Sunday, December 27, 2015

Behind the Scenes and Butler’s Bill

This post is number thirty-one in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States and continues the “saga” resulting from the Democrats’ victory over the Republican “reconstruction” constitution framed during the Black & Tan Convention in the winter/spring of 1868. For earlier posts in this Alcorn-driven series, (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 August, 30 August , 13 September, 27 September, 11 October, 25 October 2015, 8 November25 November 2015, and 14 December 1015.

This post continues discussion on the bill Benjamin Butler, chairman of the House Committee on Reconstruction, introduced in the spring of 1869 to bring Mississippi back into the loving arms of the Union (yes, that is sarcasm you hear in my words). Butler’s bill authorized the Mississippi constitutional convention to be reassembled upon the call of the president of the convention. If the president hadn’t called the convention back into session within thirty days, the commanding general (that would be Adelbert Ames, Butler’s son-in-law) would do so. At the time this bill was sent to the House, the president of Mississippi’s constitutional convention (Alston Maggot—oh, I do apologize, I’m letting my true feelings show again—that should read Alston Mygatt) was in town lobbying to have the rejected constitution declared in force and would have been only too happy to reconvene the convention. Under the Butler Bill, the reassembled convention was to have the power to appoint a provisional governor and remove and appoint registrars and judges of the election.

Excuse me? Where did those powers—once exclusive to the commanding general—come from? Mine is a rhetorical question, and I will here share my educated guess. On the surface it would appear they originated the previous summer with Bingham’s bill, but these are the very powers the constitutional convention presumed to usurp from General Gillem during the winter/spring of 1868 while framing the constitution. The change wouldn’t have made much difference with Ames, the Radical’s man, now the commanding general, as well as the provisional governor, but it is telling. 

And why the devil did Grant give Ames command of the Fourth Military District to begin with? You are not going to convince me it was an independent decision on his part. This takes us back to Ames’ appointment as provisional governor by General McDowell during the latter’s one-month tenure as commander of the Fourth District.  

Succinctly put, Butler’s Bill meant turning over control of Mississippi to the Black and Tan Convention, and that’s where control would remain, even if the people of Mississippi defeated the constitution again and again and again. And if they ratified the constitution—power would still be with that same group. Passage of the Butler Bill meant no way out. Butler’s heavy-handed prejudice in deferring to the convention hierarchy is indicative of overt tyranny that, it would seem, the man didn’t believe he needed to disguise. The other thing that’s interesting to note here is that when the 40th Congress closed on 4 March 1869, Ben Butler was not on the House Committee for Reconstruction. Two weeks later, he’s not only on the committee, he’s chairing it. The Massachusetts contingent had been switched out. The proof is in the pudding, folks. Butler had been part of that wheeling and dealing that winter meant to resolve the reentry of Mississippi, Virginia, and Texas on terms favorable to the Radicals. 

Henry L. Dawes, Butler’s colleague in the House and also from Massachusetts, is on record for saying he’d as soon leave the choice of the warden of the state prison at Charlestown to the convicts as to leave the choice of provisional governor of Mississippi to the Mississippi Reconstruction Convention. (It was the constitutional convention, but players were pretty much one and the same, so why split hairs?) Dawes was a conservative Republican, not a Radical. Not only that, but in Butler’s bill, the same constitution—irrespective of the proscriptive clauses—was to be presented to the people. This meant that the Mississippi constitutional convention of 1868 would have full control of all registrars—no other input required—and Butler’s son-in-law would be the commanding general should military support be required (or desired) during the election. As said earlier, the election was to be repeated exactly as before, only this time the scenario would be “orchestrated” to ensure the constitutional convention achieved the results it desired. 

James B. Beck, the Democratic Representative from Kentucky referenced above, took the floor and argued that President Grant appoint the provisional governor for Mississippi. It is at this juncture that Butler takes the time, apparently for the benefit of his fellow Republicans, like the skeptical Dawes, because the Democrats surely already had it figured out, to explain his rational for bestowing so much power in the constitutional convention: He said, and I paraphrase, that the president of the Mississippi Reconstruction convention (Eggleston), who had been the Republican candidate for governor in Mississippi, would now appoint himself governor. As he’d taken the surrender of Atlanta, so he’d accept the surrender of Mississippi. Butler called the act merely good politics to accept the radical schemes. If you don’t reconstruct Mississippi, he continued, you can’t get the loyal legislature and consequently two “loyal” senators. Without those two “loyal” senators you can’t pass the Fifteenth Amendment and you lose six Northern states. Okay, Dawes probably had it figured out, too, but he wouldn’t have been particularly in favor of radical schemes. 

This is all so telling and dovetails nicely with my thoughts on the Radicals being in trouble in the North and determined to maintain control in the South (and hence overall). The other thing is Butler—what the devil was his motivation? Greed would be my guess. He’d been a Democrat during the course of his political life. Now he was a Republican working hand in hand with the Radicals, but from his reference to the Radicals in the paragraph above, he clearly didn’t consider himself a Radical. There were rumors at the time discussed in my narrative he would return to the Democratic Party, so one must surmise it wasn’t ideology driving the man. I have little doubt that his son-in-law’s being the commanding general of the Fourth Military District as well as the provisional governor of Mississippi piqued his interest regarding events in Mississippi—or maybe the reverse is true, and he got Adelbert the job in order to further a preexisting interest. His subsequently finagling his way into the chair of the reconstruction committee testifies to his power, influence, and the corruption of all. 

Representative Beck countered that the President in his appointment of the provisional governor would ensure a free and fair election, and that the Mississippi constitutional convention would permit neither.

I’d like to elaborate further on the Butler Bill and James Beck’s rebuttal on the House floor next time. In lieu of Butler’s frank reasoning (or arrogant dearth of discretion, if you’d rather), the debate is particularly enlightening and does much to explain the insurmountable (and unsubstantiated) allegations of fraud, persecution, and sundry atrocities that continue to be attributed to the white Southerner over the past century and a half regarding electioneering in the post-war South. 

Thanks for reading, 



Monday, December 14, 2015

Hold On Says the Senate to the House, Let’s Think About This

This post is number thirty in a historical series discussing Mississippi’s Whig/Republican governor and senator, James Alcorn, following the War Between the States and continues the “saga” resulting from the Democrats’ victory over the Republican “reconstruction” constitution framed during Mississippi’s Black & Tan Convention in the winter/spring of 1868. For earlier posts in this Alcorn-driven series, (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 August,30 August , 13 September, 27 September, 11 October, 25 October 2015, 8 November, and 25 November 2015.
On 24 July 1868, immediately following Mississippi’s defeat of the proposed Republican constitution (10 July), Representative John Bingham (Republican from Ohio and traitor extraordinaire who was the primary author of the Fourteenth Amendment and was a member of the House Select Committee on Reconstruction) introduced a bill from said committee for the “speedy readmission of Mississippi, Virginia, and Texas.” Recall that in the summer of 1868, these were the three “unreconstructed” states still outside the Union and lacking representation in Congress (and until the Radicals were sure they had the kind of representation they wanted the people of those states to have—that being representatives to support the Radicals—they would remain unrepresented). In the case of Mississippi, Bingham’s bill called for the reassembly of the “Black and Tan” convention, giving more power to the convention in carrying out the election and subordinating the commanding general to a support role. Polling booths firmly in Radical hands, the constitution was to be resubmitted to the new voting elite for ratification. Benjamin Butler, representing Massachusetts, spoke in favor of Bingham’s bill on the House floor, but did not record a vote. Nevertheless, plenty of other Republicans (of course, that’s mostly what there was to vote) did. The bill passed by a huge majority and went to the Senate. On 27 July, the Senate tabled it. New York Senator Roscoe Conkling, himself a Radical, said basically that there was too much to consider to pass a hasty bill.

Ah, to have been a fly on the wall back then. Indeed, the Radicals were apparently taking stock. Cracks had started to appear in the foundation of their tyranny. They were being pretty presumptuous, not to mention heavy-handed, with their “centralization/Utopian schemes.” Forcing social and educational “enlightenment” on the defeated South was one thing, but, self-righteous, assuming %@$+@rds that many of them were (the balance being power-hungry thieves), they were pressing the envelope a little too hard north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Less enlightened Northerners, or I should say more practical ones, were paying attention. In tandem with that, the radicalization of Tennessee and Georgia was going to hell in a handbasket, so yes, it had probably dawned on Mr. Conkling that he and his colleagues needed to tread carefully regarding the reentry of Mississippi, Virginia, and Texas. To maintain and grow their powerbase, the Radicals had to have control of those Southern states to offset the Northern ones they could not so easily wield their tyranny over and were actually in jeopardy of losing (not only to the Democrats, but to conservative Republicans who did not see the future with their perverted vision). One more thing, and this is just my opinion, but I suspect that the Radical powers in Washington, unable to recognize mirror images of themselves in the provinces, suspected they had idiots in control of the Radical wings down in Dixie. If they wanted to ensure a Radical Republican Mississippi they had to get the right people in place—not only to increase power, but to keep it, hence Conkling’s caution.

The Senate’s tabling the Bingham Bill was a major setback for the Eggleston clique down in Mississippi. Understand that in the summer of 1868, no one doubted that the proposed progressive constitution and the Republican ticket had been fairly defeated. Only after the failure of Bingham’s effort to simply vote again—after ensuring the Radicals had full control of the voting booths—did schemes surface to vacate the conservative victory based on alleged fraud and intimidation. Hence, the “committee of five’s” subsequent assembling in Jackson for four months and concocting its affidavits of fraud and its premature findings to offset General Gillem’s report (see the Committee of Five Comes Alive). The committee subsequently cast out the votes from select counties, recounted the remaining votes, and declared the new constitution ratified and the Republican ticket elected. I can just imagine General Gillem’s smirk—okay, I actually imagine him saying some things, but what he said publicly was, no, that didn’t happen.

The Radicals’ declaration of victory failing with the general, off they went to Washington, (James Alcorn in company), to see what they could accomplish with Congress. But as we already know, the committee of five (blossomed now into the committee of sixteen) was not the only group from Mississippi that descended on the House Select Committee on Reconstruction that winter. The conservative Republicans and a Democrat contingent did, too.

The 41st Congress assembled on the 19th of March 1869 at which time Benjamin Butler, Representative from Massachusetts and now chairman of the House Select Committee on Reconstruction, introduced a bill in the House for organizing a provisional government for Mississippi. Butler’s bill went to committee, and on the 24th of March, the chairman of said committee (that was Butler) recommended its approval. It was basically the Bingham Bill with which I introduced this post—at least that part of the Bingham Bill dealing with Mississippi.

A brief aside here, if I may, on the history of the House Select Committee on Reconstruction. It started out as the Joint Committee on Reconstruction (also known as the Committee of Fifteen) on 13 December 1865 (39th Congress, March 1865 to March 1867). It was the brain-child of the fanatical Radical Republican representative from Pennsylvania, Thaddeus Stevens, and was the organized beginning by Congress to get President Andrew Johnson under control, or more specifically, get Reconstruction under congressional control. Nine House members sat on the committee along with six senators. Senator William P. Fessenden (Maine), Salmon P. Chase’s brief successor at Treasury, was the committee’s chairman. Twelve Republicans and three Democrats comprised the group. It was this committee that drafted the Fourteenth Amendment and established the requirement that the Southern states ratify that desecration to the Constitution before being readmitted to the Union. Apparently believing it had accomplished its job of summarily destroying the Founders’ Republic, the Senate opted out of further participation and with the 40th Congress (March 1867-March 1869), we see only a House Select Committee on Reconstruction chaired by Thaddeus Stevens, whom the grim reaper collected in August 1868, much too late for the South or for the Republic.
No matter, another Radical in the form of George S. Boutwell from Massachusetts succeeded to the chair. It is Boutwell’s group, meeting during the 40th Congress’ third session (December 1868-March 1869), that the contenders for power in Mississippi descended upon. Nine men, seven Republicans and two Democrats comprised the House committee at that time. The two Democrats were James Brooks of New York and James Beck of Kentucky, who was the only true Southerner on the Committee. Alabama (having been blessed with reentry) also had a representative on the committee—Benjamin W. Norris, a former U. S. Army paymaster from Maine who settled in Mobile, Alabama and continued to work with the Freedmen’s Bureau after the war. He was a puppet carpetbagger, y’all, at the apex of his short-lived political career—representative of Alabama he was not.

By the time Butler had assumed the committee chair during the 41st Congress’ first session (March 1869), membership had grown to thirteen (nine Republicans and four Democrats). Though the presence of more Democrats on the committee implies increased Southern sympathy (Fernando Wood of New York, the Tammany Hall fellow whose cotton interest led him to advocate New York City’s secession back in 1861, was now on the committee), Beck remained the only true Southerner. By the time the second session had rolled around in December 1869—and yes, I know I’m ahead of myself in the historical narrative—committee membership had grown to fifteen, meaning two more bodies had been added, both Republican—both carpetbaggers, one representing Virginia and one representing Mississippi. Their careers’ would be short, too, but not short enough to undo the damage they and others like them did to the Republic. For future reference, that Mississippian was George McKee, the only Republican on the 1868 ticket that won his congressional seat. Of course, he had to win it a second time, but that was later...and easier the second time around, and he wouldn’t be the lone winner in that second round, either. I’ll elaborate more in a future post, and I’ll continue with Butler and his bill in my next post.

Thanks for reading,