Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Black and Tan’s Committee of Five Comes Alive--Like Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster

This post is number twenty-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. For earlier posts in this long series based 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,  3 August, and 30 August 2015.

The investigation promulgated by the committee of five to prove fraud in the June/July 1868 election (see my 30 August post) continued its work for four months. On 3 November its chairman, W. H. Gibbs, ex-major, 15th Illinois Infantry, issued a proclamation from “the rooms of the committee of five, of the Mississippi constitutional convention” reiterating the convention’s processes in framing the rejected constitution under the Reconstruction Acts and concluding that the constitution submitted to a vote of the people that past summer had been duly ratified and the Republican ticket elected. Gibbs and cohorts came up with his “legal” votes cast by throwing out the results of Copiah, Carroll, Chickasaw, De Soto, Lafayette, Rankin, and Yallobusha Counties on account of threats, intimidation, fraud, and violence. He even went so far as to declare five Republican representatives had been elected to the 41st Congress even though elections for that Congress had not been held. Shoot, if you’re writing up your own election results, why not go for broke? The report also declared that a large number of the Democrats elected to the legislature won their seats through fraud.

The provocative statements were modus operandi of the Radicals across the South. Today they are accepted as gospel. Fraud and intimidation occurred on both sides, but given the skewed population at the time and the overwhelming presence of Federal troops and registrars at the polls (and the countryside where trouble was reported), I believe that much of what the Democrats/Conservatives were accused was fabricated, a prevailing thought often alluded to in the Democratic papers at the time. But no matter what the committee of five attempted to hatch, the rejected constitution left Mississippi under military rule. At home, General Gillem was in charge and the case of the rejected constitution, along with allegations of tyranny and fraud against it, were in the hands of a Radical Congress. 

Emboldened by that partisan Congress, Mississippi’s Radicals called for a convention in Jackson on 25 November 1868 and drew up a memorial requesting Congress declare the new constitution ratified, presented causes for the present “embarrassment” of Republicans within the state, and requested permanent relief from Congress—that translated to “remove the disloyal citizens from civil positions and put us in their place.” To justify this takeover of state government, members asserted that a large class of Mississippians was in defiance of authority and the wishes of Congress and that class had rejected all terms for restoration to the Union and assumed the right to dictate the terms under which its members would agree to reenter the Union—the one we supposedly never left.  

In tandem with framing this memorial, the committee of five appointed a committee of six persons from the state at large and two from each of the five congressional districts to proceed to Washington and lay the memorial before Congress and urge readmission of the state. This was the committee of sixteen:

1. State at large:  

R.W. Flourney*
Jonathan Tarbell
Abel Alderson
Alston Mygatt
E. Stafford
F. Hodges 

2. Congressional district representatives: 

First: U. Ozanne, J. L. Alcorn**
Second: W. W. Bell, J. G. Lyons
Third:  George F. Brown, G. W. Van Hook
Fourth:  T. W. Stringer, H. W. Barry
Fifth: E. J. Castello, W. H. Gibbs 

*Flourney was a Southern secessionist who was, by 1867, reputed to be the most Radical Republican in the state.
**Yes, the man who started this series long ago is now a “card-carrying” Radical Republican, at least, in the official sense.

In the meantime, the Republican Party offices in almost every county in the state held mass meetings/conventions and drew up resolutions for the committee of sixteen to set before the Reconstruction Committee in Washington to support Congressional interdiction. In lieu of declaring an all-around Republic victory that past July, options offered were setting up a provisional government in Mississippi (Republicans in charge, of course) or reconstituting the constitutional convention. All these resolutions were printed in the state’s (Republican) newspapers and transmitted to the committee of sixteen in Washington for inclusion with the other material set before the Reconstruction Committee. Doubtless the Democratic newspapers put the word out, too, with fiesty comments, but doubt they sent them to the Reconstruction Committee—to Democratic Representatives in the “loyal states”, perhaps, who did have their seats? 

And with that last comment, it is important to note that events in Mississippi were not occurring in a vacuum. The tyranny wrought by Congressional Reconstruction was no longer meeting simple resistance across the late “insurrectionary states”. Legal recourse for justice to the Southern taxpayer had been routinely thwarted by the powers now residing in Washington, and the result was evolving into a backlash. Events in Georgia and Tennessee had taken such turns that the Radicals in Congress were forced to re-evaluate the terms for readmitting the last three “unreconstructed” states of Virginia, Texas, and Mississippi back into the Union and are important for understanding what happened in Mississippi. Oh what a tangled web casting aside the Constitution had wrought, and the Radicals had no intention of returning to “the law of the land” to sort it all out and repair the situation. To them, the Constitution was a worthless piece of paper to be circumvented and altered (so they could give public homage to it without allowing it to affect their agenda). I will continue with this adjunct in my next post.  

Thanks for reading,



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