Less than Roaring for Dems
National Conventions 1920-1928
The Eighth in a 20 part series on the Democratic National Conventions
1920: A Rising Star named FDR
Dates: June 28 - July 6, 1920
Venue: San Francisco Civic Auditorium, 99 Grove Street, San Francisco CA. The facility, while renovated several times, is still the same site as the 1920 convention. It is now named the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.
Events: After an easy convention in 1916, Democrats were back to fighting in 1920. The early fight was between former Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo and Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer (notorious for the Red Scare). Al Smith, the governor of New York, showed some early strength, but soon dropped out.
James Cox, a newspaper publisher and Governor of Ohio, started slow but gradually built up delegate strength. He overtook McAdoo on the twelfth ballot. They fought back and forth until the 39th ballot, when Cox finally took a permanent lead. He won on the 44th ballot.
Cox chose a young (only 38) Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as his running mate (more about him later), and he was approved by acclamation.
Democrats would endorse Woodrow Wilson's idea for the League of Nations and support prohibition in the 1920 platform.
November: A nation weary of Wilson chose Warren G Harding to replace him. The Governor of Ohio beat Cox by 404 to 127, and by a popular margin of 7 million votes. Harding’s 26 percent margin remains the largest blowout in the history of contested US presidential elections a century later.
Unfortunately, Harding’s administration was mired in scandal, with several of his associates going to prison or committing suicide. Harding himself died in August 1923 at the age of 58, making Calvin Coolidge the 30th President.
1924: The Longest Convention in History
Dates: June 24 - July 9, 1924 (16 days)
Venue: Madison Square Garden, 26th and Madison Avenue, New York City. This was the second incarnation of the Garden, built in 1890 and closed in 1925. The site is notorious for the murder of architect Stanford White. The site now contains the landmark New York Life Building (1926), designed by Cass. It is directly opposite Madison Square Park.
Events: The 1924 convention lasted 16 days and went through 103 ballots. Several of those days were spent debated a resolution openly condemning the Ku Klux Klan, which failed by the slimmest of margins.
Franklin Roosevelt, making a political comeback after suffering polio in 1921, gave the nominating speech for New York Governor Al Smith, nicknaming him “The Happy Warrior.”
Former Treasury Secretary William McAdoo (a contender in 1920) was the early front runner, but he never got over the 2/3rd threshold. Both McAdoo and Smith played games for vote after vote, but the impasse never broke. After 102 ballots, delegates finally settled on John W Davis, who had been third throughout the whole fiasco. Davis had served in the Wilson administration as Solicitor General and Ambassador to England.
Delegates named Charles Bryan (brother of William Jennings Bryan), the governor of Nebraska, as their vice presidential candidate. Shout out to Lena Springs of Tennessee as the first woman to receive votes for Vice President at a national political convention.
November 1924: After such a battle royale, it is little surprise Democrats went down to defeat in 1924. New president Calvin Coolidge had a booming economy and was not really tainted by the scandals of the Harding administration.
Davis’ troubles were added to with the addition of Wisconsin Senator Robert LaFollette as the Progressive candidate. Fighting Bob got 16.6 percent of the vote and actually finished second in 12 states (he won Wisconsin). Coolidge won the electoral college 382 to 136. Davis received only 28.8 percent of the popular vote, the lowest percentage ever for any Democrat.
1928: The Happy Warrior Strikes Out
Dates: June 26 - 28, 1928
Venue: Sam Houston Hall, 801 Bagby Street (Bagby and Rusk), Houston TX. The hall was in place between 1928 and 1936. Today the site is the smaller part of Tranquility Park (named to honor Apollo 11), a small park in the heart of downtown Houston. The park has two memorials for the space shuttle disasters.
Events: After the contentious convention of 1924, delegates were ready for simplicity and the quickly nominated New York Governor Al Smith after one ballot. There were a variety of minor contenders, including Cordell Hull of Tennessee, who would become FDR’s Secretary of State.
Smith was the first Roman Catholic to be nominated as for the presidency. Delegates chose Senator Joseph Robinson of Arkansas, the Senate Majority Leader, for vice president.
By 1928, the agricultural sector was already showing signs of the coming Depression. The platform focused heavily on agricultural subsidies, public works and flood control -- all major elements of the New Deal under FDR.
November 1928: The election was an absolute blowout for Republican Herbert Hoover, the Secretary of Commerce. He won 444 to 87, with Smith not even winning his home state of New York. Smith won only one state (Massachusetts) outside the Deep South. In the popular vote Hoover won 21.4 million to 15 million.
In retrospect, Smith may have dodged a bullet, because a year later the economy imploded and Hoover was stuck with the worst financial crisis in American history.