My column in the Daily Beast: “Not Much Passes the 100-Year Test. Will Trump?”

In my time running SundayMagazine.org, it’s become increasingly apparent to me and my readers just how few of the most prominent people, places, and things from 100 years ago are still well remembered tgoday.

What does this insight reveal about who and what from this era might still be well remembered 100 years from now?

My prediction: despite how big the biggest people, places, and things seem to us at the moment, almost nothing and nobody lasts 100 years in the public’s consciousness.

Will Trump? Will Obama? Will 9/11? Will today’s technology? What about the biggest movies or songs?

I tackle these questions in my new opinion column for the Daily Beast: “Not Much Passes the 100-Year Test. Will Trump?”

https://www.thedailybeast.com/not-much-passes-the-100-year-test-will-trump

 

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

June 4th, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Blog Stuff

Dead Letters Among the Laws

In 1920, it became illegal to drink alcohol. But during ancient Greek times, at certain celebrations it was illegal to be sober. How far we’d come.

From a 1920 New York Times article:

Laws which have been nominally enforced for decades have became dead letters, some of them without going through the form of repeal. Is it any wonder that the cynics among us are speculating whether prohibition will fall into this class?

Today, with the Volstead Act [the main law enforcing Prohibition] trying to be effective, it is refreshing to recall that at certain Bacchanalian festivals in pagan Greece it was a punishable offense not to be drunk, because a state of sobriety showed gross lack of reverence for the god of the grape.

Prohibition did “fall into this class” of largely unenforced laws, but it didn’t remain a dead letter permanently, getting repealed in 1933.

When a law is a dead letter, it can be funny. The real problem is when these troublesome vestigal laws are enforced.

In my home state of Virginia, a state law dating back decades still required couples to each fill out their race when applying for a marriage license — with the listed race options including such bygone terms as Aryan, quadroon, octoroon, and moor. In 2019, after three engaged Virginia couples filed a lawsuit against the state, the law was struck down as unconstitutional.

 

Dead Letters Among the Laws (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 24, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

October 23rd, 2020 at 10:51 am

Posted in Life,Politics

How Woman Goes to Vote

When women could first vote in 1920, the resulting atmospheric changes at polling locations included no more fights, profanity, or smoking.

“And no trouble, never no trouble any more,” the Veteran regretted. “In the old days we could always run in a couple of guys, there was always rows. There’s nothing doing any more. Since the women’s been mixing in, politics ain’t the same.”

….

The proceedings everywhere had a most domestic flavor. Parenthetically it may be recorded that not a bit of profanity did [people] hear all evening, and in only one place did they see an election official smoking. “And he’s an old man — been with the party for years,” an official hastened to explain.

In 2020, you never really see physical fights or smoking at polling locations, and any profanity is surely murmured under one’s breath rather than shouted loud. Another change at polling locations from a century ago is the NRA-inspired prevalence in recent years and decades of open carry laws. According to an August article from the National Confederence of State Legislatures, 11 states explicitly ban guns and other weapons at polling places. That number is apparently now 12, since just yesterday Michigan joined their ranks.

In other words, 38 states have no such explicit ban — including a surprising number of blue states such as Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, Vermont, New York, Illinois, Washington, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut. And the list of states which have instituted such a ban includes such surprising red or red-adjacent states as Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas.

 

How Woman Goes to Vote: Her Ways at Polling Places, as Observed in the Recent Registration Lines (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 17, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

October 17th, 2020 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Politics

Changing Fashions in Presidential Campaigns

At some point, the presidential “campaign biography” gave way to the “campaign autobiography.” 1920 fell between those two eras, with this contemporary article noting the demise of the former though the latter hadn’t yet become the norm.

From 1920:

At least four of these campaign biographies were written by authors of standing. No less a man of letters than Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the campaign life of Franklin Pierce in 1852; William Dean Howells prepared in 1860 a campaign life of Lincoln, and in 1876 a campaign life of Hayes; and in 1888 Lew Wallace [a biography of Benjamin Harrison]. There were a host of others in other elections, [including] E.D. Mansfield’s Scott, W.A. Crafts’ Grant, James S. Brisbin’s Garfield, G.F. Parker’s Cleveland, B. Andrews’s McKinley, [and] R.L. Metcalf’s Bryan.

At some point, that morphed into the modern-day tradition of the campaign autobiography. At what point did this change?

While a few presidents before 1920 had written autobiographies, such as Ulysses S. Grant, they were generally written after their presidency had concluded. John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage was released in 1956, four years prior to his successful 1960 presidential run, but that book was about other people rather than himself. (And besides, it was actually primarily written by Kennedy’s speechwriter Ted Sorensen.)

It appears the autobiography trend may have started when Jimmy Carter released Why Not the Best? in 1975, in preparation for his successful 1976 run, as Carter hoped to boost his then-little-known national profile. Others followed suit: George W. Bush released A Charge to Keep in 1999, in preparation for his successful 2000 run, while Barack Obama released The Audacity of Hope in 2006, in preparation for his successful 2008 run.

In the past few years, though, the trend has become a full-scale onslaught.

Within two years prior to their 2016 runs, Hillary Clinton published Hard Choices, Bernie Sanders published Outsider in the White House, Donald Trump published not one but two books (Time to Get Tough and Crippled America), Ted Cruz published A Time for Truth, Marco Rubio published American Dreams, and Rand Paul published Taking a Stand, among others.

Same thing in 2020. Within two years prior to their 2020 runs, Joe Biden published Promise Me, Dad; Kamala Harris published The Truths We Hold, Bernie Sanders published Where We Go From Here, Elizabeth Warren published This Fight Is Our Fight, Cory Booker published United, Pete Buttigieg published Shortest Way Home, Amy Klobuchar published The Senator Next Door, and Andrew Yang published The War on Normal People.

And without books by presidential candidates, how else could we get such intellectual thought-provoking passages as this one from Donald Trump in The Art of the Deal: “I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music.”

 

Changing Fashions in Presidential Campaigns (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 10, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

October 8th, 2020 at 11:01 am

Posted in Politics

A World Ruled From the Air

Three 1920 predictions by the British Air Ministry’s Cuthbert Hicks about the future speed, carrying capacity, and military influence of aircraft — two predictions proved wild underestimates, while a third proved a wild overestimate.

At the moment the fastest officially recognized speed attained by aircraft is one hundred and eighty-seven miles an hour — three miles every minute. What it will be in ten years’ time no one can say, but, remembering that ten years ago the record speed was barely fifty miles an hour, I do not feel that it would be extravagant to prophesy a three-hundred-mile-an-hour rate in 1930. In other words, aircraft could reach from Europe in ten hours.

This prediction proved an underestimate. A 300 mile per hour flight airspeed was surpassed in 1928, and by 1930 the record stood at 357.7 miles per hour. The modern-day record: 2,193.16 miles per hour.

It is well to remember, also, that there are machines being built today that will carry one hundred men or their equivalent in weight or bombs. Perhaps in ten years’ time it will be possible to carry two hundred and fifty men or their terrible equipment. Why not?

The prediction was that in 1930 planes could carry approximately 50,000 pounds. That was a considerable underestimate as well. 1929’s Dornier Do X aircraft had a maximum takeoff weight of 123,460 pounds.

The time is coming when aircraft will be so perfected that land and sea forces will cease either to be useful or necessary, for a squadron of aircraft will have more value than an army division or a navy squadron… So I repeat that aerial supremacy will rule the world; and when that supremacy is temporarily in the hands of an unscrupulous nation, then flying will be a curse. For an invincible air fleet will be able to force its will upon any country, however large, with ease.

Land and sea forces hardly ceased to be useful or necessary. Today, the U.S. Air Force has fewer active duty members than the Army, or about the same number as the Navy. And although some nations certainly maintain greater air power than others, no one single country gained true “aerial supremacy” or “an invincible air fleet.”

 

A World Ruled From the Air (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 3, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

September 30th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

The Anonymous Roosevelt

As an ex-president, Theodore Roosevelt wrote an anonymous monthly column for one of America’s biggest magazines, Ladies’ Home Journal, under the recurring column title “Men.”

His authorship wasn’t revealed until 1920, after Roosevelt’s death, by the 30-year editor of Ladies’ Home Journal Edward Bok in his autobiography The Americanization of Edward Bok: The Autobiography of a Dutch Boy Fifty Years After. The next year, the book would win the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

As this book excerpt which ran in the New York Times Magazine told:

It was natural that the appearance of a department devoted to men in a woman’s magazine should attract immediate attention. The department took up the various interests of a man’s life, such as real efficiency; his duties as an employer and his usefulness to his employes [sic]; the employe’s attitude toward his employer; the relations of men and women; a father’s relation to his sons and daughters; a man’s duty to his community; the public school system; a man’s relation to his church, and kindred topics.

Reader speculation regarding the author’s identity centered on either popular minister Lyman Abbott or former 40-year Harvard President Charles William Eliot. According to Bok, “In not a single instance was his [Roosevelt’s] name connected.”

Roosevelt once said of Bok, “[He] is the only man I ever heard of who changed, for the better, the architecture of an entire nation.”

Now if only we could find out who wrote the anonymous New York Times op-ed “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.”

 

The Anonymous Roosevelt (PDF)

Published: Sunday, September 26, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

September 23rd, 2020 at 10:21 am

Posted in Journalism,Politics

Party Allegiance as Good Citizenship

In 1920, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Robert von Moschzisker argued that America had become too big to govern effectively without political parties.

To my mind, the maintenance of the present system and the development of party fealty are matters of prime importance at this time in America. How, with our vast electorate, scattered over a wide domain, can any issue of general interest be determined other than by a systematic method of educating, and registering the will of, the people? If democratic government, by majority rule under constitutional restrictions, is accepted as right, then it is almost incomprehensible how the scheme can be carried out in any really big and intelligent way other than through party sponsorships. If we abandon that system, and divide into political groups according to special interests, or our liking for or antipathy to candidates, on our acceptance or rejection of their personal views on minor issues, it will become practically impossible for a multitudinous people like ourselves intelligently to determine at the polls any issue which requires consideration by the whole electorate.

One wonders whether he would still agree in 2020. The political parties have become polarized and uncooperative at an unprecedented level, perhaps irreparably. (Not to mention untethered from reality — on both sides.) In 1998 almost every Republican voted to impeach Bill Clinton while almost every Democrat voted not to, then in 2019 almost every Democrat voted to impeach Donald Trump while literally every Republican voted not to. Political parties increasingly seem less a force for “good” and more a force for just “cohesion.”

Maybe the answer is to keep the party system, but just have more parties to choose from. A 2018 Gallup poll found 57 percent of respondents say a major third party is needed, including 72 percent of independents and a record high 54 percent of Democrats, though only 38 percent of Republicans.

Line graph. Independents are consistently the most likely partisan group to support a third major political party.

 

Party Allegiance as Good Citizenship (PDF)

Published: Sunday, September 19, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

September 18th, 2020 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Politics

The First Woman President

Weeks after women gained the right to vote, a satirical column predicted a future female president since “Millions of us men will be compelled to vote for her with the threat of losing our home-brewed meals if we don’t.”

In 1920, the country was still 12 years away from its first elected female senator, Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas, and a full 54 years away from its first elected female governor, Ella Grasso of Connecticut. With such concepts laughable at the time, this column suggested a female president “will commemorate the triumph of the soprano over the baritone.”

The column also suggests that a female president would care little for any policies beyond “women’s issues,” with the leader taking “the oath in which she will promise on her sacred impulses to love, honor, and obey the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution and the rest of the document if the plot suits her.”

After all:

Nothing is too fantastic or improbable for the mind of woman. This constitutes her grandeur. She is a poet. She waves facts aside with the same disdain that a male Congressman waves aside intellectual honesty.

What she feels constitutes the truth. Historical facts are of no more importance to her than last year’s hat bill. Justice is getting what she wants. Logic is a mere instrument to prove the invulnerability of her prejudices.

The author also implies that men would vote for the first female presidential nominee against their will because “Millions of us men will be compelled to vote for her with the threat of losing our home-brewed meals and other things if we don’t.” In fact, the opposite occurred. In 2016, when the first major-party female presidential nominee ran in the form of Hillary Clinton, the gender gap in candidate preference was the widest in the history of the polling dating back to 1972, at 24 percent. Men, clearly, didn’t care about the possibility of losing their home-brewed meals.

 

The First Woman President (PDF)

Published: Sunday, September 5, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

September 6th, 2020 at 4:01 pm

Posted in Future,Politics

Chivalry in Office Elevators

Elevators were still new enough in 1920 that some aspects of “elevator etiquette” still had to be ironed out. For example, should a man remove his hat when a woman enters the elevator?

Every male whose business it is to travel up and down in the passenger elevators of commercial buildings must face this question many times a month: “Should I or should I not remove my hat when a woman enters the car?”

Where does politeness begin and where will a cold end?

Has a man more rights to his headgear in a commercial elevator than in a Ritz elevator?

If business is business, then keep the hat on.

If you are going up to join the Midnight Bounders, why, take the hat off.

Is there a business politeness as well as a social politeness?

Suppose the girl is only a stenographer that gets into the car with you in the Woolworth Building. Should you be as chivalrous as you would be in a “lift” at the Hotel della Robberie if Mrs. Fuller Rhino of Chicago got in?

Profound and ultimate questions of conscience which may yet bring the Supreme Court to loggerheads.

In high-rise buildings before the widespread adoption of the elevator, the first floor was the most desirable and expensive, while the top floor was the least desirable and cheapest. That only changed with the widespread adoption of the elevator in the 1920s, also the decade when the term “penthouse” was invented.

Today, elevator etiquette was best described by the stand-up comedian Steven Wright: “When I was little, my grandfather used to make me stand in a closet for five minutes without moving. He said it was elevator practice. Every once in a while when I’m in an elevator, I’ll ask the other guy, ‘Did your grandfather make you do this too?'”

Here’s a video — with almost 1 million views, incredibly — of a guy riding an elevator from 1931:

Chivalry in Office Elevators (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 29, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

August 28th, 2020 at 1:13 pm

Posted in Life

Brand of the Movies on Babies’ Names

As motion pictures gained popularity in the 1910s and 1920s, baby names changed based on the most popular characters and stars.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) tracks the popularity of baby names over time, starting in 1900. After this quote, I track the the trajectories of some of the names which proved popular around 1920.

And so I knew that it was upon us — the motion-picture name period… Mixed in with the Rosanas and the Giovannis of the imported element came the babies of our good, sturdy American stock surnamed Smith and Jones. Norma and Pearl they were, Madge and Billie, Mae (spelled just as the electric lights spell it) and Blanche (with an “e”). Also a renaissance of Marys. On through the foreign Oscars and Giuseppes, Marys appear in quantities unprecedented.

How did those names fare in the long run?

  • Norma: the #69 name of 1920, peaked at #22 in both 1931 and 1932. Last ranked in the top 1,000 in 2002.
  • Pearl: the #62 name of 1920, actually peaked in the first year of available data (1900) at #24. Seemed to last rank in the top 1,000 in 1986, then disappeared for more than two decades, until reappearing in 2007 and staying there almost every year since, ranking #647 in 2018.
  • Madge: the #303 name of 1920, peaked in the first year of available data (1900) at #232. Last appeared in the top 1,000 in 1948. It’s short for Margaret: the #4 name of 1920, peaked at #3 every year between 1905 and 1911. Ranked #127 in 2018.
  • Billie: the #212 name of 1920, peaked at #79 in both 1929 and 1930. Last appeared in the top 1,000 in 1997, though one wonders if the 2019 breakthrough of pop star Billie Eilish will provide the name a renaissance.
  • Mae: the #99 name of 1920, peaked at #53 in 1902. Seemed to last rank in the top 1,000 in 1969, then disappeared for more than four decades, until reappearing in 2010 and staying there every year since, ranking #554 in 2018.
  • Blanche: the #102 name of 1920, peaked at #58 in 1902. Last ranked in the top 1,000 in 1964.
  • Mary: the #1 name of 1920, and indeed every year between 1900 and 1946. It never even dropped out of the top 10 until 1972. These days it doesn’t even rank in the top 100, at #126 in 2018.

My own name, Jesse, peaked in popularity at #37 among boys born in 1981. What happened that year? Here’s a hint:

 

Brand of the Movies on Babies’ Names (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 22, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

August 19th, 2020 at 4:53 pm

Posted in Development,Life,Movies

Harding, Baseball Fan

Future President Warren Harding’s “front porch campaign” of 1920 rendered him unable to attend a Major League Baseball game, as he usually did each summer. So on September 2, they brought a game to him.

The Chicago Cubs came to Harding’s hometown of Marion, Ohio to play an exhibition game against a semi-pro local team, the Kerrigan Tailors. With 5,000 in attendance, Harding pitched for the Tailors against the first (and only the first) opposing batter, including a first pitch strike as determined by “a charitable umpire.” The Cubs won 3-1.

A few weeks prior, Harding explained his love of the sport in this New York Times article:

“Baseball is one of our finest institutions… No other sport of which I know so well expresses the genius of our land. It affords every opportunity to express the individual merit of particular stars, and yet it does not glorify the individual unduly at the expense of the community. The dominant motive is teamwork. It affords an apotheosis for the get-together and pull-together spirit. It is a wonderful curative for the ills that come from the overdevelopment of the ego.”

He also invested in more than half a dozen baseball teams:

“In former years when Marion had a ball club I was always interested in it financially, although we never made any money and from the mere standpoint of the ledger it might have been called a loss. Although I never got back directly any of the money that I invested in Marion ball clubs, I never considered the money lost. I always considered it a finer investment than I might have made in some other enterprises which would have paid a more tangible profit.”

Harding also recalled his own personal best baseball play:

Then along late in the game I had the misfortune to knock a two-bagger. At least the coaches along the sidelines insisted it was a two-bagger, and even yet I can hear the yells that greeted me as I started to run. It was made very plain to me that the fate of Marion and perhaps even my own future right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness depended upon my reaching second base. I did reach second base, but at what a cost! I felt the effects of that slide for two weeks.”

The incumbent president has an interesting history with the sport.

Donald Trump claimed that in high school he was the best baseball player in New York state and was scouted by the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies, but Slate investigation of contemporary box scores and interviews with former teammates found most of Trump’s claims false. Trump wasbooed by fans at Nationals Park when attending a World Series game in 2019. And he is currently the first president not to throw out a first pitch at a Major League Baseball game since William Howard Taft in 1910. (Although Trump did throw out an honorary first pitch pre-presidency, at a 2006 Yankees vs. Red Sox game at Fenway Park.)

 

Harding, Baseball Fan: Republican Nominee Has Played First Base on the Marion Team, and Helped Support It Later — He Loves the Partisanship of the Diamond (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 8, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

August 13th, 2020 at 7:01 am

Posted in Politics,Sports

Campaigning from Porch and Stump

1920 Republican presidential candidate Warren Harding was accused of holding few true political beliefs:

When one speaks of Harding, of course, one means the unincorporated syndicate that goes by that name, headed by Senator Lodge and consisting of perhaps a dozen members of the Senate, including the one from Ohio, Mr. Harding… When Harding speaks one can see the vocal cords moving in the throat of the Senate, as happens sometimes with amateur ventriloquists. So, it may be, would be the case if Senator Harding became President Harding. It is what he means and they mean by “plural government,” though, of course, the President would have a voice in the caucus, as, indeed, he has now.

Harding won in a landslide, one of only four presidential elections in the past century in which the winner received at least 60 percent of the popular vote. Maybe it was that very vagueness which helped him. As another New York Times article that year said of Harding:

“It is complained that the President is too verbose and too vague. But this is … to miss entirely the point of popular acceptance. In the President’s misty language the great majority see a reflection of their own indeterminate thoughts.”

Clearly, the American public felt differently with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s version of Alexander Hamilton, who in the song The Election of 1800 declared his preference for a presidential candidate with concrete opinions, even ones he vehemently disagreed with, rather than a blank slate:

The people are asking to hear my voice

The country is facing a difficult choice

And if you were to ask me who I’d promote

Jefferson has my vote

I have never agreed with Jefferson once

We have fought on like seventy-five different fronts

But when all is said and all is done

Jefferson has beliefs… Burr has none

 

 

Campaigning from Porch and Stump (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 1, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

July 30th, 2020 at 10:23 am

Posted in Politics

The Party of Discontent

Would a third party candidate spoil the 1920 presidential election?

At least three presidential elections in the past three decades alone were very likely altered by third-party candidates:

  1. 1992: Independent candidate Ross Perot earned 19.7 million votes, mostly from Republican George H.W. Bush, likely tipping the election to Democrat Bill Clinton.
  2. 2000: Green Party candidate Ralph Nader earned 2.8 million votes, mostly from Democrat Al Gore, likely tipping the election (particularly the results in Florida) to Republican George W. Bush.
  3. 2016: Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein jointly combined for 5.9 million votes, primarily from Democrat Hillary Clinton (particularly in Stein’s case). Shifting a combined 80,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin would have lost Republican Donald Trump the election.

This 1920 New York Times Magazine article considered the possibility that Socialist Party candidate Eugene Debs could throw the election. They drew a comparison to the at-the-time-well-recalled 1892 race:

In one memorable year, 1892, the discontented were chiefly Republicans, and in the West they voted for the Populist candidate, James B. Weaver, while in the East they stayed home in such large numbers as to elect a Democratic President [Grover Cleveland]. In recent years they have voted for Debs, without the slightest regard to his principles and solely by way of protest. This year, thanks to [Farmer–Labor Party presidential nominee Parley] Christensen’s nomination, neither party will be hurt more than the other.

Indeed, neither major party was disproportionately hurt that year. Harding won the election with a commanding 404-127 Electoral College margin and 60.3 percent of the popular vote, while Debs won 3.4 percent and Christensen won 1.0 percent of the popular vote – and neither won any electoral votes. It’s hard to claim that either Debs or Christensen changed the election result.

However, neither Perot, Nader, Johnson, nor Stein won a single electoral vote either, yet are widely considered to have changed the election result. What’s the difference? The close margins of those elections. Since this article was published in 1920, only three different third-party candidates have won so much as a single electoral vote, yet the margins were decisive enough among the two main candidates that none of them proved to be spoilers.

  1. 1924: Progressive Party candidate Robert La Follette won 13 electoral votes, though Calvin Coolidge won a commanding 382-136 Electoral College victory over John W. Davis.
  2. 1948: States’ Rights Democrat (Dixiecrat) candidate Strom Thurmond won 39 electoral votes, though Harry Truman won a commanding 308-139 Electoral College victory over Thomas Dewey. Thurmond likely took more votes away from Truman, meaning Thurmond’s candidacy didn’t change the election result so much as prevent Truman from winning by an even larger margin.
  3. 1968: American Independent Party candidate George Wallace won 46 electoral votes, but in an echo of two decades prior, Wallace’s candidacy didn’t change the election result so much as prevent Richard Nixon from winning by even more than his actual 301-191 Electoral College margin.

(Libertarian Party presidential candidate John Hospers technically won a single electoral vote in 1972, but that was Virginia faithless elector Roger MacBride, who was supposed to vote for Richard Nixon as his state had.)

As for 2020, neither Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen nor Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins appear to be making as much of a splash as their 2016 predecessors, at least so far. And no other candidate has announced who plausibly seems like they could even attain 1 percent of the vote, for now.

 

The Party of Discontent (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 25, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

July 25th, 2020 at 9:01 am

Posted in History,Politics

Harding and the Front Porch Plot

In 1920, Warren Harding ran the last true “front porch campaign,” a major party presidential candidate campaigning primarily from home… until Joe Biden for several months in 2020.

This 1920 New York Times article explains the rationale for Harding, the Republican nominee, in trying to replicate the successful 1896 front porch campaign of fellow Ohio Republican William McKinley. Many voters wanted a change after the 1918-19 Spanish flu epidemic and World War I both killed millions.

The determination to have Harding make a front porch campaign was deliberate and calculated. It was made because that kind of campaign would continually suggest McKinley. It was not because front porch campaigning is necessarily better than stump speaking. It was to emphasize as sharply as possible the break with the recent past and the return to the past of McKinley’s time.

Around 600,000 would gather on Harding’s property in Marion, Ohio to hear him speak during the campaign, in a town of only 30,000 residents. And it worked. While Harding did make occasional speeches elsewhere, he didn’t travel nearly as widely as Democratic challenger James Cox, who visited 36 of the 48 states at the time.

During the COVID-19 pandemic and associated shutdown, Democratic nominee Joe Biden didn’t make an in-person public appearance between March 15 and May 25. But appearing on camera from home, he reached audience numbers that Harding a century earlier could only dream of. 600,000 people is small compared to the millions who watched Biden’s virtual appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

This 1920 editorial cartoon by Clifford K. Berryman — not published in the New York Times — depicts that year’s Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs, who was imprisoned at the time for urging Americans to resist the draft into World War I. (That was a criminal offense thanks to the Sedition Act of 1918, but would be legal today.) Debs won 3.4% of the popular vote, though no electoral votes. His sentence was commuted in 1921 by — who else? — President Harding, who met with Debs on his way home from jail.

File:EugeneDebs.gif

Harding and the Front Porch Plot (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 18, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

July 16th, 2020 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Politics

The Vice Presidency Comes to the Fore

“The two parties in 1920… have both nominated men of Presidential stature for Vice President,” a New York Times article that summer read. Those two men were FDR and Calvin Coolidge, who would both become president. In fact, 1920 is the only year in American history when both major-party vice presidential nominees later became president.

In fact, Franklin D. Roosevelt is one of only two losing vice presidential nominees of a major party to later ascend to the presidency. The other: John Tyler, who lost in 1836 as a Whig Party running mate for Hugh Lawson White, but would later be elected vice president in 1840 on the Whig Party ticket behind William Henry Harrison.

The article also stated: “To find a parallel to the present-day interest in both Roosevelt and Coolidge, one would have to hark back to 1884, when Logan and Hendricks ran for the same office.” Wait, who?

Former Indiana Senator and Governor Thomas Hendricks had previously been the 1876 Democratic vice presidential nominee behind New York Governor Samuel Tilden. The ticket won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. Hendricks was nominated for vice president again in 1884 behind another New York governor, Grover Cleveland. Winning the White House this time, Hendricks only served about eight months before dying unexpectedly of natural causes. The vice presidency remained vacant for the remainder of Cleveland’s term.

Illinois Senator and former Civil War Union Army General John Logan ran as the Republican vice presidential nominee, behind former Maine Senator and former Secretary of State James G. Blaine.

Both Hendricks and Logan are largely forgotten today, neither having served as president — although Washington, D.C. residents know the latter as the namesake of the city’s neighborhood Logan Circle.

 

The Vice Presidency Comes to the Fore: Both Parties Have Broken With Tradition to the Extent of Picking Men of Positive Achievement Well Qualified for High Office (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 11, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

July 11th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in History,Politics

America’s Unwritten Novels

The mostly-forgotten novelist Coningsby Dawson, speculated in 1920 that America would have difficulty producing great novels moving forward.

“I believe American novelists as a class to be the most unobservant and the least local in their affections. When I say local, I use that term in its best sense. Hardy and Kipling and Tolstoy and Balzac are local, but none of them is provincial. They select a certain area which they know and love and make it the mirror of the passions of the entire world. Very few American novelists have that love of a locality; they seem to lose their traditions and sense of race in the cosmopolitanism of the larger cities.”

Dawson also pinpointed another problem, at least in his view: the limited urban perspective of the novels being produced at that time.

“America, as she is today, is in the main totally unrepresented in the fiction of her contemporary novelists… New York, which is decidedly not a representative of the States, would certainly provide the setting for the biggest percentage of the novels; Chicago and Boston would tie for second place. Those three cities together would probably afford the background of 75 percent of the year’s output. To choose another great city at random, I can think of only one novel of consequence which places Cincinnati on the map — Susan Lennox [sic] — and Susan Lennox does not picture Cincinnati in such a way that you could recognize it.”

The novel Dawson references, a misspelling of 1912’s Susan Lenox, Her Fall and Rise is largely forgotten today but was adapted into a 1931 film with Greta Garbo and Clark Gable.

Dawson, for what its worth, seemed unable to write a great American novel himself. The man at least has a Wikipedia entry, but not a single one of his 20+ works does.

At least his 1920 article took a cautious tone on whether America will continue to write great novels. By contrast, a 1916 New York Times article — which SundayMagazine.org previously covered in 2016 — was pessimistically and more definitely titled “The Great American Novel Never Will Come.”

Still to be written in 1920 were many of what are now considered among the greatest American novels:

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977)
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)
  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1929)
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
  • Roots by Alex Haley (1976)

 

America’s Unwritten Novels: A Chart of the Country Shows What Has Already Been Done and Suggests the Vast Possibilities Still Open for Fiction Writers (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 4, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

July 5th, 2020 at 11:59 am

Posted in Books,Future

This week, the New York Times Magazine became ‘Book Review and Magazine’

100 years ago this week, the New York Times combined their previously-separate Magazine and Book Review sections into one larger section on Sundays. If any history buffs or NYT aficionados know why they made this change, please feel free to comment below or send me a message. The Times didn’t seem to explain why anywhere else in the Sunday, June 27, 1920 issue, so far as I can find.

The two sections are distinct these days, so at some point in the past century they were separated once again. I’m not easily finding a record of when that occurred. For all I know, it might have been years or even decades after the 1920 merger.

In the name of consistency, I’m going to continue posting only the most interesting magazine features from 100 years ago to the week, and not the book reviews. There’s a reason this website isn’t titled SundayBookReview.org!

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

June 26th, 2020 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Blog Stuff

That Ideal Campaign Front Porch

On the 1920 campaign trail, future President Warren G. Harding revealed his perfect formula for eating waffles:

You eat the first fourteen waffles without syrup, but with lots of butter. Then you put syrup on the next nine, and the last half-dozen you eat just simply swimming in syrup. Eaten that way, waffles never hurt anybody.

Actually, it did hurt somebody: Harding. His formula for the best way to eat 29 straight waffles may have contributed to his death by cardiac arrest three years later, as one of four presidents to die in office of natural causes.

 

That Ideal Campaign Front Porch: Candidate to Follow Example of McKinley, One of His Political Heroes – Mrs. Harding, “The Duchess,” as a Waffle-Maker (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 20, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

June 18th, 2020 at 10:19 am

Posted in Food,Life,Politics

Outlawed Whisky and the Bootlegger’s Big Profits

On this week a century ago, the Supreme Court upheld Prohibition as constitutional. That same week, a New York Times article reported that a startling amount of alcohol was being withdrawn from government warehouses “for non-beverage purposes.” Sure.

In March, 1919, before Federal prohibition went into effect, there was withdrawn from Government warehouses… 3,589,863 gallons taken out for beverage purposes. In March of this year, for purposes alleged to be non-beverage, 4,016,983 gallons of distilled spirits were withdrawn; that is, nealry half a million gallons more than the quantity taken out of bond in March a year ago for beverage purposes.

That could only mean one thing.

Most of the non-beverage whisky was used formerly for medicinal purposes; records show that in the past around 1,000,000 galoons were withdrawn a month for non-beverage use, and the inference is plain that a great part of the remaining 3,000,000 gallons taken out in March of this year was obtained in violation of the intent of the law.

As for the Supreme Court in June 1920, they ruled:

The prohibition of the manufacture, sale, transportation, importation and exportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes, as embodied in the Eighteenth Amendment, is within the power to amend reserved by Article V of the Constitution. That Amendment, by lawful proposal and ratification, has become a part of the Constitution, and must be respected and given effect the same as other provisions of that instrument.

 

Outlawed Whisky and the Bootlegger’s Big Profits: With the Country’s Bone Dry State Confirmed by the Supreme Court, a Barrel of Corn Liquor Brings $2,000 and “Non-Beverage” Withdrawals from Bond Mount Amazingly (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 13, 2020

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

June 11th, 2020 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Life

Tennis, A World Sport Epidemic

In 1920, one of the fastest-growing U.S. sports was tennis. From 2010 to 2018, though, the sport’s U.S. participation rate declined -5%.

First, 1920. This contemporary article, which uses the spelling “racquet” when describing the equipment, says tennis is “the game that… is gaining popularity more rapidly than ever.”

The 1920 article’s estimate of “more than three million tennis players in this country” meant roughly 2.8% of the population at the time. The most recent annual report from the Tennis Industry Association estimates 17.8 million Americans played tennis in 2018, or about 5.4% of the population.

So the percentage of the population playing tennis has roughly doubled in the past century. That’s the good news for the sport. The bad news it that the trend lines have reversed since 2010, with tennis participation declining by -5% from 2010 to 2018, following a +44% increase from 2000 to 2010.

It probably doesn’t help that no American male has won any of the sport’s four major annual “Grand Slam” titles — the U.S. Open, Australian Open, French Open, or Wimbledon — since Andy Roddick in 2003.

 

 

Tennis, A World Sport Epidemic: In This Country All Ages and Both Sexes Are Wielding the Racquet With Increasing Joy and Skill (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 6, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

June 4th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Sports

Penrose as Potential President Maker in Chicago

A week before the 1920 Republican convention, an article suggested Pennsylvania Sen. Boies Penrose could decide the party’s presidential nominee. As it turns out, he kind of did.

Heretofore the Old Guard has had more than one man capable of playing this part behind the scenes, with the loyalty of the ingrained partisan who in an hour of crisis will set aside personal fortunes and personal choice for the sake of harmony. In the last Republican convention there were two leaders of this kind — Murray Crane of Massachusetts and Boies Penrose of Pennsylvania. With the announced retirement of Mr. Crane as the National Committeeman from the Bay State, the authoritative organization leadership of the Old Guard, formerly divided among several, is concentrated in the hands of Senator Penrose.

Here’s what ultimately happened, according to the book Selling the President, 1920: Albert D. Lasker, Advertising, and the Election of Warren G. Harding by John A. Morello.

There may not have been a “smoke-filled” hotel room in Harding’s journey to the presidency, but there was a hotel room… It belonged to Boies Penrose, the senior senator from Pennsylvania, who in the summer of 1919 took it upon himself to find a presidential candidate. He was looking for someone with whom conservative Republican senators could work, and most likely do their bidding.

He was also worried about Leonard Wood. Republican Progressives were gravitating toward Wood in the wake of Theodore Roosevelt’s death. They seemed energized, and that spelled trouble for Old Guard Republicans such as Penrose. Penrose eventually settled on Harding as someone who could stand up to Wood, as well as go along with party elders.

Penrose’s influence ultimately helped Harding secure both the nomination and the presidency.

To him, Harding looked like presidential material and would be a safe bet for the Republican Party in 1920. Harding wasn’t a boat rocker; Penrose felt confident Harding would listen to him and other leaders and do what he was asked. That may be one key in trying to unlock the mystery of how Warren Harding, possessing some latent presidential ambitions but riddled with doubt about his chances, managed to become the Republican nominee for president.

As the nominee Harding could do what neither Lowden, Wood, or Johnson could — that is, parlay his apparent ambivalence on issues such as the League of Nations into something that would hold together all wings of the Republican Party until November. He truly seemed to be the essence of conciliation and compromise.

This is a similar strategy to the one Democrats are currently taking by nominating Joe Biden for president. Whether it will result in the same White House occupancy as Harding earned, we’ll have to wait until November to find out.

 

Penrose as Potential President Maker in Chicago: Pennsylvania Senator’s Leadership of the Old Guard, His Solid Backing in His Own State and His Skill as Arch-Politician, May Give Him Deciding Voice in Spite of Ill-Health (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 30, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

May 28th, 2020 at 9:16 am

Posted in Politics