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Historical Note on "Wolf Dawson"
The Mississippi to which Jeffrey Dawson returned in early October 1874 was on the brink of internal revolution. The four-year struggle for Southern independence had left her economy in shambles, one-third of her male population dead or incapacitated, and one-fifth of her farmable land abandoned. Honest, if imprudent, efforts by Southerners to reestablish some semblance of law and order during the first year of Reconstruction were characterized by the vicious and vindictive Republican-dominated Congress in Washington as an attempt to reinstate a modified form of slavery. That radical Congress used those efforts as an excuse to sweep away the last vestiges of civil order and institute martial law to create an electorate that would put, and keep, corrupt Republican politicians in power across the South.
For ten hateful, post-war years, Mississippi and her sister states watched as the despised Republican regime, ignorant of the South’s rich history and culture and contemptuous of both, denigrated its social and political values and made a mockery of the very Constitution governing the nation it claimed to have saved. Despite what the revisionist historian would have his student believe, the actions of these despots were not for the benefit of the downtrodden Negro, but for personal gain. The Negro was merely a means to an end.
The degree of graft and malfeasance that occurred during the years of martial law and the carpetbag regime remains uncalculated. What is known is that for generations leading up to the War Between the States, the Mississippi taxpayer had demanded thrift and prudence from its legislature, and the legislators themselves were at all times answerable to those who paid taxes. Taxes in the Old South, in times of peace, were not excessive, and government was small. But between 1868 and 1875, non-taxpaying voters placed in office a string of venal legislators who not only exceeded the boundaries of good taste in their passage of legislation but also abused the privileges of office, granting themselves, among other excesses, extraordinary per diem and travel compensation. Additionally, this post-war legislature had no qualms about extending legislative sessions, nor about the expense of doing business that came with those expanded terms. Government inefficiency and its corresponding tax increases permeated all levels of government. These abuses came at a time and place in history when Americans still took umbrage at the idea of taxation without representation, and the Mississippi taxpayer was not represented in his government.
For the proud citizens of Mississippi, who had always demanded honesty and responsibility in their elected leaders, the Republican despots who usurped their state, county, and municipal offices constituted an ulcerating sore.
Operating under the protection of Federal troops, the Republican regime in Mississippi created scores of unnecessary offices and positions at every level of city, county, and state government, then filled the positions with those of their own ilk, offering excessive pay and sanctioning abusive perquisites along with those offices.
Between 1870 and 1874, six million acres of Mississippi’s farmland were sold by the owners to pay state taxes. Thousands of dollars that could have set the state back on its feet were wasted and the human assets critical for rebuilding were forced to sell their land and move out of the state. I am not naïve, and I realize forcing the white Southerner off his land and out of the South was done by design. Such are the misfortunes of war.
In 1873, the Negro electorate selected Mississippi Senator Adelbert Ames to the governorship over the secessionist-leader-turned-Republican, J.L. Alcorn.
Ames, at the time of his election, was serving out a vacated seat in the U.S. Senate, into which he had appointed himself while serving as Mississippi’s provisional governor, a position he’d held since 1868.
A native of Maine and ex-Brevet Major General, U.S.A., Ames admitted in later years that he should not have left the army to take up political life in Mississippi. His reason for doing so was to further the cause of the Negro, which he embraced with vigor. It is the opinion of this writer that all Mississippians would have been better served in the long run had Ames never left Maine. Unfamiliar with civil administration, Ames was delusional in his understanding of Southern politics. He does not appear to have learned much during his years in Mississippi.
J.L. Alcorn, the man Ames defeated was a Mississippian, intimately familiar with Southern politics in general and Mississippi politics in particular. Since the arrival of Federal troops during the war, this man who had passionately supported and voted for secession had accepted reconstruction and urged white Mississippians to embrace the Negro. He warned that otherwise the Negro electorate would fall under the influence of corrupt Republicans.
As distasteful as Alcorn’s postwar treachery was in the minds of white Democrats, he still would have been preferable to Ames. But with the election of Ames a “color line” was drawn across the state political scene and radical Negroes, many not even from Mississippi, began to demand a Negro state, with no whites allowed to hold office.
Ames’ ultimate demise, however, stemmed from his uncompromising favoritism to the Negro. On more than one occasion, he removed capable white (northern) Republicans from important state positions, which he then filled with inept and sometimes corrupt Negroes who were often not even citizens of the state. This appeased the radical Negro element, but alienated conservative white Republicans and more conservative, native blacks. When those injured voiced a complaint, Ames responded vindictively.
Further, Ames’ ignorance of black-white relations in the South in general resulted in his mishandling crises such as the one alluded to in my story, which occurred in Warren County and Vicksburg during the summer and fall of 1874.
Early in 1874, the taxpayers of Warren County, fed up with a corrupt Negro sheriff (who was also the tax collector) and an inept county board of supervisors, formed a taxpayer’s league, with the goal of taking the 1874 municipal election. Despite incidents of campaign violence and the looming threat of Federal troops requested by Ames, the taxpayers swept the August election.
With the distasteful municipal officials out of the way, the taxpayer’s league turned its attention to county matters. Ultimately, a grand jury composed of seven white and ten black men handed down indictments against the chancery and circuit clerks for malfeasance. When evidence incriminating them disappeared from the sheriff’s office, the league demanded that the sheriff resign. After refusing to do so and being run out of town, he went to Jackson and asked the governor for armed assistance to retake his office. Ames, instead of attempting to defuse the situation himself, sent a black militia against Vicksburg, setting in motion a white Southerner’s worst nightmare. The most unfortunate part of this event was that Ames had a number of white militias in the Jackson area, manned by ex-federal soldiers, who were willing to support the statehouse, but Ames did not trust his white militias. Ames was openly accused of exploiting the “color line,” but his decision was as likely the result of ignorance of the South (and perhaps his own race) as of an intent to maliciously provoke a race war. Ensuing riots left two white and twenty-nine Negro militia members dead. The majority members of those white militias defending Vicksburg were former Federal soldiers, who had made their new homes in Warren County.
On 6 January 1875, Philip Sheridan, USA, who had laid waste to the Shenandoah Valley in 1864-1865, dispatched a company of Federal troops from the Department of the Gulf and reinstated the “ousted” Warren County sheriff. General Sheridan considered his tone threatening, his act effective. It would prove to be tyranny’s last gasp in Mississippi.
Weighted by its own ignorance, no longer trusted by the Negro electorate it had sworn to promote and protect, and drunk on its own excesses, the Republican Party, now split into radical and conservative factions, was falling apart. In the 1875 election, the Democratic Party took control of the U.S. House, and Mississippi threw off the shackles placed on it with the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865.
The sweeping Democratic victory was met with cries of fraud and corruption in the U.S. Senate, and no doubt both occurred to some extent, but what the Mississippi Democrats practiced in 1875, they’d learned first-hand in 1868 and 1870. Congressional oversight during those post-war years only occurred in the case of Republican defeat. Despite the Senate’s investigation, the results stuck. The entire nation was fed up with the Southern problem, and many Americans were sick of the corruption embodied by the Republican Party.
With Mississippi’s decisive victory, newfound hope swept the South. The full implication of what Reconstruction had wrought had yet to raise its ugly head; but for Mississippi, 1875 truly was, as Mary Tate describes in my story, a “glorious New Year.”
The dismantling of the Republican government began with the convening of the 1876 legislature. Under threat of impeachment, Adelbert Ames resigned his governorship and left the state. The majority of prominent Republican politicians, most of whom had never acquired property in Mississippi and had not, therefore, paid taxes, followed him. Scores of state government positions created during the post-war years were abolished, salaries for other offices slashed. By the close of 1876, Mississippi’s government was back under the control of her own tax base.
Wolf Dawson does not focus on the degradations of Reconstruction, but the bitter circumstances of the post-war years set the stage for this particular novel. With a hint of mystery and a touch of suspense, Wolf Dawson is, more than anything else, a romantic escape to a historical period where the turbulent future of a beleaguered people is, for two young lovers, momentarily eclipsed by the actions of a sinister killer and the ghostly manifestation of Southern justice.
Enjoy the journey!
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