THE FACTS OF RECONSTRUCTION
John R. Lynch
Copyright, 1913, by The Neale Publishing Company
I THE PART PLAYED BY MISSISSIPPI IN THE EARLY DAYS OF RECONSTRUCTION
II REORGANIZATION OF THE STATE DEPARTMENTS DURING GOVERNOR ALCORN'S ADMINISTRATION
III THE REPUBLICAN COUNTY CONVENTION OF 1869
IV IMPORTANT EDUCATIONAL AND POLITICAL MEASURES OF THE NEW LEGISLATURE
V THE CONTEST FOR SPEAKER OF THE MISSISSIPPI HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
VI FUSION OF DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS IN THE STATE ELECTION OF 1873. REPUBLICAN VICTORY
VII MISSISSIPPI SENDS B.K. BRUCE TO THE UNITED STATES SENATE
VIII IMPROVED FINANCIAL CONDITION OF MISSISSIPPI UNDER THE AMES ADMINISTRATION
IX WHAT CONSTITUTES "NEGRO DOMINATION"
X OVERTHROW OF THE REPUBLICAN STATE GOVERNMENT IN MISSISSIPPI
XI RISE OF DEMOCRATIC RADICALISM IN THE SOUTH
XII EVENTFUL DAYS OF THE FORTY-THIRD CONGRESS
XIII STATE CAMPAIGN OF 1875. REPUBLICAN VICTORY
XIV INTERVIEW BETWEEN THE AUTHOR AND THE PRESIDENT REGARDING STATE APPOINTMENTS
XV THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION OF 1876 AND ITS RESULTS
XVI EFFECTS OF THE REFORM ADMINISTRATION IN MISSISSIPPI
XVII THE HAYES-TILDEN CONTEST. THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION
XVIII ATTITUDE OF THE HAYES ADMINISTRATION TOWARD THE SOUTH
XIX QUESTION OF THE VALIDITY OF SENATOR LAMAR'S ELECTION
XX REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION OF 1880. NOMINATION OF THE COMPROMISE CANDIDATE, GARFIELD
XXI STORY OF THE MISUNDERSTANDING BETWEEN GARFIELD AND CONKLING
XXII THE NATIONAL CAMPAIGN OF 1884
XXIII THE ELECTION OF GROVER CLEVELAND
XXIV INTERVIEW WITH SECRETARY LAMAR ON THE RETAINING OF COLORED MEN IN OFFICE
XXV THE FEDERAL ELECTIONS BILL
XXVI MISSISSIPPI AND THE NULLIFICATION OF THE FIFTEENTH AMENDMENT
XXVII EFFECT OF THE MCKINLEY TARIFF BILL ON BOTH POLITICAL PARTIES
XXVIII INTERVIEW BETWEEN THE AUTHOR AND PRESIDENT CLEVELAND AND SECRETARY GRESHAM
XXIX THE NATIONAL REPUBLICAN CONVENTION OF 1900
XXX ARGUMENT ON PROPOSED CHANGE OF REPRESENTATION IN CONVENTION
XXXI COMPARISON OF BRYAN AND CLEVELAND
XXXII THE SOLID SOUTH. FUTURE OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY
The author of this book is one of the few remaining links in the chain by which the present generation is connected with the reconstruction period,—the most important and eventful period in our country's history.
What is herein recorded is based upon the author's own knowledge, contact and experience. Very much, of course, has been written and published about reconstruction, but most of it is superficial and unreliable; and, besides, nearly all of it has been written in such a style and tone as to make the alleged facts related harmonize with what was believed to be demanded by public sentiment. The author of this work has endeavored to present facts as they were and are, rather than as he would like to have them, and to set them down without the slightest regard to their effect upon the public mind, except so far as that mind may be influenced by the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In his efforts along these lines he has endeavored to give expression to his ideas, opinions and convictions in language that is moderate and devoid of bitterness, and entirely free from race prejudice, sectional animosity, or partisan bias. Whether or not he has succeeded in doing so he is willing to leave to the considerate judgment and impartial decision of those who may take the time to read what is here recorded. In writing what is to be found in these pages, the author has made no effort to draw upon the imagination, nor to gratify the wishes of those whose chief ambition is to magnify the faults and deficiencies in some and to extol the good and commendable traits and qualities in others. In other words, his chief purpose has been to furnish the readers and students of the present generation with a true, candid and impartial statement of material and important facts based upon his own personal knowledge and experience, with such comments as in his judgment the occasion and circumstances warranted.
Was the enfranchisement of the black men at the South by act of Congress a grave mistake?
Were the reconstructed State Governments that were organized as a result thereof a disappointment and a failure?
Was the Fifteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution premature and unwise?
An affirmative answer to the above questions will be found in nearly everything that has been written about Reconstruction during the last quarter of a century. The main purpose of this work is to present the other side; but, in doing so, the author indulges the hope that those who may read these chapters will find that no extravagant and exaggerated statements have been made, and that there has been no effort to conceal, excuse, or justify any act that was questionable or wrong. It will be seen that the primary object the author has sought to accomplish, is to bring to public notice those things that were commendable and meritorious, to prevent the publication of which seems to have been the primary purpose of nearly all who have thus far written upon that important subject.
But again, the question may be asked, if the reconstructed State Governments that were organized and brought into existence under the Congressional Plan of Reconstruction were not a disappointment and a failure, why is it that they could not and did not stand the test of time? The author hopes and believes that the reader will find in one of the chapters of this book a complete and satisfactory answer to that question.
It will be seen that the State of Mississippi is made the pivotal one in the presentation of the facts and historical points touched upon in this work; but that is because Mississippi was the field of the author's political activities. That State, however, was largely typical, hence what was true of that one was, in the main, true of all the other reconstructed States.
The author was a member of Congress during the settlement of the controversy between Hayes and Tilden for the Presidency of the United States, resulting from the close and doubtful election of 1876,—a controversy that was finally decided through the medium of the Electoral Commission. The reader will find in the chapter on that subject many important facts and incidents not heretofore published.
Why was it that the able and brilliant statesman from Maine, James G. Blaine, died, as did Henry Clay, without having reached the acme of his ambition,—the Presidency of the United States? Why was he defeated for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1876,—the only time when it was possible for him to be elected, and defeated for the election in 1884,—the only time when it was possible for him to be nominated? The answer to these questions will be found in this book.
Then the interviews between the author and Presidents Grant and Cleveland, and Secretaries Blaine, Lamar, and Gresham will no doubt be interesting, if not instructive.
If, in writing this book, the author shall have succeeded in placing before the public accurate and trustworthy information relative to Reconstruction, his highest ambition will have been fully gratified, his sense of justice entirely satisfied.
JOHN R. LYNCH.
THE FACTS OF RECONSTRUCTION
THE PART PLAYED BY MISSISSIPPI IN THE EARLY DAYS OF RECONSTRUCTION
The year 1866 was an eventful one in the history of this country. A bitter war was in progress between Congress and President Andrew Johnson over the question of the reconstruction of the States lately in rebellion against the National Government. The President had inaugurated a policy of his own that proved to be very unpopular at the North. He had pardoned nearly all the leaders in the rebellion through the medium of amnesty proclamations. In each rebel State he had appointed a provisional governor under whose direction Legislatures, State officers, and members of Congress had been chosen, and the Legislatures thus chosen elected the United States Senators for the Southern States in accordance with the President's plan of reconstruction. To make restoration to the Union full and complete nothing remained to be done but to admit to their seats the Senators and Representatives that had been chosen. In the mean time these different Legislatures had enacted laws which virtually re-enslaved those that had been emancipated in their respective States. For this the North would not stand. Sentiment in that section demanded not only justice and fair treatment for the newly emancipated race but also an emancipation that should be thorough and complete, not merely theoretical and nominal.
The fact was recognized and appreciated that the colored people had been loyal to the Union and faithful to the flag of their country and that they had rendered valuable assistance in putting down the rebellion. From a standpoint of gratitude, if not of justice, the sentiment of the North at that time was in favor of fair play for the colored people of the South. But the President would not yield to what was generally believed to be the dominant sentiment of the North on the question of reconstruction. He insisted that the leaders of the Republican party in Congress did not represent the true sentiment of the country, so he boldly determined to antagonize the leaders in Congress, and to present their differences to the court of public opinion at the approaching Congressional elections. The issue was thus joined and the people were called upon to render judgment in the election of members of Congress in the fall of 1866. The President, with the solid support of the Democrats and a small minority of the Republicans, made a brave and gallant fight. The result, however, was a crushing defeat for him and a national repudiation of his plan of reconstruction.
Notwithstanding this defeat the President refused to yield, continuing the fight with Congress which finally resulted in his impeachment by the House of Representatives for high Crimes and Misdemeanors in office and in his trial by the Senate sitting as a High Court for that purpose. When the vote of the court was taken the President was saved from conviction and from removal from office by the narrow margin of one vote,—a sufficient number of Republican Senators having voted with the Democrats to prevent conviction. It was believed by many at the time that some of the Republican Senators that voted for acquittal did so chiefly on account of their antipathy to the man who would succeed to the Presidency in the event of the conviction of the President. This man was Senator Benjamin Wade, of Ohio,—President pro tem. of the Senate,—who, as the law then stood, would have succeeded to the Presidency in the event of a vacancy in that office from any cause.
Senator Wade was an able man, but there were others who were much more brilliant. He was a strong party man. He had no patience with those who claimed to be Republicans and yet refused to abide by the decision of the majority of the party organization unless that decision should be what they wanted. In short, he was an organization Republican,—what has since been characterized by some as a machine man,—the sort of active and aggressive man that would be likely to make for himself enemies of men in his own organization who were afraid of his great power and influence, and jealous of him as a political rival. That some of his senatorial Republican associates should feel that the best service they could render their country would be to do all in their power to prevent such a man from being elevated to the Presidency was, perhaps, perfectly natural: for while they knew that he was a strong and able man, they also knew that, according to his convictions of party duty and party obligations, he firmly believed that he who served his party best served his country best. In giving expression to his views and convictions, as he usually did with force and vigor, he was not always considerate of the wishes and feelings of those with whom he did not agree. That he would have given the country an able administration is the concurrent opinion of those who knew him best.
While President Johnson was retained in office he was practically shorn of the greater part of the power and patronage that attaches to the office. This was done through the passage of a bill, over the president's veto, known as the Tenure of Office Act. The constitutionality of this act, which greatly curtailed the power of the President to make removals from office, was seriously questioned at the time, but it was passed as a political necessity,—to meet an unusual and unexpected emergency that seemed to threaten the peace and tranquillity of the country and practically to nullify the fruits of the victory which had been won on the field of battle. The law was repealed or materially modified as soon as President Johnson retired from office. The President also vetoed all the reconstruction bills,—bills conferring suffrage on the colored men in the States that were to be reconstructed,—that passed Congress; but they were promptly passed over the veto.
The rejection by the country of the Johnson plan of reconstruction, had clearly demonstrated that no halfway measures were possible. If the colored men were not enfranchised then the Johnson plan might as well be accepted. The Republican or Union white men at the South were not sufficient in numbers to make their power or influence felt. The necessities of the situation, therefore, left no alternative but the enfranchisement of the blacks. It was ascertained and acknowledged that to make possible the reconstruction of the States lately in rebellion, in accordance with the plan which had met with the emphatic approval of the North, the enfranchisement of the blacks in the States to be reconstructed was an absolute necessity.
The first election held in Mississippi under the Reconstruction Acts took place in 1867, when delegates to a Constitutional Convention were elected to frame a new Constitution. The Democrats decided to adopt what they declared to be a policy of "Masterly Inactivity," that is, to refrain from taking any part in the election and to allow it to go by default. The result was that the Republicans had a large majority of the delegates, only a few counties having elected Democratic delegates. The only reason that there were any Democrats in the Convention at all was that the party was not unanimous in the adoption of the policy of "Masterly Inactivity," and consequently did not adhere to it. The Democrats in a few counties in the State rejected the advice and repudiated the action of the State Convention of their party on this point. The result was that a few very able men were elected to the convention as Democrats,—such men, for instance, as John W.C. Watson, and William M. Compton, of Marshall County, and William L. Hemingway, of Carroll, who was elected State Treasurer by the Democrats in 1875, and to whom a more extended reference will be made in a subsequent chapter.
The result of the election made it clear that if the Democratic organization in the State had adopted the course that was pursued by the members of that party in the counties by which the action of their State Convention was repudiated, the Democrats would have had at least a large and influential minority of the delegates, which would have resulted in the framing of a constitution that would have been much more acceptable to the members of that party than the one that was finally agreed upon by the majority of the members of that body. But the Democratic party in the State was governed and controlled by the radical element of that organization,—an element which took the position that no respectable white Democrat could afford to participate in an election in which colored men were allowed to vote. To do so, they held, would not only be humiliating to the pride of the white men, but the contamination would be unwise if not dangerous. Besides, they were firm in the belief and honest in the conviction that the country would ultimately repudiate the Congressional Plan of Reconstruction, and that in the mean time it would be both safe and wise for them to give expression to their objections to it and abhorrence of it by pursuing a course of masterly inactivity. The liberal and conservative element in the party was so bitterly opposed to this course that in spite of the action of the State Convention several counties, as has been already stated, bolted the action of the convention and took part in the election.
Of the Republican membership of the Constitutional Convention a large majority were white men,—many of them natives of the State and a number of others, though born elsewhere, residents in the State for many years preceding the war of the Rebellion. My own county, Adams (Natchez), in which the colored voters were largely in the majority, and which was entitled to three delegates in the convention, elected two white men,—E.J. Castello, and Fred Parsons,—and one colored man, H.P. Jacobs, a Baptist preacher. Throughout the State the proportion was about the same. This was a great disappointment to the dominating element in the Democratic party, who had hoped and expected, through their policy of "Masterly Inactivity" and intimidation of white men, that the convention would be composed almost exclusively of illiterate and inexperienced colored men. Although a minor at that time, I took an active part in the local politics of my county, and, being a member of a Republican club that had been organized at Natchez, I was frequently called upon to address the members at its weekly meetings.
When the State Constitution was submitted to a popular vote for ratification or rejection I took an active part in the county campaign in advocacy of its ratification. In this election the Democrats pursued a course that was just the opposite of that pursued by them in the election of delegates to the Constitutional Convention. They decided that it was no longer unwise and dangerous for white men to take part in an election in which colored men were allowed to participate. This was due largely to the fact that the work of the convention had been far different from what they had anticipated. The newly framed Constitution was, taken as a whole, such an excellent document that in all probability it would have been ratified without serious opposition but for the fact that there was an unfortunate, unwise and unnecessary clause in it which practically disfranchised those who had held an office under the Constitution of the United States and who, having taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, had afterwards supported the cause of the Confederacy. This clause caused very bitter and intense opposition to the ratification of the Constitution. When the election was over it was found that the Constitution had been rejected by a small majority. This result could not be fairly accepted as an indication of the strength of the two parties in the State, for it was a well-known fact that the Republican party had a clear majority of about 30,000.
Notwithstanding the large Republican majority in the State, which was believed to be safe, sure and reliable, there were several causes that contributed to the rejection of the newly framed Constitution. Among the causes were:
First. In consequence of the bitterness with which the ratification of the Constitution had been fought, on account of the objectionable clause referred to, intimidating methods had been adopted in several counties in which there was a large colored vote, resulting in a loss of several thousand votes for the Constitution.
Second. There were several thousand Republicans both white and colored,—but chiefly colored,—who were opposed to that offensive and objectionable clause, believing the same to be unjust, unnecessary, and unwise; hence, many of that class refused to vote either way.
Third. There were thousands of voters, the writer being one of that number, who favored ratification because the Constitution as a whole was a most excellent document, and because its ratification would facilitate the readmittance of Mississippi into the Union; after which the one objectionable clause could be stricken out by means of an amendment. While all of this class favored and advocated ratification for the reasons stated, yet their known attitude towards the clause proved to be a contributary cause of the rejection of the Constitution.
The reader may not understand why there were any colored men, especially at that time and in that section, that would have any sympathy for the white men who would have been victims of this clause had the new Constitution been ratified. But if the reader will closely follow what this writer will set down in subsequent chapters of this work, he will find the reasons why there was and still is a bond of sympathy between the two races at the South,—a bond that the institution of slavery with all its horrors could not destroy, the Rebellion could not wipe out, Reconstruction could not efface, and subsequent events have not been able to change. The writer is aware of the fact that thousands of intelligent people are now laboring under the impression that there exists at the South a bitter feeling of antagonism between the two races and that this has produced dangerous and difficult problems for the country to solve. That some things have occurred that would justify such a conclusion, especially on the part of those who are not students of this subject, will not be denied.
After the rejection of the Constitution no further effort was made to have Mississippi readmitted into the Union until after the Presidential and Congressional elections of 1868. The Democratic party throughout the country was solid in its support of President Andrew Johnson, and was bitter in its opposition to the Congressional Plan of Reconstruction. Upon a platform that declared the Reconstruction Acts of Congress to be unconstitutional, revolutionary, and void, the Democrats nominated for President and Vice-President, Ex-Governor Horatio Seymour, of New York, and General Frank P. Blair, of Missouri. The Republicans nominated for President General U.S. Grant, of Illinois, and for Vice-President Speaker Schuyler Colfax, of Indiana. These candidates were nominated upon a platform which strongly supported and indorsed the Congressional Plan of Reconstruction.
On this issue the two parties went before the people for a decision. The Republicans were successful, but not by such a decisive majority as in the Congressional election of 1866. In fact, if all the Southern States that took part in that election had gone Democratic, the hero of Appomattox would have been defeated. It was the Southern States, giving Republican majorities through the votes of their colored men, that saved that important national election to the Republican party. To the very great surprise of the Republican leaders the party lost the important and pivotal State of New York. It had been confidently believed that the immense popularity of General Grant and his prestige as a brilliant and successful Union general would save every doubtful State to the Republicans, New York, of course, included. But this expectation was not realized. The result, it is needless to say, was a keen and bitter disappointment, for no effort had been spared to bring to the attention of the voters the strong points in General Grant. A vote against Grant, it was strongly contended, was virtually a vote against the Union. Frederick Douglass, who electrified many audiences in that campaign, made the notable declaration that "While Washington had given us a country, it was Grant who had saved us a country." And yet the savior of our country failed in that election to save to the Republican party the most important State in the Union. But, notwithstanding the loss of New York, the Republicans not only elected the President and Vice-President, but also had a safe majority in both branches of Congress.
One of the first acts of Congress after the Presidential election of 1868 was one authorizing the President to submit Mississippi's rejected Constitution once again to a popular vote. The same act authorized the President to submit to a separate vote such clause or clauses of said Constitution as in his judgment might be particularly obnoxious to any considerable number of the people of the State. It was not and could not be denied that the Constitution as a whole was a most admirable document. The Democrats had no serious objection to its ratification if the clause disfranchising most of their leaders were eliminated. When it became known that this clause would be submitted to a separate vote, and that the Republican organization would not insist upon its retention, no serious opposition to the ratification of the Constitution was anticipated. And, indeed, none was made.
The time fixed for holding the election was November, 1869. In the mean time the State was to be under military control. General Adelbert Ames was made Military Governor, with power to fill by appointment every civil office in the State. Shortly after General Ames took charge as Military Governor the Republican club at Natchez agreed upon a slate to be submitted to the Military Governor for his favorable consideration, the names upon said slate being the choice of the Republican organization of the county for county and city officials. Among the names thus agreed upon was that of the Rev. H.P. Jacobs for Justice of the Peace. It was then decided to send a member of the club to Jackson, the State capital, to present the slate to the Governor in person in order to answer questions that might be asked or to give any information that might be desired about any of the persons whose names appeared on the slate. It fell to my lot to be chosen for that purpose; the necessary funds being raised by the club to pay my expenses. I accepted the mission, contingent upon my employer's granting me leave of absence.
Natchez at that time was not connected with Jackson by railroad, so that the only way for me to reach the capital was to go by steamer from Natchez to Vicksburg or to New Orleans, and from there by rail to Jackson. The trip, therefore, would necessarily consume the greater part of a week. My employer,—who was what was known as a Northern man, having come there after the occupation of the place by the Federal troops,—not only granted me leave of absence but agreed to remain in the city and carry on the business during my absence.
When I arrived at the building occupied by the Governor and sent up my card, I had to wait only a few minutes before I was admitted to his office. The Governor received me cordially and treated me with marked courtesy, giving close attention while I presented as forcibly as I could the merits and qualifications of the different persons whose names were on the slate. When I had concluded my remarks the Governor's only reply was that he would give the matter his early and careful consideration. A few weeks later the appointments were announced; but not many of the appointees were persons whose names I had presented. However, to my great embarrassment I found that my own name had been substituted for that of Jacobs for the office of Justice of the Peace. I not only had no ambition in that direction but was not aware that my name was under consideration for that or for any other office. Besides, I was apprehensive that Jacobs and some of his friends might suspect me of having been false to the trust that had been reposed in me, at least so far as the office of Justice of the Peace was concerned. At first I was of the opinion that the only way in which I could disabuse their minds of that erroneous impression was to decline the appointment. But I found out upon inquiry that in no event would Jacobs receive the appointment. I was also reliably informed that I had not been recommended nor suggested by any one, but that the Governor's action was the result of the favorable impression I had made upon him when I presented the slate. For this, of course, I was in no way responsible. In fact the impression of my fitness for the office that my brief talk had made upon the Governor was just what the club had hoped I would be able to accomplish in the interest of the whole slate. That it so happened that I was the beneficiary of the favorable impression that my brief talk had made upon the Governor may have been unfortunate in one respect, but it was an unconscious act for which I could not be censured. After consulting, therefore, with a few personal friends and local party leaders, I decided to accept the appointment although, in consequence of my youth and inexperience, I had serious doubts as to my ability to discharge the duties of the office which at that time was one of considerable importance.
Then the bond question loomed up, which was one of the greatest obstacles in my way, although the amount was only two thousand dollars. How to give that bond was the important problem I had to solve, for, of course, no one was eligible as a bondsman who did not own real estate. There were very few colored men who were thus eligible, and it was out of the question at that time to expect any white property owner to sign the bond of a colored man. But there were two colored men willing to sign the bond for one thousand dollars each who were considered eligible by the authorities. These men were William McCary and David Singleton. The law, having been duly satisfied in the matter of my bond, I was permitted to take the oath of office in April, 1869, and to enter upon the discharge of my duties as a Justice of the Peace, which office I held until the 31st of December of the same year when I resigned to accept a seat in the lower branch of the State Legislature to which I had been elected the preceding November.
When I entered upon the discharge of my duties as a Justice of the Peace the only comment that was made by the local Democratic paper of the town was in these words: "We are now beginning to reap the ravishing fruits of Reconstruction."
REORGANIZATION OF THE STATE DEPARTMENTS DURING GOVERNOR ALCORN'S ADMINISTRATION
The new Constitution of Mississippi, which had been rejected in 1868, was to be submitted to a popular vote once more in November, 1869. At the same time State officers, members of the Legislature, Congressmen, and district and county officers were to be elected. Since the objectionable clauses in the Constitution were to be put to a separate vote, and since it was understood that both parties would favor the rejection of these clauses, there was no serious opposition to the ratification of the Constitution thus amended. A hard and stubborn fight was, however, to be made for control of the State Government.
General James L. Alcorn, who had been a general in the Confederate Army and who had recently openly identified himself with the Republican party, was nominated by the Republicans for the office of Governor of the State. Of the other six men who were associated with him on the state ticket, only the candidate for Secretary of the State, the Reverend James Lynch,—an able and eloquent minister of the Methodist Church,—was a colored man. Lynch was a man of fine ability, of splendid education, and one of the most powerful and convincing orators that the Republicans had upon the stump in that campaign. He was known and recognized as such an able and brilliant speaker that his services were in great demand from the beginning to the end of the campaign. No Democratic orator, however able, was anxious to meet him in joint debate. He died suddenly the latter part of 1872. His death was a great loss to the State and to the Republican party and especially to the colored race.
Of the other five candidates on the ticket two,—the candidates for State Treasurer and Attorney General,—were, like General Alcorn, Southern white men. The candidate for State Treasurer, Hon. W.H. Vasser, was a successful business man who lived in the northern part of the State, while the candidate for Attorney General, Hon. Joshua S. Morris, was a brilliant member of the bar who lived in the southern part of the State. The other three, the candidates for Lieutenant-Governor, State Auditor and Superintendent of Education, were Northern men who had settled in the State after the War, called by the Democrats, "Carpet Baggers," but they were admitted to be clean and good men who had lived in the State long enough to become fully identified with its industrial and business interests. H.C. Powers, the candidate for Lieutenant-Governor, and H. Musgrove, the candidate for Auditor of Public Accounts, were successful cotton planters from Noxubee and Clarke counties respectively; while H.R. Pease, the candidate for State Superintendent of Education, had been identified with educational work ever since he came to the State. It could not be denied that it was a strong and able ticket,—one that the Democrats would find it very difficult to defeat. In desperation the Democratic party had nominated as their candidate for Governor a brother-in-law of President Grant's, Judge Lewis Dent, in the hope that the President would throw the weight of his influence and the active support of his administration on the side of his relative, as against the candidate of his own party, especially in view of the fact that Dent had been nominated not as a Democrat but as an Independent Republican,—his candidacy simply having been indorsed by the Democratic organization. But in this they were disappointed, for if the President gave any indication of preference it was in favor of the Republican ticket. General Ames, for instance, was the Military Governor of the State, holding that position at the pleasure of the President; and Ames was so outspoken in his support of the Republican ticket, that in an address before the State Republican Convention that nominated General Alcorn for the Governorship he announced, "You have my sympathy and shall have my support." This declaration was received by the convention with great applause, for it was known that those words from that source carried great weight. They meant not only that the Republican party would have the active and aggressive support of the Military Governor,—which was very important and would be worth thousands of votes to the party,—but they also indicated the attitude of the National Administration. The campaign was aggressive from beginning to end. Judge Dent was at a disadvantage, since his candidacy had failed to bring to his support the influence of the National Administration, which had been the sole purpose of his nomination. In spite of that fact Dent made a game and gallant fight; but the election resulted in an overwhelming Republican victory. That party not only elected the State ticket by a majority of about 30,000 but it also had a large majority in both branches of the State Legislature.
The new administration had an important and difficult task before it. A State Government had to be organized from top to bottom; a new judiciary had to be inaugurated,—consisting of three Justices of the State Supreme Court, fifteen Judges of the Circuit Court and twenty Chancery Court Judges,—who had all to be appointed by the Governor with the consent of the Senate, and, in addition, a new public school system had to be established. There was not a public school building anywhere in the State except in a few of the larger towns, and they, with possibly a few exceptions, were greatly in need of repairs. To erect the necessary school houses and to reconstruct and repair those already in existence so as to afford educational facilities for both races was by no means an easy task. It necessitated a very large outlay of cash in the beginning, which resulted in a material increase in the rate of taxation for the time being, but the Constitution called for the establishment of the system, and of course the work had to be done. It was not only done, but it was done creditably and as economically as possible, considering the conditions at that time.
That system, though slightly changed, still stands,—a creditable monument to the first Republican State administration that was organized in the State of Mississippi under the Reconstruction Acts of Congress.
It was also necessary to reorganize, reconstruct and, in many instances, rebuild some of the penal and charitable institutions of the State. A new code of laws also had to be adopted to take the place of the old code and thus wipe out the black laws that had been passed by what was known as the Johnson Legislature and in addition bring about other changes so as to make the laws and statutes of the State conform with the new order of things. This was no easy task, in view of the fact that a heavy increase in the rate of taxation was thus made necessary, for the time being at least. That this important work was splendidly, creditably, and economically done no fair-minded person who is familiar with the facts will question or dispute.
That the State never had before, and has never had since, a finer Judiciary than that which was organized under the administration of Governor Alcorn and which continued under the administration of Governor Ames is an indisputable and incontrovertible fact. The Judges of the Supreme Court were E.G. Peyton, H.F. Simrall and J. Tarbell, who in Mississippi had no superiors in their profession, and who had the respect and confidence of the bar and of the people without regard to race or politics. Judge Peyton was the Chief Justice, Simrall and Tarbell being the Associate Justices. The first two were old residents of the State, while Mr. Justice Tarbell was what the Democrats would call a "Carpet Bagger." But that he was an able lawyer and a man of unimpeachable integrity no one doubted or questioned. During the second administration of President Grant he held the important position of Second Comptroller of the United States Treasury. The Circuit Court bench was graced with such able and brilliant lawyers as Jason Niles, G.C. Chandler, George F. Brown, J.A. Orr, John W. Vance, Robert Leachman, B.B. Boone, Orlando Davis, James M. Smiley, Uriah Millsaps, William M. Hancock, E.S. Fisher, C.C. Shackleford, W.B. Cunningham, W.D. Bradford and A. Alderson. Judges Brown and Cunningham were the only ones in the above list who were not old residents of the State. After leaving the bench, Judge Chandler served for several years as United States Attorney. Judge Niles served one term as a member of Congress, having been elected as a Republican in 1875. His son Henry Clay Niles is now United States District Judge for the State, having been appointed to that important position by President Harrison. He was strongly recommended by many members of the bench and bar of the State; and the very able and creditable way in which he has discharged the duties of the position has more than demonstrated the wisdom of the selection.
The Chancery Courts as organized by Governor Alcorn and continued by Governor Ames were composed of men no less able and brilliant than those who composed the Bench of the Circuit Courts. They were: J.C. Lyon, E.P. Harmon, E.G. Peyton, Jr., J.M. Ellis, G.S. McMillan, Samuel Young, W.G. Henderson, Edwin Hill, T.R. Gowan, J.F. Simmons, Wesley Drane, D.W. Walker, DeWitte Stearns, D.P. Coffee, E.W. Cabiness, A.E. Reynolds, Thomas Christian, Austin Pollard, J.J. Hooker, O.H. Whitfield, E. Stafford, W.A. Drennan, Thomas Walton, E.H. Osgood, C.A. Sullivan, Hiram Cassedy, Jr., W.B. Peyton, J.D. Barton, J.J. Dennis, W.D. Frazee, P.P. Bailey, L.C. Abbott, H.W. Warren, R. Boyd, R.B. Stone, William Breck, J.N. Campbell, H.R. Ware and J.B. Deason. The above names composed those who were appointed both by Governors Alcorn and Ames. A majority of those originally appointed by Governor Alcorn were reappointed by Governor Ames. Of the forty appointments of Judges of the Chancery Courts made under the administrations of Alcorn and Ames, not more than about seven were not to the "manner born." The administration of James L. Alcorn as Governor of the State of Mississippi is one of the best with which that unfortunate State has been blessed. A more extended reference to the subsequent administration of Governor Ames will be made in a later chapter.
THE REPUBLICAN COUNTY CONVENTION OF 1869
Although it was not charged nor even intimated that my acceptance of the office of Justice of the Peace was the result of bad faith on my part, still the appointment resulted in the creation for the time being of two factions in the Republican party in the county. One was known as the Lynch faction, the other as the Jacobs faction.
When the Constitution was submitted to a popular vote in November, 1869, it was provided that officers should be elected at the same time to all offices created by the Constitution and that they, including members of the Legislature, were to be chosen by popular vote. The county of Adams (Natchez) was entitled to one member of the State Senate and three members of the House of Representatives. Jacobs was a candidate for the Republican nomination for State Senator. The Lynch faction, however, refused to support him for that position although it had no objection to his nomination for member of the House. Since Jacobs persisted in his candidacy for State Senator the Lynch faction brought out an opposing candidate in the person of a Baptist minister by the name of J.M.P. Williams. The contest between the two Republican candidates was interesting and exciting, though not bitter, and turned out to be very close.
The convention was to be composed of thirty-three delegates, seventeen being necessary to nominate. The result at the primary election of delegates to the convention was so close that it was impossible to tell which one had a majority, since there were several delegates,—about whose attitude and preference there had been some doubt,—who refused to commit themselves either way. In the organization of the convention the Williams men gained the first advantage, one of their number having been made permanent chairman. But this was not important since there were no contests for seats, consequently the presiding officer would have no occasion to render a decision that could have any bearing upon the composition of the body over which he presided.
Both sides agreed that the nomination for State Senator should be made first and that the vote should be by ballot, the ballots to be received and counted by two tellers, one to be selected by each faction. When the result of the first ballot was announced, Jacobs had sixteen votes, Williams, sixteen, and a third man had one. Several ballots were taken with the same result, when, with the consent of both sides, a recess was taken until 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The one delegate that refused to vote for either Jacobs or Williams made no effort to conceal his identity. To the contrary, he was outspoken in his determination and decision that he would not at any time or under any circumstances vote for either. Strange to say, this man was also a colored Baptist preacher, the Rev. Noah Buchanan, from the Washington district. Members of both factions approached him during the recess and pleaded with him, but their efforts and pleadings were all in vain. Nothing could move him or change him. He stated that he had given the matter his careful and serious consideration, and that he had come to the conclusion that neither Jacobs nor Williams was a fit man to represent the important county of Adams in the State Senate, hence neither could get his vote. At the afternoon session, after several ballots had been taken with the same result, an adjournment was ordered until 9 o'clock next morning.
Soon after adjournment each side went into caucus. At the Jacobs meeting it was decided to stick to their man to the very last. At the Williams meeting Hon. H.C. Griffin, white leader of the Williams men, suggested the name of the Rev. H.R. Revels as a compromise candidate. Revels was comparatively a new man in the community. He had recently been stationed at Natchez as pastor in charge of the A.M.E. Church, and so far as known he had never voted, had never attended a political meeting, and of course, had never made a political speech. But he was a colored man, and presumed to be a Republican, and believed to be a man of ability and considerably above the average in point of intelligence; just the man, it was thought, the Rev. Noah Buchanan would be willing to vote for.
After considerable discussion it was agreed that a committee should be appointed to wait on Mr. Williams in order to find out if he would be willing to withdraw in favor of Revels should his friends and supporters deem such a step necessary and wise. In the event of Williams' withdrawal, the committee was next to call on Revels to find out if he would consent to the use of his name. If Revels consented, the committee was next to call on Rev. Buchanan to find out whether or not he would vote for Revels. This committee was to report to the caucus at 8 o'clock next morning.
At the appointed time the committee reported that Williams had stated that he was in the hands of his friends and that he would abide by any decision they might make. Revels, the report stated, who had been taken very much by surprise,—having had no idea that his name would ever be mentioned in connection with any office,—had asked to be allowed until 7 o'clock in the morning to consider the matter and to talk it over with his wife. At 7 o'clock he notified the chairman of the committee that he would accept the nomination if tendered.
Buchanan had informed the committee that he had heard of Revels but did not know him personally. He too had asked to be allowed until 7 o'clock in the morning before giving a positive answer, so as to enable him to make the necessary inquiries to find out whether or not Revels was a suitable man for the position. At 7 o'clock he informed the chairman of the committee that if the name of Williams should be withdrawn in favor of Revels he would cast his vote for Revels. The caucus then decided by a unanimous vote that upon the assembling of the convention at 9 o'clock that morning Mr. Griffin should withdraw the name of Williams from before the convention as a candidate for State Senator, but that no other name should be placed in nomination. Every member of the caucus, however, was committed to vote for Revels. This decision was to be communicated to no one outside of the caucus except to Mr. Buchanan, who was to be privately informed of it by the chairman of the committee to whom he had communicated his own decision.
As soon as the convention was called to order Mr. Griffin was recognized by the chair. He stated that he had been authorized to withdraw the name of Rev. J.M.P. Williams from before the convention as candidate for State Senator. This announcement was received by the Jacobs men with great applause. The withdrawal of the name of Williams without placing any other in nomination they accepted as evidence that further opposition to the nomination of their candidate had been abandoned and that his nomination was a foregone conclusion. But they were not allowed to labor under that impression very long. The roll-call was immediately ordered by the chair and the tellers took their places. When the ballots had been counted and tabulated, the result was seventeen votes for Revels and sixteen votes for Jacobs. The announcement was received by the Williams men with great applause. The result was a victory for them because it was their sixteen votes together with the vote of Rev. Noah Buchanan that had nominated Revels. The Jacobs men accepted their defeat gracefully. A motion was offered by their leader to make the nomination unanimous and it was adopted without a dissenting vote. In anticipation of his nomination Revels was present as one of the interested spectators and upon being called upon for a brief address he delivered it with telling effect, thereby making a most favorable impression. This address convinced Rev. Noah Buchanan that he had made no mistake in voting for Revels. Jacobs was then nominated for member of the House of Representatives without opposition, his associates being John R. Lynch and Capt. O.C. French, a white Republican. The ticket as completed was elected by a majority of from fifteen hundred to two thousand, a Republican nomination in Adams County at that time being equivalent to an election.
When the Legislature convened at Jackson the first Monday in January, 1870, it was suggested to Lieutenant-Governor Powers, presiding officer of the Senate, that he invite the Rev. Dr. Revels to open the Senate with prayer. The suggestion was favorably acted upon. That prayer,—one of the most impressive and eloquent prayers that had ever been delivered in the Senate Chamber,—made Revels a United States Senator. He made a profound impression upon all who heard him. It impressed those who heard it that Revels was not only a man of great natural ability but that he was also a man of superior attainments.
The duty devolved upon that Legislature to fill three vacancies in the United States Senate: one, a fractional term of about one year,—the remainder of the six year term to which Jefferson Davis had been elected before the breaking out of the Rebellion,—another fractional term of about five years, and the third, the full term of six years, beginning with the expiration of the fractional term of one year. The colored members of the Legislature constituted a very small minority not only of the total membership of that body but also of the Republican members. Of the thirty-three members of which the Senate was composed four of them were colored men: H.R. Revels, of Adams; Charles Caldwell, of Hinds; Robert Gleed, of Lowndes, and T.W. Stringer, of Warren. Of the one hundred and seven members of which the House was composed about thirty of them were colored men. It will thus be seen that out of the one hundred forty members of which the two Houses were composed only about thirty-four of them were colored men. But the colored members insisted that one of the three United States Senators to be elected should be a colored man. The white Republicans were willing that the colored men be given the fractional term of one year, since it was understood that Governor Alcorn was to be elected to the full term of six years and that Governor Ames was to be elected to the fractional term of five years.
In this connection it may not be out of place to say that, ever since the organization of the Republican party in Mississippi, the white Republicans of that State, unlike some in a few of the other Southern States, have never attempted to draw the color line against their colored allies. In this they have proved themselves to be genuine and not sham Republicans,—that is to say, Republicans from principle and conviction and not for plunder and spoils. They have never failed to recognize the fact that the fundamental principle of the Republican party,—the one that gave the party its strongest claim upon the confidence and support of the public,—is its advocacy of equal civil and political rights. If that party should ever come to the conclusion that this principle should be abandoned, that moment it will merit, and I am sure it will receive, the condemnation and repudiation of the public.
It was not, therefore, a surprise to any one when the white Republican members of the Mississippi Legislature gave expression to their entire willingness to vote for a suitable colored man to represent the state of Mississippi in the highest and most dignified legislative tribunal in the world. The next step was to find the man. The name of the Rev. James Lynch was first suggested. That he was a suitable and fit man for the position could not be denied. But he had just been elected Secretary of State for a term of four years, and his election to the Senate would have created a vacancy in the former office which would have necessitated the holding of another State election and another election was what all wanted to avoid. For that reason his name was not seriously considered for the Senatorship.
The next name suggested was that of the Rev. H.R. Revels and those who had been so fortunate as to hear the impressive prayer that he had delivered on the opening of the Senate were outspoken in their advocacy of his selection. The white Republicans assured the colored members that if they would unite upon Revels, they were satisfied he would receive the vote of every white Republican member of the Legislature. Governor Alcorn also gave the movement his cordial and active support, thus insuring for Revels the support of the State administration. The colored members then held an informal conference, at which it was unanimously decided to present the name of Rev. H.R. Revels to the Republican Legislative Caucus as a candidate for United States Senator to fill the fractional term of one year. The choice was ratified by the caucus without serious opposition. In the joint Legislative session, every Republican member, white and colored, voted for the three Republican caucus nominees for United States Senators,—Alcorn, Ames and Revels,—with one exception, Senator William M. Hancock, of Lauderdale, who stated in explanation of his vote against Revels that as a lawyer he did not believe that a colored man was eligible to a seat in the United States Senate. But Judge Hancock seems to have been the only lawyer in the Legislature,—or outside of it, as far as could be learned,—who entertained that opinion.
IMPORTANT EDUCATIONAL AND POLITICAL MEASURES OF THE NEW LEGISLATURE
In addition to the election of three United States Senators this Legislature had some very important work before it, as has already been stated in a previous chapter. A new public school system had to be inaugurated and put in operation, thus necessitating the construction of schoolhouses throughout the State, some of them, especially in the towns and villages, to be quite large and of course expensive. All of the other public buildings and institutions in the State had to be repaired, some of them rebuilt, all of them having been neglected and some of them destroyed during the progress of the late War. In addition to this the entire State Government in all of its branches had to be reconstructed and so organized as to place the same in perfect harmony with the new order of things.
To accomplish these things money was required. There was none in the treasury. There was no cash available even to pay the ordinary expenses of the State government. Because of this lack of funds the government had to be carried on on a credit basis,—that is, by the issuing of notes or warrants based upon the credit of the State. These notes were issued at par to the creditors of the State in satisfaction of the obligations. In turn they were disposed of at a discount to bankers and brokers by whom they were held until there should be sufficient cash in the treasury to redeem them,—such redemption usually occurring in from three to six months, though sometimes the period was longer. To raise the necessary money to put the new machinery in successful operation one of two things had to be done: either the rate of taxation must be materially increased or interest bearing bonds must be issued and placed upon the market, thus increasing the bonded debt of the State. Although the fact was subsequently developed that a small increase in the bonded debt of the State could not very well be avoided, yet, after careful deliberation, the plan agreed upon was to materially increase the rate of taxation.
This proved to be so unpopular that it came near losing the Legislature to the Republicans at the elections of 1871. Although it was explained to the people that this increase was only temporary and that the rate of taxation would be reduced as soon as some of the schoolhouses had been built, and some of the public institutions had been repaired, still this was not satisfactory to those by whom these taxes had to be paid. They insisted that some other plan ought to have been adopted, especially at that time. The War had just come to a close, leaving most of the people in an impoverished condition. What was true of the public institutions of the State was equally true of the private property of those who were property owners at that time. Their property during the War had been neglected, and what had not been destroyed was in a state of decay. This was especially true of those who had been the owners of large landed estates and of many slaves. Many of these people had been the acknowledged representatives of the wealth, the intelligence, the culture, the refinement and the aristocracy of the South,—the ruling class in the church, in society and in State affairs. These were the men who had made and molded public opinion, who had controlled the pulpit and the press, who had shaped the destiny of the State; who had made and enforced the laws,—or at least such laws as they desired to have enforced,—and who had represented the State not only in the State Legislature but in both branches of the National Legislature at Washington. Many of these proud sons, gallant fathers, cultured mothers and wives and refined and polished daughters found themselves in a situation and in a condition that was pitiable in the extreme. It was not only a difficult matter for them to adjust themselves to the new order of things and to the radically changed conditions, but no longer having slaves upon whom they could depend for everything, to raise the necessary money to prevent the decay, the dissipation and the ultimate loss or destruction of their large landed estates was the serious and difficult problem they had before them. To have the rate of taxation increased upon this property, especially at that particular time, was to them a very serious matter,—a matter which could not have any other effect than to intensify their bitterness and hostility towards the party in control of the State Government. But since Governor Alcorn, under whose administration, and in accordance with whose recommendation this increase had been made, was a typical representative of this particular class, it was believed and hoped that he would have sufficient influence with the people of his own class to stem the tide of resentment, and to calm their fears and apprehensions. That the Republicans retained control of the Legislature as a result of the elections of 1871,—though by only a small majority in the lower house,—is conclusive evidence that the Governor's efforts in that direction were not wholly in vain. The argument made by the taxpayers, however, was plausible and it may be conceded that, upon the whole, they were about right; for no doubt it would have been much easier upon the taxpayers to have increased at that time the interest-bearing debt of the State than to have increased the tax rate. The latter course, however, had been adopted and could not then be changed.
Governor Alcorn also recommended,—a recommendation that was favorably considered by the Legislature,—that there be created and supported by the State a college for the higher education of the colored boys and young men of the State. This bill was promptly passed by the Legislature, and, in honor of the one by whom its creation was recommended the institution was named "Alcorn College." The presidency of this much-needed college was an honorable and dignified position to which a fair and reasonable salary was attached, so the Governor, who had the appointing power, decided to tender the office to Senator H.R. Revels upon the expiration of his term in the Senate. I had the honor of being named as one of the first trustees of this important institution. After the Governor, the trustees and Senator Revels had carefully inspected many different places that had been suggested for the location of the institution, Oakland College near the town of Rodney in Claiborne County, was finally purchased, and Alcorn College was established, with Senator Revels as its first president.
As an evidence of the necessity for such an institution it will not be out of place to call attention to the fact that when the writer was first elected to Congress in 1872, there was not one young colored man in the State that could pass the necessary examination for a clerkship in any of the Departments at Washington. Four years later the supply was greater than the demand, nearly all of the applicants being graduates of Alcorn College. At this writing the institution is still being maintained by the State, although on a reduced appropriation and on a plan that is somewhat different from that which was inaugurated at its beginning and while the Republicans were in control of the State government. One of the reasons, no doubt, why it is supported by a Democratic administration, is that the State might otherwise forfeit and lose the aid it now receives from the National Government for the support of agricultural institutions. But, aside from this, there are very many liberal, fair-minded and influential Democrats in the State who are strongly in favor of having the State provide for the liberal education of both races.
The knowledge I had acquired of parliamentary law not only enabled me to take a leading part in the deliberations of the Legislature, but it resulted in my being made Speaker of the House of Representatives that was elected in 1871. Shortly after the adjournment of the first session of the Legislature, the Speaker of the House, Hon. F.E. Franklin, of Yazoo County, died. When the Legislature reassembled the first Monday in January, 1871, Hon. H.W. Warren, of Leake County, was made Speaker of the House. In addition to the vacancy from Yazoo, created by the death of Speaker Franklin, one had also occurred from Lowndes County, which was one of the safe and sure Republican counties. Through apathy, indifference and overconfidence, the Democratic candidate, Dr. Landrum, was elected to fill this vacancy. It was a strange and novel sight to see a Democratic member of the Legislature from the rock-ribbed Republican county of Lowndes. It was no doubt a source of considerable embarrassment even to Dr. Landrum himself, for he was looked upon by all as a marvel and a curiosity. When he got up to deliver his maiden speech a few days after he was sworn in, he was visibly and perceptibly affected, for every eye was firmly and intently fixed upon him. Every one seemed to think that the man that could be elected to a seat in the Legislature from Lowndes County as a Democrat, must be endowed with some strange and hidden power through the exercise of which he could direct the movements and control the actions of those who might be brought in contact with him or subjected to his hypnotic influence; hence the anxiety and curiosity to hear the maiden speech of this strange and remarkable man. The voice in the House of a Democrat from the county of Lowndes was of so strange, so sudden, so unexpected and so remarkable that it was difficult for many to bring themselves to a realization of the fact that such a thing had actually happened and that it was a living reality. To the curious, the speech was a disappointment, although it was a plain, calm, conservative and convincing statement of the new member's position upon public questions. To the great amusement of those who heard him he related some of his experiences while he was engaged in canvassing the county. But the speech revealed the fact that, after all, he was nothing more than an ordinary man. No one was impressed by any word or sentence that had fallen from his lips that there was anything about him that was strange, impressive or unusual, and all decided that his election was purely accidental; for it was no more surprising than was the election of a colored Republican, Hon. J.M. Wilson, to the same Legislature the year before, from the reliable Democratic county of Marion.
There was not much to be done at the second session of the Legislature outside of passing the annual appropriation bills; hence the session was a short one. Although Governor Alcorn's term as a United States Senator commenced March 4, 1871, he did not vacate the office of Governor until the meeting of Congress, the first Monday in the following December. A new Legislature and all county officers were to be elected in November of that year. It was to be the first important election since the inauguration of the Alcorn administration. The Governor decided to remain where he could assume entire responsibility for what had been done and where he could answer, officially and otherwise, all charges and accusations and criticisms that might be made against his administration and his official acts. The Republican majority in the State Senate was so large that the holdover Senators made it well nigh impossible for the Democrats to secure a majority of that body, but the principal fight was to be made for control of the House. As already stated the heavy increase in taxation proved to be very unpopular and this gave the Democrats a decided advantage. They made a strong and bitter fight to gain control of the House, and nearly succeeded.
When every county had been heard from it was found that out of the one hundred fifteen members of which the House was composed, the Republicans had elected sixty-six members and the Democrats, forty-nine. Of the sixty-six that had been elected as Republicans, two,—Messrs. Armstead and Streeter,—had been elected from Carroll County on an independent ticket. They classed themselves politically as Independent or Alcorn Republicans. Carroll was the only doubtful county in the State that the Democrats failed to carry. The Independent ticket in that county, which was supported by an influential faction of Democrats, was brought out with the understanding and agreement that it would receive the support of the Republican organization. This support was given, but upon a pledge that the candidates for the Legislature, if elected, should not enter the Democratic caucus, nor vote for the candidates thereof in the organization of the House. These conditions were accepted, which resulted in the ticket being supported by the Republicans and, consequently elected. All the other doubtful and close counties went Democratic, which resulted in the defeat of some of the strongest and most influential men in the Republican party, including Speaker Warren of Leake County, Lucas and Boyd of Altala, Underwood of Chickasaw, Avery of Tallahatchie, and many others. Notwithstanding these reverses, the Republicans sent a number of able men to the House, among whom may be mentioned French of Adams, Howe and Pyles of Panola, Fisher of Hinds, Chandler and Davis of Noxubee, Huggins of Monroe, Stone and Spelman of Madison, Barrett of Amite, Sullivan and Gayles of Bolivar, Everett and Dixon of Yazoo, Griggs and Houston of Issaquina, and many others. In point of experience and ability this Legislature was the equal of its immediate predecessor.
THE CONTEST FOR SPEAKER OF THE MISSISSIPPI HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
The elections being over, and a Republican majority in both branches of the Legislature being assured, Governor Alcorn was then prepared to vacate the office of Governor, to turn over the administration of State affairs to Lieutenant-Governor Powers and to proceed to Washington so as to be present at the opening session of Congress on the first Monday in December when he would assume his duties as a United States Senator.
The Legislature was to meet the first Monday in the following January,—1872. As soon as the fact was made known that the Republicans would control the organization of the House, the Speakership of that body began to be agitated. If Speaker Warren had been reelected he would have received the Republican caucus nomination without opposition, but his defeat made it necessary for a new man to be brought forward for that position. A movement was immediately put on foot to make me the Speaker of the House.
Upon a careful examination of the returns it was found that of the one hundred fifteen members of which the House was composed there were seventy-seven whites and thirty-eight colored. Of the seventy-seven whites, forty-nine had been elected as Democrats and twenty-eight as Republicans. The thirty-eight colored men were all Republicans. It will thus be seen that, while in the composition of the Republican caucus there were ten more colored than white members, yet of the total membership of the House there were thirty-nine more white than colored members. But in the organization of the House, the contest was not between white and colored, but between Democrats and Republicans. No one had been elected,—at least on the Republican side,—because he was a white man or because he was a colored man, but because he was a Republican. After a preliminary canvass the fact was developed that the writer was not only the choice of the colored members for Speaker of the House, but of a large majority of the white Republican members as well. They believed,—and voted in accordance with that belief both in the party caucus and in the House,—that the writer was the best-equipped man for that responsible position. This fact had been demonstrated to their satisfaction during the two sessions of the preceding Legislature.
The nomination of the writer by the House Republican caucus for Speaker was a foregone conclusion several weeks before the convening of the Legislature. With a full membership in attendance fifty-eight votes would be necessary to perfect the organization. When the Republican caucus convened sixty members were present and took part in the deliberations thereof. Four of the Republicans-elect had not at that time arrived at the seat of government. The two Independents from Carroll refused to attend the caucus, but this did not necessarily mean that they would not vote for the candidates thereof in the organization of the House. But since we had sixty votes,—two more than were necessary to elect our candidate,—we believed that the organization would be easily perfected the next day, regardless of the action of the members from Carroll County.
In this, however, we were sadly disappointed. The result of the first vote for Speaker of the House was as follows:
Lynch, Republican caucus nominee 55 Streeter, Democratic nominee 47 Chandler, Independent Republican 7 Armstead, Independent Republican 1 Howe, Regular Republican 1 Necessary to elect 56
Judge Chandler of Noxubee, who had been elected as a regular Republican with four other white Republicans,—all of whom attended and took part in the caucus the night before,—refused to vote for the nominee of the caucus for Speaker but voted instead for Chandler. It will be seen that the vote for Streeter, the Democratic caucus nominee, was two less than that party's strength; thus showing that two Democrats must have also voted for Chandler. It will also be seen that if every vote that was not received by Lynch had been given to Chandler or to any other man, that man would have received the required number of votes and would have been elected. The Democrats stood ready to give their solid vote to any one of the Independents whenever it could be shown that their votes would result in an election. But it so happened that Chandler and Armstead were both ambitious to be Speaker and neither would give way for the other, which, of course, made the election of either impossible. The one vote cast for Howe was no doubt Mr. Armstead's vote, while the one vote for Armstead was no doubt cast by his colleague. In the nomination of Hon. H.M. Streeter, the Democrats selected their strongest man, and the best parliamentarian on their side of the House. The refusal of the so-called Independents to vote for the Republican caucus nominee for Speaker produced a deadlock which continued for a period of several days. At no time could any one of the regular Republicans be induced under any circumstances to vote for any one of the Independents. They would much rather have the House organized by the Democrats than allow party treachery to be thus rewarded.
While the deadlock was in progress, Senators Alcorn and Ames suddenly made their appearance upon the scene of action. They had made the trip from Washington to use their influence to break the deadlock, and to bring about an organization of the House by the Republican party. But Senator Alcorn was the one that could render the most effective service in that direction, since the bolters were men who professed to be followers of his and loyal to his political interests and leadership.
As soon as the Senator arrived he held a conference with the bolters, including Messrs. Armstead and Streeter,—the two independents from Carroll. In addressing those who had been elected as Republicans and who had attended and participated in the caucus of that party, the Senator did not mince his words. He told them in plain language that they were in honor bound to support the caucus nominees of their party, or that they must resign their seats and allow their constituents to elect others that would do so. With reference to the Independents from Carroll, he said the situation was slightly different. They had been elected as Independents under conditions which did not obligate them to enter the Republican caucus or support the candidates thereof. They had pledged themselves not to support the Democratic caucus nominees, nor to aid that party in the organization of the House. Up to that time they had not made a move, nor given a vote that could be construed into a violation of the pledge under which they had been elected, but they had publicly declared on several occasions that they had been elected as Independents or Alcorn Republicans. In other words, they had been elected as friends and supporters of the Alcorn administration, and of that type of Republicanism for which he stood and of which he was the representative. If this were true then they should not hesitate to take the advice of the man to support whose administration they had been elected. He informed them that if they meant what they said the best way for them to prove it was to vote for the Republican caucus nominees for officers of the House, because he was the recognized leader of the party in the State and that the issue involved in the elections was either an endorsement or repudiation of his administration as Governor. Republican success under such circumstances meant an endorsement of his administration, while Republican defeat would mean its repudiation. The most effective way, then, in which they could make good their ante-election pledges and promises was to vote for the candidates of the Republican caucus for officers of the House.
The two Carroll County Independents informed the Senator that he had correctly outlined their position and their attitude, and that it was their purpose and their determination to give a loyal and effective support, so far as the same was in their power, to the policies and principles for which he stood and of which he was the accredited representative; but that they were apprehensive that they could not successfully defend their action and explain their votes to the satisfaction of their constituents if they were to vote for a colored man for Speaker of the House.
"But," said the Senator, "could you have been elected without the votes of colored men? If you now vote against a colored man,—who is in every way a fit and capable man for the position,—simply because he is a colored man, would you expect those men to support you in the future?"
The Senator also reminded them that they had received very many more colored than white votes; and that, in his opinion, very few of the white men who had supported them would find fault with them for voting for a capable and intelligent colored man to preside over the deliberations of the House.
"Can you then," the Senator asked, "afford to offend the great mass of colored men that supported you in order to please an insignificantly small number of narrow-minded whites?"
The Senator assured them that he was satisfied they had nothing to fear as a result of their action in voting for Mr. Lynch as Speaker of the House. He knew the candidate favorably and well and therefore did not hesitate to assure them that if they contributed to his election they would have no occasion to regret having done so. The conference then came to a close with the understanding that all present would vote the next day for the Republican caucus nominees for officers of the House. This was done. The result of the ballot the following day was as follows:
Lynch, Republican caucus nominee, 63 Chandler, Independent Republican, 49 Necessary to elect 57
It will be seen that Judge Chandler received the solid Democratic vote while Lynch received the vote of every voting Republican present, including Chandler and the two Independents from Carroll,—three Republicans still being absent and not paired. By substantially the same vote ex-Speaker Warren, of Leake County, was elected Chief Clerk, and Ex-Representative Hill, of Marshall County, was elected Sergeant-at-arms. The Legislature was then organized and was ready to proceed to business.
At the conclusion of the session, the House not only adopted a resolution complimenting the Speaker and thanking him for the able and impartial manner in which he had presided over its deliberations, but presented him with a fine gold watch and chain,—purchased with money that had been contributed by members of both parties and by a few outside friends,—as a token of their esteem and appreciation of him as a presiding officer. On the outside case of the watch these words were engraved: "Presented to Hon. J.R. Lynch, Speaker of the House of Representatives, by the Members of the Legislature, April 19, 1873." That watch the writer still has and will keep as a sacred family heirloom.
A good deal of work was to be done by this Legislature. The seats of a number of Democrats were contested. But the decision in many cases was in favor of the sitting members. The changes, however, were sufficient to materially increase the Republican majority.
Among the important bills to be passed was one to divide the State into six Congressional Districts. The apportionment of Representatives in Congress, under the Apportionment Act which had recently passed Congress, increased the number of Representatives from Mississippi, which had formerly been five, to six. Republican leaders in both branches of the Legislature decided that the duty of drawing up a bill apportioning the State into Congressional Districts should devolve upon the Speaker of the House, with the understanding that the party organization would support the bill drawn by him.
I accepted the responsibility, and immediately proceeded with the work of drafting a bill for that purpose. Two plans had been discussed, each of which had strong supporters and advocates. One plan was so to apportion the State as to make all of the districts Republican; but in doing so the majority in at least two of the districts would be quite small. The other was so to apportion the State as to make five districts safely and reliably Republican and the remaining one Democratic. I had not taken a decided stand for or against either plan. Perhaps that was one reason why the advocates of both plans agreed to refer the matter to me for a final decision.
The Democrats heard what had been done. One of them, Hon. F.M. Goar, of Lee County, called to see me so as to talk over the matter. He expressed the hope that in drawing up the bill, one district would be conceded to the Democrats.
"If this is done," he said, "I assume that the group of counties located in the northeastern part of the State will be the Democratic district. In that event we will send a very strong and able man to Congress in the person of Hon. L.Q.C. Lamar."
I had every reason to believe that if Mr. Lamar were sent to Congress he would reflect credit upon himself, his party, and his State. I promised to give the suggestion earnest and perhaps favorable consideration. After going over the matter carefully I came to the conclusion that the better and safer plan would be to make five safe and sure Republican districts and concede one to the Democrats. Another reason for this decision was that in so doing, the State could be more fairly apportioned. The Republican counties could be easily made contiguous and the population in each district could be made as nearly equal as possible. The apportionment could not have been so fairly and equitably made if the other plan had been adopted.
After the bill had been completed, it was submitted to a joint caucus of the Republican members of the two Houses, and after a brief explanation by me of its provisions it was accepted and approved by the unanimous vote of the caucus.
When it was brought before the house, a majority of the Democratic members,—under the leadership of Messrs. Streeter, Roane and McIntosh,—fought it very bitterly. They contended that the Democrats should have at least two of the six Congressmen and that an apportionment could have been made and should have been made with that end in view. The truth was that several of those who made such a stubborn fight against the bill had Congressional aspirations themselves and, of course, they did not fail to see that as drawn the bill did not hold out flattering hopes for the gratification of that ambition. But it was all that Mr. Goar and a few others that he had taken into his confidence expected, or had any right to expect. In fact, the one Democratic district, constructed in accordance with their wishes, was just about what they wanted. While they voted against the bill,—merely to be in accord with their party associates,—they insisted that there should be no filibustering or other dilatory methods adopted to defeat it. After a hard and stubborn fight, and after several days of exciting debate, the bill was finally passed by a strict party vote. A few days later it passed the Senate without amendment, was signed by the Governor, and became a law.
As had been predicted by Mr. Goar, Hon. L.Q.C. Lamar was nominated by the Democrats for Congress in the first district, which was the Democratic district. The Republicans nominated against him a very strong and able man, the Hon. R.W. Flournoy, who had served with Mr. Lamar as a member of the Secession Convention of 1861. He made an aggressive and brilliant canvass of the district, but the election of Mr. Lamar was a foregone conclusion, since the Democratic majority in the district was very large.
FUSION OF DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS IN THE STATE ELECTION OF 1873. REPUBLICAN VICTORY
An important election was to be held in Mississippi in 1873, at which State, district, and county officers, as well as members of the Legislature, were to be elected. The tenure of office for the State and county officers was four years. 1873, therefore, was the year in which the successors of those that had held office since 1869 had to be elected.
The legislature to be elected that year would elect the successor of Senator Ames as United States Senator. Senator Ames was the candidate named to succeed himself. For some unaccountable reason there had been a falling out between Senator Alcorn and himself, for which reason Senator Alcorn decided to use his influence to prevent the reelection of Senator Ames. This meant that there would be a bitter factional fight in the party, because both Senators were popular with the rank and file of the party.
The fact was soon developed, however, that the people favored the return of Senator Ames to the Senate. This did not necessarily mean opposition or unfriendliness to Senator Alcorn. It simply meant that both were to be treated fairly and justly, and that each was to stand upon his own record and merits, regardless of their personal differences.
If Senator Alcorn had been in Senator Ames' place the probabilities are that the sentiment of the party would have been just as strongly in his favor as it was at that time in favor of Ames. But on this occasion Senator Alcorn made the mistake of making opposition to Senator Ames the test of loyalty to himself. In this he was not supported even by many of his warmest personal and political friends. In consequence of the bitter fight that was to be made by Senator Alcorn to prevent the return of Senator Ames to the Senate, many of Senator Ames' friends advised him to become a candidate for the office of Governor. In that way, it was believed, he could command the situation, and thus make sure his election to succeed himself as Senator; otherwise it might be doubtful.
But this involved two important points which had to be carefully considered. First, it involved the retirement of Governor Powers, who was a candidate to succeed himself. Second, the candidate for Lieutenant-Governor would have to be selected with great care, since if that program were carried out he would be, in point of fact, the Governor of the State for practically the whole term.
After going over the situation very carefully with his friends and supporters Senator Ames decided to become a candidate for Governor, public announcement of which decision was duly made. This announcement seemed to have increased the intensity of Senator Alcorn's opposition to Senator Ames, for the former did not hesitate to declare that in the event of Ames' nomination for Governor by the regular party convention he would bolt the action of the convention, and make the race for Governor as an independent candidate. This declaration, however, made no impression upon the friends and supporters of Ames, and evidently had very little effect upon the rank and file of the party; for the fact became apparent shortly after the announcement of the candidacy of Ames that his nomination was a foregone conclusion. In fact, Senator Ames had such a strong hold upon the rank and file of the party throughout the State that when the convention met there was practically no opposition to his nomination. The friends and supporters of Governor Powers realized early in the campaign the hopelessness of the situation, so far as he was concerned, and therefore made no serious effort in his behalf.
What gave the Ames managers more concern than anything else was the selection of a suitable man for Lieutenant-Governor. Many of the colored delegates insisted that three of the seven men to be nominated should be of that race. The offices they insisted on filling were those of Lieutenant-Governor, Secretary of State, and Superintendent of Education. Since the colored men had been particularly loyal and faithful to Senator Ames it was not deemed wise to ignore their demands. But the question was, Where is there a colored man possessing the qualifications necessary to one in charge of the executive department of the state?