Pursuit of Unity: A Political History of the American South

Synopsis

Surveying the entire span of southern political history, Michael Perman takes a revealing and wide-ranging approach to the region's politics. During the nineteenth century, the South experienced nearly continuous political crisis from nullification through secession, war, and Reconstruction, concluding with the disfranchisement campaigns at century's end. The struggle for power took a different form in the twentieth century, as the South's political class forged the Solid South and then maneuvered to perpetuate its control within the region and its influence within the nation. But there was also continuity within this pattern of discord and crisis. First, southern politics generated--to a degree not found elsewhere in the United States--a remarkable array of unusual and colorful politicians, such as John C. Calhoun, William Mahone, James K. Vardaman, Huey Long, George Wallace, and Lyndon Johnson. Even more significant was the lack of a competitive, two-party politics for the better part of the more than two centuries since the nation's founding. For most of the nineteenth century, the South's political system was characterized by the dominance of one party, the Democrats, and in the twentieth, by the one-party monopoly known as the Solid South. This propensity toward one-party politics differentiated the South and its political history from the rest of the country. But since the passage of the momentous Voting Rights Act in 1965, one-party politics has all but disappeared and, along with it, the South's pursuit of unity.