Crescent City White League

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Opening page of the Platform of the Crescent City White League in 1874, by various members of the organization.

Photo Credit: Platform of The Crescent City White League. 1874. Located in the John Minor Wisdom Collection, Louisiana Research Collections, Collection 230, Box 13, Folder 34.

Contributors

The events of September 14th, 1874 took place as a result of decades of tension. In the years after the Civil War, Southern white Democrats were unwilling to cope without slavery. Refusing to comply with the new lack of enslaved African-Americans, many organizations including the Ku Klux Klan, began using forms of terrorism to maintain their desired white supremacy. This movement fostered the creation of the Crescent City White League in New Orleans.

Origins of The White League

Following the Civil War, myriad white supremacist organizations arose. This was not merely out of frustration that the ‘inferior race’ gained citizenship; the frustration of Southern white men derived from their diminished political clout as a result of slavery’s abolishment. In response to the increasing number of Northern politicians taking seats from Southerners, The Crescent City White League (also known as The White League of Louisiana) was born. The paramilitary group, comprised almost entirely of former Confederate soldiers, planters and merchants, dependent on the ways of life in the “Old South,” formed in 1874. Its goals were to intimidate anyone who would stand in the way of the white Democrat’s ambitions. Like the majority of other white supremacist organizations, The White League was fluent in hypocrisy. Members of the organization claimed that, “The organization was effected for the purpose of affording us mutual protection, and also our fellow citizens, so far as our lives and property were concerned.” They saw themselves as armed peacekeepers in a time of social progress, and didn’t serve as “police, but a military organization.” [1] Member of the Executive Committee and one of the original founders of the White League, James Buckner, claimed that the organization derived out of a necessity to keep the streets safe after an increase in crime. He stressed the sanctity and safety of ‘the people’ and focused on the organization’s “non-political” motives. He promote[d] the organization of the ‘White League’ as the only relief against the shortcomings of the police.” [2] Buckner explained that his involvement with the conception of the White League began after his house was robbed and felt the safety of New Orleans was at risk. FC Zacharie, another major contributor in the White League’s foundation, saw the organization’s conception as a necessity because of the “unusual extent by the distribution and carrying to the Country of large [quantities] of arms, which were given to the Blacks,” after “a series of black outrages in the City of New Orleans,” according to Zacharie. [3] In this text, defending the existence of the White League (written by and quoting members of the White League) repeatedly focused on the organizations intent as a protective body, rather than a political organization, thus dissociating itself from the likes of the Ku Klux Klan while also attempting to distance itself from racially motivated origins, in a very suspiciously innocent tone. But no matter who was asked, the Crescent City White League was willing to use violence to create peace. For example, However, the peace they envisioned completely excluded African-Americans. They saw the inclusion of blacks into American politics as a threat to the sanctity of the nation.

Founding Principles

While some of the racially motivated attacks of the South were politically motivated, others were a mere attempt at a statement of dominance. In this period, it was common for white gangs to direct “violence at agents of the radical social transformations that followed emancipation, particularly those people who most visibly exercised, promoted, or enabled the citizenship of former slaves.” [4] This fear of blacks slowly gaining serious political power was not irrational, “by the end of 1867, it seemed, virtually every black voter in the South had enrolled in the Union League or some equivalent local political organization.” [5] The threat to white supremacy was more real than it had ever been to-date in American history. The arrival of the Crescent City White League was, from the white supremacist’s perspective, the perfect alternative to the overwhelmingly progressive New South (for white southerners, obviously not for black southerners). The White League officially began on July 1st, 1874. The Constitution of The White League, establishing its inception, stated that its object was to “assist in restoring an honest and intelligent government in the State of Louisiana; to drive out incompetent and corrupt men from office and… maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States and of the State with all laws made in pursuance thereof; and to maintain and protect and enforce our rights…” [6] Their main goal was to put the control of State government in the “hands of the white people of the State.” The White League saw themselves as a utilitarian paramilitary organization who, through the protection of the white race against the increasing social justice towards blacks, which they referred to as “encroachment of the negro,” would ‘purge’ all offices of society “from such a horde of miscreants as now assume to lord it over us.” [7] They sought to outcast and dehumanize any person, white or black, who did not see the “white-out” of the government as a necessity, and was seen “not only [as] an enemy to our citizens, but a traitorous foe to his own race and to civilization.” [8] Everyone who stood in their way was seen as a threat, and the White League exhausted their every (self-appointed) right to enforce their racial policy. And despite their initial proclamation that the White League had nothing to do with politics, that was its main focus. Self-appointing themselves as the righteous police, they saw violence as an inevitability for ‘white peace’ to be possible.

The White League and the majority of whites in New Orleans would justify any violence against blacks. The Schreveport Times wrote on July 9th, 1874, “If a single hostile gun is fired between the White and Blacks, in this and surrounding Parishes, every carpetbagger and scalawag that can be caught, will in twelve hours there be dangling from a limb. We do not say this in a spirit of braggadocio, we say it in the interest of peace and we know what we are talking about.” [9] The White League founded their organization as a defense against the increasing rights that blacks were gaining and the sanctity of the all-white State government. The Southern white Democrat battle against progress in New Orleans came to a boiling point on September 14th, 1874. Following the events that took place on this day, the supporters of the White League referred to it as The Battle of Liberty Place (currently the more popular name), while others referred to it simply as the Battle on Canal Street. [10]

The Events of September 14th, 1874

The New Orleans gubernatorial election of 1872 stirred up a lot of controversy in the New Orleans political sphere. The Democratic nominee was John McEnery and the Republican nominee was William Pitt Kellogg. The Democratic members of the White League obviously supported McEnery. The Democrats used fear tactics to suppress the black vote. After an extremely close ballot, both candidates claimed victory. After long disputes, the federal government granted Kellogg victory. This outraged the Democrats.

On September 14th, 1874, a large majority of the Union troops that usually occupy the State House were pulled from duty for reasons determined by President Grant. As a result, McEnery and the White League essentially took over the state government that day. The motives of the takeover differed depending on who was being asked. James Buckner claimed that the takeover occurred because they walked into the State House and took what was rightfully theirs – guns. [11] However, a Republican would have told you that the White League was conducting an armed march on the government to 1, get more guns, and 2, overthrow the Kellogg government. White League member, R.H. Marr, who possessed the attitude of many White Leaguers, claimed, “the mission on the day of September 14th was “really a peaceable one, and if [General Ogden] did anything to overthrow the Kellogg government, it was accidental.” [12] White Leaguer, BR Forman, It is hard to say [we were] resolved (in overthrowing the government): Of course we were all in favor of overthrowing the State Government if a favorable opportunity offered.” [13]

The White League, which was commanded by Confederate veteran General James Ogden, strolled up to the government building with armed mob of angry white men of about 5,000. [14] When they arrived, RH Marr was sent to inform Kellogg that if he stepped down, he and his property would not be assaulted. The following events that took place were a military-styled battle between the New Orleans Police and the White Leaguers.

Aftermath

Within three days, President Grant had federal troops in New Orleans, by which time the White Leaguers had retreated. But the White Leaguers won the battle, with upwards of 100 casualties. [15] The victory for the White League was embarrassing for William Kellogg and the Republican party as a whole. The coup d‘état of Kellogg’s government severely hindered the legitimacy of Republican rule in the national public opinion. Within the two years following the Battle of Liberty Place, the White League’s members were absorbed into the state militias and National Guard. [16] The White League had a massive impact on New Orleans and represented the unwillingness of the South’s population to cope with change. And not only were they unwilling, but they were prepared to murder anyone who challenged their vision of ‘white peace.’

Works Cited

  • Crescent City White League, Platform of the Crescent City White League, New Orleans, Louisiana: n.p., 1874, 1. Located in the John Minor Wisdom Collection, Louisiana Research Collections, Collection 230, Box 13, Folder 34.
  • Crescent City White League, Platform of the Crescent City White League, New Orleans, Louisiana: n.p., 1874, 3. Located in the John Minor Wisdom Collection, Louisiana Research Collections, Collection 230, Box 13, Folder 34.
  • Crescent City White League, Platform of the Crescent City White League, New Orleans, Louisiana: n.p., 1874, 4. Located in the John Minor Wisdom Collection, Louisiana Research Collections, Collection 230, Box 13, Folder 34.
  • McMillen, Sally G., Elizabeth Hayes Turner, Paul D. Escott, and David R. Goldfield. Major Problems in American History, Volume II: The New South. 3rd ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2012., 51.
  • McMillen, Sally G., Elizabeth Hayes Turner, Paul D. Escott, and David R. Goldfield. Major Problems in American History, Volume II: The New South. 3rd ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2012., 42.
  • Crescent City White League, Platform of the Crescent City White League, New Orleans, Louisiana: n.p., 1874, 6. Located in the John Minor Wisdom Collection, Louisiana Research Collections, Collection 230, Box 13, Folder 34.
  • Crescent City White League, Platform of the Crescent City White League, New Orleans, Louisiana: n.p., 1874, 10. Located in the John Minor Wisdom Collection, Louisiana Research Collections, Collection 230, Box 13, Folder 34.
  • Crescent City White League, Platform of the Crescent City White League, New Orleans, Louisiana: n.p., 1874, 20. Located in the John Minor Wisdom Collection, Louisiana Research Collections, Collection 230, Box 13, Folder 34.
  • Crescent City White League, Platform of the Crescent City White League, New Orleans, Louisiana: n.p., 1874, 14. Located in the John Minor Wisdom Collection, Louisiana Research Collections, Collection 230, Box 13, Folder 34.
  • Crescent City White League, Platform of the Crescent City White League, New Orleans, Louisiana: n.p., 1874, 36. Located in the John Minor Wisdom Collection, Louisiana Research Collections, Collection 230, Box 13, Folder 34.
  • Crescent City White League, Platform of the Crescent City White League, New Orleans, Louisiana: n.p., 1874, 23. Located in the John Minor Wisdom Collection, Louisiana Research Collections, Collection 230, Box 13, Folder 34.
  • Crescent City White League, Platform of the Crescent City White League, New Orleans, Louisiana: n.p., 1874, 29. Located in the John Minor Wisdom Collection, Louisiana Research Collections, Collection 230, Box 13, Folder 34.
  • Crescent City White League, Platform of the Crescent City White League, New Orleans, Louisiana: n.p., 1874, 31. Located in the John Minor Wisdom Collection, Louisiana Research Collections, Collection 230, Box 13, Folder 34.
  • Crescent City White League, Platform of the Crescent City White League, New Orleans, Louisiana: n.p., 1874, 25. Located in the John Minor Wisdom Collection, Louisiana Research Collections, Collection 230, Box 13, Folder 34.
  • Chopin, Kate, Emily Toth, Per Seyersted, and Cheyenne Bonnell. Kate Chopin’s Private Papers. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1998., 125.
  • Hogue, James G. “The 1873 Battle of Colfax: Para-militarism and Counterrevolution in Louisiana,” Paper presented at The War For The American South 1865-1968, Ohio State University, November 9-11, 2006. Accessed April 14, 2014. Located at http://warhistorian.org/mershon/hogue-colfax.pdf. 21, 22.

This page was last modified on 22 April 2014, at 10:38

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Battle of Liberty Place

Canal Street, New Orleans, LA