The Battle of Liberty Place was an attempted insurrection by the Crescent City White League against the legal Reconstruction state government on September 14, 1874 in New Orleans, Louisiana, where it was then based. Five thousand members of the Democratic paramilitary White League, made up of Confederate veterans, fought against the outnumbered Metropolitan Police and state militia. The insurgents held the state house, armory and downtown for three days, retreating before arrival of federal troops that restored the elected government. No insurgents were charged in the action. This was the last major event of violence stemming from the disputed 1872 gubernatorial election. Both the Democrat John McEnery and Republican William Pitt Kellogg claimed victory; the federal government supported Kellogg.
Among those injured in the fighting at Liberty Place was Algernon Sidney Badger, superintendent of the Metropolitan Police. Born in Boston and a veteran of the Union Army, he had been living and working in New Orleans since the end of the war.
In 1891, the city erected a monument to the insurrection, to commemorate the event from the Democratic Party point of view, then firmly in political control of the city and state, and in the process of disfranchising most blacks. The city added an inscription in 1932 that expressed a white supremacist view. Because of continuing controversy after civil rights achievements, the city added a marker in 1974 noting that the monument did not express current philosophy. The monument was later moved to a less prominent location but, like other Civil War and like works, has continued to attract vandalism as individuals and groups react to it for their own agendas.
The "Battle of Liberty Place" was the name given to the insurrection by its white Democratic supporters, as part of their story of the struggle to overturn Republicans and the Reconstruction government. They viewed the government as corrupt and illegal. In the election of 1872, John McEnery, a Democrat, was supported by a coalition of Democrats and anti-Grant Republicans, including Republican Gov. Henry C. Warmoth. Warmoth's opponents in the Republican Party remained loyal to President Grant, and supported the Republican Party nominee, William Pitt Kellogg. Governor Warmoth had appointed the State Returning Board, which administered elections; it declared McEnery the winner. A rival board endorsed Kellogg, who had charged election fraud because of the violence and intimidation that took place at and near the polls, as Democrats tried to suppress black voting. The legislature impeached Warmoth from office and removed him for "stealing" the election. The Lieutenant Governor P. B. S. Pinchback, became Governor for the last 35 days of Warmoth's term. Both McEnery and Kellogg had inaugural parties and certified lists of appointed local officeholders. The federal government eventually certified Kellogg as the governor of the state.
Reactions continued. In 1874 McEnery and his allies formed a "rump" legislature in New Orleans, then the location of state government. The paramilitary White League entered the city with 5,000 forces to seat McEnery; they fought against 3500 police and state militia for control. The White League defeated the state militia, inflicting about 100 casualties. The insurgents occupied the state house and armory for three days, and turned out Governor Kellogg. When former Confederate general James Longstreet tried to stop the fighting, he was pulled from his horse, shot by a spent bullet, and taken prisoner by the White League. Kellogg wired for federal troops and, within three days, President Ulysses S. Grant sent Federal troops there. The White League insurgents retreated from New Orleans before the federal troops arrived, and no one was prosecuted. (In an earlier violent incident related to the disputed election, in April 1873 the Colfax Massacre occurred at the courthouse in Grant Parish, when a white militia attacked freedmen defending appointed Republican officeholders. This action was also related to political tensions between Democratic whites and Republican blacks. In Colfax, three whites and a total of 80-150 blacks were killed, at least 50 of the latter after having been taken prisoner.)
Grant ordered General Philippe Régis de Trobriand, commanding the 13th Regiment, to the city to protect the state government from violence. On January 4, 1875, Governor Kellogg requested his aid to eject men from the legislature who had not been certified by the Returning Board. Trobriand entered the state house with some men at the governor's request, and escorted the eight men out after they had each given speeches of objection. The Democrats never returned; they set up an alternate legislature meeting at the Odd Fellows Hall in the city. They were committed to their candidate, Francis T. Nicholls, as governor for the next two years. During the remaining period, the Republican gubernatorial claimant, Stephen B. Packard, and legislators effectively controlled only a small part of New Orleans. Conservative white Democrats outside the city supported Nichols.
Trobriand and his regiment stayed in the city until January 1877, when federal troops were withdrawn in the 1877 compromise.
In 1891, as the Democratic legislature passed laws that essentially disfranchised most blacks, the city government erected the Liberty Monument to "commemorate the uprising" of 1874 in the city. The monument was prominently placed in the neutral ground (median) near the foot of Canal Street. In 1932 inscriptions were added to the monument which attested to the battle's role in establishing white supremacy. By the late 20th century after civil rights achievements, many residents, especially in the black and Italian communities, objected to the monument as a symbol of racism. (White League veterans had led a mob that lynched eleven Sicilian men in 1891.) In 1974 the city government added a plaque at the foot of the monument; it acknowledged the history while officially distancing the City from the racist philosophy of previous generations.
In 1989 the monument was removed during major street work on Canal Street. Many residents opposed its being restored and replaced. The city tried to negotiate removing the inscriptions. Some people argued for the monument's being restored at the original location. The content of the inscriptions was seldom discussed; rather, the issues were dealt with on technical grounds. Historic preservation officials argued for its replacement; others argued this was history that did not deserve continued commemoration. In July 16 of 1993, the New Orleans City Council voted 6 to 1, to declare the monument a nuisance. It was taken to a warehouse, with the intention to move it to an indoor museum. They eventually allowed the monument to be installed at a less prominent location, a short distance off Canal Street between the One Canal Place parking garage and a floodwall.
White supremacist David Duke cited the monument as a symbol of "white pride", and in 2004 tried to stage a rally by it. The monument is frequently vandalized, the subject of anti-racist and anti-Nazi graffiti. It was one of three monuments vandalized in March 2012, by a group that protested in an email against monuments celebrating white supremacy; they also were marking the deaths of three young African-American men killed under questionable circumstances. A local businessman led his staff in cleaning up the monuments; he said that after Hurricane Katrina, residents needed to build the city together.
The following inscription was added in 1932:
- "[Democrats] McEnery and Penny having been elected governor and lieutenant-governor by the white people, were duly installed by this overthrow of carpetbag government, ousting the usurpers, Governor Kellogg (white) and Lieutenant-Governor Antoine (colored).
- United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state."
In 1974, the city government added an adjacent marker, which stated:
- "Although the "battle of Liberty Place" and this monument are important parts of the New Orleans history, the sentiments in favor of white supremacy expressed thereon are contrary to the philosophy and beliefs of present-day New Orleans."
When the monument was moved in 1993, some of the original inscriptions listed above were removed, and replaced with new inscriptions that state in part:
- "In honor of those Americans on both sides who died in the Battle of Liberty Place ... A conflict of the past that should teach us lessons for the future."
- "Badger, Algernon Sidney". Louisiana Historical Association, A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography. http://www.lahistory.org/site19.php. Retrieved February 6, 2011.
- Adolph Reed, Jr., "The battle of Liberty Monument - New Orleans, Louisiana white supremacist statue", The Progressive, June 1993, accessed 18 May 2010
- Michael Perman.Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001, Introduction
- "Photos of monument to Battle of Liberty Place
- "New Orleans to Remove Obelisk Revered by White Supremacists", New York Times, 16 July 1993
- Katy Reckdahl, "3 defaced New Orleans monuments are cleaned by volunteers", The Times-Picayune, March 2012
- Jones, Terry L. The Louisiana Journey, Layton, UT: Gibbs, Smith Publisher, 2007, p. 238.
- "Marker #34742, Monument to Battle of Liberty Place", Historical Markers Database
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- Adolph Reed, Jr., "The battle of Liberty Monument - New Orleans, Louisiana white supremacist statue", The Progressive, June 1993
- Battle of Liberty Place Monument, Historic Marker Database
- Account of 2004 vandalism to monument, New Orleans Indymedia, June 2004
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