Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel

By C. Vann Woodward | Go to book overview
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The Temper of the 'Eighties

THE COLLAPSE OF THE INSURGENT MOVEMENT in 1880 removed the last formidable barrier from the path of the New Departure for a decade more and marked the beginning of a new era. The political peace and acquiescence of the 'eighties contrasted gratefully with the war of the 'sixties and the revolution of the 'seventies. Energy and imagination, wearied by stale feuds and recriminations, turned hopefully toward the glittering prizes promised by capitalists and industrialists. The new decade afforded no rôle for the agrarian rebel, whether a Bob Toombs of the older generation or a Tom Watson of the new. The career opened so brilliantly by Watson in 1880 was virtually closed to him for the next ten years, for Watson in any other rôle than rebel was miscast. It was during this period of marking time, however, that ideas that were perhaps the product of opportunism and temperament took firm root in him and his class, found nutriment in the soil of rebel tradition, and burgeoned into a hardy native growth. It was in this period, too, that the economic setting was prepared for what Watson in a moment of optimism pronounced "Not a Revolt; It Is a Revolution."

In an address before the General Assembly on November 13, 1880, the night before the senatorial election, Joseph E. Brown frankly interpreted the issues at stake, and unconsciously enunciated the dominant mood of the 'eighties. Reminding his audi


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