Anyone that has a television realizes that we are in the middle of a presidential election and the official start of campaigning is supposed to begin with the presidential conventions.  It is at the convention that the candidate is officially nominated by his party to run for the highest office in the land.  It is also at the convention that the candidate for vice president is selected.  Today this nomination is more ceremonial and the convention is a launching pad full of speeches and pizzazz with the actual selection of the nominee being known for weeks before the convention is held.  The vice presidential nominee had already been determined by the presidential nominee and the selection is based not only on personal substance but also on the ability to get a segment of the voters that may not be so supportive of the presidential nominee.  We get to watch this anticlimax twice.  Once for the Republicans and once for the Democrats.

It was not all ways like this.  In the mid-sixties John Kennedy was a major contender.  The Louisiana delegation was originally in favor of Lyndon Johnson.  The working began and votes taken at the convention.  After much political work Kennedy gained the nomination and Johnson became his vice presidential candidate.

Even though many of us have witnessed the nomination of the presidential candidate without a certainty of who it will be until the convention is almost over, we have witnessed nothing like what happened in 1924.  The Democratic convention was held in New York in the middle of summer and it was hot.  Air Conditioning was lacking and it was the norm for men to be in shirt and ties and jackets with hats would be expected of professional men.  Women would be in full dress.  Delegates would arrive by train following days of travel for many.  Excitement abounded and each state delegation would have their own favorite delegate to nominate.  Voting would begin and following a few rounds of delegate voting a candidate would be selected.  1924 was far different.

A major point of contention was the KuKluxKlan.  The Roman Catholic delegation from New York’s Tammany Hall wanted the party to denounce the organization.  Fights almost broke out in the hotels.  William Jennings Bryant, the youngest candidate ever for president was now an old man and was jeered for thirty minutes and not allowed to speak as he tried to keep the Klan issue out of the convention. He knew this was dividing the party.  This failed by seven votes and following fifty failed ballots to determine the nominee the press had named the convention  the “Klanbake”.

The Klan issue was not the only item of controversy at he convention. The two leading nominees were William McAdoo and Al Smith.  Smith was Catholic and no Catholic had ever been elected president and this was seen to be an albatross around his neck.  Ironically, it was Joe Kennedy who convinced democratic leaders that a Catholic could not be elected president. It would be 40 years before Joe’s son, John, would be the first Catholic elected president.  The other leading candidate, McAdoo, was doomed by his support of the Klan. The balloting and politicking continued.  The convention had lost its’ glamour. Delegates had run out of money and were wiring home to get enough to pay for hotel bills and food.  Finally after fifteen hot contentious days and following one hundred and three ballots, the Democrats selected John Davis to be their candidate.

Conventions have certainly changed over the years.  This story was captured in the book “I Called Him Grand Dad.  The Lost Political Papers of Harvey G. Fields”.


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