Short URL for this page:

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

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

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

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 18

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of New Orleans

John Kendall

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

The text is in the public domain.

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


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 20
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p303  Chapter XIX
The Riot of 1866

Although confident that he had been legally elected to the post of mayor of New Orleans, Monroe deemed it wise, in the existing circumstances, to obtain from Washington, if possible, assurances that he would be suffered to take his seat without opposition from the United States authorities in the city. He therefore wired to President Johnson, on March 16, a statement of the facts connected with the recent election. On the following day he received an answer in which the President quoted a telegram previously sent to the retiring mayor, Doctor Kennedy. This telegram said that no instructions would be given with regard to the surrender of the mayoralty; that Washington was in possession of no information which indicated that the election had not been regular, or that the individual who had been elected, might not qualify. "In the absence of such information, the presumption is, that the election has been according to law, and that the person elected can take the oath of allegiance and loyalty, if required."1

It would seem that this authorization would suffice to guarantee to Monroe undisturbed occupation of the position, but on the 18th it was intimated to him that the local military commandant, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Canby, did not propose to be governed by the presidential interpretation of the facts. Accordingly, when, on the 19th, Monroe and the other newly-elected city officials, presented themselves at the City Hall, to take possession of the administration, it was with some idea of what impended. Mayor Kennedy was not on hand, but they were received by the mayor's secretary, Mr. Bonnibel, and by the chief of police, Mr. Burke. Monroe brought with him a certificate of election issued by the Secretary of State of Louisiana, and the oath of office properly filled out and certified to. After exhibiting these credentials, he swore in the other members of the administration, and directed the aldermen to proceed immediately to organization. The aldermen withdrew to the council room. They were eight in number. Col. J. O. Nixon was promptly elected president, George Clark, president pro tem., and Alexander Walker, secretary. Committees were appointed, and then the council adjourned.

The reason for this prompt organization of the municipal legislative chamber became apparent when, an hour or two later, J. Ad Rozier, accompanied by General Canby's judge-advocate-general, appeared at the hall. They first inquired for Kennedy, but finding that he was absent, delivered their message to Monroe, whom they found at the mayor's desk. They presented a letter from Canby, enclosing an extract from Special Order No. 62, stating that, as both Monroe and Nixon came within the classes of exception mentioned in the presidential proclamation of amnesty, and neither had received a special pardon, they were "suspended from the exercise of any of the functions" of the offices to which they had been elected, "until their cases can be investigated and the pleasure of the President be made known." Canby charged that Mayor Monroe "had uttered rebellious language after the city had been  p304 captured by the Federal troops, and that he had refused to take the oath of allegiance." A further order was presented by which Rozier was appointed acting mayor, to serve "until the municipal government of the city is organized, as provided for in the 15th section of the city charter, in the case of the sickness or temporary absence of the mayor." This section of the charter required the boards of aldermen and assistant aldermen, acting jointly, to elect viva voce a person qualified to serve as mayor, to fill the office until a successor should be duly elected by the people. No attempt was made to interfere with the remainder of the city government. Rozier was under instruction to supervise its organization, and it was understood that as soon as this had been effected, he would hand over the reins to Alderman Clark, who, by virtue of his position as President pro tem. of the council, was entitled to succeed. This course was actually followed by Rozier, and on March 20 Clark was installed as acting mayor.

While public opinion in New Orleans cannot be said to have endorsed Canby's course, there does not seem to have been any disposition to censure him for what he did. The difficulties of his position were generally recognized. The effect of his interference with the administration, however, was unfortunate. It suspended all city business at a time when it was very desirable that no suspension should occur. The city was overrun with undesirable characters, and the delay in the appointment of a chief of police made it difficult for the city government to deal with them. The citizens were driven to take measures for their own protection. On April 28th Acting Mayor Clark instructed the police not to arrest respectable persons who might be found to be carrying concealed weapons. It was recognized that only by having arms could the people secure themselves from molestation at the hands of the reckless element which was taking advantage of the interregnum to make the thoroughfares generally unsafe. Clark later explained that he had issued this order because he distrusted the incapable and inactive police. It was, however, a situation which occasioned several awkward problems for Mayor Monroe to solve when he returned to power.

On May 15 Monroe was able to address to the Assistant Board of Aldermen a letter in which he announced that the President of the United States had revoked the military order suspending him from office. He actually took his seat on May 11. He was destined to continue in office somewhat less than a year. In this time he had opportunity to initiate little legislation of any importance. In June, 1866, the city effected a large sale of real estate. Fourteen squares of ground on the levee between St. Joseph Street and St. Louis Street, were sold for $610,000. In the month of July, the first street cars were put into operation on the St. Charles and Carondelet Street Railway, and a few weeks later the Tchoupitoulas line was also opened to traffic. The state of the city finances was deplorable. The bonded debt amounted to $9,797,000. The assessment was put at $126,574,765, on which a tax of 1.50 per cent was levied. Much property had been confiscated during the Federal occupation; the city alimony had been imperfectly collected; and consequently, in order to provide for the immediate needs of the municipality, it was necessary to continue the issue of paper money in various denominations. Including the interest on the bonded debt, the expenditures of the city for the year 1866 were $4,301,060.2

 p305  Mayor Monroe gave special attention to the question of policing the city. He was strongly in favor of uniforming the force. But whatever measure of reform he hoped to institute was negatived by the opposition of the police board. One of the first acts of the mayor, on resuming office, was to appoint a chief of police. T. E. Adams was selected for this difficult post. He set to work energetically, and apparently with some degree of success. But the police board was determined to get rid of him. As the streets of the city were not safe, the authorities winked at the practice of carrying arms, which persisted among the citizens, even after the emergency referred to in Clark's order on the subject had, at least partially, passed. Right-thinking persons approved of the course of the administration in the premises. But the board accused the chief of exceeding his authority by permitting the custom, and suspended him. A violent controversy followed between the board, the mayor and Adams, which was reproduced among various factions in the community. Although the mayor was finally success­ful in having his appointee reinstated, the incident did not help to make the police a more efficient instrument for the preservation of public order, at a moment when an event was approaching which would have tested the quality of the best-disciplined and most competent force.

It will be remembered that the Constitutional Convention of 1864, upon adjourning, left in the hands of its president, Judge Durell, power to reconvoke it whenever and for whatever cause he might deem necessary. Moreover, it passed a resolution investing its president with the right "to call upon the proper officers of the State to cause elections to be held to fill the vacancies that may exist in the convention, in the parishes where the same may be practicable." Ostensibly these extraordinary resolutions were passed in order to keep open the way to perfect a basic law for the reorganization of the civil government, in case the constitution formulated by the convention were rejected by the people. Towards the end of the spring of 1866, the radicals in Louisiana, encouraged by the attitude of the National Congress on the question of negro suffrage, determined to take advantage of these two provisions, to make an attempt to seize the State Government. They did not disguise their intention to remodel the State Constitution to suit their own purposes. Their program was at first received with derision, but as their entire seriousness became more and more clear, ridicule gave way to anger and apprehension. The popular excitement was increased by rumors that Governor Wells was championing the movement. Wells' reason for supporting the radical side has always been much of a mystery. As a matter of fact, the democratic leaders made overtures to him, and had all but gained his support, when they injudiciously suggested that this could be made financially to his advantage; and Wells, highly indignant at what he considered a reflection upon his personal probity and an attempt at bribery, cast in his lot with the opposition. The negotiations were conducted through William A. Freret, son of a former mayor of New Orleans; but the offer of the money was made through other parties. Freret, who was an old friend of the family, approached the governor as an agent of Wells' brother. Years before, the brothers had quarrelled over a business matter, and had ceased to have any intercourse with one another. Now a conciliatory message looking to a political understanding which would put the governor on the same side as his brother, in opposition to the radical element, was well received. But when Freret saw  p306 Wells the next time, he was amazed to hear that the governor had changed his mind. Then the story of the attempted bribe was repeated to him, and Freret felt constrained to abandon all further attempts to bring about an agreement.3

The radical plot rapidly unfolded itself. First, an attempt was made to induce Judge Durell to exercise the authority committed to him by the Convention of 1864. He declined to issue a call for the reassembly of that body. Then, on July 26, in New Orleans, 29 members of the convention elected Judge R. K. Howell, of the State Supreme Court, chairman pro tem., with a view to have him take the action that Judge Durell declined to take. Howell issued a proclamation on July 8, fixing July 30 as the date for the meeting, and Mechanics' Institute, in New Orleans, then used as the State House, as the place. Judge Edmond Abell, of the Criminal Court, himself a member of the convention, deemed it his duty to lay the matter before the Grand Jury. "Any attempt to alter the constitution in defiance of its provisions, by any body of men, unauthorized by the provisions of the constitution, or emanating directly from the people through the ballot-box, is illegal," he said, "and punishable by law." He was promptly arrested by the United States commissioner, Shannon, and held to bail on charges of sedition and treason.4

Howell then called on the governor to hold the elections described in the resolutions of the Convention of 1864 to fill vacancies in its member­ship, and on July 27 Wells issued a proclamation accordingly.

These proceedings were clearly illegal. In the first place, Howell could show no proper mandate. He had resigned from the Convention of 1864 before its adjournment, and could not be considered a member at this time in a sense which would entitle him to election as one of its officers. It was inconceivable that a small minority of the convention could under any circumstance choose those officers. Moreover, the convention ceased to exist when it completed its work on the constitution and adjourned; or if not then, certainly its life terminated when that the constitution had been accepted by the people. The attempt to prolong its existence by providing that it might be reconvened by its presiding officer, was a usurpation of power; but that usurped prerogative was expressly committed to one person, and that one person had refused to exercise it. Finally the contingency contemplated by the convention as justifying its re-assembly had not arisen. The constitution had not been rejected. "Then, and then only," ran the resolution, might the president of the convention call it to meet again. By its own terms the authority delegated to Durell had expired. Wells, therefore, in obeying Howell's request, was transgressing the law. It is probable that the radicals could not count upon the support of 500 white persons in the whole State. The act which they were meditating was a flagrant, overt breach of the law. In the jurisprudence of most countries it would be designated as treason, punished with death. Under the law of Louisiana, however, they risked nothing more serious than indictment and imprisonment for assisting at an unlawful assembly. As a matter of fact, about the middle of the following August, they were indicted by a Grand Jury on that charge, but they were never brought to trial.5


[image ALT: An engraving of a sturdy, largish, and rather ugly 4‑story building with many arched windows, and on one side, a three-story colonnaded portico. It is the Mechanics' Institute, a 19c building in New Orleans.]

The Mechanics' Institute

In the meantime the radicals were doing everything in their power to stir up the negro population of New Orleans against the whites. Many of them were working to strengthen their hold upon this element, hoping through it, to insure their own control of the State Government which was to be formed. Not all of them had this sinister purpose. A few were, unquestionably, sincere in their misguided enthusiasm for the emancipation of what they regarded as an oppressed and downtrodden race. But the net result of the agitation was to create a situation in which an explosion was bound to occur with the most terrible results. Early in July a negro attacked two white women in Lafayette Square, in broad daylight, drove off the elder with curses, and seizing the younger by the hand, started to drag her away, declaring that she must become his wife; that whites and negroes were now equal, and that he had money enough to afford the luxury of marriage with a white woman. Screams brought assistance; the brute was arrested, taken to jail, and held in $1,000 bail for trial on a charge of attempted rape. Similar scenes were reported from time to time. It became impossible for even the most respected citizens to pass through certain parts of the city without being hooted at, cursed, and denounced in the most offensive terms as "––––– rebels."​6 Finally, a great meeting of negroes held in front of the Mechanics' Institute, on the night of July 27, was addressed by fiery orators, white and black, forecasting to the excited audience the golden age which was about to dawn through the medium of the  p308 approaching meeting of the convention, and of the new constitution to be made for the State. Hawkins, Henderson, Hahn, and Dostie were the principal speakers. The latter was especially violent in his denunciation of the whites who had fought against the Union. He declared that, unless the rights of "his colored brothers" were conceded, the streets of New Orleans "would run with rebel blood." He urged his dusky hearers to be present on Monday, the meeting-day of the convention, "in their might," and resist with arms any attempt to interfere with that body.​7 It can easily be imagined with what demonstrations of approval these inflammatory words were received. Trouble might have followed, but fortunately a large detail of police was on hand, which was success­ful in maintaining peace.

After the meeting a procession of negroes was formed with torches and flags, which moved through the principal streets. Arriving at the City Hall, further harangues were made by Dostie and another speaker, whose name was not learned. Many of the negroes carried loaded canes and bludgeons. Dostie advised them to kill any white man who might molest them. While the procession was passing through Canal Street, several negroes entered Lopez's confectionery shop, and attacked and slightly wounded two young white men employed there; but this was the only incident of the kind connected with the parade. Later that night, however, a serious affray occurred at the Poydras market between the police and some negroes, in which one policeman and two negroes were shot.

On the night of the 27th, also, in the hall in the Mechanics' Institute which was being prepared for the use of the convention on the 30th, a meeting of the more intelligent section of the radical party in New Orleans took place. Ex-Governor Hahn presided. Speeches were made by Hahn, Field, Waples, and other prominent members of the party. The resolutions which were adopted recited that the seventy-five thousand colored citizens of Louisiana qualified to vote but disenfranchised on account of color, might justly claim from the State the right to participate in the government; that they approved of the proposed reassembling of the Constitutional Convention; and that thanks were due to Congress for the firm stand taken by it in the matter of reconstruction, and for the "encouragement given to the friends of the National Government in the recently rebel states, to remodel their fundamental laws in accordance with the principles enumerated in the Declaration of Independence;" gratitude was likewise expressed to the military authorities "for the security afforded by their protection and for the additional guaranty of impartial justice contained in their recent orders; a guaranty unfortunately made necessary until the full reestablishment of the civil law, by the malice of our defeated and disappointed fellow-citizens." Finally, it was resolved that "until the doctrine of the political equality of all citizens, irrespective of color, is recognized in this State by the establishment therein of universal suffrage, there will and can be no permanent peace."

The municipal authorities watched these developments with growing uneasiness. They were, however, reluctant to take any action unless with the full assurance that it had the approval of the military in New Orleans. To that end negotiations were begun on July 25th with General  p309 Baird, who was temporarily in command, in the absence of General Sheridan in Texas on duty. The conversations were protracted through three long, anxious days. Mayor Monroe's first idea was to call on the police to disperse the convention as an unlawful assembly. Baird replied that "the convention, meeting peaceably, could not be interfered with by the officers of the law." Monroe then proposed to have the members indicted by the criminal Grand Jury, and furnish the sheriff with warrants to make the arrest. Baird replied that, in this event, he would be obliged to release the prisoners and might possibly arrest the sheriff. The mayor then abandoned all idea of preventing the meeting. It was agreed, however, that, in case warrants did issue, the sheriff would not serve them, but would bring them direct to military headquarters, where Baird would endorse on them his objections, and the whole matter would be referred to Washington, for the President's decision. In order to ascertain what form this decision would probably take, a telegram was addressed to President Johnson by the lieutenant-governor and the attorney-general of the State; and on July 28 Johnson replied that the military would "be expected to sustain, and not obstruct or interfere with the proceedings of the courts."​8 Monroe had another interview with Baird on the 28th inst. He pointed out that Baird had virtually assumed the protection of the convention, and with it, had incurred the responsibility for whatever breach of the peace might result from its convocation; for which reason he was bound to use his troops to prevent trouble. Baird accepted this view of the case, and promised to see that soldiers were on hand for the purpose.

It is sometimes charged that Monroe attempted to "break up" the convention, and that the terrible scenes which were now about to occur, resulted from his action. The facts all point the other way. He accepted Baird's promise as final. We have his own testimony under oath before the Grand Jury which subsequently investigated the riot, and that of Chief of Police Adams, both to the effect that there was no intention to interfere with the meeting of the convention, and that only the ordinary police detail was on duty in the vicinity of the Institute on the day of the disturbance. At the time the riot began "there was but one policeman present, and he a supernumerary, with only a badge on. All other officers were still at the station."​9 That there was trouble at all was probably due to the fact that, relying on Baird's promise, the task of preserving the peace was left to the soldiers; who did not arrive till 2.40 P.M., when the disturbance was all over. Baird subsequently explained the delay by saying that he understood the convention was to meet at 6:00 P.M., when as a matter of fact it assembled at noon, and he had made his arrangements accordingly. If this was true, all that can be said is that he was probably the only person in the city who was ignorant on this point.10

Sunday passed without incident. But on Monday, the day of the meeting of the convention, the city was in a state of great uneasiness. The stores on Canal Street remained closed. The mayor issued a proclamation urging all good citizens "to refrain from gathering in or  p310 around the place of meeting of said extinct convention." In spite of the mayor's request, the streets in the center of the city were early filled with idlers, white and black. The former congregated mainly in Canal Street; the latter assembled in and around the Institute. The convention met at noon, with Howell in the chair, but found that there was no quorum present, and took a recess till 1:30 P.M., while the sergeant-at‑arms and his assistants went in search of the missing members. About 1 o'clock a procession of negroes headed by a brass band advanced through Burgundy Street on its way to the Institute. As it wheeled into Canal Street a disturbance broke out. It appears that a small white boy kicked one of the passing negroes. A general mêlée followed, in which a white man, named Kelly Walton, who was standing quietly on the sidewalk, was struck by a negro with a stick. The assailant was thereupon put under arrest by Aid to the Chief of Police Crevon, and a citizen named Fellows; not, however, until a pistol had been fired by a white man, which frightened the negroes, and caused them to fall back and allow the prisoner to be removed. The procession then went on its way to the Institute. It was received with frantic cheers, and the band marched playing into the convention hall, what a few members still lingered.

Chief of Police Adams, informed of the disturbance on Canal Street, dispatched thither a detachment of police under Lieutenant Ramel, and sent orders to the outlying stations to hurry re-enforcements to the scene. It is difficult to state what followed in an exact chronological order. As near as can be inferred from the testimony of eye-witnesses, a throng of curious whites collected at the corner of Dryades and Canal streets, watching the negroes grouped in front of the Institute. Suddenly a shot was fired, probably by a negro. The police immediately attempted to arrest the offender, and it is said, succeeded. But while so engaged, other shots were fired a block away, at the corner of Common and Dryades streets, where some white persons had also congregated. The negroes became panic-stricken; some fled (as well as they could) through the grounds of the adjacent residences; but the majority sought refuge in the entrance of the Institute and opened a frantic, indiscriminate fusilade upon the mob and the police. Chief Adams, arriving at this juncture, was made the target of a special volley of revolver shots from the windows of the building. Ramel, who now hurried up at the head of his patrolmen, returned the fire. A number of citizens joined the police and prepared with them to rush the building. A white flag was suddenly displayed from an upper window. Under the impression that this was a token of surrender, the police attempted to enter, but encountered a hot resistance, and a struggle ensued, in which several were killed on both sides. The fighting spread around both sides of the Institute, where negroes were discovered trying to escape by dropping from the windows into the alleys. Several fell victims to the shots and stones showered upon them by the mob. Others managed to make their way out at the rear of the building, and fled unnoticed to places of safety.

The firing gradually ceased, but the police were reluctant to enter the building, fearing a repetition of the previous act of treachery. They at first were satisfied to arrest individuals who how straggled forth. Once under arrest, these persons were started for the police station; but although the police did their full duty in trying to protect them from the crowd, some terrible scenes ensued, as the infuriated populace set  p311 upon the blacks and shot or clubbed them mercilessly. These outrages, however, were finally suppressed. Ultimately, the building was searched, and its last occupants were arrested. Among them was Dostie, who had been mortally wounded.

The killed and wounded in this affair have been variously enumerated. Mayor Monroe reported to President Johnson that 42 policemen and several citizens had been either killed or wounded. An officer of the United States army, who investigated the matter immediately after the riot, reported 38 persons killed and 146 wounded on both sides. Ficklen, in his "History of Reconstruction in Louisiana," says that on the side of the democrats only one man was killed, and ten policemen were slightly wounded.​11 One member of the convention, Henderson, was killed. Thirty-four negroes were known to have been killed, and two white persons who were in the Institute with them also fell victims to the marksman­ship of the attacking party. At the very beginning of the disturbance, Mayor Monroe hastened to Baird's office, and warned him of the seriousness of the situation. He said that the general would be responsible for any loss of life that might occur. Baird seems somewhat tardily to have risen to the occasion. He urged Monroe to take all possible steps to check the trouble, while he himself sent messages to Jackson Barracks, below the city, urging the prompt dispatch of the troops who should have been in the city many hours before. He went still farther. On his own authority he declared martial law, appointed Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.A. V. Kautz to the command of the city, and displaced the civil authorities. At sunset the trouble was over; the delayed Federal troops were on the scene; artillery was posted in Dryades Street, and sentries stationed at all approaches. Monroe, on his side, issued a proclamation calling on all citizens who were willing to be sworn in as special policemen. But there was no need for them. Except for a few isolated collisions between police and negroes on the two following days, the outbreak was over. These additional affrays did not involve more than one or two persons at a time. On August 2nd, for example, a street car was fired into by negroes near the Marine Hospital, and one passenger was killed. In the other cases no fatalities occurred.

On July 31st Baird appointed a commission composed of Generals Mower, Quincey, Gregg and Baldey, to investigate the facts connected with the disturbance. This commission reported that the cause of the riot was a violent feeling of hostility towards the so‑called Convention of 1864. It also declared that there was "a preconceived plan" to attack the convention, if any plausible pretext could be found therefor. For this conclusion the commission could have no satisfactory reasons. There does not appear to be any contemporary evidence which substantiates this view. Finally, it was held that only the declaration of martial law had prevented the continuance of attacks on the negroes all through the night of the 30th — which was another statement which it would be hard to justify. General Sheridan, who returned to the city, on August 1, also made an investigation and embodied the results in a series of telegrams to General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant. He characterized the promoters of the convention as "political agitators and revolutionary men," and said that "the action of the convention was liable to produce breaches of the public peace." He had himself determined to arrest the leaders if the proceedings  p312 of the convention "were calculated to disturb the tranquility of the department." He charged the mayor with having "suppressed the convention by the use of the police force," in a manner so brutal "as to compel me to say that it was murder." Later on, repeating these charges, he added: "It was an absolute massacre by the police. [. . .] A murder which the mayor and the chief of police perpetrated without the shadow of a necessity." Sheridan denounced Mayor Monroe in bitter terms again and again. "I recommend the removing of this bad man," he wrote on August 2nd, and on August 6th he said: "The immediate cause of this terrible affair was the assembling of the convention. The remote cause was the bitter and antagonistic feeling that has been growing in this community since the advent of the present mayor, who, in the organization of his police force selected many desperate men, and some of them known murderers. People of clear view were overawed by want of confidence in the mayor and fear of the thugs, many of whom he had selected for his police force. I have been frequently spoken to by prominent citizens on this subject, and have heard them express fear and want of confidence in Mayor Monroe."

Mayor Monroe remained at the City Hall, and continued to perform his official duties side by side with General Kautz and the military officials. He refused to submit his acts to their supervision, declining to recognize their right to require this of him. Kautz offered no opposition. On his return to the city, Sheridan approved of the appointment of Kautz as military governor. "It gives confidence, and enables the military to know what is occurring in the city," he wrote to Grant; Kautz did not "interfere in civil matters." The state of martial law was declared at an end on August 2nd, but Kautz was not withdrawn till some days later. There were other consequences of this affair; various documents explaining the occurrence were drawn up by the State officials, by Mayor Monroe, by the radicals; and finally, in December, a committee was sent by the United States Congress to make an investigation of the whole matter, and to determine what legislative action might be necessary in view of the condition of affairs in Louisiana. But these events belong rather to the history of the State than to that of the City of New Orleans, and they need not be given in detail here. It is only necessary to remark that the Congressional Committee formulated a majority report putting all the blame for the riot on the "rebels," and upon President Johnson's encouragement of them. A minority report, however, set forth the facts, and showed that the real cause of the regrettable incident was "the incendiary speeches, revolutionary acts and threatened violence of the conventionists."​12 It was becoming clear that only force could compel the Southern States, and particularly Louisiana, to endorse the idea for unqualified suffrage for the black population. Congress was prepared to use force for that purpose. A Reconstruction Bill was accordingly passed over the President's veto, early in 1867. Under this drastic and really unconstitutional act, Louisiana was grouped with Texas in what was known as the Fifth Military District, over which an officer of the Federal army was to be placed, with authority to govern his district much as he willed, save for some reservations as to the infliction of cruel or unusual punishments and the penalty of death. This was a state of martial law. Congress reserved to itself the right to determine  p313 when any State should be in a condition to justify any relaxation of the severe regime. The effect in Louisiana was to debar practically the whole white population from citizen­ship, put it under the domination of the negroes, to deprive it of such ordinary rights as representation by a Grand Jury, and trial by jury in the regular civil courts.​13 This bill was supplemented in March, 1867, by another act which directed the commanders of the military districts to register as voters all males twenty-one years of age and over, without regard to race, color, or previous condition of servitude, provided that they had been residents of the State for one year, and excluding all who could not take oath that they had not been disenfranchised for participation in the "rebellion."

Certain municipal officers were due to be elected in the city of New Orleans in March, 1867. The question rose as to how the qualifications of the voters for participation in this election should be determined. It was not clear that the provisions of the Reconstruction Act relative to the qualification of electors generally in the State, should be considered operative in municipalities. The matter was complicated by the fact that no officer had yet been designated to take command of the newly-constituted Fifth Military District. Sheridan was unwilling to take any action in the premises. The State Legislature took up the question, but failed to agree upon a satisfactory arrangement. At this juncture Governor Wells issued a proclamation in which he declared the Reconstruction Act in full force and effect, and applicable in all elections held in the State, whether municipal or otherwise. In the face of this proclamation preparations began in New Orleans to hold the election on the basis of the suffrage qualifications of the (anterior) laws. It was obvious that trouble would result. To prevent the repetition of the riot of the previous year, Sheridan, at the suggestion of several prominent men, determined to assume as much authority as might be requisite in the premises, and a special order, dated March 9, 1866, was issued forbidding the election. The legislature, in order to prevent any interruption which might arise as a result of vacancies among the city officials, passed an act on March 15th enabling them to retain their positions until their successors might be elected.

On March 19th Sheridan was assigned to the command of the new Fifth Military District. In his first order he announced that the existing State and municipal governments throughout the entire territory under his jurisdiction were merely provisional, and subject to abolishment, modification, control, and supercession, as he might see fit. There would be, however, "no general removals from office," unless the incumbents failed to carry out the provisions of the law with all diligence. It was clear that with the authority in his hands, and entertaining with regard to Mayor Monroe the opinion which he had expressed only a few months before in his correspondence with General Grant, the head of the municipal government of the City of New Orleans could not anticipate a long tenure of office under the new arrangement. In fact, a week later, Sheridan summarily removed him from office. The order deposing Mayor Monroe also removed from office the attorney general of the State, Herron, and the judge of the First District Court of New Orleans, Abell. To the mayoralty, Edward Heath was appointed; to the attorney-generalship, B. L. Lynch; and to the judgeship, W. W. Howe.

 p314  At the time Sheridan disdained to furnish any explanation of his action in sweeping out of office the distinguished and able men whom he thus displaced. But subsequently, replying to a demand of General Grant for an explanation, he said: "Mayor Monroe controlled the element engaged in the riot [of the previous year], and when backed by the attorney-general, who could not prosecute the guilty, and the judge, who advised the Grand Jury to find the innocent guilty and let the murderers go free, felt secure in engaging his police force in the riot and massacre. With the three men exercising a large influence on the worst elements in the city, giving to these elements immunity for riot and bloodshed, the general-in‑chief will see how insecure I felt in letting them occupy their present positions in the troubles which might occur in registration and voting in reorganization."14

Judge Abell protested against his removal, but the mayor felt that it was useless and unnecessary to take any such step. One of the local newspapers interviewed the retiring mayor on the last day he was present in the City Hall, and reported him as cheerful and composed.​15 This was the fifth time he had been superseded — first verbally, by Butler, who subsequently asked him to retain the office until a substitute could be found; then removed and sent to Fort Pickens; three years later, having been elected to the office, deposed by General Baird, after serving a few hours; and for the fourth time, when replaced by General Kautz, in connection with the riot of 1866. The present removal, however, was final.

After leaving the City Hall, Mayor Monroe did not long continue to reside in New Orleans. His health had suffered as a result of his imprisonment at Fort Pickens. Although relatively still a young man, he looked old. He soon removed to Savannah, Ga., where he made his home till his death, in February, 1871. He was a man of very exceptional character. He had a strong, practical mind; his integrity was unquestionable, and his dauntless courage was well known. He had remarkable knowledge of human nature. It was said of him that few were ever able to impose upon him. He discharged his official duties with a conscientiousness which made him invulnerable to criticism or popular clamor. He held high office in the Masonic fraternity, and was laid to rest with all the ceremonies of the order (usual in such cases). Some years after his death his remains were brought to New Orleans and laid in a tomb in Metairie Ridge Cemetery, beside the body of his favorite son, whose death, while the father was detained a prisoner in Fort Pickens, was one of the most pathetic episodes in his much-troubled life. While the son lay on his deathbed, Butler sent word that if the prisoner would take the oath of allegiance, he would be allowed to return to New Orleans and see his dying child. Monroe rejected the offer promptly and firmly. Father and son never met in life again.16

The Author's Notes:

1 Appleton's Annual Encyclopaedia, 1866, p449.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Campbell, "Manual of the City of New Orleans," p25.

[decorative delimiter]

3 Statement of W. A. Freret to author.

[decorative delimiter]

4 Times, July 21, 1866.

[decorative delimiter]

5 Ficklen, "History of Reconstruction in Louisiana," Chap. VII.

[decorative delimiter]

6 Picayune, July 9, Aug. 1, 1866.

[decorative delimiter]

7 Times, August 3, 1866.

[decorative delimiter]

8 Report on New Orleans Riots, House of Representatives Report No. 16, Testimony, p443.

[decorative delimiter]

9 See Adams' testimony before the Grand Jury, printed in the Picayune, August 19, 1866.

[decorative delimiter]

10 Ficklen, "History of Reconstruction in Louisiana," p166.

[decorative delimiter]

11 P. 169.

[decorative delimiter]

12 "New Orleans Riots," passim.

[decorative delimiter]

13 Phelps, "Louisiana," pp360‑361.

[decorative delimiter]

14 Appleton's Annual Encyclopaedia, 1867, pp454‑457.

[decorative delimiter]

15 Times, March 28, 1866.

[decorative delimiter]

16 Jewell's New Orleans (1873), p130.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 19 Oct 13