1920 primary

In summer of 1920 the United States Congress had just proposed the 19th Constitutional Amendment, giving women the right to vote, and was waiting for the states to ratify it. In the mean time the presidential election was still in full swing. Through out the states no candidate earned major support. Both parties had to go to their conventions without a major front runner.


The republican party was Had many front running candidates during the state primaries. The least of which was Warren G. Harding. He only won his home state of Ohio. Many other candidates, including Hiram Johnson, Leonard Wood, and Frank Lowden, had gotten more popular votes and won more delegates. By the time of the June 8th convention no candidate had won a majority of the delegates.

Over nine ballots the party was deadlocked. As the story goes in a “smoke filled back room” of the Blackstone Hotel the republican leaders decided to nominate the Senator from Ohio to make sure and win that state away from the democrats who were expected to nominate Ohioan James Cox. Being the 3rd largest number of electoral votes Ohio was a major battleground state. On the tenth Ballot the next day the republican party had chosen a candidate. They hoped a former newspaper editor from western Ohio could win them the office. The man they chose was the  Senator from Ohio, Warren G. Harding. His running mate was Massachusetts Governor, and future president, Calvin Coolidge.


The Democrats at the time held the White House with Woodrow Wilson, who had beaten Ohioan William Howard Taft. Having won the Great War, Wilson had tried to stop the next major war by forming the League of Nations ( an early version of the United Nations.)  The stress of the war and the fight for the League exacerbated the president’s health problems.  On October 2, 1919 he suffered a stroke. By February of the next year it was publicly known. Wilson believed he was a shoe in for a third term. Democratic officials knew they needed a new candidate for president.

After a weak showing in the state primaries no candidate was a front runner for the office by June 28th.  Wilson was still hopeful and blocked candidates hoping to make himself the default choice. Democrats considered  William Gibbs McAdoo and  Alexander Mitchell Palmer, both in Wilson’s cabinet. After 44 votes the party finally decided on a candidate. They hoped a former newspaper editor from western Ohio could win them the office. The man they chose was the Governor of Ohio, James M. Cox. His running mate was the assistant Secretary of the Navy, and future president, Franklin Roosevelt.

More information: 

The Library of Congress collection on 1920 elections has many a great selection of memorabilia and recordings from the candidates and campaigns. The songs, sample ballots and speeches are a great way to see how elections were held in the past.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s