Historians have come to think on the late nineteenth century as America’s Gilded Age. But in Louisiana it was a time of conflict and repression—turbulent years which engendered the social and political forces that ultimately produced the Huey Long era.
Professor William Ivy Hair has captured the essence of Louisiana life and politics during this era, the decades that followed the end of Reconstruction. Using many quotations from newspapers and other relevant sources, the author has recreated in a readable narrative not only the political developments but the flavor of contemporary life and the prevalent emotions of the period.
He focuses on the two major opposing forces in the state during the era: the conservative Bourbon oligarchy and the various protest movements of disadvantaged whites and blacks. To provide a background for a perceptive understanding of this political conflict, he undertakes a broad-gauged examination of the social, economic, and racial conditions in the state from 1877 to 1900.
Beginning with the sordid story of the events surrounding the end of Reconstruction, Hair examines and analyzes the Democratic oligarchy, the leading personalities involved, and its several factions. He examines the economic and social conditions of both rural and urban Louisiana, and discusses the Greenback-agrarian upheaval of 1878, the larger protest movement that followed, the attempted mass Negro exodus from the state during the so-called “Kansas Fever” of 1879, the spread of the Farmers’ Union and Alliance of the 1880's, and the rise of Populism in the 1890's.
Having crushed Greenbackism and related independent movements, Hair says, the Bourbon oligarchy proceeded to fasten upon Louisiana what was probably the most reactionary and least socially responsible regime in the history of the post-Civil War South.
Bourbanism and Agrarian Protest combines thorough scholarly research and clear, perceptive writing. It covers every issue and every event of consequence of the era and is an excellent sequel to Roger W. Shugg’s Origins of Class Struggle in Louisiana, which treats the period from 1840 to 1875.
W. Fitzhugh Brundage is a professor of history and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He is the author of A Socialist Utopia in the New South: The Ruskin Colonies in Tennessee and Georgia, 1894-1901 and Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930.
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