(December 19, 2017) As described in this earlier post, Black Militia fought against Black Militia in Reconstruction Arkansas during an episode called The Brooks-Baxter War. It resulted from a falling out within the Republican Party between two gubernatorial candidates in the 1872 election, Elisha Baxter and Joseph Brooks. (Since the carpetbagger government denied voting privileges to most ex-Confederates, the Democratic Party was unable to field a candidate that year.) The “war,” which killed as many as two hundred men, started in April 1874 when the two candidates called upon their followers to take up arms to settle the disputed election after eighteen months of indecisive legal maneuvers.
Much as he did in a similar 1872 disputed election in Louisiana, Grant chose a winner. Unlike in Louisiana, however, Arkansans welcomed presidential arbitration because they wanted an end to violence more than they cared whether it be Baxter or Brooks sitting in the governor’s chair. In May 1874 Grant chose Baxter but he would renege on the choice before year end. Among other factors, his reversal implied that the President may have been more interested in sustaining Republican Party control in the Southern states than he was in the integrity of those state governments.
Both Baxter and Brooks promised to help restore voting rights to former Confederates. Since the initial post-election court maneuvers favored Baxter he held office when the 1873 legislature passed an amendment to the 1868 carpetbagger constitution that would permit most ex-Confederates to vote. Next, Baxter supported calls for a new constitutional convention in the summer of 1874 to replace the 1868 constitution. The October elections ratified the new constitution and chose Democrat Augustus Garland to replace Baxter as governor.
Not only did Grant oppose the new Garland regime, he objected to the 1874 constitution by citing a technicality in the 1868 constitution that he believed invalidated the new constitution. Moreover, during his annual message in December Grant flip-flopped on his own May arbitration that made Baxter governor. Presently, he implied that Baxter had no authority to call for a new constitutional convention because Brooks—not Baxter—was Arkansas’s legitimate governor. Grant’s true objection to the new constitution had more to do with its shift toward localism which would hinder the Republican Party’s ability to hold power by controlling all of the state’s election machinery remotely from the state capital in Little Rock.
Although Grant threatened to use federal troops to force his will on the state he was prepared to first await the recommendations of a House investigating committee headed by Vermont Republican Luke Poland. Early in February 1875 the Committee rejected Grant’s interpretation. It concluded that there was “no just reason” for the federal government to interfere in Arkansas’s state elections. The House of Representatives accepted the Committee’s majority report in a vote of 150-to-81. Even among Republicans support for Grant was divided. While eighty Republicans voted to support the minority report, sixty-five voted against it as did eighty-five Democrats.
Grant’s capricious reversal aroused suspicions, even among his own cabinet members. Secretary of State Hamilton Fish and Treasury Secretary Benjamin Bristow, for example, surmised that the President may have fallen under the influence of Arkansas’s prosperous carpetbagger senators. As railroad promoters, the two senators became enraged when Baxter refused to let private railroads repay debts owed to the state in company stock.
Sources: Ulysses S. Grant, Sixth Annual Message to Congress, December 7, 1874; Charles Calhoun, The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, 474-76; Thomas DeBlack, With Fire and Sword, 218; William Gillette, Retreat From Reconstruction, 144
Presently Amazon and Barnes & Noble Online are out-of-stock of my latest book, Southern Reconstruction. Although my publisher has ordered a second printing, the production run will not be completed before Christmas.
Meanwhile, some physical Barnes & Noble stores do have them in stock. Go to this link, and click on the “Want it today? Check Store Availability,” which is in small print to the right of the picture cover. The link will prompt you to enter your zip code and afterward display a list of stores nearby and will also indicate which ones have Southern Reconstruction in stock. Some other independent physical stores may also have the title in stock.
Finally, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have eBook versions available.