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Louisiana Anthology

John Smith Kendall.
“History of New Orleans.”

Although the immediate results of the uprising of September 14 were small, it had a profound influence upon the elections, both state and municipal, of that year. Early in the year, the conservatives, having determined to participate in the campaign, applied to Governor Kellogg for representation on the registration boards. This application was rejected. Kellogg proposed that the names of five individuals from each ward in New Orleans, and from each parish in the State, be submitted to him, and if they "were suitable persons," he would name from among them the local clerk of the registration board. This was a "shift," as the conservative leaders qualified it, and was declined. Then followed the development of the radical movement among the negro population, culminating in the organization of the so-called "black leagues"; paralleled by the organization among the rest of the people of the "white" league. After the outbreak of September, and the restoration of the Kellogg regime by the Federal authority, a conference committee was appointed on both sides, by Kellogg and by McEnery, with a view to adjust matters and insure a safe and orderly election. The conservatives proposed that three places be vacated on the Returning Board, two to be apportioned to their nominees, and the third to go to a republican acceptable to all parties. The republicans, however, would consent only to let the conservatives have two places, retaining three to themselves, thus guaranteeing the perpetuation of their control of this important body. Unable to agree, the conferees referred the matter to their respective State Central Committees. Finally an agreement was ')" onMouseOut="nd();">effected between these organizations, but it covered only the management of the campaign, the question of the legality of the State Government not being discussed.1 This agreement included the formation of an Advisory Board, with members of both parties, to which ')" onMouseOut="nd();">were referred all matters subsequently in dispute. This board did much to insure a safe and orderly election, and would have done more, but for the fact that the hasty action of the democratic members in October, 1874 led to the resignation of the umpire, Doctor Bonzano, and dislocated the machinery which had been so carefully built up.

In New Orleans the conservatives, however, did not rely upon the good intentions of their opponents, but maintained intact the armed forces which had participated in the September outbreak. Parties of armed men belonging to these organizations marched and drilled in the public streets. When asked who they were, a discrete silence answered the question, or perhaps a whispered word, "White Leaguers," set all further curiosity at rest.2 When the Democratic Parish Convention met, on October 7, it was under the influence, if not under the direct control, of the White League.3 The convention was to name a city ticket. Wiltz was urged for renomination by some of the delegates from the p377French quarter. Other candidates were C. J. Leeds and W. J. Behan. On the first ballot the secretary announced a majority for Leeds, and the presiding officer, a majority for Wiltz. A motion to call the roll again was carried. The second ballot showed 49 votes for Leeds and 46 for Wiltz. Leeds owed his success to a sudden change of front on the part of the delegates from the Third Ward. On the previous roll-call this ward ')" onMouseOut="nd();">had cast 10 votes for Wiltz and 2 for Leeds; but now it gave 5 for Leeds and 7 for Wiltz. The latter's friends immediately protested, asserting that the motion for a second roll-call meant that the members could announce the vote which had been previously cast, without change. Wiltz, who arrived at the convention hall after the nominations had been officially confirmed, declared that he would claim the nomination, and for the next few days excited delegations of indignant adherents assembled at his office, and assured him of their loyalty in any contest he might choose to make. But it was no time for individual ambitions to assert itself; above all things, the solidarity of the opposition to radical misrule had to be conserved; and Wiltz, after a little reflection, magnanimously withdrew from the nomination. Leeds himself was reported to care little for the nomination. There was no reason to think that his nomination had been procured by a trick. The sudden change in the convention was generally admitted to have been the result of a lack of parliamentary skill on the part of the Wiltz delegates. Wiltz himself accepted this view, and supported energetically his rival's candidacy.4

The convention named the following candidates for administrators of the different departments of the city government: E. A. Burke, E. Pillsbury, E. L. Bouny, Dennis McCarthy, J. O. Landry, J. G. Brown, and Leon Bertoli. A complete parish ticket was put out. Some of the names on it were those of persons who had not previously taken part in politics. Such were Pillsbury and Chastant. Burke, Landry, Brown, and Waggaman were, however, professional politicians. As a whole, the ticket, though good, was distinctively a democratic and partisan one. The Times criticized it with justice as "ignoring the action of the Baton Rouge Convention looking to a combination of all the elements opposed to the Kellogg government," and offering no encouragement to the anti-administration unorganized elements to support it. The ticket was admittedly "unusually clean." Leeds was "personally unexceptionable." The only opposition that was felt to him came from those who thought that he had received the distinction in an irregular manner.5

There was some question whether the state administration would not prevent an election for municipal officers in New Orleans. At the session of the Legislature earlier in the year, an amendment to the City Charter had been passed, extending to four years the terms of the mayor and the administrators, and specifying that the elections should be held on the same day as those for Governor of the State. Moreover, in the language of the act, "all vacancies due to death, expiration of term, disability, or otherwise, are to be filled by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate when in session, or submitted for such advice and consent at its next session." It was provided that nothing in the act should be construed as extending the terms of the actual incumbents beyond the time for which they had been elected, and the governor was p378empowered to appoint their successors when their terms expired. Obviously, under this act, the governor might nullify any election that could be held. But fortunately, Kellogg had not approved this act at the time that the battle of the 14th of September was fought; and he did not dare now dare to fix his signature to it. Thus, that battle, apparently so barren of result, operated to prevent what was unquestionably a plot to circumvent the conservatives in their plans to keep control of the city government.

The republican party in the city was divided into three definite groups. The first was disposed to accept what was known as the "Terrebonne plan," — that is, to make any concession consistent with their party allegiance which would insure the safety and security of the ballot in the approaching elections. The second was opposed to all compromise. Its leaders were Pinchback and Ingraham, two colored men. It was inclined to oppose Kellogg, and its principal tenet was, that "there was not enough color in the party."6 The Third group was prepared to take any reasonable course which would insure the election of good men to municipal office. This last element, only, had agreed upon its candidates, who they believed, "would assuage bitterness of partisan zeal, secure peaceful relations among the people, both white and black, and at the same time fill the municipal offices with men of acknowledged capacity and integrity."7 The leading spirit in this faction was James Lewis, a colored man who was, at the time, serving as administrator of one of the departments of the city government, under Wiltz.

When the parish convention met on October 12, it was Lewis and his friends who controlled it. Lewis made a speech in which he warned the delegates that if they hoped for success in the approaching election, they must nominate men who would, by their obvious fitness, become the candidates of the people, rather than of any one party. There was a strong movement among the colored voters to nominate Wiltz. That very day three different delegations of negroes had called on him at the City Hall, and asked permission to put his name at the head of their tickets, on the ground that he had, as mayor, shown himself well-disposed towards their race, and had been a good official. Wiltz declined this honor, pointing out that he had already pledged his support to the democratic candidate, and could not consent to run on any ticket opposed to him. The name of Felix Labatut was therefore presented to the convention, and without noticeable opposition accepted for the mayoralty. The nominations for the administratorships were Lewis, Calhoun, Loan, Higby, Dumas, Bonzano, and Spiricio. Labatut was a white citizen, an old and respected resident of New Orleans, a man of considerable ability and recognized integrity. In politics he was a moderate republican. Calhoun was a conservative democrat, and a member of the city administration. Higby and Bonzano were well-known and reputable citizens. The republican nominations, insofar as the city offices went, were excellent, and surprised the community by their discrete character. But the state displayed "the cloven hoof, horns and tail of the Dryades Street beast,"8 especially with regard to the nominees for the State Legislature. It is interesting to note that the addresses at the convention p379advocated a full, free, and untrammeled ballot; whereas the democrats were anxious that the election should take place under the protection, if not the superintendence, of the Federal troops — so far had the pendulum swung since the 14th of September!

The principal incident of the campaign in the city was an attempt which Kellogg and his myrmidons made to have declared null the Second District Court's power to naturalize foreigners. There were in the city large numbers of foreigners who had procured their naturalization papers from this court; could its powers be impeached, their votes, estimated at over 3,000, would be lost to the democratic conservative candidates, to whom, it was confidently expected, they would otherwise go on. Large meetings were held to discuss the subject; fiery speeches were made, and the issue became one of the most important in the canvass, overshadowing the other iniquities of the Kellogg administration, and the frauds perpetrated in the registration, which, in the city alone, involved between 2,000 and 3,000 voters. Reports from the country indicated that the republicans were, wherever possible, registering all colored applicants, and systematically excluding white foreign-born citizens. Excitement also followed certain arrests made by Federal soldiers on an affidavit sworn to by a Federal officer before a military official. This, in a time of peace, was regarded as of bad omen. Objection was also made by the campaign orators to the frequent parades of the Federal troops in garrison in the city under General de Trobriand.b They contended that this was not done, as pretended, for exercise, but with a view to remind the people that the garrison was there to see that the radical power went unbroken.9

The election took place on November 3. It was "calm and peaceful," according to the Times of that afternoon. The republicans, however, early claimed that their ticket was being counterfeited by the democrats. But as on these false ballots only a few names were changed, this was probably the individual acts of the candidates thus benefited. Leeds received 25,921 votes, to Labatut's 14,227.10 "The political lion and the lamb, in this city, at least, have walked side by side to the ballot box, without anyone hurting or harming them," was the somewhat enigmatic manner in which the Times described the result on the following morning.

The conservative victory was unofficially known on November 4, but the official count was made by the Returning Board, which did not announce the result till November 25. The delay was sharply criticized by the city journals, on the ground that the alarming condition of the corporation finances made prompter action desirable. The newly-elected officials held a meeting on November 28, and determined to take office two days later. A letter to that effect addressed to Wiltz elicited a courteous response. On the appointed day, just before noon, Leeds and his associates presented themselves at the City Hall. They were received with a consideration markedly in contrast with the stormy scenes which had attended many transfers of power in preceding years. Wiltz and Leeds presented themselves together before the City Council, each made an address, and then the retiring administration withdrew.


Mayor Charles Leeds

Charles J. Leeds, who thus became the thirty-third mayor of New Orleans, was a man of means and position, universally respected for his ability and public spirit, and especially dear to the white people of the city on account of his services to their cause in connection with the September uprising. He owned a large foundry at the corner of Delord and Constance streets. It was here that was fabricated the principal piece of artillery used by the White League in the battle with the Metropolitan Police. Leeds' foundry served as headquarters to Company D, White League, on the night previous to the uprising. There, too, had been secreted the small arms imported by the White League during the dangerous months when preparations were being made for the revolt.11 The new mayor possessed some of the qualities most necessary to the chief executive of the city at this critical epoch. His administration was, on the whole, a success; if it was not more successful, that was due to causes over which he had no control.

He found the city in a deplorable state. "The community," he said, in his inaugural address, "once so prosperous, has by years of mismanagement, been brought to the verge of bankruptcy. Real estate is almost without marketable value, commerce is declining, manufacturing and p381other industrial interests are paralyzed, and all classes are sinking under the burden of public indebtedness. Interest on the public debt, and the current expenses for the support of the government, are now more than the people can pay."12 Already, in the early part of November, the newspapers had frankly stated that, unless the city could find new sources of revenue, "a total collapse of the municipal administration" was to be apprehended by January 1, 1875.13 It was impossible to raise funds. The tax-resisting associations still continued to exist, and they embarrassed the new administration not only by their refusal to pay taxes, but by the fact that through this action the expenses of all municipal enterprise were increased two or even three times. It was estimated that the taxes, if collected, would suffice to meet the city's obligations, and an attempt was made to do so in the closing days of the Wiltz administration, when 11,000 judgments were obtained from the courts against delinquent tax-payers. Leeds, however, did not feel that the matter should be carried to extremes. He counselled a wise moderation. He held that the taxation had not been "either fair norº equitable;" the "levy was so excessive that it was only just to extend indulgence" in the collection of back taxes "as far as the public safety allowed." On the other hand, he offered inducements for the prompt settlement of arrears due the city. He had an ordinance passed in the latter part of December, 1874, allowing payment to be made partly in cash and partly in city "script," in varying proportions. Back taxes for the period from 1860 to 1868, for instance, might be settled on a basis of 25 per cent in cash and 75 per cent in "script"; and so on, down to 1871, when the rate was 48 per cent cash and 52 per cent "script."14 This measure afforded some relief, but was not adequate. Still more energetic efforts had to be made to meet the desperate situation.

Immediately after taking office, foreseeing that the city would be without funds to pay interest on its bonded debt in January, 1875,15 the new City Council appointed a committee of three from among its own members, to confer with the holders of the city's obligations with a view to ascertain how the interests of all parties could be safeguarded.16 The Council contemplated forming a syndicate to retire all existing bond issues and replacing them with a new issue reduced in volume and bearing a lower rate of interest. At the same time it considered the advisability of selling all city property not absolutely necessary for the public service. Payment for such sales, it was suggested, should be made in bonds and evidences of the floating debt, and in this way the volume of debt might be reduced and taxation lowered. This committee does not seem to have made any progress. The next step was to take up the matter with the State Legislature. Leeds recognized that in large part the city's appalling situation was due to the fact that many important departments of administration, which properly belonged under the control of the corporation, had been withdrawn from it by the State Government, and were handled by appointees of the Legislature or of the governor. There was no way by which the city administration could check their p382expenditures, all of which, nevertheless, had to be paid by the people of New Orleans. Thus, the Council had nothing to do with the management of the schools, the police force, certain of the city parks, and various parts of the drainage system. Even the city printing had been removed from the Council's control. Leeds felt that, with regard to the schools, the Legislature ought either to abolish the whole local educational system, or recommit it to the municipality. He had similar ideas on the other subjects mentioned above.17

In March, 1876, he brought the subject before the Council, and steps were taken to prepare a series of bills, the passage of which, it was hoped, would do something to avert the impending disaster.18 These bills the Legislature failed to pass, with the exception of that relating to the drainage board; with the result that in May the budget, which had been drawn up in the expectation that the Legislature would afford the desired relief, had to be drastically revised in order to keep within the requirements of the constitutional provision prohibiting the creation of debt without funds in hand to pay it.19 The act passed by the Legislature relative to the drainage, empowered the city to take over this work in all of the drainage districts, and acquire the rights and property of the Mississippi, Mexican Gulf & Ship Island Canal Co. This was the concern which had undertaken to carry out the drainage plan adopted under the Flanders administration. The contract had proven exceedingly costly,20 and no small satisfaction was felt when, at the beginning of the summer, this wasteful connection was terminated.

The situation was, however, still ominous. In August, the force employed to repair the city streets was laid off, there being no funds to pay wages. The main thoroughfares went unattended, and fell into very bad condition. Every effort was made to bring economy into the administration of the city departments. At one time the administrators agreed to fix budgets for their departments, and asked the mayor to supervise the expenditures, in order to make sure that the estimates were not exceeded.21 In ')" onMouseOut="nd();">December, 1874, the first of a series of ordinances was adopted reducing the personnel in each department. A committee of three was appointed from the Council to confer with the school board, the police board, and sheriff, and others, in an effort to get their co-operation in reducing expenditures. And in the middle of May, the Council issued a piteous appeal to the public imploring all tax-payers to settle promptly with the city; only with their help could the financial gale be weathered.22

The city owed large sums to the fire department which it was without the means to pay. In the early part of 1876 the equipment of the fire department demanded repair, and the corporation was put to desperate straits to pay for this urgent work.23 As for the water system, there was nothing to pay for its extension. Serious fires in the Third and Sixth Districts a few weeks previously had gone almost unchecked on account of the lack of water for the engines. The community had to p383face with as much calm as possible the prospect of a repetition of this danger. It is not to be wondered at that, under such circumstances, the oft-reprobated license system continued to be enforced, although collections from that source declined, and in 1876 amounted only to $400,000. An unsuccessful attempt was made to lease the markets for a period of four years. The waterworks were farmed out on a lease signed in June, 1876.24 In this and other ways, Leeds succeeded in bringing down the tax rate at the beginning of 1876 to 1½ per cent on a property valuation of $119,045,515. From the beginning of his ')" onMouseOut="nd();">administration he saw that a reduction in taxation was essential. "Taxation," he said, in his inaugural message, "now amounts to actual confiscation of the property of the citizens. [. . .] Taxation must be brought down to the lowest rate possible, to bring back our former prosperity, and save the city from impending ruin. I am aware that [. . .] it will be difficult, if not impossible, to bring about such a reduction of taxation as will give the needed relief to the public." That he was able to do anything at all in this direction, was a remarkable achievement.

It was in the midst of these distressing circumstances that the premium bond plan, the most celebrated single exploit in the history of New Orleans municipal finance, was developed. With it the name of Administrator Pillsbury is inseparably associated. The idea, however, was not original with him. There was in the city at that time an elderly German, D. H. Adler, by name, who had retired from business, but who still liked to visit the offices of his broker-acquaintances on Carondelet Street. Adler was a fine mathematician, and interested in the history of finance in Europe. Like other good citizens he was much concerned at the desperate state of the city's affairs. Meetings and conferences of citizens on the subject were constantly being held. Everybody had a remedy which he advocated with more or less pertinacity. ')" onMouseOut="nd();">Adler's remedy was a modified form of the lottery bonds popular in various European countries. The scheme was brought to the attention of Louis Schneider, at one time treasurer of the city; and Schneider and Adler had a series of conferences at which the details of the plan were explained, and the mathematical formulae on which they were based were demonstrated. Schneider, in his turn, interested Pillsbury. For several weeks the three men worked together, over the details of the scheme, and then Pillsbury brought the matter, in its completed form, before the Council. As developed by Adler, the mathematics involved in the plan were given rather too prominent a place; the essential simplicity of the arrangement was not apparent, and it required considerable courage and much patience to convince the people that in this contemplated refunding of the city debt, a measure of real relief was contemplated, not another of the numerous transactions which in recent years, under various financial appellations, had resulted only in augmenting the interest rates and saddling new burdens upon a long suffering public.25

Pillsbury's plan was to convert the bonded debt of the city — which now amounted to $22,000,000,26 bearing an average interest of 7½ per cent per annum — into bonds redeemable in from one to fifty years, with interest at five per cent, plus certain "premiums." These new bonds p384were to be one million in number, and of the denominations of $20, divided into ten thousand series of 100 bonds each, of which a certain number were to be redeemed twice yearly. To determine the particular series to be redeemed, all of the numbers of the bonds were sealed up in a wheel, and quarterly — in January, April, July and October — as many numbers were drawn out as there were series to be redeemed. Twice yearly — in January and July — these drawn series participated in a "premium" drawing, on which occasion 1,176 prizes, ranging in value for $20 to $5,000, and aggregating $50,000, are apportioned by lot. All bonds which did not win a special prize were retired at their face value, plus interest from July 15, 1875. Thus, the interest on the original value of one of the "premium" bonds, in the course of about forty years, amounted to more than forty dollars; the amount which the holder of the bonds would receive if it were retired at the end of that period, would, therefore, be approximately $61. The interest was not compounded, but the accumulation of interest at the rate of 5 per cent per annum would naturally make the minimum value of the bond greater at each prize drawing, until, in 1925 — the end of the term for which these bonds were issued — it was calculated that the total value would be $70.

Pillsbury, in presenting the plan to the Council, justified it on the basis of the existing necessity, which compelled the abandonment "of the p385ordinary forms of finance as unequal to the occasion," and required that "other and perhaps novel means of meeting the exigency," be sought. As a matter of fact, its excuse lay in the fact that its device of deferring the payment of interest on the debt to a time far in the future, was precisely the remedy which the city needed. It was adopted in a series of ordinances enacted by the Council between May 25 and August 21, 1875.27 It was expected that the element of chance associated with the proposed bond issue would induce all of the holders of various outstanding city bonds to convert their securities at par into this new issue. Among, the majority of the holders of the old bonds refrained from making the exchange until the State Legislature had ratified the plan by passing Act 31 of 1876, and even then consented to the funding operation with the proviso that their bonds should be returned if the new scheme did not prove a success. Their reluctance was based upon a very natural objection to forego a fixed income payable at definite intervals, for an interest which could not be collected until the principal became due. The leading bankers and brokers of the city united patriotically in an effort to induce the public to endorse the scheme, but as a matter of fact only about $13,500,000 of "premium" bonds were actually issued, and nearly $10,000,000 of the old high-rate bonds remained outstanding. Thus Pillsbury's ingenious plan failed to bring the city all the relief hoped from it, although it lightened the financial burdens very considerably. Previous to its adoption the annual interest charges amounted to $1,416,000; the "premium" bond scheme cut this to about $307,500.28 The city subsequently became involved in tedious and expensive litigation with certain creditors who refused to participate in the scheme. These suits assailed the constitutionality of the bonds. At one time they fell in the market as low as $5 per bond, but after the city had succeeded in obtaining a favorable decision from the State Supreme Court, the price rose rapidly, and the bonds became a favorite form of investment with local capitalists.29

During the Leeds administration some progress was made with the work of draining the city.30 A drainage canal on Nashville Avenue, to drain the low area between St. Charles Avenue and the Mississippi, was one of the enterprises carried out at this time.31 The street railroads were extended,32 and "dummies," as the small steam locomotives were called, were introduced on the line running out to the Lake Pontchartrain summer resorts.33 A shell road was built on St. Charles Avenue, from Joseph Street to Toledano.34 Steps were taken in June, 1875, to establish the Fink Home. But with these exceptions public works were at a standstill in New Orleans throughout this administration.

Mayor E. Pillsbury

As Leeds' term drew to a close, the question of his successor was raised. By general consent this honor was assigned to Pillsbury. His services to the debt-ridden city were so great that it was everywhere felt that he deserved the promotion. Moreover, it was highly important that p386the proponent of the "premium" bond scheme should continue in the administration while that plan was being worked out and applied. The only ')" onMouseOut="nd();">person talked of seriously as a candidate against Pillsbury was I. W. Patton, at that time chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee; but when the parish nominating convention met, on September 27, 1878, the latter refused to allow his name to go before the delegates, and the selection of Pillsbury was made without opposition. The candidates for the administratorships named at the same time were: J. E. Reynolds, R. E. Diamond, C. Cavanac, J. E. Edwards, J. C. Denis, and J. G. Brown. Candidates were also chosen for the city judgeships, clerks of court, district attorney, and sheriffs — a complete ticket was put out. The nominations were received with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The Bulletin said that they were "better than expected,"35 and the "Republican," although criticizing the remainder of the ticket, conceded that "Pillsbury and Brown are good nominations."36 On the other hand, all that the consistently democratic Picayune could find to say was, that the ticket was "a good one, in the main, while it is frankly admitted that in some respects it is open to objection."37

The dissatisfaction over the ticket was stimulated by the complaints of the defeated candidates, and by the intrigues of the republicans, who hoped in this way to cause a breach in the solid ranks of the opposition, and thus regain control of the city. The republicans frankly admitted that they had no other chance of success in the city. Finally, on October 4, 1876, an independent movement was launched at a meeting over which presided Gen. Leonard Sewell, and at which were present Gen. James Longstreet, Judge J. S. Whitaker, and other well-known republicans and republican sympathizers. Nominally, the People's Independent party, as it called itself, was not a republican movement. It professed to be operating under the protection of the Southern Reform Association, an organization of citizens working in the interest of general political reform. There seems every reason to believe that it was originally a non-partisan movement, but was appropriated by republican leaders, and utilized for their own purposes. At first, it was understood that no fight would be made upon the acceptable democratic nominees, only upon those generally pronounced objectionable. On October 12 it was announced that the republicans would not make any local nominations, but would co-operate with the independents. This declaration was not believed by one element in the new party, which withdrew from the movement, and opened negotiations with the democratic party, but without success.38 Assuming that this secession spelt ruin to the movement, the independents a few days later withdrew their ticket. On October 26 the republicans came out with a city ticket complete except for the name of the candidate for the mayoralty. The candidates for the administratorships were G. A. Fosdick, W. M. Aikman, C. H. Thompson, J. G. Weber, James Lewis, O. C. Blandin, Louis Volz. The republicans by nominating them, endorsed certain of the names on the defunct independent ticket. Among these were Mandeville Marigny, Dr. J. Freund, T. J. Cooley, Jules Vienne, C. A. Baquie, M. H. Marks, and R. Freidrichs.º39 The following day Dr. p387C. B. White was added for the mayoralty. He was a respected white citizen, who for several years had discharged with success the functions of president of the city board of health. The result was viewed with some faint hope by the local republican organ. "It is reasonable to suppose," it observed, editorially, "that the nominees will draw large support from the mass of non-partisan voters. [. . .] The prospect, however, is not favorable to the election of the republican ticket," although that ticket was "made of the best material."40

Interest in the city campaign was merged in that felt in the State contest. Events, as we shall presently see, were in progress in the city which encouraged the belief that the time was ripe for the democrats to regain, by a bold stroke, the possession of the State Government. The city canvass, however, was affected by the attempts which the radicals made to juggle the registration lists in the interests of their state ticket. Complaints were made as early as the month of August that the republicans were so compiling the lists that eligible voters were being denied the possibility of casting their ballot. One method was, to inscribe the names and addresses on the list in the wrong places, and thus give the impression that the registrant was not a resident of the ward where he registered. Another device was the circulation of a pretended circular of a mythical sewing machine company, sent through the mails to a list of addresses; if the person addressed did not happen to reside at the house where the circular was delivered, this was deemed sufficient proof of false registration to justify the removal of his name from the registration books.41 Later, arbitrary arrests on charges of false registration were made with a view to terrorize the electorate.

Nevertheless, the election, which took place on November 7, was exceptionally quiet and orderly. That morning the democrats issued a letter to the public announcing that its partisans would not be permitted to do anything in the least fraudulent, with the inference that steps would be taken to see that the opposition followed an equally virtuous path. The quiet of the election was probably due to the fact that clubs "quasi military" in character — to use the Times' euphemistic phrase — after voting, assembled at their rendezvous, and remained "in readiness to suppress disturbances of the peace." These organizations, happily, were not called on to act, although announcing that they were prepared to do nothing except in conjunction with the "constitutional authorities."42 These "clubs" were in reality detachments of the White League.43

The returns from the city election were reviewed by the Returning Board, which after some delay announced a complete democratic victory. Pillsbury received 24,031 votes, as against White's 15,022.44 The transfer of the government was effected on December 18, at a simple ceremony in the council chamber of the City Hall. Pillsbury, in his inaugural address, referred to the improvements which had taken place in p388recent months in the city finances, "as evidenced by large reductions of debt, the decrease in expenditures, and the lower taxation." He pointed out that in the preceding eight years the city ')" onMouseOut="nd();">had paid in State and city taxes no less than $50,000,000 — or more than one-half of the total value of the real estate within the city limits. His reference to the adoption of the "premium" bond scheme was modest and appropriate. "In the summer of 1875," he observed, "it was evident that if the rate of taxation as it then stood — two and one-half per cent — should be again imposed, collections would entirely cease and the value of property be destroyed. The Council then adopted a bond scheme, which had the effect of relieving one per cent of the taxation, or $1,000,000 per annum, without impairing the principal of the obligation." The process of refunding had been so far successful, that by the beginning of 1877 one-half of the bonded debt would be absorbed, and of this achievement the new mayor felt justly proud.45

The attention of the new administration was early directed to the problem of the floating debt, which was not touched by the legislation adopted either by the Council or by the State Legislature touching the "premium" bond scheme. That scheme dealt only with the city's bonded debt. The floating debt had proven a fertile source of embarrassment. In March, 1876, the State Legislature had passed an act enabling the tax-payers to settle with the city in script for all back taxes up to the year 1873. This act expired in December, 1876. Thereafter all taxes were to be collectible in cash. Pillsbury first thought that the amounts derived from this source should be used in purchasing from the lower bidder the outstanding evidences of the city's floating indebtedness. But this did not work out satisfactorily, and in 1878 the city's large interest in the city waterworks was sold, and the floating debt certificates were received in payment for the shares.46 In this way some relief was obtained.

The waterworks, after having been operated by the city sometimes without profit, and usually at a loss, were sold to private parties in September, 1878. The waterworks as they stood were insufficient for the needs of the city. It was estimated that they could adequately serve a population of about 30,000 whereas the city now contained nearly 200,000 people. In Leeds' time an effort had been made to lease the system on the basis of cash payment and the extension and improvement of the service. This was unsuccessful. In 1876 the revenue realized by the city scarcely sufficed to cover the actual running expenses. Not only was the enterprise financially unsatisfactory, but its retention made the city liable for interest on bonds to the amount of $1,290,000, at six per cent per annum, in addition to the loss of interest on $600,000 which the corporation had originally invested therein. In an attempt to improve the city service the city engineer, Hardee, had during Leeds' administration, elaborated a plan in which the sources of supply were the Mississippi and Tangipahoa rivers, but the city was without the means to inaugurate it, urgent as the necessity appeared. The city obtained for the property $2,000,000 part of which was paid in city certificates, as p389explained above, in pursuance of a plan to reduce the floating debt; and part in cash, the corporation retaining $392,700 of stock in the company which was formed to acquire the system. This was regarded at the time as a very brilliant transaction, relieving the city of serious liabilities, and offering a way by which the needs of the population might be met.47

Pillsbury advocated leasing out on contract the cleaning of the city streets. This, however, was not attempted. Progress was made in repairing the streets and bridges, which, under the previous administration, had fallen into a shocking condition, as a result of the lack of funds. It was estimated that out of 30,000 bridges over the open gutters in the streets, practically nine-tenths were in dangerous condition when Pillsbury took office; at the close of his administration, only about 300 were considered defective.48 It was during this administration, also, that the construction of the Lee Monument was begun. In July, 1877, the City Council adopted an ordinance putting the Lee Monument Association in possession of Tivoli Circle, as a site for the great marble shaft that a few years later became a conspicuous landmark of the city.49 A shell road was constructed on Soniat Street, between St. Charles and St. George streets.50 Various ordinances were passed authorizing the construction of railroads along the river front in the vicinity of Louisiana Avenue, and in the rear of the city, near Claiborne Avenue, with a view of linking existing lines together and forming a belt road; but this enterprise was not effectively carried out, and the creation of a belt railroad was reserved to another and happier epoch.51

But the real interest of Pillsbury's term resides elsewhere than in the monotonous recital of his achievements as an administrator.


  1. Capuchin A Catholic friar.

Text prepared by:


Smith, Kendall J. History of New Orleans. Vol. 1 an 2. Chicago: Lewis Pub., 1922. Archive.Org. Chicago New York, The Lewis Publishing Company. Web. Apr.-May 2015. https://archive.org/details/historyofneworle02kend.

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