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Mississippi at the beginning of the 20th century


Governors James K. Vardaman
Governors James K. Vardaman

In the years following Reconstruction, the Democratic Party and state government were dominated by wealthy landowners and business leaders. Then, in the last decades of the 19th century, small independent farmers and, to a lesser extent, white tenant farmers and sharecroppers became increasingly dissatisfied with the conservative political leadership of the planters and industrialists. Farmers experienced a sharp decline in income, and the Democratic Party did little to help them.

Some farmers deserted the Democrats and started a reform movement represented by the Farmers’ Alliances and the People’s Party. This movement, called populism, pressed for the unlimited issuance of silver and paper money to produce inflation, raise farm prices, and allow farmers to pay off their debts with cheap money. Populists supported farmers’ cooperatives, lower freight rates, regulation of the railroads, a graduated income tax, direct popular elections of U.S. senators, and an eight-hour workday.

With the adoption of popular primary elections in the state shortly after the turn of the century, the small farmers gained control of the state Democratic Party. Politicians appealed to the small farmers with flamboyantly racist speeches; by attacking local and national banking, railroads, and other corporate interests; and by advocating reforms beneficial to the small farmers.

Governors James K. Vardaman (1904-1908) and Theodore G. Bilbo (1916-1920, 1928-1932) were characteristic of the politicians who appealed to small farmers through most of the first three decades of the 20th century. Reforms enacted during that period included larger budgets for education; lighter tax burdens on small farmers; state regulation of railroads, banks, and other corporate enterprises; and reform of the state penal system. "Mississippi" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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