THE ADMINISTRATION OF GOVERNOR SCOTT.
Source: Lowry, Robert and McCardle, William H. A History of Mississippi, from the Discovery of the Great River by Hernando DeSoto, Including the Earliest Settlement Made by the French Under Iberville, to the Death of Jefferson Davis [1541-1889]. Jackson, Miss.: R. H. Henry & Co., 1891. Pages 269-276.
Abram M. Scott, a native of South Carolina, was the sixth Governor chosen by the people of Mississippi. Mr. Scott came to the Mississippi Territory at an early day, and was heard of in the year 1811 as commander of a company in a regiment which was called out by Governor Holmes to punish the Indians for the massacre of more than two hundred and fifty men, women and children at Fort Mims, in what is now known as the State of Alabama, though it was then formed an integral portion of the Mississippi Territory. Mr. Scott was a bright, courageous and honorable gentleman, and established his residence in Wilkinson county, and by his genial and upright deportment so commended himself to the people of that country, that he was chosen one of the five delegates to represent them in the Constitutional Convention which assembled at Washington, in the county of Adams, in the year 1817.
He represented the people of Wilkinson county several times in the Legislature and served two terms as Lieutenant-Governor, during the first and second terms of Gerard C. Brandon as chief magistrate of the State. He was elected Governor in 1831, and was installed in office in January, 1832, with Fountain Winston, of Adams county, as Lieutenant-Governor. After the death of Governor Scott in November, 1833, the duties of the chief executive were devolved on Lieutenant-Governor Winston for about six weeks.
The administration of Governor Scott was rendered conspicuous by the assembling of the Constitutional Convention of 1832, a Convention which changed the whole structure of the organic law of the State.
This Constitutional Convention, in pursuance of an act of the Legislature approved December 16th, 1831, convened at the capitol in the city of Jackson, on Monday, the 10th day of September, 1832. The attendance was large on the day of assembling, every delegate being present and answering to his name. The counties having been called, the following gentlemen were found to be present:
- Adams county -- John A. Quitman, Spence M. Grayson, Dr. Stephen Duncan.
- Claiborne county -- Thomas Freelance, Thomas Gale and Daniel Greenleaf.
- Copiah county -- Seth Granberry, William P. Rose.
- Covington county -- Frederick Pope.
- Franklin county -- Daniel McMillan.
- Greene county -- David McRea.
- Hinds county -- David Dickson, James Scott and Vernon C. Hicks.
- Hancock county -- P. Rutilius R. Pray.
- Jefferson county -- Putnam T. Williams and Cicero Jefferson.
- Jackson county -- William C. Leamon.
- Jones county -- Nathaniel Jones.
- Lawrence county -- Aloysius M. Keegan and Joseph W. Pendleton.
- Lowndes county -- James F. Trotter.
- Marion county -- Dugal McLaughlin.
- Madison county -- R. McCord Williamson.
- Monroe county -- George Higgason.
- Perry county -- Jacob J. H. Morris.
- Pike county -- James Y. McNabb, Lamon Bacot.
- Rankin county -- Nathan G. Howard.
- Simpson county - John B. Lowe.
- Warren county -- William J. Redd.
- Washington county -- Andrew Knox.
- Wayne county -- Thomas P. Falconer.
- Wilkinson county -- Gerard C. Brandon, Edward T. Farish and Joseph Johnson.
- Yazoo county -- Howell W. Runnels and Richard F. Floyd.
- From the district composed of the counties of Madison and Yazoo -- William J. Austin.
- The counties of Monroe, Lowndes and Rankin -- Daniel W. Wright.
- The counties of Warren and Washington -- Eugene Magee.
- The counties of Copiah and Jefferson -- Benjamin Kennedy.
- The counties of Amite and Franklin -- Richard A. Stewart.
- The counties of Lawrence, Simpson and Covington -- Charles Lynch.
- The counties of Perry, Greene, Hancock, Jackson and Wayne -- John Black.
- The counties of Pike and Marion -- James Jones.
The convention was organized by the election of P. Rotilius R. Pray as President, and on being escorted to the chair, that gentleman returned his acknowledgements for the high honor conferred in a few, but neat and graceful words.
John A. Mallory was elected Secretary of the Convention, and Joseph G. Anderson was made Sergeant at-Arms.
The Constitution of 1817 having been in operation for fifteen years, the people had grown restless under its numerous restrictive provisions, and particularly with the property qualification for eligibility to office.
At an early period of the Convention a resolution was introduced looking to a radical change in the "bill of rights."
The same resolution announced the doctrine of "rotation in office," and condemned appointments to office for life or good behavior, and contended that the tenure should be limited, and that the people should, through the ballot-box, selected their own agents.
At that early day, nearly sixty years ago, monopolies were denounced as antagonistic to the theory of a republican government, and so it is held to-day by the great Democratic party of the Union, thus demonstrating the wisdom, foresight and patriotism of the men who were more than half a century since engaged in the framing of an organic law, not only for themselves, but for their children yet unborn.
John A. Quitman, of Adams county, then becoming quite prominent in politics, and earnestly devoted to the State of his adoption, the day before the Constitution was adopted, offered an amendment in the shape of a resolution, submitting that instrument to the vote of the people for their ratification or rejection. This proposition was lost by nays twenty-six to nineteen yeas.
The Convention having completed its labors, adjourned on the 26th day of October, having been in session one month and sixteen days.
The material change, the distinguishing feature which characterized the Constitution of 1832, from that previously in force, was the enlargement of the liberty and the power of the people, through the ballot-box, by conferring authority on them to elect their own public servants without regard to a property qualification.
The most radical change, however, was that made in the judicial department of the government. Under the Constitution of 1817, the judges of all the courts were elected by the joint vote of the two houses of the Legislature, and their tenure of office was during good behavior.
Under the Constitution of 1832, all judicial functionaries, as well as all State officers, were elected directly by the people.
A superior Court of Chancery was authorized to be established, and the Chancellor was made elective by the suffragans of the entire State.
A High Court of Errors and Appeals was provided for, composed of three judges. The Legislature was directed to divide the State into three judicial districts for that court, and the voters of each district were allowed to elect one judge for the High Court of Errors and Appeals.
Circuit and Probate Courts were provided for, and the judges of these courts, too, were made elective by the people. The Attorney-General and all District Attorneys were made elective by the people.
The Constitution of 1832 made the commonwealth of Mississippi the pioneer State in embodying in her organic law the right of the people to select, through the ballotbox, their judicial officers from, those who presided over inferior tribunals to the court of last resort. This change in the judiciary of Mississippi was made nearly fifty-nine years ago, and at that time, neither the Constitution nor the laws of any State in the Union provided for a judiciary elective by the people. it is also true that in the interim between the period from 1832 to 1861, every State in the Union followed the example of Mississippi, and adopted the system of electing judges through the ballotbox by the qualified electors. If time has demonstrated the wisdom and virtue of the system, the honor of inaugurating it is undeniably due to this commonwealth.
The tenure of office prescribed by the Constitution of 1832, for the Governor, was two years, prohibiting the same individual from holding the office more than four in any six consecutive years.
The powers conferred, and the duties imposed on the Executive, were copied in the main, almost word for word, from the Constitution of 1817, the material difference being, that the latter provided for and prescribed the duties of Lieutenant-Governor, while those duties, under the Constitution of 1832 were to be performed by the President of the Senate, when necessary, by reason of the death, resignation or removal from office of the Governor.
While the Constitutional Convention of 1832 was in session, the entire country was convulsed with excitement. The great war between the administration of President Jackson and the Bank of the United States, presided over by that able and accomplished gentleman, the Hon. Nicholas Biddle, was raging with the utmost violence. There was no clash of arms, no rattle of musketry, and no thunder of artillery heard in this great and momentous war, but the clamor of argument, of denunciation, and of vituperation, resounded through all the land.
President Jackson vetoed the act re-chartering the Bank of the United States on July 10th, 1832. The President was then a candidate for re-election. The Whig party had espoused the cause of the bank and nominated its ablest leader, the "great commoner," Henry Clay, of Kentucky, as its candidate for the presidency. The war waxed fierce and furious, but President Jackson was triumphantly re-elected. In his message, sent to Congress in December, 1832, the President announced that the public deposits, that is, the government money heretofore deposited in the Bank of the United States, were unsafe and ought to be removed. William J. Duane, Esq., of Pennsylvania, was then Secretary of the Treasury, and he was averse to issuing an order for the removal of the public deposits. As Congress was in session it was deemed unadvisable to make the issue with the legislative department of the government. In the spring of 1833, Mr. Duane having refused obedience to the President's wishes, was politely informed that the resignation of his commission as Secretary of the Treasury would be accepted. That gentleman, however, was not only opposed to the policy of the President, but believed that it would be improper and cowardly to tender his resignation, and thus allow another to perform an act which he believed to be wrong. President Jackson was, however, equal to the emergency. Believing that he was right in his view of the duty he owed the country, promptly removed Mr. Duane, and appointed Hon. Roger B. Taney, of Maryland, then Attorney-General of the United States, to the position of Secretary of the Treasury. Secretary Taney being in full accord with the President, had no hesitation in issuing an order for the removal of the public deposits from the custody of the United States Bank, and they were accordingly removed, and were soon after placed in various State banks.
It is amusing now to look back upon that fierce war of words, in relation to "the monster," as President Jackson was wont to designate the Bank of the United States. The capital of that institution amounted to the paltry sum of $35,000,000) thirty-five millions of dollars, not one-fourth as large as several private individual fortunes of the present day. One of many arguments used by President Jackson, was that a good portion of the capital stock of the bank was owned in Europe by foreigners, and in case of war with any foreign power the bank might be used to the detriment of the United States. A more fallacious argument than this it would be difficult to imagine, since the possession of the money of other people is usually regarded as one of the most powerful and strong incentives to do what the holder of their funds requires. And the idea of holding up a bank with a capital of $35,000,000 as "dangerous to the liberties of the people," must excite a smile from those who know that there are in existence today more than three thousand national banks, with a capital of more than $600,000,000) six hundred millions of dollars. That those three thousand national banks are usually banded together, are absolutely under the control of the Treasury Department of the United States, through the Comptroller of the Currency, form a much greater menace to "the liberties of the people," than the Bank of the United States could ever have been. There are many citizens of the country who see that this great money power may become "dangerous to the liberties of the people," but not from any foreign or outside influence. The danger they fear is from a strong centralized government, with a vulgar plutocratic power behind it. This is the great danger that to-day menaces constitutional government in the United States. The more than three thousand national banks, allied with the owners of more than one hundred and sixty thousand miles of railroad, together with the numerous monopolies scattered through the country, including the Telegraph Company, the Standard Oil Company, and various other companies, "trusts" and syndicates, may well fill the hearts of the people with fearful forebodings.
The removal of the government funds from the vaults of the Bank of the United States, and giving te custody of those funds to sundry State banks, was followed by a wild scene of banking, of inflation of the currency, and reckless speculation. In no State in the Union were the results more disastrous than in the commonwealth of Mississippi.
The administration of Governor Scott was in all essentials a successful one, but, unfortunately, this popular chief magistrate did not live to complete the term of two years for which he had been elected.
He died in November, 1833, of Asiatic cholera, at the capital of the State, and his premature death was widely lamented by the people he had so faithfully served. His memory has been perpetuated by bestowing his name on one of the prosperous counties east of Pearl river.
Governor Scott left two sons and one daughter. One of his sons, William A. Scott, was appointed United States Marshal for the District of Louisiana by President Taylor. His other son, Thomas B. Scott, became a brigadier-general in the Confederate army. They have both been dead for a number of years. His daughter married Preston W. Farrar, a lawyer of Woodville, Wilkinson county. Mr. Farrar was a native of Lexington, Kentucky, and removing to New Orleans sometime in the forties, he was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives and became Speaker of that body.
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