John Marshall Stone, who was inaugurated as governor on three separate occasions and served as governor longer than any other man in Mississippi history, headed the state during some of the most important moments in its history—the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of the disfranchisement of African American voters.
John Marshall Stone was born in Milan, Tennessee, on 30 April 1830. After teaching school in his native state for several years he moved to Eastport, Mississippi, a village near Iuka in Tishomingo County. Before the Civil War, Stone was the station agent for the Mississippi and Ohio Railroad at Iuka. He enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private and eventually rose to the rank of colonel. After the war, he returned to his position with the railroad.
In 1869 Stone, a Democrat, was elected to the Mississippi Senate, serving until 1876. When Gov. Adelbert Ames resigned under great pressure that year, Stone was president pro tempore. Because Lt. Gov. Alexander K. Davis had been impeached and removed from office, Stone was next in the line of succession, assuming the governorship on 29 March. He immediately began to add Democrats to positions in state government, from the Supreme Court and other courts to the board of trustees of the state’s universities. As governor, Stone signed numerous laws cutting the size of state government and changing district lines to reduce Republican power. In 1877 Stone did nothing to address the victims of political violence in the Chisholm Massacre.
In the bitter political climate of 1877 the Republican Party did not nominate a candidate for governor. Consequently, Stone was reelected by the astounding margin of 97,729 to 47. The state’s Reconstruction constitution, which had been adopted in 1869, lengthened the governor’s term to four years and allowed the governor to succeed himself. That provision made Stone’s first period of service six years—the two years of Ames’s unexpired term and the four-year term to which he was elected in 1877.
In 1889 John Marshall Stone was again elected governor by a vote of 84,929 to 16. During the first year of his second term the state adopted a new constitution. Through a carefully designed set of voting requirements, including a poll tax and a literacy qualification, the 1890 constitution perpetuated or allowed the one-party system, the disfranchisement of African American voters, and racial segregation. Stone supported the constitutional convention and its goals.
In July 1894 secret service agents arrested Stone for counterfeiting US currency. The accusation resulted from the fact that Mississippi had issued a special state warrant that was similar in color, size, shape, and appearance to US currency. The federal agents had acted in haste, and the charges were later dropped, but Stone was infuriated by what he called “a most outrageous proceeding.”
The 1890 constitution continued the four-year term but did not allow the governor to succeed himself. The constitution also created several new executive departments whose heads were elected to four-year terms independently of the governor. To allow for a smooth transition from the old to the new constitution, the terms of all public officials were extended for two years. Thus Stone again served as governor for six years (1890–96).
In 1899 Stone was named president of the Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Mississippi State University), which had been established during his first administration in 1878. He served only briefly, until his death on 26 March 1900. Stone County is named in his honor.
- William C. Harris, The Day of the Carpetbagger: Republican Reconstruction in Mississippi (1979)
- Albert D. Kirwan, Revolt of the Rednecks: Mississippi Politics: 1876–1925 (1951)
- Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912)
- Dunbar Rowland, Encyclopedia of Mississippi History, vol. 2 (1907)