History Book – Significant election moments

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, November 2nd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The WORLD History Book.

Today, a series of notable presidential anniversaries.

EICHER: Ah yes, timely indeed. Tomorrow marks the 59th U.S. presidential election, and today WORLD senior correspondent Katie Gaultney takes a look at some significant moments in election history.

KATIE GAULTNEY, CORRESPONDENT. U.S. Election Day may be in our future, but as the expression goes, while life must be lived forward, we understand it by looking backward. 

At this point, only the Lord knows who will occupy the White House after Inauguration Day, but 220 years ago this week, on Nov. 1, 1800, John Adams was the first to move in. It marked an important milestone as the nation’s capital shifted from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. 

But the executive mansion wasn’t the showpiece it is today. The rooms were cold, damp, and unfinished. After spending one night in his new home, Adams wrote a letter to his wife Abigail offering a benediction over the home. That blessing is uttered here by actor Paul Giamatti in the HBO miniseries, “John Adams.” 

CLIP: I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.

In 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered that portion of Adams’ letter carved on the mantel of the state dining room, where it remains today.  

While Adams was writing his letters, he likely couldn’t have imagined a technology like radio. One hundred years ago today, KDKA of Pittsburgh started broadcasting as the first commercial radio station in the United States. Its very first broadcast? The result of the 1920 U.S. presidential election, recreated here for a 1944 special broadcast. 

KDKA: This is KDKA in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We shall now broadcast the election returns. We’d appreciate it if anyone hearing this broadcast would communicate with us, as we are very interested to know how far the broadcast is reaching, and how it is being received. 

In the 1920 election, Republican Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio bested Ohio Democratic Governor James M. Cox.

MUSIC: [1939 performance of “God Bless America”]

With that, let’s begin a bit of a “lightning round” of presidential victories. 

NEWSREEL: Franklin Delano Roosevelt is again elected President of America over his Republican opponent Wendell Willkie… 

On Nov. 5, 1940, FDR became the first—and only—U.S. President elected to a third term. He went on to win a fourth term in 1944, but died of a cerebral hemorrhage only five months after that election. His vice president, Harry Truman, succeeded him. Today, the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution limits presidents to two terms, or one if they have already served more than two years in the nation’s highest office. 

Jumping ahead to the election of 1980… 

NBC: Ronald Wilson Reagan of California, a sports announcer, film actor, Governor of California is our projected winner… 

Reagan was first elected president 40 years ago this Wednesday, ushering in an era of economic conservatism. The “Great Communicator” was well-liked for his policies that lowered tax rates and inflation—and for his optimism and sense of humor. 

CBS: As someone has once said, as long as there are final exams, there will be prayer in schools.

While Reagan’s victory over incumbent Jimmy Carter was clear, not all presidential elections in recent memory have been. 

NEWSREEL: A big call to make, CNN announces that we call Florida in the Al Gore column/ Turn the lights down, the party just got wilder/ Florida goes to Mr. Bush…

This Saturday, November 7th, marks 20 years since the controversial election that spurred the Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore

BUSH: Our country has been through a long and trying period, with the outcome of the presidential election not finalized for longer than any of us could have ever imagined…

Of course, Bush eventually claimed victory, with the Supreme Court ending a contested Florida vote recount. People debate that decision even today. 

With many believing that tomorrow’s presidential election will shape up to be a close one, let’s close with another timely adage: History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes. 

MUSIC: [“God Bless America”]

That’s this week’s History Book. I’m Katie Gaultney.

(Photo/Tampa Bay Times) George W. Bush and Al Gore

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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