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Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter XVI - The Baltimore Convention
by Tumulty, Joseph P.

At Sea Girt we kept in close touch with our friends at Baltimore, so that after each ballot the New Jersey candidate was apprised of the result. During the trying days and nights of the Convention the only eager and anxious ones in the family group, besides myself, were Mrs. Wilson and the Wilson girls. The candidate himself indeed seemed to take only perfunctory interest in what was happening at Baltimore. He never allowed a single ballot or the changes those ballots reflected to ruffle or disturb him. Never before was the equable disposition of the man better manifested than during these trying days. Only once did he show evidences of irritation. It was upon the receipt of word from Baltimore, carried through the daily press, that his manager Mr. McCombs was indulging in patronage deals to secure blocks of delegates. Upon considering this news he immediately issued a public statement saying that no one was authorized to make any offer of a Cabinet post for him and that those who had done so were acting without authority from him. This caused a flurry in the ranks of our friends in Baltimore and the statement was the subject of heated discussion between the Governor and Mr. McCombs over the telephone. Of course, I did not hear what was said at the other end of the wire, but I remember that the Governor said: "I am sorry, McCombs, but my statement must stand as I have issued it. There must be no conditions whatever attached to the nomination." And there the conversation ended. While this colloquy took place I was seated just outside of the telephone booth. When the Governor came out he told me of the talk he had had with McCombs, and that their principal discussion was the attempt by McCombs and his friends at Baltimore to exact from him a promise that in case of his nomination William Jennings Bryan should not be named for the post of Secretary of State; that a great deal in the way of delegates' votes from the Eastern states depended upon his giving this promise. The Governor then said to me: "I will not bargain for this office. It would be foolish for me at this time to decide upon a Cabinet officer, and it would be outrageous to eliminate anybody from consideration now, particularly Mr. Bryan, who has rendered such fine service to the party in all seasons."

The candidacy of the New Jersey Governor gained with each ballot--only slightly, however--but he was the only candidate who showed an increased vote at each stage of the Convention proceedings. The critical period was reached on Thursday night. In the early afternoon we had received intimations from Baltimore that on that night the New York delegation would throw its support to Champ Clark, and our friends at Baltimore were afraid that if this purpose was carried out it would result in a stampede to Clark. We discussed the possibilities of the situation that night after dinner, but up to ten o'clock, when the Governor retired for the night, New York was still voting for Harmon. I left the Sea Girt cottage and went out to the newspaper men's tent to await word from Baltimore. The telegrapher in charge of the Associated Press wire was a devoted friend and admirer of the New Jersey candidate. There was no one in the tent but the telegrapher and myself. Everything was quiet. Suddenly the telegraph instrument began to register. The operator looked up from the instrument, and I could tell from his expression that something big was coming. He took his pad and quickly began to record the message. In a tone of voice that indicated its seriousness, he read to me the following message: "New York casts its seventy-six votes for Champ Clark. Great demonstration on." And then the instrument stopped recording. It looked as if the "jig was up." Frankly, I almost collapsed at the news. I had been up for many nights and had had only a few hours' sleep. I left the tent, almost in despair, about eleven o'clock, and returned to the Sea Girt cottage, preparatory to going to my home at Avon, New Jersey. As I was leaving the cottage the Governor appeared at one of the upper windows, clad in his pajamas, and looking at me in the most serious way, said: "Tumulty, is there any news from Baltimore?" I replied: "Nothing new, Governor." When we were breakfasting together the next morning, he laughingly said to me: "You thought you could fool me last night when I asked if there was any word from Baltimore; but I could tell from the serious expression on your face that something had gone wrong." This was about the first evidence of real interest he had shown in the Baltimore proceedings.

As will be recalled, the thing that prevented Champ Clark from gathering the full benefit which would have come to him from the casting of the New York vote in his favour was a question by "Alfalfa Bill" Murray, a delegate from Oklahoma. He said: "Is this convention going to surrender its leadership to the Tammany Tiger?" This stemmed the tide toward Mr. Clark, and changed the whole face of the Convention.

It was evident that on Friday night the deadlock stage of the Convention had been finally reached. The Wilson vote had risen to 354, and there remained without perceptible change. It began to look as if the candidacy of the New Jersey Governor had reached its full strength. The frantic efforts of the Wilson men to win additional votes were unavailing. Indeed, Wilson's case appeared to be hopeless. On Saturday morning, McCombs telephoned Sea Girt and asked for the Governor. The Governor took up the 'phone and for a long time listened intently to what was being said at the other end. I afterward learned that McCombs had conveyed word to the Governor that his case was hopeless and that it was useless to continue the fight, and asked for instructions. Whereupon, the following conversation took place in my presence: "So, McCombs, you feel it is hopeless to make further endeavours?" When McCombs asked the Governor if he would instruct his friends to support Mr. Underwood, Mr. Wilson said: "No, that would not be fair. I ought not to try to influence my friends in behalf of another candidate. They have been mighty loyal and kind to me. Please say to them how greatly I appreciate their generous support and that they are now free to support any candidate they choose."

In the room at the time of this conversation between McCombs and the New Jersey Governor sat Mrs. Wilson and myself. When the Governor said to McCombs, "So you think it is hopeless?" great tears stood in the eyes of Mrs. Wilson, and as the Governor put down the telephone, she walked over to him and in the most tender way put her arms around his neck, saying:

"My dear Woodrow, I am sorry, indeed, that you have failed." Looking at her, with a smile that carried no evidence of the disappointment or chagrin he felt at the news he had just received, he said: "My dear, of course I am disappointed, but we must not complain. We must be sportsmen. After all, it is God's will, and I feel that a great load has been lifted from my shoulders." With a smile he remarked that this failure would make it possible for them, when his term as Governor of New Jersey was completed, to go for a vacation to the English Lake country--a region loved by them both, where they had previously spent happy summers. Turning to me, he asked for a pencil and pad and informed me that he would prepare a message of congratulation to Champ Clark, saying as he left the room: "Champ Clark will be nominated and I will give you the message in a few minutes."

I afterward learned that McCombs was about to release the delegates when Roger Sullivan, who had been informed of McCombs' message to the New Jersey Governor, rushed over to McCombs and said to him, "Damn you, don't you do that. Sit steady in the boat."

This is the true story of the occurrence so strangely distorted by Mr. McCombs in the book he left for publication after his death, wherein he would make it appear that Governor Wilson had got in a panic and tried to withdraw from the race; whereas the panic was all in the troubled breast of Mr. McCombs, a physically frail, morally timid person, constitutionally unfit for the task of conducting such a fight as was being waged in Baltimore. More sturdy friends of Governor Wilson at the Convention were busy trying to brace up the halting manager and persuade him to continue the fight, even against the desperate odds that faced them. But for these stronger natures, among whom were old Roger Sullivan of Illinois and W. G. McAdoo, the battle would have been lost.

The message of congratulation to Champ Clark was prepared and ready to be put on the wire for transmission to him when the Baltimore Convention assembled again on Saturday, June 29, 1912. I had argued with the Governor that despite what McCombs had said to him over the 'phone on the previous day I felt that there was still a great deal of latent strength in the Wilson forces in the Convention which was ready to jump into action as soon as it appeared that Champ Clark's case was hopeless. The first ballot on Saturday gave weight to my view, for upon that ballot Wilson gained fifteen or twenty votes, which injected new hope into our forces in the Convention. From that time on Wilson steadily moved forward, and then came Bryan's resolutions, opposing any candidate who received the support of the "privilege-hunting" class, and attempting the expulsion of a certain Eastern group from the Convention. Pandemonium reigned in the Convention Hall, but the vote upon the resolutions themselves showed the temper of the delegates. This made the Clark nomination hopeless. Bryan's role as an exponent of outraged public opinion and as a master of great conventions was superbly played. When he finally threw his tremendous influence to Wilson, the struggle was over. Indiana jumped to Wilson, then Illinois, and the fight was won. Wilson received the necessary two-third vote and was proclaimed the candidate.

The progressive element of the Democratic party had triumphed after a long, stubborn fight by what at first was a minority in the Convention for enlightened progressivism, with Woodrow Wilson as the standard bearer. To those like myself far away from the Convention there was the sense of a great issue at stake at Baltimore. One old gentleman who visited Sea Girt after the Convention compared the stand of the Liberals in the Convention to the handful at Thermopylae; others compared their heroic determination to the struggle of Garibaldi and his troops. To the outside world it was plain that a great battle for the right was being waged at Baltimore, under the inspiration of a new leadership. At times it appeared that the raw Wilson recruits would have to surrender, that they could not withstand the smashing blows delivered by the trained army which the Conservatives had mobilized. But they stood firm, for there was in the ranks of the Liberal group in the Baltimore Convention an unconquerable spirit, akin to that of the Crusaders, and a leadership of ardent men who were convinced that they were fighting, not merely for a man but for a principle which this man symbolized. Among these were men like W. G. McAdoo of New York, A. Mitchell Palmer, Joseph Guffey, and Vance McCormick of Pennsylvania, Senator "Billy" Hughes of New Jersey, and Angus McLean of North Carolina.

Although the Wilson forces were largely made up of "new" men, some of whom had never before been actively interested in politics, comparatively young men like McAdoo, Palmer, McCormick, McLean, Guffey, and old men like Judge Westcott of New Jersey, yet they were drawn to the light that had dawned in New Jersey and were eager and anxious to have that light of inspired leadership given to the nation. Judge Westcott fired the Convention with his eloquence and brought showers of applause when he quoted at length from a speech Mr. Wilson had made when president of Princeton, and for which he had been hissed, lampooned, and derided by the Princeton opposition. Judge Westcott said:
Men are known by what they say and do. Men are known by those who hate them and those who oppose them. Many years ago the great executive of New Jersey said: "No man is great who thinks himself so, and no man is good who does not strive to secure the happiness and comfort of others." This is the secret of his life. This is, in the last analysis, the explanation of his power. Later, in his memorable effort to retain high scholarship and simple democracy in Princeton University, he declared: "The great voice of America does not come from seats of learning. It comes in a murmur from the hills and woods, and the farms and factories and the mills, rolling on and gaining volume until it comes to us from the homes of common men. Do these murmurs echo in the corridors of our universities? I have not heard them." A clarion call to the spirit that now moves America. Still later he shouted: "I will not cry peace so long as social injustice and political wrong exist in the state of New Jersey." Here is the very soul of the silent revolution now solidifying sentiment and purpose in our common country.
Men in the Convention, overwhelmed with the emotion of the great hour and the vindication of the bold liberal, Woodrow Wilson, bowed their heads and sobbed aloud. The "amateurs" of that convention had met the onslaughts of the Old Guard and had won, and thus was brought about, through their efforts, their courage, and their devotion, the dawn of a new day in the politics of the nation.


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