Uphill All the Way: The Fortunes of Progressivism, 1919-1929
By Kevin C. Murphy, Copyright 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Chapter Four:
The Triumph of Reaction

Progressives and the Election of 1920

XIII. Countdown to a Landslide

I. A Rematch Not to Be
II. The Man on Horseback
III. The Men in the Middle
IV. I'm for Hiram
V. Visions of a Third Term
VI. Ambition in the Cabinet
VII. The Democrats' Lowden
VIII. The Great Engineer
IX. The Smoke-Filled Room
X. San Francisco
XI. A Third Party?
XII. Mr. Ickes' Vote
XIII. Countdown to a Landslide
XIV. The Triumph of Reaction

As the general election season ran its course -- one of the "most joyless, futile, and irritating campaigns in our history," lamented The New Republic -- few if any political observers gave James Cox even an outside chance of winning the presidency. The nomination of Harding, argued southern progressive Edward G. Lowry, had revealed the "absolute surety and confidence of the managers of the Republican party that they have the elections next November in the palm of their hands: that they can win in a walk." The Old Guard was not alone in this way of thinking. "All indications," editorialized The Nation, "are that reaction is to carry the coming elections by overwhelming majorities…That Governor Cox faces an overwhelming defeat is now freely conceded…by even the pro-Cox newspapers." "Never within my recollection of politics," said William Howard Taft, "has a Republican victory been so assured." Calvin Coolidge wrote to a friend that he expected "something more than a landslide," while Hiram Johnson surmised that "if it were a prize fight the police would interfere on the grounds of brutality."1

The sense of impending doom for the Democrats was further heightened by a number of trends. While most Republicans, including even Herbert Hoover, Hiram Johnson, and William Borah, gamely talked up Harding's candidacy on the trail -- a still-irate Leonard Wood being a notable exception -- prominent Democrats like William Jennings Bryan and an equally peeved A. Mitchell Palmer took no part in the general election proceedings. In addition, there was the matter of money: In total, Republicans spent nearly four times as much on their candidate -- $8.1 million to the Democrats' $2.2 million. And the early returns from Maine, which held its presidential election in mid-September, further demoralized Democrats. Cox had hoped to come within 20,000 of Harding's tally in the traditionally Republican state -- Harding won by 66,000.2

In fact, the only man in America who seemed to think a Cox-Roosevelt victory was assured in 1920 was Woodrow Wilson. When Josephus Daniels prophesied that the Democratic ticket was a goner, Wilson was baffled. "Do you mean," he replied, dumbfounded, "it is possible that the American people would elect Harding?" When Wilson's postmaster general tried to tell the president much the same, Wilson exclaimed "Burleson, shut up! You are a pessimist!" When his brother-in-law tried to prepare Wilson for what was to come, the president just said, "You don't understand the American people." A week before Election Day, Wilson received a group of pro-League Republicans, several of whom were moved to tears by the pathos of the moment, and told them how "the nation was never called upon to make a more solemn determination than it must now make. The whole future moral force of Right in the world depends upon the United States." Even on Election Day, Wilson told his Cabinet not to worry. "The American people will not turn Cox down and elect Harding. A great moral issue is involved. The people can and will see it."3

In his denial and despair, the president could not see it. But everyone else in America knew the biggest problem facing the Cox-Roosevelt ticket was, of course, the legacy of the Wilson years. As Governor Cox was forced to respond to a heckler at a Kansas pitstop, "Wilson isn't running for president this year. Cox is running for president." But the shadow of Wilson was everywhere. "The second four years of Wilsonism were too much for the ordinary American," remarked The Nation. "The one fundamental issue is now evident: it is Woodrow Wilson himself…It is obvious that the determining factor in this campaign is a desire to rebuke and put an end to the policies of the Wilson administration."4

"Here," prophesied H.L. Mencken, calling the election for Harding, "is the reason the overwhelming majority of Americans are going to vote for him":
They tire, after twenty years, of a steady diet of white protestations and black acts; they are weary of hearing highfalutin and meaningless words; they sicken of an idealism that is oblique, confusing, dishonest, and ferocious. The thing began under Roosevelt, the bogus Progressive. It has continued ad nauseum under Wilson, the bogus Liberal. Today no sane American believes in any official statement of national policy, whether foreign or domestic…Tired to death of intellectual charlatanry, he turns despairingly to honest imbecility." 5
This view of Harding as an explicit repudiation of Wilsonian overreach was cultivated by both his allies and adversaries. As the Senator himself had famously argued in May, "America's present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality." In the same speech, Harding reminded his Boston audience that "all human ills are not curable by legislation, and that quantity of statutory enactment and excess of government offer no substitute for quality of citizenship." The problems America faced, Harding argued, "are not to be solved by a transfer of responsibility from citizenship to government," but by "the normal forward stride of all the American people."6

Similarly, advertisements for the Republican ticket promised that Harding and Coolidge "will concern themselves with immediate problems - not fancy theories. They are of the people and for the people - old-time Americans who place their faith in the Declaration of Independence." At campaign events, Republicans sang, "We'll throw out Wilson and his crew. They really don't know what to do." Harding continually spoke out on the campaign trail against "one-man government" and "weird economic and social theories" and for "more business in government and less government in business" and "party government as distinguished from personal government, individual, dictatorial, autocratic, or what not." The rejection of the Wilson years was also embodied in the slogan of the Harding campaign: "Let's be done with wiggle and wobble."7

In the early months of the general election season, Harding's handlers had him deliberately recreate the Front Porch campaign of William McKinley, complete with McKinley's old flagpole transplanted from Canton to Harding's front yard in Marion. (As Boies Penrose purportedly said, "Keep Warren at home. Don't let him make any speeches. If he goes on a tour, somebody's sure to ask him questions, and Warren's just the sort of damn fool to try to answer them.") In one concession to changing times - conceived by Albert Lasker, now working for the Republican ticket - Harding was also visited in Marion not just by eminent Republicans but by the Chicago Cubs and Hollywood celebrities like Mary Pickford, Tom Mix, D.W. Griffith, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, and Al Jolson, who sang a tune of his own devising: "We Think the Country's Ready / For Another Man Like Teddy / We need another Lincoln / To do this country's thinkin' / Mister Harding / You're the man for us.")8

Writing in TNR, Edward G. Lowry concurred with this assessment of Harding as an anti-progressive throwback. "He has not changed with the times," wrote Lowry. "I don't know that he has even heard the news that's going round. If he has heard it, he doesn't believe it." Rather, Lowry argued, "Mr. Harding belongs to the same age, era, epoch, or period as the wooden Indians who used to stand so massively, so passively, and so innocuously in front of cigar shops. He is as old-fashioned as that." The editors of TNR agreed, describing the Ohio Senator as "a reactionary in the exact sense of that word, because he openly desires to return to the politics of the nineteenth century. He is not a conservative because he does not wish to conserve the chief results of the progressive movement of the last twenty years. He does not wish to stand pat but to step back." To The Nation, Harding was "distinctly a reactionary" who would "always be ready to take orders from the financial masters of the party."9

At times, TNR seemed positively livid by all that the Republican candidate represented. Harding "has been told by his friends and his critics that he is colorless and dull, weak and servile," wrote Lippmann. "Right you are, says the Senator. You have described exactly the kind of man this country needs":
It has tried Roosevelt and Wilson and look. It can't stand the gaff. I am nothing that they were. I am no superhuman like Roosevelt and no superthinker like Wilson. Therefore, I am just the man you are looking for. How do I know that? I am distinguished by the fact that nothing distinguishes me. I am marked for leadership because I have no marks upon me. I am just the man because no one can think of a single reason why I am the man."10
In a venomous piece that verges on the hysterical, TNR's editors deemed Harding's nomination "nothing short of a calamity":
Only once before in the history of the nation, that is, in the years immediately preceding the election of Washington, has the American people been confronted with the necessity for an equally grave and complicated group of decisions…Yet the Republican party has selected this critical moment to nominate as its Presidential candidate a party hack, without independence of judgment, without strength of character, without administrative experience, without knowledge of international politics, without any of the moral and intellectual qualities which would qualify him even under ordinary conditions for statesmanlike leadership…

The inference to be drawn from this amazing and sinister action of the Republican party is plain. It has ceased to be an organ of government on which the American people have reason to depend for the enlightened conduct of their political affairs. By virtue of nominating Harding as well as by virtue of its platform it has confessed to bankruptcy; it has confessed to an utter lack of convictions, enthusiasms, and ideas; to a preference for cheap expediencies and phrases rather than for principles and their courageous and realistic application. It can no longer claim to be a national party, in the sense of being a party which represents a binding national constructive policy.11
In short, they argued, "the Republican Party while cheering the name of Roosevelt has finally repudiated his work root and branch...The progressive agitation of the last twenty years within the Republican party has ended in a flat failure'" To TNR, the unkindest cut of all was seeing the former embodiment of their hopes, Herbert Hoover, endorse Harding. This, they argued, was "final proof of the incompatibility of being Republican and progressive or liberal." To which H.L Mencken responded, it is true that Harding "is not a fraudulent Progressive like Cox, but a frank reactionary. Well, if we are to have reaction, why not have it willingly and without any attempt to disguise it?"12

One man not quite ready to see reaction ascendant was Republican editor William Allen White, who wrote Warren Harding to encourage him to embrace the progressives in his party. "I feel that your election is fairly assured by the weakness of the Democratic nomination," he told Harding in July. But progressives "don't like this 'back to normal' business. They don't like you to be called a man of the McKinley type, because they feel that the McKinley day was the least satisfactory in the history of the Republican party." Instead, White begged the candidate to drop the "school-reader Americanism and resounding phrases of that sort" and explain the "specific, progressive performance" America could expect from him as president.13

A magnanimous sort in any event, Warren Harding could afford to be magnanimous to the progressives in his party. In order to hold the Republican coalition of reservationists and irreconcilables together, the Senator was already forced to tack back and forth on the question of the League. More often than not, Harding decried both Article X and "Wilson's league," while leaving the door open to some sort of future international association that would follow the judicial template supported by conservatives. In this manner, everyone from Taft and Root to Borah and Johnson presumed that they could sway Harding to their view of things after the election. On the League issue, TNR argued, Harding "frankly does not know exactly what he wants, and consequently he does not know how to do it, and all that he is certain about…is that he will not accept" what Wilson stands for. The Nation put it more succinctly. "Senator Harding is a master of ambiguous utterance."14

And so, even as he continued to run against Wilsonism in general, Harding gave a speech on "Social Justice" in early October that attempted to allay some progressive concerns about him. Speaking from his front porch to a delegation of women headed by Margaret Dreier Robins, Harding pledged "to support with all that is in me whatever practical policy of social welfare and social justice can be brought forward by the combined wisdom of all Americans." Specifically, Harding pledged to "careful and adequate protection" for women in the labor force and an expanded Children's Bureau "capable of educating and assisting in pre-natal care and early infancy." While bureaucracy was not the answer, he also pledged a stronger federal commitment to both the public health and education by advocating for a Department of Public Welfare which could stimulate "by research and education, the communities and local governments of the United States to the most active and efficient campaign against low standards of physical well-being" and work to support child and adult education that could be "the true bulwark against extreme radicalism" and "the basis for an intelligent, free, and tolerant thought."15

In the same speech, Harding also emphasized his support of the right to unionize and collective bargaining, and lamented that, in the modern workforce, "tasks…have become so specialized that the men and women themselves have become almost pieces of mechanism…In such a condition men and women are burned dry of the impulse to create." Under his administration, Harding argued, labor and employers would "combine to make every job, no matter what it is, a friend of the man who does it." Florence Kelley, who was in attendance, found the whole event heartening but somewhat mystifying. The candidate, she told her son Nicholas, gave "promises [that] were evidently written for him by highly intelligent, well-informed women." On the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Act, Harding "committed himself to the whole subject…in a manner very surprising to Mrs. Robins, Mrs. Gifford Pinchot, and myself. He will have no rest until the bill is passed!"16

Harding's Social Justice address was loudly applauded, not just by the women in attendance, but by members of the larger progressive community in general. In The Survey, Edward T. Devine heralded that both candidates "have clearly committed themselves to enlightened and progressive action in the interest of the social welfare, interpreting this term in its specific sense as applying to health, including maternity care, to education, and to industrial relations." And even Oswald Villard of The Nation conceded that Harding, for once, was on the right track. But Hiram Johnson, for one, wasn't buying it. The idea that Harding had somehow "metamorphosed from a ruthless standpatter into a militant progressive" was ludicrous to Johnson. Yet, he wrote to Harold Ickes "[t]his is exactly what many of our common friends think has transpired. It is what I am perfectly certain has not happened."17

Whether or not Harding's Social Justice speech convinced progressives, there was no identifiable surge of left-minded Republicans leaving the party for Cox, even as the Governor tried desperately to conjure one. "The normalcy voiced by [Harding] as visioned by his masters," Cox proclaimed on the campaign trail. "is the bayonet at the factory door, profiteering at the gates of the farm, the burden of government on shoulders other than their own and the Federal Reserve System an annex to big business." But, like so many other of Cox's attacks on the overwhelming frontrunner, his nods to progressivism didn't help to move the needle in the Democrats' favor.18

For Cox, nothing seemed to work. Early in the general election season, the Governor of Ohio - relying on Republican fundraising documents that had come his way - accused Harding and the Old Guard of collaborating in a "business plot" to "buy the presidency" through the use of a gigantic "slush fund…so stupendous as to exceed the realm of legitimate expense." Cox first set the size of this "corruption fund" at $15 million, later $30 million. (It later turned out to be $8.1 million, and heavily financed by oil barons like Jake Hamon, Harry Sinclair of Sinclair Consolidated, and even Democrat Ed Doheny, who gave $25,000 to Harding and $75,000 to Cox.) Harding responded by calling Cox's accusation "ridiculous and wholly without foundation," and Republican Party officials called the documents to which Cox was alluding merely a "roseate estimate" of fund-raising prowess. While Cox succeeded in getting a Senate Committee to look into the accusations, it otherwise didn't stick during the election season. Boies Penrose argued Cox was trying to deflect attention away from the high cost of living, Wilson officials wondered why Cox wasn't staking his central claim on the League, and, by September, the Cox campaign had dropped this line of attack.19

To H.L. Mencken, writing after the fact, Cox's slush fund attack revealed a "defective political sense." "Assuming that his allegations are all true," Mencken argued, Cox "obviously made them too soon. He should have let the Republicans collect the money, and then exposed their method of spending it. This is what Borah and Hiram Johnson did in their battle against Wood and Lowden - and the success of the device is history. But Cox shot off all his ammunition before the enemy was in range." 20

In early September, Harold Ickes suggested to Cox that "after the Senate Committee has proceeded a little further with its investigation it might be good political tactics" for him to offer Harding a mutual pledge "not to expend more than $2,000,000 each in this campaign," and to create an independent commission to enforce it. "My confident belief," Ickes argued, "is that the Republicans will refuse to accept such a proposition and such a refusal would give point to the charges that you have already made that they are relying too much upon the mere use of money to win the election. I believe that such a refusal will do violence to the sense of fairness that the American people have." But Cox never made the pledge, and the entire line of attack was dropped.21

Nor did Cox and Roosevelt make much headway on the matter of the League. Although he eventually gave ground on the question of reservations, Cox was for the most part a good soldier in the Wilson cause: He told Wilson himself, when the Democratic ticket came to pay respects to the sickly president, that he was "a million per cent" behind the League. He charged that Republican "conspirators of hate," under Henry Cabot Lodge's diabolical leadership, had managed "the greatest instance of partisan obstruction of human progress in all of human history." In standing for Wilson's League - a question that "has possessed my very soul," Cox argued he was fighting "for the creed of Christ and not the creed of Cain." The question before the American people, Cox argued on the final day of the campaign, was "whether the civilization of the world shall tie itself together into a concerted purpose to prevent the tragedies of war." As such, "[e]very traitor in America will vote tomorrow for Warren G. Harding."22

Unfortunately for Cox, the League never really took as an issue either. For one, Harding - to placate his expansive base - had managed to muddy the waters successfully as to where he actually stood on the League. "The League of Nations? There was no real difference between the parties," wrote W.E.B. Du Bois. "It was all a matter of punctuation and style." For another, a statement by "Thirty-One Proleague Republicans" - including Herbert Hoover, Elihu Root, Charles Evans Hughes, and William Allen White - on behalf of Harding gave the Senator from Ohio valuable political cover. And, in any case, after two long years of debating the subject, the American people had had enough of the issue. "I do not believe that most Americans are positively against the League," wrote H.L. Mencken. "But an enormous majority of them are violently against any further discussion of the League. They are tired of the whole vexatious question and are eager to hear the end of it.23

On this question, Governor Cox wasn't helped by, in what turned out to be one of the biggest gaffes of the campaign, the grandstanding of his running-mate. In the midst of a western campaign swing, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt assured an audience that, much as the various members of the British Empire were in England's pocket, Haiti and the Republics of Central America would essentially be a voting bloc for the United States to use at will, should America join the League. "The Republicans are playing a shell game on the American people," boasted Roosevelt:
They are still busy circulating the story that England has six votes to America's one. It is just the other way. As a matter of fact, the United States has about twelve votes in the Assembly. Until last week, I had two of them myself, and now Secretary Daniels has them. You know I have had something to do with the running of a couple of little republics. The facts are that I wrote Haiti's constitution myself.24
Warren Harding immediately leapt on the mistake, deeming it "the most shocking assertion that ever emanated from a responsible member of the government of the United States." The Ohio Senator promised that his administration would never "empower an Assistant Secretary of the Navy to draft a constitution for helpless neighbors in the West Indies and jam it down their throats at the points of bayonets borne by U.S. marines." To W.E.B. DuBois, Roosevelt's "impudent assertion" showed how "this great government has been made the catspaw of thieves…May the League of Nations be delivered from its fool friends, and may Haiti find New Freedom when the impossible Wilson and his lackeys disappear." FDR eventually backtracked by saying he was misquoted, but the damage was done, both to the campaign and the young Roosevelt's reputation.25

As the presidential race seemed to move further and further out of reach, some political onlookers suggested additional potential Hail Marys. In mid-October, Harold Ickes and Donald Richberg informed Cox that Harding's election could well mean "a war of aggression against Mexico." "I got additional information from a confidential source," Ickes wrote the Governor, "which thoroughly convinces me that it is the present purpose of the republican candidate to intervene in Mexico in the hope and belief that intervention will be followed by annexation." (Presumably, this confidential source had gotten wise to the oil interests, like Jake Hamon, now backing Harding's candidacy.) Cox did not bite. For his part, H.L Mencken argued, when all was said and done, that Cox could "have carried every large city in the country" if he had just come out more forthrightly as a Wet. "More, he would have done serious execution upon Gamaliel in many a rural district," Mencken thought, "for the yokels are growing weary of paying $17 a quart for two-day-old redeye, and are ready to go over to the devil." But Prohibition too remained relatively off the table in 1920.26

One gambit which Cox and the Democrats did try was the race card. However progressive he was purported to be, Cox was not above trying to disparage the Republican ticket in front of certain crowds with the threat of Negro equality. Attempts by Republicans to get out the African-American vote, such a handbill featuring Harding and six black candidates, was fodder for a Democratic response entitled, "A Timely Warning to the White Men and White Women of Ohio." It blared, much to the consternation of The Crisis, that "Ohioans should remember that the time has come when we must handle this problem in somewhat the same way as the South is handling it!"27

In the final month of the campaign, the genealogical research of one Professor William Estabrook Chancellor began making the rounds. It claimed, after multiple discussions with members of Harding's family, that the Republican candidate was in fact one-eighth black - an octoroon, in the parlance of the time - on account of a West Indian great-grandfather. While Cox did not partake of this opposition research - perhaps because Cox and Harding were also rumored to share a family tree - some of his more unsavory surrogates did, and soon the rumor was all over the campaign trail. In Ohio, some Republicans on the ground began to panic. "You have no conception of how the thing is flying over the state," one operative wrote Daugherty. "It is everywhere. It is affecting the woman vote." 28

Will Hays and the Republicans responded by drawing up lily-white ancestral trees for Harding to be printed in newspapers as a rebuttal. Some Republican papers, like the Dayton Journal, who deemed this whispering campaign "the vilest plot and conspiracy in the history of the worst epoch of American politics" - posted and then rebutted the charges. W.E.B. DuBois was disgusted by both sides in this flap. "Suppose President Harding is colored - What of it?" he asked in The Crisis. "He would be but one of hundreds of distinguished Americans who served their country well from the days of Alexander Hamilton." DuBois added that he couldn't determine "which was worse: the shrieking whispers of the Democrats, or the vociferous denials of the Republicans of the taint! Taint, forsooth! What could taint America?"29

Harding, meanwhile, refused to explicitly deny the rumors at first, vociferously or otherwise. Asked by a reporter from the Cincinnati Enquirer, Harding responded, "How do I know, Jim? One of my ancestors may have jumped the fence." In any case, despite some drama in the final weeks of the campaign trail, which forced the Republican candidate to return to his home state to smother the rumors, the question of Harding's possible mixed-ancestry never became the type of October Surprise some Democrats desired.30

If nothing else seemed to work, Cox and Roosevelt tried to beat the Republican ticket by dint of sheer effort. While Senator Harding took callers at his front porch in Marion, Cox undertook a coast-to-coast campaign schedule that was deemed "the most strenuous ever undertaken by a nominee for the Presidency." In total, Cox traveled 22,000 miles across 36 states, and gave 394 speeches to approximately two million people, sometimes as many as 26 times a day. Although he developed a reputation on the road as being somewhat immature, Cox's strapping young running mate also lived up to the vigorous Roosevelt reputation, traveling 18,000 miles and averaging ten speeches a day on behalf of the ticket. (Roosevelt told audiences, in Rooseveltian fashion, that he'd drag Harding off his Front Porch. Amiable, if confused, former Bull Moosers often replied, "I voted for your old man, and I'll vote for you!") And, while Bryan and Palmer remained aloof, Democrats like William McAdoo and Al Smith also helped to carry the load in the West and Northeast respectively.31

It was all for naught.

Continue to Chapter 4, Pt. 14: The Triumph of Reaction.

Return to the Table of Contents.

1. The New Republic, November 3, 1920 (Vol. XXIV, No. 309), 225. Edward G. Lowry, "With the Original Cast," The New Republic, June 30, 1920 (Vol. XXIII, No. 291), 143. "A Progressive Bloc," The Nation, October 13, 1920 (Vol. 111, No. 2884), 394. The Nation, October 27, 1920 (Vol. CXI, No. 2886), 466. Bagby, 158, 142.
2. Bagby, 125, 130, 142.
3. Smith, 158-161
4. Bagby, 151. The New Republic, October 13, 1920 (Vol. XXIV, No. 306), 153. "A Progressive Bloc," The Nation, October 13, 1920 (Vol. 111, No. 2884), 394. The Nation, October 27, 1920 (Vol. CXI, No. 2886), 466.
5. Mencken, A Carnival of Buncombe, 31. In another editorial, Mencken argued similarly. "The heaviest burden that the Democratic party has to carry in this campaign is the burden of Dr. Wilson's unpopularity. He is disliked for a hundred and one different reasons, but here one reason is as good as another. It is months since I last encountered a genuine Wilson man…Cox, by gallantly shouldering this weight of unpopularity probably lost himself a million votes." Ibid, 20-21.
6. Warren Harding, "Return to Normalcy," May 14, 1920. Reprinted at http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=954
7. Harding-Coolidge campaign advertisements, The New Republic, September, 1920. Russell, 400. Bagby, 150, 124, 149.
8. Miller, 78. Russell, 399, 406. McCartney, 39-41. Eventually, it was also Boies Penrose who determined, in the final weeks of the campaign, that a Front Porch approach looked bad while a vigorous young Roosevelt was making waves across the country, and that Harding would also have to hit the road. Russell, 409-410.
9. Edward G. Lowry, "With the Original Cast," The New Republic, June 30, 1920 (Vol. XXIII, No. 291), 143. "The Democratic Party: Lest We Forget,"The New Republic, June 30, 1920 (Vol. XXIII, No. 291), 140. "Harding: Turning Back the Hands of Time," The Nation, June 19, 1920 (Vol. 110, No. 2868), 816.
10. Walter Lippmann, "Is Harding a Republican?," The New Republic, July 21, 1920 (Vol. XXIII, No. 294), 219.
11. "Harding," The New Republic, June 23, 1920 (Vol. XXIII, No. 290), 99.
12. Ibid. Mencken, 31.
13. White to Harding, July 10, 1920. White, Selected Letters, 205-206. White also asked Harding to take a firmer stand in support of the League. "My whole job as President," Harding responded, "will be first to get people of the United States together in better understanding, and then to get the nations of the world to a friendlier understanding of a workable world league." Russell, 407-408.
14. Bagby, 134-141. "Cox and Harding," The New Republic, September 8, 1920, 30. "That League Issue," The Nation, October 20, 1920 (Vol. 111, No. 2885), 438. The Nation imagined Harding, asked if "two and two make four" responding with: "While sympathizing in a general way with the principle, I would want to carefully consider the circumstances. It depends, I think, on what two and two you have in mind." The Nation, October 20. In point of fact, Harding was basically a reservationist. He wrote a friend soon after the League question came to the Senate that he wanted "to preserve all of the League proposal which we can accept with safety to the United States, in the hope that the conscience of the Nations may be directed to perfecting a safe plan of cooperation toward maintained peace. But there will be no surrender of things essentially and vitally American." Russell, 320-321.
15. Edward T. Devine, "Social Justice and the Government," The Survey, October 23, 1920, 119. Bagby, 149.
16. Devine, "Social Justice and the Government." Kelley to Nicholas Kelley, October 1st, 1920. Sklar, ed., 256.
17. Devine, "Social Justice and the Government." Johnson to Ickes, November 18, 1920. HLI. Box 33: Hiram Johnson. In his response, Ickes concurred. "I agree with you quite thoroughly that President Harding will be a continuation of Senator Harding just as Senator Harding was a continuation of the time serving, baby kissing Ohio politician. I don't understand how anyone can expect a man of his age, his character, and his political affiliations and predilections suddenly to change over-night and become a progressive president." Ickes to Johnson, November 24, 1920. HLI. Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
18. Bagby, 132-133, 147.
19. Bagby, 132-134. McCartney, 42, 87.
20. Mencken, 20-21.
21. Ickes to Cox, September 4, 1920. HLI, Box 30: Cox Correspondence.
22. Smith, 156. Miller, 77. Bagby, 141-145.
23. "The Unreal Campaign," The Crisis, December 1920 (Vol. 21, No. 2), 55. Mencken, A Carnival of Buncombe, 20-21.
24. Schlesinger, Crisis of the Old Order, 364-365. Johnson, Peace Progressives, 114. The Crisis, October 1920 (Vol. 20, No. 6), 261.
25. Ibid. In 1939, Roosevelt confessed to his eventual Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, that he "was inexperienced in national campaigns in 1920 and later regretted many of the things I said at that time." Pietrusza, 449.
26. Ickes to Cox, October 13, 1920. HLI, Box 30: Cox Correspondence. Mencken, A Carnival of Buncombe, 20-21.
27. Bagby, 152-153. "The Unreal Campaign," The Crisis, December 1920 (Vol. 21, No. 2), 55. To prevent Harding's infidelities from reaching the campaign trail, Republican National Chairman Will Hays sent Albert Lasker to buy off Carrie Phillips and her husband if they disappeared to Japan during the election season. This they did, for the price of $20,000 and a monthly retainer. Russell, 402-403. Miller, 78.
28. When Joseph Tumulty was told the rumor, he allegedly said he and the White House wanted no part of it. "Suppose Senator Harding is elected," he said. "What a terrible thing it would be for the country if it came out that we had a President alleged to be part negro! I'll have nothing to do with it." Other versions of the tale, including the one told by Wilson's widow Edith, argue Tumulty actually exulted in the silver bullet of "Negro blood," and it was Wilson who took a stand on principle. "We cannot go into a man's genealogy," Wilson said in this telling, "We must base our campaigns on principles, not on back-stairs gossip." Bagby, 153. Pietrusza, 377. Russell, 404-405.
29. Bagby, 153. Pietrusza, 382-383. Russell, 403-405, 412-415. "The Unreal Campaign," The Crisis.
30. Bagby, 153. Pietrusza, 382-383. Russell, 403-405, 412-415. Among those arguing Harding should not make an explicit denial was Boies Penrose. "From what I hear," he purportedly said, "we've been having a lot of trouble holding the nigger vote lately." Pietrusza, 382. Russell, 415-416.
31. Bagby, 129. Schlesinger, Crisis of the Old Order, 366. Russell, 409, 418.

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