During the election of 1876, Florida’s carpetbag Republican platform declared the party “to be in accord with the just and enlightened sentiment of mankind and largely answerable for material, intellectual and moral progress throughout the world” – while endorsing its past governance of the State as being “wise, just, economical and progressive.”
“Little Jokers” of 1876
“The Republican managers were directing the Radical campaign with large activity and small scruple. They were preparing shrewdly to overcome by fraud what Democrats might gain by force. Rumors were abroad of ugly plans entered into by Republican bosses to unfairly influence the elections.
The election machinery was in Republican hands, because most of the men who had anything to do with directing the election and counting the votes were the appointees of the Republican governor or boards of county commissioners of like politics. A visitor from the North did not exaggerate much when he described the situation thus:
“From the precinct ballot-boxes to the Tallahassee State-house, the place for voting, the precinct officers who receive the vote, the officer who records the vote, the county officers whose judgment affects the certificate of the vote, the State officers who by law canvass the county returns of the vote, all are Republicans or under Republican control. Such is the law, such is the fact. The Florida Democratic Committee are unaware that county returns have been stolen in the mails, which are under Republican control.”
The public school teachers, the majority of local officials, and the Federal office-holders were more or less active in organizing the Radical [Republican] vote. “The whole public school system”, says [Republican John] Wallace, “was made a powerful auxiliary to the campaign fund of [Gov. M.L.] Stearns. The State Superintendent . . . devoted his whole energy and time to the nefarious canvass for the nomination of Stearns, to the utter neglect of the education of the masses.
The local Negro leaders strove to keep their grip upon the individual colored voter for the November test. “Two weeks before election time the colored brothers in every precinct were notified . . . that unless they voted as many times as they could on the day of election they would be put back into slavery [by Democrats].”
J. Bowes, the superintendent of schools for Leon County, ordered printed a quantity of small thin Republican ballots called “little jokers”, with which to stuff the ballot boxes on election day. He jocularly told his friends of the project and later used the ballots to good effect.”
(The Civil War and Reconstruction in Florida, William W. Davis, Columbia University, 1913, excerpts pp. 698-700)