Alf Landon

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Alfred M. Landon

Alfred Mossman "Alf" Landon (September 9, 1887October 12, 1987) was an American Republican politician from Kansas, notable nationally for his 1936 nomination as the Republican opponent of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Born in West Middlesex, Pennsylvania, in 1887, Landon grew up in Ohio. He moved with his family to Kansas at age 17. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1908. He first pursued a career in banking, but in 1912, he became an independent petroleum producer. During World War I he served in the U.S. Army as a first lieutenant in chemical warfare. He would become a millionaire in the oil industry by 1929.

Political life

Landon's interest in politics began early. He 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 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 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.

In 1936, Landon chose not to run for re-election as Governor but to become the Republican presidential nominee opposing the re-election of FDR. At the Republican National Convention in 1936, Landon was nominated for the presidency on the first ballot, with newspaper publisher Frank Knox selected as his running mate. Landon respected and admired FDR and accepted much of the New Deal but objected that it was hostile to business and involved too much waste. At the end of the campaign, Landon accused FDR of acquiring so much power that he was subverting the Constitution. Yet, Landon proved to be an ineffective campaigner who rarely travelled to make appearances and did not participate in the Republican primaries. Most of the attacks on FDR and social security during the 1936 election were developed by Republican campaigners rather than Landon himself.

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 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." After his defeat, Landon did not seek elective office again. He remained active in Republican politics and pursued his interests in the petroleum business.

Later life

Following his defeat in the 1936 Presidential election, Landon retired from national politics and finished out his term as governor of Kansas. Later in life he was often asked his opinion, and he did not hesitate to take strong stands.

In the 1930s, he disagreed with Republicans who supported the Neutrality Act; he feared it would mislead Nazi Germany into thinking the United States was unwilling to fight. In World War II he argued against lend-leasing military equipment, urging instead that Britain be given $5 billion outright. After the war, he backed the Marshall Plan while opposing high domestic spending.

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. Landon's lecture, titled "New Challenges in International Relations" was the first in a series of public issues lectures that continues to this day.

Landon died October 12, 1987, in Topeka, Kansas, 34 days after his 100th birthday. 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. When he died, he was the earliest U.S. governor of any state still living, a title he assumed in 1984 on the death of George Alexander Parks, another centenarian. When Landon died, the title went to Albert B. Chandler of Kentucky.


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