Zeb's success in establishing himself as an active member of the Senate obligated him to assume a leadership role in the Democratic Party, particularly in the South. Although the party had regained control of all of the states that had allowed slavery in 1861, its hold on power was constantly being challenged during the 1880s in the upper South. Zeb recognized the precarious nature of the Democratic advantage and worked with considerable determination to make the party's position more secure. All of his efforts had the added advantage of making his own position more secure. From Zeb's perspective, however, the Democrats needed to do more than simply defeat the Republicans in order to maintain hegemony. The Democrats of the South were truly a coalition party in this period. The party's elite leadership, which frequently sought to bring the region's economy into the national mainstream, often found itself at odds with its predominant constituency of small farmers. In addition, communities, counties, and regions within states felt neglected by the party on many occasions. The only glue that held the party together was its racist commitment to white political, economic, and social dominance.
As the last chapter noted, the greatest challenge to the Democratic coalition, and thus to Zeb's position, occurred in the state of Virginia.1 To Southern Democrats, the Readjusters posed a potent threat. First, their strategy provided an example that could be used successfully to split the Democratic Party in other states. Several attempts to duplicate the Readjuster experiment were in fact made in other states. In North Carolina, the coalition of antiprohibition and independent politicians attempted to duplicate the Virginia example. Zeb recognized as soon as the new party appeared that the situation in Virginia was dangerous to Southern Democrats like himself. He campaigned in Virginia for the Democrats during the 1880 presidential canvass and had his first personal contact with the Readjusters. During a September speech in Virginia, Zeb claimed that William Mahone's allies were attempting to break up the address and that they had shown weapons in the crowd. The next year, Zeb attacked the Readjusters in a Senate speech that was apparently part of a broader Democratic cam-