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Image The High Tide of Regional Politics, 1920-28

After Woodrow Wilson retired from politics, the old regional voting patterns immediately reappeared. They were very strong in the election of 1920, and even stronger in 1924, when a solid northern bloc supported Calvin Coolidge and an even more solid south voted for West Virginian John W. Davis. In 1928, the Democratic party nominated Alfred Smith, the first Roman Catholic


presidential candidate in American history, and a Manhattan politician closely linked to Tammany Hall. He proved to be immensely unpopular throughout the nation. The result was a divided southern Democratic vote, and a landslide for Republican Herbert Hoover. The Republicans won the Congress, in strongly sectional voting.

Within Congress during the decade of the twenties, political scientist Richard Bensel finds that sectional voting patterns were stronger than ever. The Sixty-seventh Congress (elected in 1920) was the most deeply divided on sectional lines of any session in a century. Democrats held all but two seats in ten southern states. The Republicans won all but one seat in the rural northern and middle states. The northern cities were divided. Congressional votes were intensely sectional on Henry Ford’s Muscle Shoals proposal, on the first McNary-Haugen bill, on prohibition, women’s suffrage and many other questions.15

Many years earlier, historian Frederick Jackson Turner had predicted that sectionalism would disappear after the closing of the frontier. But as he watched the politics of the 1920s, Turner was forced to revise his own thesis. “That sectionalism is not dying away in the United States,” he wrote, “will be clear enough to anyone who examines the newspapers and reads the debates in Congress, not to speak of analyzing the votes in that body.”16

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