The Louisiana Scalawags: Politics, Race, and Terrorism during the Civil War and Reconstruction
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During the Civil War and Reconstruction, the pejorative term "scalawag" referred to white southerners loyal to the Republican Party. With the onset of the federal occupation of New Orleans in 1862, scalawags challenged the restoration of the antebellum political and social orders. Derided as opportunists, uneducated "poor white trash," Union sympathizers, and race traitors, scalawags remain largely misunderstood even today. In The Louisiana Scalawags, Frank J. Wetta offers the first in-depth analysis of these men and their struggle over the future of Louisiana. A significant assessment of the interplay of politics, race, and terrorism during Reconstruction, this study answers an array of questions about the origin and demise of the scalawags, and debunks much of the negative mythology surrounding them.
Contrary to popular thought, the southern white Republicans counted among their ranks men of genuine accomplishment and talent. They worked in fields as varied as law, business, medicine, journalism, and planting, and many held government positions as city officials, judges, parish officeholders, and state legislators in the antebellum years. Wetta demonstrates that a strong sense of nationalism often motivated the men, no matter their origins.
Louisiana's scalawags grew most active and influential during the early stages of Reconstruction, when they led in founding the state's Republican Party. The vast majority of white Louisianans, however, rejected the scalawags' appeal to form an alliance with the freedmen in a biracial political party. Eventually, the influence of the scalawags succumbed to persistent terrorism, corruption, and competition from the white carpetbaggers and their black Republican allies. By then, the state's Republican Party consisted of white political leaders without any significant white constituency. According to Wetta, these weaknesses, as well as ineffective federal intervention in response to a Democratic Party insurgency, caused the Republican Party to collapse and Reconstruction to fail in Louisiana.
and applying the Dunning template, produced a range of studies recounting the postwar history in individual states of the former Confederacy. Two historians, John Rose Ficklen, in History of Reconstruction in Louisiana (through 1868), and Ella Lonn, in Reconstruction in Louisiana after 1868, unsurprisingly, took a dismal view of the carpetbag-scalawag-Negro regimes; both shared the pervasive racial and class prejudices of their generation. Ficklen taught at Tulane University but died before the
the city and go home.’” Wells fled the hall and returned to his home in Jefferson City, a New Orleans suburb. Shortly afterward his son arrived and told him of the riot. Under questioning, Wells defended his action in recalling the convention. Inexplicably, Boyer, the only Democrat on the congressional investigation committee, declined to cross-examine Wells. 108 “ What the Hell is Your Hide Worth Today? ” Thomas Jefferson Durant also gave evidence on the tense, antiUnionist atmosphere in
adjourned, each planned to drive their opponents from power.60 Since neither side was willing to compromise, let alone give in entirely, the result was that politics in Louisiana remained in a state of constant dissonance. Again, Warmoth and Carter were the principal antagonists. The contest this time centered on control of the state legislature. The Carterites, with Democratic support, planned to take over the legislature and then impeach the governor. The sudden death of Lieutenant Governor
environment open to economic and political exploitation. Consider the following representative men. Dramatis Personae James G. Belden, physician.2 Although his birthplace is unknown, Belden, a nephew of the famous American lexicographer Noah Webster, was a descendant of one of the first settlers of western New York State. A graduate of the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons, he practiced medicine in New Orleans for fourteen years prior to the Civil War. Belden was, according to the New
voted at this box—I voted one openly. . . . I had been told that no ‘Radical’ ticket should be voted.”6 Lewis also complained bitterly that the local authorities were doing nothing to protect Claiborne Parish Republicans. “In Homer, a white man was tied, stripped, and whipped, day before yesterday,” Lewis wrote to Governor Warmoth on July 10, 1868, “not a word said or anything done to bring the guilty to punishment. The same night Hon. W. Jasper Blackburn’s printing office . . . was broken