(January 7, 2017). As I proceed through his Reconstruction lectures, Dr. Eric Foner admits that the Carpetbag regimes were corrupted. He does, however, suggest that the corruption was an acceptable trade-off for Carpetbag progressivism. Generally when evaluating any government actions that may be interpreted as either constructive reform or corrupted patronage, he concludes the former.
One example was an 1869 Louisiana law that granted a monopoly to a private corporation to control butchering in New Orleans and confine it to land owned by the corporation. The city’s butchers were not permitted to exercise their trade anywhere else and were required to pay the state-chartered monopoly a fee to do so on its land. Historians may basically adopt one of two opposing interpretations.
The political patronage interpretation suggests that the owners were granted a lucrative monopoly through bribery or because they were well connected politically. The company’s employees had minimal duties because the city’s butchers did nearly all of the work but had to pay fees to the monopoly for the privilege of doing so.
The progressive interpretation suggests that the monopoly was required in order to insure that the butchers worked in a sanitary manner that would not pollute the city’s water supply. All activities, for example, were concentrated at a single location downstream from New Orleans.
The butchers sued the state under terms of the 14th Amendment, but the Supreme Court ruled that the Amendment did not deny any state the right to grant a monopoly unless the monopoly interfered with federal citizenship rights. The court ruled that the authority to earn a living as a butcher is a citizenship right granted by the states individually instead of the federal government. (The case was later often cited as a precedent to restrict most of the rights of blacks, but the present matter involves mostly white butchers.)
Although Foner apparently assumes the “progressive interpretation,” Louisiana outlawed the monopoly two years after the Carpetbag regime collapsed. Thereafter, parishes and municipalities regulated the trade. Evaluating whether the “progressive” or “patronage” interpretation is valid can best be judged by learning whether sanitation remained satisfactory after the monopoly was abolished. Foner, however, tells us nothing about that.