Kevin M. Kruse @KevinMKruse Historian. Author/editor of White Flight; The New Suburban History; Spaces of the Modern City; Fog of War; One Nation Under God; Fault Lines. Dec. 13, 2017 2 min read

Thoughts on the politics of the 1920s Klan that didn't make it into my review:

First of all, I should note that the history of the 1920s Klan isn't one that supports the simplistic idea that the Democrats were "the party of the Klan."

To be sure, the Klan had large numbers of Democratic officials under its sway during the 1920s. (In a nice appendix, Gordon's book reprints an evaluation of the sympathies of all U.S. senators made by the Klan in 1923.)

But the Klan's influence varied from state to state.

In Oregon, for instance, a Klan-backed Democratic governor worked hard with KKK allies in the state legislature to enact key parts of the order's agenda -- most notably, signing a law that outlawed Catholic parochial schools.

In Oklahoma, however, Democrats succumbed to an intraparty civil war as the anti-Klan Democratic governor faced off against the pro-Klan legislature. In the end, the governor was recalled and forced out of office.

That civil war was replicated in the larger party, which was forced to confront the KKK at the 1924 national convention.

A proposal to condemn the Klan by name failed, but the final vote was as close as possible -- 542 and 3/20 votes against, 541 and 3/20 votes for.

Second, while Republicans were on balance less tainted by Klan connections in the 1920s, they weren't entirely innocent either.

Indeed, the state where the Klan saw perhaps its deepest level of control in politics was Republican Indiana.

The Klan's Grand Dragon in Indiana, D.C. Stephenson, was a significant player in the state's Republican political circles and a close ally of Governor Edward Jackson.

At one point D.C. Stephenson said famously (and fairly accurately) "I am the law in Indiana."

But the Grand Dragon soon came crashing down, when he was convicted of second-degree murder for assaulting and raping a state employee who then took her own life.

When Stephenson's crony, the GOP governor, refused to pardon him, the Grand Dragon spilled all his secrets.

He sent a congressman, the mayor of Indianapolis, and other officials to jail. The governor only escaped a bribery conviction because of the statute of limitations.

The Stephenson scandal with the Indiana GOP effectively exposed the Klan's hypocrisy and ultimately killed its political influence -- in both parties.

The clearest sign of the Klan's political collapse came at the 1928 Democratic national convention.

Again, in 1924, the party tore itself apart over condemning the Klan.

In 1928, it nominated for president a man who embodied everything the Klan hated: New York Gov. Al Smith.

As these Klan attacks (and countless others) made clear, the KKK hated everything about the 1928 Democratic nominee.

Al Smith was anti-prohibition, pro-immigration and, worst of all in the Klan's eyes, Catholic.

In the end, the 1920s Klan wasn't confined to one party, or one region. It was a wholly national organization with broad influence.

As I note at the end of the review, in that regard, the Klan was as advertised: "100% American."


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