Democratic Convention


The split at the Republican convention made the election of a Democratic President extremely likely. It was only necessary for Taft and Roosevelt to split the traditional Republican vote in a handful of northeastern or Midwestern states, in conjunction with the Democratic Solid South, to give the Democrats a majority in the electoral college. If the Democrats could also maintain their majorities in Congress gained in the 1910 midterm elections, they would be in control of both branches of government for the first time since the 1850s. The Democratic National Convention in Baltimore, beginning Monday, June 24, was therefore one of the most optimistic gatherings of Democrats in years.

It was also one of the most contested and undecided. As campaign managers and boisterous delegates began arriving on Sunday the 23rd , major players in the party remained undecided or uncommitted. To outside observers trying to place the convention within the political context of the past two years or so, the big question was whether the party would nominate a conservative or a reformer. Roosevelt considered the success of his third party movement to be dependent on the Democrats nominating a conservative like Harmon or Underwood, allowing him to run as the only reformer, or "Progressive" to use the word of the day, in the campaign. The two largest delegate holders going into the convention, Clark and Wilson, were both positioned as reformers, and Bryan, who had rallied three previous conventions to his side almost exclusively through the force of his own oratory, was to be in attendance personally (as a Nebraska delegate, and therefore pledged to Clark). But anything might happen on the floor of the convention once delegates were released, after the first ballot, from their original pledges.

The first battle of the convention was over who should be named temporary chairman. At a plenary session of the party's national committee on Sunday, Clark forces combined with Tammany Hall representatives and other party conservatives to support Alton Parker, the party’s 1904 Presidential nominee and a Wall Street-oriented conservative, for temporary chair. This seemed to prefigure a deal of some sort between Tammany, which wanted Parker as chair, and Clark, who wanted Tammany’s 90 delegates at some point during the balloting. (Hearst, who under most circumstances despised Tammany, also agreed to this arrangement; rumors circulated that Tammany promised to support him for governor of New York.) It was also an explicit stop-Bryan move; by denying Bryan his candidate for temporary chair (Ollie James of Kentucky), these forces hoped to limit Bryan’s opportunity to run off with the convention.

Bryan interpreted this to mean not just the defeat of his own candidate, but that Clark had cut a corrupt bargain of some sort with the conservatives and machines within the party. He vowed, very publicly, to fight Parker on the floor of the convention. In a fiery public statement the New York Times headlined "BRYAN’S DECLARATION OF WAR," Bryan announced he would nominate "a Progressive candidate" for temporary chairman to stop the "Belmont-Ryan-Murphy" crowd; if he could not find one, he would stand for the chairmanship himself.  He first nominated John Kern, his 1908 vice-presidential running mate, and gave a fiery speech in his support. This speech was interpreted by most listeners as Bryan’s attempt to rally a fourth convention to his banner. If this was his intent, he failed. While diehard supporters went crazy, he also drew boos and catcalls for his attacks on Parker; Tammany delegates spread throughout the crowd conspired to shout Bryan down each time he paused to take a breath. Catcalls notwithstanding, most observers agreed the speech fell well short of the Bryan of old. No one would even second Kern’s nomination. Kern then nominated Bryan for temporary chairman. This was seconded and, after a few more minutes of hubbub, voting commenced. Parker was endorsed 579-508.

Bryan remained determined to force the convention to reject conservatism, however. Having learned, he believed (in a convention swirling with rumor, one could never be sure), that Clark and Tammany had in fact cut a bargain for Tammany’s support in exchange for Clark’s promise that as nominee he would run as a Wall Street-oriented conservative, Bryan decided to throw the political equivalent of a pipe bomb onto the floor of the convention. He introduced a resolution explicitly repudiating any candidate associated with "the privilege-hunting or favor-seeking class" and demanding, to the delight of some and the shock of others, the expulsion of Thomas Ryan and August Belmont (both prominent Wall Street Democrats and both accredited delegates) from the convention altogether. Pandemonium ensued, as much of it anti-Bryan as pro-Bryan. After much rancorous debate – "Does he want to destroy the Democratic Party?" demanded Ollie James – Bryan agreed to pull the second part of the resolution expelling Ryan and Belmont, but the remaining anti-Wall Street resolution passed 883-201 ½.

Nominations began late on Thursday the 27th. When Missouri’s turn came to offer Clark’s nomination, the subsequent demonstration of support (the combination of planned hoopla and spontaneous outburst that was the primary function of most rank-and-file delegates at the convention) lasted an hour and five minutes. When New Jersey’s turn came, at 2:08 Friday morning, the Wilson demonstration lasted an hour and fifteen minutes before John Wescott even opened his mouth to make Wilson’s nomination. The first ballot, taken at seven in the morning, gave Clark 440 ½ delegates, Wilson 324, Harmon 148, Underwood 117 ½, and a few dozen more scattered among favorite sons.

These totals stayed more or less the same until the tenth ballot, when Tammany finally broke to Clark. This gave Clark more than 50% of the convention; the demonstration lasted an hour. Despite the 2/3 rule, no Democrat had ever received 50% of the delegates and then failed to secure the nomination eventually. Wilson, in fact, instructed his managers to release his delegates to vote for whomever they would. But during the rest of ballot 10 and ballot 11, Wilson and Underwood delegates held steady. No landslide developed. Wilson’s instructions, never made public, were quietly rescinded, and the stalemate continued.

On the 14th ballot, the Nebraska delegation, currently voting as a block for Clark (and including delegate Bryan) was polled: 13 for Wilson, 6 for Clark. Bryan polled for Wilson, an announcement some considered a turning point in the convention. It was hardly a ringing endorsement of Wilson by Bryan, however. Bryan explained his vote by announcing he was voting against Tammany (still behind Clark), not for Wilson. If Tammany switched to Wilson, he would switch away. No Wilson stampede ensued. Deadlock continued to ballot 26 – Clark 463 ½, Wilson 407 ½ – when the convention adjourned for a Sunday of rest for the rank-and-file and backstage plotting for party leaders and campaign managers.

Monday morning, ballot 30: Indiana machine leader Thomas Taggart switched Indiana’s delegates from Thomas Marshall (a favorite son candidate and a stall tactic) to Wilson in exchange for a promise to make Marshall the vice-presidential nominee. The move gave Wilson more delegates than Clark for the first time. (Wilson himself was not told, as he likely would have repudiated such a deal had he known about it.) But stalemate continued for a dozen more ballots. Not until Tuesday, on ballot 43, did the final move to Wilson begin. Illinois boss Roger Sullivan swung 58 delegates to Wilson, giving him a majority of the convention for the first time. Sullivan’s main political enemy in Illinois was Hearst (still backing Clark), and he despised Bryan (who many still believed wanted to wrench a nomination out of a deadlocked convention) on general principle. Wilson could stop them both.

WilsonAccepting.JPG (22780 bytes)
Underwood’s managers, who had been hanging tough at 110-120 delegates all along, believed they had been promised Sullivan’s delegates eventually. They confronted Sullivan, who told them he was going back to Clark on ballot 46 if nothing had changed by then. On ballot 46, at Alabama, Underwood’s team withdrew his name from the race. Ex-Southerner Wilson had been their second choice all along. This finally broke the ice. Wilson was nominated on ballot 46 with 990 votes; after a courtesy offer to Underwood, who turned it down, Marshall was made the vice-presidential nominee. Such was the convoluted combination of policy and politics necessary to make Wilson the Democratic nominee and the most likely next President of the United States.
Scanned from Current Literature 53(1912): 247
This is a photograph of Wilson accepting the nomination as the Democratic Presidential candidate at his summer home in Sea Girt, New Jersey.   At this time, candidates did not usually attend their party's convention.