Friday, May 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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