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Marion Butler: A North Carolina Populist

Marion Butler -

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.

About Post Author

E Pluribus Unum

The host of the Progressive Oriented YouTube Channel E Pluribus Unum, which has the main focus of educating people on Minor Parties, their history, and their candidates alongside the latest political news of the day. So when an 14 Year Old Website with that same goal says they needed new writers, I felt the need to carry this torch.


  1. NewFederalist NewFederalist May 21, 2021

    Great article! Very informative and interesting. Thanks for posting this piece of history.

  2. Gene Berkman Gene Berkman May 21, 2021

    Marion Butler was an interesting insurgent of the late 19th Century. A more thorough telling of his life story is in the book “Marion Butler and American Populism” by James L Hunt, published in 2003 by University of North Carolina Press.

    Butler did lead the NC People’s Party into a coalition with Republicans in 1894 which resulted in a coalition majority in the legislature that elected Marion Butler to the US Senate in 1895. Also in 1895 the legislature chose Jeter Pritchard, Republican to hold the other Senate seat.

    After the North Carolina victory of 1894 Butler toured the South promoting a Populist alliance with Republicans. But in 1896, after Butler supported Populist fusion with the Bryan campaign, Butler attempted a fusion with Democrats in North Carolina. The Democrats only wanted fusion behind Bryan, but opposed allying with Populists for other offices. Other Populists favored fusion with Republicans, and Butler had to accept the split ticket that North Carolina Populists promoted in 1896.

    One other factual issue with the IPR article above. It is true that African American farmers were an important part of North Carolina’s Republican Party,but the leadership of the party was in the hands of white mountain men who remained supporters of the Republican Party into modern times.

    In 1895 four Populists were elected to Congress from North Carolina with Republican support, and two Republicans were elected with Populist support. In one district an African-American Republican was elected over Populist opposition. In 1896 again Populists refused to back the single African American Republican running for Congress, even as the two parties fused behind candidates for other offices.

    The North Carolina People’s Party pragmatically allied with Republicans but many Populists held racist views, and the People’s Party ended up splitting on the issue, with the racists returning to the Democratic Party.

  3. Fernando Mercado Fernando Mercado Post author | May 22, 2021

    Gene, thanks for the clarification, it doesn’t change much but adds more to the broader picture

  4. SocraticGadfly SocraticGadfly May 24, 2021

    Of course, and in part perhaps because of Southern Democrats’ “riling,” Populist parties in most Southern states eventually went down the same racist path. Look at Tom Watson.

  5. Fernando Mercado Fernando Mercado Post author | May 24, 2021

    By the time Watson took control of the Party, Marion officially left the party to become a Progressive Republican.

    My boi Marion has standards

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