What political function did violence serve in the South in the decades after the Civil War?
During the Reconstruction Era, violence served the political purpose of making it easier for white Southerners to resist the Reconstruction governments and to “redeem” their states.
During Reconstruction, the North imposed governments on the Southern states. The forced the states of the South to, for example, have governments that were elected by all men. This included African Americans. These governments were typically dominated by Republicans who favored Reconstruction.
Many white Southerners hated this situation. They wanted to control their states just as they had in the years before the Civil War. Therefore, many of them turned to violence and threats of violence. The purpose of this violence was to intimidate African Americans as well as whites who supported the Reconstruction governments. White groups carried out violent acts against blacks who tried to vote or who were political leaders. They sometimes did the same against “carpetbaggers” or “scalawags.” Whites who supported the Democratic Party and “redemption” used this violence as a threat against others. They used the threat of violence to prevent blacks and Republican whites from voting or participating in politics.
Thus, the political purpose of violence at this time was to weaken Reconstruction governments and make it easier for white Democrats to retake control of their states.