Monday, January 14, 2013

Mr. Post and Third Party Politics

During the 1890s the following ad/article appeared in The Sun, a paper in Kansas City.

Driven From Sea to Sea!
A real story of today, illustrating the fate of the disinherited, by C.C. Post, ex-editor of the Chicago Express…..The author of the above book is now sojourning in Douglasville, Georgia, where he went after inspecting the over-advertised land of Florida and he is so well satisfied with the climate, the price of land, the water, the scenery, the products, the people and the prospects in general that he is naturally desirous to see a nucleus of his northern friends gathered about him.

So, C.C. Post was sojourning, was he?
To sojourn means to stay somewhere temporary, but for someone who intended to stay in Douglasville temporarily Post certainly stirred things up.

By the time he and his wife, Helen Wilmans Post had fled the town he had the place turned upside down, and made Douglasville the hotbed of third party politics.
If you are coming into the story late you can catch up by reading parts one and two here and here.

Post wasn’t just a muckraking journalist and novelist. He had been involved in politics for some time before arriving in Georgia, and he was hardly the sort to let a little thing like being a Yankee in the deep south keep him from dabbling in politics again.
However, he underestimated the good people of Georgia….and the even better folks of Douglas County as Joseph S. James was quoted in The New South in 1902:  [The Democratic Party] has in the past withstood all assaults upon it. If you are a friend to it you will do well to try to reform your own actions to its policy or, at least, stay in its lines. The history of it is all those who undertake to burst it usually get bursted themselves.

In other words…don’t trifle with the party….the ONLY party in Georgia per the time period, AND whatever you do….don’t try to split the party by instituting a third party.
Here’s how it all went down……

When we last left Mr. and Mrs. Post she was busy with her “mental science” making a living selling information that more than like was simply not true while her younger husband, C.C. Post busied himself by becoming involved in the power structure of the town. During the late 1880s and through the turn-of-the-century the power structure was headed up by Joseph S. James and Dr. T.R. Whitley. Mr. Post had several business dealings with both men and had bought some land from Dr. Whitley where a grand mansion was built along Chicago Avenue.
So, when did the love affair with the Posts begin to go sour?

Things took a nasty turn as C.C. Post returned to politics. He soon became involved with the Farmer’s Alliance. I encourage you to take a couple of minutes and read through the New Georgia Encyclopedia article regarding the Alliance here.
Farmers did have a legitimate gripe. The landowners were getting wealthier while the farmer was getting poorer.

But wait….weren’t the landowners and the farmers the same people?

No….not necessarily. Because the economy had been destroyed following the Civil War many planters could no longer work their fields. They divided their land and allowed others to work their fields for a fee…..a fee based on the production and sale of the crops. What developed was basically another form of slavery as small-time farmers owed larger and larger amounts to the landowner and often also ran up huge bills with merchants for supplies and staples. Sometimes the merchant and landowner was the same person which meant they had even more leverage over the farmer.
Post used his prior experience with the Grange movement in Indiana to become a lecturer for the Farmer’s Alliance. Per Fannie Mae Davis in her book From Indian Trail to I-20, Post had convinced ten of the twelve members of the Douglas County Democratic Executive Committee to defect to the Farmers Alliance by 1891. Only J.B. Duncan and J.H. McClarty remained Democrats, and they were referred to as the ‘Lone Fishermen.’

Soon Post was traveling the state, and he soon moved up in the ranks of leadership in the Farmer’s Alliance.
Now, in the beginning staunch Democrats like James and Whitley along with men involved in state politics allowed the farmers to have their Alliance without grumbling too much. They felt that if they pushed back too hard the Democratic Party would splinter, and they wanted to avoid it, but that’s exactly what the Alliance leadership including C.C. Post wanted and began calling for.

A third party…..the Populist Party. If you haven’t already clicked through to the New Georgia Encyclopedia article I linked to above now might be a good time.
Staunch Democrats would have none of a third party. They had suffered the indignities of having carpetbaggers and scalawags control the state legislature during Reconstruction. They had finally gotten themselves back in control, and weren't going to let a bunch of farmers led by a Yankee create a third party.

During the spring and summer of 1892 things really heated up.

Politicians like John B. Gordon and W.J. Northern looked upon some of the wants an needs of the Alliance with favor, but were adamantly against a third party. Gordon had returned to the Senate and Northern, past president of the State Agricultural Society had been elected governor.  Even the President of the Georgia Alliance from 1888 to 1892…..Leonidas F. Livingston would not jump the Democratic Party ship for the Populist Party.
Post and his Alliance cronies continued their fight, however. They crisscrossed the state speaking to groups of farmers at barbecues, in churches and even in fields if need be.

The Constitution had a field day with the political fracas reporting every move C.C. Post and the third party men made, but it was clear they favored the Democrats more. On April 1, 1892 the Constitution wrote concerning the third party….“a new party, gathering strength from men who have had no experience in the management of party politics. It is blundering along in the darkness, bungling things as it goes, and when they get through with the job, a pretty mess they will have.”
While most third party gatherings were simple speeches where converts were or were not made before heading off to the next town some of the gatherings were more interesting.

So, what about Douglasville?   Did Post ever speak here?
Of course he did.

In April, 1892 a great meeting between the Democrats and the third party men were advertised for Douglasville….on the thirteenth, to be exact. Both sides advertised the event heavily. The Constitution advised,“This is Post’s home, and is regarded as the home of third partyism in Georgia. Douglasville will be alive with people to hear the political issues of the day discussed. One of Atlanta’s best brass bands will be furnishing the music.”
The day after the even the Constitution published a lively account that was furnished by The New South paper from Douglasville, no doubt since it was written with a more Democratic slant.

 The article began rather dramatically…….
Not since the flaming torch was applied to the city of Moscow and Napoleon’s army began its disastrous retreat to the…waters of the Beresina in the bitter days of 1812 has such a signal rout been given to men as that which marked the flight of Post and his third party followers today.

See, dramatic. Right?
The article continues....This day’s business will go to history.

Unfortunately, it didn’t, and I doubt that even a handful of Douglas residents know about it.
The article continued....It’s parallel has never been known to Georgia politics. Never ever amid the exciting times of warfare between the old whig and democratic parties has the instance been known when one party after lining its forces for a battle on the stump gave up the fight and beat a hasty and sudden retreat before a single speech was made or a single orator introduced.

And yet this is just what the third party people did here in Douglasville today.

Congressman Livingston was invited to Douglasville to speak on behalf of the Democrats.  He returned to Atlanta from Washington D.C. for that very purpose. Committees from each side met on the morning of April 13 and decided how the debate would unfold.
Congressman Livingston would speak followed by C.C. Post on behalf of the third party.  Then a host of others would speak as well from each side. Livingston would respond again at the end of the day.
The stage was set.
The Constitution article goes on to say....Hundreds and hundreds of people [went to Douglasville] – not alone from neighboring regions, but from all parts of Georgia – to participate in the political sensation that was promised. Newspaper correspondents came by the dozen representing all the leading daily journals of the state.

The train arrived carrying the speakers, and even though the agenda and rules for the debate had been agreed to earlier in the day, as soon as Post alighted [from the train] and sought his committee on arrangements a sudden change of the program was demanded.
Post did not want to allow Livingston to have the final say. He wanted equal time man for man.

By this time the crowds had already arrived for the debate and were pressing upon the courthouse in downtown Douglasville. The People’s Party Paper advised there were four People’s Party men in Douglasville for every one Democrat stating....They left their plows sticking in the furrows and came by scores and by hundreds….They filled the courthouse, they overflowed and filled the town….a great sea of people.”
The event changed, however, from the debate the crowds were expecting to see to two separate meetings…. each competing for the crowd.

Joseph S. James stood on the courthouse steps and welcomed the throng of visitors who had come to listen to the debate and he assured the people they would witness an orderly and fair minded gathering…
Livingston and E.P. Howell led off the Democratic speeches from the courthouse steps
while Post led his supporters away. It is estimated around 500 people had left the courthouse with Post and marched across the pedestrian bridge over the railroad and down Strickland Street.

Railroad bridge?

During Douglasville’s earliest days up until the 1930s there was a wooden bridge up and over the tracks so people could safely cross from Broad Street over to Strickland.  The picture I’ve posted below is actually from the 1920s, but you can see the bridge very clearly.  I’ve written about it here as well.

The People’s Party Paper advised it was County Alliance president J.W. Brown who suggested to the third party followers they should adjourn to the Alliance Warehouse on Strickland Street.
The paper advises someone yelled...."Cross over the railroad bridge so everybody can see,” and the surging crowd turned aside at the intersection of the street and crossed the high bridge over the railroad, thus making their numbers apparent to every onlooker.

Two blocks further down the street stands the Alliance Warehouse and when the head of the marching column reached here they looked back and saw the crowds still surging across the high bridge, where every moment fresh squads of twenty, fifty, or one hundred of those who had wanted to hear what the excited and now dismayed Democratic leaders were saying, turned away from the courthouse on the hill with cheers for Watson, Post and the party of the people, joined the marching columns headed to the warehouse.
The Constitution article stated....Many had apparently left the courthouse under the impression that all the speakers were going to the warehouse….[Post] naturally took in hand the direction of affairs, and had half a dozen bales of cotton rolled out in front of the warehouse. The idea was for the ladies to sit on the bales, but they were provided with other seats, and the men mounted the bales…

Couriers kept going back and forth between the courthouse and the warehouse to report what was going on at the other meeting…The composition of the crowd at the warehouse kept changing composition as folks would venture to the courthouse and reinforcements would come down.
The gentle breeze wafted the hearty democratic cheers over to the warehouse and the burst of enthusiasm up there came down like the rattling of distant guns. Now there  would be a tremendous roar as if from a whole battery. Then there would be the rattle of musketry as volley after volley of applause greeted the telling of the speeches.

The people’s party cheered , too, and in defiance, but their hurrahs, mingling with the odor of the phosphate were mostly borne by the zephyrs over towards Cobb County.
After the meeting a young planter, who had gone from Lithia Springs said, ‘I had thought there would be a much larger gathering of third party folks. They cannot carry Douglas County.

….and after their first success, they never did.
Next week I’ll publish the final installment of the “saga” of the Posts.

See installment four here.

Go back to installment two here.

Go back to installment one here.

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