The Library of Virginia
Picture of William Mahone William Mahone (1826-1895) was a railroad president before the Civil War, a general in the Confederate Army, and afterward one of the most controversial of all Virginia political leaders. As founder of the Readjuster Party, which tried to reduce the amount of the expensive antebellum state debt that the taxpayers had to pay, Mahone formed a coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and African Americans. The Readjusters captured control of the General Assembly in 1879 and in 1881 elected Mahone to a six-year term in the United States Senate. Mahone lost the support of most Democrats because of the alliance he and the Republicans had made with the state's many black voters. By the end of the century both major political parties had rejected participation of African Americans in Virginia politics. The biracial alliance that Mahone created during the 1870s and 1880s was radically different from any other nineteenth- century Virginia political party before or after. Mahone was one of many white Virginians who attempted to succeed in politics by accepting the enfranchisement of African Americans after the Civil War. His short-term success demonstrated what was possible, but his long-term failure illustrated the limits of what was attainable.

William Mahone. ca. 1881-1887. Photograph.
The Library of Virginia.