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Louisiana Anthology

John Smith Kendall.
“History of New Orleans.”

p390 Chapter XXV


The vote for State officials cast at the election in November, 1874, was, as we have seen, counted by the Returning Board. This body announced its decision in December. According to its computation, the republican ticket had scored a complete victory. The methods by which this result was obtained, however, invited criticism. Oscar Arroyo, the democratic member of the board, felt compelled to resign, by way of protest against practices to which he did not care to be deemed a party. President Grant, also apprehensive of the effect of the Returning Board's announcement in New Orleans, ordered thither the harsh and tyrannical General Sheridan. That was some ground for Grant's fears may be inferred from the events which followed the assembling of the new Legislature, in January, 1875.

Kellogg was determined to control the Legislature by any means in his power. His police, stationed at the doors of the State Capitol, denied admission to all those claiming to be members who did not possess a certificate from the Returning Board. In this way five democratic-conservative members were prevented from taking their seats. Kellogg thus secured a majority of two in the House. The democratic-conservative element, however, was equally resolved to see that the ejected members were seated. If they succeeded, the admission of these members would throw the House into their hands. Accordingly, as soon as the roll-call showed that a quorum was present, they proceeded by a series of rapid-fire actions to seize control of the assembly. Billieu, representative from Lafourche Parish, put a motion to make Wiltz speaker, and declared it carried. Wiltz, who had taken up a station adjacent to the speaker's chair, jumped upon the platform, brushed aside the clerk, Vigers, and was instantly sworn in by a justice of the peace present for the purpose. Wiltz then administered the oath to the members en masse, without regard to their political affiliations, or stopping to examine their credentials. Subsequently, by the same high-handed methods, the temporary organization was made permanent. Wiltz, as permanent speaker, declared the session open for business. A committee on elections was appointed, and the contested memberships were about to be taken under consideration.

These proceedings had not occurred without opposition. Some of the republican members attempted to withdraw, but were forcibly restrained. Republican henchmen had collected in the approaches to the capitol, and their threats and shouts created a terrific hubbub in the lobbies. So menacing was the situation becoming that the democratic-conservative members felt it advisable to call in the Federal soldiery to calm the tumult before bloodshed took place. It happened that the Federal commander, Gen. Regis de Trobriand, with a detachment of troops was already in the building. He came up promptly at the appeal of the legislature, spoke to the howling mob in the lobbies, and was successful in quieting the disorder. He then withdrew.

But in the interval Kellogg was being acquainted with the events that were transpiring in the assembly, and was laying plans to deprive the p391democratic-conservative faction of the advantages won by their courage and organization. He knew that De Trobriand had the usual orders from Washington to support the de facto State Government — that is, the Kellogg administration. He accordingly directed De Trobriand to expel from the capitol all unauthorized and disorderly persons. These orders were fulfilled by that officer. Within an hour, in full uniform, with his sword on, accompanied by two aides and followed by the deposed clerk, Vigers, he reappeared in the House, and demanded to have pointed out to him the persons referred to in Kellogg's communication. This Wiltz refused to do but Campbell and Anderson, two republican members, performed that office; and the five men in question, together with four others, were ejected, in spite of their protests, at the point of the bayonet, by the soldiers whom De Trobriand called in for the purpose.

Vigers then resumed his post as clerk of the House, and began to call the roll. Scarcely had he begun when Wiltz appealed to the members to leave the place as a protest against the action of the military in invading the hall where the State Legislature was in meeting. All of the democratic-conservative members ')" onMouseOut="nd();">followed him from the apartment, but the republicans remained, and proceeded to organize the House after their own ideas, which included the election of a new speaker, Michael Hahn being the recipient of this somewhat tarnished honor.

In all of these actions Wiltz was unquestionably supported by a majority of the people of Louisiana, especially of those in New Orleans. But Kellogg had — what was of more importance in those troublous days — the support of the Federal Government and of the United States army. Sheridan even asked the President for authority to arrest and try by court-martial the "banditti" whom he regarded as responsible for the existing "disorders." His letter found its way into print, and elicited a hot protest from the leading clergymen of New Orleans, which was sent to the secretary of war in Washington, and published in Northern newspapers, was widely read and much commented upon there.

Public sentiment in that part of the nation was beginning to veer around in favor of the South. As the date of the presidential election approached, opposition to Grant developed in unexpected quarters. The wisdom of his course in Louisiana was beginning to be questioned as it had never been before. This sentiment was reflected in Congress. A senate resolution called upon the President for an explanation of the behavior of the troops in Louisiana. Grant's reply though long and elaborate, can scarcely be called convincing.1 The upshot of the correspondence was that Congress appointed a committee to go to New Orleans and make an investigation of the whole matter. This body was composed of such distinguished men as Wheeler, Hoar and Fry. The leaders of both parties were ready for compromise. Within a short time they were brought to an agreement as to the desirability of submitting their differences to the arbitration of the committee. The rank and file of the democratic-conservative members of the Legislature, also found themselves in accord with the position assumed by their leaders. The mass of the people, however, seems to have looked on these negotiations with a good deal of doubt. Their disapproval did not manifest itself p392immediately, however. Among the republicans there was, taking them by and large, still less inclination to endorse the compromise movement. But at the moment enough supporters of the movement were found, both democrats and republicans, to justify the formulation of articles of agreement, and these were submitted to a caucus of the Legislature, and adopted after prolonged debate.

This agreement is known in history as the Wheeler compromise. In brief it provided that Kellogg should retain the governorship undisturbed till the expiration of his term; that the members of the House whose titles were in controversy should submit their pretensions to the arbitrament of the committee; and that both Wiltz and Hahn should withdraw from the contest over the speakership of the house, in favor of someone to be elected by the majority. As the radicals had a majority in the senate, this arrangement did not affect that body; but it was accepted as, on the whole, about the best terms to be expected under the circumstances. The provisions of the agreement were promptly put into execution by the Legislature. Wiltz and Hahn complied with the section relative to themselves in accord with the position assumed by their leaders. The democrats secured a majority in the house, and the result of the congressional inquiry was, in effect, a vindication of the democratic-conservative party.

In addition to ratifying the Wheeler compromise, the Legislature projected some reform legislation, of which there was a crying need in practically every department of the government; but the majority purpose was frustrated by the tactics of the republican minority. For the first ten days of the session a deadlock existed, nor was it till January 24 that the house was actually able to get down to business. The opposition to Kellogg, latent throughout the season, flamed out towards the close, in the form of a movement to impeach him for misdemeanors in office since the date of the Wheeler agreement. The specific charge was, that he had in collusion with two other republican officials, withdrawn $200,000 from the interest fund without warrants, and used it for other purposes, in violation of Act 3 of 1873.2

Kellogg was too widely experienced in the political bushwhacking of the time to be caught thus napping; and the skill with which he extricated himself from the toils spread by his democratic-conservative enemies extorts a certain cynical admiration, even at the present day. He had the senate completely under his control, and through it was able to frustrate the house. A house committee to examine the charges reported substantiating them, at 5:00 P.M., February 28.3 Within forty-five minutes the proper resolutions were prepared and presented by the house managers at the bar of the senate. The proper course was, for the senate to organize itself into a court and receive the articles of impeachment. This procedure was observed. The chief justice, Ludeling, was called to preside. One hour was granted the house in which to formulate and present its charges. Manifestly that task could not possibly be executed within that space of time; the animus of the senate was clear. Moreover, the house, not anticipating this turn of affairs, had adjourned to the following day. Nevertheless, the house managers, although without p393proper authority, hastily drafted the customary papers, and at 7:00 P.M. presented themselves before the senate sitting as a court to try the case. Thereupon the senate dismissed the charges by a vote of 39 to 9. When the house met next day, it could do nothing, and vented its exasperation by passing resolutions declaring that it was powerless to resent "this outrage upon right, justice, and decency."

It is unnecessary to inquire whether this attempt by the democratic-conservative party upon Kellogg was violative of the letter of the Wheeler compromise. A good case could doubtless be made out for its vindication. As a matter of fact, however, it was a tactical mistake. Many prominent business men in New Orleans expressed disapproval. While the project was in its inception a petition against pressing the charges was circulated in the city and received many signatures. The Times attacked the plan as "foolish and frivolous."4 In fact, the conservatives seem to have lost their heads to some degree, as a result of irritation resulting from the failure of the Legislature to accept a program of reform, as well as under the incitement of public opinion indignant over the way in which the Wheeler compromise had disposed of the governorship. The republicans, it is true, asserted that they had been at all times ready to co-operate in the Legislature in the passage of desirable reform measures, but that their efforts had been blocked by the democratic-conservative members.5

In the meantime, the popular opposition to the Wheeler compromise was developing under the leadership of McEnery and Wiltz. They had been members of the caucus which had ratified the compromise, but were on record as opposing that action. They spoke at a great mass-meeting in Canal Street, at Clay statue, on February 6, called to protest against the agreement. Their speeches on that occasion did not allay the suspicion with which New Orleans regarded what one of the newspapers termed "the deep damnation of this foul act."6 Finding, however, that there was no prospect of driving Kellogg from power in any other way, they undertook to reorganize the democratic party, and through it work for the desired end. The party had been for some years virtually taken over by the miscellaneous elements in opposition to the radical regime. What was now planned, was to restore distinctly democratic ideas and principles, as distinguished from the general theory of opposition to the Radical regime which till now had been the ')" onMouseOut="nd();">thrust professed by the heterogeneous elements that accident had assembled in the party. A convention was summoned to meet in April. Penn, Burke, and other leaders deprecated the revival of discussion over the Wheeler agreement. The New Orleans Ward Clubs, however, contended that the agreement was consummated by the members of the State Legislature, and did not bind the people in general. The convention assembled at Baton Rouge in July. Its ostensible business was to name a state ticket; its real business to concert measures for the overthrow of the hated State Government. Penn was probably the most important figure there at the opening of the meeting. But it soon became apparent that the country delegates would not support a city candidate for the gubernatorial nomination. They p394favored Francis T. Nicholls, of Assumption parish. Wiltz and McEnery figured in the early ballotting but the latter eventually withdrew in favor of Nicholls, and he was nominated on the fourth ballot. Wiltz's adherents promptly moved to make the nomination unanimous; a bit of magnanimity which was awarded when their candidate was given the second place on the ticket.

Nicholls had not courted the honor which thus came to him. In fact, he had refused to listen to the first delegations which called on him to urge him to be a candidate for the nomination. He had finally consented to let his name go before the convention only in the event that another candidate was not available. Even after having been nominated he expressed regret for having involved himself in what he termed "trouble." During his speech of acceptance he showed himself profoundly stirred by the emotions of the hour. He declared that if elected he would enter office untrammelled by any clique; that he would enforce laws without regard to race or color; that he would give office to no one for supporting him; and expressed his abhorrence of any kind of election fraud.7 In harmony with these utterances was the platform adopted by the convention, which demanded protection for colored voters in the exercise of the franchise, accepted as final the three wartime amendments to the Federal Constitution, and generally declared for an efficient and economical government.8 The ticket was completed by adding the names of H. N. Ogden for attorney-general, W. E. Strong for secretary of state, Allan Jumel for state auditor, and R. H. Lusher for superintendent of education. McEnery was made elector-at-large. The republican verdict on the convention was contained in an editorial in the "Republican" in which the nomination of Nicholls was declared a triumph for the old Confederates, and the whole ticket the work of the White League.9

The republican nominating convention met in June in New Orleans in Mechanics' Institute. The delegates were lined up under two banners — that of Kellogg and Packard on one side, that of Warmoth and Pinchback on the other. Warmoth was a candidate for the gubernatorial nomination, but ultimately withdrew in favor of Packard, who was nominated after six days of ballotting, amidst scenes of the widest disorder. In fact, every phase of the convention was remarkable for the riotous behavior of the delegates. On the second day the sittings were transferred from the Mechanics' Institute to the St. Charles Theater; and there the yelling of enthusiastic or belligerent members was at times loud enough to be audible several blocks away. On one occasion the police had to be called to remove members who had come to blows, and on July 1 one of the delegates was badly wounded in an attempt to force his way into the hall through the ranks of political opponents. Even the republican newspaper in New Orleans felt obliged to comment upon the unseemly deportment of the members.10 After an agreement had been reached regarding the governorship, the remainder of the ticket was selected with comparatively little trouble. Antoine was named for lieutenant-governor, and Brown for superintendent of education.11 Pinchback was placated with the chairmanship of the State Central Committee, p395and Kellogg was made a presidential elector. It must be confessed that Packard's candidacy did not awaken much enthusiasm in his own party. Several of the leaders abandoned his cause in the incipiency of the campaign, and Warmoth and Pinchback supported him in a lukewarm spirit, if at all.

The campaign opened promptly and was freer from disorders than had been anticipated. Nevertheless, some picturesque and even terrible episodes took place. The democrats made strenuous efforts to capture the negro vote, and in fact some 5,000 out of the total registration of 17,000 did ultimately cast their ballots in favor of Nicholls.12 In the City of New Orleans the machinery already existed to bring out the full democratic vote, and there was never any question but that it would be carried by Nicholls with large majorities. The republicans went about the election in a characteristic way, by denying their opponents a proper proportion of elections officials, and by insisting on the existence of a policy of terrorism among the democrats, as preliminary to contesting the result. Complaints of unfairness in the registration began to be heard as early as August, and in fact a considerable number of voters in New Orleans were disqualified as a result of ingenious manipulation of the registration lists. The election took place on November 7. The day passed off quietly in New Orleans. Business was generally suspended. It was known some days previously that the Federal troops would be stationed at the polls to prevent disorder and preserve life. Arrangements were also made by the democratic-conservative leaders to have squads of their own forces, armed with rifles, placed within convenient hailing-distance of the polls. An incident which occurred in the Third Ward may be related here as illustrating both this singular situation, and the amicable relationships which existed between the citizens and the troops. J. D. Hill was in command of a squad stationed at a poll in the rear of this ward. In the late afternoon, when the poll had been closed, his squad was stationed on the sidewalk opposite the polling-booth. A detachment of the Thirteenth United States Infantry, Captain McGuire commanding, was posted a short distance away on the other sidewalk. The two officers drifted together; got into conversation, and all that night, while the ballots were being counted by the commissioners inside, on the outside the two sets of guards were spending pleasantly together the long hours of vigil. It was clear from the many similar incidents which occurred during the election that, although of course ready to execute their orders, distasteful though they might be, the troops were, in most cases, both officers and enlisted men, in sympathy with the Nicholls party, and in their hearts wished that faction success.13 When day dawned, every indication pointed to a great democratic victory. As the succeeding days passed, and the importance of the Louisiana electoral vote in the presidential contest began to be appreciated, the democratic satisfaction in Louisiana increased. At the same time the republicans became correspondingly insistent upon their claim that the election had been fraudulent. Kellogg sent a telegram to that effect to the New York Herald,14 which, reproduced in one of the New Orleans papers, aroused intense resentment in the city. The excitement in New Orleans as the people p396awaited the decision of the Returning Board, was very great. Huge throngs surrounded the headquarters of the Democratic State Central Committee, clamorous for news. The situation was so tense that President Grant deemed it wise to caution the commander of the Federal forces in New Orleans, to preserve the peace and see that the "legal" Returning Board were not molested.15


The Louisiana Returning Board

From left to right, the captioned names are: General T. C. Anderson, Gardane Casanave, Judge Alfred Shaw, Governor J. M. Wells, L. M. Kenner.

The President's position was that "no man worthy of the office" would consent to be "counted in or placed ')" onMouseOut="nd();">there by fraud."16 He therefore required several prominent republicans to go to Louisiana and observe the counting of the vote by the Returning Board. Among those upon whom his choice fell were John Sherman, E. W. Stoughton, J. A. Garfield, Cortlandt Parker, and J. C. Wilson. They reached New Orleans on November 12. At the same time, and for the same reason, the democrats dispatched a similar commission, composed of Palmer, Trumbull, Randall, Bigler, Stevenson, Carroll and others — some twenty in all — who arrived at their destination on the day following the advent of the republican committee. The coming of these delegations had a calming effect on the anxious population.17 The conservative newspapers were confident that the visitors would see that the vote was honestly counted. The republican newspapers voiced a similar sentiment on behalf of their party.

The democratic delegation promptly proposed a scheme of co-operation with the republican delegation, but, after an interchange of rather tart communications, this offer was declined. The republicans organized with Sherman as chairman. The work was portioned out systematically, one member, for example, being put in charge of the investigation of the manner in which the election had been conducted in one parish and another of another parish, and so on. Five members were assigned daily to attend the meetings of the Returning Board. This action was taken in accordance with an invitation issued by that body to both the visiting delegations. The democrats were also represented at the board meetings by five members; but the majority of their committee left New Orleans after a brief sojourn, having ascertained that they would not be permitted to attend the executive meetings of the board, nor allowed to be present in a body at the public sessions.

The Returning Board at this time was composed of Kenner, Anderson, Wells, and Casanave. Arroyo, democrat, had, as we have seen, resigned. Attempts made by the democratic party leaders to induce the board to elect some one in his place met with failure. The canvass was therefore made by the four men mentioned. Their reputations argued little for the fairness with which the work would be done. Kenner was a gambler and worse, Anderson had accumulated a fortune while serving in the State Legislature — a circumstance which invited suspicion. Wells, who had once served as governor of the state, was identified heart and soul with the most cordially abominated section of the radical party, and Casanave was a negro undertaker, remarkable only for his ignorance and uncouthness. It is not necessary here to examine the evidence subsequently accumulated as to the ruthless way in which an obviously democratic majority was converted into an apparent republican one.18 p398According to the decision of the Returning Board, announced on December 6, the number of votes actually cast was 160,964; out of which the majorities for the Hayes presidential electors averaged from 3,437 to 4,800. As a matter of fact, the Tilden electors were elected by a majority of 7,639. The board also declared Packard elected governor of the state; Antoine lieutenant-governor, and all of the rest of the republican state ticket successful, including 19 republican senators and 73 republican representatives. These figures would give the party a majority of two votes in the state senate, and of 28 in the lower branch of the State Legislature. Moreover, the board's figures showed that four republican candidates had been elected to Congress out of the state delegation of six.

The work of tabulating the vote, which had been done with reasonable expedition, had been performed in secret by a corps of clerks, some of whom were under indictment for crimes including perjury and murder. The democrats were not allowed to have any representative present to check the work. It is not remarkable, then, that the board was subsequently accused of having falsified the returns. Still more lax were the methods pursued in taking testimony regarding the intimidation alleged to have been practiced by the democrats in the parishes. Affidavits and other testimony were often prepared in the very building where the board was holding its sessions, by soldiers and by employees detailed for the purpose by Packard. Kenner later admitted that not a single man had actually testified before the board that he had voted contrary to his conscience; yet the board did not hesitate to throw out the vote of entire parishes on the ground that voters had been interfered with in the exercise of their privileges.19

In the meantime the democratic party had taken steps to canvass the vote on its own account. It was in possession of a duplicate set of the official returns as made out by the clerks in charge of the polls. On December 5 these were canvassed by McEnery, in the presence of the attorney-general, Ogden, and Judge A. L. Tissot, of the Second District Court, of the parish of Orleans — as required by law — and certified that they showed a sweeping victory for the democratic ticket, state and national.20 On the following day the rival sets of presidential electors met and cast their votes at the State House, the republicans for Hayes and Wheeler; at St. Patrick's Hall the democrats for Tilden and Hendricks.

The two visiting delegations filed reports of what they had seen. The democrats addressed theirs to A. S. Hewitt, chairman of the National Committee of their party. The republicans' report took the form of a letter from Sherman to the President. Both were purely partisan compositions; that is, both followed lines which might have been foreseen, considering the composition of the respective groups. The democrats p399held that the Returning Board had entered upon its work predetermined to find for the republican candidates. The republicans dwelt upon the acts of intimidation practiced by the democrats in the parishes of the state, and argued that no ground of complaint existed if an election won by illegal methods were upset by a duly-appointed and lawful board.21 Congress was unable to find between the two reports, and as soon as it reassembled, felt constrained to dispatch to Louisiana fresh investigating committees. That from the house got to work in New Orleans on December 12; that from the senate, six days later. The Returning Board took the ground that neither body had the right to review its work, it being a state tribunal; and denied the visitors access to its records, although consenting to allow copies thereof to be made. After visiting the parishes and taking much testimony, each committee filed majority and minority reports, in which strictly party lines were again followed. We know now that the democratic reports very nearly pictured the actual facts; but at the moment when these documents were written, public opinion was highly inflamed, and the bearing of the results in Louisiana upon national politics too intimate and important for either side to accept impartially the conclusions of the other; hence, further investigation was necessary, and fresh congressional representatives visited New Orleans in June, 1878.

Nicholls did not for a moment entertain the idea of defeat.22 He went ahead on the assumption that the will of the people expressed at the polls was final, no matter what the Returning Board might do. This meant, that Louisiana would continue to have two governors and two Legislatures. As the time approached for the rival Legislatures to meet, speculation was rife as to what would happen. Delegates began to reach New Orleans as early as December 25, and caucuses were held almost daily at which the procedure to be observed by either party was worked out. The republicans had possession of the St. Louis Hotel, which had been purchased a year or two before, and converted into a state capitol. In order to make sure that the opposition should not seize it in the interim, their members slept and ate in the building on the days immediately preceding the opening of the session, and the doors were barricaded, and the halls filled with police.

On January 1, the day when the session opened, everyone in New Orleans appreciated the fact that a crisis was pending. The democratic Legislature assembled at St. Patrick's Hall, and organized. Col. Louis Bush was elected speaker of the house. Then, forming in column, and headed by Colonel Bush, the members marched down Camp Street to Canal, and thence by Royal towards St. Louis. On arriving in front of the main entrance to the capitol, they halted, and Bush demanded of the sentinels to be allowed admission. A messenger hastened upstairs with this demand, but returned almost at once with a refusal. Bush, whose election had been ratified by the Returning Board, might, it is true, enter if he would; and so might any person with him who held a similar certificate; but no one else. Bush replied that he did not recognize the Returning Board, and that the persons accompanying him constituted the true Legislature of the State of Louisiana. But further parley was futile, and the party returned to St. Patrick's Hall, where the two p400branches of the democratic Legislature were declared ready for business. The verification of the election returns was immediately taken up.23 There were present in the house 62 members — a quorum. In the senate nine senators held over from the preceding session, and eleven new members were present. Together, they did not constitute a quorum. The significance of this situation in the senate was immediately apparent, and constituted the most serious problem which Nicholls and his advisors had to confront.

Meanwhile the republicans had convened in the St. Louis Hotel. Sixty-eight members answered the roll-call in the house, and nineteen in the senate. Hahn was chosen speaker of the house, and Antoine, as lieutenant-governor, took his seat as presiding officer of the senate. Kellogg sent in a message lauding his administration for having made a totally imaginary reduction in the taxes, and finding fault with the democratic-conservative government in New Orleans, which, he said, was "daily declining in wealth."24 As the days slipped by, and no overt action was taken in either Legislature, the public excitement diminished. The crowd in front of the St. Louis Hotel grew less. The guards on duty in that building relaxed their vigilance. The city was resuming a normal appearance, when the approach of the day set for the inauguration of the governors again aroused apprehension as to what might ensue. It was announced that Packard would be inaugurated at the St. Louis Hotel at the same moment that Nicholls would take the oath of office at Odd Fellows' Hall, to which building he had by now removed the seat of his government. The question everywhere asked was, could a clash be averted?

Accordingly, on January 8, business was suspended, the police of both parties concentrated, and the Federal troops were held in readiness to check any disorder. The behavior of the populace was, however, very orderly. At 1 P.M. Nicholls and Wiltz took the oath on the flower-covered balcony of the Odd Fellows' Hall, watched by ten thousand spectators assembled in Lafayette Square, while cannon roared a warlike accompaniment, and distinguished citizens witnessed the ceremony from flag-draped platforms erected in front of the building for their accommodation. Nicholls made an impressive address, in which he reiterated his pre-election promises, that considerations of the general good alone should govern his actions, and that his every energy would be devoted to securing an efficient administration at the least possible cost.25

The public had no part in the ceremony which was even then taking place at the state capitol on St. Louis Street. Packard took the oath of office within the building. His address was in contrast with that of his rival, insomuch as it stressed his purpose ')" onMouseOut="nd();">to use all the powers conferred on him by the law to compel obedience to legal authority, and to secure an abiding peace for the state.26 This, if it meant anything, was an intimation of an intention to employ force in defense of his prerogatives. Around the building meanwhile a crowd had assembled, the demeanor of which became steadily less friendly. The occupants did not deem it safe to leave the building till late in the afternoon. Nicholls made every effort to induce the hostile gathering to disperse, even sending down p402written orders to that effect; but it insisted on keeping the radicals prisoners until the police arrived, and cleared the entrances and sidewalks, whereupon the crowd slowly dispersed. A few shots were fired from the hotel, without doing any harm; a few stones were thrown by the crowd, which broke some windows; but more serious consequences were averted.27

The following day, however, when the Nicholls government undertook to complete its organization by seizing the Cabildo, matters still wore a threatening aspect. Two departments of the state government of which Nicholls was head were functioning — the executive and the legislative. But the third, the judicial, embodied in the Supreme Court, which had headquarters in the Cabildo, was under the control of the Packard government. In the lower story of the building was a precinct of the Metropolitan police — the same, in fact, against which the McEnery militia had delivered its attack four years before. This station was crowded with armed men this morning. Under their protection the court, with Chief Justice Ludeling presiding, held a brief session. Nicholls was exceedingly anxious to see the Supreme Court which he had just appointed formally established in the Cabildo. The previous night he had been in consultation with the new justices, and with other advisers at his headquarters in the City Hotel. By 10 A.M. on the morning of the 9th the streets were filled with armed men. The Nicholls militia — which was, in effect, the McEnery militia, or White League — to the number of about 3,000, was concentrated in various strategic places, particularly at the St. Mary's Market. At 10:30 these forces superseded the police force. An hour later they formed in column under command of Gen. F. N. Ogden and marched towards Jackson Square.


The Cabildo, Seat of Government in New Orleans During the Spanish Regime

Among the officers on duty this day was J. D. Hill, a member of the House, who had obtained leave of absence in order to participate in the operations. As the troops approached the Cabildo he sent Lieut. Oscar Nixon, one of Ogden's aides-de-camp, to ask permission from the commanding officer to take Capt. Archie Mitchell's company and seize the building. This was granted. Mitchell's company fell out of the column, and, led by Hill, turned to the left into St. Ann Street. Hill halted the command under the arches of the Cabildo, with the right deployed towards the Cathedral. He then went to the door of the police station and demanded of Captain Lawler, in command there, that he surrender the building. Lawler refused. Half of Lawler's men were collected in the police station, the remainder occupied a position half way up the staircase leading to the upper floor and the Supreme Court room. A demand made upon the latter to open the gates and admit the citizen soldiery was likewise refused. While Lawler was kept busy with pretended negotiations by one of the other officers of the militia, Hill and his men burst the chain which secured the iron gate opening on the main stair and effected an entrance. In the meantime the Nicholls court had assembled in a room on St. Ann Street. As soon as the gate swung open the Metropolitans retreated up the stairs into the courtroom, without attempting resistance. Hill sent for the judges, taking Judge Alcibiade de Blanc on his arm, escorted him to the upper floor, followed by Lieutenant Gibson with the chief justice, T. C. Manning. The cowed Metropolitans were compelled to assemble in a corner of the room, with p403their hats respectfully removed and their arms piled against the wall, while Hill, having seen his charges seated on the bench, assumed the role of cryer, and formally proclaimed the court ready for business. Ludeling and the radical judges were not found in the building; in fact, they had withdrawn to a place of safety some time before the citizens' militia arrived on the spot.

Hill then descended to the gateway, where his men were in waiting. Captain Lawler, informed that the mission entrusted to him had failed, consented to surrender. His men were informed that they might retire to their homes. Many were afraid to do so, apprehending mistreatment at the hands of the populace, to whom the sight of their uniform was as a red cloak to a bull. Mitchell accordingly detained some of his command to accompany them, and they were in this manner enabled to get safely to their residences.28

Meanwhile a large body of armed citizens approached the St. Louis Hotel. Packard's forces prepared for the defense of the building. Policemen armed with Winchester rifles took position at the windows, and a Gatling gun was mounted on the veranda looking down Exchange Alley towards Canal Street. The garrison included about 150 negro militiamen. These were formed in line in front of the building, in St. Louis Street. It was understood that the United States troops would be held in readiness to act, under their standing instructions to disperse illegal bodies and preserve order. But the Nicholls militia contented itself with occupying all the approaches to the building, and except for a few ineffective shots fired from the statehouse balconies, there was no actual violation of the peace. Save for the shops in the vicinity of the hotel, which, naturally, were closed with some precipitation, business went on as usual in the city. The blockade of the capitol was continued till the 10th, with the object of preventing the radical forces from making a sally and attempting to recover the Cabildo and the police stations elsewhere, which had likewise been occupied. This object was attained. The Nicholls militia actually withdrew on the afternoon of the 9th, but sentinels kept watch on the building, and it was understood that any indication of an intention on the part of the besieged to leave would meet with prompt opposition.29

The effect of these operations was, first of all, the passage of a resolution by the City Council of New Orleans recognizing the Nicholls government as the only government to which it owed allegiance. This resolution was adopted on January 16 and was, specifically, a mandate to the administrators of finance and accounts to pay no bills on behalf of the municipal judges nor of the Metropolitan police, except those which had received the approval of Governor Nicholls.30 This was followed on April 2 by the city assuming control of the police department and of the fire alarm and police telegraph system.31 Three weeks later the ordinances for a complete reorganization of the police force were passed.32 The city printing, which had been a fertile source of expense and embarrassment to the city administration, was taken away from the p404control of the republican commissioners and resumed by the corporation.33 Finally, in accordance with Act 87 of the Legislature, abolishing the Park Commission which had so long and so recklessly squandered city funds, the city took over the control of some of the most important properties belonging to the people.

The recognition of the Nicholls government spread apace. Soon practically nobody paid any attention to the Packard government outside of the precincts of the state house. Packard, on his side, endeavored to induce the Federal Government to support him with the Federal troops. Grant declared that, while he favored suspending action until the congressional committee occupied in investigating the matter could report, still, if any recognition were necessary of either of the contending governments in Louisiana, that recognition would be Packard's. The excitement which this declaration occasioned in New Orleans may easily be imagined. The radicals, frightened at the large crowds which collected around their stronghold, made preparation for battle. Packard jubilantly issued a proclamation ordering the "White Leaguers and their attendant usurpers, the Supreme Court cabal," to disperse — meaning, in these bitter phrases, the whole Nicholls government — demanding the surrender of the police stations and commanding that all state-owned arms be delivered up at once.34 But when the infatuated radical leader called on General Augur for troops to enforce his decrees the request was refused: the President was not prepared to go that far.

But all other members of the Packard government saw that the game was up. A steady stream of deserters was finding its way from the St. Louis Hotel to the Odd Fellows' Hall. Pinchback himself went over in the middle of January. In an effort to check these defections, members of the Legislature were not permitted to leave the capitol. At the beginning of January there had been 400 persons in the building; on March 4 this number was reduced to about 150.35 In this way the majority in the Nicholls Legislature was gradually built up. This, as has been said, was a matter of importance especially in the Senate, where the democratic government could not, at first, claim a legally elected majority. It is probable that money was used to induce the radical members to abandon the sinking ship, but, if so, it was not done with the consent or even with the knowledge of Governor Nicholls. Several members of the Packard Senate were reputed "lottery" senators — that is, had been elected with the understanding that they were there to support a movement to charter a state lottery. At this juncture overtures were made to the Nicholls government by the promoters of the lottery scheme, offering to use their influence with these men to bring about their withdrawal from the Packard Legislature. The proposition was finally reduced to writing and laid before a little group of members of the Nicholls Legislature which had been organized as a sort of inner council and which assisted Nicholls in deciding most of the many ticklish questions of this difficult period. All but two members of the council recommended the acceptance of the offer. The lottery men claimed nothing as award for their efforts, and professed to be actuated merely by the same sentiments in favor of good government that animated the p405remainder of the population. This disinterestedness had great weight with the council and proved decisive with Nicholls. The inference which is sometimes drawn that the lottery promoters made a bargain with the Nicholls government at this time is erroneous, as likewise is the impression that money, if employed, was used by and with the consent of the Nicholls party.36

As far as the City of New Orleans is concerned, the era of Reconstruction came of an end on April 24, 1877, when the Federal troops were finally withdrawn. But before this happy result was attained there were still to be endured a few anxious moments — although now no doubt could be felt as to the final outcome. President Grant had now begun to doubt if public opinion in any part of the United States would longer "tolerate the maintenance of a state government by the use of the military."37 On March 1 the celebrated Sniffin dispatch was sent, informing Packard that troops would be used thereafter only to protect life and property from mob violence. Rumors of the President's tardy change of heart circulating through Louisiana occasioned widespread excitement. Both Nicholls and Packard deemed the situation serious enough to justify a call for a special meeting of their legislatures. At the same time the latter made desperate efforts to convince Grant that the withdrawal of military support from his cause meant an immediate attack by the White League on the state house and the probable massacre of its inmates. He also labored to create in New Orleans the impression that Grant would accept this view of the situation. He succeeded only in convincing some of the Democrats that he meditated an attack on their state building. Nicholls, calm and undisturbed, declined to take these fears seriously, nor would he consent to garrison the points supposed to be threatened.38 But he deemed it prudent to see that the White League was in a state of preparedness, even while he discouraged any demonstration on its part.

Before the Federal Government could carry out its intentions in Louisiana, some means had to be found to enable it to recognize the Nicholls administration without appearing to abandon a staunch Republican adherent, such as Packard was.39 The scheme finally hit on was to send to New Orleans a commission, which, though clothed with no legal authority, would bring about the coalition of all the people under the aegis of one government. Ostensibly, this commission was charged with the investigation of the situation with a view to ascertain which was the legal government, but actually its course in all essential features p406was arranged before it started south on its mission.40 "Boss" Shepherd had visited New Orleans and reached an understanding with the leaders there. Louisiana's vote in the electoral college was cast for Hayes; the price for it was the extinction of carpet-bag government, and this was now to be paid. On March 28 the McVeagh Commission was welcomed to New Orleans and began its conferences with parties and individuals. It soon convinced itself from these interviews that the proper course was first to induce all members of the Legislature about whose title there could be no dispute to combine into a single body. On April 16 the Nicholls Legislature passed a resolution pledging co-operation in carrying out the Presidential program. Five days later the Packard Legislature dispersed. Those who had not already found refuge in the Nicholls fold resigned. The report of the commission on April 21 showed that its mission had been accomplished. On the 24th the Nicholls militia — that dreaded White League, which had done so much for the cause of good government in the long oppressed and exploited state — took possession of the St. Louis Hotel. Four days longer the citizens' forces remained under arms, but no resistance materialized, and then the members laid aside their weapons and dispersed to their homes.

Almost as if to offset this felicitous termination of the Reconstruction epoch, the following year saw New Orleans visited by a terrible epidemic of the yellow fever. Although not as severe as those of 1853 and 1858, it took an appalling toll in human life and suffering. The disease is supposed to have been imported from Havana by the ship Emily B. Souder. This vessel arrived at New Orleans on May 23. She was detained ten hours at the quarantine, near the mouth of the Mississippi, subjected to what was in those days regarded as a thorough disinfection, and apparently in good sanitary condition was allowed to proceed to her destination. On May 25 the purser died of an illness which the attending physician suspected to be yellow fever. The house in which he passed away was treated with the usual disinfectants, but a few days later a glazier residing not far away was discovered to have the disease and was taken to the Touro infirmary. He recovered. In the meantime another member of the crew of the Souder was taken ill and removed from the ship to a house at Front and Girod streets, where he died on May 30. On July 12 a suspicious case was located at No. 157 Constance Street, on the 13th another at No. 116 Constance, and still another at No. 118 on the same street. Almost simultaneously the fever developed at the corner of Front and Girod streets, apparently as the result of infection conveyed thither by the assistant engineer of the p407Souder when carried thither to die. From these three clearly defined foci the disease spread over the entire city.

Other infected vessels arrived from the West Indies and Cuba. The Borussia arrived at the quarantine station on May 21 with five cases on board. These were removed to the quarantine hospital, the vessel was disinfected and after a detention of fifteen days she was suffered to continue on her voyage to the city. There was always some idea that from her no less than from the Souder the dread infection might have proceeded. A number of cases developed on the shipping along the river front after her arrival. The engineer of the Charley Wood died of the fever. From him it spread to his family, who resided on Constance Street. At first the disease seems to have been of a mild type. In its early stages the epidemic was complicated by paludal fever, which made the diagnosis difficult. Unquestionably the rapid spread of the disease was due to the peculiarity of the season. The previous winter had been exceptionally mild, but the summer of 1878 was extraordinarily hot. It supposed at the time that what was termed by the local physicians "the first wave of infection" was not specially deadly; it was only after the disease appeared at Indianola, Galveston and New Iberia and spread from thence to New Orleans that this "second wave" occasioned the peculiarly virulent character which the epidemic thereafter assumed.

As soon as the fever was declared epidemic there was a general exodus from New Orleans. The fleeing population carried the infection to the towns along the Gulf Coast, where it raged for some time. It was also borne to Vicksburg, Granada, Dry Point and other towns in Mississippi, where its virulence exceeded anything of the sort previously known. In New Orleans the Howard Association, organized over thirty years before, was revived to deal with the situation. It appealed to the country for help and with unexampled generosity money and supplies were poured into the stricken city. The railroads transported all supplies gratis. Finally, quarantines at Mobile and Galveston cut off communication in those directions. But the Chicago, St. Louis & New Orleans — the ')" onMouseOut="nd();">precursor of the Illinois Central — continued open and ran its trains without intermission, though at a heavy loss, till the danger was over. The Howard Association became the main channel through which relief was distributed in New Orleans. At one time it had 1,000 destitute cases on hand. It cared for over 24,000 persons during the duration of the epidemic. The members of the organization who were not physicians devoted themselves to nursing, and not a few of them succumbed to the disease, contracted in the course of their heroic labors.

The epidemic lasted till October 26. It attained its climax on September 11, when there were ninety deaths. The largest number of new cases reported on one day was on September 3, when 327 persons were taken ill. After the middle of September the number of cases and of deaths daily reported steadily declined, till on October 18 there were but eighteen deaths. In all, 3,828 persons died out of a total population of 154,132. The total number of cases officially reported up to September 26 was 8,341, but the real total was probably somewhat larger, as in many instances after the official notice had been sent in of a case in a new place the attendants, in the haste of their work, failed to report any additional cases. The condition of the city during this terrible visitation may be imagined. The physicians were overtaxed in their effort to care p408for the sick; the number of hearses available was far short of sufficient to furnish decent funerals to the dead; no mourners followed the melancholy vehicles on their sad journeys to and from the cemeteries. The sextons remained on duty till 11 P.M. in order to facilitate the interments. Throughout the city the stillness of death prevailed. Music was forbidden for fear of disturbing the sick; the church bells rang no more, and everywhere the pavements strewn with sawdust or fenced off with wooden barricades mutely testified to the need of silence on the part of some sufferer within the premises so defended. Business was at a standstill. In one square 103 cases occurred. An entire family of seven people died and were buried in one day. The mortality among children under twelve years was one of the most pitiable features of the epidemic.41 The Board of Health exhausted the known germicides in vain and finally depended only upon lime. Our present knowledge of the causes of the disease lends a peculiar futility to such efforts as were made to sanitate and disinfect the infected premises. Throughout the city tar barrels were set on fire in an effort to "purify the air"; various kinds of explosives were used for the same purpose, and cloths drenched in carbolic acid were hung about the premises by frightened housewives in hopes that the fumes would have a beneficial effect.

With the waning of the year and the disappearance of the disease New Orleans, sorely stricken by all that had befallen her in the previous twenty years, faced towards the future. There is no finer exhibition of public spirit and individual courage than that which the city presented at the dawn of the year 1879, when the community took stock of itself, preliminary to setting about the great task of recovering its long lost prosperity.

The Author's Notes:

1 Richardson, "Letters and Papers of the Presidents," VII, 307-314.

2 Lonn, "Reconstruction in Louisiana," 394. Kellogg's defense was published in the Times of November 3, 1875. See also Annual Encyclopedia, 1876, p482.

3 Republican, February ')" onMouseOut="nd();">28, 1875.

4 April 3, 1875.

5 Republican, March 2.

6 Bulletin, February 7, 1875.

7 Times, July 27, 1876.

8 Annual Encyclopedia, 1876, p485.

9 July 28, 1876.

10 Republican, July 1, 1876; Picayune, July 6, 1876.

11 Picayune, March 1, 1876.

12 Lonn, "Reconstruction in Louisiana," 425.

13 Statement of J. D. Hill to the author.

14 Times, November 12, 1877.

15 Annual Encyclopaedia, 1876, 486.

16 Ibid.

17 Times, November 11, 1877; Sherman, "Recollections," I, 554.

18 Republican, December 6, 1876.

19 Lonn, "Reconstruction in Louisiana," 447-450. As a matter of fact, the Returning Board had certified to the election to the lower house of a large number of Democrats. The principal wrong in its report, insofar as the City of New Orleans was concerned, was with reference to three members from the Seventh district, who were refused a certificate. The democratic Returning Board — for there was such — returned these three men as elected. With them, and those returned by the Kellogg Returning Board, the Legislature, which met at St. Patrick's Hall, had, as the text states, a majority of the incontestably legal delegates.

20 Annual Encyclopaedia, 1876, 480-490.

21 Senate Ex. Doc., 44th Cong., 2nd session, No. 2, p8.

22 Times, December 18, 1876.

23 Statement of J. D. Hill. Col. Hill was a member of the House at this time.

24 Republican, January 3, 1877.

25 Picayune, January 9, 1877.

26 Republican, January 9, 1877.

27 Picayune, January 9, 1877.

28 Statement of J. D. Hill to the writer.

29 Picayune, January 10, 1877. ')" onMouseOut="nd();">Nicholls' proclamation on this occasion is given in the Annual Encyclopedia, 1877, p456.

30 Ordinance No. 3816, A. S.

31 Ordinance No. 3889, A. S.

32 Ordinance No. 3964, A. S.

33 Ordinance No. 3907, A. S.

34 Republican, January 16, 1877.

35 Lonn, "Reconstruction in Louisiana," 492.

36 Lonn, "Reconstruction in Louisiana," 523. Miss Lonn thinks that the fact that the Louisiana Lottery Company subsequently secured a charter from the state indicates that "that company came to the rescue of the impoverished Nicholls treasury, supplying the funds wherewith the Packard men were purchased." I have followed the account given me by J. D. Hill, a member of the council and one of the two men who stood out consistently against accepting the lottery proposal. See "Inside History of the Origin of the Louisiana Lottery," by A. K. McClure, Chicago Inter Ocean, November 10, 1901.

37 See Annual Encyclopaedia, 1877, p457.

38 See Annual Encyclopaedia, 1877, p457, for ')" onMouseOut="nd();">Nicholls' proclamation.

39 Lonn, "Reconstruction in Louisiana," 520.

40 Lonn, Op. cit., 520-521. It is not generally known that General Nicholls, who was a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, on leaving that institution in 1855, was sent to an army post in a remote part of the West, where was also stationed Ulysses S. Grant, then a lieutenant in the regular army. Nicholls always believed that the friendship then formed largely determined the attitude which Grant assumed in the controversy with ')" onMouseOut="nd();">Pinchback, in 1877. It is also not generally known that during the four months which Louisiana had a dual government, a high officer of the United States army kept the Nicholls party informed of all that transpired in the Packard camp. Every night, at 2 o'clock, this officer visited the Nicholls headquarters at the City Hotel and supplied complete accounts of all that had transpired during the day at the opposite stronghold. It is not likely that this was done without the knowledge and approval of the authorities in Washington. — Statement to the author of W. O. Hart, based on testimony of eye-witnesses.

41 Annual Encyclopaedia, 1877, pp316-320.


  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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