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The Solid South or Southern bloc was the electoral voting bloc of the Southern United States states for issues that were regarded as particularly important to the interests of the Southern states. The Southern bloc existed especially between 1877 (the end of Reconstruction) and 1964 (the year of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). During this period, the Democratic Party controlled state legislatures and most local and state officeholders in the South were Democrats, as were federal politicians from these states. The control of the Southern Democrats after disenfranchisement of blacks at the turn of the century meant that a candidate's victory in Democratic primary elections was tantamount to election to the office itself. Though regarded by most as an example of racial segregation, white primaries further entrenched white Democratic party control of the political process in the South.
The "Solid South" is a loose term referring to the states that made up the voting bloc at any point in time. The Southern region as defined by U.S. Census comprises 16 states plus Washington D.C. -Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. This definition does not necessarily correspond to the states in the definition of the Solid South. Maryland was occasionally considered part of the Solid South and Missouri is classified as a Midwestern state by the U.S. Census.
At the start of the American Civil War, there were 34 states in the United States, 15 of which were slave states. 11 of these slave states seceded from the United States to form the Confederacy — South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The slave states that stayed in the Union were Maryland, Missouri, Delaware, and Kentucky, and were referred to as the border states. In 1861, West Virginia was created out of Virginia, and admitted in 1863 and considered a border state. By the time the Emancipation Proclamation was made in 1863 Tennessee was already in Union control. Accordingly the Proclamation applied only to the 10 remaining Confederate states. Several of the border states abolished slavery before the end of the Civil War — the District of Columbia in 1862, Maryland in 1864, Missouri in 1865, one of the Confederate states, Tennessee in 1865, and West Virginia in 1865. However, slavery persisted in Delaware, Kentucky, and 10 of the 11 of the former Confederate states, until the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery throughout the United States on December 18, 1865.
Abolition of slavery was a condition of the return of local rule in those states that had declared their secession. The Reconstruction era came to an end in 1877. Oklahoma was not a state during Reconstruction, being admitted as a state only in 1908. Since that time, its voting pattern has been similar to that of other Southern states, so it may be considered part of the Solid South.
West Virginia which had been allied with the Confederacy was temporarily disfranchised after the Civil War during Reconstruction. Republicans controlled the state until 1872, when the ex-Confederate proscription was lifted. The Democrats held the state for a generation and wrote a new constitution that disfranchised blacks. By the 1930s, West Virginia was completely identified with the South, and it benefited from programs of the Democratic Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. The state's white voters shifted to the Republican Party only after the increase in Democratic activism of the civil rights era in the 1950s and 1960s, and the national legislation to achieve civil rights.
The Democratic dominance of the South originated in white Democrats' efforts to regain and maintain power during and after Reconstruction in order to re-establish white supremacy. Most white Southerners opposed granting suffrage to blacks. The Ku Klux Klan, as well as other insurgent paramilitary groups such as the White League and Red Shirts from 1874, acted as "the military arm of the Democratic party" to disrupt Republican organizing, and intimidate and suppress black voting. Elections from 1868 were accompanied by increasing levels of violence, in which sometimes hundreds of blacks were killed.
Even after white Democrats regained control of state legislatures, in the 1880s and 1890s, blacks were elected to many local and state offices across the South. In addition, Black Congressmen were elected from the South as late as the 1890s with the coalition of Republicans and Populists. In the 1890s, there was biracial support for William Jennings Bryan's western populist movement and Republicans. The Populists drew off some of the Democratic Party, with competition between the old guard Bourbon Democrats and the Progressives. The split enabled William McKinley to win Kentucky by 277 votes out of 445,928 votes cast. Maryland went for William McKinley by a margin of 32,809 votes out of 250,249 votes cast. At the state level, Democrats also lost some Congressional seats.
To prevent such a coalition in the future and to end the violence associated with suppressing the black vote during elections, southern Democrats acted to disfranchise both blacks and poor whites, especially in states such as Alabama. From 1890 to 1910, beginning with Mississippi, southern state adopted new constitutions and other laws that used various devices to restrict voter registration, resulting in virtually total disfranchisement of most black and many poor white voters. While their voter registration requirements applied to all citizens, in practice they disfranchised most blacks and also "would remove [from voter registration rolls] the less educated, less organized, more impoverished whites as well - and that would ensure one-party Democratic rules through most of the 20th century in the South." All the southern states adopted provisions that restricted voter registration and suffrage, including new requirements for poll taxes, longer residency, and subjective literacy tests. Some also used the device of grandfather clauses, saying only voters could register who had a grandfather voting by a particular year (usually before the Civil War, when blacks could not vote.)
White Democrats also opposed Republican economic policies such as the high tariff and the support for continuing the gold standard, both of which were seen as benefiting Northern industrial interests at the expense of the agrarian South in the 19th century. But refusing to share political power was at the heart of their resistance.
To end election violence and prevent other kinds of biracial alliances, as took place with Populists, from 1890 to 1910 white Democrats passed new constitutions, amendments and other laws to disfranchise the blacks and, in many cases, thousands of poor whites, across the South, excluding them from politics and representation. The Democratic Party's representatives also passed laws to establish Jim Crow and white supremacy through racial segregation.
Democratic candidates won by large margins in the Southern states in every presidential election from the election of 1876 to 1948 except for 1928, when candidate Al Smith, a Catholic and a New Yorker, ran on the Democratic ticket; and even in that election, the divided South provided Smith with nearly three-fourths of his electoral votes. Scholar Richard Valelly credits Woodrow Wilson's election to the disfranchisement of blacks in the South, as well as far-reaching effects in Congress, where the Democratic South gained "about 25 extra seats in Congress for each decade between 1903 and 1953." Congressional apportionment was never changed, although the Southern Democrats disenfranchised large portions of their populations. No blacks were elected to any office in the South for decades after the turn of the century; and they were also excluded from juries and other participation in civil life.
Lynchings, Jim Crow and disfranchisement of black voters contributed to African Americans leaving the Southern states, with a total of 6.5 million leaving between 1910 and 1970 in the Great Migration, seeking jobs and better opportunities elsewhere, and altering the demographics of states they left and cities they entered.
Beginning in the 1960s, Southern support for the Democratic Party started to decline after its national leaders supported the civil rights movement, including school integration. The Republican Party began to make gains in the South, building on other cultural conflicts as well. In the presidential election of 1968, President Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" is credited with allowing either the Republicans or Southern Democrat George Wallace's independent campaign to keep much of the South out of the Democratic hands at the presidential level.
The South continued to send an overwhelming number of Democratic members to Congress until the Republican Revolution at the 1994 elections. Today, the South is considered a Republican stronghold at the state and federal levels, with Republicans holding majorities in every state except Arkansas and Kentucky after the 2010 elections. Political experts have often cited a southernization of politics following the fall of the Solid South.
By the 1916 election, disfranchisement of blacks and many poor whites was complete, and voter rolls had dropped dramatically in the South. Closing out Republican supporters gave a bump to southerner Woodrow Wilson, who took all the electors across the South, as the Republican Party was stifled without support by African Americans.
The 1920 election was a referendum on President Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations. Pro-isolation sentiment in the South benefited Republican Warren G. Harding who won Tennessee and Missouri. In 1924, Coolidge won Kentucky and Missouri. In 1928, Hoover, perhaps benefiting from bias against his Roman Catholic Anti-Prohibition opponent Al Smith, won not only Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee, but also Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. Maryland changed to the Republicans in the 1920s and would not vote Democratic again until Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1932 Presidential landslide over Republican President Herbert Hoover.
The South appeared "solid" again during the period of Franklin D. Roosevelt's political dominance, as his welfare programs and military buildup invested considerable money in the South, benefiting many of its citizens, including during the Dust Bowl.
Democratic President Harry S. Truman's support of the civil rights movement, combined with the adoption of a civil rights plank in the 1948 Democratic platform, prompted many Southerners to walk out of the Democratic National Convention and form the Dixiecrat Party. This splinter party played a significant role in the 1948 election; the Dixiecrat candidate, Strom Thurmond, carried Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. In the elections of 1952 and 1956, the popular Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of the Allied armed forces during World War II, carried several southern states, with especially strong showings in the new suburbs. In 1956, Eisenhower also carried Louisiana, becoming the first Republican to win the state since Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876. The rest of the Deep South voted for his Democratic opponent, Adlai Stevenson. The 1948 election also marked Maryland's permanent defection from the Solid South as the expansion of the federal government led to a population explosion in the state that changed Maryland politically into a Northeastern State.
In the 1960 election, the Democratic nominee, John F. Kennedy, continued his party's tradition of selecting a Southerner as the vice presidential candidate (in this case, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas). Kennedy and Johnson, however, both supported civil rights. In October 1960, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested at a peaceful sit-in in Atlanta, Georgia, Kennedy placed a sympathetic phone call to King's wife, Coretta Scott King, and Robert Kennedy helped secure King's release. King expressed his appreciation for these calls. Although King made no endorsement, his father, who had previously endorsed Republican Richard Nixon, switched his support to Kennedy.
Because of these and other events, the Democrats lost ground with white voters in the South, as those same voters increasingly lost control over what was once a whites-only Democratic Party in much of the South. The 1960 election was the first in which a Republican presidential candidate received electoral votes in the South while losing nationally. Nixon carried Virginia, Tennessee, and Florida. Though Kennedy also won Alabama and Mississippi. Slates of unpledged electors, representing Democratic segregationists, would award the states' electoral votes to Harry Byrd.
The parties' positions on civil rights continued to evolve in the run up to the 1964 election. The Democratic candidate, Johnson, who had become president after Kennedy's assassination, spared no effort to win passage of a strong Civil Rights Act of 1964. After signing the landmark legislation, Johnson said to his aide, Bill Moyers: "I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come." In contrast, Johnson's Republican opponent, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, voted against the Civil Rights Act, believing it enhanced the federal government and infringed on the private property rights of businessmen. Goldwater did support civil rights in general and universal suffrage, and voted for the 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights Acts as well as the 24th Amendment, which banned poll taxes as a requirement for voting. This was one of the devices that states used to disfranchise minorities and the poor. He was a member of the NAACP.
That November, Johnson won a landslide electoral victory, and the Republicans suffered significant losses in Congress. Goldwater, however, besides carrying his home state of Arizona, carried the Deep South: voters in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina had switched parties for the first time since Reconstruction. Goldwater notably won only in Southern states that had voted against Republican Richard Nixon in 1960, while not winning a single state that Nixon had carried. This was a complete inversion of the electoral pattern of the previous presidential election. Prior to the 1956 election, the region had almost always provided the only victories for Democratic challengers to popular Republican incumbent presidents. Now, however, the South had provided a Republican challenger with electoral victories against a popular Democratic incumbent.
"Southern strategy": end of Solid South
In the 1968 election, the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, saw this trend and capitalized on it with his "Southern strategy." His strategy was designed to appeal to white Southerners who were more conservative than the leaders of the national Democratic Party. As a result of the strategy and conservative Southerners reactions against Democratic leaders, Hubert Humphrey was almost shut out in the South, carrying only Texas, with the rest of the South being divided between Nixon and the American Independent Party candidate George C. Wallace, the governor of Alabama, who had gained fame for opposing integration. Nationwide, Nixon won a decisive electoral college victory, although he received only a plurality of the popular vote. Nixon won the 1972 election in a landslide.
At the 1976 election, Jimmy Carter, a Southern governor, gave Democrats a short-lived comeback in the South (winning every state in the old Confederacy except for Virginia, which was narrowly lost). But, in his unsuccessful 1980 re-election bid, the only Southern states he won were his native state of Georgia and West Virginia. The year 1976 was the last year a Democratic presidential candidate won a majority of Southern electoral votes. The Republicans took all the region's electoral votes in the 1984 election and every state except West Virginia in 1988.
In the 1992 election and 1996, when the Democratic ticket consisted of two Southerners, (Bill Clinton and Al Gore), the Democrats and Republicans split the region. In both elections, Clinton won Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia, while the Republican won Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. Bill Clinton won Georgia in 1992, but lost it in 1996 to Bob Dole. Conversely, Clinton lost Florida in 1992 to George Bush, but won it in 1996.
In 2000, however, Gore received no electoral votes from the South, even from his home state of Tennessee. The popular vote in Florida was extraordinarily close in awarding the state's electoral votes to George W. Bush. This pattern continued in the 2004 election; the Democratic ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards received no electoral votes from the South, even though Edwards was from North Carolina, and was born in South Carolina. However, in the 2008 election, Barack Obama won the former Republican strongholds of Virginia and North Carolina as well as Florida; Obama won Virginia and Florida again in 2012 and lost North Carolina by only 2.04%.
While the South was shifting from the Democrats to the Republicans, the Northeastern United States went the other way. The Northeastern United States is defined by the US Census Bureau as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and the New England States although politically the Northeast also includes Maryland and Delaware. Well into the 1980s, the Northeast was a bastion of the Republican Party. The Democratic Party made steady gains there, however, and in 1992, 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012 all eleven Northeastern states, from Maryland to Maine, voted for the Democrats. The same trend can be observed on the West Coast and Upper Midwest (excluding The Dakotas and including Illinois and Iowa) of the nation, as they shifted from solidly Republican and swing-states, respectively, to a change in political party strength.
"Southern strategy" today
Although Republicans gradually began doing better in presidential elections in the South starting in 1952, Republicans did not finish taking over Southern politics at the non presidential level until the elections of November 2010. Today, the South is dominated by Republicans at both the state and presidential level. Democrats and Republicans split the Virginia General Assembly, and Republicans control all 21 of the other legislative bodies in the former Confederacy. John Barrow of Georgia is the only white Democratic congressman from the Deep South. Until November 2010, Democrats had a majority in the Alabama, North Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana legislatures, a near majority of the Tennessee House of Representatives and a majority of the US House delegation from North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi and Tennessee, as well as a near-even split of the Georgia and Alabama US House delegations. During the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans swept the South, successfully reelecting every Senate incumbent and electing freshmen Marco Rubio in Florida and Rand Paul in Kentucky. In the House, Republicans reelected every incumbent except for Joseph Cao of New Orleans and defeated several Democratic incumbents. Republicans are now the majority in the congressional delegations of every Southern state. Every Solid South state, with the exception of Arkansas and Kentucky, elected or reelected Republicans governors. Most significantly, Republicans took control of both houses of the Alabama and North Carolina state legislatures for the first time since Reconstruction. Even in Arkansas, the GOP won three of six statewide down-ballot positions for which they had often not fielded candidates until recently; they also went from eight to 15 out of 35 seats in the state senate and from 28 to 45 out of 100 in the state house of representatives. In 2012, the Republicans finally took control of the Arkansas state legislature, leaving West Virginia as the last Solid South state with the Democrats still in control of the state legislature. In 2014, both houses of the West Virginia legislature were finally taken by the GOP. Many analysts believe the so-called "Southern Strategy," that has been employed by Republicans since the 1960s is now complete, with Republicans in firm, almost total, control of political offices in the South. However, recent changes in demographics may cause the "Solid South" to break apart again; for example, the defense industry in Virginia has caused the state to flip from Republican to Democratic in the last two presidential elections, while North Carolina was extremely close between both parties in both the 2008 and 2012 elections.
South in Presidential elections
While Republicans occasionally won southern states in elections in which they won the presidency in the Solid South, it was not until 1960 that a Republican carried one of these states while losing the national election.
|Democratic Party nominee|
|Republican Party nominee|
|Third-party nominee or write-in candidate|
Bold denotes candidates elected as president
South in gubernatorial elections
Officials who acted as governor for less than ninety days are excluded from this chart. This chart is intended to be a visual exposition of party strength in the solid south and the dates listed are not exactly precise. Governors not elected in their own right are listed in italics.
- "Archives of Maryland Historical List: Constitutional Convention, 1864". November 1, 1864. Retrieved 2012-11-18.
- "Missouri abolishes slavery". January 11, 1865. Retrieved 2012-11-18.
- "Tennessee State Convention: Slavery Declared Forever Abolished". NY Times. January 14, 1865. Retrieved 2012-11-18.
- "On this day: 1865-FEB-03". Retrieved 2012-11-18.
- "Slavery in Delaware". Retrieved 2012-11-18.
- Lowell Hayes Harrison and James C. Klotter (1997). A new history of Kentucky. p. 180. In 1866, Kentucky refused to ratify the 13th Amendment. It did ratify it in 1976.
- Herbert, Hilary, Why the Solid South?, R.H. Woodward & Co., Baltimore, 1890, pp. 258-284.
- George C. Rable, But There Was No Peace: The Role of Violence in the Politics of Reconstruction, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984, p. 132
- Richard H. Pildes, "Democracy, Anti-Democracy, and the Canon", Constitutional Commentary, Vol.17, 2000, p.10, Accessed 10 Mar 2008
- Glenn Feldman, The Disenfranchisement Myth: Poor Whites and Suffrage Restriction in Alabama, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004, pp. 135–136
- Michael Perman.Struggle for Mastery: Disenfranchisement (sic) in the South, 1888-1908. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001, Introduction
- Richard M. Valelly, The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement University of Chicago Press, 2009, pp. 146-147
- Connie Rice: Top 10 Election Myths to Get Rid Of : NPR The situation in Louisiana was an example--see John N. Pharr, Regular Democratic Organization#Reconstruction & aftermath, and the note to Murphy J. Foster (who served as governor of Louisiana from 1892 to 1900).
- Too Close to Call: Presidential Electors and Elections in Maryland, featuring the Presidential Election of 1904. Archives of Maryland Documents for the Classroom.
- Second Thoughts: Reflections on the Great Society New Perspectives Quarterly, Winter 1987
- Electoral votes awarded by the Electoral Commission
- Oklahoma was not a state until 1907 and did not vote in presidential elections until 1908
- Five of Alabama's electoral votes went to John F. Kennedy.
- One North Carolina Republican elector switched his vote to Wallace.
- Since both the Governor and Lieutenant Governor had been impeached, the former resigning and the latter being removed from office, Stone, as president of the Senate, was next in line for the governorship. Filled unexpired term and was later elected in his own right.
- As lieutenant governor, filled unexpired term.
- Died in office.
- Resigned upon appointment as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury.
- Did not run for re-election in 1888, but due to the election's being disputed, remained in office until February 6, 1890.
- Elected in 1888 for a term beginning in 1891, an election dispute prevented Fleming from taking office until February 6, 1890
- William S. Taylor (R) was sworn in and assumed office, but the state legislature challenged the validity of his election, claiming ballot fraud. William Goebel (D), his challenger in the election, was shot on January 30, 1900. The next day, the legislature named Goebel governor. However, Goebel died from his wounds three days later.
- As lieutenant governor, acted as governor for unexpired term and was subsequently elected in his own right.
- As President of the state Senate, filled unexpired term and was subsequently elected in his own right.
- Gubernatorial terms were increased from two to four years during Jelks' governorship; his first term was filling out Samford's two-year term, and he was elected in 1902 for a four-year term.
- Resigned to take an elected seat in the United States Senate. Mar. 21, 1905
- As Speaker of the Senate, ascended to the governorship.
- The elected governor, Hoke Smith resigned to take his elected seat in the United States Senate. John M. Slaton, president of the senate, served as acting governor until Joseph M. Brown was elected governor in a special election.
- The elected Governor,Joseph Taylor Robinson, resigned on March 8, 1913 to take an elected seat in the United States Senate. President of the state Senate William Kavanaugh Oldham acted as governor for six days before a new Senate President was elected. Junius Marion Futrell, as the new president of the senate, acted as governor until a special election.
- Elected in a special election.
- Resigned on the initiation of impeachment proceedings. Aug. 25, 1917.
- Resigned to take an elected seat in the United States Senate.
- Impeached and removed from office. Nov. 19, 1923
- Died in his third term of office. Oct. 2, 1927.
- Resigned to be a judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.
- Impeached and removed from office. Mar. 21, 1929
- As Speaker of the Senate, ascended to the governorship. Subsequently elected for two full terms.
- Paul N. Cyr was lieutenant governor under Huey Long and stated that he would succeed Long when Long left for the Senate, but Long demanded Cyr forfeit his office. King, as president of the state Senate, was elevated to lieutenant governor and later governor.
- Resigned to take an appointed seat in the United States Senate.
- Resigned upon victory in the Democratic primary for the United States Senate. Aug. 4, 1941.
- Died in office. Jul. 11, 1949
- As President of the state Senate, filled unexpired term.
- Resigned upon election to the Presidency of the United States.
- Removed from office upon being convicted of illegally using campaign and inaugural funds to pay personal debts; he was later pardoned by the state parole board based on innocence.
- Was elected as a Democrat in 1987 but switched parties to Republican in 1991.
- Resigned after being convicted of mail fraud in the Whitewater scandal.
- Resigned upon election to the Presidency of the United States. Dec. 21, 2000
- Resigned to take an elected seat in the U.S. Senate. Nov. 15, 2010
- Elected as Republican Party, Crist switched his registration to independent in April 2010.
- As president of the senate, served as acting governor until he won a special election in 2011.
- Frederickson, Kari A. (2001). The Dixiecrat Revolt and the End of the Solid South, 1932-1968. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-2594-8.
- Grantham, Dewey W. (1992). The Life and Death of the Solid South. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-0813-6.
- Herbert, Hilary Abner (1890). Why the Solid South?. R. H. Woodward & company.
- Sabato, Larry (1977). The Democratic Party Primary in Virginia: Tantamount to Election No Longer. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. ISBN 978-0-8139-0726-0.