Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Paying for the Black and Tan Convention—Part 3

This post is number twenty-one in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States and is the third in a subset discussing the Mississippi Constitutional Convention of 1868, known derisively as the “Black and Tan” Convention. For the two earlier posts on this topic see 8 May and 10 June 2015 respectively.

The other genuine matter the delegates needed to address was how to pay for the convention, a valid matter rendered ludicrous given the focus on matters not in the convention’s charter, most significantly its attempts at role playing as a legislative body, which it was not.

The United States government, under the demands of the Reconstruction Acts, paid for the registration of Mississippi’s electorate (see my 24 Feb 2015 post below) and the cost of the November election which called for a constitutional convention. At that point, costs reverted to the bankrupt state government.  

Lest the reader think that the destitute South was being supported by an overly burdened Northern tax base, understand that subsidizing the tyrannical bureaucracy created by the present occupiers of the South, and maintained in place by military force, came from the South’s hide. Payments made to support a displaced populace that refused to return to work and the day-to-day operation of institutions such as our insane asylum and penitentiary (nominally provided for by the Federal government) were offset by the sale of abandoned land and conscripted property. The biggest complaint the North could make toward the tax burden, is that Federal application of such confiscation toward maintaining Southern civil governments left the North with less of the plunder to put toward the “internal improvements” reserved for itself.   

One white democratic delegate at the convention motioned that a $2.50 poll tax be applied to every voter. That would have netted $348,317.50. Since the convention assessed, at the start, that $100,000.00 would be required to carry out its duties, this sum should have been more than adequate. However, the delegates (including the fella who made the motion, no doubt) realized the voters, at least the ones whose votes the Radicals needed, would not pay that poll tax—just like they didn’t pay it for generations after this period passed. The dominate party at this convention had no intention of “hitting up” those who benefited from the process. 

Other schemes included: 

-the issuing of state warrants to be made receivable in payment of taxes and other dues made to the state  

-send a committee of three to meet with the President, present the true state of affairs, and ask for a loan of $100,000 (Really, folks?)

The “committee” finally decided on a “finance committee” to frame an ordinance for levying a tax on the real and personal property in the state, thereby shifting the burden onto the shoulders of Mississippi’s taxpayer who received little consideration at the hands of this group. Those, who members referred to as “loyal” citizens, did not contribute enough to pay doorkeepers and pages hired to open the doors for these pompous delegates making up the convention. On 26 January, 1868, the chairman of the finance committee asked General Gillem if such a tax was proposed by the convention, would civil authorities be prevented from collecting it. General Gillem responded such a tax would not be prohibited as long as it conformed to the Reconstruction Acts. 

Perhaps a little time would have been saved if General Gillem had set forth more qualifiers or if the finance committee had been more forthright with him as to what it regarded as real and moveable property. What the convention produced was an elaborate tax ordinance made up of 36 sections taxing everything and everyone imaginable:  

-Auction stores, distilleries, livery stales, coal yards, carriage factories, bounty agents, gun smiths, banks, exchange brokers, street vendors, express and telegraph offices, grist mills, cotton gins, ferries, bridges, turnpikes, billiard tables, photograph galleries, insurance agencies... 

-Newspapers (a daily, $50.00; tri-weekly, $30.00; weekly, $20.00; printing offices, $25.00 each).  

-Five of Mississippi’s railroads were taxed $200.00 each; three $50.00 each; and all others $10.00 each). However, by virtue of their state charters, all railroads were exempt from taxation until 1874. 

-Every bale of cotton was taxed 50 cents. As of the time the Finance Committee proposed this tax, the federal tax on cotton was still in effect. It was repealed in March of this year (1866). 

-A special tax equivalent to one-third of the state tax was levied on all real and movable property. In other words, folks were taxed a third again on what they were already paying to the state. 

To collect these taxes, the convention proposed special tax collectors, one for each county (the counties already had sheriffs for that), who would be compensated five percent of all the money they collected. Gibbs pushed through a motion exempting these collectors from placing bonds. Anybody else reading the truth in the objective here? This group of special collectors was vested with extraordinary powers:
--to take oaths

--if not satisfied as to the amount of the taxpayers’ assets, the collector could assess and collect whatever he deemed just. There was no limit on his “judgment” and the taxpayer was given only five days to come up with the required assessment. 

The convention passed the code, and a committee of taxpayers immediately confronted Gillem, claiming the code violated the Reconstruction Acts . The Reconstruction Acts had authorized the constitutional convention to lay a tax on the property of the state for defraying the cost of the convention.  

General Gillem took no action, but told the taxpayer committee to seek redress in the U.S. District Court. The taxpayer committee applied to Judge R. A. Hill, an old-line Whig from Tishomingo County who was elected probate judge in 1858 and continued in that capacity until Provisional Governor Sharkey in the spring/summer of 1865 appointed him chancellor of his district. Judge Hill opposed secession, but supported his people. He was respected and trusted by Unionist and Secessionist alike. In 1866, President Johnson, who knew him personally, appointed him a U.S. District Judge for Mississippi. He is technically considered a scalawag, but since the Unionists and Secessionists (and I’m talking Mississippi’s Unionists and Secessionists here) both continued to respect and trust him throughout Reconstruction, the approbation might be considered unfair. That aside, the taxpayer committee asked Judge Hill for an injunction to prohibit collection of the tax. The judge said he had no jurisdiction—I’m assuming he considered it a “state” matter between the taxpayer and the “constitutional convention”, though obviously the taxpayer is claiming violation of Article 8 of the Reconstruction Acts, which was most definitely federal. My limited research on Judge Hill indicates he played an active role in the convention of 1868, but that information does not state how he leaned. His refusal here to help the Mississippi taxpayer may or may not be telling. Perhaps, he really didn’t  have jurisdiction—it was, after all, the army officer who sent the taxpayer in his direction. 

Failing in the federal court, the taxpayer committee applied to a state circuit judge who granted the injunction. At this point, the state’s taxpayers (everybody with property) made it known, they would not pay these taxes unless the military under General Gillem approved the collection under the Reconstruction Acts. On 12 February, the convention made a resolution regarding the action of the state court and the hostility of the people and the press and requested Gillem publish an order forbidding action by the state court and direct the people to pay their taxes.  

Committee delegate, General McKee (carpetbagger), approached General Gillem on 13 February. General Gillem needed time to study the code. The delay prompted the constitutional convention to draft a resolution to General Grant requesting he direct General Gillem to enforce the convention’s tax code. This particular telegram took up 13 full lines of typed text in the journal, so goodness only knows what that telegram cost the Mississippi taxpayer, made all the more obscene in that it was petty, belittling, and beneath a group of individuals who had come together to write a state constitution. The action spoke volumes about the statesmanship of these small men.  

I’m not sure if Grant ever said anything to Gillem. Certainly he backed his general, who responded on 19 February that his review of the convention’s tax code found it in violation of the guidelines set forth by the Reconstruction Acts. The convention had not restricted itself to levying taxes on property, but had resorted to taxing persons, privileges, and franchises; it had made some taxes retrospective; and had created a new tax-collection system for the state by establishing collectors unfamiliar with the laws of the state, who were not required to make bonds, and created a special treasurer who was to receive and disburse the money collected. Gillem said that this tax code would net $300,000 for a matter only requiring $100,000. General Gillem blessed only that special “one-third-again” state tax; specified the county sheriffs would be responsible for collecting the taxes; and directed the state treasurer to distribute the money (to the convention). 

The additional state tax would have been bad enough, but the convention, now aware of Gillem’s boundaries, on 27 February proposed a special tax of fifty percent of the 1867 state tax on all property and a special tax of one and a half percent on the value of stock belonging to all dry goods stores, groceries, drug stores, and all other personal property regardless of nature and a fifty cent tax on every bale of cotton in the state. The convention gave sheriffs ten days to collect the tax. Gillem approved these taxes, but gave the sheriffs thirty days to carry out their duties. So in essence, the convention got a large percentage of what they originally proposed, short of actually getting their hands on the money.

At this point, the state’s railroads (The Meridian-Vicksburg took the lead) strode in and pointed out to General Gillem an 1854 state charter that exempted them from taxation until 1874. General Gillem, on the advice of his Staff Judge Advocate, Colonel Goodfellow, and the Mississippi High Court of Appeals, honored the state charter.  

Benjamin Orr was appointed by the committee to broach the railroad issue with General Gillem, and on day 113 (of the 115 day convention), Orr told Gillem the constitutional convention did not recognize state laws granted by the state legislature. The convention, according to Orr, had the same power to tax as did the Congress of the United States and if the railroad tax was not collected the deficiency would amount to roughly $50,000 (I’m thinking this figure is more bluff than fact) and the convention would have to delay its “contemplated adjournment” or meet again in ten days, which would greatly increase the expense of the convention. [What a wholly unsubtle attempt at goon-like extortion.] Gillem stuck by his guns regarding the railroads, but he’d already blessed the rest of the tyranny. Naturally, most county sheriffs did not want to collect the additional tax on people already struggling and some proved hesitant to do so. The convention supplied Gillem with a list of recalcitrant sheriffs, and he put the word out to do their jobs or lose them. The taxes were collected.
Near the closing day of the convention, the majority of the delegates resolved that at its first regular session, the new legislature, under the “new” constitution, would provide payment for all outstanding warrants. Further, it gave to the new legislature (which they foresaw would be comprised primarily of themselves, since most of the delegates’ names would shortly thereafter appear on the Republican ballot in some capacity) the power to enforce the collection of all outstanding taxes levied by the convention that remained unpaid. This group had no doubt it would be elected to govern Mississippi under the new constitution it had framed. And why not? It had enfranchised a constituency consisting of the majority of “new” citizens and disfranchised the taxpayer who it now intended to bleed dry in the name of democracy and freedom for all—all the while making Mississippi at least modestly worthy of occupying a place within the glorious Union. Of course, that could only be accomplished under Radical Republican leadership spawned in the North, because Southerners were not fit to govern a state. 

For earlier posts on Alcorn, (best read in sequence from oldest to most recent), start with 17 February 2014, 24 March, 16 April, 17 July, 24 July, 18 September, 9 October, 23 October, 5 November, 22 November, 15December, 29 December 2014, 13 January, 24 January, 9 February, 24 February, 9  March, 31 March, 8 May, and 10 June 2015 all provided below.



Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Making Mississippi a Real “American” State Like Those in the North, The “Black and Tan Convention”, Part 2

This post is number twenty in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States and is the second in a subset discussing the Mississippi Constitutional Convention of 1868, known derisively as the “Black and Tan” Convention.

President of Mississippi’s Union League Allston Mygatt opened the Reconstruction constitutional convention on 9 January 1868. According to the 1860 census, Mygatt had been born in New York and was at that time a “preacher” residing in Vicksburg. He also had a nineteen-year-old daughter who had been born in Wisconsin from which one might deduce he moved his family to Vicksburg sometime after 1841. He feebly supported the Confederacy until the fall of Vicksburg (4 July 1863) at which time he apparently became a born-again “Union” man.  

Eighty-three delegates answered to the roll call. A Negro delegate representing Harrison County, Benjamin H. Orr, Esq., was unable to produce evidence of his appointment, however, he was allowed to take his seat and a committee was formed to validate his credentials, which it did—uncovering that Mr. Orr had become a candidate for delegate under General Order #196 issued by General Ord. Subsequent research revealed that back in May 1867, Orr had been appointed one of General Ord’s original registrars in Harrison County, when, under the Reconstruction Acts, General Ord had registered the electorate of “loyal”, oops, excuse me, “qualified” voters. (See my 24 Feb 2015 post below.). Harrison County on the Mississippi Gulf Coast was not one of the counties with a Negro majority.  

Mr. Orr’s use of the title Esq., once exclusive to the English gentry, is interesting. At first blush, it could indicate he was a lawyer (unlikely given the time period and place—that being the United States of America of the 1860’s), since it is primarily that group which still uses the archaic title in the United States. Subsequent research indicates hostellers also used the title. Mr. Orr was very active in the convention and years later, after the Reconstruction period ended, he was shot in Pass Christian (Harrison County). I’ve tried, but so far have been unable to turn up any information regarding the “who” and “why” surrounding his demise.

After the roll call, Mr. Mygatt made his introductory remarks—and I paraphrase here—the long-looked-for hour has come bringing to a close a period of Mississippi history which the disloyal press has long sought to suppress and loyal men now hasten to bring about. He then ticked off the offensive items attributed to the Democratic Party (and the old slave power) that enriches the few at expense of the many, hindered the growth of cities and towns, built large landed aristocracies, discouraged agricultural improvements and mechanic arts, destroyed free schools, and lastly demoralized church and state.  

Now I’m not sure what he meant by demoralized church and state, but him being a preacher, I’m sure he had his opinions. As far as the other points, he’s speaking of the state’s refusal to embrace the progressive Northern agenda. That agenda requires taxes. Taxes feed government, which gets hungrier, then fatter with every initiative it takes to “improve” the lot of its people by controlling, eventually, every aspect of their lives. It was a system that produced large industrialized, filthy, crime-ridden cities seeded with poor immigrants who didn’t have “free” housing or “free” medical provided by employers who paid them just enough to live in squalor and manage to eat, while high tariffs protected Northern industry at the expense, not only of the South, but also Northern workers forced to pay higher prices for goods. The affluent enjoyed the benefits of taxation in the nicer parts of town or in the suburbs—talk about enriching the few at the expense of the many! There’s an argument to be made against the growth of big cities, and I can’t help but wonder why Mygatt left the North and came to Vicksburg when things were so much better back where he came from.

And that part about Southerners discouraging agricultural improvements has always stuck in my craw. This senseless and hateful criticism of the South predates the Republic and is not an original thought on the part of Mygatt. As time crawled forward, it became linked to slavery—the wealth created by slave power allowed the waste. What waste? Southerners cleared and farmed land for more than a century and a half before the Revolution. The story is we moved west after we depleted the land. Well, yes, depletion happened for one crop, but it was replaced with another. Oh wait! Perhaps I’ve been hasty in my rebuttal. That probably explains the deserted seaboards and ghost “cities” of Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia! Of course, what was I thinking?  

Yes, that’s sarcasm you “hear” in my writing. The answer isn’t complicated. The South, by virtue of its agrarian economy was successful. Mother England did so appreciate success in her colonies. Success brought the South influence, which translated to some degree of power, and the colonies to the north didn’t like it. That land didn’t become fallow for pity’s sake. If they in the North were so enlightened when it came to agricultural improvement, what was their reason for moving west? Growth? Why is the term “growth” used for the North while we in the South are depicted as a bunch of locusts? Is it because with our expansion we continued to “deplete” fertile land when we could have been polluting it with industry like our Northern neighbors? The truth is the Puritans crash-landed in Massachusetts and didn’t have much in the way of soil to work with from the git-go. The “friendly” natives blocked rapid expansion west (not to mention the seaboard was their tie to the motherland). They had no choice but to figure out ways to keep their soil producing or they’d have starved. All that is commendable, but petty jealousies of the South’s agricultural success are not. We had the fertile land, and we farmed it; we had cities and ports that met our needs; and we had a society rich in culture and history that reflected it. Those who were unable or unwilling to make a living from the land, turned their pursuits elsewhere. 

I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but what prompted the above diatribe is the insufferable attitude flaunted by men such as Mygatt. What it boiled down to was the kind of government the respective people chose to live under. Southerners wanted little government interference in their lives—safety and defense and managing trade, and most especially a government that left the fruits of folks’ labor in the hands of the folks themselves to make their own damn improvements as they saw fit. Such improvements as the people chose were decided in state legislatures, composed of men chosen by the taxpayers. For this we were denigrated as backwards and ignorant.  

Northerners chose state governments that gave elected officials the power to provide for internal improvements constructed and/or organized and paid for by the “state”. That meant taxation and a cache of “everybody’s money” (and a greater potential for malfeasance that comes with it—I have no delusions regarding such occurrences in Dixie, but the less money available for exploitation by politicians, both legal and illegal, the less the chance of misuse). There’s a price to be paid for all that “progress and enlightenment” and the “backwards and the ignorant” knew it. States were sovereign and their choices were their own, but by 1868, choice had been taken from the South by an unjustified war and a central government, blessed by the Northern voter in the elections of 1866, that regarded the Constitution as putty to be reformed according to its will. 

These points as causes for the violent struggle waged by Southerners to wrest control of their states from the profligate usurpers who pillaged the Southern populace during Reconstruction are, for the most part, missing from the popular dialogue on the subject today, causes being relegated to the denial of civil rights for the freedman. But that denial of civil rights was and is a smokescreen to deny the Constitutional rights once afforded sovereign states.  

Malfeasance and corruption were legion during that time period [like now], but one doesn’t even have to address them—except, perhaps, to point out that corruption (legal and illegal) is one of the consequences of a “progressive” agenda—to see that what was at stake was much greater than pilfering the taxpayer’s money. It was the Republic itself. Even laying that to one side, the holier-than-thou attitude that Northern self-righteousness be foisted upon the Southerner because he was too stupid to know how un-American he was is reason enough, in my opinion, to justify the Southerner’s push back against such self-aggrandizing tyranny. Racism and civil rights are merely watchwords to mask the underlying battle between a strong central government and state rights, the now decaying cement of our lost Republic. These are the truths advocates for a strong central government want forgotten, thus the emphasis on racism/civil rights to the near total omission of state sovereignty, constitutionality, and federalism. 

On a less opinionated note, I’d like to make another comment regarding Mr. Mygatt’s introductory remarks, “...and loyal men now hasten to bring about.” That would be a follow-on reference to the long awaited hour for disposing of the “disloyal” men. The majority of delegates making up that convention were in no hurry to complete their new, progressive constitution. Their focus was on taking over the state’s civil government, and every wasted day of their “elaborate” convention was paid for by struggling taxpayers—the very people they were hell-bent to rule for the good of all.  

Subsequent to Mr. Mygatt’s remarks, General Eggleston, U.S.A., was elected president of the convention, Thad P. Sears, another “ex” of the Grand Army of the Republic, the secretary. The convention’s first order of business was to determine the compensation to these delegates for their role in reconstructing Mississippi into a state worthy to reside in a United States now freed from the onerous Southern pestilence.  

Mr. Field, of Lowndes County, suggested that, “in order to expedite business and quicken consciences,” delegates pay their own expenses. That was tabled. [From perusing more of the journal pages, I’ve deduced that Mr. Field was probably a Democrat or ex-Democrat turned conservative scalawag.  

[The make-up of Mississippi’s Republican “scalawags” between 1867 and 1875 runs the gamut from Radical to ex-Democrats/Union Whigs who, like Alcorn, believed economic recovery could only be achieved through the Republican Party now in control of the national government. Scalawags are, in fact, an interesting group and will make a nice subject for a separate post or two down the road, as well as fodder for fictional tales.]   

At that point a vote was taken to form a committee to fix salaries for the convention delegates. This was eventually fixed at $10.00 a day ($166.67 in today’s money*) for each delegate plus 40¢ per mile for gas (Just kidding. The term used was “mileage” and that 40¢ computes to $6.67, by the way). Some delegates ended up collecting up to $240.00 ($4,000.00 today) for mileage. The average was $160.00 ($2666.67 today). Having some idea as to the distances to the capitol from various points in the state, I’m thinking this payment would have been compensation for one round trip only. 

Less than 12 of the delegates who voted themselves this compensation were landowners (therefore taxpayers) in Mississippi. There were 47 yea votes and 29 nays. If one gives this group the full benefit of 12 taxpayers [I got that figure from James Garner’s Reconstruction in Mississippi. How am I supposed to take ‘less than 12’?] that leaves 35 non-taxpaying delegates deciding how much their services were worth to the tax-payers of the state.  

A quick aside here: I know 47 + 29 does not add up to 100 delegates (the number of delegates allowed by General Ord, see my 8 May 2015 post immediately below), but perusal of the journal indicates attendance averaged seventy-five percent (give or take) daily. 

Compensation for the convention was not the problem, neither was it unprecedented nor unjustified. The problem was its being paid to men who were not representative of the people paying taxes and who displayed a decided lack of frugality in their expenditures and lack of responsiveness in quickly carrying out the duties assigned in their charter. This was pointed out by Dr. W. M. Compton, a Democratic delegate (do recall there were 30 such representatives there) from Marshall County. He resolved: “...in as much as a large and influential class had been disfranchised, and a large class who had never been citizens were enfranchised, a majority of the delegates on the floor were not entitled to their seats, and therefore the assembly was illegal and not entitled to compensation.” His resolution, of course, was voted down amid shouts Dr. Compton be expelled. Undeterred he offered that after 20 days, no delegate should receive more than $5.00 per day per diem. Amid cries of insult to the convention, a counter resolution was offered asking Dr. Compton to withdraw and pay his own expenses. He was then censured and granted a leave of absence of 14 days. With the exposure of such discord in the midst of this “long awaited hour”, a committee was formed by the afflicted “aspirants for the new age” to ascertain if any member was opposed to Reconstruction or who believed the convention unconstitutional.  

Really, they needed a committee for that? The convention pursuant to the actions of Congress that forced it upon the state of Mississippi was unconstitutional, plain and simple. But what did constitutionality have to do with the price of tea in China? The Constitution had not mattered since 1861. Still, there can be little doubt such motions made to counter ones which Democrats believed in excess of the convention’s charter or frugality (and there were plenty of them) were purposefully disruptive. 

In addition to the delegates’ pay, the convention hired thirty employees to “support” the genius behind Mississippi’s new constitution. Here is a partial list of additional employees—and their per day salaries:  

Reporter ($15) ($250.00 today)

Secretary ($15—I’m not sure if this is a “different” type secretary from Mr. Sears or a duty added to his “delegate” status thereby netting him $25 a day—or maybe simply $5 tacked on to his $10 as delegate—I opt for that one)

2 Assistant secretaries ($10 each)

Sergeant at Arms ($10)

2 Assistant Sergeants at Arms ($5 each)

1 Printer ($10)

1 Warrant clerk ($10)

2 Enrolling clerks ($10)

1 Reading clerk ($10)

1 Minutes clerk ($10)

1 Auditor ($10)

1 Treasurer ($10)

1 Auditing clerk ($10)

1 Chaplin (a new feature of the Reconstruction Convention-$10) 

1 Postmaster ($8)

1 Hall porter ($4)

And a number of committee clerks (ranging from $5-$15 per day)  

I thought of adding it all up—for 115 days, the delegates and their “staff”, but I can’t believe all those positions were required for every day of this thing—the “enrolling” clerk, for example, and the committee clerks would have been used only when committees were formed, right? Well, maybe. But to further counter my own argument, there might have been several committees functioning simultaneously over days and days. And no, the convention journal does not clarify this question. 

These were lucrative jobs at the taxpayers’ expense. All of these support positions were given to Northern men or Negroes—“men of known loyalty.” When a native white Republican put forth a resolution that some of the clerkships be given to loyal Southern whites, it was voted down. Anybody other than me get the feeling that Southern Republicans (the scalawags) are regarded with some disdain by the Northern Republicans (carpetbaggers)? [This divide among jackals will grow over the next seven miserable years, and Alcorn will be swept up in it]. 

Before leaving the extravagance of this group behind, I’d like to point out a few other expenses. One was a demand for stationery from the Secretary of State, who promptly informed them he had none and no means to procure any (the Treasury was broke let me reiterate). So, the convention appointed a committee of three to appraise the stationery situation. The committee suggested sending an agent to New Orleans to purchase a supply. The proposal was agreed to, and the agent purchased stationery for a grand total of $1458.80. ($24,313.33 today). 

This purchase included not only paper, but pens, penholders, etc.—yep, they got themselves all tooled up. What’s missing here, and I think would be interesting to know, is from whom in New Orleans the purchase was made. The Northern printing industry made a killing in the South during this time. I know that during the years of carpetbag rule in Mississippi (that’s coming up), the legislature’s routine purchase of printing paraphernalia (presses, type, ink, etc.) along with completed print projects from the North/Northern agents would be part of the fuel stoking the fire of resistance to Republican rule. 

Along that same vein, convention delegates felt an “official” need to be informed, supplying themselves with up to five copies of any daily—primarily newly established Republican papers, but they did pay $1123.53 ($18,725.50 today) for the Clarion, which most certainly was not a Republican paper. It’s just my opinion, but I would think keeping up with the other side’s analysis of what you’re doing is more important than rereading what you’re spewing out. Anyway, regardless of what they “each” did with all those copies, the convention spent $3670 ($61,166.67 today) dollars on newspapers, the majority of which were owned and operated by and for members of the Republican Party in Mississippi. 

Finally, a not inconsiderable sum was spent sending telegrams to Washington and “committees” to various places, but primarily over to Vicksburg to “consult” with General Gillem, who, as you will see, routinely told them to quit mucking in legislation, go back to Jackson, and write a new constitution. More on that next time. 

Thanks for reading,


*I used Dave Manuel’s “Inflation Calculator” online in order to give the reader some appreciation for how much money these men were actually expending during the course of this convention. I don’t know how “pin-point” accurate it is, but I figure it’s providing a good “ball-park” figure.

For earlier posts on Alcorn, (best read in sequence from oldest to most recent), start with 17 February 2014, 24 March, 16 April, 17 July, 24 July, 18 September, 9 October, 18 October, 5 November, 22 November, 15 December, 29 December 2014, 13 January, 24 January, 9 February, 24 February, 9 March, 31 March, and 8 May 2015, all provided below.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Detailing the “Black and Tan” Convention of 1868 Part 1—Republican Interlopers and Mississippi’s Taxpayers’ Money

This post is number nineteen in a historical series dealing with Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States and is the first in a subset discussing the Mississippi Constitutional Convention of 1868, known derisively as the “Black and Tan” Convention.

As of my last post, the Mississippi taxpayer had defeated not only the “progressive” state constitution resulting from the “Black and Tan” Convention but also the Republican ticket, which would have seized control of the civil government. In the wake of their stunning defeat, the Radicals counterattacked by sending a “committee of sixteen” to Washington to compel Congress to vacate the Democratic victory and declare the Republican agenda approved. Alcorn was a member of this “committee of sixteen”. 

I skimmed over the convention that created the detested progressive constitution because James L. Alcorn did not participate in it. In retrospect, I made a mistake. The actions of the majority of delegates comprising the Mississippi Constitutional Convention of 1868 speak volumes about the dubious quality of men determined to gain control of Mississippi and in so doing clarify not only the gamble Alcorn took in aligning himself with them but also how egregious was Alcorn’s betrayal of Mississippi’s taxpayer. Before the “committee of sixteen”, there was the “committee of five”. This “committee of five” derives directly from the Constitutional Convention of 1868. Over the next several posts, I will discuss in some detail this convention’s antics and abuses in conjunction with framing Mississippi’s “new” constitution.  

To quickly rehash: The reconstruction/constitutional convention demanded under Congress’s Reconstruction Acts of 1867 was approved by a majority of registered voters in a November 1867 referendum. In the Reconstruction Acts, Congress stipulated that a “majority” of the registered voters had to agree to the convention. Failure of the measure would leave Mississippi under martial law. White Democrats strove to defeat the measure by ensuring a majority of registered voters not take part. The risk in boycotting the election lay in the winners’ determining representation at the convention. The Democrats lost their initiative by 151 votes, which assured a new constitution would be drafted primarily by Republican Radicals. (See my 9 March 2015 post below). 

The convention convened 9 January 1868 by authority of General Ord, who was, per his request, in receipt of orders to the command of the Department of California. Nevertheless, it was Ord who apportioned the convention’s 100 seats among the delegates to give the “reconstructionists” a large majority. Thirty-two of the state’s sixty one counties had Negro majorities. That’s a majority of 52 percent. However, delegates representing the Republican Party received 70 percent of the seats. I offer as evidence: At the time the apportionment was made, the state had 106,000 registered voters, which computes to one delegate for every 1100 voters. General Ord apportioned two delegates to Tippah County with 901 voters; Panola County two delegates for 1233 voters; Holmes County two delegates for 877 voters; Washington County three delegates for 2231 voters. These counties had Negro majorities. Tishomingo County (primarily white) had only two delegates for 3273 voters. 

This is the first political body in Mississippi in which the Negro participated. There were 17 black delegates (Representative James Beck from Kentucky, a token Democrat on the Congressional Reconstruction Committee and a crusader for the Southern states, later stated there were 25 Negroes at the convention), eight of whom were educated ministers, the most prominent being J. Aaron Moore of Meridian, Lauderdale County; C. W. Fitzhugh representing Wilkinson County; and T. W. Stringer, a Northerner who had come south with the Freedman’s Bureau and represented Warren County. The other black delegates were uneducated. None had held public office. 

The remaining 83 delegates were, of course, white. Roughly 20 of these delegates composed the “carpetbag” element of whom nearly all had served in the Union army during the war. Twenty-nine native Republicans composed the “scalawag” element, and there were four Northern-born Republicans who had lived in the South before the war, two of whom had served in the Confederate army. That left thirty Democrats. 

Among the more prominent ex-Union soldiers were General Beroth B. Eggleston (Ohio); Colonel A. T. Morgan (Second Wisconsin Volunteers); General H. W. Barry (Commanded a Negro regiment raised in Kentucky); General George C. McKee (an attorney from Centralia, Illinois); Major W. H. Gibbs (15th Illinois Infantry); Judge W. B. Cunningham (Pennsylvania); Captain E. J. Castello (Seventh Missouri Infantry); and Thad P. Sears. For regular readers of my blog, you will recognize the most prominent names of white Republican delegates from the Republican ticket for the summer 1868 election (see my 31 March post below). These men would remain prominent in state politics until the election of 1875 sent them scrambling back to their Northern dens. 

An individual’s never having held public office might not be considered the end of the world, but individuals partaking in a matter as important as drafting a state constitution should bring some civil experience/historical and legal knowledge to the table, and one must consider (and the agenda followed by the convention would validate) the illiterate lacked such qualifications. In regards to the ex-Union soldiers, they were not, for the most part, career army. These men had been part of militia units formed in their locales to support the war effort. They had lives before the war—some were lawyers, and we know Cunningham had been a judge. Those men would have been familiar with law, which certainly would qualify them to broach the creation of written constitutions—preferably back wherever it was they came from. And as regards the framing of constitutions, this aside should interest some: 

In anticipation of Mississippi’s drafting a new “progressive” constitution, thereby making the state “fit” for re-incorporation in the Union, the Executive Committee of the Union Republican Party (think of them as “establishment” Republicans) presented the convention with a copy of the New York Constitutional Manual, containing the constitutions of the 37 states of the Union then “constituted.” In 31 of those states, the word “white” appeared as a qualification as an elector, and of the remaining six, three had educational and property qualifications for the franchise. So let’s do a little math here. Thirty-seven states in the Union—that includes the thirteen (I’m counting Kentucky and Missouri here) that briefly made it out and were, in 1868, perceived by the North as determined to deny the Negro his vote. Shoot let’s even throw in Maryland, which didn’t make it out, but truly is a Southern state, and say the number is 14 recalcitrant “disloyal” states incapable of percieving what this nation stands for. From that, subtract the three totally democratic states with no voting restrictions at all and that leaves 20 self-righteous “loyalists” constitutions disfranchising the Negro, the poor, and the uneducated compared to 14 of the bad guys.

Upon review of the manual, the Mississippi convention resolved to set an example for the other 34 states restricting the franchise. Well, folks, as you will see, this group of dogs wrote the proverbial book on disfranchisment, but of course, what they were referring to here was the liberal enfranchising of the Negro, whose vote would keep them in power. So I ask, if they really wanted  “enlightened” constitutions in a brave, new Union, why didn’t they haul their butts back  “to wherever it was they came from” and amend their own states’ constitutions? Let me take a stab at that—how about those slots for malfeasance were already taken and the Negro vote wasn’t significant enough in those places to dislodge the incumbents. In other words, they didn’t have a prayer of grasping power back home, but with a corrupt Congress hell bent on centralization, backed by a military drunk on victory, they could have their way with Mississippi. 

In addition to the dearth of qualifications residing in the group, the majority of delegates did not own property in Mississippi and did not pay taxes, and for those of you not already aware—and the present state of the United States is all the evidence one really needs—upcoming posts will show why the fate of any city, state, or nation should not be placed in the hands of people determined to live off a system they do not pay in to.
Finally, the vast majority of delegates were ignorant of history—and my focus here is federalism, once the soul of our Republic. The latter alone would disqualify not only the illiterate black delegates, but the majority of white Republicans making up that “august” body, who were less ignorant of the federal system than they were opposed to it—if they considered it at all beyond their quest for power and remuneration. 

Subsequent actions indicate this group of delegates considered itself the ruling legislature of Mississippi then constituted, despite General Gillem’s repeated cautioning them that they were not. Remember, Mississippi was technically under martial law, though civil government did continue to function under General Ord’s heavy hand and later under General Gillem. This misconstrued self-perception of it’s authority under the Reconstruction Acts probably explains, in part, the convention’s abuse of its charter. Over the next 115 days, these delegates far exceeded the bounds of legislative frugality and good taste—even by that of the legislatures back in the dark lands from which they hailed. The price of their ignorance and excess was paid by an unrepresented taxpayer, already struggling to survive, much less recover, in a land laid waste by some of the very men now demanding tribute.  

Lots more coming on the “Black and Tan” Convention, thanks for reading.


For earlier posts on Alcorn, (best read in sequence from oldest to most recent), start with  17 February 2014, 24 March, 16 April, 17 July, 24 July, 18 September, 9 October, 18 October, 5 November, 22 November, 15 December, 29 December 2014, 13 January, 24 January, 9 February, 24 February, 9 March, and 31 March 2015, all below.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Alcorn’s Final Option: Joining the Republican Team in Mississippi

This post is number eighteen in a historical series dealing with Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator following the War Between the States and is a continuation of my 9 March post immediately below discussing Alcorn’s activities under the Reconstruction Acts of 1867.

Not only was the “progressive” constitution defeated in the summer of 1868, so was the Republican ticket expected to make up Mississippi’s legislature as well as her governor and four of five representatives who would represent her in the U.S. House. The men who wrote that constitution and chose the Republican ticket were primarily white and were from the North and ex-Union soldiers to boot. Representative examples include General George C. McKee (Illinois)’, Jonathan Tarbell (New York), L.W. Perce (New York), and H.R. Pease (Connecticut). T.W. Stringer was a Negro minister from Canada who came to the state with the Freedman’s Bureau. Newly “initiated” Mississippi Republicans included R.W. Flourney (ex-slave holder and Confederate, who was one of four men who represented Pontotoc County at the secession convention, voted for secession, raised a military unit for the Confederacy, and after the war turned Republican and became one of the most radical in the state), J.L. Wofford (ex-Confederate turned conservative Republican. I believe he was from South Carolina, but had settled in the Corinth, Mississippi area after the war), J.S. Morris (a Vicksburg attorney, who later became state attorney general), and the Reverend James Lynch, a Negro preacher from Mississippi.  

Before moving on, I’d like to toss out a brief anecdote in regards to Reverend Lynch, a very capable and respected individual who would eventually become Mississippi’s secretary of state and, untainted by  malfeasance, would remain in his post following the election/revolution of 1875 after the plunderers had scattered in the wake of their overthrow. But back to my story: During the Mississippi Republican Party’s first convention in September 1867, H.R. Pease moved to add the word “colored” to the name of each Negro delegate. Reverend Lynch moved to amend, suggesting the color of each delegate’s hair be added also. Sharp as a tack—try to convince me white Southerners couldn’t work with a man like that. Oops, oh wait, for a brief moment in time we did. And in case you’re wondering, both motions were tabled. 

In her autobiography of Alcorn, Lillian Pereyra described the Republican ticket as all-white, but I found one broadside in a July, 1868, Columbus, Mississippi newspaper that lists a freedman, R.O. Gleed, as running for the state house of representatives. The Republican nominee for governor was ex-brevet general, Beroth B. Eggleston (ex-U.S. Army), of the 1st Ohio. He came replete with an impressive record and honorable discharge from the Grand Army of the Republic. Eggleston had accepted the surrender of Atlanta from Colonel Glenn in July of 1864 and there proceeded to establish martial law within the city, or what was left of it.  

As of December 1868, only three “insurrectionary” states still remained outside the Union, Texas, Virginia, and Mississippi—they’d yet to be “reconstructed”—meaning they’d failed to do what Congress directed them to do under the Reconstruction Acts. What it boiled down to was Mississippi and Texas had managed to keep the Republican Parties in their respective states from winning at the polls and putting puppet governments in their stead. Virginia’s Republican Party suffered massive polarization between its conservative and radical factions from the “git-go,” implying the party itself prevented issues from even making it to the polls. Her people finally approved a “blessed” constitution in 1869.  

James Lusk Alcorn took no part in the constitutional convention of 1867 or in choosing the Republican ticket that followed, but his cousin, Robert J. Alcorn, who had come to Mississippi from Kentucky in 1852 and whose name appears on receipts for purchasing cattle for the Confederate Army in the late fall of 1863, appears on the ticket as the nominee for secretary of state. (Hmmm—think a case should have been make for perjury there?) Robert Alcorn represented Yalobusha County and urged adoption of the constitution noting the more obnoxious of its features could later be modified. That would have been a reference to the wholesale proscription clauses disfranchising Confederates and all those who supported the Confederacy. In her work, Pereyra indicates redemption by an oath of allegiance put one back in the voting rolls. General Ord’s registration requirements (see my 9 March post below) do not validate that, but I’ve run across so many clear contradictions I can’t help but think the determination was made at the discretion of whichever tyrant was in charge, his decision predicated on his perception of how the voter would cast his ballot. Certainly Alcorn gave his oath of allegiance, which returned his property to him, but he not only voted, he ran for office (and won) under the Reconstruction Acts...as did his cousin who, without a doubt, also swore an oath to the United States.  

In early 1868, at the time Robert Alcorn would have been running his campaign for secretary of state and stumping the “Reconstruction” constitution, he was busy in Coahoma County founding a newspaper which supported his cousin’s appeal for a new hybrid party. The presence of the newspaper in James’ home county suggests the two cousins were already on the same sheet of music, and James reciprocated support by speaking on behalf of the Republican ticket only days before the 10 July 1868 election. 

By the summer of 1868, politics within the state had polarized into Republican and Democratic camps. If Alcorn’s hybrid party of Douglas Democrats and old-Whigs ever had a chance, it had passed. Since Alcorn believed Mississippi’s road to salvation was through representation in Congress, the Democrats’ determination to resist the Reconstruction Acts and remain under martial law would not have been an option for him. 

Alcorn’s support for the Republican Party widened the gap between him and those who had supported participation (acquiescence in, vice capitulation to) the Reconstruction Acts the year before. The difference, of course, is that with the constitutional convention behind them, the opportunity for participation had passed and the constitution created by those who did attend meant wholesale proscription and rule by those who had little or nothing invested in the state. Now, the reticent purveyors of acquiescence had no recourse for maintaining constitutional liberty except to defeat the Republican agenda at the polls. Alcorn, without a doubt, still clung to the belief that salvation lay with representation in congress. 

As stated in my 9 March post below, to everyone’s surprise, the reinvigorated Democratic Party defeated the Republicans. It is at this point when Alcorn’s name appears on the list of party leaders within the state of Mississippi,  and the party’s first move is an attempt to vacate the Democratic victory, to declare the Republicans victors, the constitution approved, thereby “reconstructing” the state in the image of Northern progressivism, and bring Mississippi back into the Union with her other Southern sisters so betrayed. The fight was on with James Lusk Alcorn clearly aligned on the side of Republican tyranny. 

I’m going to end this post here because the ensuing fight speaks so much to the true agenda of the Radicals not only in Congress, but also in Mississippi (of whom I’d suggest Alcorn was not one—but you know the old adage, if you lie down with dogs you’re gonna get fleas on you). It was a risk he took and fleas he got. He never fully redeemed himself in the eyes of Mississippi, and he never will. That Democratic victory in the summer of 1868 stands as one of the great efforts of political triumph that a people have ever put forth to peacefully thwart tyranny in their own defense, yet Alcorn aligned himself with outsiders, who, once the reality of their unbelievable defeat became known cried foul despite the prior presence of additional U.S. army forces and strict supervision by registrars belonging to those now crying foul. Together, he and his new friends would travel to Washington with reams of “x” marked affidavits declaring intimidation and fraud and fear for their lives (really—who was protecting them then who hadn’t protected then on Election Day?) in an effort to have Congress declare a Republican victory. James Lusk Alcorn thought it was all for the best, of course—salvation lay in representation.

For earlier posts on Alcorn, best read in sequence from oldest to most recent, see 17 February, 24 March, 16 April, 17 July, 24 July, 18 September, 9 October, 18 October, 5 November, 22 November, 15 December, 29 December 2014, 13 January, 24 January, 9 February, 24 February, and 9 March 2015 below.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Defying Tyranny: Mississippi Stands up to the Reconstruction Acts

This post is number seventeen in a historical series dealing with Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Lusk Alcorn, following the War Between the States and is a continuation of my 24 February post immediately below discussing the evolution of Alcorn’s activities under the Reconstruction Acts of 1867

“I propose to vote with him; to discuss political affairs with him; to sit, if need be, in political counsel with him, and from a platform acceptable alike to him, to me, and to you, to pluck our common liberty and our common prosperity out of the jaws of inevitable ruin.” 

The reference is to the black man and is Alcorn’s most famous quote—or infamous depending on your viewpoint. At the time, among the majority of his fellow white Mississippians, it was considered “infamous”, but not necessarily for the racial extremism, which many immediately assume. Alcorn was advocating the creation of a massive voting block composed of constituents who would  support a known enemy, and what was worse, he was doing it by capitulating to a hated Congress and the patently unconstitutional Reconstruction Acts. But Alcorn maintained that the only practical course for Mississippi was to return to the Union and regain its representation in Congress. To do that meant playing the enemy’s game, and that dictated working with the Negro vice driving him into the enemy camp. 

The Republican Party held its first convention in the state of Mississippi on 10 September 1867. The body was one-third Negro and included the registrars the military government under General Ord had appointed to register the electorate and Northerners who had moved into the state, and doubtless some “progressive” white Southerners. Members endorsed the platform of the national party in supporting all the progressive political reforms of the age. All you conservatives out there who think “progressive” is a dirty word in the context of the present day—it was then, too. Progressive programs have to be managed by governmental interference and paid for with taxpayers’ dollars. Southerners had always preferred small government and low taxes. There are tradeoffs in all things. This is what the taxpayers in Mississippi (and across the South) had preferred since before statehood. If those paying into the system didn’t like it, they could campaign to change it within their state or move to a state composed of taxpayers/citizens of like minds. That is what federalism is all about. Now the state was about to be overwhelmed by a constituency, the majority of whom did not pay taxes and never had, essentially nullifying the vote of those who did, that number further weakened by the disfranchisement of those who had defended federalism. The Democratic Clarion summed up the picture succinctly—the Negro vote is in the majority and it will be controlled by a few white men. [And those white men would not, as a rule, be Mississippians or even Southerners]. 

Alcorn, of course, wanted to be one of those “few white men,” but at the time of the Republican Convention he was still holding out for “Southern” white men and his hybrid Douglas Democrat/old-Whig party. “A mixed party of unionists,” he said, can obtain for us that great remedy of all our troubles—representation.” Isn’t it funny how he’s thinking? To paraphrase: “All our problems will be solved if we can just get our representation in Congress.” He envisioned his party as autonomous, representing the interests of the state—in true Whig fashion and we would be willing to support the Radical agenda in return for concessions (removal of the cotton tax, rebuilding the levees Grant destroyed, general amnesty). Alcorn envisioned getting the South some of that taxpayer’s money those proponents of “internal improvements” in Washington were throwing around. And if any section of the country at the time needed economic support, given the devastation heaped upon it, it was the South. Even worse, the South was paying into the kitty—big time and always had. Ah, but that money had long-ago been earmarked for the Republicans’ Northern mercantilist/railroad building constituents. The South’s only role in the scheme was to pay for it. This folks is one of the South’s primary reasons for its failed secession and independence from Yankee greed, and there was enough evidence on the record that Alcorn should have been aware of this reality. Now, in his defense, he could have been thinking the South’s never getting its fair share was because those stupid, fire breathing Democrats had always stood in the way—and now he, with his “new” party, would manage to manipulate the monster in power and get “our fair share” that the Democrats had been spurning since...well, since they were Democrats. But there had been a reason for that—the South didn’t want to be like the overtaxed, government/industrialist-controlled, “progressive” North.  

Alcorn received little public support from Douglas Democrats (Hmmm...wonder how many such creatures existed in Mississippi at the time?) or even his old-Whig compatriots. Judge William Sharkey, the man elected with him in 1865 to represent Mississippi in the Senate was, in fact, shocked by Alcorn’s avowed capitulation to the Reconstruction Acts, which Sharkey considered unconstitutional and fought throughout Reconstruction—recall he led the charge in the attempt to force the Supreme Court to rule on their constitutionality (see my 9 February post below). And I won’t even have to make guesses as to the reaction of those fire-breathing Democrats on the acceptance of Negro suffrage. They opposed it. 

Alcorn had yet to take that last step—joining the Republican Party. That would mean sleeping with the enemy and proved his path of last resort. In defense of him and his hybrid “unionist” party, the forces of tyranny were working fast and he was running out of time to convince his fellow Mississippians as to the need to throw federalism under the “stagecoach” shall we say.  

With General Ord’s completion of registering the electorate in September, he announced an election to the people of the state as to whether they wished to form a civil government (that would be to replace the perfectly good one he had removed) or to remain under military authority without representation in Congress. A new civil government meant the people were voting for a new constitution and, by default, representatives to the constitutional convention. Ord scheduled the election for the second Tuesday in November 1867. Passage of the initiative required the approval of a majority of registered voters. On 15 October a group calling itself the Constitutional Union Men met in Jackson and asked their fellow Mississippians who opposed the Reconstruction Acts to sit out this election, thereby defeating a call for a new constitution under the guidelines of the Reconstruction Acts. It would also leave Mississippi under martial law. This Alcorn diametrically opposed, being he was confident representation in Congress would alleviate “all our woes.” The majority of white Southerners did indeed sit out this election, but a majority of registered voters (by a slim margin of 151 voters casting ballots) did vote for a new civil government, deciding yes, there would be a new constitution and choosing the delegates who would write it. 

According to Alcorn’s biographer Lillian Pereyra it was a good constitution, but then she wasn’t a taxpaying Mississippian confronted with a document that represented the kind of government he despised—tax-draining and rife with the potential of malfeasance and graft and all under the guise of general welfare. Y’all do know the Confederate government removed the “general-welfare” clause from its constitution, don’t you? And for the very reason that the federal government, from which it tried to extricate itself, applied “general welfare” loosely to waste taxpayers dollars on issues requiring powers not delegated to it—its own expansion, in other words—all under the euphemism of “public good.”  

The constitutional convention met in early December 1867. In Reconstruction in Mississippi James Garner states that the native whites’ decision to sit out the election proved bad in that members of the newly established Republican Party formed the bulk of the delegates to the convention. I’m not convinced, however, that the Constitutional Union men did not realize that potential from the start, but may have regarded their non-participation as the only possible chance they had for averting a progressive constitution. Under the Reconstruction Acts, the new constitution had to be a “republican” one. Well, Mississippi had a republican constitution at the time Ord showed up. Had had one, in fact, since 1817 when it entered the Union. What the term meant under the Reconstruction Acts was that the new constitution would be “republican” as Congress determined “republican” to be—spell it with a capital “R” and you’ve got the picture—a progressive “Republican” constitution, which Congress, per the Reconstruction Acts, would approve.  

-The new constitution eliminated all distinctions of color, property, and education as requirements of citizenship
-It forbade the legislature from pledging the state’s credit
-It extended the powers of the governor
-It increased salaries

-It made additions to the roster of state officials (this is progress in action, folks): a lieutenant governor, a superintendent of education, commissioners of agriculture and immigration, a board of equalization, state and district printers, special treasury agents (I’m assuming state), and triple the number of judges 

The new constitution “governed” more in contrast to the state’s historical preference for Jacksonian politics, and here’s the real crux—it cost more, much more, and we are talking about a state whose economy had been and remained devastated—and did not and would not, even after that “manna” of representation was realized—receive federal dollars to offset the obscene costs this piece of legislation forced upon it. People who are struggling to get back to a point where they know some degree of comfort and freedom from worry do not want their taxes raised to pay for unneeded civil servants—“loyal,” no less, to an enemy who has rendered them to their present impoverished condition. And let me add this for those of you unfamiliar with the history of Reconstruction—the books and desks and paper, pencils, and blackboards, etc. etc. required for public education and all those printing presses and ink and paper the anticipated Republican legislature granted to itself would be purchased from the North at top dollar. Add to that the increase in public jobs, in tandem with salaries and Mississippi would sink deeper and deeper into the red hole she was already struggling to get out of, and all this would be carried out without the input of those who had to pay for it. Yes, one must take into account that perhaps these people did prefer martial law to that kind of usurpation. 

So I would argue that participation in the election would have made no difference. The taxpaying Mississippian may have been represented at the constitutional convention, but if his input were even reflected in the document, it would not have passed Congress. Nevertheless, the tactic had failed. The Democratic Union Men’s next attempt would be, despite the seemingly insurmountable impediments placed upon them, to defeat ratification of the new constitution as well as the Republican ticket when they were placed before the people of the state the following summer.   

And on the 10th of July 1868 they did. 

It was a shock for both parties, and I imagine that in the once hallowed halls of the nation’s Capitol, now permeated with the foul stench of tyranny, one could have heard a pin drop. But the Republican Party in Mississippi would not be deterred for long. What happened next is classic in the annals of human tyranny, its finesse pathetic—probably because the petty dictators didn’t realize beforehand they would need a back-up plan.  

And, sad to say, Alcorn was part of it. 

Next time and thanks for reading. 

In addition to this post on Alcorn and the one sighted in my introduction above, see 17 February, 24 March, 16 April, 17 July, 24 July, 18 September, 9 October, 18 October, 5 November, 22 November, 15 December, 29 December 2014 and  13 January, 24 January, and 9 February 2015 posts below, best read in sequence from oldest to most recent.





Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Alcorn and the Reconstruction Acts, Pragmatism over Principle

This post is number sixteen in a historical series dealing with Mississippi’s Whig/Reconstruction senator and governor, James Lusk Alcorn. In the three posts prior to this one (see my 13 and 24 January and 9 February 2015 posts below), I described to the reader the situation in Mississippi (and the South in general) immediately following its surrender to Federal forces and the growing battle between President Johnson and Congress over the course Reconstruction would take.  Johnson’s defeat led to enactment of the Reconstruction Acts across the South. In this post I return to the subject of Alcorn proper, picking up the thread from the fall of 1866 after the unrepresented South had rejected ratification of the egregious Fourteenth Amendment. Congress reacted by sweeping away civil government and imposing martial law.

From the time he got wind of the Fourteenth Amendment (probably December 1865 when he was in Washington), Alcorn linked Mississippi’s readmission to the Union to its ratification. Indeed, there was a bill in Congress that spring (1866) that would have assured the South’s reentering the Union in return for ratification. The bill died in Congress that summer (but the requirement did not). Alcorn believed that readmission and representation (the two were actually one) were prerequisites for peace, order, and prosperity, and he was willing to sacrifice principle to do business with the devil himself to obtain them. By the devil himself, I refer to the Radical Congress, not the Negro, but by virtue of the voting booth, the black man provided the potential for advancing the Radical cause. White Southerners considered that power illegitimate (which it was), but Alcorn warned in November of 1866 the Negro would get the vote anyway, and it would be better “to align him with us than against us” (I’m paraphrasing here). 

Under the Reconstruction Acts (which were also unconstitutional), Congress imposed martial law across the South. General E. O. C. Ord assumed command of the Fourth Military District (Mississippi and Arkansas with headquarters in Vicksburg) on 26 March 1867. In reporting the general’s initial inspection of the state in company with Governor Humphreys, the editor of the Jackson Clarion made reference to the general’s wartime record as that of a soldier doing his duty, and the man indicated no “spirit of revenge” in his present position.  

General Ord was a native of Maryland and a West Point graduate. He was familiar with Mississippi. He’d been Sherman’s right wing at Corinth and his left at Jackson. He’d been present at the surrender of Vicksburg. If you want my opinion, Ord should have been concerned with thoughts of revenge, but not his own. Truth was though the people of Mississippi were apprehensive about the introduction of martial law, as any people should be; civil servants were concerned with their jobs, and Mississippi wanted no problems with the unwarranted military presence. 

Ord initially dispelled concerns over civil positions—as long as everything was in keeping with the Reconstruction Acts—so give him a little time, in the meanwhile everyone “continue to come to work” (again I’m paraphrasing). What it boiled down to (initially) was that vacancies would be filled by “loyal” citizens. In time “disloyal” citizens would be removed from positions of public trust for “failure to do impartial justice to persons accused of crime”. Such vacancies would eventually be filled with “loyal” citizens. General Ord was the arbiter of what constituted a “disloyal” citizen—or what was considered “impartial justice”—which when expanded, translated to saying anything against the Reconstruction Acts.  

To ensure change of personnel was in keeping with said Acts, no incumbencies were to be filled until the electorate was registered—but Ord did made appointments before elections were held. I’m guessing these were “temporary” to keep the wheels of civil government turning, and numbered 71, which was more than there were vacancies, so he expanded the number of “loyal” civil servants. In his defense he removed only eight “disloyal” incumbents, but that number included all the municipal officers in Vicksburg in the summer of 1867. (The removal of all civil servants did not occur until the one-month “reign” of General McDowell in the summer of 1868, which I will address in a later post).

Other than the dubious role of “establishing order” in Mississippi (see my 24 January post below on how ludicrous that argument was), General Ord’s objective was to register the electorate—that meant registering the “loyal” citizens and ensuring “disloyal” citizens were denied the franchise. The focus, of course, was ensuring the Freedman’s voice was heard at the ballot box and the ex-Confederate’s was not. Apparently “loyalty” was defined in the negative as “not having taken up arms against the United States government” (unless you were a slave under duress, of course). It had nothing to do with “professed” loyalty to the United States, but rather “never having been disloyal.”  

The oath was restrictive by design to ensure a significant number of Southern white males could not take it without perjuring themselves. Ord vacillated between allowing these men to commit perjury and having the registrar report them for subsequent prosecution or having the registrar determine whether they would or would not be registered on the spot (the registrars were all “loyal” citizens, of course). General of the Army, Ulysses S. Grant, resolved the issue by “suggesting” the registrar make the determination. And just for the record—a presidential pardon did not remove the encumbrance of having raised arms against the United States.  

Reality struck home in September of 1867 when registration was complete. Thirty-three of Mississippi’s sixty-one counties had Negro majorities, meaning 60,167 Negro voters had been registered against 46,636 whites. My brief research indicates that ten to twenty percent of the white male population was disfranchised due to their service to the Confederacy, but there’s a big difference between ten and twenty percent—like doubled, duh, but even if the high figure is taken and an additional 9328 voters added to the rolls, the Negro was still in the majority. The fact had to be faced that Congress would take Mississippi’s political affairs from her taxpayers and hand them to ex-slaves and Northern strangers who’d invaded the state and knew nothing of its values and history nor cared for its welfare—oh, but they would prove so adept at spending other people’s hard-earned and pathetically sparse money. 

While Ord busied himself with restoring order and registering the electorate that summer of 1867, Alcorn was busy devising a plan for survival in the face of this new reality. In Memphis he spoke to a group of mostly Old Whigs and the unaffiliated and emphasized the need for Southern political parties and their sharing the Negro vote. This he said would preclude a white party and a separate black party controlled by white Northerners. He envisioned his old Democratic nemesis vying for power with a new party made up of Douglas Democrats and Whigs—or what once were Whigs—but something other than Republicans. They would divide the Negro vote between them (probably much like they once vied for the votes of “lesser” whites in ante-bellum days). [You know, in a way that’s what happened in the first two decades after Reconstruction ended and we’d rid ourselves of the Yankee contagion: Democratic candidates courted the Negro vote across the South. Then right before the turn of the century they figured it was easier to exclude the black vote altogether.] 

On the eighth of August (before the count of registrants was completed), Alcorn published a pamphlet titled the Views of the Honorable J. L. Alcorn on the Political Situation of Mississippi. In it, he addressed the Negro majorities shown from the registrations in Tennessee, Alabama, and Louisiana and emphasized the situation was going to be the same in Mississippi. The electorate formed under the Reconstruction Acts would determine the governor, the legislature, and the courts, and this situation would be sustained by military force for who knew how long. The only way to fight it he said was by “using our brains.” He denigrated the wide-spread belief that the Negro would be influenced by his former master as “bullshit” (that’s my word, not Alcorn’s) and used the example of Governor Brownlow’s election in Tennessee to refute that delusion. The Negro majority, he warned, would fall under the influence of the Republican Radicals.  

In Views of the Honorable..., Alcorn pointed out Congress’ partisanship. Still stumping his hybrid Douglas Democrat-Whig Party, he argued that more moderate/non-Radical Republicans feared too close an association with those men who professed advancement of the colored race, that they feared Negro suffrage would adversely affect them with their constituents.  

I am toying with the thought that maybe Alcorn himself is a bit delusional here. Granted he was a lot closer to the problem than I am, but I’m not sure if northern Republicans were worried about Negro suffrage damaging them or if he was thinking they should be, because he had to be thinking the same thing in regards to his own stance on that subject. Yes, vocal demands in their own districts might hurt them, but it’s the summer of 1867 and the elections of 1866 are over—and the Northern electorate has told its bulldogs to sic ’em (that meaning the South) by packing Congress with anti-Johnson Radicals. Of course, Alcorn might have simply been trying to convince the people of Mississippi his plan (his new party) still had a chance, and he wanted the opportunity to try no matter how bleak its chances. 

He goes on to say that the Republicans could not afford two parties in the South and would welcome white support in politics, since to his way of thinking, the Radicals in the North were a loose cannon which would all too soon have to be bolted down (or pushed overboard). Personally, I think he was betting too much, too soon on moderate Republicans. He was, in fact, prescient—that is exactly what happened to the Republican Party in the South—it split between the Radicals and moderates (torn asunder by the weight of its own corruption is how I like to think of it). In the meantime he stated for all Mississippians to hear—and the majority didn’t like what they heard—that he was prepared to ask terms from the Radicals. 

Alcorn wasn’t the only Mississippian who was, at least, considering pragmatism over principle. Representation in Congress was a siren’s call, and other respected men such as A.G. Brown (Democratic governor and U.S. Senator who served in the Confederate Senate); Ethelbert Barksdale (Democratic leader and editor of the Jackson Clarion); Judges J.W. Watson (Confederate senator from Mississippi) and J.A.P. Campbell (Chief-Justice of Mississippi, member of the original Confederate Congress, and signer of the Confederate Constitution. He fought for the Confederacy and was severely wounded in battle, and after the war, he refused to take the oath of allegiance to the United States); Alcorn’s old Whig lawyer friends William Yerger and Wiley P. Harris; John J. McRae (ex-Democratic governor); and Fulton Anderson (Whig and member of the Confederate Congress)—an odd mix of Whigs and Democrats, secessionists and non-secessionists, those who openly served the Confederacy and those who did not—all supported getting control of the Negro vote before the Republicans did. So, this was not a bunch of scalawags looking to exploit the conditions for personal gain and power. They were weighing options to offset the evil permeating the North. Reading between the lines, and given the records of the handful of men cited above, they were no doubt buying time, believing that representation in Congress would give them the leverage to later right their world. But how do you right the world as they knew it by destroying federalism, which is what the Fourteenth Amendment ultimately did? Still, given all the illegalities and unconstitutional gymnastics Congress was forced to employ thanks to the intransigence of the Southern states in resisting ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, believers in state rights today can hold out hope that a great statesman will reappear and wage a successful battle to nullify the damn thing—the legal grounds are there.  

To conclude this post, note that some of the men cited above became members of the state “reconstruction club” which supported quiet acquiescence to, not advocacy of, reconstruction. Like Alcorn, this “reconstruction club” also referenced securing “terms” from the Radicals. 

I’m sorry, but to “secure terms from” or “offer terms to” anyone—don’t you need to possess something the other party wants and be in a position to withhold it? The South had nothing to offer the Radicals they weren’t already taking for themselves, and there was no legal way to stop them—the Northern electorate had ensured that.  

Men such as those who made up the Radical Republicans during those dark days provide some modicum of consolation when one considers there might really be a hell, but I’d be content just to hear them excoriated as the traitors that they are.  

Things will get lots worse before they get better. Thanks for reading and more to come. 


In addition to this post on Alcorn and the two sighted in my prologue above, see 17 February, 24 March, 16 April, 17 July, 24 July, 18 September, 9 October, 18 October, 5 November, 22 November, 15 December, 29 December 2014 and  13 January 2015 below, best read in sequence from oldest to most recent..





Monday, February 9, 2015

Congress and Judicial Review of the Reconstruction Acts in Mississippi

This short post is number fifteen in a historical review of Mississippi’s Whig/Reconstruction senator and governor J. L. Alcorn and my third overview of the enactment of the Reconstruction Acts in Mississippi (see my 13 and 24 January 2015 posts below). I will pick up with Alcorn proper and his actions within this federally-mandated setting (1866-1867) in my next post.

The Southern states’ rejection of the unconstitutional Fourteenth Amendment in the summer of 1866, in tandem with the North’s validation of the Radical Republican agenda in Congressional elections that fall, provided the Radicals the leverage they needed to assume their coveted desire to dictate Reconstruction. The Southern civil governments which had been operating effectively for more than a year were swept away and martial law established across the South. Private law remained fundamentally unchanged, but the military commanders were vested to modify or supersede it at their discretion. But the main role of the district commanders—and this is oh so telling—was to maintain order, register a new electorate (which for the most part enfranchised the non-taxpayer and disfranchised the taxpayer), and direct the movement for the reestablishment of “republican” government. Make that “Republican” government and you’ve got the true picture. Mississippi and the other Southern states had had republican governments since statehood. They’d never been constitutionally challenged nor should they have been.  

Under martial law, the district military commanders had absolute authority over life, liberty, and property, except that death sentences had to be approved by the president. 

The Radicals now argued that with the Southern states’ attempt to withdraw from the Union and in waging war against the United States (read that “in defending itself against Northern aggression”) it had forfeited its status as states. This despite the fact they’d nullified their ordinances of secession a year earlier. James Garner in his 1901 Reconstruction in Mississippi stated the Boutwell committee (creator of the Reconstruction Acts, see my 24 January post below) might have hit closer to the mark by claiming the Southern states had forfeited their right to be viewed as states if there was anything in the Constitution about a class of states not being equal to the original states. And what pray tell would give Congress the right to define such status? So after one post-war year operating as states, Congress decided the Southern states were not states—and used as its primary arbiter the fact that Congress had yet to guarantee the states that “Republican” form of government.  

Now, the only recourse the South had was through the courts. The state of Mississippi applied to the Supreme Court for an injunction against President Johnson and the district commander arguing that the state had nullified the articles of secession approved by a portion of the population; that the state had always been a member of the Federal Union (wasn’t that the administration’s argument all the time?) and there was nothing in the Constitution that gave Congress the authority to expel a state from the Union.  

I feel compelled to share this with my readers: Upon learning of the above cited injunction put forth by Judge Sharkey and Robert J. Walker, The Jackson Clarion expressed its offense thusly calling the argument “...a plea of not guilty to an act which is unjustly alleged to be a crime, and which all the world knows the state did deliberately commit....” I can just see Judge Sharkey pulling his hair out by this time, but The Clarion’s concern primarily seemed to be for Jefferson Davis who was still in prison for the “crime” of treason.  

In the injunction, Sharkey and Walker further maintained that President Johnson was being coerced to institute martial law by Congress and the decision belonged in the court not with the executive. The Supreme Court refused to file the bill on the grounds that for reasons of expediency and policy, the president should not be interfered with by the courts in performance of his duties. No opinion was expressed as to the constitutionality of the Reconstruction Acts. 

Now the South decided to shoot a little lower on the totem pole. Mississippi filed an injunction in conjunction with a joint bill (Georgia vs Stanton), against the Secretary of War (Stanton), the General of the Army (Grant), and in Mississippi’s case, the Commander of the Fourth District (General Ord). In this case the Supreme Court said it held no jurisdiction over the subject matter in the bill and deemed it unimportant to examine the question as it respected jurisdiction over the parties defendant. The matter was deemed political vice dealing with persons or property. I beg your pardon? Political? This was a “political” issue? Yeah, it was a political issue all right, on the part of Congress and the Supreme Court, but not for the South. Like I’ve said in my earlier posts, tyranny reigned. So, this whole matter—the question really being the constitutionality of the actions taken by Congress as a result of the Reconstruction Acts—was not reviewed by the Supreme Court of the United States. 

But soon after, the district commander arrested one William McCardle, a Vicksburg newspaper publisher, for circulating “incendiary” articles regarding Reconstruction. After the Circuit Court of the Southern District of Mississippi sent him back into custody under the Reconstruction Acts, he invoked habeas corpus, and it looked like the Supreme Court was actually gonna have to look at it. It would have been a great win for the Radicals, but truth is, they were afraid the Court’s looking at McCardle’s case would undo the Reconstruction Acts in their entirety, so they withdrew McCardle’s case from appellate review, exercising the powers granted to Congress under Article III Section 2 of the Constitution. Needless to say, the South challenged the move which had appeared so promising in forcing the Supreme Court to actually look at the Reconstruction Acts, which anyone with half a brain knew to be unconstitutional. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court upheld Congress’ right to pull the case under the “exceptions clause”. Here it is y’all, the exceptions clause: 

“In all other cases before mentioned the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make. 

So Congress made the “exception”. You all realize that Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln’s erstwhile, rabid abolitionist and egomaniacal Secretary of the Treasury was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court when all these nonsensical rulings in favor of Radical tyranny were being made, don’t you? Anyone other than me wonder who directed Congress how to get out of the mess it had gotten itself into with McCardle—and got himself off the hook? 

The way was now clear for the coup de grace—passage of the Fourteenth Amendment.

For earlier posts on Alcorn, best read in sequence from oldest to most recent, see 17 February, 24 March, 16 April, 17 July, 24 July, 18 September, 9 October, 18 October, 5 November, 22 November, 15 December, and 29 December 2014.