Saturday, February 20, 2016

Fraud, Intimidation, and Skewed Views on Southern History That Liberal Historians Tell

This post is number thirty-four 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 Democratic 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 201514 December, 27 December 201518 January, and 1 February 2016.

Here, we pick up where we left off—the Honorable James Beck from Kentucky (the man in the white hat) on the House floor countering the machinations of Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts, not only black hatted, but like the majority of his Republican colleagues, black hearted. 

Having failed back in July 1868 with the election schemes to get its progressive constitution ratified and Republican ticket elected; having failed to get General Gillem, Commander of the Fourth Military District, to launch an investigation into what he’d already investigated; having failed to get Bingham’s Bill through the Senate the previous summer; having failed to circumvent General Gillem’s report to the Reconstruction Committee; and having failed to sell the House Select Reconstruction Committee at the beginning of the 40th Congress’ third session on charges of fraud, the representatives of the Mississippi constitutional convention of 1868, trudged on, harping through that congressional session and into the 41st Congress, where we just happen to find Massachusetts’ Benjamin Butler chairing the ever-growing House Select Committee on Reconstruction. Butler had in hand a “new” bill to resolve the reentry problem for Mississippi. The Butler Bill, which by its very design was meant to take martial law out of the hands of the commanding general (remember the state has been under military rule since the spring of 1867) and invest it in the Mississippi constitutional convention along with giving that body full authority over the new election to be held on the civil administration and the constitution, its registrars and its judges, and relegating the commanding general to supporting the convention’s whims. James Beck regarded the individuals comprising the constitutional convention to be “the last body of men upon earth in whose hands the protection of either the lives, the liberty, or the property of that people ought to be intrusted, especially with such arbitrary and despotic powers as this bill proposes to invest them.” 

It’s my opinion that the constitutional convention’s committee of sixteen worked with Benjamin Butler on that bill, just as convention members had agents in place to work with Bingham the summer before in drafting his similar one. Butler’s Bill gave the committee of five of the Mississippi constitutional convention everything it wanted/needed to ensure full tyrannical control over the state of Mississippi, its property, and its taxpayer. 

The charges of fraud and intimidation presented to the House Select Committee on Reconstruction during the 40th Congress’ 3rd Session (December 1868) had been discounted by the committee (this according to Beck, who knew it as fact because he was a member of the committee). 

The biggest lie and the one James Beck fed upon and pounded into the members of the House was the November 1868 declaration from the meeting rooms of the committee of five in Jackson, Mississippi that the people of Mississippi had ratified the proposed constitution and the Republican Party ticket had been elected. Those members announced that in Jackson, then sent the committee of sixteen  to Washington, D.C. and announced it to the House reconstruction committee—and presented their “memorial” testifying to fraud, discrimination, and intimidation (and any other catch-word they could think of) to show their statement was true.  

The committee of five got their numbers, giving themselves the victory, by throwing out the results from the counties of Carroll, Desoto, Chickasaw, Lafayette, Rankin, Copiah, and Yalobusha; however, during that third session of Congress, not only was the committee of sixteen busy working with the likes of Benjamin Butler to concoct that full-proof contract to ensure Radical tyranny of the people of Mississippi, but the more conservative political elements active in the state (the liberal Republicans, also known as scalawags, and the democrats) were conducting some investigating on their own—and apparently did a much more thorough job than did the “Eggleston clique.” Keep in mind as you read this, the officers at the polling booths had been hand-picked/vetted by both General Gillem and the Mississippi constitutional convention—remember that was a power convention members granted themselves during the convention. The judges, registrars, and clerks were at worse neutral (Gillem’s picks) and at best the committee’s own.  

The finding’s of the conservatives showed that when questioned regarding the results of Chickasaw County, every judge, registrar, and clerk testified that the election had been fair—not one person they knew of had hinted at unfairness. In Rankin County only one man swore to any fraud or unfairness, while every judge and registrar swore that the election was fairly conducted. Turns out that the man swearing to fraud was one D.S. Harriman. Beck himself had a military commission report, signed by Brevet Major General Pennypacker [I suspect that’s a misprint for Pennybacker], an honest and respected officer, stating that Harriman, a former officer with the Freedmen’s Bureau, had been removed from office and charged with six counts of dereliction of duty and fraud. He was convicted of five and sentenced to a $50.00 fine and one year in prison. He’d recently disappeared while out on bail.  

In Desoto County, the only white man who swore to anything being unfair was one Theodore Wiseman, who provided long and able affidavits of fraud and intimidation in Desoto County: The Klan had the roads blocked, he said, and he told of violence, intimidation, and murder. Beck focuses his rebuttal on the man’s character and the comments made of him. Also one might glean something from Beck’s reference to “the only white man” indicating there may have been affidavits made by Negroes attesting to fraud. Recall that subsequent to the election, the “committee of five” was overwhelmed by Negroes coming to Jackson [the committee of five had sent for them] and conferring behind closed doors to fraud and intimidation—then signing their prepared statements with an “x.” I do admit to have an interest in seeing those affidavits—did they all read similarly, for instance? Beck, as a member of the reconstruction committee no doubt read them. His point of following up with the case of Harriman and Wiseman and their likes was to ascertain what kind of white men made these statements in contradiction to hand-chosen registrars and judges? I assume members of the committee automatically determined the bulk of the Negro testimony fabricated or indeterminate, and therefore the white testimony the more compelling of the two. On the subject of Wiseman, the sheriff of Desoto County, Joseph Rogers, reported to James Beck that Wiseman was another of those “ex” Freedmen’s Bureau fellas. He’d been cashiered by General Gillem himself for abuse of authority in office—he apparently had been charging fines and pocketing the money. He was working as a commissioner (yeah, you guessed it—one of the “committee of five’s” hand-picked commissioners) at the Desoto County poll, when an individual he’d illegally fined spied him and challenged him with the wrong [and I can’t help but believe the individual pointed out to everyone present this thief was acting as a “commissioner” at a Mississippi polling booth in support, obviously, of Republican interests]. The sheriff stated that the altercation in no way hindered/prevented anyone from voting. Other than that one instance, voting went off without a hitch.

There’s more to the story of Theodore Wiseman. He was, in fact, a card-carrying Radical, who along with the rest of the Republican team in Desoto County was responsible for organizing the “Loyal Leagues” (Negro voters). He ran for office in Desoto County on the Republican ticket in the 1868 election. So what was he doing serving as a voting commissioner? Later in the Reconstruction drama of Desoto County, his life in danger, he billed the Republican hierarchy for services rendered and left town in the dark of night to evade monetary obligations. It was subsequently made known that a week before he requested monetary support from his party, he’d approached the Democracy in that county and offered to burn all the Radical tickets for $500.00. The democrats regarded the price as too steep and declined the offer—guess that’s why he felt the need to tap his “beloved” party, after failing to sabotage it. 

There’s more on the story of Joseph Rogers, too, the sheriff of Desoto County who gave the less than flattering report on Mr. Wiseman. He was a General Ord appointee back in November of 1867, after the enactment of the Reconstruction Acts. Rogers had been a citizen of Iroquois, Illinois when the war broke out. He’d formed up and commanded a company in the 113th Illinois Infantry Volunteers for the duration, serving with Grant from the time the latter was promoted to brigadier-general until he became General of the Army at war’s end (that included the Vicksburg campaign and stomping all over Mississippi). Anyway, with the end of the war, Rogers bought a plantation in Desoto County and subsequently served as one of General Ord’s registrars in compiling the voter rolls under the Reconstruction Acts and during the election for a constitutional convention. According to Rogers, he supported Congressional Reconstruction (his service supports that) and continued to do so. As sheriff, he served under Ord, then Gillem, McDowell, and Gillem again. He voted for Grant, his old commander. He was a good sheriff, the people of Desoto County were content with him, at least. Then, guess what? One month after James Beck referred to his denunciation of Wiseman’s testimony on abuse and intimidation in Desoto County, General Ames removed him from office for, according to Rogers, not working for the interests of the extreme Radical faction. Anyone want to wager Ames’ father-in-law influenced that move? My other thought is how many more honest Northern carpetbaggers, not to mention Southerners, did Ames manage to remove between the time he relieved Gillem and Alcorn went in as governor, and how big a role did those removals make in shaping the outcome of the subsequent election?
There was something else I found interesting in Desoto County’s testimony presented before the reconstruction committee—and that was the sworn testimony of a Negro Radical by the name of Jessie Paine, and Negro democrats, Edmund Cox, Thomas W. White, Richard Cobb, Henry Alexander, and William Robertson, who swore that the county’s election was, from what they saw and from their participation, peacefully conducted and the constitution fairly defeated.
Beck didn’t elaborate on the other counties cited in the Radical memorial, but he did finish this assessment of claims of abuse and intimidation with a great big smoking gun, sent, no less, to George S. Boutwell back in December 1868 when he was chairman of the reconstruction committee. It was Boutwell himself who laid it before the committee. Lester Williams, Jr., chaplain of the Mississippi constitutional convention, who was himself a native of West Springfield, Massachusetts and had returned home at some point between losing the election and the opening of the 40th Congress’ third session in December 1868. He was intimately involved in the convention, he said (and those dregs did say a prayer every day—I’ve seen the journal). Williams campaigned for the constitution and made a study of all the people of Mississippi and believed he knew the people and the politics—wonder if this self-possessed knowledge included the interlopers, too? (Isn’t it funny, looking back, how the people of Massachusetts felt they were uniquely qualified to assess others? Guess that kept them from having to take a good, long look at themselves.) Williams said, in retrospect, (and probably taking the people’s rejection of the constitution for what it was—a rejection), that to force Mississippi’s restoration in the Union under [that constitution] would be a calamity. He understood the Republicans wanted the state back in the Union—but their project (that constitution) was hollow and visionary, but the past warned against it.

So, the man did understand some things, now if he’d only understood that the vision of the men framing that constitution was not for the good of the people of Mississippi, he might have understood how others manipulate the self-righteousness of New England Yankees. But, my bitter opinions aside, here’s the really good part of the Reverend William’s letter:

“I understood this whole plan, of declaring the constitution carried on the charge of fraud in seven counties, so throwing out the count, as long ago as in July last. But there was the same kind of fraud and intimidation practiced in every county in the State, so that the whole, if investigated, might be pronounced a nullity with equal force as the part. If you will observe the location of these counties thrown out you may perhaps note that they are culled, here and there, with a special purpose in view. There the result of the election was acquiesced in by the great body of the Republicans all over the state, without a loud press, for the space of three or four months. [In other words, fraud and intimidation were endemic throughout the state (by both parties, though the good reverend does not explicitly say so), but to challenge every county would nullify the entire election. I further interpret the reverend to mean the Republicans never had created a sound foothold in those counties, so they could throw out the results and better their numbers. Further—and this jumps right out at me—having  written those counties off/having never made a strong effort, they conducted no fraud of their own during the election, and therefore were safe to challenge, their own dirty laundry buried in those where they concentrated their canvass.]   

This is growing into a long post, and here is as good a place to break as any. My main point with this  post is to put the accusations of “fraud, intimidation, and violence” long attributed to the racist white Southerner during this era (or any era for that matter) in proper perspective and emphasize how much of the truth has been lost to intentional historical deception.

I’ll finish up the Butler Bill next time. 

Thanks for reading,



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