President James A. Garfield Appoints a Notorious Carpetbagger to a Plum Federal Position

Appointments of verifiable carpetbaggers to offices in the South are extremely rare. A search of public sale records going back 40 years fails to reveal any that reached that marketplace, nor have we ever seen one before.

Edward J. Castello was a Union Army officer who migrated to Mississippi in 1867 after being accused of embezzlement in his native Missouri. He obviously saw an opportunity down South, as he had opposed voting rights for blacks until he belatedly moved into the Republican Party. He attended the Mississippi Constitutional Conventions...

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President James A. Garfield Appoints a Notorious Carpetbagger to a Plum Federal Position

Appointments of verifiable carpetbaggers to offices in the South are extremely rare. A search of public sale records going back 40 years fails to reveal any that reached that marketplace, nor have we ever seen one before.

Edward J. Castello was a Union Army officer who migrated to Mississippi in 1867 after being accused of embezzlement in his native Missouri. He obviously saw an opportunity down South, as he had opposed voting rights for blacks until he belatedly moved into the Republican Party. He attended the Mississippi Constitutional Conventions of 1868 as a white Republican, and introduced a controversial proposal that anyone seeking to vote, serve on a jury, or hold public office be required to take an oath affirming past loyalty to the Union and the political equality (and thus voting rights) of all men. He and others like him felt that men who could not take that oath were traitors and deserved no consideration. Very few whites in Mississippi could take that oath in the immediate wake of the Civil War, so this meant essentially that very few whites could vote, and that blacks would command a perpetual majority. For this proposal he has been labeled by one historian as a “cynical, ultra-radical carpetbagger”. Even some Republicans opposed the idea, as it would tend to delegitimize the governments thus elected. The proposal was defeated.

Castello held Federal offices after this, serving on the Southern Claims Commission as a Special Commissioner, hearing the claims of Southerners against the U.S. government. In 1879 he supported the Kansas-bound Exodusters, the first large-scale movement of blacks from the deep South. In 1881, President Garfield gave him a plum by appointing him a Collector of Customs.

Document signed, as President, Washington, May 31, 1881, naming Castello “Collector of Customs for the District of Natchez in the State of Mississippi”. The document is countersigned by Secretary of the Treasury William Windom.

Appointments of verifiable carpetbaggers to offices in the South are extremely rare. A search of public sale records going back 40 years fails to reveal any that reached that marketplace, nor have we ever seen one before. Moreover, documents of Garfield as President are somewhat uncommon, as he served only six months in office.

Castello had little time to enjoy the appointment. He died 13 days after Garfield signed this document.

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