Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Republicans Sort Out the Election of ’68

This post is number twenty-three in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States and picks up with the election in July of 1868 in which Mississippians rejected the progressive constitution framed by the Republican-dominated state constitutional convention. For earlier posts on Alcorn, (best read in sequence from oldest to most recent), start with 17 February, 24 March, 16 April, 17 July, 24 July, 18 September, 9 October, 23 October, 5 November, 22 November, 15 December, 29 December 2014, 13 January, 24 January, 9 February, 24 February, 9  March, 31 March, 8 May, 10 June, 30 June and 3 August 2015 below.


On the eve of Mississippi’s decision on the new state “reconstruction” constitution framed by the Black and Tan Convention in 1868, President Andrew Johnson directed General Irwin McDowell to assume command of the Fourth Military District from General A. C. Gillem. McDowell served from 4 June to 4 July 1868 and issued only one general order of note. That was the removal of Governor B. G. Humphreys and Attorney General Charles E. Hooker from their civil positions. The reason given for their removal was alleged resistance to the Reconstruction Acts, the specific charge being they campaigned against the proposed constitution. 

McDowell appointed Brevet-Major General Adelbert Ames, a lieutenant colonel of the Twenty-fourth Infantry, United States Army, provisional governor and Captain Jasper Myers, United States Army, Attorney General. Ames proceeded immediately to Jackson and sent word to Humphreys asking when the governor could conveniently receive him. Humphreys delayed his response a week, in the interim telegraphing President Johnson and informing him of events. Johnson responded that he did not approve of the governor’s removal and directed Humphreys to inform Ames he disapproved the order. An odd line of communication for the Commander in Chief, don’t you think?  

Based on Johnson’s reply, Humphreys refused to give up the state house or the archives. At this point (23 June 1868) Colonel Biddle, Commander of the military post at Jackson, sent a detail of soldiers to the state house. They took possession and with bayonets refused to let the duly-elected governor enter.  

For some days after his removal from the executive office, Humphreys and his family continued, with Ames’ blessing, to share the governor’s mansion with the new provisional governor. Then the political situation developing as it did (we are now into July and approaching the final day of balloting on the new constitution, and Humphreys was, no doubt, out there stumping against it), the living conditions became untenable for General Ames and he requested the Humphreys family vacate the mansion. Again Humphreys refused stating the Mississippi taxpayer had legally elected him governor to live in a home built with taxpayer money and he’d vacate it once said taxpayer/electorate had chosen a governor. Stubborn old coot wasn’t he? God bless him. [I really think he was trying to make a “justified” scene.] But alas, the military was again called in and the family forcibly removed from the mansion. It was Humphreys’ persistent hostility to the proposed “Republican” constitution that drove Ames’ desire to enforce his perceived right to sole occupancy of the mansion. He wrote his final letter to Humphreys on 10 July, the final day of the election. The announcement of the glorious Republican defeat doubtlessly colored Ames’ mood. Recall that he was married to Benjamin Butler’s daughter—“Beast” Butler, infamous for his tyrannical and/or sloppy and corrupt occupation of New Orleans (and other places from where he routinely gave Lincoln cause to remove him). Also, with the rejection of the constitution, it looked like Ames would be provisional governor for a while. 

But answer me this, if any of you out there have an answer. Why was Gillem replaced for a month by Irwin McDowell who issued the order to remove Humphreys from the executive office? Remember, this is occurring after Johnson has lost the power struggle with the Radicals in Congress over the direction of Reconstruction. Then McDowell, the man Johnson put in place, orders Ames into the governorship and Humphreys out. But when Humphreys queries Johnson on the matter, Johnson tells the governor—not either of his subordinates (well, I guess he might have told McDowell by other correspondence—like through his Commanding General of the Army, Grant, or his new Secretary of War, (General) John Schofield, both of whom were not only in positions to, but were quite capable of telling Irwin McDowell to countermand the order had they been so inclined). Theoretically, Johnson as Commander in Chief should have been able to straighten this mess out with a word, but he was a lame duck, and I’m not convinced anyone in the military was listening to him any longer. I only point all this out, because it is so telling of how great the tyranny wielded by Congress when the Radicals appear to be in control of the military. At least that’s how I’m seeing it. Grant, of course, is their choice to be the next Republican nominee for president. No doubt he knew which side of the bread his butter was on. 

Then suddenly, on 4 July, Gillem (Johnson’s man apparently, and I do know Gillem was from Tennessee) is back in the commander’s chair in time for the defeat of the constitution/Republican ticket in the state election. Ha, maybe the dark, shadowy figures pulling whatever strings were being pulled should have left McDowell there longer—but a good part of the polling happened under McDowell’s watch.
We know that as of November 1867 there were 139,327 eligible voters in Mississippi. In June/July 1868, 56,231 votes were cast in favor of the new progressive constitution and 63,860 votes against. That’s a total of 120,091 votes cast or an 86% turnout rate, which is a good turnout by any period’s standards I would think. 

Humphreys defeated the Radical contender B. B. Eggleston for governor by 8,000 votes and the Democrats won 66 of the 138 legislative seats (48%), 12 of the victorious legislators were black. Only one of them, Reverend T. W. Stringer, a minister with the African Methodist Episcopal Church from Ohio, via Canada, who at the time of his election resided in Vicksburg, was elected to the Senate.  

As soon as it recovered from the shock of defeat, the constitutional convention’s self-appointed committee of five , the chairman being W. H. Gibbs, ex-major, Fifteenth Illinois Infantry, went to work to ascertain the results and vacate the Democratic victory. The committee directed the commissioners it had appointed at each polling booth to obtain reports and concluded that fraud and intimidation had occurred in a number of counties and appointed a sub-committee to confer with General Gillem from whom they requested a full investigation. General Gillem responded he had already had an army officer—with troops—investigate each reported incident of fraud before and during the election. In addition, the army had been present at each polling booth along with the constitutional convention’s commissioners assigned to “oversee” the election (see my 3 August post near the bottom). Gillem reported to the Secretary of War (Stanton had resigned and the aforementioned John Schofield had assumed the post) that fraud had occurred on both sides, but under the circumstances, incidents were minimal given the situation in Mississippi. I will discuss the rebuttal to the Radicals’ charges of fraud and intimidation in my future discussion of the Butler Bill before the House during which James Beck of Kentucky conducts a detailed defense of Mississippi’s defeat of the onerous constitution. 

In the wake of Gillem’s refusal to investigate further—read that as “in the wake of Gillem’s refusal to declare fraud where there was none,” the frustrated “committee of five” decided to perform its own investigation and to withhold its proclamation until the results were known. In the interim, it forwarded a long report to the congressional Reconstruction Committee in Washington two days before Gibbs’ registrars had completed the initial investigation. The committee of five was apparently attempting to head off Gillem’s report. What did the facts matter? The party line was the same across the Southern states, and the investigators cited the same-ole, same-ole threats of job loss, intimidation, murder, social proscription, and so forth. They planned to create the supporting documentation for their allegations in the near term. 

After putting the report in the mail, the committee of five opened its own investigation—remember, they’d given themselves this “right” in wrapping up the Black and Tan Convention. This is the point in time members meant to come up with the documentation to support the “validated” allegations they’d just sent off to Congress. They rented rooms in the capital, acquired stationery at state expense and gave themselves $10.00 a day per diem for their self-imposed services. General Gillem wasn’t pleased with the committee. First, he’d already investigated, and second, prior to the election he’d countenanced their insistence of having three commissioners of their own at each polling place during the election even though the Reconstruction Acts had specified the commanding general would appoint officers or persons to act as commissioners. 

Needless to say, the committee was overwhelmed with disappointed office seekers claiming fraud and terror. Hundreds of affidavits were given—most marked with an “x” —claiming intimidation had swayed their vote or kept them from the polling booth completely. These affidavits were made by Negroes from all over the state. The affidavits were drawn up behind closed doors, and the Democrats were not given the opportunity to cross-examine, rebut, or even see the reports subsequently forwarded to Washington.  

What the committee of five hoped—indeed, they went so far as to request—was that Congress declare a Republican victory, approve the Constitution, and bring Mississippi back into the Union with them and their cohorts in charge. For days before Gillem’s report arrived in Washington, men claiming to represent the committee of five hung around the doors of the Reconstruction Committee offices advocating just that.  

Who these individuals were, I do not know—probably part of the Republican mob set in place for such occurrences. They didn’t necessarily even have to be from Mississippi or the South—just agents in waiting to support the puppets in place throughout the South. All of this is just my opinion and based on nothing but the fact they were there immediately in the wake of the defeat at a time that predated air travel. Telegrams were speedy, though, as was prior planning. 

I will continue the efforts of the committee of five in my next post. 

Thanks for reading. 



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