Monday, July 18, 2016

The 1869 Radical Republican Convention in Mississippi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Monday, July 4, 2016

Ah, President Ulysses Simpson Grant’s Feet of Clay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Monday, June 20, 2016

Lewis Dent, a Relevant History

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

In my recent post concerning the Mississippi Democratic Party, led as of 1869 by the dominant New Departurist faction, I discussed its coalition with the Scalawags (“Southern” Republican Party) to defeat the Radical ticket in November.
I think referring to the Scalawags in Mississippi at this point in history as members of a “Southern” Republican Party more accurately describes their affiliation than the term faction. There were two Republican parties in Mississippi in 1869 and probably as early as that Republican defeat in 1868, if not before.
As of  May, these covert allies, New Departurists/Scalawags, supposedly independent of each other, were whispering the name of Lewis Dent, U. S. Grant’s brother-in-law, as nominee for governor in opposition to the Radical candidate.
Lewis Dent was not a stranger to Mississippi, nor Mississippi to him, but he was not well-known to the masses and the bulk of what was known would not necessarily be judged as favorable. He had been a government lessee of abandoned land in Coahoma County since late in the war and had been residing in the county at the time Grant was elected president in November of 1868. After Grant and Dent’s sister Julia moved into the White House, Dent was invited to join them in Washington. This was where he was residing when the conservative political leaders in Mississippi approached him regarding his possible acceptance of the nomination for governor on the National Union Republican Party/Scalawag ticket. It’s my gut feeling, however, that feelers for the position had been made prior to that.

Back in the early winter of 1868-1869, when the Wofford group had followed the committee of sixteen to thwart the latter’s efforts to have Congress vacate the Republican defeat that past summer, Lewis Dent had actively supported the Wofford contingent with the President. What exactly that meant, I can only surmise. We already know that Grant was sympathetic to the conservative Republicans involved in a similar situation in Virginia, and more than likely his feelings were much the same, without anyone else’s influence, regarding Mississippi. I have little doubt, though, that Dent’s relationship with Mississippi and that of the President, gave the Wofford group greater access to the President either directly or indirectly. I’m taking a leap in assuming, at this point, that the committee of sixteen’s inroads had been greatest with the House Reconstruction Committee and Congress, but I’m supported in my assumption by the subsequent record of events. Yes, the proof here is to be found in the pudding.  

Be that as it may, by July 9, 1869, when Dent officially responded to the conservative contingent that had come to Washington to obtain his permission to nominate him for governor at the September 1869 National Union Republican Party (conservative Republicans/Scalawag) convention in Jackson, he was delighted [my word] to say, “...I beg to assure you that if I can in the least be instrumental in restoring the state of my adoption to her normal place in the Union and securing to her a good local administration, you have permission to use my name for any position within the gift of the National Union Republican Party of your state.” At this point, all indications were that Dent had the President’s support. 

Lewis Dent and his little sister and brother, Julia and John respectively, as well as their older brother Frederick, had been born and raised on White Haven Plantation, a large slave-owning farm in Missouri’s Little Dixie south of St. Louis. Frederick was a West Point graduate, whose roommate had been Ulysses S. Grant. After graduation, Grant was stationed at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri on the river and not too far from White Haven. Frederick often invited his old college friend home and it was on the third such visit that Grant met Julia. Grant visited often afterwards and in 1844, after, apparently, having been asked more than once, Julia agreed to marry him.  

The men all fought in the Mexican War. Lewis (and possibly John), who fought with General Kearny (1846), did not return to Missouri at that war’s end, but opted to remain in California. Frederick, whose military career appeared promising, remained in the army. Grant, whose career did not, eventually left the army, wed Julia, and settled comfortably into management of her aging father’s plantation. 

The Dent boys, Lewis and John, prospered in California. As of 1847, Lewis was in San Diego, then Monterey. He became a judge of the California Superior Tribunal from which he resigned before 1849. In September and October of 1849 he served as one of forty-eight delegates to write and subsequently adopt California’s first Constitution. On 13 November of that same year, at age 26, he was elected to the California congress.

By the early fifties, he and John had become part owners of Knight’s Ferry on the Stanislaus River in the Sierras, Mr. Knight having managed to get himself killed in an altercation. The ferry was a very lucrative business during gold-rush days, drawing in $500.00 per day (this sum is from Wikipedia, and it computes to in excess of $14,000 in today’s money. Other sources limit that to “some” days. Either way, they were doing well). They put up a boarding house and restaurant at the ferry, then built a grist and sawmill around 1853. They sold the property (the ferry?), and the new owner built a bridge, which put the ferry out of business. John also served as the Indian agent for the area, and Louis ran the adjunct trading post. In 1856 these two laid out the “town” of Knight’s Ferry—since there was a great deal of construction there already, that probably means they purchased land, divvied it up into lots and sold those lots at a profit. In California, Lewis wed the daughter of Judge Baine, late of Grenada, Mississippi and a Whig. Of additional note, while the Dent patriarch was building White Haven Plantation up in Missouri, two of his brothers (at least, I’m assuming they were Dents and not relations from the female side, but Lewis’ uncles either way), Benjamin and George, were establishing residence in the then Mississippi territory. Both had apparently moved on by the time Mississippi achieved statehood.

So yes, Lewis Dent had a connection with Mississippi of sorts, but he himself didn’t show up in the state until after his brother-in-law had ravaged it. Then Lewis had taken advantage of the ravaged. Given the apparently close-knit relations between Grant and his wife’s people, I can’t help but wonder how much of what Lewis acquired was done so based on the advice/with the assistence of his sister and brother-in-law, who were in the state at the time imposing on the locals.  

Well, someone had to enjoy the spoils of war, why not family? 

Next time I’ll discuss Grant’s subsequent failure to look out for good ole Lewis. Hint: The Devil made him do it.

Thanks for reading,







Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Democratic Party and its Quest for Legitimacy during Congressional Reconstruction

This post is number forty-one in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States. It constitutes another break in the series in order to bring the reader up to date as to what was happening in the Democratic Party across the South during the timeframe that would see Alcorn and the Radicals come to power and helps explain the context in which Democratic-Conservative policy was being applied in Mississippi.

As stated on numerous occasions throughout this series, the old leaders of the Democratic Party and of the Confederacy comprised the leadership of choice among the Southern taxpayer during Presidential Reconstruction. This was the party whose representatives elected in 1865 were denied their seats in the Republican-held U. S. Congress and for that reason. Matters worsened with the election of 1866, when the Northern populace gave the Radicals, armed with their agenda for altering the Founder’s Republic into a more “democratic” nation, majority control of Congress. In order to carry out the agenda (there were some “loyal” state legislators left who hadn’t completely lost their minds), it was critical that the Radicals had control of the Southern states to ensure passage of their unconstitutional measures. In other words, the right men had to be sent to Washington, as well as compose the Southern legislatures, and they sure as the Dickens couldn’t be Democrats. This accounts for the 1867 Congressional Reconstruction Acts and enactment of martial law across the Southern states, the registration of the Negro voters/disfranchisement of the Southern taxpayer, the progressive constitutions patterned after those in the North and, generally, the wholesale marginalization of both the taxpaying citizens of the South and their party of choice.

For the Democratic Party (self-styled Democratic-Conservatives), achieving electoral success under the restrictions of the Reconstruction Acts resulted first in its combining forces with the Scalawags to thwart the Radical Republicans who were rallying the Negro vote under the protection of federal bayonets. In Mississippi, this policy is seen in the 1868 defeat of the Radical ticket and the progressive constitution.

In Road to Redemption Michael Perman states that initially the Democratic-Conservatives believed that by employing a fusion policy with the Scalawags they could split the Negro vote with the Radicals, a perception prevelant across the South. I had trouble coming to grips with this, because in the 1868 Mississippi campaign to defeat the Radical agenda I saw a coalition of white Southerners (Democrats/Scalawags) united to defeat white Northerners, shored up by a Negro voter base. There was no effort then to garner the black vote, at least not a dedicated one. Yet by the spring of 1869, I see the Democratic Conservatives rallying to the Scalawag ticket, not as it turns out to replicate the 1868 victory, but to support a moderate Republican candidate and a Republican platform, little better than the Radical one. The purpose of this coalition was to defeat the Radical ticket headed by J. L. Alcorn by championing Reconstruction and siphoning off a significant portion of the Radicals’ black voters. Between the summer of 1868 and the spring of 1869, during all those visits and consultations in Washington (which no doubt included pow-wows with other displaced Democrats from all over the South...and probably the North) something had gone haywire within the Southern Democratic Party indicative of a power struggle. The efforts of 1868 and that of 1869 in Mississippi were significantly different, the change being the missing white voter who had championed the conservative call in 1868 to defeat the Radical agenda. Looks like someone figured his support wasn’t enough. But another point Perman makes is that these “enlightened” Southern leaders now perceived the evolution of a two-party system in the South based on race and class, which would have been disruptive to the social order and they would have wished to nip it in the bud.

Fusing with white Scalawags and hoping for black support from that source was not the same as taking the “competitive” approach to electioneering and wooing the Negro voter to the Democratic Party. That required autonomous acceptance of Reconstruction. 

This change in direction for the black vote is known as the “New Departure,” and by 1870 it had become Democratic policy across the South. It sprang as the brainchild of the fusion politics of 1868-1869. The new policy included supporting passage of the Fifteenth Amendment ensuring black suffrage. This capitulation, the leadership spouted, had to occur if the party were to survive and if the South were to salvage any part of its fortunes. The New Departure enabled the Democrats to vie for the black vote by assuring the Freedmen their civil rights were safe in the hands of the Democratic Party, and it also served to assure the “national authority” that Reconstruction had worked.  

Just my opinion, but I figure it more likely the Democrats would have been trying to influence the Northern populace, which was itself getting fed up with the Radicals. Nothing would have persuaded the so-called national authority that the Democrats were now okay, because they didn’t care one way or the other. The Radicals wanted to remain the “national authority”, and they needed control in the South to do that. 

The conservative (Bourbon) faction of  the Democratic Party never committed to the New Departure and was, in fact, opposed to it, seeing it as a fruitless betrayal of principle since the party would not get the black vote. Why would the Negro, entrenched with the party in power—indeed he was the power base that kept it in power—give up his leverage to join the Democrats? This tactic, the Bourbons claimed, operated from a position of weakness and was both degrading and ineffective. The Bourbons correctly maintained that the interests of the black Republicans and white Democrats were different. Rally the white vote they said, it’s there, and forget catering to the blacks. Worse yet, the New Departure, in the minds of the Bourbons [and me] made the Democrats willing participants in the Republicans’ new order and cast aside the principles of the Democratic Party, heir to the antebellum Democrats who believed in home rule, decentralization of the Federal government, non-interference by government in folks’ personal behavior, free trade, and restoring local and individual autonomy. Georgia’s Alexander Stephens said, and I paraphrase, if the country were to be redeemed, it would be done under old-line Democrats with Jeffersonian ideas and principles. Ha! Remember, back in the day of old-line Democrats, Alexander Stephens was a Whig. I think his epiphany occurred back with the secession.

Nevertheless, by 1870 New Departurists were on the ascent across the entire South [and in the North, too, though who they targeted for membership I’m not sure, because there wasn’t much in the way of a Negro population up there, and they’d been bestowing early citizenship on new immigrants for decades before the war, which might explain why so many Yankees didn’t understand the concept of federalism and followed Lincoln to war].

Back on point: In the newly formulated credo of the Southern New Departurist, state rights were as dead as the right to secede and life must go on. They needed to get the damn Yankees out of the South, and they needed the Negro vote to do it. Campaign policy was to influence the Negro and convert him to the Democratic Party, but not to make promises. Canvassers/campaigners were to be honest as to motives (i.e. “We couldn’t stop your suffrage, so now we’re trying to win your vote.”) At the same time they were to point out that the Yankees had not fulfilled their false promises and, therefore, Democrats weren’t going to make them any. Um, for a competitive approach, it doesn’t sound too promising does it? Nevertheless, the Democratic-Conservatives did well in 1870, winning elections at the state level in Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina (and in Texas in 1873). Victories were even more numerous everywhere at the local and county levels where whites were in the majority or where, for whatever reason, Republicans were weak. Oh, duh? Were they delusional on top of everything else? Of course those factors increased the odds for victory. Wishful thinking or not, the New Departurists in Alabama attributed this success to the black vote. Reality struck home in Alabama two years later when participating voters returned the state to Radical rule, but that’s a tale for another post. 

Here’s another tale for a future post, or several future posts, but I wanted to touch on it here primarily because Perman did in Road to Redemption. The Ku Klux Klan predated the New Departure, but its activity during this time period, Professor Perman claims, is testimony to the discord within the Democratic Party. I think my take on what was happening might deviate a little from his, so here’s my opinion: I never bought into the Federal and state governments bringing the Klan to “heel.” Subsidence of Klan activity in the early ’70s coincides with the Democratic-Conservative embarkation on the New Departure competitive policy to expand its voter base. Reading between the lines, one could make a case for the leadership within the Democratic-Conservatives, some perhaps active in the Klan, attempting to “call off the dogs” in order to woo the Negro vote. This, of course, leaves the Bourbons as the bad guys—theoretically, they’d have been the ones promoting continued threats and violence. Perman also points out that it was New Departurist Democrats who were giving testimony at the Congressional hearings on the Klan during these years—they’d had a hand in, but now couldn’t quite get a handle on it—if anything, they couldn’t get a handle on the Bourbons. My point is that the schism within the party could account for the lessening of Klan activity during this time vice its ceasing altogether. Perman further suggests the calling off came too late. Maybe. Maybe not. I’d as quickly put my money on those glittering Radical promises made to the Negro as I would his residual resentment to threats and violence instigated by the Klan; another thing I don’t buy into is black folk being as scared and helpless as they were reported to be.  

So, the Democrats were not idle, and the party was not united in its methodology for ousting the Republicans, but for a brief period in the early 1870s, the New Departurists comprised the party leadership and that resulted in the capitulation to Reconstruction and the loss of its faithful voter base. The most obvious conclusion one could draw from this mess is that the Southern politicians of both parties wanted power (independent of each other), and they wanted the Yankees gone. It made for strange bedfellows, discord, and sacrifice of principle. In the end it was the most principled of the groups (as archaic and dead as some might perceive those principles to be, then as well as now) that ended up in power and held it for over eighty years. Ah, but in the end, its own abuse of power and lack of vision left the Southern Democrats vulnerable to the dark forces of the long-unprincipled Northern Democracy, by then embracing the concept of pure democracy, which purposefully destroyed it. It was the modern national Democrats, again under the shadow of federal bayonets, who played the major role in putting the Republicans back in power across the South. Well, at least they aren’t Carpetbaggers this time around, but I bet we can find plenty of Scalawags among ’em.

There’s more to the New Departurists’ story, primarily the Democratic economic policies vis-à-vis the Republican. Those I will address during the course of my Alcorn series.

I’ll return to Alcorn and Louis Dent next time—one of the best examples of  New  Departurists’ tactics in all of Reconstruction, I imagine.

Thanks for reading,



Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Road to Redemption, Southern Politics, 1869-1879, An Overview on Michael Perman’s Book

I am rereading Michael Perman’s The Road to Redemption for the second time and taking notes more copiously than when I read it the first time. After a bit, I might even read it a third time to pick up more that I might have missed—or points I failed to give enough thought to originally, and I’m sure I’ll always use it for reference.
The book was published in 1984 so it’s over thirty years old and probably familiar to many of you, so please feel free to add comments below. Professor Perman has now been retired a number of years from Chair of the History Department at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC), a position he had yet to attain when he wrote this book. He is British, having arrived in the United States for his graduate studies back in the mid-sixties. He earned his masters in history at UIC and his doctorate at the University of Chicago (1969). His area of expertise is Reconstruction and Southern politics and Road to Redemption is a detailed breakdown of both covering the years 1869-1879.
What I especially like about the work is the emphasis Professor Perman places on the politics of the Democratic Party, vice the popular narrative to recast the malfeasance and tyranny of Republican rule in the South during this period as a noble failure. (Professor Perman may be unprejudiced, but he’s a proper historian. I’m a Southerner, sure of her roots and neither a proper historian nor unprejudiced). And the book is about politics, after all, not an anachronistic judgment of right and wrong vis-à-vis the new-found (since the 1960s), and patently faux and unfair mainstream depiction of the South’s, having been brought to heel for its great sin of slavery, now giving birth to a new evil, racism, held in place by white terror and the ideology of white supremacy during a Reconstruction Period inserted into the long existing pure democracy framed by our ancestors and practiced by the superior North from the git-go. Yes, that is sarcasm you’re reading.
The Republican Party, of course, is addressed in the book; we couldn’t have had Reconstruction without it. In fact, we couldn’t have had...oh, never mind.

Political faction weighs heavy in Road to Redemption. I imagine one of the things that draws a historian interested in political parties to the South during this period is the clear-cut divisions within the parties themselves (Republican, Radical vs Scalawag; Democrat, New Departurist vs Bourbon; and shoot, I guess you might even say the old-line Whigs had loose factions, leaning either toward the unprincipled Republican Party, spawn of Northern Whigs, or leaning to the Democrats who still gave credence to the Constitution and the Republic [this is Charlsie’s analysis of the  Whigs, not Perman’s].
Perman applies Austin Ranney’s terms of “competitive” (promise voters anything, seducing as many as you can into supporting you) and “expressive” (believe in something and “don’t you potential voters even think of joining us if you don’t believe in it, too”) found in Ranney’s Curing the Mischiefs of Faction. These are clearly marked, in both Southern parties of the day, and Professor Perman identifies the factions as such and explains the why of the schisms. His study covers the entire South in general (each state had its own quirks) and makes reference to parallel events in the North as they affected the parties in the South (and vice versa).
More than anything, Road... is a study of the Democratic Party and its struggle for legitimacy in an altered nation where its own principles burdened its revival. This frustration led to its sometime fusion with the Southern Republicans (Scalawags) in an effort to thwart the Radicals’ quest for power (but not necessarily the Radical agenda) and its dalliance with the New Departure which advocated acceptance of Reconstruction and the amendments to the Constitution [that desecrated federalism and formally ended the Founders’ Republic—the brackets being indicative of me, not Perman]; and the subsequent rise of the Bourbon faction that eschewed fusion and New Departure politics and went on to “redeem” the South, or what was left of it. The book has a rich bibliography and copious notes, which may or may not be appreciated by us prejudiced history lovers. Me, I like them.
It is not my purpose here to complete a synopsis of the book; those details I anticipate folding into the narrative of future posts on Reconstruction. This particular post is a reference point, an anchor, so to speak. Professor Perman’s being a Brit among the teachers up in those Yankee educational institutions is an anchor of sorts, too. I’m comfortable with him. His objective is to explain Southern politics, not to judge them. Further, he appears untainted by the mainstream anti-Southern/drunk-on-democracy agenda rewriting “who we are as a nation.” Nor does he come across as pro-Southern. He comes across as a man with an interest in a period (Reconstruction) and a subject (politics) to which he’s devoted a great deal of study and acquired abundant knowledge.
Thanks for reading,

Monday, May 23, 2016

So, What About Those Mississippi Democrats in 1869?

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

The Democratic Party (which at the time called itself the Democratic-Conservative Party) is credited for the defeat of the progressive constitution and the Republican ticket in the summer of 1868 and rightly so, but here, too, something is missing from the record. James Lusk Alcorn is on record for stating it was the Scalawag J. L. Wofford, ex-Confederate and founder of the Republican Party in Mississippi, who led the charge that defeated both. It’s important for the reader to understand there was a great divide between Southern Republicans (Scalawags/conservatives) and Northern Republicans (Carpetbaggers/Radicals). It wasn’t a pure delineation. There were Northern conservatives as well as Southern Radicals, but generally the line was clear. Yes, they worked together to their mutual benefit, but the Northerners learned early on that they couldn’t trust the Southern wing when it came to telling Southerners how things were gonna be. The Scalawags wanted a Southern party not a Northern one, and only a brief perusal of the history of those dark days tells the story written between the lines. It also probably explains, at least in part, the “encourage immigration” point in the Carpetbag platform. 

Now a lot of this is my opinion, but for sure Wofford managed his victory over the Radicals with lots of Democratic-Conservative help. He teamed up with like-minds (and by like-minds I mean those opposed to the Radicals and the proscription clauses) within the Democratic leadership, which would have included the Bourbons who would have played a critical role in the 1868 victory. Analyzing what happened in 1869, I’m of the opinion it was the Bourbons who got the constituents to the polls in 1868 and defeated the Republican agenda across the board. This “conservative” alliance rocked the Radicals’ world—for a hiccup in time. And how different things might have been in Mississippi and across the entire South in the decades following the war had there been only a Southern Republican Party opposing the old Democrats, a healthy choice between two diametrically opposed philosophies on the role of state government that from election to election could have kept the overall political atmosphere balanced. That was, in fact, what Alcorn originally envisioned and was what Wofford had created, but the spectre of the arrogant, self-righteous Radical invaders from a despised section of the nation and their ancillary corruption in tandem with the willingness of the Scalawags to cooperate, all too often, with them for pragmatic reasons (and yes, self-aggrandizement) proved the fodder that fueled the Bourbon resurgence and leaves me unable to find do-diddily-squat on the likes of J. L. Wofford today. 

No doubt, at least in my mind, these two “conservative” bodies thought they could pull off the same victory the second time around. As stated in my last post, in June of 1869 the Scalawag Party had invited many from that same cabal to its “steering committee” meeting. How many Democrats attended, I do not know, but I surmise the “regular” Democrat leadership was represented—Bourbons probably showed up to get a feel for what was going down, though I’m confident they already knew. 

As of the spring of 1869, the Democratic-Conservative Party saw little hope for forward progress as things stood, but did organize as such. It declared itself in favor of ratifying the progressive constitution with the proscriptive clauses removed. As early as 22 April, ex-governor A.G. Brown (Democrat) wrote a letter to the Jackson Clarion, which was then favorably discussed by leading newspapers throughout the state as well as meetings of conservatives in different parts of the state. In the letter, Brown proposed:

-acceptance of the Fifteenth Amendment

-guarantee of civil and political rights of the freedmen

-no “partisan” opposition to the new president (Grant)
-hostility to men who come into the state to make mischief (we’re back to the Carpetbagger’s “immigrants” here)

-good will to all who come to Mississippi in good faith to share in the fortunes of the Southern people 

So, this Conservative-Democratic Party platform had much in common with the Scalawag Party platform, and the two groups soon entered negotiations based on their common opposition to the Radicals and the proscription clauses.  

Ah, but here’s the problem: Even though the “regular” Democratic platform had much in common with the Scalawag platform, the Scalawag platform also had much in common with the Radical platform, minus that “mischievous men” business. Simple deductive reasoning, therefore, concludes that the “regular” Democrat platform had much in common with the Radicals, too. I stated in an earlier post that there was more wrong with that progressive constitution than the proscriptive clauses, and the Mississippi taxpayer was aware of it—his Democratic-Conservative leadership had drummed it into him in the months and final weeks leading up to the election in 1868, if nothing else. And the Fifteenth Amendment was a desecration, as was the Fourteenth, to the Constitution. One year later that same leadership is saying neither really mattered, but getting back into the Union at any price and reentry under present conditions was the best to be hoped for 

On 7 August 1869, 33 (Democratic) papers across the state endorsed the policy of cooperation with the Scalawags and urged the people to “support” the plan, an appeal echoed on 9 September when the Democratic Party officially announced its intention not to field a ticket, but to support the Scalawag ticket and the progressive constitution with the proscriptive clauses removed. The name agreed upon for the gubernatorial candidate of the conservative Republicans (the coalition, actually) was Lewis Dent, brother-in-law to Ulysses Simpson Grant. Oh my, the beds politicians fall in and out of. “Ain’t” no wonder, is it, that they disgust the people so? 

Unfortunately, there was too much assumption between the Scalawags and the Democratic-Conservatives as to what was and was not acceptable to the Mississippi taxpayer in that Scalawag platform, and my bet is that constitution most certainly was an issue as was the Fifteenth Amendment. That platform was a capitulation to everything they’d fought, suffered, and died opposing between 1861 and 1865. The Conservative-Democratic Party attitude had degenerated to: “Well, boys, we did lose the war.” Not the best expression to make in the face of a proud and stubborn people who never stopped believing they were right and the antics of their occupiers reinforced that conviction every day, and who had, only a year before at those same leaders’ urging, rallied to defeat and expose the forces of tyranny for what they were. Now they were supposed to capitulate? Talk about surrender in the wake of victory! 

The “Bourbons,” the old marginalized Democrats, were waiting in the wings, watching all this. It’s my personal belief they were the force who actually got the rank and file to the polls the year before. One year later, these stubborn leaders have not capitulated to exigency, to the sacrifice of principle in return for representation in a corrupt, tyrannical, and unconstitutional Congress. So on 20 October 1869, the Democrats opposed to the “Dent Movement” held a convention in Canton, Mississippi (Madison County) north of Jackson stating the Democratic Party could not be committed to support either wing of the Republican Party. The statement further said that “this” leadership would not tell people what to do, but the “opposed-to-the-Dent-Movement” faction would remain firm in its devotion to state rights and leave responsibility for the establishment of Republican hegemony in Mississippi to rest where it properly belonged. But, the faction further stated, that in view of the dissention within the Democratic Party itself it would not put forth a candidate in the 1869 election. The Democratic Party, like the Republican, had split. With the Democrats, the split was over principle, or lack of. With the Republicans, who were generally lacking in principle, particularly in regard to the U. S. Constitution and the Founder’s Republic, the split was over which branch would get the spoils. 

Much has been written on the factions within the Republican Party in the South during Reconstruction to the detriment of historical detail on what was happening within the Democratic Party during these years—not just in Mississippi, but across the South. Similar images exist in every Southern state [shoot, perhaps the Northern ones, too, but today, no one seems to care]. With the idealistic deflection by the left on the faux narrative of slavery and “democracy” being “who we are as a nation” it might never be sorted out. Indeed, the perspective is disappearing. Southerners, certainly, should not let that happen.  

What we’re seeing here within the Democratic-Conservative Party is a movement known as the New Departure. As of 1870, it was in vogue across the South and would also come to dominate the Northern  wing of the Democratic Party.

Actually, I think it still dominates the Northern party only now it’s exponentially worse.
Kidding aside, it basically advocated acceptance of Reconstruction and the Republican program. I plan to delve into more detail about the Southern Democrats and the internal turmoil caused by the New Departure in my next post.

Thanks for reading,









Monday, May 16, 2016

Excuse Me? Who Doesn’t Know the History?

A post in the “Skewing Southern History Series”

I recently published my sixth fiction novel, Honor’s Banner, a sequel to my post-Civil War Gothic, Camellia Creek, and was dismayed to see that my first Amazon review was a one-star. “[B]ut if she did research, she translated it to her own version and trying to rewrite history,” the reviewer says of my Historical Note at the end of Honor’s Banner 

If the review had been a critique of my writing, I would have simply let the matter drop. I’ve learned there’s no way to defend oneself against a critique on craft without appearing gaseous on sour grapes. This reviewer, however, chose to attack the historical accuracy of my work affording me not only an excellent example supporting the theme of my recent posts on the subject of skewing Southern history but also providing me the opportunity to rebut the reviewer’s negative critique. Hereupon, I risk public censure: 

This challenge was put forth by someone who believes it was, and I quote, “Johnson (Lincoln’s Vice President) who made the south a mess after the war because he was a Southerner and he tried to make it so the Plantation owners could use Blacks to rebuild the south even though they were free, by paying little o[r] nothing for wages and generally keep them slaves even though they were free. Blacks were murdered by the thousands in the south after the war, but she [she being me] doesn’t mention that at all.”  

This reviewer’s understanding of Reconstruction is based on revisionist history promoted over the past fifty years. Johnson, a mule-headed man from east Tennessee hated the plantation elite. His falling out with Congress was actually due to his attempt to carryout Lincoln’s plan for Reconstruction (not rebuild the plantation economy, but one of reconciliation), which stumbled in the face of the Radical’s plan of centralization, nullification of state rights, and the demise of Federalism as the Founders meant for it to be. A strong argument can and has been made that Lincoln’s plan cost him his life. I don’t place a lot of stock in Lincoln, but he was not a Radical. Johnson, who the Radicals believed were in his camp, primarily because of his overt enmity to the plantation system, proved a ringer to the Radical cause. He was easier to turn public opinion against than Lincoln would have been, though, so they let him slide (or missed him if one buys into the conspiracy theory of Atzerodt being part of Booth’s team the night Lincoln was murdered and the ancillary belief the Radicals were behind the assassination. I have no opinion either way regarding that particular conspiracy theory.). Nevertheless, the Radicals neutralized Johnson in the fall 1866 elections when the Radicals gained control of Congress.  

As for paying the freed slaves, the Southern economy was in shambles. England, the South’s primary foreign cotton market, had, with the encouragement of Washington and New England mercantilists, cultivated new sources of raw cotton. There was no significant amount of capital to pay anyone until a cotton crop came in—that meant labor with a promise to pay—and the laborers weren’t interested in working and no one made them work. Johnson couldn’t have replicated the plantation economy even if he’d wanted to.  

And those thousands of murdered blacks? I don’t know if a body count was ever made covering twelve years of Reconstruction, and I would be suspect of any number thrown  out there—including the reviewer’s “thousands,” but yes, many were killed: by white Democrats, by white Republicans, and Freedmen killed one another. They killed white folks, too, and white folks killed one another. Some were killed for political reasons, some in self defense. Some murders were real, some were fabricated for fodder in Northern newspapers. At the time of my story, the great majority of Federal troops in the South were Negro and when those troops were disbanded in the spring and summer of 1866 they were trained soldiers. In the years going into Congressional Reconstruction these men (who were all born and raised in the South) made up the bulk of the armed militias supporting the puppet Republican administrations, themselves backed with Federal bayonets. What was happening in the South during these years were pockets of armed warfare. The Negro was not innocent and he was not helpless, no more so than his white counterpart anyway, who, I should add, he outnumbered in Mississippi and South Carolina and made up a significant plurality in the rest of the South. All in all, most of both races survived, actually managing to remain halfway decent to each other despite the aggravation of Northern interlopers.  

But whatever the overall body count, the time period covered by my two novels combined is six months, October 1865-March 1866. Presidential Reconstruction in Mississippi ended in December 1865. At that time, things had begun to unravel between Congress and the man they thought was on the Radical side (Johnson), the fall elections of 1866 are a half year away and the Reconstruction Acts, officially issuing-in Congressional Reconstruction are a year down the road. The murders and alleged fraud and intimidation which are today the lore upon which the righteousness of Reconstruction is woven (and which are, I believe, what the reviewer is basing her critique on) are in the future. The white South is trying to find its footing, the Freedmen either remain on the plantations where they lived prior to and during the war for the reason that it was home, it was relatively safe, and they cared for their white folks and their white folks cared for them. Those who left did so because the plantation was either abandoned by its demoralized and defeated owners (assuming they were still alive) or they believed freedom included the freedom to do as they pleased, and that included doing nothing. These indigents numbered in the hundreds of thousands and they found succor in the larger communities secured by Union troops (who, I reiterate, were mostly black), living off the taxpayer—including the Northern one. I know the history, sans slant, which on close inspection of modern works doesn’t add up.  

Likewise, I’m not sure what to make of the reviewer’s take on my characters:  “...she has taken history and twisted it to make it sound like all who supported the north, anti-slavery, President Lincoln (in other words all things Northern) evil and the Southerners were all wonderful people who treat their slaves so wonderful that they continued to serve them after the War.” 

Did she expect me to make my hero a slave-beating, murdering bigot? Hardly sympathetic, and her implication is not true. The hero of Honor’s Banner is a United States Marine, who honored his oath primarily in support of his Blue-grass Kentucky family. The primary antagonists in both stories are Southerners. Yes, my story is prejudiced in favor of the South, but no more so than most works of escape fiction that happen to portray the hero as the “good” guy. Oh duh. I am a Southerner; my ancestors were Southerners. My pro-Southern stance on history is my brand; other than a love of storytelling, it is the reason I write.  

No, what the reviewer finds fault with is that I have dared to challenge the current liberal orthodoxy of Southern treason and intransigence by making heroes of unrepentant Southerners, who refuse to acknowledge the South’s sins against the faux idolatry of Union and democracy both symbolized by that boogeyman, slavery. Or, perhaps it’s simply that I’ve made the South and Southerners—repentant or not—heroic at all. Guess that makes me guilty, too. 

Well, I can handle it.
Thanks for reading,