Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Vanishing Republic of Our Fathers

 Oscar Underwood

The New South is one of the more misunderstood periods in American history. The contemporary narrative generally describes the period and its leaders as dense political hacks riding the coattails of Northern business elites. They were “wannabe” statesmen whose political ideology was singularly tied to race. This perspective is clouded by present conditions and our own short-sighted infatuation with racial politics. Historians often miss the complexity and deep-rooted origins of Southern political thought in this period, of its Jeffersonian origins and ties to the old republicans of the founding generation. There was more to these men than the plight and status of Southern blacks.

No one better exemplifies this than Oscar W. Underwood of Alabama. He was one of the dominant political figures of his day, a man of the Deep South who had a real shot at the presidency in 1912 before a pseudo-Southerner, Woodrow Wilson, grabbed the nomination. Underwood was a throwback to the Democrat Party of Grover Cleveland and by default the politics of the early republic. He served his State in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate for over twenty years and led an effort to denounce the Ku Klux Klan and eliminate it from the Democrat Party in the 1920s. His opposition to the Klan led him to decline running for re-election in 1926. His opponent, future Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, not only had Klan support, he was a Klan member.

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