Facts of Reconstruction, The



An important election was to be held in Mississippi in 1873, at which State, district, and county officers, as well as members of the Legislature, were to be elected. The tenure of office for the State and county officers was four years. 1873, therefore, was the year in which the successors of those that had held office since 1869 had to be elected.

The legislature to be elected that year would elect the successor of Senator Ames as United States Senator. Senator Ames was the candidate named to succeed himself. For some unaccountable reason there had been a falling out between Senator Alcorn and himself, for which reason Senator Alcorn decided to use his influence to prevent the reëlection of Senator Ames. This meant that there would be a bitter factional fight in the party, because both Senators were popular with the rank and file of the party.

The fact was soon developed, however, that the people favored the return of Senator Ames to the Senate. This did not necessarily mean opposition or unfriendliness to Senator Alcorn. It simply meant that both were to be treated fairly and justly, and that each was to stand upon his own record and merits, regardless of their personal differences.

If Senator Alcorn had been in Senator Ames' place the probabilities are that the sentiment of the party would have been just as strongly in his favor as it was at that time in favor of Ames. But on this occasion Senator Alcorn made the mistake of making opposition to Senator Ames the test of loyalty to himself. In this he was not supported even by many of his warmest personal and political friends. In consequence of the bitter fight that was to be made by Senator Alcorn to prevent the return of Senator Ames to the Senate, many of Senator Ames' friends advised him to become a candidate for the office of Governor. In that way, it was believed, he could command the situation, and thus make sure his election to succeed himself as Senator; otherwise it might be doubtful.

But this involved two important points which had to be carefully considered. First, it involved the retirement of Governor Powers, who was a candidate to succeed himself. Second, the candidate for Lieutenant-Governor would have to be selected with great care, since if that program were carried out he would be, in point of fact, the Governor of the State for practically the whole term.

After going over the situation very carefully with his friends and supporters Senator Ames decided to become a candidate for Governor, public announcement of which decision was duly made. This announcement seemed to have increased the intensity of Senator Alcorn's opposition to Senator Ames, for the former did not hesitate to declare that in the event of Ames' nomination for Governor by the regular party convention he would bolt the action of the convention, and make the race for Governor as an independent candidate. This declaration, however, made no impression upon the friends and supporters of Ames, and evidently had very little effect upon the rank and file of the party; for the fact became apparent shortly after the announcement of the candidacy of Ames that his nomination was a foregone conclusion. In fact, Senator Ames had such a strong hold upon the rank and file of the party throughout the State that when the convention met there was practically no opposition to his nomination. The friends and supporters of Governor Powers realized early in the campaign the hopelessness of the situation, so far as he was concerned, and therefore made no serious effort in his behalf.

What gave the Ames managers more concern than anything else was the selection of a suitable man for Lieutenant-Governor. Many of the colored delegates insisted that three of the seven men to be nominated should be of that race. The offices they insisted on filling were those of Lieutenant-Governor, Secretary of State, and Superintendent of Education. Since the colored men had been particularly loyal and faithful to Senator Ames it was not deemed wise to ignore their demands. But the question was, Where is there a colored man possessing the qualifications necessary to one in charge of the executive department of the state?

After going over the field very carefully it was decided that there was just one man possessing the necessary qualifications,—B.K. Bruce, of Bolivar County. He, it was decided, was just the man for the place, and to him the nomination was to be tendered. A committee was appointed to wait on Mr. Bruce and inform him of the action of the conference, and urge him to consent to the use of his name. But Mr. Bruce positively declined. He could not be induced under any circumstances to change his mind. He was fixed in his determination not to allow his name to be used for the office of Lieutenant-Governor, and from that determination he could not be moved.

Mr. Bruce's unexpected attitude necessitated a radical change in the entire program. It had been agreed that the Lieutenant-Governorship should go to a colored man, but after Brace's declination the Ames managers were obliged to take one of two men,—H.C. Carter, or A.K. Davis. Davis was the more acceptable of the two; but neither, it was thought, was a fit and suitable man to be placed at the head of the executive department of the State. After again going over the field, and after canvassing the situation very carefully, it was decided that Ames would not be a candidate to succeed himself as United States Senator, but that he would be a candidate to succeed Senator Alcorn. This decision, in all probability, would not have been made if Alcorn had been willing to abide by the decision of the convention. But, since he announced his determination to bolt the nomination of his party for Governor and run as an Independent candidate, it was decided that he had forfeited any claim he otherwise would have had upon the party to succeed himself in the Senate. Senator Alcorn's term would expire March 4, 1877. His successor would be elected by the Legislature that would be chosen in November, 1875. If Ames should be elected to the Governorship his successor in that office would be elected in November, 1877. In the event of his election to the Senate to succeed Senator Alcorn, his term as Senator would commence March 4, 1877, yet he could remain in the office of Governor until the meeting of Congress the following December, thus practically serving out the full term as Governor.

With that plan mapped out and agreed upon, and the party leaders committed to its support, Davis was allowed to be nominated for the office of Lieutenant-Governor. Two other colored men were also placed upon the State ticket,—James Hill, for Secretary of State, and T.W. Cardozo, for State Superintendent of Education. While Davis had made quite a creditable record as a member of the Legislature, it could not be said that his name added strength to the ticket. Hill, on the other hand, was young, active, and aggressive, and considerably above the average colored man in point of intelligence at that time. His nomination was favorably received, because it was generally believed that, if elected, he would discharge the duties of the office in a way that would reflect credit upon himself and give satisfaction to the public. In point of education and experience Cardozo was admitted to be entirely capable of filling the office of Superintendent of Education; but he was not well known outside of his own county, Warren. In fact his nomination was largely a concession to that strong Republican county.

The three white men nominated,—besides the candidate for Governor,—were, W.H. Gibbs, for Auditor of Public Accounts; Geo. E. Harris, for Attorney-General, and Geo. H. Holland, for State Treasurer. Gibbs had been a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1868, and subsequently a member of the State Senate. Holland had served as a member of the Legislature from Oktibbeha County. Harris had been a member of Congress from the Second (Holly Springs) District, having been defeated for the nomination in 1872 by A.R. Howe, of Panola County. While the ticket, as a whole, was not a weak one, its principal strength was in its head,—the candidate for Governor.

Shortly after the adjournment of the convention Senator Alcorn had another convention called which nominated a ticket, composed exclusively of Republicans, with himself at its head for Governor. The Democrats at their convention endorsed the Alcorn ticket. While it would seem that this action on the part of the Democrats ought to have increased Alcorn's chances of success, it appears to have been a contributory cause of his defeat. Thousands of Republicans who were in sympathy with the movement, and who would have otherwise voted the Alcorn ticket, refused to do so for the reason that if it had been elected the Democrats could have claimed a victory for their party. On the other hand, both tickets being composed exclusively of Republicans, thousands of Democrats refused to vote for either, while some of them voted the Ames ticket. At any rate the election resulted in the success of the Ames ticket by a majority of more than twenty thousand. The regular Republicans also had a large majority in both branches of the Legislature.



As soon as the result of the election was known, the candidacy of B.K. Bruce, for United States Senator to succeed Senator Ames, was announced. Ames' term as Governor was to commence the first Monday in January, 1874. His term as Senator would expire March 4, 1875. Upon assuming the duties of Governor he had been obliged to tender his resignation as Senator; thus it devolved upon the incoming legislature to elect a Senator to serve out the unexpired term, as well as for the full term of six years. Bruce's candidacy was for the full term.

The secret of Mr. Bruce's positive refusal to allow his name to be used for the Lieutenant-Governorship, which would have resulted in making him Governor, was now revealed. He had had the Senatorship in mind at the time, but, of course, no allusion was made to that fact. As between the Senatorship and the Governorship he chose the former, which proved to be a wise decision, in view of subsequent events. It was soon developed that he was the choice of a large majority of the Republican members of the Legislature, white as well as colored. His nomination by the party caucus, therefore, was a foregone conclusion. Before the legislature met, it had been practically settled that Mr. Bruce should be sent to the Senate for the long term and Ex-Superintendant of Education, H.R. Pease, should be elected to serve out the unexpired term of Governor-elect Ames.

This slate was approved by the joint legislative caucus without a hitch and the candidates thus nominated were duly elected by the Legislature,—not only by the solid Republican vote of that body, but the additional vote of State Senator Hiram Cassidy, Jr., who had been elected as a Democrat.

Senator Alcorn's keen disappointment and chagrin at the outcome of his fight with Governor Ames was manifested when Senator Bruce made his appearance to be sworn in as a Senator. It was presumed that Senator Alcorn, in accordance with the uniform custom on such occasions, would escort his colleague to the desk of the President of the Senate to be sworn in. This Senator Alcorn refused to do. When Mr. Bruce's name was called Senator Alcorn did not move; he remained in his seat, apparently giving his attention to his private correspondence. Mr. Bruce, somewhat nervous and slightly excited, started to the President's desk unattended. Senator Roscoe Conkling, of New York, who was sitting near by, immediately rose and extended his arm to Mr. Bruce and escorted him to the President's desk, standing by the new Senator's side until the oath had been administered, and then tendering him his hearty congratulations, in which all the other Republican Senators, except Senator Alcorn, subsequently joined.

This gracious act on the part of the New York Senator made for him a lifelong friend and admirer in the person of Senator Bruce. This friendship was so strong that Senator Bruce named his first and only son Roscoe Conkling, in honor of the able, distinguished, and gallant Senator from New York.

Senator Alcorn's action in this matter was the occasion of considerable unfavorable criticism and comment, some of his critics going so far as to intimate that his action was due to the fact that Mr. Bruce was a colored man. But, from my knowledge of the man and of the circumstances connected with the case, I am satisfied this was not true. His antipathy to Mr. Bruce grew out of the fact that Mr. Bruce had opposed him and had supported Ames in the fight for Governor in 1873.

So far as I have been able to learn, I am the only one of the Senator's friends and admirers who opposed his course in that contest that he ever forgave. He, no doubt, felt that I was under less personal obligations to him than many others who pursued the same course that I did, since he had never rendered me any effective personal or political service, except when he brought the Independent members of the House in line for me in the contest for Speaker of that body in 1872; and even then his action was not so much a matter of personal friendship for me as it was in the interest of securing an endorsement of his own administration as Governor.

In Mr. Bruce's case he took an entirely different view of the matter. He believed that he had been the making of Mr. Bruce. Mr. Bruce had come to the State in 1869 and had taken an active part in the campaign of that year. When the Legislature was organized it was largely through the influence of Governor Alcorn that he was elected Sergeant-at-arms of the State Senate. When the Legislature adjourned Governor Alcorn sent Bruce to Bolivar county as County Assessor. Bruce discharged the duties of that office in such a creditable and satisfactory manner that he was elected in 1871 Sheriff and Tax Collector of that important and wealthy county, the most responsible and lucrative office in the gift of the people of the county. He was holding that office when elected to the United States Senate. Senator Alcorn felt, therefore, that in taking sides against him and in favor of Ames in 1873 Mr. Bruce was guilty of gross ingratitude. This accounted for his action in refusing to escort Mr. Bruce to the President's desk to be sworn in as Senator. In this belief, however, he did Mr. Bruce a grave injustice, for I know that gratitude was one of Mr. Brace's principal characteristics. If Senator Alcorn had been a candidate from the start for the Republican nomination for Governor, Mr. Bruce, I am sure, would have supported him even as against Senator Ames. But it was known that the Senator had no ambition to be Governor. His sole purpose was to defeat Senator Ames at any cost, and that, too, on account of matters that were purely personal and that had no connection with party or political affairs. Mr. Bruce, like very many other friends and admirers of the Senator, simply refused to follow him in open rebellion against his own party. I am satisfied, however, that Mr. Bruce's race identity did not influence the action of Senator Alcorn in the slightest degree. As further evidence of that fact, his position and action in the Pinchback case may be mentioned. He spoke and voted for the admission of Mr. Pinchback to a seat in the Senate when such a staunch Republican as Senator Edmunds, of Vermont, opposed and voted against admission. In spite of Senator Alcorn's political defeat and humiliation in his own State, he remained true and loyal to the National Republican party to the end of his Senatorial term, which terminated with the beginning of the Hayes Administration. Up to that time he had strong hopes of the future of the Republican party at the South.

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