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Louisiana Anthology

John Smith Kendall.
“The History of New Orleans.”

p441 Chapter XXVIII

Behan and Guillotte

The first election under the new charter took place on November 7, 1882. There were two candidates for mayor — William J. Behan, nominated by the regular democrats, and A. W. Bosworth, named by the Independent Citizens' Association. Behan was in Europe when the democratic nominating convention met, but hurried home to take part in the campaign. He was recommended to the leaders of the party by the fact that he had taken a prominent part in the battle of September 14, 1874.has '+BadF+'1864'+CloseF+'',WIDTH,120)" onMouseOut="nd();">º He was born in New Orleans in 1842, and received his education in part in Louisiana, and in part at the Western Military Institute, in Tennessee. This military training stood him in good stead during the Civil war, in which he served as an artillery officer in the Confederate army. He was the youngest officer in that arm of the service in General Lee's command. He took part in the battles of ')" onMouseOut="nd();">Manassas, the Seven Days, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorville, Gettysburg, and Appomattox.º At Gettysburg he was slightly wounded. At Appomattox a detachment of the Washington Artillery under his command captured a field piece from the enemy and would have fired it, but for the appearance of a staff officer with the news that Lee had surrendered. This was probably the last incident of the battle. On returning to New Orleans Behan engaged in business. He was a merchant, manufacturer and sugar planter by turns. At the time when he was nominated for mayor, he was the junior partner in the well-known grocery house of Zuberbeir & Behan. Although an active citizen he had previously held no office except that of major-general of the state militia, a post to which he was appointed in 1877.

Bosworth was a native of Maine, where he was born in 1816. He had resided in New Orleans since 1845. During the Civil war he, too, had served with distinction in the Confederate army. He was lieutenant-colonel of the Crescent Regiment. He was present at the battle of Shiloh. He served under Gen. "Dick" Taylor in all the campaigns of Louisiana. At the close of the war he was in command of Mouton's Brigade, with the rank of colonel. In civil life he was an ice merchant. In his time there were no factories in New Orleans for the manufacture of artificial ice; this material was brought from the far north by ship, and stored in large buildings specially constructed for the purpose along the river front, where it could be disposed of at high prices. In this business Bosworth had made a large fortune. His nomination for mayor came as a result of a movement of protest against the regular democratic convention, and the control of that body by ward leaders. The Independent Citizens' Association, however, was hastily and therefore imperfectly organized. This fact doomed it to defeat.

Although the republican party still existed in New Orleans, it made no attempt to name a candidate for any of the municipal offices at this time.

General Behan's campaign was under the management of two veterans of many such contests — James D. Houston and Maj. E. A. Burke. The campaign lasted only a few weeks. Only a small vote was polled at the p442election. Behan received 14,897 votes, as against Bosworth's 5346.1 The result was accepted without protest. Behan was inducted into office on November 20, and addressed himself to the solution of several difficult problems, with which it was necessary to deal immediately.

Mayor W. J. Behan

The greater part of General Behan's administration was occupied with the detail of the re-organization of the city government necessitated by the enactment of the new charter. His success in this complicated task was generally admired. On coming to the City Hall the new mayor found the city's finances in great confusion. In addition to the large bonded indebtedness, the adjustment of which was in process under the direction of the Board of Liquidation, there was a heavy floating indebtedness contracted to meet the ordinary expenses of the government. On the first day that General Behan spent in the City Hall, a representative of the gas company called on him with a demand for the immediate payment of the arrears due by the city for gas furnished for the use of the municipality. Failure to pay this bill would, it was pointed out, be followed by cutting off the lights, and plunging the streets into darkness. This matter was arranged only when the mayor agreed personally to see that the gas company's account would be settled at the earliest possible p443moment. Subsequently, an arrangement was made by which the arrearages were spread over the appropriations for lighting for the ensuing year — a procedure which was, possibly, unauthorized in law, but which the necessity of the city rendered imperative. Further embarrassments resulted from the litigation in which the city was involved over the bonded debt. In these cases a series of judgments had been handed down by the courts which the city had to satisfy. To do this it was compelled to find funds; which could be done only by raising the taxes, to such an extent that the rate rose to 3.17½ per cent, probably the heaviest which the people had ever to support. But this was inevitable. The magnitude of the financial burden which the corporation at this time was required to bear may be inferred from the single fact that in the Gaines case, an adverse decision was rendered which compelled the city to pay $800,000. The natural result of these operations was a depreciation of the city securities; money could be obtained only at high rates of interest, and contractors would agree to undertake work for the municipality only when they had been assured of special guarantees to insure the payment of their bills.

Under these circumstances the new mayor could do nothing beyond instituting the strictest economies. It was exceedingly creditable that he was able to put the ordinary routine of the administration upon a cash basis. This was of great benefit to certain classes of city employees, especially the police and the school teachers. But his policy of retrenchment brought Mayor Behan into collision first with the brokers who profited from the necessity of the city employees, and then with the city council, which resented his refusal to appoint to office persons whose claims to consideration were based solely upon party service, or whose assistance was not absolutely essential. Edward Booth, a well-known wholesale hat-dealer, was a member of the city council. He was chairman of the Finance Committee. Otto Thoman was chairman of the Budget Committee, and Mat D. Lagan, afterwards a member of the United States Congress,a was president pro tempore of the council. These three were men of great ability and force of character. They loyally supported Behan in the council, and were the members upon whom the latter relied to get through the legislation requisite to make effectual the economies essential in the critical situation in which the city found itself. Under the new charter the heads of the chief departments of the city government were, as we have seen, the city treasurer, the comptroller, and the commissioner of police and public buildings. These offices were filled, respectively, by B. T. Walshe, J. V. Guillotte, and John Fitzpatrick. Walshe was a distinguished Confederate soldier. He enjoyed the respect of the entire community. Guillotte was a ward-leader. He had previously filled the posts of assessor and of administrator of public buildings and waterworks, the latter under Mayor Shakespeare. Fitzpatrick was a man of real administrative ability. Later he became mayor of the city. None of these officials, however, found himself in sympathy with the mayor's policies.

The differences between the mayor and the leaders of his party came to a head in the second year of the administration when the office of chief of police fell vacant. The name of M. J. Shehan, the then recorder of the Fourth City Court, was urged upon Behan by both Houston and Burke. The mayor, however, was anxious to fill the position with a man not identified in any way with local political organizations. He expressed p444his willingness to appoint any person of that description whom the party leaders would agree upon. Burke and Houston, however, insisted upon their nominee. Behan, who was a man of great resolution, merely replied that he would wait twenty-four hours for further recommendations, and if at the end of that period none were forthcoming, would proceed to appoint a man of his own choosing. As no alternate name was suggested he commissioned, the following day, R. B. Rowley, who was not affiliate in any way with the "machine." This controversy had important bearings upon the alignment of the parties at the next municipal election.

Mayor Behan also became involved in a controversy with the city treasurer. They differed over the interpretation of the provisions in the city charter with regard to the preparation of the budget. The charter had been hurried through the State Legislature in the closing days of the session. It had been hastily and carelessly written, and was full of inconsistencies which not even the ingenuity of the city attorney could reconcile. In providing for an exact budget of anticipated expenses it stipulated that this should be drawn up at a time when the possible revenues of the city could not possibly be known. Thoman and his committee, therefore, after vainly endeavoring to adhere in detail to the requirements of the charter, compromised by writing a budget which conformed to the general spirit of the law. When, however, the city pay-rolls were sent in under this budget to the city treasurer, he declined to pay them, on the ground that the budget was illegal, and that there was in the treasury no fund with which the warrants could be met. Behan and his friends took the ground that the functions of the city treasurer were purely clerical; that he had no right to question the legality of warrants drawn by properly constituted officials of the city government, but that he should pay them when presented, and leave the matter of their legality to be determined by the parties at interest in the courts. Walshe, however, persisted in his refusal, and the mayor thereupon suspended him from office. Upon his further refusal to vacate the treasurer's office, Behan sent his secretary, Clem L. Walker, with a file of police, to remove him. The matter was subsequently ventilated in the city council, and Walshe made a satisfactory explanation, which led to his reinstatement at the end of four or five days.

In the meantime, rather than see the city employees go unpaid, Mayor Behan took the unusual step of providing out of his own resources the funds necessary for that purpose. He arranged with one of the local banks to furnish $100,000 on his note, which sum was turned over to Secretary Walker, who paid the rolls. Walker took up the vouchers of the city employees as presented, and subsequently, when the whole matter had been ')" onMouseOut="nd();">passed upon favorably to the mayor in the courts, these were presented to the city treasury, and the amount advanced by Behan was repaid.2

As the administration drew to an end, it was clear that the mayor could not count upon the support of the democratic organization, unless he would consent greatly to modify his position. It was felt, however, that a renomination was due to him for the reason that his administration had lasted only two years, whereas, under the new charter, the incoming mayor would serve four years. The leaders of the party, p445therefore, offered him the nomination, but coupled with conditions which Mayor Behan felt he must refuse. These conditions related to the appointment to public office of "organization" candidates. Behan felt that to accept the dictation of party "bosses" in this matter would virtually tie his hands in respect to the policies of retrenchment and reform already inaugurated. He therefore declined the proffered honor. The party convention met on March 24, 1884, and nominated J. Valsin Guillotte for mayor, I. W. Patton for city treasurer, J. N. Hardy for comptroller; John Fitzpatrick for commissioner of public works, and Patrick ')" onMouseOut="nd();">Meallie for commissioner of police and public buildings, besides a full list of councilmen and other minor officials.

A popular demand at once arose for the renomination of Mayor Behan. A group of twenty-five prominent citizens headed an independent movement which supported him. Among these men were John Phelps, J. W. Labouisse, C. Harrison Parker, J. Henry Lafaye, A. Brittin, E. T. Manning, G. L. Townsend, A. S. Maginnis, Carl Kohn, C. H. Allen, and other men of equally high standing in the community. At a meeting in the Masonic Hall on March 24, a full municipal ticket was put in nomination. For treasurer, B. D. Wood was named; for comptroller, T. J. Woodward; for commissioner of public works, W. E. McDermott; for commissioner of police and public buildings, H. J. Rivet. Thirty councilmen and the usual list of small officials were also nominated. The movement took the name of The Citizens' Democratic Parochial and Municipal Party. But actually, the name was all there was to the party; there was no time in which to effect an organization, and without organization, there was no chance of victory over the thoroughly-disciplined forces of the enemy.

The struggle which followed, though brief, was exceedingly bitter. The issue was clearly drawn between "machine" and "anti-machine" government. Unquestionably, the bulk of the voting population wished to see at the head of the city government a business man, as distinguished from a professional politician. Up to the campaign of 1884 the party leaders had been willing to make this concession. The patronage controlled by the mayor was small; the administratorships, shrievalties, and commissionships were much more desirable, from the point of view of the professional politician, not only on account of their salaries or fees, which usually exceeded largely the emoluments of the mayoralty, but because they controlled large numbers of appointments. But by now the party machinery had been so perfectly adjusted that it was possible for a little group of ward-leaders to control the nominating conventions, in spite of the fact that they themselves were actually in a minority. In this way it had been possible to force the nomination of Guillotte in the face of a strong adverse public opinion.

Up to the campaign of 1884, then, there had been in New Orleans a "ring," properly so-called. That word had been freely used in the press on previous occasions to stigmatize the opposition. As early as 1878 it appeared as a term to describe the "People's Democratic Association." At that time it was said that there were two "rings," the state and city, which worked together. But, as a matter of fact, although in that election, the People's Democratic Association had made a concession to the state "ring" by nominating its candidate for administrator of public improvements, the method used was not typical of the "machine." Collins had been an excellent official; his nomination was p446fully justified by his record, and there was no public opposition to his selection. It remained to the Guillotte-Behan campaign to introduce the "steam-roller" procedure which was to be characteristic of democratic nominations from that time on. The organization which now felt itself strong enough to override contemptuously the wishes of the people, can be traced back to the early '70s. It grew up as a result of the hard necessities of reconstruction days. In their contest with the negroes and "carpet-baggers," the whites were compelled to resort to many dubious expedients. One of these was the compact organizing of each ward in the city, in order to make sure of the delivery of its vote when needed. This organization centered around a "mother" club, the president of which soon became the "leader" or ward. At first the position went to the man who, by dint of personal courage, brute strength, or lack of principle, was able to seize it. As long as he could be depended on to stand with the party opposed to the radical regime, he could count upon the support of the men who were directing the great fight in state and city. Once in power, he cemented his position by exploiting his personal popularity. He made himself useful to his constituency. When his supporters were in need, they were trained to appeal to him, with the assurance that assistance, pecuniary or otherwise, would be forthcoming. In return for these favors, a blind obedience to orders was exacted in the elections. It was a system which remorselessly capitalized good fellowship.

But as the danger of radical control diminished this organization proved useful for other purposes than those for which it had been originally formed. In time the ward-presidents, by virtue of their control of the vote, acquired control of the parish committee. They themselves were not usually members of the committee, but the two delegates who represented each ward were only their agents and representatives. The inevitable combination of the stronger of these leaders ultimately threw the control of the party into the hands of a small group of men, whose power became absolute. This group was, properly speaking, the "ring." The first ring was composed of Alcée Gauthreaux,º criminal sheriff under Mayor Patton; J. D. Houston, and E. A. Burke. The defalcation of Gauthreaux, which was the great political scandal of the early '80s, eliminated him from the combination. Power was then divided between Houston and Burke. It was they who attempted to dictate to Behan the appointment of the chief of police; it was they who now felt sufficiently confident of the efficiency of their organization to commit it to the support of Guillotte. Thus the tool which had been forged for the use of the best element in the population in the fight for the recovery of white supremacy in Louisiana, was now turned against them.

The objection to the "ring" candidates in this campaign, and in many subsequent ones, was not so much to them as individuals as to them as representatives of the system. The feeling which inspired the anti-ring movements now and thereafter was the fear that popular government was imperiled. Here, in fact, was a species of government operating within the nominal government. Office-holders were the instruments of powerful persons who had no actual connection with the city government; the administration might be utilized with an eye single to the permanence of that control. On the other hand, the "ring" justified its existence by pointing to the danger of a recrudescence of republicanism. p447Unless there was a highly efficient, ably captained organization perpetually ready to repel the old enemies of the white race, would there not be a renewal of those terrible scenes which had so long disgraced and impoverished the city? In the Guillotte-Behan campaign this argument was utilized with great effectiveness. Unquestionably, it had effect upon the mass of the people, who were still suffering from the misgovernment of the previous decade, and who were disposed to tolerate anything except a return of the old conditions.

The accusation that Behan's candidacy connected with republicanism obtained a certain plausibility from the fact that the Republican State Central Committee endorsed his candidacy, and various republican ward organizations — there were still such in existence, designed to counteract the democratic "mother" clubs — passed resolutions favorable to him. These endorsements were dictated not by any desire to see Behan ')" onMouseOut="nd();">elected, but by the hope of promoting dissention in the democratic ranks. G. H. Braughan, speaking at the St. Charles Theater, exposed this motive, when he expressed regret that the Louisiana democracy would allow itself to be disrupted at a time when the national republican party was plotting hopefully to carry some of the Southern states. Braughan insinuated that the citizens' parish democracy was acting in collusion with them. On another occasion another "regular" spokesman intimated that Pinchback was stirring up the negroes in Behan's behalf.3 These charges were repulsed by Behan's organ, the Picayune, which in a strong editorial pointed out that the question of democrat or republican had no place in the campaign; that such endorsement as the republicans had made of Behan had been given on their own initiative; and that no party "except a machine provided with ample facilities for manufacturing a fictitious majority," could afford to reject the support of "voters who come asking no questions and making no demands." Moreover, continued the Picayune, by way of countercheck quarrelsome, it was generally understood that "the regulars had made efforts to get republican support through influential persons at the Customhouse" — that building then being the headquarters of the republican party in New Orleans.4

The Citizens' Democratic Association made specific allegations as to the municipal mismanagement and inefficiency to be expected if the "machine" candidates were elected. "Unless a determined stand is taken at the forthcoming election," read an appeal to the public issued by the party managers on April 18, "we shall have fastened upon us an administration which from its very weakness and incapacity will more than neutralize the most strenuous efforts of merchants and people for the advancement of New Orleans. The democratic ticket, so called, lately promulgated for your suffrages, shows so clearly the dominance of bossism, such a disregard for merit and integrity as to the nominees, and such sacrifice of every consideration of the public weal to the advancement of the political fortunates of a few leaders, that no reform, no good results, can be expected from it, if placed in power. [. . .] The p448simple fact is, that under ring rule our city government has been a failure. Murder runs riot in our midst, and the hand of justice is paralyzed by influence and corruption. Our streets are a mass of reeking filth, and our public school system, which in former years was pointed to with pride as the best in any city in the Union, retains but a shadow of its former excellence. [. . .] These are not political questions. The matter of reform is neither one of democracy nor of republicanism. It involves exclusively business questions — economical and faithful administration of our financial affairs, as in any business corporation, and vigorous enforcement of the laws for the protection of life and property without fear or favor."5

There can be no doubt that this sharp indictment of the existing state of affairs in the city was justified. But how far was the blame due to the so-called "ring" members of the administration, and just how much of it was attributable to Mayor Behan? There was here an opening for an effective reply to the citizens' party address. The democratic-conservative organization — as the regulars continued to call themselves — was not slow to seize upon this opportunity. The following day, over the signature of the president of the committee, appeared a statement in which the foregoing charges were categorically denied. "The small coterie, ')" onMouseOut="nd();">self-constituted and unrepresentative, which gave birth to the 'citizens' democratic parochial and municipal ticket,' " it began, "has thought it meet and proper to inaugurate a campaign of vituperation and abuse and unpardonable slander. We traverse their bill of indictment, and demand that proofs be furnished upon which they have presumed to arraignº candidates of a great political party. The regular ticket was not made in secret conclave, behind doors closed against even the representatives of the press, nor a list of candidates selected to further the individual interests and voice the particular ')" onMouseOut="nd();">preferences of a self-appointed committee." The statement went on to invite the public to examine the list of members of the convention which had nominated the regular ticket and determine whether the men therein ')" onMouseOut="nd();">were not representative of every class. "No name," it continued, "is connected with public peculation or tainted with dishonor." The ticket represented no "entrenched monopolies," nor did it lean to the republican party. Why, asked the writer, why say that the administration has been a failure? "If failure to pay public debts for honest bills was meant, then such failure is freely admitted, but responsibility therefor is disclaimed. Give the credit or the shame to General Behan. He had the appointment and control of the police force, and upon him must rest the responsibility; if the streets reeked, whose duty was it to see that they were cleaned? When did the mayor complain of the negligence or incapacity of the commissioner of police and public buildings? What can be said in vituperation against the present municipal administration which, if deserved at all, will not bear with crushing weight against the very gentleman whose great tact and readiness as a parliamentarian so fit him to preside over the deliberations of the common council, and whose rare intelligence, education and accomplishments make him so worthy an executive for the great commercial metropolis of the South, that out of a whole city full of the great, pure and disinterested the parish democracy could p449find no more appropriate candidate to place at the head of their ticket?"6

The election took place on April 22. On the previous day the democratic-conservative parish committee published a set of instructions ostensibly for the guidance of their commissioners on duty at the polls. This document stated that "information had been received" that "the citizens' parish democracy would strive to cause tumult at the polls and attempt by the exercise of force on the part of inspectors and special police officers to overawe the officers charged with the conduct of the election." The real purport of this document was not clear till the day of election was well advanced. According to the Times-Democrat — which supported Guillotte — the day passed "quietly." Guillotte received 18,278 votes, and Behan 6,512.7 By afternoon the citizens' democracy was alleging wholesale frauds. On the morning of the election between 800 and 1,000 specially appointed deputy sheriffs were sent to the polling places. They took possession of the booths and in many cases ejected the commissioners of the Behan party. In one instance at least, in the Tenth Ward, an ejected commissioner appealed to the police, and a detail was sent to procure his readmission to his place of duty, but without success. In the Second Ward a commissioner was ejected, appealed to the police, but had to wait so long for the arrival of the officers that he left in disgust before anything was done on his behalf. Only two of the Behan candidates for the council, Sliger and Farrell, by their courageous insistence upon proper behavior at the polls in the precincts in which they were running, ')" onMouseOut="nd();">succeeded in obtaining a victory. In the Ninth Ward the regular democratic henchmen undertook to tally the votes as cast, and were detected in the act of reading off the names incorrectly, substituting their own candidates where the parish democracy's nominees had actually been voted for.

At 6 P.M. the polls were closed. The task of counting the votes then began. Earlier in the day the leaders of the citizens' democracy had published their fear that at this juncture an attempt would be made to drive away their watchers for an interval sufficiently long to enable the boxes to be stuffed with fraudulent ballots. This was actually done in several precincts. When the returns began to come in, it was found in several instances that they bore obvious evidence of having been tampered with. The names of voters were supposed to be reported in the order in which they had voted; the reports were in alphabetical order. In one case the alphabets were repeated time after time. In another case the list was arranged alphabetically in pairs, as though the voters had presented themselves so at the precincts. In still another place the name of one individual was written down as voting twice. In several lists appeared the names of persons known to be absent from the city, and some known to be dead. It was evident that these lists had been mechanically copied from the registration office books and did not in any way represent what had actually transpired during the day at the polling places.8

Mayor J. Valsin Guillotte

The evidences of fraud were so glaring that Behan, ignoring his own candidacy, and acting as chief magistrate of the city, felt obliged to issue a statement to the citizens. In it he said that, although the parish democracy p450had been denied by the supervisors of election a full set of election officials, as authorized by law, it had been hoped that the election would be conducted with at least a pretense of fairness. The exclusion of the officials from the polls was "equivalent to a declaration of a determination to suppress a fair vote and a fair count, and so obstruct the detection of fraud in the balloting." The deputy sheriffs who had been so active in expelling the parish democratic agents were "by no law clothed with any authority to interfere." Their conduct was "such as early in the day to indicate that a real election by the people was altogether hopeless, and resulted only in a partial vote being cast." In closing Behan characterized the whole proceeding as an "enormity" and a disgrace to the city.

The Picayune said editorially on the next day: "The election was a mockery. The popular will was nullified, the popular voice was stifled and free citizens were robbed of their dearest rights. [. . .] The people cast the ballots but the ring counted them." The editor closed with the following words addressed to the people of the city: "You must act as becomes men. Whatever is done, let the people call at once a mass meeting and deliberate on the proper course in the face of so formidable an evil. Then let the people rise in their might, and show p451that it is a crime most grave to defraud them of their liberty and dearest hopes."9 In fact, it was at first the intention of the Behan partisans to resort to arms, but calmer counsels soon prevailed, and a few days later we find the same paper urging that the matter be taken into the courts. Behan addressed a letter to Guillotte protesting against his assumption of office, and a short time after the new administration had been installed at the city hall, renewed his protest in a lengthy communication, in which all the various illegalities of the election were described. Guillotte treated these protests with indifference, replying only that Mayor Behan could find a remedy, if he had one, in the courts of justice. But, inasmuch as any litigation, if initiated, might easily be protracted over the whole of Guillotte's term and therefore even if ultimately decided in Behan's favor, such victory would be barren, the retiring mayor's legal counsellors advised him not to push the matter further; and in fact Guillotte was left in undisturbed possession of the position.10

Guillotte was New Orleans' thirty-eighth, or twenty-second elected, mayor. He was born in Jefferson Parish, June 29, 1850. When he was five years old the family removed to New Orleans. They settled in the Ninth Ward. With that section of the city Guillotte was identified thereafter down to his death, in July, 1917. He began life as a clerk, and seems to have received a good training along that line. His remarkable skill as a penman is always spoken of by those who remember him at this time. He first came into prominence in connection with the White League. He commanded one of the companies which took part in the battle of ')" onMouseOut="nd();">September 14, 1874. His services on that occasion were never afterwards forgotten. They were awarded first with the post of minute clerk in the Civil District Court, under Judge Rightor. He was then made clerk of the Sixth District Court. He was elected administrator of police and public buildings under Shakespeare. During the Behan administration he was, as we have seen, city comptroller. His popularity with certain classes of the population of the city was great and lasting. After completing his term as mayor he was admitted to the bar by examination before the State Supreme Court and practiced law for several years. He was elected a member of the State Senate during the Foster and the Sanders administrations. He was appointed United States marshal, but resigned this position to become assistant secretary of the police department, in which capacity he was serving when he died.11

The four years from 1884 to 1889º saw a general decline in the efficiency of the city government. The responsibility for this condition can probably be attributed to no one person — to the mayor not more than to others, since under the charter the powers of the city's chief magistrate were limited. It was the result of the "system" which now dominated all departments of the administration. Under the inspiration of the ward leaders, the heads of the various bureaus selected practically all the city appointees. These did their work carelessly, when they did it at all. As a result the streets were badly lighted; the scavengering was so inefficient as to endanger public health;12 the liquor business p452flourished as never before.b Except in the case of a few of the most important thoroughfares, paving was neglected. The police department was permeated by political influences. The man placed at the head of the force proved unsuited to that responsible position. He was easily influenced, incapable of maintaining discipline among the men, and seems to have possessed no clear conception of the nature of his duties. For example, he did not hesitate to set free on parole prisoners committed in the recorders' courts for trial on serious charges in the higher courts.13 He was several times suspended and was finally superseded in a reorganization of the force, in February, 1886. The chief of detectives became involved in a series of disgraceful affairs, and was finally convicted of forging a marriage certificate and contracting a fraudulent marriage. The rank and file of the force numbered scarcely 200 men, of whom fully one-eighth were "specials," who performed no work and in many cases did not even wear the uniform but drew salaries from the city aggregating $20,000 annually. "What sort of administration," exclaimed the Picayune, indignantly, "are we to expect from such wastage of the limited resources available for this important department of the city government?"14

A series of remarkable murders shocked the community, not only on account of their atrocity, but because the men involved were conspicuous in local political affairs. Of these the most sensational was the Murphy murder. The degree to which political influence had intruded upon the administration of justice was shown at the trial of the persons implicated in this crime, by the almost open efforts which were made to bribe or intimidate the jury. The murder was plotted by a group of three or four men, among them Recorder Ford of the lower city court. Ford had been settled on by the "organization" as its next candidate for mayor of the city. Murphy, the victim, held a small post in the Department of Public Works. Ford was convicted, largely through the efforts of Lionel Adams, who had recently been appointed district attorney, and who in the discharge of his duty found himself compelled to use his extraordinary talents against a man who had formerly been a friend. The execution of the sentence in Ford's case, as in those of his accomplices, was delayed for months by the activity of their political friends, who labored assiduously to obtain pardons or at least reprieves. A petition was even circulated calling upon the governor to reprieve the condemned men indefinitely, with the express intention of frustrating the purpose of the courts. The better element in the community, though scandalized at the effrontery of this behavior, was powerless to interfere.15 When the guilty men were hanged it was in a comatose condition, poison having been brought to them in the jail, which they swallowed on the morning of the execution. Ford was practically dead when brought to the scaffold.

The system originated by Mayor Shakespeare for dealing with the gambling evil was virtually abandoned. The gambling houses continued to pay tribute to the city, but they did not get the sort of "protection" to which they deemed themselves entitled, and to which they had been accustomed during the two preceding administrations. The money, instead p453of being used for the maintenance of the Shakespeare Almshouse, was diverted to other purposes, chiefly political. Out of over $20,000 collected in 1885 only $4,875 ever reached the institution for which it was originally intended. The remainder was expended in paying for the funeral of a councilman who had died in office; for "courtesies" shown visitors to the exposition then being held in New Orleans; for sending a delegation to St. Louis; for cabs used by the police during a strike; for telegrams; for fees for lawyers employed to defend accused policemen, etc. Even the citizens who opposed gambling and doubted the wisdom of Shakespeare's course when the agreement with the gamblers was first reached, were convinced that his plan was preferable to the modification of it now in vogue. An effort was made to revive the Shakespeare plan by taking the matter into the courts, but it failed when the district attorney ruled that, gambling being illegal, no agreement with the gamblers to sanction the practice could be supported by the authorities.16

The matter of the gamblers' fund was finally ventilated in the press. Then the grand jury took it up. An investigation failed to reveal any criminal intent on the part of those responsible for the administration of the money. The grand jury was, apparently, hopeless as to the eradication of gambling from the city, and shared the impression very general throughout the community that all that could be hoped for was some sort of supervision and regulation of its practice. It therefore recommended a system of inspection and fees which virtually identified the business with the city government. The "keno" games were to pay $200 per month; all other games $100 per month. There were to be special agents representing the Almshouse Board who would see that the payments were promptly made. The mayor and the police were jointly to see that all gambling establishments which did not punctually pay their "contributions" were suppressed.17 Fortunately, nothing was done to make effective the extraordinary arrangement proposed in this unique document. A later grand jury, in March, 1887, took stronger grounds. "The money," it said, had been used "as a sort of contingent or secret service fund." Believing that the authorities had no authority to aid and abet gambling, the jury brought in indictments against a number of persons engaged in the business. It failed to take similar action regarding certain city officials only because, as its report said, its legal advisers had informed it that gambling was a misdemeanor, and an official could not be indicted for compounding a misdemeanor. The indictment of the gamblers was followed by the abandonment of the "Shakespeare plan." The gamblers, obviously, would not pay if they were to be prosecuted. The last payments were made in February, 1887.

The friends of the administration, however, did not suffer it to be attacked in silence. They pointed out that many of the actions now criticized followed precedents in previous administrations which had not aroused any condemnation. The gamblers' fund had not ')" onMouseOut="nd();">always been rigorously applied to the support of the Almshouse. For example, when the Boston lancers visited New Orleans, some years before, money had been taken from the fund to meet the expenses which arose in connection therewith. The same had occurred in the case of the visit of President Barrios of Guatemala and of the Mexican minister, Señor González. p454At a time when the rear section of the city had been menaced with overflow, $8,000 had been diverted from this fund to pay for coal for the drainage machines. It was asked with considerable pertinence why such uses of the fund had been pardonable on previous occasions, but censurable at the present moment? A further excuse why the fund had recently been applied to uses not connected with the Almshouse was found in the fact that the city council had made an appropriation for the support of that institution, and that this institution, to the amount of the appropriation, at least, did not need the income from the gamblers' fund. Objection had been made to the manner in which the records connected with the expenditure of the fund had been kept;º but it appeared that there had never been any very stringent rules on this subject.18 It is perhaps unnecessary to comment upon these arguments here. As a matter of fact, the whole question was finally allowed to drop. The cases against the gamblers were tried, and some were properly fined, but under the circumstances the best way out of an awkward situation was to ignore it, and this was ultimately followed. The story of the Shakespeare plan, however, constitutes one of the most curious chapters in the municipal history of New Orleans.

In view of the prevailing conditions it could not be expected that the finances of the city could prosper. The bonded debt was slowly being brought into manageable shape through the patriotic exertions of the Board of Liquidation. But the floating debts showed rapid and disquieting increases. Although the assessed value of the city grew yearly, until in 1888 it was $119,361,801, the tax rate did not fall below 2.02 per cent. The city's income was injudiciously expended, and the deficit grew from $88,397.52 at the end of 1884 to $134,452.13 in 1885; $192,150.23 in 1886, and $352,171.95 at the close of ')" onMouseOut="nd();">1887. Nevertheless, certain classes of city employes went, in many instances, unpaid. Contractors selling materials to the city were unable to get the money due them. The city was actually able to pay its way only about eight months in the year. The rest of the time accounts were met in notes and certificates, which were vended about the streets at ruinous discounts. The Budget Committee made its estimates at the beginning of each fiscal year; the budget of expenditures was balanced by a budget of anticipated revenues by the simple expedient of swelling each item of possible income until the totals corresponded. The result was, naturally, a very wide difference between the anticipated revenue and that actually collected.19

As early as December, 1885, a grand jury, reporting on the state of the city, felt compelled to use very severe language. It found the city's affairs "in bad shape." The city government was "fearfully dominated by ring rule." The city police was "a wretched affair, inefficient, insufficient, effete." "With hoodlumism ')" onMouseOut="nd();">rampant through the city by day and burglars plying their avocation throughout the night, the city is in a deplorable condition, and every citizen's house is liable to be entered at any hour of the day or night, his family insulted, and his house robbed, unless there is a male protector on the premises ready and armed for resistance." There does not seem to have been much improvement in these conditions till the end of 1888. There were, however, some constructive measures adopted during these years, when the city government p455seems to have declined to its lowest point of efficiency. It was at this time that the first steps were taken to improve the Upper City Park, now known as Audubon Park. It was placed under the control of a board, with J. Ward Gurley as president, which set to work earnestly and intelligently, with very scanty means, to beautify the place. In 1884 Royal Street was lighted permanently by electricity — the first street in the city to enjoy that advantage, and the experiment proved so satisfactory that in January, 1886, the lighting of the streets in the center of New Orleans generally was changed from gas to the new illuminant. In 1884 St. Charles Avenue was paved with asphalt as far as Louisiana Avenue.

Towards the close of this period the city council failed to meet for weeks at a time through the absence of a quorum. The mayor was frequently absent from the hall, hunting or fishing — sports of which he was inordinately fond. During this vacations D. N. Kilpatrick, president pro tempore of the council, acted as mayor. The general decline in the efficiency of the government did much to create a prejudice against the aldermanic system. Out of this grew up a sentiment favorable to the commission form of government, which ultimately led to radical changes in the municipal charter.20

The dissatisfaction with the administration took shape as early as May, 1885, in the organization of a "Citizens' Committee of One Hundred." The constitution of this organization, published in the New Orleans newspapers on the 25th, was signed by many of the most prominent persons in the community. It is prefaced by a statement of the existent abuses in the municipal government, which, according to the committee, "requires a thorough reform." It was pointed out that public office should be "administered in the interests of the whole people, and not in the interests of those alone who entertain or pretend to entertain any particular political position. The incumbents of office should at least be law-abiding citizens known for a sober, upright and trustworthy life. [. . .] No office should be conferred as a reward for party service." With regard to the administration of justice the document said: "Its abuses in the past have not only astonished and shocked our people, but have excited the criticisms of the whole country." Referring to the public schools, the committee touched upon a time-honored abuse when it suggested that "appointments should be made solely for merit." The need for a better public spirit was stressed: "It has been a reproach to our city that it has been too much divided into classes." The objects which the committee had in view were "to procure the purity of the ballot, secure the prosecution of those who have attempted to misuse it, secure the nomination and election of proper citizens as officers, oppose objectionable candidates and support the good; advocate and promote public service based on merit; a non-partisan administration of the public schools, and work for a fair assessment." A. H. Brown was made president of the association, S. H. Trufant secretary, and among its leading members were A. Brittin, E. A. White and E. H. Farrar.

This committee made several efforts to better the municipal situation, but was thwarted everywhere by the power of the "machine" which it p456attacked. Its first efforts were to prevent the appropriation by the council of $5,000 to pay the expenses of a large delegation to Philadelphia to bring back to the exposition the Liberty Bell, which "was a mere junketing trip." In January, 1886, it attacked the legality of a contract which the city proposed to make with the Waterworks Company. This corporation had a contract with the city whereby the municipal buildings were supplied with water free of charge in consideration of the exemption of the company from taxation. This arrangement it was proposed to change and require the city to pay for its water and the company to pay taxes. It was estimated that the taxes would amount to $11,000 annually and the city water bill to $68,000. The matter was brought to trial, and a decision handed down on January 18 in favor of the city. On April 9 the committee filed a suit to enjoin the city from entering into a contract with private parties by which they were empowered to collect the taxes on a percentage basis. It was alleged that the contractor would make not less than $25,000 on the basis of the arrangement, whereas the city possessed already officials to whom it paid salaries who were charged with the performance of this service. One of the local papers referred to the proposed contract as "ill-advised and scandalous,"21 but that did not deter its promoters from attempting to carry it out. A similar attempt was made to prevent the city from turning over the collection of delinquent taxes to private parties. A suit was also brought to prevent the city from leasing to private parties the police telephone and signal service. The failure of the committee to secure from the courts the injunctions which it sued for, and the realization that it could not effect anything worth while, caused it ultimately to fall into dissuetude.

The place of the Committee of One Hundred was taken by the Law and Order League, organized in November, 1886. The membership of this new association was recruited from all parties and all classes. The preamble to its constitution announced the same purposes and objects as those which the Committee of One Hundred had proposed to itself. But like its predecessor the Law and Order League found its efforts balked at every turn. Neither was able to accomplish much. But the importance of these two movements should not be estimated merely by what they were able, or not able, to accomplish. Aside from the fact that they showed the persistence in the city, in the midst of the general political corruption and incompetence, of a healthy moral feeling and of resolute courage and the determination to procure reform, they are significant, for out of these organizations arose a third, the Young Men's Democratic Association, which was destined to have a very great effect in bringing about a betterment of the exceedingly grave situation in which New Orleans found itself in 1888.

The Author's Notes:

1 Campbell, "Manual of the City of New Orleans," 34.

2 Statements to the author of W. J. Behan, Otto Thoman and C. L. Walker.

3 This accusation was contained in an editorial in the Times Democrat, April 18, 1884. This paper was edited by Burke. Pinchback,has '+BadF+'Pinchbeck'+CloseF+'',WIDTH,160)" onMouseOut="nd();">º in a letter published on April 20, denied the charge. The report was based upon an account of an affray which had occurred a few days before in the Fourth Ward. Pinchback stated that the negroes involved were not partisans of the Parish Democracy, but of the "regular" organization.

4 April 19, 1884.

5 Picayune, April 18, 1884. Signed by John Phelps and thirty other prominent citizens.

6 Picayune, April 18, 1884.

7 Campbell, Manual, 35.

8 Picayune, April 23, May 2, 1884.

9 April 23, 1884.

10 Statement of General Behan to author.

11 Times-Picayune, July 25, 1917.

12 Picayune, July 18, 1885.

13 Picayune, January 15, August 11, 1885.

14 April 13, 1886.

15 Picayune, February 14, 1885; May 20, 1886.

16 Picayune, January 28, 1886.

17 Picayune, January 25, 1886.

18 Picayune, June 21, 1887.

19 Statement of A. Brittin to author.

20 Statement of H. J. Seiferth to author. Mr. Seiferth was on the staff of the Picayune all through this eventful period, and reported the proceedings of the city government for his paper during the Guillotte administration.

21 Picayune, April 14, 1886.


  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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