Readjuster Party


Readjuster Party

The Readjuster Party was a political coalition formed in Virginia in the late 1870s during the turbulent period following the American Civil War. Readjusters aspired "to break the power of wealth and established privilege" and to promote public education. It 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 controlling force in Virginia politics from around 1870 until 1883, when his party, the "Readjusters," lost control to the "Conservative Democrats", whose power was to last 80 years until the demise of the Byrd Organization in the late 1960s.

A division among Virginia politicians occurred in the 1870's, when those who supported a reduction of Virginia's pre-war debt ("Readjusters") opposed those who felt Virginia should repay its entire debt plus interest ("Funders"). Virginia's pre-war debt was primarily for infrastructure improvements overseen by the Virginia Board of Public Works, largely in canals, roads, and railroads. Prior to 1861, the State had purchased a total of $48,000,000 worth of stock in turnpike, toll bridge, canal, and water and rail transportation enterprises. Many these improvements were heavily damaged or destroyed during the Civil War by Union forces. Much of those remaining were located in the portion of the state which became West Virginia and much of the debt was held by "northerners", making the issue of debt repayment complex.

After his unsuccessful bid for governor in 1877 as a Republican, Mahone became the leader of the "Readjusters", forming a coalition of conservative Democrats, Republicans,and African-Americans seeking a reduction in Virginia's prewar debt, and an appropriate allocation made to the former portion of the state which constituted the new State of West Virginia. For several decades thereafter, the two states disputed the new state's share of the Virginian government's debt. The issue was finally settled in 1915, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that West Virginia owed Virginia $12,393,929.50. The final installment of this sum was paid off in 1939.

The Readjuster Party promised to "readjust" the state debt, repeal the poll tax and increase funding for schools and other public facilities. The Readjuster Party was successful in electing its candidate, William E. Cameron as governor, and he served from 1882-1886. Mahone served as a Senator in the U.S. Congress from 1881 to 1887. However, in Congress, he became primarily aligned with the Republican Party, as did fellow Readjuster Harrison H. Riddleberger, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1883-1889. Both Mahone and Riddleberger were replaced in the U.S. Senate by Democrats.

Readjusters effective control of Virginia politics lasted until 1883, when they lost majority control in the state legislature, followed by the election of Democrat Fitzhugh Lee as governor in 1885. Mahone stayed active in politics, but lost his bid for reelection as U.S. Senator, and as well as another bid for Governor (as a Republican). Riddleberger died in 1890, Mahone in 1895.

After the Readjuster Party disappeared, Virginia's Democratic Party was to rule the state's politics for the next 80 years.

ee also

*History of Virginia


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