1932 Democratic Convention - History

1932 Democratic Convention - History

Chicago, IL

June 27 to July 2, 1932

Nominated: Franklin D Roosevelt of New York for President

Nominated: John Nance Gardner of Texas for Vice President

The convention opened with the majority of delegated pledged to Franklin Roosevelt. He had won most of the primaries he faced against Al Smith who he had replaced as Governor.. There was however significant opposition to Roosevelt among those who believed that he was too liberal. On the first ballot Roosevelt received 666 1/4 votes 102 less then the two thirds needed for the nomination. Two more ballots were held the same night but to no avail and Roosevelt still could not muster the two thirds needed. Overnight Roosevelt supporters succeeded in convincing both the California and Texas delegations to support Roosevelt. The next day William McAdoo the head of the California delegation rose and stated:" California came her to choose the next President of the United States. She did not come here to deadlock this convention or engage in another disastrous contest like that of 1924". With that he announced that California would support Roosevelt. Roosevelt ended up with 945 of the conventions delegates. Roosevelt broke previous traditions and flew to Chicago to accept the parties nomination.

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1932 Presidential Campaign

Franklin Roosevelt’s nomination for President by the Democratic Convention in Chicago in July 1932 led to one of the momentous campaigns in American political history.

Saddled with responsibility for the Depression, President Hoover would have been vulnerable to almost any opponent in 1932. FDR’s advisors were unanimous in urging him to play it safe and wage a front porch campaign his running mate, John Nance Garner of Texas, told him, “All you have got to do is stay alive until election day.”

FDR campaigns in Atlanta, Georgia.
October 24, 1932

But from his first political venture in upstate New York, FDR had personally exulted in active campaigning, and in 1932 he felt the times and the mood of the country required no less.

Accordingly he campaigned the length and breadth of the land, carrying his message into forty-one states and making a score of major addresses as well as hundreds of whistle-stop appearances. It was the most active presidential campaign to that time.

Some of the positions FDR advocated for during the campaign, such as a commitment to lower taxes, balance the budget, and cut the Federal bureaucracy by 25%, came back to haunt him later. But his energy and personal charm nevertheless carried him to a sweeping victory on November 8, winning forty-two of the forty-eight states, an electoral vote margin of 472 to 59, and a popular vote of 22.8 million to Hoover’s 15.7 million.

Telegram, Herbert Hoover to FDR, November 7, 1932


Central Issues

“I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.” -Franklin Roosevelt, Acceptance Speech, Democratic National Convention, July 2, 1932

The way Americans chose Presidential candidates in 1932 was far different from today. Primaries and caucuses played a minor role. Nominations were settled by party leaders in smoke-filled rooms at national conventions.

At the Democratic Convention in Chicago, FDR faced formidable rivals, including the party’s 1928 nominee Al Smith and House Speaker John Nance Garner. Roosevelt led in early balloting, but could not reach the necessary two-thirds majority. Fearing attention might shift to another candidate, FDR’s advisers negotiated a deal with Garner. His supporters switched to FDR and Garner received the vice presidential nomination. With Garner’s votes, Roosevelt won on the fourth ballot.

In those days, Presidential nominees did not appear at party conventions. FDR defied that tradition, flew to Chicago to accept his nomination, and electrified the delegates with his call for a “New Deal.”


Neal's 'Happy Days Are Here Again' -- FDR rises in 1932

In recent years, national party conventions have become such cut-and-dried soap operas that it's hard to believe there was a time when delegates actually performed the function of choosing their party's presidential candidate rather than merely rubber-stamping what had already been decided in the primary elections.

This book captures all the high drama of one of the most important conventions in the nation's history -- the 1932 Democratic National Convention that nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt for the first of his four successful campaigns for the presidency.

When the delegates gathered in Chicago in the summer of 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the clear favorite to win the nomination. His cousin Theodore had been a popular president just a few years earlier he had served as assistant secretary of the Navy under President Wilson he was his party's nominee for vice president in the 1920 election he had just been re-elected governor of New York by a huge majority and he had more committed delegates than all the other nomination-seekers combined.

Despite all these impressive credentials, Roosevelt's nomination was anything but certain as the delegates assembled under a cloak of intrigue much like that surrounding the selection of a medieval pope. Winning a mere majority of the delegates was not sufficient to win the nomination, Roosevelt had to navigate the minefield of the two-thirds rule, which required that the party nominee gain a super-majority. It was a pernicious device designed to give the South a de facto veto over the party's candidate.

Steve Neal, a Chicago newspaper reporter whose earlier books include an account of the erstwhile friendship between Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, draws memorable portraits of the ragbag of power manipulators who were seeking to wrest the nomination from Roosevelt. Among these was Maryland's governor, Albert C. Ritchie, who, Neal maintains, could have gotten the vice presidential nomination if he had been receptive to a proffered deal to throw his support to Roosevelt at a crucial moment in the convention. In the end, that prize went to John Nance Garner, the Texan who was willing to cut a deal. Given the relative obscurity of most of these contenders, the book inevitably sinks into passages of tedium that would tax the patience of even political junkies. But the most riveting sections deal with the redoubtable Huey Pierce Long, one of the most volcanic figures in American political history.

Long, who by that time was a virtual dictator of Louisiana, came to the convention uncommitted but wound up grudgingly supporting Roosevelt as the best of bad alternatives for dealing with the misery of the Great Depression, which by that time had taken hold with a vengeance.

Long regarded Roosevelt's proposals for addressing the crisis as entirely too timid. What was necessary, he stated in the bluntest terms, was a radical redistribution of the wealth.

Indeed, even though the book ends with Roosevelt's triumph at the convention and in the election that followed, he continued to be stalked by the menacing figure of Huey Long, who reasoned that despite Roosevelt's wonderfully optimistic and inspirational persona, his scattergun policies for dealing with the Depression were largely ineffectual.

Neal's book ends with the 1932 election, but before Roosevelt's first term was half over, Long had already written a book with the audacious title of My First 100 Days in the White House. In his magisterial 1969 biography of the Louisiana Kingfish, Huey Long (Vintage, 944 pages, $24), the historian T. Harry Williams lays out Long's Machiavellian strategy.

Long, who by that time had built an impressive national following by hammering on the pervasive economic anguish, would run in the 1936 election as a third-party candidate to the left of Roosevelt. This maneuver would split the liberal-left vote in a way that would assure the election of the Republican candidate, who that year was Gov. Alf Landon of Kansas. Under President Landon, according to Long's scheme, the Depression would only worsen, and Long would roar back in 1940 as the Democratic candidate for president.

Improbable, perhaps, but chillingly plausible at a time when other charismatic and dangerous demagogues across the Atlantic were taking over Germany and Italy.

America was never put to that test, because just as the election of 1936 was taking shape, Huey Long was assassinated. None of the others who would pick up his mantle -- including Dr. Francis Townsend, the Rev. Gerald L.K. Smith, and Father Charles E. Coughlin -- had anything approximating Long's skill and intelligence to carry out such a ballot-box coup.

So Roosevelt coasted to comfortable elections three more times. And the Depression was ended -- not by Roosevelt's policies, but by the coming of the Second World War. Winning that war -- and saving Western civilization -- would become the supreme achievement of the man who, by a near miracle, won the Democratic nomination for president at that Chicago convention in 1932.

Ray Jenkins, as a reporter for the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger, won the 1955 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for his coverage, with another reporter, of the 1954 Phenix City, Ala., upheaval. He has worked for the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser-Journal, The New York Times and the Clearwater (Fla.) Sun, and was editorial-page editor of The Evening Sun. His book, Blind Vengeance, was published in 1997 by the University of Georgia Press.


Early conventions

When the U.S. Constitution was written, it didn’t lay out a process for determining a presidential nominee. For years, political parties relied on a secretiveprocess known by the derisive nickname “King Caucus” to select their candidates. These caucuses were informal affairs in which U.S. Congressmen met to set their parties’ platforms and determine who would run.

Candidates and citizens alike despised this undemocratic system. By the 1820s, criticism had reached a fever pitch and it became clear King Caucus’ days were numbered. But how should parties figure out who to nominate?

An answer came out of left field in 1831, when the nation’s first third party, the Anti-Masons, held the first ever nominating convention in an attempt to do away with caucus secrecy. Though the nominee, William Wirt, only won seven electoral votes in the national election and the party lasted little more than a decade, the idea almost immediately was taken up by the two major political parties, the Democrats and the Whigs, forerunners of the Republicans.

But 19th-century nominating conventions were dramatically different from today’s. In theory, they gave the American people more say in the political process by shifting the nominating responsibility from Congress to state delegates who would vote on the candidates at a national convention. But in reality party insiders controlled these proceedings, too, as they were valuable opportunities to meet and exchange both information and political favors. As presidential historian Gleaves Whitney writes, it was “the era of the proverbial smoke-filled room.” (These are four of the worst political predictions in history.)

Candidates didn’t attend those early conventions, as it was considered immodest to take part in rallying delegates to their side, and nominations were rarely a foregone conclusion. Conventions could be dramatic, boisterous affairs, and issues like slavery split parties into bitter factions. In 1852, for example, the Democratic convention had to hold 49 votes before two-thirds of the delegates could agree on a compromise candidate, pro-slavery Franklin Pierce. Presidential candidates like Pierce instead followed along by telegraph, which Samuel Morse had invented in the 1840s, and responded to the nomination with hometown speeches and acceptance letters.

In the 1890s, a Progressive-era push to further democratize the electoral process led several states to institute a system of primary elections that allowed ordinary Americans to either choose a candidate or the candidate’s delegates directly without party boss interference. Though it now became easier to predict frontrunners, party bosses retained considerable power at the conventions—and presidential candidates still stayed home.


Strange bedfellows

Mob leaders Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky all accompanied the Tammany Hall delegation to the convention in Chicago. Their Mafia associate Al Capone provided much of the alcohol, banned under prohibition, and entertainment.

Costello shared a hotel suite with Jimmy Hines, the Tammany “Grand Sachem,” who announced support for Roosevelt. But another Tammany politician, Albert Marinelli, announced that he and a small bloc were defecting and would not support Roosevelt.

Marinelli was Tammany’s leader in the Second Assembly District, its heartland below Manhattan’s 14th Street. During Prohibition he had owned a trucking company – run by none other than Lucky Luciano. Luciano had helped Marinelli become the first Italian-American district leader in Tammany, and in 1931 forced the resignation of the city clerk, whom Marinelli then replaced. This gave Luciano and Marinelli control over selection of grand jurors and the tabulation of votes during city elections.

Now, the two were sharing a Chicago hotel suite.


1932 Democratic Platform

In this time of unprecedented economic and social distress the Democratic Party declares its conviction that the chief causes of this condition were the disastrous policies pursued by our government since the World War, of economic isolation, fostering the merger of competitive businesses into monopolies and encouraging the indefensible expansion and contraction of credit for private profit at the expense of the public.

Those who were responsible for these policies have abandoned the ideals on which the war was won and thrown away the fruits of victory, thus rejecting the greatest opportunity in history to bring peace, prosperity, and happiness to our people and to the world.

They have ruined our foreign trade destroyed the values of our commodities and products, crippled our banking system, robbed millions of our people of their life savings, and thrown millions more out of work, produced wide-spread poverty and brought the government to a state of financial distress unprecedented in time of peace.

The only hope for improving present conditions, restoring employment, affording permanent relief to the people, and bringing the nation back to the proud position of domestic happiness and of financial, industrial, agricultural and commercial leadership in the world lies in a drastic change in economic governmental policies.

We believe that a party platform is a covenant with the people to have [sic] faithfully kept by the party when entrusted with power, and that the people are entitled to know in plain words the terms of the contract to which they are asked to subscribe. We hereby declare this to be the platform of the Democratic Party:

The Democratic Party solemnly promises by appropriate action to put into effect the principles, policies, and reforms herein advocated, and to eradicate the policies, methods, and practices herein condemned. We advocate an immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures by abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus, and eliminating extravagance to accomplish a saving of not less than twenty-five per cent in the cost of the Federal Government. And we call upon the Democratic Party in the states to make a zealous effort to achieve a proportionate result.

We favor maintenance of the national credit by a federal budget annually balanced on the basis of accurate executive estimates within revenues, raised by a system of taxation levied on the principle of ability to pay.

We advocate a sound currency to be preserved at all hazards and an international monetary conference called on the invitation of our government to consider the rehabilitation of silver and related questions.

We advocate a competitive tariff for revenue with a fact-finding tariff commission free from executive interference, reciprocal tariff agreements with other nations, and an international economic conference designed to restore international trade and facilitate exchange.

We advocate the extension of federal credit to the states to provide unemployment relief wherever the diminishing resources of the states makes it impossible for them to provide for the needy expansion of the federal program of necessary and useful construction effected [sic] with a public interest, such as adequate flood control and waterways.

We advocate the spread of employment by a substantial reduction in the hours of labor, the encouragement of the shorter week by applying that principle in government service we advocate advance planning of public works.

We advocate unemployment and old-age insurance under state laws.

We favor the restoration of agriculture, the nation's basic industry better financing of farm mortgages through recognized farm bank agencies at low rates of interest on an amortization plan, giving preference to credits for the redemption of farms and homes sold under foreclosure.

Extension and development of the Farm co-operative movement and effective control of crop surpluses so that our farmers may have the full benefit of the domestic market.

The enactment of every constitutional measure that will aid the farmers to receive for their basic farm commodities prices in excess of cost.

We advocate a Navy and an Army adequate for national defense, based on a survey of all facts affecting the existing establishments, that the people in time of peace may not be burdened by an expenditure fast approaching a billion dollars annually.

We advocate strengthening and impartial enforcement of the anti-trust laws, to prevent monopoly and unfair trade practices, and revision thereof for the better protection of labor and the small producer and distributor.

The conservation, development, and use of the nation's water power in the public interest.

The removal of government from all fields of private enterprise except where necessary to develop public works and natural resources in the common interest.

We advocate protection of the investing public by requiring to be filed with the government and carried in advertisements of all offerings of foreign and domestic stocks and bonds true information as to bonuses, commissions, principal invested, and interests of the sellers.

Regulation to the full extent of federal power, of:

(a) Holding companies which sell securities in interstate commerce

(b) Rates of utilities companies operating across State lines

(c) Exchanges in securities and commodities. We advocate quicker methods of realizing on assets for the relief of depositors of suspended banks, and a more rigid supervision of national banks for the protection of depositors and the prevention of the use of their moneys in speculation to the detriment of local credits.

The severance of affiliated security companies from, and the divorce of the investment banking business from, commercial banks, and further restriction of federal reserve banks in permitting the use of federal reserve facilities for speculative purposes.

We advocate the full measure of justice and generosity for all war veterans who have suffered disability or disease caused by or resulting from actual service in time of war and for their dependents.

We advocate a firm foreign policy, including peace with all the world and the settlement of international disputes by arbitration no interference in the internal affairs of other nations and sanctity of treaties and the maintenance of good faith and of good will in financial obligations adherence to the World Court with appending reservations the Pact of Paris abolishing war as an instrument of national policy, to be made effective by provisions for consultation and conference in case of threatened violations of treaties.

International agreements for reduction of armaments and cooperation with nations of the Western Hemisphere to maintain the spirit of the Monroe Doctrine.

We oppose cancelation of the debts owing to the United States by foreign nations.

Independence for the Philippines ultimate statehood for Puerto Rico.

The employment of American citizens in the operation of the Panama Canal.

Simplification of legal procedure and reorganization of the judicial system to make the attainment of justice speedy, certain, and at less cost.

Continuous publicity of political contributions and expenditures strengthening of the Corrupt Practices Act and severe penalties for misappropriation of campaign funds.

We advocate the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. To effect such repeal we demand that the Congress immediately propose a Constitutional Amendment to truly represent [sic] the conventions in the states called to act solely on that proposal we urge the enactment of such measures by the several states as will actually promote temperance, effectively prevent the return of the saloon, and bring the liquor traffic into the open under complete supervision and control by the states.

We demand that the Federal Government effectively exercise its power to enable the states to protect themselves against importation of intoxicating liquors in violation of their laws.

Pending repeal, we favor immediate modification of the Volstead Act to legalize the manufacture and sale of beer and other beverages of such alcoholic content as is permissible under the Constitution and to provide therefrom a proper and needed revenue.

We condemn the improper and excessive use of money in political activities.

We condemn paid lobbies of special interests to influence members of Congress and other public servants by personal contact.

We condemn action and utterances of high public officials designed to influence stock exchange prices.

We condemn the open and cover resistance of administrative officials to every effort made by Congressional Committees to curtail the extravagant expenditures of the Government and to revoke improvident subsidies granted to favorite interests.

We condemn the extravagance of the Farm Board, its disastrous action which made the Government a speculator in farm products, and the unsound policy of restricting agricultural products to the demands of domestic markets.

We condemn the usurpation of power by the State Department in assuming to pass upon foreign securities offered by international bankers as a result of which billions of dollars in questionable bonds have been sold to the public upon the implied approval of the Federal Government.

And in conclusion, to accomplish these purposes and to recover economic liberty, we pledge the nominees of this convention the best efforts of a great Party whose founder announced the doctrine which guides us now in the hour of our country's need: equal rights to all special privilege to none.


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F.D.R.’s Rough Road to Nomination

Presidential candidates now jockeying for position might take comfort when they recall Franklin D. Roosevelt’s perilous route to the Democratic nomination. Even F.D.R., one of America’s most successful presidents, had to work long and hard to get his party’s support for the job. And the last night of that effort was the longest and hardest of all.

In 1932, the leadership of the Democratic National Committee was firmly in the hands of Al Smith loyalists. Convention rules required a two-thirds majority for nomination, and the party’s last three presidential candidates – James Cox of Ohio, the Wall Street lawyer John W. Davis and Al Smith – in addition to House Speaker John Garner and Senate minority leader Joe Robinson, were on record supporting the stand-aside economic policies of the Hoover administration and the ill-conceived and exorbitant Smoot-Hawley tariffs on imported goods.

Roosevelt was an outsider. Serving his second term as governor of New York, he could not even count on the solid support of the Empire State’s delegation at the convention. Tammany Hall was for Smith, as were the organizations of Boss Hague in New Jersey and Gov. Joseph Ely in Massachusetts. California and Texas backed Speaker Garner Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio supported lackluster favorite sons as stalking horses for Newton D. Baker, the former secretary of war Maryland was solid for its longtime governor, Albert C. Ritchie Virginia would vote for Harry Byrd Tom Pendergast was on the fence in Missouri and Oklahoma’s 𠇊lfalfa Bill” Murray was ready to play the role of spoiler.

With the exception of Murray, all of F.D.R.’s rivals were from the pro-business, hard-money, establishment wing of the Democratic Party and decried the possibility of government intervention to revive the economy. “Let natural forces take their course, as free and untrammeled as possible,” said Governor Ritchie.

Roosevelt’s strength lay in the solid South, the farm states west of the Mississippi, and the Yankee kingdom (Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont). It was rural, Protestant, preponderantly dry and suffering mightily from the Depression. Roosevelt had been the nation’s first governor to take action to confront the Depression. In the summer of 1931 he summoned the New York Legislature into special session, rammed through an emergency appropriation to provide relief and raised state income taxes to cover the costs.

“Modern society, acting through its government,” said F.D.R., “owes the definite obligation to prevent the starvation or dire want of any of its fellow men and women who try to maintain themselves but cannot.”

F.D.R. solidified his position as the party’s most progressive candidate with his 𠇏orgotten man” speech to a national radio audience in the spring of 1932. After castigating the top-down relief efforts of Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt said, “These unhappy times call for plans that put their faith in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”

The conservative wing of the Democratic party was aghast. “I will take off my coat and fight to the end against any candidate who persists in any demagogic appeal … setting class against class and rich against poor,” rasped Al Smith.

The battle lines were drawn. Seventeen states had nominating primaries in 1932, the rest chose their delegates in caucus or convention. Just as today, New Hampshire held the first presidential primary, and F.D.R. swept the state with 61.7 percent of the vote, taking all eight convention delegates. Iowa, Alaska, Washington and Maine fell into line. Roosevelt carried Georgia eight to one. In North Dakota he went head-to-head against Murray and polled 62.1 percent of the vote, with many Republicans crossing over to vote in the Democratic primary.

When the convention opened on June 27, Roosevelt held a clear majority of delegates but was still 100 votes shy of the two-thirds required for nomination. If the establishment forces could deny F.D.R. a first-ballot victory, they might deadlock the convention and force a compromise choice. The Democratic party’s two-thirds rule was the nemesis of presidential front-runners, and in the eyes of the party’s old guard, Roosevelt was ripe for a fall.

Nevertheless, F.D.R.’s majority gave him control of the convention. His candidate for presiding officer, Sen. Thomas Walsh of Montana, was elected, and the credentials of three pro-Roosevelt delegations (Louisiana, Minnesota and the Virgin Islands) were accepted.

Prohibition was the culture-war issue of the day, and Roosevelt’s adversaries saw an opportunity to drive a wedge between him and his supporters. Most of the country clamored for repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment (which established Prohibition), but F.D.R.’s convention strength lay in the dry states of the South and West. Rather than take a stand, Roosevelt stepped aside. “I can run on whatever plank the convention adopts,” he told his supporters.

When Roosevelt’s name was placed in nomination, the massive organ at Chicago Stadium broke into a solemn rendition of 𠇊nchors Aweigh” – commemorating F.D.R.’s eight years in the Navy Department under Woodrow Wilson.

“Sounds like a funeral march,” snapped Bronx boss Ed Flynn. “Why not play something peppy, like ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’?” From that day on, “Happy Days” became the Roosevelt anthem.

After a long night of nominations, balloting began at 4:28 a.m. on July 1st. When the roll of the states was complete, Roosevelt held 666 votes, substantially more than all of his rivals combined, but 104 short of the 770 required for nomination. With F.D.R. that close to victory, Farley fully expected a number of states to switch before the results were announced, but that did not happen.

A second ballot began at 5:17 a.m. and was not completed until 8:05 a.m., the longest ballot on record, as state after state asked that its delegation be polled individually. The result showed little change. Roosevelt gained 11 votes and Smith dropped 7, but the lines were holding.

Roosevelt’s opponents believed he had peaked, and although the convention had been in session for 18 hours, pressed for a third ballot. Any crack in the governor’s ranks would spell disaster. The focus fell on Mississippi, which under the unit rule had given all 20 votes to F.D.R. on the first two ballots. But Sen. Pat Harrison was holding the delegation for Roosevelt by a vote of only 10 ½ to 9 ½. If Mississippi departed from the unit rule, the erosion of F.D.R.’s strength would begin.

Huey Long jumped into the breach. Charging into the Mississippi delegation he shook his fist in the face of Governor Sennet Connor (who supported Baker). “You break the unit rule, you sonofabitch, and I’ll go into Mississippi and break you.” Mississippi held fast on the crucial third ballot. Roosevelt picked up an additional five votes, and Smith dropped four. “There is no question in my mind,” said Ed Flynn, 𠇋ut that without Long’s work Roosevelt might not have been nominated.”

The convention then adjourned until 8 p.m. That afternoon House Speaker Garner, who was in third place, decided to withdraw. “I think its time to break this thing up,” he told his supporters. Farley and Sam Rayburn, Garner’s manager, put together a deal for the speaker to be nominated as the vice-presidential candidate, and when California was called on the fourth ballot, William McAdoo announced that California and Texas were switching to Roosevelt. Delegation after delegation followed suit, and F.D.R. was nominated 945 to 190 ½ — with Al Smith staying in the fight to the bitter end.

The Democratic party no longer requires a two-thirds majority, states seldom vote under the unit rule, and the spread of presidential primaries has reduced the convention to little more than a rubber stamp. But as primary day on Feb. 5, 2008, approaches, candidates might wish to remember that crucial third ballot at Chicago in 1932, when F.D.R. was saved by a half-vote in the Mississippi delegation. Even the tiniest of advantages can make a big difference.

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Its funny that political scientists (namely V.O. Key) describe Roosevelt’s rise based on an earlier 𠇊l Smith Revolution” that represented a massive electoral shift in voting behavior in 1928, but historians tend to emphasize what a radical transformative effect FDR had within his party, his country and across the globe. The truth is somewhere in the middle – since William Jennings Bryan, the pro-business Bourbon Democrats were waning in power. If you look at the Congressional record during Republican Theodore Roosevelt’s term, it was the Congressional Democrats that supported his agenda with more vigour that the Republicans, who were divided into progressive and conservative wings. Perhaps the nominating convention was a different story, as these were often controlled by urban party bosses, but it seems that the convention was more about politicking than true ideological conservatism and a desire to continue Hoover’s policies. Who knows what Al Smith’s real response to the economic crisis of the depression would have been. Hoover himself began limited structural reforms that went way beyond his rigid laissz-faire economic views – the problem was that his theory about economic confidence required him to pretend that the economic situation was just fine, and his made him seem increasingly out of touch with the suffering masses. Wasn’t this after all the President who was so mirred in unpopularity that shantytowns became Hoovervilles? I doubt the convention fight was as ideologically driven as Professor Smith suggests.

Although this story ‘turned out right’, the winner take all rule now hurts our country. It allows candidates to ignore vast numbers of the electorate and focus upon swing states. The resulting political machinations and bad deeds are legion. How much better if every vote counted the same. If the Democrats could overturn the 2/3 rule for the better, how soon until we move to a true one person one vote country?

What I find disappointing is the lack of detail in high school history books and classes. What we got was FDR – four terms, New Deal, WWII. Thank you PRofesssor Smith for the details. And I grew up 15 miles from FDR’s home! Thank you New York State Board of Education.

Smith’s article was well-written and a pleasure to read.
I might only add one note: FDR gaining the critical support of John Nance (Cactus Jack) Garner and the Texas delegation was the work of publisher and later a Roosevelt enemy, William Randolf Hearst.

I remember watching political conventions when they actually meant something. No, I wasn’t around for any of FDR’s convention wins but there have been a few exciting conventions since then. Sure there was a lot of grandstanding and the �vorite sons” nonsense was a bit over-the-top but I long for those days when speeches would set off floor demonstrations with bands and balloons and waving placards. Rollcalls would be interrupted for various deals that allowed other states to place their votes out of order. Today’s conventions are nothing more than an exercise in going through the motions of rubber-stamping the party nominees as already determined by the various state primaries and caucuses. How boring is that? I don’t bother watching them and I actually like political drama.

Thank you, Jean Edward Smith, for the behind-the-scenes look at the 1932 convention and for reminding me of a bygone era.

Huey Long’s role in both the FDR nomination, and his later attempt to be nominated himself are detailed in the Willaims biography, “Huey Long”, for those who might like more details.

The Hearst connection was absolutely vital–more important than Long.

Farley got Joseph Kennedy to call Hearst, a pal, and convince him to release California’s delegation to FDR. Hearst controlled it. The phone call worked, the delegation was released, as were others, and FDR won. But Joe Kennedy played a crucial role, so it’s no surprised he became head of the SEC in FDR’s administration and then Ambassador to the court of St. James.

This story cries out for a book. Is there going to be one?

If you are interested in FDR’s first campaign you might check out my blog post on the 𠇏orgotten Man” speech.

The book that the story 𠇌ries out for” has been written… or at least comes close. It is “The Defining Moment” by Jonathan Alter.

In response to Stephen Schultz – there is a book! Dr. Smith has written �R” and it will be in stores next week.

I enjoyed reading this fascinating post, but I wish it could have stretched a bit longer past the nomination process, to one of the most pivotal moments of the campaign. In the summer of 1932, Roosevelt presided over the trial of New York City’s crooked Mayor Jimmy Walker. In so doing, he proved himself to New Yorkers and the nation as a strong, decisive leader, and he solidified his good government credentials. (see Kenneth Davis’s FDR: THE NEW YORK YEARS and Herbert Mitgang’s THE MAN WHO RODE THE TIGER).

The trial followed an investigation by Samuel Seabury into the New York City Government. Seabury uncovered widespread graft and corruption in the city’s institutions, from the Mayor’s office, to the magistrate courts, to the police, exposing the devastating consequences of Tammany’s monopoly on city power. It gave leaders like Walker’s successor, Fiorello LaGuardia, the impetus for radical reform, enabling the “Little Flower” to create the modern New York City Government that we know today, as historian Thomas Kessner has argued. (see: Thomas Kessner: FIORELLO H. LAGUARDIA AND THE MAKING OF MODERN NEW YORK)

Here is why I bring up Seabury: we now have a corrupt, self-interested president, who has little respect for our constitution or our laws (see the Witcover post for that). Let us not only remember great presidents, such as Roosevelt, or great mayors, such as LaGuardia. Let us also remember the individuals who have paved the way for political change, who enabled the Roosevelts and LaGuardias to clean up the messes that their predecessors left them.

A wonderful history lesson by Professor Smith. My only question regards the statement, “Iowa, Alaska, Washington and Maine fell into line.” Was Alaska, then a territory, allowed to participate in presidential primaries?

I was an innocent child when FDR began as our president, but well remember in my dad’s barbershop no one was on the fence, you loved FDR or you hated him. Fortunately more loved him than hated him. The Opposite of today’s White House resident (and remember the Crawford “rancher” was not born in Texas).


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Author Steve Neal brings yesterday into today as he presents all the details of how Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the Democratic Party nomination in 1932. Even though he had a clear majority of votes over his rivals, party rules at that time required that a candidate must receive two-thirds of the votes from the attendees at the 1932 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Roosevelt faced the possibility of not being able to gather the necessity votes on the opening ballots, thus opening up the splintering of his support and allowing the nomination to slip to another.

The author describes each potential presidential candidate in depth, and meticulously sketches a thorough picture of the political scene in 1932. We are privy to many of the battles, both public and private. One has to wonder at the thought process that would prompt politicians to debate whether or not the repeal of Prohibition should be part of the party platform, at a time when we look back at the era and consider that the Great Depression should have overshadowed any other subjects. but good ideas, bad ideas, they are all included in this interesting history of the political machinations that were necessary to give FDR a shot at the Presidency. Five stars.

In 1932, the United States seemed stuck in the Great Depression. The incumbent president, Herbert Hoover, was unpopular. This made 1932 a prime year for the Democrats provided they could find the right candidate.

Happy Days Are Here Again tells the story of the 1932 Democratic National Convention. While history would show who would win the election, the story leading up to Franklin Roosevelt's nomination is told. Like with many presidential elections, there were many candidates vying for the nomination. People now mostly forgotten such as Newton Baker, John Nance Garner, and even the 1928 Democratic nominee Al Smith.

Roosevelt started heading into the convention with a majority of the delegates. However, the Democratic Party at the time had a two-thirds rule making Roosevelt's victory hardly a foregone conclusion. It was not known whether the convention could end up being deadlocked and having to settle on a compromise candidate. There was some deal-making that eventually made Roosevelt the candidate for president and John Nance Garner for vice president.

This book was a brief, but interesting, look at the politics leading to the 1932 Democratic nomination. I would recommend this to those interested in American history.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The very name conjures up images of a Great President, a great governor, and a great man who overcame physical challenges to become that great leader.

In his final book, Steve Neal has given us the story of the 1932 Democratic National Convention, where FDR was nominated for President for the first time.

Neal does a fantastic job of giving us biographical sketches, including political philosophies, of the contenders for the nomination, and then dives right into the excitement of the convention itself.

FDR may have been the leader in delegate count at the start of the convention, but that did not mean he had the nomination all wrapped up. Unlike today's conventions, Democratic conventions prior to 1936 required a 2/3 majority to nominate the candidate. FDR did not have a 2/3 majority when the convention opened, thus necessitating his political operatives to wheel & deal in order to secure the nomination.

It is this political wheeling & dealing that makes the book so wonderful & readable. The back room efforts with Ritchie and Baker, and the deal made with John Nance Garner that secured the nomination for FDR are given ample attention in this book.

I found that I had a terribly hard time putting the book down once I started reading it. It is well written, and an absolute must read for any FDR afficinado.


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