"The Man Who Invented THE REDNECK"
Memphis Commercial Appeal
"WE ARE the low brows!
Thus rang a Mississippi
political battle cry of more than half a century ago.
It came from the
throat of the common man, newly released from a political bondage imposed
by the convention system of selecting officials.
BUT SUCH WAS his eloquent power to stir the masses, so imposing his appearance,
that each campaign became Armageddon.
AND A MAN named Stoddard shot it out with a forewarned and forearmed
Vardaman and his cousin, James Money. As it so often happens when you're
helping someone else in a fight, Stoddard was a slain and Money wounded.
Vardaman and the saloon keeper escaped unhurt.
Even though, as a contemporary said, a
prohibitionist was about as popular in Leflore County as "a Bolshevik on
Wall Street," Vardaman was compared to Moses and Jeremiah, and more than
once to Jesus Christ. "They couldn't be content with just Patrick Henry,"
said an opponent.
Vardaman was born in Texas, son of a Confederate soldier impoverished by the war, and was reared in Yalobusha County, Miss. He practiced law, plugged for prohibition and edited a weekly newspaper at Winona, before moving to Greenwood in the late 1880s. There, he edited the Greenwood Enterprise, and founded the Greenwood Commonwealth. He represented Leflore County in the Legislature for six years.
When he opened his Winona law office, the story goes, was down to his last 50 cents. With characteristic generosity, he donated this a few minutes later to a fund for
a man whose house had burned.
In a way, this was symbolic of the finan-
cial part of his
political career. His campaigns were largely paid for by the small bills
and pocket change his followers contributed.
system, Vardaman twice had failed to gain the governorship.
But with the
advent of the direct primary, the "Vardaman era" of Mississippi politics
began. He was elected governor over two opponents in 1903.
VARDAMAN watched the
children who then toiled in the cotton mills:
old men, worn and wasted, with the horizon of
life fringed with hopeless pessimism."
BILBO ALLIED him-
self with Vardaman in 1911 and
announced as a candidate for lieutenant governor. It was an alliance which
Percy predicted would bring grief to Vardaman. Percy said before the
campaign was over Vardaman, "with pallid lips, will be Praying to his God:
'Oh God! deliver me from this body of death'."
VARDAMAN explained he had felt America's declaration
of war was not necessary and pointed out that, after the declaration, he
offered himself for service in France, He accused Representative Pat
Harrison his opponent, of "wrapping his white-livered carcass in the
draped around his neck by
opponents, along with Kaiser Wilhelm.
THERE ARE MANY who
still remember. Go to a country courthouse on a hot Saturday afternoon in
August, a day so hot the heat waves dance and play tricks on the eyes. Sit
down on a bench under the big shade tree. There, next to the elderly
gentleman on the end of the bench.