“The “new state of things” to which [a Tallahassee editor] referred was beginning to be realized in Florida as Chief Justice [Salmon P.] Chase was welcomed in Fernandina the latter part of May, 1865 by a “thunderous volume of song” from former slaves. The correspondent of a New York newspaper described the visit as the “most notable sensation of this isolated place for some time past” and reported that the Chief Justice “in the course of his judicial pilgrimage, took occasion to call upon all his political representatives sent out under patronage of the Treasury.”
The correspondent further reported that a Mr. Mot, “an intelligent French gentleman, formerly a tutor in Mr. Chase’s family in Ohio, and who came here last Fall as the Clerk of the Tax Commission, at a municipal election, held without law and in disregard of the provisions of the act of incorporation, had been elected “Mayor of the City of Fernandina.” The Chief Justice was invited to formally install him in office, and with great pomp the ceremony was performed, and Fernandina has now a city government recognized by the highest judicial officer in the land, though its head is not a citizen of the State and his election has no shadow of legal authority.
Chase wrote to President Johnson that before Mot was elected a vote was taken to decide whether the Negroes should participate in the election; inasmuch as the vote was favorable, the Negroes did participate in the municipal election. Chase, therefore, “had the honor of administering the oath of office of the first Mayor of Fernandina under the new regime,” he further reported. “So you see,” he concluded, “that colored suffrage is practically accepted in Florida---or rather that part of it included in Amelia Island.”
The Chief Justice made some amazing “discoveries” of intelligence among the ex-slaves neither previously nor since known to the human race, and on this visit to the South wrote optimistically of the future of the freedmen. These “discoveries” were of course presented for political consumption. Although the announced purpose of Chase’s trip was to survey conditions and restore the courts, it was not so interpreted by James Gordon Bennett, editor of the New York Herald, who said “his tour….was only part of a grand scheme for the promulgation of ideas which he and his associates imagined would place him in the presidential chair at the close of Mr. Johnson’s term.”
Harrison Reed, later Republican governor of Florida, had been privately informed, he reported to Washington, that Chief Justice Chase “had made sure of all the patronage necessary to control the State, including the Military Governor.”
(Flight Into Oblivion, A.J. Hanna, LSU Press, 1999 (originally published 1938), pp. 213-215)