Comments on Recent Congressional Election


Comments on Recent Congressional Election


Cummings, Homer S. (Homer Stillé), 1870-1956




1918 November 7


Analysis of the election results.


Library of Congress, Woodrow Wilson Papers


Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum


United States--Politics and government--1913-1921
Elections--United States--Statistics


Danna Faulds






Document scan was taken from Library of Congress microfilm reel of the Wilson Papers. WWPL volunteers transcribed the text.



The depression, which we naturally feel as the result of Tuesday’s election, arises out of the fact that we expected too much. The result is practically a drawn battle, instead of the substantial victory which we had expected. We had every apparent reason to expect a victory, not only because of the merits of our case, but also because our preliminary reports, especially from the East, were both encouraging and reliable. If we had known before election that we were to elect a Senator in Massachusetts, carry New York State, reduce the Republican majority in Connecticut and New Jersey almost to the vanishing point, and make net congressional gains in the East, we would have felt supremely confident of the outcome. The slump occurred in the Middle West and far West. The loss of Missouri and Colorado, both primarily due to internal party dissensions, was a severe and unexpected blow.


There are, of course, many causes of a minor nature which contributed to the result. These minor causes may be described as follows.

  1. Lack of sufficiently effective organization.
  2. More effective organization in the Republican party due to continuous effort along that line for a period of more than a year.
  3. Healing of party dissensions in the Republican party.
  4. Persistence of belief in many quarters, particularly amongst manufacturers and business men, that the Republican party is a better representative of their ideas than the Democratic party, especially in the matter of tariff legislation, financial affairs and reconstruction policies.
  5. Discontent among the farming population of the West, owing to the regulation of the price of wheat, coupled with a failure to regulate the price of cotton.
  6. Discontent which develops when any political party is long in power.
  7. Business disturbances and readjustments during the war period which have affected adversely certain lines of industry and employment.
  8. Persistent criticism of public officials by the opposition party.
  9. Dissatisfaction of organization Democrats with Federal and war appointments.

All of the foregoing, and perhaps other minor matters, had a substantial effect upon the result and would inevitably have quite a potent effect in such a close election.


It must not be forgotten in that in 1916 the popular vote throughout the country, calculated on a basis of senatorial contests, where there were such contests, and gubernatorial contests in the remaining states, indicated that about one-half million more votes were cast for Republican candidates than for Democratic candidates. Undoubtedly, more Democratic votes were cast for Democratic candidates than would have been the case in 1916, except for the fact that President Wilson was a candidate. This, no doubt, added many thousands to the Democratic vote throughout the country.

It is fair to say, therefore, that the Democratic party was in the minority in 1916 by about one-half million votes, and it was only owing to a fortunate distribution of these votes that we carried the House and the Senate. In order to win, therefore, it was necessary to overcome this initial handicap. This initial handicap was, in all probability, very nearly overcome. The figures of the popular vote are not before us and any conclusions on that score must necessarily be a mere guess. It is quite likely, however, that the popular vote throughout the country was pretty evenly divided between the two parties. If this is true, we have made a great gain, which ought to be encouraging as we look forward to the election of 1920.

While a great deal of criticism from opposition sources was directed against the appeal made by the President for a Democratic Congress, I am confident not only that the appeal was justified but that it had a very wholesome and beneficial effect. There is no evidence that it injuriously affected our vote in any part of the country, but there is much evidence that it was very helpful. For instance, I do not believe it would have been possible to have carried Kentucky, Montana or Idaho without such an appeal. The appeal also had the effect of making the President and his policies an issue of the campaign - this was the strongest issue that we had, and if the lines of political battle had not been drawn accordingly, I think that we should have been very badly defeated. Indeed, so just was our cause in this respect and so increasingly satisfactory was the international news that there is no reason to doubt that we were on the verge of a great and sweeping victory.

I now come to the three points which I think are expressive of the three great causes which deprived them of the great victory to which we were entitled:

  1. THE LAVISH USE OF MONEY BY THE REPUBLICAN ORGANIZATION. We knew that vast sums were being used and now there is beginning to develop tangible proof of the misuse of these funds. This aspect of the matter is being run down by the National Committee and other agencies with a view to assembling all possible proof on the subject. This may be helpful now, and certainly ought to be helpful later. We know enough now to make it clear that safety requires that a more stringent Federal Act should be passed covering the matter of campaign expenditures.
  2. SECTIONAL QUESTION AND LEADERSHIP IN HOUSE AND SENATE- These matters had very far reaching effects. It is unnecessary to go into details as the facts are so generally understood and recognized. The country had no great confidence in the Congressional leaders, especially in the House, many of whom have disclosed invincible provincialism in almost all matters of national consequence and it was generally believed that the Selective Draft Law would have failed utterly had it not been for the Republican support. The fact that many of these leaders were from the South did not help the situation any.
  3. MISREPRESENTATION OF THE ATTITUDE OF THE PRESIDENT - It was an essential part of the Republican campaign to misrepresent the attitude of the President. The leaders of the Republican party misrepresented his appeal to the people for popular support and alleged that it was an attack upon the patriotism of the Republicans who had loyally supported the war. Every effort that ingenuity could suggest was employed with that end in view. More important and more injurious, however, were the falsehoods industriously circulated concerning the attitude of the President toward Germany. A campaign based upon the catch-words “Unconditional Surrender” and “No Negotiated Peace” was surprisingly effective. The very vigor with which these banalities were uttered undoubtedly caused a great many unwary voters to think that the President was prepared to make easy terms with Germany.

Mr. Taft in a statement published November 7th in the “Public Ledger”, speaking of the general desire for unconditional surrender, said: “It was unfortunate for the President and his party that his opening note to Germany and the correspondence alarmed the people, lest he might make a peace by negotiations.”

Mr. Taft, of course, was too just to suggest that such was the attitude of the President. He merely states that the people were “alarmed” and that the situation was “unfortunate for the President and his party.” I think this essentially states the truth.

The dastardly part of the whole business was that the Republican leaders, with the aid of a large part of the public press, created the alarm by deliberate misrepresentation. It seemed incredible to us that such a campaign could have succeeded in disturbing so many people, but there can be no doubt that it had a very wide-spread effect. Had the good news from Europe broken a little earlier, it would have constituted a most complete refutation of these charges and have satisfied the public mind. Indeed, such seems to have been the effect in communities easily accessible to newspaper publicity. There was no time, however, for the full significance of the President’s handling of the diplomatic situation to dawn upon the minds of a troubled and anxious people.


A desperate political conflict awaits us in 1920. Without the leadership of President Wilson the Democratic party today would undoubtedly be in a hopeless minority. As matters now stand we are upon even terms with them. We shall have the benefit of the President’s leadership. It is too much to expect that leadership alone can be depended upon to win the contest. There ought to be many opportunities during the next two years to organize public opinion in behalf of the policies of the President and to enforce a more faithful cooperation upon the part of public men of our political faith. No time should be lost in passing an effective Corrupt Practice Act.

The Democratic National Committee can be made, under proper organization, a more effective instrument that it ever has been. There ought to be some just ground upon which to base proper relationship between the party organization and Democratic public officials. Between elections they apparently have very little in common, though the friendship becomes intensive about two weeks prior to election. The situation is a delicate one, but it can be managed. There are ways also of bringing additional independent support to the party management. I do not under rate the good work done by the party organization, I merely suggest that it can be made very much more effective. It should be possible also to nurture a spirit in Congress which would lead to effective and outspoken support of Administration policies from now on. I have in mind various ways in which this can be accomplished. It is pitiable to note how barren the Senate record is of Administration speeches and how full it is of speeches of criticism.

A further consideration should be given to some of the numerous adverse causes heretofore referred to. Many of them can be eliminated all together. It has too long been the custom to regard party organization as a sporadic thing requiring attention only biennially.


In the foregoing statement I made no reference to a number of factors which ordinarily have to be taken into account, because I was, more or less, comparing the present election to the results two years ago, and the omitted factors were for the most part either equally or more favorable to us than they were two years ago, or had practically disappeared all together as issues or elements in the problem.

Amongst the factors referred to are the following: namely, the attitude of the women voters, the attitude of the voters of foreign parentage, including Germans, Italians, Poles, etc., etc. the attitude of Jewish voters, the attitude of labor, questions concerning the Eight Hour Law, criticism of individual members of the Cabinet, etc., etc., as well, of course, as the question of Mexico.


I have just made a calculation of the estimated pluralities in the various states, based on the senatorial votes in states where there were senatorial contests and on the vote for Governor in the remaining states. It would seem from this calculation that the pluralities in Democratic states were practically equal to the pluralities in Republican states, which indicates that the popular vote throughout the country is almost evenly divided between the two political parties on party lines. It must also be remembered that this being an off year the pluralities in the Southern states were much lower than they would have been in a Presidential election.

I have also made a calculation of the electoral vote, on the foregoing basis, and I find the result to be as follows:








Iowa…………….. 13


Maine……………. 6




Nebraska………..  8

North Dakota……..5

New Jersey……...14

New Mexico……..  3

New Hampshire ....4


Pennsylvania….. .38

Rhode Island……. 5

South Dakota…….5



West Virginia…….8






Arizona…………… 3

Arkansas…………. 9

Florida……………. 6


Idaho……………..  4



Maryland…………. 8




Nevada………….. .3

New York………...45

North Carolina…..12



South Carolina….. 9



Utah………………  4

Virginia………….. 12


This calculation also shows how evenly divided in strength the two parties are throughout the country. Another significant feature is the large number of states in which the margin, either way, was exceedingly small. It is also apparent that had President Wilson been running for President he would have been elected by a very large popular and electoral vote.

Original Format



Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924




Cummings, Homer S. (Homer Stillé), 1870-1956, “Comments on Recent Congressional Election,” 1918 November 7, WWP25418, World War I Letters, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.