For the Republicans in the South, the right to vote loomed greatest of all, because they planned for the Negro vote to keep them in power. The Radicals had no qualms in denying the Confederate taxpayer his “civil rights,” however, so ask someone like me what she thinks of those expounding on “civil rights” during that period. Those who supported the Confederacy and believed small, local government best identified the needs of those footing the bill had again become ex post facto traitors, continuing their treachery by not embracing this post-Constitutional concept of “civil rights.”
The role of the House’s Select Committee on Reconstruction was to justify congressional interference in those recalcitrant states refusing to “move toward the light.” Interference required justification. Fair elections did not justify interference, so, in the wake of the Senate’s tabling the Bingham Bill on 27 July 1868, the committee of five, back home in Mississippi, decided to make that 10 July 1868 conservative victory one which had been achieved by fraud and intimidation of the freedmen.
Now, let’s go back to the summer of 1868 and expound on the voter numbers again. Then I’ll weigh those numbers against charges of fraud and intimidation that no longer just echo through the past century and a half, but for all intents and purposes shout the truth down.
The “progressive” Republican state constitution was rejected, 63,860 votes against, 56,231 votes for. Four of the five members elected to Congress were Democrats. All the Republican nominees had been Northern, and George C. McKee was the only Republican winner. Humphreys defeated Eggleston by 8000 votes and in the state legislature, 66 of the 138 chosen were democrats, and there were 12 Negroes elected, one was a state senator, the Reverend Stringer of Vicksburg.
From the figures given, one surmises that 120,091 votes were cast. As of September 1867, General Ord had registered 106, 803 voters of which the majority, 60,167 were Negro, leaving 46,636 whites. As of November, when the decision for a new constitutional convention was required of the citizens, there were 139, 327 registered voters of which 76,016 actually cast a vote. Of those, 69,739 voted for a convention (and thereby a new constitution). Recall that the democrats sat out that election hoping that the requirement set by the U.S. Congress that the majority of “registered” voters must opt for a convention. This accounts for the large number of votes not cast.
Now in the summer of 1868, 120,091 votes were cast (meaning the Democrats were back in the game) and roughly 17,000 more votes than there were white voters registered as of the past November had voted down the new Constitution (and the Republican ticket). Well, of course it must have been fraud and intimidation—except that the 56,000+ votes for the Constitution would account for all but roughly 4,000 votes from the Negro population. So the brutal Democrats were only able to intimidate seven percent of the registered Negroes. Of course, this is all absurd. Truth is, many of those 56,000 votes were other white voters—many of whom were interlopers who didn’t have a vested interest in Mississippi, but others who did. And many of those near 64,000 votes who rejected the new Constitution were black, they had to have been.
That fraud and intimidation occurred, I would not argue, but fraud and intimidation went both ways. Threats allegedly attributed to the Democrats were: Threats of job loss (Hmmm—labor was in pretty big demand, so even if a man lost his job, a new one would have been available the next county over. Now, if he were working for his old master on the plantation he was born and raised on, he might not want to be put off, but for that very reason—he liked his home and people—he voluntarily voted along with the old master, anyway); visits by the “Klan” (there was the “Klan” and then there was the “Klan” and then there were “threats” made by, and more likely “on behalf” of the Klan by those not Klan); ostracism by the “white” community (that would have worried only those who had a vested interest in the “white” community I would think, and those whites would have been Republican or, again, the old folks with whom they would have voted freely). But, tongue now out-of-cheek, those threats may have swayed a few votes, but the Negro was in the majority and the U.S. army was all over the state in force and under the thumbs of Republican interlopers who were themselves active in every black community. To say that threats of the Klan, job loss, or rejection by whites accounted for the sway of the circumspect 17,000 votes is bullshit. Besides, ostracism and threats of job loss are “boilerplate” when it comes to crying “fraud” in elections.
Additionally, there were threats made by the other side to those considering voting against the proposed “progressive” constitution: For example, if the Negro didn’t vote Republican, the Northern populace would allow the white Southerners to oppress them or even return them to slavery; and the following threat was reported to have come out of the Fourth Military District: The offender would be led to Vicksburg in chains and sold back into slavery in Cuba. Such threats coming out of the Republicans or their Grand Army of the Republic phalanx is evidence that they did not have control over every Negro in Mississippi, some of whom were quite capable of thinking for themselves and others who were still under the influence of former masters—and you know that had to have frosted their Republican “saviors” and colored their approach to the Negro voter. But I maintain that was a lot of folk to be bullied into voting the way either party wished. More than likely, many of those votes were simply bought [quite probably on both sides].
Stage now set for the civil rights boogieman and its application to the House Select Committee on Reconstruction and the Butler Bill, I will, with my next post, return to the House floor in the spring of 1869.
Thanks for reading,