The Rise of Anti-government Movements and Compassionate Conservatism: A New Approach to Political History, from 1946 to the 1980s

Solicited by the OAH Committee on Community Colleges

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Media and Communications; Politics; Postwar


This panel provides rare insight into conservative political culture during the Cold War era. Panelists will focus on such topics as its origins in rejection of the New Deal state, the policies and voting records of prominent conservative statesmen during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and the backlash that southern media outlets faced for their opposition to the Vietnam War. 

Papers Presented

Rolling Back the Little New Deal: Indiana and the Making of Modern Antigovernment Conservatism

The 1946 election cycle, though not a presidential year, denotes a crucial moment of realignment in American politics. It was the first national election since the end of the war and the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who only two years earlier had secured a historic fourth term in office. Republicans campaigned nationwide under the mantra “Had Enough of the New Deal?” and swept state and national offices across the country on election night. This historic electoral wave was the result of more than a decade of widespread conservative coalition building in reaction to the New Deal, its agents, and its principles. These alliances not only included participants from typically conservative sectors such as business and industry, but from traditionally Democratic institutions such as the Catholic Church and organized labor as well. Throughout the second half of the 1930s such coalitions transformed state governments into bulwarks against the New Deal and executive power, and in the process cultivated new antigovernment ideas that would become central components of modern conservatism. This paper will focus on the rise of an ardently antigovernment political coalition that emerged in Indiana during the 1930s to challenge the New Deal programs championed by both President Roosevelt and Indiana’s Democratic Governor Paul V. McNutt. McNutt swiftly implemented New Deal programs throughout the state and was even ahead of the president in taking on such progressive issues as old age pensions, public aid, and creating jobs through public works projects. This shift toward greater executive power, as well as the two men’s close political relationship made it easy for Indiana Republicans to paint the governor as Indiana’s own version of Franklin Roosevelt, and his agenda as Indiana’s own “Little New Deal.”

Presented By
Andrew Scott Barbero, Pensacola State College

Far-Right Vanguard: The 1956 Presidential Election and the Inception of the Ultraconservative Movement

During the mid to late 1950s, the continued dominance of modern liberalism and the burgeoning civil rights movement stoked a conservative backlash and, to radical right-wingers, evinced communist influence in government and society. Ultraconservatives saw their country being dominated by a statist cabal that was dedicated to collectivization and egalitarian leveling. During Eisenhower’s 1956 re-election bid, a revanchist right-wing coalition united to stem the liberal tide. The third-party candidacy of former IRS chairman T. Coleman Andrews in 1956 served as a central nexus for disgruntled conservatives and galvanized far-right mobilization. Andrews, the former taxman under Eisenhower, did not intend to become a political candidate, but his blistering editorial condemning federal taxation served as a rallying cry for conservative radicals. The far right quickly threw together the Independent States’ Rights Party, which unified economic libertarians, anti-intervention hawks, and southern states’ rights advocates. The 1956 election marked the first time the ultraconservative movement coalesced under a single banner. Though this third-party rebellion lost heavily, the far-right vanguard would go on to play a critical role in the formulation of modern conservatism, laying the foundation for the acerbic right-wing thought permeating the country today.

Presented By
John S. Huntington, Houston Community College

Howard H. Baker, Jr. on Civil Rights: The LBJ Model with a Tennessee Twist

In an article tentatively titled, “Howard H. Baker, Jr. on Civil Rights: The LBJ Model With a Tennessee Twist,” J. Lee Annis, Jr., Baker’s biographer, will argue that the approach Baker, the first Republican elected to the Senate from Tennessee, much resembled that taken by Lyndon Johnson throughout his congressional career. Just as Johnson opposed all civil rights legislation until he could secure passage watered-down versions of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 pushed by the Eisenhower Administration, Baker did not embrace any active piece of civil rights legislation until 1968, when the votes of he and father in law Everett Dirksen were integral to the passage of that year’s Fair Housing Act. In both cases, home state opponents warned of a white backlash that might preclude any re-election. Even so, both Baker and Johnson were elected in the future with higher proportions of the African American vote than candidates of their party generally received, in part because they held firm to stances they first demonstrated in the height of heated civil rights debates. For Johnson, those were the egalitarian principles so linked with the Hill Country of Texas. For Baker, those were his connection with the party of Abraham Lincoln, an identification especially pronounced via his family ties to Everett Dirksen, a man uniquely identified with the Central Illinois heart of the Land of Lincoln.

Presented By
J. Lee Annis Jr., Montgomery College

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Marjorie Denise Brown, Houston Community College

Presenter: J. Lee Annis Jr., Montgomery College

Presenter: Andrew Scott Barbero, Pensacola State College

Presenter: John S. Huntington, Houston Community College