by Donald L. Singer Ph.D.
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
by Donald L. Singer Ph.D.
One evening in August, 1933, Upton Sinclair,
writer and lifelong Socialist, made an appearance before five members of the Sixtieth
Assembly District delegation of the Los Angeles Democratic Central Committee. The most unusual and bizarre gubernatorial
campaign in Californias colorful political history had its beginning at that
The meeting was called by a Mr. Gilbert F.
Stevenson of Santa Monica, chairman of the Assembly District delegation and a one-time
owner of the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. Mr.
Stevenson was now penniless and had come to the conclusion that the only person who could
save California from itself was Upton Sinclair. He
thereupon wrote a letter to Sinclair and urged him to come to a meeting where
Stevensons ideas could be presented to others of a like mind.
At the meeting, Stevenson, who later became
disillusioned with Sinclair and became a devout believer in the notorious Protocol of
the Elders of Zion, stated:
It is evident that the next Governor of
California will either be a Republican or Democrat.
The Republicans will probably put up a complete
reactionary, and he will be elected. It is
our hope that Upton Sinclair will register as a Democrat and stand as a candidate at the
Democratic primaries, with a definite program which the people will understand. If he does this, he will get the votes of all
forward looking elements in the Democratic party, especially the young people.
am confident that Sinclair would sweep the primaries, and if so, would be elected.
Sinclair was duly impressed by Mr.
Stevensons address and told the group that he had a specific plan in mind as to how
California might be saved and went on to detail his two year plan for
California. There was general
discussion concerning the plan and, much to Sinclairs surprise, everyone in the room
expressed complete approval of it.
then told the assemblage:
If I am your candidate for Governor, it will
be for the purpose of putting my two-year plan across.
Let me make it plain that being Governor means nothing to me
personally. I do not need fame
not need money
but I cannot enjoy the comforts of home
while I know that
there are millions of others around me suffering for lack of the common necessities.
He proposed the slogan END POVERTY IN
CALIFORNIA and suggested the bee as an emblem expressive of useful labor with the motto,
I produce, I defend. One of
the members pointed out that the initials of the slogan spelled EPIC and these initials
were heartily seized upon as a good name for the plan.
Before going into the details of the EPIC
campaign, let us take a look at the life of the father of the EPIC movement.
Upton Sinclair was born in Baltimore,
Maryland on September 20, 1878. He came
from a long line of naval officers of the old South, many of whom participated in the
Civil War in the Confederate Navy. His
father was a wholesale liquor salesman whose fondness for his product constantly
overwhelmed him. Upton loved his father
dearly, but his fathers constant bouts with John Barley-corn made Upton a violent
prohibitionist in later life.
His mothers family, the Hardens, were
people of means and were constantly helping his parents.
This being forced to accept from others the needs of life embittered
Sinclair and was one of the main reasons why a conventional Southern family produced a
social rebel. In discussion this anomaly
with his biographer, Floyd Dell, Sinclair said that I thought the problem over and
reported my psychology as that of a poor relation. It
had been my fate from earliest childhood to live in the presence of wealth which belonged
In 1888 the family moved to New York City
and, at the age of thirteen, Sinclair entered the College of the City of New York, from
which he was graduated in 1897 comfortably near the bottom of the class.
He then registered for graduate work at
Columbia University intent upon obtaining his law degree.
He later changed his classification to that of special
student and aimed at a Masters degree. Discovering
that he had a flair for writing, he was signed by Street and Smith, the five-cent pulp
publishers and was soon turning out fifty-six thousand words a week for them. By the end of his twenty-first year, he asserts,
he had written as much as Sir Walter Scott had in his entire lifetime.
At the age of twenty-one he married and a
year later a son was born. During the
next three years Sinclair wrote three novels, none of which were financially successful. During this period he really learned to know the
struggles of poverty and was able to keep the wolf from the family door only by taking odd
the preparation of Manassas, a novel of the Civil War, a very important thing
happened: he discovered Socialism. He was already philosophically and psychologically
prepared; he had only to change his genesis to economic determinism and to concentrate
upon modern wage-slavery instead of past chattel slavery.
Sinclair has said that it was like the falling down of
prison walls about my mind.
rise to fame came with the publishing of The Jungle, a book that described the
horrible conditions in the stockyards of Packingtons (Chicago). He avers that his real purpose in writing the
novel was to expose the exploitation of the workers in the meatpacking industry, but, as
he said later, I aimed at the publics heart, and by accident I hit it in the
stomach. Nevertheless, the book was
favorably reviewed both in America and in England. In
the latter country a young journalist by the name of Winston Churchill highly praised it,
while in this country fame and fortune (thirty thousand dollars in royalties the first
year) greeted the author.
money went into the founding of a cooperative home colony, Helicon Hall, in Englewood, New
Jersey. Although the building was destroyed
by fire in 1907, the idea of cooperative living stayed with Sinclair and, in fact, was a
part of his EPIC campaign.
out at least one book a year, Sinclair wrote nine novels between 1907 and the outbreak of
World War I. None of these, however, met with
the financial and artistic success, which The Jungle enjoyed.
to obtain a divorce from his wife and denied such by the laws of New York State, Sinclair
went to Europe in 1913 and managed to obtain a divorce in Holland. That same year he married an old friend, Mary
Craig Kimbrough, herself a writer imbued with a yearning for social justice. Craig, as Sinclair habitually called her, died in
1961, and later that year Sinclair married Cathleen Armour, sister of the noted Scripps
College professor and humorist, Richard Armour.
the first World War Sinclair deserted his Socialist comrades and strongly supported the
Allied cause. After the war, in support of
the proposed League of Nations, he founded his own monthly magazine, Upton Sinclair,
which he published from April, 1918 to February, 1919.
the 1920s wore on, Sinclair became increasingly disgusted with the affairs of state
and wrote a number of great
pamphlets, which pointed out how capitalism was slowly corrupting all of society. The Profits of Religion revealed religion
to be a tool of wealthy capitalists, while The Brass Check exposed the way in which
American journalism had prostituted itself before business enterprise to the sacrifice of
justice and truth. The Goose-Step and The
Goslings purport to show how both higher and lower education is controlled in the
interest of Big Business.
at the way civil liberties were being violated in Los Angeles, Sinclair, then a resident
of Pasadena, decided to test certain trespass laws and thus the night of November 17,
1923, was him on the top of a hill in San Pedro reading two passages from the U. S.
Constitution. Even though he was on private
property and had the written permission of the owner, Louis Oakes, the Chief of Police of
Los Angeles arrested Sinclair and charged him with discussing
which were detrimental
to the orderly conduct of affairs of
next year the Southern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union was formed
and Sinclair was one of the founders.
next two novels dealt with two of the greatest controversial issues of the time: the Sacco-Venzetti case and prohibition. Boston was a defense of the two men, and The
Wet Parade told of the horrors of social drinking.
year before he ran for Governor of California he wrote Upton Sinclair Presents William
Fox, which attempted to show how the originator of Fox Films and one of filmdoms
charter members was deliberately ruined by Wall Street financiers. That same year he wrote Letters to Judd
and The Way Out, two books that prophesied a Socialist America.
having written forty-five books between the years 1901 and 1933, Mr. Sinclair found time
to be a candidate for public office on five different occasions during that period. In 1906 he had been a candidate for Congress from
New Jersey; fourteen years later he offered himself for the same office in California. In 1922 he campaigned for a seat in the United
States Senate and garnered 50,323 votes. In
1926 and again in 1930 he ran for the office of governor of the State of California,
getting 45,972 votes in the former election and 50,840 in the latter.
all the aforementioned elections Sinclair had run on the Socialist ticket. Yet, before beginning his campaign for the
governorship, he went down to the Beverly Hills city hall and changed his registration to
question immediately arises: had this man who
had fought a thousand crusades sold out?
The writer thinks not. He feels
that the program put forth by Sinclair in the ensuing campaign refutes the idea that
Sinclair had given up on Socialism. Sinclair
himself said that he feared for the salvation of America and felt that by 1935, if things
were not changed, America would become a Fascist state.
He knew that, to the average person, Socialism was an alien movement which
expressed itself in words, slogans, and ideas that were difficult, unreal, and foreign to
Americans. Socialism predicated itself upon
the working-class, but in America and especially in California, Sinclair admitted, there
was very little working-class mentality.
to the propriety of using a Democratic platform to put Socialist ideas into effect, the
author indicated that:
am a Democrat by the same right that makes us Americans either Republicans or
DemocratsI was born one. If by the name
Democrat you mean an advocate of the right of the people to manage their own affairs, then
I am still the Democrat I was born.
The writer feels that
Sinclairs final statement as to why he changed his registration showed more
political acumen than it did dedication to principle:
Fifty per cent of the
people are going to vote a certain ticket because their grandfathers voted that ticket. In order to get anywhere, it is necessary to have
a party which has grandfathers.
Could this Socialist
interloper hope to capture one of the two major parties in such a large state
as California? The answer was definitely in
the affirmative. Up to that time California
had always been known as a Republic state, with Republicans always having had a majority
of the registered voters. In addition, the
Republicans had won every gubernatorial election since 1894.
As equally important as
past performance was the present leadership of the Democratic Party. Its leaders were elder statesmen who had managed
its affairs for thirty years or more and were more concerned; it seemed, with winning
internal fights than in winning general elections. The
Catholic group was headed by Justus Wardell, a stock-and-bond dealer of San Francisco, who
had supported Al Smith in the 1928 presidential campaign.
Wardell, described as a wheel-horse politician, kept
the Democratic Party alive in California during the 1920s and felt that he now
deserved a chance to be its standard bearer in the upcoming gubernatorial campaign.
The McAdoo group was
headed by William Gibbs McAdoo, Woodrow Wilsons son-in-law and United States
Senator, and Isadore Dockweiler, attorney for the Southern Pacific Railroad and father of
a California Congressman.
Thus Mr. Stevenson,
Sinclairs Santa Monica supporter, spoke for many people when he asserted that
Sinclair could win the gubernatorial election if he offered a program that was drastically
different from that offered by the opposition.
Though fuzzy on money matters, Stevenson accurately foresaw that
a radical plan would appeal to those discontented and disheartened people who were being
harassed by the depression. Writing near the
end of the campaign, Walter Davenport remarked, People, who five years before would
as soon have voted for Satan as Sinclair or any other Socialist, are flocking to
Sinclairs banner. Attempting to
analyze Sinclairs strength, Turner Catledge, a reporter for the New York Times,
Making up the fountain
source of this newest disruption to Californias peace are the God-fearing, pure
American and economically dispossessed thousands in Southern California. Its the small entrepreneur, the widow, and
who have flocked to Sinclairs banner.
A final reason as to the
possibility of Sinclairs capturing the Democratic nomination and then winning the
final election can be found in the social climate then prevalent in this state. The Nation expertly summed up the
If ever a revolution was
due it was due in California. Nowhere else
has a battle between labor and capital been so widespread and bitter, and the casualties
so large; nowhere else has there been such a flagrant denial of the personal liberties
guaranteed by the Bill of Rights; nowhere else has authority been so lawless and brazen;
nowhere else has the brute force of capitalism been so openly used and displayed; nowhere
else has labor been so oppressed; nowhere else has there been a falser or more poisoned
and poisoning press. It was time for some
sign of rebellion.
After changing his
registration, Sinclair started his campaign. As
befits an author, he wrote a book, I, Governor of California and How I Ended Poverty: A True Story of the Future. In this narrative Sinclair wrote about his
nomination, his victory, and his triumphant execution of the EPIC program. He also laid down the general principles of EPIC
and spelled out these principles in great detail.
It was from the sale of I,
Governor of California and other pamphlets which Sinclair wrote during the course of
the campaign that the campaign was financed. By
Election Day 200,000 copies of I, Governor of California had been sold. In addition to this work Sinclair wrote two other
tracts: The Lie Factory Starts, a
collection of letters which Sinclair had written to newspaper editors and which reflected
the charges hurled at Sinclair and EPIC, and Immediate Epic, which was issued just
after the primary campaign and set forth some changes in the original EPIC plan. Fifty thousand copies of the former pamphlet were
printed and 65,000 copies of the latter were sold. From
the sale of all three works $20,000 was realized.
Toward the end of
December, 1933, the first issue of the campaign newspaper, End Poverty, made its
To edit this newssheet
the Sinclair forces chose a gentleman who had been a reporter for, and political editor of
the Los Angeles Record, a Scripps-Howard newspaper, from 1918 to 1932. Reuben Borough became not only editor but
circulation manager as well, and performed the latter function so well that the five final
editions of the weekly newspaper each had a circulation of more than one million, with the
final edition reaching the two million mark.
While the general format
of the paper remained the same throughout the state, special editions were put out for
different localities. In the remote and less
thoroughly activated assembly districts these special editions ran between five and ten
thousand copies, but in many areas of Southern California they went up to fifty thousand
or more. Under this plan the Epic News
achieved a free distribution throughout large areas of the state. The newspapers were carefully laid on the doorstep
of the citizens by volunteer workers, many of whom had helped write the copy and make up
the pages of the local section of the publication.
Epic clubs, clubs made
up of rank-and-file citizens, spring up throughout the state. At the time of the primary election there were
nearly one thousand of them, and by the November 6 election there were double that number. They ranged in membership from a dozen persons to
several hundred, mobilizing not less than one hundred thousand workers in the state. Their chief tasks were the distribution of the Epic
News, the sale of Sinclair booklets, and the organization of precinct work.
Sinclair toured the
state on speaking tours. Large mass meetings
were held everywhere with the largest being held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Discussing Sinclairs addresses at these
meetings, Mr. Borough recalled, Mr. Sinclairs oratory was declaimed in a high,
thin, and sometimes strained voice and it was insistently, mercilessly repetitious. It became a phonograph record which he could run
forward or backward on a moments notice.
In addition to Sinclair
himself, hundreds of Epic speakers were booked to speak in small community meetings
throughout the length and breadth of the state.
Sinclair gave this advice to Epic speakers:
Stick to the text.
up your mind to do this and do not let yourself be tempted into bypaths. Do not discuss the gold standard, or tariff
reform, or the League of Nations. Leave all
the national problems to the President. We
are proposing to end poverty in California.
Do not discuss religion.
not discuss racial problems.
Do not discuss labels.
Stick to the Epic plan and what it can do for Californians.
In the final states of
the campaign the state headquarters of the Democratic Party alone booked more than five
hundred speakers monthly, and more than two hundred broadcasts. Ten speakers were kept continuously on the radio.
Sinclairs announcement of his candidacy other Democrats began to make noises. The Administration in Washington, not wanting
California to be captured by an interloper, urged J. F. T. (Jefty)
OConnor, Comptroller of the Currency and former member of the prominent California
law firm McAdoo, Neblett, and OConnor, to run for the governorship. It was even rumored that President Franklin
D. Roosevelt offered to make a speech for OConnor if he ran. At a California Young Democrats convention held in
March, 1934, OConnor received the endorsement of the group by an overwhelming vote. Nevertheless, OConnor decided not to enter
the primaries and instead threw his support to McAdoos candidate, George Creel.
George Creel had become
famous during World War I when he headed the Committee on Public Information, that
committee which was responsible for disseminating information relative to the war effort. While in Washington he met and became friends with
William McAdoo, who was then Secretary of the Treasury.
Following World War I, Creel again turned to his first
lovejournalismand became a free-lance reporter.
McAdoo, upon becoming a U. S. Senator from California, recommended Creel for the
position of N.R.A. Administrator for California, and it was this position from which Creel
resigned in order to run for the governorship. During
the ensuring campaign Creel presented himself as a regular or Roosevelt Democrat and
charged Sinclair with being a Socialist in disguise.
During the primary
campaign Creel furnished the voters with a sample of the deluge which was to come during
the final election period when he charged that Sinclair had the support of the Young
Peoples Communist League of Los Angeles.
In his rejoinder, Sinclair pointed out that there was no such organization
as the above-named and that the supposed secretary of the legendary organization, one
Vladimir Kosloff, did not exist.
The third main
Democratic candidate was Justus Wardell, the traditional Democratic leader of San
Francisco. Wardell declared that Sinclair was
a Communist and cited as his proof a recent book entitled The Red Network. This work, written by Elizabeth Dilling, also
alleged that Mrs. Louis Brandeis and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt belonged to the Communist
Party. Confusing Upton Sinclair with Sinclair
Lewis, as so many people were prone to do, Wardell stated that Sinclair had proved himself
an atheist by standing before a pulpit and saying, If there is a God, let him prove
it by striking me dead within the next three minutes.
attempts, including phone calls to both by Democratic National Chairman James A. Farley,
were made to get either Wardell or Creel to withdraw in favor of the other, both refused
to do so, claiming that the other would hurt the state almost as much as would Sinclair.
May of that year Sheridan Downey, a Sacramento attorney who four years later was elected
to the United States Senate, withdrew from the race for governor in favor of Sinclair and
aligned himself with the EPIC movement by announcing that he was now a candidate for
Lieutenant-Governor as the running mate of Sinclair.
In announcing his withdrawal from one office and his candidacy
for other office, Downey stated:
am happy to say that as a result of the conferences I have held with Mr. Sinclair
recently, our minor disagreements have been largely eliminated. Until my recent conferences with Mr. Sinclair, I
was of the opinion that his farm colonization plan might injure present farmers and strain
state finances. Mr. Sinclair, however,
intends to advance his EPIC program with safe financial limits so that existing farmers
will not be disturbed.
was prevalent in the camp of the Sinclair Democrats, for they were sure that this
aggressive Sacramento attorney was bound to take votes away from the conservatives led by
Wardell and Creel. The Epic News
jubilantly reported Downeys joining the Sinclair forces by saying:
With the accession of
Sheridan Downey, brilliant Sacramento liberal, to the EPIC camp, the movement to nominate
Upton Sinclair . . . gains new strength throughout the state. Downey has a thorough grasp on present-day
economic conditions and a wide acquaintance among labor and liberal groups.
strength could be noted in the fact that, for the first time in history, Democratic
registration in California exceeded that of the Republicans. The Democratic registration in Los Angeles County
along was 674,434, and unprecedented figure and one which exceeded the Republican
registration by 138,223. The registration in
the state gave the Democrats a majority of 75,285.
The Los Angeles Times,
which heretofore had ignored Sinclair, took cognizance of Sinclairs growing strength
Various reasons are
advanced by Republican and Democratic leaders for this situation, but the most likely
explanation is that the new Democrats, for the most part have affiliated with
a political party for the first time in order to vote for Upton Sinclair for governor of
California. . . . That this situation is
unwelcome to the real adherents and leaders of the Democratic Party is recognized by every
politically informed man and woman in the state. That
it may have grave and far-reaching results is not open to challenge.
The Republicans were
rather quiet during this period because it was expected that, as a matter of course, the
sole candidate for the Republicans would be the incumbent governor, James (Sunny
Jim) Rolph, Jr. His sudden death,
however, on June 2, 1934, threw the G.O.P. primary open to all contenders, though it was
not felt that the leading candidate was the former Lieutenant-Governor, now elevated to
the governorship, Frank F. Merriam.
Governor Merriam had,
like many Californians, emigrated to the Golden State from Iowa and had set up a real
estate office in Long Beach. He was first
elected to the State Assembly in 1917, was elected Speaker in 1923, and won the election
for Lieutenant-Governor. Shortly after taking
office he was plunged into the political maelstrom. A
maritime strike broke out in San Francisco in July and, as a result of severe battles
between strikers, police, and non-strikers, he called out the National Guard to quell the
strike and police the San Francisco waterfront. Though
this action undoubtedly cost Merriam some votes, one astute political observer reported
that Mr. Merriam has enormously strengthened his position . . . by his readiness to
use troops in San Francisco and by his many speeches and statements denouncing
Other candidates for the
Republican nomination included former governor C. C. Young; John R. Quinn, former National
Commander of the American Legion and later Los Angeles County Assessor; and Raymond L.
Haight, a young, progressive lawyer.
Mr. Haight, who was to
play a vital role in the final election campaign, was also the sole nominee of the small
Commonwealth Party. Haight was a thirty-seven
year old attorney who had long fought for clean government, and entered the
race so as to give the voters a chance to vote for a middle-of-the-road
The feverish activity of
the EPIC followers and the exhortation of Sinclair had its effect as the following
election results show:
Milton K. Young 41,609
C. C. Young
Raymond L. Haight
Raymond L. Haight
Milen C. Dempster
Sheridan Downey easily
won the nomination for Lieutenant-Governor by obtaining 366,798 votes. While Merriam won more votes than did Sinclair in
San Bernardino County (9,730 to 8,485) the Democratic candidates for governor pulled more
votes that did the Republican contenders.
Other EPIC candidates
who topped their respective field included Culbert Olson, who won the Democratic
nomination for State Senator from the Thirty-eighth Senatorial District (Los Angeles
County), and a young lawyer from San Dimas, Jerry Voorhis, who won the Democratic
nomination for Assembly from the Forty-ninth Assembly District.
There was very little
difference between the total votes as received by each side. It was felt that Merriam
would get the majority of Quinns and Youngs votes in the final election; the
big question was whether or not Sinclair could garner the majority of Creels vote. While Creel sent a congratulatory telegram to
Sinclair and announced that, for the moment, he would support Sinclair, Henry Cotton,
Creels campaign manager, stated publicly, We sorrowfully concede the rape of
the Democratic party in California to Upton Sinclair.
Disputing an editorial
in The Nation which claimed that Sinclair would not win the general election,
Sinclair wrote a letter to The Nation which said:
To win the general
election on November 6 we shall have to get about twice as many votes as we got in the
primaries. We shall get a good many of the
votes which went to our Democratic rivals, but three of the old-time Democratic
politicians have already gone over to the enemy and each will take a few of his followers
with him. To make up for this we shall have
to get many votes from persons who believe in our program but who didnt trouble to
vote in the primary. Only fifty-five per cent
of the registered voters voted in the primary, but in the general election the number
ought to run to seventy-five per cent.
The two largest
California newspapers printed bitter editorials the day following Sinclairs primary
victory. Said the Los Angeles Times:
contest is not a fight between men; it is a vital struggle between constructive and
destructive forces. Sinclair is a visionary
consorter with radicals, a theorist. No
Democrat by the widest stretch of the imagination, Sinclair is a political opportunist,
whose sole chance of political success lies in his ability to fool a majority of the
The San Francisco
The State faces an
emergency which only resolutely united action can meet.
The menace is real and is equally serious whether or not Upton
Sinclair is elected Governor or would not have a Legislature committed to his fantastic
The New York Times
commented, "Sinclairs victory is certain to raise up experimentation even more
daring, while the Dallas News said, Sinclairs victory is
significant because it is indicative of popular unrest and a turn to Socialist
Our local newspaper, the
Redlands Daily Facts said that:
administration, which has ridden high on the economic political saddle for three months,
awakens today to receive the most stunning rebuke of a people to administer . . . the
nomination of Upton Sinclair . . . can hardly be accepted as other than a repudiation of
Senator Hastings of
Delaware spoke for many Washington leaders when he said that California Democrats
elected a disciple of Karl Marx in preference to a real Democrat. The people, however, can rectify this mistake by
voting for Governor Merriam in November.
Two days after he had
been nominated, Sinclair began a two-week trip to New York and Washington. The purpose of the trip was to call upon the
Federal officials whose aid he hoped to get for his EPIC projects, to explain the plan to
them, and to learn what the Federal government was going along those lines. He first visited Mayor LaGuardia of New York City. In this city he broadcast over a national hook-up
explaining the EPIC plan to the nation.
He next drove down to
Hyde Park to see President Roosevelt and to seek his endorsement. The President was faced with a dilemma; if he
endorsed Sinclair, he would alienate millions of conservatives; if he repudiated the
California candidate, he would weaken his strength among many Democrats and among millions
more who had followed him in 1932. As it
turned out, the President took neither course. Following
the meeting of the two men Marvin McIntyre of the White House secretarial staff, (the term
Press Secretary had not yet come into use) explained to the reporters that Roosevelt had
had a nice non-political chat with Sinclair and that the President could not endorse
Sinclair because he does not interfere in local elections. McIntyre went on to say that if the President
discussed politics with one candidate he would have to do it with all candidates.
Sinclair, however, came
away from Hyde Park convinced that F. D. R. was solidly in favor of EPIC and was going to
come out for production for use in a radio speech on October 25. Of this endorsement, Arthur
No doubt, like so many
others in the excitement of the presidential audience, Sinclair construed affability as
assent. Or he may have transferred a
Rooseveltian speculation from the future conditional to the future.
later stated that Roosevelts failure to make that October 25 broadcast was one of
the three major factors, which cost him the election.
Sinclair also had a long
talk with James A. Farley, Postmaster General and National Chairman of the Democratic
Party. When asked if the party would support
Sinclair in the final election, he replied, The party has never failed to support
The sole Federal
official who evidenced great enthusiasm for Sinclair and his plan was Harry Hopkins,
Federal Relief Administrator, who, when asked if he was for Sinclair replied, Sure
Im for him. Hes on our side. A
Socialist? Of course not. Hes a Democrat. A good Democrat.
When he got back to
California the final campaign began in earnest. Looking
back on the campaign almost seven decades after it was waged, the writer agrees with the
statement that it was one of the greatest smear campaigns ever waged in an American
election. Time pointed out that
no one in American political history, with the possible exception of William
Jennings Bryan, had so horrified and outraged the evested interests and was more open to
abuse than was Upton Sinclair.
Not only did Sinclair
have to battle the Republican Party, as would be natural in any political campaign waged
under a two-party system, but he also had to battle a large segment of the Democratic
party, as well as the Communists and Socialists.
It might be thought that
the Socialists, of all people, would throw their support to Sinclair. But this was not to be. The Socialist Party in California declared
Sinclair to be a renegade and warned the state not to trust Sinclair, while
Norman Thomas, the perennial Socialist Candidate for President, stated, Sinclair has
promised the impossible, and told the country that the Sinclair program was
As we shall soon see,
Sinclair was called a Communist many times over during the campaign. This was most ironic in view of the fact that the
California Communist Party viciously assailed Sinclair.
The Daily Worker said that EPIC is another addled egg
from the blue buzzards nest, and that no greater threat to the American
workers standard of living has appeared.
The paper stated that Sinclair was a social fascist.
At first it appeared
that the Democrats had patched up whatever differences had divided them during the primary
campaign, for pictures taken at the Democratic State Convention held in Sacramento in
September showed Creel, McAdoo, and Sinclair shaking hands and agreeing to battle the
Republicans instead of each other.
Hoping to weld all
factions of the party together, the Convention body drafted a platform that would
hopefully appeal to many people. The
Democrats pledged themselves to protect the purity and sacredness of the American
home, to protect ownership of property and property rights that were not in conflict with
the general welfare, and, at the same time, they pledged themselves to a
policy of putting the unemployed at productive labor, enabling them to produce what they
themselves are to consume.
This harmony, however,
was shattered on the last day of the convention when Culbert Olson was easily elected
State Chairman of the Democratic Party over Colonel William Neblett, Senator McAdoos
law partner. Neblett thereupon repudiated
Sinclair and the platform, called Sinclair a Communist, and went over to the Merriam camp.
defections quickly followed. Ham
Cotton, Creels campaign manager and head of the W. P. A. in Los Angeles, told
Sinclair, Im going to fight you, and proceeded to organize the
American Democracy of California in support of Merriam. The Wardell forces organized their own
group (even at the point they did not want to associate with the Creel faction) called the
Loyal Democrats of California. Naturally
these loyal Democrats were for Merriam. William
Jennings Bryan, Jr. organized the League of Loyal Democrats, and Judge Matt
Sullivan of San Francisco became chairman of the Democratic Merriam for Governor
Campaign Committee. This last-named
group asked in a campaign pamphlet, Is he in fact a dyed-in-the-red Communist? Sinclair will Russianize California and
inflict on our people the curse of Communism.
Even more damaging than
the Democratic defections were the pamphlets put out by the advertising firm of Lord and
Thomas. This marked the first time, but
certainly not the last, that a political campaign took on the aspect of a commercial sales
campaign. out of His Own Mouth Shall He
Be Judged read the title page of six million leaflets, and it was with this slogan
in mind that Lord and Thomas, helped out by the young enterprising advertising team of
Clem Whittaker and Leone Baxter, culled material from author Sinclairs numerous
works which had been published over a period of thirty years.
A front was
organized, the United for California League, and it was through this
front that six million pamphlets were circulated and two hundred thousand
billboards put up throughout the state. The
League quoted from Sinclairs numerous works to prove that
Sinclair was an atheist who advocated revolution, Communism, free love, and the scientific
care of children. Quoting from The Goslings,
the League said that Sinclair had written that the P. T. A. had been taken over by the
Black Hand; in Loves Pilgrimage Sinclair was alleged to have said that the
sanctity of marriage . . . I have had such a belief . . . I have it no longer; and
in the novel 100% Sinclair was said to have called disabled war veterans
In The Industrial
Republic Sinclair was supposed to have come out in favor of nationalized
children, while a passage from Letters of Judd was so garbled that it read, We
are moving toward a new American revolution. .
. . We have got to get rid of the capitalist system.
Hitting hard at
Sinclairs scoffing at organized religion, the Republican State Central committee
advised voters that the election of Sinclair would be a crushing blow to
Christianity and civilization, and the League claimed that, in his book The
Profits of Religion, Sinclair had called Christ the chief enemy of social
The Los Angeles Times
followed the lead of the League and took extracts from Sinclairs books and placed
them in boxes on the front page of every issue during the last month of the
campaign. These short quotations, set within
black borders, attracted much attention and, according to Sinclair himself, were a major
factor in Sinclairs defeat. The
newspapers quoted by leaving out words from the middle of a sentence, or the
sentence would begin after its real beginning, or end before its real ending.
A typical Times
quotation was the following excerpt from The Goose-Step:
Fifteen years ago there was a
strong movement for social justice in Oregon, let my reformers . . . who fondly imagined
that if you gave the people the powers of direct legislation they would have the . . .
intelligence to protect their own interests. We
now see that the hope was delusive; the people . . . have not the intelligence to help
Sinclair defended this by
Of course The
Times wanted the people to think I was expressing contempt for the people. . . . And so it garbled the last sentence. In The Goose-Step, page 169, the word
themselves is not followed by a period. It
is followed by a coma, with the further words, and the interlocking directorate
(referring to big business) is vigorously occupied to see that they do not get this
The Redlands Daily Facts
did much of the same thing, albeit not on a regular basis.
Thus on September 22, 1934,
two boxes appeared in the newspaper, one headlined, Sinclair Attacks His
Own City, and the other headline, What Sinclair Terms Vermin in which
quotations from Sinclairs Profits of Religion and The Goslings appear.
In addition, a huge
advertisement appeared in the Facts on September 25 in which quotations from the
two books named above were prominently spread. Not
so incidentally, the advertisement was contributed to the Facts and no
name or group was given as to who was responsible for the advertisement.
The Facts also used its
news pages to put in the most false and disreputable of charges. Thus on October 11, an alleged news story, with no
dateline or byline, appeared with the headline, Empty freight cars on freight trains
are filled with men coming to California to take advantage of the Upton Sinclairs
EPIC plan, while the next day a purported news article was headlined, Upton
Sinclair Gleefully Looking Forward Toward Wrecking of All Banks and Industries.
Keeping with the theme that
Sinclair was a Communist who would format a violent revolution, the Facts on
September 25, 1934 ran an editorial in which they extensively quoted one Cornelius De
Bakesy, the publisher of the Fontana Herald, who said that (T)he, EPIC plan
is nothing else than an extract of the doctrine of extreme Socialism and Russian
Communism, and the newspaper quoted from Sinclairs book The Profits of
In an attempt to show that
Socialist Sinclair really lived in an area of affluence, the Facts, on October 6,
had an article complete with pictures, which was headlined Sinclair Deserts Mansion
in Beverly Hills, and now Resides in a Modest Home in Pasadena.
In the final appeal to the
voters to reject Sinclair, the Times editorialized as follows:
Sinclairs life work has
been that of a literary dynamiter. In his
more than forty books he has attacked, maligned, and attempted to destroy the ideals and
institutions that constitute civilization. He
is an apostle of hatred. . . .
Other techniques were used to
insure Merriams election. The Pacific
Mutual Life Insurance Company called eight hundred office employees together and asked
them to sign circulars recording them as opposed to Sinclair and favorable to Merriam. This request exempted Republicans. A minor company official announced the appointment
of fifty-six organizers within office ranks to check up on employees and
assist them in voting for the right candidate. Company officers on the platform applauded when
speakers carped at Sinclair and the EPIC plan.
Late in October, U. S. Webb,
Attorney-General of California, filed a civil suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court
asking that some twenty-four thousand voters be cited to appear and show cause why their
names should not be stricken from the qualified voters lists.
Supporting the attorney
generals office in court were Walter K. Tuller of the firm of OMelveny, Tuller
and Myers, and Albert Parker, secretary of the United for California League. In a letter that fell into the hands of the
Sinclair forces, Parker boasted, We are bring . . . secret indictments . . . in
sufficient numbers to terrify many people from coming near the polls.
Presiding Judge Frank C.
Collier not only issued the desired citations, but also ruled that the jeopardized voters
would not receive personal notice to appear in court, but would be served by publication
of notice once in the Los Angeles Daily Journal, a legal publication of limited
The Democratic State Central
Committee appealed to the State Supreme Court to reverse Judge Colliers decision. The high court did reverse the decision and,
speaking for the Court, Justice William Langdon said:
. . . the
action below is a sham proceeding and a perversion of court justice, absolutely void, and
it can have no effect other than to intimidate and prevent eligible voters from going to
the polls. It outrages every principle of
justice and fair play. In brief, it attempts,
in a personal action in the superior court, to abrogate and cut off the constitutional
right to vote of more than twenty-four thousand defendants without personal service of any
kind upon said defendants and upon a purported service by publication of this mass of
names without addresses and not even in alphabetical order, on a single occasion, in a
newspaper of some fifteen hundred circulation.
For the first time Hollywood
threw its mighty forces into political battle. Led
by Louis B. Mayer, President of M. G. M. and Republican State Committee Vice-Chairman, the
film industry set out to smash Sinclair. The
leaders first move was to declare that they would be forced to move the entire
motion picture industry out of California if Sinclair was elected. However, Carl Laemmle, President of Universal
Studios, broke ranks and declared that, not matter who won the election, Universal Studios
would remain in California. He stated,
I never have cared a rap who was or was not governor.
The producers raised a
campaign fund of half a million dollars, partly by assessing their high-salaried employees
one days salary. Though most actors and
writers meekly went along with this request, some led a rebellion against the
Merriam tax. Morrie Ryskind, for
example, organized the Writers for Sinclair Committee.
The producers main
barrage against Sinclair consisted of a series of fabricated newsreels. Motion pictures were taken of a horde of
disreputable vagrants in the act of crossing the California border; these
pictures were actually taken on the streets of Los Angeles with cameras from a major
studio. The vagrants were actors
on studio payrolls, dressed in false whiskers and dirty clothes, and wearing sinister
expressions. These newsreels were
distributed free to theater owners, and were spread across the screens of leading theaters
in every city in the state.
One of the melodramas was
particularly interesting. In this film an
interviewer approaches a demure old lady sitting in her rocking chair. When asked for whom she is going to vote, she
replies that Merriam is her man; when asked why she is going to vote for Merriam, she
states, Because I want to save my little home.
Its all I have left in this world. In this same newsreel a bearded man
with a thick Russian accent declares for Sinclair. When
asked by the interviewer why he is voting for Sinclair, he replies, Vell, his system
worked vell in Russia, vy cant it work here?
The effectiveness of
Hollywoods crusade against Sinclair was summed up by the Hollywood Reporter: This campaign against . . . Sinclair has
been and is DYNAMITE. It is the most
effective piece of political humdingery that has ever been effected. . . .
Even Governor Merriam himself
conducted an anti-Sinclair as opposed to a pro-Merriam, campaign. In his public utterances Merriam stated that
there are no other issues before us except radicalism and Socialism. He called the EPIC proposals flimsy and
unreal . . . utterly misguided . . . completely impossible of realization . . .
dangerously unsafe and destructive.
He pointed with pride to the
special session of the California Legislature which had just concluded and through which
he had forced measures dealing with old-age pensions, assistance for the unemployed, and
relief for certain classes of debtors. He
made a bid for the votes of the Townsend Plan advocates by declaring, I have
recommended to the attention and scrutiny of the national government the . . . Townsend
Plan and shall actually cooperate with the federal authorities in working out an equitable
and sound plan designed to accomplish the purposes involved.
The third man in the race,
Raymond L. Haight, had no chance of winning, but his vote if thrown to one of the two main
candidates, could be the decisive factor in the election.
It was with this thought in mind that a group of Northern California
businessmen went to Haight and urged him to withdraw from the campaign. In return for his withdrawal they offered him: (1) any state office he wanted; (2) the United States Senatorship in the event
that a Senator died while Merriam was Governor; (3)
a promise of support for him in the gubernatorial race in 1938; and (4) $100,000 cash. Haight refused to withdraw and continued his
campaign hitting hard at the theme that he was the middle-of-the-road
During the last month of the
campaign events moved fast, and most of them proved inimical to Sinclair. He was heartened by letters of encouragement from
two famous men, one a physicist and the other a poet.
From his home in New Jersey, Albert Einstein wrote, You know indeed
much better than I, that nothing annoys people more then one trying to help them. I heartily wish that in your case the matter may
come out otherwise.
Ezra Pound, from his home in
Rapallo, Italy, scribbled on a large sheet the following message: Congrats on nomination. Now beat the bank buzzards and get elected. Script yr/best item. Vide exec.
The Sinclair forces were
temporarily elated when letters arrived to prominent California Democrats urging
Sinclairs election and bearing the famous green-ink signature of Jim Farley. The letter was promptly put on the front page of
the Epic News. When Farley was
questioned about this unexpected turn of events, he professed ignorance of the letter of
endorsement. Emil Hurja a wizard with
figures and Secretary of the Democratic National Committee, stated to the press that the
letters were the result of a clerical error and never should have been sent in
the first place. It was reported that F. D.
R. himself called Farley in the reprimanded him for his carelessness in the matter.
The repudiation by the
Democratic National Chairman caused consternation in the Sinclair camp, but Sinclair
himself was not daunted as he expected Roosevelt to endorse him in an October 25 radio
address. The magic date came and went without
the mention of Sinclairs name by Roosevelt. Sinclair
was bitterly disappointed and felt that Roosevelt had betrayed him. As mentioned before, Roosevelts biographer,
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. feels that F. D. R. did not make a definite promise to Sinclair
to endorse him, but that Sinclair merely thought that he did.
At least one source, however,
felt that Roosevelt was again playing the part of a master politician. An editorial in The New Republic stated:
Mr. Roosevelts policy
toward the Upton Sinclair campaign in California does him as little credit as any action
of his since entering the White House. It
may have been only a coincidence that the President waited until The Literary Digest
poll suggested a crushing defeat for Sinclair was probable before he scuttled the EPIC
ship, but there can be no doubt that in the minds of many Americans the two developments
will seem like cause and effect.
Roosevelt himself made no
public comment, but in a letter to Senator Key Pittman of Nevada he stated:
In regard to the gentleman in
California, I suppose that if matters come to a head and he takes my name in vain the only
possible answer is the one we have used beforeThe President has taken no part
in regard to any matter of policy, party or candidate in any state election; he is taking
no part and will take no part.
At this distance it looks as
though Sinclair will win if he stages an orderly, common sense campaign, but will be
beaten if he makes a fool of himself.
Other prominent Democrats
began to desert the Sinclair ship. Senator
McAdoo, when asked if he were voting for Sinclair, evasively replied that he had to make
speeches in Arizona and Utah in support of Democratic Senatorial candidates and would not
reach California until election day, while George Creel made public a letter to Sinclair
in which he stated that Sinclair had violated a pledge to abandon his platform of
Immediate Epic in favor of a compromise plan.
Creel said that he was going to vote for Merriam and hoped that other Democrats
would do likewise.
The same day that Creels
letter was made public, the Saturday Evening Post came out with its weekly issue
and the lead article was entitled, Utopia Unlimited and was written by one
George Creel. In this article Creel blasted
EPIC, claiming that the plan was economically unfeasible, and wrote that the platform
adopted at the Democratic State Convention in September was different from that espoused
With the election but nine
days away, J. F. T. OConnor and A. P. Giannini of the Bank of America urged Sinclair
to withdraw from the race in favor of Haight. Though
OConnor emphasized to the press that he was speaking for himself and not for the
Administration, it was generally assumed that Roosevelt had given his tacit blessing to
OConnors mission. Sinclair
refused to drop out and continued his campaign.
The last blow fell on November
3, just three days before the election, when the poll taken by The Literary Digest
was released. It showed Sinclair as the
choice of 25.5 per cent of the electorate while Governor Merriam was picked by 62.31 per
cent of those polled. Unfortunately for
Sinclair it was not until two years later, when The Literary Digest poll showed a
Landon victory over Roosevelt, that the magazines method of polling proved so
disastrous that it went out of existence.
The heat of the last days of
the campaign bordered on fury and hysteria. Max
Stern reported to the San Francisco News on November 2:
A reign of unreason bordering
on hysteria has this sprawling city in its grip as the nations ugliest campaign
approaches zero hour. The stop
Sinclair movement has become a phobia; lacking humor, fairness, and even a sense of
reality. Here one finds himself dwelling in a
beleaguered town with the enemy pounding at the gates.
Convinced that this is not politics, but war, the defenders excuse their excesses
on the ground that in war alls fair.
Election day arrived and a
heavy vote was cast. Merriam was elected
governor, but received less than fifty per cent of the total vote cast. The returns were as follows:
The results in Redlands were
even more of a triumph for the GOP. The votes
were as follows: Merriam: 4,625; Sinclair: 1,313, and,
Several EPIC candidates were
victorious, however, including Culbert Olson, elected State Senator from Los Angeles
County, and Jerry Voorhis, who were elected to the State Assembly. Eighteen of the twenty Congressmen elected were
At least one political
observer has concluded that it had been a two-man race Sinclair would have been elected. Reuben Borough disputes this and stated that it
was erroneous that Raymond Haight, the third man in the race, took votes away from
Sinclair. He said that Haights strength
lay in the great San Joaquin Valley, an agricultural area; that the farmers did not like
Sinclair because of Sinclairs threatening to take over idle land; and that in a
two-man race the farmers vote would have gone to Merriam.
Sinclair congratulated Merriam
by saying, We will hang the threat of a recall as a sword over Merriams head.
. . . The election was just a skirmish, and
we are enlisted for the war. For his
part, Merriam said, California has rejected radicalism and Socialism and indicated .
. . adherence to sound and tested methods of government and economics.
California politics were never
to be the same again. Speaking of the
introduction of advertising techniques into political campaigns, Schlesinger has noted:
The Republican success marked
a new advance in the art of public relations, in which advertising men now believed they
could sell or destroy political candidates as they sold one kind of soap and defamed its
competitor. Humdingery and dynamite dominated
California politics from then on.
Democratic Party in California underwent a transformation as a result of the Sinclair
campaign. Heretofore a minority party the
Democrats found themselves at least in terms of registration, the majority party, and they
have kept that majority ever since. Also
brought into the party were a number of young, progressive-minded men. These men, such as Downey and Voorhis, spoke for
quite a different version of California Democracy from that of McAdoo and Creel. In a period of little more than a year Sinclair
completely altered the face and shape of the Democratic Party in California.
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