Uphill All the Way: The Fortunes of Progressivism, 1919-1929
By Kevin C. Murphy, Copyright 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Chapter Eight:
The Duty to Revolt

Progressives and the Election of 1924

VI. Escape from New York

I. Indian Summer.
II. Now is the Time.
III. Hiram and Goliath.
IV. Coronation in Cleveland.
V. Schism in the Democracy.
VI. Escape from New York.
VII. Fighting Bob.
VIII. Coolidge or Chaos.
IX. The Contested Inheritance.
X. Reds, Pinks, Blues, and Yellows.
XI. The Second Landslide.

"This thing has got to come to an end," begged Democratic humorist Will Rogers a week into the ensuing fiasco, "New York invited you as guests, not to live." In years to come, Rogers quipped, when little children asked their fathers if they were in the war, they would reply, "No, son, but I went through the New York Convention." Mencken harrumphed that the "convention is almost as vain and idiotic as a golf tournament or a disarmament conference." Journalist Arthur Krock deemed the unfolding Democratic nightmare "a snarling, cursing, tedious, tenuous, suicidal, homicidal roughhouse." Lippmann thought the Democrats had taught America "more at firsthand about the really dangerous problems of America" and "learned more of the actual motives which move the great masses of men than anyone of this generation thought possible." "No man or woman who attended the Convention of 1924 in the old Madison Square Garden will ever forget it," Daniel Roper, one of McAdoo's lieutenants, said later in life. "This country has never seen its like and is not likely to see its like again." Over three decades later, Al Smith's daughter still remembered those sixteen days with a shudder. "Traits that I do not like to think of as American played too great a part that year," she winced.1

And, for the first time in history, the convention had all been broadcast nationwide through the miracle of radio.

From the start, nothing seemed to go right for the Democrats in New York. The month before the Democracy convened at the old Garden, the Barnum and Bailey circus had been in town, and, in the stifling heat wave that accompanied the overcrowded convention, the smell of the circus animals lingered throughout the entire proceedings. While clearly Smith territory, New York had also been home to William McAdoo for many years - he had been instrumental in the creation of two underground tunnels for the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad (today, the PATH trains). But McAdoo's rural supporters were less used to the vertiginous chasms and hustle and bustle of Gotham - "I'd sure hate to be a dog or a boy in New York," said one - and Smith-adoring locals took many an opportunity to make fun of the drawling, countrified "apple-knockers" and "turd-kickers."2

Even attempts by the City to be neighborly often backfired. A statue of "Father Knickerbocker" placed above the Hotel Astor to welcome guests was, to the disgust of Dry visitors, holding a mug of beer. A group of fundamentalist Texans who wanted to find out which block on the "Avenue of States" had been given to their home found themselves face-to-face with St. Patrick's Cathedral. Others looking for a church on Sunday were encouraged to attend Riverside Church, where they were regaled by Harry Emerson Fosdick, America's foremost apostle of Modernism and enemy of Fundamentalism. Others still wandered about only to be confronted by the sight of Wall Street or Tammany Hall -- ancient and foreboding symbols of the Enemy -- or any number of speakeasies and nightclubs.3

Visiting delegates weren't safe in the Garden either. At one point, the convention band inadvertently tried to accompany a pro-McAdoo demonstration by southern Democrats with the song "Marching Through Georgia." And at any time, the upper galleries were crowded with rowdy New Yorkers - Smith supporters, all - who would rain down ridicule and opprobrium upon the convention floor whenever events took a McAdoo turn, to the point where even the Smith campaign tried to tamp them down. Even notwithstanding the Manichean proportions of the Prohibition and Catholic issues, these experiences hardened rural delegates' hearts against Smith, just as the intolerance and public machinations of the Klan -- on Independence Day, as the convention wended into its tenth day, 20,000 Klansmen would rally against Smith at Long Branch, New Jersey -- hardened Smith delegates against McAdoo. As the nominating contest became less and less a friendly political rivalry among fellow Democrats and more a holy war for America's future, delegates on both sides became increasingly intransigent, refusing to change their vote on ballot after ballot after ballot.4

Further compounding matters were the idiosyncrasies of the convention rules. The two-thirds rule -- providing that the eventual nominee must garner two-thirds of the total vote, or 732 delegates -- was a stumbling block for McAdoo, who, while usually polling first, had made too many enemies to get over the hump. But the unit rule, which decreed (if a given delegation had been instructed by their state party to use it) that a nominee got an entire state's vote if he held a majority of that state's delegates, further kept McAdoo's forces from dissipating to other candidates. Taken in total, it was a recipe for grinding stalemate that would result in over a hundred ballots being cast -- close to doubling the previous record of fifty-seven, set by the 1860 Democratic convention in Charleston, South Carolina.5

The first day of the convention, Tuesday, June 24th, was deceptively calm, with introductory speeches by noted orator Senator Pat Harrison of Mississippi, who decried the "saturnalia of corruption" in the Harding White House, and the hometown mayor, John Francis Hylan. (When an English visitor in the galleries complained of being bored, an American reporter told him, "Just wait, those are Democrats down there.") The second day started off relatively normally as well, with Senator Thomas Walsh being named the permanent chairman. As the prosecutor of Teapot Dome, his presence not only suggested Democratic rectitude in the face of Republican corruption, but also a fusion of the two warring campaigns -- Walsh was an anti-Klan Catholic from the West who had previously supported McAdoo. As such, it was the last savvy public relations move of the convention. And even then, many of the pros of Walsh's appointment would be overshadowed by the increasingly ornery Senator having to become ever more heavy-handed with the gavel over the next fortnight. At one point, Walsh banged the gavel so hard the mallet broke off and struck a nearby observer in the head.6

Soon after Walsh's ascension, the official nominations of candidates began, which encompassed the next three days. The order being alphabetical, Alabama went first, with Forney Johnston, a young lawyer and former senator's son, putting Oscar Underwood's name into consideration. Over the course of his nominating speech, Johnston also called for a plank in the Democratic platform denouncing the Klan, at which point a twenty-five minute demonstration broke out among Smith supporters while the delegates along "McAdoo Alley" sat sullen. When the roll of states got to California, boss James Phelan gave a florid fifty-minute nominating speech for McAdoo that was deemed by observers "the worst speech never heard." It, according to others, nearly "stampeded the convention of Smith" and would have killed "Thomas Jefferson running on a ticket with Andrew Jackson." Long before Phelan got to his closing, the galleries were desperately screaming "Name your man! Name your man!" When he finally Mc'did, McAdoo forces festooned with buttons and hatbands reading "Mc'll do!" broke out in an hour-long celebration, chanting "we don't care what the Easterners do; the South and West are for McAdoo!" In response, the galleries bellowed "Ku Ku, McAdoo!" and "No oil on Al!" The situation was only just beginning to get out of hand.7

The third day offered for many Democrats what would be the lasting highlight of the convention. When the roll of states reached Connecticut, the delegation yielded to their neighbor New York, meaning, everyone knew with bated breath, it was time for Al Smith's official nomination. The deliverer of this good news to the galleries, on account of his relative stardom and offsetting attributes to the candidate, was Smith's campaign manager, Franklin Roosevelt. (When Joseph Proskauer first pitched the idea to Smith, the candidate asked, "For God's Sake, why?" Proskauer replied, "Because you're a Bowery mick and he's a Protestant patrician and he'll take some of the curse off of you.") Helped by his teenage son Jimmy, whose arm he gripped so hard it bruised, Roosevelt slowly made his way to the lectern on crutches. Once there -- Joseph Guffey of Pennsylvania had already tested that "the pulpit" could bear Roosevelt's weight -- he turned on the FDR charm, winning the McAdoo crowd over right away by gently admonishing the galleries above. Then, delivering a speech written by Proskauer (although Roosevelt would rarely admit to it later), Roosevelt praised Al Smith as "the Happy Warrior of the political battlefield," a moniker, derived from Wordsworth, that would stick to Smith as surely as "The Sidewalks of New York" had in 1920. The Smith crowd loved every minute of it, and the McAdoo crowd was quietly impressed -- Franklin Roosevelt was back. Thus followed a rowdy celebration of over an hour, as Smith forces paraded up and down the aisles while McAdoo's delegates defended their state standards to prevent them from being carried into the pro-Smith entourage. "Yesterday's protracted outburst showed that Smith could carry New York -- or more accurately that it carry Tammany Hall," reported the New York Times. "It did not show that he could carry the Democratic National Convention."8

The roll of states continued into the rainy fourth day, as numerous favorite sons got their moment in the sun. By the morning of the fifth day -- Saturday, June 28th -- sixteen presidential candidates had been nominated by forty-three speakers. The convention was already running two days longer than the Republicans had in Cleveland, and the balloting hadn't even begun. Even worse for the Democrats, Saturday was the day that a contentious debate that had been dividing the platform committee all week finally spilled out onto the floor.9

As always, much of the Democratic Party platform of 1924 was to be expected. Like the Republican document, it began in eulogy - this time for the fallen Woodrow Wilson, "whose spirit and influence will live on through the ages." Like many a Democratic platform in the past, it called for "equal rights to all and special privilege to none" and denounced Republican tariff policy, deeming Fordney-McCumber "the most unjust, unscientific and dishonest tariff tax measure ever enacted in our history…It heavily increases the cost of living, penalizes agriculture, corrupts the government, fosters paternalism and, in the long run, does not benefit the very interests for which it was intended."10

Encouraging voters to compare the Harding years to the early days of Wilson, much was made of the "political depravity" unearthed by the administration scandals. "Never before in our history has the government been so tainted by corruption and never has an administration so utterly failed." On prohibition, the platform faulted Harding's lax enforcement and declared that Democrats would "respect and enforce the constitution and all law." Otherwise, the platform called for "the spirit of local self-government," stronger campaign finance regulations "to prevent Newberryism and the election evils disclosed by recent investigations," immigration restriction, disarmament, conservation, investment in highways and aviation, protective laws for women, public works projects to offset unemployment, and support of collective bargaining. In sum, it declared, "[t]he republican party is concerned chiefly with material things; the democratic party is concerned chiefly with human rights…The democratic party stands for remedial legislation and progress. The republican party stands still."11

Perusing the final document, TNR, was nonplussed, deeming it a "timid document" and a "political catch-all. It is firm and decisive only on issues concerning which there is no internal strife within the party, and of these there are very few." But, whatever the platform's merits or faults, they were quickly overshadowed by the disputes over what was not included. William Jennings Bryan, who had been mostly ignored at the 1920 convention in San Francisco, had come to New York with his own platform, which included a stronger Dry plank and which he had run by McAdoo. After many hours of debate on the platform committee, it was not included. Former Secretary of War Newton Baker, meanwhile, wanted to replace language calling for a referendum on the League of Nations with an endorsement of immediate entry into the League. But most Democrats didn't want to stake another election on this issue, and so, despite a barnburner of a speech on the convention floor, Baker's minority report went down on Saturday by a vote of 353 ½ to 742 ½. This left the most contentious question -- what to do about the Klan.12

From the beginning of the campaign, Oscar Underwood of Alabama had wanted a plank in the Democratic platform specifically condemning the Klan by name, just as the 1856 platform had condemned the Know-Nothing party -- "a party claiming to be exclusively American" -- as a "secret political society." Bryan and McAdoo, on the other hand - hoping to remove the Klan as an issue -- wanted a general condemnation of "any effort to arouse religious or racial dissension" without specifically mentioning the Invisible Empire. For long days and nights the platform committee had wrestled over this issue, nearly coming to blows more than once. When the committee finally voted 40-14 to include the generic proposal in the platform, the anti-Klan forces promised to bring a minority report to the floor.13

As soon as the anti-Klan plank was read, the floor and the galleries both went into full hysteria. Walsh tried to mitigate the fever pitch by announcing several hours of debate on the League issue first, but by the time pro- and anti-Klan speakers began making their remarks late in the evening, the assembled Democrats were cheering and hissing with abandon. The wall of noise became particularly intense during the remarks of Andrew C. Erwin, the former mayor of Athens, Georgia. Expecting pro-Klan nostrums from the Georgian, the galleries booed Erwin mercilessly -- until the room slowly started to realize that Erwin was actually denouncing the Klan, at which point a lusty cheer erupted from up above even as McAdoo Alley wailed with rage. When Erwin went back to his seat, only one member of the Georgian delegation stood to welcome him.14

The last speech on the Klan issue was delivered by William Jennings Bryan, who pleaded with anti-Klan delegates that everyone could agree if only the three words "Ku Klux Klan" were left out of the platform. It went over like a lead balloon. The galleries were so vociferous in their booing of the Great Commoner that Bryan had to stop three times. On the third such interruption, Walsh rose up and began gaveling and screaming in fury to quiet the balconies down. Rattled, Bryan slipped into the cadences of the church and implored the unruly congregation "in the name of the Son of God and Savior of the world. Christians, stop fighting and let us get together and save the world from the materialism that robs life of its spiritual values." The crowd was having none of it, and Bryan retreated to a chair on the platform, too tired to walk back to his seat with Florida. It wasn't even his worst speech of the convention.15

Just after 11:30 at night, the convention began its vote on the Klan issue, and all was confusion. Each delegation broke out into shouting, shoving, and even fist fights as the issue was debated amongst themselves. Americans across the country blanched at the fury and indescribable noise coming over the radio. Votes had to be counted and counted again as delegates decided to switch their position. Miss Marion Colley, granddaughter of the Confederacy's Secretary of State, Robert Toombs, and the only member of the Georgia delegation to welcome back Mayor Erwin, shouted "I'm against the Klan!" before the irate men around her pushed her into a No vote against the amendment. (The next day, she told reporters she was still "in favor of the minority report and against the Klan.") At nearly two in the morning, the final vote was determined to be 541 320 for the anti-Klan plank, and 542 320 against - it had failed by one vote.16

In effect, before the balloting had even begun, the Democrats had torn themselves apart before a nationwide audience. "Saturday will always remain burned in my memory as long as I live," noted Will Rogers, "as being the day when I heard the most religion preached, and the least practiced, of any day in the world's history." And while Oswald Villard was thrilled to see so many delegates "prefer to have their party wrecked…than to have it silent in the presence of a sin that threatens the very fundamentals of American life," most of the politicians on hand lamented that Democrats had self-immolated over an issue on which few of the principals had ever wanted to engage. Like McAdoo, Bryan, and many of the favorite sons, Franklin Roosevelt saw little to be gained over a fight on the Klan - it merely accentuated Smith's Catholicism - and even Smith later conceded the push to name the organization was a bad idea. But once the issue had been named and unleashed, passions had flared on both sides of the divide, and no one wanted to back down. The animosity unleashed on Saturday night would continue to fester over the remainder of the convention, making the balloting even more of a Sisyphean task for all involved. In the words of TNR's John W. Owens, after the Klan vote "the Convention entered a form of insanity, and became divided into a pack of bull dogs."17

On the sixth day, the bull dogs rested. On the seventh, Monday, June 30th -- the day the convention was supposed to end -- the balloting finally began. "Alabamah casts twenty fo-ah votes for Oscah Dubble-yuh Undddawood!" drawled Governor William Brandon, for the first of 102 times, to start the vote - creating an instant catch-phrase across the country. (For years later, a resolute man or woman would be considered "as steady as Alabama for Underwood.") With 732 votes needed for victory, McAdoo had 431 ½ votes to Smith's 241 on the first ballot, with the rest scattered among favorite sons. (240 of Smith's 241 first-ballot delegates had voted to name the Klan the Saturday before, just as a high percentage of McAdoo delegates had voted not to.) By midnight on Monday, fifteen roll calls later, McAdoo had 479 votes, Smith had 305 ½. Tuesday saw fifteen more roll calls and, other than a brief 56 vote rally for John W. Davis of West Virginia, there were no noticeable shifts in the deadlock. By Tuesday night, McAdoo stood at 415 ½, Smith 323 ½ Davis 126 ½, with no hope of compromise in sight.18

The eighth day, Wednesday, July 2nd, began much as the previous ones had, until, on the thirty-eighth ballot, William Jennings Bryan asked permission of the convention to explain his vote. Then, calling for party unity, Bryan explained there were a number of great candidates the Democrats could get behind - except he explicitly refrained from mentioning Carter Glass (who refused to cede his Virginia delegation to McAdoo), John W. Davis (whom Bryan had earlier called "a Wall Street man" and "the lawyer from J.P. Morgan," prompting one woman to ask him, "Who's McAdoo the lawyer for?"), and, of course, Al Smith, who as a Wet, Bryan thought must be stopped. Immediately the jeers came pouring down from the galleries. For an hour, the Great Commoner feuded with the audience. He was cheered only when he said that this would likely be his last Democratic convention. When Bryan finally gave up a podium, the convention was even less united than it had been before. "This man must be for another candidate than McAdoo," suggested one New York delegate, while one reporter deadpanned that the howling galleries had perhaps convinced Bryan of the existence of evolution's missing link. Franklin Roosevelt merely lamented that "Bryan has killed poor McAdoo, and he hasn't done himself any good." Twenty-eight years after he had first electrified a Democratic convention with the "Cross of Gold" speech, Bryan left the stage a caricature of his former self.19

And so the death march resumed. At first it seemed Bryan's speech only had the apparent effect of losing McAdoo half a vote, dropping his total from 444 ½ to 444. (Smith remained at 321.) But, after their display during Bryan's oration, many of the non-New York delegates were sick of the rambunctiousness of the balcony. After a recess until Wednesday night, McAdoo jumped up to 499 votes on the thirty-ninth ballot and to 505 on the fortieth ballot - over the psychologically important number of 500 and just under the majority mark of 550. But he lost fractions of a vote on the forty-first and the forty-second ballot, and the evening adjourned. McAdoo has passed the 500 mark," Roosevelt confidently declared to the press, "and he may go higher, but he will never pass the majority mark."20

On the ninth day, the situation was static once again. Thursday, July 3rd saw the most ballots called in American history -- nineteen -- and a brief boom for Indiana Governor Samuel Ralston, but when the sixty-first ballot was finished at one in the morning, Ralston had fallen back down to earth and nothing had changed. Compounding the stalemate was the increasing sense among the favorite sons that, at this point, a compromise candidate would have to be chosen, and few wanted to remove their name from consideration. One who did on the tenth day, however, was Ralston, who had been the stalking horse for Indiana boss Tom Taggart and who, being sickly, had never wanted the job anyway - but Indiana then split its votes 20/10 for McAdoo and Smith. James Cox also removed his name on Independence Day, but the crucial state of Ohio merely shifted its votes to another favorite son, Newton Baker. On the 67th ballot, Will Rogers got his first vote for president from a member of the Arizona delegation, and on the 69th, McAdoo reached his convention high of 530. But on the seventieth ballot, McAdoo receded once more and, when the gavel came down at 12:20am, there was no end in sight.21

The situation for the Democrats had become critical. Aside from the catastrophe on the radio, even Democratic delegates were now leaving town in disgust, among them Congressman and McAdoo supporter John Nance Garner of Texas, who proclaimed "Hell, this convention won't nominate a candidate in a hundred ballots!" "I never dreamed it would be anything like this," one exhausted woman told those around her. "I'm through with politics." Franklin Roosevelt was among those now looking for a way out, as was his candidate. In fact, Smith had hoped to speak to the convention on Independence Day, stand up for himself and his religion, and then announce his withdrawal - but irate McAdoo forces had shouted down Roosevelt's request for Smith to speak. And even as Smith was now willing to compromise, McAdoo was digging in even further. "I fear for the man who would approach Mr. McAdoo," one of his lieutenants declared. "He is like General Grant and is going to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer."22

As the remaining amassed delegates began to grind down in despair, Saturday, July 5th saw only seven ballots. On the seventy-seventh, McAdoo had 513 votes, Smith 367, Davis 76 ½, Underwood 47 ½ Glass 27, Robinson (of Arkansas) 24, Ritchie (of Maryland) 16 ½ -- meaning McAdoo still did not have a majority of the convention, and Smith had exactly the third he needed to forever deny McAdoo the nomination. All parties now agreed to a "harmony conference" over the weekend to sort out the situation - in effect creating a "smoke-filled room" akin to the one that had nominated Harding four years earlier. But McAdoo showed little inclination to deal, and, so after two days of marathon meetings, Monday, July 7th dawned with no deal in place and every other candidate now loathing the frontrunner. As a result, McAdoo saw his number of votes dwindle down to the true believers. On the eighty-seventh ballot at 11:45pm -- which was the last of the evening, on account of the sad death from blood poisoning of the president's son, Calvin Coolidge, Jr. -- McAdoo led Smith, 361 ½ to 336 ½.23

Tuesday, July 8th -- the fourteenth day -- saw a morning boom for Indiana Governor Samuel Ralston, who had removed his name from contention the week before. Nonetheless, McAdoo delegates looking for another safe harbor fled to the standard of the Klan-supported governor, and by the ninety-third ballot Tuesday afternoon, Smith had 355 ½, McAdoo 314, and Ralston 196 ¼. But Ralston was adamant about not wanting the job -- he would perish the following year -- and so the convention took another recess to assess the situation. For the first time, Smith gamely and McAdoo reluctantly met face-to-face for over an hour to plan a joint withdrawal and agree on a candidate. That meeting ended in doubt, but that evening, Franklin Roosevelt announced to the remnants of the convention that "Governor Smith authorizes me to say that immediately upon the withdrawal by Mr. McAdoo of his name, Governor Smith will withdraw his name also." Desperation then began to emanate from the McAdoo hardliners. "Before God, before Christ, we want McAdoo!" bellowed one Arizona delegate. But while the McAdoo faithful stayed true, Ralston's former delegates began to move toward John W. Davis. On the 99th ballot, the count was McAdoo 353, Smith 353, Davis 210, Underwood 39 ½, Glass 38, Meredith (of Iowa) 37, Robinson 25, Ritchie 17 ½.24

At this point, well after two in the morning, McAdoo then announced that "if I should withdraw my name from the Convention I should betray the trust confided to me by the people in many states which have sent delegates here to support me. And yet I am unwilling to contribute to a continuation of a hopeless deadlock. Therefore, I have determined to leave my friends and supporters free to take such action as, in their judgment, may best serve the interests of the party." Instead of withdrawing, McAdoo had released his delegates -- a final thumb of the nose at the Smith contingent. Nonetheless, eager to see the ramifications of McAdoo's announcement, the convention called a 100th ballot. At four in the morning, the count was Smith 351 ½, Davis 210, McAdoo 190, Meredith 75 ½, Thomas Walsh 52 ½, Robinson 46, and Owen (of Oklahoma) 20. Even now, there was still no candidate, and nobody knew what to do. When William Jennings Bryan asked for consent to speak, a disgusted crowd booed him down.25

While the convention delegate had been fighting in the trenches Monday and Tuesday, the 1920 presidential candidate, James Cox, had returned from Ohio to build a compromise boom for Davis of West Virginia, a man whom everyone seemed to agree would be satisfactory with the exception of William Jennings Bryan. (Again, Bryan loathed him for his lawyerly connections to Wall Street. For this reason, Mencken -- overestimating Bryan's waning influence -- had told his readers that "John W. Davis will never be nominated.") On the afternoon of Wednesday, July 9th, as delegates were tired, despairing, and late to file in -- another Alabama delegate besides Governor Brandon announced the twenty-foah votes for Underwood -- Cox's efforts began to pay dividends. The 101st ballot saw Davis at 316, Underwood at 229 ½, Meredith at 130, Smith at 121, Walsh at 98, Glass at 59, McAdoo at 52, and Robinson at 22 ½. Finally, the end was in sight. Even as Bryan raced all over the floor bellowing that "the convention must not nominate a Wall Street man," the 102nd ballot saw Davis rise to 415 ½. At 3pm on the fifteenth day and the 103rd ballot, John W. Davis finally, mercifully became the Democratic candidate with 844 votes over Underwood's 102 ½. When a newspaperman congratulated Davis on his victory, the candidate replied, "Thanks, but you know how much it is worth."26

Even then, the convention still had to pick a vice-president. With the presidential balloting finally done, delegates all over the room began to call out for Thomas Walsh to join the ticket. Wanting no further part of the proceedings, Walsh suddenly adjourned the convention and left town, leaving a note to be read to the floor proclaiming he would refuse the vice-presidential nod under any circumstances. (In this decision, he had been aided by his Montana friend and colleague Burton Wheeler, who asked him point-blank, "What would you rather be -- a defeated candidate for Vice President or a re-elected Senator?") The Democracy would have to look elsewhere for a running mate for Davis.27

The next and final day of the convention, Thursday, July 10th, Congressman Alben Barkley of Kentucky held the gavel. After a slew of names were put forward, Al Smith was finally given his chance to speak to the delegates, and, while he promised to "take off my coat and vest" and work hard for the ticket - which was more than McAdoo, who immediately fled for Europe, would do - the hard edge of his defensive speech alienated the crowd on the way out. Even as John W. Davis also stepped to the platform and gave a more endearing speech, the problem of the vice-presidency lingered - Few even seemed to want it. An afternoon of party elders eventually came up with Charles W. Bryan of Nebraska - younger brother of William - to balance the Eastern Wall Street lawyer on the top of the ticket. (When the younger Bryan was told the news, he replied, "Quit your kidding.") At 1:10am Friday morning, Bryan's name was officially put into contention, and the exhausted delegations, after some confusion, began to move their votes to his column. When Bryan had received 740 votes, eight more than needed, the convention -- at 2:30 in the morning -- abruptly drew to a close.28


"The two factions lost everything that they had fought for," wrote a stunned Mencken about the selection of Davis. "It was as if Germany and France, after warring over Alsace-Lorraine for centuries, should hand it over to England." (Mencken also hoped his editors would know to reverse the line about Davis never being nominated in his last dispatch.) Still, the very Wet Mencken was delighted to see the very Dry Great Commoner brought so low by the proceedings. "They not only shoved his arch-enemy, Davis down his throat; they shoved his brother, the Nebraska John the Baptist, after Davis, and so made it impossible for him to yell. This joke upon Bryan was worth all the long sessions, all the lost sleep, all the hard usage of the gluteus maximus I shall be snickering over it many long years. I shall recall it upon the scaffold, and so shock the sheriff with a macabre smirk."

As it happened, Bryan was delighted by the choice of his brother. "The age of miracles has not passed," he declared, urging "Charley" to join the Wall Street-headed ticket. This abrupt turnaround, joked writer Clinton W. Gilbert, made it clear that "[i]f monkeys had votes Mr. Bryan would be a champion of evolution." Nonetheless, taken in total, the 1924 convention had been Bryan's Waterloo. "I have never been so humiliated in all my life," he later tearfully confessed to Senator Heflin of the experience. It would indeed be his last convention.29

Bryan wasn't the only man to meet his political demise in Madison Square Garden. For his truculence in defeat as much as for his reluctance to bend the knee at any point in the proceedings, William McAdoo lost any hope of being considered a viable presidential contender in the future. McAdoo, thought The Nation, "took his terrible disappointment with poor grace indeed -- and gave no evidence of being a generous loser. Much of the delay of the convention was due to his obstinate refusal to see what was plain from the start to every unprejudiced observer - that he could not win." Al Smith, on the other hand, took his defeat "in such excellent spirit" that he seemed "a more sympathetic figure than ever." The most compelling figure to emerge from the wreckage of New York, however, was Franklin D. Roosevelt. To the Democratic New York World, he was "the real hero…the one leader commanding the respect and admiration of delegations from all sections." Kansas City boss Tom Pendergast, the man who would later pluck Harry Truman from obscurity and start him on the road to the White House, thought Roosevelt "the most magnetic personality of any individual I have ever met, and I predict he will be…the Democratic candidate in 1928."30

As for the Democratic candidate in 1924 -- former Solicitor General, Ambassador to England, and president of the American Bar Association John W. Davis -- progressives were charitable to the man but unenthused about his candidacy. The New Republic deemed his nomination "an inglorious and insignificant ending of the bitter and significant contest between the Smith and the McAdoo factions…From the progressive point of view his high character and his eminent abilities are simply irrelevant." In a separate editorial, TNR, who thought Thomas Walsh was the best choice for the Democrats, argued that "Coolidge is an arid conservative who makes conservatism repellent. Mr. Davis is an engaging conservative who makes it attractive." Neither, they thought, was a particularly good choice for America in 1924.31

From the sidelines, Harold Ickes also saw similarities between the two major-party candidates. "Davis is at least an upstanding man," he wrote Hiram Johnson, "and when he serves the house of Morgan he charges for his services. Coolidge is an even more facile servant of the same master, but he does it for nothing." For Senator Johnson, the "choice with the major parties is merely the way in which you wish to enter the House of Morgan, whether by Wall Street with Dwight Morrow, or by Broad Street with Dan Lamont." Still, he noted, "[h]ow true was Grant's exclamation that the Democratic Party could be relied upon at the right time to do the wrong thing." For his part, Mencken looked askance at the Democratic candidate with his usual leery eye. "He used to work for J. Pierpont Morgan, and he has himself said that he is proud of the fact," noted Mencken. "I knew a man once who was proud of his skill at biting off little dog's tails." As for his term as head of the ABA, Mencken noted it "coincided exactly with a revolt against the wholesale invasions of the Bill of Rights that were begun under Wilson…Dr. Davis took no part in it. To this day he has uttered no word about it. Is he in favor of shoving men into jail without jury trials, or is he against it? No one knows."32

The Nation agreed that Davis was at least a man of presidential timbre. Before the New York fiasco had even gotten under way, the magazine had suggested him as the best potential compromise candidate -- "He has presence, dignity, force; he is in the best sense a gentleman." But they too thought a Wall Street lawyer didn't fit the need of the nation in 1924, and for both TNR and The Nation, there was now only one compelling choice. "The need of today," argued the latter "is a four-square man as to whose sincerity there can be no question, who shall have given proof that he is ready to pay any price for his beliefs and that he is unselfishly devoted to the public interest. Such a man is today to be found in neither Republican nor Democratic camps, for Robert La Follette has already left the former."33



Continue to Chapter 8, Pt. 7: Fighting Bob.

Return to the Table of Contents.

1. Leuchtenburg, Perils of Prosperity, 134. Miller, 167. Slayton, 215. "The Ballot Brawl of 1924," Washington Post, March 4, 2008, C1. Brown, 21. Murray, The 103rd Ballot, xiii.
2. Miller, 167. Murray, The 103rd Ballot, 97, 105-106. Leuchtenburg, The Perils of Prosperity, 133.
3. Ibid.
4. Leuchtenburg. Murray, The 103rd Ballot, 108-109, 210.
5. Murray, The 103rd Ballot, 90, 92, 112-113, 181.
6. Ibid, 112, 116-122. "The Week," The New Republic, July 2nd, 1924 (Vol. 39, No. 500), 140.
7. Ibid, 123-127.
8. Murray, The 103rd Ballot, 129-131, 137. Slayton, 209-211. Finan, 178-179.
9. Murray, The 103rd Ballot, 139-140.
10. "Democratic Party Platform of 1924," June 24, 1924. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29593
11. Ibid.
12. "The Week," The New Republic, July 9th, 1924 (Vol. 39, No. 501), 167. Murray, The 103rd Ballot, 143-144, 153-154. To allow for more delegates to attend, Democrats sometimes gave each delegate a half vote, a quarter vote, or even less. The abysmal situation in the Garden in 1924 encouraged them to rethink this policy.
13. "Democratic Party Platform of 1856," June 2, 1856. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29576. "Democratic Party Platform of 1924." Murray, The 103rd Ballot, 144-147.
14. Murray, The 103rd Ballot, 150-156.
15. Ibid, 157-159.
16. Ibid, 159-161.
17. Ibid, 154, 162, 164. John W. Owens, "Now That It's Over," The New Republic, July 23, 1924 (Vol. 39, No. 503), 229.
18. Ibid, 166-171. Miller, New World Coming, 167.
19. Ibid, 172-175.
20. Ibid, 176-179.
21. Ibid, 180-187.
22. Ibid, 182, 186-187.
23. Ibid, 188-195.
24. Ibid, 195-200.
25. Ibid, 200-201.
26. Ibid, 202-207, 221. Schlesinger, Crisis of the Old Order, 100.
27. Murray, The 103rd Ballot, 208-213. Wheeler, Yankee from the West, 249.
28. Murray, The 103rd Ballot, 208-213.
29. Mencken, 81-82. Murray, The 103rd Ballot, 212, 223. "Editorial Paragraphs," The Nation, July 23rd, 1924 (Vol. 119, No. 3081), 85-86. Schlesinger, Crisis of the Old Order, 376-378. Levine, 324.
30. "Editorial Paragraphs," The Nation, July 23rd, 1924 (Vol. 119, No. 3081), 85.
31. "The Week," The New Republic, July 23rd, 1924 (Vol. 39, No. 503), 219. "John W. Davis," The New Republic, July 23rd, 1924 (Vol. 39, No. 503), 225.
32. Ickes to Johnson, July 15, 1924. HLP. Johnson to Ickes, July 14, 1924. HLP. Leuchtenburg, Perils of Prosperity, 135. Mencken, 85, 98. Dan Lamont was Secretary of War under Grover Cleveland and a banker of some repute.
33. "Cleveland, Wilson, ?," The Nation, July 2nd, 1924 (Vol. 119, No. 3078), 4.

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