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South Carolina gubernatorial election, 1890

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The 1890 South Carolina gubernatorial election was held on November 4, 1890 to select the governor of the state of South Carolina. Ben Tillman was nominated by the Democrats and easily won the general election against A.C. Haskell to become the 84th governor of South Carolina.

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>> Well, okay, let's go back to the 14th Amendment. Congress passes it. It's got to go out to three-quarters, it's got to be ratified by three-quarters of the states. The 14th Amendment becomes the issue, you might say, in the congressional elections of 1866. In that year, in that summer, fall, Andrew Johnson, unlike other presidents, takes a leading role in supporting candidates, mostly Democrats, who are in favor of his Reconstruction policy. He tries to form a new political coalition. He has something called the National Union Convention. But very few Republicans are willing to go with him. Most of the people now backing Johnson are Democrats, North and South. Johnson's effort to mobilize support in the North is injured by riots, race riots that break out in the South in the summer of 1866, leading to scores of deaths of African Americans, and of some white people, too. In Memphis, there's the Memphis riot which leads to 50 deaths, virtually all blacks, in a kind of an attack on black homes and black schools. Even worse, the New Orleans riot in the summer of 1866. These are images of the New Orleans riot. People, often police, shooting at black people. The inside of the convention hall. What happened in New Orleans was, if you remember when I was talking about Louisiana in the Civil War, the Reconstruction of Louisiana in the Civil War. They had this constitutional convention, it abolished slavery, didn't give any rights to blacks, but it said it, it authorized the president of the convention to reconvene if desired. And in 1866, with Confederates, basically in control of Louisiana, the old constitutional convention tries to reconvene. And the meeting of that leads to a riot where armed whites are assaulting the building, including the local police now allied with these, you know, ex-Confederates. And something like 40 people are killed, several hundred wounded. And again, the image of the South in Northern eyes that these riots portray, is one -- you know, that they are not willing to accept the results of the Civil War, that there is this violence against African Americans. Local authorities are not willing to do anything about it. The army has to be sent in to put down the violence. And these things really undermine whatever support there was for Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction policy. Johnson breaks with tradition and goes into the North campaigning for congressional candidates who will support his policy. This is unprecedented. The so called "swing around the circle." He travels all around the North, support -- But it turns into an utter disaster. Johnson starts exchanging epithets with people in the audience. People yell things out at him. He starts yelling curses back at them. [laughter] Bantering with the crowd. He's not very dignified as a president, so to speak. He tells the Northern people they're ignorant, they don't really know what's going on in Congress. He becomes more and more self-pitying. He starts comparing himself with Jesus Christ, saying people want kill -- he's willing to sacrifice himself for the nation. [laughter] And by the time the swing around the circle is over, whatever support Johnson had has evaporated. Here's an image of an anti-Johnson, here's an image of, someone wrote on a placard of Johnson, you see, "I am king," and put a little crown on his head. This is a Democratic cartoon. It's from the governor's election in California. This is the Republican candidate for Governor, I believe. But this is overt use of racism in the campaign. It's kind of hard to see. I think it's reproduced in my book, I can't remember. You've got the governor and you've got a black -- this is negro suffrage and what's to come -- you've got the governor, you've got a black guy, on top of him is a Chinese, on top of him is sort of a Native American, you see, with an arrow. And then someone is bringing along a monkey, saying, well, if these guys can vote, let's give monkeys the right to vote. So this is, you see, the absolute overt racism as, you know, the critique of the Radical policy of black -- black suffrage will lead to all these other disasters if followed. Well, the result of the elections, of course, is that the Republicans sweep to way beyond two-thirds control of both houses of Congress, rendering Johnson totally irrelevant. And this leaves the question of the 14th Amendment up in the air, because to get three-quarters of the states, some Southern states are going to have to ratify the 14th Amendment. There are a few leading Southerners, one guy we'll talk about next week, James Alcorn, one of the leading planters of Mississippi, says, you know, it looks like the Northern public actually doesn't support Andrew Johnson, and we better really be prudent here. Why don't we ratify the 14th Amendment. Because Congress had said, if the South ratifies the 14th Amendment, Southern states, they can come back into the Union. And Alcorn says, let's do that, we really have no alternative. But most Southern leaders say, absolutely not, the 14th Amendment is a complete violation of all our liberties. And so, legislature after legislature in the South rejects the 14th Amendment, by overwhelming majorities. In the South Carolina legislature, only one member votes in favor of ratification. In Georgia, only two. The whole South, only 20 or 30, where 700 or 800 legislators vote against it. And they are egged on by Democrats in the North, and they're egged on by Johnson. Johnson keeps saying, don't ratify the 14th Amendment, and they'll never enact black suffrage. He keeps telling the South, don't worry, don't worry. Of course, it happens, two months after he starts saying this, it does happen. And so he's completely out of touch with political reality by this time.


Farmers' Association Convention

In January 1890, the Shell Manifesto was released by the Farmers' Association and it denounced the current Conservative Democratic state government while calling for a convention to be held in March. It was signed by the President of the Farmers' Association, George Washington Shell, but it was written by Ben Tillman who sought to manipulate the Association into supporting his candidacy for governor. The manifesto called for the nomination of candidates for statewide office, with the intent of giving Tillman an early advantage over his Conservative Democrat rivals.

The Farmers' Association convened in Columbia on March 27 and immediately a call was made by W. Jasper Talbert to vote on proceeding with nominations for the statewide ticket. However, the tally from the delegates was 116 votes against nominations and 115 for nominations. Nevertheless, Talbert turned a one-vote defeat into a six-vote victory by switching votes of delegates without their consent and allowing votes of an unseated delegation from Beaufort County. The official vote to proceed with nominations stood at 120 to 114 and Talbert then simply announced the nomination of Tillman for governor without even obtaining a vote from the delegation.

Democratic Campaign

Conservative Democrats

The Conservatives and the state press condemned the Farmers' Association for trying to disrupt the unity of the state Democratic party. In addition, they stressed that if the Farmers' Associations candidates failed to achieve nomination at the Democratic convention, then their cause would lose all relevancy. Furthermore, the News and Courier conducted a straw poll of over a thousand residents in the state and released the results showing that John Calhoun Sheppard was the most favored candidate for governor, followed by Johnson Hagood and in third was Ben Tillman.

An anti-Tillman farmers convention was organized by the Conservatives and held in Columbia on April 23. Politics remained out of the public discourse at the conference, but discussions were ongoing in private to determine and select the man best to oppose Tillman for governor at the Democratic convention. In the end, they settled on John Bratton because he was a farmer and not a career politician. Many Conservatives disapproved of the choice of Bratton and instead favored either former Governor James L. Orr or Joseph H. Earle. The lack of unity on the part of the Conservatives was troubling as they were facing a formidable opponent in Tillman, who had unified most of the farmers behind his candidacy and was steadily gaining strength in the state.

Aware that Tillman was winning control of the Democratic party organization, the Conservatives pressed for a primary election to select delegates to the state nominating convention. Tillman had long called for primary elections, but he refused to endorse it when he sensed that he had greater strength in the county organization. The Executive Committee of the state Democratic Party called for a state convention in August to consider it nonetheless.

On July 10, a conference of straightout Democrats led by A.C. Haskell was held in Columbia to discuss a possible primary and how best to defeat Tillman. Among those attending, were Wade Hampton and other leaders of the Democratic Party who had redeemed the state from Radical Republican rule in 1876. A call was issued for the formation of new Democratic clubs in the counties because Tillman's forces had so thoroughly taken over control of the county party machinery. However, despite the best efforts of the Conservatives, they were too late in the game and failed to generate enough support in order to block the election of delegates for Tillman.

Democratic Conventions

At the August 13 convention called by the state Democratic Executive Committee to consider primary elections, the assembled delegates installed Tillmanites in leadership positions and soundly defeated calls for a primary election. A month later at the nominating convention on September 15, Tillman's supporters had an even greater majority than the preceding convention and Tillman was selected as the governor without opposition.

Straightout Democrats

Many Democrats resigned to their fate and accepted the choice of Tillman, but a few hardcore Conservatives bolted from the convention to form a Straightout Democrat ticket. They met on October 9 in Columbia and nominated A.C. Haskell as their choice for governor along with a full statewide ticket. The delegates wore red shirts to evoke memories of the Straightout Democrat victory in the 1876 gubernatorial election.

Most of the newspapers in the state disagreed with the decision of the Conservatives to adopt a separate statewide ticket and even Wade Hampton refused to vote for the Straightout ticket. Haskell tried to gain the support of black voters, but they rebuffed his advances because of his harsh methods he used against the blacks in the 1876 campaign. The state Republican party decided to endorse Haskell because Tillman wanted to disfranchise the black voters of the state.

General election

The general election was held on November 4, 1890 and Ben Tillman was elected as governor of South Carolina, only losing the counties of Beaufort and Berkeley to Haskell. Turnout increased for this election over the previous election because it was the first contested general election for governor since the gubernatorial election of 1882.

South Carolina Gubernatorial Election, 1890
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Ben Tillman 59,159 79.8 -20.2
Straightout Democrat A.C. Haskell 14,828 20.0 +20.0
No party Write-Ins 137 0.2 +0.2
Majority 44,331 59.8 -40.2
Turnout 74,124
Democratic hold
1890 South Carolina gubernatorial election map, by percentile by county.   65+% won by Tillman   55%-59% won by Tillman   50%-54% won by Tillman   60-64% won by Haskell   65+% won by Haskell
1890 South Carolina gubernatorial election map, by percentile by county.
  65+% won by Tillman
  55%-59% won by Tillman
  50%-54% won by Tillman
  60-64% won by Haskell
  65+% won by Haskell

See also


  • "Election Returns." Reports and Resolutions of the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina at the Regular Session Commencing November 25, 1890. Volume I. Columbia, SC: James H. Woodrow, 1891, p. 604.
  • "A Sensation in Columbia". The News and Courier. 22 November 1890. p. 2.
  • Cooper, Jr., William J. (2005). The Conservative Regime: South Carolina, 1877-1890. University of South Carolina Press. pp. 185–203. ISBN 1-57003-597-0.
  • Simkins, Francis Butler (1964). The Tillman movement in South Carolina. Duke University Press. pp. 103–134.

External links

Preceded by
South Carolina gubernatorial elections Succeeded by
This page was last edited on 20 November 2018, at 10:43
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