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Title: Opening Pandora's box : Richard Nixon, South Carolina, and the southern strategy, 1968-1972
Author: Adkins, Edward
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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Much discussed and little understood, Richard Nixon's southern strategy demands scrutiny. A brief survey of the literature suggests that study on this controversial topic has reached an impasse. Southern historians keen to emphasise the importance of class in the region's partisan development over the last fifty years insist that any southern strategy predicated on racialised appeals to disaffected white conservatives was doomed to failure. Conversely, conventional accounts of the Nixon era remain wedded to the view that the southern strategy represented a successful devil's bargain whereby an avaricious Californian exchanged the promise of racial justice for black southerners in return for white Dixie's electoral votes. Most sobering of all are political scientists concerned with executive power, who evidence the limited discretion enjoyed by presidents to implement any agenda inimical to the corporate will of the federal bureaucracy. Since Nixon's executive departments were brimming with Democratic holdovers from the Kennedy and Johnson years, the question of whether or not the President demanded concessions to southern racists apparently becomes more or less irrelevant: the 'fourth branch' of the federal government inevitably ensured that a southern strategy was simply impossible to execute. In reality, much of this stalemate is the product of academic territorial warfare on the battleground of a subject wide open to multiple interpretations. A southern historian keen to showcase the importance of his local research is likely to show little interest in evidence that a President based in Washington D.C. could initiate social change in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Similarly, political scientists fighting an unrewarding battle to emphasise the autonomy of federal departments are naturally disinclined to highlight examples of presidential willpower altering bureaucratic culture. Nevertheless, an intriguing paradox remains in evidence. Despite leaning more towards the political philosophy of antediluvian white southerners than the demands of black Americans, Richard Nixon presided over a period of such fundamental social reconstruction below the Mason-Dixie line that he could legitimately claim to have desegregated more southern schools than any other President in history. Whilst a raft of excellent monologues demonstrating the impact of local movements down South on national politics have been published over the last decade, few have even attempted to explain this peculiar phenomenon. As Matthew Lassiter observed in a Journal of American History roundtable on American conservatism in December 2011, 'the recent pendulum swing has overstated the case for a rightward shift in American politics by focusing too narrowly on partisan narratives and specific election cycles rather than on the more complex dynamics of political culture, political economy, and public policy.' The purpose of this thesis is to explain how a President notorious for pursuing the votes of white segregationists rested at the head of a federal government that ruthlessly dismantled Jim Crow. By incorporating the range of methodologies elucidated above, it will identify exactly how much influence President Nixon and his executive officers exerted over civil rights policy. Was Nixon's reactionary agenda thwarted by over-mighty bureaucrats? Or did the President act more responsibly than the majority of commentators have admitted?
Supervisor: Davies, Gareth ; Tuck, Stephen Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council ; Rothermere American Institute
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Segregation--South Carolina--History ; Segregation in education--Law and legislation--United States--History ; Civil rights--United States--History--20th century ; South Carolina--Race relations ; South Carolina--Politics and government ; United States--Politics and government--1963-1969 ; United States--Politics and government--1969-1974