FOUR physicians have been elected to the U.S. Senate from...

February 03, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

FOUR physicians have been elected to the U.S. Senate from Maryland, I recalled here Monday, one of whom challenged an incumbent president for his party's presidential nomination.

That was Sen. Joseph I. France, M.D. Dr. France was as interesting a pol as this state has produced.

He earned his M.D. from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Baltimore, and practiced here. He was from Cecil County and was elected to the State Senate and the U.S. Senate from there, where he lived on a large dairy farm -- Ararat Farms -- overlooking the Susquehanna.

He served a term in Washington, 1917-1923. He was defeated in 1922 by a Democrat, in part because many Republicans in the state disliked him.

That was because he had been very critical of President Warren Harding and sympathetic to Soviet Russia. State party JTC leadership formally denounced him as "a Bolshevik."

He hit the front pages again in 1931 when from his front porch at Ararat he read an 8,000-word statement of candidacy, running against President Herbert Hoover, whom he called "a racketeer."

The doctor opened a national campaign headquarters in New York City, but neither Hoover nor anyone else took him too seriously. Until the primaries began in 1932. Dr. France beat President Hoover in Nebraska, where they first faced off, then in Illinois and Pennsylvania, before losing to the president in Maryland.

Subsequently he won in three more states, and ended the primary season with half again as many popular votes as Hoover and, by his calculation (delegates weren't bound the way they are today), nearly 400 delegate votes.

On to Chicago and the Republican National Convention. Laurence Sandblast, a delegate from Oregon, where France had defeated Hoover by 72,681 votes to 32,599, nominated the Marylander with a speech that was perhaps eloquent -- but no one knows for sure because the Republican establishment figures in charge of the convention apparently fiddled around with the amplification system, causing many of Sandblast's words to come out as squeaks and barks.

Once nominated, Dr. France rushed toward the microphone to speak. He was intercepted by the convention chairman and the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

They challenged his credentials, and when he insisted he was an authorized delegate from Oregon (?) and showed them a badge indicating he was, but under a different name, they called the cops. Dr. France was physically escorted off the podium and to the convention hall's lockup. He shouted, mysteriously, as he went, "I want to nominate Calvin Coolidge!" -- who was not a candidate.

Hoover beat Dr. France on the first ballot, 1,126 1/2 to 4. In 1934, Dr. France lost a bid to return to the Senate, ending his political career.

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