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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert Sidney Smith, January 25, 1999. Interview I-0081. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Party affiliation in the post-Civil War South

In this excerpt, Smith discusses the South's traditional alignment with Democrats after the Civil War and his choice to join the Republican Party.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert Sidney Smith, January 25, 1999. Interview I-0081. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

I don’t know that the answer that would emerge to this question would be in character any different than many of the themes that have emerged so far, but I just want to put the question [forward] because I know of your involvement with, say, the Executive Committee of the Mecklenburg County GOP. You're engaged in the political arena in that form as well. Obviously, across the last three decades there has been a broad voter realignment in voter registration and self-identification from the traditional southern Democratic Party to the GOP. [This has been] a broad phenomenon across the entire south. What's your assessment of the impact? Has that been a factor that then altered the business climate in important or interesting ways? Or, is that sort of part and parcel of trends that were long since in place -- a more superficial realignment of self-identification with party, but not really a shift in values or political concerns? SS: This is a complex question you've asked that has a local flavor to it, but is also a part of a big national shift, I think. The south after Civil War was totally Democratic. The reason was that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican and it has nothing else to do with it. The south didn't even have Republican parties down here. When people got involved in politics, you were born and raised [a] registered Democrat. Anything different was, “Oh, must be a foreigner moved in from here.” As people in my case growing up, having to make some decisions, stepping out of school and getting into life, you say, “Well gee. I'm going to have to start voting here. I've got to be a participant. I'm going to find out a little bit more about what I'm voting for.” So, what I did was study the platforms, on the national basis, of the two parties. I tried to cut emotion and personalities out of it. I just found, on a personal basis, I identified with the Republican platform of less government and identified with them more often. It was kind of like column A and column B, which one did you get the most out of? That didn't make it all black and white, but in those days you had to register one way or the other. Also, I think with this influx of people from outside the south -- [folks] that are here as transitional people -- they brought their registrations and outlooks with them. Although the Democratic Party was established [here], there began to raise up a Republican Party presence that brought it into some range of equal presence in the Carolinas. That doesn't mean registration changed. Registration is still very heavily towards the Democrats, yet the state keeps voting Republican. Why? They're traditionalists. They're voting the traditionalist issues in the election, but they don't give up the registration. Now what I’m seeing happening -- and probably a lot of people see -- is that power has shifted back to the state level from the federal level in many things. It was begun in the Reagan era. He was very much a states’ rights person. I am too, by the way. A lot of things that John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt captured at the national level began to be pushed back to the state level, so activism at the state level is still very much Democrat Party controlled. But, there's also just total disgust for politics, period. I don’t care if you're Republican or Democrat or who the rascals are. There's a disgust particularly among traditionalists about the state of affairs today, and politics as usual, and politics as a profession. You're seeing this, “I'm not affiliated with anybody.”