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Agrarian Rebel 





I The Heritage I 

II Scholar and Poet 10 

III "Ishmael" in the Backwoods 27 

IV The "New Departure" 44 
V Preface to Rebellion 62 

VI The Temper of the 'Eighties 7 1 

VII Agrarian Law-making 8 1 

VIII Henry Grady's Vision 96 

IX The Rebellion of the Farmers 1 10 

X The Victory of 1890 125 

XI "I Mean Business" 143 

XII Populism in Congress 163 

XIII Race, Class, and Party 186 

XIV Populism on the March 210 
XV Annee Terrible 223 

XVI The Silver Panacea 240 

XVII The Debacle of 1896 261 

XVIII Of Revolution and Revolutionists 287 

XIX From Populism to Muckraking 307 

XX Reform and Reaction 320 

XXI "The World is Plunging Hellward" 343 

XXII The Shadow of the Pope 360 

XXIII The Lecherous Jew 373 

XXIV Peter and the Armies of Islam 390 
XXV The Tertium Quid 411 

Bibliography 422 

Index i 


Preface to the 19 j 3 Reissue 

THE reissue OF an unrevised biography thirty-five years 
after its original publication raises some questions about 
the effect that history has on historical writing as well as the 
effect that changing fashions of historical writing have on history 
written according to earlier fashions. 

Among the many historical events of the last three decades 
that have altered the perspective from which this book was writ- 
ten, perhaps the most outstanding has been the movement for 
political and civil rights of the black people. All that was still in 
the unforeseeable future in 1938. At that time the Negro was 
still thoroughly disfranchised in the South, and no white South- 
ern politician dared speak out for the political or civil rights of 
blacks. In writing about a Southern politician who had dared to 
speak up for their rights in the i89o's, I was dealing with what 
was at that time — and even more so at the time I was writing — 
a rare and remarkable phenomenon. Under the circumstances it 
was natural that I should have stressed the comparative bold- 
ness of the effort and such success as it enjoyed rather than its 
limitations and shortcomings. From a much later perspective 
critics have called attention to the elements of paternalism and 
racism intermixed with Watson's approach to his black Populist 
allies. Those elements were present, to be sure, but they are more 
evident now than they were then, and they have an altered sig- 

Fewer concessions, it seems to me, are due the changing fash- 
ions of historiography that have occurred since this book was 
written. One of these was the "consensus" school, which held 
that historians have placed too much emphasis on conflict in their 
interpretation of American domestic history. According to these 


Preface to the 1973 Reissue 

critics, basic agreement, or consensus, was the distinctive charac- 
teristic of American history, and historians who stressed themes 
of conflict were prone to distort the past. Of course conflict is the 
very core and central theme of this biography of a Southern 
Populist, conflict in every department — political, racial, sec- 
tional, and class conflict, violent and irrepressible conflict. I do 
not see how my account of it could have been otherwise and do 
not believe that the emphasis was misplaced. Distortion would 
have resulted rather from minimizing the theme of conflict. 

Another development in historiography that should be men- 
tioned in this connection, is the revisionist interpretation of 
Populism that emerged in the mid-i950 , s. The revisionists held 
that earlier historians had overlooked the seamy and sinister as- 
pects of Populism. They attributed to the movement a basically 
irrational mentality expressed in paranoidal obsession, conspira- 
torial delusions, and nostalgic fantasies. Populist leaders, accord- 
ing to this view, were given to demagogic exploitation of racism, 
anti-Semitism, and zenophobia. I have set forth my criticism of 
the revisionist views elsewhere (in The Burden of Southern His- 
tory) and will not repeat them here. It is my belief, however, 
that, as in the instance of the consensus interpretation, subse- 
quent scholarship has done considerably more to sustain my 
views than to support the revisionists. 

None of this is intended to suggest that I would have written 
the same biography in 1973 that I wrote in 1938, nor that I com- 
placently assume this to be the final word on the subject. It does 
make bold, however, to suggest to the reader who picks the book 
up for the first time in its present cover that the ravages of his- 
torical relativism may not have rendered it wholly outdated. 

C. Vann Woodward 
New Haven, Connecticut 




After reading this book in manuscript, a friend of mine, a 
x\* man of excellent instincts and sympathies, offered what 
might have seemed a strange criticism, had I not known his pre- 
dilections and half anticipated his reaction. "As I look back," he 
writes, "I feel a little unhappy over having come through those 
[latter] chapters with so kindly a feeling toward Watson." Be- 
lieving that Watson, in some phases of his later life, became the 
embodiment of much that was detestable, my friend felt that his 
own better instincts had been betrayed into a false alignment of 
sympathies. Granting the damaging character of certain chap- 
ters, were they, after all, "sufficiently damning" ? Were not the 
splendid battles of Watson's early days overshadowed in impor- 
tance by his later career, and should he not therefore be blamed 
for certain aspects of Southern society that both my friend and 
I deplore and condemn? The criticism started an exchange of 
philosophies, historical and literary, that led to a result some- 
what rare in such transactions — an agreement. Only after I had 
explained my position in some detail, however, was my friend 
willing to withdraw his criticism and agree with me. In view of 
this fact we decided that I had best anticipate similar questions 
among readers of like mind. Readers of another class deserve an 
explanation. I refer to those whose impressions of Watson were 
fixed by the last ten or fifteen years of his career. They will likely 
be puzzled by the first part of the book, just as my friend was 
troubled by the last — and for much the same reason. 

It is usually a truism to say that the life of a man contains 
paradoxes. To say this of Tom Watson, however, is to make the 
only broad generalization one can make concerning the man. 
His life was a paradox. Especially is this true when the two parts 



of his career, divided by the interval of eight years that began 
in 1896, are contrasted. One can not arrive at any fair or true 
judgment of Watson by considering either of these two aspects 
of his life to the exclusion of the other. When a liberal journal 
fastens upon Watson the responsibility for "the sinister forces of 
intolerance, superstition, prejudice, religious jingoism, and mob- 
bism," it is indulging in half-truths as surely as does the veriest 
demagogue it denounces. The term "Southern demagogue" 
should be recognized for what it is, a political epithet. It does 
not contribute anything to our understanding of the men to whom 
it is applied. I hold no brief for men of this type, nor for Tom 
Watson in so far as he was representative of them. I do insist 
upon understanding them clearly. I do not believe it is accurate 
to blame Watson for the "sinister forces" already mentioned. To 
do so would be to assign him far too important a role, a role that 
belongs to the vastly more impersonal forces of economics and 
race and historical heritage. To do so, moreover, would be to 
miss at the same time the deep meaning of his story. He did not 
produce those forces : he was produced by them. They thwarted 
at every turn his courageous struggle in the face of them during 
his early Populist battles, and they led him into the futility and 
degeneration of his later career. This was what made his life a 
personal tragedy. Although I have not sought to impose the view 
upon the reader, I might confess here my private feeling that his 
story is also in many ways the tragedy of a class, and more es- 
pecially the tragedy of a section. 

To counterbalance various difficulties encountered in writing 
this book, I have had several advantages, one of which only a 
biographer can fully appreciate. Miss Georgia Durham Watson 
has not only permitted but insisted upon my complete freedom 
in the use of the wide range of manuscripts, photographs, and 
materials which she has made available to me. Had it not been 
for her truly rare qualities of intellectual detachment, which 
are combined with a genuine devotion to her grandfather, this 
work would have presented problems so difficult that I should 
never have attempted it. I am deeply grateful to her. In no sense, 
however, does she stand as sponsor to this work, nor does she 
share responsibility for any views expressed in it. 

I have received valued assistance and counsel from many peo- 
ple. Foremost among these is Professor Howard K. Beale, who 


has given unsparingly of his time and attention in advising me 
in the latter stages of the work. For this aid I am especially 
grateful. I also recall with gratitude the many hours I have 
spent across a littered desk from Dr. Rupert B. Vance, plunder- 
ing that storehouse of knowledge about the South. I gladly ac- 
knowledge my indebtedness to Professors A. R. Newsome, 
F. M. Green, W. W. Pierson, H. T. Lefler, W. G. Carleton, 
M. J. Dauer and J. A. Barnes for their numerous kindnesses, 
and to Dr. Howard W. Odum for his consistent encouragement 
and support. Part of the work on this book was made possible by 
fellowships granted by the General Education Board. Two loyal 
comrades have given aid and encouragement that has been in- 
valuable — my wife, Glenn MacLeod Woodward, upon whose 
shoulders fell the heavy burden of typing the manuscript, and 
Mr. Glenn W. Rainey, who has cheered the work along from 
the beginning to end. 

C. Vann Woodward 




The Heritage 

One December morning in 1863 a diminutive, red-headed 
boy sat astride a large bay mare at the railway station of 
Thomson, Georgia. Waiting there for his grandfather's mail, he 
watched a locomotive puff by pulling a string of freight cars filled 
with Yankee prisoners on their way to Augusta. 

"They passed through the town with defiant laughter, with 
ringing cheers, and with the resounding song of 'John Brown's 
body lies mouldering in the grave, but his soul is marching on.' " 1 
The sight of so many Blue Coats was exciting enough for a boy 
of seven, but the astonishing thing about these prisoners was 
their gayety. 

Tom Watson was old enough to remember the gay fanfare of 
patriotism and confident gallantry with which his father and his 
two uncles had set off to whip the Yankees. Now in December 
of the third year of war, months after Gettysburg, he felt in 
place of that old buoyancy and debonair confidence a pervading 
mood of despondence and melancholy. For him the change was 
echoed in the songs the people sang, in the plaintive, wailing re- 
frain that repeated itself in the popular songs of 1863 : in "Lo- 
rena," in "Kitty Wills," in "Juanita," in "Just Before the Battle, 
Mother," in "When This Cruel War Is Over." "It gave one the 
shivers," he remembered. 2 The contrast between these songs and 
the one the Yankee prisoners sang was too marked to escape his 

Sudden, tearful departures and anxious waiting for the return 
of dead or wounded were woven into the texture of the boy's 

1 Thomas E. Watson, Bethany, p. 365. 

2 Ibid., p. 364. 

Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

earliest impressions. Indeed, the decline in the fortunes of the 
Confederacy seemed to reflect itself in the fortunes of the house 
of Watson. Tom's father, John Smith Watson, was twice 
wounded, and there remained in the boy's mind the experience 
"of going with my mother through all the confusion and dangers 
of the time, to find my father and bring him home." 3 The pre- 
ceding year Tom's favorite uncle, William Watson, was sent 
home with an illness of which he died on December 8, 1862. 
Later his Uncle Tom Peter came home to his family an incurable 
invalid. Then, in that winter of 1863, his grandfather, in the 
midst of the family's woes, suffered a stroke of paralysis that 
took away his voice and blighted his mind. 

It was the stroke which laid his grandfather low that came 
closest to the boy. For while his father and uncles had'departed, 
returned wounded to die, or set off to fight again, his grand- 
father had always remained — white-haired, stately, imperturb- 
able, a rock of refuge in the storm. 

The house of Thomas Miles Watson was built on his planta- 
tion three miles out of the village of Thomson, then in Columbia 
County. The main portion of the house, the original part, built 
solidly against the winds of the hilltop, has weathered the win- 
ters of a century and still stands, though overshadowed and 
hidden from the road by the large frame structure later built in 
front of it. Limited in size by the length of the pine logs of which 
it was constructed, the house measured only twenty by twenty- 
seven feet. The logs, hewn square with the broadax, smoothed 
with the foot-adze, and deeply interlocked at the ends, fitted 
snugly together without any covering of weather-boards. 
Through the center of the log house ran a partition, cutting it 
into two rooms, one of which was heated by a cavernous fireplace 
on the side. Overhead was a loft, and part of the roof extended 
to cover a shed room and a back porch. Sometime before the war 
Squire Watson had added an ell to his house, connecting it to 
the original structure by a piazza at the front. The addition 
served as the "company room." 

This was the house in which on September 5, 1856, Tom 
Watson, christened Edward Thomas, was born. "It did not in 
the least," he once wrote of his birthplace, "resemble a Grecian 
Temple which had been sent into exile, and which was striving 

8 T. E. W., Life and Speeches of Thomas E. Watson, p. 9. 

The Heritage 

unsuccessfully to look at ease among corn-cribs, cow-pens, horse- 
stables, pig-sties, chicken-houses, Negro cabins, and worm-fenced 
cotton fields." 

If the house would never have been taken for that of an 
aristocrat, neither would it have been mistaken as the cabin of a 
frontiersman, nor the humbler dwelling of the "poor white." 
It was "just a plain house," according to Tom. Yet of such was 
the Kingdom of Cotton, for Tom Watson's birthplace was more 
nearly representative of the Southern Squirarchy than either 
colonnaded temple or squatter's hut. Since the relinquishment of 
Southern leadership by the Virginians, the South had drawn the 
great part of its distinguished statesmen — Calhoun, McDuffie, 
Yancey, Stephens, Davis — from homes of just this class. Senator 
George McDuffie, born two miles down the road, was pleased 
to accept the hospitality of Squire Watson, when, shortly before 
his death, he had returned to Georgia to visit his birthplace. 4 
Robert Toombs and Alexander Stephens, riding the circuit to- 
gether, could feel equally at home around the Watson table, 
when they stopped on their way to Augusta from the neighbor- 
ing towns of Washington and Crawfordville, where they lived. 
Joel Chandler Harris, growing up about this time in a similar 
Georgia community, where he had "every opportunity to shiver 
under the chill of snobbism, if such an atmosphere had prevailed 
in his native village," spoke of his neighbors as "the most demo- 
cratic people the world has ever seen." 6 It was a peculiar de- 
mocracy, of course — a "Greek Democracy," the statesmen said. 
Squire "Long-Tom" Watson was the master of forty-five 
slaves and of 1,372 acres of land, an estate valued at $55,000 in 
i860. 6 His possessions would not rank him with the greatest 
plantation masters of the state; and yet of the 118,000 white 
families in Georgia in i860, only a little more than a third 
owned any slaves at all, and of these only 6,363 had twenty or 
more slaves. Squire Watson was, therefore, one of that class 
whose cause was most closely identified with that of the Con- 
federacy, the class that had most to fear from the loss of the 
Confederate cause. 

Except what he wrote in the form of fiction there are few 

4 T. E. W. to V. M. McDuffie, undated copy, Watson MSS. 

5 Julia Collier Harris, Life of Joel Chandler Harris, pp. 8-9. 

6 Columbia County Tax Returns for i860. 

Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

hints that remain of the first nine years of Tom's boyhood on the 
plantation, other than some random notes made on the flyleaf 
of an early diary. 7 Here one learns of such adventures as, "Going 
to spit in the Alligator's eye," "Breaking pig down in the loins," 
"Sleeping in the mill house," "Father and Frank Callaher pit- 
ting a wounded hawk against Jennie Fuller's rooster." Here, 
too, one is presented with a list of his fights, fights with Ben 
Perry, with Billy Farr, with Frank Curtis. Then there comes, 
"The night of father's departure for the Army," and later, "At 
a theatre in Augusta during the War, scenes representing horse 
standing by dead master." 

As for the slaves, "They were treated well, upon the same 
principle that the horses were amply fed." What impressed Tom 
about his Negro mammy was her unique virtue: "It was said 
among white men, as well as black, that no temptation could 
reach her." He recalled also the presence of "a bright mulatto 
boy on the place, named Sam, whose mother's color was a 
smooth universal black, and whose son Sam bore a distinct like- 
ness to my uncle." 8 

"All was steady, all was quiet, all was regular," as Tom re- 
membered the life of the plantation. "Day followed day with 
respectable monotony; and each found its task done, in order, 
without haste and without rest." 9 So immutable seemed the mul- 
titudinous functionings of his plantation world — each slave with 
his task, each field with its crop, each season with its duties — 
that to Tom it was all "like some steady law of nature." Cer- 
tainly it was a kindly "law of nature" that could produce in 
such abundance the peace, and security, and plenty of his grand- 
father's plantation. So, at least, it seemed to Tom. 

The end of the War, followed almost immediately by the 
death of his grandfather, as if by some momentous consequence, 
was to mark a change so definite and complete in Tom's scheme 
of things that truly it would seem to him as if nature itself had 
been perverted. The boy of nine was to find himself rudely 
jolted out of his warm nest into a world that was at war with it- 
self, where there was no "rock of refuge," where, until he 

7 Kept during the years c. 1870-1873, it was more of a journal than a diary, and 
is referred to hereafter as "Journal 1." 

8 T. E. W., Bethany, p. 17. 

9 T. E. W., Prose Miscellanies, p. 79. 

The Heritage 

reached manhood, there was little for him but insecurity and 

Those early plantation years, so intimately associated in his 
mind with his grandfather — who seemed to him a figure of 
classic serenity and lordly dignity, "tall, venerable, imposing" — 
became for Tom Watson a symbol of "the days before the 
War." Perhaps it was out of a compensatory urge, induced by 
the sidemeat and sorghum diet of the lean years after the War, 
that there grew in his emotional life an irrational core of nos- 
talgia for a lost paradise of childhood. When, as a middle-aged 
man, he came to write about his grandfather and the plantation, 
it was with the idolatrous veneration of a boy bereft of an in- 
heritance of grandeur : 

My grandfather takes his silver-headed cane and walks around and about 
the lots, the fields, the orchards, the gardens, the woods — and walks slowly, 
with the calm, dignified air of a master who expects to find everything going 
as it should ; the settled, confident air of one who is used to being obeyed, 
and who has no anxieties; a stately, self-contained, self-reliant man. . . . 

As I look back to it now, it seems to me that my grandfather's farm 
must have belonged to another world, so complete have been the changes 
wrought by two generations. It seems to me that there was neither feverish 
haste upon it nor vagrant leisure, fretful exactitude nor slipshod looseness, 
miserly gripping nor spendthrift waste. . . . 

That old Southern homestead was a little kingdom, a complete social 
and industrial organism, almost wholly sufficient unto itself, asking less of 
the outer world than it gave. How sound, sane, healthy it appears, even 
now, when compared to certain phases of certain other systems ! 10 

The old order of agrarian rulership that claimed Tom's boy- 
hood loyalties was to retain strong hold upon them all his days, 
even through the defeat and ultimate decay of the old order. 
Throughout the triumphant rise of the New South, in which 
he was to fight his battles, his face remained fixed upon his vision 
of agrarian bliss. In the Watsonian economics this vision always 
lay beyond statistics and platforms, and unless it is taken into 
account there is no understanding the ordeal of Tom Watson in 
the New South. 

The pioneer generation of Watsons had done its work in 
Georgia and moved off the scene a century before. In 1768, 

10 T. E. W., Bethany, pp. 10-19. 

Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Thomas Watson and his two sons, John and Jacob, moved to 
Georgia along with forty families of u the people called Quakers" 
from Orange County, North Carolina, to which they had "but 
lately" come from Pennsylvania. 11 This small colony of Friends 
came to take possession of a reserve of twelve thousand acres in 
St. Paul's Parish, thirty miles west of Augusta, granted them 
by Governor James Wright. The following year, after seventy 
more families had joined the colony, the grant was extended, a 
town, called Wrightsborough in honor of the Royal governor, 
was laid out, and land was allotted to petitioners. Among these 
petitioners of 1769 was Thomas Watson, whose name comes 
first on the list, with a grant of five hundred acres. 12 Thereafter, 
each of the five lineal generations that descended from Thomas, 
the Quaker pioneer, to Tom, the grandson of Squire Thomas 
M. Watson, made its home on or near the original Quaker 

Colonial Georgia of the later eighteenth century was not the 
ideal land in which to found the kingdom of peace and brotherly 
love. Forces that had damned one Utopia could as easily damn 
another — and still others. The thirteenth colony had put aside 
the philanthropic purposes of its founders along with their 
Utopian hopes; slavery was officially admitted in 1749; Indians 
and Spaniards had to be dealt with frequently in ways neither 
peaceful nor brotherly; clashes between colonial and Royal in- 
terests did not encourage peaceful neutrality. The first colony 
of Friends to appear in Georgia settled in 1754 upon the site 
later occupied by the Wrightsborough Quakers. When faced by 
the threat of an Indian invasion and the proposal of the gover- 
nor to recall all grants of land and issue new warrants on terms 
especially hard on non-slave owners, the early Friends gave up 
their land and moved on. 

The later Wrightsborough settlers exhibited more tenacity 
in their attempt, though not without cost to certain of their most 
cherished principles. They were frequently warned by their lead- 
ers against "superfluity of apparil," "wearing faulds in their 
coats," and "such vain and vicecious proceedings as frollicking, 
fiddling and danceing." While peculiarities of speech and dress 

11 M. A. Candler, "The Quaker Settlement of Wrightsborough, Georgia," Maga- 
zine of History, XIV (Aug., 1911). 
12 A. D. Candler, Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, X, pp. 690-694. 

The Heritage 

meant raillery and isolation for Quaker children, other convic- 
tions in the matter of slavery and physical violence drew con- 
tempt and even hostility upon the heads of Quaker elders. 

When war with England threatened, the Quakers were quick 
to declare their loyalty to the King. Inhabitants of Wrights- 
borough, among them Thomas Watson and his two sons, signed 
a resolution repudiating the action of the Savannah patriots who 
had endorsed the * 'destroying of a quantity of tea" by the citi- 
zens of Boston. 13 The Georgia Quakers, as a sect, remained non- 
combatants throughout the Revolution, although they disowned 
a considerable number of their members for fighting. Their posi- 
tion as neutrals and non-combatants seems to have met with little 
respect from either side, since in 1780 they complain of "being 
opprest by the violent behavior of the Militia in these parts" and 
of being "illegally deprived of both liberty and property." No 
sooner was the War over than their meeting house, being on 
the property of Sir James Wright, a loyal adherent to the 
Crown, was confiscated and sold by the state. 

Social isolation, military violence, and political oppression 
were evils to be endured with prayerful humility and long- 
suffering charity by the faithful among the peace-loving Friends. 
The constant pinch of economic competition with slave labor, 
however, was distressing to the firmest in the faith. Owning few 
if any slaves, the Quakers sank into the lower classes, their 
frugality and industry degraded by the influence of slavery. As 
early as 1786 a Quaker petition was presented to the Georgia 
Assembly "respecting some enlargements to the enslaved 
Negroes." Much of their feeling in regard to slavery, no doubt, 
was due to abhorrence in which their religion held the institu- 
tion. In 1802 a certain Zachariah Dicks, thought among Friends 
to have the gift of prophecy, visited Wrightsborough and urged 
the brethren to remove themselves from the midst of slavery, 
prophesying a terrible rebellion among the slaves and a bloody 
internecine war within the lifetime of children then living. So 
powerful were the effects of his prophecy that it produced a 
panic in the town, and the following year Quakers migrated in 
large numbers to the free Northwest. 14 Thereafter, Wrights- 
borough was destined to become one of the "dead towns" of 

13 A. D. Candler, loc. cit. 

14 M. A. Candler, loc. cit. 

Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Georgia, and the Friends' little kingdom of peace and brotherly 
love was moribund. 

The first two generations of Watsons, whether out of poverty 
or piety, owned no slaves. They did not migrate to the North- 
west with their brethren, but remained on their land, which had 
been greatly diminished by that time. Later, when the Baptist 
denomination began to flourish, the Watsons sought consolation 
in that faith, whose ministers found divine sanction for the in- 
stitution of slavery. Peter Watson, grandson of the pioneer 
Thomas, appears to have been the first slave owner. In 1808 his 
slaves numbered six, and they increased to fifteen by 1821. 15 To 
what extent the family fortunes grew in the capable hands of 
Thomas Miles Watson, son of Peter, we have already seen. No 
longer were the Watsons set apart from their fellow men by the 
peculiarity of their speech and dress and by their ideas of the 
ways of God to man : they were right-thinking citizens and God- 
fearing Baptists. In no way, however, do the four generations of 
Watsons appear to have distinguished themselves from hun- 
dreds of other farmers in Georgia, either in service of the state 
or the pursuit of the arts. 

The three sons of Thomas Miles Watson are said to have 
had that lanky angularity and sandy-red blondness common in 
the family. One of them, John Smith Watson, born August 15, 
1833, became the father of Tom Watson. He is remembered by 
one of his sons as "just an average man" and by another son as 
"not a religious man," but "what would be called a sporting 
man." 16 He acquired the name of a light-hearted good fellow, al- 
ways ready to lay a bet on anything from the turn of a card to the 
age of a horse, to play his fiddle, "call the dance," or to enter 
into an occasional "scrape" of no very serious nature. When 
John was in his twenty-first year he met Ann Eliza Maddox, to 
whom he was married in January, 1855. 

The Maddox family was also of Quaker descent, although 
the first settlers spelled their name Maddock. Joseph Maddock, 
in whose name the early business of the Friends with the state 
was conducted, was the first clerk of the Friendly meeting, and 
the leader of the migration from North Carolina. Elected a 
member of the Provincial Congress of 1775, he declined to take 

16 Tax Records of Columbia County, Georgia, 1808-1821. 
16 William A. Watson to C. V. W., Jan. 17, 1934. 

The Heritage 

his seat, probably because of the hostility of the members to 
England. When William Bartram, the great Philadelphia nat- 
uralist, visited the colony in 1773, he was entertained by Joseph 
Maddock, whom he mentioned in complimentary terms as "a 
public spirited chief magistrate." In the hands of Henry Mad- 
dox the fortunes of the family had reached a condition border- 
ing on poverty. Henry and his wife, Letitia Maurice, a native 
of Wales, lived "in a humble way" on their farm about eight 
miles out of Augusta on the road to Thomson. Their family was 
large and it was not convenient for children to remain longer 
than necessary under the parental roof. So it was that Ann Eliza, 
when she was about eighteen, left home unmarried to seek work 
— rather an unusual procedure in her day. She became a seam- 
stress with a wealthy family in Augusta. 

After their marriage Ann Eliza and John shared the home of 
Thomas M. Watson on his plantation three miles out of Thom- 
son for a few years. A little older than her husband, Ann was 
also of a more sober turn of mind. Like her husband, she had 
received no more than an elementary school education, but unlike 
him she read a great deal and was "fond of books" — a peculiar- 
ity that her neighbors often remarked. She did not confine her 
reading to her Bible, but read books with strange names, was 
"particularly fond of French history," and could entertain her 
children and visitors by the hour with stories of great and 
glamorous persons. 17 

There must have been little time for reading and story-telling, 
however, for within the year they were married the first child, 
Addie Augusta, arrived, and the next year a boy, whom they 
named Edward Thomas. Some two years later, when his family 
promised still further expansion, John Watson bought a farm 
two miles on the opposite side of Thomson and moved there. 
His six hundred acres were worked by five families of slaves. 
When John went off to war, Ann Eliza was left not only with the 
domestic management, but with the direction of a large farm 
upon her shoulders. By the end of the war three more children, 
two boys and a girl, had been born, and a fourth was expected. 
There were seven children in all. 

"William A. Watson to C. V. W., Jan. 17, 1934. 

Scholar and Poet 

A few miles north of Thomson, in the quiet, white-columned 
. town of Washington there gathered on May 5, 1865, a 
tragic group of men — President Davis and a few of the cabinet 
officers of the doomed Confederacy. Washington, the home of 
Robert Toombs, was as fit a place as any in the South for the end 
of the Confederacy, since it was as near to the heart of the South 
as a place could well be. These few men, who had directed the 
destinies of a once powerful government through four years of 
war, were now helpless fugitives. The last cabinet meeting was 
held, the last order was written, farewells were said, and the 
Confederate Government was a thing of the past. 

Private John Smith Watson, wounded and penniless, reached 
home to find his father near the point of death and incapable of 
recognizing his own son. On June 4 he died, never knowing 
that the old regime was gone. With one brother also dead and 
the other an invalid, John, now the head of the house of Wat- 
son, traded his farm for his sister's share in the family estate 
and moved back to his father's house. Calling the slaves together 
one day and telling them they were free, John found that "not 
a negro remained on the place the next" and "every house in the 
'quarter' was empty." 1 Crops that had been planted in the 
spring were now in weeds, and the plantation as a whole was in 
sad need of repair. His slaves vanished, his Confederate money 
worthless, his state in a condition of turmoil and lawlessness, 
John faced an uncertain future. In view of these circumstances, 
John's first action, though characteristic, would seem to indicate 
that he, like his father, had lived on into the new order unaware 

1 T. E. W., Prose Miscellanies, pp. 69-70. 


Scholar and Poet 

that the old one had ended. At a time when many families were 
glad enough to salvage from the ruins of their houses enough 
to cover their heads, when thousands were destitute, when build- 
ing materials were at fabulous prices and money was not to be 
had, John began the construction of a mansion such as his fathers 
had only dreamed of. Built directly in front of the old place, 
the huge new structure reduced his father's rude log house to 
the proportions of servants' quarters. The fagade of John's new 
house bore all the grandiloquent trappings of a dwelling of the 
aristocracy — ornate portico, with balustraded balcony and bee- 
tling gable supported by great fluted columns. It was as if John 
had triumphed over defeat and, by simply willing it to be, had 
not only restored the old order, but realized all it had aspired to. 
True, the interior of the second story remained unplastered, 2 
but the exterior presented a bold and imposing front to the 
world, and up and down the road for miles there was no house 
so grand as John Watson's. 

In his attempt to maintain a plantation without the foundation 
of slave labor upon which the system had rested, John was no 
more successful than others who attempted it. His plan of hir- 
ing white labor failed miserably from the first, and the ruinous 
declines in cotton prices in 1866 and 1867 pi^d more debt on top 
of that incurred in building his bepillared mansion. Gazing upon 
weed-grown fields from his splendid portico, John came slowly 
to realize that the way of his fathers, much less what they as- 
pired to, was not for him. On May 5, 1868, his place was sold 
under an execution in favor of his creditors for a mere fraction 
of its value. 3 John then moved his family to a modest house on 
a small farm about a half mile out of Thomson. 

By this time John's garment of defiance had worn into bare 
threads of apathy and despondence. "My father used to be vir- 
tually paralyzed for weeks by what he called 'the blues,' " wrote 
his son Tom. 4 John came to depend more and more upon drink 
for solace in his attacks of "the blues," and his weakness for 
gambling grew upon him. Tom once pointed out to a friend a 
room in Thomson in which he said his father had lost fifteen 

2 Interview with L. C. Smith, Columbia County, Dec, 1933; Mr. Smith's father 
bought John Watson's house in 1S6S. 

8 "Book of Deeds, Columbia County," p. 557. 

4 T. E. W. to William W. Brewton, quoted in William W. Brewton, Life of 
Thomas E. Watson, p. 376. 

I I 

Torn Watson Agrarian Rebel 

hundred dollars in one night. By 1868 he was reduced perforce 
to gaming for more modest stakes. In that year he was in such 
straits that Tom was forced to drop out of school, until Pro- 
fessor Epenetus Alexis Steed, master of a school in Thomson, 
agreed to admit him "with the understanding that the tuition 
could be paid whenever in the future he might become able." 

From the time he came to school there at the age of twelve 
until his death fifty-four years later, with the exception of a few 
years, Tom Watson made his home in, or quite near, the village 
of Thomson. In 1856, the year of Tom's birth, a young man 
named B. L. Neal arrived in Thomson to attend the "Green- 
way Institute," a school for boys founded in 1853. "Thomson 
was then in the woods," he writes. "There were two stores, but 
a yoke of oxen could have pulled all the goods for sale in them 
at one load." 5 The village had been incorporated only two years 
earlier, although it was mentioned as early as 1837 as a "place 
of deposit lately begun on the Georgia railroad." Named for a 
railroad engineer, the village grew up in the unlovely image of 
the typical "railroad town" — a serrated line of one-story frame 
buildings paralleling the rails and separated from them by a 
wide street. 

In Tom's boyhood there still lingered about Thomson some- 
thing of an aura of frontier days. "In the grocery which stood on 
the flat, called the 'slashes,' they could show you the spot where 
Dick Hattaway had cut the life out of Abe McDonald with a 
bowie-knife," wrote Watson. "There were places, also, where 
equally respectable citizens had shot at others equally respect- 
able, but as there were several of these places, and they were 
lacking in individuality, nobody cared particularly to see them." 6 
His uncle "would ride miles to take part in a gander pulling," 
and his father was an assiduous attender of barbecues, camp- 
meetings, and all-day-speakings. Tom, who was frequently al- 
lowed to accompany his father, was sometimes the witness of 
eye-gougings, knifings, and drunken brawls that marked the 

The turbulence and violence which characterized the years 
from 1868 to 1871, however, could not be attributed to a fron- 
tier heritage. In those years the state was in the midst of the 

5 B. L. Neal, Son of the American Revolution, p. 43. 
6 T. E. W., Bethany, p. 6. 


Scholar and Poet 

most thoroughgoing revolution that ever changed the face of 
its society — military reconstruction. Most of the violence, later 
investigated by Congress, was confined to two sections, the ex- 
treme northwestern counties and a part of the upper cotton-belt, 
and was particularly prevalent in Columbia and Warren counties 
— the two counties out of which McDuffie County was cut in 
1 870, with Thomson as the seat of government. In these counties 
"there were several notorious leaders of the blacks, some carpet- 
baggers, and some native Republicans, who kept their influence 
over the Negroes by inciting them against the whites. This was 
the cause of several of the most notorious outrages in the 
state." 7 Here the Negroes constituted sixty per cent or more of 
the population, white leaders were disfranchised, and the exploi- 
tation of ignorant Negro voters by corrupt politicians backed by 
Federal guns was so shameless that there grew among white peo- 
ple the conviction that the Negroes must be pushed out of politics 
by the most effective means that came to hand. Outright payment 
of cash for Negro votes was the solution for many counties, but 
in Warren and Columbia the method was intimidation. "Warren 
County especially was the scene of much lawlessness and great 
activity from Ku Klux bands," and two mob murders here figured 
largely in the political controversy over the second reconstruction 
of Georgia. In Columbia, where the Republican vote was re- 
duced from 1,222 in April, 1868, to one vote in November of 
the same year, it was judged that "the Ku Klux made their work 
thorough." In June of the next year General Terry, reporting 
that there was "no civil law in Warren County, that an insur- 
rectionary organization terrorized the place," sent a detachment 
of troops to take control. 8 These troops, more than anything 
else, provoked the native whites to trembling indignation. 

The squad of Blue Coats stationed at Thomson was received 
with bitter protests and demonstrations. A mass meeting of 
citizens was called a few miles out of the town at Union Church. 
A Methodist preacher was in the midst of a fiery speech when 
a squad of horsemen in uniform trotted by. Striking a defiant 
pose, the orator shouted, "We can't even hold a quiet, peaceable 
meeting without being spied upon and disturbed by these mili- 
tary masters I" His face flushed with excitement, young Tom 

7 C. Mildred Thompson, Reconstruction in Georgia, p. 366. 

8 Ibid., p. 367. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

stood below the platform with his father. "I remember even 
now," he said when an old man, "the flame of wrath that leapt 
into the eyes of that preacher, when he saw the Blue Coat 
cavalry. ... I actually believe that if the squad of cavalry had 
not taken another road on their return to Thomson a great 
tragedy would have resulted." 9 

Tom attended many such meetings with his father. "It was 
in this way," he relates, "that I came to know of such Southern 
leaders as Howell Cobb, Ranee Wright, John B. Gordon, Robert 
Toombs and Benjamin H. Hill." Politics, as Tom Watson first 
knew the art, was an heroic business of mysterious, white-robed 
horsemen galloping at midnight, and majestic orators, whose 
long hair waved in the breezes as the periods rolled. Politics was 
also a potent magic whereby a distraught and oppressed people 
might conjure up forgotten, as well as imaginary, grandeurs, 
unite with intense purpose, and cast off their oppressors. It was 
the political drama that inspired one of his first unhappy at- 
tempts at verse, a poem, "To the South," 10 written when he was 
about fourteen, which began, "Land of the South, Oh, do not 
despair," and ended 

Soon will cease the Yankee thy soil to stain, 
Soon will thy ruins cease to be seen, 
Soon will thy fields again be green, 
Yes, soon will come that shining ray 
To lead us forth to glorious day! 

Influences more subtle and intimate, and yet, at his age, more 
important and significant than even social and political revolu- 
tion, were at work upon Tom's life at this time. A frail, sensitive 
boy in early adolescence, Tom still had to reckon daily with a 
mother and father. An insight upon parental influences is gained 
through a letter which Watson wrote his wife in regard to the 
rearing of his own son. After recommending the practice of 
patience, firmness, and sympathetic understanding, he adds : 

Had I been trained in this manner, a very different man would be sitting 
here tonight. . . . On my heart there would not be the scar which many 
a trial has left there; and my memory would be rid of many a bitter 
recollection. I have imagined enemies where there were none : been tortured 

9 Columbia Sentinel, Aug. 16, 1920. 

10 MS. Journal 1. 

Scholar and Poet 

by indignities which were the creatures of my own fancy, and have magni- 
fied the gloom of every reverse. . . . 

The better part of me is poisoned. A mistaken training leaves a trace 
from which there is no escape. Between the warp and woof of my life its 
busy shuttle will carry the black thread till the loom stops. 

Had I been firmly governed and not with fitful harshness: had I not 
been abused, ridiculed, mocked and scorned there would be sunshine where 
now is shadow. I could have joined in the companionship of the world, 
shared its loves, laughs, friendships and aspirations. As it is I stand where 
my boyhood put me, fed by my own thoughts, led by my own hopes, 
scourged by my own troubles. 

A sensitive spirit wounded by those who should have nurtured, sees all 
things in a false color, is proud of its own isolation, magnifies its defects, 
is unfitted for the intercourse of the world and as far as the necessities will 
allow retires within itself and imagines that all others are more fortunate, 
more deserving and more happy. Words fail to describe such a misfortune. 
A presence that poisons every joy, stains every beauty, checks every impulse. 
A shadow that follows like a hungry wolf . . . 1X 

As an indictment of his parents this letter is indeed a terrible 
thing, if taken too tragically. But that Tom was correct in fixing 
the entire blame for his unhappy traits upon his parents there 
is some room for doubt — if for no other reason than that he 
"sees all things in a false color." Of some of the specific charges 
he makes against them — harshness, abuse, ridicule, mockery, and 
scorn — one or both of his parents were possibly guilty. But the 
lot of John and Ann was a hard one; Tom was an extremely 
sensitive boy, and it is not improbable that some of the abuse 
and scorn he felt were "creatures of his own fancy." The score 
that he held against his parents, which he confessed to no one 
but his wife, Tom apparently did not allow to interfere with the 
discharge of filial duties. One can not be sure which of his par- 
ents he held more to account. However, there is perhaps a clue 
for the psychologist in the fact that, in writing his autobiograph- 
ical novel, Tom makes himself several years older than he was, 
and has his father die when he was a baby. It is his uncle who 
was the hero of the book. Elsewhere he speaks of his mother 
with a passionate devotion which is unquestionably sincere, and 
we know that she proved a loyal ally in several crises of his 

Interpreted with discernment and caution, however, this ex- 

11 T. E. W. to Mrs. Thomas E. Watson, Aug. 4, 1883, in the possession of Georgia 
D. Watson. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

traordinary self-analysis provides a key to the enigma that was 
Tom Watson's character, and an insight into the personal 
tragedy that was alike implicit in his most fantastic crusade and 
his most statesmanlike action. "I have imagined enemies where 
there were none: been tortured by indignities which were the 
creatures of my own fancy . . ." Had these lines, and those that 
follow, been a deathbed reverie instead of the immature reflec- 
tions of a young man of twenty-six upon the threshold of a long 
and varied career (he was then holding his first public office), 
one might credit their author with a retrospective perspicacity 
given to few men. He paints his self-portrait exclusively in 
gloomy colors, "magnifies its defects," as he puts it, and omits 
all the lighter shades of relief. Still, these dark colors, if dis- 
proportionately used, all belong to the subject. They speak of the 
furtiveness, the vindictiveness, the suspicion of the introvert and 
recluse, qualities which crowded his life, particularly his later 
life, with delusions — delusions of persecution, of grandeur, de- 
lusions of many kinds. But these are all the darker colors, and 
there are many grays and blues and yellows. 

There is one record of Tom's appearance as a schoolboy, a 
"tintype" made when he was about twelve or thirteen. In one 
hand a dinner-bucket and book; pulled firmly down over pro- 
truding ears a wide, white wool hat; his face one gay patch of 
freckles, his nose small and delicate, his eyebrows and mouth 
two straight lines, rigidly parallel. Under the wool hat was a 
shock of thick sandy-red hair. Perhaps it was because his hair 
was a shade too dark that his schoolmates did not call him 
"Red," and perhaps it was because of something else. At least 
four of his schoolmates, now living, agree that he possessed an 
unusually quick temper and a disposition to attack with waspish 
fury on small provocation. Tom himself gleefully records num- 
bers of his fights in his diary, fights that as a rule turned out the 
worse for him. His admirers have it that his combats were 
usually undertaken in behalf of the underdog — as indeed some 
of them were. Once when Tom — a boy of fourteen — was work- 
ing as a clerk in "Dosh" Massengale's grocery store at Nor- 
wood, a drunken lout, "of robust size and strength," struck an 
old cripple in his presence. Snatching up the huge knife that lay 
on the cheese counter, Tom made for the drunk in good earnest, 
crying, "Don't you hit him again!" His brother William tells a 
story of the boy's championship of a Negro whom his father's 


Scholar and Poet 

overseer had beaten. But there are equally reliable stories that 
bespeak a tyrannical petulance at interference with his plans, a 
trait sometimes appearing as peevish irascibility, sometimes as 
sheer red rage. A schoolmate tells of sitting in school one morn- 
ing, head in his book and feet propped up on the stove, while 
Tom was adding wood to the fire. Suddenly, without any warn- 
ing, a heavy stick of wood came down with a sharp crack across 
his shins. Outraged, the boy looked up to see Tom calmly put- 
ting in more wood. This same schoolmate later became a strong 
political supporter of Watson, following him loyally through 
many fights. Then one day Tom passed his friend on the street 
and, without apparent cause, refused to speak. His follower was 
hurt, but not surprised: "It was like Tom," he said. 12 It is these 
latter incidents which better prepare one for the day, when in a 
dispute with his brother Forrest over a jointly owned sawmill, 
Tom — not figuratively but quite literally — attacked a buzzing 
circular saw and demolished it with a sledge hammer. 

Epenetus Alexis Steed, pastor of the Baptist Church and, with 
his brother, master of the school Tom attended, so captivated 
the boy's imagination that he mentioned him again and again in 
later life. Graduated from Mercer University in 185 1, Steed had 
for several years been professor of ancient languages at a college 
at Clinton, Mississippi. Steed, wrote Watson, was an "indolent 
giant" with "a great head, fit to bear a crown" ; it also seems that 
he was a great chewer of tobacco, a great quoter of the classics, 
and, when in the mood, a great orator. Watson pictures himself 
watching "through a mist of happy tears" while his master 
"would rise, rise into the very azure of eloquence, and hover 
above us, like an eagle in the air . . ." Then, after one of these 
sporadic flights, "he would sink back into jolly indolence," in- 
different and unambitious. Yet it was "he, the unambitious" who 
in his pupil Tom "kindled the spark of ambition that will never 
die." 18 

Professor Steed seems to have taken a special interest in the 
boy, arranging for him to defer payment of tuition indefinitely 
and encouraging him in his reading. Waiting for classes to begin 
one morning, Tom was astonished to see his teacher break into 
"a passion of sobs" over his morning newspaper, then arise, and 
with the words, "General Lee is dead!" dismiss school. When 

^Interview with B. P. O'Neal, Macon, Ga., Nov., 1933. 
18 T. E. W., Prose Miscellanies, p. 155. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

the day came for "examinations" Tom selected the subject, "The 
Character of Lee," for his speech. In a composition book he kept 
at the time is a copy of the speech, and at the end, this note : 
"This was written soon after the death of Lee. Of course it is a 
very poor 'character.' I only chose the subject because I knew it 
would engage the sympathies of the audience. This was the first 
speech I ever composed." He was awarded the second prize. 

In this same composition book — which also served as common- 
place book and diary — there are quantities of adolescent versify- 
ing. Of this verse there is nothing especially remarkable, except, 
perhaps, its author's confession of his own limitations, as in one 
stanza from "Glennway Academy," dated January, 1872: 

To the left is Watson who tries to ride 
Pegasus the steed of the muses 

But though he often starts him along 
To fly Pegasus refuses. 

The other poems are in a much, very much, more serious vein. 
One refrains from further quotation in deference to the poet's 
maturer judgment, which appears in the comment above the first 
poem, written in the bolder hand he adopted when a college 
sophomore: "All these rhyming pieces I wrote when laboring 
under a severe attack of 'Durn fool.' " However, it is from his 
poems that we learn of Tom's first romance, and of the charms 
of "Theo. E. Story, The Moon which forces my tides." Their 
names and initials are written together again and again, and it 
is possible, as has been suggested, that Tom was persuaded to 
reverse the order of his given names to correspond with the 
initials of his sweetheart, for it was during the affair that he 
changed his signature from "E. Thomas" to "Thomas E. Wat- 
son." Theodosia, who inspired numerous lyrics, was inconstant 
in her affection it seems: on August 11, 1871, one finds the four- 
teen-year-old poet imploring the "gentle river" to 

Tell her of this furrowed brow; — 

Tell her of this sunken eye, 

Of youthful vigor too quick fled by. 

Yes, hated of all, hating all, 

Til tread life's journey till I fall. 


Scholar and Poet 

The romance of Theodosia and Tom, in spite of reverses, flour- 
ished for several years. But at the foot of his most languishing 
lyric the irreverent sophomore writes in purple, blasphemous 
ink: "Puppy Love puke of the most unadulterated kind." 

Poetry and romance, however, could never absorb all the in- 
terests of a farm-boy who from the age of twelve had owned 
a single-barrelled shotgun and a dog. In the earlier, rounded 
handwriting are several accounts of fishing parties, hunts, and 
camping trips. Leather-bound composition books were appar- 
ently not to be had for the asking, for after filling the book 
with poems and sketches the boy turns back to the front page and 
with scrupulous neatness crowds every fraction of marginal space 
with notes from his reading. In and out of the serrate indenta- 
tions of quatrains run statistics on insanity in Wales and Eng- 
land, wine consumption in France, the speed of meteors, and 
from page to page in the interstices of limping iambics a history 
of electrical discoveries — a curiously composite picture of the 
boy's mind. 

To fill out the gaps in the picture of his mental development 
there are the scrapbooks which Tom kept from early child- 
hood. 14 The earliest of these, made out of what appears to be 
one of his grandfather's plantation ledgers, is filled with pictures 
and clippings from Godey's Lady Book, newspaper doggerel, 
comic drawings, an indiscriminate sprinkling of Father Ryan, 
Edgar Allan Poe, Josh Billings, Joaquin Miller, Lord Byron, 
Longfellow, and a collection of religious and calendar litho- 
graphs of the type entited, "Au Revoir," "The Kiss," and 
"Saved." The impression one has is that of a myth-hungry boy 
groping for nourishment in an environment that had little to 
offer but unpalatable realities. 

Still more revealing, perhaps, is his "List of books read up to 
1872." 16 As the oldest son in the family, Tom was undoubtedly 
needed at the plough and the hoe at this time. For John no 
longer sat in the shade and directed his labor through overseers ; 
times were terribly hard, debts were pressing, and John had to 
work his small farm diligently to make a living for his family 
of seven children. Nevertheless, although his younger brothers 
were pressed into the farm work, Tom went scot free. This 

14 Watson MSS., Chapel Hill. 

15 MS. Journal, 1, c. 1873. 

l 9 

Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

exemption, it seems, was brought about through the intervention 
of his mother, who was more in sympathy with Tom's love for 
books than was his father. 16 Had the devout Ann known just 
how her son was employing a good portion of the precious time 
she had won for him, she would probably not have pressed his 
case so zealously. For at the head of his impressive "List of 
books" he remorsefully entered a "List of 'Yellow Backs' I'm 
ashamed to say I read long ago." His favorite hero was the 
amazingly adventurous "Claude" : Claude in the Convent, 
Claude and the Duchess, Claude to the Rescue, Claude's Last 
Bullet, and Claude in other promising situations. There are 
fifty-six such lurid titles that speak of luxurious afternoons in the 

But Tom had other literary interests more remarkable in a 
boy of fifteen. By the time he had reached that age, he recorded, 
he had read the poetical works (whether complete or not, he 
does not say) of Homer, Shakespeare, Byron, Scott, Milton, 
Cowper, Wordsworth, Poe, Tennyson, Gray, Swift, Pope, 
Moore, Burns, Goldsmith, and several minor poets. His list of 
novels is more nondescript, but includes a good portion of Scott 
and Dickens and such books as Tom Jones, Don Quixote, Rob- 
inson Crusoe, and Gulliver's Travels. Augustus Baldwin Long- 
street's Georgia Scenes appears in this list. Apparently, however, 
his major concern was with history and biography, for this list 
bulked larger. He listed Goodrich's histories of Rome, England, 
Greece, and the United States, Goldsmith's histories of Greece, 
and England, Prescott's Conquest of Mexico, Grote's History of 
Greece, and Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 
It is not surprising to learn of Tom's early acquaintance with 
Alexander H. Stephens' War Between the States and Pollard's 
Southern History of the War. Of the biographies the Reverend 
John S. C. Abbott is the author of at least five. "The Reverend 
Mr. Abbott may have staggered the wise," wrote Watson later, 
"but he did not stagger me. I believed it all." 17 His grandfather 
had given him Abbott's Napoleon, and the boy had read both 
volumes when "the books were almost as heavy as I was." "Had 
another boy . . . scouted the unalloyed goodness of Napoleon, 
the unsullied virtue of Josephine, and the unrelieved depravity 

16 William A. Watson to C. V. W., Jan. 17, 1934. 

17 T. E. W., Prose Miscellanies, pp. 67-68. 


Scholar and Poet 

of Napoleon's foes, there would have ensued immediately a 
small but interesting case of assault and battery." At the end of 
his four-page list of books he adds a list of magazines of which, 
presumably, he was a reader: Harper's, Scott's, Burke's, 
Wood's, Littell's, Lippincott's, and Arthur's. 

One has the feeling in reading this "List of books read up to 
1872" that each title written in that round, guileless hand was 
set down with a certain flush of pride to mark an accomplish- 
ment, another small victory over his world. It is far from clear 
where he got the books, much less the incentive to read them. 
His father was certainly no book lover, and his grandfather, he 
says, "rarely dipped deeper into a book than was necessary to 
master the pictures." He records the contents of the family 
library, but it consisted apparently of a mere handful of books. 
There were doubtless generous neighbors, such as Professor 
Steed and Miss Belle Hanson, his music teacher, but there was 
no public library, and Thomson was not a reading community. 
However cramped the horizons of Thomson, it was at least clear 
that Tom was bent on not accepting them as his own. 

When the school term of 1872 came to a close, Tom made 
known his desire to go to Macon the following fall to enter 
Mercer University. He was only fifteen at the time and had not 
yet finished the local school. Professor Steed was leaving Thom- 
son to take the chair of Latin at Mercer, and it is not improbable 
that Tom was influenced more by the desire to follow his idol 
than by anything else. His chances of going to college, however, 
looked poor indeed at the time. John was on the point of an- 
other disaster, the loss of his second farm. After that there 
would be nothing. Besides, neither he nor any of his family had 
been to college, and he could not see why this son, who had al- 
ready been granted more privileges than the others, should be 
made an exception. Once again it was his mother who came to 
his support. It was difficult to borrow money because of John's 
poor credit, but a small loan was obtained, and with the promise 
of a scholarship at Mercer to take care of the sixty-dollar tuition, 
Tom enrolled as a freshman in October, 1872. 

Mercer University, a small Baptist college, was established 
at Penfield, Georgia, in 1833. By effecting a "union of agricul- 
tural labor with literary study," it proposed "to aid in the educa- 
) tion of poor young men preparing for the ministry," which was 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

then "almost without education." The school had its humble 
beginnings in "two double cabins, with a garret to each, for 
dwelling, for dining, and for study for both teachers and stu- 
dents." 18 The attempt to unite labor and letters was abandoned, 
but the school continued until 1862. In that year it was sus- 
pended because of the enlistment of practically all its students; 
it did not open again until December, 1865, and then with only 
three teachers. Promise of new life came when the city of Macon 
offered the college a small endowment and a grant of land, and 
in 1 87 1 the Baptist brethren moved from Penfield to Macon. 
When the fall term of 1872 opened the faculty was still using 
the "Mess Hall" for recitations and "prayers" as well as for 

One of Freshman Watson's first concerns was with his new 
masters, the four members of the Mercer faculty. Coolly taking 
their measure, he set down his conclusions: Dr. Archibald J. 
Battle, the president, was "a man laboriously cultivated rather 
than naturally very talented," but still "the best President that 
could have been chosen from the Faculty." Professor Woodfin, 
the teacher of Greek, Tom found "charitable, kind, affable," 
and Professor Shelton P. Sanford commanded respect as the 
"very well known . . . author of the Analytical Arithmetic." 
Yet none of these could measure up to Professor Steed, who, "in 
brilliancy of intellect," he thought, "far surpasses any man in 
the college," although the youngest member of the faculty. Now 
that they were at Mercer together, Tom was admitted into such 
intimacy with his idol that he speaks of their relationship as 
"chummy." 19 

"I have just been reading Todd's Student's Manal [jfc]," 
wrote Tom on his sixteenth birthday, a few weeks before he left 
home for college, "and I am resolved 'after mature deliberation' 
to adopt his plan >. . ." Todd's plan was a system of self-disci- 
pline that held the student to a rigid daily schedule of study and 
self-improvement. The office of "Assistant Librarian for the Phi 

18 Dr. R. J. Massey, in Watson's Magazine, Vol. IV (April, 1910), pp. 319-323. 

19 A commonplace book, hereafter referred to as "MS. Journal 2." It contains 
about 600 pages. Watson acquired it when he went to Mercer, and continued to 
use it until his death. Referring to it, he wrote: "It was not intended that these 
private records should ever be shown to anyone else. They were just an ambitious 
boy's effusions, jotted down partly because there was a vague idea that they might 
one day be very interesting to myself." 


Scholar and Poet 

Delta Society" to which he was elected worked the ruin of his 
good resolutions. If one may credit his prodigious list of books 
read during the fall term, one may conclude that he abandoned 
himself to his temptation with a furious sort of zeal. His appe- 
tite unsatisfied by reading the new books he found in the library, 
he read for a second time a large number of those he had listed 
the year before, including Gibbon's Decline and Fall and nearly 
all the poets. 20 "Forgot all about Todd at college," he added at 
the end of his resolution. 

For all his bookishness Tom did not remain an obscure figure 
at school. One of his classmates pictures him as he "swaggered 
across the campus ... the admiration of less forceful natures," 
one or two worshipful henchmen in his wake. He was sometimes 
"bitter" and vengeful, but "a purer piece of grit never inhabited 
a slight frame. ... He would have marched up to the Devil 
and tweaked his nose." His description of himself at this time 
is something quite different: "I was known to be one of the 
poor boys, unable to pay the tuition fee of sixty dollars; was 
very plainly dressed; and was shy and awkward in manner" and 
of "a retiring disposition." a But the incongruity is more appar- 
ent than real: the "swagger" and "grit" were ever his means of 
covering a feeling of inferiority, which he calls "shyness" and a 
"retiring disposition." The numerous accounts of his college 
escapades, which he delighted in confiding to his diary, tend 
rather to corroborate this view of a duality of character than 
not. 22 

In Southern colleges of that day it was in the debating so- 
cieties, rather than on the gridiron, that fame was won. Here 
such questions as, "Would the removal of the Negroes from the 
South be beneficial to the people?" and "Does Knowledge exert 
more influence upon mankind than wealth?" were periodically 
settled. 28 At the Phi Delta Society Tom Watson was in his native 
element. Here he could flaunt his learning, brandish in the faces 
of astonished opponents the purple quotations which he copied 
in his notebooks and memorized, and — above all — here he 
could pay devotion to his "Ideal Goddess," Eloquence. 

20 MS. Journal x, Sept. 5, 1872, and following. 
21 T. E. W., Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, Sept., 1910. 
22 MS. Journal 2. 

28 "Minutes of the Phi Delta Society," October, 1873- June, 1874, Mercer Uni- 
versity, Macon, Ga. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Oratory he evidently regarded as one of the major arts, and 
it was his most cherished ambition to master it. "Study Elo- 
quence as an abstract beauty," he wrote, and his pursuit of the 
subject was zealous. He wrote, he read, he practiced. His notes 
on the lives of famous men were concerned chiefly with their 
oratorical prowess, and he was forever jotting down observa- 
tions on the art. For example, there are his twelve "Hints on 
Oratory — Taught by experience — not books," of which number 
twelve is, "Pay ardent, unceasing adoration to her as an Ideal 
Goddess at whose touch the human heart quivers with joy, throbs 
with enthusiasm, melts with pity, trembles with fear, droops 
with woe, burns with indignation, or stands still in mute horror." 
His "Recipe for a public democratical speech" ends with the 
ingredient, "a grand 'Spread Eagle,' " and under the admoni- 
tion, "Remember This!" one reads: "when the national heart 
is heaving with excitement, he who would control its pulsations 
and direct its energies, must speak in the language of enthusiasm. 
The power of the orator lies in the sympathy between him and 
the people. This is the chord which binds heart to heart; and 
when it is struck, thousands burst into tears or rouse into pas- 
sion, like a single individual." 24 "Pulsations" and "excitement," 
these were the materials of his art, and "the language of en- 
thusiasm" and "sympathy" were its instruments. 

Later in his college career Tom was once called up before a 
tribunal of the Mercerian Republic, an elaborate system of stu- 
dent government, and charged with creating a "loud, boisterous, 
uproarious disturbance" in the Mess Hall. When the counsel for 
the defense had finished, Tom, to the surprise of both himself 
and the court, leaped to his feet and addressed the jury in his 
own behalf. "I had thought nothing of what to say but when I 
opened my mouth there rushed out a torrent of fiery words 
which swept the jury right along," he wrote, clearly astonished 
at his own powers. "In a few minutes I found myself ridiculing 
Cooper. ... I pointed my finger to Cooper and pronounced 
the swelling epithets with such a pompous, Ciceronian roll that 
Tom Burdet and several others burst into a laugh." 25 A fight 
started. "My case," he wrote, "ruined the Mercerian Republic." 
He came out of the experience with a new respect for this power 

24 MS. Journal 2, pp. x-62. 

25 Ibid., p. 129. 


Scholar and Poet 

he possessed. He wrote out the speech afterward, and in the 
margin pronounced it "the best speech I probably ever made," 
"entirely extemporaneous," but "wonderfully effective." 

Mercer closed on July 3, and the next day found Tom fifteen 
miles out from Macon applying for a position as teacher of a 
country school. After some hesitation on account of his "juvenile 
appearance" the board accepted him on trial. According to the 
unequivocal terms (and the spelling) of his contract, adopted 
by the trustees of the "Centreal Warrior Academy," the teacher 
was required "to keep a good and holsome disciplin at all times," 
but "The said Teacher shal not be alowed to correct no studant 
in any way only by a switch the skin not to be cut and not to be 
abused otherwise." With these limitations upon penal methods 
he was expected to enforce the following rules : * 

Rule 1st — There shall be no student admitted into this school that does 
not come under these obligations. 

Rule 2d — All abusive language such as cursing and swearing is attually 

Rule 3d — There shall no student be alowed to carry consealed weppons. 

Rule 4th — There shall be no climbing of fences, resling or throwing 
rocks at each other alowed. ' 

Rule 5 th — No student is alowed to fight in school or on there way too 
or from school, nor no news to be carraide too or from school. 

Opening with five scholars on the first day, the school increased 
in attendance by August to forty-four, ranging in age from six 
to twenty-seven. There was Jim Tool, "well grown, with a high 
narrow forehead and small grey eyes which could look at you 
an hour without blinking," who thought nothing of licking an 
ink blot off his copy book, and Ella Gates, who "thanks her stars 
she has passed her twenty-seventh year." Tom found teaching 
"not a task but a pleasure," for "while teaching them I am 
teaching myself." 27 In September he closed his school and re- 
turned to Mercer for the fall term. 

During the summer he had written to his father of his ambi- 
tion to become "one of the first men of the State." "It is for this," 
he said, "that I am studying, it is for this that I am working, 
and I never mean to stop either the one or the other, until my 

^Quoted by T. E. W., Watson's Magazine, March, 1910. Cf. also quoted with 
some variation by Walter Wellman, Review of Reviews, XXX (Oct., 1904), p. 419. 
27 MS. Journal 2, c. Aug., 1873. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

object is obtained. I have no great wish for money for myself; 
I only wish for fame ; but I intend to make money for you and 
fame for myself at the same time." * 

Fame, he fancied, was quite within his grasp when he clipped 
from the Macon Telegraph a favorable notice of his speech 
(delivered "in a most remarkable manner") at the annual Sun- 
day-school celebration. But his triumph turned to gall and worm- 
wood upon the reflection that it had been won in the borrowed 
Sunday coat of the Mess Hall matron's husband. 29 No, to enjoy 
fame one must have money. Money, however, was not immedi- 
ately forthcoming. Indeed, it soon appeared that, for all his 
mother's efforts and his own frugality, this would be his last 
year in college. The year passed uneventfully. 

On June 20 he made a farewell address at the Phi Delta So- 
ciety, in which he "tried to efface every hard feeling." The 
Recording Secretary pronounced it in the minutes a very "tell- 
ing speech." 80 Then he took his leave of college with "barely 
enough" to pay his way home. 

28 T. E. W. to John S. Watson, Aug. 1, 1873, Watson MSS. 

29 MS. Journal 2, undated. 

80 "Minutes of the Phi Delta Society," June 20, 1874, Macon, Georgia. 



"Ishmael" in the Backwoods 

While his son was at college, John, more prone than ever 
to the l blues' ' and the indulgence of his weaknesses, had 
fallen victim to the general economic collapse of the early 'sev- 
enties: His last acre of land went in 1873. Haplessly he joined 
the beginning exodus from land to city, moved to Augusta and 
there opened a combined boarding house and bar. 1 

The change did not please Tom at all. When a friend, whose 
father had bought the fine house John had built after the war, 
called on Tom at the new establishment, he appeared embar- 
rassed and did not ask his friend in. 2 Furthermore, he did not 
feel at home in the city. "I was a stranger in the city," he wrote, 
"and my clothes and my manner advertised me as a raw coun- 
try boy." Vainly he tramped the streets of Augusta that summer 
seeking work, but work he could not find. It was the first of 
many rebuffs he was to receive from the city. Unlike his father 
— he recoiled, as he always did, back to the country. This time 
it was to the real country. 

Having found no work by September, he gathered up his 
books and sold them at public auction. "As each volume was 
cried off . . ." he said, "a great gulp rose in my throat." That 
night he made some memoranda for a "letter to T[heodosia?]." 
"Youth," he said, "is bidding me goodbye forever. . . . Tomor- 
row, though only 1 8 years have rolled over my head, I shall go 
out into life as a man . . ." He assured "T," however, that he 
had "not a doubt of success." 3 But to his diary he admitted 

*MS. Journal 2, p. 196. 

2 Interview with L. C. Smith, Columbia County, Georgia, Dec, 1933. 

3 MS. Scrapbook. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

more privately that the future "seemed robed in gloom," 4 for 
it looked as if he were "setting out on a wild goose chase." With 
six dollars and a half, proceeds from the sale of his books, he 
boarded the train the next morning. At Lawtonville he got off 
and walked the remaining eighteen miles through the country 
to Screven County, the home of his friend Glenn Thompson. 

Thompson was soon able to get up a school for the youth in 
the Little Horse Creek community. Boarding with the Thomp- 
sons, Tom promptly fell in love with Laura, his friend's sister, 
and became engaged to her in less than a month. Fame and for- 
tune, however, were still his chief preoccupations: "Fame," he 
wrote, was "the Goddess of the Intellectual." Pondering the 
question of marriage, he decided to remain a bachelor, since 
"there must be a titanic struggle before Intellect can free itself 
from the clutches of Poverty." 5 Perhaps it was fame he was 
seeking when in November he accepted the invitation of the 
Temperance Society to address its members in the Little Horse 
Creek Church. The acclaim received for belaboring the demon 
rum he found gratifying. But temperance lectures and school- 
teaching held small promise of freedom from the "clutches of 

January found him back in Augusta in a low state of mind, 
"attended by shadows," and writing such poems as "Despair," 
a lugubrious composition, ending : 

Ambition, my cherished ambition, 
Still comes at my call, — dreary call ! 

But a mantle hangs over her features 
As dark as a funeral pall. 

The poem, he noted at its end, was "written on the banks of the 
Savannah river while laying [sic] out from home and seeking a 
chance to run away to Texas." 6 

The Texas adventure was happily averted by his mother, who 
gained permission for him to read law in the office of Judge W. R. 
McLaws, of Augusta. There he studied until July; then, packing 
his Blackstone, the gift of Mr. Thompson, he returned to Screven 
County to take another school for three months at Double Head. 
He would always remember "those three months with much 

4 MS. Journal 2, Nov. 4, 1874. 

5 Ibid., an entry entitled "Musings." 

6 Ibid., "Augusta, 1875." 


"Ishmael" in the Backwoods 

pleasure.' ' He enjoyed another triumph at the Temperance 
Convention, and his school closed successfully. "The girls of 
course cried," he says, and one of his "large pupils, Miss Jennie 
W.," was even more demonstrative. 

In the social life of small and middle-class farmers of back- 
woods Screven, which centered about the Horse Creek Church, 
the schoolhouse, and the Temperance Society, Tom was by no 
means the shy lout he described himself in Augusta. On the con- 
trary, it seems that he was completely at home at such functions 
as schoolhouse dances and barbecues. He pictured himself "lead- 
ing into the quadrille a bony, sway-backed damsel," or perform- 
ing "the double shuffle, the back-step, the pigeon wing, the heel 
and toe, the limber-leg, the slap-jack, the flip-flop." 7 An ac- 
complished fiddler, he sometimes played for the dances. His rep- 
ertoire, some fifty separate titles, included waltzes, schottishes, 
polkas, cotillions, quicksteps, hornpipes, besides "Watson's Med- 
ley," made up of "Rosy O'More, Kathleen, Highland Fling, 
The Girl I Left Behind Me, Blue Danube, Falling Leaves, and 
Elfin Waltz." 8 Moreover, his talent for composing and reciting 
such jingles as the following did not detract from his popularity: 

He goes to parties and to balls 

With fiddle music brimmin' 
Who plays in one way for the men — 

Another for the women. . . . 

By rare good taste and rarer luck 

He variegates his fiddling 
And whiles away the tedious hours 

By heterogeneous diddling. 

Whatever there remained of a middle-class agrarian culture 
in the post-bellum South, Tom Watson knew at first hand, nor 
did he ever forget its language when the right moment came to 
use it. "I think that my earnest sympathy for the poor dates 
from this period of my life," he wrote. He shared the farmer's 
lot completely, and the lot of the farmer at this time and place 
was not a perennial barbecue. "Eating at their tables, sitting at 
their firesides, sleeping in their beds," he declared, "I gained a 

7 Ibid., p. 123. 

8 MS. Journal 1, undated. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

knowledge of these people which no books could give me — these 
plain, country people — and I love them." 9 

Having passed the bar examination in Augusta, "with the 
compliments of the Judge," Tom received his license to practice 
on October 19, 1875. 10 The clerk of the court issued it on credit, 
since Tom, so he wrote, "was not able to pay at that time." The 
city proving no more hospitable than before, Tom took himself 
"immediately" back to Screven to start his law practice. Business 
was so dull by March, however, that even teaching seemed more 
lucrative, and he gave up the law. "I couldn't stand the crisis," 
he wrote in his Journal. "I sold my horse and took a small 
private school till June." n When June came, nothing better 
offered than to begin another school, this time a public school 
in the "Call neighborhood." 

Time hung heavy on his hands, and to dispel the doldrums 
he turned to poetry and love-making — both on his customary 
scale, that is to say, extensive. There were Molly ("I take you 
upon my lap and feel your little arms around my neck"), and 
Fannie ("Oh my! Won't my wife have a heap to scold me 
about,") and Sally ("But she is married now, and I'll keep her 
secret,") and Lillie, Laura, Amelia . . . and poems to them all ! 
Particularly there was Jennie, who walked with him under the 
cypress trees, where "the long moss hung in tresses, waving and 
sighing sadly in the air," and sang to him "when the night that 
was around us, no matter how gloomy, was not so dark to me as 
the world was." M 

At all this philandering his patrons, chiefly of the Baptist per- 
suasion, were inclined to look askance. Some were scandalized. 
"It didn't require much wisdom to see that profligacy was ruin- 
ing me," he reflected. "Those pretty . . . girls of Screven were 
dragging my good name into the mire. I had well nigh alienated 

all my well wishers by a reckless career with Jennie W ." 

In his "Parting Words to Patrons" at the end of school he re- 
morsefully asked "only for a generous silence," and that they 
"let Forgetfulness with noiseless pinions settle upon every blun- 
der." They were indulgent : he was young and full of life. Then 

9 T. E. W., Life and Speeches, p. n. 

10 "Richmond County Superior Court Minutes, 1874-1876," pp. 430-431. 

11 MS. Journal 2, "Cameron, Ga., March 4, 1876." 

12 Ibid,, c. August or September, 1876 ; undated MSS. 


"Ishmael" in the Backwoods 

he began publishing some of his poems. A few, like "The Farm" 
and "John Howard Payne," represented respectably domesti- 
cated sentiments. There were others, however, in his judgment, 
"very Byronical in tone," like "Give Me a Kiss," that "attracted 
considerable attention in the County." One gathers that the at- 
tention was not all laudatory. "People talk of stern manhood! 
Stern fiddlestick!" he exclaimed, and he wrote another poem: 13 

Strange tales they tell {they tell forsooth) 
About thy wayward froward youth 
And lightly do I reck their truth 

Thy love is all my care 
Let slander hurl her venomed dart 
And strive our lives our hopes to part 
I'd shrine thee here within my heart 

Though hell should say Beware! 

Who was this Pan at large in the Baptist fold? "I was un- 
happy," he said in his Journal, "and hugged the fancy that I 
was an Ishmael of modern times." 14 He played his fiddle, mem- 
orized poetry, and "spouted Byron by the hour." He was not 
appreciated. He was Byron. He was Don Juan. He was Ishmael. 
He was anything but a seedy country school-teacher, and the 
world must know about it ! 

The world and his "Goddess Fame" were still unmoved by 
his strivings. When his school (his fifth one) closed in August, 
he had hope of getting the State Lecturer's place in the Tem- 
perance Society. "I was determined," he said, "to 'go up and 
gather lilies.* " But just as the prize seemed in his grasp, the 
office was abolished. He was reduced to such circumstances that 
he had to trade a silver cup that had belonged to his grand- 
father for a "cheap cotton garment," though the cup was "worth 
about ten times more." 15 "October, 1876, found me utterly 
destitute and working as a plow hand for old Jimmie Thomp- 
son," he recorded. "At night, my fiddle waked the silence 
among the pines. ... I got morose, moody and sulky as a mad 
bull. I used to lay [sic\ down under the pines and try to imagine 
where the dickens I was drifting to, and what awful change had 

13 MS. Journal 2, p. 191 et seq. t containing also clippings of the poems. 


16 T. E. W., Life and Speeches, p. 11. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

come over the spirit of my dream that I was getting so near the 
bottom . . ." 16 

In this extremity he appealed to Professor R. H. Pearce, one 
of his old teachers in Thomson. Professor Pearce wrote that he 
would be glad to advance him board until he got a start as a 
lawyer. "Riding back home from the Station where I rec'd his 
letter," he wrote, "the glad, fierce feeling of a new life opened 
to me rose and swelling till the woods rung [sic~] with the 
whoop that burst from my lips. It was a glorious feeling and 
right there did my destiny turn the corner." 1T He was a little 
more than twenty years old. 

In 1870 there had been cut out of Columbia and Warren a 
county named McDuffie in honor of Senator George McDuffie, 
who had been born in its boundaries. Although Thomson be- 
came the seat of the new County's government and thereby 
gained much in importance, it was still, in 1876, only a village 
of seven hundred inhabitants. Nevertheless, in these few years 
its bar, situated in an old part of the state and drawing talent 
from more established towns, already enjoyed a tradition that 
was not to be despised. The presence — even occasional — of Rob- 
ert Toombs and Alexander Stephens would have lent dignity to 
the tradition of any bar. Although Toombs still carried on an 
active practice, both of the old Confederates were in their de- 
clining years. More vigorous, if less celebrated, was Judge 
H. D. D. Twiggs, who was later pronounced "the greatest crimi- 
nal lawyer of Georgia" by a historian who quoted Watson as 
saying that "he has never met his equal, and that in some of 
his flights of eloquence he has fairly rivaled General Toombs." 
There was also James C. C. Black of Augusta, who belonged 
"in the front rank of Georgia orators," and W. D. Tutt, a gen- 
tleman of remarkably caustic tongue, who "seemed to have 
caught some of the sparks from the anvil of Demosthenes." 18 
Erudition they undoubtedly had, but eloquence was more im- 

It was natural that Watson should single out as especial marks 

16 MS. Journal 2, p. 191. 

17 Loc. cit. 

18 Lucian L. Knight, Reminiscences of Famous Georgians, Vol. I, pp. 412-421. 


"Ishmael" in the Backwoods 

for emulation the two most distinguished men. Throughout his 
youth and early manhood he felt strongly the impact of these 
two mighty and eccentric personalities. " 'Little Elleck' and 'Bob 
Toombs' were the Castor and Pollux, the matchless heroes, in 
our neck of the woods," he once wrote. The roads between the 
homes of his two heroes and his own formed a triangle : Tom 
at the apex, the house of the aristocrat Toombs, at Washington, 
and Liberty Hall, plain and ascetic, the very soul of Stephens, 
son of the "plain people, ,, at Crawfordville. The houses of the 
two friends still stand, decaying symbols of the two classes whose 
alliance the Toombs-Stephens friendship represented. 

"I came almost from Mr. Stephens' own fireside," Watson 
said with evident feeling at the sage's death. He knew him, 
visited in his home, as did almost everybody who came to town, 
took his advice about law and politics, and fairly worshipped 
him. Toombs was farther off in his firmament, but a more bril- 
liant star. "I loved Stephens," he said, u but I gloried in Bob 
Toombs I" 19 Once during the year 1864 he asked his mother 
who caused the war. "Toombs," she answered, and the boy was 
satisfied. 20 He considered Toombs "truly a big man." "His 
ideas, views, ambitions, passions, methods, excellencies, and 
faults were big; his loves and hates, his battles, his triumphs, 
his defeats were big; his roar of wrath, his shout of onset, his 
bursts of profanity, his explosions of laughter . . ." Further- 
more, he was "an Idol of the South because he carried in his 
heart the very passions, prejudices, hopes, aspirations, distinctive 
traits, habits, strength and weakness of the South; and every 
Southern man felt that here was a man who loved the South 
with all his mind and soul and heart, hating intensely every- 
thing and everybody who hated her" 21 Once, shortly after his 
return from exile, Toombs appeared in Thomson. A crowd had 
assembled to listen to Stephens, whose address had been some- 
what disappointing. When they saw Toombs, it was "As though 
an electric current had shot through the crowd, the multitude 
sprang to its feet, and there pealed forth a 'Rebel Yell,' and a 
roar for, 'Toombs! Toombs I Toombs!' " 22 After the band had 

19 T. E. W., Bethany, p. 28. 

20 T. E. W., Sketches, p. 15. 
21 T. E. W., Bethany, p. 27. 
22 T. E. W., Sketches, p. 5. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

played "Dixie," and the delirium had subsided, he addressed the 
crowd. Elsewhere Watson describes Toombs in action : 

You never saw anything like it ! A torrent bursting through a mountain 
gorge ; a wind-storm, with thunder and lightning, tearing through a forest ; 
a volcano in eruption — these were the things Toombs* speech reminded you 
of ; and when you once heard Bob Toombs 'on the stump* you could speak 
of it in the same tone as that used when one said, I saw Jeb Stuart lead a 
cavalry charge. It was a thing you could never forget; and nothing else 
was like it in elemental grandeur. 

The example of Stephens, however, more analogous to his 
own origin and circumstances, was ever uppermost in Tom's mind 
when he pondered his own future. He observed in his Journal 
that "This natural born genius talk is all humbug," and that a 
lawyer must "study 36 hours a day." "With Mr. Stephens the 
experience was the same. With less of natural talent [than 
Toombs] he had more of unfaltering perseverance. He com- 
menced poor and worked hard. He lived on eight dollars a 
month, made his own room, blacked his own boots, and was 
precious glad when he had any boots to black . . ." 23 His emula- 
tion of this example, we may conclude, was indefatigable. Fre- 
quently such entries as "Didn't go to bed at all last night" appear 
in his diary of this period; nor was it because he was an Ishmael 
fiddling under the pines nor a Don Juan among the cypresses. 
He was "burnishing up" his "legal armor for the Superior 
C[our]t," or "up till 2 o'clock studying Kent and the Code and 
reading Jean Ingelow." ** He had certain debts that must be 
paid: "So I dressed plainly, ate my cold dinner in my office, 
diligently attended to what cases came my way, studied hard, 
lived cleanly in every respect, and gradually gained ground." 

Indeed the move from Screven to Thomson had worked a 
regeneration in him, and his every effort was to become a model 
of decorum and industriousness. When Mrs. Pearce, in good- 
natured raillery, told him that "fiddlers never amount to any- 
thing," he put aside his instrument firmly, and nothing could 
induce him to play it for some time. 25 Shortly after he arrived in 
Thomson, there had appeared in the Sunny South, a literary 
weekly published in Atlanta, a story called "Jerome Montemar 

23 MS. Journal 2, undated. 

24 MS. Diary, 1878, Feb. 19. In possession of Georgia Watson, Thomson, Georgia. 

25 Interview with Mrs. Lula Farmer, daughter of R. H. Pearce. 


"Ishmael" in the Backwoods 

or In the Days of Napoleon," by Thomas E. Watson. 26 The 
story was not given a prominent place, but its appearance here 
represented a considerable rise in eminence for its author, whose 
only publishers had previously been obscure rural papers. He 
does not appear to have followed up his advantage. He was 
no longer an author. He was a rising barrister. 

When a "revival" came along, he even tried religion, em- 
bracing it with the impulsiveness and emotionalism that char- 
acterized his conversion to anything from an economic doctrine 
to a political platform. The evangelist, he wrote, u got hold of 
me in such a way that, I not only cried and 'took on' myself, but 
I picked out the hardest old case in the congregation, pried him 
loose from his seat, dragged him down the aisle, and landed him 
on the mourner's bench." So fervent a convert was he that he 
agreed to "make-up" with one of the brethren whom he had 
thrashed on the street a few months before. Meeting him in 
public he impulsively offered him his hand. The hand was re- 
fused. "I had to meekly swallow the affront," 27 he said. He was 
never one to swallow affronts in good grace and piety. "I am not 
what the French call a religionist," he remarked in later life. 
"But I think that a man who underrates the powerful hold of 
religion is without reasoning power. ... As Napoleon said : 4 If 
we didn't have a religion we would have to make one.' " 28 To- 
ward the clergy generally, of whatever persuasion, Watson 
nursed an impatience he could not always conceal. The deism of 
Voltaire and Jefferson was at the root of the feeling. 

Before his first year of practice was over he recorded: "My 
practice has been good, yielding me $101.70 in cash. I have met 
single handed every member of the Bar and have no reason to 
complain of the result." Then later: "Tutt's rough, brilliant 
blows have often been galling but I see now I could have had 
no better schooling." 29 He was "not such a fool," he says, as to 
sign an agreement with established lawyers binding himself to 
charge the same fees they charged. He was willing to "work 
all day for two dollars" and accept any job, however menial. 
On January 19, 1878, he noted in his diary: "Go to Appling to 

26 Sunny South, Nov. 18, 1876. 

27 T. E. W., in the Jeffersonian, Sept. 30, 1909. 

28 Interview with Wat9on in Atlanta Journal, Sept. 26, 1922. 

29 MS. Journal 2, pp. 192 and 267. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Justice's Court. I represented Plaintiff B. P. O'Neal. ... get 
judgment for $7.00 and costs . . . altogether, I've ridden Little 
Nell 50 miles today." His victories were not always won in per- 
fect amity and dignity before the bar. For example, this entry 
was made a week later: "Go down to Pope Hill in Jefferson 
County. Gain my cases but get into a fight. Jim Cardue calls 
me a liar in the court room and I slap him. Outside he renews 
it. I hit him again and he whips me. Result — on my part, — a 
scratched up face, on his a blue brow and split nose. A 55 mile 
ride." 30 This altercation is by no means an isolated example. 
His gross earnings for the first year's practice were $212. 

Heavily upon his pride lay the humiliation of his family's 
poverty. The memory of what they had been and the oppressive 
consciousness of their present plight was forever haunting him. 
Before the year was over he set out to rescue them. First there 
was his younger brother, William, eking out a wretched exist- 
ence as a share-cropper on the land of "Shep" Wright, a wealthy 
planter. William, known as "Top" in the community, had been 
to his brother with tales of Wright's mistreatment and sharp 
dealing beforehand. When Top later reported that the planter 
had beaten him like a slave because he had whipped his son in a 
fist-and-skull fight, Tom saw red. He borrowed a pistol and 
waited for Wright to come to town. Wright, said to have been 
"a noted fighting cock," appeared on horseback one Sunday 
morning. Armed with his pistol, Tom wrenched the planter's 
riding switch from his hand and in the presence of a dozen citi- 
zens administered him a whipping. "The distance which the 
noise of the 'cussing' is said to have travelled, that Sabbath 
morning, staggers belief," reported the assailant. Tom was ar- 
rested, but the prosecutor offered to drop the case if Top would 
agree to surrender his half of the crop he had been working. 
"We were poor boys," wrote Watson, "and we agreed." 31 

The incident sank deep into his conscience. The role of agrar- 
ian avenger, when he assumed it again, seemed almost as much 
a heritage as it was a conviction. Once in boyhood he recorded 
with pride in his Journal how he had browbeaten "one of the 
white croppers" on his father's plantation by arrogantly march- 

so MS. Diary 1878. 

81 MS. Journal 2, p. 195. 


"Ishmael" in the Backwoods 

ing up, gun in hand, helping himself at the water bucket on the 
front porch, and sauntering off without so much as glancing at 
the astonished cropper. 32 Some little turning of the economic 
tables had worked a revolution in the attitude of the arrogant 
young planter's boy. He now saw croppers in a different light. 

During the year he paid his family a visit. The pitiable con- 
dition in which he found them gave him a profound shock. His 
father had sunk into a "hopeless stupor"; his "energy was gone 
and he continued to drift downward . . ." So far had John de- 
clined that there was really not much further for him to drift. 
He had moved to a wretched shack on a little piece of sandy soil 
in Richmond County. The family including his three sisters, 
Tom wrote with horror in his Journal, "had lived in a miserable 
shanty skirted by a long marsh until the chills and fever entered 
and took possession of every one of them." 83 One detail, pos- 
sessing a peculiar significance for him, stuck in his mind a long 
time, and thirty years later he wrote: "The smoke-house, larder, 
pantry, buttery, etc., consisted of a home-made book-case that 
had belonged to my stately old grandfather." 84 These things 
could not be. He found it all "deeply mortifying and determined 
to lose no time in coming to their relief." 

By an arrangement of credit whereby he was to make six pay- 
ments of $500 each over a period of five years, he was able to 
purchase the "Sweetwater Place," a farm of seven hundred 
acres that John had left at the death of Thomas M. Watson. In 
more than one sense, then, the return of his family was a home- 
coming. His responsibilities were now greatly multiplied, but 
upon Tom there settled for once (and briefly) a consciousness 
of peace and contentment. "It was a curious feeling of gratifica- 
tion when I rode over the redeemed 'Homestead,' " he wrote 
shortly after buying the place. 35 He often sat on the "piazza" 
after an early supper and listened to the hands come in from 
the fields, and to "my waggon" rattling along the road from 
town. "At such a time," he said, "one drinks in a world of quiet 
pleasures — pleasures which leave no bitter taste behind." 38 He 
took a particular pleasure in hunting out "old Abe Watson," an 

82 Ibid., p. 128. 

88 Ibid., p. 196. 

84 T. E. W., in the Jeffersonian, Sept. 30, 1909. 

36 MS. Journal 2, p. 196. 

88 MS. Diary 1878. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

old Negro that had belonged to his grandfather, and served as 
plantation foreman. Tom installed him on the place as a tenant. 
This was "much to [his] satisfaction," he wrote. Unconsciously, 
perhaps, Tom was seeking the restoration of an imaginary para- 
dise. It was a more plausible restoration than John's lost man- 
sion, from which he had declined so precipitantly to a shanty — 
but it was sought from the same motives. "Old Abe" he seized 
upon immediately as an authentic architectural detail, one that 
his "stately old grandfather" had given his stamp of approval. 
"It was a curious feeling of gratification . . ." he wrote. "I gave 
him a little money to buy 'Christmas' with. He goes to work as 
earnestly this new year as if he had been making money." 8T Of 
course, there were other motives than nostalgia, and it was not 
to be regretted that Abe was an "earnest" tenant, as well as an 
architectural ornament. 

But contentment, even of paradisaic fulfillment, was not con- 
genial to the Watson temperament, not for any appreciable 
length of time at least. Under the date, February 24, 1878, one 
finds the following entry in his diary: "I can think of nothing 
all day but Georgia Durham. I go to sleep in a pine thicket and 
still in my sleep I think of her." 38 His passion for her would 
give him no peace: "I suffered I think, as much as human nature 
can suffer. For months I lay in my office on a big sofa perfectly 
benumbed. My mind was chained down to one subject and it 
was utterly impossible to think of anything else. I became 
morose and moody and well nigh desperate." 39 Here once again 
is the familiar Watson — thwarted, disconsolate, rebellious. 

Tom's courtship was ardent and not without romantic inci- 
dent. During the sixteen months it lasted there were obstacles 
innumerable: Georgia's long engagement to a rival suitor, her 
threatening illness, her reluctance to leave her foster-father, 
whose heavy drinking made him dependent on her care, Dr. 
Durham's own objection to her early marriage. After several 
postponements, each of which plunged Tom further into distrac- 
tion, they were married on October 9, 1878. 40 His diary is silent 

37 MS. Journal 2, p. 196. 

38 MS. Diary 1878. 

39 MS. Journal 2, undated. 

40 MS. Diary 1878. 


"Ishmael" in the Backwoods 

for a period and then he writes, "I am as happy as a man ever 
can be." 

Georgia Durham was the adopted daughter of Dr. George W. 
Durham, a physician of Thomson. Around her origin, upon which 
there is considerable speculation (some conflicting) but no re- 
liable evidence, there remains much obscurity. 41 In a fragmentary 
manuscript that is apparently the beginning of a novel, Watson 
gave the story current in the family a highly romantic color. He 
pictures Georgia as the orphaned victim of sectional hatred that 
separated the families of her parents at the beginning of the War 
and made her the secret charge of an old slave couple. 42 All that 
seems to be unquestionable, however, is the fact that Dr. Dur- 
ham, then a young surgeon of the Confederate Army stationed 
near Savannah, became attached to the child in some way, 
adopted her, and brought her home to his wife during the War. 

"If I have a Sister Spirit on earth," Tom wrote during his 
courtship, "it is she." All that we know of her character, how- 
ever, seems to indicate that it was in many ways the very an- 
tithesis of her husband's, for that she was serene, patient, and 
reserved seems to be the opinion of those who knew her best. 
Never taking an active interest in politics, she rarely accom- 
panied her husband on his campaign tours, but when she did she 
usually received her share of attention from newspapers. "She 
is small and her figure is almost girlish," said one. "Hands, 
voice, expression all bespoke the sheltered gentlewoman. Noth- 
ing more anomalous than this high-bred daughter of the South 
affiliated with the party that held Jerry Simpson, 'Sockless 
Jerry,' could be imagined." Another trait of the "sheltered gen- 
tlewoman" of the Old South that she possessed to a marked de- 
gree was her shrewd business ability. Like many mistresses of 
the old plantations, Mrs. Watson, for all her fragile gentility, 
became the business executive of several large farms, employing 
and discharging scores of tenants, keeping accounts, buying sup- 
plies, directing work, relieving her husband of a vast amount of 
routine, yet managing to appear quite "sheltered." Watson's let- 
ters to his wife put beyond question the ardor of his devotion to 
her, an ardor which — until a much later period — seemed to pro- 

41 Fide William W. Brewton, Life of Watson, pp. 106-113. 

42 MS. in the possession of Georgia Watson, Thomson, Georgia. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

ceed out of a deeply romantic passion. 43 It is not often one finds 
a husband writing love lyrics to his wife after twenty-seven years 
of married life. 44 

After living for a short time in the home of the Durhams, the 
Watsons moved to a house of their own. Here within the next 
seven years their three children, a boy and two girls, were born. 
These years, strenuous ones for Tom, were crowded with a 
thriving practice, a practice that grew with his reputation, and 
grew rapidly. In April, 188 1, he wrote : "I have won a steady and 
lucrative practice in four counties. I meet the best men from the 
Bar of the Northern as well as the Augusta Circuit, and I am 
strong in the faith that nature intended me to be the peer of the 
best." 45 Not long after he had returned to Thomson he had 
written, "I love my profession strongly." Well he might, for in 
the first three years of his practice he had doubled his income 
each year, and thereafter it shot up proportionately. At the end 
of the year 1887, eleven years after he had arrived penniless at 
Thomson, he estimated his "assets" at $30,585, most of which 
was in land. 46 Those were lean years in rural Georgia. In four 
more years, it is said upon fair authority, his practice "carried 
him all over the State, and his income was probably larger than 
any other country lawyer in the State, with the exception of Gen- 
eral Toombs and Benjamin H. Hill." 4T 

It is not the purpose here to trace the progress of Watson's 
rise to eminence as a lawyer, nor even to examine the legal prob- 
lems involved in his more sensational cases, of which there are 
many. What is more important is the fact that his practice was 
almost entirely rural, that it was concentrated in his congres- 
sional district, that his juries and audiences were usually made 
up of farmers who were also voters, and that his practice, as 
soon as he could command a choice, consisted very largely of 
criminal cases in which he acted as counsel for the defendant. 
With these facts in mind, a brief examination of his jury meth- 
ods might not be entirely without interest. 

^Letters of T. E. W. to his wife between 1883 an d I 9°8 in the possession of Miss 
Georgia Watson. 

44 "Lines written on the back of a photograph of Miss C. D. in May 1878 — 
Copied April 19, 1905," MS. Journal 2, p. 572. 

45 MS. Journal 2, p. 287. 

46 "T. E. W. Account Book, 1888-1893," Watson MSS. 

47 William J. Northen, Men of Mark in Georgia, IV, p. 223. 


"Ishmael" in the Backwoods 

One of Tom's happiest gifts was a certain talent for robust 
metaphor and Gargantuan simile struck off with spontaneity in 
the genuine rural idiom. Judge Twiggs, a distinguished oppo- 
nent, several years his elder, was frequently the butt of these 
aphorisms. In one case involving the identification of a stolen 
hog, Tom said, "Why gentlemen, he wants you to believe that 
if a piece of his middling were boiled with collard greens he 
could tell that it was his by testing the potlicker." And later, "I 
presume from what he says, that he could with all ease tell you 
the sex of a hog, male or female, merely by smelling of the 
gravy." 48 One of these figures, we may imagine, was sufficient 
to set the jury rolling in the aisles, but in the same speech we 
find, "The distinguished Judge [Twiggs] has a mind so imagi- 
native and a fancy so poetic that he could weave metaphors round 
a wheel barrow and draw music from a fence rail." Then, while 
cross-examining a witness, "If the truth, the whole truth were 
to strike this witness fair and square it would split him worse 
than lightning would split a rotten potato." Once after record- 
ing one of his gems in his Journal, Tom added, "This little sen- 
tence burst out impromptu during a reply of mine to H. C. 
Roney. It surprised myself and its effect on the hearers was 
electrical." And after another speech, "I almost forgot where I 
was and seemed to tread on air." 49 

Much less spontaneous and original — and consequently pos- 
sessing less real humor — was his collection of anecdotes, also 
robust. These were assembled over a number of years, filling at 
least two notebooks, and were used in political speeches as well 
as before the bar. They are recorded in elliptical phrases which, 
nevertheless, make their nature fairly apparent — as in the fol- 
lowing samples: "Keeps a stud horse and plays the fiddle," 
"Kissing the wrong place in the dark," "The cricket and the 

tumble bug," "Zeb Vance's poor man — p s on the fire and 

calls his dog," "Hold up your right leg then — hold something." °° 
These anecdotes represent a type of folk humor, as anyone 
familiar with the section will recognize, and they did not go 

48 MS. Journal 2, p. 286. In these pages Watson kept many brief accounts of his 
cases, complete speeches of some of his early ones. 

49 Ibid., c. 1879. 

60 Notebooks in the possession of Georgia Watson, and also among the Watson 
MSS. at Chapel Hill. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

As an example of his juristic technique and forensic methods, 
there is the case of Jack Peavy. 61 This case came fairly early in 
his career; in itself it is relatively unimportant and little known; 
it is not selected to illustrate Watson's legal skill, but for what 
it may reveal about the lawyer himself, his methods, his clients, 
his juries. 

Peavy, it seems, had boarded a train in an intoxicated condi- 
tion and made himself such a nuisance that the conductor had 
ejected him from the train. Whereupon, it was charged, Peavy 
attempted to shoot the conductor, but instead was shot by the 
conductor. Peavy then escaped. Discovered later by a constable's 
posse he was again wounded, this time by an incredible number 
of buckshot, placed under arrest, and later tried for assault with 
intent to murder. Watson was appointed to defend him. It ap- 
pears that Peavy did not enjoy an enviable reputation in War- 
renton, where he was tried, and that public sentiment was 
strongly against him. It was, naturally, Watson's first concern 
to propitiate and if possible to convert this prejudicial atmos- 
phere into one favorable to the defendant. He began with what 
appears to be an unconscious travesty upon Anthony's oration on 
the fallen Caesar — baring the wounds of the victim. Pianissimo. 

Why, gentlemen, Jack Peavy has been shot till his hide wouldn't hold 
shucks. If he was a cow his skin wouldn't be worth tanning. His coffin will 
be a lead mine. It's a wonder to me all the little boys who are learning to 
shoot don't practice on his carcass. The law certainly would not interfere 
. . . No ! Let the brave work go on ! Barnett shot him and the law accuses 
Peavy. A constable's crowd shot him without warning till the wife of his 
bosom might have tracked him seventeen miles by the life blood as it 
drained his veins. And the law makes no complaint. 

This having taken effect, he proceeds with another trend. 

The further we go the more clearly will we see one of these cruel class 
differences that disgrace the justice of men. 

Suppose Gen. Toombs passing on this Washington train had cursed. Is 
there a man on the jury who believes that this young conductor would have 
collared him and have spoken to him as he did Peavy? How absurd. 
Toombs, sacred by reason of his class, his cloth; powerful in the golden 
strength of his hundreds of thousands. . . . 

But Peavy! That's another matter. Slouch hat and homespun dress 
inspire the youth with no such awe. Hear how his conduct speaks : "I will 

81 MS. Journal 2, p. 305. The case was apparently tried in 1882. 


"Ishmael" in the Backwoods 

collar him like I would a slave, speak to him as I would to a slave and if 
he dares resent either I'll shoot him like a dog. Such men have no rights 
that I am bound to respect." 

And finally for the "grand spread eagle." Fortissimo. 

Peavy answers the shaking of the pistol in his face by saying, "You — . 
You damned son of a bitch," and is shot. At least he had endured all he 
could and his whole nature rose up in arms. "You have collared me as if I 
were a cur. You have talked to me like you would a servant. You have 
insulted me before all the passengers — put me off the train after I had 
bought my ticket and now you threaten me while I am down. I'll stand 
no more. Your rank and your riches give you no right to wipe your feet 
on me. God Almighty breathed into my nostrils as well as yours. My blood 
came from the dust and so did yours. I throw my defiance in your teeth and 
meet you face to f ace — 

"What tho on homely fare we dine, 
Wear hodden gray and all that; 
Give fools their silks and knaves their wine — 
A man's a man for all that." 

Jack Peavy was cleared. "By the time I had spoken half an 
hour," wrote Watson, at the end of the above account, "the 
popular tide was with us and many a manly eye was dim." 

Out of such victories as this — and it was multiplied a hundred- 
fold — was built the legend of his invincibility. It became a 
widely prevalent belief that there was a sort of rule, or at least 
an agreement of honor, that Tom Watson should not assist in 
the prosecution of one charged with murder, for if he did, it 
meant certain death for the defendant. His talent was reserved 
for the defense. He was a tribune of the people, and hundreds 
had found shelter within his voice. 

And might not a whole people find shelter there likewise? 
Were not they all so many Jack Peavys in "slouch hat and 
homespun?" Were they not forever being collared and booted 
about by arrogant young conductors of the railroads who 
charged them such outrageous rates to carry their cotton ? Or by 
some upstart millionaire of Wall Street, "sacred by reason of his 
class?" By city folk in general? And might they not, with the 
words Tom had put in Jack Peavy's mouth, some day rise in 
their wrath and say, "I'll stand no more?" And with such a voice 
and such a tribune for their leader, might they not become so 
many Jack Cades? 



The "New Departure" 

MEN, manners, and events in the South during those 
two decades that lie between the restoration of home rule 
in the early 'seventies and the agrarian revolt of the 'nineties 
have been strangely neglected by historians and men of letters 
generally. Perhaps it is because Reconstruction, which imme- 
diately preceded this period, and the Populist movement, which 
marked its close, have offered materials so rich in tragic and melo- 
dramatic appeal that the interlude has been poorly attended. Per- 
haps it is because the great circus of the Gilded Age at Washing- 
ton completely out-shone it in competitive attraction. Be that as 
it may, the South also had its "Great Barbecue." True, it was 
somewhat delayed by an ungentlemanly squabble over who 
should play the host, and its conviviality was unhappily marred 
by a most un-Southern inhospitality in the matter of invitations, 
and by a few, a very few, haughty old patricians who contemp- 
tuously spurned the invitations and stayed at home to munch 
cold victuals. But the Barbecue went on. 

Out of the almost unanimous silence on this epoch has grown 
much erroneous thinking about the South and Southern history, 
particularly about that era in which Watson and the Populists 
played an important part. To understand the significance of their 
role, one must at least be warned of the more prominent mis- 
apprehensions concerning the epoch out of which they arose, 
which, in fact, produced them. 

After the surrender, as after any war and especially an un- 
successful one, there followed a great deflation of political fervor 
and moral enthusiasm. Southern leaders had been disfranchised. 
Some were in prison, some in exile. Nothing but widespread 


The "New Departure" 

poverty prevented a larger emigration than actually occurred to 
Latin American colonies. The South was a "conquered province." 
How, then, could its citizens be expected to exhibit a great deal 
of interest in the question, "When is a state not a state?" which 
was troubling Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania and Charles 
Sumner of Massachusetts? A few old heads recognized "Re- 
construction" for what it was — a Yankee euphemism for capi- 
talist expansion. But their number was small, and their counsel 
generally regarded as occult. The last demonstration of political 
genius made by the old ruling class was in assisting the overthrow 
of the Carpetbagger regime. But that was accomplished in the 
guise of Brer Rabbit rather than in that of Brer Lion: "Sir," 
General Toombs is reported to have said to a Federal detective 
while the general was engaged in paying off Negro voters, "Sir, 
are you not touched by this spectacle of the unbought suffrages 
of a free people?" 1 In 1870 he had joined hands with Governor 
Joseph E. Brown to overthrow the corrupt Bullock administra- 
tion; with unwonted cynicism he had written Stephens, "Rather 
a strange conjunction is it not? But you know my rule is to use 
the devil if I can do better to save the country." 2 

Adversity had minimized old differences and old hatreds mo- 
mentarily, and all Southern people felt powerfully drawn to- 
gether against a common enemy. Their mood is clearly reflected 
in a letter that Augustus Baldwin Longstreet wrote to Stephens : 
"When I think of you and Toombs as you are now, and as you 
were twelve or fourteen years ago, I feel like killing the fatted 
calf, and waking up music and dancing. . . . Well, as Ransey 
Sniffle says, 'We are all friends now.' " 3 Whigs, Know Nothings, 
Unionists, Secessionists, even some Republicans were all one in a 
conservative embrace. It so happened that the common repository 
for these generous and powerful emotions of a people was the 
Democratic party. But no sooner had the spontaneity of this 
impulse begun to pall than the more sensitive souls began to feel 
the embrace distinctly embarrassing. 

In 1872 Stephens and Toombs, in an ineffectual effort to pre- 
vent Southern Democrats from joining with the Northern wing 
of the party in a "New Departure" to nominate Horace Greeley, 

1 C. Mildred Thompson, Reconstruction in Georgia, pp. 273-274. 

2 Ulrich B. Phillips, Life of Robert Toombs, p. 264. 

3 John Donald Wade, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, p. 354. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

the Liberal Republican of New York, for president, had lost 
their fight for the control of the Georgia Democratic party. Re- 
newing the struggle upon the same issues the following year, 
Stephens was defeated as a candidate for senator by General 
John B. Gordon. He then accepted as a sop a seat in Congress, 
but his relations with the "New Departure" Democrats remained 
estranged. The old invalid was expected to die any day now, 
but instead he cheerfully corrected the proofs of his obituary 
(just as Toombs predicted), and went on living, an irrepressible 
mummy in a roller chair, "An immense cloak, a high hat, and 
peering somewhere out of the middle a thin, pale, sad little 
face." 4 

Toombs, example par excellence of the unreconstructed Rebel, 
had returned from his two years' exile abroad in a much more 
belligerent mood than Stephens had exhibited upon his release 
from prison. In fact he returned as a citizen of Georgia only, 
for he never applied for United States citizenship. In 1876 the 
old Rebel was no more pleased with the doings of his new party 
than he had been four years previously. On October 30 he wrote 
Stephens, "The mongrel crew who call themselves Democrats 
. . . want Tilden elected for the same reason that Falstaff re- 
joiced at Prince Hal's reconciliation with the old King — 'Hal, 
rob me the exchequer.' " 6 But Toombs' recalcitrance was not yet 
reduced to impotent mouthings. One of his chief abominations 
was the Constitution of 1868, the product of "aliens and usurp- 
ers." The sanction this document gave to the policy of state aid 
to railroads and public corporations was perhaps the main cause 
of his displeasure. It was known that he never invested a dollar 
in railroad stock, and his vehement denunciation of railroads 
was regarded by many at the time as a paranoia. His personal 
power in the state was such that he was able to dominate the 
Constitutional Convention of 1877 and to force the adoption of 
his ideas in the new constitution. "Toombs is attempting a new 
revolution" was the cry of hoards of railroad lobbyists, pro- 
moters, developers, expanders, and captains of industry who 
descended upon Atlanta to stop this "war upon the rights of 
property." "It is a sacred thing to shake the pillars upon which 
the property of the country rests," one of their number solemnly 

4 Louis Pendleton, Alexander H. Stephens, pp. 386-387. 
5 Ulrich B. Phillips, op. «V.,.p. 268. 


The "New Departure" 

charged. "Better shake the pillars of property than the pillars 
of liberty," thundered the old man. "The great question is, Shall 
Georgia govern the corporations or the corporations govern 
Georgia? Choose ye this day whom ye shall serve I" In spite of 
the powerful opposition of Joseph E. Brown and others, the 
convention made its choice at the dictation of Robert Toombs. 
His motion to strike out the section against dueling was defeated, 
but not his proposals to prohibit state aid to railroads, irrevoca- 
ble franchises and immunities, the purchase of railroad securi- 
ties by the state, and monopolistic combinations of railroads. 6 
Toombs had won the day, but it was to be his last one. Barred 
from holding federal office, he constituted himself ex-cathedra 
censor of public morals, resorting to strong drink, strong lan- 
guage, and blacker prophecies as the years passed. By a stranger 
conjunction than Toombs' brief alliance with Joe Brown, young 
Henry Grady became almost the amanuensis of the General, 
patronizingly jotting down his jeremiads and reporting them 
amiably to the public. 

Upon the restoration of home rule in 1872 the Carpetbaggers, 
it is frequently said, were succeeded by the "Bourbons," the im- 
pression being, it seems, that the "Bourbon Democrats," having 
overthrown the Reconstruction administration, were able in some 
way partially to rehabilitate the old order while paying dubious 
respect to the new. Having caught the fancy of a suspicious 
North and having been adopted by the South itself (though in a 
somewhat different sense), 7 the term Bourbon has enjoyed a 
remarkable success as a political epithet. Indeed, in this sense 
it has become a part of our language, Webster's New Interna- 
tional Dictionary defining the word as, "A ruler or politician who 
clings obstinately to ideas adapted to an order of things gone by ; 
— sometimes applied to Democrats of the southern United 
States." Yet, since the American aborigines were called Indians 
there has probably been no more fallacious misnomer in our his- 
tory than this term Bourbon — at least when applied to the men 
who governed Georgia. 

6 Ibid., p. 269-272; Samuel W. Small, Proceedings of the Georgia Constitutional 
Convention . . . 1877, passim. 

7 Thus, Joseph E. Brown in 1880 refers to "the sentimentality of the South and 
the Bourbonism of the past." Herbert Fielder, Life and Times of Joseph E. Brown, 
p. 550. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

The nature of the new rulers of the South might be made 
fairly plain by a recitation of statistics demonstrating the rapid 
advance of industrial development. Some insight should be 
gained by a study of the rulers themselves. During the interval 
between 1872 and 1890 either Joseph E. Brown or General 
John B. Gordon held one of Georgia's seats in the United States 
Senate, and after the expiration of his second term as Governor 
in 1882, General Alfred H. Colquitt held the other; during the 
major part of that same period either General Colquitt or Gen- 
eral Gordon occupied the governor's chair. So regularly were 
these high offices bandied about among the three men, that they 
came to be spoken of as the triumvirate — "the Bourbon Trium- 
virate." 8 

The career of Joseph Emerson Brown is one of those anom- 
alies that render unsafe broad generalizations about the Old 
South as well as the New, for his is the story of a self-made man, 
one of the first u success-stories" of the ploughboy who became a 
multimillionaire and a senator. His rise began in the Old South. 
At the age of nineteen he emerged from the primitive, poverty- 
ridden backwoods of north Georgia wearing homespun and 
driving a yoke of steers. Six years later he was graduated from 
the law school of Yale College and returned to Georgia to take 
up the career of lawyer, farmer, and politician. At twenty-eight 
he was a state senator and shortly afterward a circuit judge. In 
1857, at the age of thirty-six, he was advanced to the governor's 
chair largely by the votes of the small farmer (whose influence 
in antebellum Georgia was by no means negligible). The news 
of his nomination reached him in his wheat field, where he was 
lending a hand with the harvest. 9 

The contrast between the personality of the young governor 
and those of such men as his predecessor, Governor Johnson, or 
Senator Toombs was striking. His composure, one of his ad- 
mirers tells us, was "perfect, though his manners, while not 
easy, were not awkward." His face was "pale, bloodless," his 
mouth "wide and thin-lipped, something like Henry Clay's, 
though not so extensive," his clothes "plain black without at- 
tempt at fashionable fit," his voice "very clear and not at all 

8 Isaac W. Avery, History of Georgia, pp. 370-372. 

9 Herbert Fielder, op. cit,, pp. 91-92; I. W. Avery, op. cit., pp. 7-46; U. B. 
Phillips, op. cit., p. 171. 


The "New Departure" 

musical." In speaking he showed "no rhetorical finish," was 
"disregardful of ceremony," and kept himself "free from any 
sentiment of reverence for custom or authority unless his judg- 
ment approved." His pronunciation, marked strongly by the 
provincial drawl and the rural peculiarity of accenting the last 
syllable, won him the name of "Old judgw*«f." Governor 
Brown's first regime of four years was said in 1881 to have given 
Georgia "the largest measure of material growth she has ever 
had." Whether fighting banks, legislature, press, or "custom 
and authority," Brown was the same "native-born belligerent," 
relentless, stubborn, self-confident. As war governor he was also 
a capable administrator, although his conflict with the Confed- 
erate government over conscription and state rights (in which 
he took the side of Stephens and Toombs against President 
Davis) was a serious matter. 10 Brown's political career did not 
end with the War. For a quarter of a century after the surrender 
his influence was powerfully felt in Georgia and in the South. 
Then, might not this man, farmer, eight-years' governor of 
Georgia, ardent defender of state rights, ally of Stephens and 
Toombs, with justice be called a "Bourbon"? 

After the War, Governor Brown grew a long gray beard of 
the sort that masked the faces of a great many statesmen of the 
Gilded Age. "The statesman like the business man," wrote Gov- 
ernor Brown in his letter of resignation, June 29, 1865, "should 
take a practical view of questions as they arise . . ." The ad- 
visor in this case profited more than the advised. "We have 
never in the South had a more practical man than Governor 
Brown," said one of his admirers. 11 For his advice to the South 
of entire acquiescence in the abolition of slavery and a cordial 
support of the full Radical reconstruction policy, Brown be- 
came perhaps the best-hated man in Georgia, bringing down a 
tirade of abuse from such men as Ben Hill, who pronounced 
him "parricide" and "traitor," though in taking this position, 
Brown merely anticipated Hill about three years and Southern 
Democracy about five. 12 Governor Brown simply showed more 
alacrity in combining profitably the "practical view" of the busi- 

10 1. W. Avery, op. cit., pp. 48-49, 167-170, and also Chapters XX-XXXI; H. 
Fielder, Chapters III-X, especially pp. 355~398. 

11 1. W. Avery, op. cit., pp. 339-340* 

12 Haywood Pearce, Benjamin H. Hill, pp. 214-215; I. W. Avery, op. cit., pp. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

ness man with the duties of the "statesman." He became a Re- 
publican temporarily, and was duly rewarded for his practical 
views by the Bullock administration with the office of chief jus- 
tice of the state supreme court. In the name of "development" 
and "progress" the reconstructors (like their brethren in Wash- 
ington) drew out of the public treasury munificent doles with 
both hands for the industrialists. Some $4,450,000 worth of 
such bonds were later declared fraudulent and repudiated, but 
not all. 18 Chief Justice Brown was closely associated with many 
of the beneficiaries of these policies. 

In December, 1870, Brown resigned his office as chief justice 
to take charge of the Western and Atlantic Railroad. The lease 
of this state road had been awarded the company of which he 
was president as one of the last acts of the Bullock legislature, 
just before the "Carpetbag" Governor fled the state. Later in- 
vestigation declared the obtaining of the lease and the formation 
of the company to be fraudulent, but the lease was not broken. 14 
During the next decade Brown was occupied largely with a mul- 
tiplicity of industrial developments. At one time he was president 
of the Western and Atlantic Railroad Company, the Southern 
Railway and Steamship Company, the Walker Coal and Iron 
Company, and the Dade Coal Company, and part owner of the 
Rising Fawn Iron Works. 15 His mineral interests alone covered 
a large part of several counties. 

The labor supply that Governor Brown used in the Dade coal 
mines, one of his larger interests, is worth passing attention as a 
commentary upon the rise of the progressive spirit in the South 
and the patent advantages of the new freedom over the old feu- 
dal system. The practice of leasing state convicts to private indi- 
viduals and corporations had arisen during Reconstruction, when 
for the first time large numbers of Negro convicts began to ap- 
pear. The state, it was claimed, was too impoverished to maintain 
them in idleness. Governor Brown was willing to relieve the pub- 
lic of a large part of this burden, and pay the state something 

18 C. M. Thompson, Reconstruction in Georgia, Chapter IX; H. Fielder, op. cit, 
pp. 465-480; Alex M. Arnett, Populist Movement in Georgia, p. 26. 

14 The question of fairness in this lease is still controversial. Cf. C. M. Thomp- 
son, op. cit, pp. 251-254, which puts a damaging construction upon the testimony, 
and H. Pearce, op. cit, pp. 218-230; which takes a different view; also Fielder, 
op. cit., pp. 480-483 ; A. M. Arnett, op. cit, pp. 26-27 J Rebecca L. Felton, Memories 
of Georgia Politics, pp. 62-63 5 PP» 68-78. 

15 1. W. Avery, op. cit, p. 606; H. Fielder, op. cit., pp. 488-490. 


The "New Departure" 

over six cents per working day for the convicts, whom he worked 
in his mines for ten to twelve hours a day, until those limits were 
removed in 1876 by a grateful legislature. True, there were a 
few ungrateful critics among the Independents, one of whom 
denounced the system as "barbarous" : "Juveniles and old, hard- 
ened criminals, men and women, black and white, the obdurate 
and unconquerable, are all huddled and chained together. You 
have a system that is degrading — that is barbarous — that is dev- 
ilish." 16 The public, however, was inclined to understand the 
viewpoint of Mr. Brown, who admitted that "We make some 
profit at the Dade Coal Mines, and there we use convict labor," 
but, he asked, "Is it a crime for a citizen to put his money into 
the development of mineral interests, especially if he should 
succeed in making money by his energy and enterprise?" The 
moral advantage was obviously all on the side of Mr. Brown's 
argument, for he had undoubtedly succeeded in making money 
by his energy and enterprise, and he had been among the first 
to give cordial welcome to the abolition of slavery. The number 
of convicts increased from 432 in 1872 to 1,441 in 1877. This 
was due, according to the governor, to "increased vigilance and 
rigid convictions by the judiciary." 1T 

As a citizen, Governor Brown had many other exemplary 
moral qualities. He was a devout churchman, strictly temperate, 
using neither tobacco nor alcohol. He was a prominent philan- 
thropist, donating thousands to charity and education for the 
poor. Withal he presented, like his Northern prototype, Jay 
Cooke, a grave and deacon-like appearance. His biographer gives 
this engaging picture of his hero : "He works with the regularity 
of a perfectly adjusted machine; is temperate in the application 
of supporting diet, as is a skilled machinist in the application of 
steam; and sleeps by the force of controlling will power as 
promptly and soundly as the wheels and levers of the machine 
stop and rest when the steam is shut off." Among Southerners 
this was verily a new type of man, and they watched him, fas- 
cinated — as they were fascinated by the new factories and rail- 

A more paradoxical figure than even Governor Brown was 

16 R. L. Felton, op. cit., pp. 437, 458, 583-596. 

17 "Report of the Investigating Committee on Convict Lease," Georgia Legisla- 
ture, in Georgia Laws, 1908, pp. 1059-1091; H. Fielder, op. cit., pp. 488-489; A. M. 
Arnett, op. cit., p. 28. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

General John Brown Gordon, the second member of the "Bour- 
bon" triumvirate, who, although unheard of before the War, 
was for forty years thereafter the very incarnation of the Lost 
Cause and the Old South in the public mind. To his contempo- 
raries he was the authentic folk hero, and a much more superbly 
cast one than the North had in Grant, for General Gordon 
possessed a magnificent figure, a faultless bearing, "especially 
when mounted on horseback," a manner that was chivalrous, 
genial, and courtly. Upon his face he bore the scar of a wound, 
but, happily, "instead of marring his countenance, this sabre- 
wound [less poetically, a Minie-ball mark] only intensified its 
nobility of expression." Just as his contemporaries were capti- 
vated by the man's personality, so the affections of later gen- 
erations have been engaged by his Reminiscences. In all its 
pages, full of fratricidal carnage as they are, there is not so much 
as a fleck of gore: invariably, "the fatal grapeshot plunged 
through his manly heart," and the "chivalric chieftan" died 
"riding at the head of his regiment, with his sword above him, 
the fire of battle in his eye and words of cheer for his men on 
his lips 

At the time of Georgia's secession, Gordon was in the moun- 
tains of the extreme northwestern part of the state engaged in 
the development of coal mines. Rumors of war brought this 
young Hotspur down from the north hills to Atlanta at the 
head of a picturesque company of mountaineers, whose "only 
pretense at uniformity was the rough fur caps made of racoon 
skins, with long, bushy, streaked racoon tails hanging behind 
them." They announced that they were the "Racoon Roughs" 
and that they had come to fight. After their services had been 
three times refused and they had been loaded into a train to be 
shipped back to the mountains, they uncoupled the cars from 
the engine, and grimly repeated that they were looking for a 
fight. At the head of these men Gordon, only twenty-nine at 
the time and entirely without military training, galloped to 
fame. At Manassas he was when it was won, and at Malvern 
Hill and five times he was wounded at Antietam, but he was 
known to have a "charmed life," and on he fought through 
Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Monocacy, and he 

18 L. L. Knight, op. cit., II, pp. 872-873; John B. Gordon, Reminiscences of the 
Civil War, pp. 40, 61, 65. 


The "New Departure" 

had been at Lee's last council of war, and led the last charge at 

When he returned to Georgia, it was with the rank of Lieu- 
tenant General and the distinction of being the most important 
military figure in the history of the state. Was it not "Georgia's 
Gordon that divided with his great chieftan, Lee, the sad celeb- 
rity of that heroic but irreparable conclusion of the grand 
drama," and was he not "the second figure to Lee in the dismal 
glory" ? Anything it was the state's to give was the hero's for 
the asking. First it was the governorship in 1868, but that 
honor was snatched from him by General Meade, military 
governor. Next he busied himself with the exploits of the Ku 
Klux Klan, taking a leading part, it is said. In 1872, as a "New 
Departure" Democrat, he was elected to the Senate, defeating 
Hill and Stephens, who "could not withstand the plumed knight 
of Appomattox" — as indeed, who could ! 19 

General Gordon, as one historian has slyly put it, was one of 
those statesmen, "so prominent in his day, who combined a laud- 
able desire to advance the common weal with large personal am- 
bitions." 20 But his ambitions, other than political, were not those 
of the planter aristocrat his manner proclaimed, but rather the 
acquisitive zeal of the rising capitalists and industrialists whom 
he served. The General's ambitions were munificently gratified, 
for he became one of the leading railroad promoters of the 
South. The publication of the Collis P. Huntington letters in 
1884, which was then second only to the Credit Mobilier scandal 
as a soiler of Congressional names, revealed Gordon pretty 
clearly as "one of our men." 21 The New York World com- 
mented that "A careful examination of the [Huntington] let- 
ters shows that . . . Senator Gordon, of Georgia, who posed as 
the representative of everything respectable in the South, was 
a servant of the corporation." And yet, in hastily attributing 
conscious duplicity to General Gordon's actions, one is likely to 
credit him with a complexity of mind of which he was innocent, 
for it must be remembered that the General was an authentic 

19 1. W. Avery, op. cit., pp. 264, 323 ; Knight, op. cit, II, p. 873. 

20 A. M. Arnett, op. cit., p. 29. 

21 The letters are quoted by R. L. Felton, op. cit, pp. 82-83, 89, 100, 115; also see 
Congressional Record, 44th Cong., 2 Sess., p. 589; Report and Testimony taken by 
U. S. Pacific Railroad Commission, Senate Executive Document No. 51, 50 Congress, 
x Sess., Vols. II, IV, V; New York Sun, Dec. 29 and 30, 1883. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

hero, and heroes have never been notorious for complex men- 
talities. Very probably his conscience was no more disturbed by 
the Huntington affair than President Grant's was by the "gift" 
of a fifty-thousand-dollar house in Philadelphia, and certainly 
the former scandal created no greater ripple on the public con- 
science of Georgia than the latter did on that of the nation. As a 
further comment upon the times it should be observed that Gor- 
don was subsequently elected governor of the state, and later 
returned again to the Senate — without so much as a mention of 
the scandal on his part. The taste for irony was not cultivated in 
the Gilded Age, and the South apparently saw nothing incon- 
gruous in the "Hero of Appomattox" helping a buccaneer capi- 
talist maraud the nation. As a crowning irony, they elected 
Gordon commander-in-chief of the United Confederate Veter- 
ans, an honor he held from the origin of the Veterans' Associa- 
tion in 1890 until his death in 1904; and his mere appearance at 
the annual reunions always evoked the effect of a tattered battle 
flag. North and South the General went reciting his oration, 
"The Last Days of the Confederacy," the burden of which was 
that both sides had been "right." As an unveiler of monuments, 
the General knew no peer in his latter days. 

The personal characteristics of General Alfred H. Colquitt, 
the third member of the triumvirate, present by far the most 
plausible claim to a legitimate application of the term "Bour- 
bon." In the first place Colquitt was a gentleman of "family." 
Walter T. Colquitt, his father, was a man of distinction and 
many accomplishments, legislator, judge, Methodist minister, 
and "magic-working orator." As a "fire-eating" secessionist he 
possessed a name that was said to have been a "household word," 
and as a planter he was the owner of many acres. His son Alfred 
was said to have been "a worthy son of an honored sire," and 
to have continued the planter tradition as the master of one of 
the largest plantations in the state after the War. He was a grad- 
uate of Princeton. In 1849, the year Brown entered the State 
Senate, Colquitt was Assistant Secretary to that body; four years 
later he was sent to Congress as a state rights man. After the 
War, in which he served as a brigadier general, he was regularly 
referred to by orators as the "gallant Hero of Olustee." 

Governor Colquitt's connections with Brown and Gordon 
were financial as well as political, for besides his planting in- 


The "New Departure" 

terests, Colquitt was an industrial promoter. In one ambitious 
venture, the Georgia Pacific Syndicate, with a capital of twelve 
and one-half million dollars, he was associated with General 
Gordon, who was president of the Syndicate. He was wont to 
welcome expanders and financiers from the North and East 
with open arms. 22 It is true that his chief interests remained 
those of the large planter, but there were certain forces at work 
— as will appear later — that were placing a barrier between the 
interests of the average farmer and those of the few large-scale 
planters who remained after the War. At any rate Governor 
Colquitt was not one of those Bourbons, who "clung obstinately 
to ideas adapted to an order of things gone by" : his eye was 
fixed upon a shining land of the future, the vision that glittered 
and shimmered before the dazzled eyes of Mark Twain's Beriah 
Sellers when he left home for Washington. 

Of the compeers of the "Bourbon Triumvirate," the lesser 
rulers of the 'seventies and 'eighties, much could be learned that 
is instructive, but for the most part the telling would suffer from 
tedious repetition of the three foregoing stories of Brown, Gor- 
don, and Colquitt. For however their stories may differ in 
certain particulars, the subjects were of a kind, and their pre- 
occupations were not primarily with "things gone by." Of the 
three governors during these two decades, other than Gordon 
and Colquitt, one was a lawyer, the second a merchant, lawyer, 
railroad director and banker, and only the third, Stephens, was 
personally representative of the great body of small and middle- 
class farmers who made up the state. And Stephens served only 
six months. Likewise, the other two senators were representative 
of the commercial interests. Of the congressmen of the period, 
thirty were lawyers, business men, or both ; three were planters ; 
and one of the number was a combination of small farmer, 
physician, and preacher. Even the state legislature, the members 
of which were supposedly in closest touch with the overwhelm- 
ingly agrarian constituency of their counties, showed a declining 
minority of farmer representatives. 28 

It would seem, then, in view of these facts and certain others 
that will appear later, that new masters were riding the saddle 

22 L. L. Knight, op. cit, II, p. 880; I. W. Avery, op. cit., p. 635; A. M. Arnett, 
op. cit., pp. 30-3 1. 

23 A. M. Arnett, op. cit., pp. 31-32. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

in the South. Whether or not the Civil War had been fought to 
work the ruin of the agrarian power of the South, and whether 
or not the Reconstructors had been the advanced missionaries of 
capitalism, the results — victory for the industrialists and unim- 
peded expansion — were the same. Nor, as has been seen, did the 
restoration of home rule mean the restoration of the old order : 
there were speedily found in the South willing and ready hands 
to carry forward the torch of "progress." These willing hands 
were not all recruited in Georgia. A reexamination of the post- 
war careers of other Southern leaders of the time, might throw 
a new light upon this period. 

One is reminded that the new rulers were, and are still, called 
"Bourbons." Are we laboring a mere matter of terminology? 
"Gov. Colquitt and Gen. Gordon," writes one historian in per- 
fect good faith, "stood as striking types of the most cherished 
sentiments and practices of our ante-war civilization" 24 Instead 
of a mere mistaken terminology, then, might not the confusion 
be more fundamental? Might it not be that a golden voice, a 
flowing beard, a courtly manner have been accepted at face value 
for "the most cherished sentiments and practices"? At any rate, 
it would seem wise to avoid the term "Bourbon." In its place, 
and with the realization that all political epithets share the fault 
of slovenly thinking, the slogan adopted in 1872, the "New De- 
parture" Democrats will be employed. For several reasons it 
seems more appropriate: the New Departure marked the Demo- 
cratic party's first acquiescence in a national platform in the 
policy of reconstruction; in Georgia it marked the delayed ac- 
ceptance of Governor Brown's advice to combine the "practical 
view of the business man" with the duties of the "statesman" ; 
and it marked also loss of control of the party by such men as 
Toombs and Stephens, and incidentally the defeat of Stephens 
by General Gordon in the race for the Senate. It was, indeed, a 
"New Departure." 

Having been kept away from the table like naughty children, 
the South, that is, a small but growing class of Southern men, 
now rushed in as if by signal to help themselves at the Great 
Barbecue. Some of them forgot their manners and snatched 
food with both hands, and all of them forgot that they were 
crowding out about ninety per cent of the home folks, the farm- 

24 1. W. Avery, op. cit, p. 604. Italics mine. 


The "New Departure" 

ers, who were not invited, and got none of the 'cue. But the New 
Departure was tacitly accepted as a blessing to all, and for a 
while the South followed behind its leaders, who bravely pushed 
forward into the era of progress. 

It is important to observe that the feud between the old lead- 
ers and the new rulers went on over the heads of the submerged 
masses of the state. Neither the old agrarian leader of the type 
of Toombs nor the new industrialist Brown was the spokesman 
of that forgotten majority. The agrarian masses, still leaderless, 
had not yet stirred from their sleep. 

The submissive loyalty that the leaders of the New Departure 
commanded in Georgia conformed to a pattern found in all 
Southern states after home rule was restored. "The 'Solid 
South,' " wrote Henry Watterson in 1879, "is a reaction against 
proscription, attended by misgovernment, and a protest against 
the ever-recurring menace of Federal interference." 25 Thus the 
new discipline was feudal rather than democratic. It was based 
upon fear — fear of the Negro menace, the scalawag menace, the 
Federal menace, menaces real and imaginary. As the price of 
protection, it demanded unquestioning allegiance. White men 
could not divide on lines of class interest, nor could differences 
over measures and candidates be expressed at the ballot box. 
Such matters were settled by the small clique that ran the ma- 
chine. Democratic forms were observed, but their observance 
was entirely perfunctory. Party platforms contained nothing but 
such platitudes as all white men could agree upon. Incompetency 
and weakness in candidates had to be overlooked for the sake 
of white solidarity. Suspected graft in public office could not be 
exposed for fear of Negro domination. Ballot-box stuffing had 
to be tolerated when white supremacy was threatened. Such was 
the moral intimidation of this feudal discipline that it was widely 
felt that to scratch a ticket was "treason to the white race," and 
to make open declaration of independence was "an effort to 
africanize the state." 26 In this atmosphere national issues, to say 
nothing of local ones, were almost lost sight of; politics became 
a matter of personalities, and public affairs the business of a few 

25 Henry Watterson, "The Solid South," North American Review, CXXXVIII 
(1879), p. 46. 

26 Holland Thompson, The New South, pp. 10-12; W. H. Skaggs, The Southern 
Oligarchy, passim, esp. pp. 107-108. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

When one recalls the long tradition of independence and 
political conflict behind these people, one is surprised that they 
submitted as long as they did. For not only had they seceded 
from the Union, but threatened secession from the Confederacy, 
and even the presence of an invading army could not stop these 
incorrigible individualists from casting ballots and debating the 
very existence of their state. Now that peace was restored, they 
were asked to render a blind obedience that heretofore they had 
refused even in war. 

The Southern Piedmont, that long peninsula that had always 
resisted the tides of Southern opinion, was the place where re- 
volt first lifted its head after the War. An isolated region of 
small farmers and few Negroes, it was less swayed by the banner 
of "respectability" and the bogy of "Negro domination" than 
the lowlanders. When the farmers of the Seventh Congressional 
District, the western half of the mountain area, were told by the 
party convention in 1874 that they must elect L. N. Trammell 
as their congressman, a cry of "ring-rule" arose. It was widely 
believed that the candidate was a "Bullock Democrat" and that 
his nomination had been engineered by Joseph E. Brown. 27 Dr. 
William H. Felton, a picturesque figure of fiery eloquence, who 
combined the professions of physician, Methodist preacher, and 
farmer, entered the race as an independent Democrat. When 
Felton, with the help of his wife, exposed his opponent's part 
in the fraudulent bond-issue of the Bullock regime, the machine 
hastily put forward a second candidate, but neither candidate 
nor the influence of Brown's railroad could prevail against Dr. 
Felton's fierce attacks upon "the court-house rings" and "su- 
preme caucuses." Felton was elected again in 1876 and 1878. In 
the latter year the eastern half of the mountain country, which 
made up the Ninth District, joined the Independents by sending 
to Congress Emory Speer, a more conservative man than Felton, 
but still an Independent. 28 

To a certain extent these early Independents seem to have 
been influenced by the Granger movement. The Grange ap- 
peared in Georgia in 1872, and in three years built up a member- 
ship of 18,000, the largest in the South Atlantic division. Its 

27 R. L. Felton, op. cit., pp. 144-147; I. W. Avery, op. cit., pp. 511-512. 

28 R. L. Felton, op. cit. t passim. I. W. Avery, op. cit, p. 513; L. L. Knight, op. cit., 
II, p. 901. 


The "New Departure" 

political influence in the South was much weaker than in the 
West, but the Independent leaders used its vocabulary: "Men 
talk of the improvement of business, the revival of business, and 
all that," exclaimed Dr. Felton. "Do you find it in the homes of 
the farmer . . . among the mechanics and wealth-creators of 
the country? No, sir! Absolutely, the rich are growing richer 
and the poor are growing poorer from day to day." None the 
less, in dealing with both early and late agrarian movements in 
the South, as distinct from the West, it is important to remember 
that they had behind them a longer tradition, and that in many 
ways the later movements may be thought of as continuous with, 
or growing out of, the old. In Georgia, Toombs and Stephens 
served as the nexus between ante- and post-bellum agrarianism. 
Both were actively sympathetic with the Independents of the 
'seventies, and Toombs in his attack upon special privilege, 
corporations, and trusts in the constitutional convention of 1877, 
already referred to, sounded remarkably like the Populists two 
decades later. 29 

Despite the opposition of agrarians, however, the party of the 
New Departure won a great victory in 1876. Governor Colquitt 
was elected by the largest majority ever given in the state, and 
Georgia was presented with a silken banner that signified that 
she "led the Democratic hosts of the Union." Nevertheless, it 
was only shortly after this victory that insurgency began to take 
on the aspect of a state-wide movement. 

First of all Governor Colquitt touched the public conscience 
upon a point at which it was most sensitive at this time. Despite 
the legislation of 1874 seeking to put an end to such practices, 
he endorsed the bonds of the Northeastern Railroad. The wave 
of protest against his action brought on an investigation that, al- 
though vindicating the Governor, merely whetted the public's 
appetite for further disclosures. There followed a series of in- 
vestigations, embracing the whole executive department, and as 
disclosure followed disclosure indignation mounted. As one apol- 
ogist of the administration artlessly put it, there seemed to be 
a "morbid plethora of public virtue." The comptroller-general 
was impeached and convicted on eight counts ; the state treasurer 
was also impeached, but, upon restoring misappropriated funds, 
was not punished; the commissioner of agriculture resigned fol- 

29 R. L. Felton, op. cit., pp. 193, 253-254; and Watson Scrapbooks. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

lowing less important disclosures concerning his department; 
and, on top of these investigations, came the sensational report 
on the convict lease system. 30 The temper of public feeling may 
be judged from the tone of Ben HilFs "Address to the People 
of Georgia," in which he said that the recent scandals threatened 
"to disgrace our politics, to impoverish honest people, to enrich 
official rogues, and to threaten our popular institutions with 
ignominious shame, rottenness and ruin." 81 Up to the year 
1880, however, efforts to implicate Colquitt personally in the 
scandals of his administration had been successful only in spread- 
ing the opinion that he had yielded to corrupt associates, and 
that a general house-cleaning was needed. It was after the pre- 
convention campaign had started that the event occurred that 
brought smoldering revolt to sudden flame. 

In May, only three weeks before the end of the session, Gen- 
eral Gordon suddenly resigned his seat in the Senate, to which 
he had only recently been reelected, and Governor Colquitt im- 
mediately appointed ex-Governor Brown, who was on his way 
to Washington before the public learned to its amazement what 
had happened. The charge of "bargain" and "trade" was the 
spontaneous cry of the insurgents ; public meetings were held at 
which the transaction was denounced as "base and treacherous 
conduct," "eternal infamy," and a "stench in the nostrils of hon- 
est men." It was widely believed that a deliberate bargain had 
been struck whereby General Gordon, for creating a vacant seat 
in the Senate, was to be rewarded with the presidency of Brown's 
railroad, and Colquitt, for appointing Brown to fill the vacancy, 
was to have the support of Brown in his campaign for reelection. 
Although these charges were ridiculed, popular belief in them 
was later strengthened by the fact that Gordon, instead of tak- 
ing the railroad position in Oregon, which he said had persuaded 
him to resign his seat, returned to Georgia to engage in large- 
scale railroad promotion. 32 

But to understand the intensity of public indignation over 
these machinations one must appreciate the odium which at- 
tached to the name "Joe Brown" in that day. With the same 

80 1. W. Avery, op. cit., pp. 540-552 ; R. L. Felton, op. cit., p. 295. 
sl Ibid., pp. 290-292; L. L. Knight, op. cit., p. 898. 

32 R. L. Felton, op. cit., pp. 295-311 ; I. W. Avery, op. cit., pp. 561, 635 ; H. Fielder, 
op. cit., pp. 522-524. 


The "New Departure" 

facility the Northern capitalist showed in matters political, 
Brown had shifted his allegiance from one party to the other; 
although he had returned to the Democratic party and rendered 
valuable services to the party machine, his old connection with 
the Carpetbag Republicans had never been forgotten. A Georgia 
novel of the time, while defending Brown, lamented that "It 
was currently believed, by some, that he was always engaged 
with governors, legislatures, city councils, railroad officials, and 
great speculators, in certain mysteries ,, and that "if the mask 
could only be torn off, this saint of the church . . . would be 
found to be the wiliest hypocrite, the most hardened, skilful, 
practiced, unconscionable knave on the face of the earth." 83 
Yet it was upon an alliance with Brown that the New Departure 
had to stand or fall in the election of 1880. 

General Gordon, apparently forgetting the urgency of the 
Oregon railroad position that had not permitted him to remain 
in the Senate three weeks longer, hurried home to join Gov- 
ernor Colquitt in a state-wide campaign of "vindication." "The 
coming campaign," observed an editorial in one of the opposi- 
tion papers, "will be Colquitt, Brown, and Gordon against any 
man who will step to the front. Brown with his money, Gordon 
with his buttons, and Colquitt with his religion will make a com- 
bination that can not be beaten." 34 As the date of the nominating 
convention approached the invincibility of this combination ap- 
peared more and more probable. 

33 William Dugas Trammell, Ca Ira (New York, 1874), pp. 30-35, 303. The char- 
acter called "Malcomb" is easily identified as Joseph E. Brown. 
84 Columbus Daily Times, May 25, 1880; R. L. Felton, op. cit., pp. 276-282. 




Preface to Rebellion 

When the nominating convention met in Atlanta on 
August 4, it quickly became apparent that, although the 
votes were divided among five candidates, every one of the 549 
delegates had come resolved on one of two purposes — to nomi- 
nate Governor Colquitt or to defeat that nomination. From the 
first ballot Colquitt was shown to have a large majority, but not 
the two-thirds which, according to the rule adopted, was neces- 
sary to make him the nominee. Nor would the determined anti- 
Colquitt minority be persuaded to yield the handful of votes that 
would increase his vote to two-thirds. Throughout barrages of 
oratory, appeals to patriotism, and prophecies of the certain 
doom of "white supremacy" the opposition held its ranks firm. 
Ballot after ballot only served to emphasize its solidarity and to 
fix the majority firmer in its determination to nominate Colquitt. 
On the third day one of the minority chiefs came forward 
with the proposal that a committee of representatives from both 
sides be appointed to select a compromise candidate. In answer 
to this proposal Patrick Walsh of Augusta, the leader of the 
Colquitt forces, rose to speak. An Irishman, though "with noth- 
ing in him of the mercurial and flashing," Walsh was repre- 
sentative of the new type of Southern leader, the aggressive, 
self-made business man. Stocky of body, with a massive head set 
solidly upon a stout neck, he was of manner blunt and "as direct 
as the course of a cannon ball." In Augusta he managed the 
strategic Catholic vote so expertly that he was able to boss the 
politics of his district. 1 His speech in answer to the proposed 

1 Augusta Daily Chronicle and Constitutionalist, July 2, 1882; Augusta Chronicle, 
Sept. 20, 1890; Athens Watchman, Watson Scrapbooks. 


Preface to Rebellion 

compromise was a quick succession of hammer-blow sentences 
that were intended to crush out any hope the minority might 
have left. He concluded: ". . . and we do not intend to depart 
from the city of Atlanta until we have nominated Alfred H. 
Colquitt I (Great applause.) We have come here to do that if it 
takes us until Christmas to do it. (Renewed cheering.) " 

After a ballot had been taken and the excitement over Walsh's 
ultimatum had partially subsided, it was discovered that an ex- 
tremely young man was addressing the house, his voice, "shrill 
and ringing," almost drowned in the ebbing excitement. He 
made a second start. It was not his renewed proposal of a com- 
mittee to select a compromise candidate that gained him atten- 
tion. It was perhaps the striking contrast he presented to the 
preceding speaker and to the surrounding graybeards : his boyish 
figure, "so slight it seemed you could circle his chest with two 
hands," his freckled, immature face, and something audacious 
in the way he tossed his shock of red hair. When he paused 
after reading a list of possible candidates and mounted his chair 
to conclude, he had the attention of the whole house. He was 
answering Walsh's ultimatum : 

Sir, I am tired of hearing the cry of generosity, when I see no generosity 
(applause) ; I am tired of the cry of harmony when I see no harmony. (Ap- 
plause.) I have not come here to be fattened on chaff, nor filled with taffy. 
You might as well attempt to gain flesh on corn cob soup in January. 

Mr. Chairman, I have said, and I say now, that I am here with no bitter- 
ness of partisan rancor. I have fought this much-named gentleman, A. H. 
Colquitt. I have fought him honestly. I have advocated Rufus Lester. I 
have advocated him honestly. But high and serene above them both, above 
my opposition to Colquitt, above my support of Lester rises my love, 
my devotion to my state, like the tranquil star that burns and gleams 
beyond the reach of the drifting clouds. (Cheers.) But Sir, under the 
course of the gentleman from Richmond [Walsh], I am debarred from 
this privilege. He tells us that we must yield to him, and that unless we 
nominate Colquitt that this party will permit no nomination. Mr. Chair- 
man, this is not the language which a friend addresses to a friend. It is not 
the language a brother addresses to a brother. It is the language of a master 
to his slave. (Cheers.) 

We are the slaves of no man. We haven't come here to bulldoze any- 
body and we haven't come here to be bulldozed. (Cheers.) 

Sir, a silken cord might draw me, but all the cables of all the ships that 
walk the waters of all the seas cannot drag me. (Cheers.) 

Sir, the gentleman's position means that we must take Colquitt or the 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

party will be disrupted. Sir, if it must come, let it come. (Cheers.) We 
love the party, honor it, are devoted to it, but we will not yield when the 
gentleman's speech has made it a loss of self-respect to surrender. 

If they will split the convention, we will be here to the end (applause) ; 
if they will sink the ship, we will remain in her shadow to the last. (Ap- 
plause.) We would deprecate it. We would deplore it. But if she can only 
be saved on terms as unmanly as these then — 

"Nail to the mast her holy flag, 

Set every threadbare sail, 
And give her to the god of storms, 

The lightning and the gale." 2 

As he took his seat, the name of Tom Watson flew from lip to 
lip, and those who had never heard of the red-headed young 
man from McDuffie County were not long in learning who he 
was. The noisy demonstration of the minority stopped proceed- 
ings while delegates from all over the house pressed around 
Watson to congratulate him. Colquitt newspapers, unable to 
ignore the news value of "the youngest member of the conven- 
tion" — he was not yet twenty-four — creating the greatest sensa- 
tion of the day, printed his speech in full, and papers all over 
the state took up the story of the young man who "made the 
most brilliant speech in the convention" and "gave so many 
black eyes to the bulldozing majority and its arrogant leader." 3 

Thus Tom Watson made his political debut as a rebel, flying 
all the colors of revolt. It was not his last appearance in that 

Upon the motion of Walsh, Watson's resolution was promptly 
tabled, and a Colquitt man provoked a burst of victorious laugh- 
ter by shouting, "I move the molehill now come to the moun- 
tain." 4 If the majority was unterrified by prospects of "sinking 
the ship," the "molehill" showed no signs of moving. The re- 
sponse of the minority to Watson's speech had removed all but 
the faintest hope of reconciliation. Four days later the conven- 
tion was facing the same stalemate. One delegate, fixing upon 
Walsh and Watson as the opposite poles among the irreconcil- 
ables, admonished: "I would respectfully ask these gentlemen 
what, in this state of things, is to become of the democratic party 

2 Atlanta Daily Constitution, Aug. 7, 1880. 

8 Clippings from Augusta News, Louisville News and Farmer, Macon Telegraph, 
and Savannah News, MS. Journal 2, pp. 282-283. 
4 L W. Avery, History of Georgia, p. 580. 


Preface to Rebellion 

whose interests require a nomination ?" Watson, for his part, 
protested that he did not occupy the extreme anti-Colquitt posi- 
tion; he had come with no personal bitterness against Colquitt, 
nor would he have refused to accept him rather than split the 
party. He continued with emphasis : 

... we were shown from the first that we must take Colquitt. They would 
try no other course. We were tied to the names before us. Hemmed up, 
penned out, starved out. It was then I said that these gyves being upon me 
I could never go to Colquitt, and I never will. (Applause.) Upon this 
record I am willing to go back to my people, and if for this record I am 
sacrificed I shall always think that I am entitled to a decent burial and 
an honorable epitaph. (Applause.) 

So formidable was the impasse that the convention adjourned 
without making a nomination. Colquitt was "recommended" by 
the vote of the majority, but no official Democratic nominee was 
put before the state — a circumstance unique in the history of the 
party. The minority, resolving itself into a rump meeting, then 
"recommended" as its candidate Thomas M. Norwood, a 
former United States senator. 5 With the "White Man's Party" 
now split, the people, for the first time since the War, were per- 
mitted to select their governor at the ballot box. 

In the days when Watson began the practice of his profession, 
the hustings were as naturally the haunt of lawyers as the bar, 
and almost from the time the young lawyer began to ride the 
circuit he found himself "in politics." Where the Superior Court 
convened, the political lions congregated, and one had to take 
sides. Thus, at the session of 1879, in Crawfordville, Watson 
noted: "Am introduced to Seab Reese, the Solicitor, and admire 
him. He is lordly in bearing, smokes like an engine, and drinks 
like a horse. Am in a game of whist with him till a late hour." 
The same year he and his partner Johnson attended a banquet 
in Augusta to celebrate the victory of Judge Claiborne Snead 
over the Augusta "ring." "Here were poets, editors, reporters, 
cotton-men, and preachers. ... I was called on, responded, 
and was cheered loudly and long." But a more glorious triumph 
came at the home of his idol, Alexander Stephens. "Spent the 
evening at Liberty Hall," he recorded, "sitting with a party of 

5 Atlanta Daily Constitution, Aug. 10-14, 1880. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

gentlemen and Mr. Stephens on the back piazza eating peaches 
and talking politics." There had been a great barbecue and much 
speech-making. "It was a glorious day to me. My speech took 
well. Mr. Stephens complimented me especially." That night 
he lay vainly awaiting sleep. "It seemed to me that a thousand 
associations of greatness were buzzing around me. I could hear 
Mr. Stephens' voice, shrill and clear talking all the while down- 
stairs." 6 

To the old Confederate Watson looked eagerly for leader- 
ship. During a visit in July, 1878, he had watched the aged in- 
valid open a copy of the Augusta Chronicle, Patrick Walsh's 
paper, glance at the leading editorial, and, flinging the paper 
away from his wheel-chair, remark, "Well, I see this fellow 
means a fight." 7 Watson supported Stephens against Walsh that 
year. In 1880, though taking no active part in the campaign, 
Stephens opposed Colquitt's nomination, saying he was "not fit 
for Governor." 8 General Toombs, another of Watson's idols, 
confessed to Stephens that he felt "deeply humiliated for the 
State to have two such Senators as Gordon and Hill, both venal 
and corrupt." 9 He joined actively in the campaign against Col- 
quitt in 1880. In view of the position of Stephens and Toombs 
on the issues of that year, there was little doubt what Watson's 
attitude would be. 

"For myself," he wrote, "I had never admired Gov. Colquitt 
and the appointment of Brown turned me strongly against him." 
Watson became a candidate for delegate to the convention: "I 
worked with great ardor. The issue was squarely Colquitt and 
anti-Colquitt. I was elected — running ahead of my ticket who 
were all chosen excepting Hardaway . . ." 10 

Because of the hearty endorsement given him by his con- 
stituents and the militant and uncompromising position he as- 
sumed in his speech before the convention, Watson's secret con- 
fession comes as something of a surprise: "After the split," he 
wrote, "I hesitated long what to do." After all, there was an 
important difference between insurgency against the machine 

6 MS. Journal 2, pp. 209-214. 

7 Loc. cit. 

8 R. L. Felton, Memoirs of Georgia Politics, p. 286. 

9 Toombs to Stephens, Mar. 25, 1880, U. B. Phillips, ed., Correspondence of 
Robert Toombs, Alexander Stephens, Howell Cobb, pp. 739-740. 

10 MS. Journal 2, p. 281. 


Preface to Rebellion 

candidate within the party, and party revolution. More than 
one timorous delegate withdrew from the minority convention 
when it was decided to nominate a separate candidate. The busi- 
ness man's party of the New Departure enjoyed enormous pres- 
tige for having overthrown the Carpetbag regime, restored 
"home rule," and saved "Anglo-Saxon civilization." Though 
fighting under the standard of the same party, the insurgent 
wing was seeking the overthrow of the machine that com- 
manded and exploited this loyalty. It had also to bear the odium 
of "bringing the Negro back into politics," from which he had 
been largely eliminated in the early 'seventies at the cost of un- 
questioning white solidarity. Now he would be called in to de- 
cide between the two white factions. 11 The experience of Recon- 
struction was fresh in the minds of the people, and to many the 
insurgents represented nothing more than a relapse to moral 
anarchy. Still another handicap of the insurgents was the weak- 
ness of their candidate, Norwood, who seems to have been in- 
effectual as a speaker, deficient in popular appeal, and lacking 
in sympathy for the Negroes, whom he had antagonized by 
previous utterances. 12 Aside from these there were doubtless 
more personal reasons to account for Watson's hesitancy in mak- 
ing the plunge. He had to consider his future. At the very out- 
set of his political career he was about to enter into open strife 
with the most powerful machine politician in his district, Patrick 
Walsh. He made his decision: "Finally concluding to go the 
whole hog, I took the stump . . ." 13 

With young George F. Pierce as his colleague, Watson cam- 
paigned county after county. Favorable reports came from his 
home. "McDuffie will soon be a grand Norwood Club," it was 
said. "The county will strongly endorse the course of Mr. Wat- 
son. In fact, we are all Watson men." In Augusta "the brilliant 
young orator" was received with great enthusiasm; crowds fol- 
lowed him to his hotel for a second speech. He regretted the 
split in the party, but the Colquitt faction, because of its failure 
to abide by its own two-thirds rule, was alone responsible for the 
disruption. The arrogant and dictatorial attitude of the machine 

11 1. W. Avery, op. cit., pp. 585-586. 

^Atlanta Daily Constitution, Aug. 24, 29, 1880; R. L. Felton, op. cit, pp. 273- 

... T \TT A _. ~J. ~1* ~ --- 


274; I. W. Avery, op. cit., p. 591 
13 MS. Journal 2, p. 281 

Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

politicians more than justified revolt. As for Colquitt, Watson 
attacked the numerous scandals associated with his administra- 
tion, the high taxes he had levied, and questionable appoint- 
ments he had made. He also elucidated the evils of the disgrace- 
ful convict lease system, showing the governor's responsibility 
for it, and how Senator Brown and others were exploiting hun- 
dreds of these state slaves, for whose labor they paid only seven 
cents a day. This part of his speech was "well received by the 
colored people." One statement of Watson's at this time gains 
added significance in the light of later years. "He was a Demo- 
crat," he told them, "but when Democratic principles are for- 
saken he would seek some other home and there rest his 
cause." 14 

In addition to its precedence in the field, its well organized 
machine, and its possession of office, the party of the New De- 
parture had other considerable advantages. On Colquitt's cam- 
paign committee was an aggressive group of young capitalists, 
"leaders among the business princes of middle Georgia and espe- 
cially Atlanta." Chairman of that committee was young Henry 
W. Grady, the magic of whose personality already gave him a 
widespread influence. Grady "threw himself into the struggle 
with his whole heart"; his "enthusiasm was irresistible, and he 
finally took the undisputed command." 15 With his paper, the 
Constitution, most of the press lined up for Colquitt. Despite his 
evil name in the state, Joseph E. Brown, now senator, with his 
multiple railroad interests, religious philanthropies, educational 
endowments, and hundreds of employees, was perhaps more of 
a help than a hindrance. In winning the coveted Negro votes, 
Colquitt, as a Republican paper put it, "was assisted by that ex- 
cellent man, Joseph Brown, who, having been a Radical at one 
time, understood the business." le 

Unlike his opponent, Governor Colquitt carried on a vigorous 
speaking campaign in all parts of the state in his own behalf. He 
was seeking "vindication," he said. One of his chief complaints 
was that his opponents abused him "about going to Sunday 
schools." 1T He was "being persecuted for Christ's sake, and he 

14 Clippings, Ibid., pp. 282-285. 

15 1. W. Avery, op. cit., pp. 254, 269. 

16 R. L. Felton, op. cit., p. 273. 

"Atlanta Daily Constitution, Sept. 29, 1880. 


Preface to Rebellion 

called upon all religious people in the state to rally to the 
maintenance of pure religion against infidelity." Always at his 
side was the redoubtable "Hero of Appomattox," General John 
B. Gordon, whose golden voice was Colquitt's greatest asset. 
"Why should Colquitt be questioned?" asked the General. "Is 
he not the hero of Olustee! Colquitt is persecuted because he 
floated the banner of the King of kings." 18 

The state had seen heated campaigns before, but the contest 
of 1880, wrote a historian of that period, "was such a tornado 
of violence as to make all previous disturbances mere child's 
play." Both the corrupt practices of the Carpetbaggers and the 
methods of the Ku Klux Klan were again brought into play. 
Charges and counter charges of corruption, intimidation, and 
violence were made, many of which were unquestionably true. 
The Colquitt machine, however, was more successful, for Col- 
quitt won by various means the great majority of the Negro 
vote. Combined with a minority of the white vote it outnum- 
bered the poll of the insurgents. 19 The revolt was crushed, but 
the leaders of the New Departure had been seriously challenged 
and they were stirred by apprehensions for the future. In spite 
of numerous handicaps the insurgents won about thirty-five per 
cent of the popular vote. 

"Goodmorrow, Tutt, 20 of McDuffie! Regards to Colonel 
Watson," taunted Henry Grady's paper, announcing the re- 
turns from that county. Watson's ticket had not won a third of 
the votes cast in his own county. Watson was remarkably un- 
perturbed, even nonchalant. "Jordan White swears that I made 
more out of the campaign first and last than any man in the 
State," he noted in his Journal. Then he added sententiously, 
with the cynicism that is the privilege of the very young, 
"Young men are not affected so much by results. They are not 
held responsible. They make a certain show-parade. They are 
judged by its worth." 21 

The episode of 1880 was a proper prologue for the drama of 

18 R. L. Felton, op. cit., p. 268; I. W. Avery, op. cit., p. 593. 

19 Atlanta Daily Constitution, Sept. 29, Oct. 9, 1880; I. W. Avery, op. cit, p. 591; 
R. L. Felton, op. cit, pp. 273-274; W. H. Skaggs, The Southern Oligarchy, p. 141, 
quoting Watson, and pp. 107-108. 

20 W. D. Tutt, a rival lawyer, had supported Colquitt; both Watson and Tutt 
had directed personalities against one another during the campaign. 
21 MS. Journal 2, p. 281. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

the next four decades in which Tom Watson figured as pro- 
tagonist. The theme was clearly announced: the Solid South 
against the insurgent rebels, the new capitalists against the old 
and new agrarians. The Negro was introduced in his inevitable 
role, a black Nemesis. The chorus of shibboleths would remain 
the same: race chauvinism, religious superstition, military 
fetishism. The action was derived from that of Reconstruction. 
The capitalists would become more class conscious, and, as their 
alliance with the Northeast was strengthened, more self confi- 
dent and ruthless. The agrarians would become much better 
organized, and, as their alliance with the West was strength- 
ened, more militant, and, with increasing repression, more 
desperate. The conflict would multiply a hundredfold in bitter- 
ness and intensity. 

Looking back wearily from the distance of twice his age at 
this time Watson spoke of himself as a "namby-pamby Demo- 
crat in 1880." "I was a Reformer, all right," he declared, "and 
was going to get the reforms inside the dear old Democratic 
party. . . . The burden of my little song was: Bad men have 
come into the party and have had things pretty much their own 
way; but we must drive these bad men out; put the good men 
in control, and thus get reforms inside the Democratic party." 22 
Here was speaking the disillusioned man of fifty whose primary 
concern was ' 'results." At half that age his preoccupation was 
still "a certain show-parade." When the campaign was over he 
wrote: "Stump speaking is glorious! The inspiration of the 
band, the cheers of the crowd, the ready echo to every blazing 
sentiment and sparkling anecdote leads the orator to a brilliant 
feast on the Field of the Cloth of Gold." 23 

22 Quoted by Sara Lois Gray, "Thomas E. Watson" (Master's thesis, Emory Uni- 
versity), p. 32. 

23 MS. Journal 2, p. 252. 



The Temper of the ''Eighties 

moved the last formidable barrier from the path of the 
New Departure for a decade more and marked the beginning of 
a new era. The political peace and acquiescence of the 'eighties 
contrasted gratefully with the war of the 'sixties and the revolu- 
tion of the 'seventies. Energy and imagination, wearied by stale 
feuds and recriminations, turned hopefully toward the glittering 
prizes promised by capitalists and industrialists. The new decade 
afforded no role for the agrarian rebel, whether a Bob Toombs 
of the older generation or a Tom Watson of the new. The 
career opened so brilliantly by Watson in 1880 was virtually 
closed to him for the next ten years, for Watson in any other 
role than rebel was miscast. It was during this period of mark- 
ing time, however, that ideas that were perhaps the product of 
opportunism and temperament took firm root in him and his 
class, found nutriment in the soil of rebel tradition, and bur- 
geoned into a hardy native growth. It was in this period, too, 
that the economic setting was prepared for what Watson in a 
moment of optimism pronounced u Not a Revolt; It Is a Revolu- 


In an address before the General Assembly on November 13, 
1880, the night before the senatorial election, Joseph E. Brown 
frankly interpreted the issues at stake, and unconsciously enun- 
ciated the dominant mood of the 'eighties. Reminding his audi- 
ence that "The voters of General Toomb's own county decided 
in favor of Governor Colquitt and myself by over 700 major- 
ity," he candidly announced, "I accept the issue, then ... If 
the people of Georgia think that a man should be sent to the 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Senate to represent that sentiment of the old ruling class . . . 
then I admit that my honorable opponent [Lawton] is a fit 
representative." On the other hand if they agreed with him that 
"we live in a new era, and the new South must adopt new ideas, 
must wake up to new energy," he was their choice. As for Gen- 
eral Toombs, since "the country must move forward, we are 
obliged to leave him there and let him cuss. (Prolonged laughter 
and applause.)" As to the class he represented, he left no ques- 
tion: I seek "to build up the manufacturing interest of the coun- 
try. . . . We have in the future no negroes to buy; we are mak- 
ing money; we shall want investments." With this in view he 
had, he explained, during his temporary office in the Senate, 
talked to many Northern capitalists: "Again, I stated that we 
had the advantage in cheap labor, and that the raw material is 
produced in the fields around the factories themselves. . . . 
When I told them of the profits made by our Augusta mills, 
and the high price the stock bore, some gentlemen of capital 
said they desired to look further into the matter . . ." 1 

The greatest triumph of Brown's address, which was intended 
as a sort of vindication, was his reading of a letter written by 
General Robert E. Lee said to have "had the startling authority 
of a miracle." According to Mr. Brown, General Lee "enter- 
tained the same views and gave the same advice," a coincidence 
that proved "the old hero was of good ]udg-ment" "Which 
will you follow," asked the candidate, "Toombs ... or Lee?" 
One of these gentlemen was disfranchised, and the other was 
dead and past denying this strange disciple. Georgia followed 
Joseph E. Brown. 

It was an unerring instinct that led the new masters to dis- 
cern the need for some pageantry of dedication, some ceremony 
of fealty here on the threshold of the new order. It was the 
Southern way. So it was that "a grand parliament of industry" 
was decreed, the International Cotton Exposition, "the first 
World's Fair in the South." Senator Joseph E. Brown was the 
first president of the Exposition, Governor Colquitt the second. 
"Businessmen took hold of it eagerly," and the work moved for- 
ward. 2 

Atlanta, variously styled by enthusiasts of the time "the off- 

1 Herbert Fielder, Life and Times of Joseph E. Brown, pp. 536-559. 

2 I. W. Avery, History of Georgia, p. 650. 


The Temper of the Eighties 

spring of railroads," "the Chicago of the South," the "City of 
Conventions," or "the Giant Young Metropolis," was thought 
of as the capital of the New South. "A nervous energy per- 
meates all classes of people and all departments of trade," it was 
observed in 1881, "and the spirit of enterprise never sleeps." 8 
Appropriately, it was selected as host for the Exposition. 

The Exposition opened on October 5, 1881, "with imposing 
ceremonies." Senator Zebulon B. Vance of North Carolina ex- 
tended a "soulful Southern welcome" inviting visitors "to see 
that we have renewed our youth at the fountains of industry 
and found the hills of gold in the energies of an imperishable 
race." Senator D. W. Vorhees, of Indiana, replied by welcoming 
the South to "the arena to contend for the first time for the 
supremacy in all the industrial pursuits," a strife "over which 
the angels of heaven have joy." 4 Through the Exposition build- 
ing, with its twenty acres of floor space, its eighteen hundred 
exhibits, and its hymns of enterprise, salesmanship, and profit, 
Southerners thronged for three months. Young men, recalling 
Ben HilFs advice not "to pine away or fret to exhaustion for 
imaginary treasures hopelessly lost," but to "reach out their 
hands and gather richer treasures piled up all around them," 
saw new careers open to them. Northern capitalists verified 
rumors of cheap labor and fat profits. Out of the enthusiasm 
engendered the Industrial Review was founded; the very Ex- 
position buildings were converted into a cotton factory; between 
1880 and 1885 the number of cotton spindles in the Southern 
states doubled. 6 

Poets, novelists, preachers, educators, journalists, historians 
— professionals once in the service of an agrarian state — swung 
rapidly into procession behind the new leaders. "Set by the 
steam-god's fiery passion free," wrote Paul Hamilton Hayne, 
in "The Exposition Ode" : 6 

I hear the rise and fall 

Of pondrous, iron-clamped machinery 

Shake, as with earthquake thrill, the factory halls. . . . 

Quick merchants pass, some debonair and gay, 

8 E. Y. Clarke, Atlanta Illustrated, passim. 
4 1. W. Avery, op. cit., pp. 648-649. 

5 P. M. Wilson, Southern Exposure, pp. 141-143 ; Appleton's Annual Cyclopaedia, 
188 1, pp. 260-271 ; H. Thompson, The New South, pp. 89-90. 

6 Atlanta Constitution, Oct. 6, 1881. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

With undimmed youthful locks — 

Some wrinkled, sombre, gray ; 

But all with one accord 

Dreaming of him — their lord, 

The mighty monarch of the realm of stocks. 

A novelist, through thinly disguised fiction, celebrated the 
exploits of Joseph E. Brown, and proclaimed him "the most 
representative man of our new civilization" and "perhaps the 
richest man in the state." 7 Historians echoed with chapters upon 
the "splendid demonstrations of individual management, and 
formidable coalitions of capital and genius," "dramatic audaci- 
ties of railway enterprise," "enterprise full of romantic event- 

Fifteen religious institutions of five denominations in the 
South were recipients of gifts from Joseph E. Brown ranging 
from $500 to $53,000. His smaller charities were "simply in- 
numerable." In 1883 the trustees of the University of Georgia, 
after some caviling by legislators over "tainted money" and 
constitutional questions, accepted a donation of $50,000 from 
Brown, with one dissenting vote — that of General Toombs. 8 
That same year the General Assembly heard a report on the 
proposed establishment of a state school of technology: "In the 
development of manufactures, therefore, lies the hope of our 
people." Since "Georgia needs some such agency to arouse the 
spirit of her people on the subject of manufacturing enterprise," 
a state school should be established in which "everything is 
simply subordinate to the leading idea of technical education." 9 

By the turn of the decade "the large majority" of the news- 
papers of the state was one chorus of approval for the New De- 
parture. No other paper, however, approached in this respect 
the importance and significance of the Atlanta Constitution. This 
was not because it had a phenomenal circulation, four times 
greater than the population of Atlanta, but because it was the 
organ of Henry Woodfin Grady, whose personality loomed 
larger than any paper and pervaded the whole South. 

A sword may be surrendered with more grace and dignity 
than a point of view. Following the example set by General Lee 

7 W. D. Trammell, Ca Ira, passim, especially pp. 303-304. 

8 H. Fielder, Life of Joseph E. Brown, pp. 568-587; I. W. Avery, op. cit., pp. 
9 Georgia House Journal, pp. 230-255, July 24, 1883. 


The Temper of the 'Eighties 

(later institutionalized by General Gordon) Southerners had 
bowed to military defeat without serious loss of face, but it was 
not until later that they learned from Henry Grady how words 
could be swallowed without leaving a brown taste. "The South," 
Grady said and declared he could prove, "found her jewel in 
the toad's head of defeat." 

The new railroad barons, mine owners, and captains of indus- 
try were, generally speaking, a grim and bearded lot, with un- 
enviable reputations for sharp dealing, and, as the eulogist of 
one of them remarked, "with a narrowed range of thought in 
some matters due to lack of early culture." As peerless champion 
of that group (yet always with a word for the "Heroes in 
Gray"), now stepped forward an almost uniquely clean-shaven 
young man of infectious enthusiasm, radiant, eloquent, and 
perennially boyish. Grady played the part of an irrepressible 
good caliph-at-large in Georgia, dispensing a gospel of optimism, 
charity, and fun. His zest for fun-making led to such extrava- 
gances as his "leg artist" contests, endurance walking competi- 
tions in which his reporters participated. There followed a craze 
for such matches in the early 'eighties. It was said that "He was 
related by some act of kindness to every individual in his native 
state." 10 To question the motives of such a man would be 

At the young editor's side, though keeping always shyly in 
the background, was the most lovable literary figure in the 
South — Joel Chandler Harris, chief editorial writer of the Con- 
stitution. 11 There was no resisting this partnership of major 
prophet of the New South and tenderest chronicler of the Old 
South. Southerners generally quite lost their hearts to them. 

Grady's services to the new order were manifold. There was 
much to be done. It was necessary that the acquisitive instincts 
not only become respectable, but that they be regarded as ambi- 
tion. Speculation should be awarded the prizes of courage and 
valor, and the profit motive mile-posted as the road to the good 
life. The lives of those men who traveled that road had to be in- 
vested with a glamour that would evoke emulation, their destina- 

10 J. W. Lee, Henry W. Grady, The Editor, the Orator, the Man, passim; also 
Joel C. Harris, Henry W. Grady, p. 90. 

11 Mrs. Julia Collier Harris, Joel Chandler Harris, Editor and Essayist, pp. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

tion recognized as "success," and the changes they wrought be 
regarded as "progress." Indeed it was important that the mean- 
ing of life be discovered in the vicissitudes and triumphs attend- 
ing the competitive struggle for business profits. 

"It is a revelation to any provincial to enter the gallery of the 
stock exchange and gaze upon the floor below," wrote Grady 
from New York. The sight "kindles the blood of an onlooker 
as a battle would." Grady delighted in relating such stories as 
that of a man who "had gone to Colorado a few years before as 
a newsdealer and was now worth not less than $10,000,000, and 
owned a bank, a railroad, and the Little Pittsburgh mine," or 
that of "the man whose brother's son had bought a mine for 
$25 and sold it in a month for $400,000," or one of "a fellow 
who had [been] furnished with money to buy his meals with a 
few months ago, and was now worth over a million." M 

Nor was Grady daunted by more prosaic subjects. "I have the 
greatest interest in the history of these self-made men," he 
wrote. "Atlanta is the home of this sturdy genus, and I have 
thought that this was one secret of her wonderful advancement. 
. . . They enrich the blood, quicken her pulses and give her 
vitality, force and power." He was wont to dwell on the stories 
of their rise from obscurity to wealth — one of "the great dry 
goods merchant, who sells nearly a million a year," another of 
a business man "now prosperous and rich and growing richer" — 
polishing them till they took on the lustre of his imagination. 
"They have sunk the corner stone," he declared, "of the only 
aristocracy that Americans should know." 18 

A more tangible service, perhaps, was the perfect flood of 
publicity that Grady gave to Southern resources for industrial 
development. His oratorical poems picturing "mountains stored 
with exhaustless treasures, forests, vast and primeval, and rivers 
that, tumbling or loitering, run wanton to the sea" were one long 
hymn of invocation to preemption and exploitation. 14 "He did 
not tamely promote enterprise and encourage industry," wrote 
an admirer; "he vehemently fomented enterprise and provoked 
industry until they stalked through the land like armed con- 
querors." 15 

12 Atlanta Constitution, March 24, x88o. 
M Ibid., Aug. 15, x88o. 

14 J. C. Harris, Henry W. Grady, p. 182. 

15 Quoted by Oliver Deyr in his "Introduction" to Henry W. Grady's The New 


The Temper of the Eighties 

"I am no pessimist as to this Republic," announced Grady. 
"I always bet on sunshine in America. . . . The trend of the 
times is with us. The world moves steadily from gloom to 
brightness." 16 The spell of this radiant optimism spread over 
the South like a warm April sun after the season of rain. 

Despite the wholesale regimentation of public opinion behind 
the New Departure persistent rumors of revolt arose in the 
winter of 1881. These rumors centered around Dr. William H. 
Felton, the old Independent warhorse. Senator Benjamin H. 
Hill, after an attack by Felton for his defection to the New De- 
parture, answered with a diatribe against the Independent move- 
ment. His argument, published by Grady, is worth attention as 
a model of the dialectic employed by the new masters against 
dissent throughout the next two decades : 

Factories are springing up in all directions. Our industries are being mul- 
tiplied as never before. Thousands of the best men of the North have gone 
home from the exposition enthused with the brightening prospects of all 
business in the State. Our taxes were scarcely ever so low. Our credit was 
never so high. Capital and people and machinery are flowing in, and every- 
body is brushing away the tears of war, and laughing with a new hope in 
a new era! All this, all this has been accomplished under the rule of the 
men who are denounced by trading politicians as narrow-minded, intolerant 
Bourbons. . . . Must our peace be destroyed, race collisions again pro- 
voked, and our budding prosperity arrested merely to gratify a few men 
who are willing to run with all parties and be true to none ? 17 

Yet this was the woe the Independents would wreak by their 
"blatant pretenses of reform, and still more blatant outcries 
against that mythical monster — the Bourbon Democracy of the 

Hill's diatribe, widely quoted, was considered a severe blow 
to the Independents, but it did not deter them from organizing 
and issuing a call to all who agreed "that neither the Republican 
party nor the Democratic party as at present organized can 
subserve the vital interests of the people" to meet them in con- 
vention. 18 

As time for nominations for the election of 1882 drew near, 

16 J. C. Harris, op. cit., p. 156. 

17 B. H. Hill, Jr., Life of Benjamin H. Hill, p. 822. 

18 R. L. Felton, Memoirs of Georgia Politics, pp. 335-341. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

the eyes of Independent and New Departure leaders alike 
turned toward the dwarfed invalid of the brilliant eyes in the 
rolling chair at Liberty Hall. Alexander Stephens occupied a 
strategic place between the rival parties. His pathetic, gnarled 
figure, his long public record before, during, and after the War, 
and his present position, which was committed to neither party, 
commanded a following that might turn the balance one way or 
the other. 

No one waited more eagerly for the Sage's decision than Tom 
Watson. When it was announced that "It is now definitely 
known . . . that Mr. Alexander H. Stephens will retire from 
politics at the end of the present term of Congress," 19 his young 
disciple's emotions overflowed into verse : 20 

Hushed in his voice of silver 

Its echoes die away 
And the clouds of night arise 

Around his closing day. 

Older politicians were not so quick to despair. Just as Talley- 
rand would meet a political quandary by taking to his bed, 
Stephens would decline to run and announce his retirement from 
politics, ". . . yet [he] never failed to run as soon as the coast 
was clear." 21 Even at that time he was corresponding with 
leaders of both parties. Following closely the development of 
the plans of the Independents, he had given them particular en- 
couragement; yet when he was nominated for governor by their 
convention of May, 1882, he forgot his letters to their leaders 
and declined to run. 22 When it became apparent that he was 
giving ear to Brown and Colquitt, it was said that "Mr. Ste- 
phens in his mental and physical weakness is a mere tool in the 
hands of designing men." 2S The New Departure papers, indeed, 
made no secret of their hopes : "The Chronicle believes that Mr. 
Stephens' nomination [for Governor] will heal all breaches in 
the party and that the very mention of his name will destroy 

19 Atlanta Constitution, March 9, 1882. 

20 MS. Journal 2, p. 73. 

21 R. L. Felton, op. ciU, p. 351. 

22 Ibid., pp. 343-344, 362. Mrs. Felton writes: "The aged Statesman, under the 
influence of continual hypodermics, aided by stimulants which were constantly kept 
up, was led along until he actually forgot what he had written to Judge Hook, to 
Dr. Felton, to his most intimate friends in Georgia, and to myself — his constant 

23 Macon Telegraph quoted by Augusta Chronicle and Constitutionalist, July 4, 


The Temfer of the Eighties 

all elements of Independent opposition." ** The Democratic 
Convention in July would reveal Stephens' position. 

Watson, himself a candidate for the Legislature, arrived in 
Atlanta before the Convention opened. He was recalled by the 
papers as "the young man eloquent of 1880." The fact that he 
came from Stephens' district, it was thought, "answers the ques- 
tion as to his gubernatorial preferences." Stephens established 
himself at the Kimball House, chief headquarters for delegates 
and candidates. Young Watson found excuse for loitering in his 
room by the hour every day. He thought the old statesman's 
"pallid, shrivelled face was beautifully benevolent, and his eyes 
were radiant with the tenderness of a noble heart." He listened 
as Stephens dictated a letter of reconciliation to his old enemy, 
Ben Hill, then on his death bed, and the incident fired his 
imagination. 25 The papers reported that "among . . . [Ste- 
phens'] many visitors in the early morning was Senator Brown. 
They held sweet converse for a lengthy time . . ." 26 

Another guest of the Kimball House trod its corridors in no 
such benevolent and conciliatory frame of mind. Unregenerate 
and unreconstructed, General Robert Toombs made no secret of 
his opinion of his old friend Stephens' dalliance with the New 
Departure. Puzzled by this difference between his heroes, Wat- 
son nevertheless divided his adoration impartially between them. 
But never was the hero-worshiper in Tom so evident as when 
Toombs was its object. Around and about the lobby and bar of 
the hotel he followed the General, an assiduous Boswell. Never, 
he noted, did "the inborn, imperial superiority of Toombs 
make itself so conspicuously self-evident as it did in his lordly 
bearing at the breakfast table." Here, surely, the image he 
guarded so jealously in his heart found a living reflection — set 
with a seal "To give the world assurance of a man." It was the 
way he liked to think of his grandfather, "tall, venerable, im- 
posing." Here, too, was a satisfying image of the rebel: "His 
hair was iron-gray, abundant, disordered, like the mane of a 
lion, but becoming to him as in his prime. Decidedly he was the 
most leonine old man I ever beheld. He was a ruin, but majestic 
and impressive." 

In the evening the General, deep in his cups, entered the bar 

24 Ibid., July 4, 1882. 

25 T. E. W., Sketches, pp. 282-283. 

26 Augusta Herald, July 18, 1882. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

at the head of a procession of admirers, obviously enjoying his 
position. "Wherever he stopped," observed Watson, "a group 
would gather to hear him talk. ... It was like going to see 
Vesuvius in eruption." Spotting a Northerner in his audience, 
Toombs seized upon the mention of his late opponents as occa- 
sion for an explosion against the North : 

"Hate it? Of course I hate it. Why shouldn't I ? Am I more or less than 
human? Haven't they given me cause enough? Didn't they drench my 
country with blood and sweep it with fire? Haven't they deprived me of 
the rights of a free man? . . . But I am an old man. My day is passed. 
The people seem to have lost heart. The South is ruled by as cowardly and 
venal a lot of place-hunting politicians as ever lived. Like putrid bodies in 
the stream, they rise as they rot. . . . They lick the feet of Tammany cor- 
ruptionists, and grovel in the dust before Northern money. But Southern 
pride and principle will one day assert themselves. . . ." 

Someone rashly interrupted to remind the General that his 
friend Stephens counseled peace and reconciliation. 

"I don't give a damn if he does!" blurted Toombs. "Henry Grady cries 
peace too, and so does Jack Gordon and Ben Hill and Lushe Lamar. What 
do I care for the talk of politicians and opportunists. They may cry 'Peace' 
till the heavens fall . . ." 27 

Such quixotic incorrigibility could not fail in its appeal to a 
youth of Watson's temperament and predilections: "No matter 
how much you might revolt in judgment at what he said, he 
carried you with him for the moment." He was attracted and 
repelled at the same time : it was magnificent to be incorrigible, 
but it was practical to be conciliatory. "Nobody pinned faith to 
what he said," he reflected; "nobody altered his course a jot be- 
cause of any opinion he expressed . . ." 28 

Alexander Stephens was nominated Governor by the New 
Departure Democrats, and the Convention adjourned. Toombs 
expressed his conviction that his friend was "either the veriest 
demagogue in the country or in his old age he has lost his grip." 
He believed his Independent opponent would beat him, "and 
ought to beat him." 29 Watson, out of personal loyalty, pledged 
himself as a "Stephens man," and returned to McDuffie County 
to take up where he had left it a particularly warm campaign on 
his own account. 

27 Conversation quoted by T. E. W., Sketches, pp. 282-287. 

2 *Loc. cit. 

29 R. L. Felton, op. cit., pp. 371-372. 



Agrarian Law-making 

" Oince the Convention of 1880 I had had a fixed determi- 

nation to run for the Legislature this year," wrote Watson 
in 1882. This was by no means an unreasonable ambition in a 
young lawyer of his attainments. It was rather the conventional, 
the expected thing — a step toward the judge's bench. The actual 
Representative was retiring at the expiration of his term, with 
the hope of being elected the next Superior Court judge. Wat- 
son expected an easy victory. An aspirant for office was fre- 
quently elected without mention of a single issue of race, class, 
creed, or party — simply by agreement in the primary of the 
"White Man's Party." At first it seemed that this procedure 
might be followed with Watson's candidacy, for no opponent 
appeared at the beginning. He did not believe there would have 
been any opposition had not his shooting scrape with W. D. 
Tutt brought on "various obstacles." Indeed this affair but in- 
troduced the first of the issues customarily circumvented — all of 
which Watson succeeded in stirring up to a dramatic pitch in 
this his first contest for office. 1 

Feeling between Watson and Tutt had been brewing for over 
five years. The day Watson arrived in Thomson to begin his 
law practice in 1876 he was greeted at the railway station by 
loud guffaws provoked by a remark at his expense from Tutt. 
"If I had had my gun," Watson told a friend, "I would have 
shot him right there." 2 Although Tutt was several years his 
senior, and was already established as a highly successful lawyer, 
Watson's aggressive rise in the profession was not long in chal- 

1 MS. Journal 2, p. 292. 

2 Interview with Mr. J. L. Cartledge, Augusta, Ga., Aug. 24, 1934. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

lenging Tutt's place of preeminence at the local bar. Watson's 
success appears to have been won largely at the expense of his 
rival. In the three and a half years preceding March, 1882, his 
"Lawyer's Record Book" 8 accounts for twenty-nine cases in 
which he and Tutt represented opposing interests, only twenty- 
two in which Tutt was not his opponent, and just one in which 
they collaborated. Many of these were criminal suits, in which 
popular excitement ran high, feelings were strained and taut, 
and rivalry bitter and personal. Watson was by far the more 
successful of the two in their clashes, and it was but natural for 
the older man to resent the impertinence of an upstart's rivalry. 
Feelings were not improved during the campaign of 1880, 
when both men indulged in personalities in their speeches. In 
answer to Tutt's charge that the Independents were only dis- 
appointed office seekers, Watson replied that Tutt had himself 
deserted the Independents and was 

Stiff in opinion, stubborn, always wrong, 
Everything by turns and nothing long. 

It also appears from his private Journal that Watson had 
secretly aspired to a seat in the Senate, but had been forced to 
content himself with a candidacy for the Lower House when the 
Democrats nominated Tutt for the Senate. 4 

In March, 1881, Tom, his brother Julius, and Tutt were 
jointly indicted for "carrying concealed weapons." At the trial 
the following January the Watson brothers pleaded guilty, Tutt 
not guilty. The court fined each of the three twenty-five dollars. 5 
Serious trouble was expected almost any day now. The rivals 
had already clashed in two cases in March when Watson con- 
ceived the idea that Tutt had done him an injury by accepting a 
case in his absence that he thought should have been his. At a 
chance meeting in a law office in Thomson words were ex- 
changed. Watson was insulting. Tutt struck him. Watson drew 
a gun and fired, striking Tutt, who had raised a chair before 
him, on the hand. Watson was disarmed, and the two were 
separated. 6 

8 Watson MSS., Chapel Hill. Apparently all cases were not recorded. 

4 MS. Journal 2, p. 287; dated April, 1881. 

5 "Minutes, Supreme Court, McDuffie County, Sept., 1876 to March, 1884," 
Thomson, Georgia. 

6 W. W. Brewton, Life of Thomas E. Watson, pp. 152-153. 


Agrarian Law-making 

On March 22 Watson was indicted for "assault with intent to 
murder," and only two days later appeared for trial before 
Judge Claiborne Snead. He had engaged, from the many who 
offered to defend him, three competent lawyers, among them, 
James C. C. Black, of Augusta. A jury was impanelled and 
sworn, and the case proceeded until the State closed. Then 
friends of both parties suggested a "settlement." Watson, ap- 
parently seeking a vindication, "opposed it bitterly and only 
gave in at the last moment upon condition that I should state my 
side of the case." 7 This done, Judge Snead withdrew the issue 
from the jury and ordered that "good cause having been shown, 
the said case be and is hereby settled." 8 

While this unusual, and probably illegal, procedure was ap- 
plauded by many, it gave the faction that was organizing against 
Judge Snead a live issue to display before farmer voters. Class 
consciousness among farmers, promoted by hard times in the 
'seventies and fostered by the insurgency of 1880, had not at- 
tained the militancy and discipline it was to acquire in the follow- 
ing decade, but the feeling was present. It was an anomaly that 
Tom Watson, future leader of the movement, should by a trick 
of circumstances, become one of its first victims. "People said," 
he observed in his Journal, "had it been anybody but a lawyer 
[e.g., a farmer] the case would not have been stopped." Also I 
found "a pretty general feeling that on account of the difference 
in our ages, I had acted hastily in giving him the lie." Judge 
Snead inflamed antagonism further by imprisoning one W. O. 
Harrison for misconduct as bailiff, when that gentleman gave 
too free expression to his opinion of the court's conduct in the 
case. 9 

In the midst of the excitement thus provoked there appeared 
a second candidate for the Legislature, E. A. Shields. Obviously 
he intended to capitalize on the feeling produced by the Watson 
case, for he was openly an anti-Snead candidate, out for the 
farmer's vote. Watson was now thrust into an extremely em- 
barrassing alignment with Judge Claiborne Snead, whom he 
had no wish to defend, whom to defend would probably mean 

7 MS. Journal 2, p. 292. 

8 "Minutes, Supreme Court, McDuffie County, Sept., 1876, to March, 1884," Thom- 
son, Georgia. 

9 MS. Journal 2, p. 292. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

defeat, yet who, in the eyes of the public, had done Watson a 
considerable kindness, and had done it probably at the cost of his 
own political ruin. Caught in this dilemma, Watson refused to 
pledge himself outright against Snead, but instead resorted to 
the expedient of assuring voters that he u was willing to vote 
against Judge Snead in the next election if the people so in- 
structed but would not run anti-Snead." 10 

After canvassing the county "laboriously and thoroughly," he 
concluded that the white vote was about equally divided between 
him and his opponent, and that therefore the Negro vote would 
decide the contest. The black population, indeed, represented a 
majority, there being 5,522 Negroes to 3,367 whites in the 
county. 11 Though their vote had been intimidated and manipu- 
lated, the Negroes were not yet disfranchised. They had been 
thoroughly organized by the Republicans, and it was through 
the Executive Committee of that party that Watson had to ap- 
proach the Negroes. He found that his opponent had been en- 
dorsed by one of their meetings, but that, owing to small at- 
tendance, final action had been postponed until a later meeting 
called for the purpose of deciding between the candidates. At 
this meeting Watson spoke, making a favorable impression 
chiefly by favoring free schools for Negroes, and by condemn- 
ing the iniquitous convict lease system, of which the Negroes 
were the main victims. A resolution was adopted endorsing his 
candidacy, but it apparently gave the impression that Watson 
had endorsed the Republican platform, for after the meeting 
was adjourned, but while the crowd was still present, he added 
that "he did not endorse their platform, and had not been asked 
to do it." Their resolution endorsing him was not changed, how- 
ever. 12 

The Negro meeting on Saturday was followed by an uproar 
created by the charge of the Shields supporters that Watson had 
stolen the Negro vote by endorsing the Republican platform. 
Thus he faced a second dilemma: he would have to repudiate 
the charge completely, but in doing so he would run the risk of 
losing the Negro vote. On the following Monday a white con- 
vention assembled at Thomson to nominate W. D. Tutt for the 

10 ibid. 

11 U. S. Census, 1890. 

12 Affidavits signed by "S. Norris," MS. Journal 2, p. 295. 


Agrarian Law-making 

Senate. Affidavits signed by a witness of the Negro meeting were 
distributed by Watson, and he appeared at the Convention to de- 
mand a hearing. His exertions were telling on him. "I was so 
sick I could hardly stand up," he wrote, "but I went to the con- 
vention . . . and achieved the greatest oratorical victory of my 
life. I went out of the Court House with a triumphant and en- 
thusiastic majority." Shields then withdrew from the race, but 
Watson was given no respite. Dr. James S. Jones, who had twice 
represented the county in the Legislature, was forthwith put up 
as a second opponent, a formidable one, according to Watson, 
for "It was confidently asserted that he would sweep the field." 18 

Other issues and more important offices were now forgotten. 
"The principal interest of the campaign," it was reported, 
"seemed to be who should be our next Representative in the 
Lower House." Watson's supreme talent for self-dramatization 
was one explanation of the excitement produced by a relatively 
insignificant contest. No better example of his use of that talent 
can be found than that displayed at a mass meeting held to 
decide whether the race between Watson and Jones should be 
decided by a nominating convention of white Democrats, or by 
an open race with no nomination. Watson favored an open race 
before the public, Jones the nomination. "The Watson men," it 
was reported, "beyond all question held the day." The meeting 
was then adjourned, but the people remained to listen to an ad- 
dress by Watson. 

What of the charge that he was out to get the Negro vote? 
"Colquitt could get it, Stephens could get it, Roney could get 
it . . . and it was all right. But when he got it, it was all 
wrong." Clearly all the hue and cry against him was persecution, 
pure and simple. "I know now," said he, "that 'tis written, Be- 
fore the ascension lies Gethsemane's Garden. I know now that 
the pathway is lined with brambles, and at each foot step I have 
pressed the thorns." By the time he had reached his conclusion, 
his cause had acquired for him, and it would appear for his 
listeners also, the proportions of a mighty crusade of good 
against evil, of right against black injustice. "No, gentlemen, 
they are in for anything to put me down. (Cries of That's so.) 
But with the fine support I find in your midst they'll never do 

13 MS. Journal a, p. 292. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

it. I hear the tread of the people, as aroused up by this crusade, 
they come to see that justice shall be done. The whole people 
shall decide the contest." 14 

As if the campaign thus far had been only a preliminary 
skirmish, Watson notes that "From this time the race became 
very bitter." However, he was "more completely determined 
than . . . [he] had ever been on anything." During the next 
two months of campaign there are occasional glimpses of his ac- 
tivities : at a barn dance in Wrightsboro, "Standing up fiddling 
away for dear life, Willie Hadley bending down in front to 
beat the strings with straws, one negro playing second fiddle 
and another knocking the agony out of a tambourine." The 
girls would "dance with no boy till he promised to vote for 
me." Or in Dearing District at the swimming hole: "Like the 
balance I climbed the stumps and leapt off for a dive." Or un- 
derground in the gold mines on the Ridge: "When Election day 
arrived, the mines stopped and Ed Carline voted every man for 
me." Campaign adventures fairly intoxicated him: "I stopped 
at all kinds of places, got all kinds of treatment, went through 
every grade of hope and doubt, elation and despondency; re- 
ceived enthusiastic praise, bore malignant abuse ; was devotedly 
followed by friends; was desperately opposed by foes" — and, 
insatiable romantic that he was, nothing could have pleased him 
more. 15 

He was elected by a majority of 392 votes. 

The new assembly convened November 1, only a few weeks 
after the campaign ended and before Watson had recovered 
from a summer illness. He complained of being "sick most of 
the time," and was incapable of his usual exertions and not a 
little unhappy during the winter session. The Constitution, how- 
ever, found him "looking as game and handsome as he did when 
he 'nailed to the mast her sacred flag,' " in the Convention of 
1880 and added that "Tom is a whole team and dog under the 
wagon besides." Despite his health, he attended regularly and 
spoke frequently. Reports of debates in which he participated 

14 Clipping, dated "Thomson, August 16, 1882," in MS. Journal 2, p. 293. 

15 MS. Journal 2, pp. 294-295. 


Agrarian Law-making 

almost invariably singled him out for special comment and quo- 
tation. At twenty-six he retained much of the appeal of the rus- 
tic poet that his earlier pictures carry, and he was described as 
"slender," "debonair," "impetuous," and "boyish." He was 
given place on four House committees, one of them the General 
Committee on Judiciary. 16 

Walking to and from the Capitol, Watson daily passed the 
entrance to a narrow stairway, on what is now Henry Grady 
Square, marked 48 Marietta Street. The address graced the let- 
terhead of Woodrow Wilson, attorney at law, licensed all of ten 
days before Watson arrived in the city. Of Watson's own age, 
Wilson like him had passed part of his boyhood in Augusta and 
had turned to law. Yet they now faced different problems. 
"Buried in humdrum life down here in slow, ignorant, unin- 
teresting Georgia," Wilson complained yearningly of his plight 
to a friend "away off there in Europe, surrounded by everything 
that is attractive in the old world, deep in the work of a great 
university." His every contact with this sterile society, "where 
the chief end of man is certainly to make money" was "utterly 
disillusioning." He reflected that the practice of law "for pur- 
poses of gain is antagonistic to the best interests of the intellec- 
tual life" — and anyway not a client appeared. He could watch 
from his office windows, "which look out upon the principal en- 
trance of the big, ugly building which serves new Atlanta as a 
temporary capitol, the mixed crowds going to secure seats in the 
galleries of the House of Representatives ..." Having plenty 
of time, he occasionally joined the crowd in the galleries him- 
self and watched the lawmakers below — "country lawyers, mer- 
chants, farmers, politicians, all of them poor, many densely 
ignorant. ... As different as the poles from the British Parlia- 
ment, wherein a class of men from leisured families, disciplined 
for leadership, ruled the state." 1T 

Inaugurated on November 4, Governor Alexander Stephens 
entered his new office without the satisfaction of having "de- 
stroyed all elements of Independent opposition" as the leaders 
of the New Departure had hoped. The vote, in fact, came much 
nearer justifying General Toombs' prediction of an Independent 

16 Georgia House Journal, 1882, pp. 68-72. 

"Ray S. Baker, Woodrow Wilson, Vol. I, pp. 150-157. Copyright, 1927, by 
Doubled ay, Dor an & Co., Inc. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

victory than had been expected, for in spite of Stephens' per- 
sonal popularity his Independent opponent received thirty-two 
per cent of the votes cast. Opposition to the New Departure was 
reduced but not destroyed. 18 

The death of Senator Benjamin H. Hill on August 15 had 
left a few months of his term to be filled, and the more impor- 
tant question of who was to succeed him in the long term had to 
be decided. This question above all others agitated the new as- 
sembly during the first two weeks. The statement that the con- 
test was "simply unprecedented in its bitterness and passion" is 
probably an exaggeration, but it seems true that the issue was 
"the same one that has been presented for the last several years" 
— namely, the New Departure oligarchy against its more or less 
unorganized opposition. If ex-Governor Colquitt's candidacy 
proved successful, each member of the New Departure Trium- 
virate, Gordon, Brown, and Colquitt, would have his turn in 
the Senate in as many years. 

Senator Brown, who owed his first entrance to the Senate to 
Colquitt, was bringing to bear the multitudinous resources at 
his command in behalf of Colquitt's candidacy. Demurring to 
the charge that he was "chief boss" of Georgia politics, he added 
that if it was true, "then I have a right to be proud of the re- 
sults of my labor, and I have a right to expect the plaudit of 
Veil done' from the democracy of Georgia." He also expected 
the prompt election of Colquitt as his junior Senator. 19 

Henry Grady, as might be expected, also marshaled his in- 
fluence behind Colquitt. The power he wielded was already for- 
midable. 20 Grady opposed particularly the election of J. C. C. 
Black, the lawyer who had defended Watson in his trial and who 
was now the opponent of Colquitt. 

At the election in the assembly Watson seconded with his 
most florid oratory the nomination of Black, "a leader whose 
plume is as white as the plume of Navarre." As for himself, he 
said, he had "rather be a mourner at the defeat of right, than 

18 Georgia House Journal 1882, pp. 38-39. 

19 J. E. Brown to editor of the Constitution, Nov. 12, 1882. 

20 Later it was said: "He was almost an absolute dictator in Georgia politics. 
No man cared to stand for election to any place, high or low, unless he felt Grady 
was with him. He certainly was the most powerful factor in the election of two 
governors and practically gave more than one United States Senator his seat." 
Quoted in J. C. Harris, Henry W. Grady, p. 79. 


Agrarian Law-making 

to be king at the carnival of victorious might." He found him- 
self among the mourners. Colquitt easily won over his three 
opponents. 21 

With Brown and Colquitt in the Senate and Governor 
Stephens keeping step to the new music, there was little left for 
the New Departure to ask that it did not have. "Let us bury all 
personal differences," urged the conciliatory Grady, "and have 
a general peace. The elections are all over; good men are 
elected . . . and there is little cause for complaint, but much 
for congratulations." 22 As a personal gesture in this direction, 
Grady invited leaders of all factions in the recent contest, Tom 
Watson included, to a "unique entertainment" at his home on 
Peachtree Street, said to have been "the center of the social life 
of the city." Invitations read "Dinner at 6, fiddling at 9." After 
dinner Watson and three other members of the House were 
announced as contestants for a fiddling prize. In a hilarious 
contest Watson was judged winner and awarded "a floral fiddle, 
with tube rose body and smilax springs," afterwards sent to 
Mrs. Watson. The famous Grady hospitality flowed, and under 
the tutelage of this master reconciler, reconciliation went on 
apace. It would require all the arts of a master to keep this 
champion fiddler in tune with the new music, but until the baton 
finally slipped from Grady's hand discord was prevented. 

In both his campaign against Colquitt and the New Departure 
in 1880, and in his pledges to the Negro voters two years later, 
Watson had attacked the convict lease system. Agitation against 
the Georgia system of leasing state convicts for exploitation by 
private individuals and corporations had been carried on by In- 
dependents for several years with no ameliorative result, be- 
cause, it was said, "men of high standing and great influence, 
governors and United States Senators, were making fortunes 
out of it." 23 In 1 880, the state had granted a twenty-year lease. 

George W. Cable, the novelist, after extensive investigation 
of this penal system in the Southern states, concluded that in 
Georgia the system was found "peculiarly vicious." He went 
even further to say that, "Here may be seen a group of penal 

21 Constitution, Nov. X5, X882; Georgia House Journal 1882, pp. 220-223. 

22 Constitution, Nov. 15, 1882. 

28 New York Daily Tribune, Aug. 28, 1887, quoted in R. L. Felton, Memoirs, 
P- 599- 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

institutions, the worst in the country by every evidence of their 
own setting forth : cruel, brutalizing, deadly ; chaining, flogging, 
shooting, drowning, killing by exhaustion and exposure . . ." 
The crushing burden of this injustice was borne by the Negroes : 
although they were a minority of the state population, there 
were in October, 1880, 1,071 Negroes serving terms, and only 
115 whites. 24 

Upon this mudsill of human misery and degradation was built 
a considerable part of the great fortune of Senator Joseph 
E. Brown. As already mentioned, three hundred of the convicts, 
leased for twenty years, went to labor in his Dade County coal 
mines. For the labor of its prisoners the state received about 
seven cents per working day. 25 

It would seem that Governor Colquitt could see no crime in 
such profitable enterprise. In his final message to the General 
Assembly, November 2, 1882, the Governor, referring to the 
penal system, said that "in the three great essentials of good 
discipline, economy, humanity and reform, Georgia stands pre- 
eminent." 2e 

Just two weeks later Watson arose in the House to speak on 
penal institutions. He advocated the abolition of the convict 
lease system, which, he said, "commercialized the State's sov- 
ereign right to punish her criminals to money-making companies 
whose only interest was to maintain the convict at the lowest 
possible cost and to work him at the utmost human capacity." 
He also condemned the "very atrocious crimes committed 
against the convicts by the whipping bosses of these lessee com- 
panies." Instead of proposing the abolition of the system, which 
would probably have received no serious attention, he offered a 
resolution calling for a special investigation and report by the 
Committee on the penitentiary on "whether in the lodging, 
chaining and working of the convicts any distinction and classi- 
fication is made between males and females, white and colored, 
those convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude and those 

24 George W. Cable, "The Convict Lease System in the South," Century, Feb., 
1884; Vol. V, pp. 582-599; vide also J. N. Hammond, in an answer to Cable, Con- 
stitution, Jan. 13, 1885. 

25 H. Fielder, op, cit., pp. 488-489; A. M. Arnett, Populist Movement in Georgia, 
pp. 27-28 ; I. W. Avery, op. cit., p. 606. It was admitted by the critics of the system 
that the convicts employed by Brown were not as badly treated as were the convicts 
of other lessees. 

26 Journal of the House 1882, p. 35. 


Agrarian Law-making 

convicted of offenses not so involving moral turpitude." 27 The 
resolution was agreed to on November 17. 

In December the Committee reported that "The camps at 
Dade Coal Mines, under the control of Company No. 1, were 
found to be in a healthy condition. . . . Your Committee take 
pleasure in commending the management of this branch of the 
penitentiary." 28 In less than a month after his inauguration, 
Governor Stephens pardoned Edward Cox, General Gordon's 
sub-lessee of convicts, convicted of the murder of Robert Alston, 
an outspoken enemy of the convict lease system. 29 

After the exploited convict, the tenant farmer became Wat- 
son's chief concern. The first bill he introduced in the House was 
one to amend the Code "so as to allow tenants distrained, if un- 
able from poverty to give bond and security, to file a bond in 
forma pauperis . . ." 30 As the law stood, once the landlord ob- 
tained a distress warrant against the tenant's crop and equipment 
in order to collect debt or rent, the tenant was compelled to give 
bond of twice the amount sued for in order to contest before the 
court the justice of the landlord's claim, or to retain his posses- 
sions pending litigations. 31 The poverty of the average tenant, 
who was habitually in debt and often possessed nothing but his 
labor, did not permit him to give bond and frequently left him 
at the mercy of his landlord, against whom he could not even 
appear in court. Watson's bill proposed to enable the tenant to 
contest the landlord's claim and to retain the property levied 
upon until a judicial decision was rendered. While the bill was 
recommended by the General Committee on Judiciary, it was 
recommitted to the Committee in the next session and failed to 
pass. 82 

With these and other failures irritating his pride, Watson re- 
turned to Thomson at the end of his first session in a mood of 
dissatisfaction, if not frustration. In his Journal he wrote that 
he "found no pleasure in the Legislature and was not all satis- 
fied with my share in the programme." His imagination had 

27 MS. House Bill 59, 1882, on file in Georgia Department of Archives and His- 
tory, Atlanta, Georgia. 

28 Journal of the House 1882, pp. 51 1-5 12. 

29 R. L. Felton, Memoirs, pp. 372-373, 491-496. 

30 Journal of the House 1882, p. 87 ; MS. bill missing from State Archives. 

31 The Code of the State of Georgia (Macon, 1873), Section 4083. 
^Constitution, Nov. 15, 1882; Journal of the House 1882, p. 282; Journal 1883, 

pp. 132-133. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

been somehow offended, cheated, like that of young Wilson 
looking down from the galleries. It was no forum of Periclean 
Greeks upon whom he had lavished his periods. 

It was between sessions, on March 4, only shortly after Wat- 
son had paid the old invalid a visit in Atlanta, that Governor 
Alexander Stephens died. Watson's tribute to his boyhood hero 
at the memorial day in the Legislature seems a sincere expres- 
sion of affection, and he returned to the summer session sad- 
dened by the loss. 83 From his office window across the street At- 
torney Wilson gloomily watched the crowd file into the galleries 
for the inauguration of Henry D. McDaniel, elected to fill the 
unexpired term of Governor Stephens : "They were probably not 
much entertained," he wrote his friend in Berlin, "though they 
may have been considerably diverted, for our new Governor 
cannot talk." The state was about to "replace a governor who 
could not walk with a governor who could not talk." M 

Any special favor that Watson may have won in the eyes of 
Negroes and white tenant voters by his championship of convicts 
and impoverished tenants during the first session was placed in 
jeopardy by two of his actions during the summer session. 

According to the chairman of the Committee of Privileges 
and Election, "the strongest case" with which he had to deal in 
the session of 1882, was a contest for the seat of Camden 
County made by Anthony Wilson, Negro, against Daniel R. 
Proctor, white, who had been at first awarded the seat. 35 Wilson 
contended that, having received a majority of the votes over his 
white opponents, he was entitled to the seat. The Committee 
supported his contention. Heated opposition to the committee 
report was led by Tom Watson. While admitting that Wilson 
had a majority of the votes, Watson held that "he did not show 
it by strictly legal testimony." 86 So strong was the opposition 
that the question was postponed till the next session. Wilson 
was then awarded the seat. The charge was later made that 
Watson's position was dictated by race feeling, but this is not 
supported by evidence. 

33 T. E. W., Life and Speeches, pp. 30-31. 

34 R. S. Baker, op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 1 54-1 57. 

35 Printed circular, Northen Scrapbook, Vol. Ill, p. 147. 

36 Journal of the House 1882, pp. 372-377; Constitution, Aug. 24, 1882. 


Agrarian Law-making 

The first bill Watson offered in the summer session proposed 
a tax of one dollar per head annually on dogs, the proceeds to 
go to the support of education. 87 In his defense of the measure 
he appealed to "our brother in black" for his support. Wilson 
replied that "The colored people don't want this law ..." A 
commentator explained that 'The tax payers of the state were 
with him [Watson] , but the colored voters at home doubtlessly 
overawed the average country member, and the dog and the 
Negro is [sic'] still on top. The Negro voter is a power in Geor- 
gia politics and the lamb must go." M 

Farmers were only beginning to awaken to the injustice 
which the general property tax system worked upon them. They 
undoubtedly paid out of all proportion to the value of their 
property or their ability to pay, while personal and intangible 
property of the city dweller escaped with a mere pretense of 
taxation. 89 Resentment was also beginning to arise against the 
gross thievery of the railroad financiers, and against their rate 
discrimination against the farmer in favor of the city. While the 
railroads had been made subject to state taxes in 1877, they still 
paid no taxes to the county through which they passed. In view 
of these circumstances considerable interest arose over a bill to 
require railroads to pay taxes to counties in which their property 
was located, "just as individuals are now required by law to do." 

Watson supported the bill with "fervent argument." Appeal- 
ing to the doctrine of Robert Toombs, he contended that "the 
convention of 1877 saw the fallacy of the old system of dealing 
with railroads and placed them on a footing with other property 
in the state. This bill merely carries out the theory of the con- 
stitution, and proposes no more than just taxation of the roads." 
One member, who denounced the bill as "one of these extem- 
poraneous routes of demagoguery," employed an argument then 
frequently heard : reform and taxation would discourage capital 
and enterprise. "The North has the surplus money," ran the 
formula. "Let us encourage its investment in railroads in Geor- 
gia and the South." Watson ridiculed the inconsistency of the 

87 MS. Bill No. 425, on file in Georgia Dept. of Archives and History, Atlanta ; 
Journal of the House 1883, p. 36. 

38 Clippings, undated, MS. Journal 2, p. 344. 

39 L. F. Schmeckabier, "Taxation in Georgia," Johns Hopkins Studies, Vol. 
XVIII, p. 232. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

champions of the railroads; "in one breath making them giants 
of power and in the next breath weak subjects for protection." 40 

It was only a few days before the railroad bill was taken up 
for final vote that "quite a ripple of interest" was created by the 
announcement of the clerk of the House that he had free passes 
for all members over the Air Line Railroad, good throughout 
the session and ten days after adjournment, and it was at that 
same session that the House accepted the invitation to the Louis- 
ville Exposition, transportation paid, from Joseph E. Brown, 
"president of the most powerful railroad corporation in the 
South and Senator from Georgia." 41 The railroad tax was de- 
feated in the Senate. 

Watson fired two parting shots at the railroads in the form 
of two bills, one changing the Code to provide that mere pres- 
ence upon railroad right of way did not constitute contributory 
negligence in case of injury inflicted by the railroad; another 
redefining "trespass" to except cases of presence upon the right 
of way, unless damage of property or infringement of franchise 
were committed. 42 Both bills were introduced toward the end of 
the session, and both died in committee. When a bill for in- 
corporating a navigation company appeared, Watson obtained 
the passage of amendments putting freight and transportation 
charges under control of the state, and striking out a clause 
giving the company monopoly of navigation on the river. 43 

His attacks on the sanctity of corporations, however, were by 
no means to be extended to the sanctity of the institution of 
private property. When it was proposed to condemn certain 
property "in order to complete the symmetry of the new state 
capitol," Watson was prompt to object: "It is dangerous to con- 
demn private property for the sake of mere symmetry, just to 
make the ground look pretty. I am against the amendment." 
When the conflict was between the farmer and property, it was 
the worse for property : when between beauty and property, the 
worse for beauty. 

Doubtless Watson derived a certain amount of satisfaction 
from clipping newspaper comment and sending it to his wife, 

40 Atlanta Journal, July 19, 1883 ; undated clippings, MS. Journal 2, p. 341. 
^Augusta Chronicle, July 6, 1883; Journal of the House 1883, pp. 814-816. 

42 MS. House Bills Nos. 1048 and 1049, Georgia Dept. of Archives and History ; 
Journal of the House 1883, p. 818. 

43 Constitution, Dec 6, 1882. 


Agrarian Law-making 

such flattery as the article describing him as "the most brilliant 
young man in Georgia," or the one that said, "There was no 
more brilliant and brainy young man in the Legislature last 
session . . ." But his prevailing mood continued to be restless- 
ness and disillusionment. He could review only a brief record 
of failure and temporizing and his impatience with time-servers 
grew. The same mood was expressed by one of his colleagues, a 
young man "of fine intelligence" who complained that he was 
"utterly dissatisfied and desirous of quitting the Legislature and 
going home to private life," because "there was nothing occur- 
ring in which he took an interest . . ." ** Whether for the same 
reason or not Watson resigned his seat in the Legislature before 
his term expired the next year. 45 

"The galleries are deserted and there is a languid dullness 
around the capital generally," it was reported a month before 
the turgid summer session dragged itself to a close. Watson did 
not conceal his impatience. Instead of dashing off to the Louis- 
ville Exposition as Senator Brown's guests, the legislators, he 
thought, should remain on the job and complete their business. 
In a rebuke to the House he announced that he intended to take 
his leave if the session were not adjourned on a certain day. On 
September 17 he did leave, but the session dragged on — drawing 
its per diem pay. 

On his deathbed General Toombs was told that the assembly 
was still in session. 

"Send for Cromwell!" growled the General. 46 

44 The young man was Charles R. Pendleton. N. E. Harris, Autobiography, pp. 


^Constitution, Aug. 14, 1884. His resignation was probably an attempt to 
qualify as a presidential elector. 

46 Ulrich B. Phillips, Life of Robert Toombs, p. 273. 



Henry Gradf s Vision 

As the curtain was rung down on an old era, it had hitched 
jljl on a quartet of aged figures taking belated curtain calls. 
Awkwardly they bowed off the stage, one by one : Herschel V. 
Johnson in 1880, Ben Hill in 1882, Stephens in 1883. General 
Toombs, confined to his bed and soon to follow them, continued 
to be heard from only as a discordant rumble off stage. As if to 
clear the stage drastically of old scenery, the old Kimball House 
burned to the ground on August 13, 1883, and that same year a 
new capitol was decreed. A new spirit quickly peopled the scene 
with new men. 

One September morning in 1882 young Wilson was trans- 
ported out of his lethargy by the sudden appearance at his office 
of a young man with the face of a poet and the breezy manner 
of a salesman — Walter Hines Page. They enthusiastically dis- 
covered themselves "interested in the same things, with much 
the same point of view." Both were "men of the New South, 
impatient with old slogans." Page assumed the role of prophet 
and mentor. He was touring the South for the New York 
World, which belonged to Jay Gould, and scattering glad tid- 
ings — the same tidings Grady broadcasted. A recent interview 
with Jefferson Davis had moved him to reflect that "Cotton 
mills and railroads are of more consequence . . . than constitu- 
tional questions irrevocably settled." He fascinated Wilson with 
his talk of Johns Hopkins, where the young lawyer was soon 
to go. Off to North Carolina went Page to tarry his message 
home. "Wake up, old commonwealth," he shouted. "What 
North Carolina most needs are a few first class funerals." He 
called to witness "any man who has made his own way by his 


Henry Grady's Vision 

own independence and industry in trade or manufacturing, if 
these be not true." 1 

Walter Page, Woodrow Wilson, Henry Grady — these alert 
young men, like hundreds of Tom Watson's contemporaries, 
were riding the crest of time's wave, as bright young men are 
wont to. They were ingratiating themselves with the great cap- 
tains of industry or the new captains of education, making them- 
selves instruments of their own Zeitgeist. But the great tidal 
wave of Industrial Revolution, while bearing his alert con- 
temporaries on its crest, swept over Watson and his class, inun- 
dating them silently for a decade. With as bright a mind as the 
keenest of them and as much ambition as any, Watson was born 
of a certain tradition, and his loyalty to that tradition and to his 
class was the most important thing in Tom Watson's life. At the 
name of Jay Gould he would shrink, instinctively, perhaps re- 
calling something that Bob Toombs had said or done. As for the 
captains of education, they were quite out of his reach. 

Until near the close of the booming 'eighties Watson re- 
mained a hesitant spectator. Sometimes he made timorous ad- 
vances, mouthing a phrase of Grady's in a speech or lending a 
hand with an election; yet he never did embrace the new creed 
for his own. He always recoiled before a gesture became an alli- 
ance. There was the case of the state convention of 1884. When 
his name was presented for presidential elector from the tenth 
district, the objection was raised that his office as a member of 
the House would disqualify him. Although he had resigned his 
seat beforehand, Watson promptly withdrew his name. 2 The 
electoral bandwagon moved on without him. 

The victory of Grover Cleveland furnished fresh impetus for 
the New Departure. The news of the election brought the people 
pouring into the streets of Atlanta "wild with joy." Bloody 
shirts saturated with oil were set ablaze in front of the capitol 
with "the wildest demonstrations." Henry Grady, as master of 
ceremonies, was in his element. At the head of a procession of 
drums, he burst into the House of Representatives, seized 
Speaker Lamar in his arms, snatched the gavel from his hands, 

*B. J. Hendrick, The Training of an American, pp. 146, 158-168; Ray S. Baker, 
Woodrow Wilson, Vol. I, pp. 144-145. 
2 Constitution, Aug. 14, 1884. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

and declared the House adjourned in the name of Grover Cleve- 

At the head of the procession Grady remained, and behind 
him it swelled in numbers as the 'eighties advanced. Thousands 
were enchanted by his vision of the New South: "I see a South 
the home of fifty millions of people; her cities vast hives of in- 
dustry; her country-sides the treasures from which their re- 
sources are drawn; her streams vocal with whirring spindles 
. . ." His journey to Dallas to deliver an address was one pro- 
longed ovation, "and his appearance created an enthusiasm that 
is indescribable." "No such tribute as this has ever before been 
paid, under any circumstances, to any private American citizen 
. . ." 3 Grady symbolized to the South a hope that was almost 
pathetic in its desperation. 

In the North his message was thrice welcome. "We have 
sowed towns and cities in the place of theories, and put business 
in place of politics," he told the New England Club in New 
York. "We have challenged your spinners in Massachusetts and 
your ironmakers in Pennsylvania . . . wiped out the place 
where Mason and Dixon's line used to be, and hung out a latch- 
string to you and yours. . . . We have fallen in love with work. 
. . . We are ready to lay odds on the Georgia Yankee as he 
manufactures relics of the battle field in a one-story shanty and 
squeezes pure olive oil out of his cotton-seed, against any down 
easterner that ever swapped wooden nutmegs for flannel sau- 
sages in the valleys of Vermont." He rejoiced that the two civili- 
zations, which 

"Did lately meet in the intestine shock 
Shall now, in mutual well beseeming ranks, 
March all one way." 

"Every train brings manufacturers from the East and West 
seeking to establish themselves or their sons near the raw mate- 
rial in this growing market," he told eager Southerners, and 
with open arms he added, "Let the fullness of the tide roll in." 4 
Such hospitality did not go begging. In the middle 'eighties, 
along with the profit seekers, came an invasion of journalists, 

3 J. C. Harris, Henry W. Grady, pp. 16-17 and 91. 

4 Ibid., pp. 88, 114. 


Henry Grades Vision 

whose books and articles poured from the press. A. K. McClure 
was delighted with Atlanta, which was "the legitimate offspring 
of Chicago," with "not a vestige of the old Southern ways about 
it." The "old regulation Southerners in this region . . . have 
either died untimely in despair, or have drifted into the current 
and moved on with the world." "Here the most advanced lead- 
ers of the whole South have their homes," he discovered, young 
men who "have learned that 'hardness ever of hardiness is 
mother,' " who were contemptuous of "effete pride," who had 
"revolutionized Georgia" and were overrunning the South. 
"There are more potent civilizers in Georgia than I have met 
with in any portion of the South," he declared. "The more in- 
telligent young men of from twenty to thirty years" were "the 
foremost missionaries of the new civilization in the South." 5 

William D. ("Pig-iron") Kelley of Pennsylvania was quite as 
enthusiastic. "That they are a prosperous people is attested by 
everything you behold in Atlanta," he observed; particularly 
by "the elegant residences of Atlanta's millionaires." He was 
widely quoted for his saying that the New South was "the com- 
ing El Dorado of American adventure" — whatever that may 
have meant. 6 

But it was the Southerner himself, first and last, who was 
most impressed by his own exploits — and for the most part they 
were his own. 7 At Vanderbilt University, recently endowed by 
the Commodore, a professor observing that "The wealth of the 
Southern States has increased forty-one per cent, in the last five 
years," blandly prophecied that "Southern millionaires there 
will yet be, and not a few, who will use their wealth, righteously 
gotten by their own honest labor, to develop their land and bless 
the race." 8 

Patrick Calhoun, at some risk of raising the ghost of his 
grandfather, enthusiastically proclaimed that "The future of the 
South is commercial and manufactural. She will exchange the 
modest civilization of the country gentleman for the bustling 

6 A. K. McClure, The South; Industrial, Financial, Political (Philadelphia, 
1886), pp. 58-76. 

6 W. D. Kelley, The Old South and the New (New York, 1888), pp. 13-14, 162. 

7 Broadus Mitchell, The Rise of the Cotton Mills, p. 102. "The impulse was fur- 
nished almost exclusively from within the South, against much discouragement from 
selfish interests at the North . . ." 

8 W. F. Tillett, "The White Man of the New South," Century Magazine, Vol. 
XXXIII (March, 1887), pp. 769-776. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

civilization of the towns." 9 Henry Watterson, most accurately 
catching the spirit of his times, wrote, u The South, having had 
its bellyful of blood, has gotten a taste of money, and is too 
busy trying to make more of it to quarrel with anybody." 10 

No one who has pored for months over the mass of pamphlets 
and books that issued from the South in the 'eighties can find it 
in his heart to condemn utterly the motives and hopes they rep- 
resent. 11 For all the greed of gain and sordid acquisitiveness 
that animated the average capitalist, his cause was almost en- 
nobled when it became the delusion of the mass of impoverished, 
defeated, and dispirited Southerners that it was likewise their 
cause, their hope, the light that would lead them out of dark- 
ness. With pathetic fervor and remarkable unanimity Southern 
people of all classes rallied to the new slogans. Most moving, 
because most deluded in its unconscious pathos, was the response 
of the agricultural masses. 

At a meeting of the State Agricultural Society in Atlanta an 
unknown farmer rose to speak. He was "chosen from the rank 
and file of this society," he said, and he described himself as "no 
kid-glove farmer," but the owner of a hundred-acre farm in 
Bartow County. "I emphatically earn my daily bread, and hav- 
ing no other resource, I support my family on this vast estate." 
He confessed to one extravagance, "taking the Daily Atlanta 
Constitution, as I am determined to keep up with the times." 
That he did so is evident from his address, yet in place of 
Grady's cheerful optimism, his farmer disciple embraced the 
new creed with something like despair : M 

We must get rich! Let the young south arise in their might and com- 
pete with them [Yankees] in everything but their religion and morals. 
Don't mind old fogies like myself and others of the same age who are sulk- 
ing in their tents. 

9 Constitution, May 23, 1883. 

10 New York Herald, July 19, 1887, quoted in Allan Nevins, Grover Cleveland, 

p. 323. 

11 Of a countless number the following are a few samples : Richard H. Edmonds 
(ed. of Manufacturer's Record), The South 3 s Redemption (Baltimore, 1890); 
George B. Cowlan, The Undeveloped South . . . (Louisville, Ky., 1887) ; Edward 
Atkinson, The Future Situs of the Principle Iron Productions of the World (Balti- 
more, 1890) ; South Carolina in 1884 . . . A Brilliant Showing (Charleston, 1884) ; 
A Story of Spartan Push. The Greatest Manufacturing Centre in the South (Pam- 
phlet from an article in News and Courier, July 28, (?), by E. P. McKissick) ; 
J. C. C. Newton, The New South and the Methodist Episcopal Church South 
(Baltimore, 1887). 

12 Constitution, Aug. 16, 1883. 


Henry Grains Vision 

Life is real, life is earnest; 
In this modern fight of life, 
Be not like your old ancestors, 
But let money be your strife. 

We have the cotton and can make cheaper goods than they can. We have 
the wool, and will have sense enough to use it. We can make iron at less 
cost than they can and must manufacture it into implements we are obliged 
to have . . . 

Get rich! Sell everything marketable and live on the culls. Let every 
yellow legged chicken, dozen of eggs and pound of butter look in your eyes 
as fractions of a dollar, and act accordingly. Get rich! if you have to be 
mean! The world respects a rich scoundrel more than it does an honest 
poor man. 

Poverty may do to go to heaven with. But in this modern times . . . 

Get rich ! and the south will no more beg for settlers ; the sails of your 
vessels will whiten every sea; emigrants will pour in; capitalists will 
invest. . . . 

Get rich! and Georgia . . . will not only be the empire state of the 
south, but in less than half a century will be the empire state of the whole 

Henry Grady featured this speech prominently in the Con- 
stitution, and Tom Watson clipped it for his scrapbook. Watson 
was no weathercock in these new winds of doctrine, but he could 
not remain wholly insensitive to them. One can follow the cur- 
rent of his mind in his Journal. In 1882 he was writing, "The 
Past ! No wonder it is seemingly better. There lie our brightest 
and purest hopes, our best endeavors, our loved and lost." 13 
And in invocation he cried, "Come back to us once more oh 
dream of the old time South I" A year later the theme was 
different: "In the name of the future let the dead past bury its 
dead. The world moves, let us move with it. Let us get out of 
our Egypt." Prophets were not wanting, and "Should our path 
be blocked by the sea, the master will divide it. Should our lips 
grow parched with famine the rock will give forth water, the 
desert manna." The South must prepare for prosperity. "It will 
come by the stream where the factory moves. It will come 
through the streets busy with hurrying feet." That was about as 
near as Tom Watson ever came to being seduced by the heady 
romanticism of the Southern middle class — and that was pretty 
near, indeed, for the future leader of the revolt against it. At the 

13 MS. Journal 2, p. 296. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

same time he could not stomach the popular nationalism of 
"some Southern newspapers and politicians who say they are 
patriotic enough to support this Tariff because it builds up the 
interests of the Whole nation; because it fosters American 
manufactories. If this be patriotism, I am no Patriot." 14 

Patriots of the required stripe were not wanting, however. In 
1886 a gubernatorial candidate was required. Henry Grady, 
with a magician's finesse, resurrected General John B. Gordon 
in New York (and somewhat out at the elbows), put him in a 
new suit, and presented him as the people's savior. 15 The stage 
was faultlessly set. Poor old Jefferson Davis, having dedicated a 
Confederate monument in Montgomery two days before, was 
brought to Atlanta with Winnie, his daughter, to unveil a statue 
of Ben Hill. Longstreet appeared in Confederate uniform. The 
rebel yell was lifted, and General Gordon was ushered in — "the 
Hero of Appomattox I" It was as simple as that ... in the 

Since his questionable resignation from the Senate in 1880 
General Gordon had led an adventurous life. There had been 
adventures before; the Southern Publishing Company, with its 
"Southern books that will not slander our people," and the 
Southern Insurance Company, whose "dupes were scattered 
from Baltimore to Texas." 16 Only after 1880, however, did the 
General really strike his stride. After a vertiginous whirl among 
several schemes, in 1883 he resigned the presidency of the 
Georgia Pacific Railroad to give his attention to the Interna- 
tional Railroad and Steamship Company. It was certain to make 
Florida "the great commercial center of the Western World." 
Thousands of pamphlets, bearing a full-page picture of the 
General, were struck off as advertisements. After a noisy splurge 
the enterprise suddenly collapsed; the property was attached, 
and the General was off to greener pastures. 17 Meanwhile he 
managed to keep a hand in the convict lease game. A contem- 
porary thought the General was "the living realistic 'Mulberry 

14 MS. Journal 2, pp. 317-331. Speech delivered July 4, 1883. Broadus Mitchell 
writes that "The wish for nationalism and for industrialism on the part of the 
South were necessarily one." The Rise of the Cotton Mills in the South, p. 237. 

15 Information obtained from Raymond B. Nixon, author of Henry W. Grady, 
Spokesman of the New South. (New York, 1943). 

16 R. L. Felton, Memoirs, pp. 484-485; 494-495, 502. 

17 John R. Jones (one of Gordon's engineers) to the editor of the Macon Tele- 
graph, in R. L. Felton, op. cit., pp. 538-540. 


Henry Grains Vision 

Sellers' of America," with sufficient "skin games and south sea 
bubbles" on his record "to furnish material enough for a dozen 
first-class farces." 18 It was not until 1884, only two years before 
his race for governor, that Gordon's complicity in the Gould- 
Huntington scandal was revealed. Even then, following Grady's 
lead, the state papers ignored the revealing letters, and those 
who heard seemed unimpressed. 

Nothing in such a record recommended the General's can- 
didacy to Tom Watson, and it was he who led a victorious fight 
against Gordon in McDuffie County, "one of the most valiant 
and significant in the campaign." It was Watson who made the 
speech in reply to General Gordon when he visited Thomson. 
Gordon's opponent in the race was personally unknown in the 
county, yet "all the enthusiasm, all the winning strength were 
found for him from the ranks of the people of the country." 19 
At the nominating convention Watson cast the vote of his county 
against Gordon; but the majority of votes were cast in the op- 
posite way. The Triumvirate was again in the saddle — both 
seats in the Senate and the governor's chair — and Grady en- 
joyed another triumph. 

The following year President Cleveland visited the Piedmont 
Exposition in Atlanta. While Mrs. Cleveland received at Mrs. 
Grady's home, and the President dined at Governor Gordon's 
and at Senator Colquitt's, throngs of Southerners crowded the 
city to cheer Cleveland. Everywhere talk of the New South was 
poured into the porches of his ears, "and Grady was at his elbow 
to explain the significance of the phrase." It was on the advice 
of Lamar and Garland that "Cleveland distributed patronage 
in the South in such a way as to discourage the Bourbon or un- 
reconstructed element, and bring forward the younger men." 20 
Lamar had first learned of Cleveland's election from Gordon, 
who wired, "Turn the rascals out." 21 

Despite his half-studied detachment in the 'eighties, Watson 
managed to command the continued respect of the politicians 
and his share of the public's attention. In 1888 he was put at the 
head of the electoral ticket of the state. He and his fellow elec- 

18 T. M. Norwood, letter in Augusta Chronicle, Sept. 29, 1890. 

19 Augusta Chronicle, June 10, 1886. 

20 A. Nevins, Grover Cleveland, pp. 3 I 9~323- 

21 Wirt A. Cate, Lucius Q. C. Lamar, p. 403. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

tor from the state at large, John Temple Graves, were men- 
tioned as "the two most prominent young men in the state." 
Their combined weight was 227 pounds, 127 of which belonged 
to Watson. Graves, however, was said to have the edge on per- 
sonal beauty, for though admittedly homely he was said to be a 
"perfect Adonis" when compared to his colleague. Together 
they toured the state, whipping up a torpid enthusiasm for 
Cleveland. Watson emphasized the tariff question. "The success 
I met with was extremely gratifying," he wrote in his Journal. 
"The Savannah trip was an ovation — one of the proudest occa- 
sions of my life." 22 Indeed, the newspapers outdid themselves to 
describe his speech, "its beauty and brilliancy and the marvelous 
impression it produced. ... On every hand was heard, 'A sec- 
ond Aleck Stephens.' 'I thought Stephens was dead.' " 

For an incipient rebel, Watson was singularly orthodox in his 
utterances at this time. His prayer, he said, was "Good Lord, 
protect the people, and keep the south solid." At Warrenton, 
however, he gave solemn pronouncement to a warning that must 
have given pause to machine politicians of the New Departure. 
"There are certain men in Congress and certain influential news- 
papers in the state," he said, "which are advocating principles 
diametrically opposed to the sentiment which prevails almost 
unanimously throughout the south. And if the seeds of dissen- 
sion sown by these parties are not uprooted . . . the result will 
be that the solid south . . . will be disrupted and ruin will fol- 
low to the party." 23 

One who sought confirmation for such dire prophecy on the 
surface of the contemporary scene would be largely disap- 
pointed. On the other hand, one would find abundant evidence — 
on the surface — that the new creed held full sway. Especially 
was this true in the cities, and the would-be cities. The urban 
South was doing its level best to play the sedulous ape to the in- 
dustrial North — succeeding but poorly perhaps, but doing its 
best. Jigsaw gingerbread flourished where charred colonnades 
had fallen. Cast iron fences triumphed over white wooden pick- 
ets; in place of the boxwood an iron stag was planted. Frock 
coats and tails were discarded for smart business suits. In Au- 
gusta it was said that the New South idea "is as much of a craze 

22 MS. Journal 2, p. 407. 

23 Macon Daily Telegraph, Oct. 6, 1888. 


Henry Grady's Vision 

as high collars and lawn tennis." Augusta boasted of being "the 
Lowell of the South." Columbus aspired to be "the Pittsburgh 
of the South." Atlanta was already "the legitimate offspring of 
Chicago." A later writer has caught the attitude in an inimita- 
ble phrase: " 'Yes sir-ree, it's a regular little old metropolis — 
New York of the South we call it, 89,000 people in the last cen- 
sus — and Progress? Gen-tle-men, Progress? Vll say Prog- 
ress!" 2 * So on down the line: "Sandersville is fast assuming 
'big city' proportions. . . . Capitalists are invited to investi- 
gate." "That booming town of Wadley . . ." "Even Odum 
Booms . . ." 25 

To the far corners of the land the ruling genius of the New 
South sped on winged feet. At Dallas Grady told hopeful farm- 
ers that "plenty rides on the springing harvests," and in Boston, 
in the last speech of his life, he told the Bay State Club that as 
soon as the carping critics, "those noisy insects of the hour, have 
perished in the heat that gave them life, and their pestilential 
tongues have ceased, the great clock of this Republic will strike 
the slow-moving, tranquil hours, and the watchman from the 
street will cry, 'all is well with the Republic; all is well!' " 26 

This is what our observer would have found on the surface of 
the contemporary scene. None the less, had he looked below the 
surface, had he left the railroads and the cities, had he talked to 
anyone but Atlanta "boomers" and "sooners," had he listened to 
anything but the din of the New South talk in his ears, he would 
have discovered beneath these tranquilly oiled waters the seeth- 
ing stuff of nascent revolution. Had he met the right men, he 
would have discovered that Grady's carping critics had by no 
means "perished in the heat," and that they were only beginning 
to find their "pestilential tongues." 

The earliest critics of the new order in the South raised their 
heads amid the first fine flush of their enemy's victory. As a con- 
sequence, they were ignored then — as they have been ever since. 
Indeed, they were really very few in number. It is not without 
significance that the first of them, in Georgia, was a Confederate 
colonel. Charles Colcock Jones, the distinguished historian, 

24 John D. Wade, "Old Wine in New Bottles," Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 
XI, pp. 239-252. 
25 Macon Telegraph, April 3, 5, 6, S, and 9, 1890; Augusta Chronicle, 1888-1891. 
26 J. C. Harris, op. cit, pp. 96, 206. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

whom Bancroft called "the Macaulay of the South," was of the 
stripe of Bob Toombs. The Colonel never really laid down his 
arms. It was not until 1887, however, that he published his 
addresses on The Old South. 21 His elaborate rhetoric and eccle- 
siastical tone belong to the man and his day, and were doubtless 
smiled at in the bustling 'eighties : 

In this epoch of commercial methods — of general and increasing poverty 
in the agricultural regions of the South — of absorption by foreign capital 
of favored localities, and of the creation in our midst of gigantic corpora- 
tions intent upon self-aggrandizement, in this era of manifest modification, 
if not actual obliteration of those sentiments and modes of thought and 
action which rendered us a peculiar people — I call you to witness that 
there is a growing tendency to belittle the influences, the ways, the services, 
the lessons, and the characteristics of former years. ... I call you to 
witness that by adulation and fulsome entertainment of itinerant promoters 
and blatant schemers, seeking to inaugurate enterprises which are designed 
to benefit those only who are personally interested in them, the public has 
been sadly duped to its shame and loss. ... I call you to witness that a 
reign of plutocrats — a subjection of men, measures and places to the will 
of millionaires and plethoric syndicates — is antagonistic to the liberty of the 
Republic and subversive of personal freedom. ... I call you to witness 
that the alleged prosperity of this commonwealth, except in limited localities 
is largely a matter of imagination. ... I call you to witness that behind 
this fan-fare of trumpets proclaiming the attractions and growth of the 
New South may too often be detected the deglutition of the harpy and the 
chuckle of the hireling. 28 

The second critic of the early period came of a different 
school. He was an Independent of the Reconstruction era and 
the early 'eighties, Thomas M. Norwood, former Senator from 
Georgia. In 1888 appeared his Plutocracy, or American White 
Slavery, a Politico-Social Novel, a diatribe against the nouveaux 
riches with generous excerpts from Independent hustings. The 
following is a sample : 

Oh, ye generation of hypocrites and robbers! Spin your false theories; 
run your printing presses; buy your scribblers; weave your sophistries; 
juggle with figures; falsify balance sheets; delude your victims; rob labor; 
roll your millions up to billions; but remember, "for all these things," 

27 The Old South: Addresses Delivered before the Confederate Survivors As- 
sociation . . . by His Excellency, Governor John B. Gordon and by Col. Charles C. 
Jones, Jr., LL.D., Augusta, Georgia, 1887. 

28 "The Old South and the New South" (an address delivered April 26, 1889), 
Library of Southern Literature, Vol. VII, p. 2851. 


Henry Grains Vision 

sooner or later, the People "will bring you to judgment!" And may they 
show that mercy they have not received ! 29 

Here are clearly represented two traditions of rebellion : the 
tradition of the Lost Cause — stately, measured, dignified, con- 
scious of righteousness, but fundamentally conscious of defeat, 
of irreparable defeat. Second, the tradition of the game Inde- 
pendent — shrill, vituperative, a bit febrile, conscious of impo- 
tence and frustration. Growing out of the two, organically a part 
of both — relying upon its heritage for dignity, yet also a little 
shrill with vituperation — now appeared a new and third tradi- 
tion, that of the Populist rebellion. But the new rebellion had 
something the two older traditions lacked. It had a tough- 
minded realism, a fact-encrusted hardness that was modern. It 
was not afraid of soiling its sleeves in a catch-as-catch-can tussle, 
and it had a gay, half-joking fighting spirit born of an undaunted 
consciousness of rags and tatters, a consciousness of nothing-to- 
lose and something-to-gain. 

In the late 'eighties Tom Watson was already becoming the 
embodiment of the new Rebellion. Somehow, with Grady still 
at the helm of the Constitution and the other papers following 
pretty much in his wake, his speeches, or the parts of his speeches 
that were in this vein, very seldom got into print, or were toned 
down when they did. So it is that one must turn to his private 
journals where he made fragmentary notes for speeches in order 
to find the earliest manifestations of the new spirit of revolt. 
The following notes were made for a speech delivered in I888. 30 
The speaker, be it noted, was no bearded superannuate address- 
ing moist-eyed Confederates, nor an embittered Independent in- 
dulging in vindictive retrospection. He was a red-headed Popu- 
list — in all but name — with fire in his eye and mutiny in his 
voice, and he was speaking from the stump to a crowd of ragged, 
impoverished farmers with the raw corn liquor of revolt racing 
in their veins : 

"New South" idea. If it means apology, abject submission — sycophancy 
to success — perish the thought, etc. . . . 

29 P. 315. The novel was published in New York. It was later said to have been 
regarded by the Populists of Georgia "something as Looking Backward is by the 
Nationalists." Macon Telegraph, Aug. 26, 1890. Norwood regarded the Alliance 
movement as "the grandest since the declaration of independence or the destruction 
of the Bastille and the overthrow of the Bourbon dynasty." Constitution, Aug. 30, 

80 MS. Journal 2. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Shame to Southern men who go to Northern Banquets & glory in our 
defeat. Instances. 

Unpaternal. Parricidal. . . . 

Mr. Grady in his great Dallas Speech thinks that "Plenty rides on the 
springing harvests!" It rides on Grady's springing imagination. Where is 
this prosperity? Comment on actual conditions of Farming class. 

It seems that Grady was fond of talking about his "dream 
farm." He would sometimes retire to his office with instructions 
to tell all callers that he had "gone to his farm." "The farm was 
a dream," his biographer Joel Chandler Harris explains, "but 
he no doubt got more enjoyment and profit out of it than a great 
many prosy people get out of the farms that are real." 31 That 
was just about what the wool-hat boys calculated. Anyway, it 
was little enjoyment and no profit at all they got out of real 
farms. Watson could not resist pointing a moral. 

It takes these city fellows to draw ideal pictures of Farm life — pictures 
which are no more true to real life than a Fashion Plate is to an actual man 
or woman. ... 

In Grady's farm life there are no poor cows. They are all fat! Their 
bells tinkle musically in clover scented meadows & all you've got to do is 
hold a pan under the udder & you catch it full of golden butter. 

In real life we find the poor old Brindle cow with wolves in her back 
& "hollow horn" on her head & she always wants to back up where the 
wind won't play a tune on her ribs & when you milk her you get the 
genuine "blue milk". . . . 

In Grady's farm life — lands all "Rich — richer — richest." Crops "Good, 
better, best." Snowy cotton, rustling corn etc. 

In reality — barren wastes — Gullied slopes — ruined lowlands, Barn lean- 
ing up against crib, Gin house on crutches. Diving down in grass for cot- 
ton. . . . Billy goat would have to labor 12 hrs a day for his living. 

Grady's speech an indictment against us. 

He only comments on our Sins ! Nothing said of those who sin against us. 

Plead guilty — Admit errors of one crop system — of carelessness — In- 
dolence. . . . 

But what of the Trespasses against us? 

Banking Laws. Brazil helping her farmers with $6,000,000. Contrast. 

We denied access to currency which is life blood of enterprise— cite as 
example Bank of Augusta — Lavish loan to Georgetown & Lane R. R. 

Yet finest farm in Georgia couldn't have got any of that money which 
was poured into a little hippitehop R R commencing in a cabbage patch 
& ending in a cow pen — Results. 

Tariff laws— 8ij4% on us. 

31 J. C. Harris, op. cit., pp. 19-20. 


Henry Grades Vision 

Diversified crops will help — not cure. 

These very evils — Bankruptcy laws & Tariff rates are mainly the cause 
of these lesser evils of which Mr. Grady speaks. . . . 

Carelessness & Indolence largely the consequence of repeated failure, 
constant discouragement — Apathy stealing over energies of the people ! 

Organization needed — 

Party for Pompey — Party for Caesar — No Party for Rome. 

Henry Grady did not print that speech on the front page — as 
he had the speech of his farmer disciple in 1883. He did not 
print it at all, in fact. Nor did he print the following speech that 
Watson made a year later : 32 

And yet the city orators say that the great clock of the Republic will 
keep time as usual & that the Watchman upon the Tower will sing out 
"All's Well with the Republic, All's Well." 

There's no foretelling what the Watchman may say — I would first 
wish to know who the Watchman is — if he is floating with the tide which 
carries prosperity to certain classes at the expense of others — If he is the 
known champion of Rail Road kings, & R. R. combinations. If he is cheek 
by jowl with the heretofore dominant influences which have sought to 
fasten upon us forever the curse of High Tariff, & has prostituted his paper 
& his talents. . . . 

Then indeed such a watchman may cry out "All's well." 

Rather, O my countrymen, listen to those who tell you of the danger 
which threatens — who warn you to put on your armor, & man the 
walls . . . 

32 MS. Journal 2, p. 409. 



The Rebellion of the Farmers 

The Southern farmer had listened apathetically to 
preachments on diversified crops, scientific method, and 
improvements from Grady and others of his sincere well-wishers 
ever since the War. He grudgingly acknowledged the pertinence 
of their advice, but he observed that Southern agriculture con- 
tinued to sink lower and lower in a morass of despair. Vaguely, 
but with mounting conviction, the farmer realized that these 
preachments did not touch the heart of his trouble. Indeed, an 
eighteenth-century observer, writing of the plight of the metayer 
under the old regime in France, came nearer the truth when he 
said, "It is as impossible for one of these wretches to be a good 
farmer as it is for a galley convict to be a good admiral." * 

The Southern farmer had lost his independence, his industrial 
autonomy. In the grip of the lien system — which more univer- 
sally characterized the post-bellum economy than ever slavery 
described the ante-bellum system — the farmer, former masters, 
the majority of them, along with former slaves and yeomen, had 
been reduced to a state of peonage to the town merchant. The 
lien system converted the Southern economy into a vast pawn 
shop. Its evil effects did not end when the farmer signed away 
his future crop, for that act merely started a vicious circle of 
compounded evils. It meant that until he paid the last dollar of 
his debt, and his crop was often found inadequate for that, he 
was dependent for his every purchase, clothing, food, imple- 
ments, fertilizer, everything, upon his creditor merchant, who 
charged him from twenty to fifty per cent more than the cash 
price and dictated the amount and quality of the purchase. 

1 Leo Gershoy, The French Revolution and Napoleon, p. 42. 


The Rebellion of the Farmers 

Moreover, the merchant bound his Hen thrall to the one-crop 
cotton system "by a law as inexorable as any ever promulgated 
by the most despotic earthly government" in order to insure his 
investment by a cash crop, and at the same time to increase the 
farmer's dependence upon him for his exorbitantly priced food- 
stuffs. By submitting to the one-crop system (and there was no 
choice) the farmer further depleted his lands and became more 
dependent upon the merchant's high-priced fertilizer and food, 
and further increased the surplus and decreased the price of the 
very product upon which he staked all. At the same time he 
signed away his right to buy in the cheapest market, the farmer 
pledged himself to sell in the lowest market. By the very nature 
of the system he was made an easy victim of every brand of chi- 
canery and false dealing known to business, for the power was 
all on one side, and mercy and probity are virtues rarely com- 
pounded with absolute power. Such was the strait-jacket in which 
from eighty to ninety per cent of the cotton growers, proprietors 
and tenants, black and white, normally found themselves. 2 

Even "Pig-Iron" Kelley, wearing the rosy glasses of the New 
South, admitted that "apart from the New South," that is, away 
from the cities and railroads, "the same wretched poverty pre- 
vails among the Southern people now, twenty-two years after the 
close of the war." 3 The situation was even worse, for hope and 
effort and spirit had been all but exhausted by repeated failure. 
Finding himself hopelessly entangled, the farmer had almost 
ceased to struggle. His land declined in value and washed away, 
fences disappeared, buildings became propped ruins, machinery 
fell to pieces. The mortgage was foreclosed, and he moved to 
a poorer farm, to slide further down the scale of living to the 
margin of subsistence. 

A Southerner of the period, whose sympathy was with the 
farmer, described the life around him: "Each year the plunge 
into debt is deeper; each year the burden is heavier. The strug- 
gle is woe-begone. Cares are many, smiles are few, and the com- 

2 M. B. Hammond, The Cotton Industry, pp. 122-123, 145-154, 195; R. P. 
Brooks, The Agrarian Revolution in Georgia, pp. 32-36; A. M. Arnett, Populist 
Movement in Georgia, pp. 49-59; J. D. Hicks, The Populist Revolt, pp. 40-49; 
C. H. Otken, The Ills of the South, Chapters II and III. Hallie Farmer, "Economic 
Background of Southern Populism," South Atlantic Quarterly (Jan., 1930), pp. 
406-427; G. K. Holmes, "The Peons of the South," Annals of the American Acad- 
emy of Political and Social Sciences, Vol. IV (Sept., 1893), PP» 265-274. 

8 W. D. Kelley, The Old South and the New, p. 121. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

forts of life are scantier. . . . Anxious days, sleepless nights, 
deep wrinkles, gray hairs, wan faces, cheerless old age, and per- 
haps abject poverty make up in part the melancholy story. . . . 
Independence ! It is gone. Humiliation and dependence bow the 
head of the proud spirit." 4 

This was a drama that Tom Watson had seen acted out to the 
bitter end by his own family — from John's bepillared mansion 
to the "miserable shanty" on the swamp near Augusta. In it he 
had had some lines to speak himself, playing the part of a plow 
boy in Screven County — his brother the part of a share-cropper 
under a planter's lash in McDuffie. There was no part of the 
story he did not know, and there was no part he would not re- 
late at the hustings, on the stump, in formal debate or address. 
His opponents found something unanswerable about the story. 

You were born in plenty and spent your childhood in plenty. I had it 
too. Then you lost your houses. The sheriff's red flag was planted at your 
front gate. You and yours took down the family pictures from the wall, 
picked some favorite flowers from the grave yard and took your weary 
march out into a strange, cold world. You walked the roads asking for 
work. I have done it too. 5 

He knew the proprietor's story and he knew the tenant's : 

Here is a tenant — I do not know, or care, whether he is white or black, 
I know his story. He starts in and pays $25 for a mule, 1,000 pounds of 
cotton for rent, and two bales for supplies. By the time he pays for that 
mule, and the store account, and the guano, he has not enough money left 
to buy a bottle of laudanum, and not enough cotton to stuff his old lady's 

A voice — "How did you find that out?" 

I've been through the mill. I have been between the plow handles as 
well as in office. . . . 

The land gets poorer year by year and the landlord has no money to 
improve it — the tenant has no money to improve it. Thousands of your 
Georgia homes are going to decay. I have witnessed it, and it makes my 
heart ache with sadness. It is a bad thing for the landlord in another 
respect. He cannot command labor. Why? Because by the time he pulls 
out a pencil to write an order the laborer is mad. Why? He knows what 
an order to the store means. He knows perfectly well that he cannot get 
goods as cheap as for cash . . . 6 

Watson knew that the lien system merely provided the shack- 
les of the farmer's economic slavery. It was only the machinery 

4 C. H. Otken, The Ills of the South, pp. 21-22. 

5 T. E. W. in The Cotton Plant (Orangeburg, S.C.), Oct. 31, 1891. 

* People's Party Paper, Oct. 14, 1892. 


The 'Rebellion of the Farmers 

of exploitation. How was it that cotton had fallen from a dollar 
a pound at the close of the War to an average of twenty cents in 
the 'seventies, nine cents in the 'eighties, and seven cents in the 
'nineties — a level below the cost of production — and had stayed 
there? He was capable of some shrewd guesses as to what forces 
placed his class in bondage and kept it bound to their own profit. 
There were the banks, who refused to lend money on the best 
farm in the state ; Wall Street speculators, who gambled on his 
crop futures; the railroad owners, who evaded taxes, bought 
legislatures, and overcharged him with discriminatory rates ; the 
manufacturers, who taxed him with a high tariff ; the trusts, that 
fleeced him with high prices; the middleman, who stole his 
profit; the city folk generally, with their superior airs, their tax- 
dodging ways, and their incomprehensible patter about the New 
South; the government itself, with its iniquitous currency laws 
and its class favoritism ; and finally his own beloved Democratic 
party of so many fond associations — but now the property, body 
and soul, of an enemy class. And yet, 

We are told in the splendid phraseology of silver-tongued orators from 
the city that our country is absolutely smothered under the plenteous flow 
of milk and honey of another Canaan. The city of Atlanta [is] especially 
noted for that kind of tom-foolery. Listening to the inspired clap-trap of 
some of its Politicians & Editors one would suppose that throughout the 
South there was no discomfort in the Present & no apprehension for the 
future. 7 

Men who do not know the difference between a may pop and a rabbit 
hunt find a poem in every boll of cotton, a romance in every ear of corn. 
. . . And yet our newspapers are absolutely crowded with advertisements 
of sheriffs' sales, and in the county of Richmond alone I noticed from the 
Chronicle that there were some two hundred [farms] for sale on the first 
Tuesday of November. . . . There is no romance in having landed prop- 
erty excluded from the banks, and in having twenty-five per cent upon our 
money; no romance in being fleeced by a fifty per cent tariff; no romance 
in seeing other classes and other properties exempted from taxation, and 
realizing fabulous dividends upon their investments, when the lands are 
taxed to their uttermost dollar and farming has paid no dividend since the 
war. 8 

Another thing Watson understood, a poignant, personal 
thing, was that essentially the same men or their sons worked 
the same land now as had worked it in i860. He had only to 
look about him and recall his childhood to see what a difference 

7 MS. notes for a speech, Nov. 7, 1889, Watson MSS. 

8 Clipping, MS. Journal 2, pp. 433-441. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

those thirty years had worked. Then the manners, customs, 
standards, ideas, and ideals of society were fixed by the cotton 
farmer. His ideas and interests were reflected in pulpit, press, 
courtroom, legislative halls, classroom — even the cities took 
their tone from the farm. Never did a class more completely 
dominate a society than then. 

And now — the farmer was ignored even by his own party. 
Wealth, power, and prestige no longer attached to land but to 
stocks and bonds, banks and factories. Now it was the shibboleths 
of the city capitalists that the farmer read in every newspaper, 
heard from every preacher, legislator, and politician. The 
former lord of a thousand acres and most honored squire in his 
county could not now ride to town on the back of his mule for a 
sack of meal without running the risk of being patronized by any 
urbanite from a banker to a bootblack. The mass of small farm- 
ers, who once shared the planter's prestige, had become peons. 9 
Watson declared: 

The contrast between the status of the southern farmer before the war 
and at the present time is indeed discouraging. Then their [sic] influence 
was felt in every department of business — in commerce, in the legislative 
halls, in Congress. But now, while every other avocation has its advocates 
and champions in positions of power and importance, the farmer is practi- 
cally unrepresented. The entire drift of legislation has been, and is yet, 
continuously and persistently against him. 10 

Our great trouble has been the carelessness and easy good nature with 
which we have allowed others to profit by our toils and allowed the legis- 
lation of this land to drift into the infamies of the tariff and the banking 
laws, and the chartered exemptions of special enterprises from the burden 
of the government which protects them. 11 

If his analysis was correct, an "apathy" had stolen over the 
energies of his people, "largely the consequence of repeated fail- 
ure, constant discouragement." This apathy, and not "careless- 
ness and indolence," accounted for the decay Grady described. 
His people had lost spirit, fight. And yet he felt that these same 
people came of a richer tradition of rebellion than any in the 
land. Somehow that deep-lying vein of rebellion must be tapped, 
must be made to yield its dark riches in this time of need. It was 

9 B. B. Kendrick, "Agrarian Discontent in the South: 1880-1900," Annual Report 
of the American Historical Association, 1920, pp. 267-372. 

10 Constitution, Sept. 14, 1888. 

11 Clipping, MS. Journal 2, pp. 433-441. 


The 'Rebellion of the Farmers 

with some such reflections as these, certainly with no pipe-dream 
delusions of restoring a feudal slavocracy, that he invoked the 
"dream of the old-time South" — attributing to the old regime, 
as he did so, certain virtues that existed only in his imagination : 

Fill our souls with thy beauty, our hearts with thy inspiration, till every 
man of us shall deeply resolve that our laws shall be so framed, our Govern- 
ment so administered that every citizen however rich shall bear an equal 
share of its burdens & every laborer however poor, an equal share of its 
blessings. . . . 

Let there come once more to Southern heart and Southern brain the 
Resolve — waste places built up. 

In the rude shock of civil war that dream perished. 

Like victims of some horrid nightmare, we have moved ever since — 
powerless — oppressed — shackled — u 

At least there would appear to exist more than a tenuous con- 
nection between these musings and the following appeal made 
from the stump in the thick of the fight : 

To you who grounded your muskets twenty-five years ago I make my 
appeal. The fight is upon you — not bloody as then — but as bitter; not with 
men who come to free your slaves, but who come to make slaves of you. 
And to your sons also I call: and I would that the common spirit might 
thrill every breast throughout this sunny land, till from every cotton field, 
every hamlet, every village, every city, might come the shout of defiance 
to these Rob Roys of commerce and to the robber tariff, from whose foul 
womb they sprang. 13 

The fact was that Watson's call to arms fell upon the ears of 
men who were already mobilizing — enlisting under the banner 
of the Farmers' Alliance. The origin of the Alliance, unlike that 
of the Grange, had been spontaneous and diffuse: in a frontier 
county of Texas, in a log cabin schoolhouse in backwoods Ar- 
kansas, in a rural parish of Louisiana. 14 Finding their purposes 
the same, these separate societies consolidated under a single 
name, and, in one of the most amazing feats of organization in 
American history, attained a membership of three millions in the 
South alone by 1890. In March, 1887, two organizers from 
Texas entered the virgin territory of Georgia, touched a match 
to the tinder of discontent, and almost immediately the state was 

12 Notes for a speech, Watson MSS. 

13 Augusta Chronicle, Sept. 14, 1888. Italics mine. 

14 W. S. Morgan, History of the Wheel and Alliance, pp. 62, 281; A. M. Arnett, 
op. ciU, pp. 76-77 ; J. D. Hicks, op. ciU, Chap. IV. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

aflame. Hundreds of "lodges" sprang into existence, each with 
its "lecturer"; organizers rode all over the state; dozens of 
papers and journals were founded, or changed their tone and 
adopted the new slogans; great quantities of reform literature 
were distributed. In less than three years 134 out of 137 coun- 
ties in the state sent delegates to the state convention ; well over 
2,000 lodges were established with a membership of more than 
ioo,ooo. 15 

The thing looked innocuous enough at first. Henry Grady 
gave it his blessings, and many machine politicians were found 
in surprisingly harmonious accord with Alliance principles. 
It would doubtless have remained innocuous had some of its 
most prominent leaders had their way. In 1877 C. W. Macune 
wrote : "Now to sum up : The Alliance is a strictly white man's 
non-political, secret business association." 16 But within two 
years' time not one of these adjectives could be applied to the 
association qualified by the adverb "strictly." Signs of change 
were not long in appearing. 

The farmers were encouraged by a taste of success in their 
cooperative schemes. The Georgia exchange, one of the most 
successful, saved its patrons over $200,000 in fertilizers alone in 
one year. Cooperatives of many sorts, gins, stores, warehouses, 
sprang up all over the South. One farmer answered the charge 
of "socialism" with "a few blood-curdling facts" about the sav- 
ings on guano, and taunted, "It is a 'socialistic' order and thou- 
sands of the best farmers in this and thirteen other states are its 
'bomb-throwers.' " 17 The Negro farmer was soon recognized as 
too costly a sacrifice to "white supremacy" and was organized in 
a parallel Alliance of one and a quarter millions in the South. 
Likewise, the Alliancemen were quick to mark out their enemies : 
excluded from membership were bank cashiers, railroad officials, 
real estate agents, cotton buyers and sellers, practicing lawyers, 
and anyone "who buys or sells for gain." M 

The conflict between town and country was manifest in many 

15 A. W. Ivey, chapter on Georgia in Hand Book and History of the National 
Farmers' Alliance and Industrial Union, pp. 47-49 ; W. S. Morgan, op, cit., p. 295 ; 
C. W. Macune, quoted in Progressive Farmer, Sept. 8, 1887; A. M. Arnett, op. cit., 
p. 100; J. D. Hicks, op. cit., Chap. IV. 

"^Progressive Farmer, Sept. 8, 1887. 

17 Letter in Progressive Farmer, April 17, 1888. 

18 R. L. Felton, op. cit., p. 115. 


The 'Rebellion of the Farmers 

ways. The Arkansas Wheel even prohibited the organization of 
Wheels u within the limits of incorporated towns." 19 The official 
organ of the Georgia Alliance observed that "it is a well known 
fact that in many of the Georgia towns there has been manifest 
secret, but bitter and most vindictive animosity against the Alli- 
ance movement, and every scheme possible has been resorted to 
that would bring it into contempt or ridicule. . . . Now, so 
long as this spirit of hatred is manifested against this organi- 
zation of farmers, is it but natural and admirable for them to 
show a spirit of resentment?" 20 

As for the "non-political' ' aspect of the Alliance, as early as 
February, 1888, one of its national leaders, a Southerner, was 
writing, "We are not to be intimidated or frightened by the cry 
that 'the farmers are going into polities'. . . . Who in all this 
broad land has a better right 'to go into politics' than he who 
clothes and feeds the world?" a 

This movement, even in its incipient stages, can not be fully 
described or understood in terms of platforms and statistics. 
There was too much emotion in it for that, and at the source 
of that great river of emotion lay something more than crop 
failures and windy politicians. Two penetrating students of the 
movement have said that "One must go back to Medieval Eu- 
rope, on the eve of the First Crusade, for an emotional situation 
comparable . . ." 22 This emotional-religious element in the 
movement together with the farmers' habit of dramatizing their 
enemies in picturesque and pungent epithet — the silver "con- 
spiracy," the railroad "tyrants," "the grasp of the gigantic, cold- 
blooded money trust" — has been the subject of much rarefied 
merriment among superior scholarly circles. During the period, 
even Professor Turner apologized for the farmers' "lax finan- 
cial integrity" with the remark that "A primitive society can 
hardly be expected to show the intelligent appreciation of the 
complexity of business interests in a developed society." 23 

The farmers cared no more for the opinions of the captains of 
scholarship than for those of the captains of industry, and they 
knew more about the "complexity of business interests" than 

19 W. S. Morgan, op. cit., p. 83. 

20 Clipping from Southern Alliance Farmer, Watson Scrapbooks. 

21 L. L. Polk, in Progressive Farmer, Feb. 16, 1888. 

22 Hacker and Kendrick, The United States since 1865, P- 301. 

23 Frederick J. Turner, The Frontier in American History, p. 32. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

some cared to admit. The movement was rural in origin and 
character, and it was but natural that the powerful feelings it 
awakened should find expression in religious moods and forms. 
Thus, the president of the Alliance in Watson's county, himself 
a preacher, said that "the Alliance was born in heaven" ; another 
member thought "the Alliance next in importance to the church 
of the living God"; while Senator Peffer believed that "the 
Alliance is in a great measure taking the place of churches." The 
first state convention of the Populists in Georgia was opened 
with "the grand old long meter doxology," and Western meet- 
ings were "conducted on the same principle as oldtime religious 
revival meetings." Of the Populist platform, Watson once 
wrote: "It is sacred to us because it gives hope to our despair; 
gives expression to our troubles; gives voice to our wants. Our 
wives have knelt and prayed for it. Our children have learned 
to love it. Not a church in all the land, where God's blessing 
has not been invoked upon it." 

Still more danger to the business man's regime, the New 
South order, lay in the fact that the farmer was beginning to 
think as well as to throb. A hostile observer commented that 
"The Alliance came into the State a masterful pedagogue — the 
Alpha and Omega of all politics, State and National." 24 
Thumbed copies of Donnelly's Caesar's Column, Bellamy's 
Looking Backward, and numberless pamphlets, tracts, and books 
were circulated from hand to hand. 26 Those who did not read 
them heard them quoted by those who had. Country school 
houses and churches rang with the speeches of farmers who had 
never debated or read or thought before. Like water from a 
duck's back the hoary platitudes of professional politicians 
rolled from heads wrapped in forbidden notions of government 
ownership and cooperatives. 

Of this bracing intellectual ferment Tom Watson drank 
thirstily and responded to it as to an intoxicant. "A new era has 
dawned in Georgia politics," he announced. "The old order of 
things is passing away. The masses are beginning to arouse 
themselves, reading for themselves, thinking for themselves. 
The great currents of thought quicken new impulses. At the bar 

24 Washington Post, Aug. 3, 1892. 

25 Watson's personal library, owned by Judge Uly O. Thompson, Miami, Florida, 
contains many such works. 


The 'Rebellion of the Farmers 

of public opinion the people are pressing their demands and in- 
sisting that they be heard." 26 

Thirty years later, at the age of sixty, as his mind reverted to 
those stirring days of '89, he wrote: 

What radiant visions lured us toward the future! What noble deeds we 
would achieve ! What fame and influence would be our reward ! 

Were conditions wrong? We would right them. Were laws bad? We 
would make them good. Were the weak oppressed? We would crush the 
oppressors. Were righteous principles enchained, like captive maidens in 
the olden castles of Feudal lands and lords ? We would put on the bright 
armor of chivalry, ride forth to the rescue and smite the dungeon-door with 
the battle-axe of Lionheart. 27 

"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive" — in 1889, as in 1789, as 
in the salad days of any revolution — and to be young, to be 
thirty-three, to be a student of the French Revolution, was, one 
may surmise, "very heaven." 

Watson himself was never a member of the Alliance. He 
might have qualified for membership when he ceased active law 
practice, but he preferred not to. "I never did enter any council 
of theirs," he said. "I did not lead the Alliance; I followed the 
Alliance, and I am proud that I did follow it." 28 

But Watson followed with works as well as with faith, and it 
was such "following" as he did and such works as he performed 
that constituted real leadership in the Alliance. There was the 
case of the fight against the jute-bagging trust. The official or- 
gan of the State Alliance went so far as to state that the farmers' 
"reason for banding together is fully explained in the recent 
bagging trust." A typical reason rather than the reason was 
probably meant. Ben Terrell, national lecturer from Texas, after 
visiting 105 Georgia counties, commented upon the fight on the 
trust that he had "never seen anything like it." He attributed 
the phenomenal growth of the Alliance to the success of this 

In mid-summer, 1888, it was revealed that a trust had been 
formed in St. Louis to control the price of jute-bagging. Week 
after week the price was pushed up and up until it was increased 
more than a hundred per cent. Owing to the Liverpool rules in 

26 Atlanta Journal, Aug. 31, 1889. 

27 T. E. W., Political and Economic Handbook, p. 453. 

28 MS. of speech delivered in Thomson, Nov. 19, 1904, Watson MSS. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

buying, the bagging was an absolute loss to the farmer, and this 
doubling of the burden would mean some $2,000,000 loss to the 
cotton producers. This blow on top of a bad season and low 
prices was a challenge to fight. Watson pictures the origin of 
the fight against the trust as spontaneous : a farmer came to his 
office asking him to write a call for a mass meeting. This done, 
handbills were printed, and on September 10, 1888, some 800 
farmers met in Thomson. Watson himself launched the crusade 
in a widely copied speech, said to have been "equal to any that 
ever fell from the lips of Toombs or Stephens." *® 

It was Watson's wish "to make this jute bagging a symbol of 
the wrong they put upon us" : 

Well might outsiders say to the "jute combine," as every Monday 
morning they raise the price on the Southern farmer, "Hit him again, 
he's got no friends!" What shall we do? Grin and endure it? I say no! 
. . . The Southern man who can contemplate this outrage and not get mad 
hasn't got enough blood to fatten a mosquito. This, as well as all other 
combinations of the kind, is clearly illegal, and ought to be promptly and 
effectually crushed by Congress. But we know that it is folly to expect 
aid from that direction. ... It is useless to ask Congress to help us, just 
as it was folly for our forefathers to ask for relief from the tea tax ; and 
as they revolted ... so should we. . . . The Standard of Revolt is up. 
Let us keep it up and speed it on. 80 

The plan was to boycott jute and use cotton and pinestraw 
substitutes. Watson urged the farmers to "Listen to no man who 
croaks, 'Too late, we must submit F " Such counselors were plen- 
tiful. One paper thought, "It seems impossible to defeat the 
trust." Another denounced Watson's effort because it would 
make the farmers "fail to meet their obligations with the mer- 
chants" who "carried" them. Watson promptly answered each 
critic with furious onslaughts. His battle cry was taken up all 
over the state, and in spite of a multitude of handicaps the farm- 
ers won a victory over the trust. 81 

The fight was renewed the following year with more thor- 
ough organization and preparation. As the result of an invitation 
issued by the president of the Georgia State Alliance to a confer- 
ence on the bagging-trust fight, Macune, the national president, 

20 T. E. W., Political and Economic Handbook, p. 453 ; handbill in Watson MSS., 
Chapel Hill; clippings, Watson Scrapbooks. 

80 Printed in Augusta Chronicle, Sept 14, 1888; also in the Columbia Sentinel, 
Sept. 20, 1888, and widely in the rest of the Georgia papers. 

31 Constitution, Aug. 22, 1889; clippings, Watson Scrapbooks. 


The Rebellion of the Farmers 

issued an official call for a meeting in Birmingham "To decide 
upon the necessity of all the States' cooperating in this conflict 
with the jute bagging trust." 82 No lack of fervor was shown in 
the crusade. L. L. Polk told of talking at the Georgia Alliance 
convention at Macon to "a regular 'Georgia Cracker,' " dressed 
out in cotton bagging, who told him that "Three hundred and 
sixty members in his county have uniform suits of it and they 
are literally the cotton bagging brigade." On Alliance day at the 
Piedmont Exposition in Atlanta, in the presence of 20,000 Alli- 
ance delegates from South Atlantic states, a double wedding was 
performed, in which "both brides and both grooms were attired 
in cotton bagging costumes." That year the jute trust suffered 
an admitted defeat and came to terms. 

Watson's friends held that "he called the first meeting on the 
jute bagging question and was the first public man in the State 
to address the people and arouse their indignation and to advise 
the Boycott." His own claim that he "led the fight in Georgia" 
met with wide acceptance. 33 

The results of the victory over the jute trust, except in im- 
mediate economic terms, are difficult to estimate. A Populist 
novel written in Georgia expressed the view that the fight had 
taught Populists "the needed lesson that by uniting they were 
sufficiently powerful to overthrow all monopolies and bid de- 
fiance to every form of imposition." It had given them "confi- 
dence in themselves and in each other, and one of the first fruits 
of this great self-confidence showed itself in a disposition to take 
a more active part in political affairs and to insist upon nominat- 
ing men from among themselves for all offices." 84 

Watson echoed that judgment: "New wine of reform is not to 
be put into old bottles of ring politicians. If nothing else was 
done by the jute fight I would hail it with delight as the resur- 
rection trump which aroused the dead hopes and courage of the 
Southern people, and brought forth that splendid purpose to 
protest against wrong and bring to the future equality and 
right." 35 

32 Progressive farmer, May 7, 1889, and June 4, for report on meeting. 

33 Charleston News and Courier, May 19, 1890; McDuffie Journal, Aug. 16, 1889; 
T. E. W., Life and Speeches, p. 13 ; clippings, Watson Scrapbooks. 

34 Charles C. Post, Congressman Svoanson, pp. 333-335. 

35 Atlanta Journal, Aug. 31, 1889; same idea in the Atlanta Journal, July 31, 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

In December, 1889, two hundred delegates from the South- 
ern Alliance and seventy-five delegates from the Northern Alli- 
ance met in separate sessions in St. Louis, both with the hope 
of effecting a consolidation of the two orders. The Southern 
Alliance was much larger than the Northern Alliance; it had 
more vigorous, effective, and prominent leaders; it was more 
centralized and better organized. And first and last it was more 
radical. 36 The history of the Alliance officially adopted at St. 
Louis had as part of its title The Impending Revolution. It was 
the Arkansas author of this work who wrote, u The spirit of re- 
bellion against the many evils is growing stronger. . . . Thou- 
sands of men who have already lost all hope of a peaceable solu- 
tion of the great question of human rights are calmly waiting 
the issue." 87 Whenever this note of revolution — bloodless or 
otherwise — was sounded in the movement — and that was not 
infrequently — it usually came out of the South. Throughout the 
history of the movement a large element among the Western 
farmers was afraid of this tendency of their Southern allies. The 
Northerners were generally more content with gradual reform. 
A hostile Kansas editor warning the G. A. R. of the preponder- 
ance of the South exhibited more historical perspicacity than he 
knew when he branded the whole Alliance movement a "rebel 

Also present at St. Louis were delegates from the Knights of 
Labor, the Colored Alliance, and the Farmers' Mutual Benefit 
Association. For various reasons, and despite numerous conces- 
sions on the part of the Southern order, the Northern and South- 
ern alliances were unable to consolidate. The state alliances of 
Kansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota, however, seceded 
from the Northern Alliance and joined the Southern Alliance 
under the name, Farmers' Alliance and Industrial Union. The 
new Southern Alliance then united upon one platform with the 
Knights of Labor, and to emphasize its friendliness to labor, 
amended its constitution so as to permit mechanics to join the 

The platform agreed upon by labor and the Southern farmer, 
and nearly duplicated by the Northern Alliance, demanded the 

30 J. D. Hicks, op. cit., pp. 112-127; W. S. Morgan, op. cit, passim; Handbook of 
the Farmers' Alliance and Industrial Union, passim. 
37 W. S. Morgan, op. cit., p. 769. 


The Rebellion of the Farmers 

abolition of national banks, the prevention of speculation in fu- 
tures of all agricultural and mechanical products, the free and 
unlimited coinage of silver, reclamation of excessive lands 
granted or sold to corporations or aliens; decrease of the tax 
burden on the masses, fractional paper currency, and govern- 
ment ownership and operation of means of transportation and 
communication. 88 Col. L. L. Polk of North Carolina was elected 
president by the St. Louis meeting, and Southern leaders pretty 
much commanded the national movement all along the line. 39 

When the Georgia Alliance delegates returned from St. Louis, 
a perceptible sigh of relief went up from the ranks of the New 
South. The scare of a third party had been laid. It seemed that 
the farmers had declared war only to lay down their arms. 
"Everything is serene in Georgia," reported the Constitution, a 
little too brightly, "and yet the alliance men of the state were 
represented by a number of very prominent men. There is no 
sign of political revolt here. ... In the south, whatever may 
be the condition of affairs, the farmers and the alliance men are 
compelled by circumstances to carry out their views and reforms 
through the democratic party. There are some things more im- 
portant than reforms that merely affect the pocket." 40 Here in 
this appeal to "white supremacy" was raised the New South's 
perennial answer to a third party threat. 

The Constitution took pleasure in quoting the New York 
Herald to the effect that "Northern capital is flowing into the 
southern states by the millions ... It is not extravagant, but 
the simplest truth to say that the south is just now the most 
prosperous or the most rapidly and richly developing part of the 
union." 41 From that observation the editor four days later drew 
a moral: 

Any legislation that would tend to unsettle things and check southern 
progress is viewed with unfriendly eyes in Northern commercial centers. 

After all, business is the biggest thing in this country. When the princes 
of commerce and industry say to the politicians that they must let dangerous 
experiments alone they will be heard and obeyed. . . . 

38 J. D. Hicks, op. cit., pp. 1 19-125; A. M. Arnett, op. cit., pp. 82-83. 

39 Progressive Farmer, Dec. 10, 1889. 

40 Constitution, Jan. 13, 1890. 

41 Ibid., Jan. 4, 1890. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Politicians may talk, but business men will act, control and dominate the 
destinies of this common-sense country . . . 

From the urban-industrial South, the New South of all the 
eleven states of the former Confederacy, came similar news and 
similar deductions. During the first quarter of 1890 it seems 
that "The Tradesman's reports from all sections of the South- 
ern states indicate the planting of more industries in the South 
at present than at any previous time in its history." ** Georgia 
headed the list. 

With such sugar-plum visions dancing in his head, and with 
a certain willful blindness toward a black horizon, the editor 
wrote : 

The CONSTITUTION spreads this morning the blessed gospel of 

Its sails are bellying with the rising winds of trade. Its expanded columns 
carry the news of cheerful and hopeful enterprise. On every side things 
move well. In politics, in business, the outlook is brightening. 

That editorial was written in April, 1890. 

42 Macon Telegraph, March 30, 1890. 



The Victory of i8go 

"Shall the people accept orders from Congress?" 

"Who shall rule, the politicians, or the people?" 

"Shall we allow these, our servants, to dictate to us, their masters?" 

"We are sovereigns of this land and we come to our representatives and 
not to our lords." 

"Shall the agent be allowed to grow too insolent to obey the instructions 
of his principal?" 

"When your congressmen come home and begin their preconcerted at- 
tack on your platform, ask them what better plan they have advocated dur- 
ing all these years that they have been enjoying fat salaries." 1 

THESE AND SIMILAR CHALLENGES peppered the columns of 
the Georgia Alliance papers ; they were flung in the faces 
of Congressional committees; they glared from the letters of 
constituents. It was in such a mood that the Alliance in 1890 
determined to apply its "yardstick," the St. Louis platform. All 
candidates must "stand up and be measured." Woe to any office 
holder, of whatever military rank or valor, who confessed 
doubts as to the subtreasury plan, abolition of the national 
banks, or government ownership of the means of transportation 
and communication. 

Unlike their Western brethren, who were already resorting 
to independent political organizations, the Southern Alliance- 
men believed themselves powerful enough, by boring from 
within, to take over the old party for their own purposes and 
thus to work their reforms. Why run the risk of political anarchy 
and a Negro-Republican victory, it was argued, when by voting 
solidly the Alliance could be the Democratic party. Talk of a 

1 Clippings, 1889-1890, Watson Scrapbooks. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

third party was frowned down. The farmers had their candidate 
for every office. Revolution was to come from within. 

In January, 1889, twenty-two months before the election, the 
press had observed that "Watson is actively in the race." But it 
was a full two years before the election, during the jute trust 
fight, that, so he writes in his Journal, he determined to run for 
election to Congress from the Tenth District. 

Against him was soon brought the charge that virtually all 
Alliance candidates met: He was merely "riding the Alliance 
horse into office." He reminded his critic that the pursuit of 
his profession would yield him a larger income than the office 
he sought. As for the sincerity of his belief in the Alliance plat- 
form, he had practiced its principles before they were expressed 
in a platform: 

My interest is the same as theirs; my grievance as a farmer the same 
as theirs ; my attacks on the legislation of the day the same as theirs. Then 
why shouldn't we fight side by side to achieve the common victory? 

With characteristic whole-heartedness Watson embraced the 
entire St. Louis platform. He defended with impartial zeal 
every plank in it, unequivocally, along with the additional de- 
mands of the state Alliance, as well as free trade, and the sub- 
treasury plan. The farmers did not have to be convinced of his 
loyalty. He was no over-night convert. His record as an inde- 
pendent rebel went back to his revolt against the Grady-Pat 
Walsh campaign for Colquitt in 1880. He had fought their bat- 
tles against the convict lease system and the railroads in the 
Legislature; out of office he had opposed Grady's New De- 
parture candidates. His fame as a leader of the crusade against 
the jute trust had spread not only over the whole state, but into 
other states as well. 

The Alliance papers rallied to his support. "It is the plain and 
unmistakable duty of every Allianceman, every farmer, every 
lover of good government to support him," urged one. Another 
thought that, "The combination which is formed to defeat the 
Hon. Thos. Watson in the Tenth is shameful." Another that, 
"Brave Tom Watson, the young man eloquent, is making a 
fight for you in the Tenth District; against him are all the allied 
powers of money, with their hirelings, but he will win, for his 


The Victory of 1 8 go 

cause is just and fair and the farmers of the Tenth District are 
not white slaves." 

Watson's opponent, the incumbent from the Tenth running 
for reelection, represented about the best the New Departure 
produced in the way of statesmen. At the same time, except that 
he was free from any suspicion of corruption, the man and his 
career in every respect conformed to the dominant politics and 
philosophy of the 'eighties. The Hon. George T. Barnes, called 
"the weightiest man in Congress," was a portly gentleman, ami- 
able, mild of manner, and rotund of middle, with a broad ex- 
panse of shirt front and an impressive presence. His title of 
"Major" was honorably won in the service of the Confederacy. 
He was a resident of the city of Augusta, "a man of comfortable 
fortune, and president of the Augusta Gas Company," which 
enjoyed a valuable franchise on street railways. 2 

As long as there had been a Tenth District, Augusta had fur- 
nished its representative, and that representative had been Major 
Barnes. Three successive terms he had served, each time elected 
without opposition. The Major was said to have "been in office 
or an applicant for office ever since he was twenty-one years old," 
and he was now fifty-seven. 3 

A defender of Barnes wrote that "There is really no issue be- 
tween Mr. Barnes and his opponent except that Mr. Barnes is 
in and Mr. Watson wishes to be in." As proof of the charge, he 
appealed to Barnes' record in Congress, presenting evidence to 
show him a champion of tariff reform, free silver, moderate in- 
flation, and an enemy of the national bank. Furthermore, he had 
obtained a federal court building, a liberal appropriation for the 
Savannah River harbor, and was engaged in securing a Govern- 
ment arsenal — all for Augusta. 

For his part, Watson was inclined to take few exceptions to 
these claims. What's more, he believed that Major Barnes was 
"as nice a man as ever lived" and that he "probably killed as 
many Yankees as they did of him." He intended to conduct the 
campaign upon a dignified and impersonal level. But there were 
other issues. The trouble with the Major was that his record was 

2 Charleston News and Courier, May 19, 1890; Biographical Dictionary of the 
American Congress, 1774.-1927, p. 672. 
8 Augusta Chronicle, July 22, 1890. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

entirely "negative." When he addressed his constituency the year 
before, he "didn't say a word about the great revolution that 
is taking place among the people," and he had "contributed noth- 
ing to the enthusiasm which exists among the people for re- 
form." He did not understand the movement; he had lost touch 
with the masses and was out of sympathy with them. Further- 
more, the Major was closely associated with open enemies of the 
Alliance. Particularly, there was Pat Walsh, editor of the Au- 
gusta Chronicle, Barnes' "bosom friend" and supporter, who was 
bitterly hostile to the Alliance. Nor had the Major stood up pub- 
licly to be measured by the Alliance "yardstick." Again, he was 
a "defeatist," inclined to point to the Republican majority, throw 
up his hands, and wait for the Democratic innings. That atti- 
tude would not do these days, Watson assured Barnes. 4 

Apart from early decisions and unofficial reports, the first for- 
mal announcement of Watson's candidacy was not made until 
August, 1889. Shortly afterward Watson sent an invitation to 
Major Barnes, then in Augusta, to meet him in a series of de- 
bates on the stump. Barnes declined courteously, explaining that 
it was fourteen months before the election, and that neither he 
nor the farmers had time for debate now. Watson enjoyed read- 
ing the Major's reply to crowds of cheering farmers, who were 
obviously taking time for debate, whether the Major did or not. 

With a speech at Thomson, Watson "fired the first shot" of 
the campaign: "It was loaded with bomb-shells. A crowd from 
several counties, such as assembles only to a mammoth barbe- 
cue, were in range, and the result of the discharge was astonish- 
ing. His tones rang out like bell strokes, clear and strong, and 
left no doubt as to his stand on the political issues of the day. He 
spoke as one of the people talking to the people. There was no 
hesitating, no evasion, no concealment. He attacked legislative 
evils in the boldest style and testified clearly that, were it in his 
power, he would sound the death knell of monopolies, trusts, 
and railroad combines." It was the "biggest barbecue ever known 
in McDuffie county." Three thousand people were present. 
Farmers in their wagons, some having driven a score of crusty 

4 Charleston News and Courier, May 19, 1890; George T. Barnes to his con- 
stituents, Washington, D.C., June 9, 1890, Watson Scrapbooks. 


The Victory of 1890 

miles, were encamped in and about the village like an invading 
army. 6 

The campaign thus launched continued intermittently during 
the early fall, as long as "politicking weather" allowed. The cru- 
sade against the jute trust was still in progress. The real battle 
for election would come the next spring and summer. 

In early April of the following spring there drew to its climax 
an event fraught with a multitude of potentialities, perhaps fa- 
vorable, as likely unfavorable, to Watson's aspirations. 

The McGregor-Cody feud 6 had a bloody history of more 
than two years. The trouble between the two men was referred 
to in the stilted phraseology of the day as "the vindication of a 
virtuous and pious woman." There was talk about "a breath of 
suspicion upon the fair name of a gentle lady." Further into the 
Southern adaptation of a feudal code it is not important to go. 
On the night of December 17, 1887, Jim Cody shot Charley 
McGregor through the body on the latter's front lawn, and es- 
caped undetected. McGregor slowly recovered, Cody helping to 
nurse his unsuspecting victim to health. Cody later confessed to 
the shooting, but remained at large, evading trial. Believing his 
life constantly threatened, McGregor armed himself and waited. 
On October 12, 1889, meeting Cody in the streets of Warren- 
ton, McGregor shot him down with a pistol, killing him in- 

Major Charles E. McGregor was perhaps Watson's closest 
personal friend. Certainly he later came to be. They had served 
in the legislature together, and, living in neighboring towns, 
saw each other frequently. McGregor appealed to his friend at 
once to defend him in his trial for life, and Watson immediately 

Cody and McGregor were two of the most prominent citizens 
of Warrenton, the county seat of Warren, a county in the heart 
of Watson's congressional district. Both the McGregor clan and 
the Cody clan had endless ramifications — a very Southern situa- 
tion. Of the seventy-nine traverse jurors summoned for the 
trial, twenty were disqualified for kinship to Cody alone. Local 

5 Atlanta Journal, Sept. i, 1889; Augusta Chronicle, Sept. 25, 1889. 
6 The sources of this story are: Macon Telegraph, April 11-18, 1890; Constitu- 
tion. April 13-21, 1890; clippings, Watson Scrapbooks; MS. Journal 2. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

authorities on genealogy were put to task, for sometimes u the 
juror himself could not explain the kinship in question." Intense 
feeling between the two clans divided the county and pervaded 
the district, while the rest of the state watched with intense in- 
terest. During the trial, Judge Lumpkin, in handing down a 
ruling, remarked that, "If I allow every suit that has originated 
on account of this feud between McGregor and Cody to be in- 
vestigated, there will be no end to the trial." A news reporter 
wrote that were the verdict in favor of the defendant, "a number 
of gentlemen have assured me that the friends of Cody will 
shoot McGregor down as he shot Cody down." Bulging pockets 
were observed in the streets. 

The trial opened at eight o'clock, April 10. "From sunrise 
there had been a continuous stream of people poring [sic] into 
town, and even at this early hour there was not even standing 
room in the court house, and a large crowd had gathered out- 
side." The Cody clan had provided the best legal talent avail- 
able in the state, five lawyers in all. Judge H. D. D. Twiggs, the 
main dependence of the prosecution, was a seasoned veteran of 
the bar, six feet tall, and still powerful of body and mind. His 
merciless handling of witnesses, his searing tongue and pene- 
trating power of analysis made him probably the most feared 
opponent of the state bar. McGregor employed two lawyers, 
Watson and James Whitehead. The day before the trial, how- 
ever, Whitehead was called home by illness in his family. Wat- 
son was left alone to defend the life of his friend against the 
most brilliant talent of the state. "It will be a battle between 
giants when Judge D. D. Twiggs and Col. Tom Watson cross 
swords," it was predicted. "When Greek meets Greek then 
comes the tug of war." 

It would be the crucial test of his professional career, and 
Watson realized it. It involved not only his professional career, 
but something closer to his heart: "Watson went into the case 
heart and soul. He had been told that to do so would affect his 
chances for the congressional nomination, which he seeks, but 
his answer, quick and prompt, was that under any circumstances 
he would do his duty." Given the set of circumstances described, 
with Tom Watson in the center of the stage, drama was as sure 
to follow as night the day. For in dramatizing himself, his 


The Victory of 1 8 go 

personal relations, his struggles, and his aspirations, Tom Wat- 
son had few equals. 

As an orator, he pulled out all the stops and ran every scale ; 
as a stage director he employed every hoary trick of his trade. 
He had just begun his argument when — enter grief-stricken wife 
and children of the defendant, seating themselves at his side. 
Again Mark Anthony's trick was revived, as Watson had em- 
ployed it before. Major McGregor was stripped to the waist to 
show the wounds Cody had inflicted. Before Watson finished, 
each of the twelve jurors had been individually summoned be- 
fore Saint Peter to answer in imagination (that Watson stim- 
ulated into vividness) for a verdict of "Guilty"; each had been 
turned away from the celestial gates; each was made to writhe 
at the conjured vision of "poor Charley McGregor" dangling at 
rope's end before him, neck stretched. 

"What can I say of Tom Watson?" pleaded an impressed 
spectator. "Never did lawyer do braver, bolder, manlier battle 
for his client. His heart was in his work, for Watson and Mc- 
Gregor are warm personal friends. If the spectacle of this little 
smooth-faced fellow standing here, seeking with all his power 
and all his eloquence to save the life of his friend, was worth 
coming far to see, the speech he made was worth coming further 
to hear. Weird was that scene at night. Two lamps and two 
small candles furnished the light that radiated fitfully over 
judge, jury, and spectators as Watson, with words of wonderful 
eloquence, presented his case." And no eye was unwet. 

The jury was out for five days — lacking only one vote of 
unanimity, it was later revealed. During the days of waiting the 
state press swelled the celebrity of Watson's name. But on the 
fifth day when the jury announced its verdict of "not guilty," 
his fame fairly soared. The warring clans accepted the jury's 
verdict and the feud quieted down. Politically, contrary to ex- 
pectation, Watson seems to have been the gainer. Everyone now 
clamored to hear "the eloquent Col. Watson," no matter what 
heresy he uttered. 

Not long after the McGregor trial, Judge Twiggs joined two 
other prominent Augusta lawyers in a campaign of letter writing 
and speech making in behalf of Major Barnes' and against Wat- 
son's candidacy. On June 13, in a speech at Waynesboro, Twiggs 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

made the charge that Watson was the real author of a letter 
appearing in the Charleston News and Courier 7 over the sig- 
nature, "J. J. H.," which, according to Twiggs, "painted . . . 
[Watson] as almost a political prophet and genius, which letter 
was full of detraction and ridicule of Mr. Barnes." Twiggs also 
berated the subtreasury plan of the Alliance, adding that Wat- 
son had swallowed the scheme just as a "yellow gaping mass" 
of fledgling mocking-birds, with eyes shut and mouth open, 
swallowed whatever the mother bird brought, nor "did he care 
whether it was a grub, a caterpillar or an eel worm." 

Watson promptly replied by means of a "card" in the Con- 
stitution. He had made no secret of giving a news reporter his 
side of the campaign when it was requested, he replied. The 
parts of the letter called offensive to Major Barnes were con- 
tained in the headlines and parts of the letter that he had not 
written. Furthermore, "Judge Twiggs' harangue at Waynes- 
boro was simply the vaporings of a soured outlaw, who is so 
accustomed to abusing everything and everybody that the re- 
straints of truth have no power over him." Judge Twiggs re- 
plied the following day with a letter branding Watson's remarks 
"offensive" and "intended to convey insult," and requesting an 
"explanation." 8 According to approved etiquette this was cor- 
rect procedure in opening negotiations for a duel. 

Although the long-standing professional rivalry between the 
two men had been generally upon a rather friendly basis, rela- 
tions had doubtless been strained at times. Watson was responsi- 
ble for the widely circulated epigram on Twiggs' phenomenally 
keen sense of smell: "he could tell the sex of a hog by smelling 
of the gravy." In the reports of the clash between the two in 
the recent McGregor case, it had been said that "it was fight, 
fight, fight from start to finish." These incidents, however, prob- 
ably contributed more to whetting the public interest over the 
prospective duel than they did to the challenge itself. 

The code of the duel, once so prevalent, had been outlawed 
by the Georgia Constitution of 1877, but the practice had not 
been stopped. In fact there had been a recent recrudescence of 
dueling in the state. The press had carried accounts of three 
duels or attempted duels between prominent Georgians in the 

7 May 19, 1890. 

8 Constitution, June 15-21, 1890. 


The Victory of 1890 

previous year. One paper had run three and four columns on the 
front page daily for a week upon one duel. 9 The attitude toward 
this popular crime is partly reflected in an editorial of the Con- 
stitution: "It was a fine and engaging spectacle — those two 
dauntless men confronting each other in that gentle and daunt- 
less manner, and it warmed the cockles of the heart to read about 
it. . . . We must condemn in the abstract, even where we ad- 
mire in the concrete." The Augusta Chronicle claimed to be "the 
only daily paper in the state which has denounced the practice 
of dueling in commenting upon the recent meeting in Alabama 
between two Georgia gentlemen." 

The correspondence between prospective duelists — an elabo- 
rate knocking of chips from shoulders — was inevitably spread 
over the press of the state for the edification of the public. On 
street corners, in barnyards, over cotton rows, shrewd judgments 
were swapped upon the mettle displayed by the respective chip- 
knockers and sharp distinctions were drawn over fine points of 
"honor." Thus might a public man's career be forever blighted. 
It had happened before. It could happen again. 

Watson's reply was delivered to Twiggs by Major McGregor. 
In it he curtly refused to withdraw his remarks; he gave his 
reasons for making them, then he concluded: "Let me add fur- 
ther that I am no duelist. Whether this position be taken from 
principle or from want of courage you can form your own opin- 
ion and make such experiments to verify it as your judgment 
may dictate." Twiggs countered with further justification of his 
remarks in his speech, denied Watson's interpretation of them, 
and again requested a retraction of Watson's offensive remarks. 
In his response Watson merely dismissed Twiggs' letter as "a 
practical evasion of the issue." Twiggs' reply ended with his 
final decision upon the matter : 

In view of your recent statement that you do not hold yourself amenable 
to those usages requiring satisfaction among gentlemen, I refrain from 
indulging in the empty form of sending you a challenge. In your intima- 
tion that I may test your courage anywhere except upon the field of honor, 
you imply willingness to meet an attack I may make upon you on the street 
or other place of resort where the lives of innocent men and women may 
be endangered. 

This willingness may be safely expressed, for I shall not descend to the 

9 Macon Telegraph, Sept. 7-14, 1889. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

level of a street brawler, but will leave you to the contempt which you 
deserve, and to the judgment of a discriminating public. 

Watson's final rejoinder was the most dignified document that 
graced the exchange. It was devoted largely to a demonstration 
of Twiggs' lack of candor and fairness in his charges, and con- 
tained the following statement about dueling: "I have never 
intended to spend one moment in studying the code which with 
refined and formal lawlessness tramples on all the statutes hu- 
man and divine. I have never yet endeavored to fashion my 
thought to a belief that deliberate murder was any the less mur- 
der because the duelist held a pistol in one hand and a book of 
etiquette in the other." He added that "The foreboding of what 
would happen when he and I met is needlessly gloomy. We met 
in the car shed this morning. And yet it is nevertheless true, that 
water still has the weakness to run downwards and steam clings 
to the old tendency to go up." 10 

What would the people think? Public opinion appears to have 
been solidly lined up behind Watson's position on dueling and 
on other parts of the controversy. Even the Augusta Chronicle 
approved his stand against the duel. Thus the second ordeal of 
1890 ended — again to Watson's credit. Neither episode would 
merit this much attention were they not both so typical of Wat- 
son's public life. 

Major Barnes postponed his return from Washington to meet 
Watson's aggressive campaign until less than a month before the 
primaries, which came around the last of July. Arriving home 
ill, he left his bed against the advice of his physician in order 
to meet Watson, whose invitation he had this time accepted. 

It was clear from the start that Major Barnes was uncom- 
fortable in the new political atmosphere. By his own confession 
he belonged to the tradition of another day. At Sandersville in 
his first engagement with Watson, he said that it was the first 
time he had ever spoken in behalf of his own candidacy: "It was 
distasteful to him to speak of himself and his own work; he 
would rather have his friends do that." Although his weight, his 
health, and his age told against him in a contest with a much 
younger man (who was also devoid of any inhibitions against 

10 Letters published in the Augusta Chronicle, June 21, 1890. 


The Victory of 1 8 go 

speaking in his own behalf), Barnes met Watson several times. 
The younger man adopted an attitude of indulgent, good- 
natured respect for his elder. Nevertheless, things went rather 
badly for the Major from the first. He was no match for Wat- 
son in repartee and colloquy, and he was at a disadvantage be- 
fore these crowds of rejuvenated farmers, Alliancemen most of 
them, saturated by their lecturers, by debates, and by Alliance 
reform literature, with facts and figures and queer ideas and 
heresies of all descriptions, shouting their slogans and singing 
Alliance songs. 

One got to Big Creek, Jefferson County, by a slow train over 
the narrow gauge railroad to Wrens, and from there by horse- 
back or wagon for six miles through the open country to Hud- 
son's Ford. Along the dusty road, under a July sun, crawled a 
broken caravan of wagons and buggies — two thousand people 
approaching the Big Creek barbecue from half a dozen counties. 
Under the oak trees it was shady and a little cooler. From the 
pits along the creek bank drifted a savory smoke arising from 
more than a hundred "carcasses," spluttering crusty brown under 
dripping mops plied by the Negro cooks. After dinner on the 
ground came the speaking. The sun was merciless, and, u with 
the thermometer about 90 in the shade, it was pathetic to see the 
perspiration run down the speakers' faces and saturate their 

If the Major so heartily endorsed the candidacy of William J. 
Northen for governor on the Alliance platform, Watson asked, 
then why did he oppose Watson's candidacy on the same plat- 
form? His position on the subtreasury plan, which Twiggs and 
Barnes found so dreadful, was the same as Northen's . . . 

Barnes, interrupting — "I would not support Northen for Congress on 
that platform." 

Watson — "And yet you do support him for governor on it. ... A rab- 
bit that is good enough to stew ought to be good enough to fry. (Laughter 
and applause.) 

"They are all for Northen, but they can't swallow me because I have 
swallowed the 'Alliance worm/ To look at me some persons might think I 
had been living on that diet for a long time, and that same person looking 
at Major Barnes would be forced to the conclusion that Major Barnes lived 
on a very different diet." (Laughter.) 

Then Watson rapped to order his famous Alliance school- 
room, that so painfully discomfited the Major: 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Watson — "Now I want to ask Major Barnes how much money there 
is in circulation per capita." 

Barnes — "There is a difference of opinion among financiers — some say 
one amount and some another." 

Watson — "But what do you say?" 

Barnes — "If you count the money on deposit in banks there is about 
$22 per capita. . . ." 

Watson — "They count the same money twice." 

Carroll (Barnes* colleague) — "We do not. How much do you say 
there is?" 

Watson — "I say there is about $4.75 per capita." 

A hundred voices — "That's right; you're right; hurrah for Watson." 11 

Then the lesson would proceed with more catechizing of his 
inept and discomfited pupil. How much silver was coined be- 
tween 1873 and 1878? How many national bank notes were 
redeemed? "Wrong again. Wrong again," Watson would rep- 
rimand, and the Alliancemen would roar with laughter and 
shout for Watson, or at his command supply the answer to 
his question. 

At the end of Major Barnes' reply, which in sharp contrast to 
Watson's speech, was received in silence, he said, a little plain- 
tively, one imagines : 

"Six years ago you sent me to Congress and you have reelected me, and 
all the time I have served you to the best of my ability. You endorsed me 
and sent me back before ; in what have I changed ?" 

A voice — "Times have changed and the people have changed." 

After a few such unequal engagements Major Barnes ceased 
to meet Watson on the stump. But Watson ceased not at all : he 
"made speeches, played with babies, talked crops with the men, 
discussed fashions with the ladies, and made friends with every- 
body." When figures were not at hand, he answered the enemies 
of the Alliance with ridicule or humor. The charge that the 
farmer needed to "live closer and work harder" was "an insult 
to the industry of Georgia farmers." Everyone knew that the 
farmer "skimmed his milk on top and then turned it over and 
skimmed it on the bottom. (Laughter.) If a fly lit in his sugar 
he made him thump his legs on the sides of the barrel for fear 
a grain would stick to his feet. (Laughter.) And they stop their 
clocks at night to save the wear and tear on the machinery. 

11 Atlanta Journal, July 19, 1890; clippings, Watson Scrapbooks. 


The Victory of 1 8 go 

A loud clap of thunder interrupted his speech at Tenniville. 
As the reverberations ceased he continued: "Like the thunder 
that shakes yon sky, the voice of the people has shaken the 
power from the hands of the political bosses and placed it in the 
hands of the masses where it belongs." During a speech at Wad- 
ley a drunken man created a panic by brandishing a pistol. After 
he was disarmed several people called, "Watson, he tried to 
shoot you." His reply was instantaneous : "The man who under- 
takes to inaugurate reform must stand, not one fire, but a 
thousand." 12 

The campaign in the Tenth District was the subject of more 
comment and interest than any in the state. It was said to be "as 
hot as Nebuchadnezzar's furnace." That was in 1890, before the 
Populist campaigns had set a new record for torrid politics. Con- 
spicuously missing from this contest with the amiable Major 
were the night riders, the herds of "liquored" Negro voters, the 
burning ballot boxes, and the deadly gun play that so lamentably 
characterized the later elections. Yet the later contests were con- 
ducted by essentially the same leaders, for the same votes, upon 
the same platforms. It is important to understand this difference 
when those later campaigns are described. 

During this campaign Watson was observed to entertain an 
"irritating confidence and sanguine assurance of every county in 
the district except Richmond." Richmond, Major Barnes' home 
county, also the county of the highly industrialized city of Au- 
gusta, was not even contested by Watson, who conceded Barnes 
his home county as a matter of political courtesy. There were 
eleven counties in the District. Ten were overwhelmingly rural- 
agricultural, and one urban-industrial. In all they had thirty- 
four votes at the convention. Of these, eighteen were required 
to nominate. Watson and the Alliance insisted upon holding 
primaries in each county. Barnes' only hope lay in capturing 
Burke, Washington, Johnson, and Warren counties, along with 

Returns from the primaries beginning in the last days of July 
quickly dispelled any hope for Barnes. In the whole of McDuffie 
County he got eleven votes, one only in the Thomson District. 
In Warren, the county of the McGregor trial, which the Barnes 

^Clipping, Watson Scrapbooks; Atlanta Journal, July 31, 1890. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

papers counted as "conceded" to Barnes, Watson's victory was 
four to one ; in Washington, strongly contested by Barnes, Wat- 
son's majority lacked nine votes of being three to one; in Glas- 
cock only twenty-three votes were reported for Barnes. Colum- 
bia, Jefferson, and Lincoln fell in line with heavy majorities for 
Watson, and Johnson County ended the contest by giving him a 
ten to one majority and enough votes at the convention to nomi- 
nate him without waiting to hear from the remaining counties. 
Major Barnes withdrew from the race, formally acknowledging 
defeat. He carried only one of the eleven counties, Richmond. 
Even there the county Alliance passed a resolution endorsing 
Watson's candidacy, and he polled a heavy vote in the working 
class wards. Watson's victory was unmistakable and complete. 13 

"The election passed off quietly" was a phrase used in de- 
scribing nearly all the county primaries. The Democratic district 
convention, held in the village of Harlem upon the insistence 
of the Alliance, instead of as usual at Augusta, was described as 
"a quiet body, performing a perfunctory duty," until time came 
for nominating Watson. "His hands were shaken on all sides 
and by everybody. He was in smiles all day and when the thing 
was over the boys went wild." A further endorsement of Watson 
was registered when the convention, by an overwhelming vote, 
tabled a resolution condemning his favorite measure, the sub- 
treasury plan. In November his Republican opponent was 
smothered — as such candidates were usually smothered. 14 

The triumph of the Alliance was state-wide: "In six out of 
ten Congressional districts, the 'Bourbons' lost their seats ; in the 
other four, they made their peace with the 'embattled farmers,' 
via the less radical element. The Alliance controlled the state 
convention, chose the governor, wrote the platform, named 
three-fourths of the senators and four-fifths of the representa- 
tives." 16 All over the South and West the Alliance enjoyed 
victories of greater or less degree than in Georgia. "Before the 
Alliance was organized," observed the Macon Telegraph, a 
corporation newspaper, "it was a rare occurrence for a farmer, 
or a farmer's son to receive honor and recognition. The offices 

18 Augusta Chronicle, July 30 to Aug. 3, 1890; Constitution, Aug. 3, 1890; Macon 
Telegraph, Aug. 2, 1890; McDuffie Journal, July 11, 1890; clippings from county 
weeklies in the Watson Scrapbooks. 

14 Augusta Chronicle, Aug. 29, 1890. 

16 A. M. Arnett, The Populist Movement in Georgia, p. 116. 


The Victory of 1890 

all went to the towns and to the lawyers. . . . But now the bot- 
tom rail is on top . . ." It was a "Farmers' legislature" that 
convened in November. 

One of the first duties of the new Legislature was to elect a 
United States Senator to succeed Joseph E. Brown. It had been 
just ten years since Brown had gone to fill the seat vacated by 
the sudden resignation of Gordon. Having lately discovered a 
remarkable identity between his own principles and those of the 
Alliance, General Gordon now decided that duty called him 
back to the Senate, and he generously offered his services. Since 
there was in prospect "a wrestle of giants," he said, ". . . you 
need to call to your assistance the greatest intellects . . . men 
self-possessed and prudent, who cannot be shaken." While he 
was sure he qualified, he urged that "the unity of the Demo- 
cratic party was essential to the supremacy of the white race in 
the South," and he could not give his unqualified support to the 
subtreasury scheme of the Alliance, since it was a threat to 
party unity. 16 

"First, a railroad lawyer; second, a railroad promoter; third, 
a railroad president; and fourth, the farmer's best friend. . . . 
Nothing but your failure to be a railroad president drove you 
back to Georgia to be the farmer's friend for the same office you 
threw away when you deserted them to join a railroad." 17 Thus 
Norwood, himself a candidate, characterized his opponent. The 
Chronicle felt sure that the General's charm was fatal, for the 
farmers "have been told repeatedly that he is visionary, prof- 
ligate, unreliable, and unbusinesslike. But they have declared 
that with all his faults they love him." It would seem so. 

It was admitted that an Alliance caucus could elect any candi- 
date agreed upon. It happened, however, that confusion and 
difference existed among Alliance leaders. "Indeed," said one 
member of it, "our caucus favored Hammond at breakfast, 
Hines at dinner, Norwood at supper, and Calhoun just before 
going to bed." 18 For a time it looked very much as if two Alli- 
ance "bosses," L. F. Livingston, President of the State Alliance, 
and C. W. Macune, a prominent national leader, were going to 

16 Augu8ta Chronicle, Aug. 20 and 30, 1890; Macon Telegraph, Aug. 21, 1890. 

17 T. M. Norwood to J. B. Gordon, in Augusta Chronicle, Aug. 29, 1890. 

18 A scrapbook in the Watson collection devoted entirely to the Senatorial race of 
1890 is the source of this and much other information in this account. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

succeed in swinging the Alliance vote to Patrick Calhoun. Cal- 
houn, grandson of the great Carolina statesman, was a wealthy 
railroad lawyer whose most spectacular accomplishment was the 
successful combination of a large number of Georgia railroads 
under the Richmond Terminal Company, a heavy investment of 
Jay Gould's, with headquarters in Augusta. The Allianceman 
was not far wrong who said Calhoun was "Wall Street's biggest 
representative in the South." Livingston and Macune were 
charged with yielding to corrupt influence in backing him, and 
some evidence of their guilt was later produced. 19 

Watson, as an Alliance Congressman-elect, was called to At- 
lanta and given orders by Livingston to u go into our caucus and 
indorse Calhoun." Watson refused to do so, explaining that 
Calhoun "is the representative of one of the classes against 
which the Alliance and the Democratic party are arrayed. I can- 
not indorse the paid attorney of a great railway monopoly. . . . 
I will not consent to sell out my constituents." 20 Although Wat- 
son had led his county in the fight against Gordon in 1886, he 
now, apparently as a choice of the lesser evil, lent him his in- 
fluence, though he did not make a public speech. He later 
claimed credit for the defeat of Calhoun, though with what 
justice is doubtful. 21 

General Gordon was elected Senator. The better to consum- 
mate the union with his brother farmers he soon joined the 
Alliance. We are afforded two painful glimpses of the General's 
initiation ceremony through the secret doors: once hoisted to 
the roof by the seat of his pants, "dangling in the air, with hands 
and feet vainly clutching the floor," and once more, stretched 
across a barrel while the "Supreme Spanker" let fall the "sub- 
treasury plank" full forty times to "convince the new brother 
that it was not a rotten one." 

Now that the farmers began to test the fruits of their 
victory, they found it spotted to the core and sour in their 
mouths. What had become of their class struggle — now that 
their enemies had taken to celebrating Alliance victories? How 

M A. M. Arnett, op. cit., p. 119. 

20 Clippings, Watson Scrapbooks and Northen Scrapbooks, especially from the 
Southern Alliance Farmer and Savannah Morning News, Nov. 16, 1890. 

21 J. B. Gordon to W. J. Northen (MS.), Sept. 25, 1890, in Northen Scrapbook, 
Vol. I, pp. 66-67; clippings, Northen Scrapbooks and Watson Scrapbooks. 


The Victory of 1890 

was it that the Constitution had come to rejoice that "The 
Farmers' Alliance is the Democracy party"; that the Managing 
Editor of the Constitution had been elected Speaker of the farm- 
ers' House of Representatives; 22 that Alliance leaders had sup- 
ported a hireling of Jay Gould for Alliance senator ; that Gen- 
eral Gordon, of the notorious New Departure triumvirate, had 
been elected senator by the farmers' legislature? How was it 
that there were two kinds of Alliancemen — the "wool-hat boys" 
and the "plug-hat bosses"? How had this come about? 

On March 4, 1889, Henry Grady addressed a letter to W. J. 
Northen marked "Strictly Confidential." He wrote: 

Let me give you an idea. Put yourself in line with the movement to bring 
about peace between the agricultural and commercial interests of the state 
which is now threatened by the Alliance. The farmers have the sympathy 
of the commercial community in their efforts to organize and cooperate, 
but there is a danger that these two interests will find themselves in hopeless 
opposition unless somebody smooths the friction. The man who does it will 
be master of the situation. 23 

Being completely in harmony with Northen's conservative 
temperament and interest, this suggestion of Grady's seems to 
have been religiously followed. During his campaign, Northen 
repeated many times that he was the friend of all classes and 
the enemy of none, that he would "faithfully serve all classes." 
With this understanding he was still able to win the backing of 
the Alliance, and consequently the governor's chair. Many other 
conservatives (some not as candid about their conservatism) 
likewise won office through the Alliance. 

On Alliance day at the Piedmont Exposition, Grady, as mas- 
ter of ceremonies, addressed 20,000 Alliancemen. "It gave him 
the greatest pleasure," he said, "that the Piedmont Exposition 
had brought together in harmonious council the business men of 
the chief city of the south Atlantic states and the leaders of and 
members of the most important farmers' organizations in his- 
tory. There is no room for divided hearts in the south . . . 
without regard to class." 24 There were those, said Grady else- 
where, who believed that "the South should divide, the color 

22 Clark Howell, son of Captain E. P. Howell, owner of the Constitution, and 
railroad promoter. 

23 MS. of letter in Northen Scrapbooks, Vol. Ill, p. 264. 

24 Constitution, Oct. z$, 1889. 


Tom Watson Agrarian 'Rebel 

line be beaten down, and the southern States ranged on economic 
or moral questions as interest or belief demands." But this was 
"The worst in my opinion that could happen." The only "hope 
and assurance of the South" was "The clear and unmistakable 
domination of the white race. . . . What God hath separated 
let no man join together. . . . Let not man tinker with the work 
of the Almighty." 25 

Henry Grady died in Atlanta on December 23, 1889. Con- 
sidering the history of the year following his death, which has 
just been reviewed, one might conclude that his creed had 
triumphed over death. Yet viewed from a longer range, his 
death might well symbolize the end of an era of Southern his- 
tory. Grady's creed was the creed of the 'eighties. Briefly sum- 
marized, its tenets embraced: industrialization of the South; 
glorification of the capitalist and his way of life ; political, eco- 
nomic, and cultural unity between the South and the East ; rigid 
subordination of class conflict in the South to the maintenance 
of the status quo of a business man's regime identified with white 
supremacy; and the exclusion of the Negro from political life. 

In the way that Henry Grady might be said to have sym- 
bolized the 'eighties, Tom Watson might be said to have sym- 
bolized the decade that followed. In general, Watson's creed 
was the reverse of Grady's : agrarianism for the South ; a glori- 
fication of the farmer and his way of life; war upon the indus- 
trial East and alliance with the agrarian West ; open and relent- 
less class conflict with the enemy classes both without and within 
the South; and the enlistment of the Negro in the battle for 
the farmer equipped with as many political weapons as Watson 
dared give him. 

23 Joel C. Harris, Henry W, Grady, pp. 99-101. 



"I Mean business" 

As SOON AS the fight for the nomination was won — a strug- 
jLM^gle entirely within the Democratic "white man's party" be 
it noted — the state press, until then openly hostile or indifferent 
to his cause, rallied behind Watson, promising him support. The 
Constitution believed "The Tenth could not have elected a 
better man than the Hon. Thomas E. Watson"; the Atlanta 
Journal discovered that he was preaching "Sound democratic 
doctrine, sterling common sense"; and the Augusta Chronicle 
promised solemnly to "forward his cause by every possible 
means and sustain him during his Congressional career by all 
the power we may possess." 

At the same time, curiously enough, these and other papers 
with greater or less degree of virulence, continued unabated 
their onslaught upon the platform on which Watson was elected. 
Patrick Walsh's Chronicle was especially noted for this para- 
doxical conduct. It warned that "the Alliance is becoming a 
political machine," and that it is "repugnant to free institutions." 
It asked desperately: "Throughout the length and breadth of 
the land is there no man sound enough and strong enough to 
confront the emergency and turn the people from their strange 
gods?" The Alliance platform advocated "paternalism," "com- 
munism," and "downright socialism." The farmers were "run- 
ning after false gods and following false teachers." Like Gen- 
eral Gordon and Henry Grady, Walsh reminded them that 
"White supremacy is the very foundation of our civilization" 
and "no mess of pottage in the shape of a sub-treasury sop should 
induce the people to sell their birthright and forsake the party 
and principles of their fathers." Besides, in all this talk of the 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

farmer's "miseries" there was "a great deal of clap-trap." The 
farmer needed to "work harder and manage better." 

Not content with belaboring "the credulity and ignorance of 
the people in believing any such nonsense" and such "trans- 
parent humbug" as the subtreasury plan, Walsh, along with 
other Democratic politicians, did all in his power to discourage 
the agreement between South and West that Watson and the 
Alliance planned. "There can be no union of agricultural in- 
terests of the South and West," said Walsh. "We have no inter- 
ests in common with them. Politically they hate the Democratic 
party and the South. Let us not be deceived. They will continue 
to vote as they shot during the war." Back to the diplomacy of 
Henry Grady, was the cry, back to the alliance with the East, 
to the friendly New York capitalists. "The richest man in 
America," Jay Gould, "has not only put thousands into the 
Richmond Terminal. He has put millions into it," argued the 
Chronicle. 1 

In December, after the elections of 1890, a convention of the 
Southern Alliance Supreme Council, together with invited dele- 
gates from other farmer and labor organizations, met in Ocala, 
Florida. Kansas delegates and others urged immediate forma- 
tion of a third party. While some were willing to listen, the 
Southerners were generally disposed to test action through the 
Democratic party first. A compromise was effected that post- 
poned definite action on the third party. The most advertised 
result of the convention was the formation of a new platform. 
In reality, the Ocala convention made only a few changes in the 
older St. Louis platform to conform more to Southern demands. 
It emphasized in particular an expanded form of the subtreasury 
plan. Thereafter the "Ocala platform" became the rallying cry 
of the embattled farmers, evoking more enthusiasm than any 
other. 2 

To Patrick Walsh the Ocala declaration was the red flag of 
revolution. He could not abide for a moment the "reckless finan- 
cial scheme of the Ocala platform" with "its impracticality and 
unconstitutionality." It was the "greatest fraud of the age." 

1 Weekly Chronicle, Oct. 22, 1890; see also the Chronicle, July 5-13, Aug. 3, 
1890, Feb. 8, 1890; Macon Telegraph, Mar. 22, July 14, 1890; and clippings, Wat- 
son and Northen Scrapbooks. 

2 Constitution, Dec. 2-7, 1890; Progressive Farmer, Dec. 9, 1890; New York 
World, Dec. 3, 1890; People's Party Paper, Feb. 3, 1893. 


"I Mean Business" 

How was it that one and the same editor could promise every 
support to Watson in one breath and damn everything he stood 
for in the next? This paradox was implicit in the thinking of 
more men than this editor. How did it arise? The fact seems to 
have been that the New Departure Democrats relied rather con- 
fidently upon the fact that the Alliancemen in the South worked 
from within, and in loyalty to, the Democratic party. So long as 
the old shibboleths of race, party, and section could be employed 
effectively (and had they not always worked?) the state and 
national party leaders would be able by means of party caucus, 
party whip, and Federal patronage to keep the Alliancemen in 
line. Cheerfully the Chronicle wrote of the Alliance-elected state 
convention of 1890: it was not "a conclave of Alliancemen. It 
was a meeting of Democrats, pure and simple, and it nominated 
Democrats upon a Democratic platform and adjourned." Others 
whistled the same tune to steady shaken nerves. The paradox 
was resolved in the Chronicle's statement that, "The Alliance is 
a side issue compared with the Democratic party." 

Such was the reactionary attitude. The radical attitude, Tom 
Watson's position, might almost be expressed by reversing this 
last quotation : The Democratic party was a side issue compared 
to the Alliance principles. Watson was not long in revealing this 

Indications pointed to a successful candidacy for Speaker of 
the next House of Representatives by Charles F. Crisp. Crisp 
was one of the four Georgia Congressmen whom the Alliance 
had not removed in the previous election. A suave politician of 
the old school, smooth of address and popular with his col- 
leagues, Crisp was a conservative, a representative from a black- 
belt, large-planter district. His election to the Speakership would 
greatly enhance the prestige of the Georgia Democratic delega- 
tion, and heavy pressure was put upon the new Alliance con- 
gressmen to give him their support. 8 

Early in 1891 Watson wrote Crisp an open letter asking his 
position upon the Alliance demands. Crisp's reply contained 
much concerning his tariff record, but "nothing as to the Ocala 
platform." Watson's rejoinder was a ringing challenge to the 
conservatives and a battle cry to the Alliance : 

3 A. M. Arnett, op. cit, p. 129; Watson Scrapbooks. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

We reformers have for years been patiently, yet ardently, building up a 
sentiment which would imperatively demand better laws. 

We have succeeded. It makes our hearts thrill with pleasure when we 
contemplate our work. . . . 

There was never a time when the people looked more hopefully to Con- 
gress for help. They have turned out old members by the score. They have 
put in new ones. . . . 

Now, gentlemen, how can we explain ourselves to the people if we elect 
a Speaker of the House who gives us no guarantees ? How does Mr. Crisp 
stand upon these questions? Last summer . . . Mr. Crisp wrote flatly 
refusing to indorse the subtreasury. Since that time the Ocala convention 
has met and put forth its platform. It is the best one now before the people. 
Does Mr. Crisp endorse it ? If not shall I vote for him anyhow ? 

Suppose Mr. Crisp should be antagonized by some Democrat who stands 
on the Ocala platform ; shall I still vote for Mr. Crisp ? If so, would I not 
go back on those who elected me? 

He would apply the Ocala yardstick strictly, everywhere, 
making no exceptions, no allowances for party prestige, none 
for self-interest. Only by strict consistency of principle and action 
could the movement hope to succeed. 

To-day there stands waiting in the South and West as grand an army 
as ever brought pride to a warrior. It only needs leaders bold and true. 
Leaders who can't be bought, or duped, or bullied. Leaders who knowing 
what the enemy is will dash straight against it and take no rest and make 
no terms until the enemy is routed. Leaders who do not stand aside and 
shirk dangers and avoid responsibilities, but who will dash to the front ; who 
by example will dispel doubt and remove hesitation and who by their cour- 
age will win the right to say, "let the bravest follow me." 

Given leaders like that there can be no retreat. We know what we want ; 
let us take nothing else. With this resolution strictly adhered to, we draw 
all our energies to a focus . . . any other policy breeds divisions, factions, 
malcontents. Our energies will be scattered. . . . 

When I entered this reform movement I meant business. 

The people who elected me meant business. I mean it yet. So do they. 
We never meant to carry the movement a trifling distance and then stop. 
We meant to go clear through or die trying. We mean it yet! 4 

About Watson's seriousness, his conviction, and his consecra- 
tion to his task there can be no doubt. Profoundly and com- 
pletely he "meant business." He meant it so thoroughly that 
his convictions laid hold upon his naturally intense character and 
quite possessed the man wholly, changed his way of life, as 
well as his way of looking at life, at past, present, and future. 

4 Clipping from Southern Alliance Farmer, April, 1890, Watson Scrapbooks. 

cc 7 Mean Business" 

Shortly after his election Watson announced his intention to 
give up the practice of law, and not long thereafter he sold his 
law library and declined new cases. He explained that he wished 
to devote his entire time to his new duties. When they ended 
he could "find work more congenial than the practice of law." 
When the Constitution chose to interpret his action as motivated 
by a belief that his profession was degraded, Watson wrote a hot 
reprimand : 

I am profoundly impressed with the belief that . . . [the people] are 
the victims of cold blooded, deliberate villainy, and their homes are being 
taken from them through the fraudulent collusion of federal lawmakers; 
that industrial and political servitude is coming to them as fast as time can 
bring it. 

It may be asking too much to expect you to believe that I have gone into 
this work with something of the spirit of consecration ; that it is a cause 
which commands my devotion and upon whose altar I cheerfully lay all 
my time and all my strength. That no crusader ever poised lance or bared 
a blade with a more implicit belief that the work was holy and must be 

It may be asking too much to expect you to believe this, but the friends 
who know me best believe it; my district in its majority believes it; and 
the time will come, if I live, when the great majority in the state shall 
believe it. 5 

Along with the consecrated zeal of the crusader went some 
of the unholy glee of the iconoclast. To an audience in Milledge- 
ville he said: "You will hear much said about the English com- 
mon law. You will hear it praised as if it were some divinely 
inspired oracle. Don't believe a word of it. The English common 
law was the brutal code of half-naked savages. The truth was 
not in it, and it fell. It deserved to fall. Under it a woman was 
a serf, and a poor man a slave. Its land tenure was infamous, 
its methods of trial were heathenish and idiotic, its punishments 
were revolting in their devilish cruelty." 

Even in the modern court the judge tried railroad cases with 
free passes in his pockets. The lawyer was compelled to exploit 
human emotion "that my miserable scoundrel of a client may 
gain where he should lose, and that I may have the credit of 
winning where I should be defeated." A system of law that 
"tears a tenant from his family and puts him in chains and 
stripes because he sells cotton for something to eat and leaves 

5 Constitution, July 11-18, 1891; also Macon Telegraph, July 15, 1891. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

his rent unpaid, and which at the same time cannot punish its 
railroad kings" was "weak unto rottenness." This system de- 
served to die, "and it will die just as certainly as there are 
enough brave men left to denounce the system and arouse the 
people to tear it to pieces." 6 

"Ah, me!" he said in a speech to an audience of Augusta 
workers on Labor Day, "how alarmed we all grow when frantic 
laborers, ruin staring them in the face, derail some freight car 
or thump one of Pinkerton's toughs with a stick. We hold up 
our delicate hands in feigned horror, and cry, Tut it down.' 
Yet we are the same people who exult in the piracy which our 
ancestors committed on the English tea ships. The same people 
who acquired this land from its owners by a long series of fraud, 
murders, and violating treaties; who made a president out of 
Andrew Jackson, the executioner of prisoners." Workers are 
eternally hoodwinked, for "History has not been written by the 
laborer. It has usually been written by his enemy. Therefore 
we only catch glimpses of the truth from time to time." Rapidly 
he sketched the history of labor, especially in England, that his 
audience might be "astonished at the infinite blackness of the 
tyranny with which capital crushed it and fattened on its suf- 

He, too, had walked the streets of Augusta with the unem- 
ployed: "The horror of that dreadful time I shall never forget. 
It has left its mark on my mind and on my heart. It has shaped 
my convictions and controlled my feelings. When the easy owner 
of inherited wealth or position sneers at the warmth of my ut- 
terances upon this subject, I beg to remind him that it is the 
man who has been burned who can best describe the pain of 
the fire." 7 

"A great pity swells within me," he once said. And as pity 
swelled, rage welled up out of the same fountain and flooded his 
spirit. "Men of the country!" he cried to a throng of Jefferson 
County farmers, "let the fires of this . . . revolution burn 
brighter and brighter. Pile on the fuel till the forked flames shall 
leap in wrath around this foul structure of governmental wrong 
— shall sweep it from basement to turret, and shall sweep it 
from the face of the earth. (Applause.)" 


T. E. W., Life and Speeches, pp. 48-52. 
Ibid., pp. 59-70. 


"I Mean Busmess" 

In May, 1891, there convened in Cincinnati delegates from a 
number of national farmer, labor, and reform organizations, 
those from the Alliance of the Northern and Western states 
constituting the largest body of delegates. The South held aloof 
from official representation, but unofficial representatives, 
thought some Alliance members, "did everything within their 
power to prevent, or postpone, the organization of a new politi- 
cal party." Southern Alliancemen generally felt that such action 
should be postponed until election year at least, but at the same 
time warned the Democratic leaders to toe the Ocala line, or 
expect revolt. The Convention, nevertheless, took steps that 
assured the existence of the People's Party. New South Demo- 
crats were divided in opinion: the Constitution believed the new 
party spelled good fortune for the Democrats, since it would be 
entirely Western, and u the Republicans will be demoralized." 
The Cincinnati platform, it thought, was "in sympathy with the 
general tendency of the Democratic party." The Chronicle, in 
more forthright fashion answered, "God help the Democratic 
party if the resolutions adopted at Cincinnati are Democratic." 8 

It was about this time that Watson seems to have set his sail 
in the third party wind. He made no public commitment, and 
executed a good bit of tacking during the next several months, 
but any close observer could have predicted his destination, for 
his course toward that destination was as straight as a shifting 
wind and perverse currents permitted. In April, answering Edi- 
tor Dana of the New York Sun, who requested that he leave the 
Democratic party or the Alliance, Watson could write, "I do 
not have to leave the one to be put in harmony with the other. 
The Democracy is not yet ostracised by the Alliance." 9 That 
was before the Cincinnati convention; but in June, a few weeks 
after it, he was in North Carolina conferring with President 
L. L. Polk, who was openly sympathetic with the third party 
idea as a final resort. While there Watson said in a public speech, 
"Our feet are on the Ocala platform and we are not going to 
wear any man's collar, be it Democratic or Republican by name. 
This third party talk don't hurt us." The same day he is re- 

8 Constitution, May 20-23, 1891; Augusta Chronicle, May 26, 1891; clippings, 
Watson and Northen Scrapbooks; J. D. Hicks, op, ciU, pp. 211-217. 

9 T. E. W. to the Chronicle, quoted by J. C. C. Black in letter to the People* s 
Party Paper, Sept. 9, 1892. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

ported to have admitted in private conversation that he believed 
"the only hope for reform lay in organizing a Third party." 10 

Two weeks later President Polk appeared in Atlanta for a 
great Alliance rally at Piedmont Park. Speaking from the same 
platform were the Western leaders, General James B. Weaver, 
and Congressman "Sockless" Jerry Simpson, who had recently 
attended the Cincinnati Convention. The Westerners were mak- 
ing a speaking tour of Georgia. They had promised not to preach 
the third party revolt, but the idea lay behind their every utter- 
ance; the rank and file realized this, and their conservative lead- 
ers grew restive under their enthusiasm. The "keynote of the 
Alliance demonstration" was said to have been President Polk's 
warning: "If there is a third party established in the south, it 
will be due to the domineering, proscriptive and intolerant spirit 
of the so-called democratic leaders." This sentence was said to 
have been "the essence of all the speeches made, and the enthusi- 
asm which marked its utterance clearly defined the sentiment of 
his Alliance hearers." n 

That evening Watson addressed the Georgia Assembly and 
an audience of Alliancemen. Why all the outcry against the visit 
of their Western friends? he asked. "What if Jerry Simpson 
does come down here to make a few speeches ... I do not care 
whether he has socks on his feet or not." He welcomed his allies. 
He also recognized his enemies, in whatever disguise. There 
was on foot "an attempt to deliver your vote to Davie Hill and 
Tammany Hall. . . . Dave Hill is a miserable little trickster, 
a small ward politician," while "Cleveland represents the gold- 
bugs of Wall Street and we will not take him." 

He then defined his position upon the tense question of party 
loyalty and revolt. "Attention was so close," it was reported, 
"that the drop of a pin could be heard, and every sentence of 
Watson's was cheered by the Alliance audience, including nearly 
all of the Alliance members of the legislature. . . . The effect 
of his speech was electrical" : 

We are in the midst of a great crisis. The war is on. What is the situa- 
tion ? We have before us three or four platforms. We have the republican 
platform, the democratic platform, and the Ocala platform. I say here and 

10 A. L. Levinson, Goldsboro, N.C., in the Progressive Farmer, Sept. 29, 1896. 

11 Constitution, July 16, 1891 ; also the Chronicle and the Macon Telegraph and 
the Atlanta Journal of the same date. 


"I Mean Business" 

now that the Ocala platform is the best of the three. It is the only one that 
breathes the breath of life. The others are so much alike you can't tell them 
apart. . . . 

Let third party talk take care of itself. I have none of it to do, but my 
highest duty is to stand by what I think is right. . . . Let the democratic 
party take warning. We have borne your ridicule long enough, we will 
bear it no longer. I am going to bear the Ocala platform wherever my 
voice can be heard. 12 

Watson's speech called down upon his head a barrage of im- 
precation. The Augusta Evening Herald called upon him to 
resign his seat in Congress. The Chronicle declared he was 
preaching u a war of the poor against the rich." The Constitu- 
tion undertook "to call him to order in this matter and to pro- 
test that he is wronging the very party and people to whom he 
owes his present position." The Telegraph admitted that he was 
"The most interesting figure perhaps, in Georgia politics to- 
day . . . There is no discounting the fact that circumstances 
and his abilities have put him in a position of peculiar impor- 
tance. Just what he intends doing with it is a matter of general 
interest. He types the most advanced form of the third party 
idea in Georgia." w 

His answer to all critics was the same : Yes, he was elected to 
office as a Democrat, but his support of the Alliance platform 
was the special reason for his success over Major Barnes, just as 
it was the reason for the success of the other Alliance congress- 
men. If he left the Democratic party, he would not break faith 
with his constituents, but would merely follow his constituents 
who were true to their principles. The Democrats "treat our 
principles with hatred and scorn and contempt." 14 

The cry of "demagogue" continued. Watson thought he was 
"the worst abused, worst disparaged, worst 'cussed' man in 
Georgia," and he probably was. "My character has been pre- 
sented to the people of the state in every form of the kaleido- 
scope, and I am glad of it." He was reported to have said that 
"he knew he was a demagogue, but he gloried in it." However, 
that admission might be better understood in connection with his 
laconic observation a few days earlier: 

12 Telegraph, July 16, 1891; Constitution, July 16, 1891. 

13 July 17, 1891. 

14 Atlanta Journal, July 18, 1891. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

By some strange necessity, the pure, unselfish patriots have all gone into 
the bucket shops, brokers' offices, speculative companies, railroad combines, 
the banks, the warehouses, and the editorial rooms. Outside these charmed 
circles no patriot can be found. 15 

The Western speakers came in for their share of abuse by the 
Georgia Democrats. Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Lease, the most spec- 
tacular and accomplished of the women campaigners of Kansas, 
famous for her admonition, "raise less corn and more Hell," 
had recently arrived in Georgia. A woman loose in Georgia poli- 
tics! Whispers and indignation . . . The farmers cheered and 
cheered again, but in Atlanta an "indignation meeting" was held 
when the Alliance condemned a bill to provide a home for dis- 
abled and improvident Confederate soldiers. "Did Weaver do 
it?" "Was it Sockless Jerry?" "Probably 'twas Mrs. Lease," 
said the speakers. It must have been one of "This trio of com- 
munists and south haters." 16 

Mrs. Lease was unperturbed: "You may call me an anarchist, 
a socialist or a communist, I care not, but I hold to the theory 
that if one man has not enough to eat three times a day and an- 
other man has $25,000,000, that last man has something that be- 
longs to the first." Addressing the Georgia Assembly, she said: 
"Georgia and Kansas have clasped hands at last . . . come into 
the People's party and help defeat that common enemy, the Re- 
publican party. . . . Take off your old party collars. What are 
you afraid of?" 17 

Meanwhile Watson gave alarmists no rest. He was "making a 
sort of triumphal tour through the State"; he was "going all 
over the state expressing his convictions." He was explaining 
why the Chronicle cried "communism" and "foamed at the 
mouth." "Let me show you how communist and paternal it [the 
Alliance platform] is. We are the people. We have created the 
corporations. They are our legal off-spring. Shall it be said that 
the servant is above the master, or the child above the father?" 
He was asking, "Will you Knights of Labor help the farmers 
and laborers in the field of their fight on the common enemy?" 
What of this cry of "class legislation"? "What has this country 
ever had but class legislation? The second law Congress ever 

16 Augusta Chronicle, Aug. 5, 1891. 

16 Atlanta Journal, Aug. 28, 1891. 

17 Macon Telegraph, Aug. 11, 1891; Constitution, Aug. 9, 11, 1891. 


"I Mean Business" 

passed was aimed to build up commerce and manufactures at the 
expense of agriculture. Our statute books are filled with legisla- 
tion in behalf of capital, at the expense of labor. ... If we 
must have class legislation, as we have always had it and always 
will have it, what class is more entitled to it than the largest 
class — the working class?" The response of his audiences was 
generally like that of a Jefferson County crowd: "And then a 
glad shout of approval from a thousand throats rang through 
the wood and every eye in the audience flashed with admiration." 

The question of drastic railroad legislation was uppermost in 
the public mind in August. The legislature had a committee in- 
vestigating the leases and another looking into freight rates. 
Numerous cahiers from the radical county sub-Alliances were 
pouring into the legislators' mail demanding rate regulation, 
government ownership, and laws against combinations. Living- 
ston, president of the state Alliance, was known to frown upon 
such legislation, particularly laws against railroad combina- 
tions, and he had taken that position at the state convention of 
the Alliance now in session. 18 Watson, on the other hand, was 
widely known to favor the most radical railroad legislation. This 
issue, dramatizing as it did the more basic conflict between these 
two men for ascendency in the movement, lent particular interest 
to Watson's address to the Georgia legislature while the Alli- 
ance convention was in progress. 

"How long has it been," he asked, "since Jay Gould came 
South, peering into every nook and cranny of the railroad sys- 
tems?" Indeed, it had not been many months since Gould had 
toured Georgia. The party of millionaires with him controlled 
"over 40,000 miles of railway lines" and their fortunes "bonded 
together would make over $250,000,000." The Augusta Chron- 
icle hailed the visit as evidence that "Southern development has 
enlisted the practical support of the richest man in America. Mr. 
Gould has not only put thousands into the Richmond Terminal. 
He has put millions into it." 19 The Mayor's council of Atlanta 
voted Gould and his party "the freedom of the city" ; the Cham- 
ber of Commerce received him, and a well-advertised reception 
was given him at the Inman home by Atlanta "society." 

18 Macon Telegraph, July 24, 1891; Atlanta Journal, Aug. 24, 1891; A. M. 
Arnett, op. cit., pp. 120-121. 

19 Feb. 8, 1891. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

"If the devil himself," observed Watson, "were to come to 
this town in a palace car and propose to haul the balance of the 
state to his infernal kingdom, and to allow Atlanta capitalists 
the profits on the transaction, they would cry, 'Hurrah for the 
devil. He's going to build up Atlanta ! . . .' 

"Fellow citizens, I believe that the only way we can ever set- 
tle this railroad problem is by absolute Government ownership." 
Cheered to the echo, he then proceeded to enumerate and ex- 
pound sixteen reasons why he believed in government owner- 
ship. 20 

The Alliance convention, then sitting in Atlanta, appeared to 
be under the domination of Livingston, who also controlled the 
official organ, the Southern Alliance Farmer. This man, known 
as one of the "Big Five" in the National Alliance, occupied a 
dubious and shifty position in the movement. He was generally 
thought of as one of the most radical of Alliancemen, given to 
thunderous imprecations against Cleveland and conservative 
party leaders. He frequently sounded ominous warnings of re- 
volt. Yet it was Livingston who was involved with Macune in 
the attempt to deliver the Alliance vote to Patrick Calhoun for 
senator; it was he who sought to substitute government "con- 
trol" for "ownership" in the Ocala platform; it was he who at 
Cincinnati promised to follow the West into the new party, if 
only they would postpone action till the next year, and yet in 
Georgia hushed and diverted every demand for revolt; it was 
he who led in pledging all the Alliance-elected congressmen, 
save Watson, to vote for Crisp for Speaker of the national 
House of Representatives. For these reasons many Alliancemen 
put Livingston down in the "Plug-hat" rather than in the 
"Wool-hat" branch of the Alliance. 21 

Watson had his own suspicions of Livingston's conduct. On 
the eve of the state convention, before setting out to Atlanta, he 
was reported to have said to a friend that "the time had come 
when the people must choose between him and Livingston." 
Although Livingston seemed practically assured of reelection as 
president, Watson set forth to the convention with his own can- 
didate, C. H. Ellington, of Thomson. The Constitution was 

20 Atlanta Journal, Aug. 22, 1891. 

21 People's Party Paper, Nov. 26, 1891; Augusta Chronicle, July 18, 1891; J. C. 
Manning, The Fadeout of Populism, pp. 16-17; Northen and Watson Scrapbooks. 


11 1 Mean Business" 

pleased to observe that "the apostle of discord" failed in his ef- 
fort. His candidate did not even win the vice-presidency; Liv- 
ingston was elected president; and the resolution of Watson's 
friend C. C. Post, instructing congressmen to vote for no man 
for Speaker unless he indorsed the Alliance platform, was de- 
feated. Watson did score one point against his rival, however, 
for, whether as a result of his speech on the railroads or not, the 
convention rebelled at President Livingston's demand that no 
action be taken on railroad consolidation. 22 

Watson was still supremely isolated in his position, among of- 
ficialdom of Alliance and Democracy in Georgia. But it was the 
inarticulate battalions of rank and file on which he depended, 
and evidence was not lacking that they looked to him as their 
leader. There were reports of "an uninterrupted stream of com- 
munications for months, all in favor of a third party," — to Liv- 
ingston's Southern Alliance Farmer™ 

Much of Watson's time during these months was spent in 
writing long open letters of rebuttal, correction, or rebuke to the 
Democratic press. Most of this was necessary to his best inter- 
ests, for the city dailies were undoubtedly twisting his meaning 
and misrepresenting and discrediting him in a thousand ways. 
For example, the Constitution, by slightly twisting a sentence he 
uttered in a debate with Senator Butler of South Carolina made 
him proclaim himself a "messiah," and printed a ridiculous car- 
toon of him over the caption, "Sane or Insane? The Last Mes- 
siah Crank." 24 His effort to answer such persecution — imaginary 
as well as real — took much precious time. His continuous speak- 
ing campaign over the state seems to have been a rather frantic 
effort to make his own voice perform the service of a journal of 
large circulation. Isolated as was his position, he had powerful 
official antagonists, and an enemy in the editorial room of every 
Democratic paper. Even the official Alliance organ was in the 
hands of an avowed enemy. Watson obviously had urgent need 
of a paper of his own. In the fall of 1891 he took the leading 
part in the work of establishing one. 

The first number of the People's Party Paper 25 appeared in 

22 Constitution, Aug. 20, 21, 22, and 23, 1891 ; Journal, Aug. 20, and 24, 1891. 

23 Macon Telegraph, July 24, 1891. 

24 Constitution, Sept. 12, 1891; Watson's speech in Orangeburg, S.C. Cotton Plant, 
Oct. 31, 1891. 

25 Hereafter referred to in footnotes as "P. P. P." 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Atlanta on October i : Thomas E. Watson, Editor-in-Chief, 
Charles C. Post, Managing Editor. It was destined to continue 
to appear weekly for some eight years. A form letter, signed by 
Watson, announcing the paper's appearance and soliciting sub- 
scriptions, stated that "Its purpose is to educate our people upon 
governmental questions; to assail official corruption, to oppose 
class-rule, legislative favoritism, and the centralizing tendencies 
manifest in both old parties." It would champion "the Jeffer- 
sonian theory of popular government" and u the common peo- 
ple — their grievances, their hopes, their rights." 26 

C. C. Post, the Populist novelist ("the atheistic, anarchistic, 
communistic Editor of the People's Party Paper" so-called in 
the Democratic press) , deserves more than a casual introduction. 
Post began his career in Michigan, edited the Chicago Express 
in the middle 'eighties, and, with his wife, moved to Lithia 
Springs, Georgia, for his health in 1886. He was a young man, 
described as "tall and slender," resembling "the fellow 'before 
taking.' " He wore "a lean, hungry look as if in pursuit of some- 
thing." He was an ardent soul, full of the enthusiasms and the 
amiable follies of a generous and sympathetic nature — ready to 
break a lance for any good cause. At Douglasville, where he was 
known as "Chicago Charlie," he and his wife founded a "School 
for Mental Healing," which, if his Metaphysical Essays 2T is 
any indication, preached a type of naturalistic Christianity 
faintly resembling Christian Science and apparently influenced by 
Darwin. In the West he had been connected with reform move- 
ments, and in Georgia he soon took up arms for the Farmers' 
Alliance. He had attended the Cincinnati convention in May. 28 

Post's first novel, Driven from Sea to Sea, published in 1884, 
after appearing serially in his paper, was said to have been read 
by "over a million people," to have had a sale of 50,000 bound 
copies, and in paper covers to have been still selling at the rate 
of 2,000 copies a month in 1892. 29 It was an exposure of the do- 
ings of Crocker, Stanford, and Huntington in the Southern Pa- 
cific Railroad scandal, a picture of "corporate monopoly robbing 

26 Copy of letter in Watson MSS., Chapel Hill. 

27 Boston, 1895. 

28 P. P. P., March 10, 1892; Macon Telegraph, July 15, 1891; and clippings, 
Watson Scrapbooks. 

29 P. P. P., March 10, 1892. 


"I Mean Business" 

the people under shelter of the law." 30 The book was forbidden 
to be sold on the railroads. Post had another novel then on the 
press, Congressman Swanson, the story of a young Southerner, a 
man of the people, who led a revolt from the old party into the 
new People's party. It appeared in December, 1891, at the very 
crisis of Congressman Watson's endeavor to perform the same 
deed. The novelist tells how u the shackles of party fell from 
their [Alliancemen's] limbs, and when the men of Kansas threw 
off the yoke of the Republican party and extended a hand in 
fraternal greeting to their brethren of the South, that hand was 
grasped with quick and ready sympathy and a new political 
party . . . redolent of life and eager for action, stepped into 
the arena, and offered battle to the plutocracy of the world." 31 

Something of the temperament and feelings of Charlie Post 
is revealed in his statement that "The thought is in the heart of 
the people that violence may have to be resorted to before jus- 
tice will be granted," and that "Either peacefully or otherwise 
monopolistic systems are doomed to destruction." Post was one 
of those who "meant business," and this trait could not but en- 
dear him to his editor-in-chief. 

The new paper moved off to a slow start. The public, Watson 
discovered, "was singularly patient and deliberate and made no 
hurry at all to send in names and cash." At the end of six weeks 
it was found that the paper had spent $1,500 and received 126 
subscriptions, each subscriber costing the owners twelve dollars. 
Besides, the bookkeeper exhibited postal cards sent in by post- 
masters stating that addressees refused to accept free sample 
copies and that they "did not like our politics." "Hundreds of 
such postal cards came in every week." Despite such dishearten- 
ing experiences, the paper continued, losing about a hundred 
dollars a week in the summer of 1892. In July of that year Wat- 
son became sole owner. "I had no advertising," he wrote, and 
the paper "had to bear as its own expense the brunt of the cam- 
paign in Georgia. It did not ask nor receive a dollar from any 
candidate. It received no subsidy, directly, or indirectly, from 
any source whatever." 82 

80 Driven from Sea to Sea, or Just a C ampin' (Chicago, 1884). 

81 C. C. Post, Congressman Swanson, p. 336. 

32 Clipping from P. P. P., circa Oct. i, 1893, Watson Scrapbooks. Allan Nevins 
seems to be mistaken in asserting that Watson's paper was a source of riches 
(Grover Cleveland, pp. 594-595). 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Bravely the first number announced, "This paper is not an ex- 
periment, but starts out on a basis which insures its permanency." 
It was the editor's intention that Southern people "shall have a 
paper that is not controlled by the politicians and through which 
they can learn the truth about this mighty movement of the 
masses." Commenting upon the rise of the Populist press all 
over the country, the editor said, "The organs of monopoly and 
plutocracy are now powerless to deceive the masses." The edi- 
torials for the first several months emphasized a defense of the 
Ocala platform, warned against compromise with Democratic 
half-measures, and appealed for closer alliance with the West. 

After the state Alliance convention, Watson's enemies were 
glad to interpret the failure of his lieutenants to put through 
their resolution instructing Alliance congressmen not to vote for 
any candidate for Speaker who did not stand on the Ocala plat- 
form as evidence that the third-party revolt was "foredoomed 
from the first to miserable and inglorious defeat," and that Alli- 
ancemen were merely "old-fashioned Democrats." Watson's 
next hope to gain official sanction for his position upon the 
Speakership and Democratic caucus control lay with the Georgia 
assembly. There the effort failed again. The legislators compro- 
mised with a resolution "requesting" the Georgia delegation to 
support legislation that would correct evils complained of by the 
Ocala platform. Since official sanction from these sources was re- 
fused, the last hope for action lay in the convention of the Su- 
preme Council of the National Alliance to be held in Indianap- 
olis in November. Watson appealed to his readers for instruc- 
tions: "It is time they spoke up and let their congressmen know 
what they want done." 83 

Behind each successive checkmate of Watson's moves to break 
the grip of the dead hand of the old party was the skillful strat- 
egy of Livingston. Animosity between the two men sharpened as 
the realization spread abroad that between them lay the most 
dangerous, the most crucial, political issue that Southerners of 
that day were capable of envisaging — white solidarity, the Solid 
South. National interest developed in the struggle between 
them as it became apparent that they were the leaders of oppos- 

88 Lois Gray, "Thomas E. Watson: Leader of Georgia Populism," Master's thesis, 
Emory University, pp. 40-41. 


"I Mean Business" 

ing national forces : one seeking to keep the reform movement 
within the bounds of the two old parties and divided between 
them ; the other attempting to unite the movement in a separate 

For a long time it was a matter of doubt which flag Living- 
ston was following. But now, with the rank and file of his battal- 
ions restive, ripening for revolt, and suspicious of betrayal, 84 
Livingston, under the relentless fire of Watson's exposures, was 
finally revealed in his true colors. 

"After all this agitation and the turning out of the old leaders 
are the new ones going to fall into the old party ruts?" asked 
Watson. "Then what was the use in turning the old ones 
out?" 35 He charged Livingston with "trying to ride two horses 
at once." He was running with the hare and barking with the 
hounds. When cornered with the question, "Will you vote for 
Cleveland if he is nominated?" Livingston replied, "I will vote 
for the nominee." Yet in July he had said, "The Democrat who 
could swallow Cleveland could swallow Harrison." M Since it 
was known that Livingston was pledged to vote for Crisp as 
Speaker, Watson quoted Crisp as saying, "If the damned Alli- 
ance, or the People's Party should carry Kansas this year, all 
hell can't hold the Alliancemen of the South ; therefore it is nec- 
essary to break up the People's Party of Kansas, in order to pre- 
serve a solid South." 87 At the Cincinnati convention Livingston 
had asked the Western leaders for only a little more time for 
"educational" work before he led the Georgia Alliance into the 
new party. 38 In Georgia, however, he had repeatedly deferred 
action with the excuse that the time was not ripe. As the day ap- 
proached for the Indianapolis meeting, it became evident that 
Livingston would be on hand to block all tendency toward re- 

With exactly the opposite intention, Watson set out for In- 
dianapolis. It was the first of the National Alliance conventions 

34 The air was thick with charges of corruption against Livingston during the 
summer and fall of 1891. Vide Northen Scrapbooks; Journal, Aug. 15, 17, and 28, 
and Sept. 4 and 5, 1891; Constitution, June 11 and Aug. 14, and 22-28, 1891. 

85 P. P. P., Dec. 3, 1891. 

86 Augusta Chronicle, July 18, 1891. 

87 P. P. P., Nov. 19, 1 891, quoting the Kansas Agitator. 

88 New York Voice, May 28, 1891, and a letter from Mrs. Lease stating that Liv- 
ingston pledged his support to the new party, both quoted in clipping from Atlanta 
Journal, undated, Watson Scrapbooks. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

he had attended; he was not a member, and he had no right to 
the floor. With him, however, was his friend and lieutenant, 
M. I. Branch, an accredited delegate from the Georgia Alliance. 
Branch carried with him for presentation to the convention a 
resolution that Watson "highly approved of." Upon Watson's 
advice, Branch showed the resolution to Jerry Simpson, who 
first agreed to introduce it. This Simpson was unable to do when 
he failed to be chosen as delegate. Branch then introduced the 
resolution himself. According to him it "appeared like a clap of 
thunder in a clear sky." As a matter of fact the sky was by no 
means clear of third-party thunder clouds. Livingston's "vigo- 
rous" opposition was unavailing this time; the resolution was 
adopted "with enthusiasm." It requested all congressmen elected 
"by aid of Alliance constituencies ... to decline to enter into 
any party caucus called to designate a candidate for Speaker, un- 
less adherence to the principles of the Ocala platform are made 
a test of admission to said caucus." 89 Watson's views, rejected 
in his own state under the coercion of Alliance leaders, were now 
the adopted policy of the National organization. 

Livingston was further discredited by the election as president 
of L. L. Polk, who was strongly in sympathy with the People's 
party. When his own views against independence became known, 
Livingston's candidacy, thought by some to have been formi- 
dable, collapsed. The convention was, on the whole, a triumph 
for the People's party. A member of its executive committee 
was elected vice-president, and there was no longer any doubt 
that a national ticket would be nominated the next year with 
Polk at its head. 40 Watson was quoted in Indianapolis as saying 
he would not enter the Democratic caucus, but that instead the 
Alliance congressmen would hold a caucus themselves and nom- 
inate a candidate for Speaker. "Georgia is ready for a third 
party," he added, "and will sweep the State with the movement. 
The great bulk of the Democratic party will pass into the new 
party lines." 41 

89 Letter from M. I. Branch in P. P. P., Sept. 9, 1892, and in the Constitution, 
March 13, 1892; resolution quoted in P. P. P., Nov. 26, 1891; account of conven- 
tion in Constitution, Nov. 17-25, 1891; Ernest D. Stewart in "The Populist Party 
in Indiana," Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. XIV, p. 355, seems to have been in 
error in asserting that Simpson introduced the resolution in question. 

^Washington Post, Nov. 20 and 26 and Dec. 9, 1891; P. P. P., Nov. 26, 1891; 
E. D. Stewart, op. ciu 

41 Indianapolis Journal quoted in the P. P. P., Nov. 26, 1891. 


"I Mean Business" 

It being only a few weeks until his first session of Congress 
opened, Watson hurried home. "Realizing the gravity of the 
Resolution," he later wrote, "I campaigned my District again, 
and took a referendum vote, as to whether I should obey the 
Resolution. Without one dissenting voice, the people, by a show 
of hands, instructed me to defy the caucus, and stand firm for 
the principles." 42 When the Democratic papers sought to dis- 
credit his motives by saying that he had written his own instruc- 
tions, since the Indianapolis resolution was virtually his own, 
Watson replied that it was, with slight change, only a reaffirma- 
tion of a similar resolution passed at St. Louis in 1889, upon the 
basis of which he had made his race. 

Upon his return home, Watson was greeted with a hail of 
abuse that was a hint of what was to come later. Patrick Walsh 
branded him a "traitor" and read him out of the party. Living- 
ston refused to be bound by the resolution passed at Indianapo- 
lis. When his paper complained that "sub-alliances are disband- 
ing, and members are growing luke-warm and discouraged," the 
membership in some counties falling off twenty-five per cent, 
Watson observed that it was "not to be wondered at that 
they grew suspicious" after Livingston's conduct at the con- 
vention and his repeated thwarting of their impulse toward re- 
volt. 43 

The radical sub-alliances were becoming articulate against 
their president. The Howell alliance rather exceeded the bounds 
of parliamentary decorum in its resolution: "Whereas, one 
Leonidas F. Benedict Arnold Judas Iscariot Livingston" has 
committed sundry acts not to their liking, they hereby consign 
him to his "proper sphere — among the scum and Wall-Street 
pimps of the so-called Democratic party." ** 

"This is not a political fight," Watson wrote, "and politicians 
cannot lead or direct it. It is a movement of the masses, an upris- 
ing of the people, and they and not the politicians will direct it. 
The people need spokesmen — not leaders — men in the front 
who will obey, not command." 45 

With Post as its chairman, the Executive Committee of the 

42 Watson, Political and Economic Handbook, p. 454. 

^Southern Alliance Farmer, Nov. 24, 1891; P. P. P., Dec. 3, 1891. 

44 Clipping from Atlanta Herald, Northen Scrapbooks, Vol. II, p. 30. 

45 P. P. P., Dec. 3, 1891. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

People's Party of Georgia was already at work in December set- 
ting up the framework of the new party. As commander of the 
new army, Watson was accepted without question, and a capable 
general he was. There was also a raw and untried staff of of- 
ficers. The rank and file, however, were still unmobilized, in- 
deed, not even recruited, much less drilled. It yet remained to 
be seen whether they would spring to arms when Tom Watson 
raised the banner. 



Populism in Congress 

With apparent intention of staying a long while at 
Washington, Watson bought a house then under construc- 
tion at 129 Fourth Street, S. E., "a handsome four story brick 
building,' ' he pronounced it. His family, which now included a 
son and a daughter, was no sooner moved in than they and he 
were down with grippe. His reaction to the new situation, like 
his reaction to his first office ten years before, was one of disap- 
pointment. "Being in Congress," he wrote, "does not seem near 
so big a thing as when I was campaigning for the place." 
Furthermore, "The speaker [Mr. Crisp] is bitterly hostile to 
me because I would not support him and will give me no chance 
to acquit myself with credit." With so much to do, however, 
there was little time for self-pity. "Am organizing a new political 
party in Georgia," he noted in his Journal, "because the Demo- 
cratic Party has drifted away from true Principles and is only 
seeking office. The newspapers denounce me most bitterly but 
the people seem to be rallying to me with enthusiasm." 1 "I 
worked so hard while in Congress," he later testified, "that 
while I am passionately fond of music, I did not once attend the 

Before Congress convened a show-down upon the question of 
adherence to the Indianapolis resolution and independence was 
forced upon all Alliance-elected and pledged congressmen. A 
short while before the Democratic caucus was called, a confer- 
ence of Alliance congressmen was held in the office of the Na- 
tional Economist. To all of them had been sent a letter signed 
by L. L. Polk, president of the National Alliance, including a 

a MS. Journal 2, p. 527; National Economist, Jan. 2, 1892. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

copy of the Indianapolis resolution, and reminding them of their 
obligation in the matter of caucus and Speakership contest. Upon 
these matters the congressmen were clearly divided into two 
factions. One, led by Livingston, was made up of eight repre- 
sentatives, all from the South, all agreed upon entering the 
Democratic caucus. The other faction, led by Watson and Jerry 
Simpson, was made up of seven congressmen, all from the West 
with the exception of Watson, all determined to adhere to the 
Ocala platform no matter where it took them. Here was the 
issue that had to be settled before this meeting ended. As dis- 
cussion circled near it, the atmosphere became tense. 

For a while, financial questions and policies were discussed. 
Then Otis of Kansas took the floor and addressed an "earnest 
talk" to the Southerners. "We are disappointed," he told them. 
"We came here expecting you to work with us for the Ocala 
Platform irrespective of Party caucus, and but one of your num- 
ber has met us on that ground." Jerry Simpson arose and pro- 
posed independent action, and at the same time made an un- 
complimentary reference to the Democratic party. Livingston 
was on his feet instantly. "The Democratic party is not opposed 
to us," he roared. "It is willing and anxious to work for the re- 
lief of our people." Furthermore, Simpson had no right to call 
his party corrupt. But, replied Simpson, he had heard Living- 
ston himself denounce it as corrupt. This rejoinder set the meet- 
ing in an "uproar," with several members on the floor at once 
talking excitedly at the tops of their voices. 

Livingston was a powerful man physically, "a most compel- 
ling, commanding personage," said an acquaintance, and a "born 
leader of men." It was not often, nor with impunity, that his 
will was crossed. Yet he had been compelled to watch a vast or- 
ganization, which he had all but fathered, slip gradually out of 
his control and under the spell of a puny orator half his size and 
several years his junior. 

Watson, in spite of the uproar, gained attention by the very 
fury of his words and manner. The scene that followed is de- 
scribed by an eye-witness : 

Tom Watson shouted that it was time to do some plain talking. "You 
can't choke Simpson in that way," he cried. "He's right. On what platform 
were we elected? What pledges did we make? Then how is it proposed 
that we go into the democratic caucus?" 


Populism in Congress 

Suddenly Watson turned full on Livingston. "You and I know," he 
cried, "how we came to be here. We could never have been in Congress 
but for the reform movement among the farmers of Georgia. These farmers 
trusted you, and now you want to betray them for your own personal 

"Sit down," roared Livingston, jumping to his feet and striding toward 
Watson, over whom he towered like a giant. 

"I'll not sit down," cried Watson, not quailing or budging an inch. "You 
can't bulldoze me," he cried. "I'd say what was right, no matter if there 
were a thousand Livingstons here." 

Livingston was in a rage. Half a dozen men jumped up to hold him 

"You needn't hold him," cried Watson. "I guess he's not dangerous." 

The men glared at each other, and it took a long time to restore quiet 
and order. 2 

Simpson was finally allowed to conclude his remarks. Watson 
followed him to say that there was an "irrepressible conflict be- 
tween factions; that they were like crossed swords; and there 
had better be no more meetings." The conference adjourned 
after a futile effort by Livingston to "pour oil upon the waters." 

While the Democratic and Republican caucuses were in prog- 
ress two senators and eight representatives met at Senator Pef- 
fer's house, and the first Populist caucus was called to order. It 
was unanimously agreed that the Indianapolis Resolution 
should be respected. The conference also unanimously requested 
Tom Watson to be their candidate for Speaker. He consented, 
"knowing of course that it amounted to nothing more than a 
compliment and a proof of our consistency." He represented a 
wedge with which the Populists hoped to split the Solid South. 
"So was formed," declared the People's Party Paper, "the first 
distinctive political body known as the People's party." 3 

After a long deadlock in the Democratic caucus Crisp re- 
ceived the nomination, which, in view of the huge Democratic 
majority in the House, assured his election. On the day of elec- 
tion, Jerry Simpson rose and nominated Watson for Speaker. 
He received eight votes. 4 The party of which he was the House 
leader consisted at this point of Jerry Simpson, John G. Otis, 

2 Clipping from Washington Post, Vol. II, p. 24 of Northen Scrapbooks ; cf . Wat- 
son's account in P. P. P., Jan. 28, 1892. 

3 Dec. 17, 1891, quoted by John D. Hicks, The Populist Revolt, p. 222; clippings 
in Northen Scrapbooks, Vol. II, p. 25. 

4 Congressional Record, 52 Cong., 1 Sess., p. 7. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

John Davis, Benjamin H. Clover, and William Baker, all from 
Kansas, O. M. Kem and W. A. McKeighan from Nebraska, 
and K. Halvorsen from Minnesota. 

Hamlin Garland, the young Western novelist, whose Main- 
Traveled Roads had just appeared, had taken part "in meetings 
of rebellious farmers in bare-walled Kansas school-houses, and 
watched processions of weather-worn Nebraska Populists as 
they filed through the shadeless cities of their sun-baked 
plains." 5 Thrilled by the spirit of revolt among his people, he 
had now come to Washington in search of material for an arti- 
cle. 6 

He found significance in the seats assigned the Populist mem- 
bers, with Jerry Simpson directly in front of the Speaker's desk, 
forming the point of a "wedge," his colleagues spread behind 
him — a wedge that would "symbolize the work of splitting the 
old parties in pieces." Watson, Kem, and Clover, however, were 
unable to obtain seats with their colleagues, and were placed on 
the extreme right of the Republican side of the House. 

Garland thought Watson, "next to Simpson, the most striking 
personality of the group. He speaks with a touch of the dialect 
of the South, and wears a soft hat in the southern way . . . He 
is small and active. His face is perfectly beardless and quite thin. 
His eyes are his most remarkable feature, except possibly the 
abundance of dark red hair, pushed back from his face. . . . 
Many remark his resemblance to Alexander Stephens, whose 
district he has succeeded to. The photographer remarked upon 
the striking resemblance, which extends to his ability. Simpson 
calls him the 'coming man,' and has a deep regard for him." 

"His life of hard work and suffering has made him a com- 
moner and a radical, — 'a dangerous man' to some of the South- 
ern people, — but a very moderate and fair-tempered reformer 
to me. He is simply one more of the scores of similar young radi- 
cals and commoners of my acquaintance. He not only types the 
best economic thought of the young South, — he leads it . . . 
He stands for the further extension of the idea of liberty. His 
faith in man and the forward urge of the human mind never fails 

6 Hamlin Garland, Son of the Middle Border, p. 423. 

6 H. Garland, "The Alliance Wedge in Congress," Arena, Vol. V (March, 1892), 
pp. 447-457. 


Populism in Congress 

him. . . ." Although "one of the youngest members of the 
House, he will be found to be one of the ablest when any ques- 
tion is being discussed on its merits." 

Garland described Jerry Simpson as "about fifty years of age, 
of slender but powerful build" wearing "old-fashioned glasses, 
through which his eyes gleam with ever-present humor." He 
was "full of odd turns of thought, and quaint expressions that 
make one think of Whitcomb Riley." Simpson had led a hard 
life — a sailor on Lake Michigan and later a farmer in Kansas. 
He had no school training. Yet, observed Garland, "he thinks 
for himself on all subjects religious, economic, and political," is 
"naturally a studious man," and has "a large fund of common 
sense and experimental philosophy." Once in debate he referred 
to Senator Cullom as an "iniquitous railway attorney" and was 
promptly called out of order. "Well," said Simpson, "I will 
withdraw that. I beg pardon, I am a new member and do not 
know your rules. But that is the way we talk in Kansas. We are 
plain-speaking people." 7 

The other Westerners Garland described in less detail, noting 
in general their "heavily lined" faces and "a sort of smileless 
gravity about them that reflects the hard condition of the people 
from whom they come." There was, for instance, Halvorsen, the 
Swede, with "long red whiskers, cut away at the chin" — "quiet 
to the point of reticence." There were doubtless moments when 
these Westerners looked upon their volatile and irrepressible 
Southern comrade in wonderment. 

This handful of Populist leaders, and those who joined them 
later, were then, and have been since, the butt of a great deal of 
misdirected humor. Henry Demarest Lloyd, one of the keenest 
observers of their generation, pronounced the Populist delega- 
tion in Congress "men whom the fierce light of opposition never 
revealed to be anything but brave, honest, and intelligent." 

During his visit to Congress in January, 1891, it seemed to 
Hamlin Garland that there was "approaching a great periodic 
popular upheaval similar to that of '6i." "Everywhere," he re- 
corded, "as I went through the aisles of the House, I saw it and 
heard it. The young Democrats were almost in open rebellion 

7 Clipping, Watson Scrapbooks. 


Tom Watson Agrarian "Rebel 

against this domineering policy of the old legislators. The Re- 
publicans were apprehensive, almost desperate. Placeholders are 
beginning to tremble." On the whole, he decided, "the House 
is a smoldering volcano." But the Populists, "the men who are 
advocating right and justice instead of policy, sat eager, ready 
for the struggle. They have everything to win and nothing to 
lose in the vital discussion and re-organization which, in my 
judgment, is sure to come." 8 

Another young member of the House who came to Washing- 
ton for his first term was William Jennings Bryan, the only 
Democratic member from Nebraska. The other two members of 
the delegation were Populists. It is said that some 20,000 fraud- 
ulent votes were cast against the Populists in Nebraska in the 
election of 1890. 9 Watson told Bryan "that he would have to 
abandon his principles or leave the Democratic party." He 
hoped "this brilliant young man will choose principle — even 
though he lose office by it. There is such a thing in life as paying 
too much for office." 10 

"Poor Tom's a' cold," chanted the Atlanta Journal on receiv- 
ing news that Watson had bolted the Democratic caucus. He 
was the "lone fisherman." At Thomson, his home, the Demo- 
crats celebrated "with bonfires, brass band, fire works, and 
much enthusiasm" the election of Crisp as Speaker. Watson's 
own brother was elected secretary of the meeting of Thomson 
Democrats that demanded his resignation and condemned his 
stand. 11 

This was a bitter cup to Watson. To his friend Ellington in 
Thomson he wrote, "As for me, I suffer deeply. I felt very 
keenly the blow dealt me by my own people at home, but I am 
here to do certain things, and I mean to do it if it costs me my 
life." To vindicate their leader, the farmers held a mass meeting 
in Thomson in answer to the Democratic celebration. The 

8 H. Garland, in Arena, Vol. V (1892), p. 457. 
9 Paxon Hibben, The Peerless Leader, p. 124. 
10 P. P. P., Oct. 13, 1893. 

"Augusta Chronicle, Dec. 9, 1891; clipping dated Thomson, Jan. 30, 1892, Wat- 
son Scrapbooks. 


Populism in Congress 

weather was foul and roads all but impassable. "If ever elements 
conspired against the success of a meeting of men," wrote an un- 
friendly attendant, "it did today. ... I dwell thus upon the 
weather to . . . emphasize what enthusiasm, and what earnest- 
ness of purpose must actuate men who rode from ten to fifteen 
miles in wagons and open buggies and on horse back through 
sleet and slush, over bad roads, to come here and declare their 
faith and confidence in Tom Watson. To me there is something 
pathetic in the spectacle ... to witness these grayhaired veter- 
ans who have borne the Democratic standard to victory in a 
hundred battles, turning their backs upon the colors for which 
their sires fought, renouncing and denouncing leaders who stood 
by them in troublous times that are past, and swearing allegiance 
to strange gods and untried generals. It indicates how serious is 
the condition of these farmers at home, how cheerless to them 
must be the outlook for the future." 

Only a few townsmen were present. Ellington remarked, "It 
is the same old fight between the country and the town." Ad- 
dressing the farmers, a speaker said, "They say Watson is a dan- 
gerous man. It was discontented people who established the 
Protestant Church, the Magna Charta and which [sic'] caused 
France to run with blood. (Applause.) There are a hundred 
precedents in history. Discontent makes us rebels against these 
old line parties. If we are united we will win. (Applause.) Let 
us stand by each other at any cost. (Applause.) Let us wire Wat- 
son our action today and let his heart rejoice to know that his 
people are with him." 

The meeting voted "unqualified approval" of Watson, "the 
only Congressman from Georgia elected on the Ocala demands, 
who has not compromised the principles on which he was 
elected." It branded "all such charges as 'traitor to party,' 'Ben- 
edict Arnold,' etc., maliciously false." 12 

Scores of similar meetings endorsing Watson were held in 
sub-alliances all over the state. "At the very mention of his 
name" the Jonesboro sub-Alliance "arose as one man, making 
the welkin ring." For two months Watson spread samples of 
these resolutions endorsing his position over the front page of 
his paper under the heading, "SPEAKING OUT." 13 It was 

32 Augusta Chronicle, Dec. 20, 1891. 
13 P. P. P., Dec. 17, 1891-Feb. 11, 1892. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

said by prominent Alliancemen that "Tom Watson is now the 
recognized leader of the Alliance as an organization political 
. . . This meant that the Alliance is already, or will be as soon 
as plans mature, the third party of Georgia. Livingston was too 
tame a spirit for the third party emergency. ... It has been 
very evident for months past that Livingston had lost his grip. 
. . . Livingston and Watson are not even on speaking terms." 14 
President Polk commended Watson's action, 15 and the National 
Economist thought that the nine Populists with him as leader 
"immortalized themselves politically, and made traces in Ameri- 
can history which will never be obliterated, by refusing to go 
into the caucus of either party." 16 

For all the notoriety he received before Congress was organ- 
ized, Watson was still a neophyte and had his place yet to win 
on the floor of the House. The Chronicle admitted that he "es- 
pecially distinguished himself" in his maiden speech, "not so 
much by what he said as by his coolness, readiness at repartee 
and his easy flow of good solid English words." When he got 
the floor the former "Czar" Reed, who sat across the aisle from 
him, conspicuously moved a dozen seats away, but returned to 
his seat before the Populist leader was half through, and "actu- 
ally smiled graciously" when Watson made some humorous ref- 
erence to his erstwhile Czardom. 

Referring to his committee appointments (the United States 
Militia, and the Census) Watson remarked that Crisp had 
placed him "just as low as the law allowed," observing that "A 
militia which does not exist and a census which has already been 
taken are not apt to be subjects of very exciting work. Maybe I 
can get the pages to let me help them bring up stationery, pens, 
ink, etc. and then keep the rust off. The elevator man seems to be 
a good natured outcast and possibly he may let me help him pull 
the cord." 

The feud between Watson and Speaker Crisp increased in bit- 
terness. A reporter in Watson's paper doubted if "there ever 
reigned a speaker of the House before this who declined to 
speak to one of the members or who refused to recognize him in 
his representative capacity because of personal bias." When 

14 Clipping dated Dec. 26, 1891, Northen Scrapbooks, Vol. II, p. 24. 

15 Progressive Farmer, quoted in P. P. P., Jan. 14, 1892. 

16 Dec. 12, 1891. 


Populism in Congress 

Crisp snubbed his effort to get an anti-Pinkerton bill before the 
House, a labor paper said, "The Speaker's attitude toward Mr. 
Watson must be considered as a direct slap at every union work- 
ingman in the country.* ' 

Watson had delivered some ungloved blows at Crisp. During 
the race for the speakership he had written that Crisp's candi- 
dacy was "supported by the Machine politicians, by the boodlers, 
the subsidy hunters, the protected industries and by Wall 
Street." From the floor of the House, too, he had attacked the 
Speaker's "autocratic power," saying he did not "any more want 
to give it to a man whose name begins with a C, and who comes 
from Georgia, than one whose name begins with R, and who 
comes from Maine." 17 

The preceding summer Watson had publicly charged one 
E. W. Barrett, a correspondent of the Atlanta Constitution, 
with offering him the chairmanship of an important committee 
for his promise to vote for Crisp. 18 The charge was denied. After 
his election, Crisp made this same Barrett clerk of the Speaker, a 
position he held along with that of correspondent to the Consti- 
tution. In the latter capacity he kept up a running political at- 
tack on Watson — an attack that some believed emanated from 
the Speaker himself. On February 28, he wrote a dispatch that 
frankly charged Watson with voting against the Democratic con- 
testant and for the Republican contestant in a disputed election 
case before the House as "an open play to the Republican 
party," because "he expects financial aid from that party in his 
next race for congress." 

A few days later Watson gained the floor on a question of 
privilege. First he sent to the desk the Barrett article, which was 
read by the Clerk. Then he addressed his remarks, "direct, per- 
sonal, and blistering," to the Speaker himself. Since "the Clerk 
of the Speaker of this House denounces through the public print 
a gentleman whom he knows to be the political opponent of the 
gentleman to whom he is clerk" he felt his reply justified: 

In my association with the members of this House, I have felt the em- 
barrassment of being in a position open to misconstruction, open to mis- 
understanding; but I have attempted to establish here a character for open- 
ness, manliness, and fairness, which I thought had in some measure won me 

17 Cong. Record, 52 Cong., 1 Sess., pp. 1 682-1 683. 
"^Constitution, Aug. 21-26, 1891. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

the confidence of my colleagues upon this floor. Ever since I have been here 
the clerk of the Speaker has thought it was his duty to deride me, ridicule 
me, and misrepresent me. 

All the members, the Speaker, and the author of the article 
knew that three Democrats, whose loyalty was unquestioned, 
had also voted for the Republican contestant, and the inference 
that the vote had been cast corruptly was no more justified in 
his case than in theirs. "Mr. Speaker," he concluded, "I de- 
nounce that insinuation, cowardly as it is, as a base and infamous 
falsehood. (Applause.)" 19 

There is no record that relations between the Speaker and the 
gentleman from Georgia improved after this. 

The arch-enemy, however, was still Livingston. The great 
convention of farmer and labor organizations at St. Louis, to be 
held on February 22, would settle the fate of the third party as 
a national movement. Moving swiftly and silently, Livingston 
early in December appointed handpicked delegates to the con- 
vention, who were known to oppose the third party revolt, and 
elected himself a member and chairman ex-officio of the dele- 
gation. 20 

Watson immediately denounced his action as "a usurpation of 
power," saying he was guilty of "not only appointing delegates 
to the . . . convention without consulting the people whom 
those delegates represent, but actually canvassing every name 
presented for appointment and rejecting every one who was 
thought to be favorable to views held by a large majority of the 
Alliancemen of the State." He warned the farmers of their "be- 
trayal" and urged them to renounce Livingston by "a flood of 
letters." The response to his call must have been gratifying. 21 
Livingston and his handpicked delegation, of course, refused to 
resign as Watson demanded, and set forth to the St. Louis Con- 
vention. But another delegation, consisting of Post, Ellington, 
and Branch, Watson lieutenants, also set forth with no creden- 
tials save a conviction that they, instead of Livingston, repre- 
sented the will of the Georgia masses. 

The St. Louis Convention, whose members were mainly griz- 
zled, hard-handed farmers, was immense, somewhat amorphous, 

19 Cong. Record, 52 Cong., 1 Sess., pp. 1682-1683. 

20 Constitution, Jan. 2, 1892. 

21 P. P. P., Dec. 17, 1891, Jan. 7, 14, and Feb. 11, 18, 1892. 


Populism in Congress 

and slow to organize due to confusion about credentials. The 
credentials committee did not report until the second day and 
then refused to rule upon one contest — that between the two 
delegations from Georgia. The fight between them was so fierce 
that the committee referred the decision to the whole Conven- 
tion. The issue was clearly third party versus anti-third party, 
and the vote on the Georgia contest would reveal the will of 
the Convention on this, the most vital issue before it. 

Moses, one of the Livingston delegates, took the floor to de- 
nounce the contesting delegates and to assure the Convention 
that whatever the West did, the South would remain solidly 
Democratic. C. C. Post was on his feet the instant Moses fin- 
ished. At his revelation of u the whole scheme by which Living- 
ston had sought to betray the Alliance and the reform move- 
ment to its death" the audience "broke forth in wildest cheers." 
Post's excoriation of Livingston, according to the Associated 
Press reporter was "the fiercest speech made in the Convention." 
At its close he dramatically unrolled a sheet of paper thirty feet 
long covered with some four hundred resolutions endorsing 
Watson, and by its side held up a sheet two feet long endorsing 
Livingston. With this graphic contrast before them, the Con- 
vention enthusiastically voted to seat the Watson delegation. By 
that vote the nation knew that this was a third party conven- 
tion. 22 

Livingston's motion to adopt the proposed platform without 
mention of the radical preamble (a masterpiece of political in- 
vective by Ignatius Donnelly) was adopted. But one of the Wat- 
son delegates saw through the ruse, and moved the adoption of 
the preamble also. Of the seven hundred votes, it was said, only 
three were cast against the motion — and those were cast by the 
Livingston men from Georgia. After this vote Livingston and 
one of his lieutenants left the hall. Watson's description of the 
incident was not entirely free from an attitude of gloating: 

The departure of a couple of spectators from the galleries would have 
attracted as much comment as did the departure of these men, one of whom 
had once wielded more power over the Alliancemen of the country than 
perhaps any other man, but who lost it in a mad effort to prove himself 
greater than the people who trusted him. 

22 Hicks, The Populist Revolt, pp. 223-226; clippings in Watson Scrapbooks and 
Northen Scrapbooks; P. P. P., March 3, 1892. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Livingston, instead of returning to his duties at Washington 
(where Watson had remained), hurried immediately to Georgia 
to raise a hue and cry against the action of the St. Louis Con- 
vention. "The Conference," he shouted, "was composed of a lot 
of cranks and men without character or influence." Ignatius Don- 
nelly said "the New Order of things would wipe out the color 
line in the South." Would his audience want to eat and sleep 
with Negroes? The Colonel made other notable observations, all 
of the same general trend. 23 The Augusta Chronicle, only lately 
wont to refer to Livingston as a "scurvy politician and dirty 
political trickster," praised his speech hugely. On the other hand, 
Dr. Felton, the old Independent warhorse who had fought 
Watson and the Alliance honestly out of conviction, thought 
that "Tom Watson's fidelity shines like a star beside Living- 
ston's detestable demagoguery and trickery." 

A referendum to the 2,200 sub-Alliances of Georgia upon the 
action of the St. Louis Convention revealed how clearly Living- 
ston had misrepresented them, and how accurately Watson knew 
their mood. Issue after issue of the People's Party Paper during 
March and April was filled with hundreds of resolutions under 
the heading "THE UPRISING: They Will Act with the Peo- 
ple's Party." Of 1600 sub-Alliances reporting (their resolutions, 
"official, signed and stamped"), only three refused to endorse 
the Convention. All the rest did endorse it. The editor of the 
official organ of the Alliance reported that "the action of the 
sub-Alliances means that the Georgia Alliance is almost unani- 
mously committed to the third party." 24 And, instead of com- 
plaining of decline in membership as a few months before, the 
editor reported the "membership rolls are larger than they ever 
have been, and they are steadily increasing." 

Despite the multiplicity of fronts to his political battle line 
Watson, unlike some of his enemies, stuck to his post, not leav- 
ing Washington during the entire session, and attending every 
daily session except when he was ill. In the subsequent cam- 

23 Constitution, Feb. 26, 1892; P. P. P., March 10, 1892; National Economist, 
March 5, 1892; Northen Scrapbooks, Vol. II, pp. 38-39- 

24 Southern Alliance Farmer, March 21, 1892; Macon Telegraph, March 22, 1892. 


Populism in Congress 

paign he once made the statement that he had "introduced bills 
on nearly every point included in the Ocala platform." This 
was virtually the case. These included a bill to levy an income 
tax; a bill to prevent the payment in advance of interest on 
United States bonds to holders; a bill to abolish duties on jute 
bagging, iron ties, and binding twine; a bill to recover into the 
Treasury the $100,000,000 of gold reserve held for redemption 
of United States notes; a bill to abolish the National Bank; a 
bill to control the employment of such strike breakers as the 
Pinkerton Detective Agency provided; and a bill to establish a 
system of subtreasuries. 25 

Of these bills, only two were ever reported out by the com- 
mittees to which they were referred. Watson could have had few 
delusions about them in the first place; he probably introduced 
some of them mainly as a means of getting them before the pub- 
lic. For the rest, it is true that his record is singularly free from 
the multitude of petty personal-relief, and pension, logrolling 
bills that filled the time of the average congressman. 

No other plank of the Alliance platform was more discussed, 
and from none of their schemes for relief did the farmers expect 
greater things than the subtreasury plan. It was also the subject 
of more criticism and ridicule, and doubtless the faith of many 
farmers was that of despair grasping at a panacea. Yet the plan 
had many substantial and intelligent features and was deserving 
of a serious consideration that it did not get. Bills to establish 
the plan had been introduced in both Senate and House of the 
previous Congress; yet the committees to which they were re- 
ferred could be induced to make no report, favorable or unfa- 
vorable, upon them, despite the flood of petitions from Alli- 
ances. 26 

Almost three months had elapsed since he had introduced his 
bill, without any word from the Committee on Ways and 
Means, when Watson, determined to force the issue, asked 
unanimous consent for consideration of a resolution requesting 
the Committee to report on the subtreasury bill. Whereupon a 
member demanded the regular order. Watson then adopted the 

26 Cong. Record, 52 Cong., 1 Sess., p. 126 (H. R. 83, H. R. 84, H. R. 85, H. R. 86), 
p. 303 (H. R. 3611), p. 993 (H. R. 5680), p. 1164 (H. R. 6000), p. 1578 (H. R. 

26 T.E.W., People's Party Campaign Booh, Chap. XVI, "The Sub-Treasury." 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

strategy of uncompromisingly objecting to every request for 
unanimous consent, no matter who asked it. Every morning he 
arose to make his request, was met with objection, and sat down 
to await opportunity to block every similar request. Finally the 
majority yielded, his request was granted, and the Committee 
was asked to report the bill. This was hailed by the National 
Economist as "The first victory for the People's Party." An- 
other month passed by, however, and still no report. "Give us 
one hour," pleaded Watson, "two hours, three hours, one day or 
two days" since "we do claim that you are bound to give us a 
chance to discuss the bill." When this proved unavailing, he re- 
turned to his old tactics, colliding even with his friend Bryan. 
Still nothing happened, until the very last day of the session 
when the bill was reported. With not a minute allowed for dis- 
cussion, it was lost. 27 

Upon other Populist demands Watson was ready to lift his 
voice. "You take the United States Senate. We demand that its 
members shall be elected hereafter by a direct vote of the peo- 
ple. Why? . . . We know that the very concentration of power, 
the concentration of capital, the concentration of privilege which 
we are fighting is enthroned and intrenched in the Senate of 
the United States. No man can successfully deny it. Every great 
corporation of this land has its agents, its attorneys there." 28 

Ever since the 'seventies, a subject of bitter complaint among 
labor unions had been the gangs of gunmen and strike breakers 
that the Pinkerton Detective Agency hired out to corporations 
engaged in struggles with their operatives. The record of their 
crimes against labor had been a black one ; yet no effective meas- 
ure had been taken against the practice. Watson began an ear- 
nest fight upon this "standing body of armed militia which cor- 
porations can hire," introducing early in the session a resolution 
and a bill calling for investigation and control of such agencies. 29 
The bill lay in committee for months. No report was made de- 
spite Watson's appearance before the committee, and his pleas 
from the floor of the House. Pinkerton, in what Watson thought 
"the foulest and most brutal manner," denounced the author of 

27 Cong. Record, $2 Cong., i Sess., pp. 4432, 4563, 5455-545^, 5^5- 

28 Ibid., Jan. 27, 1892, pp. 598-599- 

29 T. E. W., People's Party Campaign Book, Chap. XV, pp. 127-198. 


Populism in Congress 

the resolution in the press, 30 which only spurred him to renewed 
activity. Finally the committee reported the resolution favor- 
ably, shorn, said the author, "of its strongest features, and re- 
stricted merely to the operation of railroad trains." In this form 
the bill passed, but no action came of it. 31 

A few weeks later, at four o'clock on the morning of July 6, 
a barge loaded with three hundred armed Pinkerton "detec- 
tives" was towed up the Monongahela River to the landing of 
the Homestead Carnegie Steel plant. The workers met them 
with arms, and after a pitched battle that lasted all day, cap- 
tured them, with a loss of half a dozen men on both sides killed, 
and many wounded. The state militia then moved in, intimi- 
dated the strikers and remained for several months. American 
union-labor had lost one of the most decisive and disastrous bat- 
tles in its history. 

On the day following the Homestead battle, Williams of 
Massachusetts introduced a resolution calling for an investiga- 
tion. It received immediate and favorable attention. Watson 
gave the bill strong support, but he reminded the member that: 

As far back as February 9 ... I introduced a bill which would have 
made the keeping of such a standing body of men, or their employment 
illegal, and would then have struck at the source of the trouble, by putting 
down this body of men . . . 

No action whatever has been taken upon that measure. If this Congress 
meant to do anything to protect the laborers it could have been done . . . 

Now I want to say this in conclusion. Look at the difference in the con- 
duct of the committee at that time and on yesterday. 

There is a sound of cannon in the air; there is a sound of Winchester 
rifles abroad; there are barricades and forts; there is a vessel in the river 
armed and equipped for fight, there is the stain of blood in the street ; there 
are dead men being borne to their homes. So the gentleman from Massa- 
chusetts introduces a resolution yesterday and, without hearing him, with- 
out compelling him to give them evidence, or any facts, or any law, the 
committee at once considered his resolution and brought it up here this 
morning. . . . 

But, now that your Presidential election approaches and you want to 
play to the galleries and to pretend friendship for the working men, you 

80 Cong. Record, 52 Cong., 1 Sess., July 7, 1892, p. 5868. 

81 Ibid., Jan. 19, 1892; Feb. 9, 1892, p. 993; May 12, 1892, pp. 4222-4225; P. P. P., 
April 14 and May 6, 1892. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

bring in a resolution at this late hour, when the shedding of blood might 
have been prevented. 82 

The national convention of the People's party, then in session 
at Omaha, denounced the "hireling standing army, unrecognized 
by our laws," and passed a resolution demanding the abolition 
of the system — the first time the demand had appeared in their 
platform. Five days after the Homestead struggle, a bloody 
pitched battle was fought between the union miners of the 
Coeur d'Alene district of Idaho and professional strike breakers. 
Watson's prompt resolution calling for an investigation of the 
labor troubles and of the conduct of the Sullivan police therein 
was refused consideration. 83 The professional strike breaking 
agencies were to enjoy a long period of prosperity thereafter. 

Another piece of labor legislation in which Watson interested 
himself was the eight-hour labor law. He asserted that he was 
"the only man in Congress" who consistently supported the 
measure. 84 Upon military and naval appropriations and ques- 
tions of foreign relations Watson spoke as if for his party, and 
his position did conform to the party policy, in so far as it had 
one. But he also spoke out of personal convictions that were as 
deeply rooted in him as any he had. Some Quaker subsoil of his 
background still clung to the roots of those convictions. Those 
principles remained with him after he seemed to have forgotten 
many others he now swore by. 

When Livingston, shortly before the St. Louis Convention, 
began to be quoted by the press as favorable to war with Chile, 
Watson took him to task with ridicule. At the same time he 
pointed out what war would mean: In the first place, "it would 
arouse the military spirit everywhere, and the civil reforms for 
which we have labored so hard would be subordinated and side- 
tracked." Secondly, "the battles will be fought by the poor," 
those "whom heartless Plutocrats fear," "men who will be got 
rid of by the war." War would also mean oppressive taxes on 
the poor, and a standing army to threaten their liberties. 85 
Speaking generally, he said on the floor of the House: "I be- 
lieve the time is approaching when wars — those barbarous settle- 

22 Cong. Record, 52 Cong., 1 Sess., July 7, 1892, pp. 5860-5869; P. P. P., July 15, 

33 Cong. Record, 52 Cong., 1 Sess., July 15, 1892, p. 6216. 

34 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 6, 1892. 

35 P. P. P., "Our Washington Letter," Jan. 28, 1892. 


Populism in Congress 

ments of disputes by appeal to arms — will be just as much a relic 
of the past ... as are now the old, rude ways of trial by com- 
bat and dueling or any other method of personal strife." 

On the question of increasing the naval appropriation, he was 
opposed "to any $350,000,000 scheme, to build up an American 
Navy on a competitive basis with European navies." He believed 
that "we have nothing to fear from any European nation what- 
soever." "Sir, the real truth is that the enemies we have to dread 
in the future are, not Great Britain, not France, not Germany, 
not Italy, not Mexico, but our own people. What do I mean by 
that? I mean bad laws here at home; I mean class legislation at 
home; I mean overgrown and insolent corporations here at 
home; I mean the greed of monopolies here at home." He then 
cited the "thousands of people in the State of Mississippi . . . 
powerless and homeless, destitute, and suffering for food — hold- 
ing out their hands and asking the National Assembly to give 
them relief." He read into the Record an account of the horrible 
destitution in the working class districts of Atlanta, where mill- 
workers were being paid thirty-six cents a day, and were at the 
moment dying of pestilence so fast that it was impossible to bury 
them. No, the "protection" we needed was from corporations 
and wage slavery. 86 

For diversion, the Populists' dearest delight lay in baiting the 
old parties and rankling their sore spots. Watson ran in his 
paper a weekly column, "Our Washington Letter," almost en- 
tirely devoted to this sport. In it he would describe the "Balshaz- 
zar tone" of a Jackson Day Banquet of the "democratic na- 
bobs," or give a satirical account of a sham battle between the 
old parties over tariff or silver. 

But the richest thing to us Third Party men [he wrote] was the way 
the Democrats showed up the Republicans and the Republicans showed 
up the Democrats. 

It was Devil and Witch all the way through; Republican pot and 
Democratic kettle, and the People's Party members demurely saying 
"Go it boys. Continue to expose your mutual hypocrisy, fraudulent pre- 
tenses, tricks and broken promises — and after a while the people will be- 
lieve all the bad things you say of one another, and will kick you both 

86 Cong, Record, 52 Cong., 1 Sess., April 16, 1892, pp. 3360-3362. 

87 P. P. P., Jan. 21, 1892. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

In spite of the official party attitude of indifference toward 
the tariff question, Watson, still an uncompromising free trader, 
missed no opportunity to break a lance against the protective 
wall, or ridicule the hypocrisy of the Democrats' policy. 

He did not spare u our handsome and brilliant friend from 
Nebraska, who was put forward as the 'darling' of the Demo- 
cratic side of the House." Bryan's famous tariff speech was "the 
sum and substance of the old Democratic position in the tariff, 
that we will practice what is wrong while we know what is right. 
(Laughter and applause on the Republican side.)" Judging 
from platform and campaign speeches one would have thought 
that "this Democratic majority would crowd over one another 
in almost indecent haste to tear the McKinley bill off the statute 
books. (Laughter.)" Yet after six months they had done noth- 
ing. 38 He stated the position of the two old parties on tariff 
thus: "the Republicans come out flatfooted for Protection — with 
hypocritical reasons; while the Democrats practice Protection 
under hypocritical declarations against it." 

Toward the free-silver demand, even during the high-pitched 
hysteria over it, Watson always maintained the attitude that it 
was "a very mild measure of reform," whose benefit would be 
hardly perceptible. He could not, however, endure seeing the 
Democrats win hopeful farmers by campaign pledges to silver, 
only to vote against silver as soon as in office. In March, he 
announced that "the action in the House on the silver bill is the 
death knell of the old democratic organization. . . . With a 
majority of 148 in the House of Representatives it certainly had 
a chance to pass the free silver bill." Yet eighty-two Democrats 
voted to table the bill, and it was "only by the help of the nine 
People's party members and eleven Republicans that the im- 
mense Democratic majority was saved from a Waterloo . . . 
Now, no power on earth can keep Georgia from going into the 
electoral college with a People's Party delegation." 39 "Speaker 
Crisp," thought Watson, "as usual, used what some people call 
'Diplomacy' ; what others call Double-Dealing, and what others 
call by a still harsher name." *° 

In July, during the last month of the session appeared Wat- 

88 Cong. Record, 52 Cong., 1 Sess., pp. 2338-2339, 4800. 

89 Constitution, March 31, 1892. 
40 P. P. P., March 31, 1892. 


Populism in Congress 

son's People's Party Campaign Book, with its sensational sub- 
title, Not a Revolt; It is a Revolution. The New York Herald 
pronounced it "the first heavy literary gun of the third party." 
It was certainly no polished product. Rather, it was a political 
handgrenade packed with campaign shrapnel — slogans, excoria- 
tions, invective, exposures, denunciation. Watson explained later 
that "it was addressed to a certain class of voters and written in 
the style of campaign documents since time began." "While I 
am prepared to say that no statement in the book is untrue, there 
is at the same time a certain tone adopted which you will not 
find in any other style of essay." For its purpose it was extremely 
effective 41 — too effective for some. For, though there were 
bitter chapters on corporations, Pinkerton's strike breakers, and 
national banks, his most withering fire was turned on the two 
old parties, especially the Democrats. 

"A drop of ink, a few strokes of the pen, and whiz, — Bang, 
presto, change! We have the showy capitol in mourning and 
frenzied congressmen asking one another whether the penalty 
shall be boiling oil, expulsion from the floor, or simply a pained 
paternal spanking . . ." tt The journalist exaggerated the det- 
onation of the explosion, but not its suddenness. 

On the preceding afternoon Jerry Simpson's little boy had 
been peddling copies of Watson's book about the floor of the 
House, doing a flourishing business at a dollar a copy, when 
the Speaker, in response to an objection raised, ran the young 
money changer from the temple. 43 The new book was well cir- 
culated, however, and the halls were ahum with talk of it. 

On the morning of July 29, General Joseph E. Wheeler of 
Alabama, with whom Watson for several days had been engag- 
ing in a series of charges and counter-charges, arose "to a ques- 
tion of the highest privilege, affecting the House of Representa- 
tives collectively, affecting its dignity." He sent to the clerk's 
desk a copy of Watson's book, requesting that a marked passage 
be read, as follows : 

The Congress now sitting is one illustration. Pledged to Reform, they 
have not reformed. Pledged to Economy, they have not economized. 

41 Wrote one of Watson's constituents (P. P. P., Dec. 15, 1893): "A serious and 
prayerful perusal of Tom Watson's book on the Sabbath will make you wiser and 

42 New York Herald, Aug. 1, 1892. 

43 Washington Post, July 30, 1892. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Pledged to Legislate, they have not legislated. Extravagance has been the 
order of the day. Absenteeism was never so pronounced. Lack of purpose 
was never so clear. Lack of common business prudence never more glaring. 
Drunken members have reeled about the aisles — a disgrace to the Republic. 
Drunken speakers have debated grave issues on the Floor and in the midst 
of maudlin rumblings have been heard to ask "Mr. Speaker, where was I 
at?" Useless employes crowd every corridor. Useless expenditures pervade 
every Department. 

Wheeler then continued by making, and repeating at con- 
siderable length and variety, the assertion that this was "the 
vilest and most malignant falsehood that has ever been uttered 
on the American continent. ,, He further said that "There are 
other untrue statements in this book," and that "the gentleman 
who wrote the book has so little regard for facts that he is con- 
stitutionally unable to distinguish between truth and falsehood. 
( Applause.)" 44 

Watson began his reply in a dispassionate tone. "If Mr. Wat- 
son was in the least flustered when he arose to make his explana- 
tion, he did not show it," said a reporter. 45 He attempted futilely 
to deal first with personal charges of falsehood, and the animus 
behind Wheeler's attack, but unruly members kept up a shout 
for his explanation of the charge of drunkenness. Finally he 
turned to them: 

And I stand here to defend every line in the book and will do it against 
all comers, whether from North or South. 

Instantly "the House was in an uproar." A "storm of hisses 
and derisive yells that went up from the Democratic side" 
drowned out both Watson's voice and the incessant pounding of 
the Speaker's gavel. Excited members surrounded the Georgian 
and filled the space before the Speaker's desk, "howling and 
gesticulating like so many Comanche Indians." T. V. Powderly, 
who happened to be in the galleries at the moment, counted 
thirty-three members on their feet while Watson was attempting 
to speak, "some with their backs to the presiding officer, others 
grouped in knots, others shaking their clinched fists at the per- 
sons attempting to address the House, others hissing like adders, 

44 Cong. Record, 52 Cong., 1 Sess., July 28, 1892, pp. 6931-6940. 

45 Washington Post, July 30, 1892. 


Populism in Congress 

and all of them talking aloud or muttering as the spirit moved 
them." " During a lull Watson shouted: 

I say that every word in that book is literally true, and all men who 
have been here keeping their eyes open, and wanting to admit facts, will 
admit these facts are fairly stated. (A/ cry of "No!" and hisses on the 
Democratic side.) 

The provocation was at last telling upon Watson's excitable 
temperament. When Crisp cautioned him that he occupied the 
floor only "as a matter of grace," he turned sharply on the 
Speaker, and shaking his fist at the gentleman's face, he ex- 
claimed : 

I want no matter of grace from this Democratic majority that seeks 
to hiss me down when I am defending my character here on the floor of 
the House. Jeffersonian Democracy grants to a man freedom of speech 
and freedom of press and if you want to howl me down do it, and I will 
appeal from your tyranny to the fair sense of justice that abides in the 
hearts of the American people. 

Populist members applauded vigorously. Standing on tiptoe, 
arms waving and hair flying, he wound up with a "lung-splitting 
climax": "I scorn your grace! I scorn your mercy!" The ser- 
geant-at-arms, by order of the Speaker, started toward Watson, 
who took his seat before he was reached. He regained the floor 
to say that the House might take what action it liked; he would 
retract nothing. 

Boatner, of Louisiana, introduced a resolution, which passed, 
calling for the appointment of a committee to investigate the 
charges of drunkenness, and "if untrue, whether the said Wat- 
son has violated the privileges of the House." Watson observed 
that his more serious charges did not seem to trouble the Demo- 
cratic conscience. 

A considerable public interest attended the hearings of the 
committee on "congressional jags," as the press dubbed it. 
"Nothing," observed the Washington Post, "has so stirred the 
House for many a day as the publication and repetition of these 
charges." It was said that "a hundred angry Congressmen" were 
prepared to endorse Ex-Speaker Tom Reed's statement that "he 

46 P. P. P., Aug. 26, 1892; New York Herald, July 30, 1892; New York World, 
Aug. 3, 1892. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

had never understood the force of the biblical reference to the 
'colt of a wild ass' until he witnessed the performance by Con- 
gressmen Tom Watson on the floor of the House." 4T The com- 
mittee listened to much conflicting testimony, including a heated 
questioning of Watson himself. The main point at issue was the 
degree of intoxication attained by the Honorable J. E. Cobb, 
of Alabama, during his speech in a certain debate on the floor of 
the House. 48 

While the report was awaited there was a good deal of specu- 
lation on the probable fate to be dealt out to Watson. Jerry 
Simpson was quoted as welcoming Watson's expulsion from the 
House as an opportunity for a triumphant vindication of the ap- 
proaching election. The report was delayed until the last day of 
the session. The majority, consisting of three Democrats, recom- 
mended a resolution stating that the charges brought by Wat- 
son were "not true, and constitute an unwarranted assault upon 
the honor and dignity of the House, and that such publication 
has the unqualified disapproval of the House." The Republican 
member wrote a concurring report, and Jerry Simpson, the 
Populist member of the committee, wrote a minority report 
exonerating Watson and upholding his charges. 49 The report 
was not voted on that session. 

That night at eleven o'clock Crisp's gavel rapped the adjourn- 
ment of the first session of the 52nd Congress. Whereupon, the 
wags of the press gallery serenaded the departing members with 
the following song : 

"Oh Watson we are truly grieved, sir, 

To see you packing your bag; 
Won't you tell us before you leave, sir, 

What is a Congressional jag? 

What is a Congressional jag? 
Is it simply a weakness of knees, 

A sip or sup from a bottle or cup, 
Or a whoop up and go as you please ?" 

"And then everybody fled from the great building." 50 

If the intention of the Democratic majority in stirring up the 

47 New York World, Aug. 3, 1892. 

48 Hearings and reports published in House Reports, 52 Cong., 1 Sess., Vol. 10, 
Report No. 2x32; Washington Post, Aug. 2 and 3, 1892. 

49 Reports cited above; also vide P. P. P., Aug. x6, 1892. 
60 Washington Post, Aug. 6, 1892. 


Populism in Congress 

investigation had been to embarrass Watson and cast ridicule 
upon his party, it is fairly plain that plans went awry. Wrote 
Mrs. Watson to her husband from Washington: "They [the 
committee] raised a racket that has recoiled and it's a little hard 
to shuffle off. They are mad enough with Mr. Wheeler, and," 
added Mrs. Watson, who had an eye for practical matters, "it 
will make the book sell." 51 "O," sighed one journalist, "that 
mine enemy, when I write a book, would advertise it on the 
floor of Congress." Two New York newspapers devoted a whole 
page to the affair, and the press of the whole country resounded 
with it. Observed one of them, "A member comparatively un- 
known had been advertised from one end of the country to the 
other. Whether he succeeded in proving his charges or not the 
Farmers' Alliance people would probably lionize him, and in 
case he was censured by the House would make a martyr of 
him." 52 

Realizing the truth of this prediction, the Georgia Democratic 
press countered with the typical attack: "Perhaps some districts 
would rather have representatives who sometimes drink too 
much than to have a cranky, socialistic agitator who never drinks 
at all." » 

61 Mrs. Watson to T. E. W., Aug. 4, 1892, Watson MSS. 

52 New York Herald, Aug. 1, 1892. 

53 Augusta Chronicle, Aug. 6, 1892. 



l 3 

Race, Class, and Party 

When Watson led the people out, 

They marched thro* flood and flame ; 
Old Livingston tried to turn them back, 

But they got there all the same. 1 

tion, Watson wondered whether the people understood the 
nature of the conflict before them. It was, he believed, the same 
struggle that in the past had been fought "upon the field of 
battle, behind barricades, in the streets of cities, about the scaf- 
fold and guillotine . . . but never at the ballot box, as it will 
next October and November." It was, in his terms, the struggle 
between "Democracy and Plutocracy" : 

We wonder if the people generally understand the full significance 
of this fact? Do our friends understand it? Do our enemies appreciate 
its meaning? If so, then the coming contest will be sharp indeed. There 
will be neither asking nor giving of quarter, for upon both sides there 
will be the consciousness that the contending forces are not unequally 
matched, and that as they represent totally different and opposing ideas 
and theories, there can be but one settlement of the matter at issue, and 
that it must come through the utter overthrow of the one or the other of 
the parties to the contest. 2 

Before proceeding further it might be well to arrive at some 
understanding of the nature of these combatants who had such 
"totally different and opposing ideas and theories." Who were 
the Populists? 

Aside from the new factory proletariat of a few cities (them- 
selves of recent rural origin), the Populists were agricultural 

1 P. P. P., April 28, 1892. 
2 Ibid., March 10, 1892. 


Race y Class > and Party 

and rural. But so were the great mass of people of the state and 
of the South; and that mass was divided by class and race lines. 
Were they exploiters or the exploited? 

In answering such questions the Populists themselves were 
confusing. In resolving themselves into the People's party, the 
Oglethorpe County Alliance referred to its members as "the 
peasantry of America." On the other hand, a Populist of 
Douglas County said, "Some of our people were once rich, and 
most all were well to do . . . and it is no fault of theirs that 
they are reduced to such straights [jfc]." Tom Watson struck 
nearer the truth when he said, "You stand for the yearning, up- 
ward tendency of the middle and lower classes." Therefore, they 
were "the sworn foes of monopoly — not monopoly in the narrow 
sense of the word — but monopoly of power, of place, of privi- 
lege, of wealth, of progress." Individualist and middle-class in 
tradition and aspiration, they accepted the basic capitalistic sys- 
tem. Watson summed up their objectives: "Keep the avenues of 
honor free. Close no entrance to the poorest, the weakest, the 
humblest. Say to ambition everywhere, ( the field is clear, the 
contest fair; come, and win your share if you can !' " 3 

In general, the Southern Populists were mainly the agrarian 
masses, including tenant, small landowner, and a surprising 
number of large landowners, together with the industrial prole- 
tariat. They were united by their resentment of the crushing 
oppression of capitalist finance and industrialism. Watson him- 
self recognized the complexity of his ranks. "There is a grada- 
tion in servitude," he said. The laborer was the first to feel the 
lash, the cropper next, the tenant next, and the landlord next — 
in Watson's hierarchy of serfdom. "But," he added, "the livery 
of the serf is there all the same." 4 This livery, he believed, 
would become the uniform of the army that he led against its 

Tom Watson was himself one of the largest landowners in the 
state, with more tenants on his land than his grandfather had 
slaves. 5 There were other large landowners high in the party 
ranks, who fought side by side with small farmers and tenants. 
In this regard a remark of Charles A. Beard upon the battles of 

8 Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, Vol. V (1910), p. 818. 

4 P. P. P., Jan. 27, 1892. 

6 Tenant record and account books, Watson MSS. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Jefferson's day might be recalled: "It is a curious freak of for- 
tune that gives to the slave owning aristocracy the leadership 
in a democracy of small farmers, but the cause is not far to seek. 
In a conflict with capitalism, the agrarians rallied around that 
agrarian class which had the cultural equipment for dominant 
direction." 6 There is room for doubt whether there was an 
"aristocracy" of the tidewater sort in Georgia. At any rate, the 
former slave-owners were divided in the 'nineties. While some 
became Populists, many of the larger owners became merchants, 
bankers, and small capitalists, and fought the Populists as bit- 
terly as did the business men of the towns. 7 

It is undoubtedly true that the Populist ideology was domi- 
nantly that of the landowning farmer, who was, in many cases, 
the exploiter of landless tenant labor. But about half of the 
farms in the state at that time were operated by owners, dirt 
farmers, and the rank and file of the Populists were of this 
poverty-ridden small farmer class. They were surely more ex- 
ploited than exploiting, and the Populist contention that the 
tenant was in the same boat as the owner had much truth in it. 
The southern urban proletariat was yet an embryonic class, 
largely of immediate agrarian background. They were not yet 
class-conscious, and thought more as farmers than as industrial 
workers. Obviously the Populist attack did not strike at the 
whole system of capitalist exploitation, as did socialism, but in 
its time and section the Populist party formed the vanguard 
against the advancing capitalist plutocracy, and its fate was of 
vital consequence to the future. 

That class contradiction was not magically resolved in the 
Populist-agrarian potpourri is indicated by various signs. Once 
the Colored Farmers' Alliance proposed to call a general strike 
of Negro cotton pickers. The Progressive Farmer, paper of 
Colonel L. L. Polk, president of the National Alliance (white), 
did "not hesitate to advise our farmers to leave their cotton in 
the field rather than pay more than 50 cents per hundred to 

e Charles A. Beard, The Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy, p. 399. 

7 A. M. Arnett, The Populist Movement in Georgia, p. 152. The class alignments 
of the party varied somewhat from state to state in the South. Thus, of Alabama it 
was said that the movement was "an effort of the masses of the whites to free them- 
selves from the rule of the black belt Democratic party of the old slave-owning 
type." (Joseph C. Manning, Fadeout of Populism, p. 60.) Compare maps of Arnett 
(op. cit., p. 184), showing part of the Georgia black belt as a stronghold of 


Race, Class y and Party 

have it picked." The Negro brethren were attempting "to better 
their condition at the expense of their white brethren. Reforms 
should not be in the interest of one portion of our farmers at the 
expense of another." 8 

The Populist struggle in the South, moreover, was fought 
under such peculiar circumstances as to set it apart from the his- 
tory of the national movement, and to call for special treatment. 
"Political campaigns in the North," wrote a veteran of Alabama 
Populism, "even at their highest pitch of contention and strife, 
were as placid as pink teas in comparison with those years of 
political combat in the South." 9 Taking into comparative ac- 
count the violence of the passions unloosed by the conflict, the 
actual bloodshed and physical strife, one is prepared to give 
assent to that judgment. 

What explained the bitterness and violence that characterized 
the Populist struggle in the South? To answer in a word — 
"race." And that is much too simple an answer. But if to race be 
added the complexities of the class economy growing out of race, 
the heritage of manumitted slave psychology, and the demagogic 
uses to which the politician was able to put race prejudice — 
then "race" may be said to be the core of the explanation. 

In later life Watson once wrote a retrospective (and quite 
candid) comparison of his own career with that of William Jen- 
nings Bryan. In it he said: "Consider the advantage of position 
that Bryan had over me. His field of work was the plastic, rest- 
less, and growing West: mine was the hide-bound, rock-ribbed 
Bourbon South. Besides, Bryan had no everlasting and over- 
shadowing Negro Question to hamper and handicap his prog- 
ress: I HAD." 10 There is no doubt that Watson thought of the 
Negro problem as the Nemesis of his career. He fled it all his 
days, and in flight sought every refuge — in attitudes as com- 
pletely contradictory and extreme as possible. At this stage, how- 
ever, he faced his problem courageously, honestly, and intel- 
ligently. As the official leader of the new party in the House, 
and its only Southern member in Congress, Watson was the 
logical man to formulate the Populist policy toward the Negro. 
This he did in a number of speeches and articles. 

8 Editorial in Progressive Farmer, Sept. 15, 1891; for same attitude in National 
Economist, Sept. 26 and October 10, 1891. 

9 Joseph C. Manning, The Fadeout of Populism, pp. 5, 142-144. 
10 Jeffersonian Weekly, Jan. 20, 1910. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

The Populist program called for a united front between 
Negro and white farmers. Watson framed his appeal this way: 

Now the People's Party says to these two men, "You are kept apart 
that you may be separately fleeced of your earnings. You are made to 
hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the 
arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both. You are deceived and 
blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a 
monetary system which beggars both." n 

This bold program called for a reversal of deeply rooted 
racial prejudices and firmly fixed traditions as old as Southern 
history. In place of race hatred, political proscription, lynch law, 
and terrorism it was necessary to foster tolerance, friendly co- 
operation, justice and political rights for the Negro. This was 
no small task; yet Watson met each issue squarely. 

It should be the object of the Populist party, he said, to 
"make lynch law odious to the people." M Georgia at that time 
led the world in lynchings. Watson nominated a Negro to a 
place on the state executive committee of his party, "as a man 
worthy to be on the executive committee of this or any other 
party." "Tell me the use of educating these people as citizens if 
they are never to exercise the rights of citizens." 13 He spoke 
repeatedly from the same platform with Negro speakers to 
mixed audiences of Negro and white farmers. He did not advo- 
cate "social equality" and said so emphatically, since that was "a 
thing each citizen decides for himself." But he insisted upon 
"political equality," holding that "the accident of color can make 
no difference in the interests of farmers, croppers, and laborers." 
In the same spirit of racial tolerance he was continually finding 
accomplishments of the Negro race at home and abroad to praise 
in articles and speeches. 14 

Tom Watson was perhaps the first native white Southern 
leader of importance to treat the Negro's aspirations with the 
seriousness that human strivings deserve. For the first time in 
his political history the Negro was regarded neither as the in- 
competent ward of White Supremacy, nor as the ward of mili- 

11 T. E. W., "The Negro Question in the South," Arena, Vol. VI (1892), p. 548. 

up. p. p., Nov. 3, 1893. 

**Ibid., May 24, 1894. 

14 For example, the work of a Negro member of the Georgia Legislature (P. P. 
P., Dec. 2, 1892) and a South African king's resistance to Cecil Rhodes (P. P. P., 
Dec. 29, 1893). 


Race, Class, and Party 

tary intervention, but as an integral part of Southern society with 
a place in its economy. The Negro was in the South to stay, in- 
sisted Watson, just as much so as the white man. "Why is not 
the colored tenant open to the conviction that he is in the same 
boat as the white tenant; the colored laborer with the white 
laborer?" he asked. With a third party it was now possible for 
the Negro to escape the dilemma of selling his vote to the 
Democrats or pledging it blindly to the Republican bosses. 
Under Watson's tutelage the Southern white masses were be- 
ginning to learn to regard the Negro as a political ally bound 
to them by economic ties and a common destiny, rather than as 
a slender prop to injured self-esteem in the shape of "White 
Supremacy." Here was a foundation of political realism upon 
which some more enduring structure of economic democracy 
might be constructed. Never before or since have the two races 
in the South come so close together as they did during the 
Populist struggles. 

No one was more keenly aware of the overwhelming odds 
against his social program than Tom Watson. In an article in 
the Arena 15 he wrote : 

You might beseech a Southern white tenant to listen to you upon 
questions of finance, taxation, and transportation; you might demonstrate 
with mathematical precision that herein lay his way out of poverty into 
comfort; you might have him "almost persuaded" to the truth, but if 
the merchant who furnished his farm supplies (at tremendous usury) 
or the town politician (who never spoke to him excepting at election times) 
came along and cried "Negro rule!" the entire fabric of reason and com- 
mon sense which you had patiently constructed would fall, and the poor 
tenant would joyously hug the chains of an actual wretchedness rather than 
do any experimenting on a question of mere sentiment. . . . The Negro 
has been as valuable a portion of the stock in trade of a Democrat as he 
was of a Republican. 

Henry Grady's statement in 1889 that "The Negro as a 
political force had dropped out of serious consideration" 
sounded strange indeed in 1892. The Negro as a political force 
was the concern of everybody. The Democrats sought industri- 
ously to resurrect the scare of the Republican "Force Bill," in- 
troduced in the House and defeated in the Senate in 1890. "All 
agree," said the Augusta Chronicle, "that this is the overshad- 

15 T. E. W., "The Negro Question in the South," Arena, Vol. VI (1892), p. 541. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

owing issue," and it was obvious that the Populists were "aiding 
the Republicans in their nefarious schemes." "The old issue of 
sectionalism is confronting the South," asserted the Constitu- 
tion, and White Supremacy is more important than "all the fi- 
nancial reform in the world." 16 

A Westerner, the most eminent student of Populism, has re- 
marked, "Perhaps only a Southerner can realize how keenly 
these converts to Populism [in the South] must have felt their 
grievances." 1T A Southerner might add, "only a Southerner of 
that period" — which followed close upon Reconstruction. The 
motives of the most sincere Populists were not above the basest 
construction by Democrats, many of whom were perfectly hon- 
est in their suspicions. It was widely believed that they were in 
secret alliance with the Republicans, and therefore not only trai- 
tors to their section, but to their race as well — enemies of white 
civilization. The worst slander, however, was the product of 
editors and politicians who believed that any means was justified 
by the end they had in view. When a responsible editor wrote 
that "The South and especially the tenth district is threatened 
with anarchy and communism" because of "the direful teachings 
of Thomas E. Watson," there were thousands who believed 
him literally. Populists were subjected to every type of epithet, 
scurrility, and insult Democrats could devise. There is record 
of Populists' being turned out of church, driven from their 
homes, and refused credit because of their beliefs. Families were 
split and venomous feuds started. As already noted, one of Tom 
Watson's brothers was secretary of the mass meeting that pro- 
nounced him a traitor; a second brother, a merchant, remained 
a Democrat, and a third became a Populist. A Southern Populist 
leader told a Western writer, "The feeling of the Democracy 
against us is one of murderous hate. I have been shot at many 
times. Grand juries will not indict our assailants. Courts give us 
no protection." M 

To overcome the harsh penalties attached to revolt — the com- 
pulsions of tradition as well as economic pressure making for 
conformity — there must have been tremendous forces at work 

16 Augusta Chronicle, July 5, 1892; Constitution, quoted in P. P. P., July 15, 1892; 
Macon Telegraph, July 27, 1892. 

17 John D. Hicks, The Populist Revolt, p. 243. 

18 Henry D. Lloyd, "The Populists at St. Louis," Review of Reviews, Vol. XIV 
(Sept., 1896), p. 293. 


Race, Class, and Party 

upon the Southern masses. It is furthest from the intention of 
this work to suggest that adequate cause can be discovered in the 
eloquence of Thomas E. Watson, or the eloquence of anybody 
else. More eloquent than any orator in the cause of revolt were 
the hard times of 1 891-1892 that opened the "heart-breaking 

After a two weeks' tour of observation in the cotton belt of 
Georgia in December, 1891, the editor of the Southern Alliance 
Farmer wrote that "the farmer has about reached the end of his 
row." The crop was selling at "the lowest price that cotton has 
reached in a third of a century," and "hundreds of men will be 
turned out of house and home, or forced to become hirelings 
and tenants in fields that they once owned. . . . The doors of 
every courthouse in Georgia are placarded with the announce- 
ments of such [sheriffs'] sales. Hundreds of farmers will be 
turned adrift, and thousands of acres of our best land allowed 
to grow up in weeds through lack of necessary capital to work 
them. . . . The roads are full of negroes begging homes." 
There was a veritable "epidemic of distress and foreclosures of 
mortgages now sweeping over our state." 19 The president of the 
Burke County Alliance wrote Watson: "Our county is in a ter- 
rible, terrible condition. Out of fifteen hundred customers at one 
store only fourteen paid out; five hundred paid less than 50 
cents on the dollar." 20 Mrs. W. H. Felton wrote, "We sold 
our cotton crop in 1892 for a little over four cents the pound, 
and it did not pay taxes, guano, and farm supplies." a 

In the factory slums of the New South, where tenement 
houses had hardly weathered gray yet, hunger and destitution 
prevailed. The Atlanta Journal reported that just outside At- 
lanta in the workers' district of the Exposition Mills — the mills 
that occupied the same buildings in which Henry Grady hailed 
the birth of the New South just ten years before — "famine and 
pestilence are to-day making worse ravages than among the 
serfs of Russia." The mill workers are paid "the magnificent 
sum of 36 cents a day for their labor, and . . . the average 
wage fund in the factory district is 9 cents a head divided among 

19 Quoted in the Constitution, Jan. 3, 1892. 

20 Read into the Record by Watson, Cong. Record, 52 Cong., 1 Sess., Jan. 27, 1892, 
p. 600. 

21 Mrs. W. H. Felton, Memoirs of Georgia Politics, p. 656. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

the members of the family." The bodies of their dead remain 
unburied. One may see "rooms wherein eight and ten members 
of one family are stricken down, where pneumonia and fever 
and measles are attacking their emaciated bodies ; where there is 
no sanitation, no help or protection from the city, no medicine, 
no food, no fire, no nurses — nothing but torturing hunger and 
death." ** 

"There is a song in the fields where the plowshare gleams," 
wrote the heir to Grady's editorial chair, "a song of hope for 
the harvest ahead, and the man at the plow-handles seems hap- 
pier than he has been, as the furrows are formed at his feet." 
"Yes," answered Tom Watson, " 'there is a song in the field' — 
and it begins, 'Good-by, old party, Good-by,' and ends with a 
cheer for the St. Louis platform." Patrick Walsh was more 
forthright in his appeal: "We know the farmers of the South 
are impoverished and discontented," but "Better, a thousand 
times better, suffer the ills of the present, suffer poverty, rather 
than . . . division and separation from the Democratic party." 

The farmers felt differently about poverty and the Demo- 
cratic party. In Watson's district "as well as all over the State 
. . . the People's party element have been meeting twice a 
month, on Saturday afternoon, in schoolhouses, for two years, 
and signal fires are on every hilltop. They are imbued with the 
spirit of turning things upside down." M 

The Democratic campaign against Watson's reelection, and 
against Populism in general, had no beginning. It was simply 
continuous with the battle of 1890. Livingston spent a good part 
of the spring of 1892 on a speaking campaign throughout Geor- 
gia against Watson and Populism. At his home town, however, 
the local Alliance met before he spoke and endorsed the People's 
party and the St. Louis platform. The same action was taken 
in other places where he spoke. At Douglasville the revolt was 
dramatized by circumstances. A mixed throng was waiting at 
the courthouse yard to hear Livingston meet a Populist cham- 
pion in debate, when the president of the county Alliance 
mounted the steps, announced that the Democratic speaker 
would not abide by the terms of the debate agreement, and 
called upon all who counted themselves Populists to adjourn to 

22 Quoted in P. P. P., April 14, 1892. 
28 Washington Post, Aug. 3, 1892. 


Race y Class y and Party 

the Alliance warehouse across the railroad. "Cross over the 
railroad bridge so everybody can see," yelled someone. "With 
cheer upon cheer the great crowd swayed and broke — the great 
majority of those composing it turned their steps toward the 
warehouse," crossing over the high, arched footbridge into the 
rebel ranks. 24 

The Democratic State Central Committee met and issued an 
appeal to the people of the Tenth District. "The chief of the 
Third Party in Georgia [C. C. Post] is a Republican and an in- 
fidel," they proclaimed. "He believes neither in Democracy nor 
in our God." Populism is the work of "selfish and designing 
men" who preferred, "like Satan, to rule in hell [rather] than 
serve in Heaven. . . . Come back, brethren, to the good old 
Democratic ship. . . . Come back, brethren, come back." 25 An 
eminent Methodist divine informed the people that a Populist 
victory would result in "negro supremacy," "mongrelism," and 
the "destruction of the Saxon womanhood of our wives and 
daughters." 26 It was reported that merchants were refusing 
credit to all farmers who did not disavow the intention of voting 
the Populist ticket. 

The old party was shrewd in its selection of a candidate to 
oppose Watson in his race for reelection. Major James Conquest 
Cross Black, an Augusta lawyer, was the very blossom of mid- 
dle-class respectability and conservatism. He was a deacon in the 
Baptist Church and for years had conducted an adult Sunday 
school class. Born in Kentucky in 1842, he had served as a pri- 
vate in the Confederate Army. His title of "Major" was hon- 
orary, after the Southern manner. 27 

His path and Watson's had crossed before — once when the 
Major offered his legal services to the latter in the Tutt shoot- 
ing scrape ; again when Watson seconded his nomination for the 
United States Senate against Henry Grady's candidate, Colquitt. 
Since then their paths had diverged sharply. In 1890 Black had 
publicly denounced the Farmers' Alliance. He summed up his 
political ideology by saying, "He was a Democrat because he 
was a Georgian." His eloquence was mentioned in terms of awe. 

24 P. P. P., April 21, 1892; Constitution, April 21, 1892. 

25 Augusta Herald, April 20, 1892. 

26 T. Warren Aiken, quoted in Atlanta Journal, April 7, 1892. 

27 Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1^4.-^2^; Augusta Chroni- 
cle, Aug. 21, 1892. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

It was reported that "an Augusta lawyer actually and seriously 
asked for a new trial in a case when a jury had assessed heavy 
damage" on the ground that Major Black's eloquence "had 
swept the jury beyond bounds of propriety and practicability." 
The Superior Court, however, held that "nobody but God Al- 
mighty could fix the bounds or limit the influence of human 

Not content to rely upon Black's God-given eloquence, how- 
ever, his party rushed its heaviest oratorical artillery to Wat- 
son's district. A special election to fill the insignificant office of 
county ordinary in Glascock brought Senator Gordon, Governor 
William J. Northen, Patrick Walsh, and Major Black down 
upon the citizens' heads. Governor Northen informed the vot- 
ers that C. C. Post was an "infidel," an "anarchist," and, on top 
of that, "an infamous cur." His wife was "an atheist herself," 
who "makes $1,000 a month selling her damnable heresy." It 
was no breach of the code of Southern chivalry to attack Mrs. 
Post because "she has unsexed [sic'] herself." When Mrs. Post 
denied the charge and Mr. Post resented it, the Democratic 
press advocated "a sound caning and notice to leave the state," 
for having "cast the lie in the face of Georgia's chief executive." 
Mobbing was too good for "the atheistic, anarchistic, communis- 
tic editor of the People's Party Paper." 28 

A month later the Governor renewed the attack, "setting the 
crowd wild" when he asked, "Shall they strike down Gordon 
and uphold Post, the foulest of God's creatures?" At this, it was 
reported, "Every drop of blood seemed to boil in the veins of 
the patriotic audience." The Governor then read what he al- 
leged was Jerry Simpson's charge, "that our men sold their 
honor and our women their virtue." General Gordon interrupted 
to say, "My God! Hear that, Third Party men. Hear that!" It 
was said that "A look of solemn thought that could not be mis- 
taken spread over the faces of the Third Party division of the 
audience." General Gordon, who introduced himself as "a 
farmer and nothing but a farmer," also spoke in an informing 
manner of "this preacher of atheism, this sympathizer with 
bloody-handed anarchy, this shameless defamer of our spotless, 

28 P. P. P., May 27, 1892; Macon Telegraph, May 28, 1892; clippings, Northen 
Scrapbooks, Vol. II, pp. 89-90. 


Race, Class, and Party 

pure and peerless Southern womanhood. (Cries of Never, 
Never, Never.)" Major Black, said the General, "illustrates 
that lofty and chivalric manhood, which next to the South's peer- 
less womanhood, is her most flawless crown of immortality." In 
discussing Watson's candidacy, he pointed out that he was 
"base," "false," "cowardly," and a "self-important little fly." In 
answer to Watson's searching article on Gordon's fantastic polit- 
ical and business career, the General reviewed his own record in 
the Confederate Army. 29 

"Senators left the halls of Congress," wrote Watson from 
Washington, "and swooped down to the attack; Governors left 
the State House and flopped down to the attack; chairmen of 
executive committees, editors" joined them in the strife, and 
with what result? The Populist candidate for county ordinary 
was quietly elected by more than a two to one majority. It was 
the first Populist victory over the Democrats at the polls in 

An addition to the ranks of the Populist delegation came by 
the belated conversion of Thomas E. Winn of the Ninth Geor- 
gia District. No radical crusader, he explained with lamentable 
deficiency of humor: "I stand ready to go with my people, and 
say in the language of Ruth to Naomi, 'Entreat me not to leave 
thee, or to return from following after thee. For whither thou 
goest I will go . . .' " 

Georgia Democrats were thoroughly alarmed by the pros- 
pects, but, because this was presidential election year, they could 
not — as they did in 1890 — make sweeping pledges of radical re- 
form. Bound to their reactionary capitalist allies of the East, 
they obediently chose Cleveland electors at their state conven- 
tion. Watson described this meeting: "Protectionists like Pat 
Walsh and Evan Howell, sweetly smiled as they swallowed the 
pill on the Tariff Question. And the Cleveland men like Hoke 
Smith tried to look pretty as they voted for Free Silver, which 
Cleveland repudiated. And the 'Alliance Democrats' strove to 
appear happy in a convention which scornfully spat upon their 
demands." After the national convention nominated Cleveland, 
Watson rejoiced: "The Harrison and Cleveland wings of Plu- 
tocracy have been driven in upon each other, and are open to an 

29 Augusta Chronicle, June n and 15, 1892; P. P. P., May 13 and June 24, 1892. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

aggressive movement. The atmosphere has cleared wonderfully 
and the battle is now on." 30 

At the national convention of the People's party in Omaha, 
Watson's lieutenants, Post, Ellington, and Branch, played prom- 
inent roles. 81 The third party, particularly in the solidarity of 
the Southern states, suffered an irreparable injury in the death 
of Colonel L. L. Polk a few weeks before the convention. His 
nomination for the Presidency was practically agreed upon. Be- 
ing a Southerner of wide popularity, he would have provided a 
powerful opponent of Cleveland in the South. 82 The nomination 
of General James B. Weaver, a Western veteran of many re- 
form battles, was thought unfortunate by some, particularly in 
the South. C. C. Post, in changing Georgia's vote to Weaver, 
said his state had been one of the strongest opponents of the 
nominee. Watson, along with other Southerners, had been men- 
tioned as a possible nominee for Vice President, 38 but the nomi- 
nation went to General James G. Field of Virginia to balance 
the Union general on the ticket. 

The first state convention of the Populists in Georgia appears 
to have been a model of harmony. The delegates met un- 
pledged, and nominated candidates (none of whom had spoken 
in their own behalf) by acclamation, "and without resort to bal- 
lot." The main purpose of the delegates, observed a Democratic 
paper, seemed to have been "to glorify Watson, and they did it 
elaborately and with unction." Enthusiasm and confidence were 
boundless. 84 

Through all these events Watson had remained in Washing- 
ton. The news that he was returning to take personal command 
in Georgia was greeted by newspaper men with cheers. "It means 
that whatever the rest of the earth may do, the good old tenth 
district will furnish its full proportion of news . . . there may 
be no news at all, but the night editor sitting at his desk may feel 
no fear; the tenth district will be astir. From one end to the 
other its political fires will be ablaze and plenty of choice, enter- 
taining news will come in every night. . . . The Colonel [Wat- 

30 P. P. P., June 24, May 27, 1892; National Economist, May 28, 1892. 

81 E. A. Allen, Life and Public Services of James Baird Weaver, pp. 52-120. 

32 Joseph C. Manning, op. cit., pp. 32-33; Watson in P. P. P., June 17, 1892; and 
Post in P. P. P., May 27, 1892. 

33 Constitution, July 19, 1892. 

34 Augusta Chronicle, July 28, 1892; P. P. P., July 27, 1892. 


Race, Class y and Party 

son] has in him those picturesque elements that appeal to the 
newspaper mind. He is not prosaic. He is individual. He illumi- 
nates his public career with the brilliance of imagination." 

Before the train reached the border of his district it was met 
at every station by cheering crowds of Populists and boarded by 
a delegation who accompanied him home. At Thomson between 
four and five thousand "yeomen" met him, carried him on their 
shoulders to a gaily decorated carriage, and drew him to a stand 
erected for his speech. "Proud Caesar," said the Chronicle, 
"never entered the gates of imperial Rome with more pomp and 
eclat than did Mr. Watson enter Thomson today." He ad- 
dressed them for two hours and a half, giving a detailed ac- 
count of his "stewardship," arraigning the Democratic party, 
and making a plea to "wipe out the color line, and put every man 
on his citizenship irrespective of color." S5 

It was observed by several that he looked "pale and emaci- 
ated" upon his return. At the end of his speech he was seized 
with a violent fit of vomiting. His greatly increased burden was 
apparently telling on his strength. C. C. Post had managed 
party affairs during Watson's absence, but not long after Gov- 
ernor Northen's vicious attack upon him and his wife, a mob at 
Quitman attacked Peek, the Populist candidate for Governor, 
and Post, striking Post with a rock. Whether because he believed 
his life endangered or for some other reason, it was immediately 
after this — on the day Watson arrived from Washington — that 
Post announced that he was leaving for Michigan. 88 

Stranded in the midst of a seething battle without an official 
leader, the party now leaned for leadership upon Watson. On 
his shoulders also fell the editorship of the People's Party Pa- 
per. To these burdens was added the handicap the Democrats 
had devised in 1891 by gerrymandering his district so as to ex- 
clude two old counties and add two new ones, Hancock and Wil- 
kinson. The new counties, observed Watson in his private Jour- 
nal, "had not belonged to my District when I was elected and 
therefore did not understand the issues upon which I had de- 
feated Hon. Geo. T. Barnes." S7 This meant additional cam- 

85 Augusta Chronicle, Aug. 10, 1892; T. E. W., Life and Speeches, p. 13; P. P. P., 
Aug. 12, 1892. 

86 Constitution, Aug. 10, Sept. 16, 1892: On Post's prominence in the party, prior 
to this, see the Constitution, March 31 and April 15, 1892. 

87 MS. Journal 2 (under date 1892). 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

paigning and organization. Watson's victory in Burke County, 
which was now removed, had been Considered by politicians as 
the most important victory of his campaign" in 1890. 

Along with these discouragements and handicaps there were a 
few happier experiences. On his return he was greeted with the 
first number of The Revolution, a new Populist paper pub- 
lished in Augusta, bearing under its title the quotation, " 'Not a 
Revolt; It's a Revolution' — Thomas E. Watson." This along 
with The Wool Hat of Gracewood provided a genuine, if crude, 
expression of the feelings of the radical farmer element. His 
own paper reported twenty-two Populist papers published in 
Georgia in September, 1892. The throngs of cheering rebels 
that gathered at county seat and cross roads to hear their hero, 
carried silken banners thirty and forty feet long inscribed with 
Populist slogans and pictures of Watson. To the tune of "The 
Bonny Blue Flag" they sang "The Young Wife's Song," writ- 
ten by Watson : 

My husband came from town last night 

As sad as man could be ; 
His wagon empty — cotton gone — 

And not a dime had he. 
He sat down there before the fire, 

His eyes were full of tears; 
Great God ! how debt is crushing down 

This strong man — young in years ! 

Huzza! Huzza! It's queer I do declare! 

We make the food for all the world, 
Yet live on scanty fare. 38 

Although Major Black accepted Watson's formal challenge, 
and several meetings occurred between them, the three months' 
campaign that followed was far from resembling a formal de- 
bate. It was a bitter struggle that raged back and forth across 
the state, its most intense battles centering in the Tenth Dis- 
trict. The "debates" were seldom more than party rallies, where 
rival generals reviewed their troops and made a show of force. 

At Thomson Black repeated some of the usual charges against 
C. C. Post. C. H. Ellington, president of the State Alliance, 
leaped up to defend Post. "And we are not ashamed of him!" 

38 Broadside, copy in Watson MSS. 

Race, Glass y and Party 

he shouted. The next moment "pistols and knives were drawn 
and the adherents of the two parties stood before one another at 
bay. . . . Bloodshed and wholesale riot was only narrowly 
averted." One fight broke out after the meeting, and the fol- 
lowing day Ellington and a Democrat fought in the streets of 
Thomson. 39 

In providing special trains to the rallies, the railroads were 
obliged to set apart separate cars for the two parties. Even then 
strife was not prevented. As a train pulled out of Thomson, a 
passenger yelled out, "Hurrah for Col. Black I Watson is a de- 
serter from the Democratic party and sold out!" "You are a 
God damned liar," asserted Watson. The unfortunate Demo- 
crat had not reckoned with the vigilance of his man. Over two 
passengers Watson leaped, laying his defamer low in the aisles 
and bruising him considerably before they were separated. When 
the conductor remonstrated the Congressman would brook "no 
truckling to petty officials of the Southern Railroad." *° 

The audience at Sparta was predominantly Negro, and on the 
platform with Watson sat a Negro speaker. On the outskirts of 
the crowd a brass band from the Democratic barbecue, in prog- 
ress down in the grove, kept up a din. During Watson's speech 
a man on horseback pushed his way into the crowd shouting, "A 
free dinner for everybody; you are all invited down to the bar- 
becue — white and colored." "You may have the trees," shouted 
Watson, "but we have got the men; and these men are not go- 
ing to be enticed away from free, fair discussion of these great 
public questions by any amount of barbecued beef I" The dusky 
ranks held firm though dinnerless — even remaining to escort the 
speaker to his boarding house. 

Major Black's constantly reiterated theme was that "it is un- 
American and un-Christian, arraigning one class against an- 
other," that he was "a friend of all classes," and that the farm- 
er's distress was "exaggerated." Watson's repeated answer was 
that there was "an irrepressible conflict between the farming in- 
terests and Democracy . . . between the laboring classes and 
the old party." As for exaggeration of the farmer's distress: 
"when I am addressing people who bend over the cotton rows to 

89 Augusta Chronicle, Sept. 22, 23, 1892. 

40 Ibid., Sept. 13, 1892; P. P. P., Sept. 16, 1892. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

pick out six-cent cotton which costs them eight cents, there is no 
need to dwell on the topic." 41 

For forty-five minutes after Black finished his speech at their 
joint meeting in Augusta, Watson was unable to make himself 
heard. He finally had to give up the attempt. At the Capitol in 
Atlanta the following week he was howled down again by an or- 
ganized band who kept up the cry of "communism," a charge 
recently made by Governor Northen. If Northen called the Al- 
liance platform "communism," replied Watson, "he ought to 
know, for he helped to frame that platform." 

The following morning at eight o'clock General Weaver, his 
wife, and their party arrived in Atlanta to fill a speaking en- 
gagement. The Populist candidate for President had received a 
respectful hearing on his Southern tour until he reached Geor- 
gia. There the Democratic press whipped up fury against him 
by charges of "cruelty and oppression" practiced on the people 
of Tennessee by Weaver during the War. The day before he ar- 
rived in Atlanta a gang of Democrats at Macon had rotten- 
egged General Weaver while he spoke, striking Mrs. Weaver 
on the head. When he learned of the treatment dealt Watson 
at the Capitol, Weaver canceled all engagements and abandoned 
his campaign in Georgia. Explaining to the state chairman of 
the People's party, he wrote : 

I find the spirit of organized rowdyism at some of the points visited 
within the state so great as to render it unadvisable for me to attempt 
to fill the engagements at points not already reached. Personal indignity 
was threatened at Waycross ... at Albany we were met by a howling 
mob which refused to accord us a respectful hearing ... at Macon . . . 
rotten eggs were thrown prior to the introduction of the speakers, one of 
which struck Mrs. Weaver upon the head. 42 

Watson's reply to these Democratic tactics was stinging. "Re- 
member," he wrote, "that for the first time in the history of 
the Republic a Presidential candidate has been driven from the 
hustings, and his wife found no protection in her sex from the 
brutal attacks of 'Southern chivalry' as represented by Bourbon 
Democracy! They call us the ragtag scum of creation. Thank 
God, we have never yet dreamed we could win our way to pub- 

41 Constitution, Aug. 26, 29, 1892; P. P. P., Sept. 2, 9, 23, 1892. 

42 Fred E. Haynes, James Baird Weaver, p. 324; Augusta Chronicle, Sept. 24, 
1892; Constitution, Sept. 24-25, 1892; P. P. P., Sept. 30, 1892. 


Race, Class , and Party 

lie favor by insulting women, and striking them in the face with 
eggs." 43 State chairman Irwin, in a letter "To the Voters of 
Georgia," proclaimed that, "The scenes that have been enacted 
in Georgia during the month of September are only repetitions 
of Revolutionary France before the crisis came. ... It is gen- 
erally believed that plans are being perfected to defraud the Peo- 
ple's Party of its vote. Vehement rage prevails wherever Peo- 
ple's Party speakers obtain a hearing. . . . The times are 
ominous. They resemble the days that preceded secession and 
civil war. There will be bloodshed and death unless there is a 
change." ** 

To the plea made to Governor Northen by the Populist can- 
didate for Governor, that the Governor assist him in obtaining 
a fair division of election managers, Northen, after considerable 
delay, replied that he could "see no reason now to believe that 
the proper authorities desire or intend fraud at the coming state 
election." To the Populists, however, it seemed plain enough 
that the Democratic machine was bent on employing every de- 
vice of terror and fraud it had learned and perfected in Recon- 
struction fights — together with a few new ones. 

From Washington, Georgia, was issued a circular addressed 
"To the Democratic Farmers and Employers of Labor of 
Wilkes County," and signed by the Democratic chairman of that 
county. It warned of the impending peril of a Populist victory 
and advised : 

This danger however can be overcome by the absolute control which 
you yet exercise over your property. It is absolutely necessary that you 
should bring to bear the power which your situation gives over tenants, 
laborers and croppers. . . . The success [of the Populists] . . . means 
regulation of control of rents, wages of labor, regulation of hours of work, 
and at certain seasons of the year strikes. . . . 

The peace, prosperity, and happiness of yourselves and your friends 
depend on your prompt, vigorous and determined efforts to control those 
who are to such a large extent dependent upon you. 45 

Other Democratic handbills and circulars flooded Watson's 
district: one to prove that he had defeated "a Worthy Colored 
Man's Claim in Congress"; another on "Peek's Slavery Bill," 
with illustrations depicting Peek and Watson putting chains on 

48 P. P. P., Oct. 7, 1892; Chronicle, Oct. 11, 1892. 

44 Ibid., Sept. 30, 1892. 

^Circular, dated Sept. 8, 1892, Watson MSS. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

tenants, croppers, and Negroes; another on Watson's oppo- 
sition to the colored contestant's claim upon a seat in the Geor- 
gia Legislature in 1882; another to prove him in the pay of 
Republican bosses. 46 

As the day of the state election approached threats became 
coercion and coercion turned into bloodshed and open battle. 
The Chronicle reported three homicides in Augusta in a few 
days preceding the election, which, according to the editor, were 
"the natural results of paternal, socialistic and communistic ut- 
terances of reckless third party leaders." On election day, Dan 
Bowles, Democrat, was "marching a line of 50 negro voters to 
the polls" six miles out of Augusta when he encountered a group 
of Populists. Isaac Horton, a Negro Populist, sought to disen- 
gage one Negro from the line, and a general fight ensued. 
Bowles shot Horton through the heart. Verdict, "justifiable 
homicide." On the same day, in Augusta, Henry Head, a Demo- 
cratic deputy sheriff, was shot through the stomach while at- 
tempting to arrest Arthur Glover, secretary of the Populist 
Campaign Club in the Fifth Ward, a workers' district. Glover 
escaped to the South Carolina woods, a posse after him. 47 

At Rukersville, Elbert County, a white man, a Populist this 
time, was on his way to the polls with "a squad of negroes and 
white men," when encountered by B. H. Head and other Demo- 
crats. Head recognized in the Populist "squad" some Negroes 
"who had once lived with him and who bore the name of Head." 
Becoming infuriated, Head picked up a wagon standard and 
struck an old Negro. The Negro's son then struck Head, after 
which the latter ran across the street to his home, returned with 
a double-barrelled shot-gun, and "deliberately shot down two 
Negroes," one of whom died. Another white Democrat drew a 
pistol and shot three Negroes, after which the Populists were 
driven from the polls. One estimate had it that fifteen Negroes 
were killed by Democrats in Georgia during the state election. 
"If the law cannot protect us," warned a correspondent of Tom 
Watson, "we will protect ourselves with Winchesters." ** 

Watson professed to be encouraged by the results of the state 

46 Circulars, handbills, and clippings, Northen Scrapbooks, Vol. II. 

47 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 6, 1892. 

^Farmer's Light, Oct. 20, 1892; P. P.P., Oct. 14, 1892. 


Race, Class, and Party 

election. The Populist candidate for Governor was defeated by 
a two-to-one vote. "But three months have passed," Watson re- 
minded the Democrats, "between the organization of the Peo- 
ple's Party and the election, and in the rock-ribbed state of 
Georgia more than one-third of the hosts assembled at the polls 
adhered to the People's banner." 49 

With the state election out of the way, the Democratic ma- 
chine could now concentrate its full attention upon the fight on 
Watson. "So intense is the interest and concern felt in the cam- 
paign," said the Constitution, "that even here in Atlanta . . . 
nothing is talked of except the race between Black and Watson. 
Men declared at the democratic headquarters yesterday that 
they would much prefer to see Black elected than Cleveland. 
They viewed it as the supremest issue in Georgia to beat Wat- 
son, for they declare that he will endanger the peace and pros- 
perity of the South if his incendiary speeches are not hushed." 60 

The election in the Tenth stirred interest in a wider circle. 
"The first question asked by everyone when the probabilities of 
the South are considered is, What are Watson's chances?' " 
"Mr. Watson is now a national character and there is not a sin- 
gle congressional contest going on in the nation that is being 
looked upon with as much interest as the one in his district." 51 
President Cleveland was reported to have remarked to a group 
of Georgians after the election that "he was almost as much in- 
terested in Major Black's campaign in the Tenth district of 
Georgia as he was in his own election." 62 

Others in the North made more practical manifestations of 
their interest in the defeat of Tom Watson. Augusta business 
men made personal appeals to their financial connections, "espe- 
cially those in New York City," for campaign funds. They 
argued that Watson was "a sworn enemy of capital, and that his 
defeat was a matter of importance to every investor in the coun- 
try." The New York Tribune reported that, "Insurance and rail- 
road companies responded liberally, so that $40,000 was in hand 
for use, in addition to the local funds." 53 

49 P. P. P., Oct. ai, 1892. 

50 Constitution, Oct. 23, 1892. 

51 National Watchman, quoted in P. P. P., Nov. 4, 1892. 

52 Savannah Press, quoted in P. P. P., April 7, 1893. 

53 New York Tribune, Dec. 20, 1892, quoted in P. P. P., Dec. 30, 1892. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

After his experience with his opponents' methods in the state 
election, Watson could not face the Congressional election with- 
out misgivings. "They have intimidated the voter, assaulted the 
voter, murdered the voter," he wrote. "They have bought votes, 
forced votes, and stolen votes. They have incited lawless men to 
a pitch of frenzy which threatens anarchy." To his private Jour- 
nal he confided: "It was almost a miracle I was not killed in the 
campaign of 1892. Threats against my life were frequent and 
there were scores of men who would have done the deed and 
thousands who would have sanctioned it. Fear of the retaliation 
which my friends would inflict prevented my assassination — 
nothing else." 54 Governor Northen was heard to say that "Wat- 
son ought to be killed and that it ought to have been done long 
ago." 66 

"There is no wiping out the fact that this is a revolution," 
observed a Populist paper, "and it depends upon the enemy 
whether it shall be a peaceful or a bloody one. To be candid 
about the matter we believe it will be the latter." w 

One of the most zealous and effective workers for Watson's 
cause was H. S. Doyle, a young Negro preacher. In the face of 
repeated threats upon his life, Doyle made sixty-three speeches 
during the campaign in behalf of Watson's candidacy. Toward 
the close of the campaign Doyle met with a threat of lynching 
(called "imaginary" by the Democratic press) at Thomson, and 
fled to Watson for protection. Watson installed him on his pri- 
vate grounds and sent out riders on horseback for assistance. All 
night armed farmers roared into the village. The next morning 
the streets were "lined with buggies and horses foaming and 
tired with travel." All that day and the next night they con- 
tinued to pour in until "fully two thousand" Populists crowded 
the village — arms stacked on Watson's veranda. Prominent 
among them was the Populist sheriff of McDuflie County. They 
marched to the courthouse under arms, where they were ad- 
dressed by Doyle and Watson. "We are determined," said the 
latter, "in this free country that the humblest white or black man 
that wants to talk our doctrine shall do it, and the man doesn't 
live who shall touch a hair of his head, without fighting every 

54 MS. Journal 2. 

55 Affidavit of Mrs. Arrenia Hall, Warren County, Oct. 31, 1892. Watson MSS. 

56 Farmer's Light, quoted in Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 23, 1892. 


Race, Class y and Party 

man in the people's party." The farmers remained on guard for 
two nights. 67 

"After that," testified Doyle, "Mr. Watson was held almost 
as a savior by the Negroes. The poor ignorant men and women, 
who so long had been oppressed, were anxious even to touch Mr. 
Watson's hand, and were often a source of inconvenience to him 
in their anxiety to see him and shake hands with him, and even 
to touch him." 

The spectacle of white farmers riding all night to save a 
Negro from lynchers was rather rare in Georgia. So shocking 
was the incident to the Democratic press, so clearly subversive of 
order and tradition, that their indignation knew no bounds. 
"Watson has gone mad," announced the Chronicle, and the Con- 
stitution gravely agreed. The whole South was "threatened with 
anarchy and communism" because of "the direful teachings of 
Thomas E. Watson." 

That the danger to Doyle was not imaginary seems indicated 
by the fact that the following week, when he was speaking at 
Louisville, a shot intended for the speaker struck a white man 
in the back and killed him. Two days later when Watson and 
Doyle spoke at Davisboro they were accompanied by a guard of 
forty men carrying rifles. The following week another Negro 
was shot and killed by a white Democrat in the county where 
the previous murder occurred. At Dalton a Negro man, who 
had spoken for Populism, was murdered at his home by un- 
known men. 68 

From Watson's town came the report that "nearly all the 
ladies whose husbands are democrats have left Thomson, and 
many democratic families have moved away, as they feared their 
lives were in danger." The mayor of the city appealed to Gov- 
ernor Northen for "six or eight hundred soldiers" on election 
day, for fear "the third party people would burn the town and 
massacre the democrats." A battalion in Atlanta and three com- 
panies in Augusta received "orders to march to Thomson at a 
moment's notice." 69 

67 Contested Election Case of Thomas E. Watson vs. J. C. C. Black (Washington, 
1896), pp. 669, 683, 717, 781, 793-794; Constitution, Oct. 25-27, 1892; Chronicle, 
Oct. 26, 1892. 

68 Watson vs. Black, p. 781; Augusta Chronicle, Nov. 4, 8 and 10, 1892; P. P. P., 
Oct. 26, 1892. 

69 Atlanta Journal, Nov. 7, 1892. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

A careful scholar's characterization of the Georgia election of 
1892 as a "solemn farce" admits of possible error only in the 
choice of the adjective. 60 That it was a farce is clear enough. Re- 
construction practices of terror, fraud, corruption, and trickery 
were all revived. Democrats found little difficulty in identifying 
the "cause" of 1892 with the "cause" of 1872, and justified any 
means by calling the end holy. Populists retaliated in kind to 
some extent, but they were not nearly so skillful or successful. 

Federal supervisors under the direction of United States mar- 
shals were in attendance at the polling in Augusta, but against 
the Democratic local police they were powerless to prevent 
wholesale repeating, bribery, ballot-box stuffing, voting of 
minors, and intimidation. Negro plantation hands and laborers 
were hauled to town in wagon loads, marched to the polls in 
squads, and voted repeatedly. Negroes were hauled across the 
Savannah River from South Carolina in four-horse wagon loads 
and voted in Augusta. Whiskey was dispensed by the barrel in 
Augusta wagon yards, and cash payment made to voters. 61 

By such methods as these Watson was defeated. At that, he 
carried by ample majorities all counties within his district before 
it was gerrymandered, with the exception of Richmond. Of the 
two new counties, Wilkinson's vote was nearly a tie, and scores 
of Populist votes were "not allowed," while the irregularities in 
Hancock were notorious. Most flagrant were the abuses in Rich- 
mond County, where Black received 10,776 of the total of 
17,772 votes he received in the whole district. The total vote in 
Augusta was about double the number of legal voters. 62 

The attitude of many Democrats in Georgia was much the 
same as that expressed by those of Alabama over the same elec- 
tion : "Yes, we counted you out. What are you going to do about 
it?" It even crept into unguarded paragraphs of Democratic edi- 
torials. At Augusta the victors celebrated by an elaborate funeral 
ceremony, in which "Watson was laid out in great state." 

"Who believes it?" asked Watson of the result. "Not the 
Democratic bosses who stole the ballots. Not the managers who 

60 A. M. Arnett, op. cit. t pp. I53-I55* 

61 Contested Election Case of Thomas E. Watson vs. J. C. C. Black (Washington, 
1893), passim; Contested Election Case of Thomas E. Watson vs. J. C. C. Black 
(Washington, 1896), passim; P. P. P., Feb. 10, 1893. 

62 New York Tribune, Dec. 20, 1892; P. P. P., Dec. 30, 1892; MS. Journal 2, p. 


Race, Class , and Party 

threw out returns. Not the newspapers who have to 'cook' their 
news with such care. Not even the candidates who received the 
stolen goods. Nobody believes it. Least of all do we of the Peo- 
ple's party." In one month, between the state and the national 
election, the Democratic majority dwindled from 71,000 to 
31,000. "So we decided not to die. We unanimously decided to 
postpone the funeral." 63 

He proclaimed himself undismayed at the result. Considering 
the fact that not a single daily paper in the state was friendly to 
the Populists, that "all the machinery was against us; all the 
power of the 'ins' ; all the force of old habit and old thought ; all 
the unseen but terrible cohorts of ignorance and prejudice and 
sectionalism," as well as "all the money ... all the concen- 
trated hatred of capital, special privilege," he refused to take 
too tragic a view of the election returns. The national poll of 
the third party was truly phenomenal, but its greatest hope — 
the breakup of the Solid South — was disappointed. Watson's 
work was still before him. 

With spontaneous impulse the defeated hordes of Populists 
marched on Thomson from all over the district to voice their 
feelings against the fraudulent election and commiserate with 
their leader. "Four thousand then," announced Watson. "Six 
thousand today, and growing stronger and stronger as Demo- 
cratic methods and frauds become more apparent." At ten in 
the morning the firing of a small cannon, which they brought 
with them, announced the arrival of the delegation from Rich- 
mond. It had marched from Augusta to Watson's doorstep — a 
distance of thirty-seven miles I With much heat and enthusiasm 
resolutions condemning the election methods were adopted, and 
$877.95 was raised (much of it in small coin) to finance a con- 
test of Black's election before the House. 64 

Before he returned to Washington for the second term, Wat- 
son announced that he would "in all possible and proper ways 
carry on the third party fight. I am determined never to give it 
up as long as I live." 6B 

68 P. P. P., Dec. 9, 1892. 

64 P. P.P., Dec 9, 1892. 

65 Constitution, Dec. n, 1892. 


Populism on the March 

Few legislative acts in the history of Congress have had 
so many willing claimants upon its authorship as that which 
established rural free delivery of mails. At least seven public 
men have expressed anxiety to be known as the "Father of the 
R. F. D." The heated dispute over the paternity of this meas- 
ure is to be understood only when the momentous changes it 
worked in rural life are taken into account, and when the farm- 
er's previous isolation is considered. Not one farmer in three 
hundred got a daily paper in the 'nineties, and those who lived 
five miles or more from a post office were fortunate to get their 
mail once a week. It is not surprising that the rural population 
of the country has been confronted from time to time with sev- 
eral men to claim their gratitude for initiating the rural free 
delivery. 1 

When Tom Watson called to witness "every rural free de- 
livery box in Georgia and every other state from the lakes to 
the gulf, from sea to sea" as evidence of his accomplishment (as 
he not infrequently did) , he could back his claim with proof such 
as no one of his rival "fathers" could advance. Indisputably, he 
had introduced the resolution providing for the first appropria- 
tion that the United States ever made for rural free delivery. 

Credit for starting agitation for rural free delivery belongs to 
John M. Stahl, an Illinois editor, who began his extensive cam- 
paign in 1879. Unable to make any impression upon Congress, 
though having strong support among farmers, he complained of 
the opposition from little postmasters, who formed a body of 
some fifty thousand enemies of a change that would jeopardize 

1 John M. Stahl, Growing with the FT est, pp. 103-104. 


Populism on the March 

their jobs. Friends of free delivery must therefore "overcome 
the indisposition of the Congressmen to abolish a good part of 
their political machinery," of which the postmasters were the 
framework. "In truth," observed Stahl, "those Congressmen 
first to favor farmer mail delivery were conscientious, courage- 
ous men." The notorious star route contractors and the rural 
merchant who feared competition through the mails were two 
other vested interests in the opposition. 

In the first session of the Fifty-second Congress both Watson 
and Livingston had introduced resolutions to provide appropria- 
tions for rural free delivery, but each had been ruled out of 
order. 2 Watson asked "whether the delivery of mail matter free 
to the people who live near the post office, while those who live 
farther away are obliged to go for their mail, is not a false sys- 
tem?" He pleaded for "one tax system which treats the poor at 
least as fairly as it treats the rich." 8 

In February of the second session Watson renewed his effort, 
this time evading the House rules that blocked his way before. 
His resolution took the form of an amendment to a paragraph 
of the Post Office appropriation bill, reducing the expenditure 
slightly and directing that $10,000 of the total appropriation be 
used by the Postmaster-General in "experimental free-delivery 
in rural communities other than towns and villages." 4 In the 
galleries when the resolution was read sat John M. Stahl, who 
had decided that Watson was "the best man to present to the 
House the proposition." After urging this legislation for thir- 
teen years, he felt this moment was the most exciting of his life. 

Objection to the resolution was immediately raised on the 
ground that its purpose was "already provided for." The objec- 
tion had reference to a scheme of free delivery sponsored by 
Postmaster-General Wanamaker and passed by the preceding 
Congress, which provided for experimental delivery in "rural 
communities," interpreted to mean small towns and villages. 
Stahl thought this plan was being used to "throw dust in the 
eyes of those that really wished to aid the farmers." Watson 
insisted on his own interpretation. He meant "absolutely rural 

2 Cong. Record, 52 Cong., 1 Sess., June 1, 1892, pp. 4927-4928. 
8 Ibid., May 27. 1892, p. 47^91 May 28, 1892, pp. 4801-4803; P. P. P., June 3, 
4 Cong. Record, 52 Cong., 2 Sees., Feb. 17, 1893, p. 1759. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

communities, that is to say, in the country pure and simple, 
amongst the farmers, in those neighborhoods where they do not 
get their mail more than once in every two weeks . . ." 5 

The resolution was passed. Having the backing of John Steele 
Henderson, chairman of the Committee on Post Offices and Post 
Roads, it was seen safely through the House, escaped debate in 
the Senate, was signed by the President, and became law. 

In spite of the fact that the language of Watson's resolution 
was mandatory, Cleveland's Postmaster-General Bissell, ap- 
pointed March 7, 1893, chose to interpret it as "discretionary," 
and refused to expend the money for the purpose indicated. In 
this he reflected the opinion of President Cleveland, who re- 
garded rural free delivery as a "craze" that made a preposter- 
ous drain upon the Treasury. In his message of December 3, 
1894, Cleveland said: "The estimated cost of rural free delivery 
generally is so very large that it ought not to be considered in 
the present condition of affairs." The Administration was se- 
verely condemned by members of its own party for ignoring the 
will of Congress, and a second appropriation of $20,000 was 
added to the first appropriation at the next Congress. It was not, 
however, until the last quarter of 1896 that either of the two ap- 
propriations was used for the experiments indicated. It was out 
of these experiments, provided for in Watson's earlier resolu- 
tion, that the modern system of rural free delivery grew. 6 

Along party lines Watson renewed the hopeless program of 
introducing bills to enact the demands of the Populist platform. 
One was a bill "to prohibit further issue of bonds under the acts 
of 1875 and 1879"; another sought "to increase the currency 
and provide for its distribution through homestead land loans"; 
and still another renewed in modified form the subtreasury bill. 
None of these bills was ever reported out of the committee 
room. 7 

On labor legislation he took up the fight with the same zeal 
he had shown in his attack on the Pinkerton strike breakers. "I 
will stay here till the ants tote me out of the keyhole before I 

5 Cong. Record, 52 Cong., 2 Sess., Feb. 17, 1893, p. 1759. 

6 Archibald Henderson, series of articles on R. F. D., in Raleigh News and Ob- 
server, Jan. 13 and 28 and Feb. 10, 1935; vide also John M. Stahl, op. cit., pp. 120- 

7 Cong. Record, 52 Cong., 2 Sess., Jan. 4, 1893, p. 324; Jan. 9, 1893, p. 460; Feb. 
2, 1893, p. 1118; P. P. P., May 12, 1893. 


Populism on the March 

will give up this fight," he informed the opposition to the bill 
requiring railroads to install automatic car-couplers and air- 
brakes as safety devices. He was "tired of this eternal fashion of 
the railroads bossing this House," he said, referring to lobbyists 
in the galleries. "Mr. Speaker, I appeal to this majority; let us 
assert our manhood one time; let us make the corporations re- 
treat one time ; let us stand by the people one time, and we will 
go home having redeemed in some measure the otherwise dis- 
creditable record of the Fifty-second Congress." 8 

In the Cutting militia bill Watson discovered what he pro- 
nounced a "covert, stealthy" attempt to convert the state militias 
into a "national guard, a national body." He condemned it as a 
step in the direction of centralization, done in imitation of "old 
world militarism." Watson was the most outspoken opponent of 
the bill in the House. He later claimed credit for defeating this 
attempt to "centralize the military strength of the laboring peo- 
ple and the farmers of the country under the heel of such men 
as Grover Cleveland." 9 

The adjournment of the Fifty-second Congress ended Tom 
Watson's career in office for a period that was to last for more 
than a quarter of a century — though it by no means ended his 
active political life. If anything, he was politically more impor- 
tant out of office than in. All his energies were now released for 
a more congenial employment, one for which he was better 
suited in temperament. It was not in office, but out among the 
people preaching a crusade that he found his true role, and that 
was the role he played until near the end of his life. 

Upon his return to Georgia, Watson immediately opened a 
bombardment against the Cleveland administration that was to 
continue relentlessly for four years. Personally, he said, he re- 
garded President Cleveland as a man of honor and courage. He 
also regarded Cleveland as the agent of his sworn enemy, East- 
ern capitalism, and as a standing menace to every aspiration he 

8 Cong. Record, 52 Cong., 2 Sess., Feb. 21, 1893, p. 1972; P. P. P., March 3, 


9 Cong. Record, 52 Cong., 2 Sess., Jan. 14, 1893, pp. 568-569; P. P. P., Sept. 18, 



Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

entertained for the rehabilitation of agrarian power, economic 
and political. The task outlined for Watson, as he saw it, lay in 
winning the Southern Democrat over from his bondage to the 
enemy. In this regard his instructions to Populist stump speakers 
are enlightening: 

Dwell untiringly upon the fact that the Eastern and Northern Democrat 
is as much our enemy upon all questions of finance and taxation as the 
Eastern and Northern Republican. 

Explain with all the might that is in you the identity of interests be- 
tween the South and West; and the antagonism of interest between the 
South and the East and North; — then ask the country Democrat why he 
should follow the bosses who allow the South to be plundered in the interest 
of the Eastern and Northern plutocrats. 

Load your guns in this way, men, and you'll hit the bulPs eye every 
crack. 10 

Shortly after his return from Washington, the Constitution 
printed an interview with Watson that clearly showed he was 
taking a long and deliberate view of the crusade he planned. "I 
think," said he, "Mr. Cleveland is going to precipitate a conflict 
between his views and those of the Southern and Western Demo- 
crats on that subject [currency]. He is in favor of a bonded 
debt, national banks, gold standard and all that Wall Street 
schedule of finance." It was obvious that "Northern and Eastern 
Democrats do not talk as we do, and their interests are diametri- 
cally opposed to our interests . . . and when Mr. Cleveland 
forces the issue, he will get the worst of it. I think he will draw 
off into his party all those men up there in the North and East, 
while the liberal and truly Democratic elements in the South and 
West will gravitate together with the Populists." u 

For their part, the Southern Democrats began to view with 
increasing alarm the first signs of a fulfillment of the Populist 
leader's prophecy. A large majority of the population, the farm- 
ers, had known little but depression since the late 'eighties; but 
now the panic of 1893 was swiftly spreading its gloom over fac- 
tory and city. Banks failed, money disappeared, factories closed, 
unemployed workers returned to the family farm to add burden 
to its meager larder, and the mortgage foreclosures went for- 
ward at an accelerated pace. Families of Negro and white ten- 

10 P. P. P., July az, 1893. 

11 Quoted in P. P. P., April 7, 1893. 


Populism on the March 

ants walked the roads seeking relief. At no time since the devas- 
tation of Georgia by an invading army was acute poverty, hun- 
ger, and misery so widespread among the people. 12 Yet with a 
Democratic President in the White House — the first since 
Pierce whose party was in a position to control both Houses — 
they could get no relief. Cleveland's first, indeed his only con- 
cern, seemed to them to be to protect the dollar against the 
debtor sections' demand for relief and fair treatment. 

In vain Southern Democrats pleaded with Cleveland to make 
good the campaign pledges. "The only way to head off the dem- 
agogue, and nip the flaming red flower of populism in the bud," 
urged the Constitution, "is to reform the evils now so galling 
and burdensome. In other words, the speedy action of the new 
administration in redeeming the pledges of the Democratic plat- 
form will leave the Populists no grievances to complain of." Un- 
less silver was remonetized, protection and the whole scheme of 
Republican legislation was wiped out, and that "without unnec- 
essary delay," discontent would "cause the Hon. Jack Cade to 
loom up as a controlling factor in our politics." 

The allusion to "poor Jack Cade" Watson found "extremely 
unfortunate." Indeed, considering the pitiful price the farmer 
was paid for his wheat, "why should not some Jack Cade in 
every city rise today and demand that the ha-penny loaves be 
sold for a penny?" What of the pretty promises the Democrats 
made last fall ? he asked : 

Campaign pledges? Where are they? The man who made them can't 
be found. 

Financial politics are just as Harrison left them. Even more so. 

The volume of money grows smaller every day by comparison. 

The McKinley Bill sits on the top rail of the fence and crows defiant 

And where is Cleveland? . . . 

Cleveland has gone fishing. 

Watson reprinted every plaintive appeal the Democratic press 
made to the deaf ears of the administration. "It's a piercing, ear- 
splitting, insanse howl," he wrote. "Every reverberation be- 
speaks awful, agonizing anxiety. . . . Oh, how they howl for 
the free silver act. . . . Oh, how they howl for the income tax 

12 Alex M. Arnett, Populist Movement in Georgia, pp. 156-167; Charles H. 
Otken, Ills of the South, passim, 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

law. . . . But why does Democracy foolishly hanker after what 
she can't get? Because she sees that the people are awake and 
that her future in this State is in jeopardy. The people are no 
longer blind, no longer sitting in foolish indifference." 13 

The cordial reception given William Jennings Bryan in At- 
lanta in June was an important sign of the times. It was not with- 
out reason that Populists everywhere viewed the times with 
some satisfaction. "The political situation," observed the Na- 
tional Watchman, "is one that can be viewed with absolute com- 
placency. . . . No change for better or worse can be made from 
present conditions without furnishing an object lesson for a Pop- 
ulist sermon." 14 

On July 4, at Douglasville, Georgia, Watson launched a state- 
wide campaign that was to proceed almost without interruption 
for three and a half months. "No political party," publicly ad- 
mitted the chairman of the Democratic State Central Commit- 
tee, "has ever carried on in Georgia so thorough and systematic 
a campaign in an off year as has been and is now being carried 
on by Mr. Watson . . ." ie 

This was not so much campaign as crusade, for the people did 
not listen so much as participate. The contemporary accounts of 
the enthusiasm evoked by the speeches of Watson border on the 
incredible. Throngs of three to ten thousand people crowded 
into cross-roads villages from the countryside of a twenty-mile 
radius. Riding through the open country from town to town, 
Watson and his party not infrequently met with such experiences 
as the following: "When within four miles of Sylvania [at six 
in the morning] we found the road blocked with vehicles of 
every description. The rumbling, muffled sound of wheels, 
ploughing through the sand, sounded like the roar of an army 
wagon train. The atmosphere loaded with dust and cheers. . . . 
At least 6,000 people were in hearing of his voice, while at least 
a thousand more wandered around loosely unable to hear a 

13 P. P. P., April 14, June 9, x6, 1893. 

14 Quoted in P. P. P., May 19, 1893. 

15 Constitution, Sept 7, 1893. 


Populism on the March 

The Southern masses were on the march, deeply stirred by the 
conviction that this was their fight. Watson's party was stopped 
by crowds at cross-roads stores, schoolhouses, and churches. 
Bridges along their road were decorated with flowers. Three 
times during one speech Watson concluded and begged the 
crowd to seek shelter from a pouring rain, and each time they 
urged him to continue. The meetings were generally opened by 
prayer. Watson's speeches were usually begun with long texts 
from Jefferson, which he expounded in reference to cotton prices, 
government ownership of railroads, national banks, financial 
theories of Cleveland, and political equality for the Negro. 16 He 
did not neglect to portray the part he played in the movement : 

The work I did, somebody had to do. The abuse I took somebody had 
to incur. The losses I have sustained somebody had to dare. 

I did the work, took the abuse, risked the loss, and I am proud of it. 
Proud of my record, proud of my principles, proud of my friends. 

Not always was the reception of the Populist crusaders so 
cordial. At Washington, Georgia, where during his 1892 cam- 
paign Watson was insulted and baited by a crowd of Democrats, 
the rumor arose that the Populists were marching on the town 
6,000 strong, wagons loaded with Winchesters, to avenge the 
insult to their leader. Governor Northen issued orders to hold 
a battalion of Augusta troops ready for marching at short no- 
tice. The mayor of Washington ordered the local militia "to lie 
on its arms" all the night before, as well as the day of the Popu- 
list rally. The meeting was peaceful. "Judging from the Wilkes 
county meeting of today," observed Major McGregor, "I came 
to the conclusion if Governor Northen don't put the militia 
'under arms,' and then under lock and key, so as to keep them 
from hearing Tom Watson, he won't have a corporal's guard to 
rally around his Senatorial banner." 

While the campaign was in progress President Cleveland 
called Congress together in extra session to repeal the Sherman 
Silver Purchase Act. Watson hailed the extra session as "a God- 
send to us." "Into the clear light, where all honest citizens can 
see, it will bring the schemes of the bosses." He predicted that, 
"Democrats who hold Republican doctrines will be driven to the 
Republican party, and vice versa. Members of the two old par- 

16 P. P. P., July 7-Oct. 27, 1893. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

ties who really hold Populist views, finding no support in either 
Democrat or Republican ranks, will be driven to the People's 
Party." He cheerfully printed the silver speeches of those Dem- 
ocrats who were firm in their resistance to Cleveland, and made 
great sport of the effort of the Southern wing of the party to 
revive the scare of the force bill: "Anything, ANYTHING, to 
make the people forget how the Democrats helped the Repub- 
licans to carry the plans of Wall Street." 

The Atlanta Journal, controlled by Hoke Smith, a member of 
Cleveland's Cabinet, suggested that "Editor Tom Watson, of 
the People's Party Paper, ought to sue the Atlanta Constitution 
for damages for infringing on his patent methods of abuse of 
President Cleveland and the Democratic administration." "By 
no means," replied Editor Watson. "Let the boys fall into line." 

The President was not without apprehensions of the threat of 
Watson's growing strength in the South. In the spring a Demo- 
cratic paper had reported: "Mr. Cleveland has been impressed 
with the idea that the danger in the Tenth district is almost as 
great now as last year. . . . The President desires to give the 
party in the district all the machinery and leverage in his power, 
and he is evidently willing to have government patronage 
thrown full and fair against the revival of Watsonism in 
Georgia." 17 

By fall, however, it was plain that much more than Federal 
patronage would be necessary to stop Watson and save the old 
party in the state. Economic collapse menaced the Southern 
farmer. The appeal of Democratic leaders for redemption of 
platform pledges became shameless in its desperation. In pub- 
lic interview Governor Northen said that Georgia would de- 
mand restoration of silver, despite Cleveland. "How could I be- 
lieve otherwise," he asked, "when every democrat who holds 
office in this Government today was pledged upon that demand 
and upon his personal pledge to that end? The party must re- 
deem all its pledges and redeem them at once." W. Y. Atkinson, 
chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee, confessed 
that he awaited the action of Congress with "great anxiety." "If 
it had not been for those pledges," he said, "neither the October 
nor the November elections would have resulted as they did. 

17 Savannah Press, quoted in P. P. P., April 7, 1893. 


Populism on the March 

. . . We induced these men to remain in the democratic party 
by convincing them that the evils of which they complained were 
the results of Republican legislation." M 

In reply to a letter from Major J. C. C. Black, asking about 
political conditions in the state, Governor Northen, in mid- 
September wrote: u To be candid with you, I am not only un- 
easy, I am alarmed. I have reached my conclusions without 
haste." 19 He enclosed a letter he had written to Cleveland, ask- 
ing Black to deliver it to the President and emphasizing that no 
publicity must be given the letter. His letter to the President was 
written with the advice of the party leaders of the state : 

Mr. President: Profoundly impressed with the unusual conditions in 
this State — political and financial — arising from the long-continued delay 
in helpful legislation by Congress, I respectfully but earnestly urge upon 
you the expediency of some public expression, somewhat more compre- 
hensive than your recent message, as to the proper policy to be pursued by 
Congress upon questions affecting the stringency of the times and the 
needs of the people. 

The conditions of this State are fearful and threatening. The people 
have confidence in your ability and your leadership, and no one thing, in 
my candid judgment, would go so far towards restoring quiet as a clear 
statement made to the public by you. 

I agree with you fully in believing that: "It may be true that the em- 
barrassments from which the business of the county is suffering arise as 
much from evils apprehended as from those actually existing." The result 
of such apprehension with us begets a lack of confidence in the party in 
power, and we are rapidly losing strength in this State. Every election 
held in this State for the past three (3) months has gone against the 
Democratic party and in favor of the Populists. Ex-Congressman Watson, 
the leader of the Populists, has taken advantage of the conditions, and is 
speaking over the State to assemblies never less than 2,000, and sometimes 
as many as 5,000 people. . . . 

Another reason calling for such a statement from you as I ask affects 
the sale of our farm products and our business relations. Our cotton is 
now ready for market. There is not sufficient money to handle it. Farmers 
are compelled to sell, and the price is necessarily reduced. The cotton must 
be given in settlement of obligations incurred during the early spring. If 
the stringency remains until these obligations are canceled, and business 
improves after the crops have been taken from the control of our farmers 
and fortunes are made by speculators upon the fruits of their labor, while 
their poverty continues, there can be no hope of holding them to the Demo- 

18 Constitution, Aug. 15, Sept. 7, 1893. 

19 William J. Northen to J. C. C. Black, Sept. 16, 1893, copy in Northen Scrap- 
books, Vol. Ill, p. 278. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

cratic party in the next election. If by any means conditions can be im- 
proved, and the farmers receive nine or ten cents for their cotton, the party 
will get the benefit of the advance, and the farmers will remain Demo- 

I beg to assure you of my sympathy in the responsible position you 
hold before the people and the obligations put upon you by the political 
party whose leader you are. You have had my earnest advocacy and en- 
thusiastic support from the beginning of the conflict, because I have had 
unquestioned confidence in your statesmanship and your courage. I write 
you now because of what I know to be your power to aid us in this state 
in perpetuating good government as found in the principles of the Demo- 
cratic party, and especially in relation to the distressed condition of an un- 
settled and oppressed people. . . . 20 

With the letter were sent clippings from the state press telling 
the story of Watson's crusade and the result it was having. 

President Cleveland's reply, while attempting a conciliatory 
tone, carried but cold comfort to Southern Democrats, probably 
doing more harm than good. "I hardly know how to reply to 
your letter," he began, and continued at length, merely to re- 
state and defend his well-known desire for "sound money" and 
"the immediate and unconditional repeal of the purchasing 
clause of the so-called Sherman law." 21 

Cleveland's letter was immediately released to the press, but 
Northen's letter to Cleveland was carefully guarded. "I in- 
tended it to be a confidential FAMILY communication," ex- 
plained Northen to Clark Howell. "It is based upon the facts 
that while they are facts, I fear would be hurtful to the general 
good of the party if they should be published . . ." 22 Though 
he never saw the letter, Tom Watson ventured some shrewd 
guesses about its contents. It was a symptom of the Democratic 
"Blind Staggers" said his paper. "Cleveland's letter to Northen 
goes all over America and does not rest its heavy feet till it 
reaches London. But no man knows what Billy said to Grover." 
Taunting Northen, he dared him to publish the letter. He can- 
didly wrote, "This Northen letter has done us more good than 

20 William J. Northen to Grover Cleveland, Sept. 15, 1893, copy in Northen 
Scrapbooks, Vol. Ill, pp. 270-272. 

21 Grover Cleveland to William J. Northen, Sept. 25, 1893; Northen Scrapbooks, 
Vol. Ill, p. 272; also vide, Constitution, Sept. 30, 1893. 

22 William J. Northen to Clark Howell, copy, Northen Scrapbooks, Vol. Ill, p. 


Populism on the March 

anything that has happened since our Christian Governor called 
out the military at Washington, Georgia." 

As he brought his campaign to a close in October, with a huge 
barbecue at Thomson, Watson found much to encourage him. 
He had visited thirty-seven counties, and addressed crowds esti- 
mated to total 150,000 people. After a losing struggle of a year, 
the People's Party Paper now boasted a large subscription list. 
"We go to every state in the Union," said the paper. "In Kan- 
sas, Missouri, and Texas, our list is very large. In Georgia we 
stand second to only one weekly newspaper, the Atlanta Consti- 
tution. In the Tenth District we stand first." 23 Thirty-five Popu- 
list papers in the state were now listed. 

Hardly an issue of the People's Party Paper appeared with- 
out its specimen of Populist poetry — poems usually in celebration 
of the virtues and accomplishments of Thomas E. Watson — 
scores of them. He mentioned "a hamper-basket full of home- 
made poetry" among one week's contributions. It seemed to him 
a "good sign" — for politics, whether for letters or not. "Any 
party which at the age of four years, shows a capacity to produce 
plentiful supplies of home-made poetry has gum in it," he wrote. 
"Bound to stick." It should constitute a warning to the old party : 
"We have already published some of this poetry, as a warning 
to the Democrats. If they are wise, they will mend their ways, 
and not provoke our poets too far." 24 

Such optimism did Watson affect that on Thanksgiving Day 
he offered a prayer of gratitude: "I am sincerely thankful that 
the storm of political hatred is abating; that a Populist is now 
considered a shade better than a pickpocket; and that 'Tom Wat- 
son' is no longer regarded as a junior partner to the devil." He 
suggested to Cleveland that they give Democracy a breathing 
spell. "She needs time to collect her scattered mind." 

It was not until the second session of the Fifty-third Congress 
that Watson's contest of the election of Black in 1892 was 
brought before the House. He could expect little, of course, 
from the Democratic majority, but could he place before the 
public by means of this case a vivid picture of the injustice done 

28 Clipping from P. P. P., about Oct. 1, 1893 ; Watson Scrapbooks. 
24 P. P. P., Nov. 3, 1893. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

him and his party by corrupt Democratic methods, he would 
strengthen his position appreciably before the public and bring 
some restraint to bear upon his opponents when they attempted 
a repetition of their methods in the next election. 

Watson had no friends on the Congressional Committee that 
heard the case, and its report was a whitewash. It mildly de- 
plored "the excesses of overzealous partisans," but concluded 
that since it was "utterly unable to determine how many re- 
peaters and illegal voters there were ... or how many of 
these votes should be deducted from the majority of the con- 
testee," and since the "Democratic Committee, who had charge 
of the raising and disbursing of the [campaign] money, were the 
very first citizens of Augusta, and were representing every busi- 
ness and profession, and were all men of the highest character, 
none higher" — Watson was not entitled to the seat. 25 

The Democratic majority clamped down the lid tightly upon 
discussion and protest of the report, so tightly that neither mem- 
bers of his party, nor — for the first time in the history of Con- 
gress — the contestant himself, was allowed to speak in his be- 
half. In vain, Pence, a Populist Congressman from Colorado, 
pleaded that "from the beginning of the history of this House, 
this is the first time that an opportunity for a contestant to be 
heard has been cut off ; and your rule here will not only cut him 
off, but will cut off anybody else from discussing the facts in the 
case." 26 The report was promptly accepted. 

The old parties had not dared to allow him to gain the public 
ear by presenting his own case, said Watson. "They knew per- 
fectly well that the sworn uncontradicted evidence in that record 
would have stirred honest men everywhere to intense disgust 
and indignation and revolt." Yet "here was an election which 
nine out of every ten democrats in Georgia believe to have been 
fraudulent. The intention to cheat was boldly proclaimed in ad- 
vance, and is today a matter of jesting boastfulness after it has 
been perpetrated." 2T 

Already in the midst of another contest by this time, he could 
see no sign which indicated that the men of "highest character, 
none higher" intended to mend their ways. 

25 House Reports, 53 Cong., 2 Sess., 1893-1894, Vol. Ill, Report No. 1x47. 

26 Cong. Record, 53 Cong., 2 Sess., June 30, 1894, pp. 8285-8292. 

27 The Daily Press, July 5, 1894. 




Annee Terrible 

The twelve months that began in the middle of the year 
1894 have been well named "the annee terrible of Ameri- 
can history between Reconstruction and the World War." * As 
the national depression reached its nadir, a new record was at- 
tained in unemployment, in the intensity of organized labor's 
struggle for existence, in the brutality of capitalist repression of 
labor, and in the distress of the agricultural masses. When the 
paralysis the farming sections had suffered so long finally gripped 
the vitals of the industrial East, it called forth an expression of 
new radicalism which, joined to the older agrarian radicalism, 
formed a flood of discontent, protest, exposure, and some astute 
analysis of a corrupt capitalist economy. 

If his library 2 is any indication, Watson was an enthusiastic 
and constant reader, particularly of history, but also of current 
radical reform literature. He was plainly influenced by the 
novels of Bellamy, and by Henry Demarest Lloyd's superb 
exposure of the methods of the great capitalist barons of oil, 
meat, coal, sugar, and tobacco, Wealth Against Commonwealth, 
which appeared in 1894. In his own publications he reflected 
the new spirit, and revitalized his agrarian radicalism at the 
same time. 

In June he began a long series of articles on "The Railroad 
Question." 8 In them he renewed his demand for outright and 
immediate government ownership and operation. Along with 
that demand went the intimation that the same remedy might 

1 Allan Nevins, Grover Cleveland, p. 649. 

2 In the possession of Judge Uly O. Thompson, Miami, Florida. 

3 P. P. P., June 15 to August 3, 1894. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

well be applied elsewhere. It seemed to Watson that "Where a 
business is so clearly of a public nature that the individual can 
only get fair treatment by having the government to act for all, 
then individualism ceases to be wise and nationalism [collective 
action] becomes necessary." It was "perfectly clear that the is- 
sue is national, the danger national, the disease national, and 
that the remedy must be national." 4 

With gusto he struck out at the hypocrisy of reactionaries. 
Congressmen Crisp and Moses — erstwhile Alliance candidates 
— opposed an income tax on corporations because they were 
"not in favor of taxing orphans." 6 Watson was moved by the 
spectacle of those statesmen "agitating the bowels of their com- 
passion in behalf of the orphans who own the corporations, the 
motherless and fatherless Hetty Green, Russell Sage, Roswell 
Flower, W. C. Whitney, Collis P. Huntington, Henry Villard, 
Andrew Carnegie . . ." 6 

When the anarchist Emma Goldman was jailed for daring 
(according to Watson) "to denounce the damnable system which 
makes a God-imaged man of less value to society than a St. 
Bernard dog," he contrasted her offense with the "immeasurable 
disaster which stalks behind the anarchy of Grover Cleveland, 
John Carlisle and John Sherman." A cartoon illustrated the 
article headed "The Anarchist Who Does the Most Damage," 
which depicted the President surrounded by Gould, Rockefeller, 
Vanderbilt, and Carnegie hurling bombs at the crumbling edifice 
of "Jeffersonian Democracy." The arrest of the leaders of 
Coxey's Army of protest for treading on the Capitol grass re- 
minded him that "Carnegie stole two hundred thousand dollars 
from the government, and Cleveland did not prosecute him as 
the law requires." 

He wished to know why a certain lieutenant was going about 
from one city in Georgia to another "lecturing the soldiers on 
the 'Street Riot Drill?' Is Georgia threatened with any riots?" 
He found evidence of a menacing spirit among the ruling class 
abroad as well as at home, and printed it prominently in a col- 
umn headed "How the Plutocrats Talk" : " 'The best meal to 
give a regular tramp is a leaden one' — New York Herald; 

A Ibid., July 13, 1894. 

5 Constitution, Dec. 4, 1893. 

6 P. P. P., Dec. 8, 1893. 


Annee Terrible 

'Hand grenades should be thrown among those who are striving 
to obtain higher wages, as by such treatment they would be 
taught a valuable lesson, and other strikers would take warning 
by their fate.' — Chicago Times; 'He [the tramp] has no more 
right than the sow that wallows in the gutter.' — Scribner's 
Monthly: 3 7 

On July 4, President Cleveland, without consulting Governor 
Altgeld, sent 2,000 federal troops into Chicago to enforce an 
injunction obtained against the American Railway Union then 
on a strike led by Eugene Debs against the Pullman Parlor Car 
Company. As Secretary Olney explained, it was clear that the 
blow should be struck at Chicago "because that was the center 
and headquarters of the strike and that, if smashed there, it 
would collapse everywhere else." 8 The strike did collapse after 
Debs was jailed, and workers were shot down and killed by 
United States troops. 

To Watson this new labor tragedy was but an added evidence 
that the administration u has shown by its every word and deed 
that Cleveland considers but one side of the question (after the 
election) and that side is capital. If we press closer every day to 
anarchy and bloodshed, this administration is responsible, for it 
has repeatedly shown its contempt for law when law stood in 
Cleveland's way." "If Grover Cleveland possesses lawfully the 
power he has exercised, then the only difference between our 
president and a European emperor, king, or czar, consists merely 
in the name." Across the front page of one of his papers was 
spread a large drawing of federal troops shooting down Debs' 
strikers, men, women, and children. It was headed, "Govern- 
ment ownership would have prevented this." 

With similar denunciations he reviewed step by step, as they 
occurred, the long series of Cleveland's offenses against popular 
opinion and his favors to capitalism. The silver-purchase repeal, 
the first bond issue, the seigniorage veto, the Hawaiian policy, 
the rabble-rousing chauvinism of the Venezuelan dispute, and 
the tariff bill were mercilessly caricatured by Watson's cartoon- 
ist, and satirized by the editor. They were all "repeated proofs 
that Cleveland had buncoed the country in a huge confidence 
game." "Is it never to end?" he asked. "Is it to go forward from 

7 P. P. P., Feb. 23-May 25, 1894. 

8 Allan Nevins, Cleveland, footnote p. 616. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

bad to worse until the red stain of civil war again splashes our 
national records?" 9 

On July 4 appeared the first number of Watson's new paper, 
the Daily Press, founded to assist the work of the campaign of 
that year and overcome the handicap imposed by the weekly 
paper. Stocked at $25,000, the daily was edited by Watson who 
owned a tenth of the stock and served as president of the com- 
pany at a salary of $25.00 a week. The daily proved a financial 
liability. The People's Party Paper continued to appear as usual, 
though Watson was now the sole owner. "It has a large circula- 
tion," he wrote in his private Journal, "& is a financial success — 
tho it cost me immense labor & much money to make it so." 10 
He prayed for "an invention which will enable me to edit a daily 
paper, manage a State campaign, answer everybody's letter and 
make a speech in everybody's county — all at the same time. . . . 
No one man can run the schedule." 

Watson was willing to boast continuous gains for his party: 
"in the county elections since 1892 we have increased our vote in 
every instance" winning several new counties and losing none of 
the old. At the same time he advised against over-confidence. 
"It is my deliberate opinion," he said, "that unless we make very 
considerable gains in this campaign it will require almost super- 
human efforts to rally the party again." Concerning the rebellion 
among the Democrats, he warned, "There's a world of differ- 
ence between cursing Cleveland and voting the Populist ticket. 
. . . We need candidates who will draw out the full Populist 
vote, and who at the same time, will draw the disappointed 
Democrats." He was "willing to mix some common sense with 
. . . zeal," to attract new recruits. The fact that the Populists 
possessed "little or no following among business and professional 
men" had been "a source of great weakness." Other things being 
equal, his preference was for the veteran Populist, but he wanted 
"nominees who will reach elements which heretofore we have 
been utterly unable to reach," and was prepared to sacrifice the 
old-time dirt-farmer candidate to that end. At the same time 
these new "respectable" candidates must "have burned their 
bridges behind them and have fallen into our line of march." u 

9 Daily Press, July 7 and 10, 1894; P. P. P., July 13, 1894. 

10 MS. Journal 2. 

11 P. P. P., May 4, 1894. 


Annee Terrible 

For applying such a policy he was denounced by old Populists 
for committing dictatorial acts "that the Czar of Russia would 
be ashamed and tremble to do." He had "relegated the old- 
timers to the rear and allied himself with new recruits for 
spoils." M It was true that Watson's power over his party was 
great, and might have appeared "dictatorial" at times. Such a 
tendency was far from inconsistent with his temperament. He 
took some pains, however, to prepare his followers for shifts in 
policy through his papers and speeches so that his "dictatorship" 
did not seem too highhanded. 

One notable example of the new policy of nominating "re- 
spectable" candidates was Judge James K. Hines, Watson's 
choice as a gubernatorial nominee. Hines was an unusual com- 
bination of eminent "respectability" and earnest radicalism. One 
of the first professional men to endorse the Ocala platform, he 
had, as early as 1890, "staggered" the editor of the Augusta 
Chronicle by his public pronouncement in favor of "government 
ownership of railroads, steamship lines, express companies, tele- 
graph lines, and all other business of a quasi-public nature. Let 
them be operated by the government as cheaply as possible for 
the public convenience and general welfare." 13 Yet this man was 
a highly successful lawyer, trained at Harvard, once Solicitor 
General, Alliance candidate for the Senate in 1890, now a Su- 
perior Court judge, and president of the Board of Trustees of 
Emory College — a Methodist institution of superlative "respect- 

In nominating Judge Hines at the Convention in Atlanta, the 
Populist "dictator" assumed a position of self-denial. He knew 
that many delegates were pledged to nominate him for gov- 
ernor. "But I want to reason with you," he said. "I must not be 
nominated for the head of your state ticket. We must recognize 
facts, not fancies. That memorable storm of prejudice and hate 
that swept over this state two years ago . . . has left me under 
a cloud of misrepresentation that will not be blown away for 
several years to come." 14 Hines received the nomination. Wat- 
son was again nominated for his old seat by a later convention 

12 L. P. Barner, editor of the Dalton Economist, quoted in Augusta Chronicle, 
Aug. 20, 1894; Augusta Chronicle, Sept. 10, 1894. 
18 Augusta Chronicle, Sept. 19, 1890. 
14 P. P. P., May 25, 1894. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

in the Tenth District. His nomination was proposed by a work- 
ing man from Augusta, and seconded by a farmer from Mc- 
Duffie. The latter declared: "I love the Bible. I love Jesus 
Christ. I love the People's Party, and I love Tommie Watson. I 
rise to second the nomination." 

The keynote of the Populist campaign was sounded in one of 
Watson's aphorisms at the Convention in May. u We meet under 
strange conditions," he said. u One year ago this country was 
being fed on the ambrosia of Democratic expectations. (Laugh- 
ter.) Today it is gnawing the cobs of Democratic reality. (Great 
applause and cries of 'The corn is gone.')" 

Throughout the campaign Watson's most telling blows were 
directed at Democratic schism and disunity, and the renunciation 
of platform pledges. When he was asked to return to the Demo- 
cratic party, he would first know which competing faction he was 
to return to. "Shall I become an Evan Howell Democrat, or a 
Hoke Smith Democrat; a John B. Gordon Democrat, who voted 
in the Senate to strike down silver, or a Pat Walsh Democrat, 
who spoke out bravely in its behalf on the floor of the Senate 
... or a Black Democrat, who voted both ways, or a Turner 
Democrat, who voted four ways." The Populists, on the other 
hand, all stood squarely on one platform. 15 

Criticizing Democratic principles, he told an old-party audi- 
ence in Macon, was "like shooting a didapper, you can never 
draw your aim." "Now in the Democratic meeting house, if the 
preacher takes a free silver text the house is for free silver; if 
he takes a gold bug text they are for the single gold standard; 
if he lines out an income tax hymn they all sing it; if he lines out 
a high tariff hymn they all sing that; if he prays for monopoly 
they all say amen; if he prays against monopoly, they all cry 
amen; if he pronounces the benediction in favor of national 
banks they all bow their heads and go away happy; if the bene- 
diction is against national banks they clap their hands and cry 
'Hozzannah !' Just put a Democratic tag on it and it don't make 
any difference what kind of a dog it is. (Great applause.)" 16 

"You used to think," he said, proselytizing an audience of 
Atlanta Democrats, "that a northern Democrat was just like 
you, but that ain't so. (Laughter.) You used to think that an 

15 Augusta Chronicle, July 22, 1894. 

16 P. P. P., July 13, 1894; Constitution, July 5, 1894. 


Annie Terrible 

Eastern Democrat was a Siamese twin linked to you, but you 
know now it ain't so. You know now if you never did before that 
an Eastern Democrat is as much like an Eastern Republican as 
a buzzard is like a turkey buzzard. (Loud and prolonged ap- 
plause.) You were a little slow about finding it out but you got 
there at last. (Laughter.) You know that the North and East 
are against you because theirs is a commercial section and yours 
is agricultural. Your prosperity is linked to ours ; your store has 
its foundation on my farm." 17 

The Democratic state convention was reported to be a "love 
feast," and it was said to be "difficult to understand how any man 
who witnessed the harmony and enthusiasm can contemplate the 
remote possibility that Democratic supremacy can be jeopardized 
in Georgia." The state platform contained a demand for free 
silver, which was said to "satisfy the gold standard Democrats" ; 
at the same time it endorsed Cleveland's administration. The 
People's Party Paper caricatured the "love feast" convention 
with a carton of Howell, the silver editor, and Hoke Smith of 
Cleveland's Cabinet, engaged in a hair-pulling fist-fight. Watson 
sat at one side at his editorial desk, saying "Gentlemen, fight 
as much as you like but please don't spill my ink." The Tenth 
District Convention, which renominated Black, on the other 
hand, passed an uncompromising demand for free coinage of 
silver. "Coming from the Democracy of the Tenth," observed 
the Constitution, "this declaration has the deepest significance. 
That district is the stronghold of the Populists in Georgia." 
They were "crying to their brothers of the State for help. Will 
their cry be ignored?" 18 

The old party managers, in order to meet the devastating 
Populist attack upon their many vulnerable spots, were forced 
to adopt an approach to the country voters that was curiously 
oblique. Their tactics are revealingly illustrated by the experi- 
ence of a candidate for the state Senate, Nat E. Harris, who 
was also an autobiographer of guileless candor. He was told by 
campaign managers that in all his speeches he "must be careful 
never to say a word in favor of Grover Cleveland or his ad- 
ministration." This advice he "carefully bore in mind." He was 

17 T. E. W., Life and Speeches, p. 141. 

18 Augusta Chronicle, Aug. 2, 1894; Constitution, Aug. 3, 1894; P. P. P., Aug. 3, 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

interrupted in one of his speeches by the question, "What do 
you think of Grover Cleveland?" "I turned aside the inquiry," 
he said, u by telling an anecdote, which had in it the suggestion 
that the sixteen-to-one in the silver dollar meant sixteen negroes 
to one white man, and that this was the contest that the Populists 
were waging. Then I started out again on the general questions 
of the day." Once more he was asked the same question. "I told 
another anecdote and made the people laugh, with some foolish 
statement, and then started out on the main questions." 19 

Into the fog of Democratic "hush" tactics, and "anecdotes," 
John Temple Graves, a prominent and respected Democrat, 
without warning cast a bomb of candid appraisal and fact. Con- 
temptuously brushing aside "this boastful prophecy of 70,000 
democratic majority," as the "mere bravado of politicians who 
realize the possibility of no majority at all," he frankly admitted 
that the party was shot through with discord, and had "the most 
formidable opposition since the war." It would not dare steal 
another election. 

Georgia is ripe today with the spirit of revolt! These are bold words, 
but they are the truest you have heard since the campaign opened, and 
I challenge you to refute them in fact, however much your extreme partisan 
loyalty may lead you to deny in boastful and swelling platitudes. . . . 

Will you explain it? If not I will. I will tell you where the trouble 
lies. It is in the protest of the thinking masses against methods that are 
objectionable and a drift in our politics that is dangerous and deadly. . . . 

Better monarchy than republican infamy like this. Better depotism or 
populism than corruption masked in the beautiful lineaments of law. 
Better a king than a prostitute judge! . . . 

This is at last a thinking and a reading people. The last four years 
— the last two campaigns — have been full of education and the people are 
thinking more freely than they have ever done before. You cannot any 
longer shake the red flag of negro supremacy in the faces of the masses and 
make them think that life and death and salvation depend upon voting the 
democratic ticket. They are thinking for themselves now . . . 20 

In line with his policy of more attractive candidates, Watson 
adopted a conciliatory tone in his speeches. Democratic papers 
several times remarked upon the fact that his speeches were 
"free from personalities and bitterness," seeming "moderate and 
conservative in tone" to those who went "expecting to hear a 

19 N. E. Harris, Autobiography, pp. 305-307. 

20 John T. Graves, to the Constitution, quoted in P. P. P., Aug. 31, 1894. 


Annee Terrible 

fiery and vindictive speech in bitter denunciation of the Demo- 
cratic party." 21 

The appeal had little effect, for there seemed to be no abate- 
ment of the proscriptive spirit toward Populism, and there was 
a wholesale revival of the corruption and terrorism of the previ- 
ous campaign. A. S. Clay, permanent chairman of the Demo- 
cratic state convention, advised that the Populist leaders "are 
anarchists and they must be made odious." As for Watson's 
daily, "the dirty sheet should be suppressed." A Democratic 
pamphlet was circulated appealing to Negroes to vote for Atkin- 
son, Democratic candidate for Governor, because "He pardoned 
Adolphus Duncan, a Negro, who had been twice convicted of 
rape on a white woman and had been sentenced to hang." When 
eighteen sharecroppers disobeyed the orders of a Democratic 
landlord not to attend a Watson speech, his foreman received 
orders not to issue them their week's rations: they could "go to 
the People's Party speaking and get their rations." 22 

From a Populist campaign speaker, Watson received a letter 
that reveals conditions under which the Populists struggled. He 
planned to speak in a hostile county. "I expect the venture will 
be fraught with great danger," he wrote. "The bitterest hate 
[is] aroused, & the chances [are] at least equal for personal 
violence. ... I am at a loss to know what to do that day about 
pistols. If I have one I will almost surely be arrested & it found 
on me, & if I don't have it I would be in a terrible fix should 
they assault me." M 

The refusal of the Democratic Executive Committee to per- 
mit a division of the managers of the polls between Democrats 
and Populists was held up by the latter as proof that foul work 
was afoot. From Wilkes County Populists came the hysterical 
report that "here human life is as valueless as corn cobs. We are 
in a reign of terror. Free speech is denied us." It was a con- 
servative Democratic estimate that three men were killed and 
many wounded at the polls of Augusta during the state election. 
"There were so many shooting, constables and others, that most 
anybody's bullet may have taken effect." * 

21 E.g., the Constitution, April 20, 1894; Augusta Chronicle, July 22, 1894. 

22 A. A. Elders, to T. E. W., Aug. 8, 1894, quoted in P. P. P., Aug. 17, 1894. 

23 J. M. Barnes to T. E. W., Oct. 30, 1894, Watson MSS. 

24 Augusta Chronicle, Nov. 7, 1894. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Even by Democratic count and poll management the new 
party polled 44.5 per cent of the vote in the state election, more 
than doubling its vote in the previous election, and reducing 
the Democratic majority from about 80,000 to about 20,000. 
The Chronicle admitted that "Several of the strongest Demo- 
cratic counties in the State have been carried by the Populists 
and with but few exceptions every county in the state shows 
Populists gains." The returns from some forty counties were 
suspiciously withheld for several weeks. There is a substantial 
ground for Watson's claim that a fair election would have re- 
sulted in a clear Populist victory. 25 

The old party leaders were thoroughly alarmed at the results 
of the state election, and said so frankly. Watson proclaimed 
that "Victory at last is in sight." He felt confident of winning 
his contest against Black in November, and with reason, for his 
party had polled a majority in that district in October. 

The Democratic machine of Augusta, more desperate than 
in 1892, determined to win the congressional election in Novem- 
ber, 1894, by any means possible. A description of the methods 
used — the drunken Negro repeaters, the ballot-box stuffing and 
burning, intimidation, bloodshed, and bribery — is unnecessary, 
for the scene was merely a repetition of that of 1892 on a more 
extensive scale: much more was required to defeat Watson in 
1894. 26 A court ruling was obtained that held that registration 
was unnecessary in congressional elections, and the Populist ap- 
peal for an injunction restraining the allowing of unregistered 
voting was refused. 27 

Watson carried the counties of McDuffie, Columbia, Lincoln, 
Warren, Taliaferro, Jefferson, Glascock, Washington, and Wil- 
kinson. Black carried only Richmond and Hancock and was de- 
clared elected. The nine Watson counties contained a population 
close to 100,000 and polled some 15,000; the two Black coun- 
ties, with only 62,000 population, polled over 18,000 votes for 
Black alone. Since Black's majority in Hancock was only 1,000, 
the secret of his huge majority lay in the Richmond vote. With 
only 11,240 possible polls in Richmond, according to the Comp- 

25 MS. Journal 2, p. 547; Constitution, Oct. 5, 1894; Chronicle, Oct. 4, 1894. 
28 The Contested Election Case of Watson vs. Black (1896), passim; information 
on both 1894 and 1895 elections. 
27 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 7 and Nov. 4, 1894. 


Annee Terrible 

troller General's report, and only 4,100 voting in October, 
15,980 votes were cast by that county in November. Of these 
Watson was allowed only 2,200. Thus out of a possible poll of 
11,240, Black received a majority of 13,780! 28 

The enormity of this robbery shocked even Democrats of 
other parts of the state into protest. The machine and officialdom 
remained unrelenting, however. In reply to protest, Boykin 
Wright, Major Black's campaign manager, remarked, "Why 
they [the Populists] would cry fraud if an angel from heaven 
should come down and run on the Democratic ticket. That's 
their stock in trade." Another commentator, anonymous but 
"quite prominent in official life," was quoted as saying, "a demo- 
cratic newspaper has no right to talk about democratic dishon- 
esty when democrats are elected." 29 The Chronicle, taking the 
same attitude, thought it "exceedingly unfortunate that so good 
a cause should have reproach cast upon it at the hands of its 
friends." "We have no defense to make." 80 

A group of twenty-two Augusta Democrats did sign and pub- 
lish a denunciation of the dishonest methods. It was "no secret, 
but a reproach to the very manhood of Augusta" that "the offi- 
cers of our law stood by and saw worthless negroes vote dozens 
of times at ten cents each and run outside the crowd in our court- 
house yard and sit right down in their very faces and shoot 
'craps' . . . for the money that was so nefariously gained." 
Major Black, however, in a public meeting a few days after this 
statement appeared said, "I would not parade the frauds that 
were perpetrated in the past, if frauds they were ; I would cover 
them with a cloak of silence." 31 

As news of the Augusta frauds spread among the Populists 
of the Tenth District, and resentment swelled with rumor, 
hatred between the parties grew more and more threatening. 
When the house of a Democratic party official burned to the 
ground near a Richmond County factory, the owner immedi- 
ately attributed the burning to the Populists. Such incidents 

Pointing out the menacing situation that existed between their 

28 Constitution, Nov. 7, 1894; P. P. P., March 9, 1895; MS. Journal 2, p. 548; 
The Contested Election Case of Watson vs. Black (1896), p. 5. 

29 Constitution, Nov. 8, 10, 1894. 

80 Quoted in The Contested Election Case of Watson vs. Black (1896), p. 67 5. 

81 Ibid., pp. 675-676; the protest was dated Aug. 26, 1895. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

followers, Watson, on November 9, proposed to Black through 
the press that "a commission be appointed by the two opposing 
candidates to purge the ballot boxes, and to count the legal votes 
to determine who had been elected." In his reply Black admitted 
that the election was "shrouded in doubt." He declared himself 
"in hearty accord with Mr. Watson in his motive for making 
the proposition for the purpose of putting an end to the terrible 
state of affairs in the Tenth District." Yet he declined to accept 
his opponent's proposal to purge the ballot box. He also de- 
plored the prospect of a contest under law, because "that course 
is tedious." In the same letter he made the counter proposal that, 
provided Watson agreed "within the time allowed by law for 
notice of contest," he, Black, should take the commission as a 
member of the Fifty-fourth Congress, but resign it, effective 
March 4, and "refer the matter back to the people to determine 
by a new election who shall represent them in the Fifty-fourth 
Congress." 82 

The apparent magnanimity of this offer is considerably dimin- 
ished by a little reflection upon its conditions. In order to accept 
its terms, Watson would have to give up his legal right to sub- 
mit his case to the House of Representatives, since the limit for 
filing notice of such contests would expire before the proposed 
election took place. It is true that his experience in contesting 
the election of 1892 had been, to say the least, discouraging. But 
now the tables were turned. Ruling the new House was a Re- 
publican majority who would be happy to deprive its rival party 
of one more seat. Then, too, even making allowance for consid- 
erable talent in that direction on the part of Congressional com- 
mittees, it would seem impossible to whitewash the glaring, 
palpable dishonesty of this election — as had been done in the 
previous one. In short, it seems probable that he would have 
won his contest. 

That Watson contemplated making the contest seems evident 
from the fact that he had already employed counsel to conduct 
it. Yet he accepted Black's proposal of a new election almost 
immediately. The only motive he gives for making this ques- 
tionable decision was an abhorrence of being indebted to the Re- 
publican majority for his seat. Such an aversion was certainly in 

32 Augusta Chronicle, Nov. 20, 1894; also P. P. P., Feb, 1, 1895. 


Annee Terrible 

line with his oft-expressed abhorrence of fusion with either old 
party, and especially of the taint of Republican connivance. Yet 
there were probably other motives he did not reveal. "Most of 
my friends think I have made a huge mistake," he wrote in his 
private Journal shortly after making the decision. "I cannot be- 
lieve it. The event will, I am sure, prove that I have 'done best' 
for the party and for myself." 33 

In accepting Black's counter proposal Watson had attached 
an additional condition — that the new election be held within 
thirty days after March 4, 1895, the date his opponent's resig- 
nation became effective. He added this condition under the con- 
viction that the state law required its governor to call a new elec- 
tion within that time, anyway. Major Black neither explicitly 
accepted this attached condition nor rejected it. That Watson 
was sincere in the assumption that it was accepted seems evident 
from his repeated reference to the stipulated "within thirty 
days" in his editorials, 34 and from the entry in his private Jour- 
nal, dated January 9, 1895, that, "by the terms of our agreement 
the special election is to be held within thirty days." 35 A drag- 
ging postponement of the special election was decidedly to the 
advantage of Democrats, who relied upon inertia, old habits, 
and the eventualities of a shifting political and economic scene 
to dull the disgust of revolting Democrats and dampen the en- 
thusiasm of Populists. On the other hand, the new party had 
everything to lose and nothing to gain from a postponement 
that could only fritter away its reserve of zeal and resentment 
and dissipate the ardor of new recruits. 

Major Black resigned according to agreement on March 4, 
1895, but as the month progressed it became plain that his party 
was stalling on the special election, and had no intention of ful- 
filling the thirty-day agreement. Watson, by open letter, re- 
minded his opponent of their agreement, of the fact that their 
District was without a representative, of the distraught temper 
of their respective partisans, and asked him to join in a letter to 
the governor urging him to order an early election. Black re- 
plied briefly that, "We differ so widely as to facts" that "dis- 

83 Jan. 9, 1895, MS. Journal 2, p. 550. 

84 The Augusta Chronicle, Jan. 25, 1895, denied the acceptance of the condition, 
but not Black. 

35 MS. Journal 2, p. 550. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

cussion would be useless and a more detailed and extended reply 
to yours is unnecessary." 

In his answer Watson abandoned a tone of remonstrance, 
habitual with him in addressing opponents, and wrote a stinging 
rebuke. He referred to "the disturbance in the Tenth District, 
caused by the phenomenal capacity of your county to cast 16,000 
votes with 12,000 voters," and to dishonesty "of such a colossal 
type that it almost commanded respect." He continued: 

You dreaded the consequences of a fair count of the legal votes. You 
dreaded the other alternative of an investigation by Congress. 

Therefore, to escape both perils, you proposed to me "to resign and 
submit the matter back to the people.". . . 

You were getting me to part with valuable goods. You wanted me 
to surrender by written renunciation, my legal right to put you on trial 
before Congress — a Republican Congress at that. . . . Had you ob- 
jected to the condition I put upon my acceptance, I could have withdrawn 
my acceptance; I would have gone on with the contest, for which I had 
already engaged counsel. . . . 

I lost my right to contest the election, and to show that I was entitled 
to the seat. It is too late for you to restore me to the position and to the 
advantage I held last November and December; but it is not too late for 
you to loyally stand by your part of the contract — according to its letter, its 
reason, and its spirit. 86 

Black persisted in his course, however, contending that the 
Populists had misconstrued the terms of their agreement, that 
more time should be given for feeling to subside, and that he 
could not "assume" that he would be the Democratic nominee. 87 

In accepting his renomination as candidate in the special elec- 
tion, Watson hailed the agreement with Black as marking "a 
distinct epoch in the politics of the South," for "The time has 
been when any crime committed in the name of the Democratic 
party was an act of patriotism in the eyes of the majority of the 
people." But Major Black now "confesses, by his resignation, 
that a grievous wrong has been done us, and that the time has 
come for the honest elements of both parties to put the rascals 
under foot." "Without violence and without crime," he boasted, 
"you have achieved a moral victory which ennobles you and your 

The Populists were allowed ample time to test the fruits of 

86 P. P. P., March 29, 1895. 

87 Constitution, May 29, 1895. 

88 Speech reprinted in Watson's Political and Economic Handbook, pp. 462-463. 


Annee Terrible 

their "moral victory." Instead of the thirty days stipulated by 
the agreement, the old party postponed the special election for 
seven months after Black's resignation. Taking advantage of an 
important political trend in the silver cause (described in the 
following chapter), the Democrats turned these seven months 
to rich profit, while the insurgent party chafed at the frustra- 
tion of its aims. 

"Duped again I" was the dismayed cry of the Populists. Their 
leader pleaded earnestly for patience and peace. "Don't let the 
politicians of Augusta throw the Tenth District into a turmoil 
again." Violence would only hurt their cause. "We must have 
peace, we must have law and order, we must have an end to 
ballot-box corruption, and to the reign of political anarch- 
ists. . . ." In the spring a movement for boycotting all busi- 
ness with Augusta arose among the angry farmers. The People 1 } s 
Party Paper, while expressing gratification at "the loyalty which 
actuates Mr. Watson's friends in this matter," argued that "re- 
taliation as a means of righting a wrong is a bad policy and 
should only be inaugurated as a last resort." 

As the October day of election finally approached, however, 
and fraudulent use of the new registration law became apparent, 
Watson turned from the preaching of patience and peace to 
threaten refusals and boycott. "The unblushing frauds practiced 
in that city [Augusta]," he wrote, "during the days of registra- 
tion just closed, evidences that the thieves have not repented. 
The farmers are tired of chucking grass at the thieves in the 
apple tree." 39 

The new registration law, passed in December, 1894, shortly 
after the disgraceful election of that year, set up a powerful 
registration committee of three in each county. It was given the 
power, from which there was no appeal, to draw up lists of quali- 
fied voters. In Watson's district each committee consisted of two 
Democrats and one Populist. In case of dispute, read the law, 
the decision of two was final. 40 Bearing some similarity to laws 
later adopted in all Southern states to disfranchise the Negro, it 
could be, and was, employed here to forestall more Populist 
voters — but at the same time to make it possible to use the 

39 P. P. P., Sept. 20, 1895. 

40 The Registration Law is printed as a supplement to the Contestant's Brief, The 
Contested Election Case of Watson vs. Black (1896). 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Negro vote where controlled by Democrats. Thus the registra- 
tion lists of Richmond revealed the amazing fact that of the 
3,431 Negroes registered (almost as many as white) 1,333, or 
more than a third, were listed as "just attained the age of 21," 
i.e., since the last year's election. This, as the Populists remarked, 
was "one of the most remarkable facts in the statistics of popula- 
tion." Of the 3,866 whites registered, only 229, or one-fifteenth, 
were listed as 21. 41 

The Augusta Chronicle expressed surprise that the Populists 
were "shocked because Richmond County Democrats are paying 
the taxes of negroes and registering them so they may vote for 
Major Black," and added cynically that "both parties will em- 
ploy the usual methods of securing negro votes." ** 

The "usual methods" were employed in the special election 
on October 2, but the new method — the registration law — was 
a vast improvement over the "usual" ones: its effects were less 
glaring, more "legal," harder to detect and expose. For the first 
time there were no deaths reported, and only a minimum of 
violence. The voting was comparatively peaceful. Thus the total 
vote of Richmond was reduced from 15,980 in 1894 to 6,435 — 
well within the possible poll — yet giving Black a safe majority 
of some 5,000, a majority large enough to overcome a Populist 
majority in all the other counties. For although Watson, as pre- 
viously, carried nine counties with easy majorities, and Black 
only two, the Democratic majority piled up in the five wards of 
Augusta alone was sufficient to defeat him. The part played by 
the Negro vote, the regulation of which was referred to above, 
may be seen by the returns from the fourth ward, in which Black 
received 989 to Watson's 9 Negro votes. Watson observed that 
"Richmond County is so manipulated that no matter whether 
Populists carried Hancock or not, the city of Augusta arrogates 
to herself the right to rule the District." 48 

To his followers, crushed by their third defeat, and convinced 
they had been cheated of their victory the third time, Watson 
wrote a message : 

41 Ibid,, p. 86; also Contestant's Brief, p. 11. 

^Augusta Chronicle, Aug. 31, 1895. 

43 P. P. P., Oct. 11, 1895; Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 3, 1895; Augusta Herald, Oct. 
3, 1895; Atlanta Journal, Oct. 3, 1895; Constitution, Sept. 13, 1895; The Contested 
Election Case of Watson vs. Black, passim. 


Annee Terrible 

Discouraged ? 
Bosh! Bosh!! Bosh!!! 

Let the other fellow get discouraged. His troubles are just beginning 
to commence. . . . 

Comrades! Let the fight of 1896 begin now! 44 

It would be more to the point to know what was really in 
the writer's mind at this time. He did not, as was his practice, 
commit his inner reflections upon this election to his private 
Journal. Yet, unless the very fierceness of his determination had 
completely closed his mind to facts, he must have realized, after 
his last three experiences — whatever he said to the contrary — 
that his was a forlorn cause, that his sacrifice of a successful 
career in the old party had been in vain — as had most of the 
prolific energy and effort he had poured into the new movement. 
He must have realized that his enemies of the old party would 
stop at nothing whatever to crush him, and that they had not 
left enough substance in the democratic myth to stir hope in 
another effort among his followers. He must have entertained 
these reflections as he entered the fateful year of 1896. 

44 P. P. P., Oct. xi, 1895. 



The Silver Panacea 

Henry Demarest Lloyd, like other advanced intellectual 
leaders of his day, hoped for great things from the Popu- 
list movement. He identified himself with it, fought for it pas- 
sionately and courageously, and suffered at its collapse a despair 
that was more than the fret of disappointment. Aside from 
partisanship, however, he viewed his party as analytically and 
intelligently as he viewed the chaotic capitalism of his time. 
After a preliminary autopsy upon the defunct Populism, he 
wrote : 

The free silver movement is a fake. Free silver is the cowbird of the 
reform movement. It waited until the nest had been built by the sacrifices 
and labors of others and then it laid its eggs in it, pushing out the others 
which lie smashed on the ground. 1 

Looking to Populism for genuine, fundamental reform along 
the lines of extensive government ownership and control, Lloyd 
deprecated the tendency of right-wing Populists to rely on "spin- 
ning-wheel and ox-team remedies" in a dynamo age. He hoped 
for the nomination of Eugene V. Debs in 1896. He knew that 
the rank-and-file majority of genuine Populists believed free 
silver was "only the most trifling installment of reform," or "no 
reform at all." It was in them, not in the leaders; he placed his 
faith. If there must be a split between free-silver right and anti- 
monopolist left, he advised in 1895, "let it be a split that will 
be heard far and wide." 2 

Frank L. McVey, also a contemporary student of Populism, 

1 Caro Lloyd, Henry Demarest Lloyd, Vol. I, p. 263. 

2 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 256 ; H. D. Lloyd, "The Populists at St. Louis," Review of Re- 
views, Vol. XIV (Sept., 1896), pp. 293-303. 


The Silver Panacea 

feared the very elements in the party to which Lloyd looked for 
salvation, and exaggerated those elements to menacing propor- 
tions. The silver plank was merely a "screen" that hid the basic 
"socialism" of the radical majority. But, like Lloyd, he felt that 
"the presence of the silver faction has obscured the real purpose 
of the party." Its only honest course, its only hope, lay in "cast- 
ing aside half measures and following the logic of its underlying 
tendencies, boldly announcing itself as the socialist party of 
America, confessing paternalism as its principle of constitutional 
interpretation, the socialization of industry as its economic one 
. . ." After all, it was only the leaders of Populism who made up 
the silver faction, and they could never hold in check the radical 
mass of followers. Writing on the eve of the debacle of 1896, he 
thought that the "socialistic" rank and file had gained control. 8 

The genuine Populist of the South, the old-time Allianceman 
who was educated on the sub-treasury, government ownership, 
and fiat money under the tutelage of Tom Watson, was never 
seriously befuddled by the free-silver panacea. Neither the St. 
Louis platform, the Ocala platform, nor the Omaha platform 
of 1892 emphasized silver unduly. Each included the demand, 
but only along with several other proposals for more funda- 
mental reform — all of which the good Populist swore by with 
more or less impartial fervor. Sometimes one, sometimes an- 
other reform in their long creed claimed their especial enthusi- 
asm, but never silver to the exclusion of the others. 

The situation in the West was different. There the third party 
leaders were constantly tempted to cash in on the popular clamor 
for the silver panacea. It was sometimes easy to purchase cheap 
victory and office by sacrificing the great body of fundamental 
Populist reforms. Blocking the application of this policy, how- 
ever, was the Omaha platform with its wide program of reform 
and its many radical demands. Various maneuvers were con- 
ducted by the silver schemers to discredit and abandon the old 
platform. It was called wild, hastily adopted, and visionary, and 
a convention was called to meet at St. Louis early in 1895 to 
revise it. The radical ranks held firm, however, and defeated 
the coup of the silver propagandists. 4 

Encouraged in their subversive aims by the American Bime- 

8 Frank L. McVey, The Populist Movement, pp. 176-177, 190. 

4 John D. Hicks, The Populist Revolt, Chap. XI, and pp. 240-243. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

tallic League, the silver-Populists of the West continued their 
maneuvers. As Populist candidate for President in 1892, Gen- 
eral James B. Weaver had said: "This movement is a protest 
against corporate aggression." Yet, in August, 1893, he presided 
as chairman over the Chicago convention of the Bimetallic 
League, lending his influence to the purely opportunistic policy 
of herding together all who would rally to the silver panacea — 
regardless of party or principles. 5 A plan was under way in Iowa 
to control the next General Assembly in the interest of General 
Weaver's candidacy for the United States Senate by a fusion of 
Populists and Democrats. In 1895 the General announced: 
"While considering fully and unreservedly the great importance 
of our other planks, I shall favor going before the people in 
1896 with the money question alone, unencumbered with any 
other contentions whatsoever." 6 

In the summer of the same year, H. E. Taubeneck of Illinois, 
national chairman of the People's party, advised the members 
in one state to "keep the money question to the front" for it is 
"the only living issue before the people." He hoped their plat- 
form would make "the 'money question' the great central idea, 
unencumbered with details or side issues." 7 

Before the People's party was nationally organized, Tom 
Watson had drawn his line on the free-silver question. Thence- 
forth he hewed to the mark relentlessly, whether the chips flew 
to the right or to the left. Like many Populists, he subscribed to 
a "quantitative" or "managed" currency theory, partially exem- 
plified by the sub-treasury plan. Money was purely the creation 
of the government; its amount should be regulated according 
to demand, in order to stabilize prices, particularly of agricul- 
tural products, and to furnish needed credit. These functions, 
because they vitally affected public welfare, should be taken out 
of the hands of national banks and given over entirely to the 
government. 8 Plainly, free silver was merely tangential to his 
money doctrine. "Free Silver is right and we ought to have it," 
he wrote in 1891, "but is a mere drop in the bucket to what we 
must have if we are ever to save our people from financial ruin." 

5 P. P. P., Aug. 4, 1893. 
6 F. L. Hayne9, James Baird Weaver, p. 317. 
7 J. D. Hicks, op. cit., p. 344. 

8 These ideas permeate all hi9 writings on the money question; e.g., vide 
T. E. W., Economic and Political Handbooks, passim. 


The Silver Panacea 

It would mean less than one dollar per capita increase in the 
currency, whereas "we need at least forty." 9 

He scoffed contemptuously at the Bland silver bill of the 
Democrats, which, in his eyes, was a mere sop, a thirty-cents-per- 
capita increase. "With this princely addition to the circulation 
medium," he said, "they say that we must be satisfied; disband 
our Reform Army ; cease to agitate and educate ; cease to ask for 
$50 per capita; and go back to our drowsy indifference . . ." 10 
Examining the free-silver demand in the Omaha platform of 
his own party, he wrote: "I have never claimed that Free Silver 
would remedy all our financial ills. It would not do so." How- 
ever, he supported the plank on the ground that to some extent 
it "would loosen the grip of the Money kings," and take a step 
toward a system that was "more just, and liberal, and flexible 
than the arbitrary, exacting and monopolistic gold standard of 
today." n 

Approval of free silver as one plank in an elaborate platform 
of his own party was one thing; approval of free silver as a 
panacea employed to destroy the integrity of a movement to 
which he had dedicated his life was altogether another thing. 
Once he was convinced that this end was portended in the 
maneuvers of certain Western Populist leaders, Bimetallic 
Leaguers, silver-Democrats and Republicans, he struck out 
boldly and fiercely in a long pronunciamento against the con- 
spirators : 

We have known, for some time, that certain wire-pullers in Washington 
were scheming to side-track the People's Party by having it surrender 
all of its platform excepting the Free Silver Plank. . . . 

If newspaper reports are to be credited, considerable progress has been 
made with the scheme. . . . 

This being the case, we feel that it is time for us to take a position. In 
doing so we believe that we have the support of every Populist in Georgia. 

Gentlemen, the People's Party of Georgia demands that there shall be 
no cowardly surrender of principles! 

We favor Free Silver as much as we favor Fiat money — and no more. 

We favor Free Silver as much as we favor Income Tax — and no more. 

We hate the greed which strikes down silver in the interest of gold — 
but we hate just as fiercely the National banks which strike down the right 
of all people to obtain money from the government upon equal terms ; and 

9 P. P. P., Dec. 31, 1891. 

10 Ibid., March 17, 1892. 
^Ibid., July 29, 1892. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

the High Protective Tariff, under whose shelter Trusts and Combines or- 
ganize their forces and exploit the public ; and the Railroad tyranny which 
keeps its iron hand laid heavily upon every industry in the Union. 

Any political party which ventured to go before the American people 
with only one plank in its platform would be hissed off the stage, jeered out 
of existence, kicked into oblivion. . . . 

In a party whose only test of membership would be the advocacy of free 
silver, how could we keep the corporations from coming in and forever 
checking our advance toward governmental ownership of railways ? 

How could we purge it of these Privileged classes who oppose an income 

Viewed from any standpoint, this single-plank party is fatally objection- 

The scheme is a trap, a pitfall, a snare, a menace, a fraud, a crime 
against common sense and common honesty. 

We are rejoiced to see that Governor Waite, of Colorado, denounces 

We cannot believe that Taubeneck, and Peffer, and Simpson favor it. 

The People's party has nothing to fear so much as unwise leader- 

Our enemies, seeing us sweeping onward with steady growth of members, 
seek to divide us, confuse us, side-track us. . . . 

The rank and file are safe. The people, the people, are sound. 

The rank and file want to march right on. 

The rank and file want no fusion. 

The rank and file want no corrupt abandonment of a creed we love, 
believe in, hope for — a creed in whose sacred keeping is held the longings 
and prayers of an oppressed people. 12 

Watson's determination to ride the storm without reefing a 
single sail was put to severe test in the hurricanes of the next 
two years. Though sailing in the opposite direction, Grover 
Cleveland likewise ordered all his canvas aloft and likewise 
suffered from the storm. Others did not hesitate to reef, or to 
change course. 

The most momentous change to which Populism had to ad- 
just itself was the remarkable revolution in the Democratic 
party. Resulting in the ultimate repudiation of its own adminis- 
tration, this party revolution proceeded in three phases: disin- 
tegration, revolt and realignment, and finally the coup. Each 
phase held its peculiar perils for Populism, and each required 

In the summer of 1895 Watson could write: 

12 Ibid., Dec. 8, 1892. 


The Silver Panacea 

Never since the "Wonderful One Hoss Shay" went to pieces in one 
comprehensive, simultaneous and complete smashup — an epic of utter 
annihilation — has there been such an all-round catastrophe as that which 
has happened to the democratic party. 

It not only managed to do nothing it was pledged to do, but it also 
continued to do everything its leaders had fought the Republicans for 

This judgment was corroborated by A. K. McClure, who, after 
a tour of the South early in 1896, reported that not a single 
Southern state was certain to vote for the Democratic candidate 
for President in the approaching election, that a united South 
was "quite improbable," and that since "the Populists have rent 
the Democracy in twain" it was possible that "all the Southern 
states may be lost to the Democracy." 13 

Some Southern Democratic papers rivaled the Populists in 
the bitterness of their denunciation of Cleveland's administra- 
tion. Nothing Watson wrote outdid certain editorials of the 
Constitution. "The people have been taken in and done for," 
read one. "They have been made the victims of as corrupt a 
conspiracy as ever disgraced the world's political records. They 
have been sold out, plastering and furniture, by those whom 
they selected to protect their interests." 14 There were those who 
protested that such utterance was dangerous and "not regular." 
"To the dogs with such false and pretentious democracy!" 
shouted the rebellious editor. "It is not worth having or hold- 
ing." 15 While this was going on at one side of the Democratic 
house, on the other side Hoke Smith, member of Cleveland's 
Cabinet and a proprietor of the Atlanta Journal, was touring the 
state defending the administration against all comers. 

While this confusion of tongues was in progress, and while 
what Watson called Cleveland's "regular 'Go to hell' adminis- 
tration" pursued its course uninfluenced, Democrats in the South 
and West were deserting by the thousands to join the Populist 
ranks. The gain in the Populist vote between 1892 and 1894 
had been over one hundred per cent in Georgia and forty-two 
per cent in the nation. Faced with the glaring probability of a 
complete rout in the coming election, Democratic politicians in 
the South and West resorted to strategy. 

18 Quoted in Joseph C. Manning, Fadeout of Populism, pp. 38-39. 

14 Constitution, Aug. 28, 1895. 

15 Ibid., July 5, 1895. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

It is a safe estimate to say that no policy among Cleveland's 
several unpopular policies made for him more enemies in the 
Western and Southern branches of his party than his determined 
stand against silver. His repeated bond sales served to keep re- 
sentment fanned to flame. Could politicians in those sections 
capitalize that resentment, champion silver, win their party to 
its cause, and outdo the Populists in denouncing Cleveland — in- 
stead of dodging and straddling to defend his unpopular ad- 
ministration — they might save themselves. They might win 
back the Populistic majority of the Democrats, who were either 
already with the third party or ready to join it, and save the 
Solid South, along with many profitable offices that had slipped 
from their grasp. Some of the more optimistic hoped thus to 
absorb the third party and thereby end the Populist "menace" 
forever. 16 

This was an ambitious program, but it was adopted by men 
moved by desperation. There occurred a miraculous mass con- 
version among Democratic politicians. By the summer of 1895 
the Constitution could contend that a definition of true Democ- 
racy which denounced all who condemned Cleveland's "Repub- 
lican financial doctrine" as "Populistic" would read out of the 
party the governor of the state, the chairman of the Democratic 
state executive committee, both United States senators, a former 
Democratic speaker of the national House of Representatives, 
the president of the Democratic state Senate, and the speaker of 
the Democratic state House of Representatives. "These are the 
men," boasted the editor, "and this the element that the Cuck- 
oos, goldbugs, and postmaster organs are denouncing as popu- 
lists." 17 

Watson found the antics of these twelfth-hour converts amus- 
ing and lost no opportunity to embarrass them. There was his 
arch-enemy, Patrick Walsh, editor of the Augusta Chronicle, 
who was now "sorry to say" he could see no hope for the country 
"until silver is restored to coinage"; and his old opponent, 
Major Barnes, "with grief in his ample bosom and conciliation 
in his oily dew-laps." Charles Crisp, who "serenely turns up as 
the chief mourner at the funeral of Free Silver," had, as speaker 
of the House, dealt "the two deadliest blows that were ever 

16 Alex M. Arnett, Populist Movement in Georgia, pp. 187-188. 

17 Constitution, July 9, 1895. 


The Silver Panacea 

given to Bi-metallism." u As well," he remarked, "might Iscariot 
preach the funeral sermon of Christ." The free silver issue was 
merely a political ball tossed back and forth between the two old 
parties. "Republicans out of office favor free-silver — to get in 
on. Once in they take up the gold policy where the Democrats 
left it; and the free silver issue is tossed back to the Democrats 
for them to use awhile. ... A good many of us common every- 
day dunces need lots of light to show us why it is that the Demo- 
cratic party loves free-silver and hates the Congressmen who 
vote for it." 18 "Gold-bugs," "silver-bugs," "straddle-bugs," 
humbugs — they were all of one species so long as they were 

Major Black was renominated for the special election of 1895 
on a silver platform. The real significance of that platform is 
attested by the public appeal of a self-styled "gold-bug" : "Is it 
likely that, if elected, he [Watson] will forgive or forget? Fel- 
low 'gold-bugs' — gentlemen so called by those of your brethren 
who differ from your financial policy — do not let anything that 
has been or may be said or done prevent your loyal support of 
Major Black now. . . . We must present a solid front to a wily 
and insidious foe." 19 The "gold-bugs" were ready to vote for 
silver to defeat Watson. 

In July the state Bimetallic League staged a great convention 
at Griffin to which were invited all "friends of silver" irrespec- 
tive of party affiliation. Patrick Walsh, "acknowledged leader 
of the bimetallic hosts of the State," presided over the conven- 
tion and was elected president of the state League. As the Demo- 
crats hoped, many Populists attended, and though none of them 
was appointed on committees they were described as "quiet and 
deeply interested." All went smoothly until one ardent but in- 
nocent Democrat moved, and urged with embarrassing per- 
sistence, a resolution that would exclude all Populists from 
participating in the convention. It was quickly explained that "it 
would be a breach of propriety to recognize any party or discuss 
the political issues of any party." The offender was finally si- 
lenced by Chairman Walsh. Senator Morgan of Alabama made 
the principal address. Bitter were the words voiced there against 
President Cleveland. Sweet were the words spoken there to the 

18 P. P. P., Aug. 9 and Nov. 22, 1895. 
19 Augu8ta Chronicle, Aug. 30, 1895. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Populists. 20 Said Captain Evan Howell, editor of the Constitu- 

I am an honest bimetallism I believe in the coinage of silver, free, at 
1 6 to i. I am willing to join hands with any populist in Georgia, if he 
will go with me under the democratic banner. I am in favor of granting 
Tom Watson the privilege of being a democratic leader under the demo- 
cratic flag. I believe Tom Watson is sincere; I want all populists to come 
back under the flag. 21 

Realizing the necessity for stiffening the resistance of his 
ranks to meet these new tactics, Watson clarified his position in 
regard to Democratic overtures to fusion. Stated in parabolical 
form his prophecy was, briefly: "The Alliance lamb agreed to 
lie down in the same pen with the Democratic lion. Result : lamb 
soon dissolved in the gastric juice of said lion. Does the wily old 
trickster, Lon Livingston, think he can play that game on us?" 
As for the Bimetallic convention at Griffin : 

The Populists who were lured into the meeting went away with the 
dry grins. It was dinned into their ears that the meeting was a non- 
partisan affair, a meeting into which no politics would be admitted. This 
made the Populists feel good, but when the time came to make up com- 
mittees, the Populists looked a little foolish, as not a member of their 
party appeared on the committee on program. ... It looks as if they 
might have struck some of the Populists by accident in appointing com- 
mittees. . . . 

But we are glad this convention was held; glad our men went there; 
glad we showed a willingness to harmonize on principle ; glad the meeting 
failed through the greed and insincerity of professional wire-pullers and not 
through the fault of the Populists. 22 

Now that the Democratic party was ripe for internal revolu- 
tion, the problem and the temptation of fusion were more than 
ever before acute and pressing for Populist leaders. Fusion with 
one party or the other had, as a matter of fact, been a problem 
of the third party from the beginning. After all, every Populist 
recruit had to be won from one or the other of the old parties. 
In the South the fusion problem presented itself first with re- 
gard to the Republican party. After the death of Colonel L. L. 
Polk, the Populist party of North Carolina had effected a fusion 
with the Republican under the leadership of Marion Butler, an 

20 Ibid., July i, 2, 18, and 19, 1895; Constitution, July 19, 1895. 

21 Constitution, July 19, 1895. 

22 P. P. P., July 26, 1895, quoted by A. M. Arnett, of. cit., pp. 190-191. 


The Silver Panacea 

astute young politician who won a seat in the Senate at the age 
of thirty-three. Seeking to extend his Populist-Republican fusion 
throughout the South, Butler attempted in private conference to 
persuade Watson (as well as other Southern Populist leaders) 
to adopt the same policy. Watson flatly refused to countenance 
the plan, contending that it would destroy the integrity of his 
party. 23 No accusation called forth such angry denial from the 
Georgia Populist as the suggestion that he was cooperating with 
the Republicans. 

In the West the temptation from the founding of the third 
party had been fusion with the Democrats, the minority party 
there as the Republicans were in the South. From the beginning 
there had been a certain amount of coalition between the two 
parties, and in some states outright fusion. As the election year 
approached it became plain that if prominent Populist leaders 
of the West, such as Weaver and Taubeneck, had their way, 
fusion would go the whole way and become complete. The 
capitulation to the free silver panacea was merely another way 
of advocating fusion. 24 

On what basis could fusion between Democrats and Populists 
take place in the South ? Henry Demarest Lloyd once observed 
that "The line between the old Democracy and Populism in 
the South is largely a line of bloody graves." As hyperbole goes, 
this strikes near the truth. For six years, during the whole life 
of Populism, the Democratic party had been recognized as the 
enemy against whose stubborn, and often treacherous, opposi- 
tion every gain had to be won. In the bitter struggles of those 
six years Democrats had slandered, cursed, ostracized, de- 
frauded, and killed Populists, and Populists had fought back 
with the same weapons. How could enemies be transformed into 
allies by what Populists suspected was a mere verbal change of 

Toward fusion of any kind Tom Watson adopted the policy 
then known as "the-middle-of-the-road." 25 Far from designat- 
ing a conservative course, this term had come to signify those 
radical Populists who refused to compromise any principle in 

23 Interview with Marion Butler, Washington, Aug. 7, 1934; Florence Smith, 
"The Populist Movement and its Influence in North Carolina," Ph.D. dissertation, 
University of Chicago, passim. 

24 John D. Hicks, op. cit., pp. 344-348. 

25 For an explanation of the origin of the term see Ibid., p. 346. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

order to cooperate with either of the old parties. The "mid- 
road" Populists constituted the strictly anti-fusion rank and file 
of the party. In answer to a Louisiana Populist who wrote ask- 
ing his advice on fusion with the silver-Democrats of that state, 
Watson wrote : 

In our judgment Populists should keep in the middle of the road, should 
make no coalition with either old party, and should avoid fusion as they 
would the devil. To meet Democrats or Republicans, acting in their 
individual capacities, in a free-for-all mass meeting, where a principle 
upon which we all agree can be discussed, and where no man need be 
bound by any action which he disapproves, is one thing; to make a barter 
and a trade as Populists with the official managers of either of the old 
parties to swap a certain number of votes for a stipulated price in Demo- 
cratic patronage or Republican spoils, is quite another thing. . . . 

This may be an honest transaction; lots of good men in Kansas, 
Nebraska, North Carolina and elsewhere have gone into it. . . . It seems 
to agree very well with the fellows who squat near the flesh pots. But 
our observation has been that the People's Party never grows a single 
vote after that flesh pot feast begins . . . but wilts and dwindles away. 

We therefore advise our friend to meet and talk with all men — but 
fuse with no enemy, compromise no principle, surrender no vital convic- 

He continued to warn against the blandishments of the Demo- 
cratic advocates of fusion. " 'I am willing,' " he quoted Editor 
Howell of the Constitution as saying immediately before the 
Democratic National Convention of 1896, " 'to advocate every 
principle of the Populist Platform, if it is necessary, in order to 
keep the people inside the Democratic party.' " This, according 
to Watson, was a perfect illustration of the old party's motto : 
"Anything to keep the offices." It had promised the whole Alli- 
ance platform, the sub-treasury excepted, in 1890, and it would 
not scruple to promise the entire Populist platform, virtually 
the same, in 1896. 27 

It was this uncompromising rejection of fusion in the face of 
repeated defeats, when fusion would have won high office, that 
earned Watson the name of "as extreme a mid-road Populist as 
ever breathed or wrote." It also earned him the devotion of 
Southern Populists from Virginia to Texas, as well as the West- 
ern rank and file who had resisted silver and fusion. The radical 

26 P. P. P., July 26, 1896, quoted in A. M. Arnett, op. cit., p. 190. 

27 P. P. P., June 19, 1896. 


The Silver Panacea 

Southern Populist, to whom fusion was anathema and silver 
a "mere drop in the bucket," found his clearest expression 
in the voice of Tom Watson, and in Watson he placed his 
faith. From the Middle West, the Lower South, and the Far 
West Watson received messages commending his stand against 
fusion. 28 

Upon the maneuvers of Western leaders toward fusion and 
silver, on the other hand, radical Populists of all sections looked 
with suspicion and misgivings, not to say hostility. From the 
West came Senator Peffer's denunciation of the policy of the 
National Committee of his own party as "treacherous" ; 29 from 
the South came a North Carolina editor's judgment that it was 
an attempt to "deliver the entire People's party into the lap of 
Wall Street Democracy at one time." so Writing in the Middle 
West, though speaking for an intelligent element that was non- 
sectional, Lloyd lamented the curious paradox "that the new 
party, the Reform party, the People's party, should be more 
boss-ridden, ring-ruled, gang-gangrened, than the two old 
parties of monopoly. The party that makes itself the special 
champion of the Referendum and Initiative tricked out of its 
very life and soul by a permanent National Chairman — some- 
thing no other party has I" 31 

Positions of Populist party leadership had passed from the 
South to the West by the middle 'nineties, largely because West- 
erners had been more successful in securing national office. It 
was a Western policy that was adopted as the strategy for 1896. 
The anti-fusionist South wished to hold the national convention 
in February, and step boldly forward with its nominees without 
regard to what the old party conventions did later. Western 
leaders succeeded in postponing the convention, however, until 
both old parties had held theirs. The Western argument as- 
sumed that the conventions of both opposing parties would be 
dominated by their reactionary wings and that the People's 
party would profit by gathering bolting silverites from both 
sides. 32 

28 Correspondence in Watson MSS.; letters in P. P. P., 1895-1896. 

29 Quoted in Progressive Farmer, June 30, 1896. 

80 Editorial in the Progressive Farmer, June 30, 1896. 

81 From a letter written by Lloyd, July 10, 1896, in Caro Lloyd, op. cit, Vol. I., 
p. 359. 

82 Henry D. Lloyd, op. cit., p. 300; J. D. Hicks, op. cit., p. 350. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

As time approached for the conventions the fallacy of the 
Western theory grew more apparent. In June the Republican 
platform presented an outright stand against silver, a position 
that pointed more conclusively than ever to a victory for the 
silver-insurgents at the Democratic convention. Such an eventu- 
ality would put an entirely different complexion upon the 
naive Western strategy of gathering in bolters. A complete 
revision of tactics was required without delay. H. E. Taubeneck, 
national chairman, thrashed about wildly for a new scheme, and 
at last settled upon the desperate plan of attempting to induce 
the Democrats to nominate Henry M. Teller, a silver Republi- 
can who had bolted the national convention. Teller had never 
been a Populist and was interested only in silver ; yet Taubeneck 
and his cohorts were prepared to deliver their party to his cause 
if the Democrats would join them in his nomination. 83 Lloyd 
thought that Taubeneck had been "flimflammed" by the poli- 
ticians at Washington, who had persuaded him that free silver 
was the supreme issue. If the party management had been in 
capable hands, he thought, instead of in the hands of " ( Glau- 
benichts' like Taubeneck, the full Omaha platform would easily 
have been made the issue that would have held us together for 
a brilliant campaign, but now that cannot be done." 

The Chicago convention did go over to silver, as expected, 
but instead of Teller, it nominated William Jennings Bryan of 
Nebraska, a man dear to the hearts of Western Populists with 
whom he had flirted for years. 34 The platform was likewise 
richly baited for Populists. Besides the expected demand for 
free silver, it contained denunciation of Cleveland's bond-selling 
policy and his action in the Pullman strike; it condemned the 
Supreme Court's decision against income tax legislation; it 
favored stricter federal control of railroads. It now became the 
plain duty of Populists and all sincere reformers, the Democrats 
loudly proclaimed, to rally behind Bryan's cause, to renounce 
all "selfish" adherence to party in favor of "principle." 

This appeal carried weight with the West. General Weaver 
had been at work for months promoting Bryan's nomination, 

83 Editorial in the Progressive Farmer, June 30, 1896; J. D. Hicks, op. cit., pp. 


84 Jesse E. Boell, "William Jennings Bryan before 1896," master's thesis, Uni- 
versity of Nebraska, passim. 


The Silver Panacea 

and now set out for the Populist convention to make the chief 
nominating speech for him. "I care not for party names," said 
Watson's friend and former colleague, Jerry Simpson; "it is 
the substance we are after, and we have it in William J. Bryan." 
Ex-Governor "Bloody-Bridles" Waite of Colorado capitulated, 
and even Senator Peffer thought that the West was going for 
Bryan, no matter what happened. Ignatius Donnelly remained 
to speak for the more inarticulate mass of anti-fusionist, mid- 
road Populists of the West. 35 

For the South, Watson voiced the practically unanimous 
sentiment that to go back to the Democratic party now would 
be to "return as the hog did to its wallow." He knew his enemies 
too well to be taken in by them again. "The Democratic party," 
he wrote, "realizing that it had lost the respect, the confidence 
and the patience of the people, determined to anticipate the 
triumph of Populism by a public confession of political guilt, an 
earnest assertion of change of heart, a devout acceptance of 
Populist principles, and a modest demand that the People's 
party should vacate its quarters and surrender its political pos- 
sessions. A very staggering piece of political impudence was 
this." 36 With his blessings the Georgia delegation to the Na- 
tional Convention was sent off with strict instructions "to insist 
upon the original Ocala declaration" and fight fusion. 37 The head 
of the delegation wired headquarters at St. Louis : "Tell the boys 
I am coming — in the middle of the road." M 

Delegates from virtually all Southern states grimly chose the 
same route to St. Louis. It proved to be the road to their 
Waterloo and the Waterloo of Populism. 

Declining to comment upon the possibility of his receiving the 
nomination, and offering no explanation for his failure to attend 
the Convention, Tom Watson remained quietly at home. 

The fourteen hundred delegates who gathered at Convention 
Hall in St. Louis on July 22 presented a striking contrast to 

85 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 20, 1896; F. L. Haynes, Weaver, p. 374. 

86 P. P. P., June 26, Dec. 13, 1896. 

87 Ibid., June 19, 1896. 

38 A. M. Arnett, op. cit., p. 197. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

those who had nominated Mark Hanna's friend in that same 
hall a month before. City journalists, spotting salable copy, de- 
scribed their rustic manners and quaint doings. A group was 
found sitting with shoes off. Some took no regular sleeping 
quarters and fared upon nickel meals at lunch counters. A part 
of one important delegation was found actually suffering for 
want of food, as the sessions dragged out longer than planned. 
An interview with an "eminent physician of Washington" was 
printed in mock solemnity listing insanity symptoms among the 
delegates. They were poor men, the majority of them, terribly 
in earnest, and therefore, one gathers, rather ridiculous. 39 

A sympathetic observer found anxiety written in the face of 
everyone, no matter to what faction he belonged. Anxiety in the 
mass of delegates lest they be sold out — and there were both 
rumors and signs that they would be. Anxiety in the faces of 
busily caucusing and whispering managers lest the coveted fruits 
of fusion, finally within their grasp, be snatched from them by 
the radical middle-of-the-road Southerners. The radicals them- 
selves, distrusting fusion and half measures as they did, feared 
at the same time lest their radicalism split the force of opposition 
to their real enemy — Eastern Capitalism. This might be the last 
opportunity for a union of reform forces. Edward Bellamy 
thought that the real issue of 1896 — that "between men and 
money" — was in the back of all minds. "It was in the air that 
there must be a union," wrote Lloyd. "It was a psychological 
moment of rapprochement against an appalling danger which 
for thirty years now had been seen rising in the sky. If the radi- 
cals made a mistake, it was a patriotic mistake." *° 

The radical mid-roaders were the most distraught and unor- 
ganized group of all. Chiefly Southern in membership, they were 
led by the huge, militant Texas delegation, the largest one 
present. Their most conspicuous figure was James H. "Cyclone" 
Davis, a gaunt giant with a bellowing voice. The radicals de- 
clared they would not be "swallowed" by the new Democracy, 
and they were out to nominate a straight Populist ticket. While 
probably the largest faction present, they were terribly handi- 
capped by want of leadership and a candidate. Their chaotic 

89 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 21-27, 1896; H. D. Lloyd, "The Populists at 
St. Louis," loc. cit, p. 293. 
40 Ibid., p. 300. 


The Silver Panacea 

state was made plain when at their caucus only a day before the 
Convention opened they were unable to agree upon a candidate. 
Debs, Donnelly, "Cyclone" Davis, Van Dervoort of Nebraska, 
and Mimms of Tennessee were all discussed but passed over. 41 

Despite confusion, the mid-roaders were still intent on not 
being sold out to the Democrats. Said one delegate at the caucus : 
"They may sell us out here at St. Louis, but before high heaven 
they can never deliver the goods. I was originally a Democrat. 
We West Virginia Populists left the Democrats never to re- 
turn." Another echoed his anxiety: "While we have been shout- 
ing the other fellows, with a perfect organization, have been 
gathering in the stragglers. It makes no difference how many 
men we may have, if we are not organized we will be swal- 
lowed." * 

The fusionists were not only well organized; they knew ex- 
actly what they wanted. Their object was the endorsement of 
Bryan and Sewall and the fusion of the two parties into one. 
General Weaver, in charge of the Bryan headquarters, was in- 
dustriously working toward this end. Three days before the 
Convention opened Senator James K. Jones, chairman of the 
Democratic National Committee, arrived at St. Louis to remain 
throughout, closeted with Bryan Populists or buzzing in and 
out of committee room, hotel lobby, and Convention hall. Some 
1,000 Missouri Democrats were said to be aiding the plot to 
steal the Convention. An additional advantage for the West lay 
in the rule of awarding delegates on a basis of Populist successes 
in the past three elections. This scheme put a premium upon the 
fusion victories of Western states, and accordingly penalized 
the South, which had resisted fusion. 43 

Following the first day's session, at which they showed a 
strength that shook the confidence of the Bryanites, the mid- 
road radicals of twenty-one states finally agreed, without especial 
enthusiasm for their choice, to support S. F. Norton of Illinois 
for President, and Frank Burkett of Mississippi for Vice- 
President. Their forces greatly rallied, they planned a mighty 
demonstration for the evening session that would sweep the 

41 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 20-23, 1896; J. D. Hicks, op, cit, pp. 359— 

42 St Louis Globe-Democrat, July 22, 1896. 

48 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 20 and 21, 1896. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Convention to the left. That night they found the hall in com- 
plete darkness, with no lights obtainable. A futile attempt to 
hold the demonstration anyway only succeeded in producing 
scenes "at once weird and picturesque" — the gaunt figure of 
"Cyclone" Davis gesticulating under the flickering light of a 
candle he held aloft; Mrs. Lease yelling from the platform; the 
mob of delegates in the darkness crying out accusations of "ugly 
work" against the fusionists. Twenty-five minutes after the at- 
tempt was abandoned, the lights were burning brightly in the 
hall. It was not the last time the charge of foul play was made 
at this Convention, nor the last occasion for the charge. 44 

The next day the radicals won the first fall in what was con- 
sidered a test of the anti-Bryan strength. The vote was upon the 
seating of a contesting mid-road delegation of Eugene V. Debs 
supporters backed by Clarence Darrow. The margin was nar- 
row, 665 to 642, but the mid-roaders were jubilant. Their hopes 
were speedily dashed, however, by the election of Senator Wil- 
liam V. Allen of Nebraska, an out-and-out fusionist, as per- 
manent chairman of the Convention by a vote of 758 to 564.^ 

With the nomination of Bryan now seemingly assured, the 
threat of a bolt by the mid-roaders that would split the party in 
half became more menacing than ever. "Texas is here to hold a 
Populist convention," exclaimed a delegate, "and we're going to 
do it before we go home. If some of the delegates nominate 
Bryan, they, being unpopulistic, will be the bolters." If the nam- 
ing of Bryan promised a bolt, then the nomination of his run- 
ning-mate, Arthur Sewall, portended a veritable rebellion. Yet 
Chairman Allen and his Democratic friends were plotting that 
as well. 

Whatever case the fusionists might make for the Populist 
leanings of Bryan, they were hard put to it to discover like tend- 
encies in Sewall of Maine. There could hardly have been pro- 
duced in one figure a more comprehensive challenge to ortho- 
dox Populist doctrine. Not only was he the president of one 
national bank and the director of others, but also a railroad di- 
rector, as well as the president of one trust and part owner of an- 
other. On top of this he was an Easterner, a man of wealth, and 
he enjoyed an evil name among workers for his labor policies. 

**Ibid., July 22 and 23, 1896; J. D. Hicks, op. cit., pp. 359-3*2. 
45 Ibid., July 24, 189*. 


The Silver Panacea 

Scarcely a plank of the Populist platform was left unfouled. No 
Populist could countenance the nomination of such a man with- 
out a ludicrous confession of his party's bankruptcy. Yet the 
manipulators in control of the Convention demanded Sewall's 

It was obvious that the hope for any compromise between rad- 
ical mid-roaders and extreme fusionists lay in the nominee for 
Vice-President. Foreseeing this possibility early in the Conven- 
tion, a group of Southern delegates led by Senator Marion But- 
ler, who had served as temporary chairman of the Convention, 
agreed upon a plan of compromise that would embrace accept- 
ing Bryan for Presidential nominee, but substituting a radical 
Southern Populist for Sewall as his running mate. 46 As part of 
the plan members of the Georgia delegation were prevailed 
upon to obtain the consent of Tom Watson for allowing his 
name to be used. 

Watson had instructed his friends before the Convention not 
to allow the use of his name. During the course of the Conven- 
tion, he issued the following statement to the press : 

I am opposed to the nomination of Bryan and Sewall or either of them 

The Populist party has good material within its own ranks. I would re- 
fuse. I would refuse a nomination. 

I say this now, as I do not expect it; and it is my present belief that 
I shall not change my mind. 47 

The messages he received from the Convention described the 
chaotic state of affairs and inquired whether he would accept a 
nomination for the Vice-Presidency on a ticket with Bryan as a 
means of harmonizing all factions and preventing a split in the 
party. He was given to understand that an agreement had been 
reached with the Democratic managers to withdraw Sewall from 
their ticket. He was told nothing of the caucus of mid-roaders 
and their candidates, and did not learn of them until after the 
Convention. Under these conditions he "reluctantly" wired his 
consent. "Yes, if it will harmonize all factions," was his reply. 
Later he said that had he known all the circumstances he would 

46 Carl Snyder, "Senator Marion Butler," Review of Reviews, Vol. XIV, p. 


47 New York World, July 25, 1896. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

never have consented, and the mid-road candidates "would have 
received my hearty support . . ." ** 

Tom Watson's name was a magical one among the disaffected 
and intransigent radical Populists. It warmed the imagination. 
He had been the first in the South to cut the old ties and step 
forward boldly as a Populist. In Congress he had won the ad- 
miration of the Western representatives, who elected him their 
leader in the House and followed him enthusiastically. He had 
burned his bridges behind him, steadfastly resisted the tempta- 
tion of fusion, and suffered much for his principles. He was the 
hero of thousands of Southern Populists who had followed his 
periodic battles over the past four years against Democratic 
fraud and violence. The People's Party Paper was nationally 
known and frequently quoted, and its editor stood in the popular 
mind as the very incarnation of middle-of-the-road Populism, 
thorough-going, fearless, and uncompromising. He had been 
mentioned as a possible nominee from time to time since 1892. 49 

Rapid headway was being made at St. Louis with the scheme 
of compromise. The mid-roaders grasped at the suggestion of 
resorting to the unusual procedure of nominating the Vice- 
President before the President. They might at least dispose of 
Sewall. The report that the Democratic managers had promised 
that their candidate would withdraw in favor of a Populist nom- 
inee if Bryan were nominated for the Presidency was well cir- 
culated. Delegates voted with that report in mind. The decision 
to nominate the Vice-President first was made by a vote of 738 
to 637. 50 

Jubilant because of their victory over the determined opposi- 
tion of fusionists, the radicals expressed their feelings in a flood 
of nomination oratory. Congressman M. W. Howard of Ala- 
bama, "a man of enormous stature, tall and swarthy, with raven 
black hair that falls to his shoulders," the author of The Ameri- 

48 Interview with J. L. Cartledge of Augusta, who wired Watson from St. Louis ; 
New York World, July 26 and 27, 1896; editorial in P. P. P., July 21, 1896; 
Watson's letter of acceptance in P. P. P., Dec. 13, 1896; Atlanta Journal, July 25, 

49 Release of the National Reform Press, in P. P. P., Nov. 12, 1891; H. L. 
Young to T. E. W. in P. P. P., June 24, 1892; Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 26, 1894. 

50 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 25 and 26, 1896; New York World, July 25, 
1896; P. P. P., July 31, 1896. 


The Silver 'Panacea 

can Plutocracy? 1 nominated Watson. His nominee, said How- 
ard, was "a man who has suffered in the cause; a man who has 
sacrificed his money and his time for its good; a man who has 
borne the cross and should wear the crown." All speeches in sec- 
ond to Watson's nomination, of which there were many, stressed 
his unshakable loyalty to principle. A Negro delegate from 
Georgia expressed gratitude for his courageous defense of Ne- 
gro political rights. Ignatius Donnelly, representing the com- 
promise idea, said that he was "willing to swallow Democracy 
gilded with the genius of a Bryan" but he could not "stomach 
plutocracy in the body of Sewall." He hoped Watson's nomina- 
tion would be made unanimous. A cautious Texan asked whether 
Watson, if nominated, would remain on the ticket till the elec- 
tion. "Yes, sir I" came an immediate answer. "Until hell freezes 
over I" The reply so completely, so accurately, summed up the 
popular conception of Tom Watson's character, and so well ex- 
pressed the mid-roaders' feeling in calling upon him in this 
emergency, that it brought the Convention to its feet in a spon- 
taneous demonstration. On the first ballot he received 53924 
votes against 257 for Sewall, his closest and only serious oppo- 
nent. It was an impressive proof that Watson's policy was the 
real will of the Convention. The lights of the hall were again 
being tampered with, flickering out. Votes were frantically 
changed to give him a majority, and a motion was passed sus- 
pending the rules and nominating Watson unanimously. In 
pitch darkness the Watson Populists wildly and blindly cele- 
brated their triumph. 62 

The midnight darkness of that hall was symbolic of the con- 
ditions in which that whole lamentable Convention groped. The 
delegates read in the morning papers a telegram from Bryan 
asking Senator Jones to withdraw his name from consideration 
if Sewall were not nominated. Chairman Allen had refused to 
give this information to the Convention. The delegates also read 
a letter from Senator Jones, which "underwent a remarkable 
change after it was given to the newspapers," denying that he 
had made any commitment as to the withdrawal of Sewall. The 

51 Published in New York, 1895. 

52 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 25 and 26, 1896; P. P. P., July 31 and Dec. 
13, 1896; Constitution, July 25, 1896. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

air was again thick with cries of "treachery." "Gagged, clique- 
ridden, and machine ruled," pronounced delegate Lloyd. What 
had been anxiety was rapidly souring to disgust. 63 

Relentlessly the steam-roller tactics were continued by the 
managers, still determined to nominate Bryan. Three times, 
while the roll call of the states was in progress, Chairman Allen 
denied point blank when the question was put to him from the 
floor the existence of a further message from Bryan asking that 
he not be nominated, despite the fact that he was perfectly aware 
of the message. 54 Twice during the roll call the Texas delegation 
hurriedly withdrew to caucus on the proposal of bolting. Once 
when Bryan stampeders attempted to wrest their banner from 
them a dozen Texans reached for their guns — and then looked 
sheepish. Once when the Convention seemed wavering Henry 
Demarest Lloyd, with a carefully prepared speech in hand 
designed to rally the delegates back to their principles, stood hes- 
itating while he was urged to speak. He turned to Clarence Dar- 
row, who advised against it. Other men of courage and intelli- 
gence "stood spellbound, fearing to break the union." While 
they "waited for a protest, a halt," the machine rolled on. Bryan 
was nominated. Lloyd burst in upon his host late that night "in 
feverish excitement" and exploded with the exclamation that the 
party was "buried, hopelessly sold out." 55 

53 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 25, 1896; New York World, July 25, 1896; 
Caro Lloyd, op. cit, Vol. I, p. 261. 

64 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 26, 1896; P. P. P., Nov. 13, 1896; J. D. 
Hicks, op. cit., p. 366. 

56 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 26, 1896; Caro Lloyd, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 262. 



The Debacle of i8g6 

Hardly anyone could be found who expressed satisfaction 
at the outcome of the St. Louis Convention — least of all 
the mid-roaders, and certainly not Tom Watson. The question 
naturally arises: why, of all people, should Tom Watson, the 
leading advocate of the middle-of-the-road policy, the staunchest 
opponent of fusion, have lent his name to this weak compromise 
with fusion? After six years of uncompromising resistance at 
costly sacrifice, why did he half-way yield at the crucial moment? 
Before passing judgment upon his own answer it might be well to 
inquire how other national leaders of radical and reform groups 
met the test of 1896. 

Of the Single Taxers, Henry George himself publicly en- 
dorsed Bryan. Edward Bellamy, acknowledged leader of the 
more radical "Nationalists," proclaimed that the real issue lay 
"between men and money," and swung his support to the silver 
champion. W. D. P. Bliss, of the Christian Socialists, took the 
same attitude. More surprising was the attitude of Eugene V. 
Debs, a recent convert to Marxian socialism. Debs wired Dar- 
row forbidding the use of his name as a candidate against Bryan 
at St. Louis, and advised union labor to support the Democratic 
nominee. Speaking as a Populist, Henry Demarest Lloyd called 
the Convention "the most discouraging experience of my life" ; 
yet he confessed his own impotence in the face of circumstances 
at St. Louis. Twelve days before the Convention he stated the 
Populist dilemma of 1896 about as accurately as it could be 
stated: "If we fuse, we are sunk; if we don't fuse, all the silver 
men we have will leave us for the more powerful Democrats." 1 

1 Caro Lloyd, Henry Demarest Lloyd, Vol. I, p. 259. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

All things considered, there is not one of these five men with 
whose position Watson's course of action does not bear favora- 
ble comparison. Being the unanimous nominee of the St. Louis 
Convention he was naturally under some constraint in express- 
ing his opinion of its work. He did exercise a modicum of re- 
straint until after the election, but it was only a modicum. In 
the first editorial after his nomination he said : 

There will be disappointment throughout the ranks of the People's 
Party at the failure of our national convention to nominate a "middle-of- 
the-road" ticket. 

The position of this paper upon that subject has not been changed. 
We thought before the convention met, and we think now, that the welfare 
of our party, and of the principles it represents, demanded that we nomi- 
nate our own ticket, and put upon that ticket two Populists, tried and 
true. 2 

The editorial continued with a justification of his consent to 
the nomination in view of his earlier decision against it, and in 
view of his unaltered mid-road position. His comparative isola- 
tion and wretched means of communication with the Convention 
delegates should be taken into account. There was no means of 
reaching him even from Atlanta during the six hours his name 
was before the Convention. The Thomson operator went to bed 
at eight o'clock. Watson was not informed of his nomination un- 
til the following morning. 3 His decisions were based upon such 
information as he received from delegates who were much in the 
dark themselves. It is interesting (and profitless) to speculate 
upon the outcome of the Convention if Watson, the only South- 
ern candidate with a wide personal following and the ability to 
direct it, had been at St. Louis to take command of the mid-road 
forces. One hesitates to pass judgment, yet it seems clear that 
Watson made a mistake in not attending the Convention himself. 
Why he failed to do so is not known. 

He continues his apology : 

As the hours passed away at St. Louis, it became constantly more 
evident that our existence as a party hung upon a thread. The West 
was committed to Bryan beyond recall. . . . With the West gone away 
from us, how could our party live . . . ? 

It was in this chaotic condition of things which I witnessed with keen 

2 P. P. P., July 31, 1896. 
8 Constitution, July 25, 1896. 


The Debacle of 1896 

anxiety, and which caused members of the Georgia delegation to telegraph 
me to allow my name to be used to restore harmony and save the party. 

Upon that express condition, I consented, and the object was ob- 
tained. . . . 

If now the Democratic managers should refuse to make any concessions 
at all it would show that our efforts toward unity have all been thrown 
away. If they continue to demand that the Populists shall go out of 
existence as a party, they will prove to the world their object in adopting 
our platform was not so much to get free silver as it was to bury the 
People's Party. 4 

In a series of articles written at the request of the New York 
World he further elaborated his position. He had consented to 
the nomination in order "to save [his] party from extinction." 
"Under no other circumstances would I have agreed to the nom- 
ination, and the circumstances under which I did accept were 
such as I did not dream one week ago would exist." The Demo- 
cratic party had been driven to the left only because of the pres- 
sure exerted by an active Populist party. The dissolution of his 
party would have removed the pressure and the old party would 
have swung back to reactionary leadership as it had in 1892 and 
1894. "By nominating a ticket of our own," he continued, "and 
upon a platform of our own, we preserve our identity as a party 
and we maintain our influence over the Democrats." The Chi- 
cago platform did not go so far as the Populists would have 
liked, but they were willing to march with the Democrats "as far 
as they do go in our direction." If he and Bryan made the race 
together, their position would be "that of two men who may 
differ upon some subjects, but who act together upon those mat- 
ters about which . . . [they] are agreed. He believed that, "by 
agreeing to cooperate with them to this extent we [Populists] 
do not compromise our principles, stultify our record, or disband 
our organization." He was firmly opposed to "any fusion that 
would absorb us, annihilate our party and put it in the future 
entirely in the power of the Democratic organization." 6 

The prospect the new Populist candidate might entertain of 
having his principles, his personality, his character, or any aspect 
of his candidacy presented to the nation's voters with accuracy 
or fairness was slender indeed. The press of the Eastern Repub- 

4 P. P. P., July 31, 1896. 

6 New York World, July 25 and 26, 1896; Augusta Chronicle, July 26 and 28, 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

lican plutocracy that pictured Bryan as an anarchist, and its pul- 
pit, that denounced him as Antichrist, naturally sought more 
horrendous adjectives to describe Watson. One of the milder 
animadversions of the respectable press was the New York 
Times' description of Watson as "a swashbuckling, nagging, vul- 
gar scold, indifferent to the amenities," whose nomination should 
be treated as "a political joke." 6 

Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt of New York City, 
who rendered valuable (and well rewarded) service to Mark 
Hanna's campaign for McKinley, had his moments of hysteria. 
Speaking with "the greatest soberness" he declared that u the 
sentiment now animating a large proportion of our people can 
only be suppressed, as the Commune in Paris was suppressed, by 
taking ten or a dozen of their leaders out, standing . . . them 
against a wall, and shooting them dead." These leaders are 
"plotting a social revolution and the subversion of the American 
Republic." When the dread hour comes, he promised, "I shall 
be found at the head of my regiment." 7 Once when Roosevelt's 
brow was somewhat less fevered he wrote an article in which he 
dealt at length with Watson's candidacy. "He represents the real 
thing," said Roosevelt, "while Bryan after all is more or less a 
sham and a compromise." 8 

Mr. Watson really ought to be the first man on the ticket, with Mr. 
Bryan second ; for he is much the superior in boldness, in thorough-going 
acceptance of his principles according to their logical conclusions, and in 
sincerity of faith. It is impossible not to regret that the Democrats and 
Populists should not have put forward in the first place the man who 
genuinely represents their ideas. ... He is infinitely more in earnest 
than is Mr. Bryan. Mr. Watson belongs to that school of southern Popu- 
lists who honestly believe that the respectable and commonplace people who 
own banks, railroads, dry goods stores, factories, and the like, are persons 
of mental and social attributes that unpleasantly distinguish Heliogabalus, 
Nero, Caligula and other worthies of later Rome. . . . 

Altogether Mr. Watson, with his sincerity, his frankness, his ex- 
treme suspiciousness, and his uncouth hatred of anything he cannot under- 
stand and of all elegancies and decencies of civilized life, is an interesting 
personage. . . . 

Mr. Sewall would make a colorless Vice-President, and were he at 

6 The New York Times, July 26, 1896; quoted by James F. Collins, "Thomas E. 
Watson: A Study in the New South" (Master's thesis, New York University), p. 67. 

7 Henry F. Pringle, Theodore Roosevelt, A Biography, p. 164. 

8 Theodore Roosevelt in Review of Reviews, Vol. XIV (1896), pp. 296-297. 


The Debacle of i8g6 

any time to succeed Mr. Bryan in the White House would travel Mr. 
Bryan's path with extreme reluctance and under duress. Mr. Watson 
would be a more startling, more attractive, and more dangerous figure, 
for if he got the chance he would lash the nation with a whip of scorpions, 
while Bryan would be content with the torture of ordinary thongs. 

Writing to his friend Lodge, Roosevelt mentioned "a long and 
really very interesting letter, from, of all persons in the world, 
Tom Watson," which he promised to show him when they met. 9 
The letter had reference to Roosevelt's article. "If in Georgia 
and throughout the South," wrote Watson, "we have conditions 
as intolerable as those which surround you in New York, can you 
not realize why I make war upon them ? ... If you could spend 
an evening with me among my books and amid my family, I feel 
quite sure you would not again class me with those who make 
war upon the 'decencies and elegancies of civilized life.' " 10 
Roosevelt recanted publicly: "I was in Washington when Mr. 
Watson was in Congress, and I know how highly he was es- 
teemed personally by his colleagues. . . . He is honest, he is 
earnest, he is brave, he is disinterested." 1X Their correspondence 
over this incident marked the beginning of a long and interesting 
friendship between the two men. Roosevelt's Autobiography 
years later contained a flattering tribute to Watson. Watson's 
ability to turn animosity into friendship was a gift that he em- 
ployed too rarely. 

His treatment at the hands of less partisan critics was, on the 
whole, more favorable. James Creelman of the New York 
World thought: "Of the five candidates before the nation he is 
the most picturesque, the most original, and in some respects the 
brainiest. He is not afraid of publicity. He is not a sham." Al- 
fred Henry Lewis, later known as a muckraker novelist, wrote 
for the New York Herald: "Altogether, he is a better man than 
either Hobart or McKinley, thinks less of himself and more of 
the people, and a syndicate could no more buy Watson or own 
Watson than it could buy or own a star. No Hannas go with the 
Horoscopes of such as Watson." Henry Demarest Lloyd called 

9 Henry C. Lodge, Selections from the Correspondence of Theodore Roosevelt and 
Henry Cabot Lodge, 1884-1918, Vol. I, pp. 234, 236, 249. 

10 T. E. W. to Theodore Roosevelt, Sept. 30, 1896, Roosevelt MSS., Washington, 

11 Quoted by T. E. W., Life and Speeches of Thomas E. Watson, pp. 27-28. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

him "a second Alexander H. Stephens in delicacy of physique 
and robustness of eloquence and loyalty to the people." 

His resemblance to Stephens was frequently mentioned. For 
personal beauty the Populist candidate could ill afford compari- 
son with his running mate, the handsome Bryan. At forty he 
possessed the "old-young" appearance he retained until late in 
life. Creelman described it: 

The mystery about his face is due to the parchment texture of his skin. 
One moment while he smiles and he shows his loosely set small teeth you 
think he is a youth of twenty and the next, when he tears up words by 
their roots, with some of the soil clinging to them, and draws his brows 
down sharp over his eyes, mouth hard set and little ears standing out on 
his head, he might be a sage of sixty. His earnestness flames up in a strange 
old-young face. . . . Mr. Watson's jaw would interest him [Sewall]. It 
is the jaw of a crusader, the jaw of a martyr. 

Another thought him "painfully lean and hungry looking, with 
a cadaverous, rawboned face and sunken cheeks and dark eyes, 
alive with the marvelous vitality and the intense earnestness of a 
man who never tires." It is remarkable that, as intense as was 
the emotional partisanship he evoked, no one who ever saw him 
in that era seems to have questioned Watson's sincerity; the 
common view was that he was "a man of sincerity, tragically 
earnest in everything." One writer thought he had "no sense of 
humor," but that "life is a serious struggle with him." u Humor 
he undoubtedly had, but "the jaw of the crusader" completely 
masked it for the time being. 

His manner of speaking was sometimes contrasted to that of 
Bryan. "Bryan's style of oratory is as far separated from that of 
Watson as one pole from another," it was said. "Bryan deals in 
oratorical flowers ; Watson discards all efforts at embellishment 
and cuts to the heart of the subject with keen incisiveness and 
unrelenting truth." He had a "Dantonian trick" of gesturing 
with whirling arms, swaying body, and tossing head that loosed 
a lock of hair which "punctuated his periods with a loppy em- 
phasis." Some noticed a "hawkish tendency" in his manner, and 
in his "shrill, raspy voice, the power of strong, high flight, the 
pinion, the talon, the beak, and withal the swoop of the hawk." 

The St. Louis Convention's legacy to its nominee and their 
campaign was a beautiful tangle of problems as knotty and per- 

12 James Creelman, New York World, Oct. 5, 1896. 


The Debacle of 1896 

plexing as could have been devised. Would Bryan be notified of 
his nomination? Would he accept? How could he accept when 
the Populist platform in some aspects contradicted the Demo- 
cratic platform ? When acceptance implied approval of Watson ? 
Would Populists support him if he did not accept, or nominate 
another candidate? Would Sewall withdraw, be withdrawn, or 
remain on the ticket? If he remained, would Watson be taken 
down? If both remained, how could the Populist ticket be ar- 
ranged ? 

Wildly contradictory answers to these questions flew back and 
forth after the Convention. Pointing out that his nomination was 
carried in the face of his disapproval, Bryan said acceptance de- 
pended on "what conditions are attached." He would not do 
"anything unfair to Mr. Sewall." Chairman Jones brusquely de- 
clared that Bryan could not accept, and that Sewall would re- 
main on the ticket. Senator Stewart gaily announced that Demo- 
crats would have gunmen stationed along the road to shoot the 
first Populist who attempted to notify Bryan of his nomination. 
The New York World, confidently and repeatedly predicted 
that Sewall would be withdrawn from the Democratic ticket, 
after the Maine election, in favor of Watson. The St. Louis 
Globe-Democrat announced as authentic news that the Populist 
executive committee would withdraw Watson in favor of Sewall. 
Prominent Democrats declared their party must live up to its 
contract and withdraw Sewall. A caucus of mid-road Populists 
issued an ultimatum to the effect that if Bryan did not accept by 
August 5, his name would be replaced by a Populist candidate. 13 
Out of this confusion of tongues and clash of council the crazy 
pattern of the campaign gradually took shape. 

Only a few days after the Convention, Senator Jones, chair- 
man of the Democratic National Committee, set the pace of bit- 
ter recrimination between the allied parties by an onslaught 
upon Southern Populists. The Western and Northern delegates 
at St. Louis he had found "broad-minded and patriotic," but, 
said the Senator: 

As a general rule the Southern Delegates were not a creditable class. They 
practically admitted while at St. Louis that they were out for nothing but 
spoil. They said that there was "nothing in it" for them to indorse the 

13 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 26, 1896; New York World, July 26 and Aug. 
3, 1896; clipping, Watson Scrapbooks. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Democratic nominees, and this same spirit will probably dominate their 
action in the future. They will do all they can to harass the Democracy 
and create confusion, and in the end they will do just as they are doing 
now in Alabama, fuse with the Republicans and vote for McKinley. They 
will go with the negroes, where they belong. . . . 

I suppose that Watson really believes that he can "bluff" us into with- 
drawing Mr. Sewall. Just as though such a proposition could be considered 
for a moment by any right thinking man ! Mr. Sewall will, of course, re- 
main on the ticket, and Mr. Watson can do what he likes. 14 

Coming from the man who had so assiduously courted the hand 
of Populism, this was a shocking sentiment indeed. The slur 
bracketing Populists with Negroes was a fighting word in the 
South, and the Senator from Arkansas knew it. The loud de- 
mand for Jones' resignation by certain Northern Democratic pa- 
pers suddenly hushed when it was whispered about that his state- 
ment was deliberate party strategy: an announcement that 
nothing would be conceded to Southern Populists. 15 

Anyone who knew Watson's temperament must have been 
impressed at his victory over his feelings. Without doubt it cost 
him many a wry face to swallow Jones' insult. The abnegation 
of his reply is little short of pathetic. Jones' remarks, he said, 
were "insulting, and were meant to be so. They will arouse re- 
sentment, and were meant to arouse it." It was a "clumsy effort 
to create discord" between Populists of the West and those of 
the South, and was designed u to invoke a bitter reply." It would 
fail. He appealed to Southern Populists to "stand by the con- 
tract made at St. Louis. Give Bryan every vote you have got and 
let Senator Jones say what he likes. Let him insult you at his 
pleasure. Make no angry reply; lift yourselves above it; think 
of your country; pray for its liberty; work for its best interests; 
do your duty and let God Almighty take care of you and your 
party." 16 

To Senator Jones and the Democrats he replied in the col- 
umns of the New York World: 

We have conceded everything short of extinction of our party. To 
go into the national campaign with no Populist on the national ticket dis- 
bands the party. The Democratic managers know this, and they have bent 

14 New York World, Aug. 3, 1896. 

15 Atlanta Journal, Aug. 5, 1896. 

16 Clipping from an Augusta paper, Aug., 1896, Watson Scrapbooks. 


The "Debacle of i8g6 

every energy to that end. It is not so much free silver they want as it is the 
death of the People's Party. . . . 

Why should the Democratic managers demand of us a complete and 
unconditional surrender? They say we must fuse, but their idea of fusion 
is that we play minnow while they play trout; we play June bug while they 
play duck; we play Jonah while they play the whale. . . . 

We are so heartily anxious to see the people of the South and West 
come together and act in concert for the good of the country . . . that 
we yet hope they will do it, in spite of the efforts of the Democratic 
politicians to prevent it. 17 

The Atlanta Journal, a Gold-Democratic paper, confessed 
that the policy announced by the Democratic managers seemed 
to indicate that they believed "a fight against the Populists is 
more welcome than a fight with them." 

Three days after Senator Jones' attack upon Southern Popu- 
lists and their leader, Watson addressed the state convention of 
his party. It was a trying occasion for him. He was expected to 
point the way, when he could see no way ; to solve problems not 
within his power to solve. Five thousand people crowded every 
foot of space in the crude Atlanta "Tabernacle." The day was 
hot. At the cry of "Off with the calico, boys," coats were shed 
and shirt-sleeved Populism waited. Watson appeared, looking 
"pale and frightened." The ovation his appearance evoked is de- 
scribed by a hostile but keenly observant witness : "It had the 
ring of trust and faith in it, and so quick, so sudden, so spon- 
taneous, so deep was it that it staggered Watson. He tried to 
speak but could not. He muttered his half tearful thanks and 
left the stand. . . . An overwhelming sense of all those cheer- 
ing thousands expected of him seemed to have fallen upon him 
with crushing weight. Little able to help themselves, they ex- 
pected all things of him. He was their hope. What could he 
do?" 18 

Referring to another occasion, he once wrote in his private 
Journal, "There was a large crowd, and I never fail when there 
is a large crowd." He was speaking to Democrats as well as 
Populists. He began with an emphatic reaffirmation of Populist 
principles. They could not be prettily trimmed down to a free 
silver slogan. "That is not the whole of our grievance." There 

17 New York World, Aug. 5, 1896. 
^Constitution, Aug. 8, 1896. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

was "never a greater unrest than that which stirs the masses to- 
day," he said, and "free silver" was too easy an answer. Govern- 
ment ownership of railroads and other public interests, control 
of trusts, an entirely new system of money and credit, a ballot 
free from corruption, political rights for Negroes: "That is our 
case," he said. "Is there anything communistic about it?" 

His wish was "to be perfectly honest and make the issue a sec- 
tional one." "It is a sectional issue." The East and North were 
Hamiltonian, "and they always will be." The South must "cut 
loose from Eastern and Northern connection and make an alli- 
ance with the great West," her own kind of people. He had 
given up an easy berth in the old party in order to "create a com- 
mon rallying point," the Populist platform, on which to unite 
the two great sections. "Hasn't time vindicated my course?" he 
asked. "Southern Democracy is bidding defiance to Wall Street 
for the first time in thirty years," and the West has joined hands 
with the South. But still the Democratic leaders were not free 
of the East so long as they clung to Sewall. "You can't fight the 
national banks with any sincerity with a national banker as your 
leader," he told them. "You can't fight corporations with a cor- 
poration king as your leader." 

The only honest course for the Democratic leaders was to 
withdraw Sewall from their ticket. Populists would never vote 
for him. "They have taken our doctrine, but they don't like our 
doctors," he said. "They are fond of our physics, but they don't 
like our physicians. They want to run our ship, but they want to 
expel our crew. . . . They say they want fusion. So they do. It 
is the fusion that the earthquake makes with the city it swal- 
lows." There was no consistency in calling this campaign a union 
between the South and the West, if the Southern candidate were 
ignored. There must be a leader from the South as well as one 
from the West. "For thirty years the Democratic party has 
acted as if it was ashamed of the South. You elect Democratic 
Presidents, and yet you never name any of them. ... I appeal 
to Southern pride." 

His pledge of loyalty to Bryan despite the bad faith of Demo- 
cratic managers was the climax of his address: "We did not put 
up a nominee against Mr. Bryan, and we are going to keep the 
faith. We are going to vote for Mr. Bryan whether you take 
Mr. Sewall out or not. I am going to try to so manage this cam- 


The Debacle of 1896 

paign that William J. Bryan shall get the benefit of every silver 
vote, even if Tom Watson goes to the bottom." 19 

Prefacing their comments with the assurance that "Demo- 
cratic loyalty remained unshaken, ,, the old-party papers never- 
theless admitted that many "came away impressed, disturbed 
and unsettled." It was "a newer, a stronger, a broader and a 
more statesmanlike Watson than has ever stood before a Geor- 
gia audience." His speech might be called a complete vindica- 
tion; he had won sympathy by his earnestness, and "thousands 
of Georgia Democrats will gladly vote for Watson if Sewall 
is withdrawn." The demand for SewalPs withdrawal grew 
louder in the Democratic ranks, and politicians were plainly 
worried. 20 

Thomas R. R. Cobb, a prominent Democrat of Atlanta, in 
good standing with the party, was busy in New York organizing 
Bryan and Watson clubs. Cobb told New York Democrats that 
the great majority of Georgia Democrats would vote for Bryan 
and Watson because of Chairman Jones' contract with the Popu- 
lists at St. Louis. He believed it plain that "morally, legally, 
and politically, the Democratic party is bound to carry out the 
deliberate contract of its executive head made before the world 
and for the valuable consideration of 2,000,000 votes. And I 
shall stand by the contract even if the agent renigs [«c]." Be- 
sides, "Sewall is a plutocrat, a national banker, a corporation 
king; Watson is a statesman and a man of the people." 21 

The journalist John Temple Graves, classified as a Gold 
Democrat, likewise took a strong position in regard to the "con- 
tract, solemn and honorable," which bound the Democrats to 
support Watson. He went further : 

I support Watson because he represents a party that has educated our 
Democratic party to a due consideration of the welfare of the common 
people. I say it fearlessly, and it can not be denied, that reforms for which 
the masses have been clamoring for years — whether it be silver or labor or 
income tax or popular rights or resistance to government by injunction — 
had never been written, and might never have been written, into a Demo- 
cratic platform, until the Populist party, 1,800,000 strong, thundered in 
the ears of Democratic leaders the announcement that a mighty multitude 
demanded these reforms. And among the men who have molded, through 

19 T. E. W., Life and Speeches of Thomas E. Watson, pp. 144-159. 

20 Clippings, Watson Scrapbooks. 

21 New York World, quoted in P. P. P., Aug. 21, 1896. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

storm and struggle, the party that has educated ours to popular liberty, 
Tom Watson of Georgia stands easily first and foremost of them all. 22 

Secretary Hoke Smith, recently resigned from Cleveland's 
Cabinet, grudgingly accepted the official decisions of the Demo- 
cratic managers, but his paper, the Atlanta Journal, was openly 
sympathetic to Watson's cause. The Atlanta Commercial, an- 
other Democratic paper, frankly denounced the course party 
managers took against the Populists, and demanded the fulfill- 
ment of the St. Louis contract. "We wouldn't give Tom Watson 
for the whole state of Maine," proclaimed this paper. "Watson 
is in sympathy with every demand made at Chicago; Sewall is 
not. Let us be honest with the people. ... It will not do for 
Democrats to eat apple dumpling while they give crow pie to 
the Populists." 23 Watson's organ reported that fifty-two Demo- 
cratic papers in Georgia had expressed their preference for a 
Bryan-Watson ticket. 

Meanwhile, Watson had locked horns with the chairman of 
his own Populist Executive Committee over the submissive atti- 
tude the latter had taken toward the Democratic managers. Dur- 
ing the last confused minutes of the St. Louis Convention, Sena- 
tor Allen pushed through a resolution bestowing upon the 
Executive Committee plenary powers to take any action the Con- 
vention might take were it in session. It was said that not a hun- 
dred delegates heard or understood the remarkable resolution. 
The charge was made then that its purpose was to pave the way 
for quietly withdrawing Watson from the ticket later. Senator 
Marion Butler of North Carolina, head of the compromise 
movement, became the new chairman of the Executive Commit- 
tee. Watson regarded Butler with mistrust. The young Senator 
owed his office to a fusion with Republicans in North Carolina ; 
he had proposed a similar fusion in Georgia to Watson ; and now 
he was directing a national campaign of fusion with Democrats. 
Furthermore, he enjoyed the name (whether deserved or not) 
of "getting all that's coming to him," and it had been predicted 
in the press that he would betray Watson's cause. 24 

22 "Card" in Constitution, Aug. 27, 1896. 

28 Atlanta Commercial, quoted in the Progressive Farmer, Sept. 29, 1896. 

24 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 26, 1896; Carl Snyder, "Marion Butler," Re- 
view of Reviews, Vol. XIV (Oct., 1896), pp. 429-433; Florence Smith, "The Popu- 
list Movement and its Influence in North Carolina, 11 Ph.D. dissertation, University 
of Chicago, pp. 138-155; Atlanta Journal, Aug. 5, 1896. 


The Debacle of i8g6 

Senator Butler had issued a statement immediately after the 
Convention, saying that "The Populist party can not and will 
not swallow Sewall." Weeks passed, however, and no steps were 
taken to notify the candidates or to demand the withdrawal of 
Sewall. After several appeals from mid-roaders, Chairman But- 
ler issued the statement on August 18 that Watson would re- 
main on the ticket with Bryan and that his committee would 
strive as hard to elect one as the other. Still came no move to- 
ward notification. A member of the Notification Committee 
from Alabama protested to Butler that "we are treating Mr. 
Watson wrong," and taking a submissive and "humiliating atti- 
tude as we bow the knee before the Democratic throne." It was 
but two months until election, "and we are all at sea — not know- 
ing whether our presidential candidate will accept — afraid to 
breathe for fear he will not." 25 Butler replied that it was "very 
probable" that the candidates would be notified in "due time." * 

Exasperated and fretting in his humiliating position, Watson 
resorted to the extraordinary expedient of a public attack upon 
the Committee's submissive attitude. He wrote : 

If the National Convention at St. Louis did not mean that Messrs. 
Bryan and Watson should be notified, why was a committee appointed to 
notify them? Why does Senator Allen, the chairman of the Committee, 
refuse to do what the convention instructed him to do? Is he afraid 
Mr. Bryan will repudiate our support? If so, our party has a right to 
know that fact. If Mr. Bryan is ashamed of the votes which are necessary 
to elect him, we ought to know it. 27 

Butler complained bitterly to a member of the Executive 
Committee of the "great scare headlines as to the lecture that 
Mr. Watson is dealing the Committee about not proceeding at 
once to notify him." He thought it best to defer the notification, 
and was "inclined to have nothing further to do with it." * Nev- 
ertheless, Watson's single-handed fight for the mid-road Popu- 
list point of view had its effect. The New York Tribune com- 
mented: "His courageous and persistent efforts to compel a 
serious recognition of his candidacy at the hands of the Altgeld- 
Tillman-Bryan managers and their Populist allies are at last to 

25 M. W. Howard to Marion Butler, Aug. ax, 1896, quoted in P. P. P., Sept. 4, 

26 Marion Butler to M. W. Howard, Aug. 25, 1896, quoted ibid. 

27 New York Tribune, quoted in P. P. P., Sept. 4, 1896. 

28 Marion Butler to H. W. Reed, Aug. 27, 1896, Watson MSS. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

be crowned with deservedly substantial success. . . . These spir- 
ited and plain-spoken words have evidently had their effect." 29 

Out of Maine came word from L. C. Bateman, secretary of 
the Notification Committee and Populist candidate for gover- 
nor, that he had "positive information" that Sewall would soon 
be withdrawn. Furthermore, Bryan and Watson would soon re- 
ceive formal notification. "From one end of the country to the 
other," he announced, "the Populist war cry is: 'No Watson, no 
Bryan.' We mean business. This is no child's play with us. Bryan 
cannot be elected without our help." From the other end of the 
continent the Southern Mercury of Texas contended that it had 
said, " 'No Watson, no Bryan' first, it will say it last. In fact, a 
middle-of-the-road ticket is its preference even at this stage of 
the game." A North Carolina editor predicted that "A million 
Populists will refuse to support Bryan if Sewall is not taken 

The mass pressure called forth by Watson's demand for rec- 
ognition finally stirred the cautious Democrats and the submis- 
sive Populist fusionists into action. Official letters of notification 
were sent to both Bryan and Watson by Senator Butler on Sep- 
tember 14, and released to the press. 80 Bryan accepted the Popu- 
list nomination in a letter dated October 3, saying that he could 
do so without departing from the Chicago platform. 31 Watson's 
letter of acceptance, dated October 14, was a scathing denuncia- 
tion of the bargain-counter fusion policy of the Populist man- 
agers, which he considered a degrading swapping of principles 
for office. Chairman Butler, who bore the brunt of the candi- 
date's wrath, refused to release the letter, and it did not appear 
until after the election. 32 

It is doubtful whether any candidate ever to appear on a presi- 
dential ticket found himself in quite the humiliating position 
that Tom Watson occupied in 1896. Not only were he and his 
party publicly insulted by his running-mate's representative, but 
Bryan himself studiously ignored his Populist running-mate 

29 New York Tribune, quoted in P. P. P., Sept. 4, 1896. 

30 Marion Butler to T. E. W., Sept. 14, 1896, Watson MSS. The letters of 
notification to both Watson and Bryan are printed in P. P. P., Sept. 18, 1896; see 
also W. J. Bryan, The First Battle, p. 430. Mr. Hicks is incorrect in his statement 
that Bryan did not accept the nomination and that neither he nor Watson was 
notified. (The Populist Revolt, p. 369.) 

81 P. P. P., Oct. 9, 1896. 

32 Printed in P. P. P., Nov. 13, 1896. 


The Debacle of 1896 

throughout the campaign. He was compelled to ask publicly for 
his notification, to endure slights from members of his own com- 
mittee, and to watch state after state desert its own nominee 
for that of another party. He was publicly denounced by fusion- 
ists of his own party for his refusal to withdraw entirely from 
the race. In short, while acting as its official leader, he was com- 
pelled to watch what had been a powerful party disintegrate un- 
der his feet. Such an experience could not but leave its perma- 
nent effects upon a man. 

Before he received his official notification, Watson had left 
home for a campaign tour of the West. His object, aside from 
supporting Bryan's candidacy, was to win the Populists of that 
section back to a straight Bryan- Watson ticket, with no compro- 
mise or fusion on Sewall. Watson hoped that by such a policy in 
all states, the Democrats would be forced to withdraw Sewall. 
Butler and the Committee at first declared this to be their own 
policy, but later abandoned it for fusion. Butler explained to 
Watson that this abandonment was forced by the action of cer- 
tain Western states which, acting on their own initiative, had 
made bargains with Democratic managers to support a certain 
number, and in some cases all, of the Sewall electors in exchange 
for Democratic support of Populist candidates for state and con- 
gressional offices. Such a bargain naturally found great favor in 
the eyes of local Populist candidates, who were generally also 
local managers, although the rank and file as a rule frowned 
upon it. Chairman Butler defended the policy as an expedient of 
practical politics. 33 Its adoption, however, plainly implied that 
the Populists no longer took seriously their own demand that 
the Democrats withdraw Sewall. It also implied that they no 
longer took seriously their own candidate for Vice-President. So 
it was that Watson set forth to stamp out the prairie fires of 
fusion in the West, in spite of the wishes of Chairman Butler 
and the quite understandable desires of certain Western Popu- 
lists of prominence. 

His first stop was Texas. The great majority of delegates to 
the Texas state convention had admittedly been in favor of a 
"no-Watson-no-Bryan" ultimatum to the Democratic managers, 

33 Marion Butler to T. E. W., Oct. 15, 1896; M. Butler to H. W. Reed, Aug. 27, 
1896, Watson MSS. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

but some of the more conservative leaders had, by shrewd man- 
agement and the simple expedient of out-sitting the majority, 
blocked the movement and left themselves free to effect a fusion 
later on, probably with the Republicans and Gold Democrats. 84 

Watson had a powerful personal following in Texas. " Watson 
is a modern hero," declared the Southern Mercury. u The char- 
acter of the modern politician would look like a mustard seed 
beside a mountain when compared to Watson." With an impas- 
sioned speech he completely won a throng of five thousand at 
Dallas. u You must burn the bridges if you follow me," he told 
them. "I am for straight Populism (cheers) and I do not pro- 
pose to be carried to one side of the road or the other (wild 
cheering)." He asked their loyal support of Bryan, but re- 
minded the Democrats that if Bryan were elected it would be 
by "Torn Watson Populists." "This is a movement of the 
masses. Let Bryan speak for the masses and let Watson speak 
for the masses and let Sewall talk for the banks and railroads." 
After the speech he received a stream of Populist leaders at his 
hotel, and before he left the state had won their pledge to stop 
the movement toward Republican fusion and to put out a 
straight Bryan-Watson ticket. 86 

The situation in Kansas when Watson arrived was a discour- 
aging one. In front of the Populist state headquarters floated a 
banner bearing the portraits of Bryan and Sewall. Of Watson 
there was no sign. The state convention a month before was 
said to have "degenerated into a genuine quarrel" between the 
mid-roaders, who wanted a straight Bryan-Watson ticket, and 
the fusionists who favored Sewall. The Watson men carried 
their resolution, but later a fusion scheme was entered whereby 
Populist support of Sewall electors was swapped for Demo- 
cratic votes for congressional and state candidates of the Popu- 
lists. 86 There was still much feeling against Chairman Brei- 
denthal's bargain in the state, but he clung to it doggedly. 
Although he was a member of the National Committee Breiden- 
thal made no arrangements for Watson's campaign of Kansas 
and had no committee or demonstration to greet him. The can- 

84 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Aug. 8, 1896; Appleton's Annual Encyclopedia for 
1896, p. 733. 

36 Dallas Morning News, Sept. 8, 1896; P. P. P., Sept. 8, 1896; clippings, Watson 

36 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Aug. 8, 1896; Kansas City Times, Sept. 11, 1896. 


The Debacle of 1896 

dictate's reception was chilling indeed. In long conferences be- 
hind closed doors Breidenthal pleaded with the Georgian not to 
stir up revolt against the bargain, but Watson was adamant. 
"We are willing to fuse, but we are not willing to be swallowed," 
he said. H. W. Reed, a Georgia member of the National Com- 
mittee traveling with the candidate, told reporters that the Kan- 
sas deal had "done more to stir up bitterness in the South and to 
intensify the demand that Mr. Watson shall have fair treatment 
than any other one act." It showed a disposition among West- 
ern politicians to "mislead" and "betray" Southern comrades. 87 
Watson's appeal to the Kansans in several speeches was per- 
sonal and extremely effective. He knew that there were those 
who demanded that he retire from the Populist ticket, but, he 

Somebody else must be asked to kill that Party; I will not. I sat by its 
cradle; I have fought its battles; I have supported its principles since 
organization . . . and don't ask me after all my service with the People's 
party to kill it now. I am going to stand by it till it dies, and I want no 
man to say that I was the man who stabbed it to the heart. . . . 

No; Sewall has got to come down. He brings no votes to Bryan. He 
drives votes away from Bryan. . . . 

My friends, I took my political life in my hands when I extended the 
hand of fellowship to your Simpsons, your Peffers, and your Davises in 
Georgia. The Georgia Democrats murdered me politically for that act. 
I stood by your men in Congress when others failed. I have some rights 
at the hands of Kansas. I have counted on your support. Can I get it? M 

He called for a show of hands, as he used to do in Georgia, and 
the Westerners swore eternal allegiance. Much pleased, he 
wrote his wife after one speech: "The audience was colder than 
in Texas but they gradually warmed up and when I closed they 
swarmed around my carriage just as the Pops do in Georgia. I 
voted the crowd as between Sewall and I [51V], and not a Pop 
voted for Sewall. So it is quite apparent that the rank and file of 
our party in Kansas are all right and will vote against their lead- 
ers if they get the chance. They shall have the chance." 89 

The rebellion against the fusionist leaders was reawakened 
all over the state. "This Watson crusade in the state, n reported 

37 Kansas City Star, Sept. 10, 1896; Kansas City Times, Sept. n, 1896. 
3S Ibid.; also clippings, Watson Scrapbooks. 

89 T. E. W. to Mrs. Watson, Sept. 10, 1896, in possession of Georgia Watson, 
Thomson, Ga. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

a Kansas paper, "has aroused the animals and the menagerie is 
not sleeping at nights. The straight-out-middle-of-the-road Pop- 
ulists are demanding a Bryan-Watson electoral ticket." A stir- 
ring call for a mid-road convention of Watson-Populists was is- 
sued from Topeka by a former candidate for governor and a 
former candidate for chief justice. It read, in part : 

Brothers: — The trafficking office hunters who have secured control of 
the People's party organization have entered into a shameless bargain 
with the Democratic party of Kansas, trading oil our principles and our 
candidate for vice president, Thomas E. Watson ... for tie sake of a 
chance to capture the state and Congressional offices of Kansas. 

It called upon loyal Populists to rally to the cause of principles 
and Tom Watson "in preference to the traitors and office hunt- 
ers." 40 The Breidenthal faction refused to give way before the 
revolt, and Watson left the state with the issue between the 
two wings still undecided. 

Still without a word of recognition from Bryan, Watson en- 
tered the Nebraskan's home state to campaign for him. The 
opening words of his speech at Lincoln brought mid-road Popu- 
lists to their feet: "I am not here to make a little two by four 
silver speech. (Applause.) I am a Populist from my head to my 
heels. (Loud applause and cheering.) I am not ashamed of my 
cause nor afraid to unfold my banner anywhere and fight un- 
der it." He proceeded to reaffirm the important Populist prin- 
ciples omitted from Bryan's Democratic platform, and made an 
appeal for a sectional alliance between West and South : "Your 
interests are agricultural just like ours. ... A community of 
interest ought to make a community of principle." tt The speech 
was printed in full by the New York World, which pronounced 
it Watson's greatest. It was highly praised in Nebraska. The 
mid-road Populists, who had not been able to carry the state 
convention for a Bryan-Watson ticket against the fusionists, held 
a convention of their own after the Georgian's visit and en- 
dorsed such a ticket. 42 

In commenting upon the assistance he gave Bryan in Ne- 
braska in 1896, Watson later remarked that it was the only time 

40 Clippings, Watson Scrapbooks. 

41 T. E. W., Life and Speeches of Thomas E. Watson, pp. 160-172. 

42 Appleton's Annual Encyclopedia, 1896, pp. 505-506. 


The Debacle of i8g6 

that perennial candidate was ever able to carry his own state. 43 
Bryan continued to ignore his running-mate, however, without 
acknowledging his assistance in the West. It was not until ten 
years had passed that he apologized and explained : 

As I did not know that any representation had been made with regard to 
withdrawing Sewall, I did not of course know of your disappointment 
and I knew nothing of the pressure brought to bear upon you by the Popu- 
lists. I appreciated the aid you rendered in the western states and I should 
have thanked you. . . . The situation which we had to meet in '96 was a 
very trying one and in looking back upon it I think it is surprising that as 
few mistakes were made as were. 44 

Although he had invitations to speak in seven Western states, 
Watson filled only a few more engagements in Nebraska and 
Colorado before returning to Georgia. He returned with the 
realization that he had failed to halt the stampede of Western 
fusionists to board the Bryan bandwagon. He admitted in his 
editorial columns that his written protests to Chairman Butler 
against his fusion policy had been ignored, and said that his po- 
sition had been "humiliating and embarrassing," and that he 
had "been compelled to submit to policies he did not approve." 45 

Shortly after the Western trip he issued a public statement, 
widely quoted, which the New York World pronounced "the 
most important political utterance of the campaign." It was, in 
effect, a warning to the Democratic managers that fusion had 
failed to "fuse." From county tickets up to the Presidency, he 
said, "the science of politics has been reduced to the good old 
business of, 'How much have you got?' and 'What will you 
take?' " Principles had been flung to the wind. He continued: 

The menace that endangers Mr. Bryan's success to-day is the profound 
dissatisfaction which exists among the humble, honest, earnest Populists 
who have built up the People's party. 

Through storms of abuse and ridicule these men have fought the battles 
of Populism, preached its gospel, paid its expenses and followed its progress 
with the hopeful devotion of the Israelite who followed the pillar of fire 
through the nights of dreary trial. Deep down in the hearts of men who 
want no office and hunger for no pie, is settling the conviction that they 
have been tricked, sold out, betrayed, misled. . . . 

48 T. E. W., Life and Speeches of Thomas E. Watson, p. x8. 
^William J. Bryan to T. E. W., Jan. 24, 1907. 
45 P. P. P., Oct. 2, 1896. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

If my statement is true, is it important? To the Democratic "fusionist" 
it may not appear so. He comforts his patriotic soul with the assurance that 
the deal has been made, and that the people cannot unmake it. Perhaps so, 
but the voter can stay at home; and if the Populist voters stay at home, 
who is to elect Mr. Bryan ? 

This is not said in any threatening spirit and antagonism. 

The Populist voters are dissatisfied and suspicious. . . . They feel 
that the principles they love are being used as political merchandise and 
that the Populist vote is being auctioned off to the highest bidder. They 
suspect that Populism has been bought and paid for, and is now being 
delivered to those who bought it. . . . 

If McKinley is elected the responsibility will forever rest upon those 
managers who had it in their power to control by fair means 2,000,000 
votes and lost them by violating the terms of the compact. 46 

The World found his warning "all the more impressive from 
the fact that he has, in letter, speech and editorial warmly 
praised and loyally supported Mr. Bryan." It believed that if he 
was correct, "Mr. Bryan's only chance is gone." James Creelman 
quoted Watson as declaring in an interview: "I'd lay my head 
on the block before I'd retire from the race to make way for a 
plutocrat, a bondholder, a national banker and protectionist like 
Mr. Sewall. ... I have been shamefully treated but I am not 
afraid to do my duty. . . . The whole Populist campaign has 
been mismanaged. It is outrageous. Georgia and Texas refused 
fusion. We pointed the way, but North Carolina, Kansas and 
Colorado failed ... If they too, had put Bryan and Watson 
tickets in the field, Mr. Sewall would have had to get out." 4T 

It had been repeatedly predicted by relatively disinterested 
observers that Sewall would be taken off the Democratic ticket 
after the Maine state election. That event did nothing to dis- 
credit the prophets who said he would not carry his own pre- 
cinct, that his nomination was an "illogical mistake," a "dead- 
weight upon the ticket." Much was made of the report that 
Sewall's son campaigned against him. It was perhaps not with- 
out significance that Watson's letter of notification was dated 
September 14, the date of the Maine election. There followed a 
flurry of conciliatory activities among the Democratic managers. 
Senator Tillman of the Democratic National Committee came 
straight to Thomson from a New York meeting of Bryan and 


New York World, Sept. 28, 1896. 
47 New York World, Oct. 5, 1896. 


The Debacle of i8g6 

other committeemen, which Sewall had not attended. Tillman 
and Watson were closeted together for twelve hours. Watson's 
"warning" to Senator Jones renewed the cry of "No Watson, no 
Bryan" among the mid-roaders, and there followed more secret 
visits of Democratic managers to Thomson. Captain Evan P. 
Howell, who came with "several telegrams from Chairman 
Jones," was one of Watson's visitors. 48 Nothing came of these 
conferences that was announced. The New York Tribune, how- 
ever, quoted a "Prominent Democrat" to the effect that Tillman 
had offered Watson a cabinet position if he would retire from 
the race, and that Watson "flatly refused." 

Chairman Butler postponed from week to week a formal de- 
mand upon the Democratic managers to withdraw Sewall in ac- 
cordance with the alleged contract at St. Louis, although he ad- 
mitted that the Democrats had expected the demand to be made 
earlier. 49 When the demand was finally made, the Democrats 
knew that it came from men who had already approved several 
state fusion bargains, whereby Populists had agreed to support 
Sewall in exchange for local offices. Their demand, therefore, 
could only be regarded as a formality, and it was not surprising 
that Chairman Jones, according to Butler's report, "declined 
absolutely, unqualifiedly and emphatically to consent to the re- 
tirement of Mr. Sewall upon any ground." 60 There was con- 
siderable room for Watson's complaint of the "outrageous man- 
agement of his campaign. It is only fair, however, to recall that 
Chairman Butler was in an extremely difficult position. He was 
dealing with an uncompromising idealist. 

As the election approached, the People's Party Paper printed 
news of the withdrawal of the Bryan- Watson ticket in state after 
state. Those Southern states that held out against fusion were 
met with the most adamant refusal of concessions on the part of 
Democratic machines. Several resorted to fusion with Republi- 
cans and Gold Democrats. Alabama and North Carolina 
achieved the reductio ad absurdum of fusion by combining with 
the Republicans in the state election and with the Democrats in 

48 E. P. Howell to T. E. W., Oct. 17, 1896, Watson MSS.; Atlanta Commercial, 
Oct. 23, 1896; clippings, Watson Scrapbooks. 

49 Marion Butler to H. W. Reed, Aug. 15, 1896, Watson MSS. 

50 Marion Butler to T. E. W., Oct. 15, 1896. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

the national ticket. 51 Remarked Watson: "Suppose I were to go 
into North Carolina to speak. What could I say? I could only 
repeat the Ten Commandments, say the Lord's Prayer and dis- 
miss the congregation." 52 

The arrangement of the electoral ticket between Populists 
and Democrats in Georgia long hung fire. The state election in 
early October, accompanied by as much bitterness, violence, and 
fraud as any previous election, did not serve to increase the love 
between the parties. A decline in the Populist vote from that of 
the previous election served to stiffen the resistance of the old 
party managers to Populist demand that the entire vote of the 
state be given to Bryan and Watson. The Watsonites decreased 
their demand from seven to six of the thirteen electors, but con- 
tinued to insist that all thirteen cast their votes for Watson. 
Watson would not yield another inch. Although there was con- 
siderable Democratic sympathy for him as u the worst treated 
man in America," and several old-party leaders wanted to give 
him all Georgia's votes, a majority of the committee voted for 
the resolution that condemned u the unreasonable and unjust 
ultimatum of the Populist committee, clothed as it is in offensive 
and unbecoming language." 63 Whereupon, the Populist commit- 
tee voted to withdraw the Bryan-Watson Presidential ticket 
entirely. It was denied that Watson actively opposed the with- 
drawal, but he did resolutely oppose the alternative proposal — 
fusion with Republicans — declaring that he had "rather lose an 
arm than see it." At any rate, there was no longer any way in 
which a Tom-Watson-Georgia-Populist could vote for Tom 
Watson. And this was the crowning affliction of all the multitudi- 
nous afflictions that fell upon the head of the Populist Job. 

His last words of advice to his followers before the election 
were : "I am out of the race in Georgia. There are two tickets 
you can vote — for Bryan and Sewall, or for McKinley and Ho- 
bart; or if you can't stand either you can stay away from the 
election next Tuesday and not vote at all." Upon the last words 
of this benediction a solemn voice responded "Amen I" M 

61 Florence Smith, op. cit., pp. 138-155; Appleton's Annual Encyclopedia, 1896, 
pp. zo-zz. 

62 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 3Z, Z896. 

63 Ibid., Oct. 2z, Z896; P. P. P., Oct. 30, Z896; Atlanta Commercial, Oct. 23, 
Z896; A. M. Arnett, op. cit., pp. 209-2 zo. 

54 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 3Z, Z896. 


The Debacle of 1896 

On October 16 the Washington Morning Times carried a car- 
toon on its front page representing Chairman Jones cavorting 
with glee as he read the news: "The condition of Mr. Watson's 
throat will prevent his making any more speeches in this cam- 
paign." He was spotted by reporters while passing through At- 
lanta on his way home and plied with questions. "I have nothing 
to say," he repeated in a hoarse voice. "I have nothing to say." 
"If he feels that insult has been heaped upon injury by the ac- 
tion of his people in Georgia by withdrawing the electoral ticket 
against his advice he will not say so," remarked one paper. "He 
has been deserted by his friends," commented another. 55 

It was in a mood induced by this set of circumstances that 
Watson sat down to compose his belated letter of acceptance. As 
a document it is interesting mainly as the obituary of Populism 
written by its chief mourner, and addressed to one whom he con- 
sidered a conspirator in its demise. Senator Butler refused to 
publish it, and it did not appear until after the election. Watson 
explained briefly that he accepted "solely because of my promise 
to do so." He stated briefly why he had promised to accept. Then 
he continued: 

To all unprejudiced and manly men, regardless of party, I submit the 
statement that never before has any party, so badly needed as ours, been 
so badly treated. Invited to come to the help of the helpless Democracy, 
we have received no generous recognition from those who appealed to us, 
and whose appeal we heard. We did not go to them for aid — they came to 
us. . . . In other words, Populism is allowed to furnish all the campaign 
principles, all the self-sacrifice and patriotism, and the two million votes 
which the Democrats need, but they are not to be allowed to furnish a 
candidate for either place on the ticket ... it appears the Democratic 
managers would be willing to make a sacrifice of both Bryan and silver, if 
they can but destroy Populism. . . . 

For this attitude upon the part of the Democratic managers I believe that 
you, Senator, are largely responsible. 

You made no effort to have me recognized. You publicly stated that I 
would not be notified of my nomination. You went into the fusion policy, 
over my written protest, with all the zeal of a man who intended to elect 
the Democratic ticket. . . . 

Senator, a reform party has no right to exist if it has no valid complaint 
to make. Populists cannot denounce the sins of the two old parties, and 
yet go into political copartnership with them. The moment we make a 
treaty the war must cease . . . and when we cease our war upon the two 

88 Constitution, Oct. 24, 1896. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

old parties, we have no longer any excuse for living. ... If we represent 
nothing but a contest of the "outs" against the "ins," we are a lot of 
humbugs, parading as reformers, and we deserve the contempt of all good 
people. . . . 

By listening to the overtures of the Democratic managers our party 
has been torn into factions, our leaders deceived and ensnared, and the 
cause we represent permanently endangered, if not lost. The labor of many 
years is swept away, and the hopes of thousands of good people are gone 
with it. 66 

The election returns provided ample documentation for his 
letter. The party that two years before had polled close to two 
million votes gave its candidate for Vice-President some 217,000 
votes distributed through seventeen states. He received twenty- 
seven electoral votes from the following states: Arkansas, 3; 
Louisiana, 4; Missouri, 4; Montana, 1; Nebraska, 4; North 
Carolina, 5 ; South Dakota, 2 ; Utah, 1 ; Washington, 2 ; and 
Wyoming, 1. A Democratic-Populist fusion for the electoral 
vote was arranged in twenty-eight states. 67 The figures are of no 
value whatever as an indication of Watson's strength as a candi- 
date, or of his party's strength in numbers, but they do richly il- 
lustrate the ruin that fusion wrought with Populism. 

Bryan lost five states west of the Mississippi and four south of 
Mason and Dixon's Line. It has been computed that a change of 
1 9»436 votes in California, Oregon, Kentucky, North Dakota, 
West Virginia, and Indiana would have given him the election. 
Kentucky was lost by 142 votes. 68 In view of these figures, Wat- 
son's contention that the Democratic managers "lost the case be- 
cause they violated the St. Louis compact," that "they sacrificed 
Bryan in the effort to destroy Populism," is interesting. Ken- 
tucky Populists voted 23,500 strong in 1892, and he believed 
Indiana Populists represented at least 28,000 votes. But in each 
state, "with true Bourbon bullheadedness the Democrats tried to 
bulldoze the middle-of-the-roaders, instead of conciliating them, 
and the result was a smash-up — in which Bryan lost the state." 59 
Because of the complexity of influences that played upon the 
election, however, it is impossible to estimate the value of Wat- 
son's contention. 

56 p. P. P., Nov. 13, 1896. 

67 F. L. Haynes, Third Party Movements, p. 300. 

58 Wayne C. Williams, William Jennings Bryan, p. 193. 

59 T. E. W., Political and Economic Handbook, pp. 458-460. 


The Debacle of 1896 

In the first issue of his paper to appear after the election, he 
discussed with utmost frankness the degradation of Populism : 

Our party, as a party, does not exist any more. Fusion has well nigh 
killed it. . . . Fusionists sold the national candidate of the People's Party 
for the highest price they could get in each state, and the result is that 
while the fusionists have succeeded in getting some local pie, the national 
organization is almost dead. . . . 

Divided into three factions, in this way, National Populism is almost 
a dead letter — as a party organization. The sentiment is still there, the 
votes are still there, but confidence is gone, and the party organization 
is almost gone. . . . Hence the fusionist had better make the most of his 
pie, because he will never again have another national nominee to sell. 60 

The loudest mourning that was done in 1896 was over the 
fallen Silver Knight. Bryan's apparently meteoric rise, the over- 
night conversion of Democracy to pseudo-Populism, and the fan- 
fare of the campaign had all occupied the brief space of four 
months. During that time the fate of Populism was forgotten. 
Its passing was the concern of few ; yet in its passing lay the real 
significance of 1896. Populism, not the falsely regenerate De- 
mocracy of Bryan, furnished the backbone of agrarian resur- 
gence, and in 1896 that backbone was broken. Only a Tom Wat- 
son Populist could appreciate the irony of Bryan's phrase, "The 
First Battle." In 1896 agrarian provincialism made its last ag- 
gressive stand against capitalist industrialism. In the West the 
movement renewed its vitality to some extent in Progressivism. 
It underwent several resurrections in the South — to which the 
subsequent career of Tom Watson was an important witness — 
but the fantastic shapes it assumed are to be understood mainly 
by the psychology of frustration. 

There is almost enough evidence to indicate that Watson him- 
self grasped the historical meaning of 1896. He could not be- 
lieve that "any soldier of the Southern Confederacy carried 
away from Appomattox a heavier heart than I took with me into 
my enforced retirement." He thought the experience drove him 
close to insanity. "Politically I was ruined," he later wrote. "Fi- 
nancially I was flat on my back. How near I came to loss of 
mind only God who made me knows — but I was as near distrac- 
tion, perhaps, as any mortal could safely be. If ever a poor devil 

60 P. P. P., Nov. 13, 1896. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

had been outlawed and vilified and persecuted and misrepre- 
sented and howled down and mobbed and threatened until he 
was well nigh mad, I was he." 61 

61 T. E. W., in Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, Vol. X (Oct., 1910), p. 818; 
Atlanta Journal, Aug. 11, 1906. 



Of Revolution and Revolutionists 

After the debacle of 1896, Tom Watson became virtually 
JTjl. a political recluse for a period that lasted eight years. Be- 
gun when he was barely forty, an age at which the average poli- 
tician only begins to enjoy the fruits of his apprenticeship, his 
enforced retirement constitutes a remarkable interlude in an 
otherwise active career. It was a period about which, although he 
was wont to expand upon his tribulations, he had little to say in 
later years. When he did refer to it, he did so briefly and always 
in the same mood. In 19 10 he wrote, "What I suffered in those 
awful years is known to none but the wife who shared my lot 
and the God Who gave me strength to endure it." 

Partly the period was filled with prolific writing, and partly 
by a thriving law practice. Six years of unremunerative political 
agitation had plunged him into debt, and it was to law rather 
than to letters that he first turned to mend his fortunes. 1 Early in 
1897 it was reported that "the lawyers of middle Georgia are 
very generally complaining that they cannot secure a conviction 
of a man charged with murder." This was attributed to no gen- 
eral indifference to the value of human life, but to the fact that 
Watson was again "professionally at large" and stood in the 
way of prosecuting attorneys. 2 

Toward his party and its leadership he continued to maintain 
the position outlined in his remarkable Letter of Acceptance. 
Asked to say how Populism fared, he insisted upon a division of 
the question. "If you mean the organization," he said, "I must 
answer that it is in a bad way." For the price of a few offices the 

1 T. E. W. to Dr. John N. Taylor, Aug. 15, 1909; personal account books. 
2 Augusta Herald, April 6, 1897. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

party had been sold to the Democrats, whose possession of it was 
secure as long as the fusionists who enjoyed those offices re- 
tained their grip upon party machinery. "It would be a very con- 
temptible person," he said, "who would accept our national nom- 
ination in 1900, knowing from the experience of this campaign 
[1896] that Butler will trade him off in North Carolina, Brei- 
denthal & Co., in Kansas, Pattison in Colorado, etc." There was 
only one way to resurrect the People's party: that was to "reor- 
ganize from the ground up, and rigidly exclude from. control 
every leader tainted with Fusion." That herculean task, he im- 
plied, was not for him. 8 

"If, on the other hand," he continued, "you mean to ask me 
how goes it with the Principles of Populism, I say to you that 
they never commanded more respect, never met with the ap- 
proval of a larger proportion of you fellow citizens, than they 
do to-day [1898]." He was able, even at that time, to list an im- 
pressive number of reforms, both state and national, that were 
clearly Populist in doctrine. That list was to grow as the years 
passed. It was certainly in a moment of inspired optimism, how- 
ever, that he put forth the following dubious claims for Popu- 
lism : 

It has smashed party ties right and left. It has broken the idols of the 
market place in a manner beautiful to behold. It has well nigh abolished 
the party lash. It has utterly abolished social ostracism for political opinion's 
sake. No citizen any longer hesitates to take sides with any party he likes, 
or to vote for any candidate he prefers. The day of political persecution is 
over — even in the South — and Populism did it ! 4 

He continued to keep a hand in the People's Party Paper for 
some time, and to proclaim himself a life-long Populist, "unre- 
pentant and unreconstructed." Though advocating the over- 
throw of the fusionist leaders of the party, he took no part in 
the prolonged and futile four-year struggle of insurgent mid- 
roaders to recapture the party machinery from the grasp of fu- 
sionists. Ignoring his many protests, the state convention of 
Georgia Populists named Watson their candidate for governor 
in the spring of 1898. The nomination was made with splendid 

8 P. P. P., Nov. 13, 1896, and Nov. 19, 1898; Life and Speeches of Thomas E. 
Watson, p. 175. 

4 Ibid., Nov. 20, 1896; Life and Speeches of T. E. W., pp. 178-179; T. E. W., 
in Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, Vol. V (Oct., 1910), pp. 817-819. 


Of Revolution and Revolutionists 

enthusiasm and urged upon him with persistence. 6 He could not 
be persuaded to accept it. National events of that spring com- 
pleted his discouragement. u The Spanish War finished us," he 
later wrote. "The blare of the bugle drowned the voice of the 
Reformer." 6 He not only refused the nomination, but ended 
his connection with the paper and withdrew from public life en- 

Perhaps none of his contemporaries, and certainly none of the 
Populists, read more accurately than Tom Watson the meaning 
of "the splendid little war" upon Spain. Populist congressmen 
were vying with Republicans and Democrats in demonstrating 
their patriotism. "Bryan stuck a feather in his cap," scoffed Wat- 
son, "and vowed that he, too, would become a soldier in spite of 
those vile guns." While the War was still in progress he ad- 
dressed his party comrades in a speech at his home. Some of his 
remarks were a repetition of the arguments he used against the 
armament appropriation in the House six years before. "Who 
gets the benefit of the war?" he asked. He answered his question 
at length: the bond-seekers, the capitalists, the railroads, and 
further : 

National bankers will profit by this war. The new bonds give them 
the basis for new banks, and their power is prolonged. 

The privileged classes all profit by this war. It takes the attention of 
the people off economic issues, and perpetuates the unjust system they have 
put upon us. 

Politicians profit by the war. It buries issues they dare not meet. 

What do the people get out of this war? The fighting and the taxes. 

What was the United States doing in this war with Spain in 
the first place, he wished to know. True, Spain was oppressing 
Cuba. But so was England oppressing Ireland, Egypt, and In- 
dia; France was oppressing Siam and Madagascar; Turkey was 
oppressing Armenia. Should we then take up arms against the 
oppressors of the world? We would more likely end by becom- 
ing oppressors ourselves. "The Spaniards and Cubans were bush- 
whacking one another, and killing from three to five men at a 
battle. We have gone down there and killed more men in three 
months than they would have killed in thirteen years. If they 
were starving before, who feeds them now?" And finally, 

5 P. P. P., March 18, 1898. 

6 Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, Vol. V (Oct., 1910), p. 817. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

What are we going to get out of this war as a nation? Endless trouble, 
complications, expense. Republics cannot go into the conquering business 
and remain republics. Militarism leads to military domination, military 

Imperialism smooths the way for the emperor. 7 

"Loathing the war," he said later, "foreseeing many of the 
evil consequences that it has brought upon us, I quit the active 
agitation of Populism, and shut myself up in my library to write 

The retreat to his library, as he saw it, did not represent es- 
cape from the task to which he had dedicated his life. There he 
proposed to advocate "the same eternal principles of human lib- 
erty and justice and good government in historical works" that 
he had preached from the stump. He would, in other words, 
write populist history. On February 17, 1898, he signed a con- 
tract with The Macmillan Company for the publishing of The 
Story of France, to appear in two large volumes. 8 The manu- 
script of the first volume, of more than seven hundred pages, 
was completed in November. 

The origin of Watson's Story of France is to be sought in the 
columns of the People's Party Paper, where, during the battles 
of the early 'nineties, he printed, when space permitted, sketches 
of episodes from French and Roman history. These sketches 
were preeminent examples of "history for a purpose." Yet they 
were pungent and original and rarely failed to carry home their 
point. Caesars and Bourbons were dealt with in the same vigor- 
ous prose, and in the same irreverent manner in which he dealt 
with Democrats and plutocrats in the adjacent editorial column. 
His people should not lack for heroes and villains, past as well 
as present. These sketches were altered somewhat and published 
in Atlanta in 1896 in a thin volume bearing the same title as his 
later work. The larger work, though much more dignified and 
restrained in style, still bore a family resemblance to the polemic 

His history was written largely from secondary materials to- 
gether with accessible memoirs and autobiographies. He did all 
his work at home, purchasing such works as he used for his own 

7 Life and Speeches of Thomas E. Watson, pp. 180-182. 

8 Watson MSS., Chapel Hill. 


Of Revolution and Revolutionists 

library, which at one time contained over 10,000 volumes. He 
took great pride in his collection, pronouncing it the largest per- 
sonal library in the South. 9 Such sources as he did use were not 
used uncritically. On the other hand, his statements that he 
wrote 6,000 words in one Sunday morning, that frequently the 
pen proved "all too slow to follow the burning thought," and 
that "many a time the page was blotted with tears" give an in- 
sight into his methods. Passionate history written at such a pace 
could not be free from blunders. Exploded theories, discredited 
sources, and exaggerations mar his pages — along with the tears. 
The Seine was "choked with bodies" and France was "devas- 
tated" with appalling frequency; while the villainies of the 
Church, the iniquities of feudalism, and the darkness of the 
Dark Ages stagger credulity. 

Much criticism is, however, forestalled by a statement in the 
Preface to The Story of France. "To mark the encroachments of 
absolutism upon popular rights," he explains, "to describe the 
long-continued struggle of the many to throw off the yoke of 
the few, to emphasize the corrupting influence of the union be- 
tween Church and State, to illustrate once more the blighting 
effects of superstition, ignorance, blind obedience, unjust laws, 
confiscation under the disguise of unequal taxes, and the sys- 
tematic plunder, year by year, of the weaker classes by the 
stronger, have been the motives which led me to undertake this 
work. May it bear fruit." He thought of his book as "aggres- 
sively radical in its plea for oppressed humanity." 10 

It was popular history, history for the common man, history 
with a purpose. As such it meets admirably the demands made 
upon it. His style is vivid, crisp, and moves with dramatic power, 
particularly in the narration of mass movements. He is at his 
best when writing of a figure or event with which he can identify 
himself, whether it is Peter the Hermit, Joan of Arc, Voltaire, 
or Marat. Consciously he strives to keep before himself and his 
reader the mass life of the nation as his central theme, and a 
Jacobin passion informs his judgments. Woe to that fame, how- 
ever heroic and celebrated, which was earned by trampling upon 

9 Now partly in possession of Judge Uly O. Thomson, Miami, Fla., who kindly 
permitted the author to use the library. 

10 T. E. W., Sketches, p. 164. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

the masses. He belabors the Caesarism of Carlyle, the "hysteri- 
cal accounts of royalist writers," and the reactionary legislation 
of William Pitt. 

The first volume carries the account to the end of the reign of 
Louis XV, while the second, to which the first might be said to 
serve as an introduction, devotes its more than one thousand 
pages to the Revolution down to the First Consulate. It was the 
Revolution that absorbed Watson's interest, and for him the key 
to its complex maze was his radical-republican doctrine. While 
he was too near the Confederacy to detect the pseudo-classical 
posturing of the Men of '89, he had a sharp eye for the rogue 
and an instinct for the intricacies of class contradiction. It was 
true that he was prone to express a somewhat indiscriminate en- 
thusiasm for revolutionists, whatever their stripe. Yet he discov- 
ered the bourgeois joker in the Girondin program. It was de- 
signed "only for the good, the educated, the genteel. They were 
not in touch with the masses. Their republic was too much of an 
abstraction." His admiration for Danton, "something of the 
grand gentleman of the masses," is admitted, but he respects the 
incorruptible Marat and defends Robespierre. He makes a real- 
istic and penetrating study of the Terror, and eloquently de- 
fends the Jacobins in page after page of praise for their legisla- 
tive accomplishments. Here Populism achieves triumphs in the 
study that it never attained at the polls. "If they were not states- 
men, if they were not mailed knights in the long, hard battle of 
civilization, who are those who deserve the name?" he asks. 11 
Especially he admires the Jacobin Law of the Maximum. It is 
his conviction that "wherever the valiant soldiers of progress 
wage battle for humanity's sake, there the better spirit of the 
Jacobin strives." ** 

Needless to say, many more strictures than have been men- 
tioned could be made upon this work. All things considered, 
however — its origin, and the unusual circumstances of its crea- 
tion — it would seem of more importance to underscore its vir- 
tues. Moreover, this was a day when the tradition of the states- 
man as historian flourished. The Story of France does not suffer 
in comparison with other products of that tradition. 

The first volume appeared in January, 1899, the second in the 

11 The Story of France, Vol. II, pp. 840-849. 

12 Ibid., pp. 955-973. 


Of Revolution and Revolutionists 

latter part of the same year. The publisher complained of a 
"conspiracy of silence" against the book among the New York 
reviews. One of the great dailies, he said, announced before the 
book appeared that it "did not care to review it." Another at 
first refused to print an advertisement of it, and then made its 
appearance the occasion of a "personal attack upon the author 
and the publisher." 13 Looking back over the reviews today, 
however, one is more struck by their generosity, their willing- 
ness to make allowances, indeed the extravagant praise of some 
of them rather than by the partisanship of a few. From the su- 
perlatives of the New York Evening Journal, which proclaimed 
it "the best history ever written by an American," to the sober 
strictures of the learned journals, there seemed to exist a preva- 
lent disposition to judge the work upon the terms suggested in 
the author's Preface. As one example, the Dial admitted that 
"His aggressive truth-telling makes French history superlatively 
realistic, and his fertile mind, keen wit, and dramatic power 
combine to make a story of absorbing interest." It protested, 
however, against his "working upon the feelings of the reader 
with the weapons of the emotional evangelist." 14 

The book enjoyed a remarkable popular success. It sold some 
fifty thousand copies while in the hands of The Macmillan Com- 
pany, and then went through several editions after it was pur- 
chased by the author's press. 15 A posthumous edition was 
published by a third company in 1926. The book was also well 
received in London. 

At the request of his publishers, Watson laid aside the con- 
tract he had signed with them for the preparation of a popular 
history of the United States in order to exploit the popularity of 
The Story of France with another volume on French history. 
This was to be done through a biography of Napoleon. 16 Begun 

13 George P. Brett (President of Macmillan Co.) to Clark Howell, Feb. 15, 1899, 
Watson MSS. 

"^Annals of the American Academy, XV, pp. 466-477; American Historical Re- 
view, Vol. IV (1888-1889), pp. 586-587; Dial, Vol. XXVIII (1916), p. 1167; ex- 
cerpts from other reviews in W. W. Brewton, Life of Thomas E. Watson, pp. 286- 

15 Royalty statements from Macmillan to Watson, Watson papers. Watson bought 
the copyrights in 191 1. 

18 For reviews of Napoleon, see Nation, Vol. LXXIV (1902), p. 490; Atheneum, 
Vol. I (1902), p. 562. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

early in 1899, the work was published in February, 1902, under 
the title, Napoleon: A Sketch of His Life, Character, Struggles, 
and Achievements, a volume of over seven hundred pages. 

In style, in method, and in general character, this work dif- 
fers but little from the previous volumes. In fundamental atti- 
tude of author to subject, and in basic ideology, however, there 
exists a subtle but pervasive difference between the history and 
the biography. The change is elusive, and the author would 
have been the first to deny it. It exists, nevertheless, and for the 
purpose of understanding Tom Watson and Tom- Watson Popu- 
lism the difference is worth exploring. 

In the first place the book was a labor of love. "It seems to 
me," he once wrote, u that there was never a time when Napo- 
leon was not a part of my life and thought." From the time his 
grandfather had presented him with the Reverend John S. C. 
Abbott's Napoleon when he was nine that figure had quite pos- 
sessed his imagination. He "knew no better than to devour that 
marvelous romance with all a boy's eager delight and unques- 
tioning faith . . . the unalloyed goodness of Napoleon, the un- 
sullied virtue of Josephine, and the unrelieved depravity of 
Napoleon's foes." The reading of many books gradually dis- 
pelled the myth, but "interest never flagged." Identification with 
his hero was easy enough: the impoverished, under-sized, in- 
tensely proud school boy with his overweening patriotism for 
despised and conquered Corsica. "Always, Napoleon has had a 
friend in me," he once said. "When the rich boys made fun of 
him at college, my own little fist would double up, ready to help 
him fight." 1T From a naive childhood identification it is no great 
step to the biographer's attitude : 

As long as time shall last, the inspiration of the poor and the ambitious 
will be the Ajaccio lawyer's son: not Alexander, the born king; not 
Caesar, the patrician; but Napoleon, the moneyless lad from despised 
Corsica, who stormed the high places of the world, and by his own colossal 
strength of character, genius, and industry took them ! ** 

Moreover, that name should inspire "not only the individual, 
but the masses also." For wherever it was agreed that "monop- 
oly of power, patronage, wealth, or opportunity is wrong, there 

17 T. E. W., "How I Came to Write a Life of Napoleon," Prose Miscellanies, pp. 
"^Napoleon, p. 13. 


Of Revolution and Revolutionists 

the name of Napoleon will be spoken with reverence, despot 
though he became, for in his innermost fibre he was a man of 
the people, crushing to atoms feudalism, castes, divine rights, 
and hereditary imposture." 

That Napoleons make perilous heroes for Jacobins seemed to 
be one of the implied lessons of his history of the Revolution. 
Yet under the spell of the great megalomaniac's history he 
seemed to have forgotten his own lesson. In the biography one 
gradually loses sight of the unprincipled tyrant of The Story of 
France, who "devoted Frenchmen to wars of selfish ambition, 
and swindled them out of the 'Principles of the Revolution.' " 19 
One's eye is too much filled with "Napoleon the Great." It is 
true that Watson readily admits that the Corsican was "a colos- 
sal mixture of the good and the bad," that "a more contradic- 
tory mortal never lived," and that Napoleon's treatment of 
Poland presents "a sorry picture." "The anti-Bonaparte biogra- 
phers," however, provoke in him wrath and heated retorts. 20 
For an outspoken opponent of American militarism and impe- 
rialism he seems strangely serene in the presence of "bleaching 
bones on battle-fields," and strangely jubilant over the onward 
march of Napoleon's eagles. As an outstanding advocate of ini- 
tiative, referendum, recall, and popular election of all officers, 
he seems reconciled with remarkable ease to the collapse of a re- 
public, and the rise of an emperor — "the necessary man without 
whom they might relapse into chaotic conditions." 21 While he 
gazes, transfixed by the splendor of Napoleon, the money- 
changers creep into the temple of French democracy, unchal- 
lenged, indeed unobserved, by Watson. One has the feeling 
upon closing the book that an author who can use the term, "the 
great Democratic despot," without consciousness of paradox is 
reconciled to a union of Caesarism and democracy. 

In a different connection Watson once wrote : "There is not a 
railway king of the present day, not a single self-made man who 
has risen from the ranks to become chief in the vast movement 
of capital and labor, who will not recognize in Napoleon traits 
of his own character ; the same unflagging purpose, tireless per- 
sistence, silent plotting, pitiless rush to victory . . ." M Pre- 

19 The Story of France, Vol. II, p. 494. 

20 Napoleon, pp. 215, 373, 407, and 423. 

21 Ibid., p. 331. 

22 T. E. W., "Some Impressions of Napoleon," MS., Watson papers. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

cisely. But what was a Populist doing celebrating the virtues of 
the self-made railway king? What was Tom Watson about in 
erecting an image of capitalist acquisitiveness for his people to 
worship? Could it be that the Israelites worshiped the same gods 
as the Philistines ? Could it be that the only quarrel between the 
two camps was over a singular disparity in the favors won? 

On a fly leaf at the back of a huge ledger he used as a per- 
sonal journal is to be found an elaborate drawing bearing the 
subscription, "Model Southern Home. ,, The drawing is dated 
1884. 23 There is some evidence of subsequent revision and idle 
elaboration of detail — for in twenty years even the most cher- 
ished dream may expand in magnificence. Yet in essentials the 
plan remained the same. It was twenty years before it received 
concrete expression in the home he bought, remodeled nearer to 
his heart's desire, and named "Hickory Hill." 

One recalls the lost mansion of his father, the hapless roman- 
tic, John, who built his dream house (with its imposing fagade 
and unplastered interior) on the unsubstantial sands of wishes 
and credit — and lost it, along with his father's log house which 
it screened. Here are the same imposing fluted columns, four 
towering ones with Ionic capitals of plaster, supporting the gable 
of a portico two-and-a-half stories high. Under it, at the second 
story, is a balcony, and around almost three sides of the wide 
girth of the house runs an open veranda, partly balustraded. In 
style as well as in name, Hickory Hill suggests Jackson's Her- 
mitage rather than Jefferson's Monticello: the grandiloquent 
pretentiousness of a later Southern tradition, rather than the 
chaste graciousness of an earlier. 

Set upon a knoll, the house dominates a wide plot thickly 
grown with trees, many of which Watson selected for their vari- 
ety and transplanted. Up from the road to the pillared portico 
ascends a broad concrete walk, interrupted midway by the great 
basin of a fountain (faintly reminiscent of Versailles) lit from 
each side by ornate wrought-iron electric lamps. Other walks 
skirt through grape arbor, orchard, and summer house. Nor 

23 MS. Journal 2. 

Of Revolution and Revolutionists 

was expense spared upon the interior, with its imported Italian 
marbles for the fireplaces. "Every detail bespeaks the cul- 
ture and refinement of the typical Southern gentleman" — so 
thought a guest whom Watson was pleased to have write an in- 
troduction to one of his books. 24 It seems apparent that he was 
not unwilling to be thought of in such terms. In one of his many 
asides in his book on Jefferson he wrote : 

A democrat, are you ? 

Of course you are; and yet, in your heart of hearts, you warm to the 
old-time Cavalier who chose for his home the loveliest spot he could find, 
reared a costlier house than he could afford, made it as attractive as he 
knew how, christened it with some pet name of fond association — and 
then threw open its wide doors, and said to all the world: "Come sit 
by my hearth, come eat at my table; my house was not built for myself 
alone. . . ." 

Does such a house speak no word of inspiration to the son? Does it 
awaken in him no sense of consecration? Does it lift no high standard 
of conduct before his eyes? Does it impose no solemn obligations . . . ? 
Has such a house no meaning which thrills the very soul ? 25 

The years following 1896 seem to have been prosperous 
ones for Watson. At the end of 1904 he placed his "financial 
standing" at the figure $121,000, more than double the estimate 
he gave for the former date. As a "rough estimate" $70,000 of 
this was invested in land — rather a low figure for some 9,000 
acres of his several plantations. An estimate not his own men- 
tions "$300,000 worth of cotton lands in Georgia," and another 
held him "the operator of more plows than any individual farm 
owner in Georgia." His own tenant rolls list forty-four names of 
men, presumably the heads of families. 26 His Virginia place, 
"Mountain Top," was quoted at $15,000, and an enthusiastic 
caretaker believed that his island, Las Olas, on the Atlantic coast 
of Florida, "could be sold for $50,000" for it was "the prettiest 
place in all the world — the natural scenery and tropical groth 
[sic] is simply a dream." 27 

Life at Hickory Hill had about it the spacious freedom of the 
plantation "big-house," and there was much of the ante-bellum 

24 Charles Bayne, "Introduction" to Watson's Sketches, pp. v-vi. 

25 T. E. W., The Life and Times of Thomas Jefferson, pp. 170-172. 

26 Personal account books and tenant rolls, Watson papers ; undated clippings, one 
by James Creelman in 1905. 

27 O. S. Lee to T. E. W., Sept. 7, 1906; unsigned letter, Charlottesville, Va., to 
T. E. W., Aug. 12, 1907. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

flavor (rather more encouraged than not) in its privileged "fam- 
ily Negroes," its bounteous tables, and its tradition of hospital- 
ity. The place took its tone, however, from the master of the 
manor. That meant a certain amount of decorum. There were 
well-understood rules about the sanctity of the study in which he 
spent long hours. The dinner table, virtually the only place the 
family saw its reclusive head with any regularity, had its par- 
ticular code — that had better be observed. An uncorseted secre- 
tary did not go unreproved, and freedom in manners was not 
encouraged. However much of a "man of the people" there was 
about Tom Watson, there was a pretty well-recognized point be- 
yond which familiarity did not venture, even among his inti- 
mates. That had always been true, and the grand isolation of 
Hickory Hill tended to call attention to the trait. A poor rela- 
tion was heard to remark that "Cud'n Tom has studied about 
French kings so much that he has taken to acting like them." 

His notorious irritation at noises became legendary in the 
community, and innumerable stories that illustrate it still go the 
rounds. A pair of mischievous little granddaughters could gener- 
ally count on a handful of coins flung from the study window to 
bribe them into silence. A peacock that squawked out of turn was 
unceremoniously beheaded. Neighbors received fabulous offers 
for bellowing cows and loud-throated roosters, and aspiring 
young pianists were encouraged to develop their talents in dis- 
tant lands. Neighbor West, he swore, bursting out of his study 
in a rage, was clanging his farm bell with the premeditated pur- 
pose of annoying Tom Watson. His love for music, on the other 
hand, led him to spend much time in the music room, which con- 
tained two pianos, a phonograph, and an old music box. He took 
up his fiddle now and again, and later on spent many patient 
evenings after dinner teaching his granddaughters to waltz. An 
evening of music could move him so deeply that it sometimes 
changed his mood for days. 

Besides a graciousness of manner that charmed his guests and 
a zestful imagination that captured the affections of his family, 
those who knew him best are eager to explain in him "a certain 
quality of tenderness." The difficulty in understanding it lay in 
the equal presence of quite antithetical traits. The very individ- 
uals whom he most longed to bind to him, and who were often 
drawn to him by this quality of tenderness, were as frequently 


Of Revolution and 'Revolutionists 

repelled by opposite qualities. The psychological tragedy of his 
life was just this misfortune. He described it himself earlier : the 
misfortune of a spirit that, "proud of its own isolation, magnifies 
its own defects . . . retires within itself and imagines that all 
others are more fortunate, more deserving and more happy." 
His letters to his wife are expressions of genuine devotion, even 
late in her life. He is transfixed by tenderness and remorse at 
the recollection of the pain he caused her by "an ugly fit of tem- 
per" twenty-eight years earlier. "No man," he adds, "has ever 
been more cruelly punished by his passions." 28 Between the 
lines of these letters one often reads a pathetic struggle to ex- 
press a tenderness that his perverse nature was eternally thwart- 

No one who has explored the labyrinths of Tom Watson's 
mind can be convinced that his creed and his vital motivation 
were the simple products of intellectual conviction. Somewhere 
back of the consuming heat of his agrarian doctrine were banked 
fires of faith. Somewhere in his complex nature was hidden a 
mystic. One feels that on no very citable evidence. In the search 
for some tangible evidence the signs point to his agrarianism, but 
lead past it to something else. A significant clue lies in his writ- 
ings about nature — simple things about planting, growing, and 
reaping. Unlike much of his other "literary" writings, these es- 
says are usually free from sentimentality. He spent a remarkable 
amount of time alone in the woods and fields, afoot and on 
horseback, and the lore of forest and field at his command was 
vast. His two granddaughters, who sometimes feared him, 
never felt any hesitancy in rushing to meet him when he 
returned from one of these tramps. They swarmed about his 
legs at their game of racing to see which could first get a trou- 
ser leg picked free of beggar-lice and Spanish needles. He was 
always ready for fun at such times. One of his granddaughters 
later wrote: "Whenever I sensed peace and harmony in him, 
it seems to me, it was when he was nearest the earth." This re- 
mained true even later, when peace and harmony were extremely 
rare in him. 29 

After his retirement from public life, "respectable" opinion in 
the South gradually mellowed, then warmed to Watson. His lit- 

28 T. E. W. to Mrs. Watson, Aug. 26, 1908, in possession of Georgia D. Watson. 

29 Georgia D. Watson to C. V. W., July 30, 1937. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

erary successes commanded considerable awe in a community 
where a man of letters was a rarity. From a respectful "Colonel" 
he was overnight — with scarcely a pause at "Major" — pro- 
moted to "Sage" — "the Sage of Hickory Hill." It was even said 
that he became "the toast of the culture and intelligence of the 
State," and was "often referred to as its most distinguished citi- 
zen." 30 There was a wide demand for him as a lecturer. During 
the first half of 1903 he delivered some fifteen or more, at an 
average of $150 a lecture. It was said that in Atlanta, Henry 
Ward Beecher and Robert Ingersoll did not attract such houses 
as Watson, "either in point of numbers or intellectuality." The 
Augusta Chronicle, which so recently trembled before Watson 
the "anarchist," now asked: "What is the secret of this wonder- 
ful man's fascination, or magnetism, at all times and places. 
. . . We feel that back of this man's genius and culture is the 
restless beat of a warm, true, great heart." 81 

His repertory of lectures included a number of subjects that 
hark back directly to the days of the Populist stump speech and 
the editorial writing of the 'nineties. For example, in his lecture 
on "The Mission of Democracy" he denounced militarism, im- 
perialism, corruption in high places, materialistic standards of 
progress, concentration of wealth, "education prostituted to the 
gospel of wealth and class rule," and the subsidized press and 
pulpit. His remedies, too, were much the same, though he would 
now expand government ownership to include coal fields, and 
perhaps other natural resources. He believed "absolute free- 
trade" would make trusts impossible, and the remedy in the 
meantime was "control." 32 

His most popular lecture, however, was that on "The South," 
or a similar one, "Is the South Glad It Lost?" It is in these lec- 
tures that one first meets an important shift in ideology. 

Tom Watson's agrarianism was basic (one might almost say 
congenital) ; whatever other ideas and principles he professed 
were superstructure, whether they were in part populist, social- 
ist, or fascist. The first expression of his agrarianism, called 
forth in the 'eighties by the aggressive capitalism of Henry 

80 Anonymous, Forum, Vol. LVI (Nov., 1916), p. 682. 

81 Augusta Chronicle, Nov. 8, 1902. 

82 MS. speeches and notes, Watson MSS. 


Of Revolution and Revolutionists 

Grady, found utterance in the Confederate creed, and was in- 
distinguishable from the doctrine of Robert Toombs and C. C. 
Jones. 83 The South was a vanquished section exploited by its 
capitalist conquerors. Caught on the crest of the wave of the Al- 
liance movement, he abandoned Confederate sectionalism to 
cement a union with the West. There should be "no South and 
no North," only a union against a common enemy at large the 
nation over. In this period he was capable of such dispassionate 
analysis as that revealed in his commenting: "We of the South 
are among the politically unhappy, with a great political failure, 
which, like all failures, does not get that criticism of judgment 
which success always commands." 34 The West-South alliance 
collapsed in 1896. Thereafter he reverted for a time to the Con- 
federate creed. 

A grievous spell had been put upon his people, he decided. 
The more he pondered the infamy of it, the more evidences he 
found of its reality — everywhere between heaven and earth — 
and the more intolerable it seemed to him. So long and so unani- 
mously had the South been despised that Southerners themselves 
had been persuaded to bow to the verdict of the majority, to 
swallow pride, and meekly to accept a status of inferiority. Na- 
tional literature was a conspiracy "to put our section upon the 
Stool of Repentance," to keep it on "the mourner's bench," in an 
"attitude of apology." "Rebels and traitors," the historians said, 
and the South had become the "tolerated black-sheep of the 
flock," patronized with "much charity and pardon." 35 These 
things surely were beyond endurance, and while he had pen to 
write and tongue to speak he would not endure them in silence. 

The campaign opened along the whole front of American his- 
tory. No citadel went unstormed, and above every ungarrisoned 
post he hoisted the rebel flag. Away with the notion "that Plym- 
outh Rock was the cornerstone of our Republic and the Pil- 
grim father the sire of American Democracy." Jury trial, home 
rule, representative government, the first legislative assembly, 
manhood suffrage, religious toleration — he claimed them all for 

38 See above, Chapter VIII. 

84 Augusta Chronicle, Aug. 29, 1890. 

85 "The South," "Is the South Glad It Lost?" Watson MSS. The quotations that 
follow are from these speeches. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

the South, and flourished documents in defense of the South's 
title. Nor was the Revolution "a tempest in a New England tea- 
pot." "Talk about Lexington and Concord I" Their laurels he 
claimed for the battle of Alamance. The first declaration of in- 
dependence? Mecklenburg. The first organization as a separate 
state? South Carolina. He made bold to assert on as good au- 
thority that "the lordliest man that ever walked this continent 
was the Virginia planter, the Southern gentleman . . . the 
highest type of human grandeur." While the South dominated 
the Union whoever heard of a food riot, a bread line, a Rocke- 
feller, or a Gould? 

The next step was a rehabilitation of the Lost Cause. "We 
are quite sincere in saying," he asserted, "as we have done be- 
fore, that it would have been vastly better for the South had the 
Confederacy succeeded." The South had already paid a greater 
war indemnity than Germany wrung from France, and half of 
the South's annual cotton crop was stolen by the Northern tariff. 
The day will yet come when "the Union will be split into four 
grand divisions, and this hemisphere will be all the happier for 
it." "ABHORRENCE at the suggestion of Southern independ- 
ence?" he asked. "Pluperfect bosh! Sickening servility 1 The 
quintessence of apostasy! The high-water mark of truckling 
self-abasement and lick-log propitiation!" If the truth were 
known, "at bottom, we don't love the North much better than 
France loves Germany. How well does Ireland love England? 
Get that measure of affection, and you will be mighty close to 
the feeling of the South for the North." 

Moreover, the South was as much a subject section of this 
Union as Ireland was a subject province of the British Empire. 
The South' s was a colonial status, and her economy was ruled 
in the same way in which Britain rules India : 

Just as the English maintain their conquest of India by taking into co- 
partnership with themselves a certain percentage of Hindus, so the North 
holds the South in subjection by enlisting Southern capitalists and politi- 
cians. They put their money into our daily newspapers; they subsidize 
such organs as The Manufacturer s Record; they buy up our railroads; 
they capitalize our mills; they finance our street railways; they supply our 
banks,— always taking Southern men in with them to a certain extent, 
and they appoint some of our politicians to good positions. United them- 
selves, the Northern capitalists divide the Southerners, and thus rule and 
despoil the South. 


Of Revolution and Revolutionists 

Watson's most refined contempt was reserved for those South- 
ern apologists of the capitalist masters with their glib editorials, 
their sleek columns of statistics, and their vaunted boasts of ex- 
panding industry, increasing investment, "progress." Those were 
borrowed standards, not "Southern" standards. "Who wants a 
soulless Commercialism based upon the Havemeyer gospel of 
*I don't care two cents for your ethics'?" he asked. "Is that the 
gospel to which the future of this Republic is to be dedicated?" 
For that matter, "Averages are arrant deceivers" : 

You teach me nothing whatever when you tell me that the people have 
built more railroads, raised more cotton, manufactured more cloth. To all 
your bombast upon that subject I will answer by the query, who got the 
increased wealth after it was made? 

Your railroad may be a blessing — it may also be a curse. Many a 
ruined city, many a ruined industry will rise to damn the railroads. Have 
the people more general prosperity? That depends on the laws of distribu- 

What does indicate the progress of a people? Churches? No. School- 
houses? No. . . . 

The way men and women live and think and aspire. ... If these are 
wrong, all is wrong, and the nation will gallop to hell no matter how 
many railroads and factories they build. 

So full was he of his message that it overflowed its proper 
channels and quite flooded his subsequent books, leaving long 
marshes of unnavigable sermons. In the midst of a biography of 
an early nineteenth-century American he paused for a picture of 
a cotton mill running at night. It seemed to him "some hideous 
monster, with a hundred dull red eyes, indicative of the flames 
within which were consuming the men, women and children 
chained to the remorseless wheel of labor." Indeed, "every one 
of these red-eyed monsters is a Moloch, into which soulless Com- 
mercialism is casting human victims — the atrocious sacrifice to 
an insatiable god!" And there were pictures of Birmingham and 
Pittsburgh that seemed to him to contain "something more in- 
fernal than Dante or Milton could throw into their pictures of 
hell." Describing an agrarian Eden of ante-bellum days, before 
the serpent Industrialism entered, he reminded his readers : 
"Our destitute are numbered by the millions, beggars swarm in 
big cities, tramps infest the roads; men, women, and children 
perish of cold and hunger in almost every state in the Union. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

The size of our proletariat is prodigious; its condition fright- 
ful; 1 

In October, 1903, was published his Life and Times of 
Thomas Jefferson™ He entered the task with clenched fists in 
his Preface, and his pen is not infrequently wrenched by spas- 
modic contractions in the text that follows. So embroiled does he 
become with dead Federalist historians, as well as "modern out- 
croppings of the old Federalist vein" (whose number is legion), 
that the serene sage of Monticello is frequently forgotten. Pages 
are spent in belaboring the inconsequential biography by Wil- 
liam E. Curtis, "which literally swarms with errors." His wrath 
is most deeply stirred, however, by the writings of "the learned 
President of Princeton," Woodrow Wilson. "Think of it!" he 
exclaims in a footnote. "Nearly two thousand pages of alleged 
history and just one short sentence to the tragic chapter [Ala- 
mance] in the story of the South !" Yet he could spare six pages 
for a "Boston street row." And Wilson was a Southerner! For- 
sooth ! A Georgian could spare a whole chapter to the glory of 
Carolina, and right gladly. Did a Channing of Harvard "perpet- 
uate sectional prejudice and injustice" by intimating that the 
South was "easier to conquer than the North"? 8T He would de- 
vote five chapters to repelling the calumny. Jefferson's fame was 
secure enough to spare the space. When he does find time to 
examine the history of the Jeffersonian era, his aggressive inde- 
pendence of view produces some hard truths and upsets a few 
sacred myths. It is nevertheless a poor book, marred by laxness 
of style and undisciplined garrulity. 

The Dedication of his Jefferson contains a paradox more ap- 
parent now than then. 38 "Because he is to-day working with 
splendid ability along the same lines which Mr. Jefferson 
marked out a hundred years ago," wrote Watson, "I dedicate 

88 D. Appleton and Company. Also vide Thomas E. Watson, Thomas Jefferson 
(Beacon Biographies), Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1900, pp. xv, 150. Reviewed 
by George H. Haynes, American Historical Review, Vol. VI, p. 842. Reviews of 
Life and Times of Thomas Jefferson: Arena, Vol. XXXI, pp. 325-399 (favorable) ; 
American Historical Review, Vol. IX, pp. 615-616 (unfavorable). 

87 T. E. W., Life and Times of Thomas Jefferson, p. 47, 86, 218. 

88 See below, p. 356. 


Of Revolution and Revolutionists 

The Life and Times of Andrew Jackson 89 is cluttered with 
the same reckless dogmatism and partisanship. Toward Jackson 
himself, he maintains a surprising candor, unsparing in its reve- 
lation of cold-blooded ruthlessness and cruelty. On the other 
hand, one meets with a contrast between the endearing gener- 
osity and chivalry of the Southern Cavalier, and the "monastic 
gloom, nasal preachments, kill-joy countenances, lank-haired 
bigotry, and censorious intermeddling with everybody's busi- 
ness" that characterizes the Northern Puritan. 40 Neither of 
these biographies approaches the standard achieved in the books 
on French history. 

The contract to write a history of the United States remained 
unfulfilled, and a proffered contract for a life of General Lee 
went unsigned while the historian devoted his energies to an 
experiment in novel writing — his first and his last. Bethany: A 
Story of the Old South ** is really a hodge-podge of historical 
and political essays intermixed with a sentimental love story and 
some autobiography. "Part First" presents a picture of the feel- 
ings, motives, and reasoning of Southern people on the verge of 
the War; "Part Second" alternates chapters of military history 
with chapters of a highly episodic romance. It is beside the point 
to enumerate its failures in construction, its blunders and banal- 
ities as a novel, for if it is of significance, it is not as a novel. 

Bethany, the author admits, is "frankly Southern in tone," 
though he hopes "not offensively so." Recalling the way a South- 
ern audience warmed to Henry Ward Beecher when he pro- 
claimed, "I am a Yankee of the Yankees," he writes : "It is upon 
the same generous instinct of human nature that I rely in frankly 
putting the Southern case, as though I were c a Rebel of the 
Rebels.' " * The first sentence is a promise : "Just as the facts 
were I will relate them to you." He is surprisingly successful in 
his struggle for intellectual honesty, and scarcely a reviewer fails 
to pay tribute to his victory over his feelings. Even the Nation, 
of Abolitionist heritage, thought the book "confirmation of the 
very primer of abolition knowledge of the disposition, habits, 

39 Stated as a serial publication, Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, July, 1906; 
published by the author, 1911, in book form. 

40 T. E. W., The Life and Times of Andrew Jackson, p. 253. 

41 D. Appleton and Company, 1904. 

42 T. E. W., Bethany, p. x. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

standards, and tender mercies of the slave holding section." 48 
Writing as the confessed apologist for a cause and for a dis- 
credited way of life, he steadfastly scorns special pleading and 
begging his case. He will borrow no magnolias and moonlight 
from Thomas Nelson Page. His grandfather's house did not 
remotely resemble "a Grecian Temple which had been sent into 
exile" in a cotton field. It was "just a plain house," and log at 
that. His mulatto playmate bears an unmistakable resemblance 
to his Uncle Ralph, the hero of the romance. Robert Toombs, 
his political hero, dashes in and out of his pages roaring drunk. 
There are no duels at dawn but plenty of eye-gougings, knifings, 
and drunken brawls. There are "gander-pullings" in place of 
tournaments, and there are deserters as well as heroes who wear 
gray. For all that, he feels about the ante-bellum way of life as 
his family felt about their Baptist creed: "whatever it was, it 
was ours, and we were for it — strong." And when he thinks of 
Pittsburgh and Birmingham his faith is born anew in him and 
warms his blood like old wine and new love, and he writes : 

That old Southern homestead was a little kingdom, a complete social 
and industrial organism, almost wholly sufficient unto itself, asking less 
of the outer world than it gave. How sound, sane, healthy it appears, 
even now, when compared to certain phases of certain other systems! u 

48 Nation, Vol. LXXIX, p. 506. 
44 T. E. W., Bethany, p. 12. 




From Populism to Muckraking 

To all who had eyes to see it was plain that plans for a 
counter-revolution within the Democratic party were under 
way for 1904. Weakened by two successive defeats, the leader- 
ship of Bryan was open to challenge. The party of Bryan and 
Tillman, of West and South, of agrarianism and Main Street 
was likely to become once more the party of capitalism and Wall 
Street, of Eastern Big Business and Tammany. In their effort to 
overthrow Bryanism and make Democracy "as respectable as 
Republicanism," if not a little more so, David B. Hill and Au- 
gust Belmont united in putting forward Grover Cleveland as "a 
dignified stalking-horse" while they manipulated the nomination 
of Judge Alton B. Parker. William Randolph Hearst was easily 
the most serious contender for the nomination in opposition to 
the conservative combination. 1 

"Were I in politics," Watson began a statement in March, 
1904, tentatively subjunctive in mood, "were I in politics, I 
should heartily approve and support the candidacy of William 
R. Hearst." Furthermore, Watson thought Cleveland "the 
most distasteful candidate who could be offered to the South." 
He admired Roosevelt "the man" very much, but Roosevelt 
"the politician" stood for those things he most abhorred — "im- 
perialism, extravagance, class legislation, militarism, Hamil- 
tonism, of the rankest sort." 2 

A conjunction of Watson and Hearst presented no grave 
problem of doctrinal adjustment. It was a day in which a 

1 Allan Nevins, Grover Cleveland, pp. 754-755 ; P. Hibben, The Peerless Leader: 
William Jennings Bryan, pp. 245-249. 

2 Atlanta News, March 7, 1904. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Herbert Croly could write of Hearst as an expression of "the 
radical element in the Jeffersonian tradition," to be feared as 
"revolutionary in spirit," because he was as unfair to capitalists 
as the abolitionist had been to slaveholders. Croly compared him 
to Robespierre, and Harry Thurston Peck believed his ambi- 
tion was to "bring about a socialistic millennium." 3 

After the March statement, Hearst conducted a lively court- 
ship of the Georgia Populist. Letter after letter urged him to 
come to New York and join the Hearst staff. Arthur Brisbane 
suggested that he accept the editorship of one of the New York 
papers at $10,000 to start with, at the same time mentioning his 
own "very large salary" and suggesting unlimited advancement. 
Should Watson accept, he believed, "Mr. Hearst would have 
a far stronger man than myself to help him in his fight." 4 He 
was finally persuaded to go to New York for an interview with 
Brisbane. The offer was repeated and urged upon him then and 
later, but nothing came of it. 

Watson nevertheless continued his advocacy of Hearst. In 
May, Grover Cleveland issued a statement explaining that when 
leaders "began to experience alarm over the strength this man 
Hearst was seemingly developing," he joined the Parker sup- 
porters, because it "appeared necessary to concentrate upon 
some available man in order to stifle the Hearst movement." 
Watson replied with a type of attack new to him then, but typi- 
cal of his tactics in the future. The attack was based upon al- 
leged instances of Cleveland's violation of the Southern attitude 
on "social equality" with Negroes. Cleveland denied the charges 
publicly and Watson repeated them loudly. 5 

As the time for the convention rolled around a conservative 
victory seemed inevitable. Even Hearst seemed to give up the 

The history of the People's party since 1896 had fulfilled 
Watson's blackest prophecies. More amusement than alarm was 

8 Herbert Croly, The Promise of American Life, pp. 163-167; Harry T. Peck, 
Twenty Years of the Republic, p. 711. 

4 Arthur Brisbane to T. E. W., June 23, 1904. 

5 Augusta Chronicle, April 11 and 28, 1904; Thomas W. Hardwick to T. E. W,, 
April 12, 1904. 


From Populism to Muckraking 

provoked by the party's part in the election of 1900, for it was 
split into two quarreling factions. The fusionists, with exemplary 
self-denial, nominated a Democrat and a Republican; the mid- 
roaders put forward a ticket dedicated to pure Populism. 
Neither faction won any victories of consequence. Watson took 
no part whatever in the campaign, and seemed to manifest no 
personal interest in the future of the party. 

The promise of a return to conservatism by the Democrats 
in 1904 revived Populist hopes greatly, however, for it was 
hoped that the Silver Democrats, and perhaps Bryan himself, 
could be persuaded to bolt their party for the sake of principles. 6 
With much optimism a call was issued for a convention in 
Springfield, Illinois, to meet two days before the Democratic 
convention opened at St. Louis. Although the call provided for 
over nine hundred delegates, only about two hundred appeared 
at Springfield, much to the disappointment of the leaders. The 
report of the committee on permanent organization made it 
readily apparent that the mid-road faction controlled the Con- 
vention, for all convention officers were of that wing. The 
Omaha platform of 1892 and subsequent ones were reaffirmed, 
and the new platform called for government ownership of pub- 
lic utilities and for strict control of corporations doing interstate 

Three names were placed before the Convention: that of 
Senator William V. Allen, who was present and spoke in defense 
of his record at the convention of 1896; that of Judge Samuel 
W. Williams of Indiana, also present; and that of Thomas E. 
Watson, who did not attend. John J. Hollaway, a Georgia dele- 
gate, made public a letter from Watson saying that he did not 
want the nomination. Before the balloting there was much dis- 
cussion of whether Watson would accept were Hearst nominated 
at St. Louis. The first ballot stood Watson 334, Allen 319, Wil- 
liams 45. Williams' withdrawal in favor of Watson started the 
shift of one delegation after another to his column. Finally the 
withdrawal of Allen's name and a motion by Williams made 
Watson's nomination unanimous by acclamation. 7 Thomas H. 
Tibbies of Lincoln, Nebraska, was named for the second place. 

6 William V. Allen, "A Western Statesman's Reasons for Supporting Hon. 
Thomas E. Watson," Arena, Vol. XXXII (Oct., 1904), p. 395-, 

7 Illinois State Register, July 5 and 6, 1904; New York Tribune, July 6, 1904. 


Torn Watson Agrarian Rebel 

The final scene, as described to Watson by one of the delegates, 
recalls some of the religious fervor of the early 'nineties. Men 
of all sections joined in a "general handshake with tears of joy 
in their eyes which shows the deep love and esteem you have 
from the patriotic people of America. " 8 

Letters and telegrams poured in upon Watson urging him to 
accept. "With me," he asserted, "the only question was: Do a 
sufficient number of old line Populists and free silver Democrats 
want this fight made. In reaching a conclusion upon that subject, 
I was guided by the evidence of general discontent with what 
had been done in the Democratic national convention." ° The 
work of the St. Louis Convention, following hard upon the Pop- 
ulist meeting, was a bitter dose for the Bryan Democrats. Sen- 
ator Tillman was seen "swearing and shedding floods of tears 
by turns." Judge Parker's famous "gold telegram" reversed the 
party's monetary doctrine; the platform was silent on silver; 
the demand for income tax was dropped. Cleveland's name was 
repeatedly cheered, and it was plain that Eastern Big Business 
leadership was in control. 

In view of the results at St. Louis Watson's nomination re- 
ceived serious attention in some circles. The New York Tribune 
thought it "a mistake for political prophets to class him as a 
negligible quantity," since he was "distinctly persona grata with 
the radical Democrats," and therefore likely to attract the many 
discontented of that party. 10 

Watson seems to have entertained few illusions. "Our papers 
are dead," he said. Indeed, of the fifteen hundred Populist 
papers that flourished in 1896, the party secretary could count 
only twenty-three in 1904. The nominee admitted that his party 
had "almost nothing to start with in the way of party organiza- 
tion, campaign funds and newspaper support," and there were 
only four months in which to work. 11 

Much hurried construction was begun in setting up abandoned 
party machinery in the states. The People's party campaign of 
1904, however, consisted almost entirely of the stump speeches 
of Tom Watson. The field was singularly free from competition 

8 John J. Hollaway, to T. E. W., July 8, 1904. 

9 Atlanta Journal, Aug. 22, 1906. 

10 New York Daily Tribune, July 8, 1904. 

"Dalton (Georgia) Herald, Aug. 25, 1904; Atlanta News, Nov. 14, 1904. 


From Populism to Muckraking 

in that respect: Roosevelt, being President, did not take the 
stump; Parker remained at home, speaking only to visiting 
delegations, and the more voluble and picturesque elements of 
the Democracy sulked in silence. Watson was a welcome relief 
in the dullest campaign in years. "Everybody with the least 
curiosity wants to hear Tom Watson," it was said. "The man 
who has no show is putting up the best show in this campaign." 
"He is entertaining; he does funny things with language, laughs 
himself and gives hilarity to his crowd." He indulged in con- 
siderable clowning: "Roosevelt could tie both hands behind 
him and run Parker clean out of the ring by shining his teeth at 
him," he said, with appropriate gestures. Laughter punctuated 
every sentence of some speeches, while in others he employed 
the uncanny magic he used in the 'nineties to galvanize demor- 
alized farmers into action. "There was no reason for them to 
be weeping," wrote a puzzled reporter; yet weep they did. 

Opening his campaign in Nebraska, he left no section un- 
visited, from Boston to California. He made three speeches in 
New York City : his acceptance speech at Cooper Union, another 
at a huge Union Labor banquet in his honor, and the third at a 
final rally, where he was introduced by Judge Samuel A. Sea- 
bury. Undaunted by the advice of his friends who told him 
that not a Watson man could be found in Chicago, he insisted on 
speaking there anyway. Clarence Darrow introduced him as "a 
beacon light to those in doubt," and he kept a large audience of 
Democrats doubled in laughter at the stupidities of their own 
party. 12 

Watson had much to say of the "System," using the word in 
the way Lincoln Steffens was using it at the time. "The 'system' 
has gotten its nominees; has captured both parties. No matter 
which is elected the system stands as it is." What if Morgan was 
pouring thousands into Roosevelt's campaign chest? Morgan 
partners were investing their money in Parker. It could make 
no difference to Wall Street which was elected. Roosevelt and 
Parker were "two drinks from the same jug," "two eggs from 
the same nest." A prohibition campaign led by the whiskey trust 
could be no more preposterous hypocrisy than Parker's "cam- 
paign against the corporations, financed and led by the Standard 

12 Clarence Darrow to T. E. W., July 17, 1904; T. E. W., Life and Speeches of 
Thomas E. Watson, pp. 190-244; clippings, Watson Scrapbooks. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Oil Company, the Sugar Trust, August Belmont and Arthur 
Gorman." 13 

It seemed to Watson a "colossal piece of effrontery" for the 
Democratic party to go before the American people and pro- 
claim that "for eight years they have been wrong and the Re- 
publicans have been right, and at the same time demand that the 
crowd which has been wrong shall be substituted for the party 
that has been right." How could the Democrats pretend to be a 
party of principle? In 1896 they had stolen his platform, and for 
eight years he had stepped aside, refusing to fire on his own 
colors. But at St. Louis they dropped his platform and stole the 
Republican platform. He picked up his standard where Bryan 
had dropped it and called upon all Jeffersonian Democrats to 
rally to it. Where else was there for them to go ? He repeated 
his cry of the Alliance days: "There is a party for Caesar, a 
party for Pompey, but no party for Rome." 14 

Watson frankly directed his entire appeal to the Bryan Demo- 
crats who were discontented with the reactionary leadership of 
their party. Exhaustively he campaigned his own section, laying 
every claim he could to Southern pride and allegiance to prin- 
ciple. It was not from the South, however, but from Illinois 
that a call was issued for a "convention of true Democrats." It 
repudiated the St. Louis Convention as a betrayal, "a Wall Street 
manoeuvre," and declared that "the true issue is that presented 
by Watson vs. Roosevelt." It commended "that distinguished 
author, statesman, lawyer, citizen, patriot and true Democrat, 
Thomas E. Watson, whose speech of acceptance at New York 
was and is the only Democratic utterance of any candidate for 
the chief magistracy." Nevertheless, "the only real Democratic 
convention of 1904" failed to materialize. 15 

Much depended upon the attitude Bryan would take. He had 
denounced the Parker movement before the convention as 
harshly as any Populist. Would he eat his words and support 
Parker for the sake of "regularity" ? At St. Louis Watson quoted 
Bryan's earlier statement that "Mr. Parker stands by the New 
York platform, which crooked Dave Hill had put together," 

18 T. E. W., ibid,, pp. 190-244, especially pp. 195, 229-230, 234-240. 

14 Ibid., pp. 210, 234, 238; MS. speeches, Watson MSS.; clippings, Watson Scrap- 
books; New York Tribune, Aug. 19 and Oct. 6 and 25, 1904. 

15 The Saturday News (Joliet, Illinois), Sept. 17, 1904. 


From Populism to Muckraking 

and swore that if there was any consistency in the man he would 
support the Populist ticket — even as Watson had supported 
Bryan in i896. ltt There was little chance that Bryan would turn 
Populist, but for some time it seemed that he might refrain 
from giving Parker active support. 

Thomas H. Tibbies, Populist candidate for Vice-President, 
who lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, informed Watson of a deal he 
had made with T. S. Allen, Bryan's brother-in-law. Tibbies 
agreed to support a Populist-Democratic fusion on the Nebraska 
state ticket, while Allen promised that Bryan would go to Ari- 
zona "and get sick," and refrain from making speeches for 
Parker. Bryan was said to be a candidate for the Senate. He did 
go to Arizona and "get sick." Later, however, when Allen went 
to New York, Bryan returned and took the stump for Parker. 17 
His speeches for the erstwhile minion of Wall Street were not 
lyrical in their praise — merely contending, for the most part, 
that where Parker's views were questionable, Roosevelt's were 
more so. More disastrous to the Populist hopes, however, was 
his treatment of Watson. Bryan not only denied Watson's alle- 
gation that consistency demanded his support of Populism, but 
told his followers that "Every vote for Watson is a vote for 
Roosevelt." 18 After a blow like this from a pretended friend, 
Populist hopes sank low. 

The election returns gave Watson a popular vote of 117,183. 
Bryan took pains to point out in his paper that it was "a vote 
much smaller than Populists, Democrats, and even Republicans 
expected him to receive," and drew the moral that it was "more 
charitable" to assume that "the reformers had personal con- 
fidence in Mr. Watson, but did not agree with him as to the best 
method of securing remedial legislation." 19 As a matter of fact 
Watson's vote was more than double that received by the Pop- 
ulist candidate in 1900. It was none the less a great disappoint- 
ment. Also dejected were the new Democrats, who suffered the 
worst defeat their party had had since 1872, failing to carry a 
state outside the South — and not all of the South. Discontent 
was largely expressed by abstention from voting. What defection 

16 MS. speech, delivered at St. Louis, Sept. 6, 1904, Watson MSS. 

17 Thomas H. Tibbies to T. E. W., Nov. 16, 1904. 

18 P. Hibben, op. cit, p. 257. 

19 Quoted by Watson, Tom Watson's Magazine, Vol. I (March, 1905), pp. 7-8. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

there was went not to Watson but chiefly to Eugene V. Debs, 
whose vote leaped from around 90,000 in 1900 to over 400,000. 
Watson confided his feelings to a comrade of the early 'nine- 
ties, C. C. Post. "If there ever was a time," he wrote, "when a 
Populist had no excuse whatever for voting the Democratic 
ticket it was this year, and I feel very keenly the defection of 
those who should have been more courageous." Bitterest of all, 
however, was the ingratitude of his own South, and of his state. 
"A great many of my old friends in Georgia went squarely back 
on me . . ." 20 How could such things be . . . not only a Yan- 
kee, but a damned Yankee, a Wall Street Yankee at that . . . 
He would speak to them, he announced, and they came, as they 
used to — by the hundreds to his doorstep. He lashed them furi- 
ously first for their apostasy, and then remonstrated rather 
hopelessly : 

You did not care to know anything about the platform, you didn't read 
it, you simply wanted to know if it was labeled "Democratic." Whether 
Peruna, or apple jack, or champagne, or cider, it did not matter what, you 
put the dear old jug up to your lips and just drank it down all the same. 21 

Consolation came from an unexpected quarter. During the 
campaign it was not in the South but in New York City that 
seven hundred plates were sold to a banquet in his honor. It was 
the New York headquarters that were "ablaze with electric and 
forensic lights and enthusiasm." General Weaver had made an 
unexpectedly good showing in New York in 1892, the peak year 
of Populism, but Watson had exceeded his mark in 1904. No 
campaigner had worked harder or more gallantly for a forlorn 
cause than Watson had that year. His fight, however, won more 
admiration than votes. There were more banquets and more 
ovations. At Chicago Elbert Hubbard, the eccentric editor of 
The Philistine, delivered an address entitled, "Thomas E. Wat- 
son of Georgia, a Producer of History as Well as a Producer of 
Literature and the Foremost Man of America." President 
Roosevelt even invited his erstwhile opponent to the White 
House for a conference, though Watson was unable to accept 

20 T. E. W. to C. C. Post, stenographers notes undated. 

21 MS. speech, delivered at Thomson, Nov. 19, 1904. Watson MSS. 


From Populism to Muckraking 

on account of illness. "You and I do not agree upon some fun- 
damental points," wrote the President, u but eight years ago I 
made up my mind that you were fearless, disinterested and in- 
corruptible ; and with all Americans who possess these qualities 
I earnestly hope that I may claim some right of spiritual kin." M 

Watson found it as easy to pack Cooper Union after the elec- 
tion as during the campaign. Cooper Union was known as "an 
edifice of protest" in that day, and the crowds that came to hear 
him illustrated the spirit of the times. One meeting at which he 
spoke was presided over by James Graham Phelps Stokes, "the 
millionaire settlement worker," and a contributor to his cam- 
paign fund, shortly to marry Rose Pastor, "the working girl 
poetess of the Ghetto." Mayor-elect Edward F. Dunne of Chi- 
cago, advocate of municipal ownership of public utilities, also 
spoke. Judge Samuel Seabury was present. Single taxers, munic- 
ipal reformers, socialists, and "suffragettes" joined in cheering a 
Georgia Populist. 23 

American democracy was in ferment in 1905, and strangely 
varied elements were thrown together by the fermentation. 
Municipal reformers, settlement house workers, budget experts, 
conservationists, advocates of direct legislation, workmen's com- 
pensation laws, mothers' assistance, and a thousand other re- 
forms, all became vocal and simultaneously joined in the march. 
It was spoken of generally as "the reform movement," and its 
proponents were known as "progressives." They had great faith 
in what Herbert Croly was pleased to call "the orderly processes 
of reform." Although the movement was Populistic in ideology 
and in heritage, its members, unlike the Populists, never for- 
mulated a platform. They submitted to no party discipline. They 
had no recognized leaders. 

It was before such a group that Watson analyzed the results 
of the election of 1904 and made an appeal for unity. "Who 
gained ground by that contest?" he asked. His answer was, "The 

Suppose Eugene Debs had not made his splendid fight; suppose I had 
failed to answer the call of the Springfield convention, does anyone be- 

22 Theodore Roosevelt to T. E. W., Nov. 30, 1904; T. E. W. to Roosevelt, Dec. 6, 
1904, Roosevelt MSS., Washington, D.C. 

23 New York World, April 9, 1905. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

lieve that Congress would now be so eagerly interested in reform . . . ? 

What then is the hope of the country? 

The union of all the reformers. 

We must draw from the Republican party those who oppose class law 
and money-bag aristocracy. We must draw from the Democratic party 
every true hearted man who puts Jeffersonian principle above party dicta- 
tion. We must gather into one compact, aggressive movement all patriots, 
no matter what they call themselves, who are broad-minded enough to agree 
upon essential reforms which are in the reach of this generation. 24 

While he was in New York Watson was approached by W. D. 
Mann, the promoter of Smart Set and Town Topics, with the 
proposal that Watson assume the editorship of a magazine, the 
launching of which Mann would finance. Presumably Mann 
was not unaware of the unexploited potentialities of a hundred 
thousand Populist voters, since Charles Q. DeFrance, secretary 
of the People's Party Executive Committee, was suggested as 
circulation manager of the proposed magazine. Watson found 
the proposal more attractive than Hearst's offer for a number of 
reasons. The magazine was to bear his own name; its policies, 
ideas, and politics were to be dominated by his personality. Fur- 
thermore, it would be possible for him to edit the magazine from 
Hickory Hill. With the understanding that he was to receive 
$500 a month and expenses for trips between Georgia and New 
York, he accepted the offer. 25 

The magazine of exposure, or muckraking, was just attaining 
its most sensational development in 1905. Ida M. Tarbell's ex- 
pose of the Standard Oil Company began to appear in McClure's 
in 1903 ; Lincoln Steffens' Shame of the Cities began in the same 
magazine in 1904, and Ray Stannard Baker's Railroads on Trial 
in 1905. Everybody's presented Thomas W. Lawson's Frenzied 
Finance in 1905. Like the reform movement, of which it was a 
part, muckraking sprouted from the seeds of Populism. Whereas 
Populism produced only one first-rate journal of protest, the 
Arena (to which Watson had contributed), the muckrakers had 
a dozen by 1905. There was another difference. Where the Popu- 
list literature framed its criticisms in general abstract terms, the 
muckrakers called names and exposed specific abuses with docu- 

24 T. E. W., Life and Speeches, p. 256. 

25 Tom Watson's Magazine, Vol. VI, pp. 1-2; Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, 
Vol. I, p. 1. 


From Populism to Muckraking 

merited facts. 26 Nowhere is the nexus between the two movements 
more concretely illustrated than in their confluence in Watson's 

The first number of Tom Watson's Magazine bore the date of 
March, 1905. The title was boldly printed in large blue letters 
upon a red cover decorated with a drawing of the Liberty Bell. 
An edition of 100,000 copies, at ten cents each, was sold out in 
twenty-four hours, and another had to be printed. In six months 
the magazine had a list of 10,000 paid subscribers. 27 It was lib- 
erally, and sometimes exorbitantly, praised in a surprising va- 
riety of quarters. "Tom Watson, in his magazine, writes the best 
editorials that are published in the United States," said the New 
York American. 2 * Judge Ben B. Lindsey wrote Watson: "I find 
much help in reading your wonderful editorials, in which it 
seems to me you more clearly present present-day difficulties than 
any editorial writer in this country." Lindsey thought Watson's 
"splendid sincerity and courage and pluck in the fight for decency 
and right" was an "inspiration for every man in this country." 29 
A contemporary Horace Mann was convinced that the editor 
was "guided by the everlasting stars of Truth and Right." 30 

Theodore Dreiser was a frequent contributor to early num- 
bers, and Edgar Lee Masters, Edwin Markham, and Maxim 
Gorky found their way into Tom Watson's Magazine. For the 
most part, however, its literary offerings were third-rate and 
worse. There were occasional articles of exposure by such men 
as Clarence Darrow and Samuel A. Seabury, but these were not 
featured, and were of minor importance. 

The soul of Tom Watson's Magazine plainly resided in the 
Tom Watson editorials, which monopolized the first thirty 
pages, or nearly a fourth, of every number. The policy was Pop- 
ulist in creed, of course, but with a hospitable attitude toward 
"reformers" and "progressives" of many stripes as well as to- 
ward their sundry causes. Watson's editorials dealt with the 

26 C. C. Regier, The Era of the Muckrakers, p. 49 ; John Chamberlain, Farewell 
to Reform, pp. 128-129. 

27 Charles Q. DeFrance to T. E. W., Aug. 25, 1905. 

28 New York American, Aug. 6, 1905. 

29 Ben B. Lindsey to T. E. W., Jan. 23, 1907. 

30 Horace Mann to T. E. W., July 31, 1905; editorial, Buffalo Progress, July 27, 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

same material that absorbed the attention of muckrakers, but in 
a different way. Where the muckraker was content to expose, 
Watson was moved to flay, and ridicule, and denounce, and 
abuse in a manner marvelous to behold. In castigating the frauds 
of the Equitable Life Assurance Society, for example, he took 
occasion to refer to u a sleek old Oily Gammon, named Chauncey 
Depew," and "Thomas F. Ryan, the very embodiment of com- 
mercial greed." He proposed to beard such "shameless, unprin- 
cipled, lawbreaking robbers," and say to them, "if you don't 
drop the stolen goods I will rouse your victims till they rise in 
the elemental wrath of human nature and string you up to the 
nearest lamp-post." 31 He served similar notice from time to time 
upon a host of villains : corporation lobbyists, "the Standard Oil 
crowd," "the Gas Trust thieves," franchise grabbers, Wall Street 
bankers, "the professional boodler and grafter in both the old 
parties." Let them quake in their boots before the wrath of an 
indignant people. 

The cartoonist, Gordon Nye, admirably caught the spirit of 
the editorials, which he illustrated with leering plutocrats (clad 
uniformly in suits checked with dollar marks and skull-and- 
bones), all of bulging paunch and money bag. 

The temperate reformer and the scholarly muckraker doubt- 
less viewed with alarm some of the vagaries of their Populist 
recruit. Muckrakers had exposed Sam Spencer of Georgia as the 
organizer of a systematic scheme of bribing the public press in 
behalf of Morgan railroad interests, but it remained for Tom 
Watson to suggest that a continuation of the good work begun 
by pen and ink might be made with a length of hempen rope : 

Sam Spencer calls Rate Regulation by Government LYNCH LAW. 
Let Sam Spencer beware . . . ! 

Revolutions have been; revolutions may be again. 

When crime runs riot and courts are powerless, it may be that the 
people will rise up in their natural right as a Society, and do swift justice 
upon criminals taken red-handed . . Z 2 

In regard to political developments of the time, Watson was 
alternately elated by the mighty words, and goaded to distrac- 
tion by the mild performance of President Roosevelt. "In case 
of blood poison," he admonished, "shinplasters for surface ab- 

81 Tom Watson's Magazine, Vol. II (Aug., 1905), pp. 135 and 139. 

82 Tom Watson's Magazine, Vol. Ill (Dec, 1905), p. 154. 


From Populism to Muckraking 

rasions never yet saved the patient; and Mr. Roosevelt's plans 
for another tribunal to control the railroads are mere shinplas- 
ters." 83 Woodrow Wilson was quoted as saying, "Trusts can 
never be abolished. We must moralize them." The vials of Wat- 
son's wrath, already stirred by Wilson's slight to Southern glory, 
were quite overturned: 

How will you do it, impractical prig? 

Mr. Rockefeller is moral, isn't he? Goes to church every Sunday . . . 

Go back to thy gerund-grinding, Woodrow — thou insufferable, im- 
practical prig. Among the dead Greeks and the extinct Romans thy labors 
may, haply, be useful; but when thou comest among the practical men of 
today seeking to master actual conditions and to take part in the great 
battle of thought, motive and purpose which rages around us, thou art 
but "a babby, and a gal babby at that." 34 

Along with other reformers and progressives and muckrak- 
ers, however, Watson shared the sanguine faith that "education 
and agitation" would in no distant future put to rout the evil- 
doers and restore the democracy to its pristine purity. Perhaps 
he would at times assist Mr. Croly's "orderly processes of re- 
form" with a little lyncher's hemp. For all that, he believed that 
"The day of the Common People is at hand, for the Masses are 
being educated as never before." 85 

88 Ibid., Vol. I (April, 1905), pp. 136-137. 

84 hoc. cit. 

* 5 Ibid., Vol. II (July, 1905), p. n. 



Reform and Reaction 

As he campaigned the South in the forlorn crusade of 1904, 
jTjl Watson was confronted in state after state with a revival 
of the Democratic dialectic of the 'nineties. It varied not at all. 
An editor in Houston, Texas, saw behind Populism "the omi- 
nous shadow of negro domination," and an editor in Augusta, 
Georgia, saw the same apparition and described it in exactly 
the same words. u The argument against the independent politi- 
cal movement in the South," wrote Watson in 1892, "may be 
boiled down to one word — nigger." 1 If twelve years had worked 
no change upon his Nemesis, they had had their effect upon Tom 

In Atlanta he threw before the Democrats a challenge and a 
promise. He was "not at all afraid of any negro domination in 
the South," and never had been. Furthermore, he believed that 
"the cry that we are in danger from 'the nigger' is the most 
hypocritical that unscrupulous leadership could invent." What 
could the Negro do? He had been disfranchised in nearly every 
state in the South except Georgia. There he had been "white 
primaried." If the Democrats were honest in their fears, why 
did they not write the principle of the white primary into the 
state constitution, as other states had done ? He would tell them : 
"In Georgia they do not dare to disfranchise him [the Negro], 
because the men who control the democratic machine in Georgia 
know that a majority of the whites are against them. They need 
the negro to beat us with." The white primary, being nothing 
more than a party custom, could be shelved at any time the ma- 
chine needed the Negro vote. He therefore pledged his support, 

1 P. P. P., Aug. 26, 1892. 


Reform and Reaction 

and the support of the Populists, to any anti-machine, Demo- 
cratic candidate running upon a suitable platform that included 
a pledge to "a change in our Constitution which will perpetuate 
white supremacy in Georgia." 2 

How Watson managed to reconcile his radical democratic doc- 
trine with a proposal to disfranchise a million citizens of his 
native state is not quite clear. When South Carolina, under the 
leadership of Ben Tillman, changed its constitution in 1895 with 
the avowed purpose of disfranchising the Negro, Watson wrote 
an indignant editorial : 

All this re-actionary legislation is wrong. 

There can be no sound principle, consistent with our democratic theory 
of government, which says that a negro worth $300 is a better citizen 
than one worth $200. ... 

The whole scheme of the democrats of South Carolina is to perpetuate 
the rule of their party. . . . 

Old fashioned democracy taught that a man who fought the battles 
of his country, and paid the taxes of his government, should have a vote 
in the choosing of rulers and the making of laws. 8 

Watson, nevertheless, repeated and underscored his offer to 
the Democrats after the 1904 campaign ended. Later he ex- 
panded his reasons. "The white people dare not revolt so long 
as they can be intimidated by the fear of the negro vote," he 
explained. Once the "bugaboo of negro domination" was re- 
moved, however, "every white man would act according to his 
own conscience and judgment in deciding how he shall vote." 4 
With these words Watson abandoned his old dream of uniting 
both races against the enemy, and took his first step toward the 
opposite extreme in racial views. There was another considera- 
tion which he did not mention. With the Negro vote eliminated, 
Watson and the Populists stood in much the same relation to- 
ward the two factions of the Democratic party as the Negro had 
occupied toward Populists and Democrats : they held the balance 
of power. 

Watson's offer did not long go begging. 

Since 1898, when the Populists had last put forth a state ticket, 

2 Watson's offer to support a disfranchisement program -was printed by none of 
the papers reporting the speech, but vide MS. Speech, Aug. i, 1904, Watson papers. 
Constitution, Sept. 2, 1904; Atlanta News, Sept. 2, 1904. 

8 P. P. P., Nov. 8, 1895. 

4 Atlanta Journal, July 27, 1906; vide also: Weekly Jefiersonian, March 24, 1910. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

a succession of staunchly conservative governors had ruled the 
state. They belonged to that wing of the party which, since the 
'seventies, had been hospitable toward Northern capital, and 
friendly to corporate interests, especially the railroads. Resist- 
ance to the dominance of this wing had reached its lowest ebb in 
1904, when the candidate had been reelected without opposition. 
In the spring of 1905, more than a year before the next election, 
Clark Howell announced himself as a candidate for the guberna- 
torial nomination. A logical successor in the scheme of office ro- 
tation, Howell had back of him a long record of party service 
and the support of the conservative machine. His prospects could 
hardly have been fairer. 

Early in 1905, Thomas W. Hardwick, congressman from 
Watson's district, and a representative of the opposition to the 
Howell faction, came to Watson to discuss the proposal con- 
cerning disfranchisement. Together they worked out a platform 
combining that issue with several reform demands for railroad 
regulation, and agreed upon Pope Brown as a suitable candidate. 
Then shortly after Watson's support of his candidacy became 
known, Pope Brown withdrew from the race in favor of Hoke 
Smith. It later developed that Brown took this step because he 
received from Hardwick the impression that Watson desired it. 5 

Watson was left in perplexity after this maneuver, and for 
several months he refused to commit himself. There had been 
political enmity between Watson and Hoke Smith ever since the 
'nineties, when, as a member of Cleveland's cabinet, Smith had 
led the gold forces in Georgia. It had not been six months since 
Watson had written the editor of the Atlanta Journal, with 
which Smith had long been associated, asking that his name be 
removed from the circulation list. He explained: "In this cam- 
paign you have pursued me with such bitter vindictiveness that 
I can no longer accept any favor at your hands." 6 The editor 
was doubtless justified in denying the charge. Tom Watson was 
ever quick in perceiving injury and ever slow in forgiving. 

On the other hand, there were certain forces at work to draw 
Smith and Watson together. Since the subsidence of the silver 
issue, Howell and Smith had reversed positions with respect to 
relative conservatism. The critical issue now was government 

5 Pope Brown to T. E. W., Feb. 22, 1908. 

6 Quoted in the editors reply: J. R. Gray to T. E. W., Nov. 14, 1904. 


Reform and Reaction 

control and ownership, and Hoke Smith, an anti-corporation 
lawyer, was far in advance of Howell upon this question. In 
1902 he had joined Watson in speaking before the Georgia legis- 
lature in support of a bill prohibiting child labor. 7 For years he 
had been fighting the state machine in the columns of the At- 
lanta Journal, a rival of Howell's Constitution. He charged that 
the machine was owned by the railroads and that the state rail- 
way commission served the railroads. He pointed out rate 
discriminations, abuses, and corrupting influences. Smith's plat- 
form for 1906 might have been written by a Populist. It con- 
tained demands for primaries to nominate by popular vote all 
officers, including senators ; for the abolition of poll-workers and 
the disfranchisement of vote-buyers; for a stringent corrupt 
practices act; for making pass-giving and lobbying a crime; for 
compulsory domestication of Georgia railroads and their submis- 
sion to state courts and to heavier taxation; for an elective rail- 
way commission; and for state ownership of railroads. 8 

It was the heyday of the reform governor — La Follette of 
Wisconsin, Folk of Missouri, Colby of New Jersey — and Smith 
of Georgia was hailed by national reformers as one of that num- 
ber. Herbert Quick said that Smith wrote "the most radical 
platform ever adopted, with perhaps one exception, by a state 
convention of either of the two great parties of these times." 
Smith "has no corporation collar. He is a successful party revo- 
lutionist." 9 There was one plank of Smith's platform that struck 
his Progressive admirers as a bit incongruous. Yet it was the one 
singled out to appear day after day in bold-faced capital letters 
on the editorial page of the Journal: he favored "THE ELIM- 

While Watson hesitated over his decision, James K. Hines, 
Populist candidate for governor in 1894, urged him to come out 
for Smith. Hines would go even further. "Let us accept the in- 
vitation, often extended by both factions, to come home," he 
wrote. "Let us take charge of the Democratic Party in Georgia 

7 T. E. W., Life and Speeches of Thomas E. Watson, pp. 184-189. 

8 Augusta Herald, June 29, 1905; Herbert Quick, "Hoke Smith and the Revolu- 
tion in Georgia," The Reader, Vol. X (Aug., 1907), pp. 241-247. 

9 H. Quick, op. cit., p. 241. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

and make it the People's Party." Again he wrote: "You are 
stronger than any man in Georgia. When Mr. Stephens quit the 
whigs and joined the democrats he justified himself by saying 
that the democrats had come to him. Much more true is it, that 
the democrats have come to you." 10 Hardwick served as a zeal- 
ous intermediary between Hickory Hill and the Atlanta Jour- 
nal. He begged Watson to tell him "exactly what reparation 
you think Mr. Smith ought to make" and he would "get Mr. 
Smith and the Journal to do the right thing." u It appeared that 
a number of "reparations" were required, as well as some changes 
in the platform. They were all eagerly made, however : Smith's 
in public speeches, the Journal's in an editorial actually written 
by Hardwick. 12 

On September 12 Watson wrote Smith promising his support, 
and in the October number of his magazine, widely circulated in 
Georgia at Smith's expense, made public his position. He first 
reminded his followers that Smith and Howell "were both rock- 
ribbed, moss-backed, unterrified Democrats" and mortal enemies 
of Populism back in the 'nineties. "But times have changed," he 
said. "If . . . [Smith] can do for Georgia what La Follette has 
done for Wisconsin and Folk has done for Missouri, he will be- 
come a heroic figure in the eyes of reformers throughout the 
land. No matter how faulty his record in the past may have been, 
he is hitting the bull's-eye this time." Cautious in his commit- 
ments at first, he refused to say he would vote for Smith. Later 
he plunged in more wholeheartedly. He was still a Populist, and 
he refused to commit himself two years in advance to the Na- 
tional Democratic ticket, but he pledged the Populists not to put 
out a state ticket, and to abide by the result of the white pri- 
mary. "I am going to vote for Hoke Smith," he finally de- 
clared. "And I appeal to every Populist of McDuffie and the 
surrounding counties, and every Populist throughout the state 
... to follow me now; and if it turns out I am wrong then 
punish me hereafter by never listening to me with respect upon 
any issue." 13 

Smith was profuse in his expressions of gratitude. "I cannot 

10 James K. Hines to T. E. W., June 8 and Dec. 9, 1905, and July 12, 1906. 

11 Thomas W. Hardwick to T. E. W., June 26, 1905. 

12 Ibid., Aug. 9, 1905. 
"Atlanta Journal, Aug. 7, 1906. 


Reform and Reaction 

tell you how much I appreciate your cooperation," he wrote, 
and he told of how his campaign had undergone a rejuvenation 
the moment Watson's support was made public. 14 Continuous 
correspondence was kept up between the two throughout the 
campaign, and whole pages of the Journal were given over to 
Watson's opinions. Was it reported that the farmers of north 
Georgia suspected Negro disfranchisement of being a scheme to 
disfranchise illiterate whites ? Off went Watson to reassure them. 
Were the Populists in the South rebellious at voting for a former 
gold bug? Watson was there to tell them that "Hoke Smith is 
trying to do what we want done and cannot do ourselves." 

The campaign was the hottest since the 'nineties, and judging 
from the nature of Howell's attack, one might suppose Watson 
was the candidate instead of Smith. Smith was declared to be a 
"demagogue" and a "Muckraker" who was "run by Tom Wat- 
son." He had "surrendered his convictions and his democratic 
allegiance to Tom Watson for the latter's support." In a sur- 
prisingly accurate prophecy, the Constitution predicted: "The 
spectacle of Tom Watson controlling the machinery of the Dem- 
ocratic party — and at the same time remaining an open and 
avowed populist — is one which the Democrats of this state may 
have to endure." 15 Some of the edge of this attack was taken off 
when Watson made public a letter from Clark Howell to him 
begging an interview before Watson had sided with Smith. 16 

As for Smith, he "wouldn't give Tom Watson for the whole 

The executive committee of the Democratic party, under con- 
trol of the Howell wing, attempted to rule Populists out of the 
party primary by requiring that all ballots bear the following 
inscription: "By voting this ticket, I hereby declare that I am an 
organized Democrat, and I hereby pledge myself to support the 
organized Democracy, both state and national." 17 The ruling 
was loudly denounced by Watson and Smith, however, and 
failed in its purpose. 

The foremost issue of the campaign was the question of Negro 
disfranchisement. None of Howell's objections to the measure 

14 Hoke Smith to T. E. W., Sept. 16, 1905 and Dec. 19, 1905. 

15 Constitution, June 24 and Aug. 3 and 5, 1906 ; Macon Telegraph, Aug. 5, 1906. 

16 Clark Howell to T. E. W., Aug. 4, 1905 ; Atlanta Journal, Jan. 13, 1906. 

17 A. M. Arnett, op. cit., p. 221 ; Constitution, Aug. 3, 1906. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

was aimed at the principle of disfranchisement, but merely at its 
effectiveness. It would disfranchise illiterate whites while allow- 
ing educated Negroes to vote; it had failed of its purpose in 
Alabama, and it encouraged Negroes to climb out of their 
"place" into the ranks of the literate. 

The most serious tactical blunder made by Howell and his 
friends was their attempt to defend the corporations and rail- 
roads upon whom Watson and Smith made war. Charles R. 
Pendleton, editor of the Macon Telegraph, launched a bitter 
personal attack on Watson and undertook to answer his editorial 
onslaughts upon Samuel Spencer, president of the Southern 
Railroad, a Morgan subsidiary. The attack precipitated a cloud- 
burst of railroad-denunciation from Watson. Wall Street's 
plundering of Southern railroads — the stock frauds, illegal com- 
binations, extortionate rates, criminal negligence — were already 
a familiar story. 18 But no one could make these villainies quite so 
heinous, nor the villains quite so monstrous as Tom Watson. It 
was a specialty with him. Early in 1905 he had pronounced J. P. 
Morgan "the absolute king of the railroads in Georgia" "He 
makes the Governor," Watson charged, "controls the legislature, 
overrides the commission and tramples the Constitution of the 
State under his feet." Samuel Spencer's crime, moreover, was 
"unnatural as well as heinous." "He is the Sepoy, the hireling of 
a foreign master, trained, uniformed, armed and paid to conquer 
and plunder his own people. A Southern man, he has looted the 
South; a Georgian, he has robbed Georgia." When Watson read 
Spencer's report of a 525 per cent increase in net earnings in 
eleven years his indignation was "deep and hot," and he wrote: 

Those eleven years rose up in perspective before me, and the awful 
MEANS by which Sam Spencer had reached that END stalked by 
like a procession of spectres. The frightful loss of human life; the bribing 
of politicians ; the corrupting of men in power ; the violation of state laws 
and Federal statutes ; the disregard for the rights of shippers and passengers ; 
the discriminations which have ruined whole communities ; the extortionate 
charges which have beggared individuals . . . the defiance of State Com- 
missions and of public opinion; the overwork and underpay of the men 
who bear the brunt of the toil. . . . 

Watson declared that "we lost fewer lives to the invading host 
of Sherman's army than we have lost to the railroads" during 

18 Lewis Corey, The House of Morgan, pp. 381-382. 


Reform and Reaction 

Spencer's regime. He demonstrated that the railroads owned 
considerable stock in the Macon Telegraph, and turned furi- 
ously upon the editor: "you hypocrite, you sneak, you corpora- 
tion slave . . ." 19 

Joel Chandler Harris's Populist character, "Mr. Billy San- 
ders," summed up the old guard's response to Watson's cam- 
paign: "I'll tell you the honest truth; thar ain't skacely a night 
passes that I ain't rid by some red-eyed trust or 'nother, an' ef 
'tain't a trust, then it's some villainous railroad corporation; an' 
that's lots wuss'n a trust, bekeze the trains is allers late, an' 
they've got a habit of switchin' back'erds and forrerds on the pit 
of my stomach — I reckon they think it's some new kind of a 
turn-table." 20 

The primary election resulted in an overwhelming victory for 
Hoke Smith. How much of the credit was due Tom Watson is, 
of course, difficult to estimate. "To swing 90,000 populists to 
your candidate [Smith] required the hardest fighting I had done 
since 1892," wrote Watson, and surely his efforts were not 
wasted. However the votes were obtained, there is less doubt 
about the issues, for they were clearly Watson issues. Some of 
the sweetness of victory was soured for Watson by his failure to 
carry his own county, after he had made a special effort to do 
so. In general, however, he was much elated by the turn events 
were taking. Pointing out that Smith was making "the same 
fight we used to make," that President Roosevelt had put his 
hands to "the same work we wanted to do," and that "the Bryan 
boom for 1908 lashes itself to the most radical plank of the Pop- 
ulist platform," he concluded that "the skies do verily begin to 
redden . . . for the glorious coming of morning." 21 

There was a tragic sequel to the election — the Atlanta race 
riot of 1906. Its mention gains pertinence in view of the future 
history of Watson and of Watsonism. "Everybody knew that 
the Disfranchisement issue was the cause of our success," wrote 
Watson. During the campaign the papers of Atlanta were almost 
daily filled with sensational stories of Negro atrocities. Lynch- 

19 T. E. W., "Clark Howell's Defense of the Corporation," Tom Watson*s Maga- 
zine, Vol. IV (March, 1906), pp. 1-8; "Sam Spencer," ibid., Vol. IV (April, 1906), 
pp. 161-165; Atlanta Journal, July 13 and Aug. 11, 1906. 

20 Joel Chandler Harris, "Mr. Billy Sanders," Uncle Remus Magazine, Vol. I, 
No. 4 (Sept., 1907)- 

21 Atlanta Journal, July 13, 1906. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

ing was openly advocated and frequently practiced. A concerted 
crusade of race bigotry and hatred was preached. Partly it was 
the result of newspaper rivalry, augmented by the recent intru- 
sion of Hearst into Atlanta, but the political significance was 
readily apparent. An editorial of the Atlanta Journal, one of 
the milder papers, indicates the trend. It was printed in bold- 
face capitals: 

Political equality being thus preached to the negro in the ring papers 
and on the stump, what wonder that he makes no distinction between 
political and social equality. He grows more bumptious on the street. More 
impudent in his dealings with white men; and then, when he cannot 
achieve social equality as he wishes, with the instinct of the barbarian to 
destroy what he cannot attain to, he lies in wait, as that dastardly brute 
did yesterday near this city, and assaults the fair young girlhood of the 
south. . . . It is time for those who know the perils of the negro problem 
to stand together with deep resolve that political power shall never give 
the negro encouragement in his foul dreams of a mixture of races. 22 

Watson employed the same appeal in his speeches for Smith. 

A few days after the election the riot broke upon the streets 
of Atlanta. It raged for four days. Innocent men and women 
were hunted by packs and shot down in the streets of the city. 
Destruction, looting, robbery, murder, and unspeakable brutality 
went unrestrained. A committee of indignant citizens was 
shocked that "the small minority which constitutes the tough ele- 
ment was allowed to crucify this community in the eyes of the 
world . . ." 28 The "tough element" expressed no regrets. It 
wrote no editorials. 

Between the role of national reformer and the role of de- 
fender of White Supremacy stretched an embarrassing hiatus. 
Faithful readers of Tom Watson's Magazine might now find 
wedged between a defense of the Russian revolutionists and 
an attack on Wall Street such editorials as one entitled "The 
Ungrateful Negro." 24 Watson closed an editorial attacking 
Booker T. Washington with the remark: 

22 Atlanta Journal, Aug. x, 1906. 

28 Glenn W. Rainey, "The Atlanta Race Riot of 1906" (Master's thesis, Emory 
University), passim; Constitution, Dec. 29, 1906. 
24 Tom Watson's Magazine, Vol. IV (April, 1906), pp. 165-174. 


Reform and Reaction 

What does Civilization owe to the negro? 
Nothing 1 ! 
NOTHING! ! I 25 

This editorial was more widely quoted in the South, especially 
in Georgia, than anything he wrote. The response of the reform- 
ers and progressives, on the other hand, ranged from bewilder- 
ment to dismay in tone. "It is all so disappointing," wrote a 
Southern woman. "I thought I'd struck the magazine, the writer, 
and the reformer after my own heart." 26 A Northern reformer 
wrote Watson: Your position on the Negro puts you in "the 
same category with the men you censure," very close, indeed, to 
"a professed politician merely out for his own advantage." 27 
Upton Sinclair wrote a long letter of remonstrance. Thomas H. 
Tibbies reported that "the Populists are all at sea over the negro 
question in the South and are writing to me about it." 28 

The tenuous lines that Watson had tied between National 
Progressivism and Southern Agrarianism — practically the only 
prospect of a bond between them — had snapped under the ten- 
sion of the race issue. 

The strained lines between Fifth Avenue and Hickory Hill 
were burdened with more than ideological tension by this time. 
Differences between the editor and the New York office of the 
magazine over matters of management and business were con- 
stantly arising, and heated disputes were conducted by mail. 
Each side had just grievances. Watson was unable to collect 
$9,000 of salary due him, and he discovered that Mann's busi- 
ness reputation was not what it might have been. 29 He was em- 
barrassed when forced by Clark Howell to admit that Mann's 
Town Topics, a scandal publication, owned a majority of the 
stock of Tom Watson's Magazine. He had endless complaints 
to make concerning details. 80 Mann and those of the staff who 

25 Ibid., Vol. I (June, 1905), p. 298. 

26 Mrs. Martin Singer to T. E. W., May 27, 1905. 

27 James F. Morton, Jr. to T. E. W., Jan. 6, 1905. 

28 Upton Sinclair to T. E. W., June 25, 1905; Thomas H. Tibbies to T. E. W., 
Oct. 8, 1906. 

^Arthur Brisbane to T. E. W., Jan. 12, 1906. Brisbane warned Watson that 
Mann was unreliable. 

80 T. E. W., "Foreword," Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, Vol. I (Jan., 1907), 
pp. 1-28. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

sided with him said that Watson was "too dogmatic, abusive and 
narrow in his relations with other reformers and radicals." Their 
more pertinent, as well as more justifiable, complaint, however, 
was that he was dictatorial, quarrelsome, and "a difficult person 
to work with." They also resented his proclaiming, "I am this 
Magazine" 81 The upshot of the dispute was Watson's with- 
drawal from the editorship in October, 1906. 

In January appeared the first number of Watson's Jeflerso- 
nian Magazine. A surfeited public might now choose between 
two Watson magazines. The New York competitor, however, 
after two more numbers, gave up the attempt to produce a Tom 
Watson Magazine without Tom Watson. "Hamlet with the 
Prince of Denmark left out!" jeered Watson. He appealed to 
all loyal followers to help him "down that brace of rascals in 
New York." The appeal was significant, for the new magazine 
took a more sectional, as well as a more personal tone. It was 
published in Atlanta, and Watson was proclaimed "Editor and 
Proprietor." The cover was decorated with a drawing of Monti- 
cello and an inset portrait of Jefferson. Gradually, national is- 
sues and national reforms gave way in the magazine to sectional 
issues and Southern concerns. No issue, whether national or sec- 
tional, however, was given precedence over the burning issue of 
Tom Watson. One number of the magazine contained seven 
pictures of the Editor and Proprietor (two on horseback), and 
two pictures of Hickory Hill, to say nothing of a number of 
pictures of the Watson household of three generations, and 
several Watson servants. 82 Had there been any possible necessity 
for it, Watson could now have said without the remotest fear 
of contradiction, "I am this Magazine." 

In October, 1906, he had begun the publication of a news- 
paper, the Weekly Jefersonian. Since it was devoted more to 
Watson's editorials than to news, its subsequent change in format 
to a three column journal, and the change in name to Watson's 
Jefersonian Weekly were not inappropriate. 

The use of the mailing lists of the Atlanta Journal was doubt- 
less of no little assistance in the launching of two periodicals by 

81 "Explanatory," Watson's Magazine, Vol. VI (Nov., 1906), p. 1. 

82 Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, Vol. I (Feb., 1907), passim, 


Reform and Reaction 

one man within two months' time. The lists were obtained 
through the courtesy of Governor-elect Hoke Smith. 33 

"You are a hard man to get along with — almost an impossi- 
bility," wrote a member of the staff of the original magazine to 
Watson. 34 He was not the first to find this so — nor the last. The 
complaint recurs again and again in Watson's correspondence: 
complaints of "language that was marked by coldness and blunt- 
ness," of "the extreme anger displayed in your letter," of "bad 
humor," of "an unfriendly spirit." The complainants ranged 
from William Jennings Bryan to the secretary of a college de- 
bating society. 35 There was something elemental and inexplica- 
ble about his wrath that in some instances defies analysis. It was 
most regularly provoked, however, when his will was crossed by 
one whom he considered under obligation to him. There were 
times when he showed remarkable restraint, but these instances 
were fewer now than in the earlier part of his career. 

Relations between the governor-elect and his Populist ally con- 
tinued cordial. Smith acknowledged his obligation and empha- 
sized his gratitude to Watson repeatedly by letter. "Your gen- 
erous support during this race I can never forget," he wrote. 
Again: "I appreciate more than I can tell you the broad line 
upon which you planted your position." 86 He also saw to it that 
public acknowledgment of Watson's assistance was made in the 
Atlanta Journal™ He invited Watson to visit in his home in 
Atlanta and discuss plans for the coming administration, and he 
sent his son to visit at Hickory Hill. 38 As plans were shaped for 
the new legislature they were sent to Thomson with urgent re- 
quests for suggestions. "We are trying to have ready a bill cov- 
ering every provision of the platform adopted at Macon to meet 

33 Thomas W. Hardwick to T. E. W., Sept. 30, 1906; J. R. Gray (Editor of 
Journal) to T. E. W., Aug. 28, 1906. 

34 Charles Q. DeFrance to T. E. W., Oct. 15, 1906. 
85 Correspondence, 1895-1908, Watson MSS. 

36 Hoke Smith to T. E. W., June 29, 1906; July 29, 1906. 

37 Editorial, Atlanta Journal, Aug. 23, 1906. 

38 Hoke Smith to T. E. W., Dec. 30, 1906. 

33 1 

Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

our promises to the people," wrote Smith, enclosing with his 
letter an important bill. 89 

In both his publications Watson gave the new administration 
his unstinted endorsement. He heralded Smith's inauguration 
with enthusiasm: 

Last year we fought it out in Georgia, and we whipped the Yankee 

In spite of their money, and their venal tools, their Hessians and their 
Sepoys, their campaign tricks and lies— WE WHIPPED THEM! 

And with the passing of Joe Terrell [outgoing executive], ends the era 
of Yankee corporations* bossism in Georgia. 

With the term of Hoke Smith begins Home Rule. . . . 

With Hoke Smith in office, armed with the confidence, and inspired 
by the hopes of the people, A NEW ERA BEGINS. 40 

Judging from all appearances, Smith the governor was as at- 
tentive to the voice from Hickory Hill as Smith the candidate. 
He was careful to consult Watson over all appointments that 
might involve the latter's interests; he continued to submit bills 
for Watson's approval, and to solicit advice. When Watson 
showed signs of complaining of the slowness of the wheels of 
reform, the Governor sought to calm him. "As to the other mat- 
ters about which you have written to me, don't grow impatient," 
he begged, and he carefully outlined the strategy he was fol- 
lowing. 41 Smith's complaint that the legislature was not with 
him was corroborated by the reports of Congressman Hardwick, 
who was likewise in close touch with Hickory Hill. "I am now 
quite sure," wrote Hardwick, "that the administration has not 
an actual majority in either House that at heart supports it. 
Whatever is obtained from them seems to be literally 
forced . . ." 42 Leaders of the legislature, some of them ex- 
Populists, also asked instructions and advice from Watson. Few 
indeed were the coming events at the Capitol that did not cast 
their shadows at Hickory Hill. 

In spite of persistent obstruction and a large lobby, the reform 
governor accomplished wonders. Not since the famous "Farm- 
er's Legislature" of 1890 had so many important laws, "reform" 
and otherwise, been written. The railroad commission was in- 

89 Ibid., June 17, 1907. 

40 Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, July 4, 1907. 

41 Hoke Smith to % E. W., July 30, 1907. 

42 Thomas W. Hardwick to T. E. W., Aug. 8, 1907. 


Reform and Reaction 

creased in size, in power, and in dignity. A wide range of pub- 
lic utilities, service and power companies, were brought under its 
supervision, and violators of its rulings were made punishable 
like other criminals. Moreover, a special state's attorney was 
created to assist in prosecuting violators of the commission's 
rulings. To this office Smith appointed James K. Hines, Popu- 
list candidate for governor in 1894, and a personal friend of 
Tom Watson. Under the new dispensation passenger and freight 
rates were materially reduced and some discriminations elimi- 
nated. Free passes were forbidden, except to railroad employees 
and officials. 

After considerable debate, the legislature passed a bill sub- 
mitting to the people for ratification a constitutional amendment 
designed to disfranchise Negroes by the indirect means of regis- 
tration requirements. The governor was satisfied with it, and 
Hardwick, whose judgment on the measure Watson trusted, as- 
sured him that it would disfranchise ninety-five percent of the 
Negroes. Caught up on the wave of the reform movement, a 
bill providing for statewide prohibition of the sale and manufac- 
ture of intoxicating liquors was swept through the legislature. 
Prohibition had not been a dominant issue in Smith's campaign, 
but it had been the leading issue in the Populist state campaign 
in 1896, and Populism was now in the saddle. 

While looking askance at the disfranchisement amendment, 
the national reform press nevertheless rang with praise for 
Smith's accomplishments. u He has done what most of our trust- 
busting governors had merely been talking about," wrote Her- 
bert Quick. He was u now second only to La Follette, if second 
to any, as a trust-busting governor." 4S 

The question, "What will Watson say?" was an important one 
for the future of the reform administration. He had had some 
criticisms to make, but nearly all were made privately. Now, at 
the end of the first session of the legislature, his verdict was an 
unqualified endorsement : 

Under difficult conditions, Governor Smith has done well. No man 
could have done better. In spite of lobbyists and obstructionists, he has 
wrung from the legislature a sweepingly good law which gives the rail- 

43 Herbert Quick, op. cit, p. 241 ; A. F. McKelway, "The Suffrage in Georgia," 
Outlook, Vol. LXXXVII (Sept. 14, 1907), pp. 63-66; editorial, Outlook, Vol. 
LXXXVII (Sept. 7, 1907), p. 2; "Georgia^ Example to the Nation," Independent, 
Vol. LXIV (Jan. 16, 1908), p. 162. 


To m Watson Agrarian Rebel 

road commission the power of the state in dealing with public service 
corporations. He has also secured the passage of a bill which redeems the 
main pledge of his campaign — to wit the disfranchisement bill. . . . 
Governor Smith ! The Jeffersonian welcomes you to the great class of men 
who will battle for an idea . . . ! 

Some day, our proud old state will send you to the senate ! 

What may not be done by co-operation . . . ! 

That Governor Smith has done everything in his power to keep his 
contract with the people no one can doubt. 44 

Then came the case of Arthur Glover. 

Glover, a semi-literate factory foreman of Augusta, was con- 
victed of the murder of a woman mill-worker and sentenced to 
hang. Of his guilt there was no question. He wrote Watson piti- 
ful, illiterate letters imploring his assistance. 45 Watson did not 
need to be reminded that Glover had been one of his most loyal 
and formidable apostles in the bloody battles of the Augusta 
workers' district back in the 'nineties. When last mentioned in 
these pages he was fleeing to the South Carolina woods a jump 
ahead of a posse, after a Democratic deputy sheriff had been shot 
through the stomach at the Augusta polls. 48 When politics 
reached the shooting stage — as they not infrequently did in the 
'nineties — Glover was generally on hand, his trigger-finger 
a-twitch. In the trial for his life he was prosecuted by Boykin 
Wright. Wright was the manager of the Democratic campaigns 
against Watson in Augusta and Richmond County that dashed 
Populist hopes in three elections in the 'nineties. Watson nursed 
an intense hatred against Wright and the "Augusta ring" and 
could always be persuaded to believe the worst of them. Wright 
was said to have mentioned Watson's name in Glover's trial, and 
it was easy for Watson to believe that his apostle was a victim 
of political persecution. Watson promised that after Smith's in- 
auguration he would ask the governor, as a personal favor, to 
commute the death sentence to one of life imprisonment. 

It was characteristic of Watson that, once he had put his hand 
to the task, the saving of Glover's life became a holy cause, and 
all who stood in its way stood in the way of righteousness and 
therefore constituted a sinister force of evil. He brought to bear 
all the powerful forces at his command. When he heard that 

44 Watson* s Jeffersonian Magazine, Vol. I (Sept., 1907), p. 847. 
^Arthur Glover to T. E. W., May 18, 1907. 
48 See above, p. 204. 


Reform and Reaction 

Boykin Wright was attempting to persuade the governor against 
Glover's cause, a new aspect was given to the cause. It was now 
a test of political power between Watson and his most detested 
political enemy before a governor whom Watson believed he 
had made. In August he wrote Hardwick, who still served as an 
intermediary between Watson and Smith, saying: "Boykin 
Wright's intense hatred of Glover originated with Glover's fear- 
less partisanship in '92, and his gallantry in coming to my rescue 
on the night when the Augusta crowd meant to do me up. I 
would have been killed that night had it not been for a few such 
devoted friends as Glover." He did not wish the matter pre- 
sented "in a way that Governor Smith would consider it a 
threat." Nevertheless, he added significantly: "Governor Smith 
should weigh these matters well, for it will make a world of 
difference in the relations between himself and me, if he should 
fail to measure up to the size of a full grown man in the emer- 

M 47 


The governor could not reasonably be expected to commit 
himself before the prison commission made its report on Glov- 
er's petition. In the meantime, however, Watson grew impa- 
tient. Late in November he published an editorial taking Smith 
to task for praising the work of the summer legislature. Watson 
severely criticized its work, some of which he had previously 
praised. Not long after this appeared, Hardwick arranged a con- 
ference between Watson and Smith at the Capitol. Watson later 
portrayed himself "with one leg thrown across the corner of 
. . . [Smith's] big working desk," pleading for Glover's life for 
more than an hour. Pleased with his conference, he wrote Hard- 
wick: "Had a long talk with Gov. Smith and everything lovely. 
He will stay on the job." 48 A few days later there arrived at 
Hickory Hill a handsomely bound set of Voltaire's complete 
works — a present from Governor Smith, who sent his best wishes 
for the new year. 49 He also invited Watson to accompany him 
to Roosevelt's White House conference of Governors. 

The report of the prison commission was unfavorable to 
Glover's petition, and the final decision now rested with the gov- 

47 T. E. W. to Thomas W. Hardwick, Aug. 6, 1907, published in the Atlanta 
Journal, Aug. 7, 1910. 

48 T. E. W. to Thomas W. Hardwick, Dec. 18, 1907, Atlanta Journal, Aug. 7, 
1 9 10. 

49 Hoke Smith to T. E. W., Dec. 29, 1907. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

ernor. James K. Hines, one of Watson's many intercessors with 
Smith, wrote that he believed the governor was "not influenced 
by our enemies," and was "sincerely desirous of finding some 
good reason for reducing the death penalty," but the case was 
a bad one, and he begged Watson to be reasonable. 50 So did 
others. The set of Voltaire, however, was promptly ordered re- 
moved from Hickory Hill. Governor Smith wrote Watson re- 
viewing at length the facts of Glover's case and the report of 
the commission. "I am deeply grieved," he concluded, "to see 
no other alternative in the discharge of my official duty than to 
leave the sentence placed upon him to take its course." 61 

Such monstrous proportions had Smith's "betrayal" assumed 
in Watson's mind that he made the mistake of bursting into print 
with an open letter to the governor full of extravagant conten- 
tions. "Pardon me for speaking plainly — " he wrote, "this is a 
matter of life and death, and my feelings are deeply stirred." 
He denounced capital punishment, pronounced Glover a 
"cracked-brained degenerate," and said that his execution would 
be "murder." He also repeated the charges of political persecu- 
tion. "Boykin Wright wanted me assassinated and Arthur 
Glover was one of those who saved my life. I had hoped that 
this would have some weight with you, but it seems that I was 
wrong." M The governor remained unshaken. Glover was ex- 
ecuted. "The Governor has chosen and will take the natural con- 
sequences," wrote Watson to Hardwick. "No such cold-blooded 
and selfish politician can ever be friend of mine again." w 

Watson lost no time in initiating reprisals. Major McGregor 
was sent to Joseph M. Brown, of Marietta, with the request that 
he enter the gubernatorial race of 1908 as a candidate against 
Smith. Watson's promises were not committed to paper, but 
Brown wrote his friend Pendleton of the Macon Telegraph in 
"strictest confidence" that Watson had assured him of "vigorous 
support." M He also wrote Watson expressing his gratitude for 
the offer, which, he said, almost persuaded him to enter the race. 

60 James K. Hines to T. E. W., Jan. 28, 1908. 

61 Hoke Smith to T. E. W., Jan. 28, 1908. 

52 T. E. W. to Hoke Smith, Jan. 26, 1908, in the Atlanta Georgian, Jan. 29, 1908; 
also Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, Feb. 7, 1908. 

53 T. E. W. to Thomas W. Hardwick, Jan. 28, 1908, Atlanta Journal, Aug. 7, 
1 9 10. 

64 Joseph M. Brown to Charles R. Pendleton^ Feb. 29, 1908 (a first draft), Brown 


Reform and Reaction 

"But there are two or three considerations of great importance 
entering into the question," he continued, "which I scarcely feel 
willing to decide without a personal conference with you." w He 
proposed a meeting between them in Atlanta, suggesting elab- 
orate precautions for secrecy. In less than a month Brown an- 
nounced his candidacy. 

In heritage, training, occupation, and interest Brown was com- 
pletely identified with corporate interests and their point of view. 
A son of Joseph E. Brown, the millionaire railroad promoter, 
he entered a railroad office after college and remained for 
twenty-five years either an employee or an official of railway com- 
panies. He was still financially interested in railroads when he 
was appointed to the state railroad commission in 1904. As gov- 
ernor and during his subsequent career he became known as a 
bitter enemy of organized labor, and wrote many pamphlets and 
articles to prove that unions were dominated by foreigners, affili- 
ated with Negroes, and enemies of public welfare generally. 66 

Short of Wall Street, it would have been difficult for Tom 
Watson to have hit upon a more thorough representative of the 
forces he had fought since the days of Henry Grady than he 
found in Joseph M. Brown. 

Brown had made himself an issue in the campaign of 1906 by 
writing articles attacking Smith's platform of railroad reform. 
The latter retaliated by charging that Brown represented the 
railroad interests instead of public interests, and he declared that 
if he were elected governor he would remove Brown from the 
railroad commission. As commissioner, Brown voted against the 
governor's rate-reduction measures, and continued to attack in 
print the governor and the rulings of the commission of which 
he was a member. For some reason Governor Smith did not 
suspend Brown until three days after the legislature adjourned, 
when it was too late for him to defend himself against the 
charges brought. This seemed unfair to many. The conservative 
press, the Howell faction, the railroads, and all those who had 
opposed Smith in 1906 took up the cry that "Little Joe" was a 
"martyr" and should be "vindicated." 5T 

85 Joseph M. Brown to T. E. W., Feb. 29, 1908 (a first draft), Brown MSS. 

66 Pamphlets, clippings, campaign literature in Brown MSS., e.g., Gov. Brown's 
Letters on the Labor Unions (pamphlet, Atlanta, 1914) ; Gompers* Thugs (pam- 
phlet, Atlanta, 1921) ; Atlanta Journal, May 3, 1914. 

57 Lucian L. Knight, op. cit, Vol. II, pp. 1077-1087. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Many powerful interests had been antagonized by the reform 
legislation. The liquor interest, for one, was in arms. Reaction 
was in the air. The national panic of 1907, that burst upon the 
state in the midst of the reform program, offered a convenient 
argument to reactionaries. Railroads reduced wages and services, 
and thousands of workers were discharged. It was easy logic to 
demonstrate that "Hoke Smith caused the panic." The campaign 
slogan became "Brown and Bread: Hoke and Hunger." 68 

There was little for Brown to do but join in and lead the 
chorus. Wrote Brown: 

What was the cause of this paralysis of business? Agitation. Agitation 
which denounced the corporation. . . . This agitation seemed to take no 
account of the fact that the interests of capital and labor are inseparably 
interwoven. . . . The proof was absolute that confiscation, not proper 
control, was the logical result of the crusade which had been waged against 
capital. . . . Protection of property is the paramount duty of govern- 
ment. . . . 

Brown revived some of his older themes. The reduction of 
freight rates was "an assault by the manufacturers and jobbers, 
clients of Hoke Smith, upon the owners of railroad property." 
Such measures would drive capital out of the state, and frighten 
off Northern capitalists. But always his principal concern was 
over the lamentable ravages of the reformers among "widows, 
orphans, hospitals, colleges, and church societies" who owned 
railroad stock. The "demagogue" had said to "the seamstress, to 
the blind boy, to the helpless orphan, to the student in college, 
to the aged and indigent minister and all others whose funds are 
invested in railroads and like corporations, 'Your income shall 
not exceed five per cent.' " B9 

There was little Watson could say for his new candidate — as 
long as Watson was denouncing the governor for not carrying 
reform far enough. There was little he did say. For two months 
after he had secretly pledged Brown his support, he did not 
acknowledge a partiality between the two. He was for neither of 
them, he announced. Gradually his criticisms of Smith became 
harsher. "Gentle voter, did you ever, ever, EVER know of a 
case of back-sliding equal to that of the Great Reformer whom 

58 Cf . ibid., pp. 1088-1093 ; Joseph M. Brown, Reduction of Passenger Rates 
(pamphlet, Atlanta, 1907). 
69 MS. speeches, 1907-1908, Brown MSS.; Atlanta Journal, July 14, 1908. 


Reform and Reaction 

we elected Governor of Georgia in 1906?" he asked. " 'Fooled 
again, 9 is about the size of it." Hardwick pleaded with him: "If 
you haven't had enough reform under Hoke's administration — 
my God, how much less would you have under Brown's." 60 

Watson denied repeatedly that he had turned against Smith 
because of the Glover incident. No ! It was because of his "back- 
sliding," because of inadequate railroad reforms, broken pledges, 
compromises. He hurled one anathema after another with little 
regard for consistency. Some of Smith's measures that he had 
earlier approved he now damned. He succeeded in making it 
plain, however, that he had a score to settle with Hoke Smith, 
and that he expected all Populists to uphold his hand. Smith was 
a Clevelandite, a bad bargain to begin with, and Watson had 
only made the most of it. Besides, the governor had proven an 
ingrate and refused to give Populist vote credit for his election. 61 

Aside from these fulminations there was one issue of more 
validity between Smith and Watson, which the latter urged with 
great conviction and effectiveness upon Populists. After the 
break occurred between the two men, the Democratic Executive 
Committee, dominated by the Smith faction, adopted a rule that 
the party nominee for governor would be selected by a majority 
of all the votes cast in the primary. Heretofore the nomination 
had been made by a majority of the county delegates elected to 
the state convention. Under the old "county unit system" the 
largest county could have no more than three times the number 
of delegates controlled by the smallest, though it might have a 
hundred times the number of voters. It was in vain that Smith 
pointed out that this change had been a part of his platform in 
1906, and that he quoted the Populist platform of 1904 as de- 
manding proportional representation and a direct vote for all 
offices. Watson was convinced that the new rule was made to 
undermine his power: 

My deliberate opinion, after the coolest reflection, is that Hoke Smith, 
being jealous of me politically, and attributing to me the ambition to go to 
the senate from Georgia, deliberately devised this scheme for the purpose of 
preventing the country counties from having their influence in elections. 

He knew that my following was mainly composed of country people, 
and that when he practically disfranchised the country counties he was 
putting the knife to me. 

60 Thomas W. Hardwick to T. E. W., April 20, 1908. 

61 Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, March 5, April 2 and May 7 and 21, 1908. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Under this new rule a few city bosses, using "corporation influ- 
ences, the job-lash, money, whiskey and log-rolling," would con- 
trol the state, while the Populists of the rural counties, where 
virtue and honor still resided, would be powerless. "The evil of 
a pure democracy is that the minority have no protection from 
the majority . . ." •* Brown and his supporters likewise took up 
the cry against majority rule and used it effectively in the rural 
counties. 68 

"I would be quite untrue to my sense of propriety/' Brown 
wrote Watson in the midst of the campaign, "were I to fail to 
write and express to you my high appreciation of the kind edi- 
torials you have been writing . . ." He begged advice, which he 
promised would be "treated and protected as perfectly confiden- 
tial." "Some work among the Populists is needed in Carroll, 
Milton, Hart, and Franklin counties," he believed. 64 Watson as- 
sured him that his editorials on Smith were "adding to your vote 
in the country counties steadily." M The business manager of the 
Jeffersonian proposed to Brown that, provided enough extra pa- 
pers were ordered, he would print a "campaign issue" that would 
be "a document of tremendous force." He added: "In making 
you this offer we are practically giving you the advantage of a 
thorough campaign organization." * The offer was accepted. 
The itemized bill presented by the Jeffersonian to Brown, pre- 
sumably covering all services during the campaign, amounted to 
$2,674.10 in payment for 82,500 extra copies of the paper and 
fifty-one two-months' subscriptions. 67 

At the primary election in June the Smith landslide of 1906 
was reversed, and Joseph M. Brown was nominated by a small 
majority of 12,000. 

It was not in the election returns, but in his daily mail, that 
Tom Watson read the real meaning of the election of 1908. Be- 
wildered at the stand he had taken, the old Populists spelled 
out their perplexity in hundreds of letters. "Tom be Plain & 
don't whip the devil around this way tell us in plain words," 

62 Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, April a and May 3, 1908 and Jan. 6, 1910; 
Constitution, May 3, 8, and 24, 1908. 

63 Joseph M. Brown, MS. Speeches, 1908, Brown MSS.; Clark Howell to 
T. E. W., May 14, 1908. 

64 Joseph M. Brown to T. E. W., May 2, 5, and 27, 1908. 

65 T. E. W. to Joseph M. Brown, May 17, 1908, Brown MSS. 

66 James Lanier to Joseph M. Brown, May 15, 1908, Brown MSS. 

67 Ibid., May 29, 1908, Brown MSS. 


Reform and Reaction 

wrote a "Vetran Pop." 'Tom it [the new majority rule] only 
makes my vote equal yours and yours equal mine." Another pain- 
fully listed Smith's campaign pledges, following each with the 
comment, "He done it." "Think of it Mr. Watson!" pleaded an- 
other, "the Whiskey men, the railroad ring, the Howell ring, 
and the old bitter Macon Telegraph fighting Smith, & you fight- 
ing him too I It does look like the rocks will cry out if you don't." 
Many refused to follow him : "You have lost some of the truest 
& bravest Populist [s] that ever wallke Gods green Earth. I 
Personally know of six in my neighborhood that will not vote 
for you for Prest." [Sic.'] One signing himself "An Old Friend," 
wrote : "The charm of your career, the romance of your life, the 
heroic sacrifices you have made for liberty fade from my view in 
this mean hour of fate." One of the authors of the Omaha plat- 
form, a man who had recently published an admiring sketch of 
Watson, wrote a genuinely grieved letter resigning a position he 
held under Watson and ending a long friendship: "I did not 
dream that the man who so fiercely denounced the alliances 
made by trading politicians would himself ever descend to their 
level. ... I see now that the 25,000 men who follow you 
blindly turned the scale, and you have therefore become a menace 
to the state." w 

Along with letters of this type, however, came much of the 
adoration to which he had been accustomed : "When you lead in 
great strides toward the sublime heights of wisdom and justice 
we can only follow in possibly faltering and feeble steps." Upon 
the unsubstantial foundation of such faith as this man expressed 
Watson was now compelled to construct his plans for the future. 
At the Populist convention of July in Atlanta he sought to re- 
assure his followers : 

Boys, it's all right. We've got them by the hair of their heads. We 
have them in the hollow of our hands. (Laughter.) 

All you've got to do is to sit steadily in the boat and trust me. 

And if God spares my life, we will dominate this state during the next 
decade . . . 

With the election results he professed to be completely satisfied. 
The county unit system was now safe. "We hold the balance of 

68 Letters to Watson, May-July, 1908. The last quoted is from Bernard Sutler, 
June 6, 1908. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

power in the country counties,' ' he said, "and the country coun- 
ties rule the state." 69 

With Watson, as with many men, a sense of misgiving and a 
need of reassurance were often expressed in reassuring someone 
else. "I want to be more with you," he wrote his wife after the 
campaign. "We cannot expect so very many years of health and 
strength and we must make the most of the Indian Summer. 
We have lost far too much already." They would ride, walk, or 
drive together every afternoon, he assured her. After dinner 
there would always be music, while studies would be postponed 
until morning. "In other words, I am going to live more for 
you, and less for 'the people.' We will be happy, perfectly 
happy, and no cloud shall come into the sky for us any more." 70 

A turn of life's seasons was upon him, as he clearly foresaw, 
but his prognostic of the weather of his soul was lamentably far 
from accurate. The plain fact was that the serene skies of Indian 
summer, for which he so earnestly yearned, were already men- 
aced from half the points of the compass. 

69 Atlanta Journal, July 9, 1908; Watsoris Jeffersonian Weekly, Nov. 12, 1908. 

70 T. E. W. to Mrs. Watson, August 26, 1908, in the possession of Georgia Wat- 



"The World Is Plunging Hellward" 

As the leader of a national party, Tom Watson occupied an 
jlJL anomalous position with relation to three of his rivals in 
the approaching presidential contest of 1908. In the fall of 1906, 
while he was dictating from Hickory Hill the reform policies of 
a Democratic governor, he received a letter from Bryan, then 
touring the South. Bryan expressed his regrets that he was un- 
able to return the visit that Watson had paid him at his home, 
and added : 

It is gratifying to know from what I have learned that we are going 
to be able to act together in the coming contest. There has been a re- 
markable change in public sentiment, so that things that were formerly 
denounced as radical, are now regarded as not only quite reasonable, but 
even necessary. 1 

Watson's public answer was: " 'Act together,' William? Why 
not — if you take our principles for your creed and reorganize 
your old party to fit your new faith?" 

In the meanwhile President Roosevelt confirmed the predic- 
tions of his bitterest critic that "he would next be going to the 
noted Populist for advice and inspiration." He invited Watson 
to dine at the White House. Watson reported that he warned 
the President against the prostitution of the federal judiciary to 
the corporate interests, and advised the use of greenbacks as a 
remedy for money panics. When Bryan expressed surprise at 
the latter suggestion, the Populist put him on notice that if he is 
"disposed to sidestep the money question" it is likely "the lead- 
ership of the Jeffersonian Democrats will slip out of his hands." 

1 William Jennings Bryan to T. E. W., Sept. 22, 1906, Watson's Jeffersonian 
Magazine, Vol. I (Jan., 1907), p. 31. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

He found the President u more of a Tom Benton Democrat than 
he himself is aware of." 2 Joel Chandler Harris' Populist char- 
acter, "Billy Sanders," regretted that he was not also invited: 
"I'm mighty sorry we waVt all thar together; if we had V 
been you could 'a' retched out your hands an' tetched the only 
three ginnywine Democrats in North America, all warranted to 
be free from saddle-sores an' things like that." 

Shortly after he returned from his visit to the White House, 
Watson wrote Roosevelt a flattering letter, comparing the great 
power he held over the people with that swayed by Napoleon, 
the Kaiser, and Andrew Jackson. He strongly urged the Presi- 
dent to run for another term : 

Mr. Bryan will be compelled to support you; so will Mr. Hearst; 
so will I. For my part, there will be no compulsion about it; I will do 
it openly, boldly, aggressively, and to the finish. A victory so won will 
take its place in history side by side with the triumphs of the administra- 
tions of Jackson and of Lincoln. . . . 

To change Presidents now would carry with it the idea that your 
policies had received a set-back, for the simple reason that none of your 
lien tenants are [sic] identified in the public mind with you; each of 
them stands in a class apart. Unless you run, I, for instance, would sup- 
port Mr. Bryan, — though no one else knows this but yourself. If you run, 
I would throw my open support to you, even though Mr. Bryan himself 
should be a candidate and should offer me a place in his cabinet. . . . We 
can whip those rascals [Harriman and Rockefeller] if you hold your posi- 
tion in the White House . . . 8 

During that same interval Watson was corresponding with 
William Randolph Hearst, with whom an intermediary thought 
"there will be no real trouble in getting together . . ." 4 

These gyrations of Tom Watson were illustrative of the 
political confusion of the times, as well as of the plight of the 
Populist party. With Roosevelt continually stealing Bryan's 
thunder, and each party vying with the other as the true pro- 
ponent of Populist principles, with no differences between the 
old parties over which anyone became excited, the old Populist 
party was hard put to it to find unclaimed territory of its own. 
As late as January, 1907, Watson was "still hoping that some 

2 New York World, Nov. 30 and Dec. 3, 1907; clippings, Watson Scrapbooks. 

8 T. E. W. to Theodore Roosevelt, Dec. 18, 1907, Roosevelt MSS., Washington, 

4 William R. Hearst to T. E. W., Jan. 17, 1907; C. A. Walsh to T. E. W., Jan. 
31, 1907. 


"The World Is Plunging Hellward" 

honorable plan may be hit upon which will enable all true- 
hearted reformers to 'act together.' " Earlier he had invited 
Bryan and Hearst to a conference of the three. Bryan was afraid 
that "a public conference with you might be construed as an at- 
tempt to organize a new party." Hearst was more interested, 
but reticent, and the conference failed to materialize. 6 One after 
another Watson renounced them : Bryan, when he backed down 
on government ownership of railroads; Hearst, because he 
favored the ship subsidy; Roosevelt, when he selected Taft. It 
was time, he decided to return to his own house. However bar- 
ren its comforts and deserted its appearance, it was still his own. 

Early in April, 1908, two hundred delegates, grizzled bitter- 
enders from twenty-three states, gathered at St. Louis to weep 
on each other's shoulders. It was clear to the most sanguine that 
it was the last Convention of the Populist party. Jacob Coxey 
presided as temporary chairman. Bravely the old mid-roaders 
lifted the cry, "To hell with fusion and Bryan." The old malady, 
however, was still at work upon the decrepit body of Populism. 
The Nebraska and Minnesota delegations bolted because the 
majority would not postpone the nomination till after the Demo- 
cratic Convention. The Convention nominated Tom Watson for 
President and Samuel Williams of Indiana for Vice-President, 
and tearfully adjourned. 6 

"You ask me what we are to do," wrote Watson after he had 
received the nomination. "Frankly, I don't know. The Demo- 
cratic Party is chaotic; the Republican Party is becoming so; the 
Populist Party is dead, and we are all at sea." He undertook the 
leadership of what was admittedly another forlorn crusade, only, 
as he put it, "to the end that Jeffersonian Democracy shall 
neither lose its identity in Bryanism, be trampled out by Taftism, 
led astray into socialism, or be gobbled up in the personal selfish- 
ness of Hearstism." 7 He was the first candidate in the field. 

For several years the most disheartening reports had been 
coming in from old Populists of all sections; especially from 
members of the national committee of the party. In the fall of 
1905 an enthusiastic secretary undertook the heroic task of "se- 

, 5 W. J. Bryan to T. E. W., Jan. 24, 1907; W. R. Hearst to T. E. W., Jan. 17, 

6 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 3, 1908 ; Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, April 
9, 1908. 

7 Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, Oct. 8, 1908. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

curing 'Old Guard' Populist clubs in each of the 2862 counties 
of the United States — without one cent of expense money on 
hand or in sight." 8 He reported religiously to Watson, but 
it was plain that his ambition greatly outran his accomplishment. 

Watson did not even pretend to pitch his campaign upon a 
national scale, and his role in the election was almost entirely a 
local one. The nature of his appeal frankly precluded any but a 
sectional response. He was the only candidate, he said, who was 
* Standing squarely for White Supremacy" By expressing sym- 
pathy for the Negro troops whom Roosevelt had punished in 
the Brownsville incident, Bryan had proved himself "unworthy 
of Georgia's vote." Moreover, the Nebraskan believed in and 
practiced "social equality" and had showed his contempt for the 
South by saying that he would never vote for a Confederate 
soldier. Of course, Watson renewed his familiar denunciations 
of the "millionaire plunderers and land-grabbing corporations," 
and "the remorseless greed of capitalism," but somehow they 
rang a bit hollow this time. His speech of acceptance in Atlanta 
breathed death and destruction to capitalist industrialism, but it 
was followed in awkward juxtaposition by Joseph M. Brown's 
speech in the same city the next day accepting the nomination 
for governor. Brown deplored the "demagogue's war on legit- 
imate investment," the "crusade against capital," the "agitation 
which denounced the corporation." 

Apparently Watson's only real motive in entering the race 
of 1908 was to provide some means of rallying his following in 
Georgia around its own colors. During the four years in which 
he had shifted them from one Democratic faction to the other 
as a balance of power, the loyal Populists had not once united on 
a ticket of their own. Stray sheep are easily lost in a common 
fold. The only reason Watson had given Populists for voting 
for Joseph M. Brown — other than as a means of punishing 
Smith — was that Brown, "a native Georgian, would probably 
not consider the state disgraced" by honoring Watson with the 
state's electoral vote, whereas Smith, "not a native Georgian" 
might feel differently. He made an earnest appeal for this "com- 
pliment," even promising to give up the electoral votes to the 

8 H. L. Bentley to T. E. W., Jan. 9, 1906; J. M. Mallet (Treasurer of the Na- 
tional Federation of People's Party Clubs) to T. E. W., Nov. 6, 1906. Jacob S. 
Coxey to T. E. W., May 17, 1908. 


"The World Is Plunging Hellward" 

Democratic candidate should they later prove indispensable to 
his success. Some color was given to the suspicion of a bargain on 
this matter when Brown later refused to say that he would sup- 
port Bryan for president. 9 

The tell-tale election returns very nearly stripped Watson of 
even the modest pretensions he made before the election. His 
national popular vote was a pitiful 29,146 while the votes he 
polled in the state amounted to some 17,000. It was the vote of 
his native state that he most coveted, and for which he had 
worked hardest in the campaign. What had happened to the 
once formidable ranks of 90,000 Georgia Populists he did not 
attempt to explain. His daily mail was a painful reminder of one 
explanation. He thanked u the faithful 17,000 who voted for 
Watson and Williams — from no motive in God's world but a 
sense of duty," and breathed defiance to his enemies : 

Those Hoke Smith editors who are skirt-dancing over my downfall, 
have done that before. They should know me better. No man is whipped 
until he gives himself up. 

And you know me too well to think that I will ever give up. . . . 

STATE. 10 

As long as Democratic primaries were won by a 12,000 majority 
his boast had some validity. His was a badly shaken "dictator- 
ship," however, and he knew it. 

It was admittedly a time of self-searching for the Populist of 
Hickory Hill. At frequent intervals he reviewed and reexamined 
"Our Creed" in his periodicals. He assured his followers that 
their principles were the immutable embodiment of justice and 
right, now and forever, and swore by the ghost of Thomas 
Jefferson that he was now, and would be forever more, loyal to 
those principles. Surely his enunciation of them still awoke 
familiar echoes from the 'nineties. He refused to admit there 
was any change. He still preached an alliance between West 
and South — yet he found the cement for the union in their re- 

9 New York World, July 10, 1908; Constitution, May 14 and July 10, 1908; 
Atlanta Journal, July 11, 1908. 

10 Watson's Jefiersonian Weekly, Nov. 12, 1908. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

spective race problems. He still denounced the greed of capi- 
talist exploiters — yet they all seemed to be "Yankee capitalists," 
and "Yankee corporations." He still called for a union of all 
farmers against the common class enemy, industrial capitalism — 
yet he disfranchised half his farmers because of their race. He 
still called himself the leader of a national party — yet his appeal 
was almost purely sectional. 

Somehow, through the gradual accretion of what seemed to 
him necessary corollaries, the populism of Tom Watson, per- 
haps unobserved by himself, had undergone a fundamental 
transformation since 1896. It might be that, like John C. Cal- 
houn, another renegade apostle of Thomas Jefferson, he had 
been betrayed by the exigencies of a perverse sectional economy 
into a complete disavowal of his master's creed. Gradually the 
Jeffersonian equalitarianism and humanitarianism of the 'nineties 
had been exchanged for a patchwork of the garments of Cal- 
houn's Greek Democracy: militant sectionalism, fear of majority 
rule, racial domination, and perceptible overtones of a landed 
aristocracy. There had been a time when he believed that "the 
accident of color can make no possible difference in the interests 
of farmers, croppers, and laborers," and had said to both races : 
"You are kept apart that you may be separately fleeced of your 
earnings. . . . You are deceived and blinded that you may not 
see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system 
which beggars both." n He now advocated the adoption of a 
policy of repression so severe and so firm that "the great mass 
of negroes would reconcile themselves to a condition of recog- 
nized peasantry — a laboring class . . ." M No Southern leader 
of post-bellum times ever equaled Tom Watson in his scathing 
ridicule of "Negro domination" as the "stock-in-trade" of the 
Southern demagogue. Yet few there were who could rival his 
later asseverations upon "the superiority of the Aryan" or the 
Negro domination. 13 

In an address to a convention of the Farmers' Union, a new 
organization more middle-class and conservative than the old 

11 P. P. P., Sept. 16, 189a. 

12 T. E. W., "The Negro Question," Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, Vol. I 
(Nov., 1907), pp. 1032-1040. 

2 T. E. W., "The Foreign Missions Craze," Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, 
Jeffersonian Magazine, Vol. Ill (Feb., 1909), p. 97. 


"The World Is Plunging Hellward" 

Alliance, in which he professed to see "the reincarnation of the 
Farmers' Alliance," Watson threw out one admonition with 
especial emphasis : "Your organization must represent your class 
interest" 14 It is made obvious by the context that he was still 
employing the ideology of the 'eighties and 'nineties, that is, the 
assumption that the class struggle lay between industrial and 
finance capitalism on one hand, and an undifferentiated class of 
"farmers" on the other. When the editor of a Farmers' Union 
paper ventured to question the simplicity of this picture and to 
mention the growth of tenancy and the concentration of land 
ownership in fewer hands, Watson attacked him furiously. He 
went to considerable pains to prove "how unfounded are the 
statements that poor men can not acquire landed property in 
this country." As for the increase in tenancy, some farmers sim- 
ply "prefer to rent." He concluded: 

Consequently when a certain Farmers' Union editor goes to publishing 
articles demanding that land ownership be restricted to his own narrow 
notions, I call him 

A Contemptible Little Demagogue. 

When a certain Farmers' Union Editor got to printing stuff calculated 
to sow discord and strife between landlord and tenant, I did not hesitate 
to call him 

A Contemptible Little Demagogue™ 

Watson's own experience bore testimony to the significant 
differences in the cotton economy that marked the contrast be- 
tween the 'nineties and the first decade of the new century. His 
own estimate of his "financial standing" in 1908 was placed at 
the figure of $258,000, or more than double his "standing" in 
1904. 16 He still thought of himself as a "farmer," of course. The 
price of cotton was relatively high throughout the decade, and 
the value of all farm property in the state increased 154.2 per 
cent, as against an increase of 20.7 per cent in the 'nineties. The 
average value of farm lands and buildings per acre advanced 
from $6.95 in 1900 to $17.78 in 1910, while the average value 
of land alone increased 167.4 per cent. During the same decade, 
however, the percentage of tenancy increased from 59.9 in 
1900 to 65.4 in 1 9 10, and the percentage of owners correspond- 

14 Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, Jan. 24, 1907. 

15 Ibid., Feb. 17, 1910. 

16 Personal account books, Watson MSS. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

ingly decreased. 17 There was evidently a large group of "farm- 
ers" — the majority in fact — who had not shared the new 

The trend toward increasing tenancy was fraught with fatal 
implications for the ideology of populist agrarianism. Yet it was 
a trend that Tom Watson's logic never took into account. 
Watson persisted to the end in applying to a changed economy 
the ideology he employed in the 'eighties — when there really 
was some validity to the populist dichotomy of farmers (the 
oppressed) and industrialists (the oppressors). The dichotomy 
between dispossessed farmers and possessing farmers was one he 
chose to ignore. 

There were certain signs of a political as well as an economic 
rift in Populist ranks that were giving Watson food for reflec- 
tion at the same time. Reports were continually coming to him 
of Populist defections to Socialism. A Texas editor wrote Wat- 
son: u The old populists are all right, but it is the younger who 
need looking after. They are sliding into the Socialist party or 
what they think is such, but which is really an aggravated case 
of Populism." 18 Similar reports came from Alabama, Missouri, 
and other Southern and Mid-Western states. The secretary of 
the Populist executive committee of Georgia wrote him that 
u Most of the leading Populists of this section are Socialists. 
They are my friends; but in no way enthusiastic in the work 
of keeping Populist papers alive." 19 The national organizer of 
People's Party Clubs likewise reported that "some of our late 
Populist friends have gone over to Socialism." 20 

In the issue of his magazine for October, 1909, Watson began 
a series of articles entitled "Socialists and Socialism," which he 
featured for nine consecutive months. The style of the articles 
was borrowed from stump hustings and the lawyer's brief rather 
than from the scholar's study. If, as he said, he "bought pretty 
nearly every Socialist book named in the catalogues," he seems 
to have contented himself largely with mere possession. His 
avowed intention was to "disembowel" Bebel, "explode" Marx, 
and "drive Socialists so completely into the corner that they 
haven't got room to grunt." 

17 Robert P. Brooks, The Agrarian Revolution in Georgia, pp. 90, 122. 

18 Taylor McRae to T. E. W., Jan. 23, 1907. 

19 J. A. Bodenhamer to T. E. W., May 29, 1905. 

20 N. L. Bentley to T. E. W., Feb. 4, 1907. 


"The World Is Plunging Hellward" 

To a confidant of long standing who complained of his tactics 
he explained his purpose. He believed that Socialism "would 
sweep the rural districts like a prairie fire if not opposed in 
time." If he could compel Socialist leaders "to renounce these 
extreme parts of the Marxian program," he hoped to herd 
their followers into the Populist fold. "If you will watch the 
strategy," he advised, "you won't find it so bad . . . you will 
see that there is *a method in my madness.' " 21 To the same 
confidant he later wrote: "I am a State Socialist through and 
through . . . but the lines of division between public utilities 
and private property are just as plainly discernible as are the 
lines between murder and arson." 22 

For a time Watson's "strategy" ran true to form. "Like a 
sheet of flame from hell," he wrote, "Socialism would devour 
the Home, and all that is purest and best in Christian civiliza- 
tion, — reducing all women to the same level of sexual de- 
pravity . . ." Socialism would never "make a white woman se- 
cure from the lusts of the negro." Furthermore, "Women have 
no business to intermeddle in politics," and there is "no equality 
of races or of sexes." It also appears that Karl Marx favored 
"the damnable doctrine that gold is the natural and proper 
standard of value." Besides, Marx was "a Jew." Friedrich 
Engels, it seems, was "another Jew." 23 

As he warmed to his task, however, convictions began to get 
the better of "strategy," and his tone changed to one of earnest 
defense. "I will prove to your complete satisfaction," he prom- 
ised in February, "that the origin of private property was not 
only just but sacred" By May he had arrived at the conclusion 
that "private property is a law of nature — as any one who will 
use his eyes can clearly see . . ." Likewise rooted in sacred and 
natural law were the institutions of rent, interest, and profit, not 
to mention tenancy. Because "competition is inseparable from 
private ownership" it followed that "In free competition, the 
reward goes to the swiftest runner, the victory to the abler man 
. . ." He held that "every one of the terrible conditions which 
Marx seeks to relieve by establishing a new order of Society 

21 T. E. W. to Dr. John N. Taylor, April 23, 1910. 

22 Ibid., Nov. 19, 1919. 

23 T. E. W., "Socialists and Socialism," Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, Vol. 
Ill (Dec, 1909), p. 914; ibid., Vol. IV (Jan., 1910), p. 4; "Populism vs. Socialism," 
ibid., Vol. IV (July, 1910), p. 537- 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

grew out of the abuses of power and privilege, and not out of the 
system itself." All that was necessary was reform. 24 

Given to frequent autobiographical reference in all cases, 
Watson drew almost his entire defense of land ownership and 
tenancy from his personal experience : the long struggle up from 
poverty, and the fight for land, and still more land. "I toiled 
and moiled for thirty years to get that land," he said. And he 
meant to keep it, all the theories of Surplus Value to the con- 
trary notwithstanding. It was a passionate, personal apologia for 
agrarian individualism. Once in the 'nineties he had exclaimed: 
"I can put forth the strength of my hand in any field of indus- 
try, and whatsoever I earn is mine, mine — and is not carted up 
to feed some lazy lout of a robber who calls himself my feudal 
chief." It was the historic battle-cry of a class, and Tom Watson 
never lifted a new one. 

Of the socialist writers who took up Watson's challenge, none 
devoted more critical attention to his articles than Daniel De 
Leon, the editor of the Daily People, official organ of the So- 
cialist Labor Party. In a series of nineteen articles and "open 
letters" De Leon subjected almost everything the Populist had 
to say on the subject to an attack that came to rival Watson's in 
asperity. In answering the articles of his "effervescent, though 
oft admired, acquaintance Tom Watson," De Leon proposed to 
illustrate "the pitiable wreckage" that a "liberal education in 
heels-over-head populistic economics will work even in so bright 
an intellect as Tom Watson's." 25 Needless to add, De Leon 
found no difficulty in running dialectic rings around his oppo- 
nent in a combat over Marxian theory. He read "our Georgia 
Don Quixote" elementary lessons in surplus value and class 
contradictions, illustrated by such homely examples as the ob- 
servation that "Mr. Watson and his 'Niggers' have their hands 
in each other's wool." He finally put the Georgian down as a 
"feudal junker." "Hit the junker," he said, "and the capitalist 
will yell — we are seeing the spectacle in Great Britain in the 
matter of the House of Lords; hit the capitalist, and the junker 

24 Ibid., Vol. IV (Jan., 1910), p. 5; ibid., Vol. IV (Feb., 1910), p. 93; ibid., Vol. 
IV (April, 1910), pp. 276-277; ibid., Vol. IV (May, 1910), p. 360. 

25 Daniel De Leon, Watson on the Gridiron, p. 4. De Leon's articles on Watson 
were published posthumously under this title. 


"The World Is Plunging Hellward" 

will shriek — we are seeing the spectacle in Mr. Watson's de- 
portment." De Leon's coup de grace was administered when 
Watson innocently quoted a remark literally that Marx intended 
ironically. In so doing Watson "immortalized himself as an un- 
conscious humorist." 26 

Watson showed a disposition to strike back for a time, and 
once went so far as to include De Leon by name in a public chal- 
lenge to a number of Socialists to come into his magazine and 
debate with him. "I just dare any and all of you to come," he 
announced. "I am rubbing my fist right under your noses, you 
know." De Leon promptly shipped him his articles from the 
Daily People and in an open letter dared him to publish them. 
Watson recanted. He had discovered that De Leon did not "rep- 
resent the true Socialist doctrine." In reprinting the challenge, 
he neglected to withdraw De Leon's name. Such conduct, con- 
cluded De Leon, was "something worse than the bluster of the 
cross between the feudal junker and the bourgeois which you 
typify." 27 

In concluding his series of articles, Watson called down a 
plague upon both houses, industrial capitalism as well as social- 
ism. As for him and his household, they would return to a 
Golden Age of their fathers. "With a resolution which nothing 
can shake," he announced, "I take my stand for the ideals of the 
Old South. . . . Here, I choose my ground; here, I form my 
line of battle : here, I fly the flag of revolt . . ." He was never 
very definite about his ideals or his line of battle, but they all 
had something to do with eighteenth-century England: "The 
old Whig ideals of England — that's what it was — the democracy 
of Charles Fox, of Samuel Romilly, of Henry Vane, of Alger- 
non Sidney, of Pym and Hampden." He disposed of the social- 
ists, finally as "Goths, Huns, Vandals, who lust for loot," and 
who are patently beyond the reach of argument. "These men 
cannot be driven back by arguments," he concluded. "The only 
method of dealing with such barbarians is to have the guns ready 
and the powder dry. And the men behind the guns must be 
American-born ; for the time is surely coming when he who is in 

26 Ibid,, pp. 20, 31, and 39. 

27 Daniel De Leon to T. E. W., May 3, 1910, "An Open Letter," in De Leon, 
op. cit., pp. 42-43- 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

command must issue the order, Tut none but Americans on 
guard tonight.' " 28 

The year of 1 910 was pivotal in Tom Watson's career, and on 
it more than one issue turned. His announcement of a return to 
the Democratic party, though it put a formal period to twenty 
years of rebellion, was of more symbolic than real significance. 
In May he wrote the national chairman of the People's party 
that he had decided it was "impossible to do anything in the 
South outside of the Democratic party," and that he would not 
join in the effort to reorganize the third party. "I am going to 
devote the balance of my life to driving out of the Democratic 
party its deserters and do-nothings, and I am going to take 
command of the Democratic party myself," he announced pub- 
licly in July. There had been a time when such a proclamation 
would have created more of a sensation than it did now. Since 
he disclaimed all ambition for office, his role in state politics was 
little altered by his return to the old party. He still posed as the 
foreman of a jury before which the two evenly matched factions 
of Democrats must plead their cases. It was true that he had 
elected his governor in 1906 and spectacularly defeated him 
two years later, but there were those who held that the latter 
tour de force had been a costly one. There were even those who 
held his power in contempt. Consciously, then, he faced a show- 
down in the contests of 19 10. 

If he must needs grapple with the Browns and Smiths and 
Joneses of an office-greedy world for the restoration of the 
Golden Age, he was ready to do it. If scruples, and dignity, and 
what some considered honor stood in the way of the necessary 
votes, they might have to be doffed, like a frock coat in a combat 
of catch-as-catch-can. It was a regrettable concession, to be sure, 
and there were those (estimable gentlemen, no doubt) who 
might not approve, but he stood ready to be judged in the light 
of the Golden Age. "A great uplifting faith wells within me," 
he wrote that year, "and sustains me in the fight that I am mak- 

28 T. E. W., "Socialists and Socialism," Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, Vol. IV 
(June, 1910), pp. 451-452; "Populism vs. Socialism," ibid., Vol. IV (July, 1910), 
pp. 539-540. 


"The World Is Plunging Hellward" 

ing." Such a faith once converted windmills into giants, and it 
still commands a sort of respect. 

The gubernatorial contest again lay between Brown and 
Smith, with the latter as the aggressor this time. The issues were 
much the same as in the previous election. Watson promised 
Smith he would not oppose him, and let that contest run its own 
course without interference 29 in order to mend fences in his own 
district. Thomas W. Hardwick, congressman from that district, 
had virtually served as Watson's lieutenant for eight years, dur- 
ing which they had been in constant correspondence and on the 
friendliest terms. In 1908 Hardwick refused to break with Gov- 
ernor Smith when Watson did, though he continued to conciliate 
his patron in every way possible. The following year, however, 
he begged to be excused from giving a petty appointment to a 
friend of Watson's on the ground that the man was an enemy 
of Hardwick's. On the margin of Hardwick's letter making this 
announcement Watson wrote "Why we parted ways." so Such 
insubordination could never be tolerated. He had made Hard- 
wick, he announced, and would most certainly break him. Hard- 
wick proceeded to treat the threat with contempt, contending 
that Watson had discredited himself with Populists, that he 
"stood convicted of outrageous falsehoods and that he should be 
dealt with as a leper, a man unclean, morally and mentally." 
The struggle rapidly assumed the dignity of fish-mongers' rep- 
artee: each man held a rival rally in the same town, screaming 
imprecations at the other to the edification of the multitude. 
According to the "Sage," Hardwick "went to bed drunk in 
Hotel Lanier in Macon, with a cigar in his mouth, and set the 
bed on fire." The appeal he made to his followers was frankly 
personal : 

I never was more conscious in my life of having reached a crisis. It 
must be evident to you, as it is to me, that unless I leave these grounds 
today victorious I might as well be laid in my grave. . . . 

Now, he [Hardwick] says I have lost out with the old Pops in the 
Tenth district and that they are going with him against me. . . . Now, 
boys, will you stand by me? I appeal to you. If Hardwick is reelected 
I will be considered in disgrace. Don't put that cup to my lips. Stand 
by me . . . 

29 Hoke Smith to James J. Green, Aug. 8, 1910, Watson MSS. 

30 Thomas W. Hardwick to T. E. W., Jan. 1, 1910; also Oct. 16, 19, and 23, and 
Nov. 23, 1909. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Somehow everything went awry. The "boys" did not stand 
by him. Hardwick was elected, and Watson by his own admis- 
sion was "in disgrace." Not only that, but a fickle state elec- 
torate again changed its mind : Brown was defeated, and Hoke 
Smith won the nomination by less than a two-thousand popular 
majority. At the state convention in Atlanta a week later the 
victorious Smith-Hardwick forces dominated the entire proceed- 
ings, and by "steam-roller" and "gag-rule" methods prevented 
the Brown minority delegates from offering the slightest resist- 
ance to the platform or any resolutions offered. 81 

Watson, in the meantime, had announced that he would de- 
liver an address in Atlanta to which he broadcasted invitations 
far and wide. He promised that the speech would be pitched 
upon a nonpartisan plane and would rise above personalities. 
"Night and day it monopolized his thoughts," he wrote of the 
speech. "The occasion was to be the turning point of his life." 
He rented the largest auditorium in the city, and, according to 
one estimate, eight thousand people were attracted to hear him. 
His opening sentence, one might suppose, was sufficient to strike 
home the gravity of the occasion to the most frivolous. "The 
world," said the Sage, "is plunging hellward." He continued: 

For nearly twenty years I have been in the Valley of the Shadow, 
politically, enduring with what patience and dignity I could the insults 
and slanders heaped upon me by my enemies. To-night I have come to 
drink with you, if you will let me, the rich, pure wine of reconciliation. 
I beg of you a fair hearing and nothing else. . . . 

If something isn't done to check the rising tide of discontent in this 
country, there will be the bloodiest struggle between the rich and poor 
that ever drenched a continent with human blood. 

My mission is to tell you what you must do to be saved — to that 
high and holy purpose will be devoted the remaining years of my life. I 
beg you to listen . . . w 

But they would not listen — however high and holy his pur- 
pose. So long as his jeremiad remained abstract they were quiet. 
But Watson had reached the belated conclusion that the regis- 
tration law he had sponsored in 1906 was now being used by 
Smith and Hardwick to vote Negroes as a balance of power to 
overthrow his influence. When he touched upon that subject, a 

81 Constitution, Sept. i, a, 1910; Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, Sept. 22, 1910; 
L. L. Knight, op. ciU, Vol. II, p. 1108. 

82 Constitution, Sept. 3, 1910; Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, Sept. 8, 1910. 


"The World Is Plunging Hellward" 

pandemonium of hissing and heckling broke loose in one section 
of the balcony. The interference appeared to be organized. 
Wheeling upon the hecklers "like a tiger at bay," he launched a 
furious tirade at them : 

Listen to me, I say! You may not hear me now, but you will later. 
I am seeking no office. I am representing the thinking masses of the people 
of Georgia, and if you do not hear me tonight you will hear me in my 
magazine and through the columns of my weekly papers. 

The "wine of reconciliation" was badly spilled by this time. In 
the momentary inspiration of his rage he hurled one threat after 
another. He would "make this insult tonight ring from Rabun 
to Tybee and from the Savannah to the Chattahoochee." They 
would see. An outraged people would turn upon them. He 
would organize an independent ticket, bolt the primary, and de- 
feat Smith in the general election in October. Abruptly he 
stopped speaking, turned about, and quit the stage. Later he 
said that he had had a premonition of assassination. 

"Poor old Jeremiah!" commented the Constitution patroniz- 
ingly. "Compressing in his lamentations the woe, the pessimism 
of all sacred and profane history, he occupied the shining emi- 
nence of typifying the One Great Grouch of humanity's story. 
Mr. Watson has him 'lashed to the mast' and 'faded to a fin- 
ish.' " Instead of "plunging hellward" the world was "getting 
purer, better, brighter . . . every hour and every day." Clark 
Howell asked: "Is it not a thousand pities that these magnificent 
gifts should be diverted to the sordid, picayunish, indescrib- 
ably petty arena of billingsgate and fish-mongering politics?" n 
Smith's organ, the Atlanta Journal, commented condescend- 
ingly: "It may have been a threat; it may have been a prophecy. 
Upon the strength of the following remaining to the old sage of 
McDuffie — an uncertain quantity of recent years — depends the 

answer." 84 

Far from forgetting the threats hurled during his temper tan- 
trum in Atlanta, Watson plunged seriously into the task of ful- 
filling them. He obtained Joseph M. Brown's promise to oppose 
Smith in the state election, and urged his followers to "set aside" 
the defeat of Brown in the state convention and vote for him 

88 Clark Howell, editorial in the Constitution, Sept. s, 1910. 
84 Editorial in the Atlanta Journal, Sept. 3, 1910. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

anyway since "frauds annul everything — including rotten nomi- 
nations." More "premonitions" haunted his waking hours. Re- 
turning to Atlanta to "finish" his speech, he announced: "If 
James R. Gray, Hoke Smith and Tom Hardwick kill me they 
will find enough of my friends left to kill them. A man who 
does not protect himself is a fool." 

His desire to bring disgrace upon Hoke Smith became a blind- 
ing obsession. He informed Smith that he held him individually 
responsible for breaking up his address in Atlanta and charged 
him with a long list of political perfidies, which he published. 85 
Not content with this, he unearthed a long discredited scandal 
against Smith's name and set to work upon it. All was grist for 
his mill: anonymous letters, third-handed stories, stale rumors, 
anything. His serious attempt to substantiate the charges he 
made revealed what had happened to an astute mind trained in 
criminal law. "Most of my information came to me originally by 
anonymous letters," he admitted, but he had corroborated it 
amply. There was a letter from a friend who had the story from 
a man who heard it first hand, "or was told of it by a man who 
did hear it." If one of his informants turned out to be "an in- 
mate of a house of prostitution in Columbus," it only proved her 
ingenuousness. 88 

On September 27 he wired Smith: "It is closing in on you. I 
give you one more chance to save your wife and son. Resign by 
two o'clock today, or your crimes will be known to all the 
world." 87 In the issue of his weekly for September 29, only a 
few days before the state election, he published the sensational 
scandal: "Hoke Smith has ruined more than one pure girl, more 
than one pure wife." Details were furnished in an anonymous 
letter, also printed. 

Smith ignored the charges. A few days later he was over- 
whelmingly elected. Watson's own county, which had turned 
against Smith in 1906, when Watson supported him, now went 
for Smith. As compared with Smith's poll of 95,000, Watson's 
candidate Brown received 17,000 votes — "the faithful 17,000." 

Instead of dropping the charges of immorality against Smith 

35 T. E. W. to Hoke Smith, Sept. 4, 1910 (copy), Watson MSS.; Watson's Jeffer- 
sonian Weekly, Sept. 22, 19 10. 

36 T. E. W. to F. L. Seely, Nov. 12, 1910 (copy), Watson MSS. 

37 T. E. W. to Hoke Smith, Sept. 27, 1910 (copy of telegram marked "paid."), 
Watson MSS. 


"The World Is Plunging Hellward" 

after the election, Watson renewed them with colorful elabora- 
tions, and repeated the demand that Smith resign or refute the 
charges. 88 In the meanwhile, F. L. Seely, editor of the Atlanta 
Georgian, offered Watson his assistance in exposing Smith and 
asked to be directed to the evidence that would substantiate the 
charges. Watson sent such flimsy evidence as he had, saying 
there was no doubt in his mind of the correctness of the 
charges. 39 Rejecting this evidence, Seely printed an authentic 
repudiation of the scandal from its source, thereby completely 
discrediting Watson. Undaunted, Watson renewed his charges 
and viciously attacked Seely. "WHAT IS THE MATTER 
WITH THOMAS E. WATSON?" inquired the Georgian in a 
streamer across its front page. "Like a hydrophobic animal . . . 
he is snapping and biting at nearly everything nowadays." The 
editor believed that if Watson was in a sane condition of mind, 
he was "the basest, most depraved, most poisonous man in 
Georgia today." 40 

The sequel to the exposure of Watson's irresponsible charges 
against Smith was a ludicrous hoax, of which Watson was the 
unmistakable victim. Provided with an insight into Watson's 
methods in the Smith case, Seely saw to it that an invented story 
of his own complicity in a land swindle fell into the Sage's hands. 
Completely duped, Watson rushed into print with the whole 
story, only to have Seely expose the hoax upon him before the 
Jefersonian reached the news stands. 41 The state rocked with 
laughter. It was the lowest ebb for the Sage of Hickory Hill. 

The following June Watson put forth all the strength at his 
command in an attempt to defeat Governor Smith for the Sen- 
ate. The response to his call, "Meet Me in Atlanta, Boys," was 
so feeble that it provoked ridicule. Smith was elected to the 
Senate shortly after his inauguration as Governor. Calmly ignor- 
ing Watson's loud outcry, he continued to occupy the governor's 
chair for four and a half months after his election to the Senate. 

38 Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, Oct. 13 and Dec. 29, 1910. 
39 T. E. W. to F. L. Seely, Nov. 12, 1910 (copy), Watson MSS. 
40 Atlanta Georgian, Dec. 3, 1910. 

41 W. W. Brewton, Life of Thomas E. Watson, pp. 354-357; Watson's Jeffer- 
sonian Weekly, Dec. 29, 19 10. 


The Shadow of the Pope 

ANEW spirit seems to have taken possession of Hickory Hill 
. in the fall of 19 10, most clearly manifesting itself in the 
master of the house. He confronted the critics who said that he 
was sinking into a morbid and misanthropic dotage with a denial 
that was disarming in its candor. If he were as bitter and vindic- 
tive as they said, how was it that his writings enjoyed "such an 
enormous circulation," or that there was u such a tremendous de- 
mand" for him as a public speaker? He now spoke, he assured 
them, "as easily as the birds sing — and there are no failures." As 
usual, when his self-esteem was called in question, he thought of 
Bryan. He was a better lawyer than Bryan, a better writer, a 
legislator of more enduring works, he asserted. "I can now draw 
larger crowds than Bryan can, and no man's gospel is more en- 
thusiastically cheered. His sun is setting, and mine is rapidly ris- 
ing." There had been a time when he bowed to discouragement. 
u But of late a new spirit has taken possession of me," he wrote, 
"and I have to obey it. Nothing tires me; nothing discourages; 
nothing intimidates." He was convinced, he said, that the peo- 
ple were "beginning to believe that I am one of the men whom 
God Himself raises up and inspires." 1 Thus everyone was reas- 
sured — including himself. 

The process begun with his break with the New York maga- 
zine was completed in 19 10 when he concentrated his entire pub- 
lishing business at Hickory Hill. There he erected what he pro- 
nounced "one of the best equipped printing plants in the South." 

1 T. E. W., "And Mr. Clark Howell Also Asks Mr. Watson to Change the Law 
of His Nature," Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, Vol. V (Oct., 1910), p. 810. 


The Shadow of the Pope 

The new plant, said to represent an investment of $100,000, 
was fitted with machinery for the rapid production of newspa- 
pers, magazines, pamphlets, and books. Drawing the skirts of 
his estate still more tightly about him, he bought up the copy- 
rights of his books (selling better than when published, he re- 
ported) and prepared to print them himself. 2 

No unimportant part in the new regime was that taken by 
Mrs. Alice Louise Lytle. Attracted by her work on a small-town 
paper, Watson employed her in his Atlanta office where she 
proved of such value that he made her managing editor of both 
periodicals in the new organization. A large, vigorous young 
woman of Irish extraction, Mrs. Lytle was possessed of great 
capabilities and an ingratiating fund of sympathy. She was sep- 
arated from her husband. In the eyes of his new employee, Wat- 
son was a great man of letters, a genius, and her admiration of 
him was unbounded. Moreover, she had a ready Irish wit, a 
fund of stories that put guests at ease, and a certain facility with 
drinks. She was at home in talk of politics, and was not incapable 
of using, in off-hand fashion, the language of the mind. Mrs. 
Watson had never been a source of much intellectual comrade- 
ship for her husband, and now that she was aging rapidly he 
sought compensation elsewhere. Mrs. Lytle soon moved from 
the near-by cottage where she was first installed to quarters at 
Hickory Hill. There were later times in that tragically dis- 
traught household when her robust nature seemed the only an- 
chor of sanity that held. Watson's dependence upon her grew 
steadily greater as time passed. Their relationship does not ap- 
pear to have been what many suspected. At any rate her affec- 
tions were centered elsewhere. Her influence upon him, never- 
theless, seems to have been strong. Although she was born in 
Philadelphia of non-native parents, she was the greater "profes- 
sional Southerner" of the two, and was given to strong expres- 
sions about "niggers" and Catholics. Though Watson was often 
repelled by her laxness of manner, dress, and expression, it is 
likely that her influence fostered certain traits and prejudices 
already present in him. Of an intensely practical turn of mind, 
with an eye for profits and a managerial assertiveness, she made 
her personality felt in a pervasive way in the Jefersonians. To 

2 Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, Dec. 29, 1910, and Jan. 5, 1911. 


Tom Watson Agrarian 'Rebel 

Watson's readers she became known as "our Mrs. Lytle," and 
he as "the Chief" — appellations of her own invention. 3 

Honored guests at the "House Warming" Watson gave at 
Hickory Hill and the new plant for the "Jeffs" were "Old Man 
Peepul" and "Aunt Sarah Jane" (names he had recently be- 
stowed upon his readers), who attended by hundreds. Their host 
reported proudly the presence of "more Thomas Watson Every- 
things and little girl Tom Watson Everythings and Georgia 
Watsons with every known surname, than anyone but the census 
enumerators knew about." He launched the Jeffersonian Pub- 
lishing Company in a speech, and welcomed purchasers of the 
company's stock. The liquor and wine bill (no small item in 
Hickory Hill's budget thenceforth) for this occasion amounted 
to $232.3 1. 4 

The change that took place in the character of Watson's pub- 
lications did not occur overnight. Tendencies already manifested, 
however, quickly grew more exaggerated. Italics and capitals 
and bold-faced type came to sprinkle virtually every paragraph, 
and the red-inked headline soon made its appearance. Attacks 
upon political personalities were reduced to a fine art of scandal 
and slander. Articles on the plutocracy, corporate privilege, and 
capitalist legislation dropped out of the Jeffersonian almost com- 
pletely, only to be replaced by crusades of a more exciting type. 

Frustrated in their age-long, and eternally losing struggle 
against a hostile industrial economy, the farmers, together with 
a large depressed urban element, eagerly welcomed exciting cru- 
sades against more vulnerable antagonists: against anything 
strange, and therefore evil. Vicarious as were such easy victories, 
they offered some tangible compensations to a people hungry 
for satisfactions. A frustrated man and a frustrated class found 
that their desires and needs were complementary. 

In his magazine for August, 19 10, Watson published the first 
chapter of the series entitled, "The Roman Catholic Hierarchy: 
The Deadliest Menace to Our Liberties and Our Civilization." 
It was not the first time he had boxed with the shadow of the 
Pope, but this article marked the beginning of a deliberately 
planned crusade. Thereafter no issue of the monthly or the 
weekly was complete without its exposure of the "Deadliest 

3 From sources that do not wish to be named. 

4 Check stubs, Watson MSS. 


The Shadow of the Pope 

Menace." The series on the "Hierarchy" ran for twenty-seven 
months, to be followed immediately by "The History of the 
Papacy and the Popes," which was followed and overlapped by 
others and still others. Upon the completion of each series, it 
was published in book or pamphlet form. For seven years, until 
his publications were excluded from the mail during the World 
War, the crusade continued, sometimes swelling, sometimes sub- 
siding in its fury. During those seven years Tom Watson be- 
came almost as closely identified in the public mind with the 
anti-Catholic crusade as he had once been with the Populist 

The question of personal motivation is rather beside the 
point. It was true that in the battles of the 'nineties a small, but 
solid and strategically important block of Catholic votes in Au- 
gusta under the control of Patrick Walsh had been repeatedly 
used against Watson. It also appears that a local organization of 
the American Protestant Association made some effort on Wat- 
son's behalf because of his Catholic enemies. Nevertheless, Wat- 
son himself publicly deprecated the exploitation of religious 
prejudice at that time. 5 Later, in writing his Story of France, he 
was frankly Protestant, but not exceptionally unfair to the 
Church. Still later he placed his daughter in a Catholic school 
for a short period. 6 In any case, the personal motivation of a 
Martin Luther would not be sufficient to explain Tom Wat- 
son's onslaught upon the Pope. 

From first to last the Catholic articles were a curious mixture 
of erudition and sensationalism bordering upon the pathologi- 
cal. Watson was able to persuade himself that he was "emulat- 
ing the glorious example of Erasmus," and he undoubtedly lav- 
ished considerable work on the articles. "Really I am devoting 
as much research and study to the epochal era of Henry VIII as 
I gave to the Story of France" he wrote a friend. Indeed, I 
have just "slaughtered a long line of Popes for my May install- 
ment." 7 Standards of accuracy, and moderation, and fairness 
that he at one time undoubtedly cherished as a historian seemed 
to disintegrate and quite lose their sway over him. New stand- 

5 Atlanta Journal, Oct. 3, 1895; Constitution, Sept. 13, 1895; Augusta Chronicle, 
July 22, 1894. 
6 T. E. W., in Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, Aug. 11, 1910. 
7 T. E. W. to Dr. John N. Taylor, April 10, 1917. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

ards prevailed. He admitted privately that the boorish cartoons 
illustrating his articles were "too crude to appeal to the schol- 
arly taste, but they seem to be effective with many of our read- 
ers." Furthermore, the "Hierarchy" series was "making a ten- 
strike," and the publications were making "handsome clear 
profits." A year before he had complained to the same corre- 
spondent that he was "in the hole $20,000" on his publications. 8 

At the head of each installment of his first series of anti- 
Catholic articles Watson placed an italicized note proclaiming 
that the sole object of his attack was the Church organization, 
and deploring any offense that might be given to the individual 
believer, whose faith he promised to respect. Whatever his in- 
tentions were, the performance speaks for itself. His series of 
open letters to Cardinal Gibbons was matchless in its insulting 
offensiveness. "And there is no discoverable vocabulary which 
would adequately express the profoundity [sic] of my loathing 
and contempt for that stupid, degrading faith of yours, Cardi- 
nal," he wrote. 9 A favorite diversion (presumably another "ten- 
strike," since it was so frequently employed) lay in printing pic- 
tures of Church dignitaries accompanied by elucidating comment. 
"Look at that nose!" he wrote. "Such a proboscis always marks 
the sensual man. It is thick, and I shouldn't wonder if it is red. 
... It being so manifest that O'Connell eats and drinks deep, 
how does he control his other and STRONGER passions?" In- 
deed, "How does he keep from it — when so many of the fair sex 
are held behind the bars of convent dungeons, where they are 
at the mercy of priests?" For the priesthood he evolved an in- 
exhaustible number of epithets: "chemise-wearing bachelors," 
"bull-necked convent keepers," "shad-bellies," "foot-kissers." 
Theirs was a "jackassical faith." 

If half his readers had never set eyes on monk or nun, they 
were none the less absorbed by lurid revelations of convent, con- 
fessional, and "convenient sacristy," not to mention a hundred 
other sinister wonders undreamed of in the rural imagination. 
The titles themselves were irresistible: "The Murder of Babes," 
"The Sinister Portent of Negro Priests," "How the Confes- 

8 T. E. W. to Dr. John N. Taylor, Oct. 5, 1910; also Jan. 1, 1910, and July 15, 

9 T. E. W., "Cardinal Gibbons and 'The Guardians of Liberty,' " Watson's Jef- 
fersonian Magazine, Vol. XIV (April, 1912), p. igoo. 


The Shadow of the Pope 

sional Is Used by Priests to Ruin Women," "One of the Priests 
Who Raped a Catholic Woman in a Catholic Church," "What 
Happens in Convents." One example of their contents is per- 
haps sufficient : 

Through his questions, the priest learns which of his fair penitents are 
tempted to indulge in sexual inclinations. Remember that the priest is 
often a powerfully sexed man, who lives on rich food, drinks red wine, 
and does no manual labor. He is alone with a beautiful, well-shaped young 
woman who tells him that she is tormented by carnal desire. Her low 
voice is in his ear; the rustle of her skirts and the scent of her hair kindle 
flames. She will never tell what he says or does. She believes that he 
cannot sin. She believes that he can forgive her sin. She has been taught 
that in obeying him, she is serving God. 10 

Should the reader like to see for himself "those nasty questions" 
of the confessional, they might be obtained in pamphlet form 
for twenty-five cents. 

If Watson had any legitimate grievance against the Catholic 
church, it was a political one. It was true that the Church had 
shifted its allegiance to the Republican party in the crucial bat- 
tle of 1896. He did advance several valid criticisms and expo- 
sures, but they were all drowned in the wild hue and cry he kept 
up over imaginary menaces of incredibly horrendous propor- 
tions. "Protestants I" he shouted to a complacent, Taft-ruled na- 
tion. "Your Government is in the control of Rome. Your White 
House is little more than a Vatican annex." The "Hierarchy" 
was busily "laying in guns and ammunition; buying control of 
papers and magazines," and in fact "working day and night, 
spending money like water to 'Make America Catholic.' " They 
had already made one dreadnought of the navy il a completely 
popish ship," and had even "bought the strategic positions, from 
which batteries would hold Washington city at their mercy." n 

In 191 1, Watson, together with the Civil and Indian War 
veterans, Lieutenant-General Nelson A. Miles, ex-Congressman 
Charles D. Haines, and Charles B. Skinner, organized The 
Guardians of Liberty. General principles were announced, such 
as immigrant restriction and prevention of interference from 

10 Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, Jan. 25, 1912 ; vide also issues of ibid., April 
16, 1914, and Dec. 23, 1915. 

11 Ibid., Dec. 16, 1909, and Oct. 21, 1915; T. E. W., "Cardinal Gibbons and 'The 
Guardians of Liberty/" Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, Vol. XIV (April, 1912), 
p. 996; T. E. W., editorial, ibid., Vol. XVIII (March, 1914), p. 225. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

foreign ecclesiastical authority. The society did not assume a 
predominantly anti-Catholic complexion until 19 12, and then 
largely through the influence of Watson, who persuaded Gen- 
eral Miles to his way of thinking. Miles toured the country mak- 
ing speeches on such subjects as "America's Danger," while Wat- 
son's services to the order were given largely through his 
publications. Cardinal Gibbons denounced the new organization 
as "nothing more than an attempt to revive the bigotry of the 
A. P. A., which was presumed to have died of inanition. Surely 
no sensible man will be misled by the thin and thread-bare ar- 
guments of such people." u The Guardians of Liberty neverthe- 
less took root in fertile soil and flourished at least until the 
World War. Watson used the organization effectively in state 
politics as late as 19 16. According to him it was a "movement 
requiring nerve, and the robust American spirit." It seems that 
"American Americans" were preferred as members. "The fight 
is on!" announced Watson to Cardinal Gibbons. "Your foreign 
ruled crowd were the aggressors. You made the first threats." 13 
From the beginning of the anti-Catholic crusade the tranquil- 
lity of Hickory Hill was constantly menaced by "premonitions," 
"plots," and "assassins." Footprints of snoopers and peepers 
were reported; anonymous letters threatened or revealed plots. 
Guards were placed about the house for a time, and Watson be- 
came virtually a recluse in his own home. When he went to 
Atlanta he was protected by detectives. Readers of the Jeffer- 
sonian were kept posted on the nefarious doings of the "assas- 
sins." "Those persistently daring assassins are not very far off," 
he told them, "nor have they abandoned their murderous pur- 
pose. If the same merciful Providence does not continue to throw 
its shield over me, you may never see in this paper another edi- 
torial of mine." Once he received a letter from an unknown man 
who proposed to save his life from assassins. Watson wired him 
to come, paid his expenses, bought him a suit of clothes, and 
gave him his own revolver. He then suddenly decided that his 
would-be protector was himself not above suspicion. He de- 
clared that, had the man made a false move, he would have 
"shot him without a moment's hesitation, because of those eyes." 

^Michael Williams, The Shadow of the Pope, p. 114. 

18 T. E. W., "Cardinal Gibbons and 'The Guardians of Liberty/ " Watson's Jef- 
fersonian Magazine, Vol. XIV (April, 1912), p. 1000. 


The Shadow of the Pope 

That same night he doubled the guard around his house and had 
his "protector" arrested. 14 

The pathological, almost maniacal, conduct to which his ob- 
session led him was illustrated by an incident that occurred in 
191 2. In the lobby of the Kimball House in Atlanta he hap- 
pened to notice a man from Savannah whom he knew to be a 
member of the Knights of Columbus. "The sight of him was 
good to my eyes — as that of a red rag to a maddened bull," he 
recounted. Deliberately he bumped into the man, then stood 
aside expecting a demand for an apology. "I meant to refuse it," 
he explained, "and then I hoped that we should have a per- 
fectly beautiful fight. I was simply spoiling for one." The man 
showed no resentment, however, and Watson's friends 
"dragged" him out of the hotel. At the railway station he broke 
away from his friends and returned to the hotel in a vain search 
for the Catholic. Watson proudly related the whole incident in 
his paper. 15 He was a man fifty-six years of age at that time. 

Catholic organizations undoubtedly undertook measures of re- 
prisal against Watson. The national secretary of the American 
Federation of Catholic Societies circulated letters to firms adver- 
tising in his publications, threatening a boycott against those who 
did not withdraw their advertisements, and the American News 
Company cut into his news-stand circulation in certain cities. 16 
Watson's advertising patronage did decline for some time, and 
he privately estimated his loss due to this cause at "about $50,- 
000." 1T At the same time, however, an advertisement of his 
magazine boasted that he had "gained thousands of new readers 
by the publication of these articles on the Roman Catholic Hier- 
archy." Every reprisal by the Catholics, real or imaginary, was 
dramatically paraded by Watson. "Remember! I am up against 
263,000 Knights of Columbus who have sworn to put me out of 
business," he wrote, appealing to three hundred Protestants to 
send him one hundred dollars each to help "in this great fight." 

None of the persecutions to which he was subject, however, 
was so much publicized and dramatized as the case of the United 

14 Jeffersonian Weekly, June 22, 1911. 

15 Ibid., Aug. 22, 1 912. 

16 Vide Anthony Matre, National Secretary, American Federation of Catholic 
Societies, to an advertiser who patronized Watson, in Watson's Jeffersonian Maga- 
zine, Vol. XIII (Aug., 1911), p. 290; Jeffersonian Weekly, Nov. 4, 1915. 

17 T. E. W. to Dr. John N. Taylor, July 14, 1914. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

States against Thomas E. Watson based on the charge of his vio- 
lating the postal law against sending obscene literature through 
the mails. The offensive matter in question was contained in cer- 
tain excerpts in Latin quoted in his magazine articles on the 
"Catholic Hierarchy." Watson assumed that the prosecution was 
inspired by Catholics : u The Romanists are trying to put me in 
the penitentiary, because I quoted FROM ONE OF THEIR 
DIABOLICAL BOOKS." He was arrested on June 3, 1912, 
but the case was not called until October of 19 13. He won a tac- 
tical victory by a motion to quash the indictment. However, the 
prosecution was renewed, and, in all, the case was prolonged 
over a period of four and a half years. The second attempt of 
the prosecution resulted in a mistrial, and it was not until the 
third trial, in November, 19 16, that he was finally acquitted. 18 
Expertly handling his own defense, Watson proclaimed it his 
ambition to make this "one of the celebrated cases of history." 
Whole issues of his magazine were devoted to his speeches of 
defense, and the proceedings of the trial crowded the columns 
of his weekly. Each trial was thoroughly advertised in advance. 19 
A hint that his life was imperiled would throng Augusta with 
armed followers. "One blast from Watson's horn would put 
50,000 men in the field at any central point as quick as the iron 
horse could carry them," wrote a loyal Watsonian. 20 

"I have forced the popery issue into Georgia politics, where it 
is now cutting a wide swath to the consternation of the old-line 
politicians," wrote Watson to a friend in 19 14. 21 Since his defeat 
at the hands of Smith in 19 10, he had been almost constantly at 
work seeking to regain his dominance over state politics. In the 
fall of 191 1 he canvassed almost the whole state, making several 
speeches a week. He found that "men who had been cussing 
Tom Watson for years were seen laughing, crying and cheering 
before I was half-way done with my message." 

As early as January, 19 12, Watson announced that he had un- 

18 Atlanta Journal, May 31, 1912; Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, June 6, 1912; 
Jan. 2, Feb. 27, and Oct. 30, 1913; Dec. 2 and 9, 1915; and Nov. 30, 1916; Augusta 
Herald, Nov. 28, 191 6. 

19 E.g., the entire issues of Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, Jan., 1916 (55 
pages), and Jan., 1917 (101 pages), were devoted to the trial. 

20 Letter published in Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, Oct. 28, 1915. 
21 T. E. W. to Dr. John N. Taylor, July 14, I9H- 


The Shadow of the Pope 

dertaken to defeat the Wilson-for-President movement in Geor- 
gia. In doing so he had to face the opposition of the dominant 
Smith faction, which supported Wilson, and to overcome Wil- 
son's primary advantage with Georgians because he had lived in 
Georgia during his youth, and had taken his wife from the state. 
Aside from the hated Smith faction's support of Wilson's cause, 
the main personal motive that seems to have actuated Watson's 
fight against the candidate was the bitter distaste he had con- 
ceived for the man some ten years before when he had read his 
five-volume history of the United States. Watson never forgot 
that impression, and his anger flamed out against Wilson several 
times before he was thought of as a candidate for President. 
That history "showed the Tory all the way through," he 
thought, and revealed "a cold cynicism toward popular move- 
ments, a deference to wealth and social power." Besides, al- 
though he was a Southerner, the Virginian had glorified New 
England and neglected the cause of the South. 22 Such an offense 
Watson deemed intolerable. 

Complaints of a less academic nature were not wanting in the 
case he made against Wilson — the sort of complaint he launched 
against anyone who dared cross his path in these days. Governor 
Wilson, he charged, had "kow-towed to the Roman hierarchy," 
and even employed "a Romanist, as private secretary" More- 
over he was "ravenously fond of the negro" and had "SENT 
Wilson's conversion from the Cleveland school to Bryanism was 
all too recent to be convincing, he thought. "FARMERS ! LIS- 
TEN TO ME!" he commanded. "Let Woodrow Wilson alone. 
He's another Bill Taft. VOTE FOR UNDERWOOD!" 28 
Watson's support of Oscar W. Underwood of Alabama rested 
chiefly upon the contention that he was more of a Southerner 
than Wilson. 

The presidential primary resulted in an Underwood victory, 
with a majority of some 15,000. Immediately a movement was 

--Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, Jan. 25, April 11 and 25, and Dec. 21, 1912; 
Constitution, May 12, 1912; T. E. W. to W. J. Jelks, Dec. 21, 1912, copy in Watson 

23 Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, April n, 1912. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

put under way by the national party leaders to rid themselves of 
Watson. Charles E. Murphy, the head of Tammany, Norman 
E. Mack, chairman of the National Democratic Committee, 
Thomas Taggart, secretary of that committee, and even Sena- 
tor J. H. Bankhead, Underwood's campaign manager, all sent 
word that Watson would be distinctly persona non grata at the 
Baltimore Convention, that he would create "far-reaching dis- 
sension and strife." A conference of Underwood leaders and 
national party managers was called in Atlanta to plan the over- 
throw of Watson at the state convention. Leaders of the "regu- 
lar" Democracy declared it unthinkable that u the Red-headed 
Person" should head the state delegation, as he promised. "We 
will beat him, beat him, BEAT him," declared Thomas B. 
Felder, leader of the regulars. 

Watson's response to this turn of affairs was an article of im- 
perious tone under the familiar heading, "Meet Me in Atlanta, 
Boys!" The "city politicians" who were "hogging all the credit 
for the Underwood victory" were courting a fight with him, and 
they should have it. That victory was "the country man's tri- 
umph," he maintained, and he promised that the state conven- 
tion would be "a red-headed affair." All delegates friendly to 
him were ordered to be present at his caucus the night before the 
convention. "I mean to head the Georgia delegation to Balti- 
more, or know the reason why," he announced. 24 

The arrival of "the red-headed person" in Atlanta was said to 
have suggested the return of some Roman conqueror. So dense 
was the throng at the station waiting to meet him that police had 
to form a lane for him to pass to his carriage. This initial ova- 
tion astounded and all but silenced opposition. It was a day of 
delirious triumphs for an outcast, and, as an enemy of his ob- 
served, he enjoyed it "with all the bluster and arrogance of a 
Tartar chief." At his personal caucus that night, overflowing 
with delegates, he was cheered to the echo when he announced 
with utmost assurance : "I propose to snatch from the hands of 
William J. Bryan the leadership of the national Democratic 
party. I mean to lock horns with him at Baltimore, and I don't 
care who knows it." After the caucus had obediently passed his 
resolutions, he said: 

21 Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, May 9, 1912. 


The Shadow of the Pope 

We've got 'em, boys. 

(Voice in the crowd:) Us country fellows? 

Yes, we've got 'em. It has taken us six long years of hard work, but 
we've done it. 

Old man Peepul is on top. Aunt Sarah Jane is on top. We country folks 
are on top, and everybody is going to be happy. 25 

At the convention the following day his appearance was the 
signal for a third and greater ovation. He was continuously on 
his feet, offering resolutions, dominating the opposition, and 
showing in every way possible that he was the master. The plat- 
form adopted was liberally seasoned with Watson principles of 
the newer, as well as the older, sort. It advocated disfranchise- 
ment of the Negro and other non-Caucasian races, discontinu- 
ance of foreign immigration, as well as more stringent regula- 
tion of child labor, and tariff reduction. He was obliged to agree 
to a compromise on the naming of the delegation to Baltimore 
and share the honors with some of his enemies. This he could 
do with good grace, however, after his vanity had been thor- 
oughly appeased in other ways. 26 

One after another the proudest of the opposition trooped to 
his headquarters to make their peace and pay obeisance. The 
governor, the ex-governor and present candidate for the chair, 
John M. Slaton, the aspirant for national committeeman from 
Georgia, Clark Howell, and the Underwood campaign man- 
ager, who now gave Watson credit for the Underwood victory, 
were all reported to have made their visit to Watson's rooms. 
u Beyond any doubt,'' admitted a Smith paper, "Mr. Watson 
held the whip hand." 27 A more neutral observer remarked that 
"He has now succeeded in making both wings of his old enemy, 
the Democratic party of Georgia, walk up and eat out of his 
hands." " 

The Constitution and the Journal, each speaking for its wing 
of the party, conducted a penitent colloquy over the state of af- 
fairs. The latter paper lamented : "Thomas E. Watson, receiv- 
ing the obeisance of the heads of the now dominant faction of 
Georgia Democracy — Thomas E. Watson, a Georgia delegate 

^Constitution, May 29, 1912; Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, June 6, 1912. 
26 Lucian L. Knight, loc. cit.; Atlanta Journal, May 29, 1912. 

27 Atlanta Journal, quoted in Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, June 6, 1912. 

28 Augusta Chronicle, May 31, 1912. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

to a national Democratic convention ! It is almost incredible, we 
repeat, that such a disgrace has befallen the state." The Consti- 
tution reminded its rival that it had been only a few years since 
that paper had wanted its candidate's picture "hung in the same 
frame with Watson's," and observed: "It's the same old story of 
whose ox is gored I" The Journal responded: "We had as well 
be frank. Both factions of Georgia Democracy have lain down 
with the dog and got up with fleas. Both have had the experi- 
ence of falling into the hands of this political pirate. . . . 
Henceforth the alliance of Watson with any faction should be 
considered, as it truly must be, a badge of disgrace to the cause 
that has sought his support." 29 

After enjoying his triumph in Atlanta to the fullest, Watson 
seems to have lost interest in the high and mighty purpose he 
meant to fulfill in Baltimore. He did not even attend the na- 
tional Convention. Illness was the excuse he offered for remain- 
ing at home, although he later mentioned that he got wind of a 
Catholic plot against him should he attend the convention at 
Baltimore. 30 From his home he poured telegrams into the Geor- 
gia delegation urging them to give up Underwood and support 
Champ Clark. After the Convention he wavered for some time, 
made a few half-hearted gestures in Wilson's behalf, and then 
flatly repudiated his nomination in an article, "Why I cannot 
Vote for Woodrow Wilson." 81 

In the end he did exactly what the prophets of the regular 
Democracy had predicted : he bolted his party's ticket. This time 
he turned to Roosevelt and the Progressives. "My correspond- 
ence," he reported in August, "indicates a strong disposition on 
the part of the old Pops to vote the Bull thing ticket." He 
swung his personal support to the new party too late to be of 
much influence, but in the issue of his paper immediately before 
the election he printed a full page of ballots for the Progressive 
National ticket. After the election he opened correspondence 
with Roosevelt upon the question of organizing the Progressive 
party in the South. 82 

29 Editorials, Atlanta Journal, May 30, 191a; Constitution, May 31, 1912. 

80 Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, June 27, July 11, and Aug. 22, 19 12. Watson 
was arrested on the charge of violating the postal law against sending obscene 
literature through the mails only four days after the Convention. 

zl Ibid., Aug. 15 and Oct. 24, 19 12. 

82 Theodore Roosevek to T. E. W., Jan. 13, 1913, Watson MSS. 



The Lecherous Jew 

IT WAS A nondescript army that Tom Watson commanded 
after 19 10. That army was no longer a party: it was a "fol- 
lowing," and a "following" is a very different thing from a 
party. In place of a platform and officers it has prejudices and a 
master. It is amorphous, mercurial, and unstable. The "faithful 
17,000" still formed an important nucleus of Watson's power, 
but its populist character was diluted and lost in the anonymity 
of the "following." Besides the residual third party, there were 
other organizations of indeterminate strength subject to his con- 
trol. He had succeeded in placing a loyal lieutenant at the head 
of the powerful Farmer's Union, and The Guardians of Liberty 
looked to him to direct their struggle against the sinister machi- 
nations of the Pope. An important lever in his machine lay in 
the "county-unit system" maintained at his pleasure by the state 
Democratic party. The maintenance of his renovated power, 
however, depended largely upon the ephemeral recruits attracted 
by the crusades conducted in his publications — his "following." 
They were the "boys" ; they were "Old Man Peepul" and "Aunt 
Sarah Jane" to whom he was wont to address himself as "Your 
Uncle T. E. W." 

A journalist visiting the state was perplexed at the character 
of Watson's weekly now called the Jefersonian. He could 
never discover what the editor was "for," and decided that he 
was "violently against" everything. "The thistles of chaos are 
sweet in him, and order in any department of life is a chestnut 
burr under his tail," he concluded. 1 Indeed, the turmoil in the 
Sage's soul was reflected in some unaccountable eccentricities. 

1 Julian Street, American Adventures, p. 383. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Concomitant with the anti-Catholic crusade was a prolonged at- 
tack upon Protestant foreign missions. At the root of his attack 
on missions was his hatred of imperialism and his "isolationist" 
doctrine, which were also the basis of his opposition to the 
Spanish-American War, and later the World War intervention 
and the League of Nations. Part of his attack was grounded on 
firm economic and political realism. The missionary was the ad- 
vance agent of the capitalist and imperialist. Besides, the whole 
idea was an outrage to reason : "This idea that missionaries can 
go to China, undress it of its civilization, and re-clothe it with 
ours, is as crazy a notion as ever found lodgment in the human 
brain," he declared. Another feature of the polemic arose out of 
his old anti-clericalism. It found fullest expression in his series 
entitled "Teasing the Preachers," in which he clearly took un- 
fair advantage of the parsons. He ran definite risk of antagoniz- 
ing all the powerful evangelical denominations of the country 
by this attack. 2 

Most of his fulminations ran no such risk: that against the 
Negro, for example. Negroes, he observed, "simply have no 
comprehension of virtue, honesty, truth, gratitude and prin- 
ciple." "In the South, we have to lynch him [the Negro] occa- 
sionally, and flog him, now and then, to keep him from blas- 
pheming the Almighty, by his conduct, on account of his smell 
and his color." He defended lynching both in principle and in 
specific instances. "This country has nothing to fear from its 
rural communities," he wrote. "Lynch law is a good sign: it 
shows that a sense of justice yet lives among the people" As for 
himself, he would no more hesitate to lynch a Negro rapist than 
to shoot a mad dog. 8 There was a peculiar malignity that per- 
vaded his tirades against the Negro ... A friend betrayed is 
the enemy most despised. 

Prominently characteristic of the Jeffersonian were the vitu- 
perative attacks upon personalities. Some were shrewd and 
comic, others vicious, and all irresponsible. A prominent bishop 
was a "Coca Cola lobbyist"; "Professor Woodpile" Wilson was 
an "arrant liar"; Bryan was a "cheap political comedian, whose 

2 T. E. W., "The Foreign Missions Craze," Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, 
Vol. V (Aug., 1910), pp. 629-632; also, e.g., Watson's Jeffersonian Weekly, June 
17, 1909, May 25, 1911, and Jan. 11, 1912. 

8 Jeffersonian, May 15, 1913, Jan. 4, 1917, and Feb. 12, 1914; T. E. W., Sketches, 
pp. 39-40. 


The Lecherous Jew 

pose is that of a typical Pharisee." To his crimes of "seduction, 
kidnapping, adultery, violation of the oath of office, and rape, 
this vilest of rascals [Senator Smith] is seeking to add murder." 
Christopher Columbus was a "rapacious and inhuman monster" 
whose only object in discovering the New World was in adding 
another hemisphere to the dominion of the Pope. The Pope 
himself, "Jimmie Cheesy," was a "fat old dago" who lived with 
"voluptuous women." State politicians, of no matter what moral 
rectitude, lived in constant danger of being revealed in the Jef- 
fersonian as keepers of Negro concubines or minions of Rome. 

As a political boss of his kind Tom Watson was unique. Stand- 
ing virtually outside the party he bossed, he manipulated it 
through its own machinery. This was what galled the pride of 
Democratic politicians who were, or had been, obligated to him 
for favors. They knew him for a party outlaw, openly contemp- 
tuous of their party, cynically playing one faction against the 
other, and committed to none of the restraints of party disci- 
pline, rule, or traditions. He had bolted their primaries, deserted 
their nominees, and openly supported a rival national party. 
And they knew he would do so again. When they lectured him 
on political morality, he replied with instances of Democratic 
morality in the 'nineties, and continued to fly his pirate's flag un- 
abashed. Yet Democrats of both factions kept a beaten path to 
Hickory Hill, and news of Watson's favor or disfavor made or 
unmade many a candidate. As a boss his power was not abso- 
lute : the power of no boss is absolute. His influence waxed and 
waned. Yet there was no governor of the state between 1906 and 
the time of Watson's death, a period of sixteen years, who did 
not owe at least one of his terms, in a greater or less degree, to 
Tom Watson's support. Some of the men whom he elected he as 
surely defeated; in fact, that was the rule rather than the excep- 
tion, for rarely did he support the same man twice. From those 
who were obligated to him he expected a high degree of sub- 
servience. 4 

The state contests of 19 14 were typical of this era of personal 
politics; and Watson played his usual role. The gubernatorial 
race being three-cornered, Watson's candidate, Nat E. Harris, 
an old Confederate veteran, easily won. In his Autobiography 

4 For discussions of Watson as a political boss see editorial, Nation, Vol. CIII 
(Nov. 9, 1916), pp. 440-441. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Harris acknowledges his indebtedness to Watson as naively as 
he complains of the defeat at his hands two years later. 5 The 
senatorial contest, a revival of the perennial feud between Hoke 
Smith and Joseph M. Brown, had a different result. An assidu- 
ous understudy of Watson, and a convinced believer in his meth- 
ods, Brown launched a series of anti-Catholic articles during the 
campaign that, it was remarked, might have been dictated by 
Tom Watson. As bitter as ever against Smith, Watson attacked 
him as a Negrophile, an enemy of u White Supremacy," and a 
truckler to Rome. "If you want to strengthen the Protestant re- 
ligion and American liberties against Italian popery and the ad- 
vancement of a priesthood which believes the church of Rome 
should rule all States," he wrote, u you will vote for BROWN 
in the race against Hoke Smith' 9 e The method failed this time, 
however. Smith was elected, receiving twice the number of pop- 
ular votes polled by Brown. 

One of the charges Watson brought against Smith during the 
campaign was that the Senator was a subsidized supporter of the 
cause of Leo Frank, the Jew. This campaign marks the introduc- 
tion of the celebrated Frank case into Georgia politics. The case 
has a long and sordid history, a history that is inextricably a part 
of the history of Tom Watson. 

At 3 130 on the morning of April 27, 19 13, the body of Mary 
Phagan, a fourteen-year-old girl, was discovered in the basement 
of an Atlanta pencil factory. She had been horribly murdered. 
The young superintendent of the factory, Leo M. Frank, who 
admitted paying the girl her wages when she came to the fac- 
tory alone during the holiday on which the murder took place, 
was at once arrested. A fateful weight of irrelevant but preju- 
dicial fact dogged Frank's case to the end. He was a Jew, a 
Northerner, an employer of underpaid female labor. Mary Pha- 
gan was a Gentile, pretty, popular, and a working girl. The At- 
lanta press immediately assumed the guilt of Frank, and rival 
papers vied with each other in exploiting the sensational details 
of the story. Irresponsible gossip of sexual perversion and gross 

5 Nat E. Harris, Autobiography, pp. 239-240. 

6 Jeffersonian, July 30, 1914. 


The Lecherous Jew 

immorality on the part of Frank was printed as "scoops" in bold 
headlines of "extras." Whispered rumor supplied unprinted de- 
tails. The city police, publicly committed to the theory of 
Frank's guilt, and hounded by the demand for his conviction, 
resorted to the basest methods in collecting evidence. A Negro 
suspect, later implicated by evidence overwhelmingly more in- 
criminating than any produced against Frank, was thrust aside 
by the cry for the blood of the "Jew pervert." 7 

The trial lasted thirty days, attended throughout by manifes- 
tations of mob spirit. On the final day the howl of the mob, 
packed for many blocks about the courthouse, was continually in 
the ears of the jurors. The crowd in the courtroom repeatedly 
jeered, laughed, and applauded. Editors of city papers joined 
in a petition to the presiding judge to adjourn the case for the 
day, because an acquittal would "cause a riot such as would shock 
the country and cause Atlanta's streets to run with innocent 
blood." The judge advised Frank and his lawyers not to attend 
the reading of the verdict for fear of their lives. Threatening 
messages were received by court officials: "Hang the Jew or we 
will hang you." Under such circumstances Frank was found 
guilty and sentenced to die. It was in his dissenting opinion on 
this case that Mr. Justice Holmes said: "Mob law does not be- 
come due process of law by securing the assent of a terrorized 
jury." Doubt as to Frank's guilt was expressed by every tri- 
bunal before which the case was reviewed: the state Supreme 
Court, the federal District Court, the United States Supreme 
Court, and the Georgia prison commission were all divided. 
Even the judge who presided at the trial expressed doubt, but at 
the same time refused to grant a motion for a new trial. Officials 
of justice and organs of public opinion seemed cowed before the 
mob. The victorious solicitor-general, Hugh M. Dorsey, was 
made a popular hero. 8 

The Frank case for a time rivaled the European war as a sub- 
ject of national attention. Outside the state the conviction was 
general that Frank was the victim of a gross injustice, if not 

7 Christopher P. Connolly, The Truth About the Frank Case, passim; Files of 
Herbert J. Haas & Co. (attorney for Frank) relating to Frank case, in the posses- 
sion of Rabbi David Marx, Atlanta, Ga.; Hugh M. Dorsey, The Argument of 
Hugh M. Dorsey at the Trial of Leo M. Frank, passim. 

8 L. L. Knight, op. at., Vol. II, p. 1166; review of the case, Supplement to Au- 
gusta Chronicle, Nov. 25, 1915. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

completely innocent. He presented his own case so eloquently 
and so ingenuously, and the circumstances of the trial were such 
a glaring indication of a miscarriage of justice, that thousands of 
people enlisted in his cause. The case became a cause celebre in 
liberal circles the nation over. Such people as Jane Addams 
were outspoken against Georgia justice, and ex-Governor Eu- 
gene Foss of Massachusetts was among the petitioners who 
came to Georgia in person in Frank's behalf. The movement 
was not sectional, for the legislatures of both Texas and Tennes- 
see passed resolutions asking that his life be saved. 9 A moving 
picture was made and exhibited to present his cause to the pub- 
lic. The zealous defense committee and the wealthy connections 
of Frank in the North made tactical blunders, however, that 
fanned the flame of resentment in Georgia against "outside in- 
terference." The bringing of William J. Burns, the detective, to 
Georgia was especially resented. He narrowly escaped being 
lynched at Marietta (Mary Phagan's former home), and re- 
sentment broke out anew. 10 

For almost a year after Frank was arrested Tom Watson re- 
mained silent on the case. He later admitted that he declined an 
offer of $5,000 to defend Frank, and said that overtures were 
made to him to assist the prosecution. 11 In the early stages of the 
case he was heard to express surprise that the defense counsel 
did not demand a change of venue, since in Atlanta Frank had 
"about as much chance for his life as a snowball in hell." "It 
would be like trying a rat before the old cat and a litter of her 
kittens," he said. 12 

In March, 19 14, the Atlanta Journal dared to break the spell 
of cowed silence that had fallen on the state press by printing an 
editorial asking a new trial for Frank and contending that his 

9 N. E. Harris, op. cit., p. 352. 

10 The files of Herbert J. Haas & Co., in the possession of Rabbi David Marx, 
Atlanta, Ga., contain letters of Leo Frank as well as hundreds of letters, written by 
the committees working in his defense, giving a fairly complete picture of the ef- 
forts made in his behalf. Also vide private papers of Rabbi David Marx, Atlanta, 
in regard to the Frank case. Also vide, New York Times, Aug. 20, 191 5. 

^Jeffersonian, Jan. 11, 1917. 

12 This according to a sworn statement by James T. Hudson, who was visiting 
in Watson's home when he heard Watson make the remark : vide, Augusta Chroni- 
cle, Sept. 22, 1 91 5. 


The Lecherous Jew 

execution without it would amount to "judicial murder." Wat- 
son immediately leaped upon the editorial as evidence that 
Smith was dragging the Frank case into politics, and promised 
to "see to it that the case is taken care of." "If the Atlanta poli- 
ticians and editors are crazy enough to make war on Dorsey, be- 
cause he did his duty in the Frank case, LET THE WAR BE- 
GIN." 18 At that time Dorsey, who led the prosecution of 
Frank, seemed a possible candidate for governor; he withdrew, 
however, and Watson supported Harris. The Journal suffered a 
loss in circulation and quickly dropped its efforts for Frank. 
Watson continued to use the Frank case against Smith in the 
senatorial race. When that ended, however, Watson's exploita- 
tion of the case had only begun. 14 

In the first place he assured his readers that there was a "gi- 
gantic conspiracy of Big money" organized to corrupt the state's 
courts, its governor, its papers in order to save the life of a 
wealthy murderer. "Frank belonged to the Jewish aristocracy, 
and it was determined by the rich Jews that no aristocrat of 
their race should die for the death of a working-class Gentile." 
As for Mary Phagan: "Yes, she was only a factory girl: there 
was no glamor of wealth and fashion about her. She had no mil- 
lionaire uncle; she had no Athens kinsmen ready to raise fifty 
thousand dollars for her : no mighty connections . . ." So it was 
that, "while the Sodomite who took her sweet young life basks 
in the warmth of Today, the poor child's dainty flesh has fed 
the worms." 15 Was it not notoriously true that rich Jewish busi- 
ness men corrupted the daughters of Gentiles who worked for 
them? "Here we have the typical young libertine Jew who is 
dreaded and detested by the city authorities of the North for the 
very reason that Jews of this type have an utter contempt for 
law, and a ravenous appetite for the forbidden fruit — a lustful 
eagerness enhanced by the racial novelty of the girl of the uncir- 
cumsized." Anyone could tell that Frank was "a lascivious per- 
vert, guilty of the crime that caused the Almighty to blast the 
Cities of the plain," by a study of the accompanying picture; 

13 Jeffersonian, March 19, 1914, and June n, 1914. 

14 T. E. W., "The Celebrated Case of Leo Frank vs. the State of Georgia," Wat- 
son's Magazine, Vol. XXI (Aug., 1915), p. 222; "The Leo Frank Case," ibid., Vol. 
XX (Jan., 1915), p. 156. 

15 Jeffersonian, Oct. 15 and Dec. 3, 1914. 


Torn Watson Agrarian Rebel 

" those bulging, satyr eyes ... the protruding fearfully sensual 
lips; and also the animal jaw." 16 

There was scarcely an issue of his publications for more than 
a year without its article on the Frank case. Hundreds of pages 
were devoted to it, whole issues of his magazine, page after page 
of the weekly. Over and over he reviewed the evidence in the 
case : the torn garment, u spotted with virginal blood," the tuft 
of hair, the crumpled white form. Rumors, half-truths, special 
pleading, merciless slander, every device known to the skilled 
criminal lawyer — he employed. He pulled all the stops : South- 
ern chivalry, sectional animus, race prejudice, class conscious- 
ness, agrarian resentment, state pride. Aside from these re- 
sources there were the sociological constants of human cupidity, 
ignorance, and gullibility. He was convinced, he said, that Frank 
had had as fair a trial as a man could possibly have had. 17 

As the months passed and the date for Frank's execution was 
successively postponed the tone of Watson's exhortations rose in 
a crescendo of threats and alarms. "How much longer is the in- 
nocent blood of little Mary Phagan to cry in vain to Heaven for 
vengeance? )} he asked. With less provocation, he reminded 
them, New Orleans had lynched her Italian murderers. "Now 
is the time to have a Vigilance Committee APPOINT ITS 
CRIMINAL — whose money and whose resources seem so inso- 
lently determined that his crime shall go unpunished" Later he 
warned: "If Frank's rich connections keep on lying about this 
case, SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN." A rumor that 
the governor might commute Frank's sentence called forth the 
headline : "RISE ! PEOPLE OF GEORGIA." 18 

The final date for Frank's execution was fixed at June 22, 
19 15. All eyes were concentrated upon Governor John M. 
Slaton with the question, would he commute Frank's sentence? 
His term expired the day before the execution was to take place, 
and he would be succeeded by Harris, a "Watson man." Gover- 
nor Slaton had himself sought and received the support of Wat- 
son in his race for office in 19 12. While the hearings of the peti- 

™ Ibid., April 14 and May 27, 1915. 

17 E.g., the space devoted to the Frank ca9e in Watson's Magazine during three 
months: August, 191 5, 53 pages; Sept., 45 pages; Oct., 42 pages. 

18 Jeffersonian, Nov. 19, 1914, and March 25 and June 3, 1915. 


The Lecherous Jew 

tion to commute were in progress Watson sent a friend to the 
governor with the promise that if Slaton allowed Frank to 
hang, Watson would be his "friend," which would result in his 
"becoming United States senator and the master of Georgia 
politics for twenty years to come." 19 The governor recalled, he 
said, that Watson dated his enmity to Hoke Smith from that 
governor's action upon a commutation petition — though in the 
former case it was a refusal to save the life of a man who had 
unquestionably murdered a working woman that caused the 
break. Slaton had received requests from more than 10,000 
Georgians, including a recommendation from the presiding 
judge at Frank's trial, that he commute sentence. In the face of 
Watson's threat and the palpable menace of mob violence Slaton 
signed the commutation on the day before his term ended. 

Governor Slaton had been elected by one of the largest ma- 
jorities ever given for the office, and had been regarded as an 
exceptionally popular executive. On the day of his retirement it 
was necessary to declare martial law for his protection. A heavy 
military guard surrounded his house, and one conducted him to 
the capitol, where, after the inaugural ceremony, an attempt was 
made upon his life. By night a mob estimated to number 5,000 
people gathered and marched on the ex-governor's home armed 
with "old fashioned pepper-box revolvers — revolvers with cap 
and lock — knives and dirks, saws and hatchets, with some mod- 
ern guns and pistols," not to mention "a large basket of dyna- 
mite sticks." Before it was dispersed, the mob wounded and 
disabled sixteen of the soldiers protecting Slaton. The new 
governor found that the news of the commutation and Watson's 
incendiary articles had "caused the gathering of mobs in almost 
every part of the country and brought about such a state of af- 
fairs that no persuasion or remonstrance could control the situa- 
tion." Slaton left for an extended trip — virtually exiled from his 
native state by the mob. 20 

The first issue of Watson's Jefersonian after the commuta- 
tion of Frank's sentence amounted to one enraged exclamation 
after another: 

19 John M. Slaton to Thomas W. Loyless, Aug. 27, 1915, printed in Augusta 
Chronicle, Nov. 25, 1915. (Watson admitted this, but said that Slaton had made ad- 
vances to him first for support, Watson's Magazine, Oct., 1915.) 

20 N. E. Harris, op, ciu, pp. 355-3^- 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

Our grand old Empire State HAS BEEN RAPED! 

We have been violated, AND WE ARE ASHAMED! . . . 

The great Seal of State has gone, LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT, 
to do for an unscrupulous law firm, a deed of darkness which dared not 
bask in the light of the sun. ... 

We have been betrayed! the breath of some leprous monster has passed 
over us, and we feel like crying out, in horror and despair, 

"Unclean! UNCLEAN!" 21 

He defended the Atlanta mobs under the headline, "When 
'Mobs' Are No Longer Possible, Liberty Will Be Dead." "You 
can close your eyes, and see it now," he wrote, picturing a scene 
from the early days of the American Revolution. "The 'mobs' 
were Liberty Boys in those days — the old days before we be- 
came lolly-pops, vegetarians, grape-juicers, and sissy-boys . . ." 

It is undoubtedly a tax upon credulity, but it is still possible to 
understand how the old Populist — nearing sixty now — could 
fancy, for the moment, at least, that he saw in the howling ruf- 
fians of Atlanta as noble an army of Jacobins as ever marched to 
the strains of the Marseillaise. It appears in his personal let- 
ters. "It cost $5000," he wrote, "to save him from the 'mob' — 
as fully a respectable mob as those that took the tea from the 
British ship in Boston. Slaton had better not come back. 90% of 
our people are with us in this Frank case." 22 He could sit at 
Hickory Hill, "close his eyes," and see himself as Voltaire, as 
Mirabeau, as Danton. It was the degeneration of the dream that 
had given form to his chaotic soul. 

Addressing himself to the Jewish lawyers defending Frank, 
Watson wrote: "You have blown the breath of life into the 
monster of Race Hatred: AND THIS FRANKENSTEIN, 
whom you created at such enormous expense, WILL HUNT 
YOU DOWN!" Proportionally there were in 1920 almost four 
times as many Jews to the population of Georgia, as there 
were in North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, and Missis- 
sippi. Every little town had its "Jew store." An editor of the 
state reported that since the commutation of Frank's sentence, 
"Georgia has been, we greatly regret to have to admit, a veri- 
table hot-bed of anti-Jewish feeling." 23 Handbills were distrib- 
uted on the streets presenting the question, "Can't you buy 

21 Jeffersonian, June 24, 191 5. 

22 T. E. W. to Dr. John N. Taylor, July 2, 1915. 

23 Thomas W. Loyless, editorial, Augusta Chronicle, Aug. 1, 191 5. 


The Lecherous Jew 

Clothing from an AMERICAN?" Or shall your money go "To 
buy Governors" ? 24 An editor observed that in the whole state, 
"an unthinking, unreasoning passion has almost completely ob- 
sessed, not merely the worst but some of the best of her citizens, 
until for weeks and months past this matter [the Frank case] 
has occupied the public mind almost to the exclusion of all 
else." 25 Broadside doggerel on the case found a ready market, 
and the ballad of Little Mary Phagan was recorded for the 

After an important development in the case, on the streets of 
Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah, and Columbus, great stacks of the 
Jeffersonian "melted like snow-flakes." Eager crowds in small 
towns met the incoming trains to buy their "Jeffs" as soon as 
they arrived. The circulation of Watson's weekly leaped from 
around 25,000 at the beginning of the Frank crusade to 87,000 
copies for the week ending September 4, 19 15. The price per 
copy to dealers increased from one to one-and-a-half and then to 
two cents. At this rate a convincing itemized estimate shows 
that at its maximum circulation the paper made a profit of 
$1,123.75 P er week. 26 

The commutation of Frank's death sentence marked the open- 
ing of Watson's campaign of abuse against ex-Governor Slaton. 
The slander he did not offer directly for the truth, he implied so 
artfully that it was widely accepted as the truth. The law firm 
of which Slaton was a member had effected a consolidation with 
the firm that defended Frank. It was specifically agreed that 
Slaton's firm should have nothing to do with the Frank case, 
and that Slaton was not to have any interest in the fees of the 
consolidated firm while he was governor. 27 Watson charged that 
Slaton was actually a part of Frank's counsel when he commuted 
the sentence, and that he secretly received fabulous fees for that 
action. He freely used Mrs. Slaton's name in his charges, dubbing 
her "Chief Justice Sally." He argued that the commutation was 
a "nullity" and should be set aside. 

Threats of lynching, half-veiled or unveiled, continued to ap- 
pear in the Jeffersonian. When a demented convict named Creen 

24 Copies in the files of Herbert J. Haas & Co. 

25 Augusta Chronicle, Aug. 1, 1915. 

26 Thomas W. Loyless, in the Augusta Chronicle, Sept. 12, 1915. 

27 Judge Samuel B. Adams quoted in the Augusta Chronicle, Sept. 5, 1915. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

made an attempt upon Frank's life at the state penitentiary, 
slashing a jugular vein while the victim slept, Watson urged that 
a petition be circulated "even into South Carolina, asking for 
clemency for Creen." * In his paper for August 12 Watson 
wrote: "The next Leo Frank case in Georgia will never reach 

On the night of August 16 twenty-five armed men, only two 
of them masked, entered the state penitentiary, took Leo Frank 
out, boldly drove one hundred and seventy-five miles across the 
state in eight automobiles, and hanged him on a tree near Mark 
etta. The lynching was faultlessly planned, and executed with- 
out a hitch. For audacity and efficiency it was unparalleled in 
Southern history. It was after the lynchers had done their work 
that the spirit of the Roman holiday prevailed. A heel was re- 
peatedly ground into the flesh of the dead man's face, and bits 
of his clothing and of the rope were distributed as souvenirs. 
"Fiddling John" Carson played the Mary Phagan ballad all day 
on the courthouse steps in Marietta to crowds gathered from 
miles around. It was estimated that 15,000 people, women and 
children among them, filed past the body of Frank in ah Atlanta 
morgue, after compelling authorities by threats to display it. 29 

At Hickory Hill Watson was waiting for word from the 
lynchers with his wife, his son, and Mrs. Lytle at two o'clock in 
the morning. The news came that Frank had been taken by the 
lynchers. He did not say anything. 80 

One feels back of many of his wild utterances on the Frank 
case the same pathological state of mind that prevailed in parts 
of his anti-Catholic crusade. "I wish it were possible for me to 
consult you professionally," he wrote a medical friend in the 
midst of his activity on this case. "A baffling nervous trouble re- 
turns on me about once a month & for several days I am so 
despondent & distressed, about nothing, that it is difficult to 
live." 81 Whether his psychological condition was more a cause, 
or a result, of his political preoccupations — or whether it was 

28 Jeffersonian, July 29, 1915. 

29 Constitution, Aug. 17 and 18, 1915; Atlanta Journal, Aug. 17, 1915. 
80 Interview with Mrs. Lytle, Baltimore, Aug. 8, 1934. 

81 T. E. W. to Dr. John N. Taylor, Jan. 7, 1915. 


The Lecherous Jew 

either — it is, of course* impossible to say. There may have been 
times, many times, in the study at Hickory Hill, when even Tom 
Watson — as prone as he was to fall under the spell of his own 
hypnotic devices — was unable any longer to identify his howling 
mobs and masked lynchers with his Jacobins and u Liberty 
Boys." But unless one chooses to interpret the above quotation 
in such a light, there is no evidence to support this speculation. 
So far as one can judge on the strict basis of what Watson said 
and wrote, there is no reason to reject the idea that he looked 
upon his work and called it good — all of it. 

After an investigation, Governor Harris reported : u The peni- 
tentiary was not built to keep people out, but to keep them in 
when put there. So the attacking party had little difficulty . . ." 
He was flooded with letters threatening his life when he an- 
nounced that an effort would be made to apprehend the lynch- 
ers. 82 As the New York Times observed, it would have been no 
more possible to convict them than it would have been u to con- 
vict Wendell Phillips in Massachusetts under the fugitive slave 
law for aiding slaves to escape." The mass of the people were in 
sympathy with the lynchers, and those who were not seemed 
completely cowed. The major of Atlanta, speaking before the 
California Mayors' Association at the time of the lynching, de- 
fended it, saying that seventy-five per cent of the people believed 
that the judgment of the courts had been u set aside by one man, 
and the people felt that it was up to them to take the law into 
their hands." w 

Intelligent men were seen to fight their way to news boys to 
pay twenty-five and fifty cents for the first issue of Watson's 
paper after the lynching. The event came too late to allow more 
than a brief comment in a "box" on the front page. "In putting 
the sodomite murderer to death," he wrote, "the Vigilance Com- 
mittee has done what the Sheriff would have done, if Slaton had 
not been of the same mould as Benedict Arnold. Let Jew liber- 
tines take notice. Georgia is not for sale to rich criminals." In 
the next issue Watson devoted eight pages to the case. He wrote 
a long defense of lynch law based upon the text, "THE VOICE 
racy does not mean just that, let us abandon our Republican form 

5 N. E. Harris, op. cit., p. 368. 

i New York Times, Aug. 20-23, 1915; Constitution, Aug. 19, 1915. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

of Government, kiss the Pope's foot, and ask him to appoint a 
'divine right' king to rule over us." He was sure that "all over 
this broad land there are millions of good people, not doped by 
Jew money, and lies, that enthusiastically greet the triumph of 
law in Georgia. Womanhood is made safer, everywhere" 

The state of Georgia stood indicted the nation over because 
of the Frank lynching. The crime was compared freely with the 
atrocities in "bleeding Belgium." A Boston paper suggested a 
boycott on all Georgia products. The New Republic placed the 
state "in the category of communities like Haiti, communities 
which have to be supervised and protected by more civilized 
powers." It deplored the fact that "we are in part composed of 
a people as cowardly, as incompetent, as barbarous as so many 
people in Georgia have shown themselves to be." w The mass of 
Georgians could no more understand such an attitude than the 
mass of Germans could understand Allied talk of the "Hun." 
They believed what they were told. Watson himself printed at 
great length the worst of the condemnation of Georgia from the 
national press, along with many cartoons denouncing the lynch- 
ing. "The North can rail itself hoarse, if it chooses to do so," he 
wrote. "We've already stood as much vilification and abuse as 
we intend to put up with; and we will meet the 'Leo Frank 
League' with a Gentile League, if they provoke us much fur- 
ther . . ." He intimated that "another Ku Klux Klan may be 
organized to restore HOME RULE." 35 

From California ex-Governor Slaton denounced the lynching 
as "a consummate outrage." He proposed the prosecution of 
Tom Watson under the section of the criminal code that makes 
felonious the publication of literature tending to incite riot. The 
mob that attacked him in Atlanta were "recruited from the dives 
and gutters of Atlanta." Of course he was not afraid to return to 
Georgia. He intended to return within a few weeks. 36 "Oh you 
gutter snipes of Atlanta I Oh you denizens of the dives !" jeered 
Watson. "Get back to your gutters, and your dives, before 
Straus, and Haas and Montag fetch John Slaton home!" He 
published a letter from Columbia County admirers addressed to 
Frank friends : "If you don y t want to raise H — in Georgia, you 

**New Republic, Vol. Ill, p. 300. 

85 Jeffersonian, Aug. 26 and Sept. 2, 1915. 

36 Constitution, Aug. 19, 1915. 


The Lecherous Jew 

and your Slaton crowd had better keep quiet, for there is no 
limit fixed to which the sons of Georgia will not go to protect 
her fair women and Watson" Watson suggested more than once 
that "It might seriously impair his [Slaton's] health, if he were 
to return to Georgia." 37 Slaton's friends implored him not to 
return. The ex-governor departed for the Hawaiian Islands. 

In January Watson learned that United States Attorney- 
General Gregory had plans under way for the Department of 
Justice to take action against him for his articles on the Frank 
case. The intention was to try his case in a jurisdiction outside of 
Georgia, on the ground that the government could not get an 
impartial trial of Watson in that state. The government had al- 
ready met two defeats at Watson's hands in its prosecution of its 
case against him involving the charge of obscene matter in his 
Catholic articles. 

Watson called a mass meeting of his followers at Thomson to 
tell them of the government's intention. "And I tell the Attorney- 
General to his teeth," he said, " — you cannot remove me from 
the Southern District of Georgia. ... If I have to give up my 
life for having incurred the savage hatred of the Roman priests 
and the rich Jews, it will be given up right here in the same re- 
gion where my ancestors gave up theirs. ... I don't intend to 
budge an inch : the cause is yours as well as mine, and I will die 
on my threshold, before any officer, State or Federal, shall take 
me outside of the legal jurisdiction under whose constitutional 
protection my home was made." A resolution was passed con- 
demning the Department of Justice. 38 

About the same time a "prominent gentleman" came to Gov- 
ernor Harris with the request that he petition Attorney-General 
Gregory to drop the proceedings against Watson. "The gentle- 
man stated to me," writes the governor with his infallible can- 
dor, "that he had just come from Mr. Watson and had been 
directed to say to me that if I would prevent such a step being 
taken he would give me his earnest support as well for my re- 
election as for any office that I might seek." Harris agreed to do 
all in his power. The "prominent gentleman" then telephoned 
Hickory Hill in the presence of the Governor. "I could hear 
through the phone Mr. Watson's reply . . ." he said. "Mr. Wat- 

37 Jeffersonian, Aug. 19, Sept. 9, and Oct. 7, 1915. 

38 MS. of speech, Watson MS.; also vide Jeffersonian, Feb. 17, 1916. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

son expressed his gratification that I took the view that I had 
outlined." A few days later Harris made a special trip to Wash- 
ington to see the Attorney-General. Later a meeting of the Geor- 
gia delegation was called to discuss the same matter. Said one of 
its members: u Our old Governor has already gone down to see 
the Attorney-General and I am sure the rest of us can afford to 
do so." The entire delegation, with the exception of Hardwick, 
appeared before Attorney-General Gregory in Watson's behalf. 
The case was dropped. 

"What kind of politicians have you got in Georgia?" de- 
manded the Attorney-General of Governor Harris at their inter- 
view. "When you come to me you always denounce Mr. Watson 
in unmeasured terms, and yet when I propose to silence him or 
punish him for his misdemeanors, you come here and take his 
part and urge me to let him alone. Why is this?" 

"I did not answer him according to the inquiry," wrote the 
governor in his account of the interview, "but contented myself 
with telling him that I wanted him to let Mr. Watson alone for 
the sake of the honor of my own state and people." 89 

More than a year elapsed between the time of the Frank 
lynching and the next state election. Watson saw to it, however, 
that the case was kept in the public eye until the election. 
Solicitor-General Hugh M. Dorsey paid Watson a visit at Hick- 
ory Hill after he had disposed of the Frank case, and later an- 
nounced his candidacy for the governorship. 40 Forgetting the 
promise he had made, Watson turned upon Governor Harris, 
who was a candidate for reelection, and denounced him as a 
Slaton man. He then came out for Dorsey, whom he recom- 
mended as "the fearless, incorruptible Solicitor-General who 
won the great fight for LAW AND ORDER, and the PRO- 
TECTION OF WOMANHOOD, in the Leo Frank case. . . . 
The Jefersonian is for him tooth and nail" Watson also an- 
nounced his candidate for prison commissioner: "He is THE 
JUROR who was so outrageously DENOUNCED BY 
stood firm and true, for LAW, for JUSTICE, for WOMAN- 

39 Nat E. Harris, Autobiography, pp. 240-241. 

40 Interview with Judge Hugh M. Dorsey, Atlanta, Sept. 2, 1934. 


The Lecherous Jew 

HOOD." tt Watson also had his candidates for comptroller- 
general, for state superintendent of education, and for commis- 
sioner of agriculture. 

The state campaign was fought out largely on the issue of the 
Frank case. Watson's candidates were victorious all along the 
line. The strategic post of commissioner of agriculture, which 
controlled more patronage than any office in the state, was filled 
by the vice-president of Watson's publishing company. The chair- 
manship of the Democratic Executive Committee was filled by a 
personal friend of Watson's. The governor-elect came to Hick- 
ory Hill to discuss the matter of appointments. The Democratic 
state platform contained a plank condemning all efforts on the 
part of the Federal Government to extradite citizens of the state 
for trial. That same summer the state legislature, at Watson's 
demand, passed a law providing for the strict inspection of 
Catholic convents. Even Watson's power was unequal to the 
task of forcing a Democratic state convention to denounce its 
own party's candidate for president — as he attempted to do. He 
forthwith came out as a "Progressive," in favor of the candidacy 
of Charles E. Hughes. 42 

On a summer night in 19 15, while the hysteria over the Frank 
case was at its peak, a strange ceremony was conducted on the 
bald top of Stone Mountain, ten miles from Atlanta. That cere- 
mony inaugurated the new Ku Klux Klan — of illustrious history 
during the next decade. If Watson had any hand in launching 
the new organization, no record has been found that reveals it. 
Yet if any mortal man may be credited (as no one man may 
rightly be) with releasing the forces of human malice and ig- 
norance and prejudice, which the Klan merely mobilized, that 
man was Thomas E. Watson. 

^Jeffersonian, June 8, 15, 1916; editorial in the New York Times, Sept. 14, 1916. 
42 Jeffersonian, Aug. 3, 17, and 24, Oct. 26, 1916; New York Times, Sept. 27, 



Peter and the Armies of Islam 

IT WAS axiomatic in Watson's politics that Woodrow Wilson 
could do no right. More deeply imbedded in his mind than 
axioms was a hatred of militarism. By the dictates of these two 
antipathies, more than any other influences, was shaped the tor- 
tuous attitude he took toward the nation's part in World 
War I. 

Ever since he led the victory over the Wilson party in the 
Georgia primary of 19 12 Watson had been unremitting in his 
attack upon the President. Nothing seemed to please him. Had 
Wilson given a death blow to Dollar Diplomacy? "Then what's 
our navy doing in Nicaragua?" asked Watson. Had the Presi- 
dent secured the passage of anti-trust laws? "Yes; with all their 
teeth extracted," he replied. Had not eighteen peace treaties 
been negotiated? They were "eighteen lame jokes." Had not 
Neutrality been maintained? "Could the administration have 
done anything else?" His bitterest attack was reserved for Wil- 
son's Mexican policy. The capture of Vera Cruz was a "wanton 
piece of criminal stupidity," for which he could see no possible 
justification. For sending the "punitive expedition" after Villa 
the President "richly deserved impeachment." Intervention 
meant that Wilson sought "to complete the bloody work of 
Mora, Diaz, Huerta, and Henry Lane Wilson." 1 Like every- 
thing else he wrote in this period, the criticisms of Wilson were 
highly spiced with the papal menace. The President was the 
"pusillanimous tool of a foreign potentate" with "a papal spy" 
as private secretary, he assured his readers. It was sometimes 

iJeffersonian, Sept. 24, 1914; April 20, July 13, 1916. 


Peter and the Armies of Islam 

difficult to tell where the anti-Catholic crusade left off and the 
anti- Wilson crusade began. 

For more than a year after the opening of World War I 
Watson was so much absorbed in one "menace" or another that 
he had time for little else. He took pains, however, to assert a 
strong position of neutrality. "It is the most stupendous tragedy 
in history," he wrote of the War. "But you have nothing to do 
with it. The quarrel is not yours. It is your duty to hands off 
[jfc]." He complained of the sham neutrality that lay in the 
government's policy of permitting financial intervention on be- 
half of the Allies. "What sort of consistency is it that prohibits 
a harmless piece of music [a British war song], and then feeds 
the titanic fight with food, clothing, guns, ammunition and 
horses?" he asked. He demanded commercial as well as military 
neutrality. "Come Ahead, Now, and Let Us All Go Crazy about 
the Belgians," ran the headline over his editorial on the atrocity 
propaganda. 2 

Partly because he thought the administration was taking the 
side of the shipping interests against Great Britain and her 
blockade and partly because of his sympathies, Watson had, by 
the end of the first year of war, abandoned his neutrality for a 
frankly pro-Allies position. "LET ENGLAND ALONE!" he 
demanded, referring to the blockade of Germany. He had two 
hundred bales of cotton that he would burn "rather than do a 
single thing to hamper France and England while they are 
fighting for the rights of humanity." He urged the farmers to 
TO GO TO H-LL" when that body demanded an end to the 
blockade. On the side he advised his crusaders that "the Pope 
and the Kaiser are in co-hoot on the war." Yet at the end of 
19 1 6 he still ridiculed the idea of American intervention. Com- 
menting on the slogan, "He kept us out of war," Watson wrote: 
"What war? Where did we have a chance to get into one? What 
did he do to keep us 'out?' . . . We had no cause to go in" Wil- 
son's preparedness program called forth a denunciation of "the 
insane notion that belligerence of mind, belligerence of prepara- 
tion, and belligerence of attitude and conduct lead to peace . . ." 
It was Watson's idea that "big armaments, instead of insuring 

2 Ibid., Jan. 7, 1915; vide also Aug. 27, 1914, and Jan. 14, 1915. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

PEACE, insure WAR." He denounced compulsory military 
training as an effort to have the republic "transformed into a 
German military camp" 8 

Only two weeks before the President delivered his war mes- 
sage, Watson doubled on his tracks and called for intervention. 
"If a single vessel of ours is sunk in violation of the Law of 
Nations," he urged, "join the Entente, send money, men and 
munitions to France, and bend every energy of this greatest of 
Republics to aid those who are trying to crush the Prussian idea, 
that the only law is MILITARY NECESSITY, to be judged of 
by Prussian militarists." 4 Immediately war was declared, how- 
ever, he recoiled to his former position. If the government had 
been, "from the start, absolutely neutral, as in sound morals it 
should have been," there would have been no occasion for in- 
tervention. He pronounced the war a result of "the most rav- 
enous commercialism that ever cursed a nation." He renounced 
the war and all its works, and declared he would have nothing 
to do with it. 5 

His silence was not of long endurance. The dictatorial powers 
demanded by the President, the inquisitorial espionage and sedi- 
tion laws, the universal militarism and regimentation — all re- 
ceived treatment at his hands. He seemed to assume single- 
handedly the task of turning back the tide of war. As he got his 
feet planted on the road to this new crusade, he seemed to ex- 
perience a reborn sense of responsibility, and something of his 
old spirit of courage in the face of overwhelming odds. In June 
his paper was refused delivery at Savannah under provision of 
the Espionage Act pending a decision of the Post Office Depart- 
ment. 6 Early in July he received a notice from the Post Office 
Department requiring him to show cause why his mailing privi- 
leges should not be revoked. This action merely seemed to in- 
tensify Watson's attack. 

His first reaction was one of amazement at the universality of 
the war madness. "Men who are ordinarily cool and level-headed 
are acting like inebriates," he wrote. "A strange intoxication 
exalts them, sweeps them off their feet, fastens them and leads 

8 Ibid,, Nov. 30 and Dec. 21, 1916; Jan. 4, 1917. 

4 Ibid., March 15, 1917. 

5 Ibid., April 12, 1917. 

6 New York Times, June 29, 1917. 


Peter and the Armies of Islam 

them on, and on, AND ON, until they are mere echoes of slogans 
which are sounded in Washington.' ' He attacked the Espionage 
Act with the earnestness of a man defending his own life. It 
would, he said, "establish the same kind of autocracy in this 
country that the Use majestie [sic'] laws create in Germany"; 
yet it was "Jefferson's Democratic Party proposing this, mind 
you!" "Must we begin our war upon European autocracy by 
creating one, here at home?" he demanded. "Don't abuse me — 
ANSWER ME I" It was his opinion that "no king that ever 
lived wielded more autocratic control than President Wilson has 
demanded," and he was using that power to "systematize uni- 
versal goose-stepping." 7 

Treating the "flowers of Wilson's rhetoric" with contempt, 
Watson kept asking with embarrassing frequency, "Why are we 
fighting?" and "How is it that we got balled up in this Armaged- 
don?" The answers he made to his own questions were not those 
that one saw upon the great war posters, or read in the "Loy- 
alty Leaflets," or the "Red, White, and Blue Books," or heard 
from the Four-Minute Men. For example : 

Morgan and his associates banked upon the success of England, France, 
Italy, and Russia: they have put thousands of millions of dollars on that 
side: they now compel the United States to put up billions of treasure and 
millions of lives, ON THE SAME SIDE, for fear that Germany will 
win, and reduce their war paper to the status of Confederate money. 

The Russian collapse had taken place; and American lives by the mil- 
lion, must be devoted to the Russian task, else the billions of dollars which 
our Morgan banks and Steel Trust combinations had staked on England's 

"The World must be made safe for democracy," said our sweetly sin- 
cere President; what he meant was, that the huge investment, which our 
Blood-gorged Capitalists had made in French, Italian, Russian, and Eng- 
lish paper, must be made safe. 

Where Morgans money went, your boy's blood must go, ELSE MOR- 

That's all there is to it. 8 

At the time he wrote this article Watson was conducting a 
drive against conscription and openly encouraging resistance to 
enlistment of troops for foreign service. Draft resistance was 
wide-spread over the country but poorly organized. While Wat- 

7 Jeffersonian, April 26, May 17 and 24, 1917. 

8 Ibid., Aug. x6, 19 17. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

son's movement was in progress, the "Green Corn Rebellion," a 
pitifully ill-conceived attempt of poor white tenant farmers in 
Oklahoma to march on Washington, was crushed by local au- 
thorities who made three hundred arrests. Reports of arrests, in- 
dictments, and trials for draft resistance came from Texas, North 
Carolina, Oregon, Iowa, Ohio, and from Chicago, Philadelphia, 
and Cambridge, Massachusetts. 9 Disregarding these many evi- 
dences of the War Department's determination to silence and 
punish all resistance, Watson pushed his drive well into the fifth 
month of the War. 

He not only continued his attack upon the war administration 
and his aspersions upon the holiness of America's cause, but sug- 
gested an interstate convention to meet and consider "the recent 
unconstitutional and revolutionary acts of Congress" The re- 
sponse "from all parts of Georgia and the adjoining states" was 
so favorable to the suggestion that he set a date for the conven- 
tion to meet in Macon. "WE ARE THE MASTERS!" read 
his call. "By the living God, we must again make that under- 
stood." 10 

Meanwhile, he announced that he intended to fight the con- 
stitutionality of the Conscription Act of May 18, 19 17, in the 
federal courts, and appeal for contributions to assist in the con- 
test. Checks poured in from all parts of the country, small 
amounts most of them, but totaling in the end about $ioo,ooo. 11 
Every week he published the names of new contributors, a list 
usually several columns long. The case selected to bring the law 
to test was that of two Negro men jailed in Augusta for failure 
to register as required by the Conscription Act. The hearing, on 
August 18, attracted such a large crowd that Judge Emory Speer 
held court in the open air. Watson's argument was based upon 
four main contentions: (1) that the acts of Congress and the 
President's proclamation abolished the independent state militia 
and ignored state-rights; (2) that they contravened the clause 
of the Constitution that prohibits Congress from making appro- 
priations of this character for a longer term than two years; 

Charles C. Bush, "The Green Corn Rebellion," (Master's thesis, University of 
Oklahoma) passim; New York Times, Aug. 5, 1917. 

10 Jeffersonian, Aug. 16, 1917. 

11 Interview with C. F. Hunt, Thomson, Georgia, who was cashier of McDuffie 
Bank, of which Watson was president, at the time this money was subscribed. His 
estimate of the total amount received was $100,000 "or over." 


Peter and the Armies of Islam 

(3) that they destroyed the English common law principle of 
ne exeat, providing that the subject could not be sent out of the 
realm without his consent; (4) that they violated the Thirteenth 
Amendment. 12 Based upon the old creed of strict-construction 
and state-rights, it was the same sort of argument that Alexander 
Stephens would have used. The speech was one of the most im- 
pressive Watson ever made. The constitutionality of the Con- 
scription Act was, of course, upheld by the Court. 

Local patriots as well as federal authorities busied themselves 
with efforts to forestall the Macon convention. Watson found it 
impossible to obtain a place of meeting, and on receiving threats 
of military violence should the meeting be held, he took the re- 
sponsibility of calling it off altogether in order to avoid blood- 
shed. "The world must be made safe for democracy, even 
though none is left in these United States," he remarked in mak- 
ing the announcement. 13 

From his own writings it is clear that Watson was well in- 
formed on the ruthlessness with which the Espionage Act and 
other coercive measures were being enforced by the Administra- 
tion. Lesser offenders than he fell victim to the law. A candidate 
for Congress in Iowa was sentenced to ten years in the Federal 
Penitentiary in Atlanta for violating the Espionage Act. His 
offense consisted of publishing and distributing excerpts from 
an address against conscription delivered by Watson at Thomson 
on June 23, 19 17. It had been less than a year since Watson 
was cleared of the charge of sending obscene literature through 
the mails — the end of four years' proceedings against him by 
the Government. He was well aware that he was persona non 
grata to the Attorney-General and that a decision was pending 
on the suppression of his paper. In spite of all this, he continued 
to court disaster, progressively intensifying his attack instead of 
mitigating it. With lance deliberately leveled he charged full 
gallop against the inexorable. 

"I feel sure that Jefferson would have taken the same posi- 
tion . . ." he assured a friend. "Shall I, at my time of life, be- 
come an opportunist, a conformist, in order to avoid harsh 
criticism? The masses — especially the rural masses — are with 
me." The Farmers' Union, in which his influence was strong, had 

^Jeffersonian, Aug. 23, 1917. 
13 Ibid. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

passed resolutions against Wilson's price-fixing program. 14 In 
the course of an interview upon a different occasion Watson once 
remarked: "Freedom of speech, within your limitations, as I 
have said — I have had a good deal of it. Sometimes I have not 
had quite as much as I would like to have had. It takes a good 
deal of freedom of speech and press for me, I assure you." 

In August Postmaster-General Burleson sent a communication 
to the Senate complaining of certain publications that were 
"daily accomplishing results clearly in violation of the espionage 
law." "Common among these publications," he said, "stand The 
Masses and The Jeffersonian. Their respective editors are lead- 
ers in this movement." " That same month the Post Office De- 
partment denied the use of the mails to the socialist monthly and 
to Watson's publications. The same judge who heard his argu- 
ment against conscription denied his application for an injunction 
restraining the post office from refusing to accept his publications. 
There was no other recourse. His parting observation in the last 
number of the Jeffersonian summed up his feelings : 

Without specification of alleged wrong-doing, and without trial by jury, 
and without knowing why it is done, a publisher's business is outlawed and 
his property scrapheaped, and his presses stopped: still, this is not press- 

What is it then? 

Evidently, it is a part of "The New Freedom" which Father-in-law 
Wilson advocates in his book; which Son-in-law McAdoo employs in his 
sales of Liberty Bonds; which the Germans are suffering so badly from the 
want of; and which we are spending blood and treasure to establish 
throughout the universe. 16 

The months that followed were full of tragedy at Hickory 
Hill. The loss of his publications drove in upon him a sense of 
frustration and defeat. He was reminded that his first paper in 
the 'nineties "was killed by the Spanish War of 1898, just as the 
war of 19 1 7 — our date — killed my Jeffersonian." 17 A week after 
the government clamped down upon his paper, his remaining 

14 T. E. W. to Dr. John N. Taylor, May 8, 1917. 

15 Constitution, Aug. 23, 1917. 

16 Jeffersonian, Aug. 23, 1917. 

17 T. E. W. to Robert L. Rodgers, Oct. 6, 1919, Georgia Department of Archives 
and History. 


Peter and the Armies of Islam 

daughter died. That blow was "like the crash of an avalanche," 
he wrote. He found it difficult to readjust himself. "It is hard to 
feel the same old interest in the same old things," he complained. 
"You seem to stand upon one bank of a great stream, and they 
upon the other, while a deep, wide current flows between. To 
the things on the opposite side, you seem strangely removed and 
aloof, as if you had parted from them long years ago." 18 He 
sought relief in drugs and in an increased amount of drinking. 
His health declined and nervous prostration threatened. Toward 
the last of January he left Hickory Hill and moved to Florida. 

In April his last child, John Durham, died while visiting him. 
Turning back to the pages of his Journal where he had written 
of the death of an infant daughter and his second daughter he 
described the death of his son. He mentioned an experience of 
his son shortly before the end which was "so full of tragedy that 
I cannot describe it." Death followed unexpectedly. "Monday 
afternoon convulsions set in. At just before sundown he fell out 
of my arms — dead. This ends it all !" 19 A little while later a 
Negro servant discovered him wandering on the beach out of 
his mind. For nine hours he talked incessantly, for the most part 
repeating old speeches he had made in the 'nineties. He soon re- 
gained control of his mind, but it was not until July that he be- 
gan to recover physically. Those who knew him best dated a 
decided change from this experience. He drank more heavily, 
had less control of his temper, and was never again capable of 
the sustained mental exertion he had been accustomed to. 20 

Grief unnerved him as it did few men, and this was grief mul- 
tiplied by a double calamity that almost at one stroke robbed 
him of what was dearer to him, he said, than life. He had faced 
death himself once in a serious illness, and the only observation 
about the encounter he found worth recording was that he "sim- 
ply didn't care." This present stroke, however, was another con- 
firmation of the suspicion he had long held. Providence, or what- 
ever the parsons wished to name this Force — and he frankly 
entertained his doubts concerning Its friendliness — had always 
reserved a special malevolence for his head. It was plain enough 

18 T. E. W. in The Guard, Sept. 13, 1917. 

19 MS. Journal 2, p. 447. 

20 Interview with Mrs. Alice L. Lytle, Baltimore, Aug. 8, 1934; also Mrs. Lytle 
to Robert L. Rodgers, Jan. 15, 1918, Georgia Department of Archives and History. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

to see. What other ingenuity could have fashioned the demonic 
combination that snatched his children from his arms and stopped 
his printing presses with one malign gesture ? 

One thing he knew — and his rusting presses bore the realiza- 
tion in upon him once more — that somehow he had been eter- 
nally thwarted in his dearest desires. He felt, and he said, that he 
was "one of those men with whom Fortune deals grudgingly, 
one of those whom Hope deceives and Success laughs at; one of 
those who always has wind and wave against him, and who never 
by any sort of chance finds himself in league with Luck." Frustra- 
tion, "like a dark thread," to borrow one of his similes, seemed 
"woven between the warp and woof of his life, and it never 
seemed to tire of repeating the same pattern. Born under the 
star of a declining agrarian society he had received at the start 
a heritage of defeat. This, along with sundry talents, he had 
boldly invested in the adventure of agrarian resurgence in the 
'nineties and eventually attained leadership of the movement — 
in the very year of its bankruptcy. He had been the heaviest 
personal loser in the adventure, and his experience epitomized 
the frustration suffered then, as well as later, by the cause for 
which he fought — but more especially by Southern agrarianism. 
Those struggles of the 'nineties were fought over again and again 
in his mind in later years. Even such tangible victories as he had 
won for his farmers — rural free delivery, for example — had 
eventually been turned to account by his enemies to poison the 
minds of his people. His very platforms were bandied among 
them after he was all but forgotten. All the while perverse eco- 
nomic forces, or perhaps another Force, had widened the rift that 
yawned between the possessing and the dispossessed in his own 
ranks until it could no longer be bridged by his old platforms and 
principles. He had resorted to other devices — devices that con- 
trasted strangely with old principles, and could not possibly have 
gained his consent at one time. At what dire cost to the harmony 
of his soul that consent was purchased may only be surmised. 
New recruits in droves took up his cry against the "menaces." 
But no sooner had he leveled a lance against a flesh-and-blood 
menace than his tatterdemalion army deserted him, and now 
they were treading the muck of foreign trenches or marching in 
goose-step to the rhythm of Wilson's rhetoric. Such reflections 
led back to the beach, where his endless pacings might too easily 


Peter and the Armies of Islam 

become dim wanderings again. Unless he could in some way speak 
his mind — at least have his say . . . 

In a foolhardy attempt to evade the Government's ban Wat- 
son brought out a new paper, The Guard, soon after the Jeffer- 
sonian was silenced, but it too was suppressed. In June Eugene 
V. Debs was arrested and indicted for violation of the Espionage 
Act, and later sentenced to ten years' imprisonment in Atlanta. 
Upon learning that the Attorney-General was about to take pro- 
ceedings against him, Watson wrote that official recounting the 
loss of his children, telling of his physical condition, and promis- 
ing to make no further criticism of the administration if he were 
not molested. The Attorney-General dropped the proceedings. 21 

In August Watson decided to oppose Carl Vinson, candidate 
for reelection as Congressman from the tenth district, in the 
primary of 191 8. He had no paper now, and his physical condi- 
tion prevented him from making more than a few speeches. His 
campaign was left largely in the hands of his friends. At his first 
public appearance, a speech at the home of Alexander Stephens, 
the scene of some of the most heated battles of the 'nineties, it 
was noticed that his hair was silvered, his eyes sunken, and his 
face deeply lined. There was none of the old fiery invective that 
set crowds mad. His voice was seldom raised above a conversa- 
tional tone. He said the campaign might "help divert his mind 
from morbidness and melancholy." 22 

The nation-wide crusade against the Hun was at its highest 
pitch during the fall of this campaign. A regimen of meatless 
and wheatless days, Liberty Bond drives, spy-hunts, and Hun- 
hating held absolute sway. Carl Vinson, who had distinguished 
himself as a super-patriot, launched his campaign upon patriotic 
war issues. He charged that Watson had "never bought a Lib- 
erty bond, nor a war savings stamp and has never given a dollar 
to the Red Cross or Y. M. C. A." Furthermore, he had printed 
"seditious utterances," and "un-American writings" in his "dis- 
loyal incendiary publications" until an outraged administration 
had silenced him. In large advertisements Vinson printed excerpts 
from Watson's bitterest attacks upon Wilson, the war, and the 
Conscription Act. 23 Watson said that he had not changed his 

21 Nat E. Harris, Autobiography, p. 242. Harris was told of the incident by Secre- 
tary of War Baker. 

22 Constitution, Aug. 25, 191 8. 

23 Augusta Chronicle, Aug. 27, 1918; Constitution, Aug. 22, 1918. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

views on the righteousness of the War, but recognized that it 
must now be fought to a successful finish. As for the Liberty 
Bonds, he could see no reason why he should "borrow money at 
12 per cent to loan to the richest government on earth at about 
4 per cent." He was more interested in the coming work of re- 
construction after the War. He promised, if elected, that he 
would "work for free speech; reestablishment of the press; re- 
guarantee and make stronger individual liberty and personal 
rights ; all of which must be built up again." 

The election was surprisingly close. According to official re- 
turns each candidate carried six counties. Watson's victories were 
won in the old Populist counties and in the Fifth Ward workers' 
district of Augusta. According to the county-unit system, Vinson 
had sixteen and Watson fourteen votes in the party convention. 
Convinced that he was the victim of fraudulent practices such as 
were used in the 'nineties, Watson contested the election in three 
counties at the state convention. He charged that local officials 
made a bonfire of ballots cast in one county to prevent a verifica- 
tion of the published returns. 24 Under the sway of patriotic ap- 
peal, the state convention refused to consider the contests Wat- 
son brought. He was denounced as "the miserable creature whose 
every word is against his country," and his "political death" was 
widely proclaimed. 

As soon after the Armistice as seemed reasonably safe, Wat- 
son acquired a small weekly paper, the Columbia Sentinel, and 
began to edit it on the plan of the Jefersonian — all columns ap- 
propriated for his editorials. Still under governmental ban, he 
was compelled to post his papers in a neighboring town. Casting 
aside other precaution, and ridiculing the outcry of "our 'ioo 
per cent' idiots," he launched a running attack on "Wilsonism" 
and all its works, foreign and domestic. This new crusade pre- 
sents some curious paradoxes, and only against the crazy pattern 
of the post-War America of 19 19-1920 does it make sense. 

In domestic affairs Watson demanded immediate repeal of all 
coercive legislation passed during the War. This included the 

24 T. E. W. to J. J. Flynt, Chairman of Democratic Executive Committee of 
Georgia, Sept. 14, 1918, Watson MSS. (copy). 


Peter and the Armies of Islam 

Espionage and Sedition Acts, as well as the Conscription Act 
and compulsory military training. He called for the restoration 
of freedom of speech, assembly, and press and all civil liberties 
that Wilson had abridged, as well as amnesty for all political 
prisoners. There was Eugene Debs, "one of the greatest, truest, 
purest Americans now alive," sentenced to ten years in Atlanta 
by a "stone-headed Federal Judge." He encouraged Victor Ber- 
ger, the Socialist representative from Milwaukee who was de- 
nied his seat in the House by Congress, to "keep up his fight for 
the time-honored principle of free choice of Representatives." 
"// Milwaukee wants Berger, she has A RIGHT TO HIS 

His strictures on Wilson's foreign policy were equally thor- 
ough-going. "What sort of peace was imposed upon the German 
people — whom Wilson said he 'loved?' " he asked. Instead of a 
"peace without victory," the peace of Versailles was an iniquitous 
bondage forced on a helpless people by bayonet, and an Ameri- 
can blockade still imposed starvation upon German citizens. The 
League of Nations he regarded as an unholy alliance of the 
victors to enforce the peace of Versailles, to protect their ill- 
gotten plunder, and to impose imperial exploitation upon the 
subject nations. Under it, he thought, the United States would 
be "made security for every bankrupt nation, and pledged to in- 
terfere with every squabble on God's earth." "The Irish war is 
in bloody progress; the Russian war is a vast welter of blood 
. . . Germany rocks and reels under revolution after revolu- 
tion; Turks still slaughter Armenians; and Great Britain is using 
the gun, the bayonet, and the bomb in every one of her held- 
down dominions." He proposed that the United States "get out 
of Europe and stay out." 26 

What were American troops doing in Russia? he asked. 
"Woodrow Wilson cabled his May-I-not congratulations to 
Kerensky, when the Czar was deposed; and then, when Lenin 
took the place of Kerensky, Wilson himself, sent an army of 
American boys to aid the Japs crush Russian Democracy." It 
looked to him like a coijspiracy "to prevent Russia from show- 
ing the world how a democracy may be established — thus setting 
a bad example that may 'infect' other submerged masses." 

25 Columbia Sentinel, Sept. 12, 1919, and Jan. 2 and Feb. 9, 1920. 

26 Ibid., July 11 and Aug. 8, 1919, and Jan. 2, 1920; Constitution, April 18, 1920. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

"Morality!" he exclaimed. "Woodrow Wilson preaching moral- 
ity! He, the man who personally made war on Russian Demo- 
crats, and starved their wives and children with a most cruel and 
unlawful blockade." 2T 

Shortly after President Wilson's breakdown in September, 
19 19, Attorney-General A. Mitchell Palmer, being groomed as 
a candidate for President, captured the public eye by taking the 
lead in a crusade against organized labor and radicalism. In his 
"war on the Reds" the powers of the Espionage and Sedition 
acts were invoked to sanction a ruthless purge of dissenters. All 
over the nation meetings were broken up, audiences clubbed and 
jailed; houses were broken open, desks ransacked; fathers were 
torn from their families and shipped around the world without 
so much as an explanation. In December, 249 foreigners were 
herded aboard a boat and shipped to Soviet Russia. As if this 
were not enough, Palmer asked Congress for still more repres- 
sive powers. The cry of "Ship them, or shoot them," was taken 
up far and wide. Watson commented : 

What sort of language is this we hear, roaring at religious conventions, 
at peaceable assemblages of Army Hofficers [sic], at quiet sessions of City 
Aldermen, at the afternoon meetings of the Eminently Respectable, and in 
the confidential conferences of the Better Element ? 

Colonel Roosevelt raucously imitates his father, and yells, "SMASH 

In the Maryland Conference, Brother Samples tore loose and yelled, 

In the peaceable assemblage of New York Aldermen, Father Kenneally 
volcanoed, "SHIP UM, OR SHOOT UM!" 

Dear me! this kind of conversation sets me to wondering which one of 
us went crazy first. 

Of course, we are all crazy now; but the question is, who started it? Who 
was the aggressor? 28 

He begged to remind his betters that, "Under these same arbi- 
trary, autocratic measures the Czars filled Siberia with noble 
men and women ..." 

Watson's favorite reply to "the 'ioo per cent' idiots," as he 
called Palmer and the Red-baiters, was to remind them of the 
revolutionary heritage of America. What would they have 
thought of their hero, La Fayette (to whom they were so anx- 

27 Columbia Sentinel, Jan. 2 and 23 and May 10, 1920. 

28 Columbia Sentinel, Jan. 2, 1920. 


Peter and the Armies of Islam 

ious to pay their debt), had they seen him "at the head of a 
huge mob of Parisian Radicals" in the march on Versailles? 
When the British officers shouted "Shoot urn!" at Lexington 
Bridge, "the farmers all ran to their houses, along the road, 
came out with their guns, AND SHOT BACK!" He reminded 
Palmer of the misadventures of a certain Stuart King who " Vis- 
ualized' an imminent danger from another invasion of Danes, 
Germans, Bolsheviki, and Emma Goldmans," and levied "Ship 
Money." The British Parliament had abolished general war- 
rants, but "it remained for Attorney-General Palmer to find a 
legal way to throw a spreadnet over a mining community, and 
to imprison, starve, and force freemen back into involuntary 

The gospel Watson was now preaching met with a wide popu- 
lar response in the general reaction against Wilsonism. Between 
seven and eight thousand people crowded into Thomson to hear 
him speak on his birthday, in September, 19 19. There were dele- 
gations from six Southern states other than Georgia. Three hun- 
dred visitors slept in the printing plant, and many could not find 
a place to sleep at all. Watson spoke for three hours, and after- 
ward resolutions were passed denouncing Palmerism - and the 
League of Nations and demanding the withdrawal of American 
troops from Europe and Russia. 29 "Our circulation has taken a 
great rise recently," reported Watson shortly after the speech. 30 
Mrs. Lytle said that his health was "splendid," that he slept 
normally now, "from 7 to 8 hours at night, and doesn't find it 
difficult to relax as used to be the case." 31 AH his regained 
physical strength he was now bending to the task of rebuilding 
his political strength. 

Early in 1920 Attorney-General Palmer entered his name as 
a candidate in the Democratic presidential primary of Georgia. 
He stood as the "Administration candidate," endorsing the 
League of Nations, and Wilson's administration "in every 
phrase." His candidacy also involved a defense of his crusade 
against the "Red menace." "Should we repeal our espionage and 

29 Ibid., Sept. 12, 1919; Mrs. Alice L. Lytle to Dr. M. M. Yates, Sept. 18, 1919, 
Watson MSS. 

80 T. E. W. to R. L. Rodgers, Sept. 10, 1919 (Georgia Department of Archives 
and History). 

81 Mrs. Alice L. Lytle to Dr. M. M. Yates, Sept. 18, 1919. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

sedition laws and thus voluntarily forgo all protection for the 
institutions and the people of this country?" it was asked in his 
behalf. "Should we open the country to every red and radical the 
world over whose fanatical mind may plot against our liberties, 
our democracy, and our prosperity?" 82 

Watson endorsed the candidacy of Senator James A. Reed of 
Missouri, who ran as a strictly anti-Wilson, anti-League man. 
On the eve of the deadline for the entrance of candidates, how- 
ever, Reed withdrew from the race in Georgia in favor of Sen- 
ator Hoke Smith. Besides being a political enemy of long stand- 
ing, whom Watson had fought for twelve years, Senator Smith 
fell short of the out-spoken opposition to the Versailles Treaty 
that had characterized Reed's platform. He took a rather inde- 
terminate, mid-way position, neither favoring the League of Na- 
tions wholly nor condemning it wholly. He claimed to have 
assisted in the composition of the Lodge reservations ; yet at the 
same time he represented himself as a friend to the Wilson Ad- 
ministration. 33 With Smith a candidate, the race became another 
struggle between the two traditional factions of the party, since 
Palmer was supported by the old Howell faction. 

At the last minute Watson entered the race. It was a new role 
he took, for this time he was not playing one faction against the 
other, but running as his own candidate against both factions. 
It was the first time he had attempted this, and politicians gen- 
erally thought that he had little chance of victory. His presiden- 
tial platform included demands for popular election of federal 
judges, and for recall. The real issue of the campaign, however, 
was that of "Wilsonism." He announced himself the only out- 
and-out anti- Wilson candidate, the only thorough-going opponent 
of the League, and the only defender of civil liberties. "I am 
utterly opposed to any conscription law, any compulsory military 
training, any sedition law, any espionage act, or any legislation 
giving those in power the authority to banish from this country 
any citizen who is not first given a fair, legal trial," he said. 84 

He ridiculed Smith for his timidity in failing to take a positive 
position: he was "Straddle-bug Smith" who was neither one 
thing nor the other. "He wants the League, and yet he does not 

82 Constitution, April-May, 1920, especially May 19, 1920. 

83 Atlanta Journal, April-May, 1920. 

34 Constitution, April 18, 1920; Columbia Sentinel, April 19, 1920. 


Peter and the Armies of Islam 

want it." Watson's chief attack was launched against Palmer, 
along the same lines he took before the Attorney-General en- 
tered the race in Georgia : 

Is this the same Palmer who clamored at Congress, demanding a Sedi- 
tion law which would have criminalized this cheerful editorial ? . . . 

Palmer would have had me clawed out of bed, at midnight; and I 
would have been aboard a steamer, off Brunswick, before my wife would 
have known that I was a Red bound for Russia. ... 

Is this the Palmer who prevailed upon a Federal Judge to decide that, 
if twenty workers become dissatisfied, and quit, at the same time, they are 
criminals? . . . 

Is this the Palmer who virtually said that 60 cents a ton was enough 
for the miners, and that $10 a ton was reasonable for the owners? . . . 

Is he the same man who tyrannically used the irresistible force of the 
Federal Government to obliterate all newspapers, all preachers, all speakers, 
all writers, who stood for American rights and American Independ- 
ence. . . . 

With these despotic ideas in his head Mr. Palmer, as President, would 
out-Wilson Wilson. 35 

Though Palmer, a Pennsylvanian, was little known in the 
state, and made but three speeches during the campaign, he had 
the endorsement of the President and the national party organi- 
zation, as well as the backing of the powerful Howell faction 
in the state. Smith brought to bear all the force of his own 
political organization, which had twice elected him to the Senate. 
He was said to have "engaged in the most arduous campaign of 
his life, speaking in every section of the state." By contrast, Wat- 
son had no tangible political organization, and no campaign 
headquarters. He made no speeches. He was opposed by all the 
daily papers in the state. Great was the astonishment, then, at 
u the amazing vote of Mr. Watson," who received a plurality of 
both counties and popular votes : 36 


48,460 popular votes, 

55 counties, 

148 convention votes 


51,977 " 

56 " 



45,568 " 

43 " 


Palmer, however, received a plurality of county-unit votes, 
and the state Democratic executive committee ruled that he was, 
according to the party rules, entitled to the nomination and all 

^Columbia Sentinel, April 19, 1920. 

36 Constitution, April 21 and May 12, 1920; Columbia Sentinel, May 3, 1920; 
New York Times, April 22, 1930. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

delegates from the state. At the state convention in May, the 
Watson forces, through an alliance with the Smith delegates, 
repudiated the ruling of the committee, and dominated the en- 
tire proceedings. Palmer speakers were shouted down, and a 
resolution endorsing Wilson's administration "was hissed to its 
overwhelming doom." On the other hand, a series of resolutions 
was passed declaring "unalterable opposition to the League of 
Nations" and to the Espionage, Sedition, and Conscription acts, 
and instructing the delegates to the national convention to sup- 
port "no candidate for president of the United States who is not 
in thorough accord with the principles announced by this con- 
vention." When a Palmer delegate protested against one resolu- 
tion as "a veiled attack on the administration," Watson quietly 
arose and said: "Let there be no mistake about this resolution. 
It is mine. Its avowed purpose is to criticize the administration." 
It was promptly passed. The Palmer delegates were not allowed 
a single place on the credentials committee. "The shame of it!" 
lamented the Constitution, a Palmer supporter. "Watson's mas- 
tery was complete. Smith dared not speak." 

After the convention adjourned, the Palmer delegates organ- 
ized to go to the national convention and contest the seats of the 
delegation named by the state convention. Both the Palmer dele- 
gation and the Watson-Smith delegations appeared at the San 
Francisco Convention. Since the Convention was dominated by 
the Wilson administration forces, the Palmer men had little diffi- 
culty in convincing the credentials committee that they were the 
rightful representatives of Georgia. Watson's offer (sent from 
Georgia) to give the contesting delegates one-third of the seats 
was refused, and the entire Palmer delegation was seated by a 
vote of forty-three to four on the part of the committee. 37 

Although several months elapsed between them, the presiden- 
tial primary of the spring and the regular state primary of the 
summer were virtually continuous campaigns fought upon vir- 
tually the same issues. Like the former race the latter was three 
cornered — two of the contending forces being led by the same 

37 Constitution, June 27-29, 1920. 

Peter and the Armies of Islam 

men as formerly. Smith and Watson were this time rival candi- 
dates for the Senate. The Wilson administration and the League 
of Nations did not have a champion until Governor Hugh M. 
Dorsey also announced his candidacy for the Senate. 

Smith's position was obviously weakened by continual trim- 
ming. Watson was near the truth when he charged that: "Hoke 
has been on every side of this question. He's been for reserva- 
tions, and he's been against them. He's been against the whole 

d thing [the League] and he's been for it. He admitted, 

modestly enough, that he wrote the Lodge Reservations, but he 
denied that he was supporting the said reservations." Moreover, 
Smith's delegates at the May convention had solidly voted for 
Watson's resolutions condemning the Wilson administration, 
and when the Senator later proclaimed his harmony with the 
national platform of the party, Watson was ready to remind him 
of those resolutions. 38 

Following the pattern set by his several predecessors in the 
same office, Governor Dorsey had broken with Watson after 
being elected with assistance from Hickory Hill in 191 6. The 
familiar complaint was that Watson demanded too much sub- 
servience. In his race for the Senate he was an advocate of Wil- 
sonism and the League. Standing in much the same place Palmer 
had occupied in the previous race, he received the support of the 
Howell faction, the national party, and a large number of state 
newspapers. 39 

A new factor in this race was the participation of the re- 
cently organized American Legion, then in the midst of a mem- 
bership drive. The Legion paid Governor Dorsey's entrance fee, 
as a candidate in the primary, and supported him as the repre- 
sentative of the cause of u ioo per cent Americanism." It also 
waged an organized campaign against Tom Watson, who was 
denounced as an exponent of all slackerdom, pro-Germanism, 
disloyalty, and un-Americanism. Legionnaires appeared in groups 
at Watson rallies to heckle speakers and create disturbance. Wat- 
son was said to have "affiliations with the Bolshevist representa- 
tives to America." 40 

The Legion soon discovered to its dismay that it had captured 

38 Columbia Sentinel, Sept. 6, 1920; Aug. 9, 1920. 

39 Constitution, Aug. i-Sept. 9, 1920, vide especially editorial Aug. 30, 1920. 
^Atlanta Journal, Sept. 3, 1920; Atlanta Georgian, Sept. 3, 1920. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

a wild Tartar. Instead of hedging, Watson embraced the oppo- 
sition of the Legion and artfully converted it into the main issue 
of his campaign. He assured the public that the Legion was "a 
gilded brigade of rich young officers who want to tell you whom 
to elect to office, and what laws to make in building up, in this 
country, the brutal militarism which they practiced on your sons 
in the Great War" He was the only candidate to champion the 
cause of the private against this clique of officers, he said. It was 
just such autocratic officers as these who murdered Rosa Luxem- 
burg in Germany when she exposed the brutalities which they 
practiced upon privates. Nevertheless he promised to expose the 
atrocities of these ex-officers, which had "excited the horror of 
the world." There was no lack of returned private soldiers to 
supply him with evidence against their erstwhile officers. Great 
was the outcry against the Legion, when Watson related the 
grievances of ex-privates at his speeches. "Many mothers wept," 
it was said. "Old fathers . . . were moved to the greatest emo- 
tion when the speaker described the soldier boy dragged from 
the fireside, hurriedly transformed into a cog in a vast war ma- 
chine, hurled across the ocean and landed in a foreign country, 
to meet the fate of death by gallows by orders of the brutal offi- 
cers put over them." 41 

This time he did not depend upon an editorial campaign, but 
traversed the state three times by automobile to speak to great 
throngs who gathered to hear him. Weekly he wrote dramatic 
accounts of the campaign for his paper. "We stayed a few min- 
utes among the Bolsheviki at these crossroads," he reported, and 
were off to meet the next delegation of "Reds." He was not 
molested by Legionnaires at Warm Springs — "there being so 
many coyotes and Bolsheviki on hand." 

Losing his temper when his sleep was disturbed at a hotel in 
Buford, Watson appeared in underclothes upon the mezzanine 
and hurled a book down at a table of noisy card-players, follow- 
ing it with "every possible form of profanity." An officer ap- 
peared unceremoniously and without warrant to arrest him, and 
Watson put up a violent resistance. "They acted as though the 
Reds were upon them," he reported. His underclothes were torn 

41 Columbia Sentinel, Aug. 9 and 16, and Sept. 6, 1920. 


Peter and the Armies of Islam 

off; he was roughly handled and bruised. He admitted that he 
"became so blind with fury at the outrage" that he could not re- 
call u just what happened afterwards." At any rate he spent the 
night in jail, and remained locked up until a rescuing party ar- 
rived from Atlanta the next morning. He related the occurrence 
in his paper and in speeches, pronouncing it u as barbarous a 
specimen of Wilsonism as ever occurred in the mine-slave regions 
of Pennsylvania." 42 

While scoffing at the Red menace that was played up by the 
American Legion, and the element which he called "our 'ioo 
per cent' idiots," Watson revived the tested and proved Catholic 
issue as a competing "menace." In effect, Watson was virtually 
mobilizing the Klan to put to rout the Legion. At the same 
time, this strange champion of civil liberties was conducting as 
plain-spoken a fight for freedom of speech and press as was being 
made anywhere. It was clear before the election that he had won 
the mass of people to his cause. The paper of a rival candidate 
admitted that his speech in Atlanta attracted the largest crowd 
ever to gather there. Ten thousand people were turned away, 
and the doors closed an hour before the meeting began. A dele- 
gation of ex-soldiers sat in front with a banner reading, "We 
buck-privates and non-coms are with you, Uncle Tom." 

In September Watson was elected by a decisive majority. With 
him his candidate for Governor, Thomas W. Hardwick, allied 
with Watson again after ten years of enmity between the two, 
was also swept into office. The returns showed that Watson had 
more than doubled his popular vote since the April ballot : 43 


1 02 counties, 

247 county-unit votes, 

111,723 popular votes 


38 " 


72,885 " 


14 " 


6i,729 " 

The triumph of Tom Watson was variously interpreted and 
appraised. To a writer in the Nation it appeared to be "essen- 
tially the victory of the Fifth Estate, of the sinister forces of 
intolerance, superstition, prejudice, religious jingoism, and mob- 
bism." "Never before," continued this writer, "has so conspic- 
uous, so violent, so flaming an apostle of every variety of race 

42 Ibid., Aug. 16, 30, 1920; Constitution, Aug. 20, 1920. 

43 Atlanta Journal, Sept. 10, 11, 1920. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

hatred been invested with the power and dignity of the Sena- 
torial Toga." ** The chairman of the Democratic National Com- 
mittee considered his election "something of a blow to the 
Democratic party." Watson himself said that his victory was 
"won against the attempted dictation of officers of the Ameri- 
can Legion, and for the great English principles of free speech, 
free press, free assemblage, and complete separation of church 
and state." 46 To the old Populists, the faithful old guard, it 
meant that Tom Watson had "come back," and that right had 
been vindicated after thirty years of defeat. His victory could 
have meant still other things, doubtless, for its fund of para- 
doxes was illimitable. 

44 C. P. Sweeney, "Bigotry in the South," Nation, Vol. CXI (Nov. 24, 1920), pp. 

45 Atlanta Journal, Sept. 11, 1920; vide also "Seven Reasons Why We Won in 
Georgia," Columbia Sentinel, Sept. 13, 1920. 



The Tertium Quid 

Watson's return to Washington after thirty years was 
like the emergence of a hermit, already a little legendary. 
Although those thirty years had been filled with intense activity, 
Watson himself had been virtually immured at Hickory Hill for 
a generation — flashing out with comet-like regularity at inter- 
vals, but quickly retiring again. He was regarded as a curious 
anachronism from the 'nineties, with "a good deal of the tem- 
perament of a French Revolutionist." Amidst the reactionary 
element swept into Washington with Harding he was indeed an 

He and his wife had few connections in the city, and they 
found social honors empty after the death of the children. To 
prevent his going to a White House reception in street clothes, 
Mrs. Lytle bought him a dress suit. There was no "small talk" 
in him. A complimentary pleasantry from Mrs. Harding caught 
him quite without reply. The old note of disillusionment with 
attainment recurs. He made known his disgust with Harding's 
inaugural: "replete with oracles, maxims, proverbs, safe gen- 
eralities and orthodox truisms." He was never quite reconciled 
to finding no Websters in the Senate with whom to match wits. 
Moody spells accompanied by morbid drinking and attacks of 
asthma interrupted his work, and he was heard to say he was 
"ready to die." x 

Without observing the probationary period of silence expected 
of new members, Watson made himself felt from the start. 
Precious little time there was to set aright a world that was con- 

1 Interview with Mrs. A. L. Lytle, Aug. 8, 1934; Columbia Sentinel t March 14, 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

spicuously awry. He was heard often and at length on a variety 
of subjects. Great deference was paid to his reputation for eru- 
dition, and he not infrequently demonstrated his amazing mas- 
tery of historical lore. His performances were once compared by 
the New York Times with the harangues of John Randolph. 
They did, in fact, seem governed by the eccentric Virginian's 
maxim, "Let there be justice though the heavens fall." Accord- 
ing to mood, he was truculent, gallant, irascible, whimsical, or 
downright ferocious ; and always he was guided by impulse. Few 
there have been who could more naturally assume the mantle of 
the Tertium Quid. He was usually to be seen grinning sar- 
donically behind his desk piled high with literature. The Senate 
librarian said there was never such a voracious reader. 2 

His committee appointments were unimportant, and the bills 
and resolutions he introduced extremely few. He argued elo- 
quently in behalf of his resolution requesting the President to 
free all political prisoners convicted upon charges of alleged 
violation of the espionage laws, and to restore their political and 
civil rights. He also introduced a resolution specifically request- 
ing the pardon of David T. Blodgett, the citizen of Iowa then 
serving a ten-year sentence in Atlanta for printing excerpts from 
one of Watson's own speeches. "Should he be in the Senate and 
I in the penitentiary?" he asked. "He did not say any more in 
Iowa than I have said here in the Senate, and I think I am in 
somewhat better company than he. That is only an opinion of 
mine. (Laughter)" These resolutions, like all his others, failed 
to be reported out of the committees to which they were re- 
ferred. 3 

The first subject on which the new Senator delivered himself 
at any length was the proposed treaty with Colombia, intended 
to conciliate that country for the Panama affair by the payment 
of $25,000,000. Republican senators, rallying to the defense of 
Roosevelt, had opposed the treaty as proposed by the Wilson 
administration. Now that Roosevelt was dead, and certain new 
factors had entered the picture, even Lodge reversed himself to 
support the treaty. Much verbiage was perpetrated, but Senator 
Lodge let the cat out of the bag by his statement: "We must not 

2 New York Times, Sept. 20, 1922; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, quoted in the Columbia 
Sentinel, July 17, 1922. 

3 Cong, Records, 67 Cong., 1 Sess., Oct. 26, 1921, p. 6780; Aug. 23, 1921, p. 5580. 


The Tertium Quid 

only enlarge our trade, but we must enlarge our source of supply 
of oil wherever it is possible to do so, and we can not do it if 
we take the position that it is a sin for Americans to make money 
and that those who are engaged in foreign investment and for- 
eign commerce are to be punished instead of sustained." 4 

"Mr. President, are we the agents for the Standard Oil Com- 
pany — that and nothing more?" asked Watson. "When did that 
infant, protected in all its roots and branches, need our assistance 
in securing access to foreign oil fields?" He intimated that all 
the fine talk about Pan-American brotherhood turned his stom- 
ach. "Let us confess what we are doing — that we are here to 
buy property for the Standard Oil Company." If the country 
was in such need of oil, why did we voluntarily cut ourselves off 
from the richest oil fields in the world — those of Soviet Russia? 
"Because we will not trade with the Russian government, be- 
cause we do not like their form of government." Did the senators 
like the form of government in Colombia any better? "What is 
it, by the way? 'Despotism tempered by assassination.' " 5 

Watson early constituted himself chief defender of the Soviet 
Government, and continued to be an outspoken proponent of 
recognition. The stinging rebuffs that Secretaries Hughes and 
Hoover administered the Communist government moved him to 
indignation, and senators who professed to be horrified at Red 
atrocities met with his ridicule. He roundly denounced American 
intervention in Siberia, and the blockade, and joined with Borah 
in an attack upon Boris Bakmeteff, the Kerensky government's 
ambassador, whom the United States continued to recognize. 
"Where is the consistency," he asked, "of staying in a state of 
war, or at least of nonintercourse, with a great nation which 
has always been our friend and at the same time handing out 
food to them as objects of charity? We first destroy their com- 
merce and then try to replace it by gifts, by doles of food." We 
had no more right to dictate Russia's form of government than 
we had to dictate Germany's. Non-recognition was more "Wil- 
sonism," and the Republicans seemed to him "residuary legatees 
of the political will of Woodrow Wilson." He pounced upon one 
unfortunate member who ventured a historical analogy with the 
French Revolution and lectured him at length on that event, 

4 Ibid., April 12, 1921, p. 162. 
5 Ibid., April 15, 1921, p. 3x3. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

asserting that the Russians went to no greater extremes than did 
the French. Yet President Washington, himself a revolutionist, 
Watson reminded them, "not only recognized the French repub- 
lic, whose garments dripped with blood, but he put up to Con- 
gress in a respectful way an application for a loan." He quoted 
a speech of Webster's advocating recognition of the revolution- 
ary government of Greece. "Let us not affect too much saintli- 
ness," he admonished. "Are our skirts entirely clear of wrong 
doing in Hawaii, the Philippines, and in Santo Domingo?" 6 In 
a different connection, but in the same trend, he said: "We are 
hereditary revolutionists. We are so from instinct, history, and 
tradition. We are so by sentiment." Whence, then, all this out- 
cry against revolutionists ? 7 

On other questions of foreign policy Watson outdid Senator 
Lodge in his opposition to anything that remotely smacked of 
the League of Nations, which, he said, was as much like the 
Holy Alliance of the nineteenth century "as two black cats are 
like one another." His most conspicuous fight was waged against 
the ratification of the Four-Power Treaty upon insular affairs in 
the Pacific. He denounced it as in reality an alliance with the 
dominant imperialistic powers, designed to promote imperial- 
ism, and to draw the United States into the web of foreign rival- 
ries, if not into the League itself. He chided Lodge for "clothing 
his thoughts in the classic verbiage of Woodrow Wilson." "Break 
the heart of the world I Will it break the heart of Germany if 
we do not go into this alliance with France?" Or the heart of 
Russia by not entering an alliance with Japan? He thought Presi- 
dent Harding "childlike and bland" in his advocacy of the treaty 
as a harbinger of "a millennium of brotherly love." 8 

A considerable portion of the Senator's time was devoted to 
relieving his pent-up feelings. This exercise was doubtless of 
great cathartic value to his emotional life, and a source of diver- 
sion to spectators, but it resulted in little substantial accomplish- 
ment and much waste of time. He spoke frequently and elo- 
quently on behalf of the soldier's bonus, directing his remarks 
against the American Legion. He finally refused, however, to 

e Ibid., Sept. 29, 1921, p. 5580; ibid., 67 Cong., 2 Sess., May 15, 1922, p. 6949; 
ibid., May 23, 1922, pp. 7460-7462; vide also, Columbia Sentinel, June 26, 1922. 

7 Cong. Record, 67 Cong., 1 Sess., April 15, 1921, p. 313. 

8 Ibid., 67 Cong., 2 Sess., Feb. 23, 1922, pp. 2940-2942; vide also ibid., March 8- 
15, 1922, pp. 3561, 3852, 3786, 4180-4186. 


The Tertium Quid 

vote for the bill unless it could be "stripped of any feature which 
imposes additional taxation [I]" He championed the cause of 
Truman Newberry, in the Michigan contested election case, ap- 
parently because he disliked Ford's "Wilsonism." But after 
speaking frequently along that line, he did not take sides when 
the question came to a vote. The police powers for federal en- 
forcement of prohibition, demanded by the Anti-Saloon League, 
drew from him fulminations against both prohibition and the un- 
constitutional infringement of personal liberties and rights, as 
well as against federal policing of states. Other subjects upon 
which he took occasion to relieve his feelings included the United 
States Steel Corporation, the American Legion, Pennsylvania 
coal mine operators, and all tariff duties of any description or 
amount. 9 

Any question involving an encroachment of militarism found 
Watson bristling with hostility — just as it always had. He bat- 
tled against proposals of increase in naval and military appro- 
priation, and against an attempt to increase the standing army. 
He admitted that "possibly two or three of our admirals ought 
to have ships in which to sail around," but that was enough. A 
standing army of 25,000 men he thought sufficient. He attacked 
the proponents of an increased army as savagely as he had in 
1892. Which among the nations did they fear? he asked, nam- 
ing them, and rejecting each as an absurd suggestion. "Whom, 
then, do you fear ?" he asked : 

You are afraid of your own proletariat. That is what you are afraid of. You 
are afraid of the dissatisfied workman, thrown out of employment by these 
soulless, these heartless, these insatiable trusts and combinations of capital ; 
you are afraid of the millions of men and women and children who do not 
have enough to eat in this land of bounteous harvests ; not enough to wear 
in the very cotton fields where their hands bring forth the staple that clothes 
the world. 

I wonder if they think that a hundred million people will meekly starve 
while such men as Mellon, and Hoover, and Elbert Gary, and J. P. Mor- 
gan lord it over the earth? The American people will not submit. There- 
fore, these vast combinations of capital want a standing army in order to 
beat down the dissatisfied, who have a right to be discontented. 10 

9 Ibid., July 8, 1921, p. 3417, on the American Legion; ibid., 67 Cong., 2 Sess., 
June 28, 1922, pp. 9545-9546, on the tariff generally; ibid, Sept. 15, 1922, p. 12668, 
on coal mine operators. 

10 Ibid., May 25, 1922, p. 7623. 


Tom Watson Agrarian Rebel 

In the course of his attack on the "officer castes," which he said 
was "building up in this country ... a militarism just like that 
of the Kaiser and his staff," Watson alluded to the charges of 
cruel treatment of privates during the War, which he had made 
in the previous campaign in Georgia. Warming to his subject, he 
said that "private soldiers were frequently shot by their officers 
because of some complaint against officers' insolence," and he 
had a picture of gallows on which men were hanged "day after 
day, without court martial or any other form of trial." Senator 
Borah interrupted to say that he had received such a picture, but 
had been unable to substantiate the charges. Senator Wadsworth 
of New York demanded that Watson appear before the Com- 
mittee on Military Affairs to prove his charges. Flaring up ex- 
citedly at the challenge, Watson answered : 

I am not going to be bottled up in any committee room and have the 
evidence entombed in some report that nobody will read. When I get 
through . . . what I say to the Senator from New York will be read by 
millions of people of this country; the newspapers will have to carry it, 
because it will be good reading matter. I assure you it will. It will be good 
copy. You need not doubt that. 11 

The whole incident of the brutality charges recalls the investi- 
gation of his charges of drunkenness on the floor of the House 
in 1892. The same belligerence and exaggeration characterized 
his conduct in both episodes. His language and bearing as he 
made the charges were said to have "involved the proprieties of 
the Senate." "The dignity of the Senate was aspersed at the 
same time that the honor of the army was called into question," 
said the New York Times. Since he refused to appear before the 
Committee on Military Affairs, a special committee, headed by 
Senator Brandegee, was appointed to investigate his charges. 
Watson was correct in his prediction that the accusations would 
create a sensation in the press. Letters poured in to him from 
ex-soldiers promising to substantiate his charges, and he read 
them into the Record? 2 Hearings before the special committee, 
dragging out over three months, were a disappointment to Wat- 
son. Witnesses modified or retracted statements made by letter 
when they appeared to testify, and little convincing evidence was 
produced. Watson's temper grew shorter and more violent. With- 

u Ibid., 67 Cong., 1 Sess., Oct. 31-Nov. 5, 1921, pp. 7021, 7069, 7172. 

12 Cong. Record, 67 Cong., 1 Sess., Nov. 1, 1921, p. 7070; Nov. 7, pp. 7464-7471. 


The Tertium Quid 

out his knowledge, Mrs. Lytle went to Vice-President Coolidge 
and asked that the investigation be stopped. 13 In spite of the de- 
mand in the press that the conclusions of the committee be 
announced, no report was made until after Watson's death, and 
more than a year after the hearings. It was found that the 
charges were not sustained by the testimony. 14 

The "Watson Temperament" became a problem of increasing 
difficulty as the months passed. Though sixty-six years of age, 
and physically perhaps the smallest man in the Senate, he was 
easily conceded to be the most belligerent member of that body. 
Within a period of six months he was known to have challenged 
three men to physical combat or threatened them with assault 
and battery. One of these was Senator Phipps of Colorado, eight 
years his junior, who incurred his displeasure by going over his 
head to make inquiries concerning Georgia post office appoint- 
ments to which Watson had objected. A