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The Democracy and Al Smith

ISSUE:  Summer 1927

Three years ago this July the Democratic party drew up a thumping statement of principles and then for nearly half a calendar month applied itself to a war over personages. The personages, it is true, had themselves a very definite identification with issues of powerful appeal, but they were issues fearfully, knowingly, and intentionally excluded from party cognizance. The issues were prohibition and religious egalitarianism and the personages were William G. McAdoo and Alfred E. Smith. At the end of one hundred and three ballots these four vital elements of the 1924 Democratic equation were factored out in the name of harmony. What was left after the factoring was a platform containing a ringing charge of corruption, a desperate straddle on the League, and forty more or less ingenious platitudes; and a standard-bearer ably and aristocratically aloof from nearly everything that the groundlings considered worth discussing. Thus led and provisioned, the national Democracy achieved a defeat even more distinguished than the one that it suffered in the triumphant emergence of Harding and Normalcy.

For more than two years after this event the national Democracy lay stunned, too sick to think, too confused to plan. Then, with the approach of the penultimate year, its leaders began with one accord to utter admonition and prophecy. Now we are in the midst of the great coming back to consciousness. There is great confusion, but already there are a few things that can be discerned with reasonable clearness, one of these things is that the drama of July, 1924, with immaterial changes in a few scenes and lines, is scheduled for a return engagement in 1928. The mise en seine is likely to be the same, the basic conflict is likely to be the same and— most important of all—the leading protagonists are likely to be the same. There are ancestral voices prophesying party suicide unless prohibition and religion are excluded from next year’s convention by the elimination of McAdoo and Smith from the list of presidential contenders, but no means of accomplishing this elimination, save by the meat-cleaver methods of three years ago, are even remotely in sight. The factions may again celebrate the two-thirds sacrament and lay the bodies of both major prophets on the altar of a bogus peace, but from this prospect most of the Democratic best minds now recoil. Nothing is more certain than that another paix pldtree would mean another national defeat, and the best minds want victory.

The effect of all this—the dread of repeating the Battle of Madison Square Garden, the apparently immovable candidacies of the two principal adversaries of three years ago, and the hunger of the party leaders for a return to national power—is the emergence of a Democratic situation charged with extraordinary interest. For the student of party evolution the chief interest lies in the possibility that the campaign of 1928 will jar loose some of the sectional and ideological dikes that to-day impound the Democracy and shut it off from the tide and sweep of new national forces. For the Democratic laity the chief interest lies in the likelihood that the campaign will loose a holy war of unexampled Christain ferocity. The first possibility is as yet only dimly perceived, but evidences of the second confront us on all sides. For the first time in the history of American politics, a presumptive candidate for the Presidency has been publicly interpellated on the articles of his religious faith. For the first time in the history of American politics, there is heading up within the Democratic party an evangelical crusade openiy and unashamedly dedicated to the proposition that this is a government of the Protestants, by the Protestants, for the Protestants, and that Catholics have no political rights under the Constitution save those meted out to them by the religious majority in the exercise of its all-enfolding mercy. The Marshall-Duffy-Smith correspondence on Corpus juris canonici has not materially improved matters. It has convinced all reasonable persons that Al Smith’s Americanism is beyond cavil, but the unreasoning, emotional rank and file that make up the evangelical armies that are being raised for the defense of God and Nation, have carried away from the epistolary interchange the strong impression that neither Pope Leo XIII nor Pope Pius IX are eligible for the Presidency of the United States. With the assistance of several thousand consecrated rural clergymen and not a few first class minds in the upper reaches of American Protestantism, this impression is by an extraordinary feat in logic and much prayer being applied to the candidacy, of Governor Smith. The politicians see what is coming and are either carefully estimating the situation to see with what colors sits victory, or are excitedly demanding that the trouble-making candidates retire. Senator Caraway’s first thought on the subject, given to the public as long ago as last August, was that Smith’s religion made him ineligible. Not that he, Caraway, was himself antiCatholic, he explained, but that the body of the Southern electorate was. On second thought, given to the world in April of this year, Senator Caraway was ofthe belief that the South would reject Smith by a vote of at least 50 to 1. On third thought he was of the belief that “the best thing that conid happen to the Democratic party, just now would be for Al Smith and William G. McAdoo to drop dead.” Lynching has not yet been suggested. Senator Heflin’s pronouncements on the subject differ only in phrasing. The South, principal theatre of the oncoming battle, is pleasur-ably excited. There is, in Barry Benefield’s phrase, “a fiery sweetness in the air”—a faraway smell of flesh burning at the stake, a hint of sanguinary set-tos in behalf of the Father of all Mercy, a sound of distant bugles calling the faithful to avenge anew the martyrdom of Ridley and Cranmer, presentiments and intimations of a great Protestant girding “to stablysh Christen quietness.”

Let it not be supposed that the party leaders have permitted this situation to develop without misgivings or without an effort to forestall it. They have feared and they have tried, but they found themselves helpless—largely, I believe, because they undertook to suppress the unsup-pressible, because what they took to be transitory malaise is in reality a fundamental party, ailment that must be aerated and cured before the party can be restored to health. That may appear more clearly from what follows.


Four months after the great 7,000,000 cooling off with Coolidge, Mr. Franklin D. Roosevelt, of New York, addressed to Senator Thomas J. Walsh, of Montana, an epistle on the plight of the party. He had been taking stock of the November catastrophe and had been taking counsel with the 1,100 delegates of the July convention who, he now informed the late permanent chairman of that convention, “were overwhelmingly agreed that the Democracy must be unqualifiedly the party, representative of progress and liberal thought.” The letters which he had received from them were also insistent “that the Democratic party shall not, nationally in the future, confuse with basic principles those matters of momentary or temporary nature which are principally of local interest”; that “the clear line of demarkation which differentiated the political thought of Jefferson on the one side and Hamilton on the other, must be restored”; that “by adhering to principles rather than personalities for the next three years, we shall go farther toward success.” Mr. Roosevelt outlined a plan for propagating these views both within the Democratic communion and without. The details of the plan do not now matter for after a few days of uncertain discussion by, the party’s elders and editors, it was heard of no more.

In the two years that have elapsed nothing has been done within the Democratic party to discern basic issues and discard temporary ones, nothing has been done to identify the party more surely with the gospel of Jefferson or to differentiate it more plainly from the heresy of Hamilton, nothing has been done to make the party representative of progress and liberal thought, and nothing has been done toward tying the party to principles rather than personalities. The party stands to-day precisely where it stood three years ago. As the opposition party in Congress it has squandered two precious years in negations and compromises, never once giving a sign that it possesses a social, economic or political philosophy sufficiently different from that of the party in power to justify, its separate existence. It is separate today not because it is distinguished from the Republican party by uncompromisable doctrinal difference, but because a bloc of ten or eleven States continues to believe that a Republican majority south of the Potomac would be the beginning of the end of Nordic ascendancy, and because political life, like animal life, must have at least two sexes.

The substantial identity of the two major parties in present day attitude and practice scarcely needs elaboration. Only keynote sounders, platform-makers, and celebrants of Jefferson and Lincoln dinners seriously pretend nowadays that the two parties are in a real sense doctrinally distinct. The rapprochement, be it noted, has been brought about not by the Republican party moving toward the Democratic position, but almost entirely by a slow but uninterrupted movement of the Democratic party toward the concepts and practices of Republicanism. That has come about not through wilful desertion of the old Jeffersonian principles or through a mysterious outcropping of original sin but in response to economic and social changes that rendered some of the Jeffersonian dicta obsolescent, and made the rest of his teaching unacceptable to any party concerned with retaining the support of the intrenched and influential minorities that, in ordinary circumstances, control the machinery of politics and preside over the distribution of public benefices. In making brief allusion to the Democracy’s departure from the teaching and precept of its founding fathers, my purpose here is to do no more than indicate that such a departure has taken place. In response to what pressures, precisely, and how, the changes have taken place is a question that belongs to a fuller study.

For the purpose of making the point just set, it is sufficient to consider the Democratic party in the Southern States. The Southern Democracy occupies so preponderant a position in the national Democrary that it sets its tempo. Outside the South the Democratic party, retains some of the old Jeffersonian affections for individualism and the concerns of the plain people, but in the South itself the party is to-day essentially Bourbon. Jefferson’s Democracy was compounded of freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of the person, equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political, absolute separation of church and State, local and State self-government, the completest measure of personal liberty. consonant with effective co-operation in government, and the arraignment of all abuses at the bar of public reason. Of freedom of the press, individual liberty, and separation of church and State there is less in the Southern citadel of Democracy than in any other section of the country. It is here, in the shelter of all-Democratic Legislatures, that we have the most successful ecclesiastical inroads on the processes of lay education and the most effective evangelical control of tests for public office. It is here that newspapers that venture to question the godliness of prohibition and the decency of its enforcement are punished by the largest number of cancellations, and it is here, too, that the heaviest reprisals are carried out against newspapers that make bold to denounce the assassination of the religious equality principle by the Ku Klux Klan. It is here that the freedom of the press is curtailed by the strictest libel laws. The party’s responsibility for this situation is not direct, but it is uniformly true that its attitude to these abominations and abridgments is one of wary tolerance— never one of courageous and specific denunciation.

Of the Democracy’s attachment to State and local self-government it is sufficient to remark that Governor Ritchie, of Maryland, is producing a considerable cis-Potomac stir by, his advocacy of a return of the State rights principle to its old canonical importance. If the party had not abandoned it there would be no need of a return to it and Governor Ritchie would be without an audience. The selling out of the State rights principle has been under way a long time. Dozens of Federal aid enterprises mark the milestones of its flight. With the Democracy’s acceptance of Federal prohibition, it was definitely “sold down the river.” The principle was hypocritically revived to help Southern manufacturers stave off Federal regulation of child labor, but otherwise it sleeps the sleep of death. Oniy a metaphysical difference distinguishes the conception of State rights developed by President Coolidge in his speeches at Anlington and WiUiamsburg from the practice of State rights as concurred in and approved by the leading Democratic intellects.

As for the Jeffersonian principle of rule by the people, it is nowhere so scorned as in the section that has been longest and most continuously, Democratic. The allusion here is not to the disfranchisement of the Negro but to the disfranchisement of the plain people of the ruling race. Long after the poll tax tariff that was erected to keep out the Negro has lost the character of necessity, it is maintained to preserve the control of the political organism to those active, privileged and propertied elements that through the medium of county, city, and State organizations dominate the mechanism of election and government. So modest an effort at liberalization as the proposal this year that the Constitution of Virginia be amended to reduce the prepaid poll tax requirement from three years to two, was strangled in committee. When it was proposed in the late Virginia Senate to apply to veterans of the World War the same exemption from the payment of poll taxes as a voting prerequisite, that now applies to veterans of the Civil War, a member objected that such a reform would place on the poll books many thousands of new voters who would be hard to control and that “political affiliations might thereby be jeopardized.” The objection was sustained. The Negro vote was the talking point but not the acting point. The Negro vote can be “handled” at the polls without any poll tax requirement whatever. But the white vote cannot. It is to the interest of the Democratic forces in power in the South to-day to keep the electorate as small as possible. The smaller the electorate the easier it is ringed and ruled. Not only, in Virginia but throughout the Democratic South, the franchise has been so behung with barbed wire that the plain people can only with extreme difficulty penetrate to the ballot box.


Post-Jeffersonian principles have fared no better. The Democratic party used to be solicitous of the rights of immigrants and foreign-born minorities. The proudest boast to-day of the section that has been longest and most solidly Democratic is that it is least contaminated by foreign admixture and that its manufacturing cities have practically no aliens at all. The Know-Nothing movement of the middle of the last century drew from the Democratic party (Platform of 1856) the declaration that American principles guarantee “entire freedom in matters of religious concernment,” and that “a political crusade in the Nineteenth Century, and in the United States of America, against Catholics and foreign born, is neither justified by the past history, nor the future prospects of the country, nor in unison with the spirit of toleration and enlightened freedom which pecniiarly distinguishes the American system of popular government.” The present Democratic embroilment with precisely such a crusade carried to its logical conclusion, marks the distance that the party has traveled since 1856 in the direction of religious intolerance. Meanwhile the Democratic party in Congress joins the Republican party in voting for the strictest immigration laws, while the Ku Klux Klan with which half of the Southern State Democracies fraternize, and which the national Democracy fears to denounce, attends to the immigrants already here.

The historic difference between the two parties has been on the subject of the tariff. The difference to-day is a matter of fine and tenuous definitions. In 1852 the Democrats were still committed to the cause of “progressive free trade throughout the world.” In decent Democratic society that idea is no longer alluded to. “Tariff for revenue only” the party, rubric for the next forty years, gave way under Cleveland and Wilson to “equalization tariffs.” The latest Democratic thinking on the subject is contained in Mr. Mc-Adoo’s recent letter to the “Manufacturer’s Record.” Therein is approved “a tariff based upon economic grounds.” Mr. Richard H. Edmonds, editor of the Record, and foremost of Southern high protectionists, extends the idea the right hand of fellowship.

The quadrennial Democratic platforms continue to denounce the “unscientific and dishonest” tariff—and dishonest and unscientific, in many schedules, it is—but practicing Democratic politicians know that the life has departed from this one-time paramount issue. Hardly again can the issue be paramounted as it was paramounted under Tilden, Cleveland and Wilson. There are several reasons for this but the principal one is the South’s exclusory preoccupation with industrial greatness. The Southward migration of the New England textile industry and the multiplication of Southern industrial establishments generally, has created an appetite for more. Business men, politicians and legislatures, with remarkable unanimity, identify Southern progress with the multiplication of smokestacks, the building of power-houses, and the establishment of new transportation lines. The territorial stronghold of the Democratic party is filling up with factories that will demand and receive protection—from the Democrats. The ancient tariff principles of the party are being subtly revamped to fit the Southern economic revolution so justly, and impressively celebrated in the monthly issues of the “Manufacturers’ Record,” and no ghostly Clevelands or Wilsons are likely to avail against the dicta of the Chambers of Commerce.

On such outstanding questions as farm relief, taxation, banking and currency, collection of the war debts, immigration, transportation, labor, women and children in industry, and foreign relations the two parties have to-day no differences worth mentioning. The conspicuous exceptions are the Philippine, League, and Turkish questions, concerning which the parties rejoice in something resembling a real division. On the Philippines there survives a direct conflict of view. The division over the League of Nations has been obfuscated by the vitiating referendum proposal of the last Democratic platform, and the division over ratification of the Treaty of Lausanne has been perceptibly lessened by the action of the late standard-bearer who has abandoned the party’s platform declaration on this subject and bestowed his blessing on the position occupied by, the Republicans. In so far as there exists in national councils an opposition to the ruling party’s foreign policy, that opposition is voiced not by Democrats—Representative R. Walton Moore, of Virginia, being one of the notable exceptions— but by Republican. progressives like Senator Borah. It was not one of the legatees of Mr. Bryan’s anti-imperialism but a Republican progressive who, when the administration’s dollar diplomacy was moving us in the direction of war with Mexico, pleaded: “God has made us neighbors, let Justice make us friends!” The Democratic party has affirmed in at least two platforms “that the liberal principles embodied by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence and sanctioned in the Constitution, which makes ours a land of liberty and asylum of the oppressed of every nation” have ever been “cardinal principles in the Democratic faith,” but it was the Republican Borah and not some professor of Jeffersonianism that raised his voice against the State Department’s exclusion of Countess Karolyi.


The purpose of this fragmentary exhibit of the party’s fairly complete identification with the tendencies and practices of political Conservatism, is to suggest that the reason it has not since the writing of the Roosevelt letter taken a single step toward becoming “unqualifiedly the party representative of progress and liberal thought” is that it is no longer headed in that direction. It is headed in the other direction—toward the political Right by way of the political Centre. But the political Right is already ably tenanted and skillfully exploited. The Republican party and its several predecessors in title have occupied the premises continuously, since the days of Hamilton. There is no dislodging this going concern from its established position as principal purveyor of political and economic conservatism. It has exclusive gentlemen’s agreements with all the hierarchies of large-scale business, and a selling organization so effective that its political product is regarded as indispensable by vast populations that in reality wonid be better off without it. How can the Democratic party hope to re-establish itself nationally, as a going political concern by stocking its shelves and counters with imitations of the same goods that have formed the stock in the trade of the party of the American Right for a round hundred years? The regular Republican trade will have nothing to do with the stuff, and the independent and liberal trade, anxiously scanning the political market for ideas and concepts serving the hopes and aspirations of the plain people, will reject it as shoddy.

What the Democratic party must do, how it must alter its attitude and practice, to become again the voice of the plain people and the champion of their demand for a fair and unhampered existence is a question that 1 am content to pass on to someone else. A basic economic and social change in its Southern stronghold sent the party wenching after strange gods, and it is within the possibilities, I suggest, that the same social and economic change, seeping through the whole national structure, will indicate the way of its salvation. In the end, for America as for all other nations resting on a complicated economic foundation, the basic political competition must be between those who possess little and those who possess much, between those whose hard lot in life impels them to seek new formulas for the management of Government, Wealth, and Justice, and those whose easier lot in life impels them to defend and expand the status quo. There are reasons for believing that the growing agrarian-industrial tension will contribute to such a political shake-down. The city-comitry conflict is already the common problem of every industrialized State. It is not beyond the possibilities that the conflict will take on national proportions, with the employed and tenant classes, now in great part politically unattached, ultimately merging with the agrarians in a great, popular party, of the Left akin to the Labor-Liberal opposition of contemporary England. In such a role the party founded by Jefferson might again elect Presidents, write laws, and make history.

But that is in the future. The party’s present concern is with the condition, not the theory. The condition, nowhere seriously disputed, is that the Democratic party., save in the South where it is endemic and in a few northern and mid-western States where it serves as the vehicle for local and regional rivalries, is to-day politically impotent. The impotence cannot be explained away, as a mere temporary disability, certain to give way to vigor as soon as the country is seized with another attack of hard times, or as soon as another Republican administration develops a Star Route or Credit Mobilier scandal. The failure of the country to become excited over the naval oil and Veterans’ Bureau crookedness has all but disposed of the Democratic reliance on the rule of retributive rotation. The party’s case is more desperate. Between Jackson and Lincoln, the latter not included, the party founded by Jefferson elected every President but two. The two exceptions were William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor, both elected on their war records. Between Lincoln and Coolidge every President but two has been a Republican. So remarkable a turn about is not to be attributed to the misfortune of continued national prosperity—the standard Democratic explanation of Republican success. Even the most robust of partisans must begin to suspect that there is something deeply wrong —that somehow or other Jefferson’s party of the Rights of Man has lost the common touch. Except when the opposition is split and disorganized, the party is unable under its own motive power to carry a presidential candidate across the threshold of the Wliite House. Cleveland was a beneficiary of retributive rotation. Wilson, much stronger than his party, polled a minority vote and became President only in virtue of a Republican division. He won again four years later in virtue of the fortuitous Hughes-Johnson feud that gave him California, and because Minnesota preferred a flyer in Democracy to a German war. It is eloquent of the party’s inherent national weakness that Wilson won his second election by a margin of one-third of one per cent of the votes cast in a single State, that although he polled the largest Democratic vote on record he failed to secure the return of a safely Democratic House, and that he was the first Democratic President to succeed himself since Jackson and the first, except Cleveland, to serve two terms.

It is this normal minority status that the Democratic party has come to occupy, that makes it certain that a repetition of the nominational performance of Madison Square Garden in the convention of 1928 will be followed in November by a repetition of the 1924 Republican landside. That performance consisted of pretending that the public questions in which the rank and file of Democracy were spontaneously interested, must at all costs be excluded from the campaign. The rank and file of the party were in a peculiar and immediate sense interested in prohibition. They were in a peculiar and immediate sense interested in the Protestant-Catholic issue precipitated by the question of the Smith candidacy. In William G. McAdoo and Alfred E. Smith the convention had two candidates that were in a genuine sense the resultants of forces rooted deep in the popular thinking of the day and struggling for political expression. The emergence of these forces in the campaign of 1924 might not have made for party victory„ but it would have moved the party appreciably nearer to that healing ventilation of its religious and moral fixations that must precede its national rehabilitation. Instead of precipitating this healing catharsis, the party leaders, William Jennings Bryan at their head, suppressed it. Aided and abetted by that nonegenarian conspiracy against Jefferson’s “absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority”—the two-thirds rnie—they drove the real leaders from the field and committed the party gonfalon to a great legal reputation and a two-gallon hat. Such a team had exactly the motive power of the normal Democratic party, and the November rout followed as a matter of course.


Another November rout will follow as a matter of course unless the party nominates next year a full-size political leader unmistakably identified with the issues that give drive and force to the party’s thinking. Such a leader, in my opinion, is Governor Smith. A more magnetic political personality has not figured on the American scene since Roosevelt. He has to an extraordinary degree the faculty of inspiring confidence and commanding loyalty. He is in an exceptional sense a leader, an executive, and a man of the people. He is much weaker than his party in the Solid South, but the Solid South with negligible defections, more probably with no defections at all, can be relied upon to give him its electoral support if he is nominated. He is immeasurably stronger than his party in the indispensable Northeast. He is at least as strong as his party in the border States and in the “doubtful” States of the Middle West. The Mountain and Far West do not enter into ordinary Democratic calculations and Smith can win without their support. Better than any other Democratic leader now on the national scene he fulfils the indispensable condition that the standard-bearer of 1928, in order to win through to the White House, must bring to the party a sufficient personal and trans-Potomac following wholly his own to wipe out his party’s normal electoral college deficit and convert it into a surplus.

But these evaluations, be they near the mark or far from it, bear oniy on the question of probable victory. From the viewpoint of the office-starved party that is the most important consideration of all, but from the special point of view of this inquiry it is subordinate in importance to the question of the effect of Mr. Smith’s nomination and election on the structure, drift, and outlook of the new Democracy that is to be. Putting aside the probability that Governor Smith would come nearer leading the party to victory than any other Democrat now available, his leadership is to be welcomed for its therapeutic value to the sick and ailing Democratic party.

The party’s ailment, broadly diagnosed, is disorientation. It has lost its Jeffersonian bearings and has wandered off in a wilderness of beadleism and sectarianism, of classes and cliques, of sectional interests and parochial fears, of timid compromises and Republican imitations. There is a road to reintegration but it is beset by difficulties. It leads to the Left and a great deal of thinking is required—a great deal of statesmanship—to chart the return trip so that it can be accomplished without a new period of wandering in the wilderness. But before this can be done, something else must be done first. Somehow and someway, prohibition must be removed as an obfuscatory influence in Democratic polity, religion must be banished as a political determinant, and the Solid South must be unfrozen and made politically fluid.

To these ends, not immediately but ultimately, the nomination of Governor Smith would contribute. Particularly would these ends be served by his election. Nine years of constitutional prohibition have bequeathed to the American people the most important public issue since the dispute over slavery. The fact that the issue cuts across both the major parties in no wise reduces its stature as a question of the first public importance. The present political attitude toward this reform is irrational. It is predicated on the pretense that because prohibition has been written into the Constitution the parties, as parties, are debarred from further thinking on it. Seventy-five years ago the Democratic party set itself a similar limitation. The Compromises of 1850, it declared, “settled” the slavery question. The platform of 1852 proclaimed that “the Democratic party will resist all attempts at renewing in Congress, or out of it, the agitation of the slavery question, under whatever shape or color the attempt may be made.” In less than ten years after this declaration of immobility the party was in ruins. The identity of the slavery and prohibition questions need not be labored. There are fundamental differences between the two, but in their potentialities for social revolution they are strikingly alike. The slavery question drew its vitality as a public issue from the clash between the elemental property instinct and the deep-seated revulsion against human bondage. The prohibition question draws its vitality, from the clash between the deep, indwelling resentment of the individual against summary abridgment of his privileges as regards tastes and. habits that only by a violent extension of the doctrine of paternalism can be held to be affected by a public interest, and the emotional power of a dedication for the time being believed by several millions of Americans to be informed with the will of God. Between these two forces there is likely to be no truce. There is no truce between them now when the doctrine of Prohibition as the King’s Business is but nine years removed from its anointing. What is to be expected in another nine years when the odor of sanctity has departed from the ordinance and has been replaced by the old familiar smell of official tyranny; when instead of spending $40,000,000 a year to enforce prohibition, the Federal government is spending $150,000,000 a year; when localities where public opinion is against prohibition are beridden with an army of Federal police after the manner recommended by Mr. Mc-Adoo in his speech at Toledo; when regular and special detectives, seducers, snoopers, spies, tempters, and agents provocateurs infest us, in Senator Jim Reed’s phrase “like the lice of old Egypt”; when searches and seizures are multiplied ten fold and shootings on suspicion are multiplied a hundred fold; when the ordinance said once upon a time to be the will of God is fully revealed as the instrument of Oppression.

If it be objected that only unregenerate wets are troubled with this saturnine vision, it may be replied that only consecrated drys are unperturbed by, the turmoil already in being. It is a turmoil of sufficient consequence even to-day to color every political ambition and every political career, and to plant every uncourageous statesman firmly on the fence. There is to-day no national issue half so effective as the prohibition issue in raising second rate men to first rate office and keeping them there to the damage of the general business of government. The successful candidacy of an outstanding public man who denies the divinity of national prohibition and approaches it rationally as a social experiment that must justify itself or submit to modification, would go far toward exorcising the spinelessness and hypocrisy that was conjured into most practicing politicians with the enactment of the Eighteenth Incantation. Public men would see for themselves that an attitude of critical inquiry in respect of prohibition is not necessarily followed by an act of popular vengeance, and would begin to emerge from their cyclone cellars and look this reform squarely in the face. What effect the lifting of the tabu of fear and silence would have on prohibition itself, is beyond the limits of the present discussion. Whatever the new trend would be, it would bring with it such a denaturing of the prohibition issue’s ability to paralyze political thinking as would permit, for the first time in the Volstead era, the beginning of an active Democratic inquiry into the cause of, and cure for, the party’s decadence. No such inquiry, appears possible as long as the party does its active political thinking in terms of prohibition alone.

What effect the candidacy or election of Governor Smith would have on the solidity of the Solid South is a question sententiously in dispute, but is in reality nothing that need give a moment’s concern to any one who looks forward to the development of a quickened and regenerated Democracy. If it be true that the candidacy of Governor Smith would split the Solid South, so much the better. Those who hope for the abolition of the political one-sided-ness that is the South’s baneful inheritance from Carpetbagger days, find in this possibility, not a threat but a promise. Uniparty control of Southern public affairs came into being as a political and social necessity but it has outlived its usefulness. It is time to replace it with a system in which Southern politics will be subjected to the same direct and effective competition that makes for the efficiency, decency, and public sensitiveness of Southern business. Such a system would rid the Southern Democracy of its political amphibians, those pursed and influential retainers who vote as Republicans in national elections and as Democrats in State elections, and would deliver them to the Republican party where they, belong. In their present divided allegiance they serve to Republicanize the State Democracies and to prevent them from enlarging the base of their appeal. The emergence of genuine political competition in the South would radically, change the character of Southern Republicanism which would cease to be a system of rotten boroughs serving chiefly to furnish the sitting Republican President with a big convention nest egg, and become a political entity demanding and receiving administration services and favors directly beneficial to Southern interests. No racial complications would follow this bi-partisan revolution because the Caucasian instinct, immeasurably deeper rooted than the partisan instinct, would command a common racial policy. Nothing—not even the liberalization of the franchise regulations—would contribute so much to the rein-troduction of the Southern white masses into public affairs as a disestablishment of the South’s political monopoly and an alignment of the South’s voters on the basis of living principles instead of on the basis of inherited fears. If Governor Smith’s candidacy threatens to hasten the day of this Democratic debacle and reintegration, it is to be welcomed as a long-delayed deliverance. It is one of the conditions of a Democracy resurgent, united, intersectional, and nationally effective.

Incomparably the greatest service that the election of Smith would perform for the Democratic party and through the Democratic party for political United States, would be to reduce to the proportions of private prejudice a sectarian enmity which, in respect of the highest elective offices of the land, amounts to-day to an unconstitutional political proscription. By every test that can be applied in law, logic, or American tradition, the country’s 19,000,-000 Catholics—one-sixth of the population of the United States—are entitled to complete absorption into the American scheme. But that has never been the case in the United States and is not the case now. The religious refugees that colonized the Atlantic seaboard came in search of a place where they could worship God in accordance with the dictates of their consciences, but with little inclination to accord the same privilege to those whose religious views differed from their own. In Pennsylvania and Rhode Island —thanks to Penn the Quaker and to Roger Williams the rebel—religion was free, but in the other colonies all there was of religious freedom was comprehended in a tenuous “toleration.” The Protestants contrived after much squeezing of shins to tolerate one another’s way, with God, and to co-operate in the duties that it was necessary to render unto Caesar, but on the necessity of barring Catholics from civil rights there was true Christian unity. The hatreds and suspicions imported to these shores from the English Reformation are still with us in the sesqui-centennial year of our existence as the land of the free. The last of the Catholic disability laws has disappeared from the State codes, but not the Romish terror from the mind of American Protestantism. Under the beneficent ministrations of Kluxery the terror has taken on new life. It is illogical, it is unworthy, it is unintelligent, it is uncivilized, un-American and un-Christian, but it persists and it carries with it the potentialities of a bitter and sundering conflict.

There is glory and fame and power in store for the first American political party that will confront this serpent of religious recrimination and defang it. Nothing would so serve to exorcise from Protestant hearts those last surviving fears of the stake-and-martyr era as a four or eight-year demonstration that these fears are idle and baseless—that a Catholic in the White House would not mean a papal legate on Sixteenth Street, that we would be embroiled in no foreign wars in the interest of the Vatican, that a President could go to Mass without going to Canossa. An accidental array of circumstances has put it within the power of the Democratic party to nominate, perhaps to elect to the Presidency, an able and distinguished American who is also a communicant of the Catholic Church. An opportunity, wholly fortuitous, is offered the party to perform a distinguished national service—to import into the management of the nation’s highest public trust that complete religious equality, unto this very day denied, that is the last command of our Constitution and the first concern of our Bill of Rights.


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