Fighting for the Spoils, No. 1

By 1865 and the close of the Civil War, New Orleans had been occupied by Federal troops for three years. That time allowed many carpet-baggers, persons from outside the state seeking fortune, to infiltrate the city. Clay Warmoth was one such person. Former Lt-Col. Warmoth was sent to New Orleans during the occupation and stayed. By 1871, he was governor of the state, and not yet 30 years old. Gov. Warmoth made several enemies. Though he courted all factions, Republican, freed slaves, and former Confederates, it was another Republican, another carpet-bagger, who sought to elbow Warmoth side. Stephen B. Packard, a Union veteran with an undistinguished war record, secured appointment as the U.S. Marshall for New Orleans. Packard’s office was in the Custom House, a large, imposing granite building in the downtown area. Packard’s faction became known as the Custom House ring.

The Republican Party Convention

In the Summer of 1871, the two factions wrestled for control of the Republican party as the party convention approached. Warmoth, as governor, had his own semi-military force, known as the Metropolitan Police Force. The Metropolitans were a modern innovation in some respects, but they also answered only to Gov. Warmoth. They were a private militia. Marshall Packard had his own armed ruffians. The two competed for control and influence with the ward clubs all summer.

The Metropolitans Strike

At a meeting of the Tenth Ward Mother Republican club, the Metropolitans came in force, in civilian clothes. They occupied a large number of the seats, to prevent regular members from staying for the meeting. The meeting ended with a riot between the two factions. The Tenth Ward included many African-Americans. The Metropolitans who broke up the meeting and beat numerous attendees were lead by light-skinned Negroes. The Convention took place in August, 1871. Marshall Packard out-smarted Gov. Warmoth by holding the convention at the Custom House and arranging for Federal troops to provide security. The Metropolitans came to the conventions seeking to upset the proceedings. But, they were met by one well-manned gatling gun.

At the Republican convention, Packard tried to engineer a quorum in the state legislature which would impeach Warmoth. The plan collapsed only when Lt.-Gov. Dunn, a close ally of Packard’s, died. Some suspected foul play.

The Warmoth Faction is Arrested

The Louisiana state legislative session opened in January, 1872. Packard still hoped to impeach Gov. Warmoth,. A,B Pinchback, a prominent man of color was now the Lieutenant Governor. Lt.-Gov. Pinchback was a close ally of Gov. Warmoth. Warmoth engineered an invasion of the session to move aside the Speaker, George Carter, a close ally of Packard. Packard promptly swore out arrest warrants for Warmoth, Lt.-Gov. Pinchback, some dozen legislators and some of the key leaders of the Metropolitans.

The Warmoth faction, however, soon got themselves out of jail. Warmoth called in the Metropolitans to “guard” the state house and called up the state militia. The Custom House ring retreated to a saloon and organized a rival legislature. Such was Reconstruction politics in 1872 Louisiana.

For more about Gov. Clay Warmoth, see this site.

Source:

Justin A. Nystrom, New Orleans: After the Civil War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press 2010), p. 104-110.

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