Listened in to the balloting
at the Democratic con-
vention, all day and
The seem to enjoy killing
time in balloting so many
times for a candidate. There
is a deadlock, and they
will as it seems to be
have to keep on voting for
many more days before
they will come to a conclusion.
The Democratic Convention balloting Papa refers to here started at 8:00 P.M. and went well into the morning, and while he was correct to predict a long deadlock, he probably didn't expect the convention to go on for nine more days. This kind of thing doesn't happen today since state primary elections determine the distribution of convention delegates' votes, but delegates of earlier eras controlled their own votes and could change them at will during the course of balloting. Conventions were therefore known for their furious horse-trading, calculated deals, and long meetings in proverbial smoke-filled rooms, most of which the public never learned about.
So, when Papa listened to the Democratic balloting, he was part of a fascinating cultural experiment in which ordinary Americans got their first intimate look at the quirks of their Presidential nominating system. (The Republican Convention had also been broadcast on the radio, but offered few surprising details since incumbent President Coolidge won the nomination handily; Will Rogers said "it could have been done by postcard."1) Nowadays we can get all the parliamentary discord we can handle, but Papa's dismayed tone when he writes "they seem to enjoy killing time in balloting so many times for a candidate," gives us some idea of how odd such a live spectacle must have been. Presidential politics would, of course, never escape such attention again. Papa was really witnessing the true start of broadcast media's role in national politics, and more broadly the modern era in which national celebrity and media savvy would become prerequisites for political success.2
That said, the 1924 Democratic Convention was itself firmly entrenched in the old ways, so dark horse candidates and favorite sons could still make a showing. In fact, by the time Papa was done listening to the first night's balloting, he must have known that neither William McAdoo nor Al Smith would win the two-thirds of delegates' votes needed to secure the nomination. McAdoo, the frontrunner, would never put a dent in Smith's blocking control of the Northeastern and Midwestern industrial states, and Smith, with his vocal anti-Klan, anti-Prohibition and populist principles, had no chance with Southerners. (Some say McAdoo accepted this and planned to persuade the delegates, once they were thoroughly exhausted, to consent to a rules change that would let him win the nomination with a simple majority2. Such a rules change did eventually come to a vote, but it never got anywhere.)
Attention was now starting to turn to John W. Davis, an attorney and former ambassador whose views were more akin to Smith's than McAdoo's. Stay tuned.
1 - From Erik Barnouw's A Tower in Babel: A History of Broadcasting in the United States to 1933
2 - From "The Revolution in the Presidential Nominating Convention" by William G. Carleton. Political Science Quarterly, June 1957.