The Ku Klux Klan

Founded in 1866 as a Tennessee social club, the Ku Klux Klan was soon transformed into an organization of terrorist criminals, which spread into nearly every Southern state. Led by planters, merchants, and Democratic politicians, the Klan committed some of the most brutal acts of violence in American history.

The Klan first came to national prominence during the 1868 presidential campaign, when its members assassinated Arkansas congressman James M. Hinds, three South Carolina legislators, and other Republican leaders. In Georgia and Louisiana, it established a reign of terror so complete that blacks were unable to go to the polls, and Democrats carried both states in the presidential election.

Klan violence accelerated in 1869 and 1870. The organization singled out local Republican leaders, including white officeholders and teachers. Most victims, however, were freedpeople, including political organizers as well as former slaves who had acquired land or engaged in contract disputes with employers. Institutions like black churches and schools frequently became targets. The Klan's aim was to restore white supremacy in all areas of Southern life -- in government, race relations, and on the plantations.

The new Southern governments generally proved unable to restore order. Only the intervention of federal marshals in 1871, backed up by the army, succeeded in crushing the Klan.

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