Readjuster Movement

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READJUSTER MOVEMENT. The readjuster movement in Virginia had its inception in the contention of Rev. John E. Massey, Col. Frank G. Ruffin, and a few others that the antebellum state debt, which had been funded in 1871, ought to be readjusted so that it could be met without ruin to farmer taxpayers (already hard pressed by economic conditions) and without neglect of public schools and charities. Gen. William Mahone, seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, endorsed the idea in 1877, swung the Richmond Whig to its support, and in 1879 organized the Readjuster party. Winning the legislature in 1879 with the help of disorganized Republican voters, and gaining the governorship in 1881 with William E. Cameron as its candidate, the new party scaled the debt by the Riddleberger Bill of 1882, enacted laws in the economic and social interest of the masses, and, carefully guided by Mahone, apportioned the offices among its leaders. Elected to the Senate in 1880 (where he was soon joined by H. H. Riddleberger), Mahone cooperated with the Republicans and received the federal patronage on the theory that he stood for anti-Bourbonism and a fair vote. Thus supported, blacks rallied unanimously to his standard, while many of the whites continued faithful. His political machine now seemed invincible. But the regular Democrats, led by John S. Barbour and John W. Daniel, accepted the debt settlement; welcomed back such sincere Readjusters as Massey and Ruffin, who would not brook Mahone's "bossism"; drew the color line; and won in 1883 and thereafter, although sometimes very narrowly. Perhaps the most lasting result of the movement, aside from the debt settlement, was the belief among the white masses that, while blacks could vote, white men must not be divided, however important the issues on which they differed and however "rotten" the Democratic machine.


Moore, James T. Two Paths to the New South: The Virginia Debt Controversy, 1870–1883. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1974.

C. C.Pearson/l. t.

See alsoConfederate States of America ; Debts, State ; Reconstruction .

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Readjuster Movement

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