Convention History

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Convention History

Introduction to Convention History

In the early 19th century the informal party caucus was the customary nominating device for presidential and vice-presidential candidates. The caucus system was replaced in 1824 by the national convention system because of popular feeling that the caucus choices were not truly representative of the will of the people. Both factions of the Democratic-Republican Party held small nominating conventions in 1824, but the first national and systematically representative convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1831 by the Anti-Masonic Party. The first national convention of the Democratic Party took place in 1832, at which Andrew Jackson became the first successful, or subsequently elected, presidential candidate to be nominated by a national convention. During this first meeting of the Democratic Party many procedural rules for governing the party's national conventions were adopted. Among them were the two-thirds rule, requiring that each candidate receive two-thirds of the convention votes to be nominated, and the unit rule, requiring state delegates to cast their votes as a unit for a single candidate. The two-thirds rule was abandoned in 1936, but the unit rule was not abolished until 1968.

In recent conventions a presidential candidate has usually been nominated on the first ballot, as was, for example, Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972. Earlier voting procedures, especially before the Democrats adopted the majority rule, often resulted in lengthy balloting. In 1860, for example, Senator Stephen Douglas was nominated on the 59th ballot, and in 1912 Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey was nominated on the 46th ballot. Lengthy voting procedures can result in a stalemate, which has led to an American political phenomenon known as the “dark horse” candidate, an individual who succeeds in gaining the nomination in spite of having had little or no formal support before the convention opens. James Polk, the former governor of Tennessee who was nominated in 1844, is the most famous Democratic dark-horse candidate. He received the nomination on the ninth ballot, although his name had not been entered until the eighth ballot, and he went on to win the presidency.

In recent years open campaigning by willing candidates prior to the national conventions has helped the voters to evaluate the appeal of the candidates. Extensive media coverage of such preconvention campaigns also helps to clarify specific issues for the voters. Public opinion polls, charting popular response to the candidates, reveal probable voting patterns of the population in forthcoming presidential elections. Many states now hold preconvention primary elections; the outcome of these primaries usually determines the presidential nominees.

In rare instances, such as the nomination of the incumbent presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 and Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, the candidate is nominated by acclamation without the formality of a roll-call vote.

Candidates of major parties usually have extensive professional political experience. The great majority of party nominees have been senators or governors, but occasionally national heroes, such as General Dwight D. Eisenhower, are drafted by a political party.

The acceptance speech of the presidential nominee, now a standard feature, did not appear until 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt flew to Chicago to accept the Democratic nomination in person. He thus set a precedent for what has come to be the climax of the national political convention. Radio coverage of national conventions began in 1924, and today every major television network covers the national conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties. Chicago is the most popular site for national conventions of both major parties; since 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was nominated by the Republican Party, 26 national Republican or Democratic conventions have been held in the city.” (1)


Notes and References

Guide to Convention History

In this Section

Convention, Convention Procedure and Convention History.

About Voting

Voting Rights, Voter Participation, Election Redistricting, Electoral College (including Electoral College Selection, Counting the Votes, Electoral College Origins, Electoral College First Years, Electoral College History and the 12th Amendment, Disputed Elections of 1824 and 1876, Electoral College and the Influence of Political Parties, Winner-Take-All System, Debate Over the Electoral College and Electoral College Reform), Electorate Age and Electorate Constitutional Provisions.

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