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The Sage Of Topeka
April 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 3
Landslide is not a word formed from Landon, the last name of the man who in 1936 was the Republican nominee for President of the United States. But it might just as well have been.
In the election of November 3, 1936, Alfred Mossman London got 16,681,913 votes—compared with 27,751,612 for winner Franklin D. Roosevelt. While Roosevelt swept 523 electoral votes, London won only eight—those of Maine and Vermont. Small wonder that Maine and Vermont were thenceforth looked on as states and cases apart—and that London became a synonym for landslide.
“The nation has spoken,” London wired his victorious opponent. “Every American will accept the verdict and work for the common cause of the good of our country. That is the spirit of democracy. You have my sincere congratulations. ”
Today London tends his forty acres in Topeka and owns three Kansas radio stations: WREN in Topeka, KEDD in Dodge City, and KSCB in Liberal. He is still in the oil business, describing himself as “the smallest hind of operator.” He has oil wells in eastern Kansas (he also has gas wells m the western part of the state); some are forty years old and average about a barrel or two a day. “In these little wells,” he says, “the margin of profit is very small. Any change in taxes will probably mean the abandonment of some of the wells.”
Landon and his wife, Theo, live alone m a vast white mansion that would serve a President nicely, and the passion of his life is what it has been these many years: politics. He celebrated his eighty-second birthday last September, but he still visibly delights in recalling the great days of his greatest national prominence.
If I had 1936 to do over again [he began] I shouldn’t have been so conscious of the necessity to keep my record tied to the record of the Republican Party in the Congress. I shouldn’t have leaned over backward to mention Republican harmony in every speech.
And when Roosevelt said it was the little acts that kept us out of war, I’d have pointed out that the breakdown of the London Economic Conference—which took place at the beginning of his administration—was one of the little acts that would get us into war.
I would have developed more arguments on foreign policy. I would have questioned more definitely and thoroughly than I did—more aggressively—his administration in handling the so-called welfare state.
It might have affected more electoral votes, but I don’t think it would have been enough to elect me President. As soon as I was nominated for the Presidency, I sent for two bankers and asked what economic conditions would be from then until the election. They said each month would be better than the last.
Americans have a rough rule of thumb by which they judge the President—by how good or bad times are. So I knew right then I couldn’t win.
I’m not making any excuses. I’m just saying that was the situation at the time.
He recalled the preconvention maneuvering.
I accepted an invitation to speak at the annual dinner of the Ohio State Chamber of Commerce in 1935. At breakfast the Ohio national committeemen told me it was all set up for Bob Taft to enter the convention as favorite son and would not take kindly to anyone who came in and tried to upset that.
So I told them they were going to be upset.
“You mean you’re going to enter?” he asked, and I said No, but Borah’s [Senator William E. Borah, Idaho Republican] certainly going to enter.
Then Borah did enter Ohio. Frank Knox [a Chicago newspaper publisher who was to become Landon’s running mate] called me the next morning and said, “I’m leaving in an hour for Boston. If you don’t enter Ohio, I will. I want you to call me in Boston and let me know.”
I said, “All right.” I didn’t call.
He called Roy Roberts of the Kansas City Star , and wanted to know what I’d do. Roy said, “He’s a stubborn Scotsman and insists he won’t enter any favorite-sori contests.”
A political reporter for the Wolfe papers said Mr. Wolfe would underwrite my campaign, and I said that’s one reason I’m not going to enter Ohio or any other state. I’m not going to be under obligations to any man.
There were two reasons I didn’t contest any favoriteson elections. One was money. We limited contributions to twenty-five hundred dollars. Roy Roberts said he’d never seen so much money shaken under the nose of a candidate—and refused. The second reason was that I thought the election was a tough enough fight, and I wanted to preserve party harmony.
Landon discussed the Presidency of Herbert Hoover, and Hoover ‘s role in London’s own election campaign.
Mr. Hoover served a very useful life as an ex-President. The only thing he couldn’t get over was his feeling that he should be nominated again, and that his administration should be defended.
Before Hoover became President, several reporters used to call on him regularly. He was Secretary of Commerce then, and there was no one from whom they could get such a clear description of problems and policies. When he became President, however, he just froze up. It’s like the common case of junior executives who can outline a policy for their company that’s perfect, but when they become chief executive they can’t carry out the policy they advocated. That was Mr. Hoover.