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BOOK REVIEWS The Democratic Party and the Negro: Northern and National Politics , 1868-92. By Lawrence Grossman. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976. Pp. xvi, 212. $9.95.) Despite the extensive revision of Reconstruction history that has occurred in recent decades, not much new attention has been directed toward the Democratic party of that era and its adjustments to radical change. It is true that the rudiments of a Democratic response known as the New Departure have been recognized, but they have not been carefully studied. The volume reviewed here addresses itself to that shortcoming and provides a well written and persuasive account of the origins and meaning of the New Departure. As indicated by the book's title, race policy is viewed as fundamental and the focus is on northern and national politics. The initial two chapters of this work cover rather familiar ground but do offer new detail and analysis as they explore the predominance of Democratic racism and stubborn opposition to Reconstruction law through the election of 1868, the emergence of a counter strategy, and the decisive swing by 1872 to the New Departure's proclaimed acceptance of Reconstruction legislation and civil and political equity for blacks. In an analysis that is not always as precise or consistent as one might desire, this development is attributed primarily to considerations of political strategy, although the crucial ideological commitment to states' rights is also recognized. The following appear to have been the central ingredients of the New Departure. The Democrats accepted equal rights as defined by the Constitution to escape the stigma of disloyalty and extremism and to win voting support from both whites and blacks in the North. At the same time, largely to retain the support of southern whites, Democrats reaffirmed their traditional allegiance to states' rights by firmly opposing any continued direct federal interference in the affairs of southern states. This latter posture obviously included a willingness to overlook the blatant violation of Negro rights throughout the South and, therefore, a tacit acceptance of white supremacy in that region. Despite this apparent contradiction, the New Departure strategy worked extremely well and was of decisive importance to Democratic party success and to the undermining of Reconstruction commitments. 280 The most original portions of this volume stress the importance of Democratic appeals to northern black voters. The story of that appeal is one of extensive and sincere Democratic efforts to cater to northern Negroes, of a growing awareness among Negro leaders of the advantages to blacks of a divided black vote, and of many instances of Democratic support and Republican betrayals of the principles of racial justice. Throughout the North, often it was Democrats who led in distributing patronage to blacks, in appointing black policemen and public officials, and in supporting civil rights legislation at the state and municipal level. Clearly the lapse of time, changed conditions, and the rise of new leaders had contributed to a decided shift in the racial views of many northern Democrats. Legislative voting records reveal a correlation between the extent of Democratic concessions to blacks and the presence of black voters, urbanization, and the absence of southem-born whites. Grover Cleveland's winning of the presidency in 1884, however, soon exposed the limitations inherent in the Democratic position. Although Cleveland was a racially progressive Democrat, his party's strong adherence to the principles of states' rights totally discouraged executive action in behalf of southern blacks at a time of increasing racial tension and oppression. Republican electoral gains in 1888 and 1890 further exacerbated racial conflict when Republicans made new efforts to furnish federal protection of civil rights, and during the presidential election of 1892 united Democrats openly resorted to racism as a major campaign weapon. The effectiveness of that weapon encouraged both its continuing utilization by the Democrats and Republican inclinations to abandon the Negro. Despite its moderating impact on the racism of northern Democrats, the New Departure had not been a defeat for white racism. Rather it was a clever strategic adjustment that strengthened the Democrats and undermined whatever equalitarian promise radical Reconstruction had held. Otto Olsen Northern Illinois University Freedmen, Philanthropy, and Fraud: A History of the Freedman's Savings...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 280-281
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
N
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