[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail:
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]
Italiano

[Link to a series of help pages]
Help
[Link to the next level up]
Up
[Link to my homepage]
Home

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 20

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!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 22
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p328 Chapter XXI
Conway and Flanders


[image ALT: A woodcut of the head and shoulders of a man with receding hair and long sideburns, wearing 19c clothing. He is in early middle age and has an air of alertness and concern. It is John R. Conway, a mayor of New Orleans.]

Mayor John R. Conway

John R. Conway, thirtieth mayor of New Orleans, was a native of Virginia. He was descended from a family which had emigrated from Wales to America in the time of third George. He was born in Alexandria, Va., August 25, 1825. He settled in New Orleans in 1843, and down to 1862 was employed in a position of great trust and responsibility in one of the largest cotton and commission houses in the city. In the general suspension of business which followed the occupation of New Orleans by the Federal forces, under Butler, he was thrown out of employment. In 1865, however, he re‑entered business as a wholesale grocer and commission merchant. He seems to have been successful as such down to the time when he became mayor. This honor came to him as an award for long and faithful party service. He had always been interested in politics and regarded an active participation therein as a patriotic duty. When the Orleans Parish Democratic Committee was reorganized, after the Civil war, he was made its first chairman. As such, in co‑operation with the Democratic State Central Committee, he had been active in preparing the way for the return of the city government to the people. He was a man of small stature and lacked the vigor, both physical and mental, to deal energetically and resolutely with the difficult problems that demanded his attention as mayor.

Conway's administration is memorable principally because during it the period of military control over the municipal government came to an end. Although troops continued to be stationed near the city, and although the commanding general was, from time to time, compelled to intervene in local affairs, still, on the whole, from now on the civil power was permitted to function unhampered by interference from that source. This result was due to the Act of Congress readmitting Louisiana to the Union. The law became effective on June 25, 1868. Under orders from General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Buchanan now removed from office Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Voorhies and put in their places H. C. Warmoth and O. J. Dunn, who had been elected to these respective offices at the recent election. This action was taken to forestall any dispute which might have arisen upon the convening of the Legislature a day or two later as to who was entitled to those offices. The Legislature met in New Orleans on June 27th, and immediately proceeded to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to the National Constitution, as required in the act of reconstruction. This, however, was not done without a preliminary scene of disorder which, at one moment, threatened to precipitate another riot like that of 1866. The new lieutenant governor, Dunn, who was a negro, backed by the other negro members, made an effort to unseat some of the Democratic minority by requiring them to take the oath of 1862 that they had never borne arms against the United States, aided its enemies or supported the Confederacy. This oath they proposed to compel them to subscribe in addition to the oath to be taken by members of the Legislature as laid down in the new state constitution. Dunn explained this action by saying that the state was still under military law p329and members ought for that reason to take the test oath. On the other hand, General Grant, who had been consulted by telegraph on the subject prior to the convocation of the assembly, had expressly stated that the test oath should not be insisted upon. Buchanan communicated Grant's dispatch to Dunn and furnished him an order formally supporting it. To neither did the sable lieutenant governor pay any attention.

On July 1st a large crowd of white people gathered around the Mechanics' Institute, where the Legislature was sitting, to insist upon the seating of the Democratic members. The whole city police force and a regiment of troops were on duty to prevent trouble. The situation was threatening. Fortunately, the committee to which the matter had been referred reported that, while the officers of the Legislature ought to be sustained, still, in deference to General Grant's wishes, it was advisable not to insist upon the test oath. This report was adopted, the Democratic members took their seats and the mob quietly dispersed.1

Warmoth was inaugurated governor on July 13th and immediately apprised General Buchanan officially of the ratification by the Legislature of the Fourteenth Amendment. That officer immediately issued an order declaring that military law no longer ran in the state. "The provisions of the Reconstruction Acts of Congress cease to operate in Louisiana from this date," ran this document; "military authority will no longer be exercised under the Reconstruction Acts in said state, and all officers commanding posts or detachments are forbidden to interfere in civil affairs, unless upon a proper application by the civil authorities to preserve the peace, or under instructions duly received from the commanding p330general of the district. Military law no longer exists, the civil law is supreme."2

The establishment of the civil authority was a blow to that element in the population which had profited by military protection to exploit the resources of the city. The Radicals were, however, entrenched in the state government, and it was to the state government, accordingly, that they turned for help in preserving their hold upon the municipality. For some years hereafter the city government was constantly to be made the subject of legislation by the state authorities, with the result that all public enterprise was impeded and the city finances reduced to the lowest possible ebb. Warmoth tried to exploit the disorders in various parts of the state to induce the Federal Government to place troops at his disposition ostensibly to keep the peace. In New Orleans the exciting presidential campaign of that year brought out a considerable number of negro voters who supported the Democratic candidates. One of them, Willis Rollins, made violent speeches against the Radicals. There was a small riot in Canal Street, when some 300 black and white Republicans assaulted Rollins, beat him and might have killed him save for the interposition of some watchful Democrats. Another outbreak took place on September 22d, in front of Dumonteil's confectionery. There were apprehensions that a Republican torchlight procession scheduled for the night of September 12th would precipitate further trouble. General Buchanan refused to seriously take the prediction of danger and his calm good judgment was vindicated, for the event passed off without disorder. Moreover, the action of the Democratic State Central Committee, which issued a circular calling upon the members of the party to avoid all participation in any demonstration against the Radicals, helped to reassure the government and to prevent the success of the plan to exploit the army for the benefit of the local Republican politicians.

A scheme was ultimately worked out, however, which, in effect, created a small army entirely at the disposal of the governor, available by him anywhere throughout the state, but supported exclusively by the City of New Orleans. This was the Metropolitan Police Force. Before its adjournment on October 20th the Legislature passed a bill authorizing the governor to appoint a board of five police commissioners for New Orleans, Jefferson City and the Parish of St. Bernard, with full powers to reorganize the police force in New Orleans. This Board of Commissioners might, whenever it deemed necessary, require aid from citizens and the militia, and appoint special patrolmen at its option. For its support it was empowered to apportion an assessment upon the various municipal governments within its jurisdiction. Warmoth appointed two white men and three negroes to this board. In one year it cost the city $809,932.51. Its headquarters were first established in a building on the corner of Delord and Carondelet streets, but later were removed to Davidson Court, an edifice erected on the site of the large stables which previously had stood in the rear of the City Hall. In the latter part of October a riot in St. Bernard Parish — in what was virtually a suburb of New Orleans, though without the municipal boundaries — led to the appointment of Gen. J. B. Steedman as chief of police, pro tem, in command of the Metropolitan force.

p331 The effect of the act creating the Metropolitan Police Board was to take out of the hands of the mayor of New Orleans the most important part of his authority. On October 28th the Council met and unanimously passed resolutions asking the mayor "in view of the illegality of the metropolitan police bill and the utter incapacity of the police under it to maintain order," to proceed to organize another force "in conformity to the laws existing prior to the passage of the bill." This the mayor did. He directed Thomas E. Adams, who was chief of police under the old law, to resume his duties. Steedman, however, sued out a writ of injunction in the Fifth District Court to prohibit the mayor from commissioning anyone as a policeman. This writ was subsequently made perpetual, and General Rousseau, who had just been put in command of the troops in New Orleans, agreed to support the force under Steedman.3

New Orleans was next stripped of control over its school system. This was now subordinate to that of the state, by means of an Education Act, passed by the Legislature of 1869. Under this law the state was divided into six districts, of which New Orleans was one. In each district a superintendent with very large powers was named by the governor upon the nomination of the state superintendent of education. In New Orleans there was also to be a Board of Education appointed by the State Board of Education. Any attempt to deprive this body of control over any public school was punishable by fine and imprisonment. The intent of the law was expressly declared to be "to repeal all laws or parts of laws granting the control of public education in the City of New Orleans to the municipal authorities" and "to connect the system of public schools in the City of New Orleans with the state system of education." Moreover, any officer or teacher of any public school who should "refuse to receive into any school any child between the ages of six and twenty-one years of age, who shall be lawfully entitled to admission into the same; and shall comply with such rules and regulations as may be presented by the Board of School Directors and the State Board of Education, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor," and subject to heavy fines and imprisonment.

The effect of this tyrannical law was, of course, to throw the appointment of all school teachers in the city into the hands of the Radical administration and to reopen the whole question of mixed schools. It was understood that this bill was the work of the fanatical Rev. T. W. Conway, who was at this time state superintendent of education and whose heart was set on introducing negro children into the white schools. The attempt to enforce this bill in New Orleans led to a prolonged controversy between the old board and that which aimed to displace it. Incidentally, the state funds for the payment of the teachers were tied up by injunctions, and the teaching corps went without pay until reduced to great need, when a court order instituting a receivership permitted the utilization of these funds for the relief of the deserving class which had earned them. Not till the following year did the city recover control of its school system.

In December a successful effort was made to wrest the control of the City Council from the hands of the Democracy. Warmoth took advantage of an act passed by the Legislature of 1868 which empowered p332the governor to fill offices as they fell vacant through death, resignation or any other cause before the incumbent had served out his full term. This right Warmoth extended to include all offices howsoever vacated. After experimenting with the appointment of the municipal official of Jefferson City, he applied his theory to New Orleans. Part of the City Council elected in 1868 were chosen for what was termed the "short term" and was now due to retire. An election was accordingly held on May 19, 1869 for their successors. The governor declined to recognize the members elected on this occasion and appointed a number of new councilmen. On the other hand, the old members denied that they could be required to give up their posts until the next regular city election. A three-sided legal fight ensued. Judge Collens granted an injunction seating the newly elected members; Judge Leaumont enjoined them from taking their seats, and authorized the governor's appointees to take their places; and Judge Cooley handed down a decision against the latter and favorable to the old members of the Council.

Remarkable scenes followed. On December 22nd the chief of police, acting as constable for Judge Sadlier's court, armed with a warrant sued out for J. A. Walsh, one of the governor's appointees, intruded into the council room at the City Hall and tried to arrest the members whose seats were contested by Walsh and the other Warmoth appointees. Only the prompt action of the presiding officer in adjourning the meeting prevented him from carrying out his purpose. Only a week later the sheriff presented himself before the Council while in session with an injunction from Judge Leaumont ordering him to remove from the Board the following members: Rose, Reid, Walters, Pasley, Atkins, Lagan, Davis, Montgomery, Stringer, Fisher, Barnes, Morphy and Breen; and from the Board of Aldermen the following: Kaiser, Markey, McCaffrey, Boguille, Harrison and Wiltz. In their places he was commanded to place W. R. Fish, J. A. Walsh, W. H. Pemberton, J. P. Sullivan, Eugene Staes, E. Reggio and W. H. Bell, assistant aldermen, and Charles Potthoff, J. R. Clay, L. Pessou and Jacob Hassinger aldermen. Mr. Barnes, who was presiding in the lower board room, denied the legality of the order, but the sheriff refused to allow him to discuss the matter, and compelled him to retire under protest.4 In the upper board, where Mr. Wiltz presided, a prompt adjournment prevented the sheriff from officially removing the extruded members, but he nevertheless installed Potthoff and Hassinger. On the following day the new members met the few members whom the governor had not dismissed and proceeded to organize. A few days later Potthoff was elected president of the upper board and Fish of the lower board. There was much talk of opposition, legal and otherwise; excited crowd swarmed in the City Hall corridors while these untoward acts were in progress; but the attorneys whom the expelled councilmen consulted advised submission to the governor's will and Warmoth in the end was completely victorious.5

Thus in possession of the police and school systems and with virtual control over the legislative machinery of the city, there remained one more step to take in order to perfect the Radical domination in New Orleans. That was to subvert the city charter. The "Republican" in an p333editorial on January 5, 1869, urged what it termed "the remodeling of the city government," and said that the members of the State Legislature "in this cannot run counter to the wishes of any class except, of course, the city officers, for it is universally admitted that a more imbecile and corrupt administration than that which now governs New Orleans never cursed any community." The governor took up the subject in his message to the Legislature, which met a few days later in New Orleans. "The charter of this corporation," he said, "should be revised. The government is cumbersome, expensive and irresponsible. Evils have grown up in it of a most dangerous character, which should be eradicated by law. It has issued a currency without authority of law, and has forced it upon the people in such amounts as to break down its value and destroy it as a circulating medium. It has failed to pay the interest upon its obligations and is at double, if not triple, the necessary expense owing to its inability to meet the current obligations. The charter should contain definite powers, less offices and attach more responsibility to the officers."6 Other argument in favor of the proposed change was based upon the allegation that the existing law was obsolete; that it had come down from the slavery epoch, and that under it the city councils had been able to evade complying with the acts of the State Legislature relative to the Metropolitan Police Force. "Not a dollar has yet been drawn from the treasury to defray the expenses of the police force. Policemen are compelled to work for no pay and live the best way they may."7 On the other hand, the citizens of the city seem to have felt that any change would be for the better and tried only to see that in drafting the new charter some provisions were incorporated in it which would tend to reduce the almost unbearable burden of taxation under which they were groaning.

Early in January, therefore, a citizens' or Property Holders' Association sprang into existence, which prepared a draft of a charter. It was proposed to abolish the councilmanic system and substitute a government composed of a mayor and six administrators. An act of this tenor was introduced into the Legislature at the beginning of the session by Mr. Bacon. At the same time a joint committee of the Legislature was appointed to prepare a bill also. Mr. Ray, a country member, introduced in committee a series of amendments which had the effect of rendering the projected charter exceedingly objectionable to New Orleans. He proposed to empower the governor to appoint the first set of officials, the mayor and three of the administrators to serve till May, 1872. He also proposed to reduce the bonds of the various administrators from $100,000, as originally recommended, to $25,000, a sum which was "far too low."8 The debate over the charter dragged through the whole of the session, and the day of adjournment still found the members unable to come to any agreement. The matter was ultimately left over to the session of 1870.

When the Legislature convened early in 1870 the matter of the new charter was promptly taken up. The bill was passed and received the governor's signature on March 16. It was, substantially, the Property p334Holders' Association bill, incorporating most of the Ray amendments. The government was declared invested in a mayor and seven administrators, to be known, respectively, as the Administrators of Finance, Commerce, Improvement, Police, Assessments, Public Accounts and Public Building and Waterworks.9 The Administrator of Police was made ex‑officio a member of the Metropolitan Police Board. To these officers were committed administrative and executive functions.

The administrators, like the mayor, were to be elected by the city at large, but it was the mayor's duty to assign each administrator to his department after election. In other words, the administrators were not elected to head any particular department. The first mayor and the first administrators were to be named by the governor of the state. These appointees would hold office till the first Monday in November, 1870, or until their successors were appointed. On that day an election for a new group of officials should be held, in which all voters qualified under the state and national laws might participate.

The mayor and the administrators were required to have been residents of the city but for one year. They were required to take the oath set forth in section 100 of the state constitution, that they would not attempt to deprive any person of his political or civil rights on account of "race, color or previous condition," and would support the constitution of state and nation. All but the mayor were required to furnish a bond. The mayor was to perform the usual duties connected with that office. He and the seven administrators, acting together, were to constitute the City Council. The mayor's functions in the Council were merely to preside; he had no vote, except in case of a tie. His term was fixed at two years, and his salary was to be $7,500 per annum. The seven departments were quite independent of the mayor and of one another. Each commissioner was required to submit a monthly report to the mayor, but that seems to be all the supervision he was expected to exert. The Department of Finance was entrusted with general control of all matters relative to the city finances, the handling of city moneys, and the collection of taxes. The Department of Commerce was to look after the markets, railroads and canals, regulate the weights and measures and manage the fire department. The Department of Assessments had to do with preparing the assessment rolls for purposes of taxation, the licensing of the professions, trades and other gainful occupations on which the city was, under a recent act of the Legislature, permitted to impose a license; and generally to assume the functions hitherto performed by the Board of Assessors. The Department of Police was, as its name indicates, to administer the police, see to the protection of property, the enforcement of the city ordinances and the management of the House of Refuge and the arrangements for lighting the city. It was stipulated, however, that this department should possess no functions in conflict with those of the Metropolitan Police Board. Its powers were thus very limited. The Department of Public Accounts handled all claims and demands against the city, and kept records of the appropriations p335made by the council. It was also charged with preparing a semi-annual statement of claims and amounts against the city, and an estimate of the amounts necessary to meet the city's expenses during the ensuing six months. These reports seem to have been in the nature of a budget of expenditures. Under the Department of Public Buildings and Waterworks was placed the management of the city waterworks, the school buildings, the city hospitals and the asylums. For their labors each administrator was entitled to receive a salary of $6,000 per annum.

The Council, composed, as has been said, of the mayor and the seven administrators sitting together, was authorized to organize the various departments, appoint the clerical force and indicate its compensation, make laws for the preservation of the peace, deal with such public improvements as connected with the wharves, the city lighting, etc. It had also large rights relative to the expropriation of such private property as might be necessary for public improvements, the regulation and repair of the sewers and drains, paving and the opening of new streets, the regulation of the port charges and the imposition of taxes. Taxes might be laid once annually, in December, and might not exceed $1.75 per $100 of assessed value on all property, provided the amount realized sufficed to pay the interests on the consolidated debt and the railroad bonds issued by the city. Taxable property, besides including the objects usually so reckoned, included bonds, mortgages, notes and income derived from salaries, wages, commissions, fees and stock held in certain kinds of corporations. Incomes under $1,000 per annum, however, were exempted from taxation, as also were household articles up to a value of $100, and the city bond issues.

Some of the powers ascribed to the council were curious, as, for instance, the right to determine what animals might rove at large in the city; the manner of storing explosives within the corporate limits; the right to determine the dimensions of carts used to carry firewood, and to locate the places where firewood might be stored; the regulation of the height of fences, and the duty of imposing fines upon persons who maliciously broke off doorknobs, bells, gate handles or removed or destroyed other fixtures of houses. It was made the duty of the city to keep the streets in repair, but with regard to sidewalks, that was a duty to which the owners of the abutting property were expected to perform.

The council was to meet weekly in public session. Four members would constitute a quorum. No ordinance making an appropriation of any sum in excess of $500 might be passed except by a majority vote of the council. All ordinances must lie over at least one meeting. The council was to elect its secretary, whose salary was fixed at $3,000; a city attorney "learned in the law," at a salary to be fixed by the council; a city surveyor, with a salary of $5,000, and six recorders, one for each district in the city, to serve for two years and to perform the same duties as the similar officials under the old charter, at a salary of $2,500 each. Various subordinate officials and alternates were also provided for. The right of the mayor or any administrator to retain his office might be at any time tested by quo warranto proceedings instituted by any citizen.

A very important feature of the new charter was, that it extended the boundaries of the city to include the suburb of Jefferson City, which till this time had enjoyed a separate municipal organization of its own. Consequently, the charter provided that the council, as soon as it had organized, should ascertain the debt of Jefferson City and pass ordinances p336to provide for the payment of interest thereon. There were other important provisions regarding the city finances. Several sections were dedicated to regulations for the refunding of the bonds issued under the act approved February 27, 1869, intended to "enable New Orleans to fund its floating debt and liquidate its indebtedness." The unissued bonds of this series were to be destroyed, and those which had been issued were to be taken up by the city's fiscal agent, which would supply in exchange a new series of securities to bear interest at seven per cent per annum. These new securities the city was authorized to issue to the amount of $3,000,000. They were payable in twenty-five years from the date of issue. The council was required to make appropriations annually to pay the interest upon these new bonds, and also upon the consolidated bonds, with which the new legislation made no attempt to deal. Finally, there were a series of prohibitions designed to check the extravagances of the administration, as, for instance, a section requiring the city to have available in its treasury sufficient funds to meet any bonds, warrants, certificates, etc., which it might thereafter issue; making illegal any bond issued in contravention of this section; and forbidding the council to incur a debt in excess of $100,000 until such time as the city debt should be reduced to a total of $7,000,000 or less, unless at the moment of making such appropriations steps were taken to provide for the payment of the principal and interest within a period of ten years.

Anticipating the enactment of the new city charter with provisions authorizing the governor to appoint the first board of city officials under it, a committee of citizens was formed in March, 1869, with the idea of recommending to Warmoth candidates who would be satisfactory to the population of the city. This committee consisted of fifty prominent citizens. It called itself the Electoral Jury. At its head was the distinguished Dr. W. N. Mercer. Among the members were T. L. Clarke, George Jonas, Alfred Mouton, G. W. West, J. Lavillebeuvre, Carl Kohn, C. E. Slayback, F. Wing, Marshall J. Smith, Joseph Santini, Charles Cavaroc, James Jackson, S. H. Kennedy, Dr. H. B. Moss and Cuthbert H. Slocumb. The latter was credited with initiating the movement. It issued an address to the public, in which the condition of the city was described in the following melancholy phrases: "Through gross mismanagement and incapacity and utter disregard of the interest and welfare of our people on the part of those entrusted with the administration of the affairs of our city, it is now in the most deplorable and disgraceful condition. Streets and wharves are shamefully neglected, the treasury is empty, its just debts unpaid and swelling from month to month; her credit, once so deservedly high, has sunk to the lowest ebb. At the present rate of taxation an honest and faithful collection and disbursement of her revenues would enable her to meet her current expenses as well as the interest on her outstanding bonds, and pay for all necessary improvements, and leave a large surplus to be applied towards the liquidation of her indebtedness."10 On March 23rd this jury called on Governor Warmoth and presented a list of candidates, four for each office, and suggested that the mayor and administrators be chosen from among the number.

Three days later the governor announced his appointments. J. H. Oglesby, president of the Louisiana National Bank, was named for p337mayor. The governor's selections for administrators were: J. S. Walton, Alfred Shaw, S. C. Emley, Bernard Soulie, L. T. Delassize, E. W. Pierce and J. R. West. Only four of these were taken from the list presented by the Electoral Jury. These were Walton, Emley, Delassize and Soulie. On the other hand, Oglesby was himself a member of the Electoral Jury. Soulie and Delassize were negroes, the former a wealthy real estate owner and the latter had formerly been state auditor and was at the present time recorder of mortgages in New Orleans. After considering the matter four days, Oglesby determined to refuse the appointment, as he found his time too fully occupied with personal affairs to permit him to give any attention to public matters. Soulie followed his example. Delassize, who, it was understood, was to be made Administrator of Assessments, was likewise on the point of declining when he was offered a better position among the administrators and consented to accept. The post vacated to him was tendered to another colored man, named McCarty, who accepted.

In place of Oglesby the governor's choice fell upon B. F. Flanders, who, in 1867, under Sheridan, had been for six months governor of the state. After leaving the gubernatorial chair he had resided for some time in Brooklyn. His status as a Republican could not be questioned.11

Altogether, the new appointments were probably as good as could be expected under the circumstances. Walton had already some experience in municipal employ. He had been in the city treasurer's office. In 1867 he had served as Assistant United States Treasurer and was now president of the Louisiana Savings Institution. Shaw was another old citizen. He had held the appointment of recorder of mortgages under an appointment from Butler; had been clerk of the United States District Court under Judge Durell, and was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1864. Emley had come to New Orleans in 1864 and was in the mercantile business. Pierce was a Magazine Street flour merchant and had been appointed a member of the State Board of Education, "which position he had virtually resigned," according to an ambiguous paragraph in one of the local newspapers.12

West had served with the rank of general in the Union army in Texas; he had been chief deputy United States marshal under Herron, and at the present time was serving as auditor of customs.

The new officials were ready to take their seats on April 4th. All of the retiring officials, "except Conway, were ready to yield their offices. Conway, with a desperation which only the fear of losing an office can lead, determined to cling to the mayoralty while there was a shadow to grasp at, and nervously flitted from one room to another" of the City Hall.13 Flanders, accompanied by the newly appointed administrators, arrived at the hall in the forenoon. Conway expressed surprise at seeing Flanders, whom, he said, had no right to attempt to act as mayor until the second Monday following the date of his appointment. Such was, at least, the interpretation which the retiring mayor placed upon the language of the new charter. He would therefore recognize him on April 11th. For similar reasons he refused to recognize Delassize and McCarty, claiming that the period which should elapse between their p338nomination and their induction into office had not yet expired. These arguments the Picayune on the following morning pronounced "mere quibbles." Flanders merely answered that he had come to the hall and proposed to stay. He thereafter ignored Conway, who made several futile attempts to interfere with the subsequent installation of the new government. Flanders called together the new administrators and proceeded to organize them as the City Council. He announced the appointment of John Tobin as mayor's secretary, and directed the various administrators to repair to their different departments, which they did, and there they were courteously received and duly installed.


[image ALT: A woodcut of the head and shoulders of a man with receding curly hair and short sideburns, wearing 19c clothing. He is in late middle age and has an air of kindness rather than intelligence. It is Benjamin F. Flanders, a mayor of New Orleans.]

Mayor Benjamin Franklin Flanders

Benjamin F. Flanders was an old resident of New Orleans. Although a native of New Hampshire, he had settled in the city as early as 1843. Here he had studied for the bar. He seems not to have practiced his profession, however, but turned his attention first to teaching and then to journalism and to politics. He was for many years employed in the city public schools. Before the Civil war he had attained the rank of principal of one of the public schools. He was offered the school superintendency of the Third Municipality, but declined this honorable and laborious position. His journalistic activities led him into the editorship of a local newspaper, the Tropic, which he was largely instrumental in establishing and of which he became part owner. In 1849 he was elected alderman in the council of the Third Municipality and was re-elected in 1852. In the latter year, also, he was appointed secretary and treasurer of the Opelousas & Great Western Railroad. In 1862 his political ideas recommended him to the Federals. When the city was occupied Butler made him city treasurer. A few months later, when elected to Congress, he resigned this position in order to go to Washington. In the following year Secretary Chase tendered him an appointment as supervising agent of the United States Treasury in Louisiana, which p339he accepted. He resigned this post in 1866 to become president of the First National Bank of New Orleans.14 Flanders was well spoken of, even in newspapers normally opposed to all things radical; and it must be said that he was by training in a position to give the city an efficient and business-like administration. As a matter of fact, the situation was beyond his control; and the period of eighteen months over which his two administrations extend was one of riotous extravagance and general incompetence in practically every branch of the city government. Radical control of the city was now complete; those who had engineered it naturally hastened to reap the benefit of their skill and industry.

Flanders' first act, however, met with general approval. This was to order an investigation of the sale of the stock of the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern Railroad, owned by the city, to a syndicate of Northern capitalists headed by Henry McComb. The city, it will be recalled, issued a large block of bonds in 1852 for the benefit of this road. In return for this pecuniary assistance it had received 80,000 shares of the capital stock, valued at $25 per share. This stock had been hypothecated to protect the bonds, and these bonds were due in 1874 and 1875. It was claimed by some persons that under these circumstances the stock was valueless. Others, and among them W. Henderson, who had served for five or six years as a member of the board of directors of the road, claimed, with just as much apparent justification, that, on the contrary, the stock was immensely valuable. Henderson asserted that it was worth $3,000,000 and within a short time would pay an annual interest on that valuation. A bill was introduced in the Legislature early in the year to authorize the sale of the stock. Little was known of the proposed deal until within a day or two of the final passage of the law. It was fiercely denounced by some of the local newspapers.15 On March 30th the City Council adopted an ordinance directing the city treasurer to proceed to the sale of the stock at a price of not less than $150,000. There was some irregularity in the manner in which this ordinance was passed. It was signed, not by Mayor Conway, nor by the president pro tempore of the council, Charles Potthoff, but by one of the members, who claimed the right to do so because he had been called temporarily to preside during the time when the measure had been in debate.

The litigation over the sale of this stock and over the slaughter house monopoly constituted the principal incidents of Flanders' first term as mayor. With regard to the Jackson road suit, its history may be briefly recapitulated here. On April 1st a citizen named Hoyle brought suit in a local court to enjoin the city from selling the stock, but this suit was withdrawn a day or two later. McComb, claiming to have bought the stock from the city for $300,000, then enjoined the city from disposing of it to any other person. The new city administration on April 6th refused to receive from the retiring city treasurer, Mount, McComb's check for $300,000, and the money was thereupon deposited in a bank to wait the result of the litigation. The city now intervened in the injunction suit and obtained an order restraining McComb from selling such certificates as might have been delivered to him. The next step was a suit brought by private citizens to throw the road into bankruptcy. p340On May 27th the situation was further complicated by the newly elected city attorney, George S. Lacey, to whom the matter was referred for an opinion. He held that there was no legal reason why the city should not proceed to consummate the sale of the stock in question. In June McComb and his associates received a verdict in several of the suits the effect of which was to put them in possession of the property. The city then took possession of the deposit of $300,000. Later on, the original bonds fell due and were paid by the city.16

The slaughter house case, which resulted favorably to the city after prolonged litigation, arose from an act passed by the Legislature of 1869, giving to a group of business men a monopoly of the cattle business in New Orleans. Under this law no one might import into the city cattle for slaughter except this company, or persons whom it authorized and who paid it a fee. Judge Bradley, in the United States Circuit Court, in granting a perpetual injunction against the company, held that the proposed monopoly was an infraction of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution, inasmuch as it abridged the immunities of citizens of the United States. "It is one of the privileges of every American citizen," the court held, "to adopt and follow such lawful industrial pursuit — not injurious to the community — as he may see fit without unreasonable regulation or molestation and without being restricted by any of those unjust, oppressive and odious privileges which have been condemned by all free governments."

During Flanders' first term wood as a paving material was tried on some of the city streets and pronounced a failure. The name of St. Charles Street was changed to St. Charles Avenue from Tivoli (Lee) Circle uptown. The census of 1870 gave the city a population of 191,418. In 1869 the assessment of the city was $139,848,204, on which a tax was levied of 2.375 per cent. This included the assessment of .75 per cent ordered by the Metropolitan Police Board.17

Flanders served till November 7, 1870, when, in accordance with the new charter, an election took place for mayor and for administrators of assessments, commerce and police. Flanders was nominated for mayor by the Republicans, and L. A. Wiltz, who had formerly been president of the Board of Aldermen and had been expelled by Warmoth in the previous December, was named by the Democrats, principally as a protest against that action. Flanders' success was a foregone conclusion. The election hardly attracted the attention of the contemporary newspapers. Squads of the Metropolitan Police guarded the polls' charges that the voters were intimidated were freely made, and the ballots were counted by the returning board which the State Legislature had created for the purpose. Flanders was declared to have received 18,216 votes as against 11,826 for Wiltz.

The second term of Flanders presented no change as compared with the first one. The extravagant management of city affairs went on unchecked. In 1872 the expenses of the city amounted to $6,961,381 and the bonded debt climbed to the colossal figure of $21,000,000. The assessment of the city was $131,426,211, and the tax rate nominally 2.75; but it has been conservatively computed that on a just valuation of property p341in New Orleans, the tax rate would have been nearer 5 per cent than the figure given. The city engineer, W. H. Bell, in 1871 presented to the council a complete drainage system, with protection levees above and below the city, and revetted levees along the lake shore. The water within these limits was to be carried by wide and deep canals to Lake Pontchartrain and there pumped into the lake. The cost of the system was estimated at millions of dollars. To meet the expense it was proposed to issue gold bonds bearing 7½ per cent interest per annum. This, and the purchase of the upper City Park in 1871, were the two important events of Flanders' second term. The purchase of the park was effected under an act of the Legislature of 1871. The price was $800,000. The property comprised 373 "arpents," or about 280 acres. It is known today as Audubon Park and is one of the most beautiful pleasure places in the city.


The Author's Notes:

1 Ficklen, "History of Reconstruction in Louisiana," 203, 204; Appleton's Annual Encyclopaedia, 1868, p434; New Orleans Times, July 2, 1868.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Special Orders No. 154. The Picayune for July 14 prints the order in full, without comment.

[decorative delimiter]

3 Fortier, "A History of Louisiana," IV, 110 pp.

[decorative delimiter]

4 Bee, December 25, 26, 29, 1869.

[decorative delimiter]

5 Picayune, December 29, 1869; January 7, 1870.

[decorative delimiter]

6 Republican, January 4, 1869.

[decorative delimiter]

7 Republican, January 24, 1869.

[decorative delimiter]

8 Picayune, February 12, 1869.

[decorative delimiter]

9 On January 16, 1869, by Ordinance No. 1232, N. S., the city purchased the waterworks from the Commercial Bank for $2,000,000, payable $1,393,400 in 5 per cent bonds, the remainder being represented by the amount due for her half-million dollars worth of stock and accrued interest thereon. Seven commissioners named by the city then took charge of the waterworks. These were under the new charter made subordinate to the Administrator of Public Buildings and Waterworks.

[decorative delimiter]

10 Picayune, March 24, 1870.

[decorative delimiter]

11 Republican, April 3, 1870.

[decorative delimiter]

12 Republican, March 27, 1870.

[decorative delimiter]

13 Picayune, April 5, 1870.

[decorative delimiter]

14 "A Louisianaise," "Bibliographical Sketches of Louisiana's Governors," pp44‑45.

[decorative delimiter]

15 By the Picayune, for instance. See its editorial for March 22, 1870.

[decorative delimiter]

16 Picayune, April‑June, 1870, passim.

[decorative delimiter]

17 Campbell, "Manual of the City of New Orleans," p28.


[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 27 Nov 10