The True-blue Democrat
August 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 5
No, I thought it would be a help to him. I thought it would evoke sympathy. I think it did. In fact I’m sure it did. Only on one or two occasions did I ever hear him refer to his infirmity. We were playing poker one Saturday night at the White House. As the game broke up, he looked at a fellow named Stephen Gibbons, who was an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in charge of the U. S. Customs and who had been stricken with paralysis, and walked with a cane. Mr. Roosevelt said: “I’ll tell you, Steve, there’s one thing about you and me. We’ll never have to worry about getting high blood-pressure running up stairs!”
He hated to go into a building if there was danger of getting out in case of fire. He might say to me: “Will there be any difficulty getting in the building?” I remember one time he spoke in Yorkville, and they brought Roosevelt in a side entrance, through windows, rather than the front door because he’d have difficulty getting on the stage.
W hen did you think of him seriously as a Presidential possibility?
I didn’t produce Mr. Roosevelt, although I was given a lot of credit for his nomination and election. He was the logical candidate. Governor [Alfred E.] Smith had persuaded him to run for governor of New York in 1928, although Mr. Roosevelt didn’t want to run and his wife didn’t want him to run. But he was persuaded on the theory that, if he won, it would help Governor Smith carry New York [in the Presidential campaign]. Well, Governor Smith lost the state by over one hundred thousand, and Mr. Roosevelt carried the state by approximately twenty-five thousand, if I remember the figures correctly.
Being elected governor in a year when there was a Republican landslide made Mr. Roosevelt appear a miraculous candidate. When he was re-elected in ’30, he carried the state by approximately 725,000. Next day after that election, I prepared a statement in which I said, whether Mr. Roosevelt wanted to or not, in my judgment he would become the Democratic candidate for the Presidency in 1932. Of course I had consulted with his secretary, Louis Howe. I called Mr. Roosevelt up and read him the statement, and in substance he said: “Whatever you want to do, Jim, is all right with me.”
After the first of the year I had a tabulation made showing how New York governors in past years had run. I listed the counties from 1912 on, and showed in heavy type the upstate counties Mr. Roosevelt had carried that no other Democratic candidate for governor in the history of New York had ever carried. That was sent out to all Democratic governors, senators, members of Congress, members of the Democratic National Committee, country chairmen, and members of state committees—about seven thousand people all over the United States—with my card attached: “James A. Farley, Chairman, New York State Democratic Committee.” Well, that really started a flood of correspondence. It’s amazing the number of people who said they were for him and were glad they had that information.
The last Democratic convention in which a two-thirds vote was required for nomination was in 1932. Can you explain how and why that rule was abolished?
Well, Mr. Roosevelt was in favor of doing away with it. I did more to bring that about [in 1936] than anybody else. And [in 1932] Mr. Garner told Sam Rayburn when he went to Chicago that if, as, and when Mr. Roosevelt had the majority of the votes, he was entitled to be nominated. He didn’t want to see a duplication of the Baltimore convention [of 1912] or the Madison Square Garden convention in ’24 [when a deadlocked convention took 104 weary ballots to name John W. Davis].
It’s been said that the change began a reduction of southern influence in American life that accounts for some regional bitterness. Do you agree?
Well, they have their influence in the Senate and in the House. They may not have had it with a nomination for President or Vice President, but there’s no section of the country had more influence in the Congress and especially in the Senate than the South, because those men get re-elected, and get on the committees, and they become chairmen. A lot of the complaint now is that the South holds too many chairmanships, and they’re not, the southern states, are not supporting the Democratic nominees for President.
Let me say that I travelled all over the United States during the years I served as national chairman, and never once did I see the slightest sign of intolerance or discourtesy. So I have great affection for people in all sections of the country. No place was more generous in support of me than the South. I had a fine relationship with southern leaders and southern people. As a matter of fact, in the polls of those days, outside of Mr. Roosevelt and Cordell Hull I ran better in the South than any other man.
A big change in 1932 was the swing in the votes of Negroes to the Democrats, after a long era of Republicanism among them. Did you try to win over that vote?
No, no, no. I think they felt that Mr. Roosevelt would be more helpful in helping their position, in helping their way of life, than the Republicans would be.