The tidy convention for Silent Cal

Well, let's say that the Republican convention of 1924 was - different. That's the one in which President Reagan's hero, Calvin Coolidge, was nominated after ascending to the White House on the death of Warren Harding in August of 1923.

For one thing, the convention was held in Cleveland, a city neither major party had chosen up to that time. Not that Cleveland was the end of the earth (or that you could see it from there) in June 1924. The Cleveland Public Auditorium was attractive by contemporary standards and would remain so during the convention, unadorned by the traditional flags and GOP bunting. In fact, two days before the convention, the auditorium was open to the public for a look-see at the austere arrangements. An organ recital lent additional formality to the open house.

The convention would be the first broadcast by radio, by 15 stations from the East Coast to as far west as Kansas City. A running commentary was provided by Graham McNamee, who was lodged in a glass, soundproof booth near the convention stage. Amplification in the auditorium for the 15,000 spectators and delegates reached new peaks of refinement as a result of a dozen ''horns'' strategically placed from the ceiling.

No convention would have greater capacity for sending out the news: 700,000 words per day, according to 100 Western Union operators in the auditorium basement. And while photographs could be transmitted by wire, their quality wasn't quite as good as the ''flashlight'' originals, one of which was brought by airplane to New York City, dropped by parachute near the Statue of Liberty, and whisked by a motorboat to newspapermen waiting on shore.

The convention proceedings were as swift as the technology that surrounded the event, taking only three days, the shortest since 1904. Of course, there was a glitch or two. The preferred vice-presidential candidate, Illinois Gov. Frank O. Lowden, received a majority of votes on the second ballot, but he wasn't interested in taking the second spot. So a third ballot was necessary, resulting in the selection of banker Charles G. Dawes.

The most unusual and record-setting event of the convention was the nominating speech for Coolidge, the longest in convention history. This in spite of the fact the President was known for his taciturn nature. The speech, given by president Marion Leroy Burton of the University of Michigan, ran 51 minutes. But that was only because Dr. Burton was a rapid speaker. An ordinary orator would have needed a good hour and a quarter.

The speech was scarcely academic. On the contrary, it would leave grammarians red-faced (''To you and I,'' said Dr. Burton at one point). No matter. It was a forceful sales talk on behalf of the nation's No. 1 political product. Divided into three parts, the nominating speech focused on related, if not identical, areas of Coolidge: ''The Man,'' ''The American,'' and ''The Human Being.''

It was liberally sprinkled with food for thought about life in general. ''Life is too serious to be taken seriously,'' Dr. Burton said. ''There is no such thing as virtue without virtuous men or citizenship without citizens.''

Of course, the best words were reserved for the candidate:

''When we call him (Coolidge) a conservative, we must distinguish between the various types. He represents 'that conservatism which is the strength of all civilization.' ''

''He uses the past for the future. He is no mere worshiper of the past as the past. It has meaning chiefly as a guide for the future.''

''His mind has time to work because his tongue permits it.''

The delegates loved Dr. Burton's speech and were eager for more words of wisdom, according to contemporary accounts, although the demonstration that followed the longest nomination was one of the shortest, 13 minutes. The delegate votes for Coolidge were nearly unanimous, and about the only disappointment was the President's reaction. Coolidge was eating lunch in the White House when Isaac Hoover, chief usher, informed him of the big news. He nodded without saying a word and resumed his meal. In fact, his only formal statement issued during the convention was a telegram to the vice-presidential nominee:

''It will be a pleasure to be associated with you in the public service. Best wishes to you and Mrs. Dawes, in which Mrs. Coolidge joins. Calvin Coolidge.''

That was a total of 28 words - what Dr. Burton calls a ''frugality of idioms'' nurtured by a ''fecundity of ideas.''

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