Dickinson College, Spring 2024

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Michigan and FDR’s 1932 Presidential election victory

The 1932 Presidential election marked the beginning of the FDR era and the end of a 12 year Republican reign in the White House. Although Michigan did not carry the most electoral votes, it had a symbolic significance in this election.  “[S]ince Michigan was one of the most heavily urbanized states in a nation which had become increasingly urban in complexion, it was regarded as somewhat of a barometer of nationwide political sentiment.”    Picture

From the formation of the Republican Party in 1854 to 1932, however, Michigan had consistently favored Republican candidates. In fact, Michigan had never even cast a plurality of popular votes for a Democrat before the 1932 election. Michigan was ripe for the taking though, as it was greatly impacted by the surge of national unemployment since 1929 as well as a loss of automobile sales (Michigan being the largest automobile producer) from 4,455,100 to 1,103,500 and a drop in value of automobile exports from $541,000,000 to $76,000,000. Michigan’s woes demonstrated that it could clearly benefit from a different perspective.

Roosevelt travelled to Detroit where he diagnosed the massive unemployment as a sickness. “[W]e have got beyond the point in modern civilization of merely trying to fight an epidemic of disease by taking care of the victims after they are stricken. We do that, but we must do more. We seek to prevent it,” Roosevelt stated. A way to treat this sickness, and prevent it in the future, was to employ men and women through Roosevelt’s social reforms that later became known as the New Deal. Michigan was an ideal patient for this plan with so many of its residents out of work and production at rock bottom.

President Hoover, however, attempted to use Roosevelt’s idealistic solutions against him at a speech in Detroit on October 22. “Hoover accused the Democratic challenger of suggesting that the federal government could provide jobs for the several million unemployed. Charging that Roosevelt’s remedy for unemployment was a ‘promise no government could fulfill,’ the President concluded that it was ‘utterly wrong to delude the suffering men and women with such assurances.” Hoover’s criticism did not end there for “[l]ate in the campaign, at a dramatic Madison Square Garden rally, [Hoover] likened [Roosevelt] to ‘a chameleon on scotch plaid. Hoover told MacLafferty ‘with a great deal of earnestness that he was convinced more and more that the thing…to do is to bring out clearly that Roosevelt is a “flutter-budget” and to ridicule his pretended stand on different subjects and what his exact program is on different things.”

Despite these insults, Roosevelt was able to secure 50 of Michigan’s 83 counties and turn a 1928 Democratic deficit of 488,634 into a 1932 surplus of 131,806. Roosevelt was able to shift deeply rooted Republic tradition in Michigan to his favor, much the same way he was able to redirect the nation’s past Republican leanings: he identified devastated economic conditions and proposed a solution that was desperately needed.

The G.I. and the Ballot, 1944

Keeping warm and staying alive were Election Day priorites for the G.I.

“The soldier vote may be the deciding factor in many States,” reported George Gallup two days before the November 7, 1944 presidential election, drawing on his latest public opinion poll. The Associated Press reported that in at least 11 states, worth a combined 206 electoral votes, officials “expressed the opinion” that the soldier vote “could be decisive.” Another AP report showed that the estimated soldier votes for 16 hotly contested states could tip the plurality in each towards either candidate, incumbent Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt or his Republican opponent Thomas Dewey.

It had been eighty years since the ballot of U.S. service members was so influential in determining the president. Not since the Civil War did the U.S. soldier have such importance in presidential politics. However, this did not exactly translate to election fever among the G.I.’s fighting the Second World War. In the German Hürtgen Forest, site of some of the fiercest fighting in the fall of 1944, election-day inquires “brought mostly disinterested replies from bearded soldiers trudging thru the mire or standing in the roadside and beating their hands together to keep warm.” Compared with the harsh realities of the life at the front for these 1st U.S. Army soldiers, the fact that it was finally election day mattered little for those who may have voted already by absentee ballot or those who didn’t vote at all, for a variety of reasons including “too much red tape connected with filling out forms.”

A similar tone resonated amongst the 3rd Army on the front in France, where Robert Crombie of the Chicago Tribune wrote that the election seemed “pretty remote from the mud and rain and chilly skies.” Although this reporter found some soldiers that did vote, many others didn’t. One lieutenant stated that he “didn’t vote because he felt he didn’t know enough of the situation from this distance” while a corporal who did vote admitted he “wasn’t very interested in the outcome because he didn’t feel it had anything to do with the outcome of the war.” Milton Bracker of the New York Times reported much the same amongst the 5th Army in Italy where curiosity did not extend beyond who was the victor and consequences of the election were “rarely subjects of soldier conversation.” Despite having been worked up by the subject of enfranchisement, few front line soldiers showed much interest in the face of the dangers of war.

The same cannot be said of all soldiers, especially those in the rear. Edward Doles of the Chicago Defender reported the intense enthusiasm of the soldiers in an African American artillery unit where “huge voting placards hanging near the mess tent,” were the place “where all men crowded looking for his state’s requirements” for voting. In London, much farther away from the fighting, the Chicago Tribune reported that “election crowds of American officers and servicemen swarmed London’s west end,” where “shouts of ‘Dewey’ and ‘Roosevelt’ alternated while election slogans echoed through blacked out streets.” In safe London the fervor over the election mimicked the election day enthusiasm of the home front and saw none of the disparity of the front lines.

In times of great conflict the importance of the soldier vote cannot be discounted. However, when faced with the brutal conditions of modern warfare, it should come as no surprise that for the G.I. election politics took a rear seat to the everyday hazards of combat. It is remarkable that any front line soldiers voted at all when each day they faced the life and death situations of war.

Marcus Alonzo Hanna and the Country’s Most Expensive Campaign

Marcus Alonzo Hanna - Campaign Manager

“Until the highly energized campaigns of 2004 and 2008, the level of excitement attending the campaign of 1896 would have been something hard to fathom,” writes William T. Horner in 2010. “The year 1896 was a time when political campaigns were a form of high entertainment.” None knew this better than Republican candidate William McKinley’s longtime associate and campaign manager Marcus Alonzo Hanna. On Election Day 1896, there were none more attuned to the excitement and anticipation of the most expensive presidential campaign in U.S. history to that point and it showed.

“That next Tuesday will bring to us an overwhelming victory for protection, sound money, and good government there is not the slightest doubt,” Hanna wrote to his candidate  just days before the election. Hanna, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee and the chief organizer of the Republican party’s platform and campaign, appealed to the highest ideals of American voters. “No campaign since the war of the rebellion has presented such great responsibilities to those entitled to the elective franchise…It is not merely a privilege, but a duty. And while it is the duty of every good citizen to express his will at the polls on all occasions, that duty has never been more serious or important than now.”

On the day of the election, November 3rd, 1896, Mr. Hanna voted early in Cleveland after traveling from the National Headquarters in Chicago and then visited McKinley at his home in Canton, according to the Washington Post. Although he initially planned to await the results in Canton, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that “the citizens of Cleveland prevailed upon him to change” and he awaited the returns at the Union League Club. This election for which Hanna campaigned so vigorously was one of the most exciting and hard fought of the century. It pitted the Republican McKinley, a Civil War veteran, against the youthful William Jennings Bryan.

Bryan, barely eligible in terms of age to be president, campaigned extensively on a economic policy backing the free coinage of silver. He received his nomination largely because of a stirring speech during the Democratic National Convention in which he condemned the Republican gold standard and declared, “you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” Bryan’s Democratic Party did not have the campaign might of his opponents and thus he resolved to “ignore the precedent that candidates did not aggressively campaign and to take his cause directly to the voters.” McKinley, on the other hand, backed the gold standard and conducted a “front porch” campaign from his home in Canton and left the heavy lifting up to Hanna and his Republicans. Hanna, a longtime Ohio businessman, “convinced the giants of corporate America that McKinley was their man,” and as a result developed a financing system that brought in millions to be spent on an extensive literature and pamphlet campaign, the first of its kind.

As Hanna waited for the returns on election day, he surely must have been excited as the returns from state after state told the story that one paper would call “a complete landslide” that “swept everything before it in its movement across the country.” With a hefty electoral majority by the end of the 3rd, Hanna was able to report to the McKinley, “you are elected to the highest office of the land by a people who have always loved  and trusted you.” Although money did not buy the election it certainly helped Hanna in his extensive campaign to educate the American voters on the Republican economic platform.

The Election of 1912: Progressivism

The election of 1912 was the classic battle of Republicans versus Democrats but with an added twist known as Progressives, led by disgruntled former President Theodore Roosevelt.  Incumbent President William Taft and Gov. Woodrow Wilson represented the Republicans and Democrats, respectively.  Progressive reform revolved around this period in time from laborto environmental issues and proved to be the major question presented to these three candidates.

Theodore Roosevelt broke away from the Republican party after failing to receive the nomination for the Republican ticket to William Taft, his previously chosen successor.  This party became known as the Progressive Party or “Bull Moose Party”.  They were composed up of more radical Republicans who supported government restrictions on big businesses, backed labor unions as another matter to regulate the growing American industries.  Roosevelt’s reformist attitude has connections to the working man within New York City where he was born and raised as well as to the frontiers men of “Missouri and North Dakota” who hunt.

The Republican Party was headed by William Taft, who originally was endorsed by Roosevelt after his previous terms in the presidency.  Taft gradually began to shift to a more conservative approach than Roosevelt had expected leading to the forming of a rift eventually splitting the party into two seperate factions; Conservatives and Radicals.  Taft held many contradicting views in respect to Roosevelt, he favored individual business leaders holding the power in large businesses. 

As the other two parties battled one another the Democrats stood in the background with their candidate Woodrow Wilson.  With his greatest opposition factioned and fighting amonst themselves it left for a much simpler election process for Wilson that one had seen in years past.  At the news of his victory Wilson had successfully reunified the Democratic party after decades of hardship and anguish following the Civil War. 

While the major concept of reform in the 1912 election was crafted and pushed into the spotlight by Roosevelt and his fellow Progressives  it ended up being Woodrow Wilson and the Democrats who took on this challenge.  Democrats became strong supporters of pro labor reform while Republicans stood by large individually owned businesses.  This transformation of political parties has continued to be upheld throughout the decades that followed.                    

1900: The McKinley-Roosevelt Ticket A Winner

The Presidential election of 1900, between Republican President William McKinley (and his running mate, future president Theodore Roosevelt) and DemocratWilliam Jennings Bryan, was the first presidential election of the Progressive Era. Coming on the heels of the Spanish American War in 1898 during the economic boom following the end of the 1893 recession, the race would feature some of the early Progressive trends that would dominate the coming decades.

In keeping with Progressive ideals, the 1900 election began to see a strong backlash against the corruption of the political process. As Dr. Leighton Coleman, Bishop of Delaware said, “We are on the eve of a great election, which has significance and deep interest for every true church-goer.” It was through this election that they would begin to “sweep out political dishonesty and corruption.” The need for this kind of reform was painfully obvious, as just the day before a scheme to ship repeat voters into Manhattan from Jersey City was uncovered.

This election also saw several small, but notable, incidents among the disenfranchised of the day. In Ohio, a small group of politically aware women gathered in support of McKinley. It was by no means comparable to the sort of large-scale movement that would follow in the quest for the 19th amendment , however it was, as the New  York Times described it, “a political innovation in this section of the country (my italics).” Meanwhile in Philadelphia, a group of African-Americans, enfranchised by law rather than practice, rioted when their ballots were not accepted. As the Times reports, “they drew revolvers and a number of shots were fired.”

It was under these circumstances, on a sunny and temperate day, that the American people ventured out to cast their first vote of the new century. While the masses would come out in force (with participation topping 80% overall), the voting of society’s notables was taken note of by most of the papers. For example, when Benjamin Harrison cast his vote, “the crowd made way for the Ex-President” who was reportedly “only inside the booth for a short time.”

In the same vein, the voting of each candidate was also covered. Bryan, famous for his prolific rail travel around the country during the campaign, first went to city hall to certify that “he had failed to register because of absence from the city.” From there he proceeded to the voting place, where he cast a straight ticket, claiming “the electoral candidates are all friends of mine.” Similarly, McKinley cast his vote “so as to vote the entire Republican column.” The accounts of both candidates voting experience was given a prime spot in the day’s paper, printed side by side on page two.

By the next morning it would be officiated that McKinley and Roosevelt had carried twenty-seven states with 284 Electoral Votes, including Mr. Byrans’ home state of Nebraska.

Election of 1876: Down to One Vote

Republican Nomination in the 1876 Election

“Another danger is imminent – a contested result. And we have no such means for its decision as ought to be provided by law. This must be attended to hereafter. We should not be allowed another Presidential election to occur before a means for settling a contest is provided.” – Governor Rutherford B. Hays in October 1876

The election of 1876 has been agreed upon to be one of the most disputed elections in the history of the United States. On that Election Day, November 7, 1876, both political parties assumed that the Democratic Party had secured victory for the presidential race. The election was between two major politicians, Governor Samuel J. Tilden on the Democratic side and Governor Rutherford B. Hayes as the Republican nomination.

As a Whig, Governor Hayes’ platform stood for conservative and traditional values. He had been a defender of slaves and joined the Republican Party. His platform became vital as he served on Congress and supported the Southern Reconstruction. However, prior to 1876 and after many defeats in the political world, Hayes opted to retire from politics. The Republicans had a different plan for him though, and nominated him as their presidential ticket in the 1876 election with the running mate of William Wheeler.

On the one hand, Tilden had carried much of the South and his home state of New York; on the other hand, Hayes had held much of New England, the Midwest and many of the Western states.On the evening of the election, Hayes went to bed believing he had lost the presidency to Tilden quite handedly. He wrote in his diary, “I never supposed there was a chance for a Republican success.” Unaware to both candidates, the executive office was torn between just one electoral vote. Headlines across the country had even stated that Tilden had secured the victory. For many days, Hayes was not sure of the outcome of the race. Rumors of electoral fraud raged throughout the nation. The final electoral vote was Tilden with 184 and Hayes with 185. Without this knowledge, both parties considered themselves the winners. Both Hayes and Tilden lay low as their representatives dealt with the anticipating public.

The Disputed Election: Who Will Win?

To combat these growing controversies, the House and the Senate created an Electoral Commission with a company of fifteen people: seven Republicans seven and seven Democrats. Of these fifteen people, the makeup was: five senators, five house members and five Supreme Court justices.

Though Tilden had won the popular vote, the Commission swung in favor of Hayes. On March 2, 1877, the Commission finally announced that Hayes, with his running mate William Wheeler, were to be the new President and Vice President elect by an electoral vote of 185-184. But on that day of March 5, 1877, when President Hayes was finally inaugurated into office, he knew that his struggle was far from over. The Southern Democrats threatened radical action to be taken if Hayes did not meet their needs. In what C. Vann Woodward titled “The Compromise of 1877,” Hayes agreed to withdraw troops from the South, thus ending Reconstruction.

The Election of 1876 is extremely important to the electoral history of the United States. As one of the most disputed elections of recent history, it enabled the politicians of America to take action in the Post-Civil War era. Rurtherford B. Hayes’ role was subtle yet powerful as he stepped his way into the presidency over Samuel Tilden and the strong Democratic Party. Hayes kept calm and stayed in the background until he emerged and accepted the presidency after almost four months of debate.

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