Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Frank J. Wetta's "The Louisiana Scalawags"

Frank J. Wetta is Senior Fellow in the Department of History at Kean University and a former Leverhulme Fellow at Keele University, UK.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Louisiana Scalawags: Politics, Race, and Terrorism in the Civil War and Reconstruction, and reported the following:
Reconstruction began early in Louisiana following the federal occupation of New Orleans in 1862. The “scalawags” were white Southern unionists who collaborated with the Union army of occupation and allied with the Republican Party in an attempt to reestablish a loyal state government. Page 99 finds the reader at an event that occurred two years after the arrival of the Yankees that would transform state and national politics, the New Orleans Riot of 1866. The chapter is entitled “What the Hell Is Your Hide Worth Today.” Page ninety-nine meets the test: It captures the essential theme of the book – the volatile mix of politics, race, and violence in the contest over the political future of Louisiana. Who would rule the state—the unionist (scalawags) and their black allies or the ex-rebels and other conservatives? Vilified by their political enemies, the scalawags were subjected to social ostracism, intimidation, and violence. The riot illustrates the point. In an attempt to rewrite the state constitution to enfranchise black voters and disfranchise former Confederates, the unionists attempted to hold a meeting (a “rump” convention) at Mechanics Hall on July 30. The result was a bloody confrontation that left approximately thirty-four blacks and three scalawags dead. Page ninety-nine deals with the causes of the riot based on scalawag testimony at the Congressional investigation of the event. The ex-rebels and their Democratic supporters charged that the scalawags had conspired with Republicans in Washington to change the constitution illegally and, further, that the scalawags had incited violence in public speeches before black audiences. The scalawags denied the charges, but admitted that, “the sentiments uttered … were radical; that cannot be disputed.” Though the riot fatally weakened scalawag leadership, it did not result in conservative control of the state (at least not yet); rather, the riot led to the rise of the “carpetbaggers” in Louisiana politics.
Learn more about The Louisiana Scalawags at the the Louisiana State University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue