Ratification in Arkansas
Freedmen in many places are still freedmen, not free men.
--An agent of the Freedmen's Bureau in Arkansas, describing the plight of blacks there to his superior
Arkansas was one of several Southern states that had a functioning, loyal government well before General Lee's surrender. Established in 1864 under the leadership of Governor Isaac Murphy, the Arkansas government was cited by Lincoln that year as an example of restoration that negated the need for more radical Reconstruction. Whatever Lincoln--and, later, Johnson--may have thought of the Murphy government, its critics were legion in Arkansas. On the right, conservatives questioned its legitimacy, arguing that it did not have the confidence of the people. On the left, many Unionists lamented its lack of enthusiasm for the disfranchisement of "rebs" and its insensitivity to the needs of the freedmen. In the fall of 1865, an Arkansan wrote President Johnson: "The present [state] government is a failure, represents nobody, and is nothing in fact." 1
The Murphy government might nevertheless have survived its Arkansas critics if it had had the unified support of the national government. Unfortunately, its fate became enmeshed in the bitter struggle between the radical Republicans in Congress and the more moderate Johnson in the White House. The fall 1866 election campaign in Arkansas and the subsequent legislative session sealed its demise. In that campaign, the conservatives said that blacks should be given civil rights but not political rights. In particular, conservatives bitterly opposed blacks voting, sitting on juries, or holding office. 2 Conservatives repeatedly raised the specter of black equality, which, they insisted, the "Black Republican" Party would impose on the South. 3 Conservatives in turn were charged