Well I feel that I would be terribly remiss in my duty as an historian if I were to completely ignore the fact that this is that election time of year here in America! I will just give a brief little run-down of three races that happened on today’s date, November 5 in the past, to remember as you go to the voting booth. Have fun!!
1872 = Ulysses S. Grant -VS- Horace Greeley
In 1872, the Republicans re-nominated President Ulysses S. Grant for President. Grant’s administration had been plagued by charges of corruption, and many of these charges were true although Grant himself was an honest man. The decisiveness that served him so well as the commanding general of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War deserted him in his Presidency, as he appointed many men who were incompetent, or crooked, and then stood by them for too long. But still he was very popular as the man who defeated the Confederacy. His opponent was the celebrated journalist and U.S. Representative from New York, Horaace Greeley. Greeley (below) is described
thus by writer Paul J. Boller Jr.: “Greeley, for all his intelligence, sincerity, idealism, and journalistic aplomb, was erratic, crotchety, unpredictable, and thoroughly incompetent in the art of politics.” On election day, today’s date in 1872, at which time my great grandmother, Sarona Cooper, whom we called “Mimma” was two years old, the famous suffragette, Susan B. Anthony took the liberty of voting, for which offense she was arrested on November 18. She would be fined $100.00. “I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.” she said. She never did. The government dropped the case. Women were given the right to vote in 1920, an activity in which my great grandmother would take quite an interest. Grant wound up easily winning the election with nearly 56% of the popular vote. Greeley died on November 29 of that same year, well after the election, but before the Electoral College met. Therefore, Greeley’s rivals on his side took the liberty of dividing his electoral votes among themselves, making Greeley’s posthumous defeat even worse.
1912 = Woodrow Wilson -vs- Theodore Roosevelt & President W.H. Taft
This election was a huge win for the Democratic Nominee, New Jersey Governor, and former Princeton University President Woodrow Wilson. This was mainly because of a rancorous split in the Republican party. William Howard Taft, was elected President in 1908 with the blessing and support of his predecessor, the irrepressible Theodore Roosevelt. T.R. could easily have been re-elected himself that year, but the two-term tradition of U.S. Presidents
was established, and he rashly promised early in his second term to respect that tradition. In those days, a promise was a promise, so T.R. gave way to his old friend, the jolly and rotund William Howard Taft. But T.R. had been a burr under the saddle of the Republican establishment with his reforming, progressive policies, so they were only too happy to be rid of him. And when Taft proved to be too accommodating to the establishment, T.R. publicly broke with his (former) friend and tried to unseat him by running for the
Republican nomination himself. When the party bosses clamped down and denied him the nomination, T.R. bolted the party, and accepted the nomination of the Progressive Party. Needless to say, this split in the G.O.P. gave the election on today’s date in 1912 to Wilson, who tallied 41.8% of the vote to 27.4% for Roosevelt. Poor Taft came in a distant third with 23.2%. It was a terrible defeat for T.R. who never again regained the Presidency which he had so loved. The Progressive Party had been nick-named the “Bull Moose” Party
in honor of T.R.’s hard-driving image. After the election a cartoon showing a large, exhausted, and cracked egg with the face of Roosevelt was published along with the taunting rhyme: “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall/ Humpty Dumpty had a bad fall/ All the ex-bosses/ And Bully Moose Men/ Can never put Humpty up again.”
“Click” on the image to enlarge.
1940 = Franklin D. Roosevelt -vs- Wendell Willkie
In 1940, the whole world seemed to be catching fire around an America which up to that point had been desperately trying to stay out of the war in Europe. But by election day of that year, today’s date, most of Europe had been overrun by the forces of Adolf Hitler’s Nazis. The Battle of Britain was in full swing as Hitler’s air forces tried to bomb England into submission. The democratic nominee, President Franklin D. Roosevelt who had already served two terms was breaking a two-term tradition in a way that his relative, Theodore Roosevelt (who was the Uncle of FDR’s wife, Elanore) had been unable to try. FDR said that with the world closing in on the U.S. like it was in a way that would probably involve America, it was his duty to stay on. His opponent was a maverick businessman named Wendell Willkie (below) who managed to outmaneuver Senator Robert A. Taft (the son of William Howard Taft) and New York Governor
Thomas Dewey and pick up the Republican nomination. Although Willkie was nearly identical to FDR in his attitude towards the war raging in Europe, Republicans damned Roosevelt for his economic policies. My great grandmother who was now an active Republican stalwart (now you know where I get it!) ran, I am told, one of those homes wherein the very mention of the word “Roosevelt” would get the speaker soap in his mouth. And this was what Willkie attacked Roosevelt for. But it didn’t work. FDR carried 54.8% of the popular vote that year, gaining that unprecedented third term. My great grandmother lived until she was 99, passing away in 1969 when I was nine years old. Franklin Roosevelt would be elected to a fourth term in 1944, before succumbing to a stroke in April of 1945. Wendell Willkie would die in 1944. But one small fragment of his spirited 1940 campaign has survived. It is the “1940 Psalm” which sarcastically sums up how the opposition felt about FDR’s economic policies:
“Mr. Roosevelt is my Shepherd, I am in want.
He maketh me lie down on park benches
He leadeth me beside still factories.
He leadeth me in the path of destruction for the New Deal’s sake.
Yea, tho I walk through the valley of depression, I anticipate no recovery, for he is with me.
His policies and diplomacies they frighten me.
He prepareth a reduction in my salary.
And in the presence of my enemies, he anointed my small income with taxes.
My expenses runneth over.
Truly unemployment shall follow all the days of my life.
And I shall live in a mortgaged home for ever”.
“Presidential Campaigns” by Paul F. Boller Jr., Oxford University Press, New York, 1984
“The Life and Times of Teddy Roosevelt” by Stefan Lorant, Doubleday & Co., Garden City, N.Y., 1959