US History: Election Of 1920 – Post-War with Harding & Cox

The election of 1920, two dark horse candidates battle it out to see who will lead the United States as commander and chief going into a new decade and a period of growing instability…So with that all said, let’s get into it. It’s Harding Vs. Cox

The Fallout from World War One

As you may recall from the 1916 election article, Woodrow Wilson won re-election on the promise to keep America out of the war and continue a sense of neutrality that was going on at the time…well like most politicians who end up getting elected to high office, the president went back on his campaign promise and got the United States involved in World War One.

The decision to get the U.S. into the war was already in the minds of many especially after the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, but things changed upon the discovery of the Zimmermann Telegram which was a letter that basically saw the Germans asking Mexico to form an alliance in case America got involved in the great war and in return, Germany would help Mexico reclaim the states of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas as those states were own by Mexico until the U.S. decided to declare war to get those territories back in the mid 1840’s.

When British forces intercepted the telegram, they informed the United States about the deal Germany was making and this led to President Wilson asking congress to declare war against Germany in April of 1917, which they did and just like that America was now involved in what many referred to as “The War to End All Wars”.

World War One came to its conclusion on November 11th, 1918 and President Woodrow Wilson along with other foreign leaders had to figure out a way to make certain that another conflict like this never happens again. This led to Wilson proposing ‘The League Of Nations’ a group that would be designed to settle international conflicts with the hope of creating world peace.

A compromise to settle the bitter feelings all countries had after the war was called “The Treaty of Versailles” and Wilson tried to spend the rest of his term in office to convince the United States to join the league and sign the treaty, unfortunately many in congress weren’t interested in joining the league or signing the Treaty of Versailles resulting in Wilson’s dream for a league of nations coming to an end.

Chaos within the U.S.

One reason as to why Wilson’s idea for the League of Nations never happened might have something to do with the fact his popularity was dwindling around this time as he ignored many of the issues that were going on in the U.S.  

From the Spanish Flu Pandemic which saw around 50-100 million people die to a growing fear of anarchism in the U.S. which led to the First Red Scare to dissatisfied workers going on strike and the economy not doing so good made for a very tense and insane time period in American history. 

Perhaps the best example of this madness would have to be the amount of race riots that were going on in the country; Now President Wilson alright had a poor record on race relations for much of his time in office, but the year of 1919 really took things to the next level. 

The Red Summer of 1919 was a period in which racist white men committed acts of unspeakable violence towards African Americans with many black people either being set on fire, drowned, shot at, beaten to death with stones or being lynched from trees.

Property damages and arson occurred as well as a lot of misinformation regarding black men committing unwanted acts against white women led to around 60 race riots in just this one year alone all while the police at the time refused to help the black people who were being assaulted for no real reason.

Meanwhile, President Wilson’s relentless attempts to get the League of Nations passed led to tremendous stress on his body leading to him having a horrible stroke which paralyzed half of his body and made him unable to much of anything.

His wife, Edith took care of some of the responsibilities unbeknownst to many at the time which is why many refer to Edith Wilson as “America’s First Female President”. Overall, it’s been a very bad year for the United States and as 1920 rolls around so does that year’s presidential election.

Who Will Be The Nominee? (Part 1)

By the time of the 1920 election, it wasn’t clear for either party whom their nominee for president would be as many Americans were looking to move passed the progressive policies that occurred under the previous presidents and many of the names who ran had slim chances to win.

While at least 14-16 people ran or were considered for the Democratic Party’s nomination only six names really stood:

  • William Gibbs McAdoo- Former Secretary of the Treasury
  • A. Mitchell Palmer- The U.S. Attorney General
  • Al Smith- Governor of New York
  • John Davis- U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom 
  • James Cox- Governor of Ohio 
  • Edward Edwards- Governor of New Jersey 

In spite of his worsening health, Woodrow Wilson had actually thought about running for a third term as president and hoped that the democratic convention would get so out of hand that the party would end up nominating him and he even managed to block William Gibbs McAdoo’s nomination as he was seen as a favorite early on and he was also the son-in-law of the incumbent president.

Ultimately after a deadlocked convention and going through 44 ballots, the Democrats chose James M. Cox as their nominee for president with Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy from New York as Cox’s running mate.

Roosevelt looked like a solid pick for vice president not just because of his work as the secretary of the navy, but he was also the fifth cousin to former president, Theodore Roosvelt who had actually died in his sleep back in January of 1919 from a blood clot at the age of 60.

The Republicans at first were looking to make Theodore Roosevelt their nominee once again but as mentioned previously Teddy would die in 1919 and with no clear successor to Roosevelt, the GOP had to find someone else to get the nomination which was easier said than done.

At first Charles Evans Hughes, the former Supreme Court Justice who narrowly defeated Wilson in the 1916 election was seen as the guy to get the party’s nomination at first but following the death of his daughter due to tuberculosis early in the year, he decided not to run.

Much like the Democrats, a bunch of names ran for the Republican Party’s nomination:

  • Leonard Wood- Major U.S. Army General 
  • Frank Orren Lowden- Governor of Illinois
  • Warren G. Harding- Senator from Ohio
  • Hiram Johnson-Senator from California
  • Robert La Follette Sr.- Senator from Wisconsin
  • Calvin Coolidge- Governor of Massachusetts 

The GOP’s convention was also deadlocked when it came time to pick a candidate, so the higher ups of the Republican Party allegedly had a meeting in a smoke-filled room where Harry Daugherty, a political campaign manager convinces many of the party bosses to nominate Warren Harding as a compromise candidate.

Harding’s chances of winning were dashed early on after a poor showing at the primaries, but after much deliberation and many delegates switching to support him, he would end up getting his party’s nomination. 

The Republicans also nominated Calvin Coolidge as Harding’s running mate, Coolidge had become famously known for his handling of the Boston Police Strike in 1919 and this helped to make the GOP ticket look all the more stronger.

So, those are the nominees for the two major parties as two dark horse candidates from Ohio who also worked in the newspaper business are going at it for the presidency but before we get into the major issues or the campaigns, let’s take a look at the third parties.

Third Party Candidates

With all of the madness going on in the country at this time, it’s not too surprisingly to find out that some third parties decided to run for president.

The first one to mention is the Prohibition Party who ran for office despite the fact that prohibition had been passed into law around this time, nevertheless the party decided to nominate Aaron Watkins a Methodist preacher and former school administrator from Ohio with David Colvin, a little known politician from New York as his running mate.

Next up was the Farmer-Labor Party, a new political party that focused on issues regarding nationalizing certain industries like the railroad companies, an end to Wilson’s Espionage and Sedition Act and the creation of a Federal Department of Education. They nominated Parley Christensen, a former lawyer and State Representative from Utah with Max Hayes who was a newspaper editor from Ohio as his running mate.

Finally, we come to the Socialist Party, who nominated Eugene V.  Debs for a fifth time as their candidate for president, however Deb’s time as a candidate will be much different this time around as he’ll doing in prison.

Yup, Eugene Debs or Convict Number 9653 as he was known in prison ran for president despite being locked inside a jail cell after voicing his disapproval of American involvement in the war which led to Debs being arrest under the Espionage and Sedition Act. 

Debs’ running mate was a Chicago lawyer by the name of Seymour Stedman and their candidacy marked the first time in U.S. history a political party ran a candidate from prison…So with that out of the way, let’s get to the major issues.

The Major Issues

One of the biggest topics going into this election was the idea of joining the League of Nations; while Harding’s stance on the league were unclear, Cox decided he would have the U.S. join the league but under a few conditions that were potentially different from Woodrow Wilson.

There was also an ethical issue going on in this election as many Irish and German Americans aren’t too happy with the United State’s involvement in World War One especially when it came to supporting the British during the war as the U.K. were enemies of the Irish at the time and James Cox’s support of the British was similar to that of President Wilson and this led to many Irish and German Americans who had previously voted for Wilson now shifting their votes to Harding.

Much of the black population in America also supported Warren Harding and the Republicans  in this election, mostly thanks to Woodrow Wilson’s prejudice domestic policies over the past eight years.

This election was also the first one to occur following the ratification of the 19th Amendment which gave females the right to vote, and many women found Warren G. Harding ‘handsome’ by the standards of that time and this unsurpingly helped his chances leading into election day.

The Campaigns

James Cox went on to make numerous speeches and stops all across the country in order to build up some support for himself and while most of those trips were successful, he and the Democrats still had one lingering problem around their necks going into the election and that was Woodrow Wilson.

Despite his best efforts, Cox was painted unfavorably in the mostly conservative media at the time as a carbon copy of Woodrow Wilson and it didn’t help that Cox had similar views to Wilson particularly on Irish Americans who Wilson blamed along with German Americans for the U.S.’s failure for the League of Nations not coming off the ground.

Harding meanwhile would conduct his campaign from his home in Marion Ohio, where’d he gave speeches on his front porch similar to that of former Republican presidents from Ohio: James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley.

In those speeches, Harding was vague with some of his language but focused mainly on the ideas of “America First” and “Return To Normalcy” with the idea being that Harding wished to return the U.S. back the good ole days before the war and the progressive era, where the U.S. were more concerned on matters within our own country rather than those aboard.

With the help of campaign advisors Harry Doherty and future MPA chairman Will Hays, Harding’s campaign team was able to reach the masses more than Cox’s team plus Harding’s team was also well financed and with the musical stylings of famous Jazz singer and actor Al Jolson, Warren Harding was portrayed as the man the U.S. needed after the previous years on instability…now it’s time to look at the results.

The Results

As you can see from the electoral map, Warren G. Harding won in a landslide becoming the 29th president of the United States. Harding received 404 electoral votes and 60.3% of the popular vote and even won the state of Tennessee which hadn’t voted for the Republicans since 1872.

James M. Cox received only 127 electoral votes and 34.2% of the popular vote winning all but one of the states that make up the Solid South.

Eugene V. Debs in his fifth and final run for the presidency finished in third place yet again with 3.4% of the popular vote…a decent enough finish especially for someone locked in a jail cell, but don’t worry the newly elected President Harding would commute his sentence in December of 1921.

Parley Christensen came in fourth place with 1% of the popular vote and Aaron Watkins came in fifth place receiving 0.7% of the popular vote.

Harding’s victory would re-ignite a feel of Republican dominance that was prevalent in the previous years and he also became the first sitting Senator to ever become president.

This election was also the first one since 1820 to see a candidate win the presidency with 60 or more percent of the popular vote, a feat that wouldn’t be achieved by any other candidate until 1936.

And that was the election of 1920, we have a new president in Warren G. Harding who’s looking to bring the United States back to some normalcy but will it all be smooth sailing for the newly elected POTUS…Will just have to wait for a see in the next article.

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