Parades, Protests and Politics

1932: Wheeling and Dealing

Franklin Roosevelt giving his acceptance speech during the 1932 Democratic convention and announcing the New Deal to bring America out of the Depression.

Franklin Roosevelt giving his acceptance speech
during the 1932 Democratic convention and
announcing the New Deal to bring America out of the Depression. (CHS, DN104649)

In 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, 3,210 Democratic delegates filled the Chicago Stadium while America listened to the proceedings over the radio. Major debates arose over Prohibition as well as the extent of the government's responsibility in human welfare. The platform called for unemployment relief, old-age assistance, and public works projects to aid the "forgotten man." It also endorsed a 25-percent reduction of government expenditures, a balanced budget, a competitive tariff, price supports for farm commodities, and opposition to the cancellation of foreign debt to the government. The major issue, however, was the Prohibition question. After much debate, the delegates voted in a plank in support of the repeal of Prohibition.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt emerged as the candidate with a majority of the votes, but a number of other candidates--Alfred E. Smith, John Nance Garner, Harry F. Byrd, and Newton D. Baker--held enough votes to prevent him from reaching the two-thirds majority necessary to win. His campaign managers used every traditional maneuver and a few new ones to secure Roosevelt's nomination.

Working with convention organizers, they successfully arranged the delegate seating to isolate pockets of opposition in a sea of Roosevelt supporters and strategically located the convention floor microphones so that the roar of the crowd always favored Roosevelt. Lengthy "smoke-filled-room" negotiations brought John Garner's forces, controlled by Sam Rayburn, to the Roosevelt camp. On the fourth ballot, California shifted its votes and started the Roosevelt bandwagon rolling. After Roosevelt's victory, Garner was nominated without opposition as the vice-presidential candidate, as had been promised in the deal-making negotiations.

The traditional wheeling and dealing of politics astounded television viewers watching the 1952 Republican Convention. The race pitted the politically experienced Robert Taft, known as "Mr. Republican," against Dwight David Eisenhower, whose popularity as a national war hero and North American Treaty Organization (NATO) leader would almost ensure his victory over any Democratic candidate.

To swing the nomination in their favor, Eisenhower forces proposed a "fair-play amendment." Accusing Taft of stealing delegates, they challenged the voting credentials of the Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas delegations. When the new delegates favoring Eisenhower were seated, Ike won the nomination on the first ballot. The following day the convention affirmed the selection of Richard Nixon for vice president.

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