General Amnesty Act of 1872

General Amnesty Act of 1872






Ku Klux Klan

– secret veteran’s club that began in Pulaski, Tennessee which spread through the South and rapidly evolved into a terrorist organization during the winter of 1865-66.

-organized by six former Confederate Army officers who gave their society a name adapted from the Greek word “kuklos” (circle).

– regarded the Reconstruction governments as hostile and oppressive and believed in the innate inferiority of blacks and therefore mistrusted and resented the rise of former slaves to a status of civil equality and often to positions of political power.   Goal was to frustrate Reconstruction and keep the freedmen in subjection.

– Attired in robes or sheets and wearing masks topped with pointed hoods, the Klansmen terrorized public officials of Republican Reconstruction Governments or Union League Clubs (Republican organizations that mobilized the black vote) or schoolteachers assisting freedmen   in efforts to drive them from office and blacks in general to prevent them from voting, holding office, and otherwise exercising their newly acquired political rights.

-Nighttime harassment, whippings, beating, and murder became common.   It was customary for the Klansmen to burn crosses on hillsides and near the homes of those they wished to frighten.   These activities were justified by the Klan as necessary measures in defense of white supremacy and the inviolability of white womanhood.

– A secret convention of Klansmen, held in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1867, adopted a declaration of principles expressing loyalty to the United States Constitution and its government and declaring the determination of the Klan to “protect the weak, the innocent and the defenseless …; to relieve the injured and oppressed; [and] to succor the suffering ….” The convention designated the Klan as an Invisible Empire and provided for a supreme official, called Grand Wizard of the Empire, who wielded virtually autocratic power and who was assisted by ten Genii. Other principal officials of the Klan were the Grand Dragon of the Realm, who was assisted by eight Hydras; the Grand Titan of the Dominion, assisted by six Furies; and the Grand Cyclops of the Den, assisted by two Nighthawks.

-From 1868 to 1870, while federal occupation troops were being withdrawn from the southern states and radical regimes replaced with Democratic administrations, the Klan was increasingly dominated by the rougher elements in the population. Klan violence was the worst in areas where slim Republican majorities which rested on cooperation b/w blacks and whites had ousted Democratic officials long entrenched in power.   The local organizations, called klaverns, became so uncontrollable and violent that the Grand Wizard, former Confederate general Nathan B. Forrest, officially disbanded the Klan in 1869. Klaverns, however, continued to operate on their own to restore Democratic majorities.

-No fewer than 1/10 of the black leaders who had been delegates to the 1867-68 constitutional conventions were attacked, 7 of them fatally.

-In 1870 and 71, Congress passed two Enforcement Acts and an anti-Klan law to implement the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing the rights of all citizens.    These laws made actions by individuals against the civil and political rights of others a federal criminal offense for the first time and provided for election supervisors and permitted martial law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus to combat murders, beatings, and threats by the Klan.   President Ulysses S. Grant issued a proclamation calling on members of illegal organizations to disarm and disband; thereafter hundreds of Klansmen were arrested, but federal prosecutors used he laws rather selectively.   Southern juries sometimes refused to convict Klansmen and some conservative but influential Republicans opposed the anti-Klan laws, rejecting arguments that the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments had made the federal government the protector of the rights of citizens.   They echoed the old Democratic charge that Congress was infringing on states’ rights.

-As the political and social subordination of blacks was reestablished, the remaining klaverns gradually faded, but the KKK shows how Reconstruction failed in the South.