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Democrats Regain Control

The election of 1898 once again pitted the Democratic Party against a Fusionist contingent of Populists and Republicans. Although the Fusionists had worked together in the past, it was not a foregone conclusion that they would do so again. Many members of the Populist Party had once been Democrats and, on a national level, Democratic and Populist alliances had already taken place. In fact, during the 1898 campaign, leaders of the North Carolina Populist Party actually requested a union with the Democrats but their overtures were denied by the Democratic Executive Committee. (Perman 2001, 153-156; Anderson 1981, 256-257; Edmonds 1951, 136-137) While the Populists and Republicans had been united by their desire for electoral reform in 1894, party members disagreed on a number of important economic and social issues in 1898. For example, as African Americans did not compose a significant part of the Populist Party base, the Populists were less concerned with protecting their interests than the Republicans who counted on African American support. Conversely, some African-American Republicans resented the fact their party supported the political ambitions of white Populists when very few African Americans held significant political offices. (Perman 2001, 152-154; Redding 2003, 112, 114) Despite these differences, after the Democrats rejected their advances, the Populists ultimately chose to ally with the Republicans rather than fight a three-way race. This decision, however, did little to resolve the schisms that were developing within the party as some Populist leaders would have preferred to run independently and others, who supported white supremacist ideology, resented the presence of African Americans on Fusion tickets. (Perman 2001, 161-162; Anderson 1981, 257-258)

The Democrats, on the other hand, stood united on a platform of white supremacy, and (under the direction of Party Chairman Furnifold Simmons) they launched a brutal but well-organized campaign that their opponents proved unable to neutralize. Democrats argued that the Fusionists, particularly the Republicans, were responsible for unleashing “negro domination” on the state of North Carolina and that it was time for all white men to unite in order to combat this “menace” to the social and political order. (Item 382; Perman 2001, 156-159; Anderson 1981, 254-255; Redding 2003, 120-123) In order to support their arguments, they pointed to a number of African American office holders who they charged had been appointed by the Fusionists. (Item 382) The Populists objected to these attacks and attempted to claim the mantel of the white man’s party for themselves, arguing that the Democrats had appointed African Americans to political office and were now using white supremacy to cloak the failures of previous Democratic administrations. (Item 423) In response to these charges, the Democrats released a mocking pamphlet which suggested that the Populist Platform must have been written by Republicans (as it supposedly failed to take up "Populist" issues) and repeatedly asked why the Populists had attempted to align themselves with the Democrats if previous Democratic administrations had proved to be inept and/or corrupt. (Item 412)

In order to spread their message and win over potential voters, the Democrats successfully utilized newspapers sympathetic to the Democratic cause, particularly Josephus Daniels’s News and Observer, a Raleigh-based paper which claimed to have the largest circulation of any newspaper in the state. Daniels, Chairman on the Democratic National Committee, ran a number of editorials and political cartoons that ridiculed Republican and Populist leaders (and sometimes their supporters as well) and highlighted the “dangers” posed by allowing African Americans to participate in government. (Perman 2001, 159; Anderson 1981, 254, 261-262; Edmonds 1951, 141, 145, 154) For example, an image drawn by political cartoonist Norman Jennett from the September 27, 1898 issue of the News and Observer depicted an African-American vampire terrorizing a group of white men and women. The vampire, whose wings were marked “Negro Rule,” was standing on a fusion ballot box, a not so subtle allusion to the Democratic charge that the Fusionists were responsible for the increased presence of African Americans in political life. (Item 329)

Democrats Regain Control