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A Comparison of War-Time Elections

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A Comparison of War-Time Elections

An argument can be made that nothing is as influential on the course of American history, as that of a presidential election. And what election can prove as pivotal a decision as an election in which war serves as the backdrop. This essay explores two such elections and the mediums with which their stories, slants and opinions reached the American public. The first, the presidential election of 1916 between incumbent president Woodrow Wilson and Republican candidate and Supreme Court Justice, Charles Evans Hughes. The second election we'll look at is the race between four time incumbent president Franklin Delano Roosevelt and then governor of New York Thomas Dewey.

The election of 1916 took place during a turbulent time for not just America but for the world. The powers in Europe were at the height for the biggest conflict the world had as yet ever seen. Just two years before, the assassination of then Austrian-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Serbian terrorists, created a domino effect as nation after nation, empire after empire was drawn in what was then called "The War to end all Wars". This war and whether America should stay out of it or directly involve itself became the key issue in the minds of most voters in 1916.

Unofficially, America was on the side of the allies as the Wilson administration sold countless tons of weapons, ammunition, food and other war supplies to the powers of Britain and France as they were locked into a stalemate with the central powers. Indeed ironically for a country who largest ethnic group was Germans, most Americans sympathized with the allies. The newspapers at the time painted the picture of the "Barbaric Hun" a slur on the German soldier who they described as ravishing "Lady Europe" But most Americans (more than two out of every third) did not want to send their sons and brothers over to a fight in what they saw largely as Europe's problem. The casualties' lists were already in the hundreds of thousands and (at the time) there was no obvious threat to America and therefore little outcry to join the allies. Wilson's campaign would later trumpet his decision to stay out of the conflict as one made with a cool head while all the monarch's and duke's of Europe rushed to their folly. In fact one of his biggest selling points became the slogan."He kept us out of the war".

Charles Evans Hughes was Supreme court Justice (who would later become a Chief Supreme Court Justice) since early in the Taft administration. The previous Election of 1912 had seen Hughes' party torn in two as progressives under then Incumbent President Taft vied for control with the supporters of former President Teddy Roosevelt who wanted to make a return to the White House with his "Bull Moose Party". The resulting election saw the republicans capture only two states (Vermont and Utah) easily giving control of next 4 years to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Again during the summer of 1916 the republican primaries were split between the Conservative Elihu Root (New York) and the more left leaning John Weeks (Massachusetts). Fearing another fraction both sides came together on the third ballot and elected Justice Hughes who both sides saw as a more balanced candidate. Justice Hughes, who had not even sought the nomination nonetheless accepted his parties decision and quickly chose Roosevelt's former Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks as his own running mate to add further experience to his ticket and bring back in some of the "Bull Moose Republicans" lost in 1912.

Wilson and Hughes, (as one would expect a Democrat and Republican to do) divided on several key issues. First and foremost was the conflict in Europe. Wilson wanted to stay the course as it were and to continue peacefully supplying the allies. Charles Hughes advocated greater mobilization of America's armed forces and a "preparedness" for what lied ahead. Wilson's supporters criticized Hughes and labeled him a "warhawk" claiming that if elected Hughes would plunge the United States in the war. Hughes attacked President Wilson on many of his 1915 pro labor social reforms which Hughes and his supporters claimed was harmful to large business and America's economic interests.

On November 7th 1916 the polls opened on the east coast and Justice Hughes took an early lead in several solidly republican populous

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