Brooks–Baxter War

Brooks–Baxter War

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Brooks-Baxter War

caption=Woodcut representation from the 50th Anniversary edition of the Arkansas Gazette.
date=April 15, 1874 – May 15, 1874
place=Little Rock, Arkansas
casus=governorship of Arkansas
result=Northern Republican victory
combatant1=Republican Party nicknamed "The Minstrels"
mostly Northerners at first loyal to Powell Clayton, later Democrats

combatant2=Liberal Republican Party nicknamed "The Brindle Tails"
initially supported by state militia, later mostly African American volunteers
commander1=Elisha Baxter
commander2=Joseph Brooks
Robert F. Catterson (Arkansas state militia)
strength1=more than 2,000
strength2=approximately 1,000, not including state militia
casualties3=claims range from 40 to about 200

The Brooks-Baxter War was an 1874 political struggle in Arkansas between factions of the Republican Party over the disputed 1872 election for governor. Louisiana also had a disputed election for governor in 1872, resulting in the opponent's temporarily taking control of the state house in 1874 to try to turn him out of office. Although the Arkansas State Supreme Court ruled against Brooks in his first suit after the election, he filed a lawsuit in a Pulaski County district court that was decided in his favor in April 1874. The ruling judge certified Brooks as the new governor. Brooks' forces then removed Governor Baxter from office. Both men and their supporters appealed to Congress, President Grant, and the press. The struggle quickly escalated to armed conflict and bloodshed between the forces in the capital and outlying areas. Eventually President Ulysses S. Grant intervened and supported Governor Baxter.

The Brooks-Baxter "war" marked an early end to Reconstruction in Arkansas. Some historians believe it contributed to the Democratic takeover of the state. The pattern of Democrats' regaining power happened in every southern state. The white elite-led Democratic Party dominated one-party politics in Arkansas for 96 years, ensuring their success by disfranchising blacks and poor whites, a pattern also followed in every southern state of the former Confederacy.


After the Civil War, many Northern Republicans, whom southerners disparagingly called carpetbaggers, came to the defeated southern states to work in the rebuilding process. Some hoped to make their fortunes, as is common in the aftermath of war. Unionists, local Republicans, and representatives of freedmen, were elected to office in many Southern state governments. This was due not only to the extension of suffrage to freedmen under their being granted full citizenship, but also to temporary disfranchisement of white Southerners, mostly Democrats, who had fought for the Confederacy or held offices.

Under the Military Reconstruction Act, Congress readmitted Arkansas in June 1868. In the same year, Republicans in Arkansas drafted a new constitution, written under the terms of the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 that required states to grant freedmen suffrage; it reapportioned the legislature to reflect the new status of freedmen as citizens and counting them as full members of the population. This change, however, also reduced the power of the Democratic Party. The new coalition of Republicans effectively had control for some years. They created a new state constitution that conferred broad powers upon the state government, established universal public education for the first time, as well as welfare institutions, which had been lacking under the previous government and were needed in the aftermath of war. The governor had the power to appoint officials including judges. [ [ Arkansas Constitutions - Encyclopedia of Arkansas ] ]

Clayton Administration

Powell Clayton, who would become head of the Arkansas Republicans, was elected governor in 1868. He was different from his predecessor, Isaac Murphy, although both were northerners and Republicans. The Murphy Administration exercised a conciliatory attitude towards defeated Confederates and showed fiscal restraint; it left the state budget in surplus. [cite web|url=|title=, Old State House Article|accessdate=2006-12-11] [Michael B. Dougan, "Isaac Murphy (1799–1882)", "Encyclopedia of Arkansas", 2007 [] , accessed 16 May 2008]

Clayton had first come to Arkansas as a Brigadier General in the Union Army. His election in the spring of 1868 was reported by the "Little Rock Gazette"as troubled by irregularities. [Gazette #68] . As governor, Clayton tried to encourage migration from the North but Arkansas had fewer newcomers than many states, no more than 1500-3000. It had not developed as much of an economy. Clayton appointed some northerners and other Republicans to his Administration.

He also supported construction projects, as investment in public infrastructure had been lacking before the war under the planter-dominated government. He approved construction of levees to try to protect farmland, and approved state bonds to develop much-needed railroads in the state. Railroads made possible better transportation to market for farmers whose properties were away from the riverbanks. Clayton and the Republicans accomplished much during the governor’s three-year administration. "Arkansas created its first free public school system. The administration and its supporters also formed the Arkansas Industrial University, the basis for the future University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville. What would become the Arkansas School for the Deaf was established, and the Arkansas School for the Blind was relocated from Arkadelphia to Little Rock." [Carl H. Moneyhon, "Powell Clayton (1833–1914)", "Encyclopedia of Arkansas", 2008 [] , accessed 16 May 2008] The increase in state debt was difficult, as Arkansas and other states struggled with poverty in the postwar years, as the price of cotton fell.cite web |url= |title= the Brooks-Baxter War |accessdate=2008-09-15 |work=History of a Landmark |publisher= the Arkansas Times |date=1998 ]

In the fall of 1868 violence broke out in the state around the presidential election, as it did in many southern states. A Republican congressman was assassinated and an attempt was made on Clayton's life. Clayton acted decisively to use the militia against Ku Klux Klan violence. He declared martial law in 14 counties to suppress the Klan. [Carl H. Moneyhon, "Powell Clayton (1833–1914)", "Encyclopedia of Arkansas", 2008 [] , accessed 16 May 2008] He also cancelled elections in numerous counties where political violence that had broken out because he could not guarantee the integrity of voting places. He thus reduced voting that might have opposed Grant, and the state ended up supporting the election of President Grant. [ [ Powell Clayton: Martial Law and Machiavelli » Biographies of Arkansas's Governors » Exhibits » Old State House ] ] (Eric Foner, a respected historian of Reconstruction, noted that widespread violence accompanied all elections in the South from 1868 through 1876.)

Clayton raised taxes to pay for needed changes in the state under his administration. He created a series of bonds, known as the Holford Bonds, and promissory notes, known as scrip, that were issued to raise money. Counties, cities, and school districts consequently fell into debt. By the end of Clayton's term, the state debt had increased by $10 million. Many counties had little or nothing to show for the debt they had shouldered, while Clayton and some of his white supporters grew wealthy.Fact|

Factionalism within the Republican Party

This state of affairs caused a great deal of resentment from native-born Republicans (known as scalawags). Many were upset that state offices had gone to migrants from the north, as well as about the questionable financial maneuvers of the Clayton government. In 1869, the Arkansas Republican Party split in two. The new Liberal Republicans opposed Clayton and included Lieutenant Governor James M. Johnson. They were nicknamed "The Brindle Tails" after their leader Joseph Brooks, a northerner who was said to speak like a brindle-tailed bull. Brooks had been central in rigging the election of 1868 and getting Clayton elected to the governor's office, but he had not been rewarded with a state job, and patronage was common practice in 19th century American politics. Brooks turned on his party. The Brindle Tails platform included a proposal for a new constitution that would re-enfranchise ex-confederates. Johnson and Brooks appealed to Democrats and pre-war Whigs to join. They began gaining support among the disfranchised and Liberal Republicans. Johnson unsuccessfully attempted to seize the governorship while Clayton was out-of-state on business.


In 1870, Clayton lost control of the Arkansas General Assembly, and they elected him to the United States Senate to sequester him from state affairs. Clayton believed that if he left for Washington and Johnson became governor, Johnson would begin rolling back Reconstruction legislation. Thus, he moved Johnson to the secretary of state position and replaced him with loyalist Ozra Amander Hadley. The General Assembly thought Clayton had overreached his power and moved to impeach him.

The popular outcry was so great that a compromise was reached. Clayton went to the Senate, Hadley became governor, and Johnson became secretary of state. In March, the legislature dismissed the impeachment charges and Clayton left the state for the Senate. The state's most prominent newspaper, the "Arkansas Daily Gazette" crowed:

It will be a source of infinite joy and satisfaction, to the oppressed and long suffering people of Arkansas, to learn that, on yesterday, the tyrant, despot and usurper, late of Kansas, but more recently, governor of Arkansas, took his departure from the city and his hateful presence out of our state, it is to be hoped, forever and ever.
[Gazette #101]

Election of 1872

In the election of 1872, Joseph Brooks ran for governor on the Brindle Tails ticket. The Claytonist Republican faction, now being referred to as "The Minstrels" (their leader, John Price, was a musician), nominated Elisha Baxter as their candidate. They believed that Baxter, a native Unionist, could attract votes from both Unionists and northerners. The issue of re-enfranchisement of Confederates was central to the election. The government in the state had barely managed to gain a majority before.

During the buildup to the election and the days afterward, predictions and reports of fraud were printed daily in "The Gazette". Because of the relatively slow communications, messages from other counties were often delayed up to a week. There were numerous reports of anomalies in state polling centers, including names' being inexplicably stricken from the voter registration lists and persons' voting without proof of registration. "The Gazette" wrote:

It would be as great a farce of yesterday's election to designate it otherwise that a fraud. It was one of the worst ever yet perpetrated in the state. The city judges paid no attention to any registration either old or new, but permitted everybody to vote, and in many instances without question. Men were marched from one ward to another and voted early and often. [Gazette #299]

On November 6, 1872, the day after the general election, "The Gazette" reported: "The election was one of the most quiet in Little Rock we ever witnessed. [Gazette #291] The returns on that day were too small to report with any certainty who had won, and the newspaper reported fraud. Rumors flew about claims that registration had been cut short or extended in many counties to suit the needs of whoever controlled the polling places. The following Monday, "The Gazette" published incomplete tallies from the various counties showing a small majority for Baxter. They also reported more forms of attempted fraud. Some unofficial polling places had apparently been set up, but only those votes cast at the regular polls had been certified. [Gazette #296]

By November 15, "The Gazette" was claiming victory for Brooks. [Gazette #299] By the next day, because of the irregularities and votes that would be thrown out, the projected winner had changed. "The Gazette" declared Baxter victorious by only 3,000 votes. [Gazette #300]

Baxter and Brooks switch positions

As governor, Baxter began to adopt an independent course. He began dismantling the systems put in place by Clayton and the Republicans. He appointed honest Democrats and Republicans to the Election Commission, reorganized the militia by placing it under the control of Arkansas, and pushed for an amendment to the state constitution to re-enfranchise ex-confederates.

On March 3, 1873, the state passed re-enfranchisement of ex-Confederates, to the delight of much of the state population and concern of Republicans. The legislature called a special election in November to replace 33 members, mostly Brindle Tails, who had left for patronage jobs in the Baxter government. With the help of the newly re-enfranchised voters, conservative Democrats swept the election and gained a small majority in the legislature. The Republicans realized that Baxter would have to be removed from office if they hoped to regain control.

The political backers of Brooks and Baxter had switched. Governor Baxter was now supported by the Brindle Tails, re-enfranchisers, and the Democrats; whereas Brooks was finding support among the Claytonist, northerners, Unionists, and the Minstrel Republicans.


Brooks seizes the governorship and removes Baxter

The Brooks campaign first filed suit with the State Supreme Court, but it voted 3-1 in favor of Baxter's election. [ [ Elisha Baxter: Reconstruction Unravels] , accessed 16 May 2008] Brooks' supporters then filed a lawsuit with a district court, the friendly Pulaski County Circuit Court. On April 15, 1874, Judge Whytock ruled in favor of Brooks. Neither Brooks nor the court notified the legislature or Governor Baxter that the case was being considered in this venue. ["Elisha Baxter: Reconstruction Unravels", Old State House Museum [] , accessed 16 May 2008] Without further notification, the judge swore in Joseph Brooks as the new governor of Arkansas.

With the aid of General Robert F. Catterson and state militia, "Governor" Brooks marched to the Arkansas Capitol building (now known as “The Old Statehouse”), located at Markham and Center streets in downtown Little Rock. They ordered Baxter to abdicate his office, but he refused to do so unless physically forced. The mob dragged ex-governor Baxter out of the Capitol building and onto the street.

By the end of the afternoon, nearly 300 armed men had converged on the lawn of the State Capitol. Brooks's men seized the state arsenal and began turning the Statehouse into an armed camp. Telegrams covered in signatures were sent to President Ulysses S. Grant supporting Brooks as the legal governor. Three out of the five Supreme Court justices also telegrammed the President in support of Brooks. Brooks telegrammed the President asking for access to weapons housed at the federal arsenal. He also issued a statement to the press proclaiming himself governor. The senators from the state met with President Grant, and they sent a message to Brooks giving their support.Fact|date=May 2008

Baxter responds

Baxter was allowed to remain free in Pulaski County. He set up headquarters in the Anthony House, three blocks away from the State Capitol. Ads placed in "The Gazette" indicated that the Anthony House continued to function as an upscale hotel during the entirety of the crisis. Fighting occurred outside, and at least one man was shot dead while standing in a window in the building. Baxter issued two proclamations to the press from his temporary office, asserting his rights to the governorship by vote of the people and the decision of the legislature; both were printed in "The Gazette".

There were now two armies marching and singing through Little Rock. Each makeshift army gathered arms and sent detachments to other cities and states seeking more. The Baxter men retrieved “The Lady Baxter”, a cannon that had been spiked and abandoned by the Union Army and left sitting on the bank of the Arkansas River. They had it repaired and made ready for battle; whether it was ever fired is doubtful. It now sits in the lawn of the Old State House on permanent display.

Overtones of the Civil War and racial conflict were evident. Brooks' men numbered 600 by this time, and were all freedmen who supported Republicans as their emancipators. Baxter’s supporters were all white Democrats. The Baxter forces continued to grow steadily during the conflict until they reached nearly 2,000. Several bloody skirmishes occurred on the streets of Little Rock, one in front of the Anthony House. Known as the Battle of Palarm, a small naval battle erupted on the Arkansas River near Natural Steps, Arkansas where Brooks's men attacked a flatboat thought to be bringing supplies; they killed nearly everyone on board. Some later sourcesFact|date=February 2007 reported that at least 200 men were killed during the fighting, most of whom were freedmen. "The New York Times" of May 30, 1874 gave the following for casualties and fatalities:

Grant's intervention

As the two continued to scramble for support in Washington, D.C., Grant pushed for the dispute to be settled in Arkansas. Baxter had the support of the legislature, but they were unable to convene because they could not enter the capitol building. Governor Brooks, on the other hand, had the support of the district court.

The intervention of the Federal Government was required to settle the dispute; however, the general policy of the Grant Administration was to stay out of the affairs of Southern states. The President often expressed annoyance with Southern governors who requested help from federal troops to combat regular waves of election year violence, with little understanding of the issues they faced. Grant and the United States Attorney General, Hamilton Fish, issued a joint communique supporting Baxter and ordering Brooks to vacate the capitol. They also referred it back to the State Legislature. [ [ Elisha Baxter: Reconstruction Unravels] , accessed 16 May 2008] [Grant]

Lasting effects

After the conflict subsided, a general election was called in which the entire electorate was allowed to vote for the first time since the Civil War. The "entire electorate" before the Civil War had not included blacks. Conservative Democrats and allied paramilitary groups suppressed black voting to regain power, using a combination of intimidation, outright assassinations, and blocking blacks from the polls. Then the white Democrats passed laws and constitutional amendments establishing voter registration and election requirements that effectively disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites for decades.

A reporter from "The New York Times" wrote about the scene in Little Rock while describing the conservative Democratic victory in Arkansas in 1876. He made it clear that the extra-judicial killings and terrorism in Arkansas after the Brooks-Baxter "War" exceeded that during the internal Republican conflict:

" will be remembered that all the black men were in favor of Brooks; many of them supported him with arms, and scores of them sacrificed their lives in defense of his cause. They fell in what was called a fair fight, however; and although that "fair fight" often amounted to little better than a cold-blooded massacre, as in the case of the battle of New-Gascony, I will make no comment on it. The negro leaders went into the "war" knowing what they had to expect, and they were perhaps as much to blame for the bloodshed referred to as were the wild young white men who fought Baxter's battle. For the violence which followed the defeat of Brooks, however, the Bourbons [conservatives] are alone responsible. They found the negroes cowed and trembling--they saw their opportunity and took advantage of it. All over the State, prominent negroes were warned to leave Arkansas and find other homes. If they refused to do so, they were quietly taken out of their cabins and "lost" in the woods and swamps. In plain English, they were either killed outright or left in some wilderness to die."
["What Arkansas will do," "New York Times", May 9, 1876, p. 1]

Note that despite this reporter's claims, not "all" African Americans supported Brooks. Some sided with Baxter, and many whites supported Brooks.Fact|date=May 2008

Clayton and Brooks, claiming support from other Republicans, announced plans to overturn the government of Arkansas and the new constitution. They also assured supporters that if they were successful, similar revolutions could spread to other Southern states, in which white Democrats were regaining power. Because Democrats reduced voter lists of African Americans in an illegal fashion, the state's voters passed the new constitution was passed on October 13, 1874.

In the next election, Baxter lost his reelection bid to August Garland, the first Democrat elected governor of Arkansas in a decade. The following 35 governors of Arkansas were all Democrats. Arkansas did not have another Republican governor until 1966, with the election of Winthrop Rockefeller. Many observers viewed his election as a sign of the realignment of political parties and their supporters following the passage of national civil rights legislation and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


*The Daily Arkansas Gazette. #101. March 19, 1871
*The Daily Arkansas Gazette. #299. November 15, 1872
*The Daily Arkansas Gazette. #296. November 12, 1872
*The Daily Arkansas Gazette. #91. March 6, 1878
*The Daily Arkansas Gazette. #300. November 16,1872
*Grant, Ulysses S. A Proclamation. Arkansas Archives. May 15, 1874

External links

* [ Brooks Baxter War Website]
* [ Entry at the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture]

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