Herbert Hoover vs Al Smith: The Election of 1928 Video

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  • 0:01 Hoover and Smith
  • 0:53 Anti-Catholicism
  • 2:12 The Election Itself
  • 3:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Today, elections are big news, as every detail of a candidate's voting record is investigated. In 1928, however, many felt that the most interesting thing about the candidates was where one of them went to church.

Hoover and Smith

On the whole, Americans tend to like exciting political candidates: the type who inspires feelings of camaraderie or, frankly, absolute hatred. Even if people don't like the views of a particular politician, they will often say they'd enjoy to have a meal with him or her. In the Election of 1928, however, there was no real interesting candidate. In fact, for many people, Al Smith of the Democratic Party and Herbert Hoover of the Republican Party were about as boring as you could ask for. Both had successful political careers, with Hoover having served in the Coolidge administration and Al Smith having been Governor of New York. That said, neither party was particularly excited about either candidate. Their actions didn't help things. For example, Hoover had split the party by going against farmers during the Farm Crisis.

Anti-Catholicism

Al Smith, it seems, would have been a natural choice. However, Al Smith was Catholic. During the 1920s, that was a big deal, as a significant amount of Americans were heavily biased against Catholicism. Many people began to spread rumors that Smith was ready to accept orders straight from the Pope. Of course, this was a country that was still wary of any international involvement, but the fact that Smith was Catholic just made their work easier.

Yet, it wasn't just this bias that would weaken his cause. Smith was also staunchly opposed to prohibition. Of course, Hoover was not a fan of the policy that prohibited the consumption, transportation or manufacture of alcohol, but the electorate identified Smith as the anti-prohibition candidate. As a result, Hoover largely had just to abstain from comment on the subject. Meanwhile, Smith's image was being torn apart for being anti-prohibition.

Prohibition was especially a strong subject in Protestant circles, which again complicated the difficulty of running as a Catholic. In fact, one group that was able to capitalize on the fear associated with Al Smith's candidacy was the Ku Klux Klan, which began to portray itself more as a defender of white Protestant American values more than just a defender of white Southerners. That said, the KKK was still violently racist but now also bigoted towards Catholics.

The Election Itself

Given the aforementioned information and the deeply-held biases against Al Smith's faith, it's no surprise that Herbert Hoover handily won the election of 1928. He carried nearly 60% of the popular vote, but the bigger shock was with regards to the states won. He earned 444 electoral votes and won Southern states, like Tennessee and Virginia, that had been otherwise beyond the reach of Republican candidates for a generation.

On a broader front, the election seemed to be a validation of the policies that Hoover had enacted while as a Cabinet member, particularly the Classical approach of economic management that would be his political undoing following the stock market crash of 1929.

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