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Chapter 19

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of New Orleans

by
John Kendall

published by The Lewis Publishing Company,
Chicago and New York, 1922

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 21

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p315 Chapter XX
Heath's Administration

Edward Heath, who, without any special ceremony, took possession of the mayoralty on March 27, 1867, was, in the cautious phrase of one of the local newspapers, "somewhat known as a merchant."1 "Heath means well," observed the Picayune, a few months later, attempting to sum up the work of the administration to that date.2 As a matter of fact Heath's abilities were wholly inadequate to deal with the complicated situation confronting him. From the first he relied upon the support of the commanding general. He had hardly taken his seat when he became involved in a furious controversy with the City Council over the question of the city finances. Heath found, or thought he found, that the comptroller and the city treasurer had issued about $1,250,000 of city money without due warrant for doing so. The honesty of these officials does not seem to have been called in question. They claimed that under the existing city ordinances they had authority to issue city money as needed for the payment of city accounts. The trouble seems to have been that there was no proper system of bookkeeping; the treasurer and the comptroller each paid out city currency, and there was no check on the activities of either; hence, there was always more or less difficulty in determining the precise amount of such obligations outstanding. Heath asked the council to order an investigation. This the council refused to do. The matter was then referred to the city attorney, who declined to sue out an injunction to stop the issue of city money. The controversy was carried on in very acrimonious terms, the mayor and the council exchanging mutual accusations of fraud. Nothing was accomplished, however, except to demonstrate that the two branches of the administration, the executive and the legislative, could not work in harmony. Thus the way was paved for the radical reconstruction of the latter department effected a few weeks later.

Heath, who identified himself with the extreme wing of the radical party, undertook to force the admission of negro children into the white schools of the city. This was a favorite scheme of the extremists among the advisors of General Sheridan and, later, among those of his successor, General Mower. It caused intense excitement in the city. The issue rose in the latter part of July, when the City Council passed an ordinance appropriating a large sum for the establishment of separate schools for colored children. This, it was said, complied with the requirements of the State Constitution relative to the education of negroes. Heath, however, was not satisfied and vetoed the bill. The appropriation was then voted over the mayor's veto. Heath promptly reported the matter to Sheridan, with the suggestion that the council be removed; and on August 1 Sheridan issued an order "readjusting" that body, by removing twenty-two members of the Boards of Aldermen and Assistant Aldermen, and appointing a like number of persons to succeed them. The action was not unexpected. Ever since the removal of Mayor Monroe, p316it had been felt in the city that the military authorities would not rest content to allow the remainder of the administration to continue in power. At the moment of purging the council, Sheridan gave, as a reason for his action, "the disordered condition to which they have reduced the city credit, and the efforts which they made, and are making, to impede the lawful execution of the law of Congress dated March 2nd, and the acts supplementary thereto." But as one of the city journals indignantly remarked, on the following morning, in commenting upon the order, this explanation "will not bear examination. [. . .] If disorders in our currency are the ground, it is difficult to understand why the mayor, whose agency, at least, is as direct in our present troubles as that of the boards, is not included in the punishment." Moreover, went on the exasperated writer, the "manner and degree" in which "these gentlemen" had impeded "the lawful execution of the military bill" was a matter which remained "unexpounded in the bosom of the commander-in‑chief."3

A few white men were included in the list of the new councilmen, but the majority of the appointees were negroes. This was the first time that members of that race had ever sat in either branch of the local legislature. The Picayune referred to them as "blacks, and others so tinged with white blood that they might be pronounced to be for that reason inferior to their colleges of the pure blood;" from which we may infer that some of the new members were mulattos. "None of the lately enfranchised" figured, however. Sheridan apparently made his choice from among that class of free men of color which had been a distinct element in the population even before the Civil war. The consequences of the introduction of negroes into the city government were on the whole not less disastrous than a similar experiment had proven in the legislature of the State. The city debt, which in 1867 amounted, in round numbers, to $9,900,000, was increased the following year to $10,000,000, and, in 1869, to $15,250,000.

The new council elected John Gauche, a respected white citizen, president and made F. W. Perkins, chairman of the finance committee. In order to lend color to the allegations in Sheridan's order, that an interest in the city finances had dictated the recent "adjustment," Joseph Hernandez was now removed from the office of city treasurer, and Stoddart Howell appointed in his place. At the same time the council proceeded to legislate on the subject. On August 8th an ordinance was passed legalizing all previous issues of city money, and putting them on an equal footing. An official promise was also made that no further issues of city money should be made, and that in the next budget something would be done to relieve the circulation. These actions seem not to have had much effect in restoring public confidence. In order to demonstrate the good faith of the administration, Mayor Heath caused large amounts of the currency, as it was paid into the city offices, to be burned at the city gasworks. At one time these singular cremations took place weekly.

In April, 1868, the Picayune, referring to these measures, remarked that in spite of the fact that hundreds of thousands of dollars of paper money had been destroyed, the amount outstanding had actually decreased only $67,958. In other words, the city's financial officers, p317having no other means to meet the city's debts, had continued, as hitherto, to pay bills in city money when presented; and thus what was burned at the gas-works was almost exactly balanced by what was issued day by day at the city hall. Finally, the legislature passed an act compelling the city officials to destroy the plates from which the city money was printed, and to cease issuing it altogether. The plates, some sixteen in all, were defaced with a chisel by an agent of the New York firm which executed the notes. Mayor Heath and several other city officials were present at the ceremony, which took place at the company's New Orleans office, No. 36, Natchez Alley, on April 16, 1868. There appears to have been a large reserve of city money on hand, however; for, although no more was printed, we hear that the City Council, ten days later, ordered the payment of the city rolls for the month in that currency, as usual.

The state of the city finances could hardly have been worse. In April, 1868, the city was without funds to pay its current expenses.4 Heath took the ground that the situation justified the collection of all past due taxes; this meant particularly the taxes of 1861‑1865. It was estimated that these taxes amounted to $4,000,000. No doubt that sum, if collected and honestly applied to meet the city's obligations, would have helped greatly to extricate the municipality from its financial difficulties; but although the city obtained judgments in 3,000 suits instituted against delinquent tax-payers, the only effect was to have them tender payment in the city's own depreciated notes. Thus the difficulty was, if anything, merely intensified. The only other alternative was to sell some of the city's property; and accordingly, in April, 1868, the markets were leased out to Patrick Irwin and his associates for a period of ten years, at an annual rental. The same course was proposed with regard to the wharves. The assessment of 1868 was $130,873,446, which, at the rate of 1.50 per cent authorized by law, ought to have produced a revenue ample to meet all expenses of the city; but such was the incompetence of the administration, and the venality which existed in practically every branch, that not only was the alimony insufficient, but the city was steadily getting deeper and deeper into debt.

Before the end of August, 1867, the "readjustment" of the city government was completed by the removal of the city attorney, the assistant city attorney, the street commissioner, and the assistant comptroller, for reasons "similar to those given in the order readjusting the Common Council of the City of New Orleans." On August 8, the chief of police was removed at the request of Mayor Heath. Heath undertook to make extensive changes in the personnel of the force. In May, 1867, Sheridan had taken occasion to promulgate an order requiring that one-half of the men on the rolls should be ex-Union soldiers. This was done, avowedly, because Mayor Monroe had established a rule requiring all persons applying for appointment to the force to have resided in the city for five years. This regulation was probably made with a view to keep off the force men antagonistic to the old population of the city, but it was naturally resented by the new-comers, who besieged the commanding general with demands to be allowed at least a share of the municipal offices. In yielding to their demands, Sheridan let it be known that he wished to see included among the new police a proportion of negroes; p318and Heath loyally strove to carry out his superior's wishes. The police chief failed to co‑operate with equal zeal, and thereupon the mayor had the general determined to depose him, and substitute an officer more in accord with their policies; which was done. In effecting these removals of city officers no opportunity was given to the dismissed to justify themselves. Notice of removal was usually served by the hand of a member of the commanding-general's staff, who in most instances appeared accompanied by the new incumbent. Sheridan was not content to interfere with the administrative and legislative departments of the local government; he took under his control the judiciary also. Orders were issued from time to time suspending judgments handed down in the courts, and finally all process in ordinary private and civil suits were made contingent upon the permission of the military officials, or suppressed altogether.5

Sheridan was, at the same time, completing the registration of voters required under the Registration Acts. The importance of this work is only partly suggested by this phrase. Inasmuch as jurymen could be drawn onlyº from among persons whose names figured upon the list of qualified voters, it will be seen that the matter of representation there was one of life and death to the old population of the city. Before addressing himself to the work, Sheridan wrote to Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant, in April, 1867, asking for definite instructions regarding the persons who, under the law, were to be excluded from the electorate. Grant was unable to furnish precise instructions, as the matter was then in the hands of the attorney general of the United States, and he did not feel at liberty to proceed until that official had rendered his opinion; but he did notify Sheridan to proceed as well as he could under his own interpretation of the law. This interpretation was, as might have been expected, harsh and narrow.6 The work of registration was done in a way to include practically the whole adult male negro population, without exception, and to exclude a large part of the whites. By the end of July, when the lists were closed, 14,845 whites and 14,805 negroes had been registered — and this, in a city where the white population normally outnumbered the black five to one. The disqualifications to which the whites were subject involved many what had never had any connection with the Confederacy, or with the Civil war; and many others who had been restored to all the rights of citizenship by Congressional and residential amnesties. Appeals were vain. Petitions addressed to the commanding general by persons feeling themselves unjustly debarred from registration, were "respectfully referred to Lieutenant ––––– for examination and decision;" but the examinations were never made, the decisions never rendered.7

President Johnson did not regard with approval these and other acts of Sheridan, and on August 17, an order was issued relieving him of the command of the Fifth Military District, and transferring him to the Department of the Missouri. General Thomas, who was then at the head of the Department of the Cumberland, was first offered the vacant post, but declined it on the ground of feeble health. Gen. W. S. Hancock was then ordered from the Department of the Missouri to New Orleans. General Grant, as commander of the army, opposed the President's p319action. He said that Sheridan had shown himself an efficient and loyal officer, and his removal would be misinterpreted in the South. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Hancock's administration was brief and not very energetically supported by his chief. As it required some time to make the journey from Missouri to New Orleans, Brigadier-General Griffin was ordered from Galveston to New Orleans as the ad‑interim commander, but fell ill and died of yellow fever before he could leave his post. The command in New Orleans therefore temporarily fell to Maj.‑Gen. Joseph A. Mower, commander of a negro regiment, who had been brevetted for high military qualities. Mower, although a good soldier, was unfitted for his new post. He was absolutely under the control of the most violent element among the radicals. Orders were issued by him which not even the dictatorial Sheridan had ventured to sign. All of the city officials remaining over from Monroe's time were discharged from office by one comprehensive decision; and similarly drastic action was meditated with regard to the State administration. Governor Flanders, whom Sheridan had placed at the head of the State administration, registered an energetic protest against these acts. Mower's reply was, that "reconstruction" could not proceed with the old office-holders in power. Among the city officers expelled by him none was the object of more sympathy than the clerk of the probate court, O'Rourke, a one-armed Confederate veteran, who had been elected to that post by the people. It was not merely his personality and his affliction which interested the city in his case, but the fact that in his custody reposed wills, inventories, family records and other legal papers of transcendent importance, which it was now proposed to entrust to an irresponsible appointee of the military power. Fortunately, Governor Flanders carried the whole matter to the President, not merely in the case of O'Rourke, but of all officials, state and city, involved in Mower's orders; and they were promptly cancelled. Aside from considerations of expedience, there was great reason to question the legality of Mower's actions, inasmuch as Hancock was already under appointment as head of the Military District, and actually on his way down the river to take up his duties in New Orleans. Under those circumstances, Mower did not actually possess the rights which, on the advice of his reckless and greedy entourage, he arrogated to himself.8

Hancock reached the city on November 29, 1867. He was received with manifestations of regard. His first official act was to issue General Order No. 40, in which he outlined a policy of reconciliation strikingly at variance with that pursued by his predecessor. He said he desired to maintain peace and order, and as a means to this end, regarded "the maintenance of the civil authorities in the faithful execution of the laws as the most efficient under the circumstances." The right of trial by jury, the writ of habeas corpus, liberty of the press, must be referred to the proper civil authorities, and to them the proper support was promised in seeing that their decisions were carried out. On the other hand, armed insurrection or forcible resistance to the laws would be promptly punished.9

p320 To this program Hancock adhered as consistently as the local political situation permitted. One of his first acts was to rescind Sheridan's order, that none but registered voters could serve on juries. Some of Mower's most objectionable measures were likewise recalled. Mower himself was sent to join his regiment in the camp in Greenville, near Carrollton. In State politics Hancock pursued a conciliatory course. When Flanders, irritated at the general's refusal to remove certain officials whose dismissal he demanded, resigned the governorship, Hancock selected for that office Judge Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Joshua Baker, of Attakapas, who, although an opponent of secession, was a democrat. This appointment was naturally well received. Hancock's own attractive personality and simple, unostentatious manners helped him also to popularity in New Orleans. He went freely about the city, usually attended only by a single friend; was present in civilian dress at the Opera; and professed to be greatly honored when tendered a pew at the St. Louis Cathedral.

With regard to the city government, his course was also calculated to give satisfaction to the old population. He found the City Council still involved in fierce debates over the educational question. The "readjusted" council had not been able to get along peacefully in itself. There seemed no possibility of agreement over the matter of the mixed schools. Committees representing both sides called upon General Hancock and explained their views. He heard them patiently, and then suggested that a per capita appropriation be made for the education of each race separately. To this the answer was, that a certain class among the colored citizens was violently opposed to separate schools, and insisted that the white schools be thrown open for the accommodation of their children. Hancock thought this demand unreasonable. He pointed out that the essential object was, not to force the colored people upon the whites, but to provide for them a sound education. To this end all partisan feeling should be subordinated. The Council did not see its way clear to adopt the general's suggestions regarding appropriations. The easiest way out of an awkward situation was to drop the whole matter. This was accordingly done. So far as the city government was concerned, it was heard of no more. But the matter was subsequently brought up in the State Legislature, and, as we shall see, also made the basis of some interesting litigation in the courts.

Hancock's policy, so much at variance with his predecessors', naturally gave offense to those who had supported Sheridan and Mower, and profited thereby. A stream of complaint was poured into Washington. Circumstances arose which seemed to substantiate the allegation that he was lukewarm in his support of the Congressional program of reconstruction. Several of his more important orders were rescinded on purely ex‑parte testimony. The case of Street Commissioner Baker was especially irritating. As a rule Hancock refused to take any action on political or party lines against the city officials appointed by his predecessors. He insisted that, if such men were objectionable, the proper way to obtain their removal was on appeal to the courts. But in the case of Baker he was obliged to adopt a different course. Baker was appointed street commissioner in June, 1867, in succession to Belanger, removed. The post was an important one. Baker was, on the whole, an incompetent official. His political enemies greatly desired to have him dismissed. They submitted to Hancock a long list of charges. Finding that the city p321charter contained ample provisions for the removal of delinquent officials, the general referred the case to Mayor Heath, with the recommendation that the City Council prefer articles of impeachment and proceed duly to trial. The Council complied, but in the process of organizing itself into a court of impeachment, became involved in such bitter disputes, grew so disorderly, and generally comported itself with so little appreciation of the ordinary etiquette of judicial procedure, that Hancock felt obliged to take the matter into his own hands. An examination of the charges convinced him that Baker was unfit to hold the post to which he had been appointed. An order was thereupon issued removing the undesirable official, and appointing to the vacancy, G. D. Field, a man whose unwavering devotion to the Union cause was well-known. This nomination was hailed with approval throughout the city.10

But, unfortunately, Baker happened to be treasurer of the State Central Committee of the republican party in Louisiana. He hurried to Washington, and in that capacity was welcomed by General Grant. At this moment a movement was under way in Congress against Hancock and, incidentally, against President Johnson. He had recommended that Congress take some appropriate action to recognize his distinguished services. That, Congress was in no humor to do. Garfield, then a member of the House, even brought a bill to limit the number of major-generals in the army, with a view to reduce Hancock in rank and thus render him ineligible to hold the command of the Fifth Military District. Under the circumstances, Baker's story excited sympathy among all of Johnson's enemies, and there was little trouble in procuring an order reinstating him as street commissioner.

Hancock's feelings were naturally hurt by this failure to sustain his action. "I hope to be relieved here soon," he wrote about this time to a friend. "The President is no longer able to protect me. So I may expect one humiliation after another, until I am forced to resign. I am prepared for any event. Nothing can prevent me from doing what I consider to be my duty." The circumstances which precipitated the crisis, however, were due, singularly enough, not to any innovation of his own, but to an attempt to support a policy laid down by General Sheridan. It seems that, nearly a year before, Sheridan had notified the City Council that it must not fill certain public positions; that an attempt on its part to elect its own candidates would be construed to be an infraction of the Reconstruction Acts, and be punished by the removal of the offending members. In December, 1867, the State Supreme Court pronounced ineligible to office Arthur Gastinel, recorder of the Second District. A day or two later the Council proceeded to elect a new recorder. Hancock, as soon as he was aware of this act of contumacy, removed the nine members who had voted for Gastinel's successor. Seven of these were negroes, two were whites. In their places he appointed white citizens of high standing in the community. Among them were J. N. Lee, an ex‑judge of the Supreme Court; J. H. Oglesby, president of one of the largest and most prominent banks in the city; P. H. Morgan, afterwards United States minister to Mexico; Robert Watson, the largest coal-merchant in the city; Guy Duplantier, a distinguished lawyer, and p322J. S. Whitaker, formerly on the United States District bench.11 These men were all loyal supporters of the National Government, most of them had previously filled positions of trust and honor, and all had shown exceptional administrative talent. No one, apparently, could object to them. Yet, when a statement of the facts was laid before Grant, he at once directed Hancock to suspend his order of removal, and report the case more fully. "I do not know what fuller report can be furnished," wrote Hancock, in reply, "for all the papers explaining my action have been sent you. To suspend my order would be to destroy my usefulness here — and, in such want of a sense of what I consider due to me and my position in the matter, would necessitate a respectful request to be relieved of my present command."12 Nevertheless, a few days later, Grant issued peremptory instructions to the department commander to reinstate the deposed members of the council. Thereupon Hancock asked to be relieved, and Grant lost no time in complying with the request.

In the meantime the Constitutional Convention to which delegates had been chosen under the auspices of Sheridan and Mower, had been in session in New Orleans. On the whole, this convention averaged in intellect and character higher than its immediate predecessors.13 That, however, is not saying much. It included a large number of colored members. The white members were largely recruited from the class of impecunious adventurers who flocked into Louisiana under the radical regime. Most of them had no income save what they could extract from the State treasury. Soon after the convention met, in November, 1867, it was discovered that the State treasury was empty. It seemed quite probable that not even the per diem to which the members were entitled by law could be collected. In this dilemma they seized upon the suggestion that the convention invest itself with the functions of the State Legislature. It was argued that, having the power to create a Legislature, it could legally exercise all the prerogatives of that body. Hancock perceived the dangers implicit in this assumption. He took steps to prevent the abuses which he foresaw. The convention passed an ordinance levying general taxes and providing a mode of assessment, as a means of replenishing the exhausted State treasury. The general notified that body that it was exceeding its privilege. Under the terms of the Reconstruction Acts, its powers as to taxation were limited to the imposition of a tax to pay its own expenses, but it was not clothed with general legislative functions, and must abstain from using them. Even the tax which it was entitled to impose, must be collected in conformity with the existing legal methods, and only for the one authorized purpose. This was a wise and conservative interpretation of the law, and arrested an attempt to usurp power which, otherwise, would have led to extensive spoliation of the State.

On March 9, 1868, the convention, having completed its work, adjourned. The constitution which it had compiled was a brief document, only a little longer than that of 1864. But it went further than that instrument towards establishing the equality of the white and black races. The suffrage provisions were intended to exclude from the franchise the largest possible number of whites. Those who had held for one p323year or more office under the Confederate government; those who had registered as enemies of the United States; those who had served as leaders of guerilla bands during the recent war; those who had sustained the Confederate doctrines by word of mouth, or published writings, or what-not; and those who had signed the ordinance of secession — these were declared ineligible to vote until they had taken an oath that they now "held the Confederate cause to have been morally as well as politically wrong, and regretted having in any way helped to sustain it." Moreover, all public conveyances, places of amusements, hotels and, generally, whatsoever other establishments required a license to carry on business, were required to extend to black patrons the same treatment that they offered whites. Two other important provisions which looked also to the equalization of the whites and their ebon-hued ex-chattels, provided, first, that all citizens of the United States who had resided one year in Louisiana were to be regarded as citizens of the state; and, second, that in apportioning representation in the State Legislature, the total population, not the total number of voters, should be taken as a basis. Another article required that "all children between the ages of six and twenty-one shall be admitted to the public schools or other institutions of learning sustained or established by the state, in common, without distinction of race, color, or previous condition." Separate schools, as such, were forbidden. Finally, a section was inserted in the constitution authorizing the convention to reassemble, in the event its constitution did not receive the ratification of the people, upon call signed by a majority of its members.14

The convention provided that the constitution which it had framed should be submitted to the people at an election to be held on April 16th and 17th. At the same time an ordinance was passed relative to the municipal elections in New Orleans. Unfortunately, this was so loosely drawn that doubt arose as to its intent. The mayor questioned the legality of the law, on the ground that the new constitution made no provisions for officials of the city, hence he did not see how an election could be ordered. The question was taken up with Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.R. C. Buchanan, who had succeeded Hancock in command of the Fifth Military District. He referred it back to the city authorities, who, in turn, referred it to Judges Whittaker and Buchanan; and these learned gentlemen rendered opinions directly contradicting one another. They differed as to how far the convention had authority to order municipal elections to be held in New Orleans. The Picayune, in an editorial discussing the matter, took the very sensible view that the whole matter was one of force; if the commanding general's will was that an election should be held, then, under the existing circumstances, the election would be legal.15 On this assumption preparations for the election were pushed forward, although it was generally understood that Mayor Heath would challenge the result.

The campaign opened on March 27th, when the Democratic State Central Committee published a list of nominees which it had prepared for both the state and city offices. Thomas Murray was named for mayor, p324Julian Neville for recorder of the First District, and other well-known names on the ticket were Gerard Stith, Jules Magioni and Edgar Montegut. In an address to the voters which was issued at the same time the president of the committee, T. L. Macon, stressed the importance of the fight against the constitution, and urged, in view of the necessity of controlling at least one branch of the State Legislature in the event that the constitution were ratified, that the conservative strength be directed mainly to that end.

This ticket was not well received. Objection was made to the manner in which it was named. It was pointed out that the voters should have an opportunity to express their wishes in the matter. Accordingly, on April 1st the committee withdrew its slate and asked the wards throughout the city to send delegates to a meeting on April 2nd, at which a new ticket would be made up. When the convention met it was decided not to go into the state fight, except insofar as the members of the Legislature were concerned, but to put up a full ticket for the municipal offices. This action left in the field two candidates for governor, both of whom represented the Republican party — Warmoth, who was supported by the extreme, or Radical wing, and Taliaferro, who represented the moderate section of the party. The Picayune, which was the leading Democratic paper in New Orleans, promptly threw its influence to Taliaferro, on the ground that he was "an old citizen, who had embraced the Union cause when secession was rampant in our state, stood his ground throughout the war and never took a dollar which did not belong to him."16

The new ticket framed by the convention was headed by John R. Conway — "that modest gentleman," as one of the local newspapers called him in an eulogistic editorial.17 Other names on the ticket were Joseph Murphy, for street commissioner; J. O. Landry, for comptroller; W. H. Manning, A. Gastinel L. A. Letten and Henry Jackson, for recorders; T. H. Shields, T. R. Brady, Thomas Mackey, Norman Whitney, V. Prados, N. A. Llambias, F. L. Losburg, J. A. O'Brien and Peter Kaiser, for aldermen, and Alfred Kearney, J. C. Rose, J. A. Aitkens, W. W. Walter, Sam Moore, John McCaffery, Hugh Montgomery, H. F. Sturcken, Ed Lehman, T. F. Fisher, M. Lawrence, George Pandelly, Robert Wynne, Gerald Farrell and John Brown, for assistant aldermen. There was much apprehension regarding the possibility of the nomination of independent tickets, which would divide the conservative strength and thus make certain a Republican victory. The Republicans nominated a ticket headed by Seth W. Lewis, but he was comparatively an unknown person, and there was little fear that he would win, provided that the Democracy preserved its strength intact. In fact, only two days before the election a so‑called Workingmen's ticket, headed by George Fosdick and composed of names selected principally from the two other municipal tickets, was actually presented to the public. It was, however, "got up with suddenness and secrecy on the eve of the election," and "not backed by any organization," and was a mere "electioneering trick."18 It does not seem to have had any effect upon the election.

p325 The public mind was in a highly excitable state. General Buchanan deemed it wise to issue an order pointing out that the "right to vote peaceably is an inheritance belonging to the people, and not to be interfered with," and "all men entitled to vote must be allowed to exercise this privilege and will be protected in so doing." The Democratic party refrained from having any parades or outdoor demonstrations "calculated to cause breaches of the peace." The Radicals, however, for a week preceding the election "traversed the streets nightly with their half-crazed black servitors, going [. . .] where they have neither occupation nor adherents, that they may deafen the ears of our people with their impudent cries."19 The same newspaper which thus picturesquely describes the behavior of those whom it was opposing, adds that the negroes were generally sent out to parade the streets alone, while the whites collected in Lafayette Square, under police protection, and kept out of possible danger. However, collisions were avoided, though there were several instances of violence committed upon white people by negroes.

The election took place on April 17th and 18th. The colored voters turned out in large numbers. At most of the polls dividing lines were established, whites on one side, negroes on the other, each voting alternately. Warmoth early complained that white Democrats were interfering with the colored voters, but the police reported that they were unable to find any justification for his statement. On the second day negroes were brought into the city from the country districts and were furnished fraudulent registration papers by one of the justices of the peace. Hundreds of such were voted in each ward. In some cases this "colonized vote," as it was termed, was moved from precinct to precinct, voting in each. Several of the negroes, when challenged at the polls, frankly admitted never having resided in New Orleans. Finally, a number of Democratic election commissioners were arrested and put in jail on complaint from Republican watchers that they had violated the United States laws relative to Congressional elections. As soon as Buchanan heard of this, he ordered the commissioners set at liberty and took steps to prevent any further arrests. The measure of corruption which prevailed may be estimated from the fact that, when the vote cast for candidates for clerk of the Seventh District Court came to be counted, it was discovered that each of the Radical candidates had received more votes than the entire number polled. The ballot box was found so made that, even after it had been officially sealed, it might be pried open from the bottom and additional ballots stuffed into it. In spite of all this, the Democratic candidates for city offices were, generally, elected. Conway received 13,895 votes, as against Lewis' 13,244. To the Council the Democrats elected eleven aldermen, as against four Republicans. On the other hand, the new state constitution was ratified and Warmoth was elected governor.

The obvious unfairness of the election caused General Buchanan to appoint a board of army officers to canvass the results. The delay which necessarily ensued caused the date of the inauguration of the new mayor to be put off till June 10. The new constitution provided that the administration should take its seat on the second Monday following the promulgation of the returns. It was contended with some show of plausibility p326that, considering that the actual incumbents were merely military appointees, they could be removed at any time by the arm to which they owed their commission. Buchanan, however, preferred to conform to the law. The returns were published on June 2nd, and on June 3rd an order was issued permitting Conway to take possession of the city government one week later. At noon on June 10th, therefore, the new mayor, accompanied by his secretary, John W. Overall,20 presented himself at City Hall. Heath declined to surrender the office, asserting that he knew of no law which authorized the election, and did not recognize Buchanan's right to issue the order now exhibited to him by Conway. There was nothing to do but refer the matter to the local commander. Buchanan, on being advised of Heath's contumacy, sent an orderly to the hall with a note requesting him to call at military headquarters. Heath replied that he was occupied with official business, could not come immediately, but would as soon as he could find the leisure. In this response he was following the advice of the attorneys, who were guiding his course.

Somewhat later in the afternoon Captain DeRussey of Buchanan's staff was seen approaching the hall, in company with Conway and Overall. A large crowd had assembled around the building, attracted by rumors of the mayor's stand, and by the possibility that trouble might ensue. In order to avoid this concourse, DeRussey and his companions made their way to the side entrance of the building, and by that route approached the mayor's office. A dramatic scene followed. Approaching Mayor Heath, DeRussey presented an order signed by the commanding general directing him to induct into office the newly elected mayor and other city officials. Heath made a carefully formulated reply, to the effect that he had been appointed by military authority, but the appointment had subsequently been confirmed by an Act of Congress, and he therefore did not admit the right of Buchanan to interfere in the matter.

DeRussey then drew the mayor apart, explained in a low tone that he must execute his orders, and suggested that Heath consent quietly to leave the hall in his custody. Heath refused to go voluntarily. DeRussey responded that he was empowered to use force to remove him if necessary.

"You may take any course you like," replied the mayor, aggressively.

"I must arrest you, sir," said DeRussey, laying a hand upon Heath's shoulder.

The young officer immediately went in search of the police. Conway and Overall remained standing in the crowd which thronged the mayor's rooms. Heath obstinately seated himself at his desk, supported by a group of his partisans. Soon DeRussey returned accompanied by Smith Izard, aide to the chief of police, and half a dozen policemen. A formal demand was then made on Heath for the keys of the hall, and when he insisted upon having a written order for them, DeRussey promptly executed one. The police then escorted Heath to the great front door of the building and saw him safely down the broad granite steps. The waiting crowd burst into the shrill, exultant rebel yell. At the same moment Conway seated himself at the vacant mayoral desk.21

p327 Even then Heath was not convinced that power had been taken from his hands. For several days he continued to claim to be the lawful mayor of the city. He sued out a writ of quo warranto before Judge Duplantier of the Sixth District Court, which was made returnable on June 15th. Subsequently, the proceedings were by consent removed to the Supreme Court, but before the matter came to trial Buchanan, by authority of General Grant, informed the court that "the result of such a writ, if favorable to the relator, would practically amount to nothing; for, as he was a military appointee and not a candidate, he had no ground upon which to base his claim." The case was, therefore, discontinued.22

Lewis, the defeated Republican candidate, also protested Conway's assumption of authority. His action was based upon the allegation that he, not Conway, had been duly elected mayor of New Orleans. Conway was not eligible, Lewis asserted, because he had once taken an oath of allegiance to the Confederate government, and therefore could not truthfully take the oath required of the candidates in the recent election, but that they had "never yielded voluntary support to any pretended government" in the South. In the Radical press there was much angry talk of a prosecution for perjury, but the matter went no further; and after Buchanan's intervention in the quo warranto proceedings above described Conway was left untroubled in possession of the mayoralty.


The Author's Notes:

1 Bee, March 28, 1867.

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2 July 13, 1867.

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3 Picayune, August 2, 1867.

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4 Republican, April 26, 1868.

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5 Democrat, August 1, 1880.

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6 Appleton's Annual Encyclopaedia, 1867, pp454, 455.

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7 Democrat, August 1, 1880.

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8 Democrat, August 1, 1880.

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9 Appleton's Annual Encyclopaedia, 1867, p463.

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10 Petition of citizens to General Grant asking for the removal of Baker, Picayune, April 14, 1868.

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11 Democrat, August 1, 1880.

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12 Appleton's Annual Encyclopaedia, 1868, p430.

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13 Ficklen, "History of Reconstruction in Louisiana," p193.

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14 Journal of the Convention, 1867‑8, pp259‑295; Appleton's Annual Encyclopaedia, 1868, pp428‑429; Ficklen, "History of Reconstruction in Louisiana," pp198‑201; Phelps, "Louisiana," pp363‑364.

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15 Picayune, April 9, 1868.

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16 Picayune, April 2, 1868.

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17 Picayune, April 7, 1868.

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18 Address of T. Wharton Collens, Picayune, April 16, 1868.

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19 Picayune, April 15, 1868.

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20 The Republican said on June 11: "On account of Conway's inexperience, Overall will be the real mayor under this administration, as he was under Monroe." Overall had been Mayor Monroe's secretary.

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21 Republican, June 10, 11, 1868.

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22 Appleton's Annual Encyclopaedia, 1868, p433.


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