Rapides Parish

Owned by Benjamin Turner (1839-1916) and edited by Turner’s brother-in-law Charles W. Boyce (1827-1871), the Constitutional was a campaign newspaper founded in August 1860 to support the Constitutional Union Party and its presidential and vice presidential candidates, John Bell of Tennessee and Edward Everett of Massachusetts. It was published in Alexandria, the seat of Rapides Parish, an important cotton- and timber-producing parish in central Louisiana.

As publisher of the Red River American from 1857 to 1860, Boyce had opposed southern secession. He spoke out even more strongly in the Constitutional, attacking prominent secessionists, including Louisiana Senator John Slidell. The paper also criticized abolitionists, despite the fact that a biographical sketch of Boyce written in 1914 claimed that he “was a great admirer of Lincoln, and was always a staunch republican.”

In the months leading up to the 1860 election, the weekly four-page paper, which was published under the motto “The Union--Esto Perpetua” (“May It Endure Forever”), carried speeches of Bell and Everett and their Democratic opponents John C. Breckinridge and Joseph Lane. In addition to reporting on political rallies and Unionist activity in Louisiana, the Constitutional documented southern responses to Lincoln’s election and South Carolina’s subsequent withdrawal from the Union.

Alexandria initially showed little enthusiasm for secession, but despite the Constitutional’s efforts, the majority of the city’s voters ultimately supported Breckinridge. Following Louisiana’s own secession in January 1861, the paper dropped its “May It Endure Forever” motto and, while continuing to hope for reconciliation, reluctantly supported the state’s new government. The Federal response to the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861 brought about a marked change in editorial tone. From then on, Lincoln was portrayed as an aggressor. Calls for military enlistment in defense of the South also appeared at this time.

Advertised as a “family newspaper,” the Constitutional carried a small amount of news unrelated to the election of 1860. An agricultural column and “Ladies’ Department” were printed alongside marriage notices, obituaries, advertisements, and the proceedings of the Rapides Parish police jury (the governing body of the parish). The Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy (now Louisiana State University) was located at Pineville, near Alexandria, from 1860 to 1869. The Constitutional occasionally printed news of the school and its first superintendent, William Tecumseh Sherman.

Publication of the paper appears to have ceased in June 1861. Benjamin Turner raised an infantry regiment and served extensively throughout the war with the Confederate Army. After the Civil War, Charles Boyce served as pro tempore president of the Louisiana state senate under the administration of Republican governor James Madison Wells of Alexandria. In November 1868, he was beaten by a mob when he announced he had voted for Ulysses S. Grant (two days earlier the same mob had destroyed the press and stoned the editor of the Rapides Tribune, a Republican newspaper).