1920 Republican Convention - History

1920 Republican Convention - History

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1920 republican Convention

Chicago, IL

June 8 to 12, 1920

Nominated: Warren G Harding of Ohio for President

Nominated: Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts for Vice President

The Republicans entered 1920 with no front runner for nomination for President. Four candidates competed for the nomination. General Leonard Wood, Governor Frank O Lowden, Sentaro Hiram Johnson and Senator Warren G Harding. In the first ballot Wood and Lowden deadlocked with 300 votes each with Harding trailing with only sixty. It took until the tenth ballot but Harding broke the deadlock and won the nomination.


Photo, Print, Drawing Republican [National] Convention, [Chicago, Illinois,] 1920.

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June 6, 1920: Republican National Convention Picket Plans Underway

In keeping with the tradition of the “Silent Sentinels” who picketed President Wilson, there will be no heckling. As before, the messages of the National Woman’s Party will be made quite clear by being written on large, colorful banners.

More than a hundred women representing twenty-two States will be outside the convention hall each day. They will be bearing banners with the names of their States, and slogans intended to pressure party leaders into using their influence to persuade the Republican governors of Connecticut and Vermont to call special sessions of their legislatures so that one of those States can become the 36th and final one needed to ratify the Susan B. Anthony Amendment and enfranchise women nationwide.

Though the pickets are expecting both parties to put endorsement of the Anthony Amendment into their platforms for the first time this year, mere words will have no effect whatsoever on the protests, because words alone cannot satisfy the Constitutional requirements for ratification. Only the approval of 36 of the 48 State Legislatures can do that, and thus far just 35 have given their endorsement since June 4, 1919, when the amendment gained final Congressional approval.

A banner to be used in the picketing of the Republican Convention. From left to right: Abby Scott Baker, Florence Taylor Marsh, Sue White, Elsie Hill and Betty Gram.

Suffrage headquarters, directly across the street from the Coliseum, where the convention will be held, was crowded, and a beehive of activity today. Even though most of the volunteers have not even arrived yet, some meetings had to be held out on the sidewalk due to lack of room. But though this outpouring of enthusiasm is sure to cause many logistical problems, that’s certainly preferable to a sparsely populated office due to apathy, or overconfidence that ratification before the November 2nd Presidential election is inevitable.

The picket line will be led by suffrage pioneer Rev. Olympia Brown, 85 years old, who along with another elder suffragist, Anna Kendall, will be holding a banner inscribed: “How long must women wait for liberty?” These were the final public words of the late Inez Milholland Boissevain, who collapsed on stage during a grueling speaking tour of the West in 1916, and never recovered.

The main banner to be used will carry the following inscription: “We protest against the continued disenfranchisement of women, for which the Republican Party is now responsible. The Republican Party defeated ratification in Delaware. The Republican Party is blocking ratification in Vermont. The Republican Party is blocking ratification in Connecticut. When will the Republican Party stop blocking suffrage?”

Another featured banner notes that women can already vote in some States: “Republicans: Twenty million unenfranchised women ask you for the vote. Seven million women who can vote for Congress and the President are waiting for your answer to them.”

Pickets from Connecticut and Vermont will carry banners saying: “The Republican governors of Connecticut and Vermont refuse to call our legislatures, ready to ratify suffrage at a special session. Will the Republican Party allow two men to prevent the enfranchisement of 20,000,000 women?”

Though National Woman’s Party pickets have repeatedly proven themselves willing to go to jail in the past, it is not expected that there will be any repetition here of the arrests that took place in Washington, D.C., during the campaign against President Wilson. According to one suffrage leader, Police Chief Garrity “is a suffragist, even though he is a bachelor.”

There is still hope the upcoming confrontation can be avoided, and that Republicans can still preserve their reputation as the party of suffrage. Last year, Republicans gave the Anthony Amendment 81.8% support in the U.S. Senate and 91.3% support in the House, providing the votes needed to put the measure over the 2/3 supermajority required since Democrats gave it only 54% support in the Senate and 59.8% support in the House. Since then, 26 of the 35 States which have ratified had Republican majorities in their legislatures.

If Republican leaders use their influence to get the Republican governor of an unratified State to call an immediate special session of the legislature, and it then provides the 36th and final ratification needed, there will be jubilant, cheering suffragists surrounding the Coliseum instead of silent, solemn pickets. But until that final victory is achieved, every tactic that has been successfully used to get the amendment this far will be employed, and no one will be letting up in their efforts until the Secretary of State certifies that the following words are in the U.S. Constitution:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

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Contested presidential conventions, and why parties try to avoid them

Delegates crowd down the center aisle at the 1948 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia during a demonstration for Gov. Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey was the last Republican presidential candidate to be nominated in a multi-ballot contest he won on the third ballot. Photo credit: AP photo

Now that actual voting has started in the 2016 presidential campaign, there’s been more than the usual amount of chatter and speculation about whether this might be the year for a contested convention – particularly on the Republican side, given the large field of GOP candidates and the unpredictable nature of the contest so far.

A contested convention, for those who’ve never experienced one (which is to say, everyone under the age of 35 or 40), occurs when no candidate has amassed the majority of delegate votes needed to win his or her party’s nomination in advance of the convention. A candidate still might gather the delegates needed by the time balloting begins, in which case the nomination is settled on the first ballot. But should the first ballot not produce a nominee, most delegates become free to vote for whomever they wish, leading potentially to multiple ballots, horse-trading, smoke-filled rooms, favorite sons, dark horses and other colorful elements that have enlivened American political journalism, literature and

Even before primaries and caucuses came to dominate presidential campaigns in the 1970s, parties generally didn’t welcome contested conventions, especially when they went past the first ballot. And for good reason: Candidates who needed multiple ballots to be nominated seldom went on to win the White House.

We looked at all 60 Democratic and Republican nominating conventions from 1868 (the first post-Civil War election) to 1984, the last time a convention presented even a glimmer of uncertainty. Over that time, 18 candidates (eight Republicans and 10 Democrats) were nominated on multiple ballots of those, only seven were elected president (and four of them were running against another multiple-ballot nominee, so one of them had to win).

All told, of the 22 presidential elections held between 1868 and 1952 – the last multiple-ballot nomination to date, of Adlai Stevenson as the Democratic standard-bearer – 14 featured at least one major-party nominee who’d won on multiple ballots. (These often were referred to as “brokered conventions,” a term we’re avoiding here because of its connotations of shady backroom deals.)

As political scientist V.O. Key wrote decades ago, when contested conventions were still common, “the task of the convention is to unite the party in support of a presidential candidate” – still its main purpose in 2016. But sometimes, as Key noted, “animosities [between factions] reach such intensity that deadlock ensues and whatever party unity is achieved by the convention is mere façade.”

Conventions typically went to multiple ballots only in those kinds of situations – when there were two (or occasionally three) leading candidates, each representing a different geographical or ideological faction of the party, who were closely matched in strength. On the Democratic side, settling on a nominee was long complicated by a rule requiring two-thirds of the delegate votes, rather than a simple majority, to win the nomination. (The controversial two-thirds rule was finally abolished in 1936 afterward, only one Democratic convention, in 1952, went to multiple ballots.)

Multiple-ballot nomination battles generally ended in one of two ways. In most cases (12 of the 18 we examined), one of the leading candidates gradually accumulated sufficient support to overcome his rivals (as Republican Thomas Dewey did in 1948, for instance). But occasionally, a “dark horse” compromise candidate – who may have had just a handful of delegates at the start – eventually was nominated as a way to break a deadlock. Famous dark horses included Warren Harding, nominated on the 10th ballot by the 1920 Republican convention, and John W. Davis, declared the Democratic nominee in 1924 after a record 103 ballots.

As mentioned above, not all contested nominations were decided on multiple ballots. During the period we studied, 11 Republicans and 14 Democrats came to the convention facing some organized opposition (of varying degrees of seriousness), but managed to wrap up their nominations on the first ballot. In 1980, for instance, President Jimmy Carter had enough committed delegate votes for renomination, but Sen. Edward Kennedy, his main rival, sought a rule change to allow delegates to vote as they pleased on the first ballot – his only realistic chance of upsetting Carter. When Kennedy lost that rules fight, he withdrew from the race (though he still received more than 1,100 delegate votes).

The last time there was serious doubt about who a convention would nominate was in 1976, when Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan battled for the Republican nomination in Kansas City. And the last time a leading candidate came to his or her convention with less than a majority of delegates was 1984, when Walter Mondale was a few dozen short. Despite a last-ditch effort by Gary Hart’s campaign to persuade black Mondale delegates to deprive Mondale of a first-ballot victory by voting for Jesse Jackson, Mondale cruised to the nomination.

Photo, Print, Drawing Republican National Convention, 1920

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Lex Anteinternet?

This blog has been around since 2009. In the very first post, we asked the question: "What the heck is this blog about?"

Our answer to the question was: "The intent of this blog is to try to explore and learn a few things about the practice of law prior to the current era. That is, prior to the internet, prior to easy roads, and the like. How did it work, how regional was it, how did lawyers perceive their roles, and how were they perceived?"

We also noted: "Part of the reason for this, quite frankly, has something to do with minor research for a very slow moving book."

All of this is still true, but the focus of the blog has changed somewhat. It now focuses on the era from 1890 to 1920 in general, rather than on the law and lawyers specifically, although that may be far from obvious. It's also become the location where we comment on anything we feel moved to comment on.

We hope you'll feel moved to comment as well. While we moderate every comment, so as to weed out Spam, we greatly appreciate the comments where they are offered, and hope to see more.

Thank you for stopping in!

How Many Contested Conventions Have There Been?

The growing possibility of a contested Republican Party convention in July draws more interest in examining the history of contested party conventions, as to whether it is common or unusual. The clear cut conclusion is that they are more the norm historically, if not recently.

Ten Republican conventions, fifteen Democratic conventions, and three Whig conventions between 1840 and 1952, went to multiple ballots, with only thirteen of the nominees winning the Presidency, and the other fifteen nominees losing the White House. It should be pointed out that the Democratic Party had more contested conventions due to the two thirds rule that was in effect from the first Democratic National Convention in 1832 until 1936, so only Adlai Stevenson in 1952 did not have to face this difficult challenge on percentage of delegates, that the Whigs and Republicans never had to deal with.

Nineteen of these twenty eight contested conventions occurred in the 19th century, between 1840 and 1896, a very tumultuous and divided time in American politics, where Presidential elections were often very close. Three Whig Party nominees had contested nomination battles over twelve years, including William Henry Harrison in 1840 Zachary Taylor in 1848 and Winfield Scott in 1852, with Scott the only loser of the Presidency. We see six Republican nominees having to fight for the Presidential nomination over 32 years, including John C. Fremont in 1856 Abraham Lincoln in 1860 Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 James A. Garfield in 1880 James G. Blaine in 1884 and Benjamin Harrison in 1888, all winning except for Fremont and Blaine.

At the same time, we have ten Democratic nominees engaged in battles for the nomination of their party over 52 years, including James K. Polk in 1844 Lewis Cass in 1848 Franklin Pierce in 1852 James Buchanan in 1856 Stephen Douglas in 1860 Horatio Seymour in 1868 Samuel Tilden in 1876 Winfield Scott Hancock in 1880 Grover Cleveland in 1884 and William Jennings Bryan in 1896, with Polk, Pierce, Buchanan and Cleveland occupying the White House.

Then from 1912 to 1952, another nine contested conventions occurred with multiple ballots, and we see four Republican nominees having a struggle for the nomination of their party, including Charles Evans Hughes in 1916 Warren G. Harding in 1920 Wendell Willkie in 1940 and Thomas E. Dewey in 1948, with only Harding winning the Presidency. Meanwhile, five Democratic nominees fought for their party’s nomination, including Woodrow Wilson in 1912 James Cox in 1920 John W. Davis in 1924 Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 and Adlai Stevenson in 1952, with only Wilson and FDR winning the Presidency.

So the thirteen nominees in contested conventions who won the Presidency were William Henry Harrison in 1840 James K. Polk in 1844 Zachary Taylor in 1848 Franklin Pierce in 1852 James Buchanan in 1856 Abraham Lincoln in 1860 Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 James A. Garfield in 1880 Grover Cleveland in 1884 Benjamin Harrison in 1888 Woodrow Wilson in 1912 Warren G. Harding in 1920 and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. Therefore, two Whigs, five Republicans, and six Democrats were elevated to the White House. The fifteen losing candidates included one Whig, five Republicans, and nine Democrats.

Twenty national elections in total faced a contested convention without a nominee on the first ballot in the 112 years between 1840 and 1952, a total of 29 elections, or slightly more than two thirds of the time! Both parties had multiple ballots to select nominees in 1848, 1852, 1856, and 1860, before the Civil War 1876, 1880, and 1884 during the Gilded Age and in 1920. In twelve of the fifteen national elections between 1840 and 1896, all but three (1864, 1872, and 1892), faced contested conventions. Then from 1912 to 1952, over eleven election cycles, all but three (1928, 1936 and 1944) were years of contested conventions. Interestingly, in the three election years of 1900 to 1908, three consecutive election cycles, contested conventions were avoided.

The contested conventions with the most ballots required were the 1924 Democratic convention which took 103 ballots to nominate John W. Davis the 1860 Democratic convention which took 57 ballots at Charleston and two more in Baltimore to nominate Stephen Douglas in a bitterly divided party in which Southern Democrats had walked out the 1852 Democratic convention which took 49 ballots to nominate Franklin Pierce the 1912 Democratic convention which took 46 ballots to nominate Woodrow Wilson the 1920 Democratic convention which took 44 ballots to nominate James Cox the 1880 Republican convention which took 36 ballots to nominate James A. Garfield the 1868 Democratic convention which took 22 ballots to nominate Horatio Seymour the 1920 Republican convention which took 10 ballots to nominate Warren G. Harding and the 1844 Democratic convention which took 9 ballots to nominate James K. Polk. Five of these nine nominees went on to become President, including Democrats James K. Polk, Franklin Pierce, and Woodrow Wilson and Republicans James A. Garfield and Warren G. Harding. Notice that the Democrats had seven of these nine most contested conventions, and both Republicans in such situations won the White House.

Since the last truly contested convention in 1952, three later conventions have been memorable, although not technically contested. The 1976 Republican convention is remembered because Gerald Ford won only slightly over Ronald Reagan, but he had the ability to win on the first ballot. The same applies to the 1968 Democratic convention, which was tumultuous, but Hubert Humphrey won on the first ballot over Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern. And the challenge by Ted Kennedy to Jimmy Carter in the 1980 Democratic convention did not prevent Carter from being nominated, although Carter lost the Presidency as a result of the intraparty split! Finally, realize that these more recent conventions that were somewhat contentious led to the defeat of all three Presidential candidates, including two Presidents, Ford and Carter, running for reelection!


At the start of the convention, the race was wide open. [3] General Leonard Wood, Illinois Governor Frank Lowden, and California Senator Hiram Johnson were considered the three most likely, nominees. [4] Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding had been a front-runner, but his star had faded by the time of the convention. [4] Many expected a dark horse to be chosen, such as Pennsylvania Governor William Cameron Sproul, Pennsylvania Senator Philander C. Knox, Kansas Governor Henry Justin Allen, Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, or 1916 nominee Charles Evan Hughes. [3] Sproul in particular had been gaining momentum at the expense of Lowden, the candidate of the conservative wing of the party. [4] The issue of joining the League of Nations took center stage at the convention, with some speculating that Johnson would bolt the party if the platform endorsed the League. [4] The convention adjourned for the night after four ballots produced no clear leader, and many states stuck to favorite-son candidates. [5]

As the balloting continued the next day, Wood, Lowden, and Johnson remained in the lead, and party leaders worked to find a candidate acceptable to both the progressive and conservative wings of the party. [6] Conservatives strongly opposed Wood, while Lowden was opposed by the progressive wing of the party. [6] Harding emerged as a moderately conservative candidate acceptable to the progressive wing of the party, and as the convention remained deadlocked, Harding emerged as a strong compromise candidate. [6] After the eighth ballot, the convention recessed, During the recess, Harden's managers lobbied Lowden's supporters and others to support Harding. [6] Harding was also helped by the fact that the Democrats had nominated James M. Cox of Ohio, and Republicans did not want to give the Democrats a home state advantage in electorally critical Ohio. [7]

Harding jumped into the lead on the ninth ballot, and clinched the nomination on the tenth ballot. Many thought that Johnson could have stopped the Harding movement by throwing his support behind Knox, who could have displaced Harding as the compromise candidate. Johnson disliked Harding's policies and disliked Harding personally, and was friends with Knox. However, Johnson never released his supporters, and Harding took the nomination. [6] [7]

Presidential Balloting, RNC 1920
Ballot 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Before shifts 10 After shifts
Warren G. Harding 65.5 (6.67%) 59 (6.00%) 58.5 (5.95%) 61.5 (6.25%) 78 (7.93%) 89 (9.04%) 105 (10.67%) 133 (13.52%) 374.5 (38.06%) 644.7 (65.52%) 692.2 (70.35%)
Leonard Wood 287.5 (29.22%) 289.5 (29.42%) 303 (30.79%) 314.5 (31.96%) 299 (30.39%) 311.5 (31.66%) 312 (31.7%) 299 (30.39%) 249 (25.3%) 181.5 (18.45%) 156 (15.85%)
Frank Lowden 211.5 259.5 282.5 289 303 311.5 311.5 307 121.5 28 11
Hiram Johnson 133.5 146 148 140.5 133.5 110 99.5 87 82 80.8 80.8
William C. Sproul 84 78.5 79.5 79.5 82.5 77 76 76 78 0 0
Nicholas Murray Butler 69.5 41 25 20 4 4 2 2 2 2 2
Calvin Coolidge 34 32 27 25 29 28 28 30 28 5 5
Robert M. La Follette 24 24 24 22 24 24 24 24 24 24 24
Jeter C. Pritchard 21 10 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Miles Poindexter 20 15 15 15 15 15 15 15 14 2 0
Howard Sutherland 17 15 9 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Herbert C. Hoover 5.5 5.5 5.5 5 6 5 4 5 6 10.5 9.5
Scattering 11 9 7 9 9 9 6 6 5 5.5 3.5

Harding's nomination, said to have been secured in negotiations among party bosses in a "smoke-filled room," was engineered by Harry M. Daugherty, Harding's political manager, who after Harding's election became United States Attorney General. Before the convention, Daugherty was quoted as saying, "I don't expect Senator Harding to be nominated on the first, second, or third ballots, but I think we can afford to take chances that about 11 minutes after two, Friday morning of the convention, when 15 or 12 weary men are sitting around a table, someone will say: 'Who will we nominate?' At that decisive time, the friends of Harding will suggest him and we can well afford to abide by the result." Daugherty's prediction described essentially what occurred, but historians Richard C. Bain and Judith H. Parris argue that Daugherty's prediction has been given too much weight in narratives of the convention.

Campaign and election

Harding ran a “front porch” campaign from his home in Marion, Ohio, during which he emphasized conservatism as the guiding principle of his candidacy. In addition to advocating for lower taxes and limited immigration, he famously issued a call for a return to “normalcy” amid the social and political upheavals of the time. Harding, in line with the Republican Party platform, firmly rejected membership in the League of Nations. The platform argued that it was possible to preserve peace “without the compromise of national independence, without depriving the people of the United States in advance of the right to determine for themselves what is just and fair when the occasion arises, and without involving them as participants and not as peacemakers in a multitude of quarrels, the merits of which they are unable to judge.” It also was highly critical of both the war effort and the peace negotiations, charging that the previous Democratic administration had been “unprepared” either for the war or for winning the peace.

Cox and Roosevelt, meanwhile, toured the country to promote the Democratic platform, which officially endorsed the League of Nations as well as a bevy of progressive causes. The Democrats’ political and financial organization was in disarray, however, and they experienced internal dissension over Prohibition and other issues. More significantly, perhaps, the Democratic platform was simply out of step with the war-weary, disillusioned mood of the country in 1920. In contrast to the Republicans, the Democratic platform advocated membership in the League of Nations “as the surest, if not the only, practicable means of maintaining the permanent peace of the world and terminating the insufferable burden of great military and naval establishments.” Late attempts by Cox to paint Harding as corrupt and Harding voters as traitorous were unsuccessful.

To the surprise of few, Harding won the election handily, tallying 404 electoral votes to Cox’s 127. The margin in the popular vote was 60.3 percent to 34.1 percent, which remains the widest differential in history. (Several minor candidates—most prominently the Socialist Eugene V. Debs, who was imprisoned at the time—collected the remainder of votes.) Republicans interpreted the resounding victory as a mandate to reverse Wilson’s progressive policies at home and his internationalism abroad.

For the results of the previous election, see United States presidential election of 1916. For the results of the subsequent election, see United States presidential election of 1924.

Watch the video: 1920 Election: Republican Convention Sketch (May 2022).

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