[From "Southern History Series: The White League of Louisiana"]
Editor’s Note: The Rainbow Confederates are unable to explain why thousands of Confederate veterans banded together to overthrow the government of Louisiana during Reconstruction instead of settling down to enjoy the fruits of the new multiracial democratic paradise.
The following excerpt which appeared in The Franklin Enterprise before the election of 1874 describes the formation of the White League in Louisiana during the later days of Reconstruction. It comes from Stephen Budiansky’s book The Bloody Shirt: Terror After The Civil War:
“We ask for no assistance; we protest against any intervention. We own this soil of Louisiana, by virtue of our endeavor, as a heritage from our ancestors, and it is ours, and ours alone. Science, literature, history, art, civilization, and law belong alone to us, and not to the negroes. They have no record but barbarism and idolatry, nothing since the war but that of error, incapacity, beastliness, voudouism, and crime. Their right to vote is but the result of the war, their exercise of it a monstrous imposition, and a vindictive punishment upon us for that ill-advised rebellion.
Therefore we are banding together in a White League army, drawn up only on the defensive, exasperated by continual wrong, it is true, but acting under Christian and high-principled leaders, and determined to defeat these negroes in their infamous design of depriving us of all we hold sacred and precious on the soil of our nativity or adoption, or perish in the attempt.
Come what may, upon the radical party must rest the whole responsibility of this conflict, as sure as there is a just God in heaven, their unnatural, cold-blooded and revengeful measures of reconstruction in Louisiana will meet with a terrible retribution.”
Here is the platform of the White League:
“Disregarding all minor questions of principle or policy, and having solely in view the maintenance of our hereditary civilization and Christianity menaced by a stupid Africanization, we appeal to men of our race, of whatever language or nationality, to unite with us against that supreme danger. A league of whites is the inevitable result of that formidable, oath-bound, and blindly obedient league of the blacks, which, under the command of the most cunning and unscrupulous negroes in the State, may at any moment plunge us into a war of races . . . It is with some hope that a timely and proclaimed union of the whites as a race, and their efficient preparation for any emergency, may arrest the threatened horrors of social war, and teach the blacks to beware of further insolence and aggression, that we call upon the men of our race to leave in abeyance all lesser considerations; to forget all differences of opinions and all race prejudices of the past, and with no object in view but the common good of both races, to unite with us in an earnest effort to re-establish a white man’s government in the city and the State.”
Does that sound like the eternal principles of classical liberalism? In Louisiana and other Southern states, classical liberalism to the extent it ever existed here was always counterbalanced by the even more powerful authoritarian forces of slavery and white supremacy.
Louisiana was one of three Southern states with black majorities which had the worst, most bitter experience with Reconstruction. The other two states were Mississippi and South Carolina. The enfranchisement of the former slaves and the disenfranchisement of Confederate veterans by the Radical Republicans produced an explosive situation in the state. Louisiana came to be ruled by carpetbaggers who plundered the prostrate state on the basis of the black vote.
The White League was a paramilitary organization composed of Confederate veterans which fought to restore white supremacy in Louisiana. This culminated in the Battle of Liberty Place in 1874 when 5,000 members of the White League fought and defeated the forces of the Republican carpetbag governor in the streets of New Orleans. The White League actually took New Orleans and the Louisiana State House, but was forced to withdraw after President Grant sent federal troops to relieve the city.
Why was the Yankee occupation so bitterly resented in Louisiana? Shouldn’t everyone in Louisiana have celebrated abolition and the triumph of the universal principles of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and meekly submitted to black majority rule? This is a peculiarly Yankee perspective of the American Revolution that was utterly foreign to the South. The Old South believed in classical republicanism, not classical liberalism. These men celebrated “liberty” in the sense that they saw themselves as the Roman paterfamilias of their plantations.
Louisianans believed that the sort of “liberty” and “equality” and “democracy” unleashed in their state during Reconstruction was utterly destructive and was a moral smokescreen calculated to dispossess them in their own lands while enriching Yankee carpetbags in the process.