A musi”Cal” tribute to campaign songs

Just a brief note to alert interested readers of this blog to a fine blog of Carl Anthony’s about campaign songs. Somehow recent campaigns haven’t produced memorable songs (does either Obama or Romney even have one?). Check out his blog for the story behind Calvin Coolidge’s 1924 campaign song, “Keep Cool and keep Coolidge” as well as other fine examples of campaign music, and also check out the other areas of his blog – highly recommended!

Taking the reins – Coolidge in 1923

William E. Borah, the "Lion of Idaho"

When Calvin Coolidge inherited the presidency following the death of Warren G. Harding in August 1923, his position in the Republican party was at first tenuous. He neither enjoyed the trust or backing of the still dominant Old Guard – his record as governor of Massachusetts had been vaguely progressive, and the events surrounding his nomination for the vice presidency had constituted a revolt of sorts against Old Guard forces. At the same time, he did not control the rebellious progressive wing of the party, whose leading lights such as California’s Hiram Johnson made clear he would contest Coolidge’s nomination in 1924, and Robert La Follette was mulling the formation of a third party.

Coolidge overcame the difficult situation in a most astute manner by straddling the fence, making overtures to both camps. At first, he began courting elements of the party’s liberal wing. His opening gambit was to win over the powerful Idaho Senator William E. Borah. Borah liked Coolidge, seeing in him a closet progressive who needed to be emboldened to show his true colors. Borah and his associate Raymond Robins frequently met with Coolidge in the autumn of 1923 and presented a laundry list of progressive causes. Coolidge made no definite promises but managed to seem amenable to their domestic and foreign policy agendas. But when he included a conciliatory message towards Soviet Russia, the furor this caused among conservatives made him cave in quickly, thereby angering the liberal wing who had been pushing for a gesture of recognition.

The liberals’ prospects began to brighten again when the investigations of the oil scandals completely uprooted the political scene. The scandals damaged Republican prestige, but particularly that of the Old Guard. If the president was willing to move decisively against corruption, severed his reliance on the Old Guard, and swung his support behind programs Borah advocated, Borah would offer his full support at the convention and in the campaign. Burned by the Russia recognition question, he wanted proof that Coolidge would not run for cover at the first sign of enemy flak, and his asking price was the immediate resignation of embattled Attorney General Harry Daugherty.

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John W. Davis, a worthy opponent

John W. Davis, 1873 - 1955

It has been remarked that 1924 was the last time both major U.S. parties nominated a true and undisputed conservative for president. This may be true, and it very likely also was Davis’ undoing as a candidate.

Anathema to most progressive Democrats because of his work as a lawyer for J.P. Morgan, the former Congressman, Solicitor General of the U.S., and Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s had been nominated at the conclusion of a notably chaotic and divisive Democratic convention in New York’s Madison Square Garden. More than 100 ballots were needed at this longest-running convention in U.S. history, as the overwhelmingly “dry”, rural, Protestant and Southern and Midwestern supporters of Williams Gibbs McAdoo battled the mostly “wet”, ethnic and religious minority, urban Eastern supporters of New York Governor Al Smith. Only after the two contenders mutually withdrew was the convention able to settle on a compromise candidate. To give the ticket a little rural flavor, Nebraska Governor Charles W. Bryan, younger brother of the legendary William Jennings Bryan, was nominated for Vice President.

The elder Bryan had previously articulated what many liberals in the Democratic party felt – “This convention must not nominate a Wall Street man!”, even more damningly adding later: “I have no personal objection of any kind to Mr. Davis. He is a man of high character. So is Mr. Coolidge. There is no difference between them.” Swallowing these disagreements, Bryan endorsed Davis after the nomination and campaigned extensively for him.

The choice of Davis also may have played a part in precipitating the Progressive Party candidacy of Wisconsin Senator Robert M. La Follette, who had bolted from the Republicans to form the Progressive Party of Wisconsin. Dismayed that the two major parties offered a choice of two conservatives, La Follette went ahead and accepted the Progressives’ nomination, with Montana Senator Burton Wheeler as running mate.

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