Monday, January 18, 2016

Smoke and Mirrors and Civil Rights During Reconstruction

This post is number thirty-two 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. 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 November 201514 December, and 27 December 2015.

When last we looked at the 41st Congress and the “Mississippi question” before it, Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts and James Burnie Beck of Kentucky were in debate on the House floor over the “Butler Bill” and its proposed methodology for returning Mississippi to the new, revised United States.  

Beck’s argument kept the issue churning for days. The stated reason for Congress’ creation of first the Joint Committee on Reconstruction back in 1865 with the 39th Congress and the House Select Committee on Reconstruction during the next two Congresses was to ascertain the conditions in the former insurrectionary states and to ensure the protection of life and property within them. That was all smoke and mirrors designed to allow a Republican Congress to get control of Reconstruction and leave itself in a position to dictate to the Southern states, to ensure loyal “Republican” administrations within those states, and guarantee the presence of “loyal” representatives in both the U.S. House and Senate which they would use to mold the entire United States into their vision of what it, in their opinion, should be. Certainly the election of such loyal individuals would not happen if the Confederate taxpayer had control of his state, and the easiest, perhaps the only way, to wrest control from those people was to manifest the aforementioned threat to life and property in the region, thereby justifying Federal interference (martial law). 

I will not rehash Southern resistance to using government funds for internal improvements and the high tariffs required to generate those funds (Henry Clay’s American System). I’ve covered them extensively throughout this series. I also won’t elaborate more at this time on the Republican and/or New England Utopian plan to make the conquered South the proving ground for a new, enlightened, United States. That again would be beating a dead horse. Suffice it to say, Southerners resisted both. Social experimentation has never been a Southern thing and when it came to taxpayer funding internal improvements, the South still had a war to recover from and bigger priorities than progressive programs. Yet the Republican interlopers poised to take control of the Southern states were determined both would happen and the Southern taxpayer would fund them. To get control, the Republicans needed the freedman’s vote.  

The elephant in the room was civil rights, which tied directly to Republican votes. Civil rights is not one of the responsibilities the Founders gave to the central government. The former colonies did, however, insist on state rights. Civil rights, in fact, wasn’t even a big issue at the time of the founding, and what issues there were fell under the purview of the states. The states wouldn’t have had it any other way and would not have ratified the Constitution.
Moving forward through the decades, one sees the developing misuse/abuse of the general welfare clause in the Constitution’s preamble—and the oblique attack on those resisting that abuse—that being on the South through its slave-based economy. By the eighty year mark, Utopians, who by their own admission believed the Constitution unfit to govern the nation, assumed all citizens should have access to all services and rights including the vote, and those rights (to include the definition of a citizen) should be dictated by the central government over the will of all the states. Teaming up with the zealots were the more pragmatic and greedy who recognized the potential of Republican hegemony in the South (or all over for that matter)—think of Ben Butler as an example. Also, and probably most ruthless of all, were those shady industialists (beneficiaries to the American System) pulling the strings of their political puppets in Washington.

For the Republicans in the South, the right to vote loomed greatest of all, because they planned for the Negro vote to keep them in power. The Radicals had no qualms in denying the Confederate taxpayer his “civil rights,” however, so ask someone like me what she thinks of those expounding on “civil rights” during that period. Those who supported the Confederacy and believed small, local government best identified the needs of those footing the bill had again become ex post facto traitors, continuing their treachery by not embracing this post-Constitutional concept of “civil rights.”  

Southerners knew how things were in the pre-war South and they knew how matters stood in 1868. They’d never had a reason to concern themselves much with “civil rights” because they hadn’t created an environment requiring a need. Now they were faced with not only the excesses of funding internal improvements, but also with managing the baggage that accompanied the unwanted expenditures, and a few white interlopers intended to enforce it—by ensuring heretofore unneeded “civil rights” for a voting block they have just defined as citizens in need of civil rights—all in overt violation of the Constitution.  

One day soon I’m going to start a study on the effects of all this anti-Constitutional civil rights legislation in the Northern legislatures, because it was a problem. But those states were in a better position to fight back—their electors hadn’t been mucked with for one thing—they could still vote the dogs out—hence Butler’s reference to losing six Northern states.

Ah, but let’s not forget that with the Southern legislatures in the hands of puppets, and their illegal Congressional delegations “loyal,” the traitors fomenting this skewed concept of the United States were permanently altering the Constitution, and the Northern states might not have had the numbers to stop it, even if they’d wanted. 

A non-issue for individual states had been made an issue and, as the Radicals tried to sell it, it was an issue to be resolved by a benign [sarcasm intended], yet all-powerful central government, which had proven, by force of arms that the Union was inviolable. That same government would from this point enforce the principles of...what? Oh, yeah, The Declaration of Independence while ignoring the charter that had brought it into existence. It was a government composed of a cabal of men, who cared nothing for the Constitution, who were, in fact, hostile to it, but were willing to twist, manipulate, pervert, and subsequently permanently alter it in order to do lip service to it and keep themselves in power.

The role of the House’s Select Committee on Reconstruction was to justify congressional interference in those recalcitrant states refusing to “move toward the light.” Interference required justification. Fair elections did not justify interference, so, in the wake of the Senate’s tabling the Bingham Bill on 27 July 1868, the committee of five, back home in Mississippi, decided to make that 10 July 1868 conservative victory one which had been achieved by fraud and intimidation of the freedmen.

Now, let’s go back to the summer of 1868 and expound on the voter numbers again. Then I’ll weigh those numbers against charges of fraud and intimidation that no longer just echo through the past century and a half, but for all intents and purposes shout the truth down.

The “progressive” Republican state constitution was rejected, 63,860 votes against, 56,231 votes for. Four of the five members elected to Congress were Democrats. All the Republican nominees had been Northern, and George C. McKee was the only Republican winner. Humphreys defeated Eggleston by 8000 votes and in the state legislature, 66 of the 138 chosen were democrats, and there were 12 Negroes elected, one was a state senator, the Reverend Stringer of Vicksburg.

From the figures given, one surmises that 120,091 votes were cast. As of September 1867, General Ord had registered 106, 803 voters of which the majority, 60,167 were Negro, leaving 46,636 whites. As of November, when the decision for a new constitutional convention was required of the citizens, there were 139, 327 registered voters of which 76,016 actually cast a vote. Of those, 69,739 voted for a convention (and thereby a new constitution). Recall that the democrats sat out that election hoping that the requirement set by the U.S. Congress that the majority of “registered” voters must opt for a convention. This accounts for the large number of votes not cast.

Now in the summer of 1868, 120,091 votes were cast (meaning the Democrats were back in the game) and roughly 17,000 more votes than there were white voters registered as of the past November had voted down the new Constitution (and the Republican ticket). Well, of course it must have been fraud and intimidation—except that the 56,000+ votes for the Constitution would account for all but roughly 4,000 votes from the Negro population. So the brutal Democrats were only able to intimidate seven percent of the registered Negroes. Of course, this is all absurd. Truth is, many of those 56,000 votes were other white voters—many of whom were interlopers who didn’t have a vested interest in Mississippi, but others who did. And many of those near 64,000 votes who rejected the new Constitution were black, they had to have been.

That fraud and intimidation occurred, I would not argue, but fraud and intimidation went both ways. Threats allegedly attributed to the Democrats were: Threats of job loss (Hmmm—labor was in pretty big demand, so even if a man lost his job, a new one would have been available the next county over. Now, if he were working for his old master on the plantation he was born and raised on, he might not want to be put off, but for that very reason—he liked his home and people—he voluntarily voted along with the old master, anyway); visits by the “Klan” (there was the “Klan” and then there was the “Klan” and then there were “threats” made by, and more likely “on behalf” of the Klan by those not Klan); ostracism by the “white” community (that would have worried only those who had a vested interest in the “white” community I would think, and those whites would have been Republican or, again, the old folks with whom they would have voted freely). But, tongue now out-of-cheek, those threats may have swayed a few votes, but the Negro was in the majority and the U.S. army was all over the state in force and under the thumbs of Republican interlopers who were themselves active in every black community. To say that threats of the Klan, job loss, or rejection by whites accounted for the sway of the circumspect 17,000 votes is bullshit. Besides, ostracism and threats of job loss are “boilerplate” when it comes to crying “fraud” in elections.

Additionally, there were threats made by the other side to those considering voting against the proposed “progressive” constitution: For example, if the Negro didn’t vote Republican, the Northern populace would allow the white Southerners to oppress them or even return them to slavery; and the following threat was reported to have come out of the Fourth Military District: The offender would be led to Vicksburg in chains and sold back into slavery in Cuba. Such threats coming out of the Republicans or their Grand Army of the Republic phalanx is evidence that they did not have control over every Negro in Mississippi, some of whom were quite capable of thinking for themselves and others who were still under the influence of former masters—and you know that had to have frosted their Republican “saviors” and colored their approach to the Negro voter. But I maintain that was a lot of folk to be bullied into voting the way either party wished. More than likely, many of those votes were simply bought [quite probably on both sides].

Stage now set for the civil rights boogieman and its application to the House Select Committee on Reconstruction and the Butler Bill, I will, with my next post, return to the House floor in the spring of 1869.

Thanks for reading,