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Pistols and Politics

The Dilemma of Democracy in Louisiana's Florida Parishes, 1810–1901

Samuel C.HydeJr.

Publication Year: 1998

In the nineteenth-century South, there existed numerous local pockets where cultures and values different from those of the dominant planter class prevailed. One such area was the Florida parishes of southeastern Louisiana, where peculiar conditions combined to create an enclave of white yeomen. In the years after the Civil War, levels of violence among these men escalated to create a state of chronic anarchy, producing an enduring legacy of bitterness and suspicion. In Samuel C. Hyde’s careful and original study of a society that degenerated into utter chaos, he illuminates the factors that allowed these conditions to arise and triumph. Early in the century, the Florida parishes were characterized by an exceptional level of social and political turmoil. Stability emerged as the cotton economy expanded into the piney-woods parishes during the 1820s and 1830s, bringing with it slaves and prosperity—but also bringing increasing dominance of the region by a powerful planter elite that shaped state government to suit its purposes. By the early 1840s, Jacksonian political rhetoric inspired a newfound assertiveness among the common folk. With the construction of a railroad through the piney-woods region at the close of the antebellum period and the collapse of the planter class at the end of the Civil War, the plain folk were finally able to reject the planters’ authority. Traditional patterns of political and economic stability were permanently disrupted, and the residents—their Jeffersonian traditions now corrupted by the brutal war and Reconstruction periods—rejected all governance and resorted increasingly to violence as the primary solution to conflict. For the remainder of the nineteenth century, the Florida Parishes had some of the highest murder rates in the country. In Pistols and Politics, Hyde gives serious scrutiny to a region heretofore largely neglected by historians, integrating the anomalies of one area of Louisiana into the history of the state and the wider South. He reassesses the prevailing myth of poverty in the piney woods, portrays the conscious methods of the ruling planter elite to manipulate the common people, and demonstrates the destructive possibilities inherent in the area’s political traditions as well as the complex mores, values, and dynamics of a society that produced some of the fiercest and most enduring feuds in American history.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

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pp. xiii-xviii

My active interest in the turbulent history of Louisiana's Florida parishes began during my undergraduate years at Tulane University. In the course of my studies there, it became apparent that the level of violence that convulsed eastern Louisiana in the...

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pp. 1-16

Thomas Green Davidson was surprised when he heard of the brutal murder in neighboring East Feliciana Parish. Homicide was not unknown in the area, but a killing of this nature was certainly unusual. The reports told of a farmer shot in the back by an apparent lone gunman from ambush—a "bushwhacking." Although it was a...

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1 A Brief Moment of Stability

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pp. 17-45

After traveling through the backcountry South in the early 18405, the Mississippi historian and editor J. F. H. Claiborne described some of the subtle differences between the plantation and piney-woods regions of southwestern Mississippi. Finding it unnecessary to provide details on the evident contrasts of life in each section, Claiborne...

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2 Government Far Behind the Times: The Seeds of Chaos

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pp. 46-101

As the residents of the Florida parishes struggled with the enormous problems facing them in the early years of the nineteenth century, a political system that would shape the destiny of the state through the end of the antebellum period emerged in Louisiana. A coalition of planters and their commercial allies in New Orleans created...

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3 An Education in Violence

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pp. 102-138

On a cool spring morning in April, 1862, the Fourth Louisiana Infantry Regiment, C.SA., received orders to abandon its encampment near Corinth, Mississippi, and move forward in support of the Confederate advance against Union positions in the vicinity of Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. The rapid advance was occasioned by the Confederate high command's awareness that the evenly matched opponents...

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4 Opportunity Lost: Incipient Chaos Delayed

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pp. 139-179

In the spring of 1865, the sectional conflict moved into another far more complex phase. Thousands of Union soldiers marched home to a hero's welcome in a land that the war had transformed into one of the most prosperous and productive regions on earth. Except for the loss of many of its sons, the North had remained insulated...

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5 Organized Lawlessness: Chaos Ascendant

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pp. 180-226

The Democratic campaign to promote contempt for the Republicans and their supporters strengthened the position of the old elite. Conservative leaders effectively manipulated events in support of their own goal to resecure power. By encouraging the belief that...

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6 War Without Honor: Chaos Ensconced

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pp. 227-262

In a swampy area along a roadside in northeastern Tangipahoa Parish, three men waited nervously. One, a teenage boy with little experience in such matters, crouched anxiously in a clump of bushes about one hundred yards up the road from the others. If all went as planned, he would announce the approach of the unfortunate victim with a series of bird calls. The two assassins, both armed with double-barreled...


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pp. 263-280


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pp. 281-288

E-ISBN-13: 9780807141854
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807122709

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 1998