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The Election of 1928 Previous Next
Digital History ID 3394

 

At stake in the presidential election of 1928 was whether the United States could elect a Catholic president.

In 1928, the Democrats were resolved to avoid a repeat of the party divisions of 1924. The convention was held in Houston. The party platform stood in favor of aid to farmers and workers, collective bargaining, abolition of labor injunctions, and stricter regulation of power companies. Al Smith was nominated for president; a Southern advocate of prohibition was chosen for the vice president.

Born in 1873, Al Smith was an Irish Catholic from New York's Lower East Side. For almost a decade as governor of the nation's largest state, he had made New York a model for efforts to use government to improve the public's well-being. Under his leadership, New York granted women a 40-hour work week and instituted the nation's first public housing program. He also established state parks and a system of public hospitals.

Smith doubled the Democratic vote of 1924. But it was not enough. He lost New York and much of the South. There was no single cause for the defeat. Economic prosperity and Prohibition played a part. However, it appears that anti-Catholicism did him in. Minister's called New York “Satan's seat”; Smith was attacked as the candidate in support of saloons, prostitution, and gambling. Smith refused to pretend that he was anything other than what he was: a Catholic, who kept a picture of the Pope over his desk.

Nevertheless, Smith did make gains. He carried Massachusetts, the first Democrat to do so since the Civil War. He awakened a great army of immigrant voters in the big cities--Italian, Jewish, Polish, as well as Irish. And he helped shift the African American vote toward the Democrats.

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