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, 




No comments:

Post a Comment

I encourage you to leave comments. I'll reply to all questions within a week, and errors in the posts will be acknowledged in the comment area. Feel free to answer questions/clarify confusion I express in my posts. Disagree with my points if you believe there is need for disagreement, but keep in mind that all off-topic comments, disparaging comments, comments with more than one link, and comments that include profanity will be deleted.