We were no party state
Published 1:08 am Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Alabama, from the time that Reconstruction ended in 1876 until the Goldwater landslide of 1964, was a one party state. For those 90 years we were such a Democratic state that there was essentially no Republican Party in the state. During the entire 90 year span no Republican was elected governor, or to any other constitutional office for that matter. We never had a Republican U.S. senator or representative. Every major elected official was a Democrat. All of our races were decided in the Democratic primary, so winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to election.
This dogmatic Democratic devotion was caused by the resentment instilled in white southerners toward the vengeful, vindictive, radical Republicans that invaded, pilfered and occupied the South during the 10 years from 1866-1876. The throes of Reconstruction rule were so harsh that southerners vowed that if they ever got their state government and rights back they would never vote for any Republican.
This mindset was handed down from one generation to the next. Many a dying grandfather who had lived through or been told tales of Reconstruction rule would tell their children and grandchildren on their death bed two things: Don’t ever sell the family farm and don’t ever vote for any damn Republican. That is why you hear old people say, “My granddaddy would roll over in his grave if I voted for a Republican.”
It did not matter how good a national Republican candidate was, southern whites voted Democratic. That is how the term “yellow dog Democrat” began. It was said that these southerners would vote for a yellow dog if it was the Democratic candidate regardless of who was on the Republican ticket.
This southern Democratic solidarity really made us a no party state because all the activity was in one party and one primary. We developed a system of every man for himself. We chose our governors on personality and individual popularity. This bred colorful political characters like Huey Long, Gene Talmadge, Theodore Bilbo and our own Big Jim Folsom.
Another trend or ingredient to success in a statewide race for governor was localism. In Alabama, we vote overwhelmingly for the candidate from our home county or area. With a runoff system in place and 6 to 12 candidates running for governor, if a candidate drew heavy support from his county and adjacent counties he just might make the runoff. This trend can be seen in election after election in Alabama, especially in the early to mid 1900s.
Steve Flowers is and Alabama political columnist. He may be contacted at www.steveflowers.us.