Papers From the Attic I: GOP DEFEAT

Over the weekend, while we were ripping out the ceiling of my living room, Dad and I found a batch of newspapers used as insulation. My house is rather old (for Portland, anyway), so anything you find in the spaces between rooms tends that way as well.

The crumbling, yellowed papers we found were a mix of the two dailies in operation in Portland during most of the 20th century. The dates on the papers were from the week of the 1922 mid-term elections.

It just so happens that back in the early ’60s Dad’s master’s thesis subject was Oregon Governor Walter Pierce who beat the incumbent Ben Olcott with the aid of the Klan and support of the anti-Catholic Compulsory School Bill (a Democrat, he was also a champion of Prohibition, and a proponent of the income tax and liberal labor laws). . So Dad knew a fair amount about this particular election. We had some fun going through the papers after we finished for the day, looking at ads for $5,000 houses in Portland’s Laurelhurst neighborhood, ancient episodes of “Gasoline Alley”, and noting parallels between political stories from 84 years ago and today.

Let us return to an era where the Teapot Dome Scandal had been reported (by the Wall Street Journal) but hadn’t yet been investigated. Where religious moralists had managed to pass a Constitutional amendment outlawing the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” (an amendment President Harding had voted for as a Senator but broke while he was in the White House). Where Democrats were disorganized and “wet” (though not in the sense that some have used it).

The Oregon Daily Journal



By David Lawrence
(Copyright, 1922, by The Journal)

Washington, Nov. 9.–The American people are still voting in the negative. They have not changed their mood from 1920, but this time it was the Republican party which had to bear the brunt of popular discontent.

Analysis of the returns show clearly that whether a Republican or Democrat was defeated, the reasons are to be found in the protesting attitude of the electorate rather than in an affirmative for a constructive alternative. No guiding principle can be applied except one, namely that when the public is dissatisfied it turns from one party to the other irrespective of whether the latter has a better program or definite policy.


Turnover this year is practically as high as it was in 1910 in the middle of the Taft administration. If the Republican party had not luckily obtained such a big majority in 1920 in the senate and house, they would have lost control of both this election.


Speaking of 1924, the returns certainly have heartened the Democrats at a time when their morale has been lowest. The populous Eastern states have shown a readiness to turn back to Democracy, even after so short a period as two years, for it is just 24 months ago that they helped bury the Democrats under the greatest avalanche in American history.

It looks today as if the Democratic party would provide itself with new leaders both inside and outside of congress. Senator Oscar Underwood has announced that his health will not permit him to accept the leadership of his party in the senate.

Mr. Hitchcock of Nebraska, who was runner-up in the fight for Democratic leader in the senate, has been defeated for re-election.

Senator Pat Harrison of Mississippi, an aggressive type of political leader, is likely to be chosen.


Cordell Hull, Democratic national chairman, has been elected to the house from Tennessee. If he retains the chairmanship it will be the first time in recent history that a national party organization will have been directed from the halls of congress. It may be that he will find it impossible to discharge his duties in congress and do the work needed of a national chairman in the two years before a presidential election.

The national chairman will have to travel a great deal as the Democrats lack organization everywhere. Mr. Hull will have a good deal to do with the leadership of the house, though he probably will not be the titlar chieftain there.


It’s too early to draw general inferences on prohibition even through the first returns show that in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Massachusetts the “wets” helped the Democrats make their gains. Those states have always been damp. They are merely registering their feelings every chance they get.