A FEW weeks after the Republican and Democratic National Conventions have adopted their platforms, nominated their candidates, and organized their campaign committees for 1928, we shall see flaming posters on big billboards, in every state looked upon as a battle ground, telling why Calvin Coolidge or Alfred E. Smith should not be elected president of the United States. The campaign will be unique. For the first time a candidate will be seeking more than eight consecutive years in the White House. For the first time a Catholic will be a candidate for president.
The Democrats will make the third term their paramount issue, and the party’s posters will picture Coolidge looking longingly at a crown and a sceptre. Behind him will be the shades of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Grant, and Roosevelt warning him not to violate a tradition established by George Washington at the end of eight years as president.
The Republican billboards will bear huge posters of the Tammany tiger as pictured by T. H. Nast, in Harper’s Weekly, when the Tweed ring was in control of the Wigwam and Tweed was ruthlessly looting the city of New York. The United States, as Miss Columbia, will be shown seated on the back of the tiger. She will be smiling, unconscious of her peril. The tiger will be pictured in all of his fearful symmetry — black and yellow stripes, ravening teeth and claws, gleaming eyes, slinking, feline tail. Underneath the tawny belly of the beast of prey will be printed the limerick: —
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger:
They came back from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.
Fortunately no charges can be made against the private life or the official integrity of either Coolidge or Smith. Each has a record of impeccable honesty. The Republicans will not dare attack Smith on the grounds that he is a Catholic or because he is a ‘wet,’unless a bone-dry plank, such as Wayne B. Wheeler would invite, should be inserted in the national platform, with an avowed dry candidate standing upon it. Merely a declaration for enforcement would bar the Republicans from attacking Smith, because he is committed to enforcement. Without both wet and Catholic votes the Republican Party could not hope to succeed nationally. In fact, it could easily lose almost every state it is in the habit of carrying. Attacks upon Smith as a Catholic and a wet probably will be left to the Ku K lux Klan and the Anti-Saloon League, both of which are strong and efficient political organizations — the Klan the stronger by far.
Of course the Democrats will charge that Coolidge is the tool of Wall Street and that Mellon is the real president.
Something will be said about tariff duties that favor big business at the expense of the consumer and oppress the farmer. They will say that the Republican administration has so bungled its foreign policy as to make enemies for this country in all parts of the world, and it is possible that our Mexican, Nicaraguan, and Chinese policies will come in for condemnation. The Fall, Daugherty, and other scandals of the Harding administration will be pointed to with alarm. Failure to attempt to bring relief to agriculture will be emphasized in the platform and featured in the campaign literature and by spellbinders on the hustings.
But as the campaign progresses it will be seen that voters have little interest in Wall Street, no fear of Secretary Mellon, and that the tariff, as an issue, is about as dead as the free coinage of silver at the ratio of sixteen to one, unless the agricultural states should decide to use the tariff as a club with which to force farm-relief legislation through Congress. Americans have supported a vigorous and independent foreign policy always, and certainly they are not now enamored of foreign nations. Coolidge will not lose a vote because of anything he has done to Mexico or in Nicaragua. He would be condemned if he had failed to protect, as far as possible, American lives and property in China. Little attention was paid in 1924 to the scandals uncovered by Senator Walsh of Montana. If fresh scandals failed to influence votes, why should we expect them to influence votes after a lapse of four years?
No doubt the agricultural states are resentful. Probably they have a right to feel they have been treated like a stepchild. But their anger usually takes the form of a third-party movement, which takes from rather than adds to the votes of the Democratic Party.
But there is a real issue in the third term. A resolution passed by the lower house of Congress in 1875 — 234 votes for and only 18 against — clearly expresses the sentiment against a third term. Grant was nearing the time when he must tell whether he would be a candidate in 1876 to succeed himself. To smoke him out the legislature of Pennsylvania passed a resolution disapproving of a third term. Grant made only a vague comment. Then the lower house of Congress passed the following resolution: —
That, in the opinion of this House, the precedent established by Washington, and other Presidents of the United States, in retiring from the presidential office after their second term, has become, by universal concurrence, a part of our republican system of government, and that any departure from this time-honored custom would be unwise, unpatriotic and fraught with peril to our free institutions.
There is basis for the claim that a vice president who succeeds to the presidency to serve out an unexpired term, and who then serves a term to which he is elected, has not served two terms. But Theodore Roosevelt, in 1908, was in exactly the position Calvin Coolidge will be in in 1928. When an enthusiastic Republican National Convention was on the point of nominating him rather than Taft, Henry Cabot Lodge, speaking for his friend President Roosevelt, said ‘his refusal of a nomination, dictated by the loftiest motives and by a noble loyalty to American traditions, is final and irrevocable.’
Grant, after four years, again sought the nomination, holding, as Roosevelt held in 1912, that the tradition against a third term meant a third consecutive term. Roosevelt’s position was that no president should serve more than eight years consecutively. Roosevelt’s problem in 1908 now faces President Coolidge. Anti-third-term sentiment defeated the nomination of Grant in 1880, after he had been out of office one term. It was used effectively against Roosevelt in 1912, when he was running on the Bull Moose ticket.
There are two unwritten laws in the United States: one is the Monroe Doctrine, the other is the tradition against any president holding office for more than eight years. Not infrequently we hear it said that the country has outgrown sentiment against a third term. Maybe it has. It was also said before the World War that the Monroe Doctrine had outlived its usefulness and lost its punch. The Democrats were disillusioned in 1920.
Coolidge will be the Republican nominee in 1928, unless he declines, as Roosevelt declined in 1908. The best guessers of all parties are guessing that he will further test Coolidge luck by accepting the nomination. It is useless now to speculate as to who will be the nominee in the event that he declines.
Few politicians of either party doubt that Governor Smith will be nominated by the Democrats. They will name him because he is the only Democrat who has a chance against Coolidge or any other Republican nominee. Another incentive to his nomination is that Democratic leaders, of fair judgment and better, know that refusal to nominate him would almost inevitably result in the death of the party as a national organization. That party, as we now know it, actually came into existence in 1828, with the first election of Andrew Jackson. Quite pathetic it would be, and a bit dramatic, if on the party’s one-hundredth anniversary it should fall to pieces, like the ‘wonderful one-hoss shay’ of Oliver Wendell Holmes’s poem. That shay ran one hundred years to a day and then went all to pieces, because it gave out in every part at the same time. The Whig Party fell to pieces in 1856.
Why should refusal of the Democratic National Convention in 1928 to nominate Alfred E. Smith sound the death knell of the party?
First of all, the Democrats have not been strong enough to elect a president since 1892. Even Democratic optimism has its limits, and is costly. Woodrow Wilson was elected in 1912 because the Republicans were split wide open and the country had the spectacle of a Republican president and a Republican former president running against each other and doing everything possible to defeat each other. The Republicans defeated themselves.
When the campaign of 1916 was launched every condition seemed to favor Democratic success. There had been three years of constructive reform legislation; Wilson was a strong and popular candidate for a second term; he had ‘kept us out of war.’ The Democrats had the biggest campaign fund in their history and an able campaign management. The Republicans were still sore from the split of 1912. Their standard bearer, Charles Evans Hughes, was a candidate of recognized ability and unquestioned integrity. His life was as pure as an iceberg and his contacts as cold. His campaign manager, William R. Willcox, was less fitted to direct a national campaign than any man who ever, before or since, attempted such a feat for any party. The Republican war chest, as usual, was well filled, but Willcox was afraid to spend it or have it spent, lest he do or permit something unethical. Roosevelt, campaigning for Hughes, was denouncing Wilson for not seizing all German vessels in American ports when the Lusitania was sunk. He was making great numbers of German votes, usually Republican, for the Democratic candidate. But the supreme fluke favorable to Wilson was when Hughes went to California and snubbed Governor Hiram Johnson. He lost California by a little less than 4000 votes, while Johnson carried the state for the senatorship by nearly 300,000. The election of Wilson in 1916 was no more the result of Democratic Party strength than was his election in 1912. How great were the defeats of 1920 and 1924 may be judged by the fact that Cox had only 127 of the 531 electoral votes and Davis only 136.
Catholics cast about fifty per cent of the Democratic votes in the Northern states. They are the most active workers for the party in nearly every county of the Western states. Without them no Western state would ever be found in the Democratic column. In the South the Catholic vote is negligible except in Louisiana.
If the Democratic Party should refuse to nominate Smith in 1928, the Catholics would assume, and with reason, that his rejection was due to the fact that he is a communicant of the Catholic Church. He has shown, four times, his ability to carry the state of New York by large majorities. Without the 45 electoral votes of that state no Democrat could hope to win in 1928. The fact that Wilson won in 1916 without New York has no promise for the Democrats in 1928. The vast influx of negroes into Ohio makes carrying that state next to impossible. Negroes may vote for a Democratic candidate for governor or for the Senate or for state, county, or city offices. Frequently they so vote. But in presidential elections they vote for Abraham Lincoln, whatever the name of the Republican candidate may be.
The Catholics say, and few Democratic Protestants fail to agree, that if Smith can carry New York for the presidency he should also carry the states of Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, thus giving him an even 100 electoral votes in the East, not one of which could be carried by any other Democrat — except that Ritchie or Reed might carry the eight votes of Maryland.
With such political strength in Republican states, Smith should be nominated without opposition if he were a Protestant. But what will occur if Smith is defeated for the nomination? Catholics are about as human as the rest of us. What would we do if we were Catholics? Quit the party, of course. The ‘Solid South,’ which has only 114 solidly Democratic electoral votes, might continue to be Democratic. Now and then Tennessee, Kentucky, and Oklahoma might add their 35 votes, making the total Democratic strength 149. To elect a president 266 votes are necessary. Little or no money could be had for a party without hope of national success. The Democratic onehoss shay would fall to pieces, after running one hundred years.
Democratic leaders do not want the party to die. They cannot see into the beyond. If Smith should be nominated and elected, or if he should carry the states of the South that are always solid but be defeated in the Eastern states, a ghost would be laid for all time. If he should be nominated and then be defeated in the Democratic South, the party would be no worse off than if it refused to nominate him.
What are Smith’s chances of election? To answer that question is also to answer the question of Coolidge’s chances. Let it be said in passing that Smith’s great personal strength would be in the cities. It is there that sentiment for prohibition is weakest; even among Protestants there is a strong sentiment against it in the South and the West, as well as in the East. Also the Catholic vote is largely in the cities; therefore the fight will be mainly between urban and rural voters.
The Democratic reply to the Tammany charge is that Tweed and Croker were of the long ago, that New York never was worse governed than Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or Chicago, and that for twenty years it has been the best-governed big city in the United States. They will say that the reformation of Tammany was due very largely to Alfred E. Smith, a dominant influence in the Wigwam while Charles F. Murphy was its head and since.
Of course the Democratic Party will be attacked along the old lines used by the Republicans, the most powerful of which is that it brings disaster to business, while the Republican is the party of prosperity.
Democrats will be inspired to work for Smith because they believe he can be elected. The Republicans fear his vote-getting strength.
But can Smith be elected? Maybe.
Ordinarily we should believe that any Democrat who could carry the states of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island would be elected. Those states have 100 electoral votes. The actually solid South has only 114. Smith would carry them, probably. The states of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Oklahoma, with their 35 electoral votes, are far from solidly Democratic.
Cox lost Tennessee and Oklahoma, in 1920, and carried Kentucky by only 4017. Davis, in 1924, carried Tennessee and Oklahoma, but lost Kentucky. A change of less than 15,000 votes from Democratic to Republican would have lost either Tennessee or Oklahoma. Therefore any Democratic candidate must fight for Kentucky’s 13, Tennessee’s 12, and Oklahoma’s 10 electoral votes.
Granting Smith 100 votes in the Eastern states and 114 in the South, where will he get the 52 votes still necessary to elect him?
New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Montana would likely give Smith 13 votes, though each of those states has been in the Republican column nationally since 1916. Missouri’s 18 would probably be for him, and he would have a good chance of carrying Wisconsin’s 13 against Coolidge, who never has been popular in that state. Coolidge lost that state to La Follette, in 1924, by 142,064. ‘Young Bob’ is fighting him in the Senate, and the whole La Follette family is fighting him relentlessly and ably in La Follette’s Magazine.
But when we give Smith the Eastern states, except Pennsylvania, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, and the Southern states, except Tennessee, Kentucky, and Oklahoma, and give him Missouri, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Montana, he still lacks 8 of the necessary 266. To carry all of the states thus credited to him would be little short of miraculous. Of course, he might carry Nebraska. Senator Norris does not like Coolidge, and he is about as strong in Nebraska as Robert M. La Follette ever was in Wisconsin.
It is safe to say that Smith cannot lose all three of the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Oklahoma and be elected. He might lose two of them and still win, but the chances are to the contrary. He might carry all of them, thus giving him the 149 electoral votes possible from the South, and still lose.
Close at all times, what are those states likely to do to Governor Alfred E. Smith — a Catholic, wet, and a member of the Tammany organization? Those states are Protestant and dry, and their people have been taught to look upon the Tammany tiger as a ravenous beast of prey.
Kentucky casts about 900,000 votes in presidential elections. It gave Cox a plurality of only 4017 in 1920. Davis lost it by 24,111 in 1924. The vote of Oklahoma, in presidential elections, is about 500,000. Cox lost that state by 23,656. Davis carried it by 29,556. Tennessee cast about 425,000 ballots for presidential electors in 1920. Harding carried it by 13,271. The vote in 1924 was only about 300,000, giving Davis a plurality of 27,522.
However, the Democratic leaders in these border states believe Smith can be elected if he can carry the South. That belief is a genuine inspiration to forget religious prejudice and prohibition and work for his election. There was no such inspiration in 1920 or 1924. Never before was Federal patronage so great as now. Never was there a time when so many worthy Democrats wanted office. Conditions have not been very good in Kentucky and Tennessee. The agricultural sections of Oklahoma have been hit hard, and now the oil companies are cutting production. Another powerful factor favorable to Smith in those states is the fact that, should they go Republican, the Democrats would lose a lot of state and county offices. Emoluments of office still make a strong appeal for political activity.
But what are the factors against Smith in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Oklahoma?
He would lose some votes because he is wet. However, when the voters of those states came to realize that his position on prohibition is exactly that of Woodrow Wilson, who vetoed the Volstead Act, and that a president has really little power except to enforce the law, which he would do, it is doubtful if his position on the Eighteenth Amendment would drive many votes from him. The dryest dry does not imagine that any president could influence Congress to submit an amendment for the prohibition amendment. No enforcement would be less efficient than now; probably none much better. Smith stands on prohibition where Woodrow Wilson stood. Wilson could not prevent the Eighteenth Amendment, or the Volstead Act, which he vetoed. How absurd to imagine that Smith could repeal or nullify a law that President Wilson could not prevent!
The religious factor, however, is serious. The Democratic leaders in the South would endeavor to minimize the prejudice against Smith because he is a Catholic. But would those leaders be able to command enough followers to carry their states?
Right there the small-town Protestant preachers became highly important. As a rule they have more influence with their congregations and in the affairs of the neighborhood than preachers have anywhere else in the United States. Neither they nor the members of their churches have come in contact with many Catholics. They grew up in the belief that the Pope is the Antichrist of the Apocalypse. Not many years ago a ballad commonly sung in the home by grandmothers and maiden aunts was a reminder of the persecutions. Its first lines were: —
Her mother always taught her the priest she must obey.
Later, when she read a Bible secretly and was convinced that she must leave the Catholic Church, she started her confession with the following lines: —
But unto these false idols I can no longer bow.
The ballad then tells how the mother denounced the daughter to the priest. The daughter refused to recant; was tried for heresy and burned at the stake. Not many years ago Foxe’s Book of Martyrs could be found in a large per cent of the homes, along with Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted.
The story is now being circulated in these states that the Pope will move to America whenever a Catholic is elected president. The new Vatican is to be located at the Catholic University in Washington, though now and then the site agreed upon is Lafayette Square, opposite the White House. There is a suspicion that the papacy actually holds a deed to Lafayette Square. Strange to tell; but, according to Belfast Orangemen, the Pope is to make Dublin his capital and become temporal ruler of Ireland. If the Pope could be induced to move to America, it would be a great stroke of business for this country; but the papacy will remain in historic Rome, in the shadow of St. Peter’s dome.
Of course the great majority of the people of the South are far too intelligent to believe that the papacy seeks political advantage in the United States. They understand that persecutions, which are really the source of presentday prejudices, were the products of the times in which they occurred, and that the Protestants persecuted quite as vigorously and as cruelly as the Catholics when they had the power. There were more Catholic-controlled countries, therefore more Catholic persecutions.
We know to-day that persecutions belonged to no one church, and that they were results of the prejudices, the ignorance, and the superstition of the times in which they occurred. But the descendants of persecuted Protestants have the tradition with them still, and something of the prejudice inherited from their forbears.
The educated people of the South — that is, the college people, the percentage of whom is about as high as in the North — know that there has been a complete separation of Church and State in nearly all Catholic countries. Not long ago Dr. William States Jacobs, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church at Houston, Texas, replying to the wild talk of the Pope scheming to become head of the civil government in the United States, preached a sermon to his congregation in which he told how, when a plebiscite was taken in the Papal States to decide whether they should remain under temporal control of the Pope or be an integral part of United Italy, they voted, eight to one, to be incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy.
Of course all students of history know that the title of the Pope to the Papal States is one of the oldest in Europe, extending back to a grant from Charlemagne nearly one thousand years ago. There were no Protestants in those states. Every inhabitant was a Catholic, and the rule of the papacy had not been tyrannical. How, then, argued Dr. Jacobs, should any American be so foolish as to imagine it possible for the Pope to become temporal ruler of the United States when Protestants predominate fully five to one?
The states of Tennessee and Kentucky were largely settled by English and Scotch-Irish whose ancestors came to this country before the Revolutionary War. Nearly all of those ancestors were Presbyterian. Kentucky and Tennessee were the second and third states to be admitted to the Union after the adoption of the Federal Constitution. They became states while Washington was president. There are comparatively few Catholics in either state. There are counties in each of them without a Catholic inhabitant. However, ‘Al’ Smith could not lose many votes in those counties, because they are overwhelmingly Republican. Oklahoma has drawn its population from everywhere, but mostly from Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri. The Klan was quite strong in Oklahoma, and still is stronger there than it ever was in either Kentucky or Tennessee.
The Catholics of America and the Protestants of the South may, and probably will, find themselves fighting side by side for the preservation of dogmatic Christianity. They agree that the Bible is divinely inspired as no other book; they reject higher criticism and the theory of evolution in so far as it teaches that the race of humans ascended from the lower orders of animal life; they are equally tenacious of the story of creation as told in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, because they hold that the Bible is inerrant; they speak a common language regarding the sin of Adam and the fall of man thereby, and the necessity for the incarnation of God in the person of His Only Son, who, as God and man, through His death on the Cross became the vicarious atonement for the sins of the world. Catholics and Southern Protestants accept without question the story of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from whence He shall come to judge the world when all who live and all who have ever lived will be summoned to the bar of eternal justice on the day of final judgment. They differ on the apostolic succession of the Pope to the commission to Peter, to whom Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom, and who is said to have been the first Bishop of Rome.
The Democratic National Convention in 1928 will be held in June or the first of July. In the past, campaign work has not become active before the middle of September. History is likely to repeat itself next year. Governor Smith insists that he is not a candidate, and that if he is nominated the honor must come to him unsought. In that attitude he is quite sincere, and for it he is to be praised.
But while he is waiting for the nomination to be handed to him on a silver platter the Klan and the AntiSaloon League are working persistently and effectively in the South and the West. Most of the pronouncements in behalf of Smith come from Tammany or from such wets as Walsh of Massachusetts and Edwards of New Jersey. Such pronouncements are not needed in the wet Catholic East. They hurt in the dry Protestant South and West.