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The Klanbake Convention

The Klanbake Convention

Thinking of traveling to Cleveland in July, I did a little research on that city’s first Republican convention and the election that followed. The three-day event took place in June 1924 and produced the first-ballot nomination of Calvin Coolidge, who had succeeded to the presidency on the death of Warren Harding less than a year before. It was the first Republican convention at which women had equal representation, and the only hint of disgruntlement was the defection of Senator Robert LaFollette, who ran – and won almost 5 million votes – as a third-party Progressive.

In contrast to the civil Republican convention, its Democratic counterpart in New York’s Madison Square Garden was a disaster. It required 16 days and 103 ballots to nominate the little-known-nor-long-remembered John W. Davis. The preconvention favorites, Al Smith and William Gibbs McAdoo, bowed out after a stalemate driven largely by the power of Ku Klux Klan, which had resurfaced as a vehicle for white working-class anxieties over the perceived threats posed by immigrants, African Americans, and the growing political power of Catholics and Jews.

1924 presidential election

After knocking off Smith, the Catholic governor of New York who had denounced lynching and racial violence, thousands of hooded Klansmen – including hundreds of delegates – held a rally at which a speaker denounced the "clownvention in Jew York," while the crowd hanged Smith in effigy and set fire to a cross.

That was the “Klanbake” convention, and surely such a thing could never happen today.

Coolidge was elected easily – although he failed to carry a single southern state.


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