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Democratic Convention 2008 vs. 1908

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As the world awaits the arrival of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention, it is interesting to note that Denver has hosted the Democrats one time previously -- exactly 100 years ago, in July of 1908.

In researching my social history, Election Day, an American Holiday, an American History, I came upon some fascinating information about the 1908 convention, most of which I couldn't fit into a book that was intended to focus on Election Day itself.

I opened my files to see what I had set aside, and I discovered material that is enlightening, entertaining, and a great reminder of our country's rich history.

Why Denver?

By the early twentieth century Denver had only been around for about 50 years, but it had gone through times of both boom (gold was found) and bust (more gold was found elsewhere; everyone moved on), so the city fathers knew the importance of creating broad commercial appeal. They wanted a way to demonstrate that Denver had the potential to be the "Paris on the Platte" and realized that hosting a political convention would provide a great showcase. They would have been happy with either the Democrats or the Republicans, but for the Democrats, the Mile High City offered a particularly good fit. William Jennings Bryan, who had been a big "free silver" advocate when that had been a big issue in earlier elections, was likely to be the parties' candidate, and he was especially popular in the area because so many towns in the Rockies mined silver.

But educating the Democratic National Committee took some doing. Denver citizens made a trip to Washington in 1907, and reporters of the day noted that the city representatives had to "disabuse" the Washingtonians of their belief that wild Indians roamed the streets and the men all dressed in buckskins. One reporter noted: "....I don't know a woman in Denver who carries more than one revolver when she comes down town shopping."

But ultimately, it was money that sealed the deal. The two other cities being considered were Louisville, Kentucky and Chicago, Illinois. Realizing that the greater travel distance for easterners (where most of the population still resided) could be a major obstacle, the organizers offered a hard sell--and big bucks--for the business. Denver was constructing a brand new civic auditorium that would seat 12,000 people, and they offered the use of it to the Democratic Party rent-free, with $100,000 added in "for expenses." Louisville pledged $30,000, Chicago; the weaker contender all along, offered only $25,000.

One member of the DNC, a congressman from Alabama, raised the issue that accepting such a large sum of money was tantamount to "buying" the convention, and unused funds should be returned to Denver. "Wiser heads" prevailed, and the full contribution was accepted by the committee.

Were they happy with their choice? One reporter certainly seemed to think the right decision was made: With a heading of "No Wilted Collars," The Rocky Mountain News reported this on July 5, 1908:

"Looking down on the crowd in the Brown lobby, I thought of the leaking Wigwam in Chicago, where people sweltered and suffered. I thought of Kansas City, where the hungry horde passed over the town like the locusts and everybody was dusty and sticky, and St. Louis--well, St. Louis should not be spoke of..."

"...But this convention is different. Not a wilted collar, not a palm-leaf fan, nobody apologizing for his shirt sleeves and carrying his coat over his arm, the picture of moist misery. Nobody sitting in a corner, wishing he had remained at home next to the refrigerator and ice-water pitcher, nobody mopping his steaming countenance and saying, "Is this hot enough for you?"

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