The following educational document corresponds with Unit Eight: Planters, Poor Whites and White Supremacy in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.
Discontent over issues such as the fence law continued to grow in the late 1870s. On a national level, one of the problems facing the poor was the federal monetary policy. During the Civil War, a large amount of paper money was not backed by gold. Instead, "greenbacks" had been issued. In response to this period of "soft money," and also the Panic of 1873, the Republicans passed the 1875 Specie Resumption Act, meaning that greenbacks ("soft money") would be recalled and replaced with gold ("hard money"), to contract the money supply. A contracted money supply meant higher interest rates, which was bad for anyone in debt. Southern farmers who found themselves slipping further into debt formed the Greenback-Labor party in opposition to the 1875 Specie Resumption Act, and it proved to be an appealing option. In South Carolina, many poor whites felt that the Democrats were controlled by wealthy planters such as Wade Hampton and had little real interest in policies that would help struggling farmers like themselves. Although the Greenback-Labor party did not accomplish much in South Carolina in 1880, it did herald a split in the Democratic party that would propel Benjamin Tillman to political control of the state. In North Carolina, that split would lead to the rise of the Populist party in the 1890s. The author of the letter below admits candidly that many poor whites were considering allying with the Radicals, as the Republicans were often called in South Carolina.
South Carolina Greenbacker Explains His Opposition to Democrats
Glassy Mountain, S.C.
June 19, 1880
Mr. Editor—I notice a correspondence in your issue of 2d inst., from Tygersville, S.C., giving the news of that section generally, closing with a heavy but harmless assault on our Greenback Club, claiming us as his neighbors; also calling us radicals in sheep's clothing. We are very much obliged to Mr. "Highland," whoever he may be, for his gratitude to his neighbors who assisted him with others to lift the Rads' yoke from our necks, with the promise that they would make us happy by repealing and removing all the obnoxious Radicals' laws from alpha to omega. And now, Mr. Editor, instead of removing any of them, they have added fuel to the fire. We are as much opposed to the Radical party today as you are, because by their rascally way of legislating for the rich and against the poor, we, as poor farmers, cannot afford to trust them again. And we did place all confidence in what the Democratic party promised and even proclaimed from the housetops, from the sea board to the mountains, in 1876; and now, Mr. Editor, what have they done in the interest of the poor working man? That is easily answered. Simply by saying—Nothing. Now, Mr. 'Highland,' can you blame us, after having been, deceived and lied to as we have been to abandon the party before we are utterly ruined, and try the greenback or the People's Party, as we claim it to be? In ancient times at Rome, Sylla had a party and Marius had a party, and poor Rome had none. So it is now. The Republicans have a party and the Democrats have a party, but the people had none until God in his wisdom saw fit to send usthe Greenback party, and placed the Hon. J. B. Weaver as our leader, and we propose to use every means honorable to elect him president at the coming presidential election. Another thing, Mr. 'Highland,' and we are done. We do not intend to follow the false Democratic gods any longer, unless they reform and turn from their evil ways of oppressing the poor laborer in the interest of the bloated bondholders, both State and National. We further propose to organize a Greenback club in every township from the seaboard to the mountains. We have been especially solicited to assist in organizing one in our neighbor's, Highland, and will do so as soon as possible.
Source: Greenville (S.C.) Enterprise and Mountaineer, June 30, 1880
Questions to Consider