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South Carolina African Americans – A New Constitution in 1868

Also see: African-Americans - Reconstruction - 1865-1900 Main Page

As disagreeable to whites as Congress' Reconstruction Acts were, South Carolinians realized that this legislation also paved the way for something even more unpleasant – a new constitutional convention. Faced with the possibility of being ruled by African Americans, the white population formed a solid opposition. Since the constitutional convention had to be approved by the voters, whites registered in record numbers in the hope that they could intimidate the black electorate and derail the convention. As Wade Hampton insisted, "It would be better for the State to be remanded to Military Government rather than that which places the negro permanently in power."

An "alternative" white "Conservative State Convention" was held which issued an open letter to the people of the United States, assuring them that white South Carolinians "would never acquiesce in Negro equality or supremacy."

Participants in this convention included a number of planters who had previously been made wealthy by the sweat of their African-American slaves, including James Chesnut, Benjamin Perry, Wade Hampton, and William DeSaussure. They urged a program of "register-and-reject," which involved registering and then failing to vote. Since the new constitution required the support of the majority of registered voters, not voting produced the same effect as voting no. The results were, in fact, very close, but the white strategy failed and South Carolina would have a new constitution with guaranteed equal rights under the law.

Total Registered127,550
Voting for a Convention68,768
Voting against a Convention2,278
Not Voting55,798

Despite their defeat, whites in South Carolina continued to preach hatred. As one planter, Thomas Pinckney Lowndes, noted:
"For us the war was not ended. We had met the enemy in the field and lost our fight, but now we were threatened with a servile war, a war in which the negro savage backed by the U.S. and the intelligent white scoundrel as his leader was our enemy."


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