Archive for July, 2020

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

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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

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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.

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Harding and the Front Porch Plot (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 18, 1920

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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

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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

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Written by Jesse

July 5th, 2020 at 11:59 am

Posted in Books,Future