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"The mayor is only nominally head of the city government," observed the Picayune, in an editorial on the local political situation, published early in 1854.1 The occasion of this pronouncement was a proviso inserted in the State constitution in 1853, by which the control of the city police had been removed from the mayor's hands and confided to a board. The mayor, it is true, was a member of this board; but he sat with the four recorders, and it was thus always possible for a combination of three subordinate officers of the government to eliminate him as a factor in the control of the force and dominate the entire administration of justice in the primary courts of the city. As the Picayune went on to point out, hitherto, under the act of consolidation of the three municipalities, the mayor had made the appointments of all policemen, by and with the consent of the Council. This system was, in effect, less arbitrary than the new board management, inasmuch as, while it concentrated authority, it also concentrated responsibility. A prime objection to the existing system was, that the recorders were judicial officers; by adding police functions to their other powers they were in the position of first arresting offenders against the law and then sitting in judgment upon those arrested — a situation which obviously invited criticism.
This question of the control of the police force recurred at intervals in the political history of the city for nearly forty years thereafter. It was one of the principal motives of the city charters which substituted for one another in fairly rapid succession. The consolidating charter of 1852 endured only till 1856 and was then modified in this essential matter, as well as in certain others, in an effort to undo the mischief wrought by the Legislature in the interim. Lack of positive control over the police force may probably be blamed for the riotous scenes which disgraced the municipal election of 1854. The relation between these disturbances and the relaxed discipline of the force under board management seems to have been noticed at once; for the question of the reform of the police force was the first matter brought to the attention of the new mayor, General Lewis, when he went into office on April 10, 1854.
Mayor J. L. Lewis
At the age of 18 young Lewis left school to begin the study of law in his father's office. During the remainder of his life he was intimately connected with the legal profession in the city. His first political employment was as assistant clerk under Martin Gordon, then clerk of the First Judicial District Court of Louisiana. In 1826 Gordon resigned his post in favor of Lewis. A year later the young man married. He was exceedingly happy in his home life. Three children were born to him. But in 1833 the scarlet fever attacked wife and children and within a few days of one another all of them died. This terrible loss profoundly affected Lewis' life. He sought relief from his sorrow in business and public activities. Thenceforth he mingled more and more aggressively in local politics. His pleasant manners and winning personality made him extremely popular. He showed great aptitude for military matters. But for his father's opposition he would have chosen the army as a career rather than the law. He now became a member of the local volunteers, rose rapidly from rank to rank, and finally was appointed inspector-general of the First Division of Louisiana Militia — in which p184 capacity he was charged with the oversight of all the numerous volunteer organizations in the city. In 1842 he was elected to command this division and thereafter repeatedly re-elected.
The State constitution of 1854 was influenced by the popular enthusiasm for "government by the people" and went far in that direction. Virtually all officers were made elective. Among them was that of sheriff of the Parish of Orleans. General Lewis became a candidate for this office on an independent ticket. His knowledge of local law and his large practical experience fitted him for the post in a special manner. His election followed as a matter of course, and he served with distinction for two successive terms. His re-election was attended by an exciting contest. In 1852 he went to the State Senate for one term. He was a candidate for mayor in 1852, but was defeated. His nomination two years later for the same position was a recognition of his exceptional abilities and long public service.2 His name was presented to the democratic convention on March 7, when it convened for the purpose, and was accepted without opposition.
The latter part of Crossman's administration seems to have been characterized by a notable decline in efficiency. As the elections approached we find the Bee and the Bulletin filled with uncontradicted indictments of the city government. "We know that we are badly governed," said the former paper, in March; "that our city has been ruled by the despotism of faction; that fair and equitable principles, sound policy, equal justice, and the rights of the minority have been ruthlessly sacrificed to the domination of a clique, which has seized upon and maintained power through the hateful employment of means so flagitious and corrupting as to have rendered us a hissing and a scorn in the eyes of the upright, well-organized communities."3 "Two years ago," added the Bulletin, "the bonds of the city were above par; now they are from 6 to 8 per cent below. Why? The interest has been punctually paid; the city has grown steadily richer. But a city which is governed as events have shown ours can be governed, is bound to sink into insolvency, and degrade itself to the level of tacit repudiation."4 "The city is miserably governed," resumed the Bee, a few weeks later. "Party legislation has alone prevailed. The contract system is a source of vile depravity and corruption; efforts to banish elections from groggeries and bar rooms are systematically flouted and derided [. . .] the improvidence, recklessness, prodigality, inexperience and ignorance of the Council have [. . .] injured the city. [. . .] Its credit is tottering"; and much more, to the same effect.5
The most serious accusations, because, as the event demonstrated, the best founded, related to the police. In recommending certain persons for election as recorders, the Bee guaranteed that, if they were put into office, "the police of our city would be essentially remodeled. We have not met a reform democrat who does not participate" in the movement "in the hope that this result will be attained. The police, as at present organized, is a source of universal and well-founded complaint [. . .] a powerful, well-disciplined, and unscrupulous electioneering machine, employed by a skillful and reckless management to influence p185 doubtful contests and compel the ballot box to render a democratic verdict. [. . .] A mighty and odious despotism, which has been foisted upon the community."6 It appears that the policemen were used by the political leaders to spy upon their enemies. Members of the force stationed at the door of the meeting place of any opposing faction kept tab on those attending; and pressure was then applied to induce these persons to alter their party allegiance. "It only remains for the police to be armed with discretionary powers to arrest any individual at their supreme wills and pleasure, without the necessity of legal process."7 At the same time all the newspapers carried eulogistic notices of the retiring mayor. The Picayune, for instance, commended his modesty and ability and praised the work for the city. It is, at first blush, difficult to reconcile these commendations of the individual with the prevailing outspoken censures of the administration. But we must recognize that the objection really was to the "machine" which controlled the city, in which the mayor appears to have had no place. The object of this organization had been, so far, principally to control the city vote for use in State elections; in fact, up to this time the municipal elections had been tolerably orderly, whereas, as we shall have occasion to point out in a subsequent chapter, the State elections were frequently of a nature amounting almost to revolution. Moreover, the same faction, working through the State Legislature, had recently stripped the mayor of real power; the facts complained of, therefore, were not imputable to him, although features of his administration. This conclusion is supported by the recurrence in the opposition newspapers of complaints about the introduction of State and National issues in municipal elections, and the use of State and National patronage to make sure of the city vote for the benefit of the "machine."
A call signed by 700 representative citizens for a mass meeting to name an anti-machine municipal ticket, to be held on March 16th, appeared in the Bulletin on the 14th inst. Among the signers were H. M. Summers, G. W. Lawrason, J. B. Leefe, J. E. Caldwell, J. O. Nixon, F. E. Southmayd, Julien Neville, J. B. Walton, and others whose names were long prominent in New Orleans affairs. The Courier, commenting upon the signers, declared that there were "precious few" democrats in the list, and that majority were "whig wirepullers."8 The meeting, however, took place and was attended pretty largely, as even the Courier reluctantly confessed. F. A. Lumsden, one of the editors of the Picayune, presided; and among those who made addresses or figured on the committee on resolutions were Colonel Christy, a veteran of the War of 1812; Doctor Harman, J. O. Woodruff and G. A. Fosdick. A complete city ticket was presented and ratified enthusiastically. For mayor, J. W. Breedlove was nominated; for city treasurer, W. H. Garland; for comptroller, O. DeBuys; for street commissioner, A. S. Phelps; for city surveyor, L. H. Pilié. All of these, except Phelps, were whigs, and many had held office with credit to themselves under Crossman. For recorders, H. M. Summers, J. L. Fabre and H. D. Keene were endorsed; and the following names were put up for the council: Board of Aldermen — Charles Pride, N. E. Bailey, James p186 Prague, John Pemberton, George Clark, P. H. Gordon, and Jesse E. Gilmore; Board of Assistant Aldermen — J. L. Levy, Colonel Campbell, F. W. Delesdernier, Wm. Bloomfield, Sr., A. W. Cooper, C. G. Barkley, Henry Lathrop, B. T. K. Bennett, L. H. Place, W. E. Seymour, F. A. Conant, John Fox, Gerard Stith, Newton Richards, W. S. Howell, A. Boudousquie, Henry Peychaud, J. Tuyès, P. E. Laresche, C. W. Whitehall, P. C. Wright, John McLean, Miles Taylor, William Reed, Isaac Taylor, W. H. Reese.
In this way was launched the first definite reform movement in the history of New Orleans. The "independent" movement of two years before was initiated as a protest chiefly against the candidacy of one man; it did not nominate a full city ticket, and its failure was due principally to the fact that it was launched after the nominations of the regular parties had been made. Now, however, for the first time, an independent reform movement was set up in strict conformity to the etiquette in such matters; it was staged at a proper moment, and was accepted by the opposition, as complying fully with all the conditions requisite to the full-fledged political organization. In fact, now for the first time reform became a definite issue in a city campaign, with organizations both for and against; and this issue, in one form or another — with the exception of the epoch of the Civil war and reconstruction, when the issue was in reality one of race — was destined to be a vital one in local politics thenceforward to the present day.
p187 The election took place on March 27th. It was complicated by the arrival on that day of ex‑President Fillmore, who paid a short visit to New Orleans in the course of a tour of the South. An elaborate parade was given in his honor, but the reception with which the day was to close was, on account of the election, postponed till the 29th. No doubt the entertainment kept away from the polls many persons who would otherwise have voted. There was, however, no lack of incident. Below Canal Street, in the French part of the city, the election was orderly, but great excitement prevailed above that thoroughfare. In the First District two men, one a policeman, were killed in rows at the polls. In several Precincts rowdies took possession of the polls and held them during most of the day. At various other points there was a good deal of fighting and some bloodshed. The papers on the following day complained that the police put no restraint on "the brutality of the crowds." Citizens who challenged the right of certain persons to vote, were set upon, beaten, and driven away from the booths.
At dusk the reform watchers at the Seventh Precinct poll left, having ascertained that the total vote cast was 932. A little later they were informed that the commissioners who were counting had already tabulated 1,400 votes for the democratic ticket. They returned in order to make an examination. Night had fallen. The door of the booth was p188 closed. Admission was refused. They then forced their way in and were greeted by a volley of pistol shots. Several men fell wounded, among them Chief of Police O'Leary. A hot fight followed, in the course of which the ballot box was broken, and its contents scattered to the four winds. The police were accused of participating in the attack on the reform watchers here.
The killing of the policeman, Mochlin, resulted from a somewhat similar incident. Early in the afternoon the rough way in which voters were being treated in the First District, became generally known and a number of the reform leaders hurried to the spot. An attempt was made to expel them and the reform watchers from the vicinity of the poll, but it failed. Mochlin then organized a gang of rowdies, burst into the booth, and a free fight followed, in which he was tabbed and fell dying to the floor, while the remainder of his party was driven off, carrying several injured men with them.12
The personal popularity of Lewis once more secured his election. He received 6,899 votes, against 4,382 for Breedlove. The democrats elected Seuzeneau, Ramos and Jackson recorders. These successes assured them control of the police Board, and thus perpetuated some of worst abuses against which the reform movement was directed. But otherwise the entire reform ticket was elected. DeBuys, Garland and Pilié defeated P. G. Collins, D. J. Ker, and Hugh Grant, the democratic candidates. Summers was chosen recorder in the First District in preference to Winter. Phelps defeated Patrick Cummings for street commissioner. All the reform candidates for the council were elected. On the whole, the first serious reform campaign in the city's history may be said to have been successful.
As mayor, Lewis signalized himself by taking an active and very creditable part in promoting the building of railroads out of the city. In this respect New Orleans had, till now, been sadly deficient. As we shall see in a subsequent chapter, the construction of new routes of overland transport in the Middle West was affecting injuriously her commerce. Some appreciation of this fact led two enterprising Louisianians, M. W. Hoffman and Clark Woodruff, in 1835, to obtain a charter for the construction of a railroad to Nashville; but the company suffered shipwreck after constructing only •twenty miles of road, and this track, which, if preserved, might have been very useful to the city, even in its fragmentary state, was suffered to fall into disrepair, and in a few years disappeared utterly. Mayor Crossman, as we have seen, addressed himself earnestly to the task of reviving interest in railroad building. To him is due largely the impulse which led, in 1850, to a meeting in New Orleans with this object in view. In April, 1851, another meeting strengthened the interest in the matter. James Robb, the well known capitalist, took an active part in the deliberations. A bonus of $100,000 was offered to any company which would undertake to build a road to Pointe Coupée. About the same time, a similar agitation in the Attakapas country resulted in a determination to build a railroad down to New Orleans; and Maunsell White, a prominent New Orleans business man, engineered a meeting in favor of this project. Further support for the railroad idea was supplied by Glendy Burke, then a member of the city government, who, in 1851, fathered a resolution adopted by the p189 council proposing a convention of representatives from the Southern and Western States at which the idea might be fully ventilated. A committee was appointed which visited various parts of the South and stirred up interest in railroads.
On this committee was C. S. Tapley, who used the data then accumulated to prepared a series of articles published in the local press in 1852 urging the building of a railroad from New Orleans to Jackson, Mississippi. A meeting of delegates from Louisiana and Mississippi at Monticello, Louisiana, resulted in the appointment of committees, which seem to have done useful work in keeping the project before the public.
At this time Louisiana had •sixty-three miles of railroad actually in operation, including the Carrollton and the Pontchartrain railroads, each •six miles long, both merely local to New Orleans. It was now proposed to build two roads, one north to Holly Springs, Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Ohio River; the other west, to Texas and, it was hoped, ultimately to Mexico. The former enterprise was incorporated in 1851 by the Legislature of the State of Mississippi, under the name of the New Orleans & Jackson Railroad, and by July of that year, had $500,000 available for construction work. The latter scheme took form in the following year, under the title of the New Orleans, Opelousas & Great Western Railroad, with a capital stock of $3,000,000, divided into shares of $25 each. The former road was subsequently incorporated by the Louisiana Legislature under the name of the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern Railroad Company, with a capital of $3,000,000.
Work on the New Orleans, Opelousas & Great Northern Railroad began in August, 1852. The first section, from Algiers to Lafourche Crossing, a distance of •fifty-two miles, was finished on November 6, 1854; the second, to Tigersville, on October 15, 1855; and the third, to Berwick's Bay, on April 12, 1857. There the work stopped till after the Civil war. The building of these •eighty miles of railroad involved a financial exploit of considerable magnitude. The state gave the enterprise some assistance by subscribing to a block of stock; but certain lands donated by Congress never came into the company's possession, and the aid extended by the City of New Orleans, although generous, came late. At the suggestion of Mayor Crossman the city agreed to tax itself a large amount for the benefit of this road, to be paid in six annual installments. A similar course was adopted in order that the city might give necessary assistance to the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern. These taxes were put on real estate, and were expected to yield a total of $3,500,000. It proved difficult to calculate in advance the amount to be derived from this source, and banking capital, which was essential to the prosecution of the work, was timid about embarking in the enterprise under such circumstances. Mayor Lewis, therefore, was compelled, as one of the first problems of his administration, to consider some new expedient by which the roads might be helped without putting too large a burden upon the citizens. His solution was for the city to take at once $3,500,000 in the stock of these two roads, paying for it with the proceeds of a bond issue of like amount. This scheme was approved on April 21, 1854. The city subscribed to $1,500,000 stock in the New Orleans, Opelousas & Great Western, and to $2,000,000 stock in the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern Railroad.13 These bonds were paid many p190 years later by the city; its stock was ultimately sold, and what might, under happier auspices, have proven a wonderfully valuable investment, never advantaged New Orleans at all, except insofar as these roads have contributed to the upbuilding of its commerce.
Under Lewis two important enterprises for the beautification of the city require mention. They were the completion of the Jackson statue, and the inauguration of the movement which resulted in the erection of the Clay statue, unveiled in 1860. The former was unveiled February 9, 1856. What was known as the Jackson Monument Association was organized January 11, 1851, with A. D. Crossman as president. In 1852 the association obtained a charter from the State Legislature. That body at the same time appropriated $10,000 to pay the expenses of the proposed statue. The site in the Place d'Armes had been chosen because in 1840 Jackson had placed there the corner stone of what was intended to be a monument in memory of the battle of New Orleans. At the time of making the appropriation for the Jackson monument, the Legislature set aside $5,000 for the Chalmette monument, and declared that the motive of its action in both cases was "the gratitude of Louisiana" and the wish "to commemorate the achievements of the hero to whose military genius and patriotic devotion in the hour of her darkest peril she owes the triumph which preserved her chief city from capture by an invading enemy and which illustrates the brightest page in her history."
The cornerstone laid by Jackson was now transferred to a position in the new pedestal which was being erected by Newton Richards, of New Orleans. In the corner stone, which was opened for the purpose, were placed a volume of the Code of Louisiana, one of the city laws, a cannon ball from the battlefield of 1815, and some historical memoranda. Similar articles were at the same time placed in the corner stone of the Chalmette monument, the erection of which it was now proposed to carry to completion. The commission for making the Jackson statue was entrusted to Clark Mills, the well known sculptor, on June 15, 1853. Mills had recently completed a statue of Jackson for Washington. His work was greatly admired. What was wanted for New Orleans was a replica of this work. The statue was finished by December, 1855. It was planned to unveil it in the following month, on the anniversary of the battle. The completed bronze was shipped by a sailing vessel, but delayed by contrary winds, it did not reach the city till January 6th, and the program was perforce postponed till February 9th.14
The ceremony of February 9th was made an occasion of great festivity. "Business was in a great measure suspended and the streets literally swarmed with the population in holiday attire. The military, firemen, the local societies, and other civic bodies turned out in full uniform and regalia, with banners and music, under the leadership of General Tracy, and formed into a procession which actually seemed interminable. This procession once under way, the widely-scattered multitude began to concentrate in the direction of Jackson Square and, when at noonday the concentration came to a focus, the square and its vicinity formed a spectacle such as never before was seen in New Orleans and probably will not again be seen for many a year. [. . .] It is estimated that the falling of the canvas was witnessed by at least 25,000 people. Those of the spectators who must have enjoyed the spectacle most, and who p191 were themselves not the least interesting part of the spectacle, were the veterans of 1815, those who shared the glory of him to whom they were now paying posthumous honor. They had the places of honor in the procession and were assigned an honorable position in the square. The colored veterans of the same famous occasion were also out, headed by their fellow veteran, the incomparable drummer, Jordan Little. Upon a platform appropriately decorated in front of the statue, the ceremony of inauguration took place. Ex‑Mayor Crossman, president of the Monument Association, introduced L. J. Sigur, Esq., to the multitude as the orator of the day. Mr. Sigur made an appropriate address, reviewing the life of his hero as warrior and as the chief of a great people, and was interrupted by the frequent applause of those who were able to hear him. When he concluded a man by the pedestal pulled the string, the canvas fell, and the bronze figure of the warrior, upon his rampant war steed, glittered in the light of the sun. Instantaneously a deafening cheer arose, and the hats of the multitude were raised aloft, the various bands of music joined in a chorus of the most inspiring music, and a salute of 100 guns given with cannon on the levee awoke the echoes far and near. Subsequently ex‑Mayor Crossman introduced Clark Mills, Esq., the designer and builder of the statue, to the assemblage, which he then addressed. [. . .] Mr. Mills was loudly cheered. After that General Plauché stepped forward and announced that the ceremonies were at an end. Subsequently, the venerable Bernard Marigny addressed the multitude in French, in a very spirited and appropriate manner, and came off with vociferous applause. A large portion of the crowd remained in the square for hours, admiring and criticizing the statue.15 That night a banquet was given at the St. Charles Hotel, at which Mills and various local celebrities were present, and addresses were made which the ingenuous chronicler quoted above regretted that he had not space to report in full.
Work on the Clay statue was begun on April 13, 1856. A site in Canal Street was chosen in order that the effect of a somewhat similar monument in Montreal, which the committee admired, might be attained. The inaugural ceremony included an oration by Judge McCaleb, an ode by Mark Bigney, an address written by Mme. O. W. LeVert and a dinner given by the Continental Guards to the military organization from Mobile, which took part in the celebration.
The problem of the police was pressed upon Lewis' attention immediately after he took office. But under the circumstances it was impossible for him to do anything to correct the evils which admittedly existed in the force. Two years later, the Legislature furnished the city with a new charter the motive of which was, specifically, to cure this trouble. The act conformed closely to the project submitted to the Board of Aldermen, in 1855, by one of its members, Mr. Durell. It did not change the existing municipal divisions, nor the number of recorders. The council, as before, consisted of aldermen and assistant aldermen — the former limited to nine, three from the First District, and two from each of the others; the latter to fifteen, to be chosen by wards. The members of the council were to hold office for two years, half of the aldermen to hold over each year, and eight of the assistants one year, and seven the next year, and so on alternately. The assistant aldermen p192 were to be chosen at the first election, as follows: Two from each ward in the First District, two from the Fourth Ward in the Second District, and one from each of the remaining wards in that district; and one from each ward in the Third and Fourth districts.
The executive power remained vested in the mayor, the four recorders, a treasurer, a comptroller, a city surveyor, a street commissioner, a board of assessors, and a board of supervisors of assessors. The mayor, comptroller, street commissioner, and one class of aldermen and assistant aldermen were to be elected biennially on the first Monday in June. The common council was empowered to elect the treasurer, surveyor, city attorney, and assistant city attorney, all to serve for two years. The council likewise selected the board of assessors — twelve in number — while the board of supervisors of assessors was to be composed of the mayor, and the chairmen of the finance committees of the city council. The assessors were to be chosen within one month after the organization of the council and were to hold office till the second Monday in January, 1859. Thereafter they were to be elected in the month of December, 1858, and every two years subsequently.
With regard to the police, the charter provided: "The mayor [. . .] shall be ex‑officio justice and conservator of the peace; he shall appoint police officers, policemen and watchmen, under the ordinances of the common council organizing the same, and discharge the same at pleasure; and in case of the discharge of any officer of police, he shall communicate the fact of such discharge to the common council at their first meeting after such discharge; and he shall alone control and make regulations for the police officers, policemen, and watchmen." This had the effect of concentrating in the mayor's hands anew the complete control over this important branch of the city government.
The other important provisions in the charter may be described. All real and personal property in New Orleans was made subject to taxation, excepting State and United States property, colleges, academies, poor houses, hospitals, and incorporated benevolent institutions. Incomes were to be taxed on all amounts in excess of $1,000, and household furniture when its value exceeded $500. But the entire tax, for any purpose whatsoever, could not exceed 1½ per cent except in case of insurrection or invasion. There were also detailed provisions as to the payment of salaries of city officers. The mayor was to receive not less than $4,000 or more than $5,000. The precise amount of his compensation was to be fixed by the council. The salaries of the recorders were settled at $2,500 per annum. The surveyor, city attorney, and street commissioner, each were to receive an annual salary of $3,000. The chairmen of the finance committees of the common council were to receive $200 per month.
The common council had power to issue licenses, payable from the 1st to the 31st of January. If unpaid, the city was to have a lien on the property, and to be empowered to obtain a writ of provisional seizure. All other taxes were payable between the months of March and May. Tax bills remaining unpaid were to pay 1 per cent per month interest, should be put in suit and advertised, the advertisement serving as a citation. The fees of the assistant city attorney were to consist of a percentage on the accounts of delinquent tax payers.
The remaining provisions referred to the paving and banqueting of streets, the opening of new streets, the consolidated and railroad taxes, p193 which were unaltered; the fiscal agent, the public school system, etc. There were few or no changes in these provisions. An important section provided for an annual budget of expenditures. Finally, it was provided that, this budget once adopted, no further appropriations should be made.16
The reform council did a great deal to clear up a bad situation in the city finances. In 1853 a democratic council had come into power. It started on a program of improvement which, while highly commendable in itself, was beyond the resources of the community at the moment. It projected in that year public improvements to cost $452,000, with extensions and repairs to the wharfs to the amount of $222,000. A failure to collect the full amount of the anticipated revenues from taxation crippled these enterprises and left a considerable debt. The reform council of 1854 found itself hampered by these obligations, with regard to which it could do little except wait for their expiration, in the meantime reducing expenses wherever possible. To meet the costs involved, the tax rate was raised, a fact which, although it occasioned some complaint, did not discredit the reform movement, inasmuch as at the council election of 1855 virtually both the aldermanic boards were re-elected on that issue.
The report of the finance committee published in July, 1855, showed that in the previous January the floating debt of the city in treasury warrants and matured liabilities amounted, all told, to $556,546.41. Every dollar of this large sum had been paid in the interval, except about $10,000 in securities which had not yet been presented for redemption at the treasury, and there was on hand a balance of $80,267.48. This had been effected with the city's ordinary income, used economically, and a rigid avoidance of all contracts of doubtful expediency.
The council adopted a plan of leasing out the city wharves. This idea, which at the present day would probably invite criticism, seemed in that epoch a wise and proper one, inasmuch as the operation of these public utilities by the city had netted it a deficit. In 1853 this deficit amounted to $35,000. The new arrangement yielded the city a revenue of $155,615.21 between 1855 and 1857. Furthermore, the expenditures in the city surveyor's department, which had amounted to $1,358,700 in 1855, were in the following year reduced to $145,029.28. In the street commissioner's department many unperformed contracts were annulled, and the work completed by the city, involving a small apparent increase. The tax rate for 1856 was lower than that of the preceding year; in the regular city tax, by 70 per cent; in the railroad tax, 32 per cent. As for the consolidated loan tax, this remained unchanged save in the Third District, where there was an increase of about 8 per cent.
Efforts were also made to improve the methods of making up the assessment rolls. Hitherto the assessment of real estate by the city was effected on the basis of a roll transcribed from that prepared by the State assessors, with the result that it abounded in errors. Property in many cases went assessed in the names of the wrong people for years at a time. Whole squares were assessed in the names of deceased persons. The valuations were frequently unchanged over long periods, irrespective of the improvements which might or might not have been made. The city council had no control over the assessors, and no authority to correct these errors, even when they were known. In consequence, the collection p194 of the city alimony were somewhat of a lottery — the totals usually were below those which had been confidently anticipated. The abuses were so great that in 1855 public opinion compelled the State Legislature to insert in the new city charter an article rectifying the methods of making assessments and giving the council the powers it required in this connection.
A further abuse was in the collection of licenses. The licenses on "coffee houses" should, it was estimated, produce about $200,000 per annum, but discrimination in the collection was such that it often failed to produce more than one-quarter of that sum.17
In 1855 an effort was made to remove the fire department from the control of the Firemen's Charitable Association, where it had been lodged since 1829. It was asserted that this was done as part of the general program of retrenchment. The firemen claimed that it was engineered by the politicians with a view to increase the patronage at their disposal. At any rate, a so‑called "revolt" of the firemen followed. It must be confessed that the policy of the city towards the firemen had not been liberal. The fortunes of the fire department were in the hands of public-spirited citizens who contributed liberally out of their own pockets to its maintenance. The Council relied a good deal on their generosity. There had long been friction over appropriations, and over payments on account of appropriations previously made. The niggardly policy of the Council, moreover, did not prevent it from interfering actively with the management of the department. The firemen opposed the introduction of steam engines, then just coming into vogue in the North. The Council insisted upon investing in one of these machines. Either on account of the defective construction of the engine, or because the firemen allowed their prejudices against it to influence them unduly, this innovation was a conspicuous failure. For some years the engine remained a cause of expense, with no corresponding advantage. Next, the Council created the office of Chief Engineer. James H. Wingfield was elected to the position on May 30, 1855. He was an experienced fireman and no objection was made to him personally, but the firemen as a body were opposed to this change in the organization of the department and resented the appointment.
In the spring of 1855, moreover, a new fire ordinance was enacted against the wishes and contrary to the advice of the leading members of the department. The objectionable feature of the new law was that it provided that the firemen should be paid. Until this date the service was voluntary. It was regarded as insulting to propose that men should be paid for the performance of what they regarded as their social and civic duty. Finally, seven fire companies were ordered disbanded. This action was taken without consultation with the other companies, and in some cases against their protest. The wisdom of reducing the department in the interests of economy was not disputed; but the method and the degree to which the reform was carried exasperated the entire membership.
On October 27, 1855, therefore, the firemen addressed a petition to the mayor, reciting their grievances and setting forth as a condition to the maintenance of the existing department the annual appropriation by p195 the Council of $1,200 to each company; liberal appropriations for fire alarm towers and belfries; the payment by the city of all debts contracted for the building of new engines, as stipulated in the old fire ordinance; reimbursements for rent, and various arrangements for supplying the companies with apparatus and hose. Moreover, they insisted that no fire companies be disbanded thereafter except for positive violation of the law governing the department; and upon a new fire ordinance, embodying the foregoing points, to remain in force for not less than five years from the date of its promulgation. The department also was to have the privilege of electing its own chief and his assistants.
The city government, encouraged, it was believed, by the insurance companies, was not averse to seeing the volunteer department disband, and a paid department put in its place; consequently, although the Council now went through the motions of offering certain concessions to the firemen, in reality the memorial was rejected. A meeting of the delegates of the various fire companies was held on November 20th, and it was decided to turn in to the city all the municipal apparatus on hand and to sever all connection with the local government. The surrender of the apparatus took place on December 1st in Lafayette Square. "During the forenoon the firemen assembled with their machines in Canal Street and prepared for a formal march to Lafayette Square, where the apparatus was to be surrendered to the mayor. At 1 o'clock the march commenced. Twenty-four engines and hose companies and four hook-and‑ladder companies filed slowly up Camp Street to no other music than the solemn tolling of Louisiana Hose Company's bell — without banners, every man with his hat reversed and belt inverted and a bit of crêpe fluttering from an engine or hose carriage here and there. [. . .] On the front panel of Engine No. 13 we noticed this: 'Organized 1837 — busted 1855,' and over the splendid truck of Louisiana Hose Company the sign, 'Justice is Our Wish.' Arrived at Lafayette Square, the companies entered and rested their apparatus around the walks. The foremen then repaired to the reception room in the City Hall and, through Mr. Salomon (President of the Firemen's Charitable Association), formally tendered the property in their procession belonging to the city, [. . .] then for the first time in its existence New Orleans stood without an organized fire department."18
The enrollment of paid firemen began on the following morning. The new service was organized by Wingfield with the aid of two assistants, "Jack" Adams and John Youenes, who had been selected by the underwriters of the city for that purpose. The new force, however, worked badly. The men were inexpert. It was now proposed by the Council to transfer the department entirely to the control of the underwriters. Councilman Durell presented an ordinance providing that bids be received for the contract for the extinguishment of fires for the succeeding five years. On December 4, 1855, this contract was adjudicated to "Jack" Adams and John Youenes, representing the underwriters, for a consideration of $100,000 per annum. The sureties offered by the successful bidders proved unsatisfactory, and the contract was ordered readvertised. "It was bluntly charged at the council meeting that the whole transaction was a prearranged affair, by which the city would be p196 a loser, and that the same service for which the contractors would charge $100,000 could be secured for $85,000."19
In the interval a new president had been elected by the Firemen's Charitable Association. I. N. Marks, who was now recalled to that responsible post, after a retirement of several years, saw an opportunity to turn the tables upon the opponents of the volunteer department. When the contract was put up the second time and the bids were opened, it was discovered, to the stupefaction of the underwriters and their friends, that the association had bid it in for $70,000 per annum. The comptroller adjudicated the contract to the association on December 15th; the organization bought the fire apparatus turned in to the city only a few weeks before, paying $70,000 for it, and the project of a paid department was laid to sleep for thirty-five years to come, during which time the business of fighting fire was managed in New Orleans wholly by volunteers, members of the association.20
Space suffices here merely to mention the impeachment proceedings brought against two of the recorders in the closing year of Lewis' administration. The action against these officials was, it was said, due to pressure from the Know-Nothing, or American, party, which still existed in the city. The trials resulted in acquittal.21 Know-Nothingism was supposed to have come to an end in 1855, but the peculiar antagonism in New Orleans really protracted its existence down almost to the Civil war. The State Legislature, for instance, in 1855 re-enacted the law prohibiting aliens from holding offices of honor or profit. The enemies of the reform party, in fact, denounced the Council of 1854‑1856 as "Know-Nothing," or "American."22 In fact, Know-Nothingism, so‑called, was ostensibly the issue on which the municipal campaign of 1856 turned; though in reality the question at stake was that of reform — whether the government should be administered in the interests of the people or exploited for political purposes. As the election approached the Bee drew attention to the real issue involved. "The new charter," it added, "converts the mayor from a passive and powerless chief into an active and responsible one, by clothing him with ample authority. [. . .] We want a vigorous executive, who will neither be the puppet of a clique nor a soulless automaton."23
But three offices were to be chosen by the city at large — mayor, comptroller and street commissioner. The democratic nominating convention met on May 10th and nominated W. A. Elmore for mayor. The Whigs, if any of that party yet remained, made no nomination. The best elements in the population now were contained in the reform movement. A meeting called at Banks' Arcade on March 18th was intended to select candidates on a "citizens' ticket" — by which was understood the Reform ticket. The meeting, however, was snatched out of the hands of its promoters by the American partisans, and thereafter the Reformers refrained from acting. The call for this meeting was signed by Alfred Penn, R. B. Summers, S. H. Kennedy, W. A. Gasquet, H. D. Ogden, E. J. Hart, James Robb, W. E. Leverich, Ed Pillsbury, H. S. Buckman, J. U. Payne, P. Labatut, W. C. C. Claiborne, Henry Renshaw, p197 Richard Milliken, Moses Greenwood, C. T. Buddecke, J. P. Freret, J. C. Ricks, P. Maspero and other prominent persons. The meeting was attended by a large but disorderly crowd. An address by a man named Fuller was well received, but when Major Beard offered a list of vice-presidents, "symptoms of disapprobation" developed, and "No" was shouted to almost all the names. The meeting then appointed its own vice-presidents and selected a committee of five to make nominations for the city offices. This committee reported C. T. Waterman for mayor, A. Giffen for treasurer, T. Theard for comptroller and J. R. Rust for street commissioner. Waterman was not present, but Giffen was, and made a speech which was cheered by the tumultuous crowd.24 The callers of the meeting registered a futile protest in the newspapers against the action of "outsiders," who had "usurped their functions." In fact, Waterman's friends seem to have gone thither organized with the intention of forcing his nomination.
Waterman, who thus became the candidate for mayor of the American, or Know-Nothing, party, as its opponents liked to style it, was a "young merchant," who had already become widely known in the city as an "ardent and zealous politician." "He has a love of everything noble and exalted," said the Bee, a few days after the election, when Waterman's success was acknowledged, "and a scorn for everything vicious and debased; [. . .] he is firm, resolute and inflexible."25 The election took place on June 2nd and was "disgraced by violence and bloodshed."26 In the First District the polls were occupied early in the day by armed men, who dictated who should vote and what votes should be cast. In the First District two polls in precincts regarded as Democratic strongholds were similarly seized. The newspapers refrained from saying precisely what faction was responsible for these high-handed proceedings, but it seems clear that it was the American party. In Orleans Street an attempt to control the voting led to a fight, in which several persons were wounded, some severely. In the Eleventh Precinct occurred the most serious trouble of the whole eventful day. There Norbert Trepagnier, clerk of the First District Court, was shot and mortally wounded. He was standing near the poll when a group of naturalized citizens — or, rather, of Sicilians who claimed to be such — approached and demanded to vote. Their right was challenged. A disturbance immediately arose, which Trepagnier, it is said, strove to abate, whereupon he was attacked, wounded, and while prostrate on the ground cruelly beaten with a slung shot. It looked as though a riot would follow. The poll was hurriedly closed and the crowd dispersed, but not until a detachment of the mob had located the Sicilians, who had fled, one of whom was intercepted and killed.
The danger at this point was sufficiently great for Mayor Lewis to issue a proclamation calling on all good citizens to repair to the City Hall and be sworn in as a special police. The regular police were useless. Two days before the election an order requiring them to go unarmed on election day, issued in the hope of reducing the possibilities of disorder, had led to many resignations from the force. The remainder seems to have been busy coercing voters, rather than preventing violations of the law, or arresting those who violated it. Only twenty citizens p198 responded to the mayor's appeal, but these were armed and sent to the polls. There can be no doubt that this action averted what might have been serious trouble at those points. As it was, six men were that day carried to the Charity Hospital wounded, two of them dangerously. One policeman in attempting to do his duty was assaulted and beaten by a gang of thirty men. It is not remarkable that, under the circumstances, only a small vote was cast. Large numbers of naturalized citizens, intimidated by the tactics of the American partisans, refrained from voting; those who made the attempt were, except in the instances noted, not molested.27
The result was the election of Waterman as mayor by 4,726 votes over Elmore, who received only 2,762 votes. Theard defeated J. R. McMurdo for comptroller, and P. A. Guyol won over J. A. D'Hemecourt for street commissioner. The recorders elected were Gerard Stith, J. L. Fabre, Jos. Salomon and L. Adams. R. M. Summers became president of the Council.
1 Picayune, February 7, 1854.
2 Picayune, May 20, 1886; Jewell, Crescent City Illustrated.
3 Bee, March 15, 1854.
4 Bulletin, March 14, 1854.
5 Bee, March 25, .
6 Bee, March 22, 1854.
8 Courier de la Louisiane, March 15, 1854.
9 Bee, March 18, 1854.
10 Courier, March 31, 1854.
11 Bee, March 20, 1854.
12 Picayune, March 26, 1854.
13 Picayune, April 18, 1854. See also references to the history of these railroads, in Rightor's "Standard History of New Orleans," 298‑306.
14 See an interesting article on the subject, in the Times-Democrat, for July 4, 1904.
15 Crescent, February 9, 1856.
16 Act 164 of 1856, approved March 20, 1856.
17 Bee, April 24, 1856. See the anonymous pamphlet, "What Has the Present Council Done for New Orleans?" published in 1856.
18 Delta, December 2, 1855.
19 O'Connor, "History of the Fire Department of New Orleans," 113.
20 See O'Connor, "History of the Fire Department of New Orleans," Chapter IV.
21 Louisiana Courier, June 10, 1856.
22 Bee, June 2, 1856.
23 Bee, May 10, 1856.
24 Bee, March 19, 1856.
25 Bee, March 9, 1856.
26 True Delta, June 3, 1856.
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