Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: July 2014

5 - Mobilizing the Religious Right in the Politicized “Bible Belt”


On the afternoon of January 22, 1973, Lyndon Johnson suffered a massive heart attack and died. Coming just two days after Richard Nixon’s second inauguration, Johnson’s death was a painful irony for those whose political philosophy had been embodied by the man whose presidency was practically synonymous with both liberalism’s postwar apex and its demise. For parts of four decades during the middle of the twentieth century, Johnson’s long political career almost perfectly spanned the era of liberal consensus. As president from 1963 to 1969, Johnson promoted a vision for progress and reform that captured the highest ambitions of postwar liberalism. But discontentment on both the Left and the Right, much of it related to the size of government and the war in Vietnam, killed Johnson’s Great Society before it could achieve most of its goals. Meanwhile, Johnson’s actions on civil rights cost him and the Democratic Party the loyalty of many white conservatives in the South, while expediting partisan realignment across the entire Sunbelt. In the wake of Nixon’s greatest political triumph, Johnson’s death in early 1973 seemed to symbolize what many already knew: the long-dominant New Deal coalition was dead.

Not surprisingly, Johnson’s death was front-page news all across the country. Ironically, however, it was not the only major political story to command front-page headlines that day. Also on January 22, 1973, just hours before Johnson died, the United States Supreme Court issued its widely anticipated ruling in Roe v. Wade, an abortion case originating out of Dallas, Texas. In Roe, as well as its Georgia-based companion case Doe v. Bolton, the Supreme Court declared state laws restricting abortion to be unconstitutional in view of due process clauses and privacy rights as interpreted through the Fourteenth Amendment. The ruling, therefore, guaranteed a woman’s right to abortion until the point of fetal “viability,” a term ambiguously defined as the beginning of a pregnancy’s third trimester. Roe was a political triumph for feminists and other pro-choice activists who, for decades, had been quietly fighting to legalize abortion as part of a larger fight to control their own bodies and lives. For others, however, Roe represented the high stakes of a very different type of political fight.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Critchlow, Donald T., Intended Consequences: Birth Control, Abortion, and the Federal Government in Modern America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)
Flippen, J. Brooks, Jimmy Carter, the Politics of Family, and the Rise of the Religious Right (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011)
Self, Robert O., All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s (New York: Hill & Wang, 2012)
Zaretsky, Natasha, No Direction Home: The American Family and the Fear of National Decline, 1968–1980 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007)
Freedman, Robert, “Uneasy Alliance: The Religious Right and the Republican Party,” in Mason, Robert and Morgan, Iwan, eds., Seeking a New Majority: The Republican Party and American Politics, 1960–1980 (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2013), 124–142
Miller, Steven P., Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009)
Cohen, Lizabeth, A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)
Lindsey, Hal, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970)
LaHaye, Tim and Jenkins, Jerry B., Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days (Colorado Springs, CO: Tyndale House Publishers, 1995)
Turner, John G., Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008)
Boyer, Paul S., “The Evangelical Resurgence in 1970s American Protestantism,” in Schulman, Bruce J. and Zelizer, Julian E., eds., Rightward Bound: Making American Conservative in the 1970s (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 41
Stuart, Gary L., Miranda: The Story of America’s Right to Remain Silent (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2004)
Sandbrook, Dominc, Mad as Hell: The Crisis of the 1970s and the Rise of the Populist Right (New York: Anchor Books, 2011), 350–352
Frank, Thomas, What’s the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (New York: Owl Books, 2005)
Wilcox, Clyde, God’s Warriors: The Christian Right in Twentieth-Century America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992)
Swartz, David R., Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012)