Faithful readers of Constituting America’s 90-Day Study have followed the story of our constitution through each of our presidential elections. We have seen that the moral foundations of both of our constitutions—the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution that replaced it—find their most cogent expression in the Declaration of Independence. There, the Founders held the self-evident truth that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Governments must therefore be framed to secure those unalienable rights. Our God-endowed, or natural, rights—regulated by the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God—find security in our legal or civil rights, defended by a system of government so structured as to channel the ambitions of political men and women toward the guardianship of those rights. This requires a regime designed to empower the government so our rights can be defended effectively against those who threaten them, at home or abroad. At the same time, the powers of that government will check and balance one another, so that no single individual or group of individuals will likely usurp all those powers, setting us on the road to tyranny. America’s early Constitutional conflicts centered on the question of how much power should be placed in the hands of the national government vis-à-vis the states’ governments. But whether Federalists or Anti-Federalists, Hamiltonians or Jeffersonians, all of the principal founders aimed at securing the natural rights of Americans by the means of well-designed constitutional forms.
During the 1972 election, incumbent Republican President Richard Nixon won an astoundingly large margin, garnering 520 electoral votes. Despite his huge advantages during the election, President Nixon and his campaign operatives engaged in unethical and illegal activities during the campaign. The ultimate victim of Nixon’s crimes turned out to be Nixon himself, as he was forced to resign in 1974 after his misdeeds were uncovered. The unraveling of Nixon’s criminal conspiracies led to reforms for good government.
JFK, Catholicism, and the 1960 Election
The American Founding ushered in a “new order for the ages” that included the unprecedented and remarkable natural right of liberty of conscience. The First Amendment protected this universal right of all humans and banned Congress from establishing an official religion. The Constitution also banned all religious tests for national office.
Harry S. Truman: Thirty-Third President of the United States
Nickname: The High-Tax Harry
Terms in Office: 1945-1949; 1949-1953
- Born May 8, 1884, in Lamar, Missouri
- Parents: John Anderson and Martha Ellen Young Truman
- Died December 26, 1972, in Kansas City, Missouri; age 88
- Age upon Start of First Term: 60; Age upon Conclusion of First Term: 64
- Age upon Start of Second Term: 64; Age upon Conclusion of Second Term: 68
- Religious Affiliation: Baptist
- Political Party: Democrat
- Height: 5 feet 9 inches
- Vice President: none (1945-1949) and Alben W. Barkley (1949-1953)
Harry Truman assumed the presidency in 1945 after the death of Franklin Roosevelt. As president, he oversaw the conclusion of both the European and the Pacific front in World War II. Truman won a surprise second term, during which time he worked to stabilize the American economy to prevent a second depression and organized the American invasion of Korea during the Korean War.
1948: The Dixiecrats
The primary elections of 2016 have invited comparisons to political factions in American politics that haven’t appeared in such clear focus for nearly seventy years. Although the Republican Party of 1948 had papered over its divisions between moderate-to-liberal business interests on the East Coast—represented by New York Governor Thomas Dewey—and Middle-Western conservatives—represented by Robert Taft and, behind him, Herbert Hoover—Democrats split bitterly into three groups. The mainstream of the party nominated President Harry Truman; the left wing (which included democratic socialists and some communists) ran Henry Wallace on the ticket of the Progressive Party; and the segregationist, southern Democrats ran South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond on the ticket of the States’ Rights Democratic Party or “Dixiecrats.” In one of the most famous upsets in American political history, Truman overcame his party’s fracturing and defeated Dewey, although the Dixiecrats won the combined 38 electoral votes of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina. The Progressives failed to win a single electoral vote.
From today’s standpoint, the presidential election of 1924 might appear to be an oddity or an outlier. In 1924 the nominees of both parties ran on a conservative domestic agenda of limited government and tax cuts. For this reason author Garland Tucker calls 1924 “The High Tide of American Conservatism.”
The 1916 Presidential election pitted incumbent Democratic President Woodrow Wilson against Republican Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes. The election was a very close one and had significant ramifications for the “progressive” movement.
When asked what might derail his agenda for his new Conservative Party government, former British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan is said to have responded, “Events, dear boy. Events.” That aptly describes how the political fortunes of war-time Presidents play out. It is surprisingly difficult for incumbent commanders-in-chief to win even if military campaigns are successful. True, Franklin Roosevelt won in 1944. But, even as the Allies were defeating the Axis powers, the popular Roosevelt won with the lowest percentage margin of victory of his campaigns. When elections occurred while the war effort appeared to be flagging, incumbents have fared badly. In 1952, as a result of the Korean War stalemate, President Harry Truman could not even win re-nomination by his own party, and the Democrats lost decisively. In a similar vein, in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson declined to pursue the Democratic Party nomination for re-election after the newscaster Walter Cronkite and other elements of the media turned the disastrous and strategic military defeat of the Viet Cong during the Tet offensive into a prevailing popular tale of American defeat.