POWER OF THE DIXIECRATS

 

SUMMARY of “The Dixiecrats and Changing Southern Power: From Bourbon to bourbon,” by Thomas Hayden. Copies of the entire paper can be obtained from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, 6 Raymond Street, N.W., Atlanta 14, Georgia.

 

1. History. When Franklin Roosevelt attempted to strengthen the liberalism of the party and its policies, he met the organized opposition of conservative Southern Democrats and Northern Republicans in Congress. They stymied much of his program, and strengthened their power during the Second World War. Conflict broke out in the Democratic Party after the war over the issue of civil rights. The Southern delegations even walked out of the 1948 convention to create a States Rights Party in protest against the strong civil rights platform of the national party. After the elections, however, the Northern and Southern wings of the party re-united against the possibility of Republican control of Congress. When this actually occurred in 1951, the Northern and Southern Democrats remained in the same party. After the Democrats regained numerical control of the Congress in 1954, the coalition of Dixiecrats regained numerical control of the Congress in 1954, the coalition of Dixiecrats and Republicans took firm grip of the committee power structure.

 

2. Dixiecrat ideology. Speaking broadly, the Dixiecrats represent economic-political-social conservatism—although it is dominated by expediency whenever their power is threatened. Since 1960, voting records indicate their general opposition to civil rights, foreign aid, extensions of unemployment compensation, aid for depressed areas, medical care for the aged, tax cuts favoring the underprivileged classes, a minimum wage, federal aid to education and public housing. In addition to these formal differences with the liberal wing of the Democratic and Republican parties, the Dixiecrats often are vociferously belligerent in their attacks on integrationists and other liberals.

 

3. The Base of Power. The Dixiecrats maintain their strength through (a) their one-party Southern districts which allow safe political futures, (b) their ideological consensus, the defense of the “Southern Way of Life,” which pressures them to unite against opponents, (c) their ideological convergence with conservative Republicans from safe Northern districts, and their “don’t rock the boat” agreements with some 60 Northern Democrats, (d) the congressional system, especially the principles of seniority and of filibuster, which permit them increasing powers over the conduct of the Congress.

 

4. Kennedy and the South. Even though he was dependent on the Northern Negro vote for election in 1960, Kennedy made many agreements with Southerners—among them an apparent pledge not to push civil rights legislation in the Congress during the first session. Since that time, the President’s behavior has been schizophrenic—kind words without much action in behalf of civil rights forces, unkind words with considerable action in behalf of Southerners. Even though yielding to Southerners on the issue of civil rights, the President has not received much support from them in return—with the ambiguous exception of trade and taxation bills. In addition, the President has deliberately worked against liberal efforts to change Senate and House rules, although he has supported minimal reform of the House Rules Committee. In the first three years the conservative coalition has effectively thwarted the programs of civil rights advocates and other liberals. However, Kennedy’s recent civil rights message is his strongest thus far, and suggests that he is working to reconstruct Congress slightly, to shift it towards greater appreciation of his program.

 

5. The Changing Guard. The conservative coalition rests today on a precarious set of arrangements, and it is probable that they will decline from power in the near future. The signs of this are several: (a) the Administration seriously wants to end legal segregation because of its devastating effect on foreign policy, (b) electoral trends show the continued election of liberals from both parties to the House and Senate since 1958. Since 1958 the conservative coalition has lost control of five key committees and, although they still control four of the most important, liberals are within striking distance of capturing the committee system, (c) the age and thinning seniority credits of the Southerners point also to their demise in the near future, (d) the political insurgency of the civil rights movement is creating demands that politicians North and South must satisfy at least partially, (e) many Dixiecrats already are “reforming” on the civil rights question in order to keep power in the changing scene. The probable result is the integration of the Administration-liberal wing of the Democratic Party with a moderate Southern wing. This will open new possibilities for liberals, labor, and civil rights groupings but it is not a change which calls for simple celebration. It could drain the soul of protest while not overcoming the entrenched forces, North and South, that preserve and expand social discrimination. “I know the North with its white snarling suburbia, its impossibly complicated barriers ,its millions of untouched insulated consciences. I see the South, in the next few years, becoming part of a nation that cares largely for its image and its domestic political peace—while millions upon millions live hideously deprived n the city ghettos, unable to muster quite enough political force to overcome their conditions. In this situation the Southern politician, shifting from Bourbon to bourbon, will become as urbanely hypocritical as the liberal establishment of New York.”

 

 

 

 

The document is from:

SNCC, The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Papers, 1959-1972 (Sanford, NC: Microfilming Corporation of America, 1982) Reel 38, File 120, Page 0480.

The original papers are at the King Library and Archives, The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Atlanta, GA