Tillman, Benjamin Ryan

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Tillman, Benjamin Ryan

Benjamin Ryan Tillman, 1847–1918, U.S. Senator from South Carolina (1895–1918), b. Edgefield co., S.C. A farmer, he became the leader of the backcountry whites in South Carolina and fostered their discontent with the ruling tidewater aristocracy. Supported by the Farmers' Alliance, he was elected governor in 1890 and served two terms (1890–94). His victory meant the downfall of Wade Hampton (1818–1902). Tillman greatly advanced agricultural education (Clemson and Winthrop colleges were opened) and railroad regulation. He was responsible for the adoption of the dispensary law, whereby the state controlled the sale of liquor. He dominated the state constitutional convention of 1895, which adopted rules virtually disfranchising South Carolina blacks. Tillman defended the use of force to prevent blacks from voting. Many of his measures reflected the influence of Populism. In 1894, Tillman was elected Democratic U.S. Senator. In the Senate he was the champion of the Southern farmer and allied himself with the Populists against the currency program of President Cleveland. He vigorously attacked Cleveland in the Democratic convention of 1896 and gave support to William Jennings Bryan and free silver. He earned the nickname Pitchfork Ben when he threatened to stick his pitchfork into Cleveland. Although Tillman was at odds with President Theodore Roosevelt, he helped secure passage of the Hepburn rate bill for railroads. In general he supported Woodrow Wilson's administration, particularly Josephus Daniels's naval expansion program.

See biography by F. B. Simkins (1944, repr. 1964); F. B. Simkins, The Tillman Movement in South Carolina (1926, repr. 1964).

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