New York on the national stage: Part II
No state has sent more people to the White House than New York. But, it’s been awhile.
If today’s primaries cement Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as the Democratic nominee for president, it’ll be the first time since 1948 that a New Yorker has been on a major party ballot for president.
And that 1948 candidate, GOP Gov. Thomas Dewey, didn’t win.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the last New Yorker in the Oval Office.
In all, six different New Yorkers have occupied the White House for a total of about 40 years. New Yorkers account for seven different presidential administrations, however.
Remember, it was the former mayor of Buffalo and governor of New York — Grover Cleveland — who was our nation’s 22nd and 24th president, the only man elected to two non-successive terms.
That means one out of every seven presidents — a little more than 14 percent — has come out of New York. And New Yorkers have occupied the Oval Office for about 18 percent of the time we’ve had a president.
Indeed, if we count Cleveland’s two terms as separate administrations — as they should be — New York has seen more natives sons (sorry, Hillary) elected to the White House than any other state.
Virginia got out of the box fast, with six of the first 10 presidents, but hasn’t produced a commander-in-chief since. Ohio practically bled presidents between 1868 (Ulysses S. Grant; yup, he was a Buckeye) and 1920 (Warren G. Harding, likely the reason the nation has never again placed its fate in the hands of an Ohioan). But like Virginia, Ohio ended up with six presidents. The only other states that can boast more than one are Massachusetts (four), Tennessee and Texas (three each) and California (two).
This doesn’t include the 11 vice presidential candidates from the Empire State, meaning New Yorkers have had lots of chances to vote for other New Yorkers.
But, like the National League in Major League baseball’s annual All-Star game, New York has hit a slump. No New Yorker has headed a national ticket since Dewey. Only three have run as vice presidents — all unsuccessfully.
Today’s primaries will go a long way toward telling whether Clinton — or even New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is reportedly flirting with an independent run — will get the chance to break New York’s fallow period.
Yesterday’s article reviewed New York’s early experience on the national stage. The state’s prestige only grew after the Civil War before taking a post-Roosevelt downturn.
Crowding the stage (1868-1896)
Here’s a name lost to history. In winning his first term to office, Ulysses S. Grant defeated former New York Gov. Horatio Seymour. Democrat Seymour was born in Onondaga County and educated at what is now known as Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva (the Hobart College part, that is; then known as Geneva College). He was briefly the mayor of Ithaca. Getting thumped by Grant evidently left a sour taste in Seymour’s mouth, as he then left politics.
The Democratic presidential candidate was newspaper man Horace Greeley (he hadn’t yet gone west). Actually, Greeley headed the ticket of the — get this — Liberal Republican Party, a group whose main plank was opposition to the Grant Administration. Despite support from the Democratic Party, Greeley was pummeled, taking less than 19 percent of the vote to Grant’s 80-plus percent. There was yet another New Yorker running that year, Charles O’Conor, who was nominated by the Straight-out Democrats, also known as the — talk about politically incorrect — Bourbon Democrats. They broke with traditional Democrats over backing Greeley. O’Conor didn’t formally accept the nomination, but his name was on the ballot and he received about 23,000 votes (0.36 percent).
North Country New Yorker William Almon Wheeler enters the White House as Republican Rutherford B. Hayes’ vice president. Wheeler, a former congressman, was remembered not only for voting against a pay raise for congressmen but returning the raise once it passed. And because either Democrats or New York politicians haven’t yet learned their lesson, another Empire Stater heads the losing party ticket, Samuel J. Tilden, the reform-minded New York governor. In fairness to Tilden (and the Democrats), he actually won the popular vote by 250,000 (51 to 48 percent). There was a dispute over electoral votes from three states, however, and the matter went before a 15-member electoral commission, which voted 8-7 along party lines to award disputed electoral votes to Hayes, giving him a 185-184 victory. You may have heard a lot about this election in the fall of 2000.
New York is again represented, this time by Republican vice presidential candidate Chester Arthur. Arthur would become the second vice president from New York to assume the presidency upon the death of the incumbent, in this case, James Garfield. Little more than four months into his term, Garfield was shot by a man who was refused a federal job. Garfield lingered for more than two months, but died in September 1881.
Turning their backs on the incumbent officeholder, Arthur, Republicans chose James G. Blaine of Maine as their party bearer. But Grover Cleveland, the Democratic presidential nominee, becomes the fourth different New Yorker to head the party’s ticket in the past five elections. He overcame a scandal involving allegations he had an out-of-wedlock child to win a wafer-thin victory, 4,914,482 to 4,856,903 (48.5 percent of the vote to 48.3). The electoral vote was a little more comfortable, 219 to 182. Cleveland would go on to win the popular vote in the next two elections.
Cleveland again wins the popular ballot, capturing 48.6 percent of the vote to Republican Benjamin Harrison’s 47.8, but Harrison received 58 percent of the electoral vote. His vice president was yet another New Yorker, Levi P. Morton, a businessman and congressman who twice came close to being president. He turned down an offer in 1880 to serve as James Garfield’s running mate. Garfield, as we know, was killed during his first year in office. Morton, who was governor of New York in the mid-1890s, was also considered as the Republican presidential nominee in 1896. He lost out to William McKinley, the eventual election winner. Yet another New York tie to this election: The Prohibition Party’s presidential candidate, Clinton B. Fisk of New Jersey, was born near Geneseo in Livingston County.
Cleveland again wins the popular and, this time, the electoral vote, becoming the first and thus far only person elected to two non-successive terms. Interestingly, while winning the popular vote in three straight elections, he never carried the majority — he managed 46 percent of the vote in 1892, the lowest percentage of his three races. Candidates representing the Prohibitionist and Populist parties captured 10 percent of the vote. Another minor party — very minor, garnering only 0.2 percent of the vote — was Socialist Labor, whose vice presidential candidate was Charles Horatio Matchett, a New Englander living in Brooklyn at the time. He would lead the ticket in 1896. Yet another New Yorker had a more prominent role in this election; Whitelaw Reid, who succeeded Horace Greeley as editor of the New York Tribune, was Harrison’s running mate on the unsuccessful Republican ticket.
Matchett, heading the Socialist Labor ticket, is the only New Yorker in the running. Not that many voters notice; he collects just 36,000 or so of the roughly 13.8 million ballots cast.
Roosevelts resonate (1900-1948)
The dawning of the new century finds the name Roosevelt on a national ticket for the first of what will be eight times. New York’s Gov. Theodore Roosevelt is tapped by the Republican Party as William McKinley’s running mate. They win handily. When McKinley is assassinated at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo the following September, Roosevelt, 42, becomes the youngest man ever to ascend to the presidency.
It had to happen. Both major party tickets are headed by New York natives. Roosevelt runs for re-election — successfully — against Democrat Alton Brooks Parker, who was born in Cortland. Parker was a former lawyer and chief justice of the New York Court of Appeals. He was drubbed by the popular Roosevelt. Also representing New York were Socialist Labor presidential hopeful Charles Hunter Corregan and Socialist vice presidential candidate Benjamin Hanford. Hanford was a New York City printer and three-time Socialist nominee for governor. Corregan, too, was an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate. Neither made much noise at the polls, either at the state or national level.
William Taft is elected president along with running mate James Sherman, a New York lawyer. Sherman, also a former congressman, was again on the ticket in 1912, but died — in his hometown of Utica — just a few days before the election. He is the last vice president to have died in office. Benjamin Hanford is again the running mate of Socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs. While not on the ballot in all states, New Yorker August Gillhaus heads the Socialist Labor ticket. He is a perennial candidate, later running for vice president, the Senate, New York’s lieutenant governor and state attorney general, all unsuccessfully.
Roosevelt is back, running one of the most successful third-party campaigns ever as the candidate of the Progressive Party. He finishes second to Democratic victor Woodrow Wilson. After James Sherman’s death, the vice president is replaced on the Republican ticket by another New Yorker, Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler. Butler, a perennial delegate to Republican conventions, would later unsuccessfully seek the GOP presidential nomination. He shared the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at international arbitration. The vice presidential candidate for the Socialist Labor Party — yup, they were still kicking — was August Gillhaus.
Wilson wins re-election, defeating yet another New Yorker, Republican Charles Evans Hughes. A former governor of New York, and future secretary of state and chief justice of the Supreme Court, Hughes was a native of Glens Falls. New York had a lot of Socialists in these days. Allan Benson, a Yonkers journalist, heads the party’s ticket and collects about 590,000 votes, roughly 3 percent.
Would you believe four vice presidential candidates from New York in this race? The only one you’ll remember is Franklin Roosevelt, the Democratic running mate of James Cox. But Gillhaus was back on the Socialist Labor ticket, as were two other minor party candidates. David Colvin ran for all kinds of offices as a Prohibition Party candidate: the Senate, the House, the mayor of New York City and, in this case, the vice presidency. The No. 2 man on the American Party ticket was another New Yorker, William J. Hough. The American Party resurfaced now and then, usually as a home for those with anti-immigration views.
The lone New Yorker seeking national office is Bronx-based Socialist and union leader Benjamin Gitlow, running as vice president on the Communist Party ticket. Gitlow was at the time awaiting a Supreme Court ruling regarding his conviction in New York for criminal anarchy, the charge stemming from his publication of a call to revolution called the “Left Wing Manifesto.” The high court upheld the verdict, and Gitlow spent three years in prison.
The Democrats tap yet another New Yorker — the ninth to head the ticket since 1868 — as Gov. Al Smith takes the party’s helm. Smith becomes the first Catholic to lead a major-party ticket. He is defeated soundly by Herbert Hoover. Defeated even more soundly: fellow New Yorker and Socialist Party candidate Norman Thomas, the Presbyterian minister who made a career of running for president (he’ll lead the party’s ticket five more times). Thomas, a New York City-based pacifist, would years later join with Charles Lindberg and others to form the America First Committee, which sought to keep American out of World War II. Gitlow was again the vice presidential candidate for the Communist Party.
With the Depression entering its third year, New York’s Gov. Franklin Roosevelt wins the first of four straight presidential elections. The popular Hyde Park Democrat will go on to become one of the nation’s most revered commanders-in-chief. Norman Thomas took his usual spot at the perch of the Socialist ticket while Verne Reynolds, a Socialist who had recently moved to New York from Maryland, was the presidential candidate for the Socialist Labor Party.
Roosevelt wins again for the Democrats. Thomas loses again for the Socialists. And James W. Ford, a Communist Party organizer in Harlem, becomes the first African-American candidate for national office as the party’s vice presidential nominee. (Extra credit: Ford attended Fisk University, named after 1888 Prohibition Party candidate and Livingston County native Clinton Fisk.)
For the second time in history, both major party candidates are New Yorkers. Manhattan-based industrialist and attorney — and staunch New Deal opponent — Wendell Wilkie was the Republican nominee against Roosevelt. He was soundly defeated. Thomas captured his usual 0.2 percent of the vote for the Socialists.
For the second straight election — and third time overall — New Yorkers go head to head for the nation’s top elective office. New York’s Republican Gov. Thomas Dewey challenges Roosevelt, who runs for an unprecedented fourth term. Dewey led the liberal faction of the Republican Party, back when it had such a thing. He doesn’t stand a chance against a popular president in the midst of World War II and is handily defeated. (He’ll come much closer next election.) Thomas again finishes third as a Socialist candidate, marking the second straight election in which New Yorkers take the top three vote totals in the presidential campaign.
New York Gov. Dewey is again the Democratic candidate and again he is defeated, this time by a much narrower margin, and this time by Harry Truman. Thomas continues to wear out his welcome on the Socialist line.
The fallow years (1952 – present)
1952 – 1956 – 1960
For the first time in U.S. history, three successive presidential campaigns are held with no New Yorkers as candidates.
Lockport native William Miller, a western New York congressman, is tapped as Republican Barry Goldwater’s running mate. The pair lose overwhelmingly to Democratic President Lyndon Johnson. Miller’s time in the political spotlight is so fleeting that, years later, he will tape one of the first “Do you know me?” commercials for American Express. (His daughter, Stephanie Miller, is a popular comedian and liberal radio host.)
Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota was the Democratic presidential nominee, although Robert F. Kennedy, who was then a U.S. senator representing New York, was competing seriously in the primaries before being assassinated in June.
No New Yorkers on the ballot.
Former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller was chosen by Gerald Ford as his vice president after Ford took office following the resignation of Richard Nixon. Rockefeller, however, was replaced on the presidential ticket by Kansas Sen. Bob Dole.
No New Yorkers on the ballot.
New York Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, a downstate Democrat, becomes the first woman on a major-party presidential ticket when Walter Mondale selects her as his running mate. The pair are buried by Republicans Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush, failing to carry even Ferraro’s home state. She later runs unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate.
No New Yorkers on the ballot, but western New York congressman and former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jack Kemp seeks the Republican nomination in the early primaries. He is later named President Bush’s Secretary for Housing and Urban Development.
No New Yorkers on the ballot.
Kemp is named Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole’s running mate. No candidate from the state has been on a national ticket since.
No New Yorkers on the ballot.
No New Yorkers on the ballot, but the Independent Party’s vice presidential candidate, Peter Camejo of California, was born in Queens.