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Righteous Indignation

Righteous Indignation: Religion and the Populist Revolution

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Righteous Indignation
    Book Description:

    Righteous Indignation uncovers what motivated conservative, mostly middle-class southern farmers to revolt against the Democratic Party by embracing the radical, even revolutionary biracial politics of the Peoples Party in the 1890s. While other historians of Populism have looked to economics, changing markets, or various ideals to explain this phenomenon, in Righteous Indignation, Joe Creech posits evangelical religion as the motive force behind the shift. _x000B_This illuminating study shows how Populists wove their political and economic reforms into a grand cosmic narrative pitting the forces of God and democracy against those of Satan and tyranny, and energizing their movement with a sacred sense of urgency. This book also unpacks the southern Protestants complicated approach to political and economic questions, as well as addressing broader issues about protest movements, race relations, and the American South.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09091-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxx)

    In the spring of 1894, some thirty or so miles east of Raleigh, North Carolina, a renegade group of Populists acting without sanction from the local and state leadership canvassed Nash and neighboring Edgecombe counties with fliers urging voters to “Look to Jesus” in the coming off-year elections, and without doubt they fully expected Jesus to instruct voters to elect their slate of local candidates. Hoping to avoid confusion in the upcoming People’s Party county convention, these Populists circulated their list of nominees among local Farmers’ Alliances and elsewhere, pointing out to their “friends in the Democrat and Republican Parties”...


    • [SECTION 1 Introduction]
      (pp. 1-6)

      Hebron Christian Church, founded in Lenoir County in the eastern part of North Carolina in 1878, was typical of most Disciples of Christ congregations. Although the restorationist Disciples of Christ exaggerated many of the liberal and egalitarian tendencies of evangelicalism—rejecting all creeds; discarding, to varying degrees, denominational apparati; and relying almost solely on lay leadership for churches’ week-to-week activities—they conducted those activities in ways similar to those practiced by many rural southern congregations. Hebron had no paid pastor; this congregation of thirty-three men and thirty-one women was led by two brothers, J. M. and Levi Mewborne. While both...

    • 1. An Established Antiestablishmentarianism: Nineteenth-Century North Carolina Evangelicalism
      (pp. 7-21)

      Trying to make sense of the different evangelical denominations in late nineteenth-century North Carolina can be a daunting task. Finding consistent patterns even in the ways they related to one another is often fraught with contradictions. For example, while most of these denominations regularly consigned one another to hell over matters as seemingly insignificant as baptismal formulas or ritual foot-washing, even groups as antithetical as broad-minded Arminian Disciples of Christ and radically Calvinist, isolationist Primitive Baptists shared ministers, meeting houses, and a common religious language and set of knee-jerk reactions. Even within particular denominations themselves, decisions over what relationship Christians...

    • 2. Men and Machines: Freedom, Conformity, and the Complexities of Southern Evangelical Thought
      (pp. 22-40)

      Long before it achieved its place of cultural centrality in the South, evangelicalism, as it emerged during the mid-1700s, distinguished itself from other forms of Protestantism by stressing individual conversion and voluntaristic church government. These ideas were new and challenging—as radical to some religious conservatives as deism or infidelity. In the South, early Baptists and Methodists further challenged the social hierarchy as they claimed equality among men, women, and Africans. In short, evangelical thinking blossomed among cultural outsiders and iconoclasts.

      During the period from about 1790 to 1835, or the “Second Great Awakening,” these ideals coupled with the methods...


    • [SECTION 2 Introduction]
      (pp. 41-50)

      Leonidas L. Polk had a habit of signing his correspondence, “In Haste, L.L.P.” Indeed, L. L. Polk was a man incessantly in haste to achieve some measure of success greater than that preceding it; he captured Tocqueville’s characterization of the restless entrepreneurial American. Born in 1837 to Federalist, Presbyterian planters in Anson County owning thirty-two slaves, Polk was educated at the Presbyterian enclave of Davidson College, though as a young man he was caught up in the revivalism of the local Baptists and affiliated with the denomination for the rest of his life. Eventually Polk sat on the board of...

    • 3. The Alliance Vorzeit
      (pp. 51-67)

      Even though certain intellectual and religious components shaped the Populist movement, it was also tied to specific social, economic, and political developments of the late nineteenth century. Leaving political developments for the next section, this chapter examines the social and economic factors that helped determine the shape and timing of Populism or, more specifically, the Farmers’ Alliance. The most important of these factors were a growing urban/rural divide in the South and nation, the marginalization of agriculture in the national culture, political sphere, and economy, and national debates over the nature of money and the role of the federal and...

    • 4. Religion and the Rise of the Farmers’ Alliance
      (pp. 68-92)

      For all of the excitement and success it generated, the Farmers’ Association was not to be the predominant cooperative organization among North Carolina farmers. Nevertheless, the Association laid the groundwork for the ways in which the Alliance would address the problems facing farmers. Like the Association, in order to address the problems of credit, low commodities prices, and high overhead costs, the North Carolina Alliance stressed “progressive” farming techniques, urged farmers to be self-reliant, and embraced a number of soft money financial reforms. The Alliance furthermore adhered to the Association’s goals of economic and political cooperation. Also, like the Association,...


    • [SECTION 3 Introduction]
      (pp. 93-102)

      In January 1893 Marcus Josiah Battle lost his farm. This premier Allianceman of Edgecombe County, born to a clan that included aristocrats, manufacturers, and college presidents, had purchased this unimproved property thirty-three years earlier for just over $33 an acre. Yet now at age fifty-five, this Civil War veteran saw his land, which had all the advantages of good soil and close proximity to roads and railroads, auctioned off for less than $3 an acre to settle his tax bill. He also lost his horse and mule team.

      M. J., as he was usually known, was not alone among his...

    • 5. “Pure Democracy and White Supremacy”: The Democratic Party and the Farmers’ Alliance
      (pp. 103-121)

      The Populist revolt among white farmers was a protest against the state’s Democratic Party; for blacks, it was against the Republican Party. As an instance of political fratricide, the Populist drama played itself out against the backdrop of thirty years of geographical, social, religious, and cultural tensions that became politicized in 1892. As it entered the political fray, the white Alliance joined with urban reformers who comprised the reform or “progressive” wing of the state Democratic Party in order to enact its legislative agenda. But that partnership was tenuous. After an open break between the Alliance and the non-Alliance members...

    • 6. Crossing the Rubicon: The Populist Revolt of 1892
      (pp. 122-138)

      For white Alliancefolk in North Carolina, Populism was a revolt against the Democratic Party—a product of the closeness of the Alliance to the white man’s party and of increasing and unresolved tensions between the two. Few white Republicans in the mountains and Quaker Belt became Populists; the Alliance never built the strong constituency or political connections with the GOP there that it had with the Democrats in the east. Furthermore, since the Republicans constituted a party of protest against the Democrats in these regions anyway, a new party opposing the Democracy had little practical value locally or nationally. Thus,...

    • 7. Religion and the Populist Revolt
      (pp. 139-156)

      To its followers and detractors alike, Populism evinced the ethos, language, and crusading spirit of a religious movement. Democrats and Republicans, for example, ridiculed the way Populists on the stump assumed rural financial problems had apocalyptic consequences; Populists, on the other hand, considered their rallies safe places for women and children because of their paucity of swearing and inebriation, and they welcomed sobriquets such as “calamity howler.” “We may thank the enemies of the people for the very appropriate name of ‘calamity howler,’” Populist J. F. Click remarked, reminding his readers that in the “Good Book . . . God...

    • 8. Victory, Defeat, and Disfranchisement, 1893–98
      (pp. 157-176)

      While a few Democrats and Populists hoped to mend the breach created by the 1892 election, and while churches hoped their members would settle back into fellowship with one another, it soon became evident that this was not to be the case. The hostilities that flew during the 1892 campaign, and especially the “abuses,” “rotten eggs,” and election fraud perpetrated by the Democrats lingered long in the hearts of Populists, and so in 1894 they struck up a fusion agreement with their former Republican nemeses to remove these Democratic perpetrators from office. Before their defeat in the white supremacy campaign...

  10. EPILOGUE: The End of an Era, the End of a Dream
    (pp. 177-184)

    What do you do when Satan wins? That was the question facing evangelical Populists after 1900. Of course, some had already found refuge back in the party of white supremacy, but others, disgusted with Democratic tactics and disfranchisement, were left with no obvious places to go. Despising the Democrats, yet out of step with much of the Republican agenda, Populists were in many ways victims of their own absolutized eschatology. Their worst nightmares now a reality, all options seemed dismal.

    For black Populists, what to do politically was largely not for them to decide; the Democrats had done that for...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 185-208)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-220)
  13. Index
    (pp. 221-232)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-234)