It was a generous gesture — the president of The
Johns Hopkins University inviting a
distinguished alumnus to share his home when he comes to
Baltimore toward the end of June 1912 for
an important meeting of political figures.
The president was Ira Remsen. The alumnus was New
Jersey Gov. Woodrow Wilson, PhD 1886.
The meeting was the 1912 Democratic National Convention to
be held in Baltimore's Fifth Regiment
Writing to Wilson on Jan. 23, 1912, Remsen said, "If
you will need a house in Baltimore during
the Democratic National Convention I should be glad to
place part of mine at your disposal. Mrs.
Remsen will leave about the middle of June, but I shall
stay until after the Convention and will be the
only occupant. My servants will be in the house and
everything will go on as usual. You may have a
double bedroom and bath, and the use of rooms on the lower
story, as far as you may care to use
Four days later Wilson replied, thanking Remsen but
adding, "I am not at all sure that I shall
attend the Convention and if I do, I foresee only too
clearly that it will be necessary for me to live in
public and not run to cover anywhere. I shall be obliged to
lodge at the Belvedere. I am denying myself
the pleasure and I want to thank you again very
In late January 1912, some five months before the
convention, Wilson may have had some
reason to wonder if he would be going to Baltimore. He
faced stiff opposition in his bid for the party's
The convention marked the first time that Democratic
delegates had been chosen through the
primary process. When the session was called to order on
June 25, Wilson had some delegates pledged
to him, but his chief rival, James Beauchamp "Champ" Clark
of Missouri, speaker of the House of
Representatives, had gathered the largest number of
delegates. When New York's powerful political
machine, the Tammany Organization, endorsed Clark, his
nomination seemed certain.
On the first ballot, Clark received 440-1/4 votes to
Wilson's 324. Two other candidates, Gov.
Judson Harmon of Ohio and House Majority Leader Oscar
Wilder Underwood of Alabama, received
By the ninth ballot it appeared that Clark had
two-thirds of the delegates voting for him —
enough to win. But suddenly the tide turned toward Wilson,
thanks in large measure to some
maneuvering and a powerful speech by the greatest orator of
his day, William Jennings Bryan.
Bryan, a congressman from Nebraska and three-time
candidate for his party's presidential
nomination, was also known as a friend of the common man.
He was offended by Tammany's ruthless
tactics and its support of Clark. Using all his oratorical
powers, he accused Clark of being in the
pockets of the rich and upper class. Moved by his words,
delegates turned against Clark and rallied for
It took two more days, but on the 46th ballot Wilson
won the nomination.
He had received his party's highest honor at a site in
Baltimore not far from where he had
earned his doctoral degree 26 years earlier, a degree that
had set him on a path to become an eminent
member of the nation's academic community as a professor
and, later, as president of Princeton
University. In an abrupt change of course, and perhaps
propelled by his lifelong interest in politics, he
had entered the race for governor in New Jersey. He won and
served from 1911 until his election as
president, a position he held for two terms. He is the only
American president to have earned a PhD.
This is part of an occasional series of historical
pieces by Ross Jones, vice president and secretary
emeritus. A 1953 graduate of Johns Hopkins, Jones returned
in 1961 as assistant to President Milton
S. Eisenhower and was a close aide to six of the
university's 13 presidents.