Sunday, July 14, 2024

Officially it’s la Fête Nationale in France but Parisians Cannot be Denied Their Bastille Day

Many popular images of the storming of the Bastille are highly romanticized.  In reality there was relatively little fighting and only seven inmates were freed including common criminals.

Note—The national elections this month preserved at least some of the spirit of the French Revolution and prevented fascists from coming to power and gave the people something extra to celebrate today.

It’s Bastille Day, of course, commemorating the day in 235 years ago in 1789 when the Paris Mob set off the French Revolution by storming the Bastille, fortress prison traditionally used by the monarchy to detain its political enemies without benefit of civil appeal.  The French make a big deal of it. 

In the United States it is marked by an exceptionally busy evening in French restaurants.  A few years ago the long-time loathing of all things French by the right wing stretching back to the panic of Federalists over the Revolution was revived and we were told that patriotic Americans must despise the Frogs and their damned holiday

There was a brief thaw after the Charlie Hebdo massacre if only because it gave American xenophobes an opportunity to paint Muslims as a universal threat to Western Civilization.  Then Donald Trump went to Paris.  French President Emmanuel Macron publicly made nice with the Cheeto-in-Charge and gave him the full glitz and pomp of a state visit.  They also watched the annual military parade which so deeply impressed Donnie Boy that he had to have one of his very own back home which finally came to a feeble fruition with his Fourth of July debacle with tanks on the National Mall in 2019.

Witnessing the grand military parade gave Donald Trump such a hard on that he decided that he wanted one of his very own minus the Liberty, Equality, Fraternity nonsense.

But the flirtation with France was short-lived after Macron chimed in with other European and allied leaders, pointing out what a bonehead, bully, and bullshit artist Trump was.  Pretty soon Fox News talking headsCongressional chest beaters, and Alt-Right hate peddlers were back on the familiar ground of dissing the French.

In France the holiday is known as La Fête Nationale—the National Celebration and it does not officially commemorate the revolutionary event at all, but rather the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille and supposedly symbolizing the unity of the nation under the constitutional monarchy that preceded the First Republic.  The national holiday was established in 1880 after observances had been popularly revived in 1878 and ’79.

Celebration of the storming of the Bastille had been neglected during the turbulent and bloody periods of the Revolution and suppressed during the Napoleonic Empire, the later Bourbon Restoration, and the Second Empire under Louis Napoleon.

More than 30,000 Parisians were executed by the National Guard after the Paris Commune was crushed in 1871.  The reactionary new Republican government was in no mood to celebrate any kind of  revolutionary or insurrectionist activity.

After the Paris Commune was crushed by the National Guard in 1871 in the aftermath of France’s humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and the fall of Louis Napoleon which resulted in more than 30,000 Parisians being executed, celebrations of revolutionary action by the Paris mob were naturally discouraged

But by the end of the decade the conservative Second Republic was searching for ways to restore national unity and reassert national pride.  On June 30, 1878 the City of Paris declared a feast in honor of the Republic which became a  gay affair with boulevards lined with the Tri-color flag.  The following year the feast was moved to June 14 and a reception was held at the Chamber of Deputies, a military parade was put on, and celebrations spread to other cities giving the day semi-official recognition as a national event.

The flag be-draped spectacle of Paris's 1878 feast in honor of the Republic was captured by Claude Monet.

But debate  the next year about establishing Bastille Day as a national holiday in the Chamber was often bitter and divisive.  Monarchists, some of the senior military who had been involved in crushing the Commune, and other conservatives were bitterly opposed.  Instead, they proposed August 4, the anniversary of the end of serfdom under the constitutional monarchy in 1789.  But the peoples enthusiasm for Bastille Day could not be denied.

Celebrating the conservative Republic, national unity, and reasserting military glory not revolution was the goal illustrated in  La République triomphante 1880.

In the end a compromise was reached to commemorate not the revolutionary action, but the Fête de la Fédération.  Authorities also made sure that the central event of the new national celebration when it was held for the first time in 1880 would be a grand military parade.  The holiday was intended to be less a celebration of the still dangerous ideas of Liberté, égalité, fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) than one of martial nationalism.

To this day the grand military parade, the oldest such tradition in the world, presided over by the President of the Republic and spectacular fireworks in the evening are the center pieces of the celebration. 

Besides the grand military parade and fireworks spectacular ordinary Parisians traditionally celebrate  by dancing in the streets.

But stop a Parisian on the street and ask what he or she is celebrating and there is no talk of the Fête de la Fédération.  Paris celebrates Bastille Day.


Saturday, July 13, 2024

When Dixiecrats Exited the DNC Stage Right in 1948


Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey stoked the rage of Southern delegates to the 1948 Democratic National Convention with his call for a strong Civil Rights plank in the platform.  He also made himself a national figure and leader of the liberal wing of the party.

If you think the Democratic Party is in anguish and uncertainty over whether Joe Biden should exit his bid for re-election—or perhaps even step down from the Presidency to allow Vice President Kamala Haris to run as an incumbent is bad you should know that there have been serious ruptures before at a Democratic National Convention.  And I am not even talking about the brouhaha in Chicago in 1968.  In 1948 accidental incumbent President Harry S Truman faced splits on the right and on the left that many thought rendered his nomination worthless and insured a Republican victory that November.  It didn’t turn out according to the script written by the pundits.

Things were tense in the steaming Convention Hall in Philadelphia on July 14, 1948 as delegates prepared to vote on the nomination of Harry S Truman for a full term in his own right.  Delegates from the Solid South were restive and angry.  Earlier the youthful Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey had roused liberal delegates with a rip-roaring appeal for a strong Civil Rights plank in the Party Platform.  Outraged Southerners had booed and cursed.

Harry Truman was considered by many that year as “a gone goose,” in the words of Clare Booth Luce speaking to the Republican Convention in the same city three weeks earlier. The GOP had already captured both Houses of Congress by secure margins for the first time since 1928 in mid-term elections.  The established press and much of the country considered Truman at best an accidental place-holder and a Missouri hick unfit for the demands of the office and the mantle of Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

The Republicans had nominated popular governors Thomas E. Dewey of New York for President and Earl Warren of California as his running mate on a relatively liberal platform.

Moreover Truman was under attack by the left wing of his own party unhappy with his increasingly hostile relations with former World War II ally, the Soviet Union and suspicious of his commitment to Civil Rights and a continuation of New Deal policies.  They were rallying behind popular agronomist and former Vice President and Commerce Secretary Henry Wallace who would soon bolt the party and run on the independent Progressive Party ticket.

Just before the convention this cartoon shows Truman as most concerned with a brewing liberal rebellion.  The sweating men included New York Mayor William O'Dwyer and James Roosevelt son of FDR. 

But Truman’s real problem in the Party was in the South.  Traditionally conservative Democrats had generally gone along with the New Deal, using their seniority in Congress to shepherd through much of Roosevelt’s domestic agenda.  In exchange, to the dismay of northern liberals and his wife, Roosevelt had not advanced a Civil Rights program.  But the war changed that.  Moves were made to pay for Black troops and sailors serving in segregated units the same as whites and, after Bayard Rustin threatened to lead a war-time march on Washington, a guarantee of equal opportunity and pay in defense industries.  Both actions were an anathema to Southerners who also now feared an influx of cocky Black veterans ready to challenge the existing order.  Now Truman, with the strong backing of the beloved and influential former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, was supporting strong new Civil Rights legislation.

Truman, hoping to shore up his shaky support on the left and as a signal that he was committed to Civil Rights, was hoping to have the young and very liberal Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas as his running mate.  But Douglas had him down preferring to remain on the Court with a chance for promotion to Chief Justice.  Instead Truman turned to an old war horse, Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky, who had galvanized the Convention on opening day with a rousing, chest thumping stem-winder of a Key Note Speech.  Perhaps Barkley presence on the ticket might also re-assure the restive Southerners.

Truman tapped popular New Dealer, Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky as a running mate hoping to shore up his support from Roosevelt loyalists and in the hope that the border state figure would reassured Southern delegates.  It worked on the former, failed with the latter.  Here the running mates are seen on Truman's Whistle Stop campaign tour.

The Agenda was packed on the final day of the Convention.  The first order of business was the adoption of a Party Platform including Humphrey’s Civil Rights Plank which enjoyed the support of the President. The bitter debate dragged on far past schedule.  When the vote was taken party liberals with the strong support of labor delegates edged the South.

Angrily, Governor Strom Thurman of South Carolina stormed out of the Convention trailing 36 delegates including the entire Mississippi delegation and half of Alabamas.  They met as a rump in a hotel room to watch the rest of the Convention unfold on the first televised broadcast.

The Mississippi delegation followed Strom Thurman out of the Convention in mass.  The Black newsboy seems caught by surprise. 

The remaining Southern delegates put Georgia Senator Richard Russell in nomination.  Although the results were never in doubt, the nominating speeches and long-winded orations excoriating the President and the Convention during the Roll Call of the States kept Truman waiting in his hotel room until well past midnight.

At 2 am on the 15th the President, in a crisp white summer suit, finally took to the podium for his acceptance speech, well after most Radio listeners and television viewers had gone to bed.  But Truman electrified the convention with an aggressive speech that set the stage for his famed underdog campaign.  He vigorously defended the New Deal and pledged to continue its reforms.  He lashed the “Do nothing Congress” and said he would call it into special session and dare the Republican body to enact the provisions of their liberal party platform.  “The battle lines of 1948 are the same as they were in 1932,” he declared, “when the nation lay prostrate and helpless as a result of Republican misrule and inaction.”  And he refused to back down on Civil Rights.

                          Truman gave an electrifying acceptance speech--at 2 am long after most American had gone to bed.

If the folks at home only got to see the performance in newsreels a few days later, Truman’s performance rallied most of the rest of the convention delegates who began to believe that he might actually prevail in November.  But those remaining Southerners either left in disgust or sat on their hands.

Shortly after the Convention, Truman defiantly signed the long anticipated Executive Order desegregating the Armed Forces.

In response, Southerners met at Municipal Auditorium in Birmingham, Alabama, where they nominated Thurmond for President and Governor Fielding L. Wright of Mississippi for Vice president. The new party named itself the States Rights Democratic Party but was universally referred to as the Dixiecrats.

The Dixiecrat ticket.

A few weeks later at a second meeting in Oklahoma City, they adopted a platform that made it crystal clear what they stood for:

We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race; the constitutional right to choose one’s associates; to accept private employment without governmental interference, and to earn one's living in any lawful way. We oppose the elimination of segregation, the repeal of miscegenation statutes, the control of private employment by Federal bureaucrats called for by the misnamed civil rights program. We favor home-rule, local self-government and a minimum interference with individual rights…. We call upon all Democrats and upon all other loyal Americans who are opposed to totalitarianism at home and abroad to unite with us in ignominiously defeating Harry S. Truman, Thomas E. Dewey and every other candidate for public office who would establish a Police Nation in the United States of America.

The strategy of the Dixiecrats was simple.  They would take over state Democratic Parties where possible and replace Truman with Thurman while running no state or local candidates.  Failing that, they would get on the ballot as a third party.  They succeeded in taking over the parties of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina and were on the ballot of the remaining states of the Old Confederacy and in some border states—but not Truman’s Missouri or Barkley’s Kentucky.

As the campaign heated up Wallace and the Progressive party began to flounder, especially when he refused to renounce the public support and endorsement of the Communist Party.  Many liberals, fearing the three-way party split would usher in the Republicans, returned to the Democratic fold, if not entirely enthusiastically.  

Former Vice President Henry Wallace tried to run as the true heir to FDR and the New Deal, but his campaign collapsed over the endorsement and support of the Communist Party.  The left wing of the Democratic Party was virtually destroyed.

In the meantime Wallace’s connections with the Communists re-assured voters tempted to stray to the Republicans that the President was not himself the Red menace painted by the right of the GOP and the Dixiecrats.

Then Truman turned in the greatest campaign in American history, his famed Whistle Stop Tour where he stirred up voters with his famous Give em Hell speeches.  Dewey and Warren ran predictable, dull campaigns making boring speeches full of safe, empty platitudes to polite partisan crowds in major cities.

Early polling showed the GOP with such a heavy lead that most news providers decided to suspend polling  to save money.  The press, ensconced in the big cities, hardly noticed the growing enthusiasm for Truman everywhere he appeared.  The pundits unanimously regarded the splintered Democrats as dead in the water.  Almost everyone predicted a Dewey landslide.  The Chicago Tribune confidently printed a headline announcing Dewey Beat Truman in its early edition the morning after the polls closed but before the actual results were in.

            The most famous photo in American political history.

In the end, of course, Truman was the gloating winner.  Despite the multiple parties on the ballot the President almost won an outright majority of the popular vote—49.6%.  He swamped Dewey with 45.1%, Thurman with 2.9%. Wallace was not far behind that. 

The Dixiecrats were able to carry four states—Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Louisiana plus one Congressional District in Tennessee for a total of 39 Electoral College Votes.  The Republicans carried most of the Northeast except for Massachusetts and Rhode Island as well as two Mid-western states, the Prairie States from Kansas to North Dakota, and Oregon for 189 Electoral votes.  Truman took the rest of the states, including those who had been in the Confederacy, for a whopping 303 Electoral votes.  Although Wallace had run a close fourth in the popular vote, he failed to carry a single state and his utter defeat, along with rising anti-communist hysteria, crushed the far left of the Democratic Party.

After the election the Dixiecrats all returned to the Democratic fold.  Those in Congress, where Democrats had resumed control in the House of Representatives and Senate by comfortable margins, were allowed to retain their seniority status, including the Chairmanships of many of the most important committees.  Truman would have to rely on these former foes to advance his agenda. they generally did, although they blocked his Civil Rights program and his proposal for universal health care insurance.

Segregationist Democrats remained in power across the South, although their voters were more restive each election about the national ticket.  With the adoption of a succession of major Civil Rights bills culminating in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 Southern Democrats began their stampede away from the Democratic Party, just as Lyndon Johnson ruefully predicted.  Many supported arch-segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace in his 1968 Presidential bid under the American Independent Party banner, and his 1972 run for the Democratic Party nomination which only ended with the attempted assassination that left him gravely injured.

In 1968 Richard Nixon launched his ultimately successful Southern Strategy to lure Wallace and conservative voters to the GOP.  Over the next decades the once Solid South turned increasingly Republican, symbolized by the defection of Senator Strom Thurman himself.

By the early 21st Century the process was completed and the South was such a solid base for the Republicans that it drove the erstwhile party of Lincoln further and further to the right.  Along with libertarian ideologues and MAGA zombies the modern GOP is now unrecognizable from its historic roots.  Despite Donald Trumps disastrous presidency, the 2022 Capitol insurrection, and the former Residents criminal convictions and multitude of other legal woes Democrats fret that aged and perhaps impaired Biden can’t beat him and that his loss would drag down Congressional candidates and incumbents as well at state and local candidates down with him.

And in so many ways this whole landslide of history began with the snit and walk-out of the Dixiecrats 76 years ago.