The Very First Tea Party Speech

The Tea Party movement plainly has roots in earlier political trends, but it’s tough to pinpoint a seminal moment, a spark out of which this ideology of tribal rage took its modern form.  By accident over the weekend I think I may have found it in the form of an obscure old speech.

Allow me to put off identifying the speaker or the circumstances.  First, let me share a few excerpts.  Recognize any familiar themes?

The threat to the Constitution:

We sound a call for a return to constitutional government in America…

[We] stand beside the constitution of the United States with drawn sword.  [We] are ready to stand, even at the expense of life itself, as Crocket, Bowie and Houston stood in Texas, for individual liberty and freedom, for the right of the people to govern themselves.

Awkward comparisons to Communism:

The Democratic Convention followed a pattern and a blue-print … for lifting the face of America and giving [it] the “new Russian look.”

We have recently learned of the infiltration of communist spies into our government and our critical industries.

Even more awkward comparisons to Hitler:

Hitler offered the people of Germany a shortcut to human progress.  He gained power by advocating human rights for minority groups.  Under his plan, the constitutional rights of the people were destroyed.

Washington bureaucrats are building a police state:

The proposed federal police state, directed from Washington, will force life in each hamlet in America to conform to a Washington pattern.  Russia is ruled from Moscow.  May God forbid that your state and my state, your country and my country, your city and my city, your farm and my farm, shall ever be subjected to Washington Bureaucratic police rule.

State sovereignty is the key to liberty:

The proposal to take from you your right to deal with your local problems in a way that is satisfactory to you and to invest the right to deal with those problems in Washington is a way that is wholly unsatisfactory to you is so antagonistic to our form of government, and so contrary to everything that we have stood for since 1776 that it is obliged to be communistic in concept, un-American in principle, and undemocratic in execution.

The Justice Department is building an American Gestapo:

Its [Justice Dept.] agents would circulate throughout the land, meddling with private business, policing elections, intervening in private lawsuits, breeding litigation and keeping our people in a constant state of apprehension of harassment…The people do not want the Federal government to usurp the police power, and thereby sow the seeds of a Gestapo in America.

Hate crimes legislation is designed to destroy freedom:

…the federal government…is trying to trying to take their police power from the states.  When this occurs, the last vestige of local control of the police and local exercise of the police power, so essential if we are to remain a free people, will have been destroyed.

How did he anticipate the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”  He warns that progressives force their policies on the military:

…even at the sacrifice of the morale of the soldiers and the safety of the country itself, against the advice of the military leaders charged with the defense of the nation.  Our boys in service should not be subjected to an unnecessary hazard.  The American people do not want their sons placed in such a position, when the military leaders say it is unsafe, simply, to allow politicians of this country to appeal to bloc voters.

Progressives are afraid of clean elections:

It is fundamental in this whole American system that, if liberty is to be retained in this country, the control of our elections must remain at home.  There can be no tyrant, there can be no dictator, in America, if the people in the communities of the nation control their elections, fix voting qualifications, and say who can and who cannot vote.

New Federal laws are inspired by Stalin:

The proposed American FEPC was patterned after a Russian law written by Joseph Stalin about 1920, referred to in Russia as Stalin’s “All-Races Law”… Stalin was commissar of Nationalities of the time that he wrote this law and he used it as a means of advancing himself to supreme dictator of Soviet Russia.  The FEPC might as well be entitled a law to sabotage America.

These are excerpts from Strom Thurmond’s 1948 speech accepting the Presidential nomination of the States’ Rights Democrats (the “Dixiecrats”) at their convention in Houston.  What are the dangers that inspired the young Democratic Governor of South Carolina to break from his party and warn of a mortal threat to representative government?

The Democratic Party in the summer of 1948 had embraced platform planks calling for anti-lynching laws, an end to the poll tax, desegregation of the military, and a law barring racial discrimination in hiring.  Those were the proposals so intolerable to a free people that he compared them to Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin.

It is important to remember that Thurmond was an energetic supporter of Roosevelt and the New Deal.  An activist Federal bureaucracy didn’t become a danger to liberty until it began to undermine white supremacy.

After President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Thurmond switched to the Republican Party.  His move led a long wave of defections of racist Southern political figures to the nearly-empty Southern GOP.  Thurmond never renounced his positions on race, the Old South, and segregation.  He brought them with him, quietly but without compromise, where they remain an awkward fit today with the Republican Party’s long Hamiltonian tradition.

Thurmond’s 1948 acceptance speech is no masterpiece, but it marks an important political watershed.  In the speech, Thurmond is composing a new language through which Southern “racial conservatives” could communicate their complaints beyond the region.

He was pioneering the use of “Communism” as a proxy, building a new dog-whistle for racists. This language allowed the Dixiecrats to climb out of their sweaty Southern box and expand the Neo-Confederate campaign without stinking up the room with N-bombs.

In time, Thurmond would add fundamentalist language to the mix.  His technique of channeling racist concerns into racially-neutral rhetoric would influence the Birchers in the 50’s and ’60’s, religious conservatives in the ‘70’s, and has been resurrected almost intact in the Tea Party movement.

Sixty years before the Obama Administration, Strom Thurmond delivered what can perhaps be considered the very first Tea Party speech, so perfect in its carefully couched language that with only a few variations Glenn Beck could deliver it on the air today.  As it says in Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.”


I highly recommend reading the entire speech.  It’s not transcribed online, but I obtained a scanned copy from the Thurmond Institute at Clemson and posted it here:

Strom Thurmond Accepts the Dixiecrat Nomination for President, 1948

Chris Ladd is a Texan living in the Chicago area. He has been involved in grassroots Republican politics for most of his life. He was a Republican precinct committeeman in suburban Chicago until he resigned from the party and his position after the 2016 Republican Convention. He can be reached at gopliferchicago at gmail dot com.

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Posted in Neo-Confederate, Race, Tea Party
3 comments on “The Very First Tea Party Speech
  1. […] are inspired by Stalin: Are you wondering who it was who gave this incredible speech? Find out at The Very First Tea Party Speech And as a bonus you'll find a link to a scanned copy of the entire speech at the end! […]

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