When Governor Benjamin G. Humphreys was removed from office June 15, 1868, President Andrew Johnson appointed Adelbert Ames provisional governor of Mississippi. At the time of his appointment, Ames was also the military governor of the fourth military district which had been established under federal Reconstruction policy and included Arkansas and Mississippi. Ames continued as both military and provisional governor until the reestablishment of civil authority on March 10, 1870.
After Ames left office, he and Mrs. Ames, who was a daughter of General Benjamin Butler, established a family residence in Natchez. General Butler was the notorious Union general who occupied New Orleans and was accused of stealing silverware from wealthy New Orleans citizens. Afterwards, he was know as General “Spoons” Butler.
General Ames, who was born in Rockland, Maine, on October 31, 1835, was a highly decorated Union officer. He won a Congressional Medal of Honor at the first Battle of Bull Run and a battlefield promotion at the Battle of Gettysburg. Ames is known as a “carpetbagger,” a term that referred to northerners who held office in the South after the Civil War.
Because Ames was a highly vocal advocate of Black suffrage, he became enormously popular among Mississippi’s former enslaved peoples and emerged quickly as the leader of the Radical wing of the state’s newly established Republican Party. James L. Alcorn, the former Whig leader and wealthy Delta planter, was the leader of the moderate faction of the Republican Party.
After Mississippi was re-admitted to the Union in 1870, the legislature appointed Ames to the U. S. Senate. In 1873, Senator Ames ran for governor against James L. Alcorn, the other senator from Mississippi who had also served as governor in 1870 and 1871. Most of the state’s Black leaders supported Ames and most of the White leaders supported Alcorn. Several African Americans were elected to statewide office in 1873, including Alexander K. Davis who was elected lieutenant governor.
During Governor Ames’s administration, the state was torn by racial discord and political bitterness. When the legislature raised property taxes, a taxpayer's convention assembled at Jackson in 1875 to protest the new taxes. During the summer following the taxpayer’s convention, there were several racial disturbances in cities across the state, the most serious being in Vicksburg.
In the fall elections of 1875, more violent disturbances occurred and Governor Ames called out the state militia to maintain order. His use of the militia incited more unrest, and there was widespread violence, fraud, and voter intimidation during the election. The Democratic Party secured a large majority in the state legislature in the 1875 elections and regained control of most county governments.
When the Democratic legislature convened in January 1876, impeachment charges were brought against Governor Ames and several other Republican officials, including Alexander K. Davis, the lieutenant governor. In most cases, especially with Governor Ames and Lieutenant Governor Davis, who was impeached and removed from office, the charges were politically motivated and were used to drive the Republicans from office. When it became apparent that Governor Ames would be convicted and removed from office, his lawyers arranged a compromise with the state legislature. Governor Ames resigned from office, and the impeachment charges were dropped.
After his resignation on March 29, 1876, Governor Ames returned to Lowell, Massachusetts, where he lived the remainder of his life. Ames died there at the age of ninety-eight on April 12, 1933.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Ames, Blanche. Adelbert Ames, 1835-1933 (New York, 1964).
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress (1950), 778.
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912), 74.
Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi Comprising Sketches in Cyclopedic Form I. 84-109.