The 1923 Grand Council elections took place on 16 February 1923, for the purpose of choosing the Seventeenth Grand Council of the Confederation of North America. The elections returned a Liberal Party majority of 81 seats, the Liberals' first Grand Council majority since the 1883 elections.
The 1923 election campaign took place against the backdrop of the malaise of 1916 - 1924, which Sobel describes as a rebellion against the idea of progress that dominated the western world, and a desire among its opponents for "a more simple life." The rebellion against progress centered around the League for Brotherhood, which had been founded in May 1920 by Howard Washburne of Southern Vandalia.
Washburne had originally intended for the League to serve as a nationwide organization that would, through capitalist and republican paths, obtain a greater share of jobs and power for the C.N.A.'s Negroes. The League attracted other radicals and reformers who had their own agendas, and who saw it as a vehicle for achieving them. These were men and women who rejected capitalism and republicanism, and in some cases even found the traditional radical followers of Neiderhofferism to be irrelevant. The new radicals rejected urbanization and industrialization, which they called "the suffocation of the cities and the horrors of the factory," and called for a return to "a more natural way of life." Through sheer weight of numbers, these radicals were able to take control of the League in late 1920. By the summer of 1921, the League numbered seven million members, most of them dissatisfied middle-class whites and intellectuals.
The political leaders of the C.N.A. did not know what to make of this great reformist wave. Governor-General Calvin Wagner, the leader of the People's Coalition, once said that "This is a business century, and we are a business country." However, the new radicals had come to reject the values of that business civilization.
There were major riots across the C.N.A. in the summer of 1922, the worst since the economic and social chaos of the Bloody Eighties. Wagner attempted to rally the nation behind him, but only succeeded in antagonizing the new radicals and making his own supporters more militant. James Kilroy of the New York Herald said, "The faint aroma of Starkism has made its appearance, and both the opponents of our civilization and its supporters seem pleased by the possibility of its return." Although the C.N.A. continued to prosper, the feeling of moral decay that had first appeared in the wake of the Chapultepec Incident of 1916 was becoming dangerous.
There was a large minority within the opposition Liberal Party that sought to gain the support of the new radicals, and who were willing to nominate Washburne as their candidate for governor-general in the upcoming elections. They were opposed by Chester Phipps, the Governor of the Southern Confederation, and the Liberal nominee for governor-general in the 1918 elections. Phipps stated in August 1922 that "Mr. Washburne is a saint. But saints are notoriously poor politicians." At the Liberals' nominating convention in December 1922, Phipps and his supporters were able to deny the nomination to Washburne, nominating instead Councilman Henderson Dewey of Indiana. The P.C., in their own convention that month, renominated Governor-General Wagner. Thus, both major parties rejected the new radicalism, leaving it with no political means to accomplish its objectives.
The political situation in the C.N.A. changed literally overnight, following the Galloway Speech of 25 December. Owen Galloway the President of North American Motors, proposed a plan to defuse the growing antagonism within the country by subsidizing emigration within, and from, the C.N.A. "We are a nation of two societies, each with different values, ideals, and goals.... If two peoples cannot live together, they may better live apart."
At a press conference, Washburne himself called Galloway's proposal "worthy of study, and the child of a man of unquestionable sincerity." As Galloway and his siblings established the Galloway Trust to carry out his program, thousands of would-be emigrants flocked to its headquarters, and their sub-stations in every large city in the C.N.A., asking to be placed on the rolls. The new radicals welcomed the opportunity to "denude the nation of its most precious possession, it's people," and declared that "Galloway has done more to destroy this corrupt society than any man in history."
Although both major parties had already nominated candidates for governor-general, a group of Councilmen in Indiana suggested in mid-January the formation of a "Galloway Coalition" of politicians pledging themselves to select Galloway as governor-general after the elections. Galloway himself firmly rejected the possibility, insisting, "Even if selected for the post, I will not serve in it." This ended the movement, but not Galloway's influence. Governor-General Wagner endorsed the Galloway Plan "and all it entails," while Councilman Dewey went further, promising to bring Galloway into the government if elected. Wagner responded by claiming support for "Mr. Galloway's future plans, of which I have been informed by none other than that gentleman himself." However, Galloway denied talking to Wagner in anything other than vague generalities.
Both candidates appeared regularly on vitavision, and Dewey cleverly took advantage of the new medium by speaking in generalities in the Galloway manner, consciously imitating Galloway's prose, his speaking style, and even his appearance. Without saying so, Dewey was able to give the impression that he was closer to Galloway than his opponent.
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Dewey's plan was successful, and on 16 February 1923 the Liberals won a majority in the Grand Council for the first time in 35 years.
Sobel's sources for the 1923 Grand Council elections are Winslow McGregor's A Child Shall Lead Them: The Idiocy of Our Times (New York, 1921); Farley Shaw's Voices of the Great Protest (New York, 1930); Franklin Drew's The Guard Changeth: The Elections of 1923 (New York, 1931); Fritz Webern's The Dilemma of Our Times (New York, 1933), and the 23 June, 5 August, and 15 October 1922 issues of the New York Herald. Election results are from the New York Herald, 17 February 1923.
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