Goodbye Old Capitol

Since the very first post on Preservation in Mississippi last year was about the opening of the New Old Capitol, I decided it would be fun to just have the first post of every year be about the Old Capitol, making the OC our touchstone, as it were. So I had this neat post about the Old Capitol all ready to go for February 9 to kick off the second year of MissPres, but when I clicked back to the first post just now, I realized that in fact, MissPres was born on February 8, not February 9. Whoops! Oh well, I can’t be expected to remember every little historical detail, can I?

So imagine, if you will, that today is, in fact, February 8, 2010, and bask in the beautiful symmetry of last year’s inaugural post about the re-opening of the Old Capitol juxtaposed with this year’s post about the first time the Old Capitol was called the “Old Capitol”–way back in June 1903, when the legislators made their first trek over to the New Capitol and shut the doors of the Old.

As might be expected in Mississippi, there was a bit of speechifying and ceremony for this transition. In amongst the flowery language of the other orators of the day–including such nuggets as “Proud Bird of Jove” and snippets of poems whose provenance I can’t place–are some musings by J.R. Taylor on the history contained in the Old Capitol and even talk of preserving the building. This is all published in The Official and Statistical Register of the State of Mississippi of 1904, which has been helpfully scanned and provided for us by Google Books. I’m afraid I don’t know who J.R Taylor was. He’s just shown as being from Jackson, Miss., with no title or anything. Maybe someone out there can enlighten us.

Here’s a clip from the much longer speech, given on June 3, 1903. Warning: political incorrectness ahead:

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Within the halls of the old Capitol, as on a stage, have passed the varying scenes of the political drama in Mississippi for a period covering three-fourths of the life of the Commonwealth. Its eventful history began in the year 1839, when it was first occupied by the Legislature. Its life of service really ends to-day, when the State House will be dedicated as the official home of the Government of Misissippi.

Studded with important and dramatic events, whose outlines stand out in high relief against long periods of fruitful quiet, its history is well worth the telling. It has heard the voice of Clay, “The Great Pacificator;” Kossuth, the Hungarian patriot, has trod its halls. The matchless eloquence of Prentiss has vibrated within its Legislative chambers. It has been the familiar of Jefferson Davis. It echoed to the ominous murmurs of the early “fifties” that gradually grew into the defiance of 1861. It staged the first act of the tragedy of secession, the Convention which severed Mississippi from the Union. It knew something of the pomp and circumstance of war and the sad bitterness of defeat. It saw the Chief Executive of Mississippi twice ejected from his office at the point of bayonets. It echoed to the tread of alien soldiers. The conflict ended, it witnessed the futile effort to restore the State to her old relations with the Union in pursuance of the Presidential policy of reconstruction. It housed the “Black and Tan Convention,” the second of a tremendous trilogy beginning with the Secession Convention and ending with the Constitutional Convention of 1890. It sickened at an orgy of negro and “carpet-bag” control that reads like the record of some unhappier planet. Then the scene shifted and retribution came. It saw the dramatic spectacle of an impeachment proceeding and the recession of the motley tide that had filled the chief offices of State. It looked upon the Legislature which was the first in all the world to completely emancipate women by giving her equal property rights with men. It heard the last farewell of Jefferson Davis to the people of his chosen State and saddened when that heroic figure passed beyond its portals forever. It witnessed the solution of vital problems peculiarly Southern, which involved nothing less than the ascendency [sic] of intelligence over ignorance and corruption, and the preservation of a social system threatened with the grim spectre of chaos. The first separate car law was passed within its chambers, and finally it sheltered the Convention of 1890, which assembled to put the final touch to the “revolution of 1875,” and to afford the model which the other Southern States were destined, one by one, to adopt.

NUNC DIMITTIS.

For the old Capitol “the long day’s task is done.” The theater, not only of the important events that have been so lightly sketched, but also of the multitudinous minor political activities of a free people, it now goes down to silence and abandonment. Yet not without honor does it remain, though its mantle be almost passed, prophet-like, to the new. Something of the spirit of the great men who have wrought within its halls will always survive to hallow it to noble minds. And when patriotic Mississippians pause to contemplate for the moment the phenomenon, not too recent, of a kindly and legal control of a black majority by an intelligent white minority, will not the old mass of brick and stone where this great thing was rendered possible in a legal manner take added dignity in their thought?

Its future is uncertain. There is a sentiment that it should be preserved as a museum, in which may be collected everything of historical interest that pertains to Mississippi. There is another opinion that it should be torn down and the spot on which it stands devoted to a park or sold for business sites. Secured by its imperishable history, it is superior alike to preservation or destruction. In the words of the Roman poet it can truly say:

“I have built me a monument more lasting than brass and loftier than the regal structure of the pyramids, which not corroding shower, the north wind important, the innumerable series of the years and flight of the ages shall ever destroy!”



Categories: Architectural Research, Historic Preservation

8 replies

  1. OK today… is ur birthday Miss Preservation…Happy Birthday and as is the case with historical beings…let there b more! Thank u 4 the rich photos, info, flowery lingo, documents, personality and so forth. Cheers.

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  2. I think that those words are a little stronger than mere political incorrectness. The writing style seems almost like James K. Vardaman, except that the author did not use the word “coon” to describe blacks. Taylor could have been an associate of Vardaman’s. Vardaman likely holds the record as the most racist American to ever put his vile thoughts in print.

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    • You’re right–by today’s standards it’s as racist as it can be. By the standards of that day, it wasn’t even mildly incorrect, it was just the way pretty much most white people thought about the recent history of the state. Either way, political incorrectness wasn’t the right phrase–maybe I just shouldn’t have put a warning.

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  3. E.L., I’m curious about J.R. and promise 2 get 2 the bottom of his ID. He might b John P. Taylor, Treasurer of Mississippi a few years later. Michelle at the library checked the city directory 4 1914-6 and this man was a resident of the Royal Hotel and it might b a typo. We will eyeball the document. The subject file at MDAH only has a John P, with no file 4 a J.R. More later.

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  4. Great! Thanks for getting to the bottom of this one–if anyone can, you can!

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  1. Reflecting on the Old Capitol | Preservation in Mississippi
  2. To Be or Not To Be, That Was the Question « Preservation in Mississippi

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