Some families have had long-standing church and political affiliations, and local historian David Beckman realized it was so for his father’s family in Mound Prairie Township of Houston County in the 1950s.
While the Bible Belt across the South was staunchly religious and Democrat, the members of the Evangelical Church on South Ridge in Houston County associated being a good Christian with also being a good Republican. However, Beckman wrote that this family story “is not so much about religious and political persuasions as it is about human nature.”
In a Houston County History published in 1919, a brief biographical sketch described David’s grandfather Fred Beckman to be politically independent. David surmises that during that era, soon after fighting Germany during World War I, local farmers of German descent may not have been comfortable disclosing their political preferences. But by the 1940s, Grandpa and the family were “dyed-in-the-wool” Republicans. However, things could change, evidenced by the efforts of David’s father to alter the family’s political allegiance, at least for the presidential election of 1956.
Following two decades of Democrat presidents, Democrat Harry Truman decided not to run for re-election. The Republican party was thought to be in decline and controlled by old fogies while deserted by racial groups and organized labor. The Republicans really needed a new issue or a new “knight in shining armor.” Enter a popular, but previously non-partisan war hero, who unlike his political rivals, had no political baggage. Voters might like wearing “I like Ike” buttons.
Republican Dwight Eisenhower enjoyed a landslide victory over another political newcomer, Democrat Adlai Stevenson, in the election of 1952. It was unlikely any Democrat could have defeated the former Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during World War II. It was the same two presidential candidates facing each other again in the election of 1956.
The farm economy had suffered during Eisenhower’s first administration, which in 1954 reduced the price support level for all dairy products from 90 to 75 percent parity. Almost every area farm had dairy cows. With the inflationary rise in prices and reduced income, some small farmers had lost their farms. Some feared that if conditions didn’t improve, more farmers could “lose their livelihood.” David’s father Victor Beckman became convinced that there needed to be changes in Washington, D. C.
“At many family gatherings, especially Sunday dinner at Grandpa and Grandma’s following church services, Dad would try to convince his brothers and brothers-in-laws to vote for Stevenson. Gradually, some of the men started seeing things Dad’s way while you never knew about Grandpa.” Grandpa Fred listened but never entered into any of these discussions, which was understood to be his strong reluctance to ever vote for a Democrat. Dad would tell grandpa that “The boys are going to lose their farms if Eisenhower gets reelected.”
David added, “I have no idea if Dad ever spoke to Grandma about voting for Stevenson, but back in those days, a farmer and his wife generally voted the same way.” Suddenly one day, Grandpa told his now-Democrat son, “You’re right, Vic. We can’t let Eisenhower have another term.”
“When Election Day finally arrived, Dad picked up Grandpa and Grandma and drove them down to the town hall to vote. As they were getting out of the car, Dad reminded Grandpa and Grandma that they had to vote for Stevenson.” It did not take long for Dad and Grandma to cast their ballots, and they returned to the car to wait for grandpa. They waited quite a while longer than they anticipated, wondering why it was taking Grandpa so long.
Grandpa finally emerged from the town hall and walked slowly to the car “with a dejected look on his face, his eyes cast on the ground.” He didn’t say anything as he got into the car. After what seemed like extended silence, Dad finally asked Grandpa, “Well, did you do it?”
After moments of painful hesitation, Grandpa, with his head down and looking at the floorboard, “sheepishly” replied, “I just couldn’t do it, Vic.”
Grandpa was among the majority. In 1952, Stevenson had carried only nine states; in 1956, he won only seven, all in the South.
Source: “Voting – 1956,” part of the private memoirs of David. H. Beckman