Maury Thompson on “Al Jolson and Harding’s ‘Front Porch’ Campaign”

Candidate Harding, Blanche Ring, Al Jolson, and Charles Evans Hughes. Note: Hughes is wearing a black armband following the loss that April of one of his daughters, Helen, age 28. Photo credit: Ohio Memory.

Mr. Maury Thompson, scholar on the life and legacy of Charles Evans Hughes, has a fascinating article over at the New York Almanac not only about the long-forgotten Jolson but also the campaign (comprising the ticket of Harding and Coolidge) that won in truly historic proportions one hundred years ago this November. Moreover, we catch an instructive glimpse of Charles E. Hughes’ role in that campaign. Hughes, too, is regrettably overlooked these days. He shouldn’t be and Mr. Thompson is working to remedy that.

Check it out and stay tuned for more from Mr. Thompson here at The Importance of the Obvious!

On Our Own Ships

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We have been all too long oblivious to the duty which we owe to ourselves as a nation. It cannot be a sound business policy to employ our competitors to transport our production to market. It cannot be a sound business policy to neglect this second line of our naval defense.

No nation ever long maintained a place in the world without a merchant marine. No nation has ever failed to grow great and powerful that had the advantage of such foreign trade as ours when borne in its own ships. This great prize cannot be developed without effort. It cannot be secured without expense.

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Some ships of the merchant marine, 1920

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The Jones Act, sponsored by Wesley L. Jones of Washington State, passed into law two summers before Coolidge’s speech at Portland, continues to draw sharp critics on all sides of the issue. Its repeal, long sought, has not yet succeeded. The Act maintains that shipping between U. S. ports must be: (1) Made in America, (2) Owned by American citizens, and (3) Have a crew 3/4 American. The arguments on both sides have long been exchanged but there are also good reasons for maintaining our own ships carrying our own goods to the markets interested in buying them. For Coolidge (as for Jones), the cheapest answer is not necessarily the best one. 

Portland-Yard

Portland, Oregon’s Peninsula Yard, 1915. The Jones Act of 1920 had the effect of joining Portland’s shipping to the Territory of Alaska’s markets and supply needs. The Act firmly placed reliance throughout territories like Alaska and Hawaii on American ships over those of foreign suppliers. 

If the people want it they must be prepared to pay for it, but the rewards of security, of prosperity, of those commercial relationships which make for the peace of the world and for the advancement of an enlightened civilization will repay us many fold. 

— Vice President Calvin Coolidge, excerpt of speech at Portland, Oregon, August 15, 1922

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The Navy-Merchant Marine Memorial was originally designed by San Francisco architect Harvey W. Corbett way back in 1922. It would be sculpted by Ernesto Begni del Piatta, who died in 1939 before its completion. 

On Standards

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The law alone cannot establish standards, that must be done by the people themselves. If all honor is to be given to wealth and place, there is bound to be an unending clash of interests. But if service be made the standard, if men are judged not by what they have, but by what they are, if they will cease putting all the emphasis on what they are going to get and more of it on what they ought to do, if they will refrain from giving the entire attention to the material side of life and live more in accord with their intellectual, social, and moral nature, if they will apply the teachings of religion, the discord and discontent will give place to harmony. No one has ever proposed any other practical remedy [to our political problems].

— Calvin Coolidge, excerpt of speech before Presbyterian General Assembly, May 21, 1922