The election of 1928; Republican and businessman, Herbert Hoover takes on the Governor of New York, Al Smith…
Silent Cal Is Out!
Following his victory in the 1924 election, President Calvin Coolidge continued to oversee an impressive economy while also becoming a vocal supporter of women, African and Native American rights throughout the rest of his term. At first, many believed that Coolidge would run for another term as he only became president through the death of Warren G.
Harding almost a year before the previous election, however in a move that shocked many at the time Silent Cal mentioned to the press in 1927 that he wouldn’t run for re-election in 1928 despite numerous pleas to do so by members of the GOP.
With Coolidge refusing to run for another term, the field was left wide open for others to go for the nomination with the top three names being:
- Frank Orren Lowden- The former Governor of Illinois
- Herbert Hoover- The Secretary of Commerce
- Charles Curtis- The Senate Minority Leader
Despite a less than stellar showing in the some of the primaries, Herbert Hoover would end up getting the nomination with Charles Curtis being selected as his running mate making Curtis the first person of Native American ancestry to be nominated for a major party’s presidential ticket.
Two important things to mention before we proceed, the first thing is that President Coolidge made a comment regarding his former Secretary of Commerce getting the nomination in which he states: “For six years that man has given me unsolicited advice…All of it bad”…certainly not the kind of thing you want the incumbent president of your party to say about you being chosen as the nominee.
The second important thing bring up is that during a speech Hoover gave around this time he said something that will be coming back to haunt him in the not-so-distant future, he said: “We in American are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of this land…We shall soon by the help of God be insight of the day when poverty will be banished from this land.”
Now let’s take a look at Hoover’s opponent in this election.
Al Smith for President
As election season rolled around for the Democrats in the late 1920’s, there was really no real front runner who looked poised to win the party’s nomination and thus a few names attempted to make a run for it, but the one who stood out from the rest was Alfred ‘Al’ Smith from New York.
Smith was the Governor of New York who helped to pass social welfare reforms and public work programs in the state from 1918-20 & 1922-26. He also unsuccessfully ran for the party’s nomination for president back in 1920 and 1924 but now things were looking much better for him this time.
In his third attempt to be his party’s nominee, Al Smith won the nomination becoming the first Roman Catholic to ever be nominated as a candidate by one of the major political parties.
The delegates within the convention nominated Arkansas Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson as his running mate even though both men differed when it came to policies, but many Democrats saw the idea of a Northern governor and Southern senator being on the same ballot could give the ticket some balance.
So those are the two candidates for the Republicans and Democrats in this race and now let’s look at the campaigns that both Hoover and Smith are running in this election.
Peace and Prosperity
Thanks to his humanitarian efforts plus his time working under the Harding/Coolidge administrations and the fact that the economy was doing remarkably well…made the election look like it was going to be an easy win for Herbert Hoover and the Republicans.
Nevertheless, many of Hoover’s advisors campaigned heavily with many promising to continue the conservative policies that had occurred previously and even ran on the campaign slogan: “A Chicken in Every Pot and a Car in Every Garage.” as a way of saying that under Hoover the peace and prosperity the U.S. was currently enjoying in the 1920’s would continue into the next decade.
Hoover even got his Belgium Shepard called ‘King Tut’ involved in the campaign as well with numerous photos of the businessman and his dog being distributed in order to make him look more relatable to the common people.
A charge was made against Hoover however by the Democratic Governor of Mississippi, Theodore Bilbo who claimed that the Secretary of Commerce was caught dancing with someone who worked at the Republican National Convention who just so happened to be a black woman; Whether true or not, the idea behind making this claim was to dismay many white voters from voting for Hoover as race relations in 1920’s America was horrific.
Some African Americans were also against the idea voting for Hoover on the basis that many blacks affected by the Mississippi Flood of 1927 were denied help and aid compared to their white counterparts and this outrage was mentioned predominately in black magazines, newspapers and even the NAACP filed complaints shortly after this was discovered.
While it appears to be smooth sailing for Hoover going into the election, his encountered some stumbling blocks along the way but it’s not as bad as the stumbling blocks his opponent Al Smith is facing around the same time.
Catholicism, Corruption & Prohibition
To say that Al Smith’s campaign was more of a house of cards than a well-oiled machine would be understatement as things like using the song ‘Sidewalks of New York’ as his campaign song or incorporating the same type of charm that made him popular in New York isn’t going to resonate well with people living in midwestern or Southern states.
Another issue that Al Smith had to face was his opposition to prohibition at a time when most of the country was in support of banning alcohol, it probably also didn’t help that he had campaign buttons that read “VOTE FOR Al SMITH…and Make Your Wet Dreams Come True.”…Before you ask, a ‘wet’ back in those days meant that you were against prohibition while a person who was in support of prohibition was called a ‘dry’.
There were also connections to Al Smith and the corrupt New York based political machine, Tammany Hall and this is also going to hurt his chances with many Americans who still have memories of the Teapot Dome Scandal under the Warren G. Harding, but the biggest thing that’s going to be the most damaging to Al Smith in this election is his religion.
As I mentioned earlier Al Smith was a Roman Catholic and many religous people living in America especially those who were Protestant were staunchly against Catholicism as they felt that if Al Smith was elected as president, then he would be taking orders from the Pope and many folks who weren’t religous worried he’d be making decisions that were favorably to the religious cloth and not the people of the United States.
The Ku Klux Klan also got involved on this anti-Catholic rhetoric by using nativism to claim that Al Smith wasn’t a ‘Real American’ and that he wasn’t for the same values that others across the country are for.
In short, all of this anti-Catholic propaganda and much more is going to cost Al Smith especially in Southern States that usually vote for the Democrats since the end of the Civil War, but will that be enough to ensure a Hoover victory? Well let’s look over the results of this election to find out.
Herbert Hoover as you can see from the electoral map destroyed Al Smith to become the 31st President in U.S History with Hoover even winning the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia with many of these states often voting for the Democrats since the late 1860’s.
Hoover got 444 electoral votes and 58.2% of the popular vote compared to Smith’s 87 electoral votes and 40.8% of the popular vote, making this second time since the inception of the Republican Party where the GOP won presidential elections back-to-back-to-back.
Despite his loss, Al Smith did make an impression in this election as he became the first Democrat since 1912 to win the state of Massachusetts which usually votes for the Republicans in previous elections.
On top of all of that, Smith increased the number of Democratic votes in city states that usually go for the GOP, and he only lost the state of New York by just only 2% so if anything, it’s a clear indication that some changes are being made when comes to which party the American people are voting for, but it’s just not enough for Al Smith in this election.
And that’s the election of 1928, the Republicans have maintained their grip on the White House for another four years, however by the time 1932 rolls around a whole lot will change leading to one of the most consequential presidential elections since the 1860’s.