"Southern Manifesto" eText - Primary Source

Primary Source

Senator Walter F. George delivered the Southern Manifesto to Congress on March 12, 1956. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Senator Walter F. George delivered the Southern Manifesto to Congress on March 12, 1956. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.


By: Strom Thurmond, representing nineteen senators and seventy-seven members of the House of Representatives

Date: March 12, 1956

Source: Thurmond, Strom. "Southern Manifesto." Congressional Record, 84th Congress, Second Session. Vol. 102, part 4, March 12, 1956. Washington, D.C.: Governmental Printing Office, 1956, 4459–4460. Available online at http://www.toptags.com/aama/voices/speeches/sthmani.htm; website home page: http://www.toptags.com/aama/index.htm (accessed March 3, 2003).

About the Author: James Strom Thurmond (1902–2003) was a teacher and school superintendent in South Carolina before obtaining his law degree. He served South Carolina as a state senator before being elected governor in 1946. He ran for president as the Southern Democrat "Dixiecrat" candidate in 1948. In 1954 he won a write-in campaign to win election to the U.S Senate. In 1957, he spoke against the civil rights bill for twenty-four hours and eighteen minutes, setting a record for the longest filibuster in Senate history. He was also the longest-serving senator, retiring in 2002 at the age of 100.


When the federal courts ruled against racial segregation in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Southern leaders, wanting to nullify the ruling, raised the issue of states' rights. The rights and power of state governments over the federal government has long been disputed. Under the Articles of Confederation, which served as the constitution for Americans from 1781 until 1788, the states had more power than the federal government. Under the Constitution, the federal government clearly reigns supreme.

There have been several points in U.S. history when opposition to the supremacy of the federal government and a call for states' rights has been taken up by one political group or another. In 1798, the United States passed the Alien and Sedition Act, a group of repressive laws aimed largely at recent immigrants. In protest, various politicians promoted the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, which argued that states had the right to "nullify" unconstitutional federal laws. Later, in 1828, South Carolina returned to the idea of nullification to oppose what it called the "Tariff of Abominations," a tariff thought to favor Northern industry. Between 1850 and 1856, Northern states argued for nullification as a way to eliminate the hated Fugitive Slave Law, which made Northerners responsible for the return of escaped slaves to the South. Not surprisingly, Southern states were very much against nullification at that time.

The idea of nullification, or states having the power to overrule acts of Congress and the federal government, has come to be called "states' rights." Even though Southern states were against the most common use of states' rights in the 1850s, much mythology grew up in the decades after the Civil War (1861–1865) to the effect that the South fought the Civil War on behalf of states' rights.

The South had imposed a system of segregation on nearly all areas of life after the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction. The Supreme Court had approved this system in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), holding that separate systems were allowable, as long as they were equal. The "separate but equal" system continued until Brown v. Board of Education (1954), in which the Supreme Court held that segregation in education was illegal. The South was outraged, believing that Southern leaders had the right to control their own educational systems, and many Southern politicians brought up "states' rights" as a defense. As an encapsulation of their ideas and protest, nearly all Southern congressmen jointly offered the Southern Manifesto, pledging "massive resistance" to integration in the South. In 1956, nineteen Southern senators and eighty-two members of the House of Representatives issued and signed the Southern Manifesto. Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who had run for president on a states' rights ticket in 1948, was largely credited with the creation and writing of the document. On March 12, 1956, Georgia Senator Walter F. George read it to Congress.


After the reading of the Southern Manifesto, the South adopted a variety of plans in order to implement their idea of "massive resistance" to the federally mandated racial integration of public schools. Seven states adopted, on a state level, resolutions declaring Brown unconstitutional. School boards adopted a variety of laws to thwart Brown, including laws allowing the redrawing of district lines to keep districts all white, laws allowing parents to send their children to private schools that were all white, "freedom of choice" plans allowing students to pick their schools, which were inevitably all white, and even closing some schools to prevent integration.

The most well-known clash over integration was in Little Rock, Arkansas, where Governor Orval Faubus used the Arkansas National Guard to block black students from entering a public school. When a court order removed the guard, a mob then prevented the students from entering. President Dwight D. Eisenhower (served 1953–1961) reluctantly sent in troops to force the desegregation. When the power of the Court's ruling over states was challenged in 1958, the Supreme Court ruled in Cooper v. Aaron that the states were in fact bound to uphold the Court's decisions in regard to Brown. Cooper was signed by all the justices (a quite unusual accord), resoundingly upholding the Brown decision. Desegregation proceeded slowly, though. In fact, by 1964 less than 2 percent of African American students in the former confederate states attended integrated schools.

The impact of the manifesto continued to be felt at the beginning of the twenty-first century. At the one-hundredth birthday party for James Strom Thurmond in December 2002, Senator Trent Lott made comments appearing to support Thurmond's 1950s position on segregation. Amid public uproar, Lott announced his resignation as Senate majority leader. This incident seems to indicate a large measure of public abhorrence for segregation, yet also the continued survival of racist attitudes. While legal segregation has been eliminated, factors such as residential segregation, school funding practices, and tracking perpetuate racial imbalances and inequities in schools into the fwenty-first century.

Primary Source: "Southern Manifesto"

SYNOPSIS: The Southern Manifesto is a direct challenge to the Supreme Court, stating that the Court went too far in Brown and arguing that since all school systems existing at the time of the Fourteenth Amendment were segregated, that amendment allows segregated schools. The Manifesto claims to stand for reserved powers of the states and protection against the overzealous execution of federal judicial powers. It closes by asking the states to resist the application of Brown in any legal manner possible.

The Decision of the Supreme Court in the School Cases—Declaration of Constitutional Principles

Mr. President, the increasing gravity of the situation following the decision of the Supreme Court in the so-called segregation cases, and the peculiar stress in sections of the country where this decision has created many difficulties, unknown and unappreciated, perhaps, by many people residing in other parts of the country, have led some Senators and some Members of the House of Representatives to prepare a statement of the position which they have felt and now feel to be imperative.

I now wish to present to the Senate a statement on behalf of 19 Senators, representing 11 States, and 77 House Members, representing a considerable number of States likewise.…

Declaration of Constitutional Principles

The unwarranted decision of the Supreme Court in the public school cases is now bearing the fruit always produced when men substitute naked power for established law. The Founding Fathers gave us a Constitution of checks and balances because they realized the inescapable lesson of history that no man or group of men can be safely entrusted with unlimited power. They framed this Constitution with its provisions for change by amendment in order to secure the fundamentals of government against the dangers of temporary popular passion or the personal predilections of public officeholders.

We regard the decisions of the Supreme Court in the school cases as a clear abuse of judicial power. It climaxes a trend in the Federal Judiciary undertaking to legislate, in derogation of the authority of Congress, and to encroach upon the reserved rights of the States and the people.

The original Constitution does not mention education. Neither does the 14th Amendment nor any other amendment. The debates preceding the submission of the 14th Amendment clearly show that there was no intent that it should affect the system of education maintained by the States.

The very Congress which proposed the amendment subsequently provided for segregated schools in the District of Columbia.

When the amendment was adopted in 1868, there were 37 States of the Union. Every one of the 26 States that had any substantial racial differences among its people, either approved the operation of segregated schools already in existence or subsequently established such schools by action of the same law-making body which considered the 14th Amendment.

As admitted by the Supreme Court in the public school case (Brown v. Board of Education), the doctrine of separate but equal schools "apparently originated in Roberts v. City of Boston(1849), upholding school segregation against attack as being violative of a State constitutional guarantee of equality." This constitutional doctrine began in the North, not in the South, and it was followed not only in Massachusetts, but in Connecticut, New York, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other northern states until they, exercising their rights as states through the constitutional processes of local self-government, changed their school systems.

In the case of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 the Supreme Court expressly declared that under the 14th Amendment no person was denied any of his rights if the States provided separate but equal facilities. This decision has been followed in many other cases. It is notable that the Supreme Court, speaking through Chief Justice Taft, a former President of the United States, unanimously declared in 1927 in Lum v. Rice that the "separate but equal" principle is "within the discretion of the State in regulating its public schools and does not conflict with the 14th Amendment."

This interpretation, restated time and again, became a part of the life of the people of many of the States and confirmed their habits, traditions, and way of life. It is founded on elemental humanity and commonsense, for parents should not be deprived by Government of the right to direct the lives and education of their own children.

Though there has been no constitutional amendment or act of Congress changing this established legal principle almost a century old, the Supreme Court of the United States, with no legal basis for such action, undertook to exercise their naked judicial power and substituted their personal political and social ideas for the established law of the land.

This unwarranted exercise of power by the Court, contrary to the Constitution, is creating chaos and confusion in the States principally affected. It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by the good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding.

Without regard to the consent of the governed, outside mediators are threatening immediate and revolutionary changes in our public schools systems. If done, this is certain to destroy the system of public education in some of the States.

With the gravest concern for the explosive and dangerous condition created by this decision and inflamed by outside meddlers:

We reaffirm our reliance on the Constitution as the fundamental law of the land.

We decry the Supreme Court's encroachment on the rights reserved to the States and to the people, contrary to established law, and to the Constitution.

We commend the motives of those States which have declared the intention to resist forced integration by any lawful means.

We appeal to the States and people who are not directly affected by these decisions to consider the constitutional principles involved against the time when they too, on issues vital to them may be the victims of judicial encroachment.

Even though we constitute a minority in the present Congress, we have full faith that a majority of the American people believe in the dual system of government which has enabled us to achieve our greatness and will in time demand that the reserved rights of the States and of the people be made secure against judicial usurpation.

We pledge ourselves to use all lawful means to bring about a reversal of this decision which is contrary to the Constitution and to prevent the use of force in its implementation.

In this trying period, as we all seek to right this wrong, we appeal to our people not to be provoked by the agitators and troublemakers invading our States and to scrupulously refrain from disorder and lawless acts.

Signed by:

Members of the United States Senate

Walter F. George, Richard B. Russell, John Stennis, Sam J. Elvin, Jr., Strom Thurmond, Harry F. Byrd, A. Willis Robertson, John L. McClellan, Allen J. Ellender, Russell B. Long, Lister Hill, James O. Eastland, W. Kerr Scott, John Sparkman, Olin D. Johnston, Price Daniel, J.W. Fulbright, George A. Smathers, Spessard L. Holland.

Members of the United States House of Representatives

Alabama: Frank W. Boykin, George M. Grant, George W. Andrews, Kenneth A. Roberts, Albert Rains, Armistead I. Selden, Jr., Carl Elliott, Robert E. Jones, George Huddleston, Jr.

Arkansas: E.C. Gathings, Wilbur D. Mills, James W. Trimble, Oren Harris, Brooks Hays, W.F. Norrell.

Florida: Charles E. Bennett, Robert L.F. Sikes, A.S. Herlong, Jr., Paul G. Rogers, James A. Haley, D.R. Matthews.

Georgia: Prince H. Preston, John L. Pilcher, E.L. Forrester, John James Flynt, Jr., James C. Davis, Carl Vinson, Henderson Lanham, Iris F. Blitch, Phil M. Landrum, Paul Brown.

Louisiana: F. Edward Hebert, Hale Boggs, Edwin E. Willis, Overton Brooks, Otto E. Passman, James H. Morrison, T. Ashton Thompson, George S. Long.

Mississippi: Thomas G. Abernathy, Jamie L. Whitten, Frank E. Smith, John Bell Williams, Arthur Winstead, William M. Colmer.

North Carolina: Herbert C. Bonner, L.H. Fountain, Graham A. Barden, Carl T. Durham, F. Ertel Carlyle, Hugh Q. Alexander, Woodrow W. Jones, George A. Shuford.

South Carolina: L. Mendel Rivers, John J. Riley, W.J. Bryan Dorn, Robert T. Ashmore, James P. Richards, John L. McMillan.

Tennessee: James B. Frazier, Jr., Tom Murray, Jere Cooper, Clifford Davis.

Texas: Wright Patman, John Dowdy, Walter Rogers, O.C. Fisher, Martin Dies.

Virginia: Edward J. Robeson, Jr., Porter Hardy, Jr., J. Vaughan Gary, Watkins M. Abbitt, William M. Tuck, Richard H. Poff, Burr P. Harrison, Howard W. Smith, W. Pat Jennings, Joel T. Broyhill.

Further Resources


Bartley, Numan V. The Rise of Massive Resistance: Race and Politics in the South During the 1950's. Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1969.

Lassiter, Matthew D., and Andrew B Lewis, eds. The Moderates' Dilemma: Massive Resistance to School Desegregation in Virginia. Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1998.

Leidholdt, Alexander. Standing Before the Shouting Mob: Lenoir Chambers and Virginia's Massive Resistance to Public-School Integration. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 1997.

Modlin, Carolyn Carter. "The Desegregation of Southampton County, Virginia Schools, 1954–1970." Dissertation, Virginia Tech, 1998. Available online at http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-121098-154942 (accessed March 3, 2003).

Patterson, James T. "Brown v. Board of Education": A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Wilson, Paul E. "Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka: A Personal Perspective." In Kansas Revisited. 2nd ed. Lawrence, Kans.: Division of Continuing Education, University of Kansas, 1998, 347–359.