Sunday :: Mar 9, 2008

The FDR Nomination

by eriposte

I found this historical nugget fascinating so I'm posting this. This is some brief history on the highly contested primary that put Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the White House in 1932 against incumbent Republican President Herbert Hoover. Here are some snippets from Jean Edwards Smith's biography "FDR" (emphasis mine, throughout this post):

[Page 264] *On May 3 [House Speaker John Nance] Garner had won an unexpected victory against FDR and Smith in the California primary....Garner polled 216,000 votes to FDR's 170,000 and Smith's 138,000, despite the fact that Roosevelt had the backing of the state party organization.

At the time the Democratic nominee required a two-thirds majority of delegates to win the nomination, something FDR had expressed concerns about. As the Democrats went into the convention in late June/early July 1932, he lacked that majority.

[Page 271] The first ballot went quickly enough. Roosevelt's support held firm, and the opposition remained scattered. The final tally showed FDR with 666 votes - more than three times as many as his nearest rival but 104 short of victory. Smith ran second with 201, Garner third with 90. The count was almost exactly what Farley had anticipated. What he did not anticipate was that no delegation switched before the result was announced. "I sat there fully expecting that some state would switch and announce its support for the majority candidate. But nothing happened. I was bitterly disappointed." 98

The second ballot began at 5:17 A.M. and was not completed until 8:05 - the longest ballot on record at any Democratic convention as various state delegations asked to be polled individually. Roosevelt's total crept up to 677, Smith's fell back to 194, but there was still no break.


For FDR, the third ballot was crucial. Farley had told Rayburn that the Roosevelt lines would hold for three ballots, but there was no way of knowing. Any decline would be fatal.


[Page 272] "We got in touch with Huey Long," said Ed Flynn. "We put the entire responsibility on Long to see to it that there was no break in these two tottering states."101 Long stormed into the midst of the Mississippi delegation. He threatened. He cajoled. He bullied. He shook his fist in Governor Conner's face: "If you break the unit rule, you sonofabitch, I'll go into Mississippi and break you."102 There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the Kingfish not only could but would do so.* Mississippi and Arkansas held fast on the third ballot. Roosevelt picked up five more votes, Garner gained eleven, and Smith dropped four. At 9:15 on Friday morning the convention adjourned until evening. "There is no question in my mind," Flynn wrote afterward, "but that without Long's work Roosevelt might not have been nominated."103

The convention was on the verge of deadlock. Roosevelt's ranks were holding, Smith's was in until the bitter end, and the favorite sons believed they were sitting pretty. The key to breaking the stalemate lay in the ninety votes pledged to Garner. The principal players were now Sam Rayburn and the powerful chairman of the California delegation, William Gibbs McAdoo.


[Page 273] ...The last thing McAdoo wanted was another deadlocked convention. If Roosevelt would name Garner as his running mate and give McAdoo veto power over who was to be secretary of state and secretary of the Treasury, he would shift Califoria's vote behind FDR on the fourth ballot.

Needless to say, on the fourth ballot, CA and TX shifted their majority vote to FDR from Garner and FDR won the nomination. Roosevelt made Garner his running mate. What happened in the general election despite the Republican party's and Hoover's slash and burn campaign of fear-mongering? (Interestingly, Hoover also printed posters with "Vote for Hoover, Don't Change Now" [source: Page 166 in "Running for President: The Candidates and Their Images 1900-1992", eds. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. et al.])

As Jean Edward Smith points out:

[Page 287] The turnout, almost 40 million, was the greatest in American history. The GOP suffered a crushing defeat. Roosevelt received 22,825,016 votes to Hoover's 15,758,397 and carried forty-two states with 472 electors.46 The result was as much a repudiation of Hoover as it was a triumph for FDR. The president received 6 million fewer votes than he had in 1928 and carried only six states, all in the Northeast. The Democrats gained an unprecedented ninety seats in the House to give them a virtual 3-to-1 majority (310-117) and won control of the Senate, 60-36.

Interesting stuff.

eriposte :: 10:19 AM :: Comments (4) :: Digg It!