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Chapter 171: Emmett’s Platform

May 13, 2022
Chevy Chase, Maryland

On February 4, 1912, Emmett announced to the public his official candidacy in several West Florida newspapers, but his actual platform was not published until March 17, 1912. It’s a big piece, and was expensive to run in several of the state’s newspapers, therefore, Emmett kept the writing to the bare bones.

Let’s break it down in bite-sized pieces:

From The Pensacola Journal, Sunday, March 4, 1912, page 4. Source: ChronliclingAmerica.gov

First, in the introduction, Emmett states that he’s not running for office because of vainglory, but because he believes there’s a better way to get things done for Florida via ‘militant, progressive democracy,’ i.e., not the strategy of the incumbent Dannite Mays. (Interesting information on progressivism in the presidential election of 1912 can be found here.) Emmett also admits he’s not wealthy, so he has to keep his message concise, and will likely have to work to earn a living during the campaign.

It’s the truth, but it’s also a good PR move: Who better to represent the public than someone who understands what it’s like to have to work for a living, and who cannot just leave his job to campaign full-time (as can his wealthy opponent, the incumbent and out-of-touch Mays)?

From The Pensacola Journal, Sunday, March 4, 1912, page 4. Source: ChronliclingAmerica.gov

Next, Emmett gives us a summarized view of the key topics challenging Floridians. His positions seem logical and reasonable Of course, the Florida Democratic Party honchos influenced (and approved) this published platform, but based on transcripts of a few of Emmett’s cases that I’ve read, his platform, as published, it seems to be a true representation of Emmett’s position on the issues.

There’s more:

From The Pensacola Journal, Sunday, March 4, 1912, page 4. Source: ChronliclingAmerica.gov

The last item, “Initiative, Referendum and Recall,” was a relatively new concept, first adopted in 1898 by South Dakota, and by 22 states as of 2022 (procedures vary from state to state), and it was a hot-button issue for Florida voters, as Mays (and other long-time office holders) were not in favor of putting this option into the hands of the general public.

Finally:

From The Pensacola Journal, Sunday, March 4, 1912, page 4. Source: ChronliclingAmerica.gov

Overall, Emmett’s platform is clear, easy to understand, written in such a way that it speaks to the voter and not down to the voter; he tells the reader that he’s one of them, and with confidence, challenges the reader to compare his platform to his candidates. It’s a good strategy for a fellow who is the youngest candidate on the ticket, and who has never run for office before: Emmett appears to be an accessible, reasonable, mature-thinking fellow.

But here’s the thing:

When I first found this long message from Emmett, it was exciting because there’s very few examples of Emmett’s writing, expressing himself and what he thinks, in existence. But, the reality is that this was not a sample of unfiltered writing in Emmett’s own words.

Based on what I’ve seen of Emmett’s actual writing, the first and last paragraphs do sound like him, and are written in a way that looks like something he would say. But, this message, ‘in his own words,’ was definitely edited and approved by several people before it was allowed for publication.

Do I think this is what was important to ‘Emmett the candidate’?

Overall, yes. But we also must keep in mind that there were other important issues of the day that he did not address in this message, such as the growing women’s suffrage movement (which Emmett did support; but this would have been unpopular for him to state as a brand new candidate in this platform message).

He might have raised this one too, to be included in a platform statement, but Emmett’s campaign management (which unofficially included Frank Mayes and members of the state Democratic party) were calling the shots for him.

Emmett’s own messaging, his own words, were to be manipulated by others. It’s certainly the reality of a political campaign, and he wasn’t naïve about this aspect of being a candidate for office — however — I believe Emmett was unprepared at this point about how much he was now truly ‘owned’ by the Florida political machine. More on this would be revealed to him, and it would prove to be part of his ultimate undoing.

Categories: Book Congressman Florida History

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jsmith532

Professor
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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