Sunday, May 7, 2017

Mississippi’s Final Stretch for Reentry into a Union She Supposedly Never Left

This post is number forty-nine 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 resulted in a second election—Washington’s Radicals were simply not going to take Mississippians’ rejection of their agenda as the answer. For earlier posts in this Alcorn-driven series, see the sidebar.

Upon ratification of the progressive constitution and election of state officers, Mississippi’s military governor, Adelbert Ames, ordered the new legislature to meet 11 January 1870. This was the first legislature to meet since the inauguration of martial law and Congressional Reconstruction in the spring of 1867. The Radical U.S. Congress made two more demands of the state before considering Mississippi for readmission to the “new nation,” those being ratification of the unconstitutional Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Once the legislature was assembled and organized, Ames, acting in his capacity of provisional governor, requested it consider passage of the two amendments, which forever altered the fundamental relationship between the central government and the states. The legislature not only considered the two amendments, it readily ratified them, but that had been the plan all along.

Much has been said of the abuses of “Negro Rule”during the course of these puppet governments set up during Reconstruction in the South, but as of 11 January 1870, Mississippi was not yet to that point. To be fair to the Negro, Negro Rule is a misnomer, because the people calling the shots were always white politicians aiding and abetting corruption in return for votes, both at election time and in the state house. The more accurate term, and one used routinely for the period, is Carpetbag Rule.

Of the 139 men making up the puppet legislature that passed the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, only thirty-one were Negroes, mostly ex-slaves, many illiterate, and none with legislative experience or understanding of how legislatures operated. Most were ignorant of the history and the intent of the framers of the U. S. Constitution, which is why the Radicals in Congress ensured their citizenship, suffrage, and election to legislative positions. The Negroes’ case was not unlike that of European immigrants in Northern cities who joined Lincoln’s army to fight for “freedom” and democracy which could only be accomplished, by some obtuse reasoning, by a forced marriage between North and South. All were manipulated by a political system determined to pervert what the founders had created in 1787 and create something new.

Within the ranks of those thirty-one Negroes were very capable individuals, primarily black ministers, who were both well-educated and knowledgeable, yet still lacking legislative experience, but in lockstep with those whose goal it was to alter the Republic. Twelve such had been elected to the house, and three of Mississippi’s five Negro senators were ministers. It should be noted that black ministers dominated black leadership across the entire South. The Republican hierarchy reached the black voter through the black ministers.

The legislators representing the wealthiest counties in the state were now ex-slaves: one senator and three representatives from Warren County, the location of Vicksburg; two representatives and one senator from Hinds County, the location of the state capitol Jackson; two representatives and one senator from Adams County, the location of Natchez; two representatives and one senator from Washington County in Mississippi’s Yazoo-Mississippi Delta where Greenville is located; Lowndes County, site of Columbus, sent one senator and one representative; Noxubee County sent three Negro representatives to the state house; Holmes, Panola, and Wilkinson Counties had two Negro representatives each; and seventeen other counties sent one Negro each to Jackson to represent their interests. In addition to the black legislators, there were forty-nine Carpetbaggers, primarily ex-Union soldiers who were recent inhabitants of the state, twenty-five Scalawags composed in large part of ex-Whigs and ex-Confederates and home-grown opportunists who never, or no longer, saw eye-to-eye with the Democrats; four additional Republicans in the house, who I have yet to confirm as Carpetbagger or Scalawag*; and finally there were thirty Democrats made up of both New Departure adherents who had acquiesced to the new order and the Bourbons, the democrats of old (and probably some old-line Whigs) who remained true to the principles of the old republic: the Constitution, state rights, and home rule—you know, liberty. Not some lofty ideal of “freedom” dictated by those who felt qualified to define exactly what that abstract quality is within a controlled state, not “democracy” imposed and manipulated by centralized government, but liberty, a quality achieved only by the absence of as much government as possible and still guarantee the protection of property. A government limited by laws framed and controlled at the local level.  Needless to say, people who thought like the Bourbons were outnumbered in the recreated Southern legislatures, in a nation led by men, both Radical and non-, hell-bent to shape it into Leviathan. Those latter needed government-enforced democracy and the illusion of  “freedom,” and though the Bourbons might have elicited sympathy from their fellow Democrats and even many Scalawags, they garnered little real support among men who, even though they might have disdained Leviathan, were now determined to carry on in an altered state where liberty was now an ephemeral beauty whose time had passed.
[I have yet to narrow down which was which among the Democrats, and I imagine I will find the two groups will polarize significantly during the course of Carpetbag Rule before finally consolidating in the wake of Republican corruption and misrule.]
Doctor Franklin representing Yazoo County, but who was in fact a Carpetbagger from New York, was elected speaker of the Mississippi house. The vote for the Fourteenth Amendment was 24-2 in the senate (twelve Carpetbaggers, five Scalawags, five Negroes, and two Democrats; the two nays were both Democrats. Three Carpetbaggers, one Scalawag, and two Democrats did not cast votes). The house vote for the Fourteenth Amendment was 87-6 (thirty-four Carpetbaggers, thirteen Scalawags, one additional Republican whom I’ve yet to determine if Carpetbagger or Scalawag, twenty-six Negroes, twelve Democrats, and one member who I am unable to determine if he was Republican or Democrat. Five Democrats and one Scalawag opposed the amendment. Six Democrats and seven Republicans did not record a vote. The latter group was composed of six Carpetbaggers and one Negro who were absent, but of the six Democrats who did not cast a vote, only one was absent. The other five simply did not vote. One hundred six legislators sat in the Mississippi house.

The senate vote on the Fifteenth Amendment was 28-0 (twelve Carpetbaggers, six Scalawags, five Negroes, and five Democrats. There were no negative votes, but three Democrats and two Carpetbaggers did not cast votes). The house vote was 92-1 (thirty-four Carpetbaggers, fourteen Scalawags, twenty-six Negroes, and eighteen Democrats).
[The lone nay vote was cast by Democrat J. K. McLeod representing Greene County in south-central Mississippi. Of note, his was one of the six votes against the Fourteenth Amendment. Hmmm...might have our first Bourbon identified here.]
There were 26 Republicans and 7 Democrats in the senate for a total of 33 state senators. Given the number of Democratic votes cast in support of these amendments, readmission to the Union and the end of martial law took precedent over principle. We might also conclude here that in the fall of 1869 the majority of Democrats elected to the legislature were of the New Departure persuasion. The Fourteenth Amendment had been ratified in July of 1868, so was already law, but the Fifteenth wasn’t ratified until 3 February 1870. Mississippi was the twenty-third state to approve (twenty-eight were needed to ratify). Looking at the ratification process for both those amendments, neither would have been ratified without the coercion of the Southern states, which didn’t even have a vote in Congress when those amendments were passed by that tainted assembly.

The state’s ratification of these two egregious changes to the U.S. Constitution fulfilled the demands of Congress and placed the question of Mississippi’s readmission to the new United States in Congress’ hands.

The legislature could not legislate until Congress approved Mississippi’s admission; however, there was one more matter to which it could attend before adjourning. That was the election of Mississippi’s U.S. Senators, one for the full term beginning the following spring (4 March 1871) and two to fill Mississippi’s senatorial seats vacant since Jeff Davis and Albert G. Brown walked away from the U.S. Senate in 1861. Alcorn was elected to fill the full term beginning in March 1871. Of the two unfulfilled terms, one seat had four years remaining on it, the other thirteen months. Adelbert Ames was the predisposed choice to fill the four-year term. He received all the votes in the senate and seventy-two votes in the house, two of which were Democrats. Hmmm...wonder what that bought them? I hope it cost them their next election.

The compromise choice for the shorter-term seat was Adams County senator Hiram Revels, a Negro of mixed blood who had been born free in North Carolina and raised and educated in Indiana. In Reconstruction in Mississippi, James Garner states Revels beat out the favored B. B. Eggleston to fill the term. Y’all remember Eggleston? He was president of the Black and Tan Convention and subsequently headed the Republican ticket defeated by the Democratic-Scalawag coalition led by J. L. Wofford in tandem with the progressive constitution in the summer of 1868. He was the man who accepted the surrender of Atlanta in 1864 and the man from whom Alcorn usurped the Radical party in the state back in the fall of 1869. Eggleston was Butler’s man. Now he was dealt his coup de grace, displaced by a Negro for U. S. senator from Mississippi. The delusion of poetic justice, of course, was (and remains so to this day) at work here, the downtrodden Negro taking Jeff Davis’ seat in the Senate. In fact, Revel’s election to fill the seat is widely regarded as the fulfillment of Davis’ reputed prophecy to Simon Cameron back in 1861 when he supposedly said that in all probability a Negro would be sent to take his place in the Senate. I’ve also heard that it was Cameron who warned Davis of that possibility and not the other way around. There would, in my opinion, be more reason for such sentimentality had an illiterate, ex-slave from Mississippi been elected for the job, but to my mind it is mawkish affectation either way. 

The contemporary Negro representative from Adams County, John Roy Lynch, in The Facts of Reconstruction covertly suggests the powers making up that soon-to-be legislature had already agreed on a Negro filling the short-term seat prior to its opening session on 11 January 1870. Analysis of the house journal, however, suggests the decision that a Negro would fill that seat was one agreed to only by the Negroes and that it was more a determination than a decision. Moreover, when entering the fray, Hiram Revels was not their first choice (nor was he, from what I gather, seeking the job). In fact, the black caucus, shall we say, hadn’t settled on a choice.

On a pragmatic note, what I liked about the subsequent sequence of votes to fill the seat is that the roll-call votes and the manner in which hopefuls were nominated, then supported, has helped me determine who was who among the Republicans in the Mississippi legislature...Carpetbagger or Scalawag.

Hiram Revels next time.

Thanks for reading,


*Though I think I have a good handle on who was a Scalawag and who was a Carpetbagger, there may be a discrepancy here and there. One thing is certain, there were thirty-one Negroes and seventy-eight white Republicans, for a total of 109 Republicans, opposed to thirty Democrats making up the Mississippi legislature in the winter of 1870.