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The CENTURY MAGAZINE
KEEP OFF THE GRASS
A Memorandum for Governor Smith and Mr. McAdoo
Let us go back a little. All speculations as to the result of the next contest for the presidency must take as a point of orientation the last Democratic national convention. Only in the most charitable view of the proceedings of that assembly can it be praised as an instance of democracy proving itself—a conference of 1446 delegates engaging in a prolonged struggle over the choice of platform and candidate, and demonstrating that wisdom which we like to believe reposes in any representative body of American citizens.
The exercises began on June 24, and the convention's twenty-nine ses
sions were not concluded until the early hours of the morning of July 10. There were few moments during the whole period when a disinterested observer would have gained the impression that the delegates were met as a deliberative body and were animated by no other desire than to make a wise choice of the fittest candidate, representative of Democratic principles, and likely to appeal strongly to the electorate. In 1920 Mr. Harding had received seven million more votes than were given for Mr. Cox, his Democratic opponent. This was to be borne in mind in view of the fact that Mr. Wilson's vote over Mr. Hughes in 1916 had been under a million, giving the Democrats a majority of only twenty-three in the Electoral College. The issue of the League of Nations, bequeathed to his party by Mr. Wilson and manfully supported by Mr. Cox, had failed to interest the people, and the Democrats faced the responsibility of finding more attractive issues on which to make their appeal.
At the hour the convention of 1924 met, the hope of Democratic success,
Copyright, 1927, by THE CENTURY Co. All rights reserved.
with any candidate and on any platform, depended upon the harmonious intelligent action of the delegates and an early enthusiastic agreement upon a candidate conspicuously fit and likely to win to his support a very considerable body of Republicans and independents.
But defeat was foreshadowed long before the convention adjourned. After the deadlock became fixed, the country ceased to take the proceedings seriously. The gathering became merely a show, an exhibition of midsummer madness; and the radio, carrying to remote hamlets the clamor, the senseless demonstrations, conveyed the idea that a circus had become disorderly and unmanageable, with the performers and animals running wild.
The nomination of Mr. Davis on the one-hundred-and-third ballot was not the result of an honest compromise; he was caught up in despair after the major elements of the conflict were exhausted and realized that they were making themselves and their party ridiculous. Mr. Davis's fitness for the presidency was indisputable; hardly another man in the nation had so many qualifications. But folly must have its last fling. As if with conscious and malevolent irony, Mr. Davis was tagged with a running-mate whose name revived a distrust of the party without compensating gains. The merriment in the Republican camp over the antics of the convention became a howl of derision when Mr. Charles W. Bryan was named for vice-president, obviously to assuage the sufferings of those Democrats who would inevitably regard Mr. Davis as the tool of the money devils. It is to be said
for Mr. Davis that he assumed the leadership of the party thus conferred upon him in an admirable spirit. His personal campaign was conducted on a high plane. With a feeble national organization and the party's morale shattered, he went through with the thing like a gentleman and a patriot.
Mr. Davis received a total of 8,386,503 votes; Mr. Coolidge, 15,725,016. These figures tell the story and point the moral. If 1928 should witness another such convention as the turbulent affair of 1924, the result could hardly be different. There are, in spite of much cynical testimony to the contrary, a good many American citizens who think, and they are not greatly disturbed by the thunder of the captains and the shouting. A party which strikes the key of farcecomedy in the transaction of its business may amuse, or it may become a bore, but short of a miracle it cannot win.
Experience is the least respected of all the world's teaching forces, but with the foregoing epitome of recent Democratic history in mind it would seem that with another campaign only a few months distant every effort should be made to avoid the blunders of 1924.
I do not believe that either Governor Smith or Mr. McAdoo could be elected president even if either could be nominated. The abrogation of the two-thirds rule, which is written in the very alphabet of Democratic convention procedure, might give one or the other the nomination, but it would be an empty honor. As the cards lie to-day, neither of these