Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Libels from Wallace's "Carpet-bag Rule in Florida"

In the Hamilton paper, I cited John Wallace's influential history "Carpetbag Rule in Florida" first published in 1888. James Clark has effectively analyzed the biases in Wallace's book and has even questioned Wallace's authorship (see, Clark, "John Wallace and the Writing of Reconstruction History," FHQ 67 (April 1989). From my observation, Wallace (or the Democratic politician who used Wallace's name - Clark suggests William Bloxham) mixes in accurate reporting and even precise character analysis with outrageous libels against FL Republican politicians. Just two years after publication of Carpetbag Rule in Florida, Democratic Senator Samuel Pasco observed of Wallace's book that "[m]any of its details are inaccurate and there are manifest errors and mistake of facts when the author gets beyond his personal experience, but within that range there is no reason for doubting his disclosure of plots, intrigue, and villainy." Samuel Pasco, et al., Why the Solid South or, Reconstruction and its Results (Baltimore, 1890) p. 162. Pasco's comments did not deter generations of historians from citing Wallace without question. Several of Wallace's disparaging comments and back-handed compliments about Hamilton are found in my FHQ Hamilton paper. Here are a few more issues raised by Wallace:
1. What was Hamilton up to at the Florida Constitutional Convention of 1868?
Even though Hamilton was not an elected delegate to Florida's Constitutional Convention, NY Tribune reporter Solon Robinson named him among the "leading agitators" working on behalf of the "moderate" faction battling the "radicals" for control. Wallace quotes the Richards-Saunders report to Congress about the 1868 FL Constitutional Convention. Richards and Saunders, "radical" leaders, accused Hamilton of aiding the moderate faction's underhanded tactics for gaining a majority of seats (Hamilton, FHQ, 495). According to Richards and Saunders, "C.M. Hamilton, until very recently agent in the Freedman's Bureau, and believed by most of the delegates to be still in command, with power to enforce his orders, went and took from their beds two of the delegates who had already signed one constitution, took them to the State-house, and, between the hours of twelve and two o'clock in the night, they assumed to organize a convention..." [US House of Rep., 40th Cong., 2d Sess., Mis. Doc. No. 109 "Constitution of Florida" dated March 23, 1868, p.2]. A response to Richards/Saunders authored by Wm. Gleason and George Alden, introducing the moderate-drafted constitution presented to Congress, rejected this allegation: "The accusation made against C.M. Hamilton that he went and took from their beds two of their delegates who had signed the minority constitution, is false in every particular..." [US House of Rep., 40th Cong., 2d Sess., Mis Doc. No. 114, "Proceedings of the Florida Convention," dated March 31, 1868, p. 9]. While this rebuttal is obviously not dispositive, Wallace's account, repeating the allegations of Richards & Saunders, has gone unquestioned by historians.

2. Purman the Profligate
Perhaps the most outrageous libel in Wallace targets William Purman. Purman is a leading contender among several viable candidates for the title of most hated man in Reconstruction era Florida. It seems that everyone involved in politics, excluding the men who knew him best (Hamilton, Dickinson and the Fortunes), made some terrible accusation against him. Wallace (or more likely, Bloxham) writes of a meeting in 1874 in Chattahoochee pitting Republican politicians Marcellus Stearns and Malachi Martin against Purman. After a chaotic violent session, Purman, according to Wallace "returned later in the evening and called a lot of colored women together, and after giving each of them some money, he said to them that he was a good "Publican," and wanted supper; and to further assure them that he was a good "Publican," told them that he did not want to sleep with any white person, but wanted to sleep with the blackest person in the neighborhood. John D. Harris, a Methodist preacher, was along as one of Purman's canvassers, and it looked as though he had been "dipped" three or four times, and so Purman selected him to sleep with. This action on the part of Purman had its desired effect, as most of the freedmen spoke out and declared him to be a good "Publican," and he had no more trouble in that part of the country." (Wallace, p. 300).

It is difficult to know where to begin to refute these charges of immorality. First of all, Purman had been married to Leodora Finlayson since 1871 and already had one child. It was apparently a successful marriage as evidenced by its duration (fifty years), the six children and the affectionate letters Purman wrote about his wife after her death. Secondly, it was common for the opponents of the carpetbaggers to attempt to discredit them by spreading accusations of their consorting with blacks. For example, after John Q. Dickinson's assassination, rumors were spread that he was murdered by a black man jealous over Dickinson's relatinship with his wife. The insinuation of homosexuality, however, goes even beyond the normal accusations of immorality. Perhaps not surprisingly, Dunning school historian Walter L. Fleming reprinted this section without comment in his "Documentary History of Reconstruction," vol. II (Cleveland, 1907), p. 282.

3. Purman's inflammatory oratory
Walter Fleming also quoted another passage from Wallace which describes the effect of Purman's oratory on his black audiences: "He played upon the weaknesses and impulses of the colored people and drew from them shouts of joy, and responses of applause and approval with the skill and ease a master organist brings out the great swells of music by a gentle touch of the key. These would occur when he was eloquently depicting to this eager listening audiences the horrors of slavery and the cruelty and oppression they had undergone." Fleming, quoting Wallace, vol. 1, pp. 377-8. Purman as Jackson County Bureau Agent made many speeches to the local freedmen of Jackson County concerning their "rights and responsibilities" as citizens. Contrary to Wallace's (and Fleming's) intention, this passage adds to our admiration of Purman.

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