Monday, July 18, 2016

The 1869 Radical Republican Convention in Mississippi

This post is number forty-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. That Republican defeat meant a second election, the story of which continues below. For earlier posts in this Alcorn-driven series, see the sidebar at the right.

With Grant’s betrayal of Louis Dent (albeit under duress), things were shaping up nicely for James Lusk Alcorn and the Radical Republicans in the state, and there is little doubt in my mind that this is how the “Regular” party leadership in Washington planned it. Both Mississippi’s Radical and Conservative groups were in Washington the winter of 1868-1869, and during their stay, both sides spent time strategizing with national leaders.  

A note here for the reader: In Mississippi, the Southern Republicans/Scalawags under Mississippian and Confederate hero J. L. Wofford latched on to the name of the national party—The National Union Republican Party—immediately after the war and before the Carpetbaggers established themselves in the state. At the national level, the name applied to the self-styled “Regulars,” the dominate wing, more “affectionately” known to history as the Radicals. The conservative wing of the Party was the Conservatives. So, as confusing as it appears, the “conservatives” (Scalawags) in Mississippi were, officially, the National Union Republican Party of Mississippi. That left the Radicals in the state with the term “Republicans,” just the opposite of what one would think. For the sake of clarity I will use the term Radicals or Carpetbaggers and Conservatives or Scalawags to identify these groups. (Further muddying the waters, as of this election in 1869, the term “Conservatives” refers to the fusion group created by the Scalawags and “New Departure” Democrats). So, you have, in 1869, the National Union Republican Party of Mississippi (Dent) running against the Republican Party of Mississippi (Alcorn).  

Following the Radical Weekly Delta’s 2 June 1869 “hope” that James Lusk Alcorn would be considered a likely candidate on the Republican (Radical) ticket, Robert Alcorn called to order a meeting of the local Republican Party (Coahoma County/Friar’s Point, and beyond, so annotated  because Robert was from Yalobusha County). This local group selected Alcorn as its gubernatorial nominee for the state Republican Party convention in Jackson scheduled for 30 September and chose Robert Alcorn as its representative. By early August, James Alcorn was campaigning for the Radical Party and indirectly for himself as governor. He was also busy creating a faction loyal to the national party within the state as well as to himself and not necessarily in that order. His creation of a faction loyal to him would have met with fewer blessings from party leadership within Mississippi. Certainly there was mistrust. Northern Carpetbaggers within the state did not, as a rule, want leadership invested in a Southerner, hence the snubbing of the indigenous party leader Wofford, which led to his rallying fellow Southerners (primarily Democrats, without whom he could have never pulled it off) to defeat the Radical agenda in the summer of ’68. My gut feeling is that the national party leadership in Washington, thwarted in Mississippi as it had been, risked championing Alcorn, who had, during the winter sojourn, convinced them of the ineffectiveness of Eggleston and the threat posed by the Scalawag Wofford, who was now aligned with and would betray the Republican agenda to the Democrats. [Actually is was the “enlightened” Democrats who betrayed principle, not the other way around.] Republican Party minions in Mississippi had already ostracized the presumptuous Wofford, and they were no doubt wary of Alcorn. But they could only shout out a warning, then obey.  

On 30 August, Alcorn spoke in Hernando, Mississippi, his focus on the “Democratic Party,” a clear indication of how he viewed the makeup of the Conservative group. He accused his counterparts of deceiving the Negroes and attacked the Democrats as not being law abiding. He provided “statistics” to support these charges, and I can’t help but wonder if his were as good as the ones James Burnie Beck had brought up the previous winter before Congress, exposing Republican charges of fraud and violence as self-aggrandizing lies and fabrications. Wanna bet the source data was similarly derived? One month later, on 30 September, convention delegates nominated him for governor by an overwhelming majority. R. C. Powers, ex-United States Army, was chosen to be his lieutenant governor. Adelbert Ames had appointed Powers as sheriff of Noxubee County earlier in his administration.

Powers would become governor after Alcorn arranged his own sojourn to the Senate, and all indications are that Powers was an honest, forthright man who served well under difficult circumstances. His subsequent castigation of the state Radicals for corruption could support the man’s being honest.  

This convention gave the Negro a little more consideration than the previous one (November 1867), nominating an Indiana mulatto, the Reverend James Lynch, for secretary of state. The man who would run for auditor on the Alcorn ticket was Henry Musgrove, another ex of the United States Army. H. R. Pease of Connecticut, again ex-U. S. Army, filled the slot for superintendent of education. These nominations were made in the presence of the provisional governor and Commander of the Fourth Military District, General Adelbert Ames. General Ames offered Alcorn and the Republican Party his full support, and he remained to applaud Alcorn’s acceptance speech. So much for the non-partisanship by Grant’s military that the president had promised for the election. Oh, well, maybe the argument could be made Ames was there in his capacity as provisional governor—pretty lame, huh? The truth was Ames’ reward for his support was to be one of Mississippi’s U. S. Senate slots. Yes, at a time when good, informed leadership was desperately needed for an exhausted state, a pious New England prick was to represent the interests of agrarian Mississippi in the U. S. Senate.  

I’ll continue with the state Radical convention next time. Thanks for reading.



Monday, July 4, 2016

Ah, President Ulysses Simpson Grant’s Feet of Clay

This post is number forty-three 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 progressive constitution framed during the Black & Tan Convention in the winter/spring of 1868, which resulted in a second election. For earlier posts in this Alcorn-driven series, (best read in sequence from oldest to most recent), see the sidebar at the right.

The National Union Republican Party of Mississippi was banking on Louis Dent’s close personal relationship with his brother-in-law, President Grant, to carry the election. Grant had been accommodating to the Scalawag/Democratic contingent(s) during their sojourn to Washington the previous winter and spring, then had initially given tacit support to Dent's campaign. But as had been the case with Virginia, where Grant also indicated sympathies for the moderate Republicans, the Radicals were not going to allow it. Remember, readers, this nominally National Union Republican Party ticket in Mississippi was actually a fusion ticket between the Scalawags and “future” New Departure Democrats, and by August 1869, Grant’s support for it had come into doubt. On August 10, the Clarion (Democratic Paper) reported that the president unquestioningly desired the success of the proposed Dent ticket, though “discretion” was required due to his position (meaning he needed to keep the good-will of his Radical handlers). But a few days later, Grant’s letter to Dent, penned August 1, 1869, made it clear the Radicals weren’t going to stand for discretionary silence. Grant had to publicly decide for the Radicals, and he did. 

Dear Judge, I am thoroughly satisfied in my own mind that the success of the so-called Conservative Republican party in Mississippi would result in the defeat of what I believe to be the best interests of the state and country, that I have determined to say so to you (in writing of course). [Of course. The Radicals wanted this made perfectly clear. Since the thing was “published,” I’m assuming copies had been forwarded to the newspapers—in Mississippi and elsewhere, so there would be no doubt as to where Grant stood.] I would regret to see you run for an office and be defeated by my act; but as matters look now, I must throw the weight of my influence in favor of the party opposed to you. I earnestly hope that before the election there will be such concessions on either side in Mississippi as to unite all true supporters of the administration in support of one ticket....  

In other words, those untrustworthy Scalawags were anathema to the “regular” Republicans and I’m now sorry you have involved yourself with them (despite my earlier discreet support that you should do so—okay, those are my words, but reading between the lines is pretty easy here, especially when you add what happened in Virginia). 

Dent’s response, also public, asked the president “if it was reasonable to suppose that people having the free choice of their representatives would elect a class of politicians whose conduct had made them peculiarly obnoxious.” This was the charge, he said, made against the Radicals, not because they were Northerners and ex-Union soldiers (those, he pointed out existed in the conservative party he was to lead), but because of their policy of proscription. He emphasized that the conservative Republicans had been first in the state to advocate equal rights for the freedmen. “To this group of men [the Radicals],” he concluded in his response to Grant, “whom you foiled in their attempt to force upon the people of Mississippi the odious constitution rejected at the ballot box, you now give the hand of fellowship, and spurn the other class, who, accepting the invitation of the Republican party in good faith, came en masse to stand upon its platform and advocate its principles.” 

These are the public communications, the ones meant for the newspapers and the people. Who knows what private correspondence was passing between Grant and Dent. Nevertheless, I find much of interest in Dent’s response to the president. First, it all but confirms, at least for me, my argument that the seeds of Dent’s running for governor in Mississippi had been planted by the conservative group, Dent, and the president back in the winter-spring while the contenders were all in Washington hassling over the fate of the ’68 election. (see my 8 November and 25 November 2015 posts).

Dent also makes note of “the other class” who had come to the conservative party in good faith “to stand upon its platform and advocate its principles.” This is a reference to the coalition with the “enlightened” Democrats who have sold out party principles to return the state to the Union and get out from under martial law no matter the cost. His reference to Grant’s role in protecting the people from the obnoxious “constitution” which they’d rejected the summer before is also interesting, because ratification of that same constitution is on his platform, albeit with the proscription clauses now separate. But as I’ve said before, there was more wrong with that constitution than the proscription clauses. Fourteen months later, the “enlightened” Democrats, in tandem with the conservative Republicans are claiming the only thing wrong with it had been the proscription clauses, which have now been separated from it. Well, lo and behold, if the bulk of taxpayers, who’d be paying for its programs, turned out not to buy that bull. 

Grant’s abandonment pretty much dashed the hopes of the conservative Republicans and their Democratic allies in Mississippi, but the Dent coalition had come too far. The decision had been made, and they stuck with Dent (who wasn’t officially nominated until 8 September). So, there stood the conservatives, saddled with a man whose politics were generally unknown to the people, running on a platform that deviated very little with that of the Radicals and not deviating at all on points of principle (the Fifteenth Amendment and the progressive constitution) with the exception of proscription, and that was on a separate ballot. The executive steering committee now set out to frame a ticket designed to appeal to the conservative Negro voter, but lets face it, it was pretty hard to identify such a creature. The way to do it, of course, was to invite Negro leaders to the convention, advice echoed in the Clarion, and the conservatives followed that advice to an extent. Three Negroes were nominated for Secretary of State and the winner was Thomas Sinclair of Copiah County. He had few qualifications, but he is on record as the first Negro nominated for office in Mississippi. In addition to Dent as governor and Sinclair as secretary of state, the ticket was divided up between Democrats (of the enlightened persuasion) and Republicans. The lieutenant governor slot, auditor, and treasurer went to ex-Union soldiers. Attorney general and secretary of education went to native democrats.
On September 11, 1869, the Clarion reported that the ticket would receive its “warmest support, inasmuch as the triumph of the party meant the triumph of peace, justice, and liberty.” 

I’ll start with the Radical state convention next time. Thanks for reading,