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Righteous Indignation

Religion and the Populist Revolution

Joseph W. Creech Jr.

Publication Year: 2006

Righteous Indignation uncovers what motivated conservative, mostly middle-class southern farmers to revolt against the Democratic Party by embracing the radical, even revolutionary biracial politics of the Peoples Party in the 1890s. While other historians of Populism have looked to economics, changing markets, or various ideals to explain this phenomenon, in Righteous Indignation, Joe Creech posits evangelical religion as the motive force behind the shift. _x000B_This illuminating study shows how Populists wove their political and economic reforms into a grand cosmic narrative pitting the forces of God and democracy against those of Satan and tyranny, and energizing their movement with a sacred sense of urgency. This book also unpacks the southern Protestants complicated approach to political and economic questions, as well as addressing broader issues about protest movements, race relations, and the American South.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Populism was a political reform movement with political aims, yet it captured loyalty, evoked opposition, and in the process created drama as few other political movements have in American history. It could do this because Populists believed they were part of a larger, sacred narrative unfolding in the 1890s...

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pp. ix-xii

I would like to thank the many people and organizations that contributed to this book, starting with those archivists and historians who led me to sources, listened to ideas, and evaluated my work along the way. These include Catherine Gaylord and Walter Johnson with the North Carolina Discipliana Collection at...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. xv

In the spring of 1894, some thirty or so miles east of Raleigh, North Carolina, a renegade group of Populists acting without sanction from the local and state leadership canvassed Nash and neighboring Edgecombe counties with fliers urging voters to “Look to Jesus” in the coming off-year elections, and without doubt they fully...

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pp. 1-6

Hebron Christian Church, founded in Lenoir County in the eastern part of North Carolina in 1878, was typical of most Disciples of Christ congregations. Although the restorationist Disciples of Christ exaggerated many of the liberal and egalitarian tendencies of evangelicalism—rejecting all creeds; discarding, to...

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1. An Established Antiestablishmentarianism: Nineteenth-Century North Carolina Evangelicalism

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pp. 7-21

Trying to make sense of the different evangelical denominations in late nineteenth-century North Carolina can be a daunting task. Finding consistent patterns even in the ways they related to one another is often fraught with contradictions. For example, while most of these denominations regularly consigned one ...

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2. Men and Machines: Freedom, Conformity, and the Complexities of Southern Evangelical Thought

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pp. 22-40

Long before it achieved its place of cultural centrality in the South, evangelicalism, as it emerged during the mid-1700s, distinguished itself from other forms of Protestantism by stressing individual conversion and voluntaristic church government. These ideas were new and challenging—as radical to some religiou...

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pp. 41-50

Leonidas L. Polk had a habit of signing his correspondence, “In Haste, L.L.P.” Indeed, L. L. Polk was a man incessantly in haste to achieve some measure of success greater than that preceding it; he captured Tocqueville’s characterization of the restless entrepreneurial American. Born in 1837 to Federalist, Presbyterian planters...

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3. The Alliance Vorzeit

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pp. 51-67

Even though certain intellectual and religious components shaped the Populist movement, it was also tied to specific social, economic, and political developments of the late nineteenth century. Leaving political developments for the next section, this chapter examines the social and economic factors that helped...

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4. Religion and the Rise of the Farmers' Alliance

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pp. 68-92

For all of the excitement and success it generated, the Farmers’ Association was not to be the predominant cooperative organization among North Carolina farmers.Nevertheless, the Association laid the groundwork for the ways in which the Alliance would address the problems facing farmers. Like the Association, in order to...

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pp. 93-102

In January 1893 Marcus Josiah Battle lost his farm. This premier Allianceman of Edgecombe County, born to a clan that included aristocrats, manufacturers, and college presidents, had purchased this unimproved property thirty-three years earlier for just over $33 an acre. Yet now at age fifty-five, this Civil War veteran saw...

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5. "Pure Democracy and White Supremacy": The Democratic Party and the Farmers' Alliance

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pp. 103-121

The Populist revolt among white farmers was a protest against the state’s Democratic Party; for blacks, it was against the Republican Party. As an instance of political fratricide, the Populist drama played itself out against the backdrop of thirty years of geographical, social, religious, and cultural tensions that became politicized...

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6. Crossing the Rubicon: The Populist Revolt of 1892

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pp. 122-138

For white Alliancefolk in North Carolina, Populism was a revolt against the Democratic Party—a product of the closeness of the Alliance to the white man’s party and of increasing and unresolved tensions between the two. Few white Republicans in the mountains and Quaker Belt became Populists; the Alliance never...

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7. Religion and the Populist Revolt

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pp. 139-156

To its followers and detractors alike, Populism evinced the ethos, language, and crusading spirit of a religious movement. Democrats and Republicans, for example, ridiculed the way Populists on the stump assumed rural financial problems had apocalyptic consequences; Populists, on the other hand, considered their rallies...

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8. Victory, Defeat, and Disfranchisement, 1893-98

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pp. 157-176

While a few Democrats and Populists hoped to mend the breach created by the 1892 election, and while churches hoped their members would settle back into fellowship with one another, it soon became evident that this was not to be the case. The hostilities that flew during the 1892 campaign, and especially the “abuses...

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Epilogue: The End of an Era, the End of a Dream

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pp. 177-184

What do you do when Satan wins? That was the question facing evangelical Populists after 1900. Of course, some had already found refuge back in the party of white supremacy, but others, disgusted with Democratic tactics and disfranchisement, were left with no obvious places to go. Despising the Democrats, yet out of...


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pp. 185-208


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pp. 209-220


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pp. 221-232

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090912
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252030741

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Church history -- 19th century.
  • Christianity and politics -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Populism -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
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