Roger Babson,
our presidential candidate in 1940

“I more and more see the need both of courage to stand fast and the willingness to change. Even though these two characteristics seem contrary and paradoxical, a successful life demands a proper mixture of them both. One is the lock and the other is the key; either without the other becomes useless.”
      “It is not knowledge which [is needed] for success, so much as those basic qualities of integrity, industry, imagination, common sense, self-control, and a willingness to struggle and sacrifice. Most individuals already have far more knowledge than they use. They need inheritance and development of a character which will cause them properly to apply this knowledge…. Real … success comes through the qualities mentioned above, not through money, degrees, or social standing.”

Roger Babson most likely was the richest man ever to run on the Prohibition ticket. At his death, in 1967, he was worth some $50,000,000. Not a Party regular, his religious convictions persuaded him to come to us in the late 1930s and offer his services as a candidate. Babson was then at the peak of his career as a financial wizard, and he was well-received everywhere he went. But, according to Party historian Roger Storms, Babson won few new voters to the Cause.
      Babson moved the Party platform away from the practical reforms of its earlier years and toward the moral re-armament views of social conservatives. The 1930s became a time when members of “mainline” Protestant churches were being displaced from positions of leadership in the Party by members of fundamentalist and Pentecostal groups. And, the ever-present proponents of a different name, any other name than “Prohibition” Party, were especially active in the 30s – advocating and sometimes performing experiments which alienated traditionalists and confused voters.
      One would have expected all these developments to have shrunk the Party’s base of support. Nevertheless, Babson finished third nationwide in 1940, trailing only major-party candidates FDR and Wendell Willkie. His vote was approximately 59,500.
Babson’s candidacy was followed in 1944 and 1948 by those of powerful campaigner Claude Watson, who nearly doubled the Party’s vote. Thereafter, however, a succession of strict fundamentalist candidates, few of whom were widely known, presided over a plunge to oblivion which did not end until Earl F. Dodge received only 209 votes (and ran in only one state) in the year 2000.

Roger Babson’s life has been thoroughly chronicled elsewhere and need only be summarized here. He was born on 6 July 1875, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the 10th generation of an old, established family. Babson’s merchant father decreed that his son would learn engineering instead of business and packed Roger off to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
      Upon graduating, however, the rebellious son turned to financial advising, accepting only his father’s admonition that he should enter a line of work which would guarantee repeat business, indefinitely. He became a newspaper columnist, published an immensely popular financial guide, and wrote many books. He developed a useful method of making economic predictions and was the first person to forecast the stock market crash of 1929. He founded three business schools: Babson College, Webber College, and Utopia College.
      During World War I, he served as Director General of Information and Education in the U.S. Department of Labor.
      An admirer of Sir Isaac Newton, Babson founded the Gravity Research Institute, hoping to find a way to convert the force of gravity into useful energy.
      He also had business mottoes chiseled into glacial boulders in a park near Gloucester, at a place called “Dogtown,” for the edification of passers-by. (On 20 October 2004, photographs of Dogtown and of the boulders could be viewed at the website www.ghosttowns.com/states/ma/dogtown)
      Babson believed that individuals and society could, and should, change for the better. He wrote extensively, on subjects as varied as business, education, health, industry, politics, religion, social conditions, and travel, but his message always was on reform, on doing it better. He invested in socially beneficial manufacturing concerns, such as those producing sanitary products, fire prevention equipment, and traffic signals.
      He served one term as National Church Moderator for the General Council on the Congregational-Christian Churches, from 1936 to 1938, and used his office to promote (unsuccessfully) a more morally correct course for the denomination. He then organized the “Open Church Association,” which encouraged individual congregations to leave their church doors unlocked 24 hours a day, so that anyone might pause there for reflection and prayer.
      It is not surprising, then, that Babson’s interest in social welfare would lead him to the Prohibition Party, America’s most conspicuous voice for reform. Babson was well aware that he could not win the election of 1940, but he felt it was his duty to bring the Prohibition Party’s moral and religious agenda to the nation. Storms says (pp.48-49): “… while he was reaching many distinguished audiences, he was winning few of their votes. They were only listening respectfully without really responding, and he knew it. … the chief concerns of those he met were the ominous events of World War II, not the need for moral re-armament at home. Yet, he continued to emphasize that America’s real hope lay in spiritual vision and moral strength.”
      Babson married Grace Margaret Knight in 1900, a year and a half after graduating from MIT. Mrs. Babson had been trained as a nursed, and she was instrumental in getting him through a serious bout of tuberculosis the year following their marriage, a crisis which persuaded him to practice financial advising from the countryside instead of returning to the city to deal in financial paper. The couple had one child, Edith, born in 1903. Roger Babson died on 5 March 1967.

The above summary is drawn primarily from the Babson College website, the City of Gloucester website, the website “politicalgraveyard.com,” the 1993 edition of Encyclopedia Americana, and Roger Storms’ 1972 history of the Prohibition Party “Partisan Prophets.”

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