New Orleans in 1878
Although the shadow of the great epidemic still rested upon the city, the election of 1878 was hotly contested. On the surface, the issues were economic. Actually, it was a final struggle between the democrats and the republicans. The situation was complicated by the appearance of five municipal tickets. One of these was that of the regular democratic organization. The others, ostensibly, at least, were put forward by parties representing spontaneous movements among the citizens on behalf of better government. "There is no disguising the fact," observed the Picayune, in an editorial review of the situation, "that very general dissatisfaction exists with the conduct of municipal affairs in certain departments for some years past."1 These parties of opposition included the citizens', taxpayers' and workingman's party, the national party, the citizens' conservative party and the workingman's party. Besides these, there was a property holders' union which did not nominate any candidates, but the activities of which served still further to muddy the waters. The citizens', taxpayers' and workingman's party was organized October 9, and two days later put out a complete municipal ticket, headed by Dr. C. H. Thibault for mayor. Its platform called for the punctual payment of all city employes; the abolition of the license system; the reduction of the city assessment to $70,000,000; the suspension for five years of all interest on the city debt, and the of the tax rate to one per cent per annum. The national convention met on October 16 and named Robert S. Howard for mayor, and Glendy Burke, B. W. Hebrard, J. A. Watkins, G. D. Hite, J. B. Gaudet, E. St. Ceran and other well-known citizens for the minor places. Comparatively little attention was given to the citizens', taxpayers' and workingmen'sº nominees. But a sharp attack was begun in the democratic newspapers on the nationalists almost as soon as its ticket was made public: It was described as allied with a Northern secret society which was suspected of entertaining similar to those of the know-nothing party of unhappy memory. The Picayune went so far as to accuse the nationalists of being affiliated with the republicans — a statement for which, as will be seen, there was good ground.2
The citizens' conservative movement was originally intended to be a movement within the democratic party. Its leaders, of whom L. L. Levy was the most prominent, announced that it did not intend to make any nominations if a proper ticket was named by the regular democratic organization. Unfortunately, it had no part in the selection of the members of the democratic-conservative parish committee. This committee met on October 16 and chose Col. I. W. Patton to head the ticket, but apportioned the minor places, as usual, among the ward leaders and professional politicians, like James Houston, J. Henry Behan and Patrick Meallie. Houston was named for administrator of public improvements, Behan for administrator of commerce and Meallie for administrator of p411police. The next day the citizens conservative leaders declined to endorse this ticket as a whole, although expressing approval of certain of the nominations. On October 18 the association met and named a ticket of its own, with Patton for mayor, but in other respects different from that of the regular democracy. Patton immediately addressed a letter to the citizens' conservative leaders, repudiating the association completely and declining to permit the use of his name on their ticket. His example was followed by the other regular democratic candidates of whom the association approved and whom it had named on its first slate. This compelled considerable changes, and John Wilson, a well-known local merchant, was put in Patton's place. The effect was awkward, inasmuch as the association was thus compelled to go before the public in support of men who were avowedly second choice. The association now made the mistake of abandoning its attitude of reform inside of the democratic party and assumed the character of an independent party. It had unquestionably some justification, in view of the discontent of hundreds of white voters with the action of the regular democratic nominating convention, and the lukewarm loyalty of many others, who had supported the regulars only from considerations of what they deemed paramount necessity. But the moment was not ripe a separatist movement; the voters were not certain that all danger of renewed radical ascendancy in Louisiana was over, and, in the event, this sentiment proved fatal to the reform movement. Moreover, it had to meet an effective opposition from the established party, which refused its application to be represented at the polls, and which, when the application was carried up to the governor, induced him to decline to interfere.
In the meantime, on October 16, the republican party, which, in spite of the events of recent years, still maintained an organization in the city, as in the state, was making overtures to the nationalists. It was clear that they could not hope to win with a ticket of their own, but it seemed possible to combine with one or more elements in opposition to the regular democracy, and, by defeating it, open the way back to power. Acting, therefore, under instructions from their central committee, their representatives conferred with the nationalists, and working through a joint committee framed a ticket which they were willing to support, on condition that it was accepted without change by the other party. When the national convention met it failed to endorse this slate in its entirety. The republicans considered that they were thus released from their agreement. But neither party felt itself able to stand alone; new conferences followed, but the negotiations were prolonged, interest in the proposed arrangement diminished and the matter appeared in a fair way to be dropped by mutual consent. It was then that the republicans made overtures to the citizens' conservative party with a view to effect a tri-party deal. L. L. Levy, as chairman of the citizens' conservative committee, declined to receive the republican emissaries as party representatives and met their propositions with the flat statement that no changes could be made in the ticket which his associates had already adopted. On receipt of this news, the joint conference of republicans and the nationals dissolved. The conferees reported back to their respective organizations. The republican committee decided by a vote of 13 to 12 to support the national ticket as it stood. The chairman, Mr. Lewis, thereupon tendered his resignation by way of expressing disapproval and was with difficulty persuaded to reconsider his action. It appeared that was p412a suspicion in the minds of the committee that its representatives had not done all that could have been done to reach an agreement with the nationalists. A split seemed inevitable. At this juncture General Badger secured the adoption of a resolution expressing the desire of the republicans to make an arrangement with the nationalists whereby both parties might unite in support of a ticket in opposition to the regular democracy.
The republicans were in reality ready to yield everything to the nationalists in respect to the municipal elections. What they were really interested in was not the control of the city government so much as the congressional nominations. It was of more importance to them to secure the support of the nationalists for their candidates for Congress than it was to dictate the city officials. Consequently, in the arrangement which was finally effected between them and the nationalists, the nationalist municipal ticket was adopted virtually without change, except in regard to the candidates for a few minor places, like coroner and recorder. It was hoped that a similar combination might be effected with the citizens' conservative association. But the latter party steadfastly refused to be drawn into the congressional contest. It declared its intention to confine its efforts to the city election exclusively. Within that sphere it was, however, willing to accept an alliance with the anti-democratic forces. Thus, at the beginning of November it was fairly well understood that the voters had no option but to support the regular democratic organization, whether they liked that party or not, if they desired to prevent the election of the republican candidates for Congress, Messrs. Collom and Castellanos. The democratic candidates for Congress were Messrs. Gibson and Ellis.3
The address issued to the public by the citizens' conservative association on the day before the election dealt caustically with the local issues of the campaign. "It is notorious," ran this document, "that the democratic-conservative party came into power with the positive assurance that all the abuses, corruptions, derelictions and malpractices in the administration of our public affairs, the stagnation of our business, the depreciation of property, all of which was charged upon the republican party, were to disappear, and we were to enjoy the inestimable blessings of good government and prosperity. How have these promises been fulfilled? We ask all candid and dispassionate men to answer these questions. [. . .] The city government has been run in the same manner as hitherto, and all the alleged abuses have been retained, to which others have been added for the benefit of greedy officials, to enable them to accumulate fortunes, while the masses of the people are in a state of destitution. Let any citizen reflect upon the condition of our public affairs — an unpaid police, unpaid teachers of the public schools, unpaid subaltern officers and laborers, and unlimited public debt of millions of dollars, the depreciation of real estate that renders its possession a burden; general want among all classes of citizens; the visitation of an epidemic which has swept away thousands of our people, and the positive knowledge that our thoroughfares filled with garbage may have been the cause of that affliction, owing to the delinquency of our city administrators — for the responsibility must rest upon all of them and not upon the administrator of improvements alone; and we ask what other conclusion can be reached but that the men and party entrusted p413with the direction of our city affairs have forfeited all claims to public confidence? The same influence which produced the recent nominations of the so‑called democratic-conservative convention prevailed in the election of the present city officials, and we have too much reason to believe that the same course will be pursued by the nominees now chosen, if elected, as has been pursued by the present incumbents." The nominees of the democratic-conservative party were styled "creatures of a ring," and all the men who were, when the ticket was elected, to be placed on the city payrolls were "already selected by the party leaders." "It is a close corporation for the government of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana," sad the address in closing, "which by chicanery has eliminated from the councils and administration of the democratic party all the high-toned gentlemen who, a few years ago, were the recognized leaders."
There were, it must be admitted, ample justification for almost of these charges. Perhaps it was some secret recognition of this fact that made the language of the democratic-conservatives reply so temperate. "We say to our fellow citizens of the citizens' conservative association that our aims and objects, and our every interest, are the same as those which they proclaim in their address. We, too, urge thorough reform and purification by an economical, conscientious and enlightened administration of public affairs, conducted with a rigid performance of duty and personal accountability by the servants of the people. We advocate a vigorous effort to conserve and economize the resources of the city; the restoration of our commercial prosperity; and the lightening of the burdens thereon; the equalization of assessments, a generous school system with equal advantages to white and colored; harbor improvement, and the abatement of the wharf charges at the earliest practicable moment; the suppression of all monopolies, and the abolition of the present contract system." As evidence of the sincerity of these assurances, the party managers circulated through the city a questionnaire which voters were asked to fill in and return, stating their views with regard to reforms needed in the local government, particularly a new assessment of property, not to exceed $100,000,000; a tax rate not to exceed one per cent; the suspension of interest on the city debt for two years; the complete abolition of the license system; the repel of all monopolies; the annulment of all delinquent taxes on homesteads and property worth less than $2,500; a new city charter, and a rule requiring all city employes to be paid at the city hall over their own signature. This circular is of interest as indicating the nature of the abuses from which the city suffered. The last provision, particularly, struck at a practice which worked great hardship among the poorest and most defenseless of the city employes. These were frequently paid in certificates, and these certificates were discounted with local brokers at ruinous rates. If these men were debarred from cashing the purchased certificates, a severe blow would be dealt to their business. It is perhaps not necessary to say that this reform, among others, was not actually carried out. For years to come the systematic exploitation of the city employes — particularly the police, firemen and school teachers — was destined to continue.
There were in New Orleans at this time 36,000 registered voters, of whom 11,000 were colored. Of these 26,000 might be expected to vote for the democratic-conservative candidates, "unless restrained by dissatisfaction p414with the way the nominations have been made, with the character of the delegates who had composed the nominating convention and the manner in which those delegates had been chosen."4 As a matter of fact, the fear that the election of any other than the straight democratic-conservative ticket might give an opportunity for the restoration of republican control was more than sufficient to offset any sentiment of displeasure with the methods used by that party in making up its slate. November 5 election day, passed off quietly enough, "Almost unbroken peace prevailed," according to the Picayune; "singular, in view of the animosities subsisting between certain factions." The Patton ticket received 13,932 votes, as against 6,887 for Wilson, 1,140 for Thibault and 7,151 for the nationalist candidate, Howard. However, the citizens' conservative association announced on October 8 its intention to contest the election on the ground of fraud. The principal basis of this allegation was the exclusion of the United States deputy marshals from the polls while the vote was being counted. A letter of protest, signed by J. Aldigé, C. G. Johnson, Jacob Hassinger, F. Lange, J. G. Parham, W. Flower and W. C. Raymond, was filed with the governor on November 13. It specified the "exclusion from the polls of citizens legally entitled to vote and properly registered; permitting men to vote under false names; receiving ballots cast in the names of persons notoriously absent from the city; excluding from the booths citizens who were entitled by law to be present to witness the counting of the vote; falsely changing votes when cast, and substituting others; and counting for the opposition candidates votes cast for others." Affidavits of responsible persons were submitted in substantiation of these charges. "The people are uneasy and dissatisfied," concluded this document; "they feel that justice has been outraged, and a wrong committed which threatens the purity and sanctity of the ballot. These illegal acts so much calculated to bring reproach upon the first popular administration vouchsafed to us after so many years of misrule, are the more heinous because the perpetrators claim to be acting in the name of the great party of the people, the democratic party, which has no more devoted adherents than the association which we represent."5 The governor, however, declined to act, and the Patton government was allowed to enter upon control of the city a few days later without any further opposition.
Mayor I. W. Patton
Arriving in this state, Colonel Patton first engaged in cotton planting on property which he bought in Madison Parish. This property he cultivated in conjunction with a sugar plantation situated below New Orleans, owned by his father-in‑law. When the Civil war began he promptly offered his services to the state. He was elected captain of the Screwmen's Guards, stationed at Proctorville. Shortly before the arrival of the Federal fleet in front of New Orleans he was ordered to take command of the batteries at Chalmette, immediately below the city, which he did on the day that the enemy's vessels ascended the river. When the city surrendered he withdrew with the rest of the Confederate forces to Camp Moore, on what was then called the Jackson Railroad. Captain Patton was subsequently elected colonel of the Twenty-third Louisiana p416Infantry, with which he served till the close of the war. The regiment saw hard service at Vicksburg and in the Yazoo Delta, handling artillery against the Federal fleet in the Mississippi River. During the siege of Vicksburg Colonel Patton received a wound in the hip, which afterwards caused him much trouble and was probably the cause of his death. He was taken prisoner when Vicksburg surrendered, but shortly afterwards was exchanged and resumed his place at the head of his regiment in Mobile, where it was then stationed. He took part in the fighting at Spanish Fort, in Mobile Bay, and at the end of the twelve eventful days over which these operations lasted fell back to Cuba Station, where the regiment was forced to surrender. Colonel Patton was paroled and released at this place.
At the close of the war Colonel Patton returned to New Orleans and embarked in the commission business. In 1872 he was elected criminal sheriff. In the fighting on the 14th of September, 1874, he served as a member of Captain Pleasants' company.6
The most important feature of Mayor Patton's administration was his management of the city finances. His inaugural message called attention to the condition of the city in this regard. The situation was, indeed, desperate. The assessed valuation of the city was, in round figures, $111,000,000. This valuation was fixed by the law, and could not immediately be exceeded. The law also fixed the rate of taxation at one and one-half per cent. Out of the city alimony sufficient funds had to be annually appropriated to meet the interest, principal, allotments and premiums due from time to time on the premium bonds. Under this provision it had been found necessary to set aside out of every dollar collected 26 cents in 1876, 40 cents in 1877 and 46 cents in 1878. There was good reason to expect that these amounts would continue to increase from year to year. There were, moreover, large amounts of bonds other than premium bonds outstanding, on which interest also would have to be paid; and there was, also, litigation pending over the consolidated bonds which might result unfavorably to the city, and in that event provision would have to be made to satisfy the judgments.
Mayor Patton's first remedy was to scale the debt fifty per cent. This would reduce the outstanding obligations to about $10,000,000. He believed that on this basis the debt, principal and interest could be cared for on an annual appropriation of $750,000. But this proposal aroused so much unfavorable comment beyond the borders of Louisiana that it was ultimately withdrawn. The mayor then suggested the formation of a syndicate of bankers to take entire charge of the city debt.7 This plan, likewise, was sharply criticized. The matter was first brought before the constitutional convention of 1879. That body discreetly relegated the whole thorny question to the State Legislature. When the Legislature met in 1880 Governor Wiltz, in his initial message, commented favorably upon Mayor Patton's plan, and suggested that the proposed syndicate be empowered to purchase as many of the city securities p417as possible at the current market rates. The syndicate, he thought, by refunding or in some other way might bring the interest on the remainder within the limits of the ten-mill tax. The Legislature accordingly passed Act No. 133, which is important in the financial history of the city, as it established the Board of Liquidation, which has been instrumental in solving the whole complicated problem of the municipal finance, and has put the credit of New Orleans on a firm basis. This board was to consist of six citizens, two appointed by the governor, two by the lieutenant governor and two by the speaker of the House of Representatives, with the mayor, the treasurer and the comptroller of the city as members ex‑officio. The board was given exclusive control over and direction of all matters connected with the bonded debt; to retire and cancel the valid debt of the city, with the exception of the premium bonds, and to refund it into an issue of consolidated four per cent bonds. The act, however, stultified itself by providing that in these operations not more than 50 cents on the new bonds should be given for one dollar of the old debt. This circumstance, together with the lower rate of interest which was offered — many of the old bonds drawing six and even seven per cent — sufficed to defeat the whole program of financial reform. The holders of the city securities showed no inclination to avail themselves of the opportunity to convert their bonds into the proposed four per cents; these were, therefore, not issued. The other provisions of the act, however, were carried out. The appointment of the board brought together a distinguished group of patriotic citizens. Subsequent legislation, in 1882 and 1884, corrected the errors in the original act. "The creation of this board," observes Rudolph Hecht, in his "Municipal Finances of New Orleans," "really constituted the turning point in the city's financial troubles, and the splendid and unselfish work done by this body of men from the date of its creation to the present time cannot be too highly praised."8
The benefits of this legislation were, however, not immediately felt in New Orleans. In addition to its own burden, the city was carrying a large share of the state taxes. With a population of only twenty-five per cent of the total for the entire state, New Orleans paid sixty-one per cent of the state taxes. This disproportionate rate was due to the inequality of the assessment. Real estate in New Orleans, for instance, was valued at $104,000,000, while all the rest of the state was valued at $73,000,000. The personal property owned in Louisiana was assessed at $1,716,530, of which only $22,340 was owned outside of the city. Forty-seven parishes reported themselves destitute of jewelry, household goods, silverware, tools, etc. Of the state tax collected from the city $120,000 annually was spent in the parishes for education. At the same time the teachers of New Orleans were going without pay for months at a time. In 1878, for example, from August to the close of the year, the schools were kept open only by allowing the teachers to charge a small tuition fee, which they were authorized to retain, in lieu of other compensation for their services. The state auditor, impressed by the injustice of which the city was a victim, proposed to abandon the state tax insofar as it was utilized for the support of country schools. A bill was actually introduced into the Legislature to return to the city the sums collected for that purpose in 1877 and 1878, but it failed to pass.9
p418 The school system in New Orleans now made, as we have seen, provision for the separate instruction of whites and blacks. The right of the School Board to establish the different schools had been attacked in the celebrated Trevique case, in 1877; it was again made the subject of litigation in 1879. A colored man, Bertonneau, brought suit in equity to compel the city to admit his children to the white schools. Judge W. B. Woods of the United States Circuit Court, who decided the case, declared that no injury had been done the plaintiff, as the rule of the School Board applied equally to white and black, each race being required to attend its own schools and not being permitted to enter the others. "Any classification which provides substantially equal school facilities does not impair any right, and is not prohibited by the Constitution of the United States. Equality of right does not imply identity of right." This decision was received with great satisfaction by the people of the city, to whom the matter of separate schools had become important especially as representing the definite collapse of radical legislation on the subject.
The city was less fortunate in litigation which arose regarding the power of the judiciary to compel the municipality to levy taxes. The question came up in the United States Supreme Court in the case of Ranger vs. the City of New Orleans. This suit originated in a petition for a writ of mandamus to compel the city to levy a tax to pay certain judgments rendered against it upon bonds issued to the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern Railroad Company. The city's defense was that there was no legislative authority for levying the tax. The lower courts proceeded upon the theory that the taxing power could not curtail or direct it. In the Supreme Court, however, to which the case was carried on appeal, it was held that the taxing power might be delegated by the Legislature to a municipality; that consequently the city possessed the right to impose taxation; that when the city contracted a debt, it implicitly undertook to pay it, and hence the city or the municipality should do so by levying a tax, if no other means existed for that purpose. The court ruled that the City of New Orleans had failed in its duty, and that therefore a mandamus might properly issue. The effect of this decision was to open the way to much litigation, and a number of judgments were secured which the city had great difficulty in satisfying.
During the years 1879 and 1880 considerable progress was made in constructing railroads which gave the city better access to the West and Northwest. The construction of Morgan's Louisiana & Texas Railroad and of the Louisiana & Northwest opened the way to Texas. The railroad from New Orleans to Marshall was well under way. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company acquired control of the railroad to Mobile, and thus a through route was opened to the North and East. The Chicago, St. Louis & New Orleans gave connections with the great cities of the Middle West. Up to this time it had been necessary for the traveler who wished to go from New Orleans to Chicago to take four different roads. He traveled from New Orleans to McComb City, Mississippi, on the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern, of which Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard was then president. At McComb he transferred to the Mississippi Central, which ran through the central part of the state and connected with a Mississippi corporation, over the lines of which one might reach Cairo, Illinois. There began the Illinois Central. Each of p419these roads made its own schedule, which was devised without reference to connecting lines; and the luckless wayfarer, if he arrived a few moments late, often spent twenty-four hours waiting in some obscure and comfortless country town the departure of the next train, in order to proceed upon his journey.
The visit of Gen. U. S. Grant to New Orleans in April, 1880, was made the occasion of a public demonstration in his honor.
The health of the city improved steadily, and towards the close of Mayor Patton's term it was proudly recorded that the death rate of the city was lower than it had been during the twelve preceding years.
Mayor Patton interested himself in the betterment of the police. The , after its reorganization in 1876, had steadily declined in efficiency. It was underpaid and sometimes not paid at all, and although nominally under the control of the mayor, was actually dominated by the ward bosses and political leaders of the "regular" democratic organization. The mayor advocated and tried unsuccessfully to introduce a system whereby all promotions should be made from the ranks of the force, hoping in this way to building up the discipline; and he made strenuous but unavailing efforts to see that the members of the department were properly and punctually paid. He endeavored to do as much for the other departments of the city government, but the situation was beyond his power of control. The tax rate was increased under a new ordinance passed towards the close of the administration to 1.82 1/10 per cent, but the assessments declined to $91,117,918 — the lowest point reached since 1862. The city income was correspondingly reduced in spite of the fact that, in Mayor Patton's own words, "every species of property owned by the citizen is levied upon to swell the public revenue. His house, his lots, his horses, cows, and calves; the watch in his pocket, the blankets which warm him, the mattresses on which he sleeps; his stock, notes and income, are all taxed to meet the public necessities. It is difficult to name any article of property which is not taxed; and some inventive genius has discovered that a tax can be placed upon their brain, their bone and muscle, their energy, enterprise and industry."10 Nevertheless the license system, to which these energetic words allude, was not essentially disturbed.
For several years there had been developing in the community a feeling of discontent with the city charter. Judge W. W. Howe, one of the most learned writers who has treated this subject, has left on record his belief that this instrument was, on the whole, a thoroughly efficient one.11 It had, however, been imposed on the city by a radical Legislature, and would have been unsatisfactory for that reason if for no other. This sentiment caused the insertion in the state constitution of 1879 of Article 254, requiring the next General Assembly to frame a new charter for the city. In his inaugural message Governor Wiltz called the attention of this body to certain provisions in the new constitution designed to limit the taxing power of municipalities, which, like New Orleans, were in serious financial straits, said: "The new limitation in municipal government." The governor counselled conservative action, ". . . ment.a A modification of the charter reducing the number of officers and their salaries, in proportion to the new tax rate, will be a welcome relief p420to the taxpayers. A long period has passed since the people of this city have been able to express their will and choice respecting their form of municipal government." The governor counseled conservative action, however: "Experience," he added, "shows that large cities prosper most when most relieved of external or superior authority."
Although the movement for a new charter did not at this time succeed, it may be interesting, in the light of the changes which were made a year or two later, to follow in some detail the history of the present movement. In accordance with the mandate in the constitution, Representative Richardson of Orleans introduced in the House of Representatives early in January, 1880, a bill directing the appointment of a committee on the draughting of a charter for New Orleans. This committee held a series of conferences with the leading citizens of the city over a space of several weeks, and in March submitted its report. Briefly, the plan called for a new city government, consisting of an executive department comprising mayor, a treasurer, a comptroller and a superintendent of public works, all to be elected by direct vote of the people for a term of four years; and a legislative department consisting a council of thirty-one members, of whom twenty-three were to be selected from the representative districts within the boundaries of the city, and eight from the senatorial districts. This council was empowered to elect for a term of four years a librarian, a city surveyor, an attorney, five police commissioners, a board of public charities and two superintendents of fire and police telegraph. The salary of the mayor was fixed at $3,500, and the other officials were to be paid $2,000 to $3,000 each per annum. There were, finally, three police judges to be elected by the people. It was estimated that the new schedule of salaries involved a saving of $35,000 per annum.
The charter was, however, very hastily drawn and full of inconsistencies. Section 66, for example, provided that the mayor should be a person possessing all the qualifications set forth in Section 63; but Section 63, on examination, proved to contain nothing but provisions regarding the removal of the mayor from office. Another section described in detail the duties of the superintendent of police, but there was nowhere provision for the appointment of that official. Section 31 conferred upon the city council the curious prerogative of compelling any person whatsoever to assist in quenching fires. Another singular provision was the right to sell the city parks and other public grounds. More serious, however, was the section relating to licenses. This was so worded that the council possessed the right by refusing a license to prevent any person whatsoever from following his trade or profession. Certain businesses, like peddling, pawnbroking, the operation of billiard halls, circuses, operatic entertainments or theatrical enterprises were liable to suppression at the option of the council. Other business, among them some of the most necessary to the welfare of the community, like journalism, baking, carpentering, etc., were, inferentially, prohibited completely.
The bill was passed by the Legislature on April 10, only a few hours before it adjourned. Governor Wiltz declined to approve it. In returning the act to the secretary of state he accompanied with a very full explanation of his motives. He found it unconstitutional, he said, inasmuch as it had not been advertised thirty days in advance of being introduced into the Legislature, as required by the state constitution. p421But he was especially moved by a consideration of the general ambiguity and inconsistencies of the instrument.12
The closing months of Mayor Patton's term were troubled by a series of scandals, which, although he himself was not involved, injured his administration in the eyes of the people. The civil sheriff, Gauthreaux, defaulted with large sums of money, both state and municipal. It was discovered that subordinate officials in the department of improvements were carrying on an illicit traffic in licenses. In the mortgage office the provisions of the new state constitution were perverted in a manner that enabled assessments to be recorded as a lien upon property as soon as made, and the owner could have the inscription cancelled only upon payment of a fee. Gangs of rowdies — called "hoodlums," in the slang of the day — terrorized the lower part of the city. In 1879 an election took place for criminal and civil sheriff, recorder of mortgages and other conveyances and other subordinate officials, which was carried by the "regular" democratic organization by a vote almost double that received by the anti-organization democrats. It appears that certain republican party officers were bribed to turn over to the "regulars" on the night before the election the ballots which had been printed for the use of their co‑partisans, which were thrown into the Galvez Canal, and thus when the republican voters arrived at the polls they found, not the official party ballots, but those prepared for their use by the "regular" organization, on which, under the republican state ticket, was printed the "regular" democratic municipal ticket. In this way some six or seven thousand votes were captured by the organization.13 All of these circumstances tended to bring vividly before the electorate the question of the advisability of continuing in power the element which was at the moment dominant in local politics.
The municipal election of 1880, therefore, was fought out on the definite issue of "machine" and "no machine." The struggle was precipitated by the action of the democratic-conservative parish committee in failing to provide for the reorganization of the ward clubs and thus open the way to its own reorganization. It was clear that the intention of the committee was to remain in office without consulting the wishes of its constituency. Many who had hitherto loyally supported it felt that by thus transgressing the party rules the committee had forfeited their allegiance. "There is nothing democratic," declared the Picayune in a powerful editorial on the subject, "about a body which holds on and over when everybody wants it to step down and out."14 A group of prominent men accordingly met on October 6 and formed the "people's democratic association." "This step is taken," said one of the local papes, "because there is a very general feeling of despair in the community as to the possibility of excluding the ring politicians from the control of the city government by any other means."15 The following day a full municipal ticket was announced, as follows: Mayor, Joseph Shakespeare; administrator of finance, G. LeGardeur, Jr.; administrator of commerce, D. M. Kilpatrick; administrator of assessments, Thomas McIntyre; administrator of improvements, Joseph Collins; administrator of accounts, H. J. Rivet; administrator of public buildings and waterworks, p422H. Dudley Coleman; recorder of the upper district, T. G. Hunt; recorder of the lower district, Ernest Miltenberger. This was a strong ticket. With the exception of Collins and Miltenberger none of the nominees had ever held office before. Collins was serving as administrator of improvements under Mayor Patton. Miltenberger was judge of the Second Municipal District. He was a man of some distinction, having served in the war between the states as aide-de‑camp to Governor Allen and was one of the three commissioners sent to Europe by way of Mexico in the last days of that great struggle to seek recognition for the Confederacy from Emperor Napoleon III. Hunt was a man of rather advanced age. He had served as deputy attorney general under the great lawyer, Mazureau, was a member of Congress in 1853 and been colonel of a regiment which he himself had raised during the war.
The opportunity to eject the "machine" from the city hall was good. The new state constitution provided that in the forthcoming election only voters registered in 1880 should be recognized. This, it was thought, would eliminate at once from 10,000 to 15,000 fraudulent registrations previously voted for the "regular" candidates. Moreover, there was a quarrel among the ward leaders. When the parish committee met on October 11, Cain, leader of the Sixth Ward, withdrew with all the members of his delegation save one, and was followed by the delegates from the Seventh and part of the delegation from the Tenth. The bolters immediately opened up negotiations with the people's democratic association, but as they stipulated for three places on the ticket their overtures were received with great coldness and nothing came from the conferences.
Three days before the committee met to name the ticket it was known that the leaders who dominated the wards thus controlled enough members of the committee to dictate the nominations. They met on October 9 and agreed upon four names for the administratorships. Then alarmed at the progress which the independent movement was making, they called a meeting of a number of representative business men and asked them to suggest suitable candidates for mayor, administrator of accounts and administrator of finance. These names they would adopt. A series of conferences followed, but no agreement was reached. The business men wished to name the mayor and three administrators. This was opposed. Two of the men already selected by the organization, Fagan and Fitzpatrick, offered to withdraw, in order to open the way to a settlement, but their resignations were refused. Finally the conference decided to recommend the names of Jules Denis, B. T. Walshe and W. E. Huger. These names were referred to Fitzpatrick on the afternoon of the day on which the committee met; he approved them, and they went before the meeting and were promptly nominated. Denis, who had had considerable experience in municipal affairs, and had served as administrator of finance under Mayor Pillsbury, was selected for mayor. Walshe was named for administrator of finance, and Huger for administrator of public accounts. The rest of the ticket was: Administrator of public improvements, John Fitzpatrick; administrator of commerce, William Fagan; administrator of police, Patrick Meallie; administrator of assessments, George Delamore; administrator of public buildings and waterworks, J. V. Guillotte; recorder of the upper district, R. C. Davey; recorder of the lower district, Thomas Ford. Fagan and Fitzpatrick had at different times served as criminal sheriff; Delamore, an ex-Confederate p423soldier, had once been assessor of the lower district. Walshe and Huger were also veterans of the Confederacy. The former had been badly wounded at Gaines' Mill; the latter served gallantly in Dreux's Battalion and lost a leg at the battle of Murphreesborough.
The manner in which these nominations were made confirmed the popular feeling about the methods of the "regulars." "For many years," declared an address issued by the people's democratic association, "the greater part of the democracy has had no part in the party nominations and no chance in the party elections." The parish committee was "a close corporation," and as long as its authority was organized "it remained, as it is, a self-constituted electoral college, a distributor of offices to its faithful friends among a small and greedy band of local politicians."16 "The usurpations of the ring," exclaimed the Picayune, "are not recent discoveries. Their existence is universally admitted and are a source of inexpressible disgust."17 All the newspapers in the city opposed the "regular" ticket except one, the States. The Times advocated an Eclectic ticket which was, in the main, composed of names chosen from the democratic conservative list. The Morning Star, a religious weekly, published some vigorous editorials in favor of Shakespeare. The opposition of the Democrat was explained by the fact that Burke had quarrelled with over a matter of patronage. Burke wished to have Maurice J. Hart nominated for administrator of finance, but was denied, and in revenge used the powerful influence of his newspaper against the "regular" party.18 Moreover, the platform on which the people's democratic association appealed to the electorate was very attractive. It stood "for reform and retrenchment under the existing constitution and laws, and an honest settlement of the public debt; opposition to the discussion of public matters in secret through the agency of the committee of the whole, and its concurrent abuses; reduction of charges on commerce, so as to make our port as soon as practicable free; of all sinecures and unnecessary employes; an economic curtailment of expenses and the honest disbursement of public money."19
The "regular" organization endeavored to cloud the issue by connecting the municipal election with the state campaign, and then with the national campaign. When these ruses failed, the cry of danger of republicanism was raised. But this, likewise, was ridiculed in the press. "The game of the ring organs and ring politicians in this city," commented the Times, indignantly, "has been played so long that it is pretty thoroughly understood. Whenever they want to cover up their own shortcomings and misdeeds, or want to get their work in anywhere, they seek to hide their doings under a howl about radical frauds. The majority of the people are tired of this howl about the radical frauds, used [. . .] to prevent them from seeing how they are despoiled by those who set themselves up as their friends and champions." Finding that mere argument made little impression, the democratic conservatives resorted to other devices. On October 23 the registrar of voters, Cavanac, was arrested by the United States marshal on a charge of having violated the Federal election laws by keeping open his office within ten days of an election in which national candidates were to be voted on. At the p424same time the same authority threatened with arrest all voters who registered within the prohibited period. This was obviously a move engineered by the anti-reform forces, but it doubtless had considerable effect in keeping down the registration.
Election day was November 2. In addition to the tickets of the two democratic factions, six others were found to exist. Among these was a republican ticket headed by Cyrus Bussey; the greenback national party, which did not nominate any municipal candidates; while the remainder were, it was understood, fictitious ballots not representing any real party, but issued solely with the view to confuse the voter. The election, however, passed off quietly. One man, a negro, was shot in a row in the Eighth Ward; but there were no other casualties. Mr. Cavanac, passing a polling place, observed that a table was so placed as to obstruct the entrance. He it to be removed, as was his right, considering his official position, but was opposed with insulting language by Recorder Ford. Cavanac then ordered two policemen who were standing by to arrest Ford, which they refused to do, evidently feeling more confident of the latter's authority than that of the register of voters. But this is the only instance which the newspapers reported which resembled interference with the free expression of the people's will. The result was surprising. Shakespeare was elected by a vote of 9,803 votes as against Denis' 9,362, but all the rest of the "regular" ticket was elected by handsome majorities. General Bussey received 4,644 votes.20
Mayor Patton immediately announced that he would not vacate the city hall nor surrender the government to the successful candidates. He based his refusal upon the fact that the new state constitution contained a section requiring the General Assembly to grant a new charter to the city; that this charter had been vetoed by the governor of Louisiana, and that therefore no election could legally be held, and that the one in which Mr. Shakespeare and his confreres had just been elected was null. The intent of the constitution, he urged, was to divorce the state and city elections, which had not been done, and no legal election could be held in the year 1880, but that he should continue in office until the Legislature did finally grant the new charter, and an election had been held under its authority. Accordingly, when Shakespeare presented himself at the hall on November 15, it was merely to make a formal demand. It was tacitly agreed by all parties that the decision of the courts should be waited. Only in the case of the administratorship of improvements did Collins insist upon surrendering the office to Fitzpatrick. Collins contended that the election had been legal; that Fitzpatrick was his properly qualified successor, and that he had no legal right to withhold the keys from him. Mayor Patton, however, refused to entertain this view; and when Collins withdrew, declared the post vacant, and appointed a man named Chevalley to fill it pro tem. Chevalley and Fitzpatrick waited stolidly throughout the afternoon for each other to withdraw; in the end Chevalley left, after putting the keys of his office in the hands of the janitor. The janitor promptly surrendered them to Fitzpatrick. For a few days the city was treated to the curious spectacle of two administrators of improvements claiming to function legally.
On November 24 Judge Houston decided adversely to Patton the quo warranto proceedings instituted by Shakespeare. This decision was substantiated by the State Supreme Court and, accordingly, on December 14 Mayor Shakespeare was inducted into office.
1 Picayune, October 17, 1878.
2 Picayune, October 21, 1878.
3 Picayune, October 31, 1878.
4 Picayune, October 30, 1878.
5 Picayune, November 14, 1878.
6 Picayune, February 10, 1890. At the end of his term as mayor, Colonel Patton returned to business. In 1884 he was elected city treasurer. He resigned that office to become registrar of voters under appointment of Governor McEnery. In 1888 Governor Nicholls appointed him tax collector for the Fourth district of Orleans Parish. He died after a brief illness in New Orleans, February 9, 1890.
7 Campbell, "Manual of the City of New Orleans," 33.
8 Appleton's Annual Encyclopaedia, 1880, 563 ff.
9 Page 10.
10 Inaugural Message. See Picayune, November, 1878.
11 Municipal History of New Orleans, 19.
12 Picayune, April 16, 1880.
13 Picayune, October 14, 1880.
14 Picayune, October 6, 1880.
15 Picayune, October 6, 1880.
16 Picayune, October 6, 1880.
17 Picayune, October 10, 1880.
18 Speech of Fitzpatrick in the Eleventh Ward, October 26, 1880.
19 Statement signed by J. A. Renshaw, Times, October 26, 1880.
20 Campbell, "Handbook of the City of New Orleans," 33, 34.
a Sic. The printed text is garbled, a line having been replaced by the repetition of a line from lower down; with the line breaks, it reads (my italics):
[. . .] "The new limitation in
municipal government." The governor counselledº conservative action,
ment. [. . .]
Five lines down, the text, with the line breaks, reads:
[. . .] their form of
municipal government." The governor counseledº conservative action,
however. [. . .]
I've been unable to restore the missing line.
Images with borders lead to more information.
J. S. Kendall's History
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 22 Mar 11