Fist Of History

April, 2015Archive for

1964 Presidential Election – Candidate Margaret Chase Smith

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

Margaret_Chase_Smith

1964 was an interesting year in United States Presidential elections, Richard Nixon declined to seek the Republican nomination against the anticipated candidate for the Democratic party, Lyndon Johnson, so the Republican party nomination was considered fairly open.  Many individuals tossed in their hats to run but one candidate in particular was unique, Margaret Chase Smith, who decided in January 1964 to make an attempt at the Republican nomination.  Senator Smith came from an established political career, she had begun serving in the House of Representatives in 1940 and served until 1948, when she successfully won a seat in the United States Senate.  Senator Smith remained in the Senate, as a Republican, from 1948 until 1972.  She represented the state of Maine and is particularly remembered as one of the few Senators who stood against Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s – she gave a famous speech on the Senate floor denouncing McCarthyism and the Communist witch hunts of the ’50s.

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Senator Smith was particularly critical in 1964 because she represented not only the first woman making a serious attempt at the nomination from a major political party but she also represented the moderate wing of the Republican party.  In 1964 that wing of the Republican party openly battled with the more conservative faction supporting Senator Goldwater from Arizona.  The actual nomination convention was highly contentious, with both sides resorting to screaming at each other as they battled for control of the Republican party.  Senator Smith had campaigned in only two states, Maine and Illinois, and in her campaign she had worked hard to avoid normal political activities.  She undertook no major political rallies, conducted no fundraising, and paid her expenses out of pocket.  Her goal was to meet with individuals and rely on direct personal connections.

Smith_Campaign_1964

Senator Smith came in fifth in the Maine primary but came in second in Illinois, which provided her with a total of sixteen delegates for the nomination.  Although her being selected for the candidacy against the Senator Goldwater juggernaut was considered impossible at the Republican convention, Senator Smith attended and stood in the running until Senator Goldwater was nominated successfully.  Senator Smith did break with tradition and refused to release her delegates to vote for Senator Goldwater in the final ballot, so that he would not receive a unanimous nomination from the Republican party.

Despite this she did campaign for him actively during his 1964 run for the Presidency, this period ad has her explaining the Goldwater is not going to chop up Social Security despite rumors to the contrary spreading during the election.

Chase_Smith_President_Button

Had she done the incredible and carried the Republican nomination in 1964, I cannot help but wonder if she might have been able to give Johnson more of a run than Goldwater did.  Goldwater was prone to making off-the-cuff remarks and was overly blunt when dealing with the press, this partially helped to equate Goldwater with extreme (and dangerous) views about United States foreign policy.   Could Smith have overcome popular perceptions of a “woman’s place” in society?  I think she might have been able to do so, when asked in 1948 if it was proper for a woman to run for the Senate, this was her response:

“Women administer the home. They set the rules, enforce them, mete out justice for violations. Thus, like Congress, they legislate; like the Executive, they administer; like the courts, they interpret the rules. It is an ideal experience for politics.”

It may be framed in the words of the period but I like to think Smith might have had a chance in 1964.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on Margaret Chase Smith, NPR segment on Margaret Chase Smith, Maine history entry on Margaret Chase Smith’s Presidential run

Presidential Election of 1892 and the People’s Party

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Populist-logoIt is 2015 and with several presidential candidates for the 2016 campaign announcing their intentions already in April, it is time to begin my irregular series of short articles this election season to outline moments in the 19th and 20th century when the United States was rocked by third party and independent candidates.  This is to show people that the modern view of politics in the United States, where two parties dominate the system and independent action cannot have any measurable impact, is inaccurate.  Third party political organizations have dominated local elections and been a presence with force in national politics repeatedly in United States history.  Furthermore history is replete with oddballs, independents, and mavericks that successfully tweaked the system.  My main goal in writing this irregular series is to provide a counter point to the idea that often circulates in social media that “a viable third party is needed but impossible to create/vote for/support because Awful Horrible Thing will happen instead.”  My only point in response to that is your predecessors in the past faced the same problem, often in worse political systems, and yet still managed to kick back.

James_Weaver_-_Brady-Handy

Meet James Weaver, third party Presidential Candidate in the 1892 election and nominated by the People’s Party.  The People’s Party was a progressive leftist political party that appeared in the late 1880s from an alliance of southern farmers with midwestern farmers who combined around the idea that gold-backed currency was bad, big business even worse, and tariff protection for industry the devil’s work.  They also rallied behind some other wacky ideas, like:  progressive income tax, the eight hour work day, the direct election of United States Senators, civil service reform, as well as nationalizing the telegraph industry and the railroads, and breaking up large banks.

Some of these crazy ideas you might recognize as now being the law of the land, and others as being concepts being bandied around today by modern leftist progressives.  (Although the idea of nationalizing the transportation industries appears to have fallen in favor in the 21st century, probably due in part to how cheap shipping of goods and personal travel are these days compared to the past.)  Weaver ended up doing surprisingly well in the election, capturing 8.5% of the popular vote, 22 electoral votes, and carrying five states in the election.  He was stomped by the other candidates solidly, but his turnout showed a strong sentiment against the viewpoints of the Democrats who gained an unexpected win in this election cycle.

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In 1896 and 1900 the Democrats quietly began to absorb some of the platform goals of the People’s Party which, in turn, backed the nomination of William Jennings Bryan for President in 1896.  (Pictured above looking sexy mid-speech at 36 years of age.)

The People’s Party faded after the 1896 election but managed to place Representatives into national office successfully until 1902.  A total of 39 Representatives, 6 Senators, and 11 governors during its period of power served under the banner of the People’s Party.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the People’s Party, the United States Presidential Election of 1892, and James B. Weaver

Packing the Court – the Judical Procedures Reform Bill of 1937

Monday, April 6th, 2015

fdr_cigarette

So it is 1936 and you are President Roosevelt, you just won an incredible ass-kicking of a re-election campaign, the country is slowly lumbering towards something resembling economic recovery, but you want to do more.  Beyond that, several critical pieces of legislature that make up part of your legislative reform efforts, commonly known as the New Deal, were up for review by the Supreme Court only a year ago and they got significantly spanked, specifically the Court sharply limits your ability to remove people from appointed offices that disagree with you, shuts down a key piece of bankruptcy protection law that shields debtors from banks, and crushed your National Industrial Recovery Act.  To add further insult to injury all three rulings were read on the same day, 27 May 1935, to increase the public attention and humiliation factor.

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Now the first option would be to accept these setbacks with quiet dignity and attempt a new method of achieving the same legislative ends.  The problem with that is it would take time, the cooperation of Congress, and would still face the same Supreme Court that was hostile to your earlier efforts.  Alternatively you could take a new approach and attempt to exercise the power that Congress has over the Supreme Court, specifically its power to shape the Supreme Court, including defining how large it was.  Hence Roosevelt’s 1937 Judicial Procedures Reform Act, which at its heart allowed the President of the United States to appoint additional judges to the Supreme Court, subject to Congressional approval, beyond the current nine, with a maximum allowable addition of six extra judges.  However there was a caveat, new judges could only be appointed at the rate of one per judge who was older then 70 years and six months of age – i.e. for every “old fuddy judge who doesn’t like the New Deal” you can appoint a new shiny younger judge who will probably be open to the new ideas of the New Deal.

roosevelt fireside

Roosevelt attempted to win the American public to his legislative reform ideas with a fireside chat on 9 March 1937 and Congress took up the legislation for debate, however from the start his idea was not warmly received.  Republican opponents referred to it as an effort to “pack the Court” and key members of the Democratic party, both party bosses and members of Congress, found the bill a distasteful effort by the President to exert undue influence on the Supreme Court.  It was killed in the House, in Committee, and also failed in the Senate due to vigorous opposition from the Republicans.

In the end, the effort failed, however later in 1937 the Court was more open to New Deal legislation and, in general, the Supreme Court’s justices stated that most of the problems with the New Deal legislation they dealt with was due to it being poorly written, and far too broad, rather than conceptual issues.

For those curious about applicability, if that bill was in force today the President would be able to appoint four additional justices, if those slots had not already been filled.

Sources:  Wikipedia article on the Judicial Procedure Reform Act of 1937