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.
Although 1894 was an off-year, politically, it was highly important. A state treasurer, chief justice and three associate justices, and a number of judges and solicitors, besides the members of Congress and of the legislature, were to be elected. The legislature then chosen would elect two United States senators. Ransom's term expired in 1895 and Jarvis, who had succeeded Vance upon the latter's death in April, would hold his seat only until the legislature acted. It was by now an understood thing that Butler and Pritchard would replace them in the event that fusion could be arranged and should result in victory.
The populist convention met in Raleigh on July 31st. W. H. Worth was nominated for treasurer. A resolution was adopted declaring for a non-partisan judiciary, after which the convention nominated W. T. Faircloth, a republican, for chief justice; D. M. Furches, another republican, and Walter Clark and Henry G. Connor,a both democrats, for associate justices.
The platform was devoted mainly to national matters, but it declared for a four months' school term and a reformatory, condemned the democratic party for extravagance and for failure to collect back taxes from the railroads, to execute the laws against trusts, and to prosecute the officers of banks which had failed through their fault or negligence. Democratic election methods were also condemned and by implication new election laws were demanded.
A week after the convention O. H. Dockery, V. S. Lusk, J. H. Young, C. M. Bernard, and H. G. Ewart issued a statement that a republican conference had been held in Raleigh at the time of the populist convention and had recommended p245 co-operation with the populists on officers and had declared for the non-partisan judges already nominated. Undoubtedly at this meeting the details of fusion were agreed upon by the republican and populist leaders.
In the meantime Judge Connor, who had shortly before retired from the Superior bench, declined to accept the proffered nomination, declaring the Supreme bench as then composed, non-partisan. Attempts to induce him to reconsider failed, and it became necessary to look elsewhere for a candidate, and Judge W. A. Montgomery, a populist, was selected.
Early in August the democratic convention met at Raleigh and nominated Chief Justice Shepherd, and Associate Justices Clark, Burwell, and MacRae for re-election. The platform was devoted entirely to national matters, with the exception of the standard endorsement of the party's record in the state, and offered small hope of conciliation of the seceders and consequent victory.
The republicans did not hold their convention till September. The most important matter before it was that of fusion with the populists. This was carried and the populist nominations were made those of the republican party. The platform favored a new election law, the repeal of the county government law in the interest of local self-government, and the passage of a law allowing the deduction from the value of taxable property of all debts. Much of the platform was devoted to national matters among which provisions it is interesting to note that while a protective tariff was endorsed, a declaration in favor of the free and unlimited coinage of silver at the ratio of sixteen to one was included.
The republicans made a most favorable bargain. In the division they received two members of the Supreme Court whom by no possibility could they elect alone. In addition there was the practical certainty of one senator and the control of the fusion legislature which would give them what they most desired, that is, a change in the system of county government and a new election law.
The campaign was one of much bitterness but the result was never in doubt. The democrats were listless and apathetic, p246 conscious of their impending defeat and highly disgusted with political conditions. They had begun to feel a deep disappointment in the results of two years of democratic rule in the nation, the distribution of the spoils had left more than an ordinary amount of bitterness, and the panic of 1893 and the low price of cotton had caused a reaction most unfavorable to the party. There was really, as one sees it today, never any ground for a hope of success and, beyond the shock of overthrow there was not much democratic surprise at the result of the election which was a complete fusion victory, the democrats getting only four solicitors and one member of Congress besides Judge Clark, whom all parties nominated. Of the other offices the republicans got the lion's share, while the populists had the state treasurer, an associate justice, three judges, two solicitors, and three members of Congress. The legislature was politically divided as follows:
The legislature met in January, 1895, Z. V. Walser, a republican, was chosen speaker of the House. The body had before it a difficult task. The democrats were in a hopeless minority, and while the fusionists had unlimited power, its practical exercise was difficult because of the division of the majority into two parties with differing principles, aims, and aspirations. There was no real kinship between the republicans and populists — and they were bound together solely by common dislike of the democratic party and desire for victory. The rank and file of populists had a vague idea that fusion would result in large benefits to the people; the leaders knew that it would elevate them to office and power if it did nothing else. But fusion involved in the end the surrender of almost every principle of the party. The republicans were in no such evil case. They were better off because they had p247 to surrender less to gain party advantage. Dependent upon the populists for every vestige of power, fully conscious of the slender tie which held them united, they, nevertheless, were able by the exercise of great shrewdness, aided by greater political experience, to get in the long run far the best of the bargain, and that without any appreciable sacrifice of principle. So far as the mass of populists were , their direct net gain was nothing save the considerable gratification they experienced in seeing the democrats in a minority. Certain populist leaders, however, profited extensively.
Beyond all this was the fact that whatever action the legislature took, it would meet with the bitter and unqualified condemnation of the democratic opposition which was in no mood to see anything good in fusion or its fruits. In the background loomed like a threatening dark cloud the certainty of the reappearance of the negro in politics. The party in control, in the last analysis, owed their success to the solid negro vote. They could not disregard that fact even if they wished to do so. If the county government law was repealed, it meant ultimate negro control in a number of the counties of the East and in many of the towns. Negro rule had meant but one thing and that would spell ruin to the fusionists. On the other hand unless they yielded to the political pressure of the negroes, they were equally certain of destruction. The populists seem to have thought that after a short period of divided power they would be able to dispense with the republicans and so be rid of the onus of the negro for whom they had, politically speaking, small love. It was hardly to be doubted that a day of awakening would come when, disgusted with a political alliance with the negro, with memories of Reconstruction revived, they would return to the fold of the democratic party where in fact, in political faith, they really belonged.
The chief political interest of the legislature for the fusionists lay in the choice of the two United States senators. The republicans had wanted the long term, but the populists were insistent upon it and finally won, after making a definite agreement that two years later the republicans should have the succession to the short term. Accordingly Marion Butler p248 was chosen to succeed Ransom while Pritchard was elected to fill out the unexpired term of Vance. The democrats supported for the former seat Lee S. Overman, and for the latter, Thomas W. Mason.
In legislation two matters were regarded by the fusionists as of paramount importance — the passage of a new election law, and the change in the system of county government which would put the control of county affairs in the hands of the localities.
The new election law which was finally passed had been described in pre-election promises as a sure guarantee of fair elections. In many respects it was worse than the old one which it replaced. It allowed colored ballots, the counting of tickets placed in the wrong box, and did away with all privacy of voting. Instead of adopting the Australian ballot this law really went in the other direction. One provision of the law perfectly reasonable and highly proper, at least for ordinary times, was much criticized by the democrats with utter unfairness, as regards the principle of the thing, but with considerable justice in the particular case. By providing that each party should have a judge and registrar at each precinct, appointed upon the nomination of the county chairmen of the party, the fusionists really gave to themselves complete control. The number of precincts was largely increased and a more expensive system was provided for. One very good feature was the requirement of a statement of campaign expenses. Another was the one requiring that the ballots be preserved. The provision of the old law providing punishment for its violation was omitted when it was repealed. Just after the election the fusionists had made charges of extensive fraud. Prosecution was promised but none came. A committee was appointed by the legislature to investigate the second district. The committee reported after investigation in Edgecombe, and hearing testimony from other counties, that there was no evidence of any fraud, and declined to visit other counties. Certainly if fraud was the democratic rule, it was departed from widely in this election. It was a favorite populist saying that the democrats had stolen 40,000 p249 votes and were still defeated but there is no reason to think that there was widespread fraud.
It will be remembered that after the constitution was amended in 1876 so as to permit it, an act was passed by the legislature, taking the election of county commissioners out of the hands of the people and placing it in those of the justices of the peace of the county. The election of justices was then once more given to the legislature. This meant of course that the right of local self-government disappeared. It also meant that the government of every county in the state, regardless of its political majority, was democratic, and negro rule thus had become an impossibility. It worked a grievous hardship upon the republican white counties; it was a bad thing for all the counties in one sense, but there was, in the minds of the mass of white people, no room for doubt that it was better for all the counties to endure the denial of home rule rather than to expose the people of the East to the horrible fate that would be theirs should the system be changed.
The county government bill, called "an act to restore to the people of North Carolina local self-government," was carefully designed to give home rule and to restore to the East the conditions which had made Reconstruction a horrible memory. As a part of the same policy, the charters of a number of the larger towns, notably Wilmington, Raleigh, Greenville, Goldsboro, and Elizabeth City, were altered so as to change their government considerably. Wilmington was put into the hands of a police board, chosen by the legislature, which proceeded to appoint a large number of negroes to office. In this and the county government law, more than anywhere else the fusionists planted the mine, the explosion of which would destroy them and with them unrestricted negro suffrage.
By the new law the election of the county commissioners was taken from the justices of the peace and given to the people. All the governmental powers of the justices were at the same time transferred to the commissioners. There were doubts in the minds of the framers of the law which served only to increase their guilt and responsibility. As a manifestation of these, the power of passing finally upon the bonds p250 of county officials was taken from the hands of the commissioners and given to the judges of the Superior Court of the district in which the county was situated. The judge was also directed, upon the affidavit of five citizens that the affairs of the county would be mismanaged unless a change was made and upon petition of two hundred voters to make the change, to appoint two additional members of the board of commissioners of another party than the one having a majority.
The fusionists, like all parties coming into power were hungry for office and keenly interested in displacing those who were in. A law was passed providing for the addition of nine new directors of the penitentiary and making all employees removable after April, 1895. The state librarian was ousted. A bill was introduced to abolish the existing railroad commission, the underlying purpose being to establish a new one with different incumbents. This failed to pass. Bills intended to turn over to new officers the Board of Agriculture and the A. and M. College, the North Carolina Railroad and the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad failed only because they came up at the end when a quorum could not be secured. Provision was made for three new magistrates in every township in the state. As there was already a sufficiency of magistrates the addition of 3,591, with an appropriation of $26,000 for furnishing them with the necessary copies of the laws, was for one purpose only. More than 100 of the new magistrates were negroes. Two new criminal courts for groups of counties were created and Charles A. Cook and H. G. Ewart, both republicans, elected judges. The former county courts were a charge upon their respective counties but the expenses of these were to be borne by the state. A code commission consisting of two republicans and a populist was decided upon but failed to pass its third reading in the Senate. The public printing was let out, after advertising for bids, considerably above the lowest bid. To themselves the members of the legislature, following a custom, common in North Carolina and elsewhere, gave a large number of appointments as trustees, directors and the like.
The legislature failed to carry out much that the populists, at least, had expected of it. In spite of the agitation for better p251 schools, no change was made in the school law other than to abolish the county superintendents, the county boards of education, and raise the school tax rate 2 cents. The schools were put in the hands of county commissioners. Elected on the issue of retrenchment and reform and pledged to reduce salaries and fees and to economize in every direction so as to lower taxes, they did not lower salaries or fees, or in general economize. Appropriations were not in most cases decreased, nor in fact should they have been, for in that direction at least there was no extravagance. There is scarcely any doubt that the University, which was unpopular because of the long and bitter fight made upon it by certain of the denominational colleges, and the belief of the farmers that they were not concerned in its welfare, would have been forced to close its doors but for the influence and labor of Marion Butler who steadfastly opposed such action. The state guard appropriation was also cut $20,000 and the soldiers' home $2,000. To total amount of appropriations was increased $125,000. In some small ways the legislature was extravagant, as in having more clerks and pages than were needed. But the total cost of the legislature only exceeded that of its predecessor by a little more than $6,000. Taxes were increased under the new revenue law, going from 39 cents on the $100 to 43. The 6 per cent interest law was finally passed but no anti-trust legislation was completed and the republicans, in spite of the fact that their platform had declared for it, succeeded in defeating any endorsement of free coinage.
The legislature, naturally, was composed largely of inexperienced men. Some of the majority members had served before and a few of the figures of Reconstruction reappeared. "Gizzard" French, one of the most notorious of the evil brood of carpet-baggers again insulted honest men by his presence in the House. Another carpet-bag member of the convention and legislature, H. L. Grant, was a member of the Senate. The business of the legislature was directed by a small group of leaders, dominated for the most part by the republicans. Occasionally they broke from the rather strict restraint in which they were held and sometimes the unexpected happened. One of the things which did more to bring the legislature into p252 contempt than anything else was the passage by the House of a resolution, introduced by a negro member, in honor of Fred Douglass, who had just died, after adjournment in honor of Lee's and Washington's birthdays had been refused. The attempts at explanation of the fusionists helped the case but little, and democratic resentment, already keen because of the election of a negro as a doorkeeper over a one-legged Confederate soldier, was intensified. It had one interesting result immediately. Earlier in the session the legislature had been petitioned by the Ladies' Memorial Association to appropriate the amount of money necessary to finish the Confederate monument in Capitol Square. This had been refused, but it was now suggested that it would be well to do something to palliate the hideous offense of which they had been guilty and to conciliate the opposition, and consequently an appropriation of the necessary $10,000 was made.
One of the acts of the legislature, which escaped notice until after adjournment, provided all conditional sales, assignments, mortgages, or deeds in trust which should be executed to secure any debt, obligation, note, or bond which would give preference to any creditor absolutely void as to existing creditors. As a result time merchants refused credit for fertilizer and provisions and the banks took a similar stand. Thinking that the court would construe it to apply only to pre-existing debts, a test case was brought and the court so construed it. This decision gave some relief, but the law was a serious menace to business. It was soon discovered that the bill although enrolled had never passed either House. Governor Carr then sought by suit in Wake Superior Court to enjoin Octavius Coke, the secretary of state, from publication of the bill as law. The case went to the Supreme Court which, according to precedent, declined to go behind the signatures of the presiding officers of the two Houses. Later on the two enrolling clerks were indicted and convicted for the offense, a proceeding which fusionists generally pronounced political persecution.
Politics played no great part in the life of the state after the adjournment of the legislature. Democrats were free in their predictions that the populist party being dead because p253 of fusion, the coming year would see the democratic party restored to power through a complete victory. The populist party was dead, but populism was very much alive and still a vital factor in political thought and action and as time passed it became increasingly evident that success would come only to the party with whom the populists fused. Leaders of the two old parties began to flirt with leading populists. In this the advantage lay with the republicans because of their past and, as in a sense it must be regarded, existing, alliance. Then too since most of the populists were former democrats they were, with the zeal of converts, very bitter against their old party. Nor was the democratic party yet transformed by defeat and the retirement of its older men who were out of all sympathy with new and progressive ideas. The republicans, on the other hand, had at the time only one absorbing interest which was to defeat the democrats once more and secure as complete a victory for themselves as possible.
In the meantime an interesting situation had developed with respect to the institutions of one sort or another which the fusionists had attempted to control. The law establishing a criminal court for the counties of Buncombe, Madison, Haywood, and Henderson was ratified on February 23d. On February 27th, the legislature elected H. G. Ewart, a republican, judge. On March 12th, Governor Carr refused him his commission, claiming that it was the governor's place, not the legislature's, to fill vacancies, and on the following day he appointed Thomas A. Jones to the position. The matter came to the Supreme Court and the court, Judge Faircloth writing the opinion, held that since the legislature had reserved the right of election there was no vacancy. Quite another result attended the appeal in the case of the other criminal court established for Craven, New Hanover, Mecklenburg, Warren, Vance, Robeson, Edgecombe, and Halifax. The law was passed on March 8th, but was not ratified until March 12th. In the meantime, on March 9th, the legislature elected C. A. Cook, a republican, judge. On March 13th, the governor appointed O. P. Meares judge, claiming that as there was no court provided for by law at the time of Cook's election, there was a vacancy which he had the right to fill. On appeal the p254 Supreme Court, Judge Furches rendering the opinion, upheld the governor's contention.
In the case of the state library, the legislature repealed that part of the law which gave the board of trustees the power to elect a librarian and conferred it upon the legislature. E. D. Stanford was then elected. J. C. Birdsong, the librarian, declined to yield and the Supreme Court, Judge Furches rendering the opinion, sustained him on the ground that a quorum was not present when the bill was passed. After this decision the new penitentiary board which had elected W. H. Kitchin to succeed Leazer and had been resisted by the latter, yielded as did the other claimants for directorships.
In the summer of 1895 the North Carolina Railroad was leased to the newly created Southern Railway for ninety-nine years. The thing was hastily done without reference to public opinion and was bitterly unpopular. The lease was declared illegal by many good lawyers and preparations were made to test it in the courts, the Alliance particularly, being actively interested in this. Governor Carr, who had as a fixed policy placing of all railroad property upon the tax-books, had been largely instrumental in bringing the lease about and defended it to the end. The general feeling was that a bad bargain had been made in view of the length of the lease, and since the state road was absolutely necessary to the Southern, that better terms could have been obtained. This was doubtless true. Another charge was that the Seaboard would have made a better contract. The outstanding benefits of the lease were the guarantee of a high interest rate on the stock and the through rates and connections which it made possible. The matter caused great excitement and was at once a political question, both populists and republicans, as well as many democrats, opposing the lease and demanding that it be broken.
The outstanding difficulty of the republicans and populists in fusing again was of course the arrangement to be made in regard to the distribution of offices. A suggestion of fusion on the electoral ticket seemed absurd, particularly after the republican national convention of 1896 declared for p255 the gold standard. The populist executive suggested a non-partisan silver ticket but that met with no approval from democrats, republicans, or populists. The republican party in North Carolina was full of silver sentiment and had repeatedly endorsed free coinage, but the declarations and tendencies of the national party controlled the state party with small dissent. Dr. J. J. Mott was the leader of the silver forces in the party but his influence was negligible. Silver sentiment was of course very strong in the democratic party but it was a question if it could effect fusion. Probably to test out the question a silver convention was held in Raleigh in September, 1895, which was attended by a considerable number of democrats. Judge James C. MacRae presided. Butler was in complete control and carried through a resolution pledging that support would be given none but silver men. Some of the democrats sought to make it less rigid saying frankly that they did not propose to leave their party, but the amendment was defeated. In February, 1896, a conference was held in Washington, at Senator Butler's invitation, at which were present Ed. Chambers Smith, R. B. Peebles, from the democrats, Guthrie, Shuford, and Butler from the populists and Mott from the silver republicans, the last soon to be chairman of the executive committee of the national silver party. A plan of democratic-populist fusion was agreed upon, the democrats to have the governor and all state offices then filled by them, Worth to be re-elected treasurer, three seats in Congress to go to the democrats, three to the populists and a union to be arranged on the three then held by the republicans. All democratic and populist county officials and members of the legislature were to be left untouched and the democrats were to have all the places held by republicans. This would of course give them control of the legislature. The plan met with a cool reception from populists, as was to be expected, although many were rather sore with the republicans and inclined toward an alliance with the democrats. Part of this was due to silver feeling. That it met if anything a cooler one from the democrats is surprising since they could not hope for better terms. Indeed many democrats desired to accept and the advocates of fusion in p256 the party increased steadily throughout the campaign. Republicans were alarmed and worked incessantly to prevent the consummation of the arrangement which could spell for them only disastrous defeat and the loss of not only the lion's share of the state ticket upon which they had confidently counted, but also of the senatorship of which they had been certain.
In April Senator Butler sent out a circular to the populists in which he said the populist could support no man for governor or senator who would vote for a gold man for President, and urged them to go slow on the question of fusion. He and Pritchard had recently broken and this may have been the beginning of the fight on the latter. Few republicans were willing to be bound by such terms. They desired, it is true, a silver man for President, but if a gold man won the nomination there was no doubt in their minds as to their hearty support of him. Later in the month a great fusion conference was held in Raleigh at which the populists demanded republican support of free silver as a sine qua non of co-operation. The republicans occupied the same position here that they did with respect to the candidate for President; they would endorse the platform and support the ticket without question. Accordingly they refused the offer and replied with terms of their own. According to these the republicans were to nominate and the populists endorse the governor, attorney-general, auditor and one justice of the Supreme Court. The populists were to nominate and the republicans endorse the lieutenant-governor, secretary of state, treasurer, superintendent of public instruction and one justice. There was to be co-operation in respect to members of Congress and of the legislature, the republicans having the senatorship. Each was to nominate and run separately their own electors. The populists at once declined to consider this arrangement.
The republican convention met in Raleigh in May and after a furious contest nominated D. L. Russell for governor by three‑sevenths of one vote over Oliver H. Dockery and James E. Boyd. The nomination was only secured by seating twenty-two contesting delegates from five counties which were apparently clearly for Dockery. Z. V. Walser was nominated for attorney-general, Ruff Henderson for auditor and R. M. p257 Douglas for justice of the Supreme Court. The other places on the ticket were left open presumably for the populists to fill when fusion should be accomplished. The platform was devoted chiefly to national matters and declared against the "retirement of greenbacks, the money of the people, the money favored by Lincoln." The portion relating to state affairs was of course full of denunciation of the democratic party, but the new county government and election laws, passed by the fusion legislature, received hearty endorsement and were declared to be of paramount importance. The section is worth quotation. "The vital and paramount issue for North Carolina in this campaign is the preservation of the great reforms enacted into law by the last General Assembly, to wit: local self-government and honest elections. No differences as to questions of currency and questions of tariff should deter us from standing together for the right preservative of all rights, the right to vote and have that vote honestly counted." Non-political management of public schools was demanded. The silver question was skillfully straddled.
Russell had in the past characterized the negroes of the South as largely savages, who "stole all the week and prayed it off at church on Sunday," and who were "no more fit to govern or have a share in governing than their brethren in Africa," but in this campaign he promised them a full share of the spoils, or, as he phrased it, "oats and fodder." This was but a vain promise in view of the small patronage at the governor's disposal. In his speech of acceptance he declared that he had been suckled at the breast of a negro woman and stood for the negroes. Plausible as he made his various allusions to the colored members of the party, his views were well known and the negro leaders did not trust him. Finally early in July a convention of colored republicans, repenting sixty-five counties, assembled in Raleigh and adopted resolutions calling upon every negro in whose heart there was still a spark of self-respect and manhood to exert himself to the utmost to defend the honesty and integrity of their race by doing all in their power to defeat p258 Russell's election. Loyalty to the national party was declared and the candidacy of W. A. Guthrie for governor endorsed.
In June the democratic convention met with ninety-five of the ninety-six counties represented. Three names had been prominently mentioned for the head of the ticket, Julian S. Carr, Judge Walter Clark, and Cyrus B. Watson. It was not a position at all sought for since defeat was well-nigh certain and both Carr and Clark declined to allow the use of their names. Both had already been endorsed by a number of counties. Watson did not desire the nomination but pressure was brought to bear upon him and he finally consented to accept. The platform was chiefly devoted to national affairs, containing a demand for free silver and denouncing the gold standard and the McKinley tariff as "twin monsters going hand in hand on their mission of destruction." On state questions it was colorless and lacked vitality. A fair election law and the impartial administration of the criminal laws were demanded and the party pledged itself to the continuance of the "system of public education established by the democratic party." Because of bitter opposition to the lease of the North Carolina Railroad and the consequent unpopularity of Governor Carr, the convention abandoned precedent and failed to endorse his administration.
The nomination of Bryan for President by the democrats and his endorsement by the populists seemed to make the way easier for democratic fusion with the populists. On July 3d, the populist executive committee, composed of Marion Butler, W. A. Guthrie, A. S. Peace, W. H. Kitchin, and Harry Skinner, met in Raleigh and invited the silver party to join them in convention in August. They also considered the question of fusion with the democrats. Just before the meeting of the populist convention on August 13th, Butler as chairman of the executive committee submitted to the democratic committee a proposition for fusion. By its terms the democrats were to have six and the populists five electors. On the state ticket the populists were to have the governor, treasurer, and superintendent of public instruction and the democrats were to have the lieutenant-governor, secretary of state, auditor, attorney-general and United States senator. Or if the democrats p259 preferred, they could take the governor, attorney-general, and superintendent of public instruction while the populists took the rest. Each party would nominate one associate justice. As concerned the members of Congress the democrats were to nominate in the second, fifth, eighth and ninth districts while the populists would select the candidates for the first, fourth, sixth, and seventh. The ninth was to be open for contest. In the counties, "the two executive committees were to use their good offices to secure a fair and honorable division of county and legislative candidates between the two parties in an equitable ratio similar to the above division of state and congressional offices."
The democrats declined the proposition, claiming that it was highly unreasonable and that by it the party had nothing to win and everything to lose. They did, however, offer electoral fusion. They felt strongly that the populist leaders, particularly Butler, had sought to make the fusion proposition of such a sort as to force a democratic refusal upon which they could go before the people with the contention that the democrats were insincere and so check the impending populist revolt against Butler and fusion with the republicans. This may or may not have been true. The probability is that the populist leaders, conscious of their strong position in the campaign, sought to make the best bargain they could. In any event, they did not fail to accuse the democrats of insincerity, stating that since their platforms were much alike there was no obstacles to fusion save the greed of democrats for office.
When the populist convention met, with every county save Chowan represented, there was a strong contest between the Butler element and the middle-of‑the‑road men who did not want further fusion with the republicans. The latter won the first round with the election of Skinner as permanent chairman. When the nominations came, W. A. Guthrie was nominated for governor over Cyrus Thompson. Oliver H. Dockery, who had been defeated by Russell for the republican nomination for governor, was nominated for lieutenant-governor. He was at the time an ardent silver man. Butler presented the name of Zebulon V. Walser, the republican nominee, p260 for attorney-general. The opposing faction was very bitter at this attempt to force fusion and no nomination was made for that office or for associate justice. Cyrus Thompson was selected for secretary of state, W. H. Worth for treasurer, H. W. Ayer for auditor, and Charles H. Mebane for superintendent of public instruction. In making the nomination, the middle-of‑the‑road faction won.
The platform endorsed the election and county government laws, demanded that the legislature make all coins of the United States, including the trade dollar, legal tender, favored legislation prohibiting gold contracts of all kinds, demanded revision and improvement of the school laws, low freight rates, an anti-pass law for public officials and condemned in unsparing terms the democratic party for the lease of the North Carolina Railroad to the Southern Railway and for failure to enforce the laws against trusts. The republicans, through the state committee, at once endorsed the nominations for secretary of state, treasurer, and superintendent of public instruction. Gubernatorial candidates still remained in the field as did those for lieutenant-governor, the republican committee later choosing C. A. Reynolds.
The populist leaders still dickered for electoral fusion with the republicans and ignored the matter of agreement with the democrats. The republicans expressed their willingness to divide the electoral ticket, regarding it as a very good bargain in view of their small chance of carrying the national ticket. But it began to look as though the republicans would succeed in breaking the Solid South with North Carolina. Butler's position was one of considerable difficulty since in August he was chosen chairman of the national committee of the people's party. But in September, Bryan visited the state and arrangements for fusion were begun. Soon after, the democratic, populist and silver parties agreed upon a plan. The democrats and populists were each to have five electors and the silver party one. This did not, however, stimulate the populists to fusion on the state ticket, and finally, in the middle of October, when it was fairly clear that Russell was certain to win, the democratic committee invited the populists to a conference in the interest of fusion, at the p261 same time offering to endorse Guthrie for lieutenant-governor, and later to elect him senator, Thompson for secretary of state, Worth for treasurer, and Montgomery for associate justice, and to concede four members of Congress, the two parties to combine on the legislative tickets. The populist reply was a cool refusal coupled with a suggestion that if the democrats regarded Russell as a menace, they would do well to support Guthrie.
The campaign drew on to a close with Guthrie using all his influence to prevent the populists from supporting gold men. Fusion with the republicans on county tickets was by now general. There was a similar co-operation on members of Congress where four were nominated by the republicans and five by the populists, and on the legislative tickets where the republicans were playing with the populists, for while offering fusion on apparently liberal terms, in a large number of cases they dictated the nominations to the legislature by exercising a sort of veto. But, still there was no agreement as to the governor. According to the populists, the republicans promised that Russell would be withdrawn and that he refused. Pressure was then exerted to bring Guthrie down and he not only would not come down but insisted upon publicly condemning the sacrifice of principle by the populists that was involved in supporting "gold-bug" republicans for Congress and for the legislature where a United States senator was to be chosen. By this time populists had forgotten such things in their eagerness to win and the full machinery of the party, in control of H. W. Ayer, who had finally secured the withdrawal of his republican opponent, was directed against Guthrie. He issued a statement that in view of his behavior no true populist could vote for him. As a matter of fact populist leaders had found it impossible to control Guthrie, where principle was involved, and were glad of an excuse to cut loose from him.
When the election came Bryan carried the state by a majority of about 19,000 and Russell won with plurality of something more than 8,000, Guthrie receiving 30,000 votes. Five populists, three republicans, and one democrat were elected to Congress. The democratic exception was William p262 W. Kitchin who, accepting a forlorn hope in the Fifth District, unhorsed Thomas Settle who had held the district for two terms and seemed secure. Fusion was successful in seventy-five counties. The legislature stood as follows:
The republicans had outplayed Butler and the populists. Butler's ultimatum had been free silver, a populist governor and a populist legislature, and none of these had been secured. The republicans had won the lieutenant-governorship which they had conceded to the populists.
The legislature met and organized. A. F. Hileman, a populist, was chosen speaker of the House. There were many reasons for the belief that the session would not be as harmonious, as concerned the fusionists, as the preceding one, for both elements were somewhat inclined to soreness and hence party division was more acute. The republicans were inclined to be somewhat highhanded in their treatment of their allies, were on the whole contemptuous of them, and sought to ignore them when possible. The populists, for their part were getting tired of being used by the republicans, they wanted a larger share of the offices, and many were restive under the rule of Butler which grew increasingly difficult to bear as was evidenced by frequent bursts of temper on the part of populists, accompanied frequently by bitter denunciation of him and of his methods. A large proportion of the populists in the state were politically ignorant, inexperienced, and prejudiced, but they were conscientious and devoted to principle. They were now beginning to see that the net result of fusion in the way of the economic and social betterment of the people was nothing at all. Intense in their essential democracy and bitter against the democratic party because they believed it controlled by bosses, they found that the destinies of the populist party were in the hands of an oligarchy, with a steady tendency towards autocracy and that p263 democracy in party control was further away than in the old party. As a result of all these things there were factions in the party and factional differences among the leaders. Lines of cleavage with the republicans appeared and unity was lacking.
Governor Russell was inaugurated on January 12th. He was a man full of bitterness who had made an unenviable record in the Confederate army and had carried the stigma all his life. His abilities were far from mediocre but a fiery temper and the intensity of his prejudices, particularly against what he termed "the aristocracy" in North Carolina, fostered in him a partisanship which was apt to control him in all things. His inaugural address began with the identical words of Vance in 1877, "There is retribution in history," but there the similarity ceased. Vance's address had indeed been full of rejoicing at the redemption of the state, but the spirit of the thing was fine and it was forward-looking. In Russell's opening paragraph was poured out the bitterness of his soul as he described a condition of affairs which had never existed in North Carolina, imagination painting for him the entire picture. He then turned to a commonplace discussion of the tasks which he saw before his party. There was no vision in the speech, no conception of the opportunity of his party to gain and hold the confidence of the white people of North Carolina. His first suggestion was that drunken judges be removed, this being directed at one of the democratic judges who was periodically intoxicated. No one can dispute the need of his removal but an isolated case scarcely furnished material for the opening of an inaugural after twenty years of exile. He commended the election law; properly enough, demanded the suppression of mob rule and lynchings; advised retrenchment in expenditures, and the regulation of the railroads; and urged the invalidation of the lease of the North Carolina Railroad, for which he condemned his predecessor and made strong intimations of the existence of fraud. He congratulated his party upon breaking the Solid South with North Carolina and closed with the absurd imperialistic suggestion that the United States should seize and occupy all the p264 remaining regions of the earth which were open for exploitation.
The governor and his party were entirely confident of the future. No doubt entered their minds of their ability to absorb the populists and permanently control the state. The weakness of the tie which made fusion possible and the menace to continued party supremacy which the strong and solid negro vote constituted was not at the time considered. A prophetic expression, based upon hope, certainly, but also upon a very real knowledge of the people of the state was that of the Josephus Daniels in the News and Observer the morning after the inauguration:
Those who believe that a party where eight‑tenths of its members are negroes can long remain in power in North Carolina do not understand the genius, the temper, and patriotism of the people of this commonwealth. Four years will mark the duration of its tenure of power.
The question of primary interest before the legislature was the senatorial election. By the time the session began there was considerable doubt of the result due to the bitter opposition of many populists to the re-election of Pritchard. At the time of his election he had been a strong advocate of free silver, but in 1896 he had apparently been converted to the gold standard and had endorsed the St. Louis platform of his party. Many populists thought this fact absolved them from support of his candidacy, whatever might have been the agreement between the leaders of the party. The more conscientious demanded that the republicans replace him with some silver republican for whom they could vote without sacrifice of principle. A considerable minority favored his election in accordance with the agreement. Butler was personally silent on the subject in public but there was little doubt as to where he stood for his paper, the Caucasian, was bitterly opposed to Pritchard's election and most outspoken in condemnation of populists who would vote for a gold-bug. In the meantime the republican caucus nominated Pritchard who it seems had written a letter in which he declared himself still a silver man but acknowledged that he had become convinced p265 that international agreement was necessary before it was practicable.
The democratic caucus aware that there was no possible hope of electing anyone from their party and keenly anxious not only to secure a silver senator but also to procure the defeat of the republicans and spoil the combination of their opponents, made a formal offer to the populist caucus of a conference with a view to united action in electing a silver man. Guthrie was probably the man they had in mind. The offer was entirely ignored.
The populists, in the meantime, were finding it a difficult matter to maintain party discipline or in any way secure unity of action. The leaders still confidently claimed that Pritchard could not be elected but when the caucus met to consider the senatorial matter, there was a bitter quarrel over the time allowed the advocates of Pritchard's election, and finally this resolution was offered and adopted: "Resolved, that it is the determination of this caucus never to endorse Senator Pritchard for the United States Senate." Immediately twenty-three of the members withdrew from the caucus. With this action there was a clear-cut division of the party, Butler heading the majority faction which opposed Pritchard, and Skinner, the minority which desired to carry out the party pledge made two years before. Finally the caucus nominated Cyrus Thompson, but the bolters did not return.
National attention was directed to the situation and pressure was exerted in various ways. Both populists and democrats made loud charges that Hanna had sent a "barrel" to be used for bribes and there were varied charges that promises of Federal patronage had influenced the bolters. There is no evidence of bribery but offers of Federal spoils were doubtless freely made; at least, it would have been an extraordinary case if they had been lacking. The statement was made later and not contradicted that within a year every bolter who voted for Pritchard had been given a Federal office.
When the election came, Pritchard, with the aid of seventeen of the bolting populists was elected, the democrats voting for R. A. Doughton, the late lieutenant-governor. Pritchard p266 was easily the strongest man of his party and he had won the respect and admiration of his political opponents. Even so strongly partisan a newspaper as the News and Observer which disagreed with him on every political question, contained the day after his election a long editorial which spoke admiringly of the man and congratulated his party upon his election. Not so Butler. The populist caucus, after permanently excluding the bolters, adopted a series of resolutions said to have been written by Butler which, in addition to bitter denunciation of Skinner, contained the following paragraphs:
The election of Mr. Pritchard, the candidate of Hanna, Sherman and Wall Street to represent the silver sentiment of North Carolina in the United States Senate discovers a startling crisis in the history of the People's Party. He could not have been elected by Republican votes. He was elected by those who call themselves Populists, and at a time when they could as easily have elected a Populist. Populists who fail in a critical hour to stand for Populist principles are not the Populists in whose hands and under whose leadership the principals of the party can be carried to victory. . . . . Before nine o'clock this morning agents, including the pie-counter Republicans and bolting Populists, were approaching members of the People's Party and every visiting Populist in Raleigh who favored the election of the People's Party nominee for United States Senator by seductive pleas of persuasion and subtle sophistry and by direct propositions and overtures, coupled with considerations.
* * * * * *
As the livery of heaven is stolen to serve the Devil in, so every crime committed against the integrity of the People's Party and its essential principles will be attempted in the name of "Coöperation." Already the Populist supporters of Hanna's man begin to call themselves "coöperative Populists," when in truth they are nothing but Republicans, while attempting to better serve the purposes of the Republican Party by masquerading as Populists. By their fruits ye shall know them.
We have desired the continuance of coöperation upon honorable grounds. Coöperation which tends to destroy our organization or compromise its principles is suicidal. Such coöperation, therefore, cannot be permitted or tolerated. The only way by which the People's Party can be able to maintain its existence, strengthen its lines, and by its growth be in a position to command honorable coöperation is by purging from its ranks all who place self above the welfare of the people. This purging must be done. It cannot be begun too soon.
Nevertheless, soon after the election, the populist caucus announced its readiness to carry out the agreement of cooperation p267 with the republicans. The latter did not reply, and on January 27th, the populists issued an address denouncing Skinner, the bolters, and the republican party, and condemning fusion. A resolution was also passed declaring that by the action of the republicans the contract of co-operation was at an end "and that, therefore, all connection and negotiations from this caucus to them be closed." Immediately the minority populists replied with a furious attack upon Butler. Such were the political amenities of the day.
The senatorial election had absorbed the attention of all and until it was over nothing was done. Then and then only were regular legislative matters taken up.
Both populists and republicans had laid chief emphasis since 1895 upon the county government and election laws, as entitling them to a fresh grant of power. Both were now altered; in the former by striking out the provision for the appointment upon affidavit and petition of additional county commissioners, in the latter by making provision for a county board, consisting of the clerk, register of deeds, and chairman of the county commissioners, which should appoint a registrar and a judge of election from each party. This meant under existing political conditions partisan control of elections and was so intended. To insure the party regularity of the illiterates an official party ballot with a device was provided for and stickers were made illegal. With these changes the election law became far worse than the one which it replaced which had been so vehemently abused. There was little in the new one to prevent wholesale fraud. During the course of the session the republicans drafted an election law which was far worse and which failed of passage.
The most important and beneficial act of the legislature was the passage of the new school law which was excellent. Another law set aside $50,000 to be used in assisting such localities as voted special school taxes, elections on the question being required. Under the new provisions and guided by Charles H. Mebane, the educational revival of the state now began.
A new revenue law was passed which made the tax rate 46 cents and the poll tax $1.29. This was later carried to the p268 Supreme Court and by it declared unconstitutional because the equation was not preserved, and so the rate of 1895 was restored.
In pursuance of the plan to obtain control of the state institutions, the legislature chartered the three hospitals for the insane under new names and with new boards. The old boards resisted and the Supreme Court upon appeal decided that a change of name, or even the abolition followed by immediate re-establishment, of an institution, did not operate to remove the officials. But control was finally obtained of the railroads, the Board of Agriculture, the Agricultural and Mechanical College and the School for the Blind. Of the last-mentioned, James Young, a negro was made director and became the controlling member of the board. No single act of Governor Russell provoked such keen indignation as this.
Probably the most absorbing question before the Legislature was that of the railroads. Laws were passed providing for the redemption of unused mileage, modifying the fellow-servant law, and increasing the power of the railroad commission. And attempt was made to abolish the commission but it was fruitless. Whether it was serious or intended only to oust J. W. Wilson, the last remaining democrat, is unknown. All efforts to secure the passage of an act prohibiting public officials from using railroad passes failed. Such an act was said to have been passed in 1895 and stolen before publication.
The chief railroad question was of course in relation to the lease of the North Carolina Railroad. Governor Carr, in his message, had invited investigation and Russell had attacked the transaction in his inaugural and demanded that it be set aside. With governor, republicans, populists, and many democrats violently opposed, some definite action by the legislature might have been expected, but there was none. A commission was appointed to investigate the charges of fraud and witnesses were examined but there was no result nor any appearance of fraud. As a matter of fact, there had been none. The governor, for the state, had been convinced of the wisdom of the lease and the directors on the part of the private stockholders were in the main equally favorable. During the session Raleigh was thronged with a numerous and powerful p269 railroad lobby and great pressure was brought to bear upon the members. The Southern Railway sought a confirmation of the lease from the legislature but was unable to secure it. The House passed a bill to annul the lease but the Senate refused it, passing in its stead a bill reducing the term of the lease from ninety-nine years to thirty years. This was refused by the House. It finally seemed likely that the governor would be instructed to test the validity of the lease in the courts and Judge Simonton of the United States Circuit Court issued an injunction restraining the governor from interfering with the lease. Later on, certain private parties were similarly enjoined by Judge Parnell of the United States District Court. The governor quite naturally and properly denied Judge Simonton's jurisdiction, but he was forced to yield and a year later, apparently entirely satisfied with the situation, he confirmed the lease.
The process of altering town charters in the interest of republican governments therein, begun in 1895, was continued at this session. In his inaugural Governor Russell had intimated that something must be done to protect property and the minority against the majority. It developed that this protection in the case of New Bern and Wilmington was to be secured by giving the governor the power to appoint an alderman for each ward in addition to those elected. Not only a travesty upon the much vaunted local self-government, it was also, in the minds of many citizens of those communities, a remedy as bad if not worse than the disease. Under the operations of the new charters the two towns fell upon evil days. The charter of Raleigh was amended but, contrary to expectation and intention, the town went democratic. Attempts to change the charters of a number of other towns in the East failed. Greenville, condemned to suffer sufficiently under the change of 1895, by which it was put under negro control, was on the point of worse punishment but was spared through the efforts of a populist senator.
The session was not lacking in quarrels. At times the order of the houses was bad and once policemen had to be stationed in the lobbies to prevent trouble. All of this was of course magnified by the opposition. One of the most interesting of p270 the factional quarrels grew out of the refusal of the enrolling clerk, one Swinson, to accept two new negro assistants who were pressed upon him, on the ground that it had already in the month of February cost $1,500 to do $6 worth of work at the current rates of copying. Further he was determined not to have any negroes in his office. Attempts to bring him around failed and a law was passed abolishing his office and placing its work under the direction of the lieutenant-governor and the speaker, by which means the negroes were installed in the places. Swinson declined to yield at first and the lieutenant-governor and the speaker broke into his desk. He then had them arrested but both were acquitted.
The Progressive Farmer made the following comment. "Thus the people's money is being divided out to pay political rewards. There is no help for it now. But the taxpayers of North Carolina will speak in thunder tones at the polls when there is another election. No party, no man, has ever been able to run roughshod over the people of this State but a short time. 'There is retribution in history.' "
The incompetence of the legislature is possibly more deserving of criticism and censure than the nature of its intentions. A large number of its acts were unconstitutional, and so declared by the court, a larger number, defective, and a greater number still, badly drawn. Inexperience and poor leadership were of course largely responsible for this.
During the greater part of the session the republicans and bolting populists acted together, the republicans, of course, being in entire control. But at times the democrats and enough populists united to defeat certain proposed measures which were notably vicious. It was in this way that further tampering with town charters was largely averted. In time many of the majority populists grew restive, saw clearly that co-operation and fusion would soon mean the absorption of the populist party by the republicans on their own terms, and the reaction to the democratic party began. They felt truly that they had been tricked and swindled, and both their own leaders and the republicans together fell under suspicion and, as suspicion became a certainty, under the ban of their harsh condemnation. Even the Caucasian saw what was the republican p271 intention. When the Asheville Reporter, a republican paper said: "The time is drawing near for the final amalgamation. The next election is an off year. Coöperation, if we be discreet now, will be natural and easy and we can absorb all the populists who are worth having by 1900," the Caucasian replied:
Who is promising to grease our heads and heels so we can be swallowed easily?
Just listen. Populists may use Republicans for the purpose of furthering the people's interests, as was done in the last campaign. And Republican bosses will lend themselves even for a good purpose when they are treated with a little pie, if they can get it no other way. Yes, Populists will use Republicans for that purpose, but by all the gods of the people's hopes, that is all the use a Populist has for Republicans. And as for the amalgamation business, we have to say in the language of the famous sage and poet, "We will be . . . . if Populists and niggers can ever amalgamate in this State and country." Do you hear?
On account of these and many other things the legislature was not popular. Democrats and the democratic press naturally condemned it. Such a paper as the North Carolina Christian Advocate, not as a rule given to political discussion, said of it, "Three distinct parties were represented. Two of these, the Republican and the Populist, were so divided that they really made four parties. The responsibility of the legislation just enacted must rest upon the Republican and Populist parties. . . . . It [the legislature] was a mixture of age and youth, ability and weakness, wisdom and foolishness, honor and dishonor . . . . Legislation, therefore, of a widely satisfactory nature could hardly be expected under the circumstances."
Even more significant were the comments of the Progressive Farmer and of the Caucasian, both of which were bitterly critical. When Russell was considering keeping the legislature in extra session just at the close of the regular session, the Progressive Farmer's comment was short but sincere. "There is talk of an extra session of the legislature. Please don't Governor Russell. We can endure famine, pestilence, drouth, war, but don't inflict any prolonged agony on the State, such as an extra session. If they don't do anything, let 'em go home."
p272 The following comment of the Caucasian indicates its spirit:
The proposed amendments to the election law are not right. The plan to place the appointment of poll holders in the hands of their "Supervisors," who, in all probability, will be a Populist bolter, a gold-bug Republican and a gold-bug Democrat — three of a kind — taking the whole machinery out of the hands of the three parties, is an outrageous proceeding. The Payne election law, and the construction of it by the Democratic election tyrants was bad enough, but as compared to this new machine about to be thrust upon us, was a mild affair. By this new method the will of the people at the ballot-box would simply be the wishes of the three "Supervisors." The people of North Carolina are not ready for a yoke of that kind. The party, the combination of parties, that attempts to lasso the people of North Carolina in such a manner will find it has undertaken too much.
The scheme to take the government of towns and cities out of the hands of the citizens of said municipalities are second only to "Supervisor" plans. The Governor of North Carolina should not have the power to dictate the municipal officers of any town or city. That power should be invested in the citizens of said towns and cities. Neither should the Clerk of the Superior Court, or any other State or county affairs, have such power. It is contrary to the principles of a Republican form of government.
Popular relief was great when the session finally came to an end, and for a time political activity ceased. In August the populist state committee met and issued a circular in the nature of a swan-song which contained the following claim of achievement:
We have secured to the citizen the right to cast one vote at all public elections and to have that vote counted as cast. We have taken the public schools out of the hands of politicians and restored them to the people. We have given the right of local self-government to each county in the State. We have removed the judiciary of the State to a safe distance from the arena of partisan politics. For a more effective and equitable control and reduction of the encroachment of railroad corporations, we suggest that the railroad commissioners should be elected in a direct vote of the people.
In the meantime the attention of the public was deflected from legislative shortcomings to the character of the fusion administration. This did not strengthen the fusion cause. Scandals began. The penitentiary, which under the skilful management of Leazer had finally become self-supporting, came under the control of the governor who appointed as p273 superintendent a henchman of his, one John R. Smith. As physician of the newly established department of criminal insane, Dr. Kirby H. Smith, the superintendent's son, was appointed. As chaplain Rev. Thomas W. Babb was selected. Almost immediately well-substantiated charges were made by one of the directors that Babb was utterly unworthy, being an habitual drunkard, with a record of dishonesty, falsehood, and immorality. Only under pressure was he removed as chaplain and made steward of the Caledonia penitentiary farm. Later in the year Doctor Smith suddenly left Raleigh. An attempt was made to smother investigation but the matter was aired and it appeared that he had been guilty of gross immorality in his relations with his insane patients. Finally in 1898 the governor began a new régime at the penitentiary, which under Smith's administration he found to be losing a great deal of money through extravagance and gross corruption. Instead of dismissing him, the governor forced an exchange between Smith and Mewborne, the commissioner of agriculture, stating that in his new position Smith would have little opportunity to do anything good or bad.
Under the new law in relation to the Agricultural and Mechanical College there was a shake-up there which resulted in the dismissal of a number of employes and teachers.
The Atlantic and North Carolina railroad came completely under the control of the governor in 1897. He caused Robert Hancock to be made president as a reward for faithful personal political service. A complete overturn in the road followed. In January, 1898, Hancock was accused of the seduction of his wife's niece and other similar charges followed. In February Russell secured his removal as director by the board of internal improvements and at the governor's insistent demand he was a few days later dismissed from the presidency. His reply was an open letter to the governor reminding him of a meeting at the Mansion at which both the governor and the board of directors had agreed that the charges were false. He accused Russell of forcing the removal because his suggestion, made in the form of an ultimatum that Hancock should commit a violent assault upon Josephus Daniels, the editor of the News and Observer, had p274 not been carried out. The matter ended here and Hancock soon after was located in a federal office. To succeed him the governor selected an incompetent person, but public pressure prevented his appointment and he was given a minor position.
In August, 1897, the governor summoned J. W. Wilson and S. Otho Wilson, two members of the railroad commission, to answer charges of having an interest in a hotel at Round Knob which was entirely dependent for its success upon railroad patronage and of receiving other favors from the Southern Railroad. He removed them, appointing L. C. Caldwell and John H. Pearson to replace them. The Wilsons would not yield and carried the matter to the courts, which decided against them.
The most significant political event of the year, viewed in retrospect, was the meeting in Raleigh in November of a convention of the Lincoln Republican League, composed of negroes, to protest against the giving of ten offices to one hundred and twenty thousand negroes and all the rest to thirty thousand white republicans. They demanded that the negroes in future vote for no man opposed to full recognition for their race and that before nominations were made a pledge should be exacted from every candidate that one-half of the clerical force of the office be given to negroes.
It was very clear by this time that the negroes would not be content with what they were receiving of the spoils of politics, and the republicans were in a most difficult position. They were well aware of course that the mass of populists were already disgusted with the prominence of the negroes and in no mood to stomach anything further in that direction. Already, too, the situation was rapidly developing which was to overthrow the fusion régime. For, from the standpoint of the mass of white people in the state, the negro already had far too much. A glance at the facts will illustrate the situation.
In the East the negroes were filling many offices. The position of justice of the peace, as in Reconstruction, had to content most of them. Craven had twenty-seven; Columbus, five; Hertford, six; Pasquotank, three; Perquimans, six; Jones, three; Caswell, seven; Wayne, six; Nash, three; Edgecombe, p275 thirty-one; Richmond, ten; Bertie, sixteen; Halifax, twenty-nine; and Granville, seventeen. In all there were over three hundred in the state. The school committees likewise suffered. Craven had thirteen members; Hertford, ten; Montgomery, four; Richmond, twenty-three; Columbus, seventeen; Chowan, eight; Pasquotank, five; Perquimans, ten; Jones, twelve; Hyde, eight; and Beaufort, Caswell, and Edgecombe, one in every township. In many of the counties were negro members of the county boards of education, county commissioners, deputy sheriffs, and constables. In New Hanover and Craven the registers of deeds and their deputies were negroes. There were about twenty-five negro postmasters in the East and numerous revenue officials. The towns in the East were even worse off. In Greenville where the negroes were in the minority, under the charter of 1895, four of the six aldermen were negroes and the town was dominated by them. Government as a result was extravagant and corrupt. New Bern had of negro officials five policemen, three aldermen, the city engineer, and the city attorney. The condition of Wilmington was pitiable. White people owned 97 per cent of the property and paid that proportion of the taxes. The mayor, a white man, owned no property and paid very small taxes. Negros were most of the time in a majority on the police force, four negroes were on the board of aldermen, forty were magistrates, and they filled every position in the health department. The collector of the port, also, was a negro. There was no security left for person or property. Burglary, robbery, and murder were offences of increasing frequency and negro juries made conviction practically impossible. Along with violence and misgovernment went extravagance and corruption. As a result of these conditions, business was stagnant, depression was general, and the community which should have been prosperous was retrograding.
No one could contend that negro government was efficient in any sense or that the presence of the negro tended to good government. On the contrary it was in every sense evil. Slovenly incapacity was bad enough, but the multiplication of crimes of violence, particularly of those against white women, was unbearable. The prominence of the negro bred in the p276 race a sense of importance which expressed itself in an assertiveness which Southern white people have ever found difficult to bear and which early took a violent form. In the towns gangs of negroes frequently forced white people into the streets. Affrays were common, and assaults numerous. In the city courts, dominated as they were by negroes or those dependent upon them, there was no redress. Self-restraint was of course a quality well-nigh unknown to a large proportion of the race and so encouraged by white schemers who climbed to place and power upon their backs, and backed by a remnant of the old carpet-baggers or their descendants, the negroes set about making this condition of affairs which had largely contributed to make Reconstruction unbearable and ultimately had led to its overthrow almost a generation before, at the same time putting upon the republican party a stigma which it had never been able to remove. For the presence of the negro in government in North Carolina no principle was responsible; it was a matter of politics alone. Republicans, at least native ones, had no illusions about the negro nor any belief that his participation in politics was a matter of principle. The sole reason for putting the negro into office was the desire and necessity of holding and controlling the solid vote of the race. And as always this meant the debauching of the community.
Such was the situation in the state when the critical campaign of 1898 was ushered in.
In the fusion era the republican party had lost a wonderful opportunity for rehabilitation. It came into power when the democratic party was completely discredited, and under the most favorable conditions for absorbing the populists. Nor need the republicans have been dependent upon populists alone for increasing their white membership. There was a large element which was dissatisfied with the democratic party, which thought that the time had come for a two-party political system in the state, and which, because composed chiefly of young men, had no keen hatred of the republican party. The new and growing industrial group was also well-disposed. With the exercise of any wisdom, with good government, with interest in social and economic reform, with a record of p277 achievement, these elements might have been won and along with them public confidence. Of course had they been won it would have meant the transformation of the party and the enforced retirement of many leaders. That possibly explains the failure to grasp an opportunity which was at the time clearly visible, for the party was "bossed" by its leaders who naturally were not looking to their own displacement. Thus was postponed to the indefinite future the renascence of republicanism in the state to the detriment of the party and the hurt of the state which has sadly needed the stimulus of two parties as well as the services of the many able, honest, and enlightened republicans who have since had small opportunity in public life.
The fate of the populist party was a pathetic one. Originating, as it did, in response to a real necessity and in protest against genuine grievances, few parties have been inspired with better motives. At times prejudiced, often mistaken and misled by economic heresies, its members were nevertheless animated by a genuinely progressive spirit. Their greatest blunder was fusion and for that the rank and file was scarcely responsible. It is an interesting but a natural thing that protesting against the rule of "bosses" in the democratic party, they should have delivered their political destinies into the hands of a small group of leaders not all of whom were inspired by ideals. That they did so was of course due to their inexperience and ignorance of politics. It was these leaders who undertook to reform the republican party through fusion with it and led the party into a scheme designed to benefit the leaders and the republicans, but to do little to make effective the ideals and principles of the party. Economy, so ardently desired, was replaced by extravagance and efficiency by governmental disorder and corruption. Even their demands for a fair election law and for local self-government were translated into laws that, considering the ideals behind them, would have been laughable if they had not been so tragic. Rightly led the populists in no longer time might probably have secured a revolution in North Carolina politics, unattended by the lost power, mal-administration, and other evils which characterized fusion.
p278 And yet the populists accomplished much of good. In a positive way their educational liberality was their best characteristic. They impressed this upon the state, and the democrats, returning to power, were forced to accept it and continue it. Their greatest achievements, however, were accomplished indirectly. Of these the most important was the liberalizing of the democratic party which through defeat was chastened and purified. When it returned to power it was with new and progressive leadership and with a new senses of responsibility to the people for social improvement. Once more it set its face to the future. The other great indirect result of populism was a new attitude towards the race question. Fusion awakened the people to a new sense of the danger of the negro in politics and bred a determination to eliminate him for the future that a new peace and security might come to the commonwealth. Thus in a new sense the doctrine of White Supremacy was presented to the state.
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