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Dixiecrats—The States' Rights Party, 1948

Dr. Glenn Feldman, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Correlates to Alabama Course of Study: Social Studies 11th Grade Content Standard 12, p. 79

bullet gif The States' Rights party, also known as the "Dixiecrats," was a rump party that split off from the national Democratic party and ran candidates in the 1948 presidential election.

bullet gif The party sprang into existence on July 17, 1948 when it held its national convention in Birmingham, Alabama. It was the formal expression of a growing sectional and civil rights revolt against the national Democratic party.

bullet gif South Carolina Governor J. Strom Thurmond and Mississippi Governor J. Fielding Wright were nominated, respectively, for president and vice-president.

bullet gif Alabamians played a major role in founding, directing, and sustaining the organization. Alabama was one of the most important Dixiecrat states thanks especially to three men who may be properly referred to as the "Dixiecrat triumvirate": former-Governor Frank M. Dixon, state Democratic Executive Committee chairman Gessner T. McCorvey, and Birmingham attorney and political boss Horace C. Wilkinson.

bullet gif Dixiecrats organized in response to President Harry S. Truman's proposed 1948 civil rights package, understood by many whites as the greatest threatened federal intrusion into the South since Reconstruction. The package consisted of four primary pieces of legislation: abolition of the poll tax, a federal anti-lynching law, desegregation legislation, and a permanent Federal Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to prevent racial discrimination in jobs funded by federal dollars.

bullet gif Dixiecrats portrayed their movement in the best possible light, as one designed to guarantee state sovereignty and constitutionally-guaranteed states' rights and reestablish Southern preeminence in the Democratic party. But the most important motive behind the movement was securing states' rights and constitutional principles in order to accomplish an overriding goal: preservation of the South's racial status quo.

bullet gif In Alabama, the Dixiecrats won an intramural state fight with regular or "Loyalist" Democrats and thereby controlled the state's party machinery. As a result, incumbent President Harry Truman's name did not even appear on the 1948 presidential ballot in Alabama.

bullet gif Despite the splintering of the Democratic party by the Dixiecrats on the right, and the Progressive party on the left (which nominated former Vice President and Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace), President Truman won reelection in the biggest upset in American political history. His margin of victory over Republican Thomas E. Dewey was only four-tenths of one percent. The Dixiecrats and the Progressives polled over a million votes, and the Dixiecrats were able to sweep four states (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Carolina), securing 39 electoral votes.