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Algernon Sidney Badger, Stalwart of the Republican Party



Each week, historian Sean Michael Chick will highlight some of the country's unsung heroes during the Civil War era who could serve as positive replacements following the takedown of New Orleans' Confederate monuments. This week, learn about the life of Algernon Sidney Badger, a Union colonel and defining figure in the Battle of Liberty Place.  

 

Algernon Sidney Badger was not a New Orleans man by birth. He was born in Massachusetts, named after the great English political and political philosopher Algernon Sidney. Barely passed the age of twenty, Badger became an officer in the Union army. With the 26th Massachusetts Infantry he was part of the occupation forces in New Orleans. He joined and eventually led the 1st Louisiana Cavalry, a unit made up of antebellum northern transplants and recently arrived immigrants, leading them ably in the final campaign to capture Mobile.
 

Badger decided to stay in New Orleans, likely seeing a chance to advance his career and help the recently freed slaves. Badger had fought with black troops at Port Hudson and held them in high regard. At first he could only manage to get a customs job, but his military experience and familiarity with the hard world of the New Orleans docks landed him the position of Superintendent of the Metropolitan Police.
 

Badger’s police were an integrated outfit, made up mostly of Irish immigrants and Afro-Creoles. In the great political battles in New Orleans, Badger sided with Henry Clay Warmoth, a Union veteran who worked for a period alongside the country's first black Lieutenant Governor, Oscar J. Dunn. Police forces in America were notoriously unprofessional and partisan in those days, and Badger’s force punished Warmoth’s opponents within the Republican Party. At one ward meeting led by Dunn, Badger’s police barged in, backed by a street gang. Dunn tried to calm the police but Badger yelled “Police, do your duty!” The meeting was broken up and Dunn fled.
 

Despite this, Badger was earnest in looking out for the welfare of his black police officers. As such, Badger temporarily left Warmoth’s orbit when Warmoth aligned himself with the Democrats in the 1872 election. Badger’s task became increasingly difficult. James B. Walton, a former Confederate officer who led the famed Washington Artillery, seized a building with his Democratic militia. Badger tried to get Walton to surrender. Walton said he would only submit to the army. Badger, wanting to avoid bloodshed, agreed. The incident though weakened the Badger’s respect and power. In the Rex parade in 1873, Walton rode with the king of carnival and Badger, who led the parade’s procession, was mocked in the streets. The Mistick Krewe of Comus lampooned Badger in a parade with a theme about “missing links.” Inspired by Charles Darwin and the emerging tide of scientific racism, blacks were depicted as cartoonish brutes. Badger was depicted as a hound-dog.

 

1874 saw Louisiana almost have a civil war of its own. The Democrat John McEnery called on conservative white Democrats to rebel against the Republican Party. The Crescent City White League was formed and fought Badger’s out-numbered police in the Battle of Liberty Place. Badger held the “iron house” at the foot of Canal Street with 100 men. He was shot in the left arm and then his right hand. He shouted for his men to hold their ground. Then a bullet hit his right leg. Badger fell to the ground. A fourth bullet passed through his body. His men panicked and the battle was lost. The White League forces entered the building and murdered the wounded.
 

Miraculously, once the police surrendered, there was no orgy of violence. The White League, whatever its faults, was not a mob but a disciplined group trained for war. They were intent on showing themselves as magnanimous to gain supporters in the North. It worked. Democrats retook the House of Representatives in 1874; they had not held it since 1858. Part of the magnanimity was the respect Badger gained. His brave stand and multiple wounds made him a broadly admired figured. He lost a leg in the fighting.
 

Badger could have flipped to the Democratic Party or fled north, but he refused. Although he stepped down from the police in 1875, in 1877 Badger was named postmaster. He survived a murder attempt by a fellow Republican policeman, and went on to become special deputy in the New Orleans Customs House from 1879-1885, and then again from 1890-1893 and finally from 1900 until his death in 1905.
 

In an era of mass corruption and incompetent civil servants, Badger was noted for his fairness and scrupulousness. He cleaned up corruption and ran an efficient system. Through the customs house, the Republican Party stayed alive for years. Badger and his allies became an important swing vote in elections between Democratic factions, and they usually favored Democrats who preferred racial moderation, such as Francis T. Nicholls. They also managed to get some Republicans elected. Badger and his allies likely delayed the onset of Jim Crow laws by a few years.
 

Badger was good at giving jobs to blacks in the city, in particularly the Afro-Creole activists, many of which took on segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson. In 1889, several sugar cane planters tried to eliminate black leadership in the Louisiana Republican Party, hoping to use black votes to gain power and create laws that favored the sugar industry. Badge stridently opposed the move. As he grew older he was more outspoken in favor of equality. To be sure, Badger was no radical. He favored harsh police measure against Italian immigrants and he had been an opponent of Dunn. He was considered a conservative in his own party, but one of principle who was loyal to his old comrades in the army and the police.
 

Badger was a complicated man. He was a brave soldier but as chief of police he was not particularly effective. Yet, his efforts kept black civil right intact for a brief but important period after 1877. His support for the Afro-Creoles helped that community maintain some standing and respect, however diminished. He did all of this during a difficult time. Badger literally lost a leg defending his principles.

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Contributors

Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde

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Michael Weber, B.A.

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Alexis Manrodt

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Linzi Falk

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B. E. Mintz

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Stephen Babcock

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