Northern Ireland

Can a Catholic Become US President? – On This Day in 1924

The strength of the Ku-Klux-Klan was arrayed against a Catholic nomination for leader of the Democratic presidential campaign

US President John F. Kennedy acknowledging the cheers of the crowd when he visits New Ross Co. Wexford. Photo: PA Wire
John F Kennedy was the first Catholic President of the United States
June 25 1924

“Can a Catholic become President of the United States?” asks an English paper. He can – if he is elected. There is nothing in American constitutional law to debar a member of any creed from filling the highest national position.

The law of England is definite on the point that the King and the Lord Chancellor shall not be Catholics; but there is no legal ban against Catholics in America.

One of the candidates for nomination as the leader of the Democratic presidential campaign is a Catholic – Governor [Al] Smith. The whole strength of the infamous Ku-Klux-Klan is arrayed against Mr Smith.

No reputable politician in any part of the Great Republic has a good word for the Klan; many weak-kneed traitors to principle are mortally afraid of it; some confess that they would oppose it at the risk of their lives; others explain that it is powerful in their districts.

Governor Smith will probably fail to secure the nomination; it is not unlikely that Mr [William Gibbs] McAdoo, the late President [Woodrow] Wilson’s son-in-law, will be set aside also, though he has secured the support of the Ku-Klux-Klan, and that a “dark horse” will be put forward by the Democrats.

The Cleveland Convention, at which President [Calvin] Coolidge was chosen as the Republican standard-bearer, was opened with “Prayer by the Right Rev Dr Joseph Schrembs, Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland”, so we learn from the official report of the meeting held on the 12th of June.

Yet the Republicans shirked the proposal to make antagonism to the Klan and its outrageous “principles” a feature of their programme.

The Democrats depend mainly on the southern states, where the organisation of bigots and assassins is most influential – where, in fact, it originated.

If, as there is reason to suppose, members of the Klan were responsible for the murder of the three Japanese in California, public feeling will revolt against the deeds and the existence of a reckless society whose agents may thrust the United States into a disastrous war as a preliminary step to the destruction of the Republic’s status as a civilised nation.

Both Al Smith and William McAdoo failed to win the Democratic nomination, at a time when the Democratic Party was strongest in the southern states, with a compromise candidate, John W Davis, being nominated instead. While Smith did win the Democratic nomination in 1928, he lost the general election against Herbert Hoover. It was not until 1960 that a Catholic was elected US president for the first time, when John F Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon.