Saturday, April 23, 2016

Delineating the Political Camps, a Laywoman’s Analysis

This post is number thirty-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 progressive constitution framed during the Black & Tan Convention in the winter/spring of 1868, which resulted in a second election. 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,  22 March, and 5 April 2016.

 For the single, most comprehensive background for this post, see my 25 November 2015 entry, President Grant Says...
On 13 July 1869, President Grant proclaimed Tuesday, 30 November as the date the constitution would be resubmitted to the people. As the president had suggested in the early spring, the proscriptive clauses and the clause forbidding the loaning of the state’s credit would be submitted to a separate vote. Each voter would be allowed to vote for or against the constitution without the clauses, and each voter would then be allowed to cast a separate ballot for or against the objectionable clauses. But even before the presidential proclamation (everyone knew it was coming) the campaign had commenced.  

To reiterate, there were four political bodies in play, the Radical Republicans, primarily Northern Carpetbaggers; the conservative Republicans, primarily Southern Scalawags; the, official or “regular” Democrats composed of the more progressive/pragmatic Democrats now allied with old-line Whigs, who hated the Republicans even more than they despised Democrats; and the more-or-less impotent original Democrats, the dregs of the old Southern wing of the party long blamed by the old Whigs and now the new Democratic “leaders,” who had climbed up on that bandwagon, for having led the South to disaster. But, and I emphasize this point again, what the new Democratic “leadership” was ready to concede and who they now chose to blame, and what the Democratic rank and file thought of those concessions, those granting them, and this self-aggrandizing redirecting of blame ultimately proved incompatible. The much maligned old Democrats, the Bourbons, would become the Redeemers and, simply put, evolve into the Southern Democratic Party that would, in the short term, gain hegemony over the “solid South.” The Southern Democrats would retain power for almost a century, until the establishment within the Democratic Party conspired to eliminate them from the equation—and that establishment, no longer burdened by any Constitutional principle worth having, morphed into the Democratic Party we have today. To do justice, the Southern Democratic Party was burdened with a self-imposed weight of its own, which had, long before the 1960s, resulted in cracks undermining its foundation, leaving it unable to withstand the liberal onslaught. But in the summer of 1869, all that was yet to be.  

In early June, the conservative Republicans, led by J. L. Wofford, an ex-Confederate and founder of Mississippi’s Republican Party and who Alcorn credited as having led the campaign that defeated the Radical agenda the year before, scheduled a meeting on 23 June between the conservatives and prominent men known to be in sympathy with them. Those “prominent” men would have included the old-line Whigs and enlightened Democrats. What Wofford, who hailed from Tishomingo County in northeast Mississippi and who established a newspaper in Corinth, had created, and this is all strictly my thoughts on the matter, is the hybrid group that James Alcorn had envisioned years earlier and been unable to bring to fruition. Wofford’s success in creating this “hybrid” party could stem from a number of factors: he’d been quickest to form the “Scalawag” party in the state; he applied more discretion on the racial issue; he overtly displayed strict opposition to the proscription clauses. I’m guessing. I do not know the details and can find little on the man. Whatever the specifics, Wofford had managed early on not to isolate himself from potentially influential Southern cohorts. He’d been a war hero who saw more than his share of combat, a distinction that separated him from Alcorn who was thwarted by circumstance (or blackballing) from achieving martial glory. Wofford had also, to his credit, met with disfavor among the “Carpetbag” branch of the Republican Party in Mississippi. I say that because he was not at the constitutional convention in the winter of 1868 and his only role regarding the new constitution was in defeating it—and, in league with the Democrats, he did a darn good job. Wofford had founded the party within the state, then saw his efforts usurped and himself marginalized by Northern Radicals who’d moved in with specific marching orders from the Radical elite in Washington. Recall that the “superior” North had to teach all Southerners, including those with a Republican persuasion, how to be real Americans. The honest truth is the Radical elite did not want Southerners of any sort in an autonomous position of leadership.  To them, the South was a clump of clay to be molded as they deemed fit in order to advance their power and political agenda. The subsequent plunder and malfeasance was their minions’ reward for performing this duty. For a conservative Republican Southerner like Wofford, that Radical vision did not sit well. For that matter, it wouldn’t have set well with Alcorn either, nor, I imagine many conservative Northern Republicans, but the latter weren’t in a position to do anything overtly. The Northern populace had put the Radicals, not them, in power. 

Early in 1869, the Republican Okolona News, demanded General Eggleston, Mississippi’s 1868 Republican nominee for governor, be shelved and the party find another man more agreeable to Mississippians. Put that in tandem with the strong-willed Wofford at the head of the party Alcorn had only dreamed of, and James Lusk Alcorn emerges as a good fit for the Radicals. I believe I’m relatively safe in assuming the Okolona News had already made that determination short of just coming out and saying so. Certainly the Radicals needed someone new to head the ticket. I’m merely suggesting they’d already found him. 

A Radical plan was in motion, had been, in fact, since the Democratic/Conservative victory in July of 1868. Ames’ replacing Gillem was a significant step in ensuring no more fumbles at the polls. (In addition to information provided in my 25 November post, see Adlebert Ames and Preliminary Preparation....)  A year earlier, Alcorn had campaigned for the progressive constitution and Republican ticket; he saw the Radical organization as the state’s best chance for resuming its position in the nation and getting its representation in Congress. Clearly, by the summer of ’69 he viewed the Radicals as his best opportunity to head the state civil government, and his decision to represent his district as part of the  “committee of sixteen” was made with that goal in mind. How many state Radicals he’d swayed as of the fall of 1868 is unknown, but I’ve little doubt Alcorn’s decision to lead the Radicals was thought out before that trip to Washington, and I maintain he had an agenda when he got there—and it wasn’t to convince Congress to vacate the 1868 election results, though he probably did lip service to that plan. He wanted an “in” with the powers that be. Obviously he’d been accepted at the state level, but he needed support from the Radicals’ “big guns” at the national level to carry out his plan.

I have nothing to confirm Radical leaders within the state realized his objective, much less condoned it, but later, during the Alcorn administration, evidence does emerge indicating state Radicals were aware of his machinations and some, at least, were wary of him. But that’s a discussion for a future post. 

It’s been said Alcorn had nowhere to go, but to the Radicals. I would agree, understanding he didn’t want to vie for a leadership position within his party of choice, otherwise he could have teamed up with Wofford’s group where, politically, he belonged. That, of course, assumes he’d have even been welcomed. But recall, at the time the “committee of sixteen” left for Washington, the Conservatives had followed, bringing with them an agenda of their own. The Wofford group was talking to President Grant at the same time Alcorn’s was wheeling and dealing with Congressional leaders. More on the Wofford group’s plan in a later post.  

The Republican parties’ platforms (that’s plural), next time, and thanks for reading. 




  1. I assume something similar to this Radical Republican takeover of State governments happened in each State.

  2. Yes ma'am. Details and circumstances varied to some degree, but the political parties were basically the same and rise of Radical power came, lasted for longer or shorter periods in different states, then collapsed (or more happily, was "overthrown.")


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