States' Rights Party
The States' Rights Party, also known as the Dixiecrat Party, was a short-lived political entity founded by Democrats in the South as an alternative to the DEMOCRATIC PARTY and its 1948 presidential platform. In 2003, remarks expressing a nostalgic view of the States' Rights Party ignited a firestorm of controversy that led to the resignation of Republican TRENT LOTT as Senate majority leader.
The issue of states' rights has been paramount in southern politics and culture since the former British colonies evolved into the United States of America. Advocates of states' rights held that the states retained all the rights that had not been specifically delegated to the federal government. Any attempt by the federal government to exercise powers not specifically enunciated in the Constitution, was seen as an illegal usurpation of powers that rightfully belonged to the individual states. This view was one of the motivating factors of the Civil War and did not diminish with the defeat of the Confederate Army in 1865. In the period immediately after that war, the REPUBLICAN PARTY was seen as the party of ABRAHAM LINCOLN and the abolitionist forces that had not only vanquished the South but also had presided over the period known as Reconstruction. As a result, white southerners chose to join the Democratic Party and to elect only Democratic candidates to local and state office. So onesided was this electoral system that for a number of years, the former Confederate states were known as the "solid South".
In the decades that followed Reconstruction the Democratic Party experienced change and evolution regarding its official views on a number of issues including CIVIL RIGHTS and INTEGRATION. Southern Democrats had begun to feel extremely uncomfortable in the party that they viewed as having become far too liberal. In 1947 President HARRY S. TRUMAN gave a speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that called for the federal government to be the vigilant protector of the civil rights of all Americans. Truman repeated the phrase "all Americans" leaving no doubt that he meant African Americans should be among those who were guaranteed equality of opportunity. This speech was anathema to the southern Democrats who were staunch supporters of SEGREGATION and the preservation of "white power".
In 1948 the Republicans, for the second time, chose New York governor THOMAS E. DEWEY to be their presidential candidate. In July 1948 the Democrats held a convention in which they nominated Harry S. Truman, the former vice-president who had succeeded FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT when the latter died on April 12, 1945. The linchpin of the 1948 Democratic Party platform became its support for civil rights legislation. Many Democrats were wary of supporting the platform because they feared that the party would splinter over the opposing views of civil rights. The delegates from the southern states were vocal in their opposition, and other delegates began to waver. Then HUBERT H. HUMPHREY, the delegate from Minnesota and mayor of Minneapolis, gave a speech in which he urged his fellow delegates to "get out of the shadow of states' rights and walk forth-rightly into the bright sunshine of human rights!" Humphrey's passionate words were the catalyst for the majority of the Democratic Party delegates to vote for the platform planks that called for a federal anti-lynching law, the ABOLITION of POLL TAXES in federal elections, desegregation of the armed forces, and creation of a permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee that would prevent RACIAL DISCRIMINATION in federal jobs.
As many had feared, a majority of southern delegates, including all 22 members of the Mississippi delegation and 13 from Alabama, walked out of the convention and formed their own party—the States' Rights Democratic Party. The Dixiecrats, as they were also known, held a one-day convention on July 17, 1948, in Birmingham, Alabama, in which they nominated South Carolina governor STROM THURMOND for president and chose Mississippi governor Fielding L. Wright as their vice-presidential candidate.
The States' Rights Party sought to take votes from both the Democratic and Republican parties by emphasizing the sovereignty of the states and by denouncing Truman and the Democratic Party's proposed civil rights legislation as an immense threat to the states. In Alabama the Dixiecrats succeeded in preventing President Truman's name from being placed on the election ballot.
The Democratic Party was greatly weakened by the defection of the conservative Dixiecrats and also by the liberals who had left to join the PROGRESSIVE PARTY that nominated former vice president and secretary of agriculture Henry A. Wallace to be its presidential candidate. Nevertheless, President Harry S. Truman won reelection. Although Truman was reelected over Dewey by a very narrow margin, that vote resulted in the biggest upset in the history of United States presidential campaigns.
The States' Rights Party carried South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. Thurmond and Wright received approximately 1.2 million votes and 39 electoral votes. In 1954 Thurmond was elected as a Democratic senator. Thurmond joined with other conservative Democrats and used the filibuster and other political strategies to oppose civil rights legislation. Thurmond was reelected in 1956 and 1960. In 1964 Thurmond led a number of conservative southern national and state elected officials who switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party. Thurmond was reelected in 1966, 1972, 1978, 1984, 1990, and 1996. After being reelected in 1996 the 94-year-old Thurmond, announced that he would finish out his term but would no longer run for reelection.
Cohodas, Nadine. 1994. Strom Thurmond & the Politics of Southern Change. Atlanta: Mercer Univ. Press.
Frederickson, Kari. 2001. The Dixiecrat Revolt and the End of the Solid South, 1932–1968. Charlotte: Univ. of North Carolina Press.
Karabell, Zachary. 2000. The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election. New York: Random House.
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