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03.04.08 Pike, James S., The Prostrate State: South Carolina Under Negro Government, published in 1874

Notes Concerning the Author

James Shepherd Pike (1811 – 1882) was an American journalist.  From 1850-1860 he was the chief Washington correspondent and associate editor of the New York Tribune, a chief source of news and commentary for many Republican newspapers across the country.  Mr. Pike enjoyed considerable influence among Abolitionists in the decade preceding the War Between the States.  His abolitionism is was primarily motivated to keep the blacks out of the northern states and as many of the western territories as possible, to save the territories for white pioneers or settlers only.  He was very critical of Henry Clay in his early career and of President Grant later.  Like many Northerners, when the Southern states started seceding, he considered it to be a desirable solution to his exaggerated fear that the slave states would otherwise push the peculiar institution into every state in the Union.  But President Lincoln appointed Pike to be minister to The Netherlands, where he fought Confederate diplomatic efforts and promoted the Union war aims from 1861 to 1866.  He returned thereafter to the Tribune, from whence he would be dispatched in 1873 to South Carolina.

While The Prostrate State was especially popular in its day and helped largely to precipitate the end of Reconstruction, late 20th Century “historians” belittle this Yankee reporter’s detailed reports on South Carolina under Reconstruction to be of questionable objectivity as they call him a racist from the beginning.  Pike is a fine example who defies the present-day, politically correct portrayal of Abolitionists as egalitarian idealists having 21st Century sensibilities.  In fact, as a 19th Century Yankee, much of his language is likely to offend most any Southerner, white or black.  But his reporting squares with that of his contemporaries, e.g. Charles Nordhoff of the New York Herald and H.P. Redfield of the Cincinnati Commercial.

Pike’s books include The Prostrate State (1874) and First Blows of the Civil War (1879).


The following review of this 288-page book from the back cover of the Confederate Reprint Company’s reprint is appropriate:

In 1873, James Shepherd Pike, a veteran anti-slavery journalist from Maine, was dispatched to South Carolina by the New York Tribune to report on the status of that State’s Reconstruction government.  The articles Pike sent back to New York were published in book form the following year as The Prostrate State.  Pike represented South Carolina’s government as being politically corrupt and extravagant with public funds.  The State, said Pike, was under the control of “a mass of black barbarism… the most ignorant democracy that mankind ever saw.”  Pike’s observations served to increase the growing Northern sympathy for the downtrodden White population of the former Confederate States and helped pave the way for the return of home rule to the South.

I was astonished by this book’s descriptions of flagrant corruption and impropriety of South Carolina’s government under black rule.  Pike presents a remarkable foreshadowing of the present-day condition of Detroit and so many other urban communities.

Availability of this Book

Consider find a used book at  It is also available as a digital e-book at Making of America, University of Michigan .  A 2006 reprint is can be obtained from the Confederate Reprint Company at