Daniel Russell is a good example of what Carl Degler has termed “the other South.” The son of an aristocratic eastern North Carolina family of staunch Whig-Unionists, he entered politics when the Republican party first appeared in the state after the Civil War. For more than forty years thereafter he fought the solid South mentality of the Bourbon Democrats, first as a Radical Republican judge, then as a Greenbacker congressman, and finally as a Republican governor with Populist sympathies–the only chief executive of his party that North Carolina had between Reconstruction and the 1970s.
The basic themes of Russell’s political life were racial and economic in nature. As a judge on the state superior court he ruled in the Wilmington opera house case of 1873 that blacks could not be denied accommodations on the account of their race. As a congressman he embraced the cause of currency reform and the regulation of corporate enterprise. Elected governor in 1896 by an uneasy coalition of Populists and Republicans—an alliance that Crow and Durden fully examine—he pushed reforms designed to bring nonresident corporations under stricter state supervision and challenged the ninety-nine-year lease of the state-owned North carolina Railroad to J.P. Morgan’s Southern Railway Company. The Democrats’ triumphant white-supremacy campaigns of 1898 and 1900 and hte resulting disfranchisement of black voters, however, crushed these progressive initiatives, and afterward the complex and sometimes irascible Russell kept a low profile until his tern ended in 1901. His final years were taken up by a famous interstate lawsuit that he initiated to force North Carolina to pay certain Reconstruction debts it had repudiated.
The reasons for Russell’s political failure while southern Progressives of the period generally succeeded shed much new light on the reform movement in the South between 1890 and 1910. Although the reforms that he took up were no more radical than those called for by his contemporaries, Crow and Durden find in this first full account of his career that “in the last analysis, Russell’s unique blend of Old South paternalism toward blacks with New South radicalism concerning currency and railway reform challenged too many taboos of race, class, and party.”
Robert F. Durden , professor of history emeritus at Duke University, is the author of many books, including The Climax of Populism: The Election of 1896.
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