race.”

“It is unquestionably a wrong to deprive citizens clothed with the [1870 constitutional] right of suffrage of the privilege of exercising it,” The New York Times concluded. “That they are ignorant, that they belong to an ‘inferior race,’ and that the motive of the wrong-doers is to prevent the ascendency of ignorance and incompetency in public affairs is not a sufficient excuse.” Harrison insisted “ignorance and poverty—was our shame, not theirs.”

“Abuse us as you will, gentlemen,” Langston told Congressional Democrats. “There is no way to get rid of us. This is our native country.” Virginia’s white-dominated Democratic machine became real with the senatorial election of southern conservative Democrat Thomas Staples Martin in 1895.

  “I must take this occasion to congratulate every surviving patriot, ladies especially (for they have ever been the truest of the true), on the revival of this South-land…the truth and justice of the ‘Lost Cause,’” Confederate Colonel Wm. A. Smoot, Grand Commander of the Grand Camp, of Virginia, said in 1895.

Pollard’s The Lost Cause reckoned “The principle for which [Ex-President Davis] contended is bound to reassert itself, though…at another time and in another form.” Jefferson Davis’ “old home in Richmond, Virginia,” opened “as a museum for the preservation of relics of the late war” in February 1896.

Also in 1896…Plessy v. Ferguson, the equal but separate doctrine became law. “Legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish differences based upon physical differences, and the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the difficulties of the present situation,” the U.S. Supreme Court concluded.

In 1897, in Alexandria, a city with “an average of at least one lynching a year,” The Washington Post announced that colored Independent William Coleman, “a chronic candidate,” received 19 Mayoral votes or 1.2% of the city’s vote. Colored Independent T.M. Watson received 255 votes or 12.7% of Ward 4’s Council vote.

James Mercer Langston died in 1897. Benjamin Harrison died in 1901; the same year Vice President Theodore Roosevelt [R-NY] inherited the Presidency and Democrat Virginia’s “all-white” 1901-1902 Constitutional Convention convened. The Commonwealth’s repressive Constitution, which “turned back nearly all of the democratic reforms embodied in the state constitutions of 1851, 1864 and 1869,” remained in effect until 1971.

Sarah Becker started writing for The Economist while a graduate student in England. Similar publications followed. She joined the Crier in 1996 while serving on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association Board. Her interest in antiquities began as a World Bank hire, with Indonesia’s need to generate hard currency. Balinese history, i.e. tourism provided the means. The New York Times describes Becker’s book, Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets, as “a blueprint for thousands of nonprofit managers.” A former museum director, SLAM’s saving grace Sarah received Alexandria’s Salute to Women Award in 2007.

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