When the 1916 election came up (Wilson going for re-election, and Charles Hughes for the Republicans)....it presented an unusual election dilemma.
First, lets be blunt....Wilson won in 1912 only because Roosevelt returned to political life and felt the need to challenge his former friend....Robert Taft (GOP). Taft and Roosevelt divided the general vote across the nation, and Wilson with 6.2-million votes....essentially won 435 Electoral Votes....yet only got 41-percent of the national vote.
Four years go by and frankly, there's not a lot for Wilson to sell his campaign upon in 1916.
Second, the key feature in the summer and fall of 1916....to chat about across the nation....was the war in Europe. We hadn't entered the war, and virtually everything that Wilson talked about....was to avoid entry. If you measured the public response to that position....the majority were in favor of just watching and not participating.
Third, to sell the public on this Wilson anti-war position....the campaign decided early on in the summer to go and activate something that they would call the 'Four-Minute Men'.
At it's peak in 1917....there were around 80,000 'volunteers' across the US who were deemed Four-Minute Men.
Their job? They would be sent pamphlets and notes to give them material....bullet-statements, and from that they were given the task to engage in conversation in train stations, colleges, churches, and public settings. They were to talk (in four minutes) over Wilson's theme, and the direction of the Democratic Party.
So leading up to the election in 1916.....they convinced the public that ONLY Wilson could keep the nation out of the war. Hughes would lead the nation into the war. Roughly four weeks after the Wilson win....pamphlets flow out to the Four-Minute Men....that Wilson has the right plan to enter the war.
Propagandists? Yes. In the true sense of the word.
Did they limit it to just English? No....that's another amusing fact....they went into various ethnic neighborhoods, and spoke to the languages required.
You can figure that out of 103-million in 1916-1917.....virtually everyone got a dose of the Four-Minute Men a minimum of three occasions, and some might have gotten even a hundred doses. The national head of the group even bragged at one point....figuring a minimum of 7.5 speeches given by his propagandists.
Most historians leave the group at that point, and just kinda suggest that by 1920 (as a weak Wilson leaves office)....that the group is disbanded.
There is evidence that in the California governor's election of 1930....a Four-Minute Men mechanism went back into action. There's also a suggestion or two that in the 1932 national election period (1930 to 1932)....that FDR used the same type of resources.
The Bonus Army that marched on DC in 1932? Were they led by Four-Minute Men propaganda? Well....it's best not to bring that topic up, but Hoover's loss is dependent on the Bonus Army and the massive news coverage around it.
The Four-Minute Men at work today? This is an interesting discussion point.
Once you lay out the former Fox News guy Bill O'Reilly's method of news delivery....it's built into a bullet-like statement, and is the perfect vehicle to go and make you or your associates into Four-Minute Men.
Others from NPR, CNN, and the NY Times? Well....same story.
So do we have a modern-day Four-Minute Men problem....with propagandists on every corner? Absolutely. And are there counter-Four-Minute Men at work? Absolutely.
Just something to think about, and how we've been spoon fed for over a hundred years.