Thayer's Note: The gentle reader is invited to bear in mind that I did not write the text on this page; I transcribed it from a book published in 1919. It does not reflect my opinions or language, but those of its author and its time.
The redemption of the state brought relief and delight to the majority of white people in North Carolina. At last they felt decent, effective, responsible government was secure. With the amendments proposed by the convention of 1875 safely ratified, succor could be given the sorely tried East, and peace and prosperity would once more come to the state. Along with this feeling came the determination to prevent at any cost the possibility of a repetition of what the state had endured in the recent past.
The legislature was composed as follows:
Among the republicans were about a dozen negroes and one carpet-bagger, not enough to exert any control even over the action of their helpless minority, but serving nonetheless as a constant warning to the state of what might happen if the democrats grew lax.
Vance was inaugurated amidst the most intense enthusiasm. His inaugural, which began "There is retribution in history," was an address worthy of him, fine in form, content, and spirit, notable for its pledge to the negroes of freedom and opportunity, and in all respects progressive and liberal.
The most important work before the legislature was felt to be the carrying out of the party pledge to adopt some new system of county government, and at once the question was taken up and a new law passed. By its provisions, townships were deprived of any corporate powers, the regular county officers p193 were still to be chosen by the people, but the magistrates, who were to be chosen by the legislature, were given the power to select the county commissioners. The powers of the latter were also limited by requiring the concurrence of the magistrates to many of their more important acts. This assured white government in black counties and this was of course the primary and justifiable reason for its passage. But it also assured democratic control of white counties which were republican, and thus violated every principle of local self-government. It became a sore spot in state politics and after being an important issue for years, played no inconsiderable part in the overthrow of the democratic party.
The next most pressing matter was that of the debt. The holders of the state bonds, particularly those owning bonds issued before the war, were very active during the session of the legislature, urging that some definite action be taken. North Carolinians felt sensitive on the subject and desired some settlement, but there was a fixed resolve not to pay the special tax bonds, and this made it difficult to secure any plan of settlement of the valid debt. A special committee, chosen to report on the debt, recommended that no action be taken at the time, but that a commission be formed to report a plan to the next legislature. Accordingly provision was made for the appointment of a commission consisting of the governor, treasurer, and attorney-general to investigate the situation.
Most of the important work of the legislature requires no extensive notice. Ransom was re-elected to the Senate over O. H. Dockery. A new and excellent election law was passed. The speedy completion of the Western North Carolina Railroad was felt to be a necessity and provision was made for the use of convicts on the work. A state guard was authorized, a state board of health organized, a department of agriculture, immigration, and statistics established, the last largely supported by the inspection tax on fertilizer sold in the state. In education a new and improved school law was passed and provision was made for normal schools for both races. An insane asylum for negroes was established at Goldsboro and provision made for the completion of the p194 Western Hospital at Morganton. Confederate pensions were foreshadowed in an act providing for the payment of $50 to every Confederate soldier who had lost his eye-sight in service.
Politically, the chief interest in 1877 lay in the attempts to organize the so‑called "Hayes Democracy" in the state through the use of Federal patronage. Democrats of course opposed it and were successful in preserving party solidarity. Republican opinion was divided. They desired of course to weaken the majority, but the giving away to democrats of offices which republicans might fill was another matter. The party was not in good circumstances. Factions still prevailed and there was serious friction between the Federal office-holding group and the others aspiring to control, and between carpet-baggers and natives, O. H. Dockery being the leader of the latter group. Throughout his long political career in North Carolina, although he was a man of high character and excellent ability, he never was strong with his party because he uniformly, sometimes at great personal sacrifice, opposed the machine.
The heaviest burden which the republicans had to carry was the situation in the Western Judicial District in the Federal service. The beginning of political activity of the deputy marshals and revenue officers in the state, notably in the west, was coincident with Reconstruction and lasted without interruption for nearly two decades. No more infamous story disgraces the history of the state than that of their bribery, corruption, violence, and intimidation. That they had a difficult task is not to be denied. The violation of the revenue laws was constant and often upheld by public sentiment. The sixth collection district of North Carolina embraced all the state west of Salisbury, some thirty-four counties in all. Two‑thirds of these were mountainous with poor roads and little opportunity for communication and trade with the outside world. From the time of settlement the people of this region had been in the habit of marketing the larger part of their surplus grain and fruit in the form of distilled liquors, and almost every house had its small still which was used, as a rule, for only a few weeks each year. When at the close of p195 the war, the enforcement of the United States internal revenue laws began, it worked a great and genuine hardship. Out of contact with the world, the people regarded the laws as a punishment for participation in the war, and the fact that most of the revenue agents were strangers from the North served only to increase this feeling which was strengthened further by the violence and harshness of the officials in the enforcement of the law. Men of the type of Joseph G. Hester, who was a special agent in 1877, violent, vicious, and utterly false and corrupt, set the standards and gave the service its tone.
Among the deputy marshals and revenue officers there finally developed a system of hunting for people to arrest and even manufacturing offenses, since fees and blackmail were both profitable. Deputy marshals carried signed blank warrants and used them at will. Often they were drunk and frequently violent, not only to those accused or suspected of crime, but even to men and women against whom there was not a breath of suspicion. Finally the practice grew so bad that Judge Dick was compelled to issue orders that deputy marshals should not seek processes themselves, but only execute those which were put into their hands. He also ordered that process should issue only upon the application of the collector or of someone who had informed the collector of the violation of the law.
In 1876 amnesty was declared for all offenses against the revenue laws and blockading grew less and licensed distilleries increased until by 1881 there were fourteen hundred in the state, some eight hundred of which were in the Sixth District. The number of agents and other officials increased steadily as did expenses. It was a well recognized fact that fraud was common and that distillers and tobacco manufacturers were often in collusion with revenue officials. These facts, combined with the unceasing political activity of the officials caused the whole system to be bitterly disliked in the state. The wide-spread hostility found frequent expression in planks of political platforms and resolutions of the legislature. Of the latter, that of the legislature of 1881 is typical.
p196 The present system of internal revenue laws is oppressive and inquisitorial, centralizing in its tendencies and inconsistent with the genius of a free people, legalizing unequal, expensive, and iniquitous taxation, and, as enforced in this state, is a fraud upon the sacred rights of our people and subversive of honest government, prostituted in many instances to a system of political patronage which is odious and outrageous, corrupting public virtue and jeopardizing public liberty, and sustained by intimidation and bribery on the part of revenue officials to debauch the elective franchise.
These things would serve of themselves to explain the dislike of the system prevalent in the state. To them, however, was added another serious related question — that of divided jurisdiction in criminal cases. This served to intensify feeling in the state and attract the notice of many who were uninterested in matters concerning the internal revenue service. At the fall term of Guilford Superior Court in 1876, one Hoskins and two others were indicted for assault and battery. When in March, 1877, they were arrested, they carried the matter to the United States Circuit Court and secured a removal on the ground that they were revenue officers and that the acts charged were done under color of their office. When the case was called in the state court, they plead a lack of jurisdiction and Judge Cox upheld them. It was a clear case of assault and battery disconnected with their official duties and the state appealed, but the Supreme Court, properly in view of the law, sustained the lower court, Judge Rodman alone dissenting. Judge Reade wrote the opinion, prefacing it with this sneering allusion to the argument of counsel. "There was much dissension before us upon the trite subjects of 'State rights' and 'Federal powers,' which used to divide politicians and statesmen, but we have no purpose to ally the Court with either school." The same question was presented in the Deaver case in Rutherford, where the indictment was for a conspiracy to extort money, and the result in the courts was the same.
There was no question about the law; United States officials were entitled to trial in United States courts for acts which they claimed were committed under color of their office. The fact to be remembered, however, in discussing public opinion on the subject, is that there was no possibility of securing p197 the punishment of a Federal official in a Federal court, thanks to packed juries and to biased judges, notably Judge Bond. Consequently the vicious gang of ruffians, who were also Federal officials, were entirely irresponsible and violated the criminal laws of the state with perfect impunity until they were generally hated and dreaded. The cases already cited of their conduct are not isolated nor of exceptional gravity. As an example of others, one revenue officer shot down an old and innocent man for whom he had no warrant, without any excuse whatever, and went unwhipped of justice.
When the campaign of 1878 approached, the vigorous scramble among the democrats for nomination showed how confident the party was of victory. Nor were they deceived. In April the republican state committee met and discussed three possible courses of action: first, allowing politics to drift; second, a formal disbanding of the party; and third, the reorganization of the party for an active campaign. After voting down the first two, they adjourned without taking any action on the third. In July they met again and declared it inexpedient to nominate a ticket since there was no hope of success and it would be a waste of money when there was none in the treasury. On account of the apathy in the party, they recommended a formal disbanding. The underlying reason for this was not the certainty of defeat but the sense of outrage due to the southern policy of President Hayes.
Chief Justice Pearson died in 1878 and Governor Vance after offering the position to George Davis who declined it, appointed W. N. H. Smith. The terms of all the members of the court would expire in 1879 and, provision having been made for reducing the number, only the chief justice and two associates were to be chosen. Opposition to the new chief justice developed almost immediately, Judge David Schenck and Daniel G. Fowle both aspiring to the position. In the dispute over the question of justice arising out of the revenue cases, it was claimed and widely supposed that Judge Smith upheld the Federal side. Judge Schenck had loudly taken an advanced position on the other side and was now offered as a candidate who would properly uphold the rights p198 of the state. The contest became very bitter and little else was discussed politically. Governor Vance was in an awkward position. Naturally he desired Smith, as his appointee, to succeed, but he was himself a candidate for the United States Senate to succeed Merrimon and his supposed sympathy in the judicial contest seemed to endanger his chances.
In the midst of the campaign Judge Schenck's Ku Klux record was aired in a prolonged and bitter series of letters between Paul B. Means, who was managing Schenck's campaign, and Randolph Shotwell. This hurt his case. Then Tourgee published anonymously in a Greensboro paper over the signature "C" a series of brilliant and satirical letters, which, if it had not already been done, put an end to the hopes of both Fowle and Schenck. The latter withdrew in April on the ground that he had become convinced that the rights of the state would not be endangered by the election of Smith. Fowle awaited the action of the convention which nominated Smith for chief justice and Thomas S. Ashe and John H. Dillard for associate justices.
With the judges finally nominated, the senatorial campaign, which had been steadily under way, took the spot-light and held it until after the election, growing steadily in intensity until January 1, when Merrimon, having found that Vance was certain to win, withdrew from the contest.
The campaign for members of Congress and of the legislature was uneventful. The National Greenback party was organized in the state, the republicans encouraging it as much as possible. Quite a number of democrats joined it, but it played a small part in the election. In middle and western North Carolina there was much democratic discontent with the county government law, and a growing feeling that railroad influence was unduly strong in the party. Consequently there were a large number of independent candidates, chiefly for the legislature, the most notable being Josiah Turner, who was elected in Orange. He immediately ran for Congress with republican support but was defeated. When the legislature met he was refused membership in the democratic caucus and during the course of the session so unruly and boisterous, refusing to obey the speaker, John M. Moring, p199 whom he called "a gander head," that he was finally expelled. Thereafter he was identified with the republican party until the coming of the populists to whom he was favorably disposed.
The democrats carried the legislature and elected six members of Congress. One more was, however, seated on a contest. In the Wilmington district A. M. Waddell, who had been in Congress since 1871 was defeated by Daniel M. Russell. Russell had printed as circulars many thousands of copies of Waddell's speech in 1865, advocating negro suffrage, and sent them to democratic voters. Between eight thousand and nine thousand failed to vote and so defeated Waddell.
The legislature was politically divided as follows:
It was a hard-working, serious body and one of the best legislatures in the history of the state. It was in session sixty-six working days and out of about 900 bills and resolutions introduced, passed 450 — a number of which were important.
Early in the session the will of the people at the third trial finally prevailed and Vance was elected to the Senate, defeating Judge R. P. Buxton. On January 28th he presented his resignation to take effect on February 5th.
The accession of Governor Jarvis marked a new era — one of construction. Vance had won distinction as war governor, and doubtless would have increased his reputation in his later administration had he served his term and had his heart been there. But his whole ambition now was directed elsewhere. He had thrown himself heart and soul into the redemption of the state, but he looked to the Senate, not to the governor's chair, for his reward. Governor Jarvis had won his spurs before but his great reputation was still to be made. With a passion for public service that carried him beyond the partisanship of the times, constructive in thought and deed, progressive when reaction was imminent in state affairs, and highly popular with politicians, he took the office of governor and in spite of its small powers made it a center p200 of influence. Not one of the governors of the state made a more definite impress. He regarded himself as the head of his party, responsible for the entire conduct of government, and as such he took an active part in politics. Bold and energetic, he followed ideas to conclusions and never hesitated to assume responsibility. Upright, of spotless integrity, he quickly won public confidence and showed the possibility of leadership in the state. He was above all things a practical man who looked at every question from the angle of common sense and thus was able to accomplish much that he set out to do. Always sanely progressive he was never a radical and still less a reactionary. Not a gifted speaker, he had the rare quality of never speaking without saying something worth p201 while. North Carolina has had but few more valuable citizens and public servants.
Governor Thomas J. Jarvis
The settlement of the debt was regarded as certain through some compromise. Vance in his message discussed the question at length and said:
It is out of the question for us to attempt to pay it at its face value. Indeed, I do not conceive that there is any moral obligation on us to do so, nor do our creditors expect it of us. Quite one-half of our property upon which our bonds were based was wantonly destroyed by consent of a large majority of those who held them, and no court of conscience upon the earth would permit a creditor to destroy one-half of his security and claim full payment out of the remainder. But we can and should pay something.
The commission reported the plan and the legislature turned its attention to the matter. The debt of the state at the time may thus be classified:
|1. Bonds issued before the war, known as "old bonds"||$ 8,371,400.00|
|Interest due on same||5,007,580.50|
|2. Bonds issued since the war by authority of acts before the war||$ 1,774,000.00|
|Interest due on same||1,015,890.00|
|3. Bonds issued since the war, by authority of ordinances of Convention and acts of the General Assembly passed since the war||$ 2,012,045.00|
|Interest due on same||1,160,773.35|
|4. Bonds issued under funding acts of March 10, 1866, and August 20, 1868:|
|Funding act of 1866||$2,231,000.00|
|Interest due on same||1,310,262.00|
|p202 Funding act of 1868||$1,657,600.00|
|Interest due on same||990,987.00|
|5. Bonds issued during the war, by authority of acts passed before the war, for internal improvement purposes, to which are added $215,000 issued for Chatham Railroad under order of Convention of Jan. 30, 1862||$ 914,000.00|
|Interest due on same||674,690.00|
|Total principal of debt, exclusive of special tax bonds||$16,960,045.00|
|Total amount of interest due||10,160,182.85|
|Total amount of principal and interest||$27,120,227.85|
Under the law as passed this debt was to be settled by giving in exchange new thirty year 4 per cent bonds. But a classification of the debt was made and on all the "old" debt except that incurred for the North Carolina Railroad, a total of $2,794,000, 40 per cent would be paid. On a second group 25 per cent would be paid and on a third 15 per cent. The following table gives the figures:
|Class||Amount of debt||Amount payable|
|Forty per cent||$5,577,400||$2,230,960.00|
|Twenty-five per cent||3,261,045||815,261.25|
|Fifteen per cent||3,888,600||598,290.00|
Under the terms of the law the following bonds were not provided for:
|North Carolina Road construction||$2,794,000|
|Williamston & Tarboro Railroad||150,000|
|Western N. C. Railroad special tax||7,960,000|
|Williamston & Tarboro special tax||300,000|
|W. C. & R. Railroad special tax||3,000,000|
|A. T. & O. Railroad special tax||106,000|
But of these the North Carolina Railroad construction bonds secured by a lien on the state's stock in the road amounting with unpaid interest to $3,394,000 were taken care of by an act directing the governor to appoint three commissioners to negotiate with the holders and redeem them, on such terms as might be agreed upon, with new forty year bonds at not higher than 6 per cent interest, to be secured by a lien on the state's stock.
The bonds issued to the Williamston and Tarboro Railroad, amounting to $150,000, without any interest were to be redeemed at the rate of 33⅓ per cent when the company had executed a mortgage upon the road.
The settlement of the debt was completed by the adoption and submission of a constitutional amendment which was ratified by the people at the next election, which forbade the payment of the special tax bonds in the following terms:
Nor shall the General Assembly assume or pay, or authorize the collection of any tax to pay, either directly or indirectly, expressed or implied, any debt or bond incurred, or issued, by authority of the convention of the year one thousand, eight hundred and sixty-eight, nor any debt or bond, incurred or issued by the Legislature of the year one thousand, eight hundred and sixty-eight, either at its special session of the year one thousand, eight hundred and sixty-eight, or at its regular sessions of the years one thousand, eight hundred and sixty-eight, and one thousand, eight hundred and sixty-nine and one thousand, eight hundred and seventy, except the bonds issued to fund the interest on the old debt of the state, unless the proposing to pay the same shall have first been submitted to the people and by them ratified by the vote of a majority of all the qualified voters of the state, at a regular election held for that purpose.
The various compromises proved very acceptable to the holders, and by August 1st bonds amounting to about $4,000,000 p204 had been retired. Steadily the amount increased and by 1889 when the last report by classes was made, the debt stood thus:
|Class||Amount surrendered||New bonds||Left outstanding|
|Forty per cent||$5,081,900||$2,032,760.00||$395,500|
|Twenty-five per cent||2,637,045||659,261.25||624,000|
|Fifteen per cent||3,332,100||499,815.00||556,500|
Since that time redemption has continued until the amount unredeemed in 1903 was $2,000.
As commissioners to settle the North Carolina Railroad bonds the governor appointed George Davis, Montfort McGehee, and Donald Bain. The compromise involved the issue of new 6 per cent bonds to the amount of $2,756,000. Almost at once bonds were issued to the amount of $2,720,000, leaving $36,000 unredeemed. In 1916 the unredeemed bonds amounted to $19,000.
A suit brought by August Belmont to force the collection of the special taxes were dismissed by the Supreme Court of the United States. Other suits brought later with the same ultimate purpose met the same fate.
Early in 1880 W. J. Best and a group of associates proposed to buy the Western North Carolina Railroad which was still unfinished. A special session of the legislature was necessary for this and both the directors of the road and the board of internal improvements advised the governor not to call it. But finally Best and Company put up a certified check to cover the expenses of the session and the governor called it in March and submitted the proposition to it.
The road from Salisbury to Asheville, a distance of •148 miles, was about complete, but the branch from Asheville to Paint Rock, a distance of •forty-five miles, and the branch from Asheville to Murphy, a distance of •135 miles, and thence •twenty miles to Ducktown was unfinished. Best and Company agreed to complete the Paint Rock branch by January, p205 1881, and the Ducktown branch by January, 1885. They were to be allowed to issue mortgage bonds of the road up to $15,000 per mile, deducting $850,000, already issued which they assumed. The state was to receive $600,000 and failure to carry out the contract in full involved forfeiture to the state.
The outstanding advantages of the transaction were the relief of the people from $183,000 of annual taxation, and from the responsibility of the debt of the road, and, most important of all, the rapid completion of the road in which was bound up the future of eleven counties of tremendous natural wealth which had been to this time isolated. Nor was it an unimportant thing for the state to get out of the business of building railroads.
The purchasers of the road were unable to carry out the first part of their contract on time and an extension was made. Best was deserted by his associates at the beginning but a group of railroad men headed by A. B. Andrews came to his aid, and later his interest passed to the Richmond and Danville Railroad and the work was carried to a successful conclusion.
The action of the governor and the legislature was much criticised and the conviction grew stronger in many minds that the railroads were in control of the state. Republicans, as a matter of course, held this view, but it was not confined to them. Democrats in large numbers shared it and the discontent resulting from the belief combined with a natural reaction made democratic strength fall off somewhat.
In 1880 began the first exodus of the negroes. From the close of the war it had been the habit of white people to express the wish that all negroes would leave the state, but when a very small movement of the sort began, there was widespread alarm and angry opposition. The state could not dispense with negro labor, particularly when it was not being replaced by white labor. So the negro was at first advised not to leave, and later, when the movement seemed somewhat more serious, almost commanded to stay. Frederick Douglass made a speech in Raleigh in 1880 in which he said, "A flea in a tar-barrel, without claws, is far better off than a p206 Southern darkey up North without money. The exodus the colored people want is the exodus from ignorance, vice, and lack of thrift."
The departure of the negroes was not on any large scale, and their numbers in the state grew steadily. The census of 1880 showed the negro to be in a majority in twenty-one counties and the creation of Vance County two years later added another black county.
Governor Jarvis was naturally anxious for another term, but he was not without opposition. Daniel G. Fowle and Alfred M. Scales were also in the race and a furious pre-convention campaign took place chiefly between Fowle and Jarvis in which great heat and feeling was ded. Jarvis won in the convention only to enter at once upon another campaign.
For the republicans were in no mood to hold back as they had done in 1878. A state convention was held in which R. P. Buxton was nominated for governor and a platform adopted condemning the sale of the Western North Carolina Railroad, viewing "with alarm" the progress of railroad consolidation, and declaring the democratic party an oligarchy controlled by the railroad corporations and influence. Not less sharply did they condemn the convention of 1875 and the constitutional amendments, declaring the latter invalid. The county government law they characterized as "utterly subversive of the rights of the citizens, the grossest political robbery ever practiced in this or any country, the most damnable fraud ever devised or sanctioned by any political party." Declaring themselves as a party, "ever the friends of education," they demanded better schools.
A joint canvass was arranged. Governor Jarvis developed unexpected strength on the stump and rather outclassed his opponent who in August abandoned the joint debate. The result of the election seems never to have been in much doubt on either side. Jarvis received a majority of six thousand, the democrats carried the legislature with large majorities in each house, and won every seat in Congress except the one from the black Second District which the republicans carried.
Governor Jarvis in his inaugural recommended a railroad p207 commission and with emphasis demanded educational improvement. Under his spur the legislature passed a new and improved school law. A social question, new for North Carolina, was raised when petitions were presented, signed by more than one hundred thousand persons praying the passage of a law prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors. Behind the petitions was a movement of considerable strength and the legislature happened to contain a large number of men favorable to the idea. These, combined with those who thought the popular element so great as to make it good politics, secured the passage of an act submitting the question to referendum of the voters to be held October 1st.
The campaign on the prohibition question did not make a great deal of noise. On June 1st a great anti-prohibition convention was held which unsparingly condemned prohibition on moral, political, social, economic, physical and financial grounds. The resolutions make interesting reading in 1918. The press had comparatively little to say, but long before the election came it was clear that the proposed law would be defeated. Only four counties, Cherokee, Clay, Yancey, and Transylvania had majorities for it and the majority against it was approximately 118,000.
The feeling aroused among democrats by the prohibition campaign was taken advantage of by the republicans. Dr. J. J. Mott, the state chairman, was determined, if such a thing were possible, to break the color line in politics. Negroes had been encouraged in 1881 to vote for prohibition and thus establish a relation at the ballot-box with the democrats which it was hoped would lead to future political affiliation between them. The negroes were already restive because of the feeling that they were not receiving a fair share of the offices, and in May, 1881, held a convention to voice their demands for a fuller recognition of their claims. But Mott's plan of dividing their vote failed because the democrats would have none of the negro, because the negroes were equally determined not to join the democratic party, and because whenever a campaign came the rank and file of republicans employed all the old devices to consolidate the negro vote.
p208 With discontented and anti-prohibition democrats, Mott was more successful. Talk began to be heard of "Liberal" as opposed to "Bourbon" democrats. Those democrats who had joined the greenback party in 1880 were mostly available now, and to them were soon joined a considerable group of new seceders. Notable among these were Charles A. Price, C. A. Cook, Tyre York and J. M. Leach. Mott had high hopes of effectively dividing the democratic party and wrote the assistant postmaster general in 1882 that numerous small offices which were in the hands of "Bourbon" democrats might with advantage be given to liberals if no republicans wanted them. This "pone of bread" argument worked in many individual cases but it did not go far politically. Not enough of the "Bourbons" came over.
In pursuance of the plan, an Anti-Prohibition-Liberal convention was held in which appeared from the republican party William A. Moore, J. J. Mott, James H. Harris, J. E. O'Hara, and I. J. Young. Nothing more was needed to classify the gathering and to locate its ultimate political destination.
A democratic convention met in July and nominated Thomas Ruffin for associate justice and R. T. Bennett for congressman-at‑large, the state not having been redistricted since the new apportionment. The platform denounced Federal interference in elections, the internal revenue system and all its workings, declared the prohibition question settled, endorsed public education in a perfunctory way, declared continued opposition to paying the special tax bonds, and pledged continuance of the county government law or something similar.
The republicans nominated O. H. Dockery for congressman-at‑large and formed a coalition with the liberals who endorsed the nomination. Both groups loudly condemned prohibition and the county government law.
The campaign which followed was interesting. Every device was employed by the democrats to discourage the liberals who were promptly dubbed "assistant republicans." Much was made of the conditions in the Sixth Federal Revenue District and many charges were made against Doctor p209 Mott, the republican chairman who had formerly been collector, whom the democrats justly regarded as the author of their troubles. A committee of the United States Senate, with Vance as chairman, made an exhaustive investigation which was not allowed by the other members to terminate, until after the election, but it was unable to discover anything greatly to Mott's discredit. Undoubtedly the revenue service was an important part of the republican party machinery, there was disclosed considerable corruption on the part of numerous subordinates, but Mott's personal reputation did not suffer from the investigation and it was clearly shown that under his administration the service had steadily improved. The great trump card of the democrats was the Reconstruction record of the republican party, particularly in relation to public finance, and it overmatched the opposition arguments. It was, in truth, an effective argument for as yet there was no answer and could be none until a new generation of leaders as well as of voters had grown up. The conduct of the Federal officials was also still a sore spot which the democrats managed to press hard. Many of the republicans themselves were restive under the revenue control of the party.
The contest between Bennett and Dockery excited great interest and great hope among republicans but resulted in the victory of the former by about 800 majority. Tilden had carried the state in 1876 by 17,000 and Vance by 14,000; Jarvis in 1880 had a majority of 6,000. In truth there was reason for republican rejoicing. Nor was this all. In the Seventh District, which was thought unalterably democratic, R. F. Armfield, the sitting member, was defeated by Tyre York, a liberal. The black district was won for the republicans by J. E. O'Hara, a Halifax negro. The legislature, however, showed little change, and only one liberal was a member.
The session was unimportant. Jarvis again urged a railroad commission but the time was not ripe although each house passed a bill creating one which the other refused. Ransom was re-elected to the Senate over William Johnston who received the liberal and republican support.
p210 The alliance of the republicans and liberals thus made endured through the next campaign, at the end of which most of the liberal leaders had become republicans. In 1884 the republican and liberal conventions met in Raleigh at the same time and while there was pretended separation, to all intents and purposes they were only two divisions of the same body, acting together in all things and adopting a common platform.
The liberal convention was presided over by William Johnston. The former democrats already mentioned were in evidence reinforced by a number of republicans including P. H. Winston and Thomas P. Devereux. The platform advocated a county government law which would restore the election of all officials to the people. It condemned the internal revenue laws, endorsed the Blair Bill and a moderate protective tariff, demanded the elimination of sectional strife and closed with a declaration in favor of equal political rights to all.
The republicans agreed to this and a joint conference committee then chose the ticket. It was as follows: governor, Tyre York, attorney-general, C. A. Cook, both liberals; lieutenant-governor, W. T. Faircloth; secretary of state, G. W. Stanton; treasurer, Washington Duke; auditor, F. M. Lawson; superintendent of public instruction, Francis D. Winston; associate justice, D. L. Russell, all republicans. Mott's scheme had again been successful and the republicans had the best of the bargain. But there was much open bitterness in the convention over the nomination of York and it continued and spread during the campaign. The democratic party was suffering more from division, but the republicans were by no means united in spirit, although they had as always a wonderful knack of forgetting their quarrels by election day. The comment of one prominent republican in this campaign is interesting:
The republican party as now managed in this state is a mere political machine controlled by a few for the oppression of the many, and so regulated as to register the will of a combination of bosses for boss rule. * * * The administration at Washington — every administration since the war — has been criminally careless in regard to the selection of these [federal] officials. The administration of p211 federal affairs in the state for the entire period of fifteen years has been an outrage upon the people and a reflection upon the general government.
The democratic convention met late in June. An active pre-convention campaign had been going on between A. M. Scales, Octavius Coke, Thomas Holt, and Charles M. Stedman, and Scales won on the first ballot over Coke, the names of the others not being presented. Partly because of a demand for rotation in office and partly in answer to the liberal move, Worth, Scarborough, and Kenan, who had held respectively the offices of treasurer, superintendent of public instruction, and attorney-general, were dropped and replaced by Donald W. Bain, S. M. Finger, and T. F. Davidson. The platform as usual was profuse in its congratulations to the people upon democratic rule and challenged the republicans to a comparison. Federal interference at the ballot box was denounced, the repeal of the internal revenue laws and the protective tariff were demanded, federal aid to education, if under state control, was advocated, an improved system of public schools were promised, and the East was guaranteed the maintenance of the county government law.
The campaign was interesting but not pleasant. Probably the character of the national campaign affected it, but, whatever may have been the cause, it was full of personalities and unpleasant incidents. York was of rather a rough type who had been, like a great many of the western democrats in strong republican communities, inclined to be a reactionary, and had been profanely bitter against the negroes and the republicans whose candidate he now was. He and Scales conducted a joint campaign which was rather stormy, abounding in charges and counter-charges, and in which the lie was passed more than once. At Wilmington the democratic candidates were stoned by negroes who were having a republican parade.
Republican dislike of York's candidacy continued and operated unfavorably against him. Two prominent republicans, S. L. Paterson and W. A. Smith, the "Blow-Your-Horn-Billy" of reconstruction fame, left their party and became democrats. The democrats, as they saw before them p212 victory in both state and nation, recovered unity and became more aggressive than they had been since 1876. The money for the Western North Carolina Railroad had been paid and had been used for current expenses, so there was no collection of state tax in 1884, a fact which added to the popularity of the administration and the party.
By 1884 whites and negroes in North Carolina were living in peace and without collision or confusion. This was due to the genius and characteristics of the people. North Carolina white people in general treated the negroes with fairness and kindness and the negroes, racially, were when undisturbed, amiable and unaggressive. For political purposes an attempt was made to change all this. The republicans, with a democratic presidential victory in sight, poured into the ears of the negroes wild tales of what would happen to them in the event of democratic victory. Three words sum up the threatening prophecy, Confiscation, Disfranchisement, Slavery. Fortunately the attempt failed to do more than make the negroes, for the last time, rather anxious about the continuance of their freedom. That, however, does not excuse the method. It was simply an example of the opportunist politics which had damned the party in reconstruction, and which was later to damn it again, and lead finally, thanks to the evil effects upon the negroes, to the fulfilment of one of the republican prophecies — the disfranchisement of the negro.
Cleveland carried the state by 17,000, Scales by 20,000. The democratic majority in both houses of the legislature was increased, and the republicans carried only the black district with J. E. O'Hara.
The legislative session was not in any respect notable, except for a manifestation of an increasing interest in educational matters. Governor Jarvis's last message laid its chief emphasis there as he plead in behalf of the future of the commonwealth for greater opportunity for the youth of the state. Scales in his inaugural continued the emphasis. Both urged support of the schools and the proper maintenance of the University which had reached a point where unless state aid, greater than $5,000 a year, was given it could go no p213 further. Accordingly the legislature, over the bitter opposition of members of certain of the religious denominations who claimed that the state had no right to tax them to support a state institution when they supported colleges of their own, began the policy of real state support by appropriating $15,000 for the annual maintenance fund. Later in the session the first steps were taken in the organization of the Agricultural and Mechanical College, by a law authorizing and directing the board of agriculture to establish an industrial school. On account of the lack of funds, however, nothing was done until the following session. The senators and representatives in Congress were requested to support some plan of distribution of the surplus revenue among the states for public education, provided the control of the fund was in the hands of the states. Scales in his inaugural, after seeking to quiet the fears of the negroes, as to democratic policy in respect to them, had advocated Federal aid for their education.
The glaring effects of the system of assessment and taxation were beginning to attract attention and the governor was directed to appoint a tax commission to investigate and report to the next legislature. A bill for a railroad commission was introduced in the Senate but failed to pass and the House was not sufficiently interested to consider the question. The grip of the railroads was as yet unbroken. The beginning of Confederate pensions came with the provision for the payment of $30 annually to indigent and disabled soldiers and the widows of soldiers. Vance was re-elected to the Senate over Tyre York who was the republican nominee. Of course if there had been any chance of election, neither he nor William Johnston in 1883 would have been supported by the republicans.
The democrats had practically no opposition in the legislature, so small was the minority in each house. On the surface in 1884 and 1885 it seemed as though the difficulties of the party were over and that it had a new lease of life and power. Such, however, was not the case. The discontented elements were growing and when 1886 came it found the party badly disorganized. It was a fact no longer to be denied p214 that the county government law was bitterly unpopular with democrats, outside the East, as well as with republicans. It became now a live question, the democratic party being committed still to its maintenance. Anti-railroad feeling was growing and the failure to create a railroad commission intensified it. The beginning of the farmers' movement increased political tension. The truth of the matter is that while the state as a whole was unprogressive, — as indeed it had always been and as it was doomed to be with so great a proportion of ignorance, — the democratic leaders in the main were more so, and while as yet there was no progressive program in opposition, discontent was prevalent largely because of the failure of the leaders really to lead.
There was little of interest in democratic politics in this campaign. A movement to replace Chief Justice Smith with Merrimon, who was now an associate justice soon died and the convention nominated the entire court as it was constituted, and adopted no platform.
The republican executive committee met and decided against holding any convention but a large number of the party were dissatisfied and a self-constituted committee, headed by T. B. Keogh and J. C. L. Harris, proceeded to call one. It met with 146 delegates representing fifty-four counties mostly in the west. The platform adopted condemned the democratic policy of using convicts in competition with free labor, declared the democratic party one of broken promises, opposed the existing road system, denounced the county government law, endorsed the Blair Bill and the protective tariff and demanded a free ballot and a fair count. The convention then nominated W. P. Bynum for chief justice and J. W. Albertson and R. P. Buxton for associate justices. Judge Bynum declined the nomination and Judge Buxton replaced him, V. S. Lusk taking the latter's place on the ticket. The convention deposed Mott and the old executive ticket and elected a new one headed by Keogh. The bolters had clearly captured the organization and a bitter quarrel with Mott, which really began before the convention, followed. Mott was highly contemptuous of the movement and openly p215 declared some of the nominees for judge "no more fit for the place than mountebanks are for soothsayers."
The campaign was devoid of interest. There were many independent democratic candidates, whom the regulars damned as traitors who were jeopardizing democratic rule and with it good government. There was considerable discussion of the Blair Bill and twenty-six of the newspapers of the state strongly opposed it fearing Federal control of education. All the North Carolina senators and representatives, however, favored it and voted for it.
The election was closer than any for years. The democratic judicial ticket was easily elected and the republicans won only two seats in Congress, although interestingly enough, they lost the "black second" where F. M. Simmons was elected. But in the legislature, while the democrats retained control of the Senate, they lost the House which was in the hands of republicans and independents. John R. Webster, one of the latter, was chosen speaker over Lee S. Overman, the democratic caucus nominee. Webster was an opponent of the county government law although he did not favor unconditional repeal. Of course an immediate attempt was made to secure the repeal of the law and a bill for the purpose passed two readings in the House only to be tabled on the third. Later another similar bill passed all three readings and failed in the Senate.
Similarly a bill for a railroad commission passed the Senate and was defeated in the House to the bitter chagrin of its advocates.
The work of the legislature worthy of mention was the establishment of the Agricultural and Mechanical College at Raleigh, the passage of a constitutional amendment providing for two additional associate-justices of the Supreme Court, the passage of resolutions asking for the passage of the Blair Bill and the repeal of the internal revenue laws, and the reduction of the state tax 5 cents on the $100. The last was regarded as a great achievement. Most of the time of this and all succeeding sessions of the legislature for years was given to local and special legislation which has since p216 served as a terrible block to progress. It was a growing evil which was a real menace to the state.
The campaign of 1888 was the last under the old régime. Great changes were impending in leaders and issues. The farmers' movement was beginning to be felt, a new group of leaders in both parties were demanding a hearing for their views and plans and recognition for themselves and it was certain that they would not long be denied.
The republicans met in May and nominated O. H. Dockery for governor and Jeter C. Pritchard, of Madison, for lieutenant-governor. The latter had served in the legislature in 1885 and 1887 and had won for himself by his force and character and ability a place of leadership in his party. D. L. Russell, R. P. Buxton, and D. M. Furches were nominated for associate justices. Russell declined and W. A. Guthrie took his place. The platform contained the usual demand for the repeal of the county government law and the passage of a new election law.
The democrats met in June. There was a long contest for the nomination for governor between D. G. Fowle, Charles M. Stedman, and S. B. Alexander. Fowle was finally nominated on the twenty-third ballot, and after Alexander had been nominated for lieutenant-governor and declined, Thomas M. Holt was chosen. J. J. Davis, James E. Shepherd, and A. C. Avery were nominated for associate justices. The platform was the usual one differently phrased.
There was a prohibition ticket in the field, headed by W. T. Walker, but it received only about 3,000 votes in the election.
The campaign had in it nothing of interest. Both parties had ceased to advocate anything progressive and had lost all vitality. The republicans wanted to get in and the democrats wanted to stay in but apart from that neither was looking to the future. Of the two the democrats were the more listless and apathetic and many people thought that Fowle would be defeated. He was, however, successful with a majority of 14,000 while Cleveland carried the state with a majority of 15,000. The democrats elected the judicial ticket, carried the legislature with safe majorities in each house, and elected p217 six members of Congress, the republicans thus gaining one seat.
The legislature was like its immediate predecessors. Ransom was re-elected to the Senate over O. H. Dockery, the election law was so largely amended as to change it materially, certain new provisions and requirements being added which made it simpler for election officials to disfranchise voters. The railroad commission was once more defeated, this time by the Senate, and a new grievance thereby given the people who had come at last to demand the law.
During the years following the close of Reconstruction which have just been politically described, a wonderful development was under way, one which was transforming the state. The cotton mill and the tobacco factory, followed rapidly by other industrial plants of lesser importance, were revolutionizing industrial life. Agriculture, it is true, remained the central interest of the state, but it was largely unchanged in this period with the one exception that trucking was a developing factor of increasing importance which, apart from its high profits, served as a most enlightening influence in bringing in new methods and encouraging new experiments. Manufacturing, though, was bringing in capital, and giving remunerative employment to a rapidly increasing class, which from contact with new associates and new ideas, coupled with the possession of ready money, was gaining new standards of life and of living. In the same way, it was building up thriving towns, which were to prove a tremendous asset to the state, laying the foundations of a new and real prosperity, and transforming the life and thought of the people. It had its evils of course, not the least of which was a marked tendency, to a crass materialism, but the benefits far outweighed them. Along with industrial development the steady increase of railway mileage brought opportunity, economic and intellectual, nearer to many to whom it had been hitherto denied. Industrialism and the railroads were great educational factors in North Carolina.
Thus rapidly and still unconsciously the old commonwealth was being rebuilt into a new structure which resembled but p218 little the one it replaced. No such thing is ever accomplished in human beings or human society without shock and disturbance of some kind, usually both physical and mental, and the new North Carolina was due something on the order of growing pains. It could not escape. Also it would have to find itself.
The changes being wrought in the fabric of the commonwealth had been made possible only by the peace and quiet of the state under democratic rule. The conservative-democratic party of Reconstruction undoubtedly deserves much credit for what it accomplished. It saved the state, gave peace and good order, solved, temporarily, at least, — for there was no permanency in the solution, — the negro question as it existed at the close of Reconstruction, kept expenses down and thus gave a desperate and largely poverty-stricken people a breathing spell, and was along some lines moderately progressive. Its chief defects were the timidity of its leaders and its lack of social responsibility. The state was crippled by an inequitable, dishonest, and inefficient system of taxation and the party did not want, or feared, to correct it. It slowly improved educational conditions, but it had no passion for the education of all the people and did not unwaveringly take its stand on the platform of universal uplift through public education. There were exceptions among the leaders, like Governor Jarvis, but he was, biologically speaking, a political sport in North Carolina. As a consequence of these defects the day of the party was almost done. Crystallization had set in and there was little hope of its being able to carry the state forward under the exacting requirements of modern civilization unless it should be transformed and greatly socialized, and it was beyond the point where that could be done by quiet and natural growth and development. A re-birth was necessary and that could come only in labor and travail.
On the other hand there was no hope in the republican party which was as unsocialized and unprogressive as its opponent, with the additional handicap of having ignorant negroes compose more than half its voting membership. That single fact determined the place and character of the party. p219 It was manifest that before it could offer progress to the state it must be reconstructed and, like the democratic party, born again.
Two things explain the political condition in the state, namely, ignorance among the people and the presence of the negro. Both had from the beginning cursed the community and condemned it to poverty and inaction that was in effect reaction.
Ignorance and slavery, in the period before the war, had debased free labor and forced upon the masses poverty and ignorance; they had destroyed freedom of speech and of thought; they had made possible the rule of politicians who thought in terms of national politics and were ignorant of and indifferent to the needs of the state, until national politics became the curse of the state; they made the state inert and unprogressive to the point that thousands and hundreds of thousands of its sons became exiles that their children might not endure the bonds which shackled those who remained.
In the period following the war, ignorance and the negro accomplished no less of evil. The negro was the basal fact of Reconstruction, judged from either the angle of its purposes or results. Reconstruction past, the negro remained as a menace which lowered political morals, caused political stagnation, and, along with these, blocked the progress of public education, and was a social evil of the greatest magnitude. It was not the fault of the negro and but for the curse of ignorance he would not have been such an obstacle to progress. But ignorance was present. In 1890 more than 23 per cent of the native white people of North Carolina over ten years of age were unable even to read and write. Only New Mexico in the United States was worse off. Of its total population nearly 36 per cent were illiterate. As Walter Page phrases it:
One man in every four was wholly forgotten. But illiteracy was not the worst of it; the worst of it was that the stationary social condition indicated by generations of illiteracy had long been the general condition. The forgotten man was content to be forgotten. He became not only a dead weight, but a definite opponent of social progress. He faithfully heard the politicians on the stump praise him for p220 virtues he did not have. The politician told him he lived in the best state in the Union, told him that the other politician had some hare-brained plan to increase his taxes, told him as a consolation how many of his kinsmen had been killed in the war, told him to distrust anybody who wished to change anything. What was good enough for his fathers was good enough for him. Thus the forgotten man became a dupe, became thankful for being neglected.
Education, then, was the primary requirement of the state for the future because from that alone would grow the other things needed. A movement for it was inevitable for leavening influences of several sorts were at work which, combined, would finally begin the first and most difficult part, the education of the people to the need of education. The existing parties having failed, because of political timidity and social indifference of political leaders, to grasp opportunity, would in the end, in self-defense, — really in self-preservation, — be forced to grasp it or give place to a new party having its foundations in the awakening of the people, animated either by the simple natural desire to give their children a better chance in life, or else looking forward to a new and better day for North Carolina, when one in every eight people born there would not find it "a good State to come from."
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