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The 1972 Democratic National Convention was the presidential nominating convention of the Democratic Party for the 1972 presidential election. It was held at Miami Beach Convention Centermarker in Miami Beach, Floridamarker on July 10-13, 1972.

It nominated Senator George McGovern of South Dakotamarker for President and Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missourimarker for Vice President. (Eagleton later withdrew from the race when it was disclosed that he had undergone mental health treatment, including electroshock therapy, in the past, and he was replaced on the ballot by Sargent Shriver.

The convention itself was one of the most bizarre in recent American history, with sessions beginning in the early evening and lasting until sunrise the next morning, and previously-excluded political activists gaining influence at the expense of elected officials and traditional core Democratic constituencies such as organized labor. Hunter S. Thompson covered this convention in detail in several articles and in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72.

Delegate selection

The 1972 convention was significant as the first implementation of the reforms set by the Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection, which McGovern himself had chaired before running for president. (McGovern resigned as chair to run for president, and he was replaced as chair by U.S. Representative Donald Fraser; the Commission is known as the McGovern-Fraser Commission). The 28-member commission was established after the tumultuous 1968 convention.

The commission set guidelines ordering state parties to "adopt explicit written Party rules governing delegate selection" and implemented eight "procedural rules and safeguards," including the prohibition of proxy voting, the end of the unit rule (winner-take-all primaries) and related practices such as instructing delegations, a new quorum requirement of not less than 40 percent at all party committee meetings, the removal of all mandatory assessments of delegates and the cap of mandatory participation fees at $10. In addition, there were new rules ensuring that party meetings in non-rural areas were held on uniform dates, at uniform times and in places of easy access and that adequate public notice of all party meetings concerned with delegate selection was posted. Among the most significant of the changes were new quotas mandating that certain percentages of delegates be women or members of minority groups.

As a result of the new rules, subjects that were previously deemed not fit for political debate, such as abortion and gay rights, now occupied the forefront of political discussion. The new rules for choosing and seating delegates created an unusual number of rules and credentials challenges. Many traditional Democratic groups such as organized labor and big city political machines had small representation at the convention. Their supporters challenged the seating of relative political novices, but for the most part were turned back by the supporters of McGovern, who during the presidential primaries had amassed the most delegates to the convention by using a grassroots campaign that was powered by opposition to the Vietnam War. Many traditional Democratic leaders and politicians felt that McGovern's delegate count did not reflect the wishes of most Democratic voters. Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter helped to spearhead a "Stop McGovern" campaign. The stop-McGovern forces tried unsuccessfully to alter the delegate composition of the Californiamarker delegation.

The Illinoismarker primary required voters to select individual delegates, not presidential candidates. Most Illinois delegation members were uncommitted and were controlled or influenced by Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, the leader of the Chicago political machine. The delegation was challenged by McGovern supporters arguing that the results of the primary did not create a diverse enough delegation in terms of women and minorities. The credentials committee, headed by Patricia Roberts Harris, rejected the entire elected delegation, including elected women and minorities, and seated an unelected delegation led by Chicago Alderman William S. Singer, Jesse Jackson and pledged to George McGovern.

The Californiamarker primary was "winner-take-all," which was contrary to the delegate selection rules. So even though McGovern only won the California primary by a 5% electoral margin, he won all 273 of their delegates to the convention. The anti-McGovern group argued for a proportional distribution of the delegates, while the McGovern forces stressed that the rules for the delegate selection had been set and the Stop McGovern alliance was trying to change the rules after the game. As with the credential fight, McGovern's army carried the day effectively handing the nomination to McGovern.

McGovern recognized the mixed results of the changes that he made to the Democratic nominating convention, saying, "I opened the doors of the Democratic Party and 20 million people walked out."

Running mate

Most polls showed McGovern running well behind incumbent President Richard Nixon, except when McGovern was paired with Massachusettsmarker Senator Ted Kennedy. McGovern and his campaign brain trust lobbied Senator Kennedy heavily to accept the bid to be McGovern's running mate, but he continually refused their advances, and instead suggested U.S. Representative (and House Ways and Means Committee chairman) Wilbur Mills of Arkansasmarker and Boston Mayor Kevin White. Offers were then made to Hubert Humphrey, Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff and Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale, all of whom turned it down.

McGovern and his campaign staff felt that a Kennedy-style figure to balance the ticket: a Catholic, big city-based leader with strong ties to organized labor and urban political machines. McGovern informed Kennedy that he was seriously considering Kevin White, who had informed McGovern he was available. But the Massachusetts delegates threatened to boycott the convention hall if the choice was White, who as a Edmund Muskie supporter had fought sharply with the McGovern slate during the primary. White was dropped.

Finally, the vice presidential slot was offered to Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri. Eagleton was relatively unknown to many of the delegates. This, along with the inexperience of many of the delegates who were wary after the protracted infighting, caused the vice presidential balloting to become almost a farce. The delegates insisted on nominating eight candidates for Vice President, including not only Eagleton but also Senator Mike Gravel of Alaskamarker, former Massachusetts Governor Endicott Peabody, and Frances "Sissy" Farenthold of the Texas state House. By the time the roll call finally began, the delegates were in a prankish mood, casting ballots for the fictional Archie Bunker, Martha Beall Mitchell and CBS-TV's Roger Mudd.

Eventually, Eagleton secured the nomination but the last-day-of-school atmosphere of the proceedings dragged out the process. When Eagleton was at last confirmed, it was 1:40 a.m. This delay forced the acceptance speeches of the candidates to be given well past the television prime time hours and probably hurt the McGovern campaign by not creating the so-called "convention bounce."

Several days after the convention, it was revealed that Senator Eagleton had been hospitalized for depression and had electric shock treatment. He was also rumored to be more than a social drinker and had what many considered too close ties to the Kansas Citymarker Pendergast machine. McGovern stood behind his choice and stated that he was behind Senator Eagleton "1000 percent". The news media and many political pros, especially in the Democratic Party, lobbied hard for his removal from the ticket.

Eventually, McGovern felt compelled to accept Senator Eagleton's resignation from the ticket. The episode had placed McGovern in a "no-win" situation. If he kept Eagleton, the selection did not look good for the decision-making ability of the McGovern team, while if he removed Eagleton, he appeared to be weak and vacillating. Since this incident, front-running presidential candidates have developed short lists of potential running mates and have meticulously performed background checks.

McGovern chose Sargent Shriver as his running mate a few weeks later. The McGovern-Shriver ticket went on to one of the greatest landslide defeats in American political history.



The Feminist Movement was a major influence on the Democratic platform of 1972, and on the entire convention in general. With renewed vigor, the Democrats reaffirmed their dedication to the Equal Rights Amendment, as did the Republicans.

There were disagreements within the Democrats of the National Women's Political Caucus, and the Women's Movement in general, over how to best approach certain issues. At the convention Betty Friedan clashed with Gloria Steinem over the way NWPC women should approach certain issues, and whether or not they should make sure to throw all possible support behind Shirley Chisholm (both women were supporters of Chisholm's Presidential campaign).

McGovern ultimately excised the abortion issue from the party's platform. (Recent publications show McGovern was deeply conflicted on the issue.) Actress and activist Shirley MacLaine, though privately supporting abortion rights, urged the delegates to vote against the plank. Gloria Steinem later wrote this description of the events:

Germaine Greer flatly contradicted Steinem's account. Having recently gained public notoriety for her feminist manifesto The Female Eunuch and sparring with Norman Mailer, Greer was commissioned to cover the convention for Harper's Magazine. Greer criticized Steinem's "controlled jubilation" that 38% of the delegates were women, ignoring that "many delegations had merely stacked themselves with token females...The McGovern machine had already pulled the rug out from under them."

Greer leveled her most searing critique on Steinem for her capitulation on abortion rights. Greer reported, "Jacqui Ceballos called from the crowd to demand abortion rights on the Democratic platform, but Bella [Abzug] and Gloria stared glassily out into the room," thus killing the abortion rights platform. Greer asks, "Why had Bella and Gloria not helped Jacqui to nail him on abortion? What reticence, what loserism had afflicted them?"

The cover of Harper's that month read, "Womanlike, they did not want to get tough with their man, and so, womanlike, they got screwed."

Right to be different

The Democrats also included "the right to be different" in their 1972 platform. According to the party, this right included the right to "maintain a cultural or ethnic heritage or lifestyle, without being forced into a compelled homogeneity."

Delegate vote for presidential nomination


Delegate vote for vice-presidential nomination


See also


External links

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