Sunday, 15 March 2015

A Limited Group of Republicans Converting to Democrats

Sometimes, I'll write a short essay on some historical event that folks don't think much about.  This is one of those.

In the history of Alabama....there are dozens of individuals who've switched from Democrat to Republican....running for some state-level office.  But Republicans turning Democrat for an office?  One.

Yep....I've sat and read a fair amount of history over this.  Since 1900....you can probably cite at least thirty individuals who started out as a Democrat or as a blue-dog Democrat (pretending to be a mixture of Democrat-Republican).

Somewhere in Virginia in the 1820s.....a David P. Lewis was born.  Somewhere in the 1820s....Lewis's family ended up in north Alabama and got into politics.  His dad was associated with the county commission of the 1830s and 1840s.  As for David?  He ends up studying law in both Alabama and Virginia.

By 1843, he's a practicing lawyer in Lawrence County, Alabama.  What history will say was that he was a fairly dedicated guy and just never got married.  By age forty, he was a self-made man and property owner.

Most of what is written about Lewis is that he was a dedicated Republican and tended to believe the succession of Alabama wasn't going to play out well.  He involved himself with a group who felt that the state would eventually come back into the union....which probably didn't gain any friends.

Around the third year of the Civil War.....he was 'drafted'....and basically left town....crossing the border into Tennessee.  Three years after the war ends.....he's gotten a pardon from the federal government and back into the law business (1868) and curiously involved again in politics.

In 1868.....he ended up at the Democratic National Convention as a registered representative for the state Democratic Party in Alabama.  Chief logic?  Basically, it's impossible for a guy noted as a Republican to run in Alabama for just about any office.....such is the hatred around the state.

A year later....he flips back to the Republican Party.  Because of various confrontational situations within this period....he ends up being elected as governor of Alabama for a brief two-year period.  There's chaos, insults, bedlam, and pandemonium going on within Montgomery.    At the end of two years.....he's beaten by a Democrat.  Lewis tries to get a judgeship but fails.

In the end, his enthusiasm is finished off and he retreats to Huntsville to simply practice law.  He passes away on 3 July 1884 (buried in Maple Hill Cemetery, Huntsville).  Oddly, upon returning to Huntsville.....he re-re-converts himself into a Democrat (at least that's the understanding written on his personal history).

The simple truth in Bama is that Republican or Democratic labels.....are just that.....labels.  You can find various characters who will swear up and down....they are die-hard Republicans and then quiz them to find forty-percent of their positions fit better with Democrats.  The same is true with die-hard Democrats in the state.

It used to be true that a Democrat in Alabama held a better chance of winning state office (even state agricultural commissioner) than a Republican.  That was probably true up until the Reagan era.  Over the past twenty years....things have simmered a bit.  People will tell you they are blue-dog Democrats....talk up the 1960s and how their dad used to always vote a straight Democratic ticket.  Now?  They talk a bit, but you generally notice that results around certain towns and communities are fairly strong Republican.

The newspaper machine that used to deliver a fair number of voters?  It's dying off.  Fewer folks read the newspapers, and the bulk of registered voters tend to watch the 6AM local news to catch traffic accident video, or local scandals with high-school teachers.  If they really get into politics....they tend to listen to some talk-radio guy from the region and get a full-hour or two of rapid fire topics......which go way beyond what newspapers used to deliver.

David P. Lewis is a legend in some ways.  Whatever he needed to be.....he was....and no one asked stupid questions.  If he'd had better health, and better chances in the 1880s....he might have converted back to Republican yet again and run for office one more time.  People would laugh about switching so much on political parties....but in the 1860s/1870s.....no one really noticed these sort of things.