The Door of Hope: Republican Presidents and the First Southern Strategy, 1877-1933

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The Door of Hope: Republican Presidents and the First Southern Strategy, 1877-1933. By Edward O. Frantz. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011. 295 pp.

Edward O. Frantz's Door of Hope examines a forgotten element of post-Reconstruction presidential politics, the Southern tours undertaken by Republican sitting presidents from Rutherford B. Hayes to William H. Taft. Frantz argues that the tours were attempts by Republican presidents both to create a truly national party and to "resolve their ... longstanding commitment to African American rights" (p. 3). If, as Frantz points out, these two goals were necessarily contradictory, he maintains that examining Republican presidents' attempts to harmonize them shows that the "Southern strategy" of post-World War II Republican presidents has a long history.

Hayes and Harrison made appeals to equal rights, which subsumed the conflict over African American civil rights into vague generalities. Hayes took to the rostrum again and again during his 1877 tour to promote "the cause of Union" (p. 36), claiming that the Union and the Republican Party's only desire was that former Confederates should obey the Constitution, pronouncing himself satisfied by hearty applause following such lines. Harrison made similar appeals, stating in Knoxville in 1891 that "no community can safely divide on the question of implicit obedience to the law" (p. 70). Frantz shows how divergent audiences placed great emphasis on divining the meaning behind these seemingly anodyne statements. He notes that while previous historians have at times treated these comments as "sentimental bosh" (p. 36), these Southern tours attracted a great deal of attention, documented both in newspaper accounts and correspondence. Frantz shows that they attracted attention because contemporaries rightly saw them as attempts to broaden the political reach of the Republican Party, which would shape the direction of the party's policies in the South. But however warmly Southerners received Hayes and Harrison in public appearances, the presidents' emphasis on conciliation won them few Southern white votes. It also greatly alarmed African Americans, who saw the presidents demonstrate in these tours that one could not simultaneously appeal to white Southern voters and protect equal rights for blacks anywhere beyond the podium.

If Hayes and Harrison pointed the way to a Republican Southern strategy, Frantz argues that William McKinley implemented it. In 1898, McKinley's words, actions, and omissions demonstrated his commitment to "reconciliation" with white Southerners at the expense of African Americans. …