page for giving the historical background of Honor's Banner at the end of presidential reconstruction in Mississippi following the civil war
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Mississippi Historical Society

Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Introduction to the Historical Note on Honor’s Banner

Honor’s Banner takes place during the first three months of 1866, a period marking the close of Presidential Reconstruction (May-December 1865), during which Mississippi wrote a new constitution, held elections, and reestablished law and order under the auspices of a civil government elected by her taxpayers. It also foreshadows Congressional Reconstruction and the growing power struggle between President Andrew Johnson and his Republican Congress for control of Reconstruction policy. The struggle culminated with the fall elections of 1866 when the Northern populace gave the Radical Republicans full control of Congress and ensured the demise of the war-ravaged Republic our founders had created in 1787 when they framed the Constitution.

In handing Reconstruction to the Radicals, the Northern populace lent credence to Radical determination to reconstruct the Southern states into the image of those making up the “progressive” North, thereby making the South fit to join a Union they claimed it never left. In that, at least, it failed. The Old South had been summarily and senselessly butchered, but what rose from its ashes was not what the conqueror envisioned, but rather a scarred image of what the South managed to salvage of itself from the carnage. But that is the stuff for other tales.

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During that winter of 1866, the two houses of Congress debated what would become the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. For the past century and a half this amendment has been used and abused by lawyers and the government to alter the founder’s republic beyond recognition. What it did was ensure the final victory of Henry Clay’s American System. The Fourteenth Amendment subjects the states to the scrutiny and arbitration of a Federal government no longer limited in supremacy, succinctly put, to national defense, international relations and trade, and interstate matters. Governing the people, which had been the responsibility of sovereign state governments, now fell to the whims of a central government exercising powers it was never meant to have. The Fourteenth Amendment is anathema to the compromise agreed to by the advocates of strong central government and those supporting the rights of independent states, and it is as unconstitutional today as it was the day it was declared ratified more than 150 years ago, not only in concept, but in its passage. From its earliest inception, ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment by the Southern states was tied to their reentry to the Union.

Congress passed the proposed Fourteenth Amendment in the summer of 1866 and sent it to the duly elected and recognized state legislatures across the South. Like the Thirteenth the year before, the Fourteenth Amendment was sent for ratification to states that had not been represented in Congress at the time of its passage, an egregious violation of Article V of the United States Constitution. Mississippi’s Democratic legislature refused to pass it. Such intransigence in the face of Radical demands meant continued deprivation of representation in Congress and no voice in matters of national importance—including those which directly affected the state.

At the time of my story, the political map of Mississippi comprised a long-dominant Democratic Party willing to sacrifice representation in a criminal Congress in order to keep control of the state; conservative old-line Whigs/Republicans and more pragmatic Democrats willing to work with Congress to bring the state back into the Union and gain representation along with the delusional hope of fiscal benefits that might result from such representation; and the Radical Republicans determined to wrest control of the state from the Democrats and ensure control of the Republican Party and the Radical agenda within the state forever—and that’s not hyperbole. In the minds and voices of Radical Republicans, Southerners were unfit to govern the South and should be driven from Dixie and/or subordinated to “loyal” Americans from the North. They maintained that stance even when dealing with Republican Scalawags who cooperated with them. All Southerners needed to be “trained” in governance and maintained in subordinate positions while they learned to be good “Americans.” The more arrogant of this group believed that the Constitution was no longer fit to govern a nation whose star, with the destruction of the “state rights” South, was on the ascent.

A key factor was the Negro vote. The majority of taxpayers, members of the Democratic Party, tried to nullify it, while the conservatives and Radicals vied for it. The price for the more pragmatic conservatives was isolation from white Democrats.

At the moment Seth Parker lays Naomi Polk in her grave at the end of Camellia Creek, the Radicals in Congress have yet to consolidate their power. Indeed, that will not happen until after the fall 1866 elections. As of the opening chapter in Honor’s Banner, President Johnson has recognized the civil government of B. G. Humphreys in Mississippi, as well as the state’s 1865 constitution, notable for its failings only because it was not a “progressive” constitution as were those governing the Northern states (and it left Democrats in charge). Civil government and the courts are functioning, and progress is being made toward the monumental repair of the state’s infrastructure, devastated by war. These meager positives are evolving despite a flailing economy, the result of an unreliable labor force of vagrant freedmen, which the Federal government supports from the sale of abandoned property that their owners can no longer sustain due to lack of income—a vicious cycle brought on by a combination of self-righteous ignorance, arrogance, and design.

In a few words, Honor’s Banner is set during an anxious time, which anticipates the coming battle to save the state from a cabal of men who are determined to destroy all opposition to Federal imperium, their vanguard being the petty tyrants determined to profit from prevailing conditions. These petty tyrants, both the interlopers and those homegrown, provide the fodder for my story.




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