New Orleans Public Library
|Administrations of the Mayors of New Orleans|
John T. Monroe (1823-1871)
John T. Monroe was elected the sixteenth Mayor of New Orleans on June 4, 1880 and served until May 16, 1862, being the Mayor at the time of the outbreak of the wara between the States. At that time the people of New Orleans, were more interested in the National campaign than in municipal affairs as the former involved the question of peace or war.|
He was born in Petersburg, Dinwiddle County, Virginia, in 1823 and was taken by his parents when very young, to Missouri where they were very prominently identified for many years. His father, Daniel Monroe, represented the State at the National Congress. He was a blood relative of President Monroe.
John T. Monroe came to New Orleans in 1837, before reaching his twenty-first birthday, with only three dollars in his pocket. This was about twenty three years before he was elected Mayor. He started here as an ordinary laborer on the levee learning the business of stevedoreing. This brought him in contact with “the masses.” He then drifted into politics under their auspices and soon became a leader of the labor element.
In 1858 he was elected to represent the second ward on the Board of Assistant Aldermen and shortly after his election was placed on the committee of streets and landings, a very important position. He was also made Assistant Recorder of the first district. Without much knowledge of Blackstone or the civil code, he invariably baffled the sophistry of the learned counsel.
On the whole, the city showed progress during the first months of his administration and in his message to the Council on October 19, 1860 he congratulated the community on its prosperity and well-being. The election made little change in the City Council, but was reflected in the improvement of the streets. Mayor Monroe also urged uniforming the police and great stress was laid upon the advantage of constructing the street railways. The car tracks which had been laid on the sides of Canal Street, were removed to the neutral ground where they have been ever since. The neutral ground at that time was adorned with rows of trees. New routes of horse-car lines were put into operation. The Mayor also advocated replacing the horse-cars with powered engines called “dummies” on the Carrollton Railroad. This change brought the suburb of Carrollton within a relative short distance of the principal part of the city, and raised the price of real estate along the route. Bit for the beginning of the Civil War shortly after, it also would have caused the city to build up towards Carrollton years sooner; the war delayed this for nearly twenty-five years.
The progress of Monroe’s administration was checked by the war. The slavery question which had been a subject of debate between the North and the South, reached a crisis in 18860 when a split in the ranks of the Democrats made certain the election of Lincoln to the Presidency of the United States. When news of Lincoln’s election was received, it was accepted throughout the South as a forerunner of the dissolution of the Union, if not war. Immediately all the various Democratic factions united into one party which transformed itself from the Secession Party to that of the Confederacy. Although the majority of the population of New Orleans unquestionably favored the withdrawal of the state from the Union, there was a considerable minority opposed to this course, but on the whole, New Orleans maintained order at this tremendous moment.
A convention of “The Free and Independent Republic of Louisiana” met I New Orleans on January 29, 1861, in the Lyceum Room on the third floor of the City Hall, to discuss the course to be followed by the State. Should Louisiana cast her lot in with the Southern States which had already seceded? They pointed out the serious perils to Louisiana in the event of war, but the leaders paid little heed to this, and finally were induced to allow delegates to go to Montgomery uninstructed. The convention named George Williamson as Ambassador of Louisiana to Texas. It also authorized the seizure of the United States Mint and the Customhouse of New Orleans. An official act was passed creating a State Army. This was done chiefly upon the insistence of “Dick” Taylor, son of President Zachary Taylor who was a native of New Orleans and a resident of this city. This organization became a part of the military organization of the Confederate States when Louisiana ceased to be a independent political entity and incorporated with the Confederacy.
Events now followed fast, Beauregard, dismissed from the superintendency of West Point to which he had recently been appointed, arrived to offer his services to the government, and was promptly assigned to Charleston. The news of operations against Fort Sumter stimulated recruiting in New Orleans.
On Washington’t birthday, 4,000 mee divided into two brigades were commanded by Generals Palfrey and Tracy respectively. The occasion was made memorable by the presentation of a flag to the Washington Artillery, by the ladies of New Orleans, at which Judah F. Benjamin delivered a thrilling address. In the midst of these exciting scenes, New Orleans preserved its usual blithe spirit. Adelina Patti sang to large audiences the favorite part of “Franchon” at the St. Charles theatre. The Carnival of 1861 was celebrated with all its usual beauty and brilliancy. There were splendid balls and the masquerading on Mardi Gras was as general as ever.
The report that United States warships had started a blockade at the mouth of the river, was the first hint of the disadvantages of war which the city received, but even this serious news did not produce a panic. This fact, together with the news of General Grant’s operations near Ciaro, made the citizens realize the need to fortify the city against a possible attack. Colonel O. P. Herbert, a West Pointer, was sent to make an inspection of Forts Jackson and St. Philip and he reported that much work was needed on the forts. The City Council appropriated $700,000 to be used on the defenses of the city.
In April the steamer HAVANA which formerly made semi-monthly trips to Cuba, was purchased by the Confederate government and in a shipyard in Algiers was converted into a cruiser called “Sumpter.” The city during the remainder of the year became headquarters for many military organizations.
On March 26th, the day when the command entrained, remarkable scenes were witnessed. The soldiers marched to the First Presbytarian Church and Dr. Palmer addressed them with words which eloquently embodied the crusading spirit of the community. “Soldiers,” he explained, “history reads to us of wars which have beeen baptized as holy; but she enters upon her records none which is holier than this in which you have embarked. It is a war for the maintainance of the broades principles for which a free people can contend - the right of self-government-Soldeirs, farewell. And may the Lord of Hosts be around about you as a wall of fire, and shield your head in the day of battle” - This First Presbytarian Church, today, has been demolished to make way for a new Federal Building and this another chapter in the History of New Orleans and the Lafayette Square draws to an end and another landmark disappears.
At the outbreak of the war, conditions in New Orleans were never so prosperous. The crops were the largest and most valuable in the history of the State. The sugar crop amounted to 458,000 hogshead and twice that number of barrels of molasses. But conditions changed as the years advanced, already as early as July 29, it was necessary to call a meeting to take action for the relief of Confederate soldiers and their families. Steps were taken to distribute food to those who were no longer able to pay for it. In July 1861 the new iron building at the foot of Canal Street, intended to be used for the waterworks, was opened as a depot of supplies. No one was ever turned away and the good it did for the people can never be over-estimated. Those who were too proud to accept public charity, were reached through private means.
In May 1862, a shorts time after the city fell into the hands of the Federal authorities, Mayor Monroe was sent to prison by General Butler and was not liberated until about a year before the end of the war.
At the close of the war, Mr. Monroe returned to New Orleans from Mobile, where, with his family, he had made his home after his release from prison.
There were few men in public office in New Orleans, who, when the guns of Farragut’s fleet were trained upon the city, did not advise immediate and unconditional surrender, but the element of fear did not enter in Mayor Monroe’s mind; he was brave morally and physically. His dignified answer to the shameful order of General Butler is in itself evidence of the true nobility of his nature and should alone be sufficient to cause his memory to be gratefully enshrined in the hearts of every New Orleans citizen.
After being released from the Federal Prison, John T. Monore was nominated for Mayor by the National Convention. He had been released from confinement at Fort Pickens returned to Louisiana and engaged in business in New Orleans. Although confident that he had been legally elected to the post of mayor, he deemed it wise, under the existing circumstances, the election having been alledgedly illegal, to obtain assurance from Washington that he could take his seat without opposition from the United States authorities at Washington. He therefore wired President Johnson on March 16, 1866, stating the facts connected with the election.
The following day he received an answer in which the President stated in part that no instructions would be given with regard to the surrender of the mayoralty; that Washington was not in possession of any information which would indicate that the election had not been regular, or that the party who had been elected might not quality. In the absence of such information, the presumption is that the election has been according to law and the person elected could take the oath of allegiance and loyalty, if required.
It would seem that this authorization would suffice to guarantee Monroe the undisturbed occupation of the post, but on the 18th it was intimated that General Canby did not propose to be governed by the presidential interpretation of the facts. Accordingly, when the newly elected city officials presented themselves at the City Hall, Mayor Kennedy was not present. They were received by the Mayor’s secretary, Mr. Bonnabel and by the chief of police, Mr. Burke.
While it cannot be said that public opinion in New Orleans endorsed Canby’s course, there did not seem to have been any disposition to censure him for what he did. The difficulties which followed in the administration, however, were most unfortunate. It suspended all the business of the city at a time when it was mot desirable that no such suspension should occur. During the well remembered riots of 1866 citizens were driven to take measures of self protection, the police were instructed by acting Mayor Clark not to arrest respectable citizens who might be found carrying concealed weapons. It was recognized that only by carrying arms were people secure from being molested.
Mayor Monroe actually took his seat on May 12, 1866, but was destined to serve in office less than a year. In this short period, he had little time to initiate legislation of any importance.
One of the principal occurrences was the sale by the city of real estate consisting of fourteen squares of ground on the levee between St. Joseph and St. Louis Streets for $610,000.
In July 1866, the first street cars were put into operation on St. Charles and Carondelet Streets and the Tchoupitoulas line was also opened to traffic.
To policing the city, Mayor Monroe gave special attention. T. E. Adams was appointed to the post of Chief of Police; he was suspended for allowing the practice of carrying arms which persisted among the citizens. The Mayor had Adams reinstated and with the approaching riots, his qualities were tested to the utmost.
The radicals in New Orleans wer4e doing everything in their power to stir up the Negro population against the whites. Many of these radicals were working to strengthen their hold upon this element in order to ensue their own control over the State Government which was to be formed. Mass meetings were held which finally led to a riot.
In August 1868 General Sheridan returned to the city from Texas. He denounced Mayor Monroe bitterly and stated that the immediate cause of the terrible affair “was the assembling of the convention: - The bitter antagonistic feeling which had been growing in the community, since the return of the present Mayor, added to this situation.
At three o’clock in the afternoon, January 23rd, 1867, the remains of General Albert Sidney Johnston were removed from the St. Louis Cemetery #2 in which they had reposed for the last five years, and were sent to the State of Texas in accordance with a wish expressed by him before his death and also by his family. The religious services were read by Rev. J. W. Leacoch of Christ Church.
Captain E. Hanley, agent for the Allen Monumental Association arrived in New Orleans January 24, 1867 by the steamer Victor, from Vera Cruz, with the remains of our ex-governor Henry W. Allen. The funeral took place on Sunday, January 27th, at half past one o’clock from Christ Church on Canal Street to the Washington Street Cemetery.
Every true Louisianian will feel a great satisfaction in knowing that the remains of their ex-governor lies buried in our soil and that the land be loved, toiled for, fought for and died for has the honor of covering his remains.
Mayor Monroe remained at the City Hall and continued to earnestly perform his duties side by side with the military official, General Kuntz.
On Marcy 19, 1867, Sheridan was assigned to the command of the fifth military district. It was easy to see that with such authority and in view of his opinions of Mayor Monroe which only a short time before had been openly expressed, the existing municipal government of New Orleans could not anticipate a long term of office. The order deposing Mayor Monroe also included Attorney General of the State, Herron and the Judge of the First District Court of New Orleans, Abell.
After leaving the City Hall, Mayor Monroe did not long continue to reside in New Orleans. His health had suffered as a result of his imprisonment at Fort Pickens. He moved to Savannah, Georgia, where he made his home until his death. February 23, 1871. He was a man of exceptional character and possessed a strong, practical mind. His dauntless courage is well known and his integrity unquestionable. He held high office in the Masonic fraternity and was laid to rest with all the ceremonies of the order.
On February 26, 1872, a year after his death, his body was brought to New Orleans and laid in a tomb in Cypress Grove Cemetery, beside the body of his favorite son whose death had occurred during his father’s detention at Fort Pickens, one of the most pathetic episodes in Mayor Monroe’s much troubled life. It is related that while the son lay on his death bed, Butler sent word that if the prisoner would take the oath of allegiance, he would be allowed to return to New Orleans and see his dying child. Monroe rejected the offer promptly and firmly. Father and son never met again. He left a large family; his eldest daughter, Selina, married R. C. Harris of New Orleans.
|Members of the Monroe Administration|
June 18, 1860-May 16, 1862
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