The Old Flag: What was Surrendered? What was Won?
The Compromise of 1877 effectively ended reconstruction in the South. The Republicans
agreed to pull troops out of the South in exchange for Rutherford B. Hayes being awarded the disputed presidential election.
Tensions were running high, and some Republicans like Senator James G. Blaine were warmongering. Opposing a resumption of hostilities, Chamberlain argues in favor of
the compromise and peace. The tone of this speech seems very different from his speeches and writings after the war where he said,
It seems little else than absolute madness to hasten to reinvest with political power the very men
who precipitated upon us the horrors of civil war; and little else than cowardly wickedness to turn our backs upon the
millions whose humble and despised condition did not prevent them from befriending the country
when it was most in need of friends, and yet this very madness and this very wickedness constitute to-day
the main feature of a policy urged upon the country with the full strength of the party which,
pretending to oppose the war during its continuance, did in reality encourage and prolong it by moral
support, and now that the war is ended in triumph, so contrary to their predictions, seeks to rob that
victory of the fruits we had supposed secure.1
Chamberlain was not alone in his change of tune, although he still believed in equal rights for African Americans,
he and many others did not want to renew violence to attain them. It is easy to see why many African American historians call the Compromise "The Great Betrayal."
Chamberlain did not give up entirely on the cause believing, as he would in the coming election crisis, that it could be worked out in the courts.
In his Boothbay speech
a year later we see that Chamberlain believed, "The social system of the South has been shaken and overturned
in a manner we can have no idea of."
A statement that seems now to be a tad too optimistic. Always seeing the potential for good in others,
perhaps Chamberlain placed too much trust in friends and former enemies like John B. Gordon
who in 1871 denied before Congress that he had any associations with the KKK while secretly taking part in heinous activity.3
In that speech Chamberlain goes on to say,
"The South is full two centuries behind what it ought to be in enlightenment,
but you cannot fight men into civilization, and we shall not hasten anything by anger."2
Frustrated with rabble rousing, Chamberlain was perhaps thinking of hypocrisy in his own party when he stated,
But some say we cannot have peace here because the negroes do
not have good treatment in the South, and because the Rebels are back again in Congress.
The negroes are abused in the South, it is true, but so are the Chinese in California, so are
the 40,000 poor girls in London, so are the Indians.
Chamberlain was firmly against mistreatment of, and immigration laws against the Chinese.4
However his opponent James G. Blaine, who he refers to as "the Senator",
would lobby to restrict immigration of the Chinese saying they were, "impure and lewd far beyond the Anglo-Saxon
conception of impurity and lewdness."5
Recalling an 1870 amendment to the naturalisation laws that allowed
emigrants from Africa to become citizens but denied citizenship to the Chinese, Blaine would state emphatically, "I am opposed to the Chinese coming here; I am opposed to making them citizens;
I am opposed to making them voters."6