The New Departure refers to the political strategy utilized by the Democratic Party of the United States to distance itself from its pro-Confederacy history in an effort to improve its electoral fortunes in the northern United States and African American voters. The Democrats sought to focus on economic issues rather than race-based politics and the legacy of the U.S. Civil War.
The Democratic Party was the principal party in power in the southern United States, before and after the Civil War (1861 - 1865) and had supported secessionism, slavery and the Confederate States of America. In the post-Civil War period, the political fortunes of the Democratic party were diminished during the Reconstruction era of the United States and the legacy of its support for the Confederate cause. The Republican Party of the United States, which had opposed secessionism and slavery, became the majority party in the post-Civil War period, using its power to establish civil rights for African Americans and a "Reconstruction" of the Southern states. While the Democratic party remained the most powerful party in the South, it was the minority in both houses of the United States Congress. It opposed Radical Reconstruction, but proved ineffective.
By 1870, many Democrats had stopped opposing Reconstruction and many Republican policies in an effort to improve the fortunes of their party, in a strategy called the "New Departure" of the Democratic Party. Democrats began asserting that they were just as loyal to the United States as the Republicans and now supported some civil rights. In the South, Democrats who embraced the "New Departure" called themselves "Redeemers". Democrats began pushing for economic modernization and recovery, alleging that the Republican-controlled state governments were inefficient and corrupt. As falling cotton prices further increased economic depression in the South, Democrats attacked the Republicans as creating unwelcome tax burdens and being unable to revive the economy. A prominent example of "New Departure" success was the election as the Governor of Virginia of William E. Cameron and of ex-Confederate general William Mahone as U.S. Senator from Virginia. Both Cameron and Mahone were leaders of the "Readjuster Party", which was a coalition of Democrats, Republicans and African Americans who sought the reduction of Virginia's pre-war debt. In Tennessee, "Redeemer" Democrats supported the Republican governor DeWitt Senter.
Criticism and opposition
The "New Departure" was strongly opposed by large factions of Democrats in the Deep South, who professed loyalty to the Confederate legacy. Republicans attacked the Democrats as being unsincere about reform, committed to states' rights at the expense of national unity and to white supremacism at the expense of civil rights.
- Eric Foner (2002). Reconstruction: America's unfinished revolution (1863-1877). Harper Collins. pp. 400–500. ISBN 0060937165.
- Ward McAfee (1998). Religion, race and Reconstruction. SUNY Press. pp. 22–26. ISBN 0791438473.
- Review of "The Democratic Party and The Negro: Northern and National Politics, 1868-92. http://www.hss.caltech.edu/~kousser/book%20reviews/grossman.pdf. Retrieved 2009-07-25.