Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Paying for the Black and Tan Convention—Part 3

This post is number twenty-one in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States and is the third in a subset discussing the Mississippi Constitutional Convention of 1868, known derisively as the “Black and Tan” Convention. For the two earlier posts on this topic see 8 May and 10 June 2015 respectively.

The other genuine matter the delegates needed to address was how to pay for the convention, a valid matter rendered ludicrous given the focus on matters not in the convention’s charter, most significantly its attempts at role playing as a legislative body, which it was not.

The United States government, under the demands of the Reconstruction Acts, paid for the registration of Mississippi’s electorate (see my 24 Feb 2015 post below) and the cost of the November election which called for a constitutional convention. At that point, costs reverted to the bankrupt state government.  

Lest the reader think that the destitute South was being supported by an overly burdened Northern tax base, understand that subsidizing the tyrannical bureaucracy created by the present occupiers of the South, and maintained in place by military force, came from the South’s hide. Payments made to support a displaced populace that refused to return to work and the day-to-day operation of institutions such as our insane asylum and penitentiary (nominally provided for by the Federal government) were offset by the sale of abandoned land and conscripted property. The biggest complaint the North could make toward the tax burden, is that Federal application of such confiscation toward maintaining Southern civil governments left the North with less of the plunder to put toward the “internal improvements” reserved for itself.   

One white democratic delegate at the convention motioned that a $2.50 poll tax be applied to every voter. That would have netted $348,317.50. Since the convention assessed, at the start, that $100,000.00 would be required to carry out its duties, this sum should have been more than adequate. However, the delegates (including the fella who made the motion, no doubt) realized the voters, at least the ones whose votes the Radicals needed, would not pay that poll tax—just like they didn’t pay it for generations after this period passed. The dominate party at this convention had no intention of “hitting up” those who benefited from the process. 

Other schemes included: 

-the issuing of state warrants to be made receivable in payment of taxes and other dues made to the state  

-send a committee of three to meet with the President, present the true state of affairs, and ask for a loan of $100,000 (Really, folks?)

The “committee” finally decided on a “finance committee” to frame an ordinance for levying a tax on the real and personal property in the state, thereby shifting the burden onto the shoulders of Mississippi’s taxpayer who received little consideration at the hands of this group. Those, who members referred to as “loyal” citizens, did not contribute enough to pay doorkeepers and pages hired to open the doors for these pompous delegates making up the convention. On 26 January, 1868, the chairman of the finance committee asked General Gillem if such a tax was proposed by the convention, would civil authorities be prevented from collecting it. General Gillem responded such a tax would not be prohibited as long as it conformed to the Reconstruction Acts. 

Perhaps a little time would have been saved if General Gillem had set forth more qualifiers or if the finance committee had been more forthright with him as to what it regarded as real and moveable property. What the convention produced was an elaborate tax ordinance made up of 36 sections taxing everything and everyone imaginable:  

-Auction stores, distilleries, livery stales, coal yards, carriage factories, bounty agents, gun smiths, banks, exchange brokers, street vendors, express and telegraph offices, grist mills, cotton gins, ferries, bridges, turnpikes, billiard tables, photograph galleries, insurance agencies... 

-Newspapers (a daily, $50.00; tri-weekly, $30.00; weekly, $20.00; printing offices, $25.00 each).  

-Five of Mississippi’s railroads were taxed $200.00 each; three $50.00 each; and all others $10.00 each). However, by virtue of their state charters, all railroads were exempt from taxation until 1874. 

-Every bale of cotton was taxed 50 cents. As of the time the Finance Committee proposed this tax, the federal tax on cotton was still in effect. It was repealed in March of this year (1866). 

-A special tax equivalent to one-third of the state tax was levied on all real and movable property. In other words, folks were taxed a third again on what they were already paying to the state. 

To collect these taxes, the convention proposed special tax collectors, one for each county (the counties already had sheriffs for that), who would be compensated five percent of all the money they collected. Gibbs pushed through a motion exempting these collectors from placing bonds. Anybody else reading the truth in the objective here? This group of special collectors was vested with extraordinary powers:
--to take oaths

--if not satisfied as to the amount of the taxpayers’ assets, the collector could assess and collect whatever he deemed just. There was no limit on his “judgment” and the taxpayer was given only five days to come up with the required assessment. 

The convention passed the code, and a committee of taxpayers immediately confronted Gillem, claiming the code violated the Reconstruction Acts . The Reconstruction Acts had authorized the constitutional convention to lay a tax on the property of the state for defraying the cost of the convention.  

General Gillem took no action, but told the taxpayer committee to seek redress in the U.S. District Court. The taxpayer committee applied to Judge R. A. Hill, an old-line Whig from Tishomingo County who was elected probate judge in 1858 and continued in that capacity until Provisional Governor Sharkey in the spring/summer of 1865 appointed him chancellor of his district. Judge Hill opposed secession, but supported his people. He was respected and trusted by Unionist and Secessionist alike. In 1866, President Johnson, who knew him personally, appointed him a U.S. District Judge for Mississippi. He is technically considered a scalawag, but since the Unionists and Secessionists (and I’m talking Mississippi’s Unionists and Secessionists here) both continued to respect and trust him throughout Reconstruction, the approbation might be considered unfair. That aside, the taxpayer committee asked Judge Hill for an injunction to prohibit collection of the tax. The judge said he had no jurisdiction—I’m assuming he considered it a “state” matter between the taxpayer and the “constitutional convention”, though obviously the taxpayer is claiming violation of Article 8 of the Reconstruction Acts, which was most definitely federal. My limited research on Judge Hill indicates he played an active role in the convention of 1868, but that information does not state how he leaned. His refusal here to help the Mississippi taxpayer may or may not be telling. Perhaps, he really didn’t  have jurisdiction—it was, after all, the army officer who sent the taxpayer in his direction. 

Failing in the federal court, the taxpayer committee applied to a state circuit judge who granted the injunction. At this point, the state’s taxpayers (everybody with property) made it known, they would not pay these taxes unless the military under General Gillem approved the collection under the Reconstruction Acts. On 12 February, the convention made a resolution regarding the action of the state court and the hostility of the people and the press and requested Gillem publish an order forbidding action by the state court and direct the people to pay their taxes.  

Committee delegate, General McKee (carpetbagger), approached General Gillem on 13 February. General Gillem needed time to study the code. The delay prompted the constitutional convention to draft a resolution to General Grant requesting he direct General Gillem to enforce the convention’s tax code. This particular telegram took up 13 full lines of typed text in the journal, so goodness only knows what that telegram cost the Mississippi taxpayer, made all the more obscene in that it was petty, belittling, and beneath a group of individuals who had come together to write a state constitution. The action spoke volumes about the statesmanship of these small men.  

I’m not sure if Grant ever said anything to Gillem. Certainly he backed his general, who responded on 19 February that his review of the convention’s tax code found it in violation of the guidelines set forth by the Reconstruction Acts. The convention had not restricted itself to levying taxes on property, but had resorted to taxing persons, privileges, and franchises; it had made some taxes retrospective; and had created a new tax-collection system for the state by establishing collectors unfamiliar with the laws of the state, who were not required to make bonds, and created a special treasurer who was to receive and disburse the money collected. Gillem said that this tax code would net $300,000 for a matter only requiring $100,000. General Gillem blessed only that special “one-third-again” state tax; specified the county sheriffs would be responsible for collecting the taxes; and directed the state treasurer to distribute the money (to the convention). 

The additional state tax would have been bad enough, but the convention, now aware of Gillem’s boundaries, on 27 February proposed a special tax of fifty percent of the 1867 state tax on all property and a special tax of one and a half percent on the value of stock belonging to all dry goods stores, groceries, drug stores, and all other personal property regardless of nature and a fifty cent tax on every bale of cotton in the state. The convention gave sheriffs ten days to collect the tax. Gillem approved these taxes, but gave the sheriffs thirty days to carry out their duties. So in essence, the convention got a large percentage of what they originally proposed, short of actually getting their hands on the money.

At this point, the state’s railroads (The Meridian-Vicksburg took the lead) strode in and pointed out to General Gillem an 1854 state charter that exempted them from taxation until 1874. General Gillem, on the advice of his Staff Judge Advocate, Colonel Goodfellow, and the Mississippi High Court of Appeals, honored the state charter.  

Benjamin Orr was appointed by the committee to broach the railroad issue with General Gillem, and on day 113 (of the 115 day convention), Orr told Gillem the constitutional convention did not recognize state laws granted by the state legislature. The convention, according to Orr, had the same power to tax as did the Congress of the United States and if the railroad tax was not collected the deficiency would amount to roughly $50,000 (I’m thinking this figure is more bluff than fact) and the convention would have to delay its “contemplated adjournment” or meet again in ten days, which would greatly increase the expense of the convention. [What a wholly unsubtle attempt at goon-like extortion.] Gillem stuck by his guns regarding the railroads, but he’d already blessed the rest of the tyranny. Naturally, most county sheriffs did not want to collect the additional tax on people already struggling and some proved hesitant to do so. The convention supplied Gillem with a list of recalcitrant sheriffs, and he put the word out to do their jobs or lose them. The taxes were collected.
Near the closing day of the convention, the majority of the delegates resolved that at its first regular session, the new legislature, under the “new” constitution, would provide payment for all outstanding warrants. Further, it gave to the new legislature (which they foresaw would be comprised primarily of themselves, since most of the delegates’ names would shortly thereafter appear on the Republican ballot in some capacity) the power to enforce the collection of all outstanding taxes levied by the convention that remained unpaid. This group had no doubt it would be elected to govern Mississippi under the new constitution it had framed. And why not? It had enfranchised a constituency consisting of the majority of “new” citizens and disfranchised the taxpayer who it now intended to bleed dry in the name of democracy and freedom for all—all the while making Mississippi at least modestly worthy of occupying a place within the glorious Union. Of course, that could only be accomplished under Radical Republican leadership spawned in the North, because Southerners were not fit to govern a state. 

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, 23 October, 5 November, 22 November, 15December, 29 December 2014, 13 January, 24 January, 9 February, 24 February, 9  March, 31 March, 8 May, and 10 June 2015 all provided below.



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