Benjamin Ryan Tillman
Benjamin Ryan Tillman was born near
Trenton, Edgefield County, S.C., August 11, 1847.
He pursued an academic course; left school in 1864 to join the
Confederate Army, but was stricken with a severe illness. He later engaged in
Tillman became the leader of the backcountry whites in South
Carolina and fostered their discontent with the ruling tidewater aristocracy.
In 1890, he formed the Farmers Alliance and was elected governor the same
year. Tillman accomplished a
political revolution in South Carolina when he defeated Governor Wade Hampton
and the old guard Bourbons who had run the state since the end of
Reconstruction. Tillman and his
movement aimed to expand the political control of the state to lower- and
middle-class people at the expense of the stateís former leaders and blacks.
He served two terms (1890Ė94). Tillman greatly advanced agricultural
education (Clemson and Winthrop colleges were opened) and railroad regulation.
He was responsible for the adoption of the dispensary law, whereby the state
controlled the sale of liquor.
dominated the state constitutional convention of 1895, which adopted rules
virtually disfranchising South Carolina blacks.
Many of his measures reflected the influence of Populism. In 1894,
Tillman was elected Democratic U.S. Senator. In the Senate he was the champion
of the Southern farmer and allied himself with the Populists against the
currency program of President Cleveland.
He vigorously attacked Cleveland in the Democratic convention of 1896 and gave
support to William Jennings Bryan and free silver. He earned the nickname
Pitchfork Ben when he threatened to stick his pitchfork into Cleveland. Although
Tillman was at odds with President Theodore Roosevelt, he helped secure passage
of the Hepburn rate bill for railroads. In general he supported Woodrow
Wilsonís administration, particularly Josephus Danielsís naval expansion