Politics of the Southern United States

Politics of the Southern United States

right|thumb|Electoral_vote_of_the_Southern United States in the 2004 presidential election.]

Politics of the Southern United States (or Southern politics) refers to the political landscape of the Southern United States. Due to the region's unique cultural and historic heritage, the American South has been prominently involved in numerous political issues faced by the United States as a whole, including States' rights, slavery, the American Civil War, and the American Civil Rights Movement. Due to the South's conservative political leanings and political power, the South has seen the start of several political movements (such as George C. Wallace's American Independent Party) and the region plays a crucial role in Presidential politics (with the majority of the recent Presidents of the United States having come from the region).

Early political history

When America's first political parties developed in the late in the first term of Washington's presidency the North supported the Federalist believing in a more monarch based government while the South stood behind Jefferson and his interpretation of the 10th amendment. When the XYZ Affair took place resentment of the French quickly developed while the North wanted to resolve the situation diplomatically. This would be the start of a split between the South and the North.

Early in the 19th century, the South's economy became focused nearly exclusively on agriculture, which was largely supported by slavery. Due to the region's agricultural success, the South became integral to the political history of the United States, with many of the United States' early military and political leaders (including nine of its first twelve presidents) coming from the Southern United States.

However, by the middle of the 19th century sectional differences surrounding the issues of slavery, taxation, tariffs, and states' rights led to a strong secession movement. The political drive to secede from the United States hit its peak after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. The Southern states that seceded formed the Confederate States of America with Richmond as its capital.

During the four year Civil War which followed, the South found itself as the primary battleground, with almost all of the main battles taking place on Southern soil. The Confederates were eventually defeated by the Union.

After the Civil War, the South found itself devastated, both in terms of its population, infrastructure, and economy. The South also found itself under Reconstruction, with Union military troops in direct political control of the South. Many white Southerners who had actively supported the Confederacy found themselves without many of the basic rights of citizenship (such as the ability to vote) while, with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (which outlawed slavery), the 14th Amendment (which granted full U.S. citizenship to African Americans) and the 15th amendment (which extended the right to vote to black males), African Americans in the South began to enjoy more rights than they had ever had in the region.

By the 1890s, though, a political backlash against these rights developed in the South. Organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, a clandestine organization sworn to perpetuate white supremacy, used lynchings, cross burnings and other forms of violence and intimidation to keep African Americans from exercising their political rights, while the Jim Crow laws were created to legally do the same thing. It would not be until the late 1960s that these changes would be undone by the American Civil Rights Movement.

The Solid South

Solid South refers to the electoral support of the Southern United States for Democratic Party candidates for nearly a century after the Reconstruction era (1877-1964).

Except for 1928, when candidate Al Smith, a Catholic, ran on the Democratic ticket, Democratic candidates won by large margins in the South in every presidential election from 1876 until 1948 (even in 1928, the divided South provided Smith with nearly three-fourths of his electoral votes). Beginning about 1950, the national Democratic Party's support of the civil rights movement significantly reduced Southern support for the Democratic Party and allowed the Republican Party to make gains in the South by way of its "Southern strategy." Today, the South is considered a stronghold of the Republican Party.

Twentieth-century political movements

During the twentieth century, the South was home to numerous political movements, including the Dixiecrat movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and the "Republican Revolution" of 1994.

Dixiecrat movement

In 1948, a group of Democratic congressmen, led by Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, split from the Democrats in reaction to an anti-segregation speech given by Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, founding the States Rights Democratic or Dixiecrat Party. During that year's Presidential election, the party unsuccessfully ran Thurmond as its candidate.

The Civil Rights Movement

Between 1955 and 1968, a movement toward desegregation gained ground in the American South. While many individuals participated in the movement's early years, dating back to the turn of the century, the movement eventually came under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Protesters rallied against racial [http://support.2wire.com/segregation] laws, through such events as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Selma to Montgomery marches, and the Greensboro sit-in of 1960.

The movement's greatest success came when President Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, effectively ending segregation by the government. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. continued his political activism, opposing the Vietnam War and focusing his attention on nonviolence and poverty-related issues, but he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. A national holiday honoring King, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, was first observed in 1986, but due to resistance in some areas it was not officially observed in all 50 states until the year 2000.

Other prominent figures in the American Civil Rights movement included Rosa Parks, Julius Rosenwald, W.E.B. Dubois, Ralph Abernathy, and Malcolm X.

George Wallace and the Southern strategy

In 1968, Democratic Alabama Governor George C. Wallace ran for President on the American Independent Party ticket. Wallace ran a "law and order" campaign similar to that of Republican candidate, Richard Nixon. While Nixon won, Wallace won a number of Southern states. This inspired Nixon and other Republican leaders to create the Southern Strategy of winning Presidential elections. This strategy focused on securing the electoral votes of the U.S. Southern states by having candidates promote culturally conservative values, such as family issues, religion, and patriotism, which appealed strongly to Southern voters.

Jimmy Carter, the 1976 Presidential election, and the rise of the Religious Right

In the 1976 election, former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter won the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. Carter, a pro-life Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher and peanut farmer, became the only Democratic president to date to reverse the Southern Strategy, defeating George Wallace in the Democratic primary and carrying every Southern state in the general election, with the exceptions of Virginia and Oklahoma. Carter ran a culturally Southern, populist campaign, which saw the people of his hometown of Plains, Georgia holding fundraisers with "covered-dish" dinners and its residents traveling north to campaign by train on the "Peanut Express.""Plains to the White House," 1976.] Republican incumbent Gerald Ford had only narrowly defeated Ronald Reagan's conservative intra-party coup to secure his party's nomination, and, as a moderate Republican who generally kept his religious views to himself, was unable to endear himself to Bible Belt voters. Carter's victory was significant in that he was among the only U.S. Presidents to have claimed to be a born again Christian.

By 1980 Carter's approval ratings plummeted due a poor economy and the Iran hostage crisis. In addition, Carter had energized Southern evangelicals in his 1976 campaign, as perhaps the first "born again" president, but a backlash among some white conservative evangelicals led to the formation of the Religious right, which split the Southern evangelical vote and denied Carter a victory in many states. Ronald Reagan won the 1980 presidential election in a landslide; Carter retained majorities in Georgia, West Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, becoming the last Democratic candidate to perform better in the South than nationally.

Since leaving office in 1981, however, Carter has continued to have a significant influence among Southern evangelicals. He has continued the practice of evangelism, (his sister Ruth Carter Stapleton was an evangelist until her death in 1983) teaching Sunday school to the tourists who visit his hometown. He is also credited with using his national recognition to boost the success of the Christian non-profit ministry Habitat for Humanity, beyond its original sphere of influence in Sumter County, Georgia. Habitat for Humanity has housed 1,000,000 people to date, and continues to host the "Jimmy Carter work project" each year. Finally, Carter has written numerous books on the subject of religious faith.

For many years, Carter attempted to find a solution between moderate and conservative factions of the Southern Baptist Convention, but in 2000 he left to join the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Reasons cited for his decision included a 1998 ban on the ordination of women as ministers, and "the elimination of language in June that identifies Jesus Christ as "the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted" in the Baptist Faith and Message."Jimmy Carter Renounces Southern Baptist Convention," reprinted at Beliefnet.com]

The Contract with America

In 1994, Pennsylvania-born Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich ushered in a "Republican revolution" with his Contract with America. Gingrich, then the Minority Whip of the House, created the document to detail what the Republican Party would do if they won the that year's United States Congressional election. The contract detailed several proposed aspects of governmental reform. Nearly all of the Republican candidates in the election signed the contract, and for the first time in 40 years the Republicans took control of the Congress. Gingrich became Speaker of the House, serving in that position from 1995 to 1999.

Republicans maintained control of Congress from January 1995 until January 2007, with two exceptions. After the 2000 elections, a 50-50 split in the Senate temporarily resulted in a Senate presidency by Tennessee's Al Gore in January 2001. (In the event of a tie, party control is decided by the Vice-President's tie-breaking vote.) In May 2001, Republican senator James Jeffords left his party to become an independent, giving the Democrats a 50-49 majority in the Senate until early 2003. During this period, a number of current Congressional leaders were also from the South, including former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, former Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.

Twenty-first century

2006 elections and return to Democratic control

In the early 21st century, Republicans were able to maintain their hold on the federal government, as President George W. Bush was able to forge a powerful coalition of Southern states that had been out of reach of the Republican party in the last two Presidential contests. In particular, Bush's increased popularity following the September 11, 2001 attacks enabled him to aid in the defeat of most Southern Democratic Senators in 2002 and 2004. On November 7, 2006, however, the Democratic Party once again regained control of the House and Senate, as well as control of the Southern Governors' Association. The election was the first since the South was struck by Hurricane Katrina, and voters named "government corruption" and the state of the then-current war in Iraq as influences on their decisions. The election was the first since 1948 that Republicans did not win a single Democratic seat. (See United States House of Representatives elections, 2006.)

Prior to the election, two government scandals involving Congressional Republicans fueled a public backlash. The first was the Abramoff scandal, in which lobbyist Jack Abramoff and others presented bribes to legislators on behalf of Indian casino gambling interests. In the South, the scandal had the effect of ending Ralph Reed's political career, when he lost the primary election for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. The scandal also ended the career of House Majority Leader Tom Delay of Texas.

In 2005, a Texas grand jury indicted DeLay on criminal charges that he had conspired to violate campaign finance laws during that period. DeLay denied the charges, saying that they were politically motivated, but Republican Conference rules forced him to resign temporarily from his position as Majority Leader. In January 2006, under pressure from fellow Republicans, DeLay announced that he would not seek to return to the position. In the months before and after this decision, two of his former aides were convicted in the Jack Abramoff scandal. DeLay ran for re-election in 2006, and won the Republican primary election in March 2006, but, citing the possibility of losing the general election, he announced in April 2006 that he would withdraw from the race and resign his seat in Congress. He resigned on June 9, 2006, and sought to remove his name from the ballot. The court battle that followed forced him to remain on the ballot, despite having withdrawn from the race. Democrat Nick Lampson ultimately won DeLay's House seat in TX-22.

A second scandal, commonly known as the Mark Foley scandal, involved Florida Congressman Mark Foley's transmission of sexually explicit messages to underage Congressional pages. Foley resigned, but his name remained on the ballot, and Democrat Tim Mahoney won the general election.

The scandal led to Foley's resignation from Congress on September 29, 2006. It is believed to have contributed to the Republican Party's loss of control over Congress in the November 7, 2006 election, as well as the end of House Speaker Dennis Hastert's leadership of the House Republicans. Kirk Fordham, chief of staff to Rep. Tom Reynolds and former chief of staff for Foley, also resigned as a result of the scandal. (See Mark Foley scandal.


In the Senate, Democrats defeated six Republican incumbents in order to gain control of the Senate. The close contest that determined the final outcome of Senate control was Democrat Jim Webb's unlikely victory against incumbent Virginia Senator (and former Governor) George Allen. Allen 's poll numbers had plummeted after a video was released of Allen shouting at an Indian-American student, using what were interpreted as racially charged remarks. (See Macaca (slur).) In Missouri, Claire McCaskill defeated incumbent Senator Jim Talent.

House of Representatives

* In Georgia, Republicans concentrated on two districts as their best hopes of gaining Democratic seats, those of Jim Marshall and John Barrow. They were not successful in this regard, even though the seats were closely contested.

* In Texas, both the twenty-second and twenty-third districts switched to Democratic control.

* In Florida, both the sixteenth and twenty-second districts were lost to Democrats.

* In North Carolina's eleventh House district, Heath Shuler defeated incumbent Charles Taylor.

Changing Congressional leadership

While Republicans lost key Congressional leadership positions following the 2006 elections, new Democratic leaders emerged from below the Mason-Dixon Line.

United States House of Representatives

* Steny Hoyer of Maryland was elected as the new House Majority leader.

* Jim Clyburn of South Carolina became the third-ranking House Majority Whip, the first South Carolina native to hold the position, while South Carolinian John Spratt became chairman of the House Budget Committee.

* Ike Skelton of Missouri became the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

* Bennie Thompson of Mississippi became chairman of the United States House Committee on Homeland Security.

* Nick Rahall of West Virginia chaired the United States House Committee on Natural Resources.

* Bart Gordon of Tennessee led the United States House Committee on Science and Technology.

* The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence was chaired by Silvestre Reyes of Texas.

United States Senate

* Following his re-election in 2006, Robert Byrd of West Virginia became chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and President pro tempore of the United States Senate, placing him third in line in Presidential succession.

* John D. Rockefeller, also of West Virginia, chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Democratic Control of Governorships

In the 2006 gubernatorial elections, Mike Beebe of Arkansas regained the governorship previously held by Republican Mike Huckabee. In Maryland, Martin O'Malley defeated incumbent Republican governor Robert Erlich. In 2007, Kentucky Democrat Steve Beshear defeated incumbent Republican governor Ernie Fletcher. These victories gave the Democratic Party a decisive 10-8 majority in the Southern Governors' Association. Joe Manchin of West Virginia subsequently became chairman of the association, while Tim Kaine of Virginia became Vice-Chairman.

outhern Presidents

The South has long been a center of political power in the United States, especially in regard to Presidential elections. During the history of the United States, the South has supplied many of the 43 presidents. Virginia specifically was the birthplace of seven of the nation's first twelve presidents (including four of the first five).

Presidents from the South include:

*George Washington of Virginia (term 1789 - 1797).
*Thomas Jefferson of Virginia (term 1801 - 1809).
*James Madison of Virginia (term 1809 - 1817).
*James Monroe of Virginia (term 1817 - 1825).
*Andrew Jackson of Waxhaws (term (1829 - 1837).
*William Henry Harrison of Virginia (term 1841).
*John Tyler of Virginia (term 1841 - 1845).
*James Knox Polk of Tennessee (term (1845 - 1849).
*Zachary Taylor of Virginia (term 1849 - 1850).
*Andrew Johnson of North Carolina (term 1865 - 1869).
*Woodrow Wilson of Virginia (term 1913 - 1921). Note: While Wilson was from Virginia, he spent his adult and political life in New Jersey
*Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas (term 1963 - 1969).
*Jimmy Carter of Georgia (term 1977 - 1981).
*Bill Clinton of Arkansas (term 1993 - 2001).

This list encompasses members of the Whig Party, and the Democratic Party. To date, no President from the Republican Party has been "born and raised" in the Southern United States, although Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush have spent a great deal of time and/or built political bases in the region.

ee also

*Politics of the United States
*Blue Dog Democrats
*Boll weevil (politics)
*Conservative Democrat
*Southern Democrat
*George Wallace
*Southern United States
*Deep South
*History of the Southern United States
*History of the United States Republican Party
*History of the United States Democratic Party
*Southern Agrarians


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