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Reconstruction in Louisiana: The Two Governments of 1877: The Conflict


Immediately after the election in November, 1876, a controversy arose as to the result: the Republicans claiming the election of Stephen B. Packard as Governor by about 3,500 majority, and a Republican Legislature; and the Democrats claiming the election of Francis T. Nicholls as Governor, by about 8,000 majority, and a Democratic Legislature. Committees of gentlemen visited New Orleans, by request of President Grant and of various political organizations, to witness the count of the votes by the Returning Board. And in December, 1876, on the meeting of Congress, committees of investigation were appointed by the Senate and by the House of Representatives. 

                             --Edward McPherson, A Handbook of Politics for 1878

Timeline from McPherson's book

1876, December 30—150 Metropolitan policemen are stationed in the State House as a precautionary measure against its occupation by persons claiming to be members of the Legislature, and their friends. Gov. Kellogg will only admit those members named on the list furnished by the returning board. 

1877, January 1—Legislature organized in the State House today without exhibitions of violence. The Democrats did not unite in the proceedings, but met in a separate building, and organized a separate Legislature. Telegraphic communication was had between the State House and the Custom House, where was the office of Marshal Pitkin, who with the aid of the United States troops, was ready for any emergency. About noon the Democratic members, accompanied by about 500 persons, called at the State House, demanded admission. They were denied entry.

January 3—Republican Legislature passed a resolution asking for military protection against apprehended Democratic violence, and it was telegraphed to the President. 
On Sunday, January 8th, Gov. Kellogg telegraphed to President Grant to the same effect.
January 8—Stephen B. Packard took the oath of office as Governor, and C. C. Antoine as Lieutenant-Governor, at the State House at 1:30, in the presence of the Legislature. 
January 8—Francis T. Nicholls and L. A. Wiltz today took the oath of office of Governor and Lieutenant-Governor, respectively, on the balcony of St. Patrick's hall. 

January 9—At 9 a. m. the members of the White League, which had been mustered in by the Nicholls Government as militia, assembled with arms at Lafayette square. At 10:30 a.m., armed men were hurrying to Lafayette square, where they reported to the Sheriff. Packard was at the State House. He telegraphed President Grant for assistance. At 11:45 a demand was made for the Third Precinct Station-House in the Supreme Court building, and refused. About 10,000 persons were assembled around Jackson square, and the excitement was intense. A large body of armed men were on the Hall side of the square. Gov. Packard reported the Metropolitan wires cut, and established communication with U. S. Marshal Pitkin at the Custom House by means of the U. S. Signal Corps. The Metropolitans at the State House were armed with Springfield rifles. The shops in the French quarter were all closed. The U. S. troops were at the Orleans Hotel, two blocks away, watching at the square, but were not under arms. Chief Justice Ludeling this morning removed civil Sheriff Handy and appointed Alfred Bourges to that position. The cause for this was that Handy was obeying Nicholls' orders. At 11:50 a. m., the Nicholls militia took possession of the Supreme Court building and installed their judges. At 1:30 p. m., the Nicholls government were in possession of everything except the State House. As yet no effort had been made to take possession of that building, around which thousands of unarmed citizens were congregated, blocking up the streets for squares, and rendering it impossible to reach it. The force under Gov. Packard did not exceed 300. The commander of the U. S. sloop- of-war Ossipee established a signal station on the Custom House in order to communicate with the officials there. The Ossipee and monitor Cenonicus were lying off the foot of Poydras street. At 2:15 p.m., there was no important change in the situation. Ogden's militia were massed within a square of the State House, which had been reenforced by a committee of colored militia, numbering 100. Gov. Packard said he would resist any attack on the State House.

January 12— In the Packard Legislature a resolution was introduced and referred, declaring vacant the seats of Messrs. Barrett and Kennedy, who had gone over to the Democrats. In the Democratic Legislature Mr. Estopival, a member of the Republican House from St. Bernard, was today sworn as a member. The Republican Senate today ordered the arrest of all absent members, and issued an order to Gen. Badger, the sergeant-at-arms of the Senate, to do so. In the evening he returned the order with an indorsement, explaining his inability to execute it; that after diligent search and inquiry he discovered that three or more absent Senators were secreted in the residence of Mr. Pinchback; that with several assistant sergeants-at-arms, he repaired to the premises, and found a number of the so-called Nicholls police to be in and about the house; that admission was refused by Mr. Pinchback, who warned them to not enter; that if they did so, it would be at their peril. Hearing police whistles blowing, and seeing that the Nicholls police were gathering and concentrating around said premises, he was obliged to withdraw. Several of his assistants who remained in the neighborhood were arrested and locked up. 

January 13—Judge Shaw opened the Superior Civil Court in the State House building today. The Nicholls government hold the former courtroom. At 5 o'clock this evening, Senators Demas (colored), Wheeler, and Hamlet, accompanied by Pinchback, entered the Democratic Senate, and were greeted with cheers. After a short executive session, the two former were admitted to seats and sworn in.

January 14—Senator Breaux, from Point Coupee and the Felicianas, who left the Republican Senate, has been sworn into the Democratic Senate. Representative Brown, of Vernon, also left the Republican House, saying that although he was returned as elected by the returning board, he did not believe he was elected and would not ask for a seat. The Democrats are jubilant over the events of the last few days. 

February 15---At 11:45 a.m. Governor Packard is shot but survives the assassination attempt.
February 26--The Wormley Compromise ends the debate.
March 5---President Grant leaves office.
April 24---Federal troops vacate the Orleans Hotel, located near the Statehouse, and go to Jackson Barracks.
April 25--Nicholls takes personal charge of the Statehouse.


   The election in Louisiana would be decided by force of arms, not the ballot box.   

   Nicholls and the Democrats controlled most of the city. Nicholls installed his own state legislature and his own Supreme Court. Packard and his Republicans were trapped in the Statehouse. Packard sent messages asking for assistance from the Federal government, but he did not take direct action himself. For his part, Nicholls did not want a direct confrontation with Packard, as that would give President Grant a reason to use federal troops. Nicholls restrained the white leagues, who were eager for direct action.

   Maintaining both a separate government and a siege took money. Nicholls received secret funding from the New Orleans Cotton Exchange and the Louisiana Lottery Company. He could thus sit back and wait for a new presidential administration to take over.

   President Grant had repeatedly used Federal troops, sometimes under the command of his friend Gen. Sheridan, to re-establish order and Republican control of Louisiana. However, the mood of the country had shifted. Americans no longer wanted to maintain federal troops in Southern states; they wanted to be done with Reconstruction, even if it meant the downfall of freedmen and white Republicans.

   With the Wormley Compromise, Hayes received the Presidency, and the South saw an end to Reconstruction.

Federal troops depart

troops leave

from Library of Congress


monitorsloop of war

from Library of Congress