Accounts of issue realignments generally focus on positive cases. The late nineteenth century offers the opportunity to study a failed potential case of racial realignment. During this period, Democratic legislative majorities passed meaningful civil rights laws in a number of northern states, and Democratic governors signed such laws. This was an unprecedented shift for the party of white supremacy. Who were these northern Democrats who shifted toward racial liberalism, what factors drove their changing positions, and why was this "new departure" a historical dead-end? We document the extent of Democratic support across several decades and analyze the demographic and political correlates of individual support for state-level civil rights legislation. We find that northern states were most likely to pass protective legislation during periods of heightened competition, and that Democrats in electorally vulnerable districts were most supportive. We conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for theories of realignment.
Journal of Historical Political Economy, Volume 3, Issue 3 Special Issue: The Political Economy of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era: Articles Overview
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