The American Independent party stemmed from events on the campus of the University of Alabama in September 1963, five years before it ran a candidate. Governor George Wallace failed to prevent the integration of the university and resolved to challenge the Northern Democrats who had ordered it. He fared surprisingly well in three Democratic primaries the following year. It was too late to mount an independent candidacy that fall, but he began planning for 1968.
Wallace's strategy was predicated on the then-minority belief that racial tension was not confined to the South. "When they start catching this mess up North and everywhere else," he predicted, "then you're going to see this whole country Southernized, from Boston to Los Angeles."1 Journalists began noting signs of a white backlash to the civil-rights movement. Wallace planned to capitalize on it.
The American Independents were listed on all fifty state ballots in 1968. Wallace's coalition of right-wingers and Southerners brought him the highest popular vote ever for a third-party candidate. But the Alabaman had scant interest in the painstaking task of developing local party organizations. He returned to the Democratic fold in 1970. The 1972 American Independent nominee, California Congressman John Schmitz, polled only 1.4 percent of the vote, slightly better than one-tenth of what Wallace had received. The party was split soon thereafter by internal conflicts, yielding separate American and American Independent parties. Neither passed the one-percent mark in subsequent elections.
The American party was formed because of fear. The Protestant poor and lower-middle classes watched with dismay