Facts of Reconstruction, The



The Mississippi Constitution having been ratified in 1869,—an odd year of the calendar,—caused the regular elections for State, district and county officers to occur on the odd year of the calendar, while the National elections occurred on the even years of the calendar, thus necessitating the holding of an election in the State every year. Therefore, no election was to be held in 1874, except for Congressmen, and to fill a few vacancies, while the regular election for county officers and members of the Legislature would be held in 1875.

Since the regular session of the 44th Congress would not convene before December, 1875, in order to avoid the trouble and expense incident to holding an election in 1874, the Legislature passed a bill postponing the election of members of Congress until November, 1875. There being some doubt about the legality of this legislation, Congress passed a bill legalizing the act of the Legislature. Consequently no election was held in the State in 1874 except to fill a few vacancies that had occurred in the Legislature and in some of the districts and counties.

One of the vacancies to be filled was that of State Senator, created by the resignation of Senator Hiram Cassidy, Jr. Senator Cassidy, who was elected as a Democrat in 1873, and who had voted for Mr. Bruce, the Republican caucus nominee, for United States Senator, had in the mean time publicly identified himself with the Republican party, thus following in the footsteps of his able and illustrious father, Judge Hiram Cassidy, Sr., who had given his active support to the Republican candidate for Governor in 1873.

Governor Ames had appointed Senator Cassidy a Judge of the Chancery Court, to accept which office it was necessary for him to resign his seat as a member of the State Senate. A special election was held in November, 1874, to fill that vacancy. The Democrats nominated a strong and able man, Judge R.H. Thompson, of Brookhaven, Lincoln County. The Republicans nominated a still stronger and abler man, Hon. J.F. Sessions, of the same town and county,—a Democrat who had represented Franklin County for several terms, but who had that year identified himself with the Republican party. Sessions was Chancellor Cassidy's law partner.

Since the counties comprising that senatorial district constituted a part of the district that I then represented in Congress, I took an active part in the support of the candidacy of Sessions. Although a Democrat, Hiram Cassidy, Jr., had been elected from that district in 1873, Sessions, a Republican, was elected by a handsome majority in 1874. A vacancy had also occurred in the Legislature from Franklin County, to fill which the Republicans nominated Hon. William P. Cassidy, brother of Chancellor Cassidy; but the Democratic majority in the county was too large for one even so popular as Wm. P. Cassidy to overcome; hence he was defeated by a small majority.

From a Republican point of view Mississippi, as was true of the other reconstructed States, up to 1875 was all that could be expected and desired and, no doubt, would have remained so for many years, but for the unexpected results of the State and Congressional elections of 1874. While it is true, as stated and explained in a previous chapter, that Grant carried nearly every state in the Union at the Presidential election in 1872, the State and Congressional elections throughout the country two years later went just the other way, and by majorities just as decisive as those given the Republicans two years before.

Notwithstanding the severe and crushing defeat sustained by the Republicans at that time, it was claimed by some, believed by others, and predicted by many that by the time the election for President in 1876 would roll around it would be found that the Republicans had regained substantially all they had lost in 1874; but these hopes, predictions, and expectations were not realized. The Presidential election of 1876 turned out to be so close and doubtful that neither party could claim a substantial victory. While it is true that Hayes, the Republican candidate for President, was finally declared elected according to the forms of law, yet the terms and conditions upon which he was allowed to be peaceably inaugurated were such as to complete the extinction and annihilation of the Republican party at the South. The price that the Hayes managers stipulated to pay,—and did pay,—for the peaceable inauguration of Hayes was that the South was to be turned over to the Democrats and that the administration was not to enforce the Constitution and the laws of the land in that section against the expressed will of the Democrats thereof. In other words, so far as the South was concerned, the Constitution was not to follow the flag.

In the 43rd Congress which was elected in 1872 and which would expire by limitation March 4, 1875, the Republicans had a large majority in both Houses. In the House of Representatives of the 44th Congress, which was elected in 1874, the Democratic majority was about as large as was the Republican majority in the House of the 43rd Congress. The Republicans still retained control of the Senate, but by a greatly reduced majority.

During the short session of the 43rd Congress, important legislation was contemplated by the Republican leaders. Alabama was one of the States which the Democrats were charged with having carried in 1874 by resorting to methods which were believed to be questionable and illegal. An investigation was ordered by the House. A committee was appointed to make the investigation, of which General Albright, of Pennsylvania, was chairman. This committee was authorized to report by bill or otherwise. After a thorough investigation, the chairman was directed, and instructed by the vote of every Republican member of the committee, which constituted a majority thereof, to report and recommend the passage of what was called the Federal Elections Bill. This bill was carefully drawn; following substantially the same lines as a previous temporary measure, under the provisions of which what was known as the Ku Klux Klan had been crushed out, and order had been restored in North Carolina.

It is safe to say that this bill would have passed both Houses and become a law, but for the unexpected opposition of Speaker Blaine. Mr. Blaine was not only opposed to the bill, but his opposition was so intense that he felt it his duty to leave the Speaker's chair and come on the floor for the purpose of leading the opposition to its passage. This, of course, was fatal to the passage of the measure. After a desperate struggle of a few days, in which the Speaker was found to be in opposition to a large majority of his party associates, and which revealed the fact that the party was hopelessly divided, the leaders in the House abandoned the effort to bring the measure to a vote.

Mr. Blame's motives in taking this unexpected position, in open opposition to the great majority of his party associates, has always been open to speculation and conjecture. His personal and political enemies charged that it was due to jealousy of President Grant. Mr. Blaine was a candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination the following year. It was a well-known fact that President Grant was not favorable to Mr. Blaine's nomination, but was in sympathy with the movement to have Senator Roscoe Conkling, of New York, Mr. Blaine's bitterest political enemy, nominated. Mr. Blaine was afraid, his enemies asserted, that, if the Federal Elections Bill,—under the provisions of which great additional power would have been conferred upon the President,—had become a law, that power would be used to defeat his nomination for the Presidency in 1876; hence his opposition to the Bill. But, whatever his motives were, his successful opposition to that measure no doubt resulted in his failure to realize the ambition of his life,—the Presidency of the United States. But for the stand he took on that occasion, he would probably have received sufficient support from Southern delegates in the National Convention to secure him the nomination, and, had he been nominated at that time, the probabilities are that he would have been elected. But his opposition to that bill practically solidified the Southern delegates in that convention against him, and as a result he was defeated for the nomination, although he was the choice of a majority of the Northern delegates.

Even when Blaine received the nomination in 1884 it was developed that it could not have happened had the Southern delegates been as solidly against him at that time as they were in 1876. But by 1884 the Southern Republicans had somewhat relented in their opposition to him, and, as a result thereof, he received sufficient support from that section to give him the nomination. But he was defeated at the polls because the South was solid against him,—a condition which was made possible by his own action in defeating the Federal Elections Bill in 1875. In consequence of his action in that matter he was severely criticised and censured by Republicans generally, and by Southern Republicans especially.

Although I was not favorable to his nomination for the Presidency at any time, my relations with Mr. Blaine had been so cordial that I felt at liberty to seek him and ask him, for my own satisfaction and information, an explanation of his action in opposing and defeating the Federal Elections Bill. I therefore went to him just before the final adjournment of the 43rd Congress and informed him that I desired to have a few minutes' private audience with him whenever it would be convenient for him to see me. He requested me to come to the Speaker's room immediately after the adjournment of the House that afternoon.

When I entered the room Mr. Blaine was alone. I took a seat only a few feet from him. I informed him of the great disappointment and intense dissatisfaction which his action had caused in defeating what was not only regarded as a party measure, but which was believed by the Republicans to be of vital importance from a party point of view, to say nothing of its equity and justice. I remarked that for him to array himself in opposition to the great majority of his own party associates,—and to throw the weight of his great influence against such an important party measure as the Federal Elections Bill was believed to be,—he must have had some motive, some justifiable grounds of which the public was ignorant, but about which I believed it was fair to himself and just to his own friends and party associates, that he give some explanation.

"As a southern Republican member of the House, and as one that is not hostile or particularly unfriendly to you," I said, "I feel that I have a right to make this request of you."

At first he gave me a look of surprise, and for several seconds he remained silent. Then, straightening himself up in his chair, he answered:

"I am glad, Mr. Lynch, that you have made this request of me, since I am satisfied you are not actuated by any unfriendly motive in doing so. I shall, therefore, give a frank answer to your question. In my judgment, if that bill had become a law the defeat of the Republican party throughout the country would have been a foregone conclusion. We could not have saved the South even if the bill had passed, but its passage would have lost us the North; indeed, I could not have carried even my own State of Maine, if that bill had passed. In my opinion, it was better to lose the South and save the North, than to try through such legislation to save the South, and thus lose both North and South. I believed that if we saved the North we could then look after the South. If the Southern Democrats are foolish enough to bring about a Solid South the result will be a Solid North against a Solid South; and in that case the Republicans would have nothing to fear. You now have my reasons, frankly and candidly given, for the action taken by me on the occasion referred to. I hope you are satisfied with them."

I thanked Mr. Blaine cordially for giving me the desired explanation. "I now feel better satisfied with reference to your action upon that occasion," I assured him. "While I do not agree with you in your conclusions, and while I believe your reasoning to be unsound and fallacious, still I cannot help giving you credit for having been actuated by no other motive than to do what you honestly believed was for the best interest of the country and the Republican party."

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