Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage

By Lloyd Paul Stryker | Go to book overview
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XXXV
MEMPHIS AND NEW ORLEANS

DURING the spring and summer of 1866 there occurred two events, hitherto unnoticed, that were to have not only a large influence on the Congressional elections which soon followed, but upon the success of Johnson's policies.

In Memphis, during April, the third United States colored artillery were quartered. Their mere presence was provocative enough, but when presently their lack of discipline revealed itself in acts of open insolence, the collisions against which Grant had warned1 were sure to follow. The police of Memphis, as good police should always be, were Irish. The jostling of Irish policemen never has been deemed an act of prudence, yet on the afternoon of April 30th this extra hazardous pastime was engaged in by the black artillerymen. Trouble disproportionate to this origin was not slow in following. It followed on the next day when the municipal officers of the law, with the ready aid of white civilians, made an attack upon the entire negro population of the city. This retaliation resulted in a riot that lasted for two days. When it was over, forty-six negroes had been killed and more were injured. Twelve negro schoolhouses and a third as many churches were put to the torch.2

The echoes of this trouble were not slow in reaching Washington, from which sounding-board they reverberated through the land. A golden opportunity was here offered for the enemies of the South to proclaim her "unregeneracy,"3 and for the foes of Johnson mendaciously to declare that he was responsible for this outbreak.

The material for defamation furnished by the Memphis riot, however, was as nothing compared to what transpired at New Orleans on July 30th. The pardoned leaders of the Confederacy

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Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage
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