Arkansas Reconstruction

The constitution of 1868, as a whole, was not devoid of merit. It opened the way for an age of internal improvements, and intended the establishment of a liberal public free school system, and at the same time provided safeguards to protect the public treasury and restrain reckless extravagance.

Then the legislatures elected under it, the State officers, and the representatives in the upper and lower Congress, were in political accord with the dominant party of the country. Gen. Grant was president; Powell Clayton, governor; Robert J. L. White, secretary of State; J. R. Berry, auditor, and Henry Page, treasurer. The first legislature under the constitution of 1868 passed most liberal laws to aid railroads and other internal improvements, and provided a system of revenue laws to meet the new order of affairs. During 1869 to 1871 railroad aid and levee bonds to the amount of $10,419,773.74 were issued. The supreme court of the State in after years declared the railroad aid, levee and Halford bonds void, aggregating $8,604,773.74. Before his term of governor had expired, Gov. Clayton was elected United States senator (1871-77), and in 1873 Hon. Stephen W. Dorsey was elected to a like position.

The climax and the end of reconstruction in Arkansas will always be an interesting paragraph in the State’s history. Elisha Baxter and Joseph Brooks were the gubernatorial candidates at the election of 1872. Both were Republicans, and Brooks was considered one of the most ardent of that party. Baxter was the nominee of the party and on the same ticket with Grant, who was candidate for president. Brooks was nominated on a mixed ticket, made up by disaffected Republicans, but on a more liberal platform toward the Democrats than the regular ticket. On the face of the first returns the Greeley electors and the Brooks ticket were in the majority, but when the votes were finally canvassed, such changes were made, from illegal voting or bulldozing it was claimed, as to elect the Grant and Baxter tickets. Under the constitution of 1868, the legislature was declared the sole judge of the election of State officers. Brooks took his case before that body at its January term, 1873 – at which time Baxter was inaugurated – but the assembly decided that Baxter was elected, and, whether right or wrong, every one supposed the question permanently settled.

Brooks however, went before the supreme court (McClure being chief justice), that body promptly deciding that the legislature was by law the proper tribunal, and that as it had determined the case its action was final and binding. Baxter was inaugurated in January, 1873; had been declared elected by the proper authorities, and this had been confirmed by the legislature, the action of the latter being distinctly approved by the supreme court. The adherents of Brooks had supposed that they were greatly wronged, but like good citizens all acquiesced. Those who had politically despised Brooks – perhaps the majority of his voters – had learned to sympathize with what they believed were his and their mutual wrongs. Baxter had peacefully administered the office more than a year, when Brooks went before Judge John Whytock, of the Pulaski circuit court, and commenced quo warranto proceedings against Baxter. The governor’s attorneys filed a demurrer, and the case stood over. Wednesday, April 15, 1874, Judge Whytock, in the absence of Baxter’s attorneys, overruled the demurrer, giving judgment of ouster against Baxter, and instantly Brooks, with an officer, hastened to the State house, demanded the surrender of the office, and arrested Baxter. Thus a stroke of the pen by a mere circuit court judge in banc plunged the State into tumult.

Couriers sped over the city, and the flying news gave the people a genuine sensation. Indeed, not only Baxter but the State and the nation received a great surprise.

As soon as Baxter was released, though only under arrest a few minutes, he fled to St. John’s College, in the city, and from this headquarters called for soldiers, as did Brooks from the State house, and alas, poor Arkansas! there were now again two doughty governors beating the long roll and swiftly forming in the ranks of war. Brooks converted the State house and grounds into a garrison, while Baxter made headquarters at the old Anthony Hotel, and the dead-line between the armed foes was Main Street. Just in time to prevent mutual annihilation, though not in time to prevent bloodshed, some United States soldiers arrived and took up a position of armed neutrality between the foes. See… The Poland Committee

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