American Academy of Political and Social Science
Racial, Religious, and Sectional Interests in 1952 Election
Author(s): Harold R. Bruce
Source: The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 283,
Meaning of the 1952 Presidential Election (Sep., 1952), pp. 141-147
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. in association with the American Academy of
Political and Social Science
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Racial, Religious, and Sectional Interests
in 1952 Election
T HERE is considerable reason for
the belief that racialism and sec-
convention and unquestionably weighed
heavily against him in the election.
tionalism may prove vital factors in theThe most distinctive and most nearly
Presidential election of 1952. Basically,
successful venture in a national party
organization erected on an economicthey are really two phases of one political situation: the contest for the 128
sectional foundation took place during
electoral votes of the eleven states of
the period 1876-96. First it was the
the so-called Solid South. There are
Greenback party of the newly settled
ramifications, however, that reach out
West, an agrarian discontent movement,
far from the Southland into many inseeking the retention of the greenbacks
dustrial centers of the North.
(national currency) in circulation and
It has been a traditional proud boast demonstrating its strength by the elecof American political analysts that, as tion of thirteen of its members to the
compared with foreign governments, the House of Representatives in 1878, only
American party system has been free to disintegrate shortly thereafter.
A second vehicle of western and southof sharp cleavages along economic,
class, sectional, racial, and religious western agrarian discontent moved in to
lines. Like all generalizations, this is threaten the stability of the biparty po-
only partly true, though more true than litical system, beginning in 1892. The
false, for our major parties have sought Populist or People's party soon gathfollowings and voter support in all eco- ered sufficient voting strength to con-
nomic groups, all religious bodies, all stitute a serious challenge to the preeminence of the eastern financial and
sections, and all social strata.
commercial interests in the councils of
the two major parties. James B.
Weaver, its candidate for the PresiThe exceptions have projected inter- dency in 1892, polled one-twelfth of
esting temporary organizations into the the national popular vote. It is a matparty scene. The Know-Nothing party ter of very interesting speculation as to
polled eight electoral votes for Millard what the party might have become or
Fillmore in 1856 on a narrow program accomplished had not Bryan swung the
that opposed the election of naturalized Democratic convention of 1896 to such
citizens to office and the alleged influ- a liberal reform position as to cut the
ence of the Roman Catholic Church in
ground from under the Populists and
American government. At no other enlist their support of his own cantime has the religious question been in- didacy. This campaign marked the
jected so vigorously into a nationalparty's demise.
campaign as in respect to the Democratic party candidacy of Alfred E.
Smith in 1928. The fact of his Catho-
In stressing the generalized character
lic faith was used strongly against hisof the major American parties, no inselection in the Democratic national
tent is implied of overlooking the par141
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ticularism of their appeals and follow-
ings. There are some special Republican appeals to people of wealth and
property, and some special Democratic
appeals to industrial workers and the
debtor class. There has been a clearly
discerned tendency for the more prosperous classes to vote Republican and
for the less prosperous and labor to
vote Democratic. There are also geo-
graphical areas of Democratic and Republican dominance, as the South and
upper New England, although no sec-
control of either house of Congress.
Republican victories have been con-
tingent upon combining the midwestern grain and dairy farmers with the
eastern business interests. Bryan almost succeeded in capturing the great
prize in 1896 on a more integrated com-
bination of the agricultural South and
West, but the possibilities of this union
faded immediately thereafter. Since
1932 the Democratic party has won by
uniting the support of the agricultural
South with that of the urban states of
tion of the country can be called as
the Northeast.
is Democratic. But each of the two
ties must each appeal to a great variety
strongly Republican as the Solid South
It thus appears that our major par-
of clashing sectional, class, and social
parties is broadly national and comprehensive in its program, interests, and
interests. They cannot appeal too conactivities, if for no other reason than
centratedly to any one of these withthat no party can concentrate its apout antagonizing the others. A party
peal upon a distinct social or economic
that stakes all on the labor vote will
class and hope to win the election. lose the farmer and middle-class votes;
one that devotes itself to the industrial
The consequences of this situation
East will alienate the West and the
are inescapable and give to the parties
some of their most distinctive charac-South. The combinations of groups
teristics. Only one course of actionand
is sections essential to victory propossible if each party is to seek a folduce the complex political pattern and
lowing among all groups of voters and
the indistinctness of the American party
endeavor to encompass a multiplicity of
national interests: compromise, conces-That "politics makes strange bedf
sion, and avoidance of disruptive lows"
is an old, hackneyed Americ
alienating factors. One result is thesaw, but never more true than in t
fashioning of platforms that are frepresent. It would be difficult to find
quently colorless and evasive. Amerimore curious political combination th
can politics is not a matter of mobiliz- the Democratic party of the past twen
ing one homogeneous economic, social,years: a coalition of conservative, ag
or geographical group against another cultural, antilabor, anti-Catholic vote
homogeneous group, but rather of build- of the South with the liberal (radical?
ing up the largest aggregate of het- urban, prolabor, Catholic voters of
erogeneous supporters against another North and Northeast. Roosevelt wa
similarly nondescript aggregate.
able to mold and hold it together a
Even though the sectional aspect of working force (with defections in
the major parties be stressed, as is often Senate), but the precariousness of
done in analyses of them, a realistic pic- unity was shown by the Dixiecrat sec
ture will be obtained only as they are sion in 1948. Were it not for a sim
both viewed as sectional coalitions. A incongruity of unified action amo
complete sweep of one section alone is eastern business interests and weste
not enough to enable a party to put itsfarmers, the Republicans could be mo
nominee in the White House or hold
sanguine of their chances in this year
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November election. Almost as if thumb-
ing their noses at their party leaders,
Republican and Democratic conservatives in Congress vote together on con-
officially ensconced within it. Despite
the important role played in it from
the beginning by the intellectuals within
its ranks (the Fabians, notably) and the
large support won from the middle
classes since it broadened its program
in 1918, the party continues to appeal
both parties. The whole testifies to the
primarily to the urban working class,
lack of cohesion and unity within each
and organized labor provides the solid
troversial legislation in opposition to
the combined vote of the liberals of
core of its party strength.
Currently, the Conservative party has
The party systems of Great Britainnot forsaken its defense of capitalism,
and western European countries pro-although it has accepted most of the navide a much closer identification of spe-tionalization put into effect by Attlee's
cial interest groups with particular par- Labor government. In its efforts to
ties. During the long Conservative- thwart the further extension of socialism
Liberal division of English voters, thein British economic life, it seeks to
Conservatives defended the institutions
add the support of the middle class
of the monarchy, the Established to its traditional clientele among the
Church, and the empire, the social and people of property, of wealth, of busipolitical status quo, and the nation's ness and industrial interests.
As compared with the American popolitical traditions, with the voting
support of the nobility, the landowners litical situation, sectionalism in Great
and their workers, the big business and
financial interests, and the upper social
Britain is less important, the class pat-
amassed the votes of the middle and
grams and leadership of the parties are
class in general. The Liberal party
tern is less complex, the economic divisions are more explicit, and the pro-
labor classes in a campaign for social,much more important to the voters.
economic, and political reforms, andThe party program offered in an election
thus the lines were sharply drawn.
becomes a legislative mandate to the
When the Labor party moved in onsuccessful party, and the party leader
automatically becomes Prime Minister
the scene, the first effect was to draw off
the vote of the trade unionists, to con- and actual chief executive of the govern-
fuse the issues between that party and
ment. The voter is naturally, therethe Liberals, and finally to pre-emptfore, more party conscious and more
the anti-Conservative field as the Lib-
impressed by the party programs than
eral party dejectedly slumped to a bad by the personality of the parliamentary
third-place position. During the past candidates in his election district. Also,
decade the Labor party's comprehensive party unity and discipline among the
socialist program and its nationalization
members of the House of Commons are
legislative record of 1945-50 have in- infinitely more conclusive and rigid.
tensified the cleavage between right and
Each of the currently major English
parties characterizes the other as a
"class" party-with good reason and
The multiparty system of twentieth-
century France precludes the sharp
factual proof. The Labor party was
delineations of French parties along ecofounded as the political vehicle of the nomic and class lines that characterize
labor movement; the trade unions are British parties: there are not fifteen to
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twenty different social classes to betaining a conservative position on all
public questions. In the present postseverally represented by this number
war period the Christian Democratic
of parties that commonly participate
in parliamentary elections.
Union, successor to the old Catholic
the interests of the Roman Catholic
conservative bloc, and its chieftain, Dr.
Center party, occupies a prominent
One party feature that stands out in
contrast with the American and British
place in the politics of the Federal Repolitical situations is the persistent ex-public of Germany, or West Germany.
istence of a party closely identified with It provides leadership in the dominant
Konrad Adenauer, has been the ChancelChurch. The prolonged and bitter
struggle in republican France over the lor of the new republic from its esrelations of church and state, spectac-tablishment.
ularly presenting the issue of clericalism
at the turn of the century, produced a
Now, what of these particularistic
nation divided politically among ardent
Catholics, nominal Catholics, and anti- factors in the American Presidential
clericals. The Center party of the election of this fall? What bids fair to
Third Republic era was the Catholic be the impact of these upon the outparty, right of center and in the con- come of the election? How are they
servative bloc.
The interests of the church have been
serving as influential forces in the party
plans and in party councils, and how
promoted in the contemporary Fourth did they serve in the strategies of indiRepublic, first by the Popular Republi- vidual aspirants for the nominations?
can Movement (MRP) and now by the The religious factor can be summarily
dismissed: there is no indication that it
Rally of the French People (RPF).
The MRP had the largest single partywill be injected into this year's camgroup in the second (1946) constitu- paign, any more than it has been in the
tional convention and elected the second
past. It does not seem likely that the
largest group of Deputies to the first President's ill-fated effort to send an
National Assembly in 1946. The Cath- Ambassador to the Vatican can be inolic hierarchy openly urged Catholics flated into a campaign issue now. But
to vote the MRP ticket in these electhe racial, sectional, and economic factions. When de Gaulle withdrew from
tors are extraordinarily prominent.
this party in 1947 to found his present During the last several elections the
RPF party, he took most of the party
voting strength of the Democratic party
following with him into what is quite
has rested on a combination of organ-
distinctively a conservative, urban,
ized labor, big-city political machines of
Catholic party. The labor vote is disthe North, and the assured votes of
persed among the Communist and
the eleven Solid South states. This won
several Socialist parties.
Characteristic of those continental
countries in which free elections have
elections for the party but it represented
a fundamentally inharmonious coalition
and aroused the resentment of the tra-
been and are permitted is the existence ditional major element in the party-
of a Catholic party in Germany. Dur- the southern Democratic leaders and
ing the imperial era it was the Catholic forces. Prior to 1936 the southerners
Center party, strongest in the Catholic possessed a veto power over party nomi-
sections (Bavaria, Silesia, and Rhine-nations, in the party rule that set a
land), vigorously hostile to socialism, two-thirds majority vote in the condefensive of the monarchy, and main-vention as the requirement for nomi-
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nation. The southern bloc of delegate-
votes was sufficient to block a nomina-
switch to the party of Lincoln and
Grant, so their only recourse was in-
tion unacceptable to that element in the dependent action. The election results
party. But the abrogation of the rule,were not important to the 1948 outat Roosevelt's instigation, in the 1936come: four states (39 electoral votes)
convention fundamentally altered party were carried by the ticket that concontrol and aroused deep southern re-sisted of two relatively obscure state
governors. But the dynamite in the
No Democratic candidate can hope to
situation that threatens the victory of
win the Presidency today apart from the
the party in 1952 is quite something
combined support of the three abovenamed elements: organized labor,
The President has not relinquished his
Northern urban machine forces, and the
advocacy of his Negro civil rights legis-
South. What is present to endanger lation, especially of a compulsory Fair
this unity? True, the labor forces of
Employment Practices law. He is unthe Congress of Industrial Organiza-doubtedly honestly motivated, sincere,
tions and southern planter aristocracy
and acting on principle in his stand, but
have far more of inherent conflict than
political strategy is also assigned by
of agreement, but clever party leader-those who are critics of his leadership
ship and the quest of the spoils andand of this program. Negroes have
power of national government controlgiven the Democratic party the margin
have held them. together for the pastof victory in key northern industrial
twenty years. A new issue, however, states since 1936. Coincidentally,
based on a long-standing one, now pro-Negro demands for faster progress tojects a breach within the party that has ward equality and civil rights have
the party leaders floundering and ap-become an important factor in Demoprehensive.
cratic politics. The result is a puzzling
dilemma: To hold the northern Negro
vote, the party must continue to advo-
The almost impromptu organization
cate the Truman FEP and civil rights
of the States' Rights (Dixiecrat) party
programs; to do so, however, will con-
in 1948 was the handwriting on the wall
solidate, enlarge, and intensify the
that is striking terror in the hearts of
southern Dixiecrat secession; and the
Democratic chieftains today. Persistparty needs both groups (the southernent and energetic efforts on the part
ers, positively). to win!
of President Truman to have CongressSouthern Democratic leaders are
enact a compulsory Fair Employment
keenly aware of the strategic position
Practices statute were blocked bythat
a their section occupies in the party's
filibuster in the Senate organized by the
fortunes this year. They are under no
Senators from the southern states that
necessity of arguing that their protests
would have been most affected by the are no idle threats, because the Dixie-
Southern opposition and fears were
whipped to a new height of bitterness
by the adoption of a strong FEP plank
crat action of four years ago serves ade-
quately as an object lesson to northern
leaders of what can be done this year
on a larger scale with more direful consequences to the party.
by the 1948 Democratic convention.
[LATER: The motivation in the namSouthern party leaders would not accept ing of Senator Sparkman, of Alabama,
the party action and they would not to be the running mate of Governor
and the renomination of the President
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Stevenson on the ticket is so obvious as
ments and the inferences freely drawn in
political circles indicate an influential
causal relationship between the two. A
third-party ticket (no idle threat this
year) headed by the powerful and reThe whole southern pattern of action
spected Senator Russell, supported by
revolved about the candidacy of Senator
an immensely better organized and diRichard B. Russell, of Georgia, for the
rected, much wider, Dixiecrat movement, and building on a vastly greater
party Presidential nomination. Russell's candidacy was originally a strapopular opposition to the President,
would bring the tenuous Democratic nategic move against President Truman's
renomination. The President, pertional coalition smashing down to ig-
probably to make the move of little
sonally, was a principal target for south-nominious defeat.
ern criticism. He symbolized what the Certain it is that the Truman withSouth disliked in the civil rights pro-drawal hit a hard blow at Republican
gram and northern dominance in the
party councils. After the failure of the
Dixiecrat bolt at the 1948 convention
to alter the course of the convention's
anticipation of an easy victory. The
revolt that was seething all over the
Southland was anti-Truman, not antiDemocratic; and Truman's retirement
actions, opposition to the President and
opened the way, at least, for the South
his FEP program intensified in the to close ranks and give its votes to the
Democratic party nominee again. The
In effect, the Russell candidacy anbig question (at this June date of writnouncement for 1952 was an ultimatum
ing) is what will happen in the South
to northern Democrats. There was litif the party at Chicago selects a candiSouth.
tle likelihood of Russell's selection as
date with Mr. Truman's backing to run
party standard-bearer at Chicago, but
on a platform endorsing his civil rights
he constituted a living threat of a much
more serious defection of party strength
unless the South was appeased. The
price of a South that would be solid
Closely correlated with the civil rights
and sure in 1952 was a compromise or issue as it affects the Democratic party
more moderate civil rights plank in the unity in the South and the November
Democratic platform, and a candidate polling in that section is the dilemma
acceptable to that section of the coun- faced by the party in respect to the
try. If Truman and FEP could not be Negro vote in the North. This is anstopped inside the party, the South other bequest to the party by the New
would bolt, run another and stronger Deal-Fair Deal administrations. It
Dixiecrat campaign, and wind up throw- sounds strange indeed to be speaking of
ing the election to the Republicans.
the Negro Democratic vote, after th
Truman, if nominated, would have been long identification of party lines in th
confronted with a Southern revolt; with- South with the color line there. But a
out those Deep South 128 electoral votes changed racial-political condition now
and possibly 48 more in the border
states, he never could have been elected.
How much the Russell announcement
had to do with the President's decision
exists that adds confusion and per-
plexity to Democratic planning.
The change was inaugurated by the
large wartime northern migrations of
not to run is not known, but the chronoNegro workers. They first congregated
in the industrial centers of the East and
logical sequence of the two announce-
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the Middle West; but as the movement
has continued (nearly a third of the
Negro population now lives in the
of 3,000,000 and steadily increasing.
But its real significance does not lie in
the total figure. It lies rather in its
strategic diffusion in normally close
North) they have spread out more
widely, as seen in the large numbers congressional districts and states. Its
now settled in West Coast industrial
vote could be pivotal this year in a
dozen or more touch-and-go states in the
areas. Local political machines quickly
North. It was held to have been a vital
saw the political potential in these new
factor in the election outcome of some
arrivals, and Democrats vied with Reseventy-five non-South congressional
publicans for their affiliation. That
they were breaking down the post-
in 1948.
bellum color line in the party deterred
Democratic urban bosses and machines
in Harlem, Detroit, and South Chicago
not at all. Then came the New Deal
Thus it is true that race is a con-
or even a newly vital, issue
appeals for equal rights, followed
Truman's "President's Committee on
in American politics. While southern
Democratic leaders and the Dixiecrats
Civil Rights" report and his dogged
remain adamant in their opposition to
pressure for a compulsory FEP program.
Results followed activity; some say
lowering the party barriers to the Negro
political strategy paid off in a new forces,
bloc northern Democratic leaders continue to woo the Negro vote with advocacy of civil rights, FEP, removal of
In any event, developments now point
of Democratic votes.
up the importance of the Negro vote
local racial discriminations, and social
in the North. Originally a Republican
welfare and housing programs. The
vote below the Mason and Dixon's line,
fashioning of any semblance of effective
it began to shift to the Democrats in the
party unity this year calls for most
early New Deal days and by 1940 had
skillful political wizardry and artistry.
become largely a Democratic vote. It
The question is, can compromise within
is said that by 1944 the Negroes were
the party, on the candidate and the civil
voting Democratic two to one in the
rights platform plank, do the trick? If
North, and that in 1948 the proportion
failure results, if the Dixiecrat threat
for Truman was even greater. The
is revived in more vigorous and broader
potential Negro vote, outside of the
operations, the Republicans will be in a
South, is estimated now to be in excess
very favorable position.
Harold R. Bruce, Ph.D., Hanover, New Hampshire, is professor of government at
Dartmouth College. He was a member of the New Hampshire Constitutional Convention in 1948 and is a frequent writer and lecturer on political subjects. He is author
of American Parties and Politics (1936) and A College TMxt in American National
Government (1952), and co-author of The American Political Scene (1938).
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