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.
Morning in America: Ronald Reagan & the 1984 Election
In his 1984 State of the Union Address, President Ronald Reagan laid out his principles and vision that had guided his first term and provided the foundation for his re-election campaign. He reminded voters that the economy was growing rapidly and was back on track after the horrific stagflation of the Carter administration. The “crisis of confidence” of the 1970s was conquered by a renewed American spirit. Reagan was proud to report that, “There is renewed energy and optimism throughout the land.” Indeed, he touted, “America is back, standing tall.”
The American Mind with Charles R. Kesler: Presented by The Claremont Institute. Originally published on Jan 30, 2014 in the third segment with University of Nevada Reno Professor John Marini, Marini and Kesler discuss President Nixon and his losing battle with Washington bureaucracies. Used with permission.
PRESIDENT NIXON VS. THE ADMINISTRATIVE STATE. An Interview with John Marini
John: You have to begin to see what Nixon’s plan was after the election, and there you get a better sense of his view that this is the last time that we’re going to be able to take on the centralized bureaucratic apparatus and be able to hold it back.
Charles: John, if Richard Nixon were a character in a western, who would he be? Simon Legree?
The election of 1956 saw Adlai Stevenson again tasked with the unenviable duty of an electoral contest against Dwight D. Eisenhower, which, it will come as no surprise, did not end in Stevenson’s favor. Eisenhower is well known to students of history and government, Stevenson, a one-term governor of Illinois, barely garners a mention in most books on the Cold War. Despite his loss, Stevenson was an important bridge between the New Deal policies of the Roosevelt administration and the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson. He articulated a progressive platform that would guide the Democratic Party for the coming decades in regards to domestic policy. Electoral defeat is quite common for ideologues and intellectuals on both ends of the ideological spectrum, but part and parcel with his intellectual bend came a truly unique rhetoric for the role of government in society.
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.
Global War and Peace: The 1944 Election
In his 1944 State of the Union address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered a “Second Bill of Rights” that redefined the rights of the founding bill of rights. This radical pronouncement promised economic security and “positive rights” guaranteed by the federal government.
FDR’s Third Term and the Twenty-Second Amendment
On November 5, 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the first and only U.S. president to be elected for more than two terms. A newspaper headline depicted the historic moment with a joke that captured the public’s ambivalence toward Roosevelt’s unprecedented break from tradition: “Safe on third!”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, running for re-election in 1936, received 60.8% of the popular vote, second-highest popular vote percentage since that method of selecting presidential electors became dominant in the 1830s. Only Lyndon Johnson’s 61.1% over Barry Goldwater in 1964, Richard Nixon’s 60.7% over George McGovern in 1972, and Warren Harding’s 60.3% over James Cox in 1920 are on a similar scale. The electoral vote was even more lopsided, as Roosevelt defeated Kansas Governor Alf Landon 523 votes to 8 (46 states to 2). Only Ronald Reagan in 1984 (525 votes to 13; 49 states to 1 plus D.C.) and Richard Nixon in 1972 (520 votes to 17; 49 states to 1 plus D.C.) enjoyed similarly impressive margins since the modern two-party system emerged.
In 1932, the U.S. economy reached its nadir during the Great Depression. Unemployment had risen to more than 20 percent, or 11 million Americans, matched by a similar number of the underemployed as factories and businesses closed their doors. Banks were closing at an alarming rates as people instantly lost their life savings. Hundreds of thousands of farmers and urban dwellers alike were suffering forecloses and lost their homes. Breadlines were long and strained the resources of private charities and local governments.
The 1932 Presidential election took place during the height of the Great Depression. While a number of candidates ran on third party tickets, the main fight for the White House featured the incumbent Republican Herbert Hoover against Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt and none of the other candidates garnered more than 2% of the popular vote. Hoover had won the presidential election in 1928 on a pro-business platform promising continued prosperity. Nine months into Hoover’s term, on October 24, 1929, the stock market crashed, beginning the period that would become known as the Great Depression. The challenges created by the downward economic spiral consumed Hoover’s term and were a main focus of the 1932 presidential election.
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.”
By August 1910, Theodore Roosevelt had been out of office for a year and a half. He was unhappy with President William Howard Taft’s performance. Although Roosevelt had effectively designated Taft as his successor and continued to esteem him personally, Taft wanted no part of the rising Progressive movement in American politics. By 1910, Roosevelt did, for reasons that remain controversial.