Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, July 17, 2008


Page 11



Dockweiler’s 1926 Senate Bid Attracts National Attention




Isidore B. Dockweiler’s race for the 1926 Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate gained nationwide attention. The outcome would be a test of the political strength of William G. McAdoo, a Los Angeles lawyer who had served as secretary of the treasury under his father-in-law, President Woodrow Wilson...who wanted to become president...and who was backing Dockweiler’s rival for the Democratic Party’s senatorial nod.

Dockweiler, was against Prohibition, which had begun in 1920. He was perceived as being in favor of New York Gov. Alfred E. Smith—also a “wet”—in the presidential contest to take place in 1928 (though Dockweiler underscored in 1926 that he was, at that point, committed to no one.) The seeming allegiance of Dockweiler to Smith caused the McAdoo forces to propogate the tale that Dockweiler, in seeking the Senate seat, was dedicated to a goal of bringing Tammany Hall (New York’s Democratic political machine, marked by corruption) to California.

An Aug. 13 dispatch from Washington, D.C., distributed to newspapers across the nation, tells of a statement by McAdoo’s candidate, former Washington newspaper correspondent John B. Elliott, “specifically charging an ‘attempt by leaders of Tammany Hall to seize political control of California,’ charging that ‘Governor Smith and party bosses of New York, New Jersey and Illinois, are in a scheme to obtain nation-wide control of the Democratic party’ and that ‘these elements are seeking to name the next Democratic candidate for president to commit the party to restoration of liquor domination in this country.’ ”

Time Magazine’s Aug. 30, 1926 issue recites:

“Mr. Dockweiler, a Catholic, was endorsed by the Democratic convention at Fresno, whereupon the McAdoo delegates bolted and put forth Mr. Elliott in a little convention of their own….Mr. Elliott…is having trouble with the numerous feuds of his archangel, Mr. McAdoo. The old Democratic leaders in California want to get rid of Mr. McAdoo, the Edward L. Doheny oil gang would like to knife him politically and economically, a local faction in Los Angeles has found him troublesome. They say: ‘He’s an Indian’—a rank outsider who tries to rule. All of which miscellany means simply that, if Mr. Elliott wins, Governor Smith will not get California delegates in 1928.”

Reference to the Democratic conventions in 1926 might seem puzzling. The Direct Primary Law was enacted in California in 1909, providing for selection of party candidates by the electorate, rather than voters continuing to choose delegates to conventions. In an Aug. 24 syndicated column, David Lawrence of the Washington Post quotes “[o]ne of the Republican editors of California” as explaining to him:

“The Tammany sympathizers took advantage of McAdoo’s absence in the east to work out a pretty clever scheme. They engineered a state conference to nominate a ticket which, of course is in defiance of the direct primary law. However, they sugar-coated the convention call with the statement that there would be, of course, no purpose to a contest in the Democratic party, and that a conference of Democratic leaders could select a ticket that would stand up against the common enemy—the republican party—after the Aug. 31 primary. They arranged to permit a fair percentage of loyal McAdoo and dry democrats to have seats in the convention but saw to it that their own crowd were in sufficient numbers to control definitely. A ticket was named with Dockweiler for senator….

“About that time the McAdoo people woke up but really too late to get action because the Tammany supervisors had moved fast and had gotten the indorsements of many of the leading Democrats of the state before the note of warning was raised. When they began to move, they…put up John B. Elliott of Los Angeles, former collector of customs, for United States Senator.”

The Time Magazine reference to Dockweiler’s religion was not an insertion of an irrelevancy. Not in those days. Up until Al Smith’s nomination for president by the Democratic Party in 1928, there had never been a Catholic nominee for the nation’s highest post by a major political party…and anti-Catholic sentiment persisted through the 1960 presidential election in which John Kennedy was denigrated based on a supposed overriding loyalty to the pope.

Back to 1926: an Aug. 30 report from the District of Columbia syndicated to newspapers nationally says:

“A religious angle has been introduced by the fact that Dockweiler is a Catholic and by charges that the opposition to him is based on his religion.

“To this the McAdoo partisans reply by pointing out that their effort preceding the Dockweiler move was devoted to trying to persuade another Catholic, probably the most distinguished Catholic layman in California, ex-Senator James D. Phelan, to accept the nomination, now in dispute. Phelan declined because of his health.”

Drew Pearson’s Aug. 31 column remarks: “Dockweiler, nationally known through his long-time Democratic National Committeemanship from California, is opposed by the McAdoo forces as a Roman Catholic….”

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