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Oklahoma in the 1920s


Senator, John W. Harreld
Senator, John W. Harreld

Democrats regularly won most elections until the early 1950s. They monopolized the governorship until 1962, held large majorities in every legislative assembly but one, elected all but two U.S. senators, and almost always occupied a majority (in some instances all) of Oklahoma’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the early years of statehood much of that strength resulted from the disfranchisement of black voters in 1910, which temporarily decimated a strong Republican opposition. Democrats also battled a strong Socialist Party, which appealed to the state’s hard-pressed workers and the poorest farmers. By 1915 the Socialists were receiving a substantial amount of support, electing five legislators and a host of local officials.

Opposition to U.S. involvement in World War I, however, destroyed the Socialists; the Democratic state government accused them of disloyalty. The Democrats, however, faced opposition from a rejuvenated Republican Party. National prosperity in the 1920s encouraged Oklahoma to support the Republican presidential candidates Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover in 1920 and 1928, respectively. The state also elected its first two Republican U.S. senators, John W. Harreld in 1920 and William B. Pine in 1924.

Republican success owed as much to Democratic infighting as it did to its own efforts. The internal battles in the Democratic Party reflected the severe economic and social disturbances that affected Oklahoma during the 1920s.

Although the manufacturing and financial industries increased economic prosperity for many Americans, that was not true for many farmers. Prices for farm products fell rapidly after World War I and after taking out loans to increase their production during the war, many Oklahoma farmers were unable to repay their debts and went bankrupt. Workers, too, suffered through most of the decade. Local chambers of commerce and manufacturer’s associations fought labor unions with the assistance of the state government, including state militias, who intervened to end strikes. Finally, in the early 1920s the Ku Klux Klan, an organization dedicated to white supremacy that had terrorized blacks and Republicans in the South during the Reconstruction period, reappeared in Oklahoma. The Klan received substantial public support, and politicians associated with it briefly controlled both major parties as well as the state legislature. Republican power evaporated with the Great Depression that followed the stock-market crash of 1929. Oklahoma became almost a one-party state.

Many Oklahoma Democrats opposed the federal government’s accumulation of power in general and the active social experimentation of the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Well funded by the oil industry and strongly endorsed by the state’s metropolitan newspapers, those who opposed Roosevelt and his policies found their champion in Governor Leon C. (Red) Phillips. Phillips spent most of his gubernatorial term (1939-1943) battling both state and federal government policies that he considered too intrusive or too expensive, but World War II (1939-1945) united the parties in support of the federal government. "Oklahoma" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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