Date of Graduation

8-2012

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in History (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

History

Advisor

Jeannie Whayne

Committee Member

Patrick Williams

Second Committee Member

Michael Pierce

Abstract

Despite the vast scholarship that exists discussing why Democrats sought restrictive suffrage laws, little attention has been given by historians to examine how concern over local government drove disfranchisement measures. This study examines how the authors of disfranchisement laws were influenced by what was happening in Crittenden County where African Americans, because of their numerical majority, wielded enough political power to determine election outcomes. In the years following the Civil War, African Americans established strong communities, educated themselves, secured independent institutions, and most importantly became active in politics. Because of their numerical majority, Crittenden's African Americans were elected to county offices and maintained significant political power after Reconstruction had ended. "Fusion" agreements in the 1880s ameliorated deep-seated racial tensions until pressure brought on by a sharp increase in the counties African American population and by state-wide agrarian discontent. Economic hardships prompted Arkansas farmers to confront their issues politically by embracing the rhetoric of third-party alliances. By 1888, the Union Labor Party, a third-party Republican alliance, challenged Democrat's control over state politics. Fearing what a Union Labor Party victory would mean for their political party and evidently weary of fusion; Crittenden County's white Democrats expelled its African American officials and other locally prominent African American citizens before the fall 1888 elections. Although, Democrats were successful in taking control of Crittenden's local government, their use of fraud, intimidation, and violence did not translate into political dominance. Crittenden County's African Americans continued to vote and control county elections. Circumstances such as those in Crittenden County forced Democrats to explore new ways to control the political power of the county's black majority through statutory disfranchisement.