Skip to comments.Southern Democrats: Gone with the Wind
Posted on 01/24/2012 12:55:09 PM PST by gabriellah
The story of the South is one for the ages. It is the story of elegance and tradition trampled upon by progress. It is the story of an agricultural economy uprooted by northern industrialism. It is the story of a cultural and political rollercoaster. For our purposes, I will focus on the latter the political evolution of the Southern electorate.
Southern culture, at its core, has always been ruled by conservative instincts. Historian Russell Kirk documents the height of the conservative intellectual experience in one chapter of The Conservative Mind. Kirk demonstrates the vibrant conservative attitudes held by southern culture through the dynamic personalities of John Randolph and John C. Calhoun the Virginian orator and the Carolinian prophet (pg. 159).
It was John Randolph who famously declared, I am an aristocrat: I love liberty, I hate equality at the 1829 Virginia Constitutional Convention (130). For this statement, Randolph can be considered a visionary. He foresaw, even in the days of the early republic, that people were too easily swayed into socialist schemes of social leveling. He believed that government was quickly becoming an instrument of the Left to manufacture economic and social equality at the expense of others political liberty.
For this reason, he was perhaps the fiercest opponent of positive law which he thought would lead to democratic despotism. Randolph opposed using government as a tool to create an impossible utopian society. In fact, Randolph believed that it would be perfectly fine if government went ten years without writing a new law (137). He espoused the idea that prescriptive right, common law, and custom should be enough to govern the daily affairs of men. Randolphs esteem for the individual, his philosophy of limited government, and his traditional values make him a hero to southern patriots.
Likewise, John C. Calhoun was a great conservative thinker. Calhouns area of expertise was defending states rights. And while Calhoun (and many other conservatives) errantly used this sound principle as justification for slavery, the concept itself is worthy of attention and should not be carelessly neglected. The fight for states rights went far beyond the issue of slavery and extended to the realm of economic oppression by northern industrialists. The Tariff of Abominations imposed by a northern majority in Congress in 1824 clearly sought to have the South subsidize northern industry. Calhoun and other southern conservatives could not stand for this. While he first dabbled in theories of nullification to circumvent the tariff (which he later renounced as unconstitutional nonsense), Calhoun later came to write A Disquisition on Government, a comprehensive political discourse on the nature of government in which he spends ample time defending the political rights of minorities. Calhouns contribution to conservative thought is incalculable, and his dedication to states rights endures to this day.
Yet, as the novel and the movie suggest, the Fall of the Old South and all its intellectual and cultural grandeur came in the blink of an eye Gone with the wind. Grant and Sherman ground their valor into powder, Emancipation and Reconstruction demolished the loose structure of their old society, economic subjugation crushed them into the productive machine of modern times. No political philosophy has had a briefer span of triumph than that accorded Randolphs and Calhouns, Kirk says (160).
Since the Civil War, the South has been struggling to redefine its identity. They never fully recovered economically and thus, they were sent on a philosophical wild goose chase. Poor farmers were caught up in populist waves of discontent dabbled with progressive notions of wealth redistribution in the late 1800s. This marks the beginning of the Souths allegiance with the modern Democratic Party. This political alliance was rapidly accelerated during the Depression under the administration of FDR who did more to buy the votes of the economically impoverished South than any other president in history.
This is the Democratic Party that my family remembers. The Party of FDR.
I am a proud southerner born and raised in the heart of middle Tennessee. My family traces its roots all the way back to the 1700s when Thomas Groves (b. 1754) landed on the shores of Old Virginia in the year 1773. For generations, members of my family have been loyal Democrats. My great-grandmother (still living at 93) grew up during the Great Depression. One of my now deceased great grandfathers worked for the TVA (a government program created by FDR). Both of them are life-long Democrats. The Democratic Party they knew was the party that helped the little guy (albeit through unconstitutional power grabs by the government).
So what changed? The parties or the people? The Democratic and Republican parties did not just miraculously switch as some historians have explained, nor did the people suddenly reject their principles. Rather, after a decade of 1960s radicals, who promoted the Cultural Revolution and after the failure of the Carter administration, the South was swept away in the 1980 Reagan Revolution. Yes, the Democratic Party changed, but so did southerners.
Now the conservative impulses endowed to us by our southern ancestors are beginning to resurface: an assertive individualism, economic independence, a love of local liberties, and affection for traditional values. The Old South will never rise again. However, as the South continues to reshape and redefine its identity, let us pray that we can resurrect the passions and intellectual fortitude of those conservative giants who went before us.
I disagree with the premise that the Confederate democrats were mostly conservatives. I believe they would be more correctly defined as libertarians. They were radical and extreme in their views on individual liberty to the point of having an outlaw mentality and a disregard for the law.
It also leaves out the fact that the South was also heavily into populism. In fact, the Conferderate democrat party of the South around the time of the Civil War was not that much different then the demcorat party today. Many anti-Wall Street, anti-banker populists like the Peoples party of the old South and then many radical libertarians as well. Both the democrats then and now only liked the Constitution when it suited them and worked to destroy it when it suited them as well.
After the merger between the democrat party progressives and the democrat party populists for the election of Woodrow Wilson the South celebrated. The terrorist wing of the democrats was revitalized and the march onwards attacking the Constitution and attacking the rule of law went forward.
And the democrat party of of the 1800s was much much different than the one we have today. The democrat party platform of 1856 said:
"That the Federal Government is one of limited power, derived solely from the Constitution; and the grants of power made therein ought to be strictly construed by all the departments and agents of the government; and that it is inexpedient and dangerous to exercise doubtful constitutional powers."
It then goes on to say that the federal government does not have the right to do this and that and etc. and also promises to uphold the principles laid down in the Kentucky and Virginia resolves.
On the other hand, the republican party, when it first came out, was the more progressive party and one of the first things they did upon gaining power was to try and raise taxes (whereas the democrat party was for lower taxes). I just have to groan most of the times that folks try to make comparisons between the parties as they are today and as they once were in the 1800s (such as making it seem that the republican party has always been strictly conservative and that the democrats have always been liberal). There is very little similarity.
In the late 1800's the 'Progressives' were Republicans. It was in the early 1900's that leftist California governor Hiram Johnson succeeded in turning this nations political process on its head - moving political power from the people into the hands of sitting government. Few today have the least knowledge of just how much 'the people' lost as the policies that Johnson initiated in California spread across this nation during the 'Progressive' era.
The Progressives were soundly thrown out of office nationally - and they migrated to the Democrat Party, where the majority have resided to this day. However, there are many conservatives that have remained in the party of the Donkey - hoping to take it back, or to restrain it.
The Democratic Party today, engages in the most vicious form of class warfare. They seek to redistribute the multi-generational, accumulated wealth of successful American families. In the old South, in total contrast, there was great respect for multi-generational achnievement; mutual respect between all levels of society, everyone from the greatest plantation owner down to the youngest field hand, so long as they behaved in a responsible manner. This is as close to an exact opposite to the demagoguery represented by Obama & others, as you will find.
There were many--not just in the South--who saw the pre-war Southern Culture as perhaps the last true civilization. The concept grew out of that mutual respect between diverse classes--the ability fight so well as they did, while outnumbered & without a serious fraction of the North's industrial capacity, reflected such moral strength.
Yes, most of them were libertarian in their philosophy, just as Washington, Jefferson, Madison, etc., were libertarian in their outlook. American Conservatism has very libertarian roots; while the South, culturally, has always been more tolerant of eccentricity, and hence more consistent with the general Libertarian Culture that emerged with the Revolution.
I call them a lot of things, but "moderate" is not one of them.
it astounds me how most of the so called republicans up in the north east call themselves republicans.
They are socially liberal and therefore not a republican nor a conservative , infact especially a conservative.
The fact that Romney is saying he is a conservative is a prime example
We in the South, and I live in Georgia, know exactly what Romney is. He is Obama light who wants to socialize our medical care with his Massachusetts special. If he increased the taxes there, he'll increase the taxes here. If he bowed to gay marriage there, he'll make it the law of the land here.
Obama is an Occupier (both begin with O) from the North (Chicago Style). Romney is a RINO (both begin with R), and is from the North (Massachusetts Style).
You can count on it.
couldn’t agree more. Romney can not get this nomination at all.
We only have to see what has happened up there to know that.
BTW I love your state
The switch began well before the 1960s. Specifically, it began when the Democratic Party's national convention in 1948 adopted an anti-segregation platform (proposed by then-Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey), which led to Strom Thurmond and many other southern Democrats bolting the party. Thurmond ran for President in 1948 as an independent, but later joined the Republican party.
Don't confuse Northeast RINO politicians with Northeast Republican/Conservative citizens. There are plenty of solid Pro Life conservatives in the Northeast. They just don't run for national office that often.
Interesting article about Newt and the GOP in GA. Compare this to Mitt who left the MA Republican Party in shambles when he left.
You said it. I am also an avid history buff and I totally agree.
What nonsense. An education into the political philosophy of Andrew Jackson, James Polk, or any number of southern Democrats of the 19th century would serve to correct your miseducation.
A good start would be for you to read Clyde Wilson’s essays in his From Union to Empire
We conservatives took back the South from the racist, black hating Democrats. They still can’t get over it.
"Throwing off the shackles of Reconvengence(reconstruction) one yoke at a time..." (my quote)
Witnessing my ancestral ascensions from Democrats to Not-Democrats in East Texas, i would agree with most of this article. Time frame also about right for my elders.
gabriellah: ; all
this got me to remembering some latent stuff (loose string thoughts).
1. Reconstruction vestiges still there (or recently)in the South. Texas first non-dem Governor since civil war was Bill Clements i think. Happened too in another southern state in 2008 i think.
2. There is some federal 5th circuit or SCOTUS law (against discrimination or something ) that applies only to southern states. Other FReepers may know which one.
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