Journal of American Studies

Conceptualising Southern Liberalism: Ideology and the Pepper–Smathers 1950 Primary in Florida

a1 Department of History, University of Reading, White Knights, Reading RG6 6AA.

In his diary in July 1946 Senator Claude Pepper of Florida noted that Great Britain was “showing considerable progress in [a] year under its socialist government – nationalization of [the] Bank of England, coal mines … . They have enacted [a] housing program and extended [the] social security system and a national health system. That is the direction of things everywhere but here.” The question of why American social democracy did not take off in the same way after World War Two as elsewhere in the industrialised world has become an important issue in recent American historiography. Indeed, the question of what was left, in both senses of the word, of “liberalism” after the death of Franklin Roosevelt assumes particular importance when one considers the fact that there were in the United States in 1946 a fair number of liberal political thinkers who were committed to using the New Deal and wartime experience as a launch pad for further left-of-centre political experimentation. Claude Pepper, Henry Wallace, Helen Douglas, Harold Ickes, Rexford Tugwell, Paul Douglas – all were in positions of political or intellectual influence at the end of the Second World War. Yet, by 1950, they would all experience either political defeat or a shift away from vocal commitment to social democratic values.