The First Modern Clash Over Federal Power: Wilson Versus Hughes in the Presidential Election of 1916.
The First Modern Clash Over Federal Power: Wilson Versus Hughes in the Presidential Election of 1916. By Lewis L. Gould. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2016. Pp. xiv, 178. $34.95.)
This author's account is informed by extensive primary research in the papers of statesmen, political operatives, and reporters. It is deepened by use of secondary literature ranging from classic accounts to 2015 imprints. From these sources, he paints vivid pictures of what the politicos said and did during the campaign.
Starting the campaign, the Republicans were convinced that Wilson was an illegitimate leader as he was elected with a minority of the votes because of the electoral fluke of the 1912 election, caused by Theodore Roosevelt's progressive Bull Moose Party siphoning off Republican votes. But their confidence in thinking they would win the election was complicated by Roosevelt. His previous bolt from the party made him unacceptable as a candidate to many of the party's leaders, forcing them to run the less-well-known Hughes. And Roosevelt's vocal advocacy for a more aggressive stance against Germany for its actions in the Great War (typical of many Republicans) caused the party to be seen as wanting to bring the nation into the war, an unpopular course with voters.
The collapse of the Progressive Party made the Democrats the party of progressivism. They embraced it and added to it themes of peace and prosperity. Wilson had steered the nation clear of World War I, and thus could claim to have kept the peace. And both the economic cycle and the stimulus of the war contributed to a booming economy. The Democrats also had advantages on the tactical aspects of the campaign. Wilson proved a good campaigner whose speeches were easily transformed into campaign literature with clear themes. He assembled an able team and allowed them the latitude to act. Hughes on the other hand, contrary to Republican expectations, turned out to be a poor campaigner. He chose as his campaign manager a man who proved not to be up to the task. He resisted almost all attempts to improve his messaging during the campaign.
Intermixed in the account of the twists and turns of the campaign, Lewis Gould explains what the election meant to American political development. He argues the Democratic and Republican parties assumed their modern ideological positions over the power of the federal government to aid people directly by mitigating some of the effects of industrial capitalism on American life. In short, "the two parties began to sound like their modern counterparts" with the Democrats espousing expanded government action and regulation and the Republicans calling for limited government along existing lines (87). The divisions over the idea that a protective tariff was the centerpiece of American prosperity and the Adamson Act (which instituted an eight-hour work day for railway workers, pushed through the Congress by Wilson to avert a nationwide rail strike) were key to the ideological divisions.
Upon Wilson winning the election, Republicans refused to cooperate in governing. The course of the war, compounded by an economic downturn, made Wilson's second term a disaster, one that an ideologically conservative Republican Party could translate into years of control of the federal government.
State University of New York, Albany
Richard F. Hamm
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|Title Annotation:||THE AMERICAS|
|Author:||Hamm, Richard F.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2018|
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