Oklahoma’s First Presidential Vote Was For The Man Above

This being a presidential election year, I thought it might be fun to review Oklahoma’s votes for President of the United States after we were granted that opportunity, which is a 100-year period of votes. Until statehood in 1907, pre-territory (1889) and then territory elections (1890-1907) did not allow us to vote in presidential elections — only until Oklahoma became a state in 1907 did we have the right to vote for the next president of the United States. Our first ballot for US President/Vice President candidates was presented to Oklahoma voters on November 3, 1908.

This article reviews a century of Oklahoma’s votes for United States president — from 1908 through 2008. It also takes a look at the Oklahoman’s editorial advocacy during that 100-year period of time.

About the statistics   1908  &nbsp1912   1916   1920   1924   1928

About the Statistics. The statistics in the charts below are based upon the excellent information provided at Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, an excellently done website which provides free election information to the public, and I heartily commend Dave Leip for making that service and information available to anyone that wants it. I’ve taken information from that location to put together the following tables. In the tables, “EC” means Electoral College. “NOB” means Not On Ballot. Some national de minimus candidates are not included but all candidates on the Oklahoma ballots are. In the national results parts of tables, sometimes candidates who were on the Oklahoma ballot are not shown in Mr. Leip’s data and, in such event, a “?” mark is shown. Most probably, the Oklahoma candidate would have been included in the “Other” group for a particular election year at his website. As for Electoral College votes, Oklahoma has been a “winner take all” state (as are most if not all others), with the exception of 1960 when Oklahoma had 1 unpledged (of 8) votes. Oklahoma’s Electoral College votes have ranged from 7 (1908, 2004, 2008), 8 (1952, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000), 10 (1912, 1916, 1920, 1924, 1928, 1944, 1948), and 11 (1936, 1940).

1908 US Vote Vote % EC EC % OK Vote OK %
Wm. H. Taft (Republican) 7,678,355 51.57 321 66.5 110,474 43.80
Wm. J. Bryan (Democrat) 6,408,979 43.04 162 33.5 122,363 47.99
Eugene V. Debs (Socialist) 429,852 2.83 0 0 21,734 8.52
Eugene Chafin (Prohibition) 254,087 1.71 0 0 NOB NOB
Thomas Watson (Populist) ? ? 0 0 412 0.16

In the table, note the Socialist Party candidate, Eugene V. Debs. As will be seen, Oklahoma contained a higher than national average number of Socialist Party voters for several years, including many voters in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoman favored Bryan who won the state, but Oklahoma County voters gave Taft a narrow win.

1912 US Vote Vote % EC EC % OK Vote OK %
Woodrow Wilson (Democrat) 6,296,284 41.84 435 81.9 119,156 46.95
T. Roosevelt (Progressive) 4,122,721 27.4 88 27.4 NOB NOB
Wm. H. Taft (Republican) 3,486,242 23.17 8 1.5 90,756 35.7
Eugene V. Debs (Socialist) 901,551 5.99 0 0 41,674 16.42
Eugene Chafin (Prohibition) 208,156 1.38 0 0 2,185 0.86

In the Republican presidential convention, William Howard Taft defeated Theodore Roosevelt to become that party’s nominee. Following that, Taft joined the Progressive (Bull Moose) party and became its nominee. However, the Progressive party was not on the Oklahoma ballot. Apparently an attempt was made to back-door Republican electors would favor Roosevelt, but that was unsuccessful. Notice that Socialist Debs received 16.42% of Oklahoma votes, up from 8.52% in the 1908 votet. Wilson received the Oklahoman’s blessing, as did Oklahoma County and the state.

1912_statecapital_225-2531070As an aside, at the same November 5, 1912, election, Guthrie backers succeeded in getting a referendum petition on the ballot to move the State Capital back to Guthrie. Click on the image for a clearer look at the ballot as well as substantially complete voter returns. Voters in at least 28 counties supported the measure (Adair, Alfalfa, Cherokee, Craig, Creek, Ellis, Garfield, Grant, Kay, Kingfisher, Lincoln, Logan, McIntosh, Mayes, Muskogee, Noble, Nowata, Osage, Ottawa, Pawnee, Payne, Rogers, Sequoyah, Tulsa, Wagoner, Washington, Woods, and Woodward, but the measure nonetheless failed. It’s difficult to read the Oklahoman’s vote numbers, but it appears that “Yes” voters totaled 85,467, “No’s” were 102,915, and 44,493 were silent and marked neither check box.

1916 US Vote Vote % EC EC % OK Vote OK %
Woodrow Wilson (D) 9,126,848 49.24 277 52.2 148,113 59.59
Charles Hughes (R) 8,548,728 46.12 254 47.8 97,233 33.21
Allan Benson (Socialist) 590,524 3.19 0 0 45,527 15.55
James Hanly (Prohibition) 221,302 1.19 0 0 1,646 0.56


The November 8, 1916, headlines above tell the story — although Wilson carried Oklahoma and Oklahoma County against Charles Hughes handily, the national vote was still in doubt on November 8. Europe had been at war since 1914 but Wilson had so far kept the United States out of it, even after the sinking of the Lusitania, a British passenger ship, by a German submarine on May 7, 1915.


Of the 139 US citizens aboard Lusitania, 128 lost their lives; however in January 1916 Germany agreed to pay retribution for the Americans and to refrain from unwarned U-boat attacks on passenger vessels in the future.

Hughes felt differently about American participation in the European War and the country was fairly well divided between the candidates, though less so in Oklahoma. That Socialist candidate Benson received 15.55% of the Oklahoma vote evidences the continuing strength of that party in Oklahoma. The Oklahoman supported Wilson in the election and closed its November 7 editorial with these words: “That is Woodrow Wilson’s record. He has served us. He has saved us.”

Of course, it developed that Germany changed its position. This Wikipedia article puts it this way:

In early 1917 Germany decided to resume all-out submarine warfare on all commercial ships headed toward Britain, realizing it would mean war with the U.S. It offered a military alliance to Mexico in the Zimmerman Telegram — and publication of that offer outraged American opinion just as the U-boats (submarines) started sinking American ships in the North Atlantic. Wilson asked Congress for “a war to end all wars” and “make the world safe for democracy,” and Congress voted to declare war on April 6, 1917.

1920 US Vote Vote % EC EC % OK Vote OK %
Warren Harding (Republican) 16,146,093 60.32 404 76.1 243,831 50.11
James Cox (Democrat) 9,139,661 34.15 127 23.9 217,053 44.61
Eugene V. Debs (Socialist) 913,693 3.41 0 0 25,726 5.29
P. Christiansen (Farmer-Labor) 265,398 0.99 0 0 NOB NOB
Aaron Watkins (Prohibition) 188,787 0.71 0 0 NOB NOB


Although United States participation in the “Great War” was relatively brief by contemporary standards (April 6, 1917, to the date that fighting ended in November 1918), World War I resulted in the death of 116,516 United States “Doughboys” and other citizens and another 204,002 were wounded. By the 1920 election, Wilson and his League plan had become unpopular. Millions had died in the Great War — according to Wikipedia,

The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was over 37 million. There were over 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history.

Instead of being opposed to isolation, President Wilson strongly advocated, as part of the Treaty of Versailles which ended the armed conflict, the establishment of a “League of Nations” which would have involved the United States in a more international endeavor. Although his advocacy for United States participation in that League was strong, by the 1920 presidential elections, it had not been ratified by the U.S. Senate, and in a very real sense, the 1920 elections would be a national referendum on Wilson’s presidency and his League of Nations proposal.

Although Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919 for his efforts to establish the League, in 1920 Democrat James Cox who shared Wilson’s views was roundly defeated by Republican Harding who campaigned against U.S. participation in the League and who favored an isolationist stance, and that included high tariffs which would protect large corporate interests in the United States. The Oklahoman editorialized very progressively and strongly for Cox and the League and against some large corporate interests — see this example and another — and Cox did carry Oklahoma County 15,722 to Harding’s 13,605 — but Harding carried the state.

The League of Nations was never approved by the United States and our country was never a member of the League. Instead, the United States entered into separate treaties with Great War combatants Germany and Austria during the Harding administration. It would take yet another great war, at a later time, for Wilson’s vision to be appreciated by Wilson’s home country in another form.


U.S. Senate and Congressional races were also a huge part of the 1920 election. Oklahoma’s first Republican Senator, J.W. Harreld, was elected as were Republicans from five of Oklahoma’s eight Congressional districts.

Interestingly, the 1920 presidential election was the first that R.E. Stafford was no longer a part owner or editor of the Oklahoman, roles owned by E.K. Gaylord in 1920. The editorials linked to above were quite progressive and aggressively pro-Democrat and a November 5, 1920, article seemed to take pride in the fact that Oklahoma City had bucked the statewide Republican trend. The article began with this language:

Returning the largest democratic majority in its history, while the state was joining the republican ranks, Oklahoma City shines today as one of the very few bright spots on the democratic map.

Socialist Debs was also on the ballot but earned only 5.29% of Oklahoma’s vote in 1920, down from 1916’s 15.55% share. Concerning the Oklahoma U.S. Senatorial vote, a November 5 Oklahoman editorial opined that:

        The returns indicate the election of J.W. Harreld, republican nominee for United States senator, by a large majority. He owes his victory not only to the votes of members of his own party, but to the support of a number of socialists and Gore democrats.
* * *
        The socialists who voted for Harreld clearly did so because Harreld supported a resolution which would have allowed Victor Berger to retain his seat in congress.

Berger? Who was Berger? Did anyone living in Bromide (etc.), Oklahoma ever hear the name, Victor Berger? In this time of much-less-than-instant communications, how would such communities even know about Berger? The possibility that they did strikes me as hugely unlikely.

According to Wikipedia, Victor L. Berger was a newspaper man and a founder of the United States Socialist movement. The article says,

        When the United States entered the war and passed the Espionage Act in 1917, Berger’s continued opposition made him a target. He and four other Socialists were indicted under the Espionage Act in February 1918; the trial followed on December 9 of that year, and on February 20, 1919, Berger was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. The trial was presided over by Judge Kenesaw Landis, who later became the first commissioner of Major League Baseball. His conviction was appealed, and ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court on January 31, 1921, which found that Judge Landis had improperly presided over the case after the filing of an affidavit of prejudice.
        In spite of his being under indictment at the time, the voters of Milwaukee elected Berger to the House of Representatives in 1918. When he arrived in Washington to claim his seat, Congress formed a special committee to determine whether a convicted felon and war opponent should be seated as a member of Congress. On November 10, 1919 they concluded that he should not, and declared the seat vacant. Wisconsin promptly held a special election to fill the vacant seat, and on December 19, 1919, elected Berger a second time. On January 10, 1920, the House again refused to seat him, and the seat remained vacant until 1921, when Republican William H. Stafford claimed the seat after defeating Berger in the 1920 general election.
        Berger defeated Stafford in 1922 and was reelected in 1924 and 1926. In those terms, he dealt with Constitutional changes, a proposed old-age pension, unemployment insurance, and public housing. He also supported the diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union and the revision of the Treaty of Versailles. After his defeat by Stafford in 1928, he returned to Milwaukee and resumed his career as a newspaper editor.

Upon Eugene V. Deb’s death in October 1926, Berger delivered Deb’s eulogy.

red_scare_1919-2681441But, the Oklahoman’s editorial analysis was most probably incomplete since it failed to account for the Bolshevik scare, also known as the “First Red Scare,” in this country. In 1919 through May 1920, fear gripped much of the country, as well as much of the world, because of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The fear, of course, was that the same thing that happened in Russia would occur here — labor would unite against capitalist interests and government, revolt, and the United States (as eyes would then know it) would become a thing of the past. (The 2nd Red Scare would come in the early 1950s with Rep. Joseph McCarthy of the House Unamerican Activities Committee hearings fame, but we’ll get back to that later in this post.)

This Wikipedia article says,

        In American history, the First Red Scare of 1919–1920 was spawned by a widespread fear of Bolshevism and anarchism. Concerns over the effects of radical political agitation in American society and alleged spread in the American labor movement fueled the paranoia that defined the period.
        The First Red Scare had its origins in the hyper-nationalism of World War I. At the war’s end, following the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, American authorities saw the threat of revolution in the actions of organized labor, including such disparate cases as the Seattle General Strike and the Boston Police Strike and then in the bomb campaign directed by anarchist groups at political and business leaders. Fueled by labor unrest and the anarchist bombings, and then spurred on by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s attempt to suppress radical organizations, it was characterized by exaggerated rhetoric, illegal search and seizures, unwarranted arrests and detentions, and the deportation of several hundred suspected radicals and anarchists.
        Bolshevism and the threat of revolution became the general explanation for challenges to the social order, even such unrelated events as incidents of interracial violence. Fear of radicalism was used to excuse such simple expressions of free speech as the display of certain flags and banners. The Red Scare effectively ended in the middle of 1920, after Attorney General Palmer forecast a massive radical uprising on May Day and the day passed without incident.

The 2011 movie, J. Edgar, staring Leonardo DiCaprio, depicts Palmer’s campaign to deport alleged radicals, led by J. Edgar Hoover.

Putting the pieces together, it seems probable that the lower 1920 Socialist vote in Oklahoma was not only keyed to a “deal” to help Berger, as the Oklahoman suggested, but was also related to the Bolshevik scare of 1919-1920.

During the Harding/Coolidge term, two amendments to the United States Constitution were ratified by the states: 18th (Prohibition) on January 16, 1919; and 19th (Women’s Suffrage) on August 18, 1920. Oklahoma voted for both amendments.

1924 US Vote Vote % EC EC % OK Vote OK %
Calvin Coolidge (Republican) 15,723,789 54.04 382 71.9 226,242 42.82
John Davis (Democrat) 8,386,242 28.82 136 25.6 255,798 48.1
R. LaFollette (Progressive*) 4,831,706 16.1 13 2.4 46,376 8.78

* In Oklahoma, the party shown for Robert LaFollette was the Farmer-Labor Party of Oklahoma, not the Progressive Party, although both were liberal and similar in their orientation. See the section on “Farmer-Labor Party,” below.

Republican Harding died on August 2, 1923, from heart ailments while on a speaking tour before the end of his term. Vice President Coolidge completed Harding’s term and then ran for president himself in 1924. The period of time between 1920 through the 1924 election had it all — political corruption, martial law and suspension of the right of habeas corpus by an impeached Oklahoma governor, political and racial unrest, the KKK, and a new brand of third party candidate (well, sort of) — and the above headlines don’t begin to tell the much larger story.

At the national level and despite some positive accomplishments, Harding’s administration proved to be plagued by corruption, including the infamous Teapot Dome scandal. The Wikipedia article on Harding reads, in part:

President Harding rewarded friends and political contributors, referred to as the Ohio Gang, with financially powerful positions. Scandals and corruption, including the notorious Teapot Dome scandal, eventually pervaded his administration; one of his own cabinet and several of his appointees were eventually tried, convicted, and sent to prison for bribery or defrauding the federal government.

Until Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandals, the Teapot Dome affair is said to have been the most notorious to have occurred at the presidential level.

Although the Oklahoman editorialized for the Democrat, John Davis, and although Davis did carry the state and Oklahoma County, the paper’s November 4 edition (election day) was as much if not more occupied with the murder of territorial U.S. Deputy (and for a time police chief of Oklahoma City) Bill Tilghman in Cromwell a few days before the presidential election. The November 4 Oklahoman’s editorials did not include one favoring Davis, although it had given one the day before.

At the start of the election year, however, the Oklahoman was all over it — “it” being the Coolidge connection with the Teapot Dome scandal. The front page headlines on January 28, 1924, looked like this:


Click here to read the lengthy actual front-page articles.

… more to come for the 1924 election …

1928. … coming next …

… This post is in its early stages with much more to come …

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