A History of the Presidency - Campaign dramas

Some of the struggles that have taken place in conventions are legendary. The Democratic convention of 1844 produced Candidate Polk in a wild session, making him the first "dark horse" to run for the White House. Not even mentioned in the first seven ballots, he, rather than the better-known leaders of the party, was nominated on the ninth. Franklin Pierce (1853–1857) was not a candidate when the Democrats met in the summer of 1852, and his wife was firmly opposed to his becoming one. He was chosen on the thirty-fifth ballot. In 1880 James A. Garfield (1881) was not mentioned on the first ballot of the Republican convention. On the second to fifth ballots he had only one vote. His strength rose and fell on successive ballots; even on the thirty-fifth he had only fifty votes. But a sudden flood of support made him the nominee on the thirty-sixth. In 1912 Woodrow Wilson (1913–1921), the governor of New Jersey, was eventually nominated by the Democrats on the forty-sixth ballot.

The Democratic convention of 1924 was the monster of all conventions. The nominee for president, John W. Davis was finally named on the 103rd ballot, as people with radios—then new-fangled—listened intently for the result they thought would never come. Today, the convention has become somewhat of an anachronism. Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 was nominated by his party on the fourth ballot. Since then, every president has been nominated by his party on the first ballot. The last major party nominee for the presidency not chosen on the first ballot was Wendell L. Willkie, named by the Republicans on the sixth in 1940.

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