p517 Chapter XXXIII
The Citizens' League Mayor
The movement of protest against the existing situation in municipal affairs culminated in January, 1896, in the organization of a new political party, which called itself the Citizens' League. This organization was non-partisan, and had no interest in state politics, which at that time were exceedingly complicated and important. It aimed only at the election of new city officials, the overturning of the system which had long dominated the administration of local affairs, and the election to the State Legislature of such members from the city districts as would work in that body for laws in line with these objects. The headquarters were established at No. 314 Camp Street. Over the windows of the committee rooms a flag was flung to the breezes which had been used as the Third Ward headquarters of the Young Men's Democratic Association, eight years before.º The officers of the party were: President, Charles Janvier; vice presidents, Pearl Wright, John Henderson, Felix Couturié; secretary, Walker B. Spencer; treasurer, G. W. Young. The executive committee was composed of C. W. Drown, A. Brittin, Alphonse Rabouin, J. F. Meunier, L. Claudel, Anthony Sbisa, W. R. Lyman, W. D. Denegre, W. R. Railey, S. F. Heaslip, John Finke, Bernard McCloskey, W. R. Stauffer, F. S. Palfrey, J. M. Parker, W. E. Dodsworth, John McGraw, O. I. McLellen, R. H. Lea, Wright Schaumberg, H. Dickson Bruns, T. J. Stanton, and George Lhote. "As death destroys citizenship, dead men shall no longer be permitted to exercise the right of suffrage," ran the league's pronunciamento, published in the newspapers on the morning following its organization, "and as the privilege of voting is exclusively personal, and not transferable, representation at the polls by proxy must and shall be stopped."1
At the same time a "Citizens' Party" was organized. Its members were workingmen, and its program was, in substance, identical with that of the Citizens' League, with which, as we shall presently see, it ultimately consolidated. The Picayune greeted its appearance cordially. "It shows that the people are aroused at the humiliating situation in which they have been placed by the present municipal government," was its comment, "and that they are determined to have a change. They will unite in any popular movement to down the old gang and establish a better order of things."2 The Picayune was not alone in its cordial support of the popular side. The press of New Orleans, with one exception, solidly endorsed the league and fought valiantly through the hot campaign which followed.
This campaign opened on January 11, in the Eleventh Ward. Here the first Citizens' League Ward Club was organized. President Janvier made an address on this occasion which was a sharp arraignment of the party in power. "Official venality and incapacity," he said, "have fretted public endurance almost to the point of revolution. Unless some tangible promise of substantial relief through peaceful means be given, I very p518much fear that outraged public patience will burst its bounds, and adopt heroic measures to drive from office the betrayers of the public trust." The league, as he defined its purposes, was called into being in order to secure for New Orleans "an honest administration of the affairs of the city [. . .] by officials chosen with reference to their character, capacity, and efficiency rather than for their ability to manipulate ward politics."3
In order better to subserve these purposes the executive committee of the league was divided into sub-committees. At the head of the finance committee was W. D. Denegre. S. F. Heaslip headed the committee on registration. This was an exceedingly important department of the work. It was necessary at once to set about "purifying the registration." "In a very short time a system will be set on foot," promised the president, in one of his addresses, "by which the frauds that have so long flourished will be uncovered, and an effective quietus put upon their further development." H. Dickson Bruns was chairman of a committee to formulate "such laws as may be requisite to correct the many abuses which have crept into our registration and electoral systems, so that it will be impossible in future for a minority to forcibly transform itself into a majority, by enlisting the active and unconscious suffrages of the absent and the dead, and supplying any further deficiencies by unscrupulous manipulation of the returns." The other members of this important committee, to which, later, was due a complete program of legislation, were Judge W. W. Howe, T. J. Semmes, W. B. Spencer, George Denegre, and Judge E. C. Fenner. The committee on legislation designed to better the administration of criminal justice in the city was headed by Bernard McCloskey.4 From its incipiency the plan was not to dissolve the organization at the termination of the campaign, but to maintain it intact, with a view first to complete its work by securing in the State Legislature the enactment of a new city charter, and, secondly, to support the new administration in the effective execution of its revolutionary policies.
The campaign had not progressed far when the Board of Registration, which possessed the right to determine what parties should be represented by commissioners at the polls, decided that this right did not pertain to the citizens' movement. Janvier, in an address in the Tenth Ward, commenting upon this decision, warned the citizens interested in good government not to take part in the local primaries. "In the absence of any laws to regulate primaries," he said, "it is possible to vote fraudulent registration and stuff the boxes, so that however great might be the real majority of the citizens voting, they would have no influence in determining the result."5 The Citizens' League, however, finally obtained representation at the polls, but only when Buck made this a condition necessary to his acceptance of the regular democratic nomination.
On February 26 the Citizens' League published an address to the public which was, in effect, its platform. The document opened with a denunciation of the regular democratic organization, which "has hesitated at no act, however detrimental to the public welfare, to strengthen its hold and perpetuate its existence. [. . .] Should it be able to maintain its grasp, it will plunge the city into greater disorder and disgrace, p519hopelessly undermine the foundations of public prosperity, and finally destroy the liberties of the people." An outline of the league's plans followed. It would work not only for a new city charter and for laws to insure a clean registration, but it pledged itself to see that there would be, under its auspices, an efficient administration of public affairs, that the taxes were honestly expended, that the proper measures were taken to advance the public school system, that the police force should be increased; and that the streets should be kept clean, and good drainage provided. It promised to eliminate from the city payrolls "the political loafers who draw salaries for which they do not work, thus depriving honest men of the opportunity to earn an honest living."6
Mayor Walter C. Flower
The league announced its candidate for mayor on March 21. The publication of the remainder of the ticket was postponed until the plans of the opposition could be seen. Walter C. Flower was the choice for mayor. Flower was a democrat of long standing. He was born in East Feliciana, in 1850. His father, Richard Flower, was a well-known planter, who had extensive interests in the cotton business in New Orleans. The son was educated in Pass Christian College, and after leaving that institution, took a course in law at Tulane University. For some years after graduating at the university, he was employed as a reporter on the Picayune. He then practiced law for a short time, and in 1888 became connected with the cotton business, as a member of a firm of which the other partner was Branch M. King. He had been successful, and only a few months previous to the opening of the Citizens' p520League campaign, had retired from business. He had figured creditably in the battle of September 14, 1874, and had always been a staunch, though not conspicuous, supporter of every movement in behalf of better government in the city. He had served two terms as president of the Cotton Exchange, in 1891 and 1892. The announcement that he had been selected to head the reform ticket was made by the Citizens' League speakers at a mass-meeting in the Fifth Ward. It was received with general satisfaction throughout the city.
Mr. Flower's letter of acceptance was published on March 30. It was a simple and unaffected document, in which he said: "I shall know no class distinctions. The interests of the laboring man will be as much the object of my solicitude as those of the better circumstanced. My study will be to act as will best conduce to the general welfare. [. . .] The time is ripe for the commercial development of New Orleans, and the most liberal policy will be adopted with reference thereto. Enterprise should be encouraged, instead of hampered by obstructive and oppressive measures." The Picayune, commenting upon the letter, said the following morning: "It is a noble and manly message," and characterized Flower as "a man of executive ability, and firmness [. . .] full of patriotism and public spirit."7
The opposition made capital out of the fact that Flower was a wealthy man, and that all of his associates were drawn habitually from the class which it is customary to set-off from the "laboring classes." On this basis an appeal was made to the latter element. But fortunately, the Citizens' Party had already to a considerable extent enlisted the sympathies of the laboring people in behalf of the reform movement. As early as January 13, at a meeting of this party, in the Third Ward, resolutions had been passed requesting the Orleans Parish Committee (the regular democratic organization) to "call a joint session of all committees to select an appropriate ticket" and expressing the opinion that "as we represent the practical working people, our relief will be solely in our own exertions."8 In an editorial the following day the Picayune urged an alliance between the Citizens' Party and the Citizens' League. This was happily worked out on March 31. A committee of five representing the Citizens' Party was appointed which drew up resolutions endorsing Flower, and they were adopted by the organization. From the point of view of the Citizens' League, this accession of strength was desirable; from the point of view of the Citizens' Party, fusion was imperative, inasmuch as the Board of Registration had refused to allow it representation at the polls, at the coming election.
Another objection raised to Flower by the regular democrats was, that he did not reside in the Eleventh Ward, as alleged, and therefore was not eligible to office. As a matter of fact, Flower had not given up his legal residence there, although for the sake of his health he had been spending some time in Covington, Louisiana. The fact was later established by his affidavit. Flower's health was also brought up as an argument against his election. His physique was not robust, but he was far from being an invalid, and actually served through his term, when elected, without ill consequences. His death, which occurred only a few years after he left the mayoralty, may have been hastened by the disappointment p521of his defeat in 1900, but was not attributable except remotely to his official labors. The most valid criticism to which Flower was subject, however, was that he was not really a democrat, but a "sugar" republican. From the view-point of the hide-bound party-men, this was a very serious accusation, and in fact had weight with many voters who set store by their party-record. It was true that he ')" onMouseOut="nd();">had identified himself with the republican party during the short-lived movement of the preceding year, when a considerable number of former democrats changed their political affiliations as a result of the policy of the national administration regarding the tariff on sugar. He had been a member of the Behan campaign-committee, but resigned within a short while; and in fact, his connection with the republican party had last so brief a time, and had been so superficial that it had small weight with the thinking part of the city population. Moreover, as his supporters pointed out, the Citizens' League was non-partisan, and national politics, after all, had no place in purely municipal questions.
The regular democrats experienced considerable difficulty in finding a man to put up against Flower. The nomination was offered in turn to A. W. Hyatt, T. L. Macon, Davidson B. Penn, and Otto Thoman. Thoman would have been a thoroughly satisfactory candidate. His record in public office recommended him to the community. But his family induced him not to accept the tendered honor, on the ground that he had already done his full share of public labor, and that the new office would take him from their midst practically every waking hour of the day. The nomination was then tendered to Charles F. Buck, member of Congress from one of the city districts. Buck refused it at first, and finally consented to lead the ticket only after some of the most prominent men in the party had represented to him that, unless he accepted, the democracy, as an organization, would be disrupted in New Orleans, and possibly in the state. While awaiting Buck's answer the regulars turned to Fitzpatrick, and down to April 5 his name was believed to be the necessary, though reluctant, choice. Buck was exceedingly anxious to continue his national career, in which he was making a brilliant reputation, and it represented a very great personal sacrifice when on April 6 he signified his willingness to run for mayor. But he coupled his consent with conditions. The ticket should be a "clean" one — there should not be on it any person under indictment; meaning that none of the members of the Fitzpatrick city council who had fallen under suspicion should be renominated. Buck also stipulated that the opposition party should have representation at the polls. These terms were accepted, but as a matter of fact, some of the indicted councilmen were put on the ticket at the last moment, in defiance of Buck's wishes.9
Buck was an excellent candidate. He was "the only man in the city who could save the party," as the Picayune pointed out. "He would make a good mayor," continued this same journal, "just as he would fill any public office whose duties he would undertake, with fidelity, zeal, and ability." He had expressed "an honest and genuine horror" of the methods which had made the city government objectionable. He was a native of Germany, a son of a father who had risen to some prominence in the revolution of 1848, and for that reason had been compelled to emigrate to the United States. This father, and the mother also, had p522perished in 1853 in ')" onMouseOut="nd();">New Orleans, of the yellow fever. The son had risen by sheer courage and hard work from the humblest circumstances to a position where he enjoyed the respect and affection of the entire community. He was now about fifty-five years of age. He had become a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1865. In 1880 he was elected city attorney, and re-elected to that office in 1882. He was elected to Congress in 1895 over H. Dudley Coleman, republican, in an exciting contest. After the campaign for mayor closed, and his defeat was assured, he returned to the practice of the law, and continued an honored member of the community down to his death, a few years ago.
It must be admitted that the regular ticket was, except for Buck, not chosen with much regard to the public's wishes. Buck's name was relied upon to carry through the usual list of professional politicians. Except for the mayoral nomination, the ticket was not announced till April 8. The delay was due to the wish to wait till after the Citizens' League candidates had been presented to the public, and the hope that there might then be a popular reaction which would be favorable to the regulars. However, the Citizens' League played the same game, and on the 14th the regulars felt that it was useless to wait longer, and published their nominees. The leading candidates were: Comptroller, C. R. Kennedy; treasurer, C. H. Schenck; commissioner of public works, Denis McCarthy; commissioner of police and public buildings, C. Taylor Gauche; civil sheriff, Vic Mauberret; criminal sheriff, Remy Klock; registrar of conveyance, Charles Duquesnay. There were, besides, a full set of nominees for the recorder's courts, the city council, etc. The parish convention which selected the ticket on that date made a great pretense of carrying out the people's will — of yielding to a popular demand for a "high grade" ticket. "As to coming fresh from the people," said the Picayune of the ticket, on the following morning, "nothing could be more ridiculous. The nominations were known for weeks beforehand. [. . .] The ticket was a cut-and-dried affair, dictated by the bosses, and forced on their followers, whether satisfactory or not."10 "All the old ringsters are at its forefront. [. . .] The change in name of some of the candidates means no change in the administration of their offices, since the same influences, the same power behind the throne, will be operating there, just the same as before, should the ring ticket be elected."11
The remainder of the Citizens' League ticket was announced the following day. The leading candidates were: Treasurer, Euclid Borland; comptroller, P. A. Rabouin; commissioner of public works, W. L. Gary; commissioner of police and public buildings, J. W. Murphy, and there were nominations for all the other municipal, parish and legislative offices. It had been intended to publish the ticket at a great mass-meeting at the foot of Canal Street, but bad weather prevented this, and the announcement was made at the newspaper offices in Camp Street, where an immense crowd assembled, which blocked traffic for most of the night. "It is not a rich man's ticket," said the Picayune, the next morning; "it contains men from every walk of life." The candidates were, moreover, nearly all men new to local politics, without affiliations with the regular organization, and all known for ability in some line or other. p523No better municipal ticket had ever been nominated in the entire history of the city.
The election took place on April 21. Considering the excitement which had attended the canvass, election day passed off with astonishingly little trouble. This result was perhaps due to the fact that the Citizens' League was known to be prepared for all eventualities. Its headquarters were established at Odd Fellows Hall, which then overlooked Lafayette Square. Here the threads of the organization were held by the leaders. A moment's notice would suffice to bring thither hundreds of resolute men. A force of 1,500 citizens armed with revolvers were distributed through the city in squads at the various polling places. Fortunately, no occasion rose to test the efficiency of these arrangements. Save for a cutting affair in the Third War, and sundry fist-fights, the day passed uneventfully. Flower received 28,345 votes and Buck, 17,295. The whole Citizens' League ticket was elected by substantially the same majority. Unquestionably, this result was due in part to the fact that no attempt had been made to exploit the registration office, as had so often been done on other occasions, for the benefit of the "regular" organization. At the head of that office was ex-Mayor I. N. Patton. He had been appointed in the midst of the campaign. He was a supporter of the Citizens' League. His appointment was construed as an indication that Governor Foster was favorable to the citizens' movement. Patton's reputation was a guarantee that no irregular practices would occur in his department.
Mayor Flower was inaugurated on April 27, 1896. His administration was, in the main, occupied with the re-organization of the city government made necessary as a result of the enactment of the city charter of 1896. It will be remembered that one of the features of the Citizens' League program was the reform of the basic law of the city. The members of the State Legislature elected under the auspices of the league promptly set to work to carry out this promise. The new charter which they caused to be enacted was in line with the recommendations of the Municipal Reform League, and from the standpoint of the political economist, was ideal. The chief defect in the law was the fact that it did not go into operation all at once. Part became operative in 1896, and the remainder in 1900. The Legislature was influenced by the idea that it would be unwise to disturb the new administration immediately after its installation. Hence it provided that there should be no change of officers until after the next election — that in 1900. This fact led to considerable confusion and some litigation, to determine precisely the part of the instrument which became operative immediately, and which lay over till 1900.
The charter followed, in general, the lines of the previous documents of the sort. It divided the city in seventeen wards, the fifteenth being that part of the city situated on the right bank of the Mississippi, popularly known by ')" onMouseOut="nd();">its old name of Algiers. These wards were also grouped in seven municipal districts. The legislative department of the city government was composed of a council of seventeen members. This did not make any change on the previously existing system, except that the size of the council was reduced by nearly one-half. The members were, as formerly, elected by districts and wards. In the first and fourth municipal districts a councilman-at-large was authorized in addition to the representatives from the wards. A radical departure from the previous p524charter was the provision by which the councilmen were to be paid $20 each per month. Under all previous charters these officials had served without compensation. The duties of the council were substantially unchanged from those set forth in the charter of 1882.
The executive branch of the city government was to consist of a mayor, a comptroller, a treasurer, a commissioner of police and public buildings, a commissioner of public works, and a city engineer. Of these officers the mayor, the comptroller and the treasurer were elective. The intention in having the last-named position filled by the vote of the citizens, was to prevent the mayor from getting too great control over the city finances. The other officials — city engineer, commissioner of police and public buildings, and commissioner of public works — were to be appointed by the mayor by and with the consent of the council. The mayor also appointed the city attorney and the city notary. It was required that in order to be eligible for these places the candidates should be at least thirty years old, citizens of the state and of the United States, and residents of the city for at least five years prior to their election or appointment. The mayor's salary was fixed at $6,000 annually, the comptroller's at $4,500, the treasurer's at $3,500, the commissioner of public works at $4,000, the commissioner of police and public buildings at $3,500, the city engineer's at $4,000. The duties of these officers, as described in the new act, offered no material change from the provisions of the previous charter. It will be seen, however, that the mayor's powers were sensibly augmented. The extension of his appointive power made him the center of the administration, with the departmental heads as his cabinet. This arrangement was in deference to the recommendations of the Municipal Reform League, and in line with the best expert opinion. It was considered that a harmonious administration was thus assured, a division of responsibility prevented, and the chances of the people obtaining a good government increased. The feeling was, that the electors should be relied on to choose one efficient officer — the mayor, under the new charter; whereas, if called on to elect a multiplicity of officials, as hitherto had been the case, the possibilities of an ideal selection were very small.
In addition to the board of police commissioners and the board of fire commissioners, which were continued,12 there was provision for the appointment of a board of civil service commissioners. The mayor was authorized to name this board, which was to consist of three members, to hold office for twelve years unless sooner removed, and to receive annually compensation of $3,000 each. "No person shall be eligible for such appointment who has been a candidate for, or encumbentº of a municipal office in this state within four years prior to his appointment," ran part of the section relative to the board. It was also provided that dug his incumbency none of the commissioners might be a candidate for any office whatsoever, nor be eligible for any office under the city government for four years after the close of his term. The duty of the board was to establish and put into operation a body of rules for the new government, and it was provided that, thereafter, all appointments and promotions should be made in accordance with those rules.
The charter made provision for the establishment of four recorders' courts in New Orleans. With regard to vacancies in office, the impeachment p525and removal of officials, and public improvements in general, the provisions of the previous charter were substantially undisturbed. All the existing city officials were continued in office till the expiration of their terms. The first election to take place under the new act was fixed for the first Tuesday following the first Monday in April, 1900, but on the condition that, in the interval, the dates were not changed by the Legislature — which was not done.13 It will be seen that this charter was admirable in many respects, but unfortunately it outran public sentiment in New Orleans. The reforms which it proposed, highly admirable in themselves, were too far-reaching and abrupt under the conditions which prevailed in the city. The civil service provisions were especially the objects of attack. It was objected that the law, as it stood, opened the way to any casual non-resident to secure appointment to office under the city government, merely by passing the examinations. The feeling on this subject found expression in the city council in opposition to the men chosen by Mayor Flower to compose the first board. Their names were sent in in September, 1896, but action was deferred until the following January, when the mayor withdrew them. A second board, nominated by the mayor early in January, was composed of Judge W. W. Howe, Prof. Alcée Fortier and George W. Young. They were approved by the council. The board held its first meeting on January 29, 1897, and elected Prof. J. W. Pearce, secretary and assistant examiner. The board accomplished a useful work during the Flower administration, chiefly by familiarizing the public with the idea of civil service, but it did not succeed in allaying the opposition thereto, and, as we shall see, the law on the subject was subsequently and drastically amended.
Beginning with the present century there has been a marked increase in the commerce of New Orleans. Investigation, however, shows that this increasing commercial prosperity had its origin in the closing years of the nineteenth century. It was in those years that Flower completed the arrangements for the installation in New Orleans of a complete system of sewerage, drainage, and water supply. Although the need of these improvements was recognized in the Citizens' League platform, they had been advocated only in general terms. The necessity was made urgent now by two outbreaks of yellow fever, the first in 1897, the second in 1898. In neither case was the disease of as deadly a character as it had displayed on previous occasions. In the first-named year there were 298 deaths in a total population of 285,156. In the latter year, but fifty-seven died out of a population of slightly in excess of 290,000. The disease appeared also in 1899, when there were twenty-three deaths; but in the latter year did not assume an epidemic form. These events demonstrated that a general house-cleaning was necessary for the salvation of New Orleans, and that the methods which had been depended on for the drainage of the city without much improvement for 200 years, would have to be immediately abandoned.
The preliminary steps looking to a modern system of drainage had been taken in the Fitzpatrick administration, but now Abraham Brittin, who had been elected to the city council on the Citizens' League ticket, distinguished himself by his advocacy of a plan whereby the city itself should undertake the work, and not leave it with a private corporation. Brittin demanded that with drainage should go water-supply and sewage, p526and that these various activities should be concentrated under the control of a single board, and not left to the management of the city council.14 The plan was fully discussed at an historic meeting in the mayor's office at the City Hall, on November 17, 1898, at which were present, besides Mr. Brittin and Mayor Flower, the following: City Attorney Gilmore, Assistant City Attorney J. J. McLoughlin, and Councilmen Marmouget, Guillaud, Story, Leahy, Pfister, Lochte, Pedersen, Tosso, Clark, Dreyfous, Ricks, Anderson, Claiborne and Brophy. Brittin said: "However divergent the views of citizens as to the method of obtaining it, I assume after the experience of the past two summers and the exhaustive discussion of the subject, that the people are practically unanimous in the demand for a thorough and complete sewerage of the city. But as to private ownership and control, whether wisely or unwisely based, there is unmistakably serious and pronounced opposition — an opposition so manifest that our council, who rightfully are to represent the people's wishes and demands, cannot ignore it. To my mind it has been perfectly clear from the beginning, and that opinion is still unshaken, that if the city is to own and operate the sewerage upon any fair and reasonable basis, it can only be done by the imposition of a small special tax for the purpose, otherwise the construction and permanent operation by private corporate control will be a certain result. So, as I view it, the choice lies between a special tax and city ownership on the one hand, and private control on the other. And it seems to me, in view of this fact, that the people themselves should make the choice by an election held for that purpose. [. . .] In view of these circumstances we offer for consideration this proposition: To submit to the taxpayers a bill for a special tax not to exceed 2½ mills for sewage and drainage, and, if deemed advisable, to include the purchase of the water works company, with the proviso, if favorably considered, that the fund be turned over to the present Drainage Board, and that this board be charged with the entire work of construction. Of course, the power and scope of this board would have to be greatly enlarged by necessary legislation. [. . .] With a levy of this 2½ mill tax I believe the Drainage Board will be enabled to continue without interruption to completion the drainage system, and build the sewage plant, and also acquire by purchase the waterworks plant, if deemed necessary or advisable."15
Brittin's views were heartily seconded by all of the persons present. It was decided on this occasion to appoint a committee composed of the city attorney, and Messrs. Brittin, Claiborne, Story, Dreyfous, and Mayor Flower, to put into definite shape the plan outlined by Brittin. Brittin was made chairman of this body. As a result of its labors there was drafted in detail a plan for the system of public works, embracing the water supply, drainage, and sewage, the successful installation of which is admittedly the most significant incident in the history of New Orleans in the last quarter century. The bond-plan subsequently put in legal shape by E. H. Farrar was also worked out by this committee.16
From this meeting the mayor's office may therefore be properly dated the movement which led to the great success of a group of enterprises which, till then, had been only partially inaugurated. However, these p527plans were not to be put in execution immediately. Great obstacles had first to be overcome. Not only were there financial difficulties, but there were legal impediments which had to be eliminated before the Brittin plan could be set up in its entirety. The water supply, as above intimated, remained in the hands of a private corporation, which furnished river water unfiltered and charged with the sediment carried down by what ')" onMouseOut="nd();">Thackeray called "the great sewer" of the Mississippi. This corporation was unwilling to surrender its monopoly, and not prepared to sell its rights to the municipality. Still, a control of the water-supply was essential as preliminary to any sewage system. A fight was necessary in the courts, and the new administration finally ')" onMouseOut="nd();">succeeded there by proving unmistakable and important violations of its franchise by the waterworks company.
This victory was fraught with consequences so important to the community that something more than a mere passing reference to it may be interesting. The waterworks were constructed in 1833 as a part of a great banking project. The company then organized obligated itself to furnish river water at an elevation of •fifteen feet above the level of the land, or about ')" onMouseOut="nd();">as high as the highest water stage of the river. The act creating the corporation bore a proviso that the water supplied should be clear, pure and wholesome. Wholesome it may have been, but it was never clear and pure. In 1869 when the city took over the plant on the expiration of the company's franchise, it began to look into projects for purifying the water, but nothing was then accomplished in that direction. The distribution system was, however, extended and improved by the municipality and the cost of water furnished was materially reduced within a few years. In 1868, the year before the city took charge, the company pumped 22,227,000 gallons of water for which its customers paid 69.6 cents for 1,000 gallons. In 1870 the cost was 70 cents per 1,000 gallons. But thereafter with each succeeding year the cost fell sharply, until in 1877 it was but 37 cents per 1,000 gallons. The cost was actually high, as a result of the flat rate imposed on the small consumer, for some of the larger corporations which made use of the service were paying less than 2 cents at a time when the average cost was but a fraction under 70 cents. In 1878, owing to the poverty of the city government, by act of the State Legislature the waterworks were put into the hands of a private corporation under a fifty-year franchise, with absolutely monopolistic rights over the supply of water. The charge for water was not to be greater, under the act, than that previously fixed by the city when it was running the plant, and never to be more than sufficient to pay ten per cent on the investment. Of the stock of $2,000,000 the city retained more than one-half. At that time the stock and bonds were worth 33 cents on the dollar.
The company held from the start that it was not compelled to furnish clear or pure water, though the law expressly so stated. In each annual report, however, the company held out hope that it would soon clarify the water supply, but it never did so. As early as 1884 the president of the company said in his report, "It is feasible and practicable for the company to supply the city with crystal clear water," but that was provided that the company won a suit then pending. The company did win the suit, which entailed on the city fees for water amounting annually to $640,951, but the water continued to carry its usual percentages of sediment. The cost to consumers under the new company p528went up rapidly. In 1882 the average price paid was 37.4 cents per 1,000 gallons; in 1884, 45.7 cents; in 1885, 59 cents; in 1886, 86 cents, or 250 per cent more than the charge made by the city in 1877. Finally one consumer brought suit on an overcharge and won the case, the court laying down a rule for charges. But the company obeyed only when compelled by law, and in other cases continued to mulct consumers after the usual fashion. This failure to obey the order of the court had much to do with the forfeiture of the charter by the Supreme Court. The suit for forfeiture was brought by James J. McLoughlin, assistant city attorney. When he proposed it Mayor Flower, although ardently desiring its success, was extremely doubtful of the outcome. McLoughlin, however, fought the case with stubborn pluck. The company won before the district court, but on an appeal to the higher court he ')" onMouseOut="nd();">was completely successful. He obtained a judgment of forfeiture, the court holding that a legally established corporation could be dissolved by forfeiture of its charter when it abused its privileges.17
The judicial victory opened the way for the success of the whole sewage, water and drainage project. E. H. Farrar, one of the ablest lawyers in the South, now put in legal shape the plans as suggested by Brittin. The ordinance drawn up by him was passed by the city council, and after a vigorous campaign, in which women participated for the first time in the history of Louisiana, casting their votes as property-holders, the constitutional amendment imposing a tax of 2½ mills was adopted, and the project was assured. The success of the municipally-owned water-supply system may be inferred from the fact that whereas the private corporation at its best had but about 5,000 subscribers, at present there are upwards of 90,000. Involved in the accomplishment of this notable result was the Constitutional Convention of 1898. In addition to inserting into the organic law the provisions required for the sewage, water and drainage project, this convention settled the vexed suffrage question, eliminating the illiterate negro vote. It also disposed permanently of the question of the ownership of the river front. Certain railroads had secured by purchase extensive frontages on the river, and while the convention confirmed these rights, it stipulated that the river front should be perpetually dedicated to public use, and never to private enterprise.
Another important project made effective during the Flower administration was to put the wires underground in the commercial district. This was done by Ordinance No. 13,838, adopted December 15, 1897. As for the city finances, much important work was done. The Fitzpatrick administration left to its successor a budget swollen out of proportion to the possible revenue. The energetic action of Councilman Brittin, as chairman of the budget committee, helped materially in putting the city upon a strictly cash basis. To do this it was necessary to effect a long series of compromises with the paving companies with which the preceding administration had made contracts. "Much paving had been done," said the Picayune, speaking of this work, at the beginning of the Citizens' League campaign, "of an inferior sort, which would have to be done again at a cost of nearly $1,000,000. The gravel paving had cost the city $1,319,000." Mayor Fitzpatrick had a few days previously sent to the council a message in which he congratulated the city upon the p529immense amount of paving that had been done during his administration. "In congratulations on this score," remarked the Picayune, "the people certainº cannot join the mayor."18 Mayor Flower now succeeded in effecting arrangements with the various paving companies involved by which the paving certificates still outstanding were compromised, with a large saving to the city. The amount involved was nearly $300,000.19
An important phase of Mayor Flower's constructive work related to the police force. The original act of 1888 had been passed in order to eliminate politics from the department. This bill, which was introduced into the Legislature by Felix J. Dreyfous, member from the Sixth Ward of New Orleans, contained provisions similar to those which experience in the largest and best governed American cities had shown to be desirable. It made the mayor commander in chief of the force, but vested its management in a board of six members, representing the various municipal districts into which the city was then divided. The board not only made rules for the government of the force, but enforced discipline by trial, fines, and dismissal, as the situation required. A civil service was also instituted under this act, and provision made for the establishment of a police pension fund. This law was amended in 1890 and again in 1896, both times with a view to make clear certain details over which controversy had arisen. The amendments of 1896 provided that the police commissioners might be removed by legal proceedings, authorized the mayor to appoint emergency officers without pay, altered the qualifications of membership in the police force, removed the appointment of the examining committee from the hands of the superintendent of police and placed it in the hands of the board; made the decisions of the board in all matters final, and prohibited the members of the force from engaging in other occupations.20 The commissioners were made elective by the city council and were to serve twelve years, but were to receive no compensation for their services. The effect of this legislation was to make the force still more independent and to rid it still further of politics.
The administration had not been long in office when it was called on to face a serious situation resulting from the unprecedented floods in the Mississippi River. In this crisis the city was well served by the Orleans Levee Board. This board came into existence in 1890 at the same time as other similar bodies were organized throughout the state. The Orleans Levee Board had for its first president Felix J. Dreyfous, who served with exceptional ability and succeeds for six years, and was succeeded in 1896 by Otto Thoman. Mr. Thoman was president at the time that the high water of 1897 brought the city face to face with the possibility of disaster. Under his auspices the work of improving the levees around the city had been pressed forward vigorously, but the flood of 1897 was so great that even with these improvements, it was necessary to build emergency embankments along the crown of the permanent levees over a distance of •twenty-one miles, a work in which 700,000 sacks of earth were used. At no time in its history was the city in such grave peril of inundation. The levee at the head of Carrollton Avenue was in danger p530for several weeks, and it was necessary to maintain there guards both by day and by night. At the foot of Toledano Street there was also grave peril that the water would cause the levee to collapse. During the week when the river was at its highest there seemed no way to prevent a disaster occurring at these points, and also at Calliope and Julia streets and at the French Market. Thoman was almost continually on the levees. He established a reserve of 5,000 sacks at Gravier Street; and fortunately so, for the rising river made it necessary to utilize them the following day to build a temporary embankment between Julia and the French Market; and when the water rose within the next twenty-four hours, it was only kept out of the city by this frail barrier. A few nights later the wind blew from the East, with the result that the water went over all defenses at Canal and Bienville streets, rising even into the stores on the former thoroughfare. With the change in the wind, however, this danger subsided and the water ran off. This situation continued for three months, from early in March to the beginning of May. At one time 2,500 men were at work on the river front. The levee board was without funds to support this aggressive campaign. Fortunately President Albert Baldwin, of the New Orleans National Bank, and President R. M. Walmsley, of the Louisiana National Bank, authorized Thoman to draw on their institutions for whatever funds he might need; they advanced nearly $325,000. Subsequently, under authority from the Legislature, the board issued bonds, raised money, and repaid the loan.21
In 1899 the Sixth and Seventh Municipal Districts were for the first time lighted by electricity. Hitherto they had depended upon gas as an illuminant. The rest of the city had enjoyed the advantages of electric lighting since 1887. Gas was introduced into New Orleans, as we have seen, in 1824, through the efforts of James H. Caldwell. Encouraged by the success of the experiment, Mr. Caldwell in 1834 organized the New Orleans Gas Light and Banking Company, with a capital of $300,000, which was subsequently increased to $600,000. The charter of this corporation gave the city the right to acquire its plant at the end of forty years. But in 1875, when this opportunity presented itself, the municipality was unable to take advantage of it. The old company was merged into a new corporation known as the Crescent City Company, which had recently obtained from the State Legislature a charter to run fifty years, until 1925. The gas for the upper part of the city was supplied by the Jefferson City Gas Light Company, with which the city had a contract that expired in 1899. By 1900 the city streets were illuminated exclusively by electricity.
The stimulating effect of the new order of things which began under Flower was felt also in the management of the city schools. Down to 1862 the old system of separate ')" onMouseOut="nd();">school boards which grew up between 1836 and 1852 was allowed to continue unchanged. In that year, however, while the city was in the hands of the Federals, these separate boards were consolidated under one management. This cannot but be regarded as a wise arrangement, although there had been no serious complaint regarding the previous organizations. The freeing of the slaves in 1863 had made necessary some provision for their education. The first colored public schools came into existence in that year, under an order issued by General Banks. The first superintendent of public p531schools under the consolidated system was J. B. Carter, who served till 1865, and was succeeded by William O. Rogers, who resigned in 1870. Carter was re-appointed superintendent, and served till 1873, when he was superseded by C. W. Boothby. Under Boothby, J. V. Calhoun was appointed assistant superintendent, and Warren Easton became principal of one of the most important schools in the city. At the close of his term Boothby had around him a teaching corps of 450, and there were enrolled in the schools 26,000 pupils. In 1877 William O. Rogers again became superintendent, serving as such till 1884. His place was then filled by Ulric Betterson. On Professor Betterson's retirement in 1887 Warren Easton was appointed to the superintendency. At this time the school board consisted of twenty members, eight of whom were appointed by the governor of the state, and the remainder elected by the city council. Under Flower the condition of the schools was better than at any previous time in the history of the city. In 1899 the enrollment was 23,668, of which 20,257 were white. There were a normal school, the foundation of which dated back to 1853; a high school for boys, and two for girls. At the head of the school board was E. B. Kruttschnitt, whose work for public education during many years earned for him a permanent and honorable place in the annals of the city.
Unfortunately, much of the work of these four important years was preparatory. To carry to a completion the numerous enterprises he had initiated became a duty which Mayor Flower felt he must, if possible, undertake. Therefore, as his term drew to a close, he allowed himself to be once more brought forward as a candidate of the reform party. The campaign which followed was fraught with momentous consequences both for him and to the city.
The Author's Notes:
1 Picayune, January 11, 1896.
2 Picayune, January 11, 1896.
3 Picayune, January 12, 1896.
4 Ibid., January 12, 1896.
5 Ibid., January 18, 1896.
6 Picayune, February 26, 1896.
7 Ibid., March 31, 1896.
8 Ibid., January 18, 1896.
9 Picayune, April 22, 1896.
10 Picayune, April 14, 1896.
12 These boards were created by ')" onMouseOut="nd();">Act 63 of 1888 and Act 83 of 1894.
13 Act 45 of 1896.
14 Times-Democrat, June 22, 1899.
15 Times-Democrat, November 18, 1898.
16 Statement of A. Brittin to author.
17 Statement of J. J. McLoughlin to author.
18 Picayune, January 23, 1896.
19 Ordinance No. 13,212, C. S.
20 Act 95 of 1896.
21 Statement of Otto Thoman to author.
- Capuchin A Catholic friar.
Text prepared by:
- Jacob Schlenker
- Taylor Thibodeaux
- Michael Horn
- Lasan Ihalekkankanamalage
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.