American Independent Party
The American Independent Party was a national third party formed in 1967 as a protest to the civil rights policies and more liberal programs of the national Democratic Party. The effort was spearheaded by Governor George Wallace of Alabama. In Arkansas, the victory of the American Independent Party marks the only time a third-party candidate has won a statewide contest.
Wallace had long since established a reputation for fighting civil rights initiatives, including a widely publicized effort to block desegregation of the University of Alabama in 1963 by standing in the doorway to prevent two African American students from enrolling. When he entered the Democratic primary for the presidency in 1964, his strong performance in several states surprised observers, but he ultimately lost by a convincing margin to President Lyndon Johnson.
Privately, Wallace planned to run again in 1968 but initially faced the prospect of challenging an incumbent president in the Democratic primary. Because of Alabama’s term limits at the time, governors could not serve consecutive terms in office. Wallace’s wife, Lurleen Burns Wallace, had been elected governor of Alabama as a stand-in candidate for Wallace in 1966 in order to keep him in the national spotlight.
The American Independent Party was formed in the fall of 1967 to support a Wallace run for the presidency, encouraged by a number of state officials and residents upset with President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs, the civil rights movement, and the increasing unrest in the nation, specifically race riots in the nation’s major cities. Former Arkansas Supreme Court justice James “Justice Jim” Johnson of Crossett (Ashley County), also the Democratic nominee for governor in 1966, was among the most well-known supporters of Wallace. Johnson would coordinate Wallace’s efforts in the state throughout the campaign.
To qualify a third party for the ballot in 1968, Arkansas law required petition signatures equal to at least fifteen percent of the total votes in the previous general election, which meant a total of at least 86,000. Across the South, similar efforts were made to organize the party as a vehicle for Wallace, which supporters called “Operation Dixie.”
Party leaders preferred to keep their focus on Wallace and discouraged attempts by other candidates to run for any offices under the American Independent banner throughout spring 1968. A state-level convention for the new party was held on April 20 in Little Rock (Pulaski County) with 400 delegates in attendance. Delegates passed resolutions supporting states’ rights, police actions against rioters, and the Vietnam War. Walter L. Carruth, a farmer from Lexa (Phillips County), was elected chairman of the party, with Mrs. H. L. Thompson of Holly Grove (Monroe County) elected as vice chairman. The highlight of the convention was a speech by Wallace open to the public. Fire marshals estimated that 7,500 people attended the speech.
On April 22, party leaders announced that they had collected 125,000 Wallace petitions for the American Independent Party, far beyond the number required, and paid the required filing fees with the Secretary of State’s Office. Initially, former Georgia governor Marvin Griffin was named as Wallace’s vice-presidential nominee in the state.
Wallace faced personal setbacks during his run. His wife died from cancer in May at age forty-one, but Wallace, now a widowed father of four, continued with his presidential campaign. Ultimately, he won ballot access across the country with controversial retired general Curtis LeMay as his vice-presidential running mate.
Wallace returned to Arkansas in September to deliver speeches and attended a successful fundraiser in Little Rock. The Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette both published editorials critical of Wallace and his supporters. His supporters included a collection of business owners, farmers, ranchers, and supporters of the white citizens’ councils. A number of smaller newspapers and local officials voiced their support for Wallace in the state, as did former Arkansas governor Orval Faubus. Supporters ran with the slogans “Wallace Has It! Do You?” and “Stand Up For America.”
On election night, Wallace captured Arkansas’s six electoral votes decisively. He won 235,627 votes, or 38.65 percent of the total, to Republican nominee Richard Nixon’s 189,062 votes (or 31.01 percent) and Democratic nominee Hubert H. Humphrey’s 184,901 vote (or 30.33 percent). Of the state’s seventy-five counties, Wallace won fifty, mostly rural counties in the central, eastern, and southern areas of Arkansas. Nationally, Wallace would win only four other states—Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia—for a distant third-place finish with 9.9 million votes (or 13.1 percent), while Nixon won the election.
In what some writers called the “split-personality election” of 1968, not only did Wallace win the presidential vote in the state on his American Independent Party ticket, Republican Winthrop Rockefeller won reelection as governor and Democratic U.S. senator J. William Fulbright won reelection. All three parties split the major elections in the state, an electoral feat never matched in the state’s history. This was also the first time since 1872 that a Democrat had not won the presidential contest in Arkansas, a streak that had been unmatched even in any other reliably Democratic state across the “Solid South.”
Though Wallace lost the election nationally, many in Arkansas were buoyed by the success of the organization and attempted to keep the momentum going past 1968. Arkansas party leaders began organizing for the 1970 election. However, Wallace himself would return to the Democratic Party and win a second term as Alabama governor in the 1970 contest.
Party chairman Walter Carruth mounted a campaign for governor of Arkansas as Rockefeller ran for a third term against Democratic nominee Dale Bumpers of Charleston (Franklin County). H. L. Blanton, a St. Francis County farmer, became the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor. Attorney John Warwick of Camden (Ouachita County) was the American Independent nominee for attorney general. A number of others ran for state representative and state senator on the party ticket. However, the party offered no candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives. Carruth placed a distant third in the gubernatorial race, winning only 36,132 votes (or 5.9 percent), less than a tenth of the vote that went to Bumpers, the winner of the race.
All candidates for the American Independent Party in Arkansas lost decisively in the 1970 election. This was the last significant effort by the party in the state.
In 1972, the American Independent Party nominated U.S. Representative John G. Schmitz of California, formerly a Republican, for the presidency. Tennessee farmer Thomas J. Anderson, who also published several magazines, including The Arkansas Farmer, was nominated for vice president. Because of infighting within the organization, the party appeared on the ballot in Arkansas as the American Party. However, the party’s influence and enthusiasm in the state had completely evaporated. The party did not put forward any other candidates in the state. President Nixon won the presidential election in the state easily, while Schmitz could manage only 2,887 votes, less than 0.4 percent of the total.
In 1976, the American Independent Party split, and the surviving remnant formally became the American Party. The American Party nominated Anderson for the presidency, with Rufus Shackleford of Florida as vice president. Arkansas was one of only a handful of states to allow the American Party on the ballot. Anderson won only 382 votes in the state, less than 0.05 percent of the vote, far behind Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, who won victory in the state. The party never again appeared on the ballot in any form in Arkansas.
The American Independent Party, in spite of its success in Arkansas in 1968, failed to leave any significant impact in the state aside from this one election, which did serve to weaken the Democratic hold on the presidential vote in Arkansas. Democrats would only win the presidential vote in the state three times after 1972. The remains of the organization still exist in the twenty-first century in a small, fringe form.
For additional information:
Alber, Connie. The Wallace Movement in Arkansas. Little Rock: Southern Political Research Bureau, 1970.
Bartley, Numan V. The New South, 1945–1980. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995.
Bumpers, Dale. The Best Lawyer in a One-Lawyer Town: A Memoir. New York: Random House, 2003.
Frady, Marshall. Wallace. New York: New American Library, 1968.
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1976.
Johnson, Ben F. Arkansas in Modern America since 1930. 2nd ed. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2019.
South Arkansas Community College
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