1924 Democratic National Convention

1924 Democratic National Convention

The 1924 Democratic National Convention, also called the Klanbake, held at the Madison Square Garden in New York City from June 24 to July 9, took a record 103 ballots to nominate a presidential candidate. It was the longest continuously running convention in United States political history. It was the first national convention in which a major party had a woman, Lena Springs, placed in nomination for the office of Vice President. It was also known for the strong influence of the Ku Klux Klan. Initial outsider John W. Davis eventually won his party's nomination, as a compromise, after a virtual war of attrition between front-runners William G. McAdoo and Alfred E. Smith. Davis went on to be defeated by incumbent President Calvin Coolidge.

Ku Klux Klan

The Ku Klux Klan, a relic of the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, was resurrected after the 1915 release of D.W. Griffith's motion picture "The Birth of a Nation", which was the "Gone With the Wind" of its time, racking up huge grosses at the box office. After World War I, the popularity of the Klan surged, and it became a political power in many regions of the United States, particularly in the South. It was also popular in the border states, the Mountain States, and the West. Its local political strength gave it a major role in the 1924 Democratic Party National Convention (DNC). However, its participation was unwelcome by many DNC delegates, such as Catholics from the major cities of the Northeast and Midwest. The tension between pro- and anti-Klan delegates produced an intense and sometimes violent showdown between convention attendees from the states of Colorado and Missouri. [citation needed]

Opposition to Al Smith

Klan delegates opposed the nomination of New York Governor Al Smith as the Democratic candidate for president on account of Smith being a Roman Catholic. Smith campaigned in opposition to William G. McAdoo, who had the support of most Klan delegates.

KKK platform plank

The second dispute of the convention revolved around an attempt by non-Klan delegates, led by Forney Johnston of Alabama, to condemn the organization for its violence in the Democratic Party's platform. Klan delegates succeeded in defeating the platform plank in a series of floor debates. To celebrate the defeat of the plank, tens of thousands of hooded Klansmen rallied in a field in New Jersey opposite of the convention building. [citation needed] The event was attended by hundreds of Klan delegates to the convention, who burned crosses, urged violence and intimidation against African Americans and Catholics, and attacked effigies of Smith.

The plank was defeated by one vote.


The notoriety of the Klanbake convention and the violence it produced cast a lasting shadow over the Democratic Party's prospects in the 1924 Election and contributed to their defeat by incumbent Republican President Calvin Coolidge.



The first day of balloting (June 30) brought the predicted deadlock between the leading aspirants for the nomination, William G. McAdoo of California and Gov. Alfred E. Smith of New York, with the remainder divided mainly between local "favorite sons". McAdoo was the leader from the outset, and both he and Smith made small gains in the day's fifteen ballots, but the prevailing belief among the delegates was that the impasse could only be broken by the elimination of both McAdoo and Smith and the selection of one of the other contenders; much interest centred about the candidacy of John W. Davis, who also increased his vote during the day from 31 to 61 (with a peak of 64.5 votes on the 13th and 14th ballots). Most of the favorite son delegations refused to be stampeded to either of the leading candidates and were in no hurry to retire from the contest.

In the early balloting many delegations appeared to be jockeying for position, and some of the original votes were purely complimentary and seemed to conceal the real sentiments of the delegates. Louisiana, for example, which was bound by the "unit rule", first complimented its neighbour Arkansas by casting its 20 votes for Sen. Joseph T. Robinson, then it switched to Sen. Carter Glass, and on another ballot Gov. Albert C. Ritchie got the twenty, before the delegation finally settled on John W. Davis.

There was some excitement on the tenth ballot, when Kansas abandoned Gov. Jonathan M. Davis and threw its votes to McAdoo. There was an instant uproar among McAdoo delegates and supporters, and a parade was started around the hall, the Kansas standard leading, with those of all the other McAdoo states coming along behind, and pictures of "McAdoo, Democracy's Hope", being lifted up. After six minutes the chairman's gavel brought order and the roll call resumed, and soon the other side had something to cheer, when New Jersey made its favorite son, Gov. George S. Silzer, walk the plank and threw its votes into the Smith column. This started another parade, the New York and New Jersey standards leading those of the other Smith delegations around the hall while the band played "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching".

First ballot

1. William G. McAdoo 431.5 votes (39.4%) 2. Alfred E. Smith 241 votes (22.0%) 3. James M. Cox 59 votes (5.4%) 4. Patrick Harrison 43.5 votes (4.0%) 5. Oscar W. Underwood 42.5 votes (3.9%) 6. George S. Silzer 38 votes (3.5%) 7. John W. Davis 31 votes (2.8%) 8. Samuel M. Ralston 30 votes (2.7%) Woodbridge N. Ferris 30 votes (2.7%) 10. Carter Glass 25 votes (2.3%) 11. Albert C. Ritchie 22.5 votes (2.1%) 12. Joseph T. Robinson 21 votes (1.9%) 13. Jonathan M. Davis 20 votes (1.8%) 14. Charles W. Bryan 18 votes (1.6%) 15. Fred H. Brown 17 votes (1.6%) 16. William Sweet 12 votes (1.1%) 17. Willard Saulsbury 7 votes (0.6%) 18. John Kendrick 6 votes (0.5%) 19. Houston Thompson 1 vote (0.1%)

Fifteenth ballot

1. William G. McAdoo 479 votes (43.6%) 2. Alfred E. Smith 305.5 votes (27.8%) 3. John W. Davis 61 votes (5.6%) 4. James M. Cox 60 votes (5.5%) 5. Oscar W. Underwood 39.5 votes (3.6%) 6. Samuel M. Ralston 31 votes (2.8%) 7. Carter Glass 25 votes (2.3%) 8. Patrick Harrison 20.5 votes (1.9%) Joseph T. Robinson 20.5 votes (1.9%) 10. Albert C. Ritchie 17.5 votes (1.6%) 11. Jonathan M. Davis 11 votes (1.0%) Charles W. Bryan 11 votes (1.0%) 13. Fred H. Brown 9 votes (0.8%) 14. Willard Saulsbury 6 votes (0.5%) 15. Thomas J. Walsh 1 vote (0.1%) Newton D. Baker 1 vote (0.1%)

One hundredth ballot

1. Alfred E. Smith 351.5 votes (32.4%) 2. John W. Davis 203.5 votes (18.7%) 3. William G. McAdoo 190 votes (17.5%) 4. Edwin T. Meredith 75.5 votes (7.0%) 5. Thomas J. Walsh 52.5 votes (4.8%) 6. Joseph T. Robinson 46 votes (4.2%) 7. Oscar W. Underwood 41.5 votes (3.8%) 8. Carter Glass 35 votes (3.2%) 9. Josephus Daniels 24 votes (2.2%) 10. Robert L. Owen 20 votes (1.8%) 11. Albert C. Ritchie 17.5 votes (1.6%) 12. James W. Gerard 10 votes (0.9%) 13. David F. Houston 9 votes (0.8%) 14. Willard Saulsbury 6 votes (0.6%) 15. Charles W. Bryan 2 votes (0.2%) 16. George L. Berry 1 vote (0.1%) Newton D. Baker 1 vote (0.1%)


The 1924 Democratic National Convention was still notorious a generation later, when John F. Kennedy referred to it during his 1960 campaign. According to Theodore White's "The Making of the President 1960", JFK would quote the dilemma of the Massachusetts DNC delegation when making light of his own travails on the campaign trail: "Either we must switch to a more liberal candidate or move to a cheaper hotel."

list=Democratic National Conventions

Further Reading:The 103rd Ballot: Democrats and the Disaster in Madison Square Garden, by Robert K. Murray (Harper & Row, New York, 1976)

See also

*Democratic National Convention

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