B. J. Sage

It is difficult to show the exact amount of spoliation under Warmoth. The annual expenditures give only a faint idea of it. A vast deal was done outside of law, and not recorded, but became known - suggesting probabilities of much undiscovered wrong. The following table gives some idea of the profligacy under Warmoth, by comparison with similar expenditures under a Democratic administration:

Cost of Collecting Taxes$493,324$52,726
Cost of Public Printing390,00025,000
Legislative Expenses626,00037,000
Average Annual Expense, all purposes5,278,9151,092,931

In one year, to collect taxes amounting to $4,136,118, the state tax collectors receiving $493,324, or 12.3 per cent. Warmoth's perquisites therein were an unknown quantity, but his rapidly increasing wealth seemed to be an index. From their knowledge of his greed, his quickness of apprehension and his genius for contrivance, Louisianians think that all his tax gatherers left with him their blank resignations, and their promise to divide fees with him. At all events, while the writer cannot record as history the fact or the share, he deems it good history to say that every thinking man of that plundered state believes that Warmoth got a large share of the fees in question. The statements of his co-conspirators, now scattered abroad, would be worth hearing.

In a single year, 1871, the legislative expenses were $626,000, and even this was exceeded by an over issue of $200,000 of fraudulent warrants, making the cost to the state of a short session of $6,150 for each legislator. This over issue of legislative vouchers forced these warrants down to 2 1/2 cents; yet when the funding board met in 1874, these warrants, bought at two and on-half to five cents on the dollar, were funded at par.

The annual expediture of the Warmoth government during the four years and five months it was in power, was as follows, not including the increase made in the state debt:

1868, from July,$3,837,877.74
Total for 4 years and 5 months,$26,394,578.25

To this must be added the bonds issued in support of the various measures, in which the governor and other Republican leaders were interested. It was notorious in that deplorable time that he and they all lobbied on the floor of the Legislature in favor of their pet measures, and that every prominent member was promoting some bill which he hoped would make him rich. Every possible mode of robbing the treasury under the forms of law, seemed to have been devised and started on the Legislative road, with all possible vigor of greed, and with high hopes of success.

Soon after coming into office, Governor Warmoth called attention to the state debt, and to the facility with which it could be increased. In his message to the Legislature, January 4, 1868, he said: "The total bonded debt, exclusive of bonds owned by the state is $6,771,300, and this sum is further reducible by $871,000. The floating debt is $1,929,500; and it is expected that enough can be realized from the special one per cent. tax to discharge the entire floating debt, and leave a surplus of $500,000." "Our debt is smaller than that of almost any state in the Union," continued Warmoth, significantly; "with a tax roll of $251,000,000, and a bonded debt that can at will be reduced to $6,000,000, there is no reason that our credit should not be at par."

Acting on this suggestion, the Legislature and State officers went to work at once to utilize this good credit to the fullest extent. The census of 1870 showed the debt of the state to have increased to $25,021,734, and that of the parishes and municipalities to $28,065,707. Within a year the state debt was increased four-fold and the local indebtedness had doubled. Louisiana, according to the census, stood, in the matter of debt, at the head of the Union. With an indebtedness per capita of $73.03, the next state to it, the rich commonwealth of Massachusetts, having a debt of only $47.49 per capita, Louisiana's debt was over 20 per cent. of its assessed wealth.

This however, was only the beginning of Warmoth's regime - the first year and a half of it. In 1870 bonds to the amount of $7,000,000, were issued to the Louisiana Levee Company, in which so many of the Republican leaders were interested, $500,000 for the state penitentiary, and $474,000 for the Mississippi and Mexican Gulf canal. In 1871 bonds to the amount of $2,500,000 were issued in aid of the Mobile, New Orleans and Texas Railroad. In addition to this the state had made itself responsible for the payment of bonds lent to the various banks, aggregating $6,579,683, with miscellaneous debts of $3,476,269, bringing the total up to $41,733,752.17 (report of State Auditor, January 1st, 1872). In his message to the Legislature, Warmoth, at the same date, estimated differently, and placed the state debt at $41,194,493.91. A committee of the Legislature, appointed to investigate the matter, found that both the Governor and Auditor were too low in their estimates, and, after itemizing the state debt, placed it for 1872 at $48,029,349.95. Adding to this the parish and municipal obligations, the total indebtedness of Louisiana in 1872 was $76,095,056.78.

Under Warmoth the Republicans had added to the state and city indebtedness of Louisiana $54,325,759, with nothing whatever to show for it. The cost of these four years and five months of misrule was, therefore:

Money actually expended by state$26,394,578
By local bodies (partly estimated)25,300,000
Increase in debt (state and local),54,325,759
Total cost 4 y'rs and 5 mo's Republican misrule,$106,020,337
Amounting per year to,$24,040,089

In a little over four years the Republican party had spent nearly as much in amount as half the wealth of the state. Of the bonds issued, a large part bore interest at eight per cent.

Such profligacy necessarily required a heavy rate of taxation. The state tax in 1867, just previous to Warmoth's election, was 3 3/4 mills; in 1869 it was raised to 5 1/4; in 1870 to 7 1/2; in 1871 to 21 1/2 mills, at which figure it remained for some years. The taxation in New Orleans which had been 15 mills previous to the election of Warmoth, became 23 3/4 mills in 1869; 26 1/3 mills in 1870; 27 1/2 mills in 1871; and finally 30 mills, or 3 per cent. in 1873. Some of the country parishes fared even worse, and in one case (that of Natchitoches) the taxation reached 7.9 per cent - much more than the average interest on capital invested, or the productive power of property.

But, great as is this total of $106,020,337, spent by Warmoth and his followers, it does not represent all the depletion Louisiana then suffered. To it must be added the privileges and franchises given away to favorites, and the state property stolen. To one company was given all the swamp lands in the vicinity of New Orleans; to another rights and franchises on the levee, or river front, of New Orleans, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. And, as if this were not enough, the school fund of the several parishes, resulting from the appropriations and land donations made by the State and Federal Governments, were plundered. In his report for 1873, State Superintendent of Education W. F. Brown, a Republican and a colored man, called attention to some of these thefts as follows: Stolen in Carroll parish, in 1871, $30,000; in East Baton Rouge, $5,032; in St. Landry, $5,700; in St. Martin, $3,786.80; in Plaquemines, $5,855; besides large amounts in St. Tammany, Concordia, Morehouse, and other parishes. The entire permanent school fund of the parishes disappeared during this period.

The state had at the time of Warmoth's inauguration a trust fund of $1,300,500, for the benefit of the free public schools. The bonds which represented this fund - the most sacred in the custody of the state - were sold at public auction in June, 1872, for $1,096,956.25, and the proceeds, instead of being given to the schools, were set aside to pay the warrants which had been issued by Warmoth for purposes foreign to the legitimate public use, and held by a ring of jobbers and brokers who had bought them at a heavy discount.

In like manner other property belonging to the state was plundered. Louisiana had, in previous years, subscribed to aid the construction of various railroads, and held their bonds in return therefor. It had $650,000, of the bonds of the New Orleans, Opelousas and Great Western Railroad; 35,360 shares of the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railroad, for which it had paid $884,000; $298,000 in the Vicksburg, Shreveport and Pacific Railroad; and stock or bonds in the New Orleans & Nashville, and the Baton Rouge, Grosse Tete and Opelousas Railroads.

Under Act 16, of 1870, the $884,000 interest of the state in the Jackson Railroad was sold for $141,000 or $4 per share; and, under the same act, the interest of New Orleans in the same road, nominally $2,000,000, was sold for $320,000. Under Act 81, of 1872, the state's interest in the Opelousas Railroad was exchanged for warrants at 65 cents on the dollar. When, however, the authorities examined these bonds, preparatory to selling them, they found that the treasury had been despoiled of a great many of them by previous wrongdoers, and it was morever, ascertained that interest had been paid regularly on the stolen bonds, although they were known to be stolen, and in the hands of the thieves. The money obtained from selling these and other trust funds, was set aside for the payment of warrants or in aid of various projects in which Warmoth and his followers were interested. According to a report of a committee of the Legislature, the state held in 1865, in trust funds, state bonds, collections, etc., $8,244,468.24 and the municipalities, parishes, and school districts, about $4,000,000 more. By the end of Warmoth's regime, all these funds had disappeared, a large portion of them being openly stolen, and the rest squandered or divided among the conspirators. This brings the spoliation, or embezzlement, or stealage, or whatever it may be called, up to nearly one hundred and twenty millions, or more than half the wealth of the state.


Why the Solid South? or, Reconstruction and Its Results compiled by Hilary A. Herbert
R. H. Woodward & Company, Baltimore, 1890, pages 403-407