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The economic crisis in North Carolina


Republican, Daniel L. Russell
Republican, Daniel L. Russell

A sharecropping and tenant farming system grew up as a replacement of the old plantation system. A sharecropper raised part of a landowner’s crop and was paid a share of the profit after deductions for living expenses and the cost of tools and supplies. A tenant farmer sold what he raised and paid the landlord a share of the profit as rent. If the profit was low, the landlord got his share first. The cropper or tenant took what was left or, if none was left, got an advance to keep going until the next harvest. Because farm prices fell after the war and stayed low, most tenants and sharecroppers sank into an endless cycle of debt. Not until World War II (1939-1945), when widespread mechanization of agriculture made sharecropping unprofitable, did the system begin to disappear.

Farmers in general experienced a sharp decline in income in this period, while their living and operating costs continued to rise. Farmers began to organize in the 1870s, and, during the ensuing two decades, many joined the National Grange and the Farmers’ Alliances. The Alliances were cooperative organizations that hoped to lower farmers’ costs by selling supplies at reduced prices, loaning money at rates below those charged by banks, and building warehouses to store crops until prices increased. Dissatisfied with the Democratic Party, about half of the farmers of the state, already organized in the Alliance, formed the People’s Party in 1892. This political movement, called populism, had as its principal objectives the

unlimited coinage of silver and large amounts of paper money, which were inflationary measures intended to raise farm prices and help farmers pay off their debts.

Populists also sought a national cooperative system like the local Alliances; lower freight rates under state-run railroads; a graduated income tax to distribute the cost of government more widely; direct popular elections of U.S. senators; and an eight-hour workday.

The elections of 1892


The elections of 1892 demonstrated that the populists could win some offices but could not become the majority party. Therefore, in the elections of 1894 the populists cooperated with the Republicans, supporting in many instances a Fusion (Republican and Populist) ticket. The Fusionists won control of the legislatures of 1895 and 1897 and in 1896 elected a Republican, Daniel L. Russell, to the governorship. Russell was the only Republican to hold the governorship of North Carolina between the end of Reconstruction and 1973. The Fusionists liberalized the election laws. As a result, a larger percentage of men voted in the presidential election of 1896. The Fusion administration improved the public schools and stimulated interest in education.

Partly out of political necessity, the Fusionists also initiated a major experiment in political equality. Blacks voted freely. Ten blacks served a total of 12 terms in the legislature, and one black, George H. White, was, from 1897 to 1901, the last person of his race to represent a Southern state in the U.S. Congress until 1973. "North Carolina" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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