Mississippi Plan, 1875
Source: Mississippi in 1875: Report of the Select
Committee to Inquire into the Mississippi Election of 1875 . . . , Senate Reports,
No. 527 (44th Congress, 1st Session), III, ix-xxxix., reprinted in Robert W.
Johannsen, Reconstruction, 1865-1877 (New York: Free Press, 1970), pages
THE SPECIAL committee appointed under a resolution of the
Senate adopted on the 31st of March last, and instructed to inquire how far the
rights of the people of Mississippi, guaranteed by the Constitution of the
United States, and secured especially by the fifteenth amendment, were violated
by force, fraud, or intimidation at the election held in that State on the 2d
of November, 1875, respectfully submit to the Senate the testimony taken, with
the conclusions of the committee thereon.
The testimony will fully support the allegation that force,
fraud, and intimidation were used generally and successfully in the political
canvass of 1875. But before proceeding to a detailed statement of the facts and
conclusions sustained and warranted by the proof, the committee thinks it
proper to refer to the suggestions and excuses offered in justification of the
It has been alleged that Governor Ames was an unfit person
to hold the office to which he was elected in the year 1873; but, on the
contrary, the committee find from the evidence, as well as from general report
in Mississippi, that Governor Ames was not only not amenable to any just charge
affecting his personal integrity, his character as public officer, or his
ability for the duties of chief magistrate of that State, but that his fitness
in all these particulars was sustained by the testimony of those who were not
in accord with him politically. . . .
The evidence submitted tends strongly to show, what cannot
be denied, that there were many persons in office in the State of Mississippi,
especially in elective offices, in the several counties, who were either
incapable or dishonest; and there were a few of the same character connected
with the State government. The conduct of these persons, however, was not
approved by the governor nor by the masses of the republican party.
Complaints and charges against a class of persons called
"carpet-baggers" are frequent in the depositions of witnesses opposed
to the republican party in the State. It is to be admitted that a small number
of the immigrants from other States misused the confidence of the black people,
secured office, and betrayed the trusts confided to them. But the number of
such persons, compared to the whole number of immigrants, was very small; and
it is but just to say that the great majority are intelligent, upright, and
brave men from the North who are entirely incorruptible, and who, in peril of
their lives, are now struggling against serious odds to maintain their
political opinions and to secure a just administration of the Government.
It is alleged that during the last six or eight years the
expenses of the State have been unnecessarily increased, and that heavy taxes
have been imposed for which no adequate return has been received by the people.
Comparisons are made between the rate of taxation previous to the war and since
the year 1870, and the conclusion is drawn that large sums of money are extorted
from the people, and wasted, or, through negligence and extravagance,
It is undoubtedly true that taxes are higher in the State of
Mississippi than they were previous to 1860; but the rate of increase is far
less than in some of the Northern States, where no serious complaints are made
against the administration of public affairs.
It is to be observed, also, that previous to the war taxes
were not levied for the support of schools in Mississippi; indeed, there was no
system of public instruction; and that since the war school-houses have been
erected in all parts of the State for the education of the children of both
races, and large sums of money have been expended annually for the maintenance
of schools, including schools for training teachers.
It is also true that previous to the war the taxes were
imposed upon slaves and upon business, while since the war the taxes have been
laid chiefly upon personal property and upon land.
It is also alleged in justification of the acts of
intimidation, and of the crimes committed during the canvass and at the
election, that Governor Ames had organized, or attempted to organize, a force,
termed the negro militia.
Some of the officers selected by him were native-born white
citizens who had served in the late war on the side of the confederates, and he
solicited and accepted recruits from the white as well as from the black
This effort on the part of the governor, it is now claimed,
was the occasion seized by the democrats for organizing and arming themselves,
ostensibly to resist the black militia; but, in fact, . . . it became the means
by which the colored inhabitants and the white republicans of the State were
overawed, intimidated, and deprived of their rights as citizens.
These organizations were the instruments also by which
numerous murders were committed upon persons who were then active, or who had
been active, in the republican party. . . .
The outrages perpetrated by the white people in the canvass
and on the day of election find no justification whatever in the acts or the
policy of Governor Ames concerning the State militia.
The effort on his part to organize the militia for the
preservation of the public peace seems to the committee to have been not only
lawful but proper, and the course of the democrats in organizing and arming
themselves to resist the governor in his efforts to preserve the public peace
was unlawful, and the proceedings should have been suppressed by the State
authorities if possible; and, in the case of failure on their part, by the
Government of the United States. . . .
Nor do these outrages find any excuse in the statement made
repeatedly by witnesses, that the negroes were organizing or threatened or
contemplated organizing themselves into military bands for the destruction of
the white race. The evidence shows conclusively that there were not only no
such organizations, but that the negroes were not armed generally; that those who
had arms were furnished with inferior and second-hand weapons, and that their
leaders, both religious and political, had discountenanced a resort to force.
Many rumors were current among the whites that the negroes were arming and massing
in large bodies, but in all cases these rumors had no basis.
In a sentence, it may be asserted that all the statements
made that there was any justifiable cause for the recent proceedings in
Mississippi are without foundation.
On the other hand, it is to be said, speaking generally,
that a controlling part, and, as we think, a majority, of the white democratic
voters of the State were engaged in a systematic effort to carry the election,
and this with a purpose to resort to all means within their power, including on
the part of some of them the murder of prominent persons in the republican
party, both black and white. . . .
(1.) The committee find that the young men of the State,
especially those who reached manhood during the war, or who have arrived at that
condition since the war, constitute the nucleus and the main force of the
As far as the testimony taken by the committee throws any
light upon the subject, it tends, however, to establish the fact that the
democratic organizations, both in the counties and in the State, encouraged the
young men in their course, accepted the political advantages of their conduct,
and are in a large degree responsible for the criminal results.
(2.) There was a general disposition on the part of white employers
to compel the laborers to vote the democratic ticket. This disposition was made
manifest by newspaper articles, by the resolutions of conventions, and by the
declarations of landowners, planters, and farmers to the workmen whom they
employed, and by the incorporation in contracts of a provision that they should
be void in case the negroes voted the republican ticket.
(3.) Democratic clubs were organized in all parts of the
State, and the able-bodied members were also organized generally into military
companies and furnished with the best arms that could be procured in the
country. The fact of their existence was no secret, although persons not in
sympathy with the movement were excluded from membership. Indeed their object was
more fully attained by public declarations of their organization in connection
with the intention, everywhere expressed, that it was their purpose to carry
the election at all hazards.
In many places these organizations possessed one or more
pieces of artillery. These pieces of artillery were carried over the counties
and discharged upon the roads in the neighborhood of republican meetings, and
at meetings held by the democrats. For many weeks before the election members
of this military organization traversed the various counties, menacing the
voters and discharging their guns by night as well as by day.
(4.) It appears from testimony that, for some time previous
to the election, it was impossible, in a large number of the counties, to hold
republican meetings. In the republican counties of Warren, Hinds, Lowndes,
Monroe, Copiah, and Holmes meetings of the republicans were disturbed or broken
up, and all attempts to engage in public discussion were abandoned by the
republicans many weeks before the election.
(5.) The riots of Vicksburgh [sic] on the 5th of July, and
at Clinton on the 4th of September, were the results of a special purpose on
the part of the democrats to break up the meetings of the republicans, to
destroy the leaders, and to inaugurate an era of terror, not only in those
counties, but throughout the State, which would deter republicans, and
particularly the negroes, from organizing or attending meetings, and especially
deter them from the free exercise of the right to vote on the day of the
election. The results sought for were in a large degree attained.
(6.) Following the riot at Clinton, the country for the next
two days was scoured by detachments from these democratic military
organizations over a circuit of many miles, and a large number of unoffending
persons were killed. The number has never been ascertained correctly, but it
may be estimated fairly as between thirty and fifty. . . .
(7.) The committee find, especially from the testimony of
Captain Montgomery, supported by numerous facts stated by other witnesses, that
the military organization extended to most of the counties in the State where
the republicans were in the majority; that it embraced a proportion not much
less than one-half of all the white voters, and that in the respective counties
the men could be summoned by signals given by firing cannons or anvils; and
that probably in less than a week the entire
force of the State could be brought out under arms.
(8.) The committee find that in several of the counties the
republican leaders were so overawed and intimidated, both white and black, that
they were compelled to withdraw from the canvass those who had been nominated,
and to substitute others who were named by the democratic leaders, and that
finally they were compelled to vote for the ticket so nominated, under threats
that their lives would be taken if they did not do it. This was noticeably the
case in Warren County, where the democratic nomination of one Flanigan for
sheriff was ratified at the republican county convention, held in Vicksburgh
[sic], the members acting under threats that if it were not done they should
not leave the building alive. Similar proceedings occurred in other counties.
(9.) The committee find that the candidates, in some
instances, were compelled, by persecution or through fear of bodily harm, to
withdraw their names from the ticket and even to unite themselves ostensibly
with the democratic party. J. W. Caradine, a colored candidate of Clay County,
was compelled to withdraw his name from the republican ticket and to make speeches
in behalf of the democratic candidates and policy. . . .
(10.) The committee find that on the day of the election, at
several voting places, armed men assembled, sometimes not organized and in
other cases organized; that they controlled the elections, intimidated
republican voters, and, in fine, deprived them of the opportunity to vote the
republican ticket. . . .
(12.) The committee find in several cases, where
intimidation and force did not result in securing a democratic victory that fraud
was resorted to in conducting the election and in counting the votes. In Amite
County, the legally-appointed inspectors of election, to whom in Mississippi
the duty is assigned of receiving and counting the ballots, were compelled by intimidation
to resign on the morning of election, in order to secure a fraudulent return. .
(13.) The evidence shows that the civil authorities have
been unable to prevent the outrages set forth in this report, or to punish the
offenders. This is true not only of the courts of the State, but also of the
district court of the United States, as appears from the report of the grand
jury made at the term held in June last, when the evidence of the offenses
committed at the November election and during the canvass was laid before that
body. . . .
(14.) The committee find that outrages of the nature set
forth in this report were perpetrated in the counties of Alcorn, Amite, Chickasaw,
Claiborne, Clay, Copiah, De Soto, Grenada, Hinds, Holmes, Kemper, Lee, Lowndes,
Madison, Marshall, Monroe, Noxubee, Rankin, Scott, Warren, Washington, and
Yazoo, and that the democratic victory in the State was due to the outrages so
(15.) The committee find that if in the counties named there
had been a free election, republican candidates would have been chosen, and the
character of the legislature so changed that there would have been 66
republicans to 50 democrats in the house, and 26 republicans to 11 democrats in
the senate; and that consequently the present legislature of Mississippi is not
a legal body, and that its acts are not entitled to recognition by the
political department of the Government of the United States, although the
President may, in his discretion, recognize it as a government de facto for the
preservation of the public peace.
(16.) Your committee finds that the resignation of Governor
Ames was effected by a body of men calling themselves the legislature of the
State of Mississippi, by measure unauthorized by law, and that he is of right
the governor of that State.
(17.) The evidence shows, further, that the State of
Mississippi is at present under the control of political organizations composed
largely of armed men whose common purpose is to deprive the negroes of the free
exercise of the right of suffrage and to establish and maintain the supremacy
of the white-line democracy, in violation alike of the constitution of their
own State and of the Constitution of the United States.
The events which the committee were called to investigate by
the order of the Senate constitute one of the darkest chapters in American
history. Mississippi was a leading state in the war of the rebellion, and an
early and persistent advocate of those fatal political heresies in which the
rebellion had its origin. To her, in as large a degree as to any other State,
may be charged justly the direful evils of the war; and when the war was ended
the white inhabitants resisted those measure of equality which were essential
to local and general peace and prosperity. They refused to accept the negro as
their equal politically, and for ten years they have seized every fresh
opportunity for a fresh denial of his rights. At last they have regained
supremacy in the State by acts of violence, fraud, and murder, fraught with
more than all the horrors of open war, without its honor, dignity, generosity,
By them the negro is not regarded as a citizen, and whenever
he finds a friend and ally in his efforts to advance himself in political
knowledge or intellectual culture, that friend and ally, where a native of the
State or an immigrant from the North, is treated as a public enemy. The evil
consequences of this policy touch and paralyze every branch of industry and the
movements of business in every channel.
Mississippi, with its fertile soil, immense natural
resources, and favorable commercial position, is in fact more completely excluded
from the influence of the civilization and capital of the more wealthy and
advanced States of the Union than are the distant coasts of China and Japan.
Men who possess capital are anxious to escape from a State in which freedom of
opinion is not tolerated, where active participation in public affairs is
punished often with social ostracism, always with business losses, and not
infrequently, as the record shows, with exile and abandonment of property,
through fear of death.
Consequently, lands depreciate in value, the rewards of
labor become more and more uncertain, taxes more and more burdensome, the evils
of general disorder are multiplied and intensified, and by an inevitable rule
of social and public life, the evils themselves, reacting, increase the spirit
of disorder. Unless this tendency can be arrested, every successive chapter in
the annals of that State will be darker and bloodier than the preceding one.
This tendency cannot be arrested by the unaided efforts of
the peaceful, patriotic, and law-abiding citizens. There is a small body of
native white persons, who, with heroic courage, are maintaining the principles
of justice and equality. There is also a small body of men from the North, who,
with equal courage, are endeavoring to save the State from anarchy and degradation.
If left to themselves, the negroes would co-operate with these two classes.
But arrayed against them are a majority of the white people,
who possess the larger part of the property; who uniformly command leisure,
whether, individually, they possess property or not; who look with contempt
upon the black race, and with hatred upon the white men who are their political
allies; who are habituated to the use of arms in war and in peace; who in former
times were accustomed to the exclusive enjoyment of political power, and who
now consider themselves degraded by the elevation of the negro to the rank of
equality in political affairs.
They have secured power by fraud and force, and, if left to
themselves they will by fraud and force retain it. Indeed, the memory of the
bloody events of the campaign of 1875, with the knowledge that their opponents
can command, on the instant, the presence of organized bodies of armed men at
every voting-place, will deter the republican party from any general effort to
regain the power wrested from them. These disorders exist also in the
neighboring States, and the spirit and ideas which
give rise to the disorders are even more general.
The power of the National Government will be invoked, and
honor and duty will alike require its exercise. The nation cannot witness with
indifference the dominion of lawlessness and anarchy in a State, with their
incident evils and a knowledge of the inevitable consequences. It owes a duty
to the citizens of the United States residing in Mississippi, and this duty it
must perform. It has guaranteed to the State of Mississippi a republican form
of government, and this guarantee must be made good.
The measures necessary and possible in an exigency are
1. Laws may be passed by Congress for the protection of the
rights of citizens in the respective States.
2. States in anarchy, or wherein the affairs are controlled
by bodies of armed men, should be denied representation in Congress.
3. The constitutional guarantee of a republican form of
government to every State will require the United States, if these disorders
increase or even continue, and all milder measures shall prove ineffectual, to
remand the State to a territorial condition, and through a system of public
education and kindred means of improvement change the ideas of the inhabitants and
reconstruct the government upon a republican basis.