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Reconstruction in Mississippi, 1865-75

Two phases of Reconstruction: (1)Presidential, 1865-1868, (2)Congressional, 1869-1875

Population in 1860

Black   437,303   51%
White   353,901   49%
TOTAL   791,901

Majority of larger slave holders had opposed going to war. They had too much to lose.

Before war was over, half the slaves were free.

Reconstruction Governors

1865--William Sharkey, provisional governor appointed by Andrew Johnson
1865-68--Benjamin Humphreys, a former Whig, elected by whites
1868-1870--Adelbert Ames, U.S. general from Maine; also military governor; pro-black
1870-1871--J. L. Alcorn
1871-1874--R. C. Powers
1874-1876--Adelbert Ames
1867--Blacks were enfranchised. The initial response of upper-class whites was to try to co-opt black votes. They were accustomed to telling blacks what to do and assumed that they could continue to do so. But black leaders refused to be used and stopped it.

Constitutional Convention of 1868

In the 1867 voter registration for the constitutional convention, there were 46,636 whites and 60,167 blacks or 43.7% white and 56.3% black but only about half of the whites voted. When the convention assembled on January 6, 1868, there were 100 delegates. Of these, 67 were native Southerners, 24 were born in the North, and 89 were born in foreign or unknown countries. By party affiliation, 67 were Republicans, 3 were Reconstructionists, one was for General U.S. Grant, and 29 were conservatives of various labels. Of the 67 Republicans, 33 were resident whites. Obviously, the vast majority supported change. Surprisingly, there were only 16 black delegates. Blacks and "carpetbaggers," all forty of them, did not constitute a majority.

Black leaders in the Convention

Isham Stewart, a powerful leader in east Mississippi, was in the state senate after the white conservatives resumed control in 1875, representing Noxubee, Kemper, and Neshoba counties. These counties had large black populations

J. Aaron Moore led in the organization of the Methodist Church in east-central Mississippi. He became an influential state senator. Later, he became a successful blacksmith in Jackson.

Henry P. Jacobs organized Baptist associations in the western part of the state. He had escaped to the North in 1856.

T.W. Stringer of Vicksburg came to the state from Ohio. He was an AME organizer as well as lodges, benevolent societies, and political machines.

Constitution of 1868

The document was submitted to voters for ratification, the first time this had happened in Mississippi history. Reconstruction governments were more democratic than their predecessors. White Democrats defeated it by using persuasion, economic threats, and physical violence. The next year, however, but failed. The constitution expanded the power of the state government in education and the judiciary. Mississippi History Now of the Mississippi Historical Society has a copy. In 1869, the proposed constitution was changed to allow ex-Confederates to hold office and to remove the universal adult male suffrage requirement; those changes and the fact that black voters were protected by the U. S. government meant passage. The vote was 113,735 to 955. Obviously, many of the opponents did not vote.

Congressional Reconstruction

Often called Radical Reconstruction, Congressional Reconstruction was when the Congress, angry at the mildness of the process under President Johnson, assumed control. It was more thorough going, more decisive. It did not approach the drastic or radical measures adopted by the United States in Germany or Japan after World War II but people in the 19th century United States were unaccustomed to government using its power except for warfare and, even then, except for the Civil War, the wars had been small.

General Adelbert Ames was appointed provisional governor and military commander on March 5, 1869. He removed the old guard, the Democrats, from office and appointed persons loyal to Congressional Republicans in their place. He also appointed blacks.

Black Leaders During Reconstruction

The first black in state office was B. T. Montgomery, a prosperous planter and former business manager for Joseph and Jefferson Davis. He was appointed Justice of the Peace at Davis Bend by the military commander.

In the elections that year, the opposition, a coalition of Democrats, National Republicans, and conservatives, ran carpetbaggers, a blacks, and others for state offices but had little chance of Victory. The regular Republicans won. J. L. Alcorn, who owned a large plantation and had been a Whig, was elected governor. The lieutenant governorship went to R. C. Powers. James D. Lynch, a black man from Pennsylvania, was elected Secretary of State. Lynch had come in 1868 to head the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was well-respected by his white opponents. However, he died an untimely death in 1870.

Politics, 1870-1875

The Republican Party dominated the state. Some 90% of the 100,000+ registered black voters and 20-225% of the registered white voters were in the Republican Party (in the late 20th and early 21st centuries these figures represented the composition of the Democratic Party). It had able leaders. The white Republican leaders, J. L. Alcorn, H. F. Simrall, J. L. Wofford, J. F. H. Claiborne, R. W. Millsaps, and R. W. Flounoy, the largest slave owner in northeast Mississippi, included men from old families. there were several able black leaders—Hiram Rhodes Revels, Blanche Kelso Bruce, and John R. Lynch. Revels had been born free in North Carolina. He had been taught by a black woman for his early education then attended a Quaker seminary in Indiana and a black seminary in Ohio. He went to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. He became an AME minister in 1845. Revels taught and preached in the old Northwest Territory states. Then he organized back regiments in Maryland and Missouri. After coming to Mississippi, he was on the city council of Natchez and then the state senate. The state senate elected him to be a US Senator from 1870 to 1871, taking the place of Jefferson Davis. He later served as president of Alcorn University. Bruce was a mulatto, born of a slave mother and a wealthy planter in Farmville, Virginia on March 1, 1841. He was tutored by the planter's son and worked as a printer's apprentice. As his master moved from Virginia to Mississippi and Missouri. He escaped slavery in 1861 and tried unsuccessfully, to join the US Army. He became a dealer in books and paper. He organized the first school for blacks in Missouri. From 1866-1868, he attended Oberlin College, a fact that made him extremely well educated compared to most people in the nation. He went to Mississippi in 1869, where he became a wealthy landowner and a local politician. He became a tax assessor, sheriff, tax collector of Bolivar County, country school superintendent. He got noticed on a trip to the state capital, Jackson, by the Republican leadership. In 1874, they had him elected to the US Senate where he served until 1881. He would serve the US government after his Senate term. John R. Lynch was born a slave in Concordia Parish, Louisiana in 1847 to a slave mother and a wealthy white planter. Freed during the Civil War, he settled in Natchez, working in photography. He went to night school when the US Army took Natchez in 1863. In 1869, he was elected as justice of the peace. That same year, he was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives and would be re-elected in 1871. In 1872, he became Speaker of the House. He was praised by Democrats and republicans. He was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1873, serving six years in Congress, 1872-76, 1880-82.

State Legislature

Blacks never dominated the state legislature. In 1870, there were 107 House members of whom 82 were Republicans and 25 Democrats. There were only 30 blacks even though the state majority, both in population and voters, was black. The Senate contained 33 members of whom 28 were Republicans. There were only 5 black senators.. In the elections of 1871, 1872, and 1873, the republican majorities were reduced.<> When the Republicans took control in 1870, the treasury had a balance of $50 in cash and $500 in negotiable paper. From 1870-1874, the state government set up and maintained an integrated common school system, aided normal schools in Holly Springs and Tougaloo, started Alcorn [State] University, reorganized and centralized the state judiciary, passed a new law code, renovated public buildings, built new public buildings, built state hospitals at Natchez and Vicksburg, improved institutions for the infirm, abolished racial discrimination laws, and passed a civil rights law in 1873.

State Budgets
1856-1860 average




1870 $1,061,250
1871 $1,729,046
1876 $518,709
1877 $697,019
1880 $803,191

The population was more than one million people. To pay for government services, the state shifted to the property tax. The Democratic or conservatives, from 1875 onwards, cut services, salaries, and forced country and local governments to pay many of the costs. [the same tactic used in 1981 for the same reason. The argument is that, if people in local or state areas want the services, they should pay for them and not expect others to bear the costs.] There was probably no decrease in actual expenditure when one combines all of the budgets.

When the Republicans assumed power in 1870, they found $500 in the treasury and a debt of $1,178,175. When the Democrats took over in 1876, they found $524,389 in the treasury and a debt of $3,341,163; the payable debt was about $500,000, however.

Corruption existed in both the Republican and Democratic governments. During the Ames governorship, $7, 251.81 was taken, a paltry amount compared to the $61,962 by the Democratic treasurer in 1866 or the $315,612 taken by the Democratic treasurer when the "redeemers" came back to power in 1875. The conservatives simply had more experience in government in Mississippi and knew where the money was.

In 1874-75, there was a concerted effort to go back to white supremist governments. Economic coercion, threats of violence, violence, murder, refusal of medical and legal services, and staged "riots" were used. The US government refused to do anything. When the white conservatives returned top power, they reduced black voting in 1876 by requiring potential voters to know their county election district and which portion of the district in which they lived. Townsmen had to know their ward, the occupation of the ward boss. All had to know which section, township, and range in which they lived. White registrars decided if they were correct. It worked for the number of blacks in the state legislature dropped from 21 in 1876 to 11 in 1882 to 6 in 1890.

Constitution of 1890
This constitution was designed to disenfranchise blacks. It required potential voters to interpret the Mississippi and US constitutions to the satisfaction of a voter registrar and instituted a poll tax. These were attacked from the floor of the constitutional convention as being fraud and treachery, The state newspapers condemned it. Nevertheless, it passed. in order to escape the conditions of conservative rule from 1876-1890, As a white judge, Chrisman, put it:

"Sir, it is no secret that there has not been a full vote and a fair count in Mississippi since 1875, that we have been preserving the ascendancy of the white people by revolutionary measures. In other words, we have been stuffing ballot boxes, committing perjury, and here and there in the state carrying the elections by fraud and violence. The public conscience revolted, thoughtful men everywhere foresaw that there was disaster somewhere along the line of such a policy as certainly there is a righteous judgment for nations as well as men. No man can be in favor of perpetuating the elections methods which have prevailed in Mississippi since 1875 who is not a moral idiot."