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Chapter 5: the State House.

Sunday, January 3, is a busy day in St. Louis Street, the next day being marked, on both sides, as the date on which the great conflict is to be carried from the streets into the legislative halls. Monday is to either make or mar the scalawag government in New Orleans.

Out of one hundred and eleven members recently elected to the lower house, fifty-eight are called Conservative, fifty-three Republican; giving the Conservatives not only a legal quorum but a working majority of five members. All these fifty-eight Conservatives are White. If such a house should meet the Kelloggites are lost.

A first battle has been fought in the Returning Board — a body of five assessors, who, according to statute, should be chosen from both parties, so as to represent all the great shades of opinion. Kellogg [44] named this board, and in open violation of the law, selected five Republicans. By law the sittings should be held in public, so that every word should be open and beyond suspicion. By Kellogg's order, all the most serious business has been done in secret. Longstreet retired from the board. An easy-going Conservative was named in place of Longstreet; but on finding his colleagues bent on violating the law this easy-going Conservative protested and retired. His resignation leaves the rump incapable of acting, since by law the board consists of five members. But the rump cares nothing about legal forms. Two thousand Federal soldiers occupy the posts and arsenals-why should they conform to law?

In Louisiana, the votes are counted many times.. The local ballots are first sent to the Supervisors of Registration, who count them up and forward them to the Commissioners of Elections. They undergo three scrutinies, so to speak, before they reach the Returning Board. When laid before these party experts the ballotting papers showed these broad results:

Seventy Conservative members.

Forty-one Republican members. [45]

The Conservatives had a majority of twenty-nine; but Kellogg's illegal Returning Board has continued to sweep away this Conservative majority of twenty-nine. The figures, as manipulated by the rump of four members, are:

Fifty-three Republicans.

Fifty-three Conservatives.

Five cases referred.

One hit is scored by Kellogg. If pretexts can be found for shutting out the five members, four of whom are Conservatives, neither side will have a legal quorum, and the Conservatives will not be able to carry a party vote. In free popular assemblies the candidates usually sit and vote until their cases have been heard; but Kellogg thinks that rules which govern free assemblies everywhere else may be defied in New Orleans. If these five members take their seats on the opening day, the Conservatives will have a legal quorum of fifty-six, and a sure majority of three, a probable majority of five. What is to prevent that sure Conservative majority from indicting and deposing Kellogg, as Governor Warmoth was indicted and deposed?

A House in which neither party counts a [46] quorum is a body open to “ arrangements.” Kellogg believes that some of the voters may be bought. Already, there are stories told of his having secured one vote. He only needs two others to make his quorum. He has every reason to bid brisk, for he is bound to either keep a show of legal order or confess his failure and retire. His faction in the country is getting sick of him — a man who brings them no substantial gain, and lays them open to reproach of Caesarism. To Kellogg's last appeal for help, the President wired, impatiently: “It is exceedingly unpalatable to use troops in anticipation of danger; let the State authorities be right, and then proceed with their duties.” Other critics, also of his own party, show as much impatience as the President. Colonel Morrow, a Republican officer, is travelling through the country, and reporting on affairs to General Sherman. Morrow reports, according to his observation, that the South is loyal to the Union, but opposed to scalawags and carpet-baggers. The Republican majority in Congress, scared by the November elections, have appointed a committee to visit New Orleans and look into the state of things. Three members of this committee, Foster of Ohio, [47] a Republican, Phelps of New Jersey, a Republican, and Potter of New York, a Democrat, are in the city taking evidence, and the two Republicans hardly hide their agreement with the Democrat, that the attempt to govern through the aid of Federal soldiery is the cause of all the disorder seen about the Gulf. With critics so unfriendly to disarm, it is Kellogg's policy to seek some safe and legal ground; but where in Louisiana can intruders like Kellogg find that safe and legal ground?

McEnery is not only stronger in votes but in repute and training. Many of his adherents, such as Penn, his Lieutenant-governor, and Wiltz, his candidate for Speaker, were familiar with public business and the rules of public life. Wealth, culture, eloquence are on their side. In Kellogg's group there is hardly a man of name. Among them may be good Republicans, men who heartily believe there is no way of saving Black equality except by crushing White freedom; but these Republicans have no voice in the clubs and drawing-rooms where White men meet and White women reign. They stand apart, committed by their heresies to a social ban. [48]

In Kellogg's list of fifty-three adherents, twenty-eight are Negroes. Nearly all these Negroes have been slaves-labourers in the rice-ground and the cotton-field. A few can read print, and scratch their names; not many can do either; while only three or four can express their meaning in decent English words. Most of them are so poor and ignorant, so vain and shifty, that Kellogg dares not trust them in the streets and grog-shops. New Orleans, a gay and rattling town, is rich in drinking-bars and galling hells-places in which men like Pinchback serve apprenticeships. These bars and hells have dangerous fascinations for Mose and Pete, Negroes fresh from the cotton-fields, and eager to enjoy their freedom in a great metropolis. Spies bring in news to the State House, that clever and unscrupulous men are dealing with the Negro senators. Cousins, the Negro member for St. Tammany, is said to have been kidnapped — in the street and carried to a distant part. His vote is lost-a set-off to the one false Conservative. Other Negroes are said to be spending their dollars and getting drunk.

Kellogg perceives that he must act. [49]

Sending out for carpenters and innkeepers, he orders them to convert the State House into a fortress and hotel. A vast and handsome edifice, standing at the angle of St. Louis Street and Royal Street, this State House was originally built for an hotel, and called, after the royal founder of Louisiana, the Hotel St. Louis. Rue Royale and Rue St. Louis cut and cross the old French quarter. This side of New Orleans is quaint with balconies, green shutters, high gateways, and inner yards, tricked out with squirts of water and pots of oleander, doing duty for fountains and gardens; a decrepit and deserted corner of the town, from which the tides of life and trade have long since ebbed away. The stench reminds you of Dieppe, the dominoes and billiards of Bayonne. Yet this French quarter used to be a fashionable lounge, where ladies flirted, duellists fought, and senators ruled. The Rue St. Louis was an afternoon drive for belles and beaux, where sparkling Creoles ruined their admirers with a smile; but since that period fashions have changed, and everyone now lodges at the Hotel St. Charles. The once fashionable hotel has sunk into a State capital; one wing of the old hostelry being [50] turned into an executive office, and a deserted dining-room into a legislative hall.

By Kellogg's orders, planks are nailed across the doors and windows, and secured by iron stanchions. Barricades are thrown across St Louis Street, and the main entrance of the hotel is closed. One door — a back door in Royal Street — is left open. Inside and out the State House is strengthened to resist assault. Forty Negro police, armed with clubs and six-shooters, take position in the hall, while others of their company occupy the stairs and corridors. Rifles are stacked against the wall; and General Campbell, a Southern fire-eater, now turned scalawag, is charged with the defence. Provisions, reckoned for a siege of twenty days, are brought into the yard: canned fruits, dried fish and flesh, whisky, tobacco, and pale ale. A bar is opened, and spittoons are placed. A hundred mattresses are fetched from the barracks and strewn about the halls and passages. Supper is cooked, and boxes of cigars displayed. When everything is ready, Kellogg sends his scouts into the streets to bid Negro members come in, enjoy a smoke and drink, and sleep in Government House, in readiness for the morrow's work. [51]

A hundred senators, loafers, and police, five in every six of whom are coloured persons, spend the Sunday night at Kellogg's bar, drinking whisky straight and hiccuping comic songs.

Kellogg's officers stand ready at any moment of the night to call the roll and organise the house, if accident should raise the members present to a legal quorum of fifty-six. It is a desperate game, but desperate men are seldom wise. If they can snap a vote, and carry their own Speaker, Clerk, and Serjeant, they may find some means of braving a small majority of Conservative voters. William Vigers, clerk of the late Chamber and candidate for the next, is waiting in Kellogg's anteroom, with his official roll. Michael Hahn, a lawyer, whom the Republican party have pricked for Speaker, sits in Kellogg's cabinet. The scalawags distrust Michael Hahn, on account of his legal scruples, but their party is too poor in law to overlook his claim. Who else is fit to stand against Louis A. Wiltz? Some members want to have a Negro in the chair. Some others, heated by spiced liquors, say they ought to pull down Kellogg and set up Pinch. “Ole Pinch is some Nig,” cries one of his tipsy partisans. “Guess [52] dat true,” hiccups his no less tipsy comrade, “ Ole Pinch some Nig. Bravo Pinch!”

Pinchback is with Kellogg, Hahn, and Campbell, waiting in the cabinet for a chance. If six or seven Conservatives, led by curiosity, should happen to drop in, a legal quorum would be present, and the roll might be called, Hahn voted to the chair, and Vigers appointed Clerk.

Some trimmers of the Warmoth school are noticed slipping in and out-only, as they say, to see the fun and get a drink. Pinch keeps an eye on these stragglers. Once he counts fifty-five members round the bar. He calls a caucus; and debates the matter, but let him try his most, Pinch cannot convert a minority of fifty-five into a legal quorum of fifty-six.

More serious efforts must be made. A hundred of the Black militia are marched into the House, and placed under Campbell's orders. Help is asked from the Federal officers, and in spite of the President's late rebuff this help is given, not only by the army, but the fleet. General Emory sleeps at the Custom House, where his field-guns are supported by a troop of horse. The Commodore lays his ships [53] so as to rake the wharf and sweep Canal Street. A body of Marines is held in readiness to land. General De Trobriand, Emory's second in command, receives orders to proceed at dawn to Royal Street.

Sheridan remains at his hotel. Conservative scouts who visit the Rotunda, to observe his motions, find him as usual, dawdling about, puffing his cigar, and laughing with the members of his staff, as though he had no more concern with what is passing at the State House and the arsenals than any other guest in the hotel. Carnival-day is nigh. King Carnival is announced as coming; and the comic writers — a conspicuous body in New Orleans — are hinting that “King Philip” is that prince in masquerade. Sheridan only laughs and smokes.

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