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Revolt of the Rednecks

Revolt of the Rednecks: Mississippi Politics, 1876-1925

ALBERT D. KIRWAN
Copyright Date: 1951
Edition: 1
Pages: 356
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130j720
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  • Book Info
    Revolt of the Rednecks
    Book Description:

    In post-Civil War years agriculture in Mississippi, as elsewhere, was in a depressed condition. The price of cotton steadily declined, and the farmer was hard put to meet the payments on his mortgage. At the same time the corporate and banking interests of the state seemed to prosper. There were reasons for this beyond the ken of the poor hill farmer -- the redneck, as he was popularly termed. But the redneck came to regard this situation -- chronic depression for him while his mercantile neighbor prospered -- as a conspiracy against him, a conspiracy which was aided and abetted by the leaders of his party.

    Revolt of the Rednecks: Mississippi Politics 1876--1925is a study of the struggle of the redneck to gain control of the Democratic Party in orger to effect reforms which would improve his lot. He was to be led into many bypaths and sluggish streams before he was to realize his aim in the election of Vardaman to the governorship in 1903. For almost two decades thereafter the rednecks were to hold undisputed control of the state government. The period was marked by many reforms and by some improvement in the economic plight of the farmer -- an improvement largely owing to factors which were uninfluenced by state politics. The period closes in 1925 with the repudiation and defeat at the polls of the farmers' trusted leaders, Vardaman and Bilbo.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5073-4
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-viii)
    A. D. Kirwan
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. CHAPTER I THE STRUGGLE FOR THE NEGRO VOTE
    (pp. 3-17)

    MISSISSIPPI politics in the period from 1875 to 1890 is a tale of almost ceaseless intraparty struggle. To be sure this is characteristic of politics in many places and in many periods. But whereas in sections blessed with a two-party system the struggles climaxed in interparty contests, the main struggle in Mississippi was for control of the Democracy. When Radical Governor Adelbert Ames resigned in 1876 while undergoing impeachment trial, he left the opposition in complete control. To many whites this recapture of the state government by the Democrats seemed like a return to ante-bellum political conditions. But new factors...

  5. [Map]
    (pp. None)
  6. CHAPTER II SUPPRESSION OF INDEPENDENTS
    (pp. 18-26)

    A PARTY composed of such “incongruous and unsympathetic elements” as the Mississippi Democrats could be held together only by an appeal to some sentiment which would transcend all lesser motives of individual interest. Such an appeal was found in “white supremacy.” White Democrats who sought to contest policies fixed by leaders of the party were cried down as dangers to the state and traitors to their race. It was pointed out again and again that the Radicals who had controlled the state only a few years before were still trying to organize the Negroes and vote them as formerly. Disunion...

  7. CHAPTER III PARTY MACHINERY
    (pp. 27-39)

    THE highest party authority in the state was the Democratic state convention. While it was in session it exercised unlimited authority concerning party affairs. It apportioned among the counties representation within the convention and decided the admission of contesting delegations. It fixed the rules for nomination procedure, named candidates for state offices, and drew up a statement of party policy. The convention was in session, however, only a few days each year, and when it adjourned its authority devolved upon a state Democratic executive committee. This committee was the supreme governing body of the state party until its authority was...

  8. CHAPTER IV AGRARIAN DISCONTENT
    (pp. 40-49)

    ONE cannot view the politics of Mississippi without seeing that sectional interests within the state produced political issues. In the northwest comer of the state, in a region formed by the confluence of the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, is the Delta. Here centuries of inundations have built up an alluvial soil thirty feet deep. It is a region of large plantations heavily populated by Negro tenants, and the rich soil is almost exclusively devoted to the production of long-staple cotton. Fifteen hundred pounds to the acre is not an unusual yield in the Delta, whereas in other parts of the...

  9. [Map]
    (pp. None)
  10. CHAPTER V CORPORATIONS AND THE FARMERS
    (pp. 50-57)

    ONE of the Democratic leaders of the state who had contributed mightily to the victory of 1875-1876 was Ethelbert Barksdale, editor of the JacksonClarion. Barksdale was frequently denounced as an “ultra-Bourbon” by editors professing to be “progressive.” But Barksdale was an advocate of railroad regulation, the elimination of the convict lease system, cheap currency, free coinage of silver, the sub-treasury, and other programs not generally identified with “Bourbonism.” Barksdale did not approve of Lamar’s policy of conciliating northern Republicans and had taken issue with him on his eulogy of Sumner. When Lamar supported the report of the Electoral Commission...

  11. CHAPTER VI CALLING THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION
    (pp. 58-64)

    BY THE late 1880’s it had become apparent to many leaders in Mississippi that the body politic was unable either to assimilate or to eliminate “the unholy African leaven.” With the growth of class and factional divisions within the white man’s party, there was a growing tendency for both factions to compete for the Negro vote. Negro domination once more seemed possible when all that stood between the Negro majority and control were “election methods and contrivances, … not sanctioned by law, and which were in themselves harmful to the cause of public morals.”¹ “With each succeeding election after 1875,”...

  12. CHAPTER VII FRANCHISE AND APPORTIONMENT
    (pp. 65-84)

    AFTER the passage of the convention bill, opposition to the movement seemed to fade out. However, there were fewer votes cast in the election of delegates to the convention than in any election since the war. Under the constitution of 1868 practically all adult males, Negro and white, were qualified electors. Of the 262,000¹ qualified electors, only 40,000 votes were cast for the delegates from the state at large. In Hinds, the largest county in the state with 8,500 electors, only 540 votes were cast, and in Sharkey County which had 1,600 qualified electors, only four votes were cast.² Of...

  13. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  14. CHAPTER VIII THE FARMERS REVOLT
    (pp. 85-92)

    IF THE farmers of Mississippi thought to improve their lot by means of a new constitution they were not long in having their illusion dispelled. Their real aim in their struggle for political control had been an improvement of their economic plight. A readjustment in the balance of political power, they thought, would effect a readjustment of economic power. They believed that their depressed economic condition was not the result of natural causes of supply and demand in a free economy. Rather it was due to the monopolistic hold which banks, railroads, manufacturers, and “middlemen” had gained over the governmental...

  15. CHAPTER IX POPULISM
    (pp. 93-102)

    THE ONE-PARTY system which prevailed in Mississippi after 1876 vested the power of election in the party convention and control of the convention in the hands of comparatively few men. The dissatisfaction which this one-party system produced was closely linked with economic depression. In the period 1880-1890 conditions were generally bad, but after the latter date they grew worse. In 1878 production of cotton in the South had equalled the mark set in 1860, and thereafter it steadily increased until by 1890 the production of 1860 was doubled. This increase was reflected by a drop in price. At the same...

  16. CHAPTER X McLAURINISM
    (pp. 103-121)

    UNTIL 1895 a well-defined pattern was given to Mississippi politics by such issues as free silver and the farm revolt. By that date the silver men had triumphed. Practically all Mississippi politicians at least paid lip service to the white metal, although a few irreconcilables, such as Stone and Catchings, remained adamant. But even Walthall, who had been born a conservative on economic questions, and George who had become one with the years were converted. The farm revolt, given a sedative by the reaction to Populism, was to seethe beneath the surface for almost a decade, when it was to...

  17. CHAPTER XI THE PRIMARY LAW OF 1902
    (pp. 122-135)

    UNTIL 1902 party nominations were almost completely under control of state and county executive committees. At times these committees made nominations with no pretense of submission to party membership. State and district officers were uniformly nominated by conventions. Sometimes county conventions nominated county officials, but there was no uniformity in this respect. In the late 1870’s some of the counties began holding primaries for local offices, and the movement grew considerably during the next two decades. The decision of whether or not to hold a county primary was altogether in the hands of the county executive committee. Where county primaries...

  18. CHAPTER XII NEW SECTIONAL ALIGNMENTS
    (pp. 136-143)

    IN ADDITION to the time-worn conflict between Delta and hill country, new issues were developing which were to confound an already confused geographic-political division within the state. Since these new issues were to have considerable influence in the outcome of the first primary election it is necessary to trace their development.

    The first uniform school system in Mississippi was established in 1870 under Radical Republican rule.¹ Each county and each city of five thousand population was made a school district, and free schools were to be maintained for a period of four months each year. Normal schools for training Negro...

  19. CHAPTER XIII THE FIRST PRIMARY ELECTION
    (pp. 144-161)

    THE NEW leader was James K. Vardaman, editor of the GreenwoodCommonwealth. He was no newcomer to state politics, having served two terms in the state legislature and having twice attempted to win the Democratic nomination for governor. Both times he had failed—once defeated by McLaurin himself, the second time by Longino with McLaurin’s backing.¹ These defeats, however, were at the hands of the convention bosses. He had never had a chance to carry his cause to the people. The passage of the primary law in 1902 gave him this chance.

    Vardaman always claimed to be “a scholar of...

  20. CHAPTER XIV SOCIAL REFORM
    (pp. 162-177)

    WRITING on the eve of the election some anti-Vardaman papers admitted that they had overplayed the racial feature of Vardaman’s program. “Whether Critz or Vardaman attains suzerainty today,” said the Port GibsonReveille, “the negroes of Mississippi are perfectly safe and assured of good government and protection.” The sentiment was echoed by the Vardaman press a few days later. “The victory,” they said, “… conveys no menace to any class or color of good citizens. Now that the election clamor is over no more will be heard of this.”¹

    In his inaugural Vardaman’s views on the Negro received less attention...

  21. CHAPTER XV THE ELECTION OF 1907
    (pp. 178-190)

    EARLY in Vardaman’s administration Senator Money announced that he would not be a candidate for re-election in 1907, and speculation began at once as to his successor. Congressman John Sharp Williams had had senatorial ambitions for some time, and it was assumed that he would run. On the other hand, Vardaman was young, ambitious, and had won a remarkable victory over the McLaurin forces in 1903. The constitution would not permit his succeeding himself as governor. What more likely than that he should aspire to Money’s seat? Disturbed over this prospect the Yazoo CityHerald, admirer of both Vardaman and...

  22. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  23. CHAPTER XVI THE SECRET CAUCUS
    (pp. 191-210)

    VARDAMAN accepted his defeat at the hands of Williams in good grace, and after his retirement from office in January, 1908, continued to make his home in Jackson, where he began publication of a newspaper called theIssue. Meanwhile Noel had been inaugurated governor, and Williams had taken his seat in the United States Senate as a colleague of Anse McLaurin. At Christmas time in 1909, McLaurin died suddenly at his home in Brandon, and the legislature soon to assemble would have the unexpected duty of choosing his successor.

    United States senators were still chosen by the legislature, but since...

  24. CHAPTER XVIII THE ELECTION OF 1911
    (pp. 211-231)

    IMMEDIATELY after the senate bribery investigation Percy proposed that he and Vardaman enter a joint canvass for a primary election to be held in November, 1910. If the election went against him, Percy said, he would resign when the legislature met in 1911. Vardaman accepted the proposal in principle but suggested several changes. The primary, he thought, should be held in August instead of November, Percy should resign “immediately” in case of an adverse vote, Governor Noel’s agreement to appoint the winner should be obtained, and the loser should promise to support the winner in the regular 1911 primary for...

  25. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  26. CHAPTER XVIII OLD AND NEW FACTIONS
    (pp. 232-240)

    ALTHOUGH routed in the election of 1911, the anti-Vardaman wing of the party did not give up the struggle. A few weeks after the election the Noel administration filed suit against Vardaman to make him account for all contingent funds he handled while governor. Rankled by the repudiation of the people, Percy publicly invited Vardaman to join him in requesting an investigation of the Secret Caucus by the United States Senate. If Vardaman’s charges were true, he said, he, Percy, should be in prison. If they were false, Vardaman was unworthy to serve in the Senate. Percy’s motive in this...

  27. CHAPTER XIX THE RISE OF BILBO
    (pp. 241-258)

    THE CONTROVERSY between Brewer and Bilbo over the investigation of the penitentiary was but the opening salvo of a violent struggle to be fought between them in the courts, in the legislative halls, in the press, and at the polls. Their feud was to accentuate class antagonisms which had been dividing the state since the advent of Vardaman into high office a decade before. Factional and partisan politics were to be introduced into all public questions. The period was to be marked by an utter abandonment of restraint and a complete absence of dignity in the settlement of disputes.

    From...

  28. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  29. CHAPTER XX REFORM–AND SCANDAL
    (pp. 259-272)

    THE LEGISLATURE which met in January, 1916, contained only forty veterans of the previous session. A contest for the speakership developed between Oscar Johnston of Coahoma, Joseph E. Norwood of Pike, and M. S. Conner of Covington. Bilbo was known to be opposed to Johnston and a warm friend of Conner’s father. Johnston was from the Delta but seemed to lack the united support of that section. Affairs of the Yazoo Delta Levee Board had provoked a factional quarrel that was said to be responsible for Johnston’s poor showing in the election of a speaker. Conner was chosen on the...

  30. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  31. CHAPTER XXI THE FACTION DIVIDES
    (pp. 273-291)

    WHEN Vardaman joined John Sharp Williams in the Senate in 1913 there were signs that a truce might be reached between the two senators,¹ but this went aground on the rocks of federal patronage and government policy. Under an old patronage agreement representatives were to name, with certain exceptions, postmasters in their districts, while senators had the allotment of judicial and treasury officials. Vardaman and Williams at first could not come to terms on a division of their share, but eventually an arrangement was made whereby Vardaman was to have the naming of the marshals and their deputies, while Williams...

  32. CHAPTER XXII EXIT VARDAMAN
    (pp. 292-306)

    EARLY in Bilbo’s administration jockeying began within the old Vardaman-Bilbo faction for the succession to the governorship. Chief aspirants for the faction’s support were Ross Collins, the attorney-general; H. E. Blakeslee, the commissioner of agriculture; and Lee Russell, the lieutenant-governor, who had Bilbo’s support. By the spring of 1916 it was noted that Bilbo and Collins, who had been close friends for eight years, were no longer so and that Bilbo was consulting Judge Robert Mayes on state legal business instead of the attorney-general. It was rumored that Collins had refused to step aside in Russell’s favor and was resolved...

  33. CHAPTER XXIII CONCLUSION
    (pp. 307-314)

    THROUGHOUT the period from 1876 to 1925 the central thread in Mississippi politics is a struggle between economic classes, interspersed with the personal struggles of ambitious men. Before the Civil War agriculture had been the dominant influence in Mississippi society. Industry was almost a negligible quantity. Almost everyone was engaged in agricultural pursuits, and leaders in thought and society were representatives of the agricultural class. Despite social differences existing between small farmer and big planter, there was a remarkable similarity in their economic interests.

    The Civil War had effected great changes in economic conditions. The political and economic dominance of...

  34. CRITICAL ESSAY ON AUTHORITIES
    (pp. 315-320)
  35. INDEX
    (pp. 321-328)