Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Southern States of America
Chapter IV - Mississippi a Part of the Nation, 1865 - 1909

Reorganization of State Government, 1865-1868.

In according military honors to the Mississippi troops surrendered by Gen. Richard Taylor, Gen. E. R. Canby had followed the example of General Grant in his magnanimous policy of conciliation, and his generosity and manly bearing had favorably impressed the gallant men who had made an heroic struggle for Southern independence. Both officers and men returned to their desolated homes with the full determination to accept in good faith the results of the war, and to meet the responsibilities which they had assumed.

The governor of Mississippi at this time was Charles Clark, a native of Ohio. When Governor Clark was informed by General Taylor of his intention to surrender, he decided that the proper course to pursue was to issue a call for a meeting of the legislature, to recommend that the people accept in good faith the results of the war, and to send a commission to Washington to consult the President as to the necessary steps for the restoration of the state to the Union. On May 6, 1865, the governor issued a proclamation calling the legislature to meet in Jackson on May 18. The legislature responded to the call and met May 20, 1865. The governor sent in a message in which he recommended calling a constitutional convention, repealing the ordinance of secession, remodeling the state constitution and appointing a commission to consult the President on the subject of the restoration of the state to the Union.

After the message of the governor had been read, the legislature was informed by General Osband, the commander of a brigade of negro troops stationed at Jackson, that the members would be arrested if they attempted to exercise the functions of a law-making body. This threat of interference by the military authorities caused the legislature to adjourn after a brief session, at which it provided for a convention to be held July 3; and the appointment of three commissioners "to consult with President Johnson as to a plan for restoring the State of Mississippi to harmonious relations with the Federal Government, on such a basis as will tend to perpetuate the liberty and prosperity of the American people." Resolutions were adopted deploring the assassination of President Lincoln and the attempt on the life of Secretary Seward, and repudiating the charge that Jefferson Davis and Jacob Thompson were implicated.

After the adjournment of the legislature, General Osband notified the governor that he could not recognize the civil government of Mississippi, placed a guard over the departments in the state house, demanded the custody of public buildings and archives, and fixed May 22, 1865, as the date for delivery.
The last official act of Governor Clark, as recorded in his official journal, bears date of May 22, 1865, and is the appointment of William L. Sharkey, William Yerger and Thomas J. Wharton as commissioners to consult the President concerning the speedy restoration of Mississippi to the Union. On the same day the governor was arrested in the executive office by General Osband, and was soon after imprisoned in Fort Pulaski, Savannah, on a charge of treason. This action of the military authorities deprived the state of even a semblance of a government, and created a feeling of dismay and apprehension in the minds of the people. This state of uncertainty and fear was somewhat relieved by the President's proclamation of May 29 regarding the restoration of North Carolina, which revealed his policy toward the states of the Southern Confederacy. A short time after their appointment William L. Sharkey and William Yerger went to Washington to consult the President ; the third commissioner was unable to go. While the people of the state had been somewhat reassured by the North. Carolina proclamation of the President, the interregnum which began with the arrest of Governor Clark left them without any of the forms of civil government, and this state of affairs continued until June 13.

The selection of Judge Sharkey and Judge Yerger to represent the interests of the state at Washington was wise, and could not have been improved upon. They had been eminent members of the high court of errors and appeals, both were old-line Whigs with decided leanings to the Union, and both had the confidence and good-will of the people. On arriving in Washington they met with a cordial reception from the President, but he informed them that they could not be received officially as commissioners representing the state of Mississippi. In replying to their representations, the President asked if the plan for the reorganization of North Carolina would be acceptable to them and to the people of Mississippi. After expressing a preference for the plan adopted by the legislature, the commissioners accepted the plan proposed by the President. On June 13 President Johnson issued a proclamation, as commander-in-chief of the army, appointing William L. Sharkey provisional governor of Mississippi.

The appointment of Judge Sharkey removed much of the doubt and depression which were universal at the time throughout Mississippi. He belonged to that school of Whig statesmen of which Henry Clay, John Bell and John J. Crittenden were the best types. He was, by nature, a pacificator, and his long service as chief justice of the high court of errors and appeals had given him a place in the confidence and affections of the people which even the bitterness and disasters of war could not shake. In order to promote a return of confidence he directed the county and municipal judges, and other officials in office on May 22, to resume their duties. He ordered an election for August 7 for delegates to a constitutional convention to meet August 14, and made some necessary appointments of state officials.

Soon after the inauguration of the provisional government a conflict arose with the military authorities over the enforcement of the criminal laws. A judge issued a writ of habeas corpus to a military officer who had arrested a citizen of the state on a charge of murder, and the officer not only refused to obey the writ but arrested the judge for issuing it.

The constitutional convention met in Jackson August 14. The political affiliation of its members is interesting to show the trend of public opinion as compared with 1861. In the convention of 1861 there were eighty-four Democrats and twenty-five Whigs; the convention of 1865 was composed of seventy Whigs and eighteen Democrats; seven delegates of the convention were members of the convention of 1861, only one of whom voted for secession.

The convention, regardless of party, was divided into two sections—those in favor of accepting the results of the war, and those who proposed to contend for emancipated slaves on the ground that depriving the Southern people of property without compensation was a great public wrong. The convention was the first one in the South held under the President's reconstruction policy, and its attitude was anxiously watched by the people of the entire country. The two questions to decide were: first, should the abolition of slavery be recognized, and, second, what place should the negro occupy under the laws? The sentiment of the convention was in favor of acquiescing in emancipation, and leaving the status of the negro as a citizen to be determined by each state. By a vote of eighty-seven to eleven this policy was adopted by the convention, and was incorporated in the constitution. The convention also declared the ordinance of secession to be null and void, and further provided for a general election on the first Monday in October, the legislature to meet on the third Monday. The work of the convention met the approval of the President, and he expressed the confident hope that the example of Mississippi would be followed by the other Southern states.

The result of the election in October, on the whole, indicated a willingness to abide by existing conditions. Gen. Benjamin G. Humphreys, late of the Army of Northern Virginia, but a Union man before the war, was elected governor ; the congressmen elected had all opposed secession, and the three judges of the high court of errors and appeals had favored it.

The legislature met October 16, and after an address by Judge Sharkey the governor-elect took the oath of office, delivered his inaugural address and was declared governor of the state of Mississippi. Judge Sharkey in his address said that he was "proud to say that Mississippi had taken the lead in the work of reorganization, and that without any light for her guidance, she had set an example to her sister states that is being deemed worthy of emulation, and with the most beneficial results to the South." Governor Sharkey was not regularly relieved of his duties until December 14, when he was notified that he could give way to the governor elected by the people.

In his inaugural address, Governor Humphreys said that emancipation had imposed a great duty upon the state. "Several hundred thousand of the negro race, unfitted for political equality with the white race, have been turned loose upon society; and in the guardianship she may assume over this race she must deal justly with them and protect them in all their rights of person and property. The highest degree of elevation in the scale of civilization to which they are capable, morally and intellectually, must be secured to them by their education and religious training, but they cannot be admitted to political or social equality with the white race."

During the first eight months of Governor Humphrey's administration about 9,000 negro troops were retained for duty in Mississippi. There was little discipline among them and they were allowed to go about fully armed and were permitted to assist authority in a way most offensive and humiliating to their former masters. It was not possible for such men to perform the duties assigned them without exciting resentment. They terrorized the weak and helpless of both races, defied the civil authority and advised the people of their race not to work.

The legislature refused to ratify the Thirteenth amendment, on the ground that the amendment to the state constitution covered the same subject and further action was unnecessary. At a special session of the legislature, 1866-67, it also refused to ratify the Fourteenth amendment, on the ground that "the voting class should not be swollen by sudden and large infusions of ignorance and prejudice."

In the meantime Congress refused to recognize the Mississippi senators and representatives selected under the Johnson plan of reconstruction, and on March 2, 1867, adopted over the President's veto the military reconstruction act, which had for its purpose the control of the Southern states by negro votes. Under the act Mississippi was made a subdistrict, under the military orders of Gen. Alvan C. Gillem, his immediate superior being Gen. E. 0. C. Ord, in command of the fourth district. Under his order an election was held for delegates to a constitutional convention to be held Jan. 9, 1868, the delegates to be elected by the male citizens of the state, twenty-one years old and upwards, "of whatever race, color or previous condition of servitude," residents for one year, and not disfranchised. The registration of voters under the reconstruction acts was the duty of the military commander. As the registration proceeded, it was shown in September that 60,167 negroes and 46,636 white men had been allowed to qualify as voters. This was a startling demonstration of the folly and, stupidity of negro suffrage in Mississippi.

The constitutional convention assembled in Jackson Jan. 9, 1868, and adjourned May 17. It was controlled completely by men representing the basest element of the population, and seventeen of its members were negroes. It was necessarily a crude and revolutionary body, and the constitution it formed, on being submitted to the people June 22, 1868, was defeated, 56,231 votes being cast for and 63,860 against it. At the same election Humphreys was reelected governor by 8,000 majority, according to the official report of the result given out by General Gillem. As the defeat of the constitution required the continuance of existing conditions with Governor Humphreys in charge of civil affairs, its friends attempted to overthrow the result as declared by Gillem by appealing to Congress.

On June 4 General Gillem was succeeded in command of the fourth district by Gen. Irwin McDowell, who, a few days later, issued an order for the removal of Governor Humphreys and Attorney-General Hooker on the ground that they were obstructing the enforcement of the reconstruction laws. Gen. Adelbert Ames was ordered to assume the duties of provisional governor, and Capt. Jasper Myers was detailed to fill the office of attorney-general. Ames went to Jackson and notified Governor Humphreys of what had been done. The governor replied that he regarded the proposed removal as an usurpation and in violation of the constitution of the United States, and that President Johnson had disapproved the order. "I must therefore," said he, "in view of my duty to the constitutional rights of the people of Mississippi, and of the disapproval of the President, refuse to vacate the office of governor, or surrender the archives and public property until a legally qualified successor under the constitution of Mississippi is appointed." On the next day, June 15, 1868, the governor was forcibly ejected from his office in the capitol by a detail of soldiers under orders from Colonel Biddle, post-commandant at Jackson. By such methods was the civil authority violently overthrown by the military.

Military Government, 1868-1870.

The civil government of Mississippi, which was overthrown by the force of military authority, had been in operation nearly three years.

Under conditions as they existed for three years after the war, local government in Mississippi was under the control of natives to the soil. These men were making a faithful effort to adjust their institutions to conditions without a parallel in the experience of civilized communities. A reasonable degree of success had attended their efforts, some mistakes had been made and some wrongs had been committed by the less responsible element, but nothing had been done to justify the passage of a law which disfranchised honest, intelligent men, and enfranchised those who were ignorant, depraved and vicious.

The reconstruction act was passed possibly without a full knowledge of its terrible results, as the debates seem to indicate that the effect of negro rule, which was the inevitable outcome of such legislation, was not the subject of discussion. The members of Congress knew nothing of the real situation in the South, and made no effort to gather reliable information. It was the opinion of some of the best men in the North that there was nothing in the situation of affairs which justified even military rule. Governor Andrew, of Massachusetts, advised that the burden of responsibility be placed on the Southern people. "They have," he said, "the brain and the experience and the education to enable them to understand the exigencies of the present situation." Louis Agassiz, the great scientist, looked with loathing upon the enfranchisement of an ignorant, servile and alien race. In their frenzied zeal for the elevation of the negro who was incapable of self-government, such men as Sumner and Stevens forgot the rights of a race that had been self-governing for centuries.

The effect of the reconstruction act, as construed by General Ames, was the complete annihilation of all civil government as it had existed during the administrations of Sharkey and Humphreys ; and in the exercise of his powers he assumed all the functions of the executive, legislative and judicial departments, of government. During the first seven months of military rule the county officers were allowed to continue to discharge their duties ; but this policy did not meet the approval of the carpetbaggers who clamored for the "rebels" to be turned out. Congress had been urged by a committee of these men to declare all offices vacant, that they might be filled by "loyal citizens." In response to the demands of the committee, Congress passed a joint resolution declaring that all office-holders of Mississippi who could not take and subscribe to the oath of July 2, 1862, should be removed and the vacancies filled by the military commander. On March 23, 1869, General Ames issued General Orders No. 16, declaring that "all civil offices in this District which have been held by persons whose legal disabilities have not been removed, and who cannot take the oath prescribed by the Act of Congress of July 2, 1862, are vacant." The result of this order was the summary removal of officials from governor to constable. These positions had been filled by men selected by the people, they had qualified under the laws of the state, and held the respect and confidence of the communities in which they lived. Under the terms of the order, the respectable and responsible native whites could not hold office, hence it was impossible to fill the vacated offices with honest, capable men. It was necessary to appoint 2,000 officials from the motley crowd that remained after the exclusion of the intelligent, influential men of the state. There could only be one result from such a policy—the handing over of the government to alien whites who were not citizens of the state, and to a horde of ignorant negroes who were taught to believe that the property was to be turned over to them by their new-found friends. General Ames excused his appointments by claiming that it was the best he could do under the circumstances. The great majority of his appointees were incompetent and dishonest, and were more intent upon gain than duty. Even after the appointment of "loyal citizens" to all the public offices of the state, the governor would frequently remove them when they refused to support all his measures. In other cases, where his friends whom he had appointed to office were guilty of dishonest practices, he showed a desire to shield them. In the summer of 1869 President Grant, by proclamation, designated Tuesday, November 30, for the re-submission of the constitution which had been defeated by popular vote. At the same time there was to be a general election for state officers, members of the legislature and representatives in Congress. This precipitated the first political contest of the military rule. The re-submission of the rejected constitution of 1868 enabled the voters to cast their ballots for or against the proscriptive clauses and the clause forbidding the loaning of the credit of the state, and the vote for the constitution meant the rejection of those clauses.

Two factions of the Republican party contended for the control of the state. One under the name of the National Union Republican party, with a platform of "toleration, liberality and forbearance," had as its candidate for governor Judge Lewis Dent, a brother-in-law of President Grant. The platform was conservative and was made to appeal to the native white vote. The Radical Republicans nominated James L. Alcorn as their candidate for governor, and made a strong bid for the negro vote. The election resulted in the ratification of the constitution with the proscriptive clauses stricken out, and the state credit clause was adopted. In the contest for governor, Alcorn was elected by a large majority. Congress passed a bill readmitting the state to the Union Feb. 23, 1870, and on the 26th General Ames proclaimed the termination of his military command, and left the state to take a seat in the Senate, to which he had been elected by the legislature.

Reconstruction and Revolution, 1870-1876.

The state had been reconstructed according to the congressional plan, under the provisions of which its interests were placed in the keeping of white aliens and ignorant negroes. Its advocates professed to believe that under the new conditions the return of peace and plenty was assured. Governor Alcorn in his inaugural address condemned what he termed the evils of the patriarchal system, and spoke in congratulatory words of the blessings which were to come from the new order of things.

The first election held under congressional reconstruction clearly foretold the influence of the negro vote. In the legislature of 1870 there were thirty-five negroes, five in the senate and thirty in the house. One of them was elected a senator of the United States. A negro held the office of secretary of state, and almost every county having a black majority had negro officials. The leaders of the race very soon awoke to the fact that the Republican party depended upon the negro vote for success at the polls, and they were not slow in demanding a full share of the spoils.

The failure of the governor to control the legislature in the direction of economy was made apparent early in the session. Its leaders were carpetbaggers with no interests in the state, their names did not appear on the tax-books, and most of them were citizens and office-holders for revenue only. It was their purpose to create as many additional offices as possible and pile up taxes as high as the people would bear. The governor, on the other hand, had been a citizen of the state for twenty-five years and was a large property-holder and taxpayer. He knew how poor the people were, and he went into office with the expressed intention of administering the government on a basis of rigid economy. While he was very unpopular with the white people, they preferred him to a carpet-bagger.

Before the meeting of the legislature, it leaked out that the party in power had determined to elect Governor Alcorn a United States senator for the full term beginning March 4, 1871. The election of Alcorn to the Senate required his resignation, and this would leave the government entirely under the control of the carpet-baggers and negroes. Such a prospect greatly alarmed the taxpayers of the state, and public meetings were held at which resolutions were passed requesting the governor not to resign his office, but his election early in the session of the legislature indicated his willingness to turn the state over to the tender mercies of his hungry followers. His acceptance at the hands of the legislature of the office of United States senator necessarily tied his hands and prevented the exercise of his extensive powers for the protection of the taxpayers.

The legislature continued in session six months, and its expenses were three times as great as those of 1865. That the per diem plan of compensation had much influence in prolonging the session is undoubted. An expensive official organization was provided, new offices created and salaries increased. A new judicial system was organized which greatly increased the number of judges. In order to throw these appointments to the carpet-baggers, the first circuit judges were not required to be residents of the state. There was in all departments an elaboration of government which was entirely unnecessary, and which was more expensive than the state could bear. Appropriations were made with little or no knowledge of the revenues from which they were to be paid. The legislature made the offices, the governor filled them with his appointees, the party leaders had to be provided for at the expense of the public, the appointed officials were generally incompetent and dishonest, hence financial ruin and bankruptcy were inevitable. The receipts in 1870 were $436,000, the disbursements $1,061,294. The cost of the legislative session of 1870 was more than half of the entire revenue. In 1871 the expense of the judiciary was $377,000. These figures show that Governor Alcorn's recommendations of conservative expenditures were not effective. He retired from office Nov. 30, 1871, to take his seat in the Senate.

Governor Alcorn was succeeded by Lieut.-Gov. R. C. Powers, and although the latter tried to arrest the prevailing corruption in the legislature and in the administration of county offices, conditions continued to grow worse. Expenditures were still in excess of the receipts. At the end of the first four years of reconstruction the expenditures had exceeded the receipts by $871,987, and the state indebtedness had increased from $1,178,175, in 1870, to $3,443,189 in 1874. During the Powers administration the people were in great distress on account of general corruption in the government, short crops and the financial stringency brought on by the panic of 1873.

It was under these distressing conditions that the gubernatorial election came on. The contest was between two factions of the Republican party, both of which were bidding for the negro vote. One of the factions was led by Alcorn, the other by Ames, and both contested the nomination for governor. Alcorn had denounced Ames in the Senate as an interloper, and said that he was not a citizen of the state he represented, and did not even have the right to claim a technical residence there. In his heart Alcorn had all the contempt for the carpet-bagger which was felt by the native whites, and it found expression in his contest with Ames. At the Republican convention the support of the negroes went to Ames, and his friends controlled by a majority of about five to one. On the ticket with Ames were three negroes, two of whom were notorious rascals and criminals. The convention was a rabble of disorderly negroes, who demanded the offices for their race on the ground that they supplied the votes. The friends of Alcorn bolted and put out a full ticket in opposition to Ames. This split in the Republican ranks gave the Democrats and Whigs the balance of power, and an attempt was made to throw that vote to Alcorn. But by this time both Ames and Alcorn were regarded by the white people as enemies of good government, and the effort failed. Ames had the solid support of the negroes and was elected by a substantial majority.

The election of 1873 was the culmination of the evil effects of reconstruction. The rule of the alien and the negro was complete, with the latter holding the lion's share of the offices. The lieutenant-governor, secretary of state, superintendent of education and commissioner of immigration and agriculture, all were negroes; both houses of the legislature had negro presiding officers; in the senate ten negroes held seats ; of the seventy-seven Republicans in the house, fifty-five were negroes and fifteen were carpet-baggers ; the majority of the county offices were filled by negroes, 90 per cent. of whom could neither read nor write. The governor had declared, on the floor of the senate and during his campaign for election, that he alone was the guardian of the negroes' rights, and after his election the negro leaders were apparently his chief advisers. Davis, the negro lieutenant-governor, and Cordoza, the negro superintendent of education, as the bosses of the negro machine, were very influential with the governor, and as both were notoriously corrupt, such counselors made the administration odious to the best elements of all parties.

At the beginning of 1874 the burden of taxation was so great that it threatened the confiscation of all property. The tax levy ranged from 21/2 to 5 per cent. Over 6,000,000 acres of land, out of a total area of 30,000,000 acres in the entire state, were forfeited for taxes. In some counties the land tax amounted to $4.50 per acre. Such conditions led to the calling of taxpayers' conventions with members from all parties. The state grange resolved that "taxation in Mississippi has become a burden so large and extensive that the vital energies and industries of our state are becoming sapped, paralyzed and destroyed, and ruin inevitable and irretrievable stares us in the face." Memorials were sent to the legislature urging a reduction in the tax rate, and the governor attempted to bring it about.

The local elections of 1874 resulted in large gains for the Democrats and Whigs, who had combined for the purpose of rescuing the state from the spoiler. They gained control of an increased number of counties with a corresponding increase in members of the legislature. Under these encouraging conditions the Democratic members of the legislature held a meeting March 3, 1875, and appointed a state committee to organize the Democratic-Conservative party for the campaign of that year. A convention representing the combined Democratic and Whig voters of the state was held August 3, and a general campaign inaugurated for the control of the legislature, with Gen. J. Z. George in active control of its management. The contest in reality was one in which the whites were practically all on one side and the blacks on the other. White Republicans, led by Governor Alcorn, were in open opposition to Ames on the ground that he had yielded everything to the worst element of the party. The campaign was one of intense feeling on the part of the white people ; they believed that a supreme effort should be made to save their civilization from destruction.

After the meeting of the Democratic convention the white people devoted all their time to the organization of political marching clubs in every community. Both parties organized their clubs with military features. The legislature at its last session had appropriated $60,000 for the organization of two regiments of militia, a part of which could be used for the purchase of Gatling guns and small arms. As the campaign progressed, there were frequent collisions between the whites and blacks, and the governor called for Federal troops. When these were refused he began to organize two regiments of negro troops.

As the time for the election drew near, it became evident that the Republicans were losing ground. The anti-Ames wing of the party had gained the ear of the President; a number of influential negroes advised their people to vote the Democratic ticket or remain away from the polls, and the leaders who were loyal lost hope. During the campaign there was intimidation on both sides. Many negroes were pledged to vote the Democratic ticket, and had to be protected from violence. Their preachers charged the members of the church to vote the Republican ticket, and those who refused were turned out. On the other hand, the whites terrorized the negroes with their military organizations, refused them employment unless they voted the Democratic ticket, and announced that it would be best for them to stay at home on election day.

The election was held Nov. 3, 1875, and was more orderly and free from disturbances than any since the war. The Democrats carried the state by over 30,000 majority, elected four congressmen, a state treasurer, a majority of both houses of the legislature and local officers in sixty-two of the seventy-four counties. The election marked the downfall of corrupt government, based on negro suffrage, in the state of Mississippi.

Restoration of Home Rule, 1876-1890.

The revolution at the ballot-box was soon followed by a session of the legislature, and a general investigation of all branches of the state government was immediately taken up. It was the avowed purpose of the Democrats, in the event of success, to investigate the official conduct of Ames, Davis and Cordoza, with a view to their impeachment and removal from office. It was known that Davis and Cordoza were guilty of almost every form of official corruption. Ames, on the other hand, had, in the opinion of the Democrats, been guilty only of illegal, arbitrary and tyrannical official acts, and was held to be culpable in condoning wholesale dishonesty in those over whom he held control and for whose official honesty he was responsible. Davis was impeached and convicted; Cordoza was allowed to resign while the impeachment was pending, and Ames, after the articles of impeachment were dismissed, resigned. On March 29, 1875, the date of Governor Ames' resignation, John M. Stone, president pro tempore of the senate, was inaugurated governor of the state.

The legislature made a searching investigation of every department of the state government, which resulted in unveiling the extravagance, fraud and corruption that pervaded it in all directions. It was, perhaps, the ablest body of legislators that had ever assembled in Mississippi. The legislature remained in session three and a half months, and the laws enacted had in view a readjustment of the administrative and financial system which had been in operation under the Republican regime. These laws were wise and wholesome, and were based upon the theory that rigorous economy was necessary for the rehabilitation of the state. The economic condition of the people was as bad, if not worse, as at the close of the war. There had been very little recuperation in the ten years which had passed; the lands of the people, which were about the only sources of revenue left to them, had borne the burdens of taxation; millions of acres had been forfeited to the state, and the farms remaining in the hands of the owners were heavily encumbered with mortgages. It was therefore the wisest statesmanship to reduce the expenses of the state to a minimum, and this was the task which the legislature of 1876 accomplished.

The total expenditure of 1875, the last year of the Ames administration, was $1,430,000; in 1876, the first year in which the taxpayers were in control, the total expenditure was $547,000. At the beginning of 1876 state warrants were selling as low as eighty cents on the dollar; before the legislature adjourned in April they stood at ninety-five cents, and before the close of the year were at par. In addition to the policy of economy established by the legislature, there was a complete revolution in the methods of conducting the public business. Under the rule of the non-taxpayers, public office was regarded as an opportunity for securing the largest pay for the least service, and the holders of petty county offices secured large fortunes in a few years. Under the rule of the taxpayers honest methods and honest service marked the administration of public offices. The wise and economical conduct of public affairs by Governor Stone was rewarded in 1877 by his election to a full term of four years. In his message of January, 1878, he reported that the laws had been impartially enforced, and that all the blessings of good government had been secured to the people. The total receipts from all sources in 1877 were $865,000, disbursements $562,000. The last years of the Stone administration brought in a new prosperity; there was a "boom" in railroad building; the Agricultural and Mechanical College was founded, and the census of 1880 showed an increase of 40 per cent. in the population of the state. In his last message to the legislature Governor Stone urged the establishment of an institution for the higher education of young women.

After six years of honest, economical government the state showed many evidences of improvement; its public debt was small—and in this particular it had a decided advantage over the other Southern states, this favorable condition being secured by the constitution of 1869, which prohibited pledging the state's credit; confidence in its financial integrity had been restored by a prompt payment of all its obligations, and there had been a steady improvement in the relations between the two races. After 1876 the negro took little or no part in politics, and the change was good for him, as it gave him more time to find out that industry and right dealing were better for him to strive for than political control. But even after the revolution of 1875 the negro was not without representation in the political life of the state ; they served as members of the legislature as late as 1894, and held county offices up to 1890.

From 1880 to 1890 there was a complete readjustment of race relations from both political and industrial standpoints. The negroes devoted themselves more to their duties as farm laborers and mechanics, and less to the occupations of the politician. The white people, relieved of the burdens which had prevented advancement, had more time to give to the upbuilding of the state.

In 1882 there was a change of administration. Governor Stone was succeeded by Gen. Robert Lowry, who continued the general policies of his predecessor; during his administration the state made great advances along the lines of educational development, the establishment of manufacturing enterprises and the building of railroads.

The year 1886 was notable for the adoption of an effective public school law and the passage of a local option act which submitted the question of the sale of intoxicating liquors to the counties. In his message of 1888 Governor Lowry said that signs of individual and general prosperity were more manifest in Mississippi than at any time of the decade.

The Constitutional Convention of 1890.

The Mississippi constitution of 1868 had, ever since its adoption under the reconstruction regime, been regarded with distrust by the best citizens. It had been amended four times, but the changes wrought in it had not satisfied the people. As early as 1879 an agitation was begun for a new constitution. The objections urged against the existing charter were its origin, its suffrage provisions, which had given the state over to negro control for seven years, its unequal provision for representation in the legislature, the appointment instead of election of judges by popular vote, too frequent elections, an objectionable system for the registration of voters, and need of greater powers for the control of corporations and for the limitation of legislative power. While all these objections were urged as reasons for a change, the most vital and popular demand came from the advocates of radical changes in the regulation of the suffrage. Although the negroes had largely given up the right to vote, they were still entitled to cast their ballots under the law. This was a constant menace to good government, and in some counties a small minority of greenbackers and independents had, by the aid of negro votes, gained control of local affairs. In 1881 these elements had united in the gubernatorial campaign and cast over 50,000 votes. Good government, under existing conditions, depended on a suppressed negro vote. This was gradually undermining the political morality of the people, and it was feared by some of the most thoughtful and far-seeing men that it would, if continued, be a source of endless trouble.

By 1886 the demand for a change in the organic law caused the legislature to adopt a resolution calling a constitutional convention, but it was vetoed by Governor Lowry. At the session of 1888 a resolution was adopted by which the calling of a convention was made an issue in the gubernatorial campaign of 1889. In that contest John M. Stone favored a new constitution and was nominated by the Democratic convention for governor. In the campaign for the convention, Senator J. Z. George led those favoring it, and the success of the movement, as well as the good results afterwards obtained, were due to his wise and statesmanlike leadership. . The opposing forces were directed by Senator E. C. Walthall, who based his opposition on the general ground that it was best to accept the situation with all its evils rather than take the risk of disrupting the political harmony of the white race, which might be endangered by the disfranchisement of large numbers of white voters. The popular vote at the November election was favorable to a convention, and the legislature, at the session of January, 1890, made provision for it; Governor Stone approved the act Feb. 5, 1890, and on March 11 issued a proclamation calling an election of delegates July 29, for a constitutional convention to be held Tuesday, Aug. 12, 1890.

According to the act of the legislature the convention met at the state house Tuesday, Aug. 12, 1890, and organized by the election of Judge S. S. Calhoon, of Hinds county, as its presiding officer. On taking the chair Judge Calhoon said that the colossal fact confronting the convention was "that there exists in this state two distinct and opposite types of mankind. We find ourselves together and we must live together, and the question is how shall it be arranged so that we may live harmoniously." He gave expression to the question which was uppermost in the minds of the delegates, for every thoughtful man in the convention knew the terrible results of placing political power in ignorant and incompetent hands. It was conceded that good government was impossible under universal suffrage where 60 per cent. of the electors were ignorant and semi-barbarous. How to restrict the suffrage without coming in conflict with the provisions of the Federal constitution by the elimination of ignorant voters, was the great task of the delegates. There were two men in the convention who were its recognized leaders—James Z. George and Wiley P. Harris—both of whom were constitutional lawyers of great acumen and learning, and had been selected as the best authorities in the state on the questions which were pressing for solution. These two men largely dominated the thought and action of the convention.

The franchise regulations of the constitution were based upon the report of the judiciary committee drawn by Judge Harris. There had been many propositions referred to the suffrage committee, the most important of which are here given as indicating the range of sentiment. Judge S. S. Calhoon proposed as a limitation on the suffrage one year's residence and poll-tax payment for two years; Hon. R. B. Campbell, a property qualification ; Judge J. B. Chrisman, a property qualification and the oath of the voter that "I have read and comprehended the article of the constitution of this state which prescribes the qualifications of voters," and am not debarred ; Judge H. F. Simrall, a Republican member, residence in the state two years, in the county one year, payment of poll-tax on the day of payment preceding election, and the Australian ballot ; Hon. R. H. Taylor would require the voter to "read this constitution in the English language and write his name"; Judge Samuel Powell would make the disqualifications "convictions of any felony, petit larceny or unlawful cohabitation or failure to pay taxes for last year"; Hon. R. G. Hudson proposed the admission of both men and women to suffrage under a property qualification and ability to read and write. The delegates from the black counties generally favored an alternative educational or property qualification; the majority of the delegates from the white counties were unalterably opposed to a property qualification.

The question of the constitutional effect of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the Federal constitution, and the act of Congress of Feb. 23, 1870, readmitting the state to representation, was submitted to the judiciary committee, and the committee submitted its report through Judge Wiley P. Harris, its chairman, on the tenth day. The report set out "that the Fourteenth amendment in terms recognizes the right of the state to determine who shall vote—by those clauses which reduce the representation, if any male citizen of the United States and of the state are excluded from the franchise as a class"; clauses which are interpreted by contemporary history as giving the state the right to elect between giving the negro full franchise or submitting to a reduction of representation in Congress. "The Fifteenth amendment has but one operation, and was engrafted in the constitution for the single purpose of laying an inhibition on the state of discriminating against the colored man because of race or previous condition of servitude. The state has just as large discretion in regulating the franchise as it had before its adoption, with the single limitation that the regulations which it prescribes shall apply alike to both races." In dealing with the act of Congress readmitting the state to representation, the committee reported that the act of Congress readmitting Mississippi into the Union, in 1870, limiting the right of the state to impose certain restrictions upon the right of franchise and otherwise prohibiting the state from changing the constitution of 1869, was of no effect, so far as it made the state unequal with other states in self-government.

There was a strong element in the convention which was opposed to any restriction of the suffrage which would disfranchise any considerable body of white men. It was estimated that an educational qualification would disfranchise 5,000 whites out of a voting population of 130,000, and a property qualification would disqualify a larger number. On the other hand, there was a very able element which contended that effective qualification should be thrown round the franchise, and that if white men were disfranchised, however deplorable it might be, it was their duty to submit for the public good. After long and patient discussion this idea prevailed, and the franchise clause adopted operated to disfranchise the illiterate of both races. In its final form it provides, after excepting idiots, insane persons and Indians not taxed, that an elector must reside in the state two years and in the election precinct one year. All taxes, including a poll-tax of $2, for the two years preceding the one in which the elector offers to vote, must have been paid on or before the first day of February of that year, and an elector must also have been registered at least four months prior to the election at which he offers to vote. In addition the voter must "be able to read any section of the constitution of the state, or he shall be able to understand the same when read to him, or give a reasonable interpretation thereof." The franchise regulations were reenforced by the passage of an ordinance adopting the Australian system of ballot. The constitution, as a whole, was adopted Nov. 1, 1890, it being the seventy-second day of the session.

Mississippi was the first of the Southern states to solve the problem of disfranchising the ignorant voter by legal constitutional means, and the example it set was soon followed by other states of the South.

While the primary object of the constitutional convention of 1890 was the elimination of ignorance from the electorate, the constitution it adopted contained many other admirable provisions, and the charter, as a whole, will compare favorably with the greatest systems of organic law which have been promulgated by Americans. These features cannot be elaborated in one brief chapter, neither is there space for mention of the many notable men who were delegates to the convention.

Economic, Social and Educational Conditions, 1865-1908.

The economic condition of Mississippi at the close of the war was appalling. The struggle had resulted in the financial ruin of the people ; every family was impoverished and starvation confronted all alike ; the farms which had been the main sources of wealth in the past were barren wastes with fences gone, buildings destroyed and implements practically worthless ; all forms of business were at a standstill; what little money the people had was wholly without purchasing power; all forms of transportation had failed; the negroes were idle and could not be induced to work; the productive energy of the white people had been reduced to such an extent that the remaining resources of the state could not be utilized, and all the usual factors in the production of wealth were unequal to the task of economic reorganization. In 1866 it was estimated that there were 10,000 dependent and indigent widows of Confederate soldiers in Mississippi; and estimating three children to each, it is a conservative estimate to place the number of dependents at 40,000. There were few families that were not mourning the loss of one member or more, and it was the frequent comment of newspaper correspondents visiting the South, in 1866, that it seemed as if one-half of the men were gone.

The actual economic loss of the state of Mississippi from 1861 to 1865 is difficult to estimate; some items of loss can, however, be approximately determined. In 1860 the number of slaves in the state was 436,631, valued at $218,000,000; the realty was assessed at $157,836,737; in 1870 the assessment was $118,278,460. The Hinds County Gazette of Feb. 2, 1866, estimates the actual loss of Hinds county at $25,926,000 as follows:

22,352 slaves emancipated           $11,176,000
200 buildings burned                           600,000
Growing crops destroyed                     500,000
10,000 bales of cotton burned            3,000,000
Vehicles, furniture, etc., destroyed        200,000
Stocks, bonds, etc                              250,000
Live Stock carried away                     2,000,000
Depreciation in value of lands           10,000,000

It is safe to presume that this is a conservative estimate, as it does not include the loss arising from the destruction of railroads and rolling stock, public bridges, factories, grist and lumber mills, and other forms of wealth. It is impossible to estimate, with any claim to accuracy, the loss in the other sixty-one counties in the state.

But in spite of all these discouraging conditions the returning soldiers determined to repair the losses of the war, and plunged with energetic enthusiasm into the tasks which were before them. Men who had never before labored in the fields undertook the daily toil of the farm, and women accustomed only to direct the labor of others took up the menial drudgery of the household. On account of the unreliable character of the negro under new conditions, there was little or no advancement from 1865 to 1876. The freedmen paid more attention to politics, "protracted meetings" and secret societies than to the cultivation of the fields ; many of them believed that every adult member of the race would be presented with forty acres of land and a mule by the Federal government, and most of their time was occupied in "staking off" the richest acres in the localities in which they lived.

In the social life of the people there had been a complete revolution ; the same love of hospitality remained, but the wealth which had made it possible was gone. The manner of living was completely changed; under the old conditions life on the plantation was pleasant, under the new the head of the family felt that it was dangerous for the unprotected members of his household to be left alone. Where the question of daily bread was the absorbing thought, there was little time for social pleasures. Every home had been bereaved through the death of father or son, and the hearts of the people were sad. So that the years immediately succeeding the war were devoted to the simple life in which the maidens helped their mothers with household duties and the young men toiled to build up the waste places. As time went on and as conditions improved, the old habits and customs of the people were renewed; the old books which remained in the family library were read and reread; the chess-board and card-table were brought forth again and the house party was revived. After the revolution of 1875, when the horror of negro rule had departed, the return to normal conditions was still more marked, every form of activity took on new life and the future was bright.

During the first decade after the war large sums of money were spent on negro education. There was a general sentiment among the white people in favor of the education of the dependent race; at a The appropriation for common schools for the years 1908 and 1909 was $2,500,000; for higher education, $768,500.18. In 1907 the valuation of realty was $222,386,593.35; personality, $106,572,223; railroads, telegraph and telephone lines, express and sleeping-car companies, $45,629,244, making a total of $374,588,060.35; the amount invested in banks was $22,438,070.05.

State Politics and Party Leaders, 1865-1908.

Before the war political lines were closely drawn in Mississippi between the Democratic and Whig parties on all public questions with the exception of slavery, the two parties being practically together on that subject. On the policy of Southern independence there was a well-defined line of cleavage; the majority of the Democrats favored secession in 1861, the majority of the Whigs opposed it. During the four years of war the men of both parties went to the armies of the Confederacy in defense of its cause; political differences were in abeyance, and that condition of affairs continued after the return of peace.

When Judge Sharkey, as provisional governor, ordered an election for delegates to the convention of 1865, neither the Democratic nor the Whig party had an organization looking to its control. While the election resulted in the selection of a large majority of Whigs, their success can be attributed to the fact that there was a sentiment among the Democrats that the men who opposed secession would be most apt to secure the best terms from the Federal administration. This idea also prevailed in the selection of General Humphreys for governor at the election held under the Presidential plan of reconstruction.

The reconstruction act of 1867 marked the beginning of the Republican party in Mississippi. In the Presidential elections of 1856 and 1860 not a vote had been cast for Fremont or Lincoln. Under the franchise clause of the constitution of 1868 the negroes were clothed with the suffrage. This caused the organization of the Republican party in Mississippi under the leadership of two small elements of white men, the - majority of whom were from the North; these were supplemented by a small number of white citizens of Mississippi, some of whom had ability and character. A few Whigs under the guidance of James L. Alcorn joined the Republican party, but the great majority allied themselves with the Democrats. Alcorn was nominated for governor by the first Republican convention held in Mississippi, his selection being brought about by the radical negro element. The more conservative Republicans nominated Judge Louis Dent on a platform which might appeal to white Democrats. That movement failed and Alcorn was elected. The triumph of the negroes had a very depressing effect on the native whites, the prevailing sentiment being expressed by L. Q. C. Lamar, who said in an address "that nothing remained for the South but the moral and intellectual culture of her people."

In 1872 the Democrats of the first congressional district decided to reorganize the party, and a convention was held for the purpose of nominating a candidate for Congress. The nomination was given to Col. L. Q. C. Lamar; he made a brilliant canvass of the district and was elected, in November, by a majority of nearly 5,000 votes. This election made him the leader of his party in Mississippi, and caused its systematic reorganization throughout the state. In 1873 political conditions had reached an interesting situation. Alcorn and Ames, the two Republican United States senators, had quarreled, and both were striving for control as candidates for the nomination of their party for governor. This factional fight seemed to afford an opportunity for the white people, who were now acting together regardless of party, to secure a measure of good government. Ames secured the support of the negroes and was nominated; the friends of Alcorn bolted the convention and placed him in the field as an opposition candidate, with the hope of securing the support of the whites. No nomination was made by the Democrats, but the party refused to support Alcorn and Ames was elected.

From 1873 to 1875 the Democrats were strengthened by the corrupt methods of the party in power, and its complete Africanization caused an overwhelming majority of the white people to unite in one party as the only means of defense. For two years prior to the political campaign of 1875 a thorough organization of Democratic voters was perfected in every county for the purpose of electing a majority of the members of the legislature; the campaign having that end in view was opened by a convention held in Jackson Aug. 3, 1875. This convention adopted a platform of principles, nominated a candidate for state treasurer and took the name of the Democratic-Conservative party; this was the reorganization of the Democratic party in Mississippi. The leaders of the movement were L. Q. C. Lamar, J. Z. George, E. C. Walthall, J. M. Stone, Ethelbert Barksdale and C. E. Hooker. General George was placed in active management of the campaign, and Colonel Lamar led the forces in the field. Great public meetings were held in every county and were marked by an intense enthusiasm, which indicated that the state was thoroughly aroused. The public feeling may be shown by the following resolutions, which were adopted at a great gathering in Yazoo county:

"Resolved, That we are in favor of a vigorous and aggressive canvass in the contest now approaching in Mississippi, and we appeal to our fellow-citizens throughout the State to unite with us in our endeavors by legitimate means to regain control of our public affairs, and thus to secure to all classes, white and black, the blessings of a just and honest government.

"Resolved, That we favor low taxes and an immediate reduction of all public expenditures,

"Resolved, That honesty and capacity are the only proper tests of official fitness,

"Resolved, That all men are equal before the law, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, amongst which is not the right to hold office unless the aspirant possesses the integrity and other qualifications necessary to its execution."

The defeat of the Republicans in the election practically eliminated the party from state politics. In 1878 the Greenback party began to have some success in county elections through a union of a few white Republicans, disaffected Democrats and negroes. The party had an electoral ticket in the presidential campaign of 1880 and cast 5,797 votes for Weaver. In 1881 the opposition to the Democratic party nominated a full ticket for state officers and polled 52,009 votes. In 1892 the Populists in Mississippi cast 10,256 ballots for their candidate for President, and in 1895 the party increased its vote in the gubernatorial election to 17,466.

It was generally believed that the disfranchisement of the negroes through the constitution of 1890 would result in a political division of the whites, and there was a decided tendency in that direction, as is shown by the vote cast by the Populist party in 1892 and 1895, but that party disintegrated in 1896, and its members in Mississippi returned to the Democratic fold. The Republican party had been so thoroughly discredited in the state that it was impossible for it to gain recruits, and since 1876 it has retained only a nominal existence for the distribution of Federal patronage. In 1899 the Populists had a candidate in the field against the Democratic nominee for governor, but the ticket made little impression. In the gubernatorial campaigns of 1903 and 1907 there was no opposition to the Democratic party.

In the political life of the state since 1870 conditions of an extraordinary nature have called forward men of the best talent and character; and this was especially true of the leaders developed by the revolution of 1875. The one man who, possibly, stands apart as the head and front of that great movement was L. Q. C. Lamar. He had, by his great Sumner speech of 1874, attracted national attention as a gifted expounder of the best principles of a new Union. While believing that the Southern people had held the position which was historically correct in their interpretation of the national constitution, he was willing to abide by the settlement made by the gage of battle, and his statesmanship looked to the building of a firmly united nation. As long as he remained in public life he represented the best sentiment of the people of Mississippi. The political campaign of 1875 brought into public life two other leaders of influence and power—J. Z. George and E. C. Walthall. They were colleagues in the United States Senate for twelve years ; George was regarded as the great constitutional lawyer of the Senate; Walthall as the ideal American senator. These three men—Lamar, Walthall and George—were the leaders held in highest esteem among the postbellum statesmen of Mississippi. The man who has left the greatest and best impression in the field of state politics is J. M. Stone ; so strongly intrenched was he in the public confidence that no other citizen has been honored with a like term of office as the state's chief executive. In the national House of Representatives John Allen, Charles E. Hooker, 0. R. Singleton and Ethelbert Barksdale had distinguished careers.

The senatorial seats of Walthall and George are now ably filled by H. D. Money and A. J. McLaurin. In the national House of Representatives John Sharp Williams has attained great distinction as the leader of the Democratic party, and has been elected as the successor to Senator Money.

In state politics the race question has appeared, and it was the successful issue in the campaign of 1903; J. K. Vardaman, the winning candidate, advocated depriving the negroes of the benefit of all school funds except those coming from taxes paid by the race. In the gubernatorial election of 1907 the race question was not an issue; E. F. Noel was elected governor.

In national elections there is only one party in Mississippi. The state has maintained its traditions, and since 1872 has cast its vote in the electoral college for the Democratic candidate.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.—Manuscript Sources.—The original sources of Mississippi history for the period 1865-1908 are preserved in the Department of Archives and History down to 1895; the records after that date are in the custody of the departments in which they originated. These archives are similar in character to those described under the head of manuscript sources, in article Mississippi, 1817-1861.

Printed Sources.—Davis, Varina Howell: Jefferson Davis (1890); Why the Solid South (1890); Dodd: Jefferson Davis (1908); Dunning: Reconstruction, Political and Economic (Vol. XXII. The American Nation, 1907); Garner: Reconstruction in Mississippi (1901); Lowry and McCardle: History of Mississippi (1891); Lynch: Bench and Bar of Mississippi (1881); Mayes: L. Q. C. Lamar, His Life, Times and Speeches (1896); Riley: Publications, Mississippi Historical Society (1897-1906); Rhodes: History of the United States, 1850-1877, Vol. VII (1906); Rowland: Encyclopedia of Mississippi History (1907), Mississippi Official and Statistical Registers (2 vols., 1904-8); Smedes: A Southern Planter (1900).

For lists of newspapers, files and pamphlets see Annual Report of the Department of Archives and History (1908).

Director Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus