The Readjusters

Automatic TRANSCRIPT

How are the readjust remember today? They're not I mean they they sort of vanish. On this episode of Transition Virginia, it represents the promise and the tragedy of reconstruction. The Re adjusters with Paul Lebanon their successes thumb ways really invigorated their rival and delegate Schuyler van Valkenburgh. Your democracy is only as the as the people who participate in join us for a deep dive into a forgotten moment in history when blacks and whites formed progressive coalition in the eighteen eighties all that and so much more on this episode of Transition Virginia. All Welcome to Transition Virginia. The podcast they usually examines transition of power from Republican to. Democrat. Although today we're going to do something a little different. We're GONNA get in our time machine and go back to the eighties the eighteen eighties I'm. And I'm Thomas Bowman Today on the pod. We're going to take a break from examining the transition from Republican to Democrat and look at transition from Bourbon to readjusted. Wait Wait Thomas Thomas did you say Bourbon, yeah but calm down at today Oh. All right. All right to help us navigate through the transition from Bourbon Democrat, to the by racial and radically progressive readjusted coalition. We have an amazing panel. Paul eleven good is the former president of the Virginia Historical Society. He's currently president of the George C Marshall Foundation doctor. Levin. Good. Thank you for joining us. Thanks for having me. I'm looking forward to the conversation and we're also joined by delegates. Schuyler van Valkenburgh a Democrat from Henrico as a member of the House of delegates. He witnessed the transition of power from Republican to. Democrat but delegates. Van. Valkenburgh isn't just a garden variety politico. He's also civics teacher at Glen Allen High School and he's about to take us to school delegate Van Valkenburgh. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for having me for having the on and thank you for doing this topic. I think it's it's a really interesting Virginia history. It is a really interesting topic admittedly a bit. Quirky but let's jump right into it. One of the reasons that the struck says worth talking about thinking about is when the Democrats took power recently, there was a lot of talk about as being the most Progressive General Assembly in the history of Virginia to which I responded. Wait a second. What about the eighteen? Eighty s there was this group called the readjust yours that had. Increases. For Public Education that repealed the poll tax that increased taxes on corporations that increase funding for state asylums that had money for higher education that abolished the whipping post I mean, this is a by eighteen eighties standards extremely progressive, even radical Doctor Levin. Good. I wouldn't start by setting the scene here. So when the readjusts are formed and take power in the General Assembly in. Seventy nine give us the setting here. So this is like we're not even talking about reconstruction anymore. Reconstruction is like nine years past give us a window of what was going on in the late eighteen seventies that allowed this to happen. Well, I guess you're right to point out that reconstruction was over ended in Virginia and eighteen seventy when Virginia was readmitted to the. Union. But there was kind of this interim period questions were being determined as to who was going to be allowed to hold power. you it enfranchised the state, African American population. There were African Americans winning local offices. So the political social kind of setting was was really kind of a bit in flux. You know when you had some politicians and figures from the prewar Arrow returning and trying to get back into power and you had new voices being heard. So it was just a lot of tumble at the time and it created I think this unique situation in Virginia history where there was this. Void and the void in some ways was really filled by as you mentioned, the adjuster what comes to be called a readjust her party, and also it is important to point out that one of you know the key debate in this entire period is a financial debate. The the Commonwealth's finances are really hamstrung by the issue of prewar debt which sounds really boring except this is we're talking about more than probably half of the State's budget is being paid in interest payments. For the debt that it incurred. In. The antebellum period mainly building things like roads and railroads and canals, all sorts of internal improvements which. I'm sure. Delegates. Van. Valkenburgh, you know talks to students about sometimes in that in that pre war era that era of improvements the Virginia had invested in these things borrowed money to do it. And then of course, there most of them are destroyed by the civil war, and now they're left trying to figure out how they're going to pay this massive debt this in these interest payments and do everything else they need to do. And this question really lingers and hangs over the head of all this politics. We're going to get to the legacy later on in the podcast but delegate van. Valkenburgh. I'm GonNa sort of hinted that right now at the top of the show, which is how we think about the readjust now in the modern world, like what is their legacy? How do we think about this time period today? Yeah, that's a good question and I think there's there's two things that I think we should address when we talk about it I think. One thing we have to note is that the reason why they were even possible is kind of the structure that allowed them to come into power. In. So when you look back kind of the history of of Virginia politics, you look back at the history of Virginia Governance we we've had many constitutions you had the constitution seventeen, seventy, six constitution of eighteen, thirty, the constitution, eighteen, fifty one, and it's really only with the constitution of eighteen sixty nine which provided African Americans the right to vote which I did not have a poll tax was added. It was done by the readjusting now, but it was only within the context of that of that constitution that this moment could even rise and I think that speaks to how important it is to have a constitution that facilitates. Democratic participation whether that's in the vote or how you draw the lines. You Know Rep Tartar talks about the Great Gerrymander of eighteen thirty, which was basically baking into our constitution, the legislative power for the eastern part of the state, and what that did was give slave owners the power in Virginia all the way through until eighteen, eighteen, sixty, four in the nineteen, sixty, nine with the kind of postwar constitutions I? Think. That's one thing that's really important to know is how the fundamentals help lead to different policies in different politics, and then the second thing is it is an interesting moment is an interesting moment about what matters to people. Coming out of this, the debt was the important thing. There's this huge conversation around school debt. So the Eighteen seventy eight, the general MB passes a school appropriations bill and the Governor Vetos it. When you look back at the language of his veto and why he vetoed it is incredibly inflammatory but it's basically talking about we're GONNA pay off this debt and schools is optional thing. And then that kind of folds in that leads to Mahone the confederate general turned egalitarian who calls a conference and says, you know this conferences for anybody who wants to come in makes kind of explicit call to people from both races and out of that. You could this coalition that exists in almost you know immediately after once they're successful, the rug is kind of pulled out from under them because the debt is no longer the important thing in race kind of respect to the forefront, and so I think it speaks to. The contingency of politics as well and how coalitions will change, and you know how you guys talk about the transition from Republican to Democratic power and how maybe this General Assembly. Assembly was the most progressive in history and maybe it was. But you know what that means in two years is going to be a lot different because some of these issues have now been taken off the table or have been or maybe have been taken off the table on what does that mean for politics in two thousand and twenty, two to twenty four, right So I think. The lesson is both structural but also the kind of day today politics in what issues drive people in eighteen seventy, eight poor white folks poor black folks were incredibly concerned about schools in the debt issue didn't play. five years later. Everybody agreed that the readjusts did the right thing debt or seemingly right. They put it to bed in the issue became about race again. and. So I think those are two kind of interesting lessons. And I think what? Telling you know Michael Getting back to your question. There is how are the readjusts remembered today? We'll. They're not. I mean they they sort of vanish there this little weird interim period between reconstruction and you know the reemergence of the Democratic Party and the the you know essentially the the machine democratic politics that dominate Virginia from then you know the eighteen ninety s until the nineteen. Well apparently to the civil rights movement, and probably you could argue at least until the eighties. So it really is whether it is conscious and deliberate or not the readjust just vanish. No I mean that's that's a really interesting point. In fact, that's one of the reasons I wanted to do this podcast is because everything that we're about to talk about actually challenges the narrative that have in their head about how what happened in the eighteen hundreds you know like. I think in the popular mind it's okay. The civil war happened the confederacy was vanquished but almost immediately white supremacist to power and started you know a government and so they just sort of skip over this brief but radical period of time when black people had power and held political office and were part of a coalition that did incredibly progressive things and got rid of the tax and did criminal justice reform it had mental health reform reactor education. and. I mean there's all this. So it's really it challenges the narrative that people have in their head because it just doesn't make sense with what people think that they know about history. So doctor, Levin? Good. Let's talk about language a little bit. So I think a lot of our listeners are going to say readjusted what the heck is a readjustment and then Bourbon. Made this at the script at the top of the show made this joke about Bourbon like what explained to us the playing field in eighteen seventy nine what is a bourbon and what exactly is a rid or what do they want to readjust While the readjusting are taking their name from their attitude toward Virginia's public debt, and this notion that they thought that the debt that they were saddled with was gonNA cripple the state, make it unable to fulfill its promises about public education and all sorts of other things and so there You know there's sort of reason they're proximate reason for being is to readjust that debt to repudiate part of it to adjust the interest rate downwards. Let me ask a question about that. So the debt is huge. This is pre war debt and war dead and so what was The debate like if you want if you supported paying off the debt who were you and why what was your motivation if you did not want to support paying off the debt? Who what kind of group were you associated with them? What was the motivation they're sort of what's the debate about paying off the debt versus not paying off the debt? Yeah. I. Think over I mean maybe overly simplistically but those who wanted to the funders as they called themselves they wanted to fully fund the debt were more the business class, the affluent the the the wealthy elite. Bargains the verbs which comes from the Libor Bowl, the European royal elite of sort of idea of of what the Bourbon, not not the not the whiskey variety comes from. So that's Kinda that that class of people the readjusting as as Schuyler just mentioned, were you know this kind of coalition of poor and working class whites and blacks You know it's a some others thrown in like William Mahone who will talk about? I'm sure was a strange character in quite quite interesting. and. And so this notion that what they what they wanted to be able to do was fulfilled the promise of. All the things you mentioned, public education You know higher education, all of these things that were to benefit. A wider range of Virginians and if you're pay more than half of your your in your state budget every year paying more than half toward this interest it was you're not going to allow you to do that. So he's going to continue to benefit the the funders. You know. They really had a couple of motivation for people who wanted to pay the debt in full. You know one they kept talking about a matter of honor its honor to pay the debt, we need to fulfil our state honor. which you know it sounds good I think. But let's also face fact they were also worried that if the debt was repudiated, it would make Virginia kind of a pariah among moneyed interests who might invest in Virginia again. So there was worry that if he repudiated the debt, you drive investment away. And I think that that those two things both the honor of paying that debt in some ways and the the business ramifications we're driving, we're driving them. and I would also add in there too that you have to remember that in Virginia and in much of the south. This kind of concept that the everyday person should be able to vote or the everyday person should have access to education. Was not kind of baked into the populace the funders you know when you look back to the eighteen, seventy eight veto message governor holiday he's a, he's basically saying look we have education for the people who need it and they can go and get it. We don't need to fund education for All these folks and so it's not just. funding the debt although it certainly I think is the is the main thing but there is also just an inherent belief that everyday people shouldn't have a say in elections in don't need public education and that that that lineage goes back to the founding fathers in and the kind of folks who were arguing in this kind of classical Republican philosophy that it was the free. Holders and the people who had leisure time who could get an education and in represent the kind of common good whether that's the common good of Virginia or the common good of the United States, and of course, that's butting up against the reality of Jacksonian. America it's butting up against the reality of the reconstruction amendments and it's kind of you've got these two worlds and I. Quote from one of the one of the African. American. Men who came to the convention that Mahone called to create a new party the readjusting. And he says, you know it's this freed slave he he's from new and he says as to the debt, we don't WANNA pay a cent of it. We think we paid our share of it by our long years of servitude. You'd think it kind of that argument and you think that language of and it's it's it's it's true when it's fascinating horrifying though I have a question. How does a biracial political coalition? Actually a whole political party in Virginia, which is spires to break the wealth and power of privilege. Come to be led by a former confederate general. Yeah that's a great. That's a great question Here's where maybe a opportunity to talk about William Mahone. Who you know really becomes the figurehead of the party he he's. He as you mentioned I mean he is a A. Say. Confederate, general. He's actually involved in one of the more horrific events. perpetrated by the confederacy in eighteen, sixty, four at Petersburg if you've ever visited the battlefield and seeing the crater that was created Union Union miners. Dug under the confederate lines and blew up. try to create a gap in the line and what ended up happening was A. as. Union troops poured into that gap. They found that actually putting themselves into rather a gap really into a pit crater where they were sitting ducks and a lot of African American troops were involved in that and were singled out to be massacred by among other officers involved when Mahone. So this is a guy with a really. I mean, Bizarro back story if you were picking the leader of a biracial coalition coalition which I do think lend some credence. To the detractors who say he was really looking at this as a matter of political expediency more than anything else he had been. He'd been a Democrat he came out of the the war A. Member, what they call the Conservative Party conservative faction, which were mainly prewar Democrats and you know I think he found you know he ran for he ran for. Governor and lost and I think he found this was a different a different route to political power I. Think MOANS. Commitment to racial equality needs to be held in a great deal of question Any certainly saw this as an opportunity. Now, I don't maybe not being completely fair to him, but he you certainly have to at least. Afgha- that question and one of the interesting things about Mahone I heard this from someone a few years ago you know. Mahoney. There's never been a great biography of Mahone. and which would also lend us may be some some aid in deciding why did he do this? And the reason Friday the most prosaic reason I've ever heard he has a massive collection of papers that he left to posterity. There are Duke University, his handwriting is so bad. But the people have people have tried to go in the papers. To do a biography of that's fascinating character and they've given up because they can't deter decipher handwriting saw his motivations are lost. In some way just because the man had appalling penmanship but. But let's mind-blowing if you stop and think about it like it. had better penmanship how much more we would know about the eighteen hundreds in Virginia but I didn't mean interrupt you I think it's Fun I would have to You know what I think what's interesting is he comes about in a moment and I think we should be cynical about the reasons why he did what he did but I also think it's interesting right? You'RE A he's he's a confederate general he was in the Conservative Party. And he splits off on this readjustment issue in know there's two ways politicians can go in this moment, and one is to kind of fully embrace the eighteen, sixty nine constitution voting rights for all and to try to create a coalition and the other path. is to try to you know create amendment poll tax, which some folks did and to try to suppress the vote which you know after Mahone other white folks. Do you know they decide not to try to amend the constitution, but you have to famous laws from eighteen, eighty, four and eighteen, ninety four, which essentially disenfranchised the entire African American community by creating these local electoral board's the Democrats could control which kind of become the foundation for the bird machine. And he doesn't do that and I think if we're going to give him credit, we give them credit there, which is a in a moment where he could try to weaponize the constitution of the General Assembly as a form of suppressing the African American vote. Instead when he dies in, you go to those papers you can find a list of black pastors that he frequently corresponded with because he was engaging in interracial alliances, and so I think we should be cynical about his his reasoning. But at the end of the day, he ended up embracing a more FR in franchise any ended up. Communicating and being in touch with in in helping patronage for the black community and I think that's a it's a really interesting story because so many people in the south didn't do that. Yes. So the sky full of contradictions, confederate general who later becomes a railroad president he was president of a railroad and that's actually how he got involved in politics because he was trying to help himself financially and then decides in eighteen seventy nine to found a new political party. This is another really in my mind really bizarre part of this is the timeline how quickly all of this comes together. So Eighteen, seventy, nine, he has this convention that you mentioned. He forms the readjustment party the same year they take control the General, assembly they had fifty six seats in the House fifty, six, hundred seats they had twenty four seats in the Senate is twenty, four out of forty seats. So that's pretty decisive. Win For having formed the party that year. Eighteen seventy, nine, they take control the General, assembly eighteen, eighty, one, they elect a governor and then in eighteen eighty, two, they win six of the ten seats in Congress, House seats in the Congress. So in the course of just three years, the readjustments capture the General Assembly the governor's office both seats in the US Senate and a majority of the House seats Doctor Levin Good How did that happen? Well, yea. You catagor- you're sort of show the the the meteoric rise. Of course, there's unequally meteoric descent I. mean it it it comes and it goes very very quickly But I go back to what I said to begin with which was there was really this. Kind of strange period after Virginia's readmitted where the parties are still figuring themselves out there. There's a foothold of Republican is in especially in the western part of the state you know in the in the mountains and valley part of Virginia, you have these free blacks you have A. You have a really unsettled political situation which I think allows for that rise to come. So quickly because you don't have you know you didn't return to classic. So dual party you know vying for vying for control or single party control the way you did prewar week party went away and prewar Virginia. The Democrats essentially had almost unrivalled electoral success. So you didn't really have the reestablishment of that. There's so a lot of flux which I think is why? You know why this party kind of is able to come about and come together. So quickly and I think clearly, it was also tapping into something that was of great interest to this. Biracial coalition of people who had long been. White and black kept out of the political process that they had not been allowed to vote and they had not had say economically. And socially in. Virginia Direction. In. That would add to that that I think one of the reasons why if you look at the coalition, the coalition is South Central and southeast African Americans the African American population was at its greatest flood of free. Slaves. And it was cities where debt in public schools are a more pressing issue in it was out in the West and if you if you look at the history of Antebellum America, it's the history of the West being disenfranchised is around the eighteen forties where the western part of the state becomes kind of dominant population force but the General Assembly reflects kinda slave owners in the. East power in an the eighteenth thirty in the eighteenth fifty constitutions it's important to note that those those constitutionally Gerrymander the General Assembly to give the power to the eastern part of the state. You know the eighteen thirty constitution broke Virginia into four regions and then gave each region a certain number of delegates senators in a skewed to the east and in eighteen fifty one rewrite. the Senate skewed to the East something like twenty to thirty seats and so you got a lot of folks in the West who prior to eighteen fifty one can't vote because of the freeholder requirements. who can't get anything past even through their representation because of the skew General Assembly, and then all of a sudden eighteen, sixty nine in that constitution kinda opens up all of that right and allows more people to vote. It allows for a little bit more regional less disparity. And it speaking issues that directly relate to this kind of east west divide and WHO's paying taxes in one of those taxes four remember the western part of the state has less slave owners has lessslaves has historically not liked the slave power and I think that creates a perfect storm But of course, right the flip phlebitis, it creates a perfect storm and then as soon as has gone, it just as quickly goes away 'cause right it's gone within three years. Well. Let's take a quick break because when we come back, we want to talk about what the readjust did during their time in power delegates Schuyler Been Valkenburg, Dr Paul Good. Thank you so much. We'll be right back. And we're back on transition. Virginia we're not talking about the transition of power from Republican to Democrat. Instead, we're talking about the transition of power from Bourbon Democrat conservative Democrat to readjust this almost today unknown coalition of Bi Racial Coalition of progressive politicians that did all kinds of things. So let's examine what they actually were able to accomplish when they were in power I, read this list at the top and it's Worth repeating because it's just sort of mind blowing. If you think about this is the eighteen eighties we're talking about the increased funding for public education they repealed the poll tax they increase taxes on corporations they increased funding for state asylums they increase money for higher education. They abolished the whipping post Doctor Levin Gun talk about the whipping post and the significance of abolishing the whipping post in the eighteen eighty S. Well if you think about public spectacle of criminal punishment, especially in times of slavery, the public whipping post is perhaps the most. Striking example of the the the levers of control that white elite bridge held over everyone else, and so you can imagine if you were living in a maybe a courthouse. Town, a county seat. Very. Often there was a public whipping post which could be used. By for crimes committed by slaves brought to the courthouse square and publicly flogged Mathur's who didn't want to do it. Themselves could actually pay local sheriff to do the same thing and it was public spectacle that was meant to reinforce the power structure very very clearly to everyone You know obviously whites could be flawed to, but it was mostly mostly punishment that was meant to keep an African American population in line. So I think for the African American. Ri. adjusters. Both symbolically, and in terms of you know modernizing the processes of criminal. Justice. Abolishing the whipping post was an incredibly powerful symbol and I'm and I think probably. You know they're they're the probably their influence in the party's platform. As. Much as anything else in that kind of a movement. I'm also kind of curious about the politics here of increasing taxes on corporation increasing taxes on railroads, and then spending that money on public education and higher. Delegate van Valkenburgh is this the beginning of? Liberals. No you know what I think this reflects as kind of thinking about this podcast in thinking about what they did I they would have explicitly said this, but it strikes me that This is an embodiment of a very cohesive kind of idea of what I would call the Frederick Douglass wing of the Republican Party at the time, which is the government being used in order to create kind of inequality of opportunity you. You can just see with the emphasis on education in. Wouldn't have called a K. twelve at the time. Right but K. twelve education a higher ran decrease in Virginia State University. It's all founded on a sense of equality is the first mental silence for African, Americans as well in you know once again, you go back to anti-american you look at the taxation in Virginia and one of the big complaints of folks in the western part of the state was that poor people were being taxed in slave owners weren't and I think what you're seeing is you're seeing a foundation of equality of opportunity of using the government to try to uplift all people and I'll go back to the kind of education speeches they gave If people I'm not GonNa read on. But if people go back and look at the eighteen, seventy, eight veto of governor holiday and then they go back and look at Forgetting the governor's name, the the readjusted Governor Han, Cameron Cameron. You go back and read his statement about the value of public education just in the space of like a year the difference in philosophy behind the to the two. Speeches I mean it's stunning and so I. I don't know the beginning of Texas than liberal but I do think it's the beginning of the idea that the government can be used as a force of good to create a kind of a quality of opportunity, which is, of course, a thread that you see in that certain segment of the Republican Party in the civil war and afterwards which you see in FDR, right which you see in Lyndon Johnson, the Great Society in which I think you could argue see in Virginia Democrats today. So you know I don't think it's a perfect comparison, but I do think you can see lineage. No let me I don't want to jump in with thin with a bit of cynicism here but let's also remember that someone like Mahone loses control of his railroad to outside interests I mean his railroad end up being held by receivership of people in Philadelphia and elsewhere, and so taxing outside companies making money in. Virginia. Is a real a popular thing to be able to propose. So you know you're you're. In some ways you're also That's the kind of something you see in modern politics as well. It's you know this this notion of well. Those who are getting those who are making money off of doing in Virginia or doing business wherever should also pay some price for the things we WanNa, do in Virginia. Info. Virginia's people. That's that's true and also note to that. If you actually look at their tax plan, taxes went down for the average Virginia taxpayer. So they decrease taxes on farmers, the decrease taxes on small businesses in increase taxes on the railroads. In in you know. So what happened is they raised substantially more revenue, but they actually brought down the tax bill for the average Virginian in those series of proposals which I think ties back to that senator or not I think probably both one method explicitly that they use to restore. Virginia's economic base was rebuilding infrastructure or at least that's what they campaigned on Doctor Levin. Good. What did they rebuild when they came to power? Their more notable developments readjust are credited with our things like education I don't I. Don't know that in their brief period, you can attribute an enormous amount of. You know infrastructure improvement and really where where things like railroads common make significant progress in Virginia comes because you do have so much out of state and foreign investment in railroads that penetrate the coalfields in South West Virginia, and so on. In in in that kind of late nineteenth early twentieth. Century period. I WanNa talk about the racial part of the story which is complicated and nuanced. So you had African American members of the General Assembly forming a COA who are mainly Republicans forming a coalition with this readjusting African American readjust as well, and so I mean, just UN's face the coalition itself was Biracial, but it's worth pointing out for the modern listener that they were not in favor of desegregating anything right so To, Doctor Levin good talk about this nuanced from our perspective. It's nuance racial element to this where they're a biracial coalition that actually was not for integration. I I. Don't. I. Don't know on the on the African American side, what the what the feeling was along these regards but only for white readjustments, this was you know black public schools in white public schools. blacking I mean Virginia. You mentioned Virginia State is founded. That's very deliberately at a normal school, a school to create black teachers who can teach in black school So this is not a moment of. You know coming together racially it's I. think it is more a recognition that there are shared interests of the poor and working classes of both races that need to be met that need to be satisfied, and now it was not an turning of that of that order of the races and remember you know this is not an enlightened period racially outside of Virginia I mean this is. Sometimes, it's easy easy to forget that the civil war. Did Not Create you know an instant sort of racial utopia anywhere in the United States it it settled the question of slavery, but it did not settle the question of equality even with the reconstruction acts clearly. So that's you know it it probably is not shouldn't surprise us that someone like William Mahone who was a slave owner before this war fight for the confederacy does not then become the figurehead of a party that is looking to overturn the racial order but is reflecting the reality that there is a block of black political power now and pent-up black desire for. Various services to be rendered by the government that needs to be acknowledged needs to be met, and it is a wing of this coalition who has the power in political clout to demand this of their white partners. and. Also one thing to add their to to kind of even nuances even more. If you look at Mahone himself, he campaigned against the only black Republican running for Congress in Virginia during this time period, and so there was kind of and we'll talk about this when we get to the downfall among the white readjusts tres, how far they were willing. To go it is very limited I think you even arguably at the time, but definitely by modern day comparisons and so I think that's important to note as well. Another aspect of this is that it is by many accounts the first political machine in Virginia which I know probably people have various perspectives on whether or not. It was machine Doctor Levin. Good. Mahone lead a political machine perhaps even you could say Virginia's first political machine. Well Certainly Mahone, recognized. the power of patronage and recognize that there's an awful lot of ground to be made as the leader of this party in the political patrons that he can go out of that leader. I mean I I guess I mean I mean. One, man's machine is another man's. System right I I. I don't know whether I would describe the readjustment machine. As the first machine in Virginia politics certainly, political patronage played a part in. Virginia politics going back to the colonial period. I it. It's doling out favours going out positions and sinecures has always gone on I think Mahone might have been a little more blatant about it. In some ways you know Mahone is in some ways he's a classic newsouth figure in that. If you if you study that period, you know he's a guy certainly on the come I mean he's all about. He's all about money. He's all about. Showing his own money and showing his power. He's not he's not doing it. Subtly you nothing there's nothing really subtle about him. So maybe in some ways, it's the first sort of evident machine or the first machine that doesn't try to in any way math what it's doing and as a precursor to the the Democratic Machine of of the twentieth century. So I guess in a way, it's the first machine, but I wouldn't. I wouldn't push that too far because it's kind of a the logical evolution I think of what of what had taken place but I would say that I don't I don't think it is because I think when you talk about political machines, people talk about entrenching their own power and while he did engage in behaviors that we would associate with a machine you know patronage in correspondence and all these other things did they're out of power so quickly, I actually think if you WanNa talk about the first machine, it's actually his railroad rival. John Barbara who who, kind of helps defeat the readjusting and creates the the kind of modern day. Well, the re constance, the Democratic Party and creates the machine that will lead to the bird machine. Barber campaign managers guy named Thomas Staples Martin who created the Martin machine that of course was by any standards. But you know just because they only held power for a brief period of time doesn't mean it wasn't a machine. It just wasn't a very successful machine at having longevity and part of that. Is something that starts leading toward their downfall, which is there central organizing principle? Was this thing about the debt where they're in disagreement with the other party because the party wants to pay off the debt at the expense of public education and so they campaign on readjusting the debt and not paying it off at the expense of public education? Well, guess what the other party says you don't let your right we shouldn't do that doctor. Levin. Good. The other side essentially folds says you're right right And and they do repudiate the debt by about a third. They reduced the interest rate by half. So they really do succeed in this and I think the Democrats. or their their opponents I think once this passes I think then the pretense of well, this is about honor and all this kind of stuff kind of can fade away and they recognize that this is actually freed whoever follows the readjusts free them up to. Do. A number of different things that they wouldn't have been able to do if they've been fully funding that debt, the way they had claimed they wanted to So yeah, I mean th they managed they managed to do it and I, think it's one of those things ca you know be careful what you what you wish for because I think they did create an environment for themselves where their reason for existing started to wane a little bit I mean when you're sort of almost a one issue for one primary issue party and that issue goes away to a degree then you know it is it is. Probably the best thing for your for your future success. If you can't redefine yourself, it's funny. The mention that because I'm thinking about the Brexit Party. So once brexit happens what uses the BREXIT party anymore. Yeah and one thing that's fascinating I did want to make sure that your listeners ended up realizing too is there's a little funny side piece of the debt, which is when all of this debt is incurred Virginia before the war included West Virginia the West Virginia breaks away during the course of the civil war and there's a long and contentious fight between Virginia and West Virginia as to what portion of that debt West Virginia should. Really. Be Responsible for because were railroads and canals West Virginia that were funded by this and so it actually I don't think it's till Nineteen fifteen or something that it's finally established what dollar amount West Virginia owes toward retiring this debt, which is just kind of a little side note that I thought. It just fascinated me at the time to think that you know they had to take it to the Supreme Court to finally figure this all out. So, delegate Van Valkenburgh, can you put all of these reforms in the context of what's happening nationally and the reason I asked that is because now just like then Virginia's politics often parallels national politics and a lot of ways. So what's going on during this time? Well I mean you're seeing the end of reconstruction you see the north, the northern population losing its will to. Its involvement in the south you see. An economic panic in the mid eighteen seventies that causes kind of a change in priorities. So you're seeing the Republican, party, that goes from the Party of Lincoln, kind of into the party of big business, and so the south is slowly getting its autonomy back in you're getting Kinda slow drip drip that will lead to Jim. Crow, and we were talking at the very beginning of this about how people just kind of think it's it's the civil war reconstruction Jeff. KROGH. But there's really this kind of drawn out period that's occurring. Where there are these kind of possibilities that pop up around a moment like the readjusts tres but as as it starts to settle down, you start to move into the. Start to the gilded age where big business the thing in in the south you start to slowly settle into Jim Crow. That's thirty year kind of evolution into Jim Crow if you look at Virginia specifically wants the readjusting our out. You know you start to slowly get the electoral law change stat disenfranchises African Americans, which you know the machine uses for about twenty years until they don't it's enough in the nineteen o two constitution where they kind of explicit goal is disenfranchise African Americans but you're actually disenfranchises almost everybody and so you know, I think Virginia, in many ways, it's Kinda story. We've been telling us this brief moment of hope where maybe something can happen in I. Think in Virginia happens a little bit more than another southern. States but as the realities of national politics, kind of moves away from the south, you know it's not about the southern issues anymore it's about big businesses of global trade. It's about immigration in the northeast in the late eighteen hundreds, the south is really allowed to kind of become its own place and there's a lot of you know you can look through the history you know the solid sow one party south south is different from the rest of the country and it's in this time period around the adjusters in Virginia after the adjusters where we really start to see that on truly happen and if I could add. Nationally. This is really. The between the end of reconstruction and the First Years of the twentieth century. This is really an incredibly. Tumultuous moment you know the the readjustment movement in Virginia is one example of poor people coming together the same happens in the Midwest. The People's Party the populist movement is a you know it's a farmer's movement thing. You know we're we're done being the pawns of big interest. We're going to stand up for the Yeoman farmer and there's actually some of that in the south is well and you've got labor unrest all across the country as working people say you know we're not going to sit there and just be dominated by management by big business. So there's It's in some ways the readjust your movement with his. On you know the poor and working classes. Is. A part of broad or moment that I think finally by the end of the nineteenth early twentieth century Kinda gets quashed down overall and you do move into what scholars mentioning sort of you know the hegemony of big business and the the sort of linkage of big business and government in a sort of a fairly tight way that really does make it difficult for popular movements to rise up like this again. But there is that period of a couple of decades where there seems to be. Maybe, something else that's going to the possible and I'd also eh to that the Virginia trajectory of disenfranchising African Americans disenfranchising poorer voters has a broader is a broader American narrative I'll go back to Frederick Douglass had this speech in the kind of reconstruction and post reconstruction world that he would give frequently called are on our composite nationality. And he was talking about. The words. He would use the things he was talking about sound a lot like what John Lewis was talking about right. You know who's in the news you know and the kind of message he had about a multiracial democracy of equality. And a positive nationality speech is it is kind of one of out of pessimism because what he's seeing as African Americans be disenfranchised in the south, but he's also seeing Asian Americans disenfranchised in the West in the speech talks about that, and if you look at the the late eighteen hundreds, you've got white southerners who are disenfranchising African American and doing it to a degree that's different everywhere else I wanna make sure we make that distinction but then you also have. In the West, you northeasterners who who are making claims magazines like the Atlantic to limit the vote against the immigrant population has they're not suitable to it. You the Mug won't reformers the government reformer who are. Are really restriction area on these issues, and so it's it is there is a broader kind of moment here happening at the end of the eighteen hundreds in some of our I truly restriction airy voting laws calm during this period where you see these kind of arbitrary voter registration laws where you see these arbitrary electoral board's and how they act. You know I'm from New, York originally, and you WanNa talk about a state that had awful laws in the late eighteen hundreds in some ways does still today go to New York where they put in place these absolutely disenfranchising laws to ensure that Catholics and Jews and eastern Europeans couldn't vote. Let's go and take a break. We are talking with Dr Paul Levin Good. The former president of the Virginia Historical Society and current president of the George C Marshall Foundation, and also our friend delegates. Schuyler van Valkenburgh from Henrico. And we're back on Transition Virginia Brunell going to talk about the fall of the readjustment. So this is a group that we talked about earlier had a meteoric rise to power eighteen, seventy nine. The party is founded in the early part of the year. By the election in November, they were able to gain a majority in both house of delegates and the Senate. They had fifty six out of the one hundred seats mouse twenty, four out of the forty seats and the Senate and the next election cycle and eighty one they kept the general assembly and elected their own Governor Governor Cameron, and then the. Next year and the congressional election they had six out of the ten house seats meanwhile, the General Assembly of course, at this time is picking the US senators. So they pick Mahone who went to the Senate and ran the political machine from his US Senate office and they also picked the other US senator. So they had both seeds of the US Senate. They had six out of ten house of representative seats. They had the house ability. They had the state Senate, they had the governor's office when that's all within three years and then it all falls apart doctor Levin. Good. What happens to the readjustments? It's a really good question. Michael I mean I think we've touched on a little bit of this before in that. I think they certainly achieved some of their goals and I don't know that they had. They had great vision for what the what was going to be next but I think they also their successes in some ways. Really invigorated their rivals, you know I think we were talking a little earlier scholar was talking about the. The constitution and looking at what the Constitution's tell us about certainly those who hold the levers of power and if you look at the kid, the next constitution of Virginia, which is one, thousand, nine, hundred, eighty, one. It is it in some ways almost reaction point by point to the adjusters in their there. And I think what? What really ends up happening is. As? We just talked about a little bit before the break. White Southerners get better at. Figuring out how the new landscape can be controlled to their advantage how the limits of federal intervention in state of matter, such as this, the degree to which local control can be reassumed. You know that that period that we had that we had talked about the kind of whatever you WANNA, call it between reconstruction and the. Solidifying of the of. White control over a place like Virginia you know comes it comes to an end. Not Evenly. But it comes to an end really in that time. As much as anything else because I think white southerners figure out knowing nothing's going to happen to us if we reassert this. Whether it's the the bargain that ends reconstruction whether it's you know the clear weariness of a national Republicans to deal with you know. How how much energy do they have to keep up with the energy of of of certainly what motivated reconstruction, which is to allow for African American voting and other rights, and I think that once they realize but they were not going to be there was not going to be interference long they became increasingly bold and aggressive about reverse course on this and you know in Virginia it it it doesn't Virginia's way is not to be quite as as in your face about it as some other southern states You know you're not just driving blocks away from the polls through you know night night riding and guys in hoods running around, but it takes effect. You know in some of the same in some, the effects are somewhat similar in that it does eventually reassert itself. When you see that you know African Americans working in cities in you know tobacco companies enrichment well suddenly when those tobacco company owners and management can reassert themselves and say you know. We really think this is how things need to be, and we really think if you're going exercise. your franchise. You may not have a place to work here. That's a form of control that begins to take place, and eventually it moves to disenfranchisement within a couple of years. So I think it's just that you know it's it's that moment there was this flash of a great deal of promise and then the. The wielders of power before realize that they can regain power and there's probably not to be consequences for their action and you know we've noted before too. But I mean the issue that brought them together with settled. After that was settled, it allowed the other party to play to racial fears and you know it's it's it's a sad continuing through history that we can see even up to today with some of the ads in the presidential race around urban protests. But you know one of the big moments in that eight hundred eighty-three campaign where the readjusts lose the general. Assembly. Is there an animal? Over a perceived a slight from African Americans to white people that were walking by them in the street, you know some of these kinds of cultural racial. Codes that were informal that white people and black people followed equal and and so that fight led to a huge amount of propaganda that allowed the opposition to win. You know was one of the reasons that the opposition was able to win the election and and you see that playbook and George Wallace you see that play book in Richard Nixon and you see that playbook right now and so when racial issues were able to rise to the four kind of white conservatives were able to re assert power and I would know one thing about that nineteen o two Constitution nineteen, no one of two constitution. Is the members that convention explicitly said, it was about rolling back racial voting rights. They had passed a series of laws in the late eighteen hundreds that allowed them to disenfranchise voters, but they had to do it in a corrupt way. You know they had to rig the ballot box they had to. Throw out legitimate ballots and so when they came to that convention carver glass who becomes a future? Senator. Says Explicitly The convention will inevitably cut from the existing electorate four-fifths of the Negro voters and that was the purpose of the convention. That's a direct quote. And End, they actually cut greater than fifty percent of the white electorate in greater than ninety percent of the black electorate in we became the state with the lowest proportion of adult voters to the early twentieth century to the point where a famous political scientists said that by contrast Mississippi as a hotbed of democracy. Yet I'm glad you mentioned Danville because gamble wed. it's almost it almost created itself as an opportunity for white supremacist to come back and say, this is what happens right the Danville actually, Alexa Majorities Majority City Council is black in eighteen, eighty three, and so this incident, some call it a riot, some just called it a math. Was it was the details are not are not entirely clear, but it was it was custom made to show to white people say look what happens look what happens when African Americans take control of the city this is how white people get treated. And so they they they used it sort of shamelessly in that regard. And this was an era of yellow journalism as well. Right and beard on an environment where you have the Democrats retaking control nationally was that was at grover Cleveland who comes back into power And and so one point that people make who say that Mahone was just a powerbroker in his own right I guess is that he started flipping patronage to Democrats and does that what kind of consequences does that have for? The readjust your party in Virginia. You know I actually I. think There's an interesting point here, which is once grover Cleveland becomes president that Senator Mahone. No longer has the kind of patronage to Dole out the way he used to right so. The change in the national scene actually sort of was one of the things that sort of lead to the demise right and sort of the patronage and the way that they were able to distribute power. And Mahone I mean from the moment you get to the Senate he's very cagey about who's going to caucus with I mean. He's certainly not rigidly adhering to some code of behavior. He's he's looking to see which way the wind blows in a sense, and so it shouldn't be it shouldn't be surprising. Realize Mahone is. In some sense almost a lame duck senator because the readjusted party is falling from power and he's still senator to wet eighteen, eighty, nine, I think So yeah. So the Party is essentially falls apart underneath him and he's he's still serving. So he kinda has to figure out what do I do next I'm not I'm not sure he was overly troubled by in some ways, but he did have to figure out how do i. kind of land this now that my party is basically gone. That's a good point because after he's no longer in the Senate, he runs for governor right in is unsuccessful. So I mean the whole thing kind of falls apart, which leads us to important question, which is what is the legacy of not just home, but the larger readjust her movement. One thing that I think could be significant and worth mentioning is this biracial coalition, which is kind of singular in the United States and the south right Doctor Levin good like what's the significance of this biracial coalition that they put together nineteen eighties? Yeah I mean it's I pointed earlier too. There's a moment when the People's Party, the populists might have done something I mean in. North Carolina and and a little bit in. Georgia. But yeah, you're right in that. It's the only truly successful coalition. Coalition of blacks and whites in the pre civil rights era So I think the legacy of it in that way although it's perhaps not as remembered as it might be it is one of those counterpoint to this notion that somehow. African Americans and whites couldn't work together politically and so I think it does belive that it does be live that myth it obviously has some real lasting legacy in I think the strength of the public. School. movement in Virginia certainly never goes back direction of some of the readjusted enemies would've would have had it had the readjusting not come on the scene so I think that becomes kind of enshrined in Virginia public life and in electoral politics obviously things like State University funding whether it's Virginia State or the expansion of Virginia. Tech. There's some real lasting thing was there. Even. If some of the other things, the poll tax that they remove gets reinstated I mean there are things that don't go away and I think you know in some ways when we look back on it now it's heartening in a way it kind of gives you some psychic income to realize that. There was a point in history where black and white Virginians came together especially those of of certain economic status and said, enough we're GONNA start our power and there's some real. There's some real value in remembering that and it's something that we really ought to. Remember and talk more about and no more about. Yeah and I think it's it represents the promise and the tragedy of reconstruction and how for as far as reconstruction in those amendments win. They didn't go far enough and I think it speaks is speaks to a gun. I'm going to go back to John Lewis kind of what he wrote in his op Ed in the New York Times that was published on the day of his of his funeral, his last words if you will, and he talks about democracy being an action. In democracy being continuous movement, you can't give. And I think they they kind of speak to the sense in which the vote is never enshrines it could he he says can always be taken away in what we see as we see a brief moment where they're able to come together able to get things accomplished some of which I agree the education piece is long lasting some of which isn't, but it speaks to the fact that if you don't continue to cultivate a healthy democracy, you will not get a healthy democracy thirty years after the readjusts their forgotten their buried A convention explicitly meant to a race them and the possibility of them from Virginia. and. And then you know you have the legacy after that of Jim Crow in the bird machine and so I think it speaks to the promise, but it also speaks to the tenuousness of of people being able to participate in continue to participate successfully in democracy. Delegate van Valkenburgh. What lessons learned are there for you as a member of the General Assembly that other members could take from this era of history. Not sure that there's a lot of lessons policy wise from what they do I. I, I think. I think the lesson is ultimately, you can't take anything for granted. You have to continue to shape a coalition. You have to continue to shake things relevance to people's lives. You have to continue to argue for why a multi-racial coalition is necessary. You have to continue to Kinda stand against racial division. Some of their tax policy in some of their school policies are things that I think in Virginia. We can take a lesson from to this day properly funding schools. You know reason I originally ran. I would argue we don't do that and I think that the lessons of how they got to that make a whole lot of sense but I do think the bigger lesson is the equality and democracy peace and I think it's important to recognize that There's never an endpoint it's never over you've never achieved your goal because democracy there's always tomorrow. Now. Recently, in the Capitol building in Richmond, The statue of Robert e Lee was removed from the old house. This is instantly the same house chamber that the readjustment once ruled and delegate Valkenberg tweeted about this about this particular statue and he said many of these statues like that statue of rubber used to be in the old house chamber gifts from other Southern States has recently the nineteen fifties then tweeted let's celebrate the readjust instead. What did you mean by that and how do you think the justice should be celebrated? Yeah, look I mean there's a difference between history and memory right? We want to study history warts and all because we need to know where we were to know where we're going. Never GonNa Change. But what we memorialize and what we hold up to be true I think should be shaped by what we think is important now and you have tour groups that go into that old house building for decades. All they see is a shrine to the loss caused you go in and you look to your left in there's a bust of Alexander Stevens, a Georgian who was the president of confederacy that was gifted to us in nineteen fifty two you look to your right you saw busted Jefferson Davis, and this is sippy man who was the president of the confederacy that was gifted to us from Mississippi state legislature in nineteen fifty three. and. I don't think that that rep you know we need to know that history we need to know that that. That the capital was used for the confederacy and we need to know the that we had a convention at asked us to see from the Union and we did. that. We had former presidents in that convention weeping when we seated tears of joy, we need to know that history, but we need to celebrate the moments where we reached our finest moments right where we lived up to our values lived up to our democracy in Virginia I cannot think of a better moment there's others but I can't think of a better one. Than the readjust there's a kind of what they stood for because they weren't perfect. They don't live up to twenty twenty values Mahone a great example of that. I do think they transcended their moment to live up to a constitutional values in a way that has been very rare in Virginia history and I think that's worth teaching fourth graders. Doctor Levin Good. Any final thoughts about the legacy of this group that's now almost completely forgotten. Yeah I really like what scholars just had to say I'm trying to think how you how you might physically memorial is that I don't know that you want to put up a statue of Mahone Other wouldn't take up much space. He was a very small guys get along lifestyle catch. Yes. Just doesn't aside I love the comment his his wife had when she heard during the civil war that he had received a flesh wounded battle and she said something like well now I know it must be very serious because William doesn't have much flesh to begin with which I thought was a great. Great great comet. He's. He's really a small cadaverous dude. Yeah you know I I i. mean. It's it's hard to say how you How you might spread this legacy a little more widely. you know obviously. In the Sol's is one is one manner that and I'm speaking to an educator here. You know that's one way we kind of. You know we we can say what we value as a as a state is what we decide. We WanNA enshrine in the standards for all their warts and everything. The standards of learning are at least one way to express that as as a society and I think that that's you know that's one way to do it and to continue like this to talk about them and to make sure that you know where when we have opportunities, we bring up this subject and we let people know a little bit more about it and I. Hope this podcast at least take some. Tiny step toward raising. Public awareness about a really interesting and significant. Brief period in the Commonwealth history although I must step in one last thing to say is I. Think when we talk about statues, we typically talk about very important people right. So we're talking about should we have a statue? I'll leave you with this. I think we should do more memorializing everyday people whether it's the Black Union soldiers or it's the average citizen who you know. Let's get that African American guy from new who was at the convention stood up and said you know what I'm more of a readjusted than half the you because I'm I'm all in on this because it's the citizen like that who leads to the readjustment movement. And and it's also when you're citizen in, you go to the citizens capital, you should understand your role. So this is maybe my call that we should. We should recognize the citizenry more than we do because you're democracy is only as healthy as the people who participate in. That is good of a place as any to leave it Dr Paul Levin. Good delegates Schuyler van Valkenburgh. Thank you so much for being on our podcast today and thank you for listening to Transition Virginia find us on spotify apple podcasts. Or. Anywhere. You like to get your podcast. We're on twitter at transition va, and as always you can hear more at Transition Virginia Dot Com.

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