A group of “Black Republicans” hatched the prank, which was thwarted, but the effort made national headlines.
African-Americans first became involved in the Republican party back in the 1850s. The Republican Party emerged in 1854 to combat the Kansas Nebraska Act, which threatened to extend slavery into the territories. African-Americans quickly attached themselves to the party for the cause.
In the party nomination process of 1860, the Second Republican National Convention took place in Chicago that May. When a “Black Republican Delegation” from Texas showed up at the convention, suspicion quickly arose.
It was unheard of for any southern state to send a Republican delegation, much less an African-American one.
Abram M. Gentry, president of the Texas and Louisiana Railroad, sounded an early alarm regarding the matter.
“They had put (only) two parties in Texas — American and Democrat,” Gentry told the press. “The Texas Republicans were bogus. No men could have assembled anywhere in Texas to elect delegates to the Chicago convention and lived until morning.”
“The Texas delegation, which was made up mostly in Michigan, will be denounced tomorrow as a bogus delegation,” the New York Tribune reported.
The Detroit Free Press stated “not one of” the members of the “‘Black Republican Delegation of Texas’ has ever been within 1,000 miles of Texas.”
Newspapers around the nation were calling the affair “The Texas Swindle.” And when the story hit the fan, it landed in Grand Haven, Mich.
The Detroit Free Press reported members of the delegation included James P. Scott, a black Republican clerk for the Ottawa County Courthouse in Grand Haven; and J. Strauss, a black Grand Haven saloonkeeper.
Also a member of the bogus Texas delegation was Donald C. Henderson, publisher of the Allegan Journal, described as “the editor of a one-horse black Republican newspaper.” Henderson reportedly served as one of the secretaries at the convention.
Others were involved, but did not attend the convention in person. It was reported, “all of them are residents of Grand Haven or its immediate vicinity.”
The bogus delegation from Texas was quickly disbanded. Evidence supports the “bogus delegation” effort had been more of a stunt to shame the south than a deceptive measure to commit voter fraud. It was a prank, and little more than that.
The mission for most Republicans that year was to make sure Abraham Lincoln was nominated as their candidate; which he was, winning the office to become our 16th president.
One of the members of the “Black Republican Delegation” stunt, James P. Scott, at age 47, enlisted with the 2nd Michigan Calvary and served in the Civil War. He achieved the rank of quartermaster.
While the war ended on April 9, 1865, isolated pockets of resistance continued the conflict until June 22, when the last shot was fired. Scott suffered a sad fate, dying during a skirmish on May 15, 1865, more than a month after the war was officially over and the president he staunchly supported was assassinated.
The bold stunt Scott and his fellow Grand Haven African-American Republicans hatched remains one of those forgotten incidents in history; and compared to today’s political shenanigans, it seems mild — if not amusingly gutsy.