Anderson J. Peeler and Florida’s Black Codes

After the surrender of the Confederate armies, Southern leaders aspired to reunion with minimal change from the pre-war status quo.  Emancipation could not be ignored, but white Southerners were confident that they could absorb this challenge by legislating the status of the former slaves without federal government interference. When Southern state legislatures convened in the fall and winter of 1865, they formally acknowledged Emancipation and duly passed the XIII Amendment per Andrew Johnson’s requirements for admission. At the same time, however, these states, including Florida, passed draconian “black codes” crafted to control every aspect of freedmens’ lives, essentially placing them under the same burdensome restrictions that oppressed ante-bellum free blacks in the South. The following essay tells the story of Florida’s black codes through examining the life of their primary drafter, Anderson J. Peeler.

With the entry of Union troops in May 1865, the Confederate flag finally lowered over Tallahassee, weeks after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Two months later William Marvin, Andrew Johnson’s appointment as Florida’s provisional governor, arrived and began planning Florida’s readmission to the Union. On August 23, Marvin announced an election to be held on October 10 to select delegates for a state constitutional convention. Voting would be limited to white men who had lived in the state for one year (and their county for six months) and who had taken Johnson’s amnesty oath. Both blacks and recently transplanted northern whites were barred from voting. By election day, 8,512 men had bothered to take the amnesty oath (including 1,470 who swore the oath at the polls)[1].  Fifty-six delegates were selected and the constitutional convention convened in Tallahassee on Oct. 25.

The convention consisted of ante-bellum and Confederate officials. The delegates adopted an ordinance revoking secession and declared slavery “destroyed in this State by the Government of the United States” but to remain as criminal punishment (Article XVI).  Although the convention stated that “all inhabitants… are free, and shall enjoy the rights of person and property without distinction of color,” the delegates signaled that those rights were not civil or political. The constitution retained the three-fifths clause to calculate representation in the state legislature and restricted voting to white males twenty-one years or older. Delegates also affirmed the legislature’s right to bar blacks from immigrating into the state and to limit their evidence and testimony in court. (Florida Constitutional Convention Journal, 1865, p, 56).

The constitutional convention adjourned on Nov. 7 but not before adopting a resolution calling Governor Marvin to appoint a three-man commission to advise the forthcoming legislative session on necessary changes to state laws ensuing from the new constitution “with reference especially to the altered condition of the colored race” (Ordinance No. 4). In plain language, the commission was appointed to draft Florida’s “black codes.”  Marvin selected Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles H. Dupont, former state Attorney General Mariano D. Papy, and a young attorney and Confederate veteran who had served in a number of minor government functions, Anderson J. Peeler.

Peeler was much younger and not nearly as distinguished as his colleagues, but his selection for the “black codes” commission was not a surprise.  Only twenty-seven, Peeler had already compiled an impressive resume and proven himself a Tallahassee political and legal insider. Anderson Jones Peeler was born in Harris County, Georgia, in 1838 to James Peeler, a Methodist minister who accumulated a fortune through selling rights to a plow he patented and investing the proceeds in land.  The family moved to Key West in the late 1840s and then various places in Florida. Peeler was a precocious and talented youth. Through an act of the Florida legislature, A.J. gained admission to the Florida bar before his seventeenth birthday (Journal of the Florida House of Representative, 7th Sess, Nov. 1854). At nineteen, he married Elizabeth Frances Walker Byrd, a widow with two children who was as many as nine years older (E. F. Peeler: findagrave.com).  In the late 1850s, Peeler regularly advertised his services as an attorney in Florida newspapers and formed partnerships with well-known attorneys, such as state supreme court justice Thomas Baltzell. Still in his early twenties, Peeler received appointments as clerk of the state Supreme Court and the state assembly.  The Civil War then intervened to interrupt this speedy trajectory.

Peeler traveled to Pensacola where he enlisted as a corporal on April 1, 1861 in the 1st Florida Infantry regiment.  The forces around Pensacola had already settled into stalemate and within the month Peeler resigned and returned to Tallahassee. The following April, Peeler joined Company I of the newly recruited 5th Florida Infantry. The 5th remained in Leon Co. for a few months during which Peeler received a promotion to lieutenant and the gift of an inscribed sword from Col. Joseph J. Williams, also from Leon County and one of the wealthiest men in the state.  (The sword can be seen here: http://www.floridaconfederate.com/default.asp?24 )  The regiment arrived in Virginia in time for the Battle of Second Manassas. Peeler and the 5th fought in the major battles of the Army of Northern Virginia that followed. Peeler may have had no previous military experience, but his  conduct as a junior officer drew praise. One soldier remarked after Peeler’s performance at Gettysburg that “a braver man than Lieut. Peeler never breathed.”  During the Florida Brigade’s advance on Gettysburg’s second day, Peeler was observed “dash[ing] up and down the line, hurrahing and encouraging the men on, and keeping the line dressed.” That same day, however, Peeler was seriously wounded in the head and captured. [Waters & Edmonds, A Small but Spartan Band, p. 70].

Peeler’s Union captors sent him to the Camp Letterman hospital near Gettysburg where he spent at least one month recuperating. Peeler sent his nurse, Euphemia Goldsborough, a warm and eloquent thank you letter which Goldsborough placed in her notebook and can be read here:  http://civilwarwomenblog.com/euphemia-goldsborough/

Peeler spent quite a literary internment at Johnson’s Island, Ohio, prison writing plays staged by the Camp’s theatrical troupe and a florid, maudlin novella “Arthur Murray – Our Little Hero, or the Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock” about an orphaned Fredericksburg boy who volunteers as a drummer for his fallen father’s Virginia regiment and then falls himself at Gettysburg.[2]

Peeler was released from prison in March 1865 and first traveled to Richmond. He immediately sought to join the faltering war effort, requesting John C. Breckinridge’s permission to recruit Black soldiers for the Confederate army.  It’s not clear if anything came of Peeler’s request, but he did return to Florida and his law practice. He also quickly resumed his place as a Tallahassee insider. He was appointed secretary of the state constitutional convention in October 1865 where Provisional Governor Marvin selected Peeler for the black codes Commission.

In late November, Florida held an election for state officials and legislators.  This time, only about 6,000 white men elected judge David Walker as governor and selected state senators and assemblymen. Peeler was sent to represent Leon County in the Florida House of Representatives which convened in Tallahassee on December 18, 1865.  According to Jerrell Shofner, most of the eighty eight legislators had been slave owners and at least twenty had been Confederate officers.  [Shofner, Nor is it Over Yet, p. 46].

The Commission drafted a report to accompany its proposed package of ten bills. The report is revealing. Only DuPont and Peeler signed the report: Papy dissented, objecting not to the bills, but apparently to the report’s excessive editorializing. DuPont and Peeler set the tone of their report and the accompanying bills by praising slavery as a “benign, but much abused and gravely misunderstood institution” and by invoking the “authoritative decision in the great case of Dred Scott vs. Sandford” as precedent to contend that, even after emancipation, blacks were not citizens of the United States as that term was conceived in the Constitution.  The Commission focused on the ante-bellum status of free blacks in the South:  emancipation may have freed the slaves, but it had not altered the “social, legal or political status” of ante-bellum free blacks.  With these tenets in mind, the Commissioners modeled the black codes after the restrictive bounds placed on ante-bellum free blacks.[3]

The Commission asserted that the legislature retained the right to distinguish and discriminate based on color when drafting laws.  While some of this discrimination was explicit, most of the racially different application of laws would be implemented at the discretion of local officials.  Punishment provisions for various offenses may have appeared race neutral, but the Commission’s report was clear that corporal punishments (i.e., whipping up to 39 lashes or standing one hour in the pillory), provided as alternatives for offenses otherwise punishable by fines or imprisonment, were to be imposed only on blacks defendants.  Peeler and DuPont offered startling and horrifying reasoning:  “To degrade a white man by [corporeal] punishment, is to make a bad member of society and a dangerous political agent. To fine and imprison a colored man in his present pecuniary condition, is to punish the State instead of the individual.”[4]

The black codes proposed by Peeler, DuPont and Papy are as follows: :

i.  An act to establish and organize a County Criminal Court. (Ch. 1,465)

Sec. 1:  creates county criminal courts with jurisdiction over non-capital offenses;

Comment: if a fine was imposed and not paid, the county commissioners could order that the offender to be set to labor with any compensation going toward paying the fine and cost of prosecution, or the authorities could hire the offender out to any party “who will take him or her for the shortest time, and pay the fine, forfeiture and penalty imposed, and cost of prosecution.”  The Commission was explicit that these county criminal courts were intended to replace the old plantation tribunals to deal with an anticipated “great increase of minor offenses” committed by emancipated blacks. Although racially neutral, it is difficult to imagine that the selling off of labor punishment (essentially temporary slavery) would ever be applied to whites.

ii.  An act prescribing additional penalties for the commission of offences against the State and for other purposes (Ch. 1466)

Sec 1: whenever criminal punishment is limited to a fine or imprisonment, the jury has the option of imposing the pillory for an hour, or whipping (not to exceed 39 lashes) or both.

Sec 3: exciting or attempting to excite insurrection or sedition “amongst any portion or class of the population” is a felony punishable by death.

Sec 12: unlawful for person of color to own/keep/use bowie-knife, dirk, sword, fire-arms or ammunition ..unless by license of county judge and recommendation of 2 respectable white citizens.

Sec 14: races forbidden from intruding on each other’s public assemblies, religious or other; colored persons intruding on white religious or public assembly, or railroad car other public vehicle set aside for whites, is guilty of a misdemeanor (subj to Sec. 1 punishments).

Sec 15: forbids forming a military organization not authorized by law.

Sec 19: forbids hunting within closure of another without consent; using livestock without consent; moving into house or building without leave; illegally taking possession of church/school; cutting down trees exceeding $1 in value; Burglary is punishable by death or $1,000 fine or imprisonment (or pillory/ whipping); assault on white female with intent to commit rape or accessory punishable by death.

Comment:  Sec. 1 gives county officials the discretion to sentence black offenders to corporal punishment while also recognizing the “repugnance to the infliction of corporeal punishment upon the white man, and hence the resort to fine and imprisonment for the punishment of offenses committed by him.”  Sec. 12, which was the subject of much debate, gave a strong gun control law but limited in application to blacks in order to protect “our wives and children from threatened danger, and the prevention of scenes which may cost the extinction of an entire race.” Sec. 14 allowed segregating public events and railroad cars decades before Jim Crow laws. The death penalty clauses in Sec. 19 are startling.

iii. An act to punish vagrants and vagabonds: (Ch. 1467)

Sec; 1 “every able bodied person who has no visible means of living, and shall not be employed at some labor to support himself or herself, or shall be leading an idle, immoral or profligate course of life” may be arrested by a justice of the peace or judge and bound by surety for one year for good behavior and future industry;  if not giving such surety, the offender may be tried and, if convicted, sentenced to labor or imprisonment not exceeding 12 months or by pillory/whipping.  If the offender is sentenced to labor, the sheriff or a court officer will hire out the offender with proceeds paid to the county treasury;

Sec; 2: vagrants to be disarmed by Sheriff, Constable or Police officer;

Sec, 6: if vagrant is a minor, he will be apprenticed,

Comment: This proposed law, based on an ordinance submitted at the state constitutional convention, was, on the surface, applicable “without distinction of color.” The context of its introduction at the convention and the enforcement/punishment provisions suggest that this law was primarily intended to apply to blacks. In its potentially most extreme application, this law would allow a justice of the peace to arrest an individual he deemed “idle” and send the accused off to “labor” (i.e., slavery) for 12 months.  The county stood to gain financially from vagrancy arrests. This vagrancy statute also served as a form of labor control over blacks (see Ch. 1,470, Sec. 2 below).

 

iv. An act in addition to an act entitled ” an act to amend the act entitled an act concerning marriage licenses, approved January 23, 1832. (Ch. 1468)

Sec 1; misdemeanor for a white woman to “attempt to intermarry,” live within state of adultery or fornicate with a negro, mulatto or other person of color: punishment is fine up to $1,000, and/or jail up to 3 months.; such woman will be disqualified from testifying as a witness against any white person.

Sec. 2:  punishment for a negro who lives within adultery or fornicates with white woman is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $1,000, or pillory/whipping

Sec. 3: “every person who shall have one eighth or more of negro blood shall be deemed and held to be a person of color.”

Sec.5:  allows for legalizing pre-existing marriages between whites and “persons of color” (amended the following year c. 1552);

Comment:  The Commission amended this law to punish black male/white female sex which, previously, must have been too incredible and horrific for Florida legislators to imagine. Unsurprisingly, corporal punishment applies only to blacks. “Person of color” is unhelpfully defined as an individual with one black great grandparent.

 

v. An act to establish and enforce the marriage relation between persons of color: (Ch. 1,469)

Sec. 1: all colored couples living together and who wish to continue so, must marry in ceremony within 9 months.;

Sec 2: legitimizes children of such prior cohabitation;

Comment:  The Committee intended to enforce marriages to “improve the moral condition of the recently emancipated slaves.” The Commission pontificated that the regulation of slave marriages by masters had “been the only inherent evil of the institution of slavery, as it existed in the Southern States.” The following year, the legislature added a new law declaring as married all freedmen couples who had lived together as husband and wife and dismissing indictments against them for fornication or adultery (Ch. 1,552). The amended law remained valid in 1871.

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10.30.53 PM
Ch. 1,470, Sec. 2 (Jan. 1866)

 

vi. An act in relation to the contracts of persons of color (Ch. 1,470)

Sec 1: contracts with persons of color must be in writing and fully explained before 2 credible witnesses, in duplicate with one copy;

Sec. 2: if colored laborer “shall refuse or neglect to perform…by willful disobedience of orders, wanton impudence or disrespect to his employer…failure or refusal to perform the work assigned to him, idleness or abandonment of the premises or the employment of the party with whom the contract was made, he or she shall be liable upon the complaint of his employer or his agent, made under oath before any Justice of the Peace of the county, to be arrested and tried before the criminal court, and upon conviction shall be subject to all the pains and penalties prescribed for the punishment vagrancy; Provided that it shall be optional with the employer to require that such laborer be remanded to his service instead of being subjected to the punishment”  [See image above]

Sec. 3:  If laborer violating contractor lives on premises of employer, he will be ejected by the sheriff;

Sec 4:  recourse for laborer if employer refuses to pay: judgement may give first lien on crop but right of appeal;

Sec 5: enticing/inducing laborer to quit, shall be punished by fine of less than $1000 or pillory/whipping;

Sec. 6: this act applies to all “lumber, rafting or milling business, and to all other contracts with persons of color.”

Comment: Sec. 2 is astounding: if a white employer deemed his black worker impudent or disrespectful, or if the laborer simply quit, the laborer could be adjudged a vagrant and sold for one year’s labor or compelled to return to labor for the employer, presumably at no pay. To meet constitutional objections, the legislature went through the motions of amending this act the following year to provide that it be extended “to all persons without discrimination of color.” Sec. 6 was changed to remove the reference to “persons of color’ but to add agriculture as a fourth category of employment chiefly associated with black labor (Ch. 1,551).

 

vii.    An act in relation to apprentices (Ch. 1,471):

Gives courts rights to apprentice out children of adjudged vagrants (Sec. 3) or paupers (Sec. 4) applies to children under 16, until 21 (males) or 18 (females).

Sec: 5: misdemeanor for parent of apprenticed child or other person to “entice, take, carry away…” an apprenticed child.

Comment:  Like the vagrancy statute, the committee explained that this act would be applied “without distinction of color,” but the allowance for corporal punishment in Sec. 5 indicates that apprenticing (i.e, potentially not much more than unpaid child labor for children of the poor (i.e,, vagrants/paupers)) was disproportionately intended to apply to blacks. Slightly amended the following year (Ch 1,557), this was one of the few black codes still on the books under the Republican “carpetbagger” administration.

 

viii.      An act authorizing executors, administrators, trustees and guardians to contract for the hire of laborers, and confirming contracts heretofore made (Ch. 1,473)

Legalized contracts made between executors/guardians of estates and freedmen laborers for the benefit of such estates (e.g., cultivation of land) and giving laborers a first lien on crops grown for wages.

 

ix:        An act concerning testimony (Ch. 1,472)

Sec. 3: testimony of colored persons not authorized “to be taken by depositions in writing or upon written interrogatories, otherwise than in such manner was will enable the court or jury to judge the credibility of the witness.”

Comment:  Article XVI, Sec. 2 of the 1865 Constitution allowed testimony by colored persons in court proceedings “affecting the rights and remedies of colored persons” but excluded their testimony in all other cases except as allowed by future legislation. The original bill submitted by the Commission was race neutral and allowed anyone to testify on their own behalf, but the witnesses’s interest in the case was to be considered by the judge or jury in evaluating the witness’s testimony. Section 3 was added to the bill as an amendment (Journal, 1866,  p. 157). (Constitution (1865) Article XVI, Sec. 3).  This bill seemed to create great confusion and debate between the Florida House and Senate.

 

x.   An act to extend to all the inhabitants of the State the benefits of the ‘courts of justice and the processes thereof.   (Ch. 1,474)

Sec: 1: judicial tribunals of the State “shall be accessible to all the inhabitants of the State, without distinction of color…subject only to restrictions in the constitution of the State.”

Sec. 2: Repeals all laws applying to slaves, free negroes, and mulattoes, except the act to prevent their migration into the State, and the act prohibiting the sale of fire-arms and ammunition to them.” All criminal law previously applicable to white people now apply equally to all inhabitants.

Comment: Despite the Committee protestations that they provided for “perfect equality under the law,” equal access did not mean equal justice when blacks were prohibited from serving on juries and their testimony was typically inadmissible against white men.

 

There were a few additional “Black Codes” not originally included in the Committee’s package of bills:

Act to organize the Militia of this State  (Ch. 1,464)

Sec.1: limited to white males between 18 & 45

Comment: consistent with the gun control provision, this militia law limited black access to weapons.

An act concerning schools for freedmen. (Ch. 1,475)

Sec. 6: schools for freedmen children to be funded by a tax on colored males between 21 and 55 or one dollar assigned to the Common School Fund for freedmen

Sec. 9: tuition to be collected from each pupil for the common school fund

Comment: While some pointed to this provision of education for black child as progress, the law required that these segregated schools and the administrators of the black school system were to be entirely funded through a budget raised exclusively by an additional capitation tax and tuition assessed to blacks. Schools would not be established or maintained if such black-funded budgets were not “sufficient to meet the expenses thereof.”  After payment of their regular $3 capitation tax (Ch. 1,501), it is questionable whether many black agricultural laborers would have the cash to pay this additional tax. The plan to fund black schools through assessments on the black community was proposed to the legislature by the Rev. L. M. Hobbs, Freedman’s Bureau Asst. Superintendent of Education for Florida (Journal, 1865-66, pp. 221-22).

An Act to require the Children of Destitute Persons to provide for the Support of such Persons (Ch. 1,476)

Requires children to support parents who are unable to support themselves and allows authorities to issue orders assessing children for their support and garnishing wages

Comment: Shofner sees that law as primarily targeting African Americans (Nor is it Over Yet, p. 56) which conforms with the Committee’s concern for “making suitable provision for the support of such of the colored population as are superannuated or rendered unable to work by disease” but not at general public expense. Consistent with Ch. 1,475 (schools), white Floridians were determined that any social welfare for blacks was to be entirely funded by the black population.

Act for the Relief of Landlords  (Ch. 1,498)

Sec. 2 & 3:  allows lessor to get lien on all crops grown by renter for failure to pay rent within 10 days after due and for sheriff to sell such crops at public auction

An act to raise a revenue for the State of Florida (Ch. 1,501)

Sec. 1: imposes an annual capitation tax on every male between 21 and 55 of $3. For nonpayment, tax collector may hire out the non-payer “before the door of the court house, to any person who will pay the said tax and the costs incident to the proceedings growing out of said arrest.” If the delinquent payer is employed, his employer may pay the tax and costs as a credit against wages due the delinquent.

Comment: It was obvious to all that black farm workers and small farmers, who often received a crop share rather than cash wages, would find it a challenge to pay this tax. Again, the sale at auction (or return to employer who paid the tax) would almost certainly be disproportionately, if not exclusively, applied to blacks.

Shofner has written that Peeler did most of the Commission’s work, but does not document that claim. Historian Theodore B. Wilson commented that the report was “ridiculous for its pompous bigotry.“ While I cannot confirm that DuPont delegated drafting the report to Peeler, its style and tone do resemble Peeler’s writing found in the Florida House journals and his speeches reprinted in newspapers. Elsewhere, Peeler does seem to take a sort of proprietary interest in the text of some of the codes, when defending the testimony law against various amendments and, later, confessing the problems with implementation of the county criminal courts law.

Wilson, who wrote a survey of the black codes in the 1960s, shared Shofner’s dismay at the Commission’s work.  Both scholars pointed out that Florida’s legislature convened after both Mississippi and South Carolina black codes had already received strong criticism for their harsh treatment of freedmen. Unlike the black codes passed by the remaining Southern states, Florida’s black codes were just as unforgiving as Mississippi’s, perhaps even more egregious.  Shofner found that the black code reflected “belligerence and defiance” by Florida lawmakers.  (Shofner, p. 50).  Wilson concluded that Florida’s legislature was the “most bigoted and shortsighted of all southern legislatures of 1865 and 1866.” At least Mississippi had the excuse of having gone first (Wilson, Black Codes, p. 143).  Both Shofner and Wilson singled out the Commission for blame.

The Freedmen’s Bureau protested the disproportionate and corporal punishments under the Florida black codes. But these complaints were inconsistent in their effectiveness: Joe M. Richardson reports many cases in 1866 of accused blacks being assessed large fines and, unable to pay, then whipped or sold at public auction (Richardson, African Americans in the Reconstruction of Florida, p. 376).  A few provisions were considered so egregious that even Florida officials immediately recognized they had to be modified (e.g., Ch. 1,470 regarding contracts entered into by persons of color, and the gun control law).  Most of the black codes were overturned in 1868 by Florida’s “Carpetbagger” revised state constitution which prohibited “civil or political distinction in this State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  (Constitution, 1868, Article XVI, Sec. 28).  The 1868 Constitution also provided that jurors were to be selected from registered voters, who now included blacks.  The racially biased gun control law was also rejected in paragraph 22 of the Constitution which declared that “The people shall have the right to bear arms in defense of themselves and of the lawful authority of the state.”

Peeler was busy at the legislative session during which the Commission’s work was presented and approved.  In addition to his work on the black codes, he was appointed to the committees on the judiciary, militia, and schools and colleges.  He also led an effort to send to Washington a delegation to petition President Johnson for the release of Florida officials David Yulee, Stephen R. Mallory, John H. Gee and A.K. Allison.  When the XIII Amendment to the US Constitution came up for a vote, Peeler was one of only two out of 38 assemblymen who voted in the negative.  Asserting the privilege to explain his dissent, Peeler wrote that he could not sanction Congress’s tyrannical abuse of power of making passage of the XIII by Southern states a condition precedent for their return to the Union. Peeler asked rhetorically where such concessions might end: “with negro suffrage?”[5]

Peeler returned to the state legislature the following year to represent Leon County again and held onto his powerful position as chair of the judiciary committee.  In this role, he resisted a bill to abolish pillory and whipping as a punishment, “believing it in some cases to be the most effectual preventive of crime.” (Journal, 1866 15th Sess., 81).  Peeler also supported repeal of the County Criminal Court act because the past year’s experience had proven these new courts to be cost inefficient and because the system “works great prejudice to the interests of the planters and other business men” by calling them to jury duty and for “frequently withdraw[ing] large numbers of their hands from their labor” as well as the “utter ignorance and inefficiency of many of the Judges.” (Journal, 1866, pp. 81-2; Ch. 1,537). Peeler took a close interest in the case of George St. Leger Grenfell who was imprisoned by the United States at Fort Jefferson. He delivered an extensive report on the situation and privately volunteered legal support for Grenfell. (Journal 1866, pp. 122-26). In a final act of defiance, Peeler wrote a long resolution in opposition to ratification of the XIV Amendment and his colleagues supported him with a unanimous vote opposing ratification.

Peeler’s career as an elected official ended with Congress’s passage of the Reconstruction Acts and the granting of voting rights to Florida’s adult, African-American males in 1867.  Residing in the Florida county with the highest percentage of African Americans, Peeler did not stand a chance at winning another election while blacks voted in large numbers during the Reconstruction years. Still, Peeler remained politically active. Unlike many whites who preached non-cooperation with Reconstruction officials and boycotted elections, Peeler recognized by mid-1867 that black voting was soon to be an inevitable and that whites needed to organize and even co-opt black votes. He urged whites, who formed a majority of the state’s population, to fully participate in the political process to elect their own representatives to oppose Reconstruction. They should strive to convince black voters that native Southern white Democrats represented blacks’ best interests too. He felt confident that thousands of blacks would indeed be persuaded  to act “with their real friends” by voting for white Democrats (Semi-Weekly Floridian, Aug. 30, 1867).[6] Needless to say, this plea failed utterly as new black voters almost unanimously supported the Republican Party and the drafting of a new state constitution to trump the 1865 version.  The following summer, Peeler traveled to New York City as a delegate to the Democratic Party national convention held at Tammany Hall.

In 1873, Peeler moved with his family to Austin, Texas, where his father had large land holdings. There he established a successful law practice and at times worked with the state government.  His career in Texas is summarized in a tribute found in the Texas Supreme Court Reporter (1888);

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 3.13.04 PM
Cases Argued and Decided in the Supreme Court of Texas (1888); pp. vii-viii.

Peeler died in 1886, leaving behind Elizabeth and five children.

 

[1] It is difficult to get a sense of how many eligible voters failed to take the amnesty oath.  There had been about 18,000 adult, white males in 1860.

[2] “Arthur Murray” was later collected in an anthology of Confederate prisoner writing.[https://books.google.co.il/books?id=WAcTAAAAIAAJ&dq=%22arthur%20murray%22%20drummer%20boy&pg=PA275#v=onepage&q&f=false ]

[3] The Dupont-Peeler Commission report is found in the Journal of the Proceedings of the House of Representatives, of the General Assembly of the State of Florida, Fourteenth Session, Dec. 1865- Jan. 1866,  pp. 58-69.

[4] One Florida senator, Holmes Steele, objected to this reasoning. Steele argued that because blacks were now free, the imposition of the lash – formerly reserved for slaves – would only serve to degrade them. Instead, whites should seek “to reform and elevate” their former slaves by imposing only punishments appropriate to free men.  (Florida Senate Journal, 1865-66, pp. 146-7).

[5] See also Peeler’s eulogy of his law partner Thomas Baltzell, former FL Chief Justice (Journal, pp. 282-3).

[6] In this speech, Peeler announced his credentials as a “friend” of black people: “Now you all know that I have been the friend of the colored man. I have defended three of them for their lives before Military Commissions and the Courts since the war closed, and they were all cleared. I did just as much for them as the richest white man in the State, and here in this Court House I have helped a great many colored people out of scrapes and difficulties, and never got but little pay for it either – for I knew they were poor and knew nothing about law matters and ought to be helped.”

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  1. Tricia March 9, 2016 Reply

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