Alfred "Alf" Mossman Landon (September 9, 1887 – October 12, 1987) was an American Republican politician, who served as Governor of Kansas from 1933–1937. He was best known as Republican Presidential Nominee, defeated in a landslide by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election.
Born in West Middlesex, Pennsylvania, in 1887, Landon grew up in Marietta, Ohio . He moved with his family to Kansas at age 17 and graduated from the University of Kansas in 1908. He first pursued a career in banking, but in 1912 he became an independent petroleum producer in Independence, KS. During World War I, Landon served in the Army as a first lieutenant in chemical warfare. By 1929 the oil industry had made him a millionaire.
Landon supported Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party in 1912, and, in 1922, was private secretary to the governor of Kansas. He later became known as the leader of the liberal Republicans in the state. He was elected chairman of the Republican state central committee in 1928 and directed the Republican successful presidential and gubernatorial campaigns in Kansas in that year. Landon was elected Governor of Kansas in 1932. He was re-elected governor in 1934 – the only Republican governor in the nation to be re-elected that year. He served as governor from 1933 until 1937. As Governor, Landon gained a reputation for reducing taxes and balancing the budget. Landon is often described as a fiscal conservative who nevertheless believed that government must also address social issues. He supported parts of the New Deal but opposed labor unions. While governor, Landon attempted to address the needs of his Depression-battered states while still advancing the Republican Party. After his speech at the Cleveland convention in 1936, Landon stated, “ my chief concern in this crisis... is to see the Republican Party name its strongest possible candidate and a man that would be a good president”(G.O.P. Unity His Major Goal, Landon Asserts, Proquest). During election year, Landon called for a “special session of the Legislature to enact measures to bring Kansas within the requirements of the Federal social security program”( ”(G.O.P. Unity His Major Goal, Landon Asserts, Proquest).
1936 Presidential ElectionEdit
Main article: United States presidential election, 1936
In 1936, Landon sought the Republican presidential nomination opposing the re-election of FDR. At the Republican National Convention in 1936, Landon's campaign manager John Hamilton mobilized the younger elements of the party against the faction led by Herbert Hoover. Landon won the nomination on the first ballot; the convention selected Chicago newspaper publisher (and FDR's future Secretary of Navy) Frank Knox as his running mate. Landon proved to be an ineffective campaigner who rarely traveled. Most of the attacks on FDR and social security were developed by Republican campaigners rather than Landon himself. In the two months after his nomination he made no campaign appearances. As columnist Westbrook Pegler lampooned, "Considerable mystery surrounds the disappearance of Alfred M. Landon of Topeka, Kansas.... The Missing Persons Bureau has sent out an alarm bulletin bearing Mr. Landon's photograph and other particulars, and anyone having information of his whereabouts is asked to communicate direct with the Republican National Committee." [Time, Aug. 31, 1936] Landon respected and admired Roosevelt and accepted much of the New Deal but objected that it was hostile to business and involved too much waste and inefficiency. Late in the campaign, Landon accused Roosevelt of corruption – that is, of acquiring so much power that he was subverting the Constitution. Landon said: The President spoke truly when he boasted... 'We have built up new instruments of public power.' He spoke truly when he said these instruments could provide 'shackles for the liberties of the people . . . and . . . enslavement for the public.' These powers were granted with the understanding that they were only temporary. But after the powers had been obtained, and after the emergency was clearly over, we were told that another emergency would be created if the power was given up. In other words, the concentration of power in the hands of the President was not a question of temporary emergency. It was a question of permanent national policy. In my opinion the emergency of 1933 was a mere excuse.... National economic planning—the term used by this Administration to describe its policy—violates the basic ideals of the American system. . . . The price of economic planning is the loss of economic freedom. And economic freedom and personal liberty go hand in hand. [Time Oct. 26, 1936] The 1936 presidential election was extraordinarily lopsided. Although Landon gained nearly 17 million votes and obtained the endorsement of track star Jesse Owens, he lost the popular vote by more than 10 million votes. He lost his home state Kansas and carried only Maine and Vermont for a total of 8 electoral votes to Roosevelt's 523. FDR's win was the most crushing electoral victory since 1820. The overwhelming Roosevelt victory prompted Democratic party boss James Farley to joke, "As Maine goes, so goes Vermont." The 1936 Presidential election turned out to be a huge disappointment for the Republicans, particularly because they were not able to sway voters, especially blacks, to vote Republican. The election was deemed disappointing when, the GOP party was unable to persuade black voters who had switched over to Democrats to vote for Alf Landon. The GOP party’s strategy to lure blacks during the 1936 election was targeted at black churches. On October 28, 1936, “the Republican national campaign organization in Maryland faced with thousands of colored voters to the Democratic Party, has sent $5 checks to more than 400 colored pastors in the state..”(Maryland GOP Mails Checks to colored Clerics in Vote Bid, proquest). The $5 contributions were sent along with letters one of which stated, “Dear Brother: the campaign will soon end and on November 3, we will go to the poll with our congregations and vote for the party, which has been the most helpful to our people. The Republican Party"(Maryland GOP mails checks to colored clerics in vote bd, proquest). Further, despite the GOP's ambitious strategy to win over black voters, the Democrats received 71 percent of the black vote compared to 29 percent of percent received by the Republicans during the election (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies).
Following his defeat, Landon finished out his term as governor of Kansas and returned to the oil industry. Landon did not seek elective office again. The Republicans' defeats in 1932 and 1936 plunged their party into a period of bitter intraparty strife. Landon played an important role in ending this internal bickering in 1938, in helping to prepare a new group of leaders for the presidential campaign of 1940, and in trying to bring about a compromise between the isolationist and internationalist viewpoints in foreign policy. Landon failed to enter Franklin Roosevelt's Cabinet because he made his acceptance contingent upon the President's renunciation of a third term. [Mayer 1966] After war broke out in Europe in 1939 Landon fought against isolationists such as America First who supported the Neutrality Act; he feared it would mislead Nazi Germany into thinking the United States was unwilling to fight. In 1940 he argued against lend-lease, urging instead that Britain be given $5 billion outright. After the war, he backed the Marshall Plan, while opposing high domestic spending. After the communist takeover of China, he was one of the first to advocate recognition of Mao Zedong's communist government, and its admission to the United Nations, when this was still a very unpopular position among the leadership and followers of both major parties. In 1961, he urged the U.S. to join the European Common Market. In November 1962, when he was asked to describe his political philosophy, Landon said: "I would say practical progressive, which means that the Republican party or any political party has got to recognize the problems of a growing and complex industrial civilization. And I don't think the Republican party is really wide awake to that." Later in the 1960s, Landon backed President Lyndon Johnson on Medicare and other Great Society programs. On December 13, 1966, Landon gave the first "Landon Lecture" at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. Landon's lecture, titled "New Challenges in International Relations" was the first in a series of public issues lectures that continues to this day and has featured numerous world leaders and political figures, including seven U.S. presidents (Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush). Landon died October 12, 1987, in Topeka, Kansas, 34 days after his 100th birthday. Alf Landon is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, Topeka, Shawnee County, Kansas. His daughter, Nancy Landon Kassebaum, was a United States Senator from Kansas. Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978, she was re-elected in 1984 and 1990. Her second husband is her former senatorial colleague Howard Henry Baker, Jr., of Tennessee.