It all seemed so simple. Invite a few thousand Democrats to Madison Square Garden in New York City on June 24, a few days later leave with William Gibbs McAdoo of California as the party’s 1924 nominee for president. Or, perhaps, the popular Al Smith, New York’s governor.
Instead, 16 days later a bunch of disgruntled Democrats finally left the city with outsider John W. Davis as the party’s nominee.
One hundred and three. Yes, one hundred and three. It merits saying again. That’s how many ballots had to be taken until a candidate was declared the winner – and the party’s nominee. Jockeying for support for various favorite sons from state delegations led to the length. Some delegations would vote for one candidate on one ballot, switch to another, then switch again. It led to some interesting final ballot totals.
Davis, a lawyer, had been a congressman from West Virginia and U.S. Solicitor General. In his lifetime, he argued 140 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Davis would go on to lose to Calvin Coolidge, who had become president at the death of Warren G. Harding.
Charles W. Bryan, Nebraska governor, was nominated as the vice presidential candidate. It was the only time a brother of a former major party presidential nominee – William Jennings Bryan – was nominated for vice president. Oh, and as a footnote, it took only one ballot to choose vice presidential candidate Bryan.
For political collectors, that 1924 Davis vs. Coolidge race has special meaning. Davis pins, next to Cox pins from 1920, are the hardest to find of pins from the 20th Century. Davis/Bryan photo pins demand thousands of dollars, while even the most simple photo pin of Davis alone brings more than $100.
That convention of Democrats still holds the record as the longest running political convention in history. So as the Democratic convention winds down this week, keep in mind those days of ’24 when Democrats thought their convention would never end.