Joseph Barton Elam

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Joseph Barton Elam
Joseph Barton Elam
Member of U.S. House of Representatives from Louisiana's 4th congressional district
In office
Louisiana House of Representatives, CSA Speaker of the House
In office
President Jefferson Davis
Member, Louisiana House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born 12 June 1821 (1821-06-12)
Hempstead County, Arkansas
Died 4 July 1885 (1885-07-05)
Mansfield, Louisiana
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Harriet Spencer
Children at least one son
Profession Law
Joseph Barton Elam.

Joseph Barton Elam, Sr. (June 12, 1821 – July 4, 1885), was a two-term Democratic U.S. representative from Louisiana.

Early life and education[edit]

Joseph Barton Elam was born near Hope in Hempstead County in southern Arkansas, to William Jefferson Elam, a teacher, and his wife, both from Virginia. The family moved to Ayish Bayou, San Augustine, Texas, in 1823 where another son, Charles Wheaton Elam, was born. In 1826, they relocated to Natchitoches, Louisiana, where Mary Jane Elam, was born. By 1833, the family moved to Fort Jessup, Louisiana, the westernmost outpost of the United States at that time. The father William Elam tutored the officers' sons. Another boy, John Waddill Elam, was born there in 1833, and daughter Henrietta Elam.

The Elam children were also educated at Fort Jessup. Later, Joseph Elam read law with his cousin John Waddill in Alexandria, Louisiana. In 1853 Waddill helped Solomon Northup, a kidnapped freeman from New York who had been sold into slavery in Louisiana, to obtain his freedom in court proceedings. Northup had been held for twelve years as a slave in the Red River region. Under its 1841 law, the state of New York commissioned an attorney to help find and free the kidnapped man.[1][page needed]

Elam was admitted to the bar in October 1843, and began his practice in Alexandria. He moved to Sabine Parish and settled in Many, Louisiana in 1844.

Political career[edit]

Elam was elected to the Sabine Parish Police Jury in 1845, and in 1846-1847 served as its President. Elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives from Sabine, he served two years from this area. Elam also served as the District Attorney of Sabine Parish.

He had helped establish the court system in De Soto Parish, where on August 7, 1843 he made his first court appearance as an attorney in the parish court. In 1847, Elam drafted the articles for incorporation for the town of Mansfield, and was elected as its first mayor.[2] He served as mayor a second time in 1856. He also was elected an alderman of Mansfield in 1856.

Elam was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives from DeSoto Parish. His brother, John Waddill Elam, was elected as DeSoto Parish Sheriff.

In 1861, Elam was elected a delegate to the Confederate Constitutional convention, and signed the Louisiana Ordinance of Secession on January 26, 1861. He served two terms in the state legislature during the Civil War, and was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1864 and 1865.

In November 1865, he was elected as a state representative in the post-civil war Reconstruction legislature; he served until the passage of the Reconstruction legislation by Congress in 1867.[3] Elam attended the National Union Convention as a delegate from Louisiana in 1866.[4]

During Reconstruction, the Radical Republicans took control of Louisiana. Elam was temporarily disfranchised under the Louisiana Constitution of 1868, which prevented former officers of the Confederacy from running for office for a limited period. When in 1870, section 99 of this Constitution was repealed, Elam was allowed again to run for office.

Due to a high rate of violence and intimidation associated with elections, conducted in part by the Ku Klux Klan trying to suppress black and other Republican voting, the Radicals passed legislation in 1870 to establish "returning boards," which were authorized to review elections and dismiss results from ones in which fraud was committed. That year, the US Congress passed the Force Act, intended to aid in suppressing the power of the KKK in the South.

Elam was denied office in 1870, 1872 and 1874 by the returning boards. In 1870, Elam stopped a riot by speaking to and calming a crowd after an election was taken from him, and did the same in 1872.[5] The Wheeler Adjustment, passed by the Louisiana legislature in March 1875, did not allow Elam to take his Louisiana State Senate seat for the 1874 election.[6] The elections continued to be marked by violence by the White League, a paramilitary group that supported the Democratic Party, disrupted Republican gatherings and worked to suppress black voting.[7]

In 1876 Elam, a Secessionist and ex-Confederate State Legislator, was elected to the United States Congress in the Forty-fifth Congress. A national political compromise of that year allowed him and other Democrats to take office and elected Rutherford B. Hayes as President in 1877. Elam was reelected to the Forty-sixth Congress, representing the 4th Congressional District.[8]

During his reelection campaign of 1878, Elam was severely injured in a stagecoach accident.[9] In 1881, he returned to Louisiana to practice law in Mansfield. He died on July 4, 1885.

Personal life[edit]

Elam married and had a family. His younger sister Henrietta Elam married William B. Spencer, also later elected to the US Congress in the 1870s from Louisiana.

One of Joseph's granddaughters, Margaret Taylor Elam Drew (1919–1977), was the first wife of R. Harmon Drew, Sr. of Minden, who became a State Representative. Their son Harmon Drew, Jr. was appointed as a Louisiana Court of Appeals Judge, based in Shreveport.


  1. ^ Northup, Solomon, Twelve Years a Slave
  2. ^ Act No. 128, General Assembly of Louisiana 1847
  3. ^ Official Journal of the House of Representatives, State of Louisiana, 1861-1867
  4. ^ The New York Times August 13, 1866
  5. ^ Biographical history of Northwest Louisiana
  6. ^ Handbook of Politics for 1876, Edward McPherson, Solomons & Chapman, 1876, p. 200
  7. ^ George C. Rable, But There Was No Peace: The Role of Violence in the Politics of Reconstruction, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984, p. 132
  8. ^ Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, pp. 197, 201
  9. ^ "Representative Elam injured", Shreveport Times, October 1878


  • Chambers, Henry E., A History of Louisiana, the American Historical Society, Inc., (1925)
  • Fortier, Alcée, Louisiana, Southern Historical Association, (1909)
  • Biographical Dictionary of Louisiana, Louisiana Historical Society, (1988)
  • Biographical History of Northwest Louisiana, Southern Press, (1889)
  • 1850 United States Census, Sabine Parish, Louisiana
  • 1860 United States Census, DeSoto Parish
  • United States Congressional Record 1877-1881
  • Northup, Solomon, Twelve Years a Slave
  • La. Acts of the Leg. No. 128, 1847
  • DeSoto Parish History Vols. 1 & 2, DeSoto Historical Society, 1995, 2004.
  • Journal of the Confederate Congress, Vol. 7, pgs. 14-15,1864.
  • DeSoto Parish Clerk of Court records
  • Sabine Parish Clerk of Court records
  • Tunnell, Ted, Edge of the Sword: The Ordeal of Carpetbagger Marshal H. Twitchell, LSU Press (2004)
  • Tunnell, Ted, Crucible of Reconstruction, LSU Press (1984)
Political offices
Preceded by
Adolphus Olive
Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives(Confederate)
Simeon Belden (Union)
Succeeded by
Duncan S. Cage
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William Mallory Levy
United States Representative for the 4th Congressional District of Louisiana
Succeeded by
Newton Crain Blanchard