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The Re-Arising of the Republican Party in South Carolina

By the Honorable C. Bruce Littlejohn

Upon my retirement in 1985, I had a lot of time for reflection. I thought of the many changes which have taken place in South Carolina's political world since I first ran for the legislature in 1936. Over the years I had kept a lot of files concerning the various elections which had taken place every two years. It was determined that a lot of things I remembered, and a lot of the things reflected by my files, should be recorded. They involved the kind of things that normally would not appear in a history of South Carolina.

My secretary and I began dictating a chapter every now and then, and we ended up with a South Carolina political history which I have elected to denominate Littlejohn's Political Memoirs: 1934-1988. The book

The Honorable C. Bruce Littlejohn, Chief Justice, Retired, pictured with Herb Hartsook, Curator of Modern Political Collections.

Littlejohn's papers (1938-1996) document his 58-year career in the Palmetto State.

Littlejohn and Hartsook - 59587 Bytes
has been published, and I have committed all the proceeds from the sales to my alma mater, Wofford College, to which institution I am greatly indebted.

During the time covered by this book, I personally attended the inaugurations of seventeen governors of South Carolina. In the book I included a chapter about each of the twenty-seven elections taking place between 1934 and 1988. In addition, there are thirty-two chapters relative to miscellaneous political happenings of interest to the electorate of this state. My comments today are basically an adaptation of a chapter in which I narrate the story of the return of the Republican Party to South Carolina?describing in detail how it came about.

When I began my political career by running for a seat in the House of Representatives in 1936, South Carolina had been a part of the "Solid South" for several decades. The Democratic primary determined who served in public office, and until some twenty-five years later few people in the Palmetto State bothered to go to the polls at general election time. A Democratic nominee considered the campaign over and would oftentimes go on vacation.

"Republican" was not a four-letter word, but until the 1960s it was a four-syllable word obnoxious in the minds of many South Carolinians. If one had leanings other than Democratic, he did not go around boasting of it in public.

The re-arising of the Republican Party in South Carolina as a potent influence bringing about a two-party system did not take place rapidly. It happened gradually over a period of forty-six years.

If I told you that over a period of forty-six years more than half the Baptists turned Catholic, you would be amazed. If I told you that over a period of forty-six years more than half the Carolina graduates were rooting for Clemson at the Carolina-Clemson game, you would not believe it. If I told you that more than half the Democrats in South Carolina in the last forty-six years have come to vote Republican, you would have to believe it because it is true.

In addition to his distinguished record of legal opinions, Justice Littlejohn has also authored three books reflecting on his long career of public service and observations on the law and politics:

  • Laugh with the Judge : Humorous Anecdotes from a Career on the Bench (1974)

  • Littlejohn's Half Century at the Bench and Bar (1936-1986) (1987)

  • Littlejohn's Political Memoirs : 1934-1988 (1989)
I date the re-arising of the Republican Party in South Carolina from 1948 when South Carolina Democrats conceived they had been mistreated at the National Convention in Philadelphia and came home mad enough to do something about it. Out of that discontent grew the States Rights Party ticket with Governor Strom Thurmond as candidate for President and Governor Fielding Wright of Mississippi for Vice-President. They mustered thirty-nine electoral votes, carrying four states including South Carolina. A majority of the former Democratic voters left the party but did not join the Republicans.

In 1952 the Republicans nominated for President a war hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower, to carry their banner. Fearing that South Carolina voters were not ready to vote Republican, Eisenhower supporters formed a temporary political party called "South Carolinians for Eisenhower." South Carolina Democrats voted for Adlai Stevenson with 173,000 votes. Old-line Republicans plus supporters of the temporary party cast 167,000 votes. About forty-five percent of the people left the Democratic Party.

In 1954 former governor Strom Thurmond, in a write-in candidacy for United States Senate, defeated the Democratic nominee, Edgar A. Brown, by 60,000 votes. A majority of the voters again left the Democratic Party.

In 1956 Eisenhower was nominated for re-election. Adlai Stevenson was again the Democratic nominee. Another temporary party entitled "South Carolinians for Independent Electors" was formed. Democrats gained 128,000 votes; Eisenhower on the old-line Republican ticket got 75,000 votes. The Independent Electors received 88,000 votes. A majority of South Carolina voters again left the Democratic fold, but Democrats prevailed since a plurality is controlling.

In 1960, in light of the strong anti-Democratic showing made in previous years, it was determined that third-party electors would not be selected. John F. Kennedy, as the Democratic nominee, received 198,000 votes while 188,000 voters favored Republican Richard Nixon. The difference was only 10,000 votes. The "Solid South" was beginning to crack.

In 1961 Charles Boineau, a Republican from Richland County, was elected to serve in the House of Representatives. He was the first Republican in sixty years to serve in the General Assembly.

In 1962 W.D. Workman, Jr., a highly respected Republican newspaper man from Columbia, challenged Senator Olin D. Johnston and received 133,000 votes representing forty-two percent of the total.

In 1964 Senator Strom Thurmond, who had been elected to the United States Senate as a write-in candidate and as a Democrat, switched parties and gave the Republicans a leadership they badly needed.

In 1966 Marshall Parker turned Republican and challenged Senator Fritz Hollings but was defeated by a narrow margin of only 11,000 votes. Republican Joe Rogers that year ran for governor against Democrat Robert McNair. McNair was elected with 255,000 votes, but Republican Rogers got 184,000 votes. Twenty-three members of the General Assembly were elected as Republicans. Since that time, the number has fluctuated, usually increasing.

In 1970 Albert Watson relinquished his seat in the Congress to run for governor against Democratic nominee John West. Watson was not successful, but 221,000 Republicans supported him.

In January 1995 the House was composed of sixty-three Republicans, four independents, and fifty-seven Democrats. The Senate was composed of sixteen Republicans and thirty Democrats. For the first time in about one hundred thirty years, the House membership elected a Republican, David Wilkins, as its Speaker.

Today the House still is composed of a majority of Republicans; in the Senate, there are twenty-two Republicans and twenty-four Democrats.

In 1964, 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996 South Carolinians gave majority support to the Republican candidates for President of the United States. In 1974, 1986, 1990, and 1994 South Carolina voters selected Republicans as governor. They were: James B. Edwards, Carroll Campbell (twice), and David Beasley. In recent years, switching parties from Democrat to Republican has not been uncommon.

There are few voters in South Carolina but who have not at some time split the ticket and voted for both Democrats and Republicans. The day of the "yellow dog Democrat" has long passed. Truly, South Carolina is now a two-party state not only at the state level but also at the city and county levels. Republicans have cracked wide open what we used to refer to as the "Solid South."

Notwithstanding the fact that the state is now largely Republican, Democrat James Hodges unseated Governor David Beasley in 1998.

There is now more tendency to vote for or against an individual candidate irrespective of party affiliation. Voters see the candidates on television and come to like or dislike them because of their personalities. The increased strength of the Republican Party is attested to by the fact that Republican candidates are often allowed to run unopposed in South Carolina. In many contests, the campaigning is spirited and the candidate with the most voter appeal, whether Democrat or Republican, wins. The time has come when Republicans beat Democrats, and Democrats win over Republicans. In some instances, as for example City Council in Spartanburg, the candidates run in a non-partisan election.

The changes in voting habits indicated herein above have not come about in a short period of time. The growth and the re-arising of the Republican Party have taken place over a period of more than forty years. If history repeats itself, South Carolina will continue to be truly a two-party state. Republicans have cracked the "Solid South" wide open.

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