Lesson Plan: Overview

"Pitchfork" Ben Tillman and Political Reform in South Carolina

Grade Level: 11th

Tillman's Pitchfork

Academic Standards

Standard USHC 5: The student will demonstrate an understanding of major social, political, and economic developments that took place in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century.

 

USHC-5.3 Explain the transformation of America from an agrarian to an industrial economy, including the effects of mechanized farming, the role of American farmers in facing economic problems, and the rise of the Populist movement.

 

USHC-5.7 Compare the accomplishments and limitations of the progressive movement in effecting social and political reforms in America, including the roles of Theodore Roosevelt, Jane Addams, W. E. B. DuBois, and Booker T. Washington.

Historical Background

It is important to know that this three lesson unit was immediately preceded by two lessons about the African American experience in the Progressive Era.  In these lessons we addressed efforts at reform in the African American community from Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois to the NAACP.  We also looked at the factors that limited the scope and effect of such reform efforts.  Here we focused on the nature of disfranchisement, segregation, and violence against African Americans in the South and the North.  Those lessons led us to the conclusion that the mandate of ensuring the civil liberties of African-Americans citizens was largely ignored by the Progressives.  Their agenda of social and political activism did not include addressing these outrages against the strength and integrity of American democracy (Cayton, et al. 2000, 556).  Once our perspective was thus aligned we were ready to explore what disfranchisement, segregation, and violence against African Americans in Progressive Era South Carolina looked like.

A commonly held periodization for the Progressive Era is 1890 to 1920.  Ben Tillman’s influence in state and national politics from his election as governor in 1890 to his tenure as Senator until his death in 1918 follows this periodization almost exactly.  His state and national role as a reformer interested in issues often considered within the domain of the Progressive movement make him worthy of attention in helping to establish what progressive reform looked like in South Carolina (Kantrowitz, 2000, 264). Finally, his attitudes toward disfranchisement, segregation, and violence against African Americans in Progressive Era South Carolina are indispensable to understanding the racial context in which any reform effort was undertaken.  An almost complete picture of Progressivism and racial relations in South Carolina can be had through an understanding of what was a “Tillmanite” (Kantrowitz, 2000, 265).

Upon a careful reading of Kantrowitz (2000) Tillman’s credentials as a Progressive are well established.  He was concerned with issues well within the scope of those commonly considered “Progressive”.  He pursued regulatory matters toward the protection of farmers and workers (Kantrowitz, 2000, 265).  Tillman responded to those concerns with reform efforts also well within those commonly attributed to the Progressives.  He strove to actively regulate monopolies that worked against the public good whether they be railroads refusing to segregate or phosphate miners on the states rivers (P.U. Correspondence 1848-1940” (Kantrowitz, 2000, 267 and Inaugural Address to the General Assembly of South Carolina 1890).   

Tillman also puts a distinctively South Carolinian spin on his commitment to reform.  He was generally opposed to federal regulatory intervention except as a last resort and his rhetoric was full of exhortations to state rights and the threat of federal intervention (P.U. Correspondence 1848-1940”.  Inaugural Address to the General Assembly of South Carolina 1890, & Kantrowitz, 2000, 264).  His conception of “good government” in the progressive tradition of working efficiently; free from the corrupting influence of patronage and big business also had a distinctively South Carolinian spin.  Tillman was careful to add some more “bad guys” to his list of corrupting influences.  They included republicans of any cut (carpetbaggers, scalawags, or otherwise) and perhaps most importantly African Americans.  The possibility that a government could be well run while under the influence of “the Negro” was an outrage to Tillman’s progressive vision. (P.U. Correspondence 1848-1940”.  Inaugural Address to the General Assembly of South Carolina 1890).  It is at this point that white supremacy comes to dominate any reform agenda in South Carolina - be it populist, progressive, or otherwise. 

The mandates of white supremacy completely circumscribed the scope of acceptable reform in South Carolina and inexorably set the trajectory of any such efforts undertaken.  As such disfranchisement and segregation became championed as reform efforts themselves integral to the realization of the Progressive agenda in South Carolina.  The regulatory impulse in Progressivism was turned toward segregation and disfranchisement.  So strong was this impulse in Tillman that he actually went so far as to suggest federal reform efforts in this direction.  He proposed a federal passport system designed to monitor and control the movement and activities of African Americans across the country (Kantrowitz, 2000, 268).

It is critical that white supremacy assume its proper role in Tillman’s reform agenda.  Everything he did was filtered through the imperatives of white supremacy.  As a reformer and as a progressive we must be understood in this way.  White supremacy was an integral part of his reform and his progressivism.  This is what makes him so useful in understanding the wider progressive trend of ignoring the mandate of ensuring the civil liberties of African-Americans citizens.  Their agenda of social and political activism did not include addressing these outrages against the strength and integrity of American democracy.  Not only does Tillman fit this profile, but he actually incorporates an active effort to segregate and disfranchise African Americans into his reform agenda.  In doing so he may have been more transparent than much of mainstream Progressivism on the issue, but he was not out of step with it.

Materials

Primary Sources
  • “Allegorical Cows.” Illustration. As reproduced in Stephen Kantrowitz, Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy,  page 249. Chapel Hill:  The University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
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  • "HELL BROTH.” Harper’s Weekly, New York, N.Y. October 10, 1896. See Rebecca Edwards and Sarah DeFeo, "1896: The Presidential Campaign. Cartoons & Commentary." Vassar College Website, accessed 4/3/06.
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  • Reading Senator Tillman's Speech.People’s Advocate, Columbiana, Alabama, Febuary 27, 1896. See Rebecca Edwards and Sarah DeFeo, "1896: The Presidential Campaign. Cartoons & Commentary." Vassar College Website, accessed 4/3/06.
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  • “THE SILVER CANDLE AND THE MOTHS.” Judge, New York, N.Y. July 25, 1896. See Rebecca Edwards and Sarah DeFeo, "1896: The Presidential Campaign. Cartoons & Commentary." Vassar College Website, accessed 4/3/06.
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  • Suggested by Senator Tillman's Speech in the Senate of the United States.People's Advocate, Columbiana, Alabama, March 19, 1896. See Rebecca Edwards and Sarah DeFeo, "1896: The Presidential Campaign. Cartoons & Commentary." Vassar College Website, accessed 4/3/06.
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  • Benjamin Ryan Tillman Papers. MSS 80, Series 3, Box 17, Folder 237.  “P.U. Correspondence 1848-1940”.  Inaugural Address to the General Assembly of South Carolina 1890. Special Collections, Clemson University Libraries.
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  • Tillman, Benjamin.  Inaugural address of B.R. Tillman, Governor of South Carolina, Delivered at Columbia, S.C., December 4, 1890.  Columbia, S.C:  James H. Woodrow, 1890. Courtesy South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.
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    Secondary Sources
  • Cayton, Andrew et al. America: Pathways to the Present. Needham Massachusetts: Prentice Hall, 2000.
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  • Kantrowitz, Stephen.  Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy.  Chapel Hill:  The University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
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    Tools
  • “Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy” handout
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  • “Ben Tillman and Political Reform in the South” handout
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  • “Tillmanites” handout
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  • “Test: Tillman as a Progressive”
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  • “Tillman Resources”
    I adapted the "Inaugural Address to the General Assembly of South Carolina, 1890" to fit my needs.I had one set that indicated the specific sections of text that each individual group was assigned.  This was only given to the group working on the section. I had another set that had all the sections indicated together in one packet.  This was given to everyone in the class so that they could see and read what the groups had.
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  • Important Note on Tools: You need to have a way to show each of these resources to the class.  I used an LCD projector and laptop.  All of these resources lend themselves to being put on an overhead projector as well.  Of course copying them for each student would work as well…but who has that much paper?
  • Procedures for Lesson Plan

    Day One
    1. Give students “Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy” and “Ben Tillman and Political Reform in the South” handouts.
       
    2. On day one, students will identify the central question(s) posed in Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy. In this exercise, students will look for “Good Guys” and “Bad Guys” in the Kantrowitz (2000) excerpts. This means students will be looking for things that Tillman regarded as good and bad when it comes to Progressive reform.  As students read Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy they will determine the main points of each section, and then record their findings in the spaces provided on the Ben Tillman and Political Reform in the South handout. Remember what they are doing is trying to establish the central question(s) that the historical narrative presented by Kantrowitz (2000) is addressing.   Provide students 20 minutes in class to get started and assign the rest for homework.
       
    Day Two
    1. One day two students will first share their initial analysis of Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy.   Working with the research they collected on the Ben Tillman and Political Reform in the South handout they discuss their finding in an open discussion format.  The teacher facilitates this by warehousing information on the board for each section.  As the class is sharing and discussing their findings get them to organize a list of good guys and bad guys.  Provide 30 minutes to fully discuss all sections of the reading.  This helps clear up Tillman’s reform agenda.  An example of the agenda that several classes produced looks something like this:
     
    • Establishing and maintaining White Supremacy -- It is critical that white supremacy assume its proper role in Tillman’s reform agenda.  Everything he did was filtered through the imperatives of white supremacy.  As a reformer and as a progressive he must be understood in this way.  White supremacy was an integral part of his reform and his progressivism.  This is what makes him so useful in understanding the wider progressive trend of ignoring the mandate of ensuring the civil liberties of African-Americans.  Their agenda of social and political activism did not include addressing these outrages against the strength and integrity of American democracy.  Not only does Tillman fit this profile, but he actually incorporates an active effort to segregate and disfranchise African Americans into his reform agenda.  In doing so he may have been more transparent than much of mainstream Progressivism on the issue, but he was not out of step with it.
    • Protecting States Rights against Federal Power
    • Protecting Farmers
    • Protecting Workers
    • Regulation of Business and Society
    • More Democracy to create "Good Government"
       
    2. The second thing students will do on day two is intensify their general analysis of Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy. It is here that the students are going to organize how Tillmanites articulated some of their specific beliefs.  Give students the “Tillmanites” handout.  Make sure everybody understands what they are trying to do with it.  Break students up into pairs.  Have each pair analyze the text for one topic.  In other words, one pair gets #1 “The powers of the Federal government” and the next pair gets #2 “Civil liberties for whites” and so on.  Prepare them to share their responses with the rest of the class.  Remind them that they are using this text to better understand the interests and values of the various people involved in the story.
       
    3. Students will write their findings on their sheet.  Provide them with 10 minutes for this.  This is a “to the point” exercise.  They have already read and discussed the text once.  This should be done quickly.  Have students share the findings of their analysis in an open discussion format.  Warehouse information on the board for each section.  As the class is sharing and discussing their findings they can continue to organize a list of good guys and bad guys.  A clearer image of the Tillmanite reform agenda should be taking shape.  Provide 20 minutes to fully discuss all sections of the “Tillmanites” handout.  By the time this part of the lesson is done the students will have identified the causes of a problem or dilemma confronting Tillmanites in Progressive era South Carolina.  Like all progressives Tillmanites had to confront the challenges to effective reform posed by the sometimes conflicting forces of the powers of the federal government, civil liberties for whites, civil liberties for blacks, powers of the state, monopolies like banks and railroads (“corporate capital”), factory owners, workers, farmers, and currency.
       
    4. Now its time to get these guys into the Primary Resources.  It is time to use visual data presented in photographs, paintings, and cartoons, identify the author or source of historical documents, and analyze illustrations in historical stories.  The overarching question they are considering is “What does this resource tell you about Tillmanites?”  They need to demonstrate how their resource is connected to something we talked about on the “Tillmanites” sheet.  Listed below are 10 distinct resources to use:

    1. “Senate fistfight”
    2. “Allegorical Cows”
    3. “THE SILVER CANDLE AND THE MOTHS”
    4. “Suggested by Senator Tillman's Speech in the Senate of the United States”
    5. “Reading Senator Tillman's Speech”
    6. "HELL BROTH”
    7. “’Pitchfork Ben’ Tillman Addresses the 1896 Democratic Convention”
    8. “In 1900 “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman, then a US Senator from South Carolina, made this speech on the floor of the United States Congress”
    9. “Senator Tillman to tell the difference between black and white in Orchestra Hall tonight.  Will he strike a D-sharp with a pitchfork or give us soft harmonies with a tuning fork?”
    10. “Excerpts from Inaugural Address to the General Assembly of South Carolina 1890." 

    Several of these resources lend themselves to individual work.  Many are great to divide among pairs or groups of three students.  I separated the Inaugural Address into 13 sections.  Again several of these sections lend themselves to individual work.  Many are great to divide among pairs or groups of three students.  There is tremendous flexibility in how you can do this.  Make it fit your class.  Provide 30 minutes for students to analyze and prepare their analysis.  This can be done in a number of ways.  I had them record their thoughts in their notebooks.
       
    Day Three
       
    1. Have students share the findings of their primary resource analysis in an open discussion format.  Have each presenting group present their information on the board.  As the class is sharing and discussing their findings have them organize their thoughts on the back of the “Tillmanite” sheet.  There you will find a big box for sorting out Tillman as a progressive.  In some classes we stuck to the front of the sheet:
    • The powers of the federal government
    • Civil liberties for whites, such as the franchise (right to vote) and segregation
    • Civil liberties for blacks, such as the franchise (right to vote) and segregation
    • Powers of the state
    • Monopolies like banks and railroads ("corporate capital")
    • Factory owners
    • Workers
    • Farmers
    • Currency

      Other classes wanted to use the other outline we created in addition to the one above:

    • Establishing and maintaining White Supremacy
    • Protecting States Rights against Federal Power
    • Protecting Farmers
    • Protecting Workers
    • Regulation of Business and Society
    • More Democracy to create "Good Government"

      Both worked well.
       
    2. Provide the entire 90 minute class period for this sharing and organizing.
       
    3. Assessment time.  Next class first 30 minutes. 

    Teacher Reflections

    Teaching American History in South Carolina has been the most important course I have taken as a teacher of American History in South Carolina.  My experience in the course has reinvigorated my passion and intensity as a historian.  Along these lines it has widened the scope and increased the depth of my understanding of the astonishing history of this state and its undeniable central place in the major themes that dominate American History.  The last thing I needed was a boost in passion and intensity when it came to my teaching.  I love what I do.  That’s all fine and dandy.  Intensity does not always translate as focus.  This course has allowed me to create a developed sense of understanding about this state.  I have been able to bring that into the class room and translate that into establishing real life connections with my students, their experiences, and their history.  All this great content stuff has been driven ahead by some methods and instructional ideas that I never even considered.  I’m using materials and techniques that have put a spin into my instruction. 

    One of my favorite things, which seems to work every time, is to bring up something from the Special Collections at Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson University.  Students love to hear about archival work – the real deal.  The conversation invariably turns to the topic of historical research and using primary sources.  I have worked with the real pros at Clemson, in Pendleton, and Greenville and I have learned a lot from them.  I have gone into the boxes and the stacks.  The experience that I benefited most from though was the one with the Special Collections at Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson University.  They were awesome.  The materials were right on target.  I could get my hands on them right then and there and use them.   My ability to talk about how research works to my students is new for me.  The last time I did any meaningful research was in graduate school and that was almost ten years ago in Buffalo, New York.  A lot has changed in both time and place.  This spring my AP class is going to do some research at the Special Collections at Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson University.  We are going to pick some research topics and fill out the paper work before we go.  When we show up we should be ready to get right into the real stuff.  A year I though about how great that would be to do.  I never took a step toward making that experience a reality because I did not even know where to start.  Well we are going to give it a try.

    My capacity to address South Carolina History with some level of real understanding has also improved.  I have widened the scope and increased the depth of my understanding of the history of this state and its undeniably central place in the major themes that dominate American History.  Honestly, the course content sessions were of little help to me.  That is what I did in undergraduate and graduate school and it’s what I have been teaching at every level from tech-prep to AP for the last five years.   The real value for me was being pushed into the South Carolinian history.  That was tough for me at first.  I have very little context except for a well developed sense of the bigger story.  That is just what I needed.  All the time that I was being confronted with the South Carolinian part of the story I was busy connecting it to the themes and stories that are a part of American history as a whole.  As I made those connections, some for the first time, I became increasingly aware of the importance that those connection have for my students.  This growth has paid off with wonderful dividends.  First and foremost is the interest level of my students when we are working with primary sources. 

    My school is right up the street from Clemson University.  Every student in my class knows about Tillman Hall.  What they don’t know is the fascinating story about the man behind the name.  When we used a copy of his 1890 inaugural address they devoured it.  “They named a building after this guy?”  “I drive by this every day!” or “I can't believe this state”.  All of these questions creating a firestorm of teachable moments, creating connections to their real life experiences and embedding their study of history to where they are and what they understand as “home”.  All of the sudden the progressive movement was in their backyard.  Check this out.  We were well into our discussion of Tillman as a White Supremacist when one of my students raised her hand to tell us that she was related to the Tillman Family.  Whoa!  The room was electric.  She followed that up with a family history that her grandfather had written and published.  She gave me a copy of it and we discussed it in class.  Beat that!  My student could look at the seat next to them and make a connection to what we are talking about.  What’s more that discussion led us into a consideration of the legacy that Tillman’s ideas have left behind in the community, the state and the nation.  The era is a complex and difficult one.  Making the manifold and contradictory elements that made up the progressive movement understandable is a challenge to say the least.  To find primary resources that collapse the whole mess into one vitriolic manifesto of white supremacy, states rights, federal obligation, and east coast exploitation of the humble southern agrarian is just too much!  To punctuate it with a family history written by a class mate is just off the hook.

    Second, is the decreased dependence in my classroom on the textbook as a source of information.  The textbook as a part of what goes on in my class as been relegated to the margins.  We use it sometimes to organize stories and get “just the facts”.  This has added a very important dimension to what my students find them selves doing in class.  They are not limited to describing, listing, and explaining in Bloom’s basement.  Rather they are able to transcend that level of thinking and confront the difficulties of analysis, evaluation and synthesis.  I have found my self using the artifact analysis ideas presented by Thomas Riddle all the time.  Of course they have been slightly modified to suit my sinister designs and man do they work.  I have not had the chance to do my Textile strike of 1934 lesson yet (why?  Well we got entirely carried away with the Tillman stuff and some of the questions it brought demanded a re-visitation of the progressive unit we had supposedly finished – more on that latter) so I’m not sure how this will work but here is the plan.  I bought a bunch old textile mill stuff like batteries, spindles, shuttles, and so on at antique shops.  I can not wait to let the students get their hands on them and start to analyze them.  I have never done that kind of thing before.  I did not even know where to start.  Now I can.

    I want to illustrate several important concerns about student learning that are connected to this project.  I solicited student feedback concerning the lesson and how it worked.  They universally agreed that the primary resources were great.  They actually like using them.  They thought they were interesting.  AND there were too many of them.  They thought they were redundant and wasted their time and that was boring to them.  In other words pick one that works and us it.  There are some serious issues of redundancy in these resources.  Do not use all of these resources.  The students said they though the inaugural was the best resource off all.  That was the one the liked using and that gave them the best and most usable information.

    For the several years I have been teaching a part of the progressive story has always been a difficult one to tell.  The story of African Americans in the progressive movement is one that you never see specifically addressed in standard history text.  Rather the story is scattered across the story from the gilded age to the twenties with no clear connection among the objectives of the progressives and the demands of African American communities at the time.  The questions that came up during the exploration of Tillman led my classes to a desire to revisit the progressive era and find out why the Progressives ignored the issues of social injustice, political, social and economic oppression, and violence that were a part of the African American experience during the time.  In my efforts to facilitate that I had to rearrange my understanding of the issue, find resources, and put some stuff together for them to use.  What we ended up with was a mini-unit on the African American experience up to President Wilson.  A whole new dimension of the story emerged that included segregation and voting rights in the north and the south, Presidential treatment of civil rights issues, lynching, and the NAACP.  This was an invaluable addition as we moved into WWI and its impact – especially the year 1919 and the racial violence and tension that swept many large cities in America.  It has been crucial in our discussion of the great migration and the Harlem Renaissance.  Marcus Garvey has a whole new background upon which to stand and WEB Dubois and the NAACP’s efforts in the twenties carry every greater currency.  This connection between progressive thinking and civil rights is a thread of the story that I look forward to developing in my future teaching of American History.  Again the promise of following that thread to South Carolina is alive with the Brown v. Board decision and its connections to South Carolina.

    Finally I will have to go out and get my hands on a couple more books about Southern Progressivism.  I hear that Francis Butler Simkins’ book, Pitchfork Ben Tillman: South Carolinian, has recently been reprinted by USC Press.  Dewey Grantham’s Southern Progressivism:  The Reconciliation of Progress and Tradition and chapters 1-3 in The South in Modern America:  A Region at Odds.  I would like to take a look at these to deepen my understanding of what it meant to be progressive in the South.  Additionally these books will help put together another story that seems to bug students and that's the fate of the populists in the South.  The tension between the Farmer’s Alliance and the Populist movement in the South is thorny issue and one well worth understanding.  It seems like it is in that story that the issues of race and progress first collide in the southern context.  The nature of that collision has implications for how those issues unfold on the national scene as well.

    Student Assessment

    1. Formal assessment will involve analyzing primary resources and synthesizing an outline of Tillman as a Progressive.  They will use visual data presented in photographs, paintings, and cartoons, identify the author or source of historical documents, and analyze illustrations in historical stories.  The overarching question they are considering is “What do these resources tell you about Tillman?”  They need to demonstrate how the resources provided connect to and illustrate some dimension of Tillman as a progressive.
     
    2. Informal assessment will include the collecting and grading of all the analysis they did on the “Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy”, “Ben Tillman and Political Reform in the South”, and the “Tillmanites” handouts.  There is a lot of information there.
     

    Examples of Students Work

  • Tillman Test
  • Tillman Test 2
  • Credit

    Aaron Hylkema
    D.W. Daniel High School, Pickens, South Carolina