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The 1936 Republican National Convention

During the Great Depression, Cleveland struggled like many other cities. It went from being the second largest industrial center in the country, trailing only Detroit, to experiencing an exodus of citizens. Cleveland lost close to half of its jobs during the depths of the Depression. However, even this was not enough to diminish Cleveland's importance. In late 1935, the Republican Party (GOP), had narrowed down its main selections for its 1936 national convention site to Chicago, Kansas City, and Cleveland. By late 1935, with a strong push from Chester Bolton, a prominent Ohio Republican from Cleveland who served on the congressional committee for the convention, Cleveland was chosen for the Republican National Convention. The same year, the city hosted the Great Lakes Exposition. Both events created a lively scene on the Mall.

By June Cleveland was well prepared for the RNC. As the Republicans poured through the streets of Cleveland, there was tension in the air. The president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was highly beloved, as was his party. The man who would be selected the presidential nominee, Alfred Landon, was one of the few Republican governors elected in the early 1930s, and he was the only incumbent to win. So the race to the White House would not be an easy one. While Cleveland used the months from the beginning of 1936 to June to prepare for the influx of convention-goers, the GOP had not planned as well as the host city. There was some fear that Herbert Hoover, former president and Republican luminary, might challenge Landon's current position as GOP frontrunner. Luckily, he did not and Hoover, as well as the keynote speaker Fredrick C. Steiwer, fully supported Landon, who easily beat his closest competitor, Sen. William Borah of Idaho. In fact, Landon must not have been overly concerned about his situation, for he remained in Kansas throughout the convention and was conspicuously absent from public view for two months thereafter.

Since Abraham Lincoln's historic presidency, the African American vote had always been overwhelmingly Republican. Even when Hoover's policies had little positive effect in the early years of the Depression, most African American voters stood by the Republicans. That is until 1936, when a startling lack of black representation stunned the loyal demographic. Many black leaders cried out on this, as well as many papers, including the Call and Post, Cleveland's prominent African American newspaper, and even the Plain Dealer, one of the city's leading dailies. One African American leader, Dr. Charles H. Phillip, claimed it would be "the death of the Republican Party." The Republicans ignored this warning, and Steiwer launched into a vicious speech against the New Deal and FDR. Landon's acceptance speech as the nominee was filled with similar rhetoric.

However, it seems that Phillip was correct in his observation. Landon was utterly devastated by FDR, winning only two states (Maine and Vermont). FDR went on to serve three more terms in office, and it is clear that the snubbed black vote helped account for this landslide victory; FDR earned 71 percent of the African American vote, and the so-called New Deal voting coalition, an unlikely alliance of business leaders, blue-collar whites, and blacks, reoriented the national political game for at least the next three decades. In fact, African Americans still support Democrats overwhelmingly. So while the Cleveland RNC in 1936 may be remembered for its failure to identify a candidate who could unseat Roosevelt, in their mishandling of black supporters and vicious rhetoric against a popular president, party leaders played into the hands of what was becoming a historic presidency, playing a role in reinforcing the New Deal.

Images

Welcome Banner on May Co. Building A banner on the front of May Co. department store on Public Square welcomes visitors to the Republican National Convention. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Public Auditorium, 1936 The Cleveland RNC selected this building as its headquarters. Republican presidential nominee Alfred Landon gave his acceptance speech here. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Herbert Hoover Arrives in Cleveland Former President Hoover is greeted upon his arrival in Union station for the Republican Convention. At the ex-President's right and a little back, is Cecil B. De Mille, motion picture producer and California delegate; Hoover's left is Lawrence Richy, his former secretary, and Mayor Harold L. Burton of Cleveland, and in front, Chief of Police Matowitz of Cleveland. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Acme Newspictures Cleveland Bureau Date: June 12, 1936
Alfred Landon Landon started off as an oil tycoon in Kansas before becoming the governor for the same state. He was selected for the 1936 presidential campaign. He was unsuccessful in this venture, and did not seek elected office afterwards. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
1936 RNC Medal Source: Cleveland Public Library Digital Gallery
Alfred Landon Speaking at Public Hall, 1936 Landon was selected to be the Republican Presidential nominee during the convention. Landon's acceptance speech had large doses of anti-New Deal rhetoric. In fact, the entire convention seemed more consumed with eviscerating the New Deal rather than instilling a new system or offering alternatives. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Jesse Owens with Alfred Landon, 1936 Kansas Governor Alfred Landon and Olympian Jesse Owens met in September 1936. Up until 1936, the African American vote was staunchly Republican. Owens' picture with the Republican presidential hopeful might suggest continuing black support for the party, but a lack of black representation during the 1936 campaign contributed to reorienting black voters to the Democratic party. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Anti-Roosevelt Sign on Car Two women view an anti-Roosevelt sign on the back of a car on Euclid Avenue. The sign plays off the National Recovery Administration (NRA), turning the New Deal agency acronym into "Never Roosevelt Again." Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Cleveland Press Date: June 8, 1936
Crowd Leaving Convention A large crowd files out of the RNC on June 9, 1936, passing by the Auditorium Hotel nearby. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Cleveland Press Date: June 11, 1936

Location

Metadata

“The 1936 Republican National Convention,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 30, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/685.