Thursday, November 21, 2013

The President and the Bishop

Two great men, one a statesman and military hero and the other a man of the cloth, engaged in a very public war of words in the late 19th century over the hot-button issue of liquor. Both were Mississippians, and following the heated exchange both probably wished in part that the issue had never surfaced, though neither retreated from their position one iota. The statesman in this drama was Jefferson Davis. Born in 1808, Davis had served as a U.S. Senator, U.S. Secretary of War and then as president of the Confederate States of America. Although he was vilified by many in the post-war years, Davis (right) regained some degree of political influence in the South toward the end of his life. In Texas, Davis had inserted himself in the fight over a statewide vote on a prohibition amendment in 1887. Although the vote involved the question of alcohol, the issue was as much about the future of Southern politics as anything, and pitted the old Democratic Party machine against the northern Republicans and more reform-minded Democrats, among whom was a former Confederate cabinet member, John H. Reagan. For his part, Davis was squarely on the side of the Democratic, anti-prohibition side, which, oddly enough, was largely supported by the black vote. Politics, as they say, often makes for strange bedfellows.

Among the supporters of the prohibition amendment was a young Methodist bishop named Charles Betts Galloway. Born in 1849 in Kosciusko, Mississippi, Galloway was elected bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in 1886 after previously serving as editor of the New Orleans Christian Advocate. Among other things, Galloway was a vocal opponent of 'demon rum' and, like Davis, inserted himself into the politics of prohibition. By extension, then, he allied himself with the "new" democrats and Republicans, a coalition that some old-line Democrats feared might morph into a third party. For Galloway, though, the prohibition fight was less about politics than about 'moral reform,' a cause the freshly minted bishop must have felt justified to lead. Concerning the issue of liquor, Galloway was quoted as saying "The heart will never be converted while the reason is crazed with the poison of ardent spirits. Then in the name of sorrowing women and starving children, and the one hundred thousand drunkards who are annually toppling into hell, let us battle for the suppression of this blighting sin and the triumph of the right." As it turned out, though, the battle in Texas was lost and the advocates of alcohol won by an overwhelming margin. Given the significance of the vote, the nation took due notice. In reporting the results, the San Francisco Chronicle stated flatly that "the Texans will give up whiskey when they have good ice-skating in Hades."

Far from seeing it as a crushing defeat, however, Bishop Galloway and other prohibitionists considered it a temporary setback and simply redoubled their efforts to save the nation's soul from 'spirituous liquors.' Jefferson Davis, meanwhile, had been successful in turning back what he viewed as a political coalition even more toxic than moonshine, and he wrote a letter to his old friend and former Texas governor Francis Richard Lubbock in support of the outcome (Lubbock had been Davisaide-de-camp during the Civil War and had been captured along with Davis and imprisoned). When Davisletter came to the attention of Bishop Galloway, he publicly blasted his fellow Mississippian before an anti-liquor audience. On August 11, 1887, Galloway spoke to a crowd in Brookhaven, Mississippi, and said “I have only one regret about the memorable contest in Texas. Not so much that the amendment was defeated, for that is only temporary, but that the great name of the most distinguished Mississippian should have been used in favor of the open saloon and against moral reform.” The fiery churchman was just getting warmed up. “I did hope that his stormy life,” he said, in reference to Davis, “would have a peaceful close; that the sun would go down without a fleck of cloud in the sky; but that unfortunate utterance will obscure the radiance of his eventide and leave a shadow upon his memory. How sad that the last words of a soldier, sage, and Christian should become the shibboleth of the saloons!”

Following that speech, Galloway and Davis entered into an extended and acrimonious exchange of public letters centered on the question of prohibition, but it also personal. Naturally, Davis was not pleased with the tone of Galloways oration, which made its way into the press.  In response to the assertion that his “sun was about to go down,” Davis wrote that “Age and sever trials of my life may have justified the expectation that my last words had been uttered; but the Father has mercifully prolonged my days, and the unsympathetic augury of Bishop Galloway is unfulfilled.” Regarding the issue at hand, Davis said that Galloway had “left the pulpit and Bible to mount the political rostrum and plead the higher law of prohibitionism,” to which Galloway responded by saying that he was content to be branded as a political partisan if it involved preaching temperance and against “the whiskey traffic.” Galloway in fact reminded Davis that he himself had commissioned Episcopal Bishop Leonidas Polk (left) as a major general in the Confederate Army and, therefore, seemed to have no issue placing a sword in the hands of “an eloquent and honored clergyman” while now rebuking a minister of the Gospel for preaching moral reform. Davis shot back by insinuating that Galloway now claimed moral superiority over Polk and opined “Did egotism and vain conceit ever rise to a more ludicrous height?” Clearly, the battle over the bottle had gotten down and dirty.

During the continued barrage of letters, Davis argued that prohibition had been a failure in Maine (another state where it was been introduced), a fact which Galloway vehemently disputed. To support his position, Galloway cited James G. Blaine and even Hannibal Hamlin (Abraham Lincoln's first vice president) and then quoted John H. Reagan, the former Confederate Postmaster General, who (according to Galloway) said that Davisoriginal letter to Gov. Lubbock has been read and applauded by “every saloon keeper and dram drinker in Texas” (like those gathered here in front of the "Dixie Saloon"). No doubt, the enlistment of a former Confederate cabinet member to bolster the bishops argument was particularly galling to Davis (although it must be noted that even among ‘rebelsReagan [right] had always been a bit rebellious). Eventually, the tone of the letters began to subside a bit, but neither man retreated. In his final letter on the subject, written November 16, 1887, Davis wrote the editor of the Clarion newspaper (and thus no longer addressed to the young bishop) the following: “O prohibition, sometimes called moral reform, what crimes are committed in thy name!? If Bishop Galloway wished to avoid controversy, it would have been easy in this case to do so. I only asked of him that he would, upon examination of my letter to Governor Lubbock, frankly avow the fact that it contained nothing to justify the caustic remarks upon me in his Brookhaven speech, and notably in his last communication there is wanting the manifestation of a wish not to ‘employ offensive terms or betray personal discourtesy.’” Apparently, both men were tiring of the fight, but the Bishop had one more round left in him. On December 21, Galloway questioned Davisassertion that individual states did not have the right to prohibit liquor. “Mr. Davis,” he wrote, “should be the last man in the United States to deny the sovereign people of a State the right to do anything” given “his paramount doctrine of State rights.” Admittedly, Galloway had a point. Davis, however, was finished with the debate. Two years later, Jefferson Davis died in New Orleans and was mourned across the South and especially in Mississippi as a great, if not somewhat tragic, figure. His legacy is still being debating today.

Twenty years after Davisdeath and on the occasion of the centennial of his birth, Bishop Galloway, by now a much more seasoned clergyman, returned to his alma mater and gave an eloquent commencement speech at the University of Mississippi on “The Life and Times of Jefferson Davis.” In the speech, which was later published, Galloway was very gracious to the memory of Davis, no doubt comforted by the fact that there would be no more letters coming from him on the issue of liquor. During the oration, Galloway heaped praise on Jefferson Davis, saying that “when another hundred years have passed, no intelligent voice will fail to praise him and no patriotic hand will refuse to place a laurel wreath upon his radiant brow.” President Davis, as everyone knows, was a very proud man and no doubt felt a great sense of indignation at the ferocity of Bishop Galloways attacks on him. Such a man could hardly dismiss being referred to as “the shibboleth of saloons.” On the occasion of his centennial, then, we might imagine that Jefferson Davis observed Galloways commencement oration from the realms beyond with a bit of doubt as to its sincerity. After all, in the midst of the controversy over liquor, Davis wrote Galloway that the Bishop has “employed many kind and complimentary expressions in regard to me, but, in view of your persistence in unjustified assailment, your compliments seem like the garlands with which in olden time a sacrificial offering was decorated.” Indeed.

The issue of prohibition did not go away for some time. In fact, the year after the Texas vote, the Prohibition Party gathered in Indianapolis to nominate Clinton Fisk for president and garnered nearly a quarter of a million votes in the presidential election in 1888. Finally, the prohibition movement gained enough traction to ratify the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919 with all but two states (Connecticut and Rhode Island). No doubt, Bishop Galloway would have been thrilled at this turn of events. Alas, he had died a decade before. Charles Betts Galloway is buried in Jackson’s Greenwood Cemetery. Jefferson Davis, after being reinterred in 1893, was laid to rest in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery. 

This article is based on a piece by Thomas H. Waggener and was originally published in the Jackson Civil War Round Table newsletter many years ago. It is used here with his permission.

Photo and Image Sources:
(1) Davis: hhtp://
(2) Galloway:
(3) Prohibition Rally:
(4) Polk:
(5) Dixie Saloon:
(6) Reagan:
(7) (8) Galloway and Commencement Address:
(9) Prohibition Party:

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