Wednesday, November 25, 2015

President Grant Says Mississippi’s Reentry is in the Hands of Congress—Not a Good Place to Be

This post is number twenty-nine 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 Alcorn-driven series, (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,30 August , 13 September, 27 September, 11 October, 25 October 2015, and for a quick refresher most related to the following post, see 8 November 2015.

Ulysses S. Grant was sworn in as president on 4 March 1869. On that date, General Gillem, an Andrew Johnson appointee, was relieved of command and Brevet General Adelbert Ames, son-in-law to “Beast” Butler of New Orleans’ fame and new chairman of the Reconstruction Committee, assumed command of the Fourth Military District (Arkansas and Mississippi, if the reader recalls) headquartered in Vicksburg.

The choice of Ames as the new commanding general was certainly not designed to promote good will among the populace of Mississippi. Recall that Ames was the man who General McDowell, during his brief tenure as commanding general (June-July 1868), appointed Mississippi’s provisional governor. Ames subsequently removed duly-elected Governor Humphreys from the statehouse under point of bayonet, then the governor and his family from the governor’s mansion under similar circumstances. And yes, he’s now (1869) the Commanding General, Fourth Military District and the provisional governor of the state of Mississippi.

On 24 March, the committee of sixteen met with the president and requested his influence for a bill allowing Mississippi’s readmission to the Union without the constitution’s being ratified. Grant said the matter was in the hands of Congress, but he thought the constitution should be resubmitted to the polls to enable electors to vote on the obnoxious clauses separately (those clauses dealing with the proscription of the Confederates, who just happened to make up the bulk of the Mississippi taxpayers).

At this point in time, a committee of “conservative” Republicans from Mississippi arrived Washington, its goal to defeat the “Eggleston Clique.” Eggleston, if the reader remembers, was the president of the Reconstruction convention, which drove the vote for a new constitution and was the nominee for governor on the Republican ticket following the Black and Tan convention. Eggleston and his clique are Radicals.

This newly-arrived group of dissenting moderate Republicans painted themselves up to represent a large body of respectable and influential Republicans within the state. Before the Reconstruction Committee, they protested the state’s Radicals’ attempt to force the constitution on the people. Here are their recommendations:

--declare all offices vacant

--provide for the appointment of a provisional government authorized to fill those vacancies

--divest the constitution of the proscriptive measures

--resubmit the constitution to the people for ratification

To name a few of these individuals: A. Warner, A. C. Fiske, Judge Jeffords, J. L. Wofford, and Frederic Speed. Fiske and Speed were associated with the Vicksburg Republican. None of these men had been members of the Black and Tan Convention and all but one were Northern and remained more or less prominent in the state through the Reconstruction period. I know that Alcorn is on record for blaming J. L. Wofford for the defeat of the constitution in 1868.

Here I need to make a correction to an earlier post regarding Jefferson L. Wofford. The more I learn about Southern Scalawags, the more interesting they become. Wofford was from Tishomingo County in the northeast corner of the state. As I confusedly “thought” in that earlier post, his distinguished ancestors did hail from South Carolina, but Jefferson Wofford was a Mississippian as was his father before him. Jefferson Wofford was also a Confederate hero who won accolades for bravery while commanding the 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, Company D, during the war. Obviously, he is the one Southerner to whom James W. Garner refers in Reconstruction in Mississippi and “obviously” he was not on the Republican ticket defeated in 1868 as my earlier post implied. He was one of the movers and shakers who led to its defeat. He appears to have created, along with the above referenced group of Northern Republican moderates, an alliance similar to what Alcorn envisioned way back in 1865. I surmise this, because the defeat of that 1868 constitution and its Republican ticket took a combined effort on the part of both the moderate Republicans and the Democrats. Wofford was the editor of the Republican Corinth News and later in 1869 he ran for Congress on the Louis Dent ticket. This is the ticket Alcorn and the Radicals would defeat—the subject of a future post. Here, I merely want to give the reader an idea of who the players were converging on Washington in the winter/spring of 1869.

Okay, so far we’ve got the defeated Republican Radical contingent trying to goad Congress and the president into just declaring them victors. At the same time, we’ve got the military saying they are full of hogwash. Then we’ve got a disaffected group of “moderate” Republicans attempting to carve out a place for itself among the ruins of a shattered state. Now enter the meagerly victorious Democrats determined to hold onto their victory. Among this group were ex-governor A. G. Brown, who had been Jefferson Davis’ colleague in the U. S. Senate and who had taken an oath of allegiance to the United States along with William Sharkey in August of 1863 after the fall of Vicksburg. If nothing else, the actions of these men at that time, and their early re-alliance with the glorious “Union,” should have given them credibility before the Reconstruction Committee. They did wield enough influence to obtain the Reconstruction Committee’s agreement to hold the hearings open until their arrival, when, having made it as far as Lynchburg, Virginia, they learned the hearings were about to close and telegrammed Washington requesting the hearings remain open. The Reconstruction Committee waited on them—note that there were token Democrats on the committee who may or may not have influenced that decision. We have these nice tidbits because as of the time Garner was writing Reconstruction in Mississippi, Judge H. F. Simrall, another member of the Democratic group, was still among the living. Simrall states that during his group’s stay in Washington, prominent members of both Houses were anxious to confer with them at their homes. Unfortunately, Garner, and perhaps Simrall before him, does not make it clear if these prominent members were Republican or Democrat, but possibly both. Access to anyone they wished to confer with was easy—in other words, they weren’t shut out.

The Democratic representatives had two interviews with President Grant (we might assume they’d known the man since at least August 1863). The first meeting was in the oval office where they appealed to him to use his influence with Congress to defeat the Radical agenda. Now I’m assuming they were referring to the Radical agenda in the state and not within the general government. The latter would have been particularly delusional, but shoot, depending on how friendly they’d become with the occupying forces back in ’63 it might not have hurt to ask. Their second meeting with Grant was also at the White House at which time members of the committee of sixteen were present. At this latter meeting, Grant allowed comments from two spokesmen from each side and listened, pokerfaced, to their comments. Then he reviewed a printed copy of the proposed Mississippi constitution. He told the group that the proscriptive clauses needed to go. He said they would always be a source of trouble and bloodshed and too often that would be between the races.

Grant’s remedy? He told the assembled group he’d been down to Mississippi—no kidding? The place was poor, he said, and not fully recovered from the war. He could have made the same observation in 1969 had he still been around. He said he could order the commanding general (that was Adlebrain, oops, excuse me, Adelbert Ames by that time) to reconvene the convention, but he wasn’t sure that would really accomplish anything and would be expensive (another understatement, assuming it would consist of the same group of spendthrifts). Then Grant turned to Brown and Simrall (the Democrats) and asked what they would think about striking out the objectionable clauses and resubmitting the constitution for ratification. Those two, at least, thought that would be the best bet for getting the thing ratified and Mississippi back in the Union. Note, this suggestion is being made before Grant’s support of Gilbert Walker in Virginia was known and his subsequently being read the riot act by the Radicals in Congress.

But as the president had already said, the matter was with Congress, and to do justice to what happened in Congress will prove a lengthy post, so I’m saving it for next time.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Participants Gather, and the Plot Thickens

This post is number twenty-eight 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 centered 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 August30 August , 13 September, 27 September, 11 October  and 25 October 2015.

In my last three posts, I have attempted to give the reader some idea of events elsewhere in 1868 influencing the decision on Mississippi’s acceptance back in the Union. With this post, I return to where The Committee of Five Comes Alive...  ended. As of that post, the committee of five, an outgrowth of the Black and Tan Convention that had framed a progressive “reconstruction” constitution subsequently rejected by the people of Mississippi (10 July 1868), had appointed a committee of sixteen, on which James Lusk Alcorn represented the state’s first congressional district. The purpose of the committee of sixteen was to go to Washington and lay a memorial before Congress requesting redress in the wake of the rejection of both the constitution and Republican ticket at the polls.

Mississippi’s committee of sixteen arrived in Washington in December of 1868, shortly after the opening of the 40th Congress’ third session. Before the Reconstruction Committee, the chairman of the committee of five, W. H. Gibbs, now representing Mississippi’s fifth congressional district on the committee of sixteen, repeated his conversation with Gillem regarding the committee’s proposed investigation into the July election and the general’s refusal to conduct (further) inquiry. Gibbs told Congress he had a right to make arrangements for the election and appoint commissioners at the polls—I’m not sure of Gibbs’ point here, unless prior to Gibbs’ testimony, Gillem had pointed out to the Reconstruction Committee that he had allowed the committee of five such liberties before the election—exceeding the requirements set forth in the Reconstruction Acts—and therefore the committee of five had no valid reason for complaining about the army’s conduct during the election. Gibbs further told the Reconstruction Committee that a large number of members elected to the legislature in July would be unable to take the oath required by the Reconstruction Acts. For weeks after, the committee of sixteen continued to badger the Reconstruction Committee to ignore General Gillem’s report and either declare Mississippi’s propose constitution ratified or revive the convention.

On 16 December 1868, William Sharkey, the old-line Whig who had opposed secession and served as Mississippi’s provisional governor immediately after the war and who had been elected Senator along with Alcorn back in ’65 when Southern representatives had been denied their seats in Congress, and against whom not even a whisper of disloyalty could be lodged, testified to the Reconstruction Committee that the election had been as fair an election as he’d ever seen, and that many Negroes had voluntarily voted with the Democrats. The feelings between the races were good, he thought, and though the Freedman did want his right to vote, he did not wish to deny the vote to whites. Sharkey told the Reconstruction Committee that the constitution had been fairly defeated and if another were submitted, with the proscriptive clauses removed it would be ratified. It was the whole-scale proscription of white Confederates from the polling booth that was the cause of the constitution’s rejection, not the admittedly unpopular inclusion of Negro suffrage. This same point was made in Georgia. [Truth is, that point was being made across the South.]

When Gillem made his appearance before the Reconstruction Committee, he reiterated the precautions he’d taken to ensure a fair election and that he had investigated every reported violation made before and during the election. In response to an accusation that both sheriffs and soldiers had electioneered against the constitution, he stated that most of the sheriffs were “loyal” men appointed by him or his predecessor, General Ord, and there were not twenty soldiers who had enlisted from Mississippi. In other words, the soldiers in Mississippi were Northern men and if they voted against the constitution, which he said they had a right to do, it was because they, too, found it obnoxious. If the constitution had been framed, he reiterated, according to the Reconstruction Acts, it would have been adopted. Remember, the Reconstruction Acts denied the right of ex-Confederates to ever hold office—unless, of course, the individual became a turncoat and supported Reconstruction—but did not deny the vote to such individuals into perpetuity. This proposed state constitution did.

The Republican “engine” in the state maintained that General Gillem’s administration had not taken the Reconstruction Act of ’67 in the spirit it had been intended. Since Gillem hadn’t orchestrated a Republican victory, they were probably right. There’s getting into the “spirit” of tyranny and then there’s being the spirit of tyranny. The general stated the Republican opposition came from (1) disgruntled individuals who had failed to get appointments they sought, (2) those he would not allow to enter upon their duties because they could not give requisite bonds, and (3) those whose schemes of plunder he thwarted.

J. W. C. Watson from Marshall County, Mississippi and that county’s representative at both the 1865 and 1868 Constitutional Conventions told the Reconstruction Committee that he had finally resigned from the 1868 convention when the majority of delegates managed to force the proscriptive clauses into the constitution. Based on those clauses, he campaigned against the constitution. He frankly admitted that the people were opposed to Negro suffrage, but were willing to live with it, but not the disfranchisement of the white voter on top of it.

Wheeling, dealing, dickering, and bickering, as well as testimony continued through the winter months of 1869. Then March ushered in a new administration along with spring—sounds poetically hopeful doesn’t it? It didn’t prove to be. I’ll elaborate next time.

Thanks for reading,