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Special Message

April 19, 1872

To the House of Representatives:

In answer to the resolution of the House of Representatives of the 25th of January last, I have the honor to submit the following, accompanied by the report of the Attorney-General, to whom the resolution was referred:

Representations having been made to me that in certain portions of South Carolina a condition of lawlessness and terror existed, I requested the then Attorney-General (Akerman) to visit that State, and after personal examination to report to me the facts in relation to the subject. On the 16th of October last he addressed me a communication from South Carolina, in which he stated that in the counties of Spartanburg, York, Chester, Union, Laurens, Newberry, Fairfield, Lancaster, and Chesterfield there were combinations for the purpose of preventing the free political action of citizens who were friendly to the Constitution and the Government of the United States, and of depriving emancipated classes of the equal protection of the laws.

"These combinations embrace at least two-thirds of the active white men of those counties, and have the sympathy and countenance of a majority of the one-third. They are connected with similar combinations in other counties and States, and no doubt are part of a grand system of criminal associations pervading most of the Southern States. The members are bound to obedience and secrecy by oaths which they are taught to regard as of higher obligation than the lawful oaths taken before civil magistrates.

"They are organized and armed. They effect their objects by personal violence, often extending to murder. They terrify witnesses; they control juries in the State courts, and sometimes in the courts of the United States. Systematic perjury is one of the means by which prosecutions of the members are defeated. From information given by officers of the State and of the United States and by credible private citizens I am justified in affirming that the instances of criminal violence perpetrated by these combinations within the last twelve months in the above-named counties could be reckoned by thousands."

I received information of a similar import from various other sources, among which were the Joint Select Committee of Congress upon Southern Outrages, the officers of the State, the military officers of the United States on duty in South Carolina, the United States attorney and marshal, and other civil officers of the Government, repentant and abjuring members of those unlawful organizations, persons specially employed by the Department of Justice to detect crimes against the United States, and from other credible persons.

Most, if not all, of this information, except what I derived from the Attorney-General, came to me orally, and was to the effect that said counties were under the sway of powerful combinations, properly known as "Ku Klux Klans," the objects of which were by force and terror to prevent all political action not in accord with the views of the members; to deprive colored citizens of the right to bear arms and of the right to a free ballot; to suppress schools in which colored children were taught, and to reduce the colored people to a condition closely akin to that of slavery; that these combinations were organized and armed, and had rendered the local laws ineffectual to protect the classes whom they desired to oppress; that they had perpetrated many murders and hundreds of crimes of minor degree, all of which were unpunished; and that witnesses could not safely testify against them unless the more active members were placed under restraint.


Ulysses S. Grant, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/204650

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