Upstairs at the White House, some Carter lieutenants were thinking about gestures of reconciliation, but the president was unmoved.

The president quickly dismissed a proposal to release the Carter delegates to vote their own choices -- after the Carter forces win the crucial rules vote Monday night and establish control of the convention. No compromise on delegates, Jimmy Carter directed at Friday's strategy meeting.

Thus the battle of the Democratic convention was uncompromisingly jointed, as the Carter forces and the Kennedy forces headed toward a Monday night showdown that perhaps did not have to be.

It is a battle that will be fought by troops representing two intractable and proud politicians -- a battle that has come about at least in part as the final progression of acts of policy and politics that have produced deep layers of personal bitterness between the two.

There is evidence that the youngest son of Joseph P. Kennedy of Boston has always symbolized something very special, very establishment and very glitteratti to the oldest son of James Earl Carter of Plains.

In May 1976, Carter was asked by a reporter what he thought of statements by Edward Kennedy that Carter was "intentionally . . . indefinite and imprecise" on issues.

I'm glad I don't have to depend on Kennedy . . . to put me in office," Carter said, his eyes cold-steel angry. "I don't have to kiss his ass."

In the summer of 1979, Carter was asked by a congressman what he thought of the prospect of a Kennedy challenge. "Kennedy runs, I'll whip his ass," Carter replied.

But if the mere mention of Kennedy was enough to send Carter into a tailspin, it is also true over the years that Jimmy Carter has been able to exact his pound of flesh the expense of the Massachusetts Democrat.

It was in 1974, that Carter and Kennedy first met, and it was within a matter of hours that Kennedy was quietly steaming over his treatment at the hands of the Georgian.

Both Kennedy and Carter had been scheduled to appear at Law Day ceremonies at the University of Georgia, and so the then-little-known governor of Georgia had invited the well-known senator, whose family he had known only by reputation, to spend the evening at the governor's mansion the night before.

America is fortunate that a representative of its press corps, Hunter S. Thompson of Rolling Stone, happened by the mansion the next morning to record the action and the atmospherics of this first meeting of two future adversaries. America's pool reporter wrote that the first thing he noted about Carter, who had worn Levis to this breakfast, was the "relaxed and confident way he handled himself with Ted Kennedy," The contrast was stark, he wrote. "Kennedy, whose presence usually dominates any room he walks into, was sitting there looking stiff and vaguely uncomfortable in his dark blue suit and black shoes . . . staring at a portrait on the other side of the room."

Later it all became clear to Hunter Thompson. Kennedy's schedule had called for him to get to the university well before Carter and so Carter had promised him the use of the governor's airplane for the trip. But Kennedy's advance man on the trip said that Carter had waited until the last minute that morning to tell Kennedy that his own plans had changed and he could not lend the senator his plane. Kennedy's advance man had to scramble to get a car and Kennedy was worried that he would be late for his speech, and he was very unhappy, and as Thompson wrote: "The mood in the car was ugly. Kennedy was yelling at the SS [Secret Service] driver for missing a turnoff that meant we'd be late. . . ."

That was part one of Kennedy's introduction to Carter. Part two came at the university later in the day when Carter arrived and delivered that Law Day address that was probably the finest speech of his career until then, and perhaps the finest speech he will ever give, a virtually extemporaneous affair in which he was a southern governor railing against a system of justice that allowed the rich to escape punishment while sending the poor to jail, and so on -- substantially upstaging the earlier address of his famous visitor from out-of-state.

Years later, Carter and Kennedy would meet again on the podium, only by this time each had thoroughly taken the measure of the other. Last October, with Kennedy already having expressed his intention of challenging Carter for the presidency,

Carter traveled to Boston to speak on a stage filled with Kennedys at the dedication of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library. Once again, Carter gave a performance far above his mediocre oratorical standard, in a speech that impressed even the Kennedy clanspeople who would be his bitter adversaries all year.

The campaign that followed took several personally bitter turns. Kennedy was buffeted in the national media's researching and rehashing of the Chappaquiddick scandal. He was also buffeted by the sometimes not-too-subtle Carter advertising that stressed personal traits and laid the implicit attack to Kennedy's turbulent personal and family problems. One Carter ad proclaimed: "Husband, father, president. He has done these three jobs with distinction."

Kennedy, meanwhile, was attacking the Democratic incumbent with a zeal usually practiced by Republicans. And when Kennedy refused to support Carter's grain embargo during the last week of the Iowa caucus campaign, Vice President Mondale lashed back in an attack that Kennedy would not let him forget for the rest of the campaign.

At a press conference in Des Moines, Mondale said that supporting the president's grain embargo is "the wise thing to do, it's the patriotic thing to do." And when asked if he was saying that the opponents of the embargo are not patriotic, Mondale said he was standing on his statement.

Kennedy, who has had three brothers killed in service of their country, responded with understandable anger. He said that neither he nor his family needed any lectures from Mondale on patriotism. A day later, he told an audience that the administration had challenged his patriotism. He would bring it up, almost daily, the rest of the year. The mention of Mondale, who for years had been his liberal, colleague in Senate battles, made him seethe.

For example, Kennedy said at the University of Maine, "You raise your voice in the Congress . . . and they'll whip out old Fritz Mondale and question your patriotism. That's the kind of campaign they are running."

Said one of Kennedy's closest advisers: "that patriotism matter was a very personal thing."

The debate matter, in contrast, was a very political thing. But it hit Kennedy almost as hard and left him almost as bitter. And Kennedy made the president's refusal to debate him a centerpiece of his campaign oratory. coming off sometimes wry and sometimes whiny, sometimes strident and always angry.

Last fall, when Carter was way behind Kennedy in the polls, he had agreed to debate his opponent. Indeed, his advisers felt he needed to debate Kennedy to overtake him. But Iran and Afghanistan intervened, and Carter's standing soared and Kennedy's plummeted, and Carter pulled out of the planned Iowa debate. Carter said he needed to devote his constant attention to the foreign crises. But Carter advisers later privately conceded that was not really the case, that there was also a strong political case to be made for having Carter not debate or campaign as long as he was well ahead in the polls.

Kennedy fumed as Carter stayed in the White House, in a political retreat that one senior adviser once summedup in an inimitable and imaginative shorthand label: "F--- the fat rich kid."

Near the end of the primary election campaign, his fortunes now falling in the polls, the president concluded that he could at last come out and campaign. Kennedy, still trailing Carter, predictably demanded the de- bate he felt was due him.Carter, embittered by months of listening to Kennedy classify him with the Hoover-Coolidge Republicans in his unrelenting campaign of attack, was flatly unwilling to consider any sort of debate.

The matter of a debate had become an obsession with Kennedy -- so much so, according to one well-informed source, that at one point a Kennedy emissary contacted a senior official in the Ronald Reagan campaign to see if Reagan would be willing to participate in a four-way challenge debate involving Reagan, Kennedy, Carter and John B . Anderson. The understanding was that Kennedy wanted only to direct his attack at Carter during that debate.

Reagan was not interested.

And Carter never gave Kennedy his chance. "the president does not have to grovel for Ted Kennedy," one of his advisers once said. And that position perhaps contributed the Kennedy determination to carry his campaign to the difficult battle over the convention rules.

The idea of a Kennedy challenge to the rule that would bind delegates was first raised in public by Kennedy himself, talking with reporters just after his landslide defeat by Carter inIllinois. But for months after, Kennedy insisted that it was only some uninformed aides who were talking that way, that he as not pushing a challenge on the rules.

But Carter held firm against a debate challenge and Kennedy came out for his rule fight challenge. And now, the whole year -- in fact, the culmination of several years -- will come down to the battle over the binding of delegates on Monday night.