Facts of Reconstruction, The



When I returned to my home after the adjournment of Congress in March, 1875, the political clouds were dark. The political outlook was discouraging. The prospect of Republican success was not at all bright. There had been a marked change in the situation from every point of view. Democrats were bold, outspoken, defiant, and determined. In addition to these unfavorable indications I noticed that I was not received by them with the same warmth and cordiality as on previous occasions. With a few notable exceptions they were cold, indifferent, even forbidding in their attitude and manner. This treatment was so radically different from that to which I had been accustomed that I could not help feeling it keenly. I knew it was indicative of a change in the political situation which meant that I had before me the fight of my life.

My advocacy and support of the Federal Elections Bill, commonly called the "Force Bill," was occasionally given as the reason for this change; but I knew this was not the true reason. In fact, that bill would hardly have been thought of but for the fact that Mr. Blaine, the Republican Speaker of the House, had attracted national attention to it through his action in vacating the chair and coming on the floor of the House to lead the opposition to its passage. This act on the part of the statesman from Maine made him, in the opinion of many Southern Democrats, the greatest man that our country had ever produced,—George Washington, the Father of the Republic, not excepted. They were loud in their thanks for the valuable service he had thus rendered them and, as evidence of their gratitude to him, they declared their determination to show their appreciation of this valuable service in a substantial manner whenever the opportunity presented itself for it to be done.

No man in the country was stronger, better or more popular than the statesman from Maine, until his name came before them as a candidate for President of the United States on a Republican ticket. A sudden transformation then took place. It was then discovered, to their great surprise and disappointment, that he was such an unsafe and dangerous man that no greater calamity could happen to the country than his elevation to the Presidency. Nothing, therefore, must be left undone to bring about his defeat.

I was well aware of the fact at the time that it was the result of the State and Congressional elections at the north in 1874 that had convinced Southern Democrats that Republican ascendency in the National Government would soon be a thing of the past—that the Democrats would be successful in the Presidential and Congressional elections of 1876 and that that party would, no doubt, remain in power for at least a quarter of a century. It was this, and not the unsuccessful effort to pass a Federal Elections Bill, that had produced the marked change that was noticeable on every hand. Every indication seemed to point to a confirmation of the impression that Democratic success at the Presidential election was practically an assured fact.

There had been a disastrous financial panic in 1873 which was no doubt largely responsible for the political upheaval in 1874; but that was lost sight of in accounting for that result. In fact they made no effort to explain it except in their own way. The Democrats had carried the country; the reasons for this they construed to suit themselves. The construction they placed upon it was that it was a national condemnation and repudiation of the Congressional Plan of Reconstruction, and they intended to govern themselves accordingly.

The election in Mississippi in 1875 was for members of Congress, members of the Legislature, and county officers, and also a State Treasurer to serve out the unexpired term of Treasurer Holland, deceased. My own renomination for Congress from the Sixth (Natchez) District was a foregone conclusion, since I had no opposition in my own party; but I realized the painful fact that a nomination this time was not equivalent to an election. Still, I felt that it was my duty to make the fight, let the result be what it might.

If Congressmen had been elected in 1874 the State would have returned five Republicans and one Democrat as was done in 1872; but in 1875 the prospect was not so bright, the indications were not so favorable. The Democrats nominated for State Treasurer Hon. Wm. L. Hemmingway, of Carroll County. He was an able man, and had been quite prominent as a party leader in his section of the State. The defiant attitude assumed, and the bold declarations contained in the platform upon which he was nominated were accepted by the Republicans as notice that the Democrats intended to carry the election—"peaceably and fairly."

The Republicans nominated Hon. George M. Buchanan, of Marshall County, upon a platform which strongly endorsed the National and State administrations. Mr. Buchanan was a strong and popular man. He had been a brave and gallant Confederate soldier. He had been for several years Sheriff and Tax Collector of his county, and was known to be especially fitted for the office of State Treasurer. As Sheriff and Tax Collector of Marshall County,—one of the wealthiest counties in the State,—he had handled and disbursed many thousands of dollars, every dollar of which had been faithfully accounted for. His honesty, integrity, ability, fitness, and capacity, everyone, regardless of race or party, unhesitatingly admitted.

The administration of Governor Ames was one of the best the State had ever had. The judiciary was quite equal to that which had been appointed by Governor Alcorn. The public revenues had been promptly collected, and honestly accounted for. There had not only been no increase in the rate of taxation, but, to the contrary, there had been a material reduction. Notwithstanding these things the Democrats, together with the radical element in charge of the party machinery, determined to seize the State Government vi et armis; not because it was at all necessary for any special reason, but simply because conditions at that time seemed to indicate that it could be safely done.

After the nominations had all been made, the campaign was opened in dead earnest. Nearly all Democratic clubs in the State were converted into armed military companies. Funds with which to purchase arms were believed to have been contributed by the National Democratic organization. Nearly every Republican meeting was attended by one or more of those clubs or companies,—the members of which were distinguished by red shirts, indicative of blood,—the attendance being for the purpose, of course, of "keeping the peace and preserving order." To enable the Democrats to carry the State a Republican majority of between twenty and thirty thousand had to be overcome. This could be done only by the adoption and enforcement of questionable methods. It was a case in which the end justified the means, and the means had to be supplied.

The Republican vote consisted of about ninety-five per cent of the colored men, and of about twenty-five per cent of the white men. The other seventy-five per cent of the whites formerly constituted a part of the flower of the Confederate Army. They were not only tried and experienced soldiers, but they were fully armed and equipped for the work before them. Some of the colored Republicans had been Union soldiers, but they were neither organized nor armed. In such a contest, therefore, they and their white allies were entirely at the mercy of their political adversaries.

Governor Ames soon took in the situation. He saw that he could not depend upon the white members of the State militia to obey his orders, to support him in his efforts to uphold the majesty of the law, and to protect the law-abiding citizens in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property. To use the colored members of the militia for such a purpose would be adding fuel to the flames. Nothing, therefore, remained for him to do but to call on the National administration for military aid in his efforts to crush out domestic violence and enforce the laws of the State. He did call for such aid, but for reasons that will be given later it was not granted.

When the polls closed on the day of the election, the Democrats, of course, had carried the State by a large majority,—thus securing a heavy majority in both branches of the Legislature. Of the six members of Congress the writer was the only one of the regular Republican candidates that pulled through, and that, by a greatly reduced majority. In the Second (Holly Springs) District, G. Wiley Wells ran as an Independent Republican against A.R. Howe, the sitting member, and the regular Republican candidate for reëlection. The Democrats supported Wells, who was elected.

The delegation, therefore, consisted of four Democrats, one Republican, and one Independent Republican. While the delegation would have consisted of five straight Republicans and one Democrat had the election been held in 1874, still, since the Democrats had such a large majority in the House, the political complexion of the Mississippi delegation was not important. The election of the writer, it was afterwards developed, was due in all probability to a miscalculation on the part of some of the Democratic managers. Their purpose was to have a solid delegation, counting Wells as one of that number, since his election would be due to the support of the Democratic party.

But in my district the plan miscarried. In one of the counties there were two conflicting reports as to what the Democratic majority was; according to one, it was two hundred and fifty, according to the other, it was five hundred. The report giving two hundred and fifty was, no doubt, the correct one, but the other would probably have been accepted had it been believed at the time that it was necessary to insure the election of the Democratic candidate. To overcome the majority in that district was more difficult than to overcome it in any of the other districts. While their candidate, Colonel Roderick Seal, was quite a popular man, it was well known that I would poll a solid Republican vote and some Democratic votes in addition. Fortunately for me there was a split in the party in my own county (Adams) for county officers, which resulted in bringing out a very heavy vote. This split also made the count of the ballots very slow,—covering a period of several days. My name was on both tickets. The election took place on Tuesday, but the count was not finished until the following Friday evening. Hence, the result for member of Congress in that county could not be definitely ascertained until Friday night.

The Democratic managers at the State Capital were eager to know as soon as possible what the Republican majority in Adams County would be for Congressman, hence, on Wednesday evening, the editor of the local Democratic paper received a telegram from the Secretary of the Democratic State Committee, requesting to be informed immediately what the Republican majority for Congressman would be in Adams County. The editor read the telegram to me and asked what, in my opinion, would be my majority in the county. My reply was that I did not think it would exceed twelve hundred; whereupon he sent in the following report: "Lynch's majority in Adams will not exceed twelve hundred."

Upon receipt of this telegram the majority of two hundred and fifty instead of five hundred was deemed sufficient from the county heretofore referred to. If the Republican majority in Adams would not exceed twelve hundred, the success of the Democratic Congressional candidate by a small but safe majority was assured on the face of the returns. Since Adams was the last county to be reported, no change could thereafter be made. When the count was finally finished in Adams it was found I had a majority of over eighteen hundred. This gave me a majority in the district of a little over two hundred on the face of the returns.

The disappointment and chagrin on the part of the Democratic managers can better be imagined than described. But the agreeable surprise to the Republicans was at least equal to the Democrats' disappointment. The defeated Democratic candidate threatened to make a contest for the seat on the ground of violence and fraud; but this was so ridiculous that the managers of his own party would not allow him to carry the threat into execution.

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