– the 1928 Republican National Convention
by Spencer Howard
In June 1928, Republican Party held its quadrennial convention to nominate candidates for President and Vice President of the United States. Before the primaries and caucuses had begun, there was one candidate who enjoyed immense popularity among Republicans and the electorate as a whole – President Calvin Coolidge. To many voters, Coolidge represented the apparent prosperity of the time, and embodied the longed-for sobriety and respectability in a Chief Executive after the disgraceful events of the Harding Administration.
But Coolidge famously announced in August, 1927 “I do not choose to run for President in 1928.” The nation was perplexed – what did he mean by “choose?” Would he run if “drafted” by the Party? Was he seeking some concession, perhaps to name his successor? The President refused further comment and for months the Republican Party was roiled with confusion. Finally in February 1928, the Senate sought to force Coolidge’s hand; Republican leaders passed a resolution commending Coolidge for not seeking a third term, and when he voiced no opposition, it was interpreted as a green light to open consideration of other candidates.
Several Senators and Governors emerged as possible candidates, though none were popular or even well-known nationwide. The one Republican with a national profile and broad popularity was Herbert Hoover. Hoover was a self-made man, an orphan who through hard work and determination had made a fortune in the mining industry before age 40. During World War I he became internationally famous for providing food for 8 million civilians trapped behind the Western Front and for supplying tens of millions in the months after the war ended. He had never held elected office, but had served as Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge, where he cultivated a reputation as an energetic administrator and an economic expert.
Despite his popularity, Hoover faced opposition from party leaders, especially on the East Coast – Hoover was seen as too progressive, and too willing to interfere with politics-as-usual in Washington. It didn’t help that Coolidge disliked Hoover personally, and disapproved of some of Hoover’s activist policies at the Commerce Department. Hoover was also unpopular with the Midwest farm bloc because of his opposition to government price guarantees for farm commodities.
As was expected in those days, Hoover did not campaign personally for the nomination; to do so would have been seen as self-serving. Instead, Hoover remained in Washington attending to the Commerce Department. Hoover’s political friends quietly assembled a well-oiled, decentralized machine to advance his candidacy. In states with no “favorite son” candidate, Hoover won almost every contest and amassed a large number of convention delegates. In states where he faced opposition, Hoover’s backers lobbied for “uninstructed” delegates that might be persuaded to jump on the Hoover bandwagon. He lost several states in the Midwest, but no single candidate emerged to offer a significant challenge. When his nomination began to appear inevitable, party insiders grudgingly lined up behind him.
The Republican convention was held in Kansas City June 12th through 15th. By the time the convention opened, Hoover expected to receive votes from 673 out of 1089 delegates. His friends stacked the Credentials Committee with supporters who made sure that the certification of disputed delegates (mostly from Southern states) was decided entirely in Hoover’s favor. Last minute endorsements from key party leaders swung more delegates to Hoover, and he easily won the nomination on the first ballot with 837 votes.
The convention needed a nominee for Vice-President, and Kansas Senator Charles Curtis, a “favorite son” candidate and farm bloc stalwart quickly emerged as the best choice to patch up Hoover’s weakness in the Midwest. Days before the convention opened, he had expressed his opposition to Hoover, stating, “the convention cannot afford to nominate as head of the ticket, anyone for whom the party will be on the defensive… Our party can win the coming election if the candidate is chosen for whom no apologies will be required.” He also said he would never accept the Vice-Presidential nomination on a ticket with Hoover. On the first ballot for Vice President, Curtis received 1052 votes. He accepted the nomination, and dutifully campaigned for Hoover throughout the fall.
Hoover was not actually present at the convention. He was not a delegate or party official, and to show up as the apparent nominee would have been seen as presumptuous. After the nomination vote, the chairman of the convention, Sen. George Moses of New Hampshire, telegraphed Hoover with the news, and Hoover replied with a brief acknowledgment. The nomination did not become official, however, until it was delivered to Hoover in person. The notification ceremony and Hoover’s address of acceptance were carefully staged two months later, on August 11, at the football stadium at Stanford University. Only then, less than three months before Election Day, did Hoover begin to campaign in person. He traveled through just 20 states and gave only 8 major speeches, and won the election in a landslide.