1940 Democratic National Convention

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1940 Democratic National Convention
1940 presidential election
FDR in 1933.jpg 33 Henry Wallace 3x4.jpg
Roosevelt and Wallace
Date(s) July 15–18, 1940
City Chicago
Venue Chicago Stadium
Presidential nominee Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York
Vice Presidential nominee Henry A. Wallace of Iowa
1936  ·  1944

The 1940 Democratic National Convention was held at the Chicago Stadium in Chicago, Illinois from July 15 to July 18, 1940. The convention resulted in the nomination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt for an unprecedented third term. Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace from Iowa was nominated for Vice President.

Despite the unprecedented bid for a third term, Roosevelt was nominated on the first ballot. Roosevelt's most formidable challengers were his former campaign manager James Farley and his Vice President, John Nance Garner. Both had sought the nomination for the presidency and soundly lost to Roosevelt who would be "drafted" at the convention. Henry Wallace was Roosevelt's preferred choice for the Vice-Presidency. His candidacy was opposed vehemently by some delegates, particularly the conservative wing of the party which had been unenthusiastic about Wallace's liberal positions. Nonetheless, Wallace was ultimately nominated with the votes of 59% of the delegates.[1]

Democratic candidates

Throughout the winter, spring, and summer of 1940 there was much speculation as to whether Roosevelt would break with long-standing tradition and run for an unprecedented third term. The "two-term" tradition, although not yet enshrined in the U.S. Constitution as the 22nd Amendment, had been established by President George Washington when he refused to run for a third term in 1796, and the tradition was further supported by Thomas Jefferson.[1] Roosevelt, however, refused to give a definitive statement as to his willingness to be a candidate, even indicating to his old friend and political kingmaker James Farley[2] that he would not be a candidate again and that he could seek the nomination; Farley thus began his campaign.[3]

Roosevelt told others of his plans not to run, including Cordell Hull, Frances Perkins, and Daniel J. Tobin. His wife Eleanor was opposed to a third term. Perhaps the most definitive evidence of Roosevelt's intention to not run for a third term is that in January 1940 he signed a contract to write 26 articles a year for Collier's for three years after leaving the presidency in January 1941. However, as Nazi Germany defeated France and threatened Britain in the summer of 1940, Roosevelt decided that only he had the necessary experience and skills to see the nation safely through the Nazi threat. His belief that no other Democrat who would continue the New Deal could win was likely also a reason.[3] He was aided by the party's political bosses, who feared that no Democrat except Roosevelt could defeat the charismatic Wendell Willkie, the Republican candidate.

The "voice from the sewers"

By the convention Farley and Vice President John Nance Garner were declared candidates, and Paul McNutt was a possibility.[3] Roosevelt still did not want to declare openly for re-nomination, so his backers arranged a stunt at the convention. Roosevelt dictated a message on the phone to Kentucky Senator Alben Barkley, which Barkley read out to the convention during the first day's proceedings. It concluded

The President has never had, and has not today, any desire or purpose to continue in the office of President, to be a candidate for that office, or to be nominated by the convention for that office. He wishes in earnestness and sincerity to make it clear that all of the delegates in this convention are free to vote for any candidate.[3]

One biographer wrote that Barkley's message "can scarcely be said to have conveyed the whole or literal truth".[3] When it ended, the convention sat in shocked silence for a moment. The silence was then broken by a voice thundering over the stadium loudspeakers: "We want Roosevelt! We want Roosevelt!" The voice was Thomas D. Garry, Superintendent of Chicago's Department of Sanitation (the sewers department), a trusted henchman of Chicago Mayor Ed Kelly. Garry was stationed in a basement room with a microphone, waiting for that moment. Kelly had posted hundreds of Chicago city workers and precinct captains around the hall; other Democratic bosses had brought followers from their home territories. All of them joined Garry's chant. Within a few seconds, hundreds of delegates joined in. Many poured into the aisles, carrying state delegation standards for impromptu demonstrations. Whenever the chant began to die down, state chairmen, who also had microphones connected to the speakers, added their own endorsements: "New Jersey wants Roosevelt! Arizona wants Roosevelt! Iowa wants Roosevelt!"[4]

The effect of the "voice from the sewers" was overwhelming. The next day Roosevelt was nominated by an 86% majority.

The balloting

Presidential Ballot Vice Presidential Ballot
President Roosevelt 946 (86.32%) Henry A. Wallace 626
James A. Farley 72 (6.57%) William B. Bankhead 329
John Nance Garner 61 (5.57%) Paul V. McNutt 68
Millard E. Tydings 9 (0.82%) Alva B. Adams 11
Cordell Hull 5 (0.47%) James A. Farley 7
Jesse H. Jones 5
Joseph C. O'Mahoney 3
Alben W. Barkley 2
Prentiss M. Brown 1
Louis A. Johnson 1
Scott W. Lucas 1
Bascom N. Timmons 1
David I. Walsh 0.5

Vice-presidential selection

Garner was a Texas conservative who had turned against Roosevelt during their second term. Roosevelt therefore chose a different running mate: Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace. Wallace, an outspoken liberal, was strenuously opposed by many delegates at the convention, particularly the more conservative Southern Democrats. He was also opposed because he had been a Republican until joining Roosevelt's administration.[1] When Roosevelt aide Harry Hopkins told Roosevelt by telephone that Wallace's nomination was meeting resistance, Roosevelt threatened not to run if Wallace was not nominated, even drafting a speech declining the nomination. Wallace was successfully nominated after First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt flew to Chicago to campaign,[5] and gave what came to be known as her "No Ordinary Time" speech.[6][7] James Farley could not be on the ticket as Vice-President, because both he and Roosevelt were from New York State, and if they had run together, the electors of the State of New York, pursuant to the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, could not have voted for them both.[6]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "The 1940 Democratic National Convention". Chicago Historical Society. Retrieved 2008-03-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Farley Dies -- Jun 10, 1976 -- NBC -- Vanderbilt Television News Archive". Archived from the original on 2009-09-17. Retrieved 2009-09-15. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Gunther, John (1950). Roosevelt in Retrospect. Harper & Brothers. pp. 308–309.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Edward Joseph Kelly obituary, Time
  5. Goodwin, Doris Kearns (1994). No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0684804484.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Boller, Paul. Presidential Campaigns p. 252. Retrieved via Google Books 2008-10-26.
  7. Roosevelt, Eleanor - "This Is No Ordinary Time", Speech to the 1940 Democratic National Convention, July 1940, FDR Library Archives. Accessed 2016-01-01

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Democratic National Conventions Succeeded by