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Revolt of the Tar Heels

Revolt of the Tar Heels: The North Carolina Populist Movement, 1890'1901

James M. Beeby
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 320
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    Revolt of the Tar Heels
    Book Description:

    During the 1890s, North Carolina witnessed a political revolution as the newly formed Populist Party joined with the Republicans to throw out do-nothing, conservative Democrats. Focusing on political transformation, electoral reform, and new economic policies to aid poor and struggling farmers, the Populists and their coalition partners took power at all levels in the only southern state where Populists gained statewide office. For a brief four years, the Populists and Republicans gave an object lesson in progressive politics in which whites and African Americans worked together for the betterment of the state and the lives of the people.

    James M. Beeby examines the complex history of the rise and fall of the Populist Party in the late nineteenth century. His book explores the causes behind the political insurgency of small farmers in the state. It offers the first comprehensive and in-depth study of the movement, focusing on local activists as well as state leadership. It also elucidates the relationship between Populists and African Americans, the nature of cooperation between Republicans and Populists, and local dynamics and political campaigning in the Gilded Age. In a last-gasp attempt to return to power, the Democrats focused on the Populists' weak point--race. The book closes with an analysis of the virulent campaign of white supremacy engineered by threatened Democrats and the ultimate downfall of already quarreling Populists and Republicans. With the defeat of the Populist ticket, North Carolina joined other southern states by entering an era of segregation and systematic disfranchisement.

    James M. Beeby is an assistant professor of history at Indiana University Southeast.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-324-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XII)
    (pp. 1-9)

    In the summer of 1892, the first state chairman of the People’s Party in North Carolina, William R. Lindsey, wrote a stirring call to those who favored the formation of the Populist Party after the state Democratic Party refused to respond to the problems facing small farmers in North Carolina and in the South. Lindsey exclaimed, “If the people believed … that they could speak through the party to the throne of power not a single Allianceman would desert its banner.” But, Lindsey asked, “What do we see? Not a single Alliance measure has been gained in the Democratic conventions...

  5. Chapter One THE ALLIANCE BROTHERHOOD The Origins of the Populist Party in North Carolina
    (pp. 10-26)

    During the decades following the Civil War, farmers across America faced economic decline due to a deflationary federal monetary policy and low commodity prices. Southern agriculture has been the focus of much scholarly discourse, with many commentators advancing reasons for the decline in subsistence farming, the attachment to a cash-crop economy, the growth of the crop lien, the emergence of a merchant class, and the expansion of tenancy and sharecropping in the late nineteenth century. What especially irritated the farmers were the high tariff and the credit squeeze, which, coupled with high railroad rates, hurt them both economically and psychologically....

  6. Chapter Two “WE HAVE PUT OUR HANDS ON THE PLOW AND WE WILL NOT LOOK BACK” The People’s Party and the Election of 1892
    (pp. 27-58)

    The St. Louis convention deeply divided the North Carolina Alliance. One group of Alliancemen including Polk favored the formation of the third party. Another group including Alexander, Beddingfield, and Butler endorsed the St. Louis platform but declared loyalty to the Democratic Party. Another group led by Elias Carr opposed the St. Louis platform and the formation of the third party. These divisions within the Alliance did not bode well for the elections. Throughout the early part of 1892 these three groups jostled with one another for prominence in the Alliance. In many ways the debates over the St. Louis platform...

  7. Chapter Three THE PEOPLE’S PARTY TRIUMPHANT The Politics of Cooperation in 1894
    (pp. 59-84)

    The 1892 election campaign was bitter, and the 1893 Democratic-controlled state legislature was a conservative body and extremely hostile toward the Populists. Democrats swept the state in 1892, but the Populist campaign outraged Democrats, who worried that Populists would only succeed in throwing the state to Republicans and black rule. The majority of the Democratic leaders viewed Populists and Alliancemen as one and the same, and they determined to smash the North Carolina Farmers’ Alliance. The reactionary nature of the Democratic-controlled state legislature, however, did not smash the Farmers’ Alliance or the People’s Party. Rather, during the remainder of the...

  8. Chapter Four “EQUAL RIGHTS TO ALL AND SPECIAL PRIVILEGES TO NONE” Grassroots Populism in North Carolina
    (pp. 85-102)

    Grassroots Populism in North Carolina was strong and enabled the state leadership to achieve significant success in the 1894 elections. However, elucidating reasons why voters joined the Populists is fraught with methodological difficulties, and North Carolina is certainly not unique here. First, there are few sources pertaining to the rank-and-file Populists; indeed, many were illiterate. Instead, historians have traditionally relied on letters from district Populist leaders to the Populist state leadership to unearth the political culture of the People’s Party. Statistical analyses of Populism, though growing in sophistication, provide only rather vague and generalized characteristics of the rank-and-file Populists. Other...

  9. Chapter Five “EVER TRUE TO THE PEOPLE’S CAUSE, TRUE TO COUNTRY, TRUE TO HOME” The Cooperationist Legislature of 1895
    (pp. 103-116)

    The Populists, in cooperation with the GOP, achieved a resounding electoral success in 1894. As the new state legislature convened theWadesboro Plow Boystated, “No purer, no nobler, no more patriotic body of men ever met in Raleigh than the one now assembled there.” It exclaimed to its readership, “There we will see in all their majesty the men who stood the brunt of battle in the last campaign, standing like heroes before the abuse and insults of their enemies, ever true to the people’s cause, true to country, true to home.” The question facing the Populists in 1895...

  10. Chapter Six THE BATTLE WON BUT THE WAR LOST Free Silver, Cooperation Blues, and the Unraveling of the People’s Party in 1896
    (pp. 117-144)

    The success of the cooperation movement and the passage of key reforms in the 1895 state legislature invigorated Populists. To add to the list of legislative achievements, Populists could boast three U.S. representatives and a U.S. senator. Coupled with this, Populists elected scores of local and county officials: sheriffs, constables, registers of deeds, coroners, surveyors, and many other minor positions. With an energetic and ambitious state leader, the People’s Party continued its endeavor to become the major party of North Carolina. Marion Butler sought to create a national reform coalition based on the free coinage of silver. But the silver...

  11. Chapter Seven BOSSISM, FACTIONALISM, AND TURMOIL The Disintegration of Populist and Republican Rule in 1897
    (pp. 145-162)

    The Populists, once again in cooperation with the GOP, routed Democrats in 1896. The cooperationists had not only captured control of the state legislature, but also filled all the state offices and could also make appointments to lower-level patronage positions throughout the state. During a time of depression these political appointments took on a double significance. Not only did they keep local leaders in line and cement party loyalty; they also offered hope to their other aspirants that the cooperationist experiment might lead to more appointments in the future. At first glance it seemed that the People’s Party had successfully...

  12. Chapter Eight THE CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST The White Supremacy Campaign in North Carolina
    (pp. 163-188)

    The Populist Party breathed a sigh of relief as 1898 began. The 1897 state legislative session was the worst moment in the life of the young party. During the previous year the Populists divided into many factions, and bitter personality clashes indelibly marked the minds of the rank and file of the party. In 1892 Populists presented themselves as something new in politics. They opposed the backroom political dealings of a small cadre of ambitious office seekers in the Democratic Party. But now Populists were guilty of the same charge. Perhaps political leaders had little choice but to engage in...

    (pp. 189-214)

    The white supremacy campaign of 1898 left Populists in disarray; and, coupled with the internal divisions within the People’s Party and the decline of the national organization, its existence remained in serious jeopardy. The Democratic control of the state legislative session of 1899 further threatened to smash the remnants of the Populist Party as the leadership of Furnifold Simmons, Charles B. Aycock, and others sought to replace the reformist legislation of the 1895 and 1897 sessions with conservative laws. The Democratic legislative agenda effectively killed off any chance for the Populist Party to re-launch themselves in the Old North State.¹...

    (pp. 215-219)

    As the twentieth century opened, the Populist Party in North Carolina withered and died. The disfranchisement campaign killed off the floundering party once and for all. With just three state legislators and a lame duck U.S. senator, the party had little chance to revive itself into a political organization now that Democrats had loaded the political dice in their favor with a new election law and a disfranchisement amendment. After 1897, the People’s Party steadily declined as factionalism, personality clashes, and serious divisions over campaign strategy wrecked the reform party. This state of affairs disoriented and demoralized the rank and...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 220-249)
    (pp. 250-276)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 277-280)