Democratic National Convention: a wild ride in 1924
In 1924, the Democratic National Convention featured non-stop fighting and multiple gaffes.
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That wasn't all. The delegates actually debated the KKK, even though nobody actually wanted to come near the issue. This did not go well: "No paradise of human understanding at best, Madison Square Garden now turned into a pit of crouching hates and simmering prejudices."Skip to next paragraph
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The vicious KKK debate finally ended in a chaotic two-hour vote that produced the most "prolonged pandemonium in an American political gathering."
"The delegates engaged in fist fights, arguments, name calling, wrestling matches, and brawls, while the galleries howled and stomped their feet." The fighting veered toward a riot that was only averted when 1,000 NYC cops hurried to the scene.
Sit Back, Stay a While: The balloting to choose the nominee went on. And on. And on. Will Rogers complained, as Murray put it, "that New York had invited the delegates as visitors, not to live there."
One day featured a whopping 19 ballots, the most ever taken on a single day of a major political convention in U.S. history.
Meanwhile, on Independence Day, 20,000 Klansmen and their families met to rally in nearby New Jersey. They built an effigy of Smith, the Catholic governor, and smashed it with baseballs at a nickel for three throws.
This Was No Magic Number: Finally, after 102 ballots, just two candidates remained in the running. One was "an eastern Wall Street lawyer" from West Virginia. The other was, of all things, a "wet anti-Klan southerner."
The lawyer, John W. Davis, got the nomination on the 103rd ballot. He was a compromise and, ultimately, a loser. The incumbent, Calvin Coolidge, would be elected president with 54 percent of the vote. Davis couldn't even reach 30 percent.
Davis would eventually abandon his party and embrace the GOP.
Smith, the New York governor, would try for the nomination again in 1928 and get it. But Herbert Hoover would wipe the floor with him.
And FDR? He'd run, and lose, on the 1924 ticket with Davis as a vice presidential candidate. He'd roar back, older and wiser, eight years later and win the White House.
So why bother reading about 1924? It turns out that there's more here than a few amusing and appalling tales. The havoc at the convention represents the era's battle over who gets to enjoy the full benefits of being an American.
"(E)very shade of opinion, every prejudice, every fear, every division which could be found in American society as a whole was duplicated in Madison Square Garden in 1924...," Murray writes. "Marking the first concerted attempt to reach a political consensus on many of these matters, the Garden convention was a failure."
Still, the convention and its aftermath "provided eloquent testimony to the tenacious belief of the American public in the efficacy of the democratic process and to the Democratic party's persistent search for a workable political consensus."
The Democratic party, strong enough to survive this epic prize fight in Madison Square Garden, would stick around for another 88 years (and counting). And American democracy, no delicate flower, would keep on thriving.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.