GLEN COVE, NY — Recently disclosed awkward remarks
by the Senate majority leader have called attention to the statement
that cost Senator Trent Lott the majority leadership. At the 100th
birthday party of Senator Strom Thurmond, Lott said that if Thurmond
had been elected president, we would not have had some of the problems
we did. It is often said that Lott’s
remark was harmless because it was just a birthday party courtesy.
This is a feeble justification for a remark that should be justified
because it was perfectly true.
Senator Thurmond was the States Rights Party candidate for president
in 1948. The South of 1948 was not at all like the embattled South
of later years when the desegregation battles were fought. Opinion
on segregation was much more divided than it would be 10 years later.
The anti-segregationist James Folsom was serving his first term as
governor of Alabama. Cities across the South were congratulating themselves
on hiring their first black police officers. The South was looking
forward optimistically to a friendly national commemoration of the
centennial of the War Between the States in 1960-65. The “massive
resistance” South was not created until Eisenhower sent federal
troops into Arkansas.
Both the Republican and Democratic Parties were divided between Liberals
and Conservatives. By 1948, Conservatives in the Democratic Party were
largely limited to Southerners. Republican Conservatives were strongest
in the Midwest. At the 1948 Democratic Convention, a group of extreme
Liberals led by Hubert Humphrey conducted a floor fight that led to
the adoption of a minority plank in the platform that called for legislation
against private racial discrimination, federalization of the laws against
racial violence, and an immediate end to all segregation. Segregation
was common then, not only south of the Ohio River but as far North
and west as Kansas.
In the Republican Convention, Thomas Dewey, backed by the Liberal
machines in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania, defeated the
Conservative Senator Robert A. Taft. Many Republican Conservatives
were isolationists. Southern Conservatives generally were not, and
some were even Wilsonians.
With that background, we can attempt to answer the question, “Would
a Thurmond Presidency have been better than a second term for Truman?
We can safely say that neither one would have had a great influence
on ending segregation. Presidents, historically, have not influenced
that question. Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson all had intense conflicts
with the South over segregation, while Nixon avoided such conflicts.
There was far, far more desegregation in the deep South under Nixon,
however, than under Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson combined.
Truman and Eisenhower never significantly lowered the high income-tax
rates they inherited from Hoover and Roosevelt. If we look at Thurmond’s
long career in the Senate, we can safely say that he would have lowered
them at least as much as Kennedy finally did — to the great economic
advantage of the country.
It is in the area of foreign policy that Thurmond could not conceivably
have done worse than Truman did. To begin, Dean Acheson would
never have been appointed secretary of state. The greatest mistake
Acheson made was to signal to the North Koreans that the United States
would not oppose an invasion of South Korea. This mistake cost the
United States over 33,000 deaths in combat casualties alone, as well
as thousands of non-combat deaths in our Armed Forces and huge losses
by our allies. It is inconceivable that President Thurmond could have
made a costlier blunder.
Even if we had become involved in fighting in Korea, President Thurmond,
a highly trained reserve officer, would never have become involved
in the petty vindictiveness against General MacArthur that characterized
Truman’s conduct of the war. Furthermore, he would not have conducted
the war so ineptly, allowing such masses of Chinese communist troops
free passage across the Yalu River.
It is also very possible that President Thurmond would have lost
much less of China to the communists. Furthermore, he would not have
been hampered by the impediments of loyalty that slowed down Truman’s
removal of communists and communist sympathizers from the U.S. State
People criticize Senator Thurmond because he did not support integration
until the people of South Carolina did. On the other hand, these critics
ignore completely the fact that if, in 1948, Northern Republican Conservatives
and Southern Democrat Conservatives alike had rallied to his cause
and elected him, many of the 33,000 plus American soldiers and Marines
killed in Korea might be alive today. Weighing these two factors, I
have no hesitation in saying we would be better off if he had been
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2009
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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