Warren McCray (1921-1924) Warren McCray was born in Brook, Indiana and grew up in and around Kentland. His father and uncle had a successful livery business and became involved in banking. McCray himself grew wealthy through a variety of enterprises, including banking, the grocery business, land speculation, and mine and railroad investments. He was also a very successful cattle breeder. In 1919, he reportedly set the world record for the price of a bull sale.
Eventually, McCray came to serve on the State Board of Agriculture. That role was expanded during World War I. “Goodrich appointed him Chairman of the Food Conservation Committee of Indiana and a member of the United States Live Stock Advisory Committee to help ensure adequate army supplies and rationing during the war.”
The Republicans in the 1920 election were rejuvenated with the Progressives having returned to the fold in common opposition to the Democrats. The Republicans won 54.6% of the vote as compared to 41.2% for the Democrats. This was a bit closer than the shellacking Harding gave Cox and Roosevelt in the national election. Approximately 1.2 million Hoosiers voted, marking a high water mark for Hoosier turnout. (Keep in mind that women had just been given the right to vote). This was out of about 2.9 million Hoosiers in the 1920 census of whom 97% were white.
Hoosiers, like other Americans, seemed tired of war, progressivism, and social upheaval. Harding’s appeal to “normalcy” had its appeal. Nobody was taking up the Progressive banner carried by governors Hanly, Marshall, Ralston, and Goodrich. At the same time, the strident conservatism of Democrats — appeals for Jeffersonian home rule and warnings against the encroachment of federal and state government — did not have overwhelming appeal. Moderate advances in public health, education, and highway construction along with promises of businesslike efficiency were enough. McCray had a mixed relationship with labor. He declined to extradite labor organizer, David Robb to West Virginia where he didn’t believe Robb would get a fair trial. But, he condemned Eugene V. Debs as a traitor and characterized United Mine Workers John Lewis as “disloyal.” “In July of 1922, he publicly supported the idea of a government takeover of Indiana mines to break a strike and produce enough coal to meet the state’s needs. After he followed through on the threat to declare martial law to guard the mines, 4,000 striking miners called a public meeting to demand his impeachment.”
In 1923, historian James Madison reports, McCray told the 1923 General Assembly, “what the people of Indiana want is a season of government economy and a period of legislative inaction and rest.” And that’s what the legislature provided. Madison characterizes the postwar decade as featuring “a stand-pat perspective and a mediocre leadership.”
Under the relatively calm surface of the 1920s politics, changes were taking place to the underlying political structure through advocacy of interest groups like the American Legion, the League of Women Voters, the American Federation of Labor, the Indiana Farm Bureau, and the Anti-Saloon League. The groups did not necessarily cut cleanly across political lines and that made things messy. One such group that would storm onto the scene in Indiana in 1920 was the Ku Klux Klan. They’d have a governor in their pocket by 1925. More on them next time.