The 1928 Presidential elections was a contest between Republican nominee Herbert Hoover and Democratic nominee Al Smith. It marked the first time that a Roman Catholic, Al Smith, became a major party's nomination for US President. Despite a rather landslide victory by Herbert Hoover, 60% of the popular vote and over 80% of the electoral returns, this was a heated election pitting wets verses drys, immigrants versus natives, city vs. country, blacks verses whites, and most notably Catholics verses Protestants.
According to many, religion was the most sensitive emotional issue of the 1928 election. Differences between Catholics and Protestants were the biggest factor in determining the outcome of this election. It created more interest, excitement, and tension than any other issue of this campaign. The nomination of a Catholic by one of the nation's two major party's rekindled religious strife in the United States (Lichtman 40). Most Protestants did not want a Catholic as president and were willing to do what they could to make sure that Al Smith was defeated. Protestants who were against the election of a Catholic to public office felt that the church was an organized political force seeking to dominate America both spiritually and politically. Both Protestant clergy and laymen thought Catholics were unfit for the presidency. Protestants sent out much propaganda during the campaign. The Fellowship Forum, the New Menace, the Railsplitter, the Protestant, the Lash, the Crusader of Florida, and others, were all sent out warning that Smith's nomination threatened the survival of Protestantism in America. These journals asked their readers for contributions to defeat Smith.
Herbert Hoover did not actively campaign for pro-Protestant votes. Public statements by Hoover and other Republican politicians seem to reflect a strategic decision to risk only mild repudiations of religious bigotry, while shifting the onus of intolerance to the Democratic Party (Lichtman 62). In his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, Hoover endorsed religious tolerance. However, evidence suggests that Hoover and other Republican leaders probably took part in efforts to gain anti-Catholic votes. Further evidence suggests that the Republican leadership deliberately set out to exploit Protestant opposition to the election of a Catholic president.
To combat Hoover and the Republican leadership, Democrats charged Republicans with at best ignoring and at worst encouraging the anti-Catholic offensive against Smith. In Smith's speeches across the country he stressed religious tolerance, while accusing the Republicans of anti-Catholic bigotry. Smith sought to ensure Protestants that he believed in the absolute separation of church and state and he wouldn't allow policy decisions to be determined by his loyalty to the Catholic Church. The Democrats sought to equate a vote for Smith with a vote for toleration of religions. The Democrats also used the issue of religious toleration as a way of obtaining contributions from wealthy donors.
Another issue in the 1928 presidential election was wets versus drys. In addition to being the first Catholic presidential candidate nominated by a major party, Al Smith was also the first major party candidate to challenge constitutional and statutory restrictions on the manufacture and sale of intoxicants. Although there were no differences in the party platforms over the issue of prohibition, the two candidates seemed to have taken different approaches. Smith said that he wanted fundamental changes in the present provisions for national prohibition, while Hoover said that he favored the 18th Amendment and strict enforcement of the Volstead Act.
During his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, Smith said he would fulfill the party's mandate to enforce the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act but he recommended an amendment to the Volstead Act giving a scientific definition of the alcoholic content of an...
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