Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Republicans Sort Out the Election of ’68

This post is number twenty-three in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States and picks up with the election in July of 1868 in which Mississippians rejected the progressive constitution framed by the Republican-dominated state constitutional convention. For earlier posts on Alcorn, (best read in sequence from oldest to most recent), start with 17 February, 24 March, 16 April, 17 July, 24 July, 18 September, 9 October, 23 October, 5 November, 22 November, 15 December, 29 December 2014, 13 January, 24 January, 9 February, 24 February, 9  March, 31 March, 8 May, 10 June, 30 June and 3 August 2015 below.


On the eve of Mississippi’s decision on the new state “reconstruction” constitution framed by the Black and Tan Convention in 1868, President Andrew Johnson directed General Irwin McDowell to assume command of the Fourth Military District from General A. C. Gillem. McDowell served from 4 June to 4 July 1868 and issued only one general order of note. That was the removal of Governor B. G. Humphreys and Attorney General Charles E. Hooker from their civil positions. The reason given for their removal was alleged resistance to the Reconstruction Acts, the specific charge being they campaigned against the proposed constitution. 

McDowell appointed Brevet-Major General Adelbert Ames, a lieutenant colonel of the Twenty-fourth Infantry, United States Army, provisional governor and Captain Jasper Myers, United States Army, Attorney General. Ames proceeded immediately to Jackson and sent word to Humphreys asking when the governor could conveniently receive him. Humphreys delayed his response a week, in the interim telegraphing President Johnson and informing him of events. Johnson responded that he did not approve of the governor’s removal and directed Humphreys to inform Ames he disapproved the order. An odd line of communication for the Commander in Chief, don’t you think?  

Based on Johnson’s reply, Humphreys refused to give up the state house or the archives. At this point (23 June 1868) Colonel Biddle, Commander of the military post at Jackson, sent a detail of soldiers to the state house. They took possession and with bayonets refused to let the duly-elected governor enter.  

For some days after his removal from the executive office, Humphreys and his family continued, with Ames’ blessing, to share the governor’s mansion with the new provisional governor. Then the political situation developing as it did (we are now into July and approaching the final day of balloting on the new constitution, and Humphreys was, no doubt, out there stumping against it), the living conditions became untenable for General Ames and he requested the Humphreys family vacate the mansion. Again Humphreys refused stating the Mississippi taxpayer had legally elected him governor to live in a home built with taxpayer money and he’d vacate it once said taxpayer/electorate had chosen a governor. Stubborn old coot wasn’t he? God bless him. [I really think he was trying to make a “justified” scene.] But alas, the military was again called in and the family forcibly removed from the mansion. It was Humphreys’ persistent hostility to the proposed “Republican” constitution that drove Ames’ desire to enforce his perceived right to sole occupancy of the mansion. He wrote his final letter to Humphreys on 10 July, the final day of the election. The announcement of the glorious Republican defeat doubtlessly colored Ames’ mood. Recall that he was married to Benjamin Butler’s daughter—“Beast” Butler, infamous for his tyrannical and/or sloppy and corrupt occupation of New Orleans (and other places from where he routinely gave Lincoln cause to remove him). Also, with the rejection of the constitution, it looked like Ames would be provisional governor for a while. 

But answer me this, if any of you out there have an answer. Why was Gillem replaced for a month by Irwin McDowell who issued the order to remove Humphreys from the executive office? Remember, this is occurring after Johnson has lost the power struggle with the Radicals in Congress over the direction of Reconstruction. Then McDowell, the man Johnson put in place, orders Ames into the governorship and Humphreys out. But when Humphreys queries Johnson on the matter, Johnson tells the governor—not either of his subordinates (well, I guess he might have told McDowell by other correspondence—like through his Commanding General of the Army, Grant, or his new Secretary of War, (General) John Schofield, both of whom were not only in positions to, but were quite capable of telling Irwin McDowell to countermand the order had they been so inclined). Theoretically, Johnson as Commander in Chief should have been able to straighten this mess out with a word, but he was a lame duck, and I’m not convinced anyone in the military was listening to him any longer. I only point all this out, because it is so telling of how great the tyranny wielded by Congress when the Radicals appear to be in control of the military. At least that’s how I’m seeing it. Grant, of course, is their choice to be the next Republican nominee for president. No doubt he knew which side of the bread his butter was on. 

Then suddenly, on 4 July, Gillem (Johnson’s man apparently, and I do know Gillem was from Tennessee) is back in the commander’s chair in time for the defeat of the constitution/Republican ticket in the state election. Ha, maybe the dark, shadowy figures pulling whatever strings were being pulled should have left McDowell there longer—but a good part of the polling happened under McDowell’s watch.
We know that as of November 1867 there were 139,327 eligible voters in Mississippi. In June/July 1868, 56,231 votes were cast in favor of the new progressive constitution and 63,860 votes against. That’s a total of 120,091 votes cast or an 86% turnout rate, which is a good turnout by any period’s standards I would think. 

Humphreys defeated the Radical contender B. B. Eggleston for governor by 8,000 votes and the Democrats won 66 of the 138 legislative seats (48%), 12 of the victorious legislators were black. Only one of them, Reverend T. W. Stringer, a minister with the African Methodist Episcopal Church from Ohio, via Canada, who at the time of his election resided in Vicksburg, was elected to the Senate.  

As soon as it recovered from the shock of defeat, the constitutional convention’s self-appointed committee of five , the chairman being W. H. Gibbs, ex-major, Fifteenth Illinois Infantry, went to work to ascertain the results and vacate the Democratic victory. The committee directed the commissioners it had appointed at each polling booth to obtain reports and concluded that fraud and intimidation had occurred in a number of counties and appointed a sub-committee to confer with General Gillem from whom they requested a full investigation. General Gillem responded he had already had an army officer—with troops—investigate each reported incident of fraud before and during the election. In addition, the army had been present at each polling booth along with the constitutional convention’s commissioners assigned to “oversee” the election (see my 3 August post near the bottom). Gillem reported to the Secretary of War (Stanton had resigned and the aforementioned John Schofield had assumed the post) that fraud had occurred on both sides, but under the circumstances, incidents were minimal given the situation in Mississippi. I will discuss the rebuttal to the Radicals’ charges of fraud and intimidation in my future discussion of the Butler Bill before the House during which James Beck of Kentucky conducts a detailed defense of Mississippi’s defeat of the onerous constitution. 

In the wake of Gillem’s refusal to investigate further—read that as “in the wake of Gillem’s refusal to declare fraud where there was none,” the frustrated “committee of five” decided to perform its own investigation and to withhold its proclamation until the results were known. In the interim, it forwarded a long report to the congressional Reconstruction Committee in Washington two days before Gibbs’ registrars had completed the initial investigation. The committee of five was apparently attempting to head off Gillem’s report. What did the facts matter? The party line was the same across the Southern states, and the investigators cited the same-ole, same-ole threats of job loss, intimidation, murder, social proscription, and so forth. They planned to create the supporting documentation for their allegations in the near term. 

After putting the report in the mail, the committee of five opened its own investigation—remember, they’d given themselves this “right” in wrapping up the Black and Tan Convention. This is the point in time members meant to come up with the documentation to support the “validated” allegations they’d just sent off to Congress. They rented rooms in the capital, acquired stationery at state expense and gave themselves $10.00 a day per diem for their self-imposed services. General Gillem wasn’t pleased with the committee. First, he’d already investigated, and second, prior to the election he’d countenanced their insistence of having three commissioners of their own at each polling place during the election even though the Reconstruction Acts had specified the commanding general would appoint officers or persons to act as commissioners. 

Needless to say, the committee was overwhelmed with disappointed office seekers claiming fraud and terror. Hundreds of affidavits were given—most marked with an “x” —claiming intimidation had swayed their vote or kept them from the polling booth completely. These affidavits were made by Negroes from all over the state. The affidavits were drawn up behind closed doors, and the Democrats were not given the opportunity to cross-examine, rebut, or even see the reports subsequently forwarded to Washington.  

What the committee of five hoped—indeed, they went so far as to request—was that Congress declare a Republican victory, approve the Constitution, and bring Mississippi back into the Union with them and their cohorts in charge. For days before Gillem’s report arrived in Washington, men claiming to represent the committee of five hung around the doors of the Reconstruction Committee offices advocating just that.  

Who these individuals were, I do not know—probably part of the Republican mob set in place for such occurrences. They didn’t necessarily even have to be from Mississippi or the South—just agents in waiting to support the puppets in place throughout the South. All of this is just my opinion and based on nothing but the fact they were there immediately in the wake of the defeat at a time that predated air travel. Telegrams were speedy, though, as was prior planning. 

I will continue the efforts of the committee of five in my next post. 

Thanks for reading. 



Monday, August 3, 2015

“Insuring” Self-Aggrandizing Progressivism at the Taxpayer’s Expense

This post is number twenty-two in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States and is the fourth and final installment of a subset discussing the Mississippi Constitutional Convention of 1868, known derisively as the “Black and Tan” Convention. For earlier posts, jump forward to “Detailing the Black and Tan Convention of 1868” and scroll up.


Well into its second month, Mississippi’s 1868 Constitutional Convention formed a committee of fifteen to write a new constitution for the state of Mississippi. The committee was to report back in three days. A motion was made to annotate the old constitution to allow for the abolition of slavery and civil rights. Since the abolition of slavery had been addressed in the 1865 constitution this suggestion may be the result of the Thirteenth Amendment and looming Fourteenth both of which the state had rejected as unconstitutional infringements by Congress on state rights. It didn’t matter, the motion was laid on the table, the consensus being Mississippi’s new constitution should be as different from the old as possible. 

As regards the written constitution itself, the subjects of greatest importance were qualifications for office and suffrage. I have previously established that the primary objective of the majority making up this convention was to secure state civil government positions for themselves and their adherents. Eventually, they would get them and for seven long years this group of mostly non-taxpaying usurpers, sustained by the vulnerable and uneducated...and the downright corrupt, would pilfer the public coffers and force legitimate Mississippians from their homes and their history. Yes, such is the misfortune of war, but do not attempt to justify it under the Constitution of the United States as a holy quest for equal rights to the long aggrieved, and do not countenance the bloody counter-offensive as the objective of white supremacists. The struggle was nothing less than a prolonged and bloody determination on the part of the South to rid itself of a contagion determined to wipe it out. In that, at least, the North failed. 

Off my soapbox.

Discussions on the new constitution would continue from the end of February until the end of April. On 29 February (45 days into the convention—they didn’t work Sundays) the delegates began to hold night sessions. On day 66, Aaron Moore, a Negro delegate from Lauderdale County suggested that since the body was made up of generals, majors, captains, farmers, lawyers, ministers, blacksmiths, and preachers they needed to get to work and frame a constitution or go home.  

On day 86, a franchise article was adopted by the majority delegates. The Democratic minority did make a strong effort to disfranchise the majority of illiterate black voters and actual physical fights occurred during the course of the framing. The majority of delegates on both sides were armed, but to the best of my knowledge, no shootings/killings took place—not then anyway. But despite the assumption that it was the minority Democrats’ failure to disfranchise what they perceived as ignorant, non-taxpayers as not qualified to vote, it was the odious, wholesale disqualification of taxpayers who had supported the Confederacy that was the root cause of discord. The clause entered into Mississippi’s “progressive” constitution by the Republican majority at the convention was more binding and ever-lasting than what was in the unconstitutional Fourteenth Amendment. That amendment may have disqualified men from forever holding office in Mississippi, but at least did, eventually, return their vote to them. The clause in the proposed constitution stated they would never hold office or vote again, unless they had supported the Reconstruction Acts or were from the North—and to show their fealty they had to take the iron-clad oath. In other words, those who supported the Reconstruction Acts of 1867, becoming by that distinction card-carrying scalawags, and took the oath could vote and hold office—ignoring the fact that their taking the oath was perjurious. A Democrat, or anyone for that matter, who did not support the Reconstruction Acts (meaning he did not support the Republican Party) could not vote or hold office, whether or not he took the oath of allegience to the United States; in fact, his perjury would have been noted, and he would have been disqualified. [See the eighth point below under the “wrapping-up phase of the convention.”]

Really? No one fit to call themselves American should have supported the patently unconstitutional Reconstruction Acts. This disqualification is the “odious” portion of the constitution that Alcorn would shortly after say, while stumping in favor of this thing, “we can change that part later.”  

Among the more significant of many resolutions made during the wrapping up of the convention were: 

-All acts of the 1865 constitutional convention were null and void. 

-Appointment of a committee of fifteen to consider moving the state capitol from Jackson to Kosciusko (a lovely little hamlet in Attala County situated, at the time, 25 miles from the nearest railroad). The committee voted to leave the capitol at Jackson until 1875, then move it to Kosciusko. That never happened, of course, and I’d hazard to guess that Kosciusko is forever thankful, because today it remains a lovely little hamlet. 

-Forbade forever the adoption of property qualifications for suffrage. 

-Forbade slavery or servitude except for crime. 

-Denied the right of a state to withdraw from the Union. 

-Denied the distinguishing between classes of people for anything. 

-Forbade the denial of folks for travel on public conveyances. 

-And memorialized to Congress for the removal of political disabilities on 130 persons because they were needed to fill positions in the “party.”  One of Mississippi’s radical delegates subsequently wrote to Indiana’s Radical Speaker of the U.S. House, Schuyler Colfax, who was soon to be President Grant’s vice president, clarifying the matter: “...[I]t is of great importance to us that their disabilities be removed so that the reward of loyalty may be seen and felt. They have all done us great service, and are still at work fighting valiantly side by side with the best and truest radicals of the party. We want them for office.” Though this was the largest number of names submitted at one time, such requests to Congress for the removal of disabilities on “new-born” Southern scalawags pepper the journal. 

The constitutional convention of 1868 was in session for 115 days, adjourning 18 May. Its cost proved exorbitant at a time when the people of the state could least afford the extravagance of self-aggrandizing politicians. The costs given below are in 1868 dollars. See the table below comparing the costs of Mississippi’s other constitutional conventions for a clearer cost of what was forced on the taxpayer by today’s standards. 

Per diem for the delegates: $116,150 

Pay for employees and hangers-on: $150,000 

Payments to four newly formed Republican newspapers used to print proceedings: 

  -Mississippi State Journal  $13,924  

  -Vicksburg Republican  $6,910 

  -Meridian Chronicle  $5428 

  -Mississippi Pilot  $2255 (Jackson)

This does not include the printing of the 800 pages comprising the convention journal, of which 2500 were ordered. I wondered why so many were printed, goodness knows such things do not make entertaining reading, but as it turns out the things were/are distributed to pertinent conservatories nationwide and to libraries across the state, (and then the delegates get their honorary copies and archives gets its copy, etc., etc.) I’m assuming, therefore, this is standard procedure for all states throughout the history of the nation. In further defense of these delegates, the order appeared to be the standard for all Mississippi’s prior convention journals. In 1890, only 1000 copies were ordered of which 250 were leather bound. 

And here’s that comparative review of Mississippi’s other Constitutional conventions (less the 1817 convention when Mississippi entered the Union):

Year                                        Days in Session                         Cost (today’s money) 

1832                                               29 

1861                                               23

1865                                               11                                       $14,050 ($203, 623) 

1868                                              115                                      $275,500 ($4,591,667) 

1890                                                71                                      $53,760 ($1,414,737)

In all conventions listed above, the cost of printing the journal proceedings is excluded. 

On top of the convention cost in 1868, the taxpayers of Mississippi were now responsible for the upcoming expense of registering the electorate and the subsequent election that would deny or ratify this “progressive” constitution—as it turned out, not once, but twice.

Before adjourning, this convention made elaborate provisions for the upcoming election (the first one. The delegates hadn’t expected the need for a second one): 

The election was to begin 22 June and would go for several days in order to give every man the opportunity to cast his ballot. General Gillem was responsible for determining the duration of the election (as we now know it ended 10 July). 

At the same time the electorate made a decision on the constitution, it would elect new state officers, a new legislature, and members of Congress. 

The new legislature was to meet on the second Monday following promulgation of the Constitution and immediately ratify the 14th Amendment. (This was a prerequisite to reentering a Union we didn’t want to be part of and the North/Federal government said we never left). Not only was/is the amendment unconstitutional, so is the requirement a state had to ratify it prior to “readmission.” The legislature would have no power until that requirement was met—and the legislators would not be paid. How’s that for incentive, folks! 

Getting into the nitty-gritty, this group gave itself general supervision of the arrangements for holding the upcoming election on the new constitution/government for the state (22 June – 10 July 1868): 

   (1) It would ascertain the result 

   (2) It would make a proclamation regarding the result 

   (3) It was empowered to sit during the adjournment of the convention and exercise all powers “necessary to carry into effect the purposes of the Reconstruction Acts.” 

   (4) It provided to itself the authority to appoint three commissioners for each county to attend the election and be present at the counting of the votes. (That’s three commissioners for 61 counties and their pay was $6 per day for 17 days.). That comes out, by my calculations to $9,764 to be paid from that convention fund created by the pillaging of Mississippi’s taxpayers. 

   (5) And the committee of five was herein empowered to reconvene the convention in the event of defeat. 

Read those five points again, paying special attention to (4) and (5). These men had full control of the election, and the army stood behind them (General Order #19 signed by Brevet Major General Alvin C. Gillem, U.S.A.). Only when the votes were counted and they’d actually lost did they cry foul and go back to their “so-called” constituents, beating the bushes in order to create a litany of “abused” voices crying the same rehearsed words and collecting hundreds of “x-marked” affidavits from the same, who now claimed threats and intimidation kept them from freely casting their votes. 

And now, point (5), which brings us full circle to that “committee of five” that started this sub-series. The committee did not “reconvene” the convention, it convened itself and ultimately created the infamous committee of sixteen, the purpose of which was to lobby Congress to vacate the Democratic victory in Mississippi and put the Republican agenda in motion. James Lusk Alcorn was a member of the committee of sixteen. It is his first official participation as a member of the Republican Party in Mississippi.  

As we shall see, the great and wise Republican leaders in Washington couldn’t just “vacate” the results of an election over which their minions had complete control...and lost. That would smack too much of tyranny. No, what was needed here was “finesse.” 

I will pick up with Alcorn and the “committee of sixteen” next time.  

Thanks for reading,