Beelingo.com

Facts of Reconstruction, The

CHAPTER VIII

IMPROVED FINANCIAL CONDITION OF MISSISSIPPI UNDER THE AMES ADMINISTRATION

The administrations of Governor Alcorn and of Governor Ames, the two Republican Governors, who were products of Reconstruction,—both having been elected chiefly by the votes of colored men,—were among the best with which that State was ever blessed, the generally accepted impression to the contrary notwithstanding. In 1869 Alcorn was elected to serve for a term of four years. Ames was elected to serve the succeeding term. Alcorn was one of the old citizens of the State, and was therefore thoroughly identified with its business, industrial, and social interests. He had been one of the large and wealthy landowners and slave-owners, and therefore belonged to that small but select and influential class known as Southern aristocrats.

Alcorn had taken an active and prominent part in public matters since his early manhood. Before the War of the Rebellion he had served several terms as a member of the Legislature. He represented his county, Coahoma, in the Secession Convention of 1861. He was bitterly opposed to Secession and fought it bravely; but when he found himself in a hopeless minority he gracefully acquiesced in the decision of the majority and signed the ordinance of Secession. He also joined the Confederate Army and took an active part in raising troops for the same. He was made brigadier-general, and had command of the Confederate forces in Mississippi for a good while. But, since the President of the Confederacy did not seem to be particularly partial to him, he was not allowed to see very much field service.

When the war was over he took an active part in the work of rehabilitation and Reconstruction. He strongly supported the Andrew Johnson plan of Reconstruction, and by the Legislature that was elected under that plan he was chosen one of the United States Senators, but was not admitted to the seat to which he had been elected. When the Johnson plan of Reconstruction was repudiated and rejected by the voters of the Northern States, and when what was known as the Congressional Plan of Reconstruction was endorsed and approved, Alcorn decided that further opposition to that plan was useless and unwise, and he publicly advised acceptance of it. His advice having been rejected by the Democrats, nothing remained for him to do but to join the Republican party, which he did in the early part of 1869.

Since he was known to be a strong, able and influential man,—one who possessed the respect and confidence of the white people of the State regardless of party differences,—he was tendered the Republican nomination for the Governorship at the election that was to be held the latter part of that year. He accepted the nomination and was duly elected. He discharged the duties of the office in an able, creditable and satisfactory manner. The only point upon which the administration was at all subject to unfavorable criticism was the high rate of taxation to which the people were subjected for the support of the State Government; but the reader will see that this could hardly have been avoided at that particular time. In his message to the Legislature in January, 1910, Governor E.F. Noel accurately stated the principle by which an administration is necessarily governed in raising revenue to carry on the government. This is the same principle that governed the Alcorn administration when it took charge of the State Government in 1870. In that message Governor Noel said: "The amount of assessment determines the tax burden of each individual, corporation, town, and county. The Legislature or local authorities settle the amount necessary to be provided for their respective treasuries. If all property be assessed at the same rate,—whether for the full value or for ten per cent, of the value of the property,—the payment of each owner would be unaffected; for the higher the assessment, the lower the levy; the lower the assessment, the higher the levy. Our State revenue is mainly derived from a six mill ad valorem tax."

When the Alcorn administration took charge of the State Government the War had just come to a close. Everything was in a prostrate condition. There had been great depreciation in the value of real and personal property. The credit of the State was not very good. The rate of interest for borrowed money was high. To materially increase the bonded debt of the State was not deemed wise, yet some had to be raised in that way. To raise the balance a higher rate of taxation had to be imposed since the assessed valuation of the taxable property was so low.

The figures showing the assessed valuation of taxable property in the State and the receipts and disbursements prior to 1875 are not available, but, taking the figures for that year, the reader can form a pretty accurate idea of what the situation must have been prior to that time. In 1875 the assessed valuation of real and personal property, subject to taxation in the State, was $119,313,834. The receipts from all sources that year amounted to $1,801,129.12. The disbursements for the same year were, $1,430,192.83.

Now let us see what the situation was after the Ames administration had been in power about two years,—or half of the term for which it had been elected. According to a very carefully prepared statement that was made and published by an expert accountant in the State Treasurer's office in the latter part of 1875 the ad valorem rate of taxes for general purposes had been reduced from seven to four mills, and yet the amount paid into the Treasury was not only enough to meet all demands upon the State, but to make a material reduction in the bonded debt. The following is taken from that statement:

"An examination of the report of the State Treasurer, of the first of January, 1874, at which time the administration of Governor Ames commenced, exhibits the fact that the indebtedness of the State at that date, exclusive of the amounts to the credit of the Chickasaw and common school funds, balance of current funds on hand, and warrants in the Treasury belonging to the State, was $1,765,554.33 The amount of the tax of the previous year remaining uncollected on January first, 1874, and afterward collected, $944,261.51, should be deducted from the above amount, which will show the actual indebtedness of the State at that date to be $821,292.82. A further examination of the report of the same officer, for January first, 1875, shows the indebtedness, after deducting amounts to the credit of the Chickasaw and common school funds, balance of current funds on hand and warrants in the Treasury belonging to the State, to be, $1,707,056.24. Then by deducting the amount of the tax of the previous year remaining uncollected January first, 1875, and afterwards collected, $998,628.11, the result shows the actual indebtedness on January first, 1875, to be $708,428.13. The forthcoming annual report of the State Treasurer, for January first, 1876, will show the indebtedness of the State, exclusive of the amounts to the credit of the Chickasaw and common school funds, the balance of current funds on hand, and warrants in the Treasury belonging to the State, to be $980,138.33. Then, by proceeding again as above, and deducting the amount of the tax of the previous year, uncollected on January first, 1876, and now being rapidly paid into the Treasury, at a low estimate, $460,000.00, we have as an actual indebtedness of the State on January first, 1876, $520,138.33. Thus it will be seen that the actual indebtedness of the State is but little over a half million dollars, and that during the two years of Governor Ames' administration the State debt has been reduced from $821,292.82, on January first, 1874, to $520,138.33, on January first, 1876, or a reduction of more than three hundred thousand dollars in two years—upwards of one third of the State debt wiped out in that time. Not only has the debt been reduced as above, but the rate of taxation for general purposes has been reduced from seven mills in 1873 to four mills in 1875."

Notwithstanding the fact that the rate of taxation under the administration of Governor Ames had been reduced as shown above from seven mills in 1873 to four mills in 1875 the amount paid into the State Treasury was substantially the same as that paid in prior years. This was due to the great appreciation in the value of taxable property. Then again, a material reduction in the rate of taxation was made possible because the public institutions had all been rebuilt and repaired and a sufficient number of school buildings had been erected, thus doing away with the necessity for a special levy for such purposes. From this showing it would seem as if it were reasonable to assume that if such an administration as the one then in power could have been retained a few years longer there would not only have been a still further reduction in the rate of taxation, but the payable debt of the State would have been entirely wiped out. Instead of this we find the conditions to be about as follows:

First. Shortly after the first reform State Treasurer had been in charge of that office it was developed that he was a defaulter to the amount of $315,612.19.

Second. Notwithstanding the immense increase in the value of taxable property from year to year, it appears from the official records that the rate of ad valorem tax for general purposes has been increased from four to six mills.

Third. There has been a very heavy increase in what is known as the specific or privilege taxes,—that is, a specific sum that business and professional persons must pay for the privilege of doing business or of practicing their professions in the State.

Fourth. The amounts now collected and paid out for the support of the State Government are more than double what they were a few years ago, thus showing extravagance, if not recklessness, in the administration of the affairs of the State,—the natural result of a condition by which the existence of but one political party is tolerated.

Fifth. Notwithstanding the immense increase in the value of taxable property, and in spite of the enormous sums paid into the State Treasury each year, there has been a material increase in the bonded debt of the State. In fact it has been necessary at different times to borrow money with which to pay the current expenses of the State Government.

The following statistics for three years, 1907, 1908 and 1909, would seem to substantiate the above statement:

The value of the taxable property of the State in 1907 was $373,584.960. Receipts from all sources that year were $3,391,127.15. Disbursements for the same period were $3,730,343.29. Excess of disbursements over receipts, $339,216.14.

In 1908 the value of taxable property was $383,823,739. Receipts from all sources that year were $3,338,398.98. Disbursements, same period, $3,351,119.46. Excess of disbursements over receipts, $12,720.48.

In 1909 the value of taxable property was $393,297,173. Receipts from all sources were $3,303,963.65. Disbursements, same period, $3,315,201.48. Excess of disbursements over receipts, $11,237.83.

On the first day of January, 1907, what is called the payable debt of the State was reported to be $1,253,029.07. On the first day of January, 1876, it was $520,138.33. Increase, $732,890.74.



1 of 2
2 of 2