Most Americans are familiar with the famous photo of Harry Truman holding a newspaper with the banner headline "Dewey Defeats Truman." Part of the reason that the paper was willing to go to press without the final electoral tally was the anticipated effect of the Dixiecrat and Progressive (Henry Wallace) candidates on both the Southern and liberal elements of the Democratic Party. The final tally:
* Harry S. Truman, Democratic — 49.5%
* Thomas E. Dewey, Republican — 45.1%
* Strom Thurmond, States' Rights — 2.4%
* Henry A. Wallace, Progressive — 2.4%
Thurmond carried Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina.
Strom Thurmond and the Civil Rights Act of 1957
The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was introduced and strongly supported by Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX). It passed in spite of a filibuster led by Senator Strom Thurmond (D-SC, who switched to R-SC in 1964), during which Thurmond spoke for a Senate record of 24 hours 18 minutes.
Debating the History
Herbert Humphrey's speech on Civil Rights at the 1948 Democratic Convention was the final straw for the Dixiecrat contingent. They staged their walkout soon after.
The States' Rights party, also known as the "Dixiecrats," was a rump party that split off from the national Democratic party and ran candidates in the 1948 presidential election.
The party sprang into existence on July 17, 1948 when it held its national convention in Birmingham, Alabama. It was the formal expression of a growing sectional and civil rights revolt against the national Democratic party.
South Carolina Governor J. Strom Thurmond and Mississippi Governor J. Fielding Wright were nominated, respectively, for president and vice-president.
Alabamians played a major role in founding, directing, and sustaining the organization. Alabama was one of the most important Dixiecrat states thanks especially to three men who may be properly referred to as the "Dixiecrat triumvirate": former-Governor Frank M. Dixon, state Democratic Executive Committee chairman Gessner T. McCorvey, and Birmingham attorney and political boss Horace C. Wilkinson.
Dixiecrats organized in response to President Harry S. Truman's proposed 1948 civil rights package, understood by many whites as the greatest threatened federal intrusion into the South since Reconstruction. The package consisted of four primary pieces of legislation: abolition of the poll tax, a federal anti-lynching law, desegregation legislation, and a permanent Federal Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to prevent racial discrimination in jobs funded by federal dollars.
Dixiecrats portrayed their movement in the best possible light, as one designed to guarantee state sovereignty and constitutionally-guaranteed states' rights and reestablish Southern preeminence in the Democratic party. But the most important motive behind the movement was securing states' rights and constitutional principles in order to accomplish an overriding goal: preservation of the South's racial status quo.
In Alabama, the Dixiecrats won an intramural state fight with regular or "Loyalist" Democrats and thereby controlled the state's party machinery. As a result, incumbent President Harry Truman's name did not even appear on the 1948 presidential ballot in Alabama.
Despite the splintering of the Democratic party by the Dixiecrats on the right, and the Progressive party on the left (which nominated former Vice President and Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace), President Truman won reelection in the biggest upset in American political history. His margin of victory over Republican Thomas E. Dewey was only four-tenths of one percent. The Dixiecrats and the Progressives polled over a million votes, and the Dixiecrats were able to sweep four states (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Carolina), securing 39 electoral votes.
ELECTIONS : 1948
President Harry S. Truman, who had succeeded President Roosevelt after his death in 1945, stood for reelection on the Democratic ticket with Alben Barkley of Kentucky as his running mate. When the Democratic convention adopted a strong civil rights plank, southern delegates walked out and formed the States' Rights party. The Dixiecrats, as they were called, nominated Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina for president and Fielding Wright for vice president. A new left-leaning Progressive party nominated former vice president Henry A. Wallace of Iowa for president with Glen Taylor, a senator from Idaho, as his running mate. The Republican slate consisted of two prominent governors: Thomas E. Dewey of New York and Earl Warren of California.
Although polls and conventional wisdom predicted a Dewey victory, Truman campaigned vigorously as the underdog, making a famous whistle-stop tour of the country aboard a special train. Results were uncertain to the last minute. A well-known photograph shows Truman the day after the election smiling broadly and holding aloft a newspaper with the headline dewey defeats truman. The paper was wrong: Truman had received 24,105,812 popular votes, or 49.5 percent of the total; Dewey, 21,970,065, or 45.1 percent. Thurmond and Wallace each received about 1.2 million votes. The Democratic victory in the electoral college was more substantial: Truman beat Dewey 303 to 189; Thurmond received 39 votes, and Wallace none.
The Truth about the Dixiecrats
What they were about.
Besides segregation, what was in the 1948 platform of the states-rights' Democratic party? On the Larry King's CNN show, Senator Lott said that Strom Thurmond would have been a good president because he would have made a strong national defense and a balanced budget priorities. Let's take a look at the official Dixiecrat platform, as published in the reference book National Party Platforms. To start with, there's nothing about national defense or the budget.
By far the largest portion of the Dixiecrat platform is an extensive endorsement of states' rights. This defense was couched in strongly stated appeals to constitutional values, such as "the constitutional right to choose one's associates; to accept private employment without governmental interference, and to earn one's living in any lawful way." Yet state segregation laws interfered with all these rights, and with the Constitution.
Jim Crow laws forbade interracial marriage. They imposed segregation on private business such as trains, trolleys, restaurants, hotels, boarding houses, and theaters. For example, some states made it a crime for a black barber to cut a white woman's hair. Some of the businesses covered by Jim Crow laws would have segregated anyway, but some would not have bothered, and the laws which Governor Thurmond was attempting to shield from federal interference were laws which interfered with the rights of business to choose how to serve their customers, and likewise interfered with the rights of customers to choose businesses.
The Dixiecrats were also angry that Truman, like Franklin Roosevelt, fervently supported union rights — another important element of "the constitutional right to choose one's associates."
There were five major sections of the Dixiecrat platform, one of which denounced "proposed FBI powers," and featured frantic warnings that the Democrats and Republicans both wanted to impose a totalitarian police state. In the platform's final section, "New Policy," two of the eight platform items further condemned "the effort to establish nation-wide a police state in this republic." (The Smoking Gun has an online version of the final section; TSG's version is from a state convention, and differs in some small ways from the final section of the official platform.)
Now if Senators Thurmond and Lott had adhered to this particular language of the 1948 platform, things might indeed be better in this country. But to the contrary, the Dixiecrat concerns about a police state appear to have existed solely in the context for federal efforts to secure civil rights for black people.
No senator outdid Strom Thurmond in the 1960s for outraged denunciation of the Supreme Court's strict enforcement of the criminal-procedure provisions of the Bill of Rights. In 2000, he and his staff were leading advocates of a proposal to allow government agents to conduct secret searches without obtaining search warrants.
In 1973-74, it was revealed that the Nixon White House had engaged in numerous police-state tactics, illegally attempting to use the IRS, the FBI, and the CIA against the president's political opponents. Article Two of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee's Articles of Impeachment summarized these offenses. Yet first-term Republican Representative Trent Lott voted against this Article of Impeachment.
He likewise voted against the first Article of Impeachment, based on President Nixon's cover-up and obstruction of the Watergate investigation. Hypocritically, he later voted to impeach President Clinton for obstruction of justice and perjury — although the Clinton offenses had occurred in the context of a private civil-rights lawsuit, whereas Nixon had been obstructing a criminal investigation about a presidential election.
After the House Judiciary Committee had reported the Articles of Impeachment, an unanimous Supreme Court decision forced the Nixon White House to release several of the tapes which Nixon had secretly recorded. The tapes proved Nixon's guilt of obstruction of justice beyond any doubt. Senate Republican leaders who had staunchly defended Nixon, such as Barry Goldwater and John Tower, decided that the president could no longer hold office. With Nixon's guilt certain, the White House found that only two senators were still certain to vote against impeaching the criminal president. Strom Thurmond was one of them.
Like Lott, Thurmond inconsistently voted to impeach President Clinton.
Thurmond bolted the 1948 Democratic Convention after Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Horatio Humphrey won a floor fight to amend the Platform to strengthen the civil-rights language. Humphrey's Amendment read:
We highly commend President Harry S. Truman for his courageous stand on the issue of civil rights.
We call upon the Congress to support our President in guaranteeing these basic and fundamental American Principles:
(1) the right to full and equal political participation;
(2) the right to equal opportunity of employment;
(3) the right to security of person;
(4) and the right of equal treatment in the service and defense of our nation.
That's why Thurmond ran for president. A principled advocate of small government could, as Barry Goldwater did, oppose the second item as applied to federal control of private employment. But every other item was a straightforward application of the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and of the Fifteenth Amendment: the right of black people to vote; the right of black people to be hired for federal, state, and local government jobs without discrimination; the right of black people to own and carry arms for protection, and to receive police protection, against criminals such as the Ku Klux Klan; and the right to serve equally in the United States military.
The Dixiecrat platform quoted from the 1840 Democratic platform, which was the platform of the great Democratic President Martin Van Buren. More than any other President, Van Buren faithfully followed the Constitution, so his platform — fewer than 1,000 words long — is an especially valuable guide for constitutionalists. The part quoted by the Dixiecrats resolved:
That Congress has no power under the constitution, to interfere with or control the domestic institutions of the several states; and such states are the sole and proper judges of everything pertaining to their own affairs, not prohibited by the constitution….
The 1840 platform went to warn, accurately, that Abolitionism would endanger the Union. As a result of the Civil War, the Constitution was changed, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were added. From the late 1870s onward, the equal-protection clause and the prohibition of racial discrimination in voting were nullified in much of America. In seeking to enforce the Constitution, President Truman was following in the footsteps of constitutionalist President Van Buren.
The Dixiecrats made sure not to quote another paragraph of the 1840 platform:
that every citizen and every section of the country has a right to demand and insist upon an equality of rights and privileges, and to complete and ample protection of persons and property from domestic violence or foreign aggression.
That statement is the principle on which the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments are based. States' rights were not a legitimate constitutional basis for states to violate the constitutional rights of their citizens.
Senator Lott shouldn't be pilloried for once calling the Civil War a war of "aggression," for there was a plausible case to made the that Confederate states had a right to secede. There are a good number of Southerners of his generation and older — some of them quite liberal and quite in favor of civil rights — who say the same thing.
But in 1948, with the south firmly in the Union, the south had a duty to obey the Constitution. The Dixiecrats of 1948 stood for nullifying the Constitution, not obeying it, and they were renegades against not only Harry Truman, but against the great historic principles of the Democratic party.
The Dixiecrats supported the raw power of Jim Crow over the lawful command of the Constitution; likewise, Congressmen Thurmond and Lott supported a criminal president of their party who attacked the constitutional rule of law. It is truly a blessing for America that Strom Thurmond never became president. Senator Lott is the wrong choice to lead a party which seeks to follow constitutional values.
America’s Journey From "Dixiecrats" to "Rednecklicans"
by David Benjamin
For much of 20th-century politics, one of the dilemmas of being a liberal was that vast swathes of America teemed with unsavory and grossly illiberal characters who were fiercely loyal to the Democratic Party. This is because -- despite its Northern, progressive elements -- the Democratic Party was ironically the historic home of Jim Crow. The party of FDR, Harry Truman and Julian Bond also harbored America's staunchest segregationists. The breakaway "Dixiecrat" movement of 1948 was led by a South Carolina Democrat named Strom Thurmond.
Thurmond said, "All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the army cannot force... the southern people to break down segregation and admit the Negro race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches."
Strom changed parties after a turncoat southerner named Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. LBJ then said that Democrats had lost the South for the next generation. He was right. In a rush of bitter defections, southern voters and politicians fled the Democratic Party.
Richard Nixon, campaigning in 1968, did his utmost to assure that America's segregationist diehards, white supremacists and anti-Semites would find a new political klavern. Nixon invented the "race card" and transformed the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln and the wellspring of the Emancipation Proclamation, into the last bastion of the Confederacy. The G.O.P. has been playing the same hand -- with remarkable impunity -- in every election since.
As Robert Kuttner noted in a January 2003 issue of The American Prospect, ever since Nixon devised his southern strategy, "the Republican grand electoral design has been based on locking up the white South while playing to the white backlash in the North. Often the appeals to race are tacit, sometimes they are crude; but the stance is unmistakable to anyone who bothered to notice."
Among the cruder of these appeals was the Willie Horton slander fomented against Michael Dukakis on behalf of George H.W. Bush in 1988 by a campaign hatchetman named Roger Ailes, who is now CEO of Fox News. Comparatively tacit among the G.O.P.'s racist efforts was the suppression of black votes in Florida in 2000 (and again in Ohio in 2004). The winner both times, George W. Bush, insists that he’s "compassionate" about blacks, especially the type who reject "affirmative action," "quotas," and other liberal stumbling blocks to a "color-blind" America. And he loves getting his picture taken with pickaninnies.
The Republicans deny that they are the electoral refuge for America's bigots. But whenever an ex-Klansman, decrying the mongrelization of the white race, enters a primary election somewhere in Louisiana or Texas, it's always a Republican primary.
The Republicans insist they are "working hard" to win African-American votes. But the G.O.P.'s chronic failure to crack even 10 percent among black voters indicates that they're working harder to foster a constituency they value much more dearly, commonly described as "non-college-educated white males," which is pollster code for "rednecks and yahoos."
The G.O.P. regularly trots out black appointees to showcase their openmindedness. Trouble is, when these G.O.P. "house Negroes" are allowed to speak, they avoid terms like "social justice" and "voting rights." Examined closely, they tend to be non-partisan overachievers like Colin Powell or -- at worst -- self-loathing Stepin Fetchits like Clarence Thomas. Or they're just trying to pass for white, like Condoleezza Rice.
The "race card" works for the G.O.P., in a circular way. It validates racists by giving them a place to go, thus perpetuating America's historic traditions of bigotry and segregation, which nurtures the Republicans as the party that's not prejudiced against the prejudiced. Around and around...
Still, I gotta ask: Why aren't some (or any) Republicans embarrassed?
I can't believe that most white Republicans favor racial hatred. But they must know that that their ranks include people who vote for white candidates solely because they’re white, and who would never vote for a black candidate simply because he or she is black. Surely, they must know that many of their fellow Republicans think it was a fine idea to shoot Medger Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner... Etcetera.
Democrats were embarrassed by George Wallace and Bull Connor. Why aren't Republicans embarrassed by David Duke and Bob Jones?
Maybe it's just pragmatism. The G.O.P. tolerates its hordes of red-state rednecks because, if not for all those straight-ticket bigots, the Republicans don't think they could win.
Not long ago, Democrats certainly thought so. They stayed embarrassed for a long time. But eventually, Democrats told their leaders we'd rather lose a few votes in Tallahatchie County than be on the same side as the monsters who lynched Emmett Till. They said, hey, let’s try a trade with the Republicans. They get electoral votes in Georgia, Virginia, Carolina, Alabama, Texas, etc. In return we get the legacies of Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Rosa Parks, Judge James Horton, Justice Thurgood Marshall... Etcetera.
Maybe Republicans could do it, too -- tell their leaders they don't want to be the party of voter intimidation and KKK nostalgia anymore. Maybe then, the race card would finally become too risky to play, even among campaign strategists.
Yes, I hear you, Dr. King. It’s just a dream.
This is the place where all are welcome to join in and engage in spiritual, uplifting and intellectual conversation.Please do join us,won't you.....
Saturday, May 28, 2005