Mississippi Reconstruction Era

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Mississippi in the Reconstruction Era

Mississippi Reconstruction Era

After the defeat of the Confederacy, President Andrew Johnson appointed a temporary government under Judge William Lewis Sharkey. It repealed secession and wrote new Black Codes defining and limiting the civil rights of the African American freedmen as a sort of third class status without citizenship or voting rights. The Black Codes never took effect, however, since the legal affairs of the freedmen came under the control of sympathetic Freedman's Bureau representatives. Most of them were former Army officers from the North. Many stayed in the state and became political and business leaders (scornfully known as "carpetbaggers"). The Black Codes outraged Northern opinion and apparently were never put into effect in any state.

Congress responded in September 1865 by refusing to seat the newly elected delegation. In 1867 it put Mississippi under U.S. Army rule as part of Reconstruction until the legal status of ex-Confederates and freedmen could be worked out. The military governor general Adelbert Ames deposed the civil government, enrolled black men as voters, and prohibited for a period of time 1000 or so former Confederate leaders to vote or hold office. The 1868 constitution had major elements that lasted for 22 years. The convention was the first political organization to include African American representatives, who numbered 17 among the 100 members. Although 32 counties had Negro majorities, they elected whites as well as Negroes to represent them. The convention adopted universal male suffrage; did away with property qualifications for suffrage or for office, which benefited poor whites, too; created the state's first public school system; forbade race distinctions in the possession and inheritance of property; and prohibited limiting of civil rights in travel. Since 17 of the 100 delegates were blacks, the body was called the Black and Tan convention by its enemies. Mississippi was readmitted to Congress on Feb. 23, 1870.

Black Mississippians, participating in the political process for the first time ever, formed a coalition with some locals whites (called "Scalawags") and newly arrived Northerners (called "Carpetbaggers") in a Republican Party that controlled the state. Most of its votes came from blacks, several of whom held important state offices. A. K. Davis served as lieutenant governor, Hiram Revels and Blanche K. Bruce were elected by the legislature to the U.S. Senate, and John R. Lynch served as a congressman. The Republican regime faced the determined opposition of the "unreconstructed" white population. Blacks who attempted to exercise their new rights were terrorized by such groups as the Ku Klux Klan.

The planter James Lusk Alcorn, a Confederate general, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1865 but, like other Southerners who had been loyal to the Confederacy, was not allowed to take a seat. He supported suffrage for freedmen and endorsed the Fourteenth Amendment, as required by the Republicans in Congress. Alcorn became the leader of the scalawags, who comprised about a third of the Republican Party in the state, in coalition with carpetbaggers and freedmen.

In 1869, Alcorn was elected as governor in 1869 and served from 1870 to 1871. As a modernizer, he appointed many like-minded former Whigs, even if they were now Democrats. He strongly supported education, including segregated public schools, and a new college for freedmen, now known as Alcorn State University. He maneuvered to make his ally Hiram Revels its president. Radical Republicans opposed Alcorn as they were angry about his patronage policy. One complained that Alcorn's policy was to see "the old civilization of the South modernized" rather than lead a total political, social and economic revolution.

Alcorn resigned the governorship to become a U.S. Senator (1871–1877), replacing his ally Hiram Revels, the first African American senator. Senator Alcorn urged the removal of the political disabilities of white southerners and rejected Radical Republican proposals to enforce social equality by Federal legislation Further, he denounced the Federal cotton tax as robbery, and defended separate schools for both races in Mississippi. Although a former slaveholder, he characterized slavery as "a cancer upon the body of the Nation" and expressed gratification which he felt over its destruction.

In 1870 former military governor Adelbert Ames was elected to the U.S. Senate. Ames and Alcorn battled for control of the Republican Party in Mississippi; their struggle ripped apart the Republican party. In 1873 they both sought a decision by running for governor. Ames was supported by the Radicals and most African Americans, while Alcorn won the votes of conservative whites and most of the scalawags. Ames won by a vote of 69,870 to 50,490. A riot broke out in Vicksburg in December 1873 that started a series of reprisals against many Republican supporters, the vast majority of them black. There was factionalism within the Democratic Party between the Regulars and New Departures, but as the state election of 1875 approached, the Democrats untied and brought out the "Mississippi Plan" which called for the systematic organization of all whites to defeat the Republicans. Armed attacks by the Red Shirts and White League on Republican activists proliferated, and Governor Ames appealed to the federal government for assistance, which was refused. That November, Democrats gained firm control of both houses of the legislature. Ames requested the intervention of the U.S. Congress since he believed that the election was full of voter intimidation and fraud. The state legislature, convening in 1876, drew up articles of impeachment against him and all statewide officials. He resigned a few months after the legislature agreed to drop the articles against him. Return to Mississippi Civil War History.


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