Facts of Reconstruction, The



The elections being over, and a Republican majority in both branches of the Legislature being assured, Governor Alcorn was then prepared to vacate the office of Governor, to turn over the administration of State affairs to Lieutenant-Governor Powers and to proceed to Washington so as to be present at the opening session of Congress on the first Monday in December when he would assume his duties as a United States Senator.

The Legislature was to meet the first Monday in the following January,—1872. As soon as the fact was made known that the Republicans would control the organization of the House, the Speakership of that body began to be agitated. If Speaker Warren had been reëlected he would have received the Republican caucus nomination without opposition, but his defeat made it necessary for a new man to be brought forward for that position. A movement was immediately put on foot to make me the Speaker of the House.

Upon a careful examination of the returns it was found that of the one hundred fifteen members of which the House was composed there were seventy-seven whites and thirty-eight colored. Of the seventy-seven whites, forty-nine had been elected as Democrats and twenty-eight as Republicans. The thirty-eight colored men were all Republicans. It will thus be seen that, while in the composition of the Republican caucus there were ten more colored than white members, yet of the total membership of the House there were thirty-nine more white than colored members. But in the organization of the House, the contest was not between white and colored, but between Democrats and Republicans. No one had been elected,—at least on the Republican side,—because he was a white man or because he was a colored man, but because he was a Republican. After a preliminary canvass the fact was developed that the writer was not only the choice of the colored members for Speaker of the House, but of a large majority of the white Republican members as well. They believed,—and voted in accordance with that belief both in the party caucus and in the House,—that the writer was the best-equipped man for that responsible position. This fact had been demonstrated to their satisfaction during the two sessions of the preceding Legislature.

The nomination of the writer by the House Republican caucus for Speaker was a foregone conclusion several weeks before the convening of the Legislature. With a full membership in attendance fifty-eight votes would be necessary to perfect the organization. When the Republican caucus convened sixty members were present and took part in the deliberations thereof. Four of the Republicans-elect had not at that time arrived at the seat of government. The two Independents from Carroll refused to attend the caucus, but this did not necessarily mean that they would not vote for the candidates thereof in the organization of the House. But since we had sixty votes,—two more than were necessary to elect our candidate,—we believed that the organization would be easily perfected the next day, regardless of the action of the members from Carroll County.

In this, however, we were sadly disappointed. The result of the first vote for Speaker of the House was as follows:

Lynch, Republican caucus nominee 55
Streeter, Democratic nominee 47
Chandler, Independent Republican 7
Armstead, Independent Republican 1
Howe, Regular Republican 1
Necessary to elect 56

Judge Chandler of Noxubee, who had been elected as a regular Republican with four other white Republicans,—all of whom attended and took part in the caucus the night before,—refused to vote for the nominee of the caucus for Speaker but voted instead for Chandler. It will be seen that the vote for Streeter, the Democratic caucus nominee, was two less than that party's strength; thus showing that two Democrats must have also voted for Chandler. It will also be seen that if every vote that was not received by Lynch had been given to Chandler or to any other man, that man would have received the required number of votes and would have been elected. The Democrats stood ready to give their solid vote to any one of the Independents whenever it could be shown that their votes would result in an election. But it so happened that Chandler and Armstead were both ambitious to be Speaker and neither would give way for the other, which, of course, made the election of either impossible. The one vote cast for Howe was no doubt Mr. Armstead's vote, while the one vote for Armstead was no doubt cast by his colleague. In the nomination of Hon. H.M. Streeter, the Democrats selected their strongest man, and the best parliamentarian on their side of the House. The refusal of the so-called Independents to vote for the Republican caucus nominee for Speaker produced a deadlock which continued for a period of several days. At no time could any one of the regular Republicans be induced under any circumstances to vote for any one of the Independents. They would much rather have the House organized by the Democrats than allow party treachery to be thus rewarded.

While the deadlock was in progress, Senators Alcorn and Ames suddenly made their appearance upon the scene of action. They had made the trip from Washington to use their influence to break the deadlock, and to bring about an organization of the House by the Republican party. But Senator Alcorn was the one that could render the most effective service in that direction, since the bolters were men who professed to be followers of his and loyal to his political interests and leadership.

As soon as the Senator arrived he held a conference with the bolters, including Messrs. Armstead and Streeter,—the two independents from Carroll. In addressing those who had been elected as Republicans and who had attended and participated in the caucus of that party, the Senator did not mince his words. He told them in plain language that they were in honor bound to support the caucus nominees of their party, or that they must resign their seats and allow their constituents to elect others that would do so. With reference to the Independents from Carroll, he said the situation was slightly different. They had been elected as Independents under conditions which did not obligate them to enter the Republican caucus or support the candidates thereof. They had pledged themselves not to support the Democratic caucus nominees, nor to aid that party in the organization of the House. Up to that time they had not made a move, nor given a vote that could be construed into a violation of the pledge under which they had been elected, but they had publicly declared on several occasions that they had been elected as Independents or Alcorn Republicans. In other words, they had been elected as friends and supporters of the Alcorn administration, and of that type of Republicanism for which he stood and of which he was the representative. If this were true then they should not hesitate to take the advice of the man to support whose administration they had been elected. He informed them that if they meant what they said the best way for them to prove it was to vote for the Republican caucus nominees for officers of the House, because he was the recognized leader of the party in the State and that the issue involved in the elections was either an endorsement or repudiation of his administration as Governor. Republican success under such circumstances meant an endorsement of his administration, while Republican defeat would mean its repudiation. The most effective way, then, in which they could make good their ante-election pledges and promises was to vote for the candidates of the Republican caucus for officers of the House.

The two Carroll County Independents informed the Senator that he had correctly outlined their position and their attitude, and that it was their purpose and their determination to give a loyal and effective support, so far as the same was in their power, to the policies and principles for which he stood and of which he was the accredited representative; but that they were apprehensive that they could not successfully defend their action and explain their votes to the satisfaction of their constituents if they were to vote for a colored man for Speaker of the House.

"But," said the Senator, "could you have been elected without the votes of colored men? If you now vote against a colored man,—who is in every way a fit and capable man for the position,—simply because he is a colored man, would you expect those men to support you in the future?"

The Senator also reminded them that they had received very many more colored than white votes; and that, in his opinion, very few of the white men who had supported them would find fault with them for voting for a capable and intelligent colored man to preside over the deliberations of the House.

"Can you then," the Senator asked, "afford to offend the great mass of colored men that supported you in order to please an insignificantly small number of narrow-minded whites?"

The Senator assured them that he was satisfied they had nothing to fear as a result of their action in voting for Mr. Lynch as Speaker of the House. He knew the candidate favorably and well and therefore did not hesitate to assure them that if they contributed to his election they would have no occasion to regret having done so. The conference then came to a close with the understanding that all present would vote the next day for the Republican caucus nominees for officers of the House. This was done. The result of the ballot the following day was as follows:

Lynch, Republican caucus nominee, 63
Chandler, Independent Republican, 49
Necessary to elect 57

It will be seen that Judge Chandler received the solid Democratic vote while Lynch received the vote of every voting Republican present, including Chandler and the two Independents from Carroll,—three Republicans still being absent and not paired. By substantially the same vote ex-Speaker Warren, of Leake County, was elected Chief Clerk, and Ex-Representative Hill, of Marshall County, was elected Sergeant-at-arms. The Legislature was then organized and was ready to proceed to business.

At the conclusion of the session, the House not only adopted a resolution complimenting the Speaker and thanking him for the able and impartial manner in which he had presided over its deliberations, but presented him with a fine gold watch and chain,—purchased with money that had been contributed by members of both parties and by a few outside friends,—as a token of their esteem and appreciation of him as a presiding officer. On the outside case of the watch these words were engraved: "Presented to Hon. J.R. Lynch, Speaker of the House of Representatives, by the Members of the Legislature, April 19, 1873." That watch the writer still has and will keep as a sacred family heirloom.

A good deal of work was to be done by this Legislature. The seats of a number of Democrats were contested. But the decision in many cases was in favor of the sitting members. The changes, however, were sufficient to materially increase the Republican majority.

Among the important bills to be passed was one to divide the State into six Congressional Districts. The apportionment of Representatives in Congress, under the Apportionment Act which had recently passed Congress, increased the number of Representatives from Mississippi, which had formerly been five, to six. Republican leaders in both branches of the Legislature decided that the duty of drawing up a bill apportioning the State into Congressional Districts should devolve upon the Speaker of the House, with the understanding that the party organization would support the bill drawn by him.

I accepted the responsibility, and immediately proceeded with the work of drafting a bill for that purpose. Two plans had been discussed, each of which had strong supporters and advocates. One plan was so to apportion the State as to make all of the districts Republican; but in doing so the majority in at least two of the districts would be quite small. The other was so to apportion the State as to make five districts safely and reliably Republican and the remaining one Democratic. I had not taken a decided stand for or against either plan. Perhaps that was one reason why the advocates of both plans agreed to refer the matter to me for a final decision.

The Democrats heard what had been done. One of them, Hon. F.M. Goar, of Lee County, called to see me so as to talk over the matter. He expressed the hope that in drawing up the bill, one district would be conceded to the Democrats.

"If this is done," he said, "I assume that the group of counties located in the northeastern part of the State will be the Democratic district. In that event we will send a very strong and able man to Congress in the person of Hon. L.Q.C. Lamar."

I had every reason to believe that if Mr. Lamar were sent to Congress he would reflect credit upon himself, his party, and his State. I promised to give the suggestion earnest and perhaps favorable consideration. After going over the matter carefully I came to the conclusion that the better and safer plan would be to make five safe and sure Republican districts and concede one to the Democrats. Another reason for this decision was that in so doing, the State could be more fairly apportioned. The Republican counties could be easily made contiguous and the population in each district could be made as nearly equal as possible. The apportionment could not have been so fairly and equitably made if the other plan had been adopted.

After the bill had been completed, it was submitted to a joint caucus of the Republican members of the two Houses, and after a brief explanation by me of its provisions it was accepted and approved by the unanimous vote of the caucus.

When it was brought before the house, a majority of the Democratic members,—under the leadership of Messrs. Streeter, Roane and McIntosh,—fought it very bitterly. They contended that the Democrats should have at least two of the six Congressmen and that an apportionment could have been made and should have been made with that end in view. The truth was that several of those who made such a stubborn fight against the bill had Congressional aspirations themselves and, of course, they did not fail to see that as drawn the bill did not hold out flattering hopes for the gratification of that ambition. But it was all that Mr. Goar and a few others that he had taken into his confidence expected, or had any right to expect. In fact, the one Democratic district, constructed in accordance with their wishes, was just about what they wanted. While they voted against the bill,—merely to be in accord with their party associates,—they insisted that there should be no filibustering or other dilatory methods adopted to defeat it. After a hard and stubborn fight, and after several days of exciting debate, the bill was finally passed by a strict party vote. A few days later it passed the Senate without amendment, was signed by the Governor, and became a law.

As had been predicted by Mr. Goar, Hon. L.Q.C. Lamar was nominated by the Democrats for Congress in the first district, which was the Democratic district. The Republicans nominated against him a very strong and able man, the Hon. R.W. Flournoy, who had served with Mr. Lamar as a member of the Secession Convention of 1861. He made an aggressive and brilliant canvass of the district, but the election of Mr. Lamar was a foregone conclusion, since the Democratic majority in the district was very large.

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