INTERESTING STATEMENT OF THE HON. B.H. HILL:
The Hon. B.H. Hill, of Georgia, who is now in New York, has addressed the following letter to the Tribune of that city, and which is published in that journal of Friday. It deserves a careful perusal:
To the Editor of the Tribune:
Sir--I have read all you have said in the Tribune on the subject of the collision at Camilla, in the State of Georgia. I beg permission to make a statement which will present this whole affair in its true light to you and the Northern people.
Early in the canvass the whites of that State (nine-tenths of whom are Democrats) received positive information that the negroes were being encouraged to arm themselves and held nightly drills in military style. They were told that the object of the Democratic party was to re-enslave them, and that they must resist its success by force, and especially all negroes who should vote the Democratic ticket. Very Soon this canard, which originated in the leagues, was openly proclaimed. White and colored speakers at public meetings advised the negroes to get ready to fight, and were reminded that they could use the torches for dwellings as well as the guns and axes against the people. A painful rumor obtained currency that the acting Governor (Bullock) was in sympathy with, if not actually aiding this movement. I do not know that this was actually so.
This state of things naturally created alarm. Several outbreaks were attempted, and several conspiracieS to kill white people were detected, and the negroes when arrested in different portions of the State, said they had authority and orders to the effect. We also most satisfactorily obtained information that the object of the few whites who incited the negroes to their crime's was two-fold: First--To place the negroes by discipline and excitement beyond the influences which might induce them to vote with the Democrats, or not to vote at all. Second.--To provoke collisions expressly to influence the Northern people with charges of "rebel outrages." Now the interests and the policy Of the whites was just the reverse. In the first place, it was Democratic property and Democratic families which would be endangered if riots occurred. In the next place, if the negroes became demoralized by the politico-military organizations and frequent assemblages, the crops would not be well gathered and Democrats owned the crop's, and their impoverished condition made them anxious to gather as much as possible for the anticipated high prices. But lastly, we know that the result of the Presidential election depended chiefly on the vote of the Northern States, and we were exceedingly anxious to avoid every possible occurrence which could excite the passions of the Northern people. Our property, our safety, our families, our maturing crops, and our party policy all combined to make us anxious unusually anxious--to keep the peace. How could we effectually keep the peace? None but those who felt the responsibility will ever know the difficulties with which our situation invested this question. But we resolved by common concert and counsel--
First. To bear every insult, and even outrage, possible, and never to resist or resort to force in any form, except when actually necessary to protect property, person or family.
Second. To stop, by the constituted State authorities, all these nightly drillings, secret military organizations, and ARMED assemblages, of every character, as calculated to break the peace.
We had no confidence that the Governor would voluntarily aid us. Therefore letters Wpro addressed to the Legislature urging action. The Legislature did act by passing resolutions requesting and urging the Governor to issue his proclamation, forbidding these armed demonstrations. The Governor issued his proclamation, but in a style and with false charges which greatly confirmed the worst fears of the whites as to his sympathy with these movements.
But we had the proclamation, and we hoped that all threatened dangers would disappear. Now. there was not the slightest desire, as you seem to think, of interfering with the constitutional right of black and white "to keep and bear arms," or to have republican meetings--as many and as long as they desire. We only desire to prevent military drills, and organizations not authorized by law, and armed assemblages calculated to break the peace; and these we desired to prevent by legal authority, executed by the civil officer. You now have the exact reason why the sheriff met the approaching armed procession., and after exhibiting the Governor's proclamation, told the leaders they could hold the meeting peaceably, but begged them not to attempt it in Violation of that proclamation.
Camilla is very-small village of not exceeding, I would say, three hundred inhabitants, black and white, men, women and children.
A large assemblage of negroes gathered from surrounding counties, led by those white men, and all armed, and to be exited by inflammatory speeches, and many of them by other causes, placed the people, families and houses of that little village in danger of pillage, rape and burning, with the alternative, if prevented, of fearful "rebel outrages," to kill negroes and prevent free speech, scattered all over the North just as the State election was approaching, which, it was believed, would determine the Presidential election.
I know both Pierce and Murphy, the two white men who conducted this whole affair. They are of the most emphatic specimens of What are termed carpet-baggers. Before the passage of the reconstruction measures, there was no complaint heard against them. These measures disfranchised every intelligent white citizen who had held office in that county. Pierce settled as a bureau agent in Lee county, and Murphy in Dougherty county adjoining the county in which Camilla is situated; and in the counties of Lee and Dougherty there are five negroes to one white. I have no idea that one dozen white Republicans could be found in the three counties.
Thus, you see at a glance the temptations offered to Pierce and Murphy to get offices by the large negro votes. Accordingly since the passage of the reconstruction measures these men have sorted with the negroes. Pierce was for a time a candidate for Congress at the last election. He has now received the nomination for that position from a convention of negroes. Murphy was elected sheriff by the negroes at the last election, but was give the bond. He is now, I believe on the electoral tickct. We have narrowly escaped several bloody riots in that region before. Our people here believed these men, the latter, incited them. They were both distinctly in view, with others, when we counted the difficulties in the way of preserving peace, and when we sought to secure the proclamation.
But in spite of that proclamation, and all the remonstrances of our people, and the fears of our women and children, they persisted in holding armed assemblages of negroes, and the Camilla riot is the unfortunate result.
The Camilla riot, properly understood, will exhibit to the Northern people, more clearly than a thousand speeches could, the exact reason why the Southern whites are, at present, unwilling to extend universal indiscriminate suffrage to the negroes. It is because they can be taken possession of by a very few bad White men seeking office at their hands, and made terrors to society, and destroyers of safety for property and security for families. Many of the more intelligent understand and repudiate these influences, but the greater number do not.
In these very counties of Lee and Dougherty, in which Prince and Murphy reside, I do personally know (for I plant in both those counties) that in 1866--after the surrender, mark you--lands were selling from S10 to $20 per acre. Immediately after the passage of the reconstruction measures these very lands commenced declining, and I do know that some of them have recently been sold (with cotton as high as it was in 1866) at one dollar per acre in gold!
To have our families and our lives thus constantly menaced and our property depreciated, is certainly a fearful and sad condition. Let every man in the North place himself, his family and his property in this condition in his native country, and then, when he makes the most peaceable efforts possible, in a lawful way, to avert these dangers, let him hear himself denounced as "a rebel," "an enemy," and "a traitor," and guilty of "rebel outrages," and he will have some idea of the exact condition of the Southern whites, many of whom did all in their power, like the writer, to prevent secession, and who have never seen the day when they would not give their lives to preserve the constitution.
Our people bear those evils. Is there any other people on earth who would bear them so patiently? Why do they bear them? Because they look hopefully to the Northern people to rescue them. They love every man North who is willing to rescue them. They want, above all things, peace. They will make any other sacrifice, accede to any other demand the North can make, to secure peace. But they cannot and they will not consent, by their own act, to dishonor themselves by disfranchising their wisest and best men, and agree to a scheme which must place their wives and their children and their little remnant of property under the domination of ignorant, semi-bar-barous negroes, excited and led on by a few bad white men, who have no desire but to get office at the hands of these negroes. Why should they, for peace, consent to that which must destroy all peace?
Yours, very truly,
[The Orangeburg News, [Orangeburg, S.C.] Saturday, October 03, 1868. Volume 2. Number 33. Pg. 2]
Born in Jasper County on September 14, 1823, Benjamin Harvey Hill matriculated at the University of Georgia and graduated in 1843. He then promptly gained entrance to the bar and nurtured a thriving law practice in LaGrange. Although he could be a political chameleon, Hill generally worked toward sectional comity. He thus entered public life as a supporter of the Union and the Compromise of 1850.
During a one-year term as a state representative from 1851 to 1852, Hill joined the short-lived Constitutional Union Party of Howell Cobb, Robert Toombs, and Alexander Stephens. Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act brought him back into politics as an independent in 1855, and he narrowly lost a seat in the state assembly to a Democratic stalwart in a heavily Democratic district. Two years later, the American Party nominated him as their gubernatorial candidate. He lost that race to the theretofore obscure Joseph E. Brown and retired from the political arena for another two-year interval.
John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, in 1859 and the election of 1860 drew Hill once more onto the political battlefield. The events at Harpers Ferry gave fire-eaters throughout the South an unprecedented opportunity for agitation, and Hill emerged in Georgia as one of the leading voices of moderation. Following Abraham Lincoln's election as president of the United States, Hill made an eloquent appeal to hold off on immediate secession to see what kind of leader Lincoln would prove to be. Such a policy, he argued, had the added benefit of allowing the South to prepare for a war, should one become inevitable. Nevertheless, when secession came, Hill reluctantly reconciled himself to it. Even in his new circumstances, he remained a committed nationalist. As a Confederate senator from 1861 to 1865, he aligned himself with the centralizing policies of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. His stance was made the more palatable because it antagonized Brown, who as a wartime governor clashed incessantly with Davis over the prerogatives of the states.
After a brief postwar imprisonment, Hill's career entered its most controversial and ultimately most successful phase. Initially his actions followed the white Democratic Party line. He backed U.S. president Andrew Johnson's lenient plan to bring the South back into the Union and later fought against the perceived excesses of congressional Reconstruction. Then in 1870 he took on the Bourbon Democrats, who were poised to "redeem" the state, in an extraordinarily brave plea that Southern whites recognize the Reconstruction amendments as a fait accompli and move on to other matters. This unpopular stance earned Hill a stint in the political wilderness. Having spent most of his lifetime backing losing causes, however, Hill ended his career on top, winning a seat in the U.S. Congress for Georgia's Ninth District in December 1875. There he earned a national reputation as a champion of the white South by taking on such strident Radicals as James G. Blaine. Two years later he resigned from the House of Representatives to take a Senate seat, which he occupied until his death on August 16, 1882.)