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 think it proper to refer to the suggestions and excuses offered in justification of the outrages committed.
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, misapplied.
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 population.
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 dangerous element.
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 perpetrated.
(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, or justice.
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 three:
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.
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 173-182.