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

Click HERE to return to the full Table of Contents

Chapter Eight: The Duty to Revolt
Progressives and the Election of 1924

III. Hiram and Goliath

I. Indian Summer.
II. Now is the Time.
III. Hiram and Goliath.
IV. Coronation in Cleveland.
V. Schism in the Democracy.
VI. Escape from New York.
VII. Fighting Bob.
VIII. Coolidge or Chaos.
IX. The Contested Inheritance.
X. Reds, Pinks, Blues, and Yellows.
XI. The Second Landslide.

Writing to Harold Ickes in March 1923, on the eve of a European trip designed in part to buttress his presidential bona fides, Senator Hiram Johnson had no illusions about the uphill task that would face him if he tried to wrest a sitting president for the Republican nomination. "I have no doubt that President Harding will be a candidate for renomination," he wrote. "I am under no illusions about myself. I would not at present get into the position of active candidacy, and as I view the situation at present, I could not with any hope of success, because of the power there is in the White House, make fight for nomination." Still, he asked Ickes to start brainstorming about how to move the progressive agenda forward. "If I get into a national contest, and I do not necessarily mean a personal candidacy, I am most anxious that you and I go together and see if some results along the fundamentals upon which we agree, can…be accomplished. It may be that our contest will be futile, and that we'll have to bide our time for another four years." Still, Johnson advised Ickes to "keep on the alert," as he "did not believe any individual has sufficient vision to tell what may happen in 1924."1

Echoing Johnson's general sentiment about unknowability -- "[a]ll any one can do is watch the situation carefully and be prepared to take advantage of any favorable circumstance that may arise." -- Ickes accepted the Senator's charge. "I need not assure you that my dearest wish is to see you President," he replied to Johnson. "I certainly hope that in the next national contest I will be fighting under your leadership." A month later, Ickes outlined what he believed would be Harding's reelection strategy to the overseas Johnson. "I understand that the Harding people are expecting to rely upon the returned prosperity of the country as the issue that will put him over again," he wrote. "Restricted immigration has resulted in a scarcity of labor which in its turn has brought about an increase in wages with consequent enhanced buying power, which means a better market at better prices for foodstuffs and manufactured articles. The Harding idea is to let this situation alone and ignore the demand from the manufacturers to let down the immigration bars." Ickes conceded this wasn't "bad campaign strategy if it will work," and that "there is no denying the fact that the country is in much better shape economically than it was eighteen months ago."2

That being said, Ickes saw a potential opportunity for Johnson in the burgeoning issue of entry into the World Court. "It seems to me that people are again thinking very deeply on the International situation. The International Court proposition looks [defensible] especially to those people who have been in favor all along to entering the League of Nations." This, to Ickes as to many others, seemed yet another backdoor into American participation in the League, and "[i]f we are going to enter the League of Nations…I would prefer to do it by the front door instead of by sneaking in the back door." Nonetheless, the Court fight provided the perfect opportunity to set the stage for a Johnson presidential bid. "It may be that the fight you led against the League of Nations will have to be made over again and this time it may be the main issue in the contest for the Republican nomination," Ickes told Johnson. "If the fight has to be made than I know of no one [as] well qualified as yourself to lead."3

A month later, Ickes backed off the idea of using the Court as a primary platform, since "[t]here doesn't seem to be a great deal of interest in the world court proposition just now." But he revisited the issue with Johnson in June 1923, after Harding - on the first stop of his Voyage of Understanding in St. Louis - promised to work with the Senate and offered to completely and unilaterally dissociate the Court from the League. "I am simply astounded at the new proposition made by the president," Ickes wrote to Johnson the night after Harding's speech. "It seems to me that he has quite effectively crawled out on a limb which, in due course, will be neatly cut off between him and the tree trunk. He has always been weak and vacillating, given to compromising to the point where neither side is satisfied, but it seems to me that in this instance he has surpassed his own past endeavors along this line." Now, it seemed, Hiram Johnson might have a platform to run on due to "this wonderful scheme of handing our future, internationally, over to a group of men in the selection of whom we would, as a nation, have no voice at all."4

Two months later, the political landscape shifted again. "How quickly the whole face of things can change," Ickes wrote to Johnson. "Only a week ago we regarded as inevitable the renomination of President Harding and now he has passed entirely from the stage.":
Coolidge is now president. He doesn't seem like a personality at all to me. I don't believe he does to the country at large. If this be true then the field is an open one with you by far the strongest man in sight. I told you in New York that as matters stood I did not believe you ought to become a candidate for the presidency…But what now? It seems to me that events, beyond your control, have forced your hand and that you not only will have to be a candidate, but that you will go into the contest with a very real chance of success."1
"Politically, things are likely to move fast," Ickes warned. "New combinations will be in the making and I hope that you will allow nothing to hold you back from facing the situation and taking advantage of any favorable development." Ickes was especially worried about Johnson's fellow Californian and 1920 nemesis returning to the fray. "Most of all, I am curious to see what line Hoover will now take. Will he continue in the cabinet and thus tie himself to Coolidge, as he did to Harding, or will he think he has a chance for the nomination, resign from the cabinet and start out on an active campaign? I think he is the man to be watched carefully and checkmated every time he starts to make a move. If he can get away with it he won't have any hesitation in trying to capitalize Harding's last illness and death for his own personal and political advantage."6

Whatever Hoover's plans were, he would have to contend with his new boss first. In his first weeks in office, President Coolidge made two moves that suggested to all observers he was planning an aggressive run for the 1924 nomination. "The first important act of Dr. Coolidge, after the crown settled over his ears," noted H.L. Mencken, was to appoint as his personal secretary - the equivalent of today's Chief of Staff - Congressman C. Bascom Slemp of Virginia, a man known for his aptitude at securing southern delegates by means both fair and foul. "[W]hatever his merits as a husband and a father," Mencken wrote, Slemp "is surely no statesman; he is a politician pure and simple, and he has specialized in the herding of Republican jobholders in the South. His appointment thus indicates a plain effort to line up these cattle for 1924." The Crisis thought the choice of Slemp - who "has physically kicked Negroes even out of his own party convention" and "brazenly declared himself opposed to Negro suffrage" - "is a blow so serious and fatal that we have not ceased to gasp at it." Surveying the arguments against Slemp, the recently-established TIME Magazine noted first, "that he was appointed…to round up Southern delegates for Mr. Coolidge," second, "that he is a "Lily White' politician trying to make the Republican organization in the South white, by divorcing it from the Negro element," third, that "he has been accused, not without reason, of selling appointments, if not for his private gain, at least for the Party purse," and, fourth, "that his name is C. Bascom Slemp."7

Second, Coolidge, as noted earlier, threw the political hand grenade that was the continuing negotiations in the coal industry into the lap of the new Governor of Pennsylvania, Gifford Pinchot -- effectively marginalizing Pinchot's chances to run no matter what happened. Either Pinchot failed and America spent a harsh winter without coal, or he succeeded and Pinchot would be blamed for the rising cost of coal.

"Despite all the Coolidge stuff in the newspapers," writer and old Roosevelt Progressive George Henry Payne wrote to Ickes after these twin moves, "I find that people are not impressed except the small financial element who love a Reactionary more than they love their country. There is increasing indignation over the appointment of Mr. Slemp, and the passing of the coal strike to Governor Pinchot has been taken as an evidence of his avoidance of difficult problems." Ickes agreed on both counts. "The appointment of Mr. Slemp by President Coolidge was strong enough evidence of his political ideals and the kind of politics he is prepared to play in order to win the nomination. It is a slap in the face to every citizen who does not believe in the domination and control of Republican Party affairs by patronage controlled southern delegates. As you suggest, his failure to do anything in the coal strike is an instance of his disinclination to tackle a difficult problem."8

Still, both moves evinced a certain political savvy on the part of the new president as well. "It seems to me that your real difficulty with Coolidge," Ickes wrote to Hiram Johnson, "will be that you will be opposing a man that won't fight back. He is the greatest static statesman in American history. It will be hard to set up an argument with a man who won't argue or fight[,] with a man whose idea of motion is a comfortable arm chair. I think Coolidge is even less disposed than Harding was to join issue or to do anything that he can by any possibility avoid doing." H.L. Mencken agreed, and by September 1923 he was already calling the race for the Republican nomination over. "There will be no vain and vexatious gabble about World Courts and other such scare-yokels. The Government will function in a silent and inoffensive manner." With Slemp securing the South for Coolidge, "[d]elegate after delegate will march up and dive in the tank. The Hon. Hiram Johnson, the California Citrus aurantifolia, will sweat more and more citric acid…All the other aspirants will fade and deliquesce." Coolidge, the Sage of Baltimore concluded less than two months into the new administration, would be the obvious nominee.9

Senator Johnson had no illusions about the uphill fight ahead of him if he should run. "There is little new to report to you," Johnson wrote Ickes in August, "except that among the 'old guard' here there is absolute agreement that they'll have to dispose of one individual in order that they may, without difficulty, re-nominate Mr. Coolidge. You can guess who that individual is. Everybody is being lined up that can be lined up, and as usual, the politicians are deciding the fate of the Nation without reckoning upon the people." Before committing to a candidacy, Johnson wanted Ickes to feel out some of the other old Roosevelt Progressives and see where they stood on the question of his candidacy.10

Ickes soon reported back that Governor Pinchot was in the Johnson camp. "I told both Gifford and Mrs. Pinchot on separate occasions that, in my judgment, you would have to be a candidate for the presidency," Ickes wrote, "and their reaction was practically the same. Both of them were very glad indeed to learn of such a possibility. They both feel that Coolidge ought not to be nominated to succeed himself and they both expressed fervent hope that you would get in the fight and stay in to the finish." Johnson was "immensely pleased with what you had to say about Uncle Gifford," particularly after Ickes told the Senator that Pinchot was crucial to Coolidge's nomination strategy. "I was told yesterday what is supposed to be the general outline of campaign plans by the Coolidge people, Ickes reported in. "Their idea is that they can carry New England and hold the south. They believe they will have Gifford with them in Pennsylvania….In their tactics they are not considering anyone but yourself. Their whole effort is to divide the anti-Johnson sentiment as much as possible…[but] they are reckoning without their host so far as Pinchot is concerned."11

Pinchot further aided Johnson -- and scored some political payback for being dumped with the coal issue -- by attacking Coolidge's lax enforcement of Prohibition. "I write to inquire what the Governor of Pennsylvania means by persisting in making the front pages of newspapers throughout the country," Ickes jested with his old friend. "That last wallop you handed 'Silent Cal' must have well nigh loosened his back teeth. Of course you are dead right when you say that the state authorities cannot enforce the Volstead Act without federal cooperation and you are even more right when you charge that the federal administration of the Volstead Act is shot through with bribery and corruption." Two weeks later, Ickes suggested to Pinchot that the Pennsylvania Governor was "having more fun just now than any other man in public life. You have taken on not only the national administration, but two United States Senators, the Secretary of the Treasury and the standpat republican machine. You are courageous, but I believe you can lick them all to a frazzle in your back yard and here's hoping that you will do it." To Johnson Ickes remarked that "the thing has been breaking beautifully lately with Gifford hammering on the law enforcement issue and being regarded generally as all but an avowed candidate for president. It means that you won't have to set the pace and that, of course, is highly desirable. I don't think there is any doubt that Coolidge is losing strength gradually, but unmistakably and if the impression once gets abroad that he is nothing but a sly wire puller he will have a hard road ahead of him."12

If Johnson and Ickes could rely on the Governor of Pennsylvania, the former Governor of Kansas, Henry Allen, seemed to have defected to the Coolidge side. "It seems to me that Gifford put the Prohibition question up pretty strongly to Coolidge and I am not surprised that Coolidge's friends are incensed over the matter," Ickes told Johnson in mid-October. That being said, "our old friend, Henry Allen, lunched with 'Silent Cal' yesterday and then rushed into print criticizing Gifford's speech. From what I gather…Henry Allen would not be adverse to running for vice-president on the Coolidge ticket. I have always liked Henry personally…but I am disgusted at his apparently headlong plunge into the Coolidge camp." Writing Kansas off, Johnson replied that it was "just like Henry Allen to be licking the boots of power again… Henry's activities are never observable until they have been purchased in some fashion." A week later, Ickes confirmed Johnson's suspicions. According to Raymond Robins, Ickes wrote, "all the Republican political forces in Kansas are lined up with Henry and are for Coolidge on the basis of Henry's going on the ticket with him."13

As it happened, Colonel Robins was a man weighing heavily on Johnson's mind. "I'm worried about Raymond," he told Ickes, "because of my great affection for him. I would like him, if we go into this fight, to be with me and with me prominently. I cannot say to him, because it would be neither fair to him nor honest to myself, that I would adopt his plan for the outlawry of war. The most I could say…is I would ever hold myself open to conviction, ready to listen sympathetically to him and more than sympathetically, affectionately." A week later, Johnson repeated to Ickes his concern about Robins. "I do hope that my failure to espouse his particular plan will not affect him at all. If I go into a fight, I do want him with me, but beyond that I would not for the world have anything spoil the long friendship which has existed between us." Three weeks later, Johnson was on the verge of pleading. "I have worried a great deal about Raymond," he told Ickes once more. "I haven't any desire to take a position of opposition to his scheme, and I have not thought of doing so, and cannot conceive of any set of circumstances which would require it…Of course I could not make his plan an issue in the campaign. The fact that he has not written to me in response to my letter makes me think that this he deems a condition precedent to support and it makes me feel very sorry, indeed."14

In response, Ickes told the bereft Johnson that Raymond Robins was probably a no-go. "The only thing that is worrying him," Ickes replied, "is, of course, the 'Outlawry of War' proposition. He says he has been devoting several months of time to speaking in advocacy of this proposition. He appreciates your entire frankness and sincerity in the matter, but he is afraid that some time during the campaign, unless your mind changes, you will be forced to declare against the plan just as you have against other schemes for international cooperation and he wonders in what position you will then stand with the people before whom he has been appearing as an advocate." To his sister, Robins confessed he was not particularly happy about being outside the "Uncle Hi" camp. But "with the promises to free the Politicals [political prisoners] and to recognize Russia and to give aid and comfort to the Outlawry of War program by Coolidge I am in quite a quandary. I am working with Borah and as He Hates Johnson it is a bit of a twist."15

William Allen White was another old Roosevelt Republican who would not be joining Johnson and Ickes at Armageddon on account of foreign policy issues. "I am sorry I can't line up for Hiram Johnson," he wrote to a friend, "I am so entirely opposed to his position on foreign relations and am so thoroughly convinced he will make that the major issue of his campaign and if elected, make it his major activity -- his isolation policy -- that I can't go with him. Heaven knows, I'd like to! I admire his courage and am proud of his character and admire him greatly personally. But I feel nearer to Pinchot on the whole than Johnson."16

Before embarking on this next crusade, Johnson worked hard to secure the support of his friend and publicity man the last go-round, Albert Lasker. "[W]e embark upon a mighty troubled sea," Johnson wrote Lasker in a discursive thirteen-page letter to the advertising guru. "We will be buffeted by politicians and press alike, our motives will be misconstrued, our actions will be distorted, our words will be misrepresented, but we will be men; and if in the end defeat comes, we can accept it with equanimity and philosophy, say good-by forever to our ambitions and live our lives in the consciousness that we fought a good fight, our fight, as we saw the light." Johnson knew that he was a longshot and "that my kind of politics, "merely fighting one's way through without regard to power or influence, with no thought of strategy, standing only for that in which I believe and contemptuously rejecting all overtures to soft pedaling, depending solely upon people, rather than politicians or press, may not be appealing. I realize it makes success doubtful and difficult; but unfortunately it is the only way I know. Politicians distrust me, the press apparently fears my activity. I am where I am because I have never heeded either; and this very fact," he confessed candidly, "will probably prevent me from ever going higher."17

Lasker joined the Johnson team nonetheless. In fact, Lasker had previously cut a deal with former President Harding before his death - If Harding supported Hiram Johnson's Senate campaign in 1928, Lasker would help Harding get reelected. This Harding agreed to, provided Lasker could convince Johnson not to run for the presidency in 1924, and so Lasker had immediately left for Europe to catch up with the Senator overseas and talk him out of running. Soon thereafter, Harding died, effectively nullifying any previous arrangement.18

With the board set, Hiram Johnson officially announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in mid-November of 1923. In a statement drafted by George Henry Payne, Johnson pledged to represent the "overwhelming numbers of Republicans who fear the Republican Party has been captured by the forces of reaction and who themselves cry for a party of Progressivism through which to express themselves." Moreover, he argued, someone must stand up against "the effort now being made to inopportunely, and I believe disastrously, plunge America into European affairs." "Reaction and Progress must fight it out again in the Republican Party," the Senator averred, and while "I question not men now but their philosophy of government," Johnson concluded that only a Republican party animated "with the broad understanding, vision, and human sympathy of progressivism can solve our present day problems." Johnson's plan - not unlike Theodore Roosevelt's in 1912 - was to challenge the sitting president in every open primary. But to indicate to everyone he was still a mainstream Republican, Johnson named as his campaign manager Frank Hitchcock, who had previously run the 1908 Taft and 1916 Hughes bids.19

Had Senator Johnson expected the leading progressive journals to rally behind his candidacy -- he hadn't -- he would have been vastly disappointed. One year before The Nation begged Borah to run as a third party candidate, it had published a retrospective of Johnson's years in office by one George P. West that suggested the California Senator had consistently knifed other progressives to get ahead. "In justice to Johnson," West offered backhandedly, "it should be said that he was never a radical, that he is not a profound thinker or a wide reader, and that his conception of politics has in it something of a sporting-page conception in which pugnacity is a major virtue, with red blood and guts as the true criteria of a proper man." In the first issue after Johnson's announcement, The Nation was similarly cruel. "Hiram Johnson has tossed his hat into the ring," it yawned, "but somehow none of the ringside spectators seem excited about it":
Most of them probably thought that the hat had been lying in the ring lo, these many years. Almost every speech which the Senator from California has made in the last eight or ten years has been rather in the way of practice at presidential hat-tossing. Ten years ago…Hiram Johnson stood out as a fighting progressive with a record of real wrestling-matches with the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. Today he seems merely the familiar politician who ducked the Newberry issue, raised his voice in a piteous plea for protection for California lemons, and took his full share of patronage under the Harding Administration - from the same "materialist, stolid, and stubborn men" in whom he now suddenly discovers such "irreconcilable differences."20
The New Republic was slightly more circumspect, arguing that "Senator Johnson's announcement is the first attempt since the extinction of the Progressive party to expound progressivism in a form available for national popular consumption." That being said, they ridiculed "the almost ridiculous vagueness of Senator Johnson's account of what voters will get if they elect the spokesman of progressivism. It may be well for progressivism to proclaim that it is a philosophy, but if it is a philosophy minus a program it will be and should be devoid of political poignancy." Johnson, TNR argued, "is reluctant to specify what progressivism means in relation to domestic policy for one very good reason…He is afraid to choose and to risk his candidacy on the success of his combination of choices."21

While Johnson took to the campaign trail, and party regulars began to attack him as a disloyal Republican who had walked out in 1912 and helped to elect Wilson, Calvin Coolidge ignored the California Senator. Instead, he worked to neutralize one of the other serious dangers to his candidacy by inviting automaker Henry Ford over to the White House for a discussion. This talk may or may not have involved an agreement to let Ford purchase the government-owned nitrate plant and unfinished dam at Muscle Shoals, Alabama - something Ford had coveted since 1921. Whether there was a specific quid pro quo or not, Coolidge urged Congress in his December 6th Annual Message that the Muscle Shoals complex be sold. Twelve days later, on December 18th, Ford surprised many by declared that he "would never for a moment think of running against Calvin Coolidge for President on any ticket whatever." Johnson, among others, was quick to suggest the payoff. "Henry Ford has declared for Mr. Coolidge because, as he says, Mr. Coolidge is 'safe,' scoffed the Senator. "Immediately the part of the press of the country representing special privileges, which has always denounced and caricatured Mr. Ford, gives him a certificate of character and with open arms welcomes him to its ranks. Perhaps the time is propitious for Emma Goldman and Bill Haywood to return, declare for Mr. Coolidge and be acclaimed by the same special privilege press."22

For his part, Ickes put on a good face for his allies in the Johnson camp. "So far as Hiram Johnson is concerned he is in the fight to the finish and I have never seen him in better fighting trim, both physically and intellectually," he wrote to Pinchot in December. But to the candidate himself, Ickes admitted his doubts. "I don't like the feeling of things," he told the Senator. "The Coolidge people are working busily in every possible direction and they have the advantage of control of the organization pretty generally throughout the country. We seem to be standing still and to stand still in this kind of a fight means to slip." The only way forward, Ickes suggested, was a "smashing, driving, relentless campaign…The only way we can counter is to rally public sentiment." In their reporting on the election in January 1924, TIME agreed that Johnson was coming out of the box "badly handicapped," and that, while the Senator "is apparently undismayed by the great start which Coolidge has taken from him…[t]o the less partisan observers it seems that Johnson's chances depend on a 'break.'"23

Before the month ran out, such a "break" presented itself in the revelations emerging from the Teapot Dome scandal. Even as both Thomas Walsh and C. Bascom Slemp ventured down to Palm Beach, Florida to visit Ned McLean, and Edwin Doheny told Congress of his $100,000 "little black bag" donation to Albert Fall, Ickes urged Johnson to take the lead in tying Coolidge to the corruption. "Teapot Dome is going to be a heavy load for Mr. Coolidge to carry," he wrote Pinchot. "[H]e sat in as a member of the cabinet when the deal was considered and approved. And he has retained in his own cabinet and administration men of whom the least the can be said is that they didn't know enough, as representatives of the public, to protect the public interests against a bunch of crooked oil operators." Now, Ickes thought, Johnson could make his campaign by using the corruption card against the sitting president. "It begins to look as if Coolidge were going to be permitted to avoid any political damage from the Teapot Dome scandal," Ickes wrote the Senator. "I believe a great opportunity is being lost. Coolidge ought to be made to bear his share of the load."24

Ickes kept up the pressure into February, telegramming Johnson that "[e]veryone [is] talking about Teapot Dome scandal and it is become increasingly important issue. On this issue you are not yet in the picture." Three weeks later, Ickes suggested Johnson take the fight to the Senate floor. "Don't you think it is about time to go after Slemp in a vigorous speech?...[T]he President is slipping as a result of the oil scandal in Washington…I think he can be tied up hard and fast through Slemp, so hard and fast that he won't have a wiggle left in him." (Along with visiting McLean in Palm Beach, Slemp, it came out, had speculated in Sinclair oil stocks while a member of the House.) Coolidge "is a perfect product of the system," Ickes pleaded again in March. "He is part and parcel of a rotten and corrupt administration….I think a terrific smash out to be taken at Slemp…I don't think the case against Slemp has been driven into people's consciousness."25

Johnson, however, refused to engage on this front, apparently since he thought "the psychology would be bad." In truth, the Senator's psychology was taking a beating on the campaign trail. The problems had begun when Johnson had tried once again to patch things up with his old friend Raymond Robins. "I have been hoping in the last two months that I might see you personally," he wired Robins. "I have despaired of catching up with you…I am wiring you therefore, assuming the privileges of our dear old friendship, asking you if you will not unite with me in this campaign." Robins' reply was curt and cutting. "Your telegram received. We do not agree on what seems to me fundamental in depending campaign. I regret this more than I can say."26

Adding insult to injury, it began to seem to Johnson that, as with Henry Allen, his friend had betrayed him for a payoff. Once Robins was seen aboard Coolidge on the presidential yacht, The Mayflower, Johnson told Ickes, the word in Washington was that "the Borah Resolution for recognition of Russia would soon be passed with the consent of the Administration, thereafter Coolidge would recognize Russia, and it was agreed Robins should be appointed Ambassador to that country. I don't know how true this is. I repeat it to you, simply as it was told to me." By April, Raymond Robins was persona non grata to Ickes and Johnson both, with Ickes confessing a "deep disgust" for his former friend. "Of course, Raymond has a right to be for Coolidge if he can bring himself to such a state of mind and he has a right to accept the President's hospitality. What gets my goat is that he affects to regard with unutterable scorn functions such as these. He derides them, laughs at his hosts and seeks to give the appearance of being infinitely above such affairs. He then jumps the fastest train to Washington so as not to miss one of them. He pretends to be against Coolidge and yet accepts his hospitality. He joins one of the President's social outings and then jeers at his host and his social efforts. What the hell!"27

The onus of Robins' apparent betrayal was only a foretaste of the depressing primary season to come. "Senator Johnson has been carrying on a campaign mainly of criticism and condemnation," reported The Outlook in April, "but he has not made the impression upon the Republican voters that he did four years ago." That was putting it charitably. In state after state, Hiram Johnson would make barely a dent against the Coolidge onslaught. In New Jersey, Coolidge won by a factor of eight or nine to one. In Pennsylvania, Governor Gifford Pinchot's candidacy as a delegate to the convention was defeated by a Coolidge man. In Maine, Missouri, Washington, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Ohio -- all across the country, Coolidge swept primaries and state conventions instructed their delegates to vote for the sitting president. Only in South Dakota did Johnson manage to eke out a narrow win of a few hundred votes -- giving him all of ten delegates. (Even then, he was wrathful in victory, denouncing "the most reckless and shameless use of money…by the President.") Political journalists looking for apt metaphors found several on the trail, from Johnson's voice giving out, forcing an early end to a Midwest speaking tour, to his campaign car skidding at a railroad crossing and almost being obliterated by an oncoming Michigan Central freight train.28

While Johnson continued his doomed mission from coast to coast, Ickes tried everything to rally support behind the Senator. To Jane Addams, he sent a "summary of legislation particularly affecting women and the home enacted in California." To Dry voters wondering where Johnson stood on prohibition, Ickes promised Johnson "would enforce the law and do it on the square." When The New Republic editorialized that Republicans were remaining silent on the Teapot Dome issue, Ickes angrily fired off a letter to Herbert Croly arguing that Johnson has "arraigned the unholy alliance between crooked big business and crooked politics and has demanded a thorough cleaning of the Republican house…in this fight…he has had no more help from The New Republic than he has personally had, let us say, from The New York Times. Not only this, but apparently you haven't even known that Senator Johnson, with inspiring courage, has been carrying on a fight, the supposed lack of which you earnestly deplore." (To this, Croly responded with a vicious dismissal: "By Republicans in that article we obviously meant the attitude of the organization of the Party and those Republicans associated with it. The success of Senator Johnson's campaign with the nomination indicates very clearly how few Republicans, that is in any but three or four states in the northwest, favor that kind of thing.") Eventually, Ickes was even begrudgingly ready to accept what support he could get from the Ku Klux Klan. "I suppose I have as strong feelings as anyone but I have never yet reached the point where I refused to support a candidate of my choice because someone I didn't happen to like was also supporting him…And so in this campaign."29

Despite all his efforts, Ickes couldn't even win his home state of Illinois for Johnson. "We had the same damn old gang to fight here as in former years, every machine henchmen in this neck of the woods had out his knife," reported an Ickes ally from Murphysboro. Another from Macomb, Illinois explained that "the farmer vote through the country did not turn out owing to the uncertainty that exists caused by the money stringency, which I may state to you is serious…if they voted for their choice Senator Johnson and not succeed they might incur the enmity of the banks."30

The unkindest cut of all came in early May, when even California -- with the aid of Herbert Hoover, who garnered his revenge on Johnson for 1920 by running the president's primary operations in the state -- moved into Coolidge's corner by over 50,000 votes. "Of course, I am broken-hearted over the result in California," Ickes told Johnson. "I had hoped even against hope that your own state would not disgrace itself." Now, Ickes began to wonder "whether there is ever any use trying to fight the people's battles.":
You went into that state practically single-handed against a corrupt and strongly entrenched politico-business machine that was a disgrace to the state. You put that machine out of business. You cleaned out the state administration and made California the most progressive and forward looking of any of the states in the country…You did more than this: You put California on the map nationally. One would think that, regardless of results in other states, and disregarding any other consideration whatsoever, California would lose no opportunity to show to you its appreciation for the very real service that you have performed.

Yet a narrow-souled, small-minded time serving politician, with neither character nor ability, with no single public achievement to his credit, is given the preference vote. And people wonder why we have bad government, why our political ideals are so low and why men prefer to take their chances with the political machine rather than with the people themselves.

And yet what can a man do except to keep up the fight for what he believes in? You have tried to do what you thought was the right thing to do and you will just naturally have to go on doing the right thing regardless of political consequences to yourself. People are ungrateful; they forget easily; they follow false gods and yet one has to go on fighting for them just the same. It is just these qualities that make them need champions. Like children, they require protection against themselves.

As for being defeated you aren't defeated. All the political machines and all the voters in the world can't defeat any man. He can only defeat himself. In my political experience I have seen many a man apparently irretrievably beaten, but I have also seen these same men fight their way back. No man is ever beaten who keeps up the fight. You still have your two good fists left and the wonderful courage that has carried you through the cruelest political fight I have ever seen a man engage in. This engagement has gone overwhelmingly against you, but you haven't been defeated in the war because you still have those same two good fists and your high spirits. And may I say in passing that you also still have devoted and loyal friends who are glad and willing to face the future with you."31
Johnson would not give up the fight, but he would spend much of the rest of the 1924 campaign season licking wounds and grinding axes. In the meantime, the Coolidge machine rolled on.

Continue to Chapter 8, Pt. 4: Coronation in Cleveland.

Return to the Table of Contents.

1. Johnson to Ickes, March 5, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
2. Ickes to Johnson, April 10, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson. Ickes to Johnson, April 26, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
3. Ickes to Johnson, April 26, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
4. Ickes to Johnson, June 22, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
5. Ickes to Johnson, August 3, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
6. Ibid.
7. Mencken, 65. "Slemp," The Nation, October 1923 (Vol. 26, No. 6), 248-249. "C. Bascom Slemp," TIME, August 27th, 1923.
8. George Henry Payne to Ickes, September 19, 1923. Ickes to George Henry Payne, September 25, 1923. HLI.
9. Ickes to Johnson, September 7, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.. Mencken, 69.
10. Johnson to Ickes, August 17, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
11. Ickes to Johnson, September 24, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson. Ickes to Johnson, September 26, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
12. Ickes to Gifford Pinchot, October 17. 1923. HLI Box 37: Gifford Pinchot. Ickes to Gifford Pinchot, October 30, 1923. HLI, Box 37: Gifford Pinchot. Ickes to Johnson, October 19, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
13. Ickes to Johnson, October 16, 1923 Box 33: Hiram Johnson. HLI. Johnson to Ickes, October 16, 1923 Box 33: Hiram Johnson. HLI. Ickes to Johnson, October 24, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
14. Johnson to Ickes, October 2, 1923. Johnson to Ickes, October 8, 1923. Johnson to Ickes, October 27, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
15. Ickes to Johnson, October 16, 1923. HLI. Salzman, 314.
16. White to Paul Ewert, January 2, 1924. White, Selected Letters, 239.
17. Johnson to Albert Lasker, October 4, 1923. HLI.
18. Johnson to Lasker, October 4, 1923. HLI, Box 35: Albert Lasker. Jeffrey L. Cruikshank & Arthur Schultz, The Man who Sold America: The Amazing (But True!) Story of Albert D. Lasker (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2010), 235-236.
19. George Henry Payne to Ickes, October 30, 1923. HLI, Box 36: George Henry Payne. "Progressivism - The Vintage of 1924," The New Republic, November 23, 1923, 4."Hitchcock to Run Hiram Johnson's Fight," New York Times, November 27, 1923.
20. George P. West, "Hiram Johnson: After Twelve Years," The Nation, August 9th, 1922 (Vol. 115, No. 2979), 142-144. The Nation, November 28, 1923 (Vol. 117, No. 3047), 593. Johnson briefly replied to the West piece in a later issue, calling it a "nasty, untrue, and malicious attack" and the "expression of the malice and mendacity of a disgruntled and defeated postmaster in the corrupt expenditure of money in politics." The article would not hurt his prospects in California, Johnson said, but "it can only affect the estimation in which people have held The Nation." Johnson's former personal secretary, F.R. Havenner, also responded at length. "In Defense of Hiram Johnson," The Nation, August 22nd, 1922 (Vol. 155, No. 2980), 166-167.
21. "Progressivism - The Vintage of 1924," The New Republic, November 23, 1923, 4-6. The platform Johnson eventually put out in January of 1924 consisted of opposition to the Mellon tax rates, the League of Nations, the World Court, and the administration's Mexico policy and support for the Bonus Bill and McNary-Haugenism. "The Republican Alternative," TIME Magazine, January 14th, 1924.
22. Samuel Colcord, "Hiram Johnson's Claim," New York Times, November 21, 1923. C.S. Hammond, "Hiram Johnson's Claims," New York Times, December 11, 1923. Murray, The 103rd Ballot, 38. Calvin Coolidge, "First Annual Message to Congress, December 6th, 1923 "National Affairs: Johnson on Ford," TIME Magazine, December 31st , 1923.
23. Ickes to Gifford Pinchot, December 6, 1923. HLI, Box 37: Gifford Pinchot. Ickes to Johnson, December 22, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson. "The New Road," TIME Magazine, January 7th, 1924.
24. Ickes to Gifford Pinchot, January 23, 1924. Box 38: Gifford Pinchot. Ickes to Johnson, January 24, 1924. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
25. Ickes to Johnson, February 9, 1924. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson. Ickes to Johnson, March 21, 1924. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
26. Ickes to Johnson, March 21, 1924. HLI. Johnson to Ickes, January 25, 1924. HLI. Ickes to Johnson, January 26, 1924. HLI. Johnson to Ickes, Said Ickes of the exchange, "I confess that I can't follow him in his mental processes at this time. I don't agree with him at all as you know."
27. January 28, 1924. HLI. Ickes to Johnson, April 17, 1924. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
28. "What do the Primaries Signify," The Outlook, April 9th, 1924, 582. "National Affairs: Boom," TIME Magazine, April 14th, 1924. "Pre-Convention," TIME Magazine, May 5th, 1924. "National Affairs: Close," TIME Magazine, April 14th, 1924.
29. Ickes to Addams, March 12, 1924. HLI, Box 34: Hiram Johnson Campaign 'A' Ickes to George W. McColley, December 20, 1923. HLI, Box 34: Hiram Johnson Campaign 'Mc' Ickes to Croly, April 17, 1924. HLI, Box 34: Hiram Johnson Campaign 'R' Croly to Ickes, April 24, 1924. HLI, Box 34: Hiram Johnson Campaign 'R' Harold Ickes to Fay Ickes, March 3, 1924. HLI, Box 34: Hiram Johnson Campaign 'I' Klan and VFW member Fay Ickes (no relation) further suggested to Ickes "that the Senator when he travels thru Michigan and especially Indiana, that he have a Klansman with him, as he could meet the other Klansmen and help the Senator along." Ickes demurred. Fay Ickes to Harold Ickes, February 22, 1924. HLI, Box 34: Hiram Johnson Campaign 'I'
30. Zardia Crain to Ickes, April 21, 1924. HLI, Box 34: Hiram Johnson Campaign 'C' Philip Elting, Esq. to Ickes, April 21, 1924. HLI, Box 34: Hiram Johnson Campaign 'E'
31. Hoover, 56. Murray, The 103rd Ballot, 225. Ickes to Johnson, May 8, 1924. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.

[Download Uphill all the Way: The Fortunes of Progressivism, 1919-1929 as a PDF.]

Main Page/Family/Links/Gallery/Biography/Soapbox/Resume/Writings/Weblog

If you found this dissertation useful or entertaining, please consider contributing to the tip fund.
Alas, history isn't the wildly remunerative discipline it used to be.