The Caucasian was one of the state's most prominent reform publications in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Founded in Clinton in 1884 as the weekly organ of the local Democratic Party, the paper in 1888 acquired as editor Marion Butler, an aggressive young Sampson County schoolteacher and future U.S. senator. Butler, its chief editor for the next 25 years, transformed the Caucasian into a mouthpiece for the Farmers' Alliance and one of the dominant voices of the North Carolina People's Party.
In 1893, after the paper's original plant was burned in a suspicious fire, Butler changed its venue to Goldsboro in an effort to expand readership. Following the Populist-Republican Fusion triumph in the election of 1894, he moved the paper again, this time to Raleigh. For a brief period it functioned as a daily, the only Populist paper of its kind ever published in the state. The Caucasian was also the only North Carolina paper and one of a few in the United States to promote populism continuously from 1892 until the party collapsed in the election of 1900. Mirroring Butler's political career, the newspaper generally endorsed Republicans after 1904, although it supported Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party campaign in 1912 before finally folding as a result of financial problems in early 1913.
At its peak in the mid-1890s, the Caucasian had more than 10,000 subscribers from all sections of the state and across the nation, from Maine to California. Between 1888 and 1913 it championed the full panoply of Populist and Progressive causes, including agricultural cooperatives, government ownership of railroads, the subtreasury plan, federal control of the money supply, a federal income tax, more money for education, and the direct election of U.S. senators. Ironically, the Caucasian was comparatively liberal on racial issues, opposing the Democrats' disfranchisement legislation of 1898-1900.
James L. Hunt, "Marion Butler and the Populist Ideal, 1863-1938" (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1990).
Photograph of Marion Butler. Image from the State Archives of North Carolina. Call number N_70_6_33.
1 January 2006 | Hunt, James L.