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,



1 comment:

  1. Have you ever noticed, in Grant's photo, the guilty look in his eyes? He knew he had sold his soul for fame and had the blood of thousands of innocents on his hands.


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