The Ku Klux Klan in American Politics

The Ku Klux Klan in American Politics

The Ku Klux Klan in American Politics

The Ku Klux Klan in American Politics

Excerpt

There is something quite frightening about this book. It is not so much that Dr. Rice recounts some of the brutalities and excesses of the Ku Klux Klan or even that he measures the intelligence of those who led the cross-burners as wanting; indeed, those of us who lived through the "kleagling" of the 1920's remember that the Klansmen, while not men, weren't boys either. What is frightening is the amount of practical action the successors to the Klan have learned from it. They have learned not only from the Klan's mistakes but from the Klan's successes.

Fortunately, neither the John Birch Society nor the White Citizens Councils nor the revivified Klan nor the McCarthyites have learned well enough to grasp ultimate power. All of them, however, have learned enough so that they are more than an annoyance to the democratic process.

Just how successful was the Klan? It never played a crucial role in a national election. The presence of Klansmen on the floor of a national political convention often succeeded in watering down the anti-Klan plank but national candidates, if they chose, could castigate the Klan at will. In the presidential campaign of 1928 between Alfred E. Smith and Herbert Hoover, the Klan helped bring the virulency of anti-Catholicism to a fever point, but that virulency was always there and it was not strictly that virulency which lost Al Smith the White House. True, Klan propaganda may have helped Smith lose the electoral votes of five traditionally Democratic Southern states but Republicans and prosperity really dealt him the loss. If Daniel Boone had been running on the Democratic ticket in 1928 he would have been swamped, too.

Nor was the Klan ever notably successful in state politics. Their politicking rarely won consistent effects and often resulted in abject failure: vide Dr. Rice's summary of the election of "Ma" Ferguson in Texas in the mid 1920's. The Klan dissipated, says Dr. Rice. There were too many politicians among them and of those politicians too many were simply stupid. But where the Klan was successful was in local politics. In many Southern States, in Indiana, Ohio, and New Jersey, at the precinct level the Klan was not only a potent political force, it was the electorate. Whole police departments were composed of Klansmen and the municipal committees were . . .

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