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Harry Byrd of Virginia
By Ronald L. Heinemann

Chapter One: Legacies and Opportunities

Harry Byrd's hometown of Winchester, Virginia, had been in an unenviable location during the Civil War. Situated at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley along invasion routes north and south, it had changed hands between the Yankees and rebels dozens of times, and several battles had been fought in the vicinity. Only days after Appomattox, the women of Winchester confronted the legacy of the war when a local farmer accidentally disinterred the bodies of two Confederate soldiers. What should be done with their remains? Spurred into action, the ladies began raising funds to purchase land for a cemetery in which to bury Southern soldiers who had been killed in the area during the "recent unpleasantness." Their success was immediate, and Stonewall Cemetery was dedicated on October 25, 1866; in individual graves or in common graves for the unknowns, over twenty-five hundred soldiers were eventually reinterred there. For years thereafter on Confederate Memorial Day, the citizens of Winchester, joined by hoary Confederate veterans, paraded through town before gathering at the cemetery to commemorate their war dead with speeches, prayers, and martial music. Cheers and tears accompanied the strains of "Dixie" as the participants renewed their loyalty to the Lost Cause.

Although obsessed with their worship of the heroes of the Confederacy, the people of Winchester also were smitten by the spirit of a "New South" in the late nineteenth century. Prompted by the gifts of Pennsylvania philanthropist John Handley, they pursued a modest development program to enhance the town's traditional role as a depot for the commodities of the surrounding farms. The town boosters brought electricity and the telephone to Main Street, extolled the virtues of their private academies, and sought expanded rail facilities. Through the growth of the orchard industry and an improved road network, Winchester achieved commercial success, designating itself the applecapital of America with the inauguration of its Apple Blossom Festival in 1924. In this small Virginia town, with its fealty to the Lost Cause and its brash boosterism, Harry Flood Byrd was reared. Embodying these two passions of his native region, Byrd in many ways never left home.

He was a direct descendant of the William Byrds who had been so influential in the development of the Virginia colony. The first William, son of a London goldsmith, arrived in America in 1669; a year later he inherited from his uncle 1,800 acres near the fall line on the James River, well upriver from the primary Virginia settlements. William parlayed his good fortune into a profitable trading business (which included dealing in slaves), a seat in the House of Burgesses, appointment to the Council of State, and expanded landholdings.

William II was born in Virginia in 1674 but was educated in England and admitted to the bar there in 1695. He returned to his birthplace a year later and was elected to the House of Burgesses, which sent him back to England as its legal representative. Upon his father's death in 1704, he took up permanent residence in Virginia, having inherited over 26,000 acres and 200 slaves. Although he remained active in the politics of the colony, serving on the Council like his father, William II was very much a Renaissance man. He built the beautiful colonial mansion at Westover, founded the city of Richmond, wrote poetry, surveyed the line between Virginia and North Carolina--an expedition described in his History of the Dividing Line betwixt Virginia and North Carolina--and kept one of the most informative, if not scandalous, diaries of the colonial period. When he died in 1744, he left an estate of almost 180,000 acres, which his son, the third William, squandered through bad investments and his love of gambling and fast horses. Having counseled moderation at the outbreak of the Revolution, William III was isolated from many of his old friends, and he committed suicide in 1777.

Bereft of its resources and stigmatized by treason, the Byrd family retreated into relative obscurity for the next century and a half. Although Harry Byrd was certainly proud of the role his ancestors had played in the settling of the Virginia colony and was aware of the prominence of the family name in a state that venerated its colonial heritage, he did not traffic in his pedigree. He does not appear to have been motivated by any sense of lost status or by a desire to restore the family to its rightful place in society and government. His sons do not remember his ever mentioning the family line, and the only reference to the ancestral Byrds in his correspondence reflected a concern that the publication in 1941 and 1942 of the diaries of William II, a notorious Lothario, might tarnish his own reputation for puritanical respectability. However, if he inherited anything from the early generation of Byrds, it was not a libertine lifestyle but the will to succeed.

The first Byrd to move into the Shenandoah Valley was a son of William III, Thomas Taylor Byrd, who, after serving his king, took up residence in Frederick County in 1786. His son, the first Richard Evelyn Byrd, represented Frederick and Winchester in the General Assembly for several terms between 1839 and 1851 and served in the Confederate army, as did his son William, who had moved to Texas before the war to establish a law practice. At war's end, after spending a year in a Northern prison, a weary William Byrd returned home to Winchester, moved into his father's house on Washington Street, and took up the law once again. He brought with him a Texas wife, Jennie Rivers Byrd, and a young son, Richard Evelyn, Harry's father. Like his ancestors, going all the way back to William II, the second Richard Byrd became a lawyer. Educated at the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore, he established a private practice in Winchester and served as commonwealth's attorney for Frederick County from 884 to 1904. Thereafter he became active in state politics. His reputation as an attorney was legendary. His love of books and a photographic memory supported legal arguments that were "filled with persuasive oratory, power of presentation, clarity of judgment, a fluent diction, and a humor of wit unsurpassed. . . . His logic was so unerring, his exposition so lucid and his power to convince so strong," wrote the editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "that he was able to lead others to the point of understanding he had already reached." Douglas Southall Freeman said of Dick Byrd to his son, "Your father had the most acute intellect possessed by any Virginian of my lifetime, and with it he had absolute, unhesitating courage and . . . the most complete candor in dealing with press and public that ever I had the privilege of observing."

A stockily built man of average height, Richard Byrd had the high family forehead, a determined chin, and penetrating eyes; only the spectacles disguised an aggressive, short-tempered personality that made him a fearless and pugnacious competitor in the courtroom. He was known to throw apples and inkwells at opponents who verbally challenged him. Taking cases from rich and poor alike regardless of their ability to pay, "Mr. Dick," as he was known in Winchester, was a friend of the underdog and the children to whom he frequently dispensed candy on the streets. But he also had a strong affinity for the bottle which strained his marriage and may have prevented him from achieving greater prominence. Occasionally, he would retreat to a little cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains named Byrd's Nest for periodic binges. One day prosecutor Byrd went for lunch during a court recess and did not return, whereupon the judge ordered the bailiff to search all the bars on Main Street until he found him. Escorted back to court, Byrd proceeded to argue the case for the defense. Informed of his mistake, he sputtered that he had just presented the best defense the defendant could get and now he would proceed to demolish it.

On September 15,1886, Richard Byrd married Eleanor Bolling Flood of Appomattox whose political lineage was the equal of her husband's. The Floods arrived from England in 1754, and the Bollings traced their lineage back to Pocahontas. Eleanor's father, Major Joel Flood, served throughout the Civil War with Robert E. Lee. After the surrender at Appomattox Court House, he rode the few miles to his plantation, Eldon, where his wife served lunch to the major and a Union colonel. In the 1880s he was elected to the Virginia General Assembly. Eleanor's maternal grandfather, Charles James Faulkner, had been ambassador to France and also a member of the General Assembly; her uncle Charles lames Faulkner, Jr., had been a United States senator from West Virginia; and her younger brother, Henry D. Flood, would soon be a United States congressman.

Born in 1863, "Miss Bolling" tired of the life of drudgery and isolation in rural central Virginia and moved to Winchester where she met Dick Byrd and married him two months later. They bought a big, rambling Victorian house on tree-lined Amherst Street on the west side of Winchester next to the railroad tracks. A three-story stucco house with a steep mansard roof and a large front porch, it became the boyhood home of two of America's most notable citizens. Out back were a garden and a stable for the boys, ponies. Mrs. Ryrd, who lived there for nearly seventy years, used to wave to the engineers as the trains went by, unconcerned with the noise, which she thought was heavenly compared tothe quiet of Appomattox. She loved to entertain. Guests would arrive at 7 o'clock and be served one drink; promptly at 7:30, dinner would be served, for she believed more than one drink "would ruin the conversation and the beef." Small in stature with a keen wit, she was a feisty woman who had a great influence on her sons, shaping their characters and motivating them to succeed through hard work and initiative.

The Byrds, marriage was not a perfect union. "Miss Bolling" was as tough and strong-willed as her husband. While she was not a teetotaler, she had no tolerance for excessive drinking, and he did not like her convivial gatherings. When his political career drew him to Richmond, they often lived apart, a separation that continued after his terms in the legislature when he established a private practice in the capital. They did not have much money. His service as commonwealth's attorney brought in only a pittance, and he was often paid in kind for his private work. They kept up a good front, with servants and horses and private schools for the boys, but there was not much left over. However, they did provide their sons with the love and discipline crucial to their future development. Theirs was a home of middle-class respectability in which the values of honesty, modesty, obedience to authority, self-discipline, and gentlemanliness were taught. Yet the Byrds were not strict disciplinarians; indeed, they were remarkably tolerant of their sons, exuberance and encouraged a strong independence that marked their careers. Mrs. Byrd said years later that there must have been something wrong with her because "the three boys were always plotting how they could best escape me." There may not have been great outward signs of affection within the Byrd family, but there was a stable environment in which both freedom and responsibility flourished.

Richard and Eleanor had three children: Tom, Dick, and Harry in reverse order. Harry was born on June 10, 1887, not in Winchester, but in Martinsburg, West Virginia, where his mother had gone to be with family and be attended by an uncle who was a physician. Named for his uncle Henry Flood, Harry was the most studious and reserved of the three sons. Richard, a year younger, was named for his father and proved to be the most adventurous; his mother said of him: "Dick was always doing dangerous things. He was always on top of a house or tree. Danger was all that thrilled him." Tom, born in 1890, was the most convivial of the sons. In adulthood they all grew to medium height and stocky build, Tom being slightly larger than his brothers. They had the high Byrd forehead, large ears, high cheekbones, and ruddy complexions and retained a youthful countenance well into their older years. They had a happy childhood, complete with summer vacations with their mother's family at Eldon and the usual pranks and fights. On one occasion the Byrds, "Western Gang" got into a brawl with the rival "Potato Hill Gang," during which Harry was hit in the forehead by a rock. Dick was ready to kill the whole lot, but Harry, with blood dripping from his wound, pleaded with his brother to take him to the doctor, where he received stitches that left a scar for the remainder of his life. Reflecting their independent natures, they would often go riding and swimming miles from home.

While the brothers were close to one another, Harry was the favorite of his father, an affection the son reciprocated. He had a good relationship with both of his parents, but it was his father to whom he looked for guidance and approval, perhaps gaining from him his perceptive understanding of the personalities and ambitions of people. He loved to accompany him to his mountain retreat, where he developed his fondness for the out-of-doors and the majestic scenery of the Blue Ridge, but he did not look favorably on his father's drinking,which likely prompted his own code of abstinence. Furthermore, the failure of "Mr. Dick's" venture into the newspaper business probably activated in the son a compulsion for success. Byrd may have believed his father had fallen short of greatness because of these personal shortcomings, and he vowed not to make the same mistakes. Nevertheless, they remained very dose, and when Harry moved into politics, the relationship deepened as they communicated frequently about career and policy decisions.

Harry's early schooling was under the tutelage of Misses Jennie and Lizzie Sherrard just down the street from his home in a two-room schoolhouse with a dozen or so other children. The education was rudimentary, the boys remembering little more than stories about the Civil War. At age ten Harry went off to Shenandoah Valley Academy, up the street in the other direction. Encouraged by his parents "to love books," he became an avid reader, but formal education had little appeal for Byrd, so when his father announced that he was going to sell his nearly bankrupt newspaper, the fifteen-year-old boy jumped at the chance to leave school and assume its operation: "If you'll give the Star to me, Father, I'll see that it keeps on for a while anyway."

Harry's request was not that unusual, for few Americans at the turn of the century graduated from high school and fewer still from college. The attraction of taking over a failing business and earning some money with it had a natural appeal to an already serious and ambitious young boy. Furthermore, brother Dick at the age of thirteen had withdrawn from school to take a yearlong solo trip to the Philippines. Leaving school was a decision Harry never regretted, but it likely stunted his intellectual development and shaped his own attitude toward higher education. Byrd had a quick and retentive mind, but his lack of education left it unrefined and provincial, wanting in tolerance, empathy, and detachment. He developed little appreciation for art, music, or literature, and his world was restricted to ledger sheets and election results. Although in later life he paid appropriate lip service to education and encouraged his own children to go to college, Byrd never was a strong supporter of higher education. His own experience told him that it was not necessary for success; hard work and individual initiative were more important.

Byrd left few accounts of his childhood, and fewer still of his schooling, perhaps embarrassed that he had not progressed very far. Years later, in response to an indirect criticism that his opponent was better educated than he, Byrd put out a public letter that stated, "Had I been born with a silver spoon in my mouth and had gone to college, perhaps I would be erudite enough to receive your support. I have worked hard ever since I was 15 and think I can classify myself as a self-made man, even though I may not have been educated up to your high standards."

The business that Harry asked to manage was in serious trouble. Richard Byrd had purchased the Winchester Evening Star, a small daily newspaper, in 1902. He liked to write and was developing some political interests that he believed could be advanced through the editorial pages of the Evening Star; but he had very little business sense, and the paper was near bankruptcy when Harry made his offer. He thought his father, who had a high regard for education, would refuse him, but "Mr. Dick" saw little risk in the idea; it was an opportunity for his son to prove himself and perhaps save a potentially valuable political mouthpiece; if his son failed--and the confident father had no reason to believe he would--it would only delay the sale of the insolvent business. Harry tackled the assignment with enthusiasm, determination, and a commitment to the pay-as-you-go financial policy that marked everything he did in life. The Evening Star had a $2,500 debt to the Antietam Paper Company, which now refused to ship any more newsprint on credit. To overcome this immediate problem, the teenager visited his Hagerstown, Maryland, supplier to request a COD arrangement on future daily shipments of paper; returning to Winchester, he collected the debts owed the Evening Star to pay for the first shipment and thereafter insisted that his advertisers pay on time. The arrangement continued for several months, with Byrd collecting in the morning, paying at noon, and putting out the paper in the late afternoon. Sometimes he spent a hectic morning looking for the last dollar to pay for the newsprint, but he never missed an edition, paid off the debt owed Antietam, and soon began turning a profit with increased circulation and advertising. Years later he recounted: "A good many days we were a little late in getting the paper out because I had to scour the town scraping up the six dollars to get the newsprint out of hock. When you have to hunt for them that way, you get to know how many cents there really are in a dollar." If there was ever a man whose character and philosophy were shaped and reinforced by early personal experience, it was Harry Byrd.

For the youthful entrepreneur the newspaper was purely a business venture. "The Business Department," he wrote, "is the life blood of the paper." He was president and general manager, while his father, who remained editor, formulated policy on public questions and wrote the few editorials of any significance. The Evening Star was little more than a local gossip and commercial sheet, its front page carrying stories of community deaths, accidents, criminal proceedings, baseball games, and business activity, while three of its four pages were devoted almost exclusively to advertisements. It appeared six days a week--Monday through Saturday--and sold for one cent. But the budding businessman had more grandiose plans. Within a few years Byrd took over the Winchester Times, a weekly owned by his father and grandmother, and bought out the competing Winchester News-Item. Taking advantage of his monopoly in the town, he moved into new offices and purchased a brand new press that allowed him to expand to a six- or eight-page format, with increased new coverage and advertising space. In 1907, backed by money from the Faulkners and Floods, he started the Martinsburg Journal, a daily paper which he claimed would be like the Evening Star: "independent in thought and purpose, dealing with public questions with candor but without prejudice or partisanship."

In time the Evening Star expanded its coverage of state and national politics, but in Harry Byrd's hands it remained primarily a small-town newspaper that reflected the interests of its publisher. It gave extensive play to Confederate Memorial Day ceremonies every June 6 and to Robert E. Lee's birthday on January 19 and praised the efforts of the local baseball teams, the competing volunteer fire companies, and noteworthy local citizens, including the Byrds, who were achieving fame beyond Winchester's borders. Harry was a notable booster of the town. On one occasion, at the risk of violating postal laws, he refused advertising from Washington, D.C., merchants who were trying to at tract local shoppers at Christmastime with offers of free transportation to the nation's capital seventy miles away. Byrd prodded citizens to buy at home. He supported growth in his hometown, even if it involved going into debt, something an older Byrd would never approve. Urging construction of a city sewage system, he successfully lobbied his readers in one of his few signed editorials: "As a friend of progress and the advocate of every advance possible to Winchester, the Evening Star favors the issuance of $50,000 of sewer bonds and hopesthe qualified voters of Winchester . . . will vote unanimously in favor of the sewer bonds."

Once he had the newspaper on sound footing, Harry began seeking new opportunities to increase his income. In 1904, now sixteen, he became manager of the local Southern Bell Telephone Company exchange at a salary of $60 a month; he was likely assisted in acquiring the position through the good auspices of Uncle Hal Flood, who had substantial investments and connections in the telephone company. He supervised the Winchester exchange for three years before resigning in 1907 because he had not gotten a raise.

A year later he was elected president of the Valley Turnpike Company, a position that would have long-term significance for his career. The job paid him $33 a month to travel this ninety-two-mile-long macadamized private toll road from Winchester to Staunton twice a month to inspect its condition, authorize necessary repairs, and handle complaints about its operation. As a champion of Winchester and a recent investor in some apple orchards, he supported the development of good roads to facilitate the growth of the area and the shipment of farm produce to market. Byrd was proud of the fact that the value of the road increased while toll costs were reduced during his ten-year tenure. His knowledge of the techniques and costs of road construction and maintenance gained through this experience made him a recognized expert in the field.

In light of his fond memories of summers at Eldon, Byrd's venture into the apple business seems to have been motivated as much by his dreams of becoming a gentleman farmer as by his desire for money. With a penchant for perfection, he studied the opportunities around Winchester in that careful and systematic way of his and determined upon apple orcharding to satisfy his desire for an outdoor life that promised financial reward. In 1906, again with help from Uncle Hal, he began leasing some planted orchards. Six years later, with the profits from the sale of the Martinsburg Journal and in partnership with his Episcopalian minister, William D. Smith, Byrd bought 100 acres of what became the Rosemont Orchard in Clarke County near where his ancestor Thomas Byrd had settled in 1786. Within four years he was producing 6,000 barrels of apples, which ranked him among the middle producers in the northern Valley. He actively involved himself in all facets of the work from land purchases, tree plantings, and orchard upkeep to harvesting. It was the beginning of an empire that would make him one of the largest apple growers in the country and a millionaire.

As a young businessman Byrd developed the traits that would mark his private and public life. He had an amazing eye for detail, especially numbers; production figures, profit lines, and schedules fascinated him, becoming so familiar to him that he could recite an entire balance sheet to convince his listeners of what had to be done. He did things with great purpose, knowing what he wanted to accomplish and charting his progress toward that end. In the process he was thorough and orderly to a fault, presiding over every aspect of the work until its completion. He was a "workaholic," running his own newspaper, supervising a telephone exchange, and harvesting orchards while still a teenager. Eighteen-hour days were not unusual, but they left him little time for continuing his education; beyond learning the details of his many jobs, he was not well traveled or widely read, partaking only of Civil War histories and trade journals. Byrd moved in a man's world and did not develop the social graces that would allow him to be comfortable among women and in social gatherings. Although his twinkling blue eyes, reddish-blond hair, and infectious smile made him a desirable catch, he was shy around girls and dated infrequently. He would occasionally meet with his friends for talk or a soda, but he often arrived late after work and invariably was dressed more formally than they. He did not play games or sports. It was almost as if he had skipped his teen years to become an adult overnight. Years later, brother Tom's daughter, Margaret Byrd Stimpson, said of her father and Unde Harry, "They did not know how to play; they were old when they were young."

But Harry was content with his choice, and in the business environment in which he had proved himself at such a tender age, he was incredibly self-confident, believing fully in the capacity of the individual to chart his own destiny. Combining a quick and persevering, if somewhat limited, intellect with a powerful ambition to succeed, Byrd pursued the wealth and fame that had eluded his most recent ancestors. By 1915 he was earning the substantial income of $15,000. Yet money and renown were not ends in themselves; they were evidence of achievement. While Byrd certainly wanted to rise above the genteel poverty of his surroundings, he was not obsessed with the prospect of becoming rich. For all his success he was a man of simple needs and tastes, given to inexpensive clothes and cars because those things were so inconsequential compared to performance. He enjoyed the challenge of doing something well, doing it efficiently and economically in a way that would earn the adulation of his parents, his peers, and, later, the voters. As his father remarked to an associate, "Strode, I have a genius back home. My son Harry has recently taken charge of the Winchester Star and is making money with it. He is making money with apples, too. He has a genius for business and for organization, and I am proud of him and expect great things of him."

The final piece of the Byrd puzzle was politics. His associations with his father and his uncle, both of whom saw great promise in the successful entrepreneur, inexorably drew him first into local affairs and then into state politics. In later years Byrd always insisted that his entry into politics was happenstance, unpremeditated. In that self-effacing manner of the humble politician, he claimed that he had been asked to run for various offices. As he wrote Charles Elgin in 1957, "It just seemed to come about." But there is little doubt that ambition and self-interest were also behind his political service. He believed politics was an appropriate sphere for the businessman, whose experience would have prepared him for the efficient management of government. Before his first contest for public office in 1910, Byrd wrote, "We think that men of business ability and enterprise should be elected to the council, men who will do their duty without fear or favor, and men who will be willing to devote, time, energy and thought to giving the city a good, clean, healthy and efficient government." Time did not change that estimate. In an interview during his governorship, he explained: "Politics is not a separate branch of knowledge. It needs a very deep background of general experience. No man, in my opinion, is qualified to assume political power until he has served a long apprenticeship to private business and has learned its connections with public affairs."

Byrd was attracted to politics by the relationship between public power and private interest. The responsibility of government, he believed, was to provide an environment in which individual opportunity might flourish and to facilitate the creation of wealth with minimal taxation and regulation. To ensure that government did not impose undesirable costs and restrictions onbusiness, political authority was necessary. Byrd entered politics not primarily out of a sense of service to the larger community--although he always insisted that was his motive--but to preserve or advance that which was beneficial to himself and his interests. When rising newsprint prices in 1907 threatened the profit margin of the Evening Star, he organized the Valley publishers in protest and lobbied Washington for action against wood pulp tariffs and the "paper trust." This activism in defense of the free market was typical of his political career.

The political world that Harry Byrd would be entering was a cauldron of competing issues and personalities. Virginia at the turn of the century was much like Winchester, inextricably bound to its Confederate past, mired in postwar depression, and searching for new opportunities. The Old Dominion was a tradition-oriented society whose political lineage originated in the colonial era when a breed of highly individualistic farmers-turned-planters assumed authority. By reason of blood, wealth, education, and social standing, their heirs led the Commonwealth through revolution and civil war, governing paternalistically but always intent on preserving their power, even as the world changed about them. Caretakers of the status quo and the public treasury, they were conservative to a fault, overseeing a Virginia that remained rural, racially divided, parsimonious in its services, suspicious of outsiders, and fiercely independent. Now the progressive currents sweeping the country in the early twentieth century challenged the stability of the old order once more.

Progressivism was a broad-based reform movement directed at the industrial/urban revolution that had devastated the landscape, changed the nature of work and human relationships, and made the United States into a world power. The reformers were upset with corrupt politicians, urban decay, social disarray, and powerful corporate monopolies that were destroying the competitive economic order. Across the land at every level of government, reforms were instituted to deal with these problems: railroad regulation, direct primaries, direct election of senators, prohibition, meat inspection, conservation of natural resources, child labor laws, and tariff and banking revisions. In the South more modest changes were introduced that regulated business, improved education, attacked the region's health problems, and reinvigorated politics. Similar advances occurred in the Old Dominion where insurgents challenged the political order dominated by the emerging machine of Senator Thomas Martin.

Thomas Staples Martin was a modest, dignified lawyer from Scottsville who had an amazing facility for organization. More comfortable in boardrooms than on the stump, he was so unimposing a political figure that his enemies frequently misjudged him. After building up a successful legal practice in central Virginia, he became counsel for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, whose money he dispensed to candidates who promised to support legislation beneficial to his client. At the same time he cozied up to Democratic leaders in the state and moved into the inner circles of power. When a United States Senate seat became available in 1893, Martin called upon his considerable resources--including railroad money--to curry favor among the state legislators and defeat former Governor Fitzhugh Lee for the position, thus establishing himself as the leader of the Democratic party in the Old Dominion.

A key Martin operative in the Senate contest was Hal Flood. A young lawyer from Appomattox who had won a House of Delegates seat in 1887 and moved on to the state senate in 1891, Flood was attracted to Martin by his probusinesspositions and his pragmatic politics. Relying on railroad money and control of the legislature, they constructed a political organization that would endure well into the twentieth century. But it was not an easy accomplishment. Over the next ten years, they confronted populists and progressives intent on destroying the machine by democratizing the election process and regulating the railroads. Leaders of the "Organization" (as the machine was known) were not always victorious, but their ability to unite and to compromise when their survival depended upon it ensured their longevity. In their favor was the absence of a strong Republican party in the state, which, except in the Valley and the southwest, could not overcome the legacy of Reconstruction. Virginia remained a Democratic stronghold well into the twentieth century.

Aided by the growing reform impulse, especially the charges of vote buying against Martin, progressives elected independent Andrew Jackson Montague to the governorship in 1901 and won popular support for a constitutional convention to revamp state government. While Senator Martin objected to the convention, Hal Flood, joined by reformers and conservatives alike, favored it; he wanted to eliminate the black vote because he believed that its manipulation by politicians, himself included, created unwarranted corruption and unpredictability in the polling process.

The constitutional convention, which met in Richmond from June 1901 to June 1902, disfranchised most black Virginians and about half of the white electorate as well--many of whom were Republicans--through the imposition of a poll tax and other constitutional restrictions. The poll tax W2S $1.50 per year for up to three years and had to be paid six months before the general election. The convention also restructured state and local government and created a State Corporation Commission to regulate public utilities. Ostensibly designed to liberalize politics and overthrow the machine, the new constitution, ironically, strengthened the Martin Organization. It eliminated voters who were more likely to vote against the machine; it undermined weaker parties and independent candidates by creating a smaller electorate that was more easily controlled by the group with the best organization and most money; and it placed a premium on control of patronage and election machinery.

Organization authority was further enhanced through the creation of a circuit court system. Appointed by the General Assembly, the new judges had the power to select county electoral boards and other local officials. They complemented the preexisting "ring" of local county or "courthouse" officials--commonwealth's attorney, treasurer, commissioner of revenue, clerk of the circuit court, and sheriff--who, along with their prescribed duties, were responsible for getting out the vote and dispensing patronage. An infamous fee system rewarded many of these local officials by allowing them to keep a portion of the fees they charged for their services; in time some of the fee officials were making more than the governor. The interlocking network of General Assembly members, circuit judges, "courthouse ring," and machine leaders, dependent upon one another for job security, salaries, and election support--and now undergirded by a constitution that kept the electorate small--became the key to the Organization's power for the next sixty years. In historian Raymond Pulley's view, progressivism in Virginia did more "to conserve and strengthen the Old Virginia order than to rid the state of political bosses and broaden the base of popular government." Virginia would change, but slowly, and certainly not at the expense of the ruling class, a lesson not unlearned by a young Harry Byrd. During the Montague governorship machine leadership fragmented, but with the election of Claude Swanson to the governorship and Martin's defeat of Montague in the Democratic senatorial primary in 1905" the Organization reunited and solidified its control of Virginia. Surprisingly, Swanson demonstrated his own brand of independence by expanding upon Montague's reform efforts in education and road building, which suggested that the difference between independent and machine Democrats was primarily one of power, not issues.

Flushed with success, Hal Flood, who had been elected to Congress in 1900, encouraged his brother-in-law, Richard Byrd, to become more actively involved in public affairs. Having served several years on the Democratic state committee, Byrd won a seat in the House of Delegates in 1906. Shockingly for one with so little seniority, he was elected Speaker of the House two years later and held that position for six years, a tribute to his popularity and the power of the machine. His abilities and fairness as a legislative leader won him the admiration of his peers and the gratitude of the Organization leadership.

© 1996 Rector and Visitors of the of Virginia

University Press of Virginia

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