Rising Tensions Farmer Politics

In the decades after the Civil War, North Carolina farmers grew increasingly disenchanted with the two national political parties. While Republicans represented African American equality at the local level, the party also represented corporate, railroad and tariff interests nationally. Yet in North Carolina, Democrats wielded more economic power at the state level than Republicans. Prominent Democrats controlled local banks that set the terms of farmers’ access to credit and owned the North Carolina railroads that set high prices, pinching farmers who needed to transport their goods to market.

In 1887, farmers’ clubs and associations that had sprouted throughout the state the previous year organized into a powerful Farmers’ Alliance, a national movement begun in Texas. The Southern Alliance and a similarly-minded Colored Farmer’s Alliance challenged both Democratic and Republican agendas by establishing farmers’ cooperatives and successfully coordinating a boycott that forced a jute-bagging trust to lower prices in 1889. By 1891, North Carolina membership totaled over 100,000 and alliance members in the legislature passed numerous economic, political and social reforms. In 1892, some alliance members joined the newly formed People’s Party, also known as the Populist Party, a national party headed by North Carolinian Leonidas LaFayette Polk. After 1892, North Carolina Populists sought cooperation with Republicans, a process called “fusion” that would bear great significance in North Carolina politics and the 1898 Wilmington massacre.

The Ocala Platform set forth the demands of the National Farmers’ Alliance in 1890. By 1896 the National Farmers’ Alliance summarized its demands around issues regarding finance, transportation, land, and election reform. The National Farmers’ Alliance demands are listed in the Progressive Farmer, October 20, 1896 (below). How relevant were these demands to North Carolina farmers?

What does Marion Butler say in his Presidential Address to the North Carolina State Farmers’ Alliance at its 1893 session?


The Progressive Farmer

January 28, 1896 [newspaper] "Go it alone, The Best and Safest Policy" [transcription]

March 10, 1896 [newspaper] "The Political Arena" [transcription]

March 24, 1896 [newspaper] "Mr. Kestler Again" [transcription]

March 31, 1896 [newspaper] "Letter from Lenoir County" [transcription] "An Open Letter to Grover Cleveland" [transcription]

October 13, 1896 [newspaper] "Col. Dockery's Position" [transcription]

October 20, 1896 [newspaper] "The People's Party" [transcription] "National Alliance Demands" [transcription]