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Yellow Dog Democrats was a political term applied to voters in the Southern United States who voted solely for candidates who represented the Democratic Party. The term originated in the late 19th century. These voters would allegedly "vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for any Republican". The term is now more generally applied to refer to any Democrat who will vote a straight party ticket under any circumstances.
The phrase "Yellow Dog Democrat" is thought to have achieved popularity during the 1928 presidential race between Democratic candidate Al Smith and Republican candidate Herbert Hoover, when Senator J. Thomas Heflin (D-Alabama) crossed party lines and formally supported Hoover. Many Southern voters disliked several items on Smith's platform but still voted for him.
The term was also used by Abraham Lincoln in an 1848 speech on the presidential campaign of General Zachary Taylor, whose Democratic opponent was General Lewis Cass. Lincoln derided Cass as one of several recent Democratic presidential candidates in the mold of Andrew Jackson by saying:
"A fellow once advertised that he had made a discovery by which he could make a new man out of an old one, and have enough of the stuff left to make a little yellow dog. Just such a discovery has Gen. Jackson's popularity been to you [Democrats]. You not only twice made President of him out of it, but you have had enough of the stuff left to make Presidents of several comparatively small men since; and it is your chief reliance now to make still another."
In the run-up to the 1892 presidential election, the African-American journalist C.H.J. Taylor of Kansas City, Kansas, in his paper The American Citizen, used the term to refer to Republicans in the West who, he wrote, "would vote for a yellow dog out there if he was named Republican."
The first known usage to date of “yaller dog” in relation to Democrats occurred in the 1900 Kentucky gubernatorial contest involving Kentucky Governor William Goebel. Theodore Hallam was criticized at a Democratic Party meeting for first supporting Goebel, then campaigning against him. The critic pointed out that Hallam earlier had said "if the Democrats of Kentucky, in convention assembled, nominated a yaller dog for governor you would vote for him" and asked "why do you now repudiate the nominee of that convention, the Honorable William Goebel?" Hallam responded:
"I admit," he stated blandly, "that I said then what I now repeat, namely, that when the Democratic Party of Kentucky, in convention assembled, sees fit in its wisdom to nominate a yaller dog for the governorship of this great state, I will support him — but lower than that ye shall not drag me!"
There are indications that the term was in widespread and easily understandable use by 1923. In a letter written in Huntland, Tennessee by W. L. Moore of Kansas City, Missouri on May 9, 1923, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, Moore writes:
"I am a Democrat from inheritance, from prejudice and principle, if the principle suits me. But I have passed the yaller dog degree."