Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Whigs, An Introduction to the Series

This post is number forty-nine in a historical series stemming from the career of Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Lusk Alcorn, following the War Between the States and introduces a sub-series dealing with the Southern Whigs. 
At this juncture, I’m taking a detour from the main narrative on Alcorn to address an important aspect of Reconstruction that is, I’ve come to believe, less a thread woven into the story’s fabric than it is the material basic to the weave. I refer to the Southern Whigs. My objective in this brief series is to provide the reader with the evolution of the Whig Party, its role in the South, and identifying the Southern Whig’s role during Reconstruction, which is my ultimate purpose for this adjunct. For a detailed history of the Whig Party, I refer the reader to Michael Holt’s The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party and to Arthur Charles Cole’s The Whig Party in the South. Holt’s book is a monster, weighing in at 985 pages in the paperback, and that does not include the notes, but the work is an essential reference for those interested in the subject. Cole’s 1911 doctoral dissertation (it was published in 1913 and is now in the public domain) remains the definitive history of the Whig Party in the South.

The American Whig Party emerged from a split between the Madisonian-leaning, Federalist-infiltrated National Republicans and the Old Republicans, the latter being the primary branch of the Jeffersonian Republican Party. The National Republicans represented the monied, industrial, and banking interests of the Northeast, adhering to government promotion of a national economic program, more in line with the old Federalist doctrines, tempered by kinder/gentler “Madisonism.” The Old Republicans, truer in spirit to our third president, represented the populist, democratic ideals of the common man in the South and West who believed less government computed to greater individual liberty. Jeffersonian Republicans had despised Federalists back in the day of Alexander Hamilton and John Adams and were appalled by this growing faction within the old party. 

During the eight years of Andrew Jackson’s presidency (1829-1837), men from both factions of the Jeffersonian Republicans and from all sections of the country embraced the Whig Party in opposition to an overreaching executive, a factor that took primacy over the conflicting interests of the participating allies. In the end, some twenty years later, these conflicting interests proved a greater (negative) impact on the Whig Party than the anti-Jacksonian cause that had given birth to it. These conflicts, which resulted in its demise, were inherent to the Whig Party from its inception. As far as I’m concerned, these issues, which dealt, fundamentally, with the role of the national government and the role of the states in the Federal system were major disconnects. I will delve deeper into the highpoints in upcoming posts, and I will do so more to focus on the principles and evolution of the Southern Whig and his growing estrangement from his Northern fellows than to narrate the history of the party. For now, suffice it to say that Southern Whigs, like all things Southern, were a different breed from their Northern counterparts. I’d go so far as to suggest the only true Whigs were the Southern ones and the Northern ones were really Federalists in drag, but as my faithful readers know, I am prejudiced in my opinions; furthermore, I’m a far cry from being an expert on Whigs.

In reading histories of that long-ago war, one often reads/hears the term “unionist” bandied about in reference to some Southerners. More often than not, its antecedent is a Southern Whig, but this allusion demands clarification. Southern Whigs, though they idolized Henry Clay and espoused the “principles” of the Whig Party (or what they perceived the principles of the Whig Party to be), did indeed love the “Union”, but not as the inviolable entity Daniel Webster claimed  to have predated the states—that is New England hogwash. Southern Whigs adhered to the Union for the safety and stability it afforded them under the Constitution in the routine conduct of their business and daily lives. If you’ll recall, one of Alcorn’s primary reasons for accepting the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 was because kowtowing was the means by which Mississippi could re-enter the nation, get her representation back in Congress, receive the protection provided by the Constitution, and divest herself of the Yankee contagion—okay, those last are my words.  

Southern Whigs were the largest and wealthiest group of slave-owners in the South. During the antebellum years, they often dominated politics in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana, and they had healthy pluralities in a number of other Southern states. During the twenty-odd years spanning the party’s existence, Whigs represented thirty percent (roughly one-third) of the voters and members of the legislature in Mississippi. As a group, these men opposed secession both in theory and in fact, but when the Democratic fire-eaters won out and war came, the Whigs backed their states and their region with money, with arms, and with their blood. For those who do not realize it, opposition to secession and opposition to slavery are two different things, just as being a unionist does not mean being “pro-North,” but rather expresses a preference for the status quo. Drawing such simplistic parallels is worthy only of non-thinking adherents to the modern mainstream’s revision of Civil War history. When the choice finally had to be made, the vast majority of Southern Whigs never questioned where their loyalties lay. Oh, yes, Whigs always questioned Democrats, and they questioned the wisdom of Jefferson Davis, but not out of love for Lincoln or Union or a belief in freedom for the black man. Those particular questions sprang from love for the South and the principles of our Founders’ Republic and the very real danger now threatening their way of life. Perhaps Southern Whigs never belonged in the Whig Party any more than their states belonged in a Federal union perverted by Northern economic interests.  

Next time a more detailed look at the embryonic Whig Party and the rise of the Southern Whig.
Thanks for reading,  


Monday, September 12, 2016

Alcorn’s Gubernatorial Victory, November 1869

This post is number forty-eight in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States and continues the “saga” resulting from the Democratic victory over the Republican “reconstruction” constitution framed during the Black & Tan Convention in the winter/spring of 1868. That Republican defeat meant a second election, the story of which culminates below. For earlier posts in this Alcorn-driven series see the sidebar on the right.

The election went off without a hitch or relatively close to it. There were small riots in Sunflower, Newton, and Hinds counties, which the Clarion attributed to “Radical” intimidation—but, of course, intimidation from that source wouldn’t have caused Ames to call for a new election—especially since the Radicals won—the self-righteous little autocrat wouldn’t have wasted his time.  

According to James Garner in Reconstruction in Mississippi, the Constitution was ratified 113,735 for  (Appleton’s figure was 105,223 for) to 955 against. The voter disfranchising clause, now separate from the progressive constitution, was defeated, 2206 for to 87,874 against, and the clause that proposed disqualifying ex-Confederates from everything into perpetuity was defeated 2390 for to 87,253 against. The requirement for administration of the “iron-clad” oath to state officers was rejected 2170 for to 88,444 against, and the clause forbidding the loan of the state’s credit was ratified. 

As for the state tickets, suffice it to say that for those Democrats who had supported the Dent ticket, the results were embarrassing. James Lusk Alcorn trounced Louis Dent 76,143 to 38,133 (based on that total, it appears Appleton’s figure might be closer to the correct total for votes cast on the state constitution). Louis Dent left the state. [I wonder if he went back to D.C. I really wonder if he ever spoke to his brother-in-law again.] The Negro vote went almost exclusively to Alcorn (and his ticket) and 28 of Mississippi’s 60 counties had Negro majorities. Alcorn also carried 15 counties with white majorities. All the congressional candidates for the 41st Congress on the Dent ticket were defeated. A straight Republican (that would be Radical) ticket made up of three Northerners and two Southern whites were sent to Congress to represent the state:

1st Congressional District: George E. Harris from Hernando, native of Tennessee and a pre-war Whig; became a Republican in 1867

2nd Congressional District: J. L. Morphis, probably another pre-war Whig, who switched to the Republican Party in 1867. He was from Pontotoc

3rd Congressional District: H. W. Barry, a New Yorker and ex-brevet general, United States Army

4th Congressional District: George C. McKee from Illinois and ex-brevet general United States Army

5th Congressional District: Legrand W. Perce, another New Yorker, ex of the United States Army

There you have it, folks: Mississippi’s long-anticipated and desperately yearned for representation in Congress that made us once again a respected member of a “union” we wanted only to leave in peace, all our fears now having come to fruition. These are the representatives designated to look after the interests of the Mississippi taxpayer, their families, and their proud history. Oh wait, that’s not quite all of them. I forgot our glorious senators—they’ll come up shortly—after the new Radical legislature meets in January. 

In announcing the results of this election, the Clarion pointed out two things. First, the commander of the fourth district and provisional governor, Adelbert Ames, who controlled the election was heavily partisan in his support of the Radical party headed by Alcorn, and second, 15,000 Conservative voters had been disfranchised due to voting restrictions on ex-Confederates. The Clarion, however, failed to put much store in the voters who simply did not turn out. The majority of white taxpayers—and to be sure, they were the ones paying for all this orchestrated bull—twenty percent of their number killed and/or wounded in an unwarranted war of aggression fighting for the Republic, which would survive or fail—not the “Union,” mind you, but the Republic—after having seen their women violated, their families shattered, their property and infrastructure decimated in the name of Union and patriotism, themselves branded with the epithet of traitor while the greedy and malicious sit back in Washington with the oblivious blessings of the constituents who put them there—those Mississippi taxpayers now watch as step by step the victor desecrates the Constitution and dismantles the Founder’s Republic. And their choices at the ballot box? Two wings of the same party, one supported by an “enlightened” Democratic leadership telling these downtrodden, overtaxed warriors, who a year before had given their all to defeat the progressive agenda, that principle doesn’t matter any longer and the past is dead. Oh, and history will record your deeds...well, however, history records them. We stand at the threshold of a grand new nation, they said, a democracy, and we must comply and we will pay for it even while history denigrates us as the traitors it will make us, but that’s okay, because there is no other way.  

All right, that’s my interpretation—Charlsie a century and a half later is making an attempt here to show the modern reader how the rank and file of the Democrat Party/the defeated Confederate South was viewing the political scene. The “official” Democratic leadership, the one that had joined forces with the Conservative Scalawags in hopes of defeating Alcorn and the Radicals—for both pragmatic and self-aggrandizing reasons—had lost touch with its base, which was growing more frustrated by the moment. The Scalawags and the official leadership of the new Democratic Party might have been eager to blame secession, the war, and defeat on the old Democrats, but the men and their families who’d suffered so greatly during the struggle believed during it all that the South was right. What the “Democratic leadership” failed to grasp in 1869 was that many of those honorable men still did believe they’d been right and telling them they weren’t, while at the same time offering them a platform that reiterated how “wrong” they’d been, offered them nothing worth voting for in 1869. Even those whose faith was shattered didn’t like what they were seeing and what they’d be getting. Many of those simply did not show up at the polls     

The one silver glow around the gathering storm clouds was that martial law would, supposedly, end (to be replaced by secret police and tyrannical militias in support of the administration, not to mention the continued presence of Federal bayonets to support the unpopular Radical administrations when the people rose up against them); the state would get its representation back in Congress—albeit none of the representatives were representative of the people who paid the taxes in the state—oh, but that’s what democracy is all about—the majority decides how to spend the money of the taxpayer, even though way too many put nothing in the kitty themselves. 

Elections would now be free of military interference and self-government/home rule was in sight. No matter how bad this “temporary” Radical hegemony would be in the minds of this Mississippi leadership who’d supported the Conservative candidate, it had to be better than Ames. Here’s a hint for those of you who don’t know the story, Ames ain’t gone. Mississippi has a long hard row stretching out before her. 

Technically James Lusk Alcorn’s was a Radical victory, but Alcorn was, in fact, a Conservative Scalawag in Radical clothing. The Radicals would soon be using similar terms to describe him. At the time of his election, the question was whether he would retain his office and prove a good governor [the other option being the U.S. Senate] or would he abandon the state to the Radical cabal he led to power?  

Thanks for reading,


Monday, August 29, 2016

General Adelbert Ames Prepares for Election Day, 1869

This post is number forty-seven in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War for Southern Independence and continues the “saga” resulting from the Democratic/Conservative victory over the Republican “reconstruction” constitution framed during the Black & Tan Convention in the winter/spring of 1868. That Republican defeat meant a second election, the story of which continues below. For earlier posts in this series, see the sidebar on the right.

On 14 October 1869, General Adelbert Ames, commander of the Fourth Military District and provisional governor, in accordance with presidential directive, issued a general order declaring 30 November/1 December as the dates set aside for the new election that would determine Mississippi’s reentry to the Union (which those of Ames’ ilk claimed she’d never left). In the running were a civil government, a new constitution, and the fate of proscription in the case of ex-Confederates as well as the state’s ability to pledge funds for whatever the legislature deemed appropriate.  

Of course, reentry into the Union required, by tacit determination of an outlaw Congress, that a Republican ticket be elected. On the surface, that was no problem, because Republicans were all there was to choose from. I maintain, however, that Conservative Republicans would have created a great deal of heartburn at the Washington level, but to what machinations the Radicals at the National level would have resorted in order to nullify a second conservative victory we’ll never know. They’d done their scheming before hand this time around (first putting Ames in control of the state, as well as the election; reversing Grant’s support for the Conservative candidate, Dent; softening the Radical stance on the proscription clauses; and replacing the unpalatable Yankee Eggleston for governor with home-grown James Lusk Alcorn). No more screwups like the summer of ’68, by George! [I refer to Massachusettes’ Boutwell, of course, because George Washington would have never been party to such tyranny.] 

That 14 October order contained detailed instructions for the revision of the registration lists and general management of the election and the counting of returns. On 5 November, Ames issued order #234 establishing a requirement for more than a thousand registrars at $5.00 per day, to include the two days required for the election and for an unspecified number of days after, which these registrars would need to complete the returns.  

The registrars, two white and two black of different political parties were to be selected by the board of registry, members comprised of individuals hand-picked by Ames, assigned for each of the five precincts to challenge the right of any person to be registered who, in the “opinion” of the person challenging, was disqualified from voting (the proscription clauses were still in effect as of this election). Ames enacted many such elaborate precautions to ensure a “correct” registration and “fair” election, but I’m not convinced the two terms, in this context, are mutually compatible. 

In addition, he assigned five presidents for each registry board in each county for three days extra at $5.00 per day plus expenses to bring the returns to Jackson. These presidents received allowances for ballot boxes, stationery, and room rent. Additionally, one deputy sheriff was assigned duty, at $5.00 per day during the election. James Garner, in Reconstruction in Mississippi does not state what “constituted” the election timeframe in the case of these deputies, but he did estimate the cost for this election in excess of $100,000. Unfortunately, Garner was also remiss is indicating how Ames raised revenue to pay for this election, but the people of Mississippi did pay for it. Ames further declared if any fraud or intimidation were committed during the election, another election would be held—at another cost, we must assume, of $100,000. I’m sorry, y’all, but no matter which way you cut it, the man was an arrogant horse’s butt. 

On 6 November, Ames issued another order assigning forty-nine army officers to serve as election inspectors. These men, primarily captains and lieutenants, were drawn from the 16th Infantry Regiment headquartered at Grenada with companies posted at Natchez, Jackson, Vicksburg, Grenada, Lauderdale (County), and Corinth. In fact, there appears to be some reposting of these units within the state as of March 1869, possibly as precautionary measures on the part of Ames in anticipation of the fall elections, but also as a reorganization from the Fourth Military District into the Department of the South [though Ames’ orders are still issued by him from the “Fourth Military District” as of December 1869]. The officers from the 16th served primarily as roving inspectors for each county. They were authorized to give orders in the name of the commanding general (Ames), and their duties were to: 

--visit the registry boards

--instruct them in regard to duties

--generally exercise control of the “work” of registration

--observe the actual holding of the elections (votes being cast, I assume)

--report to headquarters

--keep Ames advised in advance upon probable occurrences likely to affect the “result” of the election  

That latter duty is telling. I wonder what steps Ames would have taken had he learned the election was going “South?” And yes, the pun was intended. I’m thinking he had some course/remedial action in mind, else why would he have needed to know in advance? 

The results of all this hard work on the part of Ames next time.  

Thanks for reading,


Monday, August 15, 2016

The 1869 Gubernatorial Campaign in Mississippi

This post is number forty-six in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States and continues the “saga” resulting from the Democratic victory over the Republican “reconstruction” constitution framed during the Black & Tan Convention in the winter/spring of 1868. That Republican defeat resulted in a second election, the story of which continues below. For earlier posts in this Alcorn-driven series, I refer the reader to the sidebar on the right.

After his nomination by the Conservative Republicans (National Union Republican Party) and his subsequent acceptance as its gubernatorial candidate, Louis Dent returned to Mississippi in early September. Recall that he had been living in the state prior to his brother-in-law’s (Ulysses Simpson Grant’s) moving into the White House, at which point Dent was invited to join the president and Julia (Dent’s sister). On the 14th of September, the Clarion published the schedule of his speaking engagements, forty odd, starting in Corinth on the 18th and ending on the 30th of September, after which, Dent informed Alcorn, he would be available for “discussion,” this in response to an invitation for debate extended by Alcorn. 

Louis Dent and James Alcorn held their first such face-off at Grenada in early October, and the Clarion declared Dent the winner. This assessment was supported by kudos published in the Aberdeen Examiner who saw in Dent an “eloquent debater and orator for the Conservative cause.” James Garner (Reconstruction in Mississippi), my source for the newspaper analysis, however, maintained that Judge Dent, whose main oratorical weapon was a subtle and deep sarcasm, was no match for the experienced Alcorn, whose booming oratory had been finely honed in the stump-style politicking of the South of that day. The topics for Dent’s biting invective were Alcorn’s role in the secession crisis back in ’61 and his subsequent war record—no battles, no wounds, and no taking the enemy capitol. 

Well, we saw Alcorn’s war record in the early part of this long series (follow the links for the fourth through seventh posts listed on the right under Alcorn Series for more information). No, he never found martial glory, but not for want of asking for the opportunity, and he was there for the Confederacy in a support role and served in Mississippi’s Confederate legislature despite his undermining criticisms of the war effort (which was going badly). At the same time, of course, he was ensuring his own survival to “fight” again another day by wheeling and dealing (selling) cotton to Yankee entrepreneurs along the river in the dark of night (Okay, that’s my synopsis, but it was done illegally and in violation of Confederate law, and Alcorn did get quite wealthy off the trade). Those “lucrative” investments at the time were now funding his present day “fight” for control of the state.

Dent spent a good part of the debate trying to convince people his “whole soul was enlisted in the great agricultural and commercial interests of Mississippi, and their resuscitation and development” as a bona fide citizen of the state. George Alcorn (James’ cousin) and clerk at the probate court in Coahoma County where Dent leased “abandoned” property, had circulated a letter that Dent was not on the tax rolls for that county. 

Alcorn kept his focus on the gloomy condition of the state under the last four years of Democratic leadership. Now, any reasonable person might argue that war and Reconstruction would account for that. Of course, Alcorn blamed the war on the Democrats and its loss on Jeff Davis’ policies/grand strategy. Understand that for the four years following the end of the war, Mississippi and the entire South needed an infusion of capital. Not only had the reconstruction contemporary Americans readily assume to be part of U.S. policy after having pounded the stuffing out of a foreign nation not occurred (and never would), the Southern states had been forced, under Federal bayonets, to contend with costly constitutional conventions, welfare for a huge vagrant population created by an invading army in an unwarranted war, and other self-aggrandizing expenses a hate-filled occupier imposed on a taxpayer it had managed to disfranchise. Their lands devastated, their populations decimated, and their labor force disbursed and living off the largesse of the American taxpayer, including Southern ones, Mississippi and her sister states did not have a means of generating income, and they were being raped by an unconstitutional Congress and an ancillary weak administration, under the Radicals’ thumb, imbued with a self-serving zeal to make the South Northern. A better analogy for the treatment of the South after the War Between the States for those of you familiar with history would be Rome to Carthage rather than the United States to Germany and Japan following World War II.

These conditions Alcorn blamed on Democratic intransigence in the face of Republican (Party) expectations for the South in the “new” democracy the Radicals were creating. In the mind of the exigency-driven, would-have-been-tyrant Alcorn, the Radicals and the North had a right to demand these things and create a new nation under the rules of war and conquest. For sure, unwarranted and unconstitutional as it may have been, there are not many things more effective than beating the stew out of someone, then telling him how things are gonna be from now on, especially after the Northern populace sanctioned the changes. Alcorn was advocating acquiescence to the destruction of the Founder’s Republic, and the principles of that Republic were critical to the South’s survival and always had been; that’s why she seceded.  

Personally, I think Alcorn viewed acquiescence to the party in power as temporary. In tandem with Alcorn’s detesting Democratic principles and stubbornness, he believed that once Mississippi submitted to the Radical plan for Reconstruction, she would get her representation back in Congress and from that source get her long-awaited share of Federal money. Alcorn, the Whig, had wanted Mississippi to receive her share of that money for decades, a point he made when accepting the gubernatorial nomination at the Radical convention.

The campaign apparently was a colorful one. Supposedly there was a threat from the Klan, but more in theory than actual fact. Keep in mind that the Klan was composed of, and led by, Democrats and many nominal Democrats were, by this time, leaning toward the “progressive” or New Departure  persuasion and weren’t gonna muck with the candidates—now, that’s just my opinion. There is some rumor that the Democratic leadership had lost control of its military wing, but I think those uncontrolled elements are more the result of Republican hype and propaganda. Truth was leadership of the political and military wings was probably the same. What wouldn’t have been under their control were independent groups whose so-called atrocities were readily attributed to the Klan, whether Klan or not. My point is that Alcorn did assume some risk by running on the Radical ticket. One might consider that Dent, running on much the same platform, would have shared those risks from those same fringe groups. Perhaps he did. If history says, I haven’t found it. Amelia, Alcorn’s wife, tried to dissuade her husband from running as did his friend J.F.H. Claiborne. The opportunity Alcorn had waited a lifetime for—one he’d spent time and money finagling into being—and  they’re asking him to sit it out? Not a chance.

Alcorn proved up to the perceived challenge. During a campaign address in Ripley, Mississippi, he nearly came to blows with a local politician, who Alcorn dubbed a liar (them’s fightin’ words back in those days, folks), and as the audience scrambled for the door and windows, Alcorn called them back and told them there was nothing to fear because his opponent was a “drunken cowardly vagabond.” Okay, that incident is recorded in a letter to Amelia, so one might speculate “Dandy Jim” embellished it some. In Aberdeen, he allayed the fears of his audience when, on hearing the cocking of pistols near the rostrum, he pulled a six-shooter from his satchel and challenged the would-be assassins to face him like men. Then, in an address to a mostly Negro audience at a railroad platform in Winona, when what has been described as “several of the more desperate whites” planned to kill Alcorn “with a rifle,” (implying distance from the platform, you think?), conservative Democrats prevented their carrying out the plan. I don’t know if that “prevention” occurred on scene or off or if it’s even valid or just another delicious rumor embellished to add excitement to the campaign. 

Dent, a non-Mississippian and abandoned by his brother-in-law, Grant, whose endorsement the Conservatives hoped might sway the people of Mississippi, left the state after the joint debates, not even sticking around for the election results. Of course, his presence up to that point was probably nothing more than the fullfilment of a commitment—that’s based on my assumption his brother-in-law had informed him privately the fix was already in, and he was not to be elected.  

But here’s something regarding the undercurrents of this volatile period: Alcorn readily attributes the poor economic condition of the state following Presidential Reconstruction to “Democratic” intransigence following defeat, the direct result being the state’s remaining outside the safety of the Union. But there’s more to the story of the Democrats not using the name Democratic Party because they were in disgrace. A more accurate reason for this fusion party using the sobriquet Democratic-Conservative or simply Conservative Party was because the ascendant leadership in the vast majority of all those Southern legislatures elected as far back as 1865 and 1866—the same ones that wrote the new state constitutions under the provincial governments set up by President Johnson, the ones who rightly resisted passage of the unconstitutional 14th and 15th amendments, the ones who enacted the infamous Black Codes—was not composed of Democrats. The bulk of the leadership in those Conservative parties were Old-line Whigs. They had been who the people had turned to with the defeat of the Confederacy. In the case of Mississippi, these old Whigs, for the first time ever, were at the top of the food chain. Alcorn was an Old-line Whig. Yes, they needed the Democratic polity, hence the annotated name, but they were the ones in charge. This would further account for the growing fissure between the Democratic-Conservatives and Old-line Democrats (Bourbons) within the “Democratic-Conservative” Party. Just as important, Old-line Whigs dominated the leadership of the Scalawags who were, despite appearances, opposed to the Radicals. It had been 140 “local men of affairs,” all reputedly Whigs, who wrote the address asking the people of the state to vote for Louis Dent. Now, that particular group of solicitors was probably composed of both Democratic-Conservative Whigs and National Union Republican Whigs (Scalawags).  The Whigs, be they of the Democratic-Conservative or Scalawag persuasion, are a whole different study and a very important one, and as soon as I’ve put Alcorn in the state-house in this series, I’m gonna take a detour and attempt to sort them out.
Next time, military governor and commander of the Fourth Military District Adelbert Ames’ extensive efforts to ensure a “fair” election. Thanks for reading. 










Monday, August 1, 2016

The 1869 Mississippi Radical Republican Convention, Part II, Alcorn’s Acceptance Speech

This post is number forty-five in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States and continues the “saga” resulting from the Democratic-Conservative victory over the Republican “reconstruction” constitution framed during the Black & Tan Convention in the winter/spring of 1868. That Republican defeat resulted in a second election, the story of which continues below. For earlier posts in this Alcorn-driven series, I refer the reader to the sidebar on the right.

In accepting the nomination for governor on the Radical ticket, 30 September 1869, James Alcorn stated that for twenty-five years he had been in opposition to the majority of people in the state, but stressed a desire for the common good. He denounced the hypocrisy of the Democrats who claimed it wanted cooperation with the Negro while wanting null and void the [unconstitutional] Reconstruction Acts that gave them their rights.  Ah, nothing like mixing apples and oranges and calling them bananas. There were a lot of reasons for all the people of Mississippi (and the South—all true Americans actually) to oppose the Reconstruction Acts, beginning with martial law. The civil law that had been established across the South during Presidential Reconstruction had been swept away, supposedly, to establish “law and order.” In truth, civil government had been functioning well under the administration of Democratic Governor B. G. Humphreys who had been elected by the tax-payer during Presidential Reconstruction. What wasn’t working were Republican schemes to gain control of the state, one more linchpin to ensure the Radicals maintained control of Congress. This had to be fixed before the state’s representatives took their seats in Washington. Clearly the tables had to be turned and that could only be done with the Negro vote. Alcorn is spouting the party line here. He stressed the fairness of Negro demands and blamed the Democrats for the separation of the parties based on race and linked universal suffrage to general amnesty—I’m not sure if he qualified that general amnesty to that future time when the spirit of cooperation, and I paraphrase, only now beginning to bud had reached full bloom or if he meant the here and now. Recall that Alcorn had opposed the proscription clauses, but said they could be “fixed later.” Still, the Republican platform, his platform, supported proscription.  

Then, in the last section of his speech, Alcorn turned to what really was driving him—that enormous sum of money in the Federal Treasury. The South, he claimed, had a right to its share. Indeed it did, but then it always had. One of the primary reasons Lincoln and whoever was in the shadows pulling his chain (industry, big business, bankers—the front-line benefactors of the internal improvements) chose war instead of simply letting the South go was the loss of the huge amount of money the South contributed to the U. S. Treasury, and it was the South’s perceived misuse of its contribution that prompted its secession. But the opposition party (the Democrats) had always rejected whoring the state to the central government, whereas, recall, internal improvements were basic to the Whig, now Republican, platform. Republican control of the state, Alcorn believed, would result in generous cooperation from Congress. Alcorn foresaw funds for: 

-the cotton industry (yeah, sorry bud, but the New England mercantilists, conspiring both with/against their counterparts in England during the war, coupled with the South’s defeat, now had that industry fully under their control. Other than providing the raw material, the South was out) 

-subsidies for railroads within the state (those monies had already been earmarked for east-west railroads across the North). I reiterate, such use of Federal money (paid in by all) to fund private enterprise in the North is one of the reasons the South seceded 

-a harbor at Ship Island on the Gulf (this all came to fruition half a century later with Mississippi money and the generous input of private money belonging to Northern entrepreneurs, Spenser S. Bullis of New York and Joseph T. Jones of Philadelphia, names revered on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to this day

-building (rebuilding) of the Delta levees that Grant had destroyed in 1863 

With this delusion at the forefront, Alcorn appealed to old Whigs to join him in the Republican Party. To share in the money, he said, we have to be part of the party in power: 

“Internal improvements, by the general government, is as much as ever a subject of Democratic hostility. Whigs of the South can find no reason for siding with the Democracy on that question now.... Public improvements by the general government has ceased, recollect you, to be simply a question of theory. It has become a question of fact. The issue in that case is no longer one of logic, but of money—of enormous sums of money!” 

He again chastised the Democrats for shattering the peace and prosperity and for Mississippi’s now being under martial law, a reference to war and defeat. Hmmm...I wonder how many of those old Whigs he’s now appealing to had been at the secession convention and heard Alcorn’s speech? [It’s a rhetorical question; they were all very aware his speech sealed the deal.]

According to Lillian Pereyra, Alcorn’s primary biographer, the meat of this acceptance speech is simple adherence to Alcorn’s Whig principles. Further, he saw the old-line Whigs as the natural leaders of this new “democracy” being forced upon the people of Mississippi. I see it more as “achieving his Whig goals” by casting all principle aside. Alcorn believed many of his old colleagues had been frightened into the Democratic (or Conservative) party out of fear of Negro suffrage. Alcorn’s attitude was that Republican hegemony in the state would provide control over the “mob” (in my opinion, the most accurate description of a democratic polity regardless of race) and use their voting power to keep friend and foe in line. This was his method of dealing with the “lion of race-adjustment”. Keep the mob happy, and it will vote for you. He should have heeded his own words better or listened to his ex-colleagues. The Negro voter was to be neither assumed nor trusted, nor should any voter. Adelbert Ames will eventually prove the truth of that simple fact to Alcorn’s, and Mississippi’s, detriment.  

Be that as it may, in the early fall of 1869, many white Mississippians of the more progressive persuasion were happy to see him in the race. He was a “southern” Republican after all, and he held southern values.  

Tickets now framed, the campaign begins. Next time and thanks for reading, 



Monday, July 18, 2016

The 1869 Radical Republican Convention in Mississippi

This post is number forty-four in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States and continues the “saga” resulting from the Democratic victory over the Republican “reconstruction” constitution framed during the Black & Tan Convention in the winter/spring of 1868. That Republican defeat meant a second election, the story of which continues below. For earlier posts in this Alcorn-driven series, see the sidebar at the right.

With Grant’s betrayal of Louis Dent (albeit under duress), things were shaping up nicely for James Lusk Alcorn and the Radical Republicans in the state, and there is little doubt in my mind that this is how the “Regular” party leadership in Washington planned it. Both Mississippi’s Radical and Conservative groups were in Washington the winter of 1868-1869, and during their stay, both sides spent time strategizing with national leaders.  

A note here for the reader: In Mississippi, the Southern Republicans/Scalawags under Mississippian and Confederate hero J. L. Wofford latched on to the name of the national party—The National Union Republican Party—immediately after the war and before the Carpetbaggers established themselves in the state. At the national level, the name applied to the self-styled “Regulars,” the dominate wing, more “affectionately” known to history as the Radicals. The conservative wing of the Party was the Conservatives. So, as confusing as it appears, the “conservatives” (Scalawags) in Mississippi were, officially, the National Union Republican Party of Mississippi. That left the Radicals in the state with the term “Republicans,” just the opposite of what one would think. For the sake of clarity I will use the term Radicals or Carpetbaggers and Conservatives or Scalawags to identify these groups. (Further muddying the waters, as of this election in 1869, the term “Conservatives” refers to the fusion group created by the Scalawags and “New Departure” Democrats). So, you have, in 1869, the National Union Republican Party of Mississippi (Dent) running against the Republican Party of Mississippi (Alcorn).  

Following the Radical Weekly Delta’s 2 June 1869 “hope” that James Lusk Alcorn would be considered a likely candidate on the Republican (Radical) ticket, Robert Alcorn called to order a meeting of the local Republican Party (Coahoma County/Friar’s Point, and beyond, so annotated  because Robert was from Yalobusha County). This local group selected Alcorn as its gubernatorial nominee for the state Republican Party convention in Jackson scheduled for 30 September and chose Robert Alcorn as its representative. By early August, James Alcorn was campaigning for the Radical Party and indirectly for himself as governor. He was also busy creating a faction loyal to the national party within the state as well as to himself and not necessarily in that order. His creation of a faction loyal to him would have met with fewer blessings from party leadership within Mississippi. Certainly there was mistrust. Northern Carpetbaggers within the state did not, as a rule, want leadership invested in a Southerner, hence the snubbing of the indigenous party leader Wofford, which led to his rallying fellow Southerners (primarily Democrats, without whom he could have never pulled it off) to defeat the Radical agenda in the summer of ’68. My gut feeling is that the national party leadership in Washington, thwarted in Mississippi as it had been, risked championing Alcorn, who had, during the winter sojourn, convinced them of the ineffectiveness of Eggleston and the threat posed by the Scalawag Wofford, who was now aligned with and would betray the Republican agenda to the Democrats. [Actually is was the “enlightened” Democrats who betrayed principle, not the other way around.] Republican Party minions in Mississippi had already ostracized the presumptuous Wofford, and they were no doubt wary of Alcorn. But they could only shout out a warning, then obey.  

On 30 August, Alcorn spoke in Hernando, Mississippi, his focus on the “Democratic Party,” a clear indication of how he viewed the makeup of the Conservative group. He accused his counterparts of deceiving the Negroes and attacked the Democrats as not being law abiding. He provided “statistics” to support these charges, and I can’t help but wonder if his were as good as the ones James Burnie Beck had brought up the previous winter before Congress, exposing Republican charges of fraud and violence as self-aggrandizing lies and fabrications. Wanna bet the source data was similarly derived? One month later, on 30 September, convention delegates nominated him for governor by an overwhelming majority. R. C. Powers, ex-United States Army, was chosen to be his lieutenant governor. Adelbert Ames had appointed Powers as sheriff of Noxubee County earlier in his administration.

Powers would become governor after Alcorn arranged his own sojourn to the Senate, and all indications are that Powers was an honest, forthright man who served well under difficult circumstances. His subsequent castigation of the state Radicals for corruption could support the man’s being honest.  

This convention gave the Negro a little more consideration than the previous one (November 1867), nominating an Indiana mulatto, the Reverend James Lynch, for secretary of state. The man who would run for auditor on the Alcorn ticket was Henry Musgrove, another ex of the United States Army. H. R. Pease of Connecticut, again ex-U. S. Army, filled the slot for superintendent of education. These nominations were made in the presence of the provisional governor and Commander of the Fourth Military District, General Adelbert Ames. General Ames offered Alcorn and the Republican Party his full support, and he remained to applaud Alcorn’s acceptance speech. So much for the non-partisanship by Grant’s military that the president had promised for the election. Oh, well, maybe the argument could be made Ames was there in his capacity as provisional governor—pretty lame, huh? The truth was Ames’ reward for his support was to be one of Mississippi’s U. S. Senate slots. Yes, at a time when good, informed leadership was desperately needed for an exhausted state, a pious New England prick was to represent the interests of agrarian Mississippi in the U. S. Senate.  

I’ll continue with the state Radical convention next time. Thanks for reading.



Monday, July 4, 2016

Ah, President Ulysses Simpson Grant’s Feet of Clay

This post is number forty-three in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States and continues the “saga” resulting from the Democratic victory over the Republican progressive constitution framed during the Black & Tan Convention in the winter/spring of 1868, which resulted in a second election. For earlier posts in this Alcorn-driven series, (best read in sequence from oldest to most recent), see the sidebar at the right.

The National Union Republican Party of Mississippi was banking on Louis Dent’s close personal relationship with his brother-in-law, President Grant, to carry the election. Grant had been accommodating to the Scalawag/Democratic contingent(s) during their sojourn to Washington the previous winter and spring, then had initially given tacit support to Dent's campaign. But as had been the case with Virginia, where Grant also indicated sympathies for the moderate Republicans, the Radicals were not going to allow it. Remember, readers, this nominally National Union Republican Party ticket in Mississippi was actually a fusion ticket between the Scalawags and “future” New Departure Democrats, and by August 1869, Grant’s support for it had come into doubt. On August 10, the Clarion (Democratic Paper) reported that the president unquestioningly desired the success of the proposed Dent ticket, though “discretion” was required due to his position (meaning he needed to keep the good-will of his Radical handlers). But a few days later, Grant’s letter to Dent, penned August 1, 1869, made it clear the Radicals weren’t going to stand for discretionary silence. Grant had to publicly decide for the Radicals, and he did. 

Dear Judge, I am thoroughly satisfied in my own mind that the success of the so-called Conservative Republican party in Mississippi would result in the defeat of what I believe to be the best interests of the state and country, that I have determined to say so to you (in writing of course). [Of course. The Radicals wanted this made perfectly clear. Since the thing was “published,” I’m assuming copies had been forwarded to the newspapers—in Mississippi and elsewhere, so there would be no doubt as to where Grant stood.] I would regret to see you run for an office and be defeated by my act; but as matters look now, I must throw the weight of my influence in favor of the party opposed to you. I earnestly hope that before the election there will be such concessions on either side in Mississippi as to unite all true supporters of the administration in support of one ticket....  

In other words, those untrustworthy Scalawags were anathema to the “regular” Republicans and I’m now sorry you have involved yourself with them (despite my earlier discreet support that you should do so—okay, those are my words, but reading between the lines is pretty easy here, especially when you add what happened in Virginia). 

Dent’s response, also public, asked the president “if it was reasonable to suppose that people having the free choice of their representatives would elect a class of politicians whose conduct had made them peculiarly obnoxious.” This was the charge, he said, made against the Radicals, not because they were Northerners and ex-Union soldiers (those, he pointed out existed in the conservative party he was to lead), but because of their policy of proscription. He emphasized that the conservative Republicans had been first in the state to advocate equal rights for the freedmen. “To this group of men [the Radicals],” he concluded in his response to Grant, “whom you foiled in their attempt to force upon the people of Mississippi the odious constitution rejected at the ballot box, you now give the hand of fellowship, and spurn the other class, who, accepting the invitation of the Republican party in good faith, came en masse to stand upon its platform and advocate its principles.” 

These are the public communications, the ones meant for the newspapers and the people. Who knows what private correspondence was passing between Grant and Dent. Nevertheless, I find much of interest in Dent’s response to the president. First, it all but confirms, at least for me, my argument that the seeds of Dent’s running for governor in Mississippi had been planted by the conservative group, Dent, and the president back in the winter-spring while the contenders were all in Washington hassling over the fate of the ’68 election. (see my 8 November and 25 November 2015 posts).

Dent also makes note of “the other class” who had come to the conservative party in good faith “to stand upon its platform and advocate its principles.” This is a reference to the coalition with the “enlightened” Democrats who have sold out party principles to return the state to the Union and get out from under martial law no matter the cost. His reference to Grant’s role in protecting the people from the obnoxious “constitution” which they’d rejected the summer before is also interesting, because ratification of that same constitution is on his platform, albeit with the proscription clauses now separate. But as I’ve said before, there was more wrong with that constitution than the proscription clauses. Fourteen months later, the “enlightened” Democrats, in tandem with the conservative Republicans are claiming the only thing wrong with it had been the proscription clauses, which have now been separated from it. Well, lo and behold, if the bulk of taxpayers, who’d be paying for its programs, turned out not to buy that bull. 

Grant’s abandonment pretty much dashed the hopes of the conservative Republicans and their Democratic allies in Mississippi, but the Dent coalition had come too far. The decision had been made, and they stuck with Dent (who wasn’t officially nominated until 8 September). So, there stood the conservatives, saddled with a man whose politics were generally unknown to the people, running on a platform that deviated very little with that of the Radicals and not deviating at all on points of principle (the Fifteenth Amendment and the progressive constitution) with the exception of proscription, and that was on a separate ballot. The executive steering committee now set out to frame a ticket designed to appeal to the conservative Negro voter, but lets face it, it was pretty hard to identify such a creature. The way to do it, of course, was to invite Negro leaders to the convention, advice echoed in the Clarion, and the conservatives followed that advice to an extent. Three Negroes were nominated for Secretary of State and the winner was Thomas Sinclair of Copiah County. He had few qualifications, but he is on record as the first Negro nominated for office in Mississippi. In addition to Dent as governor and Sinclair as secretary of state, the ticket was divided up between Democrats (of the enlightened persuasion) and Republicans. The lieutenant governor slot, auditor, and treasurer went to ex-Union soldiers. Attorney general and secretary of education went to native democrats.
On September 11, 1869, the Clarion reported that the ticket would receive its “warmest support, inasmuch as the triumph of the party meant the triumph of peace, justice, and liberty.” 

I’ll start with the Radical state convention next time. Thanks for reading,