Born in Illinois but raised in Kentucky, James L. Alcorn (1816-1894) became Mississippi's first Reconstruction governor, and perhaps the era's most prominent "scalawag," or Southern white Republican.
Alcorn in 1844 moved to Mississippi, where he married a planter's daughter, and became one of the largest landowners in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta.
In 1860, he strongly opposed secession. After serving briefly in the Confederate Army, Alcorn retired to his plantation.
At the end of the Civil War, Alcorn broke with his state's political leadership by advocating limited black suffrage and supporting the Fourteenth Amendment.
In 1867, he joined the Republican party, insisting that only if men like himself took the lead in Reconstruction could a "harnessed revolution" take place. Blacks' rights would be respected, but political power would remain in white hands.
Elected governor in 1869, Alcorn appointed many white Democrats to office and opposed civil rights legislation. Black leaders and "carpetbaggers" became disaffected from his administration. Alcorn resigned in 1871 to take a seat in the U. S. Senate.
Two years later, alarmed by blacks' increasing political assertiveness, he ran again for governor, this time with Democratic support. He was defeated by Adelbert Ames.
After Blanche K. Bruce, who had served as sergeant of arms of the Mississippi State Senate and a county sheriff and tax collector, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1874, Alcorn, then the state’s senior senator, refused to escort Bruce to his swearing-in. Roscoe Conkling, a New York senator, took Bruce to the ceremony.