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October 21, 1898: South Carolina Senator Ben Tillman Speaks in Fayetteville

U.S. Senator Ben Tillman of South Carolina spoke to a large crowd in Fayetteville on October 21, 1898. Tillman was a popular figure in southeastern North Carolina, where he was seen as an honest, plainspoken politician with a special regard for the cause of the small farmer. In announcements leading up to the speech, Tillman was hailed as the "saviour of South Carolina" for his role in restoring Democratic control of that state and disenfranchising South Carolina's African Americans.


The Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.), 22 October 1898A WHITE MAN'S DAY.

Eight to Ten Thousand People Out.

TILLMAN MAKES A GREAT SPEECH FOR DEMOCRACY

Yesterday was a a great day for Fayetteville and all this Cape Fear country. It was the occasion of the speaking in behalf of the resotration of white rule in North Carolina by Senator Ben R. Tillman, the Liberator of South Carolina.

Instead of the beautiful October weather which we had been having, the weather changed on Thursday night. It began to rain about 1 o'clock. Friday morning opened with a downpour and there were showers during the most of the day. It is certain that many thousands of those who live some distance from the country railway stations were deterred from starting out in such weather, the rain being at its worst about the time the most of them would have to start from their homes. But notwithstanding this there was a greater crowd in Fayetteville and at the speaking than the old town has seen since the centennial of '89.

The number has been variously estimated at from seven to ten thousand. Many of the multitude who lined the streets and filled the windows en route were not able to attend the speaking.

The great outpouring of the people under such adverse circumstances is suggestive. It should cause those who pursue the business of politics to stop and think. What is the secret of the magic in Tillman's name? Simple that the great body of the"plain people" - those who constitute nine tenths of our voters - believe in his honesty and truthfulness. Without meaning any personal reflections, of course, we may certainly say that the apathy of the people which has characterized the political campaigns of the past six years has been due to their want of faith in those who were essaying to lead them. They felt that they were bound hand and foot by a machine which cried silver and reform of Republican corruption on the stump only to betray those who trusted it when it came to legislation - such legislation, for example, as the unconditional repeal of the Sherman law, that colossal act of treachery which broke down the endurance of the people and at the very next election turned this goodly commonwealth over to the tender mercies of the negro party.

That is the great lesson of yesterday's demonstration. The people need leaders, but they are somewhat choice in the kind.

THE DAY'S CEREMONIES.

As advertised, the speaking was at the fair grounds. The judges' stand on the race track was used for the speakers' stand, and the grand stand and many rows of benches between constituted the auditorium.

The procession started from the Lafayette hotel at a little before twelve o'clock. Three hundred horsemen in red shirts took the lead. After them came the float drawn by four fine horses and occupied by twenty-two beautiful young ladies in white representing the twenty-two precincts of Cumberland. Then followed a carriage containing Mayor Cook, County Chairman Huske, Major E. J. Hale and Senator Tillman, The next carriage contained Messrs. H. McD. Robinson and J. W. Atkinson and Hons. Thos. W. Mason and W. H. Kitchen. A long line of carriages and other vehicles followed. On either side marched the White Government Unions of Cumberland, escorting their guests the visiting delegations from Wilmington, Bennettsville, and other points in South Carolina, Lumber Bridge, Red Springs, Maxton, Lumberton and others.

Senator Tillman, as the orator in chief was on the programme for the first speech. But at his request Capt. Mason consented to lead off, the Senator explaining that the field was so new to him that he wished to hear a representative North Carolinian speaker present the case as we understood it before venturing upon the novel business of advising the people of another State.

Captain Mason spoke for three quarters of an hour, making an eloquent and forceful address along the lines adopted by the higher class of our State canvassers.

Senator Tillman spoke for an hour and a half. There has been no speaker here since Vance who so moved the multitude. Several times he was about to conclude, but the crowd insisted that he go on. They would have heard him as long as he could speak. He has a very remarkable manner. He is altogether out of the common. His thoughts come clear and logical; he has a ringing voice and imperious gesture; his sentences are well constructed; his illustrations striking and picturesque and bearing the flavor of wholesome country life; his delivery deliberate in the main, but running into great rapidity of utterance at the climaxes.

He said he had never before heard of a State in such a condition of political chaos as North Carolina at the time. In his own State of South Carolina the blacks outnumbered the whites as three to two; whereas in North Carolina there were but half as many blacks as there were whites. In the face of these facts he could not conceive of anything short of idiocy on the part of the whites why they did not use their large majority to prevent negro domination at the very outset. It if were not idiocy, and he knew that the people of North Carolina were far removed from that, then the conclusion was inevitable that the trusted servants of the two wings of what was once Vance's Democracy, namely the Democrats and the Populists, must have been faithless to their duty. They should have found a way to unite at all hazards, in the face of the dreadful reality of negro domination, and in order to prevent the exposure to the world of their noble commonwealth in the pitiable way which the exigencies of the present moment have forced. He blamed both Democrats and Populists for their continued division, but made a telling appeal to the Populists to waive all question of who was to blacme for the failure to co-operate, and to re unite with the majority party of the anti Republicans. When they had restored white rule, they would have ample time to settle their factional differences. By taking his advice the Populists would re-inforce the silver wing of the Democracy and help keep the goldbugs from influencing Democratic party policy.

The speaker apologized for having to say such plain things about his hospitable entertainers, but he was invited to come as an expert to diagnoze the disease of the North Carolina patient and his task would be useless if he failed to use the surgeon's knife unflinchingly. But the multitude assured him that that was precisely what they wanted him to do, and they yelled with delight at every cut into the sore of machine politics. It was evidently an audience of sound minded and sound hearted citizens, bent on hearing advice from the leading political doctor of our day and section. If there were any present whose toes were trod on, they have discreetly kept quiet.

It is conceded on all hands that the great South Carolinian's speech produced a profound impression upon the Democrats and Populists, and that it will cause many of the latter to return to the white man's party. It is a pity that it could not be spoken in every precinct in the State. If so, the issue would not be in doubt for a moment longer.

Chairman Huske, who has shown such great executive capacity throughout this campaign, was master of ceremonies, and presided with ease and dignity. Major Hale introduced Senator Tillman; Mr. H. McD Robinson, Capt. Mason; and Veteran J. W. Atkinson, Capt. Kitchen, who delivered a very strong speech.

The ladies had provided a bountiful feast for the assembled thousands -- so very plentiful, indeed, that there was sufficient for several thousands. more.

Source: The Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.), 22 October 1898, pp. 2-3. Scanned from microfilm.
The North Carolina Election of 1898North Carolina CollectionUNC-Chapel Hill Libraries