- Southern Nation: Congress and White Supremacy after Reconstructionby David A. Bateman, Ira Katznelson, and John S. Lapinski
Southern Nation: Congress and White Supremacy after Reconstructionprovides scholars of the U.S. South with something they rarely have and desperately need: a quantitative political history. The book's historical narrative provides a nuanced chronology that the authors have meticulously crafted, and the quantitative analysis offers a broad view of the real impact of their subject over time. In this case, the subject is the southern members of the U.S. Congress in the six decades after Reconstruction. The authors make a strong argument for why the region deserves such attention and why the reestablishment of white rule in the Jim Crow South had such a major impact on the national body politic. As authors David A. Bateman, Ira Katznelson, and John S. Lapinski note in chapter 1, V. O. Key Jr. undertook his landmark study Southern Politics in State and Nation(New York, 1949) to explain the political behavior of the region to the nation at large. Southern Nationtraces the repercussions of that political behavior for the rest of the country in two critical periods: the post-Reconstruction reestablishment of southern white power and what the authors describe as "the high moment of Jim Crow when the white South came to be the dominant force in the Democratic Party and the Republican Party conceded southern autonomy" (p. 17).
In doing so, the authors manage to complicate popular understandings of a solid, conservative white South. For example, in their analysis the authors highlight how southern support in Congress proved vital to the passage of several Progressive policies in the early twentieth century. Though elites, desperate to prevent an alliance of poor white people and African Americans, often found ways to squash Populist uprisings internally in the South, they supported some Populist policies at the federal level. They could do so, and could even cross party lines on some issues nationally, because they maintained such power in the South's one-party politics. Incumbency was often guaranteed, which gave some white southern congressmen more flexibility than those facing tough reelections. However, such flexibility could not coexist with any sense of threat to the southern racial hierarchy. In those moments when national legislation endangered white supremacy, southern congressional delegations [End Page 714]were a united, defensive front. That front proved highly effective at obstructing federal efforts—direct or indirect—to level any aspect of the racial playing field. To this end, southern white congressmen wielded enormous power. On nonracial issues, their incumbency advantage allowed them to be swing votes, but on any legislation affecting race relations, they were a block of massive resistance. They weighed their hope for federal improvements in the region against their fear of too much federal interference, all the while balancing their "constellation of commitments" to white authority, to populism in a general sense, and "to constituency needs in a poor region" (p. 384).
Nonsouthern congressmen, in turn, had to sidestep any legislative land mines that would spark the southern defensive block, while simultaneously courting the swing or crossover votes of southern congressmen. The authors make the important point that, rather than being aberrant, southern congressional political behavior bent national politics to its will. It was the central force to which federal legislative agendas had to react and be shaped accordingly. This conclusion indicates, the authors note, "the need to modify theories of congressional lawmaking to account for the exceptional features of southern representation in national politics" (p. 41). The data presented in Southern Nationshould influence the historiography as well. The authors quantify and then dissect the political solid South narrative, highlighting each little crack and repair, and showing how the region "played a key role in developing the content and contours of American liberalism" (p. 384).