History, History Column

Democratic Convention of 1924

By ©2022 Sarah Becker

In 1924 Congress overrode President Calvin Coolidge’s veto of the WWI Soldiers Bonus Bill, and an anti-Asiatic Immigration law was passed. A constitutional amendment “to limit, regulate, and prohibit the labor of persons under eighteen years of age” was sent to the states for ratification. The country, “led by the South, [was] reluctant to circumscribe the work done by child labor.”

1924 was also a presidential election year. Four political parties participated. The Republican Party nominated Vice President Calvin Coolidge, President as of 1923 to serve another term. The Democrats chose New York attorney John W. Davis. It took the Dems a record 103 ballots to decide.

Virginia’s 1924 Democratic Convention delegation included U.S. Senator Carter Glass; U.S. Senator Claude A. Swanson and State Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr., Chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party; Governor E. Lee Trinkle and former Governor Henry C. Stuart; Mrs. B.B. Mumford, Mrs. W.B. Sirman, and Alexandria’s Dr. Kate Waller Barrett. They were “to support Glass for the presidential nomination so as long as his name was before the body.”

“Anyone who would not expect me to lead—to impress upon Congress my conception of important matters—need never to advocate me for this presidency,” Glass said in reply. Representative Glass was instrumental in the passage of the 1913 Owen-Glass Federal Reserve Act: the formation of the central bank of the United States.

“Four years ago [in 1920] Virginia furnished the platform for the [National] Democratic Party,” The Richmond-Times Dispatch reported. “This year it will, in all probability, go-a-step farther, providing both the platform and the candidate. The name Carter Glass is on the lips of every man or woman who discusses nomination possibilities.”

“It is admitted on all sides that, in point of ability and general fitness…no man in American public life is better qualified for the Presidency than Carter Glass,” The Washington Post agreed. “The single count against him is that he is from the South.”

Born in 1858, in Lynchburg, Virginia, Carter Glass left school at age 13. Self-educated, he became a newspaper reporter cum owner. A conservative Democrat, Glass served in the U.S. House of Representatives [1902–18]; the U.S. Senate [1920-1946], and as President Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of the Treasury [1918-1920].

In 1902 State Senator, soon to be U.S. Representative Glass was a white supremacist. According to the Encyclopedia Virginia “Glass’ bluntness was apparent during the [Commonwealth’s] Constitutional Convention of 1901-1902…He joined the ‘reformers,’ who wanted to revamp state government and eliminate the black vote.”

“[T]he problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line,” W.E.B. DuBois, the first black American to earn a doctorate wrote in 1903. “This meaning is not without interest to you.”

The 1924 National Democratic Party Platform, as drafted by U.S. Senator Glass, was accepted by the Virginia convention with only one change. The change was made in the Personal Freedom section, the section which reaffirmed Thomas Jefferson’s declaration for religious freedom. The part “struck out” stated “that ‘any sect, or order, or creed, which assails or seeks openly or covertly to impair this inalienable right of religious freedom is to be condemned and resisted as a menace to organized society.’”

“Twice in the past the [Ku Klux] Klan has risen when it had an issue—after the Civil War [1865] and World War,” The Washington Post explained. “By 1920 it was on the verge of bankruptcy and the Klan called in Edward Y. Clarke, of the Southern Advertising Association. Clarke’s genius for salesmanship…brought forth fruit.”

“The [1924 National Democratic] Convention took place in an era when 3-6 million Americans were members of the Ku Klux Klan,” Matthew Wills penned. “Unlike the first, post-Civil War version: the Roaring Twenties Klan was middle class, with substantial clergy support, and had membership in all 48 states. Hundreds of Knights of the Ku Klux Klan attended the convention as delegates.”  In 1923 the Klan “presented $100 for ‘the advance of the Christian Kingdom’ to [Alexandria’s] Washington Street Methodist Church.”

The Convention, held in New York City from June 24 to July 9, 1924, was “the longest continuously running convention” in United States political history. It was the first major party convention to place a woman’s name—Mrs. LeRoy Springs, National Committeewoman from South Carolina—in nomination for vice president. That said, the offer was thought to be more symbolic than sincere. The woman’s suffrage amendment, Amendment 19 was ratified four years before.

Sixteen presidential candidates were nominated for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Former Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo, Woodrow Wilson’s son-in-law, and New York Governor Alfred E. Smith were the top contenders. Carter Glass was presented as a compromise candidate. Nebraska Governor and presidential aspirant Charles W. Bryan, William Jennings Bryan’s brother was the VP nominee of choice.

“Following the national elections of 1912 the Democrats obtained control of the federal government [both the executive and legislative branches] for the first time in half a century,” Dewey Grantham wrote. “When the chairmen of the congressional committees were appointed in 1913, Southerners were in complete control.”

Five of the twelve congressmen from the Old Dominion were chairmen of major committees. Carter Glass presided over the House Banking and Currency Committee, while Thomas Staples Martin, creator of Virginia’s conservative Democratic machine, chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee. Oklahoma Senator Robert L. Owen, Jr., a progressive Democrat born in Lynchburg, Virginia, chaired the Senate Banking Committee. Owen was of Cherokee descent; a tribal nation known to enslave 19th century blacks.

President Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom agenda stressed individualism and states’ rights. It promised “to restore unfettered opportunity for individual action and to employ the power of government in behalf of social justice for all.” In the Wilson era social justice referred mostly to the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society: the point at which individuality gave way to the struggle for social justice.

Wilson did not deal well with matters of gender, ethnicity, or racial discrimination. It was Virginia born President Wilson who, in 1913 in his first Presidential year, segregated the Civil Service of the United States. He issued no executive order; Congress passed no law. Wilson’s Postmaster General, former Congressman Albert S. Burleson (D-TX) just complained.

The result: black Civil Service workers were displaced or fired. Dining facilities and restrooms were segregated all while Wilson’s southern-born Cabinet Secretaries, Glass included, looked the other way. It was not long before Reconstruction gains became Jim Crow losses.

Charles Hamilton Houston, a black instructor at Howard University, enlisted in America’s segregated Army in 1917.  Lt. Houston served in war torn Europe. His military experience left him hankering for social change; to “study law and use my time fighting for men who could not strike back.” Houston entered Harvard Law School in 1919; was admitted to the bar in 1924, and became the NAACP’s first General Counsel in 1935.

The 1924 National Democratic Party platform included many appealing phrases like: “Education: We believe…that ignorance is the enemy of freedom and that each state, being responsible for the intellectual and moral qualification of its citizens…shall use its sovereign fight in all matters pertaining to education.” And “Democratic Principles: The Democratic Party believes in equal rights to all and special privilege to none.” In fact the Party believed in equality as moderated by the “Rights of States: We demand that the states of the union shall be preserved in all their vigor and power. They constitute a bulwark against…destructive tendencies.”

As for the “Activities of Women: We welcome the women of the nation to their rightful place by the side of men in control of government whose burdens they have always shared.” The Virginia General Assembly voted against ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Two years later the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the ratification process was not subject to state imposed restrictions and declared the woman’s suffrage amendment constitutional. [Leser v. Garnett 258US130 (1922)]

Soon after, Dr. Kate Waller Barrett—vice president and general superintendent of the Florence Crittenton Homes—was elected second vice president of the Virginia League of Women Voters. Under her and others leadership the League “endorsed the direct primary” and recommended “suppression of clandestine agencies and associations, like the Ku Klux Klan.”

Barrett—born in 1857 on her father’s slave-inhabited Falmouth, Virginia, estate—fought for women’s rights. It was in the 19-teens and ‘20s that Dr. Barrett gained a national reputation for “helping with racially diverse populations of women.” Who better than Kate, a humanitarian and early voting rights advocate to second Carter Glass’ nomination for president?

“I tell you Folks,” humorist Will Rogers said, “All Politics is Apple Sauce!”

“The Pulitzer prize for unstinted praise must be awarded to Gov. Trinkle of Virginia, who said of Carter Glass that, ‘no man can point the finger of scorn at him except with pride,’” The New York Times reported on June 28, 1924.  “Then there was Mrs. Barrett…who seconded Glass with such fire and enthusiasm that she almost warmed up somnolent delegates.”

“We love Carter Glass,” Dr. Barrett began, “but we would not sully Virginia’s reputation and present his name to you unless we knew that he would measure up to the past history of Virginia…to Washington, to Jefferson, to Madison and to Monroe.” The song “Dixie played” and abolitionist “John Brown was reburied in the sacred soil of Virginia.”

Calvin Coolidge won the 1924 presidential election, 382 electoral votes to Davis’ 136. As the 2024 presidential election approaches, let me know what similarities if any come to mind. The key words moving forward: equal rights, states’ rights and the new industrial state; individualism, systems and centralization.

Sarah Becker started writing for The Economist while a graduate student in England. Similar publications followed. She joined the Crier in 1996 while serving on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association Board. Her interest in antiquities began as a World Bank hire, with Indonesia’s need to generate hard currency. Balinese history, i.e. tourism provided the means. The New York Times describes Becker’s book, Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets, as “a blueprint for thousands of nonprofit managers.” A former museum director, SLAM’s saving grace Sarah received Alexandria’s Salute to Women Award in 2007.  Email abitofhistory53@gmail.com


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