Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on June 13, 1976 · Page 73
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 73

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, June 13, 1976
Page 73
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Page 73 article text (OCR)

John W.Davis Went Virginia's only candidate for president, teas nominated on 104th ballot, biitrfirfri'l have a chance lo win the race against 'Silent Cal.' Parallels in History: Will 1976 Be Another 1924? By James F. Dent If you want to see a historically- minded Democrat go all white and trembling, casually mention to him the similarities between his party's 1924 convention and the one scheduled for this summer. The 1924 Democratic convention took place in Madison Square Garden in New York City - and it was the last one held there until this year. In 1924, no candidate came to the convention with enough votes for a first ballot nomination. Barring a sudden overwhelming surge by Jimmy Carter, the situation is the same "in 1976. And there's more. In 1924. the nation was just recovering from a severe recession. The Democrats had picked up a whopping 78 seats in the off-year congressional elections of 1922. And in 1924 the Republican Party was still staggering from the effects of .the expose of a great national scandal -- the Teapot Dome a f f a i r . Warren G. Harding, the Republican president elected in 1920. had died in office _ S ome said of disgrace, others hinted at poison -- and the White House was occupied by his vice president. Calvin Coolidge. a colorless Vermonter who said so little that nervous officials had to check periodically to make certain he was still breathing. So 1924 looked to be a Democratic State Mauasim.'. -hin' I'. W7H year. The Democrats had every reason to believe that when they nominated their candidate in New York they would be nominating the next President of the United States. He would be only the third Democrat to hold that office in 64 years. It didn't work out that way. What happened, instead, was a great Democratic blood letting -the longest, rowdiest, most fiercely contested, most disorganized party convention since the great three- way Democratic schism of 1860. When it was over, the party was irrevocably split and that fall its candidates went down to massive def e a t . It w o u l d be a n o t h e r eight years b e f o r e Democrats f i n a l l y succeeded in winning the presiden- cv. 'So a comparison of 1976 and 1924 does not bring roses to the cheeks and smiles to the l i p s of Democrats. But if West Virginia's favorite son Sen. Robert C. Byrd. does perhaps dream that at least one occur- ence of the 1924 convention will be repeated this summer, it's understandable. Because 1924 saw a West Virginian win the Democratic nomination for president. He was John W. Davis of Clarks- burg and Wall Street - former state legislator, former congressman, former solicitor general of the United States, former ambassador to Great Britain, one of the most respected lawyers of his t i m e , a man described by K i n g George V of England as "one of the most perfect g e n t l e m e n I ever met." "John W. Davis had a noble face, even when small." William II. Harbaugh quotes the candidate's Sunday School teacher in his excellent biography of Davis, l.mvyvr'* /.«»·- VIT. Photographs bear witness to the truth of the statement. Davis stares out of them, his eyes steady, his face s h a r p l y chiseled w i t h a high forehead and arched eyebrows under a mane of carefully combed grey hair. His jaw protrudes slightly, giving him a look of command. It is a presidential visage, one fit to a d o r n stamps or c u r r e n c y or a mountin side. Davis had been mentioned as a candidate for the Democratic nomination before the 1920 convention. His candidacy had been urged by Secretary of State Robert Lansing and the AW York Timm . which wrote: "Mr. Davis contended for justice to all parties, for right and reason. He is not a man of nostrums. His personal q u a l i t i e s have won the friendship, confidence and admiration of everyone he touched . . . John W. Davis is a great man, a great A m e r i c a n , a g r e a t Demo- c r a t . " But D a v i s had m a d e enemies a m o n g the I r i s h - A m e r i c a n political bosses who controlled a n u m b e r of big city D e m o c r a t i c machines by opposing, while U.S. ambassador lo Great Britain, an independent Ireland. Arthur Knot?., the West Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee who attended the 1920 convention, wrote to Davis later: "When you were accused of nut being fair'to labor we could combat it: when you were accused of not being-regular in politics, we could correct it: when von were accused of heing against woman s u f f r a g e , we could explain it ... but when you were accused of attending the King's reception in knee breeches, and red ones at that, it was wholly impossible for novices, as we were, to convince the Maloneys, the Murphys, the Mooneys, the O'Briens, etc.. that there was not an inkling of truth in it or. if it were true, that it did not necessarily mean you were an enemy of old Ireland." Davis wasn't disappointed. He h a d n ' t sought t h e n o m i n a t i o n i n 1920 and, in fact, he didn't seek it in 1924. His candidacy was pushed by Clem Shaver of Lost Creek, Marion County, the Democratic state chairman in West Virginia, whose strategy was to make Davis the second choice of delegates pledged to other candidates. Shaver formed " D a v i s f o r P r e s i d e n t " c l u b s throughout West Virginia. He met a little resistance at f i r s t since some people thought Davis should have returned to West Virginia after leaving England rather than settling in New York City. But Shaver appealed to state pride and pointed to Davis' outstanding record of public service and, by the time the 1924 convention rolled around, Davis' home state was solidly behind him. _ . , Also supporting Davis for president in 1924 were, again, the AW York Times, a number of Davis' ex- collegaues in the justice and state departments and Col. Edward M. House, the former eminence grise of Woodrow Wilson's administration. But to the great mass of American voters. Davis was completely unknown. And. worse still, there were his legal ties lo J.P. Morgan and Co. Davis was that dread creature, a Wall Streel lawyer--a figure who struck fear and loathing into the hearts of farmers, small businessmen, progressives, ref o r m e r s , and W i l l i a m Jennings Bryan. ·'You can damn Wall Street and you can deplore W a l l Streel," a newspaper columnisl wrole, "bul you c a n ' t do business with Wall Streel and be elecled President of the United Sites." Davis knew this and so realistically he held oul lillle hope that he actually would win the nomination. He let his name be put forward but, he told Shaver, he had no intention of actively pursuing the nomination. If it came to him, all well and good. If n o t -- w e l l , that was all right too. The leading Democratic candidate when Ihe convenlion assembled in that hot, humid New York summer in 1924 was William Gibbs McAdoo. Born in Georgia, since moved to California, McAdoo lusted after the nomination. A former secretary of the treasury, he was a son-in-law of Woodrow Wilson, a s u p p o r t e r o f t h e P r o h i b i t i o n a m e n d m e n t , a n d h e d r e w h i s strength m a i n l y from the r u r a l areas and small towns of the South, Midwesl, and West. He also received the vociferous backing of the Ku Klux Klan, which wielded considerable political clout at the time. McAdoo was not himself a Klansman and he d i d n ' t subscribe lo Klan prejudiccs-McAdoo's California champion, James Phelan, was a Catholic and his main financial supporter. Bernard Baruch, was a Jew--but he didn't repudiate the Klan. A vote was a vote, That was M c A d o o ' s phiosophy and he would lake all Ihe voles he could gel. never mind who cast them. The other chief contenders for the nomination included: ··Alfred E. Smith, the Catholic, conservative, wet governor of New York was the candidate of Ihe big city bosses and represenled every- t h i n g t h a t McAdoo backers despised. Cocky, quick tempered, abrasive, Smith's Broadway accent jarred along Main Street. He was intensely parochial. William Allen IMrasr turn to I'W '»' . 1'.' \'A :lm

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