Saturday, March 2, 2019

Off to the Races

If you think the 2020 presidential race has started too early, you would probably have found agreement with most people 100 years ago about the 1920 contest.

But not in the press.
"The Sphinx" by Carey Orr in Chicago Tribune, January 6, 1919
Nor in political circles, where the end of World War I was tailgated by speculation that General John "Black Jack" Pershing might throw his peaked cap into the presidential ring.
"General Pershing's Politics" by Ted Brown in Chicago Daily News, ca. January, 1919
Political cartoonists of the day didn't know whether to peg the popular general as a Democrat or a Republican, which made it difficult for the more partisan among them to decide whether to draw him favorably or critically. But for someone who had been champing at the bit to charge the German lines, Pershing showed no eagerness to cross the line into party politics.
"Won't He Show Some Interest..." by Herbert H. Perry in Sioux City (IA) Journal, ca. February, 1919
Although he and President Wilson were in accord on military policy for the Mexican Punitive Expedition and World War I, Pershing was in fact a Republican. There would be an effort to draft him to accept the Republican presidential nomination. Pershing remained coy throughout, letting it be known that he had no interest in a political campaign but "wouldn't decline to serve" if elected.

He wasn't.
"Harmony!" by Edward Gale in Los Angeles Times, ca. February, 1919
The progressive and conservative wings of the Republican party were largely agreed on the major issues of the day: they opposed Wilson's wartime nationalization of the railroads (not intended as a permanent measure anyway); they opposed those high income taxes on the rich we mentioned last week (favoring high tariffs instead); and most opposed involving the U.S. in international organizations such as Wilson's cherished League of Nations. Opposition on that last front was led by Senators Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts and William Borah of Idaho; although as far as Lodge was concerned, his opposition was more politically strategic than principled.

"The lute without rift" in Gale's cartoon references Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Idylls of the King," in which Vivien uses the phrase as a simile for a tiny disagreement that rots a friendship:
"It is the little rift within the lute
That by and by will make the music mute,
And ever widening slowly silence all."

"O for the Touch of a Vanished Hand..." by William C. Morris for George Matthew Adams Service, ca. February, 1919
Former President Theodore Roosevelt's plans to run for president yet again were spoiled by his death in January, leaving the political class wondering to whom the GOP would turn in 1920. William Morris's cartoon depicts the Republican party gazing forlornly at its fallen hero, dissatisfied with alternative candidates Gen. Leonard Wood (a friend of Roosevelt's and the early favorite), Senators Hiram Johnson, Borah, Lodge, Warren Harding, and, on the floor, former President William Howard Taft.

The caption is another reference to Tennyson: this time, his poem "Break, Break, Break," written to mourn the death of his dear friend and champion, Arthur Hallam.

"...A Shortage of Skilled Chauffeurs" by Jay N. "Ding" Darling" in New York Tribune, February 27, 1919
On the Democratic side, party leaders were ready to move on and replace the incumbent president, but lacked an obvious heir. Nowadays, the incumbent vice president usually has the inside track to win his/her party's nomination when a president retires, but that was not the case any time before World War II.
"An Opportunity that Didn't Materialize" by Carey Orr in Chicago Tribune, ca. January, 1919
Vice President Thomas Marshall had twice proven his usefulness to the Democratic ticket in helping carry Indiana, then a swing state. He was a popular, witty guy; you may have heard of his "What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar" remark (to a senator expounding a rambling vision for America). Or perhaps you've heard his tale of the father of two sons, one who went off to sea and the other who became Vice President, and neither of whom was ever heard from again.
"Now Just Where Is Our Vice-President At?" by W.A. Rogers in New York Herald, ca. January, 1919
In spite of being the first President and Vice President to serve two terms together since 1817-25, Marshall and Wilson did not get along well. Wilson didn't trust Marshall and in a contravention of tradition, went around the Vice President to deal directly with senators.

Whatever policy differences the two might have had, it seems to me that it was more of a matter of personal style: the priggish and scholarly Wilson didn't appreciate the Hoosier's candor and sense of humor. Wilson moved Marshall's office out of the White House ostensibly so that the Vice President would not be bothered by so many visitors. Marshall was, however, left in charge of cabinet meetings while the President spent extended periods of time in Europe negotiating the Paris Peace Accord.
"Made His Pile and Went Broke" by R.O. Evans in Baltimore American, ca. January, 1919
A more likely successor to Woodrow Wilson as of 1919 was his recently resigned Secretary of the Treasury — and Wilson's son-in-law — William McAdoo. His bold policies, notably closing the New York Stock Exchange for four months at the start of World War I and thus preventing European governments from liquidating their stock holdings, turned the U.S. from a debtor nation into the world's leading economic powerhouse. He also was in charge of U.S. railways during the war. He had a shameful record on racial discrimination, but that wasn't going to hinder anyone's presidential aspirations in those days.
"President Wilson Declares He Will Return to Private Life in 1921" by Wm. C. Morris for George Matthew Adams Service, ca. March 1, 1919
On February 28, Wilson announced that he would not run for a third term. Democrats were probably not quite as distressed by his decision as Morris depicts.

Republicans ran against Wilson anyway.

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