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Chapter 8: the Conservatives.

An aide-de-camp brings us an invitation from General McEnery to visit the Conservative headquarters in Canal Street; and in company of my old friend Consul De Fonblanque we start from our hotel, now known as “Headquarters of the Gulf.”

General McEnery occupies a suite of rooms in Canal Street, looking on the effigies of Henry Clay, in which apartments he holds a modest court. “You're not afraid to enter,” asks a senator, meeting us on the stairs, “although we are banditti?” No, we are not afraid. Some wag has gummed a caricature of Sheridan to the wall. The general is represented as a dog snapping at a Louisiana cavalry officer. “Poor stuff,” says the Senator, passing in; “poor stuff-but boys will have their fun. We have the Southern genius, and our boys delight in mockeries and burlesques.” [81]

On entering the cabinet, we find Governor McEnery, Lieutenant-governor Penn, and several Senators, who decline to sit with Kellogg's group, under the presidency of Caesar C. Antoine. A more courteous and decorous body of gentlemen than these Conservative Senators could not be seen in common-room at Oxford or committee-room in Westminster. Finer heads and gentler manners would be hard to find in any country, and you feel at once that, whether these gentlemen are right or wrong in their special claims, they will not be easily beaten from the ground they once take up.

General McEnery is a small man, something like President Grant in face, with meditative eyes, and dreamy features, half-concealed by thick whiskers and heavy moustache. General Penn is younger than his chief; a typical Southern man, with shaven chin, black eyes and eyebrows, and a penthouse of moustache; in accent and appearance the embodiment of fighting power. General Ogden has a round head, set on a sturdy frame; a prompt and ready man, not troubled, one might [82] say, by doubts and scruples as to where his duty lies. All three are gentlemen of property. “We claim,” says General McEnery, “ to represent ninety-five per cent. of all the property in this city, ninety-eight per cent. of all the property in this State.” From what we learn in other quarters we have reason to believe this statement true. “And yet,” adds Penn, laughing, we, who own nearly all the property in the State, are bandits!

Bandits are not usually men of property; are not so in Spain, in Greece, in Asia Minor, and in California. If Vasquez were able to read the papers, he would be pleased to find, on the authority of General Sheridan, that a good many of his brethren sit on the bench and practise at the bar.

“No one contests your claim to represent the wealth of New Orleans; the question is about inhabitants, not property; and you claim, we understand, to have a true majority of votes in favour of the Conservative candidates?”

“We have,” the Governor answers, “a majority of votes; not large, yet large enough for us, if we are left alone, to carry on the government, and restore a reign of peace.” [83]

“Have not the coloured people a majority of votes in the whole State-ninety thousand against seventy-six thousand? ”

“ On the present lists, they have,” replies the Governor; “ but the lists are drawn in fraud. How can the coloured people have more votes than we have? In numbers we are nearly equal-three hundred and sixty-two thousand Whites to three hundred and sixty-four thousand Blacks. These figures are not ours. The census was taken under Warmoth's government. We know that some of the returns are false-and false in favour of the coloured men. But take the figures as they stand. How can a difference of two thousand in the population, yield a difference of fourteen thousand in the voting lists?”

“That is not easy to make out.”

“Except by fraud; by manifest and unblushing fraud. The fact is, Negroes are registered in different names and different parishes. Dead Negroes are kept on the lists; Negroes under age are put on the lists. Women are inscribed as men. Wherever you have Black officials, supported by a Black police, you have abuse.” [84]

“Is it true, General McEnery, that Conservatives, as a rule, object to giving Negroes political power?”

“Among Conservatives that is an open question. Many of us think it a great mistake to have given the coloured people votes; but the United States, which gave them liberty, thought fit to give them votes. We bow to facts. You meet men who would take away the Negro's personal freedom as well as his political power; but the majority of citizens has ceased to dream of going back to the old state of things. A Conservative would like to see the Right of Voting settled and defined by law. In all free countries certain classes, such as paupers, idiots, and prisoners, are excluded from the voting lists. In some free countries, those who cannot read the lists and sign their names, are not allowed to vote. With an understanding of this nature, the Conservatives of. Louisiana would admit the Negro to political rights.”

“You have no fear of educated votes?”

“No fear at all; for educated men are never led by scalawags. Even now, the education tells. If all the Negroes were to pull together--ninety thousand against seventy-six thousand--they might [85] elect Pinch for governor and have a strong majority in the Chambers. But we have educated negroes in Louisiana like Tom Chester, and educated Africans are no more likely to agree in politics than educated Anglo-Saxons. When a Negro learns to spell he sets up as a leader. He follows no one; least of all a man of his own colour. If a Negro owns a cabin and a patch of garden, he becomes Conservative and votes against the scalawags. A Conservative Negro Club exists in every parish in Louisiana; and in spite of Kellogg's promise that every Negro voting the Grant ticket shall have forty acres and a good mule, thousands of Negroes voted with us in the late elections. Tens of thousands will vote for us when the Federal troops retire.”

From General McEnery's cabinet we go to the Conservative Lower House, in St. Louis Street, where we are cordially received by Speaker Wiltz. A man of spare figure, closely-cropped hair, and pale, wan face, the Hon. Louis A. Wiltz has an easy and yet resolute manner. As we enter the House Captain Kidd is speaking; Kidd, a lawyer and a soldier, and of equal standing in the camp and at the bar. He [86] proposes that the whole body of Conservative legislators shall march to the State House, lower down the street, and demand admission to their seats. Sixty-six gentlemen are present: the fifty-three members who are certified, and thirteen others who are wrongfully unseated by the Kellogg board.

“ You profess to be a lawful House?” we ask the Speaker.

“No,” says Wiltz, in a decided tone; “ We claim to be a legal quorum ; but we call ourselves a caucus, not an assembly; for we mean to keep within the law, even in such things as words.”

While Kidd is urging the Conservatives to take a more decided course, a telegram is sent to Washington, asking Senator Thurman for advice. Thurman is a leading Democrat, sitting in Congress for Ohio, and is much consulted by Conservatives in the South. “ Be patient,” is the wise reply.

“ Our policy is patience,” says the Speaker; “ we must wait. Time fights for us. The dodge of forty acres and a good mule cannot be tried again. All tricks wear out. We can afford to wait. Of course, we suffer by delay; but we should suffer more by violence. The gentlemen sitting on these benches [87] either own, or represent men who own, nearly all the stores and ships, the magazines, hotels, and banks, of New Orleans. Can you fancy they have any interest in disorder? If a pane of glass is broken, we have to bear the loss. The scalawags have nothing to risk except their skins, stand they are careful not to risk their skins. What can it matter to Kellogg and Packard, Antoine and Pinchback, whether property declines or not? We stake our all on peace and order; but our brethren in the northern cities have yet to understand this fact. Events are teaching them, and teaching them very fast.”

In crossing the French quarter we meet Senator Trimble, a Republican of local name.-

“A Southerner and a Republican?”

“Well,” answers Senator Trimble, “like many of my old party, I am becoming rather cautious in my theories. Events are shaking my belief in platforms. An American has surely something higher to preserve than blind fidelity to a party flag.”

Senator Trimble is impressed as Colonel Morrow and the Congressional Sub-Committee are impressed. Morrow has now reported to General Emory, who [88] has sent his statement on to General Sherman, that “ after wide and close enquiry in the counties lying on Red River he is convinced that, so far as relates to the United States, there is not the slightest disposition to oppose the general government, but that the opposition to the State government by Kellogg and Antoine cannot be put down.... The present State government cannot maintain itself in power a single hour without the protection of Federal troops. . . . The State government has not the confidence and respect of any portion of the community.” General Sherman has sent these warnings on to Washington, marked by him with the significant words-“ for the personal perusal of General Grant.”

What say the Sub-Committee? Foster of Ohio, and Phelps of New Jersey, agree with Potter of New York, in a Report to Congress, setting forth these five facts:

First: that the late election was mainly a fair one;

Second : that no unusual pressure was put on coloured voters;

Third: that many of the Negroes wish to get rid of Kellogg; [89]

Fourth: that the Returning Board was unlawfully constituted and made false returns;

Fifth: that the Assembly was transacting business when De Trobriand drove the Conservative Members out of their seats by force.

A Report, embodying these five facts, has been presented to Congress, and has roused the country like a crash of war. The full Committee is coming down, but no one thinks the four Members who have not been here will contradict the three who have. From east to west, the country seems to be aflame.

Quick, sensitive, meridional as are the men of New Orleans, they are not prepared for such an outbreak of White sentiment as fires the North. Boston is not less eager in sympathy than New York. Pittsburg joins hands with Cleveland; Cincinnati calls aloud to San Francisco. Never, since President Lincoln's death, has so much passion found a vent in speech. Statesmen who weigh their words are coming to the front, arraigning President Grant of something like high treason to the commonwealth. Adams in Boston, Bryant in New York, are giving the highest intellectual sanction to the general fury. [90] Evarts, the ablest lawyer in America, is denouncing Sheridan and De Trobriand, in terms not often applied by lawyers to the lowest tools of a despotic power. The curses showered on Kellogg have a bitterness unequalled since the war.

Should President Grant back down, repudiating Sheridan and letting Kellogg go, where, in such. a reign of anarchy, will the legal government of the State reside?

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