Political Issues and Controversies

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Entry Category: Political Issues and Controversies - Starting with C

California Gold Rush, Effect of the

The California gold rush did not have the positive impact on Arkansas envisioned by its promoters, who hoped for Fort Smith (Sebastian County) to become the hub of westward migration. It did force Arkansas out of its frontier status as people went farther west to California. It also shifted population. John L. Ferguson wrote that, following 1850, Arkansans searching out new opportunity were continuing to move westward; by 1860, some 2,000 Arkansans lived in California, while another 11,000 had emigrated to Texas. The Arkansas Gazette of May 14, 1852, noted that “it is calculated that out of every 100 persons who have gone to California, fifty have been ruined, forty no better than they would have been had they stayed …

Capital Punishment

aka: Death Penalty
The death penalty was practiced in Arkansas even before the state was admitted to the Union in 1836. According to the Arkansas News, “during the American Revolution several members of the garrison at Arkansas Post were convicted of having plotted on behalf of the English to massacre all the soldiers at the Post. They were executed by a firing squad in New Orleans.” These executions mark the first recorded death sentences for crimes committed in Arkansas. The Arkansas criminal code provides for the death penalty or life without parole upon conviction of capital murder or treason. Those convicted of rape were also subject to the death penalty until January 1, 1976, prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Coker …

Carpetbaggers and Scalawags

“Carpetbaggers” is a slang term denoting men who adhered to the newly formed Republican Party, which followed the demise of the Whig Party, and gained control of Arkansas politics and government after the end of Civil War. Many of these men were former Union soldiers. The correct term is Radical Republicans. Southerners coined the pejorative term carpetbaggers and claimed that these men came into the state with only what could be packed in a suitcase made from carpet scraps. The belief was that these men were uneducated opportunists who came to Arkansas only to plunder and take advantage of the bankrupt, defeated, and humiliated people of the state. Noted carpetbaggers included Thomas Meade Bowen, a lawyer, and Powell Clayton, an …

Chicot County Race War of 1871

aka: Chicot County Massacre
In late 1871, Chicot County was taken over by several hundred African Americans, led by state legislator and county judge James W. Mason. The murder of African-American lawyer Wathal (sometimes spelled as Walthall) Wynn prompted the area’s black citizens to kill the men jailed for their role in the murder and take over the area. Many white residents fled, escaping by steamboat to Memphis, Tennessee, and other nearby river towns. Like the Black Hawk War that occurred in Mississippi County the following year, the situation arose, in part, from the radical wing of the Republican Party exercising its power in choosing local officials. Both Mississippi and Chicot counties’ populations were primarily black, with blacks outnumbering whites four to one in Chicot County. …

Civil Rights Movement (Twentieth Century)

The 1957 desegregation crisis at Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County) is often viewed as the most significant development in the civil rights struggle in Arkansas. However, this event is just one part of a struggle for African-American freedom and equality that both predates and outlasts the twentieth century. African Americans in Arkansas at the turn of the twentieth century were in an embattled state, as they were across the rest of the South. They were politically disfranchised and increasingly segregated in most areas of public life. In the Arkansas Delta, where the vast majority of Arkansas’s black population was concentrated throughout the twentieth century, blacks were often bound to the land by exploitative peonage contracts with white …

Cleburne County Draft War

The Cleburne County Draft War was one of three violent encounters in World War I–era Arkansas that occurred in the spring and summer of 1918 between local officials determined to enforce the Selective Service Act of 1917 and citizens who resisted conscription. In this episode, those resisting the draft were Jehovah’s Witnesses, then known as Russellites, who were widely viewed with suspicion and hatred because of their refusal to take part in civic and military affairs. The Cleburne County Draft War began before sunrise on Sunday, July 7, 1918, when Sheriff Jasper Duke led four men into an area of the county between Rosebud (White County) and Pearson (Cleburne County) in search of delinquents who had not registered for the …

Clinton Chronicles, The

The Clinton Chronicles: An Investigation into the Alleged Criminal Activities of Bill Clinton is a 1994 video produced by Patrick Matrisciana that accuses former president Bill Clinton of crimes in Arkansas. The video, which has been called a propaganda piece, put forward a conspiracy theory, the “Clinton Body Count,” regarding individuals whom Clinton was alleged to have had killed. The Clinton Chronicles was produced by a group called Citizens for Honest Government of Westminster, California. Partially funded by Arkansan Larry Nichols, its parent organization was Creative Ministries, Inc. According to the New York Times, Nichols had been hired in the 1980s by Governor Clinton as marketing director for the Arkansas Development Finance Authority (ADFA). In 1988, Nichols was fired by …

Commonwealth College

Arkansas’s most famous attempt at radical labor education was the accidental by-product of natural beauty, cheap land, and desperation. Commonwealth College was established in 1923 at Newllano Cooperative Colony near Leesville, Louisiana. Its founders were Kate Richards O’Hare, her husband Frank, and William E. Zeuch, all socialists and lifelong adherents of the principles established by Eugene V. Debs. Drawing on their mutual experience at Ruskin College in Florida, where they had been impressed with the possibility of higher education combined with cooperative community, the O’Hares and Zeuch decided to create a college specifically aimed at the leadership of what they designated as a new social class, the industrial worker. As an established cooperative community, Newllano appeared to be the ideal …

Convict Lease System

The convict lease system was a way of operating state prisons adopted by Arkansas in the mid-nineteenth century. The Arkansas system mirrored that of other Southern states during this period and reflected the desire to reduce the cost and administrative problems of the state’s prisons. While the system achieved its economic goals, it was typified by corruption and the abuse of prisoners, problems that ultimately brought about its abolition. In Arkansas, the convict lease system originated during the Reconstruction era when, in 1867, the state contracted with the firm of Hodges, Peay, and Ayliff to provide work for prisoners in the penitentiary at Little Rock (Pulaski County). The state agreed to pay the company thirty-five cents a day for the …

Conway-Crittenden Duel

aka: Crittenden-Conway Duel
In 1827, Henry Wharton Conway and Robert Crittenden, both important figures in territorial Arkansas, fought a duel that had profound implications for the course of Arkansas history. Conway, a former naval officer and governmental employee originally from Tennessee, had relocated to Arkansas for a governmental post and eventually sought political office in Arkansas. Crittenden, originally from Kentucky, also served in the armed forces and later held political positions in Arkansas; he was originally a political supporter of Conway. Both were young, professional, and successful in their own right, but a conflict ensued between the two during an Arkansas election campaign, leading Crittenden to challenge Conway to a duel. Conway and Crittenden were friends and had worked together in an official …

Crawford, Maud Robinson

Maud Robinson Crawford, a lawyer with the Gaughan, McClellan and Laney law firm in Camden (Ouachita County), mysteriously disappeared from her stately Colonial home on Saturday night, March 2, 1957, at age sixty-five. U.S. Senator John L. McClellan, a former partner in the law firm, was at the time of her disappearance the chairman of a high-profile Senate investigation into alleged mob ties to organized labor. The disappearance of Sen. McClellan’s former associate was international news, a first assumption being that she had been kidnapped by the Mafia to intimidate the senator. When no ransom note appeared, however, the theory was rejected by law enforcement. No body was ever found, and the case was never solved. Maud Robinson was born …

Cuban Refugee Crisis

Arkansas played a part in the international drama of 1980, when 125,000 Cubans left their homeland for a new life in the United States. Roughly 25,000 of these Cuban refugees—called Marielitos because they had departed Cuba from the port of Mariel—were housed for a time at Fort Chaffee in Sebastian County. Their presence in Arkansas created social and political tension widely thought to have had an impact on the Arkansas governor’s race of 1980. Cuba and the Boatlift The crisis of 1980 began April 11 of that year, when Hector Sanyustiz, accompanied by five friends, drove a Havana city bus through a gate onto the grounds of the Peruvian Embassy to Cuba. The six intended to seek political asylum. By …