Monday, August 1, 2016

The 1869 Mississippi Radical Republican Convention, Part II, Alcorn’s Acceptance Speech

This post is number forty-five 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-Conservative victory over the Republican “reconstruction” constitution framed during the Black & Tan Convention in the winter/spring of 1868. That Republican defeat resulted in a second election, the story of which continues below. For earlier posts in this Alcorn-driven series, I refer the reader to the sidebar on the right.

In accepting the nomination for governor on the Radical ticket, 30 September 1869, James Alcorn stated that for twenty-five years he had been in opposition to the majority of people in the state, but stressed a desire for the common good. He denounced the hypocrisy of the Democrats who claimed it wanted cooperation with the Negro while wanting null and void the [unconstitutional] Reconstruction Acts that gave them their rights.  Ah, nothing like mixing apples and oranges and calling them bananas. There were a lot of reasons for all the people of Mississippi (and the South—all true Americans actually) to oppose the Reconstruction Acts, beginning with martial law. The civil law that had been established across the South during Presidential Reconstruction had been swept away, supposedly, to establish “law and order.” In truth, civil government had been functioning well under the administration of Democratic Governor B. G. Humphreys who had been elected by the tax-payer during Presidential Reconstruction. What wasn’t working were Republican schemes to gain control of the state, one more linchpin to ensure the Radicals maintained control of Congress. This had to be fixed before the state’s representatives took their seats in Washington. Clearly the tables had to be turned and that could only be done with the Negro vote. Alcorn is spouting the party line here. He stressed the fairness of Negro demands and blamed the Democrats for the separation of the parties based on race and linked universal suffrage to general amnesty—I’m not sure if he qualified that general amnesty to that future time when the spirit of cooperation, and I paraphrase, only now beginning to bud had reached full bloom or if he meant the here and now. Recall that Alcorn had opposed the proscription clauses, but said they could be “fixed later.” Still, the Republican platform, his platform, supported proscription.  

Then, in the last section of his speech, Alcorn turned to what really was driving him—that enormous sum of money in the Federal Treasury. The South, he claimed, had a right to its share. Indeed it did, but then it always had. One of the primary reasons Lincoln and whoever was in the shadows pulling his chain (industry, big business, bankers—the front-line benefactors of the internal improvements) chose war instead of simply letting the South go was the loss of the huge amount of money the South contributed to the U. S. Treasury, and it was the South’s perceived misuse of its contribution that prompted its secession. But the opposition party (the Democrats) had always rejected whoring the state to the central government, whereas, recall, internal improvements were basic to the Whig, now Republican, platform. Republican control of the state, Alcorn believed, would result in generous cooperation from Congress. Alcorn foresaw funds for: 

-the cotton industry (yeah, sorry bud, but the New England mercantilists, conspiring both with/against their counterparts in England during the war, coupled with the South’s defeat, now had that industry fully under their control. Other than providing the raw material, the South was out) 

-subsidies for railroads within the state (those monies had already been earmarked for east-west railroads across the North). I reiterate, such use of Federal money (paid in by all) to fund private enterprise in the North is one of the reasons the South seceded 

-a harbor at Ship Island on the Gulf (this all came to fruition half a century later with Mississippi money and the generous input of private money belonging to Northern entrepreneurs, Spenser S. Bullis of New York and Joseph T. Jones of Philadelphia, names revered on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to this day

-building (rebuilding) of the Delta levees that Grant had destroyed in 1863 

With this delusion at the forefront, Alcorn appealed to old Whigs to join him in the Republican Party. To share in the money, he said, we have to be part of the party in power: 

“Internal improvements, by the general government, is as much as ever a subject of Democratic hostility. Whigs of the South can find no reason for siding with the Democracy on that question now.... Public improvements by the general government has ceased, recollect you, to be simply a question of theory. It has become a question of fact. The issue in that case is no longer one of logic, but of money—of enormous sums of money!” 

He again chastised the Democrats for shattering the peace and prosperity and for Mississippi’s now being under martial law, a reference to war and defeat. Hmmm...I wonder how many of those old Whigs he’s now appealing to had been at the secession convention and heard Alcorn’s speech? [It’s a rhetorical question; they were all very aware his speech sealed the deal.]

According to Lillian Pereyra, Alcorn’s primary biographer, the meat of this acceptance speech is simple adherence to Alcorn’s Whig principles. Further, he saw the old-line Whigs as the natural leaders of this new “democracy” being forced upon the people of Mississippi. I see it more as “achieving his Whig goals” by casting all principle aside. Alcorn believed many of his old colleagues had been frightened into the Democratic (or Conservative) party out of fear of Negro suffrage. Alcorn’s attitude was that Republican hegemony in the state would provide control over the “mob” (in my opinion, the most accurate description of a democratic polity regardless of race) and use their voting power to keep friend and foe in line. This was his method of dealing with the “lion of race-adjustment”. Keep the mob happy, and it will vote for you. He should have heeded his own words better or listened to his ex-colleagues. The Negro voter was to be neither assumed nor trusted, nor should any voter. Adelbert Ames will eventually prove the truth of that simple fact to Alcorn’s, and Mississippi’s, detriment.  

Be that as it may, in the early fall of 1869, many white Mississippians of the more progressive persuasion were happy to see him in the race. He was a “southern” Republican after all, and he held southern values.  

Tickets now framed, the campaign begins. Next time and thanks for reading, 



1 comment:

  1. Good article, Charlsie. What a scalawag and traitor to his own people.


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