Monthly Archives: May 2021

The 1874 New Orleans Battle of Liberty Place

(May 29, 2021) Although commonly portrayed as one of the largest mob attacks on blacks by white racists during Reconstruction, the so-called 1874 Battle of Liberty Place in New Orleans was really a conflict between the militias of two competing state governments. 

The story begins in 1868 with the election of Carpetbagger Henry Warmoth as Louisiana’s first elected Republican governor. To ensure future Republican victories at the polls, in 1870 his legislature established a five-man Election Returning Board, which had final authority to determine the outcome of all major elections. It is perhaps the most egregious example of how Reconstruction-era Republican Puppet Regimes used control of the election machinery to force their will on the people.

At the end of Warmoth’s four-year term in 1872 the state’s Republican Party split for two reasons. First was an internecine fight over the distribution of political patronage within the state. Second, was a consequence of a split in the national Party between “stalwarts” and “liberals.” The stalwarts backed President Ulysses Grant whereas the liberals wanted civil service reform to minimize patronage corruption. Nationally, the Democrats joined the Republican liberals in backing Horace Greeley for President. 

Similarly, in Louisiana Henry Warmoth’s liberal Republicans backed Democrat John McEnery for governor and David Penn for Lieutenant Governor. The state’s stalwart ticket consisted to William Kellogg for governor and Cesar Antoine as his running mate. The Kellogg team was known as the “custom house” faction because Kellogg was previously the tariff collector for the port of New Orleans. Moreover, the then-present collector was James Casey, a brother-in-law to President Grant. During the nineteenth century customs collectors produced most of the Federal tax revenue and were notoriously corrupt. 

The election took place on November 4, 1872. When Warmoth convened the Returning Board to certify the winner on 13 November he was dismayed to learn that Kellogg representatives challenged the membership. Through a torturous series of court cases Kellogg felt he had authority to set up his own Returning Board. The result was two opposing Boards. One, managed by Warmoth, supported McEnery. The second, managed by state Senator John Lynch, supported Kellogg. Since Lynch’s Board had no ballots to count, they created vote tallies out of thin air. Lynch got the results Kellogg wanted by using as “returns” affidavits, newspaper estimates, and even their own calculations from general knowledge of what a vote in each parish might have been. Predictably, on December 4th Warmoth’s Board announced McEnery the winner. Two days later Lynch’s Board declared Kellogg the winner.  

The true winner will never be known. There was fraud on each side, but especially Kellogg’s. Even though Warmoth held the state’s election machinery, the Kellogg faction controlled the Federal election supervisory machinery under the new KKK Enforcement Acts. They named numerous supervisors in every parish and deployed six hundred special marshals in New Orleans alone. 

Affidavits made by black voters who were allegedly denied the vote were printed in blank by the thousands before the election and signed in bulk by obliging officers. The special marshals engaged to complete them had only to dig up names, from any convenient source, and fill in the blanks. Lynch’s Board counted each fraudulent affidavit as a vote for Kellogg. 

On December 5th Federal judge Henry Durrell ordered U.S. Marshalls to seize the statehouse, then in New Orleans. The following day Federal troops only allowed Kellogg men to enter the offices. In response, McEnery’s Democrats set up their own state government at Lyceum Hall in the New Orleans municipal building.

 For the next ten months Louisiana would have two state governments. One propped-up by Federal marshals and soldiers and the other supported mostly by the state’s whites. Two years after his December 1872 ruling, the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee in Washington voted to impeach judge Durrell for systematic bribery and for exceeding his authority in the 1872 elections. He resigned before the full House drew-up impeachment articles. 

Louisianans soon realized they were confronted with two competing state governments, each expecting taxpayer support. Thus, taxpayers did not know which government should be paid when tax bills arrived. When each government selected a new U.S. Senator, the problem got kicked up to the Senate in Washington because that body would have to choose between the state’s two new designees thereby indirectly validating one of the legislatures and nullifying the other.  

Although today’s student might suppose that the GOP-controlled Senate would choose the Republican candidate, it didn’t. As the senators researched the election they were appalled at the manipulations and refused to seat either Louisiana designee. The U. S. Senate concluded that Louisiana should hold new elections, a decision that caused riots between the two sides in Louisiana. That forced President Grant to make a choice. Even though the President and his Cabinet agreed that Kellogg was “a first-class cuss” Grant chose to back him, perhaps because the President’s brother-in-law was on the Kellogg team.

Eventually the two state governments formed their own militias. Kellogg’s was composed of blacks and the New Orleans police while McEnery’s was mostly white volunteers from organizations such as the White Leagues. It was those two forces that clashed at Liberty Place in September 1874. Neither was a disorganized mob. Unlike the Ku Klux Klan the White Leagues were not secretive. In some parishes they did little more than hold anti-Kellogg rallies. In others, such New Orleans, the chapter’s 3,000 members were well-drilled and militant. Their leaders explained that the movement was “an inevitable result of that formidable, oath-bound, and blindly [Republican] obedient [Union] league of the blacks.”  

In July 1874 Kellogg passed a bill that gave the governor even more power to dictate election results by empowering him to appoint, without appeal, all agents authorized to register voters. By September conditions had reached a boiling point. The state’s economy had long been dismal. Property values had dropped by two-thirds during the preceding six years. Apparently, only Louisianans affiliated with the Kellogg Administration and their allied tariff collectors prospered. Rumors that Kellogg intended to confiscate firearms in New Orleans incensed the city’s White League. Tempers were short and Kellogg abandoned the statehouse for the granite fortress of the customs house. In McEnery’s absence his Lieutenant Governor, David Penn, activated their militia. The two militias clashed at four o’clock on the afternoon of 14 September. 

Although Kellogg’s force was led by former Confederate General James Longstreet, his men were defeated within fifteen minutes. About 30 combined participates on both sides were killed. Consequently, from his bunker in the custom’s house Kellogg wired President Grant for Federal troops. When the soldiers arrived three days later, McEnery’s militia disbanded peacefully. 

Although Louisianans did not vote for a governor in 1874 after the Liberty Place incident, they did elect a new legislature. Kellogg’s control of the ballot counting predictably and artificially provided a majority of Republican legislators. When Democrats challenged disputed seats during the swearing-in process, Kellogg called forth the U. S. Army again, this time to seat only those candidates that his Returning Board had authorized and to forcibly remove any challengers. In short, Louisiana’s 1874 elections were another Republican-controlled fraud that created a phony Republican majority in the legislature.

Unlike in 1872, this time many more Northerners—and even some Republicans—criticized the situation. Not only was it increasingly evident that the Republican Returning Boards would never permit honest elections, but discipline over dissenting Southerners was becoming increasingly tyrannical. After a hurried and secret summons to New Orleans, General Philip Sheridan suggested that the Federal government classify any Southerners suspected of resisting carpetbagger governments as bandits, thereby making them subject arrest and trial under military regulations as opposed to civil standards.  

In response, the New York Tribune pointed out that if Grant could use the army to select his preferred legislators in Louisiana, he might one day use it to select those he would allow Congress to seat. Republican Senator Carl Schurz explained that many political leaders were asking, “If this can be done in Louisiana, and . . . sustained by Congress, how long will it be before it is done in Massachusetts and Ohio?” Republican Congressman and future President James A. Garfield observed, “This is the darkest day for the future of the Republican party that I have ever seen.” Public mass meetings against Republican totalitarianism in Louisiana were held in such cities as New York, Cincinnati and even Boston. The legislatures of Ohio and Pennsylvania officially condemned the Federal military “invasion” of Louisiana. Even the President’s cabinet was divided. But those siding with Kellogg, such as War Secretary Belknap, Navy Secretary Robeson and Attorney General Williams, would all later resign under clouds of other scandals.  

A House investigating subcommittee composed of two Republicans and one Democrat who were present in Louisiana during the 1874 elections concluded that the elections were peaceable and fair; that what fraud occur was mostly on the Republican side due to their control of the election machinery. It even determined that the Democrats had won most of the seats in the legislature but had been denied the majority by “arbitrary, unjust, and illegal” methods exercised by the Returning Board. The subcommittee characterized the Kellogg government as usurpation. 

Similarly, Northern journalist Charles Nordhoff added that by 1874 “all white men and many blacks” detested Kellogg’s government. In March 1875 New York Republican Congressman William Wheeler negotiated a compromise under which Louisiana Republicans conceded the state house of representatives to the Democrats in exchange for a promise from the latter not to impeach Kellogg. When President Grant’s successor removed the Federal soldiers in 1877, Louisiana’s Carpetbag government collapsed for good. 

Did 1860 Republicans Want to Ban the Spread of Slavery or the Spread of Blacks?

(May 26, 2021) Venerable historian James McPherson claims that the 1860 Republican Party plank prohibiting the spread of slavery into the Federal territories prompted the South to cause the Civil War. Although it is commonly averred that the Republican goal was to quarantine slavery in the South, the true objective may have been to restrict the geographic spread of blacks to the rest of America.  

Consider, for example, that all but two of the twenty-two states granted statehood after Texas in 1845—down to the present day 175 years later—joined the Union when blacks represented only about one percent of their respective populations. The two exceptions were the Southern border states of West Virginia and Oklahoma. Ninety percent of America’s blacks still lived in the South in 1910, nearly fifty years after the Civil War.

The 1860 Republican Party’s “ban-on-slavery-expansion” plank originated fourteen years earlier in 1846 when Pennsylvania Congressman and future Republican David Wilmot introduced a rider to a $2 million funding bill for the then-current Mexican War. If passed, which it was not, his rider would ban slavery in any territories acquired because of the war. It was not, however, an enlightened racial gesture. Wilmot admitted, “I make no war upon the South, nor upon slavery in the South. I have no . . . sympathy for the slave. I plead the cause . . . of white freemen. I would preserve for free white labor a fair country . . . where the sons of toil, of my own race and own color, can live without the disgrace which association with negro slavery brings upon free labor.”

Eight years later in 1854 future President Lincoln said: “The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be made of these [western] territories. We want them for the homes of free white people.”  Four years afterward in 1858 Illinois Republican Senator Lyman Trumbull said, “We, the Republican party, are the white man’s party.” That same year Massachusetts Republican Senator Henry Wilson said, “I do not believe in the equality of the African with the white race.” 

The year Lincoln was elected President in 1860 his future Secretary of State, William Seward, said, “The great fact is now fully realized that the African race here [in America] is a foreign element incapable of assimilation. . . ” Frank Blair, whose brother would become Lincoln’s Postmaster General, told audiences that the “Republican Party is the white man’s party and will keep the Territories for white men.” Prior to the War the so-called Free States contained only two percent of America’s black population and 94% of them could not vote.

During the Civil War in April 1864 Congress “scorned” a proposal by Kentucky Senator Garrett Davis that refugee blacks be redistributed to the Northern states in “proportion to their white populations.” That same year it rejected an amendment to the Freedmen’s Bureau bill by West Virginia Senator Waitman Willey that would empower the Bureau to contact the governors and mayors of Northern states and cities to arrange for black settlements in the North. When Lincoln’s Interior Secretary suggested in December 1863 that blacks be sent to the far West where he believed “Negro labor was in great demand,” his Party turned him down. Instead, on July 4, 1864, the Republicans passed America’s first major immigration law basically targeted at white Europeans.  

The Northern Republicans that generally controlled of the Federal Government until Woodrow Wilson’s presidency kept blacks mostly quarantined in the South until World War I. It took almost fifty years after the Civil War before they truly started to diffuse into other parts of the country. Even then Northerners only accepted blacks due to worker shortages triggered by the World War demand surge combined with the war’s disruption of European immigration. From 1860 to 1920 America absorbed 50 million white immigrants mostly into the Northern manufacturing economy, leaving little opportunity for the South’s four million ex-slaves and their descendants. 

According to historian C. Vann Woodward, the antebellum states of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois set the racial norms for the future states to the Missouri River and beyond. He wrote, “[Their] chief argument against slavery was that it would eventually produce a free black population.” Even as “black exclusion” became a top political goal for the Midwestern states, the region never had more than one percent of its population composed of blacks until well into the twentieth century. 

Thirty years before the Civil War when French nobleman Alexis de Tocqueville toured America in 1831-32 he indirectly warned of the racism endemic to the whites North and West of the Ohio River. His journal reveals that racial prejudice was “stronger in the states where [Americans] have abolished slavery than where it still existed [and] nowhere stronger than in those states where servitude has never been known.” Among the states and territories he visited where slavery had never existed were Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. 

In What Lincoln Believed: The Values of America’s Greatest President author Michael Lind writes:

“For Lincoln . . . the movement against the extension of slavery was half of a program to create a white West, the other half of which consisted of state laws designed to keep blacks out of Northern and Western states. For example, the Indiana territorial legislature outlawed black court testimony in cases involving whites (1803), blacks in the militia (1807) and black voting (1810). In 1815 an annual tax was imposed on all black men. . . The nearby Illinois territory legislature passed a bill in 1813 requiring every incoming black . . . to leave. Failure to comply . . .  [was punishable by] 39 lashes, repeated every fifteen days until the [black offender] left. Lincoln was well-aware of such Black Laws and voted for them repeatedly in Illinois because he felt they were necessary to prevent racial integration. . . “(p. 130)

J. P. Morgan once said, “A man always has two reasons for the things he does­—a good one and the real one.” The legendary banker was implying that the “good” reason is a false, benevolent explanation that conceals the true self-serving one.

How Not to Stop Anti-Semitism

(May 25, 2021) Hey! Ben Shapiro, Dave Rubin and Dennis Prager: Don’t expect to stop anti-Semitism by demonizing your allies.

Shapiro, Rubin and Prager are successful, politically conservative podcasters who happen to be Jewish. (Prager and Shapiro are orthodox.) Each is outraged by the recent surge in random street attacks on Jews in American cities such as New York and Los Angeles by domestic Palestinian advocates. Some of the victims were targeted merely for wearing Yamakas, a symbol that enraged their adversaries on sight. 

The podcasters justifiably lament that America seems to be heading down a path toward pre-1950 European style anti-Semitism, while our elite classes either acquiesce or even sympathize with the movement. The three should have foreseen the anti-Semitism coming when those same elites demonized Southerners, tore down our statues and rampaged on a mission of Southern cultural genocide. While few Southerners have been physically attacked for displaying a Confederate flag it has happened. Moreover, it would happen more often if the symbol had not been banished in most states. The offended do not need to attack us. They can merely get the police to force us to remove the symbol. More often persons displaying the flag are ostracized, lose their jobs and thrown out of school. 

Ironically, however, Southern fundamentalist Christians are among Israel’s strongest supporters notwithstanding that comparatively few Jews live in the region. Senators Cotton, Hawley and Cruz, for example, have publicly denounced Hamas. Although none of the three senators from Arkansas, Missouri and Texas may wish to defend Confederate memorials (I simply don’t know), it’s likely that many of their constituents do. Yet Shapiro, Rubin and Prager say nothing in defense of Confederate Memorials. Prager and Rubin have even attacked them. Prager distributed a biased video by former West Point historian Ty Seidule that demonizes Southerners. Rubin interviewed Professor Jeffrey Hummel who made distorted remarks. Although Hummel is a good historian, his comments that day were one-sided. 

After commenting about five years ago that some of the tanks that freed European concentration camp prisoners during World War II flew the Confederate battle flag, Shapiro has since avoided the topic of Confederate Memory. (I can’t be sure because I don’t watch his show anymore. After the New York Times wrote a big article about him several years ago, Ben increasingly seems to want to be on their good side. Consequently, he has become about as useful as George W. Bush for free speech advocacy.)  

Although all three podcasters complain that the mainstream press ignores them, each has ignored Southern Heritage defenders on their own shows. While all have been enthusiastically greeted on Southern speaking tours, they provide their podcast audiences no chance to hear a defense of Confederate Memorials. They know we cannot get a voice on corporate media, yet they take our donations and deny us any voice on their shows.   

Nonetheless, the anti-Southern cultural genocide is both massive and reckless. From a historical perspective, the podcasters should be aware that statue destruction is often followed by bloodshed. Just as Germany made the aged Paul Hindenburg chancellor in the early 1930s to keep a lid on Hitler, so America has made Joe Biden President to keep a lid on Kamala. Since Hindenburg did not stop Hitler, Shapiro, Prager and Rubin should appreciate that Biden might not stop Harris. 

Presently, it is more important than ever for the three pundits to realize that it is in their own interests to give the defenders of Confederate Memory a chance to make our case. They may freely reject our arguments, but they should not assume they’ve heard them. We have been far more ignored and censored than they. Should they continue to throw us under the bus, Shapiro, Prager and Rubin need not be surprised when the cultural elite escalates attacks on Israel and American Jews. After they have totally demonized Confederate Memory, the elites and phony elites will be looking for new targets.  

Southern Reconstruction’s Pivotal Moment

(May 18, 2021) Less than nine months after Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, nearly all the former Confederate states were ready to rejoin the Union. All but Texas had complied with President Andrew Johnson’s requirements, while Texas was late only because her large size delayed a compilation of registered voters. Johnson’s Reconstruction Plan was modeled on Abraham Lincoln’s wartime plan, although it was tougher on the planter class. He required the former Confederate states to outlaw slavery, repeal their secession ordinances, and repudiate Confederate debts. After each state complied, it elected new senators and congressmen to be seated at the Thirty-Ninth Congress for the session starting on December 4, 1865. 

Most of the elected Southerners had opposed secession when their respective states debated the matter four years earlier. Many were former members of the defunct Whig Party, as was Lincoln when he was in Congress in the late 1840s. They—perhaps even including former Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens who served in Congress as a Whig with Lincoln—were the type of Southerners Lincoln had hoped to attract to the Republican Party after the war ended. It was not to be, however, because Congressional Republicans refused to seat them, thereby forcing Southerners into the Democrat Party where they remained for almost a century.  

Led by Pennsylvania Representative Thaddeus Stevens, Republicans held a caucus three earlier on December 1, 1865 where they agreed that the “qualifications” for each elected Southerner would be referred to a Joint Committee of Fifteen senators and congressmen. Twelve of the fifteen were Republicans and eight of those were from the Radical Wing, thereby giving the Radicals control of all outcomes. 

Consequently, none of the Southerners were allowed admission to either the House or the Senate, except for those from Tennessee. Even they, however, could only be admitted after their state government denied the vote to anyone who had ever supported secession or the Confederacy. The stipulation included men who had voted against secession in 1861 but remained loyal to the state during the Civil War.  Tennessee complied with the requirements of the Republican-dominated Congress in May 1866 because the state was controlled by a regime even more Radically Republican than the one Andrew Johnson had left behind in 1865 when he became Abraham Lincoln’s Vice President. (Tennessee was not formally re-admitted to the Union until after it ratified the Fourteenth Amendment in July 1866, the third state to do so.)

Republicans sought to assure themselves they would stay in power in Washington. When the War ended the Party was barely ten years old. Its leaders worried that it might be strangled in its cradle if the re-admittance of Southern states failed to be managed in a way that would prevent Southerners from allying with Northern Democrats to regain control of the federal government. If all former Confederate states were admitted to the 39th Congress in December 1865 and each added member was a Democrat, the Republicans would lose their veto-proof two-thirds majority in Congress.

Thus, the infant GOP wanted to ensure that most of the new Southern senators and congressmen be Republicans. That led them to form vassal governments in the Southern states by creating a new regional constituency composed of easily manipulated ex-slaves combined with tyrannically-prone inferior white leaders (scalawags) and opportunistic Northern carpetbaggers. 

Nonetheless, some Northerners recognized the strategy’s folly. They realized that the South’s natural leaders were to be found among the Confederate combat veterans. One was New England journalist Benjamin Truman who spent eight months of 1865 after Appomattox in the South, visiting every former Confederate state except the Carolinas and Virginia. He reported to Andrew Johnson that those men who dutifully remained with their armies to the end of the War “are the backbone . . . of the south. . . . Around . . . [them] . . . gathers the same circle of friends that we see around the millions of [Northern] hearth-stones . . . and from [them] they are slowly learning the lessons of charity and brotherhood.” 

Abolitionist Massachusetts Governor John Andrew agreed. In January 1866 he urged Republicans to enlist the services of the South’s “natural leaders” in the work of Reconstruction, warning prophetically that if not accepted as friends they would resume their relationship as enemies.

“[During the Civil War] the Southern people fought, toiled, endured, and persevered with a courage . . . not outdone by any people in any Revolution. . . They whose courage, talents and will entitle them to lead, shall lead. . . We ought to demand, and to secure, the cooperation of the strongest and ablest minds and the natural leaders . . . in the South. If we cannot gain their support . . . the work of safe reorganization will be delusive and full of danger.” 

After the Republican Party ignored Governor Andrew’s advice, historian Herbert Agar summarized the result eighty years later. 

“It was wicked to force the Negro to rule the disfranchised white man [during the carpetbag era] when everybody knew the position would be reversed as soon as Northerners grew sick of governing their fellow Americans with the sword. It was wicked to turn the Negro free . . . without thought for his future except that he must be bullied or brought into voting Republican. It was extra wicked to commit both these cruelties at the same time. . . .”

“There is a limit beyond which only mad moralists and the truly corrupt will go. It was the fate of the Negro . . . to be sacrificed to an alliance between these two. He didn’t want to run the South. . . . But his Northern friends wanted to prove their political theories, or they simply wanted his vote. The moralists thought he could eat freedom . . . the others didn’t think at all, beyond the next election. But . . . he gave them his vote, since they asked for it. And the white South has not forgiven him in eighty years.”

The consequences to which historian Agar alluded could have been avoided on that pivotal December 4, 1865 day, when Republicans put Party power ahead of the national interest and categorically turned away the South’s natural leaders. Some they could have justifiably refused to seat, but others were staunch Unionists at times and places when to be a Unionist required more courage than the typical Northern Republican had ever demonstrated.

WNL to Decide on Lee Name Next Month

(May 11, 2021) Washington and Lee University will announce their decision next month concerning whether the school will remain a namesake for Robert E. Lee. If you would like the name to remain you may wish to:

  1. Send email, or postal, letters to the Board of Trustees since they are the ones making the decision. You can find a list of the Board members here.
  2. Send links to this post to others whom you think will be interested because it includes the six minute video below that makes a case for keeping the Lee name in W&L.

New Orleans 1866 Racial Riot

(May 10, 2021) 

(May 10, 2021) New Orleans had two big Reconstruction-era racial confrontations. The first in 1866 resulted from an attempt to usurp Louisiana’s 1864 Lincoln-approved constitution when Andrew Johnson was President. The second was between the militias of two conflicting state governments in 1874 when Ulysses Grant was President. Former Confederate general James Longstreet participated in the second. Today’s episode concerns the first.

Modern historians typically portray the 1866 incident as an attack on blacks merely for wanting voting rights. They seldom explain that the blacks were demonstrating at a convention ruled illegal in a state court and organized not only to provide black suffrage but also to deny the vote to ex-Confederates, who composed the great majority of Louisiana’s white voters. The convention was a pretext for avoiding the amendment process of the 1864 Republican constitution. Here’s the background:

President Lincoln announced his reconstruction plan in December 1863, about a year-and-a-half before the war ended. It enabled occupied states to establish Union-loyal regimes if only ten percent of the state’s 1860 registered voters approved a new constitution abolishing slavery. Louisiana complied, drafted a constitution at a July 1864 convention, and approved by a Union-loyal electorate in September 1864. Since the War had not yet ended no Confederates voted on the constitution which Lincoln said, “was better for the poor black than [the one] we have in Illinois.” It gave the vote to adult white males but empowered the legislature to extend the franchise to blacks later.

After the War ended, President Johnson restored the civil rights of ordinary white Southerners in May 1865, enabling them to vote in their respective states. He did not include the planter class who were instead required to apply individually to him for restoration. In November 1865 Louisiana’s electorate—then mostly ex-Confederates because of the amnesty—voted-in a new legislature that opposed black suffrage. Consequently, Louisiana Carpetbaggers and Scalawags sought a legal mechanism to remove the vote from ex-Confederates and extend it to blacks thereby guaranteeing Republican rule in Louisiana indefinitely. Since the state’s population was almost evenly split between blacks and whites, Republicans recruited many blacks to speak out and demonstrate.

Since Louisiana Republicans did not have the numbers to reach their goals through amendments or legislative acts, they decided to reconvene the 1864 convention that had authored the constitution. Republican delegates would control the reconvened meeting because all delegates were elected at a time when Confederates could not vote.  Once in secession they intended to change the constitution to disfranchise ex-Confederates and grant universal black male suffrage. They scheduled the New Orleans reconvening for Monday, July 30, 1866. Their authority to proceed was a stretch requiring a bungee cord.

First, the 1864 Lincoln-approved constitution stipulated that it could be changed only through amendments. Reconvening the constitutional convention dominated by Republican delegates was deliberate attempt to circumvent the amendment process and ignore the will of the state’s voters, most of whom were Democrats that registered after amnesty. Second, when the President of the 1864 convention refused to call for a reconvening, the delegates illegally replaced him because only the convention President could make the call, and even then only under vague circumstances. Third, even though delegates realized weeks before the meeting that they would lack a quorum they chose to ignore that disqualifying fact. Fourth, the 1864 convention was authorized under wartime Military Order 35 that was inapplicable in 1866.

As the date approached, both sides realized the potential for violence. On the Thursday before the meeting the local military commander, General Absalom Baird, declined the mayor’s request to deploy troops on Monday. Baird said he had been told to refrain from interfering with political activities. For that reason, he looked to the mayor and the police to maintain order. The mayor resolved that he would not let the police interfere with the meeting. Instead, except for a few on their regular beats, he would hold the police force in readiness to be promptly summoned through the city’s electrical fire alarm grid should they be needed.

After inflammatory speeches by meeting supporters on Friday night, the mayor again met with Baird on Saturday. Later that day the general telegraphed War Secretary Edwin Stanton for instructions concerning the forthcoming Monday. Stanton, a Johnson political enemy, never replied. Incredibly, modern historians typically claim that Stanton merely forgot. It’s more likely that he reasoned that a riot would embarrass the President’s Reconstruction plan, thereby promoting the Congressional plan that the Secretary favored. Unfortunately, New Orleans blacks would pay the price for Stanton’s inaction.

As the white Republicans re-convened inside the city’s Mechanics Institute on Monday at noon, a crowd of 250 black supporters stood outside. Several Republican leaders, and at least one black, asked the crowd to disperse. Not only did it remain, but it was soon joined by another black group that had marched and demonstrated through the French Quarter. As the marchers approached the Institute a white youth of twelve or thirteen who had been insulting the column had to be rescued by one of the few police present at the time. Angry blacks followed the cop as he dragged the boy toward a white crowd. When they reached a pile of bricks the blacks stopped to throw them at the whites. Then, at one o’clock in the afternoon, one of the black men pulled out a pistol and fired, triggering a fusillade of shots from both sides. At least that it is one version. General Sheridan, who was Baird’s then-absent commander, later filed a report claiming he could not determine which side fired first.

The chief summoned his police force through the electrical grid. As they approached the Institute several black men fired on them from doorways. The officers returned the fire as these men raced from one doorway to another. After reaching the Institute the enraged police dispersed the black crowd, chasing and firing at many as they fled. Next, they held back a large white crowd before entering the Institute and briefly opening fire on the delegates.

Later General Baird filed a report estimating that between 37 and 47 men (black and white) on the side of the convention had been killed as compared to only one on the opposing side.  President Johnson did not learn until several days after the fact that War Secretary Stanton had received Baird’s telegram asking for instructions and failed to reply. He even failed to tell the President probably because he knew that Johnson would have told Baird to enforce a state court ruling that judged the convention to be illegal. Johnson’s position was well known among insiders. He had even earlier directly told a prominent Louisiana Republican that the Federal government must recognize the authority of the local courts in New Orleans to regulate matters that were internal to the state of Louisiana.  

In short, the reconvened convention was a political machination. Louisiana Republicans had no reason to circumvent the amendment process except to get the result they wanted on a pretext. Most white Louisianans regarded the plan as an attempted coup d’état. Moreover, the only reason that the Carpetbaggers and Scalawags proceeded was their expectation that they would be rescued by the Republican Congress in Washington. As typical in the case of Southern Republican miscalculations, blacks paid the biggest price.