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The Farmers’ Alliance, which originated in Texas and appeared in North Carolina in 1887, was an important agent of change in an era of political and social upheaval. The organization, national in scope, was private and nominally nonpartisan. According to John D. Hicks, pioneer of Alliance historiography, the national organization’s aims were fourfold: social, educational, financial, and political. In North Carolina the entanglements of the Alliance with politics were many, culminating with the defection of a sizable number of Alliance men to the Populist Party in 1892. Historian Lala Carr Steelman detailed the State Alliance’s attempts to win control of the Democratic Party, purify politics, elected farmers to office, and enact agrarian reforms.
Original Date Cast:
The beginnings of the North Carolina Farmers’ Alliance date to an 1886 exchange of letters between S. B. Alexander and Leonidas L. Polk. Both men became Alliance leaders: Alexander as first president of the State Alliance and Polk as editor of the Progressive Farmer, official Alliance organ, and eventual president of the National Alliance. The organizational meeting of the State Alliance was held in Rockingham over two days, October 4-5, 1887. The convention drew up a constitution and appointed committees. Chosen as officers were: Alexander, president; Thaddeus Ivey, vice-president; Polk, secretary; J. D. Allen, treasurer; and Elias Carr, chairman of the executive committee.
It has not been determined where the delegates convened in Rockingham. Since the Farmers’ Alliance was a private organization, the session was probably not at the courthouse. Later meetings were held in Raleigh’s Metropolitan Hall, Fayetteville’s Williams Hall, and Asheville’s Opera House. The proceedings for the first session were not published. The minute book in the State Archives does not mention the site but does make reference to the “hall having been purged” and to the appointment of “Brother W. C. Cole,” a Richmond farmer, as doorkeeper. Newspaper accounts, including Polk’s in the Progressive Farmer, also failed to record the name of the hall.
Lala Carr Steelman, The North Carolina Farmers’ Alliance: A Political History, 1887-1893 (1985)
John D. Hicks, The Populist Revolt (1931)
Progressive Farmer, October 13, 1887
Lawrence Goodwyn, Democratic Promise: The Populist Moment in America (1976)
North Carolina State Farmers’ Alliance Minute Book, North Carolina State Archives