William Jennings Bryan, Dick Gregory, Eugene Debs
Being a charismatic high-profile activist may not lend well to a White House bid (Eugene Debs, Jesse Jackson). Salem-born William Jennings Bryan ran 3 times. Dick Gregory ran in '68, just after losing a Chicago Mayoral race. (In 1970, this author dragged his prom date to see Dick Gregory at some club in the Loop.) Peace & Freedom and Debs buttons courtesy Busy Beaver Museum.
At least 20 folks who were born or resided in Illinois reached for the brass ring but fell short: Stephen Douglas - D (Ran in 1860), Elihu Washburne - R (1876), John Logan - R (1884), John Palmer - D (1896), William Jennings Bryan - D (1896, 1900, 1908), Eugene Debs (1900, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1920), Carter Harrison, Jr - D (1904), Joseph “Uncle Joe” Cannon - R (1908), Frank Lowden - R (1920, 1928), Frank Knox - R (1936), William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson - R (1928), Adlai Stevenson II - D (1952, 1956, 1960), Dick Gregory (1968), Phil Crane - R (1980), John B. Anderson - R/I (1980), Jesse Jackson - D (1984, 1988), Paul Simon - D (1988), Morry “The Grizz” Taylor - R (1996), Carol Moseley Braun - D (2004), Hillary Clinton - D (2008, 2016).
Illinois has offered its share of colorful, controversial and sometimes triumphant applicants for the White House. Maybe there’s something about this place. Kids don’t just dream of being President…they want to be Obama or Lincoln or Reagan. Maybe it’s the complex electorate, from Rock Island to Stony Island, from Anna to Zion. Immigrants from countless lands, old-time political machines, cornfields, exurbia, 19th Century factories & 21st Century tech, stone-cold poverty & one-percenters, far right, far left. Big turf. To win in Illinois, candidates need to be adept geo-politically, a useful skill-set in the national arena.
Experience in that arena was no guarantee, though, for Sen. Stephen Douglas, U.S. House Speaker “Uncle Joe” Cannon, Rep. John Anderson, Rep. Phil Crane, Sen. Paul Simon, Sen. Carol Moseley Braun or Sen. Hillary Clinton. Did serving as Illinois Governor pave the way to the White House? Not for John Palmer, Frank Lowden or Adlai Stevenson. Being Da Mare? Didn’t help Carter Harrison, Jr., or Big Bill Thompson.
Probably for Carter Sr., (who was assassinated) not Carter, Jr., (who ran for POTUS). Thompson, Harrison, Knox & Stevenson buttons courtesy of Busy Beaver Museum.
Being Lincoln’s campaign manager and U.S. Supreme Court Justice? Not enough for David Davis. Being Grant’s Galena crony and French Ambassador didn’t help Elihu Washburne. Look at Frank Knox’s resume! Rough Rider, Chicago Daily News publisher, early advocate for Japanese-American internment. He folded his 1936 bid, was named Alf Landon’s VP and lost to FDR (who later named Knox Navy Secretary).
(John Anderson's superb hair & owlish glasses (clearly the inspiration for Hooters & TripAdvisor) courtesy Busy Beaver Museum)
A well-recognized activist’s name hasn’t helped either: Salem Illinois-born William Jennings Bryan, Eugene Debs (who died in Elmhurst) or Jesse Jackson. ("Saviours' Day", Jesse-Cardiss & "Hope '88" courtesy of Busy Beaver Museum)
Heart-shaped Hillary 2008 and Hillary for America 2010 (2010?) courtesy Busy Beaver Museum.
Some colorful characters: Big Bill, of course. Writer/raconteur Ring Lardner earned one vote on the 23rd ballot during the 1920 Dem Convention. Who wouldn’t want to hang with Morry “Grizz” Taylor, enshrined forever in campaign lore in Michael Lewis’s superb Trail Fever.
Especially noteworthy during our Bicentennial is John Logan, not just because he was a Civil War General, State Senator (where he led a fight for the “Black Law of 1853” banning blacks from another state from being in Illinois more than 10 days) and member of Congress. The obelisk monument in Chicago’s Logan Square (aka “chicken on a stick”) was erected in his honor for the Illinois Centennial in 1918. At the deadlocked 1884 GOP National Convention in Chicago, Logan withdrew his bid and was nominated as James Blaine’s VP.
For your Bicentennial Reading List: "Inside the Wigwam: Chicago Presidential Conventions 1860 to 1996" by Craig Sautter (a fellow Rogers Parker & Society Of Midland Authors member). Get it NOW!
("Convention Capital" buttons courtesy of Busy Beaver Museum)
Full Disclosure: This author was on Senate campaign staff for Paul Simon & Carol Moseley Braun, volunteered for John Anderson and dragged my high school prom date to see activist/comedian Dick Gregory.
- Claude Walker. Bicentennial-by-Buttons: 200 Years of Trailblazers, Rascals and Felons