Tuesday, March 04, 2014

"there was not the slightest desire . . . of interfering with the constitutional right of black and white "to keep and bear arms"...."

Letter from the Hon. B.H. Hill.*

To the Editor of the New York 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 hold 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 kill 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 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 this effect.

   We had no confidence that the Governor would voluntarily aid us. Therefore letters were 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 desired 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 a very small village of not exceeding, I would say, 300 inhabitants—black and white—-men, women and children. A large assemblage of negroes gathered from surrounding counties, led by these white men, and all armed, and to be excited 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 elections were 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 bad held office in that country.--Pierce settled as a Bureau agent in Lee county, and Murphy in Dougherty county, adjoining tbe 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 tbe 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 unable to give the bond. He is now, I believe, on the electoral ticket. We have narrowly escaped several bloody riots in that region before. Our people here believed these men, especially 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.

   This 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 $10 to $20 per acre. Immediately after the passage of these 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. B. H. HILL.

   New York, September 24, 1868.

[Staunton Spectator, Staunton, VA., Tuesday, October 6, 1868. Volume XLVI. Number V. Pg. 1]
* - HILL, Benjamin Harvey, (cousin of Hugh Lawson White Hill), a Representative and a Senator from Georgia; born in Hillsborough, Jasper County, Ga., September 14, 1823; pursued classical studies and graduated from the University of Georgia at Athens in 1844; studied law; admitted to the bar in 1844 and commenced practice in Lagrange, Troup County, Ga.; member, State house of representatives 1851; member, State senate 1859-1860; actively opposed disunion until the secession ordinance had been adopted; delegate to the Confederate Provisional Congress in 1861; senator in the Confederate Congress 1861-1865; arrested at the close of the Civil War and eventually paroled; resumed the practice of law; elected as a Democrat to the Forty-fourth Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Representative-elect Garnett McMillan; reelected to the Forty-fifth Congress and served from May 5, 1875, until his resignation, effective March 3, 1877; elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1877, until his death in Atlanta, Ga., August 16, 1882; chairman, Committee to Audit and Control the Contingent Expense (Forty-sixth Congress); interment in Oakland Cemetery.

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