The Death of the Tennessee Democratic Party

In the 2000 presidential election, Vice President Al Gore came within four percent of winning Tennessee.

Ten years later, according to reporter Ken Whitehouse of the Nashville Post, the Tennessee Democratic Party died. To mourn its passing, Mr. Whitehouse wrote an obituary chronicling the party’s storied history.

The obituary is quite a humorous read for those with an interest in politics. The immediate occasion that prompted its writing was the resignation of Congressman Bart Gordon, who was facing an extremely difficult re-election. His seat is almost certain to be won by a Republican in the upcoming mid-terms.

Mr. Whitehouse narrates the early years of Tennessee’s Democratic Party. It was founded by President Andrew Jackson during the early part of the nineteenth century. Then:

Party saw great success in all portions of the state with the exception of East Tennessee, which stubbornly refused to bend to his will.

That feud turned bloody in the 1860s, ultimately resulting in Party having his license suspended and placed briefly under the supervision of court-ordered monitors and factions friendly to East Tennessee politicians, known more commonly as Republicans.

Afterward, however, were the days of the Solid South when Democrats controlled practically all parts of Tennessee politics for decades. Their achievements included a Secretary of State who went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize and a governor who made “the use of textbooks free in all Tennessee primary and secondary grades.”

Then came the deluge, as Mr. Whitehouse writes. President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill set the stage for a long, slow drift of white Democrats to the Republican Party. By the 1970s, Republicans controlled both Senate seats and the governorship. In the late ’70s and ’80s the Democratic Party recovered somewhat, only to be smashed once more during the ’90s.

The Tennessee Democratic “Party is survived by the cities of Memphis and Nashville.”

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