Arbitrary Rivalry Wednesday: The 1904 Democratic National Convention vs The 1908 Democratic National Convention

by J.R.

With NBC declaring Hump Day as Rivalry Wednesday and then determining what is and isn’t a rivalry seemingly at random — tonight it’s Wings and Bruins! — III Communication will feature a true Conference III rivalry each and every Wednesday there’s an intra-Conference III game in Arbitrary Rivalry Wednesday Powered By Corporate Champions Wal-Mart Brand Frozen Peas.

Today, in honor of a real on-ice rivalry on the schedule, III Communication invites into the arena two wonderful century-old Democratic National Conventions: 1904 in St. Louis and 1908 in Denver

Throw out the record books — we’re doing this III Communication style.


1904 in St. Louis!


1908 in Denver!

Venue: Completed in 1883, the St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall hosted three Democratic National Conventions. Originally, it was 502 feet by 332 feet and cost $750,000 to complete ($18.2 million in 2012 dollars). It had a stage that could seat 1,500. A stage! The arena itself was added during an 1896 expansion, coming in at 112 feet by 222 feet, with a single-span truss roof. The arena sat 7,500 with an expansion possible to 12,000. For the 1904 convention, it sat 10,500. The building was torn down to make way for a public library in 1907.

Built specifically to host the 1908 convention, the Denver Auditorium Arena, at its opening, sat 12,500 people, giving it the second-highest capacity in the U.S. after Madison Square Garden. Unlike its St. Louis competitor, it still stands at 13th and Champa where it serves as a theater. It was also the original home of the Denver Nuggets.

Verdict: Bigger and still standing the test of time? No brainer


Convention Statistics: The 1904 Convention had 1,000 voting delegates. There were 13 candidates for president: Alton B. Parker, William Randolph Hearst, Francis Cockrell, Richard Olney, Edward C. Wall, George Gray, John Sharp Williams, Robert E. Pattison, George B. McClellan Jr., Nelson A. Miles, Charles A. Towne, Arthur Pea Gorman and Bird S. Coler. And there were four candidates for vice-president: Henry G. Davis, James R. Williams, George Turner and William A. Harris. It took one ballot of commitments, one ballot of shifts and a unanimous vote to decide on Parker as the presidential candidate. Davis was unanimously selected as the vice-presidential candidate on the first ballot.

The 1908 Convention had 1,002 voting delegates and three candidates for president: William Jennings Bryan, John A. Johnson and Gray. There was but one candidate for vice-president: John W. Kern. Both Bryan and Kern were nominated on the first ballot.

Verdict: The Denver confab has a slight edge in delegate count, but St. Louis had more candidates and more ballot.


Nominees: Parker, the 1904 presidential nominee, was the Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals and prior to the campaign against popular Republican incumbent Theodore Roosevelt had “never opened his mouth on a national question,” according to Secretary of War Elihu Root. Roosevelt thought this would be an advantage, but ultimately Parker never made a stand about much of anything and won only the Southern states in the general election. Davis was a self-made millionaire and senator from West Virginia. He was 80 at the time of his nomination, the oldest man every put on a major party ballot.

What can we say about 1908 nominee William Jennings Bryan? The Great Commoner was a perpetual candidate for the Democratic Party during the late 19th and early 20th century, losing all three bids in 1896, 1900 and 1908, the last to William Howard Taft, despite the stirring campaign slogan “Shall the People Rule?”. Kern, a senator of Indiana, is widely considered the first Senate Majority Leader. He went to Washington and became a progressive, championing the cause of West Virginia coal miners after having received a letter of the then-imprisoned Mother Jones.

Verdict: It’s hard to compete with Bryan and Kern was a far more compelling figure than Davis.


Platform: Free Silver and the gold standard dominated the discussion of the Democratic Party platform in 1904. Bryan — though not even a candidate in ’04 — was famous for his opposition to the gold standard, but Parker said he’d refuse the nomination if he could not speak freely on the subject, which he considered tried, true and sound.

The ’08 Democratic platform was fiery populism. It favored the disclosure of campaign contributors, a reining in of the control of the Speaker of the House, the admission of Arizona and New Mexico as separate states, increased rights of labor unions, an eight-hour workday, tariff reform, railroad regulation, income tax, aggressive monetary policy, direct election of senators, territorial government for Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico (then spelled Porto Rico), and an end to the imperalistic experiment in The Phillipines.

Verdict: The ’08 platform was more ambitious and even Bryan’s fingers were in the crafting of the ’04 document.


Shenanigans: What’s an early-20th century convention without ne’er-do-wells. Parker ended up with the nomination (he wasn’t even at the convention) in large part because of fear that Tammany Hall would rig the proceedings. The thinking from the more reform minded Democrats that nominating Parker — as neutral and well-regarded a figure as the party had, and from New York to boot — would keep Tammany from trying much. Had the convention swung towards Hearst — who was radical and despised by Tammany and the then-rump Bryan faction — the whole shebang could have fallen into disarray.

Because of the reform-minded nature of the Populists (and the waning power of Tammany), there wasn’t too much ado in ’08, but Denver was still a wild west town:

In anticipation of the 1908 gathering, Convery says, the city’s entertainment venues published a discreet guide to Denver’s brothels, saloons, racetracks and vaudeville theaters. Houses of ill repute referred to their working women as “boarders.”

Hooch flowed freely in Denver and, according to one observer, many delegates spent the first few days testing the effects of high altitude on alcohol consumption. One wrote home that he was “35 highballs above sea level,” Convery says.

Verdict: Surprisingly devoid of much silliness, neither convention compares to our imaginations, but edge to Denver for that “35 highballs above sea level.”


FINAL JUDGMENT: Star power wins the day, a 4-1 victory for Colorado. Same result tonight?