AN ESSAY BY EUGENE McCARTHY
The choice of Chicago as the site of the 1996 Democratic Party is a surprising
one, unless, for reasons as yet not evident, the Party anticipates the need
for the kind of protective security that an experienced Chicago police force
and Illinois National Guard can provide.
The Democratic Party in the last half-century has faced two important moral-political
challenges. The first was that of civil rights, the subject of the 1948
Convention in Philadelphia. Following the example of the Supreme Court which
in 1946 ordered the desegregation of interstate transportation, the Party
acknowledged its responsibility to take political action, first, because
of the importance of the matter, but also because the Democratic Party,
especially in its Southern components had, with some aid from Republicans,
exploited racial differences and divisions. The risk of raising civil rights
as a political issue by the Republican Party would have been slight. For
the Democrats it promised to be divisive if not disastrous.
The Party took the high moral way. The results were divisive, but not disastrous.
The convention approved a civil rights plank. The Dixie-crats walked out
and ran their own candidate. Truman was nominated and then elected in the
November election of 1948.
In 1968 the Democratic Party faced a similar, or comparable, political-moral
challenge, in the Vietnam War.
The issue was not as deeply, and historically, divisive as was the Civil
Rights issue of 1948, nor did it promise to be disastrous to the Party if
the anti-war position carried day. The heart of the conflict in Chicago
was over whether the Party would take responsibility for a war in which
the country had been deeply involved by the Johnson Administration despite
what seemed to be a strong commitment made by candidate Johnson in the 1964
campaign for the Presidency. The Administration was firmly set on having
the Party accept that responsibility, and thus share guilt for the war.
In the most controlled, violent, and un-democratic convention in the history
of the country, the pro-war position was endorsed. Those of us opposed had
expected that delegates we had won, or deserved to have by every reasonable
standard, would be accepted, that a reasonable debate would be conducted,
and a plank reflecting in some degree the differences existing among the
delegates, be accepted. It was not to be so.
The unit rule, by which a majority of a state delegation, or a state party
by its rules, was free to give the whole delegation to one candidate, was
supposed to be abolished in 1968. Those in control of the convention put
off that change until 1972. Without success, delegates, who had been chosen
two to four years before the convention, long before the Vietnam War had
become an issue, were challenged.
The Administration and the Party officials controlling the convention did
not limit their defenses and offenses, to party rules and procedures. The
approaches to the convention hall were protected by coils of barbed wire.
The Chicago police were present in great numbers. Soon after the convention
participants began to congregate, the police were joined by the Illinois
National Guard, courtesy of the then-Governor Koerner, equipped with guns,
and a crowd container, consisting of a frame of barbed wire mounted on the
front of a jeep or other military vehicle. We learned after the convention
that there had been a third line of defense, or offense, in U.S. Army Reserves,
that had been put on partial alert to move into action if the Chicago police
and the Illinois National Guard proved inadequate.
The surveillance, and control preparations went beyond these more or less
open demonstrations of force and overt flaunting of party rules.
When I moved into my suite of rooms in the Hilton Hotel, the Secret Service,
which proved itself, wholly loyal to their service, told me that I had their
word that my rooms were not bugged, and that we could speak freely within
those confines, but they warned that they could not say the same for the
telephones, which they said were tapped. They warned us not to say anything
on the telephones, that we wished to keep private.
In later Congressional hearings it was acknowledged that Army Intelligence
had, indeed, tapped our phone lines.
Perhaps the strangest occurrence of the convention was that of the evening
of Aug. 28, following the vote nominating Humphrey. One would have expected
that the pro-Administration position having been sustained and their candidate
nominated, they would have been somewhat satisfied. It was not to be so.
Beatings of students and others of my supporters took place on the sidewalks
and streets outside the Hilton Hotel and in Grant Park, across Michigan
Avenue. Dr. William Davidson and my brother, also a surgeon, set up an emergency
hospital on the fifteenth floor of the Hilton Hotel.
This was not the last act of violence perpetrated by the police. We spent
Thursday cleaning up our campaign headquarters, and preparing to leave on
Friday. Some time, between three or four o'clock in the morning, as nearly
as we could mark, the police, aided by hotel employees, raided our rooms
and working space on the fifteenth floor of the Hilton Hotel.
Some fifteen or twenty policemen burst out of the elevators into the fifteenth
floor lobby. They proceeded to round up persons in the lobby and then to
open bedroom doors, get people out of bed, force them to join others in
the lobby, and then to conduct all of them downstairs into the main lobby,
where, ringed by policemen, they forced to sit on the floor like prisoners
of war. One girl, near hysteria, told me that she had been playing bridge,
and holding a twenty-one point hand, when the police broke up the game.
When I, having learned of the raid, reached the lobby, I inquired as to
who was the officer in charge, no one stepped forward. I directed the captives
to rise and return to their rooms on the fifteenth floor. The police left
My last warning from the Secret Service was that as soon as I left Chicago,
as planned for Friday, that the Daley police intended to arrest anyone found
in the city having any identification with my campaign. I delayed my departure
to Saturday, after advising, actually warning, all supporters to leave Chicago,
or at least find some space, such as the airport, which was beyond Daley's
As our chartered American Airlines plane flew out of Midway airport, the
pilot came on the communications line and said, "We are now leaving
Prague." Years later I was sent an album, put together by someone who
was at the convention, showing on opposite pages scenes from Chicago and
from Prague. The differences were marginal Military uniforms rather than
those of police; tanks instead of jeep people containers; gun smoke instead
of tear gas vapor.
These events are supposed to be wiped from memory, or from consideration,
by returning to the Chicago scene, and sealed or supplemented by having
the current mayor of Chicago, a son of the Richard Daley of 1968, and Tom
Hayden, a protester in Chicago, not a campaign worker, plant a tree.
If the Democrats were seeking a former convention site that would remind
of past acts of political courage and credit, they should have gone to Philadelphia
and recalled the work of that convention, rather than to Chicago, the scene
of its modified Fascist-controlled convention of 1968.
Eugene J. McCarthy was a Democratic-Farmer-Labor Senator from Minnesota
from 1959 through 1970. His campaign for the Presidency in 1968 forced incumbent
Lyndon B. Johnson out of the race. He ran again in 1976. He is the author
of 17 books.
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