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Through the 1880s, Senator Henry Blair (R-NH) spearheaded an effort to erode local control of education by turning Congress into a source of funds and oversight for state-level primary and secondary schools. The Blair Bill won support from an interregional, interracial, bipartisan coalition. It passed in the Senate on three separate occasions, was endorsed by presidents, and was a frequent topic of discussion among party elites. Yet in 1890 the bill failed for the last time, and local control would go largely unchanged until the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In this article we explore the decade-long battle surrounding Blair's proposal. Our analysis focuses on this lost opportunity as a way of highlighting the coalitional and institutional dynamics that work to prevent reform in an otherwise favorable environment. In this way, we contribute to a large literature on the uneven course of American state development.
The contours of Republican Party development in the South along with the legitimate successes that were achieved for black citizens and black civil rights more generally – before it all came crashing down – is the subject of this chapter. We focus first on the development of a Republican South after the Civil War. At first, Republican leaders were resistant to the creation of a Southern wing of the party, mainly because moderate members believed that enfranchising blacks – a necessary condition for the creation of a Southern GOP – was too radical for the Northern public to accept. They came around to the idea only reluctantly, after President Andrew Johnson broke with the Republicans on Reconstruction and the protection of black civil rights, and the Northern public sided with the GOP in the elections of 1866. Once invested in the notion of creating a Southern wing, Republican leaders stacked the deck by dividing the South into military districts, enfranchising blacks, and requiring new constitutions to be drafted before states would be readmitted to the Union. Combined, this led to some initial GOP electoral successes in the former Confederacy. These successes were not sustainable, however, despite strong and loyal black support, as a consistent and large proportion of white Southerners could not be persuaded to vote Republican. Without a true biracial foundation, the Southern wing of the GOP – confronted with violence and intimidation by white paramilitary groups working on behalf of the Democrats, as well as intra-party conflict – steadily collapsed, and Republican politicians were systematically driven from power. By 1877, white Southern Democrats had effectively “redeemed” all of the ex-Confederate states, and Reconstruction – despite its very real achievements, like the wealth of office-holding experience it provided for black citizens – had come to an end.
The 1932–1968 period represents a crucial era of change between the Republican Party and the American South. With the New Deal realignment, the GOP slowly but surely came to the realization that some form of electoral competition in the South could no longer be avoided for the party to have a chance at winning presidential elections and congressional majorities consistently. After FDR’s death, and with liberals and conservatives in the Democratic Party divided on civil rights, Republicans – for the first time – had both the opportunity and the need to advance in the South. But how to take advantage of this opening in the South while simultaneously not alienating traditional Republican voters elsewhere proved to be a difficult puzzle to solve. While the 1964 election showed that catering to Dixiecrats could open the South up to the Republican Party, Goldwater’s dismal performance everywhere else temporarily scared Republican leaders. A breakthrough in the inherent conflict between (a) the party’s failure to succeed in the South and (b) the price it paid outside of the South for trying was forged by Richard Nixon, in his efforts to win the 1968 presidential nomination. In assessing both the internal dynamics within the GOP as well as the national effects of previous Republican southern strategies, Nixon identified a winning strategy. By rejecting segregation, Nixon reassured voters outside of the South that he was not giving in to the worst elements in the Dixiecrat movement. Yet Nixon’s support for the less extreme policies that Southern conservatives were demanding – a slowdown in the implementation of civil rights reforms – was tied to the broader sense of insecurity whites felt across the country with regard to job safety and crime.
We use this chapter to do three things: (1) discuss the various data and measures – some existing and some new – that we will use throughout the book; (2) identify how apportionment of Southern delegates was determined, discuss how Southern delegation size varied over time, and explain why the South was able to maintain a significant presence at GOP conventions while not providing any electoral votes for generations; and (3) explain why focusing on factional GOP politics in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century South matters for understanding the emergence of the Republican Party as an electoral force in the late twentieth-century South, through an innovative multivariate analysis of “whiteness politics.”
Of the eleven ex-Confederate states, the large majority saw Lily-Whites take control of the state party sometime in the late-Nineteenth or early-Twentieth Century. There were, however, three exceptions to this rule: South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi. While each of these states eventually saw some form of Lily-Whiteism gain control, the Black-and-Tan organizations managed to hang onto power longer than elsewhere in the South. South Carolina’s Black-and-Tans machine finally fell apart at the 1940 national convention. Georgia began to see a clear decline in black delegates in 1952. And, finally, the Mississippi GOP remained under Black-and-Tan control up to the 1960 national convention. Why did these three state organizations buck the trend? The histories presented in this chapter show that the party organization’s survival in each state relied upon on the ability of individual party leaders to withstand a series of major challenges to their control in the 1920s. Each of the leaders in these state parties – “Tieless Joe” Tolbert in South Carolina, Walter H. Johnson and Ben Davis in Georgia, and Perry Howard in Mississippi – faced considerable opposition, both locally and from national leaders like Harding and Hoover. Yet each leader managed to survive these challenges – at least for a while – through strategic choices, some element of luck, and (in the cases of Johnson, Davis, and Howard) support from black Republicans outside of the South.
The presidential elections of 1896 and 1900 established the GOP as the majority party across most of the United States for the better part of the next three decades. But while the Republicans expanded their dominance in the Northeast, Midwest, and West, the South remained almost exclusively Democratic throughout this period. As a result, the traditional argument that a GOP revival in the "Solid South" remained a possibility – which, in part, validated the sizable Southern presence at Republican National Conventions – rang increasingly hollow. That is, Republican leaders mostly concluded that the cost of maintaining a party organization in the South that was fit to compete electorally with an implacable Democratic majority outweighed the increasingly slim chances at GOP electoral success there. Republican administrations continued to use their control of patronage in the South to produce a reliable and sizable voting bloc that played a significant role in the selection of presidential candidates in 1908 and 1912. At the same time, however, several moves were made by competing factions to reduce the size of the Southern delegations. Not all of these moves were entirely genuine; rather, some were threats to (successfully) force compliance on other issues. Additionally, Republican leaders were far from consistent in their support of Southern delegates and were prone to changing their positions depending on whether they were the ones who controlled federal patronage. Thus, as the GOP moved into a position of national political domination, its Southern political organizations increasingly became pawns in a game of national-level party politics.
What role did the Republican Party play in the South before the mid-1960s? On the national side, Republican presidents and presidential candidates engaged in near continuous attempts at winning Southern states. In addition, a number of Republican presidents – including Hayes, Arthur, Harrison, Harding, Hoover, and Eisenhower – invested significantly (though, most often unsuccessfully) in rebuilding local party organizations in the South. Importantly, we show that every single Republican president between Grant and Nixon relied on some form of a “Southern strategy” aimed at winning (re-)nomination at the national convention and/or strengthening state party organizations in the South. This corrects a misconception in various historical accounts that Republican presidents effectively gave up on the South by the early twentieth century. At the state level, executive (federal) patronage, and the considerable profits that could be gained from controlling it, inspired frequent contestation over control of the local party organizations. That is, while many Republican state parties no longer functioned as regular political parties – often failing to even run candidates in state elections – control of the state party organizations continued to be valuable to local party elites. Initially, these contests largely involved different mixed-race groups surrounding (former) elected officials and federal office-holders. But over time, contests began to take on an increasingly racial hue, as Black-and-Tans (a faction of black and white Republicans) vied for control with Lily-Whites (a faction of white Republicans that sought to ban blacks from leadership positions in the party).
In four former Confederate states, the Lily-White movement not only succeeded in taking control of the local Republican party organization but subsequently used this control to exclude blacks from participating in the party either entirely (North Carolina and Alabama) or nearly so (Virginia and Texas). These white Republicans went the exclusion route despite many other Lily-White-controlled states allowing black Republicans to continue participating in the party to some extent. Why did white Republicans in these four states choose to implement Lily-Whiteism in such a "strong" way? As the case studies presented here show, there is no consistent answer to this question. The path toward Lily-White control, and the subsequent nature of white rule in the state GOP, was dependent (at least in part) on the unique historical context in each state. For example, in Virginia, black Republicans were excluded from the party much earlier than in most other states. Local party leaders consistently kept black representation at national conventions close to zero, and even criticized the local Democratic Party for becoming the "black party" during the New Deal era. In Texas, the Lily-White Movement was a response to a black man – Norris Wright Cuney – controlling the state party organization in the 1880s and 1890s. After the end of Cuney’s rule, Lily-Whites took control of the party and expelled nearly all blacks from participation in state and national conventions. In North Carolina, the Lily-White takeover followed the dramatic events of the 1898 and 1900 elections, in which extreme violence against (black) Republicans instigated the passing of new voter laws banning black participation. In response, white GOP leaders explicitly banned blacks from the party organization entirely in 1902. Finally, in Alabama, Lily-White control came in 1912 and resulted in a slow but consistent reduction of black delegates at the national convention until no blacks were left in the state’s national convention delegation from 1924 onwards.
Thus, to understand the nature of the Republican Party’s brand in the early-Twenty First Century, we must understand the electoral bedrock of its success. That bedrock is the South, which has gone Republican in every presidential election since 1980. The composition of that electoral support has been white voters, many of whom are both economically and racially conservative. Thus, the Party of Lincoln, which was built on tenets of free-soil and emancipation and emerged in the post-Civil War South thanks largely to the votes of former slaves, became over time the party of white, conservative America. Our book shows that this process began far earlier than most studies acknowledge. The GOP’s early electoral success in the post-World War II South – during the 1950s and 1960s – was only possible because it had shed its label as the “black party” in most Southern states decades earlier. Thus, as the national Democratic Party moved to the left on civil rights while the national Republican Party moved to the right, white Southern voters realized more and more that they had a real choice on election day. The GOP’s Southern dominance in contemporary America, therefore, has deep roots that extend back more than a century. Simply stated, the success of the contemporary Republican Party is linked directly to its Southern wing going Lily-White in the early part of the Twentieth Century. By becoming a Lily-White party, the GOP in the Jim Crow South helped create the Republican brand that we observe today.
In contrast to the “strong” Lily-White states discussed in Chapter 7, Lily-White groups that took control of the Republican state organizations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida, and Tennessee never entirely excluded blacks from political participation within the party. To be sure, black GOP representation was minimized by these Lily-White leaders, but they did not engage in the type of exclusion that occurred in Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, and Alabama. Why did Lily-Whiteism play out so differently in these four states? As the cases presented in this chapter show, the “soft”" version of Lily-Whiteism was mostly the product of state-specific political contexts in which white party leaders sought to win control of the party but did not believe the complete exclusion of blacks was worth pursuing. In Arkansas and Louisiana, this was because – unlike in Virginia and North Carolina – there was no real expectation that electoral success was possible even as a white-dominated party. Thus, the goal was more to control federal patronage than to expel all blacks from the party. In Florida, which Herbert Hoover carried in the 1928 presidential election, white party leaders thought that a GOP resurgence might be possible, and they saw an opportunity to take control of the party. While blacks were kept from serving as delegates at the 1932 and 1936 national conventions, strict Lily-Whiteism would not last: after Florida repealed the poll tax in 1937, black Republicans began to organize politically again. And white Republicans in the state determined that it would be easier to provide these black Republicans with a small but consistent level of representation rather than to fight them on it. Finally, in Tennessee, the Republican party organization was long split between an eastern wing and a western wing. While the locus of state GOP power lay in the east and was led by whites, a Black-and-Tan organization was in power in the west. These Black-and-Tans cooperated with local Democratic leaders and remained in place until the 1952 convention – producing a small but consistent minority of black GOP delegates.
During the latter half of the Reconstruction era, Republicans in the South faced major electoral defeats due to the enfranchisement of white voters, dismal economic conditions, and Democratic Party-sponsored terror against black voters. As a result, by 1877 the Democrats won unified control of state governments across the region – and largely held it for the succeeding two decades. Yet this decline in Republican electoral strength did not reduce the South’s influence at the GOP national convention. Indeed, from 1877 to 1896, the eleven states of the former Confederacy made up around 25 percent of Republican convention delegates. There were three reasons for this. First, many Republican national leaders remained hopeful that the end of Reconstruction was not the final word on the GOP’s role in the South and believed that a winning electoral strategy could be devised for the party to remain a viable political force in the South. Second, Southern delegates passionately – and, to a large extent, correctly – argued that their states’ inability to produce electoral votes and congressional seats for the GOP was due to Democratic sabotage of the electoral process. With Southern blacks increasingly excluded from the democratic process at home, the Republican National Convention remained one of the few remaining political arenas in which they could participate. For the party of Lincoln to try and strip these delegates of their role within the party was, for some, problematic. Finally, Southern delegates were very helpful to presidential hopefuls from other parts of the country because their support could be easily acquired through patronage and other forms of bribery. Thus, whoever could afford to court the South could go into the convention with a sizable bloc of votes.
In Republican Party Politics and the American South, 1865–1968, Heersink and Jenkins examine how National Convention politics allowed the South to remain important to the Republican Party after Reconstruction, and trace how Republican organizations in the South changed from biracial coalitions to mostly all-white ones over time. Little research exists on the GOP in the South after Reconstruction and before the 1960s. Republican Party Politics and the American South, 1865–1968 helps fill this knowledge gap. Using data on the race of Republican convention delegates from 1868 to 1952, the authors explore how the 'whitening' of the Republican Party affected its vote totals in the South. Once states passed laws to disenfranchise blacks during the Jim Crow era, the Republican Party in the South performed better electorally the whiter it became. These results are important for understanding how the GOP emerged as a competitive, and ultimately dominant, electoral party in the late-twentieth century South.