Search Blog Posts

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Louisiana I: The Real Horrors of Republican 'Reconstruction' (Plunder)

Published by Charleston Voice 

Isn't it odd that the corruption instigated and nurtured by Republicans throughout America after the 'civil' war has flourished down to the present day? The reason being that corruption comes from the top down, the head of a fish to use a metaphor; just as today - - Washington, DC.
Louisiana I: Land and Year of Jubilee
Excerpted from The Tragic Era by Claude Bowers. Pgs. 362-367

And even worse [than Alabama] was Louisiana. Here, even when thieves fell out, honest men failed to get their due. New Orleans, the recon­struction capital, is a city of charm, Canal Street with its imposing width and partly grass-grown dais in the center dominating all, the streets in the business section paved with large blocks. Close to the levee on Canal Street looms the Custom-House, important in our story, built of Maine granite, and presided over by Collector Casey, brother-in-law of the President, with a reputation none too good. 

Somehow through all its miseries the city has managed to preserve something of its Gallic gayety. Young blades still speed their racers over the famous Shell Road, 'straight as an arrow, hard as flint, and smooth as a backgammon board,'  pausing for a cocktail or a sherry cobbler in the shade of fragrant trees at the road-houses. The nights are lively with balls and masquerades, and the gambling-houses are never deserted except on Sunday, when a pensive serenity descends upon the town.

Here in the capital sits Henry Clay Warmoth, ruling with a rod of iron. No ordinary person, this dashing young soldier of fortune who had drifted into town as blithesomely as a Gascon of the fourteenth century ever moved on Paris with his sword. Born in Illinois, he had just begun the practice of the law in Missouri, when the war swept him into the army, and at the close, in light­hearted mood, he moved on to New Orleans, where his command­ing person, courtly manners, and genius for politics smoothed his path to political preferment. 

His enemies have said he was penni­less when he reached the city; he himself insists he had enough, and had entered at once on a lucrative practice of his profession. In the beginning it was all a lark ~ caucuses, conferences, were to his liking, and, besides, was not this the land of the plum tree? The negroes, attracted to the merry young blade, elected him to Congress before the State's Representatives were admitted, and he sallied forth to Washington to be cordially received by the Republican leaders and turned away. But it was ordained of destiny that he should have bigger fish to fry. 

When the Grand Army of the Republic was organized in Louisiana, he was made Grand Commander, and a few weeks later, at the age of twenty-­six, he was elected Governor. His enemies soon were to comment significantly on his capacity to save one hundred thousand dollars a year on a salary of eight thousand dollars and to accumulate a million in four years. But an English tourist, who found him 'a young man of spirit and ability,' observed that 'his wealth, if the wages of corruption, had been so deftly acquired that no one can lay his finger on the spot.'

The Legislature we find sitting in Mechanics' Hall is typical of the others we have seen in the land of jubilee. Here, presiding over the House, we find a shrewd, unscrupulous, audacious youth of twenty-six, Carr of Maryland. And such scenes! The lobbies teem with laughing negroes from the plantations, with whites of the pinch-faced, parasitic type; and negro women in red turbans peddle cakes and oranges to the very doors of the chambers.
Within, some coal-black members, but most of lighter hue, though Lieutenant-Governor Dunn, presiding over the Senate, is a black. The abysmally ignorant eschew debate; some of the coal-blacks speak incoherently. It is a monkey-house - with guffaws, disgusting interpolations, amendments offered that are too obscene to print, followed by shouts of glee. 

Bad in the beginning, the travesty grows worse. The vulgarity' of the speeches increases; members stagger from the basement bar to their seats. The Speaker in righteous mood sternly forbids the introduction of liquor on the floor.  

A curious old planter stands in the galleries a moment looking down upon the scene, and with an exclamation, 'My God!' he turns and runs, as from a pestilence, into the street. 

Visitors from the North organize' slumming expeditions' to the Legislature or go as to a zoo. A British member of Parliament, asking if there are any curiosities in the city, is taken forthwith to Mechanics' Hall.

Corruption is inevitable, and members openly charged with bribery are not offended. 'I want to know how much the gentle­man gets to support this bill,' demands one member of another, and it is not an insult. Measures involving millions, many criminal, and having to do with railroads, canals, and levees, are passed without examination, and members vote vast sums into their pockets openly, defiantly. The mileage and per diem for members and clerks leap from a quarter of a million in 1869 to half a million the next year. Careless with the people's money? Preposterous. 'What we give to the community,' exclaims an outraged member - 'What we give to the community is without money and without price. It is so valuable that the price can­not be fixed - there is no standard.' 'I should like to know,' says another, 'if there is a good thing, in the name of God, why not let the representatives of the State of Louisiana have a hand in it.'  When the Appropriation Bill reduces the printing bill to a mere one hundred and forty thousand dollars a tearful plea that legislators' open their hearts' and embrace more newspapers brings an amendment adding sixty thousand dollars.

For in Louisiana, too, the party press is heavily subsidized out of the Treasury. The Board of Printing Commissioners, domi­nated by the Governor, had been a godsend to Warmoth, who sent his agents to edit papers to which contracts were given, and, as fourth owner of the' New Orleans Republican,' the chief bene­ficiary, he profited both politically and financially. 

Through his subsidized press he brought pressure to bear in favor of four measures intended to give him dictatorial power and prolong his reign. The Registration Bill made every parish registration offi­cial his minion, and gave them power to accept or reject votes without interference from the courts. Thus he could determine nominations. 

The Election Bill superseded sheriffs on election day with Warmoth's appointees, forbade the courts to interfere, and authorized him to deny certificates of election to successful candidates as he saw fit; and all this was climaxed by the creation of a returning board composed of members of the machine specified in the bill itself. The Constabulary Bill authorized Warmoth to name a chief constable in each parish who could name a deputy, and these were absolute. And the Militia Bill empowered him to organize and equip as many men as he wished and placed one hundred thousand dollars at his disposal for the purpose.

But Warmoth had created a Frankenstein monster, and aroused the fiends of jealousy. His was a power worth fighting for, and in the Republican Convention of 1870 the struggle began. The Custom-House crowd, with the negro Lieutenant-Governor as its candidate, defeated Warmoth for the chairmanship, and almost defeated a resolution endorsing his administration. 1 

Never, how­ever, had Warmoth seemed stronger than when the Legislature met in, January, 1871, with his Speaker packing the House com­mittees with Warmoth men, and with his followers in the Sen­ate depriving the Lieutenant-Governor of power and packing the committees there with minions ,of the Governor. But he had undergone a strange metamorphosis. He vetoed a gigantic swindling levee scheme in which members were financially inter­ested. The House raged and overrode the veto in a tempestuous session, but in the Senate the steal was stopped, and the defeated corruptionists turned on Speaker Mortimer Carr for vengeance. 

Bargaining with Democrats to seat their contested members in return for votes to unseat Carr, the latter was forced out, and an enemy of Warmoth, not one whit better, became the commanding figure of the House. ‘Thus,’ said the New York Tribune,’ ‘by taking advantage of an outburst of virtuous indignation among a gang of thieves. . . was laid the foundation of . . . the first system­atic organization in opposition to the power of Governor War­moth.’          

The defeat of the senatorial ambitions of Collector Casey by the Warmoth forces intensified the feud, and the Governor’s new­ found passion for reform poured in as many as thirty-nine vetoes, only five of which were overridden. Thus Warmoth stopped steals - the veto of the Paving Bill alone saving the people a million and a half. Manifestly this man would not do. When the session of 1871 cost $958,956.50, where the average cost before reconstruc­tion had been one hundred thousand dollars, Warmoth denounced the squandering on extra mileage, on services never rendered, on publications in obscure newspapers, some of which did not exist, on elegant stationery, and on champagne. It was civil war.

Speedily came the clash of the Republican factions as, fighting viciously, they lunged toward the Convention of August, 1871­ bribery and bludgeons now played their part, with hired ruffians smashing meetings with clubs. When Casey added five hundred names to the payroll of the National Government, Warmoth added at least as many to the city payroll. The morning of the conven­tion found business suspended everywhere. Casey had called the convention for the Custom-House, Warmoth for the State House. Casey prevailed, with the energetic assistance of Gatling guns and Federal marshals, and Warmoth and his followers held a conven­tion of their own. The Custom-House crowd read Warmoth out of the party, and Casey sent an explanatory message to Grant, his brother-in-law, at Long Branch. A little later, the Warmoth delegation of whites and blacks reached Long Branch to make their’ explanation. The negroes were, sparkling with diamond breastpins, as they pounded the pavement with their gold-headed canes, but Grant was visibly annoyed when they reached his cottage. Brusquely ordering an Associated Press reporter from the room, he received them coldly. He could not see what harm United States soldiers could do to a Republican convention and said so. Standing by a piano, he listened impatiently to the reading of the petition, once banging the piano with his elbow. Once he stamped his foot, and the committee left convinced that Grant was committed to Casey. Consoling themselves with a feast at the Sans-Souci Beer Saloon, they hurried to New York­ - - and the war was on. Soon Warmoth. will be leading the Republican insurgents in the campaign of 1872.

Meanwhile, the propertied citizens of Louisiana could see none of the humor of the situation. Under confiscatory taxation, numerous parishes were seeing tracts of the richest land going under the tax collector’s hammer at a dollar an acre. In numerous instances buyers could not be found at that price because of the taxes. Real estate had declined twenty-five per cent in value. It was costing 4alf a million a year to collect six and a half million. Ruin everywhere - enforced by Federal marshals, backed, if need be, by Federal soldiers. The school system was a wreck.

Continue on to Louisiana II: MILITARY SATRAPS & REVOLUTION