The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

Excerpt, My Day

NEW YORK. -- My readers will not be surprised to hear that I am not overenthusiastic about Presidential primaries. The idea originally, of course, was to let the people have a voice in the choice of their Presidential candidates within their party, but I think it has proved a poor way of approaching the people. So many things enter into the vote, and it is difficult to get a clear picture of what the people voting in the primary really want.

Two men,1 both of whom have probably worked together amicably in the past, suddenly find themselves pitted against each other, almost as though they were of two opposite parties. In the heat of the primary things are said on one side or the other which should never be said by people who may in all probability be working together again in the future, and certainly should be in a position to trust each other and not to be really deeply antagonistic.

The West Virginia primary fight is developing into something which, however, seems to me more serious even than the usual situation. In this case, as far as I can see, one of the candidates, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, is being supported by at least two gentlemen who openly say they are not for the candidate they are working but are only helping him in order to support their own particular candidate later on.2 Also, in this way they hope to stop the possibility of election of a Democrat who is running against Senator Humphrey in the primaries.

This naturally will be interpreted by many of Senator John F. Kennedy's supporters as being opposition to him because of his religion, and will mean great bitterness among many American voters. This portion of the electorate believes, as I do, that a man should be judged on the question of his fitness for a job and not on what his religion happens to be.3

Because of all this, I wish there could be no West Virginia primary or any other primaries in other states. I would like to see the candidates who hope to be nominated in a national convention speak in various parts of the country so as to become known and not pick out any particular adversaries or run against members of their own party in an effort to count noses for any particular candidate.

What is the point of electing delegates to a convention if we do not trust them to represent the feeling of the people who elected them?


     1. Only two candidates, Hubert H. Humphrey, the junior senator from Minnesota, and John F. Kennedy, the junior senator from Massachusetts, entered the Democratic presidential primaries. JFK had defeated Humphrey in Wisconsin, his "next-door state." Both were keenly aware that a loss in West Virginia would cost them the party's nomination. [Theodore H. White, The Making of the President 1960 (New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1988), pp. 96-103; Carl Solberg, Hubert Humphrey: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1984), pp. 199-213.]
     2. ER never identified the two Humphrey supporters; however, reporters on the scene seconded ER's accusations. For example, journalist Theodore White told his readers that Kennedy strategists in West Virginia encouraged local committee and precinct chairs to "hammer at Humphrey as being a 'front-man' for a gang-up crowd of Stevenson-Symington-Johnson supporters who refused to come into the open." [White, The Making of the President 1960, p. 106.]
    3. ER allowed Humphrey to distribute pamphlets in West Virginia which had a quote praising Humphrey ("a touch of greatness") highlighted on its front cover. [Hubert Humphrey pamphlet, General Correspondence, AERP, NHyF.]

Index to this Document: Anti-Catholicism: impact of; JFK and; ER's criticism of; Democratic National Convention, 1960 (DNC 1960): delegates, responsibilities of; Humphrey, Hubert H.: ER on; Kennedy, John F.: anti-Catholicism and; My Day; Presidential primaries: ER's alternative to JFK; ER's criticism of; West Virginia, 1960; Wisconsin, 1960; Religion: role in politics; Roosevelt, Eleanor: on Hubert H. Humphrey; political advice of; presidential primaries, alternate nominating process proposed by; sources, use of; Sources: ER's use of; West Virginia primary, 1960: ER's criticism of; Theodore White on; White, Theodore: on West Virginia primary, 1960; Wisconsin primary, 1960

Published by the Model Editions Partnership

Recommended citation: Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, John Sears, Christopher Alhambra, Mary Jo Binker, Christopher Brick, John S. Emrich, Eugenia Gusev, Kristen E. Gwinn, and Bryan D. Peery (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003). Electronic version based on unpublished letters. .

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