On 24 July 1868, immediately following Mississippi’s defeat of the proposed Republican constitution (10 July), Representative John Bingham (Republican from Ohio and traitor extraordinaire who was the primary author of the Fourteenth Amendment and was a member of the House Select Committee on Reconstruction) introduced a bill from said committee for the “speedy readmission of Mississippi, Virginia, and Texas.” Recall that in the summer of 1868, these were the three “unreconstructed” states still outside the Union and lacking representation in Congress (and until the Radicals were sure they had the kind of representation they wanted the people of those states to have—that being representatives to support the Radicals—they would remain unrepresented). In the case of Mississippi, Bingham’s bill called for the reassembly of the “Black and Tan” convention, giving more power to the convention in carrying out the election and subordinating the commanding general to a support role. Polling booths firmly in Radical hands, the constitution was to be resubmitted to the new voting elite for ratification. Benjamin Butler, representing Massachusetts, spoke in favor of Bingham’s bill on the House floor, but did not record a vote. Nevertheless, plenty of other Republicans (of course, that’s mostly what there was to vote) did. The bill passed by a huge majority and went to the Senate. On 27 July, the Senate tabled it. New York Senator Roscoe Conkling, himself a Radical, said basically that there was too much to consider to pass a hasty bill.
Ah, to have been a fly on the wall back then. Indeed, the Radicals were apparently taking stock. Cracks had started to appear in the foundation of their tyranny. They were being pretty presumptuous, not to mention heavy-handed, with their “centralization/Utopian schemes.” Forcing social and educational “enlightenment” on the defeated South was one thing, but, self-righteous, assuming %@$+@rds that many of them were (the balance being power-hungry thieves), they were pressing the envelope a little too hard north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Less enlightened Northerners, or I should say more practical ones, were paying attention. In tandem with that, the radicalization of Tennessee and Georgia was going to hell in a handbasket, so yes, it had probably dawned on Mr. Conkling that he and his colleagues needed to tread carefully regarding the reentry of Mississippi, Virginia, and Texas. To maintain and grow their powerbase, the Radicals had to have control of those Southern states to offset the Northern ones they could not so easily wield their tyranny over and were actually in jeopardy of losing (not only to the Democrats, but to conservative Republicans who did not see the future with their perverted vision). One more thing, and this is just my opinion, but I suspect that the Radical powers in Washington, unable to recognize mirror images of themselves in the provinces, suspected they had idiots in control of the Radical wings down in Dixie. If they wanted to ensure a Radical Republican Mississippi they had to get the right people in place—not only to increase power, but to keep it, hence Conkling’s caution.
The Senate’s tabling the Bingham Bill was a major setback for the Eggleston clique down in Mississippi. Understand that in the summer of 1868, no one doubted that the proposed progressive constitution and the Republican ticket had been fairly defeated. Only after the failure of Bingham’s effort to simply vote again—after ensuring the Radicals had full control of the voting booths—did schemes surface to vacate the conservative victory based on alleged fraud and intimidation. Hence, the “committee of five’s” subsequent assembling in Jackson for four months and concocting its affidavits of fraud and its premature findings to offset General Gillem’s report (see the Committee of Five Comes Alive). The committee subsequently cast out the votes from select counties, recounted the remaining votes, and declared the new constitution ratified and the Republican ticket elected. I can just imagine General Gillem’s smirk—okay, I actually imagine him saying some things, but what he said publicly was, no, that didn’t happen.
The Radicals’ declaration of victory failing with the general, off they went to Washington, (James Alcorn in company), to see what they could accomplish with Congress. But as we already know, the committee of five (blossomed now into the committee of sixteen) was not the only group from Mississippi that descended on the House Select Committee on Reconstruction that winter. The conservative Republicans and a Democrat contingent did, too.
The 41st Congress assembled on the 19th of March 1869 at which time Benjamin Butler, Representative from Massachusetts and now chairman of the House Select Committee on Reconstruction, introduced a bill in the House for organizing a provisional government for Mississippi. Butler’s bill went to committee, and on the 24th of March, the chairman of said committee (that was Butler) recommended its approval. It was basically the Bingham Bill with which I introduced this post—at least that part of the Bingham Bill dealing with Mississippi.
A brief aside here, if I may, on the history of the House Select Committee on Reconstruction. It started out as the Joint Committee on Reconstruction (also known as the Committee of Fifteen) on 13 December 1865 (39th Congress, March 1865 to March 1867). It was the brain-child of the fanatical Radical Republican representative from Pennsylvania, Thaddeus Stevens, and was the organized beginning by Congress to get President Andrew Johnson under control, or more specifically, get Reconstruction under congressional control. Nine House members sat on the committee along with six senators. Senator William P. Fessenden (Maine), Salmon P. Chase’s brief successor at Treasury, was the committee’s chairman. Twelve Republicans and three Democrats comprised the group. It was this committee that drafted the Fourteenth Amendment and established the requirement that the Southern states ratify that desecration to the Constitution before being readmitted to the Union. Apparently believing it had accomplished its job of summarily destroying the Founders’ Republic, the Senate opted out of further participation and with the 40th Congress (March 1867-March 1869), we see only a House Select Committee on Reconstruction chaired by Thaddeus Stevens, whom the grim reaper collected in August 1868, much too late for the South or for the Republic.No matter, another Radical in the form of George S. Boutwell from Massachusetts succeeded to the chair. It is Boutwell’s group, meeting during the 40th Congress’ third session (December 1868-March 1869), that the contenders for power in Mississippi descended upon. Nine men, seven Republicans and two Democrats comprised the House committee at that time. The two Democrats were James Brooks of New York and James Beck of Kentucky, who was the only true Southerner on the Committee. Alabama (having been blessed with reentry) also had a representative on the committee—Benjamin W. Norris, a former U. S. Army paymaster from Maine who settled in Mobile, Alabama and continued to work with the Freedmen’s Bureau after the war. He was a puppet carpetbagger, y’all, at the apex of his short-lived political career—representative of Alabama he was not.
By the time Butler had assumed the committee chair during the 41st Congress’ first session (March 1869), membership had grown to thirteen (nine Republicans and four Democrats). Though the presence of more Democrats on the committee implies increased Southern sympathy (Fernando Wood of New York, the Tammany Hall fellow whose cotton interest led him to advocate New York City’s secession back in 1861, was now on the committee), Beck remained the only true Southerner. By the time the second session had rolled around in December 1869—and yes, I know I’m ahead of myself in the historical narrative—committee membership had grown to fifteen, meaning two more bodies had been added, both Republican—both carpetbaggers, one representing Virginia and one representing Mississippi. Their careers’ would be short, too, but not short enough to undo the damage they and others like them did to the Republic. For future reference, that Mississippian was George McKee, the only Republican on the 1868 ticket that won his congressional seat. Of course, he had to win it a second time, but that was later...and easier the second time around, and he wouldn’t be the lone winner in that second round, either. I’ll elaborate more in a future post, and I’ll continue with Butler and his bill in my next post.
Thanks for reading,