The modern Democratic Party in
North Carolina arose out of opposition to so-called "radical"
reconstruction efforts led by the Republican-controlled federal
government in the 1860s and 1870s. The Conservative Party, a coalition
of former Democrats and Whigs who opposed federal intervention in state
affairs, won control of the General Assembly in 1870 and began to
reverse some of the laws and policies established by the
Reconstruction-era Republicans. In 1876 the Conservatives changed their
name to Democrats and popular Civil War governor Zebulon Vance was
returned to the state's highest office. In the eyes of many white North
Carolinians, the state had been "redeemed."
Under the encouragement of the
Democrats, whose policies aided business interests, the state began a
rapid process of industrialization. Textile mills were built throughout
the Piedmont, and the state's tobacco and furniture industries grew
Sources: William S. Powell, North
Carolina through Four Centuries. Chapel Hill: University of
North Carolina Press, 1989
The right to vote is called the
franchise, thus disfranchisement is the removal of voting rights. This
became an issue during the campaign of 1898 when Democratic leaders
suggested that the only sure way to prevent "negro domination" in North
Carolina -- especially in parts of the state where African Americans
outnumbered whites -- was first to return the Democrats to power and
then to pass legislation effectively preventing African Americans from
voting. The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution made it impossible
for the states to deny the vote to African Americans outright, but many
Southern states, beginning with Mississippi in 1890, enacted laws that
worked to prevent most African Americans from voting. These new voting
requirements included a poll tax and a literacy test and gave greater
authority to local election officials. In the 1898 campaign in North
Carolina, the Populists warned that if the Democrats went through with
their plan for disfranchisement, they would pass laws that, by
extension, also denied the vote to poor whites.
After the Democratic victory, the
new North Carolina legislature began work on an amendment to the
Constitution regarding voting laws. These new acts were passed in 1900,
and would significantly decrease participation by African Americans in
statewide elections for decades to come.
Michael Perman, Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in
the South, 1888-1908. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2001. See
chapter 8: "Defeating Fusion II: North Carolina, 1898-1900."
The depression of the 1880s hit
small farmers especially hard. Farmers in the midwest formed
organizations to advocate for reform of monetary policies and to
attempt to curb the influence of big business. The largest of these
organizations was the National Farmers Alliance, which incorporated
many statewide groups, including the North Carolina Farmers
Association. North Carolinian Leonidas LaFayette Polk, former state
secretary of agriculture and editor of the Progressive Farmer,
was a national leader in the Alliance until his death in 1892.
The Farmers Alliance first
advocated reform within the Democratic Party, but when the Democrats
proved reluctant to change their business-friendly policies, many
"Alliancemen" left in favor of a new party, the People's, or, Populist
Party. However, as it became clear in North Caorlina in 1898, many
Southern farmers who had supported the platform of the Populists, would
soon return to the Democratic Party. At the dawn of the twentieth
century, the Farmers Alliance had lost a great deal of its influence
and the Populist Party no longer posed a serious challenge.
William S. Powell, North Carolina through Four Centuries.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989; James Truslow Adams, ed., Dictionary of
American History. Second Edition. New York: Scribner, 1940.
Frustrated by Democratic
domination of nearly every election since 1876, the Republican and
Populist parties decided to combine forces in an effort to gain control
of the state government. The coalition was dubbed "fusion" by the
Democratic press. Instead of running competing candidates on separate
tickets, state Republican and Populist leaders divided the offices and
ran on a single ticket. The parties first combined in 1894,
successfully taking control of the state legislature. They joined
forces again in 1896, claiming control of the legislature and several
prominent offices in each election. Populist spokesman Marion Butler
was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1894, while Republican leader Daniel
Russell was elected governor in 1896. Similar attempts at fusion were
made in other Southern states, but nowhere was it as successful as in
Sources: William S. Powell, North Carolina
through Four Centuries. Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 1989; Helen G. Edmonds, The Negro and Fusion
Politics in North Carolina, 1894-1901. Chapel Hill: UNC
News and Observer
By 1898, the Raleigh News
and Observer was the self-proclaimed "largest daily in
North Carolina." Under the editorship of staunch Democrat Josephus
Daniels, the paper was strongly Democratic, and became the closest
thing to an official party organ.
Daniels was involved in the
Democrats' 1898 campaign from the beginning, working with Furnifold
Simmons and other party leaders to formulate strategy. Daniels wrote
later that "The News and Observer was the
printed voice of the campaign." In the months leading up to the
November election, the News and Observer
hammered away at Republican and Populist leaders and maintained the
party's steady cry of white supremacy. Daniels wrote,
. . . The News and
Observer was relied upon to carry the Democratic message
and to be the militant voice of White Supremacy, and it did not fail in
what was expected, sometimes going to extremes in its partisanship. Its
correspondents visited every town where the Fusionists were in control
and presented column after column day by day of stories of every Negro
in office and every peculation, every private delinquency of a Fusion
office-holder. (Editor in Politics , p. 295.)
One of the most effective tools of
the campaign was the paper's use of editorial cartoons, which usually
ran on the front page. Daniels and cartoonist Norman Jennett came up
with the topics, which frequently ridiculed Governor Daniel Russell and
North Carolina's African American politicians. At a party celebrating
the Democratic victory, a motion was passed to thank the News
and Observer for its leadership throughout the campaign.
Sources: Alf Pratte, "Daniels,
Josephus." In Dictionary of National Biography,
vol. 6. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999; Josephus Daniels, Editor
in Politics. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1941.
The Populist Party, sometimes
called the People's Party, grew out of the national Farmers Alliance,
an organization of small farmers. The Farmers Alliance favored monetary
reform (especially the free coinage of silver), low-interest loans, and
fair trade. The Alliance originally advocated for reform within the
Democratic Party. Failing that, the "alliancemen" ventured into
politics on their own.
The Populists first received a
significant number of votes in North Carolina in 1892. In that
election, the votes received statewide by the Populists and Republicans
were, when combined, greater than those received by the Democrats. The
voters sent a clear signal that the Democratic Party was no longer the
party of the majority.
Despite clear policy differences,
especially in the area of monetary reform, the Populists and
Republicans joined together in the 1894 campaign, splitting the offices
on the ballot in a fusion agreement. It worked, with the new fusion
government taking control of the legislature and winning again in the
election of 1896.
In the election of 1898, the
Democrats effectively reclaimed many of the conservative white voters
who had fled to the Populists. The incessant and effective white
supremacy campaign by the Democrats overwhelmed the opposition. By the
closing months of the campaign, even the Populists were coming over to
the side of white supremacy, publishing racist editorials and cartoons
in their newspapers, with the only difference being that the Populists
accused the Democrats of placing African Americans in state office.
Although the Populists again fused
with the Republicans in 1900, the election of 1898 had effectively
destroyed the party. By the early twentieth century it ceased to be a
viable third party, both in North Carolina and nationwide, and the
two-party system was firmly established.
G. Edmonds, The Negro and Fusion Politics in North Carolina,
1894-1901. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1951.
The Progressive Farmer
was founded in 1886 by Leonidas LaFayette Polk, the former secretary of
agriculture for North Carolina and a leading advocate on behalf of
farmers. The paper contained practical advice for farmers and some
discussion of statewide political issues. In 1887, the paper became the
official organ of the North Carolina State Farmers Alliance. As the
Alliance became more politically active, so too did the Progressive
After Polk's death in 1892, the
paper continued to be published, openly supporting the Populist
candidates in the statewide elections of 1894 and 1896. In 1898, under
the leadership of editor Clarence Poe, the Progressive
Farmer initially stayed away from the contentious election
before finally being drawn in late in the campaign. In October, the
paper published an election supplement, which attacked the Democrats
for ignoring pressing issues to concentrate solely on race. The
supplement included several racist cartoons, which accused the
Democrats of placing African Americans in statewide office.
Although the Populist party faded
after the elections of 1898 and 1900, the Progressive Farmer,
returning to issues of more practical use to farmers, thrived. The
paper changed hands several times, but remained a mainstay in farming
households and continues to be published today.
Sources: William D. Poe, Jr., "The Progressive
Farmer, 1886-1903." M.A. Thesis, University of South
Toward the end of the 1898
campaign, especially in southeastern North Carolina, groups of men in
red shirts appeared at rallies and rode on horseback and in wagons
through African American neighborhoods, brandishing shotguns at the
terrified onlookers. Josephus Daniels suggests that the Red Shirts were
the idea of South Carolina Senator Ben Tillman, who had used them in a
campaign as early as 1876. Tillman made several speeches in North
Carolina in the 1898 campaign and was usually accompanied by Red
Shirts. Although there were several acts of violence against African
Americans attributed to the Red Shirts, it was thought that their
menacing presence alone was enough to intimidate potential Populist or
Republican voters. Daniels wrote, "If you have never seen three hundred
red-shirted men towards sunset with the sky red and the red shirts
seeming to blend with the sky, you cannot conceive the impression it
Sources: Josephus Daniels, Editor in Politics.
Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1941; Hugh T. Lefler, ed., North
Carolina History Told by Contemporaries. Chapel Hill: UNC
The Republican Party in North
Carolina was formed in 1867, primarily by former unionists and men who
had recently relocated to the state. William Woods Holden, editor of
the North Carolina Standard and later governor,
was the most prominent spokesman of the party. From its inception, the
party welcomed African Americans.
As former Confederates were
pardoned and allowed to vote and participate in government again, they
gave strength to the new Conservative party, later renamed the
Democratic Party. Taking advantage of popular opposition to the
reconstruction policies of the Republican-led federal government, the
Democrats regained control of the North Carolina legislature in 1870
and the governor's office in 1876.
Republican candidates continued to
receive a significant number of votes in the 1880s and early 1890s, but
they were never able to achieve a majority. The Republicans finally
found success at the ballot box by running a joint campaign with the
upstart Populist Party in 1894. Although the Republicans and Populists
had differences, most notably in their views on monetary policy -- the
Populists favored the free coinage of silver as a means of deflating
the currency while the Republicans remained committed to the gold
standard -- they found enough common ground to work together. After the
new fusion government took office, they successfully reformed election
laws, which made it easier for people to vote, and returned county
government to local control.
The fusion ticket won again in
1896, with Republican Daniel Russell elected as governor, but when the
1898 election neared, the relations between the Populists and the
Republicans began to sour. Having already achieved many of the goals
they set in 1894, they were having a harder time finding areas in which
to cooperate. The two parties finally agreed to run together in 1898,
each acknowledging that this was the only chance they had to beat the
In the 1898 campaign, the
Republicans ran largely on their past successes and appealed to the
patriotism of voters in asking them to support the party of President
William McKinley, especially with the nation at war with Spain.
However, from the beginnings of the campaign, the Republicans were
forced into a defensive posture. The Democrats were relentless in their
cries of Republican corruption and "negro domination" and the
Republicans were never able to get around these accusations and raise
issues of their own. After Daniel Russell's term expired in 1901, it
would be 71 years before another Republican was elected governor in
Sources: William S. Powell, North Carolina
through Four Centuries. Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 1989; Jeffrey J. Crow and Robert F. Durden, Maverick
Republican in the Old North State: A Political Biography of Daniel L.
Russell. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1977.
The coinage of silver became a
major political issue in the decades following the Civil War. The
silver dollar had slowly fallen out of circulation and gold had become
the dominant form of sound currency. As the country continued to expand
to the west, new mining ventures uncovered increased quantities of
silver. Many southern and western farmers, who had been hit hard by the
uncertain economy beginning in the 1870s, came to believe that the
federal government's reliance on gold currency was a key cause of the
farmers' financial problems. Farmers and their advocates began to argue
that more expanded coinage of silver and a return to full bimetallism
would increase the value of silver and result in a more equitable
distribution of wealth.
The cry of "free silver" was taken
up by the national Farmers Alliance and, later, the Populist Party.
Calling for the unlimited coinage of silver at a ratio of 16:1 to that
of gold (a ratio originally set by the federal government in 1830), the
Populists argued that an expansion of the currency system would result
in increased (but controlled) inflation, which they said would improve
the economic standing of small farmers by raising crop prices and
reducing the value of their debt. The cause of "free silver" was
opposed by the Republican Party, which counted eastern businessmen and
bankers as its key constituents.
The Republicans and Populists in
North Carolina did not come to an agreement on the silver issue when
they ran together in the elections of 1894 and 1896. However, the
Populists' continued discomfort with the "gold-bug" Republicans was one
of the reasons the party originally tried to fuse with the Democrats in
1898. Silver was also an important campaign issue for the Democrats. In
the rally that opened the campaign, the two main issues were announced
as the "white man and the white metal."
Sources: Lawrence Goodwyn, Democratic
Promise: The Populist Moment in America New York: Oxford
University Press, 1976; Marshall Gramm and Phil Gramm, "The Free Silver
Movement in America: A Reinterpretation." Journal of
Economic History 64, no. 4 (2004): 1108-1129; James Turner,
"Understanding the Populists." The Journal of American History 67, no.
2 (1980): 354-373.
The Wilmington Daily
Record , an African American newspaper, was founded in
1892, but didn't have much success until Alex Manly took over as editor
in 1895. By 1898 it was billing itself as "The Only Negro Daily in the
World." The paper catered to the local African American community, but
in every aspect it resembled the white papers of the time, with a
social column, advice to readers, editorials, and articles reprinted
from other newspapers. The editorial stance of the paper was solidly
Republican, and Manly favored fusion with the Populists as the most
effective way of advancing the interests of African Americans in North
On 18 August 1898, the Daily
Record published an editorial in response to an article by
a Georgia woman who suggested the widespread lynching of African
Americans in order to protect white women. The unsigned editorial --
most often attributed to editor Alex Manly, though possibly written by
associate editor William L. Jeffries -- suggested that relationships
between African American men and white women were far more common than
most whites were willing to admit. Indeed, "Meetings of this kind go on
for some time until the woman's infatuation or the man's boldness bring
attention to them and the man is lynched for rape."
The editorial went unnoticed by
the white press for a couple of days before it was discovered and
reprinted in the Wilmington Star. The Democratic
press rose in an uproar, printing excerpts in papers across the state.
In the Raleigh News and Observer, the editorial
appeared under the headline "Vile and Villanous."
When Wilmington erupted in
violence after the election in November 1898, the office of the
Wilmington Daily Record was one of the targets
of the angry white mob.
Sources: Helen G. Edmonds, The Negro and Fusion
Politics in North Carolina, 1894-1901. Chapel Hill: UNC
Press, 1951; Robert, H. Wooley, "Race and Politics: The
Evolution of the White Supremacy Campaign of 1898 in North Carolina."
Ph. D. Dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1977.