By Robert Mann
While discussing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s now-“parked” sales tax increase proposal with a historian friend, I recently learned that the modern-day sales tax appears to have originated in Mississippi in the early 1930s.
That sent me to the history books in an effort to learn more about why poor a Southern state like Mississippi opted, during the depths of the Great Depression, to tax its poorest citizens.
What I found surprised me.
While I’m no fan of regressive sales taxes, I found the story of the Mississippi Legislature’s 1932 debate of a sales tax proposal to be fascinating. In Mississippi’s case, a modest sales 2 percent sales tax appears to have saved the state from financial ruin.
The article below was published in the August 1979 edition of The Journal of Mississippi History by then-former Mississippi Lt. Governor William Winter. The next year, Winter would be elected governor and would serve until 1984. The 90-year-old Winter still practices law in Mississippi.
His journal article is not only a fine piece of scholarship; it’s a lively and deft piece of writing. I share it with you, thanks to The Mississippi Historical Society, which kindly granted me permission to republish Winter’s excellent article.
GOVERNOR MIKE CONNER AND THE SALES TAX, 1932
By William Winter
The winter rains had temporarily subsided, but the great flatlands of the Delta were in flood — the worst since the spring of 1927. The morning of Tuesday, January 19, 1932, dawned clear and cold. There was a faint trace of fog rising out of the low lands along the Pearl River. It was Robert E. Lee’s birthday. It was also the day appointed by the Mississippi Constitution for the inauguration of the state’s forty-fourth governor.
At noon in front of the New Capitol, Martin Sennett “Mike” Conner, the Piney Woods boy who at the age of fifteen had gone to the University of Mississippi and then to the Yale Law School, would stand before 15,000 of his fellow Mississippians, and, after the smoke of the nineteen-gun salute had drifted into the magnolia trees by the Confederate monument, he would speak of his plans and hopes. The squarely built new governor, although only forty, was no novice in state politics. He had come home from Yale to Covington County to practice law, and at the age of twenty-four had been elected speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives. That was in the first administration of Governor Theodore G. Bilbo (1916-1920), and Bilbo had supported his fellow South Mississippian against the legislative veteran, Oscar Johnston of Clarksdale.
Another term as speaker followed and then there were two unsuccessful races for governor. In 1923 it had been Conner and Bilbo in a race that Henry Whitfield won over both, and in 1927 it was Bilbo winning a second term, with Conner running a distant third. The speculation then was that Conner was through — a has-been at thirty-six — an intensely able man who was too shy and too honest to make it at the polls.
And now here he was — victor in the 1931 primaries over Tupelo lawyer George Mitchell, former Congressman Paul B. Johnson, Sr., of Hattiesburg, and Columbia lumberman Hugh L. White. The preceding four years under Bilbo had been turbulent ones. Scandals rocked the State Tax Commission and other departments of government; impeachment proceedings were directed at some of Bilbo’s closest political associates; massive dismissals of university presidents and professors had cost the accreditation of the state’s only university and most of its colleges; the budget was badly out of balance; and to make matters almost desperate was the fact that the entire country had plunged into its most disastrous depression.
It was not a reassuring state of affairs, therefore, that faced the new governor on this January day. Some seventy banks had closed their doors throughout the state, and more were closing every week. In many cities such as Gulfport no banks remained open for business. In his final address to the legislature the previous week, the irrepressible Bilbo himself had taken note of that unhappy situation:
Every man and woman in Mississippi is demanding that this legislature do something to make the banks of Mississippi safer and stronger . . . . In China, it is said that when a bank fails all the officials of the bank are led out into the public square of the city in which the bank failed and the heads of said bankers are promptly cut off, and I am also informed that there hasn’t been a bank failure in China in over a thousand years. Suppose you try this in Mississippi.
But Bilbo, for all of his brashness, was leaving office in general disfavor. Only 31 of the 189 members of the preceding legislature had been returned by the voters. Confidence in the political system was at a low ebb. On the very morning that he left office Bilbo had pardoned 101 convicts from the state penitentiary.
The financial condition of the state was unbelievably bad. According to the published report of the state auditor, on January 1, 1932, there was a total of $1,326 in the State Treasury and outstanding warrants had been issued against that amount in the sum of almost $6,000,000. There were many school districts in the state where teachers had not been paid in full for almost a year. Equally as serious was the impending failure of the state to meet its payments on its full faith and credit bonds.
In a word, the state of Mississippi was broke. When the legislature convened for the 1932 session, one of its first acts was the passage of a concurrent resolution authorizing the chairman of the State Tax Commission to borrow $750.00 with which to purchase postage stamps so as to be able to mail out income tax notices. The members of the legislature themselves could not cash their salary warrants immediately, and many stayed at the Edwards Hotel and other places in the city through the tolerance and generosity of those establishments.
The newspapers carried notices of public auctions for the sale of entire stocks of merchandise of stores that had been plunged into bankruptcy. The list of lands to be sold for delinquent ad valorem taxes filled almost the entire edition of some papers. In the Clarion Ledger that inauguration week the Dyer Feed and Grocery Company of Jackson was advertising “White help only” and among others the following items: “Yard eggs–everyone guaranteed–per doz. 15¢” and “Kansas City Stamped Chuck Roast–17¢ per lb.”
Such was the setting for the beginning of the Conner administration — an administration that would have a unique and unparalleled imprint on the history of Mississippi. The keynote was sounded in the Governor’s inaugural address:
The state’s credit is like a woman’s virtue. It is the “immediate jewel of her soul,” and those to whose keeping it is entrusted should hold the duty of safe-guarding it as a sacred obligation, the full discharge of which is the highest form of public service. . . . There is but one means whereby the state’s credit may be properly protected and its obligations to its citizens properly discharged. That is through the legislative provision of sufficient revenue to meet legislative appropriations and standing commitments of whatever character. The short phrase for this operation is “balancing the budget.”
The new governor went on to portray in specific detail the grim facts of the state’s fiscal plight. He pointed out that in the preceding four years the bonded debt had increased 227 per cent — from just over $15,000,000 on January 1, 1928, to more than $50,000,000. Conner reminded his audience that in the twelve-year period since 1920 only twice had the budget been in balance at the end of a fiscal year, and that there was an accumulated deficit for that period of almost $15,000,000. A further depressing statistic that the governor cited was that while appropriations in the preceding administration had increased by $9,500,000, general fund receipts had increased by only $3,500,000. A special session called the year before by the outgoing governor to deal with the problem had authorized the issuance of current expense bonds in the amount of $6,000,000, but, as Conner wryly pointed out, nobody was willing to buy the bonds.
As if those figures were not grim enough, the governor injected an additional note of distress. Because of the general economic depression, tax collections in every category were down significantly. The eight-mill state property tax was the bellwether revenue source, and there was a shrinkage of some $80,000,000 in property assessments. The bottom line on all of this was that the legislature could expect a current operating deficit of $7,500,000. Added to that was the obligation to honor the $6,000,000 in currently unpaid warrants and to pay debt service on outstanding bonds in the coming biennium of almost $9,000,000.
Finally the governor got to the obvious answer. It appeared necessary that taxes would have to be increased. Just how to do it was for the legislature to decide. One thing, however, was clear. Taxes on property, particularly land, must not be raised. He cited what was happening in other states. California, for example, had just mandated “relieving the present excessive burden on real property.” Then he dropped a more specific suggestion in the form of a quotation from the chairman of the Iowa State Tax Commission: “Tax policies of the states from Maine to California and from Washington to Florida are all being modified to raise less revenue from the general tax upon real and personal property, and more from taxation of incomes, levies upon intangibles, such as securities and investments, or from selective or general sales taxes.”
The remainder of the address was almost a textbook presentation on governmental reform-consolidation and reorganization of agencies, county unit system, centralized purchasing, consolidation of schools, elimination of political interference in college administration, natural resource conservation, and industrial development. One melancholy footnote of the past was down in the fine print. In a routine recitation of appropriations for various services of government, the figure for Confederate pensions was greater than that for all of the state’s colleges and the university combined. Neither amount was very large.
While Conner had not presented a specific tax proposal to the legislature, it was obvious where his thinking lay. But in those first days after his inauguration he resembled the proverbial engineer charged with draining the swamp but who at the moment was up to his waist in alligators. Banks were continuing to close, teachers were working without contracts and without pay, short-term notes were due, and the governor found himself meeting around the clock to find solutions to the myriad problems.
On the weekend following the inauguration the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee began a series of sessions designed to develop a revenue program. Conner met several times with both committees, and it was reported the following week that a package involving a retail sales tax plus an increased income tax was in the works. A few days later hints of disagreement between the two committees began to circulate. The Senate, it appeared, was going to be more amenable than the House to a higher sales tax and an accompanying property tax reduction. Finance Committee chairman and ex-Rhodes Scholar John Kyle of Sardis announced plans to introduce a sales tax bill at a rate possibly as high as three per cent. This, he explained, would permit a reduction in the property tax from eight to six mills. Ways and Means Committee chairman Torrey McCallum of Laurel in the meantime scheduled a public hearing on the sales tax issue.
On February 5, the Clarion Ledger reported that the Finance Committee was leaning toward a three per cent sales tax, and that Conner wanted it high enough to permit a reduction of the property tax. The following day there was editorial speculation in the same newspaper that an eventual agreement would be reached on a two per cent tax. That article took note, however, of the growing opposition, particularly from the retail merchants, to any type of sales tax levy: “But while the dove of peace held forth in the legislative halls, solons were reminded that it is an eagle which perches on the dome of their capitol, as the corridors rang with battle cries of opponents to the general sales tax.”
This opposition began in Natchez, when the local Chamber of Commerce called for a statewide meeting at the Edwards Hotel in Jackson. Meanwhile Senator Luther Whittington of Natchez, along with Representative George Smith of Gulfport, introduced resolutions opposing any new taxes until expenses had been reduced. The same day United States Senator Pat Harrison addressed a joint legislative session and, blaming all of the state’s and country’s problems on “Republican extravagance and profligacy,” he predicted a “sweeping Democratic victory in November.” He flayed the Washington bureaucracy that “burdens the people with many millions of useless expense” even as he urged increased taxes at both the state and federal level.”
The Clarion Ledger in a major editorial the following Sunday attempted to put it all into perspective:
It is generally understood that the legislature has not yet seen the full prescription of the bitter dose that is to come. Governor Conner’s attitude indicates that if anything the medicine is going to be all the stronger. There is no question that the state must accept a dose of medicine far from pleasant before its ailing budget is corrected, but right now the physicians are going to have plenty of trouble with a patient who insists upon rejecting some of the medicine offered him if not actually prescribing his own tonic. One thing stands out in all this and that is that there is a rapidly growing sentiment in favor of a gross income tax and against a sales tax.
The governor now began to take off the gloves. Faced with increasing dissension in the legislature and a growing taxpayer revolt outside, he requested permission to address a joint session. At the same time he agreed to meet the protestors face-to-face at their statewide meeting. Dr. J. C. Rice of Natchez was in charge. Unable to get into the Edwards Hotel because of their number, the crowd had marched down Capitol Street to the City Auditorium, where they heard the embattled Conner lay it on the line: “This problem is as serious as though an armed force were beating on the gates of our state, and it must be met as patriotically and heroically. . . . A protest never solved any problem. You have adopted resolutions. Instead of giving us your resolutions, give us your plan.”
Later that afternoon he was presented to the joint session of the legislature by Lieutenant Governor Dennis Murphree. Making no reference to the sales tax as such, he again referred to the gravity of the state’s financial situation and called for prompt action to balance revenues and expenditures. He cited particularly the need for governmental reorganization as an essential part of that process and laid before the legislators a far-reaching series of recommendations for the restructuring of state and local government.
In spite of the statewide protest activity which now included full-page advertisements in the state’s newspapers, the following days were relatively good ones for the governor. The Senate Finance Committee reported favorably a two per cent sales tax bill along with a gross-income tax bill, while the Ways and Means Committee came forth with a one per cent levy. Conner’s emphasis on reorganization and economy in government touched an especially responsive chord. The Calhoun City Monitor Herald put it in the following manner:
The situation is being handled with common sense and courage. Let those who have been drawing large salaries and playing golf work for their money. Let salaries be reduced, budgets lopped off to the quick, needless employees find themselves something else to do. Then let’s pay for the folly of our last administration through the nose-by selling our coats and doing without our snuff, by storing up our rattle traps, by developing a taste for speckled peas and turnip greens instead of apple pie a la mode.
The first week of March brought the emerging drama to center stage. First the Senate in a dizzying series of maneuvers reduced the rate to one per cent after turning down attempts at five and three per cent, and then in utter disarray defeated the entire bill at one per cent after Conner let it be known that he would veto a one per cent tax. Two days later Representative Walter Sillers led a successful floor fight in the House to raise the rate to three per cent, but, to the administration’s dismay, a subsequent amendment was adopted giving the counties one per cent of the desperately needed revenue.
With a climactic House vote on final passage scheduled for the following day, Conner again requested permission to address a joint session. On the morning of March 8, the determined chief executive, in what may have been the finest address of his career, put it squarely to the legislature. Reminding them that every elected state official had publicly endorsed a sales tax bill, the governor recounted once again the state’s desperate plight and denounced with increased fervor the “inequitable and oppressive tax burden which rests most heavily upon land.” He went into a history of the sales tax in other countries, invoking in that connection the name of Adam Smith. It was for the most part a scholarly and reasoned argument for a three per cent retail levy, but toward the end of his speech the governor turned on all of the appeal of which he was capable. He reminded the members of their duty: “Our public officials are not chosen by mass meetings, and a relatively small percentage of the electorate attend such gatherings. Again I remind you that the great mass, have no one here to speak for them except you who have been elected to represent them and guard their welfare.”
That evening after more than five hours of debate the House gave the governor its answer. By a vote of eighty-one for to fifty-eight against, the sales tax bill fell three votes short of the three-fifths majority required by the Constitution for the passage of revenue measures. Both sides had rolled out their heaviest oratorical guns. In addition to Chairman McCallum, the proponents were led by Sillers, Fielding Wright, and, as their surprise final gunner, House Speaker Tom Bailey, who, in a highly unusual move, left the chair and took the floor of the House to plead for passage. However, the tax foes were not to be denied on this day at least, and, with the Ways and Means Committee decimated by defections of the “one per centers,” one by one the plodded up the aisles to denounce the three per cent levy and some, any levy at all. Hilton Waits of Leland, later to serve for twenty years as chairman of the committee, told his colleague: “I have always supported Mike Conner for governor, but I cannot not follow him this far.”
Held on a motion to reconsider, the bill was called up the following day by Sillers and on final passage was defeated once again by almost the identical vote of the day before. The following morning the Clarion Ledger, now fully committed along with the Daily News against the sales tax, printed the names of the House opponents of the tax in a box on the front page under the heading, “Sales Tax Honor Roll.” Waits predicted a hopeless deadlock and called on the governor to compromise. Conner, however, was undaunted, and, after a frantic night of calls and cajoling, on the following afternoon, with the eighty-one identical “Aye” votes standing fast through a third roll call, but with six of the original “Nays” failing to vote, the magic three-fifths was achieved by one vote, and the “three percenters” had their victory. The same edition of the Clarion Ledger that announced the result devoted ten full pages to delinquent tax notices. The next day a full-page ad called for a massive statewide meeting of the opponents at the City Auditorium. The war had just begun.
Critics of the sales tax were becoming increasingly shrill. The Mississippi Merchants Association sponsored a newspaper spread which proclaimed: “Augustus Caesar who ruled the Roman Empire, feudal lords in the Middle Ages, Louise [sic] the Eleventh of France, and Isabella of Spain all levied a sales tax in their time and all with the same result. In each case they were forced to abandon it because of the almost open rebellion of the people.”
On the day of the protest meeting most of the stores in Jackson closed at noon, and a crowd estimated at more than 5,000 moved down Capitol Street to the Auditorium. There those who were able to get inside heard speaker after speaker denounce the governor and his revenue program. The gloves had come off. Conner was not invited to be on the platform for this one. Dr. Rice again presided, but the cast had been strengthened, and the rhetoric had escalated. Jackson merchant R. E. Kennington fired the first blast: “The governor evidently thought that his inauguration was a coronation. He acts as though he was crowned king of Mississippi.” Editor T. M. Hederman, Sr., of the Clarion Ledger predicted the direct consequences: “If a sales tax is passed, it will be the darkest day Mississippi has ever known. Sherman’s invasion was not more disastrous.” The progressive young editor of the McComb Enterprise, Oliver Emmerich, thought that “the administration had overestimated the gullibility of Mississippians.”
Following the meeting there assembled what must have been one of the most ludicrous and bizarre marches ever staged in the Capital City. Led by an improvised fife-and-drum corps consisting of three young black men along with two other men, one in a yellow shirt and purple trousers leading a little donkey wearing a blanket on which was printed, “This is what the sales tax will make of Mississippi,” the crowd moved from the auditorium up Congress Street to the Capitol. The mood for the most part was good-humored, but then, as some of the marchers surged into the Capitol and filled the corridors leading to the governor’s office, the demeanor changed. There was a demand to see the governor, but a cordon of security personnel and some members of the legislature stood in front of the closed doors. Representative Sam Lumpkin, who was later to be elected speaker and lieutenant governor, was one of those self-appointed to protect the governor. Afterwards he would record what happened:
Our blockade was thrown up none too soon. Minutes after we took our positions several hundred yelling men surged through the corridor to confront us. One red-faced man thrust himself forward, pulled a pistol from his belt and pointed it through the door.
“Stand back,” the gunman yelled. “I’m coming in.”
Then Dr. E. T. Brock, a physician of McComb, was lunging between us to strike the man’s arm upward. The gun clattered to the floor and slid away. The crowd opened, swallowed the gunman, then closed again.
Sight of the pistol had sobered the crowd. Quiet descended. The men shifted from foot to foot and started avoiding each other’s eyes. By one and two’s and three’s, as they regained their individuality, they began breaking away to drift silently down the stairs and out of the Capitol.
Our small group went back into the office. Governor Conner was dictating a statement to his secretary, reaffirming his stand for the sales tax measure. The secretary read the statement aloud and Conner nodded approval. Then he stood up and smiled.
“Gentlemen,” he said. “I think it’s time to call it a day.”
I went out of the Capitol by a side entrance into the gathering dusk. Under a street light I saw the last straggler of the crowd of tax protestors. It was the little jackass, his blanket gone, nibbling spring grass on the Capitol lawn.”
The next day the House unanimously adopted a resolution by Sillers protesting the group’s intemperate attacks on the governor, and the Senate passed a similar measure with only one dissenting vote. Senator John Culkin of Vicksburg abstained, explaining that he thought the governor was perfectly capable of taking care of himself without any resolutions from the legislature. In the meantime state Superintendent of Education W. F. Bond was rallying the school forces for the tax, and a few days later a crowd estimated to be as large as that of the protestors converged on Jackson to voice their support.
In the Senate the Finance Committee reported the House bill but with an amendment dropping the levy to one per cent. The Senators debated the bill for three days the following week after adopting a floor amendment raising the levy back to three per cent. The day before the vote, Conner had sent a special message to the legislature again saying that he would veto a one per cent bill and further emphasizing the state’s desperate financial plight. Only sixty-four per cent of the previous year’s ad valorem taxes had been paid, he pointed out, and 45,000 farms were then being sold for taxes. Finally, before packed galleries which spilled into the corridors and even onto the floor of the chamber itself, the Senate voted. The bill lost by five votes. A week later they tried again. The debate was increasingly bitter.
The result was the same but by a smaller margin. The time for compromise was at hand. John Kyle met frequently with the governor. Conner did not think two per cent was adequate. Kyle, who had voted against the three per cent levy himself, insisted that it was two per cent or nothing. Slowly the accommodations were worked out. The bill was set for special order on April 5. The courtly Senator L. C. Andrews of Oxford assured his colleagues that he had the governor’s pledge to call a special session to repeal the tax if it proved unworkable. The two per cent amendment was adopted, and the bill passed thirty to seventeen.
The undaunted Walter Sillers, House floor leader for the bill, the next day announced that the House would not concur on the two per cent figure, and now the action shifted to a conference committee. When three days later the conferees reported that they were unable to agree and requested to be discharged, the corridors buzzed with predictions of a hopeless deadlock. The governor’s forces appeared split between those who insisted on a three per cent levy and those who felt that two per cent was all that could possibly be enacted.
The next week after new conferees had been named, the committee brought in its report with the two per cent figure still in the bill. It was promptly called up in the Senate and adopted by the smallest possible margin of one-fifth of a vote. Victory for the pro-sales tax forces now seemed to be in sight, but the stage was simply set for the most stirring and improbable scene of all.
The following day, in front of overflowing balconies, the conference report was presented to the House. Sillers told his fellow representatives that he was not at all happy with less than a three per cent levy, but that he would vote for the report as being the best that could be obtained. While he did not quote the governor, he was undoubtedly expressing Conner’s views as well.
But when the day’s debate had ended, the conference report failed to be adopted by two votes. The opponents were jubilant. Scrap Woolfolk of Tunica and Joe Patterson, later to be attorney general, thought it was all over. Since a conference report could not be amended, it therefore could not be reconsidered. Speaker Bailey thought otherwise. Representative Lamar of Pittsboro entered a motion to reconsider, but it was agreed by everyone that there could be only one reconsideration.
The report was set for special order four days later. Everything was on the line. It was a tumultuous session. The accumulated tensions and pressures of more than two months of almost continuous struggle could not be concealed. Sillers was at the podium defending the report when Representative Denson of Prentiss County assailed him with torrents of verbal abuse. The Deltan appealed to the chair for order so that he might proceed, but before the presiding officer could act, seventy-six-year-old Dr. J. S. Austin, fiery representative from Warren County, who, it was said, carried a pistol most of the time, came at Denson with fists flying. The melee was halted before any serious physical damage was done, but a short time later the acid-tongued George Smith felt that his honor had been challenged by Harvey Mason of Wayne County, and it appeared that another fight would erupt. But now the clerk was directed to call the roll.
It was generally agreed beforehand that, based on the number of members expected to be present, eighty-one votes would be needed to adopt the report. But minutes before the roll call began, Representative L.O. Smith of Chickasaw, an opponent who was reported to be stranded in Vicksburg, arrived breathlessly in the chamber. The numbers were now changed. It would take eighty-two votes. The governor’s forces could count only eighty-one at best. The roll call commenced: Allen of Desoto — “Nay,” Anderson of Washington –“Aye,” Armstrong of Copiah (at twenty-one the youngest member of the legislature) — “Aye,” and on down the list of the 140 members.”
When the final name had been called, Sillers, who had been keeping tally, saw to his dismay that the supporters of the tax were one vote short. The bill was dead. And then it happened. Just as the clerk was preparing to announce the result, a voice was heard from near the center of the chamber:
“For what purpose does the gentleman from Bolivar rise?”
“Mr. Speaker, I desire to change my vote from “Nay” to “Aye.”
Oscar Wolfe of Bolivar County would later explain that in those agonizing seconds of decision he saw financial chaos for the state and a hopeless deadlock in the legislature if the tax issue was not resolved at that point, and therefore he laid aside his own personal feelings to vote for the bill. After almost three months of struggle, the deed was done. The conference report had been adopted by two-fifths of a vote.
Conner was as magnanimous in victory as he had been persistent in the struggle. He said simply, “It has been a long, hard fight. I hope everyone will forget about the scrap.” He signed the bill a few days later, and at midnight on May 1, 1932, it went into effect. Alfred H. Stone, newly appointed chairman of the State Tax Commission, called for cooperation from the merchants and from the people. For the most part he got it, although Dr. Rice promised to continue the fight through the courts. Stone would be a key man in the success of the tax, and his long and successful tenure under six governors was largely attributable to his own characterization of his technique of tax administration.
“The secret,” he later said, “is to get the greatest amount of feathers with the least amount of squawking from the goose.”
The tax bill as passed in 1932 was styled the “Emergency Revenue Act” and carried an automatic repealer of June 30, 1934. So effective was it, however, in stabilizing the state’s fiscal problems, that in 1934 the legislature reenacted it with certain refinements as a permanent part of the revenue structure. One month after Conner’s term as governor had expired, the Mississippi Supreme Court held the tax constitutional.
In its first full year of collection, the new source of revenue produced $2,673,000, or just over $1,000,000 for each per cent of levy. It should be noted that the per capita income of Mississippians that year was $131. With the tax now levied at a five percent rate, it is interesting to compare recent collection figures. In calendar year 1978, the sales tax produced $526,000,000, or more than $100,000,000 for each per cent. The per capita income figure was $5,590. Mississippi had come a long way, and it must be finally recorded here that a significant share of the credit for that record of economic recovery and financial stability will forever rest with the shy but determined young man from the Piney Woods by way of Ole Miss and the Yale Law School, who seemed to live up to the closing words of his own inaugural address: “And if in this hour we shall set the public welfare as the only goal of our ambition, if we shall make it the supreme object of our effort and dedicate to its achievement the best endowment of our lives, we need not fear for the results of our labors nor for the future of the state.”
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Published in The Journal of Mississippi History, Vol. XLI, August 1979, Number 3
Copyright, 1979, Mississippi Historical Society, Jackson, Miss.