Southern Nation: Congress and White Supremacy after Reconstruction

Southern Nation: Congress and White Supremacy after Reconstruction

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Overview

How southern members of Congress remade the United States in their own image after the Civil War

No question has loomed larger in the American experience than the role of the South. Southern Nation examines how southern members of Congress shaped national public policy and American institutions from Reconstruction to the New Deal—and along the way remade the region and the nation in their own image.

The central paradox of southern politics was how such a highly diverse region could be transformed into a coherent and unified bloc—a veritable nation within a nation that exercised extraordinary influence in politics. This book shows how this unlikely transformation occurred in Congress, the institutional site where the South's representatives forged a new relationship with the rest of the nation. Drawing on an innovative theory of southern lawmaking, in-depth analyses of key historical sources, and congressional data, Southern Nation traces how southern legislators confronted the dilemma of needing federal investment while opposing interference with the South's racial hierarchy, a problem they navigated with mixed results before choosing to prioritize white supremacy above all else.

Southern Nation reveals how southern members of Congress gradually won for themselves an unparalleled role in policymaking, and left all southerners—whites and blacks—disadvantaged to this day. At first, the successful defense of the South's capacity to govern race relations left southern political leaders locally empowered but marginalized nationally. With changing rules in Congress, however, southern representatives soon became strategically positioned to profoundly influence national affairs.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691126494
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 07/10/2018
Series: Princeton Studies in American Politics: Historical, International, and Comparative Perspectives , #158
Pages: 488
Sales rank: 586,006
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

David A. Bateman is assistant professor of government at Cornell University. Ira Katznelson is Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History at Columbia University. His books include Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time. John S. Lapinski is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Professor, professor of political science, and faculty director of the Fox Leadership Program and the Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and director of elections at NBC News. His books include The Substance of Representation: Congress, American Political Development, and Lawmaking (Princeton).

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Southern Politics

The Southern political leader is yet somehow "Southern." He has a nationality inside of a nationality.

We are a peculiar people. We have peculiar environments. Our conduct of our political affairs should be a bit peculiar.

Maryland was represented at the First Federal Congress by Michael Jenifer Stone, one of six members sent by that state's voters to the House of Representatives. Stone owned a plantation called Equality. Filled with slaves, it embodied the new nation's haunting mutual constitution of race and democracy. From the start, as the historian Edmund Morgan put the point, "republican freedom" in the United States "came to be supported, at least in large part, by its opposite, slavery."

Opening a century after the Founding, Southern Nation inquires about the long legacy of this relationship during the decades following secession, war, and military occupation — that is, between 1877 as Reconstruction concluded and the start of the New Deal in 1933. Focusing on what white southern Democrats did after they regained control of their congressional delegations by the close of Reconstruction, we investigate when and how the states that had practiced chattel slavery on the eve of the Civil War conducted themselves inside the national polity. How did the return to Congress by representatives committed to white supremacy further a particular view of southern nationhood? To what extent did they advance the South as a nation within the nation? And to what extent were they able to project the terms of this nationality beyond their region, making the United States a southern nation?

After abolition and the constitutional negation of the doctrine announced two decades earlier in Dred Scott, that no black person could be eligible for American citizenship, the Union again was made whole. With the South still suffering the devastation that had been wrought by the war, undergoing wrenching transformations to its economic and social order, experiencing a new racial pluralism in its state and local politics, and suffering a pervasive climate of uncertainty scored by violence, the region's representation in Washington became a focal and sometimes decisive instrument for adjudicating among white preferences. At stake were policies that would determine the degree to which the South could govern what most whites in the region believed to be its own racial affairs, as well as lawmaking that would shape the section's political economy. This combination proved vexed and difficult, posing knotty problems and forcing thorny choices.

Once again, as during the antebellum years, Congress became the chief arena within which southern delegations could seek to shape their region's — and the country's — character. Given its significance, the legislature's procedural rules, as before, also came into play, as southern members understood how shifts in procedures could affect influence and transform probabilities.

These substantive and institutional dimensions of post-Reconstruction America were fraught. The South was hardly a single territorial bloc with simple or uniform qualities. Not all of its states had seceded. Demographic realities varied. Not just the extent but the types of agriculture diverged. Political arrangements were multiple. In this context, it is important to inquire about the frequency and content of the emergence of a congressional "Solid South" and the conditions that facilitated southern success in extruding black citizens from public life, sometimes in tension with other valued goals, and to identify the issues and means by which southern ideas, practices, and priorities were projected beyond the region to shape the contours of the American state and the country's national policies. We thus want to know when the preferences, interests, and actions of southern representatives were mere tangents to the main story of American lawmaking and when, by contrast, their congressional presence became vital, even pivotal, thus making the whole of the United States into a southern nation.

Parallels and Complexity

We are not the first to attend to these fundamental themes about the effects of southern behavior and influence on the substance of lawmaking and the rules within which Congress operated.

Writing in 1949, the historian Richard Hofstadter reflected on "the present tension between the Solid South and American liberal democracy" and recalled that more than a century earlier the South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun had characterized the South as a force for stability and compromise in American political life. Calhoun argued that slavery provided a "central point of interest" around which the entire white South would unite, and that the South in turn provided a "central point of union" that protected the North from conflict "growing out of the division of wealth and poverty, and their concomitants, capital and labor." This role as a "balance wheel against labor agitation," he argued, could only be played if the South militantly maintained regional solidarity and abjured party divisions in national politics. For the young Republic to be a successful political entity, Calhoun counseled, the South had to act as a separate, coherent, and unified nation within a nation.

Calhoun would fail to attain the constitutional guarantees he hoped would protect southern autonomy in matters of bondage and race. Ten years after his death, eleven of the fifteen states composing the slave South seceded and constituted themselves as an independent confederacy of sovereign states. The Union, a country that in 1860 was home to just under 27 million free whites, 476,000 free blacks, 400,000 slaveholders, and 4 million slaves, was forcibly splintered in two. The South's subsequent defeat, the termination of slavery, and the postwar military occupation ended any hope of formal institutional parity for the South within the Union. But it raised afresh the fate of Calhoun's fiercely expressed wish that in national political life the region should compose a southern nation determined to protect self-government as it worked to secure white supremacy and safeguard its leading role in national political institutions.

Comparing the post–World War II era to antebellum America, Hofstadter took note of the South having restored what in effect was home rule: local control over state government by elements of the white population free from federal interference. The region had reversed many of the consequences of Radical Reconstruction, defended local autonomy against federal intervention, and been restored in recent decades to its pivotal position in the national polity. Despite the emergence of anti–Jim Crow activism, Hofstadter could record that "the South has stood firm under a combination of the master-race theory and the one-party state," that "southern delegations in Congress ... hold the balance of power," that southerners had learned to achieve Calhoun's dream of concurrent powers within the national legislature, and that the Democratic Party thus "finds itself in the anomalous position of being a party of 'liberalism,' whose achievements are subject to veto by a reactionary faction."

Hofstadter's powerful parallelism invites the question of how the situation in the mid-twentieth century came to resemble that of the antebellum years. Was this simply a matter of continuity across a wide expanse of time? Attention to the post-Reconstruction era in fact reveals a complex and contingent patterning of southern behavior and influence. What was consistent, however, was the rock-solid commitment of southern members to safeguard the ability of their state and local governments to shape and police the region's racial order after slavery. Notwithstanding this passionate quest, three closely connected facets of political development varied a good deal during the halfcentury after Reconstruction: the degree of security for southern racial autonomy; how comfortable southerners felt to pursue diverse interests and build cross-regional and, at times, cross-party coalitions; and the scope of their legislative influence.

Southern political behavior, in short, was not all of one piece. It varied over time within changing situations of partisanship and across issue areas. If the outcome, ultimately, was the one identified by Hofstadter at midcentury, the path traveled beforehand had been uneven and circuitous. Further, the ways in which southern representatives journeyed in the national legislative arena, we will see, significantly shaped the political economy of the region itself, dooming it to a degree of deprivation that was far from inevitable.

As we understood our own voyage on this historical road, we were guided principally by V. O. Key's magnificent Southern Politics in State and Nation, a book based on a massive research program that appeared just as Hofstadter was underscoring the behavior of the South in Congress as a distinct nation in the spirit of Calhoun. Written by the country's leading political scientist, a Texan who had been induced to take on the subject by no less than President Harry S. Truman, Key's volume burst on the scene as a sharply etched portrait of the region and its politics, at the heart of which lay the status of the South's large black minority. "Whatever phase of the southern political process one seeks to understand," Key contended, "sooner or later the trail of inquiry leads to the Negro." A year later, Hofstadter opened a review of Southern Politics by observing that "the South has never lost its nationalism." Ever since the 1850s, when the United States ceased to be a secure setting for chattel slavery based on race, the region's "relations with the rest of the nation have been much like the conduct of foreign affairs, or as Professor Key calls it, 'a sort of sublimated foreign war.'" With the South believing itself to be under "a continuous state of siege," it deployed the Democratic Party as the primary instrument to manage this relationship. As the dominant political force in the South, the party served as both an "army of resistance and the diplomatic corps: through it the South has manifested its solidarity against the rest of the nation, and through it she has contracted valuable alliances with other elements in the country."

As much as Hofstadter admired Key's book, he took note of a certain imbalance. Its focus on national politics, Hofstadter observed, "occup[ied] only a minor portion of the book," and its contribution was limited by Key's inability to systematically evaluate the importance of the issues and votes on which the South seemed to possess a distinctive set of policy concerns. The crucial question of southern politics, Hofstadter argued, was not simply whether the South voted more or less with the Democratic Party in Congress, but whether the region had succeeded in shaping national lawmaking through the variety of mechanisms at its representatives' disposal — by influencing the legislative agenda, by controlling congressional committees, or by directing debate and outcomes on the floor. The answer to this question, Hofstadter concluded, required "another book," one focused specifically "on the South's role in national politics."

Southern Nation pursues this task by advancing an analysis of the role and influence of southern members of Congress from Reconstruction to the New Deal. This approach underscores the persistent possibilities of division among southern Democrats as they struggled to find cohesion in circumstances of very considerable sectional diversity. Southern achievements, which were considerable, were secured unevenly and haltingly. Rather than assume that the cohesion of southern representatives always came easily and was persistently high, or that southern members were always wily and masterful in deploying influence in Congress, we show how southern security and capacity were produced over time under conditions of anxiety and uncertainty.

So doing, the book also offers elements, we believe, that are vital pathways to our contemporary circumstances. Thus, from one vantage, we are deepening historical knowledge about a pivotal era. As signified by Hofstadter's temporal comparison and Key's empirical study, work on the South in American political life has been particularly robust for the early Republic through Reconstruction, and again from the New Deal to the present day. By contrast, work on the region from the moment of southern reintegration to the close of the Hoover administration has primarily concentrated on how the South managed to impose and regulate a holistic system of racial segregation within the region, rather than on the region's role in national politics. Because Jim Crow's triumph was made possible by the acquiescence of the Supreme Court and the bipartisan withdrawal of national attention to the South's racial order, questions about the South in national politics during the five and a half decades from 1877 to 1933, with some important exceptions, do not often focus on Congress, the key institutional site in which southern legislators conducted their region's "foreign affairs."

As an analytical history, Southern Nation probes the role of the South in political development before the New Deal, with implications for understanding America during and since. The book also helps us understand how and why the subjugation of African Americans has been so deep and so entrenched even during periods of progressive achievement. Within the period under consideration, it aims to discern how the South shaped the parameters of the American state and influenced the content of its public policy and, just as importantly, the rules and practices that define Congress, the country's central lawmaking institution. In short, we are interested in how southern politics remade the United States above and below the Mason-Dixon Line.

An ancillary objective is to chip away at the wall that often separates the study of Congress from the study of public policy and American political development. As a contribution to historical political studies, Southern Nation demonstrates how attention to the substance of congressional representation can illuminate vexing historical questions. As a contribution to the study of Congress, the book shows how attention to historical context, to collective identities beyond parties, and to policy content can help us better understand the institution's workings. In all, we seek to connect understanding the South with its influence in relation to national party politics, economic development, and changes to Congress itself.

Southern Nation illuminates how white southern Democrats came to wield their influence once they regained control of their party during the "redemption." As a contribution to the history of Congress and to the place of the South in Congress, the book draws on both quantitative measures, in the spirit of V. O. Key, and the more qualitative approach suggested by Richard Hofstadter. Like Key, we rely on a range of quantitative measures of congressional behavior and theories of lawmaking to assess the potential influence and role of southern members of Congress. But we also follow Hofstadter's suggestion to more closely analyze, through in-depth qualitative case studies, the varying role of southern lawmakers in shaping policy in a larger number of important issue areas. In doing so, we believe that we present a more systematic account of the role of southern legislators in Congress than has previously been offered, as we disclose how white southern politicians obstructed their own region's economic and educational development by blocking policies that would have helped it advance in these areas, for fear of upsetting the region's increasingly rigid racial hierarchy. With the ideology of white supremacy pervading their deliberations and actions, they took decisions that had a lasting impact on southern and national politics, then and now, including the divided partisan nature of the North and the South, the degree of ideological polarization in American politics, and gaps in economic and educational standing — themes to which we return in the conclusion.

A Southern Nation

No question has loomed larger in America's experience than the role of the South. At the founding of the Republic, nearly two of five residents in the South were African slaves. The infamous three-fifths clause of the Constitution provided the states in which chattel slavery was continued or established with what amounted to a representational bonus of 25 percent in the U.S. House of Representatives. Westward expansion and the "first emancipation" in northern-states resulted in fifteen states practicing slavery before the Civil War, each of which qualified for two Senate seats. From the admission of Louisiana to statehood in 1812 to 1849, southern states returned exactly half of the Senate, providing the institutional basis for an effective concurrent veto over national policy. As a result of these features of political representation, the slaveholding South received an additional boost in the Electoral College.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Southern Nation"
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Copyright © 2018 Russell Sage Foundation.
Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Part I Introduction

1 Southern Politics 3

2 Southern Lawmaking 28

Part II Union Restored

3 Uncertain Combinations 73

4 Tests of Priority 102

5 Racial Rule 158

Part III Egalitarian Whiteness

6 Limited Progressivism 219

7 Ascendancy 264

8 Minority Power 323

Part IV Southern Nation

9 At the Edge of Democracy 381

Notes 405

Index 453

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“This book offers a major new interpretation of congressional politics and policymaking from the end of Reconstruction to the New Deal. Readers will be impressed by the sheer encyclopedic scope of the work as well as its profound implications for theories of congressional lawmaking and accounts of American political development.”—Frances E. Lee, author of Insecure Majorities: Congress and the Perpetual Campaign

Southern Nation is a lively and engaging history of the American South’s influence on national politics after Reconstruction. It is also an illuminating analysis of how congressional policies and procedures are exploited to advance factional agendas. Bateman, Katznelson, and Lapinski have written a book that will be of great value to historians, political scientists, and engaged citizens.”—E. J. Dionne Jr., coauthor of One Nation after Trump

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