Henry C. Warmoth

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Henry C. Warmoth
H C Warmoth 1870s W Kurtz.jpg
23rd Governor of Louisiana
In office
Lieutenant (1) Oscar Dunn
(2) P. B. S. Pinchback
Preceded by Joshua Baker
Succeeded by P. B. S. Pinchback
Personal details
Born (1842-05-09)May 9, 1842
McLeansboro, Illinois
Died September 30, 1931(1931-09-30) (aged 89)
New Orleans, Louisiana
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Sally Durand
Religion Episcopalian

Henry Clay Warmoth (May 9, 1842 – September 30, 1931) was a politician and the 23rd Governor of Louisiana from 1868 until his impeachment and suspension from office during the final days of his term in 1872, because of disputes over the outcome of the election. His Lt. Governor, P.B.S. Pinchback, assumed office during Warmoth's absence, becoming the first African-American governor in the United States. Warmoth had supported a Fusionist government and lost support of some Radical Republicans.

He was the first elected Reconstruction Governor of Louisiana; later, he was elected as a Louisiana State Representative, serving one term from 1876-78, during the period when Reconstruction ended and the federal government withdrew its troops from the state.[1] In 1888 Warmoth challenged former governor Francis T. Nicholls in a gubernatorial contest and narrowly lost to the Democrat, in an election noted for widespread voter fraud. In 1890 Warmoth was appointed US Collector of Customs in New Orleans, serving for several years. His memoir, War, Politics and Reconstruction (1930), is considered a classic of the genre.

Early life and service in Civil War[edit]

Henry Clay Warmoth was born on May 9, 1842, in McLeansboro, Illinois, to parents of Dutch descent; he was named for the statesman from Kentucky. He studied in the public school system of Illinois. He studied law, and was admitted to the Missouri bar in 1861. He established his legal career in that state, being appointed as the district attorney of the Eighteenth Judicial District.[1]

During the Civil War, Warmoth served as Lieutenant Colonel of the 32nd Missouri Infantry. He was at the capture of Arkansas Post and was wounded in the Battle of Vicksburg. He was dishonorably discharged for alleged exaggerations of Union losses. After his personal appeal to the Commander-in-Chief, President Abraham Lincoln reinstated Warmoth's military status.[1]

After reinstatement, Warmoth was reunited with his regiment and commanded at the Battle of Lookout Mountain near Atlanta, and reinforced General Nathaniel Banks at the Red Cedar retreat. He was later commissioned as judge of the Department of the Gulf Provost Court.[1]

In early 1865, Warmoth resigned from the military to resume a legal practice, and later ran for Congress.[1]

Political career[edit]

Arriving in Union-occupied New Orleans, penniless but resourceful, Warmoth worked to gain support among freedmen, soliciting their political support. He entered private law practice in New Orleans, ran for Congress as a Republican and was elected. After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, none of the southern elected Representatives was seated by the Radical Republican majority in Congress; Warmoth returned to New Orleans.

Because of continuing violence in the South, especially the Memphis Riots of 1866 and the New Orleans Riot of 1866, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act to create military districts to oversee changes in society, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment to extend full citizenship to freedmen. Louisiana and Texas were put under what was called the 5th Military District.

In 1868, General Winfield Scott Hancock was removed as Military Commander of the 5th Military District (encompassing Texas and Louisiana) and his hand-picked Governor, Joshua Baker, resigned. This paved the way for a special election in April 1868. Warmoth ran for Governor as a Republican.

After being selected as the nominee over Major Francis E. Dumas, he narrowly defeated Louisiana Supreme Court Justice James G. Taliaferro, who ran as a Democrat, in an election marked by widespread violence and fraud. White insurgents tried to disrupt Republican gatherings and suppress black voting, a pattern that grew more overt in future elections. Warmoth was sworn into office on July 13, 1868. Elected at age twenty-six, Warmoth was one of the youngest governors in United States history. (Stevens T. Mason, first governor of Michigan, was the youngest state governor, elected at age 24.)

Also elected with Warmoth was Oscar Dunn as Lieutenant Governor, an African-American leader in the Prince Hall Freemasons, who had a wide network in the city; he was a painting contractor. When Dunn died suddenly in office in 1871, he was succeeded by P.B.S. Pinchback, an African American of mixed race who was President of the State Senate.

In the 1868 presidential election, Democrat Horatio Seymour carried Louisiana, but Republican Ulysses S. Grant was elected President. As a result of electoral anomalies in that election, Warmoth created the State Returning Board to certify future elections. All election returns were reported to the State Returning Board for validity and approval.

Warmoth's 1868 inaugural address suggested the Governor's planned moderation in civil rights policy. He supported the U.S. Constitution's 13th and 14th amendments, pledging "equality before the law and the enjoyment of every political right of all the citizens of the state, regardless of race, color, or previous condition." He also argued that the amendments needed to be supported by legislation enjoying popular as well as legislative support: "only when this grand distinctive feature of the new constitution shall be stamped on every act of legislation, and when such legislation shall find approval and support in that general public sentiment which gives to law its vitality, will our State fairly enter upon that career of greatness and prosperity which the almighty designed for her."[2]

Warmoth's supported electoral reform, which earned him initial favor with African American voters and Radical Republicans. He signed a bill to integrate access to public facilities, but vetoed a more radical one of 1868 that would penalize owners of public places and vehicles who failed to provide equal service to Negroes and Whites.[3] Warmoth was unable to gain support for black suffrage. Historian Francis Byers Harris thought his veto of the public accommodations bill crucial in eroding his political base. Harris wrote in 1947, "Negroes had their hearts set on this law, and Warmoth sowed a seed of distrust which grew into enmity for the man they had helped elect." [4]

Republicans developed severe internal conflicts, with a division between Warmoth-Pinchback faction, supported by many Afro-Creoles who had been free before the war, and what was called the Custom House faction, led by Stephen B. Packard, a US Marshal. Although helped to gain his seat as US Senator by Warmoth, William Pitt Kellogg became allied with Packard, as did Oscar Dunn, lieutenant governor and leader of many Republican ward clubs in New Orleans. Warmoth realized his leadership of the party was threatened.[5]

Additional political turmoil developed when Warmoth endorsed the Fusionist-Democratic ticket of John McEnery in the 1872 election. The election results were contested, and both McEnery and William Pitt Kellogg, the official Republican candidate, declared victory and held inaugurations. The Warmoth-appointed Returning Board declared McEnery as victor; Republicans established a separate Returning Board, which certified Kellogg. Again, the election had been marked by violence and fraud.

Ultimately President Grant supported Kellogg's candidacy. The legislature filed impeachment charges against Warmoth by his Republican allies for his actions during the 1872 election. Thirty-five days before the end of his term, he was suspended from office as called for by Louisiana law at the time for impeached officials, pending the outcome of a senate trial. P.B.S. Pinchback was sworn in as the first governor of African descent in the United States. With the end of Warmoth's term soon reached, he left office and no impeachment trial was held.

After Reconstruction[edit]

Henry Clay Warmoth, later in life

In 1877 at age 35, Warmoth married heiress Sally Durand of Newark, New Jersey. They had two sons and a daughter, and resided at Magnolia Plantation, which he had bought in 1873 in Plaquemines Parish to cultivate sugar cane. Warmoth helped establish a sugar refinery and get a railroad constructed along the west bank of the Mississippi, which contributed to its development.[3] He represented the Sugar Planters Association in seeking a tariff against foreign competition, which they gained from Congress,[3] but later could still not compete against outside sugar. In 1884 Warmoth traveled to France and Germany to study their sugar industries and developed an experimental station at his plantation afterward.[3] Unable to compete with foreign sugar, Warmoth sold his plantation and moved with his wife and family to New Orleans.[3][6]

In 1888, Warmoth ran for and narrowly lost a race for Governor to Francis T. Nicholls, a Democrat and former governor, in an election with extensive voter fraud.[7] In 1890, Warmoth was appointed US Collector of Customs in New Orleans by President Benjamin Harrison, where he appointed many men from among the Afro-Creole community who had supported him politically.[8] During his service, Warmoth lived in the St. Charles Hotel.

In 1889, the white Democrat-dominated legislature passed a constitutional amendment incorporating a "grandfather clause", which effectively disfranchised most blacks in the state. Not being able to vote also excluded them also from juries and local office. The Democrats essentially maintained this exclusion until after passage by Congress of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which authorized the federal government to oversee and enforce the constitutional right of all citizens to vote.

Warmoth published his memoir, War, Politics and Reconstruction, in 1930. It is well regarded and considered a classic of the genre.[9] Warmoth died in New Orleans in 1931 at age 89.[10]

In popular culture[edit]

Henry Warmoth is the pseudonym of a New Orleans service industry writer and Quarter Rat columnist.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d e Conrad, Glenn R. (1988). "Henry Clay Warmoth". A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography, Vol. II (The Louisiana Historical Association). pp. 223–224. 
  2. ^ Inaugural Address of Governor H.C. Warmoth. New Orleans: Republican Office, 57 S. Charles Street. 13 July 1868. p. 4. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Henry Clay Warmoth", Louisiana Biographical Dictionary, ed. Jan Onofrio, North American Book Dist LLC, 1999, p. 294
  4. ^ Harris, Francis Byers (1947). "Henry Clay Warmoth: Reconstruction Governor of Louisiana". Louisiana Historical Quarterly 30 (2): 556–557. 
  5. ^ Justin A. Nystrom , New Orleans after the Civil War: Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010, pp. 103-104
  6. ^ "Warmoth, Henry Clay", Library, University of North Carolina
  7. ^ Nystrom (2010), New Orleans after the Civil War, p. 308
  8. ^ Nystrom (2010), New Orleans after the Civil War, p. 308
  9. ^ Nystrom (2010), New Orleans after the Civil War, p. 308
  10. ^ Nystrom (2010), New Orleans after the Civil War, p. 308
  11. ^ [1], Quarter Rat, Issue 5

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Joshua Baker
Governor of Louisiana
Succeeded by
P. B. S. Pinchback