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Southern Democrats are members of the U.S. Democratic Party who reside in the American South. In the early 1800s, they were the definitive pro-slavery wing of the party, opposed to both the anti-slavery Republicans (GOP) and the more liberal Northern Democrats. After losing control of their party and territory in the American Civil War, and during the Republican-led Reconstruction that followed, Southern Democrats regrouped into various vigilante organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White League.

Eventually "Redemption" was finalized in the Compromise of 1877 and the Redeemers gained control throughout the South. As the New Deal began to liberalize Democrats as a whole, Southern Democrats largely stayed as conservative as they had always been, with some even breaking off to form farther right-wing splinters like the Dixiecrats. After the Civil Rights Movement successfully challenged the Jim Crow laws and other forms of institutionalized racism, and after the Democrats as a whole came to symbolize the mainstream left of the United Statesmarker, the form, if not the content, of Southern Democratic politics began to change. At that point, most Southern Democrats defected to the Republican Party, and helped accelerate the latter's transformation into a more conservative organization.

After World War II, during the civil rights movement, Democrats in the South initially still voted loyally with their party. The signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, was the last straw for many Southern Democrats, who began voting against Democratic incumbents for GOP candidates. The Republicans carried many Southern states for the first time since before the Great Depression.

When Richard Nixon courted voters with his Southern Strategy, many Democrats became Republicans and the South became fertile ground for the GOP, which conversely was becoming more conservative as the Democrats were becoming more liberal. However, Democratic incumbents still held sway over voters in many states, especially those of the Deep South. In fact, until the 1980s, Democrats still had much control over Southern politics. It wasn't until the 1990s that Democratic control collapsed, starting with the elections of 1994, in which Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress, through the rest of the decade. Southern Democrats of today who vote the Democratic ticket are mostly urban liberals. Rural residents tend to vote the Republican ticket, although there are a sizable number of conservative Democrats.

A huge portion of Representatives, Senators, and voters who were referred to as Reagan Democrats in the 1980s were conservative Southern Democrats. An interesting exception to this trend is Arkansasmarker, where to this day all statewide elected officials are Democrats (Although the state has given its electoral votes to the GOP in the past three Presidential elections. In 1992 and 1996, "favorite son" Bill Clinton was the candidate and won each time).

The Democratic Party still has a strong presence in Louisianamarker also, though Republicans have made notable progress there in recent years, most notably with the election of Senator David Vitter in 2004. Another exception is North Carolinamarker. Despite the fact that the state has voted for Republicans in every presidential election from 1980 until 2004 (the state did however turn blue in 2008), the governorship, legislature, as well as most statewide offices remain in Democratic control, and with the election of Heath Shuler in 2006, the congressional delegation once again is majority Democratic.

Today, Southern Democrats are conservative Democrats who follow the principles of strong foreign policy, fiscal responsibility and support for legislating traditional values.

Early background

The Democrats have their beginnings in the South, going back to the founding of the Democratic-Republican Party in 1793 by Thomas Jefferson, a Virginianmarker. The party was formed from former Anti-Federalist elements opposed to Federalist policies. After being the dominant party in U.S. politics from 1800 to 1829, the Democratic-Republicans split into two factions by 1828: the federalist National Republicans, and the Democrats, who made appeals to traditional party principles.

However, by the 1850s, with the crumbling of the Whigs, infighting which was kept at bay for years burst out. Northern Democrats were in serious opposition to Southern Democrats on the issue of slavery; Northerners opposed it, and Southerners fiercely defended it. Meanwhile, remaining and former elements of the Whig party were bolting to the newly formed anti-slavery Republican Party, which was rapidly gaining influence. In the 1860 presidential election, the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln, but the divide among Democrats led to the nomination of two candidates: John C. Breckinridge of Kentuckymarker represented Southern Democrats, and Stephen A. Douglas of Illinoismarker represented Northern Democrats. This splitting of the Democratic vote led to the election of Lincoln and the demise of the Democrats' antebellum grip on national power.

American Civil War & post-Reconstruction

After the election of Abraham Lincoln, Southern Democrats led the charge to secede from the Union and form the Confederate States of America. The Congress was dominated by Republicans, save for Andrew Johnson of Tennesseemarker, the only senator from a state in rebellion to reject secession. The states of Missourimarker, Kentucky, and Delawaremarker, despite being Southern Democratic slave states, did not approve secession, and thus remained in the Union. The state of Marylandmarker, dominated by Southern Democrats, and days away from approving secession, was forced to remain in the Union, and so its delegation to Congress did not leave.

After secession, many Northern Democrats fled the party to join the Republicans. When the war was over, and the Confederacy destroyed, a deep resentment among white Southern citizens toward Republicans helped propel the Democratic Party to a majority in Congress by the 1870s and bring an end to Reconstruction. The Democrats were now the party of states rights, the party of the South, and would remain that way until the mid-1960s. Their dominance in Southern politics would give rise to the phrase "Solid South".

At the beginning of the 20th century the Democrats, led by the dominant Southern wing, had the majority in both houses of Congress. In 1912 incumbent Republican William Howard Taft was defeated in an electoral landslide, losing to Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat from New Jerseymarker (Though he was Southern and thus a parachute candidate). And from 1912 through 1918, the three branches of government were controlled by the Democratic Party. However when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, and with isolationism running high, the Republicans ran the 1918 elections on a platform of pacifism and rejection of the internationalist sentiment favored by Wilson. (See U.S. House election, 1918 and U.S. Senate election, 1918) The Democrats lost the Congress, and in 1920, Warren Harding was elected president in a landslide, which was widely viewed as a repudiation of Wilson's policies.

From 1918 until 1932, the Democrats were relegated to second place status in politics, controlling no branch of the government. However, with the Stock Market Crash of 1929, Republicans lost the Congress in 1930 and the White House in 1932 by huge margins. By this time, however, the Democratic Party leadership began to change its tone somewhat. With the Great Depression gripping the nation, and with the lives of most Americans disrupted, the assisting of African-Americans in American society was seen as necessary by the new government.

Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal program would unite the different party factions for over three decades, since Southerners, like Northern urban populations, were hit particularly hard and generally benefited from the massive governmental relief program. It was the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s that finally put an end to this coalition of interests.

Notable modern and former Southern Democrats



See also




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