Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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CAUCUS, The Congressional, (IN U. S. HISTORY). The convention of 1787, in framing the system of choosing a president and vice-president, carefully provided that "no senator or representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector." (See CONSTITUTION, ARTICLE II). The convention's suspicions of congressional influence have been signally justified by the extreme difficulty of keeping the electoral system free from it. (See ELECTORS). At the first two presidential elections the electors were real officers with discretionary powers, and even in the third election, though some of them were pledged in advance by their constituents, most of them retained their original functions. In 1796 the republican members of congress informally agreed to support Jefferson and Burr equally, while the selections of Adams and Pinckney were due mainly to federalists out of congress. But the next election developed a system of congressional caucuses which reduced the electors to the position of mere ciphers, and gave all their powers to the members of congress. These caucuses were seven in number, extending over the years 1800-24.


—I. In the winter of 1800 the federal party controlled both houses of congress, and, as was asserted by the Philadelphia Aurora (for which assertion its editor, Duane, was arrested for contempt of the senate), a compact clique of senators controlled the decisions of the majority in the senate. President Adams, the nominal head of the federal party, was heartily disliked by the leaders of his party (See ELECTORS), and, although prudence forbade an open quarrel with him, the federalist members of congress, in February, 1800, met in caucus and decided that their party electors should support Adams and Pinckney equally, in hopes that their decision would be respected in New England, while in the south Pinckney would gain enough scattering votes to head Adams, and, under the then provisions of the constitution, become president. Without any similar design against the precedence of Jefferson, the republican members soon after met and resolved that Burr, whose feeble support in the south at the preceding election had been a ground of complaint in New York, should have an equal support with Jefferson. The result was the downfall of the electoral system. The electors of both parties, in passive obedience to the dictates of the caucuses, voted the tickets prepared for them, except that in Rhode Island one elector withheld his second vote from Pinckney, so that South Carolina's vote would have quietly seated both Adams and Pinckney. (See DISPUTED ELECTIONS, I).


—II Feb. 29, 1804, the first open caucus of republican congressmen met. Jefferson was renominated for the presidency without hesitation, but a selection for the vice-presidency was a different matter. The incumbent, Burr, distinguished equally for brilliancy and lack of principle, had always been an object of mingled terror and suspicion to the Virginia interest (See VIRGINIA), had come too near the presidency in 1800 to become prominent again with Jefferson's good will, and was at war with his own party in his own state. (See BURR, AARON). His chances in a congressional caucus were therefore not worth considering. But it was essential that New York should not be alienated, and in Burr's place the Virginia interest preferred George Clinton, the leader of the Clintonian faction of New York democrats, against whose domination Burr's following was arrayed then and after. The votes in caucus were, for Clinton, 67; for Hugh H. Breckenridge, of Pennsylvania, 20; for Levi Lincoln, of Massachusets, 9; for John Langdon, of New Hampshire, 7; for Gideon Granger, of Connecticut, 4; and for William Maclay, of Pennsylvania, 1. The caucus action was indirectly the cause of Alexander Hamilton's melancholy death. (See BURR, AARON). No record of any federalist caucus of this year can be found. Their action was governed by a knot of leaders who had determined to effect a coalition between the New England federalists and the middle state democrats, who were tired of Virginia domination. Of this scheme Burr's candidacy for governor of New York was a part. Had he succeeded he would probably have been sprung upon the country as a coalition candidate for the presidency in 1804.


—III. Jefferson, in answer to requests from democratic state legislatures to accept a third term, had decisively refused. Jan. 19, 1808, Stephen R. Bradley, senator from Vermont, and chairman of the last previous caucus, "in pursuance of the powers vested in him, "called a caucus for Jan. 23. This strong symptom of the organization of a machine was displeasing to many of his party, who knew that they were only summoned to register the selection previously made by the Virginia interest, and to transfer the presidency from Jefferson to Madison. Of the 130 democratic congressmen only 89 attended on the appointed day, the votes for the presidential candidate being 83 for Madison, 3 for George Clinton, and 3 for Monroe. For vice-president, Clinton received all the votes cast, 79. Monroe was an aspirant for the presidency, and both his friends and those of Madison claimed to be the veritable "Virginia interest." Jan. 21 the Virginia legislature had split into two caucuses, one of which gave Madison a unanimous vote, 134, and the other 50 for Monroe and 10 for Madison. Each caucus nominated a set of electors, and began an active canvass Monroe's friends in congress published, March 7, a protest which objected to Madison as unfit for the presidency in troublous times, and denounced the presumption of congressmen in arrogating to themselves "the right (which belongs only to the people) of selecting presidential candidates." Against this charge the caucus had sheltered itself under the assertion that its members acted "only in their individual character as citizens." No record remains of any federalist caucus. That party could not well make nominations while coquetting with Clinton and Monroe (See FEDERAL PARTY), and, when their candidacy proved a failure, the federalists by common consent fell back on their old candidates, Pinckney and King.


—IV. In 1812 the democratic-republican party had become a war party, and its new leaders were determined that the peace-loving president should, at least in appearance, head them. A committee, headed by Henry Clay, informed Madison that a war message was the price of his renomination, and to this condition Madison unwillingly submitted. The caucus was accordingly held May 18, 1812, 82 of the 133 democratic congressmen being present. Madison was renominated unanimously, and John Langdon, of New Hampshire, received a majority of votes for vice-president. On Langdon declining, Elbridge Gerry was substituted. The caucus again announced its action to be that of "individual citizens," but it took a step in advance by appointing a national committee to see that its nominations were observed. In New York, where the Clintonian faction at present controlled the state, 95 of the 99 republican members of the legislature met in caucus, May 29, and by 87 to 8 voted to nominate Clinton as the anti-administration candidate, in opposition to congressional caucus action, which "always resulted in the selection of a Virginia candidate." In September a secret convention of federalists from all of the states north of the Potomac, and from South Carolina, met in New York city, and after three day's debate agreed to support Clinton for president and Jared Ingersoll for vice-president.


—V. Monroe, who had always been regarded as the foreordained successor of Madison, had not by any means shown great brilliancy in his conduct of the war, and only through the lack of any available opponent was his nomination possible. Even when the caucus met, March 16, 1816, 118 of the 141 democratic congressmen being present, the result was by no means certain. Two resolutions were offered, one by Henry Clay and the other by John W. Taylor, of New York, that caucus nominations ought to be abolished, but these were voted down, and Monroe received the nomination by 65 votes to 54 for William II. Crawford, of Georgia. Had Crawford chosen to make any strenuous effort against Monroe he could probably have secured the nomination, which was equivalent to an election. For vice-president Daniel D. Tompkins, of New York, received 85 votes to 30 for Simon Snyder, of Pennsylvania. The federalists, whose continued existence was only a matter of form, made no nominations, but their New England electors voted by common consent for Rufus King, and for various vice-presidential candidates.


—VI. In 1820 Samuel Smith, of Maryland, chairman of the last previous caucus, called a new one, but only about 50 members assembled, and these yielded to the general impatience of the further existence of this irresponsible nominating body and separated without action. The incumbents, Monroe and Tompkins, were voted for by common consent and without opposition.


—VII. In 1824 party lines had disappeared through the extinction of the professed federal party. There was but one party from which to select candidates, and it was now generally felt that a selection made by a congressional caucus indirectly gave to congress that power of electing a president and vice-president which had been carefully denied by the constitution. Furthermore, various state legislatures had willingly assumed the functions of nominating bodies, and, being unwilling to see their action overslaughed by congressmen, had instructed their senators and representatives not to attend a caucus, if one should be called. But the friends of Crawford, who felt that his self-abnegation in the caucus of 1816 had cost him the nomination then, were determined to secure for him the usual stamp of "regularity," and called a caucus for Feb. 14, 1824. Only 68 of the 258 members were present, and of these 64 voted for Crawford, 2 for John Quincy Adams, 1 for Andrew Jackson, and 1 for Nathaniel Macon, of North Carolina. A motion to adjourn the meeting until March had been voted down. For vice-president Albert Gallatin (See AMERICAN PARTY, I). received 57 votes and was nominated. The manner of nomination brought more injury than benefit to Crawford, and the reign of "King Caucus" was ended. In 1828 the nominations were made by state legislatures, and in 1832 the still existing system of nominating conventions was introduced, under which the official nullity of the electors has become fixed. (See DEMOCRATIC-REPUBLICAN PARTY, FEDERAL PARTY, ELECTORS, NOMINATING CONVENTIONS.)


—See 25 Niles' Register, 244-258, 4 Hildreth's United States, 687; 5: 357, 516; 6:63, 298, 376, 595, 620, 701; 1 Hammond's Political History of New York, 315, 411, and 2: 128; 3 Parton's Life of Jackson, 24; Mackenzie's Life and Times of Van Buren, 44, 55.


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