Senator William Mahone was one of the most maligned political leaders in post-Civil War America. He was also one of the most capable. Compared to the Roman traitor Cataline (by Virginia Democrats), to Moses (by African American congressman John Mercer Langston), and to Napoleon (by himself), Mahone organized and led the most successful interracial political alliance in the post-emancipation South. Mahone’s Readjuster Party, an independent coalition of black and white Republicans and white Democrats that was named for its policy of downwardly “readjusting” Virginia’s state debt, governed the state from 1879 to 1883.
During this period, a Readjuster governor occupied the statehouse, two Readjusters represented Virginia in the United States Senate, and Readjusters represented six of Virginia’s ten congressional districts. Under Mahone’s leadership, his coalition controlled the state legislature and the courts, and held and distributed the state’s many coveted federal offices. A black-majority party, the Readjusters legitimated and promoted African American citizenship and political power by supporting black suffrage, office-holding, and jury service. To a degree previously unseen in Virginia, and unmatched anywhere else in the nineteenth-century South, the Readjusters became an institutional force for the protection and advancement of black rights and interests….
The Readjusters lost power in 1883 through a Democratic campaign of violence, electoral fraud, and appeals to white solidarity. While Democrats suppressed progressive politics in the state, other groups of elite white Virginians worked fast to eradicate the memory of Virginia’s experiment in interracial democracy.
All because Mahone also was a slaveholder, and oh, by the way, a secessionist. Secessionist. The Civil War was about the legitimacy of slavery, to be sure. It was, though, also very much about States’ rights under the 10th Amendment, particularly the right to leave the Union, to go out from a government with which it no longer could agree in any material form.
This is a critical part of our history that has been very nearly purged from our schools and our national story by the Left; this is what the Left hopes to achieve by its drive to purge the Confederate flag and monuments to the South’s Civil War luminaries—good and bad—from the remainder of our history and our national story.
No mind. Mahone’s slaveholder status must be the only consideration. The good he did after the war for blacks—nearly all ex-slaves—and for his Virginia must be ignored. That good doesn’t matter. Nor does the good done by those Evil Ones Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, even George Washington—they were slaveholders. That they birthed a nation dedicated to all men being equal, the concept of self-rule by personally responsible citizens, even the freedom to engage in…purging…our national story just doesn’t matter. That’s a trivium.