Franklin Roosevelt was one of our greatest and most beloved presidents -- and yet he almost didn't get his party's nomination during his first run for the White House. Happy Days Are Here Again re-creates the crazy scheming, backroom plotting, and infighting of the 1932 Democratic convention -- a major historical event that took place over just a few days but determined the course of American politics for generations.
The extraordinary Chicago convention of 1932, rendered so vividly and dramatically by award-winning biographer Steve Neal, was one of the most suspenseful in our nation's history. Roosevelt may have entered the Chicago convention with the highest number of delegates, but the structure and rules of the nomination process prevented him from being a shoe-in. In fact, there were several viable contenders -- among them Al Smith, Newton D. Baker, John Nance Garner, and Albert C. Ritchie -- who also could have faced Herbert Hoover in the upcoming general election. With the Depression under way, it was not lost on those at this particular convention that they were not only selecting a nominee but also a president.
Among the dazzling and influential personalities Neal weaves into this high-stakes drama are Joseph P. Kennedy, William Randolph Hearst, Huey Long, Bernard Baruch, Will Rogers, Clarence Darrow, Amelia Earhart, Duke Ellington, and John Dos Passos. All of these players gathered during a Chicago summer to do battle over the leadership of their party and, consequently, the White House.
Happy Days Are Here Again calls on a wealth of primary sources and new information to provide a fresh perspective on this crucial moment in history, yet it is written with the exciting narrative pull of a novel. Ultimately, this is the untold story of the pivotal contest that remade the Democratic Party, marking the end of an era and the birth of modern America.
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While contemporary nominating conventions have lost nearly all of their political importance, becoming instead an extended infomercial designed to promote long-ago-selected presidential candidate, such was not always the case. In Happy Days Are Here Again, the late Chicago Sun-Times columnist Steve Neal tells the story of the 1932 Democratic convention which led, after a tumultuous series of machinations and backroom deals, to the nomination of New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It may be surprising, given Roosevelt's three terms in the White House and near mythic status in political history, to learn that the nomination was far from a sure thing. Neal details the challenges mounted by Newton Baker, John Nance Garner, and Al Smith, any of who could have just as easily emerged victorious. Although Roosevelt had more delegates than the others candidates entering the Chicago convention, it wasn't enough to lock up the top spot. Gaining the support to put him over the top required Roosevelt's camp giving the vice-presidential post to Garner, with whom Roosevelt shared no special affinity, and making special arrangements with Joseph P. Kennedy and William Randolph Hearst. Plenty of other famous names drift in and out of Neal's narrative, including Amelia Earhart, Duke Ellington, John Dos Passos, and Huey Long. But the most fascinating figure is Roosevelt, severely physically disabled but capable, with the help of a sympathetic and complicit press corps, to create an image of robust health to go with his considerable charisma. Followers of modern politics, not used to seeing such drama played out so late in the campaign season, will be intrigued by the older way of selecting a party nominee and readers of history will be interested to learn how a presidency as legendary as Roosevelt's could arise from a situation as convoluted as the 1932 convention. --John MoeAbout the Author:
Steve Neal, a longtime political columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, is the author of ten books, including Harry and Ike: The Partnership That Remade the Postwar World, Dark Horse: A Biography of Wendell L. Willkie, and Eleanor and Harry: The Correspondence of Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Mr. Neal died in February 2004.
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