The Redeemers, once a faction in the Democratic Party, helped to establish Democrat rule in West Virginia after the Civil War. Though Republicans were the Union party and had controlled West Virginia throughout the war, Democrats remained a force in state politics. The Democratic Party was composed of groups that historian John Alexander Williams labeled the ‘‘Redeemers, Regulars, Agrarians and the Kanawha Ring.’’ The Redeemers, largely former Confederates whose philosophies reflected rural and antebellum values, were strongest in eastern and southern counties. The Redeemers were hampered by post-war laws restricting the right of ex-Confederates to vote and hold office. During this period Regulars such as Johnson Newlon Camden and Henry Gassaway Davis increased their political power at the expense of the ex-Confederates. Redeemers, representing the landed aristocracy, viewed industrialists such as Davis and Camden with suspicion.
The party eventually realized that ex-Confederates had to be brought back into the political arena. The solution was the 1871 Flick Amendment, which guaranteed the right to vote to all males over 21 and repealed the political restrictions on former Confederates. Redeemers then quickly became a force in Democratic politics, and several members of the group were elected to statewide office. Redeemers had great influence in the Constitutional Convention of 1872 and restored much of the pre-Civil War political organization at the state and county levels. In 1876, Henry Mason Mathews, a Redeemer and former Confederate officer, was elected the first of the so-called ‘‘Bourbon’’ governors. His election was the culmination of the redemption of the former Confederates. Gradually there was a melding of philosophies between the Regulars and Redeemers which would see Democratic governors seek, and support, industrial development of West Virginia.
Written by Kenneth R. Bailey
Rice, Otis K. & Stephen W. Brown. West Virginia: A History. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1993.
Williams, John Alexander. The New Dominion and the Old. West Virginia History, July 1972.