resident Reagan, appealing to "Main Street America" to support his economic program, said the difference between him and congressional critics of his budget is that they are trying to raise people's taxes while he is trying to hold them down.

On the first day of a two-day, three-state swing through the South to sell his economic and New Federalism programs, Reagan accused his critics of wanting to return to the "big taxing, big spending" policies of the past. In speeches to the Alabama and Tennessee legislatures he sought to shift the debate over his economic program away from the size of projected federal budget deficits, which many economists, businessmen and members of Congress fear will choke the economy and wipe out any chance for recovery, to the benefits of his tax cuts.

He asserted that given time his program will work and be "the best darn thing that's been done for working and middle-income people in nearly 20 years."

"The American people are already taxed up to their eyeballs," Reagan said. "Our budget deficit didn't come about because we're not taxing enough. We've got a deficit because we spend too much."

Reagan was warmly received by the conservative Democratic legislatures in Alabama and Tennessee, both of which he carried in 1980. There were, however, stirrings of concern about the recession, which has led to plant closings and massive job layoffs in both states. Unemployment is up to 10 percent in Tennessee and over 14 percent in Alabama, both over the national average of 8.8 percent.

The president, who was under heavy security, was trailed at both stops by scattered but organized protesters.

The president pledged cooperation with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to come up with "further savings," but he emphasized over and over that this did not mean delaying his 1983 tax cut or cutting into his defense spending program.

In an obvious reference to House Democrats, however, Reagan denounced the "propaganda campaign" of "parade walkers who march out to denounce the projected deficit on television, but then slip back behind closed doors to bust the budget in their committees."

Reagan is to wind up the trip with a speech before the Oklahoma legislature Tuesday morning before returning to Washington. The Republican National Committee spent about $15,000 to have his Alabama speech transmitted by satellite to the Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina legislatures and to a Washington audience in the Post Office Building.

White House aides likened the tour to the president's foray through the Midwest last month when he spoke to the Indiana and Iowa legislatures on behalf of his still embryonic New Federalism proposal to shift control over social programs to the states.

In Washington, White House officials said that Reagan plans to make a series of radio speeches on various aspects of his program. No date has been set, but they are expected to begin early this spring and continue on a weekly basis.

Officials said the president believes he needs to make a fuller exposition of his domestic and foreign policies than the excerpted versions carried by newspapers and television and radio news broadcasts.

In his speeches today, the president sought to calm fears that his New Federalism would mean higher local taxes or signal a return to the days when states deprived blacks of their rights.

"Ours is not a negative administration trying to turn back the clock," he said. "Our goal is to undo the damage of the big-taxing, big-spending policies that have put average Americans of every race and creed, from every part of the country, into the financial bind they feel today."

In Montgomery, Reagan paid tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. who launched his national civil rights crusade with a bus boycott just two blocks from the state capitol. When Reagan mentioned the "giants" of Alabama in the introduction to his speech there, he was careful to include George Washington Carver and Joe Louis among a list including Helen Keller and football coach Paul (Bear) Bryant.

A black state legislator walked out on Reagan's speech, however, after unsuccessfully trying to persuade the other blacks--there are 16 in the 140-member legislature--to accompany him. About 150 Reagan critics demonstrated a block from the capitol in front of King's church.

Reagan emphasized the decline in inflation in his speeches and expressed concern about current levels of unemployment. He took sharp issue, however, with Democrats and others who have contended that the deep cuts the president has proposed for social spending demonstrate a lack of compassion for the poor.

"You know, we hear an awful lot about compassion--in the guises of who has it and who doesn't have it," Reagan said. "But how about having a little compassion left over for those Americans who sit around the table at night after dinner trying to figure out how to try to pay their own bills, keep the kids in school and keep up with higher inflation and higher taxes year after year."

On the way to the Tennessee state capitol here from the airport, Reagan stopped briefly at the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's home, to lay a wreath on "Old Hickory's" tomb. In his speech, he expressed his admiration for the way Jackson fought the "vested interests" and stood up for the average citizen.

In an apparent effort to describe his own resolve at this point, Reagan quoted Jackson: "One man with courage makes a majority."