Monday, September 11, 2017

The Selection of Hiram Revels to the U. S. Senate

This post is number fifty in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States and continues with the results of the fall 1869 victory of the Republican ticket headed by Alcorn and the Radical party. This post falls prior to the inauguration of the new governor, but subsequent to calling to order the new legislature by the interim military governor, Adelbert Ames.

As discussed in my last post, the ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments was (at the time) the last hurdle placed in front of Mississippi before she would be accepted back into the loving arms of the hate-filled Union. Until that blessing occurred, Mississippi could not participate in the legislative process, but there was one last duty she could and should perform prior to soliciting Congress for readmission. That was the selection of her U.S. Senators.

To quickly recap, Alcorn was elected to fill the full session beginning 4 March 1871, roughly one year in the future, and Adelbert Ames was elected to fill an unfinished term of four years, the seat vacant since the late winter of 1861. Still to be chosen was the individual who would fill the second seat vacant since that same secession winter. That term had less than 14 months left on it and was the seat Alcorn anticipated filling the following March. In the meantime, an interim Senator was needed to fill the chair. The story passed down is that the Negro legislators, whose people had been instrumental in the election of the majority Carpetbaggers and Scalawags now holding power in Mississippi, insisted a black man fill that seat. How many white “allies” they had among the Carpetbaggers and Scalawags (and their strongest allies would have been among the Carpetbaggers) is not known. Negro legislator John Roy Lynch representing Adams County in the house, states that the Republicans were in agreement on the selection of a black Senator, but the house journal casts doubt on that, because when the voting started there were a number of Carpetbag hopefuls. Moreover, the record implies that the black legislators weren’t even in agreement on who their choice for U. S. Senator would be. According to James Garner in Reconstruction in Mississippi the battle was between B.B. Eggleston and Hiram Revels, and for a brief blip on the radar screen in the middle of the voting, that was indeed the case, but that was as much fluke as fact.

Ignorant of Mississippi’s values, reckless of the burden placed on her taxpayer, and heedless of the long-term welfare of her people, neither Revels nor Eggleston were representative of a devastated state vying against a Congress that had anything but Mississippi’s interest at heart. I, myself, find poetic justice in Revels’ victory occurring over the likes of Eggleston (and a number of other Radicals). Self-serving righteousness aside (not Revels’, but the Radicals’), Senator Revels was well educated and capable even if neither representative of the state nor appreciative of the role of a U.S. Senator—a failing permeating many Republican Senators at the time, not counting those hell-bent to knowingly alter the republic overall.

Revels had joined Federal service in Baltimore at the outbreak of the war, and he had assisted in the organization of Negro troops. He came with the U. S. Army to Jackson in 1863 and aided in the formation there of the Freedman’s Bureau. In time he would become the first president of Alcorn College for Negroes, and he has the distinction of being the first Negro seated in the U.S. Senate.

The Mississippi senate’s selection of Alcorn and Ames for the U.S. Senate occurred on the 18th of January, 1870. The Mississippi senate, however, failed to make a selection for the short-term seat, nor did the house and as of the following day when senate and house went into joint session to elect the Mississippi Senators, Hiram Revels had not even been mentioned as a possible candidate (at least, in the official record). He, himself, voted for the Carpetbagger Alston Mygatt on the first ballot and on the second, the Scalawag Abel Alderson, an 1850 transplant from Maryland, who did not take part in the war and was not serving in the legislature at the time of his nomination.

The 19 January joint session readily confirmed J. L. Alcorn for the new term beginning in March 1871 (119 to 2, the lone votes against him going to W. L. Sharkey, the old-line Whig who had served as Mississippi’s provisional governor during the earliest days of Presidential Reconstruction and Adelbert Ames, the then provisional governor). On cue, Ames was confirmed for the longer unfinished term, 94 votes to Robert Lowry’s 24. Alcorn also got a vote here as did Horace Greeley, a facetious jab, no doubt, at the hostile editor of the New York Tribune’s having as much right to represent Mississippi in the U. S. Senate as did Adelbert Ames. Unfortunately, no record is made of who initiated the vote, but a Democrat is a solid bet.

The unfinished, short-term seat proved up for grabs, however, no one candidate having a majority in either branch of the legislature. From what I’m able to gather, the joint session combined the votes of both houses from the previous day’s separate sessions to form the baseline for the 19 January voting:

R. W. Flournoy, who you may recall from an earlier post as a man James Garner in Reconstruction in Mississippi described as one of the most Radical Republicans in the state, received 27 votes [he was not a member of the legislature]
The aforementioned Abel Alderson 21
B. B. Eggleston [not in the legislature] 19
State senator Alston Mygatt, a Carpetbagger representing Warren and Issaquena counties, 8
C. B. New [not a member of the legislature] 2
Alexander Warren, a Scalawag representing Madison county 1
T. W. Stringer, a Negro representing Warren and Issaquena counties in the senate 1
J. J. Spelman, a Negro representing Madison County in the Mississippi house 4
J. W. C. Watson, an old-line Whig who served as a senator in the Confederate Congress, now a Democrat not serving in the legislature, but who had proved a thorn in the side of the Republicans during the Black and Tan Convention 18 
 J. W. Vance [another non-member of the legislature, who had been nominated in the house the day before by Scalawag M. Campbell representing Desoto County and in the senate by F. H. Little representing Chickasaw and Monroe Counties. Vance was a favorite of Democrats and a number of (I think we can safely assume) moderate Scalawags] 19

I would like to expand here, if I may, on my reckless use of the term “safely assume.” I am making some effort here at home to identify all these legislators by party affiliation and faction. I had identified senator Little as a probable Carpetbagger, based on his voting, but the only thing I’m sure of at this point is that he was a Republican. His nomination of Vance for the U.S. Senate seat indicates he might very well have been a Scalawag. However, on the second round of voting for this seat, also on 19 January, he voted against Vance, casting his ballot for B.B. Eggleston—can’t get much more “Carpetbag” than that. Of course, when studying the legislative journals, one doesn’t see the behind-the-scenes maneuvering going on, just clear indications that something is amiss. And “what” senator Little really was remains a mystery for now (at least to me).

The field proved smaller for the first joint ballot, six candidates as opposed to ten. Clearly some wheeling and dealing had gone on. The leading Democratic candidate from Wednesday’s last ballot, Watson, was no longer in the running and Eggleston’s total had jumped by twenty votes and the Southern wing’s choice, J. W. Vance, by 12. The withdrawal of Watson from the running resulted in his 18 votes being divvied up primarily between J. W. Vance, Robert Lowry (Nute Knight’s nemesis, who would eventually become governor of the state), and Abel Alderson:

 R. W. Flournoy, 22
Abel Alderson, 23
B. B. Eggleston, 39

Flournoy, Alderson and Eggleston (the first two Scalawags, one radical, one moderate, and Eggleston, the Carpetbagger, were trading Negro and Carpetbagger votes at this point).

J. W. Vance, 31
Robert Lowry, 5
C. B. New, 1

Hiram Revels’ name finally appears on the second ballot in the joint session when he was nominated by Mr. W. H. Roane, a Carpetbagger representing Pike County in the Mississippi house. One Carpetbag and three Negro senators voted for him as did eighteen Negroes and eight Carpetbaggers in the house. He received no Scalawag or Democratic votes on this ballot.

Abel Anderson 15
B. B. Eggleston 19
R. W. Flournoy 11
Robert Lowry 2
Hiram Revels 30
J. J. Spelman 3
Stafford, [not a member of the legislature] 1
J. W. Vance, 39

As of this juncture, Vance had gained two Democratic senators who had voted for Robert Lowry and a Scalawag who now chose to abandon Eggleston (or decided Eggleston was a lost cause). The battle at this point became one between Revels and Vance vice Revels and Eggleston, because once Revels’ hat was in the ring, the Negroes abandoned Eggleston (except the gentleman senator Revels and representative J. J. Spelman from Madison County who had nominated Eggleston in the first place, and Charles Caldwell, the Negro senator from Hinds County, who remained loyal to Abel Anderson). Eggleston, Alderson, and Flournoy had received a significant number of Negro votes prior to Revels’ nomination. Eggleston lost 10 Negro votes to Revels in addition to 5 Carpetbaggers; Flournoy lost 7 Negroes to Revels; and Abel Alderson lost 2 Negroes and 2 Carpetbaggers.

By the third ballot, Flournoy, Stafford, the Negro Spelman, and Lowry are gone and numbers are shifting:

Abel Alderson 13
B. B. Eggleston 19
Hiram Revels 40
J. W. Vance 49

And by the fourth ballot the quest for the sixty-one required votes is really between only two men, the Scalawag nominee, J. W. Vance, and the Negro nominee, Hiram Revels:

Abel Alderson 8
B. B. Eggleston 18
Hiram Revels 43
J. W. Vance 50 (who received 2 Carpetbag votes, one from the Alderson camp and one, actually, from Revels’ camp).

At this point, the legislative body adjourned until Tuesday, 20 January 1870, and the next day, the Scalawag senator, J. H. Pierce representing Panola and Tallahatchie Counties, withdrew J. W. Vance’s name from the list of hopefuls, and on the sixth ballot, Hiram Revels received 81 votes, twenty more than needed to win election. But here are a couple of interesting things to ponder. The first deals with the withdrawal of John W. Vance’s name and the second is the re-dissemination of the votes once Vance’s name was removed.

What happened over night to compel the Scalawag senator Pierce to remove Vance’s name from the competition before the first vote on 20 January? Of the five Scalawags in the senate who had supported Vance without fail, four now cast their votes to Revels. The fifth, H. N. Ballard representing Desoto County, does not appear to have voted. All seven Democratic senators who had supported Vance (the senate total), cast their ballots to the wind as did his 22 Democratic supporters in the house. John Surratt (Lincoln assassination conspiracy) and John Smith (Pocahontas’ old flame) being among the nominees. To be fair, there were votes cast for good nominees such as J. Z. George, lawyer and future Mississippi supreme court justice prior to his election to the U. S. Senate in 1881 and W. S. Featherston, antebellum legislator and Confederate war hero who would remain active in politics in the fight against the Carpetbag administration and into Redemption. W. L. Sharkey even received a couple of votes, but my point here is that in the election for the short-term U.S. Senate seat, in January 1870, there was no further coordinated vote among this now rudderless group once Vance was removed from the field. Six of the 13 Scalawag representatives who had supported Vance in the house, threw in their lots with Revels, backing their senators, the remainder, less one, cast their votes for Abel Alderson.

So what happened? Why did the Scalawags (and it does appear that it was the senate Scalawags who “sold out” and suddenly withdrew the name of the leading contender right from under their nominally allied Democratic compatriots with whom they appeared in lockstep on their way to sending a Democrat to the U.S. Senate.  [Just can’t trust those Scalawags]. Ah, but was it the sell-out it appears? Vance’s name wasn’t the only one missing from that final vote—B. B. Eggleston’s was, too. Fourteen Carpetbaggers, 2 Negroes, and 1 Scalawag who had voted for the ex-Union general now cast their votes for Revels. With Revels’ already existing 43, that made 60 votes—not quite enough to win the seat. And the plot thickens.

John W. Vance (the leader on the night before the decision) was father to two Confederate veterans. He was a long-time lawyer and resident in Desoto County (the same county represented by Scalawag Senator Ballard who didn’t vote in the final poll), and on the 10th of May 1870, the Mississippi senate confirmed Alcorn’s appointment of J. W. Vance as judge on Mississippi’s Twelfth Circuit.

Here’s what I think happened. The Carpetbaggers, foiled by their Negro supporters, who were sticking by their guns regarding a Negro getting that senate seat, now accepted the fact that Eggleston, sheared of his Negro votes, would not win that seat. The Eggleston clique (there were always Carpetbaggers who opposed Eggleston just like there were those who supported Revels) capitulated and cast their lots with the Revels’ ascendancy. But even if all Eggleston’s votes shifted to Revels (and there was no guarantee of that), there were Carpetbaggers adamantly opposed to a Negro getting that seat. Add to that, the popular Scalawag Abel Anderson was still in the running. That meant Revels would still come up shy of the votes he needed to win. So after that final vote the evening of 19 January and adjournment, the pro-Vance moderate Scalawags approached the Radical camp and offered their Republican colleagues a deal. The Scalawags would withdraw Vance’s name and cast their support (or, at least enough support) to Revels, if the Radicals would support John W. Vance for judge on Mississippi’s Twelfth Circuit. I would guess that Alcorn would have been privy to the agreement. I for one can believe those moderate Senate Scalawags (and their Democratic allies who nevertheless refused to vote for Revels (nor were they needed at that point)) found more value in having their man as a judge on the Twelfth Circuit than they did in a lame-duck senator whose term would end in fourteen months. [And, of course, it could have been the other way around—the Radicals could have approached the Scalawags. I simply have my suspicions as to which group was the smarter of the two. Shoot, the Scalawags could have supported Vance all along hoping for an opportunity to make such a deal. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it did happen in much this way]. The moderate Scalawags cut a deal with the Carpetbaggers, putting Revels in the U. S. Senate in return for placing Vance on the Twelfth Circuit—really not much of a sacrifice for Alcorn, who would have preferred a Southerner on the circuit anyway.  

One last aside. I had some initial trouble with my theory on the selection of Judge Vance for the Twelfth Circuit in that other Mississippi records place him on the Third Circuit (Adams, Claiborne, Franklin, and Jefferson Counties). It was a major glitch in that it simply made no sense for that particular man—critical to my theory—to be assigned to the Third Circuit. My J. W. Vance, the one leading the vote count on the evening of the 19th, came from Desoto County, and for the deal I proposed to work he had to have been appointed to the Twelfth Circuit. Sure enough, a review of the of 19 May 1870 Hernando Press confirmed the state senate had approved native son J. W. Vance for the Twelfth Circuit and stated specifically the Twelfth Circuit was comprised of Desoto, Panola, Sunflower, and Tallahatchie Counties. Yeah, you catch that? Panola and Tallahatchie Counties were represented by Senator J. H. Pierce, the same man who had withdrawn Vance’s name on the morning of the 20th of January. Why the other historical records have it wrong, I don’t know. Of course, it was probably a one-time error that kept repeating itself. Research is so much fun.

The seating of Hiram Revels in the U. S. Senate next time—along with all the other “conditions” for Mississippi’s reentry into the Union.

Thanks for reading,