Henry Clay Warmoth

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Henry Clay Warmoth

Birthdate: (89)
Birthplace: McLeansboro, IL, USA
Death: September 30, 1931 (89)
New Orleans, LA, USA (Bronchial Pneumonia)
Place of Burial: New Orleans, LA, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Isaac Sanders Warmoth and Eleanor Warmoth
Husband of Sarah Sallie Warmoth
Father of Frank Sheridan Warmoth; Reinette Lester Warmoth and Carroll Kennon Warmoth

Occupation: 23rd Governor of Louisiana, Union Army Officer, Collector of Customs
Managed by: Joel Scott Cognevich
Last Updated:

About Henry Clay Warmoth


Henry Clay Warmoth (May 9, 1842 – September 30, 1931) was an attorney, Civil War officer, and elected official, serving as Republican governor and state representative. He was the 23rd Governor of Louisiana, from 1868 to 1872. Facing criticism from some Republican leaders for supporting weakened civil rights legislation and for endorsing a Democratic/Fusionist ticket in the 1872 election, Warmoth's term culminated in impeachment proceedings and suspension from office. Lieutenant Governor P.B.S. Pinchback assumed office during Warmoth's absence, becoming the first African-American governor in the United States. The impeachment charges against Warmoth were dropped after his term of office ended.

Warmoth was the first elected Reconstruction Governor of Louisiana; later, he was elected as a Louisiana State Representative, serving one term from 1876 to 1878 while Reconstruction ended and the federal government withdrew its troops from the state. In 1888, Warmoth challenged former governor Francis T. Nicholls in a gubernatorial contest and narrowly lost to the Democrat in an election noted for widespread voter fraud. In 1890, Warmoth was appointed US Collector of Customs in New Orleans and served for several years.

Early life

Henry Clay Warmoth was born in 1842, in McLeansboro, Illinois, to parents of Dutch descent, the eldest child of Isaac Sanders & Eleanor (Lane) Warmoth, and named for Henry Clay. He studied in the public school system of Illinois. He studied law, and was admitted to the Missouri bar in 1860. He established his legal career in that state, being appointed as the district attorney of the Eighteenth Judicial District.

Civil War

During the American Civil War, Warmoth served as lieutenant colonel of the 32nd Missouri Volunteer Infantry. He was at the capture of Arkansas Post and was wounded in the Battle of Vicksburg. He was dishonorably discharged for alleged exaggerations of Union losses. After his personal appeal to the Commander-in-Chief, President Abraham Lincoln reinstated Warmoth's military status.

After reinstatement, Warmoth was reunited with his regiment and commanded at the Battle of Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, took part in Sherman's Atlanta campaign, and reinforced General Nathaniel Banks at the Red Cedar retreat. He was later commissioned as judge of the Department of the Gulf Provost Court.

In early 1865, Warmoth resigned from the military to resume a legal practice.

Political career

Arriving in Union-occupied New Orleans, Warmoth made a specialty in the kind of law practice that his military experience gave him particular qualifications for: cotton claims and courts-martial decisions. At the same time, he became an active Republican, gaining support among freedmen. In November 1865, he ran for territorial delegate as a Radical Republican in an unauthorized election, at which black Louisianians cast over 19,000 votes, nearly as many as the victorious Democratic candidate for governor won. (As Louisiana restricted the suffrage to white males, the blacks' votes were not counted, but Republicans hoped to show what an impartial suffrage could do. By electing a territorial delegate, they were making the statement that no legal state of Louisiana existed, and Congress should remand it to the status of a territory. Congress did not do so.)

Because of continuing violence in the South, especially the Memphis Riots of 1866 and the New Orleans Riot of 1866, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act to create five military districts to oversee changes in the former Confederate states, in addition to passing the Fourteenth Amendment to extend full citizenship to freedmen. Louisiana and Texas were put under the Fifth Military District, and the US Army was assigned to oversee the process by which a new constitutional convention could be called, voted for by blacks and whites alike.

When the convention had finished its work, a ratification election was called and the Republican Party chose a state ticket. Warmoth was selected as the nominee for governor over Major Francis E. Dumas. The largely-black True Radical faction nominated a planter and wartime Unionist, Louisiana Supreme Court Justice James G. Taliaferro to run against him and found some support from Democrats. All the same, Warmoth carried the state by some 26,000 votes, and the Reconstruction constitution was ratified. Warmoth was sworn into office on July 13, 1868. Elected at 26, was one of the youngest governors in United States history. (Stevens T. Mason, the first governor of Michigan, was the youngest state governor, elected at 24.)

Also elected with Warmoth was Oscar Dunn as Lieutenant Governor, an African-American leader in the Prince Hall Freemasons, who had a wide network in New Orleans; he was a painting contractor. When Dunn died suddenly in office in 1871, he was succeeded by P.B.S. Pinchback, a person of color who was President of the State Senate. Turbulence and some violence had marred the April election. With the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the disorder worsened over the summer. By fall, night-riding, murder, and intimidation were common. The number of Republicans killed for political reasons may have approached 800. Large riots in outlying parishes and paramilitary white forces in New Orleans kept thousands of blacks from voting in the 1868 presidential election. As a result, Democratic candidate for President Horatio Seymour carried Louisiana even though his Republican opponent Ulysses S. Grant carried the country. The fraud and coercion that went on induced Warmoth to create a State Returning Board, to certify future elections. All election returns were reported to the State Returning Board for validity and approval. At the same time, the governor augmented the military forces at his command: a 5000-man state militia and a Metropolitan Police force, with authority over the greater New Orleans area.

Along with the changes, the governor sought to broaden the party to include a larger share of the propertied white population. He supported government aid for railroad construction and levee repair, called for and got a constitutional amendment limiting the state's ability to go into debt, and vetoed pork barrel bills. At his recommendation, the voters removed the provisions in the Reconstruction constitution disfranchising a portion of the former Confederates. Some former Confederates, notably former General James Longstreet, were appointed to office, and in most cases he could do so, the governor chose white applicants over black ones.

Warmoth's 1868 inaugural address had made clear his support for the Constitution's Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, pledging "equality before the law and the enjoyment of every political right of all the citizens of the state, regardless of race, color, or previous condition," and he argued that the amendments needed to be supported by legislation enjoying popular as well as legislative support: "only when this grand distinctive feature of the new constitution shall be stamped on every act of legislation, and when such legislation shall find approval and support in that general public sentiment which gives to law its vitality, will our State fairly enter upon that career of greatness and prosperity which the almighty designed for her."

His actions did not measure up to those words. He signed a weak bill to integrate access to public facilities, but he vetoed a more extensive one that would penalize owners of public places and vehicles who failed to provide equal service to blacks and whites. Historian Francis Byers Harris thought his veto of the public accommodations bill was crucial in eroding his political base. Harris wrote in 1947, "Negroes had their hearts set on this law, and Warmoth sowed a seed of distrust which grew into enmity for the man they had helped elect."

In consequence, Republicans developed severe internal conflicts, with a division between the Warmoth-Pinchback faction, supported by many Afro-Creoles who had been free before the war, and what was called the Custom House faction, led by Stephen B. Packard, a US Marshal and James F. Casey, Collector of the Port of New Orleans and brother-in-law to President Grant. Although helped to gain his seat as US Senator by Warmoth, William Pitt Kellogg became allied with Packard, as did Oscar Dunn, lieutenant governor and leader of many Republican ward clubs in New Orleans.

By 1871, every local convention turned into a fracas, and the Republican Party's state convention was held with US soldiers and Gatling guns to give control to the Custom House wing of the Party. Warmoth's friends had to assemble in a convention of their own. That winter, the governor seized control of the statehouse from his opponents by using the state militia's bayonets for protection. Clearly, Warmoth's leadership was under severe challenge.

With nowhere else to go and with President Grant on his enemies' side, Warmoth joined the Liberal Republican Party that was seeking a reform candidate of its own for President. When it endorsed Horace Greeley and the Democrats adopted Greeley as their Presidential candidate, the governor carried his influence to Greeley's side. In state politics, that meant endorsing the Fusionist-Democratic ticket of John McEnery in the 1872 election. Such a step alienated Warmoth from any black support that he still had, including Pinchback. None of them trusted Democrats to protect equal rights, whatever they professed. The election results were contested, and both McEnery and William Pitt Kellogg, the official Republican candidate, declared victory and held inaugurations. The Warmoth-appointed Returning Board declared McEnery as victor; Republicans established a separate Returning Board, which certified Kellogg. Again, the election had been marked by violence and fraud.

Ultimately, Grant supported Kellogg's candidacy. The Republican-controlled legislature filed impeachment charges against Warmoth for his actions during the 1872 election. Only 35 days before the end of his term, he was suspended from office as called for by Louisiana law for impeached officials, pending the outcome of a senate trial. Pinchback was sworn in as the first governor of African descent in the United States. With the end of Warmoth's term soon reached, he left office before an impeachment trial could be held.

After Reconstruction

In 1877, at 35, Warmoth married heiress Sally Durand of Newark, New Jersey. They had two sons and a daughter, and resided at Magnolia Plantation, which he had bought in 1873 in Plaquemines Parish to cultivate sugar cane. Warmoth helped establish a sugar refinery and get a railroad constructed along the west bank of the Mississippi, which contributed to its development. He represented the Sugar Planters Association in seeking a tariff against foreign competition, which they gained from Congress but later could still not compete against outside sugar. In 1884, Warmoth traveled to France and Germany to study their sugar industries, and he developed an experimental station at his plantation afterward. Unable to compete with foreign sugar, Warmoth sold his plantation and moved with his wife and family to New Orleans.

In 1888, Warmoth ran for and narrowly lost a race for Governor to Francis T. Nicholls, a Democrat and former governor, in an election with extensive voter fraud. In 1890, Warmoth was appointed US Collector of Customs in New Orleans by President Benjamin Harrison, where he appointed many men from among the Afro-Creole community, who had supported him politically. During his service, Warmoth lived in the St. Charles Hotel.

In 1889, the white Democrat-dominated legislature passed a constitutional amendment incorporating a "grandfather clause", which effectively disfranchised most blacks in the state. Not being able to vote also excluded them also from juries and local office. The Democrats essentially maintained this exclusion until after passage by Congress of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which authorized the federal government to oversee and enforce the constitutional right of all citizens to vote.

Warmoth published his memoir, War, Politics and Reconstruction, in 1930. It is well regarded and considered a classic of the genre. Warmoth died in New Orleans in 1931, at 89.

In popular culture

Henry Warmoth is the pseudonym of a New Orleans service industry writer and Quarter Rat columnist.


Henry Clay Warmoth epitomizes the corruption of Louisiana politics during Reconstruction and at other times as well.

Elected Governor at age 26 as the Republican candidate, Warmoth speculated in state bonds and treasury notes, profited from part ownership in the newspaper which held the contract for state printing, and created the State Returning Board to supervise election returns.

The Board had the power to throw out votes from any precinct thought to have tainted results. Radical Republicans used the board to maintain power by enabling them to steal elections from the Conservative Democrats.

Although he supported voting rights for blacks, Warmoth prevented other civil rights provisions from becoming part of the Constitution of 1868.

He led a faction of the Republican Party in Louisiana which opposed the faction loyal to President Ulysses Grant. Warmoth's group allied itself with the Democrats in the controversial election of 1872, supporting John McEnery over Grant's candidate, William Kellogg. For his role in the fraudulent election, Warmoth was impeached but never brought to trial. Warmoth lived 60 more years, staying active in Republican party politics.

He died in 1931 in New Orleans.

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Henry Clay Warmoth's Timeline

May 9, 1842
McLeansboro, IL, USA
Age 35
Age 39
September 30, 1931
Age 89
New Orleans, LA, USA
New Orleans, LA, USA