ECW: William Mahone and the Readjuster Party in Virginia

NH Civil War Gal

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 5, 2017
Messages
2,984
#1
https://emergingcivilwar.com/2019/04/11/emerging-scholar-heath-anderson/#more-181687

Selectively Remembered: William Mahone and the Readjuster Party

Modern discussions about Confederate monuments have led all of us to reconsider what is the best way to remember and teach the American Civil War. These monuments were constructed to promote a white supremacist political and racial agenda and therefore are instructive lessons in what white southerners wanted to commemorate and what they wished to forget. William Mahone was one prominent Confederate general from Virginia who never received a statue to commemorate his wartime service because of his postwar political allegiance to the Republican Party and his acceptance of African American suffrage. The life and career of William Mahone demonstrates the complexities of the Reconstruction years that defy the period’s traditional timeline and reminds us that we should resist generalizing the actions and views of white and black people and Republicans and former Confederates during the tumultuous postwar years.

Reconstruction is often taught as a bookend to the cataclysmic war and as an unpleasant cleaning up act that ended with the successful admittance of the rebel states back into the harmonious United States that was ready to take its place on the world stage. For decades, and even to this day, many white southerners maintain that Reconstruction was a period of tyrannical northern rule over the former Confederate states that only ended with the return of southern white men to political power. Modern scholarship has reframed our discussion of Reconstruction to a focus on the actions of black people and the successes of Reconstruction despite recalcitrant white southerners. However, most current works still use the year 1877, when the last federal soldiers left the South, as the endpoint for Reconstruction. William Mahone and the Readjusters operated in the 1880s and their example demonstrates the need to expand our discussion of Reconstruction into the 1880s and 1890s when the South disenfranchised most of its African American citizens.

Mahone was part of a younger generation of white men who fought for the Confederacy and, like many of his generation, he was more interested in his own personal wealth and how to reform Virginia along a northern industrial model than a concern over what his former comrades thought of him. When Virginia Conservatives could not find a satisfactory resolution to Virginia’s crushing wartime debt, Mahone organized the Readjusters and pledged to reduce the debt or refuse to pay it all together. White farmers flocked to his banner and black people, who argued that as former slaves they should not be required to participate in debt repayment, supported Mahone as well. The Readjusters elected Mahone to the United States Senate and, in exchange for their support, Senator Mahone funded black schools and hospitals with the Readjuster Party placing black men on public school boards in Richmond and Petersburg, and he declared that Virginia’s politics would no longer be decided by racial issues. This movement temporarily represented the most successful case of a biracial political party on a Republican model in the postwar South.
 

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

CSA Today

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Dec 3, 2011
Messages
19,615
Location
Laurinburg NC
#2
https://emergingcivilwar.com/2019/04/11/emerging-scholar-heath-anderson/#more-181687

Selectively Remembered: William Mahone and the Readjuster Party

Modern discussions about Confederate monuments have led all of us to reconsider what is the best way to remember and teach the American Civil War. These monuments were constructed to promote a white supremacist political and racial agenda and therefore are instructive lessons in what white southerners wanted to commemorate and what they wished to forget. William Mahone was one prominent Confederate general from Virginia who never received a statue to commemorate his wartime service because of his postwar political allegiance to the Republican Party and his acceptance of African American suffrage. The life and career of William Mahone demonstrates the complexities of the Reconstruction years that defy the period’s traditional timeline and reminds us that we should resist generalizing the actions and views of white and black people and Republicans and former Confederates during the tumultuous postwar years.

Reconstruction is often taught as a bookend to the cataclysmic war and as an unpleasant cleaning up act that ended with the successful admittance of the rebel states back into the harmonious United States that was ready to take its place on the world stage. For decades, and even to this day, many white southerners maintain that Reconstruction was a period of tyrannical northern rule over the former Confederate states that only ended with the return of southern white men to political power. Modern scholarship has reframed our discussion of Reconstruction to a focus on the actions of black people and the successes of Reconstruction despite recalcitrant white southerners. However, most current works still use the year 1877, when the last federal soldiers left the South, as the endpoint for Reconstruction. William Mahone and the Readjusters operated in the 1880s and their example demonstrates the need to expand our discussion of Reconstruction into the 1880s and 1890s when the South disenfranchised most of its African American citizens.

Mahone was part of a younger generation of white men who fought for the Confederacy and, like many of his generation, he was more interested in his own personal wealth and how to reform Virginia along a northern industrial model than a concern over what his former comrades thought of him. When Virginia Conservatives could not find a satisfactory resolution to Virginia’s crushing wartime debt, Mahone organized the Readjusters and pledged to reduce the debt or refuse to pay it all together. White farmers flocked to his banner and black people, who argued that as former slaves they should not be required to participate in debt repayment, supported Mahone as well. The Readjusters elected Mahone to the United States Senate and, in exchange for their support, Senator Mahone funded black schools and hospitals with the Readjuster Party placing black men on public school boards in Richmond and Petersburg, and he declared that Virginia’s politics would no longer be decided by racial issues. This movement temporarily represented the most successful case of a biracial political party on a Republican model in the postwar South.
And might have been successful longer had it not been for the Southern experience with the Republican Party more radical version.
 

NH Civil War Gal

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 5, 2017
Messages
2,984
#4
And might have been successful longer had it not been for the Southern experience with the Republican Party more radical version.
Or could it be Mahone never gained fame like the others? He was only a Brig General until after The Wilderness, and no more big victories.
Possibly both. Until this morning, I never even heard of the Readjuster Party. I keep learning and hopefully all of us keep learning.
 
Joined
Sep 19, 2017
Messages
770
Location
Blue Ridge Mountains, Jefferson County WV
#5
Possibly both. Until this morning, I never even heard of the Readjuster Party. I keep learning and hopefully all of us keep learning.
Readjusters was new to me also. Until CWT I never got much into the ACW politics. Mosby has statues, but I don't know when they were put up. He was not well liked and wrote the book "Hell is being republican in Virginia"
 

NH Civil War Gal

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 5, 2017
Messages
2,984
#6
W
Readjusters was new to me also. Until CWT I never got much into the ACW politics. Mosby has statues, but I don't know when they were put up. He was not well liked and wrote the book "Hell is being republican in Virginia"
Which is why he ended up in San Francisco? California certainly because someone took potshots at him in Virginia!

Somehow, before I found CWT, and started reading the forum and then the books it all seemed so simple! I never understood in the slightest how the South, Black or White were effected after the war or what went on. And the ripple effect to the Indians and the west.
 

CSA Today

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Dec 3, 2011
Messages
19,615
Location
Laurinburg NC
#7
Possibly both. Until this morning, I never even heard of the Readjuster Party. I keep learning and hopefully all of us keep learning.
I wasn't aware of the Readjuster Party either, but I have read that Reconstruction was less severe in Virginia than in the other former Confederate States due to the various factions being able to work together with each other and with the Democrats.
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Messages
3,940
#9
https://emergingcivilwar.com/2019/04/11/emerging-scholar-heath-anderson/#more-181687

Selectively Remembered: William Mahone and the Readjuster Party

Modern discussions about Confederate monuments have led all of us to reconsider what is the best way to remember and teach the American Civil War. These monuments were constructed to promote a white supremacist political and racial agenda and therefore are instructive lessons in what white southerners wanted to commemorate and what they wished to forget. William Mahone was one prominent Confederate general from Virginia who never received a statue to commemorate his wartime service because of his postwar political allegiance to the Republican Party and his acceptance of African American suffrage. The life and career of William Mahone demonstrates the complexities of the Reconstruction years that defy the period’s traditional timeline and reminds us that we should resist generalizing the actions and views of white and black people and Republicans and former Confederates during the tumultuous postwar years.

Reconstruction is often taught as a bookend to the cataclysmic war and as an unpleasant cleaning up act that ended with the successful admittance of the rebel states back into the harmonious United States that was ready to take its place on the world stage. For decades, and even to this day, many white southerners maintain that Reconstruction was a period of tyrannical northern rule over the former Confederate states that only ended with the return of southern white men to political power. Modern scholarship has reframed our discussion of Reconstruction to a focus on the actions of black people and the successes of Reconstruction despite recalcitrant white southerners. However, most current works still use the year 1877, when the last federal soldiers left the South, as the endpoint for Reconstruction. William Mahone and the Readjusters operated in the 1880s and their example demonstrates the need to expand our discussion of Reconstruction into the 1880s and 1890s when the South disenfranchised most of its African American citizens.

Mahone was part of a younger generation of white men who fought for the Confederacy and, like many of his generation, he was more interested in his own personal wealth and how to reform Virginia along a northern industrial model than a concern over what his former comrades thought of him. When Virginia Conservatives could not find a satisfactory resolution to Virginia’s crushing wartime debt, Mahone organized the Readjusters and pledged to reduce the debt or refuse to pay it all together. White farmers flocked to his banner and black people, who argued that as former slaves they should not be required to participate in debt repayment, supported Mahone as well. The Readjusters elected Mahone to the United States Senate and, in exchange for their support, Senator Mahone funded black schools and hospitals with the Readjuster Party placing black men on public school boards in Richmond and Petersburg, and he declared that Virginia’s politics would no longer be decided by racial issues. This movement temporarily represented the most successful case of a biracial political party on a Republican model in the postwar South.
Mahone a very interesting figure. In addition to his military and political careers, he was quite successful as a railroad man.

He was said to be physically very small and slight, but with a powerful and penetrating intellect.
 

John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Messages
7,926
Location
Central Massachusetts
#10
Mahone's October, 1895 mortuary notice is quite neutral, except for that little 'dig' in the third headline: "...When He Was an Honor to his State ..."
State_1895-10-09_[1].png

[Charleston State. Oct. 9, 1895]​
His actual funeral and interment, however, seem to have been warmer affairs:
Sun_1895-10-10_2.png

[Baltimore Sun, Oct. 10, 1895]​
Attached is a long obituary from the Washington Morning Times of Oct. 10, which details Mahone's life before, during, and after the war.
 

Attachments

Last edited:

ErnieMac

Brigadier General
Moderator
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
May 3, 2013
Messages
8,653
Location
Pennsylvania
#11
Or could it be Mahone never gained fame like the others? He was only a Brig General until after The Wilderness, and no more big victories.
Mahone seems to have been a mediocre Brigadier General at best. Following his promotion to Major General he became one of Lee's best subordinates in the trenches at Petersburg. It was Mahone that organized the Confederate counterattacks at the Crater and on the Weldon Railroad.
 

Pat Young

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Jan 7, 2013
Messages
30,371
Location
Long Island, NY
#13
https://emergingcivilwar.com/2019/04/11/emerging-scholar-heath-anderson/#more-181687

Selectively Remembered: William Mahone and the Readjuster Party

Modern discussions about Confederate monuments have led all of us to reconsider what is the best way to remember and teach the American Civil War. These monuments were constructed to promote a white supremacist political and racial agenda and therefore are instructive lessons in what white southerners wanted to commemorate and what they wished to forget. William Mahone was one prominent Confederate general from Virginia who never received a statue to commemorate his wartime service because of his postwar political allegiance to the Republican Party and his acceptance of African American suffrage. The life and career of William Mahone demonstrates the complexities of the Reconstruction years that defy the period’s traditional timeline and reminds us that we should resist generalizing the actions and views of white and black people and Republicans and former Confederates during the tumultuous postwar years.

Reconstruction is often taught as a bookend to the cataclysmic war and as an unpleasant cleaning up act that ended with the successful admittance of the rebel states back into the harmonious United States that was ready to take its place on the world stage. For decades, and even to this day, many white southerners maintain that Reconstruction was a period of tyrannical northern rule over the former Confederate states that only ended with the return of southern white men to political power. Modern scholarship has reframed our discussion of Reconstruction to a focus on the actions of black people and the successes of Reconstruction despite recalcitrant white southerners. However, most current works still use the year 1877, when the last federal soldiers left the South, as the endpoint for Reconstruction. William Mahone and the Readjusters operated in the 1880s and their example demonstrates the need to expand our discussion of Reconstruction into the 1880s and 1890s when the South disenfranchised most of its African American citizens.

Mahone was part of a younger generation of white men who fought for the Confederacy and, like many of his generation, he was more interested in his own personal wealth and how to reform Virginia along a northern industrial model than a concern over what his former comrades thought of him. When Virginia Conservatives could not find a satisfactory resolution to Virginia’s crushing wartime debt, Mahone organized the Readjusters and pledged to reduce the debt or refuse to pay it all together. White farmers flocked to his banner and black people, who argued that as former slaves they should not be required to participate in debt repayment, supported Mahone as well. The Readjusters elected Mahone to the United States Senate and, in exchange for their support, Senator Mahone funded black schools and hospitals with the Readjuster Party placing black men on public school boards in Richmond and Petersburg, and he declared that Virginia’s politics would no longer be decided by racial issues. This movement temporarily represented the most successful case of a biracial political party on a Republican model in the postwar South.
In Kevin Levin's book on The Crater, he discusses Mahone and the Readjusters. I saw Levin soon after publication and talked to him about Mahone. He said that Mahone's needs a full biography written, but that Mahone's writing is tiny and incredibly hard to decipher!
 

Cavalry Charger

Captain
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Jan 24, 2017
Messages
5,953
#14
Just thinking about how 'literal' the naming of the Party is - 'Readjuster'. It was literally a readjustment period and Mahone seems to have taken the bull by the horns in naming the party so. It's clear from that alone what their purpose was and what they hoped to achieve.

There is one aspect of the article I would like to take up and it is this:
Modern discussions about Confederate monuments have led all of us to reconsider what is the best way to remember and teach the American Civil War. These monuments were constructed to promote a white supremacist political and racial agenda and therefore are instructive lessons in what white southerners wanted to commemorate and what they wished to forget.
This appears to be a sweeping judgement on the purpose of all monuments erected in the South post Civil War.

The ability to create such a judgement seems to rest on the fact Mahone never received his own statue. Not unlike James Longstreet in that respect I imagine, who did eventually have a couple of statues/monuments erected. This may rest on a purely political motivation.

And no doubt there were political motivations that existed in relation to memorialization. But I'm sure there were also personal motivations associated with a need to remember and honor the dead and acknowledge losses associated with the war.
 

NH Civil War Gal

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 5, 2017
Messages
2,984
#15
Since it appears that none of us knew about the "Readjustment Party" until today, I went searching and found some stuff.

This is from Wikipedia:

The Readjuster Party was a political biracial coalition formed in Virginia in the late 1870s during the turbulent period following the Reconstruction era. Readjusters aspired "to break the power of wealth and established privilege"[citation needed] among the planter elite of white men in the state and to promote public education. Their program attracted biracial support.
The party was led by Harrison H. Riddleberger of Woodstock, an attorney, and William Mahone, a former Confederate general who was president of several railroads. Mahone was a major force in Virginia politics from around 1870 until 1883, when the Readjusters lost control to white Democrats.[2]

The Readjuster Party did more than refinance the Commonwealth's debts. The party invested heavily in schools, especially for African Americans, and appointed African American teachers for such schools. The party increased funding for what is now Virginia Tech and established its black counterpart, Virginia State University. The Readjuster Party abolished the poll tax and the public whipping post. Because of expanded voting, Danville elected a black-majority town council and hired an unprecedented integrated police force.[3]
 

Pat Young

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Jan 7, 2013
Messages
30,371
Location
Long Island, NY
#16
Since it appears that none of us knew about the "Readjustment Party" until today, I went searching and found some stuff.

This is from Wikipedia:

The Readjuster Party was a political biracial coalition formed in Virginia in the late 1870s during the turbulent period following the Reconstruction era. Readjusters aspired "to break the power of wealth and established privilege"[citation needed] among the planter elite of white men in the state and to promote public education. Their program attracted biracial support.
The party was led by Harrison H. Riddleberger of Woodstock, an attorney, and William Mahone, a former Confederate general who was president of several railroads. Mahone was a major force in Virginia politics from around 1870 until 1883, when the Readjusters lost control to white Democrats.[2]

The Readjuster Party did more than refinance the Commonwealth's debts. The party invested heavily in schools, especially for African Americans, and appointed African American teachers for such schools. The party increased funding for what is now Virginia Tech and established its black counterpart, Virginia State University. The Readjuster Party abolished the poll tax and the public whipping post. Because of expanded voting, Danville elected a black-majority town council and hired an unprecedented integrated police force.[3]
The development of a black/white alliance under the Readjuster banner may have left a black community that was more able to resist the advance of Jim Crow.

Since Mahone's men had slaughtered blacks at the Crater, I always wondered how Virginia's blacks felt about voting for Mahone.
 

NH Civil War Gal

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 5, 2017
Messages
2,984
#17
https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/question/2017/september.htm

"In 1880 a pamphlet appeared entitled John Brown and William Mahone: An Historical Parallel, Foreshadowing Civil Trouble by George W. Bagby. "In 1858 occurred the raid of John Brown," wrote Bagby, misdating the 1859 incident at Harpers Ferry. The "raid" of Mahone and the Readjusters in 1879, though "less bloody" was "more dangerous than that of John Brown." "Both raids occurred in Va, and the negro was in both cases the instrument relied on to destroy the old order of things." Comparing Mahone and Brown accomplished a number of goals. First, memories of John Brown could easily be recalled because of the visceral fears that his actions had engendered. It also made clear the extent of the perceived threat to the stability of the commonwealth and called into question Mahone's loyalty to white supremacy."

~ Kevin M. Levin “William Mahone, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 113, No. 4 (2005), p. 393

A: Recently the museum staff was asked about William Mahone, who served under Robert E. Lee. I must confess that neither Dr. Pilgrim nor I had heard of Mahone. Fortunately, I located a few recent pieces about him, including one published in the Huffington Post. The author, Jane Dailey, makes the case that General Mahone was a masterful soldier and military leader who is largely forgotten because of his actions after the Civil War.

Mahone was a civil engineer, responsible for building many roads and railroads in Virginia. Alas, he was also a slave owner—and, not surprisingly, a secessionist. He brought those beliefs into the Civil War. During the war, Mahone was a decorated Confederate General, winning many battles against the Union. Those who praise Confederate leaders, especially military officers, should celebrate General Mahone but they do not.

After the war, Mahone became a delegate from Virginia, and in 1877 became the leader of the Readjuster party, a coalition of whites and blacks, Democrats and Republicans, dedicated to “break the power of wealth and established privilege” among the white ruling class. Coming on the heels of Reconstruction efforts, the Readjusters must have seemed radical: they argued for increased funding for schools and other public facilities—and, they sought to repeal the poll tax which suppressed voting by blacks and poor whites. They also abolished the whipping post in Virginia and helped reduce property taxes for poor farmers by 20 percent. There was a brief period—in the late 1870s and early 1880s—when the Readjusters’ efforts to help blacks and poor whites produced fruit. Alas, that small progress was soon lost.

The Readjusters legitimized African Americans—and the interest of African Americas—in the political arena and the larger society. In fact, the Readjusters were changing the landscape of Virginia, for both blacks and whites:

“Black Virginians were rewarded for their votes on both the state and federal levels through political patronage. The presence of African Americans increased sharply in different agencies, including the Treasury Department, Pensions Bureau, Secretary's Office, and Interior Department. At the height of Readjuster control, African Americans made up 38 percent of workers in the Post Office. With Mahone's help, African Americans also found jobs as clerks and copyists in Washington. It was in the field of education, however, that blacks enjoyed the most visible increase in participation. Readjuster reforms increased the number of black teachers from 415 in 1879 to 1,588 in 1884, and black enrollment went from 36,000 to 91,000 during those same years. In addition, African Americans served as jurors and clerks, policemen in towns, and guards at state penitentiaries” (Levin, 2005, pg. 400).

I do not know what drove Mahone to lead these “populist” efforts, maybe he was always driven to help the underdog, or what he perceived to be marginalized people and finally recognized that he should also be an advocate for black people. In any event, he was a man who gained early fame and prestige during the Civil War, but his actions and advocacy post war for African Americans removed him as a hero to some Americans.

For more information about William Mahone see the following:

Dailey, Jane (2017) “The Confederate General Who Was Erased.” Huffington Post.
Retrieved from:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry...ased-from-history_us_599b3747e4b06a788a2af43e
 

John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Messages
7,926
Location
Central Massachusetts
#19
In the obituary I attached to Post #10 above, we read:

"At a dinner party given in honor of Gen. Lee, the commander-in-chief declared than it was his belief that of all the generals of the confederate army he regarded Gen. Mahone as the most efficient officer. He said furthermore that if anything should happen to him (Lee) that would prevent him from conducting the struggle to the end, he believed Gen. Mahone to be the best qualified to take command of the southern army and continue the fight to the end."​
Seems just a tad unlikely that this is factual. If only because Lee would never have been so impolitic as to make such a statement in the presence of his gathered commanders.
 
Last edited:

John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Messages
7,926
Location
Central Massachusetts
#20
@NH Civil War Gal you can get a sense of how the white supremacists viewed Mahone from these two articles. For entering into the Readjuster alliance with blacks, Mahone was described as Judas Iscariot.
Virginian-Pilot
Thursday, Dec 18, 1879
Norfolk, VA
Page: 2
View attachment 302142
View attachment 302143
View attachment 302144
"Judas Iscariot" is rather mild. The Democratic press during the 1880s was absolutely savage in its attacks on Mahone. NOTHING, it seems, was too vile to be said about him. They were outraged that his 90,000 black votes and 30,000 Republican votes should be allowed to defeat 100,000 "all-white Democratic votes."
 



Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top