Read XXI. NATIONAL REPUBLICAN CONVENTIONS of My Memories of Eighty Years , free online book, by Chauncey M. Depew, on

When the Republican convention met in 1912 I was again a delegate. In my fifty-six years of national conventions I never had such an intensely disagreeable experience. I felt it my duty to support President Taft for renomination. I thought he had earned it by his excellent administration. I had many ties with him, beginning with our associations as graduates of Yale, and held for him a most cordial regard. I was swayed by my old and unabated love for Roosevelt. In that compromise and harmony were impossible. I saw that, with the control of the organization and of the convention on the side of Mr. Taft, and with the wild support for Roosevelt of the delegates from the States which could be relied upon to give Republican majorities, the nomination of either would be sure defeat.

I was again a delegate to the Republican convention of 1916. The party was united. Progressives and conservatives were acting together, and the convention was in the happiest of moods. It was generally understood that Justice Hughes would be nominated if he could be induced to resign from the Supreme Court and accept. The presiding officer of the convention was Senator Warren G. Harding. He made a very acceptable keynote speech. His fine appearance, his fairness, justice, and good temper as presiding officer captured the convention. There was a universal sentiment that if Hughes declined the party could do no better than to nominate Senator Harding. It was this impression among the delegates, many of whom were also members of the convention of 1920, which led to the selection as the convention’s candidate for president of Warren G. Harding.

My good mother was a Presbyterian and a good Calvinist. She believed and impressed upon me the certainty of special Providence. It is hard for a Republican to think that the election of Woodrow Wilson was a special Providence, but if our candidate, Mr. Hughes, had been elected he would have had a hostile Democratic majority in Congress.

When the United States went into the war, as it must have done, the president would have been handicapped by this pacifist Congress. The draft would have been refused, without which our army of four millions could not have been raised. The autocratic measures necessary for the conduct of the war would have been denied. With the conflict between the executive and Congress, our position would have been impossible and indefensible.

I had a personal experience in the convention. Chairman Harding sent one of the secretaries to me with a message that there was an interval of about an hour when the convention would have nothing to do. It was during such a period the crank had his opportunity and the situation was dangerous, and he wished me to come to the platform and fill as much of that hour as possible. I refused on the ground that I was wholly unprepared, and it would be madness to attempt to speak to fourteen thousand people in the hall and a hundred million outside.

A few minutes afterwards Governor Whitman, chairman of the New York delegation, came to me and said: “You must be drafted. The chairman will create some business to give you fifteen minutes to think up your speech.” I spurred my gray matter as never before, and was then introduced and spoke for forty-five minutes. I was past eighty-two. The speech was a success, but when I returned to my seat I remembered what General Garfield had so earnestly said to me: “You are the only man of national reputation who will speak without preparation. Unless you peremptorily and decisively stop yielding you will some day make such a failure as to destroy the reputation of a lifetime.”

In a letter President Harding has this to say in reference to the occasion: “Just about a year ago (1916) it was my privilege as chairman of the Republican convention at Chicago to call upon you for an address. There was a hiatus which called for a speech, and you so wonderfully met the difficult requirements that I sat in fascinated admiration and have been ready ever since to pay you unstinted tribute. You were ever eloquent in your more active years, but I count you the old man eloquent and incomparable in your eighties. May many more helpful and happy years be yours.”

I was again a delegate to the convention in June, 1920. The Republicans had been for eight years out of office during Mr. Wilson’s two terms. The delegates were exceedingly anxious to make no mistake and have no friction in the campaign.

The two leading candidates, General Wood and Governor Lowden, had nearly equal strength and were supported by most enthusiastic admirers and advocates. As the balloting continued the rivalry and feeling grew between their friends. It became necessary to harmonize the situation and it was generally believed that this could be best done by selecting Senator Warren G. Harding.

Very few conventions have a dramatic surprise, but the nomination of Governor Coolidge, of Massachusetts, for vice-president came about in a very picturesque way. He had been named for president among the others, and the speech in his behalf by Speaker Frederick H. Gillett was an excellent one. Somehow the convention did not seem to grasp all that the governor stood for and how strong he was with each delegate. When the nominations for vice-president were called for, Senator Medill McCormick presented Senator Lenroot, of Wisconsin, in an excellent speech. There were also very good addresses on behalf of the Governor of Kansas and others.

When the balloting was about to start, a delegate from Oregon who was in the rear of the hall arose and said: “Mr. Chairman.” The chairman said: “The gentleman from Oregon.” The Oregon delegate, in a far-reaching voice, shouted: “Mr. Chairman, I nominate for vice-president Calvin Coolidge, a one-hundred-per-cent American.” The convention went off its feet with a whoop and Coolidge was nominated hands down.

I again had a personal experience. The committee on resolutions, not being prepared to report, there was that interval of no business which is the despair of presiding officers of conventions. The crowd suddenly began calling for me. While, of course, I had thought much on the subject, I had not expected to be called upon and had no prepared speech. Happily, fifteen thousand faces and fifteen thousand voices giving uproarious welcome both steadied and inspired me. Though I was past eighty-six years of age, my voice was in as good condition as at forty, and was practically the only one which did fill that vast auditorium. The press of the country featured the effort next day in a way which was most gratifying.

Among the thousands who greeted me on the streets and in the hotel lobbies with congratulations and efforts to say something agreeable and complimentary, I selected one compliment as unique. He was an enthusiast. “Chauncey Depew,” he said, “I have for over twenty years wanted to shake hands with you. Your speech was a wonder. I was half a mile off, way up under the roof, and heard every word of it, and it was the only one I was able to hear. That you should do this in your eighty-seventh year is a miracle. But then my father was a miracle. On his eighty-fifth birthday he was in just as good shape as you are to-day, and a week afterwards he was dead.”