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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Wednesday, March 03, 2004

The Yellow Dog Democrat - an evolving breed

On February 27, I recalled the era of the Solid South, and the comment [1] that
Mississippi (and one or two other states) would rather vote for a monkey than a Republican...

I had overlooked the story of the 1928 presidential election, when the solidity of the South was tested for the first time [2]. Al Smith was, notoriously, Catholic and Wet, where large parts of the South were Protestant and Dry.

Senator Tom Heflin (J Thomas Heflin) of Alabama chose to support Herbert Hoover [3]. Some of his constituents, sticking with Smith, said that they would vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket [4].

From that, I would assume that a yellow dog Democrat was a politician of the worst type elected for his regularity alone.

My impression is that, these days, it merely means a fervently loyal Democratic supporter. Mostly, the definition appears online on sites selling Yellow Dog Democrat buttons!

  1. To vouch for the authenticity of which, I relied on its ben trovato qualities. Rather than, y'know, any actual source.

  2. I don't think one could properly take the South as solidified until after the upheavals connected with Populism in 1890s. Not that there were many Republicans being elected to Congress in that decade. But Solid implies a degree of permanence that I'm not sure was attained by the South in the 1877-1900 period. The primary law in Mississippi, which put the Negro voting question to bed (for a while) was only passed in 1902, from memory. (And, as I mentioned before more than once, the grandfather clause case Guinn came as early as 1915. It's a strange kind of solidity.)

  3. There is not much on the incident online; not much on Heflin altogether, in fact.

  4. This account is Adapted from William Safire's Safire's New Political Dictionary.


Worthwhile URLs unearthed in the ploughing:

A Time piece of July 9 1928 on the Democratic Convention - which I'm pretty sure I've linked before, but is well worth doing so again. It mentions Heflin's Pope-baiting tirades and says sent his voting instructions to Alabama delegates (don't vote for Smith) by wire from a tour of speaking engagements with the Ku Klux Klan!

The Autobiography of James Still - Heflin was a neighbour. An AL history page; and an essay on the history of Alabama politics which says that Heflin's
contribution in four terms in the U.S. Senate was limited to introducing the resolution creating Mother's Day, railed against the dark conspiracy of Romanists and foreigners intent on sabotaging the country.

A report of an election meeting in Atlanta from the Constitution of September 27 1928, in which Franklin Roosevelt, then in his first campaign for Governor of New York, hacked away at Heflin. And a piece on the 1901 Alabama Constitution, in which Heflin had a part.

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