Two Paths to The New South

Two Paths to The New South: The Virginia Debt Controversy, 1870--1883

James Tice Moore
Copyright Date: 1974
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Two Paths to The New South
    Book Description:

    In the grim decades after the Civil War, Southerners dreamed of industrial growth and agricultural diversification. In this study, Mr. Moore traces the development and changes that took place in the Old Dominion during these troubled postbellum years.

    The state's massive debt burden touched off an upheaval, splintering the electorate into competing Funder and Readjuster factions. The Funders, composed largely of the conservative farmers of eastern Virginia and the commercial classes of the towns, were committed to pay off Virginia's prewar debt in full. The Readjusters, drawing their support from the fringe elements of society, sought a more realistic, downward adjustment of the debt.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6381-9
    Subjects: History, Business, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. 1 Doctor Bagby’s Virginia
    (pp. 1-11)

    In the 1870s the celebrated Virginia humorist Doctor George William Bagby set out on a series of lecture tours which took him to every section of the state. He had established his antebellum reputation with the popular “Mozis Addums” stories, and the people still flocked to hear his witty, sentimental tales about the old plantation regime. Traveling by train or buckboard, he was a perceptive and sympathetic observer of the people and their troubles. Between lectures he filled column after column in theRichmond Statewith detailed and graphic accounts of his journeys through postwar Virginia. His health shattered by...

  5. 2 The Collapse of the Conservative Regime, 1869–1879
    (pp. 12-26)

    Conflicting social and economic currents swept across Doctor Bagby’s Virginia. Races, sections, and classes maneuvered for position in the turbulent postwar decades, and a more modern society was emerging from the wreckage of the old. In spite of the turmoil, however, the state’s venerable ruling oligarchy clung to power. Demonstrating a remarkable tenacity, it survived the trials of war and Reconstruction and gained a new lease on life by smashing the Radical Republicansin 1869. This potent agricultural-mercantile elite proved tragically unable to come to grips with the massive problems of the 1870s, however, and its blunders scarred the political history...

  6. 3 The Funders: Men against Their Time
    (pp. 27-44)

    Battered by circumstances and crippled by their own mistakes, the Funder patricians were losing their grip on the Old Dominion by the end of the 1870s. In spite of their blunders, however, they retained several significant political advantages. They dominated the state’s economy and had easy access to campaign donations from wealthy bondholders and railroad executives. Their control over the Conservative party machinery, moreover, gave them a powerful hold on a majority of the white vote. Most significant of all, the Funders were bound together by an intricate and durable web of shared values and beliefs. These ideological bonds gave...

  7. 4 A Confusion of Voices: Sections, Races, and Readjusters
    (pp. 45-53)

    The Funders elaborated their arguments throughout the 1870s, creating an ideology with strong popular appeal. During most of the decade, in fact, their regime appeared practically invulnerable. They had an iron grip on the overwhelming majority of the newspapers, the bulk of the wealth, and the Old Dominion’s political machinery from statehouse to courthouse. Their opponents, on the other hand, encountered a depressing round of gubernatorial vetoes, adverse judicial decisions, and public ridicule. Assailed as “agrarians,” “communists,” “bolters,” and “scum,” the “original” Readjusters of the early 1870s were a disorganized and ineffectual group of malcontents, powerless and isolated on the...

  8. 5 The Crisis of Confidence: Readjuster Leaders, 1877–1880
    (pp. 54-68)

    During the 1870s three Readjuster factions struggled to fill the party’s crippling leadership vacuum. The first comprised the “original Readjuster” theorists of eastern Virginia, men whose impassioned arguments had battered the disastrous Funding Act of 1871. Drawn from the depressed rural heartland of the Piedmont and Tidewater, this handful of embittered patriarchs conformed closely to the historical stereotype of the reactionary agrarian.¹ They included some of the most prominent defenders of the old order—antebellum Governor Henry A. Wise, opponent of the Conservative organization’s “dirt eating male bawd”;² Lewis E. Harvie of Amelia, Calhounite spokesman of the ruined planter class;...

  9. 6 The Struggle for Coalition: Readjusters and Republicans, 1880–1881
    (pp. 69-82)

    The battle over state finances shattered Virginia’s Republican organization. During the 1870s the party’s white leadership generally endorsed debt payment, but the Negro masses rebelled against a policy which raised their taxes and destroyed their schools. This split widened into a chasm when the General Assembly convened in December 1879. The black legislators joined the Readjuster caucus, but most of the whites jealously maintained their independence. Calling themselves “Straight-out” Republicans, these old-line party bosses worked behind the scenes to reestablish their authority. Hostile to “repudiation,” they attempted to pass the innocuous “Ross Hamilton” proposal as a substitute for the more...

  10. 7 The Readjusters in Power: Ideology and Action, 1879–1883
    (pp. 83-92)

    The Virginia debt struggle took place within the broader context of Gilded Age reform agitation. Stricken by the hard times of the 1870s, thousands of American farmers and industrial workers temporarily abandoned their old party loyalties. Rebellious Grangers exploited antimonopoly sentiment and captured the governments of several Middle Western states. “Sand lot” agitators on the Pacific slope lashed out against the privileged classes as well as against the despised Chinese immigrants. Northeastern laborites added to the turmoil by resorting to violent strikes and organizing for independent political action. Small farmers in the Appalachian highlands continually harassed the South’s “Redeemer” elite....

  11. 8 Mahoneism: The Collapse of the Readjuster Coalition
    (pp. 93-108)

    Consolidating their control over the state, the Readjusters compiled an impressive list of achievements. Overdue reforms followed one another in rapid succession, and the legislative calendar teemed with equally ambitious proposals. Even as the insurgents savored their triumph, however, dissension cropped up in their ranks. Key men began to defect from the coalition. Early in 1882 “Parson” Massey broke away from the party, carrying with him enough members of the state senate to deadlock that body.¹ The Readjuster legislative caucus seethed with a discontent which threatened to erupt into physical violence; fist fights broke out between party officials on the...

  12. 9 Rebuilding a Majority: The Democratic Evolution, 1881–1883
    (pp. 109-118)

    The destruction of the insurgent regime involved more than propaganda blasts at Mahoneism. It also required major changes in the Funders’ political tactics. In the 1870s their single-minded commitment to the bondholders had alienated the mass of Virginians, enabling the Readjusters to capture the state government. As early as the 1879 legislative race, however, the patricians had begun to broaden their appeal. Recognizing the unpopularity of their financial program, they attempted to divert attention to the dangers of “Negro rule” and “radicalism.” In the 1880 presidential race they successfully ignored state finances and urged all Democrats, regardless of debt views,...

  13. 10 Epilogue: Reflections on Economic Growth
    (pp. 119-124)

    After the collapse of the debt revolt the insurgent leaders made peace with reality in various ways. Some of the more disillusioned lapsed into a crotchety and bitter reactionism. Shedding his Republican ties, for example, Governor Cameron sided with the conservative “gold” Democrats in 1896 and helped to draft Virginia’s 1901 “white supremacy” constitution. Abram Fulkerson followed a similar pattern, abandoning his Greenbacker heritage and assuming a staunch “hard money” stand in the 1890s. John E. Massey made an even greater shift. Returning to the Democratic party, he was elected lieutenant governor in 1885 and state education superintendent in 1890....

  14. Maps
    (pp. 125-130)
  15. APPENDIX A Biographical Information on Prominent Funders, 1879–1883
    (pp. 131-137)
  16. APPENDIX B Occupational Background of Prominent Funders (Democrats)
    (pp. 138-139)
  17. APPENDIX C Biographical Information on Prominent Readjusters (Coalitionists), 1879–1883
    (pp. 140-152)
  18. APPENDIX D Occupational Background of Prominent Readjusters (Coalitionists)
    (pp. 153-156)
  19. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 157-162)
  20. Index
    (pp. 163-167)