Monumental Moments From Past Democratic Conventions: ‘Just Explain It’

Jeff Greenfield

Will Rogers once said, "I am a member of no organized political party. I am a Democrat." If you take a look at some of the tumult and controversy that's surrounded past Democratic conventions, you'll know just what Rogers was talking about.

In 1896, William Jennings Bryan, a 36-year-old Congressman, mesmerized the convention in a debate about monetary policy with his "Cross of Gold" speech. He roused the crowd by denouncing the gold standard, saying, "You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold." They nominated him for president for the first of three times. He lost each time.

In 1924, Franklin D. Roosevelt resumed his political life after being stricken with polio with a speech putting New York Governor Al Smith's name in nomination. That convention took 103 votes, a record, to pick its nominee.

Eight years after his comeback, Roosevelt won the nomination in 1932. In a break with tradition, he flew to Chicago to personally accept the it.

The bitter divide over Vietnam threw the 1968 convention in Chicago into chaos, with riots in the streets and furious fights inside. Senator Abraham Ribicoff denounced the police violence, saying, "With George McGovern as president of the United States we wouldn't have to have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago!"

The 1972 Miami convention nominated anti-war leader George McGovern, but the Democrats were deeply divided. After his running mate, Tom Eagleton, was forced to step down after revelations about his health, McGovern lost in a landslide.

In 2004, an unknown state senator, Barack Obama, gave a speech that ignited the convention Four years later, he was the nominee. "There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America," he told the crowd.

So is this convention cut and dried? Sure, in a lot of ways. But will some unknown emerge to give a speech that makes him or her an instant national figure? For that, you'll have to stay tuned.