Politics of the Southern United States: Wikis


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Politics of the Southern United States (or Southern politics) refers to the political landscape of the Southern United States. Due to the region's unique cultural and historic heritage, the American South has been prominently involved in numerous political issues faced by the United States as a whole, including States' rights, slavery, the American Civil War, and the American Civil Rights Movement. Due to the South's conservative political leanings and political power, the South has seen the start of several political movements (such as George C. Wallace's American Independent Party) and the region has played a crucial role in Presidential politics (with the majority of Presidents of the United States having come from the region in recent decades).


Early political history

When America's first political parties developed during the first term of George Washington's presidency the North supported the Federalists, believing in a centralized government, while the South stood behind Thomas Jefferson and his interpretation of the 10th Amendment. When the XYZ Affair took place, resentment of the French quickly developed in the South while the North wanted to resolve the situation diplomatically. This would be the start of a split between the South and the North.

Early in the 19th century, the South's economy became focused nearly exclusively on agricultural cash crops, made possible by the extensive use of slave labor. Due to the region's agricultural success, the South became integral to the political history of the United States, with many of the United States' early military and political leaders (including nine of its first twelve presidents) coming from the Southern United States.

However, by the middle of the 19th century sectional differences surrounding the issues of slavery, taxation, tariffs, and states' rights led to a strong secession movement. The political drive to secede from the United States hit its peak after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. The Southern states that seceded formed the Confederate States of America with Richmond as its capital.

During the four-year Civil War that followed, the South found itself as the primary battleground, with almost all of the main battles taking place on Southern soil. The Confederates were eventually defeated by the Union.

After the Civil War, the South found itself devastated in terms of its population, infrastructure, and economy. During Reconstruction, Union military troops occupied areas of the South and Republican appointees and election officials had direct political control. Many white Southerners who had actively supported the Confederacy were temporarily without some of the basic rights of citizenship (such as the ability to vote). With the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (which outlawed slavery), the 14th Amendment (which granted full U.S. citizenship to African Americans) and the 15th amendment (which extended the right to vote to black males), African Americans in the South began to enjoy a full range of citizens' rights which were broader than those extended to free blacks, even in the North, in decades before the war.

A reaction to the defeat and changes in society began immediately, with vigilante groups such as the Ku Klux Klan arising in 1866 as the first line of insurgents. They attacked and killed both freedmen and their white allies. Most men in the South were veterans of the war, so it was not surprising that resistance became violent. By the 1870s, more organized paramilitary groups, such as the White League and Red Shirts, took part in turning Republicans out of office and barring or intimidating blacks from voting. Conservative white Democrats regained power by the late 1870s, and began to pass laws to restrict black voting in a period they came to refer to as Redemption. From 1890–1908 states of the former Confederacy passed statutes and amendments to their state constitutions that effectively disfranchised most blacks and tens of thousands of poor whites in the South through devices such as residency requirements, poll taxes, and literacy tests. At the same time states passed Jim Crow laws to create legal racial segregation in public facilities and services; the phrase separate but equal, upheld in the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, came to represent the notion that whites and blacks should have access to physically separate but ostensibly equal facilities. It would not be until 1954 that Plessy was overturned in Brown v. Board of Education, and only in the late 1960s was segregation fully repealed by legislation passed following the American Civil Rights Movement.

The Solid South

Solid South refers to the electoral support of white voters in the Southern United States for Democratic Party candidates for nearly a century after the Reconstruction era (1877-1964). In most of the South, whites were the only ones who could vote, but the states kept their Congressional representation for their entire populations.

Except for 1928, when candidate Al Smith, a Catholic, ran on the Democratic ticket, Democratic candidates won by large margins in the South in every presidential election from 1876 until 1948 (even in 1928, the divided South provided Smith with nearly three-fourths of his electoral votes). From World War I to 1970, nearly 6.5 million blacks left the South in two waves of the Great Migration to the North, Midwest and West, to escape segregation and limited opportunities. The exodus was large enough in several states to end black majorities and alter the racial balance. Changes in the economy have also contributed to continuing white majorities in all southern states.

Especially in the 1960s, the national Democratic Party's support of the Civil Rights Movement, capped by President Lyndon Johnson's support for the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, led to white southerners turning away from the Democratic Party. The Republican Party made gains in the South by way of its "Southern strategy." Today, the Republican Party has substantial strength among white southerners. African Americans in the South have mostly voted with the Democratic Party in state and national elections since the civil rights years.

Twentieth-century political movements

During the twentieth century, the South was home to numerous political movements, including the Dixiecrat movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and the "Republican Revolution" of 1994.


Dixiecrat movement

In 1948, a group of Democratic congressmen, led by Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, split from the Democrats in reaction to an anti-segregation speech given by Minneapolis mayor Hubert Humphrey, founding the States Rights Democratic or Dixiecrat Party. During that year's Presidential election, the party unsuccessfully ran Thurmond as its candidate.

The Civil Rights Movement

Between 1955 and 1968, a movement toward desegregation gained ground in the American South. While many individuals and organizations participated in the movement's early years, dating back to the turn of the century, in the 1950s-1960s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were highly influential in carrying out a strategy of non-violent protests and demonstrations. Black churches were prominent in organizing their congregations for moral leadership and protest. Protesters rallied against racial [1] laws, through such events as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Selma to Montgomery marches, the Birmingham campaign, the Greensboro sit-in of 1960, and the March on Washington in 1963.

Legal changes came in the mid-1960s when President Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, effectively ending segregation by state governments, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which restored the ability of minorities to exercise their franchise. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. continued his political activism, opposing the Vietnam War and focusing his attention on nonviolence and poverty-related issues. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. A national holiday honoring King, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, was first observed in 1986; it was not officially observed by all 50 states until the year 2000.

Other prominent figures in the American Civil Rights movement included Rosa Parks, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, Julian Bond, Jesse Jackson, Dr.Wyatt Tee Walker, and Malcolm X.

George Wallace and the Southern strategy

In 1968, Democratic Alabama Governor George C. Wallace ran for President on the American Independent Party ticket. Wallace ran a "law and order" campaign similar to that of Republican candidate, Richard Nixon. While Nixon won, Wallace won a number of Southern states. This inspired Nixon and other Republican leaders to create the Southern Strategy of winning Presidential elections. This strategy focused on securing the electoral votes of the U.S. Southern states by having candidates promote states' rights and culturally conservative values, such as family issues, religion, and patriotism, which appealed strongly to Southern voters. Analysts evaluated issues of states' rights and busing as code words for the changes of integration.

Jimmy Carter, the 1976 Presidential election, and the rise of the Religious Right

In the 1976 election, former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter won the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. Carter, a peanut farmer and pro-life Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher became the first Democratic president to date to defeat the Republicans' Southern Strategy. He defeated George Wallace in the Democratic primary and carried every Southern state in the general election, with the exceptions of Virginia and Oklahoma. In addition to being a native son, Carter ran a culturally Southern, populist campaign. People of his hometown of Plains, Georgia held fundraisers with "covered-dish" dinners and its residents traveled north to campaign by train on the "Peanut Express".[1] Republican incumbent Gerald Ford had only narrowly defeated Ronald Reagan in the conservative intra-party coup to secure his party's nomination. As a moderate Republican who generally kept his religious views to himself, Ford was unable to endear himself to Bible Belt voters. Carter's victory was significant in that he was among the few U.S. Presidents to have claimed to be a born-again Christian.

By 1980 Carter's approval ratings plummeted due a poor economy and the Iran hostage crisis. In addition, although Carter had energized Southern evangelicals in his 1976 campaign, as perhaps the first "born-again" president, a backlash among some white conservative evangelicals led to the formation of the Religious right. It split the Southern evangelical vote and denied Carter a victory in many states. Ronald Reagan won the 1980 presidential election in a landslide; Carter retained majorities in Georgia, West Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, becoming the last Democratic candidate to perform better in the South than nationally.

Since leaving office in 1981, however, Carter has continued to have a significant influence among Southern evangelicals. He has continued the practice of evangelism and has taught Sunday school to the tourists who visit his hometown. (His sister Ruth Carter Stapleton was an evangelist until her death in 1983.) He is also credited with using his national recognition to boost the success of the Christian non-profit ministry Habitat for Humanity beyond its original sphere of influence in Sumter County, Georgia. Habitat for Humanity has housed 1,000,000 people to date. It continues to host the "Jimmy Carter work project" each year. Finally, Carter has written numerous books on the subject of religious faith.

For many years, Carter attempted to reconcile moderate and conservative factions of the Southern Baptist Convention, but in 2000 he left to join the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Reasons cited for his decision included a 1998 ban on the ordination of women as ministers, and "the elimination of language in June that identifies Jesus Christ as "the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted" in the Baptist Faith and Message.[2]

The Contract with America

In 1994, Pennsylvania-born Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich ushered in a "Republican revolution" with his "Contract with America". Gingrich, then the Minority Whip of the House, created the document to detail what the Republican Party would do if they won the that year's United States Congressional election. The contract detailed several proposed aspects of governmental reform. Nearly all of the Republican candidates in the election signed the contract. For the first time in 40 years, the Republicans won control of the Congress. Gingrich became Speaker of the House, serving in that position from 1995 to 1999.

Republicans maintained control of Congress from January 1995 until January 2007, with two exceptions. After the 2000 elections, a 50-50 split in the Senate temporarily resulted in a Senate presidency by Tennessee's Al Gore in January 2001. (In the event of a tie, party control is decided by the Vice-President's tie-breaking vote.) In May 2001, Republican senator James Jeffords left his party to become an Independent, giving the Democrats a 50–49 majority in the Senate until early 2003.

During this period, a number of current Congressional leaders were also from the South, including former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, former Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.

Twenty-first century

2006 elections and return to Democratic control

In the early 21st century, Republicans were able to maintain their hold on the federal government, as President George W. Bush was able to forge a powerful coalition of Southern states that had been out of reach of the Republican party in the last two Presidential contests. In particular, Bush's increased popularity following the September 11, 2001 attacks enabled him to aid in the defeat of most Southern Democratic Senators in 2002 and 2004. On November 7, 2006, however, the Democratic Party once again regained control of the House and Senate, as well as control of the Southern Governors' Association. The election was the first since the Gulf Coast was struck by Hurricane Katrina. The Republican Administration was seen to have failed in rescue and recovery efforts there. Voters named "government corruption" and the state of the then-current war in Iraq as influences on their decisions. The election was the first since 1948 in which Republicans did not win a single Democratic seat. (See United States House of Representatives elections, 2006.)

Prior to the election, two government scandals involving Congressional Republicans fueled a public backlash. The first was the Abramoff scandal, in which lobbyist Jack Abramoff and others presented bribes to legislators on behalf of Indian casino gambling interests. In the South, the scandal had the effect of ending Ralph Reed's political career, when he lost the primary election for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. The scandal also ended the career of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.

In 2005, a Texas grand jury indicted DeLay on criminal charges that he had conspired to violate campaign finance laws. DeLay denied the charges, saying that they were politically motivated, but Republican Conference rules forced him to resign temporarily from his position as Majority Leader. In January 2006, under pressure from fellow Republicans, DeLay announced that he would not seek to return to the position. In the months before and after this decision, two of his former aides were convicted in the Jack Abramoff scandal. DeLay ran for re-election in 2006, and won the Republican primary election in March 2006, but, citing the possibility of losing the general election, he announced in April 2006 that he would withdraw from the race and resign his seat in Congress. He resigned on June 9, 2006, and sought to remove his name from the ballot. The court battle that followed forced him to remain on the ballot, despite having withdrawn from the race. Democrat Nick Lampson ultimately won DeLay's House seat in TX-22.

A second scandal, commonly known as the Mark Foley scandal, involved Florida Congressman Mark Foley's sending sexually explicit messages to underage Congressional pages. Foley resigned, but his name remained on the ballot, and Democrat Tim Mahoney won the general election. The scandal led to Foley's resignation from Congress on September 29, 2006. It is believed to have contributed to the Republican Party's loss of control over Congress in the November 7, 2006 election, as well as the end of House Speaker Dennis Hastert's leadership of the House Republicans. Kirk Fordham, chief of staff to Rep. Tom Reynolds and former chief of staff for Foley, also resigned as a result of the scandal. (See Mark Foley scandal.


In the Senate, Democrats defeated six Republican incumbents to gain control of the Senate. The close contest that determined the final outcome of Senate control was Democrat and former Marine Jim Webb's unlikely victory against incumbent Virginia Senator (and former Governor) George Allen. Allen's poll numbers had plummeted after a video was released of Allen taunting an Indian-American student at a rally with what were interpreted as racially charged remarks. (See Macaca (slur).) In Missouri, Democrat Claire McCaskill defeated incumbent Senator Jim Talent.

House of Representatives

  • In Georgia, Republicans concentrated on two districts as their best hopes of gaining Democratic seats, those of Jim Marshall and John Barrow. They were not successful although the seats were closely contested.

Changing Congressional leadership

While Republicans lost key Congressional leadership positions following the 2006 elections, new Democratic leaders emerged from below the Mason-Dixon Line.

United States House of Representatives
United States Senate

Democratic Control of Governorships

In the 2006 gubernatorial elections, Mike Beebe of Arkansas regained the governorship previously held by Republican Mike Huckabee. In Maryland, Martin O'Malley defeated incumbent Republican governor Robert Erlich. In 2007, Kentucky Democrat Steve Beshear defeated incumbent Republican governor Ernie Fletcher. These victories gave the Democratic Party a decisive 10-8 majority in the Southern Governors' Association. Joe Manchin of West Virginia subsequently became chairman of the association, while Tim Kaine of Virginia became Vice-Chairman.

Southern Presidents

The South has long been a center of political power in the United States, especially in regard to Presidential elections. During the history of the United States, the South has supplied many of the 43 presidents. Virginia specifically was the birthplace of seven of the nation's first twelve presidents (including four of the first five).

Presidents from the South include:

This list encompasses members of the Whig Party, Republican Party and the Democratic Party; in addition, Washington, while officially non-partisan, was generally associated with the Federalist Party.

They have also supplied Presidential losers:

See also


  1. ^ "Plains to the White House," 1976.
  2. ^ "Jimmy Carter Renounces Southern Baptist Convention," reprinted at Beliefnet.com


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