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To fear or not to fear the Southern Democrats

Up to Chapter 11: The Ordeal of Franklin Roosevelt

To fear or not to fear the Southern Democrats

Posted by Katharine Kipp at October 03. 2011
Explain FDR’s concerns over the Southern Democrats. Why did he fear the withdrawal of their support? Give specific examples.

Re: To fear or not to fear the Southern Democrats

Posted by Marci Duff at November 13. 2011
Previously Katharine Kipp wrote:
Explain FDR’s concerns over the Southern Democrats. Why did he fear the withdrawal of their support? Give specific examples.
Historically, Southern Democrats had been solidly behind the Democratic party. Now, they were growing uncomfortable with the degree of power that was being concentrated in the federal government. Their concerns led them to withdraw their support from FDR. Their numbers were not so great that they could affect the outcome of an election, but they could filibuster in the Senate. This was enough to stop the passage of an antilynching bill they feared would lead to more sweeping civil rights legislation. While Southern Democrats did not retain a huge amount of power, FDR was reluctant to completely alienate them because it would irreparably fracture the Democratic party, hamper the ability of Congress to pass legislation, and serve as a vivid reminder that support for his policies was waning even within his own party. Roosevelt's solution was to try to influence the elections in the Southern states by endorsing more liberal candidates, a plan that was doomed to failure when the voters consistently cast their votes for the same candidates that FDR campaigned against. This caused a further rift between FDR and Souther Democrats.

Re: To fear or not to fear the Southern Democrats

Posted by Richard Schneck at November 13. 2011
For many years, the South had been a Democratic stronghold. However, with FDR's programs, it became concerned about his ideals of more federal control over states. The South had always thought of the idea of popular sovereignty. While FDR was trying to appeal to the masses, some in the South were still living in the past as to the place Blacks had in society. One of the shocking displays of prejudice came from South Carolina Senator Ellison Smith, who walked out of a convention when a Black clergyman delivered the invocation. Smith also walked out of a convention when Arthur Mitchell, the first Black Democrat elected to Congress, seconded Roosevelt's nomination. Southern Democrats also were disgruntled with the Supreme Court's decisions that agreed with FDR's plans, feeling that the Court was Compromising, which Southern Democrats felt would interfere with their idea of popular sovereignty. They felt their influence over federal executive and judiciary was weakened. Even the idea of a "lynching bill" brought Southern Democrats to battle in Congress. North Carolina Senator Bailey said, "The proposed lynching bill is the forerunner of a policy studiously cultivated by agitators, not for the purpose of preventing lynching, but for the purpose of introducing the policy of Federal interference in local affairs. The lynching bill would promptly be followed by a civil rights bill, ... ." Obviously this type of feeling in the South would cause FDR some concerns. However, as he told the NAACP executive secretary, though he would have backed the "lynching bill," he decided not to, due to the Southerners, by majority rule in Congress, would "block every bill he asked Congress to pass to keep America from collapsing." By stepping back, FDR gave Southerners what they wanted in return for their vote on other programs of his. This is just another example of the "backroom wheeling and dealing" that goes on even today in our government.

Re: To fear or not to fear the Southern Democrats

Posted by Debra DeWitt at November 27. 2011
The Southern Democrat votes were very disconcerting to FDR. The elected senators and congressmen from the south held key positions on committees that easily blocked FDR’s New Deal policies from taking effect. Once these Southern Democrats saw they could block him, they no longer went along with the ideas of FDR. The forcing of measures like Social Security and labor legislation into being voted on in the congress, the Southern Democrats saw to it that they never left the congressional floor. They were able to hold the Senate for 6-weeks hostage so that nothing could be done in passing laws that the president wanted for the people. The lynching bill was defeated even though over 100 deaths took place in the South due to segregation laws demonstrating the power of the southern legislators to keep status quo and demonstrate their political powers thus frustrating FDR’s future policies in the New Deal. FDR called for a special session and it was dominated by southern Democrats who developed a manifesto against the New Deal. Nothing got done and so there were no decrease in the depression. The conservatives of the southern Democrats gave into rising concerns of higher taxes, lack of control on the race issue, extending the reach of federal authority and intervention by the government.
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