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Election of 1932: Changing the Guard

In June 1932, Republican delegates convened in Chicago to choose their condidates for the fall election. Spirits were not high. The nation was in the depths of its worst depression and more than 13 million Americans were out of work. Without enthusiasm, the party turned to the incumbents, Herbert Hoover and Charles Curtis, who were renominated without meaningful opposition. The 1932 Republican platform reflected Hoover's desire to stay the course and rely primarily on voluntarism to solve the nation's ills. The platform called for the following:

  • Sharp cutbacks in federal expenditures;
  • continued support for high protective tariffs;
  • adherence to the gold standard;
  • further curbs on immigration;
  • the payment of pensions to war veterans;
  • U.S. participation in a scheduled international monetary conference;
  • on prohibition, no meaningful direction was provided; the party realized that the Eighteenth Amendment was not working as intended, but the platform did not endorse repeal.
Later in June, the Democrats assembled in the same city, but the mood was entirely different. Several prominent figures had been angling for the 1932 nomination, including Alfred Smith, the former governor of New York and the presidential nominee in 1928, and Texan John Nance Garner, the Speaker of the House and the favorite of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. The frontrunner, thanks to skillful maneuvering by campaign manager James A. Farley, was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, sitting governor of the Empire State. Roosevelt had entered easily onto the political stage by capitalizing on his distant relationship to Theodore Roosevelt and gaining further notice by marrying the former president's favorite niece, Eleanor. Franklin Roosevelt had served in the New York assembly and during World War I was selected by Woodrow Wilson to be the assistant secretary of the Navy. In 1920, Roosevelt was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, but was swept under by a Republican tide that continued throughout the decade. His rapid rise was stopped short by infantile paralysis in 1921, an illness that required years of therapy and steely determination to resume political life. Roosevelt managed to gain the nomination on the 1932 convention's fourth ballot. A disappointed Smith, Roosevelt's former friend and political ally, was unable to overcome his bitterness and would oppose Roosevelt and his programs in the future. "Cactus Jack" Garner was the vice-presidential nominee, but would later remark that the office "wasn't worth a bucket of warm spit." The 1932 Democratic platform, while avoiding many specifics, presented a sharp contrast to their opponents in calling for:
  • A "competitive" tariff designed for revenue, not for protection;
  • a "sound" currency, but no mention was made of adhering to the gold standard;
  • extensive banking and financial reform, including regulation of the stock exchanges;
  • support for veterans' pensions;
  • aid programs for farmers;
  • a reduction of federal expenditures and a balanced budget.
In an effort to create an air of urgency, Roosevelt broke with tradition and did not wait for formal notification of his nomination from the convention. Instead, he boarded a plane and flew to Chicago, where on July 2 he delivered an acceptance speech in which he stated, "I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people." The "new deal" tag was later applied to his legislative offensive to combat the nation's economic ills and was a grateful nod to TR's "square deal" of 30 years earlier. Throughout the summer and fall, Roosevelt waged a vigorous campaign and traveled more than 25,000 miles by train, hoping to lay to rest any concerns about his health. Crowds gathered in towns and villages to greet the ever-smiling and optimistic candidate, and brass bands played Happy Days Are Here Again at nearly every stop. As the weeks went by, Roosevelt gradually and sketchily laid out the basic form of the New Deal, drawing on the ideas of his closest advisors — dubbed the "brains trust" by reporters. One recurring theme was Roosevelt's pledge to help the "forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid." Hoover began his campaign convinced that the return of prosperity was at hand. He was initially content to allow surrogates to take his message to the voters, but as fall approached and the economy remained in the doldrums, the president took to the stump. He was sharply critical of Roosevelt's inclination to have the federal government act to solve the nation's problems. He viewed such solutions as contrary to American tradition and believed that only free enterprise would restore prosperity. Shortly before election day, Hoover warned that if Roosevelt were elected, then "the grass will grow in the streets of a hundred cities, a thousand towns; the weeds will overrun the fields of a thousand farms...." Both candidates used the radio to reach the voters during the 1932 campaign. Hoover's addresses were logical and competently delivered, but lacked enthusiasm. Roosevelt, by contrast, had a magnificent radio voice and was able to convey a sense of competence and hope to the listeners. In the end, Hoover had the impossible task of defending failed policies and strategies. The Democratic victory took on landslide proportions, prevailing as expected in the Solid South and the major urban areas, but also doing well throughout the West. The triumph spread to both houses of Congress, where the Democrats achieved sizable majorities, and to the governors' mansions and assemblies in many states. The electorate had clearly provided the president-elect with a mandate for change. Relations between Hoover and Roosevelt had been and remained chilly. Several times during the campaign, Hoover sought public reassurances from Roosevelt that, if elected, he would not undertake untraditional initiatives. Hoover believed that the business community needed to be reassured and, when Roosevelt refused to commit himself, Hoover believed his opponent was undermining the nation's chances for recovery. In early 1933, Hoover renewed his requests for pledges from the president-elect during the so-called lame duck period prior to the inauguration. A major banking crisis had developed, but Roosevelt again declined to detail his plans for the future. When Inauguration Day arrived on March 4, the president and president-elect rode together down Pennsylvania Avenue in stony silence. Roosevelt waved enthusiastically to the crowds while Hoover stared straight ahead, convinced that a national disaster was about to occur.
Election of 1932
Franklin D. Roosevelt (N.Y.)
John N. Garner (Texas)
Herbert C. Hoover (Cal.)
Charles Curtis (Kansas)
Norman M. Thomas (N.Y.)
James H. Maurer (Penna.)
William Z. Foster (New York)
James W. Ford (Alabama)
William D. Upshaw (Georgia)
Frank S. Regan (Illinois)
W.H. Harvey (Arkansas)
Frank B. Hemenway (Wash.)
Verne L. Reynolds (N.Y.)
J.W. Aiken (Massachusetts)
Socialist Labor
Jacob S. Coxey (Ohio)

Electoral Vote 1932