In 1932, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois the three major contenders for the Democratic Party presidential nomination were Franklin Roosevelt, John Garner and former governor of New York and 1928 presidential candidate, Al Smith. They roughly represented three competing factions of the Democratic Party. Smith was supported by the Tammany Hall machine in New York City, and had many supporters in the Democratic National Committee, as well as in Chicago. Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak packed the hall with Smith supporters.
Roosevelt was supported by a slim majority of the delegates, and had the support of Senators Burton Wheeler, Cordell Hull, Alben Barkley, and Huey 'The Kingfish' Long, who held the Deep South for Roosevelt. The new Democratic coalition would begin at this convention: Roosevelt brought into the Democratic fold western progressives, ethnic minorities, rural farmers, and intellectuals.
Garner had support from newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and Senator William Gibbs McAdoo. He was never a serious threat, and never bothered to campaign for the position. However, the faction that supported Garner was important because it could break a potential deadlock between Smith and Roosevelt.
After three ballots, neither Smith nor Roosevelt held the required two-thirds majority required for a nomination and it had gotten to the point that the Garner faction was required to break the deadlock. A late night call by Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. (a Roosevelt supporter) to Hearst attempted to convince the magnate to throw his lot in with Roosevelt.
The call backfired dramatically, leading to Hearst to convince Garner to endorse Smith, in return for becoming his running mate. Two weeks beforehand, Herbert Hoover had been confirmed by the Republican Party as the presidential after a rather lacklustre convention.
Al Smith, Democratic Party Presidential Candidate 1928 & 1932.
Roosevelt's political career was over, and after the closest election in American history, so was Smith's. Huey Long, after managing to elect Senator Hattie Caraway of Arkansas, the underdog candidate in a crowded field to her first full term in the Senate by conducting a whirlwind seven-day tour of that state, found that his national prominence had increased immensely with the election of the first female senator in US history. Whilst grateful to Long, she refused to let him control her voting in the senate, something which lead him to work toward creating something that would be loyal to him and his ideals.
Senator Hattie Caraway.
Long cashed in this new found popularity by breaking away from the popularly viewed as floundering Democratic Party and became the founding father of the 'America First Union Party' – using the state of Louisiana as the showcase for the new political format he had already began to imagine, since his loyal lieutenant, Oscar K. Allen was the governor and he had many friends in the Legislature – all of whom were involved in the America First.
Governor Oscar K Allen
The America First movement was extremely popular amongst the Southern section of the Democratic Party, leading to a schism as the senators and governors of the South abandoned the Democrats for the new party before the 1934 United States Senatorial Election. The impact of America First was hard, as almost 30 seats were lost by both the main parties. Long's campaign focused on what he coined as 'American Popular Corporatism'
Now a truly a player to be reckoned with on the political stage, Long put America First into overdrive, preparing for his first presidential campaign. Unlike the other main parties who were attempting a rather shambolic assemblage of a ticket to run at the national conventions of 1936, Long essentially began with his ticket in mind. Whilst Oscar K. Allen was on the ticket as Vice-President, through 1935, it became clear that Long had only placed him there because he had to write someone's name down.
The main political opposition to Long came not from the two major parties – the Republicans and Democrats, but rather from the other new kid on the block. The Combined Syndicates of America, under the leadership of Alexander Berkman a prominent anarcho-syndicalist thinker and his popular lieutenant, former journalist and slick political operator Jack Reed. The CSA had evolved from the IWW and was regarded by many as their political arm.
The CSA united the left-wing spectrum of American political thought and agitated primarily in the Manufacturing Belt but Berkman's poor health restricted his movements during the build up to the 1936 presidential campaign, leading to Jack Reed taking the nomination with Berkman as VP. Long and Reed often found themselves in confrontation both in the Senate (to which Reed had been elected in 1932 as the first and only Syndicates delegate) and over the shoulders of police lines – CSA supporters often were mobilised to protest Long's speeches and rallies in the south, travelling down by bus much to the irritation of the authorities.
The 12th of January 1936 saw William Z. Foster of the Combined Syndicates return from the Union of Britain, where he had spent the New Year with Oswald Mosley of the British Maximalist Faction. He brought news of a Syndicalist theory known as Totalism, which advocated complete state control of all industrial capacity. Whilst Hoover and his government quietly declaimed that nothing like this would ever happen in the United States of America, Huey Long saw the true face of the enemy, as did General Douglas MacArthur, who organised a raid on Foster's New York premises, confiscating several filing cabinets. This prompted a move by Foster to Chicago, whilst MacArthur had to explain his actions to President Hoover.
Charles 'Lucky' Luciano
Just as the fuss died down toward the end of January, another crisis beset the Hoover administration in the form of the Luciano scandal. As the Cosa Nostra had began to extend their activities in the United States, New York City police had on a tip and nothing more, arrested and held Luciano for several days without charges. The New York Times received a message on the 1st of February from Luciano's lawyers, sparking a fuss about illegal holding and unconstitutional arrests. This lead to his release and a further expansion in the activities of the Cosa Nostra on the East Coast as Luciano was put out of bounds by the New York City Police Commissioner, Lewis J. Valentine.
There was no rest for the newspapers either. Charles Curtis suffered a heartattack in his office on the 9th of February, recovering shortly after but seeming to signal a dark end to the troubled administration. At this point, Herbert Hoover was one of the most unpopular presidents in American history and things were unlikely to get better for him this late in his term, or so it was felt at the time.
The 12th of February saw the United Automotive Workers protest march at the Detroit Overpass broken up in a violent confrontation that would later be known as 'The Battle of the Overpass'. The UAW men and a group of female supporters from an affiliated union were broken up aggressively by men from Ford's Service Department. Henry Ford who was an ardent supporter of Huey Long, had modelled the Service Department on near paramilitary lines and men from the Department were to be help form the nucleus of Long's Minutemen. The brutality they showed at the time however caused Long to distance himself from Ford in public, as the UAW began legal proceedings against the Ford company. Henry Ford's lawyers blocked the motion into a holding pattern between the local and state courts, much to the chagrin of Walter Reuther of the UAW
The same day also saw the New York Premiere of Charlie Chaplin's movie 'Modern Times' – a pro-syndicates film that was attended by Arthur Snowden, Jack Reed and Marceau Pivert (despite Canadian requests for an arrest of the first). The film portrayed Chaplin as a factory worker, employed on an assembly line such as the type Ford used. After being subjected to such indignities as being force-fed by a "modern" feeding machine and an accelerating assembly line where Chaplin screws nuts at an ever-increasing rate onto pieces of machinery, he suffers a mental breakdown. Chaplin is sent to a hospital. Following his recovery the now unemployed Chaplin is arrested as an instigator in a Syndicalist demonstration since he was waving a red flag that fell off a delivery truck. The film had to be withdrawn from cinemas by Ray Wilbur after a couple of days on the grounds that it was too politically provocative so close to the election, leading to a day strike by the unions affiliated to the IWW.
On March 18th 1936, the St. Patrick's Day flood occurred. Due to the melting of snow and ice on the upper Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, Pittsburgh was flooded. The Federal and State government had no spare funds however, and the victims of the flood were ruined In some places floodwaters had reached over 46 feet in height. When the government declared itself unable, the CSA and the IWW moved in – helping the people of the now devastated city clear up and at the same time, teaching them about syndicalism in action, much to the distress of Huey Long.
George Henry Dern
Already reeling, the death of George H. Dern on March 21st left the government all the weaker, as the advisor to the Secretary for War had been a friend and ally of Douglas MacArthur during his tangles with Hoover, preserving his commission against Hoover's better thoughts..
Father Charles Coughlin
During April the final draft of the bill for the Indian Citizenship act was passed by Congress. At the urging of his vice-President Charles Curtis, Hoover did not veto the Indian Citizenship Act, meaning that, for the first time the native inhabitants of America had gained the option to accept recognition by the white authorities. That night on NBC, Father Charles Coughlin on his controversial radio show, denounced President Hoover as desecrating the memories of all of those who fought against the Indians, such as Colonel George Custer.
June the 15th was the hottest day in recorded history in the United States, and the great heatwave seemed to put everyone on edge, as the America First cemented their grip on the Midwest and the South, whilst the Combined Syndicates began to gather arms and form training camps in the Great Lakes. Food prices sky rocketed for basic foodstuffs as the corn and wheat harvests failed and Oklahoma was turned into a dustbowl.
On June 28th, Alexander Berkman, who had been battling prostate cancer for the last couple of years, finally died in his home in Chicago. Jack Reed, his loyal lieutenant became the leader of the CSA in his place, though for the last 6 months he had been practically running the organisation anyway as Berkman's health visibly worsened.
June 30th saw the release of Gone with the Wind. Set in the Old South during the Civil War, many America Firster's saw it as supporting their cause, though privately the Kingfish let it be known that he hated the book since it was a romanticised vision of something that he felt to be backward and of having no place in his America.
Finally July 4th rolled around, in what had been a long 6 months for the Hoover administration, something finally seemed to go right, as the national holiday was celebrated by all, and a slight relaxing of tension occurred. Eleven days later, the Stanley Cup was won by the Detroit Red Wings, giving the nation another cause for celebration and taking their minds off the burgeoning troubles.
In September, autumn finally cooled down America, which had been a boiling pot all Summer. Many had feared that something would trigger a fight, one which both Jack Reed and the Kingfish were not certain they could win just yet. At the same time, despite urging by Douglas MacArthur, Herbert Hoover refused to call off the elections, with MacArthur being replaced by Malin Craig as the Chief of the Army for attempting to interfere in the political process.
Through September and October, the Presidential Election consumed the attentions of all sides involved, things moved toward the election, both Long and Reed were consumed with the idea of conducting themselves with something resembling politeness to their mortal enemy. November the 4th was election day and in a surprise victory, John Garner, the former VP of ill-starred Presidential contender Al Smith, won it for the Democrats.
8 days later and Long established his Minutemen, whom he called the vanguard of the American Future, the paramilitaries were particularly effective, and mostly made up of former Ford Service Department workers and the Kingfish's Louisianan constituents.
On November 17th Long started a Supreme Court Case against the Democratic Party, stating that they had rigged the election in the favour of their candidate, John N. Garner. The CSA initiated a copy-cat suit the next day, with the great press coverage that followed.
Until the New Year things were quiet. Then the nation saw the CSA, lead by UAW workers in Flint, Michigan, go on General Strike. Since practically every man in any heavy or resource industry was with an IWW affiliated union, the Manufacturing Belt practically shut down. General MacArthur filed a formal request for the Armed Forces to intervene – as paltry as they were. Word got out, and syndicalist strikers acting of their own volition declared the independent Pittsburgh Syndicate. The CSA catalysed around it, as the 3rd 'Rock of the Roanoke' Division were sent to besiege the strikers – though the transit from California was expected to take months.
USAAF bombers flew sorties against the still flood ruined city. In protest of the lack of humanity displayed by the government and the unfair election results, the Kingfish organised his 'Southern Rally' – an immense protest that saw most of the Southern states cease work, at least toward Federal projects.
John Nance Garner
John Nance Garner gave his inaugural address on the 21st of January, 1937. In it, he addressed the issues of the nation and specifically the issues of the Labour Unions. He spoke of a need to come to an agreement with the CSA, but he said he would not let the nation be held to ransom by organised labour. Privately Long was furious – he had been hoping that the Southern Rally would have merited a mention. Four days later, Garner entered negotiation with Reed to end the strike and get the nations industrial complex back into action. Long's agitation increased as the negotiation became drawn out, Garner refusing Reed's initial terms on the 30th, partly afraid of Long's reaction and partly because he was afraid of his stance given in his inaugural address being compromised. National reaction saw a rise in Syndicalist uprisings, as well as the first Plains Indian revolt in 50 years, and the first 'Southern Uprising' in Macon. Long, Reed and Garner all became irritated as things began to spiral out of control, the movements around each man beginning to operate under their own momentum.
Just when things seemed set to spiral into a patchwork of chaos, Jay McShann and the Count Basie Orchestra released their record hit 'One o'Clock Jump' – a 12-bar blues instrumental that seemed to burn into the feet and souls of the American people, that reflected. It was not a popular song with everyone however, as America Firsters acting independently of Long started a riot that saw the military in the streets of Washington, defending the White House, where Reed and Garner were still negotiating.
On February 15th, the Kingfish was shot in Washington, and though not seriously wounded, America Firsters opened fire into the crowd as the would-be assassin attempted to escape. The man, was found to have no political associations. On the 20th anti-CSA mobs in Washington forced Reed to flee. Garner took the podium and appealed for calm, his voice quivering as he spoke. 9 days later, Douglas MacArthur, having over-ridden Malin Craig's objections lead a military commission into the White House and deposed Garner – in the interests of national security. The CSA, the Pacific States and the America First all seceded in the following days. The 2nd American Civil War had began.