“On the 1920 Campaign Trail” is a series of blog posts documenting the 1920 election season. Paul Durica, the Newberry’s Director of Exhibitions and curator of Decision 1920: A Return to “Normalcy,” will spend the next few months reporting and commenting on the campaigns of Warren G. Harding (Republican), James M. Cox (Democrat), and Eugene V. Debs (Socialist).
Paul will track the ups and downs building up to the election, as the candidates appeal to voters during a time that parallels our own: barely removed from a global pandemic and riven by unrest around racial and economic inequities.
Returning by train from a campaign tour through western states, Democratic Party candidate for President, Ohio Governor James M. Cox, delivered seventeen speeches in seventeen different towns in South Dakota. As had been the case in Oregon and other states, he was continually questioned about his position on national prohibition, with many voters voicing a concern that as president he would not uphold the Volstead Act and the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcoholic beverages.
Arriving home not long after in Dayton, Cox tried to shift the focus to other domestic concerns by adopting the strategy of his Republican opponent, Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding, and hosting campaign events from the front porch of his home.
Among the first to visit were a delegation of prominent women, including Florence Kelley, formerly a resident of Hull House, the settlement house in Chicago, and currently the General Secretary of the National Consumers League in New York City. An opponent of sweatshop labor, Kelly was able to get Cox to “declare against the use of poor fabric in the manufacture of clothing.”
The front porch events in Dayton marked a short break in the Governor’s travels as he announced his intention to travel throughout the Midwest and East Coast in the final weeks of the campaign. When pressed for details, the governor demurred, saying “I never hunt quail with a brass band.”
Someone who certainly appreciated the presence of a brass band was Cox’s opponent, Warren G. Harding, who was feted by the American Marching Club of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and six other marching bands from across the Ohio River Valley during multiple events in Wheeling, West Virginia. Having left behind the front porch of his home in Marion, Ohio, for the campaign trail, Harding was greeted by a crowd of 30,000 alone in Wheeling and ended up giving two impromptu speeches in addition to the “old-fashioned political rally” planned at the Market Auditorium.
Along with some traditional songs, the American Marching Club may have played “The G.O.P. Looks Good to Me” or “Mr. Harding We’re All for You,” the sheet music for which can be found in the James Francis Driscoll Collection at the Newberry Library.
Both songs are traditional military marches that aligned with the Harding campaign’s theme of a “return” to the character and quality of American life at the turn of the twentieth century in response to the previous four years of profound change and transformation.
Not all of the music written to promote the Harding campaign would be considered old-fashioned. Through the work of Chicago advertising executive Albert Lasker, the campaign could count on several celebrity endorsements, including one from entertainer Al Jolson who also wrote and performed the “swinging” song, “Harding, You’re the Man for Us.”