Saturday, September 21, 2013

Black Suffrage in Pennsylvania: The Tale of Hector Tyndale, Part 3

The Battle of Antietam was not the last fight for Hector Tyndale. Amazingly, he recovered from his wound and returned to service, taking command of a brigade in the 11th Corps as brigadier general and he led it through the confusing night action at Wauhatchie in late-October 1863. Unfortunately, his wound continued to plague him. Tyndale went home on a thirty-day furlough to recuperate, and when he returned to the army, he still felt unable to perform his duties. In August 1864, “with painful regret,” he wrote, he tendered his resignation, hoping that able officers awaiting promotion to brigade command would rise to fill his spot.

Tyndale did not retire from public life. In fact, he yearned to lead again. In June 1868, after four years of recuperation, he announced his intent to run for mayor of Philadelphia and received the nomination of the Republican Party. His selection pleased many Republicans. The party had traditionally done poorly in the city (to that point, it had put only two mayors into office), but with a war hero on the platform, one without any connections to corrupt political circles, Tyndale stood a good chance of winning. “Thoroughly upright in his political principles,” wrote a self-serving Republican paper, “he can be controlled by no ‘Ring,’ nor will he permit the offices in his control to be applied to any corrupt use. . . . The Democratic Party has no man to offer whose personal and official record is brighter than his.”

Hector Tyndale as Philadelphia's Republican mayoral candidate, The Philadelphia Daily Evening Bulletin (1868).
The Republicans were far too optimistic. The Democratic Party nominated Dan M. Fox and unleashed a bitter smear campaign against Tyndale. First, Democratic papers accused him of being an atheist, an accusation that Tyndale had a difficult time dodging since he did not belong to any church. Then, predictably, the Democratic paper in Philadelphia, the Age, quoted him as saying that John Brown was “a better man than Jesus Christ.” (This accusation came from Charles J. Biddle, a Democrat and former Union officer who, apparently, questioned Tyndale about a portrait of John Brown hanging in his house.) Republican newspapers did their best to reinforce Tyndale’s religious activities and to distance the candidate from the memory of John Brown. Of course, everyone knew that Tyndale had escorted Mary Brown to Harper’s Ferry to help recover John Brown’s body, but not every voter understood the non-existent relationship between Tyndale and Brown. Democrats supposed that Tyndale was a radical abolitionist (the Age called him a “disciple of John Brown”); Republicans claimed that Tyndale and John Brown had never met. The Daily Evening Bulletin explained, “We happen to know all about General Tyndale’s connection with and estimate of John Brown. He believes John Brown to have been a brave, pure, honest misguided enthusiast, whom Virginia had a perfect right to hang. He believes the way in which Virginia hung him was needlessly brutal and cowardly. He had no knowledge of Brown except what was open to everybody through the newspapers.” Further, the paper declared, when coerced to escort Mary Brown to Harpers Ferry, Tyndale expressed no love for Brown’s motive, but merely a “humane chivalrous spirit” to accompany a widow on her dangerous mission. When Election Day neared, one desperate newspaper implored, “VOTE ONLY FOR SUCH MEN AS WERE LOYAL TO THE COUNTRY IN 1861!”

Charles J. Biddle, a former Union officer and contributor to the Philadelphia Age, spread the rumor that Tyndale believed that John Brown was "a better man than Jesus Christ."

In the end, the damage control was not enough. Tyndale lost the election to Fox, 59,679 to 61,517. In fact, the Republican Party lost in Pennsylvania across the board, largely because the Republican-dominated legislature had proposed an amendment to the state constitution to allow for black suffrage. Tyndale had steered clear of supporting this, but he knew that if black suffrage had been allowed in 1868, his association with Brown’s widow would have been an asset for his campaign, not a hindrance to it. Philadelphia had more than 7,000 black men of voting age. Had they cast their ballots, they would have swept Tyndale into office. After all, he was the man who recovered the remains of the nation’s most well-known abolitionist.

Tyndale’s lost election in 1868 accounted for a sudden change in tone of Pennsylvania’s Republican Party in 1869. Party heads now realized they needed black voters to beat the Democrats. When the 15th Amendment passed the federal Congress that year, Republicans in Harrisburg leaped at the chance to ratify it. One politician who demonstrated a noted change was John Geary, Pennsylvania’s Republican governor. In 1868, Geary had been only lukewarm to a state amendment. In 1869, he encouraged ratification whole-heartedly. One wonders if Tyndale—who had served with Geary in the 28th Pennsylvania—had any influence on Geary’s change of opinion.

John White Geary served as Pennsylvania's postwar governor. Although he barely supported a black suffrage amendment to the Commonwealth's constitution in 1868, he strongly endorsed ratification of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1869. Did Tyndale's defeat alter Geary's opinion on black voting?

In any event, the change had sweeping effects. Pennsylvania’s first black vote came in the year 1870. That year, Republican returns in Philadelphia made a great leap forward. Infamously, the next year, during the mayoral election of 1871, Mayor Fox, stung by the loss in the city, turned his policemen loose against black voters, driving them from the polls. (I often tell my students that during Reconstruction, the South had the Klan to control elections; the North had the Philadelphia police department.) Election riots broke out in five city wards, and at least three black voters died trying to exercise their right to franchise. Of course, black voting came to Pennsylvania to stay. It is often forgotten that Tyndale’s controversial election had been integral in making it happen.

This clipping shows the murder of Octavius Catto, a Philadelphia educator who lost his life in the election riots of 1871. Most likely, his murderers were members of the Philadelphia police department, operating under orders of the Democratic mayor, Daniel M. Fox.

Tyndale was not in Philadelphia for the riots. He retired from politics and traveled Europe for several years, returning in 1876 to serve as a judge for the city’s Centennial Exposition. On March 19, 1880, a severe heart attack caused by his Antietam wound killed him.

It is clear that Tyndale was no disciple of John Brown, yet his connection with America’s most notorious abolitionist transformed him into an unlikely proponent of black suffrage. Tyndale might even be rightly called an abolitionist himself—maybe not one of a radical stripe—but a man whose principles toward humanity inevitably led him to this path: to serve Widow Brown, to serve the Union army, and to serve the postwar Republican Party. Interestingly, abolitionist William Furness—a man who had stood alongside Tyndale in 1859 during the riot over John Brown’s body—delivered Tyndale’s eulogy. He called Tyndale a “lover of Freedom and Humanity.” Furness continued, “He is joined now to the invisible host of patriots and martyrs, whose memory speaks to the North with mediatorial power, charging us to be faithful still to the sacred cause for which they suffered, and to permit no advantage purchased for Justice and Freedom with their blood, to be lost through a base and cunning policy.”

I agree with such sentiment.

1 comment:

  1. After the War, he was a Companion (#00907) of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the U.S. (MOLLUS).