This Day in History 1869: “First-Class Men” Torture and Try to Kill Congressman Who Voted for President Grant

Source: Library of Congress. “Visit of the Ku-Klux” by Frank Bellew. Illustration in Harper’s weekly, v. 16, no. 791 (1872 Feb. 24), p. 160. Click to enlarge and find all the Klan.

Documented in the 1872 Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States, Abram Colby was an elected member of Congress called to testify on domestic terrorism:

Colby: On the 29th of October 1869, [the Klansmen] broke my door open, took me out of bed, took me to the woods and whipped me three hours or more and left me for dead. They said to me, “Do you think you will ever vote another damned Radical ticket?” I said, “If there was an election tomorrow, I would vote the Radical ticket.” They set in and whipped me a thousand licks more, with sticks and straps that had buckles on the ends of them.

Question: What is the character of those men who were engaged in whipping you?

Colby: Some are first-class men in our town. One is a lawyer, one a doctor, and some are farmers. They had their pistols and they took me in my night-clothes and carried me from home. They hit me five thousand blows. I told President Grant the same that I tell you now. They told me to take off my shirt. I said, “I never do that for any man.” My drawers fell down about my feet and they took hold of them and tripped me up. Then they pulled my shirt up over my head. They said I had voted for Grant and had carried the Negroes against them. About two days before they whipped me they offered me $5,000 to go with them and said they would pay me $2,500 in cash if I would let another man go to the legislature in my place. I told them that I would not do it if they would give me all the county was worth.

The worst thing was my mother, wife and daughter were in the room when they came. My little daughter begged them not to carry me away. They drew up a gun and actually frightened her to death. She never got over it until she died. That was the part that grieves me the most.

Question: How long before you recovered from the effects of this treatment?

Colby: I have never got over it yet. They broke something inside of me. I cannot do any work now, though I always made my living before in the barber-shop, hauling wood, etc.

Question: You spoke about being elected to the next legislature?

Colby: Yes, sir, but they run me off during the election. They swore they would kill me if I stayed. The Saturday night before the election I went to church. When I got home they just peppered the house with shot and bullets.

Question: Did you make a general canvas there last fall?

Colby: No, sir. I was not allowed to. No man can make a free speech in my county. I do not believe it can be done anywhere in Georgia.

Question: You say no man can do it?

Colby: I mean no Republican, either white or colored.

There you have it. And it has to be said that a “Republican” of that day was the exact opposite of one today. They literally are the inversion of what it meant in Colby’s time. Read that last line as no man can make a free speech in America if they support Civil Rights: death threats, terrorism, torture and beatings came from “First-Class men” against Americans who had voted for President Grant.

Source: Encyclopedia of Alabama, 1 Sept 1868 Tuscaloosa Independent Monitor. The KKK threatened that March 4, 1869 — first day of rule by avowed racist Horatio Seymour — would bring lynchings of white Americans (“scalawags” and “carpetbaggers”). Instead the Presidency was won in a landslide by Civil War hero and civil rights pioneer Ulysses S. Grant)

I’ve written before here about the attempted violent coup in America in 1868, when the KKK threatened they would murder anyone caught voting for Grant.

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