The roots of citizen suppression are to be found in the writings of two Confederate Generals, Samuel Wragg Ferguson and Martin Witherspoon Gary in South Carolina, as dengre, a diarist on KOS alerts us. Ferguson provided the theoretical frame work, Gary the particulars:
Greenville Jany 7, 1876
I cannot tell you exactly how they did in other parts of the State, but will give you a sketch of the modus in Washington County, where the odds were the most terrible and where success has been the most complete.
First, look at our geographical position and political situation, consider the odds against which we had to contend, and in contemplating the result of a determined effort, you will feel that it is entirely practicable to redeem So. Ca. if the people choose so to do. Our registered vote shows 6390 voters; of this number not over 1200 at the outside are white. The only town in the county Greenville with a population of 2000—the whites slightly outnumbering the blacks.
Still, we determined to carry the election at all hazard, and, in the event of any blood being shed in the campaign, to kill every white Radical in the county; we made no threats, but we let this be known as a fixed and settled thing; the white leaders knew that we meant it. So, instead of fomenting strife, they counseled peace. When they had a political meeting, and we could find it out in time, we sent speakers to meet them and denounce their rascality. They, afraid to provoke a contest, which, end as it might, would be the signal of instant death to them, replied to specific personal charges, only by vague generalities-and the moral effect on the negro was to our advantage; he saw his leaders cower and finally retire from the contest, and this prepared him to submit to what was to follow.
To such an extent was this intimidation, not of the negroes, but of the white aspirants for office, that, when the election day came, none of them even came to the poll to vote. All that is necessary is to obtain the result, no matter how, and Mister Nigger accepts it as satisfactory.
The success of our plan depended, at last, upon our being in condition to make a fight if necessary, and to impress on the leaders, the individual danger each of them ran if ~ disturbance took place. To accomplish this, a thorough organization and arming were essential. Winchester Rifles and Colt’s peace-makers kept the peace. Money freely contributed, and freely used accomplished much, not by buying votes, but in carrying out well devised plans, such as sending competent speakers stumping the county, attending all the meetings called by the other side, and abusing the candidates to their faces when they put in an appearance. Then, the day of the election, the white men went to the polls when they were opened at eight o’clock, and remained until they closed.
Be assured that if you determine to strike one good honest earnest blow to free the State, I will be with you, and I think that thousands from all the Southern States will be ready and willing to quietly take their arms and come, if needed—to judge from the feelings and expressions I have heard in this section.
Let your motto be Suavitur in modo, fortiter in re. [“an iron fist in a velvet glove”–dg] Never threaten a man individually; if he deserves to be threatened, the necessity of the times requires that he should die. A dead Radical is very harmless—A threatened Radical, or one driven off by threats from the scene of his operations, is often very troublesome, sometimes dangerous, always vindictive. Pray write to me again, for I am most deeply interested in all you may do in the coming campaign.
S. W. Ferguson
Clearly, the enemy in their campaigns are the people whose authority to govern the generals contest.
“Plan of Campaign”
* 1st Determine if necessary to kill every White Radical in this county—
* 2nd Every mulatto Radical leader
* 3rd Every negro leader—make no individual threats but let this be known as a fixed settled thing—
* 4th We must send speakers to all of their political meetings, who must denounce the rascality of these leaders face to face. The moral effects of this denunciation will be of great effect—
* 5th Thorough military organization in order to intimidate the negro
* 6th Every white man must be at the polls by five 0 clock in the morning of the day of election, and must go prepared to remain there until the votes are counted
* 7th Make no threats — “Suave in modo fortite in re”
* 8th There is no use in arguments for the negro.
Then, as now, if the universal franchise cannot be defeated, citizen participation has to be suppressed, by any means possible. The stomping of the activist in Kentucky is par for the course, as are diversionary tactics like tricking New Hampshire voters to register their preference in the election at a web site, where it won’t be counted. (New Hampshire has no online voting and no early voting, other than by an official absentee ballot).
Low voter turnout has never been a happenstance. It’s the result of a 365/24/7 effort on the part of conservatives who are bound and determined to defeat popular government and maintain oligarchic rule. Money and the private corporations they control are their tools.
Photos: Top: Confederate Brigadier General Samuel Wragg Ferguson. Bottom: Confederate Brigadier General Martin Witherspoon Gary.