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Intimidation Was the Program: The Alleged Attempt to Lynch H. Seb Doyle, the “Rhetoric of Corruption,” and Disfranchisement

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 March 2019


In 1892, H. Seb Doyle, an African American preacher, learned that Democrats sought to lynch him due to his support of Populist Congressman Tom Watson. Was the threat real? This question became the center of a campaign discussion of race, politics, and corruption. Democratic and Populist newspapers’ accounts of this issue reveal the role of the “rhetoric of corruption” in the Georgia Populist Party's campaigns in the 1890s. Ironically, Populists used the same rhetoric Democrats had used against Republicans during Reconstruction. Populists linked Democratic political and economic malfeasance with the racial “corruptions” of miscegenation and “Negro Domination.” Although the Populists attempted to make this link, their insistence on black and white political equality undermined their white supremacist rhetoric, thereby weakening their case. Despite the Populists’ failure, the ultimate result was the same: the Populists came to abandon biracial politics and called for greater disfranchisement, all in the name of reform.

Copyright © Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 2019 

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I would like to thank, among others, Scott Reynolds Nelson, Cindy Hahamovitch, Stephen Berry, and the UGA history graduate students for comments and suggestions on this paper.



1 Atlanta Constitution, Oct. 25, 1892, 1.

2 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 25, 1892, 1; ibid.

3 U.S. Congress, House, Contested Election Case of Thomas E. Watson vs. J.C.C. Black from the Tenth Congressional District of Georgia (Washington, DC, 1896), 669, 781–82Google Scholar.

4 Watson, Thomas E., Life and Speeches of Thos. E. Watson (Thomson: Press of The Jeffersonian Publishing Company, 1911), 14Google Scholar; Doyle remembered the success similarly. See Watson vs. Black, 782.

5 Atlanta Constitution, Oct. 31, 1892, 4; and Oct. 25, 1892, 1.

6 Very few scholars have discussed the differing accounts of this incident. C. Vann Woodward saw it as proof of the Populists’ commitment to biracialism and only mentioned Democratic objections in a parenthetical; see Woodward, C. Vann, Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel (New York: Macmillan Company, 1938; repr., New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 239–40Google Scholar. Additionally, Charles Crowe mentioned the disagreements in a footnote, see Crowe, Charles, “Tom Watson, Populists, and Blacks Reconsidered,” The Journal of Negro History 55:2 (Apr. 1970): 115CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Fingerhut, Eugene R., “Tom Watson, Blacks, and Southern Reform,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 60:4 (Winter 1976): 326Google Scholar. Finally, Barton Shaw correctly pointed out that many of the Populists who rushed to Thomson did so to defend Watson, not Doyle, adding that no Populists rode to Doyle's defense just weeks earlier when he was nearly killed. Shaw, Barton C., The Wool-Hat Boys: Georgia's Populist Party (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984), 8889Google Scholar; see also Reece, Lewie, “Creating a New South: the Political Culture of Deep South Populism” in Populism in the South Revisited: New Interpretations and New Departures, ed. Beeby, James M. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012), 161Google Scholar; and Ali, Omar H., In the Lion's Mouth: Black Populism in the New South, 1886–1900 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010), 7881CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Political parties frequently created a sense of moral outrage among their rank and file, making it seem that their opponents posed an existential threat to all that was good. See Summers, Mark Wahlgren, “Party Games: The Art of Stealing Elections in the Late-Nineteenth-Century United States,” Journal of American History 88:2 (Sept. 2001): 424–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Several historians have examined the Populist movement and its origins. Among others, see Hicks, John D., The Populist Revolt: A History of the Farmer's Alliance and the People's Party (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1931Google Scholar; Lincoln: repr. University of Nebraska Press, 1961); Hofstadter, Richard, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to FDR (New York: Vintage Books, 1955)Google Scholar; Woodward, C. Vann, Origins of the New South, 1877–1913 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971)Google Scholar; Goodwyn, Lawrence, The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978)Google Scholar; McMath, Robert C. Jr., Populist Vanguard: A History of the Southern Farmers’ Alliance (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1976)Google Scholar; Gaither, Gerald H., Blacks and the Populist Revolt: Ballots and Bigotry in the “New South” (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1977)Google Scholar; Palmer, Bruce, “Man Over Money”: The Southern Populist Critique of American Capitalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980)Google Scholar; Hahn, Steven, The Roots of Southern Populism: Yeoman Farmers and the Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, 1850–1890 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983)Google Scholar; Ayers, Edward L., The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992; repr. 2007)Google Scholar; Postel, Charles, The Populist Vision (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007)Google Scholar; Ali, In the Lion's Mouth.”

9 Nelson, Scott Reynolds discusses the “rhetoric of corruption” in Iron Confederacies: Southern Railways, Klan Violence, and Reconstruction (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 95114Google Scholar.

10 Woodward, Origins, 322, 330, 347–49, and Woodward, , The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), 78102Google Scholar; Wilhoit, Francis M., “An Interpretation of Populism's Impact on the Georgia Negro,” The Journal of Negro History 52:2 (Apr. 1967): 119CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 Rabinowitz, Howard N., Race Relations in the Urban South, 1865–1890 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 311, 318–27Google Scholar, and Rabinowitz, , The First New South, 1865–1920 (Arlington Heights, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1992), 111–15Google Scholar; Ayers, Promise, 147, 269, 300. I instead contend the purported disavowal of election-day violence was based on anxiety regarding federal intervention in Southern elections. Ruling whites sought to distance themselves from the violence (for which they were often responsible) while claiming that they alone, not federal supervisors, could keep lower-class whites in line. See Kantrowitz, Steven, “One Man's Mob Is Another Man's Militia: Violence, Manhood, and Authority in Reconstruction South Carolina” in Jumpin’ Jim Crow: Southern Politics from Civil War to Civil Rights, eds. Dailey, Jane, Gilmore, Glenda Elizabeth, and Simon, Bryant (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 6787Google Scholar.

12 Ayers, Promise, 140, 145.

13 Litwack, Leon F., Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), xiv, 218–37Google Scholar. See also Rabinowitz, Race Relations, 26–30; Ayers, Promise, 147.

14 Rabinowitz, Howard N., “More Than the Woodward Thesis: Assessing the Strange Career of Jim Crow,” The Journal of American History 75:3 (Dec., 1988): 849–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 Cell, John W., The Highest Stage of White Supremacy: The Origins of Segregation in South Africa and the American South, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 82191CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 Julia Walsh makes a similar argument regarding the Populist-reformist origins of disfranchisement, finding the “ominous signs of a backlash against black voters” were present as early as 1892. See “‘Horny-Handed Sons of Toil’: Workers, Politics, and Religion in Augusta, Georgia, 1880–1910” (PhD diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1996), 342, 350–51, 406–7. Gregory Mixon also argues that disfranchisement in Georgia had always been associated with “reform,” but occasionally alternates between whether disfranchisement arose from the Populists or from those he calls the “commercial-civic elite.” See The Atlanta Riot: Race, Class, and Violence in a New South City (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005)Google Scholar.

17 Brundage, W. Fitzhugh, Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880–1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 5872Google Scholar.

18 Brundage, Lynching in the New South, 96–102; Stewart Tolnay and E. M. Beck found little evidence that lynchings were statistically related to failures or shortcomings in the justice system, stating that lynching and legal executions were “largely independent forms of social control.” However, they add that these two types of execution may have still been connected in the minds of members of lynch mobs, see A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882–1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 86118Google Scholar.

19 1870 U.S. Census, Bibb County, Georgia, Population Schedule, Macon, 3, dwelling 17, family 27, Butts, Milly and Smith [sic], Henry; digital image, (accessed Feb. 8, 2017),; 1880 U.S. Census, Dooly County, Georgia, Population Schedule, 66, “42 Dist,” dwelling 650, family 685, Butts, Pleasant, Butts, Milly, and Doyle, Henry; digital image; (accessed Feb. 8, 2017),; Brown, Titus, Faithful, Firm, and True: African American Education in the South (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2002), 140Google Scholar; Watson vs. Black, 775.

20 Du Bois, W.E.B., The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003), 29Google Scholar.

21 See Litwack, Trouble in Mind, 52–61.

22 Bertram Wilbur Doyle to W.E.B. Du Bois, Aug. 23, 1947, in The Correspondence of W.E.B. Du Bois: Volume 3 Selections, 1944–1963, ed. Aptheker, Herbert (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1978), 266Google Scholar.

23 Watson vs. Black, 717, 775; Channing Tobias to W.E.B. Du Bois, July 27, 1947, in Correspondence, 265.

24 Rozier, John, Black Boss: Political Revolution in a Georgia County (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1982), 9, 11, 12, 1718Google Scholar. Schultz, Mark R., The Rural Face of White Supremacy: Beyond Jim Crow (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005), 23Google Scholar.

25 Bois, W.E.B. Du, The Ordeal of Mansart (New York: Mainstream Publishers, 1957), 162Google Scholar. Although this is a fictionalized account, Du Bois researched Doyle extensively. I take from this account only descriptions or facts based on correspondence from Du Bois’ research.

26 Watson vs. Black, 669, 717; Barton Shaw said McGregor was the second most important Populist in Georgia. He went on to serve in the state's General Assembly as a Populist, Shaw, The Wool-Hat Boys, 130.

27 Watson vs. Black, 281, 755, 790

28 Watson vs. Black, 776, 778–79, 782–83, 784.

29 Watson vs. Black, 790.

30 Woodward, Tom Watson, 13–14, 16–17, 32, 43 53–66.

31 Watson vs. Black, 669.

32 Watson vs. Black, 779–80; People's Party Paper, Oct, 14, 1892, 5, and Oct, 28, 1892, 4.

33 Watson vs. Black, 779–81.

34 Watson vs. Black, 779; People's Party Paper, Oct. 14, 1892, 5; Wool-Hat, Oct, 22, 1892, 8.

35 Tobias to Du Bois, in Correspondence, 265–66.

36 Watson vs. Black, 790.

37 Watson vs. Black, 780; People's Party Paper, Oct. 28, 1892, 4.

38 Watson vs. Black, 780,789; Sparta Ishmaelite, Oct. 7, 1892, 2. Governor Northen appears to have also been named in this circular. If Northen did cheer after the attack on Doyle, this may have been his reasoning.

39 Bardaglio, Peter W., “‘Shameful Matches’: Regulation of Interracial Sex and Marriage in the South before 1900” in Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History, ed. Hodes, Martha (New York: New York University Press, 1999), 122–26Google Scholar. Forty-five years after this incident, Doyle's son, a Fisk sociologist, wrote about these same concerns, see Doyle, Bertram Wilber, The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South: A Study in Social Control (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1937), 117–18Google Scholar.

40 Watson vs. Black, 789.

41 Scott Reynolds Nelson, Iron Confederacies, 95–114.

42 Sparta Ishmaelite, Oct. 2, 1892, 2.

43 Ida B. Wells, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, (accessed Feb. 18, 2017).

44 See Bederman, Gail, Manliness & Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880–1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 5760Google Scholar; Litwack, Trouble in Mind, 212–14, 276, 280–83, 290, 312–15; Gilmore, Glenda Elizabeth, Gender & Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896–1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 105–17Google Scholar.

45 Watson vs. Black, 636, 637.

46 Watson vs. Black, 781, 792–93.

47 Augusta Chronicle, Nov. 3, 1892, 3; Watson vs. Black, 638.

48 People's Party Paper, Oct.28, 1892, 4.

49 See Nelson, Iron Confederacies, 95–114.

50 Watson vs. Black, 681, 684, 796.

51 At this time, lynching was on the rise throughout the South, especially in Georgia's cotton belt where the Tenth Congressional District stood. In fact, lynching reached its peak in 1892. One man claimed in 1893 that lynching had become so ubiquitous that it was no longer surprising. See Brundage, Lynching in the New South, 8, 19, 103–39. Interestingly, however, scholars have argued that lynching was less common in areas with greater political competition, which may have “actually provided a measure of protection from lynching.” Despite the hindsight of statistical analysis, though, Doyle's caution was certainly reasonable. See Stewart E. Tolnay and E. M. Beck, Festival of Violence, 166–201, 250.

52 Watson vs. Black, 794.

53 Populist rhetoric and reality were often contradictory. See Winsboro, Irvin D. S. and Musoke, Moses, “Lead Us Not into Temptation: Race, Rhetoric, and Reality in Southern Populism,” Historian 65:6 (Winter 2003): 1373–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

54 Thomas E. Watson, “The Negro Question in the South,” Arena, Oct. 1892, 540.

55 People's Party Paper, Oct. 28, 1892, 4.

56 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 27, 1892, 4, and Oct. 28, 1892, 4.

57 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 26, 1892, 4; Sparta Ishmaelite, Oct. 28, 1892, 2.

58 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 30, 1892, 1.

59 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 26, 1892, 5, and Oct. 27, 1892, 4.

60 This was ultimately a struggle over public space. As Scott Reynolds Nelson wrote, this space was often defined as a “closed union of white men.” Doyle and the Populists contested this definition in almost every instance. For more, see Nelson, Scott Reynolds, “Red Strings and Half Brothers: Civil Wars in Alamance County, North Carolina, 1861–1871” in Enemies of the Country: New Perspectives on Unionists in the Civil War South, eds. Inscoe, John C. and Kenzer, Robert C. (Athens, University of Georgia Press, 2001), 3753Google Scholar.

61 Augusta Chronicle, Oct, 26, 1892, 4.

62 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 26, 1892, 1.

63 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 26, 1892, 4.

64 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 26, 1892, 1.

65 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 26, 1892, 4.

66 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 28, 1892, 4.

67 People's Party Paper, Oct. 28, 1892, 4.

70 The above rhetorical contests between the Democrats and Populists regarding each other's propensity for violence and lawlessness shared many commonalities with public debates about lynching. In both cases, distinctions were made between the use of “legitimate” violence and unlawful mob violence. While debates about lynching were not always overtly political, they were often highly partisan as the position one took depended on a multitude of variables. Similar to the above arguments relating to Doyle, these variables frequently included issues of self-defense, the “quality” and standing in the community of the victim(s), as well as “improper” challenges to established authority. See Brundage, Lynching in the New South and Beck and Tolnay, A Festival of Violence. For a more specific and pertinent case study, see Mathews, Donald G., At the Alter of Lynching: Burning Sam Hose in the American South (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

71 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 27, 1892, 5.

72 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 23, 1892, 1.

74 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 26, 1892, 5.

75 Emberton, Carole, Beyond Redemption: Race, Violence, and the American South after the Civil War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 146, 157CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Doyle's son mentioned black arms bearing in his book discussing social governance of racial etiquette; see Doyle, The Etiquette of Race Relations, 117.

76 See Budiansky, Stephen, The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox (New York: Viking, 2008), 225–47Google Scholar.

77 See Dailey, Jane, “Deference and Violence in the Postbellum Urban South: Manners and Massacres in Danville, Virginia,” The Journal of Southern History 63:3 (Aug. 1997): 581–82Google Scholar.

78 See Litwack, Trouble in Mind, 259, 422–28.

79 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 23, 1892, 2, and Oct. 29, 1892, 4.

80 Watson vs. Black, 637–39; see Augusta Chronicle, Oct, 30, 1892, 1.

81 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 28, 1892, 2.

82 Quoted in Norrell, Robert J., Up From History: The Life of Booker T. Washington (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2009), 243–53Google Scholar.

83 This constant conflation of public and private played a great role in conservative whites’ conception of the Populist challengers. In their minds, political equality was a stepping stone to social equality and interracial sex. For an interesting approach analyzing white supremacists’ fascination with the possibility of interracial sex, see Nelson, Scott Reynolds, “Livestock, Boundaries, and Public Space in Spartanburg: African American Men, Elite White Women, and the Spectacle of Conjugal Relations” in Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History, ed. Hodes, Martha (New York: New York University Press, 1999) 313–27Google Scholar.

84 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 27, 1892, 5.

85 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 23, 1892, 2.

86 Sparta Ishmaelite, Oct. 21, 1892, 3. Doyle owned land in both Macon and Sparta, and this money could have possibly been the proceeds from crops grown on his land. See Watson vs. Black, 717. For more on black land ownership in Sparta and Hancock County, see Schultz, Rural Face, 46; 49, Figure 7.

87 Leon Litwack argued that black success “all too often provoked white resentment rather than respect” and sometimes led to violence. Litwack, Trouble in Mind, 28, 150–63. Rabinowitz also noted that by this time, African Americans were “a major factor in the racial equation” and were increasingly “uppity” in their resistance to white supremacy.Rabinowitz, “More Than the Woodward Thesis,” 850. Part of this “uppityness” resulted from the growing wealth of the black middle class, exemplified by Doyle's economic independence.

88 People's Party Paper, Oct. 28, 1892, 4.

89 Quoted in Crowe, “Tom Watson, Populists, and Blacks Reconsidered,” 107; by this time, Watson and the Populists had abandoned Georgia's African Americans.

90 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 25, 1892, 1.

91 People's Party Paper, Oct. 28, 1892, 6. Stephen Kantrowitz provides insight into how Populists used white-supremacist language to bring white men into a biracial alliance in Ben Tillman and Hendrix McLane, Agrarian Rebels: White Manhood, ‘The Farmers,’ and the Limits of Southern Populism,” The Journal of Southern History 66:3 (Aug. 2000), 497524CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

92 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 28, 1892, 4.

93 Sparta Ishmaelite, Oct. 28, 1892, 3.

94 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 28, 1892, 4.

95 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 29, 1892, 5.

96 Sparta Ishmaelite, Oct. 28, 1892, 3.

97 Woodward, Tom Watson, 241.

98 Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 28, 1892, 4.

99 Shaw, The Wool-Hat Boys, 75–76; Woodward, Tom Watson, 241–42.

100 Shaw, The Wool-Hat Boys, 75–76; Woodward, Tom Watson, 241–42.

101 Woodward, Tom Watson, 258. Corruption of the political process was common for all parties during the Gilded Age and was often justified by the alleged outrages of opponents. See Summers, “Party Games,” 424–35.

102 Watson vs. Black, 296, 782; William Holmes asserted that in Taliaferro County black votes were largely responsible for Populist victories in the 1890s, see Holmes, William F., “Populism in Black Belt Georgia: Racial Dynamics in Taliaferro County Politics, 1890–1900,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 83:2 (Summer 1999): 259Google Scholar.

103 Shaw, The Wool-Hat Boys, 90. However, like the men who stood accused of threatening Doyle, prominent men were central and in no way “above” threatening and committing violence. See Litwack, Trouble in Mind, 294–96. See also, Kantrowitz, “One Man's Mob,” 70.

104 Winsboro and Musoke, “Lead Us Not into Temptation,” 1373–74; Shaw, The Wool-Hat Boys, 90.

105 Crowe, “Tom Watson, Populists, and Blacks Reconsidered,” 110; see also Walsh, “‘Horny-Handed Sons of Toil,’” 346, n. 39; 348.

106 For more on the contradictions in Populist rhetoric and the differences between rhetoric and reality, see Kantrowitz, “Ben Tillman and Hendrix McLane,” 497–524; Winsboro and Musoke, “Lead Us Not into Temptation,” 1354–74.

107 People's Party Paper, Aug. 26, 1892, 7.

108 Dittmer, John, Black Georgia in the Progressive Era, 1900–1920 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980), 94Google Scholar.

109 Rabinowitz, Race Relations, 311; Dittmer, Black Georgia, 95.

110 Tom Watson's Magazine 3:3 (1906): 265Google Scholar; Dittmer, Black Georgia, 96–97. Dittmer asserts that “with the memory of the Populist revolt still haunting them, the Democrats were not yet ready to eliminate their Negro option.”

111 Tom Watson's Magazine 3:3 (1906): 265Google Scholar.

112 Grantham, Dewey W. Jr., Hoke Smith and the Politics of the New South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1958; repr. 1967), 139–40, 147–55Google Scholar.

113 Grantham, Hoke Smith, 144; Mixon, The Atlanta Riot, 72.

114 Grantham, Hoke Smith, 139; Mixon, The Atlanta Riot, 67.

115 Mixon's The Atlanta Riot provides an excellent study of the riot and its causes, paying close attention to the connections between violence, political sensationalism, and calls for reform. See also Litwack, Trouble in Mind, 315–19; Dittmer, Black Georgia, 100–02; Grantham, Hoke Smith, 159–62.

116 Du Bois, Ordeal of Mansart, 162, 167–70, 174–75.

117 Kerr County, Texas. Death Certificate no. 175 (1913), Doyle, J. [sic] S.; Texas State Board of Health,; (accessed Feb. 8, 2017).