Prior to the 1960s, Democrats were seen as having a lock on the South in national and local electoral politics, while Republicans had strengths in other parts of the country. While this was the case for some time, Boris Heersink
and Jeffery A. Jenkins
, in their new book,Republican Party Politics and the American South, 1865-1968
(Cambridge University Press, 2020), look a bit more deeply into the role of the Republican Party in the Southern states following the Civil War, and they find some interesting dynamics at play across the next hundred years. Heersink and Jenkins argue that the overly simplified view of the “solid Democratic South” creates an incomplete narrative. Outlining the role of the Republican Party in the former states of the Confederacy, they explain how Southern Republicans had meaningful roles in selecting Republican presidential candidates even if few of those candidates carried any electoral college votes from Southern states.
Heersink and Jenkins describe how Southern Republicans, despite their unpopularity in the South, remained nationally important through their regular participation at the Republican national conventions. They explain that Southern delegates made up a sizable portion of the conventions, and candidates often vied for support from these delegates. Southern delegates were so valuable that candidates often turned to corrupt practices, including bribery, to win over these delegates. As a result, many GOP delegates were able to leverage their support for candidates for patronage appointments back home, even if they couldn’t produce broad-based state support for Republican presidential candidates. Heersink and Jenkins created a complex data set that came from census records, delegate rosters, local newspaper articles from the time, and information about patronage appointments. This is a fascinating multi-methods analysis, and they are continuing to expand the analysis to look more closely at these questions of patronage appointments.
Additionally, Heersink and Jenkins discuss electoral strategies of the Republican Party over the century that followed the Civil War. They recount the different ways that the GOP, in different states, approached party building and political engagement. This dimension of the research and the book is particularly rich since it dives into how the parties operated at the state level and how the approach of those operations also changed and shifted over time. As Reconstruction ended and as Southern states began to institute laws and regulations that would come to form the Jim Crow era, the various state-level Republican parties (and Democratic Parties) pursued support among voters, especially white voters as Black voters were pushed out of active political participation in the South. This hundred-year span is both nuanced and complex, and Heersink and Jenkins guide the reader through the evolution of the Republican Party, how this paved the way for Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy and partisan realignment of the South in the latter part of the 20th century.
Adam Liebell-McLean assisted with this podcast.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics
(University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America
(Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).