Monday, September 12, 2016

Alcorn’s Gubernatorial Victory, November 1869

This post is number forty-eight 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 culminates below. For earlier posts in this Alcorn-driven series see the sidebar on the right.

The election went off without a hitch or relatively close to it. There were small riots in Sunflower, Newton, and Hinds counties, which the Clarion attributed to “Radical” intimidation—but, of course, intimidation from that source wouldn’t have caused Ames to call for a new election—especially since the Radicals won—the self-righteous little autocrat wouldn’t have wasted his time.  

According to James Garner in Reconstruction in Mississippi, the Constitution was ratified 113,735 for  (Appleton’s figure was 105,223 for) to 955 against. The voter disfranchising clause, now separate from the progressive constitution, was defeated, 2206 for to 87,874 against, and the clause that proposed disqualifying ex-Confederates from everything into perpetuity was defeated 2390 for to 87,253 against. The requirement for administration of the “iron-clad” oath to state officers was rejected 2170 for to 88,444 against, and the clause forbidding the loan of the state’s credit was ratified. 

As for the state tickets, suffice it to say that for those Democrats who had supported the Dent ticket, the results were embarrassing. James Lusk Alcorn trounced Louis Dent 76,143 to 38,133 (based on that total, it appears Appleton’s figure might be closer to the correct total for votes cast on the state constitution). Louis Dent left the state. [I wonder if he went back to D.C. I really wonder if he ever spoke to his brother-in-law again.] The Negro vote went almost exclusively to Alcorn (and his ticket) and 28 of Mississippi’s 60 counties had Negro majorities. Alcorn also carried 15 counties with white majorities. All the congressional candidates for the 41st Congress on the Dent ticket were defeated. A straight Republican (that would be Radical) ticket made up of three Northerners and two Southern whites were sent to Congress to represent the state:

1st Congressional District: George E. Harris from Hernando, native of Tennessee and a pre-war Whig; became a Republican in 1867

2nd Congressional District: J. L. Morphis, probably another pre-war Whig, who switched to the Republican Party in 1867. He was from Pontotoc

3rd Congressional District: H. W. Barry, a New Yorker and ex-brevet general, United States Army

4th Congressional District: George C. McKee from Illinois and ex-brevet general United States Army

5th Congressional District: Legrand W. Perce, another New Yorker, ex of the United States Army

There you have it, folks: Mississippi’s long-anticipated and desperately yearned for representation in Congress that made us once again a respected member of a “union” we wanted only to leave in peace, all our fears now having come to fruition. These are the representatives designated to look after the interests of the Mississippi taxpayer, their families, and their proud history. Oh wait, that’s not quite all of them. I forgot our glorious senators—they’ll come up shortly—after the new Radical legislature meets in January. 

In announcing the results of this election, the Clarion pointed out two things. First, the commander of the fourth district and provisional governor, Adelbert Ames, who controlled the election was heavily partisan in his support of the Radical party headed by Alcorn, and second, 15,000 Conservative voters had been disfranchised due to voting restrictions on ex-Confederates. The Clarion, however, failed to put much store in the voters who simply did not turn out. The majority of white taxpayers—and to be sure, they were the ones paying for all this orchestrated bull—twenty percent of their number killed and/or wounded in an unwarranted war of aggression fighting for the Republic, which would survive or fail—not the “Union,” mind you, but the Republic—after having seen their women violated, their families shattered, their property and infrastructure decimated in the name of Union and patriotism, themselves branded with the epithet of traitor while the greedy and malicious sit back in Washington with the oblivious blessings of the constituents who put them there—those Mississippi taxpayers now watch as step by step the victor desecrates the Constitution and dismantles the Founder’s Republic. And their choices at the ballot box? Two wings of the same party, one supported by an “enlightened” Democratic leadership telling these downtrodden, overtaxed warriors, who a year before had given their all to defeat the progressive agenda, that principle doesn’t matter any longer and the past is dead. Oh, and history will record your deeds...well, however, history records them. We stand at the threshold of a grand new nation, they said, a democracy, and we must comply and we will pay for it even while history denigrates us as the traitors it will make us, but that’s okay, because there is no other way.  

All right, that’s my interpretation—Charlsie a century and a half later is making an attempt here to show the modern reader how the rank and file of the Democrat Party/the defeated Confederate South was viewing the political scene. The “official” Democratic leadership, the one that had joined forces with the Conservative Scalawags in hopes of defeating Alcorn and the Radicals—for both pragmatic and self-aggrandizing reasons—had lost touch with its base, which was growing more frustrated by the moment. The Scalawags and the official leadership of the new Democratic Party might have been eager to blame secession, the war, and defeat on the old Democrats, but the men and their families who’d suffered so greatly during the struggle believed during it all that the South was right. What the “Democratic leadership” failed to grasp in 1869 was that many of those honorable men still did believe they’d been right and telling them they weren’t, while at the same time offering them a platform that reiterated how “wrong” they’d been, offered them nothing worth voting for in 1869. Even those whose faith was shattered didn’t like what they were seeing and what they’d be getting. Many of those simply did not show up at the polls     

The one silver glow around the gathering storm clouds was that martial law would, supposedly, end (to be replaced by secret police and tyrannical militias in support of the administration, not to mention the continued presence of Federal bayonets to support the unpopular Radical administrations when the people rose up against them); the state would get its representation back in Congress—albeit none of the representatives were representative of the people who paid the taxes in the state—oh, but that’s what democracy is all about—the majority decides how to spend the money of the taxpayer, even though way too many put nothing in the kitty themselves. 

Elections would now be free of military interference and self-government/home rule was in sight. No matter how bad this “temporary” Radical hegemony would be in the minds of this Mississippi leadership who’d supported the Conservative candidate, it had to be better than Ames. Here’s a hint for those of you who don’t know the story, Ames ain’t gone. Mississippi has a long hard row stretching out before her. 

Technically James Lusk Alcorn’s was a Radical victory, but Alcorn was, in fact, a Conservative Scalawag in Radical clothing. The Radicals would soon be using similar terms to describe him. At the time of his election, the question was whether he would retain his office and prove a good governor [the other option being the U.S. Senate] or would he abandon the state to the Radical cabal he led to power?  

Thanks for reading,