Monday, July 18, 2016

The 1869 Radical Republican Convention in Mississippi

This post is number forty-four 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. That Republican defeat meant a second election, the story of which continues below. For earlier posts in this Alcorn-driven series, see the sidebar at the right.

With Grant’s betrayal of Louis Dent (albeit under duress), things were shaping up nicely for James Lusk Alcorn and the Radical Republicans in the state, and there is little doubt in my mind that this is how the “Regular” party leadership in Washington planned it. Both Mississippi’s Radical and Conservative groups were in Washington the winter of 1868-1869, and during their stay, both sides spent time strategizing with national leaders.  

A note here for the reader: In Mississippi, the Southern Republicans/Scalawags under Mississippian and Confederate hero J. L. Wofford latched on to the name of the national party—The National Union Republican Party—immediately after the war and before the Carpetbaggers established themselves in the state. At the national level, the name applied to the self-styled “Regulars,” the dominate wing, more “affectionately” known to history as the Radicals. The conservative wing of the Party was the Conservatives. So, as confusing as it appears, the “conservatives” (Scalawags) in Mississippi were, officially, the National Union Republican Party of Mississippi. That left the Radicals in the state with the term “Republicans,” just the opposite of what one would think. For the sake of clarity I will use the term Radicals or Carpetbaggers and Conservatives or Scalawags to identify these groups. (Further muddying the waters, as of this election in 1869, the term “Conservatives” refers to the fusion group created by the Scalawags and “New Departure” Democrats). So, you have, in 1869, the National Union Republican Party of Mississippi (Dent) running against the Republican Party of Mississippi (Alcorn).  

Following the Radical Weekly Delta’s 2 June 1869 “hope” that James Lusk Alcorn would be considered a likely candidate on the Republican (Radical) ticket, Robert Alcorn called to order a meeting of the local Republican Party (Coahoma County/Friar’s Point, and beyond, so annotated  because Robert was from Yalobusha County). This local group selected Alcorn as its gubernatorial nominee for the state Republican Party convention in Jackson scheduled for 30 September and chose Robert Alcorn as its representative. By early August, James Alcorn was campaigning for the Radical Party and indirectly for himself as governor. He was also busy creating a faction loyal to the national party within the state as well as to himself and not necessarily in that order. His creation of a faction loyal to him would have met with fewer blessings from party leadership within Mississippi. Certainly there was mistrust. Northern Carpetbaggers within the state did not, as a rule, want leadership invested in a Southerner, hence the snubbing of the indigenous party leader Wofford, which led to his rallying fellow Southerners (primarily Democrats, without whom he could have never pulled it off) to defeat the Radical agenda in the summer of ’68. My gut feeling is that the national party leadership in Washington, thwarted in Mississippi as it had been, risked championing Alcorn, who had, during the winter sojourn, convinced them of the ineffectiveness of Eggleston and the threat posed by the Scalawag Wofford, who was now aligned with and would betray the Republican agenda to the Democrats. [Actually is was the “enlightened” Democrats who betrayed principle, not the other way around.] Republican Party minions in Mississippi had already ostracized the presumptuous Wofford, and they were no doubt wary of Alcorn. But they could only shout out a warning, then obey.  

On 30 August, Alcorn spoke in Hernando, Mississippi, his focus on the “Democratic Party,” a clear indication of how he viewed the makeup of the Conservative group. He accused his counterparts of deceiving the Negroes and attacked the Democrats as not being law abiding. He provided “statistics” to support these charges, and I can’t help but wonder if his were as good as the ones James Burnie Beck had brought up the previous winter before Congress, exposing Republican charges of fraud and violence as self-aggrandizing lies and fabrications. Wanna bet the source data was similarly derived? One month later, on 30 September, convention delegates nominated him for governor by an overwhelming majority. R. C. Powers, ex-United States Army, was chosen to be his lieutenant governor. Adelbert Ames had appointed Powers as sheriff of Noxubee County earlier in his administration.

Powers would become governor after Alcorn arranged his own sojourn to the Senate, and all indications are that Powers was an honest, forthright man who served well under difficult circumstances. His subsequent castigation of the state Radicals for corruption could support the man’s being honest.  

This convention gave the Negro a little more consideration than the previous one (November 1867), nominating an Indiana mulatto, the Reverend James Lynch, for secretary of state. The man who would run for auditor on the Alcorn ticket was Henry Musgrove, another ex of the United States Army. H. R. Pease of Connecticut, again ex-U. S. Army, filled the slot for superintendent of education. These nominations were made in the presence of the provisional governor and Commander of the Fourth Military District, General Adelbert Ames. General Ames offered Alcorn and the Republican Party his full support, and he remained to applaud Alcorn’s acceptance speech. So much for the non-partisanship by Grant’s military that the president had promised for the election. Oh, well, maybe the argument could be made Ames was there in his capacity as provisional governor—pretty lame, huh? The truth was Ames’ reward for his support was to be one of Mississippi’s U. S. Senate slots. Yes, at a time when good, informed leadership was desperately needed for an exhausted state, a pious New England prick was to represent the interests of agrarian Mississippi in the U. S. Senate.  

I’ll continue with the state Radical convention next time. Thanks for reading.




  1. I will have to look up the Black and Tan Convention of 1868.

  2. James Garner's "Reconstruction in Mississippi" is a good place to start. And then there's my older posts.


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