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Chapter 6: invasion!

At break of day, while the Negro senators, yawning on their fever-moss, are yelling for more cocktails, Royal Street is being filled with soldiery, who pile arms in the roadway, and occupy the side-walks. The scene looms black. Already everyone seems to be awake and in the streets. The paths are thronged with citizens as well as soldiers, and ominous sarcasms pass along the line. Marines are marching from the quays, cavalry are prancing near the Custom House. Two Gatling guns are trained on the Levee, and a brass Napoleon guards the State House. Emory, holding the chief command, remains at the Arsenal, ready to advance on any point; and his lieutenant, De Trobriand, having massed his troops in St. Louis Street, with their right resting on the closed gates, their left extending towards the river, rides with a part of his brigade into Royal Street. Two thousand Federal troops are under arms. [55]

An orderly rides in now and then, but Sheridan remains at his hotel-still known as Headquarters of the Missouri, not as Headquarters of the Gulf.

No one is allowed to enter St. Louis Street except the orderlies, nor is anyone allowed to pass the sentries in Royal Street, except reporters for the press, officers on duty, and members of the House provided with certificates. Potter, of the congressional sub-committee, presents his card, and is refused admission to the State House. McEnery and Wiltz, anxious to have witnesses of the scene, invite Foster and Phelps, as well as Potter, to attend the opening of the assembly. The three members come together, but the sentries push them back. As chairman of the sub-committee, Foster sends for a superior officer, who, after an explanation, passes them on, but firmly declines to pass the gentlemen in their train.

A little before twelve o'clock, the Conservatives march down Royal Street in a body, when the officer on duty asks to see their papers. Four of their number, having no certificates, are pushed aside, until their cases have been heard. The others pass through corridors lined with soldiery, and anterooms reeking with the stench of cheap cigars [56] Squads of police, with bludgeons and revolvers, guard the doorways, and refuse to quit the precincts. of the Chamber. General Campbell, they allege, has marched them to their posts, and till that officer orders them away they will remain. Foster and Phelps observe these facts and note these words.

To Wiltz it is now apparent that if stratagem fail, the scalawags are prepared to call in force, and to McEnery it is no less evident that the Federal officers are ready to obey that call. One hasty word, one heedless step, may lead to a collision. “Let us be firm and quick,” the citizens whisper to each other; “most of all, let us abide within the law.”

At twelve o'clock Vigers begins to read the roll, when fifty-two Republicans and fifty Conservatives answer to their names.

“A hundred and two members and a legal quorum are present,” shouts Vigers through the rising din of Negro voices.

“ I move,” says Billieu, the Conservative member for La Farouche, “ that the Hon. Louis A. Wiltz, late Mayor of New Orleans, take the chair.”

Vigers, waiting for some one to propose Michael Hahn, has the impertinence to say he will not put [57] Billieu's motion. Vigers is Clerk-Clerk of the last Chamber-and his function is to read the roll. By courtesy an officer in his situation is allowed to put the first motion for naming a chairman; but on his neglect to do so any member of the Chamber has the right, according to American usage, not only in New Orleans, but in Washington, to put the motion, and take a show of hands. Seeing Vigers hesitate, a member rises, puts the motion made by Billieu, takes a show of hands, and declares the proposal carried. Taking the gavel from Vigers's hands, Louis A. Wiltz moves at once into the chair, and while the Negroes are staring and shouting, he calls the House to order, and announces from the chair that business may now begin.

A member rises to propose that the deferred returns be certified, and that the five members, who are waiting in the streets, be admitted to their seats. Wiltz puts this motion, which is carried by a large majority of votes, many of the Negroes having left the room in order to seek advice from the party wire-pullers sitting in Kellogg's cabinet. When the five gentlemen come in, the White voting strength amounts to fifty-four votes. [58]

Neither party has a legal quorum; and the Republicans, finding they have lost their small majority, begin to slip away from their seats. But the Conservatives, accustomed to such dodges, intercept them before a count-out can be tried. A member proposes the Hon. Louis A. Wiltz as Speaker; a second member proposes the Hon. Michael Hahn. Fifty-eight members are present in the House. Fifty-five cast their votes for Wiltz, who is declared elected, in the midst of frantic cheers.

Judge Houston, who is standing by his chair, administers the usual oath of loyalty to tile law and constitution of Louisiana. Wiltz calls the House, and swears the members who remain. Though some have slipped away there is a legal quorum. Hahn, uncertain what to do, remains, and takes the oath from Wiltz. Captain Floyd is voted Serjeant, and Mr. Trezevant nominated Clerk. The House is now composed. Wiltz, as Speaker, invites General De Trobriand to remove the police, who occupy doors and passages, and General De Trobriand obeys his call. The Conservative Chamber, organised under Wiltz, appears to be recognised by the Federal [59] troops. Are the scalawags beaten, and the citizens masters of the city? Not yet.

Sitting in his room, surrounded by officers, civil and military, Kellogg grows excited and alarmed, as news come in from the adjoining chamber. Spite of his drinking-bars and sleeping-mats, the Conservatives have beaten him in his own house and at his own game. How is he to hold his own? With a Conservative Speaker, backed by Conservative Clerk and Serjeant, the house is in his enemy's power. Nothing but Federal bayonets can undo his morning's work.

Are Federal bayonets still at his disposal? Wiltz calls for help, and they obey that call. Will they obey his call? He puts them to the test by sending a written order for General De Trobriand to invade the Legislature, and expel the four members who have been admitted to their seats!

De Trobriand refers this message to General Emory. Whether Emory seeks advice of Sheridan is uncertain; but a long delay takes place; and Wiltz is carrying on his business, when De Trobriand, having received his orders, clanks into the Chamber, and asks to have the ‘intruders’ pointed [60] out. Wiltz answers that he knows of no intruders-all the gentlemen present are members of that House, and the person of every member of an American legislature is inviolate.

“ I am a soldier, only second in command, and must obey my orders,” urges De Trobriand. “General Emory has ordered me to follow the instructions of Governor Kellogg.”

“I have to state to you in formal words,” replies the Speaker, “ that this House, duly elected, has organised itself, by electing me as Speaker, Captain Floyd as Serjeant, and Mr. Trezevant as Clerk. After organization, we have seated five members, whose cases are referred to us by the Returning Board. Will you eject these men?”

“ My duty as an officer leaves me no choice.”

Wiltz calls on every member to rise with him in protest. All the Conservatives rise, put out their hands, and call on heaven to witness their appeal. The Negroes, fearing that a fight is coming on, surge over the seats and benches, crouch behind desks, press into corridors, and shut themselves up in closets.

“ Point them out!” cries De Trobriand to Vigers. [61]

“Vigers has no authority in this Chamber,” interposes Wiltz. “For him to meddle in the public business of this assembly is an outrage. Vigers was Clerk of the former House; Trezevant is now our Clerk.”

“ Call the roll!” roars De Trobriand, on which Vigers gets up, and begins to read.

“Conservative members will not answer to their names,” says the Speaker, and no Conservative answers to his name.

General Campbell now comes in, to assist Vigers in searching the benches. Troops are also called. John O'Quin, member for Aroyelles, is pointed out as one of the four Conservatives. “ Remove him!” shouts De Trobriand. O'Quin appeals to his Speaker for protection. “ We submit to nothing but force,” says this dignitary to the military officer. De Trobriand calls in men in full array, with loaded rifles and bayonets fixed. Two of these soldiers drive O'Quin from his seat. Vaughan, member for Rapides, is the next victim. Facing De Trobriand and his armed followers, Vaughan rises and protests: “ In the name of my constituents, the people of Louisiana, and as a free-born citizen of the United [62] States, I protest against this outrage.” Turning to his colleagues, the Conservative gentleman calls on them to witness the extremity of this outrage on a free assembly. “You see, they thrust me out with bayonets!”

“Let it be done!” sighs Wiltz, and the indignity is done. Eleven more members are in turn expelled. When Floyd endeavours to obey the Speaker and protect a member, he is seized and held in custody by the soldiery. When they have searched the hall, and turned the last Conservative member out by violence, Wiltz stands up, and, with a proud and mournful gesture, calls the Chamber to itself, and says:--

“As legal Speaker of the House of Representatives of Louisiana, I have protested against this invasion of our hall by soldiers of the United States with drawn bayonets and loaded muskets. We have seen our brethren seized by force, and torn from us in spite of their solemn protests. We have seen a force of soldiers march up the aisles of this hall of representatives, and we have protested against this act. In the name of a once free people, in the name of the once free State of Louisiana, in [63] the name of our American Union, I enter our solemn protest against all these abuses of the military power. My chair of Speaker is surrounded by troops. Our officers are prisoners in their hands. Members of the Legislature, I solemnly believe that Louisiana has ceased to be a sovereign State; that she has no longer a republican government; and I call on every representative, of our country to retire with me before this show of arms!”

So saying, Wiltz adjourns the House, and followed by the whole body of Conservatives, quits the hall, marches round to St. Louis Street, with half the city at his back, the citizens cheering him with lusty English shouts. At number 71 in St. Louis Street they find new quarters, and after a formal act of possession, they adjourn the House.

Kellogg is little pleased with his victory. In place of mending matters by his violence he has made them worse. The four Conservative members, though expelled by force, are not expelled by vote; nor can they now be expelled, even in appearance, for the Negro rump falls short of a legal quorum--fifty-six votes. Wiltz has been sworn as Speaker, [64] and as Speaker has adjourned the sittings to St. Louis Street. Looking back on events, Kellogg sees that he is beaten on every side, and weaker in strength than ever. Neither he nor his rival has a legal quorum, and without a legal quorum government is at an end.

The situation seems to call for a Dictator, and at nine o'clock in the evening General Sheridan assumes the chief direction of affairs.

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