The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, December 22, 2003

A case study in hypocrisy on Jim Crow

A piece at Lean Left draws me back to Strom. Under the head
Why the Hypocrisy of Thurmond Supporters Matter
it proclaims that
Strom Thurmond was an evil man who did evil things, and excusing that evil as "complicated" perpetuates it.

The suggestion is, I think, that we tick the box and move on.

Because, the more one looks at the history of the politics of Jim Crow, the more shades of grey one has to recognise. Most especially, the responsibility of Northern politicians for the continuance of the odious system in general; and the enormous political benefits extracted from it by Northern Democrats in particular.

The system that was in place during the 1940s and 1950s was essentially that established after the failure of Radical Reconstruction and the 1877 settlement: the North had tried and failed to crush the Southern will on the race issue, and the opportunity to end the whole business came as a blessed relief to Northerners and Southerners alike.

As a result of history, the Solid South was born [1]: I'm not clear whether Congressional Northern Democrats ever thought of declining Southern colleagues' membership of the Congressional party, and the committee memberships and other privileges that followed. My guess is, No. (Having the Southern Democrats as a third party would have ensured national GOP rule indefinitely.)

Skipping ahead, a nice little illustration of the Northern Democracy in action - from Chapter 3 of Keith Finley's thesis, mentioned here several times before: the 1948 election brought the Democrats control of the Senate once more, with 54 seats to the GOP's 42. With this new mandate, an amendment to the cloture rule (Rule XXII) was to be tried (p19a):
On 17 February 1949, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration favorably reported S. Res. 15, a bipartisan resolution designed to close the loophole in Rule XXII that exempted procedural motions from cloture.

Assuming that, some way down the line, there would be a substantive vote on the resolution (in theory, they could look to bar the way with a filibuster on just the sort of procedural motion to which the rule change was meant to apply Rule 22!), the Southerners needed Northern support.

They argued (p21) that the real intention of the Democratic leadership was eventually to reduce the majority required under Rule 22 to a simple one; they had no concrete evidence of this - until Truman confirmed that it was his preference (p24); the filibuster that followed was, I think, on a motion to bring up SRes 15 - and therefore, supposedly, cloture-free.

Then Vice President Alben Barkley, in the chair, ruled that, after all, Rule 22 applied to motions (p25). The vote on approving his ruling was lost by 46 to 41:
Among those voting against the new interpretation was, of course, the entire southern delegation, minus Claude Pepper and Estes Kefauver. In addition, twenty-three Republicans joined forces with the southerners; only sixteen sided with the twenty-five Democrats in favor.

Now, supposing that all 96 members were available to vote (this was only March 11 1949), that makes nine who didn't: three Republicans and six Democrats - only five of the six voting for the ruling would have been needed to enable Barkley to have exercised his vote to carry the motion [2].

Unfortunately, Finley doesn't supply the roll call: the Confederate delegation was, of course, Solid, apart from Pepper and Kefauver - I'm not clear where the other three Dem votes against the ruling came from (the Union slave state delegations were Democratic, 6-2). Perhaps some of the non-voting Dems were paired. Were Pepper and Kefauver among the six Dem non-voters? If so, couldn't they have been persuaded to vote for the ruling on the as well to be hanged for a sheep as a lamb principle?

The suspicion is that Northern Dems weren't exactly pulling out all the stops to pass the ruling. (And was that Truman presser really a snafu?)

The context was that the Dems had, on the face of it, easily contained the Dixiecrat bolt, but the threat remained that, one day soon, action in the courts would force the Democratic Party to deal with the screaming contradictions within it.

(The experience of the Eisenhower years was a drift of the Negro vote to the Republicans (from a pretty low base) - for which Democratic antics in the Senate might well be thought in part responsible.)

Finley also, in Chapter 4, describes the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 - an initiative of the Eisenhower Administration steered through the Senate by Lyndon Johnson. The Hells Canyon Dam incident (p31ff) illustrates just what a frail thing Northern Dem commitment to civil rights really was: even the fact that the damned dam was never going to pass the House in a month of Sundays wasn't enough to dissuade the Hells Canyon boys from parting with their regulation thirty pieces on civil rights to secure a Senate victory on the dam that they could parade before their voters.

Was that evil of them? Or just a bit naughty? What would the sanctimonious finger-waggers of 2003 have had them do?

Franklin Roosevelt (to name but one) secured his electoral successes with the help of crooks - and he's a hero to millions - not to mention Conrad Black. Dem pols nationally acquiesced in the support of those, like Strom Thurmond, whose electoral crookedness was sanctioned by law.

If Strom is evil, then those Northern Dem pols were aiding and abetting. Or guilty in the second degree. They were all part of one, big, crooked machine - including the Southern one-party states, like South Carolina, and the Northern machine states [3].

They went along, took the Jim Crow votes (and the nigger-baiters - and the later, more subtle, practitioners of hate - who came with them) and had the best Dem years in national politics since the Civil War during Essie Mae Washington's first few decades.

Think of those adults who attended the lynching at Duck Hill, MS in April 1937: they were evil by any definition, surely. And the - perhaps 95% of - registered Mississippians who would have voted as jurymen for their acquittal in any trial for murder: they were, if not evil, then prepared to do evil at the drop of a hat. Should FDR have allowed his name on the 1940 Mississippi ballot only to be sullied by the marks of scum like this?

An absurd question, of course. But no more absurd than the infantile whining of those evidently wishing for a 20th century politics with the moral complexity of a Lone Ranger episode.

  1. Up to a point - it took the rest of the century to solidify, and even then, not every Southern voter voted a straight Democrat ticket (if that is one's definition of Solid) - not even in the Confederacy.

    For instance, the last Republican Governor of North Carolina before the 1970s was Daniel Lindsay Russell, who left office in 1901, for instance. There continued to be Republican-voting counties in the Confederacy; a piece on Southern politics on this interesting-looking New Deal site says

    Each state, of course, has a Republican Party, made up for the most part of former postmasters, their families, and such other patronage hunters as have faith in the return of national Republicanism. In the mountains of Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and Alabama, there are counties as strongly Republican as the rest of the state is Democratic. Their Republicanism is traditional, an expression of old anti-slavery and anti-rest-of-the-state feeling, but it is sliding away as new roads and federal relief come in. These small groups make no bid for statewide power. They hold their counties; the Democrats hold theirs. Between the two is often a disturbingly close cooperation. In Kentucky, the only state with an opposition party strong enough to win a statewide election, the governorship swung back and forth between the parties every four years from 1907 to 1935, as if by arrangement. All the Republican counties are ones with small Negro populations.
  2. I'm assuming he wouldn't be barred from so doing because it was his ruling that they were voting on!

  3. Were the Republicans any more moral? I doubt it - merely (in the period under consideration) less successful!


My October 3 piece, discussing the Finley thesis, amongst other things, picks up links to earlier pieces on Franklin Roosevelt's attitude to the antilynching legisation that was tried, and as often failed, during the 1930s.

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