On this day 158 years ago, North Carolina Senator Marion Butler was born. Butler was NC’s only Senator to be affiliated with a Minor Party, The Peoples Party. Over the course of his career, Butler managed to become one of the most notable and yet still generally unknown members of the Party.
Butler began his political career by joining the Farmers’ Alliance, becoming a valuable asset to the movement as he had formal education. He ended up becoming President of his local affiliate and managed to get elected in the State Senate by age 28. When the movement became the People’s Party; Butler followed and managed to lead a Populist wave of electoral wins from his home state to the Senate (including himself).
During his Senate tenure he led the charge to implement the Populist reforms he so desires such as Bimetallism and government ownership of railroads, around the same time he had been elected as chairman of the party. As the party chairman he had to facilitate a way to continue their electoral success and Marion pushed for the Electoral Fusion strategy the party would become known for. While the party had endorsed the Democratic Ticket on the national stage, Butler refused to work with the North Carolina Democratic Party as they were dominated by White Supremacists, and rather sought a state alliance with the Republican Party as it was dominated by African-American Farmers. Both alliances worked favorably, however the White Supremacist’s in his state were able to rile up enough white anger to defeat the Populist Candidacies in his state and Butler faded into obscurity.
While he is not as well known as James Weaver, Thomas Watson, or William Jennings Bryan, his contributions to history have not been forgotten.