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Political troubles


J. C. W. Beckham
J. C. W. Beckham

Eventually, factionalism within the Democratic Party and agrarian unrest challenged the party’s rule. Third-party movements abounded. Farmers, unhappy at discriminatory freight rates and their declining influence on the Democratic leadership, supported reform movements such as the Greenback Party, the Farmers’ Alliances, and the People’s Party. This political movement was called populism. Populists sought, among other measures, to institute farmers’ cooperatives on a national scale; to lower transportation costs by nationalizing the railroads; and to achieve a more equitable distribution of the costs of government by means of a graduated income tax. The movement had some success; the state’s fourth (and present) constitution, drafted in 1891, contained many detailed sections restricting government. One provision, for instance, barred the governor from serving two terms in a row; in 1992 this was amended to three terms. Outdated almost immediately, the constitution has been amended many times over the past century.

The 1880s saw an eruption of violence, smoldering since the Civil War, in the famous feud between the Hatfield and McCoy clans in the mountainous Kentucky-West Virginia border area. Armed bands shot at each other, and when arrests were made, the arrestees were often released because of their local influence. The feud did not end until after 1890, when an interstate incident was created by Kentucky authorities invading West Virginia to seize and convict several Hatfields. This affair and other feuds hurt the state’s postwar image.

Violence erupted also in the gubernatorial election of 1899. The leading candidates were Republican William S. Taylor and Democrat William Goebel. When the votes were counted, Taylor appeared to have won by some 2,000 votes, and he was inaugurated on December 12. However, the Democratic majority in the legislature undertook an investigation of the votes, and it was expected that they would soon declare Goebel governor.

While that debate was under way in January 1900, Goebel was shot by an unknown assassin. During the four days that he lived, the Democratic majority threw out enough votes to declare him the state’s chief executive, and swore him in as governor. Republicans refused to recognize the legality of that action, and two governments, each with their own supportive militia force, faced off. Civil war on party lines seemed possible, but finally the decision was left to the courts and in May, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand the Democratic Party’s actions. With Goebel dead, his lieutenant governor, J. C. W. Beckham, was declared governor and Taylor fled the state. "Kentucky" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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