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  • Writer's pictureJohn Brage

Here's What's Up - Part 1

"It is far better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." That's one of those quotes a lot of people have heard. Its origins are still debated. I'm putting this together mostly for myself. People aren't interested in this stuff. They are busy, I get it. For what it's worth, here you go.

The American Civil War ended in 1865. Reconstruction ended in 1877. The Presidential election of 1876 was extremely close and was plagued at the end by slates of contested electoral votes. Some states had submitted multiple "official" slates and there wasn't a legal solution about how to proceed. The 2 major parties struck a deal. The Democrats agreed to allow all the Republican electors to be counted (effectively making Rutherford B. Hayes president) and the Republicans agreed to remove the Federal troops from the former Confederate states. Those troops had been placed there to enforce the "Force Acts". The Force Acts had been passed to protect the rights of the newly emancipated Freedmen. The removal of those troops heralded the beginning of Jim Crow in the South.

The Republican Party of the day was seen by Southern Whites as the "Party of Lincoln" (who they hated). No self-respecting White Southerner was going to be anything but a Democrat. Jim Crow laws effectively prevented Black Southerners from voting, holding public office, serving on juries, getting loans, etc. With the exception that they were legally "free", Southern Blacks lived much as they did when they were still slaves.

Let's consider the former Confederacy as consisting of TX, LA, AR, MS, TN, AL, GA, FL, SC, NC, and VA (the 11 states that didn't get to vote in the 1864 presidential election). After the Civil War, we saw the development of the "Solid South". Those states overwhelmingly supported the Democratic candidate for president in every election from 1880 through 1960. There were 21 presidential elections during that period. Presidential candidates therefore had 224 opportunities to carry one of those states. A Republican won one of those states a TOTAL of 21 times. 10 of those were won by war hero Dwight Eisenhower.

After the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, things started to change. The Civil Rights movement had been going on for a while but its successes came slowly. Schools were desegrated by Supreme Court decision in 1954. Civil Rights bills brought before Congress were largely filibustered to death. President Johnson, using his considerable experience in getting things though Congress, became the face of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Its passage marked the first time that some private entities were legally prohibited from discriminating against people based on race. This set the scene for the Presidential election of 1964.

For the Democrats, Johnson ran in an attempt to be elected in his own right after finishing Kennedy's first term. The Republicans offered Barry Goldwater, a U.S. Senator from Arizona. Goldwater was a doctrinaire Conservative. He believed in a limited national government and a more involved role for state and local governments. In his view, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a drastic overreach of federal authority. Enforcement of civil rights was a task best performed by the states. While the CRA64 was already on the books by the time the election was held, a primary issue in that election was to what extent the candidates would enforce the law. Johnson wanted to enforce it to it fullest extent while Goldwater wasn't interested in enforcing it at all.

Johnson won in a landslide. But the real significance of that election can be seen in its electoral college map. As noted above, since 1880 Republicans not named Eisenhower had only carried a Southern state 11 times in 80 years. Republican Goldwater won 6 states. He won his home state of Arizona, and he also won FIVE states in the Deep South (LA, MS, AL, GA, and SC). Since Southern Blacks were still effectively prohibited from voting in the South due to the remnants of Jim Crow, there is only one possible conclusion. Southern White racists, who had been Democrats for generations, had flipped and voted Republican in opposition to CRA64. Although he lost the election, Goldwater shattered the Solid South.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed in (you guessed it) 1965. It effectively eliminated the Jim Crow laws that acted to suppress the Black vote. The % of Blacks who registered to vote went from 43% to 66% from 1964 until 1970. This represented an increase of over 1,000,000 new voters in the South. Because of Johnson's association with both CRA64 and VRA65, the overwhelming majority of these new voters were going to support the Democrats, and the Republican Party knew it.

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