The Mississippi Plan of 1875 was devised by the Democratic Party to overthrow the Republican Party in the state of Mississippi by means of organized threats of violence and suppression or purchase of the black vote, in order to regain political control of the legislature and governor's office. The Mississippi Plan was successful in those aims and was later adopted by white Democrats in South Carolina.
During Reconstruction, former slaves were granted citizenship and the vote by the 14th and 15th Amendments. The consequences of this were far-reaching and almost immediate, as blacks eagerly registered and flooded the polls. In Mississippi's 1874 election, the Republican Party carried a 30,000 majority in what had hitherto been a Democratic Party stronghold.
Republicans took the governor's office and many legislative seats, including the election of blacks to many offices, such as 10 of 36 seats in the state legislature (although they comprised a much larger majority of the total population). The city of Vicksburg in 1874 set the precedent for the Mississippi Plan. White armed patrols prevented blacks from voting and succeeded in defeating all Republican city officials in August. By December the emboldened party forced the black sheriff, Crosby, to flee to the state capital. Blacks who rallied to the city to aid the sheriff also had to flee in the face of superior white forces. Over the next few days, armed gangs may have murdered up to 300 blacks in the city's vicinity. President Ulysses S. Grant sent a company of troops to Vicksburg in January 1875 to quell the violence and allow the sheriff's safe return. The sheriff was shot in the head on June 7, 1875, by his white deputy, A. Gilmer.
In 1875, under the Mississippi Plan of the Democrats, a political dual-pronged battle to reverse the otherwise dominant Republican trend was waged. White paramilitary organizations such as the Red Shirts arose to serve as "the military arm of the Democratic Party." Unlike the Ku Klux Klan (which was defunct by then), the Red Shirts operated openly, with members known in local areas; they sometimes invited newspaper coverage, and their goals were political. They were well-armed, with private financing for the purchase of new weapons as they took on more power. The first step was to persuade the 10 to 15 percent of Scalawags (white Republicans) to vote with the Democratic party. Outright attacks and a combined fear of social, political and economic ostracism convinced carpetbaggers to switch parties or flee the state.
The second step of the Mississippi Plan was intimidation of the black populace. Planters, landlords and merchants used economic coercion against black sharecroppers with limited success. The Red Shirts more often used violence, including whippings and murders, and intimidation at the polls. White paramilitary groups, also called "rifle clubs," frequently provoked riots at Republican rallies, shooting down dozens of blacks in the ensuing conflicts.
Although the governor requested Federal troops to curb the violence, President Ulysses S. Grant hesitated to act, for fear that in doing so, he would be accused of "bayonet rule"—which he believed would undoubtedly be exploited by Democrats to carry Ohio in that year's state elections. The violence went unchecked and the plan worked as intended: during Mississippi's 1875 election, five counties with large black majorities polled 12, 7, 4, 2, and 0 votes, respectively. The Republican victory by 30,000 votes in 1874 was reversed to a Democratic majority of 30,000 in 1875.
The success of the white Democrats in Mississippi influenced the growth of Red Shirts in North and South Carolina as well. They were particularly prominent in suppressing black votes in majority-black counties in South Carolina. Historians estimated that they committed 150 murders in the weeks leading up to the 1876 election.
- Ellem, Warren A. "The Overthrow of Reconstruction in Mississippi," Journal of Mississippi History 1992 54(2): 175-201
- Foner, Eric, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. (1988).
- Garner, James Wilford. Reconstruction in Mississippi (1901) online edition; full text online
- Harris, William C. The Day of the Carpetbagger: Republican Reconstruction in Mississippi (1979) online edition