From an historical perspective, it is interesting to note that the events culminating with the election of Wade Hampton, III Governor of South Carolina, came exactly 100 years after the American Revolution, and has been termed by some historians, the Second American Revolution. impacting the whole of the republic and reshaping the two-party political system for decades to come.
The Upstate and Greenville County, especially Upper Greenville County had an impressive role in kicking off the campaign with the most impressive rally of the entire campaign when their hero and hope for the future arrived at the railroad station and held a rally on the campus of Furman University.
Alfred B. Williams, an eyewitness to the events of 1876, writes: “Those who try to understand the 1876 campaign must keep in mind that what has been told of it happened in less than two months of action, following nearly 10 years of wrongs, miseries, humiliations and dangers ever increasing despite patient efforts to secure alleviation by submission, persuasions and plans for peace.
“So far as history tells, there never has been another revolution which lifted itself from gloomy chaos and developed a patient, active organization and clear purpose within two months.”
The first week in August of 1876 saw the Radical Republican Party, “by all facts and figures, in power securely and permanently.”
The Democratic Convention met in Columbia August 15th.
The 289,000 whites in South Carolina appeared to be hopelessly divided.
Williams wrote: “One part apathetic in disgusted despair, another clinging to hope of some kind of compromise, with the saner and cleaner Republicans, a third dreaming vaguely of a desperate, apparently impossible fight for deliverance.
“The more closely we study it, the more it looks as if a kindly Providence arranged the situation for the saving of a people in plight, as fearful and dangerous as dire as any civilized land ever has known.
“During the campaign, there was a statewide day of fasting and prayer, not for Hampton or the Democratic Party, but for South Carolina, stricken, troubled, her civilization at stake."
General Grant, the former commander of Union forces had been elected President of the United States. Grant knew the reputation of Wade Hampton III from the war that had ended a decade earlier.
When a Republican party leader from South Carolina informed Grant that the state would be safe for the Republican party in the upcoming national election, Grant responded: “It was safe until the Democrats nominated Hampton. Now they will carry it.”
Wade Hampton’s running mate and candidate for Lieutenant Governor was Colonel W. D. Simpson of Laurens.
The statewide campaign was launched in Anderson and Hampton delivered forty-one addresses in two months of campaigning across the state.
The crowd in Anderson on September 2nd was estimated at 6,000 and 1,600 mounted men, riding in procession, “while a long line of Democratic clubs on foot marched and yelled the “Rebel yell,” wrote Williams.
The entire county was there – men, women, and children. The Pendleton Cornet band and the Anderson Cornet band furnished music while cannon roared salute and triumph as the meeting assembled on the grounds of the Carolina Collegiate Institute.
When General Hampton stood to speak, “he was forced to stand and listen for a long while. He saw a far spreading tumult of whirling hats and hands and handkerchiefs and flags, and heard the yells of men frantically screaming their heads off and the shrieked love and frenzy of the women.”
Williams wrote, “Anderson had known special troubles. After the war, Negro troops were quartered there and memory of insults and tyrannies endured from then rankled and burned.
“A white majority in a county was small protection. It could not save the people from trial justices unable to read and write, excessive taxation, incompetent teachers, and constant discrimination against white people at every turn and in every act of administration.”
It was no wonder that the sight of the “big powerful man in the rough grey sack suit, whose name and aspect meant triumphant battle,” generated such enthusiasm. All of Hampton’s speeches were delivered outside and he never gave the same speech twice.
William’s reported that Hampton “always inserted a compliment and special appeal to the women.” and went straight to his speaking points. “He never was abusive in speaking of his opponents, but stated open, notorious, indisputable facts.”
In his speeches, Hampton “promised peace and protection for all classes” and always repeated his slogan: “Reconciliation, Retrenchment and Reform” – the three R’s.
Col. Simpson and others seeking public office on the Democratic ticket followed Hampton and produced the oratory “fireworks to the huge enjoyment of the crowd.”
From Anderson, Gen. Hampton went to Walhalla, where he spoke on Sept. 4 and was met by the beloved General Wagener and “the entire county,” in large wagons with homemade flags.”
Former Governor B. F. Perry from Greenville was a featured speaker in Walhalla. Perry had been a staunch Union supporter until Secession. Attendance was estimated at 3,000, the largest gathering in Oconee County history.
The campaign moved to Pickens September 5th where attendance was about 3,000 before heading to Greenville where an even larger crowd was expected.
Alfred B. Williams, who was later to become editor of the Greenville News, the Richmond News Leader, and other publications, accompanied General Hampton on the campaign trail as a reporter for the Charleston News and Courier.
Williams described in his book, “Hampton and his Redshirts” the scene when General Hampton arrived in Greenville.
“Remembering that he was the nominee of a party organized just 3 weeks, General Hampton must have been astonished when he reached “Greenville the night of the fifth.
“Anderson had set the fashion of sending him away with a calvary escort of five hundred, but Greenville met them at the train with a long cavalcade of horsemen bearing torches, followed by a longer procession of citizens afoot and in wagons, also with torches.”
Both the Pendleton and Greenville Coronet bands “were performing in full strength and the town was illuminated from end to end. The Robert E. Lee Fire Company was out in force and uniform. This was the first appearance in the Hampton procession of Redshirts.
“At the meeting next day, on the Furman University grounds, (Now the location of Greenville County Square) the crowd was estimated at 5,000 to 6,000 and in the preceding procession, 1,500 men rode.”
A second meeting was held that night, “preceded by another great torchlight procession and general illumination.
“A long line of boys – made a feature of this demonstration, which showed how wild Greenville was. Cannon roared, rockets whizzed and blazed and burst and sparkled overhead, drums beat and horns blared, men and women screamed together and lights and waving flags were everywhere. It was a brilliant, noisy, memorable night.
“The large number of Negro men at the meeting was noticeable, although few were in the processions and those were targets for storms of insults and threats from men and women of their own race.
“Greenville was one of the few counties of the state with white Republicans of unquestionable standing and character.” This “made the outbursts and the evident practically unanimous feeling by the white people especially significant.”
Most former slaves, now free for a decade, sincerely believed Hampton’s election would mean a return to slavery, just as they believed the lies that Hampton had “branded all his slaves with a white-hot branding iron.”
Hampton addressed the freed slaves in his speeches. During one campaign stop, he read a letter from one of his former slaves:
“Marse Wade: Seeing you are nominated for Governor by the white people and hearing you have promised the black man all the rights he now has, and knowing you were always a good and kind man to me when I was your slave and knowing you are a good and kind man who will do what he promises, I write to say I will vote for you and get all the black men I can to do the same.
“I have bought a piece of land in York County and am trying to make a support for my family, which I can do if we had good laws and low taxes.
“My wife Flora is still living, and we have but one child we wish to educate. Please write to me, care of Dr. T. C. Robertson, Rock Hill, SC.
“Your friend and former slave, Rev. Francis Davie.”
Gen. Hampton said he had not heard from this man since the war but found another former slave in Laurens who vouched for Francis Davie.
Republicans nominated Gov. Chamberlain for another term as Governor, although a Carpetbagger from New England, Chamberlain tried to reduce corruption and improve relations between the races, but his task was impossible with unscrupulous whites instigating riots by bands of unruly, disillusioned former slaves. Although the large majority of blacks were reasonable and cooperative with whites, they were manipulated and kept in line by Radical Republicans thugs using the militia when necessary.
H. V. Redfield, a partisan Radical Republican correspondent of the Cincinnati Commercial was in Greenville looking on when Wade Hampton III arrived. He watched as mountaineers from “up along the North Carolina line and men from the Saluda side of the cotton growing country” in the lower foothills rode into town.
He wrote his paper that the state was going Democratic and that small town “former white Republicans” were announcing in local papers that they had “crossed Jordan” determined to vote and work for Hampton and to “carry with them all the Negroes they could.”
In a period of just 12 days, Wade Hampton held great meetings in Spartanburg, Union, Laurens, Newberry, and Abbeville.
As reported in an earlier article by Bill Johnson, Hampton’s Red Shirts were a major factor in the election of 1876 and a source of great pride for the participants.
Williams records the story of Fagan Martin, a printer in Greenville, who died in his late nineties and, at his own last request was “buried with the red shirt he wore in 1876 on his body.”
Traveling on a freight train at 12 miles an hour between Greenville and Spartanburg, Hampton was interviewed by reporter Redfield.
Redfield wrote of the modesty, conservatism and good humor of Hampton who acknowledged that he had a “fair chance” of being elected. He wrote that Hampton was respected and encouraged at every stop by both men and women. He said, "South Carolina white men were going into this fight with more determination and desperation of purpose than when they went into the Civil War, to which they gave far more soldiers than the state had voters.”
Redfield described the “heaps and mounds of flowers” sent to Hampton at each stop. Almost all “made sacred by a little note from the woman who sent it, telling him she was doing all she could to show her love for him as the chosen leader of her people and how earnestly she was praying for both.”
“Frequently a note said the writer had lost father, brother or son serving with Hampton and invoked blessings on the comrade and commander of the dead.”
Williams wrote that the “beauty and fragrance and love and loveliness continued to the end of the campaign,” and the flowers were carefully disposed of where they would never be trampled on or seen by unfriendly eyes, “left to wither and disappear with their fate unknown to the givers.”
Spartanburg scored a point over Greenville by having General John B. Gordon as one of the orators. The crowd was estimated at over five thousand with more colored men than had appeared at the Greenville meeting and, “more orderly behavior of the colored people of both sexes,” reported Williams.
There is no record that Hampton mentioned that Spartanburg County was the original home of the Hamptons in South Carolina, who settled on the Middle Tyger River northeast of Greer and were almost exterminated by Indians, with his grandfather, Wade Hampton I being a survivor of the massacre.
It was reported that Hampton, at the time a very strong man, “wore out” every member of his campaign cadre during the arduous campaign.
Although kind to all, the rugged campaigner liked to joke about the mistakes and failures of his staff and others he considered to be close friends, yet he never failed to spice his verbal jabs with good humor.
The campaign was not without its lighter moments. Williams described a special speaking engagement in Honea Path on the twentieth of September. Gov. Perry joined Hampton. “Seats were arranged for 1,200 persons and when the mile and a quarter of white horsemen arrived at the meeting place, they found every seat occupied by a woman.”
Hampton won the election, but that was not the end of problems with Carpetbaggers and Scalawags who were determined to continue control of the people of South Carolina and prevent, by any means available to them, the newly elected Governor from occupying the office of the state’s chief executive.
Next week: “Troops in the State House.”