West Virginia, the Mountain State

By Charles H. Ambler; Festus P. Summers | Go to book overview

Chapter XXII
The Bourbon Democracy 1872-1897

FOR A QUARTER OF A CENTURY following the making of the constitution of 1872, West Virginia was controlled politically by Democrats. Reconstruction excesses had brought the Republican party into disfavor in most of the counties of the state, and the re-enfranchised former Confederates who swelled Democratic ranks, especially in the Potomac region and in the Kanawha Valley, were sufficient to keep the Democratic party in power. Moreover, for a generation following the Civil War, West Virginia remained ninety per cent rural, a condition that provided common ground on which Union Democrats and former Confederates could stand and work together. If another bond of unity were needed, it was provided by their common adherence to Jeffersonian principles of low taxes, economy in administration, and states' rights. Even Democrats with heavy stakes in industry remained loyal to their party, which they generally controlled through their own party machines and liberal campaign contributions.

Political leaders of this period were generally successful business men with a genius for organization. Although only a few of the records were preserved, the stories of their nominating conventions and elections constitute one of the most colorful chapters in the history of West Virginia. The period and a part of the succeeding one was featured by the old-time nominating convention. The demonstrations for candidates following the nominating speeches lasted for hours and were sometimes featured by drunken brawls, even emotional prayers. When the lights went out and there was a shift of delegates to William A. MacCorkle in the Democratic

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