By Edward Mackie, Daily Nexus, November 19, 1975
This article is the fifth in a series of six chapters reviewing the life and times of Thomas Storke, this University’s [UCSB] foster father.
When in 1929 the economic world collapsed in disaster and disarray, in every stream of human conduct — in art, in administration, in everyday life — the same despair was evident, the same disillusionment prevailed.
But at a bound the course of fate was stifled and reversed when Franklin Delano Roosevelt assumed the reins of power. America suddenly and miraculously came to maturity.
Yet Roosevelt’s ascent to the Presidency leads to certain unanswered questions — the “might-have-been” of history. Was his source of strength ever insecure?
A prominent historian of the time thought so when he credited Thomas Storke, more than anyone else, with the negotiations resulting in Roosevelt’s nomination in 1932. For the patient and curious observer, this assertion deserves some critical, if not skeptical, examination. An explanation is in order.
After the discouraging conventions of 1920 and 1924, manipulated by almost-invisible forces, Storke lamented, “I did not think I would ever again attend a national political convention as a delegate. I had not the slightest thought or desire to be a delegate for… Roosevelt, or to be perfectly frank, anybody else.”
But the 1929 crash and the promptings of soon-to-be Senator William G. McAdoo changed all that. Storke, among California notables, was enlisted as a delegate for the candidacy of Jack Garner of Texas.
Upon their arrival in Chicago in 1932, the California entourage set about enlisting support for Garner.
The battle lines were sharply drawn: Roosevelt’s forces had deftly out-maneuvered the opposition and already claimed more than 600 votes, a numerical majority. But the convention, as in previous years, stood by the two-thirds rule, meaning 779 votes to nominate.
When the first ballot had ended, Roosevelt had garnered 666 1/4 votes, a shock to his forces, who had counted on a first-ballot victory.
A “Stop Roosevelt” movement quickly got underway. THey scented a win and knew their strength. If they could only hold through the fourth ballot, Roosevelt’s hopes were doomed. Five states — Minnesota, Iowa, and the two Dakotas, and Mississippi — were bound by the Unit Rule, forcing them to vote with the state’s majority; after the fourth ballot, however, they would break and scatter… and, at that point, Roosevelt was through.
On the second ballot Roosevelt gained 11 1/2 votes, 100 short of nomination. Panic reigned in the assembly. A motion for adjournment was shouted down amid the general hoop-la and catcalls from the galleries.
The never-to-be-forgotten third ballot dragged on; the convention hall was a sweatbox; Roosevelt’s camp was a sickly group battling the filibustering opposition, who demanded a poll of the delegations, name by name.
The marathon session adjourned at 9 a.m. July 1 and was due to reconvene at 8:30 p.m. that evening. Roosevelt had fallen short of nomination by 87 votes.
Storke and his fellow delegates were hoping for a few hours sleep. But as soon as Storke arrived at his hotel, he was besieged by a throng of delegate both for and against Roosevelt. “The invisible forces,” felt Storke, “were moving in for another kill.”
Amid tearful pleas from callers, Storke and Ham Elliott consented to a meeting with Roosevelt’s manager, Jim Farley. In Storke’s own words, “Farley… with tears literally flooding his eyes… opened the conversation with the startling admission that the Roosevelt fight was lost and could only be saved by swinging of the California delegation… on the fourth ballot.”
Storke and Elliott quickly made their decision to switch and convinced McAdoo to do the same. Following on the heels of a tempestuous state caucus, the California delegates agreed to give decisionary power to a steering committee which favored Roosevelt.
The clerk began a fourth ballot rollcall of the states: “Alabama.” McAdoo was not to be found. “Arizona.” Still no McAdoo, the only man who could cast California’s votes. “Arkansas.” Who would lead the nation through the depression and through the impending world war?
“California.” McAdoo rushed in, having run out of gas on the road, and swung California’s votes to Roosevelt. Like a row of dominoes, the other delegations followed suit.
Often quoted on the subject, Dr. Raymond Moley, an intimate of Roosevelt’s at the time, asserted in his book “After Seven Years,” “I am convinced that the two persons who deserve more credit for the negotiations than anyone else were Sam Rayburn, of Texas, and Tom Storke of Santa Barbara, Calif.”
History will be the judge.