Daniel Russell (1845-1908)

Written By North Carolina History Project

Born in Brunswick County, Daniel Russell grew up on a family plantation.  After the six year old’s mother died, Russell, at the request of his father, lived with his maternal grandfather in Onslow County.  While there, he attended Bingham School.  Later, Russell briefly attended the University of North Carolina before serving in the Confederate Army.

In 1864, the nineteen-year-old Russell started his political career as a Democratic state legislator.  As he grew increasingly frustrated with Democratic Southern leadership, Russell started leaving the party intellectually and officially in 1867, when he joined the newly established North Carolina Republican Party. As a Republican, Russell was elected as a Superior Court judge, and in this capacity, he served six terms. (Russell also served one term in the U.S. Congress as a member of the Greenback Party.)

During the 1890s, agrarian unrest contributed to the split of the Democratic Party and fostered a political alliance between the Republican and the Populist parties.  In 1896, with fusionist support, Russell won the gubernatorial election. His administration is noted for emphasizing public educational reform.

Approximately 1,000 African Americans, notes historian William Powell, were elected or appointed to office in North Carolina.  Disagreements between the Republicans and Populists regarding the free silver issue and the elimination of national banks weakened Fusion power.  Meanwhile Democrats labeled black officials as corrupt and cultivated a white fear of what was then called “Negro Rule.”  By the end of Russell’s term, the White Supremacy campaign, led by Democrats and Red Shirts, had made great gains in their efforts to disfranchise African American males.