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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NOMINATING CONVENTIONS (IN U. S. HISTORY) are entirely a modern and democratic innovation, originating about the year 1825. Their development has come through the successive steps of a private caucus, a legislative caucus, and a congressional caucus, down to the perfected machinery of a modern political party's township, county, state and national nominating conventions.


—I. ORIGIN. Before, during and immediately after the revolution, the inception of political action in America was mainly controlled by a series of unofficial coteries of leading and kindred spirits in every colony (see CAUCUS), by whom resolutions were prepared, intelligence was disseminated, and occasionally revolutionary action was directly begun. In New England they controlled or led the town meetings; in the south they commonly acted through the district militia organizations; but elsewhere they hardly preserved any semblance of connection with the legitimate political units. Their existence, and the popular acquiescence in their action, was due partly to the manner in which suffrage was then limited by property qualifications, so that the caucuses, or juntoes, were really fair and trusted representatives of the legal voters; and partly to the still surviving respect for the influential classes. Their survival may be seen in the democratic clubs of 1793, in the federalist "Essex junto" and the democratic "Albany junto" of the immediately subsequent years, in the Tammany society, in the "Albany regency" of 1820-45, and, in a modified form, in the various "rings" of later years. (See DEMOCRATIC CLUBS. ESSEX JUNTO, ALBANY REGENCY, TAMMANY SOCIETY.)


—Upon the organization of the federalist and republican parties after 1790, their workings were at first limited by the traditions of the past. In a party of that time the national and state leaders filled the place of a national convention, settling the party policy by a voluminous correspondence, or by personal interviews. The position of these lenders was wholly due to their success in gaining the confidence and support of the still powerful local caucuses; so that these latter were still the skeleton of each party organization. The manner of their workings in the federalist state of Connecticut may serve as an example. Goodrich, a federalist in sympathy, thus describes a town meeting of 1796-1810: "Apart in a pew sat half a dozen men, the magnates of the town. In other pews near by, sat still others, all stanch respectabilities. These were the leading federalists, persons of high character, wealth and influence. They spoke a few words to each other, and then relapsed into a sort of dignified silence. They did not mingle with the mass; they might be suspected of electioneering. Nevertheless the federalists had privately determined, a few days before, for whom they would cast their votes, and being a majority they carried the day." John Wood, a democratic writer of the time, gives an exaggerated estimate of the influence of the congregational clergy, and describes the politics of the state as controlled by Timothy Dwight, president of Yale college, and "pope of the state," his twelve "cardinals of the corporation," and the multitude of inferior clergy, whose annual consultation was held at the commencement in September; but clerical influence was only a part of the wider class influence which Wood could not understand. The two pictures are complementary; and the reader can see their application to national affairs in the collected correspondence of Hamilton, Jefferson, Pickering, or any other political leader of the time.


—As the dividing line between the parties became more strongly marked, the necessity of some organized guide to party action became more apparent; and the perception of the necessity was quickened by the growth of the democratic spirit in both parties. There was an increasing number of local leaders who demanded participation in the councils of the party, and these found their natural means of expression in the legislative bodies. As a part of the annual business of congress and the state legislatures, there grew up a system of legislative and congressional caucuses of the members of each party, the former to make state nominations, the latter to make presidential nominations. (See CAUCUS, CONGRESSIONAL.) Both these political means may fairly be considered as dating from 1796. It is true that nominations had been made in a few states by legislative caucuses before that year; but these were such cases as the nomination of Gov. Jay in New York, in 1795, when members of the legislature merely voiced a unanimous feeling of their party in the state. It was not until after 1796 that the legislative caucus undertook to decide, among rivals for a nomination, which should be entitled to the support of the party. After 1797 this was regularly the case everywhere. Very often, however, citizens from various parts of the state took part in the legislative caucus, and their signatures, in a separate list, were added to the address with which the caucus always announced its nominations to its party. Of course their presence was only allowed as a make-weight, and not as a controlling influence in the caucus, but it prepared the way for the system of nominating conventions which was to follow.


—This final system, like most other innovations in the American practice of politics, had its origin in New York. It was first suggested in January, 1813, by the ultra democratic "buck-tail" faction, or Tammany society, of New York city, then fighting De Witt Clinton, and apprehensive of his influence over the democratic members of the legislature out of New York city. (See NEW YORK.) They therefore proposed formally that a state convention should be called for the purpose of nominating a governor. Their proposal was not ratified by the party, and nothing more was heard of it until 1817, when it was revived in a modified form, this time by the Clintonians. In a purely legislative caucus of either party, the districts which had chosen members from the opposite party would not be represented; and in 1817 a number of Clintonian counties, whose members of the legislature were federalists, chose delegates to represent the democratic voters in the caucus. These were admitted, and aided in nominating Clinton. The effect was at once perceptible. Conventions for the nomination of members of the legislature became the regular mode of procedure; the practice spread to other states; and the time was evidently not distant when conventions of delegates would take control of the party machinery in the state, and finally in the nation.


—The congressional caucus received its death blow in 1824, and the legislative caucus, as a state nominating body, perished about the same time. In both cases the reason was the same: the old politicians, who had for years controlled the action of the dominant party, had too strong a hold upon the party machinery to be resisted in the regular caucuses; and the new politicians, whom the rising democratic spirit and the extension of the suffrage were together bringing to the front, preferred to try the issue with the old party leaders in some new forum. Instead of the congressional caucus, the legislatures of various states assumed the functions of nominating bodies for the election of 1828. Legislative caucuses for purely state nominations were almost as rapidly abandoned. In 1824 they were still held, mainly for the nomination of electors; but in Rhode Island the legislators were careful to call themselves "citizens from various parts of the state"; and in Pennsylvania the members of the legislature led the way by calling a democratic state convention to nominate electors. In New York the opponents of the "Albany regency," hopeless of success in a legislative caucus, planned a delegate state convention to nominate John Young for governor, but the regency's legislative caucus threw them into confusion by nominating Young, and the convention was not held until the following year. This (of 1824) was the last legislative caucus for state nominations ever held in New York; there, and in all other doubtful states, state conventions at once became the nominating bodies. Thereafter it was only in such unilateral states as South Carolina that legislative caucuses retained anything of their old unofficial powers.


—During Jackson's first term of the presidency (1829-33) the state convention system, the middle term of the great modern party "machine," was well built up. Awkward attempts were made in 1830-32 (see below) to erect the superstructure, the national convention. The nominal basis of parties, the local township or county conventions, were hardly yet in existence, except in the great cities; in the country, nominations and ratifications were still made by mass meetings. Before 1835, under the skillful management of Van Buren and his associates, the democratic "machine" was fairly complete in all its parts, local, state and national conventions; and the model has since been only more finely polished, not improved upon or developed. The whigs were later in adopting it. Their organization was very incomplete in 1836; in 1839-40 it was better, but was thrown into confusion by the mob system of fighting to which the party leaders then resorted; but before 1844 both parties were organized alike. Since that time every great national party has carried on its political warfare by means of a regular army of politicians, to whom politics is a trade, like war, the nominating conventions are the weapons, the voters are the magazine, and the offices, appointive rather than elective, are the causa belli, the spoils of the campaign, and the bond of party cohesion. Of the three essentials to the existence of the politician class, it is not desirable to abolish the voters; the effort to remove the appointive offices from politics has not yet been successful; and no plausible plan to deprive them of their most effective weapons, the nominating conventions, has yet been suggested.


—II. The laws which govern local and state conventions are the ordinary parliamentary rules of proceeding. In the national conventions there are certain special characteristics which have hardened into laws. 1. Democratic Conventions. In democratic national conventions the state has always been the normal voting unit. The casting of the vote of the state as a unit, by the will of a majority of the delegation, has always been recognized as legitimate and regular; and when the vote of a state has been divided, and the minority of the delegation allowed a voice, it has been by the will of the delegation, not of the convention. In this there is the great difficulty that an unavailable candidate might be nominated by the concurrent vote of a number of states, none of which could possibly be carried by any democratic candidate. To counteract this difficulty the celebrated "two-thirds rule" has always been the law of democratic national conventions: it requires that two-thirds of the delegates shall vote for a candidate to secure him a nomination. It has never been formally settled whether the two-thirds is of all the delegates present, or of all the delegates admitted; but Douglas' and Breckinridge's nominations in 1860 both followed the former rule. No votes are given to delegates from territories, since their constituents can not vote at the elections. In each state two delegates are admitted for each electoral vote.


—2. Republican Conventions. A republican national convention consists also of two delegates for each electoral vote in the states; but two delegates from each territory are admitted, with power to vote. This last feature is intended to build up a party strength in the territories before they become states. The voting unit has always been the congressional district, or the individual delegate. Among party managers there has always been a lurking desire to introduce the democratic unit system of state voting and the "two-thirds rule," but only one serious attempt has been made to enforce it. In 1880 the state conventions of Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois instructed their delegations to vote as a unit for Grant, though a strong minority had been elected under instructions from their local conventions to vote for other candidates. The national convention sustained the minority in their claim of a right to cast their votes without regard to the state convention's instructions. Practically, therefore, it may be laid down as the republican theory that the local conventions in the congressional districts are to select delegates, instructing them, but not irrevocably; and that the state conventions are only to select the four delegates corresponding to the state's senatorial share of the electoral votes, with two additional delegates, if the state elects a congressman at large. Any usurpation of powers by the state convention will be summarily set aside by the national convention.


—3. Other Conventions. The conventions of third parties, or attempts to form third parties, are much more likely to follow the republican than the democratic model, for they lack the organized constituency, or "machine," which gives the latter its form and is constantly striving to imitate it in the former. For the same reason the delegates are, to a very great degree, practically self appointed, or appointed by little cliques of voters. The evolution of a new national party is now attended with almost insuperable difficulties. It must be the result either of the patient labor of years in a clear field, as in the case of the democratic party; or of a great popular movement, sustained long enough to produce a regular army out of a mob, as in the case of the republican party. Until some successful substitute for the convention system is discovered, we may consider the sporadic third party national conventions as foredoomed failures.


—III. State and local conventions have been so numerous since 1825 that it is impossible to notice them particularly. The proceedings and results of the national conventions are given under the names of the various parties; it is only designed here to collect the places and dates of the party conventions preparatory to each presidential election, and the names of their several nominees.


—1832. Anti-Masonic (see ANTI -MASONRY, I.): Baltimore, Sept. 26-28, 1831: Wirt and Ellmaker. National Republican (see WHIG PARTY, I.): Baltimore, Dec. 12-14, 1831; Clay and Sergeant. Democratic: Baltimore, May 22, 1832; Van Buren for vice-president. (See DEMOCRATIC PARTY, IV.)


—1836. Democratic: Baltimore, May 20, 1835; Van Buren and Johnson. There was no whig national convention for this election. (See WHIG PARTY, II.)


—1840. Whig: Harrisburgh, Pa., Dec. 4-7, 1839; Harrison and Tyler. Democratic: Baltimore, May 5, 1840; Van Buren for president. (See DEMOCRATIC PARTY, IV.) The "Liberty party" nominations (see ABOLITION, II.) were made by a local convention in New York.


—1844. Liberty: Buffalo, Aug. 30, 1843; Birney and Morris. Whig: Baltimore, May 1, 1844; Clay and Frelinghuysen. Democratic: Baltimore, May 27-29, 1844; Polk and Dallas.


—1848. Democratic: Baltimore, May 22-26, 1848; Cass and Butler. Whig: Philadelphia, June 7-8, 1848: Taylor and Fillmore. Free-Soil: Buffalo, Aug 9-10, 1848; Van Buren and Adams.


—1852. Democratic: Baltimore, June 1-4, 1852; Pierce and King, Whig: Baltimore, June 16-19, 1852; Scott and Graham. Free-Soil: Pittsburgh, Aug. 11, 1852; Hale and Julian.


—1856. American ("know-nothing"): Philadelphia, Feb. 22-25, 1856; Fillmore and Donelson. Democratic: Cincinnati, June 2-6, 1856; Buchanan and Breckinridge. Republican: Pittsburgh, Feb. 22, 1856 (for party organization only); Philadelphia, June 17, 1856; Fremont and Dayton. Whig: Baltimore, Sept. 17-18, 1856; ratified the "American" nominations.


—1860. Democratic (Douglas): Charleston, S. C., April 23 - May 3, Baltimore, June 18-23. 1860; Douglas and Johnson; (Breckinridge) Charleston, May 1-4, Richmond and Baltimore, June 11-28; Breckinridge and Lane. Constitutional Union: Baltimore, May 9-10, 1860; Bell and Everett. Republican: Chicago, May 16-18, 1860; Lincoln and Hamlin.


—1864. Republican (Radical): Cleveland, May 31, 1864; Fremont and Cochrane; (Regular) Baltimore, June 7, 1864; Lincoln and Johnson. Democratic: Chicago, Aug. 29, 1864; McClellan and Pendleton.


—1868. Republican: Chicago, May 20-21, 1868; Grant and Colfax. Democratic: New York, July 4-11, 1868; Seymour and Blair.


—1872. Liberal Republican: Cincinnati, May 1, 1872; Greeley and Brown. Republican: Philadelphia, June 5-6, 1872; Grant and Wilson. Democratic: Baltimore, July 9, 1872; ratified the "liberal republican" nominations.


—1876. Greenback: Indianapolis, May 17, 1876; Cooper and Cary. Republican: Cincinnati, June 14-15, 1876; Hayes and Wheeler. Democratic: St. Louis, June 27-29, 1876; Tilden and Hendricks.


—1880. Republican: Chicago, June 2-8, 1880; Garfield and Arthur. Greenback: Chicago, June 9-11, 1880; Weaver and Chambers. Democratic: Cincinnati, June 22-24, 1880; Hancock and English.


—Whenever the above conventions have been in session more than one day, the nominations must be assigned to the last day.


—See authorities under the names of the parties.


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