REPUBLICAN PARTY POLITICS AND THE AMERICAN SOUTH, 1865-1968

 

This book project – co-authored with Jeffery A. Jenkins (UVa) and under contract at Cambridge University Press - examines the history of Republican Party politics and the American South between the end of Reconstruction and the implementation of the “Southern strategy” under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in the second half of the 20th century. Political scientists (as well as historians) have largely ignored the Republican Party’s activities in the South during this period. To some extent, this lack of attention is understandable: while the GOP dominated the South in the years immediately following the Civil War, it receded dramatically post-Reconstruction as the Democrats reasserted their control and the region became a de-facto single-party state. The disenfranchisement of African American voters – the traditional backbone of the Republican Party in the former Confederate states – and the successful labeling of the GOP as the “black” party (which alienated white voters) produced an electoral advantage for the Democrats that kept the Republicans from competing effectively in the South for nearly a century.

While the Republicans lacked the ability to actively challenge Democrats for elective office in the post-Reconstruction South, local GOP organizations remained active in each state. This was due largely to Southern Republicans maintaining their influence within the national party organization.  That is, despite the South’s declining electoral strength for the GOP after Reconstruction, each Southern state was consistently allotted seats at the Republican National Convention. And this representation was often considerable: throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Southern delegates represented at least 15 percent, and frequently 25 percent, of all delegates at Republican national conventions. In addition, competing groups (divided largely along racial lines) often battled for control of these local Southern GOP organization. The ongoing presence of a substantial number of Southern Republicans at national conventions, and the intense conflict over local party organizations in the South, presents a puzzle: why were Southern Republicans given considerable weight in deciding crucial party matters (including presidential and vice-presidential nominations, platforms, and the location of national conventions), even as the GOP was increasingly unlikely to win elections in the South? And why did local political actors compete so vigorously for control of a party that did not produce electoral success?

We will answer these questions by connecting the ‘demand’ and ‘supply’ sides in the relationship between national and local Southern Republican party leaders during this period. In previous work we have argued that, on the demand side, national Republican leaders (and, in particular, presidents and presidential hopefuls) relied on Southern party leaders for a secure base of support at national conventions. To ensure that Southern delegates voted the ‘right’ way, these national leaders made substantial investments in the South – both by supplying federal patronage to members of the local party organizations, as well as by paying bribes to local party leaders. In this book we expand on this argument by incorporating the supply side and analyzing local GOP organizations in the post-Reconstruction South. We will identify the types of activities these organizations engaged in, and their economic relations with the national party and federal government through patronage and direct side payments. We will explore in detail the racial conflict between Black-and-Tans (the heirs of the Reconstruction-era, mixed-race GOP) and Lily-Whites (those who believed that the GOP should be a white-only party), who competed for control of these local organizations.

In detailing the history of Republican Party activities in the South during this period, we will rely on a variety of data and evidentiary sources. Most importantly, we will compile a new data set with demographic information on all Southern delegates to Republican National Conventions between 1868 and 1968. By connecting the information provided in the convention proceedings on each delegate (name, hometown) to census forms, we will be able to provide data showing the racial division of Southern state delegations for each election year, and its development over time. We will also be able to identify which of the competing coalitions in each Southern state succeeded in getting seated at the conventions, and how these power struggles played out over time. We will match this demographic data to existing data sets on federal appointments, thus allowing us to identify when and how these appointments were used to connect the national Republican Party with local Southern party organizations. Additionally, we will connect the votes of state delegations and local party leaders at national conventions to the source of received patronage. Combined, these different sources of data will provide us with a new level of insight into what Southern GOP organizations looked like on a state-by-state basis, how they changed over time, and how national party leaders used their access to federal patronage to ensure the loyalty of the South.

A full description of this project - including a list of chapters - can be found here.