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Black Belt Scalawag: Charles Hays and the Southern Republicans in the Era…

by William Warren Rogers

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In this revealing study of politics in Reconstruction-era Alabama, William Warren Rogers, Jr., traces the career of a former slaveholder and Confederate soldier who shocked his fellow southerners by embracing the Republican party and the rights of freedmen. The product of a well-to-do planter family, Charles Hays (1834-79) served as an officer in the Army of Tennessee. After the war, however, he saw clearly the new political realities and became convinced that extending political and economic opportunities to freedmen was necessary as well as morally correct. His rise as a "scalawag" (the derisive term applied to white southerners who favored the policies of Reconstruction) began in 1867, when he abandoned the Democratic party and served as a delegate to the Alabama constitutional convention. He then served in the Alabama state senate before being elected in 1869 to the first of four terms as the representative of the Fourth Congressional District. Driven by his belief that former slaves should be allowed to vote, hold political office, and expect civic equality, Hays put his own life at risk during a political era of unprecedented volatility. Violence and intimidation were rampant in those areas where Republicans received their strongest support, and the Fourth Congressional District, with its large black majority, was a party bastion. During a reign of terror conducted in the name of white supremacy, klansmen and white leaguers hanged and shot Republicans in Hays's district. As his reelection campaign began in 1870, Hays wrote to a colleague: "l do not know how long it will be before you will hear of my assassination but one thing you may count with certainty is that I shall die game." Under such circumstances Hays became an outspoken proponent of legislation to uphold law and order and enforce the policies of Reconstruction in the southern states. In 1874, as the author of the Hays-Hawley letter, he gained national attention by describing anti-Republican crimes in Alabama. That same year he spoke on the House floor in favor of what became the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Hays's participation in the political life of a strife-torn decade eventually consumed him, however, and with Reconstruction ending he withdrew from public life in 1877. Plagued by failing health, he died only two years later. The first biography of a white Radical Republican from the South, this book makes a significant contribution to revising the image of the long-detested scalawags and illuminating their role in the noble, though failed, experiment known as Reconstruction.… (more)
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In this revealing study of politics in Reconstruction-era Alabama, William Warren Rogers, Jr., traces the career of a former slaveholder and Confederate soldier who shocked his fellow southerners by embracing the Republican party and the rights of freedmen. The product of a well-to-do planter family, Charles Hays (1834-79) served as an officer in the Army of Tennessee. After the war, however, he saw clearly the new political realities and became convinced that extending political and economic opportunities to freedmen was necessary as well as morally correct. His rise as a "scalawag" (the derisive term applied to white southerners who favored the policies of Reconstruction) began in 1867, when he abandoned the Democratic party and served as a delegate to the Alabama constitutional convention. He then served in the Alabama state senate before being elected in 1869 to the first of four terms as the representative of the Fourth Congressional District. Driven by his belief that former slaves should be allowed to vote, hold political office, and expect civic equality, Hays put his own life at risk during a political era of unprecedented volatility. Violence and intimidation were rampant in those areas where Republicans received their strongest support, and the Fourth Congressional District, with its large black majority, was a party bastion. During a reign of terror conducted in the name of white supremacy, klansmen and white leaguers hanged and shot Republicans in Hays's district. As his reelection campaign began in 1870, Hays wrote to a colleague: "l do not know how long it will be before you will hear of my assassination but one thing you may count with certainty is that I shall die game." Under such circumstances Hays became an outspoken proponent of legislation to uphold law and order and enforce the policies of Reconstruction in the southern states. In 1874, as the author of the Hays-Hawley letter, he gained national attention by describing anti-Republican crimes in Alabama. That same year he spoke on the House floor in favor of what became the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Hays's participation in the political life of a strife-torn decade eventually consumed him, however, and with Reconstruction ending he withdrew from public life in 1877. Plagued by failing health, he died only two years later. The first biography of a white Radical Republican from the South, this book makes a significant contribution to revising the image of the long-detested scalawags and illuminating their role in the noble, though failed, experiment known as Reconstruction.

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