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 1867, 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.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Congress Lays the Groundwork for the Reconstruction Acts

This post is number fourteen in a historical review of Mississippi’s J. L. Alcorn, Union Whig/Republican governor and senator during Reconstruction. 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 and  13 January 2015 below.

This post continues to detail the measures the Republican Congress took, starting in 1866, to mold the recalcitrant Southern states into ones supportive of an agenda that was upside down and backwards to everything their taxpayers believed in—state rights and free market. The course was in violation of the Constitution, for the transformation of our Founders’ Federal Republic into that of a democratic republic was absolutely imperative for the triumph of The American System. Not only were the changes proposed to the Constitution unconstitutional, so ultimately was the legislative process by which the egregious Fourteenth Amendment was “declared” part of the Constitution. Being a life-long Whig, Alcorn accepted this perversion of the Founders Republic as the result of military defeat not that of treason enacted by a military supported congressional coup. The result of said defeat would be more palatable to this Southerner if the victors had acknowledged it for what it was, but even today—or even more so today—one has to listen to the glorification of the poetic lines of the Gettysburg address  

...that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth. 

as gospel, knowing full well that they did die in vain, at least when it came to that part about government of the people, by the people, for the people. Indeed, the glorified dead Lincoln honored played the most significant role in enabling its demise. Lincoln’s words were more appropriate for the other side. 

Let me now jump off my soapbox and return to the fall of 1866 following the South’s rejection of the Fourteenth Amendment and look at some of the measures Congress took to “correct” Southern obstinacy. 

Before approving the civil governments set up by the rebellious states, President Johnson asked for the input of three individuals who crisscrossed the entire South to ascertain conditions within the occupied states and recommend to him whether the war-torn states were ready to govern themselves. 

General U. S. Grant advised that the people were ready to return to loyalty within the Union and get on with restructuring their daily lives. He advised that white troops needed to be moved into the area since the black troops there encouraged vagrancy by advising the freedman not to go back to the plantation to find work. He further stated that if the North truly desired reconciliation, the Southerner should not be humiliated. 

German-born Brigadier General Carl Schurz reported that the Southern people had reorganized their governments and were yielding to the laws and the Constitution. [The South never...oh, never mind.] They were repairing the devastation from the war, and they were trying to move on with their lives. There was some disorder, but this disappeared with the spread of civil law. 

Mr. Charles Truman, a civilian, presented the most positive picture stating he believed the disbanded Confederate regiments would prove the South’s primary base for recovery and reconstruction. I’m not sure if I should read between the lines here and assume Mr. Truman is implying the South should just write the freedman off, or what. He did say that the freedman was well treated—and I’d maintain that on the whole he not only was, but always had been. Mr. Truman also stated that, contrary to reports, Northerners were not being abused. 

So there was not much ground in President Johnson’s committee report for overturning those civil governments that had been operating effectively for a year or more. But from that point on, Congress no longer needed grounds to interfere in the workings of a state, but it did feel compelled to legitimize its destruction of federalism in the United States. Legitimization lay in the Fourteenth Amendment.  

The South had already provided the likes of Massachusetts representative George S. Boutwell with the Black Code—a vagrancy law intended to gain some kind of control over a vagrant population in excess of 100,000 men, women, and children (see my 29 December post). The Black Code looked too much like the old slave code to satisfy the abolitionists. Actually, I think Mississippi probably copied that Black Code from Illinois, or another of several Northern state codes. [Okay, perhaps I’m being unfair. Those Northern states had probably based their Black Codes on the old slave codes, too, so the source is all the same, and in defense of those Northern states they did repeal theirs when forced to by ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. Still again, the South had a legitimate vagrancy problem, the North’s double standard resulted from a determination it never would.]  

But back to Congress. To get the Fourteenth Amendment passed, it didn’t need Illinois, Indiana, or Michigan per se. It had all it needed right there in the South. All it had to do was replace the recalcitrant legislatures with more amenable ones—much easier there than in the victorious North. That would be accomplished by the Reconstruction Acts spearheaded by the Honorable Mr. Boutwell. Actually, he spearheaded more that that, but that’s for later posts. 

Criticizing the reports provided by President Johnson’s commissioners [He found particular fault with the findings of General Grant—the same man who would shortly make Boutwell his Secretary of the Treasury.], Boutwell set up a national inquest under authority of investigating violations of the Thirteenth Amendment. Boutwell did not give any reasons for rejecting the President’s report, except that he didn’t like it. 

The Congressional committee was composed of five men, only one of whom was a democrat. Boutwell summoned the witnesses he wanted to Washington. No member of the committee visited Mississippi and no member of the Southern party (that would be Democratic, I assume—but not necessarily a Southern democrat) was allowed to cross examine the chosen witnesses. Additionally, no democrats were questioned, and only two citizens of Mississippi were interviewed, ex-provisional governor Sharkey and Judge R. A. Hill from Tishomingo County, a respected jurist and pre-war Whig much on the order of governor Sharkey. Other witnesses included three major generals of the United States army, one brigadier, one captain of colored troops, one Treasury agent, one revenue agent, and one representative of a New England cotton manufacturing company, a Mr. Warren Kelsey. 

The committee stated to the “interviewees” that it was looking for signs of returning loyalty on the part of the people of Mississippi—after all, their rejection of the unconstitutional Fourteenth Amendment certainly was not indicative of what the Radicals, waiting to welcome the South back with open arms, had been expecting. [And please tell me what loyalty had to do with violations of the Thirteenth Amendment?] General Edward Hatch told the committee that except for the northeast part of the state [For all y’all who do not know, that’s where Tishomingo County is.], there was little loyalty to be found and few manifestations of good feeling toward the government. General B.H. Grierson, famous for his raid through Mississippi during the Vicksburg campaign, thought there was an organization in the South planning to renew the rebellion. He based this on the formation of historical societies designed to consolidate everything that could be found documenting the rise and fall of the Confederacy and the service of its soldiers. Grierson's and the committee’s real fault with such societies was that the recording (and remembering) of Yankee depredations in the state was not conducive to “loyalty.” Another of these individuals expressed the belief that “Mississippi was the least loyal of any state in the South.” [Are we to assume he’d visited all the states and was, therefore, qualified to discuss them all?]  

J. H. Matthews and Warren Kelsey stated the freedman was worse off than in the days of slavery. No kidding, Sherlock, and who, given that the South was occupied by the United States army, the vast majority of whom were black, and the freedman refused to find work despite the effort being supervised by the “benevolent” Federal Freedman’s Bureau, was to blame for that? This group also said that Northern men were not well received in the South and surmised if not for the presence of Federal troops they could possibly meet with violence. Well, I could surmise that might be deservedly true, but there’s not much a legislature can do to force a ravaged people to like self-righteous, plunder-seeking interlopers who should have kept their butts at home, nor is that reasonable dislike a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. 

General Fisk expressed “shock” that the only regrets he’d heard the defeated Confederates confess was that they had, indeed, been defeated, and A. P. Dillingham reported speaking to a rebel general who preferred Jeff Davis to Lincoln. Now that’s  pretty strong dislike of Lincoln, because Davis wasn’t popular at the time—yes, I’m poking fun, but Davis really wasn’t popular at the time, but he hadn’t made a mockery of our Founders’ Constitution to destroy anyone—remember, he just wanted to be left alone.  

The people of the state of Mississippi, who these individuals maligned, had taken the oath to uphold the Constitution which they had, in truth, never violated. That was the real problem—by their rejection of the Fourteenth Amendment, they continued to uphold the Constitution, which the Radicals wished put asunder. But that wasn’t enough. On top of that, they were expected to spit on their flag and the graves of their sons, fathers, and their innocents, dead as a direct result of unwarranted aggression. This was shown in the disdain that Boutwell’s committee displayed for Mississippi’s voters electing Confederate General Humphreys to the governorship. A man who had fought a hateful enemy as opposed to one who had turned his head as the enemy ravaged the state. 

Boutwell’s committee reported that the states lately in secession were in a state of anarchy without government or constitution. In fact, they had both. Even when the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered more than a year earlier, they had a civil government. On top of that, both the new civil governments and their validating constitutions had been blessed by President Johnson just that past December.  

The committee further reported that Congress could not recognize as valid the elections which took place under those conditions. Funny they were recognized well enough when that hot bed of tyranny forwarded the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to them for ratification. [In both cases, passage by the Senate was in clear violation of Article V of the Constitution.] Bet there wouldn’t have been a peep made had the states done what Congress “directed.” 

And lastly, Congress couldn’t recognize the representatives of communities without said communities providing constitutional guarantees of the civil rights of all citizens of the Republic. Really? There was no legislation then in existence defining what a citizen was. The black man was free, but he wasn’t a citizen in the South and most other places. And, in my opinion that is not a determination Congress should ever constitutionally be allowed to make. That right belongs with the states, but even though today Congress has been allowed to get away with that usurpation via the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment had not been ratified in the summer of 1866, nor could Mississippi and the rest of the South be held punitively liable for it had they passed it that summer in conflict with the new constitutions they’d passed in the fall of 1865—it would have been an ex post facto law—another unconstitutional fact shadowing Boutwell’s “kangaroo” proceedings. 

There was, according to the committee, no protection from claims founded in the rebellion (the Confederate debts had been repudiated) nor had those who’d participated in the rebellion been excluded from positions of public trust—another article in the Fourteenth Amendment, which the Southern legislatures had not ratified and would have been an ex post facto requirement even if they had. 

I will break this post here before delving into the Southern states’ attempts to force a judicial review of what Boutwell’s committee would shortly thereafter instigate as the Reconstruction Acts. This post is getting too long, and I don’t want to lose you. Suffice it to say that Boutwell’s report was accepted by Congress as “an absolutely truthful picture of the Southern states” at the time and proved the basis for Congressional Reconstruction.  

Thanks once again for reading,


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

James Lusk Alcorn and the Dark Dawn of Congressional Reconstruction

This post is number thirteen in a historical review of Mississippi’s J. L. Alcorn, Union Whig/Republican governor and senator during Reconstruction. 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.

When last we saw Senator Alcorn in December 1865, both he and Senator-elect Sharkey had been denied their seats in Congress as had their fellow representatives in the House. This was true for all the Southern states whose tax-paying electorate had elected representatives to Congress during Presidential Reconstruction. All these civil governments had been approved by President Johnson and tacitly approved by Congress, which had seen fit to forward the Thirteenth Amendment to them for ratification. Aware of the looming contest between the executive and the Congress, the denial of his seat had not surprised Alcorn, and I would wager not one other such representative among the defeated Southern states.  

Alcorn remained in Washington through the rest of December 1865, observing the executive-legislative conflict and the emergence of the Radicals. He did manage to get a post office for Friar’s Point, site of his new plantation home. Additionally, he worked on some claims for his Coahoma County clients and made an indeterminate effort to free Jefferson Davis’ private secretary from prison. On that, one of Mississippi’s brightest stars, L.Q.C. Lamar, is on record for remarking that Alcorn’s energy might prove more effective than Sharkey’s influence. (I was unable to find out what happened with the secretary.) 

Alcorn returned to Mississippi in early 1866 having gathered a clearer understanding of what the South was up against and, probably, weighing his options for righting his world. For whatever its worth, it’s my opinion that Whigs, and the Republicans they excreted, considered the Constitution a hindrance to their program of protectionism (high tariffs), taxation for internal improvements (perversion of the general welfare clause), and mercantilism (at this place and time, classic crony capitalism). All require a strong central government. Anticipating such schemes, the Founders gave us a Constitution defining a central government with supreme, but limited powers, delegated by autonomous states. Our Founders wrote the Constitution specifically to thwart the designs of men like Henry Clay and his protégé, Abraham Lincoln. The rights of the states, the little “fiefdoms” that theoretically held the Federal government in check, stood in the way of the Whig/Republican economic agenda known to history as The American System.  

The Republican-dominated 39th Congress of the United States (March 4, 1865-March 4, 1867) was, at the time Alcorn returned home, putting its plan in play to subordinate the states to the Federal government. Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment increased representation across the South since the Negro was no longer apportioned as 3/5ths of a man, but as a whole man, and the Republicans needed to get that potential Negro constituency under their control and at the same time nullify the Southern white taxpayer’s vote. Congress was already working on the problem before the soon-to-be-not-seated Southern senators and representatives arrived to assume their rightful place in Congress. Key to Congress’ effort was a bill that would become the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Had those Southern senators and representatives been seated, that bill would have never made it out of Congress. That’s why they weren’t seated. 

For the past century and a half, this desecration to the Constitution has been used and abused by the Federal government to alter our Founder’s Republic beyond functional recognition. Its most odious feature is that it gives the Federal government supremacy over the states. During Reconstruction, it was critical to the victory of Clay and Lincoln’s American System. To give it its just due would require a separate post (or several), but for my purpose here, the Fourteenth Amendment was unconstitutional in concept and criminal in its passage and is anathema to the Republic our Founders created. The South knew it and abhorred it. The Northern mercantilists/Republicans knew it and approved it.

After much debate and rehashing, Congress passed the proposed Fourteenth Amendment in the summer of 1866 and sent it to the state legislatures for ratification, including (especially) those in the South. This action on the part of Congress makes a point that will come up again in my next post—just remember, Congress sent it to the duly-elected Southern state legislatures for ratification, irrefutable proof of Congress’ recognition of those legislatures.
Like the Thirteenth Amendment, the Fourteenth was sent for ratification to states that had not been represented at the time of its passage in Congress. Second, it ceded to Congress rights belonging to the states. Sorry, folks, civil rights, citizenship, disfranchise...these are not rights or powers the Founders would have ever left in the hands of the Congress. Nothing, nothing in the thing fell inside Congress’ bailiwick. Until Congress usurped these powers with the Fourteenth Amendment, such responsibilities were reserved for autonomous states. Not only would giving Congress the responsibility for such matters require an expansive increase in bureaucracy to carry them out, the very thought of giving Congress the power to dictate requirements to the states and their people was patently unconstitutional. Once upon a time—and this was still true in 1866—senators represented states. The House supposedly still represents the people of those states. At the time Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment, eleven states were not even represented in Congress. What you have here, in 1866, is one section of the nation dictating to another section of the nation. Granted, the North had already violated the Constitution with its war of aggression—but everything it did/everything Congress did/everything the president did was illegal, accomplished through military arms, not through the law of the land. Ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment codified such actions as legal for time immemorial. The thing should not have made it out of Congress.   

In Mississippi, Governor Humphreys sent the amendment to his legislature recommending it be rejected. The legislature agreed with his recommendation as did the legislatures in all the other states that supported the “rebellion.” Southerners weren’t the only states that had problems with the thing, but the history of the Fourteenth Amendment is too lengthy to address here. Let’s just say that during the summer of 1866, ratification failed. 

In October of that year, Alcorn attended circuit court in Bolivar County. There, his colleagues, including his Whig friends J. S. Yerger and James Chalmers, asked his opinion of Andrew Johnson’s chances against the Radicals in Congress and inquired his opinion as to whether he (Alcorn) would ever take his senate seat. [Side note here: It’s interesting that Alcorn is considered the font of all knowledge amongst these old Whig lawyers—and it is in keeping with Lamar’s observation regarding Alcorn’s “vigor” in making headway in getting Davis’ secretary released. My take is that Alcorn knew some folks back in Washington; he had contacts.] Anyway, he told his associates the state legislature made a mistake in not ratifying the Fourteenth Amendment and warned it would be forced on the South anyway. It was a natural outcome of emancipation and Federal victory. He did agree in principle that the thing should have been rejected. 

It says much about the character of a Whig/Republican that such an individual would so easily accept an amendment that he knew was unconstitutional, one that would flip-flop the state-federal dynamic. In fact, it was worse than a flip-flop. The Federal government always held sway in the limited matters granted it by the states. With the Fourteenth Amendment, time would prove that any authority nominally remaining with the states could, on a whim, be usurped by the Federal government.  

Of course, Alcorn was right about Congress’ forcing the Fourteenth Amendment on the South. After all, there had to be something wrong with those Southern legislatures to reject the measure. Certainly, theirs was not the response of a people ready to return to a glorious Union promising liberty and justice for all. They knew, of course, there wasn’t one thing wrong with those Southern legislatures, except that they knew the Constitution better than the Northern ones. Anyone (and these men were all lawyers) looking at the Fourteenth Amendment could clearly see that the inevitable result of the measure would be Federal tyranny, not liberty and justice for all.  

Just as the problem lay with those state governments, so did the solution. What Congress did next is so sloppy, goon-like, and tyrannical in both appearance and execution, it boggles my mind that anyone even remotely aware of what happened during Reconstruction cannot see it for what it was, an egregious violation of everything our Founders fought for. But then I have to accept that there are people who truly believe a strong central government is the way to go, and there is a smaller, but increasing, species of such beings that believes the government’s confiscating the taxpayers’ money to support healthcare, economic control, environmental control, crony capitalism, egalitarianism, never-ending war, etc., etc, is actually a good thing.  

What disturbs me most about Alcorn at this juncture is his ready acceptance of the South’s and, by association, the nation’s fate. Just a shrug of the shoulder, as if there were no consequences related to the Federal usurpation of state rights in the Fourteenth Amendment. His attitude seemed to be: Pass it, get back in the Union, get those damn Yankees out of here, and get this mess cleaned up. I do think he was considering the possibilities inherent in Mississippi’s return to the Union. Given the Confederacy’s loss and the emasculation of the Democratic Party across the South, perhaps he might, after decades, have seen a twinkle of light at the end of that long dark tunnel leading to his Whig platform in Mississippi. He might have even thought he’d be able to take his Senate seat and manage to divert some of those Federal subsidies to Mississippi in order to rebuild. So what if state rights had been blown asunder? He’d make the best of it. All he had to do was stumble along that dark corridor, dragging Mississippi behind him, avoiding the clubs of the Radical gauntlet, till he brought the state into the light of a new day—where there would be no obstructing democrats. 

All right, I know that “light of a new day” sounds corny, and even if Alcorn did contemplate the possibility of such potential within the money-crazed/power-hungry Republican Party, I think he was astute enough to realize it might never come about. Fundamentally at odds with the proponents of Henry Clay’s mercantilist economy, the South had been a stonewall standing in the way of the Whig/Republican platform. The South’s role as the tax-milk cow for the Federal government would not change now, and with the threat of free-market Confederate ports eliminated, Northern/Republican interests could relax and enjoy the South as a source of exploitation and plunder. The South was where they wanted her to be, and they had no intention of improving her lot.  

Here I will leave you anticipating what Congress would do about the Fourteenth Amendment and those unpatriotic Southern legislatures and their people, too stupid to appreciate how the wonderful Union and her magnanimous soldiers had saved them from sovereignty and the false promise of their misguided Founder’s nation. Many of you already know, but I’ve uncovered some details that succinctly highlight the despotic joke that called itself the 39th Congress of the United States. Look for my next post in a week to ten days and thanks for reading. 

Charlsie Russell

Monday, December 29, 2014

James Lusk Alcorn, Eliminating the Delusions for Mississippi’s Reentry into the Union, Part Two

This post is number twelve in a historical review of Mississippi’s J. L. Alcorn, Union Whig/Republican governor and senator during Reconstruction, and is a continuation of my 15 December post immediately below. It is best read in conjunction with the latter. _____________________________________________

When we last saw James Alcorn, he had been elected by the 1865 state legislature to serve in the United States Senate for the long-term session along with his old Whig colleague, William Sharkey, the former provisional governor, chosen for the short term. Prior to Alcorn’s and Sharkey’s departure for Washington in December, the legislature requested they address the state house. Recall that Alcorn had returned from Washington in September with President Johnson’s guidelines for the state’s reentry to the Union. These points included the abolition of slavery/passage of the Thirteenth amendment, extending the franchise to Negro property owners who met a literacy standard, Negro access to the jury box, and repudiation of the Confederate debt.  

During their address, the newly elected Senators, doubting they’d actually be seated in Congress, emphasized the requirement to allow the freedman to bear witness and sit in the jury box. The legislature subsequently voted to extend these rights to the Negro in those cases which involved a Negro or mulatto. Guess it figured that should be enough to protect the Negro in a court of law and satisfy the powers that be in Washington (theoretically it didn’t help an innocent white accused of a crime or white victims when the only witness was a Negro, either). Though people today guffaw the inadequacy of the tactic, it was a major concession on the part of that legislature and certainly would have been considered, in their eyes, a compromise—ignoring the fact they were in no position to “offer” compromises.  

I can’t find a reference made to the legislature’s addressing the extension of the franchise to the freedman. The subject had come up in the July 1865 convention, but was summarily dismissed. Remember that the Negro was not considered a citizen of the United States in most of the Union (and that includes parts of the North), and my guess is that the distasteful topic was set aside as a non-issue. However, this was one of President Johnson’s points to Alcorn. Educated Negro property owners/taxpayers did exist and had for decades before the war. Some had been slave owners themselves. Alcorn had no problem with the requirement and wrote to his wife Amelia that as a politician he routinely solicited the votes of the basest of their own race. What would be the problem in dealing similarly with the Negro? Civil and political equality in no way represented social equality. People of his and Amelia’s class didn’t socialize with poor whites—or whites not of their “class”—and they wouldn’t need to socialize with the Negro either.  

The legislators rejected the Thirteenth Amendment. Read that again. They did not reject the abolition of slavery, they rejected the Thirteenth Amendment. Drag out your pocket version of the Constitution and read Section 2 of the Thirteenth Amendment. Mississippi had already declared slavery abolished. Section 2 of that amendment granted to Congress a right to dictate to the states, a right Congress did not have, and Mississippi did not wish to cede. According to the interpretation of the Constitution laid down by our Founders, Congress’ powers are limited and granted by the states—all other powers are retained by the states (Tenth Amendment). I know I’m spitting into the wind. Why would such a Congress, as existed in the fall of 1865, concern itself with state rights after what it had just done? But people actually knew and still believed in the integrity of the Constitution in those days—at least in the South, and it was this persistent resistance to Congress’ violations of the Constitution which guided Mississippi’s and the rest of the South’s actions during this period. Of course, I’ve long argued that this usurpation of state rights by the national government was the long-term goal of those making up the central government and was, in fact, the basis for the war itself.  

Debatable musings aside, there is a point worth making here. Not only was the executive order (Emancipation Proclamation) that gave birth to the Thirteenth Amendment unconstitutional, so was the amendment itself, and that is the reason Mississippi gave for its rejection of the Thirteenth Amendment in the fall of 1865. She was right to do so. For that same reason, though it doesn’t matter anymore, not in regards to slavery nor state rights—because both are either dead or prevail at the whim of the Federal government—Mississippi should not have ratified the thing in February 2013. It was a simple matter of political correctness over principle. The body that should have passed it was one of the puppet Reconstruction legislatures that came with Congressional Reconstruction between 1868-1875. 

Granted, I have no idea what that 1865 legislature would have done had Section 2 been stricken, but given Section 2, the Thirteenth Amendment should have never made it out of Congress—not a Congress sworn to uphold the Constitution and by default, the Republic, and certainly not a Senate, whose members should have been looking out for the states they served. Passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, with section 2 appended, is a clear condemnation of the Northern and Western state legislatures that sent those senators to Washington and to the voters who elected said state legislatures. Southern legislatures certainly played no role--they weren't even represented—good thing for the tyrants, too, because it would have never gotten out of Congress. Which, of course, is why it was handled the way it was. Yet they were forced to ratify the thing in order to return to the Union, where they hoped to reestalish order to their lives (another delusion). This extortion was unconstitutional, by the way, but what’s another mark on Congress’ already black record?
Lastly, Mississippi’s legislature passed the “infamous” Black Code, which modified portions of the old slave code into a series of vagrancy laws comparable in harshness to those then existing in Wisconsin, New York, Maine, Massachusetts, Indiana, and Connecticut, but in Mississippi the legislation focused on the Negro vagrant and whites cohabitating with him. I add that given the hundred thousand plus freedmen without domicile or employment, the vagrancy problem in Mississippi in 1865 was exponentially worse than in any of those states—perhaps all of them combined.

As of November 1865 the war had been over seven months, Mississippi’s infrastructure was devastated, her economy in shambles and her labor force disbursed, endangered, and undermined by the presence of undisciplined Negro troops, mostly ex-slaves, who discouraged the freedmen from returning to their former plantations or even securing new work contracts with different employers. A spring, summer, and fall had passed with no significant effort to get the agrarian economy moving, and the entire South was moving toward its third hungry year. The strain of caring for what had become an indigent, lawless class of vagrant freedmen was beginning to tell on even the Federal government, which kept them fed. One should remember that in the fall of 1865 the Negro was free, but he was no more a United States citizen in the South (and most other states and territories) than the Indian and/or Chinese coolies making their way onto the west coast. 

I’d like to rehash the “infamous” code (not to be confused with the Jim Crow segregation laws, which came later):  

(1) It regulated the relation of master and apprentice as related to freedmen, free Negroes, and mulattoes, making it the duty of civil officers to report to their respective county probate court all Negroes under eighteen years of age who were orphans or were without means of support. Their former owners (if considered competent in the eyes of the court) were given preference for what was indenture, males up to twenty-one years of age and females to eighteen years. Masters were empowered to apply moderate chastisement for misbehavior and judicial remedy was available in the case of abuse and in cases of runaway apprentices and those judged to perpetrate such incidents. The masters provided food, clothing, medical care, and teaching the child to read and write. This act was in no way deviant from the treatment of orphans in the North, nor historically, in the North or South. [Nor, I concede, is it different from slavery, but then one would have to conclude, as Southerners always have, that slavery was a benign institution. Certainly it’s better than a bunch of unsupervised youngsters roaming the countryside, and that’s how things stood in the fall of 1865. You think folks in the North would have put up with it?]

(2) The laws against vagrancy, whereby Negroes, mulattoes, and whites over eighteen in the state as of the second Monday of 1866 without employment or business could be fined a maximum fine of $50.00 and ten days in jail (whites were fined $200.00 and up to six months in jail). The reference to whites relates to primarily males living in adultery/fornicating with Negro women and those participating in unlawful assembly/disturbing the peace with Negroes. The jurisdiction for such vagrancy violations was conferred upon justices of the peace, aldermen, and mayors to try offenders without a jury. [Where, pray tell, would authorities have jailed so many prisoners, much less tried them in court?] If a Negro offender could not pay the fine upon conviction, he or she could be hired out by the sheriff for the amount of the fine or treated as a pauper. Paupers were supported by a “freedman’s pauper fund”, supported by a poll-tax levied by each county’s Board of Police (County Board of Supervisors) not exceeding one dollar on each Negro aged eighteen to sixty. The money was used exclusively for the colored poor and failure to pay the poll-tax was deemed evidence of vagrancy. [And yes, I can hear you out there thinking—wasn’t a dollar a lot of money back then? It was, and no doubt these folks didn’t have it to pay—but they were refusing to work, too. The legislators were painfully aware of this. They were not dealing with an unknown entity. I have no doubt, nor am I ashamed to admit, this legislation was purposefully designed to get these people off the streets and countryside and back to work, either on the old plantation or a new one. These folks had had more than enough time to secure work, under the watchful eye of the Freedman’s Bureau, in a place teeming with a need for laborers. And I’m sorry, folks, but except in rare instances requiring learned skills such as smithing or carpentry, farming was all there was.]
(3) Though the Negro could now sue (and be sued), plead in court, own and dispose of property, marry in the same manner as whites (issue resulting from cohabitation before the war was hereby deemed legitimate), he was expressly  prohibited from renting or leasing land outside incorporated cities and towns. He could own land and farm, but he couldn’t rent? This dumbfounded reasonable folks (yes, even the white ones) way back then, especially since city life resulted in an idle Negro, drinking, gambling...riotous get-togethers (one of the major complaints against the huge vagrant community). And that was the problem—the sheer number of vagrant Negroes. The distasteful habits of a pack of white vagrants were no different, there were just significantly fewer such. Besides, the sheriff could shoot a bunch of the latter and the U.S. Army and the Freedman’s Bureau wouldn’t care—and yes, I’m being facetious.
(4) Marriages between blacks and whites were prohibited and punishable by life imprisonment. I’d love to know how many people served life terms for that. Wouldn’t it have been simpler just to not recognize the union? Yeah, bet our ancestors concluded likewise—they had to have been thinking they solved the problem with the threat. And just for the record—the South’s not the only place that law existed.
(5) If doing odd jobs, the Negro required a license from the mayor to work in town or the Board of Police to work in the country. The license could be revoked for cause at any time and all work contracted for more than a month was to be agreed to in writing—in duplicate and read to the freedman before two disinterested white witnesses, so there was no confusion as to what was expected of either party. [Failure of the freedman to complete his contract had become a real problem for the individual hiring him.] The freedman could be arrested for not completing his obligations, then required to work it off—along with the cost of arresting him/her. Fines were also enacted against individuals encouraging the freedman to break his contract. Note that it was the Freedman’s Bureau, not the former slave master, who insisted on contracts for Negro workers. This was a misguided effort to protect the worker, but the Negro considered contracts an effort to tie him to individuals/plantations and resisted agreeing to them. Again, labor was refusing to “work” and lord knows there was a lot of work to do. 

(6) Other prohibitions enacted included the right to carry firearms and knives, rioting/disturbing the peace, using insulting language or gestures, and impersonating a minister. I do believe some of the above derived from the old slave code, but given that last prohibition, I don’t think the legislature came up with all these sanctions willy-nilly. They came up with them because they were a problem. The main complaint against their enactment would be that they were aimed at the Negro only. I mean really, we don’t want white men impersonating ministers do we? But I would also be willing to bet that law already existed somewhere else—as would have been one against inciting a riot.

This legislation created some degree of consternation among the more pragmatic in Mississippi and a firestorm of opposition in the North where newspapers reprinted it in detail and claimed its enactment would mean a return to slavery. The point is the legislation was imprudently directed against the overt problem—Negro vagrancy—and being judged by an ignorant and prejudiced people who neither understood nor cared to understand the mess they had made of the South or how the South should be expected to deal with it. If I might quote the Chicago Tribune, 1 December 1865:  “We tell the white men of Mississipi that the men of the North will convert the state of Mississippi into a frog pond before they will allow any such laws to disgrace one foot of soil in which the bones of our soldiers sleep and over which the flag of freedom waves.”

A bit arrogant in my opinion. The Chicago Tribune and papers like it had already been responsible for the self-serving sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of Yankee lives to fullfill their self-righteous cause—want to take any bets as to how many of those soldiers would tell you he was fighting to free the slaves? No, odds are he’d tell you he died to preserve the “Union” and for better or worse the Union had been preserved. Now the Tribune is obligating more? “Our big mouth, your blood” so to speak. The Chicago Tribune was an anti-slavery/abolitionist newspaper, Lincoln’'s “voice” in the west and instrumental in winning him the Republican nomination and the presidency. So, think about the source when being told about the “firestorm of opposition” to your trying to simply make your home liveable after said opposition has burned it down.
Arguably, the actions of the 1865 legislature undermined Presidential Reconstruction. Certainly it might have pushed some conservative Republicans into the Radical camp, but I’d say those were already on the brink. The issue of slavery and justice for the Negro was not the higher purpose here and not what those men should have been guarding against. Nor would they have had to jump into the Radical camp to ensure said justice. Afterall, there was never any secret, nor should there have been surprises, as to where the South stood in any of this. Did they really think that the South now believed God had been on the North’s side in all this, and it had finally seen the light? No, the South’s actions simply made it easier for the snake to shed his last shred of old skin and excuse the coming onslaught to Reconstruct the South into what he wanted it to be.

But the battleground indeed was in Washington between President Johnson and the Radicals in Congress (and not to be ignored, the shadowy, self-aggrandizing economic interests that fueled them). In my opinion, the Radicals were pathetic excuses for Americans who, spurred by a variety of interests ranging from idealism to economic expediency, spurned the restrains placed on them (and their handlers) by the Constitution. They would stop at nothing short of full control of Reconstruction. Once Reconstruction was in their hands, they had the South on which they imposed radical legislatures and representatives. These in turn provided the means to permanently alter the Constitution and, therefore, the Republic. In my opinion, there was nothing, short of full capitulation to tyranny, the South could have done during Presidential Reconstruction that would have met with Radical favor. The “Union”, stability in the South, prosperity for all, or even advancement of the Negro race was not their goal. Every attempt to bring order back to the South was blasphemed as an attempt to reinstitute slavery. At that point in history, the Old South, devastated as it was, still blocked their way—because their way required major alterations to the Constitution, and with the path blocked, the bloody war of attrition against the South was for naught. Today, yesteryears’ veiled offensive by the self-righteous to eliminate all threats to their goal of a corrupt democracy is lauded as the just, but failed attempt to fulfill the promises of democracy “gleaned” from the Declaration of Independence. This belief is sacrosanct.  

And for the record, those evil doers did not fail. Aided by the malfeasance and base corruption of less visionary men who served as their vanguard [dare I say smokescreen?], their insidious objective of skewing the federal-state dynamic achieved, they merely abandoned their minions. Those infesting the South, which never gave up fighting them, subsequently fled. But the damage was done.

As they’d predicted, Senators Alcorn and Sharkey were denied their seats in the Thirty-ninth Congress as were their counterparts in the House. The same holds true for the other representatives elected across the defeated South. Ah, but represented or not, the South could still jump in there and happily pay that cotton tax!

I’ll pick up with Alcorn in my next post. Thanks for reading, 



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