Wade Hampton


In 1890 a ferocious one-eyed demagogue named Benjamin Tillman rallied the poor whites in the state by inveighing against the old aristocracy that Hampton represented. “I don’t know what aristocracy is, God knows I do not know,” said Hampton. “I treated the man in the ragged jacket as well as I treated the man with stars on his coat.” That was true, but Tillman, shrieking race hatred, got himself elected governor, toppled Hampton from political power, and went on to foment in his state a poisonous antiblack mood that lasted for generations.

Hampton spent his last years sunning himself on the porch of his home in Columbia. “Life seems closed to me …” he said once. But he was a bigger man than Tillman, and he did not have much use for bitterness. Like so many Civil War leaders, he talked of his old battles on his deathbed in 1902. He called to his son, who had been killed before his eyes at Petersburg. Then he relaxed, and spoke once more: “God bless all my people, black and white.”