The Republican Party of today draws the bulk of its electoral support from the old Confederacy and the Midwest. It is no secret how the South became Republican. For over 100 years the old Confederacy was a bulwark of the Democratic Party, but since the passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights bill, the South changed its political allegiance to the Republican Party. Is the South still a Republican stronghold and will it remain so? Why is the South the way it is and why is its influence still so strong today? These are questions that we will attempt to discuss and hopefully answer.
Then, Presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, made no secret of the fact that he intended on making the South, Republican. In his cynical effort, he was quite successful in using black and white issues to gain political support.
President Lyndon Johnson, a southerner himself, realized what the potential political impact of the passage of the civil rights legislation would be when he stated that it would be a generation before the Democratic Party had a chance of regaining support in the former Confederate states.
From the first settling of the southern colonies, the South was different from the North. There are several factors that contributed to what has made the South unique both culturally and politically. The South’s “peculiar institution,” slavery, set the tone for the future. Because of the institution of slavery the old south, the tidewater areas in particular, sought to protect the institution of slavery. Southerners believed that their region would be unified by homogeneity, by separating the races. In the long-term the separation of the races did not unite them but rather guaranteed a long-term division in southern society.
In the North, the countryside grew up around the cities. Cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia flourished from the early days of the colonies. But in the Southern Colonies, the reverse took place, the country grew up and developed long before any cities did. The South thereby lacked the influences of urbanity and commerce. Being so agrarian, and isolated increased their sense of self reliance and independence from the influences of government. In fact, New Orleans and Charleston were the only cities that developed in the 17th and 18th centuries in the South. It was only in the early years of the 19th century that cities started to develop in Virginia for example. In 1820, Richmond and Norfolk were just beginning to really grow.
If one lived on a plantation you lived a different kind of life where you pretty much either produced what you needed or your factor or agent exchanged your staple product that you produced, such as tobacco, cotton, sugar or rice, for goods such as furniture or books.
“The peculiar institution,” slavery, fostered feelings of alienation towards any outsider. For outsiders or immigrants, were not welcome. If people would have migrated to the South, they may have been more independent, and open-minded to the changing moral view of slavery and thereby become dangerous to the continuation of that peculiar institution.
Politically philosophies were developed to validate their beliefs. John C.Calhoun famously, developed the philosophy of State’s Rights,using the idea of nullification to promote the continuation of slavery. Sundays found the local preachers giving biblical reasons to justify slavery.
These deep-seated feelings of one race being superior to another have fostered and encouraged the problems that we have today. Economic concerns were key as well. King Cotton and other staples led many, firebrands to believe, in the 1850’s, that the only way for slavery to continue and thereby maintain the aristocracy that surrounded the culture of slavery, was to expand slavery into the Territories, and into Mexico and Cuba.
Another important historical fact is that people who live in the country need to be by necessity more self-reliant and thereby, believe that they have less of a need for government. They were suspicious of government intrusiveness and worried that a national government threatened their way of life.
The post Civil War period witnessed a horrific time when Reconstruction and Carpetbaggers increased the dislike of Southerners for people from the North.
20th Century America has seen a further erosion of faith in the federal government as the Supreme Court exerted it’s influence not only with Brown versus the Board of Education but with the school prayer issue in particular.
In Southern culture,Christianity has had a major influence, This is understandable in an agrarian society where success is often subject to the impact of the weather. It is a tough life, and God is seen as having a large influence in their daily lives. Prayer was heard everywhere from local football games to the locker room, from Church on Sunday to the local rotary club. Prayer was heard in many public settings. The argument that prayer was wrong lent itself to a further sense that the South’s way of life was being changed by outsiders with a total disregard for their feelings and rights.
Roe v. Wade further alienated the South from their government. Abortion became a hot topic and Southerners found in the Republican Party a home where they could vent their anger and frustrations about a government that they saw as intrusive into their way of life. All of these factors have contributed to the alienation that the South feels towards their federal government.
It would be helpful if those who do not live in the South attempt to put themselves in their shoes and at least try to understand where the older culture of the South is coming from. It would be wise to seek a greater understanding of their feelings and concerns so that we can find common ground.
What does the future hold for the South? It is my opinion that we are witnessing the last hurrah of old white man’s power. The growth of cities has come about in several key southern states. The Demographics are changing.
We can see the changes in states like Virginia, the father of Presidents, as the last two presidential election cycles have gone to the Democratic candidate. Northern Virginia has grown in population and influence as newcomers have flooded in from their jobs in Washington to live in Northern Virginia.
North Carolina is now the 10th largest state in the union in population. Education, technology and the banking industry is changing the face of North Carolina politics.
Georgia has seen dramatic demographic changes in the last ten years. The percentage of white voters has declined. Latino newcomers and the increasing numbers of Asians and African-Americans living in Georgia indicate that voting patterns are going to change soon.
Florida is another state that is changing and Texas from a demographic point of view will be, by 2020, a state more purple than red.
The sun belt is a place of great potential for new jobs and it attracts new people because of the opportunity of a better life. It is a place of great beauty and a place where life is more affordable.
We may be witnessing the final death throes of white power. At the moment that does not seem possible. We see attempts to maintain their power. We are seeing racism raise its ugly head and laws being passed to deny certain people the right to vote. This naturally comes from the fear of change. They believe that if they can reduce voter turnout they can stay in power longer.
Fear is the common thread. We have seen this before. The Turner rebellion, the raid of John Brown all brought forth a fear of change. Economic fear was used by some to foster the idea that the former slave might wind up in a better financial position than poor whites. This belief contributed to the rise of the KKK.
Now we see voter ID laws rise up like the former Jim Crow laws and literacy tests before. Fear of losing power and the fear of change are the driving forces behind the return of nullification as a political strategy.
South Carolina leads the way once again in an attempt to use the discredited idea of nullification. They have now re-packaged it and now call it, commandeering. South Carolina is attempting to nullify, the Affordable Care Act. Their idea which has not passed nor may it pass, is to commandeer the money that will arrive from the Federal Government intended for health care reform and to make sure that the proper authorities never see the money.
At this time we are witnessing a re-awakening of their belief in State’s Rights and new attempts to turn back the clock regarding women’s rights and denying the right to vote to the poor and to minorities. These are the last acts of desperation of a dying breed of whites who see their power disappearing.
The changing demographics will change the face of the South. Young people do not have the same feelings of racial hatred. Even attitudes are changing regarding marriage equality. The increasing influence of new people moving into the South is changing the face of the region. The power of the white vote is diminishing as the older white population is dying out and with it old ideas will die with them.
Change is inevitable! But for the moment we are seeing the vestiges of the attitudes of the past. The South is still red but increasingly purple and for the larger more populated states the likelihood of those states becoming blue is increasing by the year as the white part of the voting public is decreasing, while the voting blocs of those who aren’t white are increasing.
Let us hope that the obstructionism of the present and the inordinate power of the white South does not do any permanent damage to the quilt of many colors that is our country. As Lincoln once said ,” A House Divided against itself can not stand.” It is time to move on and leave the old South behind. The hope is that with time we will no longer be two nations, divided along historical grounds but that we will be open to change and the mutual recognition that each American deserves to have the same opportunities and rights.