Henry C. Warmoth

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Henry C. Warmoth
H C Warmoth 1870s W Kurtz.jpg
23rd Governor of Louisiana
In office
June 27, 1868 – December 9, 1872
Lieutenant Oscar Dunn
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 (the eldest child of Isaac Sanders & Eleanor (Lane) Warmoth); 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.[1]

Political career[edit]

Arriving in Union-occupied New Orleans, Warmoth made a specialty in the kind of law practice that his military experience gave him particular qualifications for: cotton claims and courts-martial decisions. At the same time he became an active Republican, gaining support among freedmen.[2] In November 1865, he ran for territorial delegate as a Radical Republican in an unauthorized election, at which black Louisianians cast over 19,000 votes -- nearly as many as the victorious Democratic candidate for governor won. (As Louisiana restricted the suffrage to white males, the votes were not counted, but Republicans hoped to show what an impartial suffrage could do. By electing a territorial delegate, they were making the statement that no legal state of Louisiana existed, and that Congress should remand it to a territory. Congress did not do so).[3]

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, and the army was assigned to oversee the process by which a new constitutional convention could be called, voted for by black and white alike.

When the convention had finished its work, a ratification election was called and the Republican party chose a state ticket. Warmoth was selected as the nominee for governor over Major Francis E. Dumas. The largely black True Radical faction nominated a planter and wartime Unionist, Louisiana Supreme Court Justice James G. Taliaferro against him, and found some support from Democrats. All the same, Warmoth carried the state by some 26,000 votes, and the Reconstruction constitution was ratified.[4] 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.

Turbulence and some violence had marred the April election. With the rise of the Ku-Klux Klan, the disorders worsened over the summer. By fall, night-riding, murder, and intimidation were common. The number of Republicans killed for political reasons may have approached eight hundred. Large riots in outlying parishes and paramilitary white forces in New Orleans kept thousands of blacks from voting in the 1868 presidential election. As a result, Democrat Horatio Seymour carried Louisiana, even as his Republican opponentUlysses S. Grant carried the country. The fraud and force induced Warmoth to create a State Returning Board to certify future elections. All election returns were reported to the State Returning Board for validity and approval. At the same time, the governor augmented the forces at his command: a five-thousand man state militia and a Metropolitan Police, with authority over the greater New Orleans area.

Along with those changes, the governor sought to broaden the party to include a larger share of the propertied white population. He supported government aid for railroad construction and levee repair, called for and got a constitutional amendment limiting the state's ability to go into debt, and vetoed pork barrel bills. At his recommendation, the voters removed the provisions in the Reconstruction constitution disfranchising a portion of the former Confederates. Some former Confederates -- notably former General James Longstreet -- were appointed to office, and in most cases where he could do so, the governor chose white applicants over black ones.[5] Warmoth's 1868 inaugural address had made clear his support for 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," and he 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."[6]

But those words did not measure up to his actions. He signed a weak bill to integrate access to public facilities, but vetoed a more extensive one that would penalize owners of public places and vehicles who failed to provide equal service to Negroes and Whites.[7] 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." [8]

In consequence, 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 and James F. Casey, Collector of the Port of New Orleans and brother-in-law to President Grant. 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. By 1871, every local convention turned into a fracas, and the state convention was held with United States soldiers and Gatling machine-guns to give the Custom House wing control. Warmoth's friends had to assemble in a convention of their own. That winter, the governor seized control of the statehouse from his opponents by using the state militia's bayonets in protection.[9] Clearly, Warmoth's leadership was under severe challenge.[10]

With nowhere else to go and with President Grant on his enemies' side, Warmoth joined the Liberal Republican movement that was seeking a reform candidate of its own for President. When it endorsed Horace Greeley and Democrats adopted Greeley as their own candidate, the governor carried his influence to Greeley's side. In state politics, that meant endorsing the Fusionist-Democratic ticket of John McEnery in the 1872 election. Such a step alienated Warmoth from what black support he continued to have, including P. B. S. Pinchback. None of them trusted Democrats to protect equal rights, whatever their professions. 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 Republican-controlled legislature filed impeachment charges against Warmoth 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.[7] He represented the Sugar Planters Association in seeking a tariff against foreign competition, which they gained from Congress,[7] 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.[7] Unable to compete with foreign sugar, Warmoth sold his plantation and moved with his wife and family to New Orleans.[7][11]

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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] Warmoth died in New Orleans in 1931 at age 89.[15]

In popular culture[edit]

Henry Warmoth is the pseudonym of a New Orleans service industry writer and Quarter Rat columnist.[16]


Binning, F. Wayne, "Carpetbaggers' Triumph: The Louisiana State Elections of 1868," Louisiana History 14 (Winter 1973): 21-39 Current, Richard Nelson, Those Terrible Carpetbaggers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988) Tunnell, Ted, Crucible of Reconstruction:War, Radicalism and Race in Louisiana, 1862-1877 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984.

  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. ^ Current, Those Terrible Carpetbaggers,6-12.
  3. ^ Current, Those Terrible Carpetbaggers,14-20.
  4. ^ Binning, "Carpetbaggers' Triumph,"31-35.
  5. ^ Tunnell, Crucible of Reconstruction,159-62.
  6. ^ Inaugural Address of Governor H.C. Warmoth. New Orleans: Republican Office, 57 S. Charles Street. 13 July 1868. p. 4. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "Henry Clay Warmoth", Louisiana Biographical Dictionary, ed. Jan Onofrio, North American Book Dist LLC, 1999, p. 294
  8. ^ Harris, Francis Byers (1947). "Henry Clay Warmoth: Reconstruction Governor of Louisiana". Louisiana Historical Quarterly 30 (2): 556–557. 
  9. ^ Current, Those Terrible Carpetbaggers, 246-55.
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ "Warmoth, Henry Clay", Library, University of North Carolina
  12. ^ Nystrom (2010), New Orleans after the Civil War, p. 308
  13. ^ Nystrom (2010), New Orleans after the Civil War, p. 308
  14. ^ Nystrom (2010), New Orleans after the Civil War, p. 308
  15. ^ Nystrom (2010), New Orleans after the Civil War, p. 308
  16. ^ [1], Quarter Rat, Issue 5

External links[edit]

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