Date of Award
Master of Arts
Robert S. Smith
St. Landry Massacre, Reconstruction
The St. Landry Massacre is representative of the pervasive violence and intimidation in the South during the 1868 presidential canvass and represented the deadliest incident of racial violence during the Reconstruction Era. Southern conservatives used large scale collective violence in 1868 as a method to gain political control and restore the antebellum racial hierarchy. From 1865-1868, these Southerners struggled against the federal government, carpetbaggers, and Southern black populations to gain this control, but had largely failed in their attempts. After the First Reconstruction Act of March, 1867 forced Southern governments to accept universal male suffrage, Southern conservatives utilized violence and intimidation to achieve their goals, which escalated as the 1868 presidential election neared. Violence was nearly omnipresent in Louisiana during the presidential canvass and was the primary reason behind the Democratic victory in the state. This violence not only succeeded in its initial goal of securing a victory for the Democratic Party during the 1868 presidential election, but long term consequences also arose. Louisiana responded to the violence with a series of election laws, one creating the Returning Board on Elections, a potentially corrupt committee that could decide elections in the state by invalidating votes it deemed to be obtained by fraud. Nationally, the First Enforcement Act protected black voters and rights granted by previous reconstruction legislation. St. Landry Parish illustrates the local shift of power after 1868, where an instance of conservative boss rule occurred and the parish Republican Party was unable to fully recover for the remainder of Reconstruction. By 1874, conservative Democratic control was so complete in St. Landry that it became home to Louisiana's first White League. Although 1868 was the peak of Reconstruction Era violence, conservative Democrats resorted to force when other attempts at regional control failed for the remainder of the period.
Christensen, Matthew, "The 1868 St. Landry Massacre: Reconstruction's Deadliest Episode of Violence" (2012). Theses and Dissertations. 190.