Here’s Some History

The way in which alliteration jumps out in unexpected places continues to amaze me. I have been reading a biography of W.E.B. Du Bois (by David Levering Lewis) and am struck by the following:

Over a span of twenty years, from 1913 to 1933, the only presidents who served full terms were the alliteratively named Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover. Wilson, a southerner, almost eliminated persons of color from the Federal government. Coolidge remained silent in the face of a resurgent Ku Klux Klan, and Herbert Hoover, intent on gaining the Republican nomination for president in 1928 and needing the votes of southern delegations to the national convention, authorized the replacement of black delegates with white from the southern states. Black people in the south couldn’t vote, so the Republican party, the natural home of black voters after the Civil War, didn’t need them,

I hadn’t realized that the Republican strategy of gaining the Democratic “solid south” began with Hoover, not Nixon, nor that the movement of black voters to the Democrats began in the 1920s and 1930s as they moved from the south into northern cities and were able to vote for the first time. Since Democratic mayors controlled the northern cities and wanted black votes, they worked to gain the support of the new city-dwellers. Thus, over time, the traditional southern block of Democratic states became Republican and the traditionally Republican black vote became Democratic. And – have you guessed? – the process came to completion under the next alliterated president, Ronald Reagan!

It might also be noted that these were the only alliterated presidents we have ever had. The only defeated candidates who were alliterated were Wendell Wilkie, a much more liberal Republican in 1940, and Hubert Humphrey, a very liberal Democrat in 1968.

1 Comment

Rick WheelerJune 26th, 2006 at 9:51 am

Dear Chris,

A fascinatiing posting. As a student of American History and Literature, I always was appalled by the practice of the Republican Party after the emancipation of our Black citizens. Right away it began with the reconstruction of the South and then with the throwing away of all that had been gained with the deal cut to settle the Hays Tilden election in ’76.

Incidentally, you have been part of putting Beowulf back on the map. I read in the NYT last week a review of a play about Beowulf that has just opened on Broad way and there are have been a couple of other references to Beowulf in other periodicals.


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