Sunday, April 22, 2007

Confederate "Heritage" Month, April 22: The Mississippi Plan

Adelbert Ames: a genuine hero of American democracy - his lost cause was real, and worth fighting for

yesterday's post, I referred to the overthrow if the democractically elected Reconstruction governments in the postwar South through force, violence, threats and fraud. This unfortunately successful overthrow was known as the "Mississippi Plan", because that's where it achieved its first clear-cut victory.

Sad to say, the white peoples' narrative of national reconciliation, based to a large extent of the Lost Cause mythology, affected the consciousness of people who really should have known better. John Kennedy in Profiles in Courage (1956) is an unfortunate example of that. One of his profiles was on the rotten white supremacist Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar (L.Q.C. Lamar for short) who as Mississippi Senator was a key figure in promoting reconciliation between the whites of North and South and the expense of democracy and basic civil rights for African-American citizens.

Lamar's most famous moment in establishing his "moderate" image in the North was his generous eulogy for the Massachusetts Radical Republican Senator Charles Sumner in 1872. The old scamster held forth with stuff like this:

Shall we not, over the honored remains of... this earnest pleader for the exercise of human tenderness and charity, lay aside the concealments which serve only to perpetuate misunderstandings and distrust, and frankly confess that on both sides we most earnestly desire to be one... in feeling and in heart?... Would that the spirit of the illustrious dead whom we lament today could speak from the grave to both parties to this deplorable discord in tones which should reach each and every heart throughout this broad territory: "My countrymen! know one another, and you will love one another!"

Pretty words. But he presented a very different face to the white folks back home. Richard Nelson Current in Those Terrible Carpetbaggers (1988) recounts the following about Ames' testimony to the Senate after he was impeached and removed from office by the Mississippi legislature in 1875, then in the grips of the so-called Redeemers:

His testimony before the Senate committee was secret for the time being, but he got immediate publicity for his opinions when a New York Times correspondent intervewed him in Washington. He told the Times man that the Mississippi Democrats would try to get rid of anyone. Northerner or Southerner, who stood by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. They were determined, he said, to control or neutralize the blacks in politics.

Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar: a genuine villain who conned gullible Yankees with his "moderate" talk while figting for white supremacy and against democracy

"Does not Lamar oppose this policy?" the reporter asked incredulously. Lamar, now [former Mississippi Senator] Alcorn's successor in the Senate, enjoyed throughout the North a reputation as the foremost Southern advocate of reconciliation between the sections and between the races. He was remembered for the eloquence of his eulogy of Charles Sumner after Sumner's death. "No; Lamar makes very different speeches in Mississippi from those he delivers for the Northern market," Ames replied to the newsman's query. "He made the most vituperative speeches during the last campaign, and he owes his election as United States Senator to that fact. He explained away his eulogy to Sumner as being a political necessity — to give the South a hearing in the North." (my emphasis)

I wouldn't want to leave the impression at all that a peaceful impeachment proceeding was all that was involved. Here is Kenneth Stammp's summary from The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877 (1965):

But the [official] end of the [Ku Klux] Klan [around 1872] was not the end of organized violence, for violence was a basic part of the crusade against the radicals [i.e., defenders of democracy, Radical Republicans] in every southern state. The Klan had done this rugged work in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia, where the conservatives had regained control between 1869 and 1871; but similar groups arose in the seven remaining southern states. The pattern of violence that conservatives developed in Mississippi, generally known as the Mississippi Plan, sometimes as the "shotgun policy," was typical. In the state election of 1875, Mississippi Democrats simply resolved to use as much force as was necessary in order to win. During the campaign a local newspaper announced this purpose with complete candor: "All other means having been exhausted to abate the horrible condition of things, the thieves and robbers, and scoundrels, white and black, deserve death and ought to be killed. ... [They] ought to be compelled to leave the state or abide the consequences. ... Carry the election peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must." According to another editor: "The present contest is rather a revolution than a political campaign - it is the rebellion, if you see fit to apply that term, of a down-trodden people [i.e., whites] against an absolutism imposed by their own hirelings ..."

To implement the Mississippi Plan local Democratic clubs organized themselves into irregular militia companies and armed themselves with rifles. They drilled and paraded through the areas of heavy Negro population; they enrolled Negro leaders in so-called "dead-books"; they dispersed Republican meetings; they forced Negroes at rifle point to listen to Democratic speakers; they deliberately provoked riots in which hundreds of Negroes were killed; and they posted armed pickets at registration places to prevent Negroes from registering. Before long, in many Mississippi counties, the Republicans simply abandoned any attempt to hold political meetings.

Ames tried to raise a biracial militia to defend the elected government against the Redeemers. But without adequate military assistance from the federal government, which was not forthcoming, he was unsucessful indoing so. After the Redeemers violent tactics had clearly prevailed, Ames resigned the governorship and left the state. The state legislature had made a deal with him to drop the phony impeachment action if he resigned, but with the Redeemers brand of "Southern honor" they went ahead with the impeachment action even after he resigned.

And what was the "moderate" L.Q.C. Lamar doing for democracy during this critical time? Current writes:

L.Q.C. Lamar, the Democratic Mississippi congressman, and John B. Gordon, former head of the Georgia Ku Klux Klan, were visiting the state and making what seemed to Ames "most incendiary" speeches. "The language they use is not of itself violent, but the conclusions they reach are that this election must be carried, even if violence be resorted to."

Ames beautiful and politically savvy wife Blanche saw what Lamar really was. Current quotes her:

The warmest friends of Lamar here [in Mississippi] are the most violent for impeachment - and Mr. Lamar is a double dealer on whom no dependence can be placed, as it is well known that in all matter political he does not hesitate to be false. ... If he really wishes to be of service, let him call off the dogs - which he can easily do, as they are trained to hound or retreat at the word of command.

Ames characterized the Redeemer takeover accurately at the time:

Yes, a revolution has taken place - by force of arms - and a race are disfranchised - they are to be returned to a condition of serfdom - an era of second slavery.

Here was John Kennedy's description of the transition from the democratic Reconstruction government headed by Governor Adelbert Ames (pronounced a-DEL-bert) to the undemocratic and thoroughly corrupt "Redemption" government:

No state suffered more from carpetbag rule than Mississippi. Adelbert Ames, first Senator and then Governor, was a native of Maine, a son-in-law of the notorious "butcher of New Orleans," Ben Butler. He admitted before a Congressional committee that only his election to the Senate prompted him to take up his residence in Mississippi. He was chosen Governor by a majority composed of freed slaves [Mississippi had been majority black atthe time of secession in 1861] and Radical Republicans, sustained and nourished by Federal bayonets. ... Vast areas of northern Mississippi lay in ruins. Taxes increased to a level fourteen times as high as normal in order to support the extravagances of the reconstruction government and heavy state and national war debts.

Those "extravagances" included things like "Freedman's Schools" to teach African-American citizens to read and write; it had been strictly prohibited to teach slaves to read and write. As this picture shows, women and children were also included in the instruction. The white teacher depicted here was one of many Northern teachers who volunteered to go South to teach.

Ben Butler, by the way, was mainly known as the "butcher of New Orleans" because the fine white ladies were known to dump the contents of their chamberpots out the windown onto Federal soldiers after the city was taken. This being the brave and honorable way that white men in New Orleans chose to express their opposition. Butler eventually decreed that any woman caught doing this again would be arrested for prostitution. They stopped.

Kennedy wrote further:

Mississippians, on the whole, came either to understand and admire the sentiments of the Sumner eulogy, to respect Lamar's sincerity if they did not admire it, or to forgive him for what they considered to be one serious error of jedgment if they were strongly opposed to it. Riding a wave of popularity and the 1876 return to Democratic rule in Mississippi, Lamar was elected by the Legislature to the United States Senate.

The Profiles in Courage picture of "Redemption" had no room to discuss the Mississippi Plan and the violent details of the "return to Democratic [Party] rule in Mississippi" - though democratic rule had been ended, to be replaced by a truncated democracy for whites.

Current also reported:

But truth did not prevail. When the prize-winning book Profiles in Courage (1956) came to their attention, Ames's daughters were understandably upset. This book, bearing on the title page the name of John F. Kennedy, then a United States senator from Massachusetts, lauded the Mississippi white-supremacist L.Q.C. Lamar as one of its exemplars of statesmanly courage. In doing so, it slurred Adelbert Ames. "No state suffered more from carpetbag rule than Mississippi," the book asserted, and it exhumed the stale canard about "the extravagances of the reconstruction government" with its "heavy" state debt. By implication, Governor Ames was to blame. Ames's daughters protested repeatedly to Senator (and later President) Kennedy and to his special counsel, Theodore C. Sorensen. They got only evasive replies. No correction was ever made in any of the successive reissues of the Sorensen-Kennedy book. (my emphasis)

Now, to be clear, John Kennedy as President from 1961-63 did more than any other President except for Lyndon Johnson to restore the democracy in the South that Lamar and his white-supremacist cronies had destroyed. That was the main reason Kennedy was so bitterly hated by so many white Southerners.

And Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., in Robert Kennedy and His Times (1978) quotes John Kennedy from Schlesinger's own contemporary diary entry of 06/20/1963. Kennedy was commenting specifically on the murder of Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers:

I don't understand the South. I'm coming to believe that [Radical Republican Reconstruction-era Congressman] Thaddeus Stevens was right. I had always been taught to regard him as a man of vicious bias. But when I see this sort of thing, I begin to wonder how else you can treat them.

Schlesinger, who had been a Harvard professor, notes, "Alas, he had been thus taught by the Harvard history department."

Schlesinger also quotes Robert Kennedy, again in response to a Mississippi incident, the white mob riot at the University of Mississippi in 1962, saying that Jack Kennedy had told him that his experiences as President with the Southern resistance to racial integration had made him change his view of Reconstruction.

So I'm willing to be generous and think that if Kennedy had not been assassinated, that he might eventually have rewritten his chapter on L.Q.C. Lamar and Adelbert Ames.

Adelbert Ames' story had a happier ending than Kennedy's. Ames returned North and became a millionaire in the textile business. He had a big family and lived until the age of 97. He died the month after Franklin Roosevelt was inagurated as President in 1933. He always defended his fight for democracy in Mississippi.

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