James L. Alcorn

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James L. Alcorn
JLAlcorn.jpg
United States Senator
from Mississippi
In office
December 1, 1871 – March 4, 1877
Preceded by Hiram R. Revels
Succeeded by Lucius Q. C. Lamar
28th Governor of Mississippi
In office
March, 1870 – November 30, 1871
Lieutenant Ridgley C. Powers
Preceded by Adelbert Ames
Succeeded by Ridgley C. Powers
Personal details
Born James Lusk Alcorn
(1816-11-04)November 4, 1816
Golconda, Illinois
Died December 19, 1894(1894-12-19) (aged 78)
Friars Point, Mississippi
Political party Whig, Republican
Alma mater Cumberland College
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Military service
Allegiance  Confederate States of America
Service/branch  Confederate States Army
Rank Confederate States of America General-collar.svg Brigadier General, Mississippi troops
Battles/wars American Civil War

James Lusk Alcorn (November 4, 1816 – December 19, 1894) was a prominent American political figure in Mississippi during the 19th century. He was a leading southern white Republican during Reconstruction in Mississippi, where he served as governor and U.S. Senator. A moderate Republican, he had a bitter rivalry with Radical Republican carpetbagger Adelbert Ames, who defeated him in the 1873 Mississippi gubernatorial race. He briefly served as a brigadier general of Mississippi state troops at times in Confederate States Army service during the early part of the American Civil War. Only James Longstreet had been a higher-ranking Confederate general among those who joined in the post-Civil War Republican Party.

Early life and career[edit]

Born near Golconda, Illinois, to a Scots-Irish family, he attended Cumberland College in Kentucky and served as deputy sheriff of Livingston County, Kentucky, from 1839 to 1844. He served in the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1843 before moving to Mississippi. In 1844, he set up a law practice in Panola County, Mississippi. As his law practice flourished and his property holdings throughout the Mississippi Delta increased, he became a wealthy man. By 1860, he owned nearly a hundred slaves and held lands valued at a quarter of a million dollars. He was a leader of the Whig Party. He served in the Mississippi House of Representatives and Mississippi Senate during the 1840s and 1850s. He ran for Congress in 1856 but was defeated.

As a delegate to the Mississippi convention of 1851, called by Democratic Governor John A. Quitman to build momentum for secession, Alcorn helped defeat that movement. Like many Whig planters, Alcorn initially opposed secession, pleading with the extremists to reflect for a moment on the realities of regional power. He foretold a horrific picture of a beaten South, "when the northern soldier would tread her cotton fields, when the slave should be made free and the proud Southerner stricken to the dust in his presence."[1]

Civil War[edit]

When secession passed, Alcorn cast his lot with the Confederacy and was selected as a brigadier general by the state. During the American Civil War, he was in uniform for about 18 months of inconspicuous service, mainly in raising troops and in garrison duty. He was taken prisoner in Arkansas in 1862, was paroled late in the year, and returned to his plantation. In 1863, he was elected to the Mississippi state legislature. Alcorn lost both his sons, James Alcorn, Jr., and Henry Alcorn, to the war. J. L. Alcorn Jr. committed suicide in 1879 after returning home from the war partially deaf and a drunk (most likely due to what today would be diagnosed as PTSD).The monument on the "Mound," the location of the family cemetery at Alcorn's plantation, attributes Jame Lusk Alcorn, Jr's death to the 'insane war of rebellion" (undoubtedly Alcorn's words). Alcorn had a statue made of himself, and after his death it was put on the mound, on his grave. Henry "Hal" Alcorn ran away against his father's wishes during the war to join the military, fell sick, was left behind, and captured. He made his way to Richmond after the surrender and some family friends tried to help him get home, but he died on the way of typhoid fever.

Alcorn managed to maintain his wealth during the Civil War by trading cotton with the North. After the war, he was estimated to be among the fifty wealthiest men in the New South.

Postbellum career[edit]

Senator James L. Alcorn

He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1865, but, like all Southerners, was not allowed to take a seat as Congress was pondering Reconstruction. He supported suffrage for Freedmen and endorsed the Fourteenth Amendment. Alcorn became the leader of the Scalawags, who comprised about a fourth of the Republican Party officials in the state, in coalition with carpetbaggers, African-Americans who had been free before the outbreak of the civil war and Freedmen. Mississippi had a majority of African-Americans, the overwhelming majority of whom were Freedmen. They had no desire to vote for the Democratic Party, which would have not welcomed them anyway and which had carried the 1868 elections by intimidation and violence against blacks to prevent them from voting. Thus the vast majority of votes for Republican candidates came from African-Americans even though most of the Republican state office holders were whites. In 1869, James Alcorn was elected by the Republicans as governor in 1869, serving, as Governor of Mississippi from 1870 to 1871. As a modernizer, he appointed many like-minded former Whigs, some of them now Democrats. He strongly supported education, including public schools for all,and a new college exclusively for blacks, now known as Alcorn State University. He maneuvered to make his ally, Hiram Revels, its president. Irritated at his patronage policy, many Republicans opposed Alcorn. They were concerned as well at the limits to his attendance to African American interests. His hostility to a state civil rights bill was well known; so was his unwillingness to appoint black local officers where a white alternative could be found. One complained that Alcorn's policy was to see "the old civilization of the South modernized" rather than lead a total political, social and economic revolution.[2]

Alcorn resigned the governorship to become a U.S. Senator (1871–1877), replacing his ally Hiram Revels, the first African American senator. Senator Alcorn urged the removal of the political disabilities of white southerners and rejected Republican proposals to end segregation in hotels, restaurants, and railroad cars by federal legislation;[3] he denounced the federal cotton tax as robbery,[4] and defended separate schools for both races in Mississippi. Although a former slaveholder, he characterized slavery as "a cancer upon the body of the Nation" and expressed the gratification which he and many other Southerners felt over its destruction.[5]

Alcorn's estrangement from Senator Adelbert Ames, his northern-born colleague, deepened in 1871, as African-Americans became convinced that the former governor was not taking the problem of white terrorism seriously enough; and, in fact, Alcorn resisted federal action to suppress the Ku-Klux Klan, contending that state authorities were sufficient to handle the task. By 1873 the quarrel had deepened into an intense animosity. Both men ran for governor. Ames was supported by the Radicals and most African Americans, while Alcorn won the votes of conservative whites and most of the scalawags. Ames won by a vote of 69,870 to 50,490. Alcorn withdrew from active politics in the state, emerging to assail the new governor as incapable and an enemy of the people of Mississippi. This was not true, but then, neither was Ames's view of Alcorn as an insincere and possibly corrupt man. When a second African American senator was elected in 1874, Alcorn refused to follow the customary procedure of introducing his new colleague to the Senate. In 1875, when Reconstruction was fighting for its life against a Democratic campaign of violence, Alcorn emerged,only to lead a white force against black Republicans at Friar's Point. The aftermath led to at least five black people being killed.

During the Reconstruction era, Alcorn was an advocate of modernizing the South. Although a believer in white supremacy, he supported civil and political rights for African-Americans. In a letter to his wife (Amelia Alcorn, née Glover, of Rosemount Plantation in southern Alabama), he states that Southerners must make the Negro their friend or "the path ahead will be red with blood and damp with tears." Alcorn was the founder of the Mississippi levee system, and was instrumental in their rebuilding after the Civil War.

After his retirement from politics, he was active in levee affairs and was a delegate to the Mississippi constitutional convention of 1890, in which he supported the black disenfranchisement clause of the new constitution. He was twice married: in 1839 to Mary C. Stewart of Kentucky, who died in 1849; and in 1850 to Amelia Walton Glover of Alabama. In his later life, Alcorn practiced law in Friars Point, Mississippi and lived quietly at his plantation, Eagle's Nest, in Coahoma County, Mississippi, until his death and interment in the family cemetery on his estate in 1894.

Honors[edit]

Alcorn County, Mississippi, is named in his honor, as is Alcorn State University, originally set up for African Americans.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ James L. Roark, Masters without Slaves 1977, p. 3\
  2. ^ Quoted in Eric Foner, Reconstruction (1988) p 298
  3. ^ See Congressional Globe, 42 Cong., 2 Sess., pp. 246–47
  4. ^ See Congressional Globe, 42 Cong., 2 Sess., pp. 2730–33
  5. ^ See Congressional Globe, 42 Cong., 2 Sess., pp. 3424

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Adelbert Ames
Governor of Mississippi
March 10, 1870 – November 30, 1871
Succeeded by
Ridgley C. Powers
United States Senate
Preceded by
Hiram R. Revels
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Mississippi
March 4, 1871 – March 4, 1877
Served alongside: Adelbert Ames, Henry R. Pease and Blanche K. Bruce
Succeeded by
Lucius Q. C. Lamar