The Extreme Chaos of the 1924 Democratic National Convention

Thanks to the near-universality of the state primary election system, today's political party conventions are made-for-TV events that few watch because the results are a foregone conclusion. There was a time in living memory when the parties held their conventions and no one knew who they would nominate to run for president until they took a vote among the delegates. The 1924 Democratic National Convention was an extreme version of such conventions. It was the first to be broadcast on radio, the first with a Black delegate, and the first in which women were in the running for the vice-presidential nomination. But what really made the 1924 convention stand out was that it took 16 days and 103 ballots to settle on the party's nominee!

In 1924, the Democratic Party was in the middle of a decades-long shift in philosophy. One wing of the party supported (or even belonged to) the Ku Klux Klan. Their top candidate was William G. McAdoo of Tennessee. Others in the party opposed the Klan and supported Governor Al Smith of New York. Smith was a Catholic whose parents had immigrated from Ireland, and the Klan hated him. Between these extremes, there were plenty who just wanted peace and advocated for ignoring the Klan. There were also plenty of candidates with only regional support. The result was that no candidate could get a majority, and the final nominee was a compromise who made no one happy. Read about the longest and most chaotic party convention ever at Smithsonian. 

(Image credit: XplornN4)


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