As the Democratic Convention Approaches, America’s 2024 Division Echoes that of 1924



The Democratic National Convention of 1924, which lasted 16 days and 103 ballots, is notorious for being the longest in history and for being attended by the Ku Klux Klan. The convention highlighted the divide within the country at the time and reflected the tensions between rural and urban areas, isolationists and the world-engaged, white Protestant America and multiracial America of all faiths, and those who distrusted immigrants and those who saw themselves in immigrants. It took 103 ballots to select a compromise candidate, John W. Davis, who lost to incumbent President Calvin Coolidge in the general election.

Historic Democratic National Convention of 1924 Reflects Deep Divisions

The Democratic National Convention of 1924, a 16-day event involving 103 ballots, marked the longest in history. The convention was characterized by a deep divide over American identity and a strong influence of the Ku Klux Klan. The events mirrored the tensions between rural and urban areas, isolationist and global perspectives, and white-Protestant America Vs multiracial America.

The Role of the Ku Klux Klan

The Klan exploited these divisions, resonating with the “America First” sentiment prevalent amongst an aggrieved middle class during this period of the post-Civil War era. Historian Jon Meacham draws parallels between the convention and the current state of the US, with both periods marked by racial tensions, anti-immigrant sentiments, and fears over cultural changes.

Divisive Democratic Candidates

The convention saw two leading candidates, William Gibbs McAdoo Jr., a white, Protestant, Southern lawyer with a reform-minded stance but no progressive outlook on race, and Al Smith, an Irish Catholic New Yorker advocating immigration and opposing Prohibition. Their stance on the Klan differed significantly, with Smith condemning the organization as a threat to democracy, and McAdoo refusing to repudiate its followers.

The Impact of the Klan’s Influence

Historian Linda Gordon described the Klan’s influence on the convention as “enormous.” This white-supremacist organization used victimization claims to fuel its growth, promoting nativism and intolerance. A proposed anti-Klan plank was defeated by a single vote, signaling the depth of the party’s divisions.

The Balloting Process

Despite a deadlock in the vote between McAdoo and Smith, the convention continued. After 103 ballots, a compromise candidate, John W. Davis, secured the nomination. However, Davis was defeated in a landslide by the incumbent, Calvin Coolidge, four months later.

Legacy and Aftermath

While McAdoo became a senator from California and Smith lost the presidency to Hoover in 1928, the 1924 convention remains a pivotal event in American history. It serves as a reminder of deep-seated divisions in American society, the fleeting influence of the Klan, and the transformative power of political discourse. The statue of Diana, which once adorned the convention venue, now stands at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, observing the crossroads of history.

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