Wayne Flynt


The South produced a bumper crop of political demagogues between 1890 and 1920. This unparalleled but dubious array of luminaries included James E. Ferguson of Texas, Huey Long of Louisiana, James K. Vardaman and Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi, Tom Heflin of Alabama, Tom Watson of Georgia, Cole Blease, “Cotton” Ed Smith, and Ben Tillman of South Carolina, as well as many others. These politicos broke the back of conservative Bourbonism with their emotional appeals to the religious and racial intolerance of the newly powerful masses of voters. Once in office they frequently championed social and economic reform such as the abolition of the convict lease system, restriction of child labor, ameliorative labor legislation, woman suffrage, shifting tax burdens to corporations, railroad regulation, expanded educational opportunities, and many other creative measures.