Force Bill (1890)

Also known as the Lodge Bill or the Election Bill of 1890, the Force Bill, as it became known in the South and West, was introduced by Republican Representative Henry Cabot Lodge and Senator George Frisbie Hoar, both of Massachusetts, and supported by President Benjamin Harrison. The bill was designed to close loopholes in the Fifteenth Amendment used by white southern Democrats to prevent blacks from voting. It also allowed the federal government greater oversight over elections and was seen by many as a further attempt to whittle away states’ rights. Southern politicians used the filibuster against the bill in the Senate until western Republicans agreed to let the bill die in exchange for the South's support of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.

The Force Bill became a wedge between factions at the National Farmers’ Alliance and Industrial Union (NFAIU) annual meeting in Ocala, Florida, in December 1890. With the representatives of 25 states present to decide both on a platform and a slate of political candidates for the 1892 election, a representative from Mississippi introduced a resolution putting the Alliance on record as opposing the Lodge Bill. It put the thorny racial issue at the center of the formation of the new political movement. While it passed by a voice vote, on the last day at the convention, South Dakota's Alonzo Wardall called for the resolution to be stricken from the minutes of the Ocala meeting. With a vote along regional lines, his motion was tabled, thus jeopardizing the movement to bring the two factions together before it had even begun.

Trevor Jason Soderstrum

See also: Ocala Convention (1890) ; Sherman Silver Purchase Act (1890)


Welch, Richard E. “The Federal Elections Bill of 1890: Postscripts and Prelude.” Journal of American History 52 (3): 511–526.

(MLA 8th Edition)