Monday, May 23, 2016

So, What About Those Mississippi Democrats in 1869?

This post is number forty in a historical series studying 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 see the sidebar on the right.

The Democratic Party (which at the time called itself the Democratic-Conservative Party) is credited for the defeat of the progressive constitution and the Republican ticket in the summer of 1868 and rightly so, but here, too, something is missing from the record. James Lusk Alcorn is on record for stating it was the Scalawag J. L. Wofford, ex-Confederate and founder of the Republican Party in Mississippi, who led the charge that defeated both. It’s important for the reader to understand there was a great divide between Southern Republicans (Scalawags/conservatives) and Northern Republicans (Carpetbaggers/Radicals). It wasn’t a pure delineation. There were Northern conservatives as well as Southern Radicals, but generally the line was clear. Yes, they worked together to their mutual benefit, but the Northerners learned early on that they couldn’t trust the Southern wing when it came to telling Southerners how things were gonna be. The Scalawags wanted a Southern party not a Northern one, and only a brief perusal of the history of those dark days tells the story written between the lines. It also probably explains, at least in part, the “encourage immigration” point in the Carpetbag platform. 

Now a lot of this is my opinion, but for sure Wofford managed his victory over the Radicals with lots of Democratic-Conservative help. He teamed up with like-minds (and by like-minds I mean those opposed to the Radicals and the proscription clauses) within the Democratic leadership, which would have included the Bourbons who would have played a critical role in the 1868 victory. Analyzing what happened in 1869, I’m of the opinion it was the Bourbons who got the constituents to the polls in 1868 and defeated the Republican agenda across the board. This “conservative” alliance rocked the Radicals’ world—for a hiccup in time. And how different things might have been in Mississippi and across the entire South in the decades following the war had there been only a Southern Republican Party opposing the old Democrats, a healthy choice between two diametrically opposed philosophies on the role of state government that from election to election could have kept the overall political atmosphere balanced. That was, in fact, what Alcorn originally envisioned and was what Wofford had created, but the spectre of the arrogant, self-righteous Radical invaders from a despised section of the nation and their ancillary corruption in tandem with the willingness of the Scalawags to cooperate, all too often, with them for pragmatic reasons (and yes, self-aggrandizement) proved the fodder that fueled the Bourbon resurgence and leaves me unable to find do-diddily-squat on the likes of J. L. Wofford today. 

No doubt, at least in my mind, these two “conservative” bodies thought they could pull off the same victory the second time around. As stated in my last post, in June of 1869 the Scalawag Party had invited many from that same cabal to its “steering committee” meeting. How many Democrats attended, I do not know, but I surmise the “regular” Democrat leadership was represented—Bourbons probably showed up to get a feel for what was going down, though I’m confident they already knew. 

As of the spring of 1869, the Democratic-Conservative Party saw little hope for forward progress as things stood, but did organize as such. It declared itself in favor of ratifying the progressive constitution with the proscriptive clauses removed. As early as 22 April, ex-governor A.G. Brown (Democrat) wrote a letter to the Jackson Clarion, which was then favorably discussed by leading newspapers throughout the state as well as meetings of conservatives in different parts of the state. In the letter, Brown proposed:

-acceptance of the Fifteenth Amendment

-guarantee of civil and political rights of the freedmen

-no “partisan” opposition to the new president (Grant)
-hostility to men who come into the state to make mischief (we’re back to the Carpetbagger’s “immigrants” here)

-good will to all who come to Mississippi in good faith to share in the fortunes of the Southern people 

So, this Conservative-Democratic Party platform had much in common with the Scalawag Party platform, and the two groups soon entered negotiations based on their common opposition to the Radicals and the proscription clauses.  

Ah, but here’s the problem: Even though the “regular” Democratic platform had much in common with the Scalawag platform, the Scalawag platform also had much in common with the Radical platform, minus that “mischievous men” business. Simple deductive reasoning, therefore, concludes that the “regular” Democrat platform had much in common with the Radicals, too. I stated in an earlier post that there was more wrong with that progressive constitution than the proscriptive clauses, and the Mississippi taxpayer was aware of it—his Democratic-Conservative leadership had drummed it into him in the months and final weeks leading up to the election in 1868, if nothing else. And the Fifteenth Amendment was a desecration, as was the Fourteenth, to the Constitution. One year later that same leadership is saying neither really mattered, but getting back into the Union at any price and reentry under present conditions was the best to be hoped for 

On 7 August 1869, 33 (Democratic) papers across the state endorsed the policy of cooperation with the Scalawags and urged the people to “support” the plan, an appeal echoed on 9 September when the Democratic Party officially announced its intention not to field a ticket, but to support the Scalawag ticket and the progressive constitution with the proscriptive clauses removed. The name agreed upon for the gubernatorial candidate of the conservative Republicans (the coalition, actually) was Lewis Dent, brother-in-law to Ulysses Simpson Grant. Oh my, the beds politicians fall in and out of. “Ain’t” no wonder, is it, that they disgust the people so? 

Unfortunately, there was too much assumption between the Scalawags and the Democratic-Conservatives as to what was and was not acceptable to the Mississippi taxpayer in that Scalawag platform, and my bet is that constitution most certainly was an issue as was the Fifteenth Amendment. That platform was a capitulation to everything they’d fought, suffered, and died opposing between 1861 and 1865. The Conservative-Democratic Party attitude had degenerated to: “Well, boys, we did lose the war.” Not the best expression to make in the face of a proud and stubborn people who never stopped believing they were right and the antics of their occupiers reinforced that conviction every day, and who had, only a year before at those same leaders’ urging, rallied to defeat and expose the forces of tyranny for what they were. Now they were supposed to capitulate? Talk about surrender in the wake of victory! 

The “Bourbons,” the old marginalized Democrats, were waiting in the wings, watching all this. It’s my personal belief they were the force who actually got the rank and file to the polls the year before. One year later, these stubborn leaders have not capitulated to exigency, to the sacrifice of principle in return for representation in a corrupt, tyrannical, and unconstitutional Congress. So on 20 October 1869, the Democrats opposed to the “Dent Movement” held a convention in Canton, Mississippi (Madison County) north of Jackson stating the Democratic Party could not be committed to support either wing of the Republican Party. The statement further said that “this” leadership would not tell people what to do, but the “opposed-to-the-Dent-Movement” faction would remain firm in its devotion to state rights and leave responsibility for the establishment of Republican hegemony in Mississippi to rest where it properly belonged. But, the faction further stated, that in view of the dissention within the Democratic Party itself it would not put forth a candidate in the 1869 election. The Democratic Party, like the Republican, had split. With the Democrats, the split was over principle, or lack of. With the Republicans, who were generally lacking in principle, particularly in regard to the U. S. Constitution and the Founder’s Republic, the split was over which branch would get the spoils. 

Much has been written on the factions within the Republican Party in the South during Reconstruction to the detriment of historical detail on what was happening within the Democratic Party during these years—not just in Mississippi, but across the South. Similar images exist in every Southern state [shoot, perhaps the Northern ones, too, but today, no one seems to care]. With the idealistic deflection by the left on the faux narrative of slavery and “democracy” being “who we are as a nation” it might never be sorted out. Indeed, the perspective is disappearing. Southerners, certainly, should not let that happen.  

What we’re seeing here within the Democratic-Conservative Party is a movement known as the New Departure. As of 1870, it was in vogue across the South and would also come to dominate the Northern  wing of the Democratic Party.

Actually, I think it still dominates the Northern party only now it’s exponentially worse.
Kidding aside, it basically advocated acceptance of Reconstruction and the Republican program. I plan to delve into more detail about the Southern Democrats and the internal turmoil caused by the New Departure in my next post.

Thanks for reading,










  1. What were the proscription clauses? Clauses requiring former Confederate soldiers to renounce the Confederacy? What was the main objection to the 15th Amendment? Sorry for my ignorance.

  2. The Fifteenth Amendment is the voting rights amendment and its main purpose was to ensure the right of the Freedmen to vote in the South. It was a brainchild of the Radical Republicans and its ancillary purpose was to keep the Republicans in power across the South. The most sinister part of the Amendment, as was the case with the Thirteenth and the most insidious of all these reconstruction amendments (the Fourteenth), is the final section giving Congress the right to decide how they would be enforced in ALL the states. This was egregiously unconstitutional and that section in these amendments ended Federalism as the Founders intended it to be. Congress had taken powers meant for the states alone and usurped it--and made the Constitution applicable to the states. That short, final section in each is the reason the Federal government can interfere in the states today—the Fourteenth gives it carte blanche. At the time, some Northern states realized the unconstitutionality of the Fifteenth Amendment. Without the ratification votes of the Southern states, the Radicals could not have gotten it ratified. They had to offset rejection in those Northern states with approval in the Southern ones, which is why they had to control the Southern legislatures. That was the purpose of the Reconstruction Acts. It was all calculated. It’s also why Congress linked ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to MS, VA, and TX being readmitted to the Union—both conditions unconstitutional. The Fifteenth Amendment was one of the milestones on the road to democracy and centralization.

    The Proscription clauses that the Radicals in MS put into the state’s 1868 “progressive” constitution disfranchised anyone who had supported the Confederacy from their right to vote or hold public office—forever. The stipulation was that anyone who could not swear to the Iron Clad Oath was disqualified. You can find that thing online, but basically, it says if you lent “any” support at all to the Confederacy you perjured yourself. Of course, people throughout the South supported the Confederacy on a day to day basis; it was their government. This legally disqualified a bunch of Mississippi taxpayers forever. The "forever" was above and beyond what Congress had stipulated in the Reconstruction Acts forbidding Confederate leaders from ever holding public office again and the vote was restricted across the board, but not forever.

    Now, plenty of Southerners had received amnesty since the end of the war, prior to the Acts. After enactment of the Acts, the state Republican Parties (it was the same across the South) constantly sent memorials to Congress identifying individuals for whom they wanted encumbrances removed so these new devotees could serve the Party. The requests were granted. So, if one swore allegiance to the Radicals’ “brave new world” he could get his vote back and hold office. Many Southerners wouldn’t do it, and though I haven’t seen it, I consider that maybe those (Dems) had their own lines of getting the encumbrances removed through Democratic friends in Congress. This would have worked primarily, I would think, for the politically connected, not every poor Southern boy who raised arms in defense of his homeland. It would be an interesting study. I don’t know legally how they would have gotten around that Iron Clad Oath. The government had started that requirement way back during the war for Yankees. I mean, really, the assumption that a spy or a traitor would be above swearing to a lie? Bureaucrats! LOL. Perhaps their knowing Southerners to be men of honor, they automatically assumed the oath to be a security check?


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