The Lost Cause in California: The Continental Struggle against Reconstruction

Friday, January 5, 2018: 10:50 AM
Columbia 5 (Washington Hilton)
Kevin Waite, Durham University
1867 California voters issued a resounding renunciation of Radical policy by driving from office the Republican coalition that had controlled state politics since the war years. By wide margins across the state, voters favored Democratic leaders who openly sympathized with the defeated South and who articulated, at an early date, the leading tenets of Lost Cause mythology. Meanwhile, white vigilantes who identified themselves as members of the Klu Klux Klan targeted Chinese workers in a small-scale campaign of terror. This paper will examine both state politics and vigilante activity to argue that the campaign against the post-war racial order extended well beyond the former Confederacy. The retreat from Reconstruction, in fact, should be understood as a transcontinental struggle. Westerners and southerners alike spoke in a common language of white supremacy, sectional reconciliation, and resistance to federal power, thereby paving the way for the collapse of Reconstruction policy by the early 1870s.