Monday, August 29, 2016

General Adelbert Ames Prepares for Election Day, 1869

This post is number forty-seven in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War for Southern Independence 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 meant a second election, the story of which continues below. For earlier posts in this series, see the sidebar on the right.

On 14 October 1869, General Adelbert Ames, commander of the Fourth Military District and provisional governor, in accordance with presidential directive, issued a general order declaring 30 November/1 December as the dates set aside for the new election that would determine Mississippi’s reentry to the Union (which those of Ames’ ilk claimed she’d never left). In the running were a civil government, a new constitution, and the fate of proscription in the case of ex-Confederates as well as the state’s ability to pledge funds for whatever the legislature deemed appropriate.  

Of course, reentry into the Union required, by tacit determination of an outlaw Congress, that a Republican ticket be elected. On the surface, that was no problem, because Republicans were all there was to choose from. I maintain, however, that Conservative Republicans would have created a great deal of heartburn at the Washington level, but to what machinations the Radicals at the National level would have resorted in order to nullify a second conservative victory we’ll never know. They’d done their scheming before hand this time around (first putting Ames in control of the state, as well as the election; reversing Grant’s support for the Conservative candidate, Dent; softening the Radical stance on the proscription clauses; and replacing the unpalatable Yankee Eggleston for governor with home-grown James Lusk Alcorn). No more screwups like the summer of ’68, by George! [I refer to Massachusettes’ Boutwell, of course, because George Washington would have never been party to such tyranny.] 

That 14 October order contained detailed instructions for the revision of the registration lists and general management of the election and the counting of returns. On 5 November, Ames issued order #234 establishing a requirement for more than a thousand registrars at $5.00 per day, to include the two days required for the election and for an unspecified number of days after, which these registrars would need to complete the returns.  

The registrars, two white and two black of different political parties were to be selected by the board of registry, members comprised of individuals hand-picked by Ames, assigned for each of the five precincts to challenge the right of any person to be registered who, in the “opinion” of the person challenging, was disqualified from voting (the proscription clauses were still in effect as of this election). Ames enacted many such elaborate precautions to ensure a “correct” registration and “fair” election, but I’m not convinced the two terms, in this context, are mutually compatible. 

In addition, he assigned five presidents for each registry board in each county for three days extra at $5.00 per day plus expenses to bring the returns to Jackson. These presidents received allowances for ballot boxes, stationery, and room rent. Additionally, one deputy sheriff was assigned duty, at $5.00 per day during the election. James Garner, in Reconstruction in Mississippi does not state what “constituted” the election timeframe in the case of these deputies, but he did estimate the cost for this election in excess of $100,000. Unfortunately, Garner was also remiss is indicating how Ames raised revenue to pay for this election, but the people of Mississippi did pay for it. Ames further declared if any fraud or intimidation were committed during the election, another election would be held—at another cost, we must assume, of $100,000. I’m sorry, y’all, but no matter which way you cut it, the man was an arrogant horse’s butt. 

On 6 November, Ames issued another order assigning forty-nine army officers to serve as election inspectors. These men, primarily captains and lieutenants, were drawn from the 16th Infantry Regiment headquartered at Grenada with companies posted at Natchez, Jackson, Vicksburg, Grenada, Lauderdale (County), and Corinth. In fact, there appears to be some reposting of these units within the state as of March 1869, possibly as precautionary measures on the part of Ames in anticipation of the fall elections, but also as a reorganization from the Fourth Military District into the Department of the South [though Ames’ orders are still issued by him from the “Fourth Military District” as of December 1869]. The officers from the 16th served primarily as roving inspectors for each county. They were authorized to give orders in the name of the commanding general (Ames), and their duties were to: 

--visit the registry boards

--instruct them in regard to duties

--generally exercise control of the “work” of registration

--observe the actual holding of the elections (votes being cast, I assume)

--report to headquarters

--keep Ames advised in advance upon probable occurrences likely to affect the “result” of the election  

That latter duty is telling. I wonder what steps Ames would have taken had he learned the election was going “South?” And yes, the pun was intended. I’m thinking he had some course/remedial action in mind, else why would he have needed to know in advance? 

The results of all this hard work on the part of Ames next time.  

Thanks for reading,


Monday, August 15, 2016

The 1869 Gubernatorial Campaign in Mississippi

This post is number forty-six 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 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.

After his nomination by the Conservative Republicans (National Union Republican Party) and his subsequent acceptance as its gubernatorial candidate, Louis Dent returned to Mississippi in early September. Recall that he had been living in the state prior to his brother-in-law’s (Ulysses Simpson Grant’s) moving into the White House, at which point Dent was invited to join the president and Julia (Dent’s sister). On the 14th of September, the Clarion published the schedule of his speaking engagements, forty odd, starting in Corinth on the 18th and ending on the 30th of September, after which, Dent informed Alcorn, he would be available for “discussion,” this in response to an invitation for debate extended by Alcorn. 

Louis Dent and James Alcorn held their first such face-off at Grenada in early October, and the Clarion declared Dent the winner. This assessment was supported by kudos published in the Aberdeen Examiner who saw in Dent an “eloquent debater and orator for the Conservative cause.” James Garner (Reconstruction in Mississippi), my source for the newspaper analysis, however, maintained that Judge Dent, whose main oratorical weapon was a subtle and deep sarcasm, was no match for the experienced Alcorn, whose booming oratory had been finely honed in the stump-style politicking of the South of that day. The topics for Dent’s biting invective were Alcorn’s role in the secession crisis back in ’61 and his subsequent war record—no battles, no wounds, and no taking the enemy capitol. 

Well, we saw Alcorn’s war record in the early part of this long series (follow the links for the fourth through seventh posts listed on the right under Alcorn Series for more information). No, he never found martial glory, but not for want of asking for the opportunity, and he was there for the Confederacy in a support role and served in Mississippi’s Confederate legislature despite his undermining criticisms of the war effort (which was going badly). At the same time, of course, he was ensuring his own survival to “fight” again another day by wheeling and dealing (selling) cotton to Yankee entrepreneurs along the river in the dark of night (Okay, that’s my synopsis, but it was done illegally and in violation of Confederate law, and Alcorn did get quite wealthy off the trade). Those “lucrative” investments at the time were now funding his present day “fight” for control of the state.

Dent spent a good part of the debate trying to convince people his “whole soul was enlisted in the great agricultural and commercial interests of Mississippi, and their resuscitation and development” as a bona fide citizen of the state. George Alcorn (James’ cousin) and clerk at the probate court in Coahoma County where Dent leased “abandoned” property, had circulated a letter that Dent was not on the tax rolls for that county. 

Alcorn kept his focus on the gloomy condition of the state under the last four years of Democratic leadership. Now, any reasonable person might argue that war and Reconstruction would account for that. Of course, Alcorn blamed the war on the Democrats and its loss on Jeff Davis’ policies/grand strategy. Understand that for the four years following the end of the war, Mississippi and the entire South needed an infusion of capital. Not only had the reconstruction contemporary Americans readily assume to be part of U.S. policy after having pounded the stuffing out of a foreign nation not occurred (and never would), the Southern states had been forced, under Federal bayonets, to contend with costly constitutional conventions, welfare for a huge vagrant population created by an invading army in an unwarranted war, and other self-aggrandizing expenses a hate-filled occupier imposed on a taxpayer it had managed to disfranchise. Their lands devastated, their populations decimated, and their labor force disbursed and living off the largesse of the American taxpayer, including Southern ones, Mississippi and her sister states did not have a means of generating income, and they were being raped by an unconstitutional Congress and an ancillary weak administration, under the Radicals’ thumb, imbued with a self-serving zeal to make the South Northern. A better analogy for the treatment of the South after the War Between the States for those of you familiar with history would be Rome to Carthage rather than the United States to Germany and Japan following World War II.

These conditions Alcorn blamed on Democratic intransigence in the face of Republican (Party) expectations for the South in the “new” democracy the Radicals were creating. In the mind of the exigency-driven, would-have-been-tyrant Alcorn, the Radicals and the North had a right to demand these things and create a new nation under the rules of war and conquest. For sure, unwarranted and unconstitutional as it may have been, there are not many things more effective than beating the stew out of someone, then telling him how things are gonna be from now on, especially after the Northern populace sanctioned the changes. Alcorn was advocating acquiescence to the destruction of the Founder’s Republic, and the principles of that Republic were critical to the South’s survival and always had been; that’s why she seceded.  

Personally, I think Alcorn viewed acquiescence to the party in power as temporary. In tandem with Alcorn’s detesting Democratic principles and stubbornness, he believed that once Mississippi submitted to the Radical plan for Reconstruction, she would get her representation back in Congress and from that source get her long-awaited share of Federal money. Alcorn, the Whig, had wanted Mississippi to receive her share of that money for decades, a point he made when accepting the gubernatorial nomination at the Radical convention.

The campaign apparently was a colorful one. Supposedly there was a threat from the Klan, but more in theory than actual fact. Keep in mind that the Klan was composed of, and led by, Democrats and many nominal Democrats were, by this time, leaning toward the “progressive” or New Departure  persuasion and weren’t gonna muck with the candidates—now, that’s just my opinion. There is some rumor that the Democratic leadership had lost control of its military wing, but I think those uncontrolled elements are more the result of Republican hype and propaganda. Truth was leadership of the political and military wings was probably the same. What wouldn’t have been under their control were independent groups whose so-called atrocities were readily attributed to the Klan, whether Klan or not. My point is that Alcorn did assume some risk by running on the Radical ticket. One might consider that Dent, running on much the same platform, would have shared those risks from those same fringe groups. Perhaps he did. If history says, I haven’t found it. Amelia, Alcorn’s wife, tried to dissuade her husband from running as did his friend J.F.H. Claiborne. The opportunity Alcorn had waited a lifetime for—one he’d spent time and money finagling into being—and  they’re asking him to sit it out? Not a chance.

Alcorn proved up to the perceived challenge. During a campaign address in Ripley, Mississippi, he nearly came to blows with a local politician, who Alcorn dubbed a liar (them’s fightin’ words back in those days, folks), and as the audience scrambled for the door and windows, Alcorn called them back and told them there was nothing to fear because his opponent was a “drunken cowardly vagabond.” Okay, that incident is recorded in a letter to Amelia, so one might speculate “Dandy Jim” embellished it some. In Aberdeen, he allayed the fears of his audience when, on hearing the cocking of pistols near the rostrum, he pulled a six-shooter from his satchel and challenged the would-be assassins to face him like men. Then, in an address to a mostly Negro audience at a railroad platform in Winona, when what has been described as “several of the more desperate whites” planned to kill Alcorn “with a rifle,” (implying distance from the platform, you think?), conservative Democrats prevented their carrying out the plan. I don’t know if that “prevention” occurred on scene or off or if it’s even valid or just another delicious rumor embellished to add excitement to the campaign. 

Dent, a non-Mississippian and abandoned by his brother-in-law, Grant, whose endorsement the Conservatives hoped might sway the people of Mississippi, left the state after the joint debates, not even sticking around for the election results. Of course, his presence up to that point was probably nothing more than the fullfilment of a commitment—that’s based on my assumption his brother-in-law had informed him privately the fix was already in, and he was not to be elected.  

But here’s something regarding the undercurrents of this volatile period: Alcorn readily attributes the poor economic condition of the state following Presidential Reconstruction to “Democratic” intransigence following defeat, the direct result being the state’s remaining outside the safety of the Union. But there’s more to the story of the Democrats not using the name Democratic Party because they were in disgrace. A more accurate reason for this fusion party using the sobriquet Democratic-Conservative or simply Conservative Party was because the ascendant leadership in the vast majority of all those Southern legislatures elected as far back as 1865 and 1866—the same ones that wrote the new state constitutions under the provincial governments set up by President Johnson, the ones who rightly resisted passage of the unconstitutional 14th and 15th amendments, the ones who enacted the infamous Black Codes—was not composed of Democrats. The bulk of the leadership in those Conservative parties were Old-line Whigs. They had been who the people had turned to with the defeat of the Confederacy. In the case of Mississippi, these old Whigs, for the first time ever, were at the top of the food chain. Alcorn was an Old-line Whig. Yes, they needed the Democratic polity, hence the annotated name, but they were the ones in charge. This would further account for the growing fissure between the Democratic-Conservatives and Old-line Democrats (Bourbons) within the “Democratic-Conservative” Party. Just as important, Old-line Whigs dominated the leadership of the Scalawags who were, despite appearances, opposed to the Radicals. It had been 140 “local men of affairs,” all reputedly Whigs, who wrote the address asking the people of the state to vote for Louis Dent. Now, that particular group of solicitors was probably composed of both Democratic-Conservative Whigs and National Union Republican Whigs (Scalawags).  The Whigs, be they of the Democratic-Conservative or Scalawag persuasion, are a whole different study and a very important one, and as soon as I’ve put Alcorn in the state-house in this series, I’m gonna take a detour and attempt to sort them out.
Next time, military governor and commander of the Fourth Military District Adelbert Ames’ extensive efforts to ensure a “fair” election. Thanks for reading. 










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,