A Journal of Nationalist Thought & History
Volume IX Number
P. 52. FRANKLIN MOSES: SCALAWAG by Michael
It is highly unlikely that one will see this in a
government primary school textbook, but one of the major Jewish
contributions to American political history was Franklin Moses,
governor of South Carolina. One of the worst of the radicals, Moses
was likely one of the most corrupt politicians in American history.
And that is saying quite a bit...
Most Infamous Scalawag
By Michael Collins Piper
but frenzied, political heyday of Franklin J. Moses was "the
golden age of stealing in South Carolina," [footnote 1] according
to American historian Claude Bowers in The Tragic Era,
Bowers's memorable account of Reconstruction — "the dark
that followed the dawn of peace."
While Moses was just one of many crooked Southern "scalawags"
— Southerners who allied with the Radical Reconstructionists
of the North — what is notable about Moses is that he was
the third Jewish American to serve as a state governor (preceded
only by David Emanuel, who served as governor of Georgia for one
year, in 1801, and by Michael Hahn who served as governor of Louisiana
from 1864 to 1865). And the truth is that Moses — by virtue
of his very infamy — was far better known (and certainly far
more widely publicized) than either of his predecessors.
Photograph of Franklin
"Franklin J. Moses
Strangely absent from nearly all maninstream histories
of Jewish politics, Franklin Moses may have been the most
corrupt politician of his time."
Yet, in numerous otherwise authoritative (and
often glowing) histories of the Jewish role in American public life,
Moses has become a "non-person," this despite the fact
that, as the period newspaper reports cited in Bowers's book make
clear, Moses was a nationally known figure whose criminal exploits
were copiously noted in the American press at the time. Today, however,
not a single one of the three most notable volumes on the topic
of Jewish involvement in American political affairs mentions Moses
in any way:
• The Jew in American Politics,
by Nathaniel Weyl (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1968)
features chapters on "The Civil War" and "The Gilded
Age" that followed, but Moses is conspicuously un-noticed,
despite his infamy during the post-Civil War era.
• Jews and American Politics,
by Stephen Isaacs (New York: Doubleday Books, 1974), likewise
does not include Moses in its list of "Elected Governors
of Jewish Descent," although, perhaps, Isaacs can be excused
because the circumstances of Moses's elevation to the South Carolina
statehouse can better be described as a "theft" or,
more generously, as a "purchase" — and hardly
a model of the democratic elective process.
• Jews in American Politics, edited
by L. Sandy Maisel (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers,
2001) never mentions Moses at all in its list of "Jewish
Governors" which like the aforementioned volume by Isaacs,
may be skirting around the circumstances of Moses's term of office
by noting that the Jewish governors are "listed by year of
• Our Southern Landsman, by Harry
Golden, (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1974), which Publisher's
Weekly described as a history of "the South's
influential Jews," also fails to highlight Moses, despite
many otherwise heroic portraits of Moses's contemporaries.
An Internet search of Moses will turn up a tiny
handful of references to him, but one, in particular, that does
mention his religion, lists it as "Episcopalian." That
is incorrect. All of this is ironic, considering the fact, that,
as Jewish American Professor Benjamin Ginsberg has pointed out,
Moses's family was "quite prominent" [footnote 2] in South
Carolina, with several members having distinguished themselves in
the Revolutionary War. Not to mention the fact that Moses's own
father had himself served as chief justice of the South Carolina
Supreme Court — quite an auspicious and distinguished post
Thus, in easily accessed modern-day literature, the full story of
Franklin Moses is not readily available.
Painting showing three men facing
each other, with two of them looking over their shoulder's
towards the viewer.
"Above: American artist N.C. Wyeth's famous painting
entitled "The Carpetbaggers" suggests a meeting
of three connivers."
However, turning to the right sources-including
the aforementioned Professor Ginsberg's little-noticed book, The
Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State, we can find out
more about this remarkable character about whom a lively Hollywood
film could be made.
Climbing the Political Ladder
Born circa 1842, young Moses's first step up the political ladder
came — through his family connections — when he was
appointed private secretary to the governor of South Carolina during
the final years of the Confederacy. However, at the end of the Civil
War, Moses assumed some notoriety — particularly among his
former colleagues — when he became "one of the first
of any that were conspicuous in the state to submit to the Reconstruction
Act." [footnote 3]
As such, by allying himself with the Radical Republicans in D.C.,
Moses became, in no short order, one of the worst scalawags of all
time. It paid off for him both politically and financially. He was
soon made speaker of the Reconstruction-ruled South Carolina state
House of Representatives and then, after just two years, assumed
the governorship. Although his tenure of office was hardly more
than four years total, Moses established a record of flamboyant
corruption that has few equals in American history.
The aforementioned Professor Ginsberg, whose book, The
Fatal Embrace, is a candid review of the influential
— but often unmentioned — role of American Jews in high-level
political affairs and of the frequent corruption in which they were
intimately involved, has described Moses's career in quite forthright
It is interesting that
the importance of Jews in state finance during the Reconstruction
period helped one Jewish politician play a more direct role in
a Southern Republican state administration. One of South Carolina's
most prominent Republican politicians during the 1870s was Franklin
Moses who served, successively, as a delegate to the South Carolina
constitutional convention, speaker of the South Carolina House
of Representatives, adjutant and inspector general of the militia,
a trustee of the state university, and, in 1872, governor of the
state. Moses was a scalawag, that is, a Southerner who supported
the Republicans. South Carolina's Republican government, like
some regimes in premodern Europe and the Middle East, had a very
narrow pool of talent from which to draw. Its political base consisted
of uneducated, newly free slaves and a very small number of whites.
Hence, the Republicans were eager to have Moses's services even
though he was a Jew and former Confederate.
Like the other Reconstruction-era Southern state governments,
South Carolina was forced to borrow heavily to finance its administration
and internal improvements. Moses proved to be especially adept
at raising money through the sale of state securities and was
able to make use of this talent to further his political career.
Behind 1868 and 1871, the state legislature, led by Speaker Moses,
issued or guaranteed some $23 million in bonds. As in the case
of other Southern state bonds, many of these securities were marketed
on the European continent by Jewish banking firms. Most, unfortunately,
quickly declined in value to less than fifty cents on the dollar
and were ultimately repudiated after the Democrats returned to
Franklin Moses's administrative talents extended beyond the realm
of finance. While speaker, Moses organized a 14,000 man state
militia composed mainly of black troops and led by white officers.
Subsequently, Moses personally traveled to New York to purchase
arms and supplies for this force. In the American South during
Reconstruction, as in the Third World today, election outcomes
depended as much upon the balance of armed force as upon the distribution
of political popularity. Moses's state militia played a critical
role in bringing about a Republican victory in the 1870 South
Carolina state elections when it was able to discourage Democratic
sympathizers from going to the polls while simultaneously preventing
the Democratic party's paramilitary forces from intimidating black
and other Republican voters.
The state militia also prevented Moses's opponents from using
judicial processes that they controlled against him. During his
term as governor, Moses was named the "Robber Governor"
by his foes and was often accused by Democrats of diverting public
funds for his personal use — a charge that had some merit.
At one point, Moses was able to block his own arrest on corruption
charges only by calling up four companies of black militia to
guard his residence and office.
In fact, as Ginsberg points out, Moses was not
the only Jew who became prominent in South Carolina politics during
Reconstruction. Two of South Carolina's most prominent black politicians
of this same era, Francis L. Cardozo and Robert C. DeLarge (both
of whom were allies of Moses), were the offspring of black mothers
and Jewish fathers. Cardozo served as South Carolina secretary of
state. DeLarge was elected to the House of Representatives in 1870
with "help" from Moses's armed militias, but, to its credit,
the House refused to seat DeLarge.
In any case, Ginsberg points out, the South Carolina regime under
the Moses years "was among the most corrupt of the period."
[footnote 5] Claude Bowers paints a vivid portrait of America's
little-known Jewish governor and his colleagues:
The corruption in state bonds, criminally
issued and divided among official gangsters, mounted into the
millions, but bribery and bond-looting was not enough for this
avaricious horde, which had recourse to the pay certificate steals
[thefts] .... When Moses, [then the state house speaker, prior
to becoming governor], required more funds for his debauchery
and made out a pay certificate for $2500, Lt. Governor Ransier
refused to approve unless included ....
When bribery, illegal bonds, pay certificates did not suffice,
the thieves bethought themselves of furnishing the State House.
Within four years a people on the verge of bankruptcy was forced
to payout more than $200,000 for the purpose. There was a $750
mirror to reflect the dissipated face of Moses, clocks for members
in their private rooms at $480, and two hundred cuspidors at eight
dollars each, for the use of 124 members.
The quarters of Moses at Mrs. Randall's rooming house were elegantly
furnished at the state's expense. And yet, on the expulsion of
the Radicals from power, there was less than $18,000 in furniture
to account for the $200,000 spent; the rest was in the homes of
the members and their mistresses. [footnote 6]
When, in 1872, Moses, in Bowers's words, "bought
the gubernatorial nomination," [footnote 7] a black band played
"Hail to the Chief," an anthem normally reserved exclusively
for the president of the United States. At the time Moses assumed
the governorship, The New York World predicted
that he would, within two years, "take the last of the sap
out of the tree." [footnote 8] Which, it might be added, is
precisely what he did.
Described by Bowers as "a lecherous degenerate and corruptionist,"[footnote
9] who was "the black sheep of a decent family," [footnote
10] Moses — who was "notoriously dishonest in the legislature"
[footnote l1] quickly made the best of a good situation. With the
support of the Republican regime in Washington, Moses had won the
Palmetto State's highest office and thus "entered into the
land of milk and honey with an insatiable appetite." [footnote
12] Bowers provides modern-day readers with a fascinating portrait
of Moses and his shenanigans:
Almost immediately, this penniless adventurer
had purchased a $40,000 mansion, furnished it with elegance, maintained
the grounds and buildings perfectly, and indulged himself in every
luxury. Driving through the streets in an expensive equipage drawn
by a span of the finest horses, he conveyed the impression of
opulence. He was living at the rate of about $40,000 a year, and,
while his debts had reached almost a quarter of a million, he
was not without resources in the crimes he was committing.
A natural actor in the princely role, a correspondent described
his domestic establishment as "a well-trained corps dramatique."
In the presence of minister or bishop, he was all piety and humility
and the good man was impressed with his sanctity and the charms
of a pious household. When occasion called, he could "preface
a meal with a lengthy and unctuous grace and roll off a well-written
Even thee domestics enjoyed the comedy. And yet, this "frowsy,
hatched-faced, pale young man of a debauched exterior ... with
a big mustache and thin hair 'like dried moss,'" could be
seen with Negroes and low whites puffing cigarettes and sitting
down among the blacks with a hunchback billiard player. [footnote
In 1877, when federal troops abandoned South Carolina,
Moses's era came to an end. Democrats regained control of the South
Carolina government, and the new administration brought many of
the corrupt Republicans to trial. Never one to lose an opportunity,
Moses quickly offered his services as a government witness against
many of his former allies, even admitting, under oath, many of his
|A Cartoon and an illustration
Caption: Images of Reconstruction:
A Carpetbagger is propped up by the bayonets of Union soldiers
as "the South" buckles under the weight. At right,
a "carpetbagger legislature" -- a Negro politician
tries to make himself heard above the din of a drunken crowd.
And although Moses's half-Jewish/half-black allies,
Cardozo and DeLarge, were among those found guilty of corruption,
they were pardoned as part of a settlement between the national
Republican administration of Rutherford B. Hayes (who had assumed
the presidency in the disputed election of 1876) and the Democratic
Party, working together to resolve the bitterness in the wake of
that national election. Benjamin Ginsberg summarized the political
legacy of Moses and his landsmen: "Thus, as part of their intimate
connection to the finances, politics and society of the Gilded Age,
Jews were involved in many of the most visible and spectacular frauds
of the post-Civil War period as well as in the economic dislocations
and financial manipulations that characterized the era." [footnote
Despite this brief blaze of glory, however, Moses' criminal career
was far from over. According to Thomas Byrnes (chief of New York
City's detective division from 1880-1895), soon after his term of
office ended, Moses "started in victimizing friend and foe
alike." [footnote 15]
In fact, Moses's post-gubernatorial criminal antics were so repetitive
and so widespread, reaching into Byrnes jurisdiction and as far
west as Chicago and north to Massachusetts as well, that Byrnes
felt compelled to include a lengthy profile of Moses in Byrnes's
colorful 433-page gallery, 1886 Professional Criminals
of America, wherein Moses was generally described
as a "swindler by bogus checks" [footnote 16] (evidently
Moses's chief post-gubernatorial method of operation). Noting that
"an account of all [of Moses's] swindling transactions would
fill many pages." [footnote 17] Byrnes provided a capsule description
of just a few of Moses's many endeavors:
• Arrested in New York and returned to
South Carolina in 1878 for passing a forged note in South Carolina
for $316. After being placed on parole, Moses evidently escaped;
• Arrested in New York in 1881 for defrauding
a military man out of $25. Sentenced to six months in jail;
• Arrested in Chicago in 1884 for false pretenses, but the
case was settled;
• Arrested in Detroit in 1884 for swindling a preacher and
sent to jail for three months;
• Arrested again in Detroit in 1885 — by Boston, Massachusetts
police officers — for swindling another military man, Colonel
T.W. Higginson, of Cambridge, out of $34 under false pretenses.
Sentenced to six months in jail;
• While in jail in Massachusetts, Moses was then taken back
to court for a variety of other swindling charges, involving numerous
individuals, and, on Oct. 1, 1885, was sentenced to three years
in the Massachusetts House of Corrections. His sentence was set
to expire on May 10, 1888. Moses would have been about 46 years
of age at the time of his release from prison in the Bay State,
but he had already lived a life of crime — and political
power — that very few could equal. He died on December 11,
Because Moses has been relegated — largely
— to the memory hole, we know little, if anything, about his
final years, but what we do know about his proverbial "15 minutes
of fame" is quite bizarre and telling — a little-noted
chapter in American political history •
...1 Claude G. Bowers. The
Tragic Era. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1962
...2 Benjamin Ginsberg. The
Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State. (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1993), 252.
...3 1886 Professional
Criminals of America. Thomas Byrnes. (Reprint edition
by Chelsea House Publishers, New York, 2000), 170. 4 Ginsberg, 67-68.
...6 Bowers, 357. 7 Ibid.,
...8 Cited by Bowers, 392. 9 Bowers,
.14 Ginsberg, 74-75.
.15 Byrnes, 170-171.