FW: Jewett on Rogers, _The One-Gallused Rebellion: Agrarianism in Alabama, 1865-1896_
- fyi..reprint of 1970 ed...aj wright // ajwright@...
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Subject: Jewett on Rogers, _The One-Gallused Rebellion_
H-NET BOOK REVIEW
Published by H-South@... (January, 2002)
William Warren Rogers, Sr. _The One-Gallused Rebellion: Agrarianism
in Alabama, 1865-1896_. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press,
2001. 376 pp. Maps, illustrations, notes, bibliographical essay,
and index. $24.95 (paper), ISBN 0-8173-1106-8.
Reviewed for H-South by Clayton E Jewett <cejewett@...>,
Department of History, Austin Community College
The Failure of Political Democracy?
One-Gallused refers to those dirt-poor southern farmers that
generally owned only one pair of overalls, held up by two galluses.
Over time, one of the galluses would wear out, leaving the farmer
with one gallus to hold up his overalls. Thus, this is the story of
the poor Alabama farmers, white and black, and their grass-roots
rebellion that not only transformed their world, but also had a
lasting impact on southern society and national politics.
Originally published in 1970, _One-Gallused Rebellion_ is an
unrevised paperback version with a new introduction by the author.
Using primary material from newspapers, archival sources, and
unpublished works, William Warren Rogers, Sr. examines in scrupulous
detail the agrarian movement in Alabama, discussing the Grange, the
Agricultural Wheel, the Farmers' Alliance, and the People's Party.
Rogers argues that the agrarian movement in Alabama initially was a
non-political revolt against economic oppression. It was only after
failing to harvest lasting economic relief that the movement turned
overtly political. It is this journey that Rogers so judiciously
details. The primary thesis of this monograph, according to the
author, is that the Alabama agrarian movement represented a
statement and test of political democracy, especially considering
the Populist call for free and fair elections. Thus, in his view,
the Populist movement is both "universal and timeless" (p. xvii).
Rogers begins the journey through agrarian discontent by aptly
setting the stage with a discussion of the general economic woes.
Beginning in the late 1860s, with the falling cotton prices and the
exodus of black farmers to the cities, land problems emerged in
Alabama. Many poor whites lost their land to larger landowners and
many blacks failed to become landowners. Thus, land became
concentrated in the hands of the few, and the one-gallused
increasingly struggled to hold on to small tracts of land or drifted
into share cropping. Not unique to Alabama, the crop lien system
dominated the economy. Rogers reveals that large landowners desired
to repeal the crop lien system, giving them greater control over
labor. Merchants of course favored the law and surprisingly tenant
farmers and sharecroppers favored the system because it insured them
a means of obtaining necessary supplies. Rogers also discusses
economic problems unique to the state, such as the scarcity of good
fertilizers, the lack of agricultural information, and the theft of
agricultural products. By thoroughly detailing the intricacies of
the crop lien system and a myriad of other problems, the author
reveals that the agrarian movement represented a class struggle that
would shape the economic and political future of the state.
Politically, however, Alabama was not like other post-Reconstruction
southern states; a virtual one party system ruled by the bourbon
Democrats did not take shape. Instead, party alignments appeared
somewhat fluid and murky. Rogers though does an excellent job of
clearing the water by detailing the oppositional roots to the
Democratic Party. The first significant attempt at organizational
opposition came in the birth of the Grange movement, a distinctly
non-political organization throughout the South that appeared most
prominent at the local levels. The Grange carried the specific goal
of educating the farmers and providing social benefits. Poor
farmers became aware on a larger scale of the economic difficulties
in the state, and educated on improved farming methods, crop
diversification, and wage labor.
Nevertheless, the Grange failed to bring about lasting economic
relief. Rogers attributes its failure to the lack of a distinct
economic program (it blamed the merchant and retailing middlemen but
offered no clear solution except going into business itself by
establishing cooperatives that failed due to mismanagement and
fraud), its concentration on fairs, and the fact that large
landowners controlled the organization. The Grange in Alabama, he
argues, while serving an important function, did not have a strong
base of support. Nevertheless, the Grange was significant because
for the first time educational and social benefits were offered to
the poor farmers and they became cognizant of the large scale
economic problems and potential solutions.
The next stage in the process involved the formation of the Alabama
State Agricultural Society in the early 1880s. It emerged about the
time the Grange lost ground. Though its leaders were committed
Democrats, the society was far from being political. It stressed
scientific agriculture and education, generally focusing on the
plight of poor white farmers. As the one-gallused clamored for
political action, partly because the society never really
represented the average farmer, they lost interest in the society
and gravitated toward the Agricultural Wheel and Farmers' Alliance.
Though the society also failed to exact lasting economic relief, its
significance is found in elevating to prominence a new agrarian
leader, Reuben F. Kolb, who the author describes as "the single most
important figure in Alabama's agrarian revolution" (p. 100).
By the late 1880s, the society gave way to the Agricultural Wheel
and the Farmers' Alliance. Of the two, the Wheel appeared more
class conscious, appealing to the small, oppressed farmers and
railing against monopoly and oppression. It advocated co-operative
stores and manufacturing. It challenged the railroads, the
Interstate Commerce Commission and the state legislature for
economic relief. In addition, the Wheel in Alabama was significant
because it cut across party and racial lines. Unsuccessful in its
attempts to remedy the economic woes of the small farmers, though,
the Wheel merged with the Alliance in 1888. The Alliance had a
broader appeal; it attracted not only the small farmers and
sharecroppers, but also large farmers and ministers (especially
Baptists). Though the Alliance also cut across racial lines, it
remained weakest in the black belt. Unlike previous organizations,
however, the failed economic ventures of the Alliance served only to
strengthen the organization, which alarmed Democrats.
The enduring strength of county based Alliances, which generally
adopted the Ocala Platform and hinted at forming a third political
party, frightened the Democrats. Redeemers viewed political
opposition as a threat to white supremacy, and feared the emergence
of "Negro rule" should whites in Alabama become divided between the
parties. By 1892, the one-gallused masses threw down the gauntlet
by advocating the formation of a third party. In Alabama, a
significant step in this process came in the formation of the
Jeffersonian Democrats, led by Kolb. This attempt at a third party
did not achieve political success, due primarily to political
corruption. In their attempt to maintain political control and
white supremacy, bourbon Democrats resorted to unprecedented
political fraud. Such methods included stealing ballot boxes,
stuffing ballot boxes, controlling the black vote through
intimidation, and blatantly changing the voting returns in several
counties. Without a constitutional provision to contest elections at
the state level, Kolb and other Populist politicians could do little
but swallow defeat and remain determined.
It is here in the state elections that Rogers is at his best by
revealing the intricate political loyalties and the political game
playing. While Jeffersonian Democrats and Populists were separate
in name, both groups counted on the other for political support in
specific counties. Rogers also does a superb job of revealing that
in some areas of Alabama, the Jeffersonian Democrats fused with
Republican factions to mount a legitimate threat to the bourbon
Democrats. In addition, many disillusioned bourbon Democrats
defected to the Jeffersonians or Populists. In this whole process,
though, political ties were fragile at best; Jeffersonian Democrats,
Populists, and Republicans all appeared apprehensive about fusion.
However uneasy these ties might have been, Rogers makes clear that
Democratic opponents were the victims of fraud and oppression,
defeated by the corrupt bourbon machinery.
By 1894, the Jeffersonian Democrats led by Kolb, and the Populists
in Alabama merged to challenge the Democrats in state elections.
This did not mean though the Populists were without their troubles.
Fusion with Republicans alienated many white farmers, Kolb and other
leaders remained divided on how to best deal with the black belt and
the black vote, and many questioned accepting the support of free
silver Democrats. At times, reveals Rogers, the agrarian movement
seemed unsure of itself.
Though the Populists mounted a strong campaign for free silver, and
open and honest elections, again they were outdone by their
oppressors in the 1896 state and national elections. Rogers reveals
that the Democrats in Alabama stole Populist principles, nominated
strong candidates, unfurled the banner of white supremacy, and stole
black votes. In addition, the split Bryan ticket, and the defection
of Kolb to support the Democrat's Bryan-Sewall ticket over the
Populist's Bryan-Watson ticket, left the Alabama agrarian movement
without a leader. Though in later years the Populists would
continue to play a small role in Alabama politics, their defeat at
the state and national level in 1896 signaled the downfall of the
party and an end to the agrarian movement in Alabama. The
one-gallused never again threatened the supremacy of the bourbon
Rogers ends the monograph with a short summation of the enduring
Populist influence: the income tax, the direct election of senators,
women's suffrage, governmental regulation of the railroads and
business, the subtreasury plan, and the resulting "political
oblivion" for southern blacks (p. 333) We know that the majority of
Populist goals were met during the Wilson and FDR administrations.
Furthermore, examining the rhetoric of later political contests, we
see that politicians continue to make at least a nod to the
one-gallused masses. Given these results, the Populists do appear
somewhat timeless. One can only smile and wonder, however, what
Kolb and the Populists would have thought and done about the
Kennedy, Nixon, and George W. Bush elections.
While Rogers provides the most thorough account to date of the
agrarian movement in Alabama, his analysis is straight out of the
Progressive school of thought, and thus somewhat dated. In
addition, we could learn more about the tactics used by the
Populists to gain black votes, and about politics in the Alabama
black communities. Nevertheless, this study is an excellent example
to historians wishing to study the intricacies of political
alignments and factors influencing state politics; a must read for
every scholar interested in state politics, economics, and agrarian
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