Joseph A. Shakspeare

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Joseph Ansoetegui Shakspeare (April 12, 1837 – 22 January 1896) was mayor of New Orleans from 1880 - 1882 and again from 1888 to 1892.

Early life and political career[edit]

Joseph Shakspeare was born in New Orleans, the son of a Quaker from Delaware, Samuel Shakspeare, and Mariane (Mathias) Shakespeare, a Swiss immigrant. He studied iron design in New York City and later returned to New Orleans to run an ironworks started by his father. He later entered politics, serving one term in the state legislature. He married Antoinette Kroos, a German immigrant, in 1863; the couple had five children.

In the municipal election of 1880, Shakspeare accepted the mayoral nomination of a coalition of reformers determined to take power from “the Ring”, a scandal-plagued local political machine. Shakspeare defeated Jules Denis, the Ring candidate, by 9803 votes to 9362. For several days, outgoing Ring mayor Isaac W. Patton refused to recognize the results. He would not give up City Hall until ordered by a judge.

First Shakspeare administration, 1880-1882[edit]

Shakspeare’s first two-year term as mayor was a difficult one. He was the only reformer elected, so he faced unending hostility from the seven-member City Council and administrative board, both still controlled by the Ring. Despite these difficulties, Shakspeare was able to overhaul the city’s disorganized budget, and managed to reschedule the crippling municipal debts left over from the Civil War and Reconstruction. He increased the city’s revenue by selling the Carrollton Street Railroad franchise and by devising the ‘Shakspeare Plan,’ a scheme whereby illegal gambling operations were able to continue to operate as long as they made regular payments to the city treasury. He attempted to reform the fire and police departments, removing them as sources of political patronage, but was thwarted by City Council. Under Shakspeare’s administration, the city enacted a new municipal charter which replaced the Reconstruction-era charter. Shakspeare’s new charter created a new thirty-member City Council with legislative power, and increased the mayor’s term of office from two years to four. His administration also began construction of the monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee, which still stands today in Lee Circle. It also authorized the creation of a monument commemorating the Battle of Liberty Place of 1874, in which the white supremacist White League attempted to overthrow the Reconstruction-era Republican state government.

Shakspeare did not run for re-election in 1882. He was succeeded in office by William J. Behan, the Ring candidate.

Second Shakspeare administration, 1888-1892[edit]

In the municipal election of 1888, Shakspeare ran again as a reform candidate opposing the Ring. As before, he was supported by members of the city’s conservative Bourbon business elite, and he defeated the Ring candidate, Judge Robert C. Davey, by 23,313 votes to 15,635. The election was characterized by the presence of armed bands of men from both the reform and Ring camps. Under the rules of the new charter, Shakspeare’s second term was a four-year one. His second term was characterized by renewed street improvements, the introduction of electric street lights and street cars, and a further improvement of the city’s debt situation. His administration began construction of a new courthouse and jail complex on Tulane Avenue. He also created a professional fire department to replace the existing volunteer fire departments, which had been active in municipal machine politics. But his efforts to use the police department as a source of political patronage alienated some of his reform-oriented supporters. Shakspeare appointed David Hennessy as chief of police. Hennessy’s assassination in October 1890, allegedly by members of the Sicilian Mafia, sparked an anti-Italian riot in which the parish prison was stormed and eleven Italian immigrants were lynched. The riot created an international diplomatic incident with the government of Italy.

Shakspeare ran for a third term in 1892, but by then his reputation as a reformer was tarnished, and he was defeated by Ring candidate John Fitzpatrick, who was a popular politician with strong pro-labor credentials. Shakspeare died in New Orleans in 1896.

Sources[edit]

  • Profile of Shakspeare Administration
  • Biographical Dictionary of American Mayors, 1820-1880. Greenwood Press, 1981.
  • Jackson, Joy J. New Orleans in the Gilded Age: Politics and Urban Progress, 1880-1896. Louisiana Historical Association, 1997.
  • Kendall, John Smith. History of New Orleans. Lewis Publishing Co., 1922.
Preceded by
Isaac W. Patton
Mayor of New Orleans
1880–1882
Succeeded by
William J. Behan
Preceded by
J. Valsin Guillotte
Mayor of New Orleans
1888–1892
Succeeded by
John Fitzpatrick