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.
vigorously on every battlefield against Bronze John . . . since 1845, and was brevetted on the field of battle in 1853 by being appointed City Physician on recommendation of the Board of Health,” he claimed in a letter dated March 15, 1890. When the war came, Hire remained loyal to the Union, and during the occupation under Generals Butler and Banks he served as secretary of the Board of Health and head surgeon at the Marine, St. James, and Barracks Hospitals. His commitment to Unionism led to
petition for the removal of his political disabilities (referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 15, 1869) stated that Porter served as a colonel in the St. Landry Parish militia. He claimed that he had to serve 50 “ The Rainbow of Happiness ” in the militia “or go into the Confederate States Army.” Porter also admitted to serving as a recruiting officer for the Rebel army between May 26, 1861, and April 17, 1862. On the latter date, however, “he left the Parish of St. Landry
Russ Williams writes, “as Confederate sympa55 The Louisiana Scalawags thizers plotted to assassinate him. He narrowly averted death when a local Catholic priest warned him of the conspiracy against his life.” 40 Thomas Hudnall of Morehouse Parish also found the life of a Unionist difficult. In an affidavit dated September 4, 1868, he testified to his troubles: “I was a strong Union man during the late rebellion. I was much persecuted then on account of my sentiments. I remember that once in
rebellion. The First and Second Louisiana Congressional Districts supported Bell or Douglas 66 “ Minds and Hearts ” in 1860. He also claimed that southern Louisiana was not really a part of the mainstream of southern economics or politics: “The northern [part of Louisiana] is the cotton portion of the State where some of the people imagine that ‘cotton is king’; but in the first and second congressional districts the culture of sugar and of vegetables is the exclusive occupation of the
votes were recorded in favor of the radical document.18 In the central pine-hills region (Caldwell, Catahoula, Natchitoches, and Winn Parishes) of the state, only 296 persons, or 17.1 percent, of the white voters, voted for the constitution. The voters in this region of piney woods and hills, subsistence farms, and poor whites overwhelmingly opposed the new constitution (1,435 out of 1,731 white voters, or 83.9 percent). The returns from the oak uplands region, known as the north Louisiana