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THE FEDERALS' COLD SHOULDER TO ARKANSAS' POWELL CLAYTON Howard C. Westwood Article IV, Section 4, of the Constitution apparently promises that the Federal government will protect each state from domestic violence.1 Rarely has the need for such protection been clearer than was true in the Rebel States when they were readmitted to the Union under new, reconstructed governments. What happened in Arkansas in late 1868, however, suggests that the Constitution's promise was illusory. Arkansas was the first of the states allowed by Congress to emerge from military reconstruction. It had submitted a new constitution that more than complied with the requirements of the 1867 reconstruction legislation, including provision for black equality and disenfranchisement of former rebels. Congress treated Arkansas as the test case for the states seeking reunion, its debate on readmission ranging widely. Yet all but ignored was a most pertinent question: if Arkansas needed help in dealing with violence, was it to be provided? In only a single isolated passage, by one senator, was the issue addressed; even thatwas no more than expression of a worry.2 The constitution had been adopted in March, 1868, in a poll of the electorate made eligible by the reconstruction legislation. Congress debated in May and June. Over a presidential veto Arkansas was * Gratefully acknowledged is the help of Mr. Dale Floyd of the National Archives staff, Dr. John L. Ferguson, State Historian of Arkansas, and Mr. TomDillard, Editor, Pulaski County Historical Review, Little Rock, Arkansas. Federal military records cited herein are in the Washington office of the National Archives. 1 "The United States . . . shall protect each [State] ... on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence." 2 H.R. Exec. Doc. No. 278, 40 Cong., 2 sess.; Cong. Globe 40 Cong., 2 sess., 2390-2399, 2436-2440, 2487-2488, 2517-2518, 2600-2609, 2628-2633, 2659-2669, 2690-2701, 2736-2750, 2900-2901, 2904, 2938; ibid., 3330 (veto), 3331, 3361-3363, 3381. The worry was expressed by Senator Edmunds of Vermont, ibid., 2662-2663. That Congress treated Arkansas as the test case is apparent from the course of debate on the bill for readmission of six other States, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and the two Carolinas, which each House addressed in thewake ofconsidering theArkansas measure; debate on the other States was largely limited to much narrower issues peculiar to them. Ibid. 2412, 2445-2456, 2461-2465, 2759, 2858-2872, 2895-2904, 2927-2935, 2963-2970, 2998-3029; ibid., 3090-3097, 3466, 3484 (veto). 3485. Civil War History, Vol.XXVI, No.3 Copyright © 1980 by The Kent State University Press 0009-8078/80/2603-0003 $00.80/0 POWELL CLAYTON241 readmitted on June 22. During that time domestic violence in the state— notably Ku Kluxism—had mounted alarmingly. It is said that Nathan Bedford Forrest, reputed leader of the Klan, had visited Arkansas in April from Memphis to promote the order.3 In late May, even as Congress debated, General C. H. Smith, Assistant Commissioner for Arkansas of the Freedmen's Bureau, had reported to General O. O. Howard, the Bureau's chief: The Ku Klux Klan serve their mysterious notices and make their midnight rounds in different parts of the State. Every precaution is taken that it is possible to take with the forces at hand. Troops are stationed at twenty-three different points in the State, but even that number of stations fails to cover all theground. Ifabsolute martiallawprevailed there would be less trouble, for arrest and punishment could be summary. But as it is, there is virtually no redress at all.4 Though the problem defined by General Smith had received no attention in the congressional debate it was not ignored in Little Rock. A young Republican of thirty-four, Powell Clayton, had been elected governor at the time of the poll on the constitution. He had declined inauguration until Congress acted on the state's readmission.5 Finally, on July 2, he took office. The next day he addressed the new legislature. As the first item in his program he said that "Under the peculiar circumstances of the present, the public safety absolutely demands that you should...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 240-255
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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