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The Reconstruction Era of United States history ended in 1877, while both races in the country were trying to develop their idea of nationality and community. There is no question that the country was a patriarchal society; that men of either race were in control, and reaching for the same goal. African Americans and Whites alike, were aiming for their individual ideas of what citizenship meant. When speaking of their citizenship, each race spoke of their manhood. For each race, the overall goal was simple: maintain their manhood- for each race, the means to manhood was complex: the control or influence in the government would complete their idea of citizenship.
Caucasian men were partial to their idea of citizenship, which had existed since the beginning of slavery. Before the Fifteenth Amendment came to be, the White men took pleasure in the lifestyle that allowed them to feel as if they were a superior race. To the Caucasian man, all men (that were White) were in a brotherhood of mankind; one that had the right and obligation to maintain their superiority over other races. Any other form of citizenship, that included more than the White race, would be taking away the manhood of the Caucasians.
Due to the compelling ideology held by White men, the growth of African American rights would lead to the diminishing of their superiority and as a result their manhood, the Ku Klux Klan began its work. The Caucasian race created a group of such magnitude in order to maintain their ideal version of citizenship; all-White citizenship. For when being initiated they must say, “Convinced that we are of these natural ethics, we know, besides, that the government of our Republic was established by white men, for white men alone, and that it never was in the contemplation of its founders that it should fall into the hands of an inferior and degraded race” (4). Within the Initiation Oath of the Knights of the White Camelia (circa 1860) there is a clear representation of the Caucasian man’s belief that his own manhood is being taken away to be shared with a subordinate race.
While the main goal of the Ku Klux Klan was, “the maintenance of the supremacy of the white race” (4), the supremacy of the white race was also the supremacy of citizenship. The Klan worked to progress White ideas in the Republic, and to maintain their power Klan members pledged to, “vote for none but white men for any office of honor, profit or trust” (4). Through the control of government the Klan would be able to do anything without the fear of punishment.
To acknowledge their own citizenship, the Klan felt it necessary and right to keep citizenship discriminatory. The Ku Klux Klan had no problem, “in every instance, to give to them [Colored people] whatever lawfully belongs to them” (5). As said before the Klan had every intention of controlling the law, therefore to give them what lawfully belongs to them, would mean anything that the Klan decided to do. The Klan’s philosophy included the idea that by force and fear, they would be able to claim the existence of White supremacy. The lengths that the Klan went to, to control the government would be surpassed by none. The Klan’s violence heeded to no one.
The Klan feared that its rights were being taken away by the rise of African Americans in politics. They believed that their manhood, their citizenship was being taken away; “It, then, becomes our solemn duty, as white men, to resist strenuously and persistently those attempts against our natural and constitutional rights, and to do everything in our power in order to maintain, in this Republic, the supremacy of the Caucasian race, and restrain the black or African race to that condition of social and political inferiority” (5). By fighting to keep the government as close as it could be to before the Civil War, the Klan was showing their idea of mankind. The idea that all White men, must have rights and citizenship on a higher level or to a higher status then African Americans; to the Klan this was the idea of manhood.
The distinct goal of the Ku Klux Klan was to strip African Americans of their rights at all costs. The Initiation Oath of the Knights of the White Cameila concludes their Oath with, “it would be ungenerous for us to undertake to restrict them to the narrowest limits as to the exercise of certain rights” (5). By concluding in a way that denounces the rights of African Americans, the Klan emphasizes the point that they are the superior race. Through their superiority the Klan believes that they can maintain their manhood and right to citizenship.
The Klan used violence, fear, and intimidation to push forth its political and social agenda. Through these means they were able to corrupt the government by tamper with ballots and weakening the African American vote. They used intimidation to keep African American men from running for political office or going to vote; they went to the lengths of violence and fear against White men that supported African American political rights.
African Americans likewise grasped the link between manhood and citizenship. Blacks began to fight for real citizenship because, “no promise of wealth or fame, is worth the surrender of a people’s manhood or the loss of a man’s self-respect” (52). W.E. Du Bois’s Niagara Address of 1906 made way for the African American ideology. In his speech, Du Bois demanded the rights not only be granted to the people of color, but also be enforced. Du Bois spoke for the Black community in linking manhood to enforced citizenship.
The first demand that Du Bois makes in his address is the right to vote, for, “with the right to vote goes everything: Freedom, manhood, the honor of your wives, the chastity of your daughters, the right to work, and the chance to rise” (51). Du Bois offers the ideology that without the right to vote a man might as well be castrated; without the right to vote, a man has no honor of his wife, no chastity of his daughters, no right to work, and no chance to rise. This philosophy grants that the right to vote, would indeed grant the African American community citizenship. Not only could they vote on elected officials, but also on the legislation that arises.
The advancement of the Fourteenth Amendment allowed all people to be citizens of the United States. While the Fifteenth Amendment allowed African Americans the right to vote. These advancements in the political structure of the United States gave African Americans rights but did not enforce them. Therefore the culture of the South was able to remain the same. Without the enforcement of Constitutional laws, the Klan and other law enforcement professionals were capable of corrupting the laws.
African Americans were given the right to vote but were unable to. Local areas or states created laws that made all people pass literacy tests or pay poll taxes. By creating a literacy test the state or local government was able to cut down the number of African American voters due to the low number of literate African Americans. Du Bois references this when saying, “We want the Fifteenth Amendment enforced and no State allowed to base its franchise simply on color” (52). The local and state governments were also used poll taxes as a way to stop African Americans because they were unable to afford to pay the taxes due to a lack of income.
Du Bois links manhood to the right of voting, but then makes it clear that to vote does not make you a citizen. To be a citizen one must have laws that are enforced. It is not enough to be able to vote; with just voting the Klan can still terrorize, the ballots can still be corrupted. Du Bois links manhood and law enforcement by demanding, “the laws enforced against rich as well as poor; against Capitalist as well as Laborer’ against white as well as black. We are not more lawless than the white race, we are more often arrested, convicted and mobbed … We want the Constitution of the country enforced” (51). Without the enforcement of voting laws African American citizenship would exist, but would not be executed.
The goal that both races were reaching for took the path of influencing government to land on their own views of citizenship. Without their version of citizenship neither races’ men felt like men. Without the subordination of African Americans, White men felt gelded; without the right to vote and enforcement of laws, African Americans felt castrated. Both races alike kept linked their philosophy of manhood with their idea of citizenship.
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