Southern Democrats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search

Southern Democrats are members of the U.S. Democratic Party who reside in the U.S. South.

Depending on whom is asked, the South starts at either the Mason-Dixon Line or the Potomac River. Starting at the Potomac would mean the South starts with the Commonwealth of Virginia. However, this would exclude Maryland and Delaware, two states that are still today very Democratic. So for this article's purpose, the border of the South will be the Mason-Dixon, the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland.


Early history

The Democrats have their beginnings in the South, going back to the founding of the Democratic-Republican Party in 1793 by Thomas Jefferson, a Virginian. The party was formed from former Anti-Federalist elements opposed to the policies of the Federalists. After being the dominant party in U.S. politics from 1800 to 1829, the Democratic-Republicans split into two factions in 1833; the federalist Whigs, and the Democrats. Democrats of the day were kept united only by their opposition to the Whigs and fear of encroachment of the federal government. However, by the 1850s, with the crumbling of the Whigs, infighting which was kept at bay for years burst out. Northern Democrats were in serious opposition to Southern Democrats on the issue of slavery; Northerners opposed it, and Southerners fiercely defended it. Meanwhile, remaining and former elements of the Whig party were bolting to the newly formed anti-slavery Republican Party, which was rapidly gaining influence. In the 1860 election, the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln, but the divide among Democrats led to the nomination of two candidates: John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky represented Southern Democrats, and Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois represented Northern Democrats. This splitting of the Democratic vote led to the election of Lincoln and the demise of the Democratic grip on power.

American Civil War

After the election of Lincoln, Southern Democrats led the charge to secede from the Union and form the Confederate States of America. The Congress was dominated by Republicans, save for Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, the only Southern senator of a state in rebellion to reject secession. The states of Missouri, Kentucky, and Delaware, despite being Southern Democratic slave states, did not approve seccession, and thus remained in the Union. The state of Maryland, dominated by Southern Democrats and days away from approving secession, was forced to remain in the Union, and so its delegation to Congress did not leave.

Many Northern Democrats fled the party to join the Republicans. When the war was over, and the Confederacy destroyed, a deep resentment among Southern citizens towards Republicans helped fuel the Democratic Party to a majority in Congress by the 1870s and bring an end to Reconstruction. The Democrats were now the party of states rights, the party of the South, and would remain that way until the 1960s. Their dominance in Southern politics would give rise to the phrase "Solid South".

Post-Reconstruction to modern times

At the beginning of the 20th century the Democrats, led by the dominant Southern wing, had the majority in both houses of Congress. In 1912 incumbent Republican W. Howard Taft was defeated in an electoral landslide, losing to Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat from New Jersey (Though he ws southern and thus a parachute candidate). And from 1912 through 1918, the three branches of government were controlled by the Democratic Party. However when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, and with isolationism running high, the Republicans ran the 1918 election on a platform of pacifism and rejection of the internationalist sentiment favored by Wilson. The Democrats lost the Congress, and in 1920, Warren Harding was elected president in a landslide, which was widely viewed as a repudiation of Wilson's policies.

From 1918 until 1932, the Democrats were relegated to second place status in politics, controlling no branch of the government. However, with the Stock Market Crash of 1929, Republicans lost the Congress in 1930 and the White House in 1932 by huge margins. By this time, however, the Democratic Party leadership began to change its tone somewhat. With the Great Depression gripping the nation, and with the lives of most Americans disrupted, the assisting of African-Americans in American society was seen as necessary by the new government.

This new tone irked many Southern loyalists. This was the beginning of the change of the party. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal program would unite the different party factions for over three decades, but Southerners began to see the change.

After World War II, the civil rights movement took hold. A new wave of young, liberal Democrats were changing the face of the party, and Southerners were feeling alienated. However, most still voted loyally for their party. The old conservative stalwarts were trying to resist the changes that were sweeping the nation. With the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was the final straw for many Southern Democrats, who began voting against Democratic incumbents for GOP candidates. The Republicans carried many Southern states for the first time since before the Great Depression.

When Richard Nixon courted voters with his Southern Strategy, many Democrats became Republicans and the South became fertile ground for the GOP, which conversely was becoming more conservative as the Democrats were becoming more liberal. However, Democratic incumbents still held sway over voters in many states, especially those of the Deep South. In fact, until the 1980s, Democrats still had much control over Southern politics. It wasn't until the 1990s that Democratic control collapsed, starting with the elections of 1994, in which Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress, through the rest of the decade. Southern Democrats of today are mostly urban liberals, while rural residents tend to be either Republicans, although there are a sizable number of conservative Democrats.

A huge portion of Representatives, Senators, and voters who were referred to as Reagan Democrats in the 1980s were conservative Southern Democrats.

Notable modern and former Southern Democrats

See also

Personal tools