Sunday, September 27, 2015

Oops! Those Untrustworthy Scalawags

This post is number twenty-five in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States. This post continues with the fate of the progressive constitution framed by the Republican-dominated Constitutional Convention in 1868. It is a direct follow up to my 13 September post below. 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,  3 August30 August, and 13 September 2015.

Before delving further into the blow by blow evolution that would lead to the ratification of Mississippi’s “reconstruction” constitution and the election of James Alcorn as the state’s first Republican governor, I want to inform the reader of events in Georgia and Tennessee that would impact the re-entry into the Union of Virginia, Texas, and Mississippi.

It’s my personal belief that a detailed history of the carpetbag-scalawag dichotomy in every state undergoing “Reconstruction” during this period and some that, technically speaking, were not (Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and even Maryland) would make a compelling study in tandem with the struggle between the so-called conservative and regular (the euphemistic term the Radicals used to describe themselves) Republicans at the national level. The issues would be somewhat skewed depending on region, of course, just as the interests between the political parties had been skewed in the decades leading up to the war.

The Republican Party was a regional party—a Northern Party, the demon child of Northern Whigs spawned from the disintegration of the Whig party artfully (or not so artfully) orchestrated by the Democrats’ Stephen Douglas (Illinois) with his tactfully masterminding the nullification of the Missouri Compromise fracturing the already strained union of Northern and Southern Whigs over the expansion of slavery. The Whig party had strong enclaves in the South. In Mississippi, her legislature was never more than a third Whig, but North Carolina’s assembly was roughly split 50-50 between Whigs and Democrats in the years leading up to the war, and Georgia was a predominantly Whig state. Perhaps that helps explain the number of “Southern-minded” Republicans that ended up in Georgia’s Republican Party. Certainly the platform for those men would have been more palatable to that of the hated Democratic Party, but as in days of old, when the Whig Party ruled the roost, interests took on a decidedly pro-Southern flavor, Northerners neither desired nor in many instances even required. When allied with the Democrats, the conservative Republicans were in a position to neutralize the “superior Northerner” who had come south to teach Southerners how states should be governed and ensure their proper place vis-a-vis the national authority. The Republican conservatives could also ally with those same Carpetbag “colleagues” should the conservative stance veer greatly from the Democrats. No matter what, they weren’t under Radical control and that was problematic. 

By April 1868, Georgia had ratified a new “progressive” reconstruction constitution and elected a bare majority Republican assembly headed by a Radical governor, Rufus B. Bullock, a man who had moved from New York to Augusta, Georgia in the late fifties, served the Confederacy, and found profit in Republican politics in the years immediately following the war. That new legislature subsequently ratified the Fourteenth Amendment. As a result, Georgia met the requirements for readmission to the Union under the Reconstruction Acts. Problems existed with that election, however, that did not escape the attention of either governor-elect Bullock or Congress. Georgia had elected a slate of Democratic electors—meaning Grant wasn’t going to carry her in the fall—and four of the five representatives she’d elected to the U. S. House were Democrats. Then there was still the matter of her assembly. Though the Republicans had what appeared to be a commanding advantage in the Georgia senate, 37 to only 17 Democrats, 10 of those Republicans were conservative Scalawags who did not like Bullock. The Democrats had a slight majority in the house, 88-84, but of those 84 Republicans, nine were conservative Republicans and their vote could go either way.  

The threat this legislature posed to Bullock’s (and therefore Congress’) Radical agenda came to a head in July when a combined vote of Democrats and conservative Republicans elected Unionist Joshua Hill to represent Georgia in the U. S. Senate over Bullock’s choice of Joseph E. Brown. Brown had served as Georgia’s Democrat war governor. He had invoked a state-rights doctrine, routinely defied Jeff Davis’ efforts to consolidate Southern assets in prosecuting the war, then appeared to play grab-ass with everyone else who violated the state in the wake of the Confederacy’s defeat. Brown had started political life as a Whig, became a fire-eating secessionist Democrat, then found profitable solace in the Republican Party during Reconstruction. The Democrats hated him, plenty of the old-line Georgia Whigs hated him, and a good chunk of the Georgia population hated him. The anti-secessionist Joshua Hill had been a Georgia representative in the U. S. House when the state seceded. He’d quietly resigned his position and come home, but he had run against Brown for governor in 1863 on a Union ticket. The Democrats despised him as a traitor, but he was no Radical and preferable to Brown whose defeat had the added perk of thwarting Bullock. Yep, the Radicals had a problem in Georgia. Giving lip-service to “republican” governments guided by “progressive” constitutions only worked in reality if said governments countenanced the Radical agenda. The “promise” that had been Georgia in the spring, by the summer of 1868, was highly suspect and Bullock had to take steps to rekindle that “promise.”  

When General John Pope, first commander of the Third Military District (Georgia, Florida, and Alabama) registered the electorate back in ’67, he did not impose (or not strictly enforce) the test oath required under the Reconstruction Acts, a point Bullock pointed out to Pope’s relief, General George Meade. Meade resolved the problem by turning over eligibility determination to the respective house members, a traditional prerogative in every state and the national government since the birth of the nation. Given the makeup of the assembly and the determination committees derived there from, both houses eventually reported to Meade that all legislators were eligible to take their seats. I do not know what wheeling and dealing and subsequent compromises took place, but without a doubt they occurred. There were 29 Negroes in the house and three in the senate, many illiterate (which could effect their determination, if challenged), countered by a significant portion of ex-Confederates who couldn’t meet the test oath. They dickered, no doubt in my mind—and that is simply my opinion—and Bullock fumed. The conservative alliance that thwarted Brown for the U.S. Senate proved Bullock’s breaking point and his allies in the assembly broached the subject of the test oath. The gloves were off. 

Milton A. Chandler, the Democratic leader in the Senate pointed out that Joseph E. Brown himself had campaigned (probably to ensure its passage) that Georgia’s new “reconstruction” constitution disqualified the Negro from public office, and there were more than enough conservative Republicans in the assembly to back up the sentiment.  

Opponents fired those first salvos in July 1868, and though nothing more appeared to happen regarding the Negro legislators for another two months (not counting the 13 August expulsion of A. Alpeoria Bradley for a felony conviction in New York), it’s my opinion plenty was happening behind the scenes. Given the ratio of Democrats/conservative Republicans to the Radicals, the removal of the ex-Confederate Democrats under the Fourteenth Amendment was the Radicals’ only chance for reducing opposition numbers and replacing them with their own, thus enabling them to enforce their “progressive” agenda on the Georgia taxpayer. The reverse was also true. The only real option the Democrats had to secure their seats was unseating the vulnerable Negro and replacing him with a Democrat. The reader should be reading between the lines at this point—what we see here is what was being played out across the South at the time: The conflict is less about Negro suffrage than it is about Negro suffrage plus disfranchising white Confederate taxpayers. 

In September the Democrats and conservative Republicans expelled all remaining Negroes from the legislature based on race declaring them ineligible for office according to the new constitution and the laws of Georgia—and according to the Constitution and the laws of the United States. I can’t quite get my arms around that last one, given the Fourteenth Amendment had been declared ratified on 9 July, and the Georgia legislature itself, albeit under duress as a requirement for re-entry to the Union, had ratified it on 21 July 1868—with some Democratic votes. [Of course, the nasty thing was never legally ratified and perhaps that was what the Georgia Democrats/conservatives were banking their argument on.]

Democrats in Georgia were operating on borrowed time, damned if they did and damned if they didn’t. As of January 1869, Congress had yet to seat Georgia’s elected representatives. [This is the same time Mississippi’s committees were showing up in town. See my 13 September 2015 post.] Bullock took the issue of the expelled Negroes, along with the standard tales of intimidation and violence, before the Reconstruction Committee in Congress. In the end it was Georgia’s refusal to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment—an ex-post facto requirement to the Reconstruction Acts as a prerequisite for entry in the case of those states still “out”—that did Georgia in. And shock of shocks: It was Bullock’s Radical surrogates in the Georgia senate who orchestrated the thing’s rejection. If Georgia re-entered the Union with the legislature elected in April 1868, Bullock was done for. With the states’ rejection of the Fifteenth Amendment, Congress acted, remitting Georgia to “under construction” [my words] on 22 December 1869. In January 1870, the new commanding general of the Third District, Alfred H. Terry, with the treacherous Bullock in attendance, reassembled the April 1868 legislature, reseated the 29 Negro delegates and administered the test oath to all those Democrats—22 of whom he ended up removing and replacing with their runners-up, Republicans.  

I’ll make short shrift of what happened next for those readers who don’t know, but are curious. With the re-imposition of martial law in his state, it was Bullock now operating on borrowed time. He’d gotten rid of the recalcitrant Democrats, but there wasn’t much he could do about the Scalawags but outvote them, and there were too many of them. In order to continue his antics, he had to maintain military rule. He found an ally in the new chairman of the Reconstruction Committee in Washington, Benjamin “Beast” Butler (who came in with the new Congress in March 1869). By the summer of 1870, however, conservative Republicans (and Democrats) in Congress had grown weary of the delay in readmitting Georgia. Those men teamed up against Butler and seated Georgia’s elected representatives and the two senators elected before the Negroes were expelled (that meant Hill vice Brown). Civil law once again functioning in Georgia, the Democrats swept the December 1870 legislative election (the gubernatorial election was not scheduled until ’73). The new legislature would not meet until 1 November 1871 giving Bullock a year to complete his plunder, then face certain impeachment. On 23 October 1871, his time almost up, he secretly tendered his resignation and fled the state. On 30 October his Radical cohort, senate president B. F. Conley, was sworn in as governor. The Radicals had planned to hold the executive seat until ’73, however, the new legislature drew up a bill calling for a special gubernatorial election in December. Conley vetoed it. The legislature promptly overrode the veto, and in January 1872 James M. Smith, an anti-secessionist who had nevertheless stuck by his state and served gallantly as a Confederate officer through a number of major battles, was sworn in as Georgia’s 33rd governor, ending Reconstruction in Georgia.  

Tennessee, for those of you unfamiliar with the history of this period, was the home state of Vice President/later President Andrew Johnson. By virtue of that unfortunate connection and the state’s early occupation by too many Yankees, the central government foisted a provisional Republican government upon her, under William G. Brownlow, before the war ended. Brownlow’s government ratified the Fourteenth Amendment in 1866 and as its reward, Tennessee was exempted from the Reconstruction Acts of 1867. Tennessee was the first state to return to the Union with all her rights, those being to present the “right” representatives to Congress, where they would be blessed with their seats and proceed to vote the Republican agenda. So, the same dark year the rest of the South had the Reconstruction Acts forced upon it, Tennessee had the dubious honor of “electing” the Radical administration under “Parson” Brownlow, validating that puppet government’s right to exploit its taxpaying citizens and waste their money on liberal programs the people did not sanction. At the same time, the Radicals in Congress, across the North, and infesting the South were patting themselves on the back for the “success” of their program in Tennessee.  

The Tennessee government under Brownlow is the one that Nathan Bedford Forrest allegedly donned ghostly habit to fight in the dead of night. In early 1869, Tennessee’s Radical legislature elected Brownlow to the U. S. Senate, and DeWitt C. Senter succeeded him as governor. In August of 1869, the Republican Party’s conservative rivals—note this, dear reader—Republican Party’s conservative rivals captured the legislature and repealed much of the onerous legislation enacted under five years of “Brownlowism.” Subsequently, the legislature called for a new constitutional convention, which met in January 1870 and framed a new state constitution in less than six weeks. In August of 1870, Republican conservatives and ex-Confederates won the judicial elections and three months later (November) won the gubernatorial and legislative elections, putting former Confederate general John Calvin Brown in Tennessee’s executive mansion. Thus ended the Reconstruction era in Tennessee.  

So, at the time Mississippi’s committee of sixteen was stalking Congress in search of redress, Congressional Radicals had one eye on events on-going in Georgia and Tennessee. Clearly they needed to apply caution to their decisions regarding the yet-to-be “reconstructed” states of Virginia, Texas, and Mississippi, and they needed to apply it prior to the states’ being deemed “reconstructed.”

Next time I’ll briefly look at the impact of “public education” on the course of Reconstruction—and Congress’ new requirements toward the “unreconstructed” states. 

Thanks for reading,



  1. Reconstruction is an area I know little about, so thank you, Charlsie!

  2. Interesting and well-written Southern point of view, but I'll stick with Foner.
    This forum seems appropriate since the war continued until about 1900, by which time the South had won.

  3. MO may not have had an official Reconstruction, but she was occupied during the entire War by federal troops who killed may civilians. I also remember reading about the people in Taney County, MO (parents from there) being taxed to an unbearable degree after the War, and finally getting rid of the politicians who were responsible. I'd have to look it up again to be sure.


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