The Press and the 1866 New Orleans Riots

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 12.52.56 PMThe New Orleans Riot on July 30, 1866, was the culmination of mounting tensions concerning the 1864 Louisiana Constitutional Convention, black codes, and the Louisiana legislature’s refusal to grant suffrage to black citizens, many of whom were veterans of the Union army. More on that later. Today I offer the reactions issued by the press. Political allegiance comes through quite clearly in these two reports – one from Virginia and the other from New York. And both figure Andrew Johnson as the primary figure in the cause and outcome of this riot. Reading the two side by side makes for a nice comparison.

Charles Wynne in the Richmond (Va.) Times, August 2, 1866

RADICALISM, REVOLUTION, TREASON, and INSURRECTION in the Southern States have just received a death-blow at the hands of the President. His order to the military in Louisiana, which we publish elsewhere, crushes in the egg the atrocious Radical conspiracy to bring about an immediate war of the races at the South. It arrays, by an imperative order, the army against the [Republicans] and all others in rebellion against the existing State Governments and laws. There is no more temporizing with the vile incendiaries who have been instigating the negroes to organize regiments, clamor for equal suffrage, and overthrow, by force, the present State Governments.
It is a fact, as disgraceful and infamous as it is undeniably true, that these demoralized traitors and revolutionists have had the sympathies of not a few military officers holding important commands at the South. One of this class of Radical tools was, beyond question, the federal General to whose criminal remissness the late riots in New Orleans are justly ascribed.
He permitted an illegal assembly to convene composed of men whose objects were the disfranchisement of nine-tenths of the white inhabitants of Louisiana, and the enfranchisement of the negroes. He also allowed the streets of New Orleans to be thronged by shouting, yelling, malignant negro companies, armed and ripe for deeds of lawless violence. Sympathising with these negroes and their vile white associates, he failed to lend timely assistance to the State authorities. A white citizen of New Orleans was insulted and outraged by a negro procession, and an alarming riot at once commenced, which resulted in the loss of many lives.
The wicked and gigantic conspiracy, Andrew Johnson crushed by the order to which we have referred. The whole power of the Government of the United States is hereafter to be employed to annihilate these traitors.
It is providential that there is no disloyal Congress in session to break the force of this crushing blow at Insurrection, Rebellion, and Treason. The President is master of the situation at last, and the Radical satrap who refuses to obey the order of his commander-in-chief will now have his head sent spinning from his shoulders.
A splendid opportunity is offered to all the military tools of Thaddeus Stevens to indulge in harri karri. They must obey their master or rip themselves up. The dilemma is painfully embarrassing but should they elect the “happy dispatch’ the sabers of the squelched negro companies are at their disposal. It is the favorite weapon of the disgruntled Japanese officials when they disembowel themselves at the gracious command of the Tycoon.

Well…he certainly gets right to the point. Here is another take on the situation:

Horace Greely in the New York Tribune, August 1, 1866

If any doubts existed as to President Johnson’s connection with the massacre in New Orleans it will be removed by reading his dispatch to Attorney General Herron of Louisiana. This dispatch, written with the knowledge that loyal citizens of the United States were dying from wounds received y a rebel mob assumes the responsibility of the deed. The policy that prompted Mayor Monroe and his followers finds its inspiration in Washington.
This conclusion fills us with inexpressible sadness, but we cannot resist the facts. It is a dreadful thing to arraign the President of the United States as being in any possible sympathy with the unlawful shedders of blood, but when a plain fact is to be stated, the plainest words are the best. In the first place the President recognizes a usurped power to communicate his wishes. James M. Wells is the Governor of Louisiana, and the official representation of the State. To him the President should have spoken. But Gov. Wells, a duly elected Governor by rebel votes, has called this convention together and the President steps over the theory of State Rights, and sends his commands to an officer of his Cabinet – his Attorney General – one Andrew S. Herron – a conspicuous Rebel in the days of treason. The President directs him to call upon Gen Sheridan for “sufficient force to sustain civil authorities in suppressing an illegal or unlawful assemblies.” If the President really believes that States have rights, and Governors of States privileges, then his course in recognizing an officer of Gov Wells’s Cabinet as the proper authority to call out troops is a usurpation.
It is folly to use soft phrases in speaking of this appalling crime. The policy of Andrew Johnson engendered the demon fury which has shed blood in the streets of the Crescent City. His statesmanship has once more raised Rebel Flags in New Orleans. The time has come for the people to speak – and let it be in tones so distinct and unmistakable that even Andrew Johnson will not dare disobey the warning.

What are your thoughts on Andrew Johnson’s policies and southern violence? I engage questions like this and many others in my new web-course on Reconstruction history. Check it out!

With compliments

Keith

Another Whiskey, Mr. Johnson?

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 10.22.40 AMOn inauguration day, 1865, Americans heard what Frederick Douglass deemed more akin to a sermon than a speech. He was referring, of course, to Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address – the main attraction. The opening act was something of a flop.

Andrew Johnson, having recently arrived in Washington City a bit under the weather, had earlier that day consumed several glasses of whiskey (he was from Tennessee, after all) to clear his head and steady his nerves.

Red faced and quite obviously intoxicated, he delivered – after his inauguration as vice president – a rambling and incoherent speech that meandered around glory and democracy until Hannibal Hamlin (Lincoln’s first VP) had to cut him off.

Lincoln, incensed, instructed his cabinet to keep an eye on him for the rest of the day.  But he came to his defense nevertheless, stating “I have known Andy Johnson for many years; he made a bad slip the other day, but you need not be scared; Andy ain’t a drunkard.”

Even so, poor Andy never shook the “drunken tailor” image. And that was just the beginning of his problems.

You can find out how things turned out for Mr. Johnson in my couse on Reconstruction.

With compliments,

Keith

The Reconstruction Era from Keith Harris History

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 6.07.08 AMAnd……we are good to go!

I am very pleased to announce the launch of the latest in the Keith Harris History web-course series: The Reconstruction Era, 1862-1877. This is a 17-lecture series that covers the political, social, and economic themes of the period. I have supplemented each lecture with a list of key terms and an assortment of downloadable primary sources…so you can read for yourself what the historical actors were saying as you follow along. I designed this course especially for history students (high school/AP and college undergrads) but anyone with an interest in this most contentious and complicated episode of US history will find the course useful and engaging.

I offer this to my on-line crew for a special price HERE.

 

And here’s the cool part: the course is social-friendly. Meaning: at various points I pose analytical questions or topics for discussion and invite students to post their responses to me on Twitter or any other social media platform using the hashtag #harristorian…and voilà – personal instruction from yours truly and discourse with the student community.

An overview…

The Reconstruction Era, 1862-1877

Lecture One – Wartime reconstruction (Part One)Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 6.29.44 AM

Lecture Two – Wartime Reconstruction (Part Two) The Port Royal Experiment, Davis Bend Plantations, Southern Louisiana and the Mississippi Valley

Lecture Three – The Meaning of Freedom

Lecture Four – Presidential Reconstruction

Lecture Five – Congressional Reconstruction (Part One)

Lecture Six – Congressional Reconstruction (Part Two)

Lecture Seven – Impeaching the President

Lecture Eight – The Election of 1868 and the 15th amendment

Lecture Nine – A Republican South

Lecture Ten – The Political Economy of Reconstruction

Lecture Eleven – The Challenge of Enforcement

Lecture Twelve – Violence in the South

Lecture Thirteen – Reconstruction in the North

Lecture Fourteen – Depression and Politics

Lecture Fifteen – The Election of 1876 and the End of Reconstruction

Lecture Sixteen – Redemption

Lecture Seventeen – Popular Culture: Reconstruction and Hollywood – The Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind

Coda: Things to Consider

Take the course…each lecture is between 15 and 18 minutes long and jam-packed with all the goods to help you ace the test, write the paper, or have something interesting to talk about at parties – impress your friends!!

With compliments

Keith

Mercy Street – A Promising Beginning

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.47.27 PMSo I have watched the premiere episode of the PBS Civil War drama, Mercy Street, which is  the story of two volunteer nurses and a hospital staff in 1862 Alexandria. I will refrain from any attempt at a  comprehensive review until I have watched the series in its entirety – but for now I am optimistic.

I was pleased to learn that the writers thought to infuse actual issues into the narrative. The show deftly engages gender, abolition as both a political and moral cause, and nationalism (on both sides). With luck, the show will continue on this path and give the audience something to ponder other than what could very easily wind up as an over-wrought Lifetime historical romance  – much like what has become of Downton Abbey of late.

Of course, optimism notwithstanding – there were a few things that, well…just didn’t sit right. For starters, the characters seem a little cut-and-paste: one for every category, as it were. There is the fiery abolitionist, the obstinate belle, the Unionist who doesn’t care about slavery,  the free black man who is too smart for his own good, the list goes on. And I won’t spoil it for you – but there were a few scenes that were so melodramatic and/or cliche that I had to smirk.

But I won’t come down too hard on the first episode. I will give the show time for some character development, some added complexity, and the ironing out of a few wrinkles. All in all – The first Mercy Street episode caught me attention – in a positive way. And so I look forward to next week.

With compliments,

Keith

Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar Acceptance Speech

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 7.16.48 AMGreetings all,

As I spend the weekend putting the finishing touches on a web course on the Reconstruction Era, I am reminded of this moving speech by film star Hattie McDaniel, the first black person ever to be awarded the Academy Award. In the course, the final segment engages history and popular culture – in particular the film, Gone With the Wind. I focus on McDaniel’s portrayal of Mammy as well as a few notes on the actress herself. She was a fascinating woman off screen – a outspoken supporter of civil rights, she once lobbied the city of Los Angeles to purchase a home in an exclusive all-white neighborhood. Please take a moment to watch this clip – what does it suggest to you about race, historical memory, and Hollywood in 1940?

With compliments,

Keith

PS – the course will be live the week of January 18, 2016