The Hillary Factor (1908)

The Democratic National Convention, Denver 1908: The Hillary Factor

Now that Barack Obama and the DNCC are talking about the convention schedule, we have learned that Hillary Clinton’s name will be placed in nomination in the roll call votes.  The air waves have been filled with newspeople and pundits voicing strong opinions on the decision.  Some are saying “this is normal and gracious and the right thing to do,” while others are blasting away at Obama saying that this makes his future administration look like they’ll be “pushovers” because he has opened the door to Hillary and Bill. (Remember Bill? If we think hard enough we can recall he was a former Democratic president who led the country into a time of economic stability, not just the petulant and churlish Potential First Husband who has been on the campaign trail for Hillary.)

While Denver was no “good luck” charm for the 1908 nominee since William Jennings Bryan eventually lost the presidency for yet a third time, the Democrats and the newspeople might be heartened to be reminded of how the nomination unfolded.

By June it was understood that Bryan would be the nominee so everyone attending the convention already knew the intended outcome of the proceedings.  When Bryan’s name was placed in nomination, the party organizers helped orchestrate a one hour, 10-minute demonstration for Bryan, and they  did all they could to keep it going (the goal was to be sure the demonstration ran longer than the one for William Taft at the Republican Convention earlier in the summer). Just as the crowd was tiring, the band would start up with a new song that would get the delegates cheering again. Finally convention chairman Clayton was ready for the crowd to calm down.  He pounded the podium with the gavel to bring order, but the crowd simply clapped and cheered to the timing of the gavel pounds.  Feeling desperate to restore order, Clayton instructed the electricians to turn out the lights in the hall.  Then and only then everyone finally quieted down.

Moments later, another nominee, Minnesota Governor Johnson A. Johnson’s name was put in nomination with a speech that should have made Bryan’s people’s blood boil:  “…If there is one in our party great enough and good enough to be made our candidate, upon whom all within our ranks can agree, and around whom no internal strife has raged, one who can better than any other unite all the factions and all the divisions of the Democratic Party…” and with that, Johnson’s name was placed in the ring.  There were loud cheers from the Minnesota delegation.  The galleries took up the shout, and a demonstration for Johnson began similar in its inception to that of Bryan… this time however the Chairman became very busy pounding the gavel and the band was told to keep still.

The Johnson enthusiasts were not easily stifled, and after 15 minutes the lights were dimmed. It took another seven minutes – for a full 22 minutes – for the crowd quite down.  One other candidate, former Delaware Senator George Gray, was nominated.  By this time it was late, and the gallery was less attentive. Gray was offered up as the candidate who was most electable because he would sway the Atlantic Seaboard, but the crowd was content with a minute or so of applause after Gray’s nomination.

Ultimately, the Party nominated William Jennings Bryan for the third time, and John Kern of Indiana was selected as his running mate.

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