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Election of 1928

Election of 1928

Usually, the importance and significance of a presidential election are front and center of the election itself. The most influential aspect of the election is typically the crux of the debates and platforms of the candidates and political parties. However, the presidential election of 1928 is one example of an election whose significance can be seen in hindsight. The winner of this election would lead the United States in the early and crushing years of the Great Depression, an event few could have predicted in November 1928. What were the core issues of the presidential election of 1928? Who were the candidates? Who won the election? And what was the lasting significance of the presidential election of 1928?

Election of 1928 Issues

The main issue debated by the candidates in the presidential election of 1928, though not the decisive issue that would decide the election, was which political and economic policies would continue to grow the prosperities of the 1920s. An expanding middle-class, a booming economy, and the rise of the United States as a global power after World War I created the "Roaring Twenties," The Republican and Democratic parties positioned themselves to the voters as the best options for continued growth. Other minor issues were social policies such as nativism and prohibition.

However, the core issues that ultimately decided the presidential election of 1928 were focused on the backgrounds and experiences of the candidates.

Entering the presidential election of 1928, Republicans had controlled the White House since the end of Democrat Woodrow Wilson's presidency in 1920 and took much of the political accolades for "creating" the conditions of prosperity in the 1920s which made any national political push against the Republicans a challenge.

Election of 1928 Candidates

The presidential election that would see out the "Roaring Twenties" brought two candidates to the forefront of politics that were new breeds of candidates. Both came from two varying backgrounds with opposing experiences and politics. The candidacies of Democrat Alfred E. Smith and Republican Herbert Hoover were as divided on the issues of this election as the American people themselves.

Alfred E. Smith: Democrat

The national Democratic Party, influenced by its wing in northern cities, nominated Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York. Smith was the first presidential candidate to embody the urban working class and European Catholic immigrants. A Catholic and the grandson of Irish peasants, Smith began his political career as a Tammany Hall ward heeler, became a dynamic state legislative leader and reformer, and matured as the effective four-term governor of the nation's most populous state.

Election of 1928  Presidential Candidate Alfred E Smith Democrat StudySmarterFig. 1 - Presidential Candidate Alfred E. Smith, Democrat

However, even with an exceptional political record as governor, Smith had liabilities that would influence middle-class voters, who would be an essential voting bloc of this election. He spoke in a heavy New York accent and often wore a brown derby highlighting his ethnic working-class origins. Middle-class reformers questioned his ties to the political bosses of Tammany Hall; temperance advocates opposed him as a "wet" candidate. The governor's most significant handicap, however, was his religion. Although Smith insisted that his beliefs would not affect his duties as president, most Protestants opposed his candidacy as they feared his loyalty to the Pope might influence his decisions as president.

Alfred Smith was the first Catholic candidate for president from either major party in 1928. These same Protestant sentiments would come up again in the presidential election of 1960 when Catholic candidate John F. Kennedy ran for president against Richard Nixon.

Tammany Hall and Boss Politics

One of the burdensome aspects of Alfred E. Smith's candidacy was his association with Tammany Hall, the political machine of New York City. Reconstruction's political chaos rose the power of "political machines." Unlike political parties, which ideally exist for higher purposes than merely electing candidates to office, machines were organizations whose main goal was getting and keeping political power. A machine had to win popular support to achieve that goal. Machine politicians routinely used bribery and graft to further their ends. But they could not have succeeded if they had not provided many people relief, security, and municipal services. By doing so, machine politicians alleviated many urban problems and accomplished things other agencies had been unable or unwilling to accept.

Election of 1928 Boss Tweed in 1870 StudySmarterFig. 2 - "Boss" Tweed in 1870

Tammany Hall "Boss" William Tweed, whose control over Tammany Hall in the 19th Century was rife with corruption and scandal. Source: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Between 1880 and 1920, nearly every major city experienced some political machine. Political machines, however, were ripe for corruption by their existence. Hierarchical political machine organization, whereby a city boss presided over neighborhood bosses, was typical and was most developed in New York City. William Tweed's Tammany Hall was the most influential New York City political machine. However, corruption brought the downfall of "Boss" William Tweed's Tammany Hall in the 1870s, and "Honest John" Kelly took over. Under Kelly's leadership, Tammany Hall began to consolidate other Democratic political machines in New York. By the 1880s, Richard Croker assumed control of Tammany Hall and completed Kelly's efforts by streamlining the process. He made neighborhood bosses more dependent on the city boss for jobs and money and allying with wealthy businesspeople.

During this time, Alfred E. Smith was the vice-chairman of the New York State Factory Commission and had strong ties with the Tammany Hall machine. For middle-class workers, this painted Smith with a brush of corruption and grafting and aligned him with big business and the wealthy, bucking his immigrant and working-class origins, creating a sense of distrust that would aid in his failed candidacy for president.

Herbert Hoover: Republican

Election of 1928  Republican Candidate Herbert Hoover StudySmarterFig. 3 - Republican Presidential Candidate Herbert Hoover

The Republican nominee, Herbert Hoover, was also a new candidate and the Secretary of Commerce. Hoover, having held appointed positions, had never run for political office. Hoover did not campaign hard to be the Republican nominee, delivering only several campaign speeches. He rested his candidacy on his outstanding career as an engineer and administrator; for many Americans, he embodied the continued promise of the Progressive Era. Beyond that, Hoover benefited from eight years of Republican prosperity through the 1920s and strong support from the business community. He promised voters his vision of individualism and philanthropic endeavor would banish poverty from the United States.

Election of 1928: Winner

Hoover won a stunning victory in the presidential election of 1928. He received fifty-eight percent of the popular vote to Smith's forty-one percent and 444 electoral votes to Smith's 87. Because many southern Protestants had issues voting for a Catholic candidate, Hoover carried Texas, Virginia, and North Carolina for the Democratic Party for the first time since the Reconstruction Era. Smith took Massachusetts and Rhode Island in the north, and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas in the south.

Election of 1928 Electoral Map of the Presidential Election of 1928 StudySmarterFig. 4 - Electoral map of the Presidential Election of 1928

Election of 1928 Significance

There are several significant aspects of the presidential election of 1928. The first is the beginning of the reorientation of the Republican and Democratic parties that started during the Reconstruction Era. Smith had won the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island and also carried the nation's twelve most populous cities.

The Democrats began fashioning a new identity as the party of urban masses and social welfare liberalism: a shift that would become a permanent pillar of their party platform pushed through by the New Deal in the 1930s. Juxtaposed to this shift are the Republican shift towards individualism, small government, and fiscal conservatism, shifting away from the strong federal government powers consolidated by Lincoln. With the election of 1928, Democrats and Republicans began to reshape their identities to those recognized in modern U.S. politics.

Secondly, and ironically, Herbert Hoover, who ran on a platform of banishing poverty through individualism, winning the election put him in the position of leading the United States when the Great Depression struck in 1929. The Republicans had long claimed credit for the prosperity of the 1920s, and now the Republicans could not escape blame for the depression.

Election of 1928 - Key Takeaways

  • The main issue debated by the candidates in the presidential election of 1928, though not the decisive issue that would decide the election, was which political and economic policies would continue to grow the prosperities of the 1920s.
  • However, the core issues that ultimately decided the presidential election of 1928 were focused on the backgrounds and experiences of the candidates.
  • The Candidates were Democrat Alfred Smith and Republican Herbert Hoover.
  • Hoover won in a stunning victory, receiving 444 electoral votes to Smith's 87.
  • There are several significant aspects of the presidential election of 1928. The first is the beginning of the reorientation of the Republican and Democratic parties that started during the Reconstruction Era, and Hoover winning the election put him in the position of leading the United States when the Great Depression struck in 1929.

Frequently Asked Questions about Election of 1928

The main influence on voters that caused Alfred Smith to lose the election of 1928 was his religion. As a Catholic, many Protestant voters were hesitant to vote for him. 

There are several significant aspects of the presidential election of 1928. The first is the beginning of the reorientation of the Republican and Democratic parties that started during the Reconstruction Era. The Democrats began fashioning a new identity as the party of urban masses and social welfare liberalism, Juxtaposed to this shift are the Republican shift towards individualism, small government, and fiscal conservatism, shifting away from the strong federal government powers consolidated by Lincoln. 

Republican Herbert Hoover 

Republican Herbert Hoover defeated Democrat Alfred Smith. 

Democrat Alfred E. Smith 

Final Election of 1928 Quiz

Question

Who was the Democratic Candidate in the Election of 1928? 

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Answer

Alfred E. Smith 

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Who was the Republican Candidate in the Election of 1928? 

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Answer

Herbert Hoover 

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Question

Which of the following was the most divisive issue of the campaigns of the Election of 1928? 

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Answer

The Religion of the Candidates 

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Why were many voters hesitant to cast a ballot for Democrat Alfred E. Smith in 1928? 

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Answer

He was Catholic 

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Question

Who won the Election of 1928? 

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Answer

Republican Herbert Hoover 

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Question

Which corrupt New York political machine as Alfred E. Smith associated with that cost him votes in the Election of 1928? 

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Answer

Tammany Hall 

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Question

Herbert Hoover would be the last of the Republican presidents to control the White House during the Republican Ascendency since which previous Democrat held the office? 

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Answer

Woodrow Wilson in 1920

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Question

Which major economic event occurred in the first year of President Hoover's Administration? 

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Answer

The Stock Market Collapse of 1929 and the beginning of the Great Depression 

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What was the social policy issue that became a major debate issue during the Election of 1928? 

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Answer

Nativism and Prohibition 

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Question

Why was Alfred E. Smith's Catholic religion such a divisive issue? 

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Answer

Many southern Protestants believed he may be swayed by the Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church. 

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