The World is waiting Restlessly for my continued thoughts on the 1924 Presidential Election Campaign

6-7-1924: The move to compel the Republican Convention to adopt a moderate declaration against the Ku Klux Klan is gaining support because of the convinued agitation of RB Creager, National Committeeman from Texas, who is devoting his attention to an anti-Klan campaign. The Republican leaders, who influenced Mr Creager to abandon his plans at the meeting of the National Committee in Washington in December, find themselves greatly embarrassed by his renewed activity. They had hoped that this matter could be ignored, and now that it has come to the fore there is no certainty that the party will not finally adopt the plank suggested by Mr. Creager. […] The Klan is thoroughly aroused over the strong movement, which is gaining support daily, and it was announced here tonight that one of their cheifs, WS Bassert of Indianapolis, would be here tomorrow to counteract the Creager fight. […]

“I ask, is the Republican Party going to remain silent, while 2,800,000 Klansmen excite prejudices against more than half of the population of the United States? If it does, the party has lost its virility and is a coward before a class who are so cowardly as to conceal their actions under White Hoods. […] The Democratic Party is certain to adopt an anti-Klan plank. What this party proposes to do, certainly the Republican should not hesitate to do, and do it first.”

Understanding Texas politics of the day is a bit confusing. The agitator against the Klan at the RNC Convention was a Texan delegate, and if you consider that 85% of the DNC were Klansmen (not altogether uncommon for a handful of states, though apparently the Texan delegation stood out as particularly odious) it would make some sense in the same way that the Nork York Republican Party was silent about the Klan whereas the New York Democratic Party — well, the Governor was the regular subject of burning effigies and was the living embodiment of everything the KKK detested — excepting maybe the fact that he wasn’t black–, so what do you think they are going to say? But, in 1924, Miriam Amanda Wallace “Ma” Ferguson was elected governor of Texas, and she considered the Main Issue of the Day Opposition to the Klan — running against an avowed tool of the Klan. (And keep in mind that Texas was a one-party state.) Interestingly enough, James Edward Ferguson, running as if he were going to become governor again in the guise of his wife on the ballott, ran a strongly anti-education campaign, promising to cut funding for Higher Education, and saying such things as “College is just there to avoid work for a while, and you know it.”. I suppose college not yet being a mass experience as of yet, such things were more possible in those days. But it lead those College Students old enough to vote to a dilemma: generally pre-disposed to disfavouring the activities of the Ku Klux Klan, and generally pre-disposed to wanting funding for Higher Education… where do you throw your vote? At any rate, the election of Ferguson seemed to play a role in the defection of William H Lewis, former Assistant Attorney General under the William Howard Taft Administration — which appears to be the last Republican President to give black America a significant token nod (and if ‘significant token’ is an oxymoron, that is American Politics), the highest role in government given to a Black Person up to that time, who saideth:

“There are colored men now living who remember the Ku Klux Klan of another day. It came into being to put the colored voter and citizen out of business. Intimidation, coercion, riots and murder were their weapon, were they not? 50 years ago, the Democratic Party was the Ku Klux party. Today, the Republican Party is the Ku Klux Party. The debate in the Democratic Convention was the most refreshing and wholesome thing that has taken place in American politics in a quarter of a century. Mr. Davis has taken his stand upon that issue, and I propose to stand with him. The Republican candidate for President has said nothing up to now as to whether he stands for the Klan or against it. Is the Republican Party afraid to take stand against the Ku Klux Klan? Is it still the party of Lincoln, of Grant, and of Roosevelt? I see no way of putting down the Ku Klux Klan except through the instrumentality of the Democratic Party. All that has been accomplished in Texas, in Louisiana, in Oklahoma, and Arkansas has been the work of the Democratic Party.”

Not that you can give the Democratic Party too much credit here. The agitators in those states are Democrats as well. The esteemed Democratic candidate, John Davis, would not say anything if not prodded by political pressures and perceived opportunities. The last Democratic President was named Woodrow Wilson, and something about him giving a thumbs up to “Birth of a Nation” doesn’t sit well here, and besides which, the Re-rise of the Klan is pretty well directly attributable to the Super-Patriotic fervor brought about by the start of World War One. But what are you going to do? The Republican ticket was a little slippery here.

8-25: (Said by the man who brought the issue up at the Democratic ticket): “In apologizing for the Klan, General Dawes [the Republican candidate for Vice-President] cited the situation in Herrin, Illinois, where Prohibition was not being enforced by the Constituted Authorities and where the Klan undertook to take the law in its own hands. In upholding the action of the Klan in Herrin, where Mr Dawes said its activities resulted in bloodshed, the Republican Vice Presidential candidate overlooked the fact that the District Attorneys, US Marshals, and Prohibition Agents charged with enforcement had been put in office or kept there by his chief, President Coolidge. […]

The Dawes speech did more than even the most abandoned Klansman at the Democratic Convention undertook to do. They did not seek to defend the UnAmerican principles and sinister purpose of the Klan. They merely opposed mention of the Klan by name in the Democratic Platform on the grounds of political expediency.”

8-30: The President did not take up campaign issues and made no direct reference to the Klan Controvery in what he said. Some Republicans had thought that he might make use of this occasion to answer John W Davis’s challenge to take the Klan out of national political debate. He was silent, but, according to some of his advisers, may redefine his position when he speaks before the Holy Names Socieities next month.

The only indirect reference to such organizations as the Ku Klux Klan, in contrast to fraternal organizations, was toward the end of the speech, when the President said: “The rituals of nearly all fraternal organizations are based upon religion. No true fraternity can rest on any other conception. It is for these reasons that they are supporting of the true aims of society, strong relainces of ordered government, according to law, able advocates of the cause of righteousness and religion and effective promoters of peace and good-will among the nations of the earth.” No. I don’t know what that means either.

Big Chunks of a Letter from the NAACP to Calvin Coolidge:

“I beg leave to call your attention once again that thousands of colored citizens are still looking for a public statement from you specifically disavowing for the Republican Party the support and endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan. To a previous request for such a statement sent to you on May 29 of this year no reply was received. To a telegram sent June 6, Mr. Slemp replied that it came during the closing days of the session of Congress when every moment of your time was occupied and that he hoped to call the message to your attention at an early date. No further reply was received. As we said in a previous letter, the issue involved transcends a mere few votes in the coming election, although […] […]

We now feel still greater warrant in asking for some such statement from you, in view of the fact that both the other principal candidates, John W Lewis of the Democrats and Robert M La Follette for the Third Party, have declared themselves unequivocally and unmistakenly on this issue, both of them naming the Ku Klux Klan so that there could be no flavor of evasion about their utterances.

Today you get President George W Bush side-stepping appearing before the NAACP in favor of the Urban League, with the premise that the NAACP is a hopelessly partisan organization that lost its way somewhere or how. But I must say, historical context of when political voting blocks, and organizations representing such, shift is helpful. A strangely self-patronizing letter from a Howard University Professor — Kelly Miller — explains a few political logistics:

However other classes and groups may regard it, to the negro the Ku Klux Klan is the one dominant issue of the campaign. His interest in public life is moral rather than material. With him human rights transcend property rights. He is perfectly willing to defer to the White Man’s judgement as to the wisest and most feasible scheme of tax, tariff, transportation, banks and business, and the commercial aspect of foreign and domestic policies. The majority of the American people, however composed, will not deliberately destroy the prosperity of the country of which they form a part. This thought ought to always keep our politics sane. But the Ku Klux Klan […]

Today we get various types of hawks proclaiming that no other issue matters other than the “War on Terror”. Any discussion on supposed fiscal recklessness is moot — because we need to club them before they clus us. Think of that premise how you may, and it has its nice internal logic. But I don’t think a Black Man in 1924, or anyone else for that matter, has much to apologize for in voting in terms of who takes the stronger stand or who bothers to even take a token stand against a Domestic Terrorist Unit committed against You personally. And consider the words of the Grand Imperial Wizard

“This Klanvokation held here in the Great Middle West is assembled on the battlefield of the immediate future. Some of the Eastern States are today lost to true Americanism and must be rewon, but the great American population of the Middle West, of the South, and of the Southwest are left to do valiant battle. (editorial note: This is the weird “Blue – State / Red – State divide, isn’t it?)

The future of America and the White Race hang in the balance. The blood which produces human leadership must be protected from inferior blood and YOU are of this Superior blood. You are more — you are leaders in the only movement in the world which exists solely to establish a cvilization that will insure these things. History has proved and is still proving daily that only Nordic and Anglo Saxon peoples have reached a high level of intelligence.

The speech goes on to describe how “We’re the Only Protection Against the Hordes” and how after the final Victory everyone will discover that “We actually love the Catholic and the Negro”, blah blah blah. But there’s something I don’t understand, except in terms that this strain of “Know Nothing” Americanism is inherently Isolationist and thus tends to ignore World Events Abroad. This is not the “Only Movement in the world” which “Exists to establish a Civilization that will insure” “Superior Blood” triumphs over “Inferior Blood.” Surely that movement is existant over in Germany, right?

For what it is worth, the Grand Imperial Wizard came out in favour and against nobody in the Presiential Election in 1924, and that a Klansman in good conscience could vote for either candidate, and that both the Democratic and Republican Party have pro and anti-Klan elements in the Party. Go figure.

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