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In my research on South Carolina's 2010 gubernatorial election, I came upon a fascinating chart. The chart describes the number of Democrats and Republican in South Carolina's State House of Representatives from the Civil War to the present day. The data offers a fascinating story of the Democratic Party in South Carolina, and the Deep South in general.

Here is the story:

Most individuals familiar with politics know the history of the Deep South: it seceded from the Union after President Abraham Lincoln was elected. In the resulting Civil War, it fought the hardest and suffered the most against Union forces.

Victorious Union forces were identified with the hated Republican Party, founded with the explicit goal of destroying the southern way of life by ending slavery.

Under military Union rule, the Republican Party flourished in South Carolina:


More below.

The Republican Party was the dominant political force during the Reconstruction era, as the graph above shows. During its reign in power, it enjoyed large majorities in the State House of Representatives. Its political base was the black vote, and it attempted to systemically ensure racial equality for blacks and whites. A number of blacks were elected to state and federal office; it's probable that many of the Republicans in the State House of Representatives were black.

This enraged whites in South Carolina. When President Rutherford Hayes ended Reconstruction and withdrew federal troops, they quickly gained control of South Carolina politics. The black vote was systemically crushed, and along with it the Republican Party.

This is reflected in the graph above. In 1874 there were 91 Republicans in the State House of Representatives. By 1878 there were only three left.

This led to the next stage of South Carolina politics, the Solid South:


Unfortunately, Wikipedia does not have data after 1880 and before 1902. After 1902, however, Democrats enjoyed literally absolute control of the State House of Representatives. For more than half-a-century, not a single Republican in South Carolina was elected to the State House of Representatives. Democrats regularly won over 95% of the popular vote in presidential elections.

That's a record on par with that of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union.

There are several reasons why this occurred. Democrats in South Carolina were strongest of all the Deep South states, because blacks were the majority of the population. Only Mississippi at the time also had a black-majority population.

This meant that in free and fair elections, blacks would actually have control of South Carolina politics. If a free and fair election took place in another Southern states, the Democratic Party would still probably have maintained power - since whites were a majority of the population. In fact, this is what happens in the South today, except that the roles of the two parties are switched.

This was not the case with South Carolina, and party elites were profoundly aware and afraid of this. Therefore the grip of the Democratic Party was tightest in South Carolina, of all the Solid South (South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union for the same reason). Other Solid South states had more than zero Republicans in the state legislature. Republican presidential candidates might gain 20-40% of the vote, rather than less than 5%.

In black-majority South Carolina, the Republican Party was a far greater potential threat - and so the Democratic Party was extraordinarily judicious in repressing it.

Racism was a useful tool for South Carolina Democrats, and they were very proud racists. Controversial South Carolina Governor and Senator Benjamin Tillman, for instance, once stated that:

I have three daughters, but, so help me God, I had rather find either one of them killed by a tiger or a bear and gather up her bones and bury them, conscious that she had died in the purity of her maidenhood by a black fiend. The wild beast would only obey the instinct of nature, and we would hunt him down and kill him just as soon as possible.

Another time he commented:
Great God, that this proud government, the richest, most powerful on the  globe, should have been brought to so low a pass that a London Jew  should have been appointed its receiver to have charge of the treasury.

This was the Democratic Party of South Carolina during the Solid South.

At the end of the graph, notice that there is a little dip, just after the year 1962. This was in 1964, when the first Republican in more than half-a-century was elected went to the South Carolina State House of Representatives.

He was not the last:


The year 1964 marked the day that Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed through the 1964 Civil Rights Act, against enormous Southern Democratic opposition.

It also marked the beginning of the end of the South Carolina Democratic Party. The Democratic Party underwent a monumental shift, from a party of white elites to a party representing black interests. In the process South Carolina whites steadily began abandoning it.

At first the decline was gradual, as the graph shows. In 1980 there were 110 Democrats in the State House of Representatives and 14 Republicans. Throughout the 80s the Democratic majority steadily declined, but in 1992 there were still 84 Democrats to 40 Republicans.

Then came 1994 and the Gingrich Revolution. The seemingly large Democratic majority collapsed like the house-of-cards it was, as South Carolina whites finally started voting for Republican statewide candidates, decades after they started doing so for Republican presidential candidates. Republicans have retained control of the state chamber ever since.

Since then the Democratic Party has declined further in the State House of Representatives. As of 2010 the number of Democratic representatives is at a 134-year low. And the floor may not have been reached. There are still probably some conservative whites who vote Democratic statewide, when their political philosophy has far more in common with the Republican Party.

Nevertheless, the modern era in South Carolina politics is still shorter than the Solid South era. Here is the entire history of the State House of Representatives:


It's a fascinating graph, and it tells a lot about South Carolina and Deep South politics.


Originally posted to Inoljt on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 01:57 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  That's pretty much the story of the South. (4+ / 0-)

    Though it looks like SC may have lagged a bit behind the rest of the region.

    Ideology is an excuse to ignore common sense.

    by Bush Bites on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 02:03:28 PM PDT

    •  Rest of the region (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...must mean Alabama and Mississippi.

      The Chamber of Commerce folks did not fight desegregation (in fact most of them gave way after one demonstration) because they did not want to endanger plant relocations from outside the South.

      50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

      by TarheelDem on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:36:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Actually, the first Repub wasn't elected (14+ / 0-)

    Floyd Spence switched parties that year.  Yes, the same Floyd Spence who eventually went to Congress for 30 years.

  •  It looks like a huge... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nulwee, loki99, Temmoku

    I thought some levity was needed here.  Sorry I can't embed it.

    It's about time I changed my signature.

    by Khun David on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 02:10:59 PM PDT

  •  Being just 20 minutes north of the border (6+ / 0-)

    in Charlotte, I've found myself wondering how Gotterdamnerung didn't happen sooner than 1994.  

    Looking at Dave Leip's election atlas, three counties in the state have gone Republican like clockwork in every election since 1960--Aiken, Greenville and Lexington.

    •  Yep, those are the Republican base. (6+ / 0-)

      It's actually interesting because South Carolina is one of those few states in which the Republican base is more urbanized than the Democratic base. If you see a Democrat win with 51% of the vote in South Carolina, then the Democrat's probably winning the majority of counties. That doesn't often happen nowadays.

      by Inoljt on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 03:01:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Those three counties (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nulwee, Temmoku, PsychoSavannah

      Aiken and Lexington were part of Albert Watson's district, and he supported Goldwater in 1964.  In 1960 and 1962, a candidate from Richland County, William Workman ran for US Senate on the Republican ticket, first against Strom Thurmond and then against Olin Johnston.

      The people who built the Republican Party in Greenville County during the late 1960s and early 1970s were Dr. Larry McCalla, an anti-Medicare doctor, and Carroll Campbelll who later served as a two-term governor.

      Greenville and Pickens going for Nixon in 1960 most likely had to do with the fact that Kennedy was a Roman Catholic.

      50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

      by TarheelDem on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:51:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Aiken was in SC-02? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Temmoku, PsychoSavannah

        I thought that it's been in SC-03 for decades--Butler Derrick, the last Dem to hold that district, was from nearby Edgefield.

        We are all Stranded Wind.

        by Christian Dem in NC on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 05:11:17 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Aiken County is split.... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          the eastern part of the county is in SC-02, while the rest is in SC-03.  In fact, Aiken itself is split in the two districts.  
          However, that may change with the redistricting.  I've heard all of Aiken County will be in the 2nd district.  
          Several of us from the Aiken Co. Democratic Party attended the State House and Senate Redistricting Hearings in Aiken.  Republicans were begging for the federal districts to remain the same.  (and why not, they have Joe "you lie" Wilson and a tea-partier Jeff Duncan.) Their argument is that both Reps. support the Savannah River Site.  So I made a statement at the Senate hearing that if we wanted the Representative that has done more for Savannah River Site then we should be redistricted into SC-6 (Rep. Clyburn's district).  Both republican congressmen voted against the ARRA (stimulus bill) and Rep. Clyburn was instrumental in getting $1.6 billion for SRS.  

  •  The Republicans have replaced the Dems as the (6+ / 0-)

    white man's party. Bluntly speaking, that's it.

    If it wasn't about racism, many SC blacks would vote Republican. But they don't.

    For relevant sci-fi and fantasy, go to

    by Kimball Cross on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 02:44:10 PM PDT

  •  The pivotal event was Strom Thurmond's (7+ / 0-)

    party switch in September 1964, so he could support Barry Goldwater, then running for President on an anti-civil rights platform.

    As your chart shows, it took about another generation for the Dixiecrat democrats in the state House of Representatives to get turned out.

    For relevant sci-fi and fantasy, go to

    by Kimball Cross on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 02:46:05 PM PDT

  •  These days the Dems don't have a chance outside (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Richland County.

    If there is a little bit of hope it lies in the fact that the Carol Fowler finally stepped down as party leader.

    "Those who fear disorder more than injustice inevitably produce more of both." -- Rev. William Coffin

    by dcrockett17 on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 04:17:52 PM PDT

  •  During Democratic One-Party Rule (9+ / 0-)

    winning the primary election was tantamount to winning the general election.  That meant that the factional struggles played out in the primary election.  And those were primarily between the almost totally agricultural Low Country and the still agricultural but industrializing Up Country that came to be dominated by the textile industry.

    So you had Donald Russell of Spartanburg (Up Country) running against Fritz Hollings of Charleston (Low Country) in the 1966 race for Senate, decided of course in the primary election.

    But in 1964, Strom Thurmond backed Barry Goldwater, essentially as a segregationist move.  LBJ decided that Thurmond needed to be stripped of his committee chairmanship as a result of his disloyalty.  Thurmond negotiated a deal with Republicans that set him up in line to regain his committee ranking, and he switched parties.  Shortly thereafter SC-02 Congressman Albert Watson switched parties.

    As the Republican Party became more conservative, the Up Country began to dominate it.  Now Lindsay Graham is from SC-03 (Anderson-Greenwood) and Jim DeMint is from SC-04 (Greenville-Spartanburg).  And conservative Christian Bob Jones University, a major beneficiary of the home schooling and Christian school movements, has major sway in candidate selection.  SC-04 is also home to SC's Tea Party candidate, Trey Gowdy.  So the old sectional tensions between Low Country and Up Country have been transferred to the one-party state with the Republican Party dominant.

    The political dynamics are close to the same; they just changed brands.  The realignment took from 1978 to 1990.

    A footnote: The Senator that Fritz Hollings replaced (after Donald Russell appointed himself to fill out the one year remaining) was Olin D. Johnston, probably the most pro-labor politician that South Carolina produced.  Johnston was the New Deal governor of South Carolina (1935-1939 and 1943-1945) and was elected to the Senate in the 1944 election.  His daughter Liz Patterson was the last Democratic Congressperson from SC-04, defeated in 1992 by Bob Inglis who in his second term (Jim DeMint benefited from Inglis keeping his term limits pledge) got defeated in 2010.

    50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

    by TarheelDem on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:30:59 PM PDT

  •  Looking at this long-term decline (3+ / 0-)

    underscores how amazing it was that Vincent Sheheen got 47% in the Governor's race in 2010.  That was nothing short of amazing.  Sheheen outperformed guys like Bill White of Texas and Ron Sparks of Georgia, and he was only a state senator.  Somebody needs to get that guy into higher office, stat.

  •  South Carolina may eventually (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DWG, LHB, JohnInWestland, PsychoSavannah

    moderate out if places like Charleston continue to attract people from the north. Even though she won in 2010, Nikki Haley had a very close call. And so too did a Charleston-area Republican in 2008. So, while SC is clearly a Republican state, I don't see the door being totally closed to Democrats either.

    Georgia is another deep south state where I do see some hope for Democrats. Even though Obama lost there, he improved significantly in the inner suburbs around Atlanta. He was able to get 45% in both Cobb and Gwinnett counties. I think he even won Douglas and Rockdale counties.

    The problem in GA is not the rural part of the state, but around 20-30 counties in exurban and suburban Atlanta that routinely give the GOP 70-80% of the vote. These counties--places like Cherokee, Forsyth, Paulding, Coweta, Haralson, Newton, and Bartow counties--are extremely dark red. In 2004, for example, John Kerry got only 16% of the vote in Forsyth County, while Bush got 84%.  If the Democrats could even just get 25-30% of the vote in places like that, while improving in the inner suburbs, they might be able to win statewide races in GA again.

    AL, MS, LA, and OK are probably gone. AR is also likely to be gone, but probably be somewhere between KY and TN. There is still a relatively strong Democratic Party in AR, despite the 2010 losses. So they may be able to stop the inevitable for a few more cycles.

    TX is the other state that may become more competitive. Much like Georgia what keeps TX safely Republican is not the rural areas, but the exurbs and suburbs of Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. They vote heavily Republican. If the Democrats could get around 40-45% of the vote then they will start winning races there.

    •  AL may be in play in 2016. (3+ / 0-)

        While I see no hope for 2012 due to the inherited racism that runs in the blood of a lot of people here in bama.  The problem is messaging and the lack of the fairness doctrine.  A lot of people here are in the service industry now due to the loss of manufacturing jobs. If all you are bombarded with every day is Fox news on the Tube @ the resturant you work at or Rush Limbaugh while working for a brick mason or construction job, then that is what you are going to believe.  

        To me that is the greatest failure of this administration to not reinstate the fairness doctrine when we had supermajority. Getting the message out for free like the conservatives do through talk radio and Fox versus us having to pay for advertising is why we are losing the common vote. Funny thing is all the conservatives complain about "mainstream media" and they ARE the mainstream media now. Their shows get twice as much ratings as any traditional or "normal" TV news like CNN.

      In God we trust, but every other EmEFFer better bring me some Data.

      by wargolem on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 10:48:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  AL will not be in play (0+ / 0-)

        because it lacks a big city like Atlanta. As for the Fairness Doctrine, from what I recall, it only covers radio--and not other mediums like TV, Cable TV, and the Internet. But I have a problem with it because I don't think government should force radio station to answer content.

    •  Texas's Donuts of Doom (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      yoduuuh do or do not

      Around every big city in Texas there lies a ring of suburbs and edge cities that I'll bet are a good 80% Republican.  

      Security-Gate suburbs, populated almost entirely by upper income white people whose philosophy of life boils down to "Get the Hell Off of My Lawn."

      "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?" Nick Lowe

      by LHB on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 04:21:31 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  South Carolina has paid dearly (3+ / 0-)

    by being last in the nation in just about everything good and first in the nation in everything bad.

    For many they are willing to devolve even more in pursuit of their racist views.

    If we as a nation are ever given a chance to allow these mouth breathing knuckledraggers to secede again we should by all means DO IT!

    Trust me. As a 30 year resident of the state (moving from this wretched place now) I can honestly say the majority of residents deserve every privation they bring upon themselves. After well over 20 years of republican rule the infrastructure and tax base has crumbled.

    My suggestion if they ever do secede again. Build a fence to contain them and keep them OUT of the civilized states.

    Big celebrations going on here as they "re-enact" and celebrate their defeat and the deaths of 600,000 in the civil war.

  •  President Johnson predicted that (4+ / 0-)

    the Democrats would lose the South after he signed the Civil Rights Bill of 1964.  I would rather have civil rights than the South.  It is better to do the right thing sometimes than worry about the political cost.

  •  Tillman was known as "Pitchfork Ben" (0+ / 0-)

    and one of the community leaders during Reconstruction was Wade Hampton, former CSA general.
    For the latter 20th Century, I would say that Governor Hodges marked the official suicide of the SC Democratic Party where even NW Horry County turned Red after generations of tobacco and cotton growers had guaranteed a succession of local Democratic leaders. However, the GOP sweep of that era completely stacked the deck against any renaissance for the Democratic Party and nepotism and dead wood has guaranteed the party remains moribund  

  •  Would be interesting instead of D vs. R (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to show the Liberal/Conservative breakdown.

  •  NC elected a Republican governor in 1896 (0+ / 0-)

    The linen suits had not really gotten serious about passing some Jim Crow laws.  There were black people actually voting, 20 years after the Union troops went home.   They, along with poorer whites, elected a Republican governor, Daniel Russell.

    So the linen suits cranked up the n*gg*r this and n*gg*r that and stirred up a coup d'etat in Wilmington.  Russell did nothing, and neither did President McKinley.

    Russell didn't run again, a white supremacist named Charles Aycock succeeded him, and NC didn't elect another Republican governor until 1972.

    Quidquid id est, timeo Republicanos et securitatem ferentes.

    by Sura 109 on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 05:08:54 AM PDT

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