Third Party Movements in American Politics

July 22, 1936

Report Outline
Potentialities of Lemke's Third-Party Candidacy
Third-Party Movements Before the Civil War
Party Splits and Minor-Party Influence, 1872–1924
New Farmer-Labor and Independent Movements
Special Focus

Potentialities of Lemke's Third-Party Candidacy

Delegates to the Townsend convention at Cleveland last week refrained from placing the organization formally on record in support of any presidential candidate, but Dr. Townsend himself and the Rev. Gerald L. K. Smith, present leader of the late Huey Long's Share-the-Wealth movement, personally endorsed the third-party candidacy of Rep. William Lemke of North Dakota. Townsend, Smith, and the Rev. Charles E. Coughlin, who endorsed Lemke's candidacy immediately after its announcement on June 19, made known their intention to take the stump with Lemke in a joint coast-to-coast speaking tour. Addressing the Townsend convention at its final session July 19, Lemke declared that he was “100 per cent for an old-age revolving pension,” and that his Union party intended “to stand four-square on the great problem of an honest distribution [of wealth]”.

Last winter, after Alfred E. Smith's Liberty League speech and Governor Talmadge's “grass-roots” convention of conservative southern Democrats, there appeared to be some prospect of a bolt from the Democratic party resulting in an organized political movement on the part of right-wing Democrats opposed to the re-election of President Roosevelt. As the months passed, however, the Talmadge opposition lapsed into silence, while Smith restricted expression of his views to a spectacular but futile appeal to the delegates at Philadelphia on the eve of the convention to repudiate the President and nominate a “genuine Democrat.” It is now evident that any right-wing bolt from Roosevelt will be confined to individual defections, which probably will not attain numerically important proportions.

Potentialities of Lemke's Third-Party Candidacy

The Lemke candidacy, suddenly announced a week before the President's renomination, presented a more serious threat. The Coughlin, Townsend, and Long movements, reckoning their followers in the millions, comprise variegated elements dissatisfied with their present economic position and ready to seek its betterment by application of remedies more radical than any sponsored by the Roosevelt administration. While their separate interests appear too diverse to form the basis of an enduring political movement, the present union of their leaders behind Lemke enhances his prospects of mobilizing a substantial protest vote.

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