Thomas Staples Martin's campaign for the United States Senate, 1892-1893

Ray, William Grady, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Younger, Edward, Department of History, University of Virginia
Jordan, Daniel P., University of Virginia

Thomas Staples Martin's victory in the General Assembly over ex-Governor Fitzhugh Lee in December, 1893, in the race for the United States Senate, startled and dismayed many Virginians. The contest for John S. Barbour's unexpired u. S. Senate term seemed a hare-and-tortoise race from the first, with Martin in the role of the tortoise. When Martin's slow and steady pace paid off, the defeated Lee and his supporters lashed out with charges of secret scheming and corruption. The press picked up the cry and condemned the election as a blatant example of railroad interference in the political affairs of Virginia. Martin's election was further questioned by a legislative investigating committee. Although officially cleared, Martin for the rest of his long political career operated under a cloud. Critics have attacked his election as a victory of railroad money and manipulation over popular preference. The image still persists that Martin, a political unknown, by devious means, catapulted himself into the U.S. Senatorship over the popular Fitzhugh Lee.

In this essay I shall re-examine Thomas Martin's campaign from its inception to his formal election. I hope to determine whether or not Martin was, in fact, a political unknown, to ascertain his status in the Democratic Party organization, and finally, to discover and describe the several factors which led to Martin's election. I shall deal mainly with eighteen months of Virginia's politics, from May, 1892, to December, 1893, examining the activities of the Democratic Party, the Populist Party, the Republican Party, and of Thomas Staples Martin.  

While most of this ground has been tilled many times, Martin remains a nebulous figure. Limited primary sources, particularly the absence of Martin's papers, hampers definitive research. Newspapers provide only sketchy details, buried in the rhetoric of a partisan press. More commonly, news reports seldom mentioned the senatorial contest of 1892-93, until the eve of decision. Nevertheless, a pattern of development shows, when these isolated fragments are placed against the matrix of events. Some of these are newly discovered, and others have not been used in this context. I believe, therefore, I have broken through at least some of the myths of the episode and arrived at a more realistic interpretation of the events leading to the initiation of the long senatorial career of Thomas Staples Martin.

MA (Master of Arts)
Martin, Thomas S. -- (Thomas Staples) -- 1847-1919, Virginia -- Politics and government -- 1865-1950

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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