Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Alcorn Readies His Campaign to Run for Governor on the Radical Ticket

This post is number thirty-seven 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 progressive constitution framed during the Black & Tan Convention in the winter/spring of 1868. As of my last post the issue of Mississippi’s returning to the Union had been returned, euphemistically speaking, to the people of Mississippi. 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, 8 November25 November14 December, 27 December 201518 January1 February20 February,  7 March  and 22 March 2016.

Despite Congress’ refusal to void Mississippi’s July 1868 election results and declare the Republican ticket elected, its members were hard at work behind the scenes, setting the stage for a Republican victory in the state. There was, at the national level, as well as within the state, the same power struggle on-going between the regular Republicans (Radicals) and the more conservative members of the party. This struggle, as I’ve previously noted, is important for understanding what happened in Mississippi and Virginia during this time and what happened with/to the in-coming president. Ulysses S. Grant had appeared, at the outset, sympathetic to the conservatives in both states. His Radical handlers had yet to “get a handle on him.” They would tighten the leash shortly. 

Just as important to understanding the internal politics of the era is an appreciation for what was at stake. The Radicals needed control of the South in order to counter any threat to its agenda that might emerge from those Northern states paying attention to what was going on. The Radicals were altering the Founders’ Republic into a pure democracy, and in 1869 the next item on their agenda was the suffrage, a right belonging to sovereign states, and one ultimately usurped by the Federal government with the then un-ratified Fifteenth Amendment. The Radicals also looked at the Fifteenth Amendment as a means of maintaining their power into perpetuity. Controlling the South was key. 

So, whatever wheeling and dealing went on between the national leaders of the Republican Party and the “committee of sixteen” during the latter’s stay in Washington in the winter of 1868-1869, it was all framed to ensure a Republican victory in Mississippi. The linchpin for the Radical plan proved to be James Lusk Alcorn. He had, no doubt, been blessed to carry the torch. Eggleston, the carpetbag nominee who had led the ticket to defeat in the summer of 1868, was out. This, of course, was all going on before “Grant’s” decision to resubmit the new progressive constitution to the people separate from the obnoxious proscription clauses. Shoot, this was underway before Grant was even inaugurated, but things were jelling. 

Back at Friar’s Point, Mississippi (Alcorn’s home), the presses of a new paper, The Weekly Delta, started to roll on 9 February 1869. The editor was Robert J. Alcorn, James’ cousin who represented Yalobusha County at the Reconstruction constitutional convention during the winter of 1868. The paper’s original publisher was F. S. Belcher. In March, Belcher sold his interest to a chancery clerk of Coahoma County, George R. Alcorn, another of James’ cousins. That same month, James resigned from his law firm, Alcorn, Stricklin, and Harmon. The Weekly Delta claimed to be independent, but supported both the national Republican Party and Alcorn. It defended both and was unequivocally a Republican paper. 

Alcorn had always been an impressive man in Mississippi and his tossing his hat in with the Radicals was a matter of no small concern to the state’s Democrats. Being a “native son,” so to speak, he posed a subtle threat unlike that of the overtly distasteful Yankee interloper Eggleston, who had been adamantly in favor of the proscription clauses as opposed to Alcorn who had opposed them, but still campaigned for the constitution in the summer of 1868, stating those clauses could be removed later.  

On 2 June 1869, The Weekly Delta expressed hope that James Lusk Alcorn would run for governor on the Republican ticket. Ah, from die-hard Unionist to reluctant secessionist, who at the secession convention in 1861 brought the house down with, “Mr. President, the die is cast; the Rubicon is crossed; I follow the army that goes to Rome; I vote for the ordinance”, now to leadership of the state’s contingent of the foulest group of men who have ever sank their talons into the flesh of this nation. Such are the misfortunes of war and the expedient nature of political principle. 

There were four political entities that played a role in the upcoming events in Mississippi:  

The Radical Republicans or carpetbaggers, which I maintain Alcorn was not, either by place of origin or in principle, but with whom he’d made his bed;  

the conservative Republicans, the scalawags or native Mississippians, where Alcorn properly belonged;  

the more progressive Democrats, the official party, who were trying to figure out where they belonged—turns out they didn’t;  

and the old-line Democrats, known to history as the Bourbons, who at the time didn’t have a place, but waited in the wings and remained true to the basic principles of the old Democratic Party in the South.  

I will elaborate on each during the course of this series. Thanks for reading,



  1. I can't wait to read about the Old Democrats of the South. So Alcorn was supported the secession of Mississippi before the War and became a scalawag after, when he decided to run for governor?

    1. Specifically, he was a native scalawag who ran on the Radical ticket. That wasn't unprecedented, but Alcorn wasn't a Radical. He was basically a Whig, who always like the idea of Federal subsidies--a Democratic no, no (my how things have changed, but the establishment Dems destroyed the Southern wing of the party 50 years ago). Alcorn wanted MS out from under martial law--to have our reps back in Congress, with the delusion we'd see some of that Federal money reimbursed to us--and we were paying in, always had. He'd managed, with his early acquiescence to the Republican cause, to alienate both the democrats and the conservative republicans, hence, he had no where else to go but to align himself with the Radicals. They needed him because he was a force inside the state and they figured him at the helm would be their surest course to victory. Everyone it seemed was selling their first born for that delusional manna of congressional representation--and an end to martial law under Ames. Everyone but the old-line Democrats that is. They'd pretty much bowed out in disgust--or were sitting back waiting for the inevitable collapse of it all (well, LOL, truth is they weren't idle).


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