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The Proposed Suffrage Amendment: The Platform and Resolutions of the People's Party, April 18, 1900


The Proposed Suffrage Amendment: The Platform and Resolutions of the People's Party, April 18, 1900


In 1899, the Democratic Party, which had returned to power after a four year absence, passed a Suffrage Amendment designed to disfranchise African-American voters. As part of their published party platform for 1900, the Populist Party included not only the text of this amendment but also the party’s official response to it. Although they argued that the amendment would likely disfranchise both black and white voters, the Populists ultimately left the decision to vote for or against the amendment to the “judgment and conscience of each individual voter.” They did, however, promote the adoption of an amendment that would prevent African Americans from holding office, which they argued would be a more effective solution for preventing African Americans from participating in politics than the plan championed by the Democrats.


The People's Party of North Carolina (The Populist Party)


The People's Party of North Carolina, The Proposed Suffrage Amendment: The Platform and Resolutions of the People's Party, 1900, Documenting the American South, The University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2002, (accessed April 11, 2012).




Erin Glant




Raleigh, North Carolina
Wake County, North Carolina

Original Format



© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.

THE PROPOSED SUFFRAGE AMENDMENT. The Platform and Resolutions OF THE People's Party.

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The Suffrage Amendment.

The Suffrage Amendment submitted by the Legislature of 1899, is as follows:

SECTION 1. That Article VI of the Constitution of North Carolina be, and the same is hereby abrogated, and in lieu thereof shall be substituted the following Article of said Constitution:


SECTION 1. Every male person born in the United States, and every male person who has been naturalized, twenty-one years of age and possessing the qualifications set out in this Article shall be entitled to vote at any election by the people in the State, except as herein otherwise provided.

SEC. 2. He shall have resided in the State of North Carolina for two years, in the county six months, and in the precinct, ward or other election district in which he offers to vote four months next preceding the election: Provided, that removal from one precinct, ward or other election district to another in the same county, shall not operate to deprive any person of the right to vote in a precinct, ward or other election district from which he has removed until four months after such removal. No person who has been convicted, or who has confessed his guilt in open court upon indictment of any crime, the punishment of which now is, or may hereafter be, imprisonment in the State prison, shall be permitted to vote unless the said person shall be first restored to citizenship in the manner prescribed by law.

SEC. 3. Every person offering to vote shall be at the time a legally registered voter as herein prescribed and in the manner

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hereinafter provided by law, and the General Assembly of North Carolina shall enact general registration laws to carry into effect the provisions of this Article.

SEC. 4. Every person presenting himself for registration shall be able to read and write any section of the Constitution in the English language; and, before he shall be entitled to vote, he shall have paid, on or before the first day of March of the year in which he proposes to vote, his poll tax, as prescribed by law, for the previous year. Poll taxes shall be a lien only on assessed property, and no process shall issue to enforce the collection of the same, except against assessed property.

 SEC. 5. No male person, who was on January 1, 1867, or at any time prior thereto, entitled to vote under the laws of any State in the United States wherein he then resided, and no lineal descendant of any such person; shall be denied the right to register and vote at any election in this State by reason of his failure to possess the educational qualifications prescribed in section 4 of this Article: Provided, he shall have registered in accordance with the terms of this section prior to Dec. 1, 1908.

The General Assembly shall provide for a permanent record of all persons who register under this section on or before November 1, 1908, and all such persons shall be entitled to register and vote at all elections by the people in this State, unless disqualified under section 2 of this Article: Provided, such persons shall have paid their poll tax as required by law.

SEC. 6. All elections by the people shall be by ballot, and all elections by the General Assembly shall be viva voce.

SEC. 7. Every voter in North Carolina, except as in this Article disqualified, shall be eligible to office, but before entering upon the duties of the office he shall take and subscribe the following oath: " I . . ., do solemnly swear or affirm, that I will support and maintain the Constitution and laws of the United States, and the Constitution and laws of North Carolina, not inconsistent therewith, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of my office as . . . So help me, God." SEC. 8. The following classes of persons shall be disqualified for office: First, all persons who shall deny the being of

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Almighty God; second, all persons who shall have been convicted or confessed their guilt on indictment pending, and whether sentenced or not; or under judgment suspended, of any treason or felony, or any other crime for which the punishment may he imprisonment in the penitentiary, since becoming citizens of the United States, or of corruption and malpractice in office, unless such person shall be restored to the rights of citizenship in a manner prescribed by law. 

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Adopted Unanimously in Convention, April 18, 1900.

The People's Party Convention assembled in Raleigh, April 18th, reaffirms the principles set forth in the People's Party National platform adopted at St. Louis in 1896, and instructs the delegates to the National Convention at Sioux Falls May 9th to vote for the nomination of William J. Bryan for President.

We commend the present State Administration for its high personal and official integrity, and challenge a comparison of its record with any and all of its predecessors.

Extravagance and Incompetence Condemned.

We condemn the Democratic Legislature of 1899 for its extravagant expenditures of public money, amounting to $1,594,765.76 in 1899, as opposed to $1,283,971.11, expended by the preceding Legislature, an excess of $310,794.65, not including the sum of $100,000 for public education nor the $63,250 for purchase of State farms.

We further condemn said Legislature for the careless blundering and careless legislation, including more gross blunders and unconstitutional laws than ever before enacted by any General Assembly in North Carolina.

Violation of Solemn Pledges Denounced.

We further denounce the machine leaders of the Democratic party for laying the whip on the backs of the Democratic Legislators and forcing them into enacting and submitting a disfranchising, constitutional amendment in violation of the solemn pledges of the party, made not only officially in their campaign handbook, but by members of the General Assembly and other Democratic candidates for office in their canvass before the people.

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Unconstitutional Measures and Disfranchisement of White Voters Opposed.

We denounce them not only for doing this in violation of their pledges, but also for submitting a measure most odious in form and dangerous in effect. That General Assembly being composed of some of the best lawyers of the party, must have known, or at least had a reasonable doubt, not only as to the unconstitutionality of the monstrous provision of Section 5, known as the "grandfather clause" in said amendment, but also of the great danger of that unconstitutional section falling, leaving the remainder of the amendment to stand, thus disfranchising by an educational qualification fifty or sixty thousand white voters of North Carolina, who in 1898 gave the Democratic party power in the Legislature, and whose ignorance is no fault of their own, but is chargeable to the neglect of the Democratic party, which now seeks to disfranchise them and make their ignorance a crime alongside that of the felon.

Obnoxious Discrimination.

But even if the proposed amendment were not unconstitutional (as it clearly is), still it is especially objectionable in the following particulars: (a) In that it dignifies with the right of suffrage the most vicious, troublesome and obnoxious class of the negro population, and completely disfranchises the most faithful, kindly and orderly element of that race.

White and Colored Voters Classed Together by the Democratic Machine.

(b) In that, while clamoring for white supremacy and declaring that no white man shall be disfranchised under this amendment, they have so written their amendment that every white boy becoming of age after 1908 stands on the same footing with the negro, and cannot vote unless he is able to read and write.

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White Voters Discriminated Against.

(c) In that by the latter provision, they have made it possible for the educated negro after 1908 to cast his ballot, while the unfortunate sons of the white men who have been the strength of true democracy stand without a vote at the ballot box. They slaughter the suffrage of the son whose father they dare not openly attack.

(d) In that this suffrage amendment does not remove the negro from politics or settle the negro question in North Carolina.

Payment of Poll Tax a Prerequisite to Voting.

(e) In that every voter who has not paid his poll tax as much as five months before the State election and eight months before the national election, shall be disfranchised as much as if he were convicted of felony or were an ignorant negro. The purpose of this provision is not only to disfranchise every good, honest citizen who unfortunately cannot pay his taxes by the first of March preceding the election, but further to try to bribe the voter to surrender his suffrage at the expense of the public school fund of the State, which is derived from the poll taxes.

Scheme to Defraud the Public School Fund.

There lurks behind this proposition a still greater danger to the public schools of the State, for with the adoption of the amendment the opponents of free schools in North Carolina will at once raise the cry that every dollar raised for public instruction means the increase of the number of negro voters, and thus the poor white man's son will be chained in bondage of ignorance and disfranchised to prevent the education of the negro voter. There is no white supremacy in this.

The Proposed Amendment Not a Party Question.

The constitutional question presented by the proposed amendment is one that must be determined by the judgment and conscience of each individual voter. Therefore we do not make it a party question. We state the evils and dangers and leave the 

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voters of all parties to pass their verdict in the light of the facts. The question is above party, and no one should be more active and anxious, in our judgment, to defeat it than the rank and file of the Democratic party.

Best Solution of a Vexed Question.

The People's Party is and has always been more distinctly than any other party in North Carolina a white man's party, and is more anxious than any other party to solve the race problem, and to force all parties to a discussion of the great economic issues so vitally affecting the welfare of all wealth producers, of the State and nation, and decency in politics.

Therefore, we propose in lieu of this dangerous amendment, the best solution of the race question that is possible as long as the 15th amendment to the Constitution of the United States stands--a solution which deprives no white man in North Carolina now or hereafter of his right of suffrage, towit:

Amend section 5, Article 6, of the Constitution of North Carolina by inserting among the disqualifications for office enumerated therein, the following, viz: All negroes and all persons of negro descent to the third generation inclusive.

If the Democratic Legislature which meets in June will offer this safe, constitutional and wholesome amendment in lieu of the present scheme, it will have our hearty support. If they will not, we appeal to the people to rally to our assistance to elect a Legislature pledged to support such an amendment.

Good Government for Every County.

We congratulate the people of North Carolina upon the decision of the State Supreme Court in the case of Harris vs. Wright. (121 N.C. R., 172), declaring that the General Assembly has power to provide different systems of County government for various counties of the State. Acting under this decision, we pledge the People's Party to the maintenance of the system of local self-government in all the white counties, towns and cities in the State as established by the General Assembly of 1895, and at the same time to provide and maintain a legislative system of county government for all the negro counties of the State, so that there can never be any question that the white people shall always have full and complete control of every county in the State. 

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Election Law of 1899 Denounced.

We denounce the Democratic Legislature of 1899 for passing an election law, every provision of which is carefully and cunningly planned and devised to thwart the sovereign will of the people of North Carolina by wholesale fraud and debauchery of the ballot box. We declare, without fear of sucessful contradiction, that it is the most partisan, unfair, infamous and indefensible election law that has ever disgraced the statute books of any State in the Union.

Public School System.

We pledge ourself to increase the efficiency of the public school system in North Carolina, and point to the fact that the People's Party has done more for public education in North Carolina than the Democratic party ever did in twice the length of time. To the Populists of North Carolina is to be credited the first great increase in the public school system.

Charitable Institutions.

We pledge ourselves to the care of the unfortunate class in North Carolina and to an increase in the necessary facilities for the same. As an earnest of our sincerity, we point to our past record in this particular, and say that no "Legislature in which Populists have had a controlling voice has ever turned a deaf ear to the demand of the unfortunate, or been followed by an urgent appeal for additional provision as has been recently issued by the Board of Public Charities, because of the failure of the Democratic Legislature to make such provision as was seen and urgently needed at the time they were consuming their time in enacting political legislation and creating new offices during the session of 1899.

Labor and Capital.

Labor is indispensable to the creation and profitable use of capital. Capital increases the efficiency and value of labor. Whoever arrays one against the other is an enemy of both. That policy is wisest and best, which harmonizes the two on the basis of absolute justice.

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Adopted by the State People's Party Convention, April 18,1900.

Unjust Provisions of the Election Law.

WHEREAS, The present election law, enacted by the last Legislature, contains many glaringly unjust provisions, among which may be noted the following:

1. The provision in section 10 giving the County Election Board the power to put more than a thousand voters in one election precinct.

2. The provision in section 11 giving to the registrar, an officer who is not even sworn or required to be sworn by the law, unlimited power and discretion to deny registration to almost any voter, and at the same time to deny to the elector the right of appeal, no matter how grave and glaring an injustice may be done him by that registrar.

3. The provision contained in section 23, requiring even the illiterate white voter to deposit each one of the six ballots, to be used in the next election, in six different boxes, and to be deposited in the right box or else lose his vote; without making it the duty of the judge of the election to deposit his ballot for him upon his request, thus disfranchising, at this election, thousands of white voters.

4. The provision of section 17 denying to opposing political parties the right of representation of their own selection on election boards.

5. The provision in section 25 providing for the appointment of three election bailiffs or constables, with full authority to summon all unlimited number of others to assist them to not only overawe and intimidate, but also to arrest without warrant and in their discretion, any elector, and to hold him under arrest for twenty-four hours without trial, thus depriving him not only

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of his liberty, but also his vote, and which is more odious and damaging than the notorrious Federal Election Force Bill.

Purposes of The Election Law.

And, whereas, the purpose of such provisions in any election law can only be for stealing votes and overturning the sovereign will of the people, preventing its expression at the ballot-box--

Amendments Demanded at the June Meeting of the General Assembly.

Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the People's Party in State Convention assembled, that in order to remove some of the most glaring provisions of this election law, and to prevent some of the most odious abuses that would be perpetrated under it, we appeal to every honest citizen of North Carolina to demand of the Democratic Legislature, when it meets in June, to adopt at least the following amendments to said law, viz:

(a) Amend section 17 by inserting after the words "political party" in the end of line 6, the following:

"Provided, that the State Chairman of the Democratic, Republican. and People's Parties, respectively, shall have the right on or before the first Monday in July to nominate to the said County Boards of Election in every county in the State, one person with above qualifications for judges of election in each precinct, and if such nominations are made by any or all of said chairmen, then said County Boards of Election shall appoint said judges of election from the names so nominated to them respectively.

* * * * * *

(b) Amend section 10 by inserting in line 11 after the word "altered," the following: Provided, that no election precinct shall contain more than four hundred electors.

* * * * * *

Page 13 (c) Amend section 23 in line 20 by inserting after the word "enclosure," the following:

Provided, that it shall be the duty of the judges of election upon the request of any voter to take his ballots and deposit them in the proper boxes.

Unlimited Power to Registrars Opposed.

WHEREAS, the only excuse that the Democratic party has advanced for the unlimited power and discretion given to the registrars in section 11, is what they claim to be the danger of colonization, therefore,

Resolved, that section 11 be amended by adding the following proviso, namely:

Provided, that the above qualifications for the registering of an elector shall not apply to any elector offering to register who can prove on the oath of himself and one other elector, if required to do so, that he has been a citizen of the State for twelve months, a citizen of the county in which he offers to register for ninety days, and is an actual and bona fide resident of the precinct in which he offers to vote.

(d) Provided further, that any person denied registration shall have the right of appeal from the decision of the registrar denying him registration to the resident or presiding Judge of the Superior Court in the district wherein he resides, and on such appeal the hearing shall be de novo.

Any person denied registration and desiring to appeal must within ten days after the decision of the registrar is made, file with the said registrar a written notice of his intention to appeal therefrom, and thereupon the registrar shall certify all papers in the case within twenty-four hours from the filing of the notice to the Clerk of the Superior Court in the county wherein he resides, who shall in turn forward the certified papers in the case to the resident Judge or the Judge presiding in the district, who shall, without unnecessary delay, hear and determine the matter and certify his decision to the registrar from whom the case was brought; and if it is the decision of the Judge that the applicant is entitled to register and vote, and if said decision shall be

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delivered to the registrar at any time before the closing of the polls on election day, it shall be his duty to register the name on the books, and the applicant shall be entitled to vote.

If any Registrar or Clerk of the Court shall neglect or refuse to send up the appeal as herein directed, or comply with the decision of the court in respect thereto, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined not less than fifty dollars or imprisoned not less than thirty days, or both, in the discretion of the court.

Partisan "Constables" and "Bailiffs" at the Polls Opposed.

That Section 25 be repealed.


"Sec. 25. The registrar and judges of election may appoint as many election constables or bailiffs, not to exceed three, as they may deem necessary for each precinct or ward, to be present during the election to keep the peace and to protect the voting place, and to prevent improper intrusion upon the voting place, or the booths or railed or roped space provided in this act, or interfering with the election, and to arrest all persons creating any disturbance about the voting place, and to enable all persons who have not voted, and who desire to vote, to have unobstructed access to the polls, for the purpose of voting when others are not voting, and to keep clear the open space, hereinbefore provided, at all times during the election. It shall be the duty of the election constables or bailiffs to be present at the voting place, and to take such steps as WILL ACCOMPLISH THE OBJECT OF THEIR APPOINTMENT, and they shall HAVE FULL POWER TO DO SO. And they may summon to their aid all persons present at the voting place, and may arrest offenders against this section, AND HOLD THEM IN CUSTODY as long as may be necessary, not to exceed twenty-four hours. And for the purpose of carrying out the powers herein conferred upon them, the registrar and judges of election shalt be and are hereby constituted conservators of the peace.")

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Partisan Election Board and Unnecessary Offices Denounced.

We denounce the last Democratic Legislature for creating an Election Board for political and partisan purposes, and for giving to said Board of Election the power to meet at will at any time and place in the State and remain indefinitely in session, drawing from the public funds of the State twenty-eight dollars per day and expenses; and for requiring said Board of Election to appoint a county board of election in each county in the State for political and partisan purposes, and paying the chairman of said county board $1.50 per day and traveling expenses out of the county funds of the State.

We further condemn the said Legislature for creating 103 new and unnecessary offices, for political and partisan purposes, at the expense of the Counties and the State.

Goebel Election Law Condemned.

One of the Beneficiaries Declares that It Ought to be Repealed--Party Machinery should be Simlified in the Interests of the People.

All election laws authorizing unfairness and fraud are of a similar character. There is no better evidence of the purpose and plans of scheming and unscrupulous office-seekers to legalize fraud and encourage dishonesty, than the enaction of such laws.

The Goebel election law of Kentucky, which has been denounced and condemned by every reputable paper in the country, is of the same character as the present election law in this State.

Senator Blackburn of Kentucky (Democrat), though a beneficiary of that law, has seen the "handwriting on the wall," and is advocating its repeal. It is the kind of a law that inspires 

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trouble and lawlessness, and none of the honest, reputable people of any State want any such enactment on their statute books.

Senator Blackburn recently wrote a letter to Kentucky in which he said:

"The present election law was passed to prevent Republican frauds through the mediation of the county judges and other election officers appointed by them; not, as some charge, to enable the Democrats to steal the election. It has failed of its purpose, as is shown by the vote on final account at the last election. Is any one so bigoted that he would refuse to amend a law because the original framer could not fully anticipate all the schemes and wiles of the ever-active agencies of force and fraud? Election laws are never perfect, and must be constantly changed to meet emergencies as they arise.

"The convention should, therefore, declare for an amendment to the present election law so as to give to each of the two leading political parties majority and minority representation upon both the State and county boards of election commissioners, and an equal division of election officers at each voting precinct, such precinct officers to be chosen and appointed by the county boards of election commissioners from a list to be furnished by each respective party, and the law should be safe-guarded with fines, penalties and otherwise as to protect both the election officers and the voter from force, fraud, corruption and intimidation by corporations and employers of labor, also the militia of the State, the police force of cities and towns and all other public functionaries, with adequate penalties to compel all persons upon whom any duties are enjoined relative to the casting, counting and certifying of the vote to honestly, faithfully, fairly and promptly discharge the same.

"As auxiliary to this, and in order that the members of the party, who are the people, may be satisfied with the action taken by its representatives for the purpose of local self-government, the convention should provide that rules be adopted authorizing and empowering the members of the party organization in each precinct to select their own committeemen, chairman and other officers and change and remove the same at pleasure. This brings the party organization as near the people as it is possible for the conduct of these officers, who are likewise responsible to the people. It prevents all centralization of power in a governing committee and applies to our party organization the fundamental principles of our government, a government of the people, the power of the people to govern and control. We must build from the people up if we would succeed."


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The People's Party of North Carolina (The Populist Party), The Proposed Suffrage Amendment: The Platform and Resolutions of the People's Party, April 18, 1900, Civil War Era NC, accessed April 17, 2024,