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Fact Check: Was Nathan Bedford Forrest Cleared By Congress? No

Posted at 3:29 PM, Jul 27, 2015

In a recent blog post and newspaper column, Tennessee state Rep. Andy Holt wrote that the U.S. Congress had acknowledged Nathan Bedford Forrest's "will to exercise 'moral authority,'" and "recognized General Forrest's efforts to dismantle the Klan."

In an email, the Dresden Republican told NewsChannel 5 that he based that claim on page 463 of an 1871 congressional report on "affairs in the late insurrectionary states."

Specifically, Holt cited the following sentence regarding the Ku Klux Klan: "The natural tendency of all such organizations is to violence and crime, hence it was that Gen. Forrest and other men of influence by the exercise of their moral power, induced them to disband."

But that quote is taken from the Minority Report written by Southern sympathizers on the committee. (Read the Minority Report here.)

In fact, those sympathizers rejected the notion "that there are unlawful combinations of disguised men organized in all the insurrectionary States, either to resist law, control elections, intimidate negroes, or for any purposed whatever." Any such activities that may have taken place, the Southern sympathizers wrote, were not "indorsed by an respectable number of the white people in any state." (page 292) Furthermore, any Ku Klux Klan activity that may have existed "was the legitimate offspring of misrule" by the Northern conquerors. (page 448)

"The atrocious measures by which millions of white people have been put at the mercy of the semi-barbarous negroes of the South, and the vilest of the while people, both from the North and South, who have been constituted the leaders of this black horde, are now sought to be justified and defended by defaming the people upon whom this unspeakable outrage had been committed," the Minority Report declared. (page 289)

Going through a state-by-state analysis, the same Minority Report that supposedly exonerated Forrest went on to declare that "negro suffrage and negro government in South Carolina is a hopeless and total failure."

"Pseudo philanthropists may talk never so loud and eloquently about an 'equality before the law' where equality is not found in the great natural law of race ordained by the Creator," it continued. "This cannot be changed by statute which has been irrevocably fixed by the fiat of the Almighty."

The Minority Report argued that, even in cases where slaves had been educated, they "had their minds poisoned by incendiary publications distributed among them by the old anti-slavery party in the North."

Those Southern sympathizers predicted that, at some point, "public opinion will vibrate back to its old condition" and lead to "the political death of the negro on this continent." (pages 526-527)

More on the controversy:

Disagree? Put your comments below, citing original sources from that time period.