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Chapter 31

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of New Orleans

by
John Kendall

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

The text is in the public domain.

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


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Chapter 33
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p502 Chapter XXXII
The Fitzpatrick Administration

Interest in the state campaign was so intense in New Orleans that the municipal election of 1892 attracted comparatively little attention. The lottery issue, specifically as such, did not figure in the canvass, but the alignment of the factions was dictated almost exclusively by opinion on that burning question. As Shakespeare's term grew to a close, it was obvious that the local democracy would divide along lines of lottery and anti-lottery. Shakespeare, who had thrown himself heart and soul into the state fight, supported Foster. Fitzpatrick, admittedly the leader of the regular organization, though personally opposed to the lottery,1 supported McEnery. Apprehensive that in the disruption of the democracy, there might be another opportunity for a real revival of the republican party in the city, the local newspapers urged that there be no nomination of candidates until after the state contest had been settled. "We would prefer to see the state ticket settled," remarked the Picayune in March, "and out of the field of controversy before any disputes and controversies over the city ticket shall arise."

This observation was prompted by the rumor that a movement was on foot to nominate Shakespeare to succeed himself. That movement could not count upon the support of the regular organization, which, obviously, would name a ticket of its own of a character to help carry New Orleans for the McEnery ticket. The promoters of the Shakespeare movement were members of the Foster faction. They met at Grunewald Hall on March 26 under the presidency of W. S. Parkerson. In a short address Parkerson outlined some reasons other than those connected with the lottery question why it seemed necessary at this juncture to oppose the regular democracy, even at the risk of splitting the party. "For some years," he said, "New Orleans has been the victim of unscrupulous politicians, whose rottenness has never been surpassed in the whole history of the republican party. They have placed a floating debt upon the city of $855,000, and, in 1888, if they had carried the election, would have added $145,000. The effects of their ruinous policy would have been felt for years to come." It was, in his opinion, necessary to take steps to keep out of office the element to which he alluded. That could best be done by endorsing the Shakespeare administration. "The present council," he continued, "is, on the whole, a good one, though I admit there are some in it who are traitors to their cause, and as bad as any ever put into office. [. . .] Instead of adding to the debt, the present administration has reduced it from $844,000 to $399,000, and, if continued in office, will wipe out the debt entirely and lay by a surplus to meet the bonded debt. There is on hand now $168,000 to the credit of the reserve fund, with all bills and employes paid. The administration which was succeeded by the present one paid $60,000 in interest for borrowed money. The present administration has only $18,000 to p503pay for borrowed money, and of that $13,000 is a debt of the last administration."2

Along with Shakespeare a full city ticket was named. Thoman was renominated for comptroller; E. Miltenberger, for treasurer; J. M. Gleason, for commissioner of public improvements; William Smith, for commissioner of police and public buildings, and a complete council. The slate was received coldly by the local press. "The manner in which the nominations at Grunewald Hall were made," commented the Item, "is not only irregular but offensive. Nobody was made aware of the secret proceedings until the ticket was announced by a corporal's guard of its concocters."3 It was complained subsequently that no effort was made at any time to conciliate the voters. The expiring administration "had failed to gain many new friends, while it has succeeded in alienating the favor of many thousands of persons who will embrace the opportunity of making their resentment felt."4

On the other hand, the regular organization was careful to avoid the reproach of "oligarchy" which was hurled at the Fosterites. All the party formalities were duly observed. The primaries took place on April 8. They were complicated by the fact that on the same day the third reunion of the United Confederate Veterans was in progress in the city. Consequently, a light vote was cast, and the best element in the population, which might otherwise have figured in the balloting, was otherwise occupied. The result was a definite result for Fitzpatrick and, inferentially, for McEnery. The parish nominating convention met in Grunewald Hall on the next day and remained in session for two days. It nominated a city ticket headed by John Fitzpatrick, for mayor; John Brewster, for city treasurer; Peter Farrell, for commissioner of public works, and C. Taylor Gauche, for commissioner of police and public buildings. There were, moreover, full sets of nominees for the city council and for the State Legislature. There can be no doubt that the ticket was fully agreed upon before the convention met, and that the elaborate processes of party action which were gone through with merely concealed a nominative method as purely arbitrary as any imputed to the rival faction. Fitzpatrick went into the convention with the solid backing of his own, the powerful Third Ward, and of the Fourth Ward, secured for him by its leader, Victor Mauberret. With this block of twenty-one votes, it was easy for him to impose his will upon the other delegates.5

The announcement of the ticket was greeted with a chorus of disapproval even from the McEnery organs. "It has created both surprise and indignation," exclaimed the Times-Democrat editorially on the following morning, "in the face of a universal demand for a ticket of reputable, able and representative citizens, the action of the convention in putting forward the men nominated is at once an insult to the intelligence of the community and a defiance of public sentiment quite unparalleled in party history." This paper subsequently explained its position by setting that its disapproval did not extend to Fitzpatrick nor to E. A. Butler, candidate for city attorney. Its objection was that the ticket, as a whole, had been recruited from among professional politicians p504and officeholders and was erected by delegates representing not more than one-quarter of the population. "The nomination of this ticket," it said in a vigorous article on April 13, "has precipitated upon the city the gravest crisis — one that requires the exercise of the highest patriotism and public spirit [. . .] if it is desired to save the city from serious danger, if not positive ruin."

A few days later the Item, reviewing the situation, remarked: "Seldom, if ever before, have the reputable citizens of New Orleans been invited to take part in an election for municipal officers with the entire certainty of being dissatisfied with the result. [. . .] The conflict will be between the same influences, combinations and in many respects between the same persons that contested for public places and patronage four years ago. The changes in the tickets are unimportant as to the character of the principal leaders, and in the great body of the supporters are still less marked. The regular democratic ticket now, as then, is the legitimate product of the compact political organization against which the people protested in 1888 by a majority so large as to leave no room for doubt as to their wishes."6 Referring to Fitzpatrick, this journal admitted that he was "personally and socially a very clever man," but pointed out that he was "first and before all also a politician, and it needs but a reference to the rolls of the department of public works under his management — which lists were swelled by 'strikers' for electioneering purposes only — in order to judge what sort of economy would prevail under his administration, insofar as he could influence the distribution of patronage. 'Mayor' Fitzpatrick is a luxury which New Orleans is not in a financial condition to enjoy."7 The irritation was all the greater because at the beginning of the campaign the regulars had allowed it to be understood that they would nominate "a first-class city ticket, a combination of business capacity and proven probity," which would bring strength to the state ticket. It is putting it mildly to say that the people have been egregiously deceived."8

The republicans of the city attempted to make capital out of the situation. At this moment they were split into two irreconcilable groups, one led by H. C. Warmoth, the other by A. H. Leonard. The former faction met on April 15 at (old number) 205 Canal Street. Under pressure from Warmoth the delegates consented, somewhat reluctantly, to endorse Shakespeare, but withheld their approval from the Fosterite councilmanic and legislative nominees. The members were mainly colored men and assigned as a reason for putting into the field their own list of candidates for the State Legislature the fact that a "Jim Crow" law had been enacted at the preceding session under the auspices of the democracy. On the other hand, the Leonard faction frankly stated its willingness to trade its votes in the city fight to that wing of the democracy which would consent to support the republican legislative candidates. At this price neither of the democratic factions was willing to buy adherents, but a few days later the Leonard faction, for some obscure reason, suddenly decided to swing its votes to Fitzpatrick. As much as by anything else, this action probably was forced upon Leonard by the fact of his hostility to the entire Warmoth program, although it may p505also have been produced by Fitzpatrick's stand against proposed legislation designed to eliminate the negro vote from state politics.9

The election took place on April 19. It was "an unusually quiet one," according to the Picayune of the following morning. The Fitzpatrick ticket was elected by 20,547 votes, as against Shakespeare's 17,289. The regulars were successful in electing their candidates to the State Legislature as well as to the council. The result was attributable largely to the failure of the Fosterite faction to bring out its full strength. On the other hand, the regulars possessed an efficient organization for this purpose and used it tirelessly and with skill. Fitzpatrick, who was by origin a laboring man himself and had all through his public life shown himself friendly to the laboring class, had great influence with its members in the city, and they supported him practically to a man.

The new administration took office on April 25. The inauguration ceremonies were of the simplest. Mayor Shakespeare and the other officers of the retiring government, almost without exception, were conspicuously absent from the council chamber when Fitzpatrick was sworn in. In fact, Shakespeare availed himself of the opportunity to leave the city p506hall quietly and when the new incumbent presented himself in the mayor's office it was to find that apartment deserted.


[image ALT: A photograph of a man with a bushy moustache. It is John Fitzpatrick, a 19c mayor of New Orleans.]

Mayor John Fitzpatrick

John Fitzpatrick was born at Fairfield, Vermont, May 1, 1844, while his mother was there on a visit.a The home of the family was in New Orleans, and thither they returned a few months later. He was left an orphan at a tender age. He and two brothers, Joseph and Michael, found shelter in St. Mary's Orphan Asylum. Many years later he became president of that institution. He began life as a newsboy and then learned the trade of carpenter in the Third Ward. He was soon prominent in ward politics, under the aegis of Senator Randall Gibson. His first political office was obtained in 1872, when he was elected clerk of the First District Court. While he was holding this position the State Legislature created the Superior Criminal Court, and Judge A. A. Atocha was put at the head of it. Atocha appointed young Fitzpatrick to be his clerk. This was a very lucrative and important office in those days. Fitzpatrick held it until elected criminal sheriff in 1878. In that same year he served as a member of the State Legislature. His importance in general city politics dated from this time. He left the criminal sheriff's office in 1880. Under Mayor Guillotte, in 1884, he was commissioner of public works. In spite of the sharp criticism directed at him by the local press in the mayoral campaign now just closed, it seems that he acquitted himself in this office to the satisfaction of the community. He was able to show that the defects in the department were due, not to his methods, but to the conditions prevailing at that time, when the city finances were in almost hopeless condition. He was, thereafter, incontestably the strongest man in his party in the city, and possibly in the state, and thus logically the regular candidate for the mayoralty.10

In his inaugural message to the council Fitzpatrick called attention to the numerous contracts given out by the previous administration. He promised to lend his best efforts to see that the obligations thus created were carried out. The history of his administration, insofar as its constructive politics were concerned, may be largely written in terms of the execution of these contracts. One of the most important of them was the completion of the purchase of the apparatus of the volunteer fire companies as part of the organization of the paid department. The companies in the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Seventh districts agreed to dispose of their equipment to the city. The purchase price was $165,608.94, made payable from the revenues of 1892, 1893 and 1894. Not only was this deal, a large one, judged by the financial standards of that time, successfully consummated, but an additional sum of $25,000 was expended for the construction of new quarters for the paid companies. The total outlay consequent upon the change of fire systems was $733,197.95, of which the Fitzpatrick administration was called upon to pay $579,000.

Another important contract which Fitzpatrick inherited from his predecessor was that for the erection of the new courthouse and jail. The site for this building was already bought on Tulane Avenue, but the edifice was erected under the new administration and furnished throughout at a cost of $455,000. As originally contemplated, the payments for this important public improvement were to be made from the revenues p507of 1892‑1897, but to the credit of the Fitzpatrick administration it must be said that it was all accomplished without trenching upon the revenues of the years subsequent to 1893.

Mayor Fitzpatrick showed an enlightened interest in the problem of the drainage of the city, and under his auspices the movement looking to the solution thereof was encouraged and developed. In February, 1893, an ordinance was introduced into the city council and passed providing for a topographical survey of the city and directing the appointment of an advisory board to co‑operate with the city engineer in the execution of this monumental work.11 The appropriation made for this purpose was made the subject of litigation, on the ground that the cost of the proposed survey was made payable from the permanent public improvement fund arising from the surplus of the one per cent tax in the hands of the Board of Liquidation created under Act 110 of the State Legislature of 1890. It was contended that this act did not authorize the expenditure of the fund for such purposes. Fortunately, the court held otherwise, and the work, which was of vital importance to New Orleans, proceeded. The mayor appointed an advisory board of three, including Rudolph Hering, B. M. Harrod and Maj. Henry B. Richardson. These gentlemen were all engineers of the highest standing, Major Harrod subsequently becoming a member of the Panama Canal Commission, and Major Richardson being at the time chief of the State Board of Engineers.12 In November, 1893, the mayor appointed another advisory board, which in addition to the foregoing engineers included the following laymen: B. M. Walmsley, Edward Fenner and J. C. Denis, and upon Mr. Fenner declining to serve, Albert Baldwin was appointed in his place. The ordinance authorizing the appointment of this board likewise set aside the sum of $700,000 received from the sale of the New Orleans City & Lake Railroad franchise to be used for the purpose of drainage.13

On January 23, 1896, specifications were presented to the council for the construction of a drainage system. These were subsequently modified in accordance with recommendations from the Advisory Board of Engineers, specifically with a view to allow of separate bids on the different parts of the work.14 At the meeting of the council on January 28, 1896, an ordinance was adopted ordering the comptroller to advertise for a period of thirty days for proposals for the construction of the drainage system as described in the plans and specifications. This ordinance was vetoed by Mayor Fitzpatrick. "It is with no idea [. . .] to retard this necessary step towards the advancement of our city — for I believe the proper drainage of New Orleans an absolute necessity if we are to take our place in the category of modern American cities," he said, "but the ordinance as adopted and in the present condition of the city finances, I am of the opinion, will retard and not advance the cause." Under the financial clauses of the ordinance there was no certain arrangement made to provide funds for the payment for the vast work contemplated. The funds available would, in the mayor's judgment, hardly pay more than the interest upon the certificates which it was intended to issue to finance the enterprise, leaving the principal a p508standing legacy of debt. Mayor Fitzpatrick therefore suggested that either the matter be submitted to the people with a view to have them vote to institute a tax for drainage purposes, or a constitutional amendment incorporated in the fundamental law of the state provision might be made for a bond issue for the same purpose. The council accepted the mayor's ideas, and his veto was sustained, leaving the drainage work to be carried on from this point by the subsequent administration.15

During this administration a step was taken which was important in its relation to subsequent port improvements. The wharf rates charged under the contract entered into by the city with the Louisiana Construction & Improvement Company in 1891 were taken under consideration by the commercial and other exchanges of the city. A long series of conferences ensued between the mayor and the representatives of the exchanges on one side and the representatives of the company on the other. It was obvious that if the growing commerce of the city were not to be heavily handicapped, some modification of the rates must be secured. It was finally determined to purchase from the lessees their rights and titles in the wharves. On February 4, 1896, a memorial was presented to the council requesting that action be taken with that end in view, in order that the city might regain control over the wharves and landings. An ordinance on the subject was drawn up and passed,16 but the Fitzpatrick administration closed before it could be put into execution, and its subsequently repealed,17 in order to bring the whole matter before the State Legislature.

It was also during this administration that the construction of the Stuyvesant Docks, at the head of Louisiana Avenue, was begun by the Illinois Central Railroad. The grant18 to this railroad of the rights and privileges under which it erected extensive structures here, carried with it the obligation to build and maintain several miles of levee, the responsibility for which would otherwise have fallen upon the citizens.

To Mayor Fitzpatrick's initiative must also be attributed the foundation of the City Library. This splendid institution was created by consolidating the Fisk Free and the Public Libraries, until then domiciled in the old Mechanics' Institute, on Dryades Street, where Miss M. M. Bell had been for many years in charge. The collection was removed to St. Patrick's Hall, overlooking Lafayette Square. This building, which had in recent years been used as a Criminal Court building, was refitted for its new uses. During the Shakespeare administration it had been determined to sell this large and imposing structure, in order to raise funds to be devoted to the building of the new courthouse and jail, but the charges connected with the latter undertaking were met without having to dispose of the hall, which had been the scene of some of the most remarkable episodes in the city's history. An ordinance was passed by the council in April, 1896, authorizing the mayor to appoint a Board of Directors to supervise the new library.19 Frank T. Howard, Sidney March, Albert Baldwin, Jr., P. A. Lelong, F. G. Ernst, E. B. Kruttschnidttº p509and George W. Flynn were appointed, and William Beer, the distinguished librarian of the Howard Memorial Library, was entrusted with the arduous work of organizing and installing the collections. Mr. Beer's labors were completed within a twelvemonth, when he resigned. The present admirable City Library is the outcome of the arrangements effected by the city administration at this time. It is interesting to note that Mayor Fitzpatrick, after completing his term, became a member of the Library Board and was serving as its president at the time of his death.20

The electrification of the city railroads was effected while Mayor Fitzpatrick was in office. The present house numbering system dates from this period. Thanks to these and other improvements which were under way in New Orleans at the time, the financial panics of 1893 and 1894 were felt less severely in New Orleans probably than in any other large American city. The generally prosperous condition of the city is shown by the fact that the assessments rose from $129,638,530 in 1892 to $140,567,443 in 1896. The rate of taxation was two per cent.

We have now to deal with other and less pleasant features of the Fitzpatrick administration. The willingness of the city council to co‑operate with the mayor in promoting undertakings of real benefit to the city, was offset by its scandalous behavior in other respects. A number of public improvements were authorized under circumstances which aroused the suspicion of the citizens. Of these the renewal of the charters of the city street railroad companies and the numerous and onerous ordinances authorizing the paving of the streets were types. Public indignation was stimulated by the passage of an ordinance authorizing a contract to dispose of the city waste by burning, in lieu of the time-honored system of collecting it in carts and dumping it into the Mississippi.21 Although the new method was admittedly more sanitary, the fact that the old method entailed an expenditure of but $57,000 while the new involved $90,000, with no proportionate financial advantages to the corporation, aroused a storm of protest. Especially irritating were the provisions requiring the use of certain special types of garbage containers and the assorting of refuse in accordance with the regulations of the contractor. The mayor issued a proclamation threatening with arrest all householders who failed to provide themselves with these receptacles.22 The garbage contractor refused to remove refuse unless properly assorted and set out in the official vessels, and it was a matter of constant complaint that even when these preliminaries had been punctiliously observed he frequently failed to render the necessary service, with the result that the city fell into a state of filth dangerous to health. The ordinance, however, continued to be enforced until it was repealed under the following administration.

While the public was still smarting under these annoyances, the so‑called Fischer Belt Railroad ordinance was hurried through the council and signed by the mayor. The necessity of a belt railroad had been long recognized. Some years previously a group of local capitalists, headed by Adolph Schreiber, had obtained from the council franchises designed to promote just such an enterprise, but through lack of capital p510had been unable to construct the road. Fischer, it subsequently appeared, was merely an agent of the Illinois Central Railroad, the real beneficiary under the present grant. The ordinance gave this company the right to run a belt road around the city and out to the levee via State Street, thence along the river front to the lower extremity of the city along whatever tracks might seem most convenient, with spur tracks wherever desired. Certain streets were closed for the convenience of the grantee, others were to be opened at the expense of the city. In effect, the construction of this belt would shut commerce off from the principal trunk railroads by any other route. The ordinance "gave away for ninety-nine years to practically unnamed parties, from whom no pledge, no bond, no restriction, no compensation, no conditions of any kind were required, a public franchise of great importance and large value"23 for which other parties were willing to offer a proportionate price. The only obligation assumed by the grantee was to maintain two gateways where the proposed belt would cross other lines of railway.

The route of the projected belt railroad would, it was announced, lie for a part of the way, through State Street. The people residing in the vicinity of that thoroughfare called a mass meeting for May 21 to protest against the projected invasion of one of the most attractive parts of the new, or upper, residence section of the city. This meeting was a remarkable one. It was held in a vacant lot at the corner of State and St. Charles Avenue and was attended by thousands of persons indignant not only over the specific grievance, but with the general conduct of the administration. This meeting was the result of a movement inaugurated by a little group of public-spirited citizens led by George W. Young, which gathered a few days before in a hall at the corner of Constance and Chestnut streets. Mr. Young was a leader in the subsequent developments which culminated in the organization of an anti-administration party and to the downfall of the Fitzpatrick regime. At the same time a movement of protest against the paving abuses began in the lower part of the city, and on the same night that the State Street mass meeting took place a similar assembly was voicing almost identical sentiment at the corner of Bayou Road and Rampart Street.

Three days later the Citizens' Protective Association was informally organized and submitted to the council a protest against the Fischer ordinance. The administration leaders were beginning to be alarmed at the storm which had been provoked. The Picayune, in an editorial charging that the ordinance was in contravention of Act 135 passed by the State Legislature in 1888, observed: "It is remarkable that the mayor, who has the reputation of being an astute and consummate politician, should have plunged into a course which is so excessively unpopular and has so entirely aroused the displeasure and condemnation of the people."24 At the meeting of the council of May 22 an ordinance was introduced by Councilmen Brand and Doerr repealing the Fischer ordinance. "But it matters very little," commented the Picayune on the next morning, "whether the ordinance be repealed or not; the people are aroused to a degree which insures that the road will not be built."

The repealing measure, under the rules of the council, lay over one week pending final action. In order to make sure that it would be p511passed, the Citizens' Protective Association scheduled a mass meeting at Washington Artillery Hall for the 29th, the night when the council should meet. Many thousands of excited citizens attended; other thousands collected around the city hall and yelled execrations against various members of the city government who were suspected of having part in the manufacture of the ordinance. The council promptly repealed the ordinance, and when a committee headed by Judge C. E. Fenner arrived from the mass meeting to ascertain what disposition would be made in the matter, it was greeted by the mayor with the announcement of what had been done. In fact, Mr. Fischer had already sent in a communication refusing to accept the grant, and this decision had been supported by the published announcement of the officials of the Illinois Central Railroad.

The Citizens' Protective Association, however, not content with this victory, undertook an investigation of the city government. A man named John Ellwood was found who was willing to testify before the grand jury that he knew that certain members of the council were taking bribes.25 On June 8 two councilmen were indicted for "bribery and corruption in office in selling their votes and official influence as members of the city council." They had, as subsequently appeared in the testimony at the trial, refused to perform official acts until paid large sums of money. They were followed in rapid succession by other members of the council, indicted for similar offenses, until by the end of August nine had been involved. In addition, the city engineer and one ex‑official — a retired tax assessor — were under indictment. Of these, however, only three were convicted.26

Mayor Fitzpatrick, through a mistaken sense of loyalty to friends and political supporters, refused to suspend the indicted councilmen. He took the ground that indictment was based upon ex‑parte testimony, and that he was not justified in assuming a degree of guilt sufficient to justify suspension until the charge had been ventilated in court. This, and other official acts, received sharp condemnation at the hands of the city press, one newspaper going so far in discussing the mayor as to intimate that he was a beneficiary under contracts granted by the city.27 Fitzpatrick promptly replied by filing a suit for $100,000, alleging libel, and denying the charge that he had used his official position to coerce a contractor into giving business to a hardware firm in which Mrs. Fitzpatrick had an interest. His policy here, and in respect to the indicted councilmen, was, as we shall see, in part the basis upon which subsequent impeachment proceedings were filed against him.

After procuring the indictment of other city officials, the Citizens' Protective Association, foreseeing the magnitude of the task which it had assumed, effected a formal organization. Hitherto it has existed as a vague sort of association, the leaders of which owed their position merely to the fact of personal influence and priority in the movement. On July 27, however, at the rooms of a commercial society, known as the Young Men's Business League, delegates assembled to select a regular board of officers. George W. Young was elected president, and A. L. p512Redden, secretary. The other officers were distributed among J. J. McLaughlin, J. Watts Kearney, S. L. Twitchell, E. F. Kohnke, H. A. Veters, Alcée Fortier, J. H. Dillard, J. W. Barkdull, A. G. Romain, O. J. Morel, E. E. Wood and other equally prominent men. It was definitely decided at this meeting to impeach certain members of the city administration, under Article 201 of the state constitution. This article permitted impeachment proceedings to be brought before any judge of the Civil District Court on the written petition of at least twenty-five citizens. It was also decided at this meeting to proceed against the garbage contractor in court.28

On September 14 impeachment proceedings were begun under the foregoing agreement against Mayor Fitzpatrick in the Civil District Court. The case was allotted to Judge F. D. King and the trial began on November 8. The charges against the mayor were that he had "consented to and officially approved the Fischer belt railroad ordinance, adopted and signed in opposition to a general protest by citizens, and in flagrant violation of the law. It granted to a city official without demanding from him any benefit to the city [. . .] a practically unlimited privilege, [. . .] this privilege not having been offered to public competition by advertising, as the law directs. The statutes of the state were expressly defied in the enactment of this ordinance, which the mayor obeyed and which he subsequently signed, against the protest which was adopted at a public meeting and was subsequently presented to him by a delegation of citizens. [. . .] The mayor's failure to interpose his veto against any unlawful ordinance was to commit a wrong, but to sign it was a grave aggravationº of that wrong." The mayor's failure to report to the council indicted officials "was in violation of a plain injunction of the law, and [. . .] councilmen are city officials in the meaning of that law."29

A third charge was that the mayor had consented "to the purchase of material and supplies and to contracts for labor of public works without advertisement or adjudication, as the law requires. The law is entirely explicit in declaring that no public work or supplies shall be contracted for or purchased except when such contracts shall have been advertised and offered for public competition, unless in case of emergency, when purchases up to the amount of $50 may be privately made. But in the face of this law the city officials, with the consent and approbation of the mayor, went ahead making contracts for large amounts with favored persons, without the slightest formality of advertising. [. . .] The mayor and the council applied to bills by heads of departments, regardless of amounts, the rule which the statute confined to bills not exceeding $50."

The petition of impeachment then dealt with the mayor's relations with the plumbing business in which Mrs. Fitzpatrick was supposed to hold an interest. This was "a firm in whose business [. . .] the mayor was both directly and indirectly concerned. Even if the connection had gone no further than the fact that the mayor's wife is a partner in the firm, such dealings would have been unlawful, but his interest was greater than that. [. . .] The mayor actually encouraged and participated therein by approving ordinances making payment" to this company, p513and furthermore by approving contracts made "with this firm in his own department of city hall repairs, which required his approval before they could go to the council for payment."30

In reply, the mayor's attorneys held that interest and motive must be the determining factors in appraising an official act. "The character of an official act must be determined by the motive behind it. [. . .] The opposite side admits that the mayor is an honest man." The fact was cited that Mayor Shakespeare had approved ordinances providing for the construction of a belt railroad, on the ground that it conduced to the good of the greatest part of the population. The Fischer road would admittedly have been a great benefit to the city in developing the swamp lands in the rear of the city. The law requiring the advertisement of public franchises applied only to street railway franchises. With regard to the charge that purchases in excess of $50 had been made, it was submitted that they had been authorized only in order to take advantage of lowest market prices, and had been advantageous to the city. With regard to the mayor's connection with city contracts, it was pointed out that the rule on this subject in the city charter was general, and prescribed a course of action without reference to whether it was hurtful to the city's interests. Clearly it might be ignored when it was to the city's clear advantage.31

Judge King reserved his decision until March 14, 1895. He then found in all points in favor of Mayor Fitzpatrick. He held in a voluminous written opinion that the testimony was "in some cases false and perjured, in others insufficient, and in nearly all cases worthless to prove anything against the mayor," was "acquitted of every charge and in every particular." With regard to the ordinances relative to the payments on public contracts which had never been advertised as directed by law, the court held "in respect to violation of law, first, that an official has a certain discretion, to the extent of which under his own judgment he may depart from the law. And this power and right of official discretion being a matter wholly indefinable and unlimited in terms of any sort, must be tested by the intention with which the law is violated. If no evil intention be shown, then there must have been no wrongful violation of the law." The court held, also, that the mayor, violating the law by advice of the city attorney, was not guilty of wrongdoing. An important use was made throughout the decision of the right to follow precedent in disregarding the express letter of the law. "When unlawful practices had been repeatedly pursued with impunity by his predecessors in office, a succeeding mayor is excused in following the precedent, if not justified."

With regard to the mayor's failure to suspend the indicted councilmen, Judge King's opinion was, that "the mayor honestly misapprehended the law, and in doing so committed an honest error of judgment and of law," in which he was wholly excusable. With regard to the relations with the firm in which Mrs. Fitzpatrick was a partner, the judge adopted the theory elaborated by the mayor's attorneys in their addresses at the close of the trial. "The respondent," said Judge King, "is not guilty of any act of malfeasance, gross misconduct, corruption, or favoritism." p514He was not, in fact, a partner in the firm in the sense in which the term was used in the law. In respect to purchases in excess of $50, the judgment held that the fact that Mayor Shakespeare had likewise approved of transactions wherein no advertisement had been made, and where the amount was in excess of the sum stipulated in the law, established a precedent which exculpated Mayor Fitzpatrick. With regard to the latter's failure to co‑operate with the grand jury in its investigation of alleged irregularities in the various departments of the municipal government, it was regarded as sufficient to explain his attitude in the premises that the grand jury had not invited the mayor's co‑operation.

The citizens' case was a fiasco, but the local press did not hesitate to condemn the doctrine set up by the court. "As the people of New Orleans now know what protection they have under the judicial interpretation of their charter, it would not be astonishing and it would do no harm, if they were to assemble by thousands in indignation meeting in Lafayette Square, and perform a solemn auto da fe over their useless charter by publicly burning it. It is obviously not worth the paper it is written on." The Times-Democrat from whose editorial this quotation is extracted, hastened to add that it did not presume to question the "strict probity" of Judge King, or the "purity of his motives," but it could, nevertheless, not "look on the decision as otherwise than a public calamity."32

Under the judgment the citizens who brought the proceedings, were made responsible for all costs, and the right of the mayor was established to bring suits for damages against the members. Of this right, however, Mayor Fitzpatrick did not avail himself. Nor did the Citizens' Protective Association make any further effort to impeach city officials. Thereafter it directed its energies rather to the organization of an anti-administration party and preparations for the next election.

Throughout Mayor Fitzpatrick's term there was trouble in the ranks of local labor. His enemies seized upon this circumstance to criticise the mayor for his well-known partiality towards the laboring man. The difficulties were attributed by these persons to his unwillingness to attack the problem of labor courageously and firmly. It is not certain that these criticisms were wholly justified. These years were years of unrest throughout the United States, and it is probable that, to a very large degree, the disorders in New Orleans were merely reflections of those which on a larger scale made labor history in England, Germany, and in the Northern part of the United States. The advent of the administration was heralded in April, 1892, by the crisis in the affairs of the local paper-hangers and street-car drivers. Both groups presented demands for increases in wages. In both cases the matter was adjusted without a strike, on terms favorable to the men. But in the following month, the street-car men's union submitted to their employers a demand for the discharge of all non-union employees. The refusal of this proposition was followed on May 17 by a strike which tied up all the city lines except one, and that solitary exception was also tied up on the 22nd. Save for a few cars run under police protection, local transportation remained inactive until the 26th, when the strike was ended through the mediation of the American Federation of Labor, neither side being advantaged. Numerous acts of violence had marked the progress of the strike. Cars p515had been attacked, strike-breakers had been assaulted, and persons attempting to ride in conveyances had been ejected and mishandled. At the end of the month the city council adopted an ordinance remitting one-half of the fines imposed upon persons arrested for these acts. No good reason was advanced for this extraordinary freak of legislation. The only discernible explanation was a desire to placate the labor vote.

Unrest continued in the ranks of labor all through the summer, but no fresh outbreak occurred till October. On the 19th of that month a series of events began which led to a general strike, when for a few days all the functions of the city's life were suspended, and a very grave situation created. On that date several unions connected with handling and distribution of freight at the railroad stations, struck for shorter hours, increased pay, and the monopoly by union men of employment there. The strike terminated on November 1, with an agreement to submit to arbitration all the questions in dispute. But it was immediately followed by a strike of carriage- and hearse-drivers. The sugarmakers' union struck also. The agitation spread to all of the local unions. The complaint as to insupportable conditions among all classes of laboring men in the city, was general. On November 3 the Amalgamated Council, representing all branches of organized labor, called a general strike. Practically every trade at once suspended. Even the typesetters on the daily newspapers left their cases. The employes at the gas works and at the electric light plant abandoned their posts, and the city was plunged in darkness. The police were too few to cope with the situation, and as soon as reports of violence began to come in, the governor of the state, who was on the scene, decided to intervene. On the 11th Governor Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Nicholls issued a proclamation calling out the militia and announcing his intention to protect all persons peacefully going about their vocations. In the face of this energetic action, the unions had no course but to submit. The strike ended three days later.

Again, in 1894, the city was compelled to witness the outbreak of serious labor troubles, this time, unquestionably, resulting from the nationwide agitation connected with the great strike in Chicago in that year. There were, however, local factors which differentiated the New Orleans situation from those elsewhere during this eventful period. Here the trouble took the form of disputes between the white and negro screwmen employed on the New Orleans river front. In the latter part of October this feeling led the white screwmen to notify the stevedores that they would no longer work on vessels with colored men. On the 26th they raided certain ships where negroes were employed, and threw the latter's tools in the river. The next day colored screwmen were driven from their work at various points on the levee, one negro was killed, and several injured. Further clashes between the races ensued; and on November 4 a riot occurred in the upper part of the city, in the district known popularly as Carrollton, in which a negro stevedore was shot and dangerously wounded. The disorders on the levee were finally terminated by the governor ordering out the militia, under protection of which the negroes returned to work. An adjustment satisfactory to all parties was not worked out till the following year. In the interval, the inefficiency of the police in handling the riots led to an investigation, and in December, 1894, two captains and several patrolmen were dismissed from the force.

p516 Fitzpatrick's administration came to an end April 27, 1896. He continued to be a figure in local politics, however, down to his death, on April 8, 1919. In 1898 he was elected to the State Legislature from a New Orleans district. In 1899 he was a candidate for the democratic nomination for governor. He entered the state convention with an almost solid block of votes assured from the city. A deadlock ensued as a result of his candidacy, that of Lieutenant-Governor Snyder, and of Senator Lawrason. As a compromise W. W. Heard was selected. Heard was elected. After taking his seat the new governor appointed Fitzpatrick tax-collector of the First District. During his tenancy of this office an incident occurred which illustrates strikingly the best side of this remarkable man's character. Through the dishonesty of a deputy, the state lost $116,000. Fitzpatrick was responsible, but only up to the amount of his bond — $30,000 — for the acts of his deputy. He, however, refused to accept the limitation, assumed the whole debt, and paid it at the sacrifice practically of his entire private fortune.

In 1908 the offices of the state tax collectors in New Orleans were consolidated in one. Fitzpatrick was put at the head of it. He was holding this post when he died.

Fitzpatrick was a man of great ability, and under other circumstances than those which limited his early life, and handicapped him throughout his entire career, would have risen high. He was exceedingly charitable, took a prominent part in all benevolent and fraternal enterprises, and was a member of many clubs. For many years he was regarded as the leading sporting authority in the South. He was the referee at the Sullivan-Ryan prize-fight in 1882, and at the Sullivan-Kilrain fight in 1889.33 He strove to give the city a good administration, and if he failed, the failure was due, in the main, to his too persistent loyalty to friends and political supporters, who did not deserve his confidence.


The Author's Notes:

1 Statement of Otto Thoman to author. Thoman was an intimate friend of Fitzpatrick.

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2 Picayune, March 27, 1892.

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3 April 18, 1892.

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4 Ibid.

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5 Times-Democrat, April 10, 1892.

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6 Item, April 18, 1892.

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7 April 12, 1892.

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8 Ibid.

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9 A proposition to put before the people at the election of 1892 a scheme for a constitutional amendment with this end in view was opposed by Fitzpatrick. He refused to put it on his ballot. The idea was rejected at the time by the voters of the city. It was, however, revived at the constitutional convention of 1898, when the "grandfather" clause was enacted, by which the franchise was so restricted as practically to eliminate the colored voter. The convention of 1898 was called primarily to enable the city to grant certain privileges on the river front to a railway running into New Orleans, but advantage was taken of the opportunity to bring up legislation relative to the franchise.

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10 Times-Picayune, April 8, 1919.

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11 Ordinance No 7170, C. S.

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12 Ordinance 7350, C. S.

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13 Ordinance 8327, C. S.

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14 See Proceedings of City Council, March 3, 1896.

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15 Campbell, "Charter of the City of New Orleans," Introduction, August, 1908, pp20, 21.

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16 Ordinance No. 11896, C. S.

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17 Ordinance No. 12398, C. S.

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18 Ordinance No. 11765, C. S.

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19 Ordinances Nos. 10254 and 12217, C. S.

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20 Times-Picayune, April 8, 1919.

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21 See Ordinance 7860, C. S.

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22 Picayune, April 17, 1894.

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23 Picayune, May 16, 1894.

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24 Picayune, May 22, 1894.

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25 Statement of J. J. McLoughlin. Mr. McLoughlin was prominent at every stage of this remarkable movement.

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26 Report of the Bloomfield Grand Jury, June 19, 1894; Times-Democrat, June-September, 1894, passim.

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27 States, July 23, 1894.

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28 Picayune, July 30, 1894.

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29 This is the Picayune's editorial summary of the citizens' petition.

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30 Picayune, January 10, 1895. Address of Judge Fenner at the close of the proceedings. Fenner was of counsel for the petitioners at the trial.

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31 Address to T. M. Miller before Judge King, at the close of the case. Picayune, January, 1895, passim.

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32 Times-Democrat, March 15, 1895.

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33 Times-Picayune, April 8, 1919.


Thayer's Note:

a Though Kendall is not a good writer, surely he could have written well enough to avoid the poisonous imputation: Mom's visit and shortly thereafter all her children being left orphans — am I the only one to find a whiff of bastardy in this? I've been unable to corroborate my hunch so far; if you have better information, do please drop me a line, of course.


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