Yellow dog Democrat

Yellow dog Democrat

In the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century, Yellow Dog Democrats were voters in the U.S. Southern states who consistently voted for Democratic candidates. The term arose from the notion that loyal Southern Democrats would vote for a yellow dog before voting for a Republican. The term is now often used more generally to mean any Democrat who will vote the Party ticket under almost any circumstances.

History and usage

The phrase is thought to have achieved popularity during the 1928 Presidential race between Democrat Alfred E. Smith and Republican candidate Herbert Hoover, when Senator J. Thomas Heflin (D-Alabama) crossed party lines to support Hoover.

The first known usage to date of “yaller dog” in relation to Democrats occurred in the 1900 Kentucky gubernatorial contest which turned into quite a dogfight. Irvin S. Cobb wrote a first hand account in his book "Exit Laughing", published in 1941, now in Canadian public domain and authorized for academic and non-profit use. It details the saga of the Kentucky Governor William Goebel, who killed a man, exploited the split Democratic Party in Kentucky, and was assassinated in 1900 -- shot in the chest the day before being sworn into office, and dying two days after taking the oath of office.

Mr. Cobb relates —

“the most devastating retort I ever did hear. It was delivered by Theodore Hallam, a battered-looking, hard-hitting, hard-drinking, little Irish lawyer, and an ex-member of Morgan's Rangers — and that for nearly half a century qualified a man for social and political distinction anywhere in the border South and particularly in Kentucky. Despite a high, strident voice, Hallam was perhaps the greatest natural orator in a state of natural orators and had a tongue pointed with a darting, instantaneous wit.”

“Hallam lived in Covington, where Goebel likewise lived, and as a comrade in war and an ally in peace of Colonel Sanford, the Conservative whom Goebel pistoled to death, he hated Goebel mightily. Having bolted when Goebel seized the gubernatorial nomination by craft and device — and at the last moment, by open violence — Hallam promptly took the stump against him and went about over the troubled commonwealth joyously sowing dragons' teeth and poison ivy.

The seceding wing of the party picked on Hallam to open its fight, and chose the town of Bowling Green as a fitting place for the firing of the first gun, Bowling Green being a town where the rebellion inside the ranks was widespread and vehement. But Goebel had his adherents there, too.

I could fairly smell trouble cooking on that simmering-hot August afternoon when Hallam rose up in the jammed courthouse to begin his speech. Hardly had he started when a local bravo, himself a most handy person in a rough-and-tumble argument, stood upon the seat of his chair, towering high above the heads of those about him.

"I allow I want to ask you a question!" he demanded in a tone like the roar of one of Bashan's bulls.

One-third of the crowd yelled: "Go ahead, Black jack!" The other two-thirds yelled: "Throw him out!" and a few enthusiastic spirits suggested the advisability of destroying the gentleman utterly, and started reaching for the armpit or the hip pocket, as the case might be. Despite the heat all hands were wearing their alpaca or their seersucker coats which, if you knew our sturdy yeomanry in those parlous days, was a bad sign.

With a wave of his hand Hallam stilled the tumult.

"Let it be understood now and hereafter, that this is to be no joint debate," he said in that high-pitched shrill voice of his. "My friends have arranged for the use of this building and I intend to be the only speaker. But it is a tenet of our faith that in a Democratic gathering no man who calls himself a Democrat shall be denied the right to be heard. If the gentleman will be content to ask his question, whatever it is, and abide by my answer to it, I am willing that he should speak."

"That suits me," clarioned the interrupter. "My question is this: Didn't you say at the Louisville convention not four weeks ago that if the Democrats of Kentucky, in convention assembled, nominated a yaller dog for governor you would vote for him?"

"I did," said Hallam calmly.

"Well, then," whooped the heckler, eager now to press his seeming advantage, "in the face of that statement, why do you now repudiate the nominee of that convention, the Honorable William Goebel?"

For his part Hallam waited for perfect quiet and at length got it.

"I admit," he stated blandly, "that I said then what I now repeat, namely, that when the Democratic party of Kentucky, in convention assembled, sees fit in its wisdom to nominate a yaller dog for the governorship of this great state, I will support him — but lower than that ye shall not drag me!"

So, ironically, the first known use of “yaller dog” was directly aimed at a Democrat by a Democrat.

There are indications that the term was in widespread and easily understandable use by 1923. In a letter written in Huntland, Tennessee by Mr. W. L. Moore of Kansas City, Missouri, on May 9, 1923, on the occasion of his 90th birthday and now a web-based genealogical document, Mr. Moore writes:

“I am a Democrat from inheritance, from prejudice and principle, if the principle suits me. But I have passed the yaller dog degree.”

Logic suggests that the term originated in the environs where “yaller dogs” made their habitat, namely South Carolina. Therefore, for the term to have come to use in Kentucky by 1900 and in Tennessee by 1923 (or even North Carolina where Mr. Moore sometime abided), sufficient time must have passed in order for the term to have migrated. So far, no historical documentation of an original quotation indicating an individual declaring his preference to vote for a yellow dog rather than a Republican, or only because the canine might be the named Democratic contender, has been located.

The term gained national prominence during the 1928 presidential campaign when many Southern voters disliked several items on Democratic candidate Al Smith's platform (as well as his Catholicism), but voted for him regardless.

ee also

*Boll weevil (politics)
*Blue Dog Democrats
*Swing vote
*Third way

External links


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