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Chapter 10: carpet-baggers.

William P. Kellogg's private secretary comes to the hotel to say that if we will pay a visit to the Legislature and Executive, Speaker Hahn and Governor Kellogg will be happy to receive us at the State House. In company of our consul, as before, we start for Royal Street, the entrance in St. Louis Street being still closed.

After some parley with Negro soldiers and police we pass the door. A rush of foul air, the reek of bad cigars and worse liquors, drives us back. Phew! The hall is nearly dark, and gas is burning in one corner. Windows and doors are planked, and the floors strewn with corks, broken glass, stale crusts, and rotting bones. A crowd of loafers and officials throngs the hall, most of them Negroes, all of them smoking, jabbering, pushing. Here, a cotton picker wants to go upstairs and see “ dat legislating show. [102] There, a carpet-bagger explains to a coloured voter why the Negro has not yet received his ” forty acres and a good mule. “ A fellow bawls on the stairs, as we push past him ” “Dat all right, anyhow ; the culled men now hab dere rights!”

After much ado with the Black police, who fancy that being White men we must be spies and traitors, we reach the Second Chamber, a long, uncarpeted, and filthy room. Spittoons are laid about, and some of the Negro senators smoke and loll in their easy seats. The air is foul. Each senator has a chair, on which his name is painted in big letters; but he seems incapable of sitting still. He loafs about; rises to order; chatters with a crony. Five or six senators are speaking, all at the same time, each senator accusing the other of lying and deception. “ Order da!” “ Missa Speeka!” “ Down, you nigga, down!” The uproar beats the tumult of a country fair.

Michael Hahn, the gentleman who presides, seats us near his chair and offers us some explanations of the scene.

“ You wonder we permit smoking in the Chambers? Well, gentlemen, my answer is, we [103] don't. There is a rule against it; but how am I to put this rule in force? We have no rule against chewing; yet chewing is a nastier vice than smoking. Rules are useless. Negroes will chew and smoke.”

“Why not let them smoke in other rooms?”

“You think that easy. Sir, it is so far from being easy that it is actually impossible.”

“How so?”

“ Because we cannot spare a man from his seat. You see we have only just a quorum present. If a single member quits his place we are unable to proceed.”

A Negro, named Demas, member for St. John's parish, rises, and in a voice to silence Spurgeon or Punshon, rates the House. There is a certain eloquence in His words. “Yes,” says Speaker Hahn, “there is something in these fellows. Nearly all of them were born slaves. A dozen years ago hardly one of them dared to open his mouth in presence of a White man.”

The Hon. Michael Hahn affects not to know how many members of his parliament are Black, how many White. “We take no note of colour,” he remarks; but while Massa Demas is thumping and [104] roaring, we count the heads, and find them twenty-four Whites to twenty-eight Blacks. Twenty-four and twenty-eight make fifty-two; four members short of a legal quorum! Yet the Speaker has just assured us that the House we see is a full House. Counting again we find our numbers true.

“Do you consider this assembly a lawful House, Mr. Speaker?”

“Yes, a lawful House, the Second Chamber of Louisiana.”

“Only fifty-two members are present.”

“ Fifty-six answer to their names.”

0, Michael Hahn!

On passing to the Upper House, we find a tall, pale Negro, with a small head and dissipated face, presiding over fifteen Black and thirteen White senators, who are debating whether they shall or shall not read the Senators in Washington a lesson by sending Pinchback up again as State Senator for Louisiana? This pale and dissipated Negro is the Hon. Caesar C. Antoine, Lieutenant-governor of the State, sitting in the chair by virtue of his office. No Conservative senators are present.

Caesar C. Antoine is an African of pure blood, [105] though he is not so dark as many of his brethren on the Niger and the Senegal. Small in stature and weak in frame, his only strength appears to lie in a feminine sort of shrewdness. Antoine was a porter in the Custom House. Before he took to politics he could hardly get his pay, yet, having a place under Government, he found the. way open to public life. His rise was rapid. From the bench of a porter he passed to the chair of Lieutenant-governor. He was a servant of clerks; he is the master of senators. Since the Caliph made his porter a pasha, no man of his calling has been raised to so high a place. It was a golden chance. Apart from accidents, Antoine is not a man who could have risen.

This Negro Caesar in New Orleans allows me to see that he joins hands with the White Caesar in Washington. Chewing his quid, and squirting his tobacco-juice into a huge spittoon, he informs us that he “never seed sich a thing as dat affair with Wiltz;” also that the “culled people in Louisiana don't mind General Grant having a third term, if he like, or even a sixth term if he like.” Caesar in New Orleans sails in the same boat with Csesar in the White House. [106]

The Negro senators agree that the White fellows in Washington are impertinent in rejecting Pinch. He is the martyr of his skin. Those White fellows talk about his character. What right have they to pry into a gentleman's private life? They prate about Governor Kellogg's election not being valid. What right have those fellows to review a State election in Louisiana? Pinch shall go back. Pinch is their choice. Pinch shall sit in their name under the marble dome, among the chief sages of the commonwealth!

On going with Antoine into Kellogg's cabinet we encounter Pinch. The Negro is in high feather, for the Negro senators have just affirmed once more his election to the State Senatorship, and Antoine has brought his credentials for the Governor to sign and seal. Got up in paper collar and pomade, Pinch smiles and smirks, and sickens you with his bows and scrapes. You think of giving him twenty cents. Kellogg appears to loathe the fellow, yet he cannot well refuse his name and seal. Who knows with what reserve he signs? Pinch watches him with eager eyes, chewing his quid, and spattering the walls and carpets. Ach! The scene is rich in comedy. [107] Having got his papers signed, Pinch whips up his satchel, sticks a fresh quid in his mouth, and leaves the room with Antoine, the two Negroes going out arm in arm, strutting and sniggering through admiring crowds. “Dat Nig is sole,” one fellow cries. “You bet?” asks another. “Golly,” says a third, “ dat Nig is ole Pinch!” And so the dusky hero vanishes from our sight.

“It is a farce,” says Governor Kellogg. “Pinchback is no more senator now than he was before. He goes on a fool's errand, but these coloured children must be humoured. When he reaches Washington they will find out their mistake.”

Governor Kellogg is courteous, grave, and self-possessed. It is a common saying that he lives on lies. A friend who met me in Canal Street said: “Going to see Kellogg? Let me warn you that the man you are going to see is a wonder. He's not afraid. All the Federal troops in New Orleans could not make him tell the truth.” Governor Kellogg has a smooth and winning way, which enemies may describe as wheedling and deceptive; but his eyes look honestly into your face, and his tone of voice is frank and earnest. He appears to me a stirring and [108] fanatical person, strongly wedded to his opinions, and ready to spend and be spent in what he deems the “ good cause.” Turning from Pinch he asks if we have seen the Chambers — an enquiry which enables us to ask if he regards the Lower Chamber as a lawful assembly.

“No,” he answers with a smile; “until we get a legal quorum we are not a House. Some doubt exists about the quorum ; our advisers tell us fifty-four Members make a quorum, but the custom is to reckon fifty-six; and till the question has been settled by the judges we abstain from acting on a dubious right.”

“ Have you fifty-four Members?”

“No; fifty-three. Speaker Hahn has allowed three candidates not returned by the Board to take their seats. That act is wrong. Not being a legal quorum, the Assembly has no power to give away seats.”

“Nor to elect a Speaker?”

“You are right. So far as such things have been done, they are unlawful and without my sanction. Michael Hahn is no more Speaker than I am President. My Chamber is a caucus and no more; [109] but Hahn is fond of titles, and the coloured members like to hear themselves called a Legislature. We are waiting for a compromise. If President Grant is firm, the other side will soon make terms. I could find the three voters to make up my quorum, but I will not pay the price. I wish to have an honest Government, and should be rather glad than otherwise to have a Conservative majority in the Lower House. White people are easier to satisfy than Black.”

“Why let the Chamber meet, transact business, and print journals, as though they were a lawful Legislature?”

“I cannot help myself. The other side are rich, and we are poor. McEnery's group, composed of rich people, can live without their pay; our group, composed of needy persons, must be paid. Unless we have a pretext for giving them three dollars a day, they cannot stay in New Orleans. In less than a week thirty out of the fifty would be gone. I let them meet, attend to formal matters, and receive their salaries, but I caution them to leave all serious business till we see our way. There is a fight between us. The Chambers are burning to pass an [110] Appropriation Bill; but I refuse to let them bring it in; and tell the leaders plainly that they have no legal powers.”

“If President Grant decides to support General Sheridan, do you think the new Legislature may be got to work?”

“I hope the best; but I am sickening of my tasks. I shall be happy when the moment comes for my release.”

“Release! Does any one hinder you from leaving New Orleans?”

“A sense of duty hinders me. I am a party man. Believing that the principles of my party are the best for every corner of America, I have done my best to plant them in this region of the South. My work is not yet done; but I am older than I was ten years ago. I have deserved my rest, but shrink from taking it so long as any chance remains of finishing what I came into this State to do.”

His tone is grave and almost sad.

“ What is my life in New Orleans that I should wish to stay? To be regarded as an alien or denounced as an adventurer is nothing. I am shunned by everyone except the wretch who seeks a place. [111] No lady speaks to me. No gentleman comes near me. The rabble hoot, the rowdies fire. My name a byword and a mockery, I am but too happy to escape with life. Some day I hope to get away, but not until my duty has been done.”

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