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"Death to Bourbonism!": The Wedge

The Library has in its collections a very unique and rare newspaper: The Wedge. This newspaper is not only an interesting piece of local history, but it also is an artifact from a little-known, but highly-important time in Virginia history.

The Wedge is generally understood to be the first newspaper published inNewport News,VA. It was also the local organ for the short-lived Readjuster Party, a state-wide organization made up of disaffected Democrats, Republicans and African-Americans that coalesced in opposition to the “Bourbon” Democrats during the late 1870s and early 1880s.

The Readjusters got their name from their proposal to “readjust” the state’s crushing post-Civil War debt, which was exacerbated by high taxes that hit Virginia’s working class the hardest. Coming into power in the late 1870s, the Readjusters controlled both houses of the Virginia General Assembly, elected a governor, several Congressmen and both U.S. Senators. The Readjusters were led by the diminutive but fiery former Confederate general William Mahone, who was elected U.S. Senator and controlled patronage appointments in the state. Once in power, the Readjusters initiated a number of relatively progressive (for the time) reforms. They eliminated the poll tax as prerequisite for voting and the whipping post as a form of criminal punishment. They increased funds to public schools, provided aid to the states’ financially hard-hit farmers, and initiated major state tax reforms. They also appointed many African-Americans to local and state offices. It was this upsetting of the racial status quo that led Democrats to launch a campaign to take back power and eventually pass segregation, or Jim Crow laws, and revise the state constitution to include measures designed to restrict voting rights and reduce the electorate, thus disfranchising most African-Americans and many whites.

The front page article describes the “location and prospects” of Newport News; basically, an attempt to entice businessmen to bring the businesses to the area. Indeed, editor Cash Thomas writes, “It needs only a glance around to get the instant impression that here are great opportunities…which far-sighted capitalists have at last become enthusiasts.” Thomas ends his article with an enthusiastic endorsement of Newport News: “No seaport town on the Atlantic coast has a more promising future…To the man of pluck and enterprise we would advise, instead of ‘Go west young man,’ to come south…Come! we bid you welcome.”

Other interesting local tidbits include a description of the grand opening of the new Hotel Warwick and advertisement for the Hygeia Hotel at Old Point Comfort.

Be sure to stop by the Library to see this wonderful and unique piece of local history!

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