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Template:Infobox Senator James Lusk Alcorn (November 4, 1816 – December 19, 1894) was a prominent American political figure in Mississippi during the 19th century. He was a leading southern white Republican or "scalawag" during Reconstruction in Mississippi, where he served as governor and U.S. Senator. A moderate Republican, he had a bitter rivalry with Radical Republican carpetbagger Adelbert Ames, who defeated him in the 1873 Mississippi gubernatorial race. He briefly served as a Confederate general during the early part of the American Civil War. Only James Longstreet had been a higher ranking Confederate general among those who joined in the post-Civil War Republican Party.

Early life and career[]

Born near Golconda, Illinois, to a Scots-Irish family, he attended Cumberland College in Kentucky and served as deputy sheriff of Livingston County, Kentucky, from 1839-1844. He served in the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1843 before moving to Mississippi. In 1844, he set up a law practice in Panola County, Mississippi. As his law practice flourished and his property holdings throughout the Mississippi Delta increased, he became a wealthy man. By 1860, he owned nearly a hundred slaves and held lands valued at a quarter of a million dollars. He was a leader of the Whig Party. He served in the Mississippi House of Representatives and Mississippi Senate during the 1840s and 1850s. He ran for Congress in 1856 but was defeated.

As a delegate to the Mississippi convention of 1851, called by Democratic Governor John A. Quitman to build momentum for secession, Alcorn helped defeat that movement. Like many Whig planters, Alcorn initially opposed secession, pleading with the extremists to reflect for a moment on the realities of regional power. He foretold a horrific picture of a beaten South, "when the northern soldier would tread her cotton fields, when the slave should be made free and the proud Southerner stricken to the dust in his presence."[1]

Civil War[]

When secession passed, Alcorn cast his lot with the Confederacy and was selected as a brigadier general by the state. During the American Civil War, he was in uniform for about 18 months of inconspicuous service. Both his sons, James Alcorn, Jr., and Henry Alcorn, died during the war—James Jr. in battle and Henry of typhoid fever. He managed to maintain his wealth during the Civil War by trading cotton with the North. After the war, he was estimated to be among the fifty wealthiest men in the New South.

Postbellum career[]

File:James L. Alcorn - Brady-Handy.jpg

Senator James L. Alcorn

He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1865, but, like all Southerners, was not allowed to take a seat as Congress was pondering Reconstruction. He supported suffrage for Freedmen and endorsed the Fourteenth Amendment. Alcorn became the leader of the Scalawags, who comprised about a fourth of the Republican Party officials in the state, in coalition with carpetbaggers, African-Americans who had been free before the outbreak of the civil war and Freedmen. It should be noted that Mississippi had a majority of African-Americans, the overwhelming majority of whom were Freedmen, who at this point had no desire to vote for the Democratic Party which would have not welcomed them anyway, thus the majority of votes for the Republican candidates came from African-Americans even though the majority of Republican office holders were whites. James Alcorn was elected by the Republicans as governor in 1869, serving, as Governor of Mississippi from 1870 to 1871. As a modernizer, he appointed many like-minded former Whigs, even if they were now Democrats. He strongly supported education, including public schools for blacks only, and a new college for them, now known as Alcorn State University. He maneuvered to make his ally, Hiram Revels, its president. Radical Republicans opposed Alcorn, angry at his patronage policy. One complained that Alcorn's policy was to see "the old civilization of the South modernized" rather than lead a total political, social and economic revolution.[2]

Alcorn resigned the governorship to become a U.S. Senator (1871–1877), replacing his ally Hiram Revels, the first African American senator. Senator Alcorn urged the removal of the political disabilities of white southerners and rejected Radical Republican proposals to enforce social equality by federal legislation[3]; he denounced the federal cotton tax as robbery[4], and defended separate schools for both races in Mississippi. Although a former slaveholder, he characterized slavery as "a cancer upon the body of the Nation" and expressed the gratification which he and many other Southerners felt over its destruction.[5]

Alcorn led a furious political battle with Senator Adelbert Ames, the carpetbagger who led the other faction of the Republican Party in Mississippi. The fight ripped apart the Republican Party. In 1873, they both sought a decision by running for governor. Ames was supported by the Radicals and most African Americans, while Alcorn won the votes of conservative whites and most of the scalawags. Ames won by a vote of 69,870 to 50,490.

During the Reconstruction era, Alcorn was an advocate of modernizing the South. Although a believer in white supremacy, he supported civil and political rights for African-Americans. In a letter to his wife (Amelia Alcorn, née Glover, of Rosemount Plantation in southern Alabama), he states that Southerners must make the Negro their friend or "the path ahead will be red with blood and damp with tears." Alcorn was the founder of the Mississippi levee system, and was instrumental in their rebuilding after the Civil War.

After his retirement from politics, he was active in levee affairs and was a delegate to the Mississippi constitutional convention of 1890, in which he supported the black disenfranchisement clause of the new constitution. He was twice married: in 1839 to Mary C. Stewart of Kentucky, who died in 1849; and in 1850 to Amelia Walton Glover of Alabama. In his later life, Alcorn practiced law in Friars Point, Mississippi and lived quietly at his plantation, Eagle's Nest, in Coahoma County, Mississippi, until his death and interment in the family cemetery on his estate in 1894.


Alcorn County, Mississippi, is named in his honor, as is Alcorn State University, originally set up for African Americans.

See also[]


  1. James L. Roark, Masters without Slaves 1977, p. 3\
  2. Quoted in Eric Foner, Reconstruction (1988) p 298
  3. See Congressional Globe, 42 Cong., 2 Sess., pp. 246-47
  4. Ibid., pp. 2730-33
  5. Ibid., p. 3424


External links[]

Template:Start box Template:S-off |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Adelbert Ames |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Governor of Mississippi
March 10, 1870 – November 30, 1871 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
Ridgley C. Powers |- |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | United States Senate Template:U.S. Senator box |} Template:Governors of Mississippi Template:USSenMS

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