Page images

or bribed. Samuel Walker, the nominee for lieutenantgovernor, strangely enough, stayed in the field.

Thus the Republican party in Florida went into the spring elections of 1868 with ranks divided. Its strength lay in the black vote. It was a black-man's party shrewdly and unscrupulously led by a few score carpet-baggers and scalawags.1

Radical leaders were bent on crushing out completely any hope of Conservative success. In the voting for delegates to the then recent constitutional convention several thousand whites had been disfranchised under the Federal Reconstruction Laws. Would the same proscription be made in the voting for the constitution and for a state government under it? Now that a constitution was formed, would its very provisions admitting the proscribed whites to the polls and to office be respected? Would the voting be governed by the new constitution or the Federal laws of March 2nd and 23rd, 1867? These were the most acute political questions before the people during the spring of 1868.

The recent convention had decreed that the provisions of the constitution be applied on election day, admitting to the polls those whites barred out by the Reconstruction Law. General Meade, military commander, was importuned by Radicals in Florida not only to annul the ordinance of the convention admitting disfranchised whites to the polls, but also to order that the election in question be held one month earlier than the convention had fixed it—in April instead of May.2 What was the object in such haste? Several thou

1 C 'R. Mobley, a Republican member of the state senate, estimated that the number of carpet-baggers in the State would not exceed 300, —Floridian, Aug. 11, 1868. Two years earlier J. W. Recks, Federal treas. agent, estimated the white Union vote at 300. H. Rpts., 39th C, 1st S., no. 30, p. 3.

2 Rpt. Sect. War, 1868-9, v. 1, p. 95—Meade to Grant, Feb. 29, 1868; p. 99; Meade to Grant, Mch. 13.

sand whites were still unregistered.1 If the election came before they could register, the local Republican party would gain thereby. The Radicals insisted that if the Southern whites were given a chance they would defeat or delay Reconstruction. There was truth and logic in the contention. Meade asked Grant, head of the army, for advice, and Grant advised allowing all to vote according to the terms of the constitution framed and then to be voted on.: Meade followed the advice herewith given.

The election passed off quietly on May 6th, 7th, and 8th.8 For fourteen days prior to the opening of the polls the registration lists were in process of revision. Previously disfranchised whites now admitted to the suffrage were enrolling. The voting was for governor, lieutenantgovernor, Congressmen, and members of the legislature, as well as for the adoption or rejection of the constitution.

"Scott may poll five votes to Reed's one, and Reed will be elected," A. A. Knight declared. "We've got the whole thing in our hands—the ballot-boxes, the registrars, the mail agents, and all." 4 A few weeks later Knight was

1 11,148 whites were registered up to date. 13,698 were registered for this election. The normal voting strength of Florida in 1861 was about 14,000. See chapter in "Registration and Political Organization," supra.

'Rpt. Sect. War, 1868-9, v. I, p. 06.

Ibid., 1868-9, v. 1, p. 103—Meade to Grant, Apr. 8; N. Y. Herald, May 8, 1868—dispatch from Key West.

* Tallahassee Sentinel, May 7, 1868. This conversation of Knight's attracted attention. It was quoted in the Floridian, and Knight was asked by J. B. Oliver, editor of the Sentinel, to repeat the statement in the presence of a witness, which he did, adding: "Billings and Walker have got off here [the conversation was on a railway train] to hold a Billings meeting called to meet here by their friend Cone. Billings wrote to Cone to assemble. Billings' letter went to the train. We [Knight and his friends] went on the same train that carried the letter. We opened it and wrote another one saying: 'Dear Cone; there is no chance for us. Go for the Reed ticket. Tell your people'. appointed to a circuit judgeship by the new governor. The Conservatives claimed that just such fraud as Knight had arrogantly hinted at had been perpetrated. Their claims for some localities were authenticated—as such things can be by affidavits and other testimony.1 The voting had gone heavily against the Conservatives. But it was not fraud on the part of Radical election officials which defeated them. The fundamental reason was failure to have enough registered votes at the party's disposal— poverty of Conservative white votes. The registered blacks far outnumbered the whites, and they went solidly with the Republican party.

The result was substantially what it had been in the autumn elections for a convention. Many whites had remained away from the polls. If all had voted the net result for the state would not have been different. 14,561 votes were cast for the constitution; 9,511 against it. It was therefore adopted by a large margin. The Republican ticket headed by Reed received 14,421 votes, the Democratic ticket headed by Scott, 7,731; and the independent Radical ticket headed by Samuel Walker, 2,251. 24,403 voters cast their ballots.2 The total number of registered

We signed 'Liberty Billings' to it and put it in the old envelope and sent it to Cone, and Cone—a darn fool—thought it was all hunky." This is a suggestion of one way for Republican postal officials to help beat the enemy.

1 N. Y. World, June 25, 1868,—5 affidavits presented from Madison Co.; Floridian, May 12, 1868. Madison Messenger, May 8, 1868, stated that the regis; ration books showed 1.554 whites and blacks voted, yet 1800 ballots were taken from the box. The Republicans carried the county. Also, An. Cyclop., 1868-9.

* Rt,t. Sect. War, 1868-9, v. I, p. 106, Meade to Grant, June 2. Figures in Floridian, June 9, containing the vote in detail by counties vary somewhat from Meade's figs. According to them 14,520 votes were cast for consti'ution, 9,511 against it. Reed received 14,178 votes, Scott 7,852 and Walker 2,257. The statements in the Floridian are later than those of Meade. Also, Floridian, May 12.

voters was 31,498. Thus 7,095 did not vote. The registration books showed 13,698 white voters and 17,800 black.1

At high noon, on June 8th, Governor Reed was sworn into office by Judge Thomas Boynton—late of Ohio—of the Federal district court. The oath was administered in the presence of both branches of the newly-elected legislature assembled in the capitol building at Tallahassee.' Reed was a little man, slightly built, with a big, bald head and a bushy beard—almost goat-like—the upper lip shaven clean. A full fringe of hair on three sides of the bald spot, a high forehead, and heavy spectacles gave him an owl-like appearance, which accentuated his calm moderation and well-poised personal address. His views on public questions were usually balanced, definite and clear—due perhaps to his long journalistic and business experience; and his way of doing things, not clear, often smacking of commercialism, and suggestive of just that training in the competitive sphere of business and politics which made him definite, concrete, and plausible. For many years Harrison Reed had been a publisher and editor, first in Milwaukee and later in Neemah and Madison, Wisconsin. "Reed is a fussy old granny," wrote an East Florida Republican, Calvin Robinson, to Reed's arch-enemy, Stickney, "but I think he is honest and sincere." Stickney had written: " Reed hangs around like the itch. I can hardly meet him without spitting in his face." 8 He finished his denunciation by calling him a " damn fool ". Stickney had been stealing from the Federal government. Reed had opposed his plans, and hence these statements. A citizen of Wisconsin, called to

1 The registration lists had been revised—Gen. Ord., no. 41, Mch. 16. * Floridian, June 9, 1868; N. Y. Herald, June 14, 1868; N. Y. World, June 17, 1868. * H. Ex. Docs., 38th C, 2nd S., no. 18, p. 6.

testify before a committee of Congress, said of Reed: " He is generally regarded in the State as a high-minded, honest, and honorable man. I never heard his truth and veracity questioned. As a business man his character is that of a prompt and honest man who always pays his debts." 1

His career in Florida showed him to be shrewd, combative, and intriguing in dealing with men, but not smooth. He moved with a high hand—as a benevolent political boss.

He turned from the judge and the Bible to address the future legislators of Florida. As his eyes swept that little gathering of lawless law-makers he must have had sad misgivings. Nearly a third of those assembled were from party reasons hostile to him, and the majority of the others were negroes and whites whose enlightenment was veiled and whose reputations could not be easily damaged. "Once assembled they will do as they please," wrote General Meade a week earlier—" pass laws inconsistent with my powers and orders; and tax ad libitum the State treasuries without any control, and without any means of enforcing their acts except through me." 2

The legislature chosen was preponderantly Republican. Intne senate were sixteen Republicans and eight Democrats; in the house, thirty-seven Republicans and fifteen Democrats.3 Of these seventy-six senators and representatives thirteen were denominated as "carpet-baggers", twenty-one as Southern loyalists or " scalawags ", nineteen as negroes, and twenty-three as white Conservatives or

1 H. Ex. Docs., 38th C, 2nd S., no. 18, p. 88, testimony of J. F. Potter before Committee investigating Florida tax commissioners. » Rpt. Sect. War, 1868-9, v. I, pp. 105-6.

» Floridian, May 9, 1868. N. Y. Herald, June 14, 1868. The Constitution provided for 53 members in the assembly. See Const., Art. 16, Sec . 29, H. Misc. Docs., 40th C, 2nd S., no. 114.

« PreviousContinue »