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Benjamin Tillman
Tillman crop.jpg
Tillman around 1910
United States Senator
from South Carolina
In office
March 4, 1895 – July 3, 1918
Preceded by Matthew Butler
Succeeded by Christie Benet
84th Governor of South Carolina
In office
December 4, 1890 – December 4, 1894
Lieutenant Eugene B. Gary (1890–1893)
Washington H. Timmerman (1893–1894)
Preceded by John Peter Richardson III
Succeeded by John Gary Evans
Personal details
Born
Benjamin Ryan Tillman Jr.

(1847-08-11)August 11, 1847
Trenton, South Carolina, U.S.
Died July 3, 1918(1918-07-03) (aged 70)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s)
Sallie Starke
(m. 1868; his death 1918)
Relations George Dionysius Tillman (brother)
James H. Tillman (nephew)
Children 7
Signature
Nickname(s) "Pitchfork Ben"

Benjamin Ryan Tillman (August 11, 1847 – July 3, 1918) was an American politician of the Democratic Party who served as Governor of South Carolina from 1890 to 1894, and as a United States Senator from 1895 until his death in 1918. A white supremacist who opposed civil rights for black Americans, Tillman led a paramilitary group of Red Shirts during South Carolina's violent 1876 election. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, he defended lynching, and frequently ridiculed black Americans in his speeches, boasting of having helped kill them during that campaign.

In the 1880s, Tillman, a wealthy landowner, became dissatisfied with the Democratic leadership and led a movement of white farmers calling for reform. He was initially unsuccessful, though he was instrumental in the founding of Clemson University as an agricultural land-grant college. In 1890, Tillman took control of the state Democratic Party, and was elected governor. During his four years in office, 18 black Americans were lynched in South Carolina; in the 1890s the state had its highest number of lynchings of any decade. Tillman tried to prevent lynchings as governor, but also spoke in support of the lynch mobs, alleging his own willingness to lead one. In 1894, at the end of his second two-year term, he was elected to the U.S. Senate by vote of the state legislature, who elected senators at the time.

Tillman was known as "Pitchfork Ben" because of his aggressive language, as when he threatened to use a pitchfork to prod that "bag of beef," President Grover Cleveland. Considered a possible candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 1896, Tillman lost any chance after giving a disastrous speech at the convention. He became known for his virulent oratory—especially against black Americans—but also for his effectiveness as a legislator. The first federal campaign finance law, banning corporate contributions, is commonly called the Tillman Act. Tillman was repeatedly re-elected, serving in the Senate for the rest of his life. One of his legacies was South Carolina's 1895 constitution, which disenfranchised most of the black majority and many poor whites, and ensured white Democratic Party rule for more than six decades into the twentieth century.

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