The Forgotten Southern Tradition of Big Government

By Hunter Wallace

I’m coming across this more and more in my research into the history of the Southern economy. Consider the following:

1.) Rep. Carter Glass of Virginia, who sponsored the Federal Reserve Act as Chairman of the House Committee on Currency and Banking, also supported the Virginia constitution of 1902 to “eliminate every Negro voter who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the numerical strength of the white electorate.”

2.) President Woodrow Wilson, the most famous “progressive” of the 20th century, resegregated the federal government for the first time since the Lincoln administration.

3.) Cordell Hull of Tennessee was the father of the income tax.

4.) During the Great Depression, the Glass-Steagall Act was passed which created FDIC insurance and separated investment banking from commercial banking. Sen. Carter Glass, now Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Rep. Henry Steagall of Alabama, now Chairman of the House Committee on Currency and Banking presided over the regulation of the banking system during the 1930s.

Henry Steagall was from Ozark, AL. He must have represented my grandparents during the Great Depression.

5.) Did you know that Alabama had the most “liberal” congressional delegation in the country from the New Deal to the Brown decision? Before “big government” came to be identified with the Civil Rights Movement, Southerners strongly supported it.

6.) FDR won every Southern state in landslide elections four times. Nowhere was support for “big government” stronger than in North Alabama thanks to the TVA and the triumphs of the labor movement during the Great Depression which brought huge benefits to Alabama’s industrial workforce in Birmingham.

7.) LBJ, of course, was the ultimate “big government” Democrat.

The moral of the story: White Southerners were a key part of the New Deal coalition until Truman and LBJ pulled the temple down by supporting the Civil Rights Movement to appease the northern wing of the Democratic Party. Far from being natural libertarians, the Republican Party was anathema in the South for over a century.

The fact is, Southerners had supported raising taxes, unionization, regulating the economy, and reigning in Wall Street UNTIL “big government” came to mean things like abortion and civil rights RATHER than economic programs that helped build the middle class. It has taken fifty years, but now all those White Southern voters who had supported FDR have been pushed into the Republican Party where the White working class now outnumbers suburban professionals.

The ideology of the GOP hasn’t caught up with the demographics of the party which is why the base, which is largely Southern and Western, is revolting against the Republican establishment, which is still largely Northeastern and based in wealthy enclaves around the country. Trump is cleverly exposing the fact that the base of the party has never really believed in the “conservative” ideology.

Where did this “populism” that has suddenly infected the “conservative base” come from? Only someone who is completely ignorant of Andrew Jackson, William Jennings Bryan, FDR and George Wallace is mystified by what is going on in the 2016 presidential election.

If Southerners truly believed in “conservatism,” they would be ecstatic for ¡Jeb! whose platform is free-trade, open borders, deregulation, low-taxes, and gutting welfare state programs. The only thing that could motivate Southerners to vote for someone like McCain, Romney,or ¡Jeb! is a visceral dislike of Hillary and Obama.

The dog-whistling and token gestures to White voters played a key role in holding the GOP together for decades. ¡Jeb! has proven that a Republican will go down in flames without it.

Note: Watch the latest poor little ¡Jeb! video:

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30 Comments

  1. The Southern populist tradition, once led by Jacksonians and later by the “Pitchfork ” Tillman types, does have a considerable draw on our people. They do well in eras of increased democracy. But our best and most brilliant leaders were never of this bent. They were the Rhetts and Hamptons. It would be great to include the best aspects of both traditions in a single party or political grouping – one that was paternalistic in that it looked out for the interests of our lower and middle classes but also drew its leaders from our best educated and most capable class.

  2. You need to go further, HW.

    WHites are the ONLY voting class worth hearing. Period.

    “For the slave shall not inherit with the freeborn.’ – Gal. 4:30

    As in the Church, so in the Culture.
    Trump, 2016

  3. Unlike Alabama, South Carolina had a black majority until the early twentieth century. The violent resolution to the negro question there was due to demographics. The state had a much worse experience during Reconstruction. And wasn’t it Hampton who led the White Man’s Revolution of 1876?

  4. Before the War Between the States, Alabama’s state legislature was apportioned on the White basis, not the federal 3/5ths ratio. From the beginning in 1819, all White men always had the right to vote in Alabama. That only changed after the Constitution of 1901 disenfrachised about a quarter of the White population with the poll tax.

  5. Re: Fr. John,

    I’m not sure what to think about democracy. Were it not for outside intervention, I doubt that the South would have expanded democracy as radically as the North. The Voting Rights Act, for example, had to be forced on us in the 1960s.

    OTOH, all the Western democracies had the same fundamental trajectory. Australia, for example, abandoned the White Australia policy around the same time as our Civil Rights Movement.

  6. As for Rhett, South Carolina’s decline began decades before the war. Charleston, which had previously been the wealthiest city in British North America, had long been eclipsed by New York and New Orleans by 1861.

    Two of the major causes of this – soil exhaustion and cheap land on the frontier – baked this into the cake. Virginia had the same problem although it wasn’t as serious because Richmond was the most industrialized city in the South by 1861.

  7. Yes, southern politicians sold out southerners for many decades prior to World War Two. Allegedly, when Strrom Thurmond was asked what he wanted in exchange for his votes for all of this socialism he replied, “bases and roads, bases and roads”.

  8. Southern Progressives were nearly all strongly in favor of racial segregation and White supremacy. Sometimes referred to as “herrenvolk socialism”.

  9. When it is all done and said it is no longer about big government and smaller government in this day and time. We live in an existential crisis. It is now between “our” government and “their” government.If we were able to save some portion of our nation it would be insane to adopt libertarian polices of free trade and limited government until such a time as our Independence and prosperity is assured. Then I would like to see something like a greater Switzerland with citizen initiatives, referendums, and voter recalls and a earned and progressive franchise. In other words Folk Democracy.

  10. The only thing that could motivate Southerners to vote for someone like McCain, Romney,or ¡Jeb! is a visceral dislike of Hillary and Obama.

    Doesn’t this really sum up politics (in the South) for the last three decades? It was always about “stopping the Democrats” and their social policies. It was never about actually loving “conservative principles.”

    Trump is the first one who isn’t just about stopping the Democrats. People really support the things he wants to do. I believe if he had been even more aggressive in his attacks on the rich, he would be polling even higher than he is now.

  11. Hunter Wallace // December 23, 2015 at 7:38 pm //

    “OTOH, all the Western democracies had the same fundamental trajectory. Australia, for example, abandoned the White Australia policy around the same time as our Civil Rights Movement.”

    Hunter, the countries you mention may look like independent nations, but they are outer provinces of the Roman Empire and when Rome changes so do they. The USA is the Rome of the West.

  12. @Palmetto Patriot: “.. Southern populist tradition, once led by Jacksonians …”
    http://millercenter.org/president/biography/jackson-life-in-brief
    Andrew Jackson was correct about the dangers of a federal banking system — it causes an explosion of foolish warfare and welfare spending. 3 problems with globalized democracy: 1. constant pressure to enlarge the voter base by extending the franchise and opening borders to immigration (no matter how bad the quality of the immigrants) 2. constant scheming to buy votes
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/decision2012/selling-votes-is-common-type-of-election-fraud/2012/10/01/f8f5045a-071d-11e2-81ba-ffe35a7b6542_story.html
    3. (worst of all problems) Whites and Orientals are the only people who can establish higher civilizations.

  13. LBJ betrayed White Southerners when he pandered to the Negroes. Nixon recognized this and offered them an alternative in the Republican Party. Where else could they turn? Now the Republican elites are repudiating White Southerners, their most solid supporters. What they don’t realise is that they need White Southerners more than White Southerners need the elites.

  14. Before “big government” came to be identified with the Civil Rights Movement, Southerners strongly supported it.

    Vote buying does have its drawbacks.

  15. You forgot United States Senator from Georgia—the estimable Tom Watson.

    Watson was a Populist/Democrat, and for big government programs & regulation as long as they benefited the average White man.

    By the same token Tom Watson was an early anti-socialist seeing Marx as foreign & Jewish, and much of European socialism as both Roman Catholic & Jewish. Which is very true when you look at France in particular during Watson’s lifetime.

  16. Big government sucks. Ironically the idiot from TN may have contributed to the idea of having an income tax, but the state itself is one of a handful of states that doesn’t have one. In addition, the people of Tennessee codified a ban on state income taxes into the state constitution (thank God). The morons behind the federal income tax have rendered themselves slaves to the Feds for 4-5 months out of every year. Taxes which are then wasted on programs which are either directly opposed to popular interests, or which you think private companies couldn’t do better. Where NASA is now bankrupt and impotent, SpaceX will succeed. Regular southerners have no love for tyranny or big government.

    • TJ,

      Consider that great accomplishment of the free-market: by the 1930s, 2/3rds of sharecroppers in Tennessee were landless White farmers, the Tennessee Valley was the absolute poorest region of the United States, the vast majority of Tennesseans lacked electricity, running water, and flush toilets, and what little industry that existed in Tennessee in Chattanooga was largely owned by Northern absentee investors. 🙂

      • Assigning blame for the plight of Tennessee, or any other state, famers to capitalism is, quite simply a lie. There was no free market involved, to assert that there was is a lie, usually offered by socialist.

        After the conquest and occupation of the lawfully seceded southern states, no market was free or laissez faire; all were fascist controlled markets.

  17. ‘The only thing that could motivate Southerners to vote for someone like McCain, Romney,or ¡Jeb! is a visceral dislike of Hillary and Obama.

    Doesn’t this really sum up politics (in the South) for the last three decades? It was always about “stopping the Democrats” and their social policies. It was never about actually loving “conservative principles.”

    Trump is the first one who isn’t just about stopping the Democrats. People really support the things he wants to do. I believe if he had been even more aggressive in his attacks on the rich, he would be polling even higher than he is now…’

    Certainly, as regards to my state, North Carolina, there is a lot to Ulfric’s conclusions.

    That said, I very respectfully don’t see Mr. Trump as ‘the first one who isn’t just about stopping the Democrats’.

    There have been quite a few (serious presidential candidates) before him – from Goldwater & Wallace to Reagan and Buchanan.

  18. Hunter

    thanks for promoting positive, pro Southern, big government. TVA was/is good.

    God bless the South.

    Unless you have objections I will post my best of 2015 American political leaders.

  19. Fuck big government. Stay off my back. That has nothing to do with government or the free mark. Tennessee was profoundly rural back then, and continues to be a rural state. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Wealth isn’t measured only in dollars.

  20. @Mr. Griffin…

    ‘The fact is, Southerners had supported raising taxes, unionization, regulating the economy, and reigning in Wall Street UNTIL “big government” came to mean things like abortion and civil rights RATHER than economic programs that helped build the middle class. ‘

    Sir, I cannot even begin to hold your coat-tail on such a broad economick topick, but, I may offer you one thing : North Carolina was, on the whole, throughout the 20th century, PROFOUNDLY anti-union.

    I experienced that first hand.

  21. ‘Fuck big government. Stay off my back. That has nothing to do with government or the free mark. Tennessee was profoundly rural back then, and continues to be a rural state. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Wealth isn’t measured only in dollars.’

    That, the above, happens to be a perfect rural Southern statement. Thus, I award TJ this week’s Jefferson Davis golden wreath…

  22. Pat,

    There was a “free market” in Tennessee. That’s how J.P. Morgan came to own all the railroads and the iron and steel industry in Tennesseee, how the Mellon trust cornered the market in bauxite, why 2/3 of White farmers in Tennessee were poor White sharecroppers working from dawn to dusk for 5 cent cotton, why the Tennessee Valley was the absolute poorest region of the United States where less than 0.3 percent of farmers had electricity in 1935, and why children had a 60 hour work week.

    Surely, it is fair to bring up the lack of currency and credit in the South under the gold standard, the difference in interest rates between North and South, the difference in railroad rates under the privately owned railroad system, how the banks, mines, forests, textile mills, factories, and railroads were owned by Northerners like Mellon, Carnegie and Morgan? We have to bring up pellagra and hookworms and malaria and yellow fever and polio before the concept of “public health” was accepted.

    How about all the children in the coal mines and textile mills? What were working conditions like for labor before the triumph of “big government” in the Depression? Should we have an income tax to educate all the children of these poor White sharecroppers in public schools, or was it a better idea to keep them so poor they couldn’t afford shoes, and so illiterate that they had no choice but to go into perpetual debt to merchants or work for scrip in company towns?

  23. TJ,

    How long should the average work week be for a 12-year-old under free-market capitalism? In North Carolina, I know it was 69 hours around 1900.’

    Sir, though you askt it of Tj, allow me to say that it is a great question.

    Clearly leftist and socialist, progressive ideas (whatever semantick one wishes to attach to them) have been valuable.

    Ideas such as National Parks, child labour laws, social security, medicare, and workmen’s compensation have greatly improved our lives, if not directly by affecting us, then by how they have positively affected those beloved around us.

    The problem as I see it is this, Mr. Griffin : the ‘American Way’ was one of trying to thread the needle between individual and collective concerns, all within restraints of the Constitution.

    In the last 15 years, that has gone more and more by the wayside – an overweening executive branch and a congress dominated by Democrats – quasi totalitarian socialists – and Republicans, more of the same to a slightly lesser degree.

    So, like adding salt to the food, we have gotten so much salt in it, that, the balance has been lost and the flavour of the food has been hurt, and mostly what we taste is the galling flavour of salt…

    These days, as a Tarheel, I do not feel nearly as threatened by the lack of government, as I do by the imperious and willfully unconstitutional misuse of it.

    • Junius,

      In Alabama, reasonable people supported any number of “big government” reforms in the 20th century. At the same time, they revolted against destructive programs like integration.

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