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 Twelve:
My America Against Tammany's

Progressives and the Election of 1928

I. The Republican Succession

I. The Republican Succession.
II. The Available Man.
III. Hoover v. Smith.
IV. The Third Landslide.

"I did feel that the La Follette campaign served a definite purpose and had a great value in demonstrating again to both the old-line parties that there was a tremendous Progressive vote in the country which could not be safely disregarded. The effects of this lesson were certainly evident in the 1928 campaign when the choice of the voters was not between any ultra-conservatives (such as Harding and Coolidge) but between men who might be designated: the liberal conservative, Herbert Hoover, and the conservative liberal, Al Smith." -- Donald Richberg1

The presidential contest between Herbert Hoover and Al Smith might have been a chance to debate two emerging visions of governance -- the associative model favored by the Great Engineer and the emerging welfare state being created in New York. It was not to be. When Smith -- always an underdog amid Coolidge prosperity -- chose to minimize his policy differences with the Republican candidate, that left cultural rather than political distinctions the focus of the election. The same forces that had wreaked havoc on the Democratic Party in 1924 now spilled out into politics at large. The final result in the election was virtually predetermined, but the journey there was ugly nonetheless.

The Republican Succession

Given the general prosperity, there were very few surprises in the 1928 election cycle, particularly as compared to the two previous presidential elections. This followed a pattern set in the 1926 midterms. Unlike in 1922, which saw voters rebelling against labor unrest, agricultural depression, and a struggling economy and had given progressives hope of a reaction against Normalcy setting in, 1926 saw some normal churn, but not nearly the same broad dissatisfaction with the Coolidge administration that had lifted progressive hearts four years earlier.

In the House, Republicans lost nine seats but retained a majority of over forty. The Senate saw stronger Democratic gains, with the party out of power picking up six seats. Republicans still held a slim 48-47 majority, but had lost nominal control of the Senate on account of the progressive tendency to align with the opposition when opportunities warranted. Among the new faces in the Senate were Democrats Robert Wagner of New York (who defeated James Wadsworth), Hugo Black of Alabama (replacing the retiring Oscar Underwood), and Alben Barkley of Kentucky. On the Republican side, former Wisconsin Governor John J. Blaine replaced Irvine Lenroot to serve alongside young Bob La Follette -- who had taken his late father's seat in 1925. Gerald Nye of North Dakota was also a relative newcomer, replacing Edwin Ladd after his death that same year. And Republicans Frank Smith of Illinois and William Vare of Pennsylvania both won seats that progressives would soon contest for campaign finance irregularities.2

Returning to the Senate in 1926 were Democratic David Walsh of Massachusetts, elected to fulfill the remainder of Henry Cabot Lodge's term after losing in 1924, and Republican Smith W. Brookhart of Iowa, who had been forced out earlier in the year due to his support of La Follette -- Republicans in a punitive mood had joined Democrats in the suit contesting his close 1924 victory over Democrat Daniel Steck. Meanwhile, Wet referenda -- either rolling back Prohibition enforcement or allowing for the sale of beer and wine -- passed easily in New York, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Nevada, and came very close to becoming law in the erstwhile dry stronghold of Colorado.3

The Nation and New Republic were heartened by many of these developments, as well as the unprecedented fourth term victory for the Governor of New York. "Al Smith's popularity is undiminished and is unique in the history of American politics," noted TNR approvingly. But they relished most of all David Walsh's victory over Coolidge ally William Morgan Butler in the president's home state of Massachusetts. That election, argued The Nation, "which has removed from the Senate one of the most harmful of our reactionaries, should set men's tongues free in other camps also." TNR called Walsh's victory "a political fact of the first importance," and noted it "had the appearance of a deliberate repudiation of the President by the Republican voters of his own state."4

But there was a touch of wishful thinking in much of this. While The Nation hoped "the strategic position of the Progressives" in the Senate would "promise a vigorous stirring in what would otherwise be an utterly arid political desert," they also agreed they were "not so optimistic or inexperienced as to believe that we shall make great progress during the next two years." TNR, in the end, noted the "country has gone somewhat wet and partly Democratic," but otherwise the status quo had not much changed. "What has come to be a tradition of American politics has been fulfilled by the swing away from the party in power at the midterm voting." Despite some egg on the face of Coolidge for what had happened to Butler, "[t]his does not necessarily or even probably indicate a Republican defeat in 1928."5

While William Butler's loss likely had very little to do with it, one of the only major bombshells of the 1928 cycle occurred ten months later, in the math classroom next to the president's vacation-office at Rapid City High School, South Dakota on August 2nd, 1927 -- four years to the day that Calvin Coolidge had ascended to the presidency. Given the anniversary, reporters asked Coolidge at a 9am press conference what he thought his biggest accomplishment was. "It is rather difficult for me to pick out one thing over another," the president shrugged:
The country has been in peace during that time. It hasn't had any marked commercial or financial depression. Some parts of it naturally have been better off than other parts, some people better off than other people, but on the whole it has been a time of a fair degree of prosperity. Wages have been slightly increasing…There has been a very marked time of peace in the industrial world…There has been considerable legislation which you know about, and which I do not need to recount. There have been great accomplishments in the finances of the national government, a large reduction in the national debt, considerable reduction in taxes.6
The president also requested that reporters come back at noon, at which point "I may have a further statement to make." When they did -- making it 3pm on the East Coast, after the stock market had closed -- Coolidge closed the classroom door behind them and asked the pool of White House reporters to line up single-file. He then gave each of them a small slip of paper reading: "I do not choose to run for President in nineteen twenty-eight." When the journalists in attendance asked if the president had any further comment, Coolidge replied "None." When Senator Arthur Capper, in attendance, told the president his statement had caused quite a commotion, Silent Cal agreed. "Yes, so it seems," he said, before leaving the building with a grin.7

Immediately, political observers began speculating whether Coolidge, not unlike Woodrow Wilson in 1920, was hoping to be drafted by a grateful nation to a third term. "There is no doubt in my mind that Coolidge will be a candidate to succeed himself," Hiram Johnson had said to Harold Ickes the year before. "[H]e will be re-nominated without difficulty, and then the split…will occur in the Democratic Party on the religious question, I feel very certain he will be re-elected." Now that "the Sphinx has spoken," Johnson thought "he spoke to leave the door ajar but that the American people have closed that door upon him." Ickes concurred. "I am firmly of the opinion," he replied, "that he didn't choose to be a candidate again for president in the same sense that a girl doesn't choose to be kissed when she is just dying to have her boyfriend put his arms around her and do that same thing...[Coolidge] decided to give out the statement that he did in the hope of stampeding public sentiment. He doubtless thought that the country would stand appalled at the very suggestion that it was to be deprived of his unexceptional and extraordinary services as president."8

From the contemporary vantage, however, signs suggest this was not the case. Asked the question in the 1930's, Hoover argued that Coolidge definitely wanted out. "I know it from direct, positive, intimate, and complete discussion." Edmund Starling thought the president was sick of the work involved and still heartsick over the death of his son. Grace Coolidge, who ostensibly knew the president better than anyone, gave two potentially apocryphal anecdotes in the decade to come about her husband's intentions at the time. In one, Coolidge told one of his Cabinet members, "[i]t is a pretty good idea to get out when they still want you." In the other, written in 1935, Coolidge apparently said, "I know how to save money. All my training has been in that direction. The country is in a sound financial position. Perhaps the time has come when we ought to spend money. I do not feel that I am qualified to do it." Coolidge had, according to Indiana Senator James Watson, said something similar to him: "I think I know myself very well. I fitted into the situation that existed right after the war, but I might not fit into the next one….From this time on, there must be something constructive applied to the affairs of government, and it will not be sufficient to say, 'Let business take care of itself.'" Writing on "Why I Did Not Choose to Run," for a Hearst publication in April 1929, Coolidge argued "it is difficult to conceive how one man can successfully serve the country for a term of more than eight years." Or, as Thomas Edison more simply put it, "He is getting sick of the job."9

Whatever motivated Coolidge to this decision, he was now officially out -- opening the question of who in the Republican Party would succeed him. "It is generally understood that Mr. Hoover is the President's own choice," suggested The New Republic after Coolidge's announcement, overstating the case quite a bit. ("That man has offered me unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad!" Coolidge had exclaimed in May of "Wonder Boy.") Otherwise, TNR thought, "Speaker Longworth seems to be making little headway. Mr. [Frank] Lowden has only the discontent of the Middle-Western farmers behind him," which were not often a swing vote in a Republican primary. "Mr. [Charles Evans] Hughes has said he would not be a candidate; he is sixty-five years of age, and would be seventy-one on leaving office. A far more serious contender, undoubtedly, is General Dawes." "In the back of my head is the notion that Dawes is one of the strongest potential candidates in the country," Ickes told Hiram Johnson. "I think I know that Dawes in his own heart believes that he is a man of destiny and will be president of the United States."10

But Vice-President Dawes didn't seem to have much of the Hell and Maria about him. "I have had friends who have been President and it killed them," he told his brother Henry. "I have no desire to end my life that way." While obviously the presidency was a great honor, Dawes thought "the man nominated will be either Hoover or Lowden. Essentially, I think as they do and there is nothing I can do that they could not do." In September 1927, at an event honoring John J. Pershing, Dawes offered many splendid encomiums to "our great war president, Woodrow Wilson, and his able Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker" -- which was aberrant behavior for a contending Republican presidential candidate. Two months later, Dawes stated unequivocally that "I am not a candidate for the presidency. I favor the nomination of Frank O. Lowden, assuming President Coolidge is not a candidate."11

Dawes' endorsement notwithstanding, Governor Lowden didn't look to have much of a chance in 1928 either. If Lowden had been a candidate safely in the middle in 1920 -- before his bid was inadvertently derailed by the Johnson-Borah campaign finance inquiry -- in 1928 he had become the locus of agrarian discontent with the Coolidge administration, and the favorite candidate of McNary-Haugen supporters. But while Lowden quietly tested the waters in 1927 and 1928, he refused to put his name officially in contention, and believed -- quite correctly -- that Republicans would not insult the popular sitting president "by choosing the leading opponent of his farm policy." When the Republican convention in Kansas City rejected a McNary-Haugen plank to the 1928 platform, Lowden -- seeing the writing on the wall -- asked that he not be considered as a candidate in the balloting. "Governor Frank Lowden was a man eminently fitted for the Presidency," Hoover later wrote of him in his memoirs. "He should have been nominated in 1920 instead of Harding." But, while calling Lowden "one of my most devoted friends," the Great Engineer did not say the same of him in 1928.12

And then there was Borah. For much of 1927, as Borah increasingly forsook the rest of the Senate progressives to decry the lax enforcement of Prohibition, his colleagues and others presumed the Idaho Senator was gearing up for a presidential bid at last. While "Borah lost much prestige in this last session," Johnson told Ickes in 1926, "[o]utside of the Senate, I think he gained enormously with the 'drys', and is their pet advocate, and possibly their presidential candidate." As such, "[t]here is a consensus of opinion here that Borah is an avowed candidate now, and I think he really is, but knowing him as I do, I am perfectly certain he will never come to the scratch." Johnson was basically on the money. The Idaho Senator's strategy was not unlike the frustrating waiting game he had played with J.A.H. Hopkins and the third party movement in 1924. While Raymond Robins worked to ascertain Borah's level of support among progressive Republicans, Borah continued to send out mixed messages and play things close to the vest -- "simply saw wood," in his words -- hoping for a deadlock at the convention that might redound to his favor. "The present outlook," he told one of his longtime backers in March 1928, "is that no man will go to Kansas City with sufficiency to nominate."13

On account of this strategy, Borah's behavior from the outside could seem erratic. In June of 1927 -- two months before Coolidge officially bowed out -- he emphatically and seemingly without reason endorsed the president. "I noticed that our friend from Idaho, just as he had a real opportunity…not only declared himself out, but announced his fealty to the president," Ickes wrote to Johnson. "What a strange combination he is! I presume there will be nothing for our friend, Raymond, now but to seek another cruise upon the Mayflower and be reconverted."14

But as soon as Coolidge announced his retirement, Borah rushed to the telegraph to declare that the president's choice "must be regarded as result of a profound conviction and a finality." Now, he argued, "it would be a magnificent thing if the Republican party now in power would devote the next six months to legislation, to shaping and forming principles and polices instead of wrangling over individual candidates, in view of the pressing and important nature of the questions which now confront us" -- those issues mainly being prohibition enforcement, flood control, and, to Borah, the return of the Continental Trading Company's dirty money to the Republican party, which had been uncovered in the last round of Teapot Dome inquiries.15

Three months later, Johnson reported that "the most intimate and confidential friend of Senator Borah" -- Raymond Robins -- had told former La Follette organizers "that Borah is a candidate for the presidency; [and] that he has the secret endorsement of certain progressive elements in various Western states and of some of the former La Follette groups…at the appropriate time in the convention there may be a stampede for Borah." Johnson thought this strategy was ridiculous, and said as much to Ickes the following June. Robins, Borah, and Outlawry advocate Salmon Levinson, he wrote, "have been snooping around for some months like the 'Three Tailors of Tooley Street' conspiring among themselves and keeping their plans for overturning the nation a deep, dark secret. They will all wind up, as usual, in the band wagon, and it does not make much difference what or whose band wagon it is."16

It is true that Robins, as usual, was trying to play a complicated hand. "While Borah will never be the president of these United States," he told his sister, "no man can now be elected next November on the Republican ticket without his endorsement. And this bitter truth is now known to all the ablest masters of the political game in our America. So far has the drive of a Sober America [proceeded]…and for the outlawing of the war institution among the nations of the earth." But if Borah was fooling himself, so was Robins, as he hinted in October 1927 when he noted that Borah was "least friendly to Hoover -- possibly because the Hoover boom is growing very substantially." And indeed, Borah's intricate dance to become a potential dark horse was far too subtle, and his voice by now too erratic, to stand in the way of the formidable public relations machine Hoover had been building for years to acquire the Republican nomination.17

From April 1927 until the end of the year, as he directed Red Cross camps, surveyed broken levees, and made time for sundry other flood-related photo opportunities -- such as the birth of triplets named Highwater, Flood, and Inundation in Opelousas, Louisiana -- the Secretary of Commerce was a regular on the front-pages, radio broadcasts, and newsreels. This added boon only enhanced the public prestige Hoover and his department had worked to cultivate in the years before the Great Flood, including securing the endorsement of the Scripps-Howard chain, formerly La Follette supporters. In December 1927, Oswald Villard complained that newspaper reporters "see nothing to the Presidential contest now except the nomination of Hoover and Smith, with Hoover winning in an easy canter." But, in an otherwise unflattering portrait of Hoover two months later, even Villard conceded that "I cannot see how he can be kept out of [the presidency], or how anyone can doubt that, barring a miracle and the open and avowed opposition of Calvin Coolidge, he will be the first Californian to occupy the White House."18

"It looks to me as if Hoover is likely to be nominated," wrote Hiram Johnson, who had always despised the man, that same month. "This is because he has practically no opponent. Hoover has the only organized force, and apparently is the only one lavishly expending money. There is no other candidate either with organization or with an appeal to the imagination of our people." Ickes felt much the same. The thought of "the democratic-republican-non-partisan citizen of sunny, Southern California leave me even colder than the thought of Hughes," he grimaced. "I don't like him and I never did," But the signs of Hoover's ascendance were clear. "I am willing to predict now that Raymond Robins will be found in a prominent seat on the Hoover bandwagon," he told Johnson.19

Robins wasn't the only one contemplating swallowing that bitter pill. By the time primary season rolled around, and even though many Senate Republicans desired a different standard-bearer than "Sir Herbert," Governor Lowden showed no strength outside of agrarian states and Hoover's front-runner status was virtually unchallenged. The Great Engineer soon won handily in California, Oregon, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Maryland, while favorite sons like Senator Guy Goff and Senate Majority Leader Charles Curtis took West Virginia and Kansas respectively.20

In order to stymie the growth of any potential rivals, the Hoover campaign decided to contest favorites sons in Ohio and Indiana, to mixed results. In Ohio, Hoover looked to be losing to Senator Frank Willis, the former Governor and committed Prohibitionist who had taken Warren Harding's seat. "Personally, I have no fear of the results," Willis averred, although he was rather irritated the Scripps-Howard papers in Ohio were backing Hoover's candidacy. "In these times we hear much of chains -- chain broadcasting, chain motion pictures, chain stores, chain newspapers, chains in international trade," the Senator proclaimed "The fact is, under the chain system…the great middle class of our people face all the time greater difficulties in maintaining its independent existence...Since when has the Republican Party come to the place where its candidates are to be dictated by a chain of newspapers that have never supported the Republican ticket?" William Borah, no doubt desiring to slow down Hoover's seemingly inexorable drive to the nomination and illustrate his kingmaker bona fides, indirectly backed Willis by going on the radio to emphasize the vital importance of the Eighteenth Amendment -- an issue on which the very Dry Willis had intimated the Dry-on-paper Hoover was wanting.21

At a March 30th campaign event, however, -- as the Buckeye Glee Club unfortunately sang the "Farewell" refrain of a song called "The End of a Perfect Day" -- Senator Frank Willis suddenly dropped dead backstage of a cerebral hemorrhage, clearing the path for a Ohio victory for Hoover. "Mr. Willis as school teacher, Governor, and Senator has given his life to honest, upright public service," said Hoover in eulogy. "The passing of so conscientious a public servant is a matter of deep regret to every citizen." Hiram Johson, who sat next to Willis on the Senate floor, grumbled "Damn the politics! That's what killed him."22

Two months later, Hoover entered the Indiana primary, where he faced the blustery Senator James Watson, who held the support of what remained of the Klan and who had publicly vowed to give Hoover a thumping. But, by then, the writing was on the wall. "If Herbert should by any chance carry the state," wrote Bruce Bliven in The New Republic, his nomination would be so completely cinched that all fun would evaporate from the fight and the anti-Hoover alliance would literally crumble to pieces…Capturing Indiana would put Herbert's nomination under the head of finished business, but he does not need the state." In fact, Hoover lost the state, but, Bliven argued, "the fact that Hoover went into both Ohio and Indiana broke the rules of the game; but it also broke up the pretty plan to get enough states in hand, either in the favorite-son or the uninstructed class, to keep a majority against him in the convention." Now, the Great Engineer's nomination was virtually assured -- a fact that was not lost on Borah. After the passing of Willis, the Idaho Senator wheeled fiercely into Hoover's camp, in order to maintain some sort of voice at the table moving forward. Hoover accepted the offer of Borah's aid. From the White House, meanwhile, Coolidge told Edmund Starling "They're going to elect that superman Hoover, and he's going to have some trouble."23

On June 12th, when the Republicans gathered in Kansas City for their convention, Hoover was both a virtually unchallenged frontrunner for the nomination and a candidate that left many segments of the party, from the Old Guard to Wall Street to even some progressives, unenthused. "Dreariest and dullest of conventions," reported Oswald Villard. "That is what we who journeyed here have witnessed." The most outraged attendees were the western Republicans who had hoped Governor Lowden would mount more of a challenge -- especially given the fact that Calvin Coolidge had vetoed the McNary-Haugen bill a second time only a few weeks before the convention. As Republicans arrived in Kansas City, they were greeted with a parade of 500 farmers, in overalls and straw hats, yelling "We Don't Want Hoover!" But even this seemed perfunctory to many observers. The Governor of Nebraska, Adam McMullen, had urged 100,000 farmers to make their wrath known at the convention. "[T]he demonstration of the embattled farmers was an absolute fizzle," said Villard. "Only a few hundred came -- it was almost the worst time of year for farmers to leave home."24

First, as always, came the Republican Party platform, many planks of which had been outsourced to William Borah to keep the Idaho Senator happy. As such, the platform endorsed the Kellogg-Briand pact "to renounce war as an instrument of national policy…as the first step in outlawing war," an idea that "has stirred the conscience of mankind." It declared that the "improper use of money in governmental and political affairs is a great national evil" and that elections should be "clean, honest, and free from taint of any kind." And it emphasized the importance of enforcing Prohibition in very Borahesque terms. Quoting both George Washington ("The Constitution which at any time exists until changed by the explicit and authentic act by the whole people is sacredly obligatory upon all") and Abraham Lincoln ("We are by both duty and inclination bound to stick by that Constitution in all its letter and spirit from beginning to end"), the platform pledged "itself and its nominees to the observance and vigorous enforcement" of the Eighteenth Amendment.25

Citing the changes in the economy since 1921, especially the lower tax rates and reduced national debt, the Republican platform also endorsed "without qualification the record of the Coolidge administration...No better guaranty of prosperity and contentment among all our people at home, no more reliable warranty of protection and promotion of American interests abroad can be given than the pledge to maintain and continue the Coolidge policies." It also approvingly cited the "energetic action by the Republican Administration" in responding to the Mississippi flood, as a result of which "a great loss of life was prevented and everything possible was done to rehabilitate the people in their homes and to relieve suffering and distress." The platform called for a federal anti-lynching law, continued immigration restriction, federal investments in commercial aviation and administration over radio. Recognizing an "agricultural program… national in scope," it endorsed "adequate tariff protection to such of our agricultural products as are affected by foreign competition," "vigorous efforts" to open overseas markets, and "measures which will place the agricultural interests of America on a basis of economic equality with other industries to insure its prosperity and success."26

This last plank turned out to be the most controversial, especially after young Bob La Follette took the convention floor and made the case for this year's Wisconsin platform, which among other things endorsed the McNary-Haugen bill. "He spoke with such good temper and once with such real wit that he easily won his audience," Villard said of La Follette, echoing his glowing review of the Wisconsin planks four years earlier. "There is a general belief that he will be a big factor in the party in the years to come." To fight La Follette's brushfire, the convention stalwarts unleashed Borah, who in a thirty minute harangue called McNary-Haugen unconstitutional and Coolidge's veto of it "the greatest benefit and the greatest favor which has been rendered to the American farmer." The minority platform subsequently lost 806-278, prompting Governor Lowden to request his name not even be put into contention.27

The dust-up over McNary-Haugenism aside, the platform, as usual, inspired very little passion from either its adherents or its critics. "[W]hile no worse than usual," The New Republic deemed it "a mass of evasions and hypocrisies which certainly will not attract independent-minded unattached voters, and particularly if the Democrats have the sense to strike out boldly on some of the same issues." After the convention, George Norris told The Nation that both the platform and its standard-bearer "will be a sad disappointment to every progressive citizen... [A]ny Republican who believes in honest government [should view] the controlling features of the convention with shame and disgust." William Borah's contributions to the platform and water-carrying for Coolidge, meanwhile, further irritated his former progressive allies. The Idaho Senator "never once raised his voice…to have any plank included which would condemn the Power Trust, whose sins were smelling to high heaven," rued Norris. TNR remarked that "instead of being the flaming mouthpiece of the minority," Borah was this time "not only with the majority, but one of its directing heads."28

In terms of picking a nominee, the convention needed only one ballot, after which Herbert Hoover had 837 of 1089 votes, Frank Lowden 74, and Charles Curtis of Kansas 64. The party chose a vice-president just as quickly. Eastern conservatives had been hoping to enlist Massachusetts Governor Alvin Fuller, until one Senator of note said, "We'll not put the Sacco-Vanzetti issue into this campaign." (Wrote The Nation: "Though dead, yet shall they live.") So, upon Hoover's request and after he was nominated and pushed on the floor by Borah -- who wanted a man of the West -- the honor went instead to Curtis. As both Senate Majority Leader and an agrarian moderate who supported McNary-Haugen, but who had not voted to overturn Coolidge's veto, Curtis could help placate some of the intraparty opposition roiling the convention. Only days before, Senator Curtis had made public statements ridiculing Hoover and encouraging the Republican party to look elsewhere -- but he eventually accepted the vice-presidency when it was offered.29

"It would be easy to exaggerate the seriousness of the dissention within the ranks of the Republicans," argued the editors of The New Republic after the three day meeting had adjourned. But "the antagonism of the farmers, the passive dislike (at best) of some financial interests, the active dislike of many politicians of his own party, are grave liabilities." "No one who saw this convention meet and depart," said Villard, "can pretend for an instant that the delegates are going back with their fighting clothes on. There was no cheering in the streets after the convention, no parading of joyous enthusiasts, no beaming delegates in the corridors of the hotels."30

Even many progressives, some of whom used to count Hoover among their number, were left unenthused by the prospect of the Engineer-as-President. Whatever Hoover's qualifications after the War, editorialized The Nation, "[w]e have seen him deteriorate since 1919 into the most ordinary of opinion-changing, favor-seeking, pussy-footing politician, jettisoning one after another all the views he held in 1919, as it seemed advantageous to do, and finally shutting up altogether. Now he has gratefully accepted the nomination from the reactionary wing of the Republicans with whom he said in 1920 he would have 'nothing to do,' upon a platform which does violence to every opinion he held" back then. Meanwhile, "[b]ehind Mr. Hoover stands the Republican Party and that fact alone ought to estop any liberal from voting for the Secretary of Commerce -- even if he were everything that his greatest admirers assert that he is. It remains the party of privilege, of Big Business, of predatory wealth…It is still the party of Fall, of Harry Daughtery, of Denby, of Bill Vare, of Bascom Slemp, of Mellon...the Republican Party is merely the weapon and refuge of the masters of privilege."31

The New Republic, much to the irritation of Hiram Johnson, had strongly backed Herbert Hoover's dark horse bid eight years earlier, and in 1928 they were at first more sympathetic to his candidacy than was The Nation. In nominating Hoover, TNR argued, "the Republicans have entrusted the responsibility of leadership to the member of their party who is best prepared for the work" and "the only vital ingredient in Republicanism which may serve as a positive leaven in the future conduct and policy of the party." But the journal's argument for Hoover was considerably more tempered than it was in 1920. Hoover, they conceded, was a Republican who believed that "the function of government in relation to business is to safeguard its essential interests, to respect its essential purposes, and even to encourage its essential activities" -- in short, Hoover "believes in the subordination of government to business."32

Business may be master, but unlike the Old Guard Republicans, TNR argued, Hoover at least believed that scientific-minded virtues like efficiency should guide the master's hand. As Herbert Croly put it in a separate article, Hoover had won the nomination because "there was no alternative candidate upon whom the unplacated politicians, the suspicious big business men and the aggrieved agrarians could agree." Nonetheless, "Mr. Hoover's nomination is really symptomatic of the triumph of business over traditional American politics. The predatory business which the progressives fought based its political calculations upon an alliance with the Old Guard, but the more successful business which Mr. Hoover represents," said Croly, believed instead in the virtues of noblesse oblige and sound scientific management that guided the likes of Ford and Filene.33

In sum, Croly concluded, "Mr. Hoover has introduced into politics engineering method." This line of argument echoed one put forward by George Soule in the magazine in December 1927. In a piece mostly sympathetic to Hoover, Soule argued that the Great Engineer was not progressive but practical -- "He seems more like the well-trained head of a great industrial corporation…He will waste no time on lost causes, or causes which cannot win until his day is over." Any antipathy businessmen felt toward Hoover, Soule argued, was misplaced, because "Mr. Hoover is too much like them to think or act very differently about large issue. He will do much to help the present industrial order in the United States to live up to its better possibilities. He will do little to change it as its rulers do not want it changed."34

A businessman he may be, but the progressive journals thought that Hoover's affinity for "conferences and cooperation to legislative compulsion," in Villard's phrase, could still be tested and found wanting as president. "As Secretary of Commerce he has helped business to conduct their existing affairs more methodically and successfully…But he has assumed little or no responsibility for any improvement in business method which was not quickly and demonstrably profitable to individual business men." As President, Hoover may have to make decisions "which do not interest business men as individual producers and which may involve expenditures and sacrifices on their part…If his attitude toward these questions is as evasive and complacent as that of President Coolidge, the progressive opinion of the country will size up his proposed application of scientific method to economic processes as merely a hypocritical attempt to rationalize Mellonism, and will cease to cherish any hopes or illusions about him." In other words, the nation might soon learn the limits of voluntary association, unless Hoover showed more resolve in the Oval Office than he ever had at Commerce.35

First, of course, the Great Engineer had to get elected, against an opponent who had also sailed to his party's nomination despite much grumbling from many party regulars. "Hoover has gained his present position because he has had no opponent in reality, and he will be nominated for the same reason, unless Coolidge changes his mind." Johnson noted to Ickes in June, just before the Republicans met in Kansas City. "Smith will be nominated by the Democrats and there will then be a merry fight, bitter, disagreeable, and nasty, as are all contests where religion is involved." That's exactly what many Democrats were afraid of.36



Continue to Chapter 12, Pt. 2: The Available Man.

Return to the Table of Contents.

1. Richberg, 139.
2. "J. Joseph Huthmacher, Senator Robert Wagner and the Rise of Urban Liberalism, (New York: Atheneum, 1968), 52-53. The Congress: Elections," TIME Magazine, November 15th, 1926. "The Week," The New Republic, November 10th, 1926 (Vol. 48, No. 623), 308-310. "Editorial Paragraphs," "Mr. Coolidge, The Election, and the Future," "The Outcome in Three States," The Nation, November 17th, 1926 (Vol. 123, No. 3202), 495-498, 502.
3. Ibid. Finan, 192.
4. "Mr. Coolidge, The Election, and the Future," "The Outcome in Three States," The Nation, November 17th, 1926, 498. "The Week," The New Republic, November 10th, 1926, 308-310.
5. Ibid.
6. Burner, 190-191. Sobel, 368-370. Timmons, 258-259.
7. Ibid. "National Affairs: Shock," TIME Magazine, August 15th, 1927. Greenberg, 136-138.
8. Johnson to Ickes, July 6, 1926. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson. Johnson to Ickes, August 12, 1927 Box 33: Hiram Johnson. HLI. Ickes to Johnson, August 18, 1927. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
9. Ibid. Schlesinger, Crisis of the Old Order, 88. "The Coolidge Why," TIME Magazine, April 15th, 1929. "Shock," TIME, August 15th, 1927.
10. "The Week," The New Republic, August 17th, 1927 (Vol. 51, No. 663), 318-319. Goldberg, 151. Ickes to Johnson, August 18, 1927. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson. Hiram Johnson thought Dawes was a factor too, especially since Hoover was what a later generation would call "wine-track." "Hoover has now what he had had ever since he has been in the country - the internationalists and the upper crust," wrote Johnson. "[B]ut down underneath, where there are just inarticulate people, he has not any strength at all. For some reason or other Dawes has captured the imagination of many, and in a stand-up and knock down fight, he could win in practically every state primary." Johnson to Ickes, March 3, 1928. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
11. Timmons, 258-260.
12. Robert Dallek, Democrat and Diplomat: The Life of William E. Dodd (New York: Oxford, 1968), 107-110. Hoover, 194.
13. Johnson to Ickes, July 6, 1926. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson. Ashby, 261-263.
14. Ickes to Johnson, June 2, 1927. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
15. William Borah, Telegram, August 2nd, 1927. WJB Box 234: Newspapers.
16. Johnson to Ickes, November 5, 1927. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson. Johnson to Ickes, June 1, 1928. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
17. Salzman, 328. Ashby, 266.
18. Burner, 193, 197-199. Oswald Villard, "Hoover to the Fore," The Nation, December 21st, 1927 (Vol. 125, No. 3259), 700. Oswald Villard, "Herbert C. Hoover," The Nation, February 29th, 1928 (Vol. 126, No. 3269), 234-237.
19. Johnson to Ickes, February 25, 1928. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson. Ickes to Johnson, October 8, 1927. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson. Ickes to Johnson, February 7, 1928. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson. For Ickes, this was the tell: "Raymond didn't come in to see me and his reluctance to discuss the situation over the telephone reminded me of four years ago and eight years ago when he avoided me as if I had the small-pox after he had made up his mind to support Harding and Coolidge, respectively. Knowing Raymond as I do his avoidance of me…leads me to the conclusion that he is ready to sing the praises of the man whom he particularly hated and denounced in unsparing terms ever since his return from Russia." Ickes to Johnson, February 7, 1928.
20. Hoover, 192. Burner, 193, 197-199. "Mr. Goff," TIME Magazine, April 16th, 1928.
21. Burner, 197-199. Ashby, 266. "Candidates' Row," TIME Magazine," February 27th, 1928. "Candidates' Row," TIME Magazine," March 19th, 1928.
22. Ashby, 266. "End of Willis," TIME Magazine, April 9th, 1928.
23. Bruce Bliven, "Washington Notes," The New Republic, May 9th, 1928. Ashby, 267-268. Greenberg, 139.
24. Oswald Villard, "The Elephant Performs at Kansas City," The Nation, June 27th, 1928 (Vol. 126, No. 3286), 711-712. Ashby, 268-269.
25. Ashby, 268-269. Republican Party Platforms: "Republican Party Platform of 1928," June 12, 1928. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29637.
26. Ibid.
27. Oswald Villard, "The Elephant Performs at Kansas City," The Nation, June 27th, 1928, 711-712. Ashby, 269-271.
28. "The Week," The New Republic, June 27th, 1928 (Vol. 55, No. 708), 130-131. Ashby, 269-271.
29. Burner 200-201. Ashby, 271. "Editorial Paragraphs," The Nation, June 27th, 1928 (Vol. 126, No. 3286), 705. Villard, "The Elephant Performs at Kansas City," 711-712.
30. "The Week," The New Republic, June 27th, 1928, 130-131. Villard, "The Elephant Performs at Kansas City," 711-712.
31. "Herbert Hoover Wins," The Nation, June 27th, 1928 (Vol. 126, No. 3286), 708-709.
32. "Herbert Hoover and the Republican Party," The New Republic, June 27th, 1928 (Vol. 55, No. 708), 133-135.
33. Herbert Croly, "How is Hoover?" The New Republic, June 27th, 1928 (Vol. 55, No. 708), 138-140.
34. Ibid. Soule, "Herbert Hoover - Practical Man," The New Republic, December 28th, 1927 (Vol. 53, No 682), 158-162.
35. Oswald Villard, "Herbert C. Hoover," The Nation, February 29th, 1928 (Vol. 126, No. 3269), 234-237. "Herbert Hoover and the Republican Party," The New Republic, June 27th, 1928 (Vol. 55, No. 708), 133-135.
36. Johnson to Ickes, June 1, 1928. 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.