Richard Henry Whiteley participated firsthand in the epic events of nineteenth-century America. He came to the United States as a boy in the 1830s, working first in Georgia’s textile mills, where the Irish immigrant climbed the ladder to become management. From there, he went on to become a lawyer, an officer in the Civil War, a convert to Southern Republicanism, and finally a U.S. congressman from 1869 to 1876.
This biography concerns Whiteley’s entire life but focuses particularly on his fight for political survival during the Reconstruction years. Southern Republicans, known as scalawags, were widely reviled for their efforts at fair treatment for ex-slaves, and Whiteley was no exception. His participation in this turbulent era imparts to his career a profound significance, as it reveals much about the post-war South. What circumstances accounted for the election of a white Republican from a Deep South congressional district? Once elected, could a man condemned as a traitorous scalawag continue to hold office? Were the actions of the Republican congressman demonstrably Radical? A Scalawag in Georgia attempts to rehabilitate the record of Southern Republicans during Reconstruction, and its answers to these questions have wide implications not only for the South but the nation as a whole.