The 1938 election campaign was one of the most hard-fought in the history of the C.N.A. Incumbent Governor-General Douglas Watson had won a decisive victory in 1933, but since then popular opposition to his foreign policy and the economic downturn since the Panic of 1936 had eroded his support. In spite of this, Watson was able to win the Liberal Party's nomination at the national convention in January 1938, and he vowed to make the election a plebiscite on war or peace. In his acceptance speech at the convention on 9 January 1938, Watson said, "Only a strong nation can be free and peaceful. If you vote for me, you are voting for the arms program. A vote for my opponent is a mandate for weakness, which would invite aggression and perhaps destroy not only Europe and us with it, but the world."
The People's Coalition nominated Councilman Bruce Hogg of Northern Vandalia, who had opposed Watson's arms program from the first, and had introduced an impeachment proposal against Watson on 10 January 1935. Hogg also attacked Watson's failure to return the C.N.A. to prosperity nearly two years after the Panic. In his acceptance address on 17 January, Hogg said, "We have sufficient problems at home not to have to worry about the rest of the world. This February, the people will choose between the bankrupt candidate of a bankrupt party who would engage us in a war which we neither want nor need, from which we gain nothing; and the party of peace and recovery, one that is concerned with the Confederation of North America, and not the globe."
Along with his attacks on Watson's policies, Hogg also pledged to name James Billington of the Northern Confederation to the office of Council President, which had been created two years before in response to the constitutional crisis occasioned by the death of Henderson Dewey in 1929. Billington was one of ten Negroes in the Nineteenth Grand Council, and if the Coalition won, he would occupy the highest office in the national government ever held by one of his race.
The election was close, with the Liberals doing well in urban areas while the Coalition swept the suburbs and rural areas. This was a reversal of the pattern that was established during Dewey's administration in the 1920s, when the Liberals benefitted from the population diffusion of the Galloway Plan.
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Sobel notes that most analysts credited Hogg's endorsement of Billington with swinging Southern Vandalia into the Coalition ranks, and giving Hogg a two-seat margin of victory in the Grand Council. Hogg's victory, narrow though it was, allowed him to assume control of the government on 20 February. During his investiture ceremony, he said, "One thing can be promosed without a shadow of doubt. Unless attacked, this country will not fight in a foreign war while I am in office."
Due to the close nature of the election results, the Grand Council passed the Reform Bill of 1939, which called for the Confederation Senate to choose the Governor-General in the event of a tie vote in the Council.
Sobel's sources for the 1938 Grand Council elections are Arthur Heide's The Emergence of James Billington (New York, 1960); the 10 January and 20 February 1938 issues of the New York Herald; and the 18 January and 21 February 1938 issues of the Burgoyne Times. Election results are from the New York Herald, 17 February 1938.
|C.N.A. Grand Council Elections|
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