Amid the open, raucous, mad palaver of those vast public powwows reverberating across the states over radio, by telephone and telegraph wires, runs an undercurrent of intrigue. The convention intrigue is not influenced by the noise of shouting captains. But all of these elements of democratic expression -- blaring bands, conspiracies, calithumpian clowning and secret omens -- write in some strange, weird way the results.
One could hardly deny the validity of William Allen White's statement. National conventions are in some respects national circuses. But they also are engaged in serious business. The national conventions give us a panoramic view of the democratic process as it manifests itself at a critical point. The presidential nominating convention dates from the collapse of the caucus and the Anti-Mason convention of 1831. It has now become part and parcel of our life. It is extra-legal and extraconstitutional, just like political parties. In 1940 this great democratic invention was the instrument through which a divided and pessimistic party made one of the most important selections in its history.
The dates for the two major conventions were decided early in February. Republican National Chairman John Hamilton, in announcing that the Republican convention would be held in Philadelphia beginning June 24, was full of bravado when he challenged the Democrats to nominate Roosevelt. "We would," he said, "have a clear cut issue, and once and for all we would have a showdown on the New Deal, Franklin Roosevelt, and the third term -- then we would finish all three." The Democrats, meeting after the Republicans, picked their site and date -- Chicago, July 15. The date of the Democratic convention was the latest since 1864. This, however, is not startling when one considers the time and troubles that the nation faced.