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Political conventions in years past were more than pep rallies for preselected candidates -- they were suspenseful, no-holds-barred battles for the nomination. In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the man who would become one of America's most beloved presidents, was far from a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination at the party's convention in Chicago. Using new sources of information, award-winning reporter Steve Neal weaves the compelling story of how FDR finally got the nod along with the personalities of the ...
Political conventions in years past were more than pep rallies for preselected candidates -- they were suspenseful, no-holds-barred battles for the nomination. In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the man who would become one of America's most beloved presidents, was far from a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination at the party's convention in Chicago. Using new sources of information, award-winning reporter Steve Neal weaves the compelling story of how FDR finally got the nod along with the personalities of the day who influenced the decision, including Joseph P. Kennedy, Al Smith, Huey Long, and William Randolph Hearst.
|1||The Man Who Wasn't There||1|
|9||East Side West Side||108|
|11||Ritchie of Maryland||133|
|13||Eye of the Tiger||151|
|20||Roll Out the Barrel||236|
Franklin Delano Roosevelt first visited Chicago in 1892, at the age of ten, when he accompanied his father on a tour of the site of the World's Fair celebrating the four-hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus's discovery of America. For the rest of his life, the prairie metropolis would be among his favorite cities. As the Democratic nominee for the vice presidency in 1920, he selected Chicago for the kickoff of his campaign. "Tonight," he declared from the stage of the auditorium, "we are firing the opening gun of a battle of far-reaching importance, and once again the shots are going to be heard around the world." In 1929, as the newly elected governor of New York, he made his out-of-state political debut in Chicago, speaking before a luncheon sponsored by the Democratic Party of Illinois. Although he would not discuss his own future, FDR blamed Republicans for the Great Crash and called for bold new leadership. This appearance in the heartland marked the beginning of his quest for the White House.
When the 1932 Democratic National Convention opened in Chicago, Roosevelt was 836 miles away in his paneled office at the New York State Capitol in Albany. This marked only the second time in twenty years that he would not be in the convention hall for the presidential balloting. As the leading contender for the presidential nomination, FDR followed the tradition that front-runners did not engage the competition. Even though he was not on the scene, his name dominated every conversation. While a half dozen rivals courted delegates, Roosevelt had to protect his lead and find more votes. "Governor Roosevelt is as leading a candidate as one could find at the moment," a humorist wrote in The New Yorker, "bearing in mind that it is always difficult to tell just how leading any Democratic candidate is at any given moment."
To win the nomination, Roosevelt would need a combination of luck and savvy political management. Louis McHenry Howe, sixtyone years old, and James Aloysius Farley, forty-four, were in charge of the Roosevelt operation in Chicago. Their war room was Suite 1702 in the Congress Hotel. The sickly and frail Howe, who had been promoting Roosevelt for the presidency for twenty years, would not leave this suite for the duration of the convention. "Except that he threw his coat aside occasionally when he took a nap," FDR speechwriter Raymond Moley wrote of Howe, "I don't think that he had his clothes off the entire week."
Worried about possible subterfuge, Howe had one of his aides bribe officials at Chicago Stadium to obtain three adjacent rooms, with the center room to be used as Farley's convention hideaway. Howe ordered his aide to put locks on the side rooms and then spend the entire week night and day guarding this inner sanctum. Lela Stiles, one of Howe's assistants, recalled that her boss had a telephone booth installed in Farley's hideaway office "just to make doubly sure that no prying ears listened to any of the Farley conversations."
Among the reasons that Roosevelt, a polio survivor, had not gone to Chicago was that he would have had difficulty moving through crowds and standing in reception lines. "The other candidates had a certain advantage, of course, in being on the ground," Farley said.
But Howe improvised. A private switchboard was installed at the Congress Hotel with a direct line to Roosevelt's study in the Albany Executive Mansion. Howe had a voice amplifier attached with coils and wires to the switchboard for FDR's talks with delegates. "I would get on the phone first," Farley recalled, "and I'd say, 'Governor, we have in this room the delegate from Iowa. And the first man I'll introduce to you is that chap from Twin Falls, Ned Chapman, who knows you and you met him,' and then I'd mention the names of the other fellows who were there, and then Roosevelt would come on the loudspeaker and talk to these fellows, calling them by their first names, and thanking them for what they were doing.
"Those chats became so popular," Farley said, "that one or two delegations complained when they thought they were being left out."
Even though Roosevelt was far ahead of his nearest rival, the nomination was in doubt. Of the 1,154 delegates, FDR had more than 600 votes. A majority was 578. But under the Democratic Party's rules, he needed a two-thirds majority of 770 votes to become the nominee. It took only 385 votes to deadlock the convention and that opposition had more than enough.
Roosevelt was strongest in the South and the West. Nearly half of his delegates (246) were from the Deep South and border states. He also had all sixty delegates from the Rocky Mountain states; twenty-six from the Pacific Northwest; eighty-one from the Great Plains; twenty-eight from New England; sixty-four from the Great Lakes states; and eighty-five from the Middle Atlantic region. The party's rural southern-western faction, which had once followed William Jennings Bryan and later William Gibbs McAdoo, had already chosen FDR as their new leader. What was most unusual about the Roosevelt coalition is that he did not have the support of his own region. The large industrial states of the Northeast were mostly against him, including his home base of New York.
As Farley noted, Roosevelt had delegates from thirty-one of the forty-eight states. But eight of the ten largest delegations were in the opposition camp. The Stop Roosevelt movement had a majority of the delegates in the Middle Atlantic states, New England, and on the Pacific Coast. If the opposition could unite behind a single candidate, the Democrats were headed for an epic battle. "There was to be no rival candidate before the convention," Farley said, "but all of the states not definitely committed to the Governor were to throw their favorite sons overboard and unite behind some mysterious candidate who would be trotted out at the last minute."Happy Days Are Here Again
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