Although many histories have been written about the American Civil War, Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan, one particular school of interpretation, based on the pro-Confederate leanings of William A. Dunning and a belief in "negro incapacity," relied heavily on an uncritical acceptance of self-serving, anecdotal reports from Confederate sympathizers and the exclusion of contradictory or conflicting evidence. The Dunning School held academic sway for the greater part of the twentieth century. It has only been in the last thirty years that a more critical re-evaluation has taken place, placing the interpretations of such historians as William E. B. Du Bois (1863-1963) and Howard K. Beale in the forefront.
"Early in the twentieth century a group of young Southern scholars gathered at Columbia University to study the Reconstruction era under the guidance of Professors John W. Burgess and William A. Dunning. Blacks, their mentors taught, were 'children' utterly incapable of appreciating the freedom that had been thrust upon them. The North did 'a monstrous thing' in granting them suffrage, for 'a black skin means membership in a race of men which has never of itself succeeded in subjecting passion to reason, has never, therefore, created any civilization of any kind.'" The views of the Dunning School shaped historical writing for generations.1
1925 Ku Klux Klan march on Washington, D.C.
The following authors, all influenced by or sympathetic to the Dunning School, have been cited by some anti-masonic writers as authorities for the claim that Albert Pike was a leader in the Ku Klux Klan. [p. 27.]
Their claims regarding Albert Pike are suspect, not because of their partisan reportage but because that partisanship allowed them to accept, without question, self-serving testimony without corroboration or confirmation.
Walter Lynwood Fleming
Fleming wrote four monographs, one dissertation, and two articles on the Ku Klux Klan.2 It is only in his Introduction to the 1905 reprint of Lester and Wilsons Ku Klux Klan that he claims Albert Pike was chief judicial officer of the Klan. This is the first published claim that Pike was a Klansman; it appeared fourteen years after his death.
In The Sequel of Appomattox, Fleming makes no mention of Pike although he provides a 21 page chapter on the history and founding of the Klan. General Forrest is mentioned twice as the Grand Wizard of the Klan [pp. 248, 259]. Pike is not listed in the Index, although this is not conclusive since Fleming also fails to mention either John C. Lester or James R. Crowe.3 Fleming does praise J.C. Lester and D.L. Wilsons Ku Klux Klan (1905 edition) in a Bibliographical Note.
Benjamin F. Butlers role in drafting and promoting the passage of the Ku Klux Act of 1872 is also overlooked, although he is described on page 125 as "a charlatan and demagogue," without explanation. Butler was a flamboyant proponent of the eight hour work day and womens suffrage.
More telling is the absence of any mention of John Scott, head of the joint committee investigating the Klan, or of the results and damning conclusions of his committees majority report, listing, in twelve volumes, incidents of Klan violence against blacks. It was this report that prompted final passage of the Ku Klux Act. The two Democratic members of the committee submitted a minority report based on the testimony of white authorities from predominantly white jurisdictions that had experienced little or no Klan activity. Ignoring the historical record, Fleming describes the report:
"It is not surprising that in these years the "Lost Cause" of the Confederacy achieved a popularity among Southerners which it probably never attained between 1861 and 1865. Equally noble in retrospect was the gallant fight that Southerners had waged against Yankee and Negro oppressors in the dark days after 1865. The Ku Klux Klan was glorified as a saviour of white civilizationand Northerners for the most part agreed. The Klan legend came to a head in 1905. Walter Lynwood Fleming reissued the old book by Lester and Wilson in that year, adding a long and appreciative introduction of his own. But the primary cause of the Klan cult was the appearance of Thomas Dixons romantic novel, The Clansman. In this book, as in his simultaneous nonfiction article on the Klan in the Metropolitan Magazine, Dixon overlooked or brushed aside the ugly realities of Ku Klux activity. His knights were white-robed Galahads who rode in silent procession, burned crosses, and descended to physical violence only under extreme provocation and with the noblest motives." "Their view of the Klan was accepted by scholars as well as the general public. It made such a rapid progress, of course, because it harmonized so well with the contemporary views on race and Reconstruction. The climax came in 1915 when D. W. Griffith perpetuated The Clansman in film with his path-breaking motion picture The Birth of a Nation."
White Terror, The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern Reconstruction, Allen W. Trelease. London: Secker & Warburg, 1972. p. 421.
"Notwithstanding the partisan purpose and methods of the investigation, the report of the committee and the accompanying testimony constitutes a Democratic rather than a Republican document. It is a veritable mine of information about the South between 1865 and 1871. The Democratic minority members made skillful use of their opportunity to expose conditions in the South. They were less concerned to meet the charges made against the Ku Klux Klan than to show why such movements came about. The Republicans, concerned mainly about material for the presidential campaign, neglected the broader phases of the situation."
From 1865 until 1871, a total of 258 incidences of outrages, shootings and whippings, including 83 killings, was reported in testimony as being perpetrated by Klansmen. Ignoring the twelve volume testimony of violence perpetrated by Klansmen, Fleming goes on to conclude:
"The Ku Klux movement, it is to be noted in retrospect, originated as an effort to restore order in the war-stricken Southern States."
In Chapter XXI: "The Ku Klux Revolution" of Flemings Civil War and Reconstitution in Alabama he lists the six founders of the Pulaski Den and in a footnote to page 690 refers to "...General Forrest, the reputed Grand Wizard....", but doesn't mention Albert Pike.4
Entries for Albert Pike, General Forrest, Freemasonry, Masonry, John Scott, or Benjamin F. Butler do not appear in the books index or in the text of chapter XXI. In a plate inserted after page 765, "Major J.R. Crowe, now of Sheffield, Ala, one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan at Pukaski, Tenn." appears with four other "Democratic and conservative Leaders".
Fleming depreciates the Scott report, without bothering to name it, as practically without value because it was composed mostly of eye-witness reports by Blacks and therefore anecdotal and unreliable. [p. 701]
Claude G. Bowers
In The Tragic Era, The Revolution after Lincoln. Claude G. Bowers refers once to Albert Pike as the Arkansas Klan leader. This is unattributed although Davis' Authentic History is footnoted as the source of two references to General Forrest in the preceding paragraph, and a later footnote references Peter Mitchell Wilsons Southern Exposure
For a history that spans the tumultuous twelve years from 1865 to 1877, Bowers has consulted the diaries, letters and papers of a total of ten Confederate individual of the period and articles from twelve newspapers. The greater bulk of his references are gleaned from a selection of 162 books, 82 of which were published in the twentieth century. Bowers was not a historian, he was a popularizer of Dunnings theories.
J. C. Lesters Klu Klux Klan (1905 edition) is listed in the endnote on books consulted, but misspells his name as J.C. Leslie. Although Davis is cited earlier and Fleming is noted in the Bibliography, there is no citation for the following list:
"In the early phase, only men of the highest order were in control. In Alabama, General James H. Clanton, an erstwhile Whig who had opposed secession but who had cast his lot with his own people when war came, was leader. A gallent soldier, a lawyer of distinction, an advocate of power, a man of commanding courage, it was his genius for organization and conciliation that solidified the people of Alabama and ultimastely redeemed them from alien rule. On his death the mantle passed to General John T. Morgan, who later became one of the most distinguished of Senators and statesmen. In Mississippi, the head was General James Z. George, cavelry officer, able jurist, Senator and statesman, who organized and directed the ultimate redemption of his State. In Arkansas, General Albert Pike, poet and journalist, scholar and jurist, soldier and explorer, and a commanding figure in Masonry for half a century; in North Carolina, such men as Zeb Vance and William Laurence Saunders, silent, determined, effective;(3) in Texas, such as Roger Q. Mills, later a national figure in the House; in Georgia, General John B. Gordon, statesman, orator, military hero. Everywhere men of high order, none of whom would have countenanced crime.
The bracketed footnote is to pp. 128-29 of Peter Mitchel Wilsons Southern Exposure, which details his memories of William "Lawrence" Saunders. No documentation or primary source refererence is cited for those named.
Susan Lawrence Davis
In her Authentic History, Davis makes the only cited claim that Albert Pike led the Arkansas Klan.6
In her Introduction she gives credit for much of the information in her Authentic History to Lesters notes for a rewritten and complete, albeit
unpublished, history, as well as "Major James R. Crowe [b. January 29, 1838 - d. July 14, 1911], Capt. John B. Kennedy [b. Nov. 6, 1841 d. Feb. 13, 1913], Judge William Richardson, Capt. Robert A. McClellan, Major Robert Donnel, Capt. DeWitt Clinton Davis, the wives and daughters of many of the original Ku Klux Klan, by my father, Colonel Lawrence Ripley Davis, Colonel Sumner A. Cunningham [b. 1843 - d. December 20, 1913] and General John B. Gordon, and other Ku Klux." [p. 3.]
Although she cites the reminiscences of several Klansmen, she has no direct primary source reference or other documentation.
John C. Lester
John C. Lester makes no mention of names in his history except once, that of "Gen. Forrest." [p. 95.]
Lester makes two references to the Grand Wizard that differ from Susan L. Davis' book, although she claims to be working from his later notes. Lester writes: "As it was now the policy of the Klan to appear in public, an order was issued by the Grand Dragon of the Realm of Tennessee to the Grand Giants of the Provinces for a general parade in the capitol town of each Province on the night of the 4th of July, 1867." [p. 91.] Davis credits Forrest with this order.
In his conclusion, Lester writes: "... the Grand Wizard declared that the organization heretofore known as the Ku Klux Klan was disolved and disbanded." [p. 129.] "Therefore the Ku Klux Klan had no organized existence after March, 1869." [p. 131.] 7 Davis strongly asserts that this was in reality an order to go underground, and that the actual order to disband was not given until 1877.
Peter Mitchel Wilson
Author of Southern Exposure8 in 1927, Wilson was a child in the antebellum South, a schoolboy during the American Civil War and a student in Edinburgh during much of the Reconstruction period [p. 51.]. This book, the personal reminiscences of a newspaper editor, teacher, lawyer and federal government official is an interesting insight into the thinking and perspective of an intelligent, educated Southerner reconciled to his changing world. He writes little of the Klan, nothing of Albert Pike, and says of Colonel William Lawrence Saunders:
He was said to be the emperor of the Invisible Empire, as the Ku Klux Klan was known in North Carolina, one of the most wonderful organizations that the busy world has forgot. Born in the unutterable confusion that fell upon the insurrectionary states when the large garrisons of troops which had maintained some semblance of order were withdrawn, it had the purpose to check and cope with the secret Union League by means of which the scum of the receding armies had banded together the credulous blacks in sworn hostility to their former friends...." "The danger over, however, the Empire should have dissolved like the real armies of the republic when war with the mother country was concluded. But the evil that is inbred in all secret societies, not benevolent, worked in this and there were of course sporadic abuses for personal revenge." "But the time for punishment had come and many men of consequence in all the ways of life were harried and haled to those high in the halls; and with them came Colonel Saunders. He proved a most obdurate, hostile and silent witness of his vows." [pp. 126-7.]
Wilson writes that Colonel Saunders refused to testify as to his Klan membership, claiming by implication that he was a member, without providing any other evidence. Southern Exposure is not a book about the Klan, and Wilson only mentions them in passing. Other than Saunders he ascribes membership to no other individuals by name.
Wilson viewed the Federal courts suppression of the Ku Klux Klan in 1872 as a thinly veiled attempt on the Republican partys part to hold on to power. [p. 86.] "The Republicans were reinforced by a body of well-trained black voters, enfranchised ostensibly for freedoms sake, really to keep a standing political army in the southern electorate" [p. 96.], and referred to General Forrest with respect. [p. 92.] He saw the return of a Democratic majority in the national House of Representatives in 1874 as "the beginning of the era of our political safety". [p. 94.] "Hence it was not a vain imagining that there was in sight the end of mixed schools, civil rights, ballot box control, and mismanagement through ignorant and sometimes corrupt office holders." [p. 94.]
Born in North Carolina, Wilsons career was spent in Virginia and Washington, DC. In Virginia he supported the Fourth Constitutional Convention of 1875 in which mixed schools were prohibited and the old system of county government was revived and was elected in 1877 as assistant secretary of the senate.
Although a nostalgic believer in the rightousness of the post-Civil War Klan, Wilson had little patience for their 1920s revival, refering to them as fanatics and political opportunists. [p. 118.]
"...the Invisible Empire and in that time the members of the Empire were not the empirical Hessians of politics who wear the mask today, but were helpers of the helpless." [pp. 35-6.]
His comments on the Black population range from the bucolic nostalgia of his childhood:
"The slaves who worked on my fathers farm at Glenburnie were friendly comrades of my childhood, too" [p. 4.] "My personal feelings for the colored people who lived on our place was one of deep and sincere affection." [p. 5.] "But the South had plenty of good, willing service, cheerful service, and this made for a leisurely life." [p. 8.] "About one hundred slaves lived in good, substantial outhouses and were treated with real consideration. They had great respect and love for their mistress...." [p. 16.]
to the hardened distrust of his middle years:
"Also, it was not considered wise to have too many of the emotional black race gathered in a crowd...." [p. 7.] "...a large Negro population, a constant menace to good order..." [p. 100.]
Although Peter Wilson, after thirty years of federal service in Washington, expresses liberal views on evolution, womens franchise and religious differences, to the end he believed the tales of Southern cruelty to Blacks to be base and foundless lies. [p. 191.] A believer in the Dunning School interpretation of Reconstruction, truly, he was a man of his time and place.
1. Eric Foner. Reconstruction, Americas Unfinished Revolution 1863 - 1877. Harper ' Row, Publishers, New York: 1988. ISBN: 0-06-015851-4 [p. 609]^
2. William Harvey Fisher. The Invisible Empire, A Bibliography of the Ku Klux Klan The Scarecrow Press, Inc., Metuehen, N.J. & London: 1980 ISBN: 0-8108-1288-6 ^
3. Walter Lynwood Fleming. "The Sequel of Appomattox, A chronicle of the reunion of the States, Extra-illustrated Edition
Volume 32, The Chronicles of America Series, Allen Johnson, Editor. New Haven: Yale University Press, Toronto: Glasgow, Brook & Co., London: Humphrey Milford. Oxford University Press, 1921. Copyright 1919, by Yale University Press [322 pages] Note. Chapter XI The Ku Klux Movement pp. 243-264.^
4. Walter L. Fleming, Ph.D. Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama. Arthur H. Clark Company, Cleveland Ohio: 1911. Copyright 1905, The MacMillan Company. 815 pages. [pp. 653-709] ^
5. Claude G. Bowers. The Tragic Era, The Revolution after Lincoln. Houghton Mifflin Company. The Riverside Press. Cambridge Massachusetts 1929 [540 pages] p. 310.^
6. Susan Lawrence Davis (1861-1939) Authentic History, Ku Klux Klan, 1865-1877. Susan Lawrence Davis, Publisher, New York, N.Y.: 1924. [316 p.]^
7. John C. Lester, and D.L. Wilson. Ku Klux Klan. Its Origin, Growth and Disbandment. With Introduction and Notes by Walter L. Fleming, Ph.D. AMS Press, New York: 1971. ISBN 0-404-00195-5[198 pp.]^
8. Peter Mitchel Wilson, (1848-1939) Southern Exposure. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1927.[197 pp.].^