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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936: From Reform to Resistance
 9781685857530

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THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY, 1912–1936

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THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY, 1912–1936 From Reform to Resistance Clyde P. Weed

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Published in the United States of America in 2012 by FirstForumPress A division of Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. 1800 30th Street, Boulder, Colorado 80301 www.firstforumpress.com and in the United Kingdom by FirstForumPress A division of Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. 3 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8LU © 2012 by FirstForumPress. All rights reserved Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A Cataloging-in-Publication record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. ISBN: 978-1-935049-42-5 British Cataloguing in Publication Data A Cataloguing in Publication record for this book is available from the British Library. Printed and bound in the United States of America The paper used in this publication meets the requirements of the American National Standard for Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials Z39.48-1992. 5 4 3 2 1

To the memory of my mother and father and to the presence of Amy

Contents

Preface

ix

Introduction: What Happened to the Republicans?

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The Republican Party and the National Idea

7

2

World War I and the Presidential Election of 1916

29

3

The GOP in the Last Arcadia of the 1920s

45

4

The Associational State and the Transformation of the GOP

73

5

The Rush Past Republican Associationalism, 1929–1932

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The Forgotten Republican Campaign of 1932

117

7

The 1934 Congressional Campaign: The Counterrevolution That Was Not

139

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The Stillborn Republican Revival of 1935–1936

145

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The Breakdown of Republican Electoral Evaluations and the Realignment of the 1930s

155

10 The New Deal’s Critics: What Was Said Then and Why It Still Matters

193

11 Reconsidering the Republican Experience of the 1930s

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Bibliography Index About the Book

225 233 250

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Preface

I began the preliminary work on this book in the summer of 1995. But I would not have had the resolution to go on with it had not Professor Everett Carll Ladd, then Director of the Roper Center at the University of Connecticut, taken me in hand and by his encouragement motivated me to proceed. Although sadly he is not here to see the final product, I will never forget him or his warm support. I owe special thanks to several friends. Associate Dean Bruce Kalk of the School of Arts and Sciences at Southern Connecticut State University, who has been long preoccupied with twentieth-century political development and has identified some of the main issues in his The Origins of the Southern Strategy, has helped throughout the evolution of the work, and I remain forever grateful. I burdened University Professor Emeritus Harriet B. Applewhite with the formidable task of reading one of the drafts of the manuscript, and her patience and precise criticisms and reminders were not marginal but essential. Professor James Childs read with unending diligence at critical stages and was centrally involved in helping me to make sure that others can understand what I am trying to say. I would like to acknowledge particularly the influence of Professor Robert Shapiro of Columbia University, as capable an advisor on academic presses as he was on dissertations two decades ago. He combines intellectual depth and practical knowledge in a way that is all too rare in academia. I wonder how many people appreciate the range of talents he has. My indebtedness to contemporary scholars I have tried to indicate in the endnotes, but I want to especially acknowledge the influence of Professor Robert Ferrell, who took the time at a Calvin Coolidge seminar to raise a series of questions with me about Warren Harding. Professor David Kennedy of Stanford gave me a new understanding of the whole problem of political economy after 1936. Professor Robert Eden, who has done much to demonstrate the tensions in twentieth-century progressivism and political economy, was a valued discussant. Finally, Sandy Thatcher, now an acquiring editor for Lynne Rienner Publishers, truly made this work possible. I appreciate especially his

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having had faith in someone he did not know. He believed in this project and graciously encouraged me to carry it out in a way I believed correct. I owe him a great deal, in many respects more than I can repay. I owe my wife more than I can say or write. She made this work possible in a thousand ways. I love you, Amy. This is a difficult and ambitious study, and I do not offer it as a complete explanation. It is as far as I know how to go, but someone may find clues here that will lead to further insights and understanding. I hope so. The search for the truth about the evolution of the Republican Party is worth much trouble and can tell us a great deal about ourselves as a people. Clyde P. Weed West Cornwall, CT Gettysburg, PA

Introduction: What Happened to the Republicans?

The underlying fragility of the liberal coalition in American politics has been apparent for some time. For example, if one examines the balance between the parties over the entire twentieth century, the Republican Party emerges as the dominant party at the presidential level. If one moves beyond the party battles, center-right coalitions have been even more important if not dominant in most periods of national governance since 1896. Analysis shows that structural barriers, limited state capacity, congressional-presidential deadlock, and the persistence of anti-statist ideologies all point to the continual importance of such forces. Despite the signifigance of such factors to twentieth-century political history, they have received nothing like the scrutiny their sustained presence should warrant. Much academic attention has remained focused on the Progressive or New Deal periods. The opposition in such periods often serves as little more than a backdrop that reemerges only after the highwater mark of reform efforts has waned. The academic study of the Republican Party offers striking confirmation of this disinterest, for the serious studies of the twentiethcentury Republican Party outside of the Progressive era can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Since 1920, for example, the party has been consistently viewed as “The Nemesis of Reform,” an assessment it has had difficulty shedding. This was not always the case. The party entered the 1920s as heir to a vigorous reform tradition that underscored its earlier role as the modernizing national party. By 1936, however, this role was in complete eclipse and the party could no longer lay claim to the mantle of the “party of ideas” and the political embodiment of the national destiny. Even today the academic view of the Republican Party remains strikingly imbued with images conjured up during the campaign of 1936. Despite this decline in the Republican Party’s academic reputation, this book will maintain that its influence on twentieth-century state

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

development has been far more critical than once recognized. Explaining why this is so and what the party’s resultant impact on national governance has been are the aims of this book. Our consideration of the GOP will prove surprisingly rich, comprising many sources and impulses, for its factional conflicts are misunderstood and frequently important. This book, therefore, attempts a reconsideration of the party’s collective role in twentieth-century politics with an emphasis on the period from 1920 through 1940. However, the study of this one period will underscore the need for renewed reconsideration of the party in a number of ways if we are to understand contemporary national politics. The understanding of Republican politics remains very important and more complex than is usually recognized. During the 1930s, for example, the Republicans played a far more important role than well-established interpretations have recognized. These are essential and consequential matters that require amendments to our previous view of twentieth-century politics. The ideological and interest-group structure of the GOP has undergone profound transformation in the twentieth century, with largely unappreciated but important consequences. How many close observers of the American party system are aware, for example, that the period from 1920 to 1940 saw the GOP's regional and ideological poles virtually reverse positions? In 1920 the party’s industrial eastern core comprised the party’s conservative “old guard” wing reflecting the legacy of the "system of 1896." The party’s western wing was identified with insurgency, the “sons of the wild jackass” in the words of one eastern spokesman. By 1940 the liberal, internationalist Willkie–Dewey wing ascendant in the eastern United States was confronted by the more conservative Taft stalwarts in the West. This transformation, but one of many underchronicled in previous studies, has had vital, underconsidered effects on the modern American party system. This is not a comprehensive historical narrative. While it draws on the work of historians, it will leave many events unchronicled. The study is primarily focused on the GOP’s role in domestic politics. With the exception of issues such as the tariff and foreign trade, most questions of international politics are beyond the scope of this book. The effort instead is to use historical material primarily to identify changing patterns of Republican response. It is also hoped that this work will lead to a renewed discussion of vocabulary, approaches, and periodization in American history. The New Deal effected massive changes not only in national governance but in vocabulary as well. Franklin Roosevelt transformed the GOP of the 1920s and 1930s into an effective foil to his programs, and these

Introduction

3

patterns of analysis have proven enduring. New approaches are needed, for example, to understand the period of Republican ascendancy in the 1920s. Looking back at that period from the new century reveals the relevant policymaking efforts of that period as religious or morally based welfare efforts, individual provision for retirement, and privatized “associational” efforts in such areas as medical care and education, which are all again part of our national life. The Republican voluntary efforts of the 1920s are no longer as remote from our experience as they once were. A rich and varied literature has sprung up around the New Deal and the degree to which social democratic transformations of the American system were stillborn during the 1930s. Some of these works stress the ideas of “opportunities lost” while others emphasize the immutable barriers to certain kinds of change that existed during the period.1 All interpretations would agree, however, that the period after the 1936 election did not produce the dramatic consolidation of liberal power that the election results of that year first suggested. One of the key events leading to the eclipse of the New Deal was the emergence of the modern, conservative congressional coalition composed primarily of newly reconstituted Republicans elected in the off-year elections of 1938. Since this conservative coalition became increasingly effective by the early 1940s, it is fair to ask how it developed so rapidly in the wake of the 1936 election. Thus, although the period was hardly a success from the Republican point of view, the short-term survival and ultimate long-term recovery of the party suggest how important it is to look beneath the immediate electoral results of the period from 1930 through 1936. Once again, this period is vastly underchronicled from the Republican standpoint. While the period following creation of the National Review in 1955 and the Goldwater movement have now received some careful consideration, the scholarly treatment of Republican politics in the period from the 1920s to the 1940s remains almost a forgotten period in political history despite the party’s impact on events. As David Kennedy and others have recognized, explanations that centered on the “age of reform” have proved to be tantalizingly incomplete in the light of later experience.2 This book explores the party’s central, underconsidered role in American political life in the middle of the “American Century.” It reveals the need for renewed attention to political parties and party elites even in the light of recent work on state structures, mass voting behavior, and rational-choice theory. Although there is now considerable research on political parties and the voter, there is far less written on party leaders, their strategies and

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beliefs, and the ways in which their designs can frame choices in the political system. As the Republican leaders struggled with the tension between national economic planning and economic liberty, they began to formulate platforms and positions that had continuity with preDepression beliefs that would be restored as the twentieth century moved on. How and why this came about in the dark days of the early 1930s is the focus of this book. This study provides a new perspective on the Republican Party, party elites, and American political culture that will enable us to better understand twentieth-century politics and the persistence of non-New Deal culture to this day. A reconsideration of the world of 1935 as it appeared to the Republicans moves beyond the intellectual typologies established during the 1936 presidential campaign. Such thinkers as James Beck, Walter Lippmann, and Elihu Root, to name a few, offered critical and effective opposition to Administration proposals. In 1934 the Republicans had mounted an ineffective, divided congressional campaign that had succeeded in losing yet more congressional seats in defiance of “out” party tradition. That year the nation had seemed on the verge of a kind of “directed” state with clear corporatist overtones. By 1935, however, the Republicans would move confidently to battle again, their ranks seemingly renewed by the return of old allies and new converts. A series of dialogues within and among party elites occurred that would have profound consequences for the Republicans and the possibility of a directed economy. The stillborn Republican revival of 1935–1936 so unappreciated and misunderstood in later years was now under way. This period’s importance to the evolution of the American political system or the development of modern political economy is still widely misunderstood. The Republican contribution to national dialogue during the period was far more important than the final results of the 1936 election would suggest. One searches in vain through the realignment, state development, or earlier consensus literature for a careful explanation as to why strong opposition to the New Deal developed by the 1935–1936 period. Why were recovery efforts not seen as an extension of the Hoover associational efforts of 1929–1932? What was all the fuss about in conservative circles after 1934? The behavioral revolution in the social sciences properly assigned enormous value to the collection of empirical data. The availability of electoral records extending well back into the nineteenth century became an important element of this. The study of mass electoral behavior

Introduction

5

became the predominant focus of most historically based electoral studies as data sets and methodology became more sophisticated. As a result, efforts to consider the linkages between party elites and mass electoral response have been very limited. Even a glance at the catalogues of leading political science graduate schools confirms the extent to which most political science theorizing on parties is ever intertwined with the consideration of electoral statistics. To analyze the role of party elites, electoral strategies, or contemporary perceptions of political conditions one must employ a series of research techniques more familiar to historians than political scientists. Happily, the boundaries between disciplinary perspectives and research techniques have become less rigid in recent years, and this study undertakes the consideration of historical political conditions as viewed at the time. John Geering has pointed out the remarkable consistency in Republican electoral appeals from the 1860s through the 1920s. The notions of the moral value of labor and social harmony, neomercantilism, and support for the national government at the expense of sectional challenges were enduring elements of the Republican creed. As we shall see, the party had entered the 1930s seeing themselves as the true “national party,” the vehicle of a vital, forward-looking tradition that had served the unifying nationalist impulse in American politics since the late 1850s. Such a viewpoint stresses the imperative importance of enlightened opinion and a reverence for law and other institutions at the expense of an unreliable, often fickle mass opinion. Legislatures, courts, bureaucracies, and party leadership were the proper mechanism for a considered popular will. In the end, institutions should serve as deliberative bodies, not simply conduits of public opinion. Hence, if one examines Republican electoral appeals from Lincoln through Coolidge, there is an enormous continuity of appeals along the line suggested by Gerring.3 It is striking how little alteration there was, for example, in Republican electoral appeals from the 1860s through the 1910s; thus the 1896 electoral realignment, such a staple of political science analysis, really had little transformative effect on Republican electoral appeals. To understand the electoral struggles of the 1930s, therefore, we must look to the party leaders and their belief systems. In order to help the reader appreciate the position Republicans found themselves in during the 1930s, the book begins with a descriptive account of the party from the Civil War through World War I. The narrative is divided in the following fashion. Chapter 1 considers the Republican Party’s place in American thought prior to the redefinitions of the 1930s. Chapter 2 considers the difficult role of the Republican “national party” as it opposed the Wilson Administration in

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World War I. Chapter 3 reconsiders the Republican presidents of the 1920s and the image of the era itself. The fourth chapter concerns the internal transformation of the Republicans themselves during the 1920s that would have important consequences throughout the Hoover period and thereafter. Chapter 5 considers the eclipse of the Republican Party in the early 1930s and the loss of its role as the national party. Chapter 6 focuses on the forgotten Republican presidential campaign of 1932 and the anticipated Republican resurgence that never came. Chapter 7 examines early efforts at party restoration, which proved no less difficult than such efforts undertaken by the Democrats in the 1980s. The party’s aborted first efforts to roll back the New Deal in 1934 are also considered. Chapter 8 examines the stillborn Republican revival of 1935–1936, one of the most neglected yet important developments in American twentieth-century political life. Chapter 9 reconstructs the belief patterns and ideological positions of Republican thinkers in the 1930s to understand finally why so much opposition to FDR developed during the period. Chapters 10 and 11 point to a reconsideration of the GOP’s experiences in the 1930s and why all of this remains important today. The book aims to show that the persistence of non-New Deal culture, largely unappreciated and ignored in academic settings, deserves more attention than it has hitherto received.

Notes 1 See “The Two World Wars in American Liberalism” and “The Late New Deal and the Idea of the State,” both in Alan Brinkley’s Liberalism and Its Discontents (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 37-62, 79-93. See also his “The New Deal and the Idea of the State” in Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle, eds., The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930-1980 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 85-121. See Barry D. Karl, The Uneasy State: The United States from 1915 to 1945 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1983) for a brisk discussion of barriers to the extension of national planning in the general political culture. See also David Plotke’s Building a Democratic Political Order: Reshaping American Liberalism in the 1930s and 1940s (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 77-91, for a treatment that assesses the New Deal’s lasting strength in terms of organizational and institutional structures developed within the state after 1935. 2 David M. Kennedy, “The Changing Image of the New Deal,” The Atlantic Monthly (Jan. 1985): 90-94. 3 John Gerring, “Party Ideology in America: The National Republican Chapter, 1828-1924,” Studies in American Political Development 11/ 1 (Spring 1997): 44-108.

1 The Republican Party and the National Idea

By 1940 the European left–right political spectrum had been introduced to American politics. The terms Liberal, Conservative, Socialist, Communist, and of course Fascist were all part of national discussion. These fault lines were simply not as apparent in 1900 and were not part of the language of politics at the time. Ever enamored with the idea of sustained national improvement, American political dialogue was shaped by Progressive-era requirements. Richard Hofstadter first noted that the work of the Progressive historians reflected the emphasis on national consolidation and advancement so characteristic of nineteenthcentury American thought.1 The good society was efficient, cohesive, and organized with an ongoing commitment to the national ideal. Primary efforts were devoted to maintaining social cohesion through the Maintenance of an integrated, confident national order. Perceptions of the two national parties prior to the 1930s form an important but largely forgotten part of all of this. For Herbert Croly, in his famous The Promise of American Life (1909), the challenge to reform involved the energetic and intelligent assertion of national power. The contrasting Jeffersonian system involved only a commitment to drift, superficiality, and indiscriminate individualism. Hamiltonian means must fuse with Jeffersonian ends into a joint commitment to nationalism and democracy. National consolidation was the overriding imperative, along with organizations that would thereby avoid furthering the interests of one class of citizens at the expense of others. More powerful national organizations would avoid the various local clamoring characteristic of sectional or local elites. Above all, the nation must create a conscious social ideal as a substitute for the earlier instinctive homogeneity of the American nation. For Croly little of this could be achieved through the Democratic Party. William Jennings Bryan, he felt, clearly favored increases in federal responsibility, yet his party concurrently maintained its old

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distrust of effective national organization. To Croly the democracy remained hostage to narrow concerns, most particularly in the American South. Bryan would destroy the independence of the federal judiciary by subjecting judges to localistic pressures, suggesting that he ultimately was uncomfortable with the heroic exercise of presidential power. Little, in short, could be expected from a party or an individual so committed to the inherent wisdom of the common man. Theodore Roosevelt stood in contrast to such localistic notions. In him the national principle had become identified with the powerful idea of reform. Constructive national legislation could follow from this, and through him the Republicans had been restored to some sense of their historic position and purpose. The GOP thus remained the primary vehicle for reform as the Democratic Party could not be the party of national responsibility without being faithless to its own creed. For Croly the democracy, organized exclusively or largely for the benefit of liberty, was essentially aristocratic and narrow in nature. Wedded to sectional nostalgia, the Democratic Party was not a truly national vehicle. The GOP would have to carry the mantle of reform to the entire republic. It has been correctly asserted by some modern scholars such as Elizabeth Sanders and David Sarasohn that periphery-based farmers operating through the Democratic Party generated most regulatory initiatives of the 1880 to 1919 period. By this view they were the source of most congressionally based social legislation and demands for economic regulation.2 To metropole northeastern groupings, however, this peripheral unrest served only to repeatedly demonstrate the ongoing unreliability of the Democratic Party as a vehicle for national political and economic integration. The early New Republic, for example, often praised Woodrow Wilson while leveling powerful criticism at his organizational support. Of the Democrats the magazine remarked that they were “as inept in performance and as bankrupt in principle as they were at the time of the Alton B. Parker campaign.”3 In Drift and Mastery Walter Lippmann wrote of the Democratic Party that “it is a party attached to local rights, to village patriotism. . . . You have always to except the negro, of course, about whom the Democrats have a totally different tradition. But among white men, special training and expert knowledge are somewhat under suspicion in Democratic circles.”4 As late as 1928 Frank Kent, a Wilson intimate and sympathetic Democratic observer, would write of his party: “It is plain that however virile the party may be in state and off-year congressional elections, the odds are against it even

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when united in the Presidential year, and its chances of victory are contingent on conditions quite off the normal.”5 Such views of the parties had powerful nineteenth- and twentiethcentury antecedents. The German scholar Jürgen Gebhardt wrote “The politics of the Republicans once more raised the patterns of consciousness and symbolism of revivalism and millenarianism from the underground of the social subculture of churches and sects to the national level in a design for existence socially dominant for the North.”6 The victory over the “disloyal” South had become a cornerstone for the construction of a new national unity based on the national ideal. After 1900 as the Civil War achieved the status of a national spiritual reformation and the image of the fallen Lincoln grew, Republican politics fused both spiritual and political concerns into collective memory. As the new century dawned, these symbols of the national faith formed a composite social interpretation that dominated the collective memory of the United States.7 Theodore Lowi correctly labeled the Republican Party “the dynamo of post-Civil War American politics.”8 It was, of course, the party of emancipation and the Union. Abolitionists, farmers, industrialists, and immigrants had all found a ready home in it. The 1896 party platform contained an appeal for cultural pluralism in terms of immigrant labor that stood in contrast to the Democratic Party’s nativist appeals. The nineteenth-century Republicans had, in Louis Hartz’s words, come to “steal the Jacksonian thunder and give economic power an egalitarian cast.”9 He additionally noted that “the freedom of American economic life, instead of producing the laissez-faire fetish, had produced a pragmatic outlook toward economic policy before the Civil War which had inspired a whole series of public enterprises and controls.”10 Republican leaders such as James G. Blaine, John Sherman, Mark Hanna, John Hay, and Elihu Root were reflective of this strong, vitalist, nationalizing tradition. Sherman had been the father of the Anti-Trust Act, Blaine’s name was associated with reciprocity toward Latin America, and Hay had embodied American internationalism in such policies as the open door to China. Republican figures such as Theodore Roosevelt had been the driving force behind conservation, and William Howard Taft was an early proponent of cooperation with Canada, the World Court, and the League to Enforce Peace. One overriding notion provided an ethos for American society, that of national progress and development. Progress and economic growth were linked, tied together by a series of notions that cut across national life and the political spectrum. The doctrine of progress was intimately connected with both American millennialism and religious commitment,

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and cultural optimism was tied so directly to the national experience in 1900 that it pervaded the entire spectrum of social thought. American society placed a continual emphasis on reform through scientific, instrumental efforts. While there was a kind of conservative tradition extending back to George Washington, it too fit easily into the commitment to scientific efforts and cultural optimism. Little conflict was seen between industrialization and the ideals of national democracy; indeed, the two concepts could be and were directly linked. The Lessons of Republican Efforts at State Building, 1861–1900

The Republican Party had emerged from the wreckage of the Civil War with a clear view of the relationship among state capacity, national development, and electoral mobilization. The war effort had produced a fusion of party and state in the northern Union that resulted in a tripartite approach to national economic development. The creation of a unified domestic market, unabashed support for a national tariff system, and the suppression of southern nationalism all became key elements of the Republican creed by 1870.11 The Republican Party also threw the entire force of the national government behind the expansion of northern industry and support for homestead agriculture in the west. These policies, coupled with pension support for Union veterans, served to unite eastern capitalism with western yeoman agriculture. It is often forgotten that the movement westward denationalized whole elements of federal landholdings, creating a vast privatized group of landholders. From 1883 to 1887 over 16 million acres of land were added to the private national economy every year.12 Although land policy was established by government actions in the areas of homestead settlement and railroad grants, at no time did the national state attempt to set or direct the course of economic development. By the 1870s the challenge of maintaining this northeastern/midwestern political alliance had become a preoccupation of the party’s strategists, something they would return to again and again in electoral competition. The Maintenance of the Republican Electoral Coalition

The Republican role as the overseer of post-Civil War national development was vital and persistent. The maintenance of the gold standard, the protective tariff, and the establishment of an unregulated

The Republican Party and the National Idea

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national market all served party goals through both elite industrial and financial groupings and mass electoral mobilization. The tariff served to protect American industry from foreign competition most directly in the northeast manufacturing region. In Richard Bensel’s words, “no other policy was as vital to the maintenance of the developmental coalition within the Republican party,”13 and its long-term effect on the development of broad consumer markets was less evident in the nineteenth century.14 The adherence to the gold standard clearly enjoyed far less mass popular support, particularly in Congress, but it removed a major source of uncertainty in terms of foreign investments and guaranteed a stable exchange rate, especially against the British pound. In the popular mind it was also associated with a disciplined central state fiscal policy. Thus, while the gold standard would remain the target of brickbats from western congressmen of both parties, it enjoyed strong executive-branch support from both parties at least until the Bryan insurgency.15 It is important to recognize that these developmental policies were integrally linked together; for example, the protective tariff provided the revenue for northern military pensions while also reinforcing the sectional political dispositions of the national political system. Walter Dean Burnham and the late Everett Carll Ladd have both discussed the notion of a “party of transformation”—one that is usually the dominant one in the American political system. This nationalizing party embraces the use of government to strengthen the “American System,” that is, the development of national commerce and industry. Bounties, premiums, and other aid in addition to a protective tariff had been employed by the Republicans to further national expansion and commerce. This repeated thrust toward national integration thus becomes one of the keys to understanding nineteenth-century Republican politics. While such efforts were undertaken to promote a free, individualistic, and competitive society, they were informed less by classical economic theory and more by the requirements of American nationalism. Confining state interventions to certain realms, their purpose was, in Samuel Beer’s words, “to make the country rich and powerful. . . . [T]he interdependence of agriculture and industry and especially of South and North would enhance the union.”16 The creation of common interests, common wants, and a common prosperity became an overarching goal.17 Nevertheless, the goals of the “party of transformation” were far from completed as the twentieth century began. The Republicans, the party of transformation and the northeastern metropole after 1896, remained often in conflict with the southern or western economic

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“colonies” more oriented toward the agenda of the periphery. In this “colonial” situation protest was usually peripherally oriented as the GOP became the organizational vehicle for the interests and desires of the dominant political and economic coalition. The per capita national product of the country had tripled in the half century after 1870.18 The American population, largely rural in 1865, was now redistributed as large cities and industrial towns rose up and came between 1910 and 1920 to harbor a majority of the country.19 Again, the Republican Party usually served as the political embodiment of most of these modernizing forces within the nation. Map 1.1 to serves to illustrate this. The Study of Republican Party Politics in Postwar Political Science

Most analysis of electoral history and party systems conducted after World War II has focused on voting statistics, particularly in critical elections that resulted in major realignments of voting behavior and party affiliation. This electorally centered analysis rapidly came to dominate political history because the tools to produce it were readily available through quantification even if only on an aggregate level. Political history became the study of electoral patterns, and realignment theory grew rapidly out of these applications. Applying these paradigms to Republican politics suggested two flashpoints in the first half of the century where most research has centered. The first, the conservativeprogressive schism at the 1912 Republican convention, was usually interpreted in terms of Progressive-era politics and of course the personality and appeal of Theodore Roosevelt. The second flashpoint grew out of the advent of the Great Depression by the summer of 1930 in the aftermath of the stock-market crash of October 1929. Although both these events remain important to Republican history, they provide, at best, an incomplete picture of the evolution of the Republican Party and its electoral coalition and create a need for new vocabulary and conceptual patterns if we are to understand the evolution of the GOP in this century. The old standpat/progressive dichotomy, so much a product of the rhetoric of the 1912 period, is particularly misleading. While the literature on state-centered activity and development has grown enormously, the literature on party elites and their relationship to partisan change has been slower to develop.20 With that difference in mind we now turn to the evolution of the Republican coalition. Beneath the façade of this Republican nationalizing coalition, several long-term trends were in evidence. The United States now had a

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Notes: One “faithless elector” in CA in 1896; one Democratic elector in KY in 1896

Figure 1.1 The Republican Electoral Coalition, 1896–1908: Number of Times a State Went Republican

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

vigorous and expanding industrial base able to compete in world markets, yet Republican congressional leaders remained skeptical of efforts to open markets. The relationship between free trade and sustained economic growth, a central belief pattern for public officials and economists in the twenty-first century, simply did not exist in 1910. The United States had a long record of economic achievement behind high tariff barriers, and this protectionist system was linked with prosperity in the public mind outside of the southern United States. While the free-trade position enjoyed great strength with economists, northeastern elites seldom advocated it directly. Protectionism had become linked to American power and national prosperity, particularly within the Republican Party. The American home market had been a preoccupation throughout the nineteenth century, and these constituencies retained deep ties to the Republican congressional party as the twentieth century dawned. Republican Speaker of the House Thomas Reed summed up much congressional sentiment when he called reciprocal trade “commerce on paper” in 1890.21 He maintained that the American economic system constituted an internal free-trade situation that made the United States more or less equivalent to Europe as a whole during the 1880s.22 Such attitudes reflected both concerns over the prerogatives of Congress and domestic political considerations. However, the Republican presidential party was increasingly aware of changing international conditions that would lead away from a preoccupation with the domestic market. Both improved transportation and communications were by this view pointing toward an increasing cosmopolitanism. The day before his murder in Buffalo at the Pan American Exposition William McKinley said, “We must not repose in fancied security that we can forever sell everything and buy little or nothing.”23 In this last speech McKinley emerged as something of an internationalist, urging negotiation of reciprocity treaties and the reduction of tariffs to promote trade with foreign countries. Although continuing to favor import expansion through reciprocity, he had begun to promote the no-injury doctrine that meant in his words “the period of exclusiveness is passed,”24 adding that “real eminence rests in the victories of peace, not those of war.”25 Thus the GOP’s “System of 96” no longer reflected a single set of economic interests primarily preoccupied with Bryanite radicalism. As the web of industrial interests grew and became more complex, this problem of representation within party ranks would increase. Ever sensitive to domestic political currents, Republican presidents such as McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt approached this issue cautiously. The logic of the open door toward China and increasing trade with

The Republican Party and the National Idea

15

Europe might point one way, but Congress and many domestic interest groups pointed another. Caught between rising public demand for tariff reform and domestic concerns, Republican presidents sought a middle course.26 During the 1904 presidential campaign Theodore Roosevelt continued to give his supporters in academia and the New York commercial community the impression he was hemmed in on the issue of tariff revision owing to the attitudes of the Republican congressional party. Still, these discussions were not a precursor to support for free trade on the party’s part. The Republicans of the early twentieth century shared an abiding conviction that government had a responsibility to shelter domestic workers and industry from the impact of competitive imports. McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt after him assigned priority to producers’ and workers’ interests (much of the party’s northeastern coalition) over consumers’ freedom to buy inexpensive goods.27 Perhaps this balancing act was the most efficacious course open to the GOP at the time because it was apparent that a downward revision of the tariff could not pass through the congressional party. The growing diversity of the party’s interest-group coalition could not be ignored, however. Tariff revision thus became a GOP preoccupation, one that was returned to again and again. To a generation raised in the postBretton Woods free-trade order it is difficult to understand the currents that swirled around this issue, but the result was to introduce potential fragmentation into the Republican coalition as different positions arose. This would lead to nothing less than the rupture of the elite consensus that had so effectively repelled Bryanism at the end of the nineteenth century.28 This process would begin during the 1912 election. The Onset of Discord: The Campaign of 1912

It is in the 1912 election that we first discover the sources of division within the GOP. Political scientists have until recently paid less attention to this election, seeing it as a “deviating” election that occurred in the middle of the Republican electoral era of 1896–1928. What attention it has received focuses primarily on the colorful personality of Theodore Roosevelt and the impressive scope of the Bull Moose effort that year. The election is usually seen as the high point of the Progressive movement with its emphasis on social reform efforts that pointed toward the later New Deal. Much of the earlier analysis is primarily centered on individuals, and there is no denying the impact that the personalities of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and even William Howard Taft had on the campaign that year.29 Broader currents, however, were

16

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

operating that year that reflected important emerging fissures within the Republican national system. Questions involving basic national economic organization moved to the forefront of the Republican Party’s deliberations, and party leaders also developed techniques and strategies when confronting electoral insurgency that became important in party councils later on. The 1912 campaign is one of the most colorful in history.30 Arthur Link and Richard McCormick wrote that “The use of direct primaries, the challenge to traditional party loyalties, the candidates’ issue orientation, and the prevalence of interest-group political activities all make the election of 1912 look more like that of 1980 than that of 1896.”31 Nevertheless, the earlier view that the Progressive Party served as a vehicle for Theodore Roosevelt’s ambition and personal clash with Taft minimizes the ideological divisions within the GOP. Both Theodore Roosevelt and Taft came to reflect important elements of the Republican coalition that had emerged by 1912. Although these divisions were complex and not reducible to one set of issue alignments, several trends were in evidence. Roosevelt established, for example, a clear alliance between his candidacy and the growing professional base of the Progressive movement. As Milkis and Tichenor make clear, his candidacy attracted many of the mainstays of the Progressive movement, but his effort also attracted a broad coalition of business groupings basically dissatisfied with the workings of the old competitive market. If TR’s identification with social reform has received primary attention, the flocking of these corporatist groupings to his banner are equally important to note. The 1912 Republican split is usually depicted as a conflict between Roosevelt the progressive and Taft the conservative. There is something to this distinction, but it is more reflective of post-1933 typologies than the conditions of 1912. Roosevelt had, after all, designated Taft his successor and the latter had shared TR’s views on the need to both support and regulate large corporations. Taft was also a champion of the kind of assertive nationalism TR had consistently favored. Martin Sklar correctly points out the array of legislative measures sponsored by the Taft Administration, including post office modernization, federal taxation on net corporate income, the eight-hour day for federal employees, and of course the income tax amendment (passed by Congress in 1909 and ratified in 1913 with Taft’s active support).32 The issues that ultimately came to divide the two men centered on the role of government in regulating the market and within the government the proper role of the executive office. Thus what appears as initially a personal conflict between the two individuals would provide the first

The Republican Party and the National Idea

17

real cracks in the Republican system of 1896 as capital no longer reflected a uniform response to external challenge. Theodore Roosevelt identified modern progressive civilization with the advancement of large-scale industry and enterprise. For him it was the essential element for projecting American influence and power abroad, an essential component to competition with the cartels and trusts of Europe. Increasing size was for him a logical expression of the advance of industrialism, and enhanced corporate power should be seen as a result of normal economic development. By this view the Sherman Anti-Trust Act with its emphasis on unrestrained competition and forbidding reasonable restraints of trade created legal and administrative incongruity damaging to the national economy. While the great corporations must be made to respect the courts, the law must recognize the sustained advantages of bigness and economies of scale to both national and international trade. Roosevelt had come to believe in a broader objective, namely, the adjustment and accommodation of the legal and political system to the imperatives of modern industrial organization. At its best, he believed, large corporate enterprise was beneficial in character and a new imperative within the industrial community. These views ran directly contrary to the sentiments expressed earlier in the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. There concentrated economic power meant the decline of individual citizens’ autonomy in the market and in politics and should be prevented under all conditions. Disparate, competing, localizing units were the hallmark of the Madisonian system, and it was the task of the state to maintain their vitality in the economic realm. For Roosevelt this interpretation of fundamental law was misleading and reactionary and served to isolate whole elements of the legal community from the transformations rapidly occurring in national economic life. Once out of office he spoke candidly of a “sincere rural toryism”33 that would use the anti-trust laws “to restore business to the competitive conditions of the middle of the last century.”34 For him this was an effort that was doomed to end in failure and that, if successful, would be mischievous to the last degree. At this point one might be tempted to ask why Roosevelt’s candidacy promoted such discord within Republican Party circles in 1912. Were his views on corporate organization not in step with the proposals of much of American business, for example? Roosevelt’s positions actually went considerably beyond such proposals. The national government should “enter upon a course of supervision, control and regulation of these great corporations—a regulation which we

18

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

should not fear, if necessary, to bring to the point of control of monopoly prices, just as in exceptional cases railroad rates are now regulated.”35 Control of these efforts should be vested in a renovated “Bureau of Corporations” or “some other government body similar to the Inter-State Commerce Commission.” Ultimately the system of regulatory control “should undoubtedly indirectly or directly extend to dealing with all questions connected with their [corporations’] treatment of their employees, including the wages, the hours of labor and the like.”36 To his critics such statements amounted to nothing more than the creation of a state-directed economy under executive and administrative control. Serious divisions over national economic policy underscored the Republican internal struggle of 1912. In addition to his call for regulatory measures Roosevelt called for restrictions on judicial protections of property, judicial recall, and redistributive income and inheritance taxation. Theodore Roosevelt’s support of large-scale corporate consolidation effectively split the GOP coalition. As John Morton Blum notes, the later Progressive Party “was a party with only three assets, all transitory: enthusiasm, money, and a presidential candidate.”37 For the first time the Republican national system would break down as American capital divided. While all sides within the GOP shared an opposition to free trade as such, two basic contending positions emerged. The first, which reflected the emergence of corporations as the dominant form of trust, favored a kind of corporate reorganization of American society. Although trusts were hardly unknown players in American politics, they had grown rapidly under the influence of the protective tariff and developments in public and private law.38 In the aftermath of the Republicans’ 1896 victory more than 1,800 firms were absorbed into horizontal combinations usually creating units that controlled from 40 to 70 percent of their markets.39 One estimate suggests the magnitude of reorganization efforts by pointing out that the capital involved was equal in value to the total resources employed in all manufacturing industries as reported in the census of 1890.40 The years from 1898 to 1902 saw the majority of these mergers, including the formation of U.S. Steel and International Harvester. Martin Sklar has described this passage of capitalism from a proprietary competitive stage to a corporate administered stage as one of the primary social movements of the early twentieth century. By this view the rationalization of a tariff rate structure was a precursor to a more general reordering of social authority in the society at large. Comprising academic movements in law, history,

The Republican Party and the National Idea

19

economics, and politics, corporate reconstruction proponents saw in it the ability to fulfill the potential of the United States as an emerging industrial giant. Employing both economies of scale and rationalized scientific management, these efforts can readily be seen as harbingers of some aspects of Herbert Hoover’s associational efforts of the 1920s. In the judgment of their proponents this form of administered corporatism was an organizational approach whose integration, administered pricing, and control of large segments of markets would moderate the intense competition they saw as characteristic of the national economy. Additionally, the corporate form would allow for effective worldwide competition against collectively organized corporatist groupings in worldwide markets. With proper government support the United States could outperform worldwide competition, thereby laying the basis for a new highly productive corporate order. Emphasizing the organizational experiences gained from the 1896 sound money campaign, corporate spokesmen sought to turn the trust question to their advantage. But these organizational efforts were far from completely successful. Paul Wolman in his excellent study of U.S. tariff policy points out the continual strength of proprietary manufacturers within Republican industrial circles during this period. Such independent manufacturers then dominated groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), which thus reflected the attitudes of local, often smaller proprietorships. Many of these groups were enjoying the fruits of the Americanization of Europe and thus looked at tariff maintenance with real suspicion. The development of state-business relationships was viewed with distrust by such groupings, which felt the maintenance of industry-wide standards might nullify local wage and comparative advantages. As Richard Bensel has written, Critics of industrial consolidation have emphasized the interlocking directorates in close social communities that bound together American industry into what, from the outside, often appeared to be a monolithic class, living off the life blood of national commerce and ruthlessly exploiting the citizenry. In reality there were many chinks in this monolith, some of them bitterly contested crevasses into which the state and national governments were invited to move. One of those chinks was the fact that most trusts never established monopolistic positions in the national economy. Only four short years after its founding as a trust, for example, the American Cotton Oil Company faced significant competition from the Southern Cotton Oil Company. And even the most efficient industrial consolidations, such as the Standard Oil Trust, faced substantial competition whenever and wherever market opportunities opened up.41

20

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

Thus competition between producers in most specific sectors remained more than a theoretical possibility. Many attempts at trust formation were mismanaged, attempting consolidation in sectors lacking economies of scale or otherwise made obsolete by technological advances in their market area. General Electric, for example, in 1899 faced such severe financial difficulties that it only barely escaped bankruptcy. The rapid decline in the price of industrial goods lowered the cost of entry into fields in previously less competitive regions bringing more competitors into the field. Increasingly the search for stability proved elusive. The concerns of proprietary capitalists, weary of threats to their entrepreneurial autonomy that seemed implicit in National Civic Federation organizational efforts, are best understood as reflecting the enduring strength of anti-statist belief systems within the Republican coalition even in the midst of efforts to promote a corporate administered economy. This tension between the search for controlled market environments and the lowering of entry barriers for economic intervention is important in Republican ranks for a number of reasons. Political scientists in their quest for identifiable patterns of response on the part of capital have consistently underestimated the strength of the individualist-proprietary point of view. Such efforts are often unplanned and improvised, the result of individual actions largely unchronicled in later years. The focus of research has usually been on larger organizational participants and their search for market stability. Joyce Appleby has also noted the tendency to identify capitalists as “structural interests” and little more, minimizing the passions that came to swirl around tariff revision, for example. This tendency has led to a minimal understanding of Republican politics and the underlying unpredictability often so characteristic of its inner deliberations. As Martin Sklar has written, capitalist development after 1896 is “better understood not simply as an ‘external force’ or an ‘objective’ economic or organizational phenomenon but as a social movement, no less than populism, trade unionism, feminism, Afro-American equalitarianism, or socialism.”42 The tensions between proprietary capitalism and the more corporatist organizational efforts of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), for example, have never been resolved in Republican councils in any final way. The struggle between efforts to arrive at corporate stability and the requirements and preconditions for entrepreneurial innovation is one of the most important and enduring divisions recurrent in twentieth-century Republican politics. The two long-term tendencies, supported by shifting coalitions and interest

The Republican Party and the National Idea

21

groupings normally within the Republican electoral coalition, have posed dilemmas over basic forms of economic organization that have never really gone away. At points the divisions between the two approaches have been deep and compelling, while at other points outside threats to basic prerogatives of corporate activity have imposed a unity on the two camps, as they rally against the external threats. But they have always served as an important backdrop to national Republican debate. Table 1.1 serves to illustrate this. Table 1.1 Proprietary vs. Integrated Corporatist Approach in Republican Ranks after 1912

Proprietary

Corporatist

Sustained Anti-Trust efforts

Continual interaction with government

Lower Tariffs

“Cooperative” price setting

Competitive Markets

Administered oligopolistic markets

Influenced by classical Liberalism to a Degree

At the start of his own presidential term Taft had agreed with Roosevelt’s views on large corporations: The corporation reflected organizational and comparative advantages related to size and was also important to the American role in the world. Taft’s later disagreements with Roosevelt did not reflect any move to the right as much as his emphasis on the enforcement of fundamental law, which he saw as independent of individuals or political circumstances. Roosevelt had clearly come to favor enforcement of the Sherman Act, selectively, and this was something Taft, with a strong judicial orientation, could not accept. While accepting the notion of anti-trust regulation, Taft saw implications of statist administration in TR’s call for the overseeing of wages and prices and rejected the position completely. For Taft the regulation of economic forces must be distinguished from the actual direction of them. The executive or judicial branch could not selectively pick and choose measures to be enforced, disregarding particular statutory measures in the name of other policies. Executive fiat led away from fundamental notions of law and pointed toward the erosion of both

22

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

presidential and judicial legitimacy. Human rights and property rights were not contending values but were inexorably linked together over time. Taft therefore rejected statist administration of corporate private property on both judicial and economic grounds. Taft also declined to support administrative mechanisms of corporate regulation such as trade commissions or the proposed bureau of corporations, ultimately favoring judicial review as the proper check on corporate behavior. In fact, his position on the importance of legislative or judicial formalism neatly anticipates much early Republican criticism of independent agencies such as the National Revovery Administraion (NRA) twenty years later. In any event, Taft was good as his word in this case. For in keeping with his judicial frame of mind he felt the legal process must remain the primary regulatory instrument of anti-trust enforcement. His Administration saw anti-trust indictments against some of the country’s largest corporations including the American sugar refining company, General Electric, and the great transcontinental railways of the western freight associations.43 By so doing, Taft sought to demonstrate the efficaciousness of the judicial process in policing corporate practices without direct involvement in the administration of the market. His actions served also to rally elements of small business that had long opposed amendment of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. By early 1910, however, large elements of the corporate world distrustful of Theodore Roosevelt had also begun to view Taft with real coolness. Faced with growing opposition from the corporatist supporters of Roosevelt and the disaffection of larger proprietary enterprises, Taft increasingly became dependent on smaller manufacturers who usually favored vigorous enforcement of the Sherman Act. He responded with a record number of anti-trust suits by one president in a single term. The disquiet and anger in the business community, meanwhile, became widespread. The “conservative” Taft had in many respects directed possibly the most active anti-monopoly campaign the nation had ever witnessed. All of this tore Republican campaign efforts in 1912 asunder. Charles D. Hilles, President Taft’s personal secretary and later one of the premier party strategists of mid-century, wrote in 1912: “we are very hard pressed for money. The fight has been carried on by the national committee with only a minimum of assistance. The Governor [Woodrow Wilson] is essentially a free trader and is running on a tariff for revenue only platform.”44 Hilles had written earlier that “the truth is that the president would not have had the opposition of Colonel Roosevelt if the suit had not been filed to dissolve the steel corporation and our first foe

The Republican Party and the National Idea

23

in the fight has been the steel trust. Officers of that trust and beneficiaries of the steel trust were in large measure responsible for the heavy vote against the president in Pittsburgh, Illinois, Minnesota and West Virginia. Our trouble in Ohio is traceable to the prosecution of the steel corporation, which operated in many cities of the state; to the prosecution of the Harvester trust, which has a large establishment at Springfield; and to the prosecution of the National Cash Register, which employs many thousands of men and women at Dayton. The National Cash Register has been particular [sic] generous to its employees, and, being a tyrannical monopoly, it could well afford to be generous.”45 Hilles also exchanged a series of accusatory letters with George Perkins, founder of International Harvester and the chairman of the executive committee of the Progressive Party. Referring to the Taft– Roosevelt clash at the 1912 Republican convention, Hilles wrote: “I have been told by a member of the national committee, who is a Veteran and was a supporter of Mr. Roosevelt, that he had never seen as much money in evidence at a convention as he saw in the possession of the Roosevelt supporters that year. The evidence of the expenditures of a fabulous sum of money was on every hand.”46 The regular Republican position for President Taft was summed up by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson at the Republican club of New York City in December 1911. “The moment business claims the right to control prices through monopoly, that moment will the arm of the State claim the right to fix prices.”47 State monopolies such as railways, oil, and gas were already regulated by the state as to pricing. The same condition could now approach for industries utilizing limited resources, such as water power or coal. Stimpson concluded that if “we are unwilling to accept State regulation of prices, we must accept the only other regulation which is possible—that of competition, actual or potential.”48 The price mechanism, he maintained, kept “the field free for new competing capital to come in whenever the prices in the field are sufficient to tempt it.”49 The remarks of Charles Hilles therefore amounted to more than ritualistic complaining. Regular Republican Party funds in the 1912 campaign came disproportionately from small contributors. Additionally, the Democrats for the first time had access to a greater overall amount of contributions. The Progressive Party in 1912 obtained most of its funding from large corporate contributions. Table 1.2 is suggestive of these divisions.

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Table 1.2: Percent Distribution of Contributions of Various Sizes to Democratic and Republican National Committees, 1904–1928

   

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Source: Louise Overacker, Money in Elections (New York: Macmillan, 1932). Note: (a) Data not available. 

24

  

The Republican Party and the National Idea

25

As the Republicans went down to defeat in 1912, its own factionalism over economic issues was glaringly apparent. Unable to agree on a process of reconciliation, party leaders began a search for individual candidates whose appeal might paper over Republican divisions through transcendent appeals. Above all, party leaders focused on retaining control of the Republican national organization that had been the key to turning back the insurgency at the 1912 convention. Revolts, individual personalities, and internal factionalism might come and go, but control of the party organization would, they felt, ever point the way through electoral storms.

Notes 1 Richard Hofstadter, The Progressive Historians: Turner, Beard, Parrington (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968), 14-16. 2 Elizabeth Sanders, Roots of Reform: Farmers, Workers, and the American State 1877-1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 13-30, 148-178. Also David Sarasohn, The Party of Reform: Democrats in the Progressive Era (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989), 155-191. 3 Sarasohn, The Party of Reform, 183. 4 Walter Lippmann, Drift and Mastery: An Attempt to Diagnose the Current Unrest (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1914), 142-143. 5 Frank Kent, The Democratic Party: A History (New York: The Century Co., 1928), 507. 6 Jürgen Gebhardt, Americanism: Revolutionary Order and Societal SelfInterpretation in the American Republic (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993), 195. 7 The degree to which efforts to unify the contending national sections remained a Republican concern after the Civil War is carefully considered in: Charles W. Calhoun, Concerning a New Republic: The Republican Party and the Southern Question, 1869-1900 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006), 20-21. 8 Theodore J. Lowi, The End of The Republican Era (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995), 80. 9 Ibid., 83. 10 Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America: An Interpretation of American Political Thought Since the Revolution (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1991), 210. 11 Richard Franklin Bensel, Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central State Authority in America, 1859-1877 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 303-364. 12 Richard Franklin Bensel, The Political Economy of American Industrialization, 1877-1900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 293-295. 13 Ibid., 8. 14 Ibid.

26

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

15

Ibid., 355-356. Samuel H. Beer, To Make a Nation: The Rediscovery of American Federalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993) 7. 17 Ibid., 4-27. 18 Everett Carll Ladd, American Political Parties: Social Change and Political Response (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1970), 110. 19 Ibid. 20 Exceptions to this include the works of Thomas Ferguson, most notably his Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995). Also John Gerring’s Party Ideologies in America, 1828-1996 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 22-56. See also John Gerring, “Party Ideology in America: The National Republican Chapter, 1828-1924,” Studies in American Political Development 11/1 (Spring 1997): 44-108. 21 Alfred E. Eckes, Jr., Opening America’s Market: U.S. Foreign Trade Policy Since 1776 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 67. 22 Paul Wolman, Most Favored Nation: The Republican Revisionists and U.S. Tariff Policy, 1897-1912 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 2. 23 Ibid., 31. 24 Ibid. 25 Ibid. 26 Daniel Klinghard, “Presidential Party Leadership and the Emergence of the President as Party Leader,” Presidential Studies Quarterly (Dec. 2005). 27 Eckes, Opening America’s Market, 31. 28 Efforts to forge a consensus on economic and legislative issues were consistently unsuccessful despite the efforts of business and Republican leaders. See Cathy Jo Martin, “Sectional Parties Divided Business,” Studies in American Political Development 20/20 (Fall 2006): 160-184. 29 John Morton Blum, The Republican Roosevelt (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954). Also James Chace’s 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs—The Election That Changed The Country (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004) for an engaging and well-considered treatment of the atmosphere of 1912. 30 Sidney M. Milkis and Daniel J. Tichenor, “‘Direct Democracy’ and Social Justice: The Progressive Party Campaign of 1912,” Studies in American Political Development 8/2 (Fall 1994): 282-340. 31 Ibid., 283-284. 32 Martin J. Sklar, The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism, 1890-1916: The Market, the Law, and Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 364-382. 33 Ibid., 343. 34 Ibid., 344. 35 Ibid., 345. 36 Ibid. 37 Blum, The Republican Roosevelt, 150. 38 Wolman, Most Favored Nation, xvii. 39 Morton Keller, Regulating A New Economy: Public Policy and Economic Change in America, 1900-1933 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 24. 16

The Republican Party and the National Idea

40

27

Sklar, The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism, 47. Bensel, The Political Economy of American Industrialization, 318. 42 Sklar, The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism, 13. See also Joyce Appleby, “The Popular Sources of American Capitalism,” Studies in American Political Development 9/ 2 (Fall 1995): 437- 457. 43 Sklar, The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism, 370. 44 See Charles D. Hilles to J.B. Thompson, Oct. 16, 1912, in Charles Hilles Papers, Yale University Manuscript Collection. 45 See Charles D. Hilles to Mornay Williams, May 20, 1912. 46 See Charles D. Hilles to George W. Perkins, October 8, 1912. 47 Sklar, The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism, 379. 48 Ibid. 49 Ibid. 41

2 World War I and the Presidential Election of 1916

The period after the election of 1912 posed a series of unfamiliar challenges from the Republican standpoint. For the first time, the “national party” had to cope with the vexing problem of how to respond to policies that they often had little hand in developing. Yet important long-term changes were occurring within Republican ranks that would have lasting consequences later on. The great majority of progressives or industrial leaders of any stripe had operated primarily within the GOP up to 1912. While the Republican split had infused the democracy with new life, it retained its Bryanite, populist image, particularly in the northeastern United States. Completely unaccustomed to serving as the loyal opposition to a Democratic president, Republican Party leaders continued to view themselves as the custodians of the nationalist intellectual tradition, seeing the Democratic presidency as a transitory period likely to be overturned in 1916. Nevertheless, the Wilson Administration displayed an initial competence surprising to many Republican leaders, and the Wilsonian practice of regulating business through a mix of regulatory commissions and judicial review proved acceptable to many Republican constituencies. Still, we should not exaggerate the stability that emerged from this period. Corporate-government relations remained unsettled, and the advent of the Wilson Administration was viewed with considerable trepidation by many business leaders. But the clash with Taft and the disquieting nature of TR’s statements about industrial organization had resulted in a kind of paralysis on the part of many business groupings after 1912. With little available alternatives, most Republican constituencies were willing to at least listen to Wilson in 1913. Robert Wiebe has written of Wilson’s ascendancy that “given the pressures of 1913, another administration would probably have selected

29

30

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

models very similar to those of the Democrats.”1 As is often characteristic of American reform periods, several years had passed where major alternatives in tariff reform, banking, and trust legislation had been considered and promoted by the interests involved. After these discussions, many of these efforts now had bipartisan support. The new administration could guide but hardly deny the forces involved. Throughout its first term the Wilson Administration continued to seek compromises and a kind of middle way between contending groups in domestic politics just as it initially sought to do so in foreign affairs. Moreover, elements of the Republican electoral coalition so swollen in size by the victories after 1896 often found themselves in agreement with certain aspects of the Wilsonian position. The Administration had emphasized tariff revision during the campaign, and the issue became one of the centerpieces of the domestic Wilsonian agenda. Predictably, Republican home market organizations descended on Washington following the advice of the American Protective Tariff Association, “above all don’t apologize.” In the afterglow of Wilson’s triumph such efforts yielded little, because these arguments seemed played out after the campaign of 1912. Additionally, Republican efforts on the tariff now lacked unanimity. Trade revisionists from the Northeast and Midwest joined southern Democrats in applauding the Underwood tariff reductions. No longer the voice of a single set of industrial interests, Republican leaders often looked on as separate industrial sectors “cut their own deals” in the new Democratic-led Congress. The Wilson Administration’s emphasis on balance often seemed to suggest real possibilities to some corporate groupings. Many Wilson Administration policies neatly antedated the return to power of the Republicans in the 1920s. John Braeman points out that Wilson’s Secretary of Commerce, William C. Redfield, established conditions for the later Harding–Hoover encouragement of trade associations. The Webb–Pomerene Act of 1918 excepted export combinations from the earlier anti-trust laws, and the Edge Act of 1919 permitted American banks to establish foreign banking and investment subsidiaries with federal support.2 Pressure for the permanent nationalization of the post office and railroads was resisted, and all industries were returned completely to private control at the end of the war. One of the persistent flaws in historians’ treatments of the 1912– 1924 period is the exaggeration of the extent to which changing party control produced real policy breaks with the Progressive era. Such policies reflected far more continuity than disruption with the emergence of centers of activist innovation in such areas as labor relations and

World War I and the Presidential Election of 1916

31

farming that would produce broad continuities in efforts from 1912 to 1924. Still, the road to accommodation was hardly smooth. Renewed conflict broke out between business and the Wilson Administration over the establishment of the Federal Reserve System and the Clayton Bill, through which the Wilson Administration attempted a more precise formulation of anti-trust violations than those contained within the Sherman Act.3 By addressing a wide range of anti-trust issues the Clayton Bill reignited the discussions of 1912 and renewed longstanding business feuds. As Wiebe writes, “Where powerful bankers and industrialists vehemently attacked the sections which prohibited interlocking directorates and interlacing stock ownership, almost all smaller businessmen approved.”4 A Chamber of Commerce survey suggested that over 90 percent of its membership opposed “centralized finance capitalism,”5 but there was no agreement as to remedies. What was suggested was often contradictory.6 The Clayton Act, prohibiting price discrimination that served to limit competition, provoked even more heated discussion. Once again divisions arose between those business organizations endorsing pricemaintenance agreements and those that opposed all price policies that lessened competitive advantage. Resolving conflicts between the variety of interests represented proved increasingly difficult. Similar controversies surrounded the Administration’s proposals for a federal trade commission, which smaller business often saw as a further alliance between government and large industry. Highlighting the divisions now manifest among industrialists, both the Chamber of Commerce and the NAM attacked the creation of a trade commission, which the National Civic Federation supported. It was all too apparent that business was far from an indivisible interest grouping by 1913. All of these discussions were interrupted by the advent of war in Europe in August 1914. Suddenly the Republican Party, which had viewed itself as the embodiment of the nationalist position, often found itself on the periphery of national debate. However, the initial Wilsonian stance of formal neutrality toward the European conflict provided clear commercial opportunities. The onset of hostilities broke down the normal patterns of commerce between nations, and American business was quick to see the opportunities suddenly available. As the president of the NAM remarked, “markets of the world heretofore largely supplied and commercially controlled by the nations now at war must be supplied.”7 New export combinations were usually excluded from normal anti-trust supervision, and the drive for foreign markets was endorsed by virtually every major business organization. These oppor-

32

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

tunities also provided new legitimacy to the Wilson Administration in corporate eyes. By 1916 Wilson’s presidency was bolstered by improving economic conditions, an upsurge in patriotism, and the Administration’s general pragmatism toward business. Prosperity and improved organization also made the businesses of the South and West increasingly assertive in business forums. The formation of the National Chamber of Commerce in 1912 offered small business outside the Northeast for the first time a real voice in entrepreneurial circles. The New Republic noted the attraction of the Administration to striving young people of ambition while suggesting the increasing importance of such individuals to the national debate. Many of the Wilson Administration’s efforts catered to “the man on the make,” many of whom came from sections of the country previously underrecognized in business circles.8 Hence a lower tariff appealed to many distributors and agricultural brokers just as an increasingly sophisticated consumer market enjoyed the influx of a wider variety of goods until the advent of wartime restrictions. Western and southern bankers also benefited from the Federal Reserve Act and the expansion of credits for rural development. The Clayton Act, with its restrictions on finance capitalism, was particularly well received among midwestern and southern entrepreneurial groupings. The result was a series of divisions within capital that would cross partisan party lines by 1916. The 1916 presidential election’s domestic political impact has been consistently underchronicled by scholars. The contest is usually analyzed in terms of potential American participation in the World War. This leads historians away from the Republican role that year, which becomes little more than a backdrop. Theodore Roosevelt’s attacks on Wilson for cowardice and the New York World’s attacks on Charles Evans Hughes for serving the interests of the Kaiser all seem vaguely unreal today. Nevertheless, the contest was highly entertaining and exciting, providing the closest electoral vote in the twentieth century of 277 to 254. Charles Evans Hughes went to bed election night convinced he had won, only to learn the morning after that the loss of California had led to his defeat. This scholarly neglect has proven unfortunate as it obscures several long-term changes in Republican ranks that first began to become apparent that year. Thus, while the period is remembered primarily for its healing of the progressive-conservative split, in Republican ranks other long-term changes were in evidence. That year the balance in Republican ranks had been decisively altered. Most importantly, the GOP became increasingly the party of the northeastern United States in 1916. The healing of the progressive-

World War I and the Presidential Election of 1916

33

conservative rift of 1912 moved the party’s center of gravity eastward in 1916. The Democratic electoral triumph united the rural South and the then rural West, but notably absent from the Democratic coalition in 1916 were the industrial states of Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts. Moreover, the voters of the ten largest cities gave Charles Evans Hughes a substantial majority. While European involvement was an important crosscutting issue, the Republican Party was once again the primary vehicle for the industrialized northeast metropolis that year. The election also saw a dramatic increase in the absolute number of Republican campaign contributions that would continue through the 1920s.9 What was important to the GOP over the long run was the eclipse of its progressive wing in the nation’s industrial commercial core in the northeastern United States and the industrialized states along the Great Lakes. In the aftermath of the election such progressivism was to be more closely identified with narrower sectional interests in the West and southern United States. Hence, while the Democratic Party is normally seen as the party torn asunder by ethno-cultural conflict after World War I, such conflicts also had an important effect on the GOP. Worsening social, ethnic, and urban tensions particularly in the Northeast made professional groupings less likely candidates for Progressive-era causes. Heightened labor militancy alienated businessmen and professionals who had constituted the backbone of eastern Republican progressivism. The evolution of Theodore Roosevelt’s post-presidential activities serves as an important barometer here: his interest in anti-trust questions and industrial organization so much a part of his 1912 campaign now gave way to an emphasis on preparedness and national defense in 1916. The schism of 1912 had been healed largely through the eclipse of Republican progressive sentiment in the industrial Northeast. This would have important consequences at least through 1940. The wealth of historical material on the Wilson Administration can obscure the fact that the GOP almost regained power in 1916, despite the fact that the Wilsonian slogan “He kept us out of war” proved difficult to attack that year. Most of the Republican national spokesmen criticized the Wilson Administration for inadequate national preparedness, but there were dangers to pushing these themes too far in the Midwest and West. Isolationist sentiment ran strong in both regions throughout 1916. Without an overall central focus to the campaign, Republican efforts took on a temporizing, shifting character. The loss of California by under 4,000 votes proved the demise of Republican hopes for a return to power in 1916. While the demise of the Progressive Party on a national level was apparent, it had remained a

34

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

vital force in California. Hughes’s visit to the state reopened the progressive-conservative schism there despite his efforts to placate both sides. Unaware of the depths of disaffection between the two factions, Hughes’s one campaign swing through the state was a disaster, culminating in an aborted meeting in a Long Beach hotel between Hughes and Senator Hiram Johnson, a progressive Republican of independent spirit.10 Both Hughes and Johnson were staying in the same hotel, but Hughes was never informed. Johnson left, furious at Hughes and regular Republican leaders. The threat of a second disastrous revolt by the progressives was on all minds throughout 1916. Although Hughes tried desperately to make amends, the damage had been done. Johnson went on to win his November senatorial campaign by over 300,000 votes as Hughes went down to defeat by a margin of only 4,000. It is widely believed many progressive Republicans chose to “sit out” the election. Hughes ran particularly poorly in Progressive strongholds such as San Francisco, and this lack of support probably caused him to lose the state’s electoral votes that would have produced an Electoral College majority of 267 to 264 for him. Hughes’s California trip may be fairly said to have cost him the election. Nevertheless, Republican power was seemingly in retreat that year. Contemporary electoral commentary emphasized that Wilson had succeeded in attracting a substantial share of the former progressive vote and the democracy had revived as a result.11 This can be contrasted by a consideration of the completely forgotten Literary Digest polls of 1916. That year the magazine’s first polling effort sampled 30,000 straw votes in five large doubtful states, and this unrepresentive sample can serve as an index of attentive middle-class constituencies that year. The Digest’s constituency incorrectly reflected actual results in Ohio that year casting 3,653 votes for Hughes and 2,893 for Wilson. (The actual substantial Democratic victory in the state that year was critical to Wilson’s 277 to 254 Electoral College victory). But Wilson gained more votes in the Digest’s poll from opposition parties that year in the state than Hughes, suggesting Wilson’s appeal to both 1912 Progressive Party members and Eugene Debs Socialist Party supporters.12 GOP reunification was, at best, incomplete in 1916, and the GOP was no longer viewed as the primary vehicle for social reform. The underutilized Digest poll 2.1 is suggestive here. In the wake of the earlier 1912 defeat the erosion of the Republican “system of 96” seemingly was in evidence. Here Louise Overacker’s tables provide an important early guide suggesting regional and sectional divisions on the part of capital. Democratic contributions to the campaign of 1916 were up dramatically as the Democratic Party faced

World War I and the Presidential Election of 1916

35

its Republican counterpart on relatively even terms that year. Table 2.2 points toward this. Table 2.1: Ohio (24 Electoral Votes) FOR HUGHES

FOR WILSON

Taft 1912 to Hughes 1916

1,740

Wilson 1912 to Wilson 1916

1,724

Roosevelt 1912 to Hughes 1916

1,132

Party Vote

2,872

Party Vote

1,724

Wilson 1912 to Hughes 1916

489

Taft 1912 to Wilson 1916

385

Roosevelt 1912 to Wilson 1916

438

346

1,169

Debs, Chafin, or “No vote” 1912 to Hughes 1916

292

Debs, Chafin, or “No vote” 1912 to Wilson 1916

Hughes's gain from opposition parties

781

Wilson's gain from opposition parties

Total Hughes vote

3,653

Total Wilson vote

2,893

Total combined vote

6,546

Source: The Literary Digest poll, Nov 4,1916, 1156.

While the Republican campaign of 1916 had difficulty with focus, several long-term trends were apparent. The party’s ideological divisions now had a decidedly regional cast. Northeastern Republicans increasingly reflected the attitudes of industrial concerns, coupling

36

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

Table 2.2: Campaign of 1916 $50,000and over

1

$75,000

4.2

1

$50,000

2

$25,000 to $49,999

5

$141,000

8

7

$175,000

7.2

$5,000 to $24,999

51

$389,500

22.2

97

$787,701

32.2 20.9

$1000 to $4,999 $100 to $999 Less than $100

130

$191,000

10.9

346

$511,949

2,389

$396,891

22.6

2,106

$464,008

19

167,424

$490,175

27.9

31,648

$369,072

15.1

$73,782

4.2

$87,691

3.6

170,000

$1,757,348

100

34,205

$2,445,421

100

Impossible to allocate Total

Source Overacker, Louise Money In Elections (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1932), 132.

support for economic innovation with a form of cultural conservatism. John Gerring has noted that such belief systems deny the centrality of class conflicts while stressing the importance of economic innovation within a neomercantilist tariff system.13 The creation of wealth became the focus here, along with economic innovation, industrialization, and the strengthening of the national system. This would become the dominant viewpoint in Republican Party councils in the northeastern United States after 1916. Western Republican insurgents were now a clear minority within party ranks. Increasingly after 1916 such sentiments were identified within Republican ranks with the promotion of limited, regional selfinterest. Grant McConnell has noted that a reorganization of agricultural politics began in this period that would reach fruition by the late 1930s. Eschewing mass popular movements and universalistic appeals, western Republicans continued to promote tariff protection for agricultural products, efforts to promote cooperative marketing, and endeavors to raise farm prices directly through such efforts as the McNary–Haugen price stabilization system. The emphasis on the broader national questions that had occupied the rural insurgents of the Progressive period, however, gradually began to lag even as the Republican agrarians remained an active, contentious force within party ranks after 1916. Despite their relegation to minority status by the onrush of urbanization, western Republicans continued to draw upon the language of the older, broader radical agrarian tradition, couching their demands in the anti-monopoly rhetoric that had served as a powerful rallying point for agrarian interests during the Populist period.

World War I and the Presidential Election of 1916

37

No understanding of Republican politics after 1916 is possible, however, without the recognition of these sectional divisions. Efforts to unify the industrial Northeast with its agricultural counterparts in the Midwest and West became the cornerstone of Republican deliberations after 1916. The notion of regional political cultures was a vivid image to party leaders that informed Republican deliberations at that time. World War I and the GOP

It has become almost a truism to see the World War I mobilization as a watershed in American political economy, yet the momentous effort involved resolved few of the underlying questions surrounding American industrial control. One of the war’s primary legacies lay in new patterns of fiscal policy rather than in new forms of industrial control. The principle of progressive taxation, the application of taxes to those most able to absorb them, became a cornerstone of national tax policy. Prior to the war nearly 75 percent of tax revenues came from custom and excise taxes that were clearly regressive. After the war the same percentage of revenue would come from income taxes, profits, and estate taxes, an important shift set in motion by the war effort. As importantly, the sheer scale of wartime efforts legitimated efforts of governmental activity unheard of prior to the war. David Kennedy points out that federal tax receipts would never again be less than a sum five times greater than pre-World War I levels.14 Later payments to veterans and holders of government bonds, both items directly attributable to the war, comprised the bulk of the expenditures of these receipts. The war placed new obligations on the Federal Reserve System that now had to deal with a government securities market whose size and importance had been unimagined at the system’s inception.15 Much of the literature on the organizational revolution in American politics depicts a movement toward new organizational forms of control in both the public and private sectors. Still, the amount of stability or control embodied by these wartime organizations should not be exaggerated. Robert Cuff has pointed out that to view the political economy of the war years as a fully integrated institutional order and then to make it a paradigm for future historical development is to badly overstate matters: “Wilson, after all, possessed only a small and inexperienced peacetime bureaucracy with which to mobilize the country’s major economic institutions. Moreover, he shared a variety of Progressive thought that was deeply suspicious of the statist element in national planning.”16 Cuff continues on to point toward “serious qualifications [that must] be made about the thoroughness and

38

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

permanency of structural integration between business and government before, during, and after World War I.”17 Terms such as corporate liberalism, military-industrial complex, or even organizational revolution exaggerate the degree of public control involved and the consensus that emerged. Thus, while business had an important role in war production owing to the underdevelopment of the American state, a balance between public and private realms proved difficult to arrive at. The concept of volunteerism remained a central organizing theme, but the diversity of interests represented in most agencies made agreements difficult without resort to coercion. The Wilson Administration, partially owing to its Bryanite constituency, was unwilling to go beyond deemphasis of the anti-trust laws to secure a vision of business-government cooperation. Cuff notes that the War Industry Board (WIB), the focus of much scholarly work, never enjoyed formal power to implement its decisions. Lacking formal jurisdiction, the WIB focused much of its wartime effort on exhortation, personal friendships, and improvisation. The effect of all of this varied from industry to industry, with governmental efforts most successful in industries in sound condition prior to the war effort. Even in these cases, voluntary compliance proved difficult in highly competitive industries whose member firms were not accustomed to operating in concert with one another or with any centralizing body. Some coordination efforts met with bitter business opposition. In the case of steel, it took months of pressure from Bernard Baruch, the threat of a federal trade commission investigation, and the threat of congressional legislation to drive steel makers into price agreements with the WIB.18 Similar developments occurred in running battles with the shoe industry over price and profit standardization that were finally resolved only after repeated WIB threats. Basic questions of control and organization were never really resolved, as is reflected in the fact that the WIB was simultaneously viewed by contemporaries as both the pliant tool of capital on the left and the harbinger of statist regimentation on the right. Republican leaders simultaneously feared and supported mobilization efforts. Regarding war mobilization Mark Sullivan wrote that “Of the effects of the war in America, by far the most fundamental was our submission to autocracy in government. . . . Every business man was shorn of dominion over his factory or store, every housewife surrendered control of her table, every farmer was forbidden to sell his wheat except at the price the government fixed. . . . The prohibition of individual liberty in the interest of the state could hardly be more complete.”19 Elihu Root echoed elements of this attitude when he said:

World War I and the Presidential Election of 1916

39

Always those who would be free are traveling a narrow rocky ledge on the one side of which there is despotism and on the other anarchism; on one side the safety of being governed by a superior power and on the other the danger of lawlessness; on the one side the Tsar in his time and on the other the Bolshevik in his time. Always the balance must be held, and there never is opportunity for rest. . . . We made the President of the United States and his Cabinet the most powerful monarchs on earth. We threw aside all limitations of power which had been the safeguard of the manhood of America. We said, “Take all we possess, don’t stand upon our rights, we are all for the service of the country. Take all possible power and win the War.” They took it. No other constitutional monarch has ever before had the unlimited power given the President of the United States; but if we are Americans and the country is to continue an honorable, useful course, we must have that power back.20

Simply put, the war mobilization reflected the continuing ambiguity in American life about expanding state control over the economy. It also reflected the impact of limited state capacity and the need to find some means to fill the gaps. Personal exhortation, dollar–a–year men, bond drives, and war service committees—all can be viewed as precursors of the NRA. Baruch’s later efforts to depict the wartime mobilization as a triumph of comprehensive, integrated efforts badly understated the dilemmas and problems that had emerged by 1918. Modern bureaucratic direction existed side by side with personal relationships between individual administrators. Generalizations concerning the process were few in number. From the start Republican leaders viewed the efforts of the Wilson Administration with suspicion, seeing its “states rights” and Bryanite elements as being incapable of directing a true national mobilization. If the federal government and industry were to work in true cooperation, a nationalist creed, by this view, was imperative. Henry Cabot Lodge and other critics focused their fire on Administration officials such as Secretary of War Newton D. Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, depicting them as symbols of Democratic incapacity. Of Newton Baker, a later persistent critic of the New Deal, Lodge wrote, “He never talks of fighting, but tells the country how nice everything is and garnishes it with the jargon of the Socialist and uplifter and the platititudes of the pacifist.”21 GOP spokesmen criticized the financing of the war almost from the start, being particularly critical of taxes on corporate profits that leaned heavily on the most profitable enterprises. GOP critics characterized the War Revenue Bill as an attempt to “pay for the war out of taxes raised north of the Mason and Dixon line.”22 Senator Warren Harding

40

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

characterized the wartime bond and loan drives on the floor of the U.S. Senate as “hysterical and unseemly.”23 While the war effort had provided a new stage for the debates about national industrial organization, it had involved virtually all of the players from the pre-1917 drama. Many of them had arrived with their earlier concerns. The basic tension between a rationalized corporate liberal order and the proprietary individualistic drives of other business groupings and individuals continued to be played out throughout Republican constituencies. “Politics is Not Suspended”: Wilson and the Republican Congress

Throughout the first year of American involvement in the war, Wilson had sought to avoid the unilateral assumption of extraordinary wartime powers. Repeatedly he had sought congressional support for nearly all of his actions, a strategy that served GOP designs as the war continued. For the Republicans the Congress rapidly became an overheated forum for intensely partisan attacks on presidential initiatives and southern congressional power.24 Increasingly the GOP adopted the time-honored tradition of political parties out of power by targeting criticism at selected measures without the responsibility of developing a comprehensive national program. Wilson retaliated by demanding greater discretionary authority, and this began the effective breakdown of Wilson’s relationship with Congress. During this time Republican efforts were focused on restoring the northeastern-western sectional coalition that had proven so successful prior to the 1912 party split. The Wilson Administration was derided for its heavy reliance on the southern United States. Appeals for economic liberty and entrepreneurial freedom were also continually made by Republican spokesmen. “The Republican party from its inception had stood against undue federalization of industries”25 new national chairman Will Hays said in 1918. Under the pretense of wartime emergency he maintained the Democrats were engaged in efforts that could lead to potential state ownership and “fundamental transformations.” Domestic political issues such as the tariff were continually linked to Wilsonian foreign policy. Party leaders such as Taft and Theodore Roosevelt argued that a policy of unrestricted free trade would result from Wilson’s internationalist visions as waves of European goods made their way to the United States. Theodore Roosevelt likened Wilson’s leadership to “fighting the Civil War under Buchanan”26 and equated advocacy of the League of Nations during wartime with pro-

World War I and the Presidential Election of 1916

41

Germanism.27 In the midst of all of this criticism the congressional elections of 1918 were to infuse Republican efforts with new life. At first glance GOP prospects appeared bleak in 1918. The nation enjoyed economic prosperity, particularly in the Northeast, the heart of the Republican coalition. Memories of the efforts of Copperhead Democrats during the Civil War were more vivid in 1918, and these served to place a brake on Republican criticism of the Administration. It was widely felt that efforts to assail the Administration would do more harm than good in domestic politics. Elihu Root addressed this dilemma at the Republican state convention in New York: It may be that this War could be won in no other way than by having in office the party that has cherished the traditions of local power, and having in opposition the party inspired by the great tradition of national power. The advocates of the two historical schools of American political opinion are curiously placed. The disciples of Jefferson, who have stubbornly contended for the narrowest limitations upon national authority and have thought in terms of the state rather than in terms of the nation, have confided to them the most extreme exercise of national power. . . . On the other hand, the disciples of Washington and Hamilton and Lincoln, whose inheritance and conviction are for a vigorous and powerful national government, who are instinct with the spirit of American nat ionality, look on from outside the Government to see their country pressing forward upon the lines of their own political opinions under the guidance of the opposing party.28

Party politics, therefore, had never really been suspended. Seward Livermore has pointed out that a close examination of congressional debate and public statements during the conflict suggest intense partisan division.29 President Wilson’s appeal to the voters in October of 1918 for a Democratic Congress, so much a part of American political lore, was actually only one of a number of partisan appeals made by both parties throughout the year. The suspension of politics had real limits from the start. Prevailing scholarly interpretations of the congressional elections in 1918 stress the sectional underpinnings of the vote. This “wheat thesis” stresses that the Democrats sustained their worst losses in the middle and far West where the Administration had maintained a low ceiling on the price of wheat. The effects of this policy were made even more apparent by the fact that there were no such restrictions placed on the price of southern cotton. Republican campaign efforts focused heavily on the Midwest, accusing the Wilson Administration of following

42

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

narrow sectional policies that placed “the South in the saddle” in national politics. As a result, the GOP was able to attack southern agricultural interests with impunity in 1918, and the party made the most of these efforts. Republicans made continual comparisons between the way in which their party had financed the Civil War, Spanish–American War, and the pattern of taxation employed by the Democrats to pay for the current war.30 Northern Republicans maintained that the South paid virtually no income tax and was largely exempt from war and excess profit taxes. Simeon Fess, then chairman of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, advised Ohio Republicans to play the sectional card to its limits because “the present administration was, entirely under the control of one section of the country and displays a partiality never more apparent than in the agitation against the regulation of cotton, not withstanding wheat, wool, coal and other articles are under regulation.”31 More than sectional appeals were involved here, however. After 1916 the Republicans had thoroughly overhauled their party organization, finally repairing the schisms that had rocked the party since 1912. The election of the aggressive young national committeeman from Indiana, Will H. Hays, proved an organizational and tactical boon. Earlier factional strife had resulted in the growth of conflicting advisory groups in Republican ranks that had often worked at cross-purposes. Hays’s election as national chairman rapidly led to the streamlining of the national organization. According to Livermore, “in a remarkably short time and over an extraordinarily wide area he managed to invigorate them [Republicans] with his own confidence regarding the party’s chances of prevailing against the power and popularity of the Wilson regime, an achievement of no mean significance in a campaign as hard to coordinate and direct as a congressional contest.”32 The sectional appeals of the 1918 congressional campaigns infused the GOP with renewed strength. The off-year elections transformed Democratic majorities in the House and Senate into Republican majorities of 45 and 2 seats, respectively. In the aftermath of these results it was widely recognized that the Democratic Party’s control of the western United States was now under serious siege. The swing back to the Republicans first apparent in 1918 was part of the long period of Republican electoral domination usually labeled the “fourth electoral system” by political scientists where Republican hegemony would prove to be stronger in the 1918–1928 period than during the first phase of this electoral system. Hidden in the immediate exuberance that accompanied this off-year victory, however, was the fact that the party had never been able to reach agreement on the subject of price-fixing by wartime

World War I and the Presidential Election of 1916

43

administrative agencies. As a result, the subject had not been raised by Republican candidates in 1918, and the party remained the home of a variety of constituencies with very different visions of a renewed privatized order. As the 1920s dawned, tension remained in party ranks over basic issues of political economy and business-government relations. These dilemmas would form an important backdrop to Republican affairs in the decade to come.

Notes 1 Robert H. Wiebe, Businessmen and Reform: A Study of the Progressive Movement (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1989), 127. 2 John Earl Haynes, ed., Calvin Coolidge and the Coolidge Era: Essays on the History of the 1920’s (Washington: Library of Congress, 1998). See the essay by John Braeman, “The American Polity in the Age of Normalcy: A Reappraisal,” 31. 3 Ibid.,138. 4 Wiebe, Businessmen and Reform, 137. 5 Ibid., 138. 6 Haynes, Calvin Coolidge and the Coolidge Era ,137-138. 7 Wiebe, Businessmen and Reform, 145. 8 Haynes, Calvin Coolidge and the Coolidge Era, 155. 9 Louise Overacker, Money in Elections (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1932), 136. 10 Steven C. Levi, “The Most Expensive Meal in American History: Charles Evans Hughes In San Francisco,” Journal of the West 18/2 (April 1979): 63-73. 11 The Literary Digest poll, Nov. 18, 1916, 1312-1314. 12 The Literary Digest poll, Nov 4,1916, 1156 13 John Gerring, “Party Ideology in America: The National Republican Chapter, 1828-1924,” Studies in American Political Development 11/1 (1997): 53. 14 David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 112. 15 Ibid., 113. 16 Robert D. Cuff, The War Industries Board: Business-Government Relations During World War I (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), 269. 17 Ibid., 7. 18 Ibid., 126. 19 Kennedy, Over Here, 136. 20 Elihu Root, Men And Policies: Addresses by Elihu Root, ed. Robert Bacon and James Brown Scott (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925), 204-206. 21 Kennedy, Over Here, 96. 22 Ibid., 108. 23 Ibid., 106.

44

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

24 Seward W. Livermore, “The Sectional Issue in the 1918 Congressional Elections,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 35 (June 1948): 29-60. 25 Thomas J. Knock,. To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 169. 26 Ibid. 27 Ibid. 28 Root, Men And Policies, 196. 29 Livermore, “The Sectional Issue in the 1918 Congressional Elections,” passim. 30 Ibid. 31 Ibid., 55. See also Seward W. Livermore, Politics Is Adjourned: Woodrow Wilson and The War Congress, 1916-1918 (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1966), 150. 32 Livermore, Politics Is Adjourned, 110.

3 The GOP in the Last Arcadia of the 1920s

Beyond the New Nationalism and the New Freedom

In November of 1929 McCall’s Magazine was the unlikely host of a composite interview conducted with Sinclair Lewis, Walter Lippmann, Will Durant, and Robert S. Lynd.1 The magazine’s editors pointed toward “a state of intense confusion in manners, morals, religion and politics” and asked the four thinkers to consider the overall direction of American civilization. The results were interesting as they offer a contemporary glimpse back into the 1920s unaffected by the reevaluations of the 1930s. Walter Lippmann faulted the United States for its “lack of the consciousness of greatness.”2 The Europeans, he believed, better appreciated American civilization than its own population did.3 He noted further that “We don’t know much about the causes which produce great epochs. There is no science of history, because history does not really repeat itself. But we can say, I think, that many of the elements which seem to go with such great periods are present in America now. A great surplus of wealth. That means leisure. . . . An enormous political prestige. A commerce of ideas and goods extending everywhere. A mixture of peoples, which may be corrupting, but may also be fertilizing. Great self-confidence. . . . A disillusion of the old folkways and in its train curiosity and hospitality to new ideas. Aren’t these the most obvious ingredients of greatness in a civilization?”4 Will Durant saw the United States as moving from a commercial industrial stage to a cultural stage where so much wealth has been accumulated that individuals now concern themselves with far broader questions. The “Age of Pericles”5 has seen great dramas offered to the population by wealthy individuals, and John D. Rockefeller and others were serving a similar function in New York City. Rockefeller had discovered that “wealth was not enough. His attitude, his life and his benefactions already show that. It is quite possible his son will discover

45

46

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

that science is not enough. At present science is frequently misused. Democracy is responsible for that misuse. President Hoover seems disposed to use science rightly. But President Hoover is an epochal exception. In general democracies don’t get chief executives as able as Hoover.”6 The strident social critic Sinclair Lewis was also heard from. “In all America, there is an optimism often obstreperous, yet very healthy. . . . [T]here is a general feeling that we can do the things we haven’t yet done. . . . [I]n Europe the more intelligent the person the less hope he has of the future. Here in America, the young carry a spirit of hope and optimism unknown in Europe.”7 For Robert S. Lynd we had entered a period of profound social change, and it was only to be expected that cultural issues would be a preoccupation. An earlier rural and diffused culture was now moving in the direction of world leadership.8 Summarizing the overall tenor of the symposium, McCall’s editor noted “four widely separated writers combined with singular unanimity in showing us that America is now entering upon a destiny so great as already to arrest the attention of the world. That the general optimism that pervades us is based not alone upon our great national prosperity but upon a feeling of movement toward greater things, to a far higher level of culture, spiritual, intellectual, artistic, than any we have yet attained.”9 All of this, the editors felt, “comes not from professional ‘boosters’ of America, but from careful thinkers whom [sic] are some of our severest critics.”10 The tendency to revise or discount such sentiments would become apparent soon afterwards. But for our purposes here it is important to recognize how often Depression-era perspectives continue to inform our view of the 1920s. The historian John Braeman has written forcefully of this process. The dominant image of the 1920s, he feels, was shaped rapidly by such 1931 works as Frederick Lewis Allen’s best seller Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920’s. The 1920s could be seen “as a distinct era in American history” marked off by the end of World War I and the stock market crash of 1929. The Depression could be viewed as the punishment for the decade’s materialistic excesses. By focusing on changes in traditional moral and sexual standards along with the rise of consumerism, one could see the decade as pointing toward an inexorable moral and political collapse after a period of hedonistic experimentation. Allen’s indictment depicted a period of political corruption, xenophobic politics, and of course the unimaginative Republican political leadership of the period. He was largely responsible for the popular portrait of the 1920 Republican national convention climaxing

The GOP in the Last Arcadia of the 1920s

47

“in a smoke-filled room”11 that resulted in the nomination of Warren G. Harding. Harding became “the majestic Doric false front” behind which “[b]lowsy gentlemen with cigars stuck in their cheeks and rolls of very useful hundred-dollar bills in their pockets”12 put Harding over the top. Nor could his vice presidential candidate escape his due. Coolidge became Harding’s “meager looking successor”13. “The great god business was supreme in the land, and Calvin Coolidge was fortunate enough to become almost a demi-god by doing discreet obeisance before the alter.”14 This portrayal of the decade would remain a powerful image well past the 1930s. It made a wonderful counterpoint to the cosmopolitan liberalism that rapidly came to dominate post-World War II academia. The leading historians of the 1920s (many of them teenagers during the early New Deal period) often focused on the decade’s ethno-cultural conflicts at the expense of the its other developments. Against this backdrop the Republican political leadership of the 1920s also came to provide a useful foil for the New Deal to come. Arthur Schlesinger wrote of Coolidge in The Crisis of the Old Order that “business was more than business; it was a religion; and to it he committed all the passion of his arid nature.”15 Leuchtenburg’s account of Harding’s Administration focused primarily on corruption, “the worst in at least half a century,”16 as the central element of his time in office. By the late 1950s, with most elements of the government-business relationship seemingly resolved by post-World War II society, the time for reconsideration of the decade seemed past. One has a sense of the prevailing power of this image, for example, by reading Nicol C. Raes’s otherwise fine 1989 work, The Decline and Fall of the Liberal Republicans, in which he states that “the Republicans’ reversion to the laisser faire attitudes of the Gilded Age during the 1920s emasculated the executive branch of the federal government and left them helpless in the face of the economic crisis of 1929-1933.”17 This from one of the careful scholars of GOP politics! Attempts have been made, of course, to reverse these interpretations. Paul Johnson has noted that “the view that the 1920s was a drunken spree destructive of civilized values can be substantiated only by the systematic distortion or denial of the historical record.”18 He cites not only the widespread evidence of prosperity (outside the farming community or certain older industrial communities) but also the spread of education and appreciation of literary and artistic enterprises. Throughout the 1920s David Copperfield was rated America’s favorite novel and Shakespeare, Dickens, Longfellow, and Tennyson were voted among the “ten greatest men in history.”19 The accusations of

48

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

philistinism are difficult to reconcile with the rise in youth orchestras (35,000 in 1929), the historical conservation movement that restored colonial Williamsburg, or the creation of the Museum of Modern Art in 1929.20 A glance at the popular literature of the day should make readers today envious. The period’s literature began with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise (1918) and came to a close with A Farewell to Arms (1929) by Ernest Hemingway. In between were such works as Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street (1920), John Dos Passos’s Three Soldiers (1921), Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy (1925), and William Faulkner’s Soldier’s Pay, (1926), which all attracted mass readership and attention. The emergence of playwrights such as Eugene O’Neill and Thornton Wilder, in Lionel Trilling’s words, testified to the “intense social awareness”21 now so characteristic of American society. The new popularity of the Broadway theatre brought such talent as George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Howard Dietz, and Cole Porter to the forefront of American culture. As Paul Johnson has observed, “with the possible exception of Weimar Germany, the America of Coolidge prosperity was the leading theatre of western culture at this time, the place where the native creator had the widest range of opportunities and where the expatriate artist was most likely to find the freedom, the means and the security to express himself.”22 Despite this broader context, our political images of the period remain strictly fixed, ever rooted in the imagery of the 1930s. It is not unfair to suggest that the Republican presidents of the 1920s won the electoral battles of the period only to lose the historians’ war. Even the new literature on Hoover remains primarily focused on his presidency and his associational work as Commerce Secretary in the 1920s. The Harding and Coolidge administrations, however, have been subject to little attention from political scientists. And the changes within the Republican electoral coalition during the decade have been virtually ignored. Nor does this seem to be primarily a matter of ideological orientation. The conservative Washington journal The Weekly Standard found in a survey of “conservative” historians that Harding’s presidency was ranked no higher by them than among their “liberal” counterparts.23 The result is a paucity of fresh analysis on the period that probably, more than anything, accounts for the persistence of earlier views. As a result, our understanding of the evolution of twentieth-century political coalitions remains strikingly incomplete. Morton Keller has pointed out that the years 1900–1933 are best viewed as a single period in which continuity was far more apparent than change or sudden reversals of direction. As is widely recognized,

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49

an organizational revolution was clearly taking place throughout the period. But the national response was continually shaped by persisting values, interests, and institutional arrangements. Even more importantly, the heightened pluralism of the period led to a multiplicity of voices rather than domination by an all-powerful corporate elite in search of stability.24 The tension within GOP ranks over these questions readily served to check the outward reach of the state. But deep divisions remained and the GOP’s course was far from fixed. This could hardly fail to be the case as the 1920s dawned. Elihu Root summed up much observation in February of 1920 when he said: The war has left the whole world in a condition of disturbed nerves; old habits have broken up; the machinery of production, transportation, trade and finance through which industry produces prosperity has been dislocated. After years of sustained excitement, with nerves keyed to the highest pitch of effort, old occupations seemed tame and distasteful; there is a widespread desire for something different to be attained, no one knows how. Multitudes of people are neglecting their own affairs and distressing themselves over the shortcomings of others. It is a prevailing state of mind. It is an epidemic. It will run its course like other epidemics, and some day the world will realize that the cure is for each man to go to work himself, attend chiefly to his own business, perform his own duties, pull his own weight in the boat.25

The senior Republican’s indictment concluded: By a series of statutes unprecedented in scope and liberality, with singleness of purpose and patriotic devotion worthy of all praise, the American people conferred upon the President powers broader and more autocratic than were possessed by any sovereign in the civilized world. Our capacity for effort, our fortunes, our liberty of conduct, our lives, were freely placed at the disposal of an Executive whose authority was so vast that its limits were imperceptible. The authority was exercised by the President, by his heads of departments, his bureau chiefs, his government agents, and his personal agents, to the full, without question, because the people of America were ready for any sacrifice to win the war.26

For Root, it had all gone too far. For him the only solution lay in suspending “a multitude of interferences, ill-judged although wellmeant, with the natural course of business, through which alone natural laws can operate to restore normal conditions.”27 For the Republicans, the restoration of normalcy would prove far more complex.

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

The Reconstructive Presidencies of the 1920s

The reevaluation of Republican electoral politics attempted here coincides with the development of new models and approaches to the study of the American presidency. Fred Greenstein’s analysis of the indirect approaches characteristic of the Eisenhower presidency have been followed by other innovative efforts. The central thrust of much of this literature has involved the reconsideration of different forms of presidential leadership in both their pre- and post-New Deal form.28 Stephen Skowronek has argued that the challenges of presidential leadership are not as disparate over time as once supposed. In other words, the pre/post FDR division has been clearly overdrawn.29 Contending forces of order and change are ever present in political regimes, and all presidents must undertake continual, ongoing reconciliations of such forces. Party systems and governing coalitions are inherently unstable, and presidential leadership must cope with potential fragmentation constantly. Successful political leaders do not necessarily do more than other leaders; they simply are more skilled at controlling the political definition of their actions. The tension between the values of stability and creation are always there, and the problem of legitimization of authority is a timeless preoccupation of all presidents. Other analysts have also broadened our understanding of pre-New Deal presidential leadership. Richard J. Ellis has noticed that the claiming of electoral mandates extends at least back to the McKinley era. By emphasizing the continuity between Whig and Republican views of the presidential office, he challenges the idea that the executive was really transformed by Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.30 Jeffrey Tulis has pointed out the extent to which nineteenth-century norms proscribed active plebiscitary leadership on the part of the president. His description of the nineteenth-century political order points out the paramount importance assigned to the separation of powers and the avoidance of demagoguery on the part of the executive. For the presidency a differential role that reflected more than consideration of the popular will was essential to the genuine independence of the executive. In this fashion many pre-New Deal presidents differed from their successors: instead of command depending on persuasion, persuasion depended on command. Presidential communications were to be written, carefully crafted after sustained reflection and deliberation. They should reflect public articulation of constitutional principles. Power could and should be derived by the emphasis on formality itself. By this view the presidencies of the 1920s are best seen as a kind of middle way between the statecraft of the preceding century and the

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rhetorical presidency to follow. To judge them by other, later standards is to confuse the dynamics involved. Tulis maintains that the fundamental reinterpretation of the office was furnished by Woodrow Wilson, who saw the separation of power as the central defect of American politics. Wilson’s concern over the tendency of the legislature to dominate in republican systems led to his interest in “institutionally structured cooperation”31 and leadership for the purpose of fostering deliberation. The Republican presidencies of the 1920s can be seen as a response to these initiatives involving real movement away from executive-centered leadership with its continual exercise of popular appeals and rhetorical efforts. To criticize Harding or Coolidge for these efforts is to promote misunderstanding of their perspectives and overall goals. Limits on executive-centered popular leadership would become an important goal for Republican presidents in the post-Wilsonian period. By pointing out that minimal consideration has been given to alternative constructions of presidential history as a whole, Skowronek and others have suggested the importance and need for new categories and understandings. Regime maintenance, for example, can be as daunting a challenge as the repudiation of the older order, while allowing even less room for political maneuver. Presidents affiliated with a set of established commitments to regime maintenance as in the case of a Buchanan, Hoover, or Carter have often been unable to reemerge successfully.32 The post–Theodore Roosevelt Republican presidents of the 1920s would face severe problems of postwar reconstruction, progressive/conservative schisms, and sectional tension while ever enduring comparisons with the fallen leader. As we shall see, the politics of normalcy were to prove frequently complex, at some distance from the politics of lassitude. The makeup of the restored Republican coalition of 1920 has been subject to little analysis. Emphasis has been given to the breakup of the Wilsonian coalition, with the GOP often serving as a backdrop to events. The reaction to Wilsonian foreign policy, by this view, sealed the Democratic Party’s fate that year. In a contemporary assessment Josephus Daniels, Wilson’s Secretary of the Navy, declared “we lost the election in Paris”33 and he felt little could have been done by any candidate. Later historians have echoed this opinion. The great blocks of ethnic voters, the Irish, Germans, and Italians, had all been alienated by American involvement in the war or the treaty that followed.34 This disaffection, first reflected by German and Irish voters in the election of 1916, served to restore Republican control in 1920 amidst angry protest.

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

More recent historians have stressed the Wilson Administration’s domestic economic policy as the prime contributor to the landslide that overwhelmed James Cox and FDR. The 1916 presidential election had been won by the Democrats in the West and South, the areas where, as William Jennings Bryan pointed out, immigrant and first-generation voters were the least important. The party’s downfall, it was maintained, was the result of vagaries and unevenness in Wilson’s wartime agricultural policy. In 1918, for example, controlling the price of wheat while allowing cotton prices to rise had alienated western growers while inducing deep sectional tension.35 The southern and western coalition that had prevailed over Charles Evans Hughes in 1916 thus was shattered in a fashion that proved more devastating than the loss of ethnic metropolitan voters in the then Republican Northeast. The results in 1920 have also been attributed to more general adverse cultural trends such as nativism, tinged with various forms of anti-radicalism that had seeped deeper into the popular imagination as the war effort progressed, exacerbating conflicts that seemingly had been dormant in American society during the Progressive period. All of this, while important, serves to deflect attention from the magnitude and scope of the GOP coalition that came together in the 1920 election. The reaction against national control that resurfaced in 1920 has remained a powerful theme in American politics, one important even to the present day. Nevertheless, the stability such forces would introduce can be exaggerated. As discussed earlier, the search for forms of industrial organization would prove elusive and contentious as Republican deliberations during the 1920s would show. The Republican Electoral Revival Amidst the Decline of the Party Organization

The Republican presidential nominating process in 1920 was remarkably open. The historian Wesley Bagby has pointed out that the notion of a “smoke-filled room”36 resulting in the nomination of Warren G. Harding will not stand close scrutiny. Harding’s success can be attributed to the deadlock that developed among the front runners and his lack of identification with the battles of the 1912 period. The party’s preoccupation with the internal divisions of the Theodore Roosevelt era also made a conciliatory figure particularly attractive in 1920. It is apparent that the eclipse of the Republican Party campaign organization followed in the aftermath of the 1912 split and the development of more contentious party behavior during the restive congresses of World War I. Once again the Republican nominating

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process during the supposedly somnambulant 1920s merits reexamination. Both Calvin Coolidge’s nomination for the vice presidency at the 1920 convention and Charles Dawes’s 1924 vice presidential nomination were the result of rank-and-file upheavals that party leaders neither initiated nor were in control of. Herbert Hoover’s nomination in 1928 also occurred despite the open lack of enthusiasm for him from party leaders or President Coolidge. From the start Hoover’s political base stood somewhat outside party organizations. The forgotten Literary Digest’s 1920 Straw Poll found him to enjoy substantial popular support among the magazine’s readership but little support from the Republican delegate group about to assemble in Chicago. Hoover’s support, moreover, was almost equally divided among Republican and Democratic voters. The cross-partisan support for Hoover suggested to the Digest’s editors that “many voters are disregarding partizanship [sic] in a way seldom matched and never exceeded.”37 The Hoover of 1920, the magazine felt, “with all his unquestioned fitness and running strength, is training in the wrong stable.”38 Increasingly, then, Republican conventions were subject to a variety of outside, less predictable forces. Although the assembled 1920 GOP convention finally avoided the earlier progressive/conservative schisms, the gathering that nominated Warren Harding contained substantial progressive sentiment. Both Leonard Wood and Frank Lowden, the deadlocked front runners, were identified with the progressive wing of the party. The inability of the Wood and Lowden forces to reach any kind of compromise threw the convention into confusion and revealed the lack of control exercised by party leaders. The convention’s movement toward Senator Harding reflected not smoke-filled rooms, oil deals, or other intrigues but rather a movement toward a safe, respected candidate from a key state with a record of party regularity. Charles Hilles, former Republican national chairman and later national committeeman from New York State, and a supposed important participant in the 1920 intrigues, could later recall no such meetings. James Wadsworth later characterized the movement toward Senator Harding as spontaneous: “the motivation was psychological not hysterical. . . . [T]he delegates did it themselves!”39 Harding’s nomination was then greeted with approval in both press and party circles. Additionally, a movement toward candidate-centered campaigns that deemphasized party organizations was again in full evidence with the Coolidge nomination for the vice presidency that year. His name was placed into nomination from the floor, and party leaders were quickly forced to accept it. As noted above, however, delegatecentered movements and resolutions from amateurs were becoming far

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

more important and common in Republican ranks in the aftermath of the 1912 schisms. This trend would have even more important consequences for Republican politics with the rise of outsider Herbert Hoover in the late 1920s. Almost nothing about the Harding period lends itself to easy analysis. The material written after his death often presents an individual largely unknown prior to August of 1923. The negative images have seeped so deeply into both the popular and academic mind that one suspects little can be done about it. More importantly, it has served to deflect much scholarly inquiry into the period. Robert Ferrell has written cogently of the origins of the current Harding image. By the late 1920s books by William Allen White, Frederick Lewis Allen, and Allen Nevins had largely shaped the enduring popular images. William Allen White’s Masks in a Pageant included what Ferrell terms “an utterly malicious interpretation of Harding”40 White’s stance is probably explainable by his open worship of the late Theodore Roosevelt whom he admitted “bit me, and I went mad.”41 Roosevelt’s passing in 1919 had in all likelihood denied him the Republican nomination in 1920, and Harding’s victory could not help but invoke memories of his old friend. Additionally, Harding had remained a party regular during the 1912 schism assisting President Taft in his renomination efforts. White had been deeply affected by Roosevelt’s death, vividly remembering his last meeting with him at Roosevelt Hospital in New York.42 Ferrell also suggests that White resented Harding’s role as a small-town newspaper editor, quoting a correspondent who felt White resented a fellow editor’s elevation to the White House.43 Harding was often seen as a spokesman for small-town rural America, and his rise pushed White into the background. Again, the pre- and post-1923 Harding images are in vivid contrast. White had written Harding during the campaign that “you are making a great impression on the American people. You have grown every moment since the day of the nomination. It seems to me that your sincerity, your sense of dignity and your steady thoughts have made themselves felt in the American heart.”44 Contrast such sentiments with the following passage from White’s Masks in a Pageant: Always there must have been in the dark periphery of his [Harding’s] consciousness, cackling, ribald voices: Daugherty’s voice, Fall’s voice, drunken voices, raucous in debauch, the high-tensioned giggle of women pursued, the voices of men whispering in the greedy lechery of political intrigue; cynical voices cackling like the flames of the pit in scurrilous derision at the booming presidential rhetoric, Harding’s high faluting yearnings. This was his hell; the hell which he could only escape by sinking further into it, and forgetting his lofty emprise. So

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fools rattled their heels in the White House and on the decks of the Mayflower while Harding relaxed.45

Frederick Lewis Allen’s Only Yesterday, so important in 1931 to shaping the images of the decade and of Harding, focused primarily on his personal excesses and the cultural backwardness of the 1920s viewed from the prism of Manhattan life. Consideration of the policy initiatives of the Harding period were passed over in a few lines in the book while 22 pages were devoted to the Harding scandals. The result was an image of the period almost completely devoid of any discussion of ideas or policy changes. Even Allen Nevins, for years a respected historian at Columbia University, joined in the reconstruction of the Harding image. A committed Wilsonian from his days in graduate school, he had subsequently worked for James Cox, the Democratic candidate Harding had so overwhelmingly defeated in 1920. A number of Nevins’s citations on Harding, even in scholarly articles, are drawn from White’s work, and even if Nevins had wanted to utilize them, at the time existing sources were completely inadequate. In short, the Harding image was cast in the aftermath of the Wilsonian period by observers who often had compelling reasons to portray the executive leadership of the 1920s in an unflattering light. The broader question of how these images crept into historical works is beyond our scope here, but young people coming of age in the 1930s and 1940s were not above the notion that the 1920s produced domestic political failures that led irretrievably to the Great Depression of the 1930s. A generation of historians trained after World War II only naturally came to believe what their teachers told them. In short, most of the graduate students of the 1940s and 1950s received training from mentors sympathetic to the Progressive era who had experienced the devastating effects of the Depression first hand as young men. The presidents of the 1920s became foils for the wartime disintegration of Wilsonian liberalism. From 1930 to 1950, prior to the opening of collections of critical papers, this was largely the historical diet. As a result, over seventy years after the decade drew to a close our images of the period remain strikingly rooted in Progressive-era lexicons. Contrast Lippmann’s 1929 glowing observations for McCall’s with this statement three years later in A Reckoning: Twelve Years of Republican Rule. Writing of the three Republican administrations, he noted, “All that can be said to mitigate the responsibility of those who administered this system of policies is that for a while the system worked in such a way as to subvert the judgment of American bankers and industrialists and to

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

intoxicate the voters with the fumes of a great inflation. For unhappily the system of policies did not break down at once. The worst feature of it was that it first produced a boom and by that boom turned the inevitable breakdown into a gigantic disaster.”46 Nevertheless, the underlying political dynamics of the Harding presidency affected the evolution of the Republican electoral coalition. An underlying Taft/Harding continuum existed in the view of party leaders at the time, and Harding’s leadership was seen as restorative in the most positive sense of the term. Their mutually laudatory remarks at the Memorial Day ceremony in 1922 that dedicated the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., stand out as clear evidence of their longstanding regard for each other.47 Harding’s continual emphasis on reconciliation and restoration within the Republican Party’s councils served to limit discord throughout the campaign. Harding carefully avoided direct attacks on individuals and steadfastly refused to deal in personalities. His inherent small-town conservativism, ever supportive of business enterprise, sprung more from innate personal attitudes than corporate identification of any kind. The party platform of 1920 was clear and to the point on such topics as lower taxes and governmental economies. Harding was, by the way, very successful in fiscal policy, being the only president in the twentieth century to systematically reduce governmental expenditures during his term. His 40 percent reduction in national expenditures is without precedent in the history of the office. His platform and campaign image of imprecision rests only on the question of American entry into the League of Nations, a topic he deliberately chose to paper over. Fully aware his candidacy was being well received, he waged a campaign (somewhat similar to Richard Nixon’s in 1968) by simply attempting to maintain what he believed was a large lead. His notion of sitting tight to win proved very difficult for Governor Cox to attack. Harding’s desire for party unity was also very strong, and his efforts rapidly minimized the still powerful images of the 1912 split. He was masterful at juggling a coalition composed of ardent nationalists such as Henry Cabot Lodge while not alienating the party’s internationalist spokesman such as Herbert Hoover. Robert Ferrell makes an extremely important point when he notes that ability at politics and coalition-building is the product of sustained intelligence and the GOP of 1920 had severe internal problems. Out of office since 1912, partially as a result of its own divisions, the party had no program and few leaders of overwhelming stature. Harding’s efforts in the campaign (his personal election-year correspondence in 1920 is massive) were an important element in his receiving the greatest majority given any presidential candidate since the Civil War save for Franklin Roosevelt in

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1936. In short, he conducted a masterful campaign, refusing to be drawn into struggles that might reveal divisions within the party’s ranks. His calls for economy and reductions in spending struck a popular and resounding note in the nation at large. In no fashion a victory by default, his candidacy and the rejection of the Wilsonian legacy reflected deep if divided currents of thought. With the conclusion of the war, the GOP opened up with direct attacks on eight years of Democratic administration. Both the president and his party were linked with wartime regulatory efforts and the uncertain economic and social conditions that rapidly became a backdrop to postwar reconstruction. Shortages of food and fuel together with rising inflation were all attributed to the Wilson Administration and the Democratic Party. The sudden cancellation of war-related contracts further exacerbated conditions, along with the continued enforcement of food and gas restrictions, even in the aftermath of the armistice. To individuals concerned with daily problems such as employment, inflation, or food the Wilson Administration’s preoccupation with the League of Nations seemed increasingly distant. Democratic candidates often avoided direct reference to the Wilson Administration, placing James Cox’s campaign in the difficult position of defining issue stances often without reference to the party’s incumbent president. Suddenly the GOP, deeply factionalized and divided only a few short years ago, could envision resumption of its role as the national party. Yet Republican Party divisions were still very real and persistent despite the party’s overwhelming success in the campaign of 1920. Harding’s attempts to select a cabinet recalled the classic distinctions between campaigning and governing—two differing processes subject to very separate dynamics. His selections of Charles Evans Hughes and Herbert Hoover for Secretaries of State and Commerce were both viewed by party conservatives as too internationalist as well as too liberal. Both were accepted, however, in the midst of old guard opposition. Harding’s deliberations took place against the backdrop of a foreign policy in chaos conducted by a president absent from the United States for sustained periods of time. The “psychic milieu” Elihu Root had spoken of was reflected in both cultural turmoil and the difficulties in adjusting to rapidly changed postwar economic circumstances. Thus Harding’s efforts at postwar conversion were neither unintelligent nor superficial; above all, he believed, business enterprise would resume normal operation if a favorable economic atmosphere was established for entrepreneurial activity. Reduced taxes were the centerpiece of his economic program in 1921 along with systematic efforts at budgetary reduction. The creation of a national budget system

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

with the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 generated massive cuts in governmental expenditures throughout the next two years. Again the pre-1923 commentary on Harding is revealing. Charles Dawes, Harding’s first budget director, wrote in his journal, “my mind keeps returning to the president. . . . {I]n all my life I have had no more satisfactory an experience than I have had under President Harding. This work [budget reduction] could not have been done under a weak, vacillating or irresolute man”48 Earlier in the same journal he had written that in fiscal matters Harding’s mind was “quick as lightening”49 and “His ideas of business are exact . . . his larger knowledge of government, political conditions and the state of public opinion, make him the hope, and the only hope, for a permanent improvement in the government business system. Without him a mere budget law would mean little or nothing.”50 The Harding Administration serves principally as an important backdrop to the evolution of the Republican electoral coalition over time. His Administration’s intellectual wellspring, however, has been unfairly treated and widely ignored by historians. Harding’s distrust of plebiscitary rhetorical leadership stemmed from the reaction to Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson during a period when the set of behavioral norms that surround the presidency were in flux. His emphasis on the reconstruction and maintenance of consensual party leadership and governance arose from concern over the dangers of prolonged popular presidential leadership. His analysis of the importance of conciliatory coalition maintenance reflected a rather accurate reading of the uncertain internal condition of the GOP of the early 1920s. Differentiated, distinct roles for the Congress and presidency, undertaken in concert with party support, recalled the importance and meaning assigned to formality and command in the world of 1920. While real changes in executive behavior were in motion after the World War, it is unfair to savage Harding’s reconstructive efforts, particularly in the atmosphere of uncertainty that surrounded his ascension to the office after the conflict. Even if judged by the “scoreboard” criteria more in fashion with contemporary presidents, his creation of the Bureau of the Budget, coupled with dramatic federal budgetary cuts, is little appreciated or understood by existing public administration literature. Contrast the notion in current political science that “iron triangles” will overwhelm external efforts at control with Charles Dawes’s remark that before Harding “everybody did as they damn pleased”51 when it came to spending money, but Harding “waved the ax and said that anybody who didn’t cooperate, his head would come off.”52 The result, Dawes said, was “so much velvet for the taxpayer.”53

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By today’s standards his 40 percent budgetary cuts seem almost inconceivable. His efforts in negotiating peace treaties with the former central powers, the Washington Naval Conference, and postwar conversion efforts were all viewed as successful in the 1920s. In September of 1923 George B. Christian wrote in Current History, “The accurate historian will rank Warren G. Harding as one of the really great presidents of the United States of America. No other historical verdict will be possible, unless there is entirely forgotten the remarkable record of achievements accomplished by an administration which lasted only 2 years and 10 months.”54 The world press mourned “a man of peace”55 and saw Harding’s death as a stunning blow. He was eulogized deeply as “the greatest commoner since Lincoln”56 and was seen as a martyr to the presidency.57 Charles Evans Hughes seemed the most deeply affected of all, writing: “I cannot bring myself to speak of the tragic experience of which we have just passed; I cannot realize that our beloved Chief is no longer with us.”58 Hughes also provided the most complete contemporary official assessment with his delivery of the formal eulogy before a joint session of Congress. The basic achievements of the Harding Administration would stand the test of time, he prophecized. Harding had liquidated the remaining problems of war, legitimized relations with formally hostile powers, placed the operation of government on a business basis, and in the face of disillusionment and psychic malaise restored economic prosperity.59 All of this would prove insufficient evidence, of course, in the dock of history. The devastating effects of the Administration’s scandals, supposed revelations about his personal life, and the controversies that came to surround the Harding papers all had a devastating effect. “The Harding Administration” became a euphemism for incompetence, corruption, and a failed presidency. Robert Ferrell in his The Strange Deaths of Warren Harding has described the destruction of his reputation in a careful, judicious way. It is apparent that Harding could have known very little of the dimensions of the scandals at the time of his death. The principal scandal of the period, Teapot Dome, took the name of the naval oil reserves near Salt Creek, Wyoming, and that phrase became one of the first catch phrases emerging from the mass culture of the 1920s. Harding’s role in the event was altogether minor; he had approved a transfer of the area’s oil reserves to the Department of the Interior as it seemed a more effective administrative arrangement. Gary D. Libecap has argued that the scandal is best viewed in terms of interagency and interest-group rivalry for control of federal land. Most treatments of the scandal fail to tie the controversy into the broad institutional changes regarding federal land after 1900 or to demonstrate

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

the scandal’s effect on subsequent federal policies in crude oil production. Libecap further argues that the Administration’s leases would have increased the social value of the oil reserve while promoting conservation. However, the die was cast. Investigations of the Veteran’s Bureau, Teapot Dome, and the accusations surrounding Attorney General Daugherty automatically raised speculation about the Cabinet and even the President himself. At no point has any evidence surfaced that linked Harding with the corruption in any direct fashion. His romantic escapades (it is unclear, incidentally, that they actually occurred) had little impact on public policy.60 Harding in his lifetime regarded many of the early attacks on him as politically inspired and continued to display confidence in such highly questionable individuals as Albert B. Fall, his beleaguered Secretary of the Interior.61 During his lifetime he seemed to deal with the scandals effectively. In hindsight, he should have been concerned more directly with his own political reputation; instead, he sought to deal with the emerging problems directly himself, as evidenced when he told Albert Fall to get out of Washington immediately. He seemed unwilling to take official punitive action, throwing scoundrels to the wolves while displaying presidential wrath publicly. As such, his own reputation was bound to suffer in retrospect.62 Additionally, he was dogged after death by the actions of those close to him. Florence Harding went into virtual seclusion after his death, suffering intense anguish at the various investigations into her husband’s Administration. Unwilling to dignify what she regarded as slander by public responses, she became increasingly withdrawn and secretive in her affairs. Rumors circulated that she had burned all of her husband’s personal papers, though she had not.63 Her influence and wishes, however, were reflected by the Harding Memorial Society, which continued to refuse even legitimate historians access to his presidential papers. The result was a complete lack of primary source material on the Administration’s activities, so that the journalistic treatments by Progressive-era observers now became the principal architects of the Harding image. As remarked earlier, even the revisionist work of the 1970s has done little to stimulate greater research and interest in the Harding Administration’s approaches to the Republican interest-group coalition of the post-Wilsonian period. At first glance the Republican Party seemed headed for disaster in the late winter and spring of 1924. At the height of the investigations of the Harding scandals no one seemed immune from suspicion.64 After Hughes’s moving eulogy in 1924 most of the Harding Cabinet refused to defend their dead chief publicly. Many had clear political ambitions of

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their own and saw the potential dangers of too close an association with the scandals. A silence fell over party deliberations for several months. Yet it became apparent the Harding Administration had constructed a program by 1924 so basically acceptable that not even the shock of scandal or renewed Progressive challenges could dislodge it. Calvin Coolidge was not ashamed of the Administration’s political programs or afraid to run on them. His ritualistic announcement on ascension to the office, that the Harding policies would continue, proved to be very accurate through 1924. Coolidge, the very model of lassitude for later New Deal historians, moved quickly to secure party support for a nomination he intended to have, and the Harding organization became an important factor in keeping him in the White House. Coolidge saw his only hope for election in the Harding political record, and a marriage of mutual interest occurred with the Harding campaign forces.65 By April of 1924 Coolidge had already amassed the convention delegates necessary for nomination amidst efforts that would produce far more. Coolidge’s election was never truly in doubt in 1924. The reborn Progressive Party efforts never proved to be the formidable challenge they had first appeared, 1924 was not 1912, and Coolidge proved a far more able political figure than Taft. In fact, neither the Democratic nor Progressive Party was able to mount a serious challenge to the incumbent Republican even in the aftermath of the serious scandal. Coolidge’s total of 54 percent was a phenomenal showing in a three-way race. The later focus of historians on the ethno-cultural conflict within the Democratic Party or the party’s renowned 103-ballot convention that year obscures the magnitude of the Republican triumph, which carried both congressional and local candidates in its wake. It is often forgotten that the nomination of John W. Davis was well received initially even in the aftermath of the tumultuous Democratic convention that year. However, Davis was unable to develop effective themes to use against the Administration as interest in the scandals began to wane. Save for the issue of tariff revision, Davis was unwilling to challenge the Republican program directly. The Republican electoral triumph in 1924 suggested the development of a national coalition that extended beyond the industrial Northeast, then the party’s bulwark. Coolidge also ran well in the Plains States and West, producing a complete collapse of Progressive strength in such states as Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska. The results owed much to the condition of the economy but nevertheless involved a then longstanding link between progressivism, prosperity, and Republicanism. In the glow of economic conditions Coolidge prosperity was often seen as a logical extension of Wilsonian liberalism.

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

As in the Harding case, a complete consideration of the Coolidge presidency cannot detain us here. Our focus should remain on the Republican electoral coalition in the 1920s, a story to which we shortly return. Coolidge, however, is usually ranked no more than marginally higher than Harding in historians’ rankings of presidents. Once again New Deal typologies have carried the day, and William Allen White’s A Puritan in Babylon: The Story of Calvin Coolidge (1938) was mainly responsible for shaping the popular image. White’s work again fitted into the then dominant attitude that the excesses of the 1920s had led inexorably to the Great Depression. John Braeman sums up White’s work succinctly when he writes, “The theme of White’s account is that Coolidge had a sincere—but misguided—‘faith that “the rich”are indeed the “wise and good.”’”66 Are these the sentiments of a man sophisticated enough to have translated Dante’s Inferno from the original while being named to Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst? As in the Harding case, contemporary judgments were often at odds with post-1933 ones. In 1928 a poll of school boys found Coolidge the individual most would like to emulate other than Charles Lindbergh, significantly outscoring such contemporary icons as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Gene Tunney, the newly crowned heavyweight champion.67 In 1932, despite badly declining health, a number of influential party leaders looked longingly for Coolidge’s return to the public arena in the face of the collapse of the Hoover presidency. The contemporary historian Allen Nevins attributed his success to “party loyalty, industry and a grimly dependable caution,”68 but this observation condensed his attributes. Coolidge served as a kind of bridge between the pre-World War I society so well described by the novelist Louis Bromfield and the predominately urban-based movement toward greater intellectual freedom that became so important by the 1920s. Only rarely are we given a serious or sophisticated account of the politics of people like Coolidge, for they are easily reducible by journalists to stereotyped caricatures.69 Hendrik Booraem’s careful study of Coolidge’s early psychological development portrays a painfully shy and insecure young man, acquiring traits such as discipline, applied effort, mastery of rhetoric, continual observation, and personal control. He had a sustained reputation for personal honesty, and his success in separating himself from and diffusing the Harding Administration scandals revealed political skills of the highest order. The discovery by Howard Quint and Robert H. Ferrell of a typescript of his presidential press conferences reveals a different Coolidge than the dower, passive individual of Progressive legend. According to Quint and Ferrell, he

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“ranged over a wide variety of subjects with a degree of expertise that historians of a later generation not always have appreciated.”70 “Silent Cal” gave more addresses than Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson combined, and his use of the emerging mass media was intelligent and highly effective.71 He was the first president to undertake the live broadcast of a State of the Union address, and his 1924 nomination (where he thoroughly dominated proceedings, winning 1,165 out of a possible 1,209 delegate votes) was the first to be broadcast on radio. His 1924 election campaign culminated in a radio address heard by an audience estimated to exceed twenty million people. He was also the first president to appear in sound movies, making a sixminute clip that survives in the national archives. 72 Despite his utilization of modern communication technology, Coolidge remained an individual engaged in the task of defense and preservation of an earlier moral order. Incidentally, he never said “the chief business of the American people is business”73 in the context often attributed to him. He actually said: After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing, and prospering in the world. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of people will always find these are moving impulses of our life. . . . In all experience, the accumulation of wealth means the multiplication of schools, the encouragement of science, the increase of knowledge, the dissemination of intelligence, the broadening of outlook, the expansion of liberties, the widening of culture. Of course the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence. But we are compelled to recognize it as a means to wellnigh every desirable achievement. So long as wealth is made the means and not the end, we need not greatly fear it. And there never was a time when wealth was so generally regarded as a means, or so little regarded as an end, as today.74

On another occasion he warned, “It is only those who do not understand our people who believe that our national life is entirely absorbed by material motives. We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things that we want very much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists. . . . [N]o newspaper can be a success which fails to appeal to that element of our national life.”75

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As has been recently recognized in terms of the Eisenhower presidency, presidencies and individuals need to be evaluated in terms of categories that move beyond simple characterizations. Those who depict Coolidge as a model of lassitude fail to appreciate his devotion to earlier forms of deliberative leadership. He dominated his time politically no less than FDR. The widespread adoption of the term “Coolidge prosperity” was no accidental designation. While he was a phenomenally popular president during his time in office, his popularity remained high even with the collapse of “Coolidge prosperity” in 1929. Even Walter Lippmann, a close advisor to John W. Davis’s campaign against Coolidge, later noted his “hold upon the American people . . . has endured, though the successes with which he was identified have proved to be illusions and have collapsed.76 Coolidge always retained some suspicion of mass politics. For him the essence of the republic rested less on democracy and more on the rule of law, and the primary function of government was to uphold and enforce it. The politization of society could only result in the erosion of these principles and a decline of civic discourse. He once said, “We have had too much legislating by clamor, by tumult, by pressure. Representative government ceases when outside influence of any kind is substituted for the judgment of the representative.”77 For him the binding obligation of obedience to the law against personal desires was the essence of civilized constitutional government without which all liberty and security was at an end and force alone would prevail.78 A reputation for silence he believed could reflect the highest dimensions of statecraft. It could also carry a kind of authority. Coolidge’s intellectual minimalism was thus the expression of a philosophic stance but a great deal more. To him the American economy was largely self-regulating, and its economic success was unprecedented in the history of the world. It was unlikely that such a complex society could be remade by conscious direction. Above all, he stressed brevity and succinctness of communication, as in his 1914 inaugural as President of the State Senate in Massachusetts: “Do the day’s work. If it be to protect the rights of the weak, whoever objects, do it. If it be to help a powerful corporation better to serve the people, whatever the opposition, do that. Expect to be called a standpatter, but don’t be a standpatter. Expect to be called a demagogue but don’t be a demagogue. Don’t hesitate to be as revolutionary as science. Don’t hesitate to be as reactionary as the multiplication table. Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong. Don’t hurry to legislate. Give administration a chance to catch up with legislation.”79 No one more eloquently defined the limitations of state action or the need for

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individual endeavors to advance the human condition. Thus “Government cannot relieve from toil. The normal must take care of themselves. Self-government means self-support. . . . Ultimately, property rights and personal rights are the same thing. . . . History reveals no civilized people among whom there was not a highly educated class and large aggregations of wealth. Large profits mean large payrolls. Inspiration has always come from above.”80 It was essential, he maintained, to judge political morality not by its intention but by its effects. Thus in his 1925 inaugural speech the key sentence was “Economy is idealism in its most practical form.”81 Another reflection of his minimalist philosophy was that he chose to leave national public life as abruptly as he entered it. The Republican nomination was his for the asking in 1928 and he likely would have had no difficulty in sweeping the nation again. The loss of his father to old age and young son to a tragic fluke occurrence on the White House grounds may have influenced his decision, but if this was the case, he was characteristically silent as to his feelings. Calvin Coolidge Jr., the sixteen-year-old son of the President, had died of blood poisoning after rubbing a blister on his foot during a tennis match at the White House in July of 1924. All of his parents’ standing and the finest medical care in the nation had been unable to reverse his condition. Coolidge did say later of his son’s death, “When he went, . . . the power and the glory of the presidency went with him.”82 He later remarked, “The ways of Providence are often beyond our understanding. . . . I do not know why such a price was exacted for occupying the White House.”83 In his memoirs he contented himself with saying that eight years in the White House was enough and that “An examination of the records of those Presidents who have served eight years will disclose that in almost every instance the latter parts of their term have shown very little in the way of constructive accomplishment.”84 Beyond the Nostrums of Normalcy: The Restive Republicans of the 1920s

The first two Republican presidents of the 1920s presided over an electoral coalition far more restive and diverse than is immediately apparent. The most visible problems emerged in the Republicancontrolled Congress. Nelson Polsby and others have chronicled the gradual decentralization of power within the House of Representatives in the twentieth century, and by the 1920s this process was well under way. The decline of the power of the House Speaker along with an increase in the power and autonomy of the committee system made the

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Congresses of the 1920s freewheeling forums. The Republican Congresses of the era of normalcy remain underconsidered, but it is apparent that the role of party organizations was in marked eclipse. Levels of party voting had been in gradual decline since the 55th (1897– 1899) Congress, but the condition had become far more acute during the period of American participation in World War I.85 This early period of divided government proved a harbinger of things to come. The difficulty of developing or maintaining party positions remained contentious even after the Republican triumphs of 1920. The historian Robert K. Murray writes, “Not since the Reconstruction period had Congress been so obstreperous as during the immediate post-World War I years. In opposing Wilson this Republican-controlled body had gotten so used to trampling on the prerogatives of the chief executive that it could not stop even after a Republican was elected to that office.”86 The days of the McKinley House in which the Speaker appointed the committees while also serving as chairman of the rules committee was only a memory in the Congress of the 1920s.87 Factionalism, most acutely reflected along the lines of an industrial–agricultural sectionalist split, also divided the party’s congressional delegation along Northeast (conservative)/Mid west–West (insurgent) lines. This was the party’s most immediate problem, and it would preoccupy party strategists and presidents throughout the 1920s. Against this backdrop Harding’s effectiveness in producing major structural cuts in governmental expenditures becomes even more impressive. State Capacity and Republican Chief Executives

Any careful assessment of the performance of the Republican Party in the 1920s must take into account the limits of what could be undertaken at the time. Here it is curious that the rapid development of the literature that stresses the limits on American state capacity has had little effect on forcing a reconsideration of the chief executives of the 1920s. The late development of a federal government bureaucracy capable of initiating or administering programs, however, served as an important limitation on policymakers of the period. When writing of later Hoover Administration fiscal efforts, Herbert Stein noted, “In 1929, total federal expenditures were about 2.5% of the gross national product, federal purchases of goods and services about 1.3% and federal construction less than 0.2%. . . . [A] very large percentage change in the revenue or expenditure side of such small budgets would have been required to make a significant dent in the national economy.”88

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Alongside the problems of size and administrative capacity came the extreme institutional fragmentation so characteristic of the development of the American state. Most regulatory or social initiatives of the 1920s initially emerged at the state level, and the result was a complicated patchwork of local administration. John Braeman points out that by 1920 forty-two states and the District of Columbia were regulating telephones.89 State regulation of public utilities was also widespread and served to retard national efforts at control until well into the New Deal period. State statutes, as in the case of insurance regulation, often served as a major barrier to federal efforts. In the case of the insurance industry, state regulation became a widely accepted backdrop despite the efforts of national firms to promote more lenient national codes. The prevailing narrow view of the Supreme Court toward further expansion of national authority in terms of the states was also an important drag on the nationalization of reform. The experience with the administration of Civil War pensions also served to create pervasive suspicion of federal power unchecked by local observation and fiscal scrutiny. Under these circumstances, the continued growth of national administrative capacity in the 1920s seems remarkable. Federal expenditures, which were at most 2.4 percent of GNP before the World War, averaged 3.1 percent of a far larger GNP in 1929. There were substantial increases in areas such as commerce, transportation, and communication, science, research, and public welfare.90 The Harding Administration’s adoption of the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 also strengthened the institutional capacity of the presidency in a dramatic way. Under the previous system each department submitted its funding requests independently, with the president’s role limited to approving or disapproving the revenue bills passed by Congress. The development of an executive budget transformed all of this. The Act required the chief executive to give Congress an annual message of budgetary expenditures and anticipated tax revenues. The Act also established the Bureau of the Budget as an agency under the Treasury Department, resulting in a greatly enhanced role for the executive branch that impacted on all of the activities of the national government. The Bureau was given the power to reduce agency requests while determining if particular proposals were in accord with those of the national administration. Under most conditions Congress largely followed the Bureau’s recommendations. As discussed earlier, emphasis on the cultural conflict of the 1920s has served to exaggerate the extent to which the Republican administrations of the period truly represented a break with the

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Progressive era. Out of office and power after 1920, many of the exWilsonians could only contemplate careers in journalism and academia from which they could easily savage the Harding and Coolidge administrations in their writings. They clearly did so, but at the expense of our later understanding. Morton Keller has pointed out the broad continuities that exist between Progressive-era administration and most efforts undertaken in the 1920s.91 Decisions made in the twilight of the Wilson Administration often foreshadowed the direction of Republican policy after 1920. In areas such as food and drug standards, anti-trust enforcement, or trade association policy, Wilsonian precedents favorable to private enterprise were in place prior to the coming of the Harding Administration. As noted earlier, these efforts can be reasonably viewed as precursors of the Republican associationalism of the 1920s. The Wilson Administration was also unwilling to undertake national operation of the telephone industry in the aftermath of the complaints that followed its efforts to do so after 1917. The Administration had also taken over the railroad system because of the threatened breakdown of the transportation system under wartime demands. After the armistice, however, pressure for government ownership from union leaders and intellectuals did not enable the government to resolve the formidable cross-pressures that came to bear on these issues. Unable to resolve the conflicting demands, the government took refuge in the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), which was empowered to set both maximum and minimum rates in a fashion that would enable railroads to be run in an honest and efficient fashion. Lowi’s “state of permanent receivership” thus had its 1920 antecedents. 92 Continuity was also strongly evident in the area of federal tax policy. Harding and Coolidge’s policy in the area has been misrepresented. Wilson Administration officials favored most of the same cuts in wartime rates later proposed by GOP presidents. By lowering marginal rates it was thought the affluent would shift investments from tax-exempt securities to more productive investments. This is exactly what happened. The tax reduction of the 1920s simply did not shift the burden of federal taxation from the affluent to those in lower brackets. In 1920 people who earned less than $10,000 per year paid almost as much in total income taxes as did those who earned over $100,000 per year. By 1929, however, those with incomes over $100,000 dollar paid 65.2 percent of the total federal personal income tax bill while those under $10,000 dollars paid only 1.3 percent. Finally, federal taxes in the 1920s averaged over three percent of the GNP as contrasted with roughly one percent prior to the war. The Coolidge

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Administration thus imposed a tax burden three times higher than that of the mid-1910s.93 Nevertheless, the cut in tax rates was sustained. In 1922 the first of three major tax cuts was passed lowering the top rate from 73 percent to 58 percent. This was followed in 1925 by a slash in the top rate to 25 percent along with increases in personal exemptions that removed 44 percent of taxpayers from the roles. Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon wrote in his 1927 report, “It was very naturally anticipated that these changes would result in considerable loss of revenue. . . . As a matter of fact, however, the individual returns for the calendar year 1925 showed a larger tax than did those for 1924.”94 Moreover, taxes paid by individuals making $500,000 and over nearly doubled between 1923 and 1925.95 In the case of tax policy the results of the bipartisan Wilson– Harding efforts were impressive, yet such policy congruities also pointed to the declining role of party as the driving force behind the shaping of public policy. The importance of interest-group coalitions was increasing in the 1920s in the wake of the not coincidental decline in party discipline. Thus the managerial or organizational revolution was in full flux. From the perspective of Republican political leaders, however, the organizational revolution would introduce real tension within Republican ranks, forcing Republican leaders to undertake difficult balancing acts in front of increasingly restive audiences. The results would be devastatingly apparent by the 1930s.

Notes 1 Henry James Forman, “What’s Right With America? As Observed by Sinclair Lewis, Walter Lippmann, Will Durant and Robert S. Lynd,”McCall’s Magazine (Nov. 1929), 18. 2 Ibid. 95. 3 Ibid 4 Ibid. 5 Ibid. 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid., 96. 8 Ibid., 98. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid. 11 John Earl Haynes, ed. Calvin Coolidge and the Coolidge Era (Washington: Library of Congress, 1998), 14. 12 Ibid. 13 Ibid.

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14

Ibid. Ibid., 15. 16 , William Edward Leuchtenburg, The Perils of Prosperity, 1914-1932 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 95. 17 Nicol C. Rae, The Decline and Fall of the Liberal Republicans From 1952 to the Present (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 24. 18 Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), 223. 19 Ibid., 225. 20 Ibid., 226. 21 Ibid., 227. 22 Ibid. 23 James Piereson, “Historians and the Regan Legacy,” The Weekly Standard, Sept. 29, 1997, 22-24. 24 Morton Keller, Regulating a New Economy: Public Policy and Economic Change in America, 1900-1933 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 38. 25 Elihu Root, Men And Policies: Addresses by Elihu Root, ed. Robert Bacon and James Brown Scott (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925), 210-211. 26 Ibid., 216. 27 Ibid., 217. 28 Stephen Skowronek, The Politicst the Presidents Make: Leadership from John Adams to George Bush (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1993). See also Jeffrey K Tulis, The Rhetorical Presidency (Princeton: PrincetonUniversity Press, 1997) and Fred I. Greenstein, The Hidden-Hand Presidency (New York: Basic Books, 1982). 29 Richard J. Ellis, ed., Speaking to the People: The Rhetorical Presidency in Historical Perspective (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998), 134-161. 30 Richard J Ellis and Stephen Kirk, “Presidential Mandates in the Nineteenth Century: Conceptual Change and Institutional Development,” Studies in American Political Development .9/1. (Spring 1995): 117-186. 31 Tulis, The Rhetorical Presidency, 123. 32 Skowronek, The Politics the Presidents Make, 39-41 33 Douglas B. Craig, After Wilson: The Struggle for the Democratic Party, 1920-1934 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 25. 34 Ibid., 26. 35 Ibid., 27. 36 Wesley Bagby, The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 41/4 (1955). 37 “The Fight for the Republican Nomination” The Literary Digest, May 8, 1920: 29 38 Ibid., 26 39 Robert K. Murray, The Harding Era: Warren G. Harding and His Administration (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969), 42. 40 Robert H. Ferrell, The Strange Deaths of President Harding (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996), 143. 41 Ibid. 42 Ibid. 15

The GOP in the Last Arcadia of the 1920s

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71

Ibid.. Ibid., 144. 45 Ibid. 46 Walter Lippmann, “A Reckoning: Twelve Years of Republican Rule,” The Yale Review 21/.4 (June 1932): 649-660. 47 Christopher A. Thomas, The Lincoln Memorial & American Life (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 152-155. 48 Murray, The Harding Era, 178. 49 Ibid. 50 Ibid. 51 Ibid., 179. 52 Ibid. 53 Ibid. 54 George B. Christian, “Warren Harding,” Current History 18/6 (Sept. 1923): 103. 55 Murray, The Harding Era, 456. 56 Ibid., 457. 57 Ibid. 58 Ibid.. 59 Ibid., 458. 60 The undeniable existence of a relationship with a pro-German woman in Mario, Ohio, did not prevent him, for example, from calling for war with Germany on the floor of the U.S. Senate. 61 Fall, by the way, continues to have his serious scholarly defenders. See also David H. Stratton, Tempest Over Teapot Dome: The Story of Albert B. Fall (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998, and Gary D. Libecap, “The Political Allocation of Mineral Rights: A Reevaluation of Teapot Dome,” The Journal of Economic History 44/2 (June 1984). 62 It is intriguing to consider his fate and later reputation had he lived. Harding would likely have been able to refute the rumors of guilt by association, and his Cabinet would have then had reason to rise to his defense. But his trip to Alaska and the West Coast only served to further strain an already seriously enlarged heart. He was not the only president to seek to escape scandal through extended travel, but he is the only one whose voice was silenced by these efforts. Only fifty-six at the time of his death, Harding saw the good fortune characteristic of his life to that point pass on with him. 63 There is little evidence of real damage to the contents. Murray, The Harding Era, 528. 64 Ibid., 433. 65 Ibid., 508. 66 John Braeman,“The American Polity in the Age of Normalcy: A Reappraisal,” in Haynes, Calvin Coolidge and the Coolidge Era, 24. 67 Haynes, Calvin Coolidge and the Coolidge Era, 99 68 Ibid. 69 See Paul Johnson’s careful discussion of Coolidge’s personality in “Calvin Coolidge and the Last Arcadia,” in ibid., 1-14. 70 Howard H. Quint and Robert H. Ferrell, eds., The Talkative President: The Off the Record Press Conference of Calvin Coolidge (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1964). 2. See also Hendrik V. Booraem, The 44

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Provincial: Calvin Coolidge and His World, 1885-1895 (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1994). 71 Charles Merz, “The Silent Mr. Coolidge,” The New Republic, June 2, 1926: 51-54. 72 Haynes, Calvin Coolidge and the Coolidge Era, 102 73 Paul Johnson, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 33. 74 Claude M. Fuess, Calvin Coolidge: The Man From Vermont (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1940), 358 75 Ibid. 76 Haynes, Calvin Coolidge and the Coolidge Era, 99. 77 Fuess, Calvin Coolidge,188 78 Paul Johnson, A History of the American People (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1997), 714. 79 Ibid.,715-716. 80 Ibid.,716. 81 Ibid. 82 Ibid., 721. 83 Ibid. 84 Ibid. 85 Nelson W. Polsby, “The Institutionalization of the U.S. House of Representatives,”American Political Science Review 62/1 (March 1968): 144168. 86 Murray, The Harding Era, 534 87 Joseph Cooper and David W. Brady, “Institutional Context and Leadership Style: The House from Cannon to Reyburn,” American Political Science Review 75/2 (June 1981): 411-425 Jerome M. Clubb and Santa A. Traugott, “Partisan Cleavage and Cohesion in the House of Representatives, 1861-1974,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 7/3 (Winter 1977): 375-401. 88 Herbert Stein, The Fiscal Revolution in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 14. 89 See “The American Polity in the Age of Normalcy,”in Haynes, Calvin Coolidge and the Coolidge Era, 27. 90 Ibid., 28 91 Morton Keller, Regulating a New Economy. 92 Theodore J. Lowi, The End of Liberalism (New York: W.W. Norton, 1969). passim. 93 Keller, Regulating a New Economy, 32-33. 94 Ed Rubenstein, “Right Data,” National Review, Nov. 11, 1996, 12. 95 Ibid.

4 The Associational State and the Transformation of the GOP

Beneath the surface of normalcy important changes were taking place in party ranks. It will be recalled that the tension between proprietary capitalism and the more corporatist organizational efforts of the National Civic Federation, for example, had formed an important backdrop to the Taft–Roosevelt split and the campaign of 1912. The tension between efforts to arrive at corporate stability and the requirements and preconditions for entrepreneurial innovation rapidly reemerged once the party was restored to power in the 1920s. Our consideration of these changes must begin with an examination of the Harding Administration’s reaction to the 1920–1922 depression. The first three decades of the twentieth century saw the emergence of the United States as the world’s premier economic power. The American Century actually began earlier than recognized, during the period from 1900 to 1929. At this time national growth easily outdistanced that of Europe, averaging an excellent 3.4 percent. The inflation rate for this period averaged 2.5 percent, high by the standards of the time but low by current standards. Most of this actually occurred during and immediately after World War I. Deflation, the actual decline of prices, was as likely to occur during peacetime as a price rise. Unemployment averaged only 4.6 percent for the thirty years 1900– 1929, with the median unemployment rate being 4.3 percent. In only one year, 1921, did the unemployment rate reach double digits, and the yearly rate during this thirty-year period was often under three percent.1 Table 4.1 is based on the authoritative studies of the National Industrial Conference Board for the period from 1900 to 1939.

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Table 4.2: Total Unemployment in the Labor Force (In thousands) Year (annual average) 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905 1906 1907 1908 1909 1910 1911 1912 1913 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919 1920 1921 1922 1923 1924 1925 1926 1927 1928 1929 1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 Average 1900– b 1920

Total Labor Force 29,025 29,959 30,905 31,842 32,605 33,653 34,647 35,631 36,580 37,454 38,133 38,668 39,089 39,500 39,789 40,083 40,314 40,752 41,088 41,159 41,897 42,445 42,966 43,760 44,549 45,009 45,962 46,939 47,914 48,354 49,025 49,664 50,182 50,830 51,402 51,879 52,382 53,011 53,699 54,393

772,773

Employment 27,378 28,238 30,405 30,319 31,175 33,032 34,790 34,875 34,284 36,735 37,580 37,097 38,169 38,482 37,575 37,728 40,127 42,685 44,187 42,029 41,339 37,691 40,049 43,011 42,515 44,192 45,498 45,319 46,057 47,925 45,216 41,551 37,704 38,086 41,002 42,357 44,783 46,639 43,600 45,314

Unemployment 1,647 1,721 500 1,523 1,430 621 -143 756 2,296 719 553 1,571 920 1,018 2,214 2,355 187 -1,933 -3,099 -870 558 4,754 2,917 749 2,034 817 464 1,620 1,857 429 3,809 8,113 12,478 12,744 10,400 9,522 7,599 6,372 10,099 9,080

758,229

14,544

Unemployment as percent of labor force 5.7% 5.7% 1.6% 4.8% 4.4% 1.8% a … 2.1% 6.3% 1.9% 1.5% 4.1% 2.4% 2.6% 5.6% 5.9% 0.5% a … a … a … 1.3% 11.2% 6.8% 1.7% 4.6% 1.8% 1.0% 3.5% 3.9% 0.9% 7.8% 16.3% 24.9% 25.1% 20.2% 18.4% 14.5% 12.0% 18.8% 16.7%

1.9%

Source: Benjamin M. Anderson, Economics and the Public Welfare: A Financial and Economic History of the United States, 1914–46 (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1979), 475–476. Notes: a. Negative unemployment arises statistically when persons are drawn into the labor force during periods of increased labor demand who are not reckoned as members of the labor force. b. It is worth noting that he average unemployment rate for 1900–1920 was no more than 1.9% of the total labor force. To several generations accustomed to variations in Keynesian economic approaches this is worthy of consideration.

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The overall pattern of low unemployment from 1900 to 1929 is noteworthy, and it occurred during a period of substantially little government involvement in the national economy. The era saw, of course, increases in some forms of selected regulation such as anti-trust laws, railroad rate regulation, and food and drug regulation, along with the introduction of a federal income tax amendment and the development of the Federal Reserve System. However, government purchases of goods and services absorbed only 8.2 percent of GNP in 1929, and over eighty percent of this was spent on a local level. Even much of this spending reflected the higher price elasticity for items such as education rather than new forms of direct national government involvement. The era can be seen as producing simultaneous low levels of unemployment and relatively little state involvement in the economy. As Richard K. Vedder and Lowell E. Gallaway point out in their important Out of Work, the issue of unemployment grew in importance with the urbanization of the United States. Before the Civil War most Americans were primarily engaged in agriculture; such workers were thus self-employed much of the time. By 1900, however, with cheap land no longer as readily available, the proportion of individuals working for wages had grown concurrently with industrialization and urbanization. The urbanized workforce became a majority by the census of 1920. The decline in self-employment increased the vulnerability of workers to unemployment and, as a consequence, the occurrence of involuntary joblessness rose with the passage of time.2 By the Progressive era the issue of unemployment invoked deep humanitarian concerns over the plight of individuals dislocated by changes in the national economy or patterns of manufacturing. The word “unemployment” not commonly used during the nineteenth century became an important political and economic issue. The classical view of unemployment was simplicity itself: the wage rate determined the level of employment. Unemployment is created when existing wage rates exceed the level necessary to clear the labor pool or market. A decrease in wages would reduce unemployment both by decreasing the quantity of labor supplied and by increasing the demand for that labor.3 Less than full employment, or what economists term “cyclical unemployment,” exists when wages exceed the market clearing equilibrium wage. In short, the classical model predicted general unemployment would appear when the demand for higher wages becomes a general phenomenon. Only market forces (particularly in terms of downward wage and price adjustments) could restore economic health during periods of cyclical downturn. In the words of Friedrich von Hayek, “The cause of unemployment . . . is a deviation from the

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equilibrium prices and wages which would establish themselves with a free market and stable money.”4 The direct implication of this view is that economic downturns are best met with patient forbearance, allowing for natural adjustments on the part of wage rates and prices. Such unencumbered adjustment took place in response to the panic of 1907 and the 1914–1915 downturn in business conditions. In the 1907 case, real wages rose in a period of falling labor productivity, pushing the real wage rate up rather sharply, which led to a near tripling of the unemployment rate. A major productivity decline occurred in 1914, particularly in response to the outbreak of war in Europe, which may have also resulted in some shifts in output that year, shifts that may have rendered some capital stock of less use. In neither case, however, did policymakers respond to the mounting unemployment, and progressivism did not involve activism that impacted on the wage price cycle. In a major message in December 1914, President Wilson did not even mention unemployment. In both the 1907 and 1914 cases, dissenting voices were heard but with little apparent effect on state policy. Theodore Roosevelt speaking on behalf of William Howard Taft talked in 1908 of “maintaining the prosperity scale of wages in hard times”5 and William Jennings Bryan called for government to serve as the “‘employer of last resort’, guaranteeing jobs to those needing one”6 in April of 1908. The prevailing atmosphere of public opinion, moreover, did not clamor for government intervention in either case. The Nation, even then a liberal–left periodical, said of public works efforts, “there lies the ever-present danger in ‘making work’. The work is badly and expensively done, and what is really ‘made’ is an addition to the ranks of the unemployed.”7 Official response in both 1907 and 1914 bordered on silence. Moreover, Woodrow Wilson’s Labor Department held a conference to promote efforts to make it easier for the unemployed to enter farming. In both 1907 and 1914 the problem seemed to solve itself before official efforts amounted to anything. 8 After the First World War enhanced interest groups introduced rigidity into wage demands unknown in the first three decades of the century. In the early part of the century few employees were under contract, and collective bargaining was not widespread enough to encourage wage rigidity. After that period, however, broadening organizational demands would transform the Republican electoral coalition. The 1920–1922 depression is best viewed, in Paul Johnson’s words, as “the last time a major industrial power treated a recession by classic laissez-faire methods, allowing wages to fall to their normal level.”9 Benjamin Anderson correctly described the recovery as “based on a drastic cleaning up of credit weakness, a drastic reduction in the

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costs of production, and the free play of private enterprise. It was not based on governmental policy designed to make business good”10—this despite the fact that the downturn was as severe for several quarters as the 1929–1931 depression, with recovery nevertheless well in place by 1922. Economic indicators of the period suggest the elasticity still present in the economic system. Between the second quarter of 1920 and the third quarter of 1921 wholesale prices fell nearly 44 percent, one of the most rapid declines in American economic history. This sustained fall was not matched by the decline in wages, but they did fall 19 percent from the summer of 1920 to the end of 1921. Thus, while they proved to be flexible, they were not as elastic as prices.11 These downward adjustments, a clear reflection of the classical response to economic depression, were not undertaken with strong systematic support within the Republican electoral coalition. In fact, there was considerable political pressure to interfere with business cycles. The Republican Party had never embraced the classical model in its entirety as its development and support of neomercantilism and national tariffs showed. The classical interpretation of unemployment or economics had never been the preoccupation of GOP leaders that later commentators would suggest. Both Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, for example, called for the creation of proto-Keynesian policies on a broad scale. Organizational interests began to reach by 1921 for solutions more consistent with “underconsumption thinking” than the classical position. Labor leaders proclaimed their faith in a high-wage policy as a means of stimulating consumption along with “spread the work” themes and greater restrictions on immigration. In 1919 Calvin Coolidge and Al Smith (no friends of later market interventions) both promoted publicworks spending as a means of relieving unemployment. The 1920–1922 period witnessed a tremendous growth in the popularity of an “underconsumption” line of reasoning that rejected the classical doctrine of nonintervention in pricing adjustments. Although the ideas suggested were ultimately rejected by the Harding Administration after 1920, they introduced new forces into GOP councils. A.P. O’Brien points out that the period from 1890 to 1924 had seen ten contractions and all of them had witnessed a downward market cyclical movement in wages that had averaged a 9.8 percent yearly decline. The 1920–1922 adjustment would be the last one to follow this classical pattern.12 William J. Barber has traced the genesis of this high-wage policy to three groupings: businessmen, writers, and government officials, groups that quickly gained influence within the Republican coalition. High wages were already an important element of the Republican appeal to

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organized labor along with restrictions on immigration quotas. High wages, it was thought, would mean greater purchasing power, better worker morale, and higher productivity. The notion of increasing purchasing power while dealing with underconsumption thus became increasingly important within Republican circles.13 Such notions were, of course, a direct challenge to classical theory. The first open clash between these positions within Republican ranks would occur at the White House conference on unemployment convened by President Harding in 1921. This conference has been badly underchronicled by historians, yet it reveals important splits within GOP ranks as the associational efforts of the 1920s dawned. Herbert Hoover, Harding’s Secretary of Commerce, had suggested convening the conference to determine what local communities could do to address the problem of unemployment. The conference convened on September 26, 1921, and would later recommend a number of protoKeynesian measures to address the problem. Hoover felt such efforts could be undertaken without need for a larger state and along voluntaristic lines. The use of reserve funds by state and local governments could be seen as a source of stimulus. The conference would endorse countercyclical public-works spending and speak of the need for better business-government cooperation to alleviate the problem of unemployment. It was hostile to the notion that adjustments in relative prices (especially downward movement in wages) could solve the unemployment problem without government intervention. The conference also won endorsement of the principle of high wages and the view that wage rates should not be cut during periods of recession. The ultimate result, it was believed, would be an improvement in living standards and an increase in the number of jobs. The high-wage doctrine offered the additional inducement of appealing to both labor and management through what was viewed as increases in purchasing power.14 The success of the Ford Motor Company, which had helped pioneer the doctrine of high wages, was seen as clear evidence for this position. “[Henry] Ford insisted that high wage policy was not altruism, but simply good business, and that it more than paid for itself through increased productivity, improved industrial relations, and expansion in markets.”15 Edward Filene, an important Boston retailer, called for government to raise the price of labor through fixed minimum wages and for the state to take other action. The defense of high wages also legitimized governmental action in terms of immigration and international commerce. For example, the “cheap foreign labor” argument could now be invoked in terms of both tariffs and wages. Hoover was the driving force behind the Unemployment Conference and

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the individual who actually directed its deliberations. The interest he had in it is reflected in a series of letters and accompanying material he forwarded to President Harding on the conference’s planning stages and final results.16 Still, it is important to recognize that the Republican Party was far more than a vehicle for integrated corporatist planning in 1921. The old tension between proprietary and corporatist approaches reemerged strongly in Harding’s response. The President gave a brief, ten-minute address at the conference’s opening session and then left, turning the direction of the session over to Hoover. Yet his brief remarks reflect important divisions within Republican ranks. Clearly the view of competitive markets informed by the classical position retained real vitality. Harding said: Liquidation, reorganization, readjustment, reestablishment, taking account of things done and the sober contemplation of things to be done, finding the firm ground and the open, sane and upward way, all these are part of the inevitable, and he who thinks they might have been avoided by this plan or that, or this policy or that, this international relationship or that, only hugs delusion when reason is needed for a safe council. . . . [T]here is always unemployment. Under most fortunate conditions, I am told there are a million and a half in the United States who are not at work. These figures are astonishing only because a hundred million of the opposite percentage is always with us. There will be depressions after inflations just as surely as the tides ebb and flow. . . . [W]e are merely depressed after the fears and we want to know the way to spirited and dependable convalescence. Finally, I would have little enthusiasm for any proposed relief, which seeks either palliation or tonic from the public treasury. The excess of stimulation from that source is to be reckoned a cause of trouble rather than a source of cure. We should achieve but little in a remedial way if we continued to excite a contributing cause.”17

In the aftermath of his brief appearance Harding then ignored most of the recommendations of the conference despite the fact that publicworks efforts were undertaken on a local and state basis. Harding’s cautioning remarks were praised by the New York Times editorially, which applauded the President’s “very solulatory warning.”18 Especially to the point, the Times editors felt, was his remark about “not either palliation or tonic from the public treasury [as] European experience has amply demonstrated.”19 The Republican New York Herald Tribune contented itself with an editorial page cartoon of the Democratic donkey seeking employment through the Unemployment Conference at public expense.20

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No evidence exists, however, of a long-term split or persistent tension between President Harding and his Secretary of Commerce. Their personal relationship remained cordial and their disagreements over economic policy receded as the economic downturn passed. Only after 1930 would such issues tear the GOP to pieces. Hoover was not seen as a GOP stalwart in 1921 or at any later point in his career. His support of the Wilson Administration during the 1918 congressional elections was still a vivid memory to many party leaders.21 The Harding–Hoover personal relationship seems to have remained a warm one and is summarized by Harding’s remark that Hoover was the “smartest ‘gink’ I know.”22 Nevertheless, Harding continued to turn down many of Hoover’s recommendations as he did in the case of the pardon of Eugene Debs or the continuation of the war finance corporation.23 Harding saw Hoover as an important representative of the party’s internationalist wing and had supported his ascension to the Cabinet despite considerable old guard opposition. It was essential, Harding believed, that such views be represented in the Republican coalition and the party’s councils. For the time being, however, economic orthodoxy had prevailed over efforts to influence the labor market or wage rates. As Benjamin Anderson later wrote, “in August of 1921 the tide turned from acute depression and we had a labor shortage in the spring of 1923.”24 This was far from the end of the story in terms of the dynamics within the Republican electoral coalition, however. The corporatist approach had gained important allies. Alfred Chandler has pointed out the impact the economic contraction of 1920–1921 had on many industrial and marketing companies. The majority had been established after the depression of the 1890s. The drop in demand in the summer of 1920 through the spring of 1922 had taken both mass market and large integrated industrial corporations by surprise. Even enterprises with advanced communication systems were unprepared for the sudden drop in demand. Those that depended on high stock turnover had particularly serious problems. Above all, however, serious adjustments were forced on large integrated manufacturers, which had to make production decisions far in advance of orders. Few of these companies could pass the burden of unsold inventory on to dealers as was the case with Henry Ford. General Motors and a number of other large family enterprises were transformed into managerial enterprises because of the dimensions of the losses. Sears & Roebuck was saved from defaulting on payment to suppliers only when its president, Julius Rosenwald, drew on his family’s personal fortune to cover the firm’s accounts.25 Developing techniques to forecast future demand thus became a consistent

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preoccupation of these firms,26 and search for greater certainty became a concern within the councils of heavy industry. Such concerns would have important ramifications within the Republican coalition as the decade wore on. The Republican Retreat on Foreign Trade

Earlier conflicts within GOP ranks retained surprising vitality. An increasingly internationalist outlook on the part of consumers clashed openly with the protectionist elements of the party strongly represented in Congress. The stresses and strains this conflict produced were reflected in the balancing acts now undertaken by the party. Party leaders were forced to mediate among banking internationalists, importexport groups, consumers, and the “Main Street,” usually domestically oriented businessmen who had likely become more consciously nationalist than they had been during the Progressive era. As Joan Hoff Wilson has written, “the average businessman became more consciously a nationalist than he had been before the war. This was because sectional, occupational, and dimensional self-interest were more apparent to individual businessmen on subsequent foreign policy issues than had been the case with the League.”27 The GOP was caught, then, between the increased fears of foreign competition, the attitudes of its traditional constituencies, the outwardlooking trade clauses in the peace treaty, and the increasing viability of many import-based industries. The Fordney–McCumber Tariff passed in 1922 upon the party’s return to power thus reflected a number of compromises over major divisions within the business community. Business nationalists could point to high-duty provisions reflecting the preferencs of many domestic constituencies. Internationalists, however, hoped the “flexible provisions” would be employed by the executive to lower rates and encourage a more eclectic approach. Republicans found themselves in the position of having to weave a complex tapestry that embodied a number of approaches. As the decade wore on, various economic interests found allies within the national government, with the Federal Reserve System and the State Department becoming the province of internationalists, while Congress and the powerful Commerce Department became more closely aligned with the economic nationalists. Initially neither position was ascendant enough to vanquish the other, and the Harding Administration was consistently engaged in a process of reconciliation. Gradually the Republican Party succumbed to a coalition of protectionist elements within the nationalist wing of the party and the

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business community. The internationalist retreat began with the postwar depression and was accelerated by the negotiations that surrounded the Fordney–McCumber Tariff. While Harding may have been moving toward a more internationalist position at the time of his death, even he did not push for lower rates under the flexibility provisions, and the State Department was usually unable to obtain foreign agreement to unconditional most-favored-nation treaties. By the time of the Hoover Administration the lowering of tariffs was not an option that would be considered by the Republican congressional delegation. Thus the decade saw Republican tariff politics veer sharply to one side as the nationalist position began to hold sway. To inquire, however, about how this shift came about is most pertinent. Why did the mobilization of the nationalist-protectionist bloc within GOP ranks not bring about an effective countermobilization by the increasingly important internationalists? On the surface the conflict would appear to have been a fairly even match. In reality it was not. The odds were prohibitively in favor of domestic manufacturers from laborintensive industries. Import organizations represented limited geographic areas such as the Commerce Association of the Pacific Coast or the National Council of American Importers or Traders.28 Many of these individuals were in the New York area with only scattered representation elsewhere. Additionally, they did not represent large amounts of fixed capital plants that could point to domestic industries directly dependent on them. Such facts were not easily lost on members of Congress. They were thus less easily identified with economic interests in particular congressional districts and took on something of the image of outsiders and “nonspecialists” to Congressmen focused on tariff maintenance and development. Tariff politics had become very routinized in the Republican congresses of the 1920s, and emphasis was placed on specialized information provided by established pressure groups with longstanding relationships with congressional committees. While the larger business groupings such as the NAM or the Chamber were, in Joan Hoff Wilson’s words, in “literal paralysis”29 over the tariff, specialized and more limited trade associations operated with great efficiency during the tariff hearings of the period. Hence the balance between proprietary and corporatist approaches to domestic economic regulation never developed in the case of foreign trade. Internationalists unable or unwilling to represent the arguments for free trade were placed in an extremely difficult position. “Bringing the products of cheap foreign labor”30 to the American market was a difficult position to promote in the nationalist atmosphere of Congress in the 1920s. Professions of faith in the protective system were religiously

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maintained even by the critics of particular tariff rates. Such statements served to compromise their opposition and raised questions as to the purposes of their testimony. Congressional tariff hearings were often one-sided in the 1920s.31 More than limited geographic location or visibility served to limit the effectiveness of internationalist enterprise, however. A number of factors served to obscure and restrict foreign trade during these years. Europeans were deeply in debt to the United States as a result of World War I, and the constant clamor by Europeans that the sums were simply too much to pay made conservative bankers and firms wonder whether the United States should send good dollars after bad. Even more importantly, the attractions of the American home market were enticing and enormous. In the five years following the war, new capital directed at domestic projects outpaced foreign ventures by a five-to-one ratio. The United States did increase its share of world trade to 15 percent in the postwar period, barely surpassing Britain as the world’s most important trading nation. These gains were only relative ones, however, as exports actually accounted for a smaller percentage of GNP in the first half of the 1920s than they had in the five years prior to America entering the war. Foreign commerce in the 1920s never accounted for as much as 10 percent of American GNP. The size and vigor of the American domestic market points toward real dissimilarities between the United States of the 1920s and nineteenth-century England.32 The Republicans during the 1920s successfully integrated a domestic coalition of industry, labor, and to a lesser degree agriculture. It did not, of course, stay together forever (what system does?), but at the time it seemed to the “metropol” a successful formula for national integration and development. The Republicans were the organizational vehicle for these domestic constituencies, and by the 1920s the party’s divisions during the Progressive era were seemingly declining in importance. The Republican coalition of the 1920s thus often endorsed positions far removed from classical theory, and the doctrines of high wages or protective tariffs are important examples of these stances. Party leaders in their role as adjudicators between groupings often had to address bitter disputes, and contentious factionalism lay just below the surface of normalcy. The notion of anti-trust revision, for example, had been a factor in Republican politics since at least the Taft–Roosevelt split and had reemerged as an industrial movement during the 1918–1919 period. Herbert Hoover was the energetic promoter of some of these ideas after 1921 although at first they ran into sustained opposition within the

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Harding Administration. During Harry Daugherty’s term at the Justice Department he was deeply suspicious of such activities, continually raising the specter of anti-trust prosecution. This proved to be an effective threat. Robert Himmelberg has noted that associational activities in the first of half the 1920s proceeded slowly and uncertainly, continually preoccupied with anti-trust concerns. He writes, “Hesitation and uncertainty were expressed in behavior as well as in words. The rate of formation of new trade associations was somewhat lower from 1920 to 1924 than in either the preceding or succeeding five-year period.”33 By 1925, however, both Secretary of Commerce Hoover and President Coolidge had lent support to the development of trade associations. Gradually these activities gained legitimacy in the wake of presidential and Commerce Department support. It is clear that the formation of these trade associations gained momentum after the successful development of war service committees during World War I. Thus there were certain forms of voluntary de facto delegation under the Republicans during the 1920s. The Supreme Court removed a critical barrier with its “Maple Floor” decision in 1925, which held that “trade associations or combinations of persons or corporations which openly and fairly gather and disseminate information as to the cost of their product, the volume of production, the actual price which the product has brought in past transactions, stocks of merchandise on hand, approximate costs of transportation from the principal point of shipment to the points of consumption, as did these defendants, and who, as they did, meet and discuss such information and statistics without however reaching or attempting to reach any agreement or any concerted action with respect to prices or production or restraining competition, do not thereby engage in unlawful restraint of commerce.”34 Hence the way seemed clear for widespread associational efforts. Still, one must be careful about overstating the support such efforts for corporate and organizational stability had. As Himmelberg again points out, “The support for revision among associationists which developed in the later ‘twenties, though extensive, was far from universal, a fact reflected in the failure of militant revisionists to commit either the NAM or the Chamber to their cause by the end of 1929.”35 Anti-trust revisionists also divided sharply over what form of relief to recommend.36 Under these conditions the GOP of the period undertook another balancing act. The trade association policies of the Coolidge period allowed for a more moderate anti-trust policy by 1925, but the process was far from complete. Even Herbert Hoover, who later critics on the right would portray as a thoroughgoing corporatist, was wary of the principle of complete anti-trust relaxation long before his 1930s battles

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with the Chamber of Commerce and the NAM. In the case of the troubles within the coal industry, for example, he commented that he did “not like control of either price or profit because both tend to break down initiative.. . . . ‘The real cure’ for the coal industry’s overdevelopment, . . . a period of continuous operation under free competition and full movement of coal.”37 It seems fair to suggest that Hoover’s distinction between proper and improper competition was never sharply defined, giving rise to some of his later conflicts with business. Hoover seemed to approve all kinds of cooperative business efforts as long as they were subject to market forces. What “competition” is, of course, is subject to interpretation. By the late 1920s, however, the moderate relaxation of anti-trust policy was no longer sufficient in some business circles. Demands for outright repeal or drastic revision of anti-trust laws preceded the Depression, during a period of real growth in the national economy. This appears counterintuitive but is less so when the specific industries that led the movement are noted. The demands tended to come from industries less identified with the prosperity of the period but still an important element of the Republican coalition. “Profitless prosperity,”38 in Robert Himmelberg’s words, was a term that described the condition of many old basic industries. Such industries as steel, factory machinery, petroleum, and textiles did not share in the prosperity enjoyed by new consumer goods in the 1920s; rather, the gains of the period were led by such consumer industries as home appliances, food products, medical care, and education.39 Large proportions of the business community were prepared to support a political movement aimed at legislation that would promote a cartelized economy. However, a larger proportion either opposed repealing of the existing anti-trust laws or felt that a head-on direct effort for such legislation was inadvisable.40 Support for revision was stronger within the NAM than the Chamber of Commerce throughout the 1920s. Discussions of anti-trust revision had almost no part at the Chambers 1927, 1928, or 1929 national meetings.41 The history of the revision of anti-trust laws and cartelization in the 1920s reveals at best a complex pattern, with radical revisionists unable to approach majority status over time. Himmelberg’s work reveals that the primary impetus for such revision came from industries that ranked below the median level of profitability for all enterprises from 1919 to 1928. Despite their influence in Republican ranks or older manufacturing organizations, however, they were unable to carry the field until the onset of the crisis politics of the 1930s. The opposition from the defenders of independent business simply proved too strong. William T. Grant, a chain store magnate, was an articulate example of

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this group. His company’s rapid growth and success made him suspicious of efforts to interfere with the judgment of the markets; older industries were, in his view, examples of relative inefficiency. Even by 1931, under the impact of the economic and psychological strains of the Depression, the most the Chamber would call for was voluntary agreements to control production and output. Thus even the organized, attentive business community would remain divided in its council. By the 1920s it was by no means clear that the growth of giant firms reduced overall competition in the economy. Mass production of automobiles stimulated growth in small and medium-sized firms that supplied plate glass, tires, electrical equipment, gas stations, repair shops, and so on. During the decade opportunities for investment were widespread and attitudes toward state intervention remained sharply divided. All the advantages a business government commonwealth might offer could be offset by red tape, constant political lobbying, or submission to specific government regulations on minor matters such as the size of nuts or bolts. As in the later experience under the National recovery Administration (NRA), the same industries often split over the effects of particular regulations or tariffs. Thus the chronicling of associational efforts at cartelization can paint a misleading picture. Popular attitudes toward the state were increasingly negative by the 1920s. The memories and experiences of the war produced a broad counterreaction against state control that both Harding and Coolidge understood. These notions of personal and entrepreneurial freedom carried over from the nineteenth century are often underchronicled by historical treatments that focus on the emergence of larger organizational forms. The popular roots of these feelings were very deep, and both parties rapidly came to reflect them in the aftermath of World War I. Above all, Republican administrations came to rely on an expanding economy to keep open the prospects for competition and personal gains. As the British economist J. A. Hobson noted, “The economy of scale in capital and labor provided by consolidation . . . liberates large masses of industrial energy to apply themselves to new experimental industries for the supply of new wants.”42 In a society attracted to both greater material affluence and the preservation of entrepreneurial freedom simultaneously, no other direction really suggested itself. The range and diversity of occupations, interests, and viewpoints within even the business community were simply too great. In Morton Keller’s words, “corporatism made heavy way in a pluralistic, decentralized polity.”43 Even at the height of its influence in the late 1920s the associationalism of the period hardly

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spoke for cartels or corporatism in the European sense of the term. Hoover himself remarked that “Probably the most compelling reason for maintaining proper trade associations . . . lies in the fact that through them small business is given facilities more or less equivalent to those which big business can accommodate for itself.” 44 Morton Keller underscores this point: “Hoover’s policies in the 1920s were not only compatible with but supportive of small enterprise, competition, a level playing field, and individual initiatives.”45 By the 1920s Republican campaign appeals were finding strong support within mass publics. Will Hays, the national party chairman under Warren Harding, opened a permanent national party headquarters, expanded the national committee’s publicity activities, and instituted nation-wide popular fund-raising campaigns. These were remarkably effective. Throughout the 1920s the number of contributions to Republican presidential campaigns expanded dramatically even in the wake of the rapid decline in Democratic Party contributions after 1916. The Republican campaign of 1920 was funded primarily by contributors in the range from $100 to $5,000. In contrast to the popular image of the 1920 Republican convention, large contributions were not a factor in the funding of the campaign that year. Republican support was broadgauged and deep. The campaign raised $5,059,553 to the Democrats’ $1,299,237. This difference suggests a response by business in 1920 not completely dissimilar to the one in 1896.46 The politics of entrepreneurial growth had become mass politics by the dawn of the 1920s. The decade also saw a broad explosion in mass education in the general culture that is not widely recognized. Relative increases in the number of bachelor’s degrees conferred were greater than those during most of the post-World War II decades.47 In terms of mass news magazines, book-of-the-month clubs, and the like, the information revolution was now under way. Writing in 1929, Arthur Burns pointed out that the campaign of 1896 remained a vivid image for top-level managers of the 1920s. Many had been in their teens or twenties at the time. He argued that business leaders acted as reference group leaders to professional people of the period who normally adopted many of the same images of the national parties. Burns wrote in 1929, “Armed with inveterate convictions, the rank and file of the business community continued to cling to their shibboleths. Even the example of their pecuniary idols—the Roscobs and Du Ponts [he refers here to their support of Al Smith in 1928]—left them undisturbed. They know full well that men of ‘big business’ venture occasionally on social and political experiments, but as merchants and dentists they could afford no such luxury.”48

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One final observation should be added. By the 1920s the Republicans had become preoccupied with the maintenance of a broad national consumer market that had come rapidly into play after World War I. This involved an artificial expansion of the money market that led to a major extension of bank credit into the private securities market. Begun largely after the acceptance of the Dawes Plan in Europe. it reflected the general confidence that developed about the European situation by the mid-1920s. The classical economist Benjamin M. Anderson, no friend of either Hoover’s or Roosevelt’s later efforts to interfere with wage and price cycles, entitled a section of his study of the financial and economic history of the United States from 1914 to 1946 “The First Phase of the New Deal 1924–1932.”49 By this he meant that the price mechanism was from then on employed “in the interests of special classes,” and this provided an important backdrop to the struggles to come within Republican ranks.50 The Organizational Revolution and the GOP

The organizational revolution of the twentieth century has rarely been considered in terms of its effect on Republican constituencies. However, the search for greater predictability and stability was changing the pattern of Republican politics as the 1920s decade wore on. Beneath the façade of the Republican National System new forces and constituencies increasingly contended with established groupings. Most historians have focused primarily on the politics of the tariff, but the drive for anti-trust liberalization or the accelerating pressure for the maintenance of a highwage system also reflected the drive for a stable national system organized along existing corporatist lines. Such industrial movements, however, hardly succeeded in introducing stability into the Republican coalition of the 1920s. The pressure for cartelization would not succeed in replacing unpredictable markets as the decisive force in determining corporate success or failure. Increasingly, many industrial conflicts were proving difficult to limit in scope. The consumer market and popular interest in the stock market all reflected this situation. The rapid rise in the number of Republican campaign contributions was paralleled by the massive increase in the numbers of baccalaureate degrees conferred after World War I, far in advance of the GI Bill. The average graduation rate in the 1920s was more than twice that of preceding decades, suggesting a vast increase in the pool of potential entrepreneurs or converts to the GOP creed. This vast expansion of entrepreneurial capacity would have important consequences for the party later on.

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The GOP of the 1920s had undergone considerable expansion relative to its condition in the 1912–1919 period. As a result it was bound to be pulled in many directions after 1920. But it is worth recalling that the Harding Administration had rejected wage maintenance as a solution to the economic contractions of 1920–1921, and the Coolidge Administration had rejected the more extreme forms of anti-trust revision promoted by the “profitless prosperity”51 constituencies of the 1920s. The movement for corporate stability had thus been far from dominant during this period. Additionally, the Republican electoral coalition now saw a marked split between the party’s presidential and congressional branches. The presidential party, reflecting the attitudes and influence of individuals like Herbert Hoover and Charles Evans Hughes, remained internationalist in outlook and orientation. This cosmopolitan grouping would have preferred conditions under which it retained the dominant voice in party councils. This would not be the case, however, as the party’s fortunes declined. The congressional party rapidly reasserted itself with the decline of the Hoover presidency. The congressional wing remained highly nationalistic and protectionist, far more sensitive to the local requirements of the earlier “System of 96” that the Republican executive branch had hoped to transcend. In the stresses and strains of the period to come the Republicans would begin to surrender national intellectual leadership for the first time.

Notes 1 Richard K. Vedder and Lowell E. Gallaway, Out of Work: Unemployment and Government in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1993), 53. 2 Ibid., 3. 3 Ibid., 15. 4 Ibid., 18. 5 Ibid., 59 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid., 59-60. 9 Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World From the Twenties to the Nineties (New York: Harper Perennial, 1991), 216. 10 Benjamin M. Anderson, Economics and the Public Welfare: A Financial and Economic History of the United States, 1914-46 (Indianapolis: The Liberty Fund, 1979), 90. 11 Vedder and Gallaway, Out of Work, 62-65.

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12 Anthony P. O’Brien, “A Behavioral Explanation for Normal Wage Rigidity during the Great Depression” Quarterly Journal of Economics 104/4 (Nov. 1989): 719-735. 13 William J. Barber, From New Era to New Deal: Herbert Hoover, the Economists, and American Economic Policy, 1921-1933 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 28. 14 Ibid., 28-30. 15 Ibid.,29 16 Ibid.,28-30 17 New York Times, Sept. 1921, 1. 18 Ibid. 19 Ibid. 20 New York Herald Tribune, Sept. 28, 1921, 22. 21 Robert K. Murray, The Harding Era: Warren G. Harding and His Administration (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969), 100-101. 22 Ellis Wayne Hawley, ed., Herbert Hoover as Secretary of Commerce 1921-1928: Studies in New Era Thought and Practice (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1981), 34. 23 Murray, The Harding Era, 167. See also Ellis W. Hawley, ed., Herbert Hoover as Secretary of Commerce, 17-42, which discusses the weak Hoover political base within the Harding Cabinet and the GOP organizational structure. 24 Anderson, Economics and the Public Welfare, 352. 25 Alfred Dupont Chandler, The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge: Belknap Press, Harvard University, 1993), 457. 26 O’Brien, “A Behavioral Explanation,” 104. 27 Joan Hoff Wilson, American Business & Foreign Policy, 1920-1933 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1971), 28-29. 28 Ibid., 76. 29 Ibid. 30 Ibid. 31 Ibid. 32 David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 343-345. 33 Robert Himmelberg, The Origins of the National Recovery Administration: Business, Government, and the Trade Association Issue, 19211933 (New York: Fordham University Press, 1976), 28. 34 Ibid., 47. 35 Ibid., 54. 36 Ibid. 37 Ibid., 69. 38 Ibid., 76. 39 Ibid. 40 Ibid., 78. 41 Ibid., 80. 42 Morton Keller, Regulating a New Economy: Public Policy and Economic Change in America, 1900-1933 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 25. 43 Ibid., 38.

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Ibid. Ibid. 46 Louise Overacker, Money in Elections (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1932), 133, 138. 47 Unpublished research note to the author from John Welco, July 2003. 48 Arthur F. Burns, “Ideology of Businessmen and Presidential Elections,” The Southwestern Political and Social Science Quarterly 10 (Sept. 1929): 235. 49 Anderson, Economics and the Public Welfare, 123. 50 Ibid., 125. 51 Himmelberg, The Origins of the National Recovery Administration, 76. 45

5 The Rush Past Republican Associationalism, 1929–1932

The Hoover period is the one part of the Republican era of the 1920s that has been substantially reexplored. As Secretary of Commerce and later as President, Hoover repeatedly advanced the idea of “associational” efforts that would emerge from the natural interaction of individuals and groups. Associationalism involved the deliberate encouragement of voluntary institutions—particularly trade associations, professional societies, company unions, and farm cooperatives—to foster cooperation within a particular trade or industry. Of course, the idea of business cooperation was not novel to the America of the 1920s, but greater legitimization had come from the successful management of the war effort where the methods of cooperation had not been forgotten. These efforts drew considerable interest from historians in the 1970s and 1980s as key documentary collections were opened and examined. These studies refashioned the earlier image of Hoover as a laissez-faire ideologue who had done little after the onset of the Great Depression. It quickly became apparent to historians that Hoover had been both the focus and the instigator of efforts to develop nonstatist mechanisms that would allow for more than automatic self-adjustments of the nation’s economy. For example, Hoover sought to bring stability to the bituminous coal industry through a series of voluntary, cooperative, and privatized efforts to control entry into and predatory pricing among the industry’s marginal producers. Indeed, during the 1920s entire industries had been brought into close and regular contact with Cabinet departments and executive groupings. Historians rediscovered such efforts in areas such as housing, unemployment, child labor, emergency relief, and retirement programs.1 Their consideration added an important descriptive layer to the notion of an “organizational revolution” many historians saw as an important component to twentieth-century American life. This

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interpretation stressed the importance of organized groupings to the political process in the wake of the decline of popular electoral participation after 1896. By this view organizational interests introduced greater stability but also rigidity to a political process now dominated by smaller, focused constituencies. Mass participation, and by extension political parties, were now seen as less essential to the evolution of modern societies. A focus on organizational development and state capacity leaves less room for consideration of changes within party electoral coalitions outside of periods of rapid partisan change. Political parties, however, are by nature dynamic and evolving concerns, requiring, as Stephen Skowronek has recognized, continual attention and reconstruction. The Republican electoral coalition of 1929 was substantially different in terms of organizational cohesion and behavior from the one that had come together to nominate and elect Warren Harding in 1920. These differences would have profound consequences in shaping the party’s response to events after 1929. Little of the existing associational material has linked Hoover to the changes occurring within the Republican electoral coalition of the 1920s. The broad decline in mass electoral participation by the 1920s allowed party leaders and candidates increasing latitude in determining the party’s direction on key issues. Unlike earlier periods such as the 1890s, the 1920s featured declining electoral turnouts amidst the introduction of a wide variety of mass entertainments that detracted from and overshadowed the political battles of the period. As Walter Lippmann pointed out: It was obvious that the opportunities to make money were so ample that it was a waste of time to think about politics. . . . The interested motives which are the driving force of political agitation were diverted to direct profit making. Now progressivism, as we have known it in the past, has arisen out of the belief of the debtors, the employees, the consumers, the farmers, that they could by changing the laws obtain a larger share of the national income. With the stupendous surplus available these last years, it has seemed to most men quicker and easier to go out and make money than to work through the cumbersome, indirect process of political action. Thus there has been no political discontent, except in a few farming states where the new surplus of wealth was not available, and where in consequence the old progressive motives and traditions survived. The common people looked to Roosevelt and to Wilson (before 1914) for relief from poverty and economic servitude. They did not look to Mr. Coolidge for relief because they were finding it by themselves.2

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In Robert and Helen Lynd’s Middletown, 87 percent of eligible voters went to the polls in 1888 while only 46 percent bothered to cast ballots in 1920. The decline of popular mobilization presented organized groupings with clear opportunities that were seized on throughout the 1920s. Herbert Hoover’s rise both reflected and initially shaped aspects of this “organizational revolution” as it came to impact upon Republican ranks, a revolution that gathered momentum during the period even as the party itself underwent a concurrent decline. The Republican Organizational Transition after 1920

Scholars such as Sidney M. Milkis and Daniel J. Tichenor have traced the transformation and decline of party organizations back to the advent of Progressive-era conflicts, seeing in the 1912 campaign the emergence of advocacy groups largely independent of party organizations. They note that “the demise of the Progressive campaign in 1912 also reflected the difficulty of wedding national governmental activism and public opinion, the logical outcome of championing social movements that could not easily be contained within the structure of party politics. The dominance of rights-claiming social groups and candidate-centered campaign organizations in contemporary politics and elections— developments that alienate citizens from meaningful participation and a sense of collective obligation—can be traced to the ‘critical’ election of 1912. In this sense, the Progressive party campaign of 1912 might very well provide a useful retrospective on the future of American politics.”3 Few of these observations have been consistently applied to the Republican Party after the 1912 struggle, however. The GOP is often viewed by historians as a homogeneous party representing the great “middle” of American politics, but it was far more directly affected by internal transformations than has been recognized.4 This would lead, by the late 1920s, to the increasing dependence of the presidential party on extra-party interest groups for the mobilization of political support. From 1923 to 1952 Mark Sullivan in his weekly columns for the New York Herald Tribune was an articulate, astute chronicler of the Republican worldview. Otis Graham described him as “a mixture of Jefferson, Sumner, and Alger,”5 an individual of both clear capacity, quick wit, and considerable personal charm. More importantly for our purposes here, he was on intimate terms with much of the Republican leadership, maintaining above all a close personal relationship with Herbert Hoover until Sullivan’s death in 1952. Buried in the vaults of the old New York Herald Tribune one discovers through his columns

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important descriptions of the transformation of the GOP’s organizational base after its 1920 revival. Direct primaries were adopted by such states as Wisconsin as early as 1901, but they had not been an important factor in Republican deliberations until the 1912 Bull Moose bolt. The immediate reason for their invigoration centered on Theodore Roosevelt’s renewed presidential aspirations, and the 1912 Republican campaign and convention would witness a number of direct, unsuccessful challenges to the party’s leadership. Efforts undertaken in the primaries for Theodore Roosevelt were well-funded, tightly organized efforts. Roosevelt’s campaign was successful in practically all the states that held primaries, and the precedent for challenging the party’s organizational structure was now in place. The 1916 nomination campaign of Charles Evans Hughes was largely unaffected by these developments as the bulk of Bull Moosers were still nominally loyal to the Progressive Party and hence not a factor in early Republican decisions. The nomination of Hughes resulted from a kind of general accord among party leaders preoccupied above all with avoiding further factional struggles.6 By 1920, however, candidate organizations were becoming increasingly personal ones, acquiring a newfound independence from party structures and leaders. Both General Leonard Wood and exGovernor Lowden, the original front-runners in 1920, maintained wellfinanced, elaborate personal organizations. Contrary to political lore, the successful Harding effort that year focused on delegate conversion rather than intense negotiations within the party leadership. All of this placed more emphasis on the shifting sands of popular opinion and pointed toward the importance of advertising and the shaping of popular delegate opinion as early as the 1920 convention. The modern shift to personally centered campaign organizations has long antecedents and would become important particularly within the GOP presidential party of the 1920s decade. As early as 1923 Mark Sullivan was reporting discord between Warren Harding and party leadership over the issue of U.S. participation and entry into the World Court. The party’s leadership was strongly suspicious of further ventures into the “European thicket”7; the results, they felt, would be negatively reflected in congressional races.8 Even Calvin Coolidge, now seen as almost a patron saint of Republican regularity, was strongly criticized by the party’s old guard leaders throughout his time in office. Coolidge’s ascension to the vice presidency had been the result of a popular upsurge among the delegates at the 1920 convention, and the party’s leadership had looked at him as

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something of an outsider even after his ascension to the presidency. Mark Sullivan had suggested in 1925 that the party’s older leadership was in a “secret war”9 with Coolidge, and it was apparent that he took his primary council from New England intimates and the party’s newer leadership.10 Coolidge, older party leaders felt, had a far greater interest in the cultivation of popular opinion than the approval of the Republican leadership structure. As a result, the influence of party leadership was felt to be in eclipse by 1925. Throughout the 1924 convention the party leadership of 1920 was largely absent from deliberations. Henry Cabot Lodge, the three-time chairman of previous conventions, was largely ignored that year, and his assigned hotel room was so poor that he took refuge with his former secretary, Lewis A. Coolidge. The convention was controlled from the beginning by President Coolidge, who directed it in a personal fashion. These organizational tensions would reach a greater level, however, during the campaign for the presidential nomination by Secretary of Commerce Hoover. Hoover’s following was from the beginning a personal one, based largely on his associational activities of the 1920s. In Mark Sullivan’s words: Few men in the country have as large a personal following as Hoover. The following includes wide varieties. . . and practically every town or small city has a business man who feels he has had personal help from Hoover in the shape of one or more of the many beneficent activities Hoover has carried out as Secretary of Commerce \. . . .Hoover as Secretary of Commerce has given them such help as no business man has ever before received from anybody in the government. The conferences Hoover has conducted, the leadership he has furnished for economical methods, the engineering skill and the modern methods he has made available to little business establishments in small towns have been such a service as they have never had from any sources, least of all from a political service.11

Herbert Croly wrote in June of 1928 in The New Republic: If Mr. Coolidge had intended by his behavior to expose the bankruptcy of old-style Republican political leadership, he could not have adopted a course which was better calculated to accomplish his object. The only candidates which Mr. Hoover’s many enemies could produce to contest his nomination were sectional leaders and petty state bosses who happened to be Senators. Not one of them measured up to the job. Not one of them could produce the necessary qualifications for national leadership. The Republican Party has for a long time been too disorganized to develop a genuinely nationally leader. . . . Mr.

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Hoover’s qualities enabled him to take advantage of the sterility of the older American politics. His positive strength derived in part from the enthusiasm which he inspires in a few people of ability and energy, but chiefly from the confidence which the large body of small businessmen throughout the country have come to feel in him. The trade papers were all enthusiastically for him, and so were the chambers of commerce. The effectiveness of their support proved the existence of a new power in American politics.12

The result had been the creation of new fault lines within the party structure that transformed it in the 1920s. While senior party leaders had originally favored the renomination of Charles Evans Hughes on the grounds that he was the party’s “greatest public man,” in 1928 the groundswell for Hoover rapidly ran past the party’s senior leadership. The Hoover buildup was directed, in Sullivan’s words, by “[y]ounger men, who were not personally in contact with Mr. Hughes or with politics at the time he was making his great rise in the political world 15 or 20 years ago”13 Ralph Williams, a highly respected national committeeman from Oregon, said of the 1928 Republican convention, “In sports amateurs sometimes go over to the professionals but in this convention the professionals went over to the amateurs.”14 Mark Sullivan saw the Hoover nomination in 1928 as an amateur coup then paralleled only by Wilson’s victory over Champ Clark at the 1912 Democratic convention. Writing in the summer of 1928, he compared it favorably to TR’s unsuccessful attempt to transform the GOP in 1912. The old leaders would be retained in some ceremonial capacity, he thought, but the new amateur Hoover allegiance had reconfigured the party’s organizational center. The leader of the anti-Hoover forces, Charles D. Hilles, head of the Republican organization in New York State, had tried to promote enough favorite-son candidacies to slow the Hoover tide, but this strategy had broken down with the announcement that the Pennsylvania state conventions contained strong support for Hoover. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, in endorsing Hoover before the Pennsylvania caucus, had spoken of the strong popular sentiment that existed for the Commerce Secretary among the party rank and file. All contemporary convention commentary reflects a degree of hyperbole, but Sullivan and Croly were correct in pointing toward the increasing importance of popular opinion and extra-party movements within the GOP of the 1920s. Yet, as presidential candidates later in the century would discover, the courting of public opinion could come at the expense of a genuine organizational base within the party. For, within

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the party’s remaining professional cadres and older interest-group structures, real opposition to Hoover continued. Throughout 1927 party leaders remained preoccupied with President Coolidge’s intentions for 1928, and his famous “I do not choose to run”15 statement only served to fuel additional speculation within Republican circles. It was apparent no other candidate could achieve the degree of unanimity that would have surrounded a Coolidge relection effort in 1928. Mark Sullivan reported a “honing (for Coolidge) on the part of party leaders, workers and voters.”16 Coolidge would be renominated, in Sullivan’s words, “if he should signify his willingness by so much as the ‘come hither’ of a lifted eyelid.”17 But no such presidential effort was forthcoming. Coolidge may have been influenced by the third-term tradition, his own and his wife’s health, or the death of both his father and son while he occupied the White House. Robert Ferrell suggests the President may have hoped to control the party nominating process, although how he would have done so is not clear. Until the actual balloting began, however, hope remained that the President would indicate a willingness if only through an enigmatic remark. New York State sent an uninstructed delegation to the 1928 convention in the hope of fostering a Coolidge boom, but then waited for some word from the White House that never came. Coolidge had never been particularly comfortable with Hoover, regarding him as too ardent in his pursuit of the presidency while serving in the Cabinet. Coolidge’s widely quoted remark, “That man has offered me unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad,”18 was but one of several contemporary indications of tension between the President and his Secretary of Commerce. Mark Sullivan chronicled several minor indications of social tension between them, and Robert Ferrell noted that Coolidge did not get out of an automobile to greet Hoover at a train station when Hoover visited him at his summer retreat during the 1928 campaign.19 More than social tension or personality conflicts were at work here, however. Sullivan, an observer highly sympathetic to Hoover, was nevertheless quick to note considerable anti-Hoover sentiment in the eastern United States. The feeling existed that he was temperamentally too activist and had displayed too pronounced a sympathy with organized labor during the negotiations over an eight-hour day in the railroad industry in 1922. Some suggested he was too internationalist in outlook, and his unclear party affiliation as late as 1920 was not forgotten in some Republican quarters. Additionally, his service in and open support of the Wilson Administration was not easily forgiven. His opposition had no single outstanding candidate, however, once it

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became apparent that neither Hughes nor Coolidge was willing to undertake active campaigning. Unable to agree on a strong alternative, aware of Hoover’s clear standing outside the party organization, and unwilling to undertake anything that recalled memories of 1912, the opposition simply bowed to the inevitable. On the first ballot in Kansas City in 1928 Hoover received 837 votes to 74 for Lowden and 64 for Charles Curtis of Kansas. Coolidge received 13 votes from Illinois and 4 from Ohio even as party leaders continued to hope for some change of heart. But the popular movement that had overwhelmed the party organization and had nominated Hoover would prove to be an unreliable political base later on. 1928: The GOP Confidently Confronts Al Smith

Early scholarly interpretations of the 1928 election saw it as an important watershed. It was thought that the Hoover–Smith contest marked the delineations of new electoral patterns that foreshadowed a Democratic majority even without the dislocations of the Great Depression. Samuel Lubell’s important work, The Future of American Politics, spoke of an “Al Smith Revolution”20 that served as a harbinger of the New Deal to come. “It was Smith who first slashed through the traditional alignments that had held so firmly since the Civil War, clearing the way for the more comprehensive realignment which came later.”21 For Lubell the “revolt of the city”22 and the rise of an assertive, newly conscious coalition of immigrant groupings was an outgrowth of the Smith candidacy. V. O. Key extended elements of this analysis by suggesting that in New England, at least, sharp and durable changes in political behavior had followed from the Brown Derby campaign. These interpretations fit nicely into the notions of critical realignments, periods of accelerated partisan change that take place over several elections after periods of electoral continuity and relative stability.23 Later interpretations have made far less of the struggle between Al Smith and Herbert Hoover. Historians such as David Bruner and Alan J. Lichtman, while differing on a number of points, see Smith’s candidacy as tapping a series of ethno-cultural fault lines in American politics that had little to do with the conflicts that came to swirl around the New Deal. Paul Kleppner even wrote of the 1928 election, “For the most part, that election appears to have been much like a pre-1894 contest, with most groups polarizing sharply between the major parties and associating negatively with abstention.”24 In other words, when Catholics headed or dominated Democratic tickets, previous ethnoreligious voting renewed, a result that suggests that when cultural issues

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and earlier symbols dominate the political landscape, both sides turn out and polarization will increase.25 According to this view, Smith became less the symbol of a new emergent urban civilization than a kind of provincial who reintroduced the patterns of nineteenth-century cultural and political struggles. Even Douglas Craig’s After Wilson, which argues for the primacy of economic and political issues over ethnocultural conflicts in the 1920s decade, contains a critical portrait of Smith not especially different from David Bruner’s. It is apparent that contemporary Republican strategists saw little to fear in the Brown Derby campaign. Conservative Democratic efforts to stress a kind of corporatism in the business sphere coupled with a negative state in areas of personal conduct such as prohibition were seen as ineffectual from the start. The conservative Democratic leadership of the 1920s continually sought to build a northeastern-southern presidential coalition that would recall the political strategy of the Grover Cleveland era. This leads to a focus on the swing states of Ohio, Indiana, and New York that could then be added to the South.26 For example, it was believed in 1920 that FDR would carry New York and New Jersey while James Cox would have a real chance in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. The emphasis on “personal liberty” meant, of course, the abandonment of much of the western United States, the heart of the earlier Bryan constituency. Smith’s strategy was based on these notions, for it was assumed Smith’s popularity in the cities would make the party immediately competitive again in the Northeast. This strategy constituted a major alteration from the successful Wilsonian campaign of 1916, which had emphasized a western-southern coalition. Smith’s emphasis on the Northeast gave his campaign a strong pro-business orientation that was important in terms of Democratic fundraising. The party amassed a massive war chest, a complete contrast to the condition of the Democracic Party in both 1920 and 1924. On the surface, the northeastern-southern strategy made sense. A coalition of New England (44 electoral votes) with the eastern states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware (with 108 votes) could be joined with the Old Confederacy to yield a total of 226 votes, exactly half of the Electoral College. Surely the Smith forces believed that enough border and western states could be garnered to make up for any problems in the East and create a majority in the Electoral College. Hence the agrarian, radically minded West could be safely ignored. These strategists, however, never appreciated the strength of the allegiance of the Northeast to the GOP after 1916. In 1920 and 1924 Pennsylvania had given over 65 percent of its vote to the GOP and New York State had not been far behind at 64 percent and 55 percent. In the

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Northeast as a whole, from West Virginia to Maine, Harding had won 64.8 percent of the vote and Coolidge 60.1 percent in a three-party race. Even in the midst of growing internal divisions over the tariff and prohibition, Republican strategists found it difficult to believe the Democrats would nominate Smith. Frank Gannett wrote to Mark Sullivan about Al Smith in 1927, “There is no chance of his election, indeed I doubt if he will be nominated. If he is nominated he will disrupt the Democratic Party and set it back another decade. . . . [T]he recent election in New York State, to me shows more vigor in Republican Ranks. The Republican voters seem to be preparing to fight Al Smith, they are already lining up with enthusiasm. If Smith should be nominated, they would roll up a Republican majority above the Bronx that would be simply astonishing, and in my opinion offset anything that Tammany can do. . . . The fact is that religious bigotry will cut a very big figure in the state campaign if Smith should be nominated. Every Republican farmer and farmer’s wife would vote against him.”27 Sullivan responded that the Northeast was strongly Republican and a Smith nomination would open up tantalizing Republican prospects in the American South. Republicans, Sullivan felt, could be cheered by the prospect of a Smith candidacy. In Sullivan’s view, Smith’s nomination would be that of an essentially limited provincial who could not present himself as a truly national figure. The Democratic Party would stand revealed as a series of warring sectional factions unable to achieve representation of the national ideal. The analysis of Sullivan and other GOP strategists received striking confirmation. While Smith accomplished an impressive mobilization of the urban vote, the gain was heavily concentrated in the Northeast. Simply taking New York City out of the calculation reduces his share of the urban vote to 46 percent. That he had 6.6 million more votes than Davis in 1924 or 5.8 million more than Cox in 1920 did not negate the impressive electoral mobilization of the GOP in 1928, for Hoover had polled 5.7 million more votes than Coolidge. In a period of prosperity and general depolitization the GOP countermobilization was a remarkable achievement. Alan J. Lichtman points out that this expanded coalition of Republican voters included a large number of first-time voters not before drawn into the partisan fray. In terms of mass electoral politics and mobilization there was little to suggest a decline in the net position of the GOP in 1928.28 Still, the politics of campaign contributions and the actions of other political elites present a more mixed picture. Thomas Ferguson argues that such coalitions were in increasing flux by 1928. It is surely true that the rise of a larger, more organized cosmopolitan free-trade bloc did not

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bode well for the GOP. These capital-intensive firms were potentially Democratic, but the GOP of 1928 could lay claim, particularly under candidate Hoover, to an internationalist position of some kind. Douglas Craig confirms the heavily sectional basis of Smith’s campaign fund in 1928, with New Yorkers alone contributing over 74 percent of Smith’s war chest.29 Many of these contributions reflected opposition to prohibition in the region. John Raskob’s personal influence was also clearly an important factor in the level of Smith’s financial support. Large contributions were very much the rule in the Democratic campaign of 1928, but the emergence of urban power had hardly served to foreclose GOP prospects in 1928. The Republicans had attracted 54 percent of the urban vote against an individual whose rise was intertwined with the political development of the modern metropolis. The 1928 election is often viewed as the last great episode of the ethno-cultural conflicts so pivotal to the history of the 1920s. However, Republican strength even after 1928 serves to demonstrate the persistent power of ethno-cultural world views even in the face of rapid change. The 1930s are often characterized as an electoral period where classbased political appeals redrew the cultural battlegrounds of the 1920s. Nevertheless, how can one explain the persistence of strong Republicanism in upstate New York or New England? On the basis of structural, class-based analysis, these Yankees should have moved into the Democratic Party in the 1930s. After all, most voters in these regions were hardly well off, but the loyalty of most of these rural and smalltown voters to the GOP can only be explained in these ethno-cultural terms. Bruce Kalk has demonstrated that distinct northern Protestant sects underwent very different reactions to the New Deal, but the persistence of these patterns is accorded little attention after 1928.30 The durability of such loyalties in bedrock Republican areas would survive even the tides of the 1936 election. Prevailing, long-established images of the parties also assisted the Republicans in 1928. The national Democratic Party was unable to shear off its image as the party of Bryanism and agrarian unrest even after its endorsement of the principles of the protective tariff in 1928. Both Alan Lichtman and Arthur Burns have pointed out the power of professional reference groups within the business community and the effect such longstanding norms had on political choices prior to the Great Depression. The GOP was widely perceived as the party best able to continue policies that would advance the interests of American business in 1928. The Democratic Party’s endorsement of most elements of the protective tariff and its courting of large contributors served primarily to confuse what was left of the party’s progressive Wilsonian base.

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The popular triumph of 1928, however, obscured the degree of disunity that now existed within the Republican coalition. All parties contain disparate elements, but the GOP problems had become acute with the rise of what Tom Ferguson termed “the internationalist bloc”31 in American business. It is too simple, of course, to suggest that the Republicans stood in opposition to such groupings, for the American economy of the 1920s was enormously complex and no single domestic–foreign market division can summarize Republican responses. Hoover and Andrew Mellon were well aware that America’s creditor position required that the rest of the world obtain sufficient dollars to repay debts and purchase American goods, but the domestic market remained paramount under Republican regimes. This meant the protection of the home market for manufacturers by promoting the sale of manufactured and agriculture products abroad and the importation of noncompetitive goods. Remarkably, the Republican “System of 96” was still essentially in place by 1928; most living Americans had no experience under an alternative system. It should be recalled that the Underwood tariff system created by the Wilson Administration had been rapidly negated by the outbreak of World War I and the collapse of international trade. Arguments for dramatically reduced trade barriers were thus little more than an academic exercise in 1928. Yet the rise of an international free-trade bloc among intellectual elites produced a series of strains within the GOP of the 1920s. The creation of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Foreign Policy Association, and mass circulation news magazines all served to heighten and promote internationalist perspectives among public and governmental opinion. The Council’s prominent membership ensured constant access to national leadership. As importantly, the development of sophisticated advertising and communication technology served to convey its messages to an electorate that contained a rapidly expanded college-educated population. Thus, while the older protectionist groupings won battles over the League of Nations and tariff rates, their position was becoming more difficult within Republican ranks. Michael Bernstein noted: In the face of these strange circumstances, the American government found itself in a quandary regarding trade policy. On the one side, bankers were eager to see Washington sustain a free trade agenda so that their international loans would be made good by the improved export performance of their foreign debtors. On the other, manufacturers believed themselves to be the major losers in any policy setting that weakened their protection with respect to imports from overseas. Meanwhile, American farmers felt altogether left out of the

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bargain insofar as trade protection invited foreign retaliation against their exports while a free trade policy invited potentially ruinous competition from resurgent primary-product competitors elsewhere in the global economy. This turmoil in the political economy of national trade policy during the twenties was never resolved.32

Within Republican ranks these quarrels took the form of continual conflict between the presidential party, which at least appreciated the internationalist position, and the strongly nationalist congressional party. Even without the strain introduced by the Great Depression it is difficult to see how this electoral coalition could have held together easily with the rise of various internationalist perspectives. Its effectiveness in the 1920s was partially attributable to the condition of the Democratic Party and the prosperity of the decade. Both long-term structural changes in the economy and the general direction of intellectual discussion were serving to bring it down, but the GOP’s congressional party reflected these changes in only mild ways. Only the crisis of the 1930s would serve to terminate the post-1920 Republican executive-congressional balancing act on world trade. The Depression would have a devastating effect on the economic base of the nationalists whose efforts to restrict international trade would now paradoxically be crowned with success. The Republicans could no longer balance the escalating conflict between the internationalist free-trade position and the increasingly domestically oriented congressional party. The Republican Party after 1930 served as a less effective modernizing vehicle because of the decline in the party’s executive/internationalist branch was matched by a stepped-up influence on the part of restive business groupings that found a sympathetic ear in the Republican Congress. As the party’s fortune waned, the congressional delegation’s influence on national discussion became increasingly embittered and moribund. The Final Collapse of the Nationalist-Internationalist Entente within the GOP: The Smoot–Hawley Tariff

Prosperity had tended to mute tensions and divisions within Republican ranks. Probably most businessmen had been indifferent to international economic issues, focusing on their own problems of production and distribution. A 1926 NAM report suggested “the great majority”33 of its membership had not given “serious attention to foreign trade possibilities or the influence of that trade on their own industrial activities.”34 But by 1930 Hoover confronted greater conflict over the

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tariff than had ever existed in the 1920s. Presidential leadership had not brought about a significant reduction of duties and the disillusionment of internationalists was increasingly evident. As business nationalists began to mobilize to protect the “American system” in the wake of declining profits, internationalists also became more outspoken in their criticisms than had been considered legitimate within Republican ranks in 1922 when the Fordney–McCumber Act was passed. The internationalists would not go quietly, for the protectionist groupings were propelled by a new urgency. Joan Hoff Wilson characterized the Smoot–Hawley constituency as “small and medium-sized domestic manufacturing concerns strongly backed by individual members of both houses of Congress.”35 To these groups could be added the stalwart center of the Republican “System of 1896,” including steel, textiles, coal, and other labor-intensive enterprises concerned with the specter of low-wage foreign competition. Now encountering British, French, and German competition regularly, they agitated through the Republican congressional party for even higher tariff levels throughout 1930.36 In this effort they were joined by the strongly Republican midwestern farm bloc that sought through McNary–Haugenism enhanced guarantees of limitations on foreign agricultural imports. By 1930 the resolution of these conflicts was very difficult within party councils. True to his careful, scientific approach, Hoover systematically compiled listings of the opposition that came to swirl around efforts to increase the tariff. The internationalist bloc that had emerged by 1930 was formidable indeed. As importantly, the opposition that existed was not completely composed of free traders in New York City or the southern ports. Tariff opponents included James D. Mooney, Vice President of General Motors; Gerald Attenburg, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad; Albert Wiggin, Chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank; and other GOP stalwarts such as the economist Benjamin Anderson. Many of the letters Hoover received pointed to deep opposition within Republican ranks. Irving Fisher summed up much commentary when he argued that Hoover’s reputation for “not being a politician” would be enhanced by vetoing protectionist legislation. Across the country 38.9 percent of Republican newspapers expressed opposition to the higher tariff schedules.37 It is pertinent to enquire into the evolution of Hoover’s attitudes here. Throughout the 1920s he had supported greater independence and flexibility for presidential ratemaking on tariffs, and his earlier career had centered on internationalist activities and ventures. He had been identified as an internationalist as late as 1920, and these continuing suspicions had initially dogged his efforts to secure the Republican

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presidential nomination in 1928. Is it simply that he chose to ignore public concerns yielding to the business nationalists heavily represented in Congress and the organizational base of the party? The reasons for Hoover’s support of the Smoot–Hawley bill are rooted in the political economy choices of the pre-New Deal period. The notion of an “American System” precluded open discussion of free trade in 1930, and this general consensus was widely accepted by “metropol” political elites. Despite unrest over the matter, the tariff had not been a central issue in the campaign of 1928. Indeed, the Democratic Party had moved closer to the GOP position that year, and it is often forgotten that the Smoot–Hawley tariff received greater support from the Democratic Party than did the Fordney–McCumber tariff of 1922. To Hoover there was no apparent contradiction between his early internationalism and his support of higher tariffs in 1931. In his view, voluntary private planning presupposed the existence of a vigorous and expanding domestic market. This meant a domestic market for both foreign and American goods. The tariff would maintain domestic prosperity and hence the internal market for foreign goods. The protective systems simply became a vehicle for the maintenance of the internal prosperity of the country and hence its ability to engage in international commerce. By minimizing the importance of tariff levels Hoover was largely able to stay out of the congressional negotiations that produced the Smoot– Hawley tariff, being concerned primarily with expanding executive authority in the tariff area. Hoover seems to have maintained confidence in his ability to determine tariff rates in a scientific fashion, reflecting Progressive-era confidence in the application of scientific instrumentality to political questions. His faith in scientific flexibility, however, removed him from the legislative process almost completely, which then reverted to traditional congressional logrolling. Presidential flexibility on tariffs proved to have no constituency on either side in the halls of Congress, and Hoover’s influence boiled down to the threat of a presidential veto. Thus Hoover defended an upward tariff revision not owing to blind faith in protectionist doctrines but because of his confidence that the issue could be resolved through statistical inference and careful analysis. In the post-Progressive era this can seem a curious judgment, but above all it deprived him of any constituency or political base for his position within the halls of Congress. The Republican congressional party now consistently refused to consider the link between imports and exports or to weigh the possibility of foreign retaliation. Increasingly concerned with domestic political constituencies as the party’s fortunes declined, the GOP became preoccupied with specific tariff rates as the uneasy balance between

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internationalists in the executive branch and State Department and nationalists in Congress broke down. It is not unfair to suggest that the adoption of the Smoot–Hawley tariff was the first instance of the Republican Party moving directly away from its role as the party of national modernization and progress. Despite congressional rejection of the League of Nations, American political, economic, and cultural relations with Europe and elsewhere had expanded dramatically under Republican stewardship. Now in the midst of the expansion of mass communication, newsmagazines, and opportunities for higher education the party had adopted an openly parochial position. For the first time, in the face of expanding internationalism on a variety of fronts, the Republican Party no longer provided a ready vehicle for such forces. Thus the battle for the progressive label between the parties was now under way. Benjamin Anderson, the chief economist at the Chase Manhattan Bank, would later title a chapter of his book on the 1930s “The First Phase of the New Deal, 1924–32.”38 By this he meant that it was at this point the price mechanism began to be tampered with in the name of “special groupings,” a policy he felt was only continued under the New Deal. The tariff legislation of 1930 reflected a breakdown in the party’s internal balance and served to entice many party constituencies into further politicization. The consequences for the party’s electoral coalition would be very severe. Thus the “organizational revolution” that is so much a part of twentieth-century political economy would shatter the fragile cohesion of the GOP after 1930. In Walter Lippmann’s words, “the democratization of political power had made collective initiative imperative.”39 In 1920 Warren Harding had been able to induce a broad monetary deflation widely acceptable to the Republican electoral coalition. The classic theory of the business cycle held that periodic depressions are the necessary correction of the accumulated misjudgments of the previous era of prosperity. However, the associational efforts of the 1920s had transformed the party’s base, nudging much of it toward a greater emphasis on organizational stability and predictability. The classic doctrine of liquidation and individual readjustment no longer had an organized base within the party, and Hoover’s rise was directly linked to the associational efforts he had fostered at the Department of Commerce. Much of the Hoover Administration’s response to the Depression reflects these organizational dynamics. Lippmann also noted:

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They did not merely reject the classic doctrine of liquidation and individual readjustment after a boom; they acted as if they had never heard of it. It did not occur to Mr. Hoover, who had preached the philosophy of individualism, to follow the example of Cleveland in the depression of the Nineties, of Grant in the Seventies, of Buchanan in the Fifties, of Van Buren in the Thirties or of Monroe in the Twenties. They had thought it no part of their duty, and not within their power to take charge of the economy and direct it through the storm. Mr. Hoover regarded it as his obvious duty to take charge and to direct. To this conception of the government’s duty he adhered throughout his term. At the end, when he was fighting for re-election and seeking to warn the country against the collectivist spirit of the New Deal, Mr. Hoover’s defense of his own Administration consisted in reciting the long list of things he had done to stop deflation and liquidation and to restore the working balance of the economy. It was an impressive list. He had spent billions in protecting banks, insurance companies and railroads against bankruptcy. He had spent great sums to maintain the prices of wheat and cotton. He had spent great sums on public works. He had striven to maintain wage rates. He had attempted to inflate credit. In pointing to his record, he did not say that he was an individualist who had let individuals make their own readjustment. . . . On the contrary, he insisted that he had done everything humanly possible to circumvent and overcome the impact of natural law in the business cycle.40

The first dramatic evidence of the changes within the GOP organizational base became apparent in administration wage policy. During the 1921–1922 economic downturn under the Harding Administration adjusted real wages had moved consistently downward in accordance with classical theory. In the 1929 trade cycle wages actually moved upward for several more quarters. When wage adjustments did finally come, they tended to be far smaller and far later in the economic cycle than had been the case in 1921. President Hoover in accordance with business leaders consistently exhorted corporations to maintain existing wage rates in order to preserve purchasing power. The Republican “national system” based on an accord between capital and labor under the umbrella of a high tariff wall would allow for little more by 1930. Throughout 1930 wages fell only slightly and even by 1932 they registered only a 7 percent drop. As two economists have noted, “The most critical difference between the 1920 and 1929 downturns was the failure of wages to adjust to changes in the labor market. . . . [A]s a consequence . . . real wages rose rather than fell, and unemployment increased to previously unattained levels.”41

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The dramatically different responses of the Republicans’ organizational base to economic dislocation only nine years apart is an important but neglected part of our organizational and political history. It is noteworthy how little defense of classical theory or approaches was offered within Republican circles by 1930. The nation had only recently emerged from the experience of war mobilization, and the notion of the government directing fundamental allocative decisions was no longer completely unprecedented. The country had been deeply unsettled by the stock market collapse, which was followed by the emergence of fullscale depression the following summer. In such a crisis atmosphere Hoover’s pleas to maintain wage rates accorded with most citizens’ notion of patriotism and civic obligation. A merger of both organizational pressure and mass concerns now served to render obsolete the concept of natural adjustments. The Hoover Administration’s efforts to address the Depression were directly linked to the “new era” economics of the 1920s; such new approaches to production and countercyclical stabilization had been a hallmark of the period. President Harding’s 1921 conference on unemployment called at Commerce Secretary Hoover’s urging had recommended wage maintenance during periods of recession. Although these suggestions were not followed, the notion of a harmonious partnership of capital and labor remained a vivid image throughout the “prosperity decade.” Hoover was determined there would be no lessening from this earlier commitment and drove the point home to business leaders during White House meetings with industrialists in November and December of 1929. These efforts on his part were to prove very successful. The economist Leo Wolman, writing in 1931, noted, “It is indeed impossible to recall any past depression of similar intensity and duration in which the wages of prosperity were sustained as long as they have been during the depression of 1930-1931.”42 Very little Republican discussion acknowledged that these efforts ran counter to classical teaching about how the labor market should adjust to a reduction in demand. Orthodoxy held that attempts to sustain wages would simply expand the ranks of the unemployed and make adjustment to a new equilibrium increasingly difficult. William Barber pointed out that “Most academic economists in the 1920s had viewed the claims of the economics of the ‘new era’ with considerable skepticism. In their eyes, policies that promoted the coordination of production decisions of businessmen, the maintenance of high wages, or the deployment of public works spending to buffer downturns in income and employment were of very doubtful merit. What they were instead likely to produce was an increased rigidity in the system which would impede its natural

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adjustment to changes in marked conditions. In short, governmental tampering with the delicate mechanisms of the market, whether done directly or indirectly, was likely to produce far more harm than good.”43 But Republican efforts ran in a directly counter direction. Stabilization and protecting the general price level became the focus of Republican policy. All of this had deep roots in the Republican associational efforts of the 1920s. The organizational revolution of that period now precluded the wage reductions associated with ten economic contractions between 1890 and 1924. Anthony P. O’Brien, stating wage rates in American manufacturing changed very little with the onset of the 1930’s depression, noted “the paradoxical implication of this movement in real wages is that manufacturing workers who managed to retain their jobs during the first two years of the Great Depression experienced one of the largest increases in real income of any group in the history of the country.”44 Interest-group behavior changed substantially in the mid-1920s as a result of Republican efforts at consolidating the party’s nationalist economic system. The development of associational efforts between official and business groupings encouraged new forms of industry-wide organization and pressure. The national labor union movement also became an important component of all of this evolution. All these changes quickly became more than a matter of academic inquiry. Contemporary observers noted that the high-wage program was being followed by the nation’s business leaders. Both Time and Business Week carried feature articles on efforts to maintain previous wage rates. Both journalists and academic economists observed the unusual wage rigidity of 1930–1931, and the lack of such reductions was trumpeted by Administration spokesmen. Secretary of Labor James Davis, an advocate of a high-wage policy since the early 1920s, remarked, “There never has been a crisis such as we have had as the stock market crash that threw . . . millions out of employment that there wasn’t a wholesale reduction in wag. . . . If Hoover accomplishes nothing more in all of his service to the government, that one outstanding thing of his administration—no reduction in wages—will be a credit that will be forever remembered not by the working classes alone but by businessmen as well, because without money in the pay envelope business is the first to suffer.”45 These efforts were undertaken in a wartime crisis atmosphere with Time comparing it to the mobilization of “dollar a year” men from business backgrounds during the First World War. Henry Ford emerged from the first series of presidential conferences with suggestions to increase wage rates in order to heighten

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

mass purchasing power.46 A survey of business leaders in mid-1930 found near unanimous support for the high-wage policy that had become a cornerstone of the Administration’s efforts. Presidential “jawboning” became an important component of these measures, as did the maintenance of wage rates on accelerated federal construction projects.47 The rise in tariff schedules insulated both capital and labor from foreign competition, allowing the renewed Republican “national system” to proceed without direct challenge. Thus the Hoover Administration set itself against the liquidation and adjustments undertaken within the business community only a decade before. Walter Lippmann anticipated an organizational interpretation of the Hoover Administration’s efforts when he wrote: Between Mr. Hoover and Mr. Roosevelt there was, in 1932, no issue of fundamental principle as to the responsibility of the modern state for the modern economy. Both of them recognized the responsibility. They differed as to how it could best be discharged, but not on the underlying question as to whether the attempt ought to be made to discharge it. Indeed it may be said that every major move made by Mr. Roosevelt was in principle anticipated by Mr. Hoover. Both of them used the nation’s credit in an effort to relieve debtors and restore the equilibrium of prices. Both of them gave subsidies to agriculture. Both tried to control production. Both of them tried to maintain or to raise wages in order to enhance purchasing power. Both of them tried to stop “cutthroat” competition. Both of them resorted to public works. Both of them quarreled with Wall Street, with the stock market, with the investment bankers. Both of them resorted to protection against world deflationary forces. Both of them made tentative efforts to revive international trade. Mr. Hoover tried to do virtually everything that Mr. Roosevelt did in his first year. He moved more cautiously; he applied smaller doses of the medicine; he timed the doses differently, and he worked against constantly mounting political opposition. He was less lucky and he was less effective. But on the point which concerns us here, which is that laissez-faire is dead and that the modern state has become responsible for the modern economy as a whole, Mr. Hoover is the best of all witnesses. For he acted on a doctrine which he professed to reject. There could be no better evidence of the degree to which the new doctrine is established.”48

Lippmann’s view, however, minimizes the political and ideological struggles involved here. Neither the Hoover nor Roosevelt administrations’ approaches can be explained completely by examining the demands of organizational groupings, for real political conflict remained within the Republican coalition, as Hoover would soon discover.

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The state remained an imperfect vehicle for comprehensive planning under the Hoover Administration. This reflected dilemmas in Hoover’s own mind and the enormous complexity of the coalition the GOP had assembled after 1920. As in the Progressive era, no consensus had ever emerged as to the organizational forms associational efforts should take. However, rising evidence of market failure and the continued existence of anti-statist impulses produced a series of calls for planned production under the auspices of trade associations—with such associations to be granted immunity from the anti-trust laws. Such efforts, which could not command a majority position in either the Chamber of Commerce or the NAM in early 1929, became increasingly popular with the onset of sudden economic decline. Such efforts would permit industries’ use of production guidelines, pricing formulas, and agreements along with entry controls. What was needed, so the argument ran, was the legalization of those trade association activities that would lead to industrial cooperation. The successful development of this cooperation would be in the hands of a series of planning boards made up of representation from industry that would pass upon prices, wages, and levels of corporate production. Control would be democratic, rationalized, and self-imposed by all the major industry groups—a vision that recalled the unity and perceived cohesion of the World War I experience. A leading voice in this discussion within largely Republican groups was General Electric President Gerald Swope, whose popular “Swope” Plan advocated cartelization of the national economy under the auspices of federal control. Central to Swope’s plan was the creation of a greatly enhanced unemployment compensation plan, pension system, and disability programs. In a precursor of divisions that would reemerge during the NRA period, neither the U.S. Chamber of Commerce nor the NAM would endorse any plan for industrial reform measures that went beyond cartelization of industry under suspended anti-trust provisions. Neither would Herbert Hoover. In his mind such efforts pointed toward a syndicalist political order that would severely limit fluidity, initiative, and the employment of price and market mechanisms. For Hoover, the plan “provides for the consolidation of all industries into trade associations, which are legalized by the government and authorized to ‘stabilize prices’. There is no stabilization of prices without price-fixing, and this feature at once becomes the organization of gigantic trusts such as have never been dreamed of in the history of the world.”49 He refused to have anything to do with it beyond the threat of presidential veto.

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

The President’s persistent opposition to these measures severely limited their impact on Congress. Chamber of Commerce leaders noted in December of 1931 that it would be impossible to proceed without presidential leadership on anti-trust revision.50 Such leadership was definitely not forthcoming. The clash of interests and ideas about economic management was leading to open conflict within the Republican coalition. Abruptly, then, the tension over forms of economic management, a central dilemma in Republican ranks since 1912, now reemerged within party ranks. The divergence of attitudes was indicative of widening schisms within Republican circles that would hinder the party’s desperate campaign efforts in 1932 and its later attempts to oppose the “allclass”51 proposals of the early New Deal. The still formidable tradition of classical economics and the enduring pull of partisan loyalty were arrayed against the notion of a cooperative, rational effort to manage economic affairs in a fashion that recalled the perceived unity of the World War I experience. The lack of precision surrounding these notions allowed interest groups that were traditionally hostile to government direction to view such efforts as little more than exercises in self-direction. While Hoover continued to command a clear majority of support within the business community, the ever-growing clamor for active intervention in economic life threatened permanent disruption of the Republican electoral coalition as the 1932 presidential campaign approached. Paradoxically, Hoover’s efforts in the 1920s to stimulate industrial cooperation through the development of trade associations had now placed him in the position of opposing the recommendations of many of the very groups he had nurtured. Never entirely comfortable with or particularly interested in Republican Party affairs, Hoover withdrew from such matters after the 1930 elections presented him with a Congress partially under Democratic control. By 1932, however, it was apparent that even a unified Republican effort would have confronted sustained electoral difficulties: the fragmented effort the GOP was to mount became the harbinger of a rout.

Notes 1 While the literature is substantial, some of the important works include: Martin L. Fausold and George T. Mazuza,, eds., The Hoover Presidency: A Reappraisal (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1974); Lawrence E.

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Gelfand, ed, Herbert Hoover: The Great War and Its Aftermath (West Branch, Iowa: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association, 1974); Ellis W. Hawley, ed., Herbert Hoover As Secretary of Commerce: Studies in New Era Thought and Practice (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1981). Most of the differing approaches are nicely summarized in Mark M. Dodge, ed., Herbert Hoover and the Historians (West Branch, Iowa: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association, 1989). 2 Walter Lippmann, Men of Destiny (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1927), 23. 3 Sidney M. Milkis and Daniel J. Tichenor, “Direct Democracy and Social Justice: The Progressive Party Campaign of 1912,” Studies in American Political Development 8/2 (Fall 1994): 340. 4 See discussion of the overall eclipse of the Harding organization by 1922 in Claude M. Fuess, Calvin Coolidge: The Man From Vermont (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1940), 340-347. 5 Otis Graham, An Encore for Reform: The Progressives and the New Deal (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 88. 6 New York Herald Tribune, Mark Sullivan column, Sept. 4, 1927. 7 Ibid., April 22, 1923 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid., Dec. 28, 1925. 10 Ibid. 11 Ibid., Sept. 4, 1927. 12 Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Robert B. Luce, eds., The Faces of Five Decades: Selections from Fifty Years of The New Republic 1914-1964 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), 167. 13 New York Herald Tribune, Mark Sullivan column, Sept. 8, 1927. 14 ibid., Feb 2, 1928. 15 Robert H. Ferrell, The Presidency of Calvin Coolidge (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998), 192. 16 New York Herald Tribune, Mark Sullivan column, Feb. 2, 1928. 17 Ibid. 18 Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), 229. 19 Ferrell, The Presidency of Calvin Coolidge, 198. 20 Allan J. Lichtman, Prejudice and the Old Politics: The Presidential Election of 1928 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979), 19. 21 Ibid. 22 Samuel Lubell, The Future of American Politics (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 43. 23 V. O. Key, Jr., “A Theory of Critical Elections,” Journal of Politics 17/1 (Feb. 1955): 3-18. 24 Paul Kleppner, Continuity and Change in Electoral Politics, 1893-1928 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987), 197. 25 Ibid., 201. 26 Douglas B. Craig, After Wilson: The Struggle for the Democratic Party, 1920-1934 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 22. 27 Frank Gannett to Mark Sullivan, Nov. 15, 1927. Mark Sullivan Papers, Hoover Institution, Stanford, California.

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28

Lichtman, Prejudice and the Old Politics, 243. Craig, After Wilson, 176. 30 Bruce Kalk, unpublished paper, “Pietist and Liturgical Voting Patterns, 1920-1936: The Case of the German Americans,” which offers a discussion of nineteenth-century ethno-religious cleavages in the post-1932 political system. 31 Thomas Ferguson, Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 134. 32 See the Bernstein article “The American Economy of the Interwar Era” in John Earl Haynes, ed., Calvin Coolidge and the Coolidge Era (Washington: Library of Congress, 1998), 203. 33 Joan Hoff Wilson, American Business & Foreign Policy, 1920-1933 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1971), 101. 34 Ibid. 35 Ibid., 82. 36 Ferguson, Golden Rule, 132. 37 Wilson, American Business & Foreign Policy, 94. 38 Benjamin Anderson, Economics and the Public Welfare: A Financial and Economic History of the United States, 1914-1946 (Indianapolis: The Liberty Fund, 1979), 123. 39 Walter Lippmann, The Method of Freedom (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1934), 28. 40 Ibid., 30-32. 41 Richard K. Vedder and Lowell E. Gallaway, Out of Work: Unemployment and Government in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1993), 89. 42 Ibid., 93. 43 William J. Barber, From New Era to New Deal: Herbert Hoover, the Economists, and American Economic Policy, 1921-1933 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 162-163. 44 Anthony P. O’Brien, “A Behavioral Explanation for Normal Wage Rigidity during the Great Depression,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 104/4 (Nov. 1989): 720 45 New York Times, May 22, 1930, p.32 46 Vedder and Gallaway, Out of Work, 92. 47 Ibid., 94. 48 Lippmann, The Method of Freedom, 32-33. 49 William Star Myers and Walter H. Newton, The Hoover Administration: A Documented Narrative (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936), 119. 50 Robert F. Himmelberg, The Origins of the National Recovery Administration: Business, Government, and the Trade Association Issue, 19211933 (New York: Fordham University Press, 1976), 161. 51 William E. Leuchtenburg, The FDR Years: On Roosevelt & His Legacy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 103. 29

6 The Forgotten Republican Campaign of 1932

The Electoral Resurgence That Never Came

Current scholars have attributed a tinge of inevitability to the 1932 election that has limited scholarly attention to it. Analysis has focused on the initial emergence of the New Deal electoral coalition; the abrupt fragmentation of the Republican coalition has received far less interest. The results hardly seemed preordained throughout 1931–1932, however; there had been no Democratic landslide since 1852, an election beyond the collective memory of the political leadership of the period. An uncombative GOP was virtually inconceivable to a generation grown to maturity after 1896. The New Republic’s editorial writers, no persistent friends of Republican regimes, had written of the relationship between economic conditions and electoral victory in 1927: Anyone who remembers the campaign of 1924 will see that a depression during a Republican administration, and just before the election, may be more useful to the ruling party than to its opponents. Through long association with business interests and through valiantly asserted claims, the ability of the Republicans to produce prosperity has become a virtually ineradicable superstition. If depression occurs under them, their enemies are said to be responsible. Last time the depression was attributed to La Follette’s supposedly terrible threat to the courts, the railroads and big business in general. In previous times, responsibility for trouble has been fastened on the danger of Democratic tariff or monetary policies. And, since the uses of superstition are more emotional than logical, the acceptance of such arguments is made easy by the general feeling of uncertainty and fear which prevails when business is on the downgrade. Trade falls off, profits shrink, debts pile up, slack time and unemployment haunt the workers. Fear makes people conservative and closes minds. Those who are afraid run for the cover of what they have been taught to believe safe and sound.1

117

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

Even the 1930 congressional elections had not been completely disheartening. The Republicans had managed to win 54.1 percent of the popular vote cast for major party congressional candidates, a loss of 3.3 percent from 1928. The party retained a majority percentage in all sections save for the South, even as its percentages declined from the 1928 effort. Mark Sullivan, a Hoover confidant and semi-official spokesman for the Administration, attributed Democratic gains to an upsurge of “wet” sentiment within the Democratic Party leadership and the general population. These gains would be of little lasting value, he felt, as they would serve only to bring prohibition enforcement to the forefront in the “Democracy,” which would quickly split the party along regional lines. Depressions had always provided their own automatic corrections along natural lines, he thought, and the price mechanism would produce an eventual restoration of balance. Patient forbearance, therefore, was the key to the restoration of Republican fortunes. Still, there were ominous portents for the GOP in the midwestern United States in 1930. The Republicans lost five congressional seats in Illinois amidst a 7 percent drop in the party’s aggregate share of the vote from 1928. GOP stalwarts from Indiana like Appropriations Committee Chairman William Wood and Majority Whip Albert H. Vestal barely retained their house seats. In Ohio House Speaker Nicholas Longworth barely squeezed through in his Cincinnati bulwark. Publicly Republicans said little about broader responsibility for the setbacks, but privately distrust of Hoover as a party outsider began to emerge. Charles Hilles, an intimate of regular Republican leadership since William Howard Taft, confided to a friend: I agree also that the President’s closest political friends are individualists who attempt to arouse in the President a suspicion as to the motives and genuineness of all his other supporters. As a party we are not fostering team play. Constructive party work—what little there is—is left to the irregular impulses of individual energy. . . . [T]he sentiment of party duty is being impaired instead of being aroused and cultivate. . . . [A]fter 2 years of control they are still bent upon effecting eliminations—bent upon the discrediting and overthrow of men who have been long years in developing loyalty and devotion to the party and the leaders of the party. I mean the elimination of those who have a natural allegiance to the Republican Party and a paramount allegiance to the President as the leader of that party. The leaders of several counties who supported Coolidge for renomination have been vanished to a political silence.2

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Writing of FDR’s overwhelming victory in the 1930 New York gubernatorial race, he concluded, “The six counties that have been reorganized by President Hoover’s friends gave Roosevelt 360,000 of his record majority”3 By early 1932 the disenchantment of GOP western elements was widespread and apparent. The possibility of a revolt by the western wing against a second Hoover candidacy made progressive western Republicans the subject of much political speculation throughout 1931. The idea of a third-party effort was briefly considered by the party’s westerners but then rejected, the results of the Progressive bolt of 1912 and the La Follette effort of 1924 having served to demonstrate the limitations of such actions. Even outside the West, consideration had been given to a direct challenge to Hoover’s renomination, despite the odds against any kind of success. Charles Hilles felt compelled to compose a strongly worded denial of such activity on his part directly to President Hoover in March of 1932: “It is a fabrication in its entirety. I have not discussed the Presidency with Mr. Coolidge, directly or indirectly, since his retirement on March 4th 1929. At no time since June 1928 have I been a party to any suggestion that he be renominated. . . . I have been ‘open and above board’ in 1931 and 1932 as I was in 1908, 1912, 1916, 1920 and 1928. I do not know that the report has reached you but I do know that men in the service of the party have been engaged in its circulation. On the chance that it may come to your notice, as that is clearly its destination, I write to brand it a falsehood.”4 Whatever the case here, it is a measure of the swift decline in the party’s reputation and standing that Coolidge’s name would continue to be mentioned in post-1932 discussions with regard to the 1936 nomination until his death in January of 1933.5 To many observers the condition of the GOP recalled the disarray of Republican efforts in 1912 when Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose effort had split the party. While there would not be a separate insurgent effort led by a former Republican President in 1932, the depth of insurgent disaffection was apparent. Not surprisingly, Franklin Roosevelt would undertake a series of efforts designed to gain the support or benevolent neutrality of progressive Republican senators. The effect of these appeals was to neutralize any serious Republican efforts to reconstruct the alliance of the party’s eastern and western wings that had been the cornerstone of party strategy in the 1920s. At the same time progressive Republicans, by rejecting the party’s national ticket and confining their efforts to state and local contests in 1932, established a pattern of behavior that would have profound repercussions after the Republican congressional contingent was

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

relegated to minority status. William E. Borah foresaw this when he wrote Walter Lippmann, “I found myself out of harmony with both the candidates in this campaign particularly upon economic and monetary questions. It did not seem to me there was any program whatever before the people purporting toward relief, and this vote was a protest vote. However, I sincerely hope that the new president will be equal to the task. I shall have no embarrassment whatever in support of a program simply because it is a Democratic program.”6 Other problems within the party coalition were more difficult to evaluate with precision. Under crisis conditions the movement for antitrust liberalization became a majority position within the business community by 1931. In Robert F. Himmelberg’s words, “Few raised a voice against it.”7 As Hoover continued to stand by his orthodox associationalism of the 1920s, conflict ensued. Economic planning to Hoover still meant individual production and price making based upon the data and information trade associations could provide.8 This voluntary associationalism remained at least in Hoover’s mind far removed from the cartelistic associationalism now being suggested by business organizations. Anti-trust revisionists who requested Hoover’s aid were met with suspicion and cool politeness. Hoover maintained in his memoirs that H. I. Harriman, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told Hoover during the course of the 1932 campaign that business support would not be forthcoming if Hoover failed to endorse the proposals for cartelization of the national economy that had been proposed by the Chamber. In September of 1932 the President responded to these efforts with an oratorical blast against the Swope plan, which would “bring into existence such a union of forces in the industrial world as has never been dreamed of before. It would lead to the creation of a series of monopolies, . . . raise obsolete plants . . . to the level of the most efficient, and the public would be called on to bear the burden.”9 The President went on to remark, “It appears to my amateur legal mind that aside from wiping out the Sherman and Clayton Acts, this plan is thoroughly unconstitutional.”10 The result of this tension between the Administration and business constituencies was the breakdown of the patterns of cooperation and support that had been characteristic of the Hoover Administration and business groupings in 1929 and 1930.11 Republican campaign efforts were hindered by the large drop in campaign funds that the party experienced between 1928 and 1932. Although one would intuitively expect a drop in campaign contributions in a depression year, the financial condition of the party historically associated with American business and a high tariff is striking. Louise

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Overacker, writing in October of 1933, noted that the $2.54 million raised by the Republicans in 1932 was less than 40 percent of the $6.6 million contributed to the party’s campaign efforts in 1928.12 Although the GOP retained an absolute edge (overall contributions of $2.649 million compared to the Democrats’ $2.378 million), donations to the Democrats exceeded those of every other campaign for which records existed, even in the midst of severe economic distress. In addition, the Democratic Party attracted substantial support from large financial interests that in 1928 had retained their historic association with the Republican Party.13 Large contributions were the rule in 1932 and, as shown below, substantial amounts of them went to the Democrats. For example, in the category “bankers and brokers,”14 virtually equal contributions to the two parties were made, whereas those in such categories as “railways, airways and public utilities”15 and “professional people” 16 gave the Democratic Party more financial support than the GOP. Although at first glance it appears that manufacturing interests continued to provide the GOP with disproportionate support, less than half the manufacturing interests on the 1928 Republican list gave anything at all to the party in 1932.17 Republican contributors declined from over 143,100 in 1928 to 39,950 in 1932. This decline was particularly significant owing to the unbroken success Republicans had enjoyed in increasing their number of contributors from 1912 to 1928.18 The data thus depict not only relatively even financial support for the parties but also a decision on the part of many long-time Republican supporters to “sit out” the 1932 election. Table 6.1 points toward the nature of Republican defections that year. The World Turned “Upside Down”: The 1932 Presidential Campaign

It is difficult for contemporary analysts to understand the shock produced by the 1932 election. Reactions to “hard times” had long been chronicled by observers, but a GOP rout in a two-party race still seemed inconceivable. In the almost forty years since 1892 the Democrats had won only two elections. The 1912 GOP split had produced one of these victories while the 1916 razor-thin Democratic victory was viewed as the result of unusual isolationist and progressive sentiment in the American heartland and West. Both elections were regarded as complete aberrations from the norm. Mark Sullivan could write as late as October 11, 1932: “The fact known to every politician and observer is that it is

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

Table 6.1: Distribution by Econom ic Interests of Contributors of $1,000 or More to National Com m ittees, 1932 Democrats Economic Interests

Amount

Republi cans

Percent Amount

Percent

Bankers and brokers

$

301,100

24.2 $

335,605

20.5

Manufacturers

$

130,950

10.5 $

431,647

26.3

Mining and Oil

$

54,000

4.4 $

158,500

9.7

Railroads, airw ays, and public utilities $

76,500

6.1 $

67,500

4.1

Professional people

$

152,043

12.2 $

121,800

7.4

Publishers, advertising

$

88,500

7.1 $

22,000

1.4

Retail stores

$

30,200

2.4 $

36,000

2.2

Unclassified

$

125,300

10.2 $

142,840

8.7

$

284,403

22.9 $

323,050

19.7

$ 1,638,942

100.0

Unidentified Total

$ 1,242,996

100.0

Source: Louise Overacker, “Campaign Funds in a Depression Year,” American Political Science Review 27 (1933): 773.

normal for the Republicans to carry the country and carry it overwhelmingly.”19 If the GOP faced defeat, it would only be after a long, hard fight. Had not Republican forces rallied in the last eight weeks of the McKinley–Bryan contest in 1896? The combative Sullivan pointed out that the GOP could win by carrying only thirteen states; and all of the efforts of its organizational muscle were at work in these critical states, he wrote. Nationwide polls, he then believed, exaggerated Democratic strength because of the overwhelming party majorities in the South. The Republican campaign, carefully focused on the larger, critical states, could yet carry the field. The women’s vote, then strongly Republican, was also being underreported, Sullivan argued. The use of telephone directories to establish samples was badly flawed, suggesting massive sampling error.20 Private Republican correspondence painted a different picture. After the party’s defeat in the Maine elections in September, Charles Hilles wrote privately, “the truth is that the result in Maine was a great shock, and as it was followed by devastating Literary Digest Polls, it put the whole organization in a blue funk. People were just as depressed as they were in the early stages of the Great War.”21 When asked to hazard a guess on the election outcome, Hilles wrote, “the result will depend, in my humble judgment, on economic conditions. If by November there is not an appreciable diminution in

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unemployment I somewhat fear that we may have large defections in certain states. People who are in enforced idleness; innocent victims of the depression, desperate from fears of eviction with the absence of the necessities of life do not listen to logic. They may conclude that the conditions could not be worse, and that they will try to have a change.”22 The Final Collapse of Republican Campaign Strategy

It was rapidly becoming apparent that the persistence of the Depression was producing an across-the-board surge to the Democratic candidate. The disaffection among business groupings was part of a broader movement of higher income groupings away from the GOP as concern over the Depression mounted. That the 1932 vote represented a protest that cut across economic lines has been demonstrated by examination of the Literary Digest poll of 1932. The magazine conducted presidential polls in 1924, 1928, 1932, and 1936, and of course its 1936 poll now holds an important place in American political lore. By utilizing response cards mailed to its subscriber base, the magazine was sampling a group of attentive middle-class voters rather than a true cross-section of the nation’s electorate. Paradoxically, however, its clear sampling bias can now serve as an index of the attitudes toward the Hoover Administration held by a constituency then disproportionately Republican. In contrast to the 1936 poll, the Digest’s 1932 sample provided an accurate reflection of political sentiment in the nation at large. The 1932 survey predicted that Roosevelt would receive 59.8 percent of the popular vote, higher than his actual total of 57.42 percent.The magazine’s projections were also accurate on a state level; their forecast of an Electoral College victory for Roosevelt of 474 to 57 was close to the actual result of 472 to 59. In all, the Digest inaccurately predicted results in only two states, Delaware and Pennsylvania, both of which the magazine had awarded to Roosevelt. The accuracy of the Digest’s poll that year points toward a protest vote that did not break down primarily on a class basis. The 1932 Democratic triumph was relatively consistent throughout the population, thereby undercutting elements of the Republican electoral coalition in a fashion that would become important by 1933–1934. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., serving as Governor of the Philippines, wrote Walter Lippmann from afar, “Long ago I had made up my mind that the country was going to vote whoever was in out. People who have suffered sorely almost invariably turn against those in power when the suffering took place; it is not a reasoned action, it has caused great disasters in the past, but it is human nature, and therefore must be made

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

a part of all political calculations in a democracy.”23 Referring to Hoover, he added: “In him we had a man of extraordinary abilities, intelligence and earnest patriotism. He was, however, an amateur in government and as a result did not know how to proceed in order to attain his ends. We have seen what happened.”24 What happened is dramatically illustrated through Maps 6.1 and 6.2. Republican campaign efforts had been further hindered by the conservative nature of many Democratic campaign appeals. While it is apparent in retrospect that major elements of the New Deal program were foreshadowed during the campaign, such concerns as labor relations, housing programs, deficit spending, and increased income taxes were only lightly touched on that year. Roosevelt also called for a 25 percent reduction in governmental spending, a budget balanced annually, and a consolidation of federal bureaus. Additionally, he called for an end to deficit spending and the maintenance of a sound currency. Marriner Eccles did not misspeak when he later observed, “given later developments, the campaign speeches often read like a giant misprint, in which Roosevelt and Hoover spoke each other’s lines.”25 The Final Breakdown of Republican Campaign Strategy

The ongoing unraveling of the Republican coalition enabled Democratic strategists to seriously consider the capture of a number of eastern states that until 1932 had been considered strongly Republican. Republican strategists were forced to focus their diminishing campaign resources in efforts to retain their northeastern base and cede whole elements of the Midwest and West to the Democratic campaign. The clearly partisan statements originating from Republican headquarters in the Waldorf Astoria began to take on a hollow ring; as late as October 29 the national committee would claim only 11 sure states for Hoover representing a total of 152 electoral votes, 115 short of the total of the 266 then required for election. It was apparent that the electoral coalition of the 1920s had been severed from its western base and party strategists, lacking any prospects in the South, had no overall national base. Facing the most serious defeat inflicted on the party since 1912, the Republican organization became resigned and frustrated as the election drew near. By early November the composite view of a New York Times survey of informed political observers and the public opinion polls then in operation was that Franklin Roosevelt would score a decisive victory. The Times forecast a massive Democratic victory with Roosevelt amassing between 400 and 450 electoral votes. It also predicted Democratic control of the Senate as well as additional Democratic gains

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Note: WI went for the Progressive Party condidiate, Robert M. La Follette in 1924.

Figure 6.1 The Republican Electoral Coalition, 1920–1928: Number of Times a State Went Republican

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Figure 6.2 The 1932 Election: The Breakdown of the Republican’s Eastern-Midwestern Alliance

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in the House of Representatives. These preelection predictions and polls were to prove strikingly accurate. On November 8 Roosevelt received 22,821,857 popular votes compared to Hoover’s 15,761,841, while slightly over a million votes were divided among several minor party candidates.26 As is usually the case, the outcome was even more one-sided in the Electoral College, with the Democrats carrying 42 states with 472 electoral votes, and the Republicans carrying 6 states with a total of 59 electoral votes. Although Hoover fared slightly better than William Howard Taft had in this threeway race in 1912, the only states outside of New England that Hoover carried were Pennsylvania and Delaware. The Republican dreams of a competitive two-party system in the South were abruptly shattered when the region again produced its customary lopsided Democratic majorities. Nowhere were the results more disappointing than in the West, where insurgent Republicans had demonstrated so little interest in Hoover’s efforts. While the West clearly did not determine the electoral outcome, the capture of all its electoral votes by Roosevelt completely broke down the northeastern-western alliance that had enabled Republicans to dominate presidential elections since 1896. Eugene Edgar Robinson wrote, “The west, however, went Democratic at the level of the country vote as it had never been done before. Of six hundred sixty-four counties in the west in 1932, Roosevelt had carried all but eighteen. Hoover did not carry a single county in Texas, Arizona, Nevada or Washington. He carried only one county each in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and his own state of California.”27 Thus, while it is apparent that economic conditions in 1932 would have resulted in the repudiation of the Republican Party under any circumstances, the election also offered ample evidence of the legacy of factional divisions that had been apparent in Republican ranks since 1912. Without benefit of a formal third-party effort, Republican western insurgents had helped to produce results similar to those achieved in 1912, and the split again contributed to the decisive election of the Democratic candidate. The renewed divisions within the GOP formed an important element of contemporary perceptions of the 1932 results. Walter Lippmann wrote Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.,“The last ten days of Hoover’s campaign were pretty desperate and lost him thousands of votes among conservative Republicans who would not stand for his tariff speeches and his appeals to fear. At the end about thirty percent, as I figure it, of the Republican Party, swung over to Franklin, causing a split almost as great as that in 1912.”28 Far more than the presidential coalition had been shattered. The turnover in Congress was considerably more dramatic and conclusive

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than what had been predicted only days before. The Republicans lost 103 seats in the House of Representatives, where the balance now stood at 319 Democrats to 117 Republicans. Most of these seats were lost in the Midwest, in such states as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio. The Republicans suffered further losses in California and Washington. While only one-third of the Senate had faced the electorate, Republican control was nevertheless decisively repudiated as the party lost 12 seats, 10 of them in midwestern and western states. The 36 remaining Republican senators now confronted 59 Democrats (with one independent). Even amidst severe economic depression, the election results were shocking to individual Republicans who had grown accustomed to persistent electoral success. 1933: Despair

By 1933 the search for new organizational forms to combat the depression would rapidly push the GOP aside. Suddenly the “party of the national agenda” found itself largely out of step with many reconstructive efforts. As the NRA and other relief efforts unfolded, Republican councils became increasingly tentative and divided as key constituencies initially endorsed the Roosevelt Administration’s recovery programs. The result was paralysis in the Republican organization. There had been, of course, little consensus about forms of economic management prior to 1933. The 1912 Taft/TR schism had reflected a series of struggles over organizational forms as had the rise of associational constituencies in the 1920s. But the GOP was accustomed to containing these struggles within its own ranks, and after 1932 the party was unable to do so. No one was more aware of their condition than the party stalwarts. Mark Sullivan wrote Herbert Hoover, now in California: The country’s present mood is one of recent relief from terror. In that mood they are unwilling to hear—they resist hearing—any criticism of the administration which, as they see it, brought about the change. . . . [T]hey regard the Roosevelt administration, without understanding it at all, as some kind of magic good luck token. . . . [T]his feeling is very general. It must not be underestimated. I was up in Pennsylvania last week, in a congressional district which has literally never sent other than a Republican to Congress. In that district Republican leaders told me that any man on any ticket in primaries or in elections, if he should run on an announced program of opposing Roosevelt’s

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programs, or even of not facilitating Roosevelt’s programs, would be snowed under by 20 to 1.29

Hence the popular base of Republican support after 1933 was even narrower than that of the coalition that had supported Hoover’s desperate efforts in 1932. The 1933 “crisis politics” of the Roosevelt Administration initially created a kind of all-class coalition behind the Administration’s efforts. These early endeavors recalled the precedent of the World War experience and their popular support was apparent to party leaders; so too was the fact that the recovery efforts went beyond previous Republican associational efforts.30 These distinctions were becoming increasingly difficult to draw, however, under the impact of economic crisis. The appeal of forms of corporatist planning was real and apparent throughout 1933. The persistence of GOP financial problems only hinted at the degree of the Republican electoral dilemma. Within a three-year period the party’s basic interest-group structure had been badly damaged. By early 1934 the pattern of early New Deal legislation was becoming clearly discernable, and one distinguishing feature was its effort to induce economic recovery through the use of the largest institutional structures capable of having an immediate effect.31 The New Deal’s focus on large industry and agriculture resulted from a pragmatic desire to stimulate production and employment in a short period of time. These efforts produced a political truce that recalled the perceived unity and cohesion of wartime planning efforts. The politics of the period sought the abatement of partisan conflict in quest of a broad national unity. In Leuchtenburg’s summarizing phrase, “Roosevelt presented himself not as the paladin of liberalism but as father to all the people, not as the representative of a single class but as the conductor of a concert of interests.”32 The President declined to take part in traditional Democratic Jefferson-Day dinners in March of 1934, suggesting instead that nonpartisan dinners be held with both Republicans and Democrats at the dais. Roosevelt wrote Edward House in this spirit, “Our strongest plea to the country in this particular year of grace is that the recovery and reconstruction program is being accomplished by men and women of all parties—that I have repeatedly appealed to Republicans as well as Democrats to do their part”33 Roosevelt’s natural inclination to incorporate a wide spectrum of views within the government and to seek the inclusion of divergent interest groups in the early all-class coalition of the New Deal pointed toward the continued suspension of “politics as usual.”

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

By early 1934 New Deal recovery policies had allowed for major policy inputs from the cooperative farm bureaus and trade associations developed under Republican auspices in the 1920s. These constituencies had been quick to seize the opportunities provided by the early New Deal’s pragmatic approach to recovery.34 Millions of farmers participated in Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) crop referenda, and the AAA moved rapidly to adopt production control agreements enforced by the farm groups themselves. During the first six months of the NRA experiment, American industry developed codes of competition that encompassed most of American industry and trade. Within two years the NRA had established over 540 codes that directly affected some 38 million workers. While the establishment of the NRA was the result of a variety of reform impulses, the business community was in an excellent position to seize the initiative in the code-drafting process. It is important to recognize that the mechanisms for establishing federal control over the national industrial system simply did not exist in 1934. Even if such mechanisms had existed and been politically acceptable, in the long run it is doubtful whether they could have brought to bear the focused attention and specialized expertise industrial interests did to the code-drafting process. The development of industrial codes offered business the strong incentive of exemption from the antitrust laws, government enforcement of price-control measures, and relief from competitive practices seen as injurious to reasonable profit levels. Trade association concern with overproduction and price stabilization had finally found expression. To many in industry the results, at least in the first year, seemed to point toward industrial self-government under the auspices of an Administration that enjoyed broad popular support. The effect of the Administration’s incorporation of potential political opposition was felt throughout Republican ranks as 1934 dawned. The substantial business support accorded to the NRA codedrafting process along with the widespread approval organized farmers gave to placing legal limitations on agricultural production further constricted the popular base of GOP political support already devastated by the events of 1929–1932. Fortune Magazine suggested that the conservative nature of most New Deal reforms might now make the Democrats the party of American industry, leaving the GOP with little more than discordant elements outside of the northeastern United States!35 Measures such as the Glass–Steagall Act or the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) were widely seen as introducing greater elements of stability into the economic system at little cost to most business constituencies.

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Private GOP communications took on a kind of quiet despair. Ogden Mills confided to a friend: “Do not think that I underestimate the seriousness of the situation from a party standpoint, or that I fail to recognize how completely disorganized we are. I see little chance, however, of building up a popular movement on the basis of the immediate issues. I think we must make up our minds that we are in for a long fight.”36 Writing to Herbert Hoover during the first Roosevelt Congress, Senator Simeon Fess acknowledged, “It was also realized that the greatest obstacle lies within our own ranks . . . . The situation from this angle is not very promising.”37 William Allen White wrote to Mark Sullivan, political columnist for the New York Herald Tribune,“With one or two exceptions, Republican opposition on the Hill seems confused and hesitant. Most of our fellows seem to feel they will be retired if they do not go along with the Roosevelt program so that I fear the next Congress may be even more under the executive thumb than the present one . . . . [T]his makes the approaching congressional campaign most important and we seem to be going into it with divided leadership, distracted policies and temporizing expedience . . . . Do you think the Republican party will go the way of the Whigs?”38 This inability to offer even a semblance of effective minority opposition reflected not only the dramatic political and psychological effects of the One Hundred Days period, but also the disaffection of substantial elements of the Republican’s middle- and upper-middle class constituencies. Although the initial collapse of the Republican electoral coalition reflected a protest vote that cut across all income groupings in the population, the continuation of this in 1933–1934 virtually eclipsed the Republicans as an electoral force. While there is no elaborate polling data available for this early New Deal period, the clear sampling bias of the Literary Digest polls stands as one index of attitudes toward the early New Deal on the part of attentive middle-class voters. The Digest’s sample again consisted of a mailed ballot drawn from telephone books and automobile registration lists. Thus it continued to sample the attentive middle class, not the national electorate as a whole. Still, the Digest’s 1934 poll found 61.1 percent of its sample in favor of the “acts and policies of Roosevelt’s first year.”39 The Digest’s figures noted a net approval gain of 5.3 percent in the President’s overall popularity since 1932, and when such gains were analyzed by geographic area, they were found to be centered in such previously Republican strongholds as Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New York.40 A second Digest poll that analyzed sentiment toward the New Deal broken down on the basis of occupation

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

utilized the somewhat hazy category of “businessmen,” but the results were nonetheless noteworthy: “businessmen” recorded a 56.2 percent approval rating of New Deal recovery policies.41

The Condition of the Republican Electoral Coalition in 1934

It was then widely recognized that the popular base of Republican support in 1934 was even narrower than the one that had supported Hoover’s desperate efforts in 1932. The initial appeal of the all-class coalition of the early New Deal had drawn support from many traditional Republican constituencies. This was hardly lost on Republican leadership. Senator Daniel Hastings, serving on the Republican senatorial campaign committee, wrote to Herbert Hoover, “I am so disgusted. I am tempted to resign the Senate and stop worrying about my inability to do any good. Do you know it is impossible for me to raise money to help Republican Senators who have a good chance to be reelected? I do not understand what these people of means can be thinking.”42 House Minority Leader Snell wrote to the former president: “It has been one of the hardest years to raise funds that I have ever known. We are severely handicapped for that reason . . . . The businessmen talk about the protection they need, etc. They just do not want to put up their own money to get it.”43 Republican National Chairman Henry Fletcher wrote: “I am going along under a great handicap from lack of funds and a discouraging lack of interest or courage on the part of those who are in a position to help and who are vitally interested in the preservation of our economic system.44 This was more than just ritualistic complaining. The Fletcher papers show clearly that the abrupt decline in party funding in 1932—first identified by Overacker—grew far more acute during the 1933–1934 period. The Republican Statement of Net Income for 1933–1934 indicates that the party ran a deficit of $191,000 in 1933 and received only $7,721 in contributions during the final quarter of that year.45 Even more important, the party was unable to finance adequately its efforts during the congressional elections of 1934, ending the campaign with a total of $352 in liquid assets.46 Long accustomed to well-financed campaign efforts, the Republican Party suddenly found itself without the means to open a campaign office in the western states, while its midwestern headquarters in Chicago as mentioned earlier initially could not afford desks.47 Republican National Chairman Everett Saunders confided in a private letter to Charles Hilles, “We have been unable to get the

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necessary money to take care of the running expenses and I have been advancing, as you know, the money to meet the salaries and incidental expenses which run around $3,500.00 per month”48 The Administration’s efforts to develop an all-class governing coalition had wreaked havoc on the GOP in 1933–1934. Despite the direction of events, however, the Republican minority still entertained hope of substantial congressional gains in 1934. At the time, every off-year election in the twentieth century had seen the party in control of the executive branch lose congressional seats and virtually all contemporary political analysts—including such unsympathetic observers as the editors of The Nation—predicted Republican gains. In the wake of the Democratic tide of 1930–1932, it seemed inconceivable that some normal restoration of earlier patterns would not take place. On election eve the New York Times reported that Democratic strategists felt that their own losses would be under forty congressional seats. Consequently, the off-year results that were to follow were in many ways an even deeper shock than the 1932 results. The nature of the political shifts of 1933–1934 remain a great challenge to reconstruct. These were the final few years before the advent of modern public opinion polling. Once again, the unrepresentitivness of the Literary Digest’s nonpresidential year polls do provide a glimpse into the behavior of attentive middle-class constituencies during this period. The magazine also conducted separate polls of college undergraduates (at elite institutions) and professional groups in 1933 and 1934. The results had to be disheartening to Republican strategists of the period. In 1932 President Hoover had won the support of Harvard undergraduates by almost a three-to-one margin. At Yale the results had been closer to four-to-one. By 1934, however, 1,083 Harvard undergraduates announced support for Roosevelt’s policies with only 639 registering disagreement. At Yale the figures were 973 to 640. The news was also bad for Republicans elsewhere.49 These changes were neatly illustrated by the atypical Digest sample in Polls 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3 Given the class background of undergraduate student bodies in 1934, the Digest was not incorrect in suggesting these figures constituted a “sweeping reversal of undergraduate sentiment in a year and a half”50 that helps illustrate the desperate Republican condition that year. A separate poll of clergy, businessmen, and physicians also pointed toward strong support of the Administration within white-collar professional groupings.

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

Poll 6.1: Literary Digest - College Newspaper Poll of American Undergraduates Yes No Total Brown 319 219 538 Columbia College 207 89 296 Cornell 1,287 842 2,129 Dartmouth 738 298 1,036 Harvard 2,103 1,130 3,233 New York Univ. 310 133 443 Univ. of Illinois 358 265 623 Univ. of Michigan 420 205 625 Univ. of Minnesota 449 260 709 Univ. of Virginia 343 181 524 Univ. of Wisconsin 855 332 1,187 Vassar 24 11 35 Wellesley 23 15 38 Yale 1,366 872 2,238 Totals 8,802 4,852 13,654 Source: Louise Overacker, “Campaign Funds in a Depression Year,” American Political Science Review 27 (1933): 773.

Thus, by early 1934, many conservative elements of the country seemed to support the concept of a governmental-business recovery apparatus in which business elites would continue to play critical roles. Widespread popular concern about market failure had not prevented the development of strong industrial influence within the NRA, and early Administration recovery efforts seemed to be taking a “responsible” course. Walter Lippmann reflected much centrist sentiment when he wrote, I may perhaps be permitted to say that I do not regard the Roosevelt program as directed to the establishment of a planned economy. The program does call for the planning of many activities and for the conscious management of many things, but so did Mr. Hoover’s program when he advocated the planning of public works, when at the onset of the depression he pledged industries to wage, price, and capital investment policies, when he attempted to stabilize farm prices, when, through the Federal Reserve System, he attempted to reinflate the price level through credit expansion. Mr. Roosevelt has carried

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Poll 6.3: Special Poll of Lawyers, Clergy, and Educators (Counted separately from the main poll) State Alabama Arizona Arkansas California Colorado Connecticut Delaware Dist of Columbia Florida Georgia Idaho Illinois Indiana Iowa Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine Maryland Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Missouri Montana Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico New York North Carolina North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee Texas Utah Vermont Virginia Washington West Virginia Wisconsin Wyoming State Unknown Totals

Lawyers Yes No 271 64 68 37 282 85 628 479 145 228 165 193 28 17 87 119 394 111 470 100 48 84 1,022 1,709 474 687 252 444 188 357 374 322 206 62 68 135 198 219 595 674 377 422 348 292 271 57 720 477 84 92 247 253 26 9 34 63 620 494 37 30 2,227 1,877 533 192 92 109 863 1,063 471 236 56 86 802 916 74 60 215 38 77 163 388 196 927 297 71 66 31 57 388 183 90 133 275 293 346 305 34 61 182 139 16,869 14,785

Clergy (Second Report) Yes No 260 135 37 18 86 76 537 371 116 121 203 110 22 19 79 79 174 144 169 123 30 34 896 690 375 466 358 347 265 338 221 300 128 49 76 58 234 148 458 253 380 303 347 257 97 59 464 394 66 35 162 230 8 2 64 35 378 292 32 28 1,193 865 265 208 74 77 654 673 203 206 99 85 1,015 914 83 40 157 54 75 78 175 205 478 291 8 5 46 27 208 235 124 88 140 180 446 210 24 12 129 122 12,318 10,089

Source: Literary Digest, June 30, 1934 poll of lawyers, clergy and educators

135

Educators Yes No 142 25 13 … 122 37 571 299 99 58 140 106 29 11 50 33 136 52 175 22 39 15 338 216 294 169 138 64 124 85 95 28 43 12 55 34 83 69 319 255 424 201 125 48 120 14 345 133 51 32 190 121 8 3 55 40 197 95 57 16 729 468 232 41 47 17 319 164 51 11 31 16 781 508 26 14 81 16 41 22 133 36 358 94 78 39 52 41 153 38 83 38 69 40 283 100 26 8 76 37 8,226 4,041

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

these principles further than Mr. Hoover did, but that did not set up a ‘planned economy’ in any true meaning of the word.”51

Thus the pragmatic nature of early New Deal recovery efforts had resulted in the enactment of policies that often favored organized, established interest groups, such as business constituencies. In the space of a year, a diverse coalition of groups had been drawn into an intricate web of recovery programs that enjoyed broad national support. In May of 1934 Hilles wrote of the party’s financial condition: The situation is growing steadily worse. Not withstanding the advanced knowledge of the limited fund that could be raised in 1932, and not withstanding repeated promises to live within the income, we had a deficit of about $215,000.00. The Chairman told us that this had been underwritten and would be paid before the 4th of March 1933. He seems to have had many disappointments in this respect. Mr. Mellon contributed $25,000.00 and the deficit is now down to about $190,000.00. . . . [O]thers seem not to have understood that they agreed to participate in the burial expenses. The headquarters activities are at the lowest ebb, there has been a clash between the national committee and the other two national committees which are the senatorial and congressional. This fact was made public by the Associated Press, and this division in the high command is an alibi to those persons who are not keen to make contributions so that all these committees are being starved.”52

From the standpoint of the Republican Party, moreover, such developments were viewed with alarm; the direction of events pointed toward the continued diminution of the party’s influence, and perhaps even to the establishment of another “era of good feelings.” Worst of all, many seemed simply not to care.

Notes 1

“Would Depression Help the Democrats?” The New Republic, Sept. 7, 1927, 60. 2 Charles Hilles to Leroy T. Vernon, Nov. 17, 1930. Hilles Papers, Yale University Manuscript Collection. 3 Ibid. 4 Charles Hilles to Herbert Hoover, March 26, 1932. Ibid. 5 New York Herald Tribune, Mark Sullivan’s column, Nov. 13, 1932. 6 William E. Borah to Walter Lippmann, Nov. 9, 1932. Walter Lippmann Papers, Yale University Library.

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7 Robert F. Himmelberg, The Origins of the National Recovery Administration: Business, Government, and the Trade Association Issue, 19211933 (New York: Fordham University Press, 1976), 145. 8 Ibid., 155. 9 Ibid., 160. 10 Ibid. 11 Ibid., 168. 12 Louise Overacker, “Campaign Funds in a Depression Year,” American Political Science Review 27 (1933): 773. 13 Louise Overacker, a leading political scientist of the era, was widely regarded as the foremost academic expert on campaign finance in the 1920s– 1940s period. Her work has been criticized by later researchers such as Tom Ferguson, but it remains the primary database available for the period. Weber and Domhoff concluded, after drawing a random sample of her work, “We have great confidence in the quality of her information,” academic quarrels aside. Michael J. Weber and G. William Domhoff, “Myth and Reality in Business Support for Democrats and Republicans in the 1936 Presidential Election,” American Political Science Review 4 (Dec. 1996): 825. See also Thomas Ferguson, Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 215. 14 Overacker,“Campaign Funds”: 773 15 Ibid. 16 Ibid. 17 Ibid. 18 Ibid. 19 New York Herald Tribune, Mark Sullivan’s column, Oct. 11, 1932. 20 Ibid., Oct. 20, 1932. 21 Charles Hilles to Samuel A. Perkins, July 5, 1932. Yale University Manuscript Collection. 22 Charles Hilles to Henry E. Gregory July 14, 1932, Ibid. 23 Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., to Walter Lippmann, Dec. 23, 1932. Walter Lippmann Papers. 24 Ibid. 25 Marriner Eccles, Beckoning Frontiers (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1951), 95. 26 Edgar Eugene Robinson, They Voted for Roosevelt: The Presidential Vote, 1932–1944 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1947), 41. 27 Edgar Eugene Robinson and Vaughn Davis Bornet, Herbert Hoover, President of the United States (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1975), 273. 28 Walter Lippmann to Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., Nov. 22, 1932. Walter Lippmann Papers. 29 Mark Sullivan to Herbert Hoover, July 10, 1933. Mark Sullivan Papers, Hoover Institution, Stanford, California. 30 Herbert Hoover to Mark Sullivan, July 5, 1933. Mark Sullivan Papers. 31 Robert S. McElvaine, ed., Encyclopedia of the Great Depression (New York: The Macmillan Co., 2004), 816. 32 William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932–1940 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1963), 84.

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

33 Franklin D. Roosevelt to Edward M. House, March 10, 1934. Personal Correspondence, Roosevelt Presidential Papers, Hyde Park, New York. 34 McElvaine, ed., Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, 816. 35 “The Democratic Party,” Fortune 11/4 (April 1935): 142. 36 Ogden Mills to Jerome Barnum, Jan. 24, 1934. Mills MSS, Manuscript Collection, Library of Congress. 37 Simeon Fess to Herbert Hoover, Nov. 28, 1933. Postpresidential Individual Files, Hoover Presidential Library. 38 William Allen White to Mark Sullivan, Feb. 28, 1934. White MSS, Manuscript Collection, Library of Congress. 39 Literary Digest, July 7, 1934, 4. 40 Ibid. 41 Ibid., p.35 42 Daniel Hastings to Herbert Hoover, Oct. 18, 1934. Postpresidential Individual Files, Hoover Presidential Library. 43 Bertrand Snell to Herbert Hoover, Oct. 17, 1934. Postpresidential Individual Files, Hoover Presidential Library. 44 Henry Flecher to Herbert Hoover, Aug. 31, 1934. Postpresidential Individual Files, Hoover Presidential Library. 45 Republican National Committee, “Statement of Net Income and Surplus, by Periods and Combined, for the Periods October 19, 1933 to June 16, 1936,” Henry Fletcher MSS, Manuscript Collection, Library of Congress. 46 Ibid. 47 New York Herald Tribune, Oct. 22, 1934, 1. 48 Everett Saunders to Charles Hilles. May 10, 1934. Hilles Papers. 49 Literary Digest, June 23, 1934. [page?] 50 Ibid. 51 Walter Lippmann, “Mr. Mills at Topeka,” Today and Tomorrow, New York Times, Feb. 1, 1934. 52 Charles Hilles to Everett Sanders, May 10, 1934. Hilles Papers.

7 The 1934 Congressional Campaign: The Counterrevolution That Was Not

Republican Party leaders recognized the importance of the 1934 congressional elections. It was imperative in their view to at least slow the momentum of the newly reconstituted Democratic Party. Unable to compel independently elected officials to undertake a particular course of action, however, the national committee made efforts to undertake a direct assault on the New Deal but succeeded only in producing additional party schisms. Many party regulars viewed such a course as politically inexpedient, for most insurgent Republicans were in open sympathy with many aspects of the Roosevelt program. The national organization faded into the background as the 1934 congressional campaign began with Republican appeals largely shaped by individual candidates in consultation with state and local leaders. Some old guard candidates, recognizing that in all probability 1934 was their political last stand, waged spirited battles in defense of the old order. Senators David Reed of Pennsylvania and Simeon Fess of Ohio embodied this intransient attitude, with Reed denouncing the recovery efforts in unequivocal terms. Fess confided to Hoover, “I speak the simple judgment of my heart when I say I would rather be defeated in antagonizing this program of economic absurdities than to have been elected either by advocating them or sneaking in as non-committal.”1 In New Jersey conservative Republican Hamilton Keene also waged an openly anti-New Deal campaign. However, with the state’s Republican organization unable to raise even minimal campaign funds, he entered the race with few illusions. West Virginia conservative Henry Hatfield openly acknowledged that the odds of his returning to the Senate were long. Missouri’s old guard statesman Roscoe Patterson waged a combative fight against New Deal policies, but the Missouri Republican organization all but conceded the senatorial contest to his opponent, Harry S. Truman. Despite these examples, however, most party regulars remained reluctant to directly challenge Roosevelt’s

139

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

political popularity during the 1934 congressional campaign. Prior to his election defeat that year, Senator Felix Hebert of Rhode Island wrote Hoover: “politically, we here in this part of the country feel it is not wise to attack the Chief Executive of the nation. . . . In fact, some of our own people in our own organization have much respect for him and for what he is endeavoring to do and they want to give him some further time to work out his policies.”2 General bitterness toward Hoover was sometimes poorly concealed in party ranks. One Republican leader wrote Charles Hilles, “Hoover’s chief fault was his utter lack of political and organizational sense caused by his spending almost all of his adult life abroad.”3 These attitudes were particularly evident in the ranks of party professionals active in the 1912–1920 period. Many Republicans remained silent about the New Deal or announced that they supported the Administration when it advocated “sound” policies. As a result, unity broke down even among regular party elements. The New York Times noted a lack of enthusiasm at the New York Republican State Convention for a keynote address strongly critical of Administration policies.4 In Maryland the Republican State Convention endorsed a platform that asserted that the party’s candidates would cooperate even more closely with recovery policies than did its conservative Jeffersonian Governor Albert Ritchie. In Massachusetts the party organization was unable to find a well-known state figure to undertake a race against incumbent Senator David Walsh and was forced to settle on a political unknown, Robert M. Washburn. As seriously, it was then evident that the party was almost incapable of mounting a truly national effort. In 1934 the disaffection of western party leaders remained almost complete. Senate Minority leader Charles McNary had been critical of the choice of Henry Fletcher as national chairman, and contact between the two served only to make matters worse. It was clear from the onset Fletcher had little understanding of, or sympathy for, the party’s insurgent wing. A single, apparently fruitless meeting occurred between Senator Borah and Fletcher in June of 1934; the Senator then went home to conduct his own campaign without national committee assistance. McNary himself took almost no part in the national campaign at all. He wrote to Senator James Couzens of Michigan, “I have made no speeches and shall remain dormant for the rest of the campaign.”5 In the West any attempt at coordination between progressive and regular party members broke down completely. Early in 1934 Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan lashed out at New Deal policies in a fashion characteristic of his old guard colleagues. Finding himself, however, in a tight race against a candidate who stressed his support of the Administration, Vandenberg backtracked,

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rapidly telling his constituents that certain aspects of the recovery program were beneficial and fine.6 In Wisconsin Republican efforts disintegrated completely. Senator Robert La Follette, Jr., and his brother Philip made the decision early in 1934 to leave the GOP completely and form the Progressive Party of Wisconsin. The Republican candidate for the Senate, John Chapple, campaigned on a platform more radical than that of Senator La Follette. Embittered party regulars referred to Chapple as the “Upton Sinclair of Wisconsin”7 amidst complete discord in the Wisconsin Party organization. Midwestern Republicans wrestled with the problem of developing a position on the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA). Most midwestern candidates rejected the idea of direct criticism of the program, while others openly endorsed it. When national chairman Fletcher denounced the AAA in an Illinois speech, several downstate Republicans were quick to protest. Fletcher became so incensed that he threatened to refuse to speak before the Illinois Republican state convention. Frank Knox, Landon’s later running mate, confided to his wife that it had required major efforts to calm the national chairman in an effort to preserve outward party harmony. In Kansas party leaders clearly had little sympathy for efforts to develop systematic opposition to the national Administration. Governor Alfred Landon and the party’s more liberal faction resisted the efforts of the national leadership—as well as those of the conservative elements of the Kansas party—to promote attacks on the entire New Deal. William Allen White wrote Frank Knox, “We just can’t follow Ogden Mills and Jim Wadsworth and Snell and that eastern crowd.” 8Accordingly, references to the New Deal in the Kansas Republican platform were restrained and only mildly critical. Senator Arthur Capper, despite his reputation as a party stalwart, openly rejected the Fletcher position of all-out condemnation of the Administration’s program. As the congressional campaign wore on, even the most conservative western Republicans tended to ease their attacks on the New Deal. Republican congressional candidates in Illinois issued a joint statement supporting the overall goals of the AAA, indicating they were openly opposed to its repeal. Republican senators such as Lester Dickinson who openly attacked provisions of the bill found local receptions to be unenthusiastic. Old guard Senator Arthur Robinson of Indiana simply avoided all mention of the program, confining his criticism to bureaucracy and spending. Congressman Chester Bolton, head of the Republican congressional campaign committee, remarked that no one in the entire Ohio congressional delegation was willing to engage in direct criticism of Administration policies.9

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

In September of 1934 Republican efforts received a sustained shock by the election results in the heavily Republican state of Maine: the Democrats reelected their candidate for governor while capturing two of the state’s three congressional seats. Republic strategists had hoped for some triumphs there to reverse the one-sided direction of events. The party’s candidates in Maine had been openly critical of the New Deal, and such conservative spokesman as Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., Frank Knox, and Ogden Mills had all traveled extensively in the state. Nevertheless, most of the party’s candidates had been defeated. The results shocked conservatives. Only two years before, Herbert Hoover had carried the state even amidst severe local economic disasters. Increasingly fearful of running counter to the Democratic program after September, party conservatives ventured fewer criticisms of the Administration as a kind of general paralysis took over. The efforts of party strategists to formulate a long-term response to the initiatives of the 73rd Congress had broken down completely. The reevaluation of electoral appeals now became almost an obsession within Republican ranks. The party’s insurgent western elements had a field day with the 1934 congressional results. To them the campaign amounted to nothing less than a final repudiation of the party’s leadership, the rejection of which was a prerequisite for the party’s survival. The defeat of many old guardsmen seemed to raise again the question of party reorganization, as well as the larger problem of overall electoral strategy. Immediately after the election Senator William Borah stated “Unless the Republican Party is delivered from its reactionary leadership and reorganized in accordance with its one-time liberal principles, it will die like the Whig Party of sheer political cowardice.10 He added, “we can talk and talk but the Republican Party is going to the left, just as surely as I am alive.”11 The absence of a practical program had left Republican voters with “No place to go but to the Democrats.” Nebraska’s George Norris wrote that, in the absence of an inflationary program, conservative Republicans actually had little to propose.12 Originally, then, the drive for a party redefinition came from the party’s western elements in a renewal of the longstanding struggle between the party’s eastern conservative wing and its insurgent western elements. These divisions received national attention when Senators Borah and Gerald Nye both gave speeches in New York City in late 1934 calling for the ousting of diehards from the party’s leadership. Both called for programs that would end economic privileges, “monopoly and the concentration of wealth”13 Such criticisms often seemed to recall the battles and rhetoric of the 1912 period, making it

The 1934 Congressional Campaign

143

apparent that the party’s western elements were not in accord with the emerging urban liberalism of the 1934 period. However, individuals such as Senator Norris, Robert La Follette, Jr., and Hiram Johnson continued to function, therefore, in a sympathetic working relationship with the New Deal reform program while taking little interest in Republican Party affairs. By early 1935, however, it was clear the party’s western progressives had failed to convince their eastern colleagues of the need to refashion party appeals. The basic outline of the old guard position was clear: confronted with drastic electoral reversal and the renewed specter of western insurgency, conservatives sought above all to maintain control of the party machinery, just as in 1912. While congressional majorities, personalities, and even presidencies came and went, the key for party conservatives was the actual machinery of the national committee. By this logic any subsequent disillusionment with the Democratic recovery programs would result in the restoration of Republican control under conservative auspices. Unconvinced of any fundamental change within the electorate at large, party leaders felt the restoration of normal political conditions would return the party to power just as in 1920. Herbert Hoover, so often himself an outsider in party councils, summed up much of this attitude when he wrote, “I get a good deal of amusement out of all the kept newspaper writers who are propagandizing the country that the Republican Party must swing to the left. It would seem to me that when 44% of the voters (referring to the total congressional vote in 1934) had sufficient emotion on the subject to vote against the New Deal, they have given a fairly definite indication that the vast majority occupies a place in the social spectrum somewhere to the right.”14 Other party conservatives echoed similar sentiments. The prudent course, according to Senator Lester Dickinson of Iowa, was to await the later results of the New Deal, as its breakdown offered the GOP its only hope. Senator Daniel Hastings termed the New Deal “a dangerous disease which must run its course.”15 Thus Republican National Committee Chairman Henry Fletcher found himself in a position to resist the demands of the party’s western insurgents. He challenged the critics of party policy to proceed with the reorganization of the party along more liberal lines if they had the backing they maintained they had. This was, of course, clearly impossible as most of the national party apparatus remained in the hands of old guardsmen or Hoover appointees. In light of the disasters of 1930, 1932 and 1934, however, much of this debate over the future direction of the GOP appeared to be taking on a bitter, lifeless quality. Many members of the party’s western wing had

144

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

been openly supportive of the recovery efforts of the Administration while the party’s eastern wing had been subject to unprecedented electoral devastation. Unable to agree on a process of rehabilitation, without adequate funding, and seemingly deserted by substantial elements of its traditional constituencies, the party saw its electoral appeals received as increasingly unimportant as its future as a major political force was now persistently questioned.

Notes 1 Simeon Fess to Herbert Hoover, Dec. 31, 1934. Postpresidential Individual Files, Hoover Presidential Library. 2 Felix Hebert to Herbert Hoover, Oct. 10, 1934. Ibid. 3 Snell Smith to Charles Hilles, May 8, 1934. Hilles Papers, Yale University Manuscript Collection. 4 New York Times, Sept. 28, 1934, 1. 5 Charles McNary to James Couzens, Oct. 16, 1934. Charles McNary MSS, Manuscript Collection, Library of Congress. 6 New York Herald Tribune, Sept. 15, 1934, 8. 7 New York Times, Oct. 27, 1934, 7. 8 William Allen White to Frank Knox, Oct. 9, 1934. White MSS, Manuscript Collection, Library of Congress. 9 New York Herald Tribune, Nov. 5, 1934, 1. 10 New York Times, Nov. 9, 1934, sec. 2, 5. 11 Ibid. 12 Ibid. 13 Ibid. 14 Herbert Hoover to John O’Laughlin, Nov. 17, 1934. O’Laughlin MSS, Hoover Presidential Library. 15 New York Herald Tribune, Nov. 8, 1934, 4.

8 The Stillborn Republican Revival of 1935–1936

Policy Renewal amidst the Wreckage of Electoral Defeat

The period of most intense opposition to the New Deal is still widely misunderstood. The consensus historians of the 1950s frequently utilized the opposition to the New Deal as a kid of foil. A tinge of inevitability often surrounded their accounts. The magnitude of the 1936 election results also served to limit close consideration of the period just prior to it. Realignment theories, or organizational interpretations of the period give only limited, incomplete explanations for the opposition to the New Deal that emerged by 1935. Why did the Republicans come to offer such strident opposition? Alan Brinkley has carefully discussed the process by which some policymakers drew back from national planning during this period, but here again Republican opposition becomes only a backdrop to his story.1 The continuing national struggle over forms and types of state intervention, however, invigorated the GOP by 1935 and infused it with renewed purpose. One begins to arrive at an understanding of the Republican politics of the period primarily by focusing on the role of Republican elites. Throughout 1935 party leaders felt events offered fresh prospects and renewed opportunities. The party’s behavior was governed less by election results than by the changing view of party leaders. The Republican case demonstrates the weak relationship that can exist between elections and the formation of party appeals. The important changes in Republican attitudes had little to do with voter shifts. The course of events within Republican ranks after 1934 suggests a renewed importance to the role of political leaders and party strategists in the consummation of the 1930’s realignment. Harold Laski noted that the GOP of the early 1930s did not really possess a clearly defined ideological base. For three years after losing power they had continued to beat an intellectual retreat of the kind in

145

146

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

evidence during the 1934 congressional campaign. Benjamin Anderson once noted that the protective tariff can be viewed as “the mother of the New Deal,”2 and it had served to put the GOP in a difficult position as the NRA experiment began. The idea of politicized corporate behavior was hardly new in Republican circles. The party, led by individuals directly associated with the Depression and the doctrine of high wages, found the construction of theoretical alternatives to the New Deal very difficult. Many of the early recovery programs could be viewed as an extension of previous efforts, Hoover’s opposition notwithstanding. Nevertheless, the period of most intense opposition to the New Deal was about to begin in 1935–1936. The period’s importance to the evolution of the American political system or the development of modern political economy is still widely misunderstood. The Republican contribution to national dialogue during the period was far more important than the final results of the 1936 election would suggest. One searches in vain through the realignment, state development, or earlier consensus literature for a careful explanation as to why strong opposition to the New Deal developed by the 1935–1936 period. Little initial evidence suggested that the year 1935 would offer the Republicans renewed hope. The end of the Hoover Administration and the all-class coalition of the 1933–1934 New Deal had engendered political movement almost completely away from the Republicans. By the end of 1934, however, it became apparent that the Administration’s effort to maintain an all-class coalition of interests was beginning to flounder. Business leaders had become aware that the New Deal involved more than industrial self-regulation of recovery efforts. The Securities and Exchange Act passed in March of 1934 had been badly received by business spokesmen and, as importantly, it was followed quickly by other regulatory efforts. Measures such as the Communications Act, which empowered the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate radio, telegraph, and transoceanic cable industries, the Railroad Act, which raised railway pensions substantially, and the Airmail Act, which established further controls on the awarding of federal contracts had all been sources of consternation for particular business constituencies. Even more disturbing to conservative interests was the mounting federal deficit. Congress had restored the spending cuts made in the Economy Act while expenditures for relief and public works continued unabated. On August 30, 1934, Lewis Douglas, the Administration’s budget director and principal advocate of economic orthodoxy, resigned because of his concern over the direction of Administration fiscal policy. As a harbinger of the battles to come, he wrote to President Roosevelt, “I hope, and hope most fervently, that you

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will evidence a real determination to bring the budget into actual balance, for upon this, I think, hangs not only your place in history but conceivably the immediate fate of western civilization.”3 Once the sense of panic characteristic of the 1932–1933 period had passed, it gradually became clear to much of American industry that the price exacted for exemption from anti-trust prosecution was higher than anticipated. The Administration’s sympathy to increased wage rates and industrial unionism as well as its ability to license business through the NRA code-making process limited the earlier prerogatives of industrial managers.4 Efforts to deny government contracts to firms that refused to allow NLRB-style representation elections were viewed as an unprecedented effort by the national government. Many corporations felt that the NRA was unduly unsympathetic to open-shop clauses in industrial codes and attempted to limit such collective-bargaining elections. Others thought company unions or proportional representation for workers received unsympathetic hearings from code authorities. It was now apparent that the NRA apparatus involved input from groups such as organized labor that stressed agendas beyond trade association or corporate control. Just as the potential for unfettered industrial self-government had gone unfulfilled, so the promise of stability with regard to such matters as pricing and production control had proved difficult to achieve. Industry-wide stability involved far more than simply outlawing cutthroat competition, ending unfair business practices, or portraying recalcitrant corporations as “chislers.” An array of conflicts within industries or between industries, between integrated and nonintegrated firms, and between large industries and small ones were apparent by 1935. Corporate groupings had utilized the NRA in efforts to enhance the market control of their own firms, often at the expense of rivals or suppliers. For example, it was in the interest of large firms to eliminate wage and price differentials and negate the advantages that often made them possible. Small firms had offset disadvantages in such fields as advertising or economies of scale by offering lower prices made possible by lower regional wage rates, locations accessible to local markets, or specializations in product lines. One scholar has concluded that important elements of the code-writing process can be seen as an effort to eliminate price differences offered by smaller regional firms.5 Thus small business increasingly viewed the NRA’s price stabilization program as an effort to negate their comparative advantages, and the result was a steady increase in criticism of the industrial codes and the NRA itself.

148

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

Price stabilization had proven to be a vexing task, even before the protests of small business concerning its alleged deficiencies were brought to the attention of the public. Pricing and production agreements slowly broke down in industries composed of a large number of units producing a variety of products, and they disintegrated even more rapidly in industries where barriers to entry were few. Cooperation proved difficult in industries with expanding markets, relatively simple technologies, or potential for easily utilized substitutes for products. Industrial “self-government” increasingly suggested businessmen sitting in judgment of their competitors, and it was a rare code decision that did not involve direct losses for one participant or another. By early 1935 the idea that organized business should continue its collaboration with government recovery efforts was becoming far less attractive to most elements of the business community. The resignations of such prominent industrialists as Alfred Sloan, John Jacob Raskob, and Pierre S. du Pont from the business advisory council of the NRA were clear signs of evolving business attitudes toward any continuation of a business–government commonwealth. The pattern of government support so eagerly coveted by business after 1930 was being rapidly reconsidered as the NRA experience unfolded. The renewed concerns of business leaders were reflected in the proceedings of trade associations. Officials of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the NAM met at a joint business conference for economic recovery in December of 1934. The conference resulted in severe criticism of Administration recovery efforts. The NRA, it was felt, should confine itself to the enforcement of industry–wide codes formulated solely by the trade groups concerned. Moreover, provisions for proportional representation of nonunionized employees should be established. Code provisions, if adopted, should remain exempt from the anti-trust laws. If industries resisted the adoption of particular code provisions, a right of appeal should be established. By early 1935 some industrial leaders were proposing a restructuring of the NRA that would retain the advantages obtained by the removal of anti-trust considerations, while sharply limiting the influence of both government and organized labor in the code administration process. Such demands were attempts to regain autonomy in industrial affairs and autonomy that was felt to be increasingly under siege throughout 1935. With the Depression far from abated, few corporate leaders would have predicted the direction the Administration would take in 1935.

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The Evolution of New Deal Electoral Appeals: The Second One Hundred Days

The hopes of industrialists for a moratorium on the process of reform occurred just as the President was considering a dramatic intensification of his reform efforts. While Roosevelt had abandoned his efforts to maintain the New Deal’s all-class coalition with clear reluctance, the needs of other discordant constituencies were increasingly apparent by 1935. Although the continued popularity of such individuals as Huey Long and Charles Coughlin, as well as the persistence of the Townsendnite movement, was now a matter of clear concern to the Administration, they also offered new opportunities for political maneuvering in the increasingly uncertain political atmosphere of 1935. In June of 1935 Roosevelt abruptly put the legislative process into motion by calling congressional leaders together and insisting on the passage of a number of major pieces of legislation before the 74th Congress adjourned. Among these were the Social Security bill, the Wagner Labor proposal, a banking measure, and public utility holding company legislation. Shortly afterwards, a tax measure, labeled by critics as a “soak the rich” bill, was added. After several months of what most observers had seen as drift and indecision, the New Deal had suddenly burst forth again, and the call of conservatives for an abatement of the reform impulse had gone largely unheeded. Walter Lippmann wrote Arthur Holcombe, the specialist on the American party system at Harvard University: Apparently Roosevelt has determined to burn his bridges so far as the conservative Democrats go and to stake his chances for reelection on an appeal to sectional and class feeling. I put it boldly but that seems to me what it comes to. For if he were bidding for the support of people like Smith, Byrd, and the like he would, of course, have to make a very different popular appeal. The effect of that, it seems to me, is to create an immense and, I think, increasing opposition which is entirely inchoate, without principle and without common conviction. It would contain all ranges of opinion from the Borah type of agrarian progressives on the one side to the blackest type of reactionary Republican on the other. The fact that they have no common principles will mean, I fear, that they will appeal to passion and primitive emotions and if they win, which I think not at all unlikely, we may very well face a period of severe reaction.6

As these now discordant elements cast about for a mechanism through which to counter the (to them) disappointing evolution of the New Deal, they rapidly came to focus on the moribund Republican

150

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

Party. This disaffection began a process that seemed to infuse Republican efforts with new life in 1935. Former Republican Senator David Reed used the forty-fourth annual meeting of the American Iron and Steel Institute to inaugurate appeals to conservative Republicans and Democrats to unite in support of the candidates who opposed any continuation of the New Deal.7 These sentiments were echoed by the action of a wide variety of business associations. In November 1935 the American Bankers Association named Orval W. Adams, a harsh critic of the New Deal, as its vice president. The association issued a strongly worded statement that endorsed Republican demands for a balanced budget and the restoration of conditions that facilitated business financing.8 At the National Founders Association Convention (an association of primary industries such as oil and steel), the keynote speaker called for “permanent peace” from “the costly experiments of the last two years.”9 At the annual convention of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Roosevelt’s recovery program was roundly criticized in the same forum that had accorded him strong support only two years before. It was apparent that these energetic propagandists for, and principal advocates of, the original NRA legislation had dramatically reversed themselves.10 Overwhelming opposition to recent federal legislative trends was registered in a referendum sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to sample its various constituent bodies. The responses to such hostile questions as “Should the federal government at the present time exercise federal spending power without relation to revenue?”11 or “Should there be government cooperation with private enterprise for regulatory or other purposes?”12 had shown an average of 35-to-1 ratio against “the trends exemplified by the Roosevelt relief and reform program.”13 The Chamber adopted resolutions that objected to such measures as the Social Security bill, the continuation of the NRA, and the Utility Holding Company Act. In addition, it asked for the “withdrawl of governmental agencies from activities properly the function of trade associations.”14 By December 1935 business leaders were calling directly for industrial mobilization to end the New Deal. The National Industrial Council, comprising representatives of regional manufacturers and trade associations, joined with the NAM in adopting a political platform that called unabashedly for the defeat of the Administration’s “new economic order.” Casting aside any effort at nonpartisan appeals, principal speaker S. Wells Utley of the Detroit Steel Castings Company warned other industrialists that they must prevent the Republican Party from fashioning a liberal appeal or industry would be without a political

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refuge.15 Alfred P. Sloan told the NAM: “I am convinced that industry’s responsibility can no longer be adequately discharged by mere physical production.”16 Among the first responsibilities he defined for industry were the “liquidation”17 of the New Deal and the cessation of deficit spending by government. James A. Emery, general counsel of the NAM, noted that “judicial remedies are not sufficient. . . . They afforded no remedy against unsound policy. It is our obligation to contribute a clear understanding of the deadly nature of these enemies of our economic and political progress.”18 It appears, then, that for many conservatives and business groupings “political progress” was being increasingly equated with the Republican Party. In August 1935 the Republican National Committee was able to announce both retirement of its deficit and a swift influx of funds under the auspices of “The United Republican Finance Company of New York City.”19 Simultaneously, National Committee Chairman Henry Fletcher expressed the view that the party’s 1936 efforts would be well financed and that the party would be able to refashion a national party apparatus “at its former strength.”20 One month later these plans began to take form. Fletcher announced the establishment of a finance committee composed of prominent industrialists who had volunteered their services to the party. With W.B. Bell, President of the American Cyanamid Company, acting as chairman, it members included Sewell L. Avery of Chicago, President and Chairman of Montgomery Ward; Joseph N. Pew, Vice President of Sun Oil Company; Herbert L. Pratt, former chairman of the board of Standard Oil; A.W. Robertson, chairman of the board of Westinghouse Electric Company; Silas H. Strawn, former President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and Ernest T. Weir, chairman of the board of U.S. Steel Corporation.21 Fletcher went on to remark of these individuals: “In these circumstances, the only effective method of preserving the American system is, so they are convinced, national political action. To this end they have pledged their aid to the Republican party.”22 Likening Republican efforts to the massive industrial mobilization that had accompanied the party’s efforts in 1896 against William Jennings Bryan, Fletcher pledged a thoroughness of effort and an expansion of the party’s western headquarters in Chicago.23 By the end of 1935 the revolt of the industrialists against a recovery structure that many of them had been instrumental in creating served to infuse the Republican Party with renewed hope. One of the most remarkable periods of conflict in American history was about to begin. The mobilization of American capital in 1935–1936 echoed the response against “Bryanism” in 1896. The renewed

152

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

partisanship of the business community would profoundly affect the GOP as the direction of political currents became increasingly unclear. It is worth pausing here to reconsider some of the high points in the Republican relationship to capital after 1912. The preassociational period had been characterized by far less organizational pressure on Republican leaders allowing Warren Harding, for example, to act in accordance with classical theory in pursuing a liquidationist policy domestically in 1920–1922. But the rise of associational elements within the Republican Party by the late 1920s made such efforts impossible to undertake by 1930. The post-1930 period had seen a rush of frightened corporate leaders past Herbert Hoover toward new forms of planned activities that were first viewed as helpful and benign. This had doomed the Republican Party in 1933–1934, reducing it to an almost helpless, impotent state. As 1935 wore on, however, it became clear to most corporate elements that a Faustian bargain had been concluded with the Roosevelt Administration, one that left them casting about in search of a more sympathetic organizational vehicle. This quest rapidly came to focus on the somnambulant GOP.

Notes 1 Alan Brinkley, The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995). 2 Benjamin Anderson, Economics and the Public Welfare: Financial and Economic History of the United States, 1914–1916 (New York: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1949), 301. 3 William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932–1940 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1963), 91. 4 Robert S. McElvaine, ed., Encyclopedia of the Great Depression (New York: The Macmillan Co., 2004), 816. 5 Ellis W. Hawley, The New Deal and the Problem of Monopoly: A Study in Economic Ambivalence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), 114-118. 6 Walter Lippmann to Arthur Holcombe, Jan. 27, 1936. Lippmann Papers, Yale University. 7 Harry W. Morris, “The Republican in a Minority Role, 1933–1938,” Ph.D. diss., University of Iowa, 1960, 121. 8 New York Times, Nov. 17, 1935, sec. 4, 3. 9 Ibid., Nov. 21, 1935, 4. 10 Ibid., Nov 26, 1935, 9. 11 Ibid. 12 Ibid. 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid.

The Stillborn Republican Revival of 1935–1936

15

Ibid., Dec 2, 1935, 1. Ibid., Dec 5, 1935, 1. 17 Ibid. 18 Ibid. 19 Ibid., Sept. 10, 1934, 4. 20 Ibid 21 Ibid., Nov. 21, 1935, 1. 22 Ibid. 23 Ibid. 16

153

9 The Breakdown of Republican Electoral Evaluations and the Realignment of the 1930s

Something very strange was going on in Republican ranks during 1935– 1936. A contemporary observer is struck by the differences that exist between private Republican correspondence drafted in 1934 and that composed by mid-1935. Correspondence in 1934 had often centered on the party’s incapacity to obtain funds, along with a continual preoccupation with the effect of the “relief vote.” By the middle of 1935, however, correspondence among Republican leaders began to reflect a marked pattern of optimism that in most cases did not diminish until the month prior to the 1936 election. In a short period of time the halfhearted opposition to the electoral power of the New Deal gave way to a strident opposition unanticipated by models of vote-maximizing electoral behavior. In short, the “issue space” between the parties began to increase rather than decrease in a fashion that helped consummate the political realignment of the 1930s. Ogden Mills, who in 1934 had foreseen a “long fight” for the GOP, typified this change in sentiment when he wrote a friend in August of 1935, “There has been a great change since I last saw you. Roosevelt has lost so much ground in the last few months that I am confident that if an election were held today, he could not carry a single eastern state. . . . From all accounts, the swing away from the administration is marked in all sections.”1 What factors served to produce such sentiments among Republican strategists and other contemporary observers in the aftermath of the electoral devastation brought about by the 1930, 1932, and 1934 elections? The 1936 election has always attracted scholarly attention for excellent reasons. Certainly the election offered retrospective endorsement to significant changes in public policy while legitimizing

155

156

The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

the power of the new Democratic coalition in American politics. However, scholars such as Thomas Ferguson have argued that the election bore witness to the development of internationally oriented corporate executives from capital-intensive industries favorably inclined toward the refashioned Democratic Party. The combination of free-trade legislation, commercial Keynesianism, and moderate social-welfare legislation served, he believed, to fragment the response of business leaders to the New Deal by 1936.2 Steve Fraser has even argued that business executives in mass consumption industries were openly sympathetic to the Democrats by 1936.3 The New Deal, it is maintained, was essentially a conservative holding action that consolidated the modern corporate order, posing little or no challenge to business interests and offering little substantial reform. It is reasonable to see this as a more nuanced and sophisticated version of the old left portrait of the New Deal offered in the 1930s. The view here is somewhat different. Changes in patterns of manufacturing, conflicts between domestic and international producers, or the emergence of Keynesian patterns of macroeconomic management had little to do with political events in 1936. The realignment of the 1930s was consummated because of the actions and perceptions of Republican Party elites who acted to increase the issue distance between the parties by 1936. One of the remarkable features of the 1936 election is the unified response of American capital operating through its newly refashioned vehicle, the Republican Party. The results that year are attributable to political strategies, the decisions of party elites, and the flawed vision of electoral reality most Republicans still accepted until November 1936. To understand what occurred that year we must return to the political universe of 1935. Party organizations and strategists can develop and implement strategies on their own. It is a mistake to view political parties as simply the handmaidens of capital, shaped by outside organizational requirements. The progressive disillusionment of American business by 1935 served to infuse Republican campaign efforts with enormous vitality. In contrast to the relatively even financial resources directed toward each party in 1932 and the desperate plight of the GOP in 1933–1934, business now increasingly directed its campaign contributions to the Republicans and, in many cases, the amounts were staggering. As any fundamental shift in the basis of support for a political party must ultimately be reflected in the sources from which it draws its funds, the figures are worthy of clear consideration. The following table 9.1 reproduces that prepared by Louise Overacker and is indicative of the changed political conditions in 1936.

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157

Table 9.1: Distribution By Economic Interest of Contributors of $1,000 or More to National Com mittees, 1936 DEMOCRATS Economic Intrests Bankers and brokers Manufacturers

Amount $42,000 $173,600

REPUBLICANS

Percent 3.3

Amount

Percent

$578,910

14.7

13.6 $1,162,934

29.6

Brew ers and distillers

$73,050

5.7

$6,650

0.2

Oil

$88,250

6.9

$86,650

2.2

$0

0

$119,942

3.1

Mining Railroad, steamship lines and airw ays

$9,500

0.7

$94,933

2.4

Gas and Electricity

$23,500

1.8

$43,600

1.1

Merchants: w hosesale and retail Lumber, cement, building materials and contracting

$29,000

2.3

$72,350

1.9

$15,000

1.2

$44,600

1.1

Real estate

$20,000

1.6

$59,200

1.5

New spapers, broadcasting and advertising

$33,250

2.6

$128,925

3.3

Motion picture producersm theater ow ners

$30,250

2.4

$1,000

0

Professional people

$161,507

12.7

$170,724

4.4

Officeholders

$160,902

12.6

$0

0

Organized labor

$129,979

10.2

$0

0

$31,000

2.4

$200,700

5.1

$254,245

20 $1,152,840

29.4

$1,275,033

100 $3,923,958

100

Other classifications Unidentified Total

Source: Louise Overacker, "Campaign Funds in the Presidential Election of 1936." APSR 31 (June 1937): 485

All models of rationalized party behavior assume essentially accurate evaluations of political conditions by party elites. Such accuracy was very difficult to achieve in 1935 prior to the legitimization of modern scientific polling. Again, it is worth mentioning that before 1932 there had been no Democratic landslide since 1852. The restoration of more normal political conditions was consistently assumed to favor the Republicans. As new popular forces began to compete with the Administration for popular acclaim, Republicans came to believe that the prospects for the party were greatly enhanced. Roosevelt’s abandonment of efforts to maintain the all-class coalition within the New Deal intensified criticism not only from the business community but also from prominent members of his own party.

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

The formation of the American Liberty League in August of 1934 finally allowed the conservative Democratic leadership of the 1920s an organizational vehicle, and it was unclear who would follow their lead. Funded largely by conservative Wilsonians, the League had a membership consisting of such prominent Democrats of the last decade as Newton Baker, Bainbridge Colby, John Raskob, and the party’s 1924 and 1928 presidential nominees, John W. Davis and Al Smith. Newton Baker, mentioned prominently in 1932 as a Democratic presidential candidate had the Roosevelt effort collapsed at the convention, wrote Walter Lippmann: The trouble with this recognition of the class war is that it spreads like a grease stain, and every group formed around a special and selfish interest demands the same sort of recognition. As a consequence our government for the last three years has been the mere tossing of tubs to each whale as it grows bold enough to stick its head out of the water. The administration seems to me to have no philosophy and no principles and I doubt whether those who are responsible for it could give any better definition of their objective than the phrase “to secure a more abundant life.” This object I am sure is the central thought of highwaymen as well as of philanthropists, and unless those who use it have something very real and direct in their minds they are very dangerous both to themselves and to the rest of us.4

While the League would later become an effective foil for the Democratic campaign of 1936, its initial formation recalled a series of successful twentieth-century conservative lobbying organizations, such as the American Anti-Boycott Association (designed to maintain the open shop), the National Security League (designed to support entente efforts prior to the American entry into World War I), and the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment. Despite its predominantly Democratic membership, Republicans watched with real interest. John O’Laughlin, a careful political observer in Washington, wrote in a private political report to Herbert Hoover, “The League is expected to have surprising strength. . . . I understand the League plans organizations in every state and this is possible because it is well financed. . . . There is little doubt that the chance of a Republican comeback has been strengthened, especially as it is the general opinion that Roosevelt, as a result of existence of the League, will be forced to move to the left.”5 In December of 1934, after the defeat of Upton Sinclair in the California gubernatorial race, Herbert Hoover wrote House Minority Leader Bertrand Snell: “There is something to be derived from our

The Breakdown of Republican Electoral Evaluations

159

experience here in California, where my friends built a bridge with the sane Democrats and therefore not only out-flanked the radical Republicans, but brought about the defeat of Sinclair.”6 Former Congressman James Beck, now a major figure in Liberty League activities, wrote to the former president in a similarly optimistic vein: “I have just completed a swing around the circle—and I am deeply impressed with the rising resentment against the Roosevelt administration. . . . The next two years are likely to witness an extraordinary situation such as that in 1860; the Democratic Party may spilt up.”7 Herbert Baynard Swope, brother of General Electric President Gerald Swope and a well-known journalist in his own right, wrote Walter Lippmann: “I think FDR is slipping fast. I told him so a couple of weeks ago when he kept me up to four o’clock in the morning talking and drinking. I think the country is reaffirming its innate conservatism. But he is stumbling in his efforts to change his pace. It is an axiom of our political system that no president, in whose term the economic curve points upward, is ever defeated. But there is another action I have observed. Few, if any, presidential candidates have ever won with business united against him [sic].”8 John O’Laughlin, in his continuing private reports to Hoover, wrote: “The net result is to strengthen the movement for a coalition of conservatives of both parties, and you may expect a drawing together in this respect of the southern Democrats, particularly of [Eugene] Talmadge stripe and the northern, especially the New England, conservatives.”9 Nor were Republican hopes bolstered only by the thought of coalition with conservative Democrats. The growing discontent to the Administration’s left was also viewed as providing the Republican Party with clear opportunities. The continued disaffection of Senator Huey Long suggested the possibility that he would undertake a presidential bid in 1936, and a Democratic National Committee poll conducted in 1935 indicated that he had clear support outside the South.10 Although Long’s assassination in September of 1935 removed the prospect that he would decrease the strength of the New Deal coalition, the continued popularity of Charles Coughlin, and the possibility of Coughlin endorsing an independent presidential effort in 1936, served to suggest the potential for additional difficulties within the Democratic coalition throughout 1935. There also remained the possibility of a new national Farmer-Labor Party to capitalize on the continuing agricultural discontent rampant in the West in 1935. Although at first glance radical agriculturalists reflected only a small, localized influence that profited primarily by

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The Transformation of the Republican Party, 1912–1936

focusing on particular grievances, their aggregate power was more difficult to assess. The success of Farmers-Laborites in Minnesota and Progressives in Wisconsin at least suggested the possibility of influencing events beyond the boundaries of purely local grievances.11 In short, throughout 1935 Republican strategists saw the Democratic Party as threatened by a series of potential schisms that could affect the 1936 election. One, led by conservative Democrats, was thought to have the potential to bring about a formal or informal alliance with Republican efforts. Other radical appeals were also seen as possibly serving to factionalize the Democratic coalition in 1936. Against this backdrop, additional sources of confusion were to appear. The restoration of Republican optimism was brought about by more than the renewed fidelity of American business or the possibility of third-party efforts that would divide the Democratic coalition by 1936. Disillusionment with the direction of the Second New Deal by 1935 was not confined entirely to senior Democratic statesmen and corporate spokesmen; their hostility was only part of a broader pattern of estrangement from the changing Democratic Party agenda that affected a large element of the upper-middle class. As James Sundquist writes: “the early years of the realignment of the 1930s saw an almost entirely one-way movement. As the Democratic party gained its massive infusion of working-class Republicans who were ready for radicalism, it lost few of its own previous adherents who were not. . . . Nevertheless, the net shift of voters to the Democratic side undoubtedly concealed some countermovement of conservatives.”12 A sophisticated observer of electoral patterns, Arthur Holcombe of Harvard University’s Department of Government, inadvertently commented on this class-based phenomenon in a letter to Walter Lippmann, “The reaction against the Roosevelt administration is running strongly in this locality. Among my colleagues who for the most part have always been critical of the Roosevelt administration the volume and intensity of feeling against it grow very strong. I find myself growing more conspicuously a member of a minority in sticking to my view that it is too soon to desert the New Deal, but I expect to maintain this position for the present.”13 I argue here that this countermovement of conservatives to the Republican Party was a highly visible feature of political events in 1935 and that Republican strategists continually overestimated its importance throughout the period. Again, the very unrepresentativeness of Literary Digest polls taken between the 1932 and 1936 presidential contests (and not utilized since) can help clarify the electoral shifts that occurred in 1934–1935. It will be recalled that the Digest’s atypical sample had nevertheless accorded the

The Breakdown of Republican Electoral Evaluations

161

Administration a 61.1 percent approval rating in July 1934. The 1935 Digest poll, however, pointed toward substantial “erosion” of New Deal electoral support.14 In contrast to the broad support that was offered in 1934, only 37 percent of those sampled in 1935 now approved of the Administration’s policies, while 63 percent registered disapproval.15 This was a decline of over 24 percentage points in approval since the 1934 poll had been conducted. As the 1935 poll sampled 1.9 million individuals, it suggests that attentive middle- and upper-middle income groups were concerned over the direction of Administration policy throughout 1935. Another underutilized piece of evidence on the shifts that occurred during this period can be found in the polls undertaken throughout 1935 on behalf of the Democratic National Committee by the party’s pollster, Emil Hurja. Although scant evidence remains to suggest the method by which Hurja chose his sample, it involved ballots mailed directly to individuals selected by Hurja in advance. (The Literary Digest, by contrast, simply polled its own readership, relying on the size of its sample to establish the poll’s reliability.) Results were reported by Hurja in a fashion that suggests both regional and economic diversity in his sample, and Hurja maintained one control of interest to researchers now: he deliberately selected his sample from individuals who had voted in the 1932 election, thus reporting only on the electorate who had participated politically prior to the surge in registration that accompanied the 1936 election. Hurja’s polling data suggest erosion throughout 1935 of the coalition that supported Roosevelt’s initial election effort in 1932, while also indicating limits to the political conversion of formerly Republican voters reacting to “hard times” by voting for Roosevelt in 1932.16 Hurja attempted to measure the shifts occurring throughout 1935 by comparing the preferences of the 1932 voters with their preferences of November 1935. The stillborn Republican “revival” of 1935 involved a series of real shifts to the Republican Party as the American electorate realigned itself during the period along the lines of a weakly based class cleavage. The complete misperception on the part of the Republicans of what these shifts represented in the electorate as a whole, however, requires explanation, in part because it is apparent from private correspondence that Republican strategists clearly felt that party prospects were improving throughout 1935. These important shifts on the part of middle-class voters are reflected in both polls 9.1 and 9.2.

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