Saturday, October 22, 2016

Alfred E. Smith and Lucas County back in 1928

I got to wondering, as pundits pondered the performances of Clinton and Trump at the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner in New York recently, how the Democratic Party candidate for president during 1928 had fared in Lucas County. The short answer is, not very well, but that was the case in Iowa as a whole, too, not surprisingly.

Smith, a progressive four-term governor of New York, was Roman Catholic --- the first nominated for president by a major U.S. party. His nomination was the equivalent, in its time, of Barack Obama's in 2008 and Hillary Clinton's in 2016 --- all considerable shocks to the sensibilities of good old protestant white boys accustomed to running things.

Many protestants were outraged by Smith. While doing a little research, I pulled up a The Atlantic article from 1927 that was a mind-numbingly long open letter to Smith, carefully explaining why a Catholic could not be a loyal, true and red, white and blue American. It was the pope thing, of course. In fairness to The Atlantic, Smith was given space in the next issue to respond and did so eloquently. 

But religion certainly was a factor in the 1928 election, most likely in Lucas County, too, although I didn't find any locally generated anti-Catholic rhetoric in Chariton newspapers from that year --- granted that there wasn't time to look through them all.

Beyond the fact that Lucas County always has trended Republican, a major talking point for the Republican candidate, Herbert Hoover, was the fact he was Iowa-born. Despite the fact Hoover had been relocated to the West Coast when 11, his place of birth --- it was assumed --- would make him more likely to promote his home state's agricultural interests.

Then there was the issue of prohibition. Smith was not a fan of the Eighteenth Amendement, enacted in 1919, and favored its repeal. That distressed many in Iowa (and elsewhere), dominated by protestant prohibitionists who viewed alcoholic beverages of any sort as a tool of the devil, so much so that during the 19th century communion wine had been replaced by unfermented grape juice.

That view is kind of summed up in a little letter from Annie C. Smith, identified as "a former Lucas County lady now of Washington," published in The Chariton Leader of Oct. 11, 1928:

"I thought you might be interested to know how some of us in the east view the political situation. The Protestant ministers and their congregations generally, in this city, feel that it is not so much the religious issue as the wet and dry issue that is to be met by those who are interested in the future welfare of our country, and of course, as you know, this is the big question that is splitting both parties. We were quite surprised when we were driving recently through the Shenandoah Valley to see the number of Virginians with the Hoover and Curtis banner on their automobiles or the button on their coats. I think it is a very critical time, and that to attempt to change the 18th amendment, as Smith would advocate, would throw the country back to where it was 75 years ago and the sacrifices of those who have worked for prohibition all these years will have been in vain. Yours for Hoover and Curtis, Mrs. Annie C. Smith, formerly of Lucas County, Iowa."

A majority of Lucas Countyans apparently agreed with Mrs. Smith. When the count was final that November, Hoover had tallied 3,811 votes and Smith, 1,888. In Iowa as a whole, Hoover led Smith 623,570 votes to 379,011. The Eigteenth Amendment, by the way, was repealed in 1933.

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