President of Mississippi’s Union League Allston Mygatt opened the Reconstruction constitutional convention on 9 January 1868. According to the 1860 census, Mygatt had been born in New York and was at that time a “preacher” residing in Vicksburg. He also had a nineteen-year-old daughter who had been born in Wisconsin from which one might deduce he moved his family to Vicksburg sometime after 1841. He feebly supported the Confederacy until the fall of Vicksburg (4 July 1863) at which time he apparently became a born-again “Union” man.
Eighty-three delegates answered to the roll call. A Negro delegate representing Harrison County, Benjamin H. Orr, Esq., was unable to produce evidence of his appointment, however, he was allowed to take his seat and a committee was formed to validate his credentials, which it did—uncovering that Mr. Orr had become a candidate for delegate under General Order #196 issued by General Ord. Subsequent research revealed that back in May 1867, Orr had been appointed one of General Ord’s original registrars in Harrison County, when, under the Reconstruction Acts, General Ord had registered the electorate of “loyal”, oops, excuse me, “qualified” voters. (See my 24 Feb 2015 post below.). Harrison County on the Mississippi Gulf Coast was not one of the counties with a Negro majority.
Mr. Orr’s use of the title Esq., once exclusive to the English gentry, is interesting. At first blush, it could indicate he was a lawyer (unlikely given the time period and place—that being the United States of America of the 1860’s), since it is primarily that group which still uses the archaic title in the United States. Subsequent research indicates hostellers also used the title. Mr. Orr was very active in the convention and years later, after the Reconstruction period ended, he was shot in Pass Christian (Harrison County). I’ve tried, but so far have been unable to turn up any information regarding the “who” and “why” surrounding his demise.
After the roll call, Mr. Mygatt made his introductory remarks—and I paraphrase here—the long-looked-for hour has come bringing to a close a period of Mississippi history which the disloyal press has long sought to suppress and loyal men now hasten to bring about. He then ticked off the offensive items attributed to the Democratic Party (and the old slave power) that enriches the few at expense of the many, hindered the growth of cities and towns, built large landed aristocracies, discouraged agricultural improvements and mechanic arts, destroyed free schools, and lastly demoralized church and state.
Now I’m not sure what he meant by demoralized church and state, but him being a preacher, I’m sure he had his opinions. As far as the other points, he’s speaking of the state’s refusal to embrace the progressive Northern agenda. That agenda requires taxes. Taxes feed government, which gets hungrier, then fatter with every initiative it takes to “improve” the lot of its people by controlling, eventually, every aspect of their lives. It was a system that produced large industrialized, filthy, crime-ridden cities seeded with poor immigrants who didn’t have “free” housing or “free” medical provided by employers who paid them just enough to live in squalor and manage to eat, while high tariffs protected Northern industry at the expense, not only of the South, but also Northern workers forced to pay higher prices for goods. The affluent enjoyed the benefits of taxation in the nicer parts of town or in the suburbs—talk about enriching the few at the expense of the many! There’s an argument to be made against the growth of big cities, and I can’t help but wonder why Mygatt left the North and came to Vicksburg when things were so much better back where he came from.
And that part about Southerners discouraging agricultural improvements has always stuck in my craw. This senseless and hateful criticism of the South predates the Republic and is not an original thought on the part of Mygatt. As time crawled forward, it became linked to slavery—the wealth created by slave power allowed the waste. What waste? Southerners cleared and farmed land for more than a century and a half before the Revolution. The story is we moved west after we depleted the land. Well, yes, depletion happened for one crop, but it was replaced with another. Oh wait! Perhaps I’ve been hasty in my rebuttal. That probably explains the deserted seaboards and ghost “cities” of Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia! Of course, what was I thinking?
Yes, that’s sarcasm you “hear” in my writing. The answer isn’t complicated. The South, by virtue of its agrarian economy was successful. Mother England did so appreciate success in her colonies. Success brought the South influence, which translated to some degree of power, and the colonies to the north didn’t like it. That land didn’t become fallow for pity’s sake. If they in the North were so enlightened when it came to agricultural improvement, what was their reason for moving west? Growth? Why is the term “growth” used for the North while we in the South are depicted as a bunch of locusts? Is it because with our expansion we continued to “deplete” fertile land when we could have been polluting it with industry like our Northern neighbors? The truth is the Puritans crash-landed in Massachusetts and didn’t have much in the way of soil to work with from the git-go. The “friendly” natives blocked rapid expansion west (not to mention the seaboard was their tie to the motherland). They had no choice but to figure out ways to keep their soil producing or they’d have starved. All that is commendable, but petty jealousies of the South’s agricultural success are not. We had the fertile land, and we farmed it; we had cities and ports that met our needs; and we had a society rich in culture and history that reflected it. Those who were unable or unwilling to make a living from the land, turned their pursuits elsewhere.
I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but what prompted the above diatribe is the insufferable attitude flaunted by men such as Mygatt. What it boiled down to was the kind of government the respective people chose to live under. Southerners wanted little government interference in their lives—safety and defense and managing trade, and most especially a government that left the fruits of folks’ labor in the hands of the folks themselves to make their own damn improvements as they saw fit. Such improvements as the people chose were decided in state legislatures, composed of men chosen by the taxpayers. For this we were denigrated as backwards and ignorant.
Northerners chose state governments that gave elected officials the power to provide for internal improvements constructed and/or organized and paid for by the “state”. That meant taxation and a cache of “everybody’s money” (and a greater potential for malfeasance that comes with it—I have no delusions regarding such occurrences in Dixie, but the less money available for exploitation by politicians, both legal and illegal, the less the chance of misuse). There’s a price to be paid for all that “progress and enlightenment” and the “backwards and the ignorant” knew it. States were sovereign and their choices were their own, but by 1868, choice had been taken from the South by an unjustified war and a central government, blessed by the Northern voter in the elections of 1866, that regarded the Constitution as putty to be reformed according to its will.
These points as causes for the violent struggle waged by Southerners to wrest control of their states from the profligate usurpers who pillaged the Southern populace during Reconstruction are, for the most part, missing from the popular dialogue on the subject today, causes being relegated to the denial of civil rights for the freedman. But that denial of civil rights was and is a smokescreen to deny the Constitutional rights once afforded sovereign states.
Malfeasance and corruption were legion during that time period [like now], but one doesn’t even have to address them—except, perhaps, to point out that corruption (legal and illegal) is one of the consequences of a “progressive” agenda—to see that what was at stake was much greater than pilfering the taxpayer’s money. It was the Republic itself. Even laying that to one side, the holier-than-thou attitude that Northern self-righteousness be foisted upon the Southerner because he was too stupid to know how un-American he was is reason enough, in my opinion, to justify the Southerner’s push back against such self-aggrandizing tyranny. Racism and civil rights are merely watchwords to mask the underlying battle between a strong central government and state rights, the now decaying cement of our lost Republic. These are the truths advocates for a strong central government want forgotten, thus the emphasis on racism/civil rights to the near total omission of state sovereignty, constitutionality, and federalism.
On a less opinionated note, I’d like to make another comment regarding Mr. Mygatt’s introductory remarks, “...and loyal men now hasten to bring about.” That would be a follow-on reference to the long awaited hour for disposing of the “disloyal” men. The majority of delegates making up that convention were in no hurry to complete their new, progressive constitution. Their focus was on taking over the state’s civil government, and every wasted day of their “elaborate” convention was paid for by struggling taxpayers—the very people they were hell-bent to rule for the good of all.
Subsequent to Mr. Mygatt’s remarks, General Eggleston, U.S.A., was elected president of the convention, Thad P. Sears, another “ex” of the Grand Army of the Republic, the secretary. The convention’s first order of business was to determine the compensation to these delegates for their role in reconstructing Mississippi into a state worthy to reside in a United States now freed from the onerous Southern pestilence.
Mr. Field, of Lowndes County, suggested that, “in order to expedite business and quicken consciences,” delegates pay their own expenses. That was tabled. [From perusing more of the journal pages, I’ve deduced that Mr. Field was probably a Democrat or ex-Democrat turned conservative scalawag.
[The make-up of Mississippi’s Republican “scalawags” between 1867 and 1875 runs the gamut from Radical to ex-Democrats/Union Whigs who, like Alcorn, believed economic recovery could only be achieved through the Republican Party now in control of the national government. Scalawags are, in fact, an interesting group and will make a nice subject for a separate post or two down the road, as well as fodder for fictional tales.]
At that point a vote was taken to form a committee to fix salaries for the convention delegates. This was eventually fixed at $10.00 a day ($166.67 in today’s money*) for each delegate plus 40¢ per mile for gas (Just kidding. The term used was “mileage” and that 40¢ computes to $6.67, by the way). Some delegates ended up collecting up to $240.00 ($4,000.00 today) for mileage. The average was $160.00 ($2666.67 today). Having some idea as to the distances to the capitol from various points in the state, I’m thinking this payment would have been compensation for one round trip only.
Less than 12 of the delegates who voted themselves this compensation were landowners (therefore taxpayers) in Mississippi. There were 47 yea votes and 29 nays. If one gives this group the full benefit of 12 taxpayers [I got that figure from James Garner’s Reconstruction in Mississippi. How am I supposed to take ‘less than 12’?] that leaves 35 non-taxpaying delegates deciding how much their services were worth to the tax-payers of the state.
A quick aside here: I know 47 + 29 does not add up to 100 delegates (the number of delegates allowed by General Ord, see my 8 May 2015 post immediately below), but perusal of the journal indicates attendance averaged seventy-five percent (give or take) daily.
Compensation for the convention was not the problem, neither was it unprecedented nor unjustified. The problem was its being paid to men who were not representative of the people paying taxes and who displayed a decided lack of frugality in their expenditures and lack of responsiveness in quickly carrying out the duties assigned in their charter. This was pointed out by Dr. W. M. Compton, a Democratic delegate (do recall there were 30 such representatives there) from Marshall County. He resolved: “...in as much as a large and influential class had been disfranchised, and a large class who had never been citizens were enfranchised, a majority of the delegates on the floor were not entitled to their seats, and therefore the assembly was illegal and not entitled to compensation.” His resolution, of course, was voted down amid shouts Dr. Compton be expelled. Undeterred he offered that after 20 days, no delegate should receive more than $5.00 per day per diem. Amid cries of insult to the convention, a counter resolution was offered asking Dr. Compton to withdraw and pay his own expenses. He was then censured and granted a leave of absence of 14 days. With the exposure of such discord in the midst of this “long awaited hour”, a committee was formed by the afflicted “aspirants for the new age” to ascertain if any member was opposed to Reconstruction or who believed the convention unconstitutional.
Really, they needed a committee for that? The convention pursuant to the actions of Congress that forced it upon the state of Mississippi was unconstitutional, plain and simple. But what did constitutionality have to do with the price of tea in China? The Constitution had not mattered since 1861. Still, there can be little doubt such motions made to counter ones which Democrats believed in excess of the convention’s charter or frugality (and there were plenty of them) were purposefully disruptive.
In addition to the delegates’ pay, the convention hired thirty employees to “support” the genius behind Mississippi’s new constitution. Here is a partial list of additional employees—and their per day salaries:
Reporter ($15) ($250.00 today)
Secretary ($15—I’m not sure if this is a “different” type secretary from Mr. Sears or a duty added to his “delegate” status thereby netting him $25 a day—or maybe simply $5 tacked on to his $10 as delegate—I opt for that one)
2 Assistant secretaries ($10 each)
Sergeant at Arms ($10)
2 Assistant Sergeants at Arms ($5 each)
1 Printer ($10)
1 Warrant clerk ($10)
2 Enrolling clerks ($10)
1 Reading clerk ($10)
1 Minutes clerk ($10)
1 Auditor ($10)
1 Treasurer ($10)
1 Auditing clerk ($10)
1 Chaplin (a new feature of the Reconstruction Convention-$10)
1 Postmaster ($8)
1 Hall porter ($4)
And a number of committee clerks (ranging from $5-$15 per day)
I thought of adding it all up—for 115 days, the delegates and their “staff”, but I can’t believe all those positions were required for every day of this thing—the “enrolling” clerk, for example, and the committee clerks would have been used only when committees were formed, right? Well, maybe. But to further counter my own argument, there might have been several committees functioning simultaneously over days and days. And no, the convention journal does not clarify this question.
These were lucrative jobs at the taxpayers’ expense. All of these support positions were given to Northern men or Negroes—“men of known loyalty.” When a native white Republican put forth a resolution that some of the clerkships be given to loyal Southern whites, it was voted down. Anybody other than me get the feeling that Southern Republicans (the scalawags) are regarded with some disdain by the Northern Republicans (carpetbaggers)? [This divide among jackals will grow over the next seven miserable years, and Alcorn will be swept up in it].
Before leaving the extravagance of this group behind, I’d like to point out a few other expenses. One was a demand for stationery from the Secretary of State, who promptly informed them he had none and no means to procure any (the Treasury was broke let me reiterate). So, the convention appointed a committee of three to appraise the stationery situation. The committee suggested sending an agent to New Orleans to purchase a supply. The proposal was agreed to, and the agent purchased stationery for a grand total of $1458.80. ($24,313.33 today).
This purchase included not only paper, but pens, penholders, etc.—yep, they got themselves all tooled up. What’s missing here, and I think would be interesting to know, is from whom in New Orleans the purchase was made. The Northern printing industry made a killing in the South during this time. I know that during the years of carpetbag rule in Mississippi (that’s coming up), the legislature’s routine purchase of printing paraphernalia (presses, type, ink, etc.) along with completed print projects from the North/Northern agents would be part of the fuel stoking the fire of resistance to Republican rule.
Along that same vein, convention delegates felt an “official” need to be informed, supplying themselves with up to five copies of any daily—primarily newly established Republican papers, but they did pay $1123.53 ($18,725.50 today) for the Clarion, which most certainly was not a Republican paper. It’s just my opinion, but I would think keeping up with the other side’s analysis of what you’re doing is more important than rereading what you’re spewing out. Anyway, regardless of what they “each” did with all those copies, the convention spent $3670 ($61,166.67 today) dollars on newspapers, the majority of which were owned and operated by and for members of the Republican Party in Mississippi.
Finally, a not inconsiderable sum was spent sending telegrams to Washington and “committees” to various places, but primarily over to Vicksburg to “consult” with General Gillem, who, as you will see, routinely told them to quit mucking in legislation, go back to Jackson, and write a new constitution. More on that next time.
Thanks for reading,
*I used Dave Manuel’s “Inflation Calculator” online in order to give the reader some appreciation for how much money these men were actually expending during the course of this convention. I don’t know how “pin-point” accurate it is, but I figure it’s providing a good “ball-park” figure.
For earlier posts on Alcorn, (best read in sequence from oldest to most recent), start with 17 February 2014, 24 March, 16 April, 17 July, 24 July, 18 September, 9 October, 18 October, 5 November, 22 November, 15 December, 29 December 2014, 13 January, 24 January, 9 February, 24 February, 9 March, 31 March, and 8 May 2015, all provided below.