The 1916 election is interesting. War was raging in Europe (and elsewhere) and threatened to involve the U.S. Americans were already fighting, and dying, while serving with Canadian, British and French units. American troops were in Mexico to chase down Mexican forces which had raided across the border and which were variously described as bandits or factions in the Mexican civil war.
Not long before the election, a railroad strike was threatened that would have shut down the transportation system.
It was probably not a good fall for Woodrow Wilson, the progressive Democrat elected in 1912. Wilson was seeking a second term as president. His opponent was Charles Evans Hughes, who resigned from the Supreme Court to run. He would return to the court as Chief Justice in 1930.
Whatever the nature of the issues in the race, the newspaper coverage of the race was surprisingly sedate.
With the election a week away, the local Democratic newspaper, the Banner, wrote on Oct. 31: “A vote for Woodrow Wilson is a vote to continue peace with honor, the eight-hour law, the rural credits law, the child labor law, the federal reserve bank law and a real democracy at Washington, in which the special interests figure not.
“A vote for Hughes is what? … The professional pro-Germans support him because they believe he would place an embargo upon munitions to the allies and because his election would license the German government to resume the submarine warfare. Wall Street supporters are for him because they believe he will restore Mark Hannaism and privilege. The Old Guard advocates his candidacy because they believe his election would bring back the good old days of reactionary legislation.
“Hughes, through accredited representatives, has conferred with each and every one of those elements. There seems to be a mutual understanding as he is being supported by all.
“The issue is clear and incontestable — peace vs. war, prosperity for all vs. special privilege, progressivism vs. reactionarism. What shall it be?”
On Oct. 30, the Daily Republican News wrote: “The giant swing of the political pendulum toward Chas. E. Hughes during the last few days is merely an evidence that the people of the country, once they actively apply their minds to politics, are keen to observe and quick to analyze. They have caught on to Woodrow Wilson, and the instant they did that the election of Gov. Hughes was assured. They have plumbed the depths of the economic philosophy which led Mr. Wilson to tell the American people two years ago that the hard times, the lack of employment. The hunger and want of those whose natural supporters could get no work, after the Underwood tariff went into effect and before the European war began, were ‘merely psychological,’ and who now asks them to believe that a purely warmade prosperity is permanent. They have come to realize that Woodrow Wilson has an abundance of intelligence but no character; that his every policy lacks the one essential, sincerity; that he plays the game on the square with no man, not even the sugar growers of Louisiana, Democratic state though it be. And having caught on to Wilson, the people will elect Hughes.”
That’s all pretty tame, either compared to today’s presidential contests or the contests of the more blatantly partisan press era.
Without today’s scientific polling methods, it was hard to know how the election was really going until the votes came in.
And this one was close. Wilson beat Hughes in the popular vote 9,126,868 to 8,548,728 and in the electoral vote by 277 to 254. The winner needed 266 electoral votes.