Letter to Republican Senators and Representatives Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In this letter to Republicans in Congress, Rufus B. Bullock, the governor of Georgia, responded to accusations of corruption. Bullock was accused of trying to buy votes to defeat the Bingham amendment, which would have pushed forward elections in 1870, cutting his term as governor short by two years. Bullock was widely reviled as a carpetbagger, since he was born in New York (though he moved to Georgia long before the Civil War), and his unwavering support of citizenship and voting rights for former slaves added to his unpopularity among many white Georgians. His letter illustrates the difficulties faced by Republicans in Georgia after the Civil War as they tried to shape the governments of the former Confederate states. It also illustrates the complexity of the issues involved in returning Georgia to full participation in national government.

Summary Overview

In this letter to Republicans in Congress, Rufus B. Bullock, the governor of Georgia, responded to accusations of corruption. Bullock was accused of trying to buy votes to defeat the Bingham amendment, which would have pushed forward elections in 1870, cutting his term as governor short by two years. Bullock was widely reviled as a carpetbagger, since he was born in New York (though he moved to Georgia long before the Civil War), and his unwavering support of citizenship and voting rights for former slaves added to his unpopularity among many white Georgians. His letter illustrates the difficulties faced by Republicans in Georgia after the Civil War as they tried to shape the governments of the former Confederate states. It also illustrates the complexity of the issues involved in returning Georgia to full participation in national government.

Defining Moment

The state of Georgia took a circuitous route to full readmission into the Union. In May 1865, with federal soldiers occupying the state, the government of Confederate Georgia was abolished. In December 1865, Georgia repealed secession, abolished slavery, repudiated its debt, and recognized the authority of the federal government. In 1866, however, when Alexander H. Stephens, the former vice president of the Confederacy, and Confederate senator Herschel Johnson were elected to the US Senate representing Georgia, they were barred from taking their seats, and their election was widely regarded as proof that Georgia was not fit for statehood. Georgia also refused to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted citizenship rights to former slaves.

In 1867, Republicans in Congress were able to use their power to enact strict Reconstruction Acts. This included the demand that Georgia ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, give black men full voting rights, and elect a new state government. By late 1867, a constitutional convention in Atlanta gathered to draft a new state constitution that codified the reforms required by the national government. Bullock was a key participant in this convention, and in 1868, he was elected as a Republican to the governorship of Georgia.

From the beginning of his time in office, Bullock faced stiff opposition, not only from Democrats, but also from members of his own party who were unwilling to accept the full political participation of black men. In September 1868, Democrats and their white Republican allies succeeded in expelling black legislators from the state government. Bullock began a series of increasingly desperate letters and visits to Washington, DC, to ask the federal government to enforce the Reconstruction Acts. The threats to Bullock himself and other Republicans, black and white, were very real. The newly formed Ku Klux Klan routinely made good on threats of violence, and legislation that would have opened up political participation to thousands of former Confederates, whose allegiance was certainly not with the Republicans, seemed always about to pass.

With Bullock's support, the military continued to oversee political activities in Georgia, and it was widely believed that Bullock engineered the defeat of the Fifteenth Amendment in Georgia in order to keep Reconstruction–and the military support of his government–in place. In February 1870, however, the Georgia legislature ratified the Fifteenth Amendment. Bullock wrote this letter in May 1870, attempting to refute charges that he was attempting to maintain his political position to further his personal financial interests. In July, Georgia was readmitted to the Union, and the Republicans quickly lost control of the legislature, and Bullock lost the governorship.

Author Biography

Rufus B. Bullock was born in Bethlehem, New York, in 1834, but he moved to Georgia in 1859 to manage railroad systems. During the Civil War, Bullock worked for the Confederate government on transportation and communication systems. Bullock first entered political life as a delegate to the 1867 Constitutional Convention, and he was elected to the governorship the following year. Bullock's tenure was marked by threats and accusations. Georgia Democrats and some members of his own party found Bullock's support of full citizenship rights for black men unacceptable, and he was often threatened by the Ku Klux Klan and others. Rumors of corruption circulated widely during his administration, and in late 1870, Bullock resigned his governorship and fled to New York. He was reviled in the Georgia press, and in 1876, Bullock was returned to Georgia to face charges of fraud and corruption. After his acquittal, Bullock stayed in Georgia until 1903 and died in New York in 1907.

Document Analysis

Bullock's letter to Republicans in Congress was primarily a defense of his political decisions and a refutation of corruption charges. The letter was initiated as a response to a fellow Republican, Senator Orris S. Ferry from Connecticut, who implicated Bullock in his remarks about politicians in Georgia. “Had Georgia for the last two years been in the hands of men of high patriotism … looking to the welfare of the nation instead of their own pecuniary advancement, we might have had a different state of things there from what exists today.” Bullock points out that he had been accused of attempting to influence the senators on “the Georgia question,” or the readmission of Georgia to the Union, but was cleared of the charge that he improperly used funds.

Bullock spends significant energy refuting charges that he offered bribes to try to persuade senators to admit Georgia into the Union without the amendment that called for new elections, and which would have cut Bullock's four-year term in half. “Every possible means had been employed to create prejudice against myself and the Republican party of Georgia who were asking for the admission of the State without the Bingham amendment.” Bullock outlines all of the attempts that had been made to drive him out of office, from “threats of personal violence and assassination” to “the most villainous slanders that rebel ingenuity could invent, charging corruption in office, personal immorality, and in every way impeaching my character as a man and an officer.” He points out that, in every case in which he was investigated for corruption, the charges were not substantiated.

Bullock lays the blame for these false charges at the feet of Joshua Hill, a Republican US senator from Georgia. Bullock accuses Hill of being friendly to the Confederacy, of not supporting citizenship rights for former slaves, and of assisting in the return of enemies of Bullock to full political power, including a Ku Klux Klan member who had threatened to “cut Bullock's heart out before he should ever be allowed to take his seat as Governor.” Bullock alleges that Hill gave the press a false story that he had been offered “railroad bonds, endorsed by the State of Georgia, to the amount of $10,000” to vote down the amendment that would have cut Bullock's term and opened up new elections. Bullock spends a significant portion of his letter disputing the claim.

Bullock's primary charge is that factions in opposition to the enforcement of the Reconstruction Acts, the new Georgia Constitution, and full citizenship rights for black men were trying to tarnish the reputation of “loyal men,” such as himself, in order to “break down or greatly injure the Republican party.” He does not hesitate to implicate other Republicans in that charge, calling them “agents” of the Democratic opposition. Bullock then catalogs the ways that he had been harassed. His private accounts had been investigated. He had been accused of paying off newspapers, and money had gone unaccounted for and was presumed to be used for bribes. These activities seemed to be the result of his opposition to what he calls the Bingham amendment. In Bullock's opinion, it “seeks to deny to the Republican party in Georgia the fruits of the political victory that they have achieved after the terrible trials of the past two years,” and would “promote the interests and the wishes of the very men and the very party who have persistently, and by every conceivable means and meanness, sought to defeat those [Reconstruction] acts.”

Bullock blames the abandonment of loyal Republicans in Georgia on those congressional Republicans who did not support the progress made during Reconstruction. “There is no ‘amnesty’ with rebels for men in Georgia who have dared to be Republicans and to sustain measures which enfranchised the black man.” Whether Bullock was a corrupt and self-serving politician is still debated, but his prediction of the end of Georgia Republican power was correct. Within a year of statehood, Georgia's political offices were held overwhelmingly by Democrats.

Essential Themes

Bullock's letter primarily addressed the charges of fraud and corruption leveled against him, but it also illustrates the complex issues facing the readmission of former Confederate states to the Union. Bullock responded to the accusations by accusing, in turn, certain Republican members of Congress of abandoning their colleagues who had worked to implement the Reconstruction Acts to protect the citizenship rights of black men. At worst, Bullock accused fellow Republicans of working secretly with the Democrats to undo Reconstruction reforms. Bullock was repeatedly threatened with violence while in office, and he saw the accusations of corruption as one more way to intimidate and silence him.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Duncan, Russell. Entrepreneur for Equality: Governor Rufus Bullock, Commerce, and Race in Post–Civil War Georgia. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1994. Print.
  • Duncan, Russell. “Rufus Bullock (1834–1907).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. Georgia Humanities Council and the U of Georgia P, 2004. Web. 28 Dec. 2013.
  • Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877. New York: HarperCollins, 2011. Print.
  • “Georgia Governor Rufus Brown Bullock.” National Governors Association. National Governors Association. n.d. Web. 28 Dec. 2013.
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