Short URL for this page:
It was part of President Lincoln's general policy to restore the civil government as soon as possible in Louisiana. A beginning was made early in the Butler regime, when elections were held for congressmen and B. F. Flanders and Michael Hahn were elected and took their seats in the House of Representatives. Union sentiment, which soon found expression in the guise of associations, was very weak and entirely dependent on the army. It came at first largely, though not exclusively, from the lower class of the white population. Two distinct and in some respects antagonistic parties speedily developed in its ranks. The first cherished the theory that the constitution of 1852 had been abrogated by the constitution of and that the latter instrument was illegal and without force. The State of Louisiana was, therefore, at this moment without a basic law. In order to proceed to the organization of a civil government and the election of officers thereunder the first necessary thing was to call a constitutional convention and create a new state constitution.
The other party held the view that the secession of Louisiana had merely suspended the constitution of 1852, which automatically came back into force when the Federal troops occupied New Orleans. There was consequently no need of a convention or of a new constitution; all that was requisite the reinstitute a civil government was permission from the military officials to proceed to an election of state officers.
The vital difference between the two factions, however, was the matter of slavery. The former, in advocating a constitutional convention, aimed to secure the abolition of slavery in the whole state, and looked to the proposed new constitution as the least embarrassing and most certain way of accomplishing their purpose. The idea was set forth by one of its leaders in the following words: "We cannot reorganize the civil government of our city and still less of our state and get rid of the fearful incubus of martial law now pressing down our energies by its arbitrary influence unless we believe, give utterance to and establish the fundamental principle of our national government: 'all men are created free and equal.' We know of no better way to effect this than by calling a convention as soon as possible, to declare the simple fact that Louisiana is now and will forever be a free state." These principles secured the name of Free State for the party.
The other, or Conservative, party, was headed by such men as Bradish Johnson, Thomas Cottman and E. E. Methiot, and was composed largely of planters. They professed to be as loyal to the Union as the Free State party, but did not wish to jeopardize slavery as an institution and believed that the constitution of 1852 should be revived with all of its slavery provisions. They contended that Lincoln's emancipation proclamation was merely a war measure, and that inasmuch as within the Federal lines slavery, as such, had not been abolished, there was ground to expect that it would be restored at the close of hostilities. If not so reinstated, they thought that loyal citizens would be compensated for their slaves through due process of law.
p290 Both parties tried to carry out their plans simultaneously, and both failed. The Conservative party was not large, received no encouragement from President Lincoln and was officially opposed by General Shepley, who, having been in June, 1862 relieved as acting mayor of New Orleans, was now military governor of the state. The Free State party plan was approved by President Lincoln, but failed to achieve the results which he hoped from it. In May, 1863, a committee representing this party was formed under the presidency of Thomas J. Durant and proceeded to publish elaborate rules for the registration of voters as a preliminary to the election of delegates to the constitutional convention which it was proposed to hold. It was expected that matters would be in readiness for an election on January 25, 1864. The convention would meet later and in a more or less future time elections for state officers might be expected to take place.
President Lincoln was not satisfied with the prospect of so considerable a delay and directed General Banks to take steps to hasten the installation of the civil government. The latter therefore issued a proclamation on January 11, 1864, in which he directed that elections for state officials be held on the 22nd of the following month. He took occasion incidentally to settle two vexed questions, first, by ordering that a convention be held to revise the state constitution and that delegates thereto elected on the first Monday in April, 1864; and, secondly, by putting in force in the interim the constitution of 1852, except "so much of said constitution" as concerned slavery, "which, as being inconsistent with the present condition of public affairs and plainly inapplicable to any class of persons now existing" within the limits of the state, "must be suspended."1 The Free State party promptly protested at these adverse decisions, but they determined to take part in the election, in view of the great influence which the new governor might be expected to exert over the constitutional convention when it should meet.
The campaign which followed was made interesting mainly by the contentions which developed between various factions in the Free State party. The party convention split on purely personal grounds. Two candidates for governor were nominated. Hahn was the candidate of those who found themselves in accord with Banks' announced policies. Those who did not agree with Banks favored B. F. Flanders, whom they proceeded to nominate. The Conservatives named J. Q. A. Fellows on a platform supporting "the constitution and the Union with the preservation of the rights of all inviolate." General Banks, in an order issued on February 13th, stated: "Every free white male twenty-one years of age who has been a resident of the state twelve months, and six months in the parish in which he offers to vote, who is a citizen of the United States, and who shall have taken the oath prescribed by the President in his proclamation of the 8th December, 1863, shall have the right to vote." The election took place on February 22nd and resulted in the election of Hahn. Only a relatively small part of the state figured in the election. The population of the state was approximately 700,000, of which total over 575,000 still remained outside of the Federal lines. In New Orleans the vote for governor was: Hahn, 3,625; Flanders, 1,007; Fellows, 1,139.
The state officials were inducted into office on April 3, 1864. The new government was only nominally a civil one. In reality it depended p291 absolutely upon the military power and its officials held their posts subject to the will of the commanding general.2
The election of delegates to the constitutional convention took place on March 28th. It was influenced by local and personal issues rather than by the greater issues which clamored for settlement. In fact, the abolition of slavery was a foregone conclusion, except insofar as the matter of compensation for "loyal owners" was concerned. The convention met in New Orleans on April 6th in a "Liberty Hall" specially fitted up in the City Hall for its use at an expense of $10,000. E. H. Durell was elected president. One hundred and fifty delegates representing forty-eight parishes would have constituted a convention; as a matter of fact, only ninety-eight delegates representing nineteen parishes took part. The convention was in session seventy-eight days, adjourning on July 25th. The session was more picturesque than orderly. A free bar was maintained at an outlay of $120 per day, which the members patronized extensively. At a time when the taxpayers were supposed to be "groaning under the burden of taxation" — to quote one of the eloquent speakers who addressed the convention — $1,000 was distributed among the chaplains who officiated at various times before the convention, $4,304.25 was spent for carriage hire, $8,111 for stationery and $150 for a pen case to be presented to General Banks. The constitution as finally adopted was a short document, different in comparatively few respects from the state constitution of 1852. Slavery in name and in fact was abolished throughout the state. It was made the duty of the State Legislature to create a free school system for blacks as well as whites. The franchise was given to white males twenty-one years and over. But the State Legislature was empowered to extend the suffrage whenever it deemed advisable to "such other persons as by military service, taxation to support the government or intellectual fitness" might seem to deserve it. This last provision was intended to open the way to extend the franchise to the negroes.
The influence of New Orleans in the convention was paramount. Some of the ablest and most respected men of the city were members, and in a body largely composed of men now for the first time called to public life, it was natural that these older, more experienced individuals should exercise a predominant influence. New Orleans was made the capital of the state, and in apportioning the membership of the State Legislature, care was taken to base representation, not upon the total population, as hitherto, but upon the number of voters. This insured to the city a controlling influence in south affairs. Those who had taken part in the secession movement were not entirely disenfranchised; they might come into the fold whenever they were prepared to take the oath of allegiance to the government of the United States.3
Before adjourning the convention adopted a resolution which was destined to have the most serious and sinister consequences for the state and for the City of New Orleans. This resolution stipulated that "when this convention adjourns it shall be at the call of the President, whose duty it shall be to reconvoke the convention for any cause, or in p292 case the constitution should not be ratified, for the purpose of taking such measures as may be necessary for the formation of a civil government for the State of Louisiana." But if, on the other hand, the constitution was really ratified by the people, then the Legislature might, at its option, reconvoke the convention "for the purpose of making amendments or additions to the constitution that may, in the opinion of the Legislature, require a reassembling of the convention."4 This resolution was not passed without opposition. One member at least, Judge Abell, was clear-sighted enough to foresee the dangers which its adoption implied. He argued that the convention had accomplished its mission and should adjourn sine die. If the constitution failed of ratification, then the convention could no longer claim to represent the people of the state, and should properly give place to a new body, more in accord with their ideas. He was, however, voted down almost unanimously,
The constitution was adopted at an election held September 5th. In New Orleans the vote for it was 4,664 and against it 789. At the same time a State Legislature was chosen, and five members of Congress were elected. Theoretically a civil government had now been established. Only about one-quarter of Louisiana was actually under control of this government. However, the Civil war was rapidly drawing to an end. Early in 1865 the collapse of the Confederacy brought the remainder of the state under the jurisdiction of the reorganized state government. The effect upon the city was more immediate, as leading within the next few months to the appointment to the mayoralty of a man whose credentials emanated, not from the military authority, but from the new civil government of the state.
Steps had already been taken to reconstitute one important part of the city government. Early in the Butler regime a kind of judiciary had been established. It will be recalled that when the Federal troops occupied New Orleans the existing judicial system was swept away and matters which, under ordinary circumstances would have been the basis of litigation, were dealt with directly by the commanding general. A little later these questions were handed over to officers, and in some instances civilians specially designated to inquire into each individual case, and the decisions reached by these persons were enforced by the military authority. This justice, however, though better than none, was arbitrary and uncertain; there was need for something in the nature of courts properly so styled; a want which was met by detailing certain officers to have cognizance of certain subjects, and to handle all matters connected therewith. Of this character was the Provost Court created in June, 1862. Though intended originally to have jurisdiction only in matters relative to the army, its power was gradually extended to cover causes in no way connected with the officers and men of the army of occupation. Before the end of the summer this court had acquired jurisdiction in all criminal matters throughout the city.
In August, General Shepley, on taking charge of the governorship of the state, took up the problem of the judiciary. He soon found that it would be necessary to create what were, in effect, new courts. They bore the names of earlier institutions, but as they derived their authority, not from the civil arm, but from the military, they rested upon a foundation p293 totally different from that of the court of pre-war time. Among these the first to be called into existence was the Second District Court of the Parish of New Orleans, of which John S. Whittaker was appointed judge. The Sixth District Court was also reconstituted, with Rufus K. Howell as judge. Howell, who was a consistent Unionist, had filled this post before the war under a commission from the State of Louisiana, and had kept his seat on the bench under the Confederacy. It was now held that his commission was still valid. The Fourth District Court was also established within a few weeks of the occupation of the city, and Judge Heinstand was put in charge of it. These courts all entered upon the exercise of their functions about November 1, 1862. Their business was limited to civil suits; criminal cases continued to be handled by Judge Bell in the Provost Court.
In December President Lincoln created a Provisional Court for Louisiana, with powers which were probably more extensive than ever before enjoyed by a court appointed by a civil power. It had the right "to try and determine all causes, civil and criminal, including causes in law, equity, revenue and admiralty." Moreover, as all the laws hitherto existing in Louisiana had been swept away by the process of the war, the court was left, to a very large extent, to fix the code by which its procedure should be regulated. Charles A. Peabody was appointed judge of this remarkable tribunal. With the other officials of the court he arrived in New Orleans on December 15th. In April, 1863, the necessity of a court of appeal was recognized by the separation of such functions from the Provisional Court, and the formation of a Supreme Court, with Judge Peabody as chief justice. Two associate justices were appointed to work with him. Seven months later the First District Court of the Parish of Orleans, with general criminal jurisdiction, was opened, and two recorders' courts were organized. These courts relieved the Provost Court of all of its business save such as fell strictly within its province as a military tribunal. Finally, towards the close of the year, the Second District Court was instituted as a court of probate. All of these courts, with the exception of the Provisional Court, as creations of the military power, had no written constitutions or orders defining their powers, other than that of the commanding general designating certain persons to be judges therein. The Provisional Court, however, possessed a written constitution in the form of the order signed by President Lincoln.5
Gen. Godfrey Weitzel
Capt. J. F. Miller was appointed acting mayor in November, 1862, and served as such until July, 1864. His successor was Capt. Stephen Hoyt, an officer of volunteers, whose home was in the western part of the United States. He returned thither at the end of his term. Hoyt did not understand or like New Orleans. He seems to have identified himself completely with the movement for the equalization of the white and colored races. One of his most important public acts was to assist p295 at the great negro mass meeting held in Congo Square on May 11, 1864, in honor of the adoption by the constitutional convention of the article abolishing slavery. Under Hoyt the city finances were reduced to the lowest possible ebb. Public buildings fell into disrepair. Widespread and alarming pauperism developed among the people. There was no trade of any importance. The mayor's prominence in the negro movement gave rise to an impression among the laboring classes that they were "to be relieved of all their burdens and that indolence and sloth would be maintained at the public cost." Hoyt, himself, in relinquishing the mayoralty, said that there had not been a time during his entire administration when he would not have gladly retired, so impossible had he found the task of controlling the incompetence and dishonesty which existed in the city government.6
Governor Hahn resigned in March, 1865, and was succeeded by the lieutenant governor, J. Madison Wells. Wells took an interest in the city and seems to have been sincerely anxious to see the municipal government improved. Accordingly, shortly after his inauguration he called on Dr. Hu. Kennedy and asked him to accept the mayoralty. Kennedy, according to the Picayune, had been "long and deeply identified with the city, and had always sustained a high character for moral firmness, courage and energy."7 He had formerly been editor of the True Delta, a newspaper which, before the war, had enjoyed a large circulation and considerable influence in the city. He and Wells were strangers at the time of the latter's visit. The situation in the city was perplexing and alarming, and there was need of a resolute and capable man at the head of the municipality. Kennedy expressed his willingness to accept the appointment, and the matter was then taken up by Wells with the military authority. General Hurlburt, who was at this time in command of the city, declared that he "had but one object in view, to bring order out of chaos, by restoring the finances to a more creditable condition, to reform politics, retrenchment and the removal of incompetent servants." He assured Kennedy that if respectable citizens could not be found to the according to charge of the local government, the national authorities would be compelled to do so.
Wells at first contemplated calling a committee of prominent men together to endorse Kennedy's candidacy, but subsequently abandoned this plan. On March 21st Kennedy was appointed mayor of the city. The order making the appointment was issued by Wells, but was approved by Hurlburt. It was nevertheless hailed as a long step towards the restoration of self-government in New Orleans. The fact that the new mayor held his place by virtue of the action of the civil arm, as distinguished from the military, was, as one of the local papers said, "a bloodless revolution."8
Kennedy seems to have taken seriously Hurlburt's assurance regarding the need for reform and set himself at once to check the wasteful administration which made of the city government at that time a scandal and a nuisance. His first act was to reduce the salary attaching to his own office. Hoyt had drawn $5,000, with allowances for "carriage hire" and "secret police," which brought his stipend up to $9,820 per annum. p296 These extra appropriations were shorn from the mayor's account. On entering the mayor's office, Kennedy found it filled with useless employees. Some of them were dismissed, with a resulting economy of $2,160 per annum. Others had their salaries reduced. The mayor's secretary, for instance, was drawing $4,800 per annum, of which $1,800 was paid him for acting as secretary of the School Board, and $600 as secretary of the Police Board. The former met but once a month; the latter had never held a meeting. These additional fees were accordingly suppressed. Kennedy contemplated further reductions in the mayor's office; all that were needed efficiently to carry on the clerical work of the department were the secretary and two clerks. Had he been permitted to carry out his plans, the savings to the city from his reforms would have aggregated $4,000 per annum here alone.9
But it soon became apparent that the proper administration of the city could not be secured with the existing organization of the two Bureaus of Finance and Streets and Landings. Kennedy did not hesitate to undertake to reform them also. At that time the Bureau of Finance was composed of Messrs. Abbatt and Estlin. They were removed, and Messrs. Burke and Davis were put in their places. Glendy Burke, who was a distinguished merchant and philanthropist, was on March 28th designated to be chairman of this important department of the city government, with the understanding that he should take up his duties on May 1st. The three members of the Bureau of Streets and Landings were Dewees, Campbell and Ross. The two latter were dismissed from office. In their place was put Dr. E. Ames, who had been a member of the bureau in Butler's time and had resigned from it after serving with credit. Subsequently he had figured as vice president of the state executive committee of the Conservative party.
The next step was to reduce the salaries of the register of voters and the coroner. The former was drawing $6,000; he was reduced to $3,000. The coroner's salary was $9,000; it was cut to $6,000, which figure was also to include the charges and costs connected with his office. Kennedy found in the office of the city assessor twelve clerks, one of whom frankly confessed never having made an assessment or performed any other official act than to sign the payroll once a month. This hard-working official was receiving $2,100 per annum. He and five others were discharged. Kennedy was only restrained from making still further reductions in this department by the fear that the too drastic curtailment of the clerical force at this time might cause confusion in the city business, but he announced his intention of still further revising the list of employees here within a short time.
A reformation of the police department followed. Mayor Kennedy reduced the number of policemen from 450 to 400, apparently without affecting their efficiency, if an increase in the number of arrests is any criterion. Several officers were stripped of their commissions. Kennedy did not believe that they could properly attend to their duties and at the same time serve as members of the State Legislature, which was the situation when he became mayor. Three lieutenants were removed summarily, one because he was under indictment for robbery. In selecting the successors of these officers, Kennedy was careful to fortify himself with the approval of the commanding general, or that of leading citizens p297 of the city. One of his new appointees, John Burke, who was later on promoted to the headship of the department, had previously served as captain of the city police force of the provost marshal general. A man named Kavanagh was named chief of police. Kavanagh was recommended by Governor Wells, but does not seem to have been a very fortunate choice. Kennedy claimed that his retrenchments in the police department alone amounted to $40,000 per annum.
There was, naturally, much complaint from the dismissed officials. One of the deposed assessors, Dr. Ready, carried his grievance to General Hurlburt. To him, as to the other critics, the general at first paid no heed; but as it began to be said that Kennedy was displacing Union men and putting in their places persons unfriendly to the United States, Hurlburt became alarmed, lost faith in the good intentions of the mayor and finally on May 5th issued an order removing him from office. There does not seem to have been any ground for any of these allegations. As a matter of fact, Kennedy seems to have been scrupulously careful to appoint to office only men whose loyalty to the national government could not be questioned. Burke and Davis, who had been put on the Bureau of Finance, had never had any connection with the Confederacy and had taken the oath of allegiance under Butler. On the other hand, Abbatt and Estlin, whom Kennedy cashiered, were former Confederate officers. The former had served as a member of a Confederate militia organization, while Estlin had been an aide to General Lovell and was on duty in New Orleans on the day when the Federal fleet arrived before the city. Campbell and Ross, dropped from the Bureau of Streets and Landings, were known to be Confederate sympathizers. Hurlburt, however, was not interested in the facts of the case; it was necessary for him to keep his official skirts clear, and the easiest way was to dispense with Kennedy and put at the head of the municipality some one regarding whom there could be no possibility of suspicion.
Col. S. M. Quincey was chosen to succeed Kennedy as mayor. He was colonel of the Seventy-third United States Colored Infantry and had previously served as president of the Board of Examiners for applicants for commissions in the colored regiments which Butler undertook to recruit for service in the United States army. His antecedents, therefore, did not recommend him to that element in the population which the commanding general regarded as untrustworthy. In the few short weeks over which his administration lasted Quincey showed himself the pliant tool of those who were working to perpetuate the conditions in the city which made its government a by-word throughout the nation. He promptly restored to office the street commissioner, Purcell, whom Kennedy had removed. Abbatt was restored to the chairmanship of the Bureau of Finance. Stoddart Howell was appointed comptroller of the city. Fortunately his efforts to revive the old regime were interrupted by the arrival of General Canby, appointed to the command of the Department of the Gulf. Canby reached the city on June 3rd, and among his first acts was to order Quincey to suspend his activities. On June 9th Quincey was retired and Kennedy restored to the mayoralty. Canby explained his action on the ground that Wells, as civil governor, had appointed Kennedy and that the military had no authority to cancel an appointment of that nature; the removal of Kennedy was, therefore, illegal, and he was entitled to resume his office. The satisfaction which this course occasioned in the city was due as much to p298 gratification over the recognition of the civil power as pleasure at the prospect of a continuation of the economical administration which Kennedy had inaugurated. "The hypocrites and demagogues who have lately been attempting to procure for themselves and their pensioned supporters the drippings of the treasury, in order to keep alive their spoil-born and nurtured parties and factions," said the Picayune in an editorial congratulating the city upon the restoration of the mayor, "may now rest assured that venality will no longer be permitted to take the place of true loyalty and patriotism."10
Mayor Kennedy was absent in Washington, D. C., when the order was issued replacing him at the head of the administration. Glendy Burke, who was likewise reinstated as chairman of the Bureau of Finance, took charge as acting mayor. He immediately removed Kavanagh as chief of police and reinstated a number of police officials whom Quincey had removed. Lieutenant John Burke was designated as acting chief of the department. He was ordered to clear his office of the parasitic lawyers, bond hawkers and hangers‑on who notoriously had infested it under his predecessor. A commission was also appointed to investigate the traffic in "immunities" which had grown up between the police and the gamblers and blacklegs who flourished in numbers in the city. This commission eventually made a report which led to some reform. In the latter part of August the mayor collected a large number of affidavits of persons who had been blackmailed by the police. A favorite practice was to release persons arrested on minor charges in consideration of the payment of a fee for doing so. As a result of these exposures there were extensive changes in the force, but on the whole the morale of the police continued low.
The remaining events of Kennedy's administration may be briefly indicated.
The mayor favored the construction of new street railroads, and steps were taken to sell the franchises for the construction of such on Levee Street, up to Toledano, and on Rampart Street, from Canal to Eighth Street. Steps were also taken to lease the city wharves. It was ascertained that to repair the wharves would require at least $250,000. The city was without funds to undertake so extensive a work. It was therefore deemed wiser to leave them to private parties, who not only obliged themselves to fit the wharves for the use of the river steamers, but undertook to pay the city $50,000 per annum during the period of ten years over which the contract ran. This transaction was regarded as very advantageous for the city. Another important step was the establishment of a school board of twenty-four members. This was done under an ordinance passed August 26, 1865. The sum of $250,000 was appropriated for the support of the schools. In establishing the system of public education which this board was expected to bring into existence, the council required that the "teachers should be by preference graduates of our public schools."
Mayor Kennedy likewise interested himself in having the New Orleans & Opelousas and the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern railroads turned back by the military authorities to their stockholders. These roads had been seized by Butler in 1862 and operated every since under military control. Prior to this seizure they had been profitable p299 businesses, the Jackson road having paid as high as $5,000,000 per annum. Under military management these earnings had disappeared, and the properties were heavily in debt. The city had an interest in both corporations. It owned one-half of the capital stock of the Opelousas road, and somewhat more than that in the Jackson road. It was therefore to the advantage of the municipality to see that the properties were released from its present control. Kennedy dispatched a commissioner to Washington to confer with President Johnson. Thomas Cottman, who was entrusted with the negotiations, was entirely successful as far as Johnson was concerned. The President not only approved, but took occasion to say some very warmly sympathetic words with regard to the situation in Louisiana. He made but one condition relative to the roads — that the ante-bellum boards of directors should not be entrusted with the management, but should be replaced by new boards, composed of men of standing who were known to be well affected towards the government of the United States.
Kennedy thereupon proceeded to appoint new boards. The old officials of the Opelousas Railroad loyally accepted the situation, but certain parties in New Orleans, and certain others in Mississippi, combined to obtain control of the Jackson road, and it was not till after a long and costly struggle, extending over more than a year, that the city was finally able to have recognized its right to vote in the elections. In that year, however, an election was called at which the city used its obvious right to dictate the composition of the board of directors. Nor were the railroads surrendered by the military officials without a struggle. They required the new board of the Opelousas road to agree to release them from all financial responsibility for any act committed during the time during which the property had been in their hands. In the case of the Jackson road, the litigation between the city and the parties who laid claim to it made such conditions unnecessary at the moment. This road had for some time been operated only for a few miles out of the city. By the middle of the summer of 1865, however, its service was extended to Summit, Miss., and a few months later trains were run regularly to Jackson, Miss., where connections were made for the north and east. The benefit to the city of this revival of rail traffic with those rich and populous centers is obvious.
The time now seemed at hand when an election for city officials might be safely held. Four years had elapsed since the people of New Orleans had had an opportunity to express at the polls their will with regard to their governors. Butler's order establishing the bureau system had been intended as a mere temporary expedient, not to outlast the state of war. The local newspapers in November reminded everybody that the city charter was still in existence. Butler had recognized it. He had not abrogated this fundamental law, but merely changed the character of the administration. In the military order creating the existing system the bureaux had been expressly directed to conform their acts to that charter. Hence, all that was necessary was permission from the military authorities to proceed to an election. That this permission was now about to be given seemed clear when in February, 1866, General Canby issued instructions to the city bureaux not to alienate the city p300 property beyond a time when the municipal government could be reconstructed.
The Legislature which met in New Orleans in November, 1865, failed to take any action with regard to an election in the city; but that which assembled in January, 1866, took up this important matter almost immediately. The project, however, became involved in the general question of state politics, and particularly with a growing opposition to Governor Wells. A bill was passed directing that an election should be held in New Orleans for the full list of officials authorized by the city charter, but fixing March 12th as the date therefor; which was somewhat earlier than the day provided for in that instrument. On February 9th Governor Wells vetoed this bill, on the ground that the necessity for anticipating the time for the election was not apparent. He also favored postponing the election until he could be invested with power to see the laws on the subject were faithfully executed. To this end he recommended that the city charter be amended and the registry of voters and the election laws in general in the Parish of Orleans be revised. The bill was, however, passed over the veto. In the preamble to this act occurred the following language: "The present incumbents hold commissions of a temporary nature, granted only for the purposes of the time being, [. . .] it is eminently proper that the municipal government of said city should be again committed to the people, under and in accordance with the charter of said city." The city charter, however, was amended in the direction desired by the governor. The qualifications for voting were made contingent upon the production of the amnesty oaths required in the Presidential proclamations either of December 8, 1863, or of May 29, 1865. It was understood that all those who were excluded for any reason from the benefit of the amnesty oaths would not be permitted to vote unless specially pardoned by the President.
Under these circumstances, Wells consented to issue his proclamation fixing March 12th as the day for the election in New Orleans for mayor, comptroller, street commissioner, recorder, nine aldermen and fifteen assistant aldermen.
The campaign was interesting especially because it witnessed the appearance of the National Democratic and of the Democratic Conservative parties. They were organized in the autumn of the previous year. The former was a reincarnation of the Conservative party, and, like it, held as a cardinal principle the validity of the state constitution of 1852 and consequently the illegality of the constitution of 1864. The latter was also opposed to the existing constitution, but favored calling a convention with a view to making a new constitution. There were also in the city three other parties, one of which, the Radical Republicans, advocated a new constitution also, but one which would extend the suffrage to the negroes. The National Conservative Union party recognized the constitution of 1864 as valid, and was therefore opposed to calling another constitutional convention, but it was opposed to the extension of the franchise to the colored population. This latter party supported Wells for re-election. Finally, there was the Democratic party, which was led by ex-Governor R. C. Wickliffe and was affiliated with the national p301 party of that name. It held, among other essential doctrines, that "this is a government of white people, made by and to be perpetuated for the exclusive benefit of the white race; [. . .] that people of African descent cannot be considered as citizens of the United States, and that there can, in no event, nor under any circumstances, be any equality between the white and other races." It also held that the constitution of 1864, although "the creation of fraud, violence and corruption," was the de facto law of the state. The party recognized it as "the existing government," but recommended "the calling of a convention of the people of the state at the earliest practicable period, for the purpose of adopting a constitution expressing the will of the entire people of the state." There was thus no essential difference between the National Conservative Union party and the Democrats, and it was not surprising, therefore, that they had the same candidate for governor.
In the city campaign these different political groups rallied around one or the other of two tickets. The National Union convention, which met on March 7 at the Lyceum Hall, named James H. Moore for mayor, Stoddart Howell for comptroller and W. H. Bell for street commissioner. Mr. Monroe, after having been released from confinement in Fort Pickens, had returned to the state and resumed business in New Orleans. Both tickets were nominated by the old system of party caucus and district elections. It was complained that peaceful citizens and tax-payers were thus given little opportunity to influence the result. In addition to these two tickets, there were several independent candidates for mayor, among them W. L. Robinson, an auctioneer and sugar broker who for many years had been in business in New Orleans; George Purves, an architect and builder, and Cuthbert Slocumb. These men were nominated by little groups of citizens, and none of them figured seriously in the election. Robinson, who ran without party, platform or formal nomination of any sort, published a card after the result of the election became known, in which he indignantly complained that 5,000 persons had pledged themselves to support him and that only thirty-three had kept their word.
The election "was quietly conducted, there being no disturbance to speak of in any portion of the city."11 The National Union candidates for recorder in both the third and fourth districts were elected. This party was also successful in electing two aldermen and four assistant aldermen in the second and third districts. But with these exceptions the entire Democratic ticket was elected. Monroe received 3,469 votes; Moore, 3,158; Purves, 3, and Robinson, 33. The Picayune congratulated the newly elected officials in a jubilant editorial on March 14. "Mayor Monroe," it said, "had the reputation of an honest man, and the council is composed of respectable and honest citizens." It went on to urge that in taking up his labors at the City Hall, Mayor Monroe give special attention to the police and particularly enforce the laws prohibiting policemen from interfering with the conduct of elections.
Measures were immediately taken by the unsuccessful party to contest the election. They alleged that a portion of the vote cast was illegal. This contention was raised especially on behalf of the recorder who had failed of election. "It was asserted that the voters were not residents p302 of the state for twelve months next preceding the election; that the new registry law was made because the former voters were not, on their return from the war, citizens of the United States; and that no one who is not a citizen of the United States can either vote or hold office. On the contrary, it was asserted that this point was not at all considered in the gubernatorial and state elections held a few months previous; that three-fourths of the 28,000 who voted in the election had been in the state only a few months preceding the election; and that should all these votes be declared illegal and their amount be subtracted from the sum total of the returns, a miserable minority would remain to manage the affairs, control the interests and manipulate the public funds of Louisiana."12 These contestants were unsuccessful.
1 House Reports, Thirty-eighth Cong., 1st Sess., No. 8; 2nd Sess., No. 27.
2 Moore, "The Course of Louisiana Politics from 1862 to 1866." This was true, in spite of the fact that Lincoln furnished Hahn with a letter clothing him with the authority hitherto enjoyed by the military governor.
3 Moore, op. cit., 9; Appleton's Annual Encyclopaedia, 1864, p479; New Orleans Times, November 4, 1864.
4 Ficklen, "Reconstruction in Louisiana," 80; "Debates in the Convention," 1864, p623.
5 Messages and Papers of the Presidents, VI, p122.
6 Mayor Kennedy's statement, March 22, 1865.
7 Picayune, May 9, 1865.
8 Picayune, March 22, 1865.
9 Kennedy's statement, Picayune, May 9, 1865.
10 Picayune, June 10, 1865.
11 Times, March 13, 1866.
12 Appleton's Annual Encyclopaedia, 1866, p449.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
J. S. Kendall's History
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 5 Jun 17