The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics: The Personalities, Elections, and Events that Shaped Modern North Carolina

By Rob Christensen | Go to book overview

chapter 1
The Simmons Machine

The new era of North Carolina politics formally began on a crisp, clear January day in 1901 amid 1,500 tromping soldiers in broadbrimmed hats and leggings, blaring bands, and a sea of flags and bunting. Stepping off a special train that took him from his home in Goldsboro to his new residence in Raleigh was Charles Brantley Aycock, a forty-one-year-old attorney and the newly elected governor. A carriage pulled by four plumed white horses carried Aycock and his family from the station to the Capitol. Crowds lined Martin and Fayetteville Streets to catch a sight of the new governor, with cheering men doffing their hats and women waving their handkerchiefs as he passed by. Atop a bunting-draped platform on the east side of the Capitol, Aycock took the oath of office. An old man held up a white supremacy banner and a young boy held a white rooster, the symbol of the Democratic Party. Small boys sat on the second-floor balcony, their legs dangling over the edge. A band played “Dixie.”

This was no ordinary inauguration, but the fruits of what Aycock called a “revolution.” North Carolina had been “redeemed” for the Democratic Party and for whites—just as it had been in 1877 when federal troops withdrew, ending the period of Reconstruction. The populists were for all practical purposes dead. The Republicans were to be vanquished from power for generations. Blacks were no longer a factor. And white Democrats were beginning seventy-two years of uninterrupted rule in North Carolina. The political mold was cast for most of the twentieth century.

Aycock was the man of the hour. But the man behind the new governor was Furnifold McLendel Simmons, a forty-sevenyear-old New Bern attorney who for the next thirty years would be a U.S. senator and a political figure so powerful that the state’s Democratic organization would become known as the Simmons Machine. Simmons not only held the seat longer than any North Carolinian had ever held it before, but he also exerted

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The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics: The Personalities, Elections, and Events that Shaped Modern North Carolina
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Prologue 7
  • Chapter 1 - The Simmons Machine 34
  • Chapter 2 - The Shelby Dynasty 62
  • Chapter 3 - Branchhead Boys 109
  • Chapter 4 - The Last of the Conservative Democrats 154
  • Chapter 5 - Dixie Dynamo 179
  • Chapter 6 - Jessecrats 203
  • Chapter 7 - Jim Hunt and the Democratic Revival 235
  • Chapter 8 - Phoenix Rising 261
  • Chapter 9 - A New Century 287
  • Epilogue 311
  • Appendix Endings 319
  • Notes 323
  • Index 345
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