Parties and Platforms

Campaigns and Nominations

Was religion an issue in certain campaigns?

In early political campaigns, no issue was beyond scrutiny, including a candidate’s religion. In 1856, the American Party expressed its hostility to the Irish Catholics that were immigrating to the United States. In that year’s presidential election, the American Party charged that Republican candidate John C. Frémont was a Catholic, a claim that Frémont refused to publicly deny because he maintained it was not a legitimate issue. In 1928, the Democratic candidate for president, New York governor Alfred E. Smith, was criticized for being a Catholic. Also a proponent of the repeal of Prohibition, Smith was the butt of slurs and jokes by opponents of a Catholic voice in American politics. The periodical Fellowship Forum stated, “The real issue in this campaign is Protestant Americanism versus rum and Romanism.” Smith lost the election by a wide margin to his Protestant opponent, Republican Herbert Hoover.

In 1960, Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy encountered anti-Catholic bias emanating from a suspicion that a Catholic president would submit his presidential decision-making authority to the pope in Rome. Kennedy responded with a televised speech, in which he refuted claims that Catholicism was incompatible with the secular office of president and proclaimed his allegiance to the separation of church and state. The speech was edited into a commercial broadcast frequently throughout the campaign, and Kennedy won by a thin margin of the popular and electoral votes.

As a sign of a more religiously tolerant populace, 2000 vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman experienced wide support among Democrats of all religions for his candidacy. Political analysts agree that Lieberman’s Orthodox Judaism—which holds strictly to traditional Jewish beliefs and practices—only helped the image of presidential running mate Al Gore.


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