Grains of Truth- The 1940 Democratic Convention

grainsoftruth

Brews and Peruse: Examination of a historical document while drinking a craft beer. Consisting of three essential components:

1) The Document: Speeches of the 1940 Democratic Convention including Eleanor Roosevelt’s Address- Many people believe Franklin Roosevelt’s actions in acquiring the nomination were later justified when the U.S. entered World War II. However, political deception is still political deception…

2) The Beer: Grains of Truth from Ommegang Brewery- Why? Two reasons. First, both FDR and the beer are from New York. Second, well… there is the name. [My reactions to the beer are bold and bracketed]

3) My commentary: A tongue in cheek look at an American political event. My thoughts, no citations. (Italicized)

In 1940 Franklin Delano Roosevelt needed to make a decision. No previous U.S. president had achieved a third term. Only two, Theodore Roosevelt and US Grant had attempted to gain third terms, and both efforts were rejected. Believing that only he was qualified to lead the country at such a crucial time, FDR decided to run. However, gaining the Democrat Party nomination would present a challenge. Historical precedence indicated that Americans would once again reject someone desiring a third term, a reality necessitating Roosevelt’s apparent “recruitment” for the nomination.  Chicago hosted the 1940 Democrat Party Convention and real political theater began on the convention’s first night…

On the night of July 16, Senate Majority Leader Alben Barkley was given a role to play. Perfectly cast as Franklin Roosevelt’s herald, Barkley’s presence commanded attention. The current Senate Majority Leader was the son of a tenant wheat farmer. A robust man with a voice to match, he could speak to a large room without artificial assistance. Possessing a wry sense of humor and a head for politics, the Senator was well known and well liked. Barkley first joined Congress in 1912, he was both a fixture of Democrat politics and a trusted Roosevelt man. FDR trusted Barkley to deliver the message, but not to write it. Roosevelt had dictated the message Barkley in an earlier telephone conversation.

[Ommegang Brewery’s Grains of Truth pours golden/ orange with a thick head. True to its name, it has a grain aroma. Malted wheat and rye. The taste is robust but pleasant.]

  The stage was set and Barkley had the opening act…

“The President has never had, and has not today, any desire or purpose to continue in the office of President, to be candidate for that office, or to be nominated by the convention for that office.”

Barkley’s words lingered across the hushed audience. Completely insincere as they were, they worked to perfection. Like the salesman’s pregnant pause, the conventioneer’s silence fostered anticipation. While Roosevelt men anxiously awaited the second act, opponents waited helplessly. Could opponents have instantly parsed these phrases? The statement only related a  “desire” to not seek the office or the nomination, it did not say FDR would refuse the nomination if it were offered.

[Light on hops, just enough to let the flavor linger between drinks.]

“He wishes in all earnestness and sincerity to make it clear that all the delegates to this convention are free to vote for any candidate.”

The latter part of this statement was certainly true. They were free to vote for any candidate, Roosevelt included. It is also likely that the first part of the statement holds some truth. Was it FDR’s earnest and sincere hope that the delegates vote for him?

“That is the message I bear to you from the President of the United States.”

And there is was, both simple and complex. The epitome of political ambiguity. Sincerely expressed statements laced with insincerity.

[A fine lacing clings to the sides of the glass. The flavor is consistent.]

Barkley’s conclusion signaled the beginning of Act 2.

Roosevelt supporter and Chicago boss Ed Kelly, had pre-positioned both microphones and loyal city workers throughout the auditorium. One man waited for his cue. While the crowd sat in silence at the conclusion of Barkley’s speech, Chicago Sewer Commissioner Thomas Garry grabbed a microphone and began shouting

“We want Roosevelt!”

Other Roosevelt backers grabbed their microphones and joined the call. Roosevelt’s supporters among the state delegations took up their standards and began marching toward the floor. Uncommitted delegates joined in on what they thought was spontaneous enthusiasm. For FDR’s ardent opponents, the fix was in.

[This is a beer I would buy again. It is comfortable, unsurprising.]

Act 3 took place on July 18, when Eleanor Roosevelt sealed the deal.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s address to the convention has been billed as a convention saving speech.  Although Mrs. Roosevelt’s words ring true today, did anyone in that auditorium truly anticipate the events that would face the United States in the coming years?

“You cannot treat it as you would treat any ordinary nomination in an ordinary time.” She continued “We cannot tell from day to day what may come. This is no ordinary time. No time for weighing anything except what we can do best for the country as a whole, and that responsibility rests on each and every one of us as individuals.”

And there it was, a claim that combating the extraordinary required the extraordinary. Further, everyone had a responsibility in bringing about the extraordinary.

[A good beer. Although the aftertaste is mild, it has a slight bitter finish.]

Under the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, the United States successfully navigated the challenges it faced in World War II. Did anyone inside Chicago Stadium on the evening of July 16, 1940 grasp the challenges that lie ahead? Alben Barkley, the once staunch supporter, came to clash with FDR over his war time domestic policies. Budget policy and disagreements over federal spending led to a rather public break with the president. Barkley eventually served as Truman’s Vice-President. The 22nd Amendment was passed soon after Roosevelt’s death. If the country believed it would ever again face extraordinary times, it was not going to allow another person three terms as president to deal with those extraordinary times.

Author: historypresent

History Understood in Its Present

10 thoughts on “Grains of Truth- The 1940 Democratic Convention”

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