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.
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.
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.
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.
How Urbanism Forever Changed America
The 1928 Presidential Election remains the zenith of Republican political power. Republican Herbert Hoover crushed Democrat Al Smith, winning 58 percent of the popular vote and 83 percent of the electoral vote.  The landslide was fueled by years of prosperity, affection for outgoing President Calvin Coolidge, and deep seated concerns over Smith’s Catholicism. Republicans also amassed majorities in the House and Senate not seen again until 2014.
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.
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.
“The Professor and the Bull Moose” 1912 Election
In June, 1912, former President Theodore Roosevelt broke with the tradition of candidates not attending conventions and arrived at the Republican National Convention with great fanfare. He fervently announced, “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord.” He then proudly labelled himself a “Bull Moose.”
The 1908 Presidential election featured the incumbent Republican President Theodore Roosevelt following through on his promise to not seek a third term and encouraging the Republicans to nominate Secretary of War William Howard Taft. While a number of third party candidates ran against Taft, the only non-Republican candidate who garnered any significant votes was the Democratic nominee, William Jennings Bryan. Bryan had been the Democratic nominee for President in 1896 and 1900, but the 1908 election was the most lopsided of his three defeats in the race for President.