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The Candidates' Election Day - 1920
Posted September 13, 2020 at 08:00pm by Chronicler

=== Election of 11/2/1920 ===

The presidential election of 1920 was the first time women were allowed to vote throughout the nation. The race was mostly a referendum on the Wilson administration. The public was exhausted by the refusal of the nation to end its state of war against Germany, federal ownership of railroads, the flu pandemic, and labor unrest. The Republican ticket, led by presidential nominee Warren G. Harding, offered a "return to normalcy" to resolve all the upheaval of the Wilson administration. The Democratic ticket, led by presidential nominee James M. Cox, offered a more moderate version of Wilson's policies, a tacit admission that the nation needed a new direction. Harding won the election in a landslide, winning the largest percentage of the popular vote since 1820.



James M. Cox (Democratic)

Governor Cox ended his campaign on the evening before election day in Toledo. He and Margaretta Cox then went to their sleeper car, which delivered them to the Dayton train station at 3 am and proceeded on its way. The Coxes slept in the car into the morning of election day. They went to their polling place at Carrmonte and voted at 10:17. Margaretta Cox had been able to vote once previously; in 1916, when the Republicans and Progressives in Illinois had granted women the right to vote there, she had gone to the polls to vote against them. In 1920, Governor Cox went into the polling booth without a pencil. A man loaned him one, and when he returned it after marking the ballot, the man remarked "I'll keep this as a keepsake from the next president." A reporter took a photograph of the Coxes placing their ballot in the box, which ran on the front page of the Dayton Daily News, the evening paper Cox owned.

Cox spent most of the day in his new mansion named "Trailsend" in Kettering, Ohio, just south of Dayton. As returns began rolling in, he and his family drove to his newspaper office at 7:25 pm. A man with a movie camera filmed the Coxes entering the newspaper offices. Cox was able to endure the avalanche with a remarkable stoicism, often smiling as he smoked his cigar. He realized early on election night that he would not not be able to win. At 8:30 he decided that "being gloomy about such things doesn't help," so the doors to his office were opened, and many friends came to visit. His newspaper, the Dayton Daily News, displayed updated returns in downtown Dayton, and a reporter noted that a larger percentage of those gathered to monitor the returns were female than in earlier elections. About 10 pm, Cox asked the editor of his paper if they could run an extra edition. The editor wanted to wait, but Cox said they were in the news business and "news is news." A single sheet extra was prepared with the headline "Senator Harding is Elected." Later that evening a second extra was published with the headline "Republican Landslide - Harding Elected."

When Cox awoke the following day, he reviewed the status at that time. He sent a telegram to Harding congratulating him. He wrote "In the spirit of America, I accept the decision of the majority" and "pledge as a citizen my support" to his presidency.



Warren G. Harding (Republican)

Election day of 1920 was Senator Harding's 55th birthday. It had rained the previous night, but a chilly sunny day was dawning. Although he had primarily mounted a "front porch" campaign, he had travelled in the final weeks. He rose in mid-morning and had breakfast with his wife Florence. They drove the three blocks to their polling place, precinct C of Ward 4, which was in a garage. Many reporters were waiting for them, and after posing for photographs they went inside. Following them inside were Harding's secretary and chauffeur. In Harding's precinct, a voter handed the completed ballot to the precinct judge to be placed in the ballot box. As Harding did this, he interestingly said "You know, you can only vote for yourself for President once." Soon thereafter, Senator Harding drove to Columbus to complete some business and a game of golf, then returned to his home in Marion for election night.

Because much of Harding's campaign took place on his front porch, special telegraph wires had been installed near his house and were used to deliver the news to the candidate. Returns from New England began to arrive first, just before Harding arrived at home from Columbus, with news that Boston had voted Republican. The Senator's father and two sisters were in the Harding residence through the evening along with a large group of Harding's campaign advisors and their wives who ate supper with the Hardings as hundreds of telegrams piled up for his review. During the meal, a group of Harding's newspaper employees came to his residence and gave him a golden printer's make-up rule. This caused Harding to choke up, and he replied to their gift with tears streaming down his face. The guests took turns reading the incoming telegrams after supper was over. Harding was particularly interested in the non-presidential races in New England, having repeatedly asked the voters for the Republican Congress. A crowd gathered at the house early on election night and cheered throughout the evening. Early returns showed that Harding had carried New York City, and as returns continued to report, it was clear that the increase in the vote due to female participation was contributing to unprecedented Republican majorities. In New York State, Harding's lead over Cox extended to a million votes, the first time in US history. His majority in other states was also staggering: nearly three quarters of a million in Pennsylvania and Illinois and a third of a million in Ohio and Massachusetts.

By 9:45 pm, as the Midwestern states had been locked in for Harding, he felt that he needed to issue a statement. He wrote "I do not hesitate to say that I am pleased" but that he was "not exultant... It is all so serious, the obligations so solemn, that instead of exulting I am more given to prayer to God to make me capable of playing my part and that all those called to responsibility may meet the aspirations and expectations of America and the world." Harding periodically returned to the porch to speak to the crowd, with his last visit just after midnight. When he arose the next morning, not all states had been called. Harding was leading in the electoral vote by a margin of 329 to 127, with 75 electoral votes not projected. However, Harding ended up winning every one of the unprojected electoral votes, including Tennessee, which last voted Republican in 1868. Harding's popular vote lead was estimated at an unbelievable five million, although once all the ballots had been counted it expanded to seven million. Cox won almost the same popular vote as Wilson in 1916, but Harding won almost twice Hughes's 1916 popular vote.

Third Party Nominees

Eugene V. Debs, who was making his fifth presidential candidacy as the Socialist presidential nominee, spent election day in an Atlanta federal prison. In all American history, Debs was the only presidential candidate who was put in jail by someone who had defeated him at the polls. Debs had been allowed to issue statements periodically, and his final message on the eve of the election called for "the unconquerable spirit" of his followers to rise up for the Socialist cause. He predicted that while he might not win in 1920, he would be elected president in 1924. Because of the unusual situation, the prison warden permitted a prison staff member to make periodic calls to newspaper offices to receive election news to take to Debs. One of Harding's first actions as President would be to release Debs and bring him to the White House for a formal meal and apology.

Aaron Watkins, the Prohibition nominee, had missed the registration window. He had moved in the past year to a house in Cincinnati that happened to be directly across the road from his new polling place. He walked across the road with his wife. The candidate completed a document called a "special registration" in order to vote. The Prohibition Party failed to achieve ballot status in Ohio, so the candidate and his wife wrote in his name along with the name of the 24 Prohibition candidates for Presidential Elector. She told a reporter that it was "the thrill of a lifetime" to be able to vote for him, as he had been a Prohibition candidate for various offices the previous decade but this was the first time women could vote in Ohio. As the returns began to come in, a reporter stopped at the Watkins house to ask how he felt about the election. He said that although he expected Harding to be elected, the Prohibition Party would win a record number of votes because women had shown greater support for the party (the Prohibition Party was the first to advocate for women's suffrage).

Parley P. Christensen, the Farmer Labor presidential nominee, was the first presidential candidate to vote in Utah. At the end of his campaign, he returned to the house of his aged mother in Salt Lake City. The candidate drove her to their polling place on Browning Avenue. Sophia Christensen, who was blind, was voter #410, and her son was #411. An image of them placing their ballots in the box was published in the Salt Lake Tribune the day after the election. It was reported at the time that this was the first time in American history that the mother of a presidential candidate voted for her son. The morning of the next day, Christensen said that he was satisfied with the returns because they demonstrated the death of the Democratic Party and the rise of the Farmer Labor Party as a major party.

James Ferguson, the American presidential nominee, and William W. Cox, the Socialist Labor presidential nominee, were mostly ignored by the press. Sporadically throughout the campaign season, the SLP nominee was confused with James M. Cox, the Democratic nominee.

Robert Macauley, the Single Tax presidential nominee, voted in the 32nd ward at the intersection of Bouvier and Berks Streets in Philadelphia. As he left the polls, he told a reporter that he expected between 1,000 and 1,500 votes in Philadelphia. Macauley had just completed a tour of New England and had returned to his home, where he lived with his sister. Only on the ballot in a few states, Macauley was the first to telegraph congratulations.

Sources: Marion Star, 11/2-3/1920; Akron Beacon Journal, 11/2/1920; Bucyrus Evening Telegraph, 11/3/1920; Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/2-3/1920; Dayton Daily News, 11/2/1920; Coshocton Tribune, 11/3/1920; Philadelphia Evening Ledger, 11/2/1920; Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/3/1920; Greenwood [South Carolina] 11/2/1920; Salt Lake Tribune, 11/3/1920; Atlanta Constitution, 11/2/1920; Salt Lake Telegram, 11/3/1920.

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