Lit. Am. Hist II -- Professor K.C. Johnson                                         May 5, 2006

Study Questions for Carter                                                             Gwynneth Malin


Here is the article that Professor Johnson mentioned in class:

The Problem of American Conservatism

Alan Brinkley

The American Historical Review, Vol. 99, No. 2 (Apr., 1994), pp. 409-429


Study Questions for:

Dan T. Carter. The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, The Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.



  1. According to Carter, how did Wallace link traditional conservatism to cultural beliefs with a broader appeal to more Americans? What were those cultural beliefs?


  1. Does Carter prove his thesis that Wallace was the “alchemist of new social conservatism”? How did Wallace’s fueling of racial fears, anti-communism, and right-wing economics contribute to the creation of conservative politics in America of the 1970’s and 1980’s? (12)


  1. Is Carter’s editor’s idea that this book is more than biography because it shows how one man’s life illuminates the “Americanization of Dixie and the Southernization of America” convincing?  How does Carter’s book compare with Branch’s in terms of genre?


  1. What do we make of the redemption interpretation of Wallace (that is, the idea that after Bremer’s attempt to assassinate Wallace, Wallace was “struck down and then got up to do good”)? Carter is clear in his stance that Wallace is beyond forgiveness, because he used racism and fear to support his “politics of rage” and moved it to the forefront of the political stage.  Is this a change in the historiography about Wallace?


  1. What do we make of Carter’s periodization? Why does the book end in 1972, when Wallace runs for governor again in 1982?  What is lost in terms of the narrative by using this end date?


  1. Carter does not employ the approach of viewing American history through an international lens, which we have seen elsewhere this semester.  Rather, Carter compares the racial conflict in Alabama to a broader domestic context. How successful is this approach?


  1. How does the portrait of Wallace’s mother, Mozelle Smith Wallace, as a “pioneer woman of the early 19th century”, who sought “better general social conditions” (22), who created community through quilting bees, and who aimed to bring “refinement” to the Wallace family, shed light on the later life experience of George Wallace?


  1. How did the generation-long agricultural depression affect Wallace’s upbringing and the development of his worldview? (23)


  1. What role did boxing play for Wallace while growing up and why is this important to understanding this man and his life? 


  1. Carter stresses the formative experience of Wallace’s being raised in Barbour County.  What is revealed with regard to the fact that Wallace’s favorite book was Backtracking in Barbour County?


  1. How did Wallace’s experience in the Air Force shape his views on race and class and his perspective of his hometown and upbringing?


  1. Did the concept of “people to people politics” (74) work for Wallace’s political career?  How did correspondence and personal visits factor into this approach?


  1. In Carter’s telling, the reaction in Mississippi to Brown vs. Board of Education led to the grass roots resistance and the creation of Southern White Citizen’s Council.  How did these developments influence the Tuscaloosa assault on Autherine Lucy?  How does this narrative intersect with what we saw in the Klarman book?


  1. What was Folsom’s “disastrous miscalculation that would haunt him for the rest of his political career”? (84) Did it contribute to the end of his political career or were there other factors? What is the larger significance of Folsom’s story in the political landscape in Alabama in 1957?


  1. Why does Wallace lose to Patterson? (95)


  1. How did the confrontation with Frank Johnson and its outcome contribute to Wallace’s run for governor in 1962? (98-104)


  1. What was the role of the Wallace family in George’s political career and how did this role change over time?


  1. What was Asa Carter’s theory about Wallace’s statement, “segregation now…segregation tomorrow…segregation forever”? (109)  Did this theory turn out to be true?


  1. What was the political and economic system supported by Bull Connor?  (115)


  1. Given our discussion of Branch’s book and elites, where does Wallace fit in as an elite?  Once in office, he operates within the political structures and he did have high profile meetings with JFK and later Johnson, but his background is not a traditionally elite one. Carter shows that Wallace mobilized a southern elite base of wealthy, educated people to support his platform. What struck JFK about this fact? (185)  What was Wallace’s view of the northern elite, especially with regard to the “intelligencia”? (466)


  1. What do we make of Wallace’s saying that there was more “law and order in Alabama in one minute than you can have for an entire year in Washington D.C.”? (121) How does Wallace link lawlessness and MLK Jr.?  How did MLK Jr.’s non-violent protests rearrange the “political process as it had existed throughout the ninety-year history of Birmingham?” (185)


  1. Wallace’s pledge to “stand in the schoolhouse door” (106, 124) makes a public relations splash.  How does Wallace insert Communism into this pledge?  How did Wallace link standing in the school house door to larger political issues of centralized government vs. states rights?


  1. When Wallace made this pledge to block desegregation at the University of Alabama (106) and later at elementary schools (173), he simultaneously stated that it would be a nonviolent action (137).  What do we make of this paradoxical statement in terms of Wallace’s larger political strategies?


  1. What was behind JFK’s fear about the possibility of repeating the events that happened at the University of Mississippi at the University of Alabama? (134)


  1. What role did Albert Lingo as head of the Alabama Highway Patrol play with regard to Wallace?  (125)


  1. Carter emphasizes Wallace’s transformation when he appeared on Meet the Press on June 2, 1963. (136)  How did Wallace’s skills in public relations affect his political standing and influence?


  1. What was the significance of JFK’s American University commencement speech? (142)


  1. What occurred when Hood and Malone tried to enroll at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963?  What was the role played by Katzenbach? (147)


  1. How does Carter’s use visual sources to support his argument about the Wallace’s efforts to stage events around school desegregation to his benefit and about the role of the press?


  1. According to Carter, was Wallace successful with his tactic to turn the integration of the University of Alabama into a debate about federal vs. state power? (148)


  1. How did the fact that Wallace backed down in this incident influence the immediate action of JFK?  What happened when JFK delivered his address about the civil rights bill? (151)


  1. How did Wallace encourage resistance to the civil rights bill?  How did he fuel white fear using racism as connected to concerns about physical harm and about loss of private propriety in this effort? (161)


  1. How do MLK’s beliefs in the idea that “Wallaceism was bigger than Wallace” and that Wallace was “perhaps the most dangerous racist in America today” (156) support Carter’s overall argument?


  1. What was the national reaction to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church?  In the wake of the bombing, which groups were considered as possible perpetrators? (175-183)  How did Wallace use the press to mobilize the support of his constituents after the bombing? Whom did Wallace say was to blame for the bombing? (185-186)  What year was Robert Chambliss convicted of the murder of “the four little girls”, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, and Addie Mae Collins? (194)


  1. How did Wallace become part of “a long tradition of southern emissaries seeking an audiences for the gospel of the peculiar region?”  How did his appearances at Harvard and other universities advance this phenomenon?   How was Wallace received at these appearances? (196-198)


  1. How did JFK’s assassination impact Wallace?  What was Wallace’s response to the President’s death? (199)


  1. What was the response to Wallace’s announcement that he would run for President? (204)  How did LBJ react to this news? (211) Why did Wallace withdraw from the race? (222) As we saw in Branch’s book, Carter also demonstrates that Johnson’s endorsement of a stronger civil rights bill would destroy the party’s old base among white Southern voters.  (212) Once the civil rights bill passed, to what document did Wallace compare it? (217)


  1. When pressed, what examples did Wallace’s supporters cite as indicators of his “racial moderation?” (236)


  1. What occurred at the “Washington summit” between Wallace and LBJ? (252-254)


  1. How was it that Lurleen Wallace ended up running for governor? (280)


  1. According to Carter, did Wallace’s anti-black views comprise a “coherent racist philosophy?” (297)


  1. How had the political landscape shifted by 1964 and how did this change facilitate “ a more congenial climate” for Wallace’s campaign? (301)


  1. How did Wallace spin what racial riots of the mid-1960’s were about? (303-304)


  1. How does Carter’s account of LBJ’s escalation of the Vietnam War square with what we saw in Logevall’s book?


  1. What was Wallace’s “southern strategy?” (338)


  1. Why was Wallace called a populist? What did this term mean by the mid 1960’s? (344)


  1. How does the example of the anti-black radicalism of Wallace’s supporters support Carter’s overall argument? (362-363)


  1. How did Nixon’s counterattack affect the Wallace presidential campaign? (364)


  1. What was the thesis of Alexander Bickel’s essay about school desegregation which appeared in The New Republic? How did this essay capture the “new spirit of ‘realism’ of neo-conservative thinking? (380)


  1. How did Wallace’s political victory reinforce Nixon’s move to the right on integration? (396)


  1. What elements comprised Wallace’s “spruced-up” new look? How did Wallace and his second wife, Cornelia Snively, recast Wallace in a new image which included the portrayal that Wallace was “always a moderate?” (415-417) What contributed to Wallace becoming “legitimate?” (426)


  1. With what events in the FBI did Bremer’s shooting of Wallace correspond? (438)


  1. After the assassination attempt on Wallace, how did Cornelia help Wallace to make sense of this event and with his resulting physical disability? (451)


  1. What do we make of Wallace’s arranged meetings with John Lewis and others? (460-461) How does this relate to “people-to-people” politics of Wallace’s early career?  Did attempts at reconciliation influence Wallace’s future political career, especially his run for governor in 1982? (462)


  1. Has Wallace been “vindicated by history?” (466)  Do you agree that Wallace was “the most influential loser in 20th century American politics?” (468)  How significant is Wallace as a political and historical figure?