The Democratic Party’s historic switch from segregationism to civil rights was a political rarity


Every once in a while, I get a comment here from someone who thinks a clever point is made by recalling the days when the Democratic Party was dominated to a great degree by Southern segregationists.

Such comments seem oblivious to the fact that the Democrats long ago cut their ties with segregationists. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he privately said to an aide: “We have lost the South for a generation.”

LBJ’s prediction was borne out in part by the extent to which the Democratic and Republican parties gradually traded places on matters of race. The GOP, which once had a healthy moderate-liberal wing, long ago adopted the so-called Southern strategy and now finds itself reduced to mostly a Southern party. Remember, it wasn’t for nothing that Strom Thurmond and so many of his fellow segregationists switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. By the same token, does anybody seriously think that Abe Lincoln would feel at home in today’s GOP?

Still, as Seth Masket argues HERE, such major shifts by political parties are historically exceptional:

The Democrats’ shift from being the party of white supremacy to the party of civil rights was pretty much a singular act in American political history. Parties rarely pull off a major shift on a hot-button issue (that’s what killed the Whigs in the 1850s), and indeed it was a very costly shift for the Democrats, breaking their electoral lock on the southern states and ultimately ending their four-decade run of controlling the House of Representatives. To be sure, parties do evolve slowly on some issues, but the parties are much better defined by consistency than change…

Why is there so little party change? …Because parties are dominated by the major issue activists and donors who get involved in party nomination contests. They won’t tolerate candidates who don’t care about the issues important to them, and they’ll find themselves a candidate who does.

(NOTE: The image above is a Democratic Party election poster from the 1860s.)



  1. Phil Tevlin

    Between 1824-1924, the Democratic Party nominated one blatant racist after another. The southern wing was able to exercise veto power–2/3’s needed to nominate back then. In 1928, Al Smith (a Catholic) was nominated over southern objections. Between 1932-1944, FDR was heavily beholden unto the southern wing (1) for getting him nominated and (2) they controlled most of the congressional committees/subcommittees, but he opened the back to the White House via the redoubtable Eleanor Roosevelt & blacks started voting Democratic in a big way by 1934. In 1948, Truman desegregated the Armed Services by executive order, was renominated over near unanimous opposition from the south, and delivered a speech to an all black audience in Harlem (no president had ever done that before). In 1963-65, LBJ used his formidable powers of persuasion to convince congress to not only pass 2 land-mark bills, but shut off debate in the Senate. In 1975, the junior Democratic members of House of Representative voted to depose no less than 3 chairmen of standing committees (Defense, Agriculture, & Banking), and served notice to all remaining chairmen that they were–to a person–beholden to the caucus for their positions. It took 50 years, but the absolute power of the white southern office holders was permanently curtailed.

  2. The corrollary to this post: The party of Lincoln has become the party of Lincoln’s assassin.

  3. B.S.!

  4. Brian Opsahl

    After viewing the Lincoln movie …he’s right Doc. What happened to the party of the free. It’s all about money now…who gives the most receives the most,

  5. And you think the Democrats are any different?

    Posh! You should be smarter than that.

  6. Brian Opsahl

    Yes the Democrats are different…look no futher than the bills that Congress tries to pass from your Republicans…they voted no on a bill to help returning Veterans from Afgan,Iraq finding a job ….they said no to a Veteran finding a JOB..that’s the guys your covering for Doc…!!
    There are hundreds of these kinds of bills they vote against every day, if it’s something for people they say NO but if it’s for anything to do with money and them making some…well vote it on..!!

  7. Yeah, I know. I actually heard about a secret torture camp the Republicans run right under the WW II memorial in the mall too.

    I could tell you more about it but…..

  8. Neftali

    Republicans should take a page out of the Democrat’s handbook and create a bill called “Save the Future of our Veteran’s Children”

    In that bill would be drastic discretionary spending cuts that so we wouldn’t add to our deficit.

    That way, when Democrats like Brian Opsahl oppose the bill, we can accuse them of hating children and veterans.

  9. shawnnews

    The founder of the Democratic Party, Andrew Jackson, was a terrible human being by today’s standards. He was a slave owner/beater and began the forced relocation of the native Americans known as the “Trail of Tears.” I am no Reagan or Bush I and Io fan but I would rather see their picture on the $20 bill than Jackson’s.

  10. shawnnews

    …”Bush I and II fan…”

  11. Brian Opsahl

    Nef, Veterans need jobs when they return from where it is they are protecting our freedom and we owe it to them. There getting shot at in war and here sits idiots like you joking about helping them find work. Your a classless assbag Sir.

    I would bet my paycheck that the very same Republicans voted to sent these guys into battle are the same ones who voted against this bill…?

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