Photo. Brown Bros.
The Baltimore Convention in session
The Democratic National Convention in 1912 which nominated Woodrow Wilson for the Presidency
Wilson owed his nomination to his progressive principles and to his approval of the fight to organize the convention by progressives — Bryan's magnificent leadership routed the reactionary forces and the bosses — Wilson would make no promises
"No man can be just who is not free." — Wilson
"What do you think of the resolution?" asked William Jennings Bryan of a friend as they started to the Armory in Baltimore for the Thursday night session of the Democratic National Convention of 1912. He had read to the friend a resolution he intended to introduce at the evening session.
"I think," was the reply, "that it is full of dynamite."
Whom will it blow up?" asked Bryan.
"That is in the lap of the gods," was the reply. "It may blow up the man who offers it, and it may blow up those at whom it is aimed."
It was an open secret that the bosses were resolved to eliminate Bryan once and for all. Their plan also embraced unforgiving and unrelenting warfare upon what called itself, for want of a better name, "progressivism." That element had been man-handled and defeated by the Old Guard in the Republican Convention at Chicago. The Democratic bosses aimed to do likewise at Baltimore. The real fight at Baltimore was not between candidates. It was between opposing ideals of government.
p106 Bryan was in his happiest mood. He always is when he is fighting against political control by the "interests." But his heavy jaws were set for "a fight or a funeral." For days, even before the Convention met on the 25th day of June, 1912, he had been concerned, not about candidates, but to prevent bosses or Big Business naming the President or writing the platform. The Progressives had staged a fight against the selection for temporary chairman of Judge Alton B. Parker, supported by Tammany and called by Progressives "reactionary." Bryan sought in vain to defeat Parker's selection. It looked as if the "Conservatives" or "Reactionaries" would gain control of the Convention. Bryan felt that they could be unhorsed only by arousing the country to the danger. He resolved on firing a gun that would startle the "embattled farmers" and others whose hearts were set upon making the Democratic party the vehicle of undoing Privilege. He succeeded.
That was a brilliant scene in the Armory as Bryan was recognized. Every seat was occupied. Diplomas and Senators from Washington had come over. Ladies in the gallery in summer costumes in tiers behind the presiding officer lent beauty to the scene. It was no ordinary convention, though the quadrennial conventions of the major parties are always the most notable gatherings in America. Here there was unwonted confidence that the delegates were naming, not merely a candidate, but the next President.
The Nebraskan was cheered as he moved to the platform. There was some objection to his recognition. There would have been more if the delegates had known the character of the bomb concealed on his person. He p107read his resolution, first in silence. As he proceeded the delegates, or some of them, gasped in consternation, and as he finished with the demand for the "withdrawal of any delegate under any obligations to J. Pierpont Morgan, Thomas F. Ryan, August Belmont, or any other member of the privilege-hunting and favor-seeking class," pandemonium broke loose. Ryan and Belmont were both sitting on the floor as delegates. For minutes, so great was the uproar and bitter feeling that many feared Bryan would suffer violence. The partisans of Bryan were cheering, opponents were howling insults, and friends of both Ryan and Belmont were vociferous in their denunciation. During the raging storm Bryan stood unmoved. The debate that followed has rarely been equalled in vigor of attack on what Bryan called "the privilege-seeking" class; in the defense of Ryan and Belmont; and in the hostility to Bryan's injecting the resolution into the Convention.
Bryan's resolution was as follows:
"Resolved, That in this crisis in our party's career and in our country's history, this convention sends greetings to the people of the United States and assures them that the party of Jefferson and of Jackson is still the champion of popular government and equality before the law. As proof of our fidelity to the people, we hereby declare ourselves opposed to the nomination of any candidate for President who is the representative of or under any obligation to J. Pierpont Morgan, Thomas F. Ryan, August Belmont or any other member of the privilege-hunting and favor-seeking class.
"Be it further Resolved, That we demand the withdrawal from this convention of any delegate or delegates constituting or representing the above-named interests."
p108 The debate turned chiefly upon argument by Bryan's opponents denying the right of a Convention to demand the withdrawal of delegates whose credentials had been approved by the Convention. Just before the vote was taken, Bryan withdrew that part of his resolution asking withdrawal of Ryan and Belmont, and the remainder was then adopted by a large majority. Bryan yielded only when satisfied the first and more important resolution would meet the case.
Before the Convention met, Mr. Bryan sent an identical telegram to Clark, Wilson, Underwood and Harmon, all the candidates for President, asking their co-operation in selecting as temporary chairman some well-known Progressive acceptable to the leading progressive candidates. "Eight members of the sub-committee have, over the protest of the remaining eight," he said in his telegram, "agreed upon not only a Reactionary, but upon the one Democrat who, among those not candidates for the Presidential nomination, is, in the eyes of the public, most conspicuously identified with the reactionary element of the party." The reference was to Alton B. Parker, who had been the Democratic candidate for President in 1904. Bryan and Parker were brought together. Bryan said to Parker, "I have not the slightest objection to you personally, but I do object to the faction which has chosen you to preside." He had wired the Presidential candidates, "I shall be pleased to join you and your friends in opposing his selection by the full committee or by the Convention."
Bryan's telegram was published far and near. It was the crux of the situation. What candidate would take his stand with the militant Progressives? It was a serious question to propound, but the answer of Wilson p109and the failure to answer by the other candidates had a large influence on the result. Wilson's friends were divided. His manager, W. F. McCombs, who had been his student at Princeton, saw no hope for Wilson's nomination, except by obtaining the vote of New York. If Wilson agreed with Bryan it was a repudiation of New York's candidate for chairman, and would make it impossible for Wilson ever to receive the vote of the New York delegation. McCombs therefore advised a telegram to Bryan that was in substance a rebuke to Bryan, including the statement, "I have neither the right nor the desire to direct the organization of a Convention of which I am not even a member." It was the belief of many of Wilson's friends that if he sent such a telegram it would end the possibility of selection to leadership for progressive action and would be fatal to his chances.
Wilson rose to the occasion. The reply to Bryan, which he wrote with his own hand, began with "You are quite right." He added that the Convention was composed of "men who are progressive in principle and by conviction." He went on to say, "It must, if it is not to be put in a wrong light before the country, express its convictions in its organization and in its choice of the men who are to speak for it." He added further that he felt sure his friends would act to secure such result.
The managers of the other candidates were already lined up for Parker. Parker won in the committee with 31 votes; James, supported by Wilson's friends, received 20 votes, and O'Gorman 2. Wilson's friends would have been satisfied with either James or O'Gorman. Though James was a supporter of Clark, the Wilson forces favored him because they knew he was truly progressive and eminently fair.
p110 The issue had been clear cut — Wilson was the only man in the field ready to win or lose in boldly taking his stand with the militant Progressives. If Clark had repudiated his managers, as Wilson refused to follow McCombs, there are many who then believed that the twenty-eighth President would have been Champ Clark. One thing is certain; the issue Wilson met so promptly and courageously attracted to him the enthusiastic support of the progressive and forward-looking people of the Republic.
He lacked the votes to be nominated, or even to control the election of a temporary chairman, but from that moment his ultimate nomination was assured. His boldness and courage attracted the approval of the country, which made public sentiment set so strongly toward Wilson that delegates instructed for others were deluged with telegrams to vote "for Wilson and rebuke Reactionary Bosses." They poured into Baltimore by the thousands and the tens of thousands.
But it was days before the consummation, and Wilson at Sea Girt did not know the telegrams were going to stampede Clark delegates who voted for Clark steadily. During the balloting, the report reached Wilson that McCombs was promising offices for votes for Wilson. He immediately issued a public statement saying that no one was authorized by him to offer any position to any one. This angered McCombs, who called Wilson up on the 'phone and told him his nomination could only be brought about if he would promise not to appoint Bryan as Secretary of State.
Wilson refused to make such a promise and said to Tumulty, his private secretary, "I will not bargain for the office. It would be foolish for me at this time to p111decide upon a Cabinet officer, and it would be outrageous to eliminate anyone from consideration now, particularly Mr. Bryan, who has rendered such fine service to the party in all seasons."
The fight over the temporary chairmanship was carried to the Convention, where Bryan presented Senator Kern, a progressive. Kern, in his speech, urged Parker to withdraw, said he would do likewise, and in the interest of harmony suggested several names. He made challenge to New York to withdraw Parker. New York would not do so. Then Kern nominated Bryan for temporary chairman, saying, "There is only one man to lead the hosts of progress, and that is William Jennings Bryan."
Parker won, receiving 579 to Bryan's 510. But it was a Pyrrhic victory.
Bryan's defeat for the temporary chairmanship was hailed as his final retirement from the counsels of his party. "Incidentally," wrote a newspaper correspondent who had not sensed the real situation, "his downfall appears to have seriously endangered the Wilson boom, and press indications are that the recently glowing prospect of Wilson's victory in November has been sent a‑glimmering." Parker tendered the olive branch by declaring that Bryan ought to be chosen Chairman of the Platform Committee.
The second big battle of the convention was over the unit rule, Mayor Newton D. Baker, of Cleveland, making the most convincing speech of the debate. Ohio had sent a mixed delegation, some delegates elected and instructed in district primaries and others appointed and instructed by the State Convention. The unit rule, had it been applied, would have denied the district-named delegates the power to carry out the mandates of their constituencies. p112By a vote of 565½ to 491½, the Convention abrogated it in all states where the law did not specifically provide that it should apply. This was a victory for Wilson, for if the unit rule had prevailed, he would have received no votes from Ohio. It was a demonstration of the devotion of the delegates to the right of the people to representation, all the more surprising because it showed that the anti-Wilson leaders did not control the Convention. They had opposed it because it gave Wilson important strength. In the South Dakota contest the Wilson delegates also won. Those on the inside believed these two test votes indicated that there were a number of delegates instructed for other candidates who were at heart for Wilson. But this did not appear in the balloting for president until several days intervened.
On the first ballot, taken on Friday, the vote stood: Clark 440½; Wilson 334; Harmon 148; Underwood 117½. By midnight Clark's vote had risen to 556 and Wilson's to 350½. The Clark forces believed victory was in sight. Never before had a candidate, receiving a clear majority of all the votes, failed on subsequent ballots to secure enough to give him the two-thirds necessary to secure the nomination. On Saturday sixteen ballots were taken, the vote on the last being Clark 463½; Wilson 407½; Harmon 29; Underwood 112½. The adjournment over Sunday turned the scales. Hundreds and thousands of telegrams poured in from all parts of the country, particularly from sections where progressivism was strong, demanding that delegates "vote for Wilson and Progress." Many of them asserted that was "the only way to defeat Privilege and the bosses." The appeal to Caesar had been made by the Progressives, defeated in their effort to organize the Convention. They responded. The p113spectacle was witnessed of voters thousands of miles away changing the voting in the Convention — in fact controlling the nomination. The Clark forces did not realize the influences at work in the country until it was too late. In fact, after support of Parker, the damage done could not be repaired. The remarkable thing was that the enthusiasm for Wilson was almost wholly spontaneous. Many Clark supporters "back home" were disappointed when his managers lined up for Parker instead of James. They grew colder still when they tried to uphold the unit rule. They were astounded when the report went over the country that the bosses were supporting Clark. Clark's legislative record in the line of progress was sound and consistent. His supporters in the West, or many of them, felt that his managers were responsible for the situation and not Mr. Clark himself.
Bryan's charge that the reactionary forces were behind Clark's candidacy was bitterly resented by the Missourian. Ex-Senator Dubois, his campaign manager, on Saturday had represented to Speaker Clark that his candidacy had suffered by what he called "Bryan's attack upon his honor," and advised Clark that he should come to Baltimore and make answer. The Speaker took the first train for Baltimore, but the Convention had adjourned before he arrived. Many of his supporters advised him not to appear before the Convention, and he returned to Washington without asking to be heard. They told him no candidate for the presidency had ever appeared before a Convention and his appearance might be misunderstood and would do more harm than good. Speaker Clark accepted their advice and issued a statement in which he challenged Bryan for "proof or retraction." Bryan followed with a statement in which he said p114he believed Speaker Clark was "right at heart, but had been misled"; and added that the only criticism he had made was not that Clark "had acted wrongfully, but that he had failed to act." "The contest is not personal," he said, and added "it is between Progressive Democracy on one side and Reactionary Democracy on the other," and in such a contest it was Clark's duty to take one side or the other.
Monday's ballots showed the decided drift to Wilson. The telegrams pouring in were getting in their perfect work. The Clark forces held firm in the early ballots, but when the last ballot of the day (41st) was taken, Wilson was in the lead. The vote stood Wilson 499½; Clark 424; Harmon 27; Underwood 106. The tide had turned and was setting strongly to Wilson. Five ballots were taken on Tuesday. The certainty of Wilson's nomination becoming apparent, the opposition melted. After the forty-fifth ballot Underwood's name was withdrawn, and on the forty-sixth ballot Wilson was nominated, receiving 990 votes. Clark received 84 and Harmon 12. The nomination was made unanimous. Thomas R. Marshall, of Indiana, was nominated for Vice-President.
The gavel fell on the historic Baltimore Convention. The "schoolmaster," not even a political factor in July, 1910, had on July 2, 1912, been called to the leadership of the Democratic Party.
The Democrats of the Republic celebrated the Fourth of July, 1912, in the firm brief that they had named as heir to Jefferson's mantle another native of the Commonwealth of Virginia. They believed also that they had named the next President of the United States.
They had done both. And Wilson led.
Photo. Kadell & Herbert
Incidents of the first campaign
On the left, Governor Wilson with Wm. F. McCombs, Jr., Chairman of the National Democratic Committee, who acted as his campaign manager. On the right, the Governor delivering his speech accepting the nomination
Images with borders lead to more information.
Life of Wilson
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 16 Aug 08